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but still, like dust, i'll rise

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If she’d been thinking it through, maybe she would have taken a plane—fifteen hours in a car was a long time, especially now that she was human again—but she hadn’t been thinking it through, had been doing her best not to think at all, ever since—since—

She pulled up to the curb, turned off the car, yanked out the keys. Inhale, exhale. She couldn’t go there, not now, not when she was seconds away from ruining her life.

She took a few long gulps from her water bottle—laced with vervain and wolfsbane both, of course, she might have been bordering on suicidal but she didn’t have a death wish, and this was the capital of the supernatural world. She should have come here before, been here forever, the doppelganger never stood a chance in the normal world, she’d known Katherine, she’d known she could never be free.

She grabbed her purse from the passenger seat, and pushed open the car door. Her legs trembled when she stepped on the ground—fifteen hours straight of driving, come on, Elena, that really wasn’t the brightest idea—and the world seemed to spin as she came to her feet. She didn’t waver, she’d been drained of blood often enough that she could hold herself upright through basically anything, but she adjusted her priorities nonetheless; food, then Klaus. Klaus could wait.

The thing about vampirism was that hunger always meant bloodlust, and surviving vampirism meant ignoring hunger; just because Elena was human again didn’t mean she’d shaken that habit.

New Orleans was beautiful; even through her own despair and misery, Elena could appreciate the buildings, the shimmer of the sunlight on the streets, the music, sweet and bold, weaving around her like part of the city itself.  She made way for a nearby restaurant; wind chimes rang out as she pushed open the door, and the scents of warm food and spices wafted toward her. She made a beeline for the bar.

A pretty blonde, a few years older than Elena, walked up a moment later. “Welcome!” she said. Her smile didn’t reach her eyes—or maybe that was Elena, projecting her own misery on everyone around her. “How are we doing today?”

Elena inhaled. She was depressed and pissed off, but she didn’t have to be rude. “Not great,” she said. “I’ve been driving for fifteen hours straight, and I only just realized how hungry I am.” She forced herself to laugh. “Could I get an order of whatever fried food you make best?”

The girl smiled, for real this time; her nametag read ‘Cami.’ “Sure thing,” she said, nodding so her ponytail bounced against her neck. As always, Elena attention was drawn to the girl’s jugular, but instead of hunger or desire or even self-loathing, she just felt hollow.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” asked Cami.

“Oh, yeah,” said Elena, “thanks.” She felt like Alaric, suddenly, drinking before noon. Alaric was alive at last, perfectly fine, probably blowing up her phone, leaving messages torn between frustrated concern and guilt-ridden apologies. “I’ll get a bourbon on the rocks, please.”

“That kind of day, huh?” asked the bartender, the corner of her lips turning up. “Well, I can’t really judge you,” she said. “I will need to see your ID, though.”

Elena hadn’t needed an ID since she’d gained the gift of compulsion, but then again, this city was supposed to be vampire central. The bartender was probably on vervain, anyway. She couldn’t blame the woman for doing her job, but she needed that drink.

Elena shifted in her seat, and sighed. No going back now, she supposed. “Do you… happen to know someone named Klaus?” she asked.

Cami went rigid, and then seemed to deflate.

“Yeah,” said Elena, with a wry smile. “Trust me, that’s how I used to react, too.”

“Are you from around here?” asked Cami, frowning, but with her wits about her again. “I had you pegged for a tourist.”

“Not a tourist, a visitor,” corrected Elena. “Klaus’s visitor, to be precise, but he doesn’t know that yet.” She took a deep breath, and met Cami’s eyes. “I’m not twenty-one,” she admitted, “but I can’t deal with him sober.”

“Are you here to kill him?” asked Cami. Despite her earlier reaction, she seemed opposed to the idea.

“No,” said Elena. “Been there, failed at that.”

Cami seemed hesitant. I just lost the love of my life, Elena wanted to shout, and I’m here to offer myself as a blood bag because I had to leave and had nowhere else to go, but she just looked up, trying to plead.

Finally, Cami sighed. “Yeah, okay,” she said, sighing. “It’s not like there’s anyone left to care.”

The old Elena would have been tempted to ask what she meant, what had happened, but this Elena couldn’t bring herself to care. She accepted the drink with a murmured “thank you”, and relished in the burning at the back of her throat. Her food arrived a few minutes later—she was pretty confident that it was fried chicken—and she gestured for a refill, which Cami granted with a tight smile.

A few minutes later, the wind chimes rang out again, and a voice—a voice that still haunted her nightmares, sometimes—called out, “Where is she, then?”

Elena swallowed the remainder of her glass, and the spun on her stool to meet Klaus’s wild gaze.

Klaus seemed to freeze, not blinking, not breathing, just staring. After a lifetime, he swallowed.

“Elena Gilbert,” he said at last, and Elena pursed her lips in acknowledgment. “I must admit, love, you are the very last person I expected to see here.”

“Who did you expect?” she asked.

“Well, sweetheart,” said Klaus, striding forward to lean on the bar next to her, “I received a call from the lovely Camille, saying that I had a visitor, a girl, who’d decided to drink away her woes before seeing me.”

“You thought I was Caroline?” asked Elena, smiling despite herself.

Klaus scoffed. “In what world would I greet our dear Caroline so harshly?” he asked. Cami brought out another drink, and Elena had started to reach for it when Klaus snatched it and took a long gulp. Cami sighed, then poured out another drink for Elena, which she accepted gratefully. “Truth be told,” he continued, after a minute of pondering, “I rather thought it might be the Bennett witch, here to beg for help with this so-called disintegration of the Other—

Elena’s glass shattered across the floor, and she realized that her hand was still trembling. Klaus shot her a sharp look.

“Bonnie’s dead,” said Elena, choking on the words as she forced them out. “Dead for good, there is no more other side, everyone who was there either found peace or is—gone, destroyed—I barely made it back to this side in time, Damon—“

She couldn’t make herself say it, but she knew Klaus understood from his sharp intake of breath. “Stefan?” he asked, his voice low, and then: “Caroline?”

“Alive,” Elena confirmed. “Stefan died for a bit, but he came back.”

“And how exactly did you make it back from the realm of the dead?” asked Klaus.

Elena sighed. “There was—a spell,” she said, and accepted yet another drink. “It weakened Bonnie so that we could pass through—our witch stopped chanting just before they could—“

Klaus sighed, and sank into the chair next to her, taking another long gulp. “Well,” he said at last. “I’m sorry for your loss, sweetheart—more sorry than I’d usually be—but I don’t see what any of that has to do with me.” He swirled the contents of his glass. “If it were Elijah you were here for, I might understand, but—“

Elena forced the words out before she could have second thought. “I came back from the dead, but I didn’t come back a vampire,” she blurted out, and then knocked back what was left of her drink.

Klaus slammed his glass down with such force that Elena started, and then looked up at her. “What did you say?” he asked.

“I came back human,” she whispered, her eyes burning. She refused to cry, though, not again, and especially not here.

Klaus stared at her, and then shook his head. “And you came to me—“

“Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted?” asked Elena, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “Your doppelganger, your human doppelganger, with an endless supply of blood and no plans to run away and no Salvatore brother to try and rescue her?”

Klaus’s lips parted. He was almost snarling. “I don’t recall you ever being invested in me getting what I want, love.”

“I can’t be in Mystic Falls,” said Elena, her voice breaking. “I just can’t, and even if I wanted to, it’s controlled by travellers now, travellers who have spent the last few months collecting my doppelganger blood, and if I leave Mystic Falls, I get chased by witches who keep trying to kill me so that the travellers can’t use my doppelganger blood, Damon’s gone, Stefan’s—not Stefan, not anymore, Bonnie’s gone, and I’m not even a vampire anymore.” She sucked in a deep breath, and realized that Klaus was still there, staring at her intently. She’d half-expected him to be gone. “I’m not safe,” she said, “not anywhere, not anymore.”

“You’ve come to make a deal,” said Klaus, sitting back on his stool. He raised his glass at Cami, and then gestured to Elena’s as well. “I’ll pick up her tab, love,” he called after her, and then looked back at Elena.

“Not a deal,” said Elena.

Klaus blinked, and then smirked. “No?”

“You aren’t going to kill anyone I love,” said Elena, “and don’t tell me I’m making demands, because you were never going to. You won’t kill Caroline, not ever—you won’t kill Stefan, or Jeremy, or Matt—you probably won’t even kill Tyler, not unless he threatens you again, and I can live with that.”

“Then what do you want from me?” asked Klaus, accepting another drink.

Elena accepted hers as well. She’d had more than was smart, especially considering the time, but it didn’t matter.

“I don’t want anything from you that you don’t want to give me,” she told him. “I want what you’ve always wanted from me. I want to stay here, with you, give you my doppelganger blood whenever you want it as long as you protect me from everyone else who’s after it as well.”

Klaus was still smirking, but it seemed somewhat tame, now. “What about wanting to live your life?” he asked. “To stay in your home?”

“What home?” asked Elena, and then took another long drink. “What life?”

“Do I have to worry about you killing yourself on me?” asked Klaus, his voice tinged with amusement.

Elena scowled at him. “I’ve never wanted to die,” she told him. “Given the choice, I’d rather it be me that die than the people I love, but it’s too late for that, isn’t it.”

Klaus grinned, looked down at his drink, and then looked up, his expression sober. “Well,” he told her, holding up his glass. “Welcome to New Orleans.”

She touched her glass to his, and drained it in one gulp.

 

. . .

 

Never, in the year and a half since she’d met Klaus, and with the possible exception of the night of the sacrifice, had he been this polite to her. Polite was the only way to describe him, though; he’d paid for her food and drinks, held open the door for her, grabbed her bag from her trunk and carried it for her, held out a hand to stabilize her when she stumbled.

“…once we get to the compound, you can get me your account information, and I’ll send someone to return the car to the airport,” Klaus was saying.

“What are you talking about? That’s not a rental car,” said Elena. “Didn’t you look at the license plate?”

Klaus paused, and then groaned. “Please,” he said, “please tell me you stopped somewhere for the night, and did not drive for fifteen hours straight in your condition.”

“You mean humanity?” asked Elena.

Klaus rolled his eyes. “Rule number one,” he said, starting up the walking again, “you are not going to ruin our deal by getting into a stupid car accident and wasting your precious blood all over leather seats and highways.”

There was a part of Elena that wanted to tell him he couldn’t set rules, but there was a much greater part of her that didn’t care, that just wanted a needle in her arm and a bottle in her hand and to never have to think about anything ever again.

“I told you, it isn’t a deal,” she said. She was glad it was Klaus she was with, though, because making petty barter with Klaus was a lot easier than dealing with Caroline’s coddling or Stefan’s resentment or Alaric’s misguided attempts to parent. “It’s an understanding. Which, by the way, you should probably warn Rebekah about, because I really can’t remember whether she wants to kill me at the moment.”

“Ah,” said Klaus, his pace slowing. “Well. That won’t be a problem, seeing as Rebekah is no longer with us.”

Elena stopped cold, her breath hitching in her throat. “No longer with us?” she repeated. It was only Rebekah, but—

“Oh, no, Elena, no, she’s perfectly fine,” said Klaus, the words rushing out faster than they should have. “She left New Orleans… months ago. She’s alive.”

Elena could hardly hear him over the sound of her heart pounding against her ribcage, but she heard him. She reached out a hand to find a wall and steady herself, and felt Klaus clutch her elbow. She focused, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, and finally, pulled away.

“Sorry,” she said. “I guess I’m drunker than I thought.”

“Poor choice of words on my part, as well,” said Klaus, a half-hearted laugh in his voice. “It’s no matter, we’re almost there.”

After a year of reluctant visits to Klaus’s Mystic Falls mansion, the compound was not what she’d expected. There was no sign of the regal carpets and shimmering staircases she’d grown to expect, and where there had usually been silence, loneliness, or tense civility, there was—

“Wow,” said Elena, staring at the bodies strewn across the floor of the compound. “You’ve been having fun.”

Klaus groaned. “Hayley!” He strode forward. “Hayley, where are you—“

Elena blinked. “Hayley?” she asked. “As in, Tyler’s werewolf friend?” She remembered the girl, but she more clearly remembered her betrayal, how that had led to the second sacrifice, how Klaus—she pressed her eyes closed. It was too late for her to remember the array of reasons she had to hate Klaus. And she’d wanted this.

She opened her eyes to see Klaus turning around, eyes wide. He took a deep breath.

“There’s a lot for me to catch you up on,” he told her, as she noticed the clear vampire bite marks in one of the bodies’ throats.

She met his eyes. “Yeah,” she said. “A lot.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Once Klaus has given her the shorthand of what happened (which, wow. Klaus had a baby? Hayley was a hybrid? Klaus’s mother was still interfering? Elena had a fair number of memories of Esther, most of which were defined by paralyzing fear, all of which were still tinged with all-consuming loathing over what the woman had done to Alaric), Elena wasn’t sure what to say.

“Surprised you took me up on my offer,” she said, trying to inject humor into the inflection of her voice, “now that you can make hybrids without me.”

“The baby died,” Klaus said shortly. Elena blinked, inhaled, her mind flashing back to the time Jeremy had killed Kol, to Klaus’s terrifying, unhinged rage. This Klaus wasn’t like that, though; he seemed bitter and resentful, but still sane, or as sane as Klaus got.

She wasn’t totally convinced that Klaus was telling the entire truth, but it wasn’t like she could call him out on her suspicions, so she just said, “Oh. I’m sorry.”

Klaus closed his eyes for a second. “You don’t believe me, do you?” he said, and Elena was reminded for a second of how well she and Klaus actually knew each other, despite everything, of how many times she had bargained with him, hurt him, been hurt by him, of the time she’d threatened to kill herself to keep Alaric from killing him, of threatening him and conspiring against him and conspiring with him, and how Klaus had known her face for a thousand years and a thousand years of her ancestry had bred a knowledge and fear of Klaus into her very veins.

“I don’t believe you’re telling me the whole story,” Elena settled on saying, keeping her gaze steady until her met her eyes. “You don’t have to, though. It’s fine.”

She thought she was telling the truth—after all, it wasn’t like she was all that invested in Original family drama—but she knew she was lying the moment she said it, and she could tell that he knew too. Her heart drummed painfully against her ribcage. How dare he fake grief to me, of all people?

“It’s a dangerous story to know,” Klaus said.

Elena pursed her lips. “I’ve got vervain in my system right now,” she told him, “but once it’s out, you can compel me not to talk about it.”

Two years ago, it would have been a meaningless offer, and Klaus would have laughed in her face. You think you can bargain with me? he would have said. I could drain the vervain from your bloodstream and compel you to do anything I like and you’d be powerless to stop me. But this isn’t two years ago, and the both of them are on shaky ground, their new relationship entirely defined by the construct of an understanding.

Klaus nodded, and Elena knew he was agreeing to the plan. “About the vervain, though,” he said. “Obviously I can’t use vervain-laced blood to make hybrids.”

“I’ve got wolfsbane in me now too,” Elena told him, and he shot her a look, like, really? “I didn’t know how long it would take me to find you,” she said, “and frankly, until I did, I was a walking target. It would have been a death wish to stroll the streets unprotected.”

“I’m surprised you can stomach wolfsbane,” Klaus said, which was not at all what she was expecting. “Most humans find it makes them ill—not the way it affects wolves, of course, but enough for an upset stomach, maybe even a slight fever.”

“I think we both know that when it comes to the supernatural, I’m not most humans,” Elena said, and Klaus’s lips quirked up into a slight smirk. “I don’t know. Maybe doppelgangers are just built for survival.”

“Ironic,” Klaus said, “seeing as you’re supposed to be born to die.”

Elena once would have taken offense, but the fact was that he was right, in a morbid way. “I think Katherine proved that wrong,” Elena said. “She kind of turned survival into an art form.”

She couldn’t keep the resentment out of her voice, and Klaus’s gaze turned appreciative.

“I don’t have to tell you that this isn’t a safe city to be in,” Klaus said, walking towards her. “Apart from me needing your blood clean, wolfsbane and vervain aren’t terrible ideas.”

“So we set up a weekly time,” she said, “and I make sure I don’t drink either within the 48 hours before that time. I can just wear my necklace.”

Klaus studied her. “And you have to know that, wolfsbane or not, I’m keeping you locked up in the most secure place I can find every full moon.”

“As long as it’s not a circle of flame, I think I can handle that,” she told him, and he actually laughed, the sound both startled and delighted.

“No flames, love, I promise,” he told her, grinning. “Just bricks and bolts and a monster who's hunted you for a millennium.”

He stepped back, perched up on the stairs, and held out his hand to her, palm facing upwards. They’d been here before, and she knew they were both caught between the present and the past. She could see dead bodies in her peripheral vision, could still hear his voice telling her, It’s time.

She took his hand. “I like my chances,” she said, feeling a real smile tingling behind her lips for the first time, here, play-acting with her would-be killer.

He grabbed her suitcase again, and led her up the stairs.

. . .

Klaus offered to hire (compel, more likely) someone to unpack Elena’s stuff for her, and Elena was tempted to say yes (she once would have said no, just on principle, but now Elena had been a vampire, and more than that, she didn’t really care anymore), except that she only had one suitcase, mostly just full of clothes, and that was hardly reason enough to bring in help.

Klaus sighed, and then lay the bag down on the bed, unzipping it and opening it. All of her clothes were neatly folded, and there were a couple of books, a folder of photos Elena might frame when she could bear to look at them, a makeup bag, her laptop, and not much else.

Klaus gave her a look. “You up and moved across the country and this is all you packed?” he asked her.

Elena shrugged. “Remember that whole thing when I turned off my emotions and burned down my house?”

Klaus nodded. She could tell he was fighting a smile.

“I never exactly refurnished,” she told him. “Jer and I just kind of moved into the boarding house, and then I lived in a college dorm. I wasn’t exactly that attached to anything yet.”

Klaus nodded, then frowned. “Didn’t, er, ‘that whole thing’ happen because your brother was dead?”

“He came back,” Elena said. It was her turn to frown. “I thought you’d been keeping tabs on Mystic Falls.”

“Your brother was never particularly high on my priority list,” said Klaus. “Especially not after that bargain of ours.”

Elena had almost forgotten. “The life of my sister in exchange for your brother? Yeah, I’d say that’s a bargain. She wasn’t sure how to reply, so she grabbed a pile of clothes out of the bag. Klaus moved to do the same.

“No,” Elena said, firm as she could. Klaus shot her a questioning look. “You’ve already been way too decent to me today,” she told him. “If you start helping me unpack then it will become genuinely creepy.”

Klaus smiled at her. “Very well, love,” he said. “I’ll leave you to it, then.” He moved toward the door, and then paused. “Be sure to come find me once you’re done. We have a lot to discuss.” Just like that, he was gone.

Elena inhaled, then exhaled, then looked around. The room looked nothing like her old bedroom or her dorm room, to her infinite relief. It was nice and spacious, with a big bed and a wooden desk and some empty bookshelves. She was also glad that it was only on the second floor; she was human again, and scaling staircases was no longer a thoughtless task.

She wasn’t sure what she had expected. A tiny room at the highest part of the compound, like a princess in a tower, held captive by a wicked monster? Klaus may have been wicked and monstrous, but he wasn’t holding her captive—at least not yet. Elena had told him she was willing to “stay here”, but she hadn’t specified for how long, and if she decided one day that she wanted to leave she wasn’t so sure he would let her.

