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~ The Vampire Diaries ~

[PROLOGUE]

Stefan buried his face in the crook of his elbow, moaning in pleasure, as he felt the veins throb and crawl around his eyes and the sharp pain in his gums as he fought against his fangs. His senses heightened exponentially as they always did when he 'vamped-out,' the predator coming to the fore.

He focused on the large-palmed hands grasping his hips, caressing his ribs and back, teasing his cock. The groans and grunts that were not his own. The live panting breath behind him.

It had been a while since he'd done this, allowed himself this luxury. Not just sex with a man but sex in general. Sex was a struggle in restraint for Stefan, especially when he was with a human. The warmth of them, the smell of their perpetration and arousal. The sound of that rapid pumping heart, the warm pulsing blood beneath such a thin layer of delicate skin.

Sex made him hungry. Sex made him want to feed, to take that extra bit of pleasure and give himself that wicked orgasmic feel of warm, human blood filling him up, claiming it. Bathe--

He gave a cry as his prostate was continually stroked by his bed partner's seeming tireless strokes. It was driving him insane! "Ric!" his fangs came out and buried them into his own arm to stop himself from doing something terrible and reckless like devouring the history professor.

He was passing through North Carolina on his way back home, back to Mystic Falls. It had been 50 years since he was there last; there had been an incident, he'd fought with Damon, who lashed out and killed their nephew Jacob. He found himself on the Duke University campus, walking through the busy halls, when he found himself sitting in on one of the lectures.

Professor Alaric Saltzman had drawn him in as he talked about the Chinese Empire. The enthusiasm on the subject, his love. Stefan had a thing for history, too. He'd lived through so much of it, been a part of it. To see the world literally grow and mature, laws and technology developed and employed. It was both torture and privilege to have been able to experience it because of his vampirism.

Stefan couldn't help himself so when the hall cleared he descended the stairs to the stage where Alaric was packing up, told him how much he enjoyed the lecture. That he was a visiting student doing the tour to see if he wanted to go to Duke after he graduated this year and how interested he was in history. Alaric was delighted to have a young mind interested and they got a bite to eat in some hole-in-the-wall discussing several eras well into the night before they ended up back at Alaric's apartment.

And here they were.

Stefan withdrew his fangs from his arm, managed to clear away the little blood it drew with a swipe of his tongue. He rose his head, succeeding to settle his face back into its more human reflection and reached up, grasping the headboard.

He'd held off long enough, the tight coil of orgasm in his lower belly was fit to tear him apart if he didn't let go. So he did.

His sac drew up and he trembled into the climax, ejaculating on his stomach and thighs, calling out as he clenched around Alaric cock buried in him and forcing the man into a long awaited orgasm. Alaric grunted and clutched at him with enough force to bruise any human, but they were already healed before he even took his hands away. Stefan could feel the warmth of his sperm through the latex of the condom as he finished, slumping onto the vampire teen's sweaty back, panting heavily.

Alaric nuzzled the sweaty hair at the nape of his neck, before kissing the knob at the top of his spine. He wanted nothing more than to collapse right there but he pulled back, holding the base of the condom around his now flaccid cock, his other going soothingly to Stefan's hip as he gently pulled out, stroking the golden flesh.

Stefan gave a soft exhale, still leaning against the headboard, feeling disappointed at the severance of their connect and the stolen warmth.

"Alright?" Alaric quested as he discarded the condom.

"Mm." Stefan hummed in pleased agreement. He turned and slumped down against the headboard. Alaric handed him some tissue from the nightstand beside the bed.

"I thought I might have gone a bit overboard." He admitted, embarrassed. "I don't know what came over me," he brushed a hand through his dirty-blond hair, "It's been a while."

Stefan flashed him a small smile. "It's been a while for me, too. Feels like it's been decades." It definitely has.

Alaric snorted, cruising the muscled, lean body displayed before him as he cleaned himself off with the provided tissue. "Why don't I believe that, Stefan."

"You'll just have to take my word for it," he teased, leaning over the older man to throw away the soiled tissue and then took advantage of the position to swoop in and claim Ric's lips in a kiss.

Alaric opened up with a chuckle, his tongue swiping against Stefan's and picking up the remaining traces of the vampire's blood without realizing. His cock stirred between them as the kiss grew more heated, thickening with hot blood in arousal. He hadn't that short a refractory period since he was a pre-teen going through puberty, body flooded with hormones.

Stefan reached between them, grasping his already rock-hard member with Alaric's thickening one and stroking them together. He caught the blond's stuttering groans with nips and licks against his pink lips.

Stefan released them, rising on his knees and shifting further into the professor's lap, his erection rubbing against his hairy stomach before he reached behind himself and between, grasping Alaric's thick throbbing cock and started to guide him to his entrance.

"Wait--" Alaric started, breaking the kiss as he realized what Stefan was about to do. They needed another condom and more lube; the last thing he wanted was to injure the young man—but Stefan already made the decision for him, lowering himself onto his erection. There was still lube slicking his hole and Alaric slid in easily enough. What the lube didn't make up for, vampire healing would.

Stefan gasped and Alaric couldn't stop the low grown as he grasped Stefan's hips to help steady him as he drew slowly down. He carefully watched the teen's expression for signs of pain or distress through his own lust, but only saw his forest green eyes flutter in pleasure and his parted lips echo the sentiment in audio.

"Okay?" Alaric stroked his cheek and down his neck as Stefan settled fully seated without a hitch.

"Stop worrying. I'm not a kid." He pressed their foreheads together, arms wrapped around his shoulders, pressing them close. He could feel the human's strong heartbeat beat against the right side of his lower chest.

But you fucking are, Alaric wanted to say, but that concern was overlaid with pleasure and lust as Stefan gyrated his hips, slowly at first, then faster, creating a steady intense rhythm. He wrapped his arms around the teen, holding him, Stefan's cock sandwiched between their torsos, stimulated as Ric undulated his own hips and they moved against each other together.

They started kissing again, gasping into each other's salivating mouths, tongues dancing in concert. Stefan just wanted to inhale the man inside of him in every way. The vampire didn't fight the building orgasm this time as he prostate was stimulated until it was unbearable, he didn't vamp-out either. He let the pulses wash over and through, flexing his muscled walls against the pliable naked flesh inside of him.

They came nearly simultaneously, Stefan against their stomachs, Alaric inside of him, crying out each other's names into the recipients mouth like a mewl of ecstasy.

They fell back into bed, tangled. Alaric's head pillowed against Stefan's chest. He was fast asleep before he could notice the absence of a heartbeat.

Stefan was gone before he awoke in the morning.

[...tbc...]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Stefan hurried to class, binder under his arm, rushed and somewhat flustered.

A lot had happened the past couple weeks, there were too many things that needed to take priority. Damon killing Tanner, Damon killing Lexi, Elena finding out about Katherine, breaking it off with Elena, other vampire(s) coming to town. But Elena would always take precedence.

The bell had rung, he could already hear the lesson starting. He was not having a very good morning. He felt like a cursed (vampire) teenager; he didn't have a very productive night's rest, got shampoo in his eyes, Damon was being irritating, the bottled blood in the fridge had spoiled and there was no time to go out and hunt.

He stepped into class, hoping to just slip into his usual seat in the second row, four back, one back adjacent from Elena who looked both surprised and even pleased to see him, when the high school's new history teacher turned to look his way.

Both men froze for an instant as they locked eyes and the situation they found themselves in enveloped them.

"Sorry I'm late, R-- Mr Saltzman." Stefan recovered first, eyes flickering pointedly at the chalkboard with his name written. "It won't happen again."

Alaric cleared his throat. "See that it doesn't, Mr...?" he followed the teen's lead.

"Stefan. Salvatore." He hadn't given the man his surname when they met the first time.

"Well, Mr Salvatore. Have a seat. It's my first day so I'll give you a pass. I won't be so nice next time."

Stefan quickly took his seat to the murmurs and giggles of his classmates. If he had any blood to waste he wasn't sure if he'd be pale(er) or tomato-red.

"So, what are we learning?" Alaric asked.

"The '50's!" a girl called out helpfully.

"Right," Alaric quickly turned to the board and started to write. He attempted to get his heart under control and surreptitiously wiped the nervous sweat that broke out on his forehead. He'd slept with a teenager! One that could possibly have been sixteen at the time of copulation a few months ago. He was going to go to prison! "What can I say about the ‘50’s?"

Alaric spent the period avoiding looking at Stefan, and Stefan tried to ignore Elena's attempts to talk to him. Stefan never had a sexual escapade blowback on him before—that was more Damon's territory. But this was something that he was never going to go to his brother with.

...

As soon as the end-of-class bell rang, Stefan practically ran from class, barely holding back using his vamp-speed to do it. It felt like the longest hour of his life and that was saying something. He just needed to get away from Elena's pressing stare and Alaric's avoiding one before he decided that the better alternative was to start tearing into necks.

"Stefan. Stefan!" Elena did have to actually run to catch us with him back outside the cafeteria, on his own way to lunch in the woods behind the school. "Hey!"

He thought about playing deaf and keep going before she grabbed his arm and he sighed, reluctantly allowing the doppelganger to literally yank him to a halt in the grass. Of course she had nothing on him. He stared at the grass, scuffing his boot as he felt the continued warmth of her hand on his arm.

"Hey," she said. "I've been trying to talk to you all day." He could hear her heart pick up a little as she went to continue.

Stefan finally lifted his gaze to hers. "What I said still stands, Elena. We can't be together. I'm sorry." He shifted his arm out of her hand and he could see the disappointment flash in her brown eyes.

"But you're staying...?" Elena asked in confusion. Stefan nodded. "But if you're staying, we don't have to break up."

"I think it's better if we just stay friends, Elena." Stefan told her gently. "Your were right; it's messed up, the whole Katherine-thing. I shouldn't have let it happen in the first place--"

"You didn't let anything happen." She retorted angrily, taking a step back and crossing her arms over her chest. "I know you're a vampire but it doesn't change how I feel about you, Stefan."

"Elena," he sighed, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

She uncrossed her arms and lay her hand on his chest where his still heart lay. "It doesn't have to change anything. We have time, let's just talk about this. Please?"

Stefan licked his lips and rallied against the spell she would always have over him. "Look, I really need to feed." He nodded his head at the tree line behind the fence and put an end to their conversation. "I'll see you in class after lunch, okay?"

"Yeah. Okay, fine." She gave a short, reluctant nod, letting her hand drop away from his chest and he simply became a blur as he flitted over the fence and disappeared into the woods.

...

Stefan returned to school flushed and feeling a little less frazzled now that he had a belly full of animal blood. He actually had the luck to come across a boar. It was in it adolescence still, but large. It filled and sated him more than the five rabbits he would have only time to drink at such a short period.

He passed Bonnie in the hall going to class and nodded. Amusement lit up her eyes and she chuckled. "Hey, Stefan."

Bemused, he turned towards her. "What?"

She went on her tiptoes and reached towards him. "Or should I say... Tarzan?" she plucked a leaf from his styled hair.

He gave a little grimace of embarrassment and took the leaf from her, crushing it in his palm. He shot a glance around, but the other students passed them by in ignorance. "I don't think Tarzan eats his animal companions, Bonnie."

A grin on her lips, books clutched to her chest, she leaned forward conspiratorially. Stefan couldn't help but be pulled in. "I know. He'd spend every night eating out (of) Jane." She laughed at the shocked dance his thick brows did and spun around to disappear into the crowd of passing students.

Stefan chuckled to himself as he continued on to his next class with Elena. He and Bonnie had been a bit rocky when she found out that he was a vampire, but after feeding her his blood to save her life after she was possessed by Emily and Damon tore her throat open and rescued her from the tomb under the old Fell Church, their friendship had been growing on its own as the new witch discovered that he could be trusted.

The day was easier to get through with his belly full of blood, but by the expression Elena occasionally flashed him, he knew she wasn't done talking after their discussion at lunch.

~ T V D ~

Stefan managed to write a little in his journal but he was too restless to stay cooped up in the Boarding House that night. He couldn't focus on the book he was trying to read. The whiskey did nothing to settle the flight-y feeling. He wasn't in the mood for hunting. So he went into town.

He of course ended up at the Grill. Thankfully Elena and friends weren't present; he was not in the mood or mind to continue their 'talk'.

He loved Elena, he always would. But he just couldn't love her like that, he could never trust it, just like he learned of the real truth of his 'love' with Katherine after he turned and discovered she had compelled him.

His first thoughts when he pulled Elena out of the water at the bridge that night of the car crash and saw her face, pale in the moonlight, was Katherine followed immediately by Kill! before he let her frantically beating heart erase his vampire-rage to immediately consume him with guilt and shame. There was no way that this girl was Katherine Pierce, his sire was dead. So when she started to regain consciousness, he compelled her to forget him and then watched her over the summer to make sure that it truly wasn't Katherine; he wouldn't put it passed the vampire to somehow find a cure to vampirism. It wasn't. Her name was Elena Gilbert, she was human and by then Stefan had already fallen in love.

Luckily for the both of them, they had yet to have sex. Just some very intense make out sessions on her bed, and clothed heavy-petting.

He immediately spotted Jenna and Jeremy in a booth and didn't want to have some awkward family encounter now that he and Elena had broken up, and was just about to turn right around and leave before his eyes caught the sight of a bowed head of dirty-blond hair sitting alone at one of the cocktail tables.

Ric. Stefan worried his bottom lip but his feet were already moving him through the crowded tables to the history teacher. He was already sliding into the stool across from the man.

"Mr Saltzman-just-call-me-Ric," Stefan said lowly, shocked at himself for sounding flirty when he was sure that had not been his intention. Maybe he was just being paranoid.

Alaric’s head snapped up from where he had been engrossed in reading one of many history texts on Mystic Falls; though he came here for a reason he could not help but get pulled to distraction by such deep and rich history. His eyes widened as he took in Stefan across from him and shot a quick glance around.

"I didn't think I would see you again." Alaric admitted, sitting back stiffly and speaking quietly so there was no chance that others around them could pick up their conversation. "Least of all under these circumstance."

"Neither did I," Stefan admitted.

Alaric narrowed his eyes. "How old are you really, Stefan? Is it too much to pray that you've been held back because if you're just starting senior year then--" he couldn't voice the rest, too disgusted with himself.

"I was 17 when we met," Stefan told him; which was true. "My birthday was a week ago." Also true; technically he wasn't lying. That was why Lexi had come, that was why she was now dead. He shoved the thought aside. It was his human birthday, not the date that he turned. Alaric didn't seem very much relieved at the news. "I'm more mature than I look?" he tried to joke. It fell flat and he grabbed Alaric's glass of bourbon and threw it back like a seasoned drinker.

"You're not old enough to drink." Alaric instantly reprimanded and a look of horror came upon him and Stefan grimaced a little. If he had to be a vampire, fine, he just wished he could have turned at the perfect age like Damon; 24, legal for everything but becoming the president.

"I can't believe I just said that." Alaric uttered more to himself than anything. He gave his head a shake and set his shoulders, putting his hand over the now empty glass that Stefan still held on the table and looked at him firmly. "It wasn't appropriate the first time and it certainly isn't now. I am your teacher and you are my student and that is it. What happened--" he shook his head. "Was a mistake. I wasn't in a good place, I was lonely—it was a mistake, Stefan."

Stefan couldn't stop the ache in his chest. He was pathetic. It was a one-night-stand. If Alaric wasn't sitting right across from him, would he even be so hung up?

"Go home, Stefan." Alaric told him sympathetically. "Go to your girlfriend. Live your life."

"See you in class tomorrow, Mr Saltzman." Stefan said politely, properly, that mask slipping in place as he stood.

Alaric nodded. "Have a goodnight, Mr Salvatore."

Stefan stepped outside, looked left then right to see the coast was clear and flitted home, ignoring the call of blood and the urge to vent in the form of Ripping things—people—apart. He was passed those days and he refused to lash out in the very Damon-like fashion. When he got to the Boarding House, he took to the alcohol like a fish much to Damon's amusement; who tittered around him irritatingly, twittering about his brooding and split from Elena. He refused to rise to the bait, though he almost failed a few times before he finally drank enough to feel the effects of the alcohol through his vampire metabolism.

...

When Stefan went to school the next day, in history class he and Alaric pretended not to know each other and it was all just as well. Life went on. He had a rogue vampire with an Elena-fetish to kill and that was all the motivation he needed to put his focus elsewhere.

~ T V D ~

It was the school's '50's themed dance and Damon came up with the brilliant idea to use Elena as bait to draw out her creepy deliveryman vampire stalker. Damon went as chaperone and Stefan went with Elena as her 'date'.

Stefan tried to ignore the twist in his gut as he spotted Alaric talking with Damon and he spun Elena to the music. It wasn't out of jealousy but fear, the last thing he wanted was the teacher near his brother who happened to kill the last history teacher to teach him a lesson. So the teen knew that last thing he should do was react and show concern, warn his brother away; that would just pique the dark-haired vampire's interest.

It wasn't long before Elena was led on a cat-and-mouse chase through the halls and the night ending with Stefan staking the vampire who was unwilling to depart with the information of his other tomb-cohorts.

And if Alaric was a little more stiff with him after the dance, Stefan didn't make the connection to him finding out about Damon.

~ T V D ~

Stefan found out not long after when he was tasked to retrieve the Jonathan Gilbert Journal which Jeremy had loaned to Alaric after he struck the deal with Damon to help him get the tomb open and rescue Katherine on the promise that they would both leave and never return to Mystic Falls so long as Elena was alive and thereafter.

The school was closed, dark and empty at this time of night. Stefan may have been the undead, but it still felt a bit creepy as he made his way to the history classroom. His ears told him that he was alone, but the raised hairs on his nape contradicted it—he put more trust in the latter.

The classroom was unlocked and he quickly checked the teacher’s desktop and drawers. He cursed as he came up empty. Alaric must have taken it home with him. If that was the case then he'd have to wait until school tomorrow to get his hands on it. Stefan didn't think Damon would very happy with that.

The sound of compressed air had him spinning around at vamp-speed and grasping a flying wooden stake out of the air with hardly any time to spare.

"Ric?" his gaze darted to the stake in his hand, to what looked like a stake-launcher in Alaric's, to the face of the man himself. His mind wanted to refuse the obvious implication but it couldn't. Alaric knew. "You were gonna kill me?"

"You're a vampire!" Alaric growled, face twisted in misery. "That's all the reason I need."

Stefan schooled his expression of the hurt. He sped over and quickly disarmed the human, shoving him roughly into one of the desk chairs. "How did you know I was a vampire? How did you know you just weren't about to kill an innocent student?"

"You're Damon's brother. I made the connection."

"How did you know that Damon's a vampire?" he wondered curiously. If Damon realized Alaric still wouldn't be alive

Alaric swallowed the lump in his throat. "He killed my wife. I saw him... feeding on her. And then they both disappeared. I've been looking for him for almost 2 years, trying to find answers. Why? Where he... dumped her body."

"Oh, Ric." Stefan slumped back against the teacher's desk. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."

"Why should I believe you?" Alaric demanded.

"I guess you have no reason to, but it's the truth." Stefan promised. "Damon's dangerous, Ric. You should stay away from him." Alaric said nothing more and the vampire sighed. "I just want the journal." Stefan whispered. "Jonathan Gilbert's Journal. Give it to me and I'll go." He stood up.

Alaric narrowed his eyes. "What do you need it for?"

"It holds very dangerous information that I can't let get into the wrong hands." He explained. When Alaric didn't answer he assured, "I'm not going to hurt you."

"You can't compel me, I have vervain."

Stefan shouldn't have been surprised at the accusation. "I'm not trying to compel you, Ric. I'm asking you. There are other vampires in Mystic Falls, dangerous ones and they're going to use the information in the journal to release 26 more into town. If that happens, they'll wipe all the humans out. Please."

Alaric swallowed. "It's on my desk."

Stefan shook his head. "It's not."

"Yes it is," he denied, getting up and standing around Stefan, he searched the desktop to no avail. "It was. It was here ten minutes ago." He turned to Stefan, "I heard something and went to get my stakes..."

"And when I came it was already gone." The vampire cursed and palmed his forehead in frustration, pacing shortly. "That means they got the journal! Shit. I don't know who they are, how many there are. I don't know what's in the journal--"

Alaric's arm suddenly shot out and he put a hand on Stefan's arm, stopping the vampire's frantic passing. "I made a copy."

"What?" he blinked.

Alaric nodded. "I can't believe I forgot. Earlier today. They're in my locker." Relief flooded Stefan and they quickly retrieved them from the man's locker. "Here." He handed them to the vampire.

Stefan fought the urge to hug Alaric, to crash their lips together hungrily. Alaric must have seen it on his face because he turned away. Stefan sighed in defeat, his fists tightened on the papers. "Thank you," he whispered sincerely.

Alaric turned back around but the teen vampire was already gone. Sighing in frustration, the history teacher and amateur vampire hunter carded his fingers through his hair and slammed the locker door shut. That had not gone at all as he had intended but definitely a lot better than he anticipated. Logan Fell had been his very first kill, he'd been very lucky with it instead of his skill. But when he thought he was going to have to kill Stefan...

He hadn't even realized that it was the teen standing in the dark until he had turned around. What the hell was going to happen now that Stefan knew that he knew, and with his brother, and now 26 more vampires?! Things just got a helluva lot more complicated than he had anticipated.

~ T V D ~

Stefan kicked in the motel door with more force than was truly warranted, but his seething mood said that it was.

His plan to burn the spell book buried in his father's grave to keep Damon and these other vampires from ever opening the tomb backfired on him with whiplash. Damon had cohorted with Anna for the journal and found them at the grave where he forced Elena to drink his blood and then threatened to kill her unless Stefan handed over the grimoire. Stefan did. Then he and Elena found out that Bonnie was missing, only for Anna to kidnap Elena with Damon's blood still in her system.

Stefan went to the only ally he had—Sheila Bennett, Bonnie's grandmother. Her locator spell led him here to some Motel 6 at the edge of town where he was out for blood.

The door splintered inward and he heard Elena and Bonnie shout in surprise, but their guard dog, a baby vampire, shrieked as he was hit with sunlight. He flailed into the shadowed recesses of the room.

"Stefan!" Elena cried in relief.

"Go!" Stefan ordered and tore open the curtains, flooding the room. He could hear the newbie's skin sizzle in the direct sunlight as he dove for protection between the two beds. The two teens rushed passed him. "I'll be out in a minute." He said.

"Please. Please don't kill me," the night bartender from the Grill begged.

Stefan tore a chunk off of the splintered door and silently stalked forward. He grasped the coward around the neck and lifted him up, where he struggled and cried out as the sun hit him through the window.

"You shouldn't have taken her. You shouldn't have taken either of them. You shouldn't have touched them!" Stefan growled menacingly, veins crawling around his green eyes threateningly. "This is a true mercy." And he plunged the makeshift stake into Ben McKittrick's stomach, up under his ribcage and into his still heart.

The new vampire grunted and cringed in pain, writhing for a moment in Stefan’s hold before he stilled, arms dropping, eyes glazed over, and he desiccated. Stefan dropped him, shut the curtains and closed the splintered door. He replaced the Do Not Disturb sign on the crooked knob.

"Are you two alright?" Stefan questioned quietly as he found them standing nervously at the end of the walkway. Elena immediately flew into his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around him. He wrapped one arm reassuringly around her. "Bonnie?" he reached out and put a hand on the witch's shoulder, squeezing it in concern. "Okay?"

"Yeah." She gave a small nod and him a grateful look. "They wanted me to do the spell to open the tomb and took Elena as leverage to make sure that I did it."

Stefan rubbed her arm comfortingly. "Come on, we need to get out of here before Anna comes back. I took care of the jackass easily enough, but she's 400 years old." He quickly led the pair across the lot.

Elena finally pulled back. "How did you find us?"

"Sheila did a locator spell."

"Is this Grams' car?" Bonnie said in surprise as they stopped at a car.

Stefan nodded with a small smile. "She lent it to me with the sole promise not to adjust the seat; said it was just right and not to mess with it."

Bonnie gave a light chuckle as she and Elena climbed into the back and Stefan behind the wheel. "That sounds like Grams."

"I'm taking you back there," Stefan said, pulling out into the street. "It'll be safe there. No vampire will be able to get you."

"I'm not just going to hide away," the witch protested.

"Damon's never going to stop trying, Bonnie." Elena tried to reason, remembering that taste of his blood as he got the grimoire. "It's not safe."

"I'm not going to let the likes of Damon Salvatore force me into hiding!" Bonnie declared firmly, fire in her chocolate brown eyes. "So if the only way to get him to leave us all alone is to open that tomb and give him that bitch, then so be it. He'll be out of our lives for good."

...

Stefan went through the motions of his shower, the water swirling down the drain grey and ash-y.

Sheila and Bonnie had managed to break the spell on the tomb, opening it. But Katherine was not down there with all the other desiccated vampires from 1864 like Damon had been lead to believe all these years. That meant that she was still alive, undead, somewhere out there. Stefan shuddered and shivered at the thought, while the realization that Katherine never loved him devastated Damon.

As they had all expected, Anna had made an appearance at the tomb for her mother, Pearl. She burned with the other 25 vampires in that tomb; imprisoned in their desiccated flesh for the last 145 years, only to meet the flames of hell via the flamethrower Stefan acquired. It was the deal he had made with Sheila; Damon got Katherine and the rest would perish.

It was one huge burden off of his shoulders. He and Damon were back to being the only vampires in Mystic falls; Bonnie and Elena were no longer in danger. His life could go back to relative normality and it finally left him the time to dwell on the dirty-blond.

He hadn't had the chance to talk to Ric since the encounter at school a few days ago. He wanted to help Alaric find out the truth about what happened to his wife but Stefan didn't think now was a very good time to question his brother about his one-night-stand's dead wife and draw attention to the teacher with Damon's no doubt volatile mood.

Stefan stepped from the shower, dried and dressed in comfortable pants and a tee. It was better that he stay here, keep an eye on his brother. Help if he could though he didn't hold much confidence in success. He quietly went downstairs and stood in the doorway, observing his brother with a bottle and tumbler, slouched in the middle of the couch, feet on the table and staring sightless into the crackling fireplace.

"Come to watch the show, brother?" Damon opened the floor, not turning to look at him.

"Damon," Stefan sighed quietly, stepping down the steps into the parlor room.

"I just know that you're enjoying this." He finished the bourbon in his tumbler and poured another from the bottle. "Because once again, Saint Stefan in all his wisdom—was right!" he waved his hand. "Katherine didn't care about me. She just used me as a play-thing. I was the poor sap who fell for it; hook, line, and sinker!" he drank again and when Stefan was still silent, turned to his brother. "Nothing to say, brother? This day really is for the record books."

"Seeing you hurt gives me no pleasure, Damon." Stefan finally spoke. "I'm not here to 'rub your face in it'. I know you truly felt for Katherine and I'm sorry that she wasn't in that tomb. But... maybe you can start new. Have a fresh slate--"

"I just spent wasting the last 145 years for the day the comet passed to open that tomb so I could free Katherine so we could be together." Damon informed him tartly, twisting to face him. "Let it go? I don't think so! If I did that because I thought it was love—what do you think I'm going to do now, brother?" he hissed, seething. "My new diabolical plan, track down dear Katherine—and make her suffer!" he swallowed the shot and slammed the tumbler and bottle on the table. He stood. "You could help me, brother. We could tear her apart together!" he was delightfully maniac at the idea. "What do you say," he circled around the couch, "Want to get your hands bloody with me, Stefan?"

"Damon," the teen vampire watched him warily, "I finished with Katherine a long time ago."

Damon snorted. "Says the man who dated her doppelganger!"

"Elena may look the same, but she is the utter opposite of the monster and manipulator that Katherine is!" Stefan snapped back in a wave of frustration at how stubborn and stuck his brother insisted on being. He gave a sigh and took a calming breath. "I didn't come down here to argue, Damon. I'll be in my room if you need anything," Stefan offered sincerely, turning away, hoping but knowing that his brother never would.

"What the hell could you possible give me, Saint Stefan? You are the cause to all my misery!" Damon flashed in front of the brunette and plunged his hand into his abdomen, wrist deep, with zero forewarning. He should have known better than to turn his back when Damon was in this mood.

Stefan grunt in pain and surprise, his knees shaking as he grasped his brother's arms for support. "Damon," he wheezed.

"So you can face a little agony with me, right, little brother?" He yanked his hand out, fist full as Stefan spluttered in distress, blood bubbling at his lips. "After all... we're in this together." He gave a too-bright smile and dropped Stefan's liver onto the wood floor with a wet plopping sound. "Goodnight, Stefan." He brushed off his brother's crushing grip easily, whereupon Stefan's knees gave out and he fell to the floor alongside his discarded organ, groaning. Damon strolled out and up the stairs, "If I need anything, I know just where to find you—cross my heart!" and he drew an X on his already soiled shirt with his baby brother's blood over his still heart.

Stefan was left on the floor in agony. He bit his lip to stifle the cry as he pressed his hand to the open wound in the hope of stifling the blood loss. Because of his animal diet, he didn't heal as fast and proficient as he would on human blood. What blood he had consumed that morning, he expended at the tomb and hadn't the chance to feed since making sure the Bennett witches and Elena (who he had to convince to stay from the Boarding House) got home safe—and by the time he got back he just wanted to wash it all off.

Healing from a complete organ removal was not an easy task in his condition and diet and he was fading fast as his body used its last reserves to heal him, curled up on the floor.

...

"Okay?" Alaric stroked his cheek and down his neck...

Stefan's eyes flickered behind his lids at the light, warm touches over his face, drawing him back before his eyes flickered open and he stared up into the worried brown eyes looking down at him set in olive-toned skin.

"Elena," he'd almost said Katherine.

When she would compel him to let her feed from him until he passed-out from the blood loss, he would often wake up naked in bed, his head pillowed in her lap, her strong fingers tracing the angles of his face, over his lips, down his throat over his fluttering pulse. This whole Katherine/tomb thing was bringing things back. But it was different when Elena did it.

"Stefan, thank god!" she gasped in relief and gave him a worried smile. "I was so scared when I found you on the floor with blood everywhere, I thought--"

"I'm a vampire, Elena." He reminded her. "It'll take a little more than spontaneous liver removal to kill me."

Tear glossed over her brown eyes. "It sure looked like you were."

"I'll be okay." He whispered reassuringly, reaching up to caressed her wet cheek; this wasn’t the first time she had cried, he realized. "I'll heal."

"It doesn't seem like you are," she told him, glancing down where she had bunched up her sweater and was pressing it to his upper right abdomen.

He reached down and moved her hand to get a look at it; she blanched and swallowed at the sight. Stefan grimaced but it wasn't as gaping as it was when he passed out. He put her hand back with the sweater, his over hers, squeezing it reassuringly. "It'll heal, it's just a big wound to mend on animal blood." He explained.

"What happened, Stefan?" she sniffed. "Was it--?"

"Damon." He sighed. "I tried to talk to him, but it was too soon. It was my fault." Stefan reasoned. "I knew how he was but I still pushed it."

"I know Damon is hurt, but that doesn't make it okay for him to attack you like this."

"This is just how Damon acts when he's hurt. He doesn't want to go through it alone, but is unwilling to ask for comfort, so he makes people hurt so they're on the same level as him. I'm used to it,"

"That shouldn't be something you get 'used to'." She responded.

"Maybe it's better if I give him some space," Stefan mumbled in acquiescence.

"I think that's a good idea," Elena agreed. "You can stay at my place,"

"Elena," he sighed, but it was in defeat. He let the human girl pull him up. "I need to feed."

She looked at him in concern. "Are you well enough to hunt?" it was the conundrum he faced. "We could stop by the butcher's for blood on the way home," Elena suggested.

Stefan's scrunched up in disgusted and she snorted cutely at the expression. Animal blood was an acquired taste, and that was when it was warm and fresh from the source. The blood from the butcher's was going to be cold and old, but he was out of options—he needed the blood.

"You need clothes!" she said suddenly and was already turning for the stairs.

"Elena, stop." He said and she looked back at him. "You don't even know where it is, you've never even been in my room." He started up the stairs. "Just give me five minutes?"

"Do you need help?" she offered.

He stopped and looked back at her. She's just worried about me, he hoped that was all it was—she did find him passed out on the floor with his liver ripped out after all. But he might have to re-enforce their break-up. Later. He wasn't sure he could deal with it right now. "I'm okay. Just let me change." She nodded and waited by the front door as he made it to his room, moving like an injured human.

Stefan stripped from his bloody clothes, cleaned away the blood with a cloth, grimacing. His wound was still open and weeping; he managed to find an old compression bandage under his bathroom sink that looked like it was from the '90's but it would hold until he got blood and healed. He slipped on some jeans and a black shirt in case of blood, grabbed an extra set and sweater before he headed back down. He didn't know how long he'd been out, but Damon was gone and he didn't run into his brother.

Elena stopped at the butcher's on their way through town, it was dark out but luckily still open, while Stefan waited in the car. She came out fifteen minutes later carrying a large paper bag carefully in her arms.

"Well, that's the one of the top 10 weirdest things I've done." She told him when she got back in the car, handing over the bag. "And that's saying something these days," was her tease with a wink of playfulness.

"Sorry." She just shook her head. He opened the bag and pulled out the container of blood. He wasn't sure what to expect, but it wasn't this. It was sealed in what looked like two litre plastic ice cream tub. He raised an eyebrow at her, this was not a practice he participated in.

"I know, but the guy said it was fresh of today." Stefan opened the container and they both grimaced at the scent. He wanted to drink it before they got to her house but-- "Oh!" he watched as she dug in her purse and produced as straw with triumph. "Will this help?"

Stefan took it and stuck it in the tub of blood. "Avoid the bumps," he said wryly, already drinking.

She chuckled lightly and drove responsibly. By the time Elena pulled to the curb outside of her house, the tub was empty and stained red. He put the lid back on and wrapped it back in the paper bag. They didn't move from the car.

Stefan sighed and lay his head back against the seat, his eyes closed as he ran his tongue over his bloodied teeth, cleaning it away. He ignore the sour tang in the back of his throat and instead focused on matching his breathing with hers in the quiet, already knowing that the blood helped exponentially. He was roused from his head as he felt the pad of her thumb brush the corner of his mouth; he looked over at her.

"Did it help?" Elena asked.

He sat up, lifted up his shirt, and removed the blood-spotted bandage. He twisted to show her the blood-stained skin of his torso, that was otherwise unblemished. She reached out and traced her fingers gently over the skin, making the newly healed skin jump out with goosebumps.

She gave a sigh of relief as she pulled back and he dropped his shirt. "I was worried when it wasn't healing," Elena admitted.

"The blood did what it was supposed to. Thank you, Elena." Stefan whispered. "It still aches, but that'll be gone in a few hours too."

"I'm glad I could help," she said honestly. "So, ready to sneak in?" she grinned mischievously.

He chuckled. "I think I've been a bad influence on you, Elena Gilbert."

He easily slipped up the stairs through the front door and to her room. She closed the door behind her. She went to her bed, and pointedly tossed the blanket back.

"Elena--"

"Stefan, you need the rest." She told him sternly.

He was dead on his feet, despite the blood, no pun intended. And don't forget emotionally exhausted. "Thank you." He said.

She stood there for a moment. "Right," she said awkwardly, pointing at her joint bathroom with Jeremy. "I'll just--" she grabbed some clothes and went to the bathroom, closing the door behind her and giving him some privacy as she got ready for bed herself.

Stefan took off his shoes and socks, and slipped out of his jeans and into sleep pants. He slipped under the covers. He slept over a couple times when they were a couple, but it had been strictly sleep between them and always when some vampire was out for her because of her likeness to Katherine.

Stefan sighed. If only he could have been born in the 21st century with Elena instead of being caught in Katherine's claws in the 19th.

"Hey, you okay?" Elena whispered in concern, leaning over the side of her bed to touch his shoulder. Stefan looked at her almost in surprise; he'd been so in his head that he hadn't heard her leave the bathroom. "Talk to me, Stefan. You know you can tell me anything." She sat on the empty space on the other side of the bed, her knees tucked under her as she faced him.

"I know that I've overly complicated your life, Elena." Stefan admitted sadly after a moment. "Now that the tomb vampires aren't a problem--"

"No!" she told him firmly, cutting him off, knowing exactly where he was going. "The danger was always there, Stefan, whether you came back to Mystic Falls or not. I'll still look like her, be mistaken for her, be her bloodline whether you stay or not. I'm still alive because of you, Stef. You were saving me before I even realized it."

"I wish I could be human for you, Elena." He whispered, sinking down into the bed and looking at her regretfully. "You deserve more than that, better than me. Better than this."

"I love you, Stefan. I know you love me, too, and as much as I wish we were still together, that's not what you want. I'm not going to resent you your feelings. But I would rather have you as my friend then not have you in my life, you're too important to me." She caressed his cheek. "Please."

He looked into her caring eyes and nodded. "Okay."

She lay down, turning off the lamp. And almost like it was rhythm, he opened his arm to her and she shifted to his side, laying her head on his chest over his still heart. He thought they both needed the comfort, the connection, the relief that the other was alright right now.

His worries didn't hold him awake as he fell asleep to the beat of her heart and rhythm of her breaths.

...

The soft murmur of voices guided Stefan smoothly towards wakefulness; there was no rush or urgency. He stirred lightly and nuzzled back into Elena's pillow, able to smell the faint scent of her shampoo.

"Hey, Sleepy Head." Elena teased him.

"Mm." Was his only response. He may be a 162 years in total, but he was still a 17 year old boy. The scent of blood had the skin around his eyes tingling and mouth watering.

"I got breakfast in bed," she enticed him and he cracked his eyes to see her wiggle a bottle of blood under his nose. He was already reaching for it as he sat up in bed, taking a gulp and his hooded gaze landed on the owner of the second voice, standing next to Elena beside the bed.

"Bonnie's here!" Elena said brightly, waving her arms at the other girl. The vampire and witch shared amused looks.

It was nice to know that he had built a life here, with relationship that he trusted enough to leave himself exposed and vulnerable. Lexi was the last person he'd had that with; it was a relief to know that he still had it in himself to cultivate that still.

"It's a relief to see that you get bed head just like the rest of us," Bonnie chuckled. "And you're welcome for the blood."

"Thank you. How are you, Bonnie?" Stefan asked licking the blood from his lips. "Sheila?"

"The spell took a lot out of her; she's resting. But she'll be okay." Bonnie told him.

"Good. I was worried. You're doing alright?"

"I'm good, Stefan. I'm just glad that this whole tomb/vampire thing is finally over," she admitted. "For now, at least," was the wry adage. It was the weekend so that would give them all time to unwind before having to go back to school on Monday. Bonnie sat on the foot of the bed, a leg tucked under her. "So what are we doing today?" she looked between them.

Stefan raised his eyebrow as he continued to drink. "Are we doing something?"

"You promised you would give him space, Stefan." Elena reminded him gently but firmly. "You both just need a minute from each other."

"Damon got what he deserved if you ask me." The witch said sharply.

"Bonnie--" Stefan started, holding the empty bottle in his lap.

"No. Elena told me that he ripped out your liver, Stefan. Who does that?! You're his brother!"

How he wished that would just magically make everything between them alright. Stefan sighed, rubbing his eyes. "Relationships get complicated over the span of a 145 years, Bonnie. I've done things just as bad, if not worse than Damon." Needing something to distract him, he swiped his finger around the inside neck of the bottle, collecting the remaining traces of blood and sucked it off his finger. He set the bottle aside and looked up at the two teens and nodded at the foot of the bed to Elena.

Taking the cue, but slightly confused, the girls exchanged looks as Elena sat on her bed next to Bonnie.

"You already know that Damon and I were turned together," they nodded. "That we were trying to save Katherine but were killed in the attempt—that started our transformation—and believed Katherine perished in the fire at the church." They nodded again, questions dancing in their eyes, but they stayed silent and let him speak. "Damon was shot first," Stefan's green eyes grew distant as he was thrown back into his last minutes of truly being human and not some transmutative in-between creature, "Right in front of me. He was dead before he hit the ground. Was already gone before I could even cry out his name, let alone get to him. Shot through the back with a rifle. I was not as fortunate. The musket ball buried in my stomach," his hand fisted into the material of his shirt on his stomach over the spot of his first wound. "I lay on the cold ground, staring into the dead eyes of my elder brother for the longest, most agonizing three minutes of my human life—of my future eternity—as I slowly bled out."

Elena and Bonnie grasped hands as he continued: "But the next thing I knew, I was awake, I was alive, and so was Damon. I didn't understand it. Emily, who had saved our bodies, told me that Katherine had been compelling me for months to drink her blood and that Damon had been taking it willingly.

"Katherine was dead. Or as I knew it and Damon was set out to believe. We were going to allow ourselves to die, not complete the transformation, to just let ourselves fade away out of existence. But I was stupid, sentimental. I wanted to see father, say goodbye. Damon warned me not to go, but I didn't listen. I should have...

"I heard father talking to Jonathan Gilbert about the town record, telling him to put Damon and I's death as civilian casualties so as not to bring shame to our family for being traitors. That was what he cared about, not that we were dead, but the shame of why we were killed. How he was the one that killed us! I revealed myself and he called me a demon. I just wanted to say goodbye, to understand and he attacked me. I didn't know my own strength—and then there was just so much blood. I couldn't stop myself. It just tasted so good, made me feel so good! I didn't even care that my father lay there slowly bleeding out--" They gasped at the confession. Stefan gave his head a rapid shake to dislodge himself from the potent memory.

"I went back to Damon a vampire. I wanted it to be us, together, like it was before Katherine came into our lives. Brothers for eternity. I was selfish. I made Damon drink blood, made him complete the transformation. And so Damon made me a promise of his own..."

"An eternity of misery." Bonnie whispered.

Stefan didn't even realize that he was silently crying until Elena gently brushed the tears away, pulling him into an embrace. He allowed it, resting his cheek on her narrow shoulder and looked over at Bonnie. "Don't you see?" he asked the witch. "Damon loved her, he truly loved her and she was just using the both of us for her own entertainment. The favoured toys until something newer and shinier came along; forgotten in the move. She stole Damon's heart, his soul, and she poisoned it without care, she twisted it until it became something mutilated—and then she just abandoned him." He pulled back from Elena's hold, palming his face dry and looked at the both of them. "Damon has spent the last 145 years believing that Katherine was in that tomb, just waiting for the day that he could save the woman that he loved and they would walk off into the sunset—only to find out that love was a lie, that he had been abandoned and no one cared enough to tell him. His heart is broken, he's hurt, and there's nothing I can do to help him!" He pushed the blanket back. "Thanks for the blood, Bonnie. And thanks for letting me spend the night, Elena, I needed it; but I should go."

Stefan went to stand but four hands grabbed onto his arms, two on either and pulled him back. He looked in surprise at the two determined looking girls.

"Oh, no you don't." Elena said.

Bonnie nodded. "We're doing something today, remember?"

He gave them a wondering laugh—already feeling better for it.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Stefan returned to the Boarding House after hunting on his way back from Elena's. The animal blood tasted especially good fresh and warm from the source, as opposed to the butcher blood he'd been drinking over the weekend that Elena and Bonnie had gotten him. It was also a wise precaution to fill up on blood before his first encounter with Damon after his brother decided to play a very poor game of Operation on him.

Coming home through the woods, Stefan didn't notice the white Chevrolet Tahoe parked off to the side down a ways the long drive, but he did spot Damon's soft-top in the drive.

Stefan took a deep breath as he stepped through the front door, wondering if Damon would be any better state to talk—when the sent of fresh, human blood assailed his vampire senses. Despite just having consumed four rabbits, the sent of human blood made the back of his jaw ache with hunger.

He should have known better than to think it was a good idea to leave Damon alone the same day he found out about Katherine, but he'd let the girls convince him. Not that he protested hard. He just felt so helpless to do anything that could mend the pain and anger that the other vampire was feeling. He was guilty. He was out enjoying himself while his brother was broken-hearted. And this was punishment for being so useless when Damon needed him. He sped through the house, easily following the mouth-watering scent.

Stefan found Damon in the cozy sitting room, at the sideboard pouring himself a drink so board and casual as if the body of person wasn't lying dead on the rug in front of the burning fire, a stake sticking from his abdomen.

"No!" Stefan shouted as he recognized the man with horror. "Ric!" he flashed to the man's side, cradling his head, checking for a pulse in his neck even as the silence of a heartbeat rang painfully in his ears. "Ric?" he begged helplessly, stroking his cheek.

"Interesting," Damon mused, watching the scene curiously as he took a sip from his freshly poured tumbler.

Stefan snapped his gaze away from Alaric's slack, open-eyed face, and to his glib brother. "What did you do? Why? You said--"

"He tried to kill me, brother. What was I supposed to do?" he asked innocently. "Let him?"

"You didn't have to kill him!" Stefan shouted. The scent of the blood lost its meaning to his anger and unrestrained grief.

"He's the one that tried to kill me," Damon touched his chest with his drink in question, "So why am I the one getting yelled at? That was his stake, you know. He brought that with him and it's not some hastily-made, arts-and-craft stake either. He knew, Stefan. He had to go."

"He saw you kill his wife! He knew what you were because you kill and you don't care—not the trauma or the pain you leave behind." He accused rightfully.

"You knew he was after me?" Damon said with some bite. "And you didn't think to tell me?"

"I was dealing with it," Stefan said weakly, guilt and shame hitting him hard. No; he'd spent the weekend with Bonnie and Elena, having fun and forgetting. Shirking his responsibilities.

"No." He stood to loom over them and said in strict disappointment at his brother: "This was me taking care of it—after you failed to." Damon kicked Alaric's foot, jostling his body.

"Don't touch him!" Stefan snarled with a flash of vamp-face.

Damon raised his dark brow in surprise at the unexpected response, before his expression smoothed out and a grin spread. "Ooh, does Saint Stefan have a thing for Teacher? Does Elena know? She'll be so heartbroken to know her former beau likes to take to bed with sin. Is that why you broke it off, I wonder."

"Why?" Stefan asked him, his face back to normal, searching, pleading as he rose to his feet and faced his amused brother; ignoring his comments. "Why do you have to be like this? Why can't it be like before, when we were human? Why can't we just be brothers again? I'm sorry, Damon." He grasped Damon's shoulders, squeezing desperately. "I'm sorry that I forced you to turn when I knew you wanted to die, that we were supposed to die together. But after I turned, I was scared, I didn't want to be alone—I just wanted my big brother." Stefan could see the cracks twitching away at his expression as Damon stood stiff under his brother's hands. "Please, Damon." Tears burned the back of his eyes. "Why can't we be brothers again?"

"I'm not angry at you for turning me, Stefan." Damon told him softly, looking back. "Maybe at the very beginning, but you were right, being a vampire felt fantastic. And then I was actually grateful after Emily told me that the spell worked."

Stefan shook his head in confusion. "Then wh--"

"Katherine." And his soft and sad expression snapped to one of twisted hate, fury, and hurt so sharply that Stefan stepped back in shock. "I loved her. I gave up everything for her. Would do anything for her. But it wasn't good enough, it's never enough—because she wanted you!" he hurled his glass across the room, shattering it on the opposing wall, alcohol running down the wall. "She was giving you her blood behind my back. It was just supposed to be the two of us, her and me. Not you! But she chose you! Everyone always chooses you, brother!"

It took him a moment to speak. "I chose you," Stefan whispered, broken, but Damon had already sped away. Stefan stared forlornly after his brother for a moment before he turned his attention back to Alaric. He dropped down back onto the floor, pulling the man into his lap. "I'm so sorry, Ric." He whispered and wrapped a shaky hand around the stake handle in his abdomen, throwing it into the fire behind him, hearing the wet blood sizzle and pop.

The scent renewed as blood eked from the unplugged wound. But the blood wasn't even calling to him—the switch was. Just a bit of darkness, just some quiet.

This never should of happened. "I should have been here." He laid his cheek against Alaric's forehead, tears dribbling from his eyes. He just wanted to hold him for a minute; he still felt so warm but the vampire knew it was just the proximity of the fire.

Death didn't follow in Damon's wake, it followed Stefan. Wherever Stefan went, people starting dying unnaturally and suddenly thereafter. It was Stefan that brought along with him the shadows of death. Stefan was the curse.

He just wanted it to end, just wanted it to stop.

There was a abrupt sharp, choking gasp and suddenly Alaric was jolting in his arms—alive! Stefan jerked back in surprise, watching the man look wild-eyed as he coughed and scrambled at his wound—which was healed. Alaric looked rapidly around in panic and confusion until his gaze found Stefan's shocked one.

"What happened?"

"You were dead. And now you aren't." Stefan said numbly, "Damon must have turned you."

But Alaric was shaking his head rapidly. "No. No. He couldn't have."

"He didn't feed you any of his blood?"

He remembered dying, drowning in his own blood as Damon watched. He could still feel the shadow pains of it, even if the wound was no longer there. But he was positive that Damon never gave him any blood. "No." He swallowed.

"Then how--?"

"My ring!" Alaric said suddenly. "It-- it has to be. Isobel said that it would protect me from the things that go bump in the night and never to take it off. That must be it." He looked at it in amazement.

Stefan took the man's hand and examined the ring. It was gaudy, just like his and Damon's daylight rings. "It must be imbued with magic." He whispered. Thank you, Isobel! He would be internally grateful towards the woman. Stefan squeezed his hand, looking back into his blue eyes.

"Hey, it--"

Stefan pressed his lips against Ric's, suddenly, firmly, expressing his immense relief and gratitude, before he pulled. "Sorry," he apologized as Alaric stared at him.

"No, no." Alaric gave his a little shake, tongue flickering over his lips. "It's... fine. Ahem," he cleared his throat, just seeming to realize that he was in the teen's lap. "I should-- I should probably go." Alaric clambered from the vampire's lap and Stefan sped to his feet, pulling the man up.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Stefan told him.

"Stefan, I just came back from the dead. I'm tired and hungry, and just want to drink and not think about the fact that I have to wake up at 6 tomorrow morning and deal with a bunch of teenagers for 8 hours."

"Exactly." Stefan agreed. "You just came back from the dead, Ric. That's not normal." Alaric gave him a pointed look. "Even where vampires are concerned. This isn't a vampire-thing, this is a witch-thing."

"What do you suggest then?"

"You shouldn't be alone for 24 hours at least. Think of it as concussion-watch—except you can drink alcohol and sleep."

"I can't just stay here, Stefan." Alaric said with exasperation. "Your brother literally just killed me," he pulled at his ruined shirt with a cringe, missing the look that crossed the vampire's face.

"I'm not going to try and excuse what Damon did," Stefan replied quietly, Alaric looked up at him. "You can trust me, Ric. I won't let Damon hurt you. I won't fail next time." His hands clenched into fists and he turned before the man could discern the pain in his eyes.

Alaric found himself following the vampire up the stairs and into his bedroom. "I do trust you, Stefan." He said and watched some of the strain leave the back of his shoulders at the confession.

It was large and spacious, all the furniture looked antique but well-cared for with an en suite. Stefan went in search of something that would fit his slightly broader shoulders.

Alaric avoided looking at his bed and instead his gaze was drawn to a bookcase by the door that was crammed full of old leather-bound journals. He traced the cracked spines as he squinted to read the faded dates. 2004. 1973. 1950. 1920. 1872. His astonish grew as he continued to find diminishing years amid the disorganization. 1868. "Just how old are you?!" he blurted, turning.

"Perpetually 17 for the last 145 years, at your service." Stefan gave him a bow with a slight hand flourish, holding out a folded shirt to the man.

"That means you were turned in..." Alaric took it distractedly as he quickly did the math, "1864! You were alive when Jonathan Gilbert wrote that journal, weren't you?" Stefan nodded. "That's incredible. The things you've seen, the things you've experienced. You've actually lived through history! It's no wonder you know so much about it."

"You pick up a few things," Stefan shrugged, enjoying the excitement sparking in Alaric eyes. No need to divulge the pain, misery, longing, loneliness and loss because it hadn't been all that. Sometimes, he'd have these moments that made it all worth it—like now, actually.

"You've got to tell me sometime," Alaric said. "The stories you must have!"

"Sure," the teen smiled.

"At least you look like that." Alaric gestured at him, eyes flickering, referring to his age remark. "I had glasses and bad skin when I was your age; you never would have slept with me back then," he chuckled.

"Don't sell yourself short, Ric." Stefan said quietly as the man passed him to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

While Alaric changed and cleaned off the blood, Stefan flashed down to the wine cellar and grabbed a couple bottles of the good, hard stuff and some glasses. He was back before the man was done in the bathroom.

Alaric came out wearing Stefan's shirt, holding his own. The vampire swallowed as he saw him. "What should I do with this?" he questioned.

"Here," Stefan grabbed the plastic lining from his small trash can and went over, holding it open for him and careful not to breathe. Now that he wasn't overloaded with other emotions to drown out the call of hunger, it was starting to claw back to the surface even if it was just from the dry blood coating the shirt. Alaric's blood smelled amazing and he didn't want to think of the man as a happy-meal.

Stefan tied it tightly and opened the doors to the balcony, stepping out. Alaric watched with interest as the vampire calculated, staring into the pitch darkness and drew his hand back. He lobbed the plastic bag into the distance and a moment later a faint metal clang sounded as the trash found the garbage can across the lot, exhaling.

"That's impressive," the teacher remarked, but Stefan could see the silent question in his blue eyes as he came back into the room, closing the doors.

"Your blood; the smell of it was starting to make me stir-crazy." He explained quietly, feeling the shame slink in. "I've never been good around blood."

"Right," he tapped his nose, "A vampire, I remember." Stefan gave a soft chuckle and head shake. "So how do you feed?" Alaric asked curiously as they sat at the small writing desk and Stefan poured them drinks.

"Strict animal diet." Stefan reported. "It's like vegetarianism for vampires." He clinked his glass against Ric's before downing the entire glass while Alaric took a moderate swallow of his. Stefan refilled.

"Isn't that like trying to put a lion on a diet of fruit?"

"Close." He was slower with this glass. "Being a vampire—with the blood, the craving, the hunger... it's like being a drug addict. So you have to find that level, you drink, you feed, you sustain yourself, but you don't indulge—you refuse the call of the blood, the blood haze." He swallowed against his dry throat and finished off his cup, topping Alaric's as continued distraction. "I've never been good at resisting," he admitted, staring at the table top instead of Alaric. This was stuff he hadn't even really told Elena. "I'm just one of those unlucky vampires that are really susceptible to its call. So, in order to function properly, I take animal blood—like methadone. It keeps me functioning though obviously not as effective as human blood, it's not our natural diet so it makes me weaker, more susceptible to pain and takes me longer to heal." He took a sip and looked up, "But it keeps me at my most human, gives me the most control."

"That sounds tough, Stefan." Alaric finally said after a moment, finishing off his glass. This was not the response he had been expecting to get, not that he expected to die and come back to life either, or be sitting across from his one-night-stand, turned student, turned vampire. Guess it was one of those nights.

"So, the floor is yours, Ric." Stefan said instead. "Ask me anything you want."

Alaric blinked in surprise, definitely another invitation he hadn't expected. When he started on this hunt for the vampire that killed his wife and found Mystic Falls crawling with mysterious animal attacks, he never expected to find himself friendly with the creatures he intended to kill (not that he had intention of killing Stefan), let alone get the opportunity to question them.

The starving historian inside of him was salivating at actually talking to someone who experienced it. If that personal Gilbert Journal was porn, then this was participation. But all that could wait for now; there were more pressing present issues that needed answers.

"The journal that was taken, those vampires that wanted to release those other vampires..."

"You don't have to worry about that," Stefan reassured, putting his hand over Alaric's on the table, giving it a brief squeeze. "We got the information that we needed from the journal you copied; it was a grimoire that held the spell to break open the tomb that was underneath the burned church."

"Fell's Church, from the journal?" Alaric asked. Stefan nodded. "All the history books claim that it was union soldiers that were killed in the church fire but it was these vampires, wasn't it?"

"Yeah."

"So you destroyed this... grimoire," he waved his hand, "So the tomb couldn't be opened."

"No. We opened the tomb."

"I'm sorry, you what?!" Ric exclaimed, jumping to his feet. "You let the vampires out."

"No. Hey." Stefan stood and stepped around the table, he grasped Alaric's shoulders. "There was no danger. They were desiccated. They're all dead, Ric. None got out. I killed them with fire. The vampires who were trying to open it are all dead, too. There's no more danger. And we blocked the entrance so no drunk and hapless teenagers can get into trouble."

"You could have led with that," Alaric huffed, smiling nervously at him.

"Sorry." Stefan drop his hands, them brushing briefly down Alaric's biceps.

"Who's this 'we'?" he wondered after a moment.

"Me, Damon." He paused. "Elena." He could trust Alaric. "A--"

"Your girlfriend?" Alaric asked—to clarify and nothing else. He wanted the facts.

Stefan couldn't help the small smile that twitched at the corner of his mouth. "Ex-girlfriend. We broke up, but are still good friends." He ignored the whispered of doubt so quiet at the back of his mind.

"So she knows that you're--? I mean obviously if she was at the church with you." He was babbling like an idiot. "Is that why you broke up?" he cringed. This should be territory that he ought to be steering away from, not towards. "Sorry. That's not--"

Stefan gave his head a little shake. He said softly, "I broke it off. Being a vampire was a part of it, not that she cared. I love her, but I just can't love her like that."

"Ah." Alaric swallowed as he watched Stefan, something fluttering at the hollow in his throat. They gazed at each other for a moment before the teacher cleared his throat awkwardly. "Sorry. I interrupted you again. Before, I mean."

"And a couple witches who didn't want those vampires getting out into Mystic Falls just as much as the rest of us." Stefan picked up the thread easily.

"Obviously." Alaric agreed.

Stefan chuckled, "Obviously. It's always good to have the witches on your side."

"You said before that this was magic," Alaric raised his right hand and rubbed at the ring on his finger thoughtfully.

"I could ask." The vampire offered. "See if they'd agree to meet you."

"Or maybe that's just jinxing the whole thing," he mused.

"We don't know if this was just a one-off, Ric. Personally, I don't want to find out. It's better to be sure—especially with your... extracurricular job."

"You're right, it could come in handy. It certainly did tonight,"

"Are you sure you're okay?" Stefan asked. "You're not feeling dizzy or residual pain? Anything like that?"

"I really am fine, Stefan." He clapped the worried vampire on the shoulder. "It's been a long night and I'm just tired. It's going to be a long couple weeks with the Founder's Parade and everything. I just need some sleep." He started for the door with every intention of heading back to his apartment.

"You are definitely not driving in your condition." Stefan protested, stopping him. The hand on Alaric's chest was a stubborn force. It was such a relief to finally feel the man's heartbeat through his chest instead of just listening to it with his vamp-hearing. That previous silence had been so jarring he was nearly second away from turning it off before the ring brought Ric back. "You can take my bed. I'll make sure you get up early enough not to be late for class." He promised. "Please."

"Stefan--"

"Don't look so worried," the teen tried to joke. "My presence in the bed isn't part of the deal."

"This is really messed up, Stefan," Alaric confessed, laying his hand over Stefan's on his chest. "When we slept together, I thought you were human. If I had known--"

"I know." His voice came out slightly rough around the lump in his throat, the pain in his chest. Fought to not let Ric see it on his face. The man did not need his brooding teenage vampire identity issues.

He went to pull his hand away but Alaric squeezed it, preventing him. "No. Stop. Yes," he sighed, "If I had known you were a vampire, I never would have slept with you, just tried to kill you. The only experience I've had with vampires is your brother killing my wife. But you were human to me before you were a vampire. I got to know the real Stefan Salvatore, am still getting to know him. You. And I'm glad. Though to be fair, I also never would have slept with you had I known you were only 17 years old," he added in wry ambivalence.

Stefan stroked his cheek with his free hand. "I'm glad you're not dead, Ric. Or undead. Just... alive. Vampirism isn't all that the fantasy books and movies make it out to be." He dropped his hand from Alaric's cheek and slipped his hand reluctantly out from beneath the one pressed against the man's chest. "Goodnight, Ric." He turned and started for the door.

Alaric felt helpless as he watched the vampire's retreating back and blurted: "Did you mean it?"

Stefan stopped but didn't turn around. "Mean what?"

"When we were together," he said after a slight hesitation. "That you hadn't been with someone for decades?" the brunette gave a slight nod. "Why me?"

Stefan furrowed his brow in confusion but he answered truthfully. "I couldn't help myself. I sat in on your lecture and just watching you up on that stage—it was magnetizing. I had to be near you, I needed to. Just talk to you, just for a bit." He gave a half shrug, a cover for himself more than anything. He hadn't felt the want pull at him so hard for a very long time, to be with someone—then he returned home everything got all muddled with Elena(-looking-like-Katherine).

Stefan was not expecting it, so when Alaric grabbed his arm and spun him around, the vampire stumbled lightly into the man and into his lips—that hadn't been a consequence, but the teacher's intention.

Stefan couldn't help but sink into it instantly. The warmth, the taste that tingled against his lips as Ric flicked his tongue against them. He should put a stop to it, Ric must be in shock (like that kiss downstairs when the teacher had come back to life in his arms) and then with the drink. Just one more minute, he let his own want take command of his action.

Dying (and coming back) did tend to put things into perspective. And Alaric was acting on it. His normal human response went out the window the night he saw a vampire kill his wife and dedicated the last two years looking for them. Well, he found them and like everything in the world and life, things were not always what you expected them to be. He never expected to sleep with a seventeen year old, or see the teen again. He never expected to die and come back to life. He never expected to want to sleep with a vampire, but he was willing to make an exception for this vampire.

"Ric--"

"I'm as mature as I look, Stefan."

Stefan gave a light chuckle, searching the man's eye as he slowly closed the distance. Alaric waited and let him come, letting out an exhale through his nose as they finally connected. Stefan guided the man backwards into his room and towards his bed, his hands finding their way under the hem, stroking up his torso, dragging the material up. They broke the kiss for Stefan to pull the borrowed shirt off and drop it to the floor.

The rapid beat of Alaric's heart and the smell of his arousal fuelled Stefan's desire and hard cock. He pushed the man back onto his bed, kissing down the jumping pulse in his neck, across his chest, paying reverent attention to the right side of his torso where Alaric healed from his death, before the vampire trailed his lips and tongue further down.

He started to undo the man's fly when he was pushed away.

"Your turn," Alaric told him, working on his own confinement.

With a smirk, Stefan stripped from his shirt and pants to the approving gaze of the teacher. Both naked and erect, Alaric grasped his wrist and pulled the teen on the bed on top of him, kissing as he rolled them over and gave Stefan a similar treatment.

Stefan twisted his torso, scrabbling at the drawer in his bedside stand, yanking it open with enough strength to almost send the whole thing crashing onto the floor. He groped blindly inside, his focus shattering as Alaric continued to stroke and tease his throbbing cock with feather-light touches. He tossed the small bottle of oil onto the bed and continued to try to valiantly search for a condom he was sure he was never going to find but attempted to for Ric's conscious. Stefan didn't care, he would much rather feel the man inside him without the latex barrier; he was a vampire, he was clean, he could neither transmit nor contract even if Alaric was positive. The only value they held for the vampire was that it was a easier clean-up afterwards. It wasn't like you could catch vampirism through anal sex.

"Uhh!" Stefan cried out as Alaric pushed a slicked finger into his entrance and started to pump. He fumbled with the drawer before abandoning it all together as he begged for another finger and Ric obliged him. Alaric peppered the inside of his thighs with kisses, his stubble brushing against the skin as he crooked his fingers, finding that bundle of nerves inside the vampire, enjoying the faint flush on his chest. He added a third. "Nh."

Alaric finally pulled his fingers out and coated his cock with a few pumps of the same oiled hand, sighing at his own touch. Stefan watched with hungry eyes as the man guided his cock to his slicked and stretched entrance. The weeping head of his cock breached and he slowly started to push in—it was maddening!

Stefan wrapped his legs low around the dirty-blond's hips and pulled the teacher forward swiftly. Their groans collided as they were skin-on-skin and no space between.

"Shit, Stefan!"

"Mgh." Stefan's head fell back onto the pillow as Alaric grasped his taut thighs and started to thrust.

After feeling only pain, grief, and worry for so many consecutive days, this was exactly what the doctor called for. Connection and release. Intimacy. He reached above his head with one arm, bracing his palm against the thick oak headboard; his other reached for Alaric, needing some kind of other physical anchor between them besides the beautiful man's cock thrusting inside him.

"Ric!" he gasped, chest arching up as the man stroked his prostate. He could feel the want building, the urge to pull Alaric close, bury his face in the man's neck—bury his fangs into the pulsing, engorged artery. If you bite it just right, you could control the flow. He could feel the burn of thirst in the back of his throat, the veins starting to pulse around his eyes. Shit! Stefan grabbed the extra pillow next to him and pressed over his face as Alaric stroke him again and he lost control over his face.

"Stefan. Stefan." Alaric panted, slowing. "I can't with your face shoved in a pillow, it's disconcerting. C'mon." He tugged at the case, with reluctance, Stefan let him pull it away and immediately crossed his arms over his altered vampire face, struggling to 'put it away' as Alaric continued in a torturously slow pace. "Stefan." He could see the teen's fangs peeking out as he panted and the human leaned down, nuzzling his square jaw before he carefully kissed the fanged mouth.

Stefan let out a low groan, kissing back. His arms slowly dropping away and wrapped around his neck, fingers shoving into his short dirty-blond cut. He felt his fangs retract and his eyes cleared, gyrating his hips in clear order and Alaric started to pick up the pace again. The man pulled back for breath and he gazed into the lust-blown green irises.

Alaric was close. He wanted Stefan with him in climax so he grabbed the vampire's neglected cock between them and started to jerk the teen off in time with the thrusts. He reached his peak first, grunting Stefan's name into his chest. Stefan followed a instant later as warmth flooded him, ejaculating between their sweaty bodies as he cried out into Ric's hair.

Alaric slumped on top of the bushed vampire, spent and sated. He lazily kissed his collarbone as he finally, finally felt the night catch up to him, his eyes dropping.

"You planning to fall asleep right here?" Stefan mused, peeking down at his lover's face as his heartbeat slowed and his breaths evened.

"Mm." Alaric nodded. "That would be great." But he summoned enough energy to careful pull himself out of Stefan and roll off him onto the empty side of the bed. Hands over his head, his body arched as he stretch and slumped even more happily into the bed as Stefan wiped them clean with tissue. "Thanks," he mumbled and Stefan smiled as he watched him.

"Go to sleep, Ric." He whispered, pressing a kiss to his mouth as he pulled the blanket over the naked man. Alaric could do nothing but follow the instruction.

Stefan flitted from the bed to turn off the lights and lock his bedroom door and briefly to the bathroom before he was back under the blankets and pressed against Ric's side. He watched the man through the darkness before his own tiredness claimed him.

...

Alaric's nose twitched as a familiar scent wafted towards the slumbering man, calling to him. His nose was already gravitating toward the delicious scent, his still half-asleep body having no choice but to follow. His hand reached blindly until another took it gently and guided it to the full mug and brought it to his lips. Alaric took that first blissful swallow of strong, steaming, pure black caffeine. It coursed through his veins like a second blood source. He finally opened his eyes to find Stefan, with perfectly styled hair and already dressed for the day, perched on the edge of the bed giving him a amused smile.

"What if I had been a bad vampire?" Stefan teased.

"Then I would know that my Stefan perished valiantly in the attempt to protect my life," Alaric returned in the same note, sipping from the mug, blue dancing over the rim.

"Perished, hm?" Stefan wondered lightly even as his chest fluttered at being his anything. "Not simply incapacitated?"

"I assumed that was the only way a 'bad vampire' would have made it that far,"

And the teacher was right. "Now shower," he threw a thumb toward the en suite, "You have class to teach... Mr Saltzman." Stefan gave the man a leer as he said his name huskily and watched his blue irises be overtaken by pupils. He chuckled and stood up. "There will be more coffee for you when you get out," the teen enticed knowingly, which kicked the teacher into gear. He bit the inside of his cheek as he watch the human walk across his room naked.

While Alaric was in the shower, Stefan went downstairs to the kitchen to refill Ric's cup and refresh his own, while he put something in the toaster so the teacher would have something to line his stomach. When he'd woken up an hour before Alaric's wake-up call, he stretched out his senses but couldn't find his brother's presence in the house. Damon hadn't come home after their fight and Stefan was worried (50/50 of Damon lashing out and hurting an innocent bystander; and simply for his brother). Damon had swore to him that he wasn't going to tear through town and tear out everyone's throats; the vampire had kept to that promise aside from the incident with Alaric. While unhappy with his brother, he could understand that he was not at fault; Alaric had attacked him with the intent to stake. The fact that Alaric came back to life and was still human was a huge point in Damon's favour right now.

Stefan drank his coffee as he waited for the toaster. He thought it would be better to get Alaric out of the Boarding House before Damon came back. Of course he was going to have to tell his brother that Alaric came back to life, it's not like he wouldn't find out eventually either—the teen knew he wasn't going to be very chuff. And he was going to talk to Bonnie about the ring. He thought it best to keep whatever he had with Ric on the quiet; he knew Elena still had hope that once he worked through his feeling on the whole Katherine look-alike thing, that they would get back together. He hated to hurt her but he didn’t foresee that ever happening.

The toaster popped and he got a plate; taking it and the coffee back upstairs. Alaric was just stepping from the bathroom, hair dark with wetness, wearing his pants from yesterday and Stefan's borrowed shirt.

Stefan handed over cup and plate. "Coffee, as promised."

He took a drink of coffee before he looked down at the plate. "Pop tarts?" Alaric raised his eyebrows.

Stefan raised one of his own in return, "What, you don't like Pop tarts?"

"What? No, I do!" he held the plate closer. "It was just a question." He finished them in a couple minutes; he was starving! "Thank you."

Stefan flashed back down to the kitchen with the dishes while Alaric put on his shoes and went down the stairs at a more human pace. He pulled up short in the front hall as he came face-to-face with his sort-of murderer who had just returned to the Boarding House.

A flash of surprise went through the vampire's vivid blue eyes before his control took back over. "I killed you. You're supposed to be dead." Damon circled the man slowly like a shark, dissecting.

Alaric forced himself calm. He had the ring on his side if it came to it. "You're not very good at killing people, are you?"

"Is that a challenge?" Damon growled into his ear as he came back around to face him.

"Back off, Damon." Stefan warned, appearing behind his brother.

Damon didn't move. "Did baby brother make a bampi out of you?"

"What the hell is a bampie?" Alaric asked, but Damon ignored him, focusing his hearing tuning into the presence of his pumping heart.

"No, he's too saintly for that," Damon answered his own question, eyeing the dirty-blond intently. "No, this is a very interesting twist—you're still human. I know I killed you, I watched you die. So what the hell are you?"

"Like I said: you don't seem very good at that." Alaric told him.

Damon regarded him, secretly impressed and gave him a smirk. "You're two-for-two, Teacher. You sure have my little brother wrapped around your little finger. Count yourself lucky... but if you try and come at me again, I'll kill you—again—and make sure you stay that way."

"Whatever you say, man." Alaric stepped around Damon and passed Stefan, and through the front door.

Stefan was giving his brother a stony glower and Damon returned it with a glare of his own. The message was clear from either vampire: We'll talk later! Stefan departed after the teacher but Damon spoke anyways at a regular volume, knowing his brother would hear:

"Was that your shirt, Stefan? So naughty! Do you think Elena will recognize it?"

~ T V D ~

When Stefan arrived at the school (separately from Ric of course, the teacher taking his car back to his apartment to change and get his things before heading to the high school; and the vampire took a jaunt through the woods for a couple squirrels before flitting to school), he could tell by the look on Elena's face and the way she came rocked up onto her toes at the sight of him, that she wanted to ask how it went with Damon (Bonnie was a little more subtle with a frown at the corner of her lips), but there wasn't time to talk before the bell rang and they had to get to class.

...

Stefan let Elena corral him at lunch, an arm looped through his, to the picnic table outside for lunch with Bonnie and told them the gist of what he came home to. Alaric going after Damon for killing his wife; Damon killing Alaric; Alaric coming back to life because of the ring.

"Well, that lasted a full day." Bonnie deadpanned, not at all surprised. No, what was intriguing was this ring that apparently brought their history teacher back to life.

Elena seemed slightly conflicted. "He's alright?"

He wasn't 100% on who she was asking for, so he answered for the man on his mind. "Ric seems to be." Stefan said; definitely seemed very robust thrusting into him last night. "I'm hoping."

"Ric?" Elena raised a plucked brow.

Stefan cleared his throat. "My brother killed him and he came back to life in my arms, I think that promotes us to a first name basis." He turned back to Bonnie, "Do you think you could look through Emily's grimoire, see if you can find out anything about the ring?"

"It's worth a shot," the witch nodded. "So what are you going to do about Damon?"

"I'm going to talk to him."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Elena shared a doubtful glance with her friend. "The last time you tried that, he tore out your liver."

Stefan reached out and rubbed her back. "I'll be fine, Elena. He just needs to process."

...

Stefan was forced to wait until the end-of-day bell before he could tell Alaric that Bonnie was on it as soon as she got home and would call with the news.

It was like he was a fish swimming against the flow as students streamed down the halls to the front doors of the school, eager not to spend one more minute in this institution. They had no idea! Stefan was 145 years old and had enrolled himself through countless high schools and universities to expand his mind, learn something new, curve the boredom so he didn't go off the handle. They should count themselves lucky that they just had four short years before they could really move on in their lives, not live in the same continuing cycle that the vampire was stuck in eternity for.

The scent of blood hit him like a jolt and he reacted instinctively, flitting the rest of the way to the history classroom despite stragglers in the halls where it was coming from. He slammed through the door, causing Alaric to jump and spin around to him in surprise, a wade of saturated tissues pressed to his nose.

"What happened?" he was in front of the man in an instant, protective hand on his shoulder, gaze hunting around the empty room for some invisible enemy. "Are you okay?"

Alaric blinked at him. "I'm alright, Stefan. It's nothing sinister, just a bloody nose."

"Nothing sinister? Just a nosebleed?" Stefan repeated. "You came back from the dead last night, Ric. There is no 'just' in this situation."

"I get nosebleeds sometimes, Stefan." Alaric assured him, giving the wrist on his shoulder a squeeze. "I'm human, it happens." He lowered the hand at his nose, throwing the tissues in the dustbin next to the desk. He took a clean tissue and wiped at his nose, it just came back with faint streaks of residual blood. "See, it's already stopped."

Stefan cupped his cheek, checking for himself before nodded. He sighed. "Sorry if I came at you strong, but seeing as the last time I smelt your blood, you were dead... I think it was warranted."

Ric gave a slight chuckle. "I get it."

"I came to--" Stefan cut himself off and turned his head to the side toward the open door, listening intently. He could recognize Elena's quickly retreating treads anywhere. He was careless in his fear when he'd smelt Ric's blood, left the classroom door open, zeroed in on the man and forgot his surroundings. Elena muse have seen them, well, how they were right now, standing so intimately together. He closed his eyes briefly in guilt.

"What is it, what's wrong?" Alaric questioned.

Stefan gave his head a little shake and turned back to the man. "Elena. She saw us."

"Shit." Alaric cussed and took an immediate step back from him, causing Stefan's hands to drop and disconnecting them.

Stefan felt the distance like a wide chasm that he needed to close between them immediately. "Ric--" he started to reach for the man, but Alaric didn't see it as he paced away in disquiet out of reach.

Stefan leaned back heavily on the edge of the teacher's desk, hands gripping the wood edges with white-knuckles as he stared at the toes of his boots. His head throbbed while he ignored the hungry itch scratching the back of his throat as the air held a lingering undertone of Ric's blood coming from the dustbin next to him.

"I'm sorry, Stefan." Alaric suddenly said and Stefan looked up at the man, his brow furrowed in confusion, his green eyes with a spark of hope as he straightened. "I screwed up. You might have been alive for over 145 years, Stefan, but it doesn't change the fact that you're still just a 17 year old kid. I'm 33 years old, I'm the adult and I never should have let last night go on as it did. I'd just come back from being dead; I was in shock and to be honest... jealous when you brought Elena up. It was petty and it was unacceptable. I knew that there were still residual feeling from the first time at Duke and your recent break-up, as well as being upset about what happened with your brother…"

Stefan started to shake his head helplessly; he could talk to Elena, make her understand. The second time meant something. They were no longer strangers. They did it knowing full-well what the other was. It hadn't been some one-night-stand where they knew they would never see each other. He tried to speak, to stop the man from continuing but the lump in his throat was powerful and it crushed his vocal cords leaving him unable to get the words out.

"I appreciate your concern, but it can go no further this time." Alaric said quietly, but firmly, swallowing as he watched the light dim in the vampire's bright green eyes. "What I said the first time at the Grill still stands—has to stand."

Stefan stood. He wanted to say so many things, but all that came out was a dull missive, "I have to go, Damon's expecting me. I came to tell you that I talked to my witch, she's going to look into the ring, make sure that it's safe." Original message relayed, he could only bear to look at the man for a moment before he turned and walked out of the classroom. As soon as he turned out of sight, he ran, his pounding steps echoing through the empty hallways. As the school doors slammed shut behind him, the loud clap swallowed Alaric's own shout of frustration and despair as he lashed out and booted the dustbin across the classroom. As soon as Stefan hit the pavement outside, he bolted at vamp-speed, he just ran with no predestined location in mind.

He wanted to run fast enough that he could leave the pain behind, but he knew that it wasn't a feat possible in the physical sense, this was all internal, invisible inside of him yet such a tangible pain—and all of it controlled with one simple switch.

Stefan did it again; he let his heart overtake his head and he paid the price.

Emily was right when she told him that vampirism could only ever be a curse for him. Even when he turned off his switch, he still felt the guilt as he ripped his victims apart and was compelled to piece them back together in a macabre display of normality. Even as the Ripper he knew the guilt, shame, and suffering he would endure once he turned his humanity back on and so that was the thing that compelled him to keep the switch off and the Ripper in the driver's seat. It was a vicious cycle for him, but without Lexi, who would be able to snap him back next time?

When he finally stumbled to a halt on loose earth and grass, he was at the last place he expected to stop running at. The quarry where Emily had taken him and Damon to safety as they awoke in transition. Before that, it was where Damon had taken him to teach him how to swim. Where they swam and fooled around on those sweltering summer days. He had such good memories of his childhood with Damon here, his best-friend as well as his big brother, his hero. But those memories were back lashed with the worst one in his vampiric life, an hour after he was turned with their father's blood, it was here where Stefan made Damon drink and broke their brotherhood.

Damon was right; he always was in the end. They should have died, faded into death together.

Fiddling with the daylight ring on his finger, he let his head fall back and stared up into the blazing, burning sun glaring brightly down on him. "I'm sorry." He whispered.

He dropped his hand and hung his head, squeezing his eyes closed as sunspots clouded his vision. He pressed his finger and thumb pads roughly against the organs as they healed. He'd had many such despairing moments in the last 145 years that he had contemplated just taking off the ring, stepping into the sun and letting it consume him in the hellfire that he deserved for all the pain, suffering, and death he had caused—starting with his brother.

Though in these rare but present moments, there was one thing that always stopped him. Damon. On the handful of times where he was in such dark despair, Damon would come to keep his promise of an eternity of misery. There was always (and will ever) be a part of him that Damon appeared and stopped him because he didn't want to lose Stefan as much as Stefan couldn't bear to lose him; and then there was the part as Damon told it: "How can I give you an eternity of misery if you are dead, little brother? Stop being so selfish."

Stefan headed back towards the Boarding House through the wood at a human pace. If he couldn't be with Elena how she wanted, if he couldn't be with Alaric how he wanted, the vampire was determined that he would have his brother back. 145 years of separation was long enough.

...

"I'm home," Stefan said needlessly as he walked into the Boarding House.

Damon made no response, but the teen vampire knew he was there even without using his heightened senses and went straight for the main parlor which was both the brothers' favoured room. The dark brother was lounging in the large leather chair by the fire, a tumbler of bourbon in hand.

"So, how's the boyfriend?" Damon asked, watching his brother go to the cabinet and pour himself a glass of whiskey. "Did it get a little tense in history class?"

"Damon, please." He sighed, sitting heavily on the couch. "Can you just drop it?"

The dark-haired vampire gave a dramatic sigh of his own. "A hunter is after me and he can't die, Stefan. That is of great interest to me."

"Please don't kill him," Stefan beseeched his brother. "He's not going to come after you again. Just leave him alone, you've already killed him once. That's enough."

"Tell me how he's alive, Stefan." Damon glowered at him.

Stefan sighed and took a drink. "It's his ring. There's some kind of enchantment on it. I asked Bonnie to look at Emily's grimoire, see if there's anything in there."

"Fucking witches," Damon drummed his fingers on the chair arm in annoyance. "Always judging, interfering, and screwing us over. Should have killed her myself when I had the chance."

Stefan exhale heavily and sat forward to put his glass on the on the side table. "Damon--"

"Uh-uh," Damon stopped him with a pointed finger. "I'm not in the mood for more of your preaching, Saint Stefan."

Stefan stood in frustration, hands clenched at his sides as he let his annoyance at his brother and his own hurt lash out of him for brief instant before he could rein it in and shove it back like always, "Why can't you just let it go for once?! Why does it always have to be 'food', below you, or your enemy? Aren't you tire--"

Damon sped to his feet and in front of Stefan in an instant. "I hate to have to repeat myself, Stefan."

"Can't you just let her go, for your own sake?" Stefan petitioned him; he didn't even have to say her name, for his brother to instantly know who he was referring to. "She already stole 146 years of your life, Damon. And every second you devote to getting your revenge on her, she's winning. You'll never find her--"

"I haven't been looking for her." He hissed. "I'm like a hound with the sent of blood and fear. You of all people should know that about me better than anyone. I'll have her soon enough."

"--not unless she lets you," Stefan ignored him and continued on, "Not unless she needs something or to play more of her fucking games. She doesn't deserve the attention you give her. Let her go. Stay here. Live your life—not to hunt her down, not to punish me—but for yourself." He gripped Damon's shoulder, looking desperately into the ice-blue eyes. "This is our home, Damon. This can be our home again. You and me--"

"And settle for your sloppy seconds?" he scoffed. "I don't think so. This is your sick little game of house you're trying play at, brother." He shrugged the vampire's hand off. "I like the magnifying glass and anthill much better." He flopped back into the leather chair, finishing off his drink.

Stefan just stood there, staring at his brother. His undead body leached at the heat waves emitting from the fire, but he simply felt empty and cold. Damon sat there, almost expectantly, waiting for him to persist. His brother had asked him several times through their years as vampires why Stefan bothered, what was the point, it never went anywhere but towards his own misery. I will always fight for you, was the brunette's vehement response each time, but Stefan just didn't think he had anything left to give.

All that determination he had scrounged together on the way back to the Boarding House from the falls, that lifeline—withered and shrunk, turned brittle and crumbled. "I'm tired, Damon." Stefan finally whispered, hollow.

He turned and started to leave when Damon suddenly jumped up, grabbed him and pinned him against the wall next to the doorway, his arm across Stefan's chest like a steel bar.

Damon gazed intently at him with narrow, piercing, (worried???) eyes. "What the hell is wrong you? Still too little to sit at the grown-ups table, Stefy?"

"Just screw off, Damon." Stefan managed to shove his brother off him and back a step. "You can rest easy, The Stefan Suffering season is at the apex so just put your feet up, enjoy the show. Use this little respite in the writer's room to come up with some new, consuming misery for next season. Or who knows," he gave a sneer, "Maybe this is finally the series ending." He turned for the doorway.

"Stefan--?" Damon went to grab him, but Stefan flitted out the room and upstairs, slamming his bedroom door shut. "Stefan!"

Stefan locked the door behind him, leaning heavily back against the thick wood as his energy was sapped. If he expected Damon to come kicking the door down, he would have been wrong. Instead, he heard Damon leave through the front door, get into his Camaro Convertible and speed off down the drive.

He pushed from the door and his gaze went instantly, involuntarily to his bed. It was still unkempt from the previous night and this morning. His chest tightened as he approached, unable to stop himself as he stripped and crawled under the sheets.

He was just torturing himself. He consciously knew it, that this would not help ease the pain, yet he did it anyway, the memories flooding through him. His chest shuttered and heaved in silent, suppressed sobs, refusing to let the empty house echo his sorrow back at him mockingly. He bet Alaric wasn't in bed, losing control.

He never learned, no matter how many times he went through the same motions and expected different results. It was hard when the scars were not visible.

Damon was right, he did this to himself—every single time.

He couldn't even be bothered with the energy to write in his journal and he knew that that was a bad sign. Cocooned in the blankets, haunted by Ric's lingering scent, he fell into a restless sleep until the bright rays of the sunrise cut through his open curtain and blinded him awake.

When he climbed from bed, he made it straight away, smoothing out the wrinkles like wiping the memories away (if only it were that easy), before he showered and dressed. He passed Damon on the stair, who was giving him a look that he hadn't seen for such along time on his brother's face that he couldn't even put a name on it.

He started across the lot, bag strap looped over his neck when he heard a clang, his eyes followed his ears and they zeroed in on the garbage cans on the grass, one was knocked over and he could see a grey, fury body tearing into a plastic bag. Stefan flitted over, grabbing the racoon by the scruff of its neck; it screeched and hissed at him, its body writhing and whipping as it tried to get free of his grip.

He ignored it and toed the bag with his boot and saw the blood-stained material of Alaric's torn shirt. He vamped out and his teeth tore into the crazed animal viciously in a rage response and suddenly there was utter silence.

Stefan tried to stumble back from himself as it felt like he was suddenly coming back to himself out of some weird out-of-body episode. He had the foul taste of the garbage-eating racoon's blood coating his mouth and was holding the poor animal dead in his hand. The vampire quickly righted the garbage can, put the torn bag back in, and lay the body on top, replacing the lid like some macabre memorial.

His hands shook as he stepped back, spitting out the foul blood and wiping at his mouth. He felt ill and he wasn't sure if it was the act, the blood, or both. He didn't see his brother watching from the window as he moved away from the cans and started back down the drive. Stefan knew that it was probably not a good idea to go into town in his current unstable condition, let alone to school where two emotional triggers were waiting with a lot of collateral walking around, but he couldn't stay in the Boarding House where another (more in his face) prompt was.

So he walked down the side of the road toward town and school at human speed, using the time and peaceful open space to collect himself as the occasional vehicle whizzed by him. God, he wished Lexi was still alive, she'd know exactly what he needed to anchor him and not go off the deep end. But she was gone and never coming back.

He needed to talk to Elena, apologize. He should have went after her yesterday, but maybe it was better that he hadn't. He knew she would feel angry, betrayed, hurt, sad... and he just didn't think he could have dealt with it, been understanding, sympathetic with his own raging and crushed emotions. Plus, and he was ashamed to admit it, he was furious at the teenage girl—if she hadn't come back for god-knows what reason, Stefan was incoherently sure that Alaric never would of had a 'touch of conscious' about their relationship.

It was always something. His age. His vampirism. His sex. Stefan could never seem to win.

So entrapped in his inner turmoil the vampire didn't pay attention to the fast-closing rumble of the truck engine—too close. All he knew was that a moment later there was such pain as the left side of his back was struck with something fast and with force—his ribs shattering, broken splinters perforating soft tissue as he was flung from the side of the road down the embankment to lay at the edge of the wood that lined the road. Stefan let out a raspy, wet groan, registering that he must have broke his back for lack of pain and movement below his waist, before the black spots in his vision swarmed him into 'death'.

...

Stefan came back at the prompting of something soft, warm, and moist brushing intermittedly, but determinedly against any given space of his face. He grunted, feeling the entirety of his pain as he remembered being thrown from the side of the road. Someone must have clipped him as they drove by, they must have kept going or Stefan was sure he would have woke up in a metal drawer. With a bit of effort, and a grunt he managed to wiggle his toes; his spine must be on the mend. The soft petting on his face stopped abruptly with a puff of warm air and the vampire opened his eyes in surprise to find himself staring into a pair of deep brown, soulful eyes.

The large, ragged, wild mutt was on alert, slightly crouched as they regarded each other. It must have came upon him and thought to make a meal out of him. It was ironic, poor thing. Stefan slowly raised his hand, his recently healed skin smeared with blood. The dog's nose twitched and it dipped its muzzle forward, lured by the scent of his blood. It's warm tongue lapped at his fingers.

Somehow, he'd managed to entice the creature into his arms as he continue to let the dog lick the blood from his skin. He'd always avoided feeding on domestic house pets, that largely centered on dogs and cats—dogs and cats in general, actually. Even as the Ripper, he could tear through humans like... a dog with a chew toy ironically, but somehow he could never go after a dog or cat even if he'd been willing to drink animal blood without his humanity to hold him back.

But he needed to feed. He needed the blood. Needed to heal properly, to make the pain go away. Only when he felt the sharp nip of the mutt's canines at his neck, did his fangs descend from his aching gums and he bit into the muscled, fur-covered neck of the mutt. The dog yelped loud and sharp at the pain in his ear and he cringed. The animal's natural flight/fight instinct kicked in and it started growling, snapping and bucking in his arms. But he was stronger than the weakening animal, even injured, as warm blood flooded his mouth and awakened his hunger, making him drink deeper.

He carded his fingers through the mutt's long tangled fur, soothing the panicked animal as he continued to drink. Its struggle weakened, subsiding until it lay heavy in his arms, chest heaving; its racket turning into low whimpers and whines until even those turned to silence as the dog's heart gave out and the blood stopped pumping.

But Stefan wasn't done, he needed more and he knew the mammal still had more to give. He pushed his hand up under the ribcage and into the canine's chest, his hand wrapping around the unmoving, hollow muscular organ and massaged it, coaxing every last drop of blood he could get through its veins and into his hungry belly.

The vampire finally pulled back, his fangs retracting as he picked the stray hairs stuck to his wet tongue and lips. Stefan felt briefly sated from the larger than normal feeding before the nutrients of the blood went towards the conclusion of healing his broken body and cessation of the provided pain.

He was melancholic as he gazed down into the close-eyes, slack muzzled face of the wild mutt in his arm; it was the way of life—he'd feed from the animal as surely as it attempted to do him in order to survive. It just so happened that the teen vampire was the stronger of the pair.

He had no idea how his vampire blood might affect the animal upon death, so Stefan ripped the mutt's heart out, ensuring that it did not come back in some sort of animalistic vampire state. Surprisingly there was only blood around his mouth and covering his hand and wrist that had been in the dog's chest cavity. He picked the carcass up, cracking his newly healed spine as he straightened. He took the animal beyond the tree line and gave it a proper kind of burial.

He didn't even think of heading back to the Boarding House, he didn't see the reason. His clothes were only slightly battered from the fall, the strap on his satchel broken but that was no cause for concern; it simply appeared as if he'd been roughhousing on the grass. This feeding was a clear, conscious choice, unlike the episode that had overtaken him at the garbage cans with the racoon with Alaric's bloody shirt—that had been some act of savage territorial response. But he felt more in control now, confident and calm as he blurred down the road.

Without even having to check his cell for the time, he could already tell by the sun favouring the west that it was hours passed noon. School would be out (thankfully), so he headed for the Gilbert house, slowing to a human speed as he hit the neighbourhood.

He threw out his senses as he approached the house, Jenna's Mini wasn't in the drive and there didn't appear to be anyone home. The vampire wasn't going to let that deter him. Stefan went around the side of the house, and pulled himself into the tree that grew outside Elena's window, jumped the short distance to it, hanging onto the outside sill as he pushed the window open and climbed it.

This was not the first time he'd done this. Closing the window, he sat on the cushioned stool at her dressing table to wait. The inside frame of the mirror was framed with photos: of her parents, Jeremy, Jenna, a group shot with her, Bonnie and Caroline, even one with her and Matt. And then there was a picture of him. He was surprised he never noticed it before. She must have taken it of him when he was unaware.

He'd never been very good with getting his picture taken now that he was a vampire. It was kind of counterintuitive as a vampire, especially if you wanted to returned to a certain place. It must have been when they'd just gotten together; he looked happy, optimistic. Now? His green gaze shifted from the picture to his reflection in the mirror. It had taken 14.6 decades but that sanguinity that had encompassed his move through undead life was finally diminished—it had taken the span of four days.

He was pulled away as he heard Jenna's car and shortly after the front door as Jenna, Elena, and Jeremy returned home. Jeremy went to the living room, turning on the TV, Jenna went to the kitchen calling for a vote on super, the siblings shouted out differing answers and Jenna decided chicken and rice as Elena came upstairs.

She opened the door and spotted Stefan, freezing mid-step in the doorway.

"Hey," he said quietly.

The sound of his voice unfroze her and her lips pursed as she quickly closed her bedroom door behind her. "What are you doing here?"

"To talk, explain." He said, following her movements as she tossed her bag at the foot of her bed.

"What's there to explain," Elena said stiffly.

He stood. "I know you saw us, Elena. Me and... Ric." He ignored the ache in his chest as he said his name and watched her shoulders tense the same in response.

"You have a thing with Mr Saltzman. What else is there to say?" she sat on the edge of her bed, taking off her sneakers, doing everything she could not to look over at him.

"I'm sorry." He told her sincerely and she looked over at him in surprise. So much for that then. "It hasn't even been two weeks since I broke it off with you, I didn't mean to hurt you."

She stared at him. "How did it happen? He'd only been here a couple weeks. I didn't even know that you liked... guys, too." She said awkwardly, uncomfortably.

Stefan's hands tightened into fists at his sides, shoulders stiff as he regarded the girl. He didn't think Elena was homophobic; maybe it was just because it was him. "145 years is a long time, Elena. If you think that doesn't change you, then you're wrong." Sex wasn't something he indulged in often and sex with a man was even more rare; but sometimes, like with Ric, it was something that he desperately needed.

"He's too old for you anyway." She remarked, standing.

"I'm a 162, Elena." He gave an incredulous scoff. "It's the other way around, I think."

But Elena shook her head. "You're still only 17 years old, Stefan." She unwittingly repeated what Alaric had used to break this thing between them. "He's our teacher, you're his student. It's not appropriate. You should date people your own age—our age."

What about mentally? he wanted to demand. What about maturity? He felt so old, he was so old. He'd lived through so much, experienced so much in his undead life. There was no way a innocent child could understand, could contend. He needed a man, he needed an adult. He wanted Ric.

Somehow, he couldn't seem to correct her that he and Alaric were no longer together, if they had ever truly been together in the first place. It hadn't even been long enough to think about even bringing up the question. It just was.

"I was wrong," she said suddenly, "When I said that I understood. I don't. I don't understand why we can't be together. We love each other. Is it because I'm human? Then I'll become a vampire," she said determinedly. "You can change me and you won't have to worry about losing control around me." She closed the distance between them. "We can be together forever." She laid her palms on his chest, gazing up at him as he stared back at her in horror to this solution. "You and me."

"Elena, n--" was all he was able to choke out.

She sneezed. "Sorry," she said in embarrassment. She furrowed her brows. "Are you covered in dog hairs?" she took a step back as she sneezed again. She pressed the back of her wrist to her nose. "I'm allergic."

"Sorry," he immediately stepped back.

She shook her head, grabbing some tissue from her nightstand and blowing her nose. "Why are you covered in dog hair?" she squinted at him, taking in the soiled tint of his appearance for the first time. "Actually, why does it look like you've been rolling around in the dirt with a dog?"

Stefan licked his lips, pulling his t-shirt away from him as he looked down at it. His first instinct was to fib, he knew she would be horrified by it. But when he looked back up at her, thought about her turning, it was the last thing he should do. "It was some stray, wild mutt in the woods. Someone hit me with their car earlier, I had to feed."

He could see the worry and concern bloom on her face, before it was quickly cut across her face with something else that he didn't think he would have been able to catch if he wasn't a vampire as the previous sentence sunk in. The teen girl dabbed her watering eyes with the tissue, using it as a shield as she quickly schooled her features; but it was too late, he'd already seen it—dismay, revulsion, sickness.

"Just say it, Elena." He accused snarkily. "'That's terrible. How could you? You're a monster!'--"

"That wasn't what I was going to say," she protested.

"I'm a vampire, Elena." He reminded her. "That's the only reason I can be standing here saying this to you right now in the first place—either because I was born in 1846 or because I never would have been able to survive that hit and run if I'd been human in the first place—left down the embankment at the side of the road like I was nothing... broken spine, shattered ribcage, splintered bones, punctured lung. I was essentially dead, I experienced that death, Elena. A rabbit or two wouldn't have healed me properly; I needed more blood that the dog gave me. It wasn't so different from me; I was an injured, easy meal. If I hadn't acted when I did, it would have.

"I'm a vampire," he repeated, "That's what we do. We feed on live things, blood. If it's not dogs or fluffy bunnies, then it's humans, peopleyou!"

"You're trying to scare me," Elena accused, crossing her arms.

"Yes!" he shouted at her and she couldn't stop the slight flinch at his sudden outburst.

He wanted to hate her, but he could never do that. He wanted to snatch the vervain-filled locket from around her slim neck and compel her to not want to be with him, to stop loving him in a way he could never properly return, to have a normal life—but he couldn't mess with her mind, memories or heart like that even if he was at full capacity of his Power. He would not manipulate her (even if it was for her own good) like Katherine had to him.

He sighed, shoulders slumping slightly. "You've watch me kill in front of you and you didn't show as much horror as you did when I told you I fed on a dog." He forced his fists to unclench at his sides. "I love you, you're right, I do, I just can't love you the way that you want me to, Elena. I just can't, I wish so much that I could because you deserve that." Stefen beseeched her to understand, "But I will never and can never turn you into a vampire. You deserve to live a life, kids, happiness. You'd never get that with me..." He held his breath, staring at her, his green eyes silently pleading that she finally understand.

"I don't know that I can be friends with you and not be with you." Elena confessed finally in a hurt whisper, her brown eyes shiny this time from unshed tears and not allergies. "It's too hard, it hurts too much. You should go, Stefan." She went to her bedroom door and opened it. "I need time, space."

Stefan looked sadly at her for a moment before he nodded in acceptance. "I really am sorry, Elena." He whispered as he moved passed her in the door. She said nothing as she followed him down the stair. He glanced over his shoulder at her miserably as he headed for the front door, only to pull up short as a blond man stood there when a second before seemingly not. He must have arrived while he was talking with Elena because he hadn't noticed him earlier when the other's returned home.

"And who would you be?" the blond man asked.

"Oh, Stefan!" Jenna looked at him in surprise as she came out of the kitchen. "Did you just get here?"

Stefan shook his head. "He was just leaving, Jenna." Elena answered for him.

