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But It Is Like This

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Hope Mikaelson returns to the Salvatore School on a cloudless Virginia day, newly 16 and newly orphaned. Alaric greets her with a one-armed hug and a murmured Welcome home, and he suspects he is the only one.

She comes to him that night. He’s reading in the sitting room of his Headmaster’s quarters when he is surprised by a knock at his door. More surprised, still, when it’s Hope who slips inside without an invitation. She has the sense to look contrite about the magic she used to bypass his locks, if not when he points out that it’s well past curfew.

“If this is my home now, should I really have a curfew?” she says, needling him, still loitering by the door.

Alaric raises an eyebrow. “Yes, Hope.”

He doesn’t bother to ask whether her father ever set one for her. She stands just beyond the glow of the small fireplace that crackles beside his chair, but even in shadow he can see she is lost.

With a sigh, he puts down his book and invites her in. How can he not?

“Checkers?” he offers, reluctant.

She rolls her eyes as she sinks into the seat at the hearth opposite his. “I’m not a baby. Ric.”

He purses his lips. “Chess, then.”

She returns after curfew the next evening, and the next, as the school year dwindles away. He suspects she could hustle him if she tried, but more often she forgets to take her turn. They talk into the night instead, he with his glass of bourbon and she curled like a cat in her armchair, twirling an unplayed rook in her slender fingers.

Then comes a night when she doesn’t show, the night of a not-so-secret party in the woods, and Alaric tells himself he is happy for her. Glad she received an invitation, or carved a place for herself in spite of one. He waits up anyway, futilely, and goes to bed feeling unmoored.

He wakes in the darkness to the disorienting sensation of his mattress sinking down beside him. Before he can seize the knife on his nightstand, he realizes it’s her. Hope, a silhouette in the moonlight, slipping between his sheets in her satin Salvatore pajama set.

“What are you doing?” he asks, his voice rough with sleep and confusion.

“I can’t sleep,” she says, as if that is reason enough. “I missed our game.”

“It’s too late to play,” he says, as if that is rebuke enough.

She lies on her side, facing him, curling her hands around the corner of his extra feather pillow like a security blanket. “I know.”

They lie in the dark, in silence, two feet apart that feel like two inches, as Alaric counts the reasons he should send her away. He knows this is inappropriate. No… their clandestine after-curfew meetings are inappropriate. The way he leans on her for magical help in the daytime, as if she’s a full-grown witch and more staff than student, is inappropriate. This is unconscionable.

So, too, he tells himself, as she closes her eyes, would it be to banish this stray of a girl. This girl who hungers for nothing more or less than the lost intimacy of a family, and the care of someone who truly knows her.

Of course, he is not Hope’s family. He will never, ever be Hope’s father.

But she doesn’t move any closer. She doesn’t touch him, and eventually he falls into a troubled sleep. When he wakes at dawn, every muscle taut and fatigued, she’s gone.

In class she calls him Dr. Saltzman, as usual. She walks the line between insolent and charmingly polite, as usual. She betrays no sign of what transpired last night, neither gladness nor regret, but he feels he is someone different to her now. It makes him feel proud, and his pride makes him feel monstrous.

Hope skips their evening chess visits the next several nights. Long enough for Alaric to hope—hope, not fear—that whatever strange connection they shared was severed by that night in his bed. Over. Done and dusted.

And when she finally returns, waking him as she slips into his bed, he tells himself he doesn’t feel warmed.

“Hope?”

She is upset about something. It’s plain from the crease in her brow and the way she strangles the corner of her pillow, but she won’t say what. From her reticence, he suspects it involves his daughters. His daughters who he now fiercely tries to forget, if only long enough to survive the night.

Hope needs him in a way that Lizzie and Josie don’t. In a way Klaus Mikaelson can no longer deliver, which makes a sick satisfaction twist in his gut before it turns into shame.

As long as they don’t touch, he tells himself, as her grip slackens and her eyes flutter shut, they aren’t doing anything wrong.