The thought should have bothered her more, but it didn’t.

She knew what Klaus was, and she knew what she had gotten herself into. This wasn’t Stefan and—her friends, stepping all over her free will to keep her safe without her consent. Klaus may have tried to take her against her will before, but this time she’d offered herself, proposed the agreement, and that made all the difference.

Klaus would do his best to keep her safe against every other supernatural faction who was after her—and Klaus’s best was a hell of a lot better than anyone else’s. Klaus wouldn't pester her to go to school, or get a job, or do something with her life, or to move on. It was pretty clear that Klaus wasn’t going to set out to make her life miserable—but even if he had, she’d known Elijah was here too, that he wouldn’t let Klaus torment her.

She was born because of Mikaelson family drama, after all. She was destined to never escape it. This, at least, was on her terms.

She finished packing up her stuff, but she didn’t go downstairs yet, just sat in her desk chair and stared at a photo of her and Caroline—no Bonnie.

For the first time since she’d taken off in her car, she checked her phone.

Thirty-eight missed calls, countless texts from Caroline and Alaric and Jeremy and Matt and even Tyler. God, she’d only been gone for sixteen hours.

She didn’t read any of the texts or listen to the messages. She just hit Caroline’s number and waited.

Caroline picked up halfway through the first ring. “Elena!” she exclaimed. “Oh my God, Elena, where have you been? I’ve been searching all over for you, I’ve got people tearing Mystic Falls apart looking for you—“

“I’m fine, Care,” said Elena, smiling so that her voice sounded warm, even though she didn’t feel warm at all. “I’m sorry I worried you.”

“Seriously, where are you? Do you need me to come pick you up? Please tell me you just went on a road trip to clear your mind, or something, please say you didn’t do anything drastic.”

“I went on a road trip, yeah,” said Elena. She looked down at the picture of Caroline.

She’d called Caroline because Caroline was her best friend, yes, but she’d also called Caroline because Caroline had slept with Klaus, had always had a connection to Klaus, and was probably the only person who wouldn’t rip open Elena’s throat for what she had done.

“Well?” said Caroline. “Where are you?”

Elena took a deep breath. “I’m in New Orleans,” she said, and braced herself for a reaction.

There was a minute-long pause. Elena didn’t even hear Caroline breathe.

“What,” said Caroline.

“I needed to get away,” said Elena, desperately hoping Caroline would understand. “I couldn’t—I couldn’t be home anymore, and everywhere I go, someone is bound to come looking for doppelganger blood, or to come kill me so that no one can get doppelganger blood—the only person who could even hope to keep me safe was Klaus.”

“And Klaus is just, what, your new bodyguard?” asked Caroline. “You’re not me, Elena—no offense—since when does Klaus care one way or another about protecting you?”

“Since I’m human again,” said Elena.

Another silence, then: “Ahhhhh.”

“Yeah.” Elena shot a look at the door. Klaus could probably hear them both if he was trying, but what did it matter? Even if he was eavesdropping, she wasn’t saying anything illicit.

“So we’ve come to an understanding,” said Elena. “I’ve got my escape from Mystic Falls, and I’m not running or fighting for my life, or putting any of you guys in danger by just being around, and Klaus has willing access to my blood.”

Caroline’s breath hitched, and Elena knew she was hesitating about what to say. “But what about—now you just want an escape, but in a few months, a few years, what happens if you want to end the agreement? Elena, you’re throwing away your life—“

“I’m pretty sure that if I decide I want to go back to school, Klaus will let me take classes at Tulane,” said Elena, forcing herself to laugh. “He might compel some bodyguards in with me as well, or not let me go on the day full moon, or something. I’m not a damsel in the tower, Caroline, and I know what I got myself into.”

She was expected another protest, but Caroline sighed. “At least you’re safe,” she said. “I guess I can’t really blame you.”

“You…can’t?”

Caroline hummed. “I’m not sure I’m going back to Whitmore, either,” she said. “I’m not sure I can deal, not without—I just don’t know. I’ll probably go back, but… I mean, I’m just glad you’re not, I don’t know, planning to kill yourself or something.”

“My current plans are to drink a lot of bourbon and eat a lot of gumbo,” Elena told her.

Caroline laughed. “Please, you’re not Alaric. You’ll be back to tequila in no time.” She paused, and then, “Maybe I’ll visit for spring break.”

Elena laughed too, just a little. “I think you’d be welcome,” she said. “Sorry for worrying you, Care. I promise I won’t go quiet.”

“You’d better not,” Caroline told her.

Elena put down the phone, looked back down at the picture, and resolved to get it framed as soon as possible.

She knew Klaus wanted to talk, but she’d been in the car for fifteen hours. She took a shower in the ensuite bathroom, towel-dried her hair until it wasn’t dripping, and pulled on a pale pink sundress. She wasn’t exactly going to put on makeup for Klaus, but the bags under her eyes were downright embarrassing, and it was one thing for Klaus to know she was grieving and heartbroken, and another for him to see it. She put on a little concealer, yanked a brush through her damp hair, and headed towards the door.

She heard the doors to the compound open and froze, then heard Elijah’s familiar tones, and relaxed.

“The Guerrera wolves—“ Elijah was saying as Elena stepped on the top step of the stairs. He stopped short, and stared up at her outright, not bothering to disguise his shock at seeing her there. His eyes travelled from Elena, to Klaus, to Elena again, and the settled back on Klaus.

“Explain,” he said, in a tight voice.

“Elijah,” Elena said simply, running down the stairs, and then stopping when Klaus stepped forward. She knew this looked bad, but she couldn’t tell which extreme Elijah was imagining: that Klaus had kidnapped Elena and locked her up, that Klaus and Elena had somehow started shacking up since he’d seen his brother (as if), or that Klaus had located some other doppelganger for reasons diabolical yet unknown.

“Ah, yes, brother,” said Klaus. Elena couldn’t see his face, but she could hear his grin. “It seems there has been a new development in the saga of—“

Elena rolled her eyes. “I drove down from Virginia,” she said bluntly. Klaus shot her a look of betrayal for interrupting his dramatics, but Elena ignored him, making her way down the stairs and stepping up to Elijah.

Elijah’s eyes were less harsh, but more perplexed. “Surely you didn’t just drive down for a visit,” he said. “Is something wrong in Mystic Falls? Have you come to ask for help?”

The answer to both questions was yes, of course, but not the way he was thinking.

Elena took a deep breath, but before she could speak, Klaus cut in.

“You’re right, brother,” he said, stepping forward and slinging his arm around Elena’s shoulders. “She’s not here for a visit. She’s here for good.”

Elena rolled her eyes again, and Klaus shot her a look.

“Your shoulders are far too bony,” he told her. “You were already too thin to begin with. You can’t start losing more weight, love, it’ll mess with your blood sugar.”

Elena glared sideways at Klaus, and Elijah inhaled, then said: “You’re human.”

Elena slipped out from under Klaus’s arm, took another step towards Elijah. “It’s a long story, but yes.” Elijah looked at her as though to say, I need more of an explanation than that, and Elena sighed. “Short answer, I, um, died.”

“You died,” said Elijah, looking her up and down.

“Yeah,” said Elena. “I mean, it happens to me a lot, let’s be honest. First there was the time your brother killed me—“

“It wasn’t personal,” Klaus interjected.

Elena was growing very used to ignoring him. “Then I died and became a vampire, and most recently, I died—“ she’d been all set to say it, but the words choked up in her throat, and she barely gritted out, “and, Other Side being weakened and all, I came back, but, you know, human.”

Elijah narrowed his eyes at her. “How did you die the third time?”

Elena took a deep breath, paused, and then said, “Oh, well, I blew up the Grill to kill a group of Travellers. Not all, but a lot of them. I knew I was going to come back, though. It wasn’t—wasn’t a big deal, it had to be done.”

“I see,” said Elijah, and Elena braced herself for an onslaught of sarcasm. “Naturally, as soon as your humanity is returned to you, you immediately come and offer your blood supply to my brother. I’m sure none of your friends had anything to say about that, not, for example, a certain Salvatore brother—“

Klaus—thank god—didn’t try to comfort her, or stop Elijah’s words, or make any fake attempt at acting like they were friends, but she saw him still in her peripheral vision before she’d even registered the words herself. As soon as she did, she went rigid, stepping back a little bit.

“You’re right, he didn’t have anything to say,” she spat out. “Because he’s dead.” It was Elijah’s turn to still, and Elena forced her body to relax, forced herself to act like she wasn’t falling apart. “Damon set off the explosion for me, but he didn’t make it back, and then the Other Side disintegrated, so he and Bonnie are both dead for good.” The words seemed to come out of her mouth as though her body and her brain were not attached. She refused to feel. “I came back, but I came back human, and I had to leave Mystic Falls. I couldn’t stay after what happened.” She felt herself shrug, casual, unaffected. “The only thing more dangerous to be than a doppelganger is a human doppelganger, and despite everything that happened, I didn’t want to be a dead doppelganger.” She looked over at Klaus, and then back at Elijah. “It made sense.”

She stood still, waiting for Elijah to react. When he stepped forward, and said “Elena”, she held up a hand.

“If I wanted pity and coddling, I’d have moved back in with Caroline,” she said. “So just don’t.”

Elijah nodded. “Very well,” he said. “Then I suppose, despite the circumstances, it’s good to see you again.”

“Good to see who again?” came a female voice. Elena looked up at a balcony. Hayley was there, and then a second later she was standing on the ground floor next to them.

“Oh, good, we’re all here, then,” said Klaus. “Hayley, you remember Elena. She’ll be living in the compound starting today. Also, she’s human again.”

“Why?” asked Hayley, crossing her arms, and Elena was pretty sure she was asking after the first statement, rather than the second.

“Everyone died,” deadpanned Elena, sick by now of explaining herself. “I needed a fresh start.”

Hayley shrugged. “Fair enough.”

“Furthermore, the return of her humanity means Elena’s blood can now make hybrids, giving us a way to both bring your pack back to our side, and to build our own army.”

“You’re not turning my pack members against their will,” said Hayley, sounding almost bored, as though they’d had this argument before.

Klaus shrugged. “All right, we can turn Guerrera wolves, and either sire them to me or compel them to do what I say. I’m not particular.”

“Maybe if you sire a Guerrera wolf, you can find that white oak stake of yours,” said Hayley, stepping forward, arms still crossed.

Elena looked over at Klaus. “Your enemies have the white oak stake?”

“Don’t get any ideas, love,” said Klaus, walking back towards the staircase.

“We think they have the stake,” said Elijah, stepping towards her, taking on the explaining voice she’d grown so accustomed to back when they were planning Klaus’s death together. “We aren’t certain. However, they have in their possessions rings, which allow them to drain Niklaus’s power during the full moon and take it for themselves, all the while retaining their human form and mind, which makes the need to recover it all the more pressing.”

“Well, how long would they have had it for?” she demanded.

“A few months,” Elijah replied.

Elena laughed.

“What do you find so humorous about this?” growled Klaus, and Elena thanked her lucky stars that she had her humanity back and therefore a free pass for Klaus not to kill her.

“They don’t have the stake,” said Elena.

Elijah stepped toward her again. “How do you know this?”

Elena met his eyes, and then looked back at Klaus. “Do you remember when we had a bunch of white oak stakes, back when we were trying to kill you?”

“I’m not sure why you’re reminding me of your many attempts on my life, but yes,” said Klaus.

“We tried to kill you at literally every single opportunity,” she said. “One stake, twelve stakes, back when we thought the dagger would kill Elijah personally, we were so high on the idea of having a super weapon that we never waited, and besides the weapon we never had any particular jump or advantage over you. If these werewolves have the stake, and you’re extra vulnerable on the full moon, there’s no way they wouldn't have attacked yet.”

Everyone was quiet for a second, and it occurred to Elena that she’d been here for maybe three hours and she was already neck deep in Mikaelson family drama.

“She’s right,” said Elijah. “They would have attacked by now if they had the stake, or at least taunted us about it.”

“So we could kill them now?” said Hayley. There was longing in her voice.

“We can kill them tonight,” said Elijah.

. . .

It was pretty par for the course that Elena was already participating in a supernatural power play, having been in a new city for nine. hours.

To be fair, she didn’t really have a part in the play. Whatever training she’d had from Alaric back when Stefan had turned off his humanity, she’d never learned to fight wolves. Klaus had been right about her losing weight, too; remembering to eat had been a struggle, since—she had definitely lost some weight, and was definitely not on the strong side for a human.

Besides, Klaus had told her in no uncertain terms that she was going to sit in her barricaded room until it was all over, and then proceeded to barricade her in her room, albeit with a number of weapons if the worst happened. When Stefan and—when her friends had done things like this, she’d been furious, but the whole point of this arrangement was for Klaus to keep her safe, and it wasn’t although she was particularly invested in this whole War for the French Quarter.

They were victorious, of course. Klaus laughed and made broad proclamations about vanquishing all his enemies, and opened a bottle of champagne (Elena made sure not to comment on the blood staining his hands and spilling over his canvas). Hayley didn’t want any part of it—Elena wasn’t sure why, but she knew not to press her, knew what torment looked like and felt like and knew it wasn’t her place to butt in—and Elijah tore after her with a murmur.

In the morning, Elena came downstairs to Elijah and Klaus burning those rings. Klaus was uncharacteristically morose, Elijah was, well, Elijah.

Elena overheard something suggesting Klaus’s child wasn’t dead—confirming her suspicions—but she trusted Klaus to keep his word. She’d know the truth soon enough.

She found her way to the kitchen. The fridge was surprisingly stocked—she couldn’t imagine Klaus and Elijah grocery shopping, so maybe they just had a standing order, and hadn’t ever canceled it, not even when Hayley turned. It didn’t matter. She put some coffee on, started to cook. She’d never really cooked as a vampire, and she’d forgotten how satisfying the crack of the eggs and sizzle of the toast was.

“You’re cooking,” came Klaus’s voice from the doorway. Elena didn’t look over at him—she didn’t want to burn anything—but she made a humming sound in response. “French toast?” he asked.

“You told me I needed to put on weight,” she said, and then, flipping the bread onto her plate, looked up at him. “I can be agreeable, you know.”

“I wouldn’t know, actually,” he said, smiling.

Elena dropped another slice of bread into the pan. “Do you want any?” she asked. “I cracked some extra eggs, just in case.”

“Why not?” Klaus opened the cabinet next to her, took out two mugs, poured the coffee, and brought it over to the table. A couple of minutes later, Elena brought over the plates.

“Why are you smiling at me like that?” she asked him.

Klaus just grinned. “I’m enjoying the moment,” he told her. “It’s not every day the doppelganger you once sacrificed cooks you breakfast.”

“It’s not every day the hybrid who sacrificed you asks if you take cream or sugar,” Elena retorted, taking a seat. She drowned her toast in a fattening amount of maple syrup, then met Klaus’ eyes. “And you’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

Despite having been in the compound for a few days, Elena still hadn’t seen much of Elijah beyond that first day. So when he burst into her room with a bottle of scotch and two glasses, she just raised an eyebrow, not entirely sure what to think.

“Morning to you too,” she said. She glanced down at the bottle, and then met his eyes again. “Let me guess,” she said, closing her book. “Your brother’s driven you to day-drinking.”

He offered her a wry smile that did not meet his eyes. “Can’t I just be here to catch up over a drink?”

“It’s eleven in the morning,” she rejoined, standing up. “If you just wanted to catch up over a drink, that drink would be coffee.” She grabbed the bottle out of his hand. “Lucky for you, though, I have recently discovered the merits of day-drinking, so I will take you up on your offer.” She twisted open the bottle.

Elijah took it from her, poured the drinks into the glasses he held between his fingers with vampire balance and precision, and handed her the glass. She accepted it gratefully, then sunk into one of the large cushioned chairs. Elijah did the same.

“So,” said Elena. Other than the brief encounters they’d had over the week, Elena hadn’t really seen Elijah since her humanity had been off, the time she’d pretended to be Katherine and kissed him. “Are you actually here to catch up, or are you here to rant about Klaus?”

Elijah’s lips quirked upwards. “I’m not here to complain about my brother, Elena.”

“Oh, good,” she said. “Once you’ve heard one of your Klaus-rants, you’ve kinda heard them all.”

Elijah took a sip, ignoring her statement. “How are you, Elena?” he asked. “How have you been? I haven’t seen you since—“

“I had my humanity turned off and pretended to be your girlfriend, who had killed my brother?” Elijah gave a small nod, and Elena took a drink. “Well, things got a little better, then way worse, as they tend to do. Jeremy came back to life, though, so that’s all good.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said Elijah. “And I know you do not want my pity, but you have my deepest condolences over your recent loss.”

“Losses,” Elena said, before she could help herself. She was heartbroken over—but she was equally destroyed over both of their deaths, and she couldn’t let one of them take precedence over the other. “Bonnie, too.”

“Ah, yes, Miss Bennett.” He swirled the contents of his glass. “I’m very sorry.”

Elena couldn’t tell him it was fine, couldn’t really bear to even thank him, so she just nodded. “Anyway,” she said, and then took a long gulp while thinking of something to say, “it’s always drama back home, so you missed lots, but nothing really all that relevant.” She paused, looking for something interesting to say. “I met the original doppelganger.”

Elijah froze. “Tatia?” he said, barely even a whisper.

“Nope,” said Elena, with a small smile. “Apparently she wasn’t the first. There was already a doppelganger curse in place a thousand years before Tatia, we just didn’t have the whole sacrifice, hybrid-making blood situation in play.” Elena met his gaze. “Silas’s girlfriend,” she said. “Her name was Amara. She had the same immortality thing as Silas, but she took the cure and found peace with him, I think.”

Elijah didn’t say anything, but his eyes were looked at her, rapt. It occurred to Elena that, even though she generally thought of her doppelganger heritage as mainly affecting her and Klaus (not Stefan, not really, they might have both been doppelgangers but he and his own were never bound together they way hers were), but of course Elijah had loved Tatia too, had loved Katherine, could maybe have loved her, had life worked out a little differently. Her legacy ran just as deeply in his veins.

“She was a traveller,” said Elena, trying to sound like she was telling a story, rather than throwing around incoherent facts about her genetic identical. “Or, well, she was a handmaiden among the travellers, Quetsiyah’s handmaiden, to be precise. Quetsiyah used her to create the other side, made her the original anchor.” She offered Elijah a wry grin. “Apparently my DNA’s really good for enacting millennium-long supernatural curses.”

“Travellers,” said Elijah, as though weighing the word.

“Yeah,” said Elena. “They’re—“

“I have, in fact, encountered Travellers before,” said Elijah. “Of course, I had no idea that they were in any way tied to our… history.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda weird,” said Elena. “I dunno, though. Turns out Katherine’s father was a traveller, too, so when she turned human again she was able to learn the skill.” Elena frowned, had some of her drink. “I guess that makes sense, we’re all one bloodline.” She drank more. “You know, I never thought about this, being a vampire, but I’ve probably got that gene too, come to think of it.”

“Do you want to develop it?” asked Elijah, sounding very careful.

Elena laughed. “Oh, God, no,” she said. “I wouldn’t—I would never want to possess someone else’s body.” She didn’t speak for a moment, then came to a decision. “Right before Katherine died, she jumped into my body.”