"Are you sure?" the woman asked. "Supper's almost finished—I could put down another plate?"

"Thank you for the offer, Jenna, but I should really get going." Stefan told her politely, his intention clear but the unnamed man continued to unobtrusively block the front door.

He stuck his hand out. "John Gilbert, Elena and Jeremy's uncle. Stefan, was it?"

"Stefan Salvatore." Stefan automatically grasped his hand in a shake.

"Salvatore. Any relation to old Zach Salvatore up at the Boarding House?" John held his hand firmly, his ring cutting into his hand.

Stefan felt the hair on his nape raise on end and felt uncomfortable under the man's blue-eyed scrutiny. "My uncle." Stefan wanted to pull his hand free, but it was like he was paralyzed by the man's grip, his vampire strength sapped.

"I have to stop by sometime, say hello. It's been a while since I've been back home."

"Sorry to say it will be a while longer. Zach moved away over two months ago for work." It was the lie that bloomed when Damon charmed his way in with the Mayor's wife and the town Sherriff to get into the Founders Council after Damon killed Zach in a fit of rage when Stefan locked his brother in the cellar. Stefan lay their uncle to rest in the family crypt.

"Ah, that's too bad--"

"Like I said," Elena interrupted, grasping Stefan's arm and pulling the vampire out of John's hold as she glared at her annoying uncle, "Stefan was just leaving."

"Right. Sorry 'bout that." John smiled apologetically and even opened the door for Elena to usher the teen out.

Stefan stumbled a little down the porch steps, feeling like he had sea legs as he looked back to Elena shutting the door promptly. That had been... disconcerting to say the least. He didn't pay any attention to the dark blue, recently washed truck that was parked behind Jenna's Mini in the drive.

This had gone nothing like he had hoped it would. He wanted to mend the rift between him and Elena but found out that his misgivings were proven right—Elena wanted to be with him, at a concerning level. He never should have gotten with the girl romantically. When he compelled her to forget him after he pulled her from the sinking SUV at Whickery Bridge, he should have left it at that. He had selfishly trashed her normal life, broken her heart.

A familiar blue Prius pulled up alongside him on the sidewalk. "Bonnie?" he ducked down to spot the teen witch through the open window.

"Hey, wanna ride?" She leaned across the empty passenger seat and opened the door; it was a rhetorical question—Bonnie wanted to talk. "Come on." She sat back as he pulled it open and sat, his broken satchel going into the footwell. "Seatbelt," she reminded him. "Safety first. Even vampires can break their backs flying through the windshield."

Stefan snorted quietly at that. "Don't I know it." But he clipped the strap across his chest and waist.

"What do you mean?" Bonnie shot him a look from the corner of her eye before she pulled from the curb and back into the empty residential street.

"I was hit by a car this morning on my way to school." He looked out the window. "Killed me for a while."

"What?" she exclaimed in concern, "Are you okay?"

"It's fine, my meal just walked right up to me." He said. He heard her sharp intake of breath and turned to look at her aghast expression. "Not the person who hit me, they just kept driving."

"That's terrible," she said.

"It was probably better that way." Stefan assured. "No, it was some wild mutt that thought I tasted good."

"Oh." She said disconcertingly.

"It was a first for me too," he said softly.

"Are you okay?"

"It's been a difficult last few days," he admitted.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Bonnie offered.

"I'm surprised that Elena didn't call you last night."

"What do you mean? Did something happen?" Stefan sighed. "Stefan?"

"Ric--" he started.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about." Bonnie interrupted. "But your phone's been going straight to voicemail."

"Why?" Stefan straightened, turning towards her. "Did you find something?"

Bonnie nodded. "It looks like Emily was the one that spelled the ring to bring back the wearer from the dead. There wasn't anything really about the effects of it, but I think it's safe to assume prolonged use—meaning dying and the ring bringing you back—would have some sort of influence. I mean, he's human, when he dies, he goes over to the other side, crosses over. You're not usually supposed to come back after that, especially with magic. I already told this to Mr Saltzman at school today—be careful and try not to die. Especially if it‘s not by a supernatural force, otherwise he will stay that way."

"Good advice," Stefan swallowed against his dry throat, still worried that maybe that nosebleed was more than just a nosebleed. Trying to distract himself, he fished his cell from his jeans pocket. The screen was cracked and the screen stayed black when he tried to activate it. "Must have broke in the crash, I'll have to get a new one." He put it in his bag.

"Stefan?" she prompted at a four way stop.

"I knew Ric before he came to Mystic Falls as a history teacher," he admitted. Bonnie felt like the only one that he could talk to right now; he trusted her with himself so vulnerable and open.

"You did?"

Stefan nodded. "It was just before the summer, I was passing through North Carolina on my return home to Mystic Falls, I ended up at Duke U. and sat in on one of his lectures." Stefan gave a small smile. "He was a professor there. I introduced myself—well, a simile of a human version of myself—we got to talking over food and one thing led to another." He waited for the shock, the outrage, disgust. But when he looked her, her expression was open, curious, and the raise of her curved brow silently prompted him to continue his story. "I was gone before he woke up and went home. I never expected to see him again."

"And then he showed up here as the new history teacher," she nodded knowingly.

"Yeah. He realized I was seventeen and horrified. I accepted that he wanted nothing to happen, even if I might have. I was fine like that, it was better that way. But then he saw and recognized Damon at the '50's dance while we were trying to lure that vampire out who had a thing about Katherine. He made the connection, found out I was Damon's brother, put the pieces together that I was a vampire as well."

"How did he take that?" she asked.

"He almost killed me."

"What?" Bonnie jerked the wheel, quickly correcting it, shooting him a look.

"He didn't seem to want to, I just caught him by surprise when he was expecting trouble and was ready for it. He told me about Damon and his wife, I tried to warn him away from Damon for his own safety. But he really helped us out, it was his copies of the Gilbert Journal that lead us to Emily's grimoire.

"He went after Damon anyway—and I don't blame him." He said quietly. "Damon killed him and that was it, I thought I'd lost him and it was all my fault."

"Stefan," Bonnie chided in protest. "It wasn't your fault--"

"I should have done more." Stefan denied. "He never should have died. It was only by the stroke of providence that Ric was wearing that ring. When he gasped to life in my arms, I thought Damon had turned him. And I hated myself for how glad I was that my brother gave him our curse, but Damon didn't—Ric was alive, his heart beat, he was still human." He took a shuddering breath. "But then I was worried, you know, about the ring. I'd never seen a ring before that could bring people back from death, even if it was magic. I didn't know what kind of affect that would have on him, so I thought I should keep an eye on him for 24 hours at least."

"That was smart," Bonnie encouraged quietly, but Stefan shook his head.

"I should have let him go home like he wanted to, sleep off the shock in his own peace. He would have been safer there from Damon than he was at the Boarding House with me. But I talked him reluctantly into it. I was selfish, just like Damon always says."

"You're the most selfless person that I know, Stefan, alive or undead."

Stefan snorted. "That's because you only know the two of us. We slept together again, Bonnie! It was so stupid, but I couldn't have stopped myself even if I wanted to—and I didn't. I shouldn't have let it happen; it was the shock, the adrenaline—that need to do something to prove to yourself that you're actually alive."

"Is that what you believe?" she asked him.

He blinked at her, surprised she asked that. No one ever asked him, they just told him and that was that. "I-- I don't know," he confessed slowly a moment later. "Maybe, it's better that way." He gave his head a shake and forced himself not to get sidetracked with that can of worms; he'd already made his choice on the matter. "I went to find Ric after school yesterday, tell him that you were looking into it, but I found him with his nose bleeding and I freaked out," She nodded her head understandably, "Elena saw us." He squeezed his eyes closed briefly. "And Ric... he realized what happened was a mistake, that it never should of happened, that it was inappropriate."

"I'm so sorry, Stefan." Bonnie whispered sympathetically.

Stefan cleared his throat. "So I spiralled a little, had another fight with Damon, a restless night of sleep. Got hit by a car and fed on a dog. I went to Elena's to explain, but I don't think I fixed anything, just made it worse. I broke her heart—again. She kicked me out. I think it's better that way," he whispered brokenly.

"Stefan--" Bonnie quickly, pulled over the car to the side of the road, throwing it into park. She unclipped her seatbelt and twisted in her seat. "Stefan, hey." She put a hand on his knee, "Don't say that--"

"It's true!" Stefan said firmly. All the hurt and pain, the hard truths that he'd drowned into silence with the mutt's blood, were now bobbing back to the surface aggressively with the violent undercurrent of his heightened emotion as he verbally stripped away his own shields. "I never should have gotten involved, with either of them—any of you. I've gotten so many people hurt and killed. I was kidding myself to think that I could come back, make this my home again, create a life here, be with people. To think that I could be normal, have relationships—the relationship… love." His voice broke on the word and her own chest ached for him. "It's different for you, Bonnie, your relationship with the supernatural and that is a great thing. I am so grateful for that," he put his cool hand over hers on his knee and squeezed it. "You get to live. And I've finally realized where I belong." He let go of her hand with pained reluctance. "You should check in on Elena, make sure she's okay, that she doesn't do something reckless." Stefan advised softly, one hand reaching for his bag, the other to press the belt release. His intention of leaving was very clear and the witch reacted fast, instinctively.

"Seguro." Bonnie chanted suddenly and the locks on all the doors engaged, Stefan's seatbelt locked and the clip jammed, there was even an invisible force field over the open window to prevent from escaping that way—which he felt desperate enough to try at the moment. To run.

"Bonnie, what are you doing?" he questioned her when it looked he wasn't going anywhere any time soon, not until she willed it.

"I'm not going to let you run away, Stefan." She told him with sincere ferocity and determination. "You're my friend—even if you are a vampire," she teased with a wink.

"It's always good to have a witch on your side," Stefan whispered with a small smile and watery eyes as he looked at the teenage witch in veneration, appreciation; he didn't know what he could have done to grant such devotion from the witch but knew that he would never do something to break it.

She gave him a smile. "You're not alone. If you don't have it in you to fight right now, then I will do it for you."

"You're an amazing person, Bonnie Bennett. Don't let anyone ever tell you anything else, and if they try—just show them how kick-ass you are."

"I have an idea," she brightened, shifting in her seat with confidence as she turned on the blinker, did up her seatbelt and pulled into traffic.

"What?"

"It's a surprise,"

He didn't question her further; he trusted her. Lexi, I really wish you could have met Bonnie; I think you two would have been friends. A force to reckon with, unstoppable in keeping me in line, Stefan thought to his oldest friend as he watched one of his newest. I must have done something right somewhere along the line to have the two of you come into my life when I needed you the most.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Alaric flagged The Grill bartender for a refill of his double. It was too early to drink, in public at least, but he needed it. Last night he had the decency to get blasted in the privacy of his apartment and went to class with a hangover—using a surprise pop quiz as an excuse to not have to stand up and actually teach something.

He was on edge the whole day; several scenarios going through his throbbing brain. If this was a normal situation, i.e. Stefan was not a vampire, he was sure the Sherriff would make an appearance and taken him away in cuffs—Elena held all the power in this entire affair to make that happen. Alaric knew that it wasn't him that prevented her, but Stefan, his vampirism and her love for him. If the Council found out that he was a vampire, they would hunt him, either killing him in the end or driving him from Mystic Falls.

Elena had not attended class but he had glimpsed her once or twice around the school today. Stefan hadn't shown up at all. It was about as much as the history teacher/amateur vampire hunter expected.

He'd let the rush of dying and coming back to life in Stefan's arms, control (or more, lose control) of his lust for the vampire teen. He was unable to help himself, Stefan just drew him in—as a person, as a vampire, a man after his own historical heart. He just wanted to consume the brunette; body, soul, and mind.

Did Stefan being a 145 year old vampire change the fact that he was still a 17 year old boy?

"Alright, spill, Teacher." The last person on the planet slid onto the stool next to him, flagging the bartender for his usual as he faced Alaric. The teacher silently glared and Damon flashed his ice-blue eyes.

Alaric snorted, taking a drink from his fresh glass as the bartender slid their orders across. "I'm on vervain, you can't compel me."

"Maybe not, but I can still cause you pain. There's not an ill bone in my brother's saintly body so of course he'd beg me not to kill you even though you broke his heart. And that magic little ring says it won't matter if I get a little bit carried away with that pain, either." Damon responded without trip or qualm, sipping his bourbon.

Alaric expression tightened at the mention of the vampire teen, his grip on his glass hardening. "You don't scare me, Damon. Ring or not. What is between Stefan and I is none of your business."

"That where you're wrong. Stefan is my little brother and that's all the incentive I need to involve myself." Damon corrected. "I don't care that you're 'older' or even that you're a vampire hunter that tried to me (that was revenge, a language I know and speak well)—but you hurt Stefan and nothing will save you. Not your ring. Not even my brother's wish that I don't harm you. That all goes out the window if my baby brother turns off his humanity or worse..." Damon flashed his vamp-face in the shadows of the bar, "I'm gonna be coming back for that ring—only I'm going to go through your fingers first. One by one like the fucking three little pigs." He polished off his glass and stood. "Figure your shit out. Stop toying with my brother with your existential crises. You slept with a vampire, grow some balls, get over it. Just a polite warning..." And clapped his on the back with enough vampire strength to force Alaric's chest into the edge of the bar and leave a bruise the shape of his hand to show up later as he left.

"Shit," Alaric grimaced, he deserved worse than that. He rubbed his chest as he flagged the bartender, but as the man refilled him and went to turn away, the teacher stopped him with: "Leave the bottle," after a pause the guy left the bottle and left the dirty-bond to wallow in his mid-life crises, he was sure the vampire-hunter thing was a mental break.

Alaric needed to fix this, it had only been a day and already it was much to long.

If Stefan was human, then he really would be human right now, if they wanted to continue the relationship then they would only have to be patient and wait until graduation and they could be together openly—and Alaric would neither be arrested nor fired.

But Stefan was a vampire, he would always be 'perpetually 17' as he said himself, but only a tight circle of people new this fact. Alaric wondered if the concept would still be solid, could his conscious cope? Wasn't that why he broke it off in the first place, or just fear.

He was a selfish old bastard. He'd used Stefan both times: first to plug and curb his loneliness, to connect with someone; the second, to confirm that he was in fact alive, that it was real, that it was reality.

It would simply be easier for everyone if they weren't together. Save both of them the heartache and the trouble. Stefan was a vampire, Alaric was not, and he didn't see himself with any plans to become one in the future. Their relationship would be doomed and on a ticking clock from the very beginning. Would it be worth all the pain in the end?

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Stefan sat on the floor in bare feet, flannel pants, and white wife beater; his back was to the blazing fire, his legs crossed under the low coffee table. His chin rested on his folded arms as he watched the comet goldfish dart around his new home in the fishbowl. Stefan could just watch him forever—and had been doing that ever since he'd gotten home, showered and cleaned up from the day's events. While he was out with Bonnie, he even got himself a new bag and cell phone to replace the broken ones.

He watched the fish, dart into the hollow little treasure chest, around the astronaut figurine, fins brushing against the pebbled bottom as it lipped at the gleam of his ring. And Stefan found himself filled with a child-like excitement for it, something he hadn't felt since Damon had joined up to try and please their father back when they were human.

Stefan could hear the car's engine as Damon pulled up the drive, the headlights flashing through the slim crack at the center of the thick closed curtains on the stained windows at the front of the house. The front door open and shut a few moments later followed by heavy-boated steps. He wondered what mood his brother would be tonight. The hadn't talked since their fight last night.

Stefan didn't react as Damon stood briefly in the entryway, regarding him sullenly, waiting for him to break the silence. The teen vampire had no intention to do that; he didn't want to fight any more, so he was going to let Damon come to him for once.

"What is that?" Damon finally said, irritation in his tone like Stefan had forced the question out of him as he came down the short steps from the landing.

"Bonnie got him for me." Stefan had a small smile on his lips as he cocked his head in his brother's direction but didn't raise his head. "I'm calling him Salvatore; it's like he's part of the family already."

Damon lounged on the arm of the thick leather armchair, watching the vampire with lightly narrowed blue eyes. "Well, I can already tell you're working up to something—so let's hear it." There was something off with his little brother (other than the mental break he was clearly experiencing). It was glaring Damon straight in the face, yet the dark-haired vampire could not seem to place it. It was fast annoying him and he gritted his teeth as he glared down at the teenager.

"Did you know that goldfish have the memory span of 1 hour and 28 minutes? He's not going to know me long enough to hate me." Stefan sprinkled food flakes over the opening and into the water, watching the clueless fish swim around the small bowl, eating the flakes as they slowly sunk. "Did you also know that I've never--"

"What the hell happened to you?" Damon interrupted. "This morning I watched you Rip into a racoon and now I come home and your like-- like--" he waved a hand at his brother helplessly, "This! If I didn't know better, I would think you're on something. Did you take out a human?" he accused suddenly.

Stefan straightened and blinked at his brother in surprise. "Of course not!"

Damon narrowed his eyes in regard at the teen vampire, before he gave a little nod of acceptance at the answer. "What did you do then?"

"I've fed on people, feed so hard I tore them apart. I've run through the woods like an animal feeding on rabbits, wild pigs, deer... not once in my life as a vampire, have I ever fed on a dog."

"What are you on about?"

"I did that today." His voice grew low and claimed a distant, almost detached quality to it as he ruminated earlier today with his brother. "Not in some minor Ripper episode or out of desperation. I mean... something happened, but it was licking blood from my face, it obviously thought I was dead--"

Damon flashed to his feet the instant he heard blood, looming over the teen vampire. "Someone attacked you?" he growled.

Stefan looked up at his brother and shrugged his shoulders. "I wouldn't call it an attack, more like an accident. But that's not the point--"

"That is exactly the point, Stefan! You get hurt, someone hurts you—you tell me!" he shouted in frustration, "You don't keep it to yourself!"

"Why do you suddenly care?" Stefan wondered, there was no accusation or venom in it, he was simply curious.

Damon's expression shuddered down and his lips tightened in reply, emotional moment gone. The brunette sighed in defeat and disappointment as he watched Damon back up the few steps and flop into the leather armchair. Stefan gave his head a little shake and turned his head to watch Salvatore swishing around the bowl, his little scales reflecting different shades of orange from the flicking firelight on his sleek body.

"It was different," Stefan whispered finally. "I coaxed it to me, got it to trust me and just as it was about to tear into my throat, I bit into its. I drained it, pumped every last drop down my throat myself. There was no tearing hunger or loss of control, I didn't fight it, myself. For the first time in a long time, I felt connected, satisfied."

His brother looked even younger than 17 with his hair wild and fluffy, dry from shower and not coifed. "Maybe because you actually drank your fill in one sitting, not taking little sips from fluffy bunnies every other day like some insecure anorexic teenage vampire?" Damon suggested helpfully to receive a glower from his brother. "Since we're sharing our days," Damon said sarcastically. "You'll never guess who called an emergency Council meeting,"

Stefan wasn't surprised that Damon was not so overtaken with meaning by the experience as he was himself. He rolled his eyes and deadpanned: "I give up. Who called an emergency Council meeting?"

"Jonathan Gilbert--"

"Elena's uncle?" he said in surprise.

Damon raised a brow. "You know him?"

"I met him briefly when I was at Elena's earlier today after school," Stefan gave a little shudder as he remembered, Damon caught it but didn't comment.

"Yeah, well—Elena's uncle or not, he's a dick and gonna be a problem."

"Why?" Stefan furrowed his brows. "All the tomb vampires are ash, so is Anna, and the vampires she made to help her are dead, too. There's only two vampires in Mystic Falls—us—and seeing as you haven't killed anyone for a while, I don't see a problem."

"The problem, little brother," Damon informed him, "Is Uncle John looks more cleaver than he appears. He has happily informed the Council of a certain string of blood thefts that were reported from a hospital blood bank in the quaint neighbouring county of Amherst that happened a week ago. Ring any bells for you?"

"That huge freezer of Anna's that we found for the tomb vampires—and you commandeered." Stefan made the connection that his brother already had.

"Hey, I'm not going to let al that blood go to waste—and you should be happy, now I won't be off feeding on your precious town's folk and enjoying who I am." He said. "So yeah, it seems Little Orphan Annie was not as stealthy as a 400 year old 15 year old should be."

"So now the Council's back on vampire-alert, great." Stefan rubbed his forehead. "And Lexi isn't here for you to stake again and lay the blame on!" he added shortly with a glare at his brother.

"I went on the bag-diet for you, Stefan." Damon replied icily. He'd adopted Lexi's mainstream and under the radar method of feeding.

"Do you want a pat on the back for being an adult?" he said sarcastically. "It hasn't even been two weeks."

Damon sneered at him. "With the way you've been acting lately, someone has to."

Everyone seemed to discount that he had lived for a total of 162 years. That he'd been a vampire for 145 of them, that he had killed countless people, slaughtered an entire town that had dubbed him 'The Ripper of Monterey' in 1917, that he held diplomas from several collages and universities in dozens of subjects, or that he held dangerous and noble careers, a ambulance driver in WWII in '42—they didn't see the man that he was. No, all they could see was that he was turned as a teenager. That he was 17, considered a kid in the 21st century when in the 19th he'd been a man, considered an adult.

Stefan glowered at him for a moment, before he sighed and let it go. So fine, he was going to act is 'age' and maybe everyone would stop with all the crap.

"You win, Damon." Damon blinked at him for a second in surprise before he narrowed his eyes at his brother in suspicion. "I will defer to you from now on," he spread his arms. "You're the big brother, you're in charge. We'll do whatever you think is best in this situation—with as less killing and bloodshed as possible if achievable, is all I ask, please." He climbed to his bare feet. "I'm going to take Salvatore to my room; I have to get up early to hunt in the morning before school."

"You're going back to school?" Damon asked in surprise.

"I came here to have a life, Damon. One as normal as possible, that means going to school—even if Elena is not talking to me at the moment, and I've--"

"Knocked boots with Teacher?" Damon supplied, much more nicely than he could have otherwise.

"Yeah, that." Stefan shot his brother an appreciative look. "I'll just drop History; it'll probably be easier for everyone that way."

"Still a martyr, huh?" Damon couldn't help but say, but at least he followed it awkwardly with: "History's like, your thing."

"We can't all have what we want." Stefan told him. "I've made my bed and now I'm going to lay in it. Both literally and figuratively." He flashed his brother a smile. He picked up the fish bowl, careful not to slosh the water.

Damon watched his brother as he passed, and that thing that he couldn't place, that worm eating a hole into his brain clicked into the upright position. He flitted to his brother in the door, grabbing his shoulder, so furious that hiss fangs were out. "Where is it?!" he shoved the brunette back against the doorpost. "Where's your ring!"

"Damon, stop!" Stefan cried out in fear, both his arms going around the fish bowl protectively against his chest as the water sloshed against his wifebeater.

"Where is it, Stefan!" Damon repeated, giving him another shove.

"It's here! I have it, it's right here!" Stefan shouted. "Just stop, you're gonna break the fishbowl."

"I don't care about the fish," Damon growled, but he backed off an inch. "Where!"

Stefan swallowed. "It-- it's with Salvatore." He looked down at the fishbowl in his arms, shifted his hold on it so his brother could see inside. The neat little set-up inside was tumbled; the pebbles at the bottom uneven, the little chest and astronaut toppled, Salvatore was darting around, freaked out by the 'earthquake' he just experienced. And right there, standing shiny amongst the dull pebbles was his lapis lazuli ring that Katherine had Emily make him, one of the few things of Katherine's that he kept with him. "It was shiny, he liked it."

With a snarl at his baby brother in anger and disgust, Damon reached for the bowl with clawed fingers.

"No!" Stefan managed to deflect his brother's intent hand with speed, afraid that he would hurt the fish. "I'll do it!" he shifted the fishbowl to his left arm and carefully reached into the water as Damon waited impatiently. Salvatore weaved through his fingers with deft flicks of his tail and Stefan couldn't help the small smile as the fish seemed to calm. Stefan picked up the ring, water dripped from his hand as he lifted it out.

Damon grabbed it from his hand with vampire speed, his other grabbed Stefan's wrist and he shoved the ring back onto his brother's finger where it sat precariously for the past 145 years. The fingers of his left hand, carded through his brother's right, their daylight rings slotting beside each other together as Damon gripped his hand with force enough for the bones of Stefan's hand to grind. His right hand gripped under his brother's chin tightly as he leaned in close, the fishbowl pressed between their chests.

"This ring is not a toy, Stefan." The blue-eyed vampire said lowly, his lip pulled back from his fangs. "I never want to see that ring off your finger, ever. Pull something like that again," Damon threatened, "And I will eat him, do you understand me, brother?"

Stefan nodded as much as he could in his big brother's hold. "Yes," he whispered. Damon didn't immediately release him, instead he scrutinised, searching his wide green eyes for the rooted truth, his chest heaving. "I promise."

Damon's fangs sheathed back into his gums as he regained control of his raging emotions and finally released his brother, stepping back. Stefan exhaled and straightened, right hand going to Salvatore's bowl but didn't immediately move as he stared at his brother. "I'm sorry."

If he did have any lingering thoughts about it, spending the afternoon with Bonnie had washed them all back down to the bottom of his subconscious, no longer crowding the surface of his conscious. Having someone he could trust, who could take into account his feelings and motives, who knew what he was, had an idea of who he was, who generally cared for him, to talk to, unload on, had help significantly.

But he also realized compartmentalization was key. If he separated each event into their own little shadow box, connected together with nothing but a translucent string of web, he wouldn't be drowned in the coalesced weight of emotion and have the urge to flip the switch or just end it. That was always his problem, he overwhelmed himself with everything clumped together, driving himself mad with the guilt, shame, pain, lust, fear, and jealousy. But this way, with Alaric in one box, Elena in another, Damon, Katherine, Mystic Falls, even his Ripper persona—they were all still connected, the emotion was still, but it just didn't have that super intensity of something else piling on top of it.

"I wasn't--"

"You think I'm just going to take your word for it let you off the hook? I don't think so." Damon went to the sideboard and poured himself a tumbler of bourbon from the decanter. "It's time to get serious, baby brother."

His big brother was back and at full throttle. Stefan was both ecstatic and terrified. "Okay," he gave a small nod of acceptance to his brother's privilege. "Like I said, I'll defer to you, Damon."

Damon nodded and drank. "Go to bed, Stefan. I will see you in the morning."

After on last look at the vampire, Stefan finally headed upstairs; he was going to need to top Salvatore's bowl with water before he went to bed. He was going to take his brother's change in attitude with a grain of salt and pray that it wasn't just some 146 year itch—and he was going to make sure to enjoy every last moment of it in case that was the situation.

...

Stefan was ready for school the next morning. He'd fed Salvatore, smiling as he watched the comet goldfish. He dumped the contents from his broken satchel to the new one he'd bought and hung it on the hook by the door so he could grab it after his hunt and head out straight after. His brother had slightly other intentions for his day.

"I called the school." Damon stated, leaning against the banister at the bottom of the stairs in dark jeans and a grey v-neck.

Stefan stared at him blankly. "You what?"

"You're not going to school today, as far as they know you've got a 24 hour bug and will be out two days."

Stefan's brain finally kicked in. "What are you talking about? I'm going to school,"

"We talked about this last night," Damon reminded him calmly as Stefan's mind raced. "I'm in charge," the brunette rolled his eyes and the blue narrowed as he straightened, steeping forward, "You've been in a downward spiral the last two days, you were hurt and didn't tell me, you took your ring off. You're pushing yourself to mend other's hurt feelings," he put a hand on his brother's shoulder and squeezed, "And I am telling you no."

Stefan stared at his brother, incredulous. The vampire was serious. He did give Damon permission to take complete control, he just never thought his brother would take it to mean this. It had been such a long time since Damon had cared this much about him, anyone, really. He took a deep breath and exhaled—then nodded in acceptance. "Okay, if that's what you think is best."

Surprise flashed through his blue eyes quickly, followed by pleasure before the were schooled over with authority. "You have an hour to hunt."

"Two," Stefan countered and quickly followed it with: "If I'm not going to school then I don't want to rush," before Damon could get angry.

"Two," Damon nodded once in acceptance. "Be back by then because you do not want me to come out there after you, Stefan." He turned and walked down the hall toward the kitchen.

Stefan gapped at his brother's retreating back. It was the Twilight Zone, or his brother was some pod person. He felt like a kid! He couldn't stop the smile as he flitted out the front and across the lot into the woods.

~ T V D ~

Damon had thought it was appropriate that Stefan make his return to civilization during the Founder's Day Kick-Off Party three days later on Friday. They had spent the last two days consecutively together at the Boarding House—just the two of them (or three if Salvatore was counted; If Stefan wasn't in his room then he brought the comet goldfish downstairs to the parlor or library. It was more or less the same—Damon was still sarcastic and a jerk, but there was no malice or impromptu games if Operation. Stefan wanted to live in a future, not the in the past so it was a typically mute subject between the brothers.

It had been such a weight off his shoulders to have someone else be the 'adult', to shift problems to the backburner, hide in the bubble with his big brother.

But it was back to a reality that he didn't want to face. He was bound to run into either Elena or Alaric; the former who he hadn't seen or talked to since she kicked him out, hoping to give her space and time and hope they could talk again and mend their friendship; and the latter of whom it was already nerve-wracking just to think about an encounter. He would just stick with his brother and hope for the best.

Unsurprisingly or not, it was Damon who uttered: "God, kill me now," as they came up the walk of the Lockwood property with the other guests.

"If you ask me more nicely," Stefan offered as they paused at the entrance, "Then we'd both have a reason to get out of here."

"Not gonna happen, Stef." Damon denied him, on a mission tonight. "I want to get the dish on Uncle Douchebag, and you're on a short leash. You're not going anywhere." He patted his brother on the chest and proceeded into the stuffy party. "Now come on, put your party-face on."

"This whole... concerned brother act is starting to get annoying." Stefan remarked as he followed. "Now I know why you ripped my liver out." But his green eyes shone with happiness. He grabbed a Champaign flute from a server as he just passed before immediately trading it off for a full glass when they passed another server as they found themselves an innocuous spot with a view of the main hall.

It's not an act. "This is what you've reduced me—me— to with all your teenage vampire angst," Damon flicked a hand at his brother's face before he snatched the flute and drained the weak alcohol. "This is what happens when you threaten to commit suicide and it's not just you being dramatic and wanting attention."

"I'm not going to commit suicide," Stefan told him, and he wasn't—not now, at least. He'd spiralled low, he'd admit, it was scary how close he had teetered off the edge; to either suicide or the humanity switch. So he could say nothing further, that didn't stop Damon, though:

"You used your daylight ring as fishbowl decoration," Damon pointed out. "Remember the last time you took off your ring? Ring any bells, hm?"

Stefan's lips tightened and he glance away in shame. 1922 had been a gruesome episode as the Ripper in Chicago, he knew because he couldn't remember. He only had spotty moments of clarity of some of that time, the rest was in blood fugue blackout; and his journals provided no insight to the years. He didn't tend to journal when he was like that, but when he switched his humanity back on; there wasn't enough pages and ink in the world. Somehow, Lexi had got him to turn the switch back on and got him off human blood; it took 13 years. It was 10 more years before he gained complete control (or as much control as he ever had), enough to be trusted alone and with humans, to be around human blood and not go instant Ripper. There had been so many times in those 23 years that the ring had come off with intention, only for Lexi and even Damon to reel him back from the edge.

Damon's eye finally caught sight of his quarry; leaving the security of the pack no less. A dangerous smile graced his lips. He clapped his brooding brother on the shoulder, pulling him from the past.

"I've found my prey, brother. Don't move," Damon warned him, walking away and going through the open terrace doors after John Gilbert.

"Yes, mother." Stefan rolled his eyes.

"I heard that," Damon's voice drifted back with his vampire hearing and Stefan didn't bother to stifle the amused smile. He blinked at a flash and looked over to see Bonnie slipping her cell phone into her purse.

She smirked unapologetically at his raised brow. "Had to capture the moment. So, should I wonder what put it there?"

"Just Damon."

It was Bonnie's turn to raise her eyebrows. "That's an ominous sentence if I ever heard one."

Stefan gave a light chuckle. He may not have seen anyone other than Damon the past two days, but he and the witch had exchanged a text or two, her concern still standing. She was dubious of Damon's declaration of being a caring big brother again as she was about anything that included his fluid brother. "He's being very responsible about it."

Bonnie decided not to dig into it as long as the raven-haired vampire didn't cause trouble. "Great, that gives you just enough time to have a dance with me."

Stefan had never been more happy to respond with: "Sorry, Damon ordered me to stay here, I think I'm going to listen to him for once."

"Yeah. Uh-huh," she nodded agreeably as she took his wrist anyway and pulled him along to the hall where the band was playing some tasteless classic jazz remix. There were only three older couples that appeared to be swaying.

"This music is terrible," Stefan needlessly pointed out as the witch put them in the center of the crowd.

"Buck up, Salvatore." And she started to lead him when he refused to move, he sighed and let her, his gaze shooting around the hall, searching for a certain straight-haired brunette. Bonnie looked up into his face knowingly. "She's working it out."

The vampire's green eyes darted to focus on her open heart-shaped face. "I wasn't--" he started, then sighed and admitted, "I was. How is she?" the terrible music faded as he focused on his friend.

"She's fine. She has me, Caroline, Matt, Jenna, Jeremy. We're all ripe with advice and are ready soundboards. It's only been five days. You're 162 years old, you can handle this teenage drama."

A smile flickered across his lips, giving her a hand a light squeeze. "And I have you, Damon and Salvatore."

"How's that going?" she asked him, putting the vampire into a twirl that had the both chuckling and grinning. "Is it still alive?"

"Of course! I feed him every day," Stefan told her. "I'm happy you had that brilliant idea, Bonnie Bennett," he was earnest as he took her arm from around his waist and pulled it up to his shoulder, his own going around her slim waist and to the small of her back as he started to lead her. "I never had a pet before, I was always too afraid I would get myself into a situation where I would have to feed off it. But it's not the same with a fish as it is with a cat or dog. So, thank you." He spun them, and dipped her deep.

"Oh!" she made a sound of surprise and looked up at him with bright brown eyes. He pulled her back up, holding her fingers delicately in his hand as he bowed to her. "Well, your welcome." He straightened, pulled the arm holding her hand back and kissed her softly on the cheek before he twirled her, releasing so she landed into a surprised arms of Jeremy.

He chuckled as he weaved back through the crowd, snagging a glass of the hard stuff from a server, drained it and stowed the empty cup in a planter as he made it back to the spot Damon had ordered him to not move from. And it was a minute later that this happened:

"Just a head's up," Damon appeared next to him. "I killed Uncle John."

"We've been here 30 minutes!" Stefan groaned in frustration.

"Exactly. And that's how annoying he was. Let's face it, Stefan—he needed to die." His voice was dangerous.

"You can't just kill people at the Mayor's house," Stefan hissed. "Least of all Elena's uncle!" Damon just gave him a face. The brunette sighed, already thinking about the clean up he was going to have to do on this: did anyone see Damon follow John out to the terrace? "What did he say?" Stefan raised an eyebrow, curious. It could have been any number of things with the tetchy mood Damon was in. "Damon?"

Damon rounded on him close. "He made me aware that he was aware that we were vampires—but even more than that... of a little accident of yours." Stefan looked at him in surprise at the first part then mild confusion for a moment before his eyes flickered briefly in recognition—the hit and run four days ago. "Want to share with the class?"

"Not really," the teen admitted and then continued at his brother's deathly glare, "I got hit by a car on Tuesday. I woke up, fed—it was fine. I continued on my way, no one was hurt."

"You were hurt," Damon corrected with gritted teeth.

"This isn't helping, Damon." Stefan sighed, though he couldn't help but be silently happy that his brother was angry on his behalf and responded—even if it was in killing Elena's creepy Uncle John who just put him on edge—which would do nothing to repair the relationship with the girl. It was so weird to have his 'big brother' back, the version he remembered from when they were human. He was almost afraid that any moment now that Damon would just look at him and start laughing in hysterics because he was gullible enough to fall for it.

"That bastard's lucky I already killed him before I knew, otherwise I wouldn't have been so merciful and quick about it." He retorted. Stefan's eyes widened briefly as he spotted a blond enter behind his brother's shoulder that shouldn't be. "What?" Damon questioned with a raised brow. "Spot an ex? Never thought I would ever say that to you,"

He went to turn but Stefan grabbed both his shoulders and held him in place. The teen swallowed and licked his lips, gaze constantly flickering over his brother's shoulders as he tracked the man. Was he undead? Did an unknown vampire give him blood like Anna had Logan Fell?

"Don't do something reckless, Damon." Stefan warned.

"When have I ever done that?" Damon shrugged his hands off and turned. His sharp gaze scanned the crowd in the room, flitting over face after face until it lit upon the one that did not belong. What was it with people not dying anymore? It shouldn't be this hard to kill people! Damon growled. John spotted the vampire brothers and gave them a huge smile full of teeth as he waved mockingly. "Looks like I'm going to get a chance at the slower kill after all," he was already taking a step forward when Stefan grasped his bicep in a crushing grip as John disappeared into the crowd. "Let go, Stefan." He glared, but Stefan wasn't looking at him.

There was a terrified expression on his face. "He has a ring!"

It was Damon's turn to get a grip on his brother as he made the connection, but Stefan managed to twist himself free. But his older brother needn't have worried, it was someone else's location that consumed him.

He searched the party frantically for Alaric, dread filling his belly every passing second that the history teacher wasn't in his sight. And then he caught sight of the dirty-blond, chatting and laughing with Jenna. Stefan felt jealousy twist in his chest briefly but he knew that the woman was better for the teacher than he was—being human was a large mark in her favour.

Alaric's right side was facing away from him, he couldn't see the ring. He knew Ric was alive and seemingly well, not like he'd just had the ring stolen, but Stefan needed to see himself. Stefan said nothing as he approached, just grabbed Alaric's wrist, pulling a surprised Alaric from a confused Jenna.

"Stefan!" Alaric protested in a hiss as the vampire left him no other choice but to stumble after him through the crowd. "What are you doing?" Stefan said nothing, just found the closest empty room, which happened to be the bathroom. He locked the door behind them. "Stef--" the vampire spun the teacher, exchanging his left wrist for the right hand, holding it tightly as he rose it to see the ring on his ring finger right where it belonged, exhaling in relief. Alaric squeezed his fingers back; something obviously had the teenager spooked. "What's going on?"

"Damon killed Elena's uncle." Stefan said, not ready to let go, his thumb brushing over the signet.

"He what?" Alaric exclaimed.

"He came back, just like you did. And he has a ring just like yours." He looked up at the man. "I thought--" Stefan cut himself off with a shake of his head. "Anyway, just be wary of John Gilbert, he's dangerous. He knows Damon and I are vampires but hasn't told the Council; he wants something. He's already provoked Damon—who's already ready to kill him again."

"Do I wanna know?" he joked.

"Just a hit and run," he finally, reluctantly released the teacher's warm hand.

"He ran Damon over and he's still breathing?"

"Not Damon," Stefan corrected, turning for the door.

"You?" Alaric grabbed his arm, eyes wide in worry. "Are you okay?"

Stefan gave a light chuckle. "Don't worry, it was days ago. I'm fine. I drained a dog," he didn't know why he added that last part or maybe he did as Alaric reacted.

Ric's brows just flickered before they furrowed again in concern. "But you're okay?"

Emotion suddenly swelled in the vampire's chest and he couldn't talk around the lump in his throat. There was no accusation or disgusted expressed in the man's blue eyes, not like there had been in Elena's when he'd told her the same thing even if he'd done it more crudely to her. The ache in his chest started to bloom up again so he just nodded, but that did not ease the man's worry, just seemed to alarm him more.

"Stefan?" Alaric cupped his cheek, peering at him closely.

Stefan could hardly take seeing the man so close, not able to respond how he wished, reassure like he wanted—so he closed his eyes. Every muscle in his body was taut with restraint. He could feel the warmth of Alaric palm slowly spread throw his skin like a pulse as he felt the blood beneath his skin flow, the curl of the man's soft breaths against his lips and chin. The vampire felt the skin around his eyes tingle with such desire, a hunger for the teacher that was not eclipsed by blood. "You're killing me," he whispered despairingly.

He felt a huff of breath that was scant millimetres from his mouth and his eyes snapped open, briefly seeing Alaric so close to of had no other intention than to kiss him, before the man jerked away, his cheeks flushed.

"I'm sorry." Alaric uttered. "I shouldn't have done that."

"You--" Stefan swallowed, looking across at the frustrated man as his shadow box pulsed, a tight contraction then release in the depths of the vampire's mind. He sighed and shook his head and slumped back against the door.

"I don't know how this is supposed to work, Stefan." Alaric confessed and started to pace in the small confines of the half-bath. "My mind keeps going in circles," he twirled his hand, "Because I keep treating this like it's a normal situation when it's not. You're a vampire, you're frozen in time... but that's the thing, you're not just 17 years old, you're much more than that. You've lived through two life times, you've been through things that half the world's population cannot even comprehend—that I can't even begin to." He stopped and faced the vampire. "I know what I should do, what’s probably better for us, everyone, in the long run, but…"

Stefan straightened and stared. "What are you saying, exactly?" Ric's shadow box expanded further with every pulse, straining at the seams, struggling to stay contained as the teen listened to the teacher's words, his hope clawing up from the dark depths of his psyche.

"I don't know how this is going to work, if it is—you and me." Alaric was honest. "You're a vampire, I'm not. I'm gonna keep getting older and I don't want to broach the subject of turning. I am nowhere near that ready, nor do I think I ever could. So if that's a pro--"

Stefan grabbed the lapels of his jacket and jerked the taller man against him in a passionate kiss. Alaric's surprise only stilled him for a brief instant before he kissed back, hands cupping the vampire's head. I love you, Stefan wanted to breathe into the man's mouth with a shock of realization. Could he? He lusted for the man, cared about his safety and wellbeing, enjoyed his presences, voice, and mind. He knew whatever he felt was heightened by his vampirism, so what might be a simple crush could be mistaken for love. But he didn't say it because he knew it was too early, neither one of them was ready for that.

The bathroom lock popped and Stefan was instantly on alert, pulling away from Alaric, getting on the defensive, fangs ready to come down and sink into the threat's throat—it was just Damon smirking at in the doorway, arm braced up on the doorframe as the door slowly swung to rest against the wall.

"Well, well," Damon smirked as his gaze flickered between the two. "Looks like I interrupted just in time—a minute later and clothes would be on the floor."

"What do you want, Damon?" Stefan growled in annoyance.

"Just saving my baby brother some embarrassment--"

"Just stop it, already." Stefan muttered. "You're the embarrassing one!"

Damon grinned. "Just doing my brotherly duty." His smirk fell as he stared behind his brother at the dirty-blond. "Looks like you've made your decision."

"Got a problem with that?" Alaric returned evenly, holding his stare. Stefan looked back and forth between the human and vampire uneasily; they'd talked, together, about him, behind his back, some point in the last three days. Green eyes narrowed in suspicion. Only time would tell if he was going to thank his big brother for the interference or punch him.

"Only time will tell, Teacher." They continued to glare at each other.

"Enough," Stefan said firmly, stuck between them as he straightened his jacket. "Did you just interrupt to posture or was there something else?"

"Fair enough," Damon turned his attention back to his brother, "Nobody's favourite uncle is about to take off, come on, we're going to have a little chat. You can even tag along, Teacher, I sense it's going to get very educational." he pushed off from the doorframe and left, leaving the other two to follow at their will.

Stefan quickly looked back at Alaric as they left the bathroom and followed his brother through the thinned crowd of guests at the Lockwood Mansion, who just raised his brows in response.

"Leaving so soon?" Damon caught up with the man on the walk from the mansion. "Was it something I said?" he put his hand mockingly to his chest as John stopped and turned to face the vampire and teacher.

Somehow, Stefan ended up at the back of the pack. Maybe it was subconscious on his part, John Gilbert made him uneasy on a predatory level which had never happened with a human the he could recall.

"I'm sure that it's a very common occurrence for you," he replied. "So, are you going to kill me again, or," he blue gaze slid right over Stefan behind the pair, to Alaric, "Are you going to get Mr Saltzman to do your dirty work?"

"Now why would I let him have all the fun?"

"Okay, so you obviously know who I am." Alaric crossed his arms. "Funny thing, I never heard of you until ten minutes ago."

"Ooh," John sucked in a mocking gasp through his teeth. "Cheap shot, Alaric Saltzman, the high school history teacher with a secret." Alaric tensed and Stefan stiffened involuntarily behind.

"You sure know a lot for someone who just rolled into town," Damon drawled.

"More than you can imagine, Damon. My knowledge of this town goes beyond what you... or the Council knows. So, if you were planning on some high-speed-snatch-ring-vamp move... know that if I die everything I know goes to the Council—and won't that be so very fun for you?" Damon sneered at him as John smiled.

Alaric asked the pressing question: "How'd you get that ring?"

"I inherited one. My brother Gray, the other. This," John held up his right hand, "Was his." He stared at Alaric, "And I wouldn't have given Isobel mine if I had known she'd hand it over to another guy!"

"You knew Isobel?" Alaric demanded, taking a step forward. "How?"

"Who do you think sent her his way?" John nodded at Damon.

Alaric flashed an angry look at Damon before he grabbed fistfuls of John's jacket. "You sent my wife to get killed?"

"Hey! Easy!" John shoved him off and fixed his jacket. "Not to die! He was suppose to turn her!" he spat at Damon.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Damon pouted sarcastically. "Did that mess with your master plan? For someone who claims to know me so much, you sure screwed the pooch on that one, Waldo."

"An oversight on my part, I admit," John said through gritted teeth. "I thought you would have jump through a few of your own hoops and come to the conclusion that she was connected with Katherine Pierce."

It was Damon's turn to tense. "How do you know about Katherine?"

"How do I know anything, Damon?" he offered glibly, arms open.

"What do you want?" the vampire growled.

"So many questions," he mused. "What about you?" John’s blue gaze finally zeroed in on the teen vampire, "You're being super quiet back there, Stefan. Don't tell me you're shy—that's adorable."

Stefan inhaled deeply. "I'm far more subtle than my brother, you'll find, I'm sure." He flitted between his brother and lover and in front of the man, causing him to hum in amusement at the teen. "I should thank you, really, John."

"Oh?" John raised a brow, forcing his breath even as Stefan placed both hands onto his shoulders.

"You did hit me with your car early morning Tuesday, didn't you?" Stefan questioned. "I mean, you implied that earlier to Damon," he glanced back at his brother, "That's why he killed you."

"Well?" Damon whispered up beside his brother, giving the blond an evil eye.

"Take it as a warning," John said. "Stay away from my niece."

Stefan's lips tightened, but he said nothing. Damon narrowed his eyes and did for him, "My brother can be friends with whoever he wants." He gave the blond a little chest push in his own warning.

"Damon--" Stefan warned.

Damon ignored him. "You have no idea who you're messing with, do you?"

"On the contrary—I know exactly who I'm 'messing with'. I know everything there is to know about you—the original Salvatore brothers." Uncle John turned his attention back onto Stefan, "The interesting question here, I find, is: why would you thank me?"

"A stranger viciously hurting you like that—leaving you in a ditch like you're a piece of trash, broken and bloody..." Stefan whispered intensely, "It puts things into perspective, John. I just thought you should know that."

John stared at him for a long, tense moment. "Look, Stefan. I'm sure you were once a nice, descent kid, once—when you were human and alive... but now you're just a blood-sucking monster. You can only ever hurt her now."

"Leave," Damon warned, "While you still have the chance!" the man was smart enough to listen to the dangerous vampire, retreating down the walk.

Stefan closed his green eyes against the retreating figure and pulsing in his head; as each of the shadow boxes tried to ventilate. John knew Isobel, who was Alaric's wife, who Damon killed, that was a descendent of Katherine's bloodline, who Elena was a doppelganger of, of whom Stefan had been warned away from.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to mentally cut off the oxygen through the connecting strands of web connecting them all before each shadow box could explode and all the combined emotions overload him into flipping the switch.

"Stefan." Damon grasped his shoulder and gave him a shake.

Stefan dropped his hand and looked up at both Damon and Ric. "I'm fine." He crossed his arms loosely over his chest. "You were right," he nodded at his brother, "This was very educational—and a problem."

"We just need to find out what Uncle Know-it-all has on us, then kill him." Damon said in agreement and solution.

"Really?" Alaric said.

Damon shot him a look of confusion. "This is the guy who sent your wife to me. You telling me you don't want him dead?"

Alaric's fists clenched and he glared at the vampire. "You're the one that drained and killed her."

"You obviously weren't enough for her if she wanted to become a vampire, that's not something that screams I'm-happy-in-my-marriage!"

"You don't know anything about our marriage!" Alaric snapped, fisting his jacket angrily; the vampire was unaffected otherwise.

"If I didn't kill her and she did come back to you a vampire, you telling me you'd be chill?" Damon questioned him condescendingly. "Stefan, any comments?" he looked over at his silent brother.

"Yeah, stop being such a dick," Stefan told him. "Ric," he put a hand on the man's chest and gently but firmly pulled him away from his brother. "Don't pay attention to him, he's just acting out because he hasn't killed anyone properly for a while."

"I heard that," Damon muttered sourly.

Stefan's lip twitched but he ignored his brother otherwise. "Are you okay? I don't think that was something any of us was prepared for."

"Yeah. Yeah. Knowing that she was killed, I guess there will always be some residual feeling about that. But to know that she sought it out…" he shook his head.

"I’m sorry." She obviously didn’t know how lucky she was. Stefan could only think that the woman was stupid. She loved Ric enough to give him the ring, but didn’t love him enough to stay and instead sought out to become undead? If she did manage to get turned into a vampire, Stefan didn’t think she would have returned either, like Damon had suggested. Alaric squeezed his hand in the shadows between them.

"Awkward," Damon sang. When they glared at him the raven-haired brother gave them innocent blue eyes as he held up his palm and pointed through it.

They followed it to see Elena standing on the steps outside the entryway. Somehow Stefan hadn't run into or seen her inside, even if he had Jenna, Jeremy, and John, and couldn't help but think how beautiful she looked with her hair pinned up and wearing the black, strapless dress, the vervain locket always present around her neck even after the fight.

Elena took a deep breath, rose her chin and approached. "Damon. Mr Saltzman," she gave the man a stiff smile. Her gaze turned to her ex, "Stefan, could I speak to you for a minute, please?"

"Uh," Stefan shot a glance at Alaric. "Yeah. Of course." He followed the teen girl a short distance off the walk away from Damon and Alaric onto the grass; it gave them privacy from the teacher but Damon could still listen in if he wanted. "You look beautiful," he told her.

Her cheeks went warm and she gave him a small, nervous smile. "Thanks. I'm sorry, Stefan," she blurted.

He shook his head. "You don't--"

"I do." She interrupted. "I was angry, hurt, and jealous. It just came out of left field and I wasn't ready for it. I thought that there was still a small chance that we might get back together now that all the... excitement had died down, but I know I was wrong. It was unacceptable for me to pile all those expectations on you and not take how you felt into consideration. I hope we can still be friends, Stefan."

"Elena," not knowing how to say how glad and relieved he was feeling, Stefan stepped forward and wrapped the girl in a hug. "I missed you." He laid his cheek against her done-up hair, feeling the warmth of her body as she squeezed him back, her heart against his lower chest. "I'm sorry you had to find out about Ric the way you did."

Elena gave her head a little shake as they separated. "It'll get some getting used to," she admitted, "But I'm happy for you, Stefan. Please tell me you're coming back to school on Monday? We're building the floats for the Founder's Day Parade and Caroline is being a float Nazi."

"I am." He assured.

"Bonnie said something about Damon," she said. "How's that?" Stefan turned his face away so that his brother couldn't see and gave a huge smile, she could see his green eyes brighten and knew that he was happy. She chuckled and smiled back. "I see."

"Should I be insulted or complimented?" Damon called playfully to them.

Both teens looked over at him and said in stereo: "You shouldn't eavesdrop!"

Alaric chuckled at Damon's indignant expression.

"It's not eavesdropping if you're talking about me." He denied.

"But there's something you should know..." Stefan turned back to her sombrely.

"What?"

"You're uncle on the Founder's Council, Elena. He knows about vampires—he knows about us," he nodded across at Damon. "He was the one that directed Isobel to Damon with the intention for him to turn her. He even knew about Katherine." Her eyes couldn't possible get wider. "And he has a ring just like Alaric's."

Her eyes slowly narrowed and she turned to give Damon a glare. "And how would you have found that out?" she said lowly, knowing he could still hear her.

Damon flitted over to the pair, making her jump a little as he appeared next to Stefan. "I have no regrets," he informed her steely, "Your creepy uncle is the one that hit Stefan with his car."

Elena gasped. "He did?" she looked to the brunette who nodded.

"I'm sorry, Elena." He whispered.

"Why are you apologizing, Stefan? He should apologize."

Damon snorted and crossed his arms. "I don't remember an apology, just a warning to stay away from you."

"He can't do that!" she scoffed in disgust. "He has no bearing in my life, vampires or not." Damon smirked; it was always fun to watch her get riled up—Katherine only ever got vindictive. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it."

"While you're telling him off, maybe you can find out what he has on us?" Damon suggested.

Elena gave a determined nod and left the brother's passed Alaric towards her car down the walk. "I'll call!"

"Damon!" Stefan cursed his brother. "Why did you do that, it's too dangerous."

Damon rolled his eyes. "He's not going to hurt her—I'm pretty sure." Stefan growled. "Besides, if anything, he'll try and turn her against us." His brother still didn't look happy. "You said you would defer."

Stefan harrumphed. "If anything happens to her..."

"It won't," Damon promised, clapping him on the shoulder. "It's the weekend, so I'll give you free reign." He left his brother. "Don't screw up, Teacher." He warned Alaric as he passed.

"Your brother just gave me a warning," he said as Stefan approached.

"Yeah, he doesn't know what boundaries are."

"Everything okay with you and Elena?"

Stefan nodded and looked around as more people started to leave the party. "We should get out of here."

Alaric nodded his agreement and walked next to the vampire down the walk towards the drive where the valet was. "Where to?"

Stefan gave his a sidelong smile, feeling light-hearted and a bit playful; he had Alaric, Damon and Elena back—the shadow boxes were quiet and comforted. "Depends,"

"Oh?" he raised a curious brow.

"Do you want to finish what we started in the bathroom?"

"Oh," this one had a different tone all together.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

"You sure you don't mind?" Alaric questioned as his fingers brushed delicately over the worn and cracked spines of the leather journals that were crammed on the shelf, feeling both excitement and trepidation.

"Yes, Ric." Stefan replied with an even voice despite the nervous lick in his belly. "You're an historian and a hunter, I know you can read with objectively—besides, I saw the look in your eyes the first time you saw them." He smirked, "Like a kid in a candy store."

Alaric straightened and turned to the vampire seated behind the computer desk playing homework catch-up. "It's not every day you get an opportunity like this,"

"I don't think there's anything historically accurate," Stefan admitted, "I mean I lived through those times, but their mostly accounts of my infrequent encounters of Damon, when I lost myself to the call of human blood, and Lexi putting me through years of detox back onto animal blood."

"Don't sell yourself short. Jonathan Gilbert's Journal was very educational."

The vampire gave a soft snort. "Everyone just thought he was a madman."

"Not if you know how to read between the lines. Now come on, any suggestions?" Alaric wondered.

Stefan flitted over to him, leaving his wheelie chair spinning. "The '63 journal is the only one that has entries pre-Katherine, from when I was still human. I managed to save it." He easily pointed to the spine. "Want to read about how I lost my virginity?" he joked.

"I thought you lost your... virginity to Katherine." Alaric said.

"Damon did." Stefan shook his head, "Thankfully I did not. I was still 16, soon to be 17." He recounted, "Damon had just gone off fighting in the confederate war. It was at the night of the County Fair in Mystic Falls. She was just passing through and we spent the day together—and then briefly the night, in a wagon filled with hay." He gave the dirty blond a subdued smile, "We were going to run away together, she wrote me to meet but never showed. A week after my birthday, Katherine came to stay with us."

"It was senior prom," Alaric confessed his own, "Graduation. I was 18, before I left home to attend college. It was in the back of a Station Wagon," he chuckled, "In the school parking lot. Nothing like your hot tryst in a hay wagon."

"'64," Stefan pointed, "Katherine. '64," he pointed to another, "I was a... bampi, Katherine was dead, Damon had left—and I loved human blood. I was a vampire for a couple of months before I met Lexi and she took me under her wing. She was the one that told me I was a Ripper, got me to turn my switch back on, and put me on the vegetarian diet." He paused as Damon's shadow box gave a rattle, and ignored it. "I was on it 48 years before I fell off it," he pointed to the 1912 journal, "Hard. I was a Ripper again, but it was nothing like it was in 1864 when I'd just turned. I'd been denying myself my hunger, my craving, for nearly 5 decades. I couldn't stop myself, the bloodlust eclipsed me, turned my humanity switch off because I couldn't face myself, what I did to my victims because I couldn't control my hunger, because I could never sate it so I just kept feeding, and tearing, and killing." Stefan swallowed as he felt the hunger burn in the back of his throat, the craving yawning as he just simply recounted those times in the barest of terms, feeling disgusted with himself for feeling this way.

"Hey," Alaric whispered, a gentle hand on his cheek, trying to draw him back.

Stefan's eyes snapped open and his fangs snapped down, able to sense the flow of blood under the thin layer of skin at Alaric's wrist so close to his mouth and nose. Alaric stilled but didn't pull away and Stefan quickly pursed his lips and turned his head away. "Sorry," he managed to fight his fangs back into his gums.

"Stefan, I know you're a vampire. I know you've killed when you didn't have to. You don't have to keep turning away from me,"

"Knowing and seeing are two completely different things, Ric." Stefan denied. "Hearing about it is different than listening to it in person. I haven't drunk human blood in 74 years and I plan on staying on animal blood as long as I am undead. I've thought I had control over the bloodlust before, but it's just like saying 'I'll just have one drink,' that's not how it works in real life. I'm not going to make the same mistake again, I've made that mistake too many times."

"You're right," Alaric turned the stoic vampire's face back towards him, locking blue with green. "I've never seen you be a vampire before—I've seen the speed, the strength, the intelligence, even the fangs a little," he glanced at the teen's mouth, "—I've never seen you vamp-out, or feed, or kill, but if I didn't think I could handle those things if they ever came... I would have let things stand how I had in the classroom."

"Ahem, love to interrupt this touching moment," Damon suddenly appeared in Stefan's doorway, much to the pair’s chagrin, wagging a cell phone, "But Elena finally called, she's on her way. Just wanted to make sure you two were decent."

Stefan narrowed his eyes as he faced his brother. "That's my cell phone," he accused, and flitted to his brother to snatch it out of his fingers. "Why do you have it?"

"You left it downstairs, was I just supposed to let it ring?" he challenged indignantly. "That would have just been rude, Elena might think you were screening her calls."

Stefan gave his brother a little playful shove. "Next time I'll be just as curious with your phone," he warned.

Damon chuckled. "I'm not that careless, brother."

Stefan shook his head and slipped his cell into his pocket. "What did she say, did she find something?"

"I don't know, Stefan." He said patiently. "That's why she's coming over. To tell us."

"I never would have guessed you two were brothers," Alaric deadpanned as Stefan glared at his brother and Damon smirked in return.

Suddenly, Stefan flashed a grin. "I can show you pictures."

"Excuse me?" Damon sputtered. "What pictures? Where?"

"I got them when I went back for my journal before I left Mystic Falls." Stefan crossed his arms, "And if I tell you, you'll steal them... so I'll keep that to myself when I'm showing all our friends baby-Damon."

Alaric chuckled and Damon swivelled his glare the teacher's way. "I was just picturing that look on a cuter, chubbier face. Adorable."

"Don't you start," Damon warned the human before he flitted from the room. "I will find them even if I have to tear your room apart."

Stefan smiled at Ric and stage whispered to his lover's amusement: "He won't find them." He went over to the open-faced cabinet by his balcony doors and carefully picked up Salvatore's fishbowl to take down to the parlor with them. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last; he just didn't want the comet goldfish to become lonely, sitting in his room all day while he was at school or out hunting, so he'd take him to the parlor, or the library.

Damon rolled his eyes as he watched his brother put the fishbowl on a pre-cleared spot on the end table under the lamp beside the sofa. "You take that thing everywhere you go. Why don't you save yourself the trouble and just get a dog already?"

"You know why," Stefan said. He sped to the kitchen, leaving Damon and Alaric alone, to put the coffee pot on. Alaric had stayed the weekend so he'd stocked the fridge and cupboards; being a vampire meant that he didn't need to eat food to survive, but that didn't mean he couldn't eat.

He found a package of Oreos in the cupboard as the coffee brewed, and dumped them on a plate, before grabbing four mugs. He filled them each with a different order and put everything on a serving tray.

Stefan walked back to the parlor at human speed, to find Damon with a tumbler of bourbon and Alaric setting down an empty glass.

"I don't want coffee," Damon informed his brother as he eyed the tray.

"That's fine," he set the tray on the coffee table, "It's not for you."

"That's just makes me want it," Damon pouted, he reached forward with a flash of speed, but it was only to grab some Oreos. He sat back in the chair, ankle crossed on his knee as he twisted to cookies apart and licked out the icing. Alaric quirked his brow in amusement across in the opposing chair as the vampire lined the empty cookies along his leg, then dunked the halves in his bourbon like it was a glass of milk before he ate them.

"The red mug's yours, Ric." Stefan said before he left the parlor for the door as he heard Bonnie's Prius pull up the drive. He had the door open even before the two teenagers made it to the front porch.

"Hey, Stefan." Elena said. "I brought Bonnie."

"And I brought some magical reading," Bonnie patted her book bag as they came in.

Stefan smiled at them. "And I have coffee and Oreos. We're just in the parlor," he proceeded them down the hallway.

"You win," Elena declared and they chuckled.

The vampire, witch, and doppelganger filled the couch; Stefan sitting closest to Alaric, Elena to Damon, and Bonnie in the middle. Stefan handed out the coffee, taking his own and leaned against the arm; the Oreo plate dwindled.

"Now that refreshments are out of the way," Damon said. He looked to Elena, "Talk—starting with why you dragged Ms Judy-pants along." Everyone rolled their eyes.

"Because I'm more useful than you," Bonnie answered him promptly; they exchanged glowers.

"Elena," Stefan interceded. "You said you found something when you called?"

"Yeah." Elena nodded. "Uncle John was waiting at the house and I was totally ready to tear into him about hitting you with his car, but he beat me to it. He was like 'let's stop lying to each other, Elena. We both know what the Salvatore brother are,' and then he tried to tell me what monsters you were and that you were just going to get me killed." Stefan grimaced because he knew it was true. "I realized that he thought Stefan and I were still on the outs from Tuesday so I used that to my advantage, and to try and convince me further to stay away he gave me some more Gilbert Journals."

"Jonathan Gilbert?" Alaric questioned, sitting forward. "The same who wrote that first journal?" Elena nodded.

"That's not possible," Stefan said quietly, and everyone looked to him.

"What do you mean?" Elena asked.

"I killed Jonathan Gilbert in 1864," Stefan confessed, "After I was turned."

"He must of had a ring," Bonnie realized. "Uncle John said there were two, passed down through the Gilbert family to members of the Council. Emily was the one that spelled those rings. She was also the one that made that compass that could detect vampires."

"It must have been her way of helping the Council keep the town safe from vampire's even while in Katherine's service," Stefan murmured. "Jonathan Gilbert thought he'd created those devices, but it was really her spelling them in secret."

"Right under Katherine's nose," Damon swirled his bourbon before he drank. "She always was a sneaky witch."

"There was something else," Elena said. Bonnie took the grimoire from her bag and Stefan pulled the tray out of the way as they all put their mugs down. "In one of the journals, Jonathan Gilbert wrote about how Pearl stole another device from him, but hadn't discovered it until after they burned the vampires in Fell's Church."

Bonnie opened the grimoire, flipping carefully through the pages. "Here are the rings, and the compass," she turned the page, "And then this." They all leaned forward to look. "It says that it's a device that can incapacitate vampires for a short period."

"How?" Damon questioned lowly.

"It emits some sort of sound that only vampires can hear,"

"Like a dog whistle?" Alaric asked.

"Essentially, I guess."

"If Pearl had the device on her when she was captured by the Council," Damon speculated, standing and going to sideboard and refreshing his glass from the decanter. "But was actually sealed in the tomb beneath the church instead of burned—then she must have still had it on her in the tomb." He turned to the group and gestured with the glass before taking a sip, "We should look for it."

"If Jonathan Gilbert thought it burned in the church fire," Stefan pointed out, "What makes you think it could have survived the flamethrower in the tomb?"

Damon shrugged. "I don't know. What I do know, little brother, is that if it did survive the fire, then I don't want Uncle Douchebag getting his hands on it—seeing as its a weapon against us. He has the journal telling him what happened to the device, he knows that the vampires were sealed in the tomb instead of burned 145 years ago, and he knows that we opened the tomb. So assuming that he thinks we already have it or it's still in the tomb—survey says we should look for it before he does."

"He's right," Elena said in agreement, standing to face the others.

"See," Damon pointed at the teen. "She knows. Besides, I'm in charge."

"Who put you in charge?" Bonnie asked, packing up the grimoire.

"I did." Stefan said.

"Stefan was in the slope of a nervous breakdown," Damon informed them blandly. "But the power shift still stands. We're looking for the device, I don't want something that could hurt us in that bastard's hands or the Council's."

"Tomorrow after school," Stefan stood.

Damon looked at his brother for a moment. "Fine."

"You being responsible," Bonnie said, standing and slipping the strap of her bag over her shoulder, "Is creepy."

"And you being judgy," Damon returned, "Is still annoying. I have nothing to prove to you, little witch."

"If you hurt Stefan like that again, it will be fear that you have for me." She warned ominously.

He faux shivered. "I'm so scared." And gave her his vamp-face.

"And I'm not scared of you, Damon Salvatore." Her expression was stiff and her fingers twitched, holding herself back. "But you will be of me." And they locked glares for a long moment, before Bonnie visibly snubbed the vampire. She had a friendly smile as she looked at her friend, "We'll see you at school tomorrow, Stefan. Come on, Elena." She passed the long-haired brunette.

"Right." Elena blinked. "Bye, guys." She gave them a wave and followed Bonnie out.

"Where do you find these people, Stefan?" Damon complained.

Stefan deadpanned, "You like them and you know it."

"I'd like to torture them," Damon agreed. "I know that."

"You've finally met people who aren't afraid of you and take your crap, you must be beside yourself." He teased with a grin.

"I will ground you," Damon warned him and Stefan laughed.

"I should be going, too." Alaric set his empty mug on the tray with the other cups as he stood. "I have to figure a lesson plan-- no I don't. Caroline has completely taken over with these Founder Floats. I don't have to do anything but supervise."

"Can't wait." Stefan smirked.

"He means that, too." Damon pointed out.

Stefan ignore him and held out the plate to the man. "Cookie for the road?"

"Sure." Alaric took one of the last standing Oreos and ate it. "Thanks."

"Only so I could do this," and Stefan kissed the crumbs from the corner of his lips.

Damon muttered wryly as he finished his drink, "The fact that you have a more active sex-life than me, means that there is something truly wrong with the world."

"That's because you eat all your dates," Stefan kindly pointed out.

"I don't date,"

"Maybe that's your problem." Alaric told him.

"No." Damon said. "I am not taking dating advice from the guy sleeping with my baby brother." He shuddered. Alaric shook his head, but chuckled at the vampire's discomfort as he left.

"See," Stefan turned to his brother, "You're already making friends."

"Just because I haven't killed him yet, doesn't mean we're friends."

"Really? With you, isn't that the definition of friends?"

"Ha ha. I am not befriending your... boyfriend, Stefan."

"Why not?" Stefan pointed out, "I mean, there's the whole you-killed-his-wife thing, but you became friends with Elena and we were dating, and there's the you-killed-her-birth-mother thing."

"You've never slept with Elena." Damon pointed out. Then added, "And she never tried to kill me,"

"Please." Stefan scoffed. "Everyone you know has tried to kill you. If we went with that logic, you'd have no one." Damon said nothing and simply turned his back to his brother, topping off his glass. The teen stared at him guiltily. He approached his brother with the plate, "There's one left."

He turned stoically to his little brother. "Trying to bribe me with an Oreo, Stefan?"

"If you don't want it..." he started, then smiled as Damon's hand flashed and he snatched the Oreo and dunked it haughtily into his bourbon.

~ T V D ~

Stefan set the oven to preheat. He got a casserole dish from the cupboard below and put the small hen in it with two cups of water. Alaric stood behind him at the breakfast bar with the chopping board and fresh vegetables.

Stefan washed his hand in the sink. "How's it going over there?"

"I can cut vegetables," Alaric told him in faint amusement. "I've been cooking for myself for the last 2 years and change." It was followed a moment later by: "Shit," hissed quietly and the chopping halted.

Stefan instantly smelled the blood and was at Alaric's side in a flash of speed despite the man only being 3 feet behind him. The teacher was holding his left index, as blood welled from the cut and dripped onto the wood board.

"You okay?" Stefan managed, eyes riveted on the liquid red; like the drip of water against a steel sink bottom in a silent house; it echoed through the vampire's head like a call.

"Just a cut," Alaric went to the sink and ran it under the tap, his hissed lost in the running water.

Stefan's fingers were drawn to the blood, smearing it with his fingers. They shook as he rose his hand, fingers smeared preciously red. His jaw ached and mouth watered as they drew towards his mouth on their own accord. He gripped the edge of the breakfast bar with force, his knees almost buckling in ecstasy of human blood on his tongue after 74 years. His tongue worked his fingers clean and he swallowed the moan as he swallowed the blood.

He couldn't believe he'd just done that! Stefan pulled his fingers from his hungry mouth in shame but his want only grew. God, how his every cell throbbed painfully with want for more.

Alaric turned off the tap. "Shit, it's still bleeding. Is there paper towel?" he searched the counter, hand held over the sink. plink. His blood dripped into the sink and Stefan was pulled to his side.

Alaric was pulled back to attention as Stefan took his hand. "Stefan, what are you--?!" he was wide eyed as the vampire wrapped his lips around his bleeding finger. Stefan groaned as the cut bled directly onto his tongue and he sucked. "Stefan, stop!" Alaric shoved at his shoulder with his free hand and tried to pull his captured one free; but Stefan gripped his wrist painfully tight, preventing him from pulling away and cracking the delicate bones under the pressure. "Ah!"

But all too soon the flow abated from the small limb. And Stefan released it with a growl as discontent. He was still hungry, always so fucking hungry!

He wanted more, he wanted it all! He grabbed the man and shoved him roughly back against the counter, knocking the chicken dish and sending it smashing to the floor. But this was the meal he wanted, this was what he truly hungered for. His fangs descended hungrily in relief, the throbbing veins crawled around his eyes, his eyes turning a deep dark red.

"Stefan, stop!"

He was demonic as he wrenched the struggling Alaric's head to the side and lunged for his lovely exposed throat.

The oven beeped—and Stefan was jolted awake by his alarm clock. He looked around his room in momentary confusion before he quickly shut his alarm clock off, laying back heavily.

"It was just a dream," he assured himself quietly, feeling his fangs scrap against his bottom lip. He stared at his ceiling, trying to calm himself from the hype the dream had left him in as it continued to run through his mind—not vague like a dream, but vivid like a memory. It took him longer than he would have liked.

Stefan ran his tongue over his human teeth as he climbed from bed. Even without his fangs, his canines were pointed like a simulation of fangs, just not as prominent as his real ones; like something telling him he would always end up this way. He paused long enough to feed Salvatore some flakes, before he opened his balcony doors and leaped down.

Barefoot and in his flannel bottoms and wifebeater, he raced into the woods at speed—trying to burn some of his nervous energy off as fast as possible. He felt amped up and unusually predatory after his vivid blood lusting dream, his fangs coming down sharply as he tracked some larger prey; he would just drink more on his hunt this morning to compensate for the gnawing hole of hunger in his throat, drown out the want with animal blood.

Stefan returned to the Boarding House, clothing and skin covered in grass and dirt stains. He'd tracked a young doe in the woods and was unusually vicious in his takedown of the mammal. The dream had just left him so filled with craving and hunger, that the 'human' part of his brain was subleased temporarily by the 'monster' and he tore into the poor, frightened creature with such fervour, feed so harshly, that he nearly Ripped it apart. He left the drained carcass for the other predators to strip the meat from bone. He'd managed to clean most of the blood from his neck and chest with grass, but his wifebeater was still stained in blood.

There was a moment pause in the hallway upstairs as he encountered Damon on the way to his bedroom, caring a glass filled with donor blood. Stefan lashes fluttered as he smelt the human blood and pursed his lips as his mouth watered, but did not swallow. Damon didn't ask if he was okay, just raised a dark brow and Stefan said nothing in return. The moment passed and Damon went downstairs while Stefan showered, dressed, and went to school.

Stefan used Caroline's gruelling building schedule for the Founder's Day floats that the Seniors were building to distraction, making sure to do the heavy lifting, to avoid conversation. Every time he caught sight of Ric when the teacher did the rounds, he remembered the fear and horror on his face and was flooded with guilt and shame.

...

The four school attendants met up with Damon after school to check out the tomb under Fell's Church for the mysterious device as decided the previous night. They transversed the woods toward the church.

"Stef, are you okay?" Alaric gently pulled the vampire back and let the others get ahead to give them some privacy. "You've been giving me odd looks all day."

"Chicken dinner," Stefan blurted. He hadn't meant to say that, but the stupid dream had been on his mind all day.

"What? You want to have dinner?" Alaric smiled, "Okay."

"I'll cut the vegetables," he added, just in case the man got any ideas.

"If you insist," he chuckled. They caught up with the others.

The vampires used their strength to uncover the opening to the tomb that Bonnie had fallen through when the ground had collapsed under her. The rope ladder was still set up from when they had all gone down, Sheila included, to open the tomb. The brothers leapt down, with the bags, and Stefan made sure the two girls and teacher made it down safe. The flamethrower was still sitting abandoned in the dirt.

"The barrier's still down right?" Damon cast aside at Bonnie as Stefan and Elena handed out flashlights.

"Go inside first and see, Mr In-charge." Bonnie told him, flicking her flashlight on and shinning it in his face.

Stefan sighed and turned on his own torch, proceeding into the darkness of the tomb, Elena and Alaric following. "Will you two ever get along?" he didn't get an answer and he didn't think he was expecting one. "Let's just find this thing, please."

The vampire and witch took up the tail, but soon enough the group came to a halt.

"Look, the catacomb diverges." Elena shone between the two passages. "We're going to have to split up."

"Alright. Two and three," Damon decided. "A vampire each."

"This feels like getting picked for teams in gym class," Alaric mused to Elena.

"Bonnie and Damon, you take that way," Stefan pointed with his light to the left. Then he shone his light down the other, "And we'll go this way."

"Why are we stuck together?" Damon questioned. "And I'm in charge, remember."

"Yeah," Bonnie agreed.

"It's already decided. And look, my plan's already working—you're agreeing with each other!" Stefan's team all shared grins as the brunette vampire received glowers.

"Come on," Bonnie growled at Damon, turning down their chosen tunnel. "Let's just get this over with and find this thing so we can get out of here."

After sending one more glare his brother's way, Damon stomped after the witch. "Bossy."

The vampire and two humans advanced down their chosen catacomb, the scuffs of their foots steps on the dirt and stone, and breathing magnified eerily as they bounced off the close quarters. They descended the stone steps into the first chamber.

"God, this is creepy," Elena said as they toed around in vampire ashes, bits of burnt clothing and scored pieces of bone.

"It had to be done," Stefan said softly. "If they had gotten out, they would have been bent on getting revenge against the Founding Families for putting them in the church to burn. I'm sure they would have preferred that than to be imprisoned down here to starve and desiccate for 145 years."

They went through several chambers without success of finding anything.

"I wish I could remember where I saw Pearl before," Stefan muttered, "I just never thought that we'd have to come back down here."

"Maybe Damon and Bonnie found something," Alaric said.

"If they're not too busy bitching at each other about each other," Elena pointed out as they made their way back through the catacombs and out of the tomb.

Stefan packed away the flashlights as they waited in the anti-chamber to the tomb. Elena took out her cell to see if she might be able to call, but there were no bars down here.

"I can hear them," Stefan told the pair, head cocked lightly as he concentrated on the scuff of footsteps. "They're quiet. That can't be good," he noted.

The pair exited the tomb in a fouler mood towards each other than in the beginning. Looked like Stefan’s attempt for them to be friendly failed epically.

"Any luck?" Stefan asked, taking their flashlights.

"We found a pocket watch." Damon announced, "It looks nothing like the picture that was in Bossy's book, but it has an inscription inside with Jonathan Gilbert's name and the date, it could be something or it could be nothing."

"Can't you just check if it's imbued with magic?" Elena questioned.

"I could," Bonnie agreed, "If he'd hand it over," she glared at the blue-eyed vampire.

"Wasn't it just last night that you said I should be afraid of you?" Damon mocked. "'Cause I got nothing, witchy-pants."

"I was trying to be polite, but if you insist..." her fingers spread, tense, palm towards Damon and arm outstretch, and muttered.

"Argh!" Damon grunted in pain as it felt like the cells in his brain were exploding, he clutched at his head, gritting his teeth.

"Damon! Bonnie!" Stefan and Elena both shouted in suck and concern.

Bonnie continued for a few seconds more to get her point across before she stopped. Damon was breathing harshly, as he straightened, his vamp-face slowly morphing back into his handsome human one as he gave her a dirty, pissed look. Bonnie stared back impassively, turning her palm up and waited pointedly.

"I'm going to relish tearing into your throat for a second time, Bennett." Damon slapped the watch into her palm as his brain healed and the headache eased off.

"Just try," she said. Bonnie put her other palm over the watch, taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, concentrating. A gust of wind curled through the chamber, lifting the girls' hair. The witch finally opened her eyes. "There is magic in it," she pointedly handed the pocket watch to Stefan.

Alaric and Elena crowded the vampire on either side as they inspected the watch, but there seemed to be nothing extraordinary about it. Other than it being an antique and heirloom, the arms stopped because it hadn’t been wound in decades. Stefan flipped it shut and handed it back to Damon.

"You can't tell what kind of magic is in it?" Alaric asked. "Like what the spell does?"

"It doesn’t' work like that," Bonnie sighed. Damon looked about to make some unhelpful, witty comment but twin looks from Stefan and Elena held him off.

"What would John even want it for—if he even does?" Stefan wondered aloud. "He's had several openings to expose us to the Council. He could have staked me after he hit me with his car and I was down for the count. Why go through all the trouble with this device?"

"Trying to protect Elena?" Alaric suggested. "He did warn you away, Stefan."

"Maybe," Stefan consented. "And it's not like the tomb vampires are a problem."

"Does he know that?" Bonnie wondered, the others looked surprised by the question.

"When he tried to taunt me at the party, he blathered on about how the vampires rounded up in '64 were never burned but sealed in the tomb below and how I opened it. Then he provoked me so I snapped his neck and threw him over the terrace railing," Damon shrugged. "But nothing further was said on the subject of tomb vampires, so he could think they got out, especially with how eager he reported the blood bank thefts."

"Killing someone tends to tarnish their honestly," Elena said, upset despite herself.

"He's alive and free to cause us all drama we don't need, untwist your panties, Elena." Damon told her mordantly.

She scowled. "You didn't know that when you did it."

Damon leaned close and hissed quietly. "He hurt my brother and you think I was just going to let him get away with that?"

"I know." Elena crossed her arms and turned her back to the blue-eyed vampire.

Stefan rubbed Elena's arm soothingly and squeezed his brother's shoulder. "That's in the past," he told the pair, "It's over and done with. Let's just focus on the real problem."

"Wind it!" Elena suddenly blurted, turning. "It's an old-timey watch, you're supposed to wind it, right?"

Stefan looked at his brother, turning the watch over in his palm with interest. "I don't think that's a good idea..."

Damon wound it anyways and everyone tensed, but nothing happened. "It doesn't even work like a normal wind watch." He shook the thing in irritation. "That was useless,"

"It is over a century old," Ric pointed out.

"That wouldn't matter," Bonnie shook her head. "The magic is still there, if that was the device, it would work. Just like the rings, just like the compass. Magic doesn't fade."

"It's starting to get dark out," Stefan tipped his head back and stared up into the open sky above, hands tucked into his jacket pockets, "We can worry about it later. We have the watch, we have time."

"Wait," Alaric interrupted, stopping them. "The picture in the book was like a little box of gears, wasn't it?" he mimed the shape. "Like the skeleton of a music box or something. Maybe it was separated for safe keeping, in case something like this happened so they couldn't destroy it."

"That actually makes sense, Teacher." Damon said, grinning. "Now we just have to find the other piece."

~ T V D ~

Stefan pulled the shower door open and stepped out onto the mat. Water droplets dripped down taut, supple flesh. He grabbed a towel from the rack and dried himself. Alaric paused in his ministrations with the straight razor at the sink, a towel knotted around his hips as he admired the vampire in the mirror's reflection.

Stefan straightened and tied the towel around his hips, smirking as he caught Alaric's dark eyes in the mirror. The teen approached, leaning his hip against the side of the sink to watch the teacher. Alaric gave him a small smile as he wiped the blade before looking back into the mirror. He rose his chin and turned his head; starting from halfway down his neck where the stubble ended, his carefully drew the blade upwards towards the hinge of his jaw.

"You look good, you smell good... is there anything you aren't good at?" Stefan teased.

Alaric flinched lightly as he nicked himself with the razor. "Shaving, apparently," the dirty-blond chuckled.

Stefan green eyes were drawn to the well of red against his skin. The drop of blood ran tantalizing down the side of his throat, leaving a faint pink streak in its wake before it settled in the shallow indent behind the man's clavicle. His eyes darkened with hunger.

Alaric set the straight razor on the edge of the sink and reached over for the toilet paper, but Stefan put a hand on his cheek and drew the man back. "Stefan?" he questioned.

But Stefan's gaze was locked on the blood. He kissed the man's collarbone, the faint taste of blood already sending his taste buds into a frenzy. He gave a soft groan, his tongue drawing against the smooth, freshly shaven flesh as he followed the track of blood up his neck.

Instead of pushing him away, Alaric pulled the teen closer as Stefan licked, kissed, and sucked the sensitive flesh of his neck. The vampire could feel the man's blood thrum against his lips through the thin layer of skin, but it was the hunter's delicious blood he wanted to pulse hotly against his tongue. His sharp human canines scraped enticingly against Alaric's skin and the man shivered, hand squeezing the nape of his neck. Stefan's fangs slid out with a sigh of relief and he sunk them hungrily into Alaric's throat unexpectedly.

Alaric cried out in shock and pain, and tried to shove the feeding vampire off, but Stefan had wrapped his arms around the dirty-blond like an anaconda, making the struggle futile. He scrabbled around the sink instead, grasping the straight razor. He slashed the vampire with the sharp razor, cutting through his flesh like butter.

It had Stefan backing off for a moment with a growl but the pain was momentary as it was swallowed by the bottomless hunger inside of him. But he wasn't finished, the warm blood streaking down Alaric's bare chest told him so, he would stop when the blood stopped. And not even then...

He brandished the cutthroat razor like it was a weapon that could truly hurt the vampire and Stefan chuckled at the futility of the gesture as he sped forward and knocked the blade out of his hand. Alaric gave a shout as the bones in his arm shattered, but Stefan was already shoving him back and pinned the teacher back against the glass shower door.

And sunk his fangs back into the already torn flesh of his throat.

His nails sunk into the man's biceps as he gripped the teacher's arms, blood coating both their chests as the vampire tore his jugular, blood gushing too fast for the vampire to catch it all. The didn't stop him from trying as he ravaged Alaric's throat, his struggles growing weaker, nothing but gasps and whimpers. The glass cracked from the pressure that Stefan was applying before it shattered, throwing the both of them back into the tub in a rain of glass.

There was a sickening thud of Alaric beneath him, but Stefan simply bit back into the still man's throat; blood, glass, and flesh in his savage mouth as he groaned in pleasure.

Something caught in the back of his throat—Stefan jolted awake, twisted in his bed sheets, arms wrapped around Alaric's designated pillow when he slept over, fangs savagely tearing into case, his mouth full of feathers even as he salivated from the memory of blood.

Stefan quickly threw the pillow across his dim bedroom, spitting out the feathers. He buried his face in his arms for a minute, pulling at his hair in anxiety before he kicked off the sweaty sheets and rolled onto his back. He felt helpless as he stared at the ceiling and was thankful that Alaric hadn't been sleeping over because of school.

His first dream had been Sunday night, and now it was Thursday morning. He'd had one every night this week. Alaric getting a paper cut in the library. Alaric falling and hitting his head. Always the two of them, domestic and happy—normal. Then Alaric would injure himself, bleed, and the blood would draw out the Ripper, no matter how small the trickle. His dreams were all awash with Ric's blood and the driving hunger Stefan had for it, always losing control against the bloodlust.

Stefan sat up against his headboard and turned on his bedside lamp. He pulled his journal into his lap from the table where it had a permanent position all week and wrote through dawn against his raised knees.

He swallowed against his dry throat as he recounted the dream in vivid detail, filling the pages with visual representation of his shame, thirst, fear and agony. It had been years since he had dreams filled with blood and couldn't help but speculate and analyze why. What his subconscious might be trying to tell him through these dreams? It made his undead heart ache deeply with the conclusions he was drawing.

He'd been trying to drown out the siren call of human blood, Alaric's, by feeding on more animal blood. It was like he was dehydrated and he was drinking molasses to curb his thirst instead of water. That was to say... it wasn't helping, not anymore. Not when the dreams continued, not as his hunger continued to awaken for the thing he could never give it.

He finally forced himself out of his spiralling thoughts as his alarm went off. He set his journal on his bed and climbed from it, grabbing the fish food from the shelf, he leaned over the fishbowl on his computer desk:

"You're the only one I could never hurt, but simply because you lack the thing I thirst for most. I wish desperately to God that I could say the same for the others." He sprinkled the flakes into the water and spent a minute watching Salvatore dart around smoothly to collect each flake.

Stefan grabbed the sweater from the back of the chair, zipping it around his bare chest. He couldn't face his en suite so soon after that dream, so he went out onto his balcony and dropped over the edge onto the drive below. This had also become a habit of his since the dreams had started. He stuffed his hands in his hoodie pockets and walked to the tree line at a human pace, already drawn back into his thoughts and a continuous play of his dream... s.

The vampire returned half an hour later, going for the faster feed, a nest of sleeping squirrels. He continued to drink blood not because he had a desire for it, but because he knew if he didn't, he would lose what thin veil of control he had left to him. He was halfway into his room before he even realized his brother was present. Damon sat on the foot of his bed, leaned back on his hands. Stefan's green gaze darted from his brother, to where his hand lay so close to his closed journal.

"Don't worry," Damon read his expression easily. "I didn't read it, as tempting as it was. I'm a changed vampire, remember?"

"Of course." Stefan stayed where he was, no matter how much he itched to flit over and grab his journal. What would Damon make of his dreams? Would he draw the same conclusion that Stefan had? "What's up?" he stuck his hands into his sweater pockets for lack of anything else to do as he stood awkwardly in the middle of his own bedroom.

"That is the question of the week," Damon agreed. "Since you're not going to admit it, why don't I say it?" he took his brother's silence as agreement. "You've been having blood dreams, Stefan—the equivalence of wet dreams—side effects including, but not limited to... premature fang ejection, tearing into your pillow like it's the supple throat of a lover, animal blood binges to try and curb the hunger." He pulled the torn pillow from behind his back and into his lap. "I was willing to stay out of it, hoping you could work through it alone... but you're manifesting, Stefan." He tossed up a handful of feathers spilling from the assaulted pillow in his lap for emphasis.

"There's nothing to worry about," Stefan assured him. "I just get these dreams sometimes. It's been really stressful lately." It was both true and a lie, but he said it with convictions. These were crisp, clear, with all the detail of a live moment, not choppy flashes, a broken film reel of a past blood fugue. His gaze drifted to each of the drifting feathers from the light breeze coming through his open balcony doors.

Damon dipped his chin in acceptance of the point, but his blue eyes still held concern. "I think you should stay home," he announced, standing and tossing the pillow back onto the bed.

"No." Stefan shook his head. "You're not barring me from school again. I accepted it before because I was not in a stable place and really needed my big brother. But this is not that, I can't be trapped in here like some damsel in a tower—that is the last thing I need. The dreams go away, they always do."

And he stalked passed his brother into the en suite, closing the door. He could hear Damon linger so he stripped from his clothes, opened the glass door and stepped into the shower. He flinched as he remembered the thud Alaric's body made as the crashed into the tub, too fixated on the man's blood to even wonder if he broke the teachers neck or cracked his skull as he lay motionless.

Stefan took Damon's absence when he stepped out of the bathroom, hair damp and in a towel as acceptance as he got dressed. His journal still laid untouched on his unmade bed, but the pillow and scattered feathers were cleaned away. A small smile graced the corner of his mouth, Damon used to do that sometimes when they were kids.

He grabbed his bag and headed out. Damon roared up in his Camaro Convertible as he stepped down the porch.

"Get in," Damon told him, fingers drumming on the steering wheel. "I'll drop you, I have things to do."

The brunette quirked an eyebrow in response, but tossed his bag in the backseat. Stefan jumped over the door instead of opening it and as payback for shoes on his upholstery, Damon put the peddle to the metal before he was seated. He chuckled as his brother's styled hair became windswept by the time he dropped him off at school.

The Founder's Day Parade was the next day on Friday, so it was just last minute touch-ups to the floats and costumes, the rest of the day back to regular scheduling.

There had been a small incident, with no injuries, thankfully; Stefan did not want to see how that might have played out with his tenuous connection to his mentality at the moment. Some wires got crossed, there was a collision of paths, paint everywhere—red paint—on the pavement, on students. He was mesmerized as a glob trailed towards him, like it was magnetized. He felt the ache in his jaw, held his breath subconsciously so he could not catch the enticing scent—it's not blood!

He bent the metal frame of the trailer, tearing himself away and back just as the paint touched the toe of his boot, breathing heavily. The pavement was quickly hosed, so were the students much to the others amusement, sent to the showers then set back to work in their dry and clean gym clothes, all under the strict guiding hand of team leader Caroline Forbes.

"Stefan?"

"Yeah?" the vampire blinked his dry eyes rapidly and tore his gaze away from the red spot on the toe of his left shoe to the doppelganger seated to his right on the bleacher by the football field where they'd decided to have lunch.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah." He turned to stare out blindly across the field instead, eating a chip as an afterthought. He just bought them from the cafeteria so he wouldn't be the only one not eating.

"Well, I'm convinced!" Bonnie said mildly from his other side.

Stefan snorted in his own mild amusement. "And I am convinced that you're convinced."

"Well, I'm not." Elena grouched. "You look tired, Stefan."

"Just a little lack of sleep, Elena." He assured. "No more than usual. I'll just be happy when the parade is over."

"And Caroline can go back to being a moderate control freak," Bonnie added. "That girl is giving me nightmares." They all chuckled. The bell rang a few minutes later and they groaned instead. "Back to the whipping post."

...

Stefan went with the entire extended group of friends to the Grill after school to celebrate finishing the floats with pool, darts, soda and nachos. He discovered Damon and Alaric at the bar when Matt and Tyler got everyone's orders; he tuned his hearing to listen, heard the word 'device' and was disappointed to find it was business and not pleasure that brought the two together or maybe it was better in the long run.

He caught blond hair from the corner of his eye and followed John Gilbert as he walked to the bar and cockily sat a couple stools from Damon, flagging his order from the bartender. John smirked over at the pair and literally said 'howdy', Stefan didn't have to hear to know, he could see the shape of it against the man's lips.

Stefan could feel the tension from here and was just thinking about interceding or not when his attention was called away as it was his turn and he picked up a cue, distractedly chalked the tip and lined up. He screwed up his shot, much to the guys' delight.

When he looked over again, the threesome was steadfast ignoring the other. Stefan put his cue back on the rack and excused himself to the men's room; he just needed a minute. It wasn't that he was holding back, it was that he was off his game. Using the urinal, he washed his hands at the sink, his green gaze automatically flicking over as the door opened and closed—and there stood John. Stefan straightened cautiously, grabbing paper towel from the dispenser over the trashcan to dry his hands. He didn't have to wonder if the man was there for nature or him, as he spoke:

"I thought I could convince her to stay away from you with the journals." He was in front of the door, much like at the Gilbert home. Stefan knew that he could easily overpower the man to make his exit, but for whatever reason, felt helpless and weak, same as before. "Elena is a very determined young woman... one I fear who is determined to get herself killed, or worse—turned—because of her open, benevolent heart that could even feel sympathy for the devil. For you." He sighed. "I thought you of all people would understand, Stefan. With your history..."

Stefan's too recent nightmares flashed through his mind and he felt a helpless, directionless resentment. He growled and flashed forward, grabbing fistfuls of John's shirt and shoving him back against the paper towel dispenser. "You don't know anything about me!"

John was unflinching in his anger; perhaps because of the protection afforded by the Gilbert ring or simply because Stefan was a poor excuse for a vampire. "I know that blood sings to you. Each pulse the ringing of the dinner bell to that monster, that Ripper inside of you that feels nothing but glee and hunger at the sight, the smell of blood. Salivates at the injury of others. Men, women. Old, young. You don't care. Children--"

"I've never hurt a child!" Stefan exclaimed in horror.

"Haven't you?" he wondered. "You've killed mothers and fathers, torn them limb from limb in your bloodlust. What do you think that does to a child? When they discover the macabre scene you've left them to return home to, when an officer has to sit them down and tell them they will never see the ones they loved whole and happy and alive again—because a monster, a demon, couldn't help himself! Haven't you?"

Stefan released him, backing away; his green eyes glistening with the sting of unshed tears. "That's not me," he whispered weakly, "That's not who I am." ANY MORE! rang loudly in his head through the screams of his victims like an accusation. "I just want to have a normal life!" he shouted with a deep desperation inside of him.

"Normal ended a long time ago for you, Stefan." He told the vampire firmly, if almost sympathetically. "There's none of that for you here, you're just fooling yourself trying to look." John silently regarded him a moment longer before he turned and left the bathroom, leaving the upset vampire alone.

Stefan caught his reflection in the sink mirror. He looked like your normal teenager. The light overhead chose that moment to flash and flicker, cutting his face into slashing shadow. He looked like your normal teenager—but that just masked what lie beneath. Stefan was hopeless in the thought that if he hung out with careless, happy teenagers, it would rub off on him and he could be just like them—normal.

He bent over the sink and splashed water over his face like he could baptize his demons away.

Switching it off, switching it on, twisting the ring off his finger, never settled. Forces were determined to keep him here, keep him living the same mistakes over and again. He could run away from a lot of things, but he could never run away from himself.

He grabbed paper towel from the dispenser, patting his face dry and pressing the sheets over his closed eyes, cloaking himself in darkness, breathing deeply. He heard the door and lowered his hands to find Alaric standing there.

"Hey," Stefan greeted quietly. He crumpled the damp sheets in his hands and threw it the garbage.

"Damon went to have a little chat with John," Alaric explained, he turned the lock on the door. "He heard you shout and then John come out, he wasn't happy. I came to check on you," he didn't ask the obvious question.

"I'm tired of fighting," Stefan sighed. "That's all it feels like lately."

"I know, but once Damon finds the other half of the device, we hold Gilbert in a stalemate, everything will calm down. It'll all go back to normal."

Stefan snorted quietly at his wording and closed the distance between them. "You're probably right." He cupped Alaric's cheek, thumb brushing over his prickly stubble. "Your stubble, I always liked how it feels against my skin, feels real. Don't shave it."

"It makes me look older." He mused. "Better for teaching teenagers."

"You're not old, Ric. In fact, you've hardly even lived... yet you've lived more than I ever could."

"When you say stuff like that, Stefan," Alaric admitted, putting his hand over his on his cheek, "It scares me a little."

"Sorry," Stefan continued to stroke his cheek; as long as this fantastic stubble was there, he would know that it had all just been a nightmare. "I haven't been sleeping well the past few days," he confessed quietly, unable to look into his blue eyes so he focused on corner of his lips. "I've been having these dreams, about you, us," he corrected. "They start out great, amazing, and then..." he shook his head helplessly. "I never want to hurt you, Ric." This time he did look up into his eyes.

Alaric instantly pulled his boyfriend in, afraid the vampire would come apart if he wasn't there, holding him. "You won't hurt me, Stefan." He whispered into the hair above his ear.

The brunette wasn't entirely certain that was the truth, so he said nothing and instead fisted the material of the man's shirt at the back of his shoulder and lower back, cheek pressed against the side of throat, feeling the prick of stubble. John was right, it sung to him, called just for him. His eyes slipped closed and he sighed, slumping against the man and the strong comfort of his embrace, feeling Alaric's body play a living tune against him. Stefan always found it so beautiful, alluring. You always craved most what you couldn’t have.

The dreams flashed through his mind; the heat of the blood, its sweet taste and call. But he didn't remember the teacher's heart pulse. This is real, Stefan thought. As longs as this beat sings in my ears, it is the truth.

The door rattled and the pair pulled apart. "Hey! Is someone in there?" they pounded on the door, "Open the door, I gotta take a piss!"

"This will be awkward to explain," Alaric noted.

"You go first," Stefan said quietly, "Act casual." And he stood behind the door.

Alaric raised a brow, but did as instructed and unlocked the door, quickly pulling it open. "Sorry, man. The door must have jammed," and he passed the guy. The disgruntled man headed straight for the urinal, and Stefan slipped out before the door swung closed with a little vamp-speed outside the slightly inebriated man's notice.

"Smooth," Stefan teetered to a halt, toe and toe with his brother, a neutral expression on his face. "Have a little face-to-face meeting?"

"How did your little chat go?" Stefan returned, po-faced.

"You tell me," Damon said, watching him closely. "Should I have snapped the weasel's neck again?" Stefan couldn't stop the minute tightening of his expression and Damon's steeled in response. The brunette quickly put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him from flitting off and doing just that. "What did he say to you?" he growled.

"The same party line as before," he shrugged.

Damon scrutinized his a moment longer, but his brother didn't seem willing to give any further detail up. He exhaled. "Wave goodnight, Stefan. I can feel Judgy glaring daggers at me."