The not-wrong nights go on for weeks that slip into months. Months that creep toward years. On and off, sometimes twice in a row, sometimes not for days at a time. Sometimes it’s just chess. Sometimes Hope comes to him in his office, not his rooms. Sometimes they talk, about anything and everything besides her father or his daughters. Other times they sit in silence, pouring over ancient books about monsters he shouldn’t ask her to face. Sometimes, in the dark, across the abyss of his mattress, she looks like she’s been crying. And sometimes she wears the small, secret smile that in his weaker moments, on the nights he spends alone, he imagines is just for him.

They don’t speak of the hours they spend together, but he treats her differently now. Of course he does. And in time the rest of the school takes notice—of course they do. Special, the other students call her. His pet. He doesn’t correct them as often as he should.

Mr. S takes a romantic getaway, comes back with a baby wolf, he hears Kaleb quip to MG, shaking his head, after he and Hope return to school with the newly triggered werewolf, Rafael. First thing the next morning, he puts Hope on a school bus to community service with the rest of the Salvatore delinquents. When his own daughters are as stunned to find Hope in the penalty box as Hope is herself, he sees he has cut it too fine.

“You know what you did,” he tells her tightly, when she demands to know, in front of Lizzie and Josie, why she is being punished. He means more than the black magic she performed. More than her almost-murder of Rafael’s deceitful human friend.

Still, later, he throws himself between her and a gargoyle’s dagger.

Josie sees. Sees the way he does not hesitate.

“How could you jump in front of her like that?” his daughter asks afterwards, tearful, as if Hope isn’t there. “You could have died, Dad.”

It’s the way Hope looks at him when Josie is gone that makes him swallow down his excuses.

Accusing. Knowing.

She doesn’t visit him that evening, or the next, or the next.

“Punish me,” she snaps, when he rages at her for inviting the Necromancer into her mind. “But don’t you dare play the disappointed dad, because you are not my father.”

He knows that, he shouts back at her. He knows that.

She locks him in his office with her magic. He doesn’t know if it means she believes him or she doesn’t.

When she returns, eyes red and lips quivering, his righteous anger thaws long enough to open his arms. He holds her while she cries, holds her like her father wouldn’t, like he wouldn’t hold his daughters, her cheek on his chest and his hand in her hair.

On the evenings Hope visits him in his office, she doesn’t come to his bed. He doesn’t let himself wonder if these are the nights she spends with that boy, Rafael’s friend Landon. Instead he finds reasons to avoid his office. He keeps the secret she holds from the boy, the one about his family, and he doesn’t let himself take pleasure in knowing what her boyfriend does not.

“This is the part where you tell me you’re proud of me,” she says over the phone from a secure facility in Georgia, as she prepares to sacrifice herself to save the world.

He can hear her smile and her tears. The phone is lead in his hand.

“You know I’m proud of you,” he whispers. “You know it.”

I trust you more than I trust anyone.

Then Hope is gone. From his bedroom, his memory, his life.

#

The day after his memories return to him, so does she. Hope Mikaelson, not Hope Marshall.

For the first time, Alaric retires to find her already in his room. Already in his bed, peering up at him in the dark. It’s his chance to tell her to leave, for once, before sleep robs him of his sense. He doesn’t take it. He crawls into the other side of the bed and feels relief. He will rest peacefully for the first time since the Malivore pit consumed her.

They fall asleep with a foot of bed between between them, as always.

When he wakes, the sky outside still black, she is tucked into his side.

With Hope’s head on his arm and her leg on his thigh, Alaric is frozen. He prays he is still dreaming. He dreads waking up. He has missed her these long months, longed for her presence even without knowing it, but this is more of her than he knew to wish for. A humiliation of riches.

Even through their clothes, the heat of her body on his is too much. He wants to despise it, wants to recoil, but he can’t move. Her birthday passed while she was in Malivore, he knows. The thought that she is no longer a minor does nothing to quell the contempt that seeps through him as he covers the small hand on his chest with his own.

Hope tenses against him.

She is awake, he realizes. Has been awake.

She just didn’t know he was.