“What?” asked Elijah.

Elena took a deep breath, and stared intently at her glass. “Yeah,” she said, voice quiet. “The only way she could survive was to body jump, and, well, why jump into some stranger’s body when she could just get her vampire body back?” She bit her lip. “It was a few months before the others realized, and we finally got her out.”

“Elena, that’s terrible,” said Elijah, leaning forward a little.

Elena held out her glass for a refill. “Yeah, it sucked, but, hey, I got my body back eventually. I was mad about it for a while, but no point sulking about it.”

“I suppose you have a point,” said Elijah, pouring scotch into both of their empty glasses. “After all, if you chose to sulk over your losses the way, say, my brother does, you’d hardly be able to do anything at all.”

Elena forced herself to smile. “Thank you for acknowledging my superior coping methods,” she said. “But I don’t really think your praise is applicable anymore.”

Elijah studied her. Finally, he said: “If Niklaus were in your place, everyone around him would be long dead. I think you’re doing just fine.”

. . .

“Wear something nice,” said Klaus, barging into her room without knocking. Elena looked up from her book, but stayed in her chair. The bottle of scotch stood, half-empty, on the floor.

“Where are we going?” she asked, then bit her lip. “Or are you hosting someone?”

Klaus sat in the chair across from her, where Elijah had been stationed earlier. “I,” he said, with a grin, “am planning to pay a visit to a certain upstart little witch.”

“The one making the moonlight rings,” said Elena. “Sure, okay.” She paused, shifted in her seat. “Why are you bringing me?”

“Well, sweetheart,” said Klaus, pulling his chair forward to grab the bottle of scotch, “Hayley is on her own mission tonight, strengthening ties with the Crescent wolf pack, and dear Elijah is off running god knows what errands on the other side of the river. And,” he said, pouring himself Elijah’s glass, “since both of those missions could turn very ugly, very fast, while my meeting is taking place under a white flag, I’m on babysitting duty tonight.”

Elena watched him fill up her glass, and accepted it when he handed it over. “Don’t trust me alone in the compound?” she asked, even though she wasn’t really offended.

Klaus winked at her. “Don’t trust the compound alone with you, love,” he said.

Elena took a long drink from her glass. “So,” she said, after a minute, “I guess you’re here to brief me.”

“Glad we’re on the same page,” Klaus told her, with a grin. He swirled around the contents of his glass. “The witch in question is a teenage girl, one of the Harvest sacrifices—“

“Harvest?” asked Elena. “Wait, a sacrifice?”

“Not feeling so special anymore?” Klaus teased. “It’s a tradition of the French Quarter witches, sacrifice four young chosen ones, let their power flow into the earth and back into the coven, and then, ancestors willing, resurrect the girls to be hailed as martyrs.” He took a sip. “’Course, it doesn’t always work out so well when you fail to tell the sacrifices you’ll be killing them until they see one of their sisters have their throat sliced open, but, all’s well that ends well.”

“Hang on,” said Elena. There was a buzzing in her ears, in her mind, something that wasn’t to do with the alcohol at all. “They didn’t know they were going to be sacrificed?”

“Makes you grateful for my merciful ways, doesn’t it?” asked Klaus, with a smirk.

“Yeah, actually,” said Elena. Klaus raised an eyebrow. “I willingly agreed to die,” she said, measuring the words, not sure how to put this sudden flare of horror into words. “And sure, I knew I was probably going to come back to life, or come back as a vampire, whichever one of my friends’ plans worked, but—I knew what I was doing. And if I’d died for real, it would have been my choice.”

Klaus’s lips flattened into a line. “You can’t think I would have given you a choice had you refused me.”

“I had a choice,” Elena shot back at him, gripping her glass too tight. “I could have pulled a Katherine, run as fast and as far as I could and let you hunt down everyone I loved, or I could surrender. I may not have had great options, but I had a choice. And I knew what my choice was.” She realized her hand was trembling, and she willed it to still. “I already could barely cope with the surprises I did get that night,” she told him, refusing to voice Jenna’s name, “but if I hadn’t known what was in store for me… How could anyone do that to someone? Especially to a child?”

“The Harvest girls were only a couple of years younger than you were, sweetheart,” said Klaus. “You’re walking on very judgmental grounds, here.”

“I was almost an adult,” Elena countered. “I’d lived, I’d loved, I’d lost. Seventeen-nearly eighteen-years wouldn’t have been a long life, but it would have been a life.” She swallowed. “I just can’t imagine.”

“Actually,” said Klaus, “one of the girls knew what was coming.”

Elena raised her eyebrows. “Yes?”

“Well,” said Klaus, “that’s a bit unfair. She didn’t know she was supposed to die until her first friend’s throat had been slit, but the sacrifice was cut short, and she was rescued. Eight months later, she willingly sacrificed herself, because the power she’d inherited from the ritual was going to kill her anyway, and take down everyone else in this city.”

Elena swallowed. “Did she come back?”

“Oh, yes, they’re all back now,” Klaus told her. “Two of them are dead again, but that was due to their attempt on my child’s life, not because of any witchy ritual troubles.” He knocked back his glass, draining it down in one gulp.

“Tonight’s plan,” said Klaus, “is simply to figure out what is motivating the little witch, and make it very clear to her and to all of her werewolf allies that opposing me is a very, very bad idea.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Elena.

Klaus grinned. “It’ll depend on how the night goes,” he told her. “I could decide to reveal what your blood means for my power. If things grow truly desperate I might need to create some hybrids on the spot, though I promise I won’t let anyone bite into that pretty little neck of yours.” He grinned. “You don’t mind a little cut on your palm, do you, love?”

Elena hesitated, and then shrugged, sighing. “Not really,” she said.

“Fantastic,” said Klaus, and it occurred to Elena that, for all his posturing, he wouldn’t have forced her to let new hybrids feed on her. “Hopefully it won’t come to that. I might just wax poetic about your doppelganger heritage.” He grinned. “I want you to be beautiful, love, not that that’ll be any trouble, and I want you to present a completely united front with me, no attitude or bickering.” He reached out, stroked her cheek with the back of his hand.

“Your face has walked this earth since biblical times, sweetheart,” he said, with a grin. “I want you to show them what that means.”

. . .

 

The dress she’d chosen was long and strapless, with wisps of black silk fluttering down to her mid-calves, and she paired it with tall black heels, elegant and thin. She pinned her hair to one side, deliberately showcasing the puncture wounds from the sacrifice, all those years ago; it had faded in her vampirism, but returned with her humanity, like a symbol to the world that the doppelganger had been sacrificed, and that the curse had been lifted. She usually covered it thoroughly with makeup, but tonight she left it fully exposed.

Klaus wanted a show of power to this, the coven of witches his mother had under her control? What better way to do that then demonstrate for all the world to see that the worst she had ever done to Klaus had been undone, that the curse that had haunted him for a millennium had been broken, and that all that she’d sought to keep from her son was now resting in the palm of his hands?

She hadn’t expected herself to be this engrossed in the tasks, in the show and the power dynamics and the symbolism of it all, but something about having agency over her own legacy, for the first time she could remember, gave her a rush like nothing else. She knew Klaus would be surprised and impressed, and more than anything else, she wanted to prove that she knew exactly what she’d signed up for, and that she was ready to embrace it.

She walked down the stairs with the grace she’d learned from Miss Mystic Falls, all elegance and loveliness, and met Klaus’s eyes when she reached the last step.

He was smiling at her, a smile that was desperately trying to be a smirk but couldn’t suppress sincere delight. He wore a leather jacket and a white T-shirt, but that didn’t bother her. She knew he wasn’t dressing up for this, just as she knew she wasn’t there as a player or as a negotiator, but as a symbol of power.

“I admit, love, you’ve outdone my expectations,” he told her, offering his arm.

She took it. “I’ve been doing that forever,” she remarked, and he laughed. “I’m letting you know straight away, though, these shoes are entirely for effect and not at all for convenience, so you had better let me hold onto you the entire way there, or we’ll both be in for embarrassment.”

He laughed again, and suddenly she felt all her weight lift, so that when she stepped, she was fairly certain she was walking on air and air alone.

He grinned. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the wonders of vampire strength,” he said, and led her out into the world.

She hadn’t actually left the compound since her arrival, hadn’t even been tempting, but now she realized what she was missing out on. New Orleans in the day was unbelievable, but New Orleans by night was something else. He led her though stunning streets, past music and art and bars thrumming with the thrill of eternity, pointing out this or that location along the way. She couldn’t help but wish she’d been kinder to Caroline about… whatever was going on between the two of them. She wasn’t attracted to him, wasn’t sure she could ever be attracted to anyone again, but she could see what Caroline must have seen, and she could understand why he appealed to her.

They came to a graveyard. Elena almost cracked a joke about returning to her days as emo graveyard girl, but they were probably within hearing of the witches and definitely within hearing of the wolves, and even though she’d chosen to dress to put on a show, all Klaus had really asked of her was for her to take this seriously. She could do that.

They entered the graveyard, quiet and mist and not much else. “Well?” Klaus called out, and she let go of his arm so he could stroll out into the emptiness. “Does no one greet their guests anymore?”

Werewolves, more werewolves than Elena had ever seen in one place, all leapt out at once, growling despite their human form. Klaus continued to speak, but Elena tuned him out, simply focused on keeping her heart rate calm, on appearing as unaffected as possible. She remembered imitating Katherine, and twisted her lips into a slight smirk, meeting the eyes of some of the wolves. They didn’t retreat, but they seemed unsettled, as though they did not know who she was but knew it meant something that she was here at Klaus’s side.

“Well?” called out Klaus, and Elena lifted her chin. “Where is she? Where is this witch, who dares craft moonlight rings without my permission?”

Elena waited for a second, and then heard a high voice ring out, “Niklaus.” The werewolves parted like the red sea, and Elena saw, walking through—

Elena grabbed Klaus’s wrist faster than she’d ever moved as a human, squeezing so tightly she would have broken a human bone.

Elena had fallen into the habit of attributing her instincts to experience, to three years of being hunted and chased (not to one thousand years, no matter what the mirror told her), but this, this was a doppelganger thing, there was no way around it. This was flames in her head and ice down her back, a blade slicing open her skin and draining every last drop of her blood, cold, clammy air, the full moon fading and fading until everything was dark, this was a curse woven into her blood and bones and legacy, written on her body before this body had ever been conceived, this was a screamed warning, a thousand blaring alarms, that even Klaus had never triggered before. This was the first fear. For what could have been seconds or years or a millennium, her heart was beating Tatia/Katerina/Elena/Tatia/Katerina/Elena/Tatia/Katerina/Elena and she was all of them and none of them, she did not know who she was, only knew the woman in front of her, beyond body or memory or magic.

“Esther,” she whispered. Klaus’s head snapped towards her, eyes widening in alarm, so wide it was almost comical, except that nothing could be comical, not now. She had known this fear before; the first time she’d seen Esther, standing on a grand staircase, flanked by all her children. That fear had driven her to accepting Esther’s invitation, to hurting Damon—oh god, Damon—in her desperation to seek Esther out, to going along with Esther’s plan, to betraying Elijah, She hadn’t been able to explain it to anyone, why she’d acted the way she had, because she didn’t know how to put into words how this woman inspired in her paralyzing, all-consuming terror like no one else.

“Well, well, well,” said Klaus, and warm relief flooded Elena at the realization that Klaus wasn’t going to question her instinct. “How about that?” He stepped forward, sliding his hand so that it was in hers. It occurred to her that, out of everyone standing in the graveyard, Klaus was the only one who could hear the machine gun battery of her heart against her ribcage, knew, whether he understood why or not, that she was afraid beyond belief. She wasn’t sure if the hand was to comfort her, to remind her that he was with her, or to keep her steady on her feet and maintain his show of power. Either way, she was glad of it.

“Well, mother,” he said, “I’d say I’ve missed you, but truth be told, I haven’t at all.”

. . .

 

By the time they returned to the compound, Elena was shaking so fiercely she could not even maintain the image of walking straight. Klaus, with a sigh that was frustrated, but not quite cruel, swept his arm up under her knees, carrying her half of the way there. She did not object, nor thank him; she was hardly aware of where she was. The world flashed between reality and the other girl’s world, Tatia’s world, the night Esther had killed her, and every time she blinked all she saw was firefirefire, and every time she shifted, she could feel her the shadow of her skin ripping open. She’d held it together at the graveyard, hardly noticing anything that happened, all of her willpower forcing her to stay still and distant, disassociating from the world like she’d never done before, but now tremors shook her body, and once she’d started to let the demons in, she could not close the floodgates.

Klaus set her down on the couch and grabbed her hands in his, but she still could not move, could not even look him in the eye. He swore, and strode out of the room.

“Niklaus—“ came Elijah’s voice, and there was a crash.

“Not now, Elijah!” Klaus roared, striding back into the room, a bottle in his hand. He poured the liquid—scotch or bourbon or whisky, she was not present enough to look or smell carefully enough to tell—into a glass, and Elijah entered the doorway, coming to a stop when he saw Elena. Wordlessly, he took the glass.

Elijah tried to put it in her hands, but she was still shaking so fiercely that he had to place it down on the coffee table instead.

“I must admit, love,” said Klaus, his back to her as he stared out of a window, “I’m rather perplexed that seeing my mother has you so rattled.” He sounded, of all things, petulant. “For heaven’s sake, I’ve killed you before, and you’ve never seemed this frightened of—“

“Elijah, I’m sorry,” Elena blurted out, clasping the glass between her hands but not risking picking it up.

Klaus spun around to stare at her, confusion clear on his face. Elijah, less demonstrative as always, furrowed his brow.

“What for?” he asked, tone careful.

“That time I betrayed you,” she said, the words spilling out beyond her control, “the night of the ball, when Esther had just come back, the first time.”

Elijah’s gaze turned wary. “Elena,” he said, then looked away, and then looked back. “I do believe we’ve been over this, and that I’ve already expressed to you that the way I reacted was equally—“

Elena had started shaking her head before he was finished talking. “You don’t understand,” she said, “I couldn’t, I couldn’t figure out how to explain it, I’m sorry.”

Elijah sat down across from her. “Explain what?”

Ever since Elena had arrived in New Orleans, it had been her own personal law not to be emotional, not to be weepy, sad Elena again, not in front of anyone, especially not in front of Klaus.

She knocked back the glass, draining it in one gulp.

“My first memory,” Elena said, trying to keep her voice even. “It’s not something from being a kid, or being a baby. It’s being Tatia, the night Esther cursed you, but not knowing I’m Tatia, just fear and darkness and her cold knife slicing open my skin—“

Klaus was at her side in under a second. “You remember being Tatia?” he asked.

Elena scowled at him, and for some reason that, more than anything, calmed her down. “I’ve never been Tatia,” she said. “Or Katherine. I don’t remember either of their lives, just that one night, and for most of my life I thought it was just a really vivid dream I’d had. It’s only—it’s a doppelganger thing, it’s why I recognized her tonight, why—“

“Why you went along with her plan that night,” said Elijah. “Your fear of my mother predates your very existence, it’s no wonder the first time you met her you couldn’t dare defy her.” He inhaled. “It makes perfect sense, I should have seen it earlier myself.”

Klaus was still staring at her as though she were a ghost. “You don’t remember anything else?” he asked.

“I’m not Tatia!” Elena exclaimed. “I never have been! It’s not my memory, it’s hers, it’s just—I don’t know, passed down to me like an inheritance, like a warning.”

“A warning?” Klaus echoed.

“Yeah,” said Elena, “like, ‘don’t give Esther a reason to kill us again. Just do what she says, and then run the hell away’.”

“Us?” repeated Klaus.

“Brother, that’s enough,” said Elijah, standing up, and placing a hand on Klaus’s shoulder. “None of us truly understand the significance of Elena’s doppelganger heritage, least of all Elena herself, who has only known of it for three years, rather than our millennium.”

Klaus sighed, sinking into the couch next to Elena. He looked at her. “You’re still trembling,” he commented, and grabbed her wrist. He frowned. “You’re cold, too. I should fetch you a blanket.”

“Before you do, brother,” said Elijah, clasping his hands behind his back, “I have some rather devastating news as well.”

Klaus snarled at him. “What could be worse than the return of our mother?”

“Our father,” said Elijah, looking beyond stricken.

Klaus’s grip on her wrist tightened dangerously then went completely slack. Elena didn’t think she’d have noticed if he’d broken it clean through.

“Mikael?” she whispered.

Klaus turned to her, eyes wide and desperate. “How?”

“He must have come back when the Other Side was weakened,” she said, furiously blocking her mind from reliving the night of her own return. “He—he would have needed a witch, though.”

“He has one,” Elijah cut in. “Davina has him locked away somewhere, enslaved by an…enchanted bracelet.”

“That little witch,” growled Klaus, rising to his feet, “I swear I’ll—“

“He has the white oak stake,” said Elijah, and Klaus went silent.

Elena’s ears were ringing. “Hang on,” she said, using the words to tether her to the world amidst her dizziness. “Davina has him?” At Elijah’s nod, Elena closed her eyes, forcing her way through her shaking. “She… she was a sacrifice girl, wasn’t she?”

“She was a Harvest girl,” said Elijah, “yes.”

“She was a sacrifice girl,” repeated Elena, her voice barely more than a murmur. “I need to talk to her.”

Klaus turned to her. “And how, sweetheart, are you going to reason with a young witch you’ve never met?”

Elena forced herself to meet his eyes. “I’m a sacrifice girl too.”

Klaus scowled. “So what, you’ll bond with her over your years-ago trauma?”

“You didn’t see me again until months after that night,” Elena snapped back at him. “I was a wreck. And sure, I was grieving, but that was separate. For months, I was… I was a walking ball of trauma.” Her voice grew stronger by the word. “I couldn’t look at fire, I woke up screaming every night, and even just—hearing something someone said could send me back to that night and trigger a full-blown panic attack.”

She didn’t really know why she was telling all of this to Klaus, Klaus who killed her that night, but all she can think about is a terrified teenage witch with no reprieve, no friends or family to lean on, so desperate for control she had brought back a monster who would kill her given the first chance.

“You think you can commiserate with Davina over shared trauma,” said Elijah.

“I think Davina feels completely alone,” said Elena, rising to her feet. “She agreed to be sacrificed, just like I did. She knows what it’s like to have to fight your every instinct screaming at you to run, to make yourself vulnerable despite wanting to do anything but.” She took a deep breath. “Once you’ve been that weak, nothing scares you as much as the possibility of being weak again. The other Harvest girls wouldn’t understand, but I do.”

“And so you’d befriend Davina, all for our sake?” said Klaus.

“For her sake,” Elena corrected him. “And yeah. I guess I don’t really want Mikael to kill either of you.”

“A touching sentiment,” drawled Klaus. “Truly, I’m moved.”

“Go to hell,” retorted Elena, and Klaus offered a weak laugh. She met Elijah’s eyes again. “Trust me, Elijah,” she said, taking a step forward. “This girl is frightened, and isolated, and doesn’t think she has another choice.” She swallowed, and lifted her chin. “You of all people know that I know what that’s like.”

Elijah stared at her for a long moment, but Elena did not blink. “I do,” he said, finally, taking a step back. “Trust you, that is.”