Amusement smoothing the lines of his face, Stefan looked over Damon's shoulder to the pool table where he could feel Elena's curiosity/concern and see Bonnie's narrowed gaze pinned to his brother's back. Grinning, Stefan waved at the girls and gestured between Damon and the door. They waved back.

"Alright, already." Damon shuffled him out the door and to the car.

...

Stefan was reluctant to go to bed, but he knew that it wouldn't do to be half-asleep when he was part of the parade the next day after school. But even then he lay awake in bed, staring up at the dark ceiling, wondering what horrible domestic-turned-bloodlust-Ripper scenario was next up on slot. But he eventually lost the fight, no matter how desperate he was not to.

~ T V D ~

Stefan groaned as his back hit the wood-paneled wall, the picture frames hanging on the wall shaking as Alaric pumped into him, his legs wrapped around the man's waist, the teacher's hands grasping his buttocks in support.

"Ric," Stefan panted, his finger's shoved into dirty-blond locks as Alaric sucked marks and slopping kisses to his partially exposed torso, his shirt buttons half torn open, in too much of a rush to fully undress. Alaric had only one arm out of his tee shirt, it half bunched around his neck, his jeans pooled around his ankles.

This position was perfect for stroking deep inside, Alaric's cock head stroking his prostate with healthy enthusiasm, but was fast draining on the man's stamina. Stefan bit his tongue hard enough for blood to sluggishly fill his mouth before the wound quickly sealed, he drew Alaric's face up to his and gave him an open-mouthed kiss, drawing the teacher's tongue into his mouth and to take his blood.

Alaric grunted as his thrusts speed up, driving his back into the wall, causing a frame to skew momentarily before it dropped to the floor with a crack of glass.

Stefan's desire was driving him insane, driving him hungry. His head thumped back against the wall, arching into the sweaty, panting man, clenching desperately around the blood-filled organ pumping into him, veins crawling around his eyes. He wanted everything of the man.

Stefan pushed harder with his hips, unbalancing the thrusting man, making him stumble back, overbalanced by the vampires weight, and tangled in his jeans; Alaric gave a shout of surprise as he began to fall backward, only to have Stefan jerk his head to the side, exposing his throat.

Eyes filled with dark blood, a mouth full of fangs and a erotic hunger, Stefan lunged for his delicate jugular as they fell—Stefan grunted as he landed face-first on the floor beside his bed, tangled in his sheets, panting heavily.

He was so relieved he'd been knocked from the dream, that he wasn't as hard in real life. He knew how it would have ended, with the added lust of sex with blood, it would have been a complete frenzy. There hadn't even been the enticement of blood this time, just the lust and hunger brought on by sex.

Alaric's head would not have lasted long on his shoulders—thankfully the vampire teen always awoke before that gruesome habit could come into play. Could the ring bring him back from decapitation? Stefan didn't want to be the cause for an occasion to find out. Luckily he wasn't going to have to find that out, as long as his nightmares stayed just that.

He thumped his head against the floor for a full minute before he forced himself to get up. He hopped into the shower instead of hopping over his balcony railing; the thought of any sort of blood actually made him feel ill, even as the craving would always bore a hold into his brain. He dressed and said morning to Salvatore, sprinkling flakes into his bowl. He grabbed his full garment bag from the back of his door and headed downstairs.

He found Damon in the parlor drinking his breakfast. "Have you seen my--? Never mind, found it." Stefan retrieved his bag from the back table, pulling the strap over his head and folding the garment bag over his forearm more comfortably,

"You didn't hunt," Damon noted. "Any particular reason why?" he raised a dark brow that said he already knew and was just waiting for the poor excuse his little brother would provide.

Stefan always hated to disappoint. He shrugged. "I wasn't feeling hungry, that's all."

"Mm."

His gaze flickered away as Damon took a sip from his glass of blood. "I'll hunt after the parade." He added. "You still going ahead with this plan of yours?" he questioned.

"I'll tear apart his place—with glee—if need be, brother." Damon agreed. "I will find the other piece to this device. Of course, I'll drop around first, got to make an appearance for the Council. You--?" he offered.

Stefan shook his head. "Elena's picking me up."

She picked him up at the end of the driveway in Jenna's Mini. He hung his garment bag off the hook on the backseat passenger's side, Elena's own behind her seat. "Hey, Elena?" he questioned hesitantly as he buckled in.

"Yeah?" she glanced over after she pulled onto the road.

"Could we... could I talk to you about something, later?" He was sure he knew what he had to do, had set himself to do it. "After the parade?" maybe she could someone convince him it was the right thing or the wrong thing.

"Sure, Stefan. Should I be worried?" she pondered jokingly.

"Don't worry," he managed a light chuckle, "You're not in trouble."

~ T V D ~

"I'm having flashbacks," Damon announced as he approached his brother in the active school parking lot wearing 1800's attire. "Terrible flashbacks."

Stefan grimaced as he turned to his brother. "I know," he uncomfortably smoothed his hands down his lapels of his brown Victorian styled jacket, the vest and suspenders underneath making him feel tense and constrained. It being a parade for the day that Mystic Falls was founded, the floats and corresponding costumes were based in the 1800's. It all left him with a subconscious inevitability that was writhing in his brain and it made him feel ill.

Stefan watched his brother's eyes flicker over his shoulder, a minuscule widening before the shutters came back down. Stefan turned and stumbled back a step into his brother, who grasped his arm unseen; it was like she was a ghost back from their past to haunt them.

"Katherine," Stefan uttered so quietly that Damon only caught it because of his vampire hearing and his close proximity to his brother.

Damon squeezed his arm bone-crushingly. "Elena!" he called cheerily. "Don't you look the picture of elegance and 1800's sophistication." He released his brother and stepped forward. He took the tips of her gloved fingers in the cradle of his palm to give her a half bow. "Won't you give us a spin, Lady Elena?"

With a coy grin, Elena gave a spin as Damon held her hand, giggling as she stumbled a little for the weight of the skirts and the blue-eyed vampire steadied her. "It's not really my style," she smack at the skirt. "Thankfully I was born a 21st century girl."

"Pick up you jaw, brother." Damon turned to him. "Be a proper gentlemen and give your arm to this lady, I've taught you better than that." Still holding Elena's hand, he offered it to Stefan.

Stefan cleared his throat and gave Elena an embarrassed smile as he quickly stepped forward and offered the teenager his elbow. Elena took it with a dimpled smile.

"Say cheese!" Damon quickly snapped a shot with his cell before Stefan could protest. " Teacher and I have a mission while the blond chipmunk is otherwise occupied with the festivities as a Founding Member. So, you two behave yourselves."

"I think we should be telling you that," Elena said. Damon just flashed them a devious smirk as he turned and disappeared into the milling crowd. They were all called to places.

Stefan focused on the warmth of her arm curled around his arm, her side brushing against his. The steady, constant beats of her heart, the expansion of her lungs. The life thriving inside of her of every second of every minute of every hour, continuous, constant. Alive. He looked over at her profile as she matched strides on the thick skirt of her dress. Elena Gilbert; he breathed.

...

Stefan hadn't heard from Damon on news about whether his and Alaric's search of John's rented apartment produced the other half of the device, but got a text from Elena that she would meet him at her house.

He was just about to knock when she opened the door. "Hey, I just got here." Her long straight hair was curled and wavy from being pinned up and hair sprayed for hours before being let down. She looked slightly more Elena like this, the modern clothes helped significantly. "Come in," she smiled. "It's just us," she said. "We can talk in the living room?" she suggested and lead them back.

Stefan nodded and followed, worrying the inside of his cheek. She sat on the sofa and looked at him expectantly, but he stayed standing.

"Stefan, what's wrong?" she patted the cushion beside her. "You can tell me anything,"

Stefan sat on the edge of the cushion. "I know things are still getting back to normal between us," Stefan started carefully, "And I don't want to freshen all that pain for you again by talking to you about-- about Ric and me," he paused and watched her carefully as her plucked brow flickered and her lips tightened a bit oddly in response but she silently indicated for him to continue. He swallowed. "I've been having these vivid dreams—nightmares. They just feel so real and--"

"About what?"

"Killing Ric. Losing control and feeding on him, just tearing into him with such hunger and I--" he shook his head, choking on the words.

"They're just dreams, Stefan."

But he shook his head. "They don't feel like dreams, they feel so real. I can taste his blood, the warmth of it down my throat and in my belly." He was too preoccupied to notice if she was acting a little off, just thought it was because they were talking about Alaric and that was still something of a sore subject with them, still fresh. He didn't want to hurt her, but...

"You could never do that--"

"You don't know me when I get like that." He insisted. "Like that, with one taste of human blood, I truly do become a monster. One so starving that I will never stop because I can never get full, no matter how much I drink."

"Even if that did ever happen..." she started. "The ring..." she implied as delicately as possible.

"He shouldn't have to have a ring that brings him back from the dead in order to be in a relationship with me!" Stefan snapped in helplessness, jumping to his feet and pacing the carpet in front of her. "This is why I broke it off between us, because I was afraid of something like this happening. The draw of the blood!" He squeezed his eyes closed against prick of tears, inhaling deeply. "But I just exchanged one never-future for another. I just keep doing this to myself and I can't seem to stop." He opened his eyes and looked at her, his voice a defeated whisper, "Why do I keep putting myself through this? Why?" she looked like she wanted to say something but was holding back. "Just tell me," he said desperately.

"Stefan," she sighed reluctantly. "It seems to me that you're trying to cling to your human-life. But you don't have to attach yourself to a human to keep your humanity. That's like saying you're only somebody if you're dating somebody. Or maybe... haven't you ever tried dating a vampire?" all the strength was suddenly sapped from him body and he slumped on the couch facing her. "You wouldn’t have to worry about bloodlust, or hurting them, or outliving them..."

"Only Katherine," he whispered, and her posture piqued. He had vague impressions of interacting with vampires in the '20's but he was afraid that period would always be lost to him, but maybe that was a good thing in the long run. "But I was human... I've never been with a vampire as a vampire, I usually tried to avoid them, other than Damon and Lexi." Because of Stefan's blood diet, he was an outsider in the vampire circles; and when possessed by his Rippr persona, he didn't think there was a more dangerous vampire out there.

There was utter silence in Stefan's ears, his brow furrowed.

She licked her lips, leaning forward towards him. "Stefan, I l--" she started, when he cocked his head in listening.

"Damon," he said. "He's on the porch." He straightened and twisted back to look at the door. "He must have--" he cut himself off as he heard Elena say something, but not Elena inside, right next to him—Elena outside! Stefan jerked back around, but she was gone, vanished without sound.

Stefan stumbled to his feet, pale as a the ghost he'd just seen. He knocked the corner of the end table, and just managed to save the lamp from smashing to the floor as the front door burst open and there stood Damon and Elena. Elena with her hair straight and clothes from earlier.

His sharp ears instantly zeroed in on her beating heart, her breathing, the pulse of her blood. How hadn't he realized how quiet it had been? The lamp smashed unexpectantly in his hands.

"Stefan!" Elena gasped in surprise.

He stared blankly at the sharp shards that cut into his hands and made them bleed. When he looked up, Damon was in front of him.

"Stefan, what just happened?" Damon put his hands on his brother's shoulders, giving him a little shake when he seemed unable to speak.

"Katherine," Stefan croaked, "She was here. Damon..." he shook his head, helpless to say anything more for the tremendous lump in his throat and the fear in his undead heart as Damon squeezed his shoulders with a bruising force he barely felt.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

"She was in here?" Elena repeated, coming back into the room from discarding the broken lamp in the garbage. "How?"

Damon flashed back down the staircase into the living room from a quick search of the house to make sure nothing else nefarious had gone down that would annoy him more. "She was invited, obviously."

"I know that," she returned. "But this is my house. Who would invite 'me' into my own house."

"It doesn't matter," the vampire brushed the mystery away. "It happened. She can come and go as she pleases. Now you, brother." Damon turned his icy attention to the silent brunette. He pushed Stefan onto the couch and sat on the edge of the coffee table in front of him. "You're going to tell me everything she said, everything she did."

Stefan was still, stiff. He shot a flickering glance at Elena, but it was gone before the girl could even notice it even if Damon did. Katherine's shadow box exploding had been like an aneurism bursting in his brain, times 100. Every memory, every moment, every emotion. The vibrations down the connecting strands of web was threatening.

"She was already in the house when I got here, pretended to be Elena." He said quietly.

"Fine. Then tell me what you told 'Elena'," he amended. Stefan's lips pursed and he was silent in response to his brother's mandate. "We agreed, Stefan. No more secrets. Now I'll say it one last time, nicely... tell me! Or I'm gonna go home right now and read that damned journal," he snapped.

"It wasn't anything important."

"Stefan," Elena said softly, interrupting Damon before he could growl out more threats and get them nowhere. "It sounded important when you asked to talk this morning," she perched on the edge of the cushion next to him, her touch gentle on his arm. He was stiff under her anyway.

"It's not important anymore," he corrected. He had trouble looking at her when everything inside of him was screaming Katherine! despite her warm touch and her loud heartbeat.

But Damon was not in the mood for his brother's simpering technicalities. His hand flash with vamp-speed, taking hold of Stefan under his square jaw, squeezing enough to hold him and not choke him—yet.

"Damon!" Elena exclaimed in protest, grabbing the vampire's arm.

Damon shook her off. "I've tried being nice. Nice isn't going to work, so I'm done being nice." He turned his glare back to the teen vampire. Stefan didn't try to fight his hold and stared stonily back at his brother's narrowed stare. "It is important, Stefan, because she heard it. She's the enemy here, not me. What information that she has that we don't just puts her another step ahead of us. We don't know why she's here, why now, what she's after. So yes, it is important."

"I wasn't paying proper attention to the silence. I thought I was being paranoid after earlier," he whispered to Damon, begging his brother to understand. But Damon was unmoved and continued staring him with stony silence. "We talked about what I wanted to talk to Elena about."

"Which was...?" Damon prompted, fingernails digging into his skin.

"My... dreams." Stefan said faintly and it had nothing to do with his brother's hold; Damon's lips tightened.

"Go on,"

Stefan couldn't bear to look at Elena, so he continued on into his brother's as his own green gaze got glossy with unshed tears. "My dreams about... losing control, feeding on Ric... and killing him."

"Stefan," Elena whispered, hands clenched together tightly in her lap to cuff herself from reaching out, touching him, trying to comfort him but realized with sadness that it would do anything but comfort him.

"How did she respond?" Damon continued.

"She said that I wouldn't, but even if I did lose control," he swallowed, "Ric has the ring, so he'd just come back." His voice trembled, threatening to break. He didn't blink so the tears wouldn't drop.

Damon tightened his hold briefly, drawing him back to focus. "What else?"

"Don't... I can't..." he could only give his head a little shake in Damon's hold.

"Brother," he said softly.

"She said that I tried to cling to my humanity by clinging to humans, a human life. Why didn't I date vampires? I told her..." he paused painfully. "The only vampire I've been with was Katherine."

Stefan felt guilt swell in at the admission towards his brother; as if not having been with another vampire after in that way was some sort of commitment towards Katherine when that was utterly not the truth. Because god knows that Damon hadn't been faithful in the strictest sense of the word, at least not physically. But for the last 146 years his heart had only been for Katherine.

Damon was still. Stefan only saw the micro tightening around his blue eyes because they were a foot apart, to any other eyes, nothing had changed in his brother's expression.

"Damon?" Stefan asked quietly, with barely a sound. Was this that moment, the other shoe dropping that he'd been fearing since his big brother came back to him?

Damon's fingers flexed, but it felt more like a caress than threat, before he finally released the brunette vampire, but Stefan didn't move, gaze intent on his big brother. His designated shadow box was poised and ready to burst and spill...

"Go home, Stefan." Damon told him, standing. "Hunt first, I know you still haven't fed. And then straight home. I'll know if you don't. I'll be there shortly, I need to speak to Elena."

The shadow box settled and quieted. Stefan gave a shaky exhale. "I-- okay." He stood, said a faint goodnight to Elena and left the Gilbert house almost in a daze, Damon and Elena's murmured voices behind the closed door an unintelligible buzz in his ears.

He hunted in the woods on the way home like he was experiencing an episode of shock. Katherine was back and he'd confessed his deepest fear and insecurities to her. Why did she come back, what was the point, why now? Stefan barely had the catalogued mental capacity to wonder these questions, let alone answer them. Would they ever? So he didn't, couldn't.

Somehow he'd managed to catch a rabbit by pure happenstance. They crossed each other's paths, froze for three seconds, locked in each other's gazes, before the bunny bolted for cover and Stefan dove after it with vampire speed on his knees, arm shoved into a thorny bush. He pulled the screeching rabbit out, his hold on its foot. He quickly snapped its neck and drained it, leaving the carcass for some other carnivorous predator to scavenge and continued toward home.

...

Stefan lay in the grass at the shore of the quarry, his eyes slipping closed to the natural, soft sounds of nature; the small falls, the wind through the trees. The yellow sun shinning softly down upon him. It was nice to just get a moment. It was so peaceful, he'd just close his eyes for a minute. If he stayed away too long, someone would take notice and come searching for him—Damon or--

A stick snapped somewhere underfoot behind him, and his eyes snapped open. Stefan opened his eyes to the dim sky overhead and her looking down at him from above.

"Hey," he gave a small, shy smile. "How did you find me?"

He reached up and ran his fingers through the curtain of loose curls that framed her narrow, olive-toned face, tracing her round chin with his fingertips. He smiled up at her. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid his eyes upon. Intelligent, strong—she was just otherworldly, he could feel it. Meant for bigger and better places, more than she could ever be allotted in her short life. Such a magnificent creature that he had yet to truly know but was therefore determined to. He would know her as she knew him.

He paused as he stared at his naked right hand in a brief swarm of confusion that he was quickly distracted from as she took his hand delicately and circled around him like a dance. She bunched her skirts with her free hand, stepping one leg over him before she settled down, just above his crotch on his pelvis. Heat instantly bloomed inside him.

"I will always find you, Stefan." Her brown eyes were bright. "We're soulmates. There is no place that you can go where I would not find you, my love."

His hands snaked under her skirts, his palms brushing up her thighs. She bit her plump bottom lip lightly, her palms flat on his muscled chest as she shifted back, rubbing against his confined cock that had immediately responded.

He could feel her core, even through her unders and his trousers. "Katherine," he gasped softly, his finger denting her toned thighs. "I love you." His voice was reverent as he looked at her.

She continued to gently but rhythmically rock on his hard, blood engorged cock. "We will always be together, Stefan. Connected. By love," she brought her delicate wrist to her parted lips, piercing the flesh with her fangs unseen. She let her own blood fill her mouth before the wound sealed itself. She caressed his face with both hands, tenderly holding his head as she leaned forward and pressed her ruby lips against his pink ones. He opened against her, only to choke as he got a mouthful of blood. He tried to turn his head away but she held him still forcing him to swallow the copper fluid. She sat back, her blood marking the corner of his mouth.

"And blood. Always and forever." Dark, crawling veins throbbed around her eyes under her olive skin as her eyes were awash in dark red, her fangs bulging from her gums as her blood-coated lips peeled back. It turned her beautiful visage demonic.

He wasn't afraid, but he knew he should be. He was terrified. A shout built up and clogged in his throat. His entire insides roiling in fear but unable to break through the thin barrier of his skin.

His tight grip on her thighs would have been painful had she been human, but she was not, as every instinct told him to shove her away, run to Damon, and fight her off together, but he did not. She tightened her thighs against his hips.

"It was meant to be," She took his hands from her thighs and twined their fingers and pinned his hands with her superior strength to the grass on either side of her head.

"Katherine," he pleaded, not knowing for what. Tears trapped invisible behind his forest green eyes.

She ground down on his crotch and he was helpless as he groaned, throwing his head back, giving his neck to her.

"By love and by blood, Stefan." She lay flush against him, sinking her fangs hungrily into his gorgeous neck.

Blood filled the back of his throat—Stefan sputtered, jack-knifing upright in his bed, legs tangled in his sheets and water dribbling from his soggy bangs down his forehead.

Chest heaving, his wide gaze darted around in bedroom in incomprehension, finally stuttering to a stop as they landed on his brother. Damon stood at his bedside, staring stoically down at him, one eyebrow curved upward, an empty drinking glass in his hand.

Stefan carded his fingers through his wet hair, slicking it back from his face. He wiped the tap water from his eyes and managed to croak: "Was that necessary?" he cleared his throat, licking his lips. Surprise and confusion flickered through his eyes as he tasted blood at the corner of his mouth, but when he ran his tongue around his mouth looking for the sensitivity of a recently healed tear from his fangs—he found none. He swallowed against the sudden gush of saliva; it wasn’t human, it wasn't his, it wasn't animal. But it was there anyway.

Damon didn't answer the question, it was blatantly rhetorical. Stefan glanced over at his cracked balcony doors and the stream of sunrise leaking through. "When did you get home?" He tugged uncomfortably at the wet shirt clinging to his chest, the same shirt he was wearing Friday.

"Couple hours after you left," he answered. "You were already out when I got back." Honestly, Stefan didn't clearly remember going to bed. "Now, stop deflecting... Are you going to tell me—or am I going to tell you?"

Stefan's gaze shot up to his brother. "Y-- you looked?! You-- that's private! You can't do that!"

Damon brushed aside his brother's outrage. "Just the end," as if that made it any better, "But it was enough." Stefan fell silent. "The Scooby Gang will be here shortly."

"What?"

"We have a serious problem here, Stefan." Damon informed him. "I should have seen it sooner. Now get changed, you look a little wet." He tossed the glass to him and left.

Stefan pushed the glass onto his nightstand, sitting in his bed for a moment longer. He wasn't sure if he preferred his brother pushing into his dreams or reading his journal; neither was preferred. He guessed he could be grateful that this was the first time Damon had decided to take a peek into his nightmares.

He climbed from his bed, his sheets and pillow were wet so he pulled them from the bed and stuffed them into his laundry hamper. He fed Salvatore and pushed the balcony door closed slowly before locking it on his way to the bathroom. When he went downstairs, dressed in dry clothes, it was sans Salvatore; there was no doubt what the topic of conversation was going to be when the others got here and he didn't want the fish to witness the dark energy, even if he would forget it in an hour and a half.

He B-lined for the kitchen and the fresh pot of coffee he could smell. He practically inhaled that first cup, feeling the artificial warmth course through him before he refilled. He took out the tray, set four empty mugs on it, sugar bowl, creamer, and the entire coffee pot. He balanced it on his one arm, mug to his lips with the other as he transversed down the hall to the parlor. He heard the cars pull up the drive.

Damon said nothing, changed, as he came down the stairs, heading for the front door as Stefan turned into the parlor. He simply opened the front door and walked away. Stefan set the tray down, topped off his cup, and sat back in the high-backed upholstered chair. Damon grabbed a mug, filled it halfway then topped it off from his favourite cabinet, taking the other chair opposite his brother, leg crossed over his knee.

A couple minutes later a doppelganger, witch, and hunter wandered in.

"Do you always just leave the front door wide open or was the special for us?" Bonnie deadpanned.

"Just for you, witchy-poo." Damon winked.

Cups were taken up and filled with steaming liquid. The three humans took up the couch, Elena consciously sitting at the end closest to Damon, trying to give Stefan space (he was grateful, his dream was too fresh to not connect Elena with it), Bonnie taking the middle again, and Ric the end closest to Stefan.

Alaric nudged Stefan's foot with his own in silent greeting and Stefan flashed him a small smile. Stefan didn't think the man would be so friendly if he knew of the vampire's dreams of draining him dry, that little piece of information currently just resided with himself, Damon, and Elena.

"Let the round table meeting commence," Damon opened. "As everyone is aware... The Wicked Witch of the West is back, and she didn't just stroll into town last night."

"How do you know?" Alaric asked.

Damon's blue gaze slid over to his brother is response.

"What?" Stefan furrowed his brows.

Damon rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh. "How long have you been having your dreams?"

Stefan cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. Elena knew of his dreams about Alaric, Alaric knew vaguely that he was having nightmares and not sleeping properly, Bonnie was in the dark, and Damon was the only one that knew of his most recent with Katherine. "A week,"

"There you go," Damon waved a hand at him. "She's been here a week, at least, most likely longer."

"I don't understand," Elena said, looking between the two vampires. Damon waited on his brother.

Stefan leaned forward and put his mug on the coffee table, laying his hands flat on his thighs to be less obvious about his shaky fingers than clenching them into fist. "You think that she's been...?" he didn't want to say it, didn't know which was worse.

"She's been manipulating your dreams, Stefan." He nodded. "Should have realized sooner. But last night she got sloppy or she was caught by surprise—didn't think I would actually check on you. She would have been right two weeks ago. I was just proven right when I took a peek in that saintly head."

"You saw her?" Bonnie asked.

"Felt her." He corrected. "She was gone when I got up there, but I could sense her presence."

"Why Stefan?"

"Let's face it... Stefan's the weak link here." Damon said and Stefan clenched his jaw because it was the truth. It would probably always be the truth. "Starting with the animal blood and control insecurities. And all this fucking relationship drama between the 3 of you," he pointed at Elena, Alaric, and Stefan with different fingers on the same hand, "—while entertaining—has given Katherine just the opening and the target that she needed for whatever evil plan she has in mind. Or maybe she's just doing it because she can, just fucking with us, distracting us from the bigger picture, whatever that is, because that's what she does."

"You think she'll try again even though you almost caught her and we know what she's up to?" Elena said.

"Oh, definitely. She'll just take it as a challenge and her response will be 'game on'."

"So what do we do?" Alaric asked in concern.

"A protection charm. That's where the witch steps up."

"Me?" Bonnie's eyebrow shot up.

"You are a witch, aren't you?" he asked sarcastically. "Albeit a pretty useless one this far: couldn't even do a simple locator spell to find the other piece of the Gilbert Device."

"It doesn't work like that," she protested.

"I'm starting to think magic isn't very magical." Damon said. "In fact, I'd go as far as to say that magic has been pretty useless so far!"

"I've only been a witch for 3 months, asshole." She growled. "What do you expect from me?"

"You're supposed to be a Bennett, nothing you've done this far impresses that upon me." He retorted with relish.

"It's not like some metamorphosis of complete knowledge and control when you come into magic. It takes work and time."

"Well, we don't have time!" Damon shouted, on his feet and glaring down at her.

Bonnie took a deep breath, reeling her own rage back in because the damn vampire was right. She couldn't keep letting Katherine do this to Stefan if she had the means to stop it. "Grams will be able to help. I'll go now and be back before tonight." She stood and shifted around the coffee table and legs.

"You do that," he sat back down heavily.

Stefan stood. "Thank you, Bonnie." His hand brushed down her arm and squeezed her hand as she passed.

She had a determined fire in her eyes as she looked up at him. "Don't worry, Stefan. We got this." She squeezed his had in return and left on her mission.

Stefan slumped back into his own chair and looked across at his brother. "Do you think that would really work?"

"Don't see why it wouldn't," Damon drained the rest of his morning spiked cup of joe before he rose and traded it simply for the 'spike'.

"They've been pretty bad, huh?" Alaric asked softly, his left arm reaching across the arm of the couch and the space between them.

Stefan met him halfway, sliding their palms together, feeling the man's pulse beat where his fingertips grazed the edge of Alaric's wrist. "I'll just be happy to sleep through the night." Alaric rubbed his thumb against the edge of the vampire's wrist.

"I found out this morning that Katherine stole some of my clothes," Elena suddenly said.

Damon turned back with a grin at her peeved tone. "That must sting,"

"How would you like it?" she returned, her arms crossed.

The grin widened. "You walking around in one of my shirts?" he teased, his eyes dark. "Other clothing optional."

She scoffed at him but couldn't stop the slight warmth in her cheeks at the clear implication. "I'm pissed. She went through my stuff and wore my clothes," she glanced at Stefan, "She pretended to be me."

"Yeah, she's a real bitch." Damon agreed, taking a sip of his bourbon. "Still in the Top 10 for Best Sex though."

"You were human," Stefan pointed out. "And she was your first. She ruined the connection of intimacy for you."

Damon drew a poignant brow at him. "Dusty off the old PhD there, Dr Salvatore?" he asked sarcastically.

"You were a virgin until you were 23?" Elena gaped at him in shock.

"He used to be a good, wholesome boy," Stefan said.

Damon looked at her, unashamed. "Is that so hard to believe?"

"Yes," she agreed.

"If Katherine Pierce knew about anything," Damon informed her. "It was how to fuck and fuck good. I'm sure Stefan could attest to the fact."

"Great deflection," Stefan monotoned.

Damon flashed him a deadpan smirk. "Redirection is my forte."

"I think that's my cue," Elena said, standing up.

"I'll walk you out," Stefan said, releasing Alaric's hand after a squeeze as he stood.

They walked to her car in the drive. She was about to open the driver's door when she turned to him. Elena hugged him and he couldn't help but be stiff. She started to pull away, feeling his discomfort, but he tuned into her heartbeat, how alive her body sounded, how warm, and pulled her back.

"I could stay?" Elena offered when they parted.

"Thanks for the offer, but I'll be okay."

She nodded, reluctant. "Did Damon tell you--"

He stopped her. "It's probably better that I don't know if they found the other half of the device right now."

"Right," she sighed. "Bye, Stefan." She got into the Mini, buckled up, started the engine and pulled around. Elena gave him a last waved before driving out of view, he reciprocated before going back inside.

He returned to the parlor to find both men with tumblers. Two things they seemed to have in common: alcohol and him. They were both good things to bond and become friends over, Stefan hoped to believe.

"It's 2 o'clock somewhere," Stefan commented.

"You told your boyfriend tales of my sexual escapades?" Damon questioned in return.

"Ric thought that I lost my virginity to Katherine, I said you did, but I lost mine when I was 16 to a girl at the fair while you were at war."

"I was out killing men for something I didn't believe in and my baby brother was getting laid out of wedlock." Damon chuckled. "It's still funny."

"You were saving yourself, it's cute." Alaric gave a low chuckle.

Damon glared and plucked the tumbler from the amused teacher's hand. "You just lost your alcohol privileges, Teacher." He pointedly drained the amused man's glass and left.

"I could stay," Alaric offered, unknowingly repeating Elena's earlier offer as he turned his attention to the brunette.

Stefan stepped closer. "You drink and then you ask to stay, am I just supposed to go and let you drive under the influence?" he teased.

"Damn, you figured me out." He brushed his hands up Stefan's arms. "Is that a yes?" he asked more seriously.

"You don't--" Stefan started, looking up into his blues. "Yes," he took the offer with both hands.

Alaric gave him a small smile. "So, in looking forward to a goodnight's sleep, what to do in the mean time?"

"A history lesson," Stefan said, taking the man's hand and leading him upstairs. "I think it's time that you got the tutorial on Katherine Pierce."

...

Stefan sat at his computer desk, Salvatore's fishbowl placed beside the monitor. Alaric was camped out at the table, absorbed in the vampire's journals. Stefan had selected several where Katherine was a prominent shadow on his mind, especially those months when he was still human and years after he was turned. Of course, it was only his version of things, his thoughts of events, his feelings of the woman.

He should have realized sooner what was happening. Stefan should have realized it himself. It wasn't the first time someone had gotten into his head, shown him things, tortured him with it. Lexi used to do it for weeks when she was trying to detox him off human blood. How crisp and real the imagery had been.

His dreams were never like that. Never. But how could he had known that Katherine was back? He was just struggling with his guilt, fear, identity that he just thought it was his subconscious manifesting through his dreams, pointing him to the right course. But instead it was Katherine, screwing with his head—but did that make any of it less of the truth?

Stefan had said nothing to contradict his brother's assumption. That Katherine was just fucking with them, trying to distract them from the bigger picture. Stefan did agree with that to a point, but he was also starting to think that this, with him, was somehow the icing on the cake. He hadn't time to really think into it too deeply, but his previous five dreams with Ric and this one featuring Katherine... he was afraid of the correlation that was slowly forming.

They spent the day in the vampire's room, Alaric pouring over the journals he hadn't the chance to read and Stefan lost in his own thoughts. The brunette periodically leaving to the kitchen to bring the history teacher coffee and food. Stefan didn't mind, he appreciated to domesticity without the bloodshed.

Finally, Alaric looked up and met his green gaze penetratingly. "I think you're the strongest person I know."

Some weight the brunette didn't realize was there, slid from his shoulders and he slumped back in the computer chair. "That's what you got from all that reading?" he mused wryly.

"Yes."

Stefan swallowed and didn't have it in him to dispute with the teacher further.

...

Bonnie returned as promised, meeting them in the front hall.

"Here it is," the witch pulled out a small chain necklace with a silver pendant hanging from it, and a small yellow stone set in it.

"That's it?" Damon didn't seem impressed. Bonnie glared at him in turn, and Stefan sent his brother his own disapproving look.

Stefan carefully took it from her, gently brushing his thumb over the pendant, before he slipped the chain over his head. It settled around his neck, cool as he tucked it into the collar of his shirt, it coming to rest below the hollow of his throat. Already he felt the knot of tension in his neck ease and loosen.

"You sure that it'll work?" Damon repeated.

"Yes," Bonnie said. "As long as you wear it, you're dreams or thoughts cannot be manipulated while you sleep. The magic will protect you."

"Thank you, Bon." Stefan pulled her into a warm, grateful hug.

"Sweet dreams, Stefan." She gave him a smile before she left.

"Alright?" Alaric asked, gently laying his hand over the pendant beneath the vampire's shirt.

"Yeah."

"You totally want to go to bed early," he grinned. "Don't you?"

"Damn, you figured me out." Stefan chuckled.

"I'm not drunk enough to watch the two of you cutesy-flirt," Damon remarked and left.

"Go ahead," Alaric said. "I gotta grab something from the car."

Stefan nodded and went back up to his room, using the en suite. When he stepped out, Alaric was returned with a gym bag at the table, pulling out some clothes from the bag.

Stefan raised a thick brow when he looked up.

"What? I came prepared," he answered.

The brow changed tone. "Or you're just presumptuous."

Alaric smiled. "Both then." He passed the vampire with the clothes in his arms to the en suite.

Stefan changed into his pyjamas, checked on Salvatore, and made sure the balcony doors were locked before he climbed into his bed dressed in fresh sheets. Shortly after, Alaric crawled in the other side like it was the most normal thing in the world. Stefan smiled as he turned out the light and settled down.

Alaric took his hand and twined their fingers under the blanket. "Good?" he whispered.

"I feel wide awake," Stefan complained, turning on his side to face the man; able to see him in the darkness when the other could not.

"Pre-game jitters," he offered, facing him as well.

"I don't know why," Stefan confessed. "I trust Bonnie and Sheila, I know this will work."

"Then stop worrying."

"That's like telling me to stop breathing."

"You're a vampire," Alaric reminded. "You don't really need to 'breath', do you?"

"Yeah, but it's a bad habit of mine. Both of them are," was the true and wry answer.

But when he finally did fall asleep, it was blissfully blank.

~ T V D ~

Stefan awoke well into the afternoon, utterly rested and with piece of mind from a dreamless rest. He stretched, loosening his muscles, squirming across his bed, slumping back, tuckered out. He heard the familiar chuckle and sat up, hair a disarray, finally opening his eyes into the shadowed room, his thick curtains pulled closed.

"Hey," he gave an almost dopey smile.

"Coffee?" Alaric answered, a twinkle in his blue eyes as he approached, holding out a steaming cup. "Help wake you up. You slept pretty deep, only rolled into my warm spot when I got up and didn't move after."

"I still want to sleep," Stefan admitted, fingering the pendant loose around his neck. He couldn't remember the last time he'd sleep so deep or sound, even before Katherine started taking director liberties with his dreams.

"It's nearly 3," Alaric informed him, not that he blamed the vampire.

"I have a lot of sleep to catch up on," he pouted, but took the mug. He took a deep appreciative gulp of the hot liquid, and put a hand on Alaric's hip when the man went to turn away, stopping him from going back to the grown pile of journals at the reading table. Alaric turned back to him as Stefan applied pressure to his fingertips, guiding the man towards him. The teacher somehow settled in his lap without spilling the coffee, straddling the vampire's legs. Stefan took one last sip of coffee before he slid the mug onto the nightstand, not taking his gaze from his boyfriend.

"I thought you wanted to sleep," Alaric teased him, even as Stefan brushed his palms up his hips and under the hem up his shirt, and he arched into the cool touch on his warm flesh.

"I can always sleep later," Stefan brushed his hands up Ric's back, pulling the man closer against him and tilting his chin up.

They hadn't been intimate, hadn't been anything really, since the night of the Founder's Day Annual Kick-off Party when they'd gotten back together and Alaric had stayed until Sunday. And then the fucking dreams had started and Stefan had kinda withdrawn from the open affection, not that they did PDA what with their standard in the public eye. But it felt great to get back. Without the dreams, Stefan felt back in control of himself, of that dark hungry urge to drink and devour.

Alaric captured his lips, like an embrace, until Stefan opened up beneath him and he deepened it, fingers in the teen's soft bed head. Alaric rocked his pelvis against Stefan's chiselled stomach, his cock thickening, then his ass down against Stefan's clothed crotch and very interested member. Stefan's breath stuttered against his tongue before the teacher had to pull back for oxygen even as he continue to rocked his hips between point A and B to get either of them off in their clothed confines.

Fingers still in the unruly soft hair, Alaric pulled the brunette's head against his chest; he wanted the vampire to hear how his heart raced for him. Stefan groaned, ear and cheek pressed over his heart as he tightened his arms around the man's chest, hips grinding up to meet him with extra friction—picking the pace and desperation up as he was swallowed into the beautiful music of his lover's body.

Alaric came first; arching into Stefan's stomach, even as he ground his ass down on the clothed thickness and the vampire spilled an instant later with him. Both slump against each other, holding each other as they gasped.

Stefan laid back on the bed, pleasantly sated, hands rubbing up and down Alaric's clad thighs as a wet patch slowly came through his bottoms. Alaric fell forward, propped up on his hands, gazing softly at the vampire.

"I should wake you up with coffee more often." Alaric vowed. "All I got was a tease and shower. Alone."

"I'll make it up to you," Stefan's hands brushed up his hips again, this time catching the hem of his shirt and pulling it off entirely.

"Oh?" he questioned mischievously when the material cleared his head.

"Oh." The vampire grasped the back of his thighs, right below his buttock, and lifted the man as he stood from the bed.

"Christ!" Alaric laughed as his feet touched down on the tile of the bathroom. "Nobody's ever carried me like that before."

Stefan pulled his wife beater off and both men kicked off their soiled pants and underwear. The only things they wore were the 3 magically imbued pieces of jewellery, and soon thereafter, shower gel suds as they made out and washed each other in the shower.

They dressed, Alaric grabbing his discarded shirt but pulling a fresh pair of jeans and boxers from his gym bag. Stefan went to check on Salvatore.

"I fed him while you were asleep," Alaric told him.

Stefan looked over the fishbowl on his computer desk at the man. "Thanks," he traced his finger over the glass briefly, drawing the comet goldfish's attention before he straightened. "I need to hunt," he said as he slipped on a pair of shoes. "But don't eat—we never got to have that chicken dinner, Mr Saltzman." He unlocked the balcony doors and leapt over the railing in shortcut onto the drive, flitting across and disappearing into the wood.

...

"You smell like pine," Alaric nuzzled the nap of his neck, drawing his nose into the brunettes still wild, fluffy hair. Stefan just hummed pleasantly in response. "I can help, you know. I can chop--"

"You said that last time," Stefan said, as he started to chop the rinsed and peeled carrots. "And then you promptly cut yourself."

"Last time?" Alaric asked in confusion, leaning against the edge of the kitchen island to catch his face.

Stefan paused briefly in his cutting, before resuming, his gaze fixed on his task and expression neutral. "It doesn't matter because I have this," Stefan tapped his chest and the pendant that lay beneath his shirt, with the tip of the butcher knife. He continued to cut determinedly.

That was what clued Alaric in that he was talking about his past nightmares. "You told me before, but you never went into any detail..."

"I didn't want you to know, to see. To finally figure out what a monster I am--" and leave me.

"Stefan," Alaric said softly, placing his hand over Stefan's with the knife, stopping his ministrations. "That's not going to happen, Stefan. That was Katherine--"

"But the fear is mine!" Stefan interrupted, finally looking up and meeting his blue gaze. "That fear, of losing control, hurting someone—hurting you(!)—is with me, constantly. If I don't have a constant strangle hold on the urge, the hunger, I'm afraid I'm going to lose control. I know--!"

"Hey, hey." Alaric murmured, one hand cupping the vampire's cheek, the other taking the knife and setting it down, turning the teen toward him. "That's not gonna happen. I know you, how strong you are. Stefan," Alaric started, taking a deep, nervous breath, him palms getting clammy, "I l--"

"I should have told you," Stefan blurted, too afraid to let him continue. "I just wanted to erase the dreams with something real and good."

Alaric gave a soft chuckle, his thumb brushing Stefan's cheek in allowance. "I just hope you actually know how to cook and aren't just putting on airs. I'd rather not go out with salmonella,"

Stefan scoffed in indignation, but there was light to his green gaze. "I'll have you know that I'm a very good cook. Vampires might not need to eat, but that doesn't mean there's no enjoyment or satisfaction in it. And I don't see a point in eating food that isn't good—so yes, I know how to cook and great."

"Alright, alright." Alaric backed up teasingly with his hands raised. "I'll hold judgement until after I taste it,"

Stefan gave a half-hearted swat at him. "Har har." He went back to chopping.

When everything was prepared and put in the preheated oven with a timer, they set the table in the dining room. 45 minutes later they were sat down to eat with complimenting wine.

"You weren't kidding," Alaric said, helping himself to seconds. "This is delicious, Stefan."

"Thanks," Stefan murmured shyly, pleased. He didn't usually get to cook meals for someone or even himself, so it was nice to see someone enjoy something that he put effort and time into.

"I think this is our first date," Alaric realized.

Stefan smiled. "We'll just have to watch a movie in bed to finish it off then."

He wagged his brows. "Oh?"

"I thought I was supposed to be the teenager?" the vampire laughed.

...

Cleaned up and dressed for bed, the couple cuddled under the covers at the center of Stefan's bed, the laptop claiming either of their thighs as the movie played, a pint of Chunky Monkey with two spoons shared and the last melted dregs long gone. Stefan fought to keep his eyes open, and despite the loud gunfight/car chase scene, he was losing the battle; curled up against Alaric's side, head pillowed on his shoulder.

The laptop lid was clicked closed and the movie silenced. Alaric shifted under him as he put it on the nightstand, making Stefan's sleepy form slump further against his warmth. Sleep closed on him...

Crimson. Glistening red. Dripping, steady, warm, continuous. Sheets sopping scarlet. Claret pooling on the hardwood floor. Carmine coated his pale skin so beautifully. Coursing through his cold veins; pulsing, singing, alive. Purity. A heartbeat in his mouth, delicate flesh around his fangs, life in his belly.
He was strong. He was free.
He was Ripper!

Stefan jolted awake in his bed and darkness, an uncomfortable heat rising from the top of his chest and into his throat as he tried to calm his heaving breath as he stared at the ceiling. There was stillness in the bed beside him and he was glad he didn't disturb the teacher.

That was the familiar spotty, chunkiness of his normal dream patterns. He was oddly relieved; even if it made him feel almost as disoriented as Katherine's vivid visions, this made him disconnected physically when hers drove him. These were real.

He found Alaric's hand close to his side and gently intertwined his fingers with that of the sleeping man's.

His were fuzzy, fast like riding on a comet, snapshots of blood, carnage, unbridled hunger. Pieces of a past blood lust where all he felt was hunger and glee, just like John had said. These were the dreams that he told Damon he had before they figured out the truth.

Stefan gently squeezed his hand, brushing his thumb lightly over Alaric's knuckles, but didn't even get a twitch in response. He finally turned his head, able to make out the subtle outline of the man's body but despite his superior sight, all he could seem to garner in the darkness of the room were large ink black splotches and small pale blemishes. "Alaric?" he murmured, reaching over to turn on the lamp at his bedside.

The scent prevailed the registration of the scene beside him. The cloying smell that caught in the back of his throat, even as his fangs descended in thirst. It was like a scene from a horror movie—a scene from his past was even more accurate—like a scene right before him. His light blue sheets were stained dark red, but while they were still soaking, the blood on Stefan's hands and arms, chest, neck and chin was dried and sticky.

He cried out in horror as his eyes landed on Alaric's... severed head laid on his bloodied pillow next to Stefan's, his last ever look, of fear and pain, forever frozen into his open-eyed expression. His pyjama'd body, blood saturated, hung halfway off the bed.

Stefan jerked forward. "Ric?" he croaked. He grabbed his pale cold arm and pulled the man's body, his limbs shaking and weak. "Please!" he tried to align the teacher's body with his head set on the pillow like a crown on display, but it didn't seem to be working. His grasp on sanity shattering like a fragile pane of glass, crashing down around him in sharp, piercing shards. "Ric!" tears cut wet tracks through the dried blood on his face. Why isn't he healing? He should be healing!

"Damon!" he screamed. "Damon!" his brother didn't answer, his brother didn't come.

Stefan shook Alaric's body as if that could somehow rouse the man, as if he were just sleeping and pulling a terrible prank. It still broke him when it didn't work. "Ri-hi-ic!" he sobbed. His shaking hands finally pulled from the cold, dead flesh and tore his bloody fingers into his hair. "Please. Please. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to!"

He shoved the body in a fit of helpless rage, a wounded, wordless howl leaving his throat raw as it rolled over the side of the bed and made a wet thumping sound as it landed in pooled blood.

This had to be a dream. This had to be a dream! The skin around his throat sizzled and burned, bubbling as the skin was melted away. If this was a dream, he would have woken up by now, he always woke up. But he had the pendant, Katherine couldn't get in his head. His dream... it hadn't been a dream at all. He had manifested, had an episode, been caught in a bloodlust fugue state. He did this. He had gone Ripper on Alaric, fed so hard he tore the teacher's head off; the man didn't stand a chance, not like this, not asleep.

He threw himself off his side of the bed; he couldn't stand it to sit in Alaric's blood, his deathbed anymore. He fell into an awkward heap, curled up, arms wrapped over his head; the silence was loud, blasting in his ears, deafening, hysterical. He felt something sharp and painful pierce through his stomach; it was a true physical pain and he knew he should be screaming in hurt yet he felt it through a blanket of numbness. His emotional turmoil overwhelmed the unattached physical pain that seemed to ail him with no outward source.

The pain in his soul hurt so much. He murdered the man that he loved. He couldn't have a soul if he couldn't even control himself not to do that. He was a monster. He screamed and sobbed to try and cover it up, tearing at his hair, covering his ears—tried to block out the blaring, ringing silence for what it was.

The truth.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!" he pleaded to the dead man that he couldn't even look at. "I can't. I can't!" It all hurt too much. He couldn't stand it. He couldn't think. He couldn't take it, take himself.

He flipped the switch and quietness filtered through him, stillness, freedom. He slumped against the floor, exhausted. The pain that blackened his soul vanished—but the burning around his neck and top of his chest, and in his stomach seemed to liven and brighten. Just because he no longer had his humanity, didn't mean he no longer felt physical pain.

He slowly unfurled, hand going to his neck, but he could still feel the sizzling in his flesh, hear it and stopped before contact. His attention turned toward his stomach and his eyes widened in surprise to find a stake sticking from his gut and covered in fresh wet blood. So Alaric did manage to fight back after all. Stefan was proud, the man was a hunter after all and he went down fighting even if it had been futile.

He grasped the handle of the stake and carefully withdrew it with gritted teeth, making sure no splinters were left in the wound. He brushed away the fresh blood and watched his own flesh heal. Stake still in hand, wound healed and pain dim, he climbed to his feet. He noted the balcony doors open before he turned in nothing but boxers and blood toward the bed.

The network of shadow boxes were cold and grey, mouldy, forgotten and useless, but for the Ripper box, cut open, on display in a spotlight. He licked his lips as the good times played unheeded by guilt and shame, just hunger. He wished he could remember what happened in Chicago in '22, the only conclusion he could come up with for the memory loss was being the deepest he ever had been in the bloodlust. It was probably the best time in his Ripper life; but like that weekend in Vegas he had no doubt he would never remember.

Now that he wasn’t viewing the scene in raging turmoil, the sheets weren't as blood-saturated as they first appeared; just smears and spatters of blood. Alaric no longer added that special something, out of view over the side of the bed. His Saint-Stefan-subconscious ached to step around and put his now former lover back together, but that same part also recognized the folly so he stayed away.

It felt like he hadn't fed in a while, even though he clearly just had on Alaric. Though that was nothing new, not with his hunger. Oddly, he didn't feel much different after drinking human blood for the first time in 74 years. He thought it'd be more of a high, he'd feel more electric. "Huh." He couldn't help but be disappointed.

Finally, he turned his attention towards the second presence in the room. "Brother," he said coolly as Damon watched him warily from across his bedroom, "Wondered when you'd get here, a little late though, don't you think?"

Damon gritted his teeth. "You stupid bastard," he noted, "You went and turned it off, didn't you?"

"All that emotion was tiring," Stefan shrugged. "You seem upset, brother, but enough with the act. I don't care. I'm not that weak, gullible boy anymore, craving your attention and 'love'. You can't hurt me anymore with that bullshit because I simply don't care. We can just go back to the way things used to be; normal. You out of my life and me... well," he flipped the bloodied stake in his hand, "Me finally being a real vampire again and doing what I want. Drinking who I want." He chuckled and licked his lips dramatically, "Dear Ric could have been the best I've ever tasted."

Damon snorted derisively at him. "It wasn't real, you idiot! It was Katherine, she got into your head!"

Stefan scoffed. "Katherine can't get into my head anymore, I have the pendant."

"Oh, really?"

Stefan narrowed his eyes and went to touch his throat again but stopped short, wary of the continued pain.

"Smells like BBQ in here, doesn't it?" Damon crossed his arms over his chest and affected a bored posture. "Go ahead, oh Ripper one. Take a look," he waved his hand at the en suite. "I'll wait."

Stefan glared at his brother for a moment, before he tossed the stake onto the bloody bed and went into the bathroom. He turned on the light and looked into the mirror. He inspected the gruesome wound around his neck and the larger wound where the actual pendant sat, as it remained raw and unhealed. The closest thing he could like it too, was vervain and acid. It hurt like a bitch.

"Apparently we both put too much stock into little Bon Bon. She really sucks at her job in our group dynamic." Damon told him when he reappeared. "The pendant was defective or something and melted into your skin. I peeled that thing out of your melting flesh myself, it was neither pretty nor fun for me, Stefan, but it seemed to wake you up. And why don't you exercise those vampire senses for a second and you would realize that all this blood—it's yours! Courtesy of that stake in your gut, via me. Did that before the necklace, my bad." He shrugged. "You're a little slow on the uptake, baby brother."

"Excuse me for being mind-fucked by Katherine Pierce for a week!" Stefan snapped angrily and Damon smirked at the outburst of emotion.

"I thought you were a real vampire now? All that human blood should have fixed you right up. Oh, wait," he mocked. "You didn't drink any, remember? It wasn't real. I have an idea," he held up a finger, "Why don't we take a look at Ric, huh?" Stefan tensed right up as he watched Damon walk over to the far side of the bed, bent, and picked up Alaric's ankle and dragged the man clear from the bed.

Stefan watched and watched as more of the man was revealed, clad in unstained pyjamas. More and more. Hips, torso, shoulders—and his head(!) attacked right where it was supposed to be.

"Oh, look—you didn't kill him." He waved his hands in fan fare at the man's still body as he watched his brother carefully. "There you go. You can turn it back on now and we can all move on. What do you say, huh?"

Stefan baulked for only a minute at the sight of him, the switch trembling, but when he forced himself to listen and found silence waiting for him instead of the blessed heartbeat, he relaxed. "You say I didn't kill him. Fine, whatever. Something not supernatural must have killed him because he's still dead, the ring won't bring him back. So why the hell would I want to switch it back on?"

Damon groaned in frustration as he glowered at his stupid baby brother, before turning it to the dead man at his feet. He kicked the body with his foot and got a no response from either dead teacher or brother who nearly tore his throat out the first time he pulled that. Alaric's neck was broken, what else could have broken it with such strength and speed to not even allow the man to awaken before his death if not that of a vampire? The ring should work unless it really was a one-hit-wonder and if that was the case, he had no hope of getting his brother back and the Bennetts really needed to up their magic game because this was just pathetic.

"You done with your little tantrum?" Stefan questioned idly, scratching the dried blood from his nails. He looked up when he felt his brothers glare. "Good. Now, enough with all that boring crap," he flicked a flippant hand at Alaric's body, "I have a proposition to renew to you, brother. Want to get your hands bloody with me?" he wiggled his already bloodied fingers, stained reddish-brown with his own dried blood. "We should stop hiding like a couple of cowards and just go after that annoying little bitch; finally give dear Kat what's coming to her and turn you back into a badass, not this..." he eyed his brother mockingly, "broken-hearted, useless excuse for a man and a vampire that you've become. C'mon, Damon! What do you say? Let's get you back to being fun! Get you out of that packed-lunched, school-drop-offs, soccer-mom motif you pulled on."

Damon crossed his arms and let out at sarcastic bark of laughter that had the brunette arching a brow. "Even without your humanity you’re still trying to get us to work together and be brothers." He shook his head. He needed to make Stefan emotional while he was still raw, get him to make a mistake, give Damon an opening to take him down and contain him. If there was one thing that Lexi was good at other than being completely annoying, it was Ripper Detox and now Damon was her successor. He wasn't going to let Stefan down, not now. "You're still the same old Saint Stefan, only now—you can't seem to shut up."

Stefan growled in rage and lunged at Damon with vampire-speed. Damon was ready and waiting for him, side-stepping just in time and slammed Stefan face-first onto the reading table, scattering the leather journals, and quickly drove a handy No. 2 pencil into his kidney.

Stefan growled in pain through gnashed fangs and Damon quickly stepped back out of range as the brunette thrashed violently back, yanking the pencil out. He quickly snatched up the stake from the bed and kept it from view as Stefan faced him, anger twisting his face as his chest heaved.

"Still weak." Damon taunted cruelly, tense and ready.

Stefan surprised him by giving a low, dark chuckle, dropping the bloody pencil. He didn't rise to the bait. He knew what his brother was up to. Instead, he gave him a sneer as he sauntered passed the vampire and to his waiting wardrobe, throwing Damon for a loop. Stefan stripped from his soiled boxers without reserve and slipped on a clean outfit, careful of the collar around his neck, grimacing as it brushed his unhealed, gummy wound.

Stefan turned back to his brother. "I guess I'm just go after her by myself."

"And how do you think you're gonna find her, huh?"

"Like you said, that's probably exactly what she wants." He had a few suspicions and ideas concerning a certain blond man that would be just as satisfying to work the answers out of as it would be to recieve them. Work could be fun, too.

Damon shook his head. "You're gonna get yourself killed."

Stefan looked at him with a wicked grin. "That's half the fun. If it was easy it'd be boring. I will say this before I go," he conceded, "You were right. She was Top 10 Best Fucks. Do you think she'd go for it? One last screw in the hay. Might as well have a little fun before I rip her heart out—assuming she even has one." He laughed, "I guess I'll find out soon enough." He waved at his brother in farewell, didn't even spare one last look at his dead boyfriend, and headed for the open balcony doors.

If Damon let him just speed off into the approaching dawn, he'd never see his brother alive again. That was the last thing the raven-haired vampire could do. He had no other choice but to make his move now. Damon tightened his grip on the stake and lunged at his brother's back. But just like Damon before, Stefan was ready and waiting for him to blur right into his trap.

Stefan moved just enough so the stake grazed by his ribs, trapped Damon's thrusting arm, disarmed him, turned the stake and drove it back into his brother's gut; the same place that Stefan had pulled it from himself earlier, just for the poeticise of it. Damon was forced back by the power behind it.

"Hn." Damon grunted in pain, grasping at his brother for stabilization much like the brunette had done when Damon had so viciously tore out his liver just a short two week stint earlier.

It wasn't a killing blow but it could be easily diverted into one. Stefan stared straight into his blue pain-filled eyes, his arm in what could be perceived as a comforting embrace around his shoulders, holding his brother close—and twisted the stake cruelly.

"Stefan," Damon's knees buckled and Stefan followed his down, guiding him down almost gently as he kept his hold on the stake.

Stefan leaned in close, "I'm not weak," he growled heatedly in his pale face.

"I know," Damon strained, not breaking eye contact. His shaky hands grasped his brother's wrist holding the stake and forearm. "You're one of the strongest people I know."

Stefan's green eyes flickered out of nowhere as Damon's forgotten shadow box rattled, sending a vibration through to Alaric's. "Shut up," he snapped and pressed on the stake handle, angling the point upward. Damon groaned as it scraped the bottom of his ribcage. "I could kill you right now."

"I've heard you say that before; what's stopping you now?" he wondered through gritted teeth.

He was right. Stefan had held Damon in a similar position on that night, though he had driven the stake a little closer to home, just shy of his brother's heart. It was on his birthday, Damon had killed Lexi, his best-friend and closest companion who had been with him just a couple months shy of his entire vampire life. Stefan had been so hurt, raw, despaired, angered at his brother's actions that he had driven a stake into the other vampire, but hadn't killed him. Despite such cruelty as the one just done unto him, Damon was the most important and loved person in his life. And despite the misery, Stefan could not see a life ahead of him without his brother alive, out there somewhere. But tonight was a different occasion entirely; he didn't have all the emotional attachment to the brother beneath him, just the history, like reading from a textbook.

Stefan cocked his head and his eyes flickered up in thought. "You're right," he looked back to his brother, "Nothing's stopping me this time." And he slowly started to push the butt of the stake, ignoring the raucous rattling in his head.

Damon grinned sharply up at him, blood lining his flat square teeth, his blue eyes wide highlighted with manic and pain. "Look at you," he mocked. His hands tightened on the brunette, but it almost felt more like guidance and nothing like resistance; like he was daring the Ripper forward. "Hngh." He gave an aborted cough, blood speckled his lips and chin from his punctured lung as the stake scraped along. "I honestly didn't think you had it in you, little brother." He whispered sadly. "But look at you. You don't need anybody, not me, not Ric-- Augh!" he choked off with a cry, his body shuddering as he finally felt the tip of the stake scrap against the bottom of his undead heart with white-hot pain—and he could feel it, his death, his true death, so close—as Stefan paused just so. "I think you might actually be able to kill her, Stef, if you can do this." He swallowed convulsively, fighting against the cough that would impale him.

Stefan gazed into his brother's bright eyes; this would be the most monumental kill in his life, even more than their father which had been an utter accident. "I'll definitely fair better than you, brother." His bicep went taut as he prepared to push the stake the rest of the way home and would end his big brother’s existence in this world for good when he had spent the last century and a half fighting to keep him; but a couple weeks of care could not make up for the same amounted time of pain and suffering—when there was a low moan from across the other side of the room.

Stefan stilled, and Damon blinked rapidly up at him, his bloody chin cocking slightly and dark brow twitching. A beautiful beating music filled the blank spaces in Stefan's ears and a lump caught in his throat as he slowly looked up.

Alaric carefully sat up and rubbed at the ache in his neck, confusion on his face as woke up on the floor, surrounded by scattered journals and a... bloody pencil by his bare foot.

Damon watched through blurry eyes as his brother's humanity switch was thrown back on like a bucket of ice-water had been dumped on him, cold and shocking as all that fear and grief flooded through him. Damon could see it in the way his chin trembled, the flicker of his lashes, the shudder that reverberated from his brother and in through him. The stake was utterly still.

Stefan's focus was utterly on Alaric that Damon didn't even think that he remembered that he was under him with a stake mm from killing him. He was wary of speaking up in case he surprised his brother into finishing the job.

There were several concussive implosions through Stefan's subconscious as he watched the rise and fall of the teacher's chest, listened to his heartbeat like it was the music of angels. Could he really dare to believe it was true?

"Ric?" Stefan whispered, his voice thick in his throat with emotion. Tears of relief and angst slowly dribble down his cheeks, and off his chin to patter onto Damon's face beneath. "You're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm f--" Alaric looked over, mind blank for an instant before his eyes widened in shock as what he was seeing. "Stefan?!" he exclaimed in horror, quickly climbing to his feet, hands held out in caution, his eyes darting between Stefan’s stricken expression and Damon's unmoving head in quiet terror. "What are you doing?" The vampire didn't even seem to be aware of the dangerous position he was in.

Stefan just shook his head in confusion, throwing his tears around as he watched the man like he was the Second Coming. "I didn't mean--" he chocked on the sob in his throat, his body trembling.

"Stefan—Damon!" he said frantically through his teeth, waving, tense.

Damon's fingers flexed against his brother's tendon taut wrist, a gentle pressure that was liking to a caress like back at the Gilbert house two nights before and Stefan's attention was finally drawn down to him, his green eyes widening frighteningly.

"Didn't think I was that forgettable," Damon managed to quip weakly, giving his scared brother a small smile just the same.

"Damon!" he cried in distress.

"Slow," Damon whimpered, his trembling hands locked with Stefan's steady one as he carefully pulled the stake out, even as the rest of his body shook against his prone brother.

"Careful," Alaric cautioned, approaching as a sob tore through Stefan this time. But the stake came free and he took it from the shocked vampire, throwing it away.

That hacking fit that Damon had somehow managed to hold back, took him as his body naturally tried to dispel the liquid in his punctured lung even as his body healed itself.

Just like Stefan pressing his hands ineffectually against the stitching wound, in a frantic manner, blood gushed between his fingers, coating fresh wet blood over his own dried and flakey. What have I done? What have I done?!

"You need blood." Alaric said. "I'll get--"

"No, no." Damon finally managed, licking his bloodied lips as he got his body back under control. "I'm good." Alaric was dubious. "I'm fine." He used Stefan to pulled himself upward with a faint grunt and leaned heavily back against the side of the computer desk. He would heal fine, but Stefan was a different story. "Stefan?"

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Stefan mumbled repeatedly, his eyes glued to his brother's saturated shirt, his bloody stomach, his hands coated in Damon’s blood still pressed to an already healed wound. Killing Alaric might just have been a dream, but staking his brother with the true intention of murder was not.

"Hey." Damon said sharply. "Listen to me!" he grabbed the nape of Stefan’s neck a bit rough, jolting him to attention, forcing the teen vampire from the blood and to his steady, piercing gaze, yanking him close. "Listen to me. This was not--"

"I almost killed you." Stefan interrupted, his face all crumpled and tear-soaked. "If Alaric didn't come back when he did, I would have killed you!" he sobbed. "I would have done it. I was going to do it, Damon! It was me. I did this." It hurt, but the truth did that most of the time. "I was going to kill you because you were boring and annoying me. And I killed Ric over and over again. I couldn't stop myself, didn't even try stop myself. It felt too good. To feed, to kill. Damon--!" he broke, blinded by his tears.

"Hey!" Damon gave him a shake. "This was not you, do you understand me? Katherine forced this into your head. She made you turn off your humanity. This was her and I'm gonna make her pay!" and he pulled Stefan fiercely to his chest.

Stefan collapsed against him, clung to his big brother. "Damon!" he bawled, quaking with the strength of his cries, face buried in his neck.

"I'm not going anywhere," Damon promised viciously.

Alaric sunk uselessly to the floor, helpless to lend comfort, to Stefan, to either. Confused to what happened, how they got to this moment. What he had concluded was that he had died, killed in his sleep, all he could remember was the impression of some powerful, invisible force (Katherine associated)—then nothing. Stefan must have believed that he was truly dead and switched off his humanity. Alaric swallowed against the lump in his throat as Damon met his gaze briefly before turning his face into Stefan's mused hair. Damon was right, Katherine needed to pay.

Stefan concentrated on Damon's hold and Alaric's heartbeat; and the combination helped him regain a calm(er) center. But even after, the brunette couldn't help but briefly take a minute advantage and extend the embrace; it seemed that they both needed this.

Stefan literally could not remember the last time he hugged his big brother. Not in the last 145 years since they turned. It must have been when Damon defected from the Confederate Army and came back home, and then it was the both of them vying for Katherine's affection. The Council had been on vampire alert, and in a bid to try and protect Katherine, Stefan had inadvertently created the rift between he and Damon and exposed Katherine in the process, thus creating the chasm of separation and misery between that lasted the last 145 years.

He remembered that bubble that Damon had created around him for those two days when he had been so close to the edge and lent his daylight ring as decoration for Salvatore's fishbowl. Like then and like now, Stefan knew his big brother was here to stay.

And just like before, Stefan knew he couldn't stay in the bubble forever; they eventually all pop. He was still a little surprised that it was him that pulled away first. They watched each other silently for a moment; Stefan tear-stained and Damon slightly puffy-eyed, they gave each other slight nods of silent reassurance and pulled each other to their feet.

Alaric suddenly seemed intent on cleaning up the scattered journals and dropping the pencil in the wastebasket.

"You good, little brother?" Damon carefully pulled his collar open, inspecting the gruesome wound around his neck. He hissed in sympathy as Stefan grimaced; still not healed but at least it didn't appear to be any worse. "You need to hunt. And soon,"

"So do you," Stefan said, his gaze flickering involuntarily to Damon's ripped and bloodied shirt.

"Unlike you, I get my meals at convenience. You have to work for yours; that's what happens when you're on a 'special health kick'." He teased and he got a twitch of a smile in return. He squeezed the vampire's shoulder, "We're going to take care of this, Stefan." Stefan could only nod silently. "Don't be skimpy, Stefan. You take out Bambie and his dad." He clapped Alaric on the back on his way out.

Finally, it was just the couple left in what Stefan could only describe as a crime scene. He wanted badly to go to the man, touch him, feel him, prove to himself that the man was alright. But he was wary.

Alaric didn't seem to have such reservations, though and closed the distance between them in a couple quick strides. Stefan was still as the dirty-blond carefully cradled his face, his blue eyes searching, as his thumbs brushed away the tear-stains. Stefan reached up and gently grasped the man's wrists, feeling his pulse through blood-stained fingers; his eyes slipped closed and a sigh left his lips.

Alaric pressed his lips to Stefan's forehead for a long moment, eyes slipping closed, and breathed; before he separated and pressed them against Stefan's. The vampire gently moved against him. It wasn't deep and open-mouthed and hungry; but that didn't mean the passion and care wasn't present.

"Are you okay?" Stefan whispered.

Alaric shook his head in disbelief. "I should be asking you that, Stefan."

Stefan pulled him into a hug, careful of his neck as he rested his cheek against Ric's ear. "I thought I killed you, Ric." He croaked through the sudden tightness in this throat.

"You didn't. You didn't." Alaric tightened his hold.

"It felt like I did, really this time. It hurt so much worse than the first time when I found you after Damon killed you. The silence was too much. And I couldn't do it. I'm sorry!"

"Hey. Hey." Ric hushed him, stroking the back of his head. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. There's nothing she or you can do to make me do otherwise. Okay?"

"Okay," he took a deep shuddering breath. Stefan gently massaged the nape of his neck and Alaric gave a little groan of gratification; he could still feel an ache from the stark snap. "Okay." Stefan's eyes found his alarm clock; it was a couple minutes passed 7 a.m. He sighed and like with Damon, found the strength to pull away. "You need to get ready for class."

"What about you?" Alaric asked.

"I need to hunt, burn my clothes, and shower. And then I'll go to school," Stefan decided.

"Are you sure? It's been a pretty severe morning, no one would blame you."

"Staying here, in this room right now..." Stefan shook his head. "I don't think that's the best idea."

"Alright."

"So shower, change, and I'll see you at school, okay?"

"Yeah." Alaric pressed a kiss to his lips and they parted.

Stefan went to the balcony doors as Alaric grabbed his duffle and disappeared into the en suite, but the vampire didn't go and jump down onto the drive, but shut and locked them instead. He left via the front door this time. He didn't find Bambi and his father, that would be too lucky, but he was feeding on 'Thumper' when a fox tried to sneak passed him. Stefan had never actually drank fox before and didn't think anything of the same size would cross his path this morning and gave chase at vamp-speed. The creature was a slippery one but he managed to get it.

He avoided certain mammals for a reason; like raccoons because of their diet of human trash, skunks for the obvious reason. Foxes emitted a skunk-adjacent odour, but its blood was just as edible as a rabbit or deer, but held a different tang to it for its carnivorous appetites—he didn't typically feed on meat eaters.

When he got back to the Boarding House, Alaric's Chevrolet Tahoe was gone from the drive. When he got back to his bedroom Stefan stripped the bed entirely, stuffing the sheets, comforter, pillows and cases into a garbage bag. His discarded boxers joined them along with the entire outfit he had donned when trying to kill Damon. Simply putting them in the bin outside was not going to do, no, he had every intention of putting these to the fire.

He showered and dressed, making sure to put on a dark, collared shirt. The blood helped take the lethargy from his limbs, put the ache in his abdomen from the previous stake wound to rest, and helped the burned and blistered wound that rung his neck a little. It was still present, still looked pretty bad but didn't look as raw, which was good.

Stefan found Damon in the kitchen, showered and dressed, drinking straight from the bag, one already lain drained on the kitchen island, the other halfway through; and not looking like his baby brother almost killed him an two hours ago.

Damon looked him up and down, appraising him as Stefan poured himself a cup of coffee. "It help?"

"A bit." Stefan leaned back against the counter as he drank.

"You sure you want to go to school?" Damon finished the bag off, licking the blood from he corners of his mouth.

"I'm sure."

Damon threw away the empty blood bags in the peddle can and dusted his hands. "You can ride with me," Damon told him. "I have business in town."

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Stefan didn't fight it when Bonnie and Elena cornered him at school.

He was going to tell them what happened this morning, he really was, but either Alaric or Damon had beaten him to the punch; the former when he arrived at school before Stefan (who had missed first period), or Damon had texted Elena when he was out hunting.

He was heading to second period when they flocked him. The bell rang and the halls emptied, and the three convened in the bathroom. Stefan was only mildly less troubled that it was the men's room and not the ladies.

"Are you okay?" Elena said straight off. "I got a text from Damon before I was even up for school. All it said was that something happened and you might not come to school. Stefan?"

"Did Katherine try again?" Bonnie asked.

Stefan sighed. "You could say that," he agreed. He reached up and undid his shirt collar, then the button below it and pulled it open, revealing the top of his chest and front of his neck.

They gasped and exclaimed in horror. He caught a glimpse of it in the smudged mirror above the sink and the open weepiness of it had nearly completely abated, just leaving some severe looking burn blisters, at least around his neck. The wide, circular wound where the pendant lay still wasn't quite at that stage yet.

"Oh, my god, Stefan!" Elena started to reach out but then quickly withdrew her hand.

"When did this happen?" Bonnie asked, her expression tight.

"Little after 5," he buttoned his shirt back up.

"And it's not healed yet? You fed?" Elena accused.

Stefan nodded. "And it has healed."

"It was worse?!" Elena cried in disbelief.

"Damon said that the pendant melted into my skin, he had to pick it out before I could get out of the dream she put me in." He explained.

"How did this happen, Bonnie?" Elena looked to her friend in worry. "Was the spell wrong or--?"

"No. No way." Bonnie denied. "If Grams thought for one second the spell wound backfire like this, she never would have let me give it to you, Stefan."

"I know, Bonnie." He assured, squeezing her bicep. "It worked great the first night. Went to bed after you left and I woke up after 3 in the afternoon." He grinned. "It was the best sleep I've had in the last 150 years."

"There's no way that Katherine is powerful enough to break through that spell, even if she is over 500 years old." Bonnie shook her head. "No. The only thing that could have caused the pendant to react like that and let her Power through—is a witch."

"A witch?" Elena paled.

Stefan groaned. "That makes sense. It should have been obvious. Katherine always has a witch in her service, she'd be extraordinarily vulnerable without one." He pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing deeply. Of course Katherine wasn't working alone; no, just like back in 1864, she had minions under her influence: Emily, Pearl and Anna, the rest of the vampires that had been trapped in the tomb. "Damon is not going to be very happy when he hears this, if he hasn't already figured it out by the time school's over. He's really gonna wanna kill something. I can't say I blame him."

"Stefan?" Elena touched his arm. "Are you okay?"

No. No, I'm not. "I'll be fine." He looked up. "We should get to class. We'll meet up at the Boarding House after school? I'll tell Ric," the two girls nodded and reluctantly left. Stefan gave himself a minute to gather himself before he headed to class too. He was glad he made the decision to go to school instead of staying home, even if Bonnie and Elena hovered and even if he was forced to keep a profession distance from Ric; the Boarding House was just too oppressing to hang around in alone. It wasn't like it was safer than the school, in fact, Stefan was pretty sure his bedroom and maybe his bed specifically could be classified as the most dangerous place in the world at the moment.

...

After school, Stefan left Bonnie and Elena to carpool in the witch's Prius, and headed back with vampire speed, cutting a path through the woods and used the opportunity to snag a couple rabbits who didn't even see him coming. He texted Damon at lunch (to make sure that his brother came home when he was done with whatever his 'business in town' was instead of going to the Grill for a drink, got no reply back and didn't see his brother's Camaro in the driveway but that suited the teen just fine.

Stefan went through the house, out the back through the kitchen door and lit the fire in the pit in the backyard before heading back in and up to his room. He paused outside his closed door, this morning playing back in his mind in harsh snapshots, making his throat tighten. He forced himself passed it; it was done, he could never take it back, undo it—but he could get rid of the physical manifestations of the event.

He threw open his door and stepped into his room. It felt stuffy and closed in, just from the handful of hours the door had been closed. His gaze skittered over the dark staining on the floor by his computer desk—Damon's blood—as he crossed the room. He didn't open the balcony doors and instead opened the thick drapes over his window, and opening it. The sheer curtain beneath fluttering in the gentle breeze.

He turned his attention to Salvatore, feeling like a bad owner because he forgot to feed the comet goldfish this morning with all that had happened so he compensated with adding a little extra food flakes. Salvatore exuberantly swished around the bowl, managing to eat all of them before they could settle on the pebbled bottom.

Stefan grabbed the garbage bag he'd filled that morning, and found the stake and pencil and took them with him into the backyard. He said he was going to burn all this to oblivion and he meant it. The flames hungrily burned at the blood-stained clothing and wood. He even sprayed some lighter fluid onto it to make sure the flames incinerated it all. He left it to burn and went back inside, grabbing cleaning supplies from the hall closet and went back up to his bedroom.

The bloodstain by the desk wasn't the only thing he needed to scrub. Stefan had left his own on the floor by his side of the bed from the stake; and the other, by the reading table when Damon had stabbed him in the kidney with the No. 2 pencil. By the time he was finished, his room smelled like bleach but the balcony doors remained shut and locked.

He stared at his naked mattress for a moment, wishing he could chuck it into the fire, too, but simply made it up with clean linen from the hall closet. He took Salvatore to the library. He put the cleaning supplies away downstairs and stirring the fire to make sure everything was gone, put the flames out with sand from the bucket next to the pit.

Stefan had just finished loading the coffee pot when he heard a car come up the drive. Surprisingly, it wasn't Bonnie's Prius but Ric's Tahoe; he would have thought the girls would get there first, they were already pulling from the school parking lot when he disappeared into the woods.

"Stefan?" Alaric let himself in.

"Kitchen!" the vampire called, grabbing out a second mug from the cupboard.

"Hey," Alaric warm hands found his hips and pressed a kiss to the side of Stefan's neck under his jaw tenderly, the brush of his stubble against the sensitive skin making the teen shiver pleasantly in response. "I didn't see Damon's car. I'm the first one here?"

"I was surprised, too." They watched the pot slowly fill with the drip.

"How's your neck?" he whispered, carefully pulling the open collar back and peeking down.

"Better." Stefan told him, holding still under his gentle touch. "I fed on the way home."

"Good." Alaric pressed another kiss behind his ear as he carefully settled the collar back. He stepped back and let the vampire pour the coffee. Stefan turned and handed Alaric his mug, leaning back against the counter as he drank his coffee. Alaric mirrored him against the kitchen island.

The quiet between them was soft, there was no pressure to fill it as they simply enjoyed each other's company without an ounce of drama and bloodshed, drinking coffee and gazing at each other. There probably wouldn't be another moment like it shortly.

Stefan's head cocked lightly as he heard the car in the drive, the quiet hum of the eco-friendly engine. "Bonnie and Elena are here."

The teenagers let themselves in a couple moments later. "Hello?" Elena called.

"Kitchen!" Stefan called just like with Alaric. He listened to their footsteps, starting and stopping, backtracking, the witch cussing under her breath.

Alaric raised a curious brow at the amused look on the vampire's face. "What?" Stefan could only shake his head.

"God, this place is huge." Bonnie complained as the pair finally arrived. "I've only been in the parlor before and it's just down the hall from the front door. I think we got lost—twice—trying to find you guys." She slumped exhausted on a breakfast stool.

Stefan met Alaric's eyes briefly, his lips pursed to stop himself from laughing and Ric shook his head with a smile in return.

"We stopped to get takeout, figured it was going to be another gruelling night," Elena put the pizza box on the kitchen island. "Damon still isn't here?"

"Nope. Said he had business in town this morning." Stefan said.

"What does that mean?" Bonnie asked.

Stefan shrugged. "I sent him a text earlier. He'll get here whenever he's finished." He went to the cupboard and took out 4 plates. "We can eat while we wait."

They each took a share. "Damon won't want any?" Elena wondered.

Stefan chuckled. "Have you ever seen Damon eat human food? He's been on a liquid diet for as long as I can remember; blood and bourbon." They all claimed a stool and ate the slices. Somehow, their idle chitchat as they waited consisted of the weird Matt-Caroline-Tyler thing that was going on.

Stefan's brows pinched as he heard Damon's Comaro Convertible—followed by a second car that he didn't recognize. "Damon's here." He said. "And he has company."

"Who?" Alaric questioned.

Stefan concentrated for a moment. "Human. But they're not coming inside."

"This is bound to be interesting," Bonnie muttered. Interesting in the company of Damon usually meant trouble in her opinion.

"Daddy's home!" Damon called, heading for the parlor, a paper-clipped document pinned under his arm as he headed straight for his trusty liquor cabinet. "Lawyers never change," he threw back his two fingers and poured another.

"What lawyers?" Stefan questioned as the group arrived from the kitchen.

Damon's nose wrinkled briefly at the prevailing scent of bleach when he saw him, but said nothing. "All of them,"

"Why were you talking to a lawyer?" Bonnie crossed her arms.

Damon turned and regarded her with a smirk at the corner of his lips that he knew annoyed her. "Should have done it as soon as we found out Katherine was in town." He held up the document from under his arm. "The deed to the Salvatore Boarding House. Ownership became null when I killed Uncle Zach; of course it transferred to Stefan and I, but that's the whole point. We're not technically alive, so that annoying but effective little magic barrier that requires an invitation does not exist. Any old vampire can just waltz in here and watch Stefan like he's Sleeping Beauty. That ends today," he held out a pen toward Elena.

Elena looked at him with an open mouth as realization dawned. "You want to give me your house?"

"Technically." He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you'll own it. That's the whole point. Vampires will have to have an invitation to enter, that means Katherine can't get in unless you invite her in. Get it?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "But why me?"

"I've done the math. You're the only one that Katherine is less likely to kill. Bonnie's a witch and a Bennett, she's automatically branded an enemy. And every time Teacher get's killed, it'll void the contract, even if he came back with the ring. That leaves you, the doppelganger." He wagged the pen under her nose until she snatched it in annoyance. "Good. Stefan and I will go outside, you sign the deed in all the right places, the sleaze in out in the car will notarise it, make it all legal, and the Boarding House is under your ownership. Stefan and I won't be able to step foot inside until you invite us."

"This is was your 'business in town'?" Stefan asked as the pair stepped outside, the 3 humans lingering in the entry hall through the open front door.

"Something like that," he said vaguely. "Paul!" Damon shouted, and the notary public started in his vehicle before he climbed out, carrying a briefcase, and approached. "Do your thing," he waved him in, leaning back against the brick pillar on the porch.

The two vampires waited as Elena signed and initialled in all the marked places, Paul went over it, gave it the official stamp, and packed the document in his suitcase. When he stepped back outside Damon compelled the man to burry it and forget it and sent him on his way.

"Did it work?" Elena asked, eyeing the doorway from the inside, resisting the urge to try and physically feel the magical barrier. "Is it already there?"

"Let see," Damon flashed his brother a devious look as he approached the doorway. He locked onto her brown eyes and carefully reached out to put his hand through the open front entrance—and suddenly shouted, jerking back and curling in on himself.

Elena gave a shriek, jerking back into Alaric's own startled chest. "Damon!" and she instantly dove forward to see if he was okay. Her hands touched his back as he curled in himself, shaking. "Damon?"

"Ahhahaha!" Damon couldn't hold back the laughter. Her reaction had been priceless! "I can't believe you fell for that; the look on you face--!" he starting laughing again.

"You jerk!" she shouted, hitting him ineffectually with her fists at his doubled over form. "I thought you got hurt!"

He slowly straightened and wiped the laughter tears from his eyes. "I couldn't resist." He didn't apologize. "It's nice to know you care, Elena."

She crossed her arms and glared. "I'm starting to wonder why, exactly."

"You know..." Bonnie said slowly, calculatingly, and it had Damon narrowing his eyes. "You really shouldn't mess with the person that holds all the power."

Elena's plucked brows flickered as realization of what her friend was getting at, registered. "Maybe I don't want to invite you after all,"

A slow smile spread across her lips that was eerily reminiscent of what he had seen cross a certain vixen’s plump lips; enough so that he shot a sidelong glance at Stefan. But to the vampire's relief, there was amusement and a lightness dancing in those usually brooding forest green eyes.

"You wouldn't dare," he challenged.

She met his stare—turned her chin at him and said: "Stefan," with pomp, "You may come in."

Stefan chuckled. "Thank you, Elena. I think she likes me more," he stage whispered to Damon, clapping him on the back as he sidled passed and through the doorway without meeting the resistance of the magical invitation barrier. He stood with Alaric and Bonnie to watch the entertaining showdown.

Elena reached out and grasped the edge of the door, teasingly.

"Elena," Damon warned.

"I don't know..." she swung it back and forth lightly. "Maybe a night in the dog house with help you find your manners." Her plucked brow raised, "What do you think?"

"You clearly can't take a joke," he said sarcastically. She started to close the door. He rolled his eyes. "Okay. I'm sorry... that you don't have a sense of humour." She pushed it further closed. "That being said... I probably won't do it again. Not really," the door closed another couple inches. "I am who I am, deal with it. Now invite me into my own house, before I lash out." He finished in irritation.

"That's the best you're gonna get, Elena." Stefan smiled. "It's also one of the better I've heard."

Elena pulled open the door again. "Come in,"

"If you're going to be so polite about it," Damon smirked and stepped over the threshold without issue. He leaned in close as he passed her, "Thank you."

Elena shut the door. "So that's it?"

"That's it," Stefan exhaled and loosened his shoulders.

"Better?" Damon questioned quietly.

"Yeah."

Damon walked passed, back to the parlor and his abandoned bourbon, the others following and claiming spots. This time Stefan sat on the couch closest to Damon's usual chair. Alaric beside him, Bonnie on the third spot, and Elena took the other chair.

"Now that that's taken care of," Damon announced. "Want to explain to me what the hell happened with that shitty little pendant you gave my baby brother?" he challenged Bonnie.

"The pendant was fine," she said. "Stefan told me what happened. The only reason it reacted that way was because another witch was trying to break the spell. That was how Katherine was able to manipulate Stefan's dreams again."

"Shit," Damon cursed. "Another witch. Should have fucking known. That's just like Katherine."

"And the wound it left?" Stefan wondered.

"It's a magically inflicted wound, so it's going to take longer to heal. And because you're drinking animal blood and not human blood." Bonnie explained to Stefan.

"That could be why it took you so long to come back," Damon directed at Alaric.

Alaric rubbed his neck at the reminder. "I think you're right."

Stefan's expression tightened and his gaze dropped, fingers digging into the couch arm his arm rested on. His eyes flickered as all he could see was the empty stump of Alaric's neck. He inhaled sharply, pulled from it as Alaric squeezed his knee.

"What are you talking about?" Elena asked, eyes darting between the three of them.

Damon gave Stefan a silent look: You didn't tell them, did you? Stefan's lips tightening was all the answer he needed. Of course you didn't. "Fine." He turned back to the others and the girls' confused look, which he easily ignored. "Katherine might not be able to get inside anymore, but that doesn't mean her magical little pet can't either. So, who does Katherine have in her back pocket?" his piercing blue gaze landed squarely on Bonnie.

"What?" she answered sarcastically, "It's not like we all have a bi-monthly witch get together or something."

"Why the hell not?"

"Witches are already targeted by vampires, I'm assuming a big gathering in one place is a big no-no if they want to survive—unless something big and scary is going town. Frankly, I'm pretty glad I haven't heard of some witch congregation. Besides, the only witches I know are Grams, and she would never help Katherine. And Emily, and she's dead."

"That hasn't stopped her before," Damon pointed out. "The whole... amulet/tomb/possessing you thing, if you've forgotten."

"How could I forget?" she glared.

"And, it wouldn't be the first time sweet Emily was with Katherine," he added.

"Katherine saved Emily's life and she was in Katherine's debt." Stefan told her and reminded his brother firmly.

"Still," Damon said, holding a grudge.

"She made our rings, Damon. She got our bodies to safety. She saved our lives."

"And," Bonnie added for clarity. "Emily actually likes Stefan, unlike you."

"Whatever." Damon said. "Katherine's got a new witch suckling her poisonous teat and whoever they are, they're going down with Katherine just as well."

"Do either of you have anything that belonged to Katherine?" the witch questioned the brothers.

"Do you think you can locate her?" Stefan looked across Alaric at her.

"I think that would just be a waste of magic and time," Bonnie confessed. "Katherine doesn't seem like the kind of person who would keep an incompetent witch with her. If she's clever, her witch will have her under a cloaking spell. I'd never be able to see her, and witches can mask their own magic. No," she shook her head. "Does that mean you don't have anything?"

Stefan glanced at Damon. "I have a picture..." he offered.

"Can I have it?" she perked up.

He shrugged. "Sure. I can get it right now," he stood and sped from the parlor, up the stairs before she could say anything further.

He only paused for an instant outside his closed bedroom door before he opened it and went in. The room still smelled strongly of bleach despite the open window and fresh breeze. He crossed the room to the dresser behind him computer desk. Stefan opened the small decorational box next to the open space on the shelf that he had cleared for Salvatore's bowl and took out the small key. He unlocked the top drawer and opened it.

Sitting right there on top, was a thin, hardcover, black leather bound book of poetry. He ran his gingers over it for a moment before he picked it up and opened it to the delicate paper-sleeved photo of Katherine. She had given it to him as a keepsake when he was still human and infatuated. She never gave one to Damon.

He sighed, snapping the book closed over her beautifully poised expression staring straight into him. She can't get into your head anymore, he reminded himself. He closed the drawer, not bothering to lock it and put the key back. He closed the bedroom door behind him and went back downstairs to the parlor at a more human pace.

"Here," he held the book out to the witch.

She leaned forward and took it. "Thanks," she could see the photo edge sticking from the pages and tucked the book between her thigh and the couch arm. "I’ll do the spell when I get home tonight." She'd never actually seen Katherine herself; she knew what doppelganger meant but was still curious to lay eyes on an actual photo of the vampire.

"What's this spell exactly?" Elena wondered, managing to tear her eyes away from the corner of the black book that she could see peeking out.

"In short," Bonnie said, "The ashes from the picture can stun her for a few minutes. So when we do find Katherine, it could be a weapon that we have that she doesn't know about—and help us finally kill her."

"Getting close enough to be able to use it is risky," Alaric pointed out, "But totally worth it if it can stun her long enough to stake her. It's something,"

Bonnie looked over to where Stefan continued to stand, her brown gaze flickering down to his open collar. "I could also make another pendant if you--" Damon snorted but said nothing as the witch flashed a glare his way.

"I..." Stefan paused and cleared his throat. "I would appreciate that, Bonnie." He admitted, consciously having to stop himself from reaching to his neck and fidgeting. "Thank you,"

"I'll give it to you at school tomorrow,"

The girls left shortly after, Bonnie with the book of poems and picture of Katherine. He was glad to be rid of it and even happier when he got the second pendant from the witch tomorrow; he didn't think he was going to sleep well tonight (least of all in his room) even though Katherine could no longer enter the Boarding House—he was too paranoid. And then there was--

"Christ, Stefan." Damon muttered and Stefan blinked, looking over at him in confusion. "You gonna asked him to prom already or what?" he said sarcastically.

"What?" Stefan was even more confused. He glanced over to Alaric on the couch, who was giving him a concerned look. "What are you talking about?"

Alaric stood. "You've been standing there staring into space for the past 10 minutes, chewing on your nails."

"I wasn't," he conspicuously wiped his fingers on the hem of his shirt. Stefan clasped his hands behind his back, biting the inside of his cheek.

"Stefan?" Alaric stepped around the coffee table.

Stefan cleared his throat. "I need to talk to you," he told Alaric seriously

"Alright." The teacher followed the vampire as he left the parlor, but instead of heading to Stefan's bedroom like he expected, he lead Alaric to the library instead.

"Vervain." Stefan blurted.

"What about it?" Alaric asked in confusion.

"I know you wear it, but that's not enough anymore."

"Stefan," Alaric tried to approach but Stefan seemed determined to keep distance between them. "What are you talking about."

"You need to start drinking it now." Stefan told him, determined. "If you don't have enough, I can supply you; we're still growing it in the basement. Just a few drops in your morning coffee everyday. Okay? It's just like medicine." Because I am the disease.

"Stefan," Alaric managed to intercept his passing, grasping his upper arms and stilling the anxious vampire. "That's completely unnecessary. I'm fine. I trust you."

"Well, I don't trust me! Okay?" he cried out desperately. "It means a lot for you to say that, even more that you actually believe... but I need tyou o do this for me, okay?" he put his hands flat on the man's chest, feeling his heartbeat that lay beneath, and clenched fistfuls of his shirt's material. "Please, Ric." He pleaded.

Alaric looked at him gently, hands brushing up the teens arms and cupped his face. "I know you're scared--"

Stefan scoff harshly, twisting out of his gentle hold. "You keep a naked sprig in you pants pocket, Ric. That's not strategic or convenient. Yes, that would stop me from compelling you, but that would do nothing to stop me from tearing into your throat and feeding from you so hard that I Rip your head off!" He paced away, putting space between them once more. He stopped, his back turned, back straight and body taut. "Ready?" he question, his voice remote.

"Stefan, what are you doing?" Alaric felt ill at the tone.

Stefan didn't want to, but if it kept Alaric safe, it didn't matter. "Showing you."

Without warning Stefan turned and flitted at the unprepared man, passed him, knocking his shoulder so he spun and tumbled. Not hard enough to hurt, just move. Then Stefan came back the other way, knocking his shoulder, tripping up his feet. Confusing and up-ending his balance. Amongst the chaos, Stefan stuck his hand in Alaric's right front pant pocket where he knew the man kept his vervain. He hissed as it instantly burned his skin, fighting the instinct to drop it and pull away. He stabilized the disoriented man, holding out his open palm, his flesh sizzling like water on a hot pan.

"Stefan!" Alaric's eyes widened as his gaze focused on it and he instantly tried to slap it out of his palm, but Stefan clenched it in his hand instead, tucking his hand back behind the small of his back. "What are you doing?! You're hurting yourself!"

"Look at me." Stefan said.

"Stefan--" Alaric utterly ignored the command and continued to try reach behind him.

Stefan tightened his fist, gritting his teeth. The pain was similar to the reacting pendant. He might have been wrong with the comparison that the pendant was worse. It had been a while since he'd responded to vervain. There was no warm-up, its affects and his response was instant in kind.

He grasped the nape of Alaric's neck with his free hand, jerking the man. "Look at me!" Alaric caught his gaze in surprise and stilled, straightening as Stefan's pupils flexed. The vervain was painful, but it made him even more determined to do this. He dug into the bottom dregs of the well of his Power.

"You will ingest vervain. You will kill any vampire who tries to feed from you, unless you give your express permission. But you will never under any circumstance allow me to feed from you," his voice cracked but he made himself reaffirm and continue, "Even if it is life and death conditions. If I try to feed from you... you will kill me, Ric. Do you understand?"

He could never bring himself to compel Elena, even when it might have been better. But he was damned determined to do it to Alaric. He loved Elena but he loved Ric; and yet he was manipulating the man. Even if it was for the man's safety, he felt like Katherine, like he was a true scumbag.

"Yes." Alaric responded, his voice low and deadpan. A single tear escaped his short lashes and trailed down his stubbled cheek.

"I'm sorry," Stefan whispered, pained both emotionally and physically. His fingertips brushed gently at the short hairs at the nape of his neck while gazing into his dull blue eyes. He felt like a dictator, not a boyfriend, or equal partner. He broke the connection and dropped his hand, severing contact.

Alaric sucked in a sharp breath and his expression transformed from muted to furious. "Why did you do that?!" he shoved Stefan in the chest. Stefan stumbled back more than he would have otherwise under normal circumstance, the vervain finally engulfing him now that he wasn’t laser focused on his task. "How could yo--"

"I'm trying to protect you, Alaric." Stefan straightened and brought his arm back around, his hand trembling as he slowly opened his hand. He bit back the whimper, his fangs half protruding in response to the pain. The result of the vervain burning into his skin made it feel like his hand was glued closed, his skin burned and melted over, peeling apart again.

Alaric was aptly distracted, his anger transforming into alarm as he carefully took Stefan's injured hand. "God, Stef." He carefully pulled the sprig from his palm, grimacing when strings of gore briefly attaching the two points before breaking it off. He dropped it on the mantle piece next to him and was forced to return to pick out some little leaves that had come off in Stefan's crushing grip. Stefan was still under the painful ministrations, not uttering a sound, not even breathing even as his chest heaved. "Stefan," Alaric whispered, still holding his injured hand, his other forcing the vampire to look at him. "You're trying to protect me from the one thing that I don't need protection from."

"You're wrong," Stefan whispered, his voice hoarse. "I'm the first thing you need protection from. I love you and I'm not going to let anything hurt you, Ric," Stefan said firmly. "Not even me. Especially not me." He tried to pull his hand away, but Alaric gripped his wrist, preventing him. Stefan could feel the tremble but he wasn't sure if it was himself or Alaric.

Alaric swallowed as those 3 words penetrated him. "You are wrong, Stefan. Look at me." He put a hand on the vampire's cheek, drawing him back. "You are not weak. You have been around my blood before, a lot of it if I remember correctly. And not once have I seen fang. You have the control, Stefan. Don't let the likes of Katherine Pierce take that from you. Don't fall into the trap of her sick games." His thumb stroked his cheek. "Don't let her win." He whispered. "Don't let her break you—break us."

Stefan leaned into the touch he was sure he didn't deserve right now, his eyes closed. "You make it sound so simple." He mumbled.

Alaric rested their foreheads together. "It is," he hushed. "I love you, Stefan." Stefan's body shuddered at the words and he pressed against the man. "I wanted to tell you, you needed to know. I heard you."

"I wanted to tell you in the bathroom," Stefan confessed breathlessly.

"I was going to tell you in the kitchen." He admitted in return.

"I know."

"But you stopped me, why?"

"I was scared." It was easier to say like this.

Alaric only pulled his face back enough to meet his shiny green eyes. "It can be scary. But you're not alone in this, in any of it."

"I'm sorry."

Alaric pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Don't be sorry, Stefan. Be yourself."

He gave a humourless chuckle. "Easier said than done."

"Maybe," he agreed. "But I know you. You're strong."

Stefan just nodded. "Okay."

Alaric gazed at him for a moment, his thumb continuing his caress. "I'm angry that you compelled me, Stefan. You've trapped me into a corner. If something happens to you, how am I supposed to help you?" he despaired.

"I would rather die," Stefan said vehemently, "Than drink human blood and turn into the Ripper of Monterey again. I promised myself that I would never manipulate you like that; I know what that's like, to be compelled. To not be able to fully trust your feelings or the person you love, to be suspicious. I'm sorry that I had to do it. But I'm also not sorry that I did. I'm trying to protect the both of us.

"Katherine is going to do what she is going to do; she'll get what she wants, one way or another, she doesn't care what she leaves in her wake. It's just what she does and I will do what I have to for you not to be left in that after-effect."

"Don't you think if I could compel you to be safe, that I would?" Alaric returned. "I trust you, Stefan. I told you that from the beginning.

"It hurts to know that I won't be able to protect you with everything I have, even if you don't need it. If the occasion ever arouse, I would never put you into the position of your most hated and feared nightmare, no matter how much it pains me, I wouldn't be able to stand your resentment even if I thought there was a slim chance to get you back. But to know that it's there... was a comfort."

What had he done? Stefan stared into the naked heartache in Ric's eyes and knew he had done nothing in his life to deserve this man's heart. It was Katherine who he deserved of; 2 evil hideous creatures bound by blood. But instead of pushing him away, Alaric held him closer, arms wrapped around him.

"I'm sorry." Stefan whispered, his face turned into the dirty-blond hair above his ear; Alaric's shirt rough in his sensitive palm as he clutched at the material on his back. "I love you."

"You say that... And it makes me think I'm one step closer to losing you." Alaric disclosed.

"I'm tired." Stefan breathed in the man, his eyes closed. He leaned a little more on the man; Alaric was the strong one. "I'm scared. I'm afraid to go asleep; that despite her no longer being able to get into the house, that she can still find a way back into my head. Terrified of what she wants from me," She doesn't want the Ripper, he didn't say. Perhaps in every way that would be better than the truth.

Alaric started to rock him, their feet still on the floor and swayed them gently like a dance to silent music made just for them. His fingers stroking through the back of his styled hair in comfort, his own fear clenching in his guts.

Stefan laid his cheek on Alaric's shoulder, face turned into the man's neck, it fitted against the bridge of nose and forehead. The warmth spread to his skin, his closed eyelids against every pulse. He listened and felt and absorbed; settling down. If I can just listen to this beautiful beat of life, his beat of life for the rest of my undead one, then everything will have been worth it.

Stefan grew marginally heavy against him, then heavier still. Alaric tightened his arm around his back in response as the vampire's grip slacked some on his own. "Stef? Hey," he hushed gently. The only response was the soft breath against the hollow at the bottom of his throat. The teacher almost gave an incredulous laugh in realization but stopped himself; Stefan had fallen asleep against while they had stood here.

It warmed his chest almost painfully; he'd never known anyone to do that before. He wished he was physically strong enough to hold the teen all night, even if he could be mentally, but he wasn't. Even still, Alaric continued to hold the vampire because he knew that once Stefan woke up, he didn't plan to sleep even though he would promise to.