“Hope?”

“Sorry,” she murmurs.

But she doesn’t move away. If anything, she presses closer. She rocks her hips against him.

He grips the hand in his too hard. Endless seconds pass before he finds the wherewithal to speak.

“Hope, what are you doing?”

He can feel her breath through his shirt. “Nothing.”

Nothing, he repeats to himself, his teeth clenched so tightly together that his jaw aches.

They’re doing nothing.

He is doing nothing.

He is not the one who presses Hope’s body into his, first slowly and then faster, her center grinding against his thigh. He is not the one who quickens her breath into short little bursts until she begins to pant into his chest. He’s not the one who turns her movements jerky.

She—she—is the one who lets out a little gasp as she comes against his leg. The one who takes his hand, still clamped around hers, and draws it down between her thighs. The one who curls his shaking fingers around her core through her pajama shorts, showing him how scorching she is.

Alaric resists her grip, but not hard enough to break it.

“Hope, we can’t do this,” he chokes out. He doesn’t meet her eyes. “I can’t do this.”

She rocks into his hand and whispers, “I need you. Please, Ric.”

“You have me. You know that. It doesn’t have to be like this.”

She suckles at the little bit of his shirt by her mouth, inches from his nipple, until the cotton is damp on his skin. “But it is like this. You know it is.”

He remembers the way he looked at her when she was Hope Marshall. When he didn’t remember her. When he knew only that she was too young for him, not that he was the closest thing she’d had to a father for the last two years. Longer. He knows now, but his fingers are still pressed against the hot fabric between her legs.

He turns his face and speaks into her hair. “It’s wrong.”

He has never been a religious man, and he ponders now how long a gap is required between the sinning and the repenting. If he does both at once, is he absolved?

“It’s natural,” Hope says, echoing words he distantly recognizes as his own. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

She moves his hand slowly, slowly up, until she can tuck his fingertips into the stretchy waistband of her shorts. She smells so good he can’t think straight, his nose in her hair. Her skin is so soft he can’t breathe.

His cock, on the other hand, is a heavy rock between his legs. It strains at his pajama pants beneath the covers, and he wonders if she can see it in the shadows. He hopes she can, even as the thought fills him with loathing. 

“It’s okay,” she whispers. He imagines that her voice cracks. Maybe it really does. “Please, Ric.”

It’s just for her, he tells himself, as he dips his fingers into her shorts. He’s just taking care of her, like he always has. Yesterday she needed his crossbow, and today she needs his hand.

That’s all.

He slides his fingers through her folds, and his cock throbs at how wet she is. He ignores it.

“Like this?” he asks.

“More,” comes the breathy reply.

He nudges one slippery digit between her lips, testing the boundary of her body, pressing and letting up without crossing it.

More.”

With a shudder, he slips his finger inside. She is as tight as he imagined—and he realizes now that he has imagined her.

She will break him, he knows. First his finger and then the rest.

Hope wriggles into his hand. Clutches at his shirt. Sighs into his chest. He pushes a second finger into her, and she whimpers as he stretches her. She could take more, he thinks, and grinds the heel of his hand into her clit instead.

She comes with a cry that haunts him. A sweet sigh, after, that settles in his stomach like a stone.

They don’t speak as she catches her breath and he searches for his.

In time, her hand on his chest begins to wander down toward the pulsing, aching tent in the duvet. He pins her wrist to his stomach, his grip too tight, and he holds it there until long after she’s fallen asleep.

The next night, Hope returns.

And the next.

He doesn’t let her touch him. Doesn’t touch her except with his hand.

It’s nothing.

When he sees her at school, she smiles at him. But it isn’t his smile. The one he returns isn’t hers. His bedroom inhabits another world, and if he clenches his fists hard enough he can believe that it’s an imagined one. That he is not really despicable. That he has not really defiled the person he cares for most in the world after his own children.

And if he digs his nails into his palms when he watches her kiss Landon in the hallway—if he slices his skin when he sees her take his hand—he can believe the roaring pit inside him is guilt.