Elena smiled, small but victorious. “I know what I’m talking about, Elijah,” she said, and felt her smile grow bigger, not entirely under her control. “You’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Elena should not have been surprised when Esther issued her dinner invitation on a silver platter with a flock of ravens. She really, really shouldn’t have. But despite this, when the birds flew out of freaking nowhere she flinched and ducked.

Despite the severity of his mother’s return from the dead, Klaus spared a moment to laugh at her.

“Really, love,” he said, smirking, though she could tell his heart wasn’t really in it. “Scared of a few birds?”

She rolled her eyes and didn’t deign to response. For a second, something was forming on her tongue, a comeback about vampires and crows, but then Damon swam into her mind and she swallowed it down like a ball of lead in her throat.

“Between both of your parents, I can see where you get your flair for the dramatic,” Elena said instead.

Klaus scowled at her. “I did not inherit anything from Mikael,” he growled, striding toward her. “If you’d forgotten, he did not sire me—“

“Really? You’re going to lecture me about not being raised by your biological parents?” she asked, taking a step forward. “I wasn’t raised by my biological parents either. Jeremy isn’t even my brother; he’s technically my cousin. All of which you know, since, I don’t know, you made my biological mother kill herself in front of me, not to mention that the only reason I survived your sacrifice was that John traded his life for mine.” He seemed shell-shocked, so she gave him a tiny shove, just to emphasize her point. “You don’t have to think of Mikael as your father, or call him your father, if you don’t want to, but don’t act like just because someone’s not your birth parent doesn’t mean they’re automatically not your parent.”

It occurred to her that she probably needed to work through some stuff, that she shouldn’t take Klaus’s family drama to heart so much, that maybe she hadn’t totally come to terms with her adoptive father the vampire torturer or her birth mother the traitorous murderer, but Klaus’s face still seemed blank with shock.

When he finally spoke, it wasn’t what she was expecting. “That’s how you survived?”

“What?” asked Elena. She took a step back.

“John Gilbert traded his life for yours?” Klaus seemed to be somewhere else, processing the matter. “You really did die?”

Elena frowned. “Well, yeah. Duh. I mean, you broke your curse.”

Klaus furrowed his brow. “I thought you used the elixir Elijah had once found for Katerina.”

Elena met Elijah’s eyes over the table. “I intended to,” she admitted. “But then Damon fed me vampire blood, and the elixir became obsolete.”

Klaus blinked. “You knew you were going to survive either way?” he asked. “That’s why you agreed?”

“No,” said Elena, feeling impatient and a little confused, and also a little relieved, that they were having this conversation so many years after he’d killed her. “I hadn’t expected to survive, not when I tried to track you down and surrender, not when I made a deal with Elijah, not when I undaggered Elijah for his help. I was prepared to die. I found out about the elixir… just a couple of days before, and I only half expected it to work. Damon fed me his blood the morning of the sacrifice, and I expected to turn into a vampire, or for Bonnie to find a way to undo the vampire blood and I would just flat-out die. I was shocked when I woke up human.”

Klaus seemed to be registering this. She could almost see the gears spinning, whirling in his head, like he was running laps around this new information but couldn’t quite grasp it.

“How did you not know this years ago?” she asked. “This isn’t a recent update.”

“I assumed that I already knew,” Klaus replied. He still seemed disoriented, but like he was getting his bearings again, little by little.

“As fascinating as the many crimes you’ve committed against each others’ families are, I think we have something more important to discuss,” said Hayley. “Such as: what the hell does your mother want?”

“I suppose we’ll have to find out from her,” said Elijah, shooting a glance over at Klaus. “Brother, I trust you know that we must attend this soirée?”

Klaus rolled his eyes. “Loath as I am to admit it, you’re right.” He looked at Elena, gaze still a little weary. “We’ll have to find some way to keep you safe—“

“No,” said Elena, struck with inspiration. “No. We’ll have to find Davina today, so I can talk to her tonight when all the other powers are busy.”

“With no protection?” Klaus snarled. “Have you forgotten that she has our father along with her?”

“Have you forgotten that the last time I saw your father I was his ally?” she shot back. “Out of everyone in the city, I am the person he is the least likely to kill on sight. With the possible exception of your mother, though for all I know that would be more due to shock.”

“I think that’s a solid plan,” said Hayley, to Elena’s surprise. She turned to Klaus. “We have to deal with the Davina situation one way or another, and I for one would much rather Elena talk her around than you end up hurting the poor girl.”

Klaus sighed dramatically, but Elena knew it was decided. She looked over at Hayley, stoic as ever, and wondered if Hayley felt as protective of Davina as Elena did; if that was what happened, when someone hurt you when you were far too young to be hurt like that, if Hayley could see herself in scared young girls the way Elena could.

She’d thought badly of Hayley for a long time without really knowing her; she hadn’t thought anything of Hayley before she’d betrayed them, and afterwards she’d thought of her rarely, but only ever with spite. She felt regret on the tip of her tongue; Elena had done awful, terrible things too. She was the last person who could judge.

 . . .

Elena felt naked as she walked through the woods. Sure, she’d spent plenty of time in the dark forests of Mystic Falls, but she’d forgotten what it was like to do so without being a vampire, or without a vampire at her side. She was starting to feel fear creeping into her veins when she heard, high and clear, the voice of a girl.

A second later, Mikael had her pinned to a tree.

“Mikael,” she gasped, more for show than out of shock. “I’d—I’d heard, but I wasn’t sure I believed it.”

Mikael snarled in her face but, thank god, did not attack. “Which one are you?” he asked.

Elena hadn’t expected that. “Mikael, it’s—it’s me,” she said, because that was probably what she would have said last time he’d seen her. “It’s Elena. Katherine died months ago.”

Mikael did not move. “And why should I believe you?”

“Look, I’m human,” she said, reaching behind her body to scrape her thumb against the tree, hard, and then held it up to him. She carefully ignored the fact that Katherine had been human again too. “Besides, if I were Katherine, why would I come to you?”

Mikael sniffed at her blood, then let her go, and Elena tried to keep the sputtering and gasping for breath to a minimum. Behind Mikael, a girl stepped forward. She was startlingly pretty, long brown hair and wide eyes, a few years younger than Elena and tinier than Elena had been at her age. Elena’s heart went out to the girl immediately.

“Who is she?” asked the girl.

“You must be Davina,” said Elena, her smile coming more naturally than it should have considering her recent near-asphyxiation. She stepped forward, just a tiny bit, not enough to threaten but enough to seem approachable. “Hi. I’m—“

“Klaus’s latest doppelganger,” cut in Mikael.

Elena scowled at him. “I’m not his. Not ever.” She swallowed, and met Mikael’s eyes. “If I’m anyone’s, I’m Tatia’s—or Amara’s—or even Katherine’s. Klaus doesn’t own any part of me.”

“Then why are you in this city?” demanded Mikael.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Elena. She had never had quite the gift for sarcasm some people did, but she summoned up her inner Katherine, her inner Hayley, her inner Dam—Damon. “It’s not like Klaus is at war and my blood is the only way to create hybrids. It’s not like he’s ever taken my blood by force before. It’s not like he can compel people.” She didn’t have to try very hard to bring all of her anger boiling, bursting to the top, and dripping hot poison onto her tongue. “Clearly, I’m just voluntarily playing house with the guy who murdered my family and sacrificed me.”

There was the soft sound of leaves crunching and twigs cracking. It snapped Elena out of her staring contest with Mikael, over to wear Davina was standing, arms crossed, the stance more defensive than she was probably going for. “You were sacrificed?” Davina asked after a moment. Her voice was quiet, wavering, fragile, like the sound of a child learning the flute, making a weak sound that might vanish at any second.

Elena forced herself to push all thoughts of Mikael from her mind, to give her entire attention to the girl. She took a breath.

“You know how Klaus is a hybrid?” she asked. She waited for Davina’s nod before continuing. “Back when Klaus activated his werewolf gene—I mean,” she shot a look at Mikael, “you obviously know what happened better than I do, but basically the Original Witch, Klaus’s mother, put a curse on him to suppress that side of him, making him all vampire. She drew the power for that curse from the death of a girl named Tatia, my distant ancestor from, I don’t know, a thousand years back.” She took a deep breath. “The only way to break that curse was a ritual, that involved the sacrifice of one of Tatia’s doppelgangers.”

“So he sacrificed you?” asked Davina. Elena felt just a little stupid. Of course the girl’s main interest wasn’t the semantics of Elena’s ritual; it was that Elena was like her, that Elena might understand her. Elena had known that, had sought her out for that purpose, and here she was pulling a total Elijah on the poor girl.

“He did,” she confirmed, and then bitterness rose in her like an old friend, a wave so intense she could not keep it from spilling out even if she had tried to. “He didn’t just sacrifice me, though. He possessed the body of someone I cared about, tried to kill my best friend so she couldn’t use magic to stop the ritual, taunted me for weeks, came to my school dance, compelled girls to tell me he wanted me to save him a dance, dedicated songs for me in shout-outs. His ritual needed him to kill a vampire and a werewolf, so he kidnapped two of my best friends, and when they escaped—when we rescued them—he turned my aunt into a vampire and killed her. He did all of that even though I’d already agreed to the sacrifice, so that I could save the people I loved. He didn’t care.” She swallowed, felt a familiar burning in the back of her eyes. “The ritual required him to drain my blood to the point of my death. The only reason I survived was that my birth father traded his life for mine in some dark spell.”

Davina’s lips were trembling, her eyes wide. “But why…why does he need you now?”

Elena scoffed. “Turns out the Original Witch screwed me over twofold. The only way for Klaus to make hybrids is through using my blood.” She offered Davina a wry smile. “We found that out during a fun little episode wherein he, oh, compelled by boyfriend to kill two of my classmates and then feed on me, and meanwhile, forced by werewolf friend into transition into a hybrid and fed him my blood experimentally. If his hunch hadn’t been right, we all probably would have died that night.”

“Oh my god,” said Davina, looking less afraid and more angry. “That’s horrible.”

“About a month later, we found Mikael, allied with him against Klaus” Elena continued. “He can—and will—attest to everything I’m saying by the way.” She turned towards him. “I’m sorry Stefan betrayed you that night,” she said. “But you did stab Katherine thinking she was me, so I guess we’re even.”

Davina stared at her, wide-eyed, for another moment, then seemed to come to a resolution. She stepped forward. “I hate Klaus too,” she said. “He’s hurt me, killed people I love, held me prisoner.” She paused. “I brought Mikael back to kill Klaus,” she said in a low voice, as though sharing a secret. “You could join us.”

Elena started shaking her head before Davina was finished speaking. “You can’t,” she said. “When you kill an Original, you kill every vampire in their bloodline. I’ve helped kill two originals, trust me, I know. My best friend comes from Klaus’s bloodline.” She took a deep breath. “As much as I hate him, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t lose anyone else.”

She was expecting Davina to look shocked at the revelation, but instead her eyes were glimmering. “I know,” she said. “There are people I love in his line, too. That’s why I haven’t let Mikael kill him yet.” She shot Mikael a glare so fierce that Elena felt both proud and taken aback. “I’m working on a spell, to unlink his descendants,” she continued. “Once I complete it, I can kill him and no one else will be at risk.”

Mikael audibly growled, and Elena shot him a startled look, and then looked back at Davina.

“You can do that?” she asked, her surprise not feigned at all. Davina nodded, now fully smiling, stepping toward Elena again.

“Yeah, I can,” she said. “I know that I can. And I can protect you from his brother, too—“

As much as Elena wanted Davina to trust her, she couldn’t keep the pretense this far. “Elijah would never try to hurt me,” she said. “He’s been in love with two other girls who shared my face, at one point I think he was—or thought himself in love with me, too. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Davina nodded.

“And I can’t help with anything,” said Elena. “I’m sorry, but I’m completely—well, I’m a supernatural occurrence, but I don’t have any abilities. I’d be a useless ally.”

Davina’s face fell.

“But I’d like to be a friend,” said Elena. Davina looked up again. “I heard about what happened to you, what the witches did, what Klaus did, and I heard about Mikael. I thought—I suffered terribly, but I had friends with me. You should have a friend too, if you want.”

Davina shot a look over at Mikael, and Elena looked too. Mikael was snarling. Elena rolled her eyes at him.

“Tell you what, Davina,” she said, grinning. “I know Klaus and Elijah are going to some dinner party with the witches tonight. Why don’t you and I grab dinner while they’re distracted?”

Davina smiled, slowly but sweetly. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

. . .

 “Thanks for coming,” Elena said the second Davina sat down across from her.

Davina was clearly nervous, eyes darting all around the room. “I wasn’t sure I was going to,” she admitted. “Mikael thinks this is a bad idea.”

“Mikael thinks everything other than the literal act of staking Klaus in the heart is a bad idea,” Elena told her. Davina offered a small smile, and Elena felt heartened. “Don’t let him get to you.”

“I know I can’t trust him,” Davina said, defiant, as though she wanted to make sure Elena knew she wasn’t that naïve. “He’ll try to kill me given half the chance. He’s already tried.”

“That must be tough,” Elena said, grasping at another chance to empathize. “Being alone with him. I’ve had dangerous alliances, but I’ve always had friends watching my back.”

“I have friends,” Davina shot back. “It’s just not safe for them to be around me.”

Elena nodded, took a drink (lemonade, nothing alcoholic), and said: “I once compelled my brother to move away, for his safety.”

“Really?” asked Davina. Elena nodded.

“Klaus—my friend Stefan had gone off the rails, and stolen all of the Mikaelson coffins. Stefan had also been my boyfriend until, well, until Klaus interfered—but Klaus still thought I’d be the most likely person to know where Stefan was, so he sent his hybrids to hold a reign of terror over my friends and family. After he arranged to have my brother run over with a car, and nearly succeeded, I traded him Rebekah’s daggered body in exchange for my brother’s safety. He agreed, but then when I saw my—my little brother—cut a hybrid’s head off with a kitchen knife… I had a friend compel him to leave town. I couldn’t let him live like that.”

Davina was breathing heavily. “You have so much history with Klaus,” she said, and bit her lip. “I don’t—Klaus killed by friend Tim, but—how do you even look at him?”

“Well, I hardly could, at first.” Elena shrugged. “I spent a lot of time trying to kill him, before finding out the thing with his bloodline. But—I don’t know. I guess we never really had peace with Klaus, but we ended up with a few common enemies, and…we never stopped hating Klaus, but hating him became less pressing. And besides, since so many of us were vampires, having some werewolf-bite healing blood around became helpful.”

“Klaus just gave you guys his blood?” demanded Davina.

Elena laughed. “Klaus could be bargained with, sometimes,” she told her. “And then he fell in love with my best friend. That made him easier to manage.”

“Wait,” said Davina, “I—what?”

Elena sighed, leaning forward. “The thing you have to understand about me and Klaus,” she said, “is that—for an entire year of my life—Klaus lived in my town. Small town life in Virginia, even smaller group of people in the supernatural know—Klaus was at town functions, parties, even threw a ball once—and we weren’t at war, not the way New Orleans is. After the sacrifice, most of my relationship with Klaus was deals and bargaining and unstable alliances against other threats. We all—most of us still hate Klaus, but we all know him pretty well. It was like high school—well, it actually was high school, his sister Rebekah was in our class and joined our cheerleading team—but it was… really tense, aggressive, and hate-fuelled, but still kinda domestic.”

She took a breath. “So yeah, he fell in love with my best friend. They actually slept together last year—which was kind of an issue, seeing as he’d killed her ex’s mother a year before, in retaliation for Tyler turning his hybrids against him—Wow.” She laughed. “I guess—I guess by now, we just have so much history that—you don’t forget, or stop caring, but it just stops weighing on you. There’s just too much, you can’t even try to work through it, you just have to, I don’t know, get over it all.”

Davina’s eyes were narrow. “Get over it?”

She was clearly offended, and Elena took a deep breath. “This doesn’t apply to you,” Elena said. “Don’t think that. I mean—did Klaus ever show up in costume for your high school’s decade dance? Did he come to your graduation? You’re in a totally different situation, I’m not—I’m not telling you to think any differently. I guess I’m just trying to explain that, well, you can’t see someone as often as I saw Klaus without having to just compartmentalize all that crap so you can function like a semi-normal human.”

Davina swallowed. “Is that how you feel?” she asked, sounding vulnerable again. “Normal—even a little bit normal?”

Elena smiled, wryly, knowing it didn’t reach her eyes. “Not in years,” she said.

Chapter Text

Elena had waited up for the brothers, but she finally went to bed, not so much because she couldn’t stay up any longer as because she was afraid that their lateness meant that Esther had done something to them, or worse, that when they returned, Esther would be there with them.

She tried very hard to put the second thought out of her mind.

An hour after getting into bed, she acknowledged that she probably wouldn’t be able to sleep until she was sure that Esther hadn’t killed the Mikaelsons and their entire bloodlines. She stepped onto the cold wooden floor, the summer breeze drifting in through her window and making her shorts flitter around her thighs. She picked up her phone and stepped out onto the balcony, and called Hayley.

The line was busy, but then a second later Hayley called back.

“Is Esther with you?” Hayley asked, sounding breathless. Elena’s heart jumped from steadily pumping blood to pounding in her ears like a semiautomatic with unlimited ammunition.

“What?” she gasped. Her voice sounded pathetic even to her own ears.

“She’s not?” asked Hayley, and then sighed. “The crazy bitch body jumped again, then vanished on me.” She paused. “Are you at the compound?”

“Yeah,” said Elena. “Yeah, I’m—“

“We cursed Esther so that there would be a black mark on the back of her hand,” said Hayley. “No matter whose body she took. Be careful, one of us will be back soon.”

Elena lowered her phone and took a deep breath, trying to lower her heart rate. Then, she heard:

“Hello, Elena.”

Elena spun around so fast that her phone went flying across the room. She didn’t recognize the woman, but she took a quick glance at the back of her hand, and her fears were confirmed.

“Esther,” she said.

Esther smiled. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to speak properly last time,” she said. “Truth me told, I didn’t expect you to show up on my son’s arm.” Esther took a step forward, so gentle Elena thought she might vomit. “Do you have feelings for him, after everything he’s done to you?”

For a moment, Elena was too shocked to remember she was scared. “What?” she asked.

Esther took another step. “His twisted nature is due to his curse. He wasn’t always this way, and he doesn’t always have to be this way. If he were human again, you could be with him without fear. You yourself have been freed from the clutches of vampirism; surely you want the same for him.”

Elena blinked at her. “I don’t want Klaus to stop being a hybrid,” she said.

“Don’t you, though?” asked Esther.

Elena was still struggling not to hyperventilate, but she kept her voice steady. “No, and Klaus doesn’t either,” she said. “If you think he does, if you think he ever could, you’re—” delusional “—really in for a disappointment.”

Esther hummed, not seeming disappointed at all. “I could give you a new body too, Elena, a body free of the doppelganger curse. You could have children with no fear, and my son would have no need to keep you captive—“

“Klaus isn’t keeping me captive,” Elena interrupted. “I’m here of my own free will.” She thought of Katherine, thought of the lost months, and instead of feeling overwhelmed by fear or shock she felt anger, boiling up in her stomach, burning behind her eyes. “And if I wanted a new body, I’d just take one. Do you even know who the original doppelganger was?”

Esther frowned. “You know that I knew Tatia.”