"I got," Alaric breathed.

"Mm!" Stefan grunted and jolted, awakened. He pulled back a little, looking at Alaric in mild confusion as the man had a fond expression in his eyes. "What happened?"

Alaric had trouble fighting the smile. "You fell asleep."

"What?"

"Yeah. You fell asleep—right against me."

Stefan looked mortified at the thought. How hard had he tried to convince the man that he wasn't a child and then he fell asleep in his embrace? He thought it was a habit forever burned from him when Katherine turned him and stole Damon away.

"You used to fall asleep against me all the time, Stefan." Damon piped up from the doorway.

"Damon!" Stefan hissed at him frantically in warning.

Like a proper big brother, he ignored the begging and commenced embarrassing his baby brother to his 'older' boyfriend. "It was precious." He leaned against the railing of the raised half-floor reading nook next to the entranceway. "If the internet had been invented in the 1800's, there would be a whole Facebook pages dedicated. Even more popular than panda cubs."

The rabbit he fed on coming home from school migrated completely to Stefan's face, his cheeks rubicund. "Don't listen to him," he told Alaric. He glared at his brother but the effect was lessoned significantly with the blush. "This is revenge for those baby pictures, isn't it?" he accused.

"I'm not gonna lie to the man, Stefan." Damon him jovially. "Hear that, Teacher? He wanted me to lie. Stefan," he pouted in disappointment at his brother.

Stefan growled at him. His lips pursed and he glanced back at Alaric, to find the man with twinkling blue-eyes, and enjoyment softening his face, making him appeared less weighted and younger.

"What about," Alaric looked across to Damon, much to Stefan's horror, "Hear me out—sleepy-Stefan with panda cubs."

Damon pointed at him. "Yes!" he came down the steps to the main floor, boxing Stefan between the two of them. "Other than the joy of spreading the adorable, I bet people to pay--"

"I know you both are just messing with me by now," Stefan said stiffly, looking between them, "But there should be some rule against my brother and boyfriend ganging up and trying to embarrass me." He complained, "I also said I wanted you two to get along and become friends, but I didn't account for it backfiring on me like this."

"Careful what you wish for," Damon sang sweetly.

"I'm going to bed," Stefan said abruptly. He snuck a quick peck to Alaric's amused lips and backed away from the pair, wagging a suspicious/accusing/warning finger between them, even if he was secretly happy and they probably saw right through him, as he did them.

Once he was in the hall, he vamp-sped up stairs, but instead of going into his own room, he went to Zach's old room. Stefan had boxed up his clothes and other personal belongs to keep up with the appearance that Zach had simply moved instead of Damon killing him. Zach's room didn't have a balcony, which the vampire took comfort in.

In the en suit, Stefan carefully washed his hands. His palm was still healing from the extended exposure to clove of vervain. It looked like some whack plastic's guy had experimented with a chemical peel on his palm and fingers. He would be healed long before morning.

He stripped from his shirt and jeans and climbed under the blanket in his boxers; on his back and staring at the darkened ceiling. He kept his word—he went to bed. He was simply wide awake while doing it.

~ T V D ~

Despite only having slept on Alaric for a few minutes and not catching another wink through the night, Stefan felt better than he expected. Katherine was under his skin, but so were Damon and Alaric, whose influences were strong.

He and Elena claimed a picnic bench out front of the school for lunch, seated across from each other and it was then that their missing 3rd party finally made an appearance after 2 periods absent.

"Sorry. I got to bed pretty late and forget to set my alarm," Bonnie sat next to Stefan on the bench, her bag on the table in front of her.

Stefan instantly felt guilty. "You mean you were exhausted using magic all night because of me."

"Don't give yourself so much credit, Stef." She told him. "It was my own fault. Before I did the spell with the picture, I tried to do a locater spell with it."

He straightened. "And?"

"Totally bombed!" she thumped her head on her bag in defeat. "All I got were images of Elena in her living room with Jenna. It freaked me out so I called her just in case."

"Is that why you asked me about summer camp?" Elena wondered. "I thought it was weird."

Bonnie just shrugged at her. "I had suspicions going in that it wouldn't work, not with you being her doppelganger and just having a picture of her when I know you and never met her before. But at least now I can give Damon the finger and tell him I tried," Elena chuckled.

"He's just frustrated and annoyed," Stefan said. "... And a jerk," he nodded at Elena.

"I still can't believe he did that," Elena huffed in annoyance, her arms crossed.

Bonnie snorted, and sat up. "I can."

Stefan laughed quietly, smiling between the pair. "You two should count yourselves lucky. I haven't seen Damon be... playful, in a long time. If you guys had met him when we were human; you would have been best-friends with him," he elbowed Bonnie lightly in the ribs and her expression made him smile wider. "And you totally would have fallen in love with him, Elena."

A look of despondency flashed through her brown gaze so fast that he only could register it subconsciously before she scoffed and covered it with a pasted smile. "Uh-huh."

"Anyway, I've got the solution to all your magical problems right here." Bonnie patted her bag and opened the flap. "Another dream pendant," she filled his waiting palm with a carbon copy of the first one; small-chained necklace with a yellow stone set into the pendant.

Stefan unbuttoned his collar and put necklace over his head. The chain was cool as it came to rest over the blistered shadow of its predecessor. They were just mild burn blisters now. He would just feed again on his way home. He buttoned his collar again and smoothed his hand down the row of buttons. "Thank you, Bonnie."

"And the ash." From view of the passer-by’s, she shifted her bag and showed the 2 small stoppered glass bottles nestled inside. "It didn't make much, just enough for two bullets. You should definitely take one, Stefan. And I think Elena should have the other."

"Uh," Elena started to shake her head. "Damon--"

"I think you're in more danger than Damon thinks." Bonnie looked to her friend. "Now that your signature is on the deed, you have a target on your back—if you didn't have one before."

Stefan took one jar. "I think you're right." He agreed with Bonnie. "Elena," he turned to the doppelganger, "If Katherine wants to get back into the Boarding House, you are the only thing stopping her." He put his hand over hers, "She will either turn you or simply kill you. Right now, you're a new toy to her, interesting, but the second she grows bored or angry," Elena swallowed, "She will snap you in half and throw you away. Please," he turned her hand over and placed the jar in her palm, closing her slender fingers around it, his own clasped over it. "Please, take it." His fingers brushed the inside of her wrist.

"Okay," Elena agreed quietly, her voice a little rough.

Stefan gave a small smile. "Good." He reclaimed his hand, took the second vial, leaned back and fit it into his jean pocket. He pulled his satchel into his lap from where he was resting at the foot of the bench and pulled out 2 small paper boxes onto the table.

"What's that?" Elena wondered.

"For you," he pushed one toward Bonnie. "And for you," he pushed the other to Elena.

The girls shared a looked before they carefully opened the boxes to reveal an individual, delicious looking and smelling cupcake. Bonnie's triple chocolate and Elena's strawberry shortcake.

"Did you bake these, Stefan?" Bonnie gaped incredulous at it. "That's amazing!"

Stefan chuckled. "Thank you, but no. I had time so I got them from the bakery on the way to school."

"You didn't get one for yourself?" Elena asked.

"I don't really like sweet things, I prefer savoury." Stefan told them. "You don't have to eat them now," he looked between them when neither moved.

"You don't have to tell me twice!" Bonnie told him. "I haven't eaten all day." She took hers from the box, peeled back the tissue cup, and took a large bite, groaning the instant it touched her tongue. "Oh, my god." she mumbled in ecstasy as she chewed and swallowed. Stefan chuckled as he watched her, a peak of mousse chocolate ending up at the tip of her nose that she had yet to notice.

Elena giggled. "Good, huh?"

"Breakfast of champions!" she agreed. "Thank you, Stefan." And she promptly took another bite. "You're not gonna eat yours?"

Elena arched her brows. "Oh, I'm eating it. You can't have it, Bon." She took it out of the box, peeled back the tissue wrap and took a bite half as big as Bonnie had, somehow managing not to get cream and jelly on her face. "Mmm!" She moaned. "That is so good."

"What did I say?" Bonnie triumphed. "I think we have a real future together, Stefan." She teased, "I do the magic and you provide these babies."

"You got a little something..." he rubbed his nose in indication, green eyes sparking.

Bonnie gave him a smile, wiping the mousse from the tip of her nose and sucking it off her finger. "What do you say?"

"Magic Cakes." He stuck out his hand. "I provide the cake and you give it a little bit of that awesome magic."

She pumped his hand with a laugh, "Deal!" She managed to finish it before the bell rang, on a sugar high, blissfully licking chocolate from her lips to the vampire's gladness.

~ T V D ~

Stefan was left alone in the Salvatore Boarding House for the first time since he could last remember. It was awkward the first couple hours; the emptiness of the house acute to his senses, but he realized he wasn't utterly absent company. Salvatore couldn't talk, but he had the mesmerizing and calming effect of a lava lamp, especially in the library, positioned just right on the table with the fire blazing behind and nothing else; the flame's light reflecting and distorting through the water of the bowl and off his scales.

So he settled in the cozy comfort of the library, sprawled in the plush leather chair, back to the entryway and cracked open Moby Dick. Several chapters it, he left the book open, facedown on the arm of the chair and ventured to the kitchen and made himself a large bowl of buttered popcorn in the microwave. He went back to the library and resumed reading, alternating between turning pages and eating popcorn.

Stefan had read Moby Dick before, he was a vampire, he had the time. But there was always pleasure in reading a book a second even a third time, you can always catch nuances that you hadn't before.

He heard a creak on the step-down behind him, breaking from that tranquility that settling down and reading can put you in. He sped to his feet, knocking the half-eaten bowl of popcorn onto the floor and across the rug.

"Elena," he said in surprise, calming. "What are you doing here? I didn't hear you come in."

"Hi, Stefan." She susurrated, her voice sounding low and smoky, intimate.

Then the absence of her internal music registered. The realization immobilized him. "How did you get in here?" he demanded desperately.

"You invented me, Stefan." Katherine murmured. "You wanted me to come; you were so alone."

"No." He denied in confusion and fear. "You can't be here, you can't be real." The ashes, he'd left them upstairs and he cursed the folly; even if he had them, he couldn't seem to move.

"It's true." She bit her bottom lip, drawing his eyes to how unnaturally red they looked in the light of the fire and the absence of any other source.

It didn't matter; he didn't need the ashes. She wasn't real. He was having a nightmare and needed to wake himself up. He clenched his hands into fists. "You're not real!" he growled, his true-face snapping to the surface—and he lunged at her with vamp-speed. He would go right through her, she would disappear and he would wake up again.

But she met him in the middle; it was like he collided with a brick wall, she didn't budge an inch. Instead, Katherine met him in an embrace; an arm wending around his waist to press their pelvises together, the other hand caressing through his styled hair to rest at the nape of his neck.

He tried to throw himself from her arms, but it was too late. She had him, she was stronger than him—she was not a dream. Katherine was present, solid, and real pressed against him. Elena, she must have compelled her for an invitation. He could not fathom Elena's death, he would know. He would know!

Katherine pressed upward against him, the pressure of her manicured fingers at his nape tipping his face down—she brushed her glistening wet ruby lips against his, painting his pink lips crimson with blood.

His lips trembled. He quelled the immediate, dangerous urge to flick his tongue across as his lips as the scent prevailed into his nostril so temptingly. "Please, stop." he managed to exhale without moving his tongue or lips. It tingled against his skin, demanding to be consumed.

"Stefan," she hushed, caressing his frozen face. "I would never make you want to do anything you didn't want to." And she placed the manicured tip of her index finger on his coated bottom lip and pushed it into his mouth, pressing her now-coated finger passed his teeth and onto salivating tongue. Katherine watched with heated, brown eyes.

The hinges of his jaw tingled at the sweet taste, his eyes fluttered. A sound strained from the back of his throat. His lips involuntary closed around his her finger, his tongue undulating around her digit. She sighed steamily as she watched him, her lips parted. The veins around his eyes pulsed gently once around his eyes before they disappeared back beneath the surface.

"No." He growled harshly, breaking enough out of his locked body to grasp her delicately structured wrist painfully, yanking her finger from his mouth and tearing his face away to the side. His eyes squeezed tightly shut as he breathed harshly.

"Hush," she didn't appeared bothered as she soothed him, while her arm around his waist like a steal trap. "You won't recognize the taste now, it's different now that you're turned—but it's my blood, Stefan."

"What?" his head snapped back to her; his tongue drew across his lips like it was a compulsion put onto him.

She watched with pleasure as his already beautiful forest green eyes turned more so as his sclera flushed dark red. "I know you, Stefan. I've seen you. I've watched you. I would never leave you. I would never hurt you." She shifted him like he wasn't a life-sized doll, pushing him back onto the leather chair. "I can give you everything you ever wanted, Stefan."

He instantly tried to rise, but she pushed him down with a hand on his chest. He glared up at her. You took everything from me! he wanted to scream at her as she put her hands on either of his wrists on the chair arms, leaning over him, her loose wavy hair tickling his cheeks. And you're trying to take everything away from me again!

"Just tell me," he whispered harshly as she straddled his lap, desperate. "Did you kill her? Did you kill Elena?"

"Stefan," Katherine murmured. "I didn't come here to talk about the doppelganger." She rested their foreheads together.

He squeezed his eyes shut, shutting her out. "Then why? Why are you here? Why are you doing this to me?"

"I can help you." She breathed his breath, her blood-painted lips brushing against his like a tickling feather as she murmured breathily, "I love you, Stef."

"I HATE YOU!" Stefan reared forward, colliding skull, throwing the vampire off, speeding to his feet, vamp-face in full. But there was no crash, no snarl, no retaliation—Katherine had vanished. On guard, Stefan flitted through the entirety of the house, but it was empty, he was alone. "Elena!" he realized with panic, quickly pulling his cell phone from his pocket and speed dialing the teenager.

"Please, please, please..."

He started to pace over the spilled popcorn before the first ring even completed, his fear ratcheting upward as it rang a second time, a third, even a fourth, he was practically delirious on the fifth before she finally picked up.

"Hey--"

"Elena!" he gasped in relief, hand grasping the edge of the mantle in support.

"--this is Elena's phone! Leave a message and I'll call back." beep!

No! "Elena, it's Stefan." He spoke hurriedly. "Please call me as soon as you get this, okay? I need to know you're alright." Stefan disconnected, his fingers trembling on the screen as he tried to scroll and select Damon's name. He pressed his cell phone roughly to his ear as he finally got it selected, a lump forming in his throat as it rang. The line connected halfway through the second ring.

"Lonely without me already?" Damon teased in hello.

"Damon?" he was shocked to hear it come out weak and timid instead of the desperate shout that had built inside of him as the seconds had passed during the ring.

"What happened?" Damon voice was immediately on alert. "Stefan!"

"Elena." Stefan swallowed. "You have to make sure Elena's okay, Damon! I tried to call but she didn't answer. Something’s wrong, she--"

"Are you okay?" he demanded.

"I'm fine!" he shouted, fraught. "It's Elena!" he stumbled as the chunk of mantle he had been gripping, suddenly snapped off in his hand.

"OK. OK." Stefan could hear the squeal of tires of Damon's Camaro. "I'm heading to Elena's right now."

"I'm coming too." Stefan stared listlessly at the chunk of wood in his hand for a moment before laid open his fingers and it tumbled to the floor like it was an anchor weighing him down. "I'm coming."

"No, Stefan!" Damon barked. "You're staying right where you are. I don't need to be worried where you are. You're safe there. Stefan, are you safe there?"

"Y-yes."

"Good. Stay right there. I'll get, Elena, okay? I'll get her. She'll be okay. Do you hear me, Stefan?"

"Yeah, yeah. Okay." Stefan whispered. "You'll make sure she's okay." He didn't even realize that he'd been crying until he tasted the saltiness on his lips when he spoke.

"Stay there!"

Stefan listened to the dial tone for a stretched minute before his arm dropped to his side, his cell slipping from his fingertips like a heavy stone. And he stayed there, right where Damon told him to and prayed that he really would know if something terrible ever befell Elena. He swore that he would know.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

As soon as Stefan heard Damon's Camaro pull up outside of the house, he ran out onto the porch at vamp-speed, jumping down onto the gravel as Elena was shutting the passenger door. He scooped her up into his arms without warning and she gave a exclaim in surprise.

Elena quickly wrapped her arms around him in return. "I'm okay, Stefan. I'm okay." She pressed her mouth to his shoulder. "She didn't touch me, I promise."

"I thought she killed you," he shuddered, his face buried in her hair. He breathed in the same, unchanging scent of her shampoo; it was a relief to know that they didn't smell the same. Elena leaned toward fruity and Katherine toward floral. "I was so scared when you didn't answer your phone."

"I'm okay," she repeated soothingly. "My phone died, I plugged it in downstairs and forget when I went up to my room."

"Okay. Okay," he held her for a moment longer, eyes squeezed closed, soaking in her life, before he finally put her down, shifting back a little, but still touching.

"Are you okay, Stefan?" she asked in concern, looking up at him. It was hard to see his face with the security light shinning directly behind him. "Katherine didn't-- Oh, my god. Is that blood?" she exclaimed, starting to reach for his face, but Damon sped around the car to their side, beating her to it.

He grabbed Stefan, spun him, and pushed him back against the car, putting the brunette in the direct beam of the light. His blue gaze cut over the clumped lashes, the tear-stains on Stefan's cheek and landed directly on the dried smear of blood under his bottom lip. Stefan was motionless under his brother's hold as Damon whipped the blood away on his thumb and sucked it from the pad.

Elena watched, blinking. "What are you--?" she made a weird face.

Damon's eyes narrowed considerably as he stared at his brother, as he quickly worked passed the saltiness of tears and got down to the true sweetness of the blood—her blood. "Katherine," he hissed and Stefan cringed.

"What!" Elena blurted in surprise.

"Inside. Now!" Damon growled at them. "Both of you!" he grabbed a fistful of Stefan's shirt, jerking him along and Elena rushed after.

"Damon, what's going on?" she asked again, worriedly.

Instead of answering her, as soon as the thick front door closed, Damon spun on his little brother, shoving him against the wood panelled wall of the entrance hall, making Stefan grunt at the force and Elena exclaim. "How long?" he gave him a shove again. "How long, Stefan?!"

"I... I don't--" Stefan shook his head in denial.

"Damon, stop!" she demanded.

Damon ignored her and glared at his obstinate brother who was refusing to allow himself to realize the truth. "Elena didn't invite her in," he growled harshly.

"Then how--?" Elena started.

"The blood!" Stefan realized. To be honest, he'd completely forgot about Katherine's bloody lips (and what that might actually mean) with his concern for Elena's safety, then the relief at seeing she actually was safe.

"What do you mean 'the blood'? What about the blood?" she looked between the two.

"I'm so stupid." Damon released him and Stefan slid down the wall to the floor.

"Stefan?" Elena knelt beside him, hand on his shoulder.

"Blood-magic, Elena." Damon said, staring down at his brother. "Katherine must have gotten her witch to bind their blood. They're already connected that way to a point. So am I; she's our sire, her blood is what turned us so there will always been a little part of her in us." She couldn't help but give a little shudder at the explanation. "So she essentially piggybacked on Stefan's invitation. But that wouldn't have been enough to get passed the threshold barrier, she had to deepen the connection..."

"Feeding you her fresh blood," Elena realized.

Damon nodded. "A consistent, continuous supply." He sat on the foot of the stairs. "Every time she gave him a dream about feeding off Alaric, she gave him her blood."

"And I was too freaked out, too hungry from the vivid dream to realize that it was her blood I was actually tasting and then I would instantly go out and gorge on animal blood, destroying all traces of it." Stefan rested his elbows on bent knees, hands shoved into his hair.

"Clever bitch," Damon could not help but admire Katherine’s ingenuity and it made him hate her all the more. "She missed out on a couple days though," he said. "That first night with the pendant; she couldn't get in your head with you wearing it, not by herself at least. And Teacher was an obstacle that wasn't there before. But that second night," he shook his head, giving a low whistle. "Full throttle."

"What exactly happened that night?" Elena asked, wishing she hadn't when Stefan crumpled before her eyes. "Stefan," she whispered, squeezing his shoulder in concern.

"Hey!" Damon snapped sharply at him, grabbing Stefan's chin and forcing the brunette to meet his sharp gaze; and startling Elena. "I told you this before: it was not your fault, Stefan. It was her, all her. It wasn't you. I'm here, Alaric is here. We're not going anywhere. Do you get me?" Damon waited for Stefan nod, solidify his gaze, before he released him and sat back. "Good. How long was she in here?"

Stefan cleared his throat. "Less than ten minutes. I didn't really see her, she just vanished."

Damon nodded. "The connection was weak. The last time you had her blood was Monday morning and it's been a few days. That's even better."

"Should I call Bonnie?" Elena wondered. "If this is a spell--"

Damon shook his head. "She's not going to be able to do anything—and I'm not taking a jab at her poor magical skills," he added at her glare. "We just need to detox him of her blood and the connection will break." Stefan immediately stiffened. "Not Ripper Detox, Stefan. This isn't like human blood for you." He assured. "We just gotta flush that bitch's toxic blood outta you; would be easier if you could drink human blood, it's more pure, but I guess you're just gonna have to gorge on a bear or something for the next few days."

Stefan relaxed somewhat at that, and he glanced up, giving his brother a shy smirk. "You're going to go hunting with me?"

Damon gave a short, sarcastic chuckle. "Last time we did that, I convinced you to drink from a human and you went Ripper for 11 years before Lexi got to you."

Stefan snorted. "I think we both know better by now." Refusing to delve any deeper into that episode of weakness, and the following 35 years of harsh recovery before he was as much as 'himself' as he could ever be since he turned into a vampire, and focused on something that he would actually enjoy. He turned to his brother and shifted up on his knees, "Come on, it'll be fun. You can help me take out a bear,"

"You guys think you can take out a bear?" Elena asked skeptically. "Like an actual, real black bear?"

Both brothers looked at her. Stefan glanced back to Damon, "She doesn't think we can take out a bear, Damon. You're not the least bit insulted? I've seen you lift a car, but she doesn't think we can take a black bear?" He taunted, "Heh, they're not even the largest of their species and she thinks we're no match as the most badass predators out there."

Damon stood, his nostrils flaring. "We can so take out a bear, Elena."

"You sound pretty defensive about it," she said slowly, teasing, "For someone who can totally take out a black bear."

He gave her an indignant stare. "Stefan, come on."

"You're going now?" Elena looked after them in surprise.

Damon turned back to her. "It's unlikely that we're going to find a black bear right this second, Elena." He told her drily. "But Stefan still needs to feed and he'd not going by himself."

"I'm not the least bit insulted about the needing-a-babysitter-thing," he told him, skipping backward out the front door and grinning.

It had been decades since they last hunted together; not being on the same essential diet kind of did that. Once, Damon had been on a civil-kick and went hunting with him. 'Thumper's' blood barely grazed his tongue before he tossed the rabbit to Stefan, sputtering and spitting. Stefan's eyes danced as he drained his free-caught dinner, his smirk hidden in fur. It was a bonding experience, hunting together, working together to track and corner a prey—it was something that no one else could give him.

Stefan blurred around Damon's car and into the wood, Katherine's latest assault temporarily put out of his mind. He was more excited about the paired-hunt than the blood that would be achieved at the end.

"Stay inside!" Damon called back to her and flitted after his brother with a smirk flashing across his lips.

...

Stefan was practically skipping around his unimpressed brother as they emerged at the back of the Boarding House from the woods. The front of his shirt was covered in blood, his chin and neck stained with smears of dried blood. Damon was not untouched either, but the blood on his torn grey v-neck was his own. And they both looked like they had wrestled in a pile of leaves. They didn't find a bear, but the next best thing for the sake of blood volume.

"I can't believe you almost got disembowelled by that buck," Stefan chimed.

"Do you know how long its been since I had a proper hunt, since I've killed something?" Damon returned, annoyed. He glared down at his ruined shirt. "I prefer wild human not wild animals, thank you."

"I could teach you," Stefan offered teasingly. "It takes a certain kind of hunter to go after my prey."

"You, the pseudo-vampire, teach me how to be a true predator?" Damon raised a brow.

"Don't be mean," Stefan pouted. "You're just angry that you didn't get to kill it after it almost took you out." He slung an arm around Damon's shoulders. "You didn't even drink any,"

"I could smell it, Stefan. That was enough for me to know not to drink it."

"You have a sensitive palate," he smirked.

"And you could drink road kill," Damon snarked back. "I think my tastes are just fine, thank you."

"One of these days," Stefan told him seriously. "I will get you to have a proper try."

"You're setting yourself an impossible task, brother."

"I don't know," Stefan said softly, dropping his arm as they climbed the stairs from the yard up to the piazza at the back of the house. "I got you back, didn't I?" he went through the kitchen door to leave his brother staring after him a moment before following after.

Coming through the back, neither vampire where aware of the extra car or 2 in the drive, not until they discovered the three humans in the parlor after heading for the stairs.

"Hey," Stefan smiled at Alaric.

"Elena said you guys went hunting," Alaric said, gazing between the 2. "Going by the blood, can I guess it was a success?" Stefan bit his lip to try and limit the responding grin with zero success and Damon glowered to their enjoyment.

"Didn't listen to me, huh?" Damon directed to Elena drily before he left and headed upstairs.

Elena stared after Damon until he was out of sight before turning to Stefan. "What happened? Did you guys really find a bear?"

"What?" Bonnie said.

"No," Stefan chuckled. "Just a really pissed off buck that didn't appreciate Damon's lacklustre efforts at killing it."

"Stop talking smack about me," he heard Damon say from upstairs with his hearing.

Stefan turned his head, laughing, knowing the vampire would hear him as he spoke just a regularly. "It's not smack if it's the truth."

His attention was drawn back to the others when Bonnie plucked a twig from his slightly mussed hair, twirling it in her fingers with an amused expression. "Tarzaning it up again?"

"You know me, poor Jane is just going to have to be jealous." It was their own little joke; Alaric and Elena shared looks of confusion and Stefan and Bonnie grins. Stefan turned to the real matter of why they were all here with a sigh, "I guess Elena filled you in on what happened when you got here?"

Bonnie nodded and bit her lip. "You doing okay?"

"I feel fine."

"She was really in here?" Alaric asked. "I didn't even know that was possible,"

"It's just another, more evil and thought-out loophole through the threshold barrier, like compelling someone to invite you in or make sure someone specific doesn't get invited."

"In other words," Damon said, returning back downstairs clean and dressed fresh, "It has Katherine written all over it. She wasn't going to let a little thing like a threshold barrier stop her from getting what she wanted." He stared at his brother pointedly.

Stefan cleared his throat and shifted awkwardly under the intense blue stare at the reminder. "I'm going to go get cleaned up," he flashed Alaric a guilty look and blurred upstairs and into his bedroom, only realizing that it was his actual bedroom and not Zach's old one that he'd been spending the last few days in until he was throwing his shirt into the hamper.

He grimaced, but he was already in here, so he just grabbed clean clothes from the wardrobe and went to his en suite to wash the blood off at the sink. He brushed his teeth and was gurgling mouthwash when he became aware of Alaric presence in the doorway.

He spit in the sink, avoiding Ric's gaze. "Hey, I'm almost done. I'll be down in a sec." He wiped his mouth with a face towel.

"The look you gave me before you ran up here had me worried." Alaric explained. "What happened?"

"You already know--" he started but Alaric shook his head.

"I believe you when you told Bonnie you feel fine. And it's not your fault that she got in," he added when the vampire opened his mouth. "It's something else that you're tearing yourself inside up about... something that involves me?" Stefan flashed him an ashamed and pained look that just confirmed it. "Tell me?"

Stefan was reticent, but he knew he owed Alaric the truth as much as he didn't want to. "That night we found out that Katherine was back," he started, "she gave me another dream. Only this time it wasn't me attacking you, but it was me and her." He looked away. "I think-- no, I was human in it... and she kissed me, her mouth full of blood." He squeezed his eyes shut; Alaric's hands tightened into fists at his sides in silent anger. "She told me she loved me and that we were soulmates and we belonged together forever, before she fed on me. And that was when Damon woke me up."

He heard nothing but Alaric's forced deep, even breathes and chanced a look at the dark-blond; he wanted to cringe but made himself continue. "And tonight-- she had blood on her lips-- And she--"

"She kissed you," Alaric finished for him gruffly, it wasn't directed at the vampire in front of him, but Stefan took it that way anyway. When all of this went down and he found out about the blood, Stefan wondered exactly how she gave him her blood. Was it from a bottle, or her wrist, or was it like that dream? "Is that all?"

Stefan scoffed. "Do you want me to give you a play-by-play?" it was sarcastic, a defense mechanism, but Alaric just said:

"Is that what you want? Would it make you feel better?" his fingers loosened.

Stefan stared at the man for a long minute, trying to figure out by his neutral expression if this was some kind of test or if he thought that it might actually help. Ric wasn't cruel, though.

Alaric couldn't help the flash of surprise when Stefan suddenly blurred the few feet that separated them, arm going around his waist, pressing them flush together. Stefan fingers caressed through his dirty-blond locks, gently grasping the nape of his neck—and Alaric could feel the immense strength that just hovered behind each touch, powerful, controlling. Stefan was taking him up on the offer, he should not be aroused and concentrate on the angry fact that Katherine thought she could pull this shit on Stefan when the vampire was his boyfriend(!), but the intense look in his green gaze was so attractive and near hypnotizing.

Alaric felt pressure at the back of his neck, tearing his thoughts back as Stefan pressed against him. He was still as the vampire came close, his breath almost stuttering to a stop as Stefan's lips brushed against his, slow, light pressure, gaze never leaving his, their noses grazing—such an intimate gesture. Alaric wanted to murder Katherine.

The hunter wondered how Stefan could have responded. He knew the teen would not have taken the blood, accepted a kiss. Stefan would have tried to pull away. Alaric was only human, he could never get away unless Stefan allowed it. The vampire could just as easily snap his neck, crush his spine, or break his ribs in this hold. Katherine was over 500 years old, unless Alaric was missing something, she never would have let Stefan go.

Stefan moved his hands from the nape of Alaric's neck and gently caressed his face, the stubble on his cheek. "I would never make you do anything you didn't want to do," he whispered and Alaric tensed at the words, unsure. Stefan's fingers traced his jaw before his index rested against the man's bottom lip, and slowly pressed his finger forward into Alaric's mouth.

Alaric's blue eyes widened. His lips automatically closed on Stefan's finger, sucking on it, making Stefan's breath exhale hotly, his pupils darken. All he tasted was soap on the brunette's finger, but Stefan would have finally tasted the blood that coated his lips. The response, despite how strong the younger Salvatore was, would have been pure instinctual in response. He would panic, try to get away, Katherine wouldn‘t let him. He would immediately discern quickly that it wasn't animal or even human.

"It's mine. I know you. I've watched you. I would never leave you. I would never hurt you." Stefan repeated. Alaric reached up, grasping his wrist and freeing his mouth, unknowing repeating Stefan's gesture just in a different mood, concern brimming his blue eyes, but Stefan stopped him before he could say anything. "I can give you everything you ever wanted." Stefan effortlessly moved the larger man back onto the closed lid of the toilet, and straddled his lap, bare-chested but for the pendant, taking his wrists and immobilizing the teacher. Stefan leaned forward and rested their foreheads together, breathing the human's breath, their lips brushing like a whisper. "I can help you. I love you."

Alaric jolted his head back. "Stefan--"

The vampire's expression broke. "I managed to shove her off and she vanished." He released the man's wrist and started to stand. "I'm sorry."

But Alaric didn't allow him. "Stop it," he said firmly, meeting the ashamed green gaze, making the other unable to break it. "You did nothing wrong, Stefan."

He shook his head. "I didn't try hard enough. I could have--"

"Katherine is almost 5 times your age. You weren't expecting her, she took you when your guard was down, where you thought you were safe. She had you, there was nothing you could do. You acted when you had the opportunity."

"How can you just sit here, this calm?" Stefan asked genuinely. "If she did that to you, Ric--" he shook his head, unable to even verbalize.

"Trust me, I am beyond furious, but it's a little hard to emulate that with you in my lap like this." Alaric squeezed his hips, glancing down at his exposed chest. "You're very distracting in the best possible way." Stefan looked embarrassed in a happy way. Alaric's thumb petted smooth flesh. "Stefan, she's trying to seduce you. And she's very good at it."

"I know." He whispered. "It's not going to work," he promised.

"I know, Stefan. I trust you," Alaric assured. "That's not what I'm worried about."

"Then what?"

"What is she going to do when she realizes you'll never reciprocate?"

"She'll kill you," his voice cracked. "She'll kill Elena. She'll kill everyone I love to make me suffer, show me what it's like to have no to love me. She'll truly break me. You don't scorn Katherine Pierce and just walk away."

"Promise me something?"

Stefan looked at him. "What?"

"If something happens--" he started.

"No!" Stefan told him vehemently, hands tightening above Alaric's elbows.

"That's not what I meant," Alaric stopped him. "If something happens, if she ever manages to get her hands on you... promise me—you'll play along."

"What? No."

"Yes."

He shook his head. "I'm not going to betray you like that."

Alaric cupped his face. "You're not betraying me, Stefan. You play her game to stay alive until we can find you or you kill her. Please? She's not going to stop until one or both of you is dead—so you do everything to make sure she is that one. You drink her blood, you kiss her, you fuck her, you pretend to love her back," Stefan made a strained noise in the back of his throat, his green eyes coated in unshed tears, "And then you rip that bitch's black heart from her chest. Okay?"

Stefan inhaled a shaky breath. "Okay," he rasped.

Alaric thumbed away a tear that escaped. "I love you, don't forget that." He pressed his lips over the teen's undead heart before laying his cheek on his chest. Alaric wished he could recognize the beat of Stefan's heart like the vampire did his.

"Never." Stefan gave a small shiver as Alaric's stubble aroused his nipple, his fingers playing in his thick dirty-blond locks. The man seemed content to stay there, but the vampire knew they couldn't, not with the others downstairs waiting. "We can't stay like this forever."

"Mm, just one more minute." Alaric nuzzled against his chest.

Stefan chuckled, his head angling slightly as he listened. "Damon doesn't agree,"

"Oh, really," Alaric remarked drily, raising his head. "When does Damon ever?"

"He said that if we're not down there in a minute, then they're coming up here in a minute."

"If he wants to get a visual picture of what we're doing, he's welcome." Ric retorted, his tone suggestive for Damon and gaze playful for Stefan. Stefan looked both embarrassed and amused as he listened to his brother's unabashed response. "What?"

Stefan cleared his throat. "He said he's already seen me naked more times than you ever could, and if you think that a glimpse your little teacher's pet with deter him, you're wrong; he's very comfortable in his masculinity. He'll do it just to prove a point," Stefan warned.

"He obviously doesn't know 'teacher's pet' as well as he thinks," Alaric joked.

"I've seen Damon naked and he definitely shouldn't be so cocky," Stefan told him seriously, both their eyes dancing in silent laughter as they met gazes. Stefan snorted a beat later. "You are not coming up here, Damon." He called. "We're coming down. You 2 can measure your dicks some other time without me as the middleman." He pressed a kiss to a deeply amused Alaric's lips before he finally stood. "Exactly who is the perpetual teenager here?"

"Teacher's pet," Alaric mused as he stood and followed the brunette out as he slipped a shirt overhead. "That’s actually kind of cute. Would it be weird if I called it that now?"

"Yes!" Damon's voice rung in stereo with his brother's in human hearing before the pair even made it to the top of the stairs.

"You started it," Alaric told the raven-haired vampire nonchalantly in closing when they entered the parlor.

Damon rolled his blue-eyes and pinned Stefan with the gaze, "This is how this is going to go, baby brother..."

~ T V D ~

Stefan wasn't going to admit that he waited until he heard Damon's shower; the timing just lined up perfectly for when he was about ready to leave so he took advantage of the opportunity.

Someone had been in his company for literally the last 3 days, his only peace was bathroom breaks and showers. It was like house arrest, hunting his only yard time, Damon his cellmate, security guard, and warden all rolled into one. There was really nothing Alaric, Elena or Bonnie could do but visit him after school. The reason it was happening sucked, but Stefan took advantage of his partnered hunting sprees while he could because he knew that it wasn't going to be a continuous thing once the whole 'Katherine' was no longer a situation.

For Stefan, hunting was usually a boring, lonely act of necessity over the years. He usually just did it fast and clean and moved on; like a horrible health shake in the morning. But with Damon stalking at his side, an old excitement re-emerged in that dulled, predatory side of him. Damon helped him pursue bigger, more elusive animals that he never bothered to waste his time on. They never did find a black bear, but the 2 vampires tracked, boxed in, and took down a bob cat that Stefan got to drain and even Damon had taken a taste in curiosity.

Stefan had actually gotten some sleep with Damon watching over him like a gargoyle. There had been no other appearance from Katherine; which was a relief, but really meant she was off somewhere planning more schemes—and Stefan was sick of hiding so she could come and bite another piece out of his soul. Of waiting for her to chip away the pieces, break him, and become something of her birth that he couldn't recognize. Yes, he gave Damon control, but did that mean he was just supposed to let everybody tuck him away and fight his battles for him?

Stefan pulled on a dark jacket and glided down the stairs to the front door. He opened it and paused, glancing back, still able to hear the shower on the second floor. "I'm going hunting," he called for propriety, quickly closed the door and blurred across the drive into the woods to cover himself.

But instead of delving deeper into the woods, he blurred back around the property, hidden in the dense tree line back toward the highway and into town. He didn't lie when he said he was going hunting, it just wasn't his usual fur-covered, four-legged critter. He had prey to stalk today, a certain two-legged, blond-haired uncle who knew too much about him for Jonathan Gilbert's Journals to be accountable for.

When Stefan first started his hunt, he got that old familiar tingle of excitement at the base of his spine as he tracked the man down and laid his first sight on John Gilbert. It had been decades, since he'd last prowled a human. It was such a different feeling than hunting after tiny heartbeats in the underbrush; of course there was a certain nuance to it, that instinctual predatory radar was more heightened and refined in four-legged mammals than two; but there was more excitement, more glee when stalking his natural prey.

Humans still had instinct engraved deep in their DNA; that flight or fight response that separated predator from prey. In some, it was just more defined; goose bumps, raised hair at the nape of the neck, the indefinable itch between the shoulder blades. All warnings. More intoxicating was the spike of sweat; it just made the vampiric taunting even more enjoyable to smell the fear before striking, get the heart pumping, the blood racing.

Of course, as a man on the Council, who knew of the true scary monsters that moved in the night and those few that could in the day, John's instinct was going to be more refined, more attuned, so Stefan had to be even more careful. It was also what made it even more stimulating. Stefan's tongue traced the point of his already naturally pointed canines, like the physical manifestation of his soul's perpetual hunger.

There had been one moment, when he was so lost in the trip, focused on John's heartbeat in stereo, the timbre of his breathing, his scent that he nearly lost himself to his natural predatory predilections; snatching the man from the sidewalk and dragged him into the empty alley, throw him up against the wall and sink his hungry fangs into the Gilbert's neck. Stefan would drink the man's screams, like a spice to the savoury sauce of his hot blood, he would take the blond's fundamental resistance with relish—when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket and he jolted as if he'd been electrocuted.

He sucked in a sharp breath and threw himself forcefully back against the brick wall, trying to shake it away. He closed his eyes, breathing heavily. It was so intoxicating, so easy to fall back into it if he wasn't careful, paying attention. He forced his hindbrain back to darkness and gained conscious control again.

Hands still a little shaky from the bolt of adrenaline, Stefan took out his cell phone as it continued to vibrate. Looking at the screen, he realized that this wasn't the first call or text that he had missed, and not just from Damon either. When the vampire got out of the shower and realized Stefan was gone, he must have called the others, who in turn had tried to him as well.

I'm fine Stefan texted and paused for a moment before adding I'm hunting and sent it. He stowed the cell back into his pocket. He knew that wouldn't satisfy his brother but there was nothing he could do about that right now.

He exhaled and thumped his head back against the wall; he hadn't even thought about the consequence while he was in that trance. Like he knew John was smart enough to not only have vervain on him, but that he would also consume it. If Stefan had actually gone through with the attack, he would have just ended up like Katherine that night in 1864 when his father had slipped vervain into his drink and she had fed from him; only John would just stake him outright, he was sure—otherwise, if his suspicions were correct, John would hand him over to Katherine. That gave the vampire pause and food for thought.

But even if Stefan managed to kill John, the blond man still had the magical Gilbert ring that would bring him back from a supernatural death. The thought of that man working with Katherine, having that ring... it made the cruel, curious part of him want to go through with it, and let the Ripper tear the man's head off, just to finally know if the ring could heal even that for Alaric's sake. Stefan pushed the dark thoughts away.

He was about to leave the alley and resume his tail on John as the man got into his truck when his cell started to persistently vibrate against his thigh. He pulled back and took it out, Damon's face taking up the screen. Exhaling, he slid the bar and put the phone to his ear.

As soon as he answered, Damon opened with an irritated: "Do you want to tell me exactly why you're on Wilma Av. in the middle of town, brother?"

"How--?" Stefan started in surprise, then scoffed in realization. "You loaded that parent-stalking app on my phone when I forgot it that one time, didn't you?"

"Completely unashamedly," he replied crisply. "So, did you take a wrong turn at that one pine tree or were you so absorbed pursuing a large rodent that you followed it all the way into town while you were, as you put it 'hunting'?" he continued sarcastically. "Which is it, Stefan?"

"Listen--" Stefan started. He stepped casually from the alley mouth onto the sidewalk and strolled the same way the blond was headed. One thing he had learned: John Gilbert was a boring man or maybe it was an off day or he was just being a regular guy with no friends on a Sunday. The Coffee House, the Bank, the Mayor's office briefly, the Pharmacy. Now it looked like he was headed home in his truck. Boring. It made the vampire question why he always become so helpless when face-to-face.

"I don't care." Damon told him. "Turn your skinny ass around right now, Stefan. I can see you right now as the this little red, bratty dot on my laptop screen and you're going the wrong way."

"I'm not coming home." Stefan told him. "I'm going to talk to John Gilbert. He's knows too much, he's connected to Katherine, I know he is."

"Stefan, you stay away from him, do you hear me?" Damon cursed at him and he could hear the scrape of a chair, the front door slam. "Don't you move another foot." The car door then the roar of the engine. "I'm coming for your ass." The squeal of burning rubber.

"I've thought about this." Stefan insisted. He turned the corner onto an empty street. "Hang on," he said.

"Stef--" Stefan pressed his phone to his chest a vamp-sped to the residential street where John's leased house was. Apparently, he decided to stay even after Alaric had raided the place, figuring it was as safe as any place could be that could not be breached by a vampire but still broken into as a human. Stefan still didn't know if they had found the other half of the Gilbert Device that night of the Founder's Day Parade. He stopped a few houses down, in cover. "Stefan!" he put the phone back to his ear.

"I've thought about this." Stefan repeated calmly. "He'll either finally try and stake me, or he's going to take me to Katherine."

"That's your bright idea: walk into the bitch's evil clutches and give her exactly what she wants?!"

"I just want this to end, Damon. I just want to live my life!"

"I know, Stef. I know," he said softly. "But confronting him alone, her alone... there's nothing smart about that. You're being me from before when I didn't care about the consequences and just acted. But there are consequences, Stefan. Katherine will never let you go once she has you, she'll steal you away. You think you wouldn't know how to live this eternal life without me in it?" Damon question. "How do you think that I could?" Stefan's breath hitched at the admission. "Just turn around and walk away, Stefan. Come on, baby brother."

Stefan was quiet for a long moment, staring across the street at the lit kitchen window. He just wanted to finish this, but Damon was more important. If the rolls were reversed, Stefan would never let Damon pull this crap and go it alone either. "Okay." He finally agreed. "Okay." He turned: "Ah!" Stefan let out a scream at the sudden pain in his head, hands going up to clutch at his head.

"Stefan, what is it? What's happening?" Damon shouted.

"Witch!" Stefan managed to utter through pain-gritted teeth. Was this what Bonnie had done to Damon so briefly back in the tomb; giving him a burst aneurysm over and over again? It was so painful, it was immobilizing. He screamed through gritted teeth, ears bleeding, struggling not to crumple to the ground and let it consume him.

His true-face tore free at the pain ripping through his brain. He tried to lunge at her, but his equilibrium was off and he ended up just stumbling onto his hands and knees, losing his cell phone.

"Damon," Stefan tried to reach for the phone but she kicked it away.

"Stop struggling, sweetie. Just let it take you," she put a heeled boot to the small of his back, easily pinning the weakening vampire to the sidewalk. "We're all just better off giving her what she wants."

"Argh!" Stefan tried to claw his way out from under her foot, but she just continued to blow his brain apart from the inside with magic.

"We good?" John questioned, crouching over him on the sidewalk.

Stefan renewed his struggle, snarling, to little avail. John grabbed a fistful of his styled hair, shoved his face into the sidewalk and the vampire felt the prick of a needle in his neck. "No!"

"We're cloaked." She said.

"Good." Stefan groaned as John pressed the plunger and acid filled his blood, his vision darkening. "Let's get this over with; she can have him and get out of my town."

The witch chuckled. "You think it's that easy?"

Stefan lost the fight and went slack.

~ T V D ~

"Hm." Stefan gave a discontent groan, shifting on his bed. His head was achy and foggy and he didn't want to wake up and go on a hunt for blood just to make it go away. But he settled back as long, lethal fingers carded through his hair, messaged his skull. As they stroked around his eyes, traced his lips, the column of his throat. A soft floral scent invaded his senses, setting off tiny warning bells in his head.

Something wasn't right, this wasn't right!

He was talking to Damon on the phone, then the most harsh pain in his brain, John Gilbert, the witch. His eyes snapped open and he found himself staring into soft hooded brown eyes. This time when his conscious screamed KATHERINE!, he knew it was the reality and not just a supplication of injury and blood loss. There was intent behind each stroke, not innocent care and concern like when Elena found him on the floor minus a liver or Ric making sure he wasn't hurting him the first time they had sex.

Stefan blurred off the bed, and against the unrecognized bedroom wall, as far from her as he could in the room. "Katherine."

"Morning, sleepyhead." She sat up on the bed where she had been curled beside him.

Stefan didn't wait another second, he tore the bedroom door open and blurred through the house. He got the front door open but when he tried to leave, there was an invisible barrier preventing him. He threw his shoulder into it futilely. It was the reverse of a threshold barrier; keeping him inside instead of out.

Katherine unhurriedly came after him. "That hurts, Stef. You hardly said hello before you tried to leave."

Stefan closed his eyes briefly before he turned to her. "Doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon."

"That's Lucy's handiwork, she's very good."

"Don't think I'm going to give her any compliments," Stefan returned. His brain still hurt.

Katherine approached. He was still as she leaned close and reached around him, closing the front door. "Wouldn't want the neighbours to get any ideas." She straightened but didn't step back.

He refused to step back and let her win, but she probably did either way. "This is stupid, Katherine, let me go."

"You're the one who came looking for me, remember?" she murmured. "I knew you would. You followed John around all day like a puppy clinging to my scent." She put her hands flat on his defined chest, looking up at him. "Bet it got you all hot and bothered, bet you lost yourself in the hunt. You can tell me, Stefan. There's nothing wrong with being yourself."

Stefan’s lips curled; he would never admit that he did get lost in it for that one instant. He put his hands on her narrow shoulders and pushed her firmly back from him.

She sighed in disappointment and dropped her hands from his chest. "It's okay. We have time," she assured him. "I'm going to get something to eat. Let you acclimate, explore the new place."

He watched her pad away in bare feet, presumably heading for the kitchen. She had no fear of turning her back on him. It wasn't that she was conceited, because she certainly was that, but despite the many things that lay between him and her retreating back that could be made into a makeshift stake that would get the job done—she could have his heart in her hand before he could even get halfway to her.

So instead of going through with a rash plan that was just going to fail, he took stock. Stefan was relieved to find himself wearing the same clothes he'd dressed in the other day, minus his jacket and boots. He patted down his pockets and silently cursed; the vial of ash was gone. His hand shot up to his throat in a clutch of anxiety, only to exhale in relief as his fingers curled around the pendant beneath his shirt.

He glanced around the front hall, pausing as he found his boots lined on a rubber mat by the door, his jacket hanging on the rack, and the missing contents of his jean pockets (wallet, key ring etc.) settled in a ceramic dish on a side table by the door. Somehow, this display was even more disconcerting than if he'd woken up in bed naked; this display had all the implications of him having returned to his home, willingly after a day out and hung up his stuff as if he lived here. He gave a shudder at the thought.

She also didn't have to worry about him trying to physically escape the house, not with the magical barrier up, leaving him to 'acclimate' to his new hell. So he went the opposite of Katherine's path to the kitchen and explored. It was a large, single-floored house with a large master bedroom, fully applied en suite. He went through the drawers and large closet, not because he expected to find something to use against Katherine, she was too meticulous to leave chance of that, but from curiosity and wished he hadn't. They were filled with clothes; hers... and his, all new, all unworn.

This put the whole metaphor of him being Katherine's plaything to a whole other frightening level. Damon and Ric were right, she had no intention of letting him out of here. She had complete control—and he was fucked.

Play along. That was what Alaric had asked him to do if this very situation came and went. But if he was just suddenly compliant, suddenly receptive, she would know that he was just playing her and you didn't play Katherine Pierce, she played you.

He took a deep breath and left the bedroom, heading to the other side of the house. The living room was a carpeted den, with bookshelves, plus a corner sofa and a expensive entertainment center. The kitchen was all marble counters and stainless steel, a gas stove. Stefan stood in the kitchen doorway, watching her.

She sat up on the breakfast bar, her barefoot propped on the edge, knee bent in a pair of cut-off shorts; showing off the lean, long lines of her olive-toned legs, drinking from a tall glass of blood. He pursed his lips at the prevailing scent of human blood; he felt like he was staving.

"What do you think?" she asked him curiously.

"One bed, really?" he asked sarcastically.

"I think it's homely," she looked around the kitchen as she took a sip from her glass, "Not as unappealing as I thought when I first found it." Katherine looked back at him as he just sighed and said nothing further. "Want some? You must be hungry after Lucy played poppers with your brain."

Stefan gave her a very stale look.

"Oh, not this," she pointed at her glass. "I'm not Damon, Stefan. I'm not going to try to seduce you with human blood, or convince you drink it. I know how you feel about it." She set her half-full glass down and leapt off the counter, lethal like a feline. "We've got animal blood." She took a glass off the open shelf and went to the fridge, filling it from a crystal pitcher filled with blood. Its shelves were a mixture of regular food, blood bags, and similarly filled pitchers. She held the glass out to him, "It's fresh, imported, just for you." Stefan made no move to take it, despite his mouth watering at the scent. "It's clean, I didn't do anything to it. Look," she brought the glass to her lips and look a sip. Katherine grimaced, forcing herself to swallow and not spit up, shuddering. "See? You have a very strong constitution when it comes to blood, Stefan. I honestly don't know how you've been able to do this for the last... 74 years, is it?" he narrowed his gaze at her. "It's impressive." She sighed, "you want to keep your strength up, don't you?" he took the glass and sniffed it suspiciously (his gums aching) but still refused to drink. "Or you can drink straight from the vein," she offered, fingers brushing the inside of her wrist invitingly.

The glass found his lips pretty fast after that. The first swallow made the veins tingle around his eyes, and he continued to drink. It actually tasted pretty good, not that he would say it, fresh like Katherine had said, not the kind of 'fresh as of today' blood the butcher had sold to Elena.

Glass drained, he slowly walked her back against the counter, leaning over her, setting the glass down. But he stayed. "What the hell is this, Katherine. Really?" he growled.

"Mm." She arched against him. "I just love it when you go dominant."

He refused to let her distract him. "What are you planning, Katherine. What is the real reason you kidnapped me?

"I love you, Stefan."

Stefan scoffed in disbelief, stepping back. "You don't love people, Katherine. We're just things to entertain you until you grow bored and discard us without mercy."

"I don't love people," she agreed, straightening. "Just you."

Stefan gave his head a little shake, staring. "How could I ever believe that?" he whispered. His curiosity was genuine of her answer.

She slowly closed the distance between them and he let her. "I know I haven't done a lot to prove that to you, but this time is different. I'm different, Stefan."

"Those are just... shiny words."

"Not just words." She said. "I haven't killed anyone, have I?"

"You killed Alaric!" he burst, a sudden ball of fury exploding in his chest from a cold depth.

"He came back to life--" she realized her mistake too late.

"You snapped his neck," he grabbed her around the neck and shoved her against the fridge with enough force to dent the steel with her body.

"Stefan," she choked.

"You fucked with my head, making me believe that I had murdered him." His face transformed viciously. "I flipped the switch because of it! I almost killed Damon!" he roared.

He was about to plunge his hand into her chest when she kneed him in the crotch. He grunted in pain, his hold on her throat loosening involuntarily. She quickly grabbed his upper arm that was pinning her with both hands and gave it a vicious twist. With a short cry of pain he released her, but still holding his arm, she wasn't finished. She twisted his arm at the shoulder joint, forcing the younger vampire onto his knees and put her barefoot on his shoulder, pushing with her foot and pulled with her hands. There was a muffled snap and the scream was forced from him as she dislocated his shoulder and tore his rotator cuff to his already broken arm.

Katherine was the only thing keeping him up so when she loosened her hold on his arm, it slid from her fingers like a limp noodle and Stefan slumped onto his side on the floor at her feet.

"It's rude to choke a lady, Stefan." She looked down at him, unimpressed. "There's blood in the fridge, help yourself." She stepped over his prone body and left the kitchen.

Stefan grasped his broken shoulder and snapped it back into place before his body could heal itself incorrectly and he would have to re-injure himself. He slumped back onto the floor, coming down as the wound healed and the pain ebbed. So much for playing along; he'd lost his cool in 3 minutes, something just snapped in him.

Grasping the edge of the breakfast bar, he hauled himself to his feet, carefully rotating his healed shoulder, grimacing a little. He took his empty glass from the counter and turned to the dented fridge. He only filled it half full. He hardly tasted the blood as he floundered for a plan of action. He heard the shower turn on; if only his escape could be as easy as it had been with Damon, and Stefan wished it hadn't.

He either needed to kill her (not that he thought that would break the barrier spell on the house, but at least he wouldn't have to suffer through her company and relish her death as he waited); or he'd just have to hold on until the others found Lucy and either killed her or got her to take down the spell, then Bonnie could use a locator spell to find him because he wouldn't be cloaked anymore.

Stefan went to the sink and turned the faucet on for extra coverage and started going through the drawers. The butcher knives were all well and good—if he could chop her head off, otherwise... it was too big of a leap that he would get such an opening, especially after his earlier attempt. He closed the drawer and moved on, pausing for a moment as he stared at the wooden spoon. He was wary for a moment; was it a test or was it something that she had simply overlooked? She couldn't prepare for every possible proceeding, could she? If it had just been a single spoon, he would have went with the former, but there was more than one so he took it on faith and bet of the latter. He would accept a toothpick if he had to; all he needed was a sliver in her heart and she was dead. He picked up the spoon and went back to the butcher drawer. With four smooth strokes with the blade at the end of the handle over the sink, he had his stake. The wooden slivers washed down the drain and from existence, the knife back in its proper place.

He went into the living room, searching the spotless room for the perfect hiding place that would be within fast and easy reach of him when the opportunity presented itself. He settled on between the couch cushion and the arm of the couch. Stefan would have to lure her to him (which he didn't think would be too hard, not with how physical/flirty the older vampire always was), get her guard down (which would be harder; she would be on alert, especially with what just went down in the kitchen), and then he would strike. He needed to play this careful, smart. Katherine may have let his first attempt go, but he would never get a third chance.

He sat at the end of the corner couch as he heard the shower end. Five minutes later, Katherine returned wearing a short robe and wet hair twisted into a towel.

"You're turn," she told him, curling a leg under her as she sat in the corner, facing him, and revealing more of her toned skin.

"No, thanks," he declined with disinterest and didn't pay her figure any attention either; he knew she preened under it. He couldn't deny that she was a very attractive woman; if only her character would take a hint.

"You need it, Stef. And a change of clothes. You're starting to get a little ripe."

"I'm good." He drummed his fingers boredly on the couch arm. He was never going to wear the clothes she had bought for him and he was especially not going to leave himself vulnerable in the nude with her claws around.

She narrowed his eyes at him. "You're pouting because I broke your arm? That's below you, Stefan. Was I just supposed to let you take my heart physically like I already have emotionally?"

Stefan couldn't stop the snort of disbelief and he turned his head to look at her. "Where did you copy that from?"

"That hurts, Stefan." She whispered it so sincerely he almost could have believed it. He just shook his head and stared straight ahead again. "You're being mean," she pouted. Katherine untwisted the towel from her head, and shook her wavy hair out. "It's not very sexy." She tossed the damp towel at his head. He quickly caught it and dropped it onto the cushion that separated them. He glared at her and she bit her lip. "That's better,"

"Why now?" he growled. "After all this time, why now?"

She crawled across the short distance between them (step 1), her sash loosening and her robe opening slightly as she settled next to him, her knees tucked under her, her arm laid across the back of the couch behind his shoulders as she faced him. "I came for you, Stefan."

"If you loved me. If you wanted me, wanted us to be together—why did you wait so long to reveal yourself? Why now?" he gave her an almost pleading look. "Why now, Katherine?" What he really wanted to ask was: Why now, why when I have finally found someone to love and love me back? If you really loved me, you would have stayed away and let me finally have this piece of happinessthis life, my friends, my love, my brother. Otherwise, if you couldn't love me broken, then you don't love me at all. Why now?

She gave a heat-broken sigh, gently caressing his cheek. "I couldn't. It was too dangerous. You don't live over 500 years and not make enemies, Stefan. Powerful enemies for who its better to believe that I was captured and burned in a church in a little town in Virginia, than for them to know that I was still alive. If I came to you and someone saw me who knew them and they got word, then you would have been put in danger too.

"So I kept my distance, but kept tabs on you—to make sure you were okay. I would look in on you from to time to time when I thought it would be safe.

"The last time I got to see you, was in '87. You were at a Bon Jovi concert with Lexi, dancing in the front row all night." She carded her fingers through his flat hair. "That grunge look didn't suit you. I like this style better."

Stefan's throat tightened. She'd been spying on him this whole time. It made his skin crawl, but he suppressed the outward manifestation; she would feel it. He couldn't believe he'd been so oblivious, how could he not have felt the stalking hiss of the viper? He was jolted back to the present as her fingers left his hair and she stroked his cheek.

"You were dead, Katherine." He whispered, staring into her eyes. "All this time, I thought you were dead, when you could have been ten feet away in a crowd the whole time and I would have thought I was seeing things. I was so alone. You were gone, Damon left. He blamed me for your capture and death and he was right. It was my fault the Council found out about you. I thought I was helping, but I just exposed you to my father and he used me like a Trojan horse to capture you." There was just the right amount of shine to his green eyes.

She tried to comfort him, shifting into his lap. The sash on robe was particularly useless at holding it closed, she was practically naked in his lap. Her 19 year old figure hadn't changed a bit in the last 145 years, not that a vampire body was wont to do that; they were all just frozen in time. His traitorous cock stirred. He mentally scolded his body for the involuntary response. Being who she was, he knew Katherine notice the minute shift in exchange. Just a little more; he just needed to play along a little longer.

"I tried to move on, but it never worked. It was never right. It was a little easier with men, but not by much. And when I saw Elena," he shook his head in wonder, "I thought she was you. Somehow come back, somehow alive. If there was anyone who could find a cure to vampirism, it's was you, Katherine." She preened a little under that. "But she wasn't. She looked like you, but she wasn't you." He confessed; her wrists were on his shoulders, her fingers playing with the hair at the nape of his neck.

His left hand caressed her hip, pulling the robe open further; his right hand slowly, smoothly inching between the cushion for the wooden spoon stake he'd hidden, unnoticed. Katherine arched her pelvis against him in response, her brown gaze locked onto his in lust, pupils large with her arousal as she slowly started to close the distance between their mouths, her hands cupping his head. This was it; high fingers wrapped around the spoon, his left arm tightened around her.

"There's no one like you," he whispered truthfully, his lips brushing against her plump ones. He was about to stake her, his arm blurred, under the ribcage, his path only hindered by soft tissue, straight to her heart—he didn't get it very deep as with a snarl her sclera turned blood-red, veins throbbed under her eyes and her fangs, both canine and lateral incisors, elongated.

Katherine tore into his neck just as the tip pierced into her skin, her razor-sharp fangs slicing through his jugular like butter. His blood gushed between them, over them even as she drank. He growled, tried to throw her off of him, even as he tried to push the stake deeper, but he couldn't get a proper grip on her just her loose robe. The longer she fed, the more she drained him, the weaker he grew. He couldn't afford it. He managed to roll them in a blur of strength, tearing her fangs from his throat, and losing his hold on the stake driven precariously in her back as he sprang off of her, putting distance between them, hand held to the wound on his neck.

"That wasn't very nice, Stefan." She rose on the couch and pulled out the sharpened spoon with a grimace, not even bothering to fix her robe.

"You're not a very nice person," Stefan returned, his own vamp-face on display.

They flew at each other. He managed to grab hold of her arm, the one with the stake trying to plunge into his chest. After a struggle and managing to break one of her fingers, he managed to tear it out of her hand, giving her splinters. She hissed, knocking it out of his hand before he could turn it back on her. Katherine grabbed a fistful of his shirt, and the pendant beneath. He tried to tear her hand away, breaking a couple of the delicate bones in her wrist that healed immediately after, unlike his own injures which were slower. She kept her grip and put half a millennia of vampire-strength behind the slug, he flew clear across to the other side of the room, slamming into the wall, denting it inward. He slumped to the floor with a groan, cheekbone caved in, jaw broken. He reached up with a trembling hand, pushing his jaw back with a soft grunt so it could started to heal.

"Missing something?" she mocked.

He glared at her, his eyes widening and blurring to his feet as he saw the chain necklace dangling from her fingers and the pendant, with a chunk of his shirt in her palm. He didn't even have time to demand what she was doing before she pushed open the sliding glass door and lobbed the dream pendant out into the backward.

"No!" he blurred after it, only to end up slamming into the invisible magical barrier, to her amusement, and stumbled back. "No."

She came up behind him. Even if Katherine wasn't over 500 years old, she drank human blood, she'd drained him, weakening him even further with his animal blood diet. It was inevitable that she got the upper hand and snapped his neck with a vicious twist that nearly tore his head clean off, putting him into a temporary death-state.

...

Stefan awoke carefully with a sore neck, feeling weak, and his skin burning with the scent of vervain. He opened his eyes, chin to his chest, and the first thing he saw were his arms tied to the arms of a chair with vervain soaked rope. Very carefully, hand flat, he tried to pulled his arm back, freeing himself from the rope; there was no give, it just dug deeper into his dissolving skin.

"Mm," he bit his lip, barely holding back the whimper. He had failed—his second and final—attempt to kill his sire. And of course he was trussed up instead of dead. Katherine wasn't going to play nice any longer, he was not going to get a third chance. His only hope would lie with her taking her sweet, painful time with his death, giving his friends time to find him. Either through John Gilbert or that witch, Lucy.

He rose his head instead, looking around. He was set up in the living room, the glass doors closed behind him. He was barely able to hear her soft footsteps as the vampire approached.

"See what you did?" Katherine came from the hall, dressed in jeans and a blouse. She gestured at the couch, "It's all stained with your blood. That's white, Stefan, it'll never come out."

"You think I care about the couch?" he sneered.

"Right now I'm wondering if you care about anything." She remarked genuinely.

"Definitely nothing that comes out of your mouth," he snarked.

"Believe it or not, I was trying to help you, Stefan."

"How has anything you’ve done been helpful to me?" he asked spitefully. "You tore my life apart!"

"Those dreams," she explained, "I was just trying to show you the inevitability of your future with the hunter. Either you'll kill him or he'll kill you. I was trying to make see, to stop you from destroying yourself when you finally slipped, when you broke."

"I could never hurt him like that," Stefan protested around the lump in his throat.

"I've watched you, remember? You always end up breaking, Stefan. Eventually, always. You told me yourself... you turned off your humanity because you thought you killed him, a real death. You almost murdered your own brother. That was exactly what I was trying to prevent. I was showing you—without hurting anyone else—what your future was going to be if you stayed with Saltzman."

Stefan shook his head, glaring at her. "You're wrong."

She sighed and approached. "Fine. Why don't we give this a different approach if you’re going to continue to be so stubborn."

"No!" he snarled, vamp-faced as he struggled helplessly against the vervained ropes, knowing exactly what she intended. She leaned over him, eyes intense as she focused. Stefan could feel her, feel her Power invading his brain. In his weakened state, conscious or not, he was barely able to put up little resistance, before she was fucking with his head.

He saw Alaric and it took his breath away.

His dark-blond hair almost looking gold in the warm, yellow rays of the sun. The smile stretching his lips, reaching his twinkling blue eyes crinkled with laughter—it made him look beautiful and unburdened, ten years younger—as his fingers tangled with Jenna Sommers'. Ric was happy, he was whole, he was alive—he was with Jenna. He was dating Jenna. Marrying Jenna. Loving Jenna. Living life, with Jenna. Having children, with Jenna. A little part of him and a little part of her, living, breathing, growing, conquering the world. Stefan saw snapshots of their whole lives. Careers taking off, grandchildren, retirement. A peaceful death. No vampires, no witches. Just a normal, happy, fulfilled life.

When Katherine released him, his cheeks were soaked with tears as he cried. It was beautiful and it broke his heart. That was everything that Stefan was incapable of giving Alaric. A life, a true life lived. Stefan could love him, but he could never grow old with him, could never have his children or give him children. Could never give him a life without blood, death, and vampires.

"Don't you see, Stefan? You don't have a future. He doesn't want you, doesn't deserve you." She implored him harshly. "He hasn't seen you, Stefan. He doesn't know you, the real you."

"This is the real me!" he screamed at her.

"No!" she snapped, disgusted. "This is the human you. This is you, clinging desperately to the past. This is you, living in your own appointed shadow. Humans are insignificant blips in the life of a vampire, yet you cling to them like their lives are important. Do you take such care with the ants under your boot or the animals you feed on?" she grabbed his chin, forcing him to look at her. "You're a vampire, Stefan. You're strong. You're not a weak human anymore. You are immortal. When are you going to stop lying to yourself? When will you recognize where your true life lies?"

"I hate you," Stefan hissed at her with hate and vehemence.

She released his chin. "You loved me once, Stefan. You can again."

Stefan gave a bitter laugh. "That love was shit. That love was for a lie—YOU WERE A LIE! I didn't know you, just the show you gave me. The same mask you played for everyone. Not the vindictive, spiteful, jealous, manipulator that you truly are."

"I love you, Stefan."

"You keep saying that, but everything you do keeps contradicting that statement."

"I'm not perfect, Stefan. Okay? I was human once and I wasn't perfect and when I turned those imperfections magnified."

"You played with me and Damon like we were toys. Pitted up against each other--"

"I was stupid, Stefan. I was afraid. How you made me feel, I never felt that before. I was scared, you scared me, so I hid. But I never compelled you to love me, that was all you. I only compelled you not to be afraid."

"Did you ever compel Damon?" he challenged.

"No. I didn't have to."

"See? Right there. Have to. You might not have compelled me to love you, but you compelled me to forget about a crucial feeling I felt toward you. I was scared to death of you, but you compelled me not to be afraid. I fell in 'love' because I didn't fear you, and I didn't fear you because you compelled me not to. It wasn't real. It was a manipulation of love. Maybe it could have been real if you had let me fall out of fear of you on my own and fall back in love with you. But you didn't. You manipulated my emotions. It was never real."

She starred at him, her eyes wide and burned with unshed tears, her breath hitched. "This, this is why I turned it off. So I wouldn't fool myself into thinking I could love and have love and not get burned by it. I can't trust anybody, nobody can be trusted."

He stared at her with pity for only a moment, before his lips curled. "You're wrong. You're just unlovable." He dealt the final, harsh blow. As soon as the snarl left his lips, he knew he'd made a big mistake; he'd let his emotion overwhelm him and it was going to cost him. He could see it in her brown eyes, as the heartbreak melted away, to be frozen over with unfeeling as she flipped her switch.

"Mm," she turned from him, walking over to the wall partition by the kitchen and bent, picking up the blood-stained, wooden spoon stake from the floor.

He watched her carefully as she stroked it teasingly as she slowly circled him. He felt her as his back, waiting with bated breath for to just stake him already(!), but that was too simple, too kind for no humanity Katherine Pierce, or even if she still had her humanity switch on. It was a long moment before he felt the point of the stake pressed with enough pressure to pinch under his jaw and started. She drew it enticingly down his taut throat.

"Remember that time you stabbed me in the back?" her whispered breath was hot as she pressed her face against his cheek and he turned his face away.

A second later the stake withdrew and he let out a shout as she stabbed him in the back through the lattice in the back of the chair in roughly the same spot he had her under the ribcage, but instead of an upward angle toward his heart, her angle was straight and true, just managing to scrape the underside of his lung. The spoon handle was just long enough to almost reach the other side of his torso, but not quite. Stefan could feel it scrape and prick the inside of his skin, with every shuddering breath as he tried to control the pain, moved the wood handle inside him, threatening to break through, but not quiet. The bulb of the serving end wedged against the tight lattice, pinioned him. He clenched his jaw, feeling his fangs bite into his lips as he swallowed the moan of pain and regulated his breathing.

"Well, this is thirsty work," she dusted his shoulders a little roughly, jostling him and to her enjoyment, unable to bite back the whimper this time. "Want some blood, Stefan?"

He didn't turn to watch as she went into the kitchen, but focused on listening to try and mute the pain as she got a fresh glass from the open shelf, went into the fridge for a bag of blood, tore it open and filled the glass. He could immediately discern the scent of the human blood over his own blood and sweat even before she returned. He squeezed his eyes closed as he felt them start to turn, fighting it. He was hurt and he was hungry and he wanted that blood so badly, his predatory survival instinct didn't give a fuck about his abstinence on the matter.

Katherine wouldn't give it to him, it would strengthen him, but she could also give it to him because it would break him, which could also backfire on her because one taste of human blood and he would go Ripper and in this situation, he might just let himself just so he could kill her—and he would, over 500 or not, the Ripper was a true vicious monster.

He opened his eyes to see her standing several feet in front of him, observing him as she casually sipped from the full glass. "I bet you'd be more fun on human blood." He growled low in warning at her, his top lip peeling back and revealing his fangs. "Don't worry, blood monster, that would be too easy." She took a slow, last drink of blood, slowly licking her red lips clean. "No, I have a better idea to keep you occupied and me entertained." She pulled out a small glass vial filled with clear liquid and showed it to him; he knew immediately what it was without her saying: "Liquid vervain, nasty stuff as you know." She carefully untwisted the black cap with her finger and thumb of the same hand, dropping the cap to the floor. He watched as she upended the entire vial into the half-glass of blood in her other hand, the substance spitting a little at the toxic mixture of enemy elements before dropping the empty vial too.

His eyes widened in horror as she approached with the glass of tainted blood; did she mean for him to drink that?! "No! Get that away from me!" he instinctively tried to get away, only cry out at the self inflicted pain he caused himself, forcing him to still.

"Not that either," Katherine chided with a smirk, reading him clearly. "Chin up, Stefan. Show me that grand posture," she put her finger under his chin, forcing him to raise it. And then set the base of the glass on his skull. "Don't spill now," her manicure nail nicked his chin on purpose as she released him.

Stefan was taut, his muscled clenched, probably causing himself more pain, but he dare not move now that she released him in fear that unclenching would cause the glass to spill, covering him in human blood and vervain—not a very good combination for him right now. He hardly even allowed himself to breathe.

"Good boy." She started to leave. "That's keep you bust while I run a little errand."

"Where are you going?" he demanded through gritted teeth. "You can't leave me like this!"

Katherine paused and turned back, chuckling. "Like you said: I'm a cruel, vindictive, bitch. So that's what I'm going to do, be cruel and vindictive. I'm going to take your life apart, bit by bit, and your going to be stuck here, waiting, wondering... what I did to your precious, delicate loved ones when I come back, covered in blood."

"Katherine!" he screamed after her as she blurred out the house, slamming the front door. "No, no, no!" he immediately stilled as the glass wobbled precariously on his head for a long, anxious few seconds before it settled.

"What is she going to do when she realizes you'll never reciprocate?" Alaric asked.

"She'll kill you. She'll kill Elena. She'll kill everyone I love to make me suffer, show me what it's like to have no one to love me. She'll truly break me. You don't scorn Katherine Pierce and just walk away."

"What did I do?" he whispered in a broken whisper to himself. "What have I done?"

...

He was covered in sweat, he could feel the shakes in his strained muscles, the cramps. He was in constant pain, constant threat of letting that one spasm overtake him and knock the glass over him. Katherine had been gone for hours now, he couldn't see a clock from here, but the length of the sun shining in through the glass sliding doors behind across the blood stained floor told him.

If he could tip his head just right, he could knock it off without getting any on him. But Katherine had positioned it significantly forward on his head, than that sweet spot nearer his crown; he was more than likely to spill the vervained human blood all over his face. Stefan would be less bothered by the possibility if it was just pure vervain. But he needed to take advantage of her time away, try to get free, succeed in getting free, then lie in wait for when the vampire returned from her ruins.

If he just threw his head back, it would spill on him. If he tipped forward, it would spill on him. He closed his eyes. He would have to do it slow, in increments, somehow shift the glass further back on his skull without spilling, so the glass would simply fall and splatter harmlessly onto the floor and not him.

He carefully shifted his head back, hair by hair, his blunt nails digging to the chair arms as he clenched his hands in stress. He could feel it shift, move, slid against his hair, or his focus on it was so raw it just felt like then when truthfully it was probably just going to spill on him any moment now.

So focused, when the front door opened and there was a thud from the front hall, he started. The glass slipped, he felt the edge bump his crown. "Ah!" he cried out as he felt the vervain spatter against the back of his neck, eating his skin. Stefan arched as he felt some of it go passed his torn loose collar and down his back, pain grinded in his abdomen as he slightly dislodged the wooden spoon, layers of his skin stripped away as he pulled against the soaked ropes. The wounds caused by the vervain down his neck and upper back responded to the blood, encouraged to heal, only for the vervain to burn him again in a painful cycle. He was stuck in a momentary pain-fog until Katherine came in and he scented a fresher aroma of human blood, the smell familiar enough and frightening enough to snap his attention to the limp body the petite vampire was dragging behind her.

"No!" Stefan gasped. "What are you doing?" his eyes glued to the senseless teacher on the floor at her feet. "Nonono," he could see the bloodstains on Alaric's shirt, the wound on his head to be deep and too bloody to be anything but fatal. He focused his hearing, but that strong, beautiful heartbeat was absent.

"I thought this would be more fun," Katherine told him. "A live show. What do you think? This is your fault, after all. You brought this on yourself, upon him." She crouched behind Alaric's shoulder, she reached out and stroked a clear patch of his stubble, careful of his vervain-laced blood covering most of his face.

"Get away from him!" Stefan hissed desperately.

"I know you have a weakness for blue-eyed, blond men and it's hard not to get jealous even though you love us brown-eyed, brunettes." She glanced up at the other brunette. "I was even gonna be generous, Stefan. Let you keep him as a concubine to keep you happy. I was willing to do that for you, Stefan. Because I cared, because I loved." She rose to her feet. "Because that's what you do for the people you love; you're the one who taught me that. But you're also not who I thought you were," she whispered harshly to him.

Stefan hardly paid her attention, his green gaze sharp focused on the man as his ears instantly picked up that beautiful beating rhythm in the man's chest. Both delirious with happiness and weighed with dread for the moment the man opened those blue eyes.

Alaric gave a low groan, his skull throbbing. The last thing he remembered was seeing Elena—only it wasn't Elena, but by then the realization was useless. He opened his eyes and the first thing his cleared vision landed on was a concerned-looking, bloodied Stefan, bound to a chair. "Stefan!"

Alaric tried to get to him, but Katherine blurred to stand between them just as he was about to touch the vampire, kicking the teacher viciously in the torso, the force flipping the man onto his back with a couple broken ribs. Alaric wrapped his arms around his ribs, groaning.

"Don't touch him!" Stefan snarled at her, thrashing in the chair, hardly feeling the pain for his anger.

"I'm okay, Stefan. I'm okay." Alaric tried to reassure the vampire. But there was no assurance of that as long as Katherine still had her undead heart in her chest and them at her mercy.

"I tried playing nice, Stefan." She said. "I didn't kill any of your friends—with the exception of lover boy down here. Though I'm pretty sure it doesn't really count, seeing as he keeps coming back for more. A sucker for punishment, aren't you, Ric?"

"Just so I can kill you one of these times, lady." Alaric glared and Katherine just smiled.

"That anger of yours, is going to be beautiful." She blurred to him, grabbed his right arm before he could fight her, dislocated his elbow as he cried out in pain, and broke his right ring finger as she pulled the magic Gilbert ring off.

"Put that back!" Stefan ordered, pulling useless against the ropes. Why couldn't he be stronger?

She left Alaric clutching his arm in pain and approached Stefan. "This is yours now, a little engagement of sorts." She slid the ring on his left hand, onto his ring finger.

"Katherine, what are you doing?!" he demanded.

"Do you, Stefan Salvatore, take Ric to be man you shall never see again?" she didn't wait for his answer before looking to the teacher, "And, do you, Alaric Saltzman, take Stefan to be the vampire you will never be with again?"

"Have you got a screw loose?" Alaric questioned, meeting Stefan gaze.

"I now pronounce you..." her fangs tore into her wrist and she blurred to Alaric, stuffing her bleeding wrist to his mouth before either could react, forcing to dirty-blond to drink. When she pulled her wrist free, he chocked and spat, but it was too late. "Separated forever. I may kill the groom," Katherine quickly straddled Alaric's chest, her small hands wrapping powerfully around his delicate neck and squeezed.

Stefan started thrashing in the chair, no more fucking around. The chair rocked and thumped, but would not break. He toppled over onto his side, the wood cracking, but not breaking, the wooden spoon in his back tearing through his soft and vulnerable insides. "No!" he screamed, "No! Ric!" he pulled and tugged desperately against the restraints. He could hear cracking and was horrified to realize that it Alaric's windpipe being crushed.

The struggle Alaric had put up, already injured, quickly faltered and faded as she squeezed the life out of him. His arms fell limp as his sides, his last living breath was squeezed harshly from him. He lay dead, his heart stopped forever this time, that beautiful music cut off too soon. He would come back again, this last time and if he chose to feed, his heart would hum the tune of the undead.

"No!" Stefan sobbed, staring at his boyfriend helplessly. "No."

Katherine crawled over to him, her chest panting lightly. "Don't worry, Stefan." She murmured, caressing his cheek. "I'll take good care of him."

"Argh!" Stefan roared, tearing the armrest from the chair—just as her hand plunged into his chest and grabbed his undead heart. He sucked in a choked breath, his mouth open as he stilled under her.

He could feel it, the slivers she'd never taken from her palm, for just this very moment, for just this outcome. She would hold Stefan Salvatore's heart in her hand; he could have given it to her willingly, but he had made her come and take it herself.

Alaric lay hidden, prone behind her. The last thing he would see was her eyes in this life, as he started to slowly desiccate. This could not be his end, he could not be the reason Alaric's life was taken away from him, ruined--

And then the most harsh, piercing pain was exploding from his within his brain and he was screaming, and Katherine was screaming, he thought he heard Alaric screaming too, before Stefan knew nothing of this world anymore, this life.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

"Damon!"

Bonnie glared at her best-friend's evil look-alike, refusing to let the tears escape and let the bitch revel in her grief. Instead, stoked the fire of hatred for this vampire and concentrated on keeping the strong monster pinned against the wall with the force of her magic without the help of the Gilbert device to weaken the vampire any longer.

She'd never really used her magic physically like this, or for an extended period of time. It was exhausting, but her fury and sorrow strengthened her resolve.

"Is this it?" Katherine mocked, blood still dripping from her ears and nose, her eyes bloodshot as her body was slower to heal from magical harm. "Are you all I have to look forward to, the wannabe Bennett witch?"

"Shut your mouth, you bitch!" Bonnie hissed and in an act of viciousness she'd never felt cause to feel until now, focused her essence in a small pocket and Katherine gave a cry of surprise and pain as the witch broke her collarbone, the splintered bone poking through the skin.

"You got her?" Damon blurred into the living room, blood staining his upper lip.

"I got her." Bonnie whispered.

They didn't know the range of the completed Gilbert device, only that its magic could incapacitate a vampire, so Damon was forced away, leaving Bonnie as sole infiltrator into the house as long as the device ran. But even 2 blocks away, he'd felt it. It had him on the ground, doubled over in pain, he'd almost blacked out from its power, shouting in pain. His speed seemed to be on the fritz, going in and out, that was why it took his a bit longer to get here.

His sharp gaze took in the room instantly, his gaze sliding over Alaric's prone body, flickering to Bonnie's eyes in assurance, only to stutter at the sorrow, ignoring Katherine altogether—and finally landing on his inert brother. "No no no," Damon blurred to Stefan on his knees, focus skirting in denial as he broke his brother from the restraints, not even reacting to the burn of vervain; pulled the wooden spoon that skewered him through the back of the chair and laid him out on the floor.

"Stefan," he whispered, forced to face the true reality of it as he met his brother's open, unfocused, unseeing forest green eyes. His fingers were like the caress of a feather against Stefan's cold, grey cheek, the desiccated veins raised to the surface. His gaze travelled down over the blood-stained skin, to his torn shirt and the gory hole in his chest.

"Damon?" Bonnie's voiced cracked, breath shuddering. But she already knew the answer.

Katherine was watching Damon's back, a tiny smirk at her lips. His head hung and his shoulders trembled. "Are you crying?"

A tear finally broke free of Bonnie's lashes and trailed down her cheek. Her aloft hand slowly tightened as she gritted her teeth. The magic pinning Katherine tightened, the vampire gasped as the witch was intent of simply crushing her from existence.

"You ugly fucking bitch," Damon hissed. He blurred to her, his hand around her delicate throat, squeezing and Bonnie sucked in a breath, releasing her own crushing hold, but still immobilizing the vampire. Damon's fingers were clawed, piercing Katherine's flesh, but she still smirked as she chocked on her own blood, seeing the turmoil, helplessness, and anger in his beautiful blue eyes.

"Poor, sweet, heroic Stefan." She mocked, blood bubbling at her lips. "He died with a broken heart. It was beautiful, watching his soul shatter through those lovely, expressive green eyes he had. Knowing that I had taken that from him, felt him die in my hand--"

Damon slammed her. "His heart's still in his chest."

Bonnie's gaze was drawn from the vampire's smirking face, down to her bloodied hand as it clenched into a fist. "Her hand,"

He glanced down at the brunette's side, to the bloodied fist that murdered his little brother. He grasped her wrist, the pressure of his grip crushing the bones in her wrist and making her grimace as he rose it. He released her neck, he didn't bother asking, he just pried her thumb back until the digit gave and broke.

"I could have given him everything." She told him as Damon started on her index finger, breaking it at each joint, three successive crack-pops that made her grunt at the sharp pain. "He only had to give me the one thing I asked for." He broke her middle finger the same. "But he was selfish so I took it from him instead," her ring finger. "And now... he can't give it to anyone anymore." She grinned, even as Damon broke her pinkie sideways so it lay against the edge of her palm. And even as her hands tried to heal itself, there was one piece that never could, not with a mortal element embedded beneath the skin of her palm.

"You put splinters in his heart," he uttered.

"I just gave the metaphorical favour into a more literal return,"

Damon's fangs flashed and he snarled at her, his hand plunging into her chest without warning, fingers clawed around her undead heart. She gasped, strained. "You can rot in Hell, alone and unloved for all of eternity, Katerina Petrova."

Bonnie barely stopped herself from flinching back at the crunching sound as Damon jerked his arm back and tore her undead heart from her chest. She watched the vampire dry out and desiccate, her true-face fading, a mirror image of Stefan, pinioned by an invisible force to the wall like a butterfly on display. There was a terrible squelching sound as the raven vampire squeezed his fist, turning her heart into a gory pulp before dropping it carelessly on the floor.

The witch just stared for a blank moment before she exhaled, releasing her magical hold and stumbling back a step. Damon stepped out of the way as Katherine crumpled to the floor. But he wasn't finished yet. Putting a boot to her chest, he grabbed her under the ears, and with a roar, his vamp-face flashing—he tore his sire's head from her shoulders.

Bonnie turned away, one hand to her stomach, the other to her mouth, gagging.

"Ding dong." Damon's voice was toneless. "The bitch is dead." Wiping his hand clean, he crouched by his brother. "I'm so sorry, Stefan." He gently scooped him into arms and carried him from the house; he wouldn't allow that bitch to be near him a moment longer, dead or not. He laid Stefan in the backseat of his car, pressing his lips to the grey forehead before he closed the door. He came back into the house to find Bonnie kneeling worriedly at Alaric's side.

"He doesn't have his ring," she looked up, holding the dirty-blond's right hand. "But he reacted to the Gilbert device."

"He's in transition," Damon hauled the man up, throwing him over his shoulder in a fireman's hold. "She took his ring, feed him her blood, and killed him in front of Stefan. She broke him by dooming the man that he loved." He turned his gaze from Bonnie's trembling hues, to the corpse on the floor. "Burn her, Bonnie. Burn her to Hell. Burn her from existence."

Bonnie nodded, firm-lipped as she turned to the body, Damon leaving to put Alaric in the car as well. The witch focused, chanting. A flame burst into existence of the vampire's body, and quickly caught, consuming. Bonnie watched for a moment before slowly backing away, chanting harder, faster—the flames grew, spread, crawled up the wall, spread across the floor, the vampire blood catching and fuelling the fire like an accelerant. She was about to leave as the flames started to lick across the roof of the front hall, when she noticed the things by the door—Stefan's things. His jacket, his buckled boots, his wallet on the table. She quickly grabbed it all into her arms, slamming the from door as the flames reached for her. Scrambling backward, she chanted a containment spell that would keep the fire from spreading to the neighbours in the closing day.

She crossed the street to where their cars were, pressing her nose into the collar of Stefan's jacket. It smelled like him; the woods, parchment, a faint peppermint. Fresh tears clouded her eyes. Her gaze was jerked up as Damon slammed the driver's side door.

"Hey, where are you going?"

He just shook his head, the engine turning over and tires squealing as he sped away. She stared after them. Damon was leaving it to her to break to Elena (who had only stayed away because Damon had literally locked her down in the cellar at the Boarding House) that Stefan was dead and Alaric was in transition of becoming a vampire. She couldn't blame him, he just lost his brother, he wouldn't have the capacity to deal with Elena's grief.

Bonnie quickly got into her Prius as she heard sirens in the distance, the fire finally noticed by the neighbours as the roof caved in under the magically influenced fire, carefully setting Stefan's belongings in the passenger seat.

...

Damon didn't return to the Boarding House. Instead, he let emotion drive him and he ended up at the quarry. This was one of the brothers' favoured places, he had such fond memories of this place in his childhood, growing up with Stefan. With exception for that one night when Damon had vowed to give Stefan an eternity of misery.

Damon picked his brother up in his arms and carried him to the water, carefully laying Stefan on the long, soft grass bed with a clear view of the darkening evening sky. He just wanted to collapse alongside his brother, but he knew Stefan would be more comforted with Alaric laying by him, too, so he went back to the car and dragged Alaric's limp body next to Stefan's, then laid on his other side. His baby brother was dead, it was something he could not fathom, not after 145 years of him being virtually immortal. Not after everything they had been through to finally get to this point in their relationship.

He heard Alaric's heartbeat moments before the man woke up. It would continue to beat for about the next 24 hours, weakening with each hour if he didn’t drink human blood to complete the transition to a full vampire, until he faded into darkness and death.

Alaric bolted upright with a startled shout, hand going to his throat with wide eyes. He should be dead, he should-- he quickly looked at his right hand, his finger absent the Gilbert ring. "No," he wasn't alive, he wasn’t dead either, he was in transition. Katherine fed him her blood, then killed him. "Stefan." He finally noticed in confusion his change of surrounding, then noticed the two brothers at his side. Stefan was prone, but Damon was looking at him with an emotionless mask, his eyes seeming too wide, too raw in the fading light. "No." He said again, shifting to the still teenager. Alaric put a hand on his sternum, but his chest didn't rise. His chest... with abstract horror, his hand shifted to the dark, gapping wound in Stefan chest. "No!" he grabbed the vampires face, lifting it and he made a strangled sound in his throat at the lifeless eyes that stared back; they were just empty, there was no love or teasing or laughter or care. "Stefan," he choked, tears dripping from his eyes and onto the teen's grey skin, to run down the sides of his cheeks like Stefan was shedding tears, too. "You were supposed to rip her heart out, not the other way around."

Alaric bowed over the brunette, resting their foreheads together, his eyes closed. His body thrummed, he felt gutted, his muscles sore. His jaw ached like he'd had a root canal without any morphine. I'm sorry. I was there and I didn't help you. I'm supposed to be a vampire hunter and I couldn't kill the one vampire that needed killing. He pressed his lips to Stefan's before he rose his head, and thumbed Stefan's cheeks dry from his tears. He looked over at the other vampire.

Damon pulled his knees to his chest like he was a child. He remember what it was like without Stefan, he could not take that now. He was aimless, he'd lost his only family, his only brother of the past 162 years of his life. He'd only had seven years of his life where Stefan hadn't been alive, hadn't been born yet—they were insignificant, forgettable. His life only truly started when his baby brother came into it.

"I vowed to this pink, wriggling being that I would take care him." Damon spoke out into the water, pulling his brother’s cold, limp, right hand into his lap, "I'd only just met him, but it felt like I'd known him my entire life. The second he blinked those forest green doe-eyes at me, there was no doubt to me that he was the thing, the person, that I would love most in this shitty world.

"I just had to do one thing, one thing right... keep him safe, keep him alive and I couldn't even do that. Dear Drunk Daddy was right... my existence held no value if I couldn't do that one damn thing right!" he shouted it despairingly into the falls. "I had all this time, by some miracle, I was given this extra time and I did nothing but use it to hurt him. My baby brother, whose only fault was having me for a big brother and finding it in that big heart of his to love me anyway. I destroyed him--"

"You didn't--" Alaric whispered.

Damon’s head snapped to him, his blue eyes bright with tears. "What do you know?" he snarled. "You've known him for a month. Your just some fucking... asshole that he gave his heart to and would blame himself for what happened to you because he would think if he'd never met you, this never would have happened." He turned to Stefan, "You're a real fucking martyr now, aren't you? This is your wish fulfillment finally come to pass, huh, Saint Stefan? You fucking selfish bastard!" he grabbed fistfuls of the already torn and bloodied shirt, shaking his brother. "I told you to get your ass home, Stefan. Why didn't you come home, baby brother? Why?" he howled his anger, his frustration, his anguish.

"I can't do it without you, Stefan." He didn't want to, he couldn't face it, not without knowing that his baby brother wasn't somewhere out in the world, stalking hapless bunnies and writing in his millionth journal to date. They were supposed to go together, that had been the deal all that time ago, hadn't it? But Stefan had pulled them toward the living, had changed the rules. "We were supposed to have an eternity together, you can't just go back on your word now."

He looked up, almost startled as Alaric grabbed a fistful of the material of his jacket, like an anchor, his blue eyes mirrored the vampire's. "Tell me you killed her, Damon. Tell me you fucking ripped her heart out. That she didn't get away with breaking and killing the kindest, strongest man we know. Can you tell me that?"

"Yes," Damon told him firmly. "I ripped that bitch's heart out and crushed it in my hand until it was nothing more than a bloody clump of papier-mâché. I tore her head from her shoulders and Bonnie burned her from existence, burned that entire place to the ground."

Alaric gave a short nod. "I was there. He was alive and I was there and I was useless. I only caused him more pain, more suffering before she killed him. Fuck, Damon. I'm so sorry, man."

Damon looked at him. "You're not going to complete the transition, are you?"

Alaric looked at him in surprise. "You think I should?" Damon didn't answer and Alaric looked down at Stefan. "I told him that I didn't think I could be a vampire, that I wanted it, couldn’t even contemplate it, but I wanted to be with him. But he still wanted to be together,"

"Sounds like him," Damon murmured wryly.

"He told me once that he wouldn't wish vampirism on anyone, that he wish he'd known that before it was too late, before he killed your father, made you complete the transition. But if Stefan were alive... I would fucking take it with both hands. But without him," he shook his head. "I know how this sounds—we've only been together officially for 2 weeks—but love doesn't have bounds, it can't be confined—I would do it for him, but why the fuck would I want to do this shit without him?"

Damon stared at his brother. "Yeah."

"Why are we out here?" Alaric finally asked quietly. "Why aren't we back at the Boarding House?"

He looked up into the sky. "It felt right. We began here, it only seemed right to end it here." He sat back and there was silence between enough for the sun to finally set, the sky to darken and the full moon and stars to reveal themselves.

Alaric suddenly perked up from where he was allowing himself to simply, silently, slowly fade away. His heart felt heavy and slow in his chest, even as senses were bright, like a constant surge of adrenaline making him antsy. "Christ," Alaric inhaled deeply, his mouth watering at the alluring scent, "Is that--?"

"Blood." Damon blurred to his feet, facing the direction of wood. Someone was coming.

Bonnie came into view with the moonlight from the shadows of the trees, her chest was heaving, the scent of blood thick. She looked manic tramping through the underbrush toward them. He reached out to steady her as she seemed to stumble, but to his confusion, she dodged him, her expression intent—and tackled Alaric instead.

"Bo-- Mmph!" Alaric was cut off in surprise as the witch shoved her bloodied wrist into his mouth. He swallowed the mouthful of her hot delicious blood involuntarily. The pain in his gums intensified acutely and his new fangs snapped down in relief. He grabbed her arm and she grimaced as his fangs pierced her delicate skin, but let him drink, watching his face transform with his complete transition into a full vampire with the link of her blood.

"What the hell, Bonnie!" Damon managed to tear them apart, pulling the teenager away and leaving the new vampire on the ground, putting himself between the 2 as he kept a wary eye on the bampi and quickly shoved his own bloodied wrist against the witch's mouth, making her drink and heal.

Alaric licked his lips and chin clean of blood, relishing the delicious taste, his thirst both quenched and awakened at once. He sucked the blood from his teeth, all the previous pain vanished; he felt like he was 20 again, and then his tongue traced his fang, his eyes snapping open and returning to their normal blue with horror. "What did you do?" he shouted at Bonnie, jumping to his feet and startled to find it happen in a blink.

"Saving your life," she wiped Damon's blood from her lips with a grimace.

"You turned me!" he snarled in anger, his fangs snapping at her. She took an involuntary step back, but Damon already had the teacher on the ground before it was necessary.

"Calm down!" he growled, his own fangs free, shoving the dirty-blond into the ground as he instinctively fought back. "Ric!" he snapped.

At the sound of him name, Alaric just seemed to drain. Damon rarely called him by his real name, let alone his preferred abbreviation. "She turned me, Damon," he uttered in shock. "I'm vampire. I can't be a vampire."

"I know... You good?" he asked.

Alaric was quiet for a moment, panting. "I don't know. Yeah, I guess."

Damon didn't look convinced but he climbed back to his feet, watching the dirty-blond roll onto his back and sit up, but move no further than that, looking a bit shell-shocked. "Want to explain what the you think you're doing?!" The raven vampire spun on the witch, who was kneeling by Stefan's left shoulder.

"Saving their lives," she answered.

"Stefan's dead, Bonnie." He told her harshly. "There's no coming back from that. He's gone!"

"You're wrong!" she stroked Stefan’s mussed bangs from his forehead. "I can bring him back."

"What are you talking about?" he grabbed her shoulder.

Bonnie looked up at him. "I communed with Emily," she said. "She told me how, she's going to help me bring him back from the Other Side."

Damon released her but scoffed in disbelief. "Just like that, she's gonna help us bring back Stefan. I thought that was against balance of nature that you witches are so obsessed about?"

"It is... but Stefan's different."

"What do you mean?" Alaric crawled over to Stefan's legs.

"Emily said," she looked between the two men, "She said that Stefan is special, like Elena is special."

"You mean, he's a doppelganger, too?" Alaric glanced up at Damon, who just shrugged in confusion.

Bonnie nodded. "He existence, his birth, it was a supernatural occurrence. Shadow-selves were created to keep nature's balance since the beginning. His blood, his human blood, holds magical properties that the dark magic of vampirism neutralized. That's what I’ll draw on. I can bring him back, Damon! Are you really going to stop me?"

"No." Damon whispered. "Do it, Bonnie."

Bonnie nodded and turned her attention back to Stefan. "The Gilbert Ring, created by Emily's magic, it's her link to him and by turn my link." She moved his left hand to rest on his abdomen, grasping his ringed hand tightly; her other hand over the open wound of his heart. Inhaling deeply, closing her eyes, she focused her magic and started a low chant.

She drew from the magic in her blood, from the earth beneath her, the air that surrounding them. She channelled her powerful ancestor’s magic, through the link of the ring, through herself and back into the brunette.

Alaric and Damon stared, gazes transfixed on the still, grey body of the man they loved, both in different ways, but neither less powerfully. And then, as Bonnie felt warm blood dribble from her nostril in exertion as she harnessed and used more magic than she was used to, water started to bubble and leak from Stefan's mouth.

"Stop!" Damon told her in fear, watching as water continued to spill from Stefan's lips, but was frozen to the spot.

But Bonnie didn't stop, she chanted harder, more powerfully, drawing deep into her magic, her voice and essence swarming with her Emily’s on the Other Side, around Stefan, drawing him here, from there—anchoring him.

tbc...

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Stefan woke up into his afterlife in the place his human life had ended; in the Mystic Falls wood, on a now overgrown carriage path, killed by his father and at his brother's side. It was disorienting and he felt himself checking for a gunshot wound for a moment instead of the hole where his heart was supposed to be—to both his relief and concern, he found neither. His clothes were clean and whole, not a mark on them, same as his chest.

Everything was the same, but different. It was like the world was washed-out, like he had a film over his eyes. He wasn't fully understanding or accepting, and he blurred through the entire town, looking for Damon, Alaric, Bonnie, Elena—anyone, but there was no one, no people, no animals, no life. It was disserted, a Ghost Town with only him as the sole occupant. He even searched neighbouring counties, but it was the same.