Elena shook her head. “Not Tatia,” she said, and then delight bubbled up on her tongue like champagne bubbles. “You don’t know? Tatia was born a thousand years after the original one. Her name was Amara.” Elena paused, searching Esther’s face, but she seemed genuine in her confusion. “She was a traveller,” said Elena, and saw the recognition on Esther’s face. “So was Katherine, when she became human again—and I could do it too. If I wanted a new body, I’d just take one. I never would and I’ll never want to, but if I did, I wouldn’t need any help from you—“

The shift on Esther’s face was so subtle that Elena might not have been able to notice it, had she not had fear of Esther bred into her. As it was, she only had a second to brace herself before magic threw her against the wall.

Last time she had hit her head so hard, it had started the chain of events that had turned her into a vampire.

“Well, then,” said Esther. “I’m very sorry you won’t be cooperating with me this time. The ability to make hybrids is one of my son’s greatest sources of temptations, and as long as you offer him that power, he won’t want to hear the truth of my words.”

Elena’s heart was beating with the fear of three different girls. She wondered how Esther was going to kill her—if she’d be thrown from the balcony, or have her neck snapped—unlikely. Her blood was too powerful. Esther would use it again, she’d be sacrificed again, she’d never really stood a chance—

Klaus’s roar had been familiar to Elena for years, but this was the first time it had ever been comforting. Elena crumbled onto the floor and the magic was lifted, saw Klaus holding his mother by the throat, screaming “how dare you”—and then Esther was gone.

The next second, Klaus was at her side. Elena felt warm, as though surrounded in flames again, but since Klaus hadn’t picked her up and sprinted her away, she figured it was just in her mind.

“Are you hurt?” asked Klaus, his voice gruff.

Elena could barely make eye contact. “My head,” she whispered, after a long few minutes. Klaus touched the back of her head gingerly, then looked at his red-stained fingers and swore. He bit into his wrist and held it out to her.

Elena laughed, dazed. “It’s so funny,” she said, knowing her speech was slurred, “you and me. We have the…” she yawned. “The most valuable blood, in the whole world…and we’re the only ones with access to the other’s.” She laughed again. “Kinda poetic, right? Elijah would like it, the, the…”

“Symmetry?” Klaus supplied, sounding faintly amused but pressed with worry. “Drink up, Elena.”

Elena did. The fogginess and dizziness faded almost immediately, and by the time she pulled away she felt herself enough again to be afraid.

“Oh my god,” she whispered.

Klaus chuckled. “Regretting your concussed ramblings?”

“Esther,” said Elena, and Klaus’s face sobered. “She’s after me. She’s really, really after me.”

“Why did she attack you?” asked Klaus. “She paid Hayley a visit, but she didn’t attack her, just—“

“—offered to give her a new body,” Elena finished. At Klaus’s puzzled look, she sighed. “She made me the same offer.”

Klaus’s forehead creased. “Then why was she trying to kill you?”

“I’m already a traveler,” said Elena. “Or I could be. The original was—“

“Tatia?” asked Klaus.

“Amara,” Elena corrected. “Thousand years earlier. Katherine could do it too, she possessed me right before her body died and stayed for months. If she had the ability, so do I. I told Esther that if I wanted another body, I could have taken one myself whenever I wanted, so her offer was useless.”

“And why did my mother offer you a new body in the first place?” asked Klaus. “You aren’t a vampire, love, so why does she care?”

“You need me to make hybrids,” said Elena. “Dead doppelganger means no hybrids, and no future doppelganger to wait around for. She thinks if you can’t make more hybrids, you won’t want to be one anymore.”

She didn’t look at Klaus as she spoke, but when she was done she glanced up at him. He was still crouched next to her on the floor, but he was staring off into space. “She’s delusional.”

“That’s what I told her,” said Elena.

Klaus shot her a weak attempt at a grin. “What else did she say to you?”

Elena shrugged. “She insinuated both that we were in a relationship and that you were keeping me captive,” she said, and Klaus laughed. “I don’t understand how she could think those things could be anything but mutually exclusive, but, hey, it’s Esther.”

Klaus laughed again, and took her hand in his. She let him draw her to her feet, laid her hand on his shoulder when dizziness hit her, felt his hand resting on her waist.

He began to sway them back and forth. It was forceful enough that Elena knew he was just kidding around, so she laughed and let him twirl her. When he dipped her, he pretended to drop her, catching her inches before she hit the ground. She smacked his chest playfully, and he grinned.

“I’d have expected my mother to insinuate that you and Elijah were an item,” Klaus said, “seeing as Tatia chose him.”

Elena laughed. “Aw, don’t cut yourself short,” she said. “You might have sacrificed me and committed a few massacres here and there, but you’re not a half-bad dancer.” She giggled. “Is that how you got Caroline to sleep with you? Your sweet, sweet moves?”

Klaus grinned. “Those Mystic Falls decade dances had to be good for something,” he said. Something strange passed over his face for a moment. “Caroline told you?”

Elena shrugged. “Katherine was possessing me, so I don’t exactly remember when and how, but yeah. I mean, we all know. Damon keeps taunting her about having a “thing for British accents”, and—“

She froze, and felt Klaus freeze against her. She took a deep breath, then another, then looked up at Klaus.

“That’s—that’s supposed to be a good sign, isn’t it?” she asked. “That means I’m—I’m—“ getting over him, moving on, forgetting him, betraying him, a bad person

“That means,” Klaus said firmly, drawing his arm from her waist to take her other hand, “that you need a drink.” He squeezed her hands, then turned away.

“Do you have tequila?” she asked as he was walking down the stairs He turned and offered her an incredulous look.

“I’m a thousand-year-old immortal hybrid, and you think I do tequila shots?” he asked. “Frankly, sweetheart, I’m a little offended.”

“Everyone drinks tequila sometimes,” Elena told him. “Hell, even Finn drank tequila, back around the last Mikaelson family reunion.” Klaus raised an eyebrow. “He and Sage were on a date at the Grill!” she exclaimed. “Matt was working the bar, he told me.”

Klaus held her pleading gaze for a moment, and then finally sighed in defeat. “I’m sure we have limes and salt somewhere around here.”

. . .

 

The last thing Elena had ever, ever planned on was having Klaus hold her hair back while she puked.

“You don’t have to be here,” she said, through humiliation and sweat and the heightened sensitivity that came with drunkenness, the only thing that approached the feeling of vampirism.

Klaus laughed. “I can’t have my doppelganger choking to death on her own vomit, can I, love?” he asked. It sounded kind of mean, but his hands were gentle as they gathered her hair into a ponytail. “Oh, don’t worry, sweetheart. I rip out people’s spleens on a daily basis, I’m hardly going to mind your upchuck.”

“I don’t puke!” exclaimed Elena, and then felt another rush coming, and leaned deep over the porcelain bowl again.  When it was over, she wiped her mouth on her paper towel, and continued, “I never get this drunk! I’m not a lightweight! I know my limits!”

“Not after being a vampire, love,” said Klaus. He was all too amused at her predicament. “And besides, frankly, I do take responsibility for this, er, situation. I should have been responsible and cut you off far sooner.”

“Sooner?” exclaimed Elena, righteousness rising in her stomach—or maybe that was more vomit, she couldn’t really tell. “You didn’t even cut me off, and I matched you shot for shot.”

Klaus laughed. “You certainly did, sweetheart,” he said. She heard water running, and then felt a cool cloth pressed against her forehead, and sighed.

She heard the doors to the compound open and then the telltale whooshing of vampires in the house, and then the bathroom door opening with a click.

“Might I ask what on earth is going on?” asked Elijah.

Elena spun around, her ponytail hitting something as it whipped around—probably Klaus’s face. “Your brother got me drunk!” she exclaimed.

Klaus was laughing again. “You’re the one who wanted tequila, love.”

Elena rounded on him then. “Yeah, but you told me I needed to drink! And it was Caroline who told me I should start drinking tequila again, so you should really blame her.” Elena pressed her eyes shut when she felt another wave. She was so not vomiting in front of Elijah.

“How much did you let her drink, brother?” she heard Elijah ask Klaus. “She’s human, for goodness’ sake.”

“This is so Caroline’s fault,” Elena repeated. “I should call Caroline and tell her it’s her fault.”

“No, you shouldn’t,” said Klaus.

Elena wrinkled her nose at him. “Please, it’s not drinking and dialing when it’s Caroline,” she said. “Caroline will just laugh at me. Maybe it’s you who doesn’t want to talk to Caroline. I bet you haven’t called her since you slept with her.”

“She told me very explicitly not to, actually.”

“That’s why you were so agreeable after your visit to Mystic Falls,” Elijah mused behind them.

“So it won’t be awkward that you haven’t talked to her!” she exclaimed. “And Elijah and I will be on the call too. It’ll be like meditation. Mediation.” She picked up her phone—still cracked from the whole Esther incident—and hit Caroline’s speed dial, and then hit speakerphone.

Caroline picked up after a few rings. “Elena, it’s late here, I’m an hour ahead of you,” she said. “Wait—are you okay?”

“Klaus got me drunk,” Elena announced.

“You say that as though it was part of some malevolent plan,” Klaus said, bemoaning. “I swear it wasn’t.”

“Klaus?” came Caroline’s voice. “Wait, are you guys still drinking?”

“I’m actually vomiting,” Elena informed her. “Klaus is laughing at me because I can’t hold my liquor, but you’re the one who told me to drink tequila, so I had to call and prove that it’s your fault.”

Caroline giggled. “That was a prediction, not an order,” she said, but her voice wasn’t stern at all. “So wait, the two of you are just calling me from the bathroom?”

“Three of us,” said Elena. “Elijah’s in the doorway.”

Elijah, looking slightly uncomfortable, muttered a quiet greeting and then left.

“I told her not to call, Caroline,” said Klaus, sounding a little pleading.

“No, it’s fine, I’m not mad,” said Caroline. She didn’t sound mad at all, just really tired. “I’m glad you called. I’ve been here thinking you were just drinking alone and crying in your bedroom.”

“Is that what Stefan’s doing?” asked Elena. There was a silence, and somewhere past the haze Elena began to panic. “Oh my god, is he—“

“He’s fine, Elena, he’s fine, just annoying,” said Caroline. “He took off to Savannah, he doesn’t answer my calls—but he’s fine.” She was quiet a bit longer, and then she said: “He’s a vampire again.”

“What?” demanded Elena. “I thought—he always wanted to be human—“

“He wanted to turn it off,” said Caroline. “I don’t think it’s really working—I think his switch is totally fried at this point, to be honest, after the whole Klaus’s servant fiasco, and then the coffin-stealing revenge coup—but hey, what’s done is done.”

Elena wanted to say more but couldn’t think of words, and then felt another lurching in her stomach. She swallowed. “Care, I gotta go,” she said.

Caroline sighed. “If you don’t let her go to sleep until she starts to sober up, she won’t be hungover when she wakes up,” she told Klaus. “And Elena’s hangovers are like, totally miserable for everyone around her, so I strongly suggest you follow my advice.”

“Duly noted,” said Klaus. He sounded like he was smiling, but Elena didn’t dare check in case she was sick all over him.

“Also, green tea calms her stomach,” said Caroline. “Okay, I’m off to bed. Call me again soon, ok, Elena?”

“’Kay,” Elena managed.

The call ended. Elena leaned over the toilet and puked again.

“I think I’m done,” she moaned, and Klaus laughed.

 

. . .

 

Elena was only mildly hungover the next morning, to her pleasant surprise. It was already midday by the time she woke. She went through her usual post-drinking routine as though the whole situation wasn’t beyond strange, but she did not encounter anyone else: not while she made coffee or cooked breakfast, not while she sat reading in the living room, not even when she wrote a diary entry for the first time in forever. It felt strange, putting her thoughts on paper again; more than once she became convinced that Klaus was reading from behind her, but whenever she turned to look, she was met with an empty room.

She had just eaten a sandwich alone when Klaus burst through the door. “Feeling better, sweetheart?” he asked. Elena carefully ignored him as she placed her plate in the dishwasher, and she heard him laugh.

“I’d love to mock you all day,” Klaus continued, unperturbed, “but as it would seem I find myself needing your assistance in a certain matter.”

“What matter?” asked Elena.

“Davina Claire,” replied Klaus. She spun around, fought the urge to roll her eyes at the smirk on his face.

“You are not gonna hurt that girl,” she told him, her voice low.

Klaus’s smirk only grew wider. “Is that a demand, love?”

Elena did not rise to the bait. “I’m serious, Klaus. Don’t.”

Klaus sighed. “Very well, I won’t hurt the little witch,” he said. “But it’s high time I face at least one of my parents, and Mikael presents the more pressing threat by far, and as such, he shall be dealt with.”

“Today?” asked Elena.

Klaus nodded. “Today.”

She ran her tongue along her lower lip as she thought. She wasn’t willing to betray Davina, but there was no harm in hearing what Klaus had in mind. “Why do you need me?” she asked.

“Davina likes you, I believe,” said Klaus. “That’ll help.” He didn’t say anything else, just looked her up and down, and so she sighed, and followed him out to the car. The sky already looked as though it was thinking of getting dark, and she watched the city go by in silence. By the time they reached Davina’s cabin—Klaus didn’t even need to ask her for directions—it was night. She sat in the front seat as Klaus went up to look around the cabin, and then, seconds later, he was opening her door, his face sober again.

“Come on, love,” he said, without smiling.

Klaus had started toward the house, Elena trailing behind, when she heard someone panting. She turned around as a familiar looking girl barreled straight into Klaus, blurting out something related to his father—

“Cami,” Elena said, out loud. “The bartender, right?”

Cami straightened up from hugging Klaus and met Elena’s eyes. “You,” she said, and then—“sorry, that sounded rude, I’d just—“

“Forgotten about me?” Elena finished. At Cami’s guilty look, she laughed. “No, it’s, it’s fine. I kind of wish it happened more often, to be honest.”

“Oh, don’t flatter yourself, love,” said Klaus, with a slight smirk. He grabbed her wrist and pulled her forward. “You’re perfectly forgettable, you just happen to have a face that isn’t.”

Elena snatched her wrist away, and Klaus laughed.

Cami looked between them, and then back at Klaus. “Okay, just—whatever you do, don’t hurt that girl, okay? Don’t hurt Davina.”

“Already had to promise that, sweetheart,” said Klaus. “You have to stay back, Cami.

“Oh, it’s not safe for me, but it’s safe for her?” asked Cami. Elena had expressed the same sentiment way too many times.

“Mikael sort of… knows me,” said Elena. “Not that he wouldn’t still kill me, but—“

“He does respect your many attempts on my life, I’m sure,” Klaus interrupted. “And I do value your years of experience serving as vampire bait or collateral damage.”

Elena rolled her eyes, but played along. “Actually, I’m pretty sure those were Caroline’s jobs. I was usually the sacrificial lamb or the martyr.”

“Or the vampire morality pet,” Klaus said amiably. “Ah, Mystic Falls.” With that, he walked forward. Elena shot Cami a tight-lipped smile, and then followed after him.

There were a few silent seconds, and then Klaus shouted, “Davina!” There was no reply. “Davina!” Nothing. “Davina, send Mikael out!”

Elena knew her cue when it came. “Klaus, don’t,” she said, falling into the role of Old Elena Gilbert with the ease of donning an old Henley top. “Klaus, that’s enough!”

“Elena?” she heard from the house, though she couldn’t see Davina.

She could feel Klaus’s smirk, as though it were a ghost that lingered in the air all around her. “No need to look so guilty, love,” he said, sliding forward, “after all, you didn’t tell me where she was, or, I don’t know, that you even met her.”

She could admire it, now, the way he could spin his voice from a roar to a murmur, from sweet cadences to poisonous threats. She swallowed, and the lines came to her as though from a script. “You don’t own me, Klaus.”

He turned back to her, and his eyes were shining with humour. “’Course I do, love,” he said, sounding downright cheerful, and Elena did not know what to think, here, standing with Klaus, playing at being foes once again, speaking lines and playing roles that were nothing if not the truth. "You're the doppelganger."

She didn’t have a classic Elena line to throw at that, so she just stood there, breathing more heavily than she had to, keeping her face as stern as she could while Klaus smiled over at her. It was a hell of a smile; it seemed to fade from humour into interest, then twist into something possessive and dangerous, the look he’d given her the first time he’d seen her, wearing Alaric’s skin, that day in the history classroom before she could even know what it meant (and it looked far more frightening on his real face, and it was all she could do to keep breathing steady and her heart from racing, because Klaus would be able to hear it, and even though she knew she wasn’t scared of Klaus the fear still crept up her spine, like an old memory she couldn’t remember having), and then spiralled into something far, far darker.

He snapped his head forward again, breaking her gaze so rapidly she found herself dizzy, her vision still blurry as he picked up a long stick and looked at the handle. She could not see a single line of his face, but she could feel his anger like it bubbled up inside them both, and knew what was about to happen seconds before Klaus launched the staff at the house.

She heard glass shattering and wood breaking, and she wasn’t even tempted to flinch.

 

Chapter Text

If there was one thing Elena had been very good at in her human days, it was knowing where to position herself during a fight. You couldn’t be too close to the fight, obviously, otherwise someone would try to use you as leverage; but you had to be close enough to see everything and intervene if necessary. Elena wasn’t sure what she could do to intervene here, seeing as she had no weapon and Mikael would not be swayed if she threatened to kill herself (in fact, last time he’d been alive, he’d used Katherine-as-her as leverage against Klaus), but old instincts came back like riding a bike. As soon as Mikael came outside, she shot Klaus a look and grabbed Cami’s forearm and dragged her backwards to the vantage point on the edge of the trees, eyes watching intently.

“What are you thinking about?” Cami asked.

Elena frowned. “If there’s a situation in which threatening self-harm will give Klaus the upper hand,” she said.

Cami was silent for a minute. “…You know what, I don’t think I’m even going to ask.”

Elena wasn’t even paying attention. She was watching the fight, her eyes trained on Klaus, when suddenly something flashed before her eyes and dizziness overtook her. Cami made a sound, and Elena squeezed her wrist as tightly as she could. “Don’t draw attention,” she whispered, sounding strangled. “I’ll be fine—fine—“

She felt herself losing balance, and felt Cami grab her weight just as the world swam away to reveal another.

She was watching Stefan—not Stefan, no, her husband, she knew—on his funeral pyre. She could smell the flames singeing his long hair, knew she was destined to jump on and tie atop the pyre—she did not

She was dancing, feathered mask atop her head, long hair sitting heavily on her scalp hers had never been that long she caught Elijah’s eye for a second, then was spun around, Klaus’s eyes were so young mouth was on hers, she broke away, laughing, his arms were on her waist, leading her as she danced—

She was looking at Elijah was he still human and she cupped his face in her hand, “I choose you,” she was saying, and she was kissing him—

Her eyes shot back open halfway through a gasp. She silenced it as soon as she was aware of it, pushed herself back to her feet, and Klaus was at her side.

“Mikael—“

“Dealt with—“ Klaus replied shortly. She was still gasping for breath, and she clutched his arm as she started to sway. “What just happened?” he asked, grabbing her elbow. “You’ve never been prone to fainting—“

“You had long hair—“ she whispered, memories swimming before her eyes. “You were kissing me—no, no, we were dancing, I was kissing Elijah—I wasn’t—“ she broke off, coughing. “Your mother was there—“

Klaus’s grip tightened. “What are you rambling on about?” he growled, in a way that generally meant he was nervous. “I can assure you, love, you and I have never—“

“It was Samhain,” she whispered, and looked up at Klaus. He was white as a sheet. “It was—we were wearing masks—“

Klaus didn’t say anything, but it hit Elena like a freight train.

“It was Tatia,” she said, and she was breathing too hard but could not stop. “Klaus, I was Tatia—I’m not Tatia, I’m not her, why am I remembering—”

Klaus’s hand moved from her elbow to her shoulder. “I don’t know,” he said. “Perhaps it is some ministration of my mother’s—“

“Yeah,” said Elena, heart still pounding. “Yeah, it’s got to be.” She swallowed, and then pushed herself upright. “Okay, I’m fine, I’m fine. We should check on Davina.”

She rushed inside the house as soon as they arrived, Cami with her, and crouched at Davina’s side. Klaus was in the doorway. She had to admit, she hadn’t missed that part of being a vampire. Davina’s friend was mouthing off in a way that sounded all too familiar, and she looked over at Klaus. She wasn’t entirely sure where she recognized it from, but she wasn’t just imagining things. Cami left to get the car, and Elena looked over Davina. She was probably going to be fine, though Elena wished she could just feed her some blood and make sure she didn’t have a concussion—

“Kol,” Klaus said, and sudden horror dawned on Elena. She rose to her feet from her perch at Davina’s side, first instinct to run to Klaus—except she couldn’t do that, Kol was Klaus’s brother.

“Looks like the jig is up,” said Kol, and she could hear him in his every word. He shot a sideways glance at Elena. “Remember me, doppelganger?”

She glanced over at Klaus, who looked—almost amused? “I should go help Cami with the car,” she muttered, and darted out of the house. She could hear them laughing as she left, but she was still shaken. She’d helped kill Kol, and now he was back? Klaus probably wouldn’t let him get revenge on her—although Kol had never been prone to listening to Klaus’s orders—but what if he tried to get revenge on Jeremy, god—

She forced herself to breathe as she arrived at the car. She didn’t see Cami—maybe she was already inside? She looked in the driver’s door, then opened it, but Cami was nowhere in sight.

Elena could put two and two together. She opened the trunk of the car and found it empty.

“KLAUS!” she shouted. “Klaus, they’re both gone, Mikael must have taken Cami—“

Klaus was already next to her. “Dammit,” he said. “He took the stake.”

They took off in silence. Well, mostly in silence—Klaus muttered to himself the entire time, but there was nothing resembling conversation. Elena did not say a word, not even when they came upon an entire party of dead bodies, clearly Mikael’s handiwork, not until—

Elena keeled over, Klaus catching her right before she hit the ground. She could not pass out again, she could not, not when Mikael could be anywhere—

Elijah embracing Klaus, on the ground, a body torn apart, she gasped in horror, Elijah called her name—it wasn’t her name, it wasn’t—she ran off—”

She was looking into Klaus’s eyes. “What was it this time?” he asked, no preamble.

“There was a body, Elijah and you, I think—I think you’d just turned into a wolf,” she said. Klaus’s eyes widened. “I was—I was scared—“

“I remember that day,” Klaus muttered. “That was the day I found out that Mikael was not my true father.” He stood, lifting them both to her feet, and she’d just stood upright when she collapsed into Klaus’s chest—

Don’t touch me,” she whispered, in the memory and aloud. She felt Klaus pull back through her haze; she grasped his shirt and pulled him forward. “No—stop—what have you become—“

A moment later, she was awake, but she did not move. “It’s not over,” she whispered, “it’s coming—“

Klaus shifted so his arms were around her. She had a moment to be grateful, and then—

“Your mother asked for my blood,” she was saying, Tatia was saying, she was looking at Elijah, she was standing with Klaus, she was— “she said nothing of the dark magic that would turn you into a monster—” she—no Tatia—said.

There was blood on her hand, she—no, her hands were on the soft fabric of Klaus’s shirt—Elijah’s face began to shift, neither she nor Tatia had ever seen that happen before—

She took a few ragged breaths.

No,” she gasped. She hit Elijah, he fell to his knees—she pushed against Klaus with almost no strength to her name—Elijah’s eyes shifted—

Elijah?” she said, and then began breathing, loud—“No, no—“

That was when she started screaming.

She couldn’t help it. She wasn’t sure where she was—Elijah’s fangs in her neck or Klaus’s hand holding her head to his chest—she screamed and screamed, she felt her eyes burn with tears, Klaus making gentle shushing sounds—it felt as though it would never end. It was nothing like when Klaus had drained her, with the precision and civility of a thousand years of experience—it was messy, she could feel Elijah’s fangs ripping though her skin, she could almost imagine the bloody gash—she thought it would never end, and then it was over, and she was sobbing into Klaus’s chest—she couldn’t stop, couldn’t pull up shame or horror at it—she could hardly remember who she was.

“I’m not Tatia,” she whispered, when she finally could. “Why do I remember, why do I remember being her, I’m not—that never happened to me, I’m not—“ she was gasping for breath so hard she couldn’t string together a sentence. “What’s happening to me?” she begged. “What’s—Klaus—what’s happening?”

She couldn’t imagine ever wiping that memory from her mind, ever pushing down the horror—she could cope with a lot of trauma, she’d been hurt before, she’d died before, and yet nothing could compare to this memory that was not hers. She’d been so scared of what being the doppelganger meant, and nothing had been so important to her as making it clear, to herself and to everyone else, that she was Elena, only ever Elena, making sure that no one ever saw anyone but Elena—and now she wasn’t only Elena at all.

She couldn’t imagine coping with that, but Mikael was on the loose with the white oak stake, and so she forced herself to her feet.

She rubbed her fingers against her eyes. “We have to—we have to find Mikael,” she said.

She could sense Klaus’s hesitation. “You’re—“

“I’m fine,” she lied. “Let’s go.”

. . .

 

It was almost poetic, Elena thought, Klaus and Mikael fighting in the middle of the garage, a human standing on either side. Except, of course, that Mikael planned on killing Cami, and Klaus—while he wasn’t fighting to protect Elena—didn’t want her hurt either.

She was just wondering whether she could get Klaus any leverage when the white oak stake dug into Klaus’s heart.

Cami screamed; Elena watched in horror until Klaus’s body had fallen to the ground. She flung herself over Klaus’s prone body, not hesitating as she moved—she’d been thrown around a lot, after all—and she had seen Originals die before. She was maybe—definitely—the only one here who ever had—she knew they weren’t dead until they burst into flame, and Klaus was still cold as stone. She remembered this happening before, remembered Damon staking Klaus only for Stefan to pull him off—she knew Klaus wasn’t dead yet. Maybe the stake hadn’t reached his heart, maybe it was taking longer than usual to activate, for whatever reason—he wasn’t dead yet.

As soon as she’d landed on top of Klaus (it was a long jump, too, and she used his body to break her fall but she’d scraped her knees something fierce), she lowered her head, making her body shake as though she were crying over him, wondering if there was any way Mikael wouldn’t see her move. She heard him growling, heard his steps walk past her, and dared a shot over her shoulder. He was out of sight. She shifted up, so she was straddling his chest, dug her knees into the sides of his ribcage, and seized the stake between both hands.

Pulling out stakes wasn’t easy for a human, but at this point Elena considered herself a seasoned expert. Besides, it wasn’t much more difficult than pulling a dagger out of Elijah. She yanked upwards, at just the right angle, and the stake came sliding out. She kept a firm hold on the stake, and shot a look over her shoulder. Mikael wasn’t back yet. She looked down at Klaus, who didn’t seem any closer to waking up, and, with a sigh, stabbed her own arm with the stake, hard enough to make a wound that gushed blood. She heard a gasp that she thought belonged to Cami, but she didn’t look to check, and instead jammed her forearm against Klaus’s mouth. It was a messy wound, the drawn blood a result of pure brute force, the stake lacking the precision of a knife, but she had sliced her own neck open before. This was nothing.

She felt Klaus’s face move below her, felt the distinct piercing of fangs, like she’d felt earlier that day—that was Tatia that wasn’t her—and she let him drink for a few moments before pulling her arm away as firmly as she could. She knew that doing so worsened the wound, felt even more of her skin tearing, but she didn’t care. A second later, Klaus’s eyes, still bloodshot, locked on hers. They snapped down to the stake, still coated in both Klaus’s insides and Elena’s own blood, and then back to her face.

“I pulled it out,” she said, though surely he had put it together.

He sat up, his hand moving to her waist as he did so she wouldn’t fall, which meant she was now sitting in his lap. His face was terribly close to hers.

“Did you stab yourself with the stake?” he asked in a low voice.

She shrugged. “You weren’t waking up,” she said. He looked as though he were going to speak again, so she grabbed the hand not at her waist and pressed the stake into his palm. “Go kill your dad now, okay?” she said. He smiled, just a little, and then he was up and across the room just as Mikael walked back in.  A second later, they had backup.

She rose to her feet, and surveyed the garage. Hayley and the other—Marcel, she figured—were now fighting with Klaus, and she knew she was no help over there, so she made her way over to Cami instead.

“Hey,” she said, kneeling down next to Cami. “Are you okay?”

Cami snorted. “You’re asking me if I’m okay?” she asked. Elena wasn’t sure what she meant until Cami added, “You’re the one with blood spewing out of your arm and all over the floor.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, looking down at her arm. The wound did look pretty awful. She shrugged, but held her arm up, anyway. “Someone will heal it eventually.”

Cami’s laugh sounded surprised. “Okay,” she said. “How long have you been doing this again?”

Elena laughed with her. “Um, since I was seventeen?” she said. “Don’t worry, it stops fazing you.”

“That’s what worried me,” said Cami. “I don’t want it to stop fazing me.”

Elena looked over at her, eyebrows raised.

“This is all terrible,” Cami said, sounding half-resigned to Elena not understanding. “People keep dying, and everyone has to hurt themselves, or others—I mean, look at why we’re here, because Klaus has to kill his own father so his father doesn’t kill him. It’s horrible. I don’t want to forget that it’s horrible just because it’s normal. I don’t want it to stop fazing me.”

Elena couldn’t quite grasp that—it wasn’t that she didn’t understand in theory, but she’d never known any way to cope except to go on with life as normal, to try and incorporate everything into her day-to-day routine, go to school and dances and on dates and invite the monsters into that.

It had always made Jeremy so angry, that she could act like everything was normal, and it had always confused her so much that Jeremy could stand to do anything else.

She didn’t know how to say any of that, though, so she crouched in silence, dusting some gravel off of her bare knees. She could feel the shift in the battle before it happened, and rose to her feet. She almost stumbled but had enough self-discipline to not even waver, although her head was very light. She tried to stay at the back of the group, but Klaus reached backwards, and pulled her forward by the wrist—not the one covered in blood, thankfully. She didn’t know what to make of it for a moment, and settled on resting all her weight into him. She didn’t listen to Mikael, just focused on keeping herself upright and her mind off the incoming numbness.

Mikael disappeared just as Elena could no longer hold it together. She collapsed against Klaus. He caught her weight, probably expecting another onslaught of memories, and then caught her injured arm in his hand. His grip was gentle, but she still winced.

“Ah, Elena,” he said, his voice soft. “All that precious doppelganger blood spilling out and not a word of complaint. I’m hardly surprised.”

She tried to retort, or even shove him, but her vision was started to swim around the edges and she collapsed again. She felt Klaus’s hand on her waistline, and, finally, his bloody arm against her mouth. She drank deeply, for the second time this week, until she finally felt herself again.

Klaus laughed. “Better?” he asked.

Elena wiped her mouth and smacked him at the same time. “You should be thanking me,” she told him. “Doppelganger blood is a hot commodity these days.”

Klaus rolled his eyes. “How you’ve managed to survive this long is beyond me.”

“Hang on,” said Marcel’s voice behind her. “Did you just say doppelganger?”

“Ah, yes,” said Klaus, grasping her elbow and steering her around. “You are a few chapters behind, Marcellus. Allow me to formally introduce—“

“I’m Elena.” She snaked her arm out of Klaus’s grip and extended a hand. “And I’m guessing you’re Marcel.”

“No need to say that with such dread, now,” said Marcel with a grin, shaking her hand. “I will say, though, I am a bit confused. Klaus here told me that the last doppelganger had turned into a vampire, and that the line was finished.” He laughed in a charming sort of way. “Went on a hell of a lot of tangents about it, if I remember correctly.”

Elena allowed herself to be charmed. “I’m not surprised to hear that,” she said, shooting a smirk over at Klaus. “But he was the one who was a few chapters behind. Katherine had a baby out of wedlock before she even met Klaus.”

Marcel laughed. “That sounds about right,” he said. He raised an eyebrow over at Klaus. “I’ve got to admit, though, I don’t see what a fine lady like yourself is doing with the likes of him.”

Klaus stepped forward. “Don’t get too friendly, now, Marcel,” he said, in that voice that could be a joke and a threat at the same time. “After all, she and Rebekah are sworn enemies.”

“We are so not!” said Elena, jabbing her elbow into Klaus’s side. “She even let me live in your house for a little while there, back when I turned my humanity off, if you remember.”

“I try not to,” Klaus informed her, with a fake shudder. “Those were dark days.”

“Whatever,” said Elena, turning back to Marcel. “Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing with the likes of him either.” She smiled, and then remembered something else about Marcel, and her smile slid away. “Hang on—is Davina okay?”

Marcel tilted his head. “Pleasure to meet you, then,” he said, and was gone.

“Well, you’ve had quite the big night, haven’t you?” Klaus asked her. “I think you’ve collapsed more times tonight than you have since I’ve known you.” He smirked, but Elena thought it looked somewhat forced. “With the exception, of course, of the night I drained you of your blood and you fell to the ground like a rag doll.”

Elena flipped him off. “You’re a dick,” she told him, and he laughed.

Chapter Text

She’d been asleep for a long time.

As always, she checked her phone when she woke up. 5:00 PM. That was only a few hours after she’d gotten to sleep, she’d thought to herself, but then she checked the date. She’d been asleep for over twenty-four hours.

She got herself showered and dressed more quickly than usual, horrified by how much time she’d wasted in bed, but once she was a person again, she realized she had nothing to do. She made her way down to the kitchen; there was a note for her left on the counter, in Klaus’s handwriting.

(She couldn’t believe she recognized it on sight.)

Elena, it read,

Elijah is a captive of my mother’s. I’ve gone to fetch him. You’re safe in the compound. I shall text you if anything changes.

KM

Brief and to the point, which was so different from Klaus’s usual flair for the dramatic that Elena felt dread building in her stomach. It could be that Klaus was very concise in writing, of course—while she’d seen his writing enough to recognize the slant of his words, she hadn’t read much of it—but she thought the likelihood that he was being short out of stress and anxiety far, far higher. The thought of Esther filled her stomach with dread, as it always did, but she took a breath and made herself some coffee, filling her mind with trivialities to alleviate her worry. When had she started worrying about Klaus, anyway?

She made herself a pot of coffee, trying to keep her head clear, and was just carrying her mug over to the table when she heard footsteps.

“You’re back early,” she said, taking a sip from her slightly-too-full cup.

“Hello, Elena,” said a stranger’s voice. “It’s been a while.”

Elena had enough control over her nerves by now that she could restrict her reaction to a simple hitch in her breath, which she covered by taking a swig of burning hot coffee as she spun around. She swallowed it down without flinching, tilting her head and raising her eyebrows at the newcomer. Something about the position made her feel like Katherine, but the thought was comforting—she’d always thought Katherine looked threatening, deadly, self-assured.

“Finn, I take it?” she said. Finn smiled, the look a little too predatory to be friendly. This new face was nothing like Finn’s original one, but she still recognized him as soon as she looked properly, seeing the disdain, the superiority, and the clear, probing interest that distinguished those familiar with the doppelgangers from the rest of the world, the same look his mother looked at her with, that most of his siblings looked at her with—she still saw it on Klaus and Elijah’s faces, more often than she’d care for—the look she’d received from all the Originals but Rebekah, really, if she thought about it.

“I thought it time you and I had a little conversation,” Finn said, stepping around her and sitting himself at the kitchen table, leaving her no choice but to sit across from him. “I understand my mother was a little…forceful, when the two of you spoke the other night.”

Elena shot him a tight-lipped smile. “That just about summarizes all of our conversations,” she said. Finn laughed, in that charming way people did when they thought themselves very clever and very much in control. It was another clear marker of an Original sibling, although Elena had never seen Finn so relaxed, in his old body.

“Humanity suits you,” she told him. Katherine would have tossed a comment about how much less constipated and angsty he looked now, but Elena did not want to escalate the situation if she could help it, did not want to make Finn any more of an enemy than he already was.

“You as well,” he told her. “Much better than vampirism ever did, when I saw you wear it from the Other Side. Surely you’re very grateful to be rid of that immoral existence.”

Elena did not want to answer that, out loud or even to herself. “I can see that you are,” she said instead.

“And yet you refused my mother’s offer to move you to a new body, a body not haunted by the doppelganger curse,” said Finn. “Why is that? Because this form is attractive to my brothers?”

Elena laughed. “You don’t get it, do you?” she said, and she felt almost as though Katherine were somewhere inside of her—the part of her that had once turned into Katherine, in another life with different influences and choices—and she leaned forward. “It has nothing to do with your brothers. My body is my body, and I want to keep it.”

“But it isn’t, is it?” asked Finn, leaning forward as well. “I remember Tatia wearing that face, a thousand years ago, the same height, same voice, the same size. Your body isn’t yours at all.”

“It belongs to me a hell of a lot more than the one you’re wearing around belongs to you,” she said. “You want to talk to me about morals? You stole someone else’s body, someone else’s life, and trust me, as someone who’s had that happen to them before, there’s nothing remotely ethical about that.”

Finn’s fists slammed against the table, so sudden compared to his peaceful demeanor from seconds earlier that Elena did flinch, just a little. “My mother sought to offer you a new body, a new chance,” he snarled, “but I don’t think you deserve one. That face, that body, has wrecked havoc and mayhem and destruction, driven men to madness and murder, and the blood that courses through your veins was willingly given to create the abominations my mother turned us into, is the only thing my vile brother can use to create his foul, disgusting hybrids.”

Finn was leaning forward, and there was a light in his eyes, something almost manic about the way his words tumbled out of his mouth. Elena felt as though something was clawing at her heart—people had linked her with the others because they wanted her to be Tatia or Katherine, never because— “My mother would offer you the mercy of another body, but I would see the doppelganger put to death for her crimes, I would see you bleed for what your blood has done, and now that you’ve refused my mother’s mercy, there’s no reason that I can’t—“

Elena threw her hot coffee in his face, and he screamed, from rage rather than pain, she could tell. She shoved the table into him, sending him falling backwards off his seat, and she ran out and into the living room, not sure where to run to, when a hand wrapped around her waist, her back pulled up against someone.

She could tell just from the feel of his form that it was Klaus.