He was really dead.

He found himself back in the woods, on the cliff that overlooked the quarry. He and Damon used to dare the other to dive off when they were teenagers. Stefan had never been able to do it, not until Damon joined the Confederate Army when he was 16 and they spent their last day together before Damon shipped out, to show his big brother that he didn't have to worry, Stefan could be brave too.

Stefan dropped to his knees, slumping to the ground, his new reality a suffocating blanket wrapped around him tightly. He was dead and he was utterly alone. It seemed fitting, 145 years in coming. He'd cursed Damon with an undead life because he couldn't be without his brother, couldn't go it alone. He was always braver with Damon than without.

Maybe if Alaric decided to complete the transition, he and Damon could take care of each other, look out for each other. Even though he could never know that real truth of it, Stefan found the thought comforting anyway.

Katherine had only done it to punish Stefan, he was to blame for this. All of it. Katherine was only here because of him, and whether that was the real truth of it, he didn't think he would ever truly know, but she had wanted him, he refused, broke her heart that he hadn't even realized she actually possessed until she flipped her switch.

He whimpered, arms wrapped around his middle, doubled over. It wasn't because he was dead, that should have happened back in 1864 with Damon, but because he could never know. Had Damon, Bonnie, and Elena managed to kill Katherine? Would Alaric fade into death like he should have let Damon and himself? He hoped someone remembered to feed Salvatore.

"Stefan."

Stefan's head snapped up and he fell back in shock, looking up at one of the last people he ever expected to see. "Emily," Stefan said in surprise, startled to see the dead witch and further confused and frightened.

"Yes."

Stefan blurred to his feet and wrapped her in a desperate, relieved hug. She was solid and real against his chest. He realized this was the most intimate he had even been with the witch and reluctantly released her, taking a sheepish step back. "You're here. How?" he wondered.

"Witches have the power and influence to move around the Other Side, it is how the balance is kept." She answered. "I am sad to see you here, Stefan."

"Katherine killed me."

She nodded. "I am aware."

"I didn't expect to see you," he returned. "I thought, after you destroyed the pendant to stop Damon from opening the tomb that you..." he waved his hand in mild confusion.

She gave him a look of amusement. "Soon,"

There was silence and she just patiently watched him, Stefan fought the urge to squirm. This had to be the oddest thing to have happened to him. Here he was, dead, talking to a dead witch, in the afterlife.

"I'm sorry," Stefan suddenly blurted.

"Why?" she titled her head in confusion.

"You died because of me." He swallowed. "I killed Jonathan Gilbert, but he came back and he burned you at the stake."

"My death had nothing to do with you, Stefan." She corrected him. "I was the one that gave Mr Gilbert the power that he needed that lead to my death."

"Your magic is what saved him and he used that gift to hurt you."

"The world is not fair. We all pave our own paths and whether that leads to our future or our demise, is up to us."

"I don't want to sound rude or ungrateful, but... why are you here?"

"I spoke with Bonnie."

Stefan straightened. "You did? Does that mean she's okay? Everyone else? Alaric, he--"

She rose a hand and silenced him. "They are all right, you will see them soon."

"But you said they were okay!" he panicked.

"Yes."

"But--"

"Come with me," Emily told him. Stefan followed in a bit of shock. She stopped near the edge of the cliff, the narrow falls several feet from them. He looked out across the water and though he saw something, maybe someone lying on the shore. "Face me,"

Stefan immediately responded to her quiet authority, turning to face her behind him, his back to the quarry. He tried look over his shoulder at the shore again but his attention was redrawn as he felt the warmth of her palm as she laid it on the bare space of his chest over his dead heart through the tear in his shirt hadn't been there a moment ago.

"You are a good man, Stefan Salvatore. I have faith that the path ahead of you is a fair one. You had done your fair share of pain and suffering onto others but as you know, you take their pain as your own, you seek redemption. You are all the good to the beast you were born to emulate and be punished for."

"I don't understand," he confessed.

She gaze him no verbal response and instead, he felt the magic suddenly gather around her, pulled from the very air. He could feel it. It built up, seized him. She said nothing, but for a moment, he thought he heard Bonnie's voice echo through the woods before there was such an incredible pain through his chest. He grunted, strained, his hand wrapping around her wrist, not trying to tear it from him, though he didn't think he could if he tried, but to tether himself.

Emily didn't grant him reprieve, didn't accept his resistance. "Take care, Stefan Salvatore." The magic sang through his pores, revived his blood with lightening snaps. It blew him off his feet, her wrist slipping from his hand, and over the cliff edge.

"Emily?!" he screamed in confusion and fear. He watched her figure vanish in a splash of warm light, before he hit the surface, dark water closing overhead. He tried to swim to the surface, but it was like some invisible force was dragging him down. His breath escaped him, water took its place. Frozen water that seized his lungs, darkness closed at him, clawing at his throat, at the water. He was drowning! He didn't understand, he was dead, he couldn’t die again. But just as soon, he was clawing up the shore, grabbing desperately at the socked foot in front of him--

...

Stefan sputtered, spitting up a fountain of metallic tasting water, on the cold ground as his lungs heaved to expel the unwanted material from his body. There were multiple hands, multiple voices all colliding as he was forced on his side, coughing and hacking what seemed endless amounts of cold water, his vision blurry, a fog in his head.

He lay there, heaving, feeling weak and shaky. His throat burning, his chest burning, his lungs burning. Everything ached and suddenly the hands were too much! He growled his displeasure, shoving the endless hands away, somehow managing to stumbled to his socked feet in the flattened grass amid protests, hand to his head, hand to his chest.

"What's going on?" he croaked, trying to clear his eyes, head darting in confusion. His clothes were bone-dry but for the water he'd spit up over himself, which confused him more. Hadn't he been drowning? But that didn't make sense. He shook his head and pushed it away for now as his vision cleared. The first clear sight he had in the moonlight was the witch. "Bonnie?" she nodded, watching him carefully. And then Damon came into focus, his expression unreadable. Stefan's eyes widened, "Ric?!"

"Right here," came the whisper behind him. Stefan spun around too fast for his body and stumbled, Alaric quickly reached out and steadied him, keeping the teen in his arms. "Hey."

Stefan reached up with trembling hands, tears burning his eyes. "I don't-- I thought-- you--" he stopped as his gaze caught the ring on his left ring finger—the Gilbert ring. He felt bile in his throat as it crashed on him. "No," he choked. "No!" his knees gave and he would have fallen to the ground had Alaric not tightened his hold, pressing him to his chest.

"I'm okay," he hushed. "It's okay."

"No!" he moaned. "She feed you her blood, she killed you. She--" his eyes widened and he suddenly shoved the dirty-blond away with strength he shouldn't have possessed, somehow managed to stay upright himself, his breath heaving as he suddenly scrambled at his chest. "She took my heart!" but his chest was whole, pale skin smeared in dried blood. It felt like he was sucking in breath through a pinhole, feeling dizzy.

Another pair of hands caught him this time as he wavered, slowly lowering him to the ground. "Easy," Damon said.

"I think he's in shock," Bonnie said.

"I would be too," he said drily, quickly stripping from his black leather jacket and wrapping it around his brother's shoulders. "Just breathe, Stef."

"I don't understand," the brunette confessed, staring at his brother's pale face looking dim in the moonlight crouched next to him. "She had my heart in her hand, she had it, Damon. I was dead. Are you dead, too?"

"We're alive, or as alive as vampires can be." Damon assured. "Bonnie brought you back, but she never got your heart, Stefan." He took his brother's hand and pressed his palm to his chest through the tear in his shirt. "That's right here. Safe and sound where it should be."

Stefan nodded along to his brother's words, calming even though he didn't quite comprehend all of what he was saying, only to let out an exclaim as he felt movement beneath his palm. "What was that?" he cried in confusion.

"Don't freak out," Damon ordered.

"I feel weird. I feel wrong. What happened to me?"

"You're perfectly fine--"

Stefan shook his head. "Something's wrong, I don't feel right."

"Stefan, hey." His focus was suddenly turned as he felt warm hands on his chilled face and his attention was on Bonnie, kneeling at his side. "I know this is confusing, I know you're really freaked out right now. But I need you to focus and breathe, okay?" Stefan nodded, breathing slow, if jerky breaths as he looked into her calm chocolate gaze. "Good. By the time Damon and I found you, Alaric was already in transition and you were dead."

"She had slivers in her hand," he whispered, remembering.

Bonnie nodded. "Damon killed Katherine."

"She's gone?" he gave a shaky exhale.

"Forever." She agreed. "But you were dead," unshed tears pricked her eyes in remembrance. "And that was unacceptable. So, with Emily's help, I brought you back from the Other Side. And here you are,"

"You brought me back," he whispered in awe.

Bonnie gave a watery chuckle. "Yeah. Alive, whole... and human."

"What?" he couldn't have heard her right.

"Human, Stefan. This, right here?" she put her palm to his chest. "What you felt, was your heartbeat."

Stefan looked down at her hand on his chest, moving with his breaths. He held his breath and her hand stopped moving. He held his breath and it was almost 30 second before he started to feel the strain on his still recovering lungs. He held his breath and as it neared 1 minute, he started to hear his heart thumping behind his ribcage. He held his breath and he realized the truth. And then he couldn't hold it anymore and he gasped, sucking in gulps of much needed air. He breathed and he had a heartbeat in his chest to keep him living... and it was wrong.

No. He looked over Bonnie's head at Alaric who was the farthest away and the one Stefan wanted the closest. He was keeping his distance because he was a vampire now and Stefan was human. Stefan took Bonnie's wrist and gently pulled her hand from his chest, and clambered to his feet, Damon's jacket falling off his shoulders. He approached Alaric carefully, for each of them, stopping in a patch of frozen damp earth, several feet separating them but it felt like a chasm as the newly turned vampire held himself very still, taut, chest unmoving.

Stefan wanted to throw himself at the teacher, wrap him in his arms, safe, never let him go; beg him for forgiveness for putting this curse at his feet and taking a beating heart for himself.

Alaric must have seen it clearly on his face with his new sharp, keen sight, while Stefan could hardly seem to make his out in the night, despite the full moon. "You didn't do anything, Stefan." He promised, but the assertion of blamelessness rang something else in the teenager.

Stefan inhaled sharply. 'You didn't do anything, Stefan'. It cut into his heart severely. "I know," he whispered, giving a wan smile. I couldn't do anything. I wasn't strong enough. And now I'm even more useless than before. "I thought you should have this," he twisted the daylight ring from his right middle finger, "You have more use from it now than I do." He took Alaric's hand and slid the old ring back onto his middle finger to replace the other. Stefan pressed his lips to his knuckles and Alaric's fingers silently tightened before they released.

"Come on, Stefan." Damon spoke quietly behind him, holding open his jacket. "Put this on and let's get back home."

"Okay," Stefan whispered, tearing his gaze from Alaric's shadowed face and put his chilled arms through the sleeves, Damon pulling it up around his shoulders. When the teen fumbled with the zipper, his brother zipped it patiently for him like he always ended up fixing the buttons on his jacket when they were kids, despite that being what the nanny was for.

They hadn't even made it to the path in the trees before Stefan stepped on a small stone and yelped, hopping.

"I have your boots in my car," Bonnie remembered.

"And you didn't think to bring them?" Damon said.

"I was a little busy bringing him back to life, that was a little more important at the moment."

Damon just sighed. He gave his back to his brother. "Come on, get on."

Stefan felt an abundance of warm blood flood his face. "What?"

"Stefan, just get on my back. I'm not gonna say it again."

Stefan put his hands on his brother's shoulders and hopped onto his strong back. Damon's hands were secure under his knees and Stefan wrapped his arm loosely around the vampires neck, resting tiredly against him. "Thank you," he whispered.

Damon just nodded. It was so odd to feel his little brother's heartbeat thump against his back. The vampire's steps were sure on the darkened path, his vision clear; Bonnie followed close behind and Alaric farther still, like a silent ghost.

"The last time we did was, I was 12." Stefan quietly.

"Yeah, well," Damon said mildly, "I'm not neighing for you." The brunette gave a huff of laughter as they reached the cars.

Damon set him down by the passenger door of his Camaro and Bonnie quickly retrieved his boots from her Prius. Stefan sat on the edge of the seat and peeled his wet, muddy socks from his frozen feet, slipping his bare feet into his boots; Bonnie must have rescued them from the house. Alaric drove with Bonnie, following the Camaro back to the Boarding House and Elena.

"How did Alaric turn?" Stefan finally asked one of the questions that had been eating him.

Damon glanced at him askance. "Bonnie fed him her blood."

Stefan was confused. "She fed him? He didn't--?"

"No. Bon Bon tackled the guy and made him drink. He was pissed, then sullen, then hopeful and desperate when Bonnie said she could bring you back."

"He was just going to fade away, like us, wasn't he?" he didn't need Damon to respond to already know the answer, so the vampire stayed silent. "He never wanted to be a vampire," Stefan whispered.

"I know." Damon grasped the nape of Stefan’s neck, rocking him. "He'll get over it, he's a grown man."

"And me?" Stefan questioned so quietly that his brother would have missed it without his vamp-hearing.

Damon's eyes snapped to him, the Camaro pulling to a stop in the drive. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing." Stefan quickly left the car before his brother could stop him. Headlights flashed as Bonnie pulled in.

Elena was waiting anxiously on the front porch for them, her hands tugged into her sleeves for warmth against the night chill, gnawing on her lip. "Stefan!" she flung herself at him as soon as she saw him.

He grunted as he caught her full weight against him, arms around her as he stumbled back into the car. But her embrace was warm and he rested his cheek against her hair, holding her back. He wished he could listen to her heart, but he made do with the fruity scent of her hair, her breaths warm puffs against his neck.

"Bonnie said you were dead, but then that she could bring you back. I was so scared to believe, but here you are! And she called and said, you were human now?" Elena pulled back to look up at him. "How is that possible?"

"Wrong person to ask," he told her. "I'm still trying to wrap my head around things."

"You're here, that's all that matters." She took his hand and his fingers were ice cold. "You're freezing, Stefan, come inside." She pulled him along, the others following inside, but he quickly halted her.

"You have to invite Ric in, Elena." He looked back at the door to Alaric, lingering, prevented from coming inside by the threshold barrier now that he was a vampire and the house in Elena's name.

Elena's eye widened in understanding and she quickly invited the bampi inside. Alaric slowly stepped through, closing the door. "Come on, Stefan. You need to get warm." She insisted, starting to pull him into the parlor with the blazing fire in the fireplace.

Stefan pulled his hand from hers instead and continued down the hall toward the kitchen where the basement entrance lay. "Ric needs blood."

Damon blurred in front of him, stopping him in his tracks. "You need to shower, change, eat, and sleep, Stefan." He issued. "I'll take care of Teacher."

Stefan stared at his brother for a moment before he looked back over his shoulder at Alaric, who lingered a distance away. The vampire gave short nod and a pallid smile. "It's okay."

Stefan gave a sad sigh and changed his course for the stair, tromping up the steps. He glanced down over the railing from the top landing, but the hall was empty, everyone had dispersed. He closed his eyes, hand tight on the railing, wishing he could extend his hearing, wondered if Alaric was at least talking to Damon if not him. But it was useless. He went to his bedroom, closing the door behind him. Katherine could no longer be an evil presence in his room, his bed, she was gone. But she was a malignant ghost over-hanging their lives still.

Stefan twisted the Gilbert ring on his finger, but did not pull it off. He'd have to ask Bonnie if it still held magic, wondered if it would bring him back to life if he died while wearing it now that he was human and no longer a vampire. Something deep in him was reluctant to take it off. Despite the symbol it permitted, laying on his ring finger where she had placed it. 'I now pronounce you... separated forever.' But instead of separating them by death, Stefan felt the chasm between he and Alaric was formed by life instead. She must be laughing at him from her reserved room in Hell.

He unzipped Damon's jacket and laid it on the foot of his bed, before closing the door to the en suit. He turned the showerhead on and let the water get hot, the room fill with steam, as he stripped from the rest of his clothes, only his boots salvageable. He stepped into the tub, closing the glass door.

Stefan put his hand in the stream and let out a hiss at the near scalding temperature, jerking back, before he forced himself under the spray, fully emerged. He wanted the last few nights sterilized from his skin, so he started to scrub and his skin grew accustomed to the heat. He stepped from the shower when it started to go warm and dried himself, wrapping a towel around his hips and towelled his hair dry so it stuck up every which way. He went to the sink and wiped the condensation from the mirror, staring at his reflection.

His skin was pink and flushed from the heat of the shower, his skin looked alive. Not the pale porcelain complexion that he'd looked at over the past 145 years. Even if he had the water hot enough to scold his vampire skin, by the time he got to the mirror, he would have already healed. So, he didn't outwardly look different now that he was human. He honestly couldn't tell what it felt like, he was exhausted and numb, in shock.

He pulled back his upper lip, revealing his teeth. His vampire fangs were gone but his pointed canines mocked him. His lips trembled. He quickly turned on the tap as tears suddenly clouded his haunted-looking green eyes, unbidden, to cover up any involuntary sounds they might bring with it. There were vampires in the house, they just weren't him any more. How many times did he wish to be human throughout the last 145 years? This was a true miracle, a 1 in a zillion dream come true, so why the hell was he dreading it like it was the curse with every living, buzzing cell in his body?

Bracing his hands on the edge of the sink, it took Stefan several minutes of blurry eyes and a tight chest to calm his erratic breathing and the unexpected sobs. He met his gaze in the mirror, his eyes red-rimmed and chest panting, and swallowed and turned away from the himself. He put on a pair of flannel bottoms, a cotton tee, slipping a sweater on overhead. He leaned against his computer desk to put on socks because he knew if he sat on his bed, everything would catch up with him and his human body would bow under the pressure of enervation and he'd never get up again.

The scent hit him halfway down the stairs, his stomach grumbling in dissatisfied emptiness, startling him so he missed a step, saving himself on the railing as his mouth gushed with saliva. His stomach growled, with want of food. His stomach never growled as a vampire, it was simply a constant hollowness that bayed at him to fill it with human blood and never stop otherwise it would never be satisfied.

Stefan hopped the rest of the way down the stairs, and cut down the hall towards the kitchen where the smell originated. He saw the basement door ajar but was distracted as he stomach gurgled.

Elena grinned at him from where she was getting a bowl down from the cupboard. "Hungry, huh?"

"It smells good," he pouted, sitting on the edge of the stool at the island.

"Sorry it couldn't be something more extravagant, for your first meal as a human." Bonnie told him, turning off the burner flame and ladling the soup into the glass bowl. She set the bowl of soup in front of him with a spoon and Elena slid over a plate of cut toast.

"It's in the cupboard because I like it, Bonnie." He told her, tasking a spoonful, but Elena quickly stopped him. "What?"

"It's hot, dummy. Blow on it unless you want to burn your tongue on the first bite and not even be able to taste it for the rest."

"Right," he mumbled. Stefan could feel their stares as he blew gently on the spoon, the pressure was building. He ate the spoonful of heavy cream tomato soup. He tasted it and it was good, but it wasn't until he swallowed and it hit the empty pit of his complaining stomach that he groaned. He quickly scooped up more, blew, then ate it. The toast found its way into the soup, absorbing it before that found its way into his stomach. Soon, he didn't even have to blow on it, forewent the spoon altogether and slurped it directly from the bowl, barely tasting yet feeling heavy satisfaction at the weight in his stomach.

"I think those compliments go to the chef," Elena told Bonnie.

He put the bowl down, his head hung as he licked the remnants from his lips. He felt like he could weep, no, he did weep. For the first time in a century and a half, Stefan Salvatore's hunger was sated. There was no cloying inside of him of hunger hunger hunger. There was silence, there was satisfaction. It was the most beautiful thing that could have happened to him, and he felt miserable. Why did he get this and Alaric had it stolen away? His shoulders shook.

"Stefan, what's wrong?" Bonnie put a worried hand on his shoulder.

He just shook his head, keeping his face hidden. He swallowed the gag convulsively as his body and mind struggled with the other to keep the food down. "I'm not hungry anymore," he managed. "Thank you." They didn't seem to register the hollow quality to his tone as they took the dishes. The true meaning that lay in his words.

Stefan's head suddenly rose and the girls jumped a little to suddenly see Alaric standing behind the teen, the basement door banging lightly against the wall. Their gazes darted from one to the other and quickly excused themselves from the kitchen.

"Stef?"

"I'm okay." Stefan responded blankly, the same empty blanket response the bampi had been giving him all night. He felt Alaric's hand on his back and bit back the sob, it shuddering through his body. Alaric started to withdraw. "Don't," Stefan pleaded, devastated. "Don't pull away from me."

Alaric palm pressed back into his back. "I'm not, I promise." His hand brushed up the teen's back and he pushed his fingers into the fluffy, brunette locks. Stefan gave a little sigh, leaning into the touch, inadvertently baring his neck to the vampire. Alaric's blue gaze honed in on the supple line like the gently thrumming artery was a beacon, and now, to him, it was.

His hearing automatically tuned into that live, thumping beat of Stefan's heart, that really was one of the most beautiful sounds he could ever have heard, just like the brunette had admitted to him—but it was also alluring, a siren call to his hunger despite him just having fed on 2 pints of blood in the basement from the freezer, he was still hungry. Damon said that was normal for a bampi, a newly turned vampire adjusting to his new nature. Growing pains, where all he wanted to do was drink, was automatically in-tuned to the 3 pumping hearts in the Boarding House. Damon told him it would ease up within the year—a year where so far, his constant fantasy was tearing into teenage necks. Him being a high school teacher, being around a hundred plus antsy, excitable blood bags on 2 legs for 8 hours of stress, 5 days a week it didn't bode for a very well year.

His chest pressed against Stefan's back. He felt the skin around his eyes tingle, a pressure in his gums. The new hungry predator in him snapped to the foreground as his fangs descended, his fingers tightened in Stefan's hair and his breath just brushed against the tissue paper thin skin before he somehow managed to wrench himself away with a growl.

Alaric blurred to the far side of the kitchen, his back to the teen as he tried to breathe, to focus. To will his vamp-face away. He been so close! It made him feel sick and desperate all at the same time. "I just need time to get control, find my balance, Stefan." He squeezed his veined eyes closed.

Stefan stood and slowly approached the vampire, sure to make him aware of the approach. "Ric," the teacher was taut at the palm on the small of his back. "Don't hide from me." He supplicated, his hand moving up his back to his shoulder, gently pulling.

Alaric followed the pressure, but he was still closed off. Lips pursed to cover fangs, eyes closed to hide blood-flushed sclera. But the vampire could not hide the engorged veins under his eyes. Stefan sucked in a shaky breath, not because he was frightened or because he was disgusted (that would have been supremely hypocritical of him), but because it was the stark manifestation of the brunette's worse nightmare come true, right alongside with killing Alaric and that was essentially what occurred. This had come to pass because of Stefan.

"I'm sorry," he breathed. Stefan gently reached up, cupping the teacher's face, his thumbs caressing lightly under his eyes, over the raised veins. All my fault.

Alaric reached up and gently grasped his wrists, his thumb pads resting against the pulse points. "It's not," he whispered, words wisping around his fangs a little that Stefan hadn't noticed before. One didn't usual do talking with fangs out and Stefan found it adorable.

The brunette couldn't help but lean forward and press his lips once again to the fingers wrapped around his left wrist, felt the cool of his daylight ring against his upper lip. "Human or vampire, know that I love you, Ric. Whatever form you come to me as, as long as you'd have me."

Alaric's eyes opened, the blood flowing from his eyes and the rest of his features relaxing back into his face. "Of course I want you, Stefan. I just have to work very hard not to rip into that pretty neck of yours right now." His gaze flickered to it and swallowed, tearing his gaze away before he zeroed in on the teen's pulsing artery.

"I trust you."

Alaric stared back him. "Now I know why you always got so pissed when I said that to you." He told him wryly.

That pulled an involuntary laugh from the brunette and he grinned. "It serves you right... but it still stands. I trust you, Ric."

"Well, I don't trust me right now." Alaric repeated Stefan’s words back to him but they rang just as true here for them as the had for Stefan back then.

Stefan nodded in sad acceptance of this, he understood that feeling.

Within his first kill, within the realization that he'd murdered his father and truly become that monster that the man had tried to kill, Stefan discovered his humanity switch and flipped it without concern, without thought to the consequence. In that precious moment, he simply could not take the shame and horror of it, not only had he murdered someone, but he had committed patricide. No matter the man's past action to his sons, death was never a sensible response—but with his humanity off, the justification became reasonable. Giuseppe Salvatore had shot and killed both of his sons because he had been embarrassed and ashamed they had both fallen in love with the same vampire, and then proceeded to concoct some contrived extravagance for the history books to cover up the family shame. But he had truly been his own disgrace and wickedness that he endeavoured to conceal. Stefan saw no reason to feel remorse, this man had been the real monster. The villain. And so, finished his first feed from the dead man and went to go find his big brother again—but not before compelling a young maid to come along.

Though Alaric's transition had been as unwanted as Stefan's own, and its completion as involuntary as Damon's, no death had occurred because of it. There was nothing to warrant him turning off his humanity switch. But that also didn't negate the fact that all that would be on his mind was blood hunger feed consume kill. Blood would always sing for a vampire, no matter the age; it was just the matter of the vampire's control over the impulse that would let them feel pure ecstasy at the point of achievement. It was about overruling that desire. Alaric was just shy 5 hours of being a vampire and had tendered amazing control thus far. Stefan did not want to be the cause of the shattering to that control.

So he tried to perk up a little with a bit of a twinkle in his tired green eyes, "Does this mean you're going to cook me a fancy dinner then?"

Alaric's brow furrowed in confusion, before realization dawned and it smoothed, the tension around his eyes giving slightly. "Not tonight, but challenge accepted." He agreed.

"Not challenge," he countered with a sly lilt. "A role reversal for a second date."

"I'm probably not a good of cook as you," he warned lightly.

"You just have to be good enough not to give me salmonella," Stefan teased back and the dirty-blond gave a short chuckle with a slight shake of his head. They gazed at each other, green eyes involuntarily flickering down to pink lips surrounded in stubble.

"I want to kiss you so bad," Stefan uttered.

"That's probably not a good ides," Alaric whispered back, eyes trained on his mouth as Stefan bit his lip.

"I know." The desire for sex and blood were closely intertwined in vampires, it was too easy for them to get confused and connected, especially in bampies and especially if it starts out as sex. The arousal responses, especially in a human partner... it all called to the predatory side, like the wails of a wounded animal. It could be just as intoxicating as the scent of blood from a freshly bleeding wound.

And yet... the desire between them magnetized; to touch, to know and they swooped towards each other, the short distance between them. Lips crashed together with bruising force, at least now in Stefan's case. Alaric clutched at the teen desperately, fighting the urge to tear what felt like an unnecessarily thick sweater at the teen's back, needed to feel skin, the liquid warmth that flowed beneath. Stefan gasped into his mouth and Alaric claimed with his tongue.

Stefan tasted what he could only assume was human blood, but he held no hunger for it, just a hunger to taste Alaric. That urge to just somehow consume the man entirely was still there, if somehow, it seemed all the more urgent now. With a growl, Alaric lifted him effortlessly onto the island, shoving the cluttered kitchen knick-knacks out of the way, pushing him flat and shoved his sweater and shirt up his chest.

Alaric pressed his mouth against Stefan's chest, could feel the strong, fast heartbeat thump through his breastbone against his lips. This beautiful beating organ had almost been taken away from him forever. Heat pulsed through his lips, he could feel the ache of his fangs press against his gum, urging him to take a taste of the pure quality blood it pumped so strongly. Stefan dug his fingers into his dirty-blond hair, arching his flushed, panting chest as Alaric kissed and licked his way slowly down his chest. He could feel the light scrape of fangs against his sensitive skin, enticing, making him shiver.

Alaric could smell the teen's lust, the arousal sweat, taste it; could feel the flush that rose to the surface of his skin like a strong perfume. And it made him crave the brunette; made him want blood and cum. Stefan wrapped his legs around the vampire's waist, pulling him flush and rubbing his confined erection against his chest, giving a breathy moan. "Ric."

Alaric's cool hands caressed down his heated flank, fingers pushing into the band of his pants and underwear, pulling down, tonguing every inch of warm skin exposed—intent on freeing the blood-flushed, swollen piece of flesh that lay confined within. Alaric nuzzled into the short and curlies revealed, and Stefan made a mewling sound, pelvis arching up toward the teacher, just one more pull of cloth and his bulge would spring free--

"Ahem!" there was a loud, emphatic clearing of throat from the other side of the kitchen.

Stefan was frozen solid for at the interruption and as Alaric rose his head slightly to glare across at the raven-haired intruder, lips pulled back to show wicked sharp fangs and gave a low snarl of warning.

Damon snorted, unimpressed and unmoved at the threatening display. "Please, I can break you like that," he snapped his fingers in a blur. "You're just a vampire wannabe yet, Ric. So, pack it up, buddy boy."

Alaric continued to glare, breathing deeply, trying to pack away the predatory urge to blur over and snap Damon's neck, before continuing his claiming of Stefan, his. His position over Stefan had transformed into a predatory thing as well, which Alaric didn't like but was having some difficulty pulling out of. Fingers still tangled in the dirty-blond hair, Stefan gave it a tug, managing to draw the blue-eyes to him and from other vampire.

"Just focus," Stefan whispered. "Breathe." He slowly sat up, sweater dropping back into place, blocking the bampi's view of his brother, blocking him visually out of the equation. Alaric focused on his calm forest green eyes, centering himself from violent impulse and his fangs sheathed back into his tender gums. He exhaled and Stefan pulled his hand from his hair so the man could straighten.

"Finished?" Damon interrupted. "Good," he didn't wait for the answer. "I thought I made the following events when we returned pretty clear, Stefan: shower, change, eat, and sleep. Nowhere in there was the word sex. So here I am, this is what you've both reduced me to... the Sex Police. Just call me Officer Cock-Block! 'cause the 2 of you are not having it. Not while you are volatile," he told Alaric. "And you are vulnerable," he addressed Stefan. "So, you 2 can just," he made a parting gesture, "Back away from each other."

"Unless you want to finish that 'teacher's pet' conversation," Alaric informed him dryly, "It's best I don't step away."

Damon snorted but just said: "Bed. Sleep. And do it separately, okay? for everyone's peace of mind."

"Alright, already!" Stefan grumbled. "We get it. Will you please just go?"

"Your right cheek still has that little dimple, huh? Cute!"

"Damon!" Stefan whipped a stray flipper at him over his shoulder, but it was slow and his brother easily dodged it before he blurred down the hall, leaving his laughter behind. Muttering curses after him, Stefan tugged his pants back up with a disgruntled sigh. "This sucks."

"He's right, though." Alaric said.

"That makes it even worse."

Alaric gave a short, depressed chuckle. "I feel like horny teenager."

"I am a horny teenager," Stefan countered. "Your sexual desire is heightened now, just like everything else. I suggest getting a hobby. Food and especially alcohol helps curb the blood craving. I also suggest masturbation, but it's kind of Catch-22."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, it'll just amp you up for a while, you'll have to do it to completion several times in a row before you feel any real abation of the desire. Sex also has the effect of making you want to drink. The two base urges are very intertwined."

Stefan knew all to well the close-cut intricacies of the 2 impulses. That was why he had frequently abstained from intercourse over his tenure as a vampire when his humanity switch was on (but even when he went full Ripper it was all about the blood), because it was all too closely mixed with his urge of bloodlust, could become a hair trigger for the bloodlust. So he would masturbate instead, several times a night to even feel a drip of any true sexual tension release.

"The vampire sex talk from my human boyfriend," Alaric remarked. "Can't say I ever saw this coming."

"Trust me, you'll need it." Stefan slid from the countertop without warning, brushing full length against an unprepared Alaric, still positioned close.

Alaric gripped the edge of the counter. "You trying to get Damon to come back here and snap my neck?" he panted against Stefan's forehead.

"Sorry," Stefan closed his eyes at the vampire's breath against his skin.

Alaric hadn't thought he was a very impulsive man, but he was, wasn't he?

It was impulsive to sleep with Stefan the very first time, back at Duke, when he thought he was an 18 year old human with an interest in attending Duke the following school year. It was impulsive to quit his secure, great paying job as history professor at Duke to move to another city to as a crappy paying high school teacher in the unlikely whim that vampires where actually real. It had been another impulse to sleep with Stefan after coming back to life via the Gilbert ring. Hadn't those been acts of impulse? But wasn't life really just a series of impulses that would either wither and die or take root and bloom into something serious, important, life-altering, life-lasting? Stefan definitely was life-altering and life-lasting.

Alaric finally released the counter and pulled himself back from the intoxicating human. "Separate sleeping arrangements right now sounds like a very good idea."

It really doesn't, Stefan wanted to counter, but just said: "Come on, I'll show y-- wait!" his eyes widened, "What day is it?"

Alaric's eyes crossed to look out the widows over the sink, the sky was just starting to be painted with soft yellows of the sunrise. "Tuesday, morning." He looked back to the teen, "Why--?"

"Salvatore!" Stefan was horrified with himself, he was such a bad owner. He spun on his socked feet around the corner of the island counter, headed for the kitchen door, only his sudden incoordination blindsided him as it had done several times that night since he'd become human and he suddenly found himself tripping toward the open basement door.

Suddenly, arms were wrapped around him tightly in a blur, and Alaric's back crashed against the door frame, not quite having mastered his new high-speed ability yet. "You need to be more careful, Stefan!" Alaric's voice rose with his worry.

Stefan was panting in his arms, chest hammering in his chest; Alaric could feel it acutely through his back, if his own heart could beat now, it would be the same rhyme. Stefan swallowed convulsively, his knees feeling weak; had he almost just killed himself? Doing a header down the basement stairs would have be a inconvenience before, but now it would have been a permanence. Arm still secure around the brunette's chest, he moved them from doorway, shutting the door with his heel. He turned Stefan in his arms and stroked his hair comfortingly as Stefan panted into his neck, shaky.

"You--" his voice croaked around the lump in his throat. "You gotta turn me. I can't do this. I can't be like this!" Stefan cried.

Alaric tightened his hold. "You're alright, Stef. You're okay now. You're just tired. Hush." Alaric had no intention of turning Stefan, other than the fact that they didn't even know if it would put Stefan in transition or simply kill him, the answer was no. Damon had made his own position clear to the bampi while in the basement; this was something they agreed completely and whole-heartedly. Stefan was staying human for a very long time. "Let's get you to bed," he kissed his hair and started to guide him down the hall toward the stair, Stefan face buried in his neck.

"Stefan?" Elena question quietly in the front hall.

Alaric paused and Stefan sniffed, wiping his eyes surreptitiously before he straightened and turned to see the 2 girls ready to leave. "You guys are leaving?" he cleared his throat.

"We need to stop by home, then school." She looked between the 2. "I guess neither of you will be going to school tomorrow?"

"No." Damon appeared, making the 3 teens jolt. "These 2 will be in quarantine here for the rest of the week, at the very least."

"We'll stop by after, later." Bonnie said. "There are probably something’s we should talk about when you're rested."

"And you don't have to worry," Elena assured him. "I've been feeding Salvatore while you were... gone." She finished awkwardly.

"Thank you, 'Lena." Stefan exhaled, giving a small smile at the news. "I was worried."

That was about the only useful thing I could do while she had you, She didn't say. "I was happy to."

Stefan stepped forward and opened his arms, and the 2 teen girls tucked in against his chest, in a three-way embrace. His arms tightened around them and he pressed his lips to Bonnie's hair. "Thank you."

"I'm so glad we got you back, Stefan." Bonnie returned. They parted and the girls left in Bonnie's Prius.

"Go to bed, Stefan." Damon growled at him immediately. "I'm serious, or I'm going to tuck your ass in myself."

"I'm going," Stefan grabbed Alaric's hand, pulling him up the stairs.

"Separately!"

"I heard you the first 3 times!" at the top landing, Stefan lead the vampire down the opposite way to his bedroom. "This is Zach's old room," he turned on the light, the room darkened from closed curtains. "I slept in it for a few days after..." he didn't want to say, but Alaric understood; after he turned off his humanity because he thought he'd killed Alaric. The bed was still messy, stray articles of discarded clothing laying around, his journal on the nightstand. Stefan grabbed it. "It's all your now, unless you--"

"It's fine, Stefan." Alaric assured. "I don't think I'll be able to sleep much anyway."

"Right." Stefan glanced at the floor.

"Sweet dreams, Stef." Ric murmured, cupping the back of his head and pressing his lips to his heated forehead. Had it been that warm before?

Stefan wished desperately to collapse against the vampire but he knew it was impossible at the moment, so he pulled away. "Goodnight," he said at the door, ringed hand on the knob. "Or good morning. Good sleep?" he grimaced, face palming.

"Are you--?" Alaric started.

"I love you," Stefan said suddenly.

"I love you, too." He returned without hesitation.

Stefan nodded and closed the door with a click. He quickly made his way back to his bedroom, fanning his shirt over flushed skin. He easily found his bed amid the dim, despite his now dulled senses and collapsed onto his bed with a groan of depression, rolling up in his blankets and pulling it over his head. It was stuffy but he fell into a exhausted sleep a handful of breaths later.

~ T V D ~

Hunger woke Stefan, the blanket kicked off to the foot of his bed, chilled sweat clinging to his hot skin. He dragged himself from the bed, stumbled around in search for his boots for a minute before he found them in the bathroom amid a pile of soiled and discarded clothing. He pulled them on, almost feeling sick as he bent over.

He staggered from the bathroom to his balcony doors and unlocked them. Stefan squinted into the bright afternoon sun as he stepped out onto the landing. He felt off but it was nothing some blood couldn't fix. Hands on the railing, he lifted his booted foot onto the edge, his eyes fluttering in disorientation. He was about to jump down over the guardrail—when strong arms wrapped painfully tight around him, yanking him forcefully from the railing.

It was severely long moments, held in those arms feeling safe, that Stefan realized he probably shouldn't be so passive after getting grabbed by an unknown, so he squirmed his way free.

"Ric?!" Stefan looked at him in utter surprise and confusion. "What are you--? How did you find me?"

Alaric furrowed his brow in confusion. "Stefan, you--"

"You can't be here," Stefan's eyes were wide with panic. He started to push ineffectually on his chest, "If Damon finds you--"

"Hey, hey." Alaric grasped his arms and it felt like fire lay beneath his sleeves. "You're burning up."

"I'm sorry," he was suddenly docile, letting himself be guided back toward his bed. "I didn't want to leave, but there's always trouble when I stay. The people I love always get hurt." Alaric tucked him under the blanket. "You should go before something bad happens, I couldn't live with myself. Something bad always happens..." he trailed off, his glossy gaze drifting off somewhere else.

"Damon," Alaric called sharply. "Something's wrong."

"You saw Damon?" Stefan perked up. "If he okay? I was supposed to go. I was supposed to help him, but I was scared, I wasn't strong enough. I sent Lexi. He hates me. He--"

"Shhh," Alaric rubbed his chest soothingly. "Damon loves you, Stef."

"He does?" Stefan questioned in a small voice.

"Of course I do," Damon suddenly appeared at the foot of his bed. "Or I wouldn't have put up with you this long."

"He's burning up," Alaric told him.

Damon crawled up the head of the bed, his hand to his brother's sweaty forehead. He hissed at the heat that radiated from his skin, like waves.

Stefan groaned, nuzzling into his big brother's cool palm. "Damon, I don't feel so well. Father said I could finally come along hunting; he's going to think I'm weak."

Damon narrowed his eyes. "You're not weak, Stef. Don't worry about father, I'm going to take care of you. Just go back to sleep, baby brother."

Stefan rolled over, cuddling in his big brother's lap, seeking comfort, clinging to his shirt. "Mm." He exhaled, relaxing back to sleep, face pressed into Damon's stomach.

Damon met Alaric’s gaze, the worry and fear reflected back easily in each burning blue gaze.

[...tbc...]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Damon stared down at him for a moment, thrown back in time when Stefan would get ill and only ever be able to get the rest his body needed if Damon was there to cuddle and comfort. Damon carded his fingers through his brother's sweaty locks, worry engulfing him at the heat, the laboured breaths, all of it. Was the cause nefarious, or innocent? 

"Should we... give him blood?" Alaric sat on the edge of the bed, laying his hand on Stefan's blanket covered hip.

"We don't know how the fuck he'll react to that," Damon answered. "Barring the fact that he was dead and brought back to life as a human, I've never actually healed a person who was ill just physically injured."

"So we treat it like any normal person would, with medicine." The teacher reasoned. He quickly went into the bathroom and returned with a cool, damp cloth. He leaned over and managed to tuck it against Stefan's burning forehead; who sighed.

"Medicine hasn't changed that much then," Damon scoffed.

"Advil will help," Alaric said. "But, the state he's in, he'd never be able to swallow them. Hang on," he went back into the en suite.

"We don't have--" Damon started, but stopped as Alaric came out holding up the bottle. "Why the hell would he have that? It would have no effect on a vampire."

That wasn't the only thing the bampi was surprised to discover going through the medicine cabinet and drawers. It was cluttered with a bunch of products that would be of no use to a vampire, like the Advil and box of Band-Aids, all brand new and un-opened. When Stefan started to stock up more food in the kitchen when they started to date, he must have stocked up on all the other generic things human-Ric might have needed while staying over. It made butterflies flutter in the teacher's chest at such care and thoughtfulness shown toward him that he hadn't felt in a such a long time, if ever. "I'll be back." He blurred to the kitchen and when he came back, it was with a tablespoon.

Damon made his face as he eyed it. "What the hell is that?"

"Crushed Advil, some sugar to cut the bitterness, and water to help it go down." Alaric sat on the bed. "Turn him so he won't choke."

Stefan moaned in discomfort as he was moved, eyes fluttering blurrily.

"Come on, Stef." Damon murmured when his brother tried to bury his face in his stomach again. "You gotta swallow some medicine to get better." Damon titled his head up in his lap, pulling down on his chin to open his mouth.

Alaric carefully spooned the crushed Advil into his mouth. Stefan coughed, swallowing convulsively, his flushed face screwed up, a gag choking him. Alaric massaged his neck and chest soothingly until the teen calmed down. Damon glared at him.

"If you ever tasted Advil without the coating, you'd understand." Alaric took the cloth and quickly re-wet it with cold water.

Damon took it from him and mopped at Stefan's sweaty flushed face and throat. "God damn it, Stefan. There can't just be a moment of peace with you, can it? It's always something with you." He laid the cloth across his forehead again. "He used to get sick all the time when he was a kid; these terrible fevers. They seemed to go away when he hit puberty though." He looked up at Alaric, "Get your phone, call the witch and tell her to get her ass down here. I want to make sure this isn't some bullshit consequence of him being brought back from the dead."

Alaric blurred down the hall to Zach's old room where his cell was. All this vamp-running was starting to wear him, even if they were in small spurts, and his new hunger was starting to rear its ugly head, despite having a bag when he woke (which really meant came out of the room) sometime before noon. So while he called Bonnie, he quickly got and drained a pint; the last thing they needed right now was for him to lose control due to the stress.

Damon tried to shift Stefan into a more comfortable reclining position on the bed under the covers from where the teen was curled up in his lap like Stefan was still a little kid instead of a grown one, but his now human brother clung to him with that same desperation as he had when a child.

Their mother grew ill after Stefan's birth and it was a short and long eight years before she succumbed to what they now called TB. She tried to be there for her children as much as she was able, and when Stefan went through frequent bouts of sickness through his childhood, father kept her away from Stefan and kept Stefan confined to his room with a treatment of nurse maids. Of course, no appointed restriction, especially set by their father, could bar Damon from his baby brother. So, in those weeks of sickness, when Stefan cried out, wracked with fever and sickness, it was Damon that answered to that call.

Stefan made pitiful sounds of protest until Damon gave up and settled again. Damon moved the warm cloth, the fever instantly burned through any cooling factor of the cloth as soon as it touched his brother. Damon started to stroke his hot skin, the teen making a soft sound at the cool touch of the undead.

"Bonnie's coming right now," Alaric returned and picked up the cloth to renew it again when Damon stopped him.

"That cloth is doing shit. It only helps for a second before the fever burns right through it. He's hovering at 101."

Alaric looked at him in surprise. "You can tell that just by touching him?"

"I'm 169 years old, Ric." Damon replied. "You ever drink from an actual human you'll feel and taste the difference from au natural and the electromagnetic radiation of a microwave, trust me."

"I haven't really the patience right now to take the time and microwave my blood." He turned. "Can't really care to, not when it feels like I'm ravished and hadn't fed in days."

"Come on," Damon jerked his head, shifting Stefan who writhed in protest as Alaric climbed and settle into the space on his other side; it was eerily similar to back at the quarry with Stefan lain dead between them. "Easy, brother."

"You're okay, Stef." Alaric murmured, and Stefan's head shifted toward the sound of his voice, exhaling through his nose and settling as the dirty-blond's cold fingers joined his brother's strokes on his sweaty, flushed skin. "It's your scent," he said a few minutes later.

Damon raised a brow. "What?"

Alaric nodded at Stefan. "Your scent... you. You're the constant thing in his life when he's vulnerable and needing comfort and safety. From what Stefan's said, all through-out his childhood, all those defining moments that made him who he was—his big brother was there. Like an instinctual imprint."

Damon stared at him, his expression stoic. "Stick to your subject of teaching, huh?" Alaric couldn't help the small smirk.

That was how Bonnie found them, crowded on the bed like that after parking haphazardly in the drive, bolting up the stairs 2 at a time and bursting breathlessly into Stefan's bedroom. She stood at the foot of the bed for a moment as she caught her breath, observing. Her stress and worry went down several notches at simply observing the fact that water wasn't bubbling out of his mouth again or a wound wasn't preternaturally opening on his chest like the magic she and Emily had cast was somehow unravelling.

"Are you just going to stare or are you actually going to do something useful, Bennett?" Damon demanded in a crispy tone, making Stefan give a discordant moan at his brother's raised voice, who quickly hushed the teen.

Bonnie couldn't even dine to roll her eyes at the accusation, not when faced with such brotherly affection coming from the usually caustic vampire that would still catch her off guard over the last few weeks. She climbed onto the bed with the three men, sitting on her knees by Stefan's waist on Damon's side with more room with the brunette's head and upper torso in his lap.

Inhaling and exhaling slow, relaxing breaths to calm herself, she pulled the blanket wrapped around Stefan just low enough to lay her left palm on his chest. Continuing the breathing, matching the rise of her chest with Stefan's, she felt the calm, steady beat of her heart, collide with Stefan's slightly raised one through the palm of her hand. She reached her magic out, down through the connection. Both vampires felt their little hairs raise, tingling slightly with the close connection of magic. Doing as Grams had taught her; every living thing, like the elements held their power, their own source, in layman: aura. Bonnie carefully felt around Stefan's, the teen not even stirring at the gentle intrusion, her brow stitched in concentration.

After several long moments, she opened her eyes and pulled her hand away, pulling the blanket back up Stefan's chest. "This isn't magic," Bonnie declared, sitting back on the edge of the bed. Her hand laying on blanket covering Stefan's shin. "This is not any effect because of the spell—He's human now, Damon. That means his body is going to react like any normal person's. He was laying on the cold damp ground for the entire night, walking around in socks. He's never had an immunization or flu shots; his immune system will be set in the same state as it was." The older Salvatore pinned her with a squinted look. "Health Class," she retorted. "Did you mother breast feed Stefan?"

Damon shook his head. "Our mother grew ill after Stefan's birth and couldn't. Usually, in the times, you'd find a maid who'd recently given birth and she would have taken over the feeding, but there wasn't one, so Stefan was fed goat's milk."

"Typically in newborns, they get those resistant antibodies from a mother's breast milk, protects them until they develop their own. But the both of you were born in the 19th century where there weren't things like car exhaust or nuclear plants, or when simple booster shots. He'll never have developed any of those immunities to 21st century strains of illness."

"So he's basically a new born baby with an immunity deficiency," Alaric concluded worriedly. He looked over at Damon, "Maybe we should--"

"We are." Damon's mouth was set in a grim line, his palm laid on Stefan's forehead. "His temperature hasn't gone down; it's been inching up. There's no other option. Move," he ordered Bonnie, who quickly scrambled off the bed.

Alaric helped sit Stefan up, who only stirred, mouth gaped and breathing heavily, so Damon could get out from under him. Damon knelt on the edge of the bed, an arm going under his brother's knees, the other behind his shoulders. "You got him?" as much as he wanted it himself, the older vampire had the rights and control.

"Yeah." Damon stood, shifted Stefan more securely in his arms. The brunette's head lulled on his shoulder, forehead coming to rest against his neck. The heat coming off him was unnatural and almost felt like a hot iron pressed against his flesh, each breath like a billow of steam from the holes. "Pick up your ass, Ric, if you're coming. You can practice your compulsion and blood control, it'll be great." He smirked blankly. Damon exited at half-vamp speed to the driveway, his brother precious cargo.

Alaric shared a quick look with the witch, grabbed Damon's leather jacket that had fallen to the floor at the foot of the bed when the vampire had picked up Stefan, blanket and all, and blurred down to the driveway. Alaric got into the backseat of the Camaro and Damon carefully passed his tall brother back, who started to kick up a fuss before the dirty-blond quickly tucked his big brother's jacket under the blanket against his chest and cheek. Damon hopped in, never bothering with the seatbelt and started his engine, somehow driving like a graceful bat out of hell toward Mystic Falls General Hospital.

...

Damon stared blankly at the admission sheet in his hand. It wasn't like he could write: 05/11/1846 for birth date. He couldn't exactly fill out the Illness 'Other' line with: vampire killed and brought back as human came down suddenly with illness. So he simply put: fever, for that and did a quick calculation in his head and put: 05/11/1992, and wrote his own name in for 'parents/guardian'.

He handed it over to the on-duty nurse behind the station; this was where a lot of compulsion and a little creativity came in.

She surveyed the clipboard. "You barely filled this out, sir. We're going to need the name of your health insurance agency, also the patient's social insurance number..." he caught her eye when she looked up and she trailed off as his pupils dilated.

"Our parents were progressive." He said smoothly in compulsion. "The modern health care system wasn't really their thing, record keeping and the like. They died and I've recently taken guardianship over my brother."

"I'm sorry for your loss," she replied. "It must be hard to take all that responsibility."

"He's my brother." Damon told her simply. "Now, about all those blank spaces on the page..." and he told exactly what he needed and if she couldn't provide him with those things, then she should direct him to the people who could. "You're going to give my brother the best care and his own room, you make sure that ring on his left hand stays right where it is, no one will take it off. If they do, you come find me. Visiting hours don't apply to me or him," he jerked his head back to Alaric, "Don't you worry about us. Stefan has never had a flu shot in his life, nor an immunization shot."

"We can take care of that, sir."

"Good. I also need you to do a full work up on him like he's the Bubble Boy gotten out of confinement. The results will be private, got that?" she gave a small nod. "Now, about what we talked about before... who exactly do I need to see about that again?"

"What are you up to?" Alaric questioned him when he returned from the nurses station, having listened in with his new vamp-hearing to focus on anything other than the smell of appetizing blood and the harsh burn of sterilization chemicals.

"Just your basic WitSec package," Damon told him. "Can you handle this?" he waved a vague hand over his shoulder.

Alaric narrowed his eyes. "I'll be fine."

"'Cause the last thing we need right now is the town's history teacher tearing into necks and those long ago animal attacks suddenly making a little more sense,"

"You mean your animal attacks,"

"My fangs, your fangs, we're all just the same, Ric."

"If I recall correctly..." Alaric said. "Our fangs are very different."

"Hm," Damon eyed him. "Not many people would be that observant while I was puncturing their lung with their own weapon. Good on you, Teacher!" he clapped the vampire on the shoulder. "Anyway, the Council won't much care whose fangs are better just the fact that we have them at all. So, keep 'em in your mouth, huh? And if you do mess up, it'll give you a chance to practice your compulsion. I should be back before we get any news, but if--"

"I'll call you," Alaric assured him, "He's going to be alright, Damon. It's a fever, people get them all the time."

Damon narrowed his eyes. "I already know that. You don't have to tell me that. I was there, every time; telling him stories, mopping his forehead with a cool cloth, holding him as he was wracked with fever dreams, rubbing his back as he threw-up, feeding him when he couldn't even hold the spoon he was shivering and shaking so bad, singing him to sleep. I was the one there when he cried out for comfort." He stepped into Alaric’s space. "So I can promise you, that is the only bonding moment we are ever going to have over Stefan's death."

"Damn right it is."

"Good. Because you're not a useless human now, Teacher," Damon jabbed his chest with enough force to bruise the vampire, "You're a top class predatory species now; all senses magically enhanced, practically invulnerable. So you protect Stefan's now fragile human life with your practically immortal one, sacrificing your undead one if need be or it will be your heart I'll be ripping out while Bonnie pins you to the wall with magic." He growled lowly.

"If that ever happened," Alaric told him sincerely, "I would let you."

"Good." Damon stepped back, dusting his hands and his expression turning back it usual, smirky, unaffected one, even if Alaric was able to detect the shadow of worry in his blue eyes and the tautness to his lines that would be unnoticeable except for a select few that encompassed not even a handful of people on the planet.

Alaric held out the leather jacket to the vampire, who shrugged it on; by the time they'd made it to the hospital, not even the comfort of his big brother's scent or Alaric cool strokes across his blazing skin could prevent Stefan from the tossing and incoherent mumbles and moans.

"I expect my brother's friend-zone harem to arrive shortly, so good luck with that." Damon told him in parting, grabbing Stefan’s blanket tucked under the bampi's arm.

Alaric watched his back as he exited through the double, automatic glass doors. As they closed, he sighed and sat back down in his chair in the waiting room. It was in its own little pocket of loneliness for the moment, away from the inhabitants of the others that lined the waiting room with their various ailments, waiting impatiently for their name to be called.

Now that he wasn't concentrating all his attention and effort on tuning his new high-def vamp-hearing on Damon's conversation at the nurse's desk and filtering out all the other unwanted audio—the still not even a day old vampire was left to acutely realize just how many of the waiting peoples' injuries and ailments included bleeding.

That hole in Alaric's stomach suddenly felt like it was starting to widen, the lining of his stomach stripped away with a pressurized air stream and the sweet fragrance of blood tickled the back of his throat with such a desperate thirst. He swallowed and it felt like he was swallowing desert, the walls of his throat scraping against each other like sandpaper.

He tried to calm, focus. He could do this, just supplement the urge with something else. Control. It was like resisting the urge to scratch chicken pox when he was a kid with next to zero self-control, but this time, scratching meant tearing into people's necks with glorious satisfaction and drinking from blood bags was like bathing in calamine lotion.

For Stefan, being a former Ripper, he must have had this craving a million fold. Not being a Ripper, Alaric should be able to do this. He was an adult, that's what being an adult was. Control. Resistance--

The automatic doors rushed open and suddenly there was a flurry of movement and commotion as two guys came in, shouting for help, hauling another barely conscious body between them. There was blood on them, a sharp freshness, saliva inducing aroma—the source, the senseless man's leg, pant leg torn, a sweater haphazardly tied around his thigh, saturated in blood. What seemed like a gaggle of nurses and doctors in pink scrubs and blue scrubs and white coats rushed in with a wheelchair and quickly, efficiently transferred the new emergency patient into it. A nurse stayed to have the man's friend give all the much needed details and the rest all rushed passed the unknown supernatural being and through the restricted ER doors.

The only thing that stopped Alaric from lunging at the entire group as they rushed by, was the slivers the he dug up painfully under his fingernails from the inhuman grip on the wooden armrests of his waiting chair. His eyes glued instead to the scuffed white large tile squares, the inconsistent trail of blood in a bold, chopped line before him. It was like a bait line, a row of sweet candy trying to lure him in. He felt the tingle around his sockets as his eyes tried to flush in mirrored colour. The bampi hardly even realized that he was sinking lower in his chair, inching forward, mouth agape with hungry fangs.

Alaric bit through his tongue with his unaccustomed fangs in surprise, his own tepid blood filling his parched mouth as the wet, thick threads of a mop swiped through the blood by an efficient orderly, who swiftly carried on away, removing the rest of the traces of blood.

Ric had a moment of pure panic and fled (hardly able to stop his body from reacting in vamp-speed at his horror), bursting in the single unit, unisex, handicap restroom and locked himself inside. He paced, not even realizing it was pitch black in the room, trying to calm his breathing because it was doing nothing but giving him bigger gulps of the delicious scent. He stopped short as he caught his passing reflection in the mirror from the corner of his piercing gaze and stared.

He shivered at his own reflection. He'd never actually seen what he looked like like this, his true-face on complete display before; he'd only felt it. The sharp relief as his fangs escaped his gums; it almost felt like worms crawling under his skin as the veins engorged with blood and rose to the surface, it was like a spike of adrenaline as his eyes flooded with blood, but it didn't hinder his sight, it enhanced it even more than was now the norm. Everything seemed to. It all became crystal clear, like a camera focus snapped into clear sharpness—the true predator of want and the achievement of that one want. Blood. Feed. It was scary and defining to see himself this way, like the last piece clicking into place and clarity showing him reality.

Alaric gripped the edge of the sink, pressing his fingertips harshly against the porcelain, igniting the already sharp pain of the slivers in his fingers, his nostrils flaring and teeth gritted. He never knew splinters could be so painful, but he was a vampire now, and anything wood was going to be a 100,000 fold of painful in comparison to before. Somehow, the pain helped him focus, and with a deep inhale, he straightened and concentrated on the task of picking the slivers out.

As he picked the last one out, he glanced back into the mirror and his face was returned back to normal. He exhaled. He could do this. He needed to be able to do this. And not just for himself, but for Stefan too. He calmly washed his hands, and before he finally exited the bathroom, he squirted some of the hand sanitizer from the dispenser by the door and rubbed it on his upper lip. The scent burned the back of his nose and throat as he breathed, made his blue eyes tear up, but it helped him keep a straight head with all the blood as he returned to the waiting room for news on Stefan's condition—and all the while, started to truly realize that his and Stefan's relationship was once again going to be broadsided by the role reversal of beings.

[...tbc...]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Stefan awoke to an unfamiliar foam-tiled ceiling, covered in a scratchy blanket. He looked around with a furrowed gaze of confusion, only for them to widen in alarm as he took in the hospital room and IV taped below his elbow. He had absolutely no recollection of getting here, simply going to bed as Damon had ordered and now waking up here, alone. One thing the newly turned human knew—this was the last place he was supposed to be: born in 1846, a vampire for a 145 years, brought back for the Other Side and resurrected back into a human with magic... he needed to get the hell out of here! 

Grasping the raised bed railings, Stefan pulled himself upright and threw off the blanket. He was contemplating which to do first: lower the rail or take out the IV needle when a nurse came in, first surprised to see him awake, then pleased that he was as she approached his bed.

"And where do you think you're going, hon?" a hand on his shoulder pushed his weak body back against the pillow and she efficiently tucked the blanket back around him before he could even think of an answer. "It's nice to finally see those beautiful green eyes in person."

"How did I get here?" he finally asked. "I really can't be here, I need to go home."

She touched the back of her hand to his forehead and cheeks, checking. "You're right where you need to be." Stefan opened his mouth to protest when she stuck a thermometer under his tongue, he went to take it out but she put her fingers under his chin. "Aw, mouth closed, Mr Salvatore."

Stefan stilled, mind going blank.

"Chin up, Stefan. Show me that grand posture," she put her finger under his chin, forcing him to raise it. And then set the base of the glass on his skull. "Don't spill now," her manicured nail nicked his chin on purpose as she released him.

The beep of the thermometer jolted him from the memory and the nurse took the instrument. "97.2, that just what we want. Looks like your fever finally broke. You're up just in time for lunch service. We'll get something into that empty belly and your brother and his boyfriend will be back before you know it; they just needed a little air."

Stefan stared, train of thought side-railed by the thought of food, before they were completed overhauled by the following sentence as the words finally penetrated his conscious. "What?"

She stood at the foot of his bed, jotting a note in his chart. "You're lucky to have such a caring brother. Him and that cute history teacher of his from the high school, no one could mistake the love they have for you. Ah, but your girlfriend, the brunette—definite keeper." She replaced the chart. "An orderly will be by shortly with that food tray, hon."

Stefan stared after her as she left and continued to stare; 'Your brother and his boyfriend. That cute history teacher of his from the high school'. She thought Damon and Alaric were boyfriends. Of course that was a safe and obvious assumption, even if it wasn't true—so why did it make his chest hurt?

Alaric was a 33 year old man, a teacher, Stefan was a 17 year old kid, his student; vampirism didn't translate in the 'real’ world. If people found out that Alaric was really Stefan's boyfriend, they'd try and put the teacher away for statutory rape—but his disturbance was slightly eased at remembering that his school record claimed that he was 18. Or Alaric would just get fired from Mystic Falls High, his teaching licence suspended pending a inquiry by the School Board. Not the worse case scenario, but wasn't that much better either.

How long would it be before Alaric realized the same thing that it took Stefan on the drive home from the quarry that night, if he hadn't already. Being sick (still seemed like a fantastical concept) and stuck in the hospital was not a point in his favour.

Stefan was brought out of his dark musings as the orderly came with his food. It was a bowl of chicken noodle soup, two little 4 packets of crackers, a small orange juice, and a strawberry Jell-O cup. His stomach grumbled eagerly as he inhaled the broth aroma'd steam and eagerly picked up the provided spoon and dug in; this taking priority at the moment.

The orderly watched him in amusement. "You must either actually like hospital food or you are starving."

Stefan had never had hospital food before, he had been a vampire, what need did he have for it? He could safely say he was glad for it; the soup was watery, the crackers a little too salty, but he was hungry. "Starving." He answered in the brief pause it took to bring the spoon to his mouth.

"I never would have guessed," he chuckled. "I'll be back in a bit to collect your tray."

Stefan could only nod as the orderly left, his mouth full of soup-saturated cracker. It was definitely a sucky second meal, but his empty stomach would always overrule his fussy taste buds; that was why he was able to feed on road kill as Damon had put it.

Finished with the soup, he pushed the plastic bowl aside and pulled the Jell-O cup forward. He peeled back the foil seal. Stefan couldn't remember that last time he'd eaten Jell-O, he tried but nothing surfaced. He ate a spoonful and sucked it through his teeth in amusement as he ate. When he cleared the tray, he put the cover back on and pushed the bed table away, laying back with a sigh, stomach sated for the moment.

Now that he didn't have food as a distraction and deterrent, he was left to wonder exactly how long he'd been here and how many people his brother must have compelled to get it done. He must have been really bad off if Damon even considered to bring him to the hospital, let alone actually bring him.

Still feeling tired and a little weak, with his hunger fulfilled, it was all to easily to succumb to his body's desire for rest despite his precarious position in the hospital.

Stefan laid back and curled onto his side. He pulled the blanket up around his shoulders, scratching at the irritating tape pulling at his skin around the needle. He sighed, his hand lightly curled around the rail by his face, staring through half-lidded eyes atthe ring that now adorned his left ring finger until it slowly faded out and rest took him.

Cool fingers traced down the side of his face. Stefan sucked in a sharp breath as his eyes snapped open, unseeing. Only seeing Katherine. His jerked away from the touch. His shoulder blade struck sharply against the metal rail, that if hadn't been there, he otherwise would have tumbled of the edge of the bed and to the tiles floor more painfully. But he hardly felt it with the adrenaline kicking his heart to beat so painfully in his chest it felt unnatural. His top lip drawn back in defence to flash a warning of wicked fang that he no longer possessed.

"Ho, easy! Easy. It's just me, Stef. It's me."

The voice penetrated the primal fog and Stefan's vision cleared to focus on a pale face with dirty-blond hair. His lip lowered back over his teeth and he slump back into the bed, all the energy and tension leaving him exhausted.

"I didn't mean to startle you," Alaric apologized quietly, slowly reach through the rail like Stefan would jerk away, but the human didn't as the teacher laid his hand over his on the bed between them, Stefan still pressed to the other side of the bed. "The nurse told me you woke up, but you were asleep when I came in, I didn't want to wake you, but it looked like your were starting to dream bad and when I touched you--"

"You saw into my head," Stefan said.

Alaric grimaced. "It just popped into my head when I touched you. Katherine, like a flash. I didn't mean to, Stefan, I swear. I know how you feel about it and I would never do it on purpose--!"

Stefan turned his hand over under his, squeezing the man's hand. "I know." At least it was just a flash of Katherine and nothing else, there would be no questions about him having a nightmare about Katherine, other things, his true fears, not so much.

His gaze shifted behind Alaric's head and on the closed blind behind him and actually remembered the he was here in the hospital where the whole place smelt like a blood buffet to a vampire, and especially like a all-you-can-eat-blood-buffet to a Ripper or a bampi. His eyes snapped back to the vampire and he raised himself up on an elbow, "Are you okay to be here? All this blood must be driving you crazy," he said with sensitivity; Alaric swallowed at the reminder. "You don't have to push yourself before you're ready just because of me."

"I'm doing alright." Alaric squeezed his hand in assurance. "The first day, when we brought you was the most difficult—there was a man, he was injured, blood everywhere and it just smelt so good, they took him right passed me. I dug my fingers so hard into the armrests that I gave myself splinters, it anchored me to the chair and stopped me from actually going after the guy but he left blood on the floor right in front of me and I was just transfixed. Didn't even realize that I inching toward it until a mop swept right through it and broke me out of the trace. There have been a couple more close calls when I couldn't stop my face from showing, but I've come up with a few methods to help me control the urge jump every bleeding wound that passes by."

Stefan couldn’t help but stare at him with envy and admiration. "You're a good vampire, Ric."

Alaric shook his head. "I've just had other, more pressing things to keep me distracted from all the temptation in this place."

Stefan glanced at there clasped hands on the bed. "So it's a good thing I got sick then, to distract you."

"No, it's not," Alaric countered. "But nice attempt to put a spin on it."

Stefan sighed and shifted on the bed so he was lain more comfortably. "How long have I been in here anyway?"

"3 days," Alaric squeezed his hand. "It's Friday."

"3 days?!" Stefan exclaimed in shock, bolting upright. "What the hell happened to me?"

"You were sick as a dog," Damon came into the room without knocking, closing the door behind him. "Had you actually been a dog, I would have just put you out of your misery." He crossed his arms over his chest as he stood at the foot of the bed.

"You came down with a fever," Alaric elaborated.

Stefan furrowed his brows. "Like when I was little?" he looked at his brother.

"In that dramatic way you have, you went a step further than that, brother."

"What--?" Stefan looked between them even more confused.

"You weren't in your right mind, Stefan." Damon retorted sharply. "You were about to jump off your balcony when Alaric found you. Had he been a second slower--" he suddenly slapped his hands together in a to-the-chase demonstration, making the couple jolt. "Splat!"

Stefan was stunned at the revelation, his gaze turned away as he tried to remember. He went to bed, fell asleep surprisingly fast for how racing and scrambling his mind had been, the unfamiliar alive feelings his body was transmitting. He didn't remember if he had dreamed, but he dragged up the memory of hunger. "I was... hungry," he said slowly. "So I was going to go for a hunt and feed."

Damon blurred to his side in a blink, fist balled in his gown, yanking the tie at the back of his neck loose. "You're human now, Stefan!" the teen flinched at the reminder, "that means there is no balcony shortcuts, not hunting and no need for blood. There are just stairs, front doors, and foodstuff."

Alaric was on his feet in an instant, his chair skittering back against the wall with a squeal. "Easy, Damon!" he growled. "It wasn't his fault, he woke up fevered and did what he's done for the past 74 years."

Damon stared at the teacher for a moment with a tight gaze before he inhaled deeply and took a step back. There was an uncomfortable silence before Stefan asked his big brother hesitantly: "When can I get out of here?"

"The doctor will be here in a minute, he'll check you over and if he says your good, then you can go. Otherwise, you're not going anywhere."

"But--" Stefan started only to seal his lips at Damon's glare. There was silence and suddenly Stefan realized how loud he seemed to be breathing; did it always sound like that or was he just imagining it? Maybe it was because he actually needed the oxygen and his body was trying to get as much as it could with each breath.

The doctor finally came and Damon shifted back to his original spot at the foot as the man checked out the teen's chart.

"How are you feeling, Mr Salvatore?"

"Great," Stefan answered instantly, "Better."

The doctor nodded, probably took his answer with a grain of salt and started the exam, Stefan enduring with impatient patience as the man retook his temperature, shined a light down his throat and in his eyes, put a scope in his ears. The doctor pulled loose the tie on his gown at his shoulder blades and pulled it down, first placing the end of the stethoscope to his chest to listen to his heart, then back to listen to his lungs; Stefan gave a sharp shiver at the cold of the metal against his sensitive skin, goose bumps crawling across his exposed skin.

Finally, the doctor stepped back and Stefan exhaled. It was over. "So am I--" he stopped as he noticed the doctor setting up a sterile tray. "Wait, what is that for?" Stefan pulled away a little warily.

"Your immunization shot. Your chart says you've never had one and I want to give it to you before we release you," the doctor explained.

"You'll let me go if I get the shot?" the doctor nodded and Stefan practically threw his arm at the man. Needles had never bee a good experience for him, as a vampire there was no use for a syringe medically, just torturously filled with vervain. But he wasn't a vampire anymore, he was human and while in this state (as short as he intended it to be) he might as well be safe with himself for that time being.

The doctor pulled the gown off over his right shoulder and swiped a patch of skin low over his black rose tattoo on his shoulder and Stefan stilled. There was the sharp pinch of the needle piercing his vulnerable skin, then the syringe emptying into his warm flowing blood before it was extracted and a cotton ball pressed and taped over. The doctor then removed the IV needle in his forearm with the same treatment.

"I just need your signature on the discharge papers," the doc addressed Damon, cleaning up. "And you're all free to go." Damon's gaze flickered between the teen and the teacher before he followed the doctor out.

Stefan rotated his arm for a moment and looked at Alaric, who was absolutely still. "You alright?"

Alaric cleared his throat. "Yeah." Because it might have just been a few drops that touched open air, but it was Stefan's blood and to him, it smelled like someone gutted the brunette.

"It will get better," Stefan insisted softly.

"I know," it just doesn't ever feel like it right now. "I just don't want there to ever be a reason I have to smell your blood."

"Don't worry," he found the release on the bed rail and lowered it. "This won't be for long." Stefan didn't notice the look that Alaric quickly smothered at the off-hand comment. He threw the blanket off and ignore the cold tile under his bare feet. "Am I going to have to walk out in this gown or did you--?" he turned to find the vampire setting his gym bag that the teen hadn't noticed before onto the bed. Stefan grinned and pulled it towards him eagerly. "I totally would have walked out like this if I had to," he unzipped the bag, his buckle boots sitting on top and clothes folded underneath.

"Do you want--" Alaric started, but stopped abruptly able to do nothing but stare and watch.

Stefan arched his back slightly as he reached behind himself and found the ties holding his gown together and pulled the knots free, shedding the garment right there and leaving it as a puddle at his feet and leaving himself stark. He dug in the duffle and found his boxer-briefs, stepping into them. Followed by a comfortable pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a pullover sweater, and his jacket; if his calculations were right without looking at the calendar for the past week, it was the start of December and with his current low tolerance to temperature, there was going to be a bit of a nip in the air. He leaned against the bed to pull on socks and slip on his boots.

When he finally looked up, dressed, it was to find Alaric staring at him with dark eyes. "What?" he gave a small smile.

Alaric licked his lips. "Just glad to see you up."

The smile grew. "I'm just glad to see you. Period. And to break the mood, I have to, um..." he glanced over his shoulder at the little cubicle bathroom in his room.

Alaric chuckled and gave a small headshake. "It would have been a tight fit anyway."

Stefan just flashed him an out-of-the-loop look and went to the washroom, turning on the light and pulling closed the fold-away plastic door. He emptied his full bladder and stared at his reflection as he washed his hands. He looked pale and pasty, like he'd just gotten over something. His cheeks and jaw darkening with stubble. His hair a bit lank and darker, greasy from lack of wash over the past 3 days as he sweated out the fever. It was probably just going to be the same as that night home from the quarry; shower, eat, sleep.

When he came out, Damon and Alaric were already waiting for him. Stefan didn't wait and headed straight for the door. His strides were long as he quickly and efficiently followed the directional signs. When he breathed, he didn't smell the blood, only that terrible hospital scent; but a quick glance at Alaric, though he looked normal to any casual viewer, Stefan could see the tight set of his jaw as the scent of blood would overpower even the hospital smell to a vampire.

Through two sets of double doors and Stefan got his first breath of crisp, fresh air and his freedom. He started to turn on the walk towards the parking lot but quickly found it unnecessary. "Damon, this is where ambulances drive." Stefan noted with great disapproval at his brother's flippant action of a parking space.

"Saint Stefan, rearing his righteous indignation for the little people," was Damon's response, looking across the roof of his car at him. "Stop dawdling and get in already so I can free up this precious parking space, huh?" he patted the roof and climbed in.

Stefan sighed and got into the front seat while Alaric climbed in the back, he put on his seatbelt before Damon pulled out of the emergency way and into traffic.

"Can we stop somewhere to get something to eat?" the brunette questioned as his stomach started to act out again. "I'm starving."

"You just got out of the hospital, Stefan. That last thing you're going to be doing is going out to eat." Damon told him.

"Last I remember, the cupboards were going a little bare at the house," Stefan said. "Is there even anything good to eat?"

"I didn't just sit at your fevered bedside waiting for you to wake up, alright?"

Stefan raised a brow. "You went shopping? Alone?" Alaric snickered from the backseat and Damon shot a glare at the pair of them. "Do you even know what people eat?"

"Of course I do. All anybody around this town does is eat and drink, just fattening themselves in wait for the nature of things to take course," he flashed a fang suggestively at his brother.

Stefan snorted. "You're a tamed pussycat now, Damon, drinking your milk from a bowl."

"Watch it, brother, or I might just slip out the open door and go feral again."

Stefan laughed.

"Don't worry, Stefan." Alaric spoke up. "Elena went with him."

When they arrived back at the Boarding House, despite the only one not a vampire, Stefan was the first out of the car and up the porch steps. He quickly shed his boots and jacket at the door and headed straight down the hall towards the kitchen. The hunger pains were just not letting up! he didn't remember being this hungry the last time he was human.

He gnawed on his lips as he quickly searched through the cupboards and refrigerator, both stocked full. Stefan needed something fast, something he could literally sink his teeth into; he couldn't face another bowl of soup right now. He needed something solid. Head in the fridge, he quickly started to gather foodstuff and condiments into his arms, setting it around the chopping board on the island counter. He quickly laid out 2 pieces of whole wheat bread and slathered 1 end with low fat Miracle Whip, the other with spicy mustard; he could already see Elena's healthy hand in the shopping. He folded a couple slices of juicy roast beef lunchmeat on the mustard piece, cheese slices, a quickly sliced tomato followed, with some pickles and a shredded leaf of Romaine lettuce. His mouth had already been slavering since he opened the roast beef. He pressed the second slice on top, not even wasting the time to cut it before he picked it up and sunk his eager teeth into it. Without even looking, he hooked his toe around the leg of a nearby stool and dragged it under his butt, moaning all the while as he tore the first piece off.

He chewed with rapture, eyes closed as he tasted each differing layers separately, before combined as he swallowed. He could just picture in his mind’s eye, it going down his oesophagus and then dropping into his empty, eager stomach acid and felt satisfaction. He immediately took another bite and another, his contentment growing each time until there was nothing but crumbs on his fingers.

Suddenly, food tasted 5x better than it had when he was a vampire with heightened senses. As if now that the food consumed actually curbed and sated his hunger, if temporarily, it gave more meaning to the consumption; the taste, texture, temperature.

"If I was into food-porn..." an amused voice mused across the island.

Stefan slowly licked his lips to find Alaric leaning back against counter, dark mug in hand, freshly showered and changed, his hair darker with damp. The teen couldn't detect steam rising from the mug so he took the safe assumption that it was blood; good. He smiled, "Hate to rile you up when I can't give you that happy ending we both so want." He winked.

"Mm," Alaric hummed in agreement as he tipped to cup to his lips, the shadow of veins around his eyes as he drank, staring across at the brunette. "Still." His tongue swiped the blood from his pink lips as he lowered the mug, green eyes followed the motion.

"I'll make you 1," Stefan declared. "Despite you being on a liquid diet now, doesn't mean a solid thing or 2 isn't good for you."

"You don't have to," he gave the token protest as he came and sat on the stool at the corner by him, setting his mug down, Stefan already setting to work.

"Maybe I am into food porn," Stefan teased, layering the contents of the sandwich, grinning as he heard the low rumble from the vampire. Holding the top piece with his fingers on the edges of the bread, he cut it diagonally in half with the butcher knife. "Voilà,"

"Thanks, Stefan. It looks good," he took a big bite.

"Ooh, yeah. That's it, Ric. Just like that baby. Mm. So hot," Stefan purred to him, giving him green hooded bedroom eyes, pink bottom lip caught sensually between his teeth.

Alaric's eyes widened and he choked, completely unprepared, setting the sandwich half down and Stefan giggled at him, giving the dirty-blond a wink as he thumped his chest and cleared his throat, picked up the mug and washed the remains down with a gulp of cold blood.

"Sorry," Stefan grinned as Alaric gave him a rather unimpressed, if a little turned-on look at the brunette doing a little dirty talk which he'd never really heard before. "I couldn't help myself," he reached across and thumbed away the bit of blood at the corner of the vampire's lips.

He went to withdraw but Alaric took hold on his hand and eyes locked with his boyfriend's, wrapped his lips around the digit. Stefan exhaled in a stutter as he felt Alaric's tongue brush against the pad of his thumb, gently swirling his tongue to collect all traces of blood from the creases of his print, sucking gently. Stefan felt his body grow warm and his cock start to stir and all too soon the teacher released his thumb gleaming in saliva to press a kiss to the palm of his hand, then release him entirely.

Stefan shifted in the stool and Alaric gave him a little knowing smirk, then a wink and picked back up the sandwich half and took another bite. "Sexual revenge is a double-edged sword, Ric." He murmured, screwing the lids to the jars, and twisting up bags.

Alaric didn't dignify that with an answer and just turned on the stool and leaned over to pull open the fridge door as he finished the half. Arms loaded, Stefan ducked into the machine and shelved the contents, Alaric smacked his ass before he stood. Stefan chuckled as he straightened, closing the door as he turned to find Alaric with his feet propped on the crossbar on the stool legs, holding the second half of the sandwich with both hands, his blue eyes wide with glowing innocent mischief as he ate.

"I'm going to take a shower," Stefan informed him slowly, stepping forward and closing the short distance. "I need one, as you can no doubt smell even without heightened vampire-senses." He leaned forward, hands on the edge of the island, bracketing the vampire, but careful not to touch.

"I didn't want to say anything,"

"Mm, as is only polite," he slowly inched his face forward—and took a bite of the sandwich piece between them. Alaric watched as he chewed, his stubbled jaw working, the bob of his Adam's apple as he swallowed, tongue slowly tracing across lips to collect any crumbs. "Compliments to the chef," he pressed as kiss to the dirty-blond's cool, pale forehead.

"You shouldn't sexually frustrate a vampire," he pouted, popping the last bite into his mouth haughtily. "It's particularly selfish."

"A double-edged sword," Stefan reminded as he straightened. And backing towards the door, couldn't help but get one last hot lick in: "There's no need to wonder exactly what I'm going to be doing in that shower," he winked, Alaric's eyes going pitch in arousal and nearly skipped down the hall.

He climbed the stares slowly, felling a bit winded by the time he set foot on the top landing and headed for his room; wondering where Damon had gotten off to. He paused as he stepped into his bedroom, pushing the door closed behind him. Something felt off, like something was out of place; but as he slowly started to survey his room with narrowed eyes, he quickly got distracted as his gaze lighted on Salvatore's fishbowl set on the cleared spot on his dresser shelf.

"Hey, buddy!" Stefan grinned as he went over. His fingertip tracing against the glass, but instead of startling like a regular fish, Salvatore brushed his fins against the glass back as he swam by in long greeting. "Remember me? I didn't forget about you, promise. Just ran into a little, ex-girlfriend trouble." He opened the little container next to the bowl and sprinkled some food flakes into the water; Salvatore eagerly swam around, eating. "But it looks like Elena took great care of you, huh? Even cleaned your bowl by the looks of it. Gonna have to thank her properly for that next time I see her." He watched the fish for a few minutes longer before he straightened and went to his wardrobe for a change of comfortable clothes.

He stripped down to his underwear and put his clothes in the hamper before he went into the bathroom. He showered, scrubbing days of sweat and hospital smell from his pores, went to the washroom. It felt good to brush the fuzz from his teeth and floss. He combed his wet hair back but otherwise left it unstyled as he inspected the dark stubble on his face, wondering if he should shave it or leave it.

It made him look older, made him appear at least 20, it was a trick he used when he stayed somewhere to attend college and university, or wanted to inhabit a career and stay for more than a handful of years. If he was careful... he could milk it for nearly 10 years, but never longer than that, not unless he wanted to start using makeup and hair dye to age himself up.

He knew, in his gut, that he was going to need it soon, but it was too early to pull it out now so he filled the sink with warm water and took out the shaving cream and razor from the medicine cabinet. He was 17 but if he wanted to be with Alaric, he couldn't be, nor could he stay in his current condition.

Stefan patted his face dry with a face towel, clean-shaven and back to looking like a fresh-faced teenager. With a sigh, he dressed and left the bathroom. With a glance at his alarm clock, he saw it was only 7 p.m., too early to sleep even though he knew he would if he laid down. He stopped short as he finally noticed it, that something off about his room that had been almost too subtle to notice, but subconsciously had warning bells ringing.

"What the hell?"

Stefan reached out and touched the doorknobs on his balcony doors that were not the originals, they used to be push handles. He twisted the dark brass knobs and pulled, but they were locked. He traced the setting, there was no push lock but instead a deadlock which could only be opened with a key—a key that he didn't have!

"Damon," he uttered in realization, it was the only conclusion he could come to. 'I didn't just sit at your fevered bedside waiting for you to wake up, alright?' Oh, there were so many things that sentence of his brother's could encompass other than apparently grocery shopping with Elena. Stefan gnashed his teeth as he straightened. "Damon!" he shouted furiously, turning on his heel and storming from his room and down the hall towards the vampire's bedroom. He just passed the stairs when Damon was suddenly standing in front of him.

"You called?"

Stefan gave him a shove, only putting him back half a step and causing him to raise a brow. "You changed the lock on my balcony doors without my permission or knowing while I was in the hospital?!"

Damon's eyes flashed. "Yes," he said succulently. "Is that all?"

"Is that--?" he sputtered. "What the hell made you think you had the right to go into my room and mess with my space?! Give me the key!" he held out him hand demandingly.

Damon scoffed. "What do you need to open it for anyway? It's winter; with your luck you'll catch a draft and end up back at the hospital."

Stefan rolled his eyes. "Just because I human now," he spat the word, "Doesn't mean that gives you right to try and control my life, I won't tolerate it."

"Oh, you won't tolerate it?" he mused. His blues eyes hardened and narrowed, "And what exactly do you plan to do about it if I did, huh?" he jabbed Stefan in the chest with more than human strength, sending him back several steps with a flinch of pain. "You're just a weak, puny human now," another jab, more stumbling steps back, "Not that you put up much of a challenge even when you were a vampire." Jab, more bruises. "So I don't know what you think you're going to do now." His hand moved again, but Stefan slapped it away.

"Don't," he warned.

"Stop me and I will," Damon's vamp-face flashed in the dim lighting of the hallway and he shoved the teen, sending him flying down a short stretch of hall with a cry, his foot catching on the corner of the old rug that lined the floor. He crashed hard on the floor on his butt and back with a grunt, the wind knocked out of him. "You were saying?" Damon sneered down at him.

Stefan stared up at him with a slightly shocked gaze, his heart racing in his chest.

There was a blur that Stefan's eyes couldn't track and Alaric suddenly had Damon shoved against the wall, his vamp-face out. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Just teaching my baby brother a nice little life lesson, stay out of it." Damon easily shoved the bampi off.

"Like hell you are," Alaric growled. "You're not touching him."

Damon gave a dark smirk. "I can tear through you like that," he blurred behind Alaric, snapped by his ear with the same speed and was back to his previous spot in a second. "I can stake you in the lung and you'll heal easily enough, I can snap your neck and you'll come back good as new, even better than that Gilbert ring you had. So don't wax lyrical to me able my baby brother, Ric; not until you've known him more than a month or been a vampire more that a week. He needs to learn--"

"By you shoving him around just after he got out of the hospital?"

Still on the floor, Stefan listened to them. He listened and heard the truth behind what they were saying, what they've all said. 'You're weak, Stefan.' 'What use are you?' 'You'll just get in the way, Stefan.' 'You break, you always do.' 'You're not strong enough.' 'You didn't do anything, Stefan.' 'You always were pathetic, brother.' 'Weak, Stefan. That's what you are, weak!' He felt tears burn behind his eyes at the assault, but blinked them back and swallowed the hitch in his breath.

"I'm not weak," Stefan whispered so quietly that they only would have heard had they actually been paying him any attention. He pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the ache under his skin. "Shut up," Stefan snapped, "The both of you!" they looked over at him like they really had forgotten he was there to start their fight over in the first place, and it just fuelled the teen. "I don't need to be treated like an infant; I've survived in this world longer than you," he told Alaric. "And survived a 145 years without your good input," he directed at Damon. "So I sure as hell don't need this now."

"You've done a good job of it so far," Damon muttered derisively but Stefan heard it anyway.

"I'd just come back from the dead!" he jumped down their throats scathingly, ignoring their visible flinches. "Sorry if my equilibrium was off." He glared between the 2 of them, "So this bullshit better come to an end, or it's going to be something all 3 of us regret." He didn't give them time to respond and pushed passed them, going down the stairs.

Neither tried to follow after him and it was a good thing too, because he felt about ready to start punching things, no matter the damage it would do to himself. Stefan was used to lingering pains, with his slowed healing properties as a vampire who had been surviving off of animal blood, but at least it had dulled the pain for him. Human now, it would just linger longer, ache more acutely—but it wouldn’t matter, he didn't intend to stay this way long enough for something like that to really matter.

He headed for the kitchen, pausing to grab a tea towel from the drawer before he opened the basement door, turned on the overhead bulb and went down the stairs. The stone and packed dirt beneath was cold through his socks, but he ignored it as he confidently transversed the dim tunnels to his destination. He opened the barred, reinforced metal door and stepped into the cellar, going behind a cross section of stone where the glow of the hung sunlamp was bright and the growth of vervain plants crowded in the garden table.

He stop and stared. Rationally, he knew it couldn't harm him anymore, he was human; but that frantic illogical part of him, the 145 year old vampire part, all it could think about, was the sprig in his palm, the acidity of the poison melting his skin; the vervain soaked ropes burning and rubbing layer after layer of his skin off, just shy of meeting bone beneath, vervain spilling like liquid fire down his nape and back, eating into his skin, flesh sizzling. He closed his eyes, banished the thoughts with a deep breath, and reached out with a slightly trembling hand. His fingertip brushed the tiny bundle of tight flowers at the head of the sprig, but there was no pain, it was just a plant to him now, a weed as civilians who didn't know of the supernatural thought them.

He picked a few mature sprigs from the lot and carefully wrapped them in the tea towel, and tucked the small bundle into his pant pocket. Since he was already down there, he attended the plants before he left the cellar and went back upstairs to the kitchen. He washed his hands in the sink with dish soap and searched for a snack that he knew he was going to be wanting soon. Nothing really caught his fancy until he peeked into the fridge freezer and his green gaze alighted on the pint of Chunky Monkey nestled on the shelf and he grabbed it without thought. A spoon shoved into his back pocket and he was good to go for the night.

Stefan paused at the bottom of the stairs as Alaric slowly came out of the parlor, fiddling with an empty tumbler in his hands.

"Stef,"

"I'm just going up to my room, I need to be alone for a little while," Stefan told him gently. "Ric,"

His blue eyes flickered with sadness as he caught sight of the ice cream container, no doubt thinking of the same thing Stefan had when he saw it and Stefan felt an ache in his chest that was not the bruises that Damon no doubt gave him.

Stefan glanced down at it, scraping a blunt fingernail through the thin layer of frost on the outside of the carton. "It's your favourite, there's more in the freezer if you want some." Alaric gaze a miniscule headshake. "I don't recall ever having a sweet tooth before, sweets were really rare back then, I preferred savoury things anyway. And then when I turned it became all about the blood." His voice took on a hushed constitution of remembrance, "Human blood was a savoury sauce, so smooth and consuming. Animal blood was like a shot of wheatgrass; it was earthy and bitter, an acquired taste." He grimaced, "Her vampire blood was a saccharine caramel melting on my tongue, sticking to my palate, my fangs, coating my throat--" Stefan jumped as there was a sudden popping sound, pulled from his head. He looked over at Alaric to find the vampire very taut and tense, his expression compressed. He glanced at his hands, "Did you break it?"

After a moment, Alaric gave a weighted exhale, slowly opening his hands, the glass in his palm. "Just cracked."

"Ric, I didn't--"

"It wasn't the blood. Well, it was but it was really... her." He looked over at the brunette from the fractured tumbler in his hand. "I was useless in there, Stefan."

"You were only there because I couldn't play along. I tried to kill her twice and both times she overpowered me. I wasn't strong enough, not to kill her, not to stop her from turning you." Stefan corrected softly. "I love you and all I've done since we've met was get you hurt, and killed, and turned. I've done nothing but plague your life with misery. It's just some sick, vicious cycle, from me to Damon to you—and soon enough it'll be Bonnie and Elena, too."

"Shut up," Alaric said, and Stefan looked up at him with as much surprise as the vampire had. "To repeat what you said upstairs." He set the cracked glass on the side table and carded his hand through his dirty-blond locks. "Goddamn it, Stefan. We can't keep doing this. Can't keep taking the blame. It was Katherine's fault, she did this. She is to blame." He stepped forward, his hand resting on the end balustrade of the banister. "And she's dead. She got what she deserved and she's out of our lives."

"You think it's that easy?" Stefan murmured.

"It won't be," Alaric acknowledged. "What happened to you, even if you were a vampire, was not an easy thing. But Damon killed her and Bonnie burnt her to ashes; she's gone. The only way Katherine can hurt us now," he reached out and gently took Stefan's left hand, his fingers cold and damp from the ice cream container and held it up, his thumb caressing his old Gilbert ring that now adorned the human's ring finger, right where Katherine had put it. "Is if you let her, Stefan. If you let the past get into your head and take over your heart. Don't let her win." He repeated the sentiment. "Don't let her break you—break us."

Unshed tears glinted on his lashes as Alaric mirrored what he had done before and rose Stefan's hand, pressing his lips to fingers and ring. Stefan swallowed, throat feeling too constricted to spit words out, if he even had any. It was true, Katherine was dead but she still managed to stay in his head, like a demon perched on his shoulder whispering poison in his ear, digging her fangs into his insecurities, feeding off them—and he didn't know how to banish her.

The vampire was reluctant to release his hand, to let him go but he did anyway. "Goodnight, Stefan." He headed back into the parlor, taking the cracked tumbler back in hand.

Stefan started back up the stairs but paused. "Where's Damon?"

"He left,"

Stefan gave a light scoff, "Figures. Goodnight, Ric."

He locked his bedroom door, not like it could bar a vampire from entering, but it felt like it gave him more privacy despite the true lack thereof that it provided. He set the melting ice cream on the reading table, moving papers out of the way so they wouldn't get damaged by the dripping condensation.

He was about to search for his cell phone to text the girls when he remembered that he lost his when Lucy fried his brain and John Gilbert vervained him on the street. He sighed, he was just going to have to buy another one. He wondered, for the first time, which they went through, the witch or the uncle, to find him. He guessed he didn't really care as long as he never saw either again his life.

He took off the lid and peeled back the plastic seal, he broke the smooth surface with the spoon from his back pocket. Stefan only intended to have a bite before he set about his initial task, but gave a little moan at the combination of banana, walnuts, and fudge; next thing he knew, he slid into a chair at the table and finished it before it could melt through. He groaned, laying his head down in his folded arms for a minute as he fought the urge to have a nap.

He forced himself up and wiped his mouth. He went to his closet and pulled out a foot chest, knelt in front of it and unlatched it, opening the lid. He searched its disorganised contents; it full of trinkets and precious items. Not necessarily expensive items, but things that held an sentimental value. He was slightly a hoarder, you could say, the attic of the Boarding House crowded in dusty crates and boxes that he hadn't looked in in decades; even things from dark periods in his past, like his apartment in Chicago when he was the Ripper for 11 years. A reminder, that list in the hidden room behind the pantry, the names of all the people he had fed from and killed, written in their own blood.

"Ah," he pulled the belt out, running the leather strap through his palm. It was a trick belt, Lexi had won it for him on his birthday at a tri-state fair in New York in 1967. The gear mechanism in the clasp buckle broke around the third time he used it that same night, but he'd kept it. Stefan closed the chest and pushed it back into his closet. He sat at his computer desk, turned on the lamp and took out a small, soft tool kit from a drawer. After some tinkering with it, he managed to remove the gears, leaving the clasp hollow and inert.

He filled it with vervain like he had the locket he'd given to Elena and locked it so it wouldn’t spring open. He took his wallet, which Bonnie had returned to him along with his other things and carefully cut the outside seam stitching in the worn leather with the scalpel from the kit and filled the lining with vervain as well, before he stitched it back up, the alteration not even noticeable. It was in his vampirehood that he learned the useful skill, particularly in 1942. He put the kit away and locked the remaining vervain wrapped in the tea towel in the drawer in his bureau. By the time he looked up at the clock, it was a few minutes passed 11 p.m. It wasn't that late, but he was tired and he knew that tomorrow, at the least was probably going to be an emotionally draining one when Elena and Bonnie came over and they finally had that talk about him coming back from the dead with magic as a human.

So he threw away the empty ice cream carton, wiped away the condensation ring from the tabletop before it could mark it and brushed his teeth. He stripped his socks and sweater off and turned out the light before he crawled under the covers.

~ T V D ~

Stefan woke, looked blurrily at the clock on his nightstand. 9:03 a.m. Groaned, rolled to the other side of the bed, face in his pillow and fell back asleep. When he woke next the clock read 11:19 and he made himself get up, jaw cracking as he yawned on his way into the en suite, jerking his curtains open on the way to let the noon sun in, feeling like he could sleep till dinner time. But the thought of food set his empty stomach off and determined his path; he'd already missed the most important meal of the day according to Reader's Digest, he wasn't going to miss another. He used the toilet and washed his face and styled his hair at the sink, rubbing at the pillowcase creases on his cheek.

He slipped on a pair of black jeans and looped the vervain belt through the loops, and slipped on a navy, round-necked t-shirt with a pocket on the left breast. He fed Salvatore before he left and he gave a glare at his balcony doors; he already had plans to get a key, it didn't necessarily have to be Damon's key, it was just a matter of him getting into town.

Downstairs, his stomach led him straight to the kitchen. Musing what he should eat, as he perused the fridge’s contents with a mind of lunch and missed breakfast; he settled on an omelette. He cracked a couple eggs in a bowl and whisked them as he put a frying pan on the flame to preheat; he mixed in chopped chives, mushroom, tomato and a pinch of cayenne pepper, sprinkling shredded cheese on it before he folded it in half. He hardly had the patience to slid it onto a plate and made up for it by eating it right there standing at the counter.

Hunger happily satisfied, he used his upbeat mood and washed the dishes from lunch and last night's supper instead of putting it in the dishwasher. He poured himself a tall glass of OJ before he left.

"You locked your bedroom door, real mature, Stefan." Damon greeted him in the hall without warning, catching the teen mid-drink, probably hoping to make him do a spit-take.

Stefan didn't give him the satisfaction; he didn't sputter or choke, the swallow went down a little hard, but he didn't show the outward grimace. "You changed the locks on my balcony doors, real mature, Damon." He stepped around his brother and continued down the hall.

"I was doing you a favor," Damon retorted, dogging him. "The security of those things were atrocious. A knob push lock, seriously? It was no wonder Katherine was able to crawl into your bed so easily."

Stefan spun on his heel, his good mood evaporating in an instant. "Screw you," he said harshly, his grip white-knuckled on the glass. In a previous life, it would have shattered, now his hand just shock from the pressure.

"Is that the best you got?" he challenged.

"What the hell is your problem?" Stefan barked in frustration. "Just give me the damn key!"

"Sure. When I can trust you not to fling yourself off the balcony in a fantasy to be a vampire again."

"I was sick--"

"You're just lucky I didn't board the whole thing up!"

"This is my life," Stefan hissed furiously.

"Exactly." Damon snarled, a shadow of veins appearing under his eyes, there and gone so fast Stefan couldn't be sure it wasn't just a mistaken shadow. They glared daggers at each other.

"Whoa, easy!" Bonnie announced her and Elena's presence in the front hall.

"It's hardly even noon," Elena looked between them. "And you're fighting?"

"Just a brotherly spat." Damon passed them into the sitting room. "He'll get over it once he realizes he doesn't have a choice in the matter."

"Stefan?" Elena laid a hand on his back.

Stefan heaved a sigh. "It's fine." He faced them and took a sip of orange juice. "He's just being a dick, it's not like that's anything new."

"I thought you guys were doing good?" Elena protested quietly.

Bonnie silently agreed with that. "You should have seen him earlier this week when you first got your fever—he was like a momma bear with her cub."

Stefan was silent at that. Damon always used to take care of him when he was sick as a child. Father didn't bother, it wasn't a man's job. His mother couldn't due to her own ailments. And the nurse maids tasked with caring for him were strangers he didn't trust. But Damon, who had no obligation to tend him, did, even when it brought their father’s ire onto him.

"It's been a stressful week for everyone," Elena rubbed his arm. "He's just worried and acting out."

Stefan already knew this. He also knew the he was an utter hypocrite because if their roles were reversed, Stefan would be the same way. But he still felt furious and annoyed at his brother's overbearing responses. He sighed again, "Come on."

They followed him to the sitting room, where Damon had already prepared himself a drink and Alaric was sitting off to the side on the piano bench, legs crossed, sipping bourbon.

Elena looked at him with curiosity. "Do you play?"

Alaric's brow wrinkled in confusion before he remembered where he was sitting. "Oh," he chuckled. "No. Not the piano. Used to play the sax in high school, though. And I dabbled with the guitar a bit in collage, but it never really stuck."