“Klaus, Finn,” she said, and said nothing else, before Klaus growled and Finn was gone. “I’m not—it wasn’t me,” she gasped, so quietly Klaus would not have heard it were he a human, but she could remember, now, could remember being Tatia, could remember knowing that she’d given Esther her blood, even if she couldn’t remember the actual giving of it—and then a few years ago, she’d given Esther her blood again, just like she always had, just like the doppelganger always would—maybe she really was all of them, just as much or more than she was herself—

She was still in Klaus’s grip, but two seconds later he had spun her out and backed her into a wall. She could tell he was upset before she saw his face—she’d seen Klaus distraught before, but never quite like this, naked fear etched on his face, lips quivering, eyes wide and pleading.

“Klaus, what happened?” she asked, the words coming out of her mouth on pure reflex.

“My father,” he said, after taking a deep breath.

“Mikael?” she asked. “Why would he—he doesn’t have the stake—“

“My birth father,” said Klaus, and Elena felt as though she’d been struck. She could remember the day she realized John was her birth father, could remember the shock and horror, the feeling that the world was spinning of it’s axis, but she’d loved Grayson Gilbert, it had never really upset her that he was really her uncle, and she’d never felt as afraid as Klaus looked. “My birth father, he—I remember his face—Esther brought him back, I remember his face—“

Elena—Elena knew how to offer comfort, somewhere in the back of her brain, but she might not really be Elena at all—I’m Elena, I’m Elena, she told herself, but she was also thinking it’s all my fault, and she couldn’t, she couldn’t pull her mind together enough to offer comfort, not to anyone, not to Klaus, as distraught as her, pinning her against a wall and gasping as fiercely as she was, clutching her shoulders as tightly as she was grasping his forearms.

Klaus leaned in and kissed her so suddenly that her body responded before her brain understood what was happening. Elena had kissed and been kissed a lot—she knew the rhythm of it, mouth against mouth, the push and the pull of it all, how to surrender to a kiss without chasing it desperately. She could have done it in her sleep.

But this wasn’t simply going through the motions. This was Klaus, the two of them were the first and the last people who should be kissing in the world, and Elena hadn’t even touched anyone since Damon—and she was distraught, and so was Klaus. She didn’t know who he was kissing, her or Tatia or Katherine, but something about that, the anonymity of it, the chance to not be any of them, just that girl with that face—

—and this was Klaus

She reached up and crossed her arms behind his neck, languidly, letting herself lean into the curve of his hand racing down from her waist, the friction of his hipbone digging into her, right where her top was hitched up to reveal bare skin, his other hand pulling up at her shirt, thumb tracing circles under her ribcage, on her ribcage, creeping higher and higher—

—somewhere under her skin, her body knew that they had done this before—

She pulled her fingers through his hair, and she could feel a jolt, barely more than a shiver, really, course through both of them, she could feel his surprise ghosting under her breast and along the exposed skin of her neck. She had been kissing him back, but only through instinct, still passive Elena, halfway between simply letting herself be kissed and dutifully playing her part—this was a response, something active, present, decisive.

Klaus’s hand ran along the underside of her leg, and then he lifted her. Her legs wrapped around him so naturally something in her must have known they would do this all along, and she cupped his face in her hands when his head tilted upwards, lips crashing into a kiss before either of them could do something stupid like make eye contact.

His open mouth ran along her neck, pausing to hover over his bite mark, that victory badge from the night of the sacrifice, so many years ago. He kissed the spot, hard, and Elena thought she would let him drink from her, would fuck him right there and then against the living room wall—

Something about this felt so ordained.

It was that thought that broke through her haze.

More quickly than she’d known possible, she was standing again, her hands flat on Klaus’s chest, his gripping her forearms, and she knew that somehow, he’d had the very same thought at the very same moment. She could see her own naked horror reflected on his face, and a second later he was gone.

What was she doing?

“That face, that body, has wrecked havoc and mayhem and destruction, driven men to madness and murder…”

Elena was breathing in gasps, choking on air so violently it sounded like sobbing, was turning into sobbing—

“I would see the doppelganger put to death for her crimes, I would see you bleed for what your blood has done…”

She pressed a hand to her mouth, trying desperately to breathe, but her mind was flashing, she was Tatia kissing Klaus, she was Elena kissing Klaus, if she tried to remember hard enough she might be Katherine kissing Klaus. She was trembling, shaking, she didn’t know what she was doing—her mind raced back to the realms of the ordinary and landed on, I need to call Caroline and confess, except that was ridiculous, this was far too messed up to be distilled into anything that simple.

She had to talk to someone who didn’t know or care anything for the doppelgangers, someone who would just talk to Elena—

Her fingers scrambled with her phone, found a name in her contacts—

The phone rang once, twice.

“Hayley?” said Elena, hands grasping for the phone. “Are you free right now?”

She met Hayley at a bar she’d never been to before. It was the kind of place where they had a fully stocked bar, but you still felt like you couldn’t really order anything but beer, and even though she would have liked a Corona, she ordered a Heineken.

Hayley ordered a Guinness. Elena didn’t really know Hayley that well, despite having lived in the same house and dealt with the same drama for the past while—she knew a lot about Hayley, but they’d never spoken alone before, and even though she knew there was nothing between Hayley and Klaus, something about sitting with her only a few hours after… after whatever had happened with Klaus made her feel tainted, as though Hayley somehow knew, and even though she knew Hayley wouldn’t care even if she did know, it didn’t sit well in Elena’s stomach.

She told Hayley about what had happened with Finn, about Elijah being Esther’s captive, and Hayley’s expression darkened. “That raging bitch and her mommy’s boy really need to be taken down a peg,” she said. She didn’t ask if Elena was okay, and Elena appreciated it. “Did he say anything about what Esther’s planning?”

“Nothing we don’t know, except that he really wants me dead,” said Elena. “What about you? Did you learn anything today?”

Hayley grimaced. “Just that Esther’s more of an asshole than I gave her credit for,” she said. She took a deep breath. “She killed a—one of the wolves today. A friend, I guess.”

“Oh my god,” said Elena. “I’m so sorry.”

Hayley’s face was still, but she was gripping her beer very tightly. “Yeah, well. It’s not like we didn’t know she was ruthless. She came after my baby—I shouldn’t be surprised she’d kill someone she thought was a traitor.”

“She needs to be dealt with,” Elena agreed. “And Finn too.”

“Yeah,” said Hayley, and then took a drink from her beer, long enough that Elena thought she might be planning to chug the whole thing. “What about Kol? Whose side is he on?”

“Not mine,” said Elena. “Definitely not. I—I helped kill him, me and my brother. Finn, too.” She swallowed. “Kol had it in for me for a while, he came back from the Other Side and tried to kill me once. But I don’t think he’s on Esther’s side, either—he’ll remember last time Esther tried to kill them all, and he isn’t the type to just do what Esther says.”

“So he’s a third party,” said Hayley.

Elena raised an eyebrow. “There are a lot more than three parties in this war,” she said, and Hayley laughed without humor.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she said. “It’s all way more screwed up than that.” She tapped her fingers against the table. “Wasn’t he with Davina, though?”

“…Yeah,” said Elena. “I don’t really know what that’s about—I think he’s really into this whole witch thing, though, and I’m pretty sure he was hanging out with her on Esther’s orders, but I don’t think that’s why he stuck around. I think he kinda likes her.”

“Well, as long as he isn’t going to hurt her.” Hayley said, just as her phone started buzzing. She shot a glance at it, then picked it up. “Klaus?” she said, and Elena’s heart started hammering again. “What—you’re taking him back to the compound?”

“Elijah?” Elena mouthed, and Hayley nodded absently at her.

“We’ll be right there,” she said. “Yeah, I’m with Elena.”

She pulled the phone from her ear, giving it a curious look, and then shrugged. Elena was already pulling out a twenty to leave on the table.

“I don’t understand,” said Hayley, as they rushed out of the bar. “He said Esther handed him over without a fight, that she just wanted to talk to him, but he sounded furious and—I dunno, not like he’d just had a conversation.”

“Esther brought his father back to life,” said Elena, and Hayley shot her a sharp look. “Not Mikael, his birth father, the werewolf one. Klaus came by the compound, and he was… he was really upset by it. I don’t know who he is, though.”

Hayley groaned. “I think I do,” she said, “but I kind of hope I’m wrong.” She dialed a number on her phone. “Jackson?” she said into it, after a moment. “I really, really hate to do this, but… how old were the ways Ansel was telling you about?”

Elena tuned out the conversation, her mind on Klaus again. She’d had awkward meetings with people she’d hooked up with before—this wasn’t about it being awkward. She’d never even thought about Klaus that way, she’d never wanted—she didn’t know what it meant, if she was turning into Tatia, or even Katherine, she didn’t know why she’d done it—that wasn’t true, she knew she’d been distraught, and Klaus had been distraught, and it was easier for either of them than having breakdowns—but god, it hadn’t just felt like searching for oblivion in sex. It felt like a realignment of her own body, as though she’d been swimming against a current forever and had finally turned around and been swept into something natural. But it wasn’t natural, and fate didn’t exist—she’d already been through this with Stefan and doppelganger destiny whatever crap—

She didn’t know what she thought, so she focused on Elijah, dear, sweet Elijah, and getting back to him as fast as she could. She listened to the tension in Hayley’s voice and the click-clacking of their shoes on the pavement, on the sound of her own breathing, and refused to think.

 

Chapter Text

It was strange to be in the same room as Klaus again, after what had happened. She had rushed to Elijah’s side the second she and Hayley had arrived, as much for the sake of avoiding Klaus as out of genuine concern for Elijah. He looked like he was in pain, and she grabbed his hand in a rush of compassion—

—she was in the woods, drenched in the rain, she was running from Elijah, the Elena’s Elijah, not Tatia’s, the Elijah who always wore suits, he caught her wrist in his hand, the grass damp under her now-bare feet, his grip was too rough, and then his fangs were in her neck again—

—she staggered backwards, her breathing heavy. “It happened again,” she said right away, in case she was pulled back in or passed out before she could communicate. She stayed firmly in the real world, though, and her pounding heart could at least be attributed to her hallucination, or possession, or whatever, not to Klaus’s presence.

“What happened again?” came Hayley’s impatient voice. “Actually, what happened, period?”

“Elena’s been experiencing some form of hallucinatory memory sequence in which she is her first incarnation, Tatia,” said Klaus. It was so strange, to hear him speak so straightforwardly, and Elena took particular note of the lack of affectation to go with her name. Maybe Klaus was shaken by what had happened, too.

“Oh, god, more doppelganger crap,” said Hayley. Elena couldn’t help but agree.

“This wasn’t a memory, though,” said Elena, and she looked over at Klaus, meeting his gaze. “It was our Elijah—he was wearing a suit—but it was still the woods of Mystic Falls or whatever you called it back then, and it was still the same scene.”

“It must be a dream,” said Klaus. He began to pace. “Courtesy of Esther, no doubt.” He paused. After a moment, Elena realized that he was trying to enter Elijah’s mind.

“I can’t get in,” he said after a moment. “Also mother’s doing, I’m sure.”

“Let me try again,” said Elena. “I know I can, maybe I can get him to wake up.”

She knew that, were she asking Stefan or Damon, she would have been refused on the spot, even though going into Elijah’s dream presented her with no physical danger at all. She knew there would have been a fight, some sort of confrontation, some sort of scolding for having the very notion.

Klaus just nodded.

She stepped forward, and sat on the bed next to Elijah, forcing the trepidation out of her mind. She reached down and clasped Elijah’s hand in hers.

She was in the forest again, amidst the type of storm that just didn’t happen in Mystic Falls. She could hear her mother’s voice in the back of her mind, telling her not to stand near trees when there was lightning, but this was not real, this storm was not real, and this danger was not real. She turned, and there was Elijah, walking after her just as before. His dream wanted her to run, but she made herself walk towards him. There was a flicker of surprise on his face. She kept walking, and reached up to him, cupping his face in her hands.

“Tatia,” he muttered, eyes bloodshot.

She shook her head. “Elena,” she corrected, her voice infinitely tender. “It’s Elena.”

“Elena,” he whispered. He grasped her wrist, but this time his touch was gentle. “Elena, it can’t be…”

“You’re dreaming, Elijah,” she told him, in that same voice. “You’re in your room at the compound, and so is Hayley. We’re waiting for you to wake up.”

His hand traveled down her arm to her elbow. “Elena,” he muttered.

“Wake up, Elijah,” she told him, her voice a little stern. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thought she sounded like Katherine.

He was looking at her like he was Elijah, her Elijah, and then a second later his eyes were bloodshot again and his fangs were out—

She gasped in a breath, and looked over at Klaus. She hadn’t realized she was leaving Elijah’s mind, but here she was.

“I got through to him, I’m sure of it,” she said, “but he couldn’t wake up, and then—it was like Esther pushed a reset button on his dream or something.”

Klaus cursed, then went on a tangent, something about knowing the antidote from his childhood and needing to seek it out in the bayou. He left in a bit of a rush, with a warning to Hayley not to get involved. Hayley and Elena shared a look.

“I have been on the receiving end of way too many of those speeches,” said Hayley.

“Tell me about it,” Elena replied.

. . .

Hayley left to get involved, of course, but Elena lingered back. She wanted to get revenge too, of course, but she’d been in enough fights to know when she would just hinder others, so she stayed behind with Elijah, with no choice but to think about her… indiscretion? Temporary possession by aliens? Complete lapse in sanity?

She knew she didn’t need to confess to Caroline, but she really, really needed to talk to her.

Caroline picked up on the second ring. “Oh my god, Elena!” she exclaimed. “Are you okay? I haven’t heard from you in ages.”

“It’s only been a few days, Caroline,” she said.

Caroline scoffed. “Yeah, and a few days ago you were hammered on tequila shots with mister evil hybrid himself. Excuse me for being a little worried.”

“All right, I’m sorry,” said Elena, laughing a little despite everything. “How are you?”

“I’m—fine, I guess,” said Caroline.

“You guess?” asked Elena.

Caroline sighed. “Yeah, I’m fine, just some, ugh, angsty Stefan drama,” she said. “Whatever.”

“No, Caroline, it’s not whatever,” said Elena, feeling a bit worried. “I want to hear—“

“Thanks, Elena, but I just really don’t want to talk about it right now,” said Caroline. “Seriously. If I do, you’ll be the first call I make, just… distract me. What’s going on in New Orleans?”

Elena sighed. “Um,” she said. She was alone in the compound, and she could speak without worrying about anyone eavesdropping, but she was still feeling hesitant as ever. “Drama, to sum it up. A lot of it.” She paused.

“Yes?” said Caroline.

“Care—I did something,” said Elena. She held her breath. “Something—“

“Elijah?” asked Caroline, so sudden that Elena felt disoriented.

“What? No—“

“Wait, Klaus?” asked Caroline.

“Care—no, I didn’t do anyone,” she said, her heart pounding, “I—I did sort of make out with Klaus, in some crazy, I don’t know, moment of weirdness. I don’t even know—“

“You’re not calling to apologize, are you?” asked Caroline. “Because Klaus and I aren’t going out, so stop eating yourself up with guilt about that. Or about Damon. And don’t deny it! I know you.”

Elena exhaled. “You… you don’t sound surprised.”

She could almost see Caroline shrug. “Elena, he’s slept with two other girls who are identical to you, and you’re in some weird confusing cohabitation, allied-with-the-enemy, desolate-in-grief-over-my-dead-vampire-boyfriend state. It’s not exactly hard to see coming.”

“I didn’t see it coming,” said Elena, “I still don’t know why I did it, really—and I know you’re not dating, but I know you have some feelings for him, and I don’t want you to feel like you don’t come before any guy.”

Caroline sighed. “Elena, you and I have dated two of the same guys,” she said. “Maybe three, if the Stefan drama could possibly go the way I’d want it to—“

Elena gaped. “Wait,” she said. “Your Stefan drama was… you and Stefan drama? You like Stefan?”

“Ugh, I forgot I hadn’t told you,” whined Caroline. “Damn it.”

Elena frowned. “But you still have feelings for Klaus,” she said.

“Oh my god, Elena, you are the last possible person on this earth who could lecture me for having feelings for multiple people at the same time, miss permanently in a love triangle,” said Caroline. Elena couldn’t help but laugh.

“Okay, that’s fair,” she said. “I’m glad we’re okay. I don’t understand, though—“

“You don’t understand how you could possibly be attracted to someone who’s killed people you care about?” asked Caroline. “Someone who’s killed you? Someone that evil? I mean, Elena, we’ve all murdered people. Damon murdered Jeremy once without knowing his ring was on. Stefan’s a freaking ripper. You turned it off and went on a killing spree for a few horrific months. Morality is kind of skewed for us.”

“But still,” said Elena, “I don’t—”

“You just have to make sure you don’t try to forget all the terrible things he’s done,” Caroline instructed her. “That’s my—for so long, I was trying to reconcile the guy I had feelings for with the evil hybrid, and eventually I just had to admit to myself that they were one and the same person, and that I couldn’t try to separate them in my head, and that I just had to keep making the choice of whether his good traits outweighed his bad and vice versa. I still do that. Sometimes my priorities change, it depends. You just need to have open eyes.”

Elena closed her eyes. “Caroline, I don’t have… like, feelings for him,” she said, though she wasn’t too sure herself. “And it’s kind of weird, you giving me advice about a guy we both currently—“

“Elena, we’re immortal supernatural vampires,” said Caroline. “And don’t tell me you’re not, because you know as well as I do that before your first wrinkle shows up you’ll have downed some blood and returned to the land of the undead. Nothing makes sense. Nothing is going to make sense in the thousands of years we are going to be spending together, and the last thing I’m going to do is let some weird high schoolish jealousy get between us not making sense of things together.”

Elena laughed again, more out of relief than amusement. “Thanks, Care,” she said, feeling warm all over. “I love you.”

“Love you too,” came the reply. “I gotta go, though.”

“More Stefan drama?” asked Elena.

Caroline made a dramatic choking noise, and then hung up.

. . .

Elena let Klaus have his moment with Elijah upon his waking, but once Klaus took his hand off his brother’s shoulder, she rushed into the room, throwing her arms around Elijah’s neck. She let go sooner than she usually would have, though; just being in his arms was triggering flashes of Tatia’s memory. She stayed near, though, and smiled up at him.

“We were all so worried about you,” she said, smiling despite the stricken look on Elijah’s face. “How do you feel?”

“Horrid,” said Elijah, and then looked away, shaking his head. “I’m—I apologize, Elena, but looking at your face—my dreams—“

“I know,” she said, her voice even. “I was there—somehow, I could enter your dreams. I couldn’t manage to wake you, though.”

Elijah met her eyes again, and frowned. “I remember that,” he said, his voice soft. “It’s no matter, though. Esther didn’t just give me nightmares, she gave me—“

“Memories,” said Elena. Elijah’s eyebrows shot up. “Again, I know. I was there.”

Elijah furrowed his brow. “I don’t understand,” he said, his tone rising. “My memories weren’t of you, they were of—“

“Tatia,” said Klaus from a few feet away. “That day in the woods, after my first transformation, yes, we know.”

“How?”

“You weren’t the only mind Esther was messing with,” said Elena. “I don’t know what exactly she was doing, but—“

“I believe that, while Esther was forcing your mind to relive unpleasant times, she overlooked the fact that there was another mind in near proximity which possessed those same memories as well,” said Klaus, stepping forward, hands clasped behind his back. “Not memories Elena possesses consciously, of course, they’re hidden behind the walls and barriers of magic that separate the doppelgangers’ identities, but it appears they are still in there, nevertheless. I was… fortunate enough to witness one such hallucination, and it was quite unpleasant.”