"Why do you guys even have it?" She looked between the brothers, across on either side of the room from each other. "Do either of you play?" she and Bonnie sat on the chesterfield.

"Zach used to play," Stefan murmured. The last time he heard his great nephew play was in '94, a time that was best left forgotten in the Salvatore Boarding House. When he'd compelled the man to forget his fiancée Gail, that went with it the piano lessons she'd given them, a music instructor herself.

"Amateur!" Damon coughed into his hand.

"But Damon here," Stefan announced, setting his glass on end table by the wing chair. "He's really the one who knows how to tickle those ivories wet. A real musical talent!" Bonnie looked sceptical. "It's true. It's true."

"What can I say," Damon shrugged amicably, "I always did have the talent in the family."

Stefan snorted. "More like you were afraid of Master Frantello."

"Unlike you, who seemed to love that damn ruler."

Stefan rubbed his hands in remembrance. "You know the saying: if you can play with broken fingers... anyways, you always did have more of an ear for it than me."

"Too bad the vicious old bastard died long before I got the chance to tear his jugular—but not before he played for us." A malice grin twisted the vampire's lips.

"So you play?" Elena summarized after an awkward moment of silence at the confession of the siblings dead music instructor. "Can you play something?" she looked to the vampire.

"Sure, come by Christmas and I'll play you something, put you right in the festive spirit." Damon told her.

Elena smiled at him. "Really?"

"No."

Bonnie glared at him, noting Elena's disappointment. "Grinch much?"

"What do I have to be green about?" he demurred and she rolled her eyes with a scoff.

"Ahem," Alaric cleared his throat. "Can we...?"

"Talk about this already so it never has to be mentioned again?" Stefan provided a suggestion to the unfinished question, drawing eyes to him as he sat in the chair beside his juice.

Bonnie inhaled deeply and turned to her friend. "When you died, your spirit went to what is called the Other Side, it's a purgatory that was created to house dead supernatural beings. Vampire, witches, etc."

"You don't have any recollection of being there?" Alaric asked.

Stefan squinted his eyes, concentrating, trying to think back, to pull a memory from the blank timeless space from when Katherine killed him to when he woke up very disoriented on the shore of the quarry. Sharp pain started to cut into his head he gave up before it could overwhelm him, rubbing his forehead with a faint grimace. "No."

"Well, that was where Emily went after she was burned at the stake by Jonathan Gilbert." Bonnie continued. "It was Emily's spell that brought you back. Using magic from both sides, we healed you and brought you back to your former 'pure' state. It was the balance of nature that brought you back as human instead of your vampire state. I've tried to commune with her since, but she's no longer on the Other Side, she's moved on."

He nodded slowly, remembering vaguely Bonnie telling him much the same back at the quarry. "So why can't you do the same and bring Ric back, or Damon. They could be human too again." He sat forward, "You can--"

"I can't," Bonnie shook her head sadly. "I wish that I could, but I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because you're special, Stefan."

"What does that mean? Why me? What's so special about me?" he demanded, on his feet. "What did I do to deserve this?" he lamented, it a double meaning question. What did I do to deserve this miracle of life, to be able to live again? What did I do to deserve this curse, to be able to live while the man I love was forced to take an undead life, separating us now and forever? The demon giggled in his ear at his inner turmoil.

Bonnie sent a quick glance at the others, all knowing the critical thing that he did not. Damon gave her a miniscule chin jerk as he poured another bourbon and walked over to his brother, offering the glass.

Stefan didn't take it, his gaze shooting from the amber filled glass to his brother's stoic face. "What's so special about me?" he repeated.

"Well, you're a doppelganger, brother, just like dear Elena over there."

"What?" he scoffed. "Seriously?" he looked from Damon's unchanging expression to the others who wore a mixture of worry and bated. "Huh. How did you figure that out?"

"It's information Emily gathered on the Other Side." Bonnie answered. "Being a witch, she was able to move around, make contact with other supernatural creatures trapped in their own pockets that hadn't moved on. She encountered 1 of your past doppelgangers, and that was how she created the spell. Doppelgangers are supernatural creatures, they're created by Nature to maintain a natural balance. That was why we were able to bring you back. Doppelganger blood has its own special magical properties. It's own source of magic."

Still trying to process, Stefan took the tumbler from his brother's hand took a gulp of the bourbon, it burned down his throat, making his eyes water as he coughed. Damon took the glass back with a mildly amused glint in his blue eyes as the brunette sat heavily back in the chair.

"Do you think... Katherine knew? About me?" Stefan voiced. "She wasn't exactly surprised at all about Elena looking exactly like her, so she must have known that she was a doppelganger."

"Katherine definitely knew she was a doppelganger," Damon said. "She was too smart and conniving not to have learned something like that about herself after living over 500 years."

And that made Stefan remember something she had told him while in the house, how she was on the run from someone big and scary enough that she couldn't kill, and wondered if it had something to do with her being a doppelganger. He flashed a worried look towards Elena. But Katherine was dead, so it shouldn't matter and he gave it no more thought. "Wait. If we're both doppelgangers," he looked over at Elena, "Then does that mean we're...?" he couldn't seem to say the innocent word but Damon caught where he was going with it easily.

"I'm sure there's probably an intermingling of Salvatore and Gilbert DNA somewhere along the line, just like there was probably fraternization with the Lockwoods, Fells, Forbes... you get the picture, I'm sure. But it's nothing you 2 should worry about," he took a sip of bourbon. "It's not like you slept together. And Katherine was born in the 15th century so I don't think you need to worry about that either, brother."

"No, Stefan." Alaric actually answered his question. "You and Elena aren't related. You're just... the same supernatural species." Stefan looked to him with a raised brow. "This is exactly the kind of stuff Isobel researched. I called Duke while you were in the hospital and got them to ship all her research to Mystic Falls. Some of it has already arrived through express, the rest should get here by Monday. I'm sure that all you and Elena could ever want to know about Doppelgangers will be in there." He reassured the 2 teens.

"Are you okay, Stefan?" Elena asked quietly. "It's can be--"

"It's weird, someone out there could be walking around right now with my face."

"If there is," Damon drawled, "I'm sure he's just as boring and as altruistic as you, Stefan." He went and topped off his glass.

Stefan gave a snort and slumped back into the chair. "Oddly, I find that reassuring."

"I glad I could help," he toasted the air with his glass and downed the contents. "Mm!"

"So, are you going back to school on Monday then, Stefan?" Elena asked after a moment.

"I might as well, don't see a reason why not. I've missed a week and am gonna have to play catch up." He shrugged. "At least this will be the last time I attend high school; 17th times is the charm."

Both teens gaped at him and even Alaric looked surprised.

"You graduated high school 16 times?" Bonnie asked. "Are you crazy?"

"Don't forget the hand full of universities and colleges in between too," Damon remarked. "Crazy doesn't even begin to describe, sister."

"I've been alive fore 162 years, I thought I should at least learn something, do something with that time." Stefan said. "Better than being a drunk serial killing degenerate."

"Is it though?"

"Yes!" was the chorus around the room.

Damon scoffed. "That's just because you all have a stick up your asses and don't know how to have fun. And you can't forget devilishly handsome."

Stefan rolled his eyes at his brother and looked to the other vampire in the room. "What about you, Ric?"

"Oh, well, I always thought I was classically handsome," he joked.

A smirk flickered at the corner of his lips. "I meant school."

"Ah. Well, I don't think I can put it off any longer. It was a fight to just get this week off, and they're counted as my vacation days. I was lucky to get them without being forced to compel the principal after I've only been teaching here for a month. So I don't really have choice if I want to keep my job. I might be a vampire now, but I still have to make a living." He punned.

"Are you sure you can handle that?" Elena wondered gently; worried for the teacher and the teenage population of Mystic Falls High. "I mean, Damon and Stefan have been vampires for the past 145 years, they could control the hunger, but you've only been a vampire for--"

"The last 5 days." Alaric nodded. "I know. But I haven't killed anyone yet and I spent nearly 4 of those in a hospital where people are bleeding constantly. I've been feeding regularly from blood bags; the only person I've feed from was Bonnie when she turned me."

"He'll never learn control if he's isolated from his trigger," Stefan added. "The longer a vampire hides from the temptation, the harder it get's to keep control every time they go into 'civilization."

"I can just put blood into a thermos, everyone will just think I'm having soup or something for lunch." He finished his bourbon. "I can drink from it when I get a craving."

"And if something does happen," Stefan looked back at Alaric. "We'll be there to help." He nodded at the girls.

"The only 1 who has a chance of taking down Big Bad Ric right now is Bon Bon." Damon interrupted cynically. "The Doppelganger Duo would just make some tasty vampire treats."

"I would never hurt them," Alaric denied.

"You telling me," Damon picked up a letter opener from the table and inspected it, "That if sliced those 2 open right now, you would go Rosario Vampire?"

Alaric blurred to his feet, empty tumbler left spinning on the piano bench. He growled, veins threatening around his eyes. "And you think I would just stand here and let you do that, even if I thought you could actually go through with it?"

"That's the thing," he smirked. "You won't know until I do it."

"Jesus Christ, Damon!" Stefan jumped to his feet in anger and exasperation. "Would you just stop with the bullshit threats to make Alaric snap already?"

"That's half my entertainment, little brother." Damon pouted, twirling the point of the letter opener into his fingertip. "I should at least get that while he's staying in my house, rent free."

"Ours," Stefan corrected icily, stepping forward with a glare.

"How about I just burst both your brains?" Bonnie stood calmly, looking challengingly between both vampires.

"Back to school special it is," Damon said.

[...tbc..]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Sunday, Alaric went back home to his apartment for what felt like the first time in weeks, taking a duffle full of blood bags from the freezer with him. Because of his first death, his own stake to the lung thanks to Damon, the threshold barrier on his apartment was null despite him coming back to life. So now that he was a vampire, he wouldn't have a problem getting into his own apartment.

Monday morning Stefan didn't have to wake up earlier than a normal teenager to go out into the woods to hunt for animal blood because he was actually a 145 year old vampire who couldn't handle his human blood. He was a normal teenager now, albeit a 162 year old one thanks to the forces of magic. But a normal teenager nonetheless who woke to the alarm, fed his comet goldfish named Salvatore, showered and shaved and styled his hair, dressed and put on a belt filled with vervain. A normal teenager who went downstairs and ate a eggs and bacon breakfast sandwich as his 168 year old vampire older brother dined on a glass of warm, donated blood. A normal teenager who packed his own lunch for the first time in the previous 16 times he'd attended high school, packed his school bag and waited on the front porch to be picked up by his friend who was a witch and his ex-girlfriend who was the doppelganger of his previous ex-girlfriend—but, you know, it was all relative.

High school was high school, Stefan decided, no matter if you were a true regular 17 year old teenager who didn't know of the true preternatural that lived out there, or 17 year old vampire who had was obsessed at being as human as possible, or a 162 year old 17 year old finally attending high school for the 17th and final time who was also obsessed with becoming a damned vampire again.

To an outside onlooker, you couldn't pick him out of the crowd of teenagers. He was dime a dozen. Sitting at his desk near the back, among the students, Alaric up front at the chalkboard, teaching. Had Stefan never met, never lied about who he was in North Carolina; if he just hadn't made that detour to Duke... that day, rushing into history class and expecting just another substitute—Mr Saltzman would never have given him a second look. When Alaric had realized the truth (not the supernatural part of it), he'd made his position very clear. It wasn’t until the figuring of Stefan being a vampire that they got together. He needed to stop being the naive 17 year old who was turned, and back to the 145 year old vampire that somehow managed to convince Alaric to be with him.

He was human now and the only true difference now, instead of denying the compulsive urge to rip into his fellow students' precious jugular vein and drink all that delicious, consuming life-force (a curse now bestowed upon Alaric)—he was forced to endure a different but truly all the same growing, grumbling emptiness in his stomach as he waited impatiently for the period to end, instead day dreaming of the lunch in his locker like he was some ravenous creature foaming at the mouth.

The 2nd period bell rang and the students quickly packed up their books and scattered, all eager to escape for the hour lunch allotted. Stefan wished he could converge with the stream, but he purposefully dawdled until the class emptied. Center and control the urge, he'd been doing it successfully for the past 74 years, he could do it now. Elena stopped and looked at him, her class books held to her chest. Stefan gave her a go-ahead-I'm-fine head jerk and she left, leaving the classroom empty but for the teacher and student.

Stefan took his bag from the back of his chair and collected his books under his arm as he approached the history teacher's desk at the front of the classroom. Both cast a gaze out the open door into the busy hall, but the passing students paid them no mind, having better things to do.

"You okay?" Alaric looked at him carefully. "You look as jittery as I feel,"

Stefan felt an almost manic laugh well in his chest that he quickly forced back. He was fast learning what a terrible person he was because all he could think right now was: I'm starving. I'm so fucking hungry right now. I just want to eat and never stop! when he knew that was exactly what was going through Alaric's head right now in stereo and on repeat and because Stefan could eat and never stop and it wouldn't matter because he wasn't murdering a person now when he ate to his body's satisfaction. His was a hunger that could be sated, if only for a short time before it returned, just as strong as ever, growing as he tried to deny and control. He was a vampire still, just another parasite after a different substance to gratify himself with, if temporarily. But Alaric could never be truly have that same satisfaction and not have death on his hands, coating his skin.

"Well, you look very stable," Stefan agreed. He set his books down on an empty corner of the desk and opened his bag. He cast another glance out the door, his body angled so if anyone did happen to look in, they would only see his back and not the blood-filled thermos he pulled out of his bag that took up most of the room. "Brought you a refill, thought you might need it."

Alaric exhaled. "Thank you. I really didn't think this whole thing through. Somehow, this is harder than the hospital; there, I didn't have to do anything but focus on not giving into the sweet scent, but here..." he scratched a hand through his hair, "I have to actually function and act like a normal person who isn't being bombarded by the sound of heartbeats and blood flow." He shook his head. "It's exhausting and it just makes me more hungry. I can hear each page turn, scrape of pen, cleared throat—you bouncing your leg like crazy."

"Sorry," he ducked his head as he stuffed his books back into his now empty messenger bag. "My lunch bell literally just rang a few minutes ago."

Alaric gave a light chuckle. "I get it. Go. And thanks for the extra blood, Stef." He murmured a little more quietly, leaning in a little.

"I'll see you later," he adjusted the strap on his shoulder and left the classroom. As soon as he hit the scattered flow of students in the hall, he blended easily and hastened his pace back towards his locker, his mind now prominently back onto his own hunger and the delicious solution the resided temptingly in a paper bag on the top shelf of his locker.

He threw himself on the chair next to Elena at the table in the cafeteria, Bonnie seated on her other side and didn't have the patience so he simply tore open the paper bag to get at the contents.

"Are you going to actually eat that or inhale it?" Bonnie muttered, impressed.

"I'm starving!" Stefan explained, pausing long enough at the halfway marker of his sandwich to take a couple swallows of water. "Like, all the time!" he complained, dividing his attention between the rest of his sandwich and the container of chopped veggies and dip he'd packed with it.

"You're a growing boy now, Stefan." Elena mused. "You need all those calories." Stefan just grumbled to their amusement, his cheek protruded like a cute little chipmunk as they finished their own lunch at a more controled pace.

The warning bell rang and the lunch room slowly packed up and cleared, and Stefan's hunger was sated once more for the moment. The following 2 periods were uneventful and passed fast enough until the end of the day bell rung. Stefan managed to fit the day's current assigned homework, and the accumulated stuff he'd missed the past week into his bag and pulled the strap over his head to rest on his jacket-covered shoulder. He told Bonnie and Elena he'd meet them at the car and quickly made his way to the cafeteria, fishing some $1 bills from his wallet—when Matt and Tyler found him with an interesting offer.

"Just think about it, man." Tyler handed him the jersey and Matt clapped him on the shoulder before they left.

Stefan quirked his brow and stuffed the shirt under the flap of his bag as he turned his eager attention back to the snack machine, before he caught up with the girls in the student parking lot where they were waiting by Bonnie's blue Prius.

"Got what you needed?" the driver smirked at his snack laden arms.

"You don't mind if I eat in the car, do you?" he climbed into the backseat, pulling his seatbelt on.

"As long as you don't get crumbs everywhere," she chuckled, pulling from the lot and turning toward town.

"Thanks for being my temporary chauffeurs, it's only for the week, I promise." Stefan told them. "I have a car, but I can't risk being pulled over without a licence now that I can't compel my way out of it. I managed to get an appointment for the driver's test at the DMV Thursday after school."

"It's not a problem, Stefan."

"So where do you need to go?" Elena wondered, twisting around in the passenger seat, watching him pull open a bag of salt 'n' vinegar crisps.

"Home Depot," Stefan said, mouth watering from the chips. "And then the electronics’ store for a new phone."

"What do you need at the Home Depot?" Elena questioned, straightening back in her seat.

Stefan gave a little snort. "I need to replace a key."

The two teens exchanged confused looks and Stefan opened his second bag of crisps.

"We're here," Bonnie eventually announced, parked in a curb space.

They followed Stefan into the store and through a maze of aisles, but the teen knew where he was going. This wasn't the first time he'd paid a visit to the store since Damon had made his return; starting from broken windows to bookshelves. He found the aisle that displayed the doorknobs and carefully started to inspect the brass selection; he'd always had a keen eye for detail, even before he was turned into a vampire, so he remembered the type.

"Found it." He picked up the boxed product and made his way to the register.

"What do you need a doorknob for?" Elena asked.

"I just need the key," Stefan told them as they left. "Damon changed the knobs on my balcony doors while I was in the hospital and refuses to give me the key, so..." he gestured the bag.

Instead of getting in the car again, the trio just had to cross the street to get to the electronics store and Stefan simply purchased the same cell phone as the previous 2 times and put it on his account and plan, under the same number.

"You sure you ladies don't want to stay?" Stefan asked when they dropped him back at the Boarding House, but they had to get home themselves. "Thanks again for the ride."

"Same time tomorrow," Bonnie smiled and drove back down the winding drive.

Stefan didn't see Damon's Camaro in the drive and was happy no 1 else was home. He opened the package and stowed the knobs in the chest in his closet but locked the attached keys in the drawer in his dresser. He went down to the kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee, pouring himself a large mug and set up at the dining room table. He took his phone out of the package and powered it on, setting it up and filling up Contacts from memory, before he plugged it into the wall to charge the low battery.

Sipping his coffee, Stefan emptied out his bag and started his missed worked. History first, which was the easiest (no offence to Mr Saltzman, but if you lived through it...), then English Lit II, Math, and Economics; getting up periodically for refills, bathroom breaks, an apple and to stretch out the very human aches and kinks in his back and shoulders from being hunched over for hours. Until finally, he threw down his pen and answered the call of his hunger; a couple pork chops, caramelized onions, mashed potatoes, gravy and collared greens. A scan through the wine fridge and he found the perfect pairing. He pushed all his books and papers aside and dined at the table. His plate cleared, he was just finishing off the last sip of wine when Damon finally returned home, a glance at the numeral antique clock on the mantle dictated that it was 12 minutes to 8.

Damon easily tracked his heartbeat to the dining room at a human crawl. "How was your very first day of ordinary high school?" he mocked, flopping into an adjacent dining chair, fingers flicking over the brunette's notes.

"How was your millionth day of day drinking?" Stefan returned with a raised brow, turning the stem on his glass with his fingertips.

"I see you're still not funny!" Damon remarked.

"The sentiment's returned," Stefan flashed back the same fake smile he received. They gazed at each other with humoured flickering eyes.

"So I take it to mean that Teacher held it together," he couldn't help but be somewhat impressed with the man. Stefan's green eyes flashed with silent pride for the dirty-blond. "I guess having a proper vampire as a teacher has it's advantages," Stefan flashed him a frown which garnered a little smirk in return. "So what's this, then?" the vampire changed the subject, picking the jersey up from where it hung over the back of his chair.

"My old Timber Wolves jersey." Stefan told him. "Matt and Tyler found me after school today and asked if I would reconsider joining the team, you know, since I quit when you killed Mr Tanner for no other reason than to get back at me for saying you actually have feelings. I t--"

"No," Damon said instantly and with finality.

Stefan stared at his brother for a moment, annoyance flaring in his expression. If his brother had just let him finish the sentence, he would have known that Stefan was in agreement. He'd told the guys he'd think about it, even though he intended to say no from the beginning. He needed to stay as safe as possible until his next birthday, when he would officially turn 18; and he couldn't take the chance that he wouldn't get some spinal injury from a hard tackle or something else. Not when he remembered what it was like when he tried out and Tyler tackled him, he'd been a vampire back then and it was still a struggle to get up after, not to mention the broken wrist and 2 of his fingers bending a way they weren't supposed to. No, he couldn't take the risk.

"You're a human now, Stefan." Damon continued, misreading the meaning behind his expression. "You're fragile. It's a contact sport and the answer is no."

But he refused to let Damon think he could continue this controlling shit. "It's a contact sport—played by other humans." Stefan told him slowly. "And oh, look, I'm a human now, too, as you never fail to keep reminding me!" he snapped.

"Uh-huh." Damon just nodded, his arms crossed. "I'm not stupid, Stefan."

Stefan blinked at him. "I never said you were," he said genuinely.

Damon ignore him. "The school won't let you play—you're underage. You need a permission slip sighed by a parent or guardian and I don't plan on signing on any dotted line."

Stefan gave a short chuckle, giving his brother a smug look. "All my records say I'm 18."

"Smug looks ugly on you, little brother, especially when it's out of season." Damon smirked and Stefan's expression slowly shrunk as his brother continued, "I told you I didn't just mope around your sickbed all week."

"What did you do, Damon?" he asked lowly.

"I made you real." Damon clapped him on the shoulder. "In the eyes of the law, in the eyes of God himself... you're a minor and I am your guardian. I have control of all major aspects of your life and I fully intend to watch it bloom. All the records at school have been fully update along with others, all bearing your new birthday... November 5th, 1992." He announced with pleasure.

Stefan shoved to his feet, outraged. "You can't do that!"

"Really? 'Cause that's exactly what I did."

"No! I need to be 18!" he said desperately.

Damon mirrored his standing stance. "I'm not going to let you blow this once in a lifetime chance because you're scared Ric's going to break up with you because he wants you to live, have a normal life, get a wife, have kids and grow old."

It was the inevitable truth. With a roar, Stefan picked up his empty wineglass and threw it, the thin glassware shattered into particles at the impact against the frame of an old water painting hanging on the wall. Damon looked unimpressed by his outburst. The brunette looked back at him, his face vacant, his empathetic green eyes empty. "I hate you." Stefan told him, his tone flat without fluctuation. "All you ever do is ruin my life."

Pain flared in Damon's blue-eyes which he quickly covered in a cracked mask of indifference, internally shuddering at his brother's expression. This was more unnerving than staring into the eyes of the full Ripper, no humanity and all because Stefan no longer had that switch inside of him so to see him like this was beyond disconcerting. "I know you're angry right now, Stefan, so I know you don't mean that."

"Get out." Damon didn't move. "I don't want you here!" Stefan voice didn't raise but the force behind it was almost like a physical punch to the gut. Damon stared at him for a second longer before he dropped the jersey clenched in his hand to the tabletop and left the dining room.

Stefan was still for a moment, such pain clawing inside his chest, such helplessness that it felt like he was suffocating with it, his lungs seizing and his throat closing up—since the moment he felt his heart beat in his chest for the first time in the past 145 years; since he had Damon under him, stake in his chest; since he held Alaric dead in his arms for the first time, since even longer before that in 1942 when he stood on the platform waiting for a big brother who never came; standing on the shore of the quarry, helpless but to stare after his brother's retreating back, able to do nothing but drown it out in the roar of blood!

There was no switch to make it quiet, there was no longer a box strong enough to pack it away, no swath big enough to suffocate it and he couldn't suppress it anymore, no barrier—so he let it out. Smashing, tearing, screaming. Powerless, despair, terror, isolation. His dinner plate met the same fate as the wineglass. He tore the jersey, shredded it. He snapped every candle in sight and there were many. He used the holders like a bat, smashing the antique clock on the mantle. He tore the paintings from the wall, smashing the old frames over his knee and shredding the painted canvas—destroying historical works of art that held great monetary value and had been passed through the family for decades. Wordless roars and screams of anguish leaving his throat raw, tears feeling like hot lava down his already flushed and hot cheeks.

Stefan wavered, bracing himself heavily on the cherry wood tabletop, virtually unscathed no matter what he'd thrown at it; his breaths short and chest heaving, heart thumping in his throat. His face tingled. His gaze was blurry but he couldn't tell if it was from tears or the light-headedness as such pain radiated from the center of his brain it made him feel ill.

Alaric hadn't done it yet, but it was only a matter of time. He wasn't selfish like Stefan, who knew the danger, the contamination his vampirism would cause to the human's life. A pollution, a poison. He'd infected Alaric and found himself cured. Alaric was a better man than Stefan ever could be; he would 'free' Stefan, 'let him go' like Stefan should have from the beginning.

The brunette cocked his head as he stared at the drop of dark blood on the table, wondering idly when it had gotten there when another drop joined beside it. He felt the burn in his sinuses and the drops dripped faster, until it created a small pool. With a trembling hand, Stefan pressed his finger into it, drawing his finger across the polished cherry surface, before going back and repeating. It was an old routine, one imbedded inside of him, one he could never forget—he wrote their names so he would never forget the monster that he was.

Damon had left, but he hadn't gone far. He didn't need vampire hearing for the ruckus Stefan was making, his wordless screams cutting him deep, every crash making him flinch. It hadn't gone on more than half an hour and there was silence, silence but his brother's breath and his brother's heartbeat which he had cause to never be able to hear, and yet was listening to it now. It took a few minutes for the scent to permeate the air and the vampire smelled it instantly. Blood! Fear tore through him as he blurred into the dining room; he took in the destruction of the room in an instant, his brother leaning against the table, with jerky movements of his arm.

"Stefan!" Damon jerked him around. "Where--?" The bleeding had already slowed, just a sluggish haemorrhage that coated his upper lip. "What did you do?" Stefan was languorous in his hands as Damon tore the sleeve from his shirt and pressed it to his nose. "Hey!" the vampire snapped, giving his brother a little shake but the teen was only like a doll. He noticed the blood on his hand and remembered the odd movements of Stefan's arm when he'd come in and turned his attention to the tabletop as the teen shivered—and there written in blood: Alaric Saltzman.

He knew of his brother proclivity to ask the name of his victims before he killed them when he was the Ripper, and then write them down. He knew of the apartment his brother had in Chicago in 1922 and the hidden wall crowded with names written in blood. Stefan was worse than he realized.

"Let's get you warmed up, huh?" Damon turned his attention back to his brother. "A nice hot bath to calm you right down."

Stefan let his brother lead him upstairs and into his bedroom, sitting him at the foot of his king sized bed and went into his bathroom, turning on the faucet to his large plunge bath, big enough to fit himself and pretty company comfortably, sprinkling bath salts in.

Unlike Stefan's bedroom, which was crowded with bookshelves, dressers, wardrobes, reading chairs and tables, with a closed off en suite; Damon's bedroom was filled with space and had an open concept, it designed for comfort and pleasure with his king bed and large bath, unlike Stefan's. Here, he could easily keep his eye on the brunette.

"Talk to me, little brother." Damon murmured as he returned to the bed, where Stefan hadn't moved at all. He would have thought he was staring at a mannequin if he couldn't see the slight rise of his shoulders or hear his heartbeat.

"A doppelganger is born to bear the punishment of the one who can't be harmed, the one who cannot be killed." Stefan mumbled quietly, his head bowed, but Damon heard him clearly. "From the day we are born, we are made to suffer the sins of the one's appearance we bore."

Damon stared at the crown of his head. "Where did you hear that from?"

"Huh?" Stefan looked up, eyes blinking rapidly to clear his head and rubbed his forehead.

"Come on," Damon pulled him into the bathroom, turning the faucet off, the water steaming beneath the layer of scented bath bubbles. "Get in. Let's go." He turned his back.

Stefan stared at the bubbles for a moment before he pulled his shirt off overhead and dropped it to the floor. He unbuckled the vervain filled clasp of his belt and undid his zipper, he pushed his jeans and underwear down, his socks coming off as he stepped out of them. He lifted his leg over the tub, stepping into the hot water, the line reaching his knees, the bubbles above that. He lowered himself, giving a shaky exhale as his chilly skin was enveloped by toasty velvet. He sat and he waited, looking up at his brother listlessly.

Damon gathered his discarded clothes, fingering the belt clasp buckle he didn't recognize for a moment before he looked back at his brother. He forced back the shudder, it was like staring into the blank eyes of Stefan's dead body. A shell, and empty home; Stefan's compassion and intelligence and humour and hope checked out. "I'll be back," he quickly left, throwing Stefan's clothes in his own hamper without thinking about it, before he blurred to the kitchen and put the kettle on, his super-hearing trained on any and all sound coming from his bedroom.

Stefan slumped back against the gentle slope at the end of the tub, his chin to his chest as he stared with half-lidded eyes at the gentle peaks of bubbles, little tiny rainbows reflecting off the oil surface from the dim lighting overhead. He felt cold and numb but the water was so soft and warm, like a gentle caress on a sore bruise. He just wanted to feel it like a blanket, like when he was a baby, swaddled in a soft blanket, held securely and safely and he had no concept of pain or heartbreak, just love. He wanted to go back to that, to sooth the agony that cut into his soul.

He laid his head back, his eyes closed and slowly slid down into the water. Bubbles coated his face and hair and then where washed away as he lay fully submerged in the bathwater. His heartbeat skipped and went a little erratic as he was first fully immersed, but it wasn't cold, hard, and metallic tasting; he wasn't drowning, he was balming. And he calmed right back down. He was warmed; like he was being bathed in warm honey on his skin and not cold ill-intentioned fingers that gripped his heart. A few bubbles leaving his nostrils, he relaxed at the bottom of the bath.

The kettle whistled as it boiled and Damon turned off the flame and took it off the burner and the sound died. He pored the water over the tea bag in the mug; it was some herbal nonsense that Elena had put into the cart with a comment of: "We have it in my house, Stefan likes to drink it when he's over." And that settled the purchase. He cocked his head and automatically looked up and beyond through the walls and ceiling to where his bathroom lay as he heard the stutter of Stefan's heartbeat.

Not willing to take any chances, even if it seemed to calm a few seconds later, Damon abandoned the seeping tea and sped up stairs. At first glance the tub was empty of his brother, but he didn’t see any wet footprints on the tile and his eyes widened in terrible realization. Water bubbled and dribbled from his lips--

"Stefan!" Damon’s hands plunged through the cover of bubbles and into the water beneath, fingers clawing into the first flesh they came into contact with, wrenching his brother out of the water.

Stefan jolted in surprise as hands grabbed him roughly, choking on water and soap as he was jerked upright, gasping and coughing as his eyes and sinuses stung.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?!" Damon screamed, his vamp-face out as he was ratcheted with emotion, shaking him roughly. "Drowning yourself in my fucking tub while I'm trying to make you tea! Goddamn it, Stefan! I told you! I told you--"

Stefan clawed at his brother's own slippery forearms. "Stop," he croaked. "Damon!"

After a moment, the vampire stopped shaking him, breathing heavily, nails biting into soft skin, his sclera at least returning to normal. "Explain to me, Stefan." He demanded in a growl.

"I wasn't trying to drown myself--"

"I don't believe you. I can't trust a word you fucking say."

Stefan exhaled slowly, staring at his brother and realized that the tremor he was feeling wasn't him, but Damon. "Compel me, if you don't believe me." He said quietly. "I don't have vervain. Compel me, if you don't believe me."

Damon looked severely taken aback by the suggestion, that Stefan was actually offering it; to leave him open to one of the biggest vulnerabilities, to let the vampire essentially manipulate him, even after all that had happened with Katherine. "Alright." His fangs retracted and he stilled, caught Stefan's gaze, who didn't fight and stared straight back, completely trusting. Damon's pupils contracted...

Stefan could feel Damon's influences curl and flutter around his mind; it felt completely different than the Power of dream manipulation. This was like a catch and pull, drawing on the conscious, to implant into the subconscious.

As a human, he never remembered Katherine's compulsion; and as a vampire he was unable to be compelled like witches, so why could he feel this? It couldn't be because he was a doppelganger, he was born 1 so he would have felt Katherine's compulsion but hadn't. The only difference he could think of between then and now was that he was brought back from the Other Side with powerful Bennett magic. Stefan attempted to pull away, just to see what would happen and he was pulled back like it was magnetism.

"Were you trying to drown yourself?"

He didn't feel compelled to spew out the answer to Damon's question without thought or regard; it more felt like a strong impulse to do it, a very convincing suggestion. But he didn't fight it, he was telling the truth. "No."

"Then what were you doing?"

"It was comforting. Safe. I was holding my breath. I wasn't even down there a minute before you pulled me out. I just needed for it all to stop for a minute, the pain..."

Damon stared at his little brother a long moment. That was it, that was what he had wanted, but... "Stefan... you don't want to be a vampire." He could do this and make Stefan forget and no one would ever know but him.

"Damon, no. What are you--" Stefan started to try and pull away again, but he was pulled right back as the vampire intensified his Power.

"You hated it, what it turned you into, what it made you. It really was a curse for you, not like for me." Damon told him. "You don't want to be a vampire right now, you want to live and you want to grow. You get to be human again, Stef. You don't have to pretend to be human anymore because you actually are human now. By some miracle this happened and throwing that away would be the biggest mistake you could ever make. And I know you, baby brother. You better than anyone knows that there is always hope, Stefan. Otherwise, you would have given up on me a long time ago. Well, here it is, that hope coming back to pay you ten-fold for all the shit it's put you through. You finally have the chance to live the life you always wanted but was stolen from you; finally graduate high school for the last time, age passed 18, be a doctor like you always dreamed in our former lives…

"I'd ask you if you could ever forgive me for doing this, but you won't remember."

Stefan looked back at his brother, his green gaze teary as he let the soft words his brother spoke swim through his conscious and take hold in his subconscious. He wasn't quiet sure when exactly he'd stopped resisting, but he had. He knew he'd hopped right back of that despairing, spiralling horse; that one that had him taking off his daylight ring and putting it in Salvatore's fishbowl with no apprehension and he couldn't allow himself to go down that path anymore. So maybe this, here, his brother's half-compulsion would tamp that down spiralling, self-destructive nature, the depression.

I will, Stefan knew. "I forgive you," he whispered, a tear escaping down his cheek.

"I'm sorry, brother, I just want you to be happy and live." Damon compelled. "You won't remember all this, this past hour. You came home, we had a brief, unimportant chat, you--" he stopped. "What were you going to tell those 2 idiots about rejoining the team, Stef?"

"I told them I would think about it, but I was just going to tell them no anyways tomorrow. I couldn't take the risk of getting injured again. Not like this."

"What do you mean again?" he growled, catching the operative word.

"During tryouts when I was tackled, I broke my wrist and 2 fingers."

Damon gritted his teeth, taking a deep breath. "No football, Stefan. Got it?"

"Okay."

"Good. So home, brief chat, no to football, a little nosebleed that's nothing to worry about, then you asked if you could use mine to take a relaxing bath, wrote in your little diary, then laid your pretty little head on a pillow and fell asleep. Nice and boring, just like you."

"Really boring," Stefan gave a little smile. "Sounds nice." He just hoped that's what this would give him.

"And avoid the dining room for a while; I've got some redecorating plans and I want it to be a surprise." Damon finally released him physically and broke the compulsion, standing on his feet and stepping away, his v-neck and jeans wet with damp patches. He carefully watched his brother as he rubbed his eyes, bubbles dried in his damp hair.

Stefan looked up at the vampire, his thick brows twitching. He wondered if telling Damon that he still remembered would make his feel more or less guilty, but in the end, stuck to Damon's truth. "This bath may be big enough for 2... but that's never going to happen, Damon. I just don't love you that way,"

A surprised look crossed his face. "That was almost funny, Stefan."

"The water's getting cold, do you mind or do you want a show?"

"Tempting as that is..." Damon tossed him a towel and Stefan caught it before it could go in the water. "Guy is your type, not mine." He went back into his room.

Stefan pulled the plug and stood, rubbing himself dry before wrapping the towel around his waist and stepped from the tub. He found Damon sprawled on his king flipping through a magazine. "I thought you were making me tea?"

"What am I, your servant now?" the vampire didn't seem to realize the discrepancy.

"Thanks for letting me use your bath," he paused at the door.

Damon didn't look up. "Don't mention it."

He looked at his brother a second longer, a gentle curve on his lips and headed for his room. He was optimistic this would work, could testify that Damon's compulsion was taking a loose root. He didn't want to turn into a vampire right now but live life as a human. I can do this. He slipped on a pair of sleep pants and a shirt, sitting in his bed against a pile of pillows against the headboard, legs crossed, he wrote in his journal in the lamplight.

"Mm," he grunted, waking in discomfort, his arm going around his stomach at the hunger pains. He didn't remember falling asleep, but he obviously had, his journal and pen tumbled on the bed beside him, his lamp still on. His alarm clock said it was a quarter passed 2 a.m.

Disgruntled, he climbed from bed and walked down the dark hall, his bare feet quiet on the rug-lined floor, hand rubbing at his aching stomach. Down the stairs and into the kitchen. He switched on the overhead light for the exhaust fan above the gas stove and dug into the freezer; he wanted something quick to make with little preparation. He put 4 frozen Belgium waffles in the toaster, 2 chocolate chip, 2 blueberry. He sat on a stool at the breakfast counter, chin pillowed on his folded arms as he waited for it to pop. He stared at the lone tea mug on the counter by the stove, the cup Damon had been making earlier, abandoned. The teakettle sat on the hotplate at the center; he thought about making a cup to wash down the waffles, but discarded it, the noise would wake Damon if he wasn't already. To Stefan's now dull human hearing, he had sounded stealthy, but from past experience he knew that not to be true. What took a vampire's efforts was not hearing every creak and settling groan that went through the old house; figuring out what was just an innocuous bird setting on the sill outside the window to a modern-day marauder looking to break in.

The toaster popped and Stefan set to work on filling a checker board on each piece with butter from the dish, putting them on a short stake on his plate. He was already taking a bite from one before he even made it back to the stool with the lot. He made quick work of the hot buttered waffles, sighing in satisfaction as he rubbed his temporarily sated stomach; it would hold 'till morning. He put his plate in the sink, along with the dumped tea and shut off the stove light, heading back upstairs. He went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, turned off the lamp and crawled back into his bed under the covers.

Stefan easily fell asleep with his mollified appetite.

~ T V D ~

Stefan was awoken by the alarm with a grumble, wishing he could hit snooze but knew he was going to have an inconsiderably busy morning despite not have to go out and hunt for his meal. So he rolled out of bed, pulled on a pair of black jeans, thick socks, and his light, tan long sleeve with the brown patches at the elbows and a thin hood; and coifed his hair just-so. He didn't immediately head to the kitchen like his hunger dictated, but passed the stairs and down the hall towards Damon's bedroom as he was missing a pretty important accessory.

He paused only briefly at his brother's cracked door; Damon just waltzed into his bedroom without knocking or as was now known, without his presence all the time, so he figured he'd give his big brother the same treatment.

"Entry without knocking," Damon looked at him, mock aghast as he came from the bathroom, buttoning his black button up. "And you haven't broken out into a sweat, I'm surprised, Stefan."

"I'm just learning from watching your example, big brother."

"Haven't you ever heard of the saying: do as I say not as I do?"

"Yeah, but what you say and what you do are kind of equal in part so it's a matter of interpretation on how insane I feel like being at the given moment."

Damon looked at him. "Can I help you with something?"

"My belt. Do you--?"

"Hamper."

Stefan found it in the bathroom by the entrance next to the stretch of grey marble counter. His clothes were easily found on top. "You owe me a shirt,"

"How do you figure that?"

Stefan held up the shirt in view. "You ripped my sleeve off."

"Yeah, but you're the one that bled all over it. Blood trumps rip, little brother. Every time." Stefan glowered as Damon gave him an arrogant smirk.

"I'll remember that," Stefan hung it over the side of the hamper.

"Do, brother, do." Damon said. "What do you need it for anyway? It looks like a cheap piece of junk."

Stefan found his jeans and pulled the belt from his loops. "Lexi won it for me at a fair in New York for a birthday, the strong-man booth." He smirked, thumb tracing the worn spiral design on the clasp. "And cheap is right, it was a trick belt but it broke after I used it a couple times. But I took out the mechanism and filled it with vervain." He looked up.

Damon stilled so briefly at the mention of vervain that Stefan would even have missed it had he still been a vampire, and only saw it because he remembered the compulsion from last night, not that the vampire knew that. "Smart move. You're a human now, susceptible to the whims of vampires like all the other suckers walking around."

Stefan tossed his shirt and jeans onto his shoulder and pulled his belt through his belt loops as he left, buckling the clasp. He threw his clothes in his own hamper, fed Salvatore and headed for his most desired destination—the kitchen. A bowl of oatmeal, cut fruit, and coffee. When he packed his lunch, after his experiences of yesterday, he packed extra snacks that he could sneak into class without going noticed or for him to eat at break during class switch. But when he was finished, he realized he didn't have his bag or anything else because it was still in the...

Stefan stood in front of the closed dining room's sliding double doors. And it was here, now, that he realized some of Damon's compulsion did take a foothold in his subconscious. He had a very serious impulse to NOT GO IN THERE AVOID. He knew under normal circumstances he would be reluctant to go back into the eyes of destruction, just like he had after that night in his bedroom, but this was like an outside force tugging in his brain, instructing him clearly. DO NOT GO IN THERE AVOID. It was Damon's compulsion working on his magically reworked human subconscious.

And when he tried to focus, remember what had happened in the room beyond the closed doors, it was like he was remembering through a thick veil. He knew what happened, but it was like he couldn't rehash it. If this compulsion had taken root, Stefan had hope that some of his brother's other compulsion had as well.

"Damon?" he called, knowing the vampire would hear no matter where in the house, even if he didn't shout it from the rafters. A minute later he appeared.

"What are you doing?" Damon eyed him then the door.

"I left my backpack, homework, and cell phone in there last night. But I'm not supposed to go in there."

"Fine." He said like it wasn't his doing. "I'll get them. You... go do something somewhere else."

Damon only slipped into the closed off room once he was down the hall. Stefan made a trip into the basement and the blood freezer. Alaric probably learned the same lesson as Stefan had at the trial of yesterday and would find a way to smuggle blood unconsciously at school, but Stefan prepared a travel mug to slip to the bampi anyway. He's just trashed the empty blood bag when Damon mad an appearance with all his gathered things.

"All the spinal issues in the teenage population are now explained," he said.

"Did you get it all?" Stefan questioned, sorting through the papers, ignoring torn or smeared states.

"You get what I give you, be grateful." Damon poured himself a glass of blood from his stash in the drawer in the bottom of the freezer that Stefan knew better than to mess with, putting it into the microwave. "Bagged blood is so boring." He blinked dully as the glass went around on the rotating plate.

Stefan snickered. "The price of convenience," his words came out a little mumbled due to the granola bar hanging out of his mouth as he packed up his bag. It was like a jigsaw puzzle to make sure everything fit now that he was packing lunches. He could probably cheat a few days himself by buying from the cafeteria.

The microwave beeped and Damon sipped from his breakfast, lip rising as he watched Stefan gulp down the snack bar like he was ravenous. "I'm definitely paying that price—2 fold."

Stefan gave him a face as he trashed the wrapper. "As long as it's not the innocence of Mystic Falls." He slid his cell in his pocket and the strap over his shoulder. "I'm going; Bonnie and Elena are going to be here soon." He grabbed the travel mug on the way out.

"Nobody's really innocent," Damon called to his brother's back.

...

"Hey," Stefan climbed into the back of Bonnie's Prius, buckling up. Damon had not been kidding about the spinal injuries in teenage population; he didn't even notice when he was a vampire, but he sure did now.

"Got you a present," Elena told him as Bonnie drove.

"Elena, you didn't--" Stefan started, both surprised and a bit pleased at the notion.

"Don't worry," she flashed him back a smirk, "Didn't cost me a cent." Bonnie snickered. The brunette passed back a handbook. "You said you were taking the driver's test, no compulsion available. I thought you might want to brush up on your modern day road rules. I dug that up from last year,"

"Thanks," Stefan stuck the travel mug between his knees and flipped through the pages of the driver's manual, scanning the dog-eared and highlighted pages. "I'll admit, it's been a while since I actually drove, it would be good to brush up on the finer things for the written and refresh myself for the practical." Stefan spent the drive reading and Bonnie and Elena spent it chatting about the Winter Formal that Caroline was already foaming at the mouth about.

They split up in the teaming hall to their differentially located lockers, Stefan already digging into his snack-stash, pointed canines tearing into the fruit leather. He hung up his bag, unloaded his books, took what he needed for first period, kept the mug and locked his locker. He made his way through the shoal of fellow students, taking the path that was most likely to cross with Alaric's and he was right. He spotted Alaric coming from the Teacher's Lounge down the hall and through the intervening students, managed to lock gazes. 'Blood' Stefan mouthed as they closed the distance casually without looking it. Alaric's brows stitched a little but Stefan jerked his chin down to indicate the travel mug he held low at his side and the wrinkles smoothed in realization. And, as they finally met at the nexus point, like a well choreographed dance, brushed shoulders as they passed in the throng of students and from view, fingers brushing, the mug cleanly changed ownership and no one was the wiser as the pair continued on their ways without a backward glance.

End of 2nd period had him lingering behind again, this time with his missed homework as an excuse. Elena had learned her lesson from yesterday and didn't need to be told twice, telling the other teen to meet them inside the cafeteria again before leaving, subtly pulling the classroom door behind her.

Stefan set his binder on a desk in the front row and handed Alaric his missed homework.

Alaric took it without looking at it, tucking the papers in a folder, his gaze trained on the brunette. "Hey, is everything okay? Bonnie said that you got a new phone; I tried calling and texting last night but you never responded."

"Yeah, sorry. I kind of lost track of it last night and didn't get it back until this morning."

Alaric stepped out from behind his desk. "Another fight with Damon?"

'I'm not going to let you blow this once in a lifetime chance because you're scared Ric's going to break up with you because he wants you to live, have a normal life, get a wife, have kids and grow old.'

His brother's seethe came back to him, garbled and sounding like it was shouted underwater, but it was there. He gave an unconscious grimace as this sort of ache that arose in his brain and he rubbed at his forehead with rough fingers.

"Hey," Alaric grasped his wrist, pulling his hand away in concern. "Stefan?"

Stefan looked up, emotional pain flaring in his forest green eyes before he snuffed it out. The pressure on his wrist grew marginally, Alaric's disquiet growing at the caught expression. Though the vampire's slightly taller frame blocked the intimate gesture and expression on the dirty-blond's face, threw an illusion on just how close they really where standing through the view in the window on the door, all Stefan could think of was the last time they were in a similar position in a classroom setting. Alaric realized what a terrible mistake he made and broke things off with Stefan, setting the then-vampire into one of the worse spirals of his 162 year long life.

"You might have been alive for over 145 years, Stefan, but it doesn't change the fact that you're still just a 17 year old kid. I'm 33 years old, I'm the adult and I never should have let last night go on as it did."

Stefan pulled from the vampire's hold like he'd been burned, stepping back. Hurt and confusion flashed in the teacher's blue eyes for a moment, before a slamming locker out in the hall seemed to bring back the clamour of school life and understanding took its place; all his heightened senses had a tendency to zero in on the teen—his heartbeat was such a distracting and captivating instrument. He went back behind his desk, it was probably best to keep some physical distance between them in their current environment.

"It was a bit brutal at the beginning. Things were said... things were broken," Stefan swallowed. "But we talked and-and it really helped." He nodded as if to assure himself; it will work. It was probably better that he didn't tell Alaric about the compulsion, not if he hadn't Damon, and he didn't think Damon would be telling the others about it either; it was just between them. He looked back at the teacher, "What, um... what did you want to talk about?"

"Oh..." he sat. "All the occult material of Isobel's I sent for arrived yesterday. It's all sitting in my car right now. I thought I'd bring it over the Boarding House."

"Yeah. It's probably the safest place to keep it, too, anyway. I'm sure Elena will be glad to finally get some answers."

"But not you?" he wondered.

Stefan leaned back against the desk that held his books. "I don' know. I think I just have other," more important and pressing "things on the my mind right now." He stared at the blackboard behind the teacher, the familiar dashed lines of Alaric's writing collapsing in on each other until it was all just a big blur. "It's not like I can doing anything to change it. Just hope that whoever he is, if there even is a he, that he's a luckier bastard than I've been and gets to be some average Joe who's only experience of vampires is Robert Pattinson sparkling in stripper glitter on the big screen." Alaric attempted to stifle the bark of laughter and Stefan refocused his gaze on the vampire with a ghost smile. "Lexi thought it was hilarious when she saw the advertisement on the side of a bus and sprung a surprise visit on me to drag me to a night-showing. Lexi thought they were all idiots and I couldn't decide if I was relieved or disappointed at how off base the world is about vampires." He sighed. "My point, it's probably better if we never cross paths—not if Elena's encounter indicates anything." No, I'm probably the bad doppelganger.

"It's your decision, Stefan." Alaric told him quietly, watching him carefully.

Stefan's snort of derision was overpowered by the growl of his stomach. He cleared his throat. "I better go; lunch is almost over." He grabbed his binder from the desk. "I'll see you later at home!" he left, quickly treading down the hall to his locker, resisting the urge to break out a snack bar to ease his hunger until he could put his teeth into his lunch because that was all they had been doing, easing the hunger just enough so it wasn’t a loud roar in his ears that was way to similar of when he went Rippy and he was able to focus on things outside that yawning emptiness. But his resistance didn’t last long enough to actually wait until getting to the cafeteria to eat; he was already half finished by the time he found Elena and Bonnie with Caroline, who, surprise not really a surprise, was talking about plans for Winter Formal that was still weeks away.

...

This time, when Bonnie and Elena dropped him at the Boarding House, they stayed, Stefan having shared the news of Alaric's delivery. He dropped his bag, boots and jacket in the front hall like a typical teenager and headed straight down the hall. The girls' things joining, they shared a look and had to quicken their steps to keep up with the boy. When they made it to the kitchen, Stefan was already digging into a chocolate pudding cup from the fridge. "Mmm,"

"Weren't you just eating before the drive?" Elena asked.

Stefan just shrugged, lips around the spoon. It had only been a fruit leather. Cup in 1 hand, spoon turned upside-down still in his mouth like a placeholder, he delved into the freezer and came out with ground beef that he set to thaw.

"What's that?" Bonnie said.

Stefan scraped the little snack cup clean, licking the spoon. "Supper. You 2 are staying for a bit, right? Alaric's coming over. And I'm starving," that was the most pressing thing, drowning out his own words as he rinsed the pudding container and discarded his spoon in the sink.

"And what delicious meal are you making us tonight?" Elena sat on a breakfast stool on her knees, leaning forward on the counter on her forearms.

Stefan started to pull ingredients from the fridge and onto the island counter. "Tacos." He went to the cupboard and took out bowls.

"Need help with anything?" Bonnie offered.

"Thanks, but I got it." Stefan organised the crowded area around the cutting board. "I'd usually make the salsa by scratch but there isn't all the ingredients here," he pulled a large knife from the butcher's block and winked, "but I saw a jar of salsa in the cupboard."

"Well, if I'd know you like to make things from scratch, Chef Salvatore," Elena mocked lightly, "That you actually could make things from scratch, I would have gotten the proper ingredients when I went shopping with Damon."

"So, are you just a really good cook or are you an actual chef?" the witch mused.

"It was, uhm... early 1940's," Stefan took a moment to recall, as he cut open the avocadoes, removed the seed and scooped out the centers into a bowl, "Lexi was still helping me into rehabilitating me into the world after a Ripper-binge and demanded my getting a hobby that wasn't brooding into my journal, so I attended Culinary College for a year or so before I decided to join the war effort."

"You know, I bet you have dozens of stories like this and we know that you're a nice guy, Salvatore, but you really could just be a big fat liar!" she challenged.

"You've seen all my journals, right?" Stefan returned. "What do you think the attic’s like? There's boxes up there," he pointed at the ceiling with the knife, "filled with certificates and diplomas alone."

Bonnie held up her hands playfully. "Alright, I concede."

Stefan smirked a little as he started chopping tomato. "You're just too lazy to actually go and check."

"Hey, I'm using my tingling witch senses and feeling the trust, I'm going with it."

"Aka, lazy butt!" Elena laughed.

Bonnie elbowed her. "I don't see you getting up." Elena stuck her tongue out.

"Heat the pan?" the male requested, the witch complying. Stefan quickly shredded the lettuce before he diced the onion; his eyes not the only ones stinging from the pungency of the bulb vegetable. He scrapped them off into the hot pain and washed the oils from his hands before putting the beef in the microwave to finish defrosting.

"Can I do the cheese?" Elena questioned, drumming the edge of the counter.

"If you can handle it," Stefan mused, taking the beef from the microwave and over to the stove.

"Opening a bag and dumping it into a bowl." Elena deadpanned, "I think I can handle that." She stretched across the counter for her items.

"Then I get to do the salsa and sour cream!" Bonnie declared, already searching the cupboard for the jar of salsa, then the fridge for the sour cream.

"Might as well take out the pitcher," Stefan added, breaking up the frying meat as it cooked, turning on the exhaust fan overhead.

"See?" Elena announced, holding the heaping bowl aloft like it was Simba. "I'm already a better cook than Aunt Jenna by a huge leap." She nibbled on a strand of cheese.

"Jeremy is a better cook than Jenna," Bonnie drawled, spooning salsa and sour cream into their respective clear glass bowls. "And that's saying something."

"Well, not all of us can go to some fancy culinary school."

"It was 60 years ago, Elena." Stefan joked. "Time to let it go."

"It should be weird that that's not weird anymore, right?" Elena questioned.

"That's not the weirdest thing about this whole situation," the former vampire muttered. He scrutinized the spice rack next the sink, slowly rotating it and taking the ones he wanted. He may not have been able to make the salsa, but he could the seasoning of the meat.

Bonnie returned the sour cream and salsa containers to the fridge and took out the pitcher of lemon ice tea and a stack of tall plastic cups from the cupboard along with plates.

"I'll start taking these to the dining room," Elena offered, grabbing the tomato and cheese and tucked the cups under her arm.

"Oh," Stefan stopped her. "Not the dining room. The table in the library's big enough."

"Why not the dining room?"

"Under construction. Damon's locked it up,"

"Alright, library it is." She left the kitchen.

"Here," Stefan briefly left the stove and got the teen the tray.

"Thanks. Speaking of vampires with a very shoddy moral compass," Bonnie carefully arranged the filled bowls on the tray to maximum effect. "What misfortune is Damon out bestowing onto innocents today?"

Stefan chuckled. "Your guess is as good as mine."

"That's not a comfort, you know how rainbow friendly my thoughts are when it comes to him."

"Come one, Bon, you know he's changed since you first met him."

"Yeah, he's definitely been different since we got you back," Bonnie noted quietly, leaving with the filled tray.

Stefan turned his attention back to the pan, a tight frown on his lips. Yeah, life was going great. He wished everything could be as it was, with the little thing of him being human now changed. In his thoughts, he didn't notice when Elena came back for the pitcher and plates, snatching the napkin holder as an afterthought. Stefan sighed, giving his head a little shake. With the beef browned and cooked, he drained out the grease and put half a cup of water in, and started to sprinkle in the spices. The scent made his stomach growl eagerly as he put the flame on low.

He looked over at movement in his peripheral. "Oh, hey." He smiled.

"Hey," Alaric returned it. "Thought I'd find you here even if Bonnie hadn't said anything."

"Was I being loud or just predictable?" he stirred the beef.

"Guy's gotta eat," he teased as he approached and placed a hand on the brunette's chest. "But I just listened and followed the sound of that beautifully pumping thing in your chest."

Stefan looked up. "You could distinguish which was mine, even with Bonnie and Elena in the house?"

"I'd know your heartbeat anywhere," he whispered, pressing a kiss to his hair.

"Yeah," He squeezed his eyes closed for a moment as he listened to Alaric grab a blood bag from the fridge freezer. Stefan understood completely. As long as he could listen to Ric's heartbeat, he somehow knew that in the end everything was going to be alright—now he was just waiting for his life to come crashing down around him, piece by piece. 'I now pronounce you... separated forever!' Stefan glared at the ring on his hand holding the frying pan handle. Shut up! he shouted at her as she giggled. He took a breath and shoved it away. He turned off the burner and scraped the spiced meet into a insulated serving bowl, putting the cover on it and placing the bowl on the still-warm burner.

He still had to get out the tortillas and shells out, and put the shells in the oven to crisp and warm like he should have while the meat was simmering but he'd been distracted. Stefan turned from the stove to go to the cupboard to do just that, but bumped into Alaric who was just behind him without a sound. Alaric cupped his face and kissed him before he could say anything.

It had been 72 hours since they had last kissed, a press of lips to Alaric's forehead in parting. It had been a week since that desperate kiss when they made it home safe from Katherine's fangs, alive in their different ways, but together.

Stefan gave a slightly shaky exhale through his nose. It was slow and it was loving and firm and it was thorough, and Stefan could feel the prickle of Alaric's stubble and the breath he didn't really need curl out his nose with his own. And that ball of emotion that had been residing in his chest, the top layer of anger which he had expended last night in the dining room, now started a slow climb up his throat.

Stefan clutched at Alaric’s slate blue button-up over his chest, fists tight and desperate, tried to force away the tremble with the sob that was attempting to force its way out along with the burn behind his closed eyes, but as long as these lips were against his... or maybe it was the frantic release of finally feeling Alaric again as a few tears escaped his eyes and something a cross between a gasp and sob escaped his throat as Alaric released his mouth and rested their foreheads together.

Stefan clenched and unclenched his fists in the material, wrinkling it as Alaric's thumbs brushed away his wet cheeks. "What brought that on?" he managed, trying to make light even as his breath still trembled.

"Looked like you needed it," Alaric murmured. "And I needed it. It was just something that needed to happen."

"I did need it," Stefan confessed in a quiet whisper, their lips brushing, "I really needed it."

"I love you," the vampire gave him a peck. He pulled his face back, but not far. "And I know how things are right now isn't easy, both our lives have been changed dramatically and we both need to make adjustment. It's okay to be afraid, I am too, but I want you to know that I'm not going anywhere. Somewhere along the line we'll get through this—together. Are you with me, Stefan?"

Stefan met his beautiful, searching blue eyes. "Yes, I am. I love you and I have no plan to go anywhere that is without you." He pressed a kiss to the vampire's smile.

"Ahem. The tables set," Bonnie said from the doorway. "Whenever you guys are done making our or whatever," she grinned.

"Everything okay in here?" Elena asked.

Stefan gave a small, genuine smile. "Yeah,"

[...tbc...]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

After supper—which Stefan ate 3 wraps and 2 shells, filled with the works that should keep him for a few hours—they cleaned up and then grabbed the file boxes from Alaric's Tahoe and set back up in the library. They had a vague direction to go in; doppelgangers, so boxes open, they took a cursory catalogue of the tomes and research papers.

"3/4's of these aren't even in English," Elena noted. "How are we supposed to read any of this? I barely passed 11 grd. French and didn't pick it up again this year."

"I speak and read fluent Italian, French, Latin, Polish, my German's not the best but it's passable..." Stefan trailed off as they stared and he gave a sheepish shrug.

"No wonder you're Caroline's rival for valedictorian." Elena told him after a moment then turned to the history teacher. "I can only guess..."

"It's kind of given, being a historian." Alaric said. "Latin, of course. German, Old English, Russian. Um, Chinese and Japanese writing is tricky, but I can get by like a 1st grader." He cleared his throat. "I read them waaay better than speak them."

Elena looked to her best-friend but didn't hold out much hope the witch was going to be in her boring little boat. "Bon?"

"Witches don't cast in English," Bonnie pointed out. "And unlike you, I did pass French every year and am taking it again this year. Aand, Grams has been teaching me a bit of Gaelic even,"

"Guess I'm the only illiterate in the group then,"

"At least you have your looks," Bonnie teased, "Just think, you could be ugly." Elena swatted at her as she chuckled.

So, Alaric, Elena, and Bonnie had taken from the narrowed selection, but Stefan had not. Hate coursed through him as he read: Petrova on a cracked spine. Stefan wanted to tear it up and throw it into the trash, or even better the fire. He wanted to erase everything about Katerina Petrova, but he couldn't, it would be impossible—and it would also mean making Elena disappear, but she was too dear to him and he was too selfish. So he'd buried it under other old tomes and grabbed something at random, hoping it had nothing to do with legends of doppelgangers or shadow-selves. And they settled in.

"Isn't this the nerdiest, cosiest little study group I've ever walked in on," Damon declared, hours later, flopping over the arm of the leather chair that Elena was leaning back against as she sat on the floor, her raised knees the support for her book. "I'm honestly glad to have missed it," he flicked at Elena's loose hair, who swatted his hand away in annoyance.

Stefan briefly freed his mouth of the occupied tootsie-pop and licked his lips, turning his head where it laid on the couch armrest, his book laid open and facedown on his chest. "Where have you been all night? You don't text, you don't call..." he put the sucker back, quirking his brow.

Damon eyed him, from head to socked feet taking up Alaric's lap at the other end of the sofa and back to his mouth and the paper stick bobbing from it. "What am I looking at right now? What the hell is in your mouth?"

"It's called a sucker," Bonnie supplied sarcastically, curled up in the opposite leather chair. "You suck on it."

Damon ignore her. "Where did you get it?" he asked suspiciously.

"I found it in my purse looking for my phone when Jenna texted," Elena answered. "It's from Halloween."

"Better be careful with that, little brother." Damon mocked. "It'll rot your teeth."

Stefan gave him an unimpressed glare. "I actually brush my teeth."

"How can you say that when faced with these pearly whites?" Damon bared his wicked fangs.

"Because I have these," Stefan raised his own lip.

Damon chuckled, settling back again. "Still rocking the baby fangs, huh?"

"They came in after the tooth fairy visited," he agreed.

"They really do look like fangs," Elena said. "I never noticed that before."

"He doesn't smile enough," Alaric teased and grabbed the teen's ankle before he could thump him in his stomach as he rolled his eyes.

"Even without vampire fangs, bet you can still tear into throats," Damon remarked callously. "I guess something’s never change."

"You'll be the first." Stefan promised.

"Kinky," he whistled.

Elena marked her page and set her book aside, she turned around at her spot and rested her arms on the edge of the chair cushion, staring up at the raven-haired vampire. "Stefan said that you're redecorating the dining room, what are you really doing in there?"

Damon gave her that annoying smirk. "You really want to know?"

"I asked," she agreed.

"Hmm. Well..." he drawled and she rose onto her knees eagerly. "I'm not telling you!"

She smacked him on the thigh with a growl. "Jerk! Why not?"

"Simply for this very cute response right here," he circled a finger around her glowering expression and tapped her adorable little nose. He let her smack his hand away and she sat back in disappointment. "It's not my fault you keep falling for the same thing every time."

She couldn't help but stick her tongue out at him. "We'll see about next time." And shoving her book across the rug ahead of her, she crawled over to her best-friend.

"Now you're just teasing me!" his gaze followed her wriggling hips. Bonnie sent a glare with a punch of magic his way as she caught the leer and he grunted with a chuckle, a grimace across his face. "You Bennett's were always a pain one way or another,"

"I suggest you aim a little older," Bonnie released him after a few extra selfish second.

"It's hard to find other 168 year olds on the dating scene," he settled back, unruffled. "Why don't you do something useful with that magic and spell me up a bourbon?" he held out an open palm.

Bonnie snorted. "You wouldn't want to drink anything I served you, trust me." She paused and smirked, "On second thought..."

"Tch. I'll do it!" Damon stopped her and levered himself gracefully onto his feet. "'Cause I know you actually would do something to it." He went over to one of the shelves by the reading table and opened a swing-down door to reveal decanters and glasses nestled on the cupboard within. "So have you actually found anything worth mentioning?" he sipped his bourbon.

"I haven't found anything particularly illuminating," Elena said. "What about you guys?" there was a round of mumbled denials and headshakes.

"What about that thing?" Damon asked, coming back around. "Something along the lines of... doppelgangers suffering the sins of their original because they're immortal or something."

"Where did you get that?" Alaric wondered.

"Talk to your boyfriend," Damon gestured his glass at Stefan as he sat in the leather chair. "He said it."

Stefan raised his head in surprise. "I did?"

"Last night..." Damon narrowed his eyes in realization as he took a drink. The compulsion, it had to be.

"Stefan?" Alaric asked.

The brothers eyed each other for a moment, each having different halves of the truth. Stefan was sure he would remember if he said something like that, even with Damon's compulsion as it didn't affect him like a regular human; Stefan still knew he was compelled, he still had the impression of what happened the other night—but not of what his brother was saying now. So was it because of Damon's compulsion, or was it something else?

Stefan sat up and leaned over for the sucker wrapper on the coffee table, his book replacing it on the table and wrapped the soggy paper stick in it as he picked tootsie from his teeth with his tongue. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he admitted.

"Either way, that doesn't sound very pleasant." Elena whispered.

Bonnie rubbed her narrow shoulder comfortingly. "Maybe it's something Emily told you from the Other Side."

Stefan laid back, this time changing positions and pillowing his head in Alaric's lap like he had wanted to from the beginning but pushed back impulse for fear it would be too distracting. He stared at the ceiling, his eyes tightening, but as always seemed to be the case, when he was trying to remember anything from his afterlife, a sharp pain radiated in his head. He blinked, gaze flickering over as Alaric's fingertips soothed the furrow from his brow.

Elena heaved a sigh. "It's getting late and Jenna wanted me back before 11. We should probably head out," she looked to Bonnie who nodded. "Do you think I could take some of these home with me?" she asked Alaric.

"Sure,"

Stefan was sure he was the only one who noticed her grabbing a tome with a cracked spine that read Petrova as the 2 girls showed themselves out.

"Well, that's my cue." Damon announced a moment later, refilling his glass before he left.

"Before you go," Alaric called him to a stop. "Could I borrow some more blood bags? I'm running low at home."

"Borrowing implies a return, Teacher." Damon countered. "Blood's not particularly refundable after consumption."

"Damon," Stefan sighed.

Damon rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh. "Fine. But," he stipulated, "You're going to start pulling your weight around here, which means compelling blood bags from the very generous citizens 2 county's over. We don't need any of it getting back to the Council, so spread the blood loss around a bit."

"Agreed. You could have fixed me a drink too while you were up," but the vampire was already gone, not that it mattered. A smirk flickered across his lips as he heard Damon's colourful retort, which was inaudible to other ears but his own.

Stefan reached up and traced the shell of Alaric's ear with a expression of nostalgia as he recognized the response. "I miss that," he was the one who used to do that with Damon.

Alaric took his hand, kissing his fingertips then palm. "Adjustments."

"You could always go for a little hunt in the woods," Stefan suggested teasingly. "It'll help you fine-tune those predatory impulses in a safe environment."

"Yes, that second part holds merit," Alaric agreed.

Stefan raised an amused brow, "And the first part?"

"It's like saying: here, have some tofu bacon when there's turkey bacon right there."

God, bacon. "Why turkey bacon?" His hand unconsciously went to his stomach, hunger reignited at the talk of bacon, even metaphorical bacon used as a substitute for something else.

"Because blood in the blood bags has impurities, those chemicals they put in it so it doesn't clot. So it'll never be as good as..."

"Straight from the vein." Stefan finished the line of thought. "Real bacon." He sat up but shifted until he was sitting in the vampire's lap sideway, his back to the couch arm and his arm resting along the back behind Alaric's head.

"What are you up to?" Alaric wondered, even as his body automatically responded, curling around the warmth; his arm winding around the back of his waist, the other on his jean-clad thigh, a certain limb stirring at a particular secured heat source so close by, separated by layers of jean.

He knew he should pace himself for them both, let them more time to acclimate into their new skins as separate people before they came together—but it was the separate that Stefan feared. "And do you want... real bacon?"

A miniscule rigidity went through the vampire at the proposed question. "Is that a trick question?"

Stefan fiddled with the hairs at the dirty-blond's nape. "I've been thinking..." he gnawed his bottom lip. "I want you to feed from me."

"What?" Please, yes! Just the thought made his jaw ache with want. "No!"

"I want you to drink from me. My blood."

"Stefan, no." Alaric tried to shift Stefan from him, but the teen refused, twisting his finger in the hanger loop at the back of his collar.

Stefan fiddled with the buttons on his slate-coloured shirt. "If I hadn't been a Ripper, if I could control my blood hunger... would you have let me feed from you?" he posed the question, looking into his eyes.

There was confliction of emotions in his own blue eyes, his chest panting in anxiety even as he sat still. Of course the thought had crossed his mind, had probably always floated unanchored in the back of his mind—he had been dating a vampire after all. That want to give himself to Stefan like that, to cross that line which somehow seemed even more personal and intimate than sex. To be a factor in sustaining Stefan's life, to make Stefan stronger, to connect like that—but it had been too soon, Alaric wasn't ready, not then, just like the conversation of him becoming a vampire. Stefan feeding from him, in a recreational manner (because he would have given Stefan his blood in an instant in a life-death situation, had he not been compelled, in a heartbeat) was simply a free-floating concept that was cursed from the beginning due to circumstance, i.e. The Ripper, but had that not even been a factor like Stefan hypothesized, the idea simply was never given the opportunity to take root and grow, not with all that had happened in the past few weeks.

"No, Stefan." Alaric told him firmly, staring straight ahead and refusing to look at him. He dropped his hands, refusing to touch him. "I'm not going to feed from you. Please, get off, I don't want to hurt you."

Stefan ground his teeth in frustration. He needed something to make being in this state worth it, to find some sort of use in this... human form. Having a normal life, finding a wife, a doctor's career, children—that was all well and good, the only problem was the testimony belonged to his previous human life. It held no meaning for him this time around because Alaric didn't belong to it, but Alaric and Damon seemed desperate to keep him like this so Stefan had to find his own meaning in life as a human—and this was what he had landed on. "Katherine used to feed from me until I passed out from the blood loss and then forced me to drink her blood before she compelled me to forget."

Alaric inhaled sharply. "If you think that's somehow going to change my mind--"

"That's not love. That's not care. That's-- that's greed and that's selfishness." Stefan was single-minded. He had denied himself so many things, for so long, for so many reasons; but things were different now, he was different now, those same reasons no longer restricted him, kept him constrained. They were simply no longer a part of him. "You're not her." Stefan stroked his face. "I'm not afraid of you."

"What was it that you always said to me?" Alaric grabbed his hand away and snapped with frustration. "'I'm the one thing you should be afraid of'." This time, he did push Stefan from him and to his feet, following.

"Throw my words back in my face, it doesn't change anything." Stefan glared up at him. "I'll still feel the same. I'll still want the same thing. I want you to drink my blood! I need--!"

Alaric grabbed his face almost roughly, his limbs shaking with barely controlled rage. "Why don't I just be like you? Huh? I won't give you the choice; I'll just compel the urge away! Put this entire issue to bed and you won't remember a thing."

"You can try," Stefan whispered, ignoring the pain ratchetting up in his head. He reached between them and started to unbuckle his belt clasp.

Alaric glanced down between them. "What are you doing?"

Stefan pulled the leather from his belt loops and dropped the strap to the floor with a clink. "There. That should make it easier for you, I'm vervain free now. Give it your best shot—God knows Damon did."

"What--" Alaric was taken aback. "What do you mean 'Damon did'? He compelled you?" his hands dropped to his shoulders. "Hey?"

"I let him. I wanted him to, I needed him to. He doesn't know I remember, or at least he didn't, vampire hearing and all that—but I remember it." Stefan admitted. "I try to tell myself 'I want this, please let it work, let it be true. I want to be human. I want to be alive. I don't want to be a vampire'. I'm trying, but I don't think it's working, Ric. So compel me; maybe it will work this time. You and Damon are so fucking determined to keep me like this—I've been trying to come up with something to give that to you and stand to be in my own skin. As soon as I felt this stupid thing in my chest!" he thumped his fist harshly against his chest. "As soon as I realized I could no longer hear yours!" he pressed a hand against Alaric's. "I knew! I knew it was just a matter of time! So please—let me give this to you." He clenched his fist in the shirt. The ache in his head spiked suddenly, briefly, before it was like the pain drained downward, burning through his sinuses and leaving him faintly light-headed. "Let me do this for you, Ric."

"Your nose is bleeding." Alaric stared in both horror and fixation, the veins under his eyes engorging and feeding into his eyes, flooding his sclera with blood. His hands fisted in at material at Stefan's shoulders and it was like back at the hospital in the waiting room; lured like a charmed serpent.

"I'm human," Stefan whispered, watching him as he seemed to waver in and out, making no move to stop it as sluggish, uneven trails of blood drew a path from his nostrils, over his lips and down his chin. "It happens sometimes."

Alaric's body trembled with such want and his body acted acutely to that accord. As it was about to drip from Stefan's chin and stain his shirt, Alaric's tongue peeked out from between his sharp fangs and caught it up, tongue flickering across Stefan's blood-striped chin.

"Ah," Alaric's blood-eyes flickered and a shiver went through his every cell from head to toes as that single drop of the brunette's blood was like a bolt of lightning through his predatory appetite. The vampire pulled him closer, mouth salivating at the scent, the sight, the taste.

Stefan closed his eyes as Alaric licked a strip from chin to nose over the warm blood, exhaling. Stefan remembered the wild mutt; as he lay broken at the bottom of the embankment after John Gilbert had clipped him with his truck and he awoke from temporary death as it licked the blood from his face. Perhaps this would have the same liberation for Alaric.

That blood, it went straight to Alaric’s cock. He pressed their foreheads together a little hard, trying to ground himself, fighting to urge to latch onto Stefan's neck and never let go. He knew he should probably put distance between them like that last time the urge had taken over and he'd nearly done it, but his body was locked in place. It refused to budge now that it had actually tasted his boyfriend's blood and with the prospect of more. God how he so wanted more, anything from the brunette. "Stefan," he pleaded.

Stefan's arms wrapped loosely around him, one hand cupping the nape of the dirty-blond's neck, the other rubbing up and down his flank, before tucking his hand under the loose tail of his slate button-up and palmed the small of his back. "I love you."

Alaric leaned his head back slightly, his sclera back to normal but the engorged veins were partially visible under his eyes, poised to flush his eyes at a moments notice. "Stefan, I--" There was great temptation in his eyes, want—and fear. "I don't know if I--" his gaze flicked to the teen’s neck and he gulped as salvia flood his mouth and he felt his fangs nip at the inside of his bottom lip.

"We can start small," Stefan told him, a restrained eagerness in his body language. "My wrist. Or maybe right here," he let go of Alaric's nape and took Alaric's own hand, untangling his fisted fingers from the material and pushed his hand into the neck hole of his shirt, laying his hand next to the of his neck on the more meaty part of his shoulder.

Alaric slowly licked his lips, his hand squeezing the warm (biteable) flesh underneath. "Okay," his voice was throaty and Stefan bit his lip and shivered a little.

"Okay," he gave a pleased smile. He pulled his hands from respective clothing and almost like his anchor was broken, Alaric sort of stumbled back a step and sat heavily on the leather couch behind him, staring up at the brunette. Stefan took the hem of his long sleeve and pulled it off overhead, dropping it onto the rug with his belt.

Alaric hadn't vocalized his preferred drinking limb and he didn't look like he was going to offer one up, the way he was staring at Stefan like he was T-bone steak walking towards a starving man. Stefan could see the tenting in his jeans and that encouraged the stirrings of his own to the next level of half-mast.

He knew that he shouldn't try to push his luck with this but he wanted to be close to the man—so he went with a compromise. Stefan stepped to him and bent his knee onto the couch beside Alaric's thigh, his other mirror the move on the other side and he straddled the man, but sat behind his knees and left a gap between their arousals. It would be best to try and keep the 2 separate at their first dry run.

Stefan rested his wrists on Alaric's shoulders, cupping his neck as his thumbs rubbed at his prickly stubble. He slowly leaned forward and pressed his lips against the teacher's; he was about to pull back again when Alaric wrapped his arms around him, 1 around his waist, the other his shoulders, hand cupping his jaw. The position pulled his hips forward, their confined cocks connecting and they gasped into each other's open mouths.

Stefan's arms wrapped around his neck, hugging him close as they kissed, his lust hijacking the driver's seat of his restraint as determined as he had been and rubbed against the thick bulge beneath. Alaric gave a hiss as his own hips rocked up, his blunt nails clawing red marks on the expanse of Stefan's muscle-rippling back. Alaric's mouth broke from Stefan's, kissing across his jaw. He mouthed along the column of the brunette's neck, his lips and tongue tracing the thick, thrumming artery as Stefan arched into him with a pant and moan of want. But Alaric forced himself away, no matter how much he may want, he could not.

He licked the hollow of Stefan's clavicle instead and moved back as he finally released his fangs with a sigh. His arms gave a minute tightening around the teen, who stilled—and the vampire bit the human. Stefan's breath hitched a little at the sharp piercing of fangs and the bluntness of surrounding flat human teeth that clenched into his flesh.

Alaric immediately and eagerly gulped as blood gushed a little in his mouth, his arms tightening further around the source in his lap. It tasted so delicious; he could taste the purity from chemical contamination, the natural warmth to it that warmed him differently that the electromagnetic heat of the microwave gave to his glass of blood in the morning if he was patient enough to warm it and not just drink straight from the blood bag.

Stefan winced. He remembered the viciousness with which Katherine used to feed from him with when he was human the first time around, but Alaric wasn't being vicious, he was excited, eager, like a toddler petting a puppy for the first time, not understanding how much was too much.

"Easy," Stefan uttered. "Hey, easy." His fingers dug into the back of the vampire's neck in warning; pain always worked better to pierce through the feeding-fog, the one that enticed to drink until dry. "I'm not going anywhere, you can always come back for seconds later." His empty stomach gave a whinge at the reminder of food and seconds, but Alaric did ease off the gulps.

Alaric took a moment to calm himself and pull from that dangerous hungry don't stop black hole that was every vampire's cross to bear, some more than others. So he listened to Stefan's body; picked up beat of his heart, his breathing, the arousal flush of his skin, the fingers at the back of his neck. Alaric paused and just let the blood fill his mouth on its own accord, like rich chocolate melting in his mouth, he savoured it, let it indulge his palate for a brief moment before he could resist no longer and swallowed. He could swear he could feel Stefan's lifeblood sear a fantastically hotness through each cold, undead passage of his body, filling him. Stefan scratched his scalp enticingly and started to rock against the vampire's erection again.

Stefan was a model for self-control, self-restraint, it was a big part of his selfless nature that allowed him to put others and their needs above his own; and the compassionate part of him that made him want to put others first and to nurture. To suppress his own desires and instead gain satisfaction and sense of meaning vicariously through those he helped. This was that, giving himself to Alaric like this, a part of himself, feeding him, it was a soul-deep kind of satisfaction, not just bodily. But it also fed his own desires; 2 birds with one fantastic stone.

Stefan ground down against him a little roughly as he peaked his climax and came crashing over the horizon with a breathless sound. Alaric could feel the entirety of it: every minuscule muscle contraction; every shudder, shiver, stutter; every heartbeat and pulse. Each gush of completion jolting through the teen and the overload of sensation pushed the vampire over the edge of his own sexual completion. Alaric's jaw involuntarily clenched as he came, as Stefan gave a small cry of his name and one last surge of blood filled his mouth before he released.

Stefan slumped boneless against him, panting into Alaric's neck. The vampire quickly recovered first, his tongue swathing gently over the weeping bite mark on Stefan's shoulder before it could make a mess and not want to waste a precious drop. Alaric rubbed his back. Stefan would have wanted to stay there, not because it was comfortable; he was starting to get pins and needles in his legs, his underwear was cold, wet, and sticky, but because he was curled up with Alaric in what had been weeks. But his stomach made an empty, gurgle-grumble sound and he was motivated.

"And that's my cue," Stefan raised his head and gave him a peck before pushing back onto his feet.

"Was that your stomach?" Alaric rose after him.

"All that talk of bacon," Stefan agreed. "You had yours, now I need mine." He bent to retrieve his shirt and belt from the floor and wavered as he straightened with a head rush.

Alaric quickly reached out, steadying him. The lightness and satisfaction that had taken his gaze in the previous moments was quickly swamped and overtaken with worry and shame. "Stef?" his gaze shifted from the teen’s slightly pallid cheeks to what now looked to him like a gory, gouged bite mark. Made by his fangs and his teeth. "I took too much. I knew this was a b--"

Stefan quickly stopped him before he could say more, a finger to his lips silencing him. "You didn't. You were very good, Alaric. You didn't lose control, that's more than I could have said for myself had our positions been reversed." He moved his finger and stroked his cheek. "I haven't eaten in a bit and I plan of fixing that very soon." He took the vampire's hand and left him no other choice but to follow him up the stairs.

They hopped into the shower for a quick wash and despite his rearing hunger, Stefan stood in front of the sink, the medicine cabinet open and let Alaric fuss over him for a moment and clean and dress the bite. He'd gotten the things that crowded the small glass shelves in the cabinet for Alaric to use should the need arise, but found himself the one in need of them instead.

After, it was a straight path to the kitchen. Stefan grabbed a large frying pan and put it on the burner to preheat as he grabbed the package of bacon sitting on the shelf, along with a few partnering items. But Alaric quickly took authority over the cooking bacon and made Stefan sit on a stool to drink a large glass of orange juice as he used the chopping board to cut tomato, cheese, and lettuce.

"Make sure it's crispy but not burnt," Stefan said, attempting to magically obtain x-ray vision to see though the vampire to get a sight on the sizzling meat without getting up from the stool as strictly instructed as his stomach growled something fierce at the permitting scent.

"Stop trying to backseat cook," Alaric admonished over his shoulder with a chuckle. "Besides," he turned serious. "If man knows how to cook one thing—it's bacon."

"That does seem to be the consensus, I've observed." Stefan agreed. He started to spread melted butter on slices of bread. "But you realize, for the record... this does not count as that dinner you're supposed to cook me."

"Now you're just splitting hairs," he pouted, turning to him.

Stefan pointed at him with the butter knife, "You're not going to 'cute' your way out of it, Ric, so don't even try."

"You think I'm cute?"

"No matter how much you are, you can't talk me out of you cooking for me."

"I wasn't," he grinned. "I just wanted you to call me cute." He turnedd back to the stove with triumph, shifting around the bacon.

"I could start calling you 'cutie pie'," Stefan offered, his face straight when Alaric shot a dubious frown at him. "I think I like that; 'cutie pie'. That apron does look rather becoming on you... Cutie pie." He murmured, cruising the vampire's ass.

Alaric set the tongs down and turned to the counter island, looking at the brunette searchingly. "I can't tell if you're serious or just trying to embarrass me,"

Stefan gave him a little smile. "A bit of both, perhaps."

"Hm," Alaric tore some paper towels from the stand and lined the waiting plate with them in preparation for the bacon, keeping a keen eye on the strips at this crucial precipice between crispy just-right and crispy burnt.

Stefan drained the last few swallows of OJ from his glass and finally stood. He took the sandwich grill out from the cupboard below the island where it was stored and plugged it into the socket on the countertop to heat up as Alaric turned off the flame and started to put the bacon on the lined plate—Damon chose that moment to venture in, drawn by the enticing scent of bacon.

"Glad to see you're decent," Damon said, his eyes subtly darting to the plate of bacon at Stefan's elbow as the teen started to assemble 2 sandwiches on his way around to the fridge, "After the not-so-decent sounds I heard coming from the library." He casually tossed the cold blood bag from hand to hand. "I hope you didn't stain the furniture,"

His brother paused in laying the cheese. "Which answer would you prefer," Stefan offered politely, it was bellied by the glint in his green eyes, "The brotherly answer that will skeeve you out the most or the truth?"

Damon eyed him for a moment. "That's a trick question, isn't it? The answer’s probably the same either way."

Stefan grinned. "Which answer would you prefer..."

Damon held up his hand, cutting off his speech. "I don't want to know, really. I take back my question. You can keep the answers to yourself and we can call this conversation over. Alright? Good." He snatched a piece of crispy bacon piled on the bed of paper towel on his way out.

Sniggering to himself, Stefan said: "Sex bacon!" with a wink at an amusedly conflicted Alaric, knowing his brother would hear.

"Don't you dare try to ruin bacon for me!" Damon shouted back right on cue and the brunette laughed.

Confliction clearly over as Alaric chuckled with him, Stefan finished the sandwich assembly (with a few more absent pieces of bacon stolen by the teacher) and carefully laid them on the heated grill. The melted butter on the outside facing slices sizzled lightly and he lowered the top grill. Alaric used the opportunity to tidy up and pour Stefan another glass of OJ and 5 minutes later proceeded to watched the hungry teenage inhale 2-- well, 1 and a half BLT sandwiches (briefly) because he was generous enough to offer a half to his boyfriend even though he could easily and did want to wolf it down. Alaric could see it clearly in his eyes and declined, earning him a thankful grin that was quickly overtaken by food. Stefan had fed him, had literally given his blood, Alaric wasn't going to take his bacon away.

~ T V D ~

"Mgh!" Stefan was jolted terribly from a deep sleep, looking around his room in disorientation, the sleep fog quickly pulled him back when he couldn't discern any immediate threat, his eyelids shuttering down.

"Well, that's not very brotherly of you, Stefy." Damon sat in the empty space on the bed beside him, reclined back against the headboard comfortably. "Not after all the terrific big brotherly things I've done for you lately. Point in fact—this." And he slapped a medium thick folder against the sleeping teen's chest.

Stefan didn't even look at it. "What do you want? Go 'way," he groaned, pushing the folder off. He rolled onto his stomach and buried his face his pillow, relaxing back into it with an exhale.

"Wow. This is the thanks I get for getting all valid material just for you and your big boy test?"

"You unnecessarily woke me up about my driver's test that is tomorrow," the scorn was clear even through the muffle of the pillow.

"It is Thursday, you dope." Damon told him. "All that blood loss must be messing with you."

Stefan chose to ignore that last pointed remark and reached blindly behind him, but eerily accurate for his cell phone next to his inert alarm clock. He cracked an eye just enough to focus blearily on the date on the screen and nothing else just long enough to erase that 1% account that Damon was telling the truth and that it might actually be Thursday, before he pointedly shoved the screen at his brother's face. "See; Wednesday." His arm dropped and he snuggled back into his pillow.

"You got me." Folder neatly set in his lap, Damon picked up the picture frame set on his Stefan nigh table on this side of the bed and examined it; Stefan, Elena, and Bon Bon, each in their particular Timber Wolf uniforms, Stef in his football uniform and the 2 girls in their hot little cheerleading outfits. Stefan stood in the middle with an actual smile on his face and perfect hero-hair, his arms flexing parallel to the horizon, the perfect standing board for Elena and Bonnie who were stood up on either of his strong shoulders, a hand wrapped around an ankle each in support as the 2 cheerleaders preformed a high-kick, pompoms in the air and smoky looks on their pretty faces. It was a feat that would come easy to any vampire as his brother had been at the time, but was something the brunette would definitely struggle with now. Maybe he'd be able to have one of the girls on his shoulder, but Stefan would never trust himself to have her stand, sitting would definitely be his limit of adventure. "Still... you slept through your alarm,"

"What?" Stefan sat up and grabbed his clock. 7:22. "Why didn't you wake me?" he slammed it down and threw off his blanket, jumping out of bed.

Damon watched him in amusement. "I just did,"

Stefan paused long enough to scowl at him, before continuing into his en suite, after a rushed version of his usual bathroom pre-school routine, minus the shower, Stefan came out 15 minutes later to find Damon still lounging on his bed.

"What is it you want?" he asked over his shoulder as he went over to his bureau and feed Salvatore.

"World domination, complete control of your life... you know, the usual." Damon answered.

Stefan rolled his eyes and went to his wardrobe, pulling the doors open. "Aaand…?" he prompted. "What's your third and final wish?"

"I only get 3?" he complained. "Typical. Still missing out on the brotherly love, Stefan."

Stefan gave his head a little shake, a smirk twitching at the corner of his lips. "Being generous—not that you deserve it—I'll give you another for an early Christmas gift." He stripped from his sleep pants and slipped on a pair of jeans.

"Saint Stefan strikes again," Damon scooted to sit at the foot of his bed. "You're too easy, brother."

"The thanks I get for being brotherly," he huffed, stringing his belt through the waist loops.

"As I was saying..."

"Yes. What exactly are you saying?" he mused. "Get to the point, please. I'm on a timeline here." He pulled his tee shirt off overhead and looked through his options.

Damon sent at glower at the stark-white bandaged taped over his baby brother's shoulder. "Tell ebony and ivory when they get here not to bother tomorrow, I'll be driving you and picking you up for your test."

Stefan put on a black pullover sweater with a v-neck, pushing the sleeves up to his elbows. "They have names, you know."

Damon ignored him and flapped the folder. "Gotta make sure no red flags go up on your shiny new human life at the DMV seeing as I'm the only one in this relationship that possesses the goods—meaning compulsion and a whole host of others. I'll even take you to the Grill after to celebrate when you pass. Won't you like that?" he patronized.

"You need friends your own age." Stefan said, distracted from what exactly that folder was that the vampire kept waving about by the tone. Damon gave him a look. "You know what I mean... your mental age, not your physical age." Damon whipped a pillow at him with vampire speed, Stefan laughing even after it whopped him and he tucked it under his arm. "I'm serious."

"When aren't you?" Damon rolled his eyes at his brother's vitally pursed lips. "Jenna's been trying to set me up with one of her friends..." he indulged, "maybe I'll finally take up the offer and get some much-needed fresh meals out of it."

"Damon!" Stefan stepped forward in protest.

"What?" he shrugged. "I promise to leave her alive afterwards, 'tis the Holiday season after all."

But Stefan still had on his broody forehead; he knew Damon was just doing it to mess with him, the vampire wouldn't risk ruining the perfect cover-up of his previous killing to get a response out of his virtuous little brother by staking his best-friend. But Stefan still worried, he always worried, as Damon called him on his one brooding good look.

"Unless you're offering to open a tap, brother?" Damon waggled his dark brows. "Well?"

"Don't make it weird," Stefan told him. He approached the bed to put his pillow back.

When he went to turn away, Damon grasped his wrist, pulling him back. "You'll open your veins for your vampire boyfriend but not your own brother?" he delivered loftily, looking up at his brother.

Stefan stared back as his brother, attempting to see beyond the presented cocky expression that was 1 of Damon's resting expressions, but he couldn't tell if it was true displeasure on the subject or just screwing with him again. So Stefan did what he always would have done—he sat on the bed beside his brother, Damon still holding his wrist, so he silently offered his free one to the vampire.

Damon looked at him for a moment before he scoffed and gave his head a shake. "You would really do it too, wouldn't you, Saint Stefan?"

Stefan sighed and dropped his aloft wrist. "You're my brother, Damon. Of course I would. If you needed it. If you were actually serious and not just trying to trick and embarrass me. Yeah, I would. So?" he offered his wrist again questioningly. A look Stefan didn't think he'd ever seen before flashed through the vampire's blue eyes too fast to grab hold of and attempt to decipher.

Damon released his wrist. "That's a little too brother-brother for my tastes," he snarked and left just as fluidly as he'd come.

Stefan stared after him for a long moment before his gaze was drawn to the folder laying on his mussed bed. He picked it up and opened the cover in his lap, staring for a moment with incomprehension and amazement—at what appeared to be his birth certificate. Carefully he ran his finger's over the printed stock; the raised security designs, his name, the name of his parents. This was no fake, well it was in the sense that it was a forgery, obviously, but it was a real forgery, legitimate. He flipped the page over to next and stared at his social security document; health insurance card; school records, in which he apparently skipped 3rd grd. and that was why he only turned 17 this November; medical records from his recent past stay where a battery of tests had been taken, shots given, exams had.

Stefan made a sound. Oh, look at that—evidently he had type AB- blood.

"Damon?" he called, staring at page after page of the intricate details of a life—his life apparently.

A few minutes later Damon arrived with a sigh, his hands clasped in front of him. "Yes, Master Salvatore. I come when you call."

Stefan stared over at him. "What is all this? Wha--?" he shook his head.

Damon's hands dropped back to his side. "You know what it is."

"But-- how? why?" he continued to be dumbfounded.

"You're a real boy now, Stefan." Damon went to ruffle his perfectly styled coif, but even with his mind overwhelmed, his body reacted by instinct and he managed to deflect his older brother's hand. "That means you have to live by the rules of society. You've always been into law and order, right? Well, this is all the shit you need to be a legit human nowadays."

"You did all of this... for me?" he murmured with wonder. He closed the folder and carefully set it aside before he stood in front of his brother. Stefan grinned, biting his bottom lip to try and suppress it and failing abysmally. "You love me."

Damon gave his gooey emotional oozing baby brother a wary eye. "Okay, don't go getting sentimental, Stefan. It makes me want to gag so dial the star-eyes down a notch, huh?" he was about to step away, but before he could react, Stefan flung himself at him, wrapping his arms around him, chin on his shoulder. "What the hell are you doing?" he exclaimed.

"You love me and I love you, too."

"Uh-huh. Right." Damon's body tensed, Stefan could feel the strength gather up in his muscles, ready to wrench himself free.

"I'm preciously human now," he quickly piped up, halting him. "You don't want to break the thing you've been putting so much time and effort into keeping intact, now do you?"

His shoulders slumped. "I've been calling you 'Saint Stefan' all this time and I've just realized now that I was using it in the ironical sense. You're truly a Master Manipulator wearing a Choir Boy suit. I find myself vaguely impressed, brother."

"Whatever you have to tell yourself to get a good night's sleep." Stefan humoured.

"Look, we had the hugging thing a couple weeks ago—can we wrap this up?"

"Just shut up and take it. All you have to do is hug me back and it'll all be over soon enough."

Damon grumbled and gave him a squeeze so fast it was partially influenced by vamp-speed before he dropped his arms forlornly back to his sides. "There. Now get off me." He writhed around but Stefan was like a damned octopus. "You said if I hugged you back it would be over."

"Soon enough."

"This is a cruel and unusual punishment," he muttered.

"Why does this have to be a punishment?" Stefan asked quietly, sadly. "I'm trying to say thank you for what you did. The last time we hugged... was after I almost killed you." His voiced broke and his arms involuntarily tightened around him, hands clutching as the memory assailed him.

"God dammit," Damon cursed and his arms went instinctively back around his brother, proper. "We've been over this. When are you going to let it go?" his hand squeezed the brunette's nape comfortingly.

Stefan squeezed his eyes closed, pressing his face into Damon's shoulder, inhaling the scent of his cologne, the clench in his heart easing. "I can't help it."

"It happened. It can't un-happen. It's in the past, just like everything else. There's no humanity switch you can flip off or unending, devouring hunger you have to contend anymore." Stefan inhaled sharply at the reminder of the last bit; those 2 grilled BLT sandwiches he'd had before bed held him through the night and into a deep sleep, but now... "Now, come on," Damon clapped him on the back, "If you keep this up you're going to be late for school."

"Bonnie and Elena will understand."

"Oh, we understand." Elena spoke up from the doorway, a huge smile on her face and eyes bright. "Loud and clear. Take all the time you need, Stefan."

"Say cheese!" Damon sent a glare over just as Bonnie's cell flashed, capturing the cute brotherly moment in a pixelated still.

"Bennett," he warned, pushing Stefan away. Making a move towards her; he was going to smash it to little bits, microwave those bits before he set them on fire with sugar, dumped water on it, then bury it deep into the earth.

"Uh-uh!" she raised her hand, freezing the vampire in his tracks; from anyone else he already would have snapped their neck or tore open their throat, but with Bennett, it wasn't a threat, it was a promise. "Brain exploding, remember? And you haven't even felt it at my full power." She thumbed her screen, tapping it a few times. "There," she slipped it into her pocket. "It's in The Cloud now. Try anything and I'll post it on Facebook and Twitter, and I'll create accounts of every other social media network just to post and share it there and it will never be able to be taken back."

"I don't take kindly to being blackmailed," he growled lowly.

"Don't think of it like that. Let's just call it a truce,"

He asked lightly, "Haven't I shown you a hundred things to prove I'm a changed vampire?"

Bonnie scoffed. "Like you wouldn't rip my throat out now if you could."

"Stefan can't protect you now." Damon pointed out.

"I don't need Stefan to protect me,"

Stefan turned his face away to hide the grimace on his face at their words, using picking up the folder from his bed as a cover and took it over his bureau to put in the locked drawer. He was glad that Bonnie was strong enough now that she didn't need someone to protect her (not like when Damon attacked her after she was possessed by Emily, or when Anna had kidnapped her and Elena); but now, as things stood, it wasn't as if he could protect her or either of them if they needed it now. I can't stay like this, he tried to ignore the spiral inducing words. If something happens, I can't be counted on. I'm not strong enough like this. But if I was a va--

"Hey," Elena murmured, arms looping around his waist from the side.

He managed to stifle the jolt. "Hey."

"What's that?" she watched him lock the drawer up.

"My human life all written up, signed, sealed and dated. It's official now," he couldn't quite stifle the bitter twist to his lips with those thoughts still swimming in his head with teeth.

She gave him a warm squeeze. "Being suddenly human can't be easy after living a certain way over the past 145 years. But maybe if you think of it as puberty," he raised a surprised and bewildered brow at that and she gave a smirk, "It's like breaking into a new pair of shoes that you'll eventually grow out of, only to get another that will wear and become a comfort. Trademarked girl metaphor, Teen magazine." she winked.

Stefan gave a little chuckle and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Cute and to the point, and you even cited your source. A+ material. Too bad it's not in French, then you might have gotten more than that C+."

"Funny."

"Close your eyes."

Her attention was drawn to the key in his hand. "You don't trust me?"

"Just a precaution," he teased.

She gave him a little playful pout, but closed her eyes. She snorted when the hand on her shoulder moved up to cover her eyes. He slipped it into the little decoration box next to Salvatore's bowl on the shelf. "There," he dropped his hand. "Now you'll never find it."

"We probably are going to be late with those 2 bickering," she jerked her head back at Damon and Bonnie who were practically toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, snippy and glowering at each other like temperamental alley cats. "Have you eaten yet?" Stefan unconsciously rubbed his unfed stomach and it growled in verbal response. "I'll take that as a resounding no. Come on," she steered him around the engaged pair from the bedroom.

Stefan made himself a large bowl of Mini Wheat’s as Elena poured them coffee from the brewed pot.

"You're going to need to go shopping—soon." Elena remarked, putting the carton of creamer back into the 'fridge. She'd shopped enough to last what would have been 2 weeks in her own household with her, Jeremy, and Jenna, but she was already seeing noticeable gaps and space and it hadn't even been a full week with just Stefan eating.

"Mm," Stefan hummed in agreement, drinking his coffee.

"Need company?" she offered.

Stefan grinned. "You bring the car, I bring the money?" he poured another bowl of cereal, this smaller than the last only because the bag was empty—just compounding the need to shop.

"You have you're driver's test tomorrow, right?" he nodded. "We can go after school on Friday."

"That sounds great, thanks." He poured milk on it and started to eat.

"What are you guys doing?" Bonnie came into the kitchen a few minutes later. "Come on, we're going to be late." The two brunettes exchanged humoured looks.

Stefan finished his cereal and dumped the rest of the snack cracker packets from the box into his messenger bag and he was good to go; he followed after the girls. He would just buy lunch at school. He didn't bother with blood this morning and it wasn't because there wasn't time. Alaric had told him last night before he left that he needed to work out the kinks for himself. Still, bringing Alaric blood in a thermos or travel mug was like bringing his boyfriend a cup of coffee if they were regular people, not a hunter-turned-vampire and vampire-turned human couple.

~ T V D ~

True to his word, Damon drove Stefan to school and picked him up after for his appointment at the DMV. But, there had been no need to worry, Damon had done a clean job of compelling the documents in Stefan's name.

The brunette finished the written quickly, though he needed to thank Elena for the manual she had given him to refresh his memory on the more technical applications of the road. His practical test went well with the instructor, with the exception of having to prevent Damon from using his compulsion to put his at the front of the cue as much as Stefan would have secretly liked to indulge in that his good conscious got the better of him, and despite his rapidly growing hunger causing him distraction. Finally his photo was taken, the forms filled out, and they were ready to leave.

"Remind me to never do that again." Damon's Camaro's engine rumbled to life, the soft-top up.

"Should have let you use compulsion," Stefan uttered, cracking his neck and clipping on his seatbelt.

Damon smirked as he pulled into traffic. "Yeah, you should have. Why did I listen to you again?"

"Hey, I'm just following your wishes." Stefan returned. "Can you drive any slower? I'm starving." Damon grinned and gunned it down the block.

Once in the Grill, Damon headed to the bar for a much needed drink and Stefan claimed an empty booth.

"Hey, Stefan." Matt came to take his order. "Heard from the Queen of Gossip your driver's test was today. Good news?"

"Caroline," Stefan chuckled with a headshake. "They took my photo, I think that's a good sign."

"So why the wait?" Matt wondered. "How did you get to school before?"

"Ran," he said without really thinking about it. He didn't need a car when he could use his vamp-speed, cutting through the woods, and be into town under 3 minutes.

The blond gave a low whistle, impressed. "That's gotta be... almost 8 miles. Every morning, man. You sure you don't want to rejoin the Timber Wolves?"

Stefan gave him an awkward smile. "Yeah, sorry. But you don't need me. You and Tyler got it, all those trophies in the display case are proof."

Matt gave a little grin. "Alright. I'll be back with your order."

Things had definitely become more amicable between the 3 of them since he broke up with Elena.

"When I said 'order whatever, I'm buying', I didn't mean order the whole menu." Damon commented when he finally returned from the bar with half a bourbon and slid into the booth across from the brunette. Stefan already working his way methodically throw chilli fries, onion rings, and a chicken salad, which was really an odd combination of courses.

"It's not the whole menu," Stefan returned when he paused long enough to drink before his mouth once again became occupied with more tastier things.

"There are like, 5 things on the plastic laminated menu." Damon drank as he watched Matt approach with a second loaded tray and added a hamburger with the works and a plate of honey garlic Buffalo wings to the table. "Oh, and look," he mock counted the plates cluttering the booth table: Hamburger with the works. Onion rings. Chilli fries. Chicken salad. And Buffalo wings. "Five. Now, I may not have gone to a dozen fancy schools like you to learn my numbers, but I'm still pretty sure that's 5."

Matt refilled Stefan's iced tea. "Dude, I think he's right."

"See, Stef. Even Barbie Ken says I'm right and he works here. It's a professional opinion." Matt wasn't impressed with the nickname.

"I didn't know you could count, big brother. I'm proud of you." Stefan took a big bite out of his burger. "I also ordered dessert, hope you don't mind."

Matt gave a little chuckle at Damon's scowl. "And I’ll be back with that, too. Call if you want another refill or doggy bag." He went to turn away.

"I sure could use a refill," Damon slid his tumbler across the smooth surface of the table to him.

"Sorry," Matt turned back. "I'm not 18 so I can't serve alcohol."

Damon leaned forward and caught the quarterback's gaze. "Do it anyway," he compelled.

"I'll do it anyway," Matt repeated in a flat voice, and took the glass.

Stefan watched him go. "Dammit, Damon." He turned a disapproving stare onto his unrepentant brother, "You didn't have to compel him."

"He wasn't going to serve me otherwise," Damon said, "You don't want me to leave a negative statement on the comment card, do you?"

"You're going to get him fired!" he hissed.

Matt returned, unassaulted by management and set Damon's bourbon in front of the vampire.

"See, he's fine!" Damon took a sip before he once again caught the blond's gaze, his pupil's contracting: "Now every time I snap my fingers, I want a refill. Got it?" Matt nodded robotically. Stefan sent him a deathly glare. "Don't get caught," Damon added for Stefan's benefit. "Wouldn't want my drink slave getting fired, now would I?"

He broke the gaze and Matt blinked as the compulsion took affect. "Um..." he gave his head a little confused shake. "I'll be back with your cake, Stefan."

"Yeah. Thanks." Stefan kicked his brother under the table in anger, not able to verbally yell at him like he wanted without drawing attention.

Damon didn't even flinch as he drank. "Don't play footsies with me unless you mean it, baby brother." Stefan went back to his food after a sharp glare at the vampire, working methodically through the assortment of dishes. "You know, I don't remember you being such a pig the last time we were human." He swirled his bourbon.

Stefan just gave a derisive snort. His brother had absolutely no idea. Stefan could pack away this lot and then some, and that was exactly what he was doing. But Damon was right—his vague recollections of his human-life on this particular subject was that he'd never come this close to the hunger he felt now. He could remember getting hungry and snack on an freshly picked apple and that single piece of fruit would hold him for hours until dinner. But doing that now... it would be like some cruel joke. The hunger he felt now, gave him pains that made him clutch as his stomach with painful cramps. He was ravenous, only sated for such a short period like he hadn't consumed enough food to feed 3 regular humans—because this hunger was not normal. Stefan stuffed himself, but it only ever gave him such a brief respite (which was little better than his Ripper blood hunger) for which he used the time to obsess about what he was going to eat next, all the time the mantra of foodfoodfoodfood chanting in the back of his head instead of bloodbloodbloodblood.

A hand suddenly came into his peripheral, reaching for his plate and Stefan reacted like territorial dog about his food dish as he ate—and grabbed the wrist without even consciously processing it.

"Whoa! Easy, man."

Stefan instantly let go as Damon watched with a raised brow and slightly narrowed eyes. "Sorry, Matt. I didn't-- you surprised me."

"Don't worry, it was my bad." Matt shook his head and flexed his wrist. "I should know better by now than to encroach on a guy's eating space. I just got your dessert and Damon's refill, thought I'd just take some of your empty plates."

"Of course. Thank you," Matt retreated.

"You always were territorial over your food," the vampire smirked and Stefan grimaced, knowing his brother was talking about people.

Stefan felt disturbed with himself by his reaction. And that had just been Matt reaching for an empty plate and it wasn't like there wasn't enough to go around—if that had actually been the quarterback's intention—yet, he'd responded in a clear volatile way. If he'd been a vampire, he probably would have Ripped into the blond. Stefan had no problem sharing with Alaric, but then again, it was always him offering the bampi his food. Of course, he thought maybe Alaric knew, at least subconsciously not to just take his food, maybe taking into account what he knew about the Ripper's habits as Damon had just pointed out.

Damon leaned forward and reached across the table. Stefan held himself consciously, letting his brother snag a wing from his plate. The vampire smirked as he saw the brunette's finger twitch and bit into the wing, tearing meat off the bone with his flat human teeth.

Stefan wished he could say he pushed the plate away.

~ T V D ~

Stefan sat on the edge of low stone ledge of the front porch staring at the Automotive Public Administration letter that he found this Wednesday’s morning, bestowing his driver's licence, the card stuck on the paper. And somehow, this was the thing that made this life real. Not eating food, not Alaric feeding from him, not the headaches or the nosebleeds. This plastic card with his photo on it, his half-fake half-real birth date, his signature.

It wasn't that he hadn't had fake IDs before when he wanted to stick around in a place for a few years, get a job so he didn't have to compel people every which way after and appear as normal as possible as someone who didn't age and who survived off blood could. Big cities were easier to show up out of the blue in and blend in, but it meant he had to go out of his way to feed. Smaller towns had a better menu, but were impossible to stay anonymous in, a strange face in the community.

But this wasn't some fake ID, the only falsity was the year he was born and looking at him, no one would think twice that he wasn't a regular 17 year old boy. Because really, that's what he was now, wasn't he?

An unexpected grin pulled at the corner of his mouth; I don't have to pretend to be human anymore because I actually am human. The thought took him pleasantly unawares. How many times had he wished that there was some impossible, magical cure out there?

Guess he got to drive to school now and the grin went full-blown. He pulled the licence from the paper and slid it into the clear pocket in his wallet and folded the letter up in his back pocket. Stefan grabbed his bag and hopped down the porch steps. He unlocked one of the several garage doors and pulled it up, the sun clearing away the darkness. He set his bag on the worktable next to the door and stepped into the room to the covered object at its center.

Stefan grabbed the corner of the protective cover and yanked the tarp from his 1963 Porsche 356B Karmanne Coupe, dust particles filling the garage. "Hello again, lovely." He grinned. "Back together again after all these years."

He circled it, giving it the few minutes of appreciation it deserved before he retrieved his bag and unlocked the door, sliding into the front seat like a breath of home. Stefan rarely allowed himself extravagances, but this was 1 of those rare acceptances he allowed himself. He'd had it just shy of 50 years. It was actually one of the first off the assembly line, his by way of compulsion that he felt utterly no guilt about. As soon as he'd seen it, he knew he had to have it.

He glanced over at the similarly tarped vehicle standing off to the side, his T-100 Triumph that Damon had gotten him. His motorcycle licence was combined with his original and it was just a matter of winter's end before he got to straddle the monster on the road—not that any of the vampires in his life needed to know that just yet.

Maybe I can really do this... being 'human' thing.

[...tbc...]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 


 

 ALTERNATE DELETED SCENES: Below is the original feeding scene that I wrote between Alarfan in the chapter above that I found I wasn't very happy with, I can't specifically tell you why, so I rewrote it. But here it is for your (bonus) reading pleasure with some blood and sex:

Stefan closed his eyes as Alaric licked a strip from chin to nose over the warm blood, exhaling. Stefan remembered the wild mutt; as he lay broken at the bottom of the embankment after John Gilbert had clipped him with his truck and he awoke from temporary death as it licked the blood from his face. Perhaps this would have the same liberation for Alaric.

Alaric pulled back slightly, giving a dissatisfied growl at the lack of further blood. He was still hungry—for blood and wanting of something else. He cupped the back of the teen's head and crushed their lips together hungrily. In the back of his head, in the human subconscious part, the teacher knew he should step back and cool off a little, but the predatory was so much louder. He was going to finish what he should have in the kitchen nearly 2 weeks ago.

He devoured the teen with wet, heated kisses.

Stefan gave a little sound of protest as Alaric tore the thin cotton and polyester blend of his long sleeve, this was 1 of his favourite shirts. But the sound quickly took on a more pleasured expression as the vampire mouthed down his chest before taking one of his nipples between his lips. Stefan threaded his fingers into the dirty-blond hair.

"Ah!" Stefan gasped, a little surprised and a little in pain as Alaric's fang nicked his peaked nipple in a pseudo piercing.

In apology, Alaric swathed the assaulted bud with his tongue, soothing the sting and collecting the resulting drop of blood. Nuzzling for a moment against the teen's defined chest, Alaric managed to will his fangs back into hiding, if temporarily, and he resumed kissing and licking his way down Stefan's taut abdominal muscles. Fingers curled in the waist of his jeans and Stefan hips jerked as his button popped off and his zipper was torn against the vampire's hurried strength and impatient lust.

"Ri-- Hng!" Alaric's mouth enveloped him, his engorged and leaking arousal barely free from the torn material as it fell down his legs. Stefan moaned, his knees instantly feeling weak and hands scrambled for purchase and stabilization; Alaric's shoulders, Alaric's hair. He needed to acclimate, he needed-- but Alaric's arms wrapped around his bare thighs, pulling him forward, taking him deeper and Stefan fell over him, onto him, catching himself on the back of the couch, knees braced on the edge of the couch, Alaric under him.

But the awkward position didn't even cause the vampire pause or hitch and Alaric took him impossibly deeper and swallowed around his head. Stefan had no control, no power or strength to be able to resist, to hold out, to prolong his release that he had been able to maintain as a vampire—and he came straight down Alaric's throat with a grunt and jolts. A shockwave of euphoria went through him, taking any strength from his legs as Alaric released his sensitive, flaccid cock and eased him with strokes on his trembling flank.

Alaric mouthed the inside of Stefan's right thigh, feeling the beautiful thrum of the lively femoral artery close to the surface with activity against his lips and he let his fangs descend fully from his gums where they had already lain peaked out.

Stefan felt the sharp pinch at the inside of his thigh, Alaric's lips and pressure. He raised himself a little shakily and looked down his torso and the torn curtain of his torn shirt and watched as his boyfriends carefully drank from him with slow draws. Stefan carefully sat back a little further, a rumble going through Alaric's chest and his arms around the teen tightening, holding all the strength and support the brunette needed not to tumble backwards.

Stefan watched and he felt as he stroked the flush in the vampire's pale neck, his red sclera eyes half-lidded as he gazed up at the human. Stefan could feel the arousal, his cock fighting to try and harden again in show, but the blood flow was diverted down another path, But deeper than arousal, he felt something even more fulfilling. Stefan was a model for self-control, self-restraint, it was a big part of his selfless nature that allowed him to put others and their needs above his own; and the compassionate part of him that made him want to put others first and to nurture. To suppress his own desires and instead gain satisfaction and sense of meaning vicariously through those he helped. This was that, giving himself to Alaric like this, a part of himself, feeding him, it was a soul-deep kind of satisfaction, not just bodily.

With a sigh, Alaric gentle released his mouth, licking the blood from his lips as his eyes slowly returned to their normal blue and his fangs retracted as blood leaked from the puncture marks on Stefan's thigh. Alaric held him like he weighed no more than a pillow, and turned their positions, sitting Stefan back onto the leather couch. Knelt in front between Stefan’s legs, he licked his fang puncture wounds with flat-tongued strokes until the blood slowed then stopped as it finally clotted, drinking up every last bit of blood before he laid his head contently in the teen's lap, thumb stroking the top of his thigh. Stefan slouched back on the couch, feeling slightly light-headed, but otherwise great, his fingers stroking the nape of the dirty-blond's neck.

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

X

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

The Original Grill Scene:

Stefan had passed his test, got his picture taken and was expecting his licence in the mail. Damon's presence had been completely unnecessary, all his compulsion of real documents had thrown up zero red flags, but Stefan did hold his brother to the promise of taking him out to 'celebrate'; i.e. food. And he was starving. Thus:

"When I said 'order whatever you want, I'm buying', I didn't mean order the whole menu." Damon commented, watching the teen dig into dishes already served to him and the server return with another filled tray of plates.

"Thank you," Stefan said to the server. His nametag said 'Garrett' pinned to his Grill uniform shirt. Stefan thought he seemed vaguely familiar as in another face in the sea of faces at school. They might have been in the same year, but definitely not the same classes.

"No problem. Call if you want a refill or doggy bag," the young man left.

"And it's not the whole menu," Stefan pointed out to his brother before his mouth became occupied with chili fries.

"There are like, 5 things on the plastic laminated menu." Damon drawled. "One of this towns own handful of eating establishments. Oh, and look," he mock counted the plates cluttering the booth table: Hamburger with the works. Onion rings. Chili fries. Chicken salad. And ribs. "Five. Now, I may not have gone to a dozen fancy schools like you to learn my numbers, but I'm still pretty sure that's 5."

Stefan gave him a slow clap. "I'm proud of you, big brother." He took a big bite from the burger with satisfaction. "Still not everything on the menu. But I did order dessert, too. Hope you don't mind. Celebrations need dessert, after all."

"Yes, congratulations on picking up how to drive in the last 123 years. Glad you finally sponged up something useful in that big brain of yours." Stefan just rolled his eyes, his mouth having way better things to do than respond as he ate. "You sure you can pack that all away? I don't remember you being this much of a pig when we were humans."

Stefan snort and swallowed, drinking some of his iced tea. "You have no idea." He finished his burger.

"Well. I need a drink—and to not witness... this." Damon waved a hand at his brother with a shudder, who was busy stuffing his pretty mouth and slid out from his side of the booth and over to the bar.

Stefan could pack this away and then some and that was exactly what he was doing. But Damon had been right about one thing—he never remembered hunger like this when he was human the first time. He vaguely remembered getting hungry but snacking on an apple could sate him for hours, but now he got hunger pains that made him clutch his stomach with cramps. He was ravenous, only sated for such a short period like he didn't consume a hardy meal that was volume enough to feed 3 normal people. But this was not even close to normal hunger, this was obsession, this was Ripper hunger. He stuffed himself, but it only gave him brief respite and in the respite, in the back of his mind all he could think about was what he was going to eat next.

A hand suddenly came into his peripheral, reaching for his plate and Stefan reacted like territorial dog about his food dish as he ate—and grabbed the wrist without even consciously processing it.

"Whoa. Easy man."

Stefan instantly let go. "I'm so sorry! I didn't--"

His server shook his head. "Don't worry, it was my bad. I should know better by now than to encroach on a guy's eating space. I was just back to give you a refill and thought I'd take some of your empty plates."

Stefan pushed his empty glass over, a heat of shame on his face. Garrett refilled his glass and took away 3 of his cleared plates and Stefan ashamedly finished off the other 2.

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Stefan up-ended the plastic bottle in his hand and was relieved when a single gel tablet tumbled out into his palm; he thought he'd been out when he shook it, it must have stuck to the side. He tossed the empty bottle across the bathroom and into the trash bin by the toilet. He threw tablet back and washed it down with a glass of water. He set the empty glass on the shelf at the back of the sink. He scrubbed a hand over his face and massaged his temple, trying to eat at the ache beneath, staring at his reflection in the almost eerie glow of the motion activated nightlight in the socket by the sink. He no longer had a vampire's night-vision and would rather the soft glow on his sleep-sensitive eyes than the glaringly bright overhead bathroom light when he got up in the middle of the night to relieve his bladder or dose his headache.

Stefan was just going to have to buy another bottle of Extra Strength, Tough on Migraines Gel Tylenol Tablets tomorrow either on his way to, or on his way after school—or today as he reminded himself, it was after all 5:14 a.m. Tuesday morning. He crawled back into bed, burrowing back under the warmth of his covers before the faint light in the bathroom flicked out and put his bedroom into darkness. The 2 hours might have seemed short, but the medicine would do its work and he should be migraine free by the time his alarm went off. At least his nose hadn't bled this time.

There was the Tree Ceremony on Friday and then it was Christmas break, 5 days until the 25th. Stefan had yet to put up any festive decorations around the Boarding House, but with Matt's help and truck, he got a beautiful 10 foot Douglas Fir from the tree farm, set up in its stand on the raised floor of the parlor by the bay of stained-glass windows. Also sans any decorations yet. He had a busy weekend ahead of him.

Bonnie was spending her Christmas with her Grams; her dad choosing a business trip rather than spending the holiday with his only daughter ("Not that it's anything new," the witch told him when they all talked about their plans). This would be Elena and Jeremy's first Christmas since losing their parents after the accident on Wickery Bridge, with just Jenna. Stefan wished he could have saved her parents as well that night, so neither sibling would have to know what it was like to not have their parents with them for Christmas, but it hadn't been a matter of his diminished vampiric abilities due to his animal blood diet, simply manpower. There had been 3 of them, all submerged in water, drowning, and only 1 of him. There was only time enough to save 1 and Stefan had saved Elena. He didn't want to think what his own life would be if he hadn't, how things might have gone so differently if he never had the incredible young woman influence his life—Damon's life.

Stefan, Elena, and Bonnie decided they were going to exchange gifts at the/after the Tree Ceremony, before Christmas break. Spend the holiday with their respective families, then maybe get together with the others for the New Year's Celebration at the park with fireworks and the count down.

This would be his first Christmas with Ric. And his first with Damon in decades. As vampires, they had bad decades and good days. Stefan would try to live as normal as possible with his volatile tendencies, stay in control. Damon would do whatever he did until he'd pop in to reinsert the misery he promised. Or Stefan would find him and they'd be civil in a sensitive capricious balance until emotions teetered one way more than the other and typical things turned resentful and violent with several dead bodies. But the brunette could remember a couple crisp Christmas Greeting shared between them that ended with affable goodbyes.

Things were different this year. Damon was different. He was different. Alaric was with them. Stefan wanted to celebrate this new life between them, at their home. He definitely had a lot of preparation in front of him.

~ T V D ~

Stefan easily went along the edge siding on the Boarding House's roof, placing the long trail of cheery Christmas lights in the strategically placed hooks already present from past holidays with efficiency and agility.

Something he definitely lacked that first night, having almost killed or severely injured himself a handful of times; tripping over his own feet and would have done a header down the basement stairs had Alaric not had his own vampire-speed, or tripping down the staircase and luckily catching himself last minute. After having lightning quick reflexes of a vampire for the past 145 years, it was definitely some adjustment to grow accustomed to a body that could no longer move as fast as his mind and had gained most of his equilibrium back after getting out of the hospital.

Stefan chose to cross this off his to-do list first on the upper-most fact that Damon was out. Because, let's face it, his brother never would have let him look in the direction of the ladder, let alone climb it to the roof to hang holiday lights.

Damon had been protective back when they were both human and growing up, of course he was, he was a big brother after all. But he also let Stefan the freedom to go out and scrape his knees and learn his lesson before coming back again, always there to patch up and comfort and admonish all at once. But was also there to catch him for the really bad things, to take the brunt onto himself.

But Damon had never babied him, not like now. Like changing the locks of his balcony door and refusing to give him a copy of the key, stealing his (albeit) fake driver's licence, secretly loading a tracker app onto his cell phone, and compelling him.

Or maybe this was just the old protective big brother Damon, just amplified by his vampirism. Because the truth was, in the last 145 years, while there had been 'friendly' or even brief 'brotherly' moments between them, it was always underlined with that malice of the past that had brought them to that point in their lives—Katherine Pierce. But that spite was vanished this time around. Katherine both times was his biggest failure as a big brother and he was trying to make up for the past 145 years that followed—and Stefan felt like an ingrate for feeling so suffocated by it.

Without incident, Stefan strung the last length of lights and climbed down the ladder. Exhaling on his cold fingers, he surveyed his work from the ground in the afternoon light. With more lengths of large bulbed outdoor lights, the brunette winded them around the supporting stone pillars of the porch roof and the low stone wall. He hung baubles from the naked, weathered branches of the miniature tree planted in the little stone-ridged island plot center of the large driveway, and hung a large decorative wreath on the front door. It was still too light out to even bother turning them on.

He sheded his jacket and boots at the door and took a brief break in the kitchen with coffee and a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich to top himself off before he went upstairs to his bedroom. He pulled a chair from table, sat, and slipped on Elena's present; of slippers in the design of dog paws with rubber-grip soles. He stuffed his iPod into his hoodie pocket and carefully picket up Salvatore's bowl to bring back downstairs with him, the comet goldfish swimming around and into Bonnie's gifts. When he'd gotten home from the Tree Ceremony yesterday, he'd cleaned out Salvatore's bowl and replaced the original hollow chest and astronaut figurine with hollow wrapped present and Rudolph figurine the witch had gotten him, adding a few snowflake plastic adhesives to the outside of the bowl for decoration that would come off later without a mark.

Stefan placed Salvatore on his space on the lamp table in the library, put his headphones on, and popped a fresh piece of artificial pumpkin spice gum into his mouth as he started opening marked boxes he'd dragged down from the attic.

Gum was a contradicting force for him as he had discovered not too long ago. It made him salivate, it mimicked chewing, and when he swallowed, his brain tricked his body into thinking he was eating when he was just swallowing air. He was like a nicotine addict desperate for the next hit, but was resorting to gnawing of each little piece of laced gum in the hopes of it actually accumulating into one.

He used the large, dark-stained table for the village display, spreading the blanket of fake-snow across the tabletop, which was just a tight-knit cotton coverlet. Then, he started to arrange all the ceramic buildings, before rearranging them; some, like the church and even one that pulled off a charming likeness to the Boarding House, had little light bulbs nestled in them and he found strategically placed hold in the cotton blanket to thread the cords beneath out of sight. After getting the layout just right, all the cords in the power bar, Stefan added the miniature evergreen trees frosted with snow, and the little figurines; the group of carollers and children playing, there were even a few snowmen and a dog. Finally, the brunette turned on the switch and stepped back to survey his work. He smiled, it really was just like a miniature village, a little Mystic Falls! He put garland on the mantel and some strategically placed red velvet bows.

Changing out his gum for a fresh piece, he went to the parlor and gave it similar treatment: garland on the mantel, four stockings (3 regular, and the 4th a tiny pet one that had also been a part of Bonnie's present. He knew when Damon saw it, he was going to have a few choice things to say about his little brother treating his pet fish of all things, like it was a person when he could at least do it with an animal with IQ points if he had to do it at all, but Stefan didn't care. He'd already told his brother Salvatore was a part of the family). He put a skirt on the tree, white with little gold stars on it, to cover the stand and blanket out and set the 2 boxes of tree decorations to the side. He found a train set in 1 of the boxes and after replacing the A batteries in the rail engine, set up the connectable tracts around the edge of the tree skirt and placed the locomotive. He didn't want to overwhelm and invade what could unofficially be called 'Damon's space', so he placed just a few more baubles and left. The sitting room got its own sprinkle of decoration and the kitchen too, where he sprayed fake snow stylishly of the windowpanes above the sink and even the window of the backdoor, which also got it's own wreath. He knelt on the counter over the sink and hung a garland of bells around the row of casement windows, and stuck a bow on the basement door.

Stefan used the opportunity in this particular room to spit out his gum and fill his mouth with a much craved chicken wrap or 3 and down a cup of caffeine to wash away the tiredness in his muscles, warning away the headache. He popped down into the basement for the stepladder and set back to work.

He wove a webbing of white twinkle lights through the stair balusters going up, and the rail that lined the edge of the second floor, and garland with snowberries to line the banisters. He had garland coming out his ears and took advantage; stepping onto the stepladder, he hung garland around the hall arches. Like the little hooks under the eaves trough outside to hang the lights, there were similar ones hidden, virtually invisible unless you got up on a ladder. The garland for the arches in the hall each had a different colour of solid lights woven in; white, green, red, yellow.

Stefan took the stepladder and positioned it under the overhead chandelier in the entrance hall, the bulbs a bright sharpness in his eyes. On paw-clad feet he balanced precariously on the top step, with a long red sleigh belled ribbon attached to a thing of mistletoe. With arms stretched overhead, he was just able to read the fixture, knocking his headphone askew, he started to weave the belled ribbon through the base of the bulb branches as they tinkled. And it was that tight little ball behind his third-eye, previously lulled into a false sense of security with caffeine and willpower, exploded at the soft whimsical tone of the bells.

Stefan flinched, his eyes flashing painfully and he squeezed his eyes shut with an involuntary whimper. He inadvertently yanked the ribbon free, it dropped to the floor with a discordant jangle, the chandelier swinging lightly. He wavered, the ladder under his feet jumping slightly from the floor as he pinched the bridge of his nose as his sinuses burned and a few seconds later he felt the warmth of blood dribbling over the lower half of his face. He blindly reached out with the flutter of dizziness, came up predictably empty, overbalancing on the ladder as the feet on one side came off the floor.

Stefan opened his eyes in horror. Just as the ladder came out from beneath his feet, he pushed off, jumping from the metal to land on his feet, a paw slipper lost and stumbled into the front door, avoiding the painful crash onto the ladder and injury that might have given a trip to the ER. Trying to calm his erratically beating heart with calm breaths, Stefan absently pressed the cuff of his sweater to his nose, the cord of his headphone choking around his neck. He skirted the fallen ladder and quickly made his way to the half-bath down the hall, turning on the light and closing the door.

He untangled the headphone cord from around his neck and grabbed a wad of toilet paper from the roll on the wall, wiping the fresh blood from his nose, before he plugged each nostril with a twisted piece. He put the plug in the sink and turned on the cold tap to let it fill as he quickly stripped his hoodie overhead. The were splotches of blood on the chest and the cuff he'd pressed to his nose was saturated. He scrubbed it under cold water so he didn't cook the blood and stain the material, before he wrung the material out, drained the pink water and hung his sweater on the hook on the back of the door.

He took the soiled toilet paper from his nose and tossed them into the toilet, and grabbed a cloth from the cupboard above the toilet he washed the blood from his face with warm water and soap, then wiped the sink down with a Lysol wipe from the cupboard and flushed it. The bandage taped onto his forearm under his elbow managed to get wet so he just peeled it off and tossed it into the bin under the sink, not bothering to put a new one on; pausing to gently tracing Alaric's fang marks. The dirty-blond had only fed from him twice in the last 2 weeks, including the first really enjoyable go. It wasn't a regular occurrence, couldn't be; he'd be covered in bites and could get anaemia if they weren't careful—and Alaric and Damon refused to give him vampire blood because they didn't trust him not to do something 'stupid' to get himself turned; especially not after Damon found out his compulsion hadn't entirely worked.

Stefan grabbed the gel tablets from the medicine cabinet (he's stocked up his last visit to the drug store and placed a bottle in every bathroom in the Boarding House but Damon's) and drank them down from the tap.

Nosebleeds, like sudden pains in his head were nothing new, nor was the fact that he was hiding them. Neither were a secret, his nose had bleed in front of both Damon and Alaric; and it wouldn't be the first time that he complained of a migraine—but neither seemed to see the correlation like Stefan did, being the affected party, like the hunger he made no attempt to hide. None of these things were in attendance the last time he was human. Of course, that first time around, despite the fact that he now knew he was a doppelganger, his existence was natural; this time, he was a deceased vampire brought back from the dead as human with powerful Bennett magic. Was there anything natural in that sentence? So maybe these were just some little side effects that no one else needed to worry about; he could handle it, he'd endured much worse. And Stefan ignored the dark musing of the demon as she taunted him of deterioration.

Besides, this was his first real Christmas with family in a place he could call Home and for once he wanted to indulge and celebrate.

Clad in his tee shirt, Stefan went back to the front hall, pausing at the stairs to take off the remaining slipper and peel of his socks before he stood the stepladder back upright and picked up the mistletoe. He made a sliding knot with the ribbon and climbed back onto the ladder. It took him only 2 attempts to get the loop over the bulb and onto the brass branch; it was haphazard and definitely off-center, not like what he had wanted to do, but it was late and he wanted to be finished before the vampires returned—and now he was. He folded up the step ladder and stowed it the hall closet along with the empty decoration boxes and bins. He made the journey back to the front hall and turned on the outside light and the switch that would give power to the outside outlet and turn on the lights he'd hung. Stefan bent to retrieve his lost slipper in front of the door as it sung open, whacking him in the head; he cursed. Turning on the porch light must have masked the headlights through the side window.

"Stef?"

"Yeah." He straightened, rubbing his head and opened the door, stepping back. The 2 vampires came in; Alaric setting down a suitcase and duffle, Damon shutting the front door with a kick of his heel, several cooler bags looped on his shoulders.

"The place looks great, Stefan." Alaric said, seeing all the lighted decorations on the stairs and down through the hall.

"Thanks," Stefan smiled, ignoring his brother's narrowed gaze. "Just managed to get it done before you pulled in—I wanted it to be a surprise. Surprise!" he held out his arms, the forgotten slipper in his hand.

Damon's gaze briefly flickered to the scabbed bite on his left forearm before it locked onto the paw. "What the hell is that?"

"Oh," Stefan held it up. "They're slippers, Elena got them for me. They're dog paws." He sat on stair and quickly slipped his socks and slippers back on. "They're really comfortable." He stood.

"Just get a dog already," Damon complained.

"No." Stefan said sharply enough to give Damon pause and arch a brow. Stefan took a breath, shoving down the sudden sharp spike of panic. "I'm not getting a dog. We're not getting a dog. There will be no dog," he finalized. A dog, like a child, was a commitment, a long one—to being human.

"Whatever. I already have you to annoy me, I don't need another animal pissing on the floor and chewing the furniture."

"That's funny. How am I the animal in the scenario? I've been burying your dead bodies for years—literally. "

"Don't be ridiculous... I haven't dropped a body in forever. I've become boring." Damon shuddered. "I've essentially become you."

Stefan shook his head. "You only think you're fun because anyone who could give the true story is dead. And to that note... There's something else you should know," he looked between them with a mischievous smirk.

"What?" Damon questioned warily, sharing a quick glance with the teacher.

"Mistletoe!" Stefan announced with a grin, pointing up. "You know what the means."

The 2 vampires leaned their heads back to glance the sprig hanging overhead, then eyed each other.

"In your dreams, Teacher. I'm way out of your league even if I did swing that way."

"You hold a high opinion of yourself," Alaric returned. "I don't find alcoholic, narcissistic, womanizer attractive."

"No. You're clearly into the broody, boring, martyr. You're lucky day, Stefan. It really is a Christmas miracle."

He rolled his eyes and ignored the sarcasm. "If you're not going to kiss him, then allow me." Stefan stepped forward and shouldered his brother out of the way.

"Please do," Alaric said as Stefan grabbed the lapels of his ash-coloured jacket.

"Please don't," Damon countered, his request ignored as Stefan pulled Alaric in the short distance, their lips meeting. Damon jerked the cooler straps from the dirty-blond's shoulder roughly, but it barely disturbed the pair as they continued to make out, and headed for the basement to stow the freshly caught blood bags. "You're supposed to kiss under the mistletoe, not make out!" he called back.

"You had your chance," Alaric smirked against Stefan's lips. Damon's scoff was cut off by basement door closing. They shared a few more kisses before Alaric stepped back and pulled off his jacket, hanging it on a free hook. Stefan put the duffle strap over his shoulder and reached for the suitcase but Alaric's hand beat him to the carry handle. "I'm supernaturally strong, I can carry my own luggage."

Stefan raised a hand and backed off in amusement. "You can carry the suitcase, I don't mind."

Alaric followed his up the stairs, fingers brushing over the garland on the railing. "You really did a great job with the decorations and lights, Stefan, but what about the tree?"

"I wanted the 3 of us to decorate it together. The family is supposed to decorate it together."

"You're right." Alaric nodded, a smile fluttering across his lips. "Got a plan to make Damon participate?"

"Trust me," Stefan said lowly, "I'll have my way." Alaric chuckled at his boyfriend’s devious tone.

At the top of the stairs, Stefan turned right down the hall instead of left. "Stef--" Alaric started with a glance the opposite direction towards Zach's old bedroom, the room he'd been staying in before when he was sleeping over, but Stefan carried on determinedly towards his own bedroom.

Stefan sat his duffle in the reading chair and turned toward the vampire. "Nothing has to happen—I just want to sleep next to you, Ric." To have the vampire for the next 2 weeks, but not have him, would be cruel torture. "Before the whole vampire-swap, I got used to falling asleep with you, sometimes on you and waking up the same. I had 74 years of that loneliness, and then I got you and can hardly remember it. So, can't I just have you for Christmas?"

Alaric stepped forward and cupped his face, expression soft, eyes bright. "You don't have to ask, Stefan, you already have me." He pressed a sweet kiss to his mouth.

Stefan laid his forehead against the man's clavicle. "Being human is supposed to dial everything back, so why the hell does it feel like I have less control than I did with the Ripper waiting just beneath?" he wrapped his arms around Alaric, hands spread flat against the strong plains of his back. "It's like a bomb went of in my control box and everything is scattered and disorganized."

Alaric squeezed the brunette's nape reassuringly. "No one said being human was any easier than being a vampire."

"It sucks more than I remember," he uttered the confession into Alaric's shirt. He gave a heavy exhale and head a little shake. "It's Christmas and Christmas is supposed to be joyful, so I'm going to do something joyful." He declared, raising his head to his shoulder. "Ready?"

"Yeah, I'm ready."

"My pleasure," and Stefan's hands caressed southward.

"Mmm." Alaric's breath stuttered a little into Stefan's hair, feeling the slight heat of arousal pool low in his abdomen as the teen groped his ass. It was one of the few ways his undead body formed it's own heat, other than if he consumed warm blood or hot coffee; arousal and hunger. "Christmas really is joyful."

Stefan turned his smile against Alaric's neck. "Your turn, Ric."

"Something joyful..." he hummed, nuzzling against Stefan's head as the teen continued his pleasantly distracting ministrations.

Stefan gave a little shiver as he felt Alaric's breath against his ear before the vampire nibbled at his earlobe, before skimming his lips down the line of his throat. He felt the veins start to engorge under his eyes, but resisted, fought to deafening urge to drop his fangs and blessedly sink them into the hot, pulsing artery beneath his lips. Instead, Alaric picked the perfect sensitive spot and started to suck and lick. Stefan couldn't stop the little squirm, friction between their pelvises, biting his lip with the little whimper, one hand fisting the back of Alaric shirt, the other shoved up into his dirty-blond hair, fisting the strands. Finally, Alaric released his flesh, pressing a kiss to the reddened flesh as the mark slowly turned purple.

Alaric had left marks there in the past and in other various intimate places on the brunette, but they only lasted a minute with his vampire healing, but not this time. The hickey would stick around this time, Alaric's claim, a stand in for his bite, visible. By the time Christmas break was over, it would be healed in time for back to school.

Alaric rose his head and looked into Stefan lust-darkened green eyes. "The Holiday Joy train back on track?"

"And steaming straight ahead," Stefan continued the metaphor. His tongue swiped across his bottom lip, Ric's eyes tracking it. "The next best thing after sex," Stefan said. "Food."

"It always comes back around to food," he mused.

"Hunger is the basis for every motive, one way or another." Stefan pressed a kiss to the stubble under his jaw, took the vampire’s hand and interlaced their fingers and pulled him to the kitchen. "But sometime, it really is just about the food."

Alaric heated up a bag of blood in the microwave in a pint glass, and Stefan warmed a can of Chunky stew on the stove and ate it with a few buttered bread rolls. They stopped in the library after to get Salvatore and Alaric discovered the little village display covering the large table. Stefan went over and clicked on the power bar and watched the teachers smile grow as some of the buildings windows light up, the little streetlights, and the Christmas tree at the center in what could be considered town square.

"It almost looks like Mystic Falls," he glanced over at Stefan where he was bent over the display.

Stefan grinned down at him. "That's what I thought. This 1 looks like the Boarding House, doesn't it?"

"Yeah." Alaric nodded and straightened. Stefan left the village alit and picked up the fishbowl. "Wow, you even got Salvatore involved, huh?" The vampire noted the change of scenery inside the bowl, the comet goldfish swishing around.

"Yes," Stefan agreed. "He's part of the family, too." They went to the parlor.

Damon stood in front of the decorated mantle, the fire lit in the place, sipping bourbon, glaring at the stockings, or 1 in particular. "Explain this to me, brother." He pointed with his drinking hand at the little stocking with Salvatore's name written in glitter on it. "You better have a good explanation."

Stefan set the fishbowl in its place on the shelf. "It's Bonnie's gift,"

"Should have known the witch was involved," he sneered. He turned from the fireplace. "At least do it w--"

"No. Dog." Stefan repeated, cutting him off.

Damon just rolled his eyes, refreshed his bourbon and lounged in the chair, side-eyeing them as Alaric and Stefan opened up the boxes and bins and started to decorate the tree. The multicoloured mini-bulb lights went on first (turned on), then the baubles, and the unique little ornaments, bells and ribbon, tinsel. And lastly, the candy canes; Stefan vetoed the popcorn chains with a blunt: "I'll just eat them."

Alaric jerked his head at the empty point at the top of the tree; and back towards Damon, Stefan smothered his smile with a candy cane, the hook hanging out of his mouth as he winked at the bampi and tapped the side of his nose. It was on. Alaric went to pour himself a bourbon and Stefan took a second candy cane.

He paused by Damon, sticking the candy cane under his brother's nose. "It's a specialty flavour—alcoholic." He wagged it; Damon's eyes gave a miniscule narrowing as he eyed his brother for a moment before he took it and copied Stefan's own ministrations. Stefan continued from the parlor and to the hall closet, crunching his candy cane until there was nothing but the hook to suck on. He retrieved the stepladder from the closet and carried it back, setting it up next to the tree and pulled a bubble wrapped figure from the bin. The crystal figure of an Angel, her robe lightly frosted. It was hollow with a battery powered, colour strobe light inside.

Stefan turned the Angel on and set his foot on the first ladder rung--

Damon blurred to him, grabbing his upper arm and stopping his ascent. "You're not climbing on that, in those." He glared down at the paw slippers.

Stefan smirked internally, but kept the mildly annoyed look on his face. "You aren't going to do it and they have rubber grip soles."

"That holds no merit whatsoever." Damon growled. "Just give me the thing—I'll do it." He pulled Stefan back and grabbed the Angel. "The true miracle will be you not breaking your neck doing stupid, meaningless shit like hanging lights." He muttered, climbing the stepladder.

Stefan shared a grin with Alaric and tapped his nose.

On the top support, Damon placed the flashing angel, giving it a little minute adjust to center it. "There. Happy?" he looked down over his shoulder and Stefan took the opportunity to take a picture.

"Very." He quickly slipped his cell phone back into his back pocket.

"Not cool, baby brother." Damon stepped from the top of the step ladder and landed lightly on his feet.

"You keep taking unwarranted pictures of me," he countered.

"What? I gotta document your journey into adulthood." He snapped a piece of his candy cane off with his teeth.

Stefan scowled at the age remark and returned with: "And I yours into humanity."

"You're too sentimental." He finished his candy cane and retook his tumbler.

"It's our first real, official Christmas together in the past 145 years." Stefan pointed out. "You remember that puzzle box that you got me? You got it from some Chinese foreigner passing through town. I was obsessed with it, trying to open it. Each solved move revealed a tiny, beautifully craved figurine. I was so close to finishing it," he whispered, "But father caught me 'fooling around with the damned nonsense' too many times and threw it into the fire. I tried to save it, get it out, before you ran in for the commotion and yanked me away. My hands got all blistered and were in bandages for weeks. I was so upset and crying, not even 'cause my hands got burned but because he destroyed your gift and you got angry and yelled at father. He whipped you for you insolence with that damned cane!" Stefan's jaw tightened in remembered anger. "I wasn't strong enough to stop him," I'm never strong enough, he squeezed his eyes closed for a moment.

"But you tried anyways," Damon said quietly. "And he just turned and hit you. I thought he fucking killed you, you were laying so still. One look at you and he ran off to his office to drink more. Yeah, I remember, Stef. I remember every fucking bit." He threw back his bourbon. "The fucking bastard, shoulda killed him. Should of ended his miserable existence long before that."

"It was a 151 years ago. There was nothing you could do. It wasn't your--"

"I'm your big brother! The whole point of me is to stop stuff like that from happening to you."

"You weren't a killer, Damon." Stefan whispered. "Not until I turned you into one."

"I was a murderer before you turned me into a vampire, Stefan." Damon's gaze fogged with past horrors. "Just wished I'd deserted before instead of after, when it was too late and the damage was already done." He went and poured a fresh tumbler before Stefan's reaching hand could touch down and down his glass. "Was there a point to this lovely jaunt down memory lane?" he snarked, closing himself back off.

Stefan gave a sad sigh. "I want to spend a Christmas that doesn't end in blood, but happiness. I want you to be a part of that, Damon. Please?"

Damon threw himself onto the couch. "How long exactly do I have to put up with living in this Hallmark fantasy of yours?" he gave in.

Stefan grinned. "Just 2 weeks."

"Tw--" Damon said up. "No way. The decorations come down after Christmas."

"They come down after New Years," Stefan bargained. "Even if I'm hungover, by the time the 2nd comes around, it'll be like it never happened."

"Fine."

"But that means you have to have Christmas dinner."

"You're actually a good cook, so I accept the term."

"I also want a picture," Stefan gave his finally stipulation.

"You already got your picture," he waved at the lighted tree behind. "So no."

Stefan frowned. "I gave you 4 wishes. The mandatory 3, then an extra for Christmas spirit. And I'm using them all right now, so, come on."

"You're really pushing it, little brother." Damon groaned at the puppy-dog eyes. "Fine." He grouched, holding up a finger. "Last wish."

"I want you to wear a Santa hat for the picture," Stefan told him seriously. Alaric buried his grin behind his glass.

Damon glared. "Really? That's what you're going to use you're last wish on? You want me to wear a stupid Santa hat for your picture." He scoffed and shook his head. "It's times like these that I wonder how we're related. Alright," he sighed. "You can have your picture and damned hat, but," Damon added his own condition, "No posting it or sharing it."

"For my own viewing pleasure," Stefan promised, hand over his beating heart, unable to stop smiling. If he had to be human to have his brother like this, then there really wasn't any other options he needed to consider.

~ T V D ~

It was the eve of Christmas Eve and Stefan was still in the kitchen, he had 1 last item on his to-do list and then he could call it a night—the eggnog. He'd been in here all afternoon, a baking express line: gingerbread cookies, macaroons, tarts, all double batches to compensate for his unending hunger. He might have already eaten a quarter for taste-testing purposes and despite having banned the vampires from the kitchen, there really was little he could do against their vamp-speed-snatch attacks. He planned on giving a compilation of everything to Bonnie and Elena, but he didn't think he could resist the temptation until he saw them next so he was probably just going to make fresh batches for them. But he was happy, glad to do it.

He measured out most of the ingredients first, the counter island covered in measuring cups and spoons and prep bowls. He combined the milk, vanilla, and cinnamon into a saucepan on low and while he waited for it to come to a boil, he combined the 12 egg yolks he'd already separated with the sugar and whisked them, bowl held at his waist until fluffy (he already had plans for the whites). He took the boiled mixture from the stove and carefully mixed it in with the eggs then poured it back into the saucepan on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickened but didn’t boil. He strained the cloves out and while he left it to cool, he fried and ate the leftover egg whites and tidied up. When the liquid was cooled, he mixed in the bourbon, cream, vanilla and finished it off with nutmeg.

The eggnog needed to refrigerate overnight so Stefan poured it into a sealable jug to store in the fridge and take up less space in the crowded interior—but not before he poured himself a glass. He took a sip and swished it around before swallowing, then drained the rest of the glass. It was good, but would be even better once it set. Stefan smacked his lips and ran his tongue along his teeth as he filled the sink to wash the dishes.

He grimaced in annoyance as he felt the ache in his head start to bloom, but it felt a little different than usual, lower between and even under his eyes. He supposed he should have seen this coming, it always hit at 1 point or another. He cleared his throat as he continued washing, sorting out his schedule for Christmas day in his head: He'd take the turkey out from the freezer downstairs when he was finished (it would take tomorrow to thaw), then he'd have to wake up early on Christmas to prepare and put it into the oven. And during the course of the cook time, he'd prep and cook the rest of Christmas dinner. He had grand plans of doing most of it from scratch: the stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy etc. It was more time consuming, but it's definitely worth by the end when he was eating it—his mouth filled with saliva just imagining it.

Zach had updated the kitchen in a remodel since he was last in Mystic Falls in 1994 and Stefan loved it. The six burner gas stove, the stacked ovens... definite needed features for cooking a turkey dinner, even if it was just for 3.

The sudden, overwhelming urge to cough took Stefan and he cursed as he sliced his hand on a knife in the water. He ran it under the tap even as he hacked into the crook of his arm. Finally, the cough attack eased, but the formed lump in his throat didn't. He grabbed paper towel from the stand and pressed it to his bleeding, chewing his itchy lips. The warning bells ringing in the back of his head that something wasn't right, got to full-blown klaxons as all he could seem to do was take wheezing gasps through his closing throat.

"Ric!" he croaked, hurrying from the kitchen. "Damon!" injured hand forgotten, the bloodied paper towel fell to the floor as he put his hand out against the panelled wall for support, the other to his chest as he felt sharp pains every time he managed to drag in a breath.

Damon and Alaric blurred to him simultaneously, for as much the scent of blood as the quality of his voice.

"What did you do?!" Damon demanded.

"Your hand--" the bampi was able to override the immediate vamp response with concern; Stefan wouldn't be reacting like this if it was just a cut. He didn't need enhanced vamp-hearing to notice how off his breathing was.

The brunette shook his head rapidly. "Can't... breathe!" Stefan managed. "Anaphylactic shock--!" that was the conclusion he managed to come up with between all the fear of suffocation, it was the only thing he could equate the symptoms even if it didn't make sense. There was the sudden sharp (and familiar) pain in his head, and the sinus headache was flushed away with burning as his nose started to bleed, and he groaned as that same light-headedness from the stepladder hit him, but he couldn't tell if it was that or the symptom of reaction as he was hit with a wave of nausea.

Alaric quickly grabbed him before he could fall. "An allergic reaction--?"

"You don't have an allergy!" Damon grabbed a fistful of Stefan's shirt, his worry and confusion making it sound like an accusation.

"Apparently he does!" Alaric shouted. "We need an EpiPen."

"We don't have one!"

"He won't make it to the hospital--" not with the turn his breathing had taken.

"Fuck." There was only 1 thing for it—Damon bit into his wrist with fangs. "Open wide, little brother." He shoved his bloodied wrist against Stefan's gaping mouth. The fight instinct took over the teen briefly as his only (very poorly) viable breathing option was blocked by Damon's wrist, his nose clogged with blood; Stefan's green eyes flicked and survival kicked it and he grabbed the vampire's arm.

Damon grimaced as he felt Stefan teeth latch and he started to suck and drink fiercely, his fingers white-knuckled as Alaric seemed to be the only thing holding him up. They sunk to the floor. The constant suction and nip of sharp baby-fangs kept the wound open and flowing. Damon watched him carefully, a hand placed flat on Stefan's chest, paying attention to the speed of his heart, his breathing, the complexion of his skin. He let Stefan feed until the timber of his breath changed from wheezing breaths through a straw to just your regular out of breath panting; his eyes lost the glazed, desperate, panicked look.

"Alright." Damon tried to pull his wrist away and Stefan just responded instinctively, his eyes flashing momentarily, a territorial growl rumbling from his throat, his fingernails digging into skin, pseudo fangs clamping down. "Enough, Ripper!" Damon plugged the brunette's nose, making him choose: feed or breathe.

Stefan held on for a stubborn moment before he was forced to tear away, gasping for breath as he slumped back against Alaric's chest.

"You good?" Alaric questioned.

Damon rubbed his healed wrist irritably. "Some things never change." He eyed Stefan, lounging back against the other vampire. There was almost a drunk brightness to his eyes as he licked his chops, so reminiscent of his vampire days, not wont to waste a drop. Damon checked him over: heart rate and breathing back to normal; his hand was left bloody but the slice was healed, same with the scabbed feeding bite on his forearm. Damon pushed his chin, tilting his head to the side, even Alaric's hickey was all healed. Stefan was like a lion, docile after a heavy meal, letting the cubs play on him like a jungle gym, Alaric stroking his forehead.

Damon dropped back and slumped back against the wall with a sigh, forearms hanging on raised knees, staring at his little brother and feeling a little anaemic with the amount of blood Stefan had taken. Bonnie claimed that the brunette was just like a human now—(again)—but the word 'just' didn't belong in the same sentence as bringing his baby brother back from the true death. Like, despite how ill Stefan had become after his return from death and to human life, he was averse to just simply giving him vampire blood to heal him because it couldn't be just as simple as that. As Bonnie stated constantly: nature balances itself out. But it was also because (like now) he couldn't trust Stefan 100% not to just go a kill himself once he got any vampire blood into his system, not with the helpless desperation, obsession he had shown to wanting to turn back into one, so Damon (and Alaric) made a pact to allow the teen none unless under desperate circumstance. Well, Stefan got it and Damon was no letting the teen out of his sight for the next 42 hours at least, which would be easy with Christmas just around the corner—but if something were to happen, he'd rather have an undead brother than a just plain dead one.

Stefan shifted, turning and snuggling against his boyfriend's chest. "Stef. Hey," Alaric stroked his cheek.

"Mmm," Stefan tilted his head back and cracked his green eyes. "Hey," he murmured. His right arm reached up, elbow bent and cupped the vampire's neck, pulling him down as his neck stretched and kissed him. He gasped into the vampire's mouth, feeling a surge of electricity; he turned fully into the teacher and Alaric fell back to floor with his sudden weight. Stefan grabbed a fistful of his dirty-blond strands and kissed him desperately—hungrily. Felt the same kind of heat seed and burgeon in his lower belly as he rubbed his stirring groin against the vampire taut abdomen. Stefan nipped his lip, drawing blood.

"Jeez, Stefan. Easy." Alaric grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back. He was a millisecond from vamping-out.

Stefan sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, cleaning it of the bead of Alaric's blood with gratification.

"If 1 of you was a girl and 1 of you wasn't my brother, I'd be all for this live porn show, but neither of those is true, so let's keep it family friendly, huh? I don't need to be scarred for the rest of my life, since it holds the possibility of eternal." Damon chimed into the conversation. "If you're ready to have sex in the hall, that must mean you're feeling better—you know, from the whole 'almost dying' thing."

"Yes. I remember now, thank you." Stefan deadpanned. He shifted from the prone bampi and climbed to his feet, Alaric following. "Aw, shit." he realized.

Damon blurred to his feet. "What?" he demanded, eyeing him like he was about to implode.

"I have to take the turkey out." He started for the kitchen.

Damon grabbed his arm and yanked him back. "The damn turkey can wait a minute."

"Stefan, are you okay?" Alaric asked him seriously. "How do you feel?"

"Great. Fantastic." He didn't even have to think about it. "Best I've felt in my life."

Damon continued to scrutinize him. "And this whole allergic reaction?"

"It must have been the eggnog," Stefan explained. "Well... the nutmeg in the eggnog..."

"You've never had eggnog?" Alaric asked. "You didn't have any at the Tree Ceremony?"

Stefan shook his head; he had consumed his weight in hot chocolate (with extra marshmallows), gingerbread men and their houses, and fruitcake. "Didn't touch the eggnog, i.e. nutmeg. Not as a human, then or now, or at least until I taste-tested the batch I just made." Damon finally released his arm with a growl and stormed into the kitchen, the couple quickly following after. "What are you doing?" he wondered as the dark-haired vampire nearly ripped the stainless steel refrigerator door off the hinges.

"What does it look like?" Damon grabbed the sealed jug from the fridge and went over to the sink and dumped all 2 litres into the sink, washing it down the drain.

"That took me over an hour to make," Stefan protested.

"And it took hardly a fraction of that to almost kill you!" Damon snapped back. He turned from the sink and went over to the stove, pulling the rotating spice rack forward.

"No! What do you think you're doing?" Stefan grabbed Damon's arm, trying to pull him away. The eggnog, he understood, fine, but he wouldn't stand for his brother messing with his spices.

Damon utterly ignored him and started to pull jars from their slots: nutmeg, mace, pumpkin pie spice, allspice, garam masala. Mace was made from the outer membrane of the nutmeg, and the others were all blends of spices that contained nutmeg. Stefan wasn't the only cook in the family. Damon went to the metal trashcan and stepped on the peddle, the lid flipping open.

"Not the allspice!" Stefan managed to snatch it from his crowded hands before Damon tossed the whole lot, clutching the bottle to his chest. Allspice was made from ground dried berries that tasted like a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves but didn't contain the tropical seed.

Damon followed the spices with the empty jug before he slammed the lid. He looked over at his little brother and his mildly bloodied state. "So much for your bloodless Christmas."

"This changes nothing," Stefan told him firmly and turned on his heel, going into the basement to get the turkey. This was just a mild hiccup in his Christmas plans, but nothing that couldn't be smoothed over with a little effort. Nobody died, the blood was superficial; he would stay his course: leave the turkey out to thaw tonight and Christmas Eve, he'd make a fresh batch of eggnog tomorrow with a nutmeg substitute, same with the pumpkin pies.

...

Alaric was sat on the closed toilet in boxers and a tee as the sliding door opened and Stefan stepped from the shower.

"You could have joined me," Stefan murmured as he dried himself under his penetrating blue gaze.

But the teacher shook his head. "Better safe than sorry."

Stefan tucked the towel around his hips. "I can never be sorry when it comes to you." He carded his fingers through Alaric's hair. "You don't have to worry, everything's fine." Hand's on his shoulders for balance, Stefan straddled Alaric's thighs and sat in his lap, his towel riding up when the vampire wrapped his arms around him and pulled him closer and securer. "I'm fine."

"You almost weren't." Alaric returned.

"But I am now," he assured, thumb stroking the stubble on the teacher's cheek.

"There shouldn't be a tally for how many times I keep almost losing you."

"You haven't lost me." Stefan pushed warm fingers under Alaric tee collar and blanketed the base of his neck; who closed his eyes with a soft sigh at the touch. "I wasn't lying this time when I said I felt fantastic, the first time since I've been human, I feel... whole." He realized; like all the cracks inside that seemed like they'd shatter him at a moments notice, mended, if temporarily.

Alaric opened his eyes. "This time?"

"Ah," Stefan hadn't meant to let that little tidbit slip out. "It's just easier not to say anything sometimes."

Alaric cupped his cheek. "Easier on who?

"Sometimes it's just better to not say something, Ric." He amended.

"Stef--" Alaric started to shake his head.

"Ric, listen." Stefan cupped his head and laid it against his bare chest, "This—I will keep this beating for as long as you want, for as long as I am able."

Alaric lifted his head to look at him. "Why is you staying like this contingent on my wanting of it?" he questioned in bewilderment. "Why can't you be human from your wanting?"

"I want to be with you."

"You are with me." Stefan shook his head and squeezed his eyes closed, fingers stretching and twisting in Alaric's tee collar. "Sometimes it's better to say something," Alaric murmured. "How am I supposed to know what's going on if you won't tell me what's going on in your head?"

"I... can't--" because the longer I'm like this the more you're going to want me to do human-things with my new human-life. Human-things that can only be done with other humans, not vampiresnot you.

"What happened to you is a gift, Stefan." Alaric caressed his wet hair.

Stefan scoffed at that, opening his eyes and said bitterly, "And you a curse." Me, a curse. I've cursed us both.

"Maybe not." Alaric confessed after a moment.

"What do you mean?" Stefan looked at him in confusion. "How could you say that? After everything... it's no gift."

"Listen to me, Stefan." He held his face, made sure he had his gaze. "I'm frozen in time and you're finally fluid again. Live, like you haven't been able to. I'll still be here, I'm not going anywhere. Live, experience. We'll still be together, we'll still have eternity. The only difference from before and now is that you have time." Alaric gave him a soft kiss. "Stef?"

Stefan nodded slowly, gaze dropped and untwisted his hands from the collar. "Okay," he croaked after a moment. He cleared his throat and licked his lips. "Christmas Joy?" Stefan requested quietly, lifting his green gaze..

"Something joyful?" he teased, mock thoughtful. Alaric's hands brushed up Stefan's thighs, pushing beneath the towel and cupped the bottom curve of his buttocks—and stood in a fluid motion, Stefan's legs wrap around him, carrying the 180 lb. teen like he weighed a fraction of that.

"Oh. Yes. I like this. This has great potential," Stefan surmised, his arms looped loosely around the vampire's neck. "Where is it headed? What's the end game?"

Alaric smirked. "Bed." He left the en suite.

"What else?" Stefan murmured, eyes hooded, voice husky as he flexed, pressing his stirring eagerness against him. Alaric laid him on the bed and Stefan may have let the towel slip free, leaving him naked but for his rose tattoo.

"Hm," Alaric's blue gaze darkened as he cruised his boyfriend, laid on display, his half-hard cock begging for his touch so it could grow to full potential.

Stefan stretched his arms up over his head, his fingers playing the with damp strands; he rose his knee and let his leg fall open, revealing himself to the vampire. Alaric's boxes tented visibly as he stood at the foot of the bed and gulped. He knelt on the bed and started to crawl up the brunette, nuzzling with stubble, mouthing with butterfly touches. His veins were already tingling under his eyes in hunger, both bloodied and sexual and his fangs dropped sharply as he nuzzled passed Stefan's femoral.

"Ric," he whispered, biting his lower lip, his skin flushed prettily in arousal and anticipation. His cock was already fully erect by the time Alaric nosed tantalizingly through the hair it his base, a shiver going through his body. Stefan resisted the urge to thrust up his hips and instead held still, almost shaking with the effort. This was the closest he'd had the vampire and he didn't want to scare him back into his senses by moving too fast beyond his comfort and control. "What else?" the question was breathless, barely there. He was so hard, one wrong breath from the vampire at this proximity and he was going to lose the precious thread of control that he had.

Alaric pulled up and pressed a kiss to his hip instead. "Sleep,"

"I can't go to sleep," he reasoned. "My hair's still damp; I'll get permanent bed head and my hair will be a nightmare tomorrow."

"But your bed head is adorable." Alaric chuckled and drew himself the rest of the way so they were face to face, hovering and not touching. The material of his shirt dragged tortuously over Stefan's leaking, sensitive head and the orgasm shot through him embarrassingly, his sight whiting out briefly.

"Uuhn!" he arched, his cum splattering warm across the hem of Alaric's tee and the hair of his lower belly. He hardly noticed Alaric shuddering over him as he released, red sclera glued to his flushed, sweat-shinny face as Stefan slumped back onto the bed beneath with a slow moan.

Stefan's green eyes fluttered and focused at the face hovering above him own as he returned to this plain of consciousness, the blush of post coitus making him look debauched as he licked his lips. He reached up, finger's brushing his pale cheek. "I missed your face," Stefan realized him in disappointment.

"I didn't," Alaric whispered and crushed his lips against Stefan‘s. Stefan reached up and tried to pull Alaric down against him but the vampire refused to budge. "I'm covered in all the cum," he explained, humour at the corner of his mouth. He pressed a chaste kiss to Stefan's smiling lips before carefully rolling off him onto his back on his side of the bed and carefully pulled his soiled shirt overhead. Stefan watched as he wiped the ejaculate from his hairy stomach with it and flung the ball of cloth across the room where it landed on the closed laundry hamper. He rose his hips and peeled his wet boxers off and did much the same with them as his shirt.

"Now sleep," Stefan deduced when Alaric pulled the blanket over them and switched out the lamp. But there was no protest from him; that might not have gone exactly as he had desperately wished, but that didn't matter, the end result was the same—he got Ric. "Christmas Joy is the best."

"I think you're right," Alaric agreed, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

...

Alaric lay on his side, torso propped up on an elbow and watched through the dark with his supernaturally enhanced gaze as Stefan's eyes darted almost frenetically beneath his closed eyelids as he slept. He wondered if it was a nightmare or if the brunette was simply have an active dream, he wanted to reach out, touch, comfort anyway but remembered the last time he did that he accidentally viewed Stefan's dream. But when Stefan’s inhale got stuck briefly and his lips trembled, he responded automatically, his hand laid on the slumbering teen's jumping abdominal muscle. The following exhale was smooth and Stefan rolled onto his side, snuggling against the teacher. Alaric lowered himself, arms wrapped around Stefan, he rolled back onto his back, letting the brunette snuggle half on him, mouth and nose pressed against side of the vampire's neck.

Stefan settled deeply and Alaric pulled the blanket back up around his naked shoulders, staring up into the overhead rafters as he focused on the sound of the human's deep, smooth breaths and tried to forget about the wheezing, struggling gasps of earlier.

...

Stefan kissed Alaric awake the next morning. The vampire instantly responded, half-awake. His arms wrapped around the naked teen holding him close as he released his lips and kissed along his jaw, down his neck. The veins engorged under his eyes, flooding them under closed lids, tracing the flowing artery beneath his lips as his fangs descended and pierced the delicate skin.

Stefan hadn't not expected the teacher to just go for it, he was sure that Alaric would refuse to drink from him again for a while after what happened last night, but the brunette didn't even think the vampire was consciously aware of what he was doing, stuck in that sweet spot of asleep and awakening. But Stefan didn't fight him, was still and relaxed beneath the vampire's fangs.

It was a few swallows in, awakened by the warm fresh blood, better than a straight shot of caffeine in his undead state now, that Alaric realized with a startled sense of horror just exactly where he was and what he was doing. Like waking up to realize that reality was the dream and the dream was the real reality. Alaric extracted himself, quickly but carefully as to not knick or pierce the artery further.

Alaric sat up and quickly wiped the blood from his mouth. "Oh, God, Stefan. I didn't mean to!"

Stefan collected the line of blood crawling down his chest and stuck the bloodied finger into Alaric's mouth, cutting off his blabbering, unfounded, needless apologies. Alaric stilled under the pressure of the finger on his tongue as Stefan lay patiently and the dirty-blond watched as his bite so slowly healed and disappeared with the vampire blood still in the teen's system from last night, leaving only smears of blood on his tan skin.

Too slow, Stefan thought as he sat up and touched the sensitively healed area, for the amount of blood he'd taken from Damon. He didn't think Alaric noticed, busy with his own self-recrimination.

"I wasn't even awake," he stressed.

Stefan reached out and stroke his stubbled cheek, drawing his focus back. "So, how long did you keep yourself awake and watch me sleep?"

The corners of his lips tightened. "You almost died."

"You did die," he returned a little coldly.

Alaric's eyes widened. "Stefan--"

Stefan raised onto his knees, cupped his head and pressed a kiss firmly to his forehead. "You can be a be my sous-chef," he compromised. "You can keep an eye on me and be useful. Now go shower." He crawled out of bed. While Alaric jumped into the shower, Stefan fed Salvatore. He was just going to wash the blood away with a cloth at the sink, but catching sight of his massive bed head in the mirror, he decided to just save time. Alaric blinked at him as he opened the glass door and stepped in. "Let me have that for a second?" he stepped around the vampire, sticking his head under the spray and Alaric took the opportunity to wash the blood away and kiss him under the spray.

It was in the kitchen, Alaric pouring 2 mugs with freshly brewed coffee behind him as he stared into the inside of the fridge, reaching for the carton of creamer, that Stefan came to a realization—he wasn't hungry. They slept until 11. Usually, long before that he'd have been driven from much needed sleep to the even more need to eat anything to stop the hunger. The space in time between his last meal and now was inconceivable. While yes, 12 egg whites was overboard for anyone normal, it was established that he wasn't, he should be feeling the hunger, biting and desperate right about long-before-now. As he looked at all the ready-to-consume food staring at him from the crowded shelves—he didn't feel that frantic internal gnawing famishment that he needed to cram full without fail. Could--

"Stef?" Alaric's voice yanked him to the present. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Stefan gave his head an internal shake. "Yeah." He grabbed the creamer and shut the door. Alaric drank his coffee black with 2 sugar. Stefan used to drink his purely black, he liked the bitterness of the coffee bean, unhindered by sugar, and as hot as possible for his undead, cold body; but he discovered drinking black as a human was not ideal if he wanted to keep his taste buds, so he was forced to adjust to circumstance and add creamer. He took a sip of his coffee, a contemplative line on his forehead as the sip fluttered in his stomach before it settled. He set his cup down, turned to Alaric, and got to work.

They made the eggnog first, though Stefan cut the recipe in half and left the mixture to cool. He set Alaric to the task of peeling apples as he made the crust for several different pies from scratch. He had Alaric mix the pumpkin pie filling with allspice, ginger, and cinnamon as Stefan sorted out the apple pie and carefully laid the cross-lattice to cover the top of the pie.

Lastly, for the pecan pie, Alaric chopped up the pecans as Stefan measured out the other ingredients, not even thinking twice about it as he took a nut and tossed it back, crunching it between his back molars. The sudden acrid, rotten taste when he swallowed took him completely by surprise and he gagged, coughing, and spilt the sugar he was pouring.

"What is it?" Alaric immediately stopped what he was doing and was at his side in an instant.

"Just a bad pecan," he cleared his throat, hand to his chest. Alaric went to the fridge and poured him a glass of filtered water. "Thanks." Stefan rinsed his mouth and spat in the sink. He managed a few swallows before he was forced to stop.

"Alright?" Alaric attempted not to crowd and cleaned up the spilled sugar.

"Yeah." Stefan set the half-full glass by the sink and got out a saucepan for the stove. He mixed in the sugar, corn syrup, butter, water, and cornstarch and waited to bring it to a boil. Alaric beat the eggs in another bowl until they were frothy and when the mixture came to a boil, Stefan gradually beat the cook syrup mixture into the eggs then added the remaining measured salt, vanilla, and chopped pecans. He poured the filling into the last remaining empty pie crust and put the pies in the preheated ovens.

Alaric grabbed a blood bag from fridge freezer, the meal to the hours ago appetizer of Stefan's neck. Stefan watched from the corner of his eye as the vampire didn't bother with a glass or to warm it and simply pulled the tab from the attached tube to the bag and drank from it like a straw, his veins crawling under his eyes. Stefan unconsciously licked his lips as he watched, before he jerked himself back to present and finished mixing the cooling eggnog that had been set aside, bringing out the allspice again as a substitute for nutmeg. He cautiously tried a tablespoon of the finished drink, and he had to swallow passed the sudden precursor of excess saliva and the lump in his throat—he ducked his head in the fridge as cover, shifting around things on the shelf to make room for the eggnog jug despite the hole from last night where Damon had taken the previous jug from.

As they waited for the timer on the pies to go off, they did dishes; Alaric washing, Stefan drying distractedly. His mind elsewhere, there was no filter to his words.

"Noticed Damon's not home," Alaric commented.

"That appears to be the case,"

"I figured he'd want to keep an eagle-eye on you after last night."

"Maybe he thinks you've got it covered,"

"Even if that's true, thought this was something he'd want to do himself."

"Maybe he has more important things to do,"

"You're important."

"I'm not the center of the universe, Ric. There are a lot of things more important in the world than me."

"Not to him." Alaric turned to him. "Not to me."

"Maybe I shouldn't be." Stefan's voice was hollow as he stared blankly down at the glass mixing bowl in his hands; It made Alaric shiver, and was frozen, unable to move, only listen as the brunette continued. "We are meant to suffer and die, there might be a bit of life lived in there but our sole purpose in this universe is to die." All Alaric could see was the blankness of him, the lack of sensation in his voice and he was reminded of staring into his blank, dead eyes. "I'm dying right now and you don't even know it."

"Hey!" Alaric grabbed his shoulders roughly, unable to stand the words, the tone, unable to detect anything that was Stefan in the body before him. "Stefan! Come back, c'mon!" Stefan gave a sharp exhale, broken from the trance, the bowl slipping from suddenly nerveless fingers and smashed on the floor; he flinched. Alaric's fingers tightened further for an instant, relieved to see Stefan back and present in his forest green eyes.

Stefan stared down between them. "I broke the bowl."

"Hey," Alaric said, softer this time. He put a hand on Stefan's cheek and raised his face, looking into his eyes. "It's alright, you're okay." With vampire strength, he manoeuvred the wavering teen from the broken glass and pushed him onto a stool. He carefully pulled the paw slippers from his feet and shook out the shards of glass caught in the material, but was wary to put them back on for hidden shards.

The timers on the ovens started to beep and Stefan immediately responded, starting to stand when Alaric quickly put a hand to his chest, pushing him back. "There's glass all over the floor! Just sit. I'll get them." He waited until he got a nod before he turned to the ovens, turning them off before he grabbed the oven mitts. He took the pies out and placed them on the cooling rack on the wall counter.

Alaric poured the teen a glass of orange juice, setting it in front of him and quickly put 2 pieces of bread in the toaster. He fed from Stefan that morning when he knew he shouldn't have after what happened to the brunette the night before and he didn't recall Stefan eating anything since they awoke at noon—usually that was the first thing on his mind when waking. "Drink," he issued and went around the clear side of the island to get the broom from the rack on the inside of the pantry door.

Stefan swallowed, his hand wrapped around the glass for a moment before he slowly lifted it to his lips. It was fine. It was just OJ, he'd had some the day before yesterday. It tasted acidic and sour in his mouth anyways and he couldn't stop the choke.

"Stef?" Alaric looked up from where he was crouched with the dustpan.

Stefan waved a hand and rose the glass again. The broom and dustpan dropped to the floor in a crash as Alaric blurred to the brunette and grabbed the glass from Stefan before he could drink further, juice sloshing out of the glass onto his hand and island counter.

"Are you trying to make yourself sick?" Alaric questioned in confusion.

"It's fine, I can drink it." Stefan protested, reaching for the glass but Alaric pulled it from reach and simply put it, cup and all, into the dishwater. "Ric--"

Alaric turned back to him, ignoring the little shards of missed glass poking through the material of his socks and into his sensitive soles. "I shouldn't have fed from you, not after--"

"That has nothing to do with it." Stefan cut him off with an upset frown and furrow to his thick brows.

"Then what?"

"I'm fine. Nothing's wrong."

"Are you getting sick again?" the vampire pressed. "Stefan?" Alaric stepped forward and squeezed his shoulder, pulling him from his thoughts.

"I'm not." He could tell Alaric didn't quite believe him.

Stefan didn't think he was sick, at least he didn't feel sick, not now. But every time he tried to drink or eat, just the taste of it in his mouth was terrible, let alone in his stomach made it turn. With the exception of the first time of him eating food as human the second time around (which had been a struggle of his conscious over the wanting of his body) there wasn't anything that he hadn't eaten and nothing his body had rejected and the only thing that had changed in all that time was drinking Damon's blood last night.

Vampire blood healed his state of anaphylactic shock, the cut on his palm, Alaric's feeding marks, and even the bite from this morning if at a much slower rate... could it possibly have healed the unnatural hunger that resided within him? Or was it simply vampire blood that had been his true craving all this time?

"You said you were dying, Stefan!" Alaric blurted in frustration. Stefan froze at that and Alaric was horrified to realize a moment later of observation that it wasn't shock that he had said such a thing, but instead took an aura of red-handedness. "Stefan?" he asked weakly, desperately fearing his boyfriend's next response. "That's not true, right? You're not--" he couldn't even finish it as Stefan's hollow voice rang through his head: 'I'm dying and you don't even know it'.

Thoughts of deterioration hounded Stefan once more in Katherine’s giggled whispers. Bonnie said he was fine. She'd told him that she'd examined his 'aura' when he was sick and it wasn't anything magical that had him ailing. But that was almost a month ago. His hunger wasn't what it was a month ago. He didn't get headaches or nosebleeds a month ago. Clearly he was-- Clearly he had been... deteriorating since. But maybe Damon's blood had helped, or maybe vampire blood had accelerated it like cancer and this was the flash of vitality before the dying breath.

The toast popped, making them both jump.

"Well, isn't life just a very slow journey towards death?" Stefan replied philosophically, avoiding the question.

"Was that what you meant?" he asked tartly.

"How could I explain to you what I meant when I don't even know what I said?"

"You really mean that?"

"Why would I lie about something like that?!"

"I don't know, Stef. Maybe this is another of your 'it's better not to say anything' moments." He did harsh quotation marks as his anger boiled. "Clearly it's something you don't find fit to tell me. I used to think that I knew you enough to discern when your 'fine's' really meant you were fine or you were just trying to comfort someone else—obviously I've been deluding myself this entire time! You're hiding something--"

"No!" Stefan bolted up from the stool, his arm reaching out. "That's not--!" his hand touched Alaric's chest just as there was a distinct crunch underfoot and he sucked in a sharp gasp, stilling for an instant before he jerked himself back with a small cry, hopping on his left foot. "Ah!"

"Dammit, Stefan. I warned you about the glass!" Alaric barked angrily, even as he grasped his elbow to steady him.

"I forgot!" Stefan barked back over his shoulder, leaning forward against the counter, his right knee bent and socked foot held aloft behind him.

Alaric crouched down behind him, cupping his ankle to steady it and carefully pulled down Stefan's sock from under his pant leg, the brunette hissing as he peeled it carefully from his injured foot.

"How bad is it?" Stefan questioned.

Alaric felt his hunger emerge from the foreground just at scent of blood, let alone what the sight enticed. There was a curved piece pierced into Stefan's heel and he carefully extracted it, accompanied by a quiet curse of the patient. He felt his fangs try to poke from his gums as he watched a trail of fresh blood well from the small wound and wend down the ball of Stefan's foot and drip from his toes on his jean-clad thigh bent beneath.

"Pass me paper towel," Alaric swallowed, cupping his hand beneath his foot so the blood dripped into his palm instead of staining his pants. He swore he wasn't going to drink it, licking Stefan’s nosebleed from his face like a true animal was depraved enough.

He stretched across the counter, left foot lifting from the floor, his injured one almost give the vampire a bloodied footprint to the face. "Why the hell did I think I could somehow make the perfect Christmas?" Stefan whispered, his voice thick as he handed down the roll from the stand. He remembered his nosebleed while hanging the mistletoe the first time, the header he'd very nearly done from the stepladder, "It was marked with blood from start, I should have taken it as a omen and quit while I was ahead. I'm 3 for-- hah!" he gave a sharp exhale as Alaric pressed paper towel to the laceration.

"You couldn't have known about the nutmeg, Stefan." Alaric mumbled a little distractedly. "We weren't prepared; vampire blood was the only option. This should be healed in a minute."

Stefan hung his head for a moment with a sigh. "I don't think that's going to happen, Ric."

"Of course it will. It hasn't even been 24 hours since you drank Damon's blood—and you drank a lot of it, Stefan. It'll heal your wound just like my bite from this morning."

Stefan said nothing. Of course, Alaric only having been a bampi for under a month, he didn't have the experience of being injured and healing himself, let alone feeding his blood to a human to heal them so he couldn't understand exactly how fast it actually happened. Even Stefan’s vampire blood, its Power weak and diluted from animal blood healed faster than the bite from this morning. No, compulsion didn't even work on him properly, so why would he have thought that vampire blood would work on his as it did other regular humans?

Alaric lifted the stained paper towel from Stefan's heel and stared in blank confusion at the continued presence of the wound. "It's still there. It should have healed, right?"

Stefan straightened and twisted his torso. "Help me?"

Alaric looked up at him for a moment before he stood, and straightened under his aloft arm, his own wrapping around Stefan back. "What aren't you saying?" Alaric demanded.

"There's a stocked medical kit in Zach's closet," he explained.

"It'll be faster if I just carry you." At least the dirty blond waited until he grimaced in humiliated acceptance before picking him up. Alaric set him down in the bathroom and went into the closet to get the kit. The other First Aid kits around the Boarding House were your typical ones filled with bandages, tape, disinfectant, numbing cream, latex gloves, and butterfly strips. But the kit in the closet was like a paramedic's bag.

Stefan sat on the edge of the bathtub, his right ankle crossed on his left knee, examining the wound when Alaric came returned with the kit. As he carefully cleaned around the wound with a disinfectant wipe, he had Alaric fill the hollow pointed syringe with the saline and flushed out the laceration with a hiss through clenched teeth; it seemed to be as deep as it was wide. As he patted it dry, he thought on his next course; he needed to hold it closed, but simple steri-strips alone wouldn’t hold it closed, not with movement, but he didn't want to have to put a stitch in there... so he settled on the skin glue. He chewed the inside of his cheek as he pinched the edges of the laceration and carefully applied the glue, then the steri-strips.

"Stefan," Alaric said slowly, watching him carefully as the brunette taped a piece of sterile pad over his heel. "You did that rather proficiently."

"I grew up watching how wounds were made, I also wanted to learn how to mend them, heal them." Stefan wrapped his foot with an elastic fabric bandage to keep the gauze in place. "When we grew into men, younger and physically stronger with the means of striking back, the physical beatings almost abated completely and Giuseppe's abuse became more psychological, verbal putdowns and the like—but what neither Damon or I would admit was that despite having the means between us, we were still afraid of father. Anyway," he was drawn back into the present when Alaric stroked his arm. "I wanted to go to school, become a doctor—not that he would have approved—but before I could even plan how to go about such a feat, Katherine happened."

"No more explanation needed," Alaric murmured.

"You don't see all the scars because the vampire blood, completing the transition, it healed all the scar tissue. Now the scars just lay a little deeper than tissue." He glanced up from tucking the wrap. "I said too much--" but Alaric shook his head.

"You endured, Stefan. You're stronger than you give yourself credit for."

"Yeah, sure. We're the poster children for well adjusted." He remarked sardonically. "What gave it away? The mass murder, tearing off peoples heads, or playing with my food? Damon's own disregard for human life?" he deadpanned. "I've done the math, Ric—literally—and I've murdered more than Damon by 4 times at least. And those are only of the ones that I remember. If I was a strong as you say, I never would have turned Ripper in 1912, I would have resisted the pull of father's blood that night in 1864. It hasn't been strength that's kept me going or fighting, Ric, it's selfishness and fear."

"You have a good heart, Stefan." Alaric cupped his face. "There's nothing that says you're more human than fear. What's the rarity is your sympathy and idealism after all you've been through. You're love for your brother after all he's put you through."

"His love for me after all I've put him through," Stefan corrected.

"I'm sure he'd say the same thing if he was so inclined to share his feelings on occasion." Alaric said, and somehow teased a twitch of a smirk from the corner of his brunette's lips. "You deserve to have this Christmas with Damon--"

"And you," Stefan added.

"And me." Alaric nodded. "So I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that this thing happens tomorrow."

"You're going to help me lie to Damon?" Stefan asked, surprised.

"Do you promise you're going to explain to me what happening with you?" Stefan nodded. "Then... it's all in the spirit of Christmas." Alaric raised to his feet and held both his hands out to the teen.

Stefan had a huge grin as he grasped his hands and the vampire pulled him smoothly to his left foot, his right held slightly aloft. "First thing's first," he interlaced their finger and gazed at him with soft eyes. "I love you. I don't know what I could have done to deserve you, but I'm gonna stop asking that ridiculous question."

"Good. Because I love you back, no questions asked." He ducked his chin and kissed the brunette. "Next?"

"I need a sock," he announced to Alaric's amusement. "The kitchen needs to be cleaned up..."

"I have to change my pants," Alaric added.

"You do?" Stefan looked down between them. "Not that I'm against you out of your pants, but why?"

"There's blood on them. You might not be able to see it 'cause they're black, but Damon will be able to smell it, just like I can."

Stefan nodded his understanding and was about to pack up the kit when he caught Alaric instinctive little head twitch at a distant sound that was on the vamp-hearing spectrum and not a human's. He sighed, "That's Damon, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

"We'll this was fun while it lasted. He'll have smelled the blood by now," Stefan remarked and Alaric grimaced as he heard the curse from the kitchen. "He'll have focused his hearing and can hear me talking right now," Stefan tucked his injured foot from sight behind his calf, without much hope of the hiding place lasting very long with Damon on the scent of his blood, even if the Medical Kit didn't give it away. "And he'll be here by the time I finish this sentence." The couple both looked toward the open bathroom door and Damon stood in the doorway, still in his leather jacket and boots, Stefan's bloodied sock clenched in his hand.

Damon eyed the pair, eyed the kit, then it drifted over to Stefan's stance before climbing to his brother's casual expression. "Show me." Damon commanded.

"I just wrapped it," Stefan protested.

"Stefan," he said in a low, hard voice.

"It's just a cut," he tried, then grimaced at his brother's pointed next words:

"A cut that should have healed." And they were back to the crux of the issue.

Stefan glanced back at Alaric who gave him a grimace of sympathy but he got no further help, the vampire seeking answers just as much as the other. The brunette sighed and sat back on the tub edge, his ankle back on his knee and unwrapped it and peeled the gauze from the wound, wincing a little as it stuck.

Damon cut him a look as he crouched beside him, then examined it with a critical eye in the overhead light. "You glued it?"

Stefan shrugged. "I didn't want to stitch it."

Damon glanced over his foot at his calm brother. "You knew it wouldn't heal," he challenged.

"I had a suspicion," he allowed.

Damon directed a glare over at the teacher.

"I thought it was going to heal, but it didn't." Alaric told him.

"You should have called me."

"It's a cut," Stefan scoffed. "It's not like I lost a finger or anything. I treated it, it's fine."

Damon turned back to the teen. "It should have healed, Stefan. You know it should have, so what the hell aren't you saying right now?"

"I responded differently to compulsion than was normal so it's just common sense that I would react with the same difference to vampire blood."

"Not good enough." The vampire stood and crossed his arms.

"The bite from this morning already took longer than what should have been normal to heal, so recently after ingesting so much vampire blood."

Damon turned cold eyes onto the teacher. "You feed from him this morning," he accused, his voice low and dangerous.

"Not the point," Stefan said forcefully.

"Don't be a martyr," he deadpanned knowingly. "It would be a waste of your talent seeing as you'd be saving no one in the process."

Stefan hung his head, his fists clenched on his thighs. "I just wanted to have a normal Christmas with my family, but it's like you can't even give me that." He squeezed his eyes shut against the burn of tears. "Do you honestly think I care that a stupid little cut didn't heal when the first time in the past 145 years the unsatiable ravenousness that has hounded me 24/7 has been nonexistent for the last 20 hours?" he rose his head and locked his gaze onto his brother's. "Do you think I care about the headaches or the nosebleed, or the blackouts?" he glanced at Alaric, "When my constant tormenter at this very moment, is silent? That the black hole inside of me has finally stopped trying to dry out my soul and consume my body from the inside, out?" he breathed heavily into the silence as he looked between the 2.

"You've been having more nosebleeds and blackouts?" Damon finally questioned.

Stefan gave an incredulous laugh. "Have you not been listening to what I've been saying?"

"Yeah and what I'm hearing is that you've been lying to us for weeks, keeping important secrets about your life. Am I wrong?"

"Can you honestly blame me?" he asked. "I allowed it in the beginning, I understood. I died and you were scared and lost—the both of you were. And after seeing me as practically invulnerable and durable for the past 145 years, despite the animal blood, I'm utterly the opposite now and it's particularly inconceivable that I don't need a watchdog to live my life. And I admit, when we were dealing with Katherine and you went back to being my big brother again and not my eternal misery, I indulged in it. But now, this? This, right here," Stefan gave a helpless shake of his head, "is singularly the opposite of that. It's like you're a different person, Damon. And I just-- I can't understand it—you were never like this before when we were human."

"I didn't know what I know now."

"You knew about Katherine, you knew about vampires." Stefan challenged, "You left me alone with her."

"You're always going to hang her over my head, aren't you?" Damon scoffed. "What do you want me to say, Stefan?" he threw up his hands. "That I... that I didn't-- I never thought she'd hurt you, Stefan." He admitted ashamedly.

"But she did!" Stefan rose to his feet, only subconsciously registering the sharp sting through his injured heel. "I wanted to run from her and you wanted to run away with her." This wasn't even what the brunette was trying to explain but it was like an festering wound he couldn't hold closed any longer and all the built up pus was gushing out before they could get to the heart of the infection.

"And that is my greatest folly. I trusted her with most the precious thing in my life—You think Alaric was the only one who was just going 'fade away'," Damon gestured at the other vampire, "that night at the quarry? I've lost you too many times and I'm not going to make that same mistakes again!" Damon shouted gruffly.

Stefan's heart squeezed painfully in his chest as he saw the emotional pain shinning in his brother's blue eyes and just for that, he very nearly just gave in to his boyfriend and brother's desire for this thing they so desperately wanted for him, but he could not seem to want with that same depth—but alas... he had loaded the weapon, he had cocked the gun, he needed to pull the trigger.

"You and Ric keep telling me and trying to convince me that this is a gift, a miracle, a freedom from the disparity of being a vampire—but what neither of you seem to realize that this is more of a curse than that was. There is no liberty from the oppressing hunger, crushing emotion, no stake for self-control. It's like I still possess my faults as a vampire, but all the means that allowed me take self-possession of them has been stripped away. I might as well be locked down in the cellar for all the freedom it has. Being human, weak and vulnerable, it's like an invisible collar slowly choking me and you're both holding the leash." He looked between the vampires desperately, hoping they could somehow understand it. "How many times do I have to say it? I am tired and I need to breathe. Let me fucking breathe." He pressed the heels of his hands into his forehead. "I love you both but I can't keep doing this or I'm going to drown!" he moved.

Alaric tried to reach for him, stop him, but with a despairing look from the teen, dropped his hand. Damon just stood there silently, fists clenched tightly at his sides and let him pass. Stefan made his way down the hall to his bedroom where he closed and locked the door and stood in the darkness for a moment, but it was just the illusion of breathing room in a house of vampires and so he made his escape. Was he being petty? Childish? Perhaps, but at the moment he couldn't care less at this moment. He just needed to get away, gain some literal space between them, and get some perspective, they wouldn't have let him leave otherwise.

He turned on the lights and walked unevenly to his en suite where he rewrapped his heel before putting on a pair of clean, thick socks. He turned on his stereo for ambient noise. His boots and jacket were downstairs so he found a pair of sneakers and pulled on a thick, Timber Wolves hoodie. Stefan found a small flashlight in his desk, scooped up his leather journal but left his cell phone because he knew Damon had loaded another child-tracker app onto it and that was the last thing he needed. He rolled up the blanket from the back of his leather loveseat and finally went to his dresser and took the drawer lock key from the decorative box next to Salvatore's bowl and unlocked the top drawer. He took one of the spare keys that he'd bought against Damon's knowledge for the new deadlock knobs he'd put on Stefan's balcony doors while he'd been in the hospital and had left locked away until now.

Stefan unlocked the doors and stowed the key in his jean pocket and closed the doors carefully again, leaving his music and light on. He felt the cool nip in the evening air. It had yet to truly snow, just some wet flurries once in the last week. For the Tree Ceremony, the town council had issued a snow machine to blanket the park, where there had been a snowman building contest and even an epic snowball war with the children and most of the teenagers. Of course, by the next morning the park was left mostly in slush.

At the railing, Stefan tossed the rolled blanket into the hedge below, and stepped over the railing onto the outside edge of the balcony platform. His toes taking his weight, he crouched, holding onto the bars of the rail, with taut muscles, he lowered himself into open air until he dangled at length and dropped the remaining 3 feet and change to the ground, grunting at the pain through his foot as he landed but there was nothing more dramatic about it.

Stefan would have loved to take his car, but that would immediately alert the vampires of his departure and that was the last thing he wanted. He would only have 10 minutes head start at the extreme most before they became aware of his absence with his lack of heartbeat even with his music to listen through, that was no issue for a vampire as old as Damon.

Collecting the blanket from the hedge, Stefan allowed himself a deep breath of cool, fresh night air to expand his lungs and flood his blood with oxygen before he took off at a sprint around the security lights of the drive and disappeared into the woods, ignoring the pain of his laceration with the surge of adrenaline. If he was a vampire he wouldn't have been reduced to sneaking out of his room like a rebellious teenager, he could simply speed out the door, but that was the very reason this was happening—he wasn't a vampire any longer. He found it ironically funny that he had less control now than he seemed to have with the Ripper constantly breathing down the back of his neck, whispering to him of freedom and joy, such control in his uncontrollability.

He stopped once he lost sight of the Boarding House floodlights and the terrain too dangerous to run, especially with lack of light and took out the flashlight. He could hardly hear the creak of the naked branches in the breeze through the wood over his heavy steps and harsh breathing. With his injured foot, human pace, and limited vision, it took about an hour to make his destination and what previously would have taken him under 8 minutes as a vampire.

Stefan turned off the flashlight as he broke through the tree line and underbrush and into the shore clearing of the quarry; though there were clouds in the sky overhead and it was just a quarter moon, the light reflecting off the water's surface cast the area with a dull silver light. Taking a moment to gaze around, the brunette found the approximate area by the shore (he'd been a little disoriented at the time to remember where exactly) and with the blanket folded over once lengthwise, he laid it in the spot where he had come to life from death.

Hood up, he set his journal on the corner of the blanket and laid down on his back, looking toward the sky, his feet towards the water. He wasn't quite sure why he thought something monumental would happen in doing this, going back to the place that bore curses and miracles with each return—it wasn't as if Steven's quarry was actually an area imbued with magic—the place was just a coincident in the turn of several pivotal moments in the youngest Salvatore's life.

How many beginnings and coinciding endings had he met here? His transition; his fractured relationship with Damon; his dire determination to get it back; his rebirth into the living—and here he lay again, waiting for some sort of levelling revolution to strike him. But he was just stuck on a roundabout of interlaced hope and heartbreak, dreams and truth. He was back to a very similar conundrum as when he'd come running here after Alaric ended things the first time in his classroom; he couldn't be what they wanted, so what was he supposed to do?

Stefan had always felt things strongly, even before he became a vampire and felt deep compassion when harm came to man or animal—the only difference was that he became a killer when he turned into a vampire.

Of course he had hunted animals when he was human, his father wouldn't see otherwise. Stefan understood when you hunted for food, for your family's survival. He could just never understand doing it for sport. Stefan always thought of that way as murder—a useless death. But Giuseppe refused to have weaklings for sons. "Only a true man can be a hunter, Stefan." His father used to say, but Stefan soon learned what he really meant: only a real man can kill. If that was the truth, then his father really was the 1 that turned him into a real man.

But that first slay was also what transformed the horrified teenager into the impersonal, predatory, ultimate killer. The completion of the transition was the full adaptation of the body as well as the mind; the chemical responses altered of thinking turned linear to a human's, the metamorphosis of essentially benign organism into a destructive one with the critically bloody catalyst. Emotional intelligence and civility were an evolution in humankind—but it was as if the heightened emotional state of vampire was purely derived to drive them to turn off their humanity and truly become the world's most fiercest calculating predator. While a vampire's heightened senses and sharpened instinct could be considered that, an evolution, the way of feeding, the violent tendencies and lack of driven inhumanity could be considered the opposite, a regression, a reversal of progress.

To be such a way for so long, to have such things controlling his every move, every emotion, his life—then suddenly revert back to this form without warning could be called more than a simple shock to the body; to his mind, his emotional state. To have sustained such control over himself and to suddenly have all of it stripped away without his opinion—to be smothered and allowed no other option—was an altogether different kind of madness. The loss of control and choice was an all encompassing mass to shroud and press upon him.

As a vampire, being a Ripper just wasn't about the blood lust; it was being engulfed with such devastating emotion that made he flip the switch. So, in Ripper Recovery, it had become about sorting through the flood and storing. He'd learned the hard way that he couldn't just gather up all the swirling dark emotion and shove it into the metaphorical closet to be ignored until the hinges broke from the stress and everything came flying out to swamp him again. Being an addict wasn't some one process treatment, it was a constant illness that needed continued supervision lest he fall off the wagon; so he adopted his own version of the memory palace method and adapted it towards his erratic, explosive emotions. A safety deposit box vault, but even banks were impregnable—they got flooded, power outages, accounting issues, and broken into and burglarized just like memory palaces.

And once again he was forced to rebuild from scratch, yet lacked the proper ability to construct such extravagance to restore his mind, let alone a strong foundation.

It was like 146 years worth of disparaging emotion was left swimming through him with a broken filter, no way to catch and contain. He didn't believe that a human's thought capacity was... lesser, just that a vampire's brain was altered to process more information, more memory from their extension of life when a human brain was simply calibrated for a set amount of life lived, deteriorating throughout as vampires were magically preserved at their peak.

The cold from the ground had leached through the blanket and into his back, but he had long since grown numb to it.

Stefan had come to the silent, subconscious acceptance that he too, was deteriorating, but at a significantly accelerated pace to the norm. After all, he'd lived beyond his years as a magically enhanced creature, it would stand to reason for complications. There was no fault in it towards Bonnie; she had gone beyond her countenance of friend to bring him back and he was sure that if, say, a recently more transitioned vampire like Alaric had been brought back, there wouldn't be the same issues. He just didn't think, like the others, that they thought what the consequences to playing God to life and death would be—making Bonnie Doctor Frankenstein and him Frankenstein's Monster.

The moon and clouds overhead became an indistinguishable smear of grey and dark as his eyes abruptly flooded with tears and a sob choked out from his throat.

'There are good parts to being a vampire, and there are bad partsyou are all the bad parts, Stefan.' That was what Lexi had told him when they met, when he found out the name for the kind of vampire he was, when he finally was able to put a name to the monster he was—a Ripper.

But there was no one here to tell him what he was now, to fix him up and send him back into society. 'Boy, are you an idiot,' he could just hear her now, 'You got a house full of them. Granted, one of them is Damon...' he could even picture her cheeky grin as she said it.

And even as a figment of his imagination, she was right. He had his brother back, a man to love and love him back, dear friends, and a home. So what the hell was he doing out here in the night and cold, alone? Was he so adept at misery, that he couldn't accept happiness when it was presented to him on a platter? He had all these amazing things in his life and all he could focus on was this single imperfection.

A sudden anger surged inside of him, so hot and sharp and he jack-knifed upright and gave a short shout. Silence met him. It wasn't enough. He climbed to his feet, faced toward the water, fists clenched at his sides—and screamed long and hard, his harsh vocals echoing back towards him like a tin can from the cliff sides. He screamed until he was breathless, until his throat and chest hurt. Until there was nothing but salt tracks down his red cheeks and he was left exhausted and bereft of all the anger, the confusion, pain, the built up resentment; towards himself and the others, that had been a swirling toxic mass inside of him (if temporarily) and all that could be left was the calm rationality—a clarity.

Pretty little snowflakes started to fall from the sky, sent on a twirling dance through the air by the invisible swirls of wind currents coming off the water.

This human body could be his prison, if he made it so; or it could be the gift Alaric claimed it to be, if he chose. That was solely his decision, no one could make that choice but him. This truth he could control. Even if this life was forced onto him against his own wish, it had not been done out of malice, but an act of love.

This time, with his face turned towards the sky, his arms spread wide, the tears were of freedom, such a crushing burden lifted from his soul as the falling flakes melted softly against his warm cheeks.

Maybe There was a magic about this place after all...

[...tbc...]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Stefan was tired, sore, and cold by the time he made it back through the flurries to the Boarding House. The outside Christmas lights were dark and there was nothing but the glare of the floodlights in his eyes as he limped onto the portico, and he couldn't be sure what it might be a sign of. Both Damon's Chevy Camaro and Alaric's Tahoe were still in the drive, that was... good? He had every idea of what he was going to be walking into, the heightened anger of 2 worried vampires; there was going to be a lot of apologizing and explaining on his part, but this latest revelation on his part should help ease the tension—at least that was his dire hope.

It could be a Christmas Miracle for the books.

"H--!"

The front door had just clicked shut behind him when Damon slammed him back against it with enough force to momentarily rob him of breath and voice at this critical moment. Damon pinned him there with an arm across his chest, his blue eyes blazing fiercely even as he scoured his baby brother for anything amiss for the relative 8 hours of his absence, his chest heaving with roiling, violent emotion.

Stefan was frozen, eyes wide as they were locked into his brother's own, he opened his mouth, but no words came. No such impediment claimed his big brother as he suddenly slammed his fist into the door behind Stefan; it made such a terrible noise as vampiric-strengthened knuckles met the solid oak door.

"Alright, Stefan." Damon released him and stepped back. He looked at the teen for a moment longer, a shading of dark finality in his closed-off face and then blurred upstairs, disappearing and leaving Stefan absent.

"D--" Stefan stared after his brother. What had Damon just agreed to? The exhausted teen didn't like the unease that trickled into his veins. He had been expecting something on his return, just not that. More... like a pacing parent to a snuck out teenager; angry shouts at his return, but a fierce embrace of relief; sent up to his room, but later a knock on his door with a hot cup of tea. But then, that wish was contrary to the 1 that he shouted at them earlier before he 'ran away', so why did he hate it?

Stefan shifted back uncomfortably off his injured heel and stared at the scuff on the dark wood of the door. He reached out, his fingertip brushing over the nearly invisible scuff on the wood. He felt the crack in the grain; Damon must have put a lot of strength into it to even get that. When he removed his hand, there was a smear of blood on his finger. He swallowed and closed his eyes for a minute.

Their last true amicable encounter had been 1942 when Stefan had tracked Damon down in New Orleans in the hopes to make amends before he shipped off as a ambulance driver for the North American campaign (for what would be the next 3 years). Damon had been wary at first of his little brother's amicable approach, usually it was the brunette who was cautious but hopeful of the raven-haired vampire's appearance (who's last reappearance turned him Ripper in 1912), but the only ulterior motive that Stefan ever had was wanting his brother back. Damon eventually warmed to him and proposed joining him in campaign much to Stefan's soaring heart. Until he never showed up at the station—their next reunion in 1994 was filled with blood and betrayal.

15 years after that, here they stood. A separation this time instigated, unmeaning, by Stefan himself.

Last time the brunette had caused a rift between them, it lasted little less than a century and a half. Clearly, in his current condition that would not be an option, nor one even if he had a continued eternity to waste. Stefan had given in, given up, but Damon had opened up and closed the distance, mending the separation.

Stefan shouldn't have expected everything to return back as it had the last time they were human. 145 years was bound to change someone, even vampires/brothers as stubborn as them (especially when it came to each other). They'd been through too much, together and individually, to revert to such a state unless somehow, the last 146 years could be wiped from memory, existence altogether—though he'd be averse to scrubbing any memory of Damon from his mind, even the ones of agony. Damon was his big brother, he couldn't just take and leave pieces of what he liked or disliked, it had to be the whole of him, every fault and evil, or it wasn't true, real.

It had been a inconceivable amount of time that Damon had kept himself closed-off to the younger Salvatore, closed off from everyone, distanced with lashing out cruelly, both physically and verbally. But finally, Damon had started to open up, left himself exposed in 1 of the most vulnerable of ways—and Stefan, in his own selfish anger and frustration, lashed out, ironically enough, as if their rolls had suddenly reversed. He had been so cruel towards his big brother's love; more annoyed and burdened by it than receptive and appreciative as he should have been after such silence and emptiness. It had been that way for so long that it had become the norm instead of the brotherly affection and concern, that receiving it, so concentrated and all at once, Stefan had been overwhelmed and found it difficult to calibrate to such a significant change.

Stefan slowly trudged up the stairs, 1 step at a time—literally.

And Ric... what had the dirty-blond ever done to deserve that very same tongue-lashing? He'd gave in to Stefan's request of secrecy and promised to do all in his power to make this a drama free Christmas and then snap at him the for being too clingy, too caring?

He wasn't overly forceful like Damon, undercutting Stefan's personal authority. He wasn't overbearing in knowing Stefan's every move and exact whereabouts like Damon. No, Alaric wasn't like that exactly, but he was too cautious and had a tendency to treat Stefan as if he were made of fragile, breakable China on the brink of cracking if he was set down just a little too hard—though that could also be understandable in the strictest sense that Stefan no longer had the healing capabilities of a vampire and Alaric now possessed the enhanced strength of a vampire. It was incredibly frustrating, because as proved even just now by Damon, he wasn't as fragile as a spider's web.

Stefan limped down the hall towards his bedroom.

All these overbearing emotions, Stefan knew they were all just violent visceral reactions magnified by their vampirism; Alaric new to this state and Damon with his returned humanity. He knew that, understood it, for the past month had even tried to facilitate the process, ease their fears, bow into it their wishes—because god knew he was a hypocrite if he didn't admit had the roles been reversed, he'd probably be the worst of them all—but now that he'd made the first clear step for himself in the direction of accepting this new changed state of his body, his life, he had the hope they were the ones that could now ease off now that he wasn't so keen down the destructive or spiralling path.

His bedroom door was open and he could see the pool of light leak out onto deep red rug laid over the floorboards in the hallway, he was relieved now that the invisible worry of Alaric's presence was eased, but the beating organ picked up pace a bit in his uneasiness at what kind of reaction he was going to receive after Damon's welcome.

That invisible relief shattered with clarity of the horrible reality he just walked in upon.

Stefan froze, staring as he watched Alaric pack. "What are you doing?" he finally managed. Somehow his voice only came out confused and mildly worried despite the panic mounting inside of him. To stop his hands from visibly shaking, he twisted the blanket hanging around his shoulders in his hands.

Alaric's movements only paused for the fraction of a second before he continued and finished packing clothes inside his duffle at the foot of their bed. "I... I thought it might be better if slept in Zach's old room." He didn't bother to zip it up and just hung the strap from his shoulder as he turned to the teen.

Much like Damon, his blue gaze grazed every inch of Stefan that they could see. He didn't have to catch sight of the brunette's foot, hidden behind the reading chair, held subtly aloft to notice the hint of pain in the subtle tightness at the corner of his lips, or the exhaustion dragging at him. But even for all that, the bampi could see the same heavy release hiding behind it all, some weighted burden, lightened, lifted, gone. And if nothing else, he was glad for it—and made it all the much more harder and easier for what he was about to do.

Stefan was eerily still as he stared at the vampire. No! Please don't leave, I don't want you to go. Stay, Ric! Don't leave me... his chest constricted so tightly that it took him a moment for the words to escape around the lump in his throat, but they were not even marginally close to the ones he wanted; just altruistic acceptance: "You're probably right." Why? Why couldn’t he fucking say the real words blasting through his head? The truth, but instead they lay imprisoned in his weak vocal cords.

Alaric gave him a tight smile and short nod of acceptance. He started toward the door, but when he reached Stefan, he paused. "I'm glad you came back."

"Of course I came back," Stefan managed faintly. The 2 things he loved most were here.

Alaric reached out and cupped the back of his head. Stefan squeezed his eyes closed as the teacher leaned forward and pressed his lips to his forehead for a long moment, inhaling deeply. Stefan had literally tied himself in knots, his hands tangled up in the blanket, unable to grab the man and keep him there. When he opened his eyes it was just in time to watch Alaric walk through the door and disappear from view as he turned down the hall. It felt too much like a separation, a goodbye.

Stefan sucked in a sharp, panicked breath. This wasn't supposed be how it happened. It couldn't--

They're just giving you what you want, aren't they? Katherine laughed at him.

It was like the classroom all over again. He didn't protest or fight, he just blindly accepted. If not being together had been what Alaric wanted, than what right did Stefan have to not give that to him? He couldn't force Alaric to be with him (technically he could have, being a vampire at the time; but knew the truth of that from his experience with Katherine), love wasn't real if it was forced and manipulated. And she was right, Alaric and Damon were just giving him the space he wanted to breathe, but it wasn't supposed to be like this, wasn't supposed to feel like this. No, this, this was what felt like a crushing weight on his chest, sinking him into the dark, cold, murky depths of desolation—this was drowning.

Alaric wasn’t deaf; he now had the key to truest form of lie detection; Stefan’s heartbeat. The dirty-blond had never truly conceived the metaphor ‘dying from a broken heart’ not even when he found out the truth about Isobel because Damon (damn the arrogant bastard) had been right; their marriage had problems like any other—If someone told him they had the perfect marriage, he knew that person was full of shit or just plain ignorant. There was no such thing, it wasn’t real. And before he and Isobel married, before he managed to convince her to give him a chance, those had been some rocky and sideways times, but after all that, maybe deep down he knew that he already wasn’t enough when she poured more of her attention and love into her research than their marriage—her research into becoming a member of the undead, out of marriage with him in the living. And focused his denial, guilt, anger and grief into a pointed arrow to track down the monster that had killed her.

But right now, in stereo, he could hear Stefan’s heart breaking, fighting not to shatter completely as he walked down the hall, his eyes squeezed tight at the resounding pain. Him, he was the cause and he resisted the overpowering urge to turn on heel and blur back to the teen’s room and take it all back; but despite the horrible timing of it all (it was after midnight and Christmas Eve was over), he needed to go through with it.

Stefan tore his hands from the twisted up blank and burst out into the hall. "No!" Alaric turned in surprise. Stefan didn't even feel the pain of his heel for his determination as he ran down the hall. "No." He stopped in front of the bampi and grabbed the duffle strap, yanking it from his shoulder and hiding the bag behind his back. "You don't have to leave, okay?"

"Stefan, I'm not leaving, I promise. I'm just sleeping in another room."

But Stefan shook his head. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean what I said; you were just trying to help me and you didn't deserve to be snapped at, I just let my frustrations get the best of me. I know I've been acting like I lost my mind, acting one way then a complete other—but that's over, okay? I got space, got perspective... it's done. You and Damon don't have to worry any more, everything will be better now. So... just come back? Please."

"Stefan, I'm not doing this to try and hurt you."

"Then why does it hurt?"

Alaric caressed Stefan's upper arms. "Being in love, that doesn't mean all the problems just go away. Neither of us are perfect and that's okay because that's real. So, as hard and as much as this hurts, it's the right thing to do."

"I told you, everything's fine now. It's--" Alaric shook his head. "Then why?"

"Because you were right." Alaric told him. No more denial, he swore. He wasn’t going to let his and Stefan’s relationship follow that same track as his and Isobel’s; the only similarity between the 2 of them was his lovers’ desperation to become a vampire and that was where the buck stopped because Stefan loved Alaric enough to cut off the pursuit. "You warned me what this was going to be like, being a vampire, the amplified emotions. And I was so worried about my anger... that I let other issues I had as a human run ramped, like my tendency to get... obsessed. It's like a switch goes in my head and I go intense focus. Comes in handy as a historian, getting hooked into a project." He sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair in shame, "But not so much in relationships. I just want you to be as comfortable, content, and as safe as possible and sometimes it can be construed as being forceful, controlling, and overbearing when it is not like that. I was the same way with Isobel. She--"

"Don't--" Stefan said, dropping the duffle bag with a shake of his head. "Don't compare me to her. She left you, to try and become vampire—she wanted to be a monster. The only appeal vampirism has for me now is to be with you," he reached forward and grabbed Alaric's hands, squeezing them. "For eternity. The truth is, I was scared—am scared." He admitted quietly, "That you're going to get it into your head that I'm better off staying this way, without you, to have a normal life, the life I might of had had I never had the misfortune of meeting Katherine on the road that morning."

Like with having saved Elena that night and then compelling the memory away, the first time Stefan met Katherine had not been at the Salvatore Estate to greet her arrival alone with father away at a business meeting and Damon away at war—like with all the other pieces of compulsion that started to reveal themselves to him in transition, so then did this; his first true meeting of Miss Katherine Peirce:

He'd been out for a ride when he came across a stuck carriage in the mud from the previous night's rain and politely offered his assistance as any gentleman should and would, which was gladly accepted by the driver. With his own horse roughly harnessed with the others at the front and him at the back, they were able to unstuck the carriage and he was consequently spattered with mud. He started back around the carriage to the front where the driver had hopped down and was untying Stefan's horse, when the carriage door opened, blocking his path. His gaze took in the revelation of a very stunning Lady and her maid in the shadowed confines.

"I hope this misfortune hasn't been too troubling in your journey?" he said politely.

"I dare say that it has not, now with you here to save us, Mister...?"

"Stefan Salvatore, Miss." He gave a gentleman's bow. "At your service."

"How gallant!" Katherine giggled. He straightened. "And look at you for your kindness, covered in mud. Such a shame to see you covered up like that." And to his shock, she reached out a slim, gloved hand, and wiped away the bit of mud he had spattered on his neck from the open collar of his shirt.

"No worries, Miss." He swallowed, an unbidden blush ridding from the top of his chest, through his neck and into his face at the action. He could have sworn that he saw shadows crawl hungrily around on the olive-toned skin beneath her eyes, but was sure it was just his flustered mind playing tricks on him in this unexpected situation. He cleared his throat, "If there's anything else I may assist you ladies in?"

"Oh, there most definitely is," she caught his gaze with compelling brown eyes. She questioned his status, family, on Mystic Falls among other things. "Just one more thing, Stefan." She lured his compelled form closer with a crook of her gloved finger. He obediently leaned forward, shoulders disappearing into the inside of the carriage. She cupped his face with both hands, "Have to sample the vintage before I make the commitment."

With directions to be quiet and still, she turned his face as her own transformed from beautiful, exotic features, to vicious hunger. She sunk her wicked fangs into the delicate tissue of his neck with a low growl. She didn't compel away the fear or the pain, just voice and mobility. He was a prisoner in his own mind as his eyes locked with Emily's on the opposite facing seat as Katherine feed hungrily from his throat, not letting a drop be wasted passed her plump lips.

Though her back was straight, her hands clasped lightly in her lap, her expression stoic as her Mistress fed, there was sorrow in Emily's gaze as she held his, as if she already knew of his fate and was burdened with helpless regret.

Finally, Katherine released him, her tongue drawing luxuriously over the open wound of her bite. Deliciously licking his warm blood from her lips, she purposefully pierced her tongue with her fangs and hands at his nape, pulled him in for an open-mouthed kiss, her bloodied tongue stroking the roof of his mouth as he shivered in her hold. The wound healed without a trace. She leaned back, her gloved thumb stroking the sensitively healed skin.

"I shall see you soon again, Mr Salvatore. And I dare say it will be even more entertaining and delicious than today." She thumbed his pink bottom lip before pressing her mouth against his in farewell once more. "Very soon indeed."

She compelled him to forget their meeting and everything else, only that he took a funny little tumble. She placed her hand on his chest and pushed, sending him stumbling back with enough force to trip into the mud. The driver lashed the horses and they took off, the carriage jostling momentarily as it was jolted into movement, before settling as the horses' stride smoothed further down the road.

When Stefan came back to himself, it was in the mud, his horse lingering by the side of the road 4 yards away, nibbling the brush. He saw the fresh carriage tracks in the mud bed and frowned. They must have knocked him from his horse barrelling down the road. He climbed to his feet, only feeling a momentary dizziness as he came to height. He noted the muscle soreness, even tasted the blood on his lips he took for his own, but there were no breaks or twists. It was one lucky fall and the mud must had helped soften the landing; he didn't think he would be standing so unscathed had it not rained last night and softened the ground up. He approached his horse, stroking the animal's mane before he stuck his muddied boot into the stirrup, grabbed the saddle horn and pulled himself up. Not wise of the guest that would grace the Salvatore Estate in less than a fortnight's time as he steered the animal onto the path back towards home.

Stefan alone had greeted her. It was he who had invited her into the Salvatore Home, because it was he who had attracted the wolf in sheep's dress. Stefan shook the distracting and useless memory away and focused again on the vampire in front of him. "But I'm not. This has been the best I've been, the happiest I've been in the last 146 years—with you, no one else." He closed the gap between their bodies, tangling their fingers and giving them a squeeze. "I love you the way you are, Ric. I'm not searching for something or someone else because I already found it in you."

Alaric inhaled thickly through the lump in his throat, and he couldn’t help but feel a new, yet old twinge of surprise in regard to the brunette who waited imploringly. "Had Isobel asked me to become a vampire with her—I never would have been able to do it. But you never asked me to, expected it of me when we got together. I wasn't ready for the commitment, not then and even though I didn't ask for it when it happened... I want you to know that I would have done it for you, Stefan—given the chance. The fact that you're willing to stay like this, for me (and Damon) despite your own misgiving and fear when you have the option to change that at any time, just makes me love you all the more. And it makes me even more happy to know that you're willing to give being human a shot, for yourself, too." Alaric lightly bumped their foreheads together. "You really deserve this second chance at life, Stefan, the first stolen from you too soon."

"At the price you turning into a vampire?" Stefan couldn't help but remark bitterly.

"Neither was a price for the other," Alaric informed him. "I wasn't turned into a vampire because you were turned human. We didn't know that you would even be human when Bonnie and Emily brought you back. It's not me being a vampire at the price of you being human, but the other way around: my vampirism and your humanism, is the price for us to be together. And if that's the case, then I'll gladly pay it. I wouldn't want to be a vampire without you, but the only way I could still be with you was as a vampire, and the same goes for you, only with being a human."

"I never thought of it like that before," he murmured, almost more to himself than the bampi. Stefan gazed at the dirty-blond for a long moment. How had he never though about it like that before? Yes, Alaric had referred to it as a gift, Damon a miracle, but like many things, all he could think about, or ever consider of the situation he had put Ric in as an inescapable curse—1 that he was loath to wish on a enemy, let alone a person he loved—but not as the nexus of why they could be together at this very moment. His strongest supposition on the matter had been: He does everything for me, is everything, and all I ever seem to give him is pain and calamity. But just because Stefan saw it like that… clearly Alaric was of a differing opinion.

Stefan never fought back for himself, it was only ever for other people, because he could count the number of times he decided to be selfish, to do what he wanted; and he could count on those same fingers how devastating each 1 of those ended. The consequences always laid on others: Katherine, father, Damon, Elena, Lexi, Alaric. Having gone to Giuseppe with the notion that vampires could be good despite both Damon and Katherine's wishes not to; having to say goodbye to his father despite the hell he had made of his sons' lives and Damon's advice; having been too much of a coward to go eternity alone despite Damon's own wishes; having inserted himself in her life despite Elena's innocence of the supernatural side; having convinced him to stay despite Alaric's desire that thing between them go no further. It was always the people Stefan cared for, always them that suffered for every selfish act of his; for his own wants, his own desires. He'd gotten each of them killed in their own ways, some permanent, some undead. The only 1 who was left truly alive was Elena and Stefan knew it was probably only a matter of time.

He didn't fight back for himself; he always received the pain, welcomed the misery because he knew that he deserved it—for all the pain he caused the ones he loved, the suffering to those he didn't who were just bloody names written on a wall.

It was his own prophesised penance because there didn't seem to be anyone else willing to doll out punishment to evil creatures like him and there certainly wasn't anything more devastating than emotional pain. Perhaps, subconsciously, that was why he was so desperate to put down roots, make a new life for himself where he had the potential to find contentness (Lexi always told him that despite all the things he had done in the past, he was still a good man and deserved to find happiness) and then secretly anticipate an appearance from Damon to destroy it all and bring him to his knees all over again—rinse and repeat. He knew it would end that way, always, but he continued to do it, carried those new deaths on his conscious, to punish himself.

It was funny. Damon often mocked him for being an optimist, for having hope despite everything, but that was only true when it came to other people, he had hope that things would work out for them and do his damnedest to see it come true, and he had belief in the person that they were, that they were worthy.

But when it came to himself, he was a pessimist. Sometimes, it only felt like he was being the man that people wanted him to be, what was expected of him ('Saint Stefan', as Damon mocked him), or the 'Golden Boy' of their youth. And maybe he was back then, as John Gilbert had put it: 'I'm sure you were once a nice, descent kid, once—when you were human and alive... but now you're just a blood-sucking monster. You can only ever hurt her now.'

His first kill had been an accident, he truly hadn't meant to hurt father, but when he smelled Giuseppe’s blood, when he licked the fresh warm blood from his fingers, with that first yawning ravenous feeling opening inside of him as he fangs torn through his gums—he could have healed the dying man with his vampire blood, but all his consciousness, his empathetic nature narrowed into the pinpoint of his hunger and the Golden Boy was dead and gone as his manslaughter had turned into murder. His sharp, virgin fangs bore down on his so previously feared father, now weak and vulnerable, and Stefan drank and ravaged the bloody wound on his father's stomach until the blood was no longer forthcoming, until wound was wide and open and appeared as if some savage animal had torn into him, organs displayed in the open, until the bastard was long dead. And the people after, his neighbours and friends, people his saw in market, the people he helped... he hunted them. The helpless, wounded soldiers on the battlefield from either side, an easy meal. Nice, descent kid to blood-sucking monster, the transition had taken under 5 seconds.

After Lexi took him under her wing, got him straight, force fed him animal blood when necessary much to her own disgust; the devastations that happened after, when he was clean, humanity turned on like a bright candle flame that drew in the dark, poisonous moths to punish him, guilt him, tempt him. It was karma, he knew. What better way to punish a monster than to give him an unending hunger and boundless empathy? He always believed it was karma, and in a way, it still was, he just had another name for it now: the curse of the doppelganger.

Look at Katherine: she got pregnant out of wedlock and her parents gave her daughter away and disowned their own. Barely a year later she was turned into a vampire and made such an enemy of someone equally immortal but more powerful, sending her on the run for the past 500 years. Unable to settle, make roots, cursed forever to be alone with no family or true friends, just people she manipulated, toyed with, turned their world upside down and then abandoned. Cursed to run forever. Until she made the fatal mistake of pausing and met her death at the hands of very ones she claimed to have loved.

Him: the true cause of their mother's illness, it wasn't until Lily became pregnant with him that she became sick. Their father, vampirism, his estrangement from Damon. Being the Ripper, a monster; still filled with guilt despite his lack of humanity. The insatiable hunger. Katherine's deadly obsession.

Elena: the loss of both her parents. Katherine's doppelganger. Falling in love with Stefan. Just knowing the Salvatore brothers. Her birth mother killed at Damon's fangs. And this was just the beginning of her life.

But there were precious little jewels in all that despair, weren't there? Of this, Stefan Salvatore knew because he was staring into the strong, loving blue eyes of 1 such gem. "Has anyone ever told you how smart you are?"

Alaric gave a chuckle and little grin. "Well, I'm not entirely averse to hearing you say so every once in a while."

Stefan couldn't help but tip forward and press a kiss to those stretched lips. "Smart, handsome, and understanding; the complete package." He laid a hand on his chest, picking at the worn Duke lettering on his sweater. "I'm not going to say it."

"Good." Alaric laid his hand over Stefan's on his chest and gave it a squeeze.

"I'm exhausted and my foot is killing me." Stefan said. "Can we go to bed now?" Alaric sighed and Stefan's shoulders slumped. "Why do I get the feeling the answer is still 'no'? And I thought I had you thoroughly off the matter,"

Alaric gave him a small sad smile. "Sorry,"

"Even after all these amazing breakthroughs?" Stefan persisted. "Even though it's Christmas at this very moment?"

"When has the timing ever been perfect for anything?" Alaric said in return.

Stefan hung his head in defeat. "I can be understanding, too."

"Well, you wear it well." Alaric cupped his chin, raising his head.

"This is what I get for opening my big mouth," he grumbled unhappily.

"I'm glad you did, Stefan. I'm glad you said something. I can't actually read your mind, even if I can do other very incredible things now. And besides," he murmured, his thumb stroking Stefan's bottom lip, his eyes trained on the teen's mouth, "I love this big mouth."

Stefan smirked suggestively, his gaze darkening with budding arousal, his tongue flickering against the pad of the teacher's thumb. "Just 'cause you love it when I do things other than talk wi--"

Alaric crashed their mouths together. Stefan instantly opened to the vampire. Stefan arms wrapped around his neck and Alaric his waist, pulling him to his chest and a couple inches from the floor. And moments later, breathless from the thorough kiss, Stefan found his feet again and a complete change of scenery. He looked around in surprise, confusion, then delight as he realized Alaric carried him back to his bedroom as they kissed, only to flood with disappointment as Alaric cupped his face and pressed what could only be construed as a chaste, goodnight-kiss to his mouth before pulling back. "You kissed me as a distraction and carried me back here," he accused.

"It was a very rewarding distraction," he pointed out cheekily.

Stefan shifted somewhat uncomfortably and it had nothing to do with his foot, more of a restriction issue. "I'm too tired to jerk off." He announced blandly.

Alaric raised an amused brow. "But you have enough in the tank for sex?"

"Maybe," Stefan admittedly reluctantly. "But I wouldn't of had to do much of anything if you used your mouth,"

Despite pulling a laugh from the vampire, he was still denied. "Think of it this way... though I understood why you needed to get away, I'm still a bit upset about it. We didn't know where you went or how long you'd be gone. You left your cell phone so there was no way for you to call if something happened. Damon wanted to call Bonnie, get her to do a location spell on you; and honestly, I was of half the mind to let him but I knew that would just antagonize the situation and I somehow managed to stall him. He's angry at you, worried, he blames himself... and that makes him more angry. You know him better than I do."

"Yeah. He's gonna be antagonistic toward me—not that I don't deserve it." Stefan said sadly and with guilt. "I put some pretty undeserved blame on his shoulders, held him accountable for things that were beyond his control. I can be a pretentious prick when it comes to Damon; I get a complex when it comes to our relationship and it's not a side of myself that I like very much."

"You'll get through it," Alaric encouraged. "With your guys' dysfunctional relationship, this is hardly the mountain you're making it to be."

"Should I be insulted or emboldened by that assessment?" Stefan mused wryly.

"Encouraged. Definitely."

Stefan chuckled. "Just another day in casa de Salvatore."

"How's your foot?" he asked after a moment.

"Hurts," Stefan admitted. He sat down in his reading chair next to him and carefully unlaced his sneaker. "Running and walking around on it outside in the woods was the last thing I should have been doing on it so soon after gluing it." After carefully pulling off the shoe and his sock, he unwrapped his heel and examined it under the direct light of the reading lamp next to the chair. It was red and raw-looking, but by some luck, all the activity hadn't rubbed away the skin glue and reopened the wound. He rewrapped it loosely in the elastic bandage. "It looks okay," he told the dirty-blond.

Alaric nodded. "No running off into the woods any time soon, then."

"Promise," he pulled off the other shoe and sock before he carefully stood. "You sure I can't convince you to stay?" Stefan pulled his unused journal from his hoodie pocket and set it by the lamp before he grabbed the collar of both the sweater and his shirt and pulled them both off overhead. He discarded them on the chair behind.

"Are you trying to entice me with your gorgeous body?" Alaric questioned, even as he couldn't help but cruise the displayed flesh.

"What?" Stefan looked at him a moment in confusion before he made the connection an instant later, realizing the accidental correlation between his question and the following removal of clothing. "I didn't--" he mumbled, embarrassed. "I wasn't trying to seduce you," he promised.

Alaric gave a little smile. "I know. You did the same thing in the hospital."

"I did?" Stefan questioned in surprise. "I don't remember."

"When you were being released from the hospital and I gave you your clothes, I was going to offer you privacy but you just dropped the grown right there and dressed. I was just surprised, that's all."

"Oh," Stefan said slowly, his brows furrowed. "Because we were in the hospital and I should have been more concerned about a nurse walking in, which would have been severely awkward even if you could compel them to forget," he said in understanding. "I wasn't even thinking about that," he admitted. "I really just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible before Damon changed his mind, and it was just you," he gestured at the bampi, "in the room with me. You're my boyfriend. And I don't just strip in front of anybody, no matter how many times Damon's says he's seen me naked, give me some credit."

Alaric chuckled. "That's good to know."

"You, on the other hand, can also feel free to strip in front of me. I have absolutely no issue on the matter." Stefan unbuckled his belt clasp and pulled the strap from his belt loops. "It's a standing, open invitation."

"I'll keep that in mind." Alaric turned and started to walk away.

"And there's no chance of you accepting it at the moment?" he looped the belt over his neck.

"Goodnight, Stefan." Alaric said patiently over his shoulder.

"You're stubborn. Guess the vampirism amplified that, too, huh?"

"Yeah, but you love me anyway." Alaric teased.

"Yes," Stefan said seriously. "I do."

Alaric paused in the door and turned back. "I love you, too, Stef." Alaric took hold the doorknob and pulled his bedroom door shut behind him, finally leaving the teen alone.

Stefan sighed and limped to his wardrobe. He hung his belt and stripped from his jeans, pulling on sweatpants and a wife beater. He went to the washroom, brushed his teeth and swallowed some Tylenol before he slipped under the covers with relief—physically at least.

His body ached, he was sore, his foot was throbbing, he was exhausted; that hike to the quarry had been the most physically active he'd been since he'd turned human. A trek like that wouldn't even made him sweat a drop, let alone leaving him feeling this taxed before, but then again, he wasn't at his most healthy at the moment despite the vampire blood that seemed to have done (perhaps) some sort of healing inside of him. He had been absent hunger for the past 30 hours, but he had no illusions that it would last more than 48 and honestly, he was afraid, afraid for what the morning would bring. Would his ravenous hunger return 10 fold? If he hadn't been able to eat anything with the blood in his system, would he be able to keep anything down when the hunger returned? He also hadn't had any flash migraines and accompanying nosebleeds (which had been increasing in frequency), he had no doubt that they would also be returning. It would only be a matter of time before he knew the exact ramification of the vampire blood and things had been going so good up until the damn piece of glass in his foot. Even his allergic reaction to the nutmeg had barely even loosened the screw on his whole control of this situation, but the laceration on his heel broke the damn thing. That was why Stefan hadn't wanted Damon to find out about it, knowing he couldn't just brush it under the rug even temporarily, not that Stefan could blame his big brother for the reaction when the brunette had another inordinary response to something vampire—and things might not have even been as bad as they were had Stefan not thrown a tantrum and then runaway displaying a true show of adolescence and displaying his true age of immature 17. But the anger and frustration had just clawed out of him like a monster and once it escape it had been difficult to reign back in and he just needed to get away and regain control over his feral emotions and rediscover the eye. How might things have gone had he stayed that composed equilibrium?

Definitely better than Alaric choosing to sleep in another room altogether. And it definitely had to have been better than Damon shadowing him out. Stefan released a depressed sigh. It was half-passed 1 a.m., already officially Christmas and no miracle in sight. He turned his back on the clock in annoyance and become even more miserable as the absence in the bed became even more pronounced.

He didn't know how long he lay there, but eventually he finally fell asleep staring into the shadowed emptiness of the empty bed space beside him, but he found no comfort in REM sleep, only terror.

Stefan was running in the darkness, breathless, haggard, trying to reach the light in the distance. He was getting closer, he was sure, close enough to distinguish the 2 silhouettes that he immediately recognized, but no matter how hard he pushed himself, he never got close enough to see their expressions; whether they were wanting of him to arrive or disdained for it. But no matter how hard he ran, how loud he called their names, how far he reached out towards them, they were ever distant. Until large, glinting, hypnotic, lapis lazuli blue eyes blinked open in the darkness beneath him. The pupils of one of the eyes expanded and with a scream, Stefan found himself falling, swallowed, plunging into blackness.

He jerked awake in bed, swallowing convulsively against his sore throat, to the chimes of his cell phone. He licked his lips, still trying to shake off the nightmare as he checked his phone. Merry Christmas texts from both Bonnie and Elena. He ran a hand over his face, wiping away the nightmare sweats as he thumbed through them, texting back his own Merry Christmases, attaching a pic of Salvatore’s Christmas decorated bowl to Bonnie and the picture he'd gotten of Damon with the tree, candy cane hanging out of his mouth, to Elena. Elena sent him a picture of a snowman, that could be no taller than a water bottle if the old tobacco pipe he had was any indication, his eyes looked to be made of chocolate chips, his buttons, too. With a peeled and shaped baby carrot nose, a scarf made from tinsel, and a black little mitten on his head for a stove pipe hat. Stefan could recognize her hand at the edge, giving a thumb's up. He couldn't help but chuckle.

how long did that take you?

don't ask

it's cute. where'd you get the pipe? it looks old

it was in the box with the stuff from my dad's office

txt me later if you survive the turkey lol

ha ha we can't all be gourmet chefs

see you on the other side then

Stefan threw the blanket off and got out of bed, only to sit back heavily on the edge with a quiet curse as his foot throbbed. He actually forgot about it for a moment. He stood up more carefully and limped to his window, pulling open the thick curtains and had to blink at the brightness of not only the morning sun, but also the layer of white snow that covered everything. Maybe there was a Christmas Miracle, just the 1 he wasn't hoping for, a White Christmas. It was a thin layer, Elena miniature Frosty making more sense. He stared out the window for a minute longer before dropping his arms and going to the bathroom. It was a quarter after 9 and he had a busy day ahead of him with the turkey and how to get back into Damon's good-graces. He fed Salvatore and dressed, putting on a festive pullover sweater with a large depiction of Rudolph on the front with the other reindeer and sled, trailing behind, in the distance, wrapped around the side.

He felt a little stiff so he did a few stretches before he went to the kitchen. To his current relief but growing anxiety, hunger still eluded him. The aroma of the coffee smelled delicious as he poured it and he just spent a minute standing there at the counter, his face buried in the mug. He didn't bother with the taint of cream and took a careful, hesitant sip of the hot liquid; the last thing he needed was to spill all over himself. To the relief of himself and his caffeine addiction (that had come in a lot more useful now that he was human) there was no visceral reaction like there had been the day before. He took that as a good sign and finished the cup, refilling it before he got to work.

He took out all the immediate cookware that he needed for the turkey and stuffing and grabbed the apron from the hook on the pantry door, and pushed his sweater sleeves up to his elbows.

He took a butcher knife to the plastic wrap on the turkey and removed the giblet pouch from the thawed cavity, to make the stock for the stuffing and put the bird in the roasting pan with water. While the giblets simmered, he cubed the loaf of bread and toasted them in the oven as he chopped the onion, celery, and mushroom. He sautéed the chopped vegetables and fungi in a saucepan with butter, then mixed in the toasted cubes, added an egg, and enough of the strained stock to moisten but not mush the bread. He added leftover chopped pecans, pepper, salt, thyme, and sage. While the stuffing was still warm, he loosely stuffed the turkey cavity and with a lid on the pan, put the turkey in the oven. Stefan set aside the remaining giblet stock for the gravy to use with the turkey drippings, and he prepped a few of the more time consuming tasks like peeling the potatoes, yams, carrots and butternut squash so he wouldn't be in such a rush near the finish line in trying to cook five vastly different dishes.

Cooking was good, it kept him busy but wasn't rote enough to let his mind wander and stress out, least he cut or burn himself, but all too soon, prep and clean-up was finished and Stefan was left without distraction.

He poured the last dregs of coffee from the pot into his mug and this time went to the fridge for the creamer, only to pause as he spotted the jug of eggnog. Worrying his bottom lip in a moment of contemplation, he abandoned the cream for his coffee and instead reached for the eggnog. Stefan sat on a stool at the island counter, a tall glass and the jug of eggnog sitting in front of him. The last time he'd tried eggnog (yesterday) even just the tablespoon's worth, he'd barely suppressed the gag; but the last time he drank it, the day before that without the hindrance of vampire blood and before the hindrance of his surprise allergy to nutmeg, the drink had been delicious.

He only poured the glass a quarter full and slowly swirled the creamy beverage around in the glass before he rose it to his lips. He wondered what it was about the vampire blood that made his body reject all other consumption of food, but seeing as he could drink the coffee without qualm, he figured the vampire blood was finally running its course and if anything, the alcohol could only be a bonus to him at this point.

He took a swallow, then another and another, polishing off the glass. He could taste the allspice and under that, the cut bourbon. He set the glass down with satisfaction and refilled it. He didn't think trying to eat something would be a very god idea if he wasn't actually feeling the hunger, he didn't want to risk it. Hopefully, it would keep itself at bay until it was turkey time, now that would be a miracle. Even though he was dreading the return, it would be better for everyone in the long run.

"Merry Christmas," Alaric came in, wearing a simple, plain, vibrant red pullover wool sweater with a collared shirt beneath, there wasn’t some crazy Christmas speckle adorning it like Stefan's but he still found it very eye-catching on the teacher. Alaric came behind the teen, hands on his shoulders and pressed a kiss to his styled crown.

Stefan gave a small smile and leaned back against the dirty-blond's chest. "Merry Christmas."

Alaric gently massaged his shoulders. "You're feeling better?" he questioned quietly, gaze flickering to his glass. "You eat yet?"

"Not quite there yet, but this is a start."

Alaric gave a deep nod and didn't push it. "I like your sweater. Definitely better than mine."

"I had to psych myself into the holiday spirit somehow—the eggnog also helped a bit."

"A bit early, isn't it?" he teased.

"I forgot to set my alarm so I woke up a bit late." Stefan was purposefully obtuse. "The turkey hasn't even been in for 2 hours."

"I meant the eggnog," he went over to the counter and set a new pot to brew.

"Oh," he gave a dry chuckle. "Holidays and alcohol kind of go hand-in-hand, don't you think? Along with family drama and disillusionment." He drained the rest of the glass and started to refill. "Maybe it would be easier if I just went straight for the hard stuff..." he stopped pouring and resealed the jug. "You sure it was the sanest idea to want to spend Christmas with Damon and I?" he questioned as he stood from the stool and returned the eggnog to the fridge.

"Probably not." Alaric agreed wryly. "But I love you, so I figured I gotta love your brother somehow, too—or at least learn to tolerate him, no time better than the holidays, I think."

He shut the fridge door. "Ah, yes. This really ought to test your mettle. You're doing great so far, I, on the other hand... failing miserably."

"Hey," Alaric put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him around. "The Stefan Salvatore I know doesn't just throw in the towel that easy."

"I'm not." Stefan scoffed, "But it's not like I can very well do anything when he's not even here!" he flung his arm out and took a bitter satisfaction in the confirmation on Alaric's face. "Yeah, didn't even have to look for his car to know that one, at least. It's friggin Christmas and he just leaves without a word, it's typical." He said that, but really, there was nothing 'typical' about Damon Salvatore. He let you get complacent, let you think you knew him, knew exactly what he was going to do but 9 times out of 10 you would be utterly wrong. Half the time Stefan was sure that Damon didn't even know what he would really do until the final strike of the clock.

"He's giving you what he thinks you want," Alaric found himself defending the other vampire. "Even if he's taking it way out of proportion. He just needs to cool off."

"I know." He said quietly. "Extreme is 1 of Damon's various middle names, and he doesn't do things by halves, it's not worth his effort. He's either in with you or you're as insignificant as his walking meals." He thumped his forehead against Alaric's shoulder with a sad sigh.

"He'll be back," Alaric assured, rubbing his back. "He always comes back, doesn't he?"

Stefan nodded against him. "That's something I can always count on, no matter how angry he is or how much he hates me, Damon comes back—eventually. I just don't think I can go 3 decades of separation, this time around."

"I'll hunt him down myself if it comes to that." Alaric promised, gently squeezing his nape.

"If he's not back by the time the turkey is finished, I'm calling in the big guns." He hated to have to ruin Bonnie's Christmas with her Grams, but he wasn't just going to stand there and watch Damon leave this time, those times were over. "I have an idea!" Stefan suddenly declared, raising his head.

"Christmas Joy?" Alaric wondered.

Stefan nodded with a little smile. "Yep and it'll be a wonderful time to use your present."

"Oh?" his tone left his assumption clear as day, if the hungry look he gave the teen didn't show it clear enough.

Stefan gave him an unimpressed look. "Yeah, no. I gave you ample opportunity last night but you made me go to bed instead—alone."

"I was trying to be responsible," Alaric pursed his lips into a pouty-frown and Stefan felt compelled to kiss it away, to the vampire's delight.

"While that was deeply enjoyable, still not what I had in mind." Stefan took his hand, his left entwining with the teacher's right. His trot was slightly uneven as he backed from the kitchen and down the front hall under the lighted garland arches, Alaric following after him like he was attached with a string; the alcohol from the eggnog was definitely doing it's job, fuzzing out the pain.

"Where are we going?"

They halted in the entrance hall. "Shoes and jacket, I'm just going to run upstairs for your present."

"What? Stefan, no--" he started to protest, but Stefan had already managed to scamper up the stairs as if he still possessed vamp-speed, despite his injured foot. He sighed, staring after for a moment, but despite his protests, he slipped on his shoes and jacket anyway; anything to keep Stefan's mind off Damon's absence and in this spirited mood.

A couple minutes later Stefan came back down caring a thin box about 2 inches thick, 10x8 across with a simple, if elegantly tied, thick, deep red, satin bow tied around the box. Balanced on his forearms, Stefan presented him with the box. "Merry Christmas," he whispered.

Alaric stared at him softly. "Thank you."

Stefan chuckled lightly. "You haven't even opened it yet."

"Right." Alaric gave his head a little shake and couldn't help but grin like an excited kid. He pulled the 2 lengths, the loops shrinking through the knot before that came undone as well. After unwrapping it, he looped the satin ribbon over Stefan's head and lifted off the lid, which Stefan took off his hands. He pulled the red and green striped tissue paper back to reveal the midnight blue folded material inside with a his monogrammed initials; the 'A' a soft powder blue, and the 'S' a sage green. His fingertips traced around the letters. "God, that's soft." Alaric sighed.

But that wasn't the only design on it, he pulled it from the box and the scarf unravelled, the 'A' and 'S' went to separate ends of the scarf and he realized it wasn't solid midnight blue, but blended seamlessly into deep forest green. Above the 'A' was an embroidered Hawthorne tree, its roots reaching for the letter. Above the tree were what appeared to be random dots. Midway through the scarf was the infinity symbol. On the other side was more dots in a different pattern, below which was a rose, thorned vines reaching towards the 'S'. "Stefan, this is..."

"Too much?" Stefan asked worriedly.

Alaric shook his head. "Beautiful." He raised his gaze to the teen, who gave a soft smile in return. "How did you do this?"

"I'm glad you think so highly of my skills, Ric, but I'm not even close to this calibre in skill. Of course, the design concept was mine, but the needle work was done at the pleasure of an old German gentleman in New York. The Hawthorne tree represents happiness and hope for the future, and above it is the Aquarius constellation, your star sign."

"I knew it looked familiar," Alaric murmured.

Stefan flashed him a knowing smirk. "You really had no idea, did you? You just thought it was a bunch of random dots."

"Sorry," he looked guilty.

"Don't be, I know you're not the kind of guy who cares about or believes in astrological forecasting."

"I didn't think you were either."

"It's not about ridiculous horoscopes in the paper, this just represents the time of your birth, a symbol."

"This one's different," he indicated the other end of the scarf. "Is this one... yours?"

"Scorpio," Stefan nodded and touched the edge. "And the rose--"

"Is yours," Alaric whispered. "I always wondered, wanted to ask..."

"I got it after '22 when Lexi was trying to break me out of the Ripper. When I finally got clean off human blood in the '30's, I got it to remind me of the past but also as a new beginning, for hope."

"I thought you being a vampire, you would have just healed over it."

"That is true," Stefan told him. "A witch gave it to me. Lexi knew of a supernaturally inclined artist in New Orleans—it's like a hub for the supernatural, and a place I ordinarily avoided—but the witch did a preservation spell on the ink so my healing abilities wouldn't automatically start to heal over the design." What he didn't add, too horrible for the Christmas Spirit, was that he also had to be shot full of vervain to delay his healing to place the tattoo in the first place; the preservation spell was so the ink would last once under the skin.

"That's good to know." Alaric said. "And you don't have to tell me about the infinity symbol. This is us. But, Stef, I can't wear this."

"What are you talking about?" Stefan frowned. "Of course you can. I designed it like this so you could. The only people who could make the connection are Damon, Bonnie, and Elena; everyone else will just assume it's your initials. That's the beauty of it—hiding right in plain sight since we can't actually be out to the world."

"I love that idea," he agreed, thumb stroking the soft cashmere. "But I just know, deep in my bones, the first chance the universe gets, I'm gonna spill coffee onto it or something and it'll be ruined."

"Nonsense—I had Bonnie put a preservation spell on it for that very scenario." He delivered with a straight face.

Alaric squinted at him. "I think you're-- you're teasing me, right? That's totally mean; I almost believed you, too." He pouted.

"Relax." He soothed. "If you think about it too much, you're going to end up doing it. Or, better yet, simply stop drinking coffee."

"Ha ha," he laughed sarcastically. "That's not as funny as you think it is!"

"It's pretty funny from where I'm standing," Stefan disagreed. "The look on your face?" he chuckled. "It's cute when you pout, Ric. Now, here," he took the scarf from the vampire, "I got this for purely selfish reasons, a subliminal claim, so you have to wear it."

"When you put it that way," Alaric bit his cheek at the pleasant feelings (and desires) the assertion from the brunette birthed. "Still think it should be hung or something." He mumbled as Stefan wrapped the soft, warm scarf around his neck, front to back so the infinity symbol face the front and the 2 ends came around and back to the front so the entire design showed, laid against the open front of his jacket. "Or you're the 1 that should be wearing it, seeing as you actually need a scarf now."

"Appearances." Stefan stepped back, took a photo with his cell to the man's amusement, before he stepped forward again and buttoned Alaric's jacket, making sure the scarf was tucked in. "There. Oh, 1 more thing," he put his hands on Alaric's shoulders and pushed until the vampire went back 2 steps—and promptly kissed him.

"You had to wait until I was under the mistletoe before you kissed me?" he questioned in mild amusement.

Stefan shrugged. "Who am I to snub tradition?"

Alaric huff a laughed. "So, what exactly are we doing outside?" he queried as Stefan pulled on his buckled boots and slipped on his coat.

"It snowed. Elena made a snowman."

"She did? Did she use snow from her entire neighbourhood?"

"Here, I'll show you. She sent me a picture." Stefan retrieved his cell from his back pocket and showed him the picture.

Alaric let out a surprised chuckle. "That's-- that's pretty damn cute, I gotta admit." Stefan put his phone away in his jacket with a smirk. "But, Stef, no way is there enough snow left out there to make even a baby Frosty."

"That's okay because we're not making a snowman," he took Alaric's hand and pulled him out the front door. He stepped off the porch to the short walk to survey his prospects, ignoring the half-melted tire tracks of Damon's absent Chevy Camaro convertible. The snow was patchy in the drive, but that wasn't the appropriate place, the frame of snow-covered grass around the drive before it met woods, on the other hand, was. Stefan pulled the teacher along.

"If you don't want to make a snowman, then what?"

Stefan turned to him and grasped his other hand. "Snow angels." He mimed their arms in a sweeping motion to get the point across.

Alaric shook his head. "The last thing you need to be doing is rolling around in the snow." Stefan pouted. "Better more, that's the last thing I need."

"Don't be a spoil sport." Without warning, Stefan fell backwards, his hands slipping from Alaric's.

With a wordless shout, undead heart jumping in his throat, the bampi just reacted, vamp-speed blur his appearance as he lunged forward, arms wrapped around Stefan's torso, the ball of his shoe turning in the wet snow and he thumped onto the hard ground with an 'oof!', Stefan a unharmed weight on top of him. A weight that was trembling. "Stefan?" Alaric raised his head, but all he could see was the brunette's crown with Stefan's face buried in his jacket. Did he have another episode? Were the headaches back? 'I'm dying and you don't even know it.' Stefan's toneless voice sounded in his head again.

But before he could externalize those worries and fear, Stefan's head suddenly reared back with a huge intake of breath and the giggles he'd been attempting to suppress burst out in peels of laughter. Every taught muscle in the bampi melted like butter and he slumped back against the wet ground. A small smile quirked the corners of his lips as he watched as the curtain of Stefan's face shifted and transformed into something else; as what Damon called his resting-brood-face at this moment, was overtaken by thrill and if for this one moment, the past 146 years were forgotten and it was just the 2 of them. Stefan finally slumped back down against Alaric, gasping for breath, his green eyes bright from laughter, his teeth still showing through his wide smile. Alaric wasn't joking when he told Elena Stefan didn't smile enough.

"That was exciting!"

"What if I hadn't caught you?"

Stefan propped his chin on his folded arms on Alaric's chest. "I knew you would. And now that we're both down here... We might as well make an angel together."

"Your master plan, revealed." Alaric teased. "You seduced me into it."

"Doing what exactly?" he asked in mild amusement. "You have to tell me so I can use it in the future."

Alaric stroked his jaw line. "Your laugh." He murmured seriously. "It's been too long since I've heard a real one like that."

Stefan gave him a soft smile. "Well, you make me happy enough to do it." He turned his head and kissed the heel of the dirty-blond's palm under his thumb.

"So, you said something about a snow angel?"

"I did." Stefan pressed a peck to his lips then pushed himself up using Alaric shoulders and was left straddling the vampire's waist. "So, come on—spread 'em, Saltzman." He clapped Alaric's thigh behind him. "You know you want to." Stefan reached into his pocket and took out his cell, putting it on video mode, he held it high above. "For the camera?" Alaric continued to stare up at him, his expression deadpan even as his blue eyes sparkled with amusement, his fingers drumming lightly on Stefan's thighs. "Then do it for Christmas Joy, Ric. Feel the joy," Stefan dug his finger just right into his ribs and Alaric let out a bark of laughter as his ticklish spot was struck through his jacket.

"Okay! Alright. I'll do it for your Christmas Joy. Just no tickling," he rose a warning finger to the teen through the phone.

Stefan gave a triumphant smile and stroked the bridge of the teacher's nose playfully. "You love my tickles."

"Naked tickling is a whole different ballpark," Alaric informed him and Stefan chuckled.

"We can do that, too." Stefan tempted.

"Nice try." Alaric straightened under the brunette. "Okay." He did 1 stroke up, 1 stroke down, both arms and legs. "And I'm at grass."

"I'll take it." Stefan got to his feet, Alaric still under him and zoomed out with the phone to get a better look at the grass-angel. "As charming and mysterious as its maker."

"I guess the sexy just rubbed off." Alaric sat up and pressed a kiss to the top of Stefan's thigh. "My turn for Christmas Joy." He glanced up through the space between Stefan's arms.

Stefan wiggled his thick brows. "Whatever you want." He only had a second to regret the words at the wicked grin that flashed amid stubble before, with another show of vampire strength, speed, and agility, Alaric wrapped 1 arm around his hips and the other grabbed the hand holding his cell phone. For 2 second it felt like Stefan was in a tornado before he was suddenly looking up at Alaric, breathless, staring into the back of his cell.

"You're lucky I like roller coasters, otherwise I don't think you'd look so happy." Stefan reached up for his cell but Alaric rose his hand out of reach. "No fair."

"You got the camera out, this is the consequence." Alaric told him haughtily. Stefan stuck his tongue out childishly and wrapped his arms around his face. "Uh-uh, none of that." Alaric admonished. "Fair is fair, Stefan." He stuck his cold hand up under the hem of his coat and Rudolph sweater.

Stefan gave an indignant squeak at the cold hand and his arms tore from his face, grabbing Alaric's hand through his coat, stilling it before it could do anything nefarious like tickle him. "No tickling! Your hand's cold," he protested.

"God, you're so warm." Alaric murmured, his palm and fingers flattening against his skin as Stefan released his hand and watched as his eyelids drooped to half-mast and seemed to zone out into another world, or as Stefan better knew from experience—into another world—Stefan's cell forgotten in his hand.

Stefan remembered what that was like. As a vampire, when you maintained a steady diet of human blood, especially warm blood from the vein, you were able to sustain a body temp that was moderately close to a human's. Like a cold-blooded reptile, vampires also sought the outside source of warmth. Unlike reptiles, vampires were hardly able to get the same results of gaining warmth from the surroundings like laying in a patch of sun on a heated rock. Of course, standing by the lit fireplace maintained the ruse of warmth, but that warmth didn't linger once away from the source, so vampires needed to consume their warmth. And in comparison, hot coffee and microwaved blood bags really were a poor substitute for fresh, warm lifeblood from the source—that was the true warmth of a vampire. A living thing consumed, it was one of the only ways for a vampire to truly feel alive in their undead state. And Stefan knew better than to try and snap the vampire out of the zone for the serious repercussion of possible getting his throat torn out.

Alaric's hand twitched against his skin and his palm pressed against the warmth flesh and started to migrate towards the hearth. Stefan arms fanned through the wet snow and the colour in his tan cheeks had nothing to do the cool nip in the air or the mild activity of his arms that stopped rather fast, but the touch of the teacher. It wasn't even a sexual touch, it was just because it was Alaric. He never had this before, a real relationship, a boyfriend.

He had Damon, his brother. He had Lexi, his best-friend. His longest sexual relationship before now had been Katherine; he actually thought the same might be said for Damon, which was sad on both their accounts, but it just went to show how much Katherine Pierce fucked the Salvatore Brothers up. But she was gone now, out of their lives and they could finally start new, fresh. Stefan really needed to talk to Damon.

Stefan couldn't help the little puff of air as Alaric's hand finally came to rest over his heart; his coat and sweater ridden up to reveal most of his abdomen. It picked up a little as he watched the veins darken and pulse under Alaric's hooded eyes, could see the swirl of red flood the slits of white and darken his blue irises. A breathless grunt was forced from him when Alaric suddenly leaned his weight onto his arm, as if he could be absorbed through Stefan's breastbone and nest into the warmth.

If Alaric reacted this way to just touching his skin, Stefan was sure the vampire would never let him out of bed once they had penetrative sex. He couldn't help the huge grin that split his face at the thought, nor the chortle. He may have been the 'quiet' one, the 'shy' one, the 'romantic' one between he and Damon growing up; worked to make father proud, tried to make mother smile, but as was clear with his loss of virginity in a hay wagon and his affair with Katherine, despite having to develop feelings for the women before he felt it proper to make such bold moves (like having to confess his love to Katherine before even kissing her for the first time after the Founder's Ball) he was still a horny teenage boy whose mind will inevitably circle around to sex at one point or another despite being raised in the time of gentlemen.

Alaric's vision cleared from 1 blink to the next, blue gaze darting to take in the scene; Stefan under him, his hand shoved under his coat and sweater. Alaric pulled his hand out and pulled the clothing back down, his other hand awkward with Stefan's cell. "What happened?" he shifted back.

"Sorry." Stefan waved a hand, sniggering. "My mind wondered and I was thinking about sex."

"What?" Alaric questioned in amused confusion.

Stefan sat up. "You zoned out for a few minutes—actually, it was more like zoned in." He explained.

Alaric stared at him for a moment, noting Stefan's unconcern fighting against his own concern before his gaze dropped. "Here?" he laid his free hand on Stefan's chest.

"Yeah." Stefan laid his hand over his and his other took his phone from unresisting fingers.

"Sorry."

"Don't be. I know how hard it is, especially as a new vampire, to resist the pull of a person's heartbeat. You're only a month old, Ric. It's a habit that'll still be there when you're 150, trust me."

Alaric nodded slowly after a moment. "I missed your snow angel." He whispered, noticing the melted boarder around them.

"It was recorded. Even out of it, you're 1 heck of a cameraman." He smirked.

"You should delete it. What if someone gets a hold of your phone?"

"Oh, trust me." Stefan looked up from were he was saving the video into his locked folder. "No one is going to be seeing it but me." The password was a series of numbers and letters, both capitals and lowercase made up of 30 characters burned into his memory, so anyone, not even Damon, could access it. "You don't have to worry about Damon seeing it either."

"Didn't Damon put that app on your phone?"

Stefan shrugged. "Sure. He just has to put in the simple 4 digit number password to unlock my phone, which I haven't changed, but he's not going to be able to get into this folder."

"Okay. I trust you to outsmart a nosey-Damon."

"I will take that vote of confidence," he said drily. "Now pull me up? My butt is wet and cold."

Alaric chuckled but rose to his feet and pulled the teen up after him. "The last thing we want is for you to turn into an assicle."

Stefan snorted. "Good adjective and apt description. It does, in fact, feel like an assicle." He told the dirty-blond with a straight face, making him laugh as they walked back toward the Boarding House.

After changing to dry pants and washing up, Stefan sent Alaric to the wine cellar to get the bottle of white he needed for the butternut squash gratin he wanted to make, and that it would probably be good to drink a bag of blood while he was down there after his zone-in if he wasn't going to feed from Stefan.

Stefan opened the oven and pulled out the low rack with oven mitts. He took off the roast pan's lid to baste the turkey when a delicious, pure cloud straight from the source wafted moistly into his face. It was like all his food fantasies come true and he nearly did a nosedive into the bird in ecstasy, only to have the first hunger pang in the last 43 hours twinge painfully in his gut; the delicate barrier keeping it contained shattering at the mouth-watering scent of the roasting turkey and stuffing.

With a slightly shaking hand, Stefan basted the turkey and put a few onions in the water before he replaced the pan lid and pushed the rack back in. He calmly closed the oven door and stepped back to lean back against the edge of the island counter. This was the moment he'd been anxiously waiting for the moment he realized he didn't feel hunger after drinking Damon's blood.

He tried to take calming breaths, but they only partly worked as he inhaled the appetizingly perfumed air, enticing his own hunger. But, this was it. Stefan was starting fresh, and what moment was better than now instead of waiting 6 more days for the New Year?

He'd dealt with devastating hunger before, for the past 145 years to be exact, he'd had control over his appetite for the past 74 years. He'd fallen off the wagon before, he'd got back on before. The difference now was that there was no Lexi to keep him in line and trying to sate his unending hunger this time around didn't include heads literally rolling, but that wasn't reason to indulge like he had been for the past month, which garnered him no positive results. No, he needed to go about this differently this time around. He stopped rejecting the new-old condition of his body, and now he needed to come up with a new game plan when it cam to his hunger. He needed to control and resist and pace, just like he had as a vampire on the wagon of animal blood. Maybe that had been the problem. He kept comparing this hunger to that of when he was a vampire, but with the clause that he wasn't killing anyone if he lost control, so why the hell should he restrict himself? He needed to give himself limits, boundaries, to contain himself as before.

So this would be a good moment to test his own mettle. The turkey had about 3 more hours to cook, and in the meantime he had several conviction testing tasks to do in the meantime: the butternut squash gratin, the brown sugar and bacon fried veggies, browned butter smashed potato with butternut squash, sweet yam dish, cranberry sauce with raspberry vinegar, the gravy, and devilled eggs. He may have cheated a bit with store bought bread rolls, but technically they were handmade fresh from the bakery in town so he didn't feel too bad about it.

Deeming himself stable and steady again, he pushed from the island and got out the tray, and like a couple weeks ago, he used it to carry the plates, side saucers, silverware, water and wineglasses to the dinning room. The issue he didn't foresee until he was standing in front of the closed sliding doors was that this was the dinning room.

The 1 that Damon compelled him away from. It had almost seemed like he'd tacked it on there as an afterthought before he broke the compulsion ('oh, and avoid the dinning room for a while.') and yet somehow, it was the piece of compulsion that had been the strongest. Even now, standing here, staring at those closed doors, it almost felt like he was a kid again, sneaking into his father's office which was off limits to both he and Damon, making his hands clammy. It wasn’t the blaring klaxons screaming DO NOT GO IN THERE—AVOID, but there was still a little red warning light lit in the back of his brain.

Stefan squeezed his eyes closed. He gave his head a little shake. What constituted 'for a while'? It had almost been 3 weeks, surely that was enough time for Damon to clean up his mess. It had been like a fuzzy, out-of-body experience, there had been no conscious thought, just the override of emotional turmoil that ravaged through him. He had the habit of fussing over and tending to other peoples emotions, pushing his own back and out of the way, leave his own to grow unattended and wild, to explode at the most inconvenient moments as was seen in recent history.

"You can stop with the act now," Damon suddenly said in his ear, making Stefan jolt, his eyes snapping open, the dishes clattered on the tray as he jerked around. "In case you forgot, I know compulsion doesn't work on you."

The inch lip prevented the plates from skidding off the tray and smashing to the floor, but 1 of the wineglasses over balance in the kerfuffle. Damon saw it, could have easily reached it, not even having to use his vamp-speed to right it, but thought it was more amusing to watch. It was too late to course correct it with the tray, Stefan would just end up spilling the whole lot, so he right foot shot out, instinctively trying to cushion it from hitting the floor and prevent it from shattering. You wouldn't think a wineglass would hurt, a drinking glass, sure, a plate, definitely, you would be wrong. There was a faint reverberation as the goblet hit the arch of the top of his socked foot, eliciting a sharp pain, but at least when it fell to the floor, rolling in uneven circles with stem and came to a stop against the moulding at the bottom of the wall it was unsheltered.

"You could have caught that." Stefan gave a sharp exhale and leaned back against the doors behind him for balance, a slight grimace on his face as he stared at his brother.

"But this way was more fun," he countered.

"And I wasn't acting." Stefan added.

"Agreed. You suck. But seeing as we're family, I'll give you 'C' for effort." Damon mimed the letter. "Minus," he added.

"Damon, please--"

"Please, what, brother?" he mocked.

"You're being petty!" Stefan protested in frustration. He paused and took a breath, the last thing he needed was a repeat of yesterday where he let his frustrations override everything else. "Can we just forget about last night? I didn't mean to hurt you, Damon. I just got overwhelmed with it all, it was just too much and I snapped."

Damon sighed. "You're right," he agreed solemnly. "Let me make it up to you." Stefan looked at him with genuine surprise but it quickly turned as his brother continued with a devious smirk, "And open theses doors for you?" his palms slammed against the wood on either side of Stefan's head.

"No!" Stefan eyes widened, but it was too late; Damon was already pulling the doors open apart behind him and the brunette's support gave way.

Stefan stumbled backward on his injured heel, imbalanced with the tray. He already knew it was too late to try and save himself, and his attempt to prevent himself from being buried in broken dishes, just guaranteed that he would be. Strike 4, how many until he just gave up already? He flinched away at the short crash of dishes, eyes squeezed shut, waiting for the sharp pain to bloom, but he felt a painful jerk instead. Slowly he cracked open his green eyes to find himself starting into Damon's blue ones no more than 5 inches away, his right hand gripping his left shoulder, his left hand fisted into the collar of Damon's shirt.

"Um," Stefan eyes darted around; he had a better view of the ceiling and the top of the wall behind him than anything else. "You caught me."

"What gave it away?" he said dryly.

"Lack of pain," Stefan answered honestly.

"Yeah, well, leave it to you to turn a simple stumble backward into a deathtrap."

Hovering in his left peripheral view Stefan could see the tray held precariously in Damon's right hand, most of the dishes present from what he could see, but askew. That could only mean the rest were shattered beneath him. "Please don't drop me?"

"Don't temp me." Stefan's right injured leg tightened around Damon's thigh in response and Damon smirked at the reaction. His left leg, practically straight between Damon's legs, was a useless prop in help supporting his own weight; that all laid on the vampire with his arm wrapped around the human's lower back. "Where's your boyfriend? He'd been useful right about now for once."

"The wine cellar."

Damon cursed. "Of course, the deepest, darkest bowels of the Salvatore Boarding House. He'll never hear us in there, the walls are too thick, it's sound proof in there." He gave an irate growl. "I'm dropping you."

"No!" Stefan clung, his eyes comically wide to the vampire's amusement.

Damon chuckled. "You're such a drama queen."

"And you're still not funny," He groused.

"You just don't know what funny is," Damon countered.

"Yeah, no. You can drop me," Stefan deadpanned. "That is less painful than what you consider humour."

"Oh, Stefan, going for the cheap shots."

Stefan exhaled and stared at his brother. "Damon--"

Damon knew that expression and tone way too well. "You want to aggravate me while I hold your life in my arms?" he challenged.

"When is that different from any other time?" Stefan pointed out.

"Good point." Damon agreed. He heaved a sigh. "OK. Lay it on me. Give me your best Stefan-spiel."

"I really am sorry, Damon." Stefan whispered sincerely. "I took a really cheap and mean shot at you yesterday that you didn't deserve. I put Katherine on you when the truth is... it was all my fault."

"Stefan," he started.

"No, no." Stefan shook his head. "The first time I met Katherine, it wasn't when she came to stay at the mansion."

"What do you mean?"

Stefan swallowed guiltily. "About a fortnight before, I went for a morning ride. It had rained hard the night before, the roads were bad, and I came across a stuck carriage."

"Which you offered your help," Damon added. "As is your chivalrous nature. It was Katherine, wasn't it?"

Stefan gave a shallow nod. "I didn't know until after."

"You couldn't have. So you unstuck her wagon, and then what?"

"She fed from me." Stefan's gaze dropped from his brother to his hand fisted with the material of Damon's stretched collar. "Compelled me; asked about the town, our home, me, you."

Damon's expression was dark. "Emily was there, too, I bet. Didn't lift a finger then either."

"She saved our lives twice, Damon." Stefan sighed. "The look in her eyes was more frightening than Katherine. I signed both our death warrants then and there."

"If the alternative was her killing you then and there, never getting another sappy letter from you, coming home to the news that you were dead... then I'll take the shit storm of the last 146 years with open arms, Stefan." Damon informed him levelly.

Stefan pursed his lips against the swell of emotion in his chest, inhaling deeply through his nose as he stared into his big brother's unwavering blue gaze. "She's always going to hang between us, isn't she?"

"She's gone, Stefan."

"She's too deep inside me to ever be gone," Stefan confessed in a defeated whisper. "We can't keep blaming all our issues and faults on the dead. One day, we're going to have to look in the mirror and look at ourselves for who we truly are. I want to blame Katherine for turning me into that terrible monster, but the Ripper... he didn't just happen overnight. That darkness was always in me, her blood just woke it up."

"No, our bastard of a father did that. You hear me?" Damon gave him a shake that made their position even more precarious, the dishes in the tray clattering with the movement. "You were the brightest, purest thing I'd ever held in my arms, Stefan, until he touched you and fed you his poison."

Stefan couldn't stop the slight grimace as he felt an unexpectedly vicious pang in his abdomen. There was no way that Damon could have possibly missed it. "Muscle spasm," technically, it wasn't a lie. He'd almost forgotten about his building hunger since Damon came back, thoroughly distracted with their peculiar predicament, but he shouldn't have been surprised at how fast it was catching back up to him. He hadn't eaten for 2 days after all and the hunger was catching up to him with a vengeance, making up for lost time. "When you were gone this morning, I thought--"

"Self-important much?" he interrupted. "My world doesn't revolve around you, I had things to do, people to take of."

"Good." Stefan murmured quietly. "That's good." He wondered when the headaches and nosebleeds would return.

He eyes narrowed. "I'm not going anywhere." Damon promised. "And not to put a stopper in this great brother-bonding moment... but I would be more into this if you were a woman and not related to me, but our dicks are just a little too chummy right now and you're starting to get heavy, beefcake, the pain in my back can attest."

Stefan couldn't help but laugh. "For someone who claims to be so glib about seeing me naked more than my own boyfriend, you sure seem uncomfortable now."

"Speaking of Teacher, how long does it take to get a bottle of wine?"

"About 5 minutes." Alaric answered from the dinning room doorway. He stared at them for a moment. "I heard you guys talking and I thought I'd give you some privacy," he cocked his head, amusement in his eyes, "Clearly, I missed something." He stepped in and to the side, getting a better view of exactly what he was looking at; it looked like a really terribly executed tango move where the woman hooked her leg against the man's hip, their pelvises together, the man's arm around the woman's waist as she arched back. Definitely botched.

"Yeah, the mark." Damon said sarcastically.

"Just one thing before I step in..." Alaric took his cell phone from his pocket and snapped a few quick pictures, the brothers staring at him unenthusiastically.

"Yeah, so... I'm going to drop 1 of these 2 things, or perhaps both." Damon informed him. "You can try to guess but I'm sure I'll end up surprising you."

"OK, OK." Alaric put his cell away and quickly unburdened Damon of the tray, setting it on the new replaced rosewood rectangle dinning table. "You should just be happy it wasn't Bonnie who walk in on you." Alaric warned the vampire. Hands at the back of Stefan's shoulder, he pushed both the brothers back up straight and they awkwardly shuffled back from the shattered dishware before releasing each other and stepping back, working out their separate kinks.

"You think I don't know about that little folder on Stefan's phone?" Damon informed them, straightening his wrinkled shirt.

"You might know about it, but you'll never get into it." Stefan returned confidently, twisting his torso left then right.

"I like a challenge," Damon smirked and turned away, heading for the stairs. "It makes things more interesting."

"Wait!" he blurted and Damon actually paused, but didn't turn back around.

"I meant what I said, baby brother. So to take on the Stefan-sentimental-mentality... There's no girl to compete over for attention, it's just the 2 of us again. Our lives can never be like what it was before Evil Vampire Slut compelled her way into our lives, but this time around is different from the last 146 years. I'm not making the same mistakes again and I'm not going to lose you to her a third time."

"That means you're still coming to dinner, right?"

Damon resumed his path. "Who else is going to give you an honest opinion of your cooking? You have sex with him, he's biased." And he disappeared upstairs to Stefan's chuckle.

"Come on," Alaric protested jokingly, his hands on Stefan's shoulders from behind. "It's not biased if it's good."

Stefan leaned back against his chest. "I trust your judgement," he said coyly to the dirty-blond's amusement.

"I'll go get the broom," Alaric pressed a kiss to his hair. "Please don't step on any glass this time." Stefan gave him an unimpressed frown when he sent a smirk over his shoulder before blurring away.

Stefan gave a happy sigh and bit his bottom lip against the splitting smile. It had started out rough as it usually did between them; yelling, violence, emotion, the 3 standard ingredients to the Salvatore Brothers' make up fights. They needed to extinguish the anger, be heard, and explore the crux of the current dispute. But this time was different, this time was real. When Damon gave his word, he kept it. The past 145 years of misery could attest to that. He knew it would never be perfect between them, they were brothers after all, but that just meant there would always be a 'them'. The concept of Christmas Miracle was looking up.

Keeping to the clear space Alaric had left him in, Stefan turned from the door and took in his first view of the new dinning room. Damon hadn't been kidding was he said he was 'decorating' in here. He knew it was the same room, but it didn't look it. Damon didn't just replace the things Stefan had smashed, he redesigned the room, the colours, the texture of the room, modernized it but still kept with the character of the rest of the house. If Damon ever truly cared to re-enter society, he had definite potential as an interior designer. Damon had always adopted the fashions of the passing decades better than Stefan (the recluse) with his ability to fit in with any crowd he chose.

The previous oval cherry wood table was replaced with a large, rectangular rosewood table with ornate designs carved into the legs and side boarder that seated 10. The chairs arranged around the 2 length-sides, 4 on each, were upholders in cream, contrasting the other dark colours that shaded the room. The remaining 2 at either head of the table were armed. The sideboard was adorned with crystal decanters and tumbler glasses arrange tastefully on a runner on the flat top. The china closet with stained glass windows in the cabinet doors similar to the ones in the parlor that faced the front of the house, but the boarder was of clear glass.

As Alaric returned and swept up the glass, Stefan made his way to the fireplace, his fingertips tracing the backs of the chairs. The pit was set up, but dark as he realized when he knelt in front and moved away the screen. He pulled a long match from the holder on the mantle and ignited it with a quick draw against the brick, he lit the kindle below the logs and after brief encouragement watched as the flames took hold. He tossed the used match into the flames before he replaced the screen and rose.

After a perusal of the sideboard where the linens for the table, cloth napkins, extra candles and regular matches were stored, Alaric helped him set the table with what was left of the dishes on the tray at 1 end. He filled the empty tray back up with dishes from the china closet like the gravy boat and another sauce dish for the cranberry sauce, and other serving dishes for things like the devilled eggs, pickles, and cheese to take back into the kitchen. It was counting down to crunch times as a pot of water was set to boil on the stove for the remaining half-dozen eggs left in the carton that Stefan left to task for Alaric as he started to prep the other dishes, mentally organising the tight schedule of what needed a burner and for how long, shuffling it all around in his head as he chopped, measured, and grated. If only life could be as easily scheduled and organized; but with Alaric doing the devilled eggs and the other sides, it gave Stefan just an inch of wiggle room to get everything cooked and hot in the same window to be served.

But as time progressed, it wasn't the armload of tasks or his attention split 10 different ways, 12 different clocks rapidly counting down in Stefan's brain that was making him antsy and biting back whimpers and choking himself against the thin leash of control, it was the sweet, delicious, savoury scents of cooking food. It had been painful in the dinning room with Damon, but in the kitchen, it was unadulterated torture. He didn't want to go there, just that it felt like an Alien was trying to tear out through his stomach. He either needed to cry and curl up or simply give into grabbing a handful of bacon out of the hot, grease-filled pan.

And then, blessedly, it was time. The dinning table swamped with enough food to feed occupants of all 10 chairs, but there was just 1 that needed this beyond all others.

Damon stood at his place at the head of the table, as head of the Salvatore family, the turkey platter in front of him, a carving knife in 1 hand, a 2-pronged carving fork in the other. "Stefan, you need to ask yourself one very important question in this moment..." Damon informed the teen intensely. "Dark meat or white?" he grinned.

"Both," Stefan told him firmly from his right. "And don't be skimpy with it," he warned, holding out his plate. "This is a 10 pound turkey and I haven't eaten in two days, so I don't need judgement from either of you for what you're about to witness." He looked across at Alaric who sat Damon's left.

"Relax," Damon told him. "You can always have seconds." But cut into the turkey at the look in his green eyes and started a pile on Stefan's plate. "Ric?"

"Dark, thanks." The teacher said, holding up his own plate. Damon cut white for himself and sat and the 3 passed around the other dishes, serving themselves.

Stefan literally could not stop the groaned whimper from leaving him at that first bite. It had nothing to do with how good it tasted (which was awesome), but swallowing it, the feel of something finally in the bottomless hollow of his stomach. He didn't notice the fast look exchanged by the vampires hunched over his plate, not that he would of had the capacity to care if he had, not in this moment as he continued to eat. They weren't even halfway finished their first serving, before Stefan was already dishing up his second.

"Stef, slow down before you make yourself sick." Alaric finally warned in worry.

Stefan did slow, but only a tad as there was barely a pause between plating and consuming. By the time he was finishing this serving, that full switch should trip. That had been the 1 tolerable thing about his human hunger v. his vampire hunger; that blip of fullness that gave him a respite from the painful hunger, however short. Despite his continued hunger, his human stomach could only hold so much, it was basic law, unlike his vampiric digestive tract with its blood diet and dark magic enhancements. But to his growing desperation, it never came.

He picked apart a bread roll, his mind racing. Why wasn't it happening? Did the vampire blood screw with the trigger? Maybe he just needed something other than savoury, he usually had a low tolerance for sweet things, so maybe that would prompt it.

"Pie!" Stefan suddenly declared, standing from his chair and started both vampires. Before they could say anything, he was already striding from the room, desperation fuelling him—only he never made it. He stopped short, hand braced against the wall as sickening dizziness swamped him, a terrible cramp ripping through his stomach that had him doubling over in pain, unable to breath for a long frightening moment before he was able to suck in a sharp gasp of breath. He bolted to the bathroom, the door shut behind him, just able to get the seat up before he projectile vomited, his stomach muscles spasming forcefully.

He was left gasping, sweat beaded on his upper lip and at his temples as involuntary retches seized his frame for a minute before he was able to lower the lid and flush. He was a little shaky as he stood at the sink, rinsing his mouth and splashing cool water on his face. There had been zero time for the food to digest and even as he stood there patting his face dry with a towel, the hunger was there. So Stefan simply continued on his journey to the kitchen from the bathroom.

He took the 3 wrapped pies from the fridge and put the apple and pumpkin in the oven to warm up. The pecan didn't make it that far, not with a stray fork from the counter finding its way into Stefan's hand, his hunger driving the unconscious action despite just having been violently sick.

The last time he could remember either him and Damon puking vividly was Thanksgiving 1851. Damon had a pet turkey he called Sammy, Giuseppe thought it made his son soft-hearted and weak, so he'd killed the turkey and gave it to the cook, forcing both boys to eat their fill of Sammy otherwise the consequences would be far worse. Once Giuseppe excused them from the table (after cleaning his own plate in a sedated pace, polishing off goblets of brandy and puffing on a cigar), Damon grabbed Stef and ran upstairs, both forcefully sick of whatever was left that hadn't been digested. From then on, the only living thing Damon had allowed himself to get attached to was Stefan, because surely for all the monster that their father was, he could not murder his sons. If only that had been the truth.

He was pulled from the memory by the brush of lips and stubble on his cheek. "Oh, hey." He said around the fork; the pie was sweet and gooey, with the soft crunch of pecans and the crust to help add texture.

"You were taking a while so I came to see what was keeping you," Alaric informed him in amusement, his hand leaning on the counter. "Now I know."

Stefan glanced at the pie on the counter in front of him. "I got distracted." The frown of guilt at the corner of his mouth had nothing to do with fact that he'd was already halfway through the pastry, but other more life-altering secrets he was hiding behind securely closed doors. Clearly the vampire blood really hadn't fixed anything, it was just the high before the fall.

"That I can see." Alaric smiled, his thumb pad brushed the corner of his mouth and Stefan's tongue automatically chased after it. "Dinner was amazing, Stef. I honestly don't know how you did it. Better than my nana's and she had the touch."

Stefan a smile, picking at a whole pecan in the filling with his fork prongs. "It's nice to actually have people to cook for."

"I wish I was human again, even if for just the last 20 minutes so I could have appreciated it all the more."

Stefan looked up. "Just because you're a vampire, doesn't mean it can’t hold the same appreciation, if anything, you'll have a better time experiencing the flavours."

"Yeah, but nothing can compete against an elastic waistband, stuffed stomach and food coma of the holidays." Alaric sighed fondly at past remembrance, his arms wrapped loosely around Stefan’s shoulders. "But I'm glad you get to have that this year."

"Yeah," Stefan laid his head against the vampire's chest so he wouldn't see his faltered expression. He hadn't eaten enough to overstuff himself and cause him to vomit. 2 plates was not overeating in a regular man his size. He'd eaten twice as much as he had tonight in other sittings and never once did he feel uncomfortably stuffed. The vampire blood had stopped his hunger completely and had literally disallowed him from consuming anything. Now, free of vampire blood, the hunger was back stronger than before and he was lulled into a false sense of security with his body's allowance of food, only for his body to reject it afterward.

The timer he set on the oven went off and Stefan straightened, but Alaric was the one the donned the oven mitts. "I got it, don't want to intrude on your snack."

Stefan glanced at the empty glass dish, licking his fork. "You're not." He put the fork in the dish and turned his attention towards the oven, shutting the door when Alaric backed away with a pie in either hand and turning it off.

"So, is this like a pie-each situation or what?" Alaric teased on the way down the hall.

"Not funny," Stefan told him, carrying the eggnog jug as he followed. He wondered if throwing up had been a one-time occurrence, or if it simply was a thing of timing. He had literally still been chewing his last bite as he loaded his second serving, so the only true pause had been after he decided that he needed pie as he finished the bread roll. That meant that it was immediately after. So it didn't matter how much he ate, just that he ate... how long had it been since he'd finished the pie? "Here," Stefan stopped the vampire and tugged the jug against his chest.

"What are you doing?"

"I have to go to the bathroom." He was right and he was lucky, that same sick spell of dizziness took him as he shut the bathroom door, then the terrible stomach cramp. The fan automatically came on with the light switch and he double over the toilet. He went through the same process as before, but rinsed his mouth out with mouthwash as well as water this times around. He wondered how long he was going to be able to keep this from the vampires. Puking was a whole different cover-up than headaches and nosebleeds that only held the secrecy of their frequency. He closed his eyes with his exhale of exhaustion, it probably wasn't going to be long, but he just really needed this Christmas. "Both." Stefan promptly informed his brother on his return, holding out a clean plate.

He rolled his eyes. "Wasn't there pecan pie?" Damon asked, giving Stefan a quarter of each pie.

"Uh, no," Stefan shot a look across at Alaric's amused expression. "Just the apple and pumpkin." He pushed in, pouring himself a glass of eggnog. This time, he really did pace his bites. If he didn't scarf it down as he was desperate to do and paced himself, perhaps he could last longer without throwing up, give him time to digest.

Savouring his last bite of pie, Stefan cut open the last remaining roll from the basket and stuffed a chunk of light turkey meat in it. He munched on that as they all took their share of dishes and food back to the kitchen. Stefan kept picking at things and eating them as they packed everything up into containers and stowed them in the fridge. His working theory: as long as he kept eating, there would be no throwing up. The frequency of his hunger didn't ebb, but the mind set at the action of eating helped to diminish his desperation emotionally because he was acting, doing something even if the something really did nothing for him.

Somehow, he managed to keep up a steady stream of food without actually serving himself another plate of the now leftovers. The fridge packed, the dishwasher and sink full, he once again was able to make it to the bathroom, turning on the tap for extra obscuring noise. This time, the brunette was able to time it. Ready and awaiting at the toilet as the mental clock struck 62 Mississippi’s—roughly 1 minute and 56 seconds. It wasn't entirely conclusive, he had no other times to compare it to, but it gave him a ballpark to hit within after eating. It was more than he had before and it helped make him feel as if he had things under control despite the fact that it was his body that was the dissenter in the situation.

Stefan sprayed the air freshener and brushed his teeth. He did a few tweaks to the flagging strands of gelled hair due to perspiration weight and left the downstairs half-bath. He patted his pockets and realized he must have left his cell in his coat pocket so he went to the front hall where he left it hanging on the rack. He scrolled through some missed texts from Elena giving the all-clear that the Gilbert household hadn't been wiped out from salmonella, causing him to chuckle lightly despite his own reality.

He'd just pushed his phone into his jean pocket and looked up to find boyfriend in front of him, who, with a hand at Stefan's nape and the other his ribs, pulled him in for a kiss under the mistletoe. Stefan couldn't help but melt into it and, if for just a moment, forget. When Alaric pulled back, he had a bemused expression on his face. "Minty. Did you brush your teeth?" Stefan gave a half shrug. "Trying to make me look back," the dirty-blond teased.

"You're looking way too much into it," Stefan told him and it played into the joke.

"So you don't mind my morning breath?"

"You'd have to be there in the morning for me to mind it," Stefan pointed out.

"Ooh, burn," Damon stage-whispered as he passed into the parlor.

Alaric rolled his eyes at the other vampire but looked at the brunette with searching eyes. "Stefan?"

Stefan put a reassuring hand on his chest. "Ric, I understand that this is something that you feel you need to do, and as much as I wish you didn't feel it necessary, I didn't mean anything by it." He held his gaze steadily so Alaric knew he was telling the truth. "I just miss you, that's all."

"I'm still here, I promise." He squeezed Stefan's arms. "Right here."

"I know." It felt like his heart skipped a beat and he hugged the man, his cheek turned on his shoulder and face pressed into his neck. Stefan just didn't know how long he was going to be here. And maybe now, considering the position that Stefan found himself currently in, maybe it was a good thing they were sleeping in separate beds for the moment. Stefan exhaled and slumped against him.

"Hey," Alaric murmured into his hair, squeezing the crook of his neck comfortingly. "You alright?"

Stefan's dream last night made him feel like he had run a marathon, leaving him without rest. He'd been on his feet all day, doing this and that, wracked with anxiety over Damon's absence. And now, with the crippling hunger, violent vomiting, and painful cramps with dizzy spells... "Just bone-weary."

"It's been a long day,"

"Being human is exhausting," he admitted.

"Do you want to head up early?"

Stefan gave his head a little shake. "It's barely even 10 yet. I wanna spend time with you and Damon."

"Okay."

"Board game!" Stefan declared.

"Fine," Damon called; it wasn't hard to over-hear Stefan at that volume. "I'm in a giving mood so hurry up and grab it before I change my mind."

The ambience of the parlor was very festive and warm. The fireplace was lit and crackling, casting a soft orange glow. The Christmas tree lights were colourful, the crystal angle was sparkling, throwing colourful prisms on the ceiling. Stefan could smell the tree, the train set going round and round the base. It was nice and quiet and warm, just the 3 of them, well 4 with Salvatore, his water coloured by the lights from his spot on the shelf.

Damon sat in his arm chair by the fire, bourbon in 1 hand and shuffling the dice in the other.

"Just roll already!" Alaric complained from the opposite side of the coffee table on the floor. "The dice don't accumulate luck the longer you shuffle—you're just making them all warm."

Damon paused and stared across at him arrogantly. "You clearly don't know me, Teacher, otherwise you know I don't need luck—I have skill." He rolled, the dice clattering across the board. They stopped, a 6 and 4. He moved his piece 10 spaces and picked up a yellow card as it instructed. "'Take 2 tokens from any player'." He read out loud, smug, sending a vicious grin across to the dirty-blond.

"You're lying." Alaric rose to his knees and reached across the table, snatching the card and reading it, even as Damon slid over 2 tokens mockingly.

"That, my friend, is skill."

"You're cheating," Alaric accused, throwing the card in the box lid with the others.

"Don't be a poor loser, Ric." Damon sipped coyly at his bourbon. Alaric glowered at him, sitting back. Stefan looked between the 2, seated on a footstool, his back to the fire, a throw pillow hugged to him as if he could snuff out the pangs in his stomach, with a fondly amused expression.

"You rigged it." Alaric took up the dice.

"I don't see how that could possibly be true. I didn't set up the board, so I believe you're really accusing Saint Stefan of nepotism."

Alaric looked over to the brunette, who raised a thick brow that was just daring him to question his integrity on the matter; Alaric gave him an awkward smile to the other vampire's amusement and meekly rolled the dice. Stefan hid his own smirk behind the edge of the pillow.

Stefan didn't know what Alaric was complaining about. The teen may have shuffled the decks, but it granted him no favors, pulling bad card after bad card. Hell, he landed on that same stupid space twice that sent him back to START. At least Damon was more focused on getting a humorous reaction out of the other vampire than he was on targeting Stefan's severely dwindled tokens.

Stefan rubbed the dice between both his hands then held them out to his brother, "Blow."

"It's that usually something your lover's supposed to do?" Damon pointed out.

Stefan sent Alaric an apologetic look. "Sorry, baby, but you're barely doing better than me." Alaric sighed in acceptance at that and Stefan turned back to Damon. "I'm partial to a little nepotism right now." Damon heaved a put-upon sigh but blew on the dice. He rolled a 5 and moved his piece. He picked up a green card. "'Roll again. If you roll 3-7, take 3 tokens from any player. If you roll 8-12 give away 3 tokens. If you roll snake-eyes, return to START'. Oh, god." He shot a hopeful look at Damon, who returned it deadpan. Stefan sighed and rolled, his breath held. "3!" Stefan grinned. And now to Alaric's glee, Stefan took his number from Damon's pile.

"I give you my skillz and this is the thanks I get?" Damon wondered.

Stefan shrugged a shoulder. "Thank you, big brother." He gave a smile.

"That was a pity blow anyways," he snatched the dice. Alaric couldn't help the snicker and Damon glared as he rolled. "'Make a player move back 5 spaces'. I'm looking at you, Teacher."

Alaric moved his piece back and rolled, he took a green card. "'Choose a red card and give it to any player'." He passed a red card unread to Damon.

Damon expression was stoic as he read it silently and raised his blue gaze to the vampire across from him. "If you weren't already sleeping separately," he mused, "Baby brother would have you in the dog house for this." He turned the card around between his index and middle fingers, there was a depiction of a skull and crossbones and under it read: "'Empty the pot of the player to your right'."

"I would like to say that I wouldn't be that petty..." Stefan trailed off, pushing the rest of his tokens over to converge with Damon's large pot. Alaric gave his boyfriend an apologetic grimace as Damon smugly crowned his own piece with Stefan's, taking him off the board and out of the game. "I'm kidding. Mostly," he teased, leaning forward and pressing a peck to his lips.

"Play time is over, kids." Damon declared, shuffling the dice.

"This is going to end with whoever wins this lording it over the other, isn't it?" Stefan deadpanned.

"Yes!" the agreed together.

Stefan chuckled and gave his head an amused shake, but settled back to watch (and referee), his legs crossed up on the footstool, careful not to put pressure on his injured heel. "Oh, no," he hissed with horrible realization and the terrible timing of it as he felt the familiar burning rushing sensation through his sinuses that usually followed the sharp headache but proceeded it this time around. He'd been untypically lucky before when it came to his nosebleeds, but not this time around.

"Stef?" both vampires looked at him.

Stefan raised his hands to his face as blood gushed from his nose, thicker and more fluid than was typical previously—and the cheery atmosphere vanished instantly. He instinctively leaned forward, trying not to get it all over the absorbent furniture and it dripped steadily onto the cardboard game board as he pinched his nose with one hand and cupped with the other. There was a blur of vampire movement around him; Alaric holding his shoulders comfortingly and Damon from the parlor and back again.

"Here, here." Damon was on his other side, pulling his hands away and replaced them with a face towel, Stefan's bloodied hands holding that instead. "'Kay, come on, let's get you to the bathroom." With a nod to Alaric over the brunette's bowed head, they pulled him to his feet.

The change in elevation had that aforementioned migraine kicking in with force. Stefan groaned, swooning briefly between them as he saw spots in his vision. "Whoa, easy." Alaric murmured. He squeezed his eyes shut and attempted to work through it. "Stef?" the only thing keeping him on his feet right now was them.

"'M good." Stefan managed through the blood running down the back of his throat as well as out his nose, his voice muffled by the face towel. "I'm good." They guided him from the parlor and down the hall as the lighted garland decorated arches seemed to flare through his eyes and to his migraine.

The half-bath was too small for the whole group, so it ended up with Stefan sat on the closed lid and Damon tending to him. This seemed to be a familiar scene from way back. He remembered his first nosebleed; Damon had been trying to teach him how to throw a right hook and accidentally broke his nose instead—the proceeding amount of blood and pain had been frightening to his 6 year old self (his outlook on blood had reformed since then).

Alaric paced the hall, fighting his own instinctual urges as the scent of Stefan's blood ignited the hunger in him, his gums aching as he fought the release of his fangs, his eyes squeezed shut against the engorged veins under his eyes trying to flush his sclera with blood.

"Keep pressure," Damon ordered and Stefan would have rolled his eyes if he didn't think it would cause an episode of vertigo. Damon adjusted the position of his arms and moved the bit of bloodied towel hanging in front of his mouth. "Spit." He held the glass from the back of his sink under his chin.

Stefan hesitated only for a microsecond, but he was sure Damon keen gaze caught before he spat out the blood that had managed to go down the back of his throat—he really, really, wanted to swallow, but swallowing anything right now would put him in a precarious position right now. Stefan licked the copper from his lips as Damon rinsed the cup out. The brunette watched him through tired green slits as he turned and leaned back against the edge of the sink, the cup still in hand, watching him back.

"A little convenient, isn't it?" Damon queried conversationally. "You getting a nosebleed just as I was about to win, no less. Trying to save your boyfriend the humiliation?"

Stefan was barely able to pull back before he snorted. "I think it's the other way around, brother." He played along. "Wanted to keep you in a good mood."

Damon did snort. "It was fun while it lasted," he said quietly, more loudly: "It’s almost been 10 minutes, the bleeding should have stopped by now." He put the glass down and crouched in front of his brother. Stefan took away the stained face towel and lowered his arms. The lower half of his face caked with blood. "You know, I thought we were passed me seeing you covered in blood." Damon carefully examined him, his cool fingertips light.

Stefan gave a dry laugh. "I just don’t think that’s in the books for me, brother."

Damon paused to stare at that, reading into it deeper than Stefan wanted him to as he gave the vampire a wan smile. "It seems to have stopped."

"Good, ‘cause I need all the blood I can get these days." He snickered. Yeah, definitely drunk on blood loss right now; it would probably be better the faster he was alone. The strain of his migraine knitted his brows, and he was still taken with the woozy light-headedness as he stood, bracing himself on Damon’s strong shoulders.

Damon let him and allowed him room to the sink, where he washed his face, his forearms braced against the edge of the sink for balance. He rinsed his mouth, spat and made sure not to swallow no matter how thirsty he was feeling. Finally, he stepped free of the bathroom.

"Stef?" Alaric cupped his pale cheek, searching his eyes, trying to discern if he truly was alright, but had a difficult time looked passed his drawn expression and exhausted eyes.

Stefan reached up and squeezed his hand, pulling it from his face. "It was just a little nosebleed, nothing to worry about."

Damon narrowed his eyes as his compelled words were repeated back to him. "There was nothing 'little' about it, baby brother. Blood came out of your nose like a broken water spout."

"Now you're being melodramatic." Stefan denied. "All this means is your blood is finally out of my system, everything's back to... well, the way it used to be. Hunger, headache, nosebleed." He ticked off. "It's nothing to worry about."

"When you say there's nothing to worry about, and the thing we shouldn't worry about is you," Alaric informed him. "I tend to do the opposite."

"I'm fine. I feel better now."

"When you say 'fine', it's like a woman saying 'fine', which doesn't really mean 'fine'." Damon declared, not in a very believing mood, especially when it came to things like this and his brother.

Stefan completely ignored that and said: "I think I'm just going to go to bed." He kissed Alaric and gave Damon a quick hug before his brother could try and stop him and took the stairs 2 at a time, ignoring the pull on his injured heel and the way it almost made him feel ‘floaty‘.

Stefan shut his bedroom door, leaning back against it in the dark as he waited for the dizziness to expel, and turned on the reading lamp to light his room with its soft glow. He'd forgotten Salvatore down the in parlor, but it was probably a sight happier there than it was currently in his bedroom. He didn't want to think, he just wanted to sleep. So he carefully made his way to his en suite and went to the bathroom and brushed the last of dried blood from his mouth in the glow of the motion activated nightlight by the sink.

But he knew with this migraine ringing through his head, he would just end up tossing and turning all night, so he went into the medicine cabinet and shook out two tablets into his palm. It probably wasn't the best idea to take blood thinners after just having his nose bleed like what felt like a geyser compared to his others, but it had already stopped and if there was a chance he could keep them down, then he was going to take it.

Stefan took the glass from the shelf above his sink and filled it with tap water. He downed the glass with 2 Tylenol and set the empty glass on the shelf behind the sink—and he waited, counting down 62 Mississippi’s. Staring at his reflection determinedly in the eerie glow. "Zero."

He gripped the edge of the sink with whitened knuckles, his pained gasp cut off by the muscle spasms as the wave of dizziness had him swooning forward. The water came up, along with the pills, with 2 long, painful heaves that left him shakily supporting himself on the sink as he tried to calm his breathing. He looked into the basin, but it wasn't just clear water, it was tinged pink. He stared at it for a moment before he reached up and touched under his nose, but his nose hadn‘t started to bleed again.

With a thick swallow Stefan quickly rinsed out the sink. Had there been blood on the other occasions tonight and he just never saw it because of the content and fast flushes? Perhaps; but this did point directly to one thing... the vampire blood seemed to have accelerated his deterioration.

Stefan had chosen to accept this new version of his body, that meant the hunger, that meant the pain. No body was perfect; he used to get sick all the time as a child. Sickness, pain, hunger—none of that was new to him. Though just because he suddenly accepted this last night, didn't automatically make everything alright (and he wasn't just talking about the physical condition of his body) it was a constant change and filtering of emotions, updates and processing. He just needed to adjust his mind to these new, more severe levels. Adjustments, like Alaric had said.

He saw movement in the background of the reflection and his gaze flickered over his shoulder—and he wasn't alone. Katherine. He sucked in a sharp breath. Her original brown eyes were gone, replaced with the lapis blue of the eyes from his dream. They gleamed in the shine from the nightlight.

"You're not real," he hissed through his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut almost painfully, shutting her out. "You're dead. You don't exist. I'm just sick, I'm hallucinating."

"My Rippah," he felt her breath against his ear, but the voice didn't belong to her. It was male. A reverently whispered tone, intimate. In an old, handsome English accent. It was a voice that he knew, that he felt he should know, recognize, but couldn't grasp, translate, remember. "My beautiful, ravenous, Rippah." The voice, even the diluted memory of it, for he could understand no other explanation, tingled through his blood like nothing he knew before. It lit his hindbrain right up, filled him with anticipation, excitement, fear—hunger. That he would lose control, lose himself. He felt the old, familiar pressure in his upper gums of his fangs (that were no longer there) wanting to release, to feed. To engorge himself, to never stop. To free himself, of all these burdens, this sickness.

Saliva gushed into his mouth, chasing away the aftertaste of bile. The hungry snarl built deep within his chest and tried to climb harshly up his throat. The Ripper, the monster! "No!" He spun around swinging, but she was gone, he was gone—they were gone. He struck at empty air; rationally, he knew to expect nothing else, but the irrational part insisted he should have struck something solid. He could have sworn she was there, he could have sworn he felt her breath, heard his voice.

He braced himself back heavily against the sink, his breath shaky. Those days were over, long over. He refused. He said he would rather be dead then ever turn into that monster—and it would appear he was getting his wish...

Stefan was dying.

[...tbc...]

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

 

Chapter Text

~ The Vampire Diaries ~

Stefan massaged his temples with thumb and middle finger, attempted to assuage the pounding in his head without chemical intervention as the fight-or-flight response in his body died out, leaving him shaky and light-headed in the aftermath. The sink took his entire weight at the moment, it was the only thing keeping him on his feet, his leg muscles trembling. He was exhausted, true. He wasn't lying when he told Alaric he was bone-weary; the exhaustion he felt, both mentally and physically cut sharply into his aching bones.

Though death was hunting after him like a haunting ghost, it wasn't that which affected so acutely at the moment. He'd experienced 2 true deaths; when Giuseppe had shot him and when Katherine put slivers into his undead heart. But in between those 2 monumental moments that altered his life completely both times, he experienced hundreds of pseudo-deaths. He had died in his vampiric state, just not fatality. He felt the pain, the emotion, would always hold a whisper of the experience on his psyche—though it was never as thick as the untold thousands he killed at his fangs. So, death was nothing new to him, death was just a guarantee. But even so, having lived the past 145 years with only a handful of things that could put him down for good, Stefan's fear of death had been reignited to new temperatures after having been turned human, his near falls down the main staircase and the basement steps, nearly throwing himself off his balcony in his fevered state and waking up frightfully alone in the hospital—but that novelty had long since worn off.

In fact, he had been so wanting of his third true death, that he sought it out this time around. That was all before he knew. Fr