Elijah turned to look at her, and there was something so naked, so desperate about his eyes that Elena found herself stepping back. “I’m sorry,” he said, sounding nothing like the composed Elijah she knew. “I’m truly, truly sorry, Elena, Tatia, I didn’t know—my mother—I—I killed Tatia, but, I—“

“No, you didn’t,” said Elena, taken by complete surprise.

Elijah did not believe her; she could see as much in his face. “That memory was locked away, but you saw it as well as I did, what I did—“

Elena frowned. “Yes, you vamped out and attacked m—Tatia, but you didn’t kill m—her.”

Elijah looked forlorn, a word Elena couldn’t even really place until she saw it on Elijah’s face. “All these years I thought my mother killed her, but it was my doing—“

A shock ran down Elena’s spine, so harsh it was painful. “Your mother did kill Tatia,” she said, her voice so stern that even Klaus looked at her in surprise. “I have that memory, you know that. She killed me. She—I—Tatia was in pretty bad shape when you took her to your mother, but we weren’t dead.”

“Tatia was not conscious then,” said Elijah, and his face was darkening, “you couldn’t possibly have those memories, she was unconscious, she was dead. You couldn’t possibly know—“

“You did not kill her!” said Elena, raising her voice. “Even if I didn’t have later memories of hers, I would know!”

“How would you know a thing like that?” asked Klaus.

Elena looked over at his face, and it all rushed back to her, the heat of the flames and of his chest against her back and the precise incision of practiced fangs. “I’ve been drained of my blood to the point of my death,” she said, the words slow, deliberate, and spoken to Klaus and Klaus alone. “I remember precisely what it feels like.”

There was a spark of—of something in Klaus’s eye, interest or curiosity, definitely the memory of that night, the awful intimacy of it all. There were a number of people witness to the sacrifice, but something told her that she and Klaus were the only two that remembered it in exact detail.

“I mean, you drained a lot of blood,” she told Elijah, trying to sound casual. “And you wounded her pretty bad—you did not have good drinking technique back then—and she would have for sure bled out sooner than later, but if you did take her to Esther right after, Esther would have been able to heal her. She probably even did—she would have had to.”

“And why is that?” It was Klaus again, and Elena had no choice but to meet his gaze, which somehow seemed far closer than it actually was.

“She sacrificed Tatia,” said Elena. “She couldn’t have sacrificed Tatia if Tatia was already dead. And it was a blood sacrifice; if Elijah had drained her of all her blood, or even enough blood to kill her and then not healed her gaping wound, Esther wouldn’t have had enough blood to create the hybrid curse. You needed a living, human, blood-filled doppelganger to break the curse; Esther must have had one to create it in the first place.”

Klaus seemed enraptured, but Elijah seemed far away, too far, beyond any comfort from knowing he hadn’t killed Tatia. She couldn’t blame him. The memory was awful, and truth be told, Elena still didn’t feel quite recovered from it, either.

. . .

Elena did not want to know how exactly Kol and Finn had ended up handcuffed to the wall.

She met Finn’s eyes, and felt something harden within her. Spending so much time with the Mikaelsons was giving her a greater appreciation for the art of being Katherine Pierce, for making offense the best defense and for always having a witty, cutting remark on the tip of your tongue. Katherine had been human when she’d known the Mikaelsons, and even though she’d spent most of her life as a vampire, she had always had those perfect emotional walls of sarcasm and manipulation built up; sometimes, Elena wanted walls of her own.

But Katherine had already paved the way for her in that regard; so Elena channeled her inner Katherine as best she could. “Do you boys want some privacy for this little family reunion?” she asked, and pursed her lips. One of the best things about having known Katherine was that Elena didn’t have to worry about whether this tone or that facial expression made her seem stupid; she’d already seen herself do them all, and she knew what she could pull off.

“Oh, not at all, sweetheart,” said Klaus. There was a tiny pause before the word “sweetheart,” a pause that meant the endearment was deliberate, meant for show. Elena could appreciate that. “After all, your blood has run through all of our veins, at some point or another, and we have known you for a thousand years.”

Kol looked as though he wanted to argue that.

“Besides, attempting to kill each other is a bit of a family tradition for us, and you’re certainly overqualified in that regards,” continued Klaus, grinning over his shoulder at her. He then gestured to his shackled brothers. “Case in point, see exhibits A and B.”

Elena rolled her eyes at him. “I’m not sure I’m quite ready for this intensity level of Mikaelson family drama.”

“You are Mikaelson family drama,” Finn said with a snarl. It was quite clear that it was meant to be threatening, but Elena couldn’t help but laugh.

“You have fun rekindling your brotherly love,” Elena told Klaus. She felt more normal around him than she had that morning (or had it still been night? The day had been a blur), and it was a relief to have something familiar to cling to. “Give me a shout if you decide to call backup.”

. . .

Klaus did call for backup. Elena declined to work on Finn, but she sat in with Marcel and Kol, eating beignets and finding herself less affected by watching torture than she would have liked.

She left after a while, only to run into Klaus in a hallway. It was the first time they’d been alone together since… well, since that encounter, so she blurted out “Where’s Elijah?” before any other comments could be made.

Klaus blinked. “He’s meeting up with Rebekah,” he said, and Elena felt like her stomach was flipping upside down.

Rebekah?” she asked. “Oh my god.”

Klaus smiled, bemused. “I thought you and Rebekah had become friends during your dark days of abandoned humanity,” he said.

Elena shuddered. “Yeah, until I picked a fight with her during my rage-fuelled withdrawl, concluding with me saying, and I quote, “we’re not friends”.”

Klaus made a low whistling noise. “Harsh,” he said. “That’s my little sister you were insulting.”

“Yeah, well, I was traumatized and I regret it now, but Rebekah holds a grudge like no one else,” said Elena. “Are you forgetting about the incident with your mother’s necklace, or the incident with me stabbing her in the back, for real, with a dagger, or—“

“Yes, very well, you and my sister share no long lost love,” said Klaus. “I highly doubt she’ll try to kill you.”

“Because you need my blood? Are you forgetting about the time she smashed your only remaining bags of it?”

Klaus sighed. “Because of Hope,” he said, in a low voice.

Elena blinked.

“That’s the story, that’s what happened,” he said. “Rebekah is in hiding with my child while the rest of the world thinks her dead. I doubt that Rebekah has not found it in herself yet to let go of old grudges.”

“Oh,” she said.

“And if nothing else, you both care for Davina Claire, irksome as the girl is. You’ve gained common ground since you last saw each other, which would have been, I don’t know, at your high school graduation?” Klaus’s face was dark.

Elena sighed. “Yeah, fine, okay. I’ll trust you.”

She couldn’t take that back once she’d said it, and even if it was only ‘I’ll trust you’ and not ‘I trust you’ she saw something flicker across Klaus’s face.

. . .

Things became chaotic from that point on; Finn went on another crazed rant, Kol joined the team (it was still so strange, that she and Klaus and Hayley were the team now), and Cami was being prepped to be possessed. When Davina strode in and snapped Marcel’s neck, Elena only felt a bit numb.

“You really shouldn’t—“ she said in a cursory way right before Klaus bit into Davina’s neck. She’d been pretty sure Davina had something up her sleeve, and she’d been right; Klaus fell to the ground.

Elena hadn’t seen Davina since that day they’d all fought Mikael. She had no idea if Davina thought she had betrayed her, or was angry with her. She tried to make eye contact with Davina, but it was in vain. Davina only had eyes for Kol.

Until Cami came along and distracted her, of course. This was Elena’s chance.

“I still can’t believe I’m saying this, but right now there’s a bigger enemy out there than Klaus,” she said, rising to her feet.

Kol snickered. “Does the very saying of that traumatize you?” he asked. “The idea that Nik isn’t the sole root of all evil? Does it make you feel empty, that you devoted so much of your life to trying to kill him only to ally with him in the end?”

Elena rolled her eyes, but was glad of what Kol had said. It supported everything she’d told Davina, and even though she wasn’t telling the girl the truth about everything, she did care about her. “Lucky for me, when it came to you I didn’t just stop at trying,” she said, in her go-to Katherine voice. Kol stiffened, and Cami let out a startled laugh.

Davina’s eyes softened when she looked at Elena, and then back to Cami.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll wake him up. But he better not cross me again.” She said the last sentence to Elena, and Elena felt obliged to comment.

“Don’t you think that if I could keep his attitude or rampant homicidal urges in check, I’d be doing that?” she asked.

Davina smiled at that.

 

Chapter Text

Elena did not know what to do when Klaus thrust his phone into her hands. "Do something," he said through gritted teeth, so Elena lifted the phone to her ear.

"Hello?" she said, not even sure who she was talking to.

"Why am I hearing the voice of a bloody doppelganger?" came Rebekah's voice, all sharp edges.

Elena swallowed, feeling like she was in high school all over again. "Hi, Rebekah," she said, at a loss.

She could hear Rebekah's over the top sigh. "Oh, brilliant. What the hell are you doing with my brother?"

Elena frowned. "I, uh, moved in," she said. Kol waggled his eyebrows at her from where he was standing five feet away, and she rolled her eyes.

Rebekah was silent for a long moment. "What," she said in a flat tone, and then: "You've got to be joking."

"Nah," said Elena, and even though she was human again, somewhere inside of her, the girl she'd been without emotions rose to the surface. "I mean, now that I'm a human again, it would have been tempting fate to try and do the whole normal college thing again. I'm over it."

"Now that you're a human again?" asked Rebekah. "How the hell did you manage that? That's not bloody fair-- dammit, Elijah--"

"What's wrong with Elijah?" asked Elena, feeling her heart rate speed a little.

"What is it with you doppelgangers and Elijah?" asked Rebekah, as though she didn't expect an answer. "He murdered everyone in this entire café, god knows why, so I snapped his neck, for your information." There was a pause, and then: "You don't happen to know why he's gone off the deep end, do you?"

"Yeah," said Elena. "I think I do. Esther kidnapped him for a while, tortured him with a suppressed memory of nearly killing Tatia, and convinced him that he'd done it. His mental stability probably isn't record-breaking."

Rebekah sighed. "Fantastic," she said. "Now do you know how to fix him, or did Nik just hand you the phone because he has devastating stress management problems?"

"No ideas," said Elena.

"Bloody brilliant," said Rebekah again, and hung up.

Well. That could have gone worse.

Klaus strode back into the room. He was dressed as he always was, but he walked as though he were cloaked in velvet robes, like a medieval king from a period film. Elena had never been all that fond of history until she started meeting vampires, but she used to watch those movies with her mother, imagining herself in fine silks and corsets, curtseying and flirting through courtly games.

She didn’t have to imagine it anymore, she supposed. She had been there, in Renaissance England, in Viking North America, in Ancient Greece. She may not have remembered it, but her face had been there through it all, just as Klaus’s had. The only difference was that Klaus’s face had always been his own.

“Are you coming?” asked Klaus, coming to a stop in front of her. “Or are you just going to stand there clutching my phone?”

Elena relinquished the phone, but didn’t move. “The whole Mikaelson clan and then me?” she said. “That’s not awkward at all.”

Klaus rolled his eyes. “Don’t be daft, love. Hayley’s coming.”

“The mother of your child, making her an honorary Mikaelson,” said Elena.

“I didn’t vote on that,” Kol interjected from Davina’s side.

Elena ignored him. “My point stands,” she said.

Klaus laughed. “Come on, sweetheart. If anyone’s an honorary Mikaelson, it’s you. In fact, I almost kidnapped you and took you on a family road trip back in the day.” He grinned. “Wouldn’t things have turned out different then?”

Elena raised an eyebrow. “I live in your house and give you my blood,” she told him. “Things really wouldn’t be that different at all.”

Klaus raised his eyebrows at her, and she felt a shiver creep down her spine. She refused to say anything, though, and after a few moments of staring at each other, Klaus sighed. “I’m afraid you don’t get to argue this one, love. I was only asking you to be polite. You are coming with us.”

“Elijah just had a psychotic breakdown triggered by flashbacks of my face,” said Elena. “I’m sure spending time in close quarters with him is going to end real well.”

Klaus rolled his eyes. “Because staying in the city where my mother and brother are going on a rampage is sure to be the safest course of action.”

“Hey,” said Elena. “You do not get to judge anyone for going on a rampage. Half of my life by this point could be summarized as ‘and then Klaus went on a tear.’ Don’t judge.”

Klaus laughed, the sound emerging startled from his lips. “Fine,” he said, after a moment. “I’m not sure why you’re so eager to stay with Kol, the one brother of mine who has never not been trying to kill you, but by all means, love, stay here.”

“Thank you,” said Elena.

Klaus and Hayley took off, and Kol shot her a nasty grin. “I’ve been looking forward to getting to you without the big bad wolf playing bodyguard,” he said.

Davina smacked him, lightly.

Elena smiled, and made her way across the room to the table. She felt more in her element than she had in a while; plotting supernatural power plays was kind of her thing. “So,” she said, to the assembled group. “Obviously, the first order of business is making sure Cami doesn’t get possessed by Rebekah.”

“Which would be awful for so many reasons,” said Cami.

Kol raised an eyebrow. “Just Cami, love?” he said, his teasing a little too sharp. “Quite the selective morality you’ve got there.”

Elena shot him a patronizing look. “Don’t tell me that’s news to you,” she said, coating her voice in syrupy sweetness.

Kol laughed. “No, I think I figured that out when you went and wiped out my entire bloodline to get your brother a tattoo.”

Davina inhaled sharply. “What?”

“It was a really good tattoo,” said Elena, before she could help herself. She had never been this prone to sarcasm before, and the outburst was so surprising she was upset by it. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that,” she said. “It was important, and your buddy here was trying to kill us. All’s fair in Mikaelson family drama.”

Kol feigned shock. “How do you know our ancestral motto?”

“You need to find another body to prepare, in case your mom manages to get Rebekah to body-jump,” Elena continued. “Can you manage that much?”

“I think I can,” said Kol. “Though I’m not sure why I’m doing such a kindness for my little sister. She’s hardly been all that generous to me.”

Elena rolled her eyes. “It’s not like Rebekah and I are friends, but that’s not the point,” she said. “You’re going to do it.”

“Doppelganger taking charge,” said Kol, with a grin. “I like it.”

Elena almost grinned back, but then it occurred to her to wonder how many doppelgangers Kol had flirted with, just as playful as this, and something cold and heavy settled in her stomach.

“Okay, that’s phase one,” she said, forcing down all her insecurities. “Now for the tricky stuff.”

. . .

Kol was long gone on his mission, Davina with him, and Cami and Marcel had also disappeared somewhere, leaving Elena mostly alone to contemplate everything. She was starting to wish she had accepted Klaus's invitation to the Mikaelson family reunion-- she was certainly as embroiled in their family drama as Hayley was-- but she wasn't a Mikaelson, had no claim to being part of their family (she ignored the small part of her mind that whispered yet), and she wasn't sure she wanted to be one. Hayley wasn't just tied up in Mikaelson drama, either; Hayley had had Klaus's baby.

Elena spent a lot of time trying not to think about the whole baby thing, because as much as she had always wanted children before turning, and regretted not being able to have them after, the thought of having a child made her feel so nauseous she might as well have morning sickness. Esther had hit a nerve when she'd visited. Elena having a child meant Elena continuing the doppelganger line, after all, and she had no idea what to think of that.

She knew that if there were one thing that could break her understanding with Klaus, it would be the baby thing. Klaus's kid might have hybrid-making blood, too, but Elena thought well enough of Klaus by now to believe that he wouldn't turn his own child into a blood bank, which meant that he would want another human doppelganger at some point. And Elena knew that her humanity would only be temporary; she wanted it to last, but now that she had been a vampire, she couldn't imagine not falling back on the promise of immortality and eternal youth (although vampirism had given her some help in that regard: she was physically two years younger than she actually was, and probably hadn't turned nineteen yet, according to her body clock). She knew, or at least was very certain, that Klaus would want her to have a child before she died again, and even though she thought of Klaus as something more akin to a friend than an enemy now, she still struggled with the thought of sentencing another child to her fate.

Then again, she wouldn't pull a Katherine, if that happened. She would stay and watch over her family, and she would be there when the next doppelganger was born, watch her and protect her and help her so that she was never as afraid of her heritage as Elena was of hers.

It wasn't of any matter then, of course. Even if the baby thing were going to be an issue one day, it certainly wouldn't be soon, what with there being more than enough baby drama in the Mikaelson family and with the fact that Elena had no plans to abandon human life any time soon. Still, the thought of Hayley having a baby, Hayley, who was only a little older than her and had far less in the way of supernatural destiny hanging over her head, unsettled Elena desperately.

With nothing else to do and no one to talk to, Elena rummaged through drawers until she found an empty notebook, and starting to draft thoughts and plans, lists of ways she could use herself as leverage against Esther or Mikael or ways doppelganger blood could be used to the Mikaelson's advantage. She didn't come up with much, but it was all she could think of to do, and she buried herself in it until she received a call from Klaus, during which he informed her he was headed back to town and then hung up before she could so much as say a word. 

Elena had, in all honesty, expected Klaus to be gone a lot longer than he was. She had also expected him to return alone, or with Elijah- certainly not with Rebekah. When she heard them walk in a while later, she turned to see them, and was met with Rebekah's sneer which, okay, she probably deserved. Rebekah didn't say anything, though, and so Elena didn't engage her.  

"So," said Klaus, not bothering with any pleasantries, "what have we accomplished today?" 

"Kol's prepping another body in case Esther manages to jump Rebekah," said Elena right away. "Cami will be in the clear, and all of the horrible creepiness that would accompany your sister possessing her will be out of the picture." 

Klaus grinned at her, and it was the kind of grin Klaus used to use before they'd become--whatever they were, the kind that used to make her want to squirm. "Well done, sweetheart,” he said, sitting down next to her, a little too close, and then Elena knew he was on edge, or he wouldn’t be making such a show. “I must say, I love having a doppelganger around to do a human’s job. Your kind are so much more adept at these sorts of things than regular people.

Rebekah groaned. “If you’ll stop flirting with doppelgangers for one minute, Nik, we actually have a plan we need to work out?” She made a gesture as though to say, which we shall discuss elsewhere.

Klaus swung an arm around Elena’s shoulders, too casual. “So, let’s work it out,” he said. “I like our chances. You pretend to accept mother’s offer, and then we stop her partway through the ritual.” He shot Elena another grin. “Do you have any thoughts, love?”

“Feed her vampire blood,” said Elena before she even knew she was saying it.

Klaus blinked. “Pardon?”

“Feed her your blood,” Elena said, straight to Rebekah. “Then, if things go wrong, you’ll kill her, and she won’t be able to body jump because she won’t be a witch anymore.”

Rebekah exhaled. “You really hate our mother, don’t you,” she said.

“I do,” said Elena, and lifted her chin.

Rebekah raised her hands as though in surrender. “Hey, I happen to think that’s a brilliant idea, as much as I hate to admit it.” She frowned. “Are you certain you’re Elena?”

She looked like she was going to say more, but Elena’s breath hitched in her throat and she felt her heart start to speed up as though by a will of its own.

“No,” said Elena, after what felt like forever. “No, I’m really not.”

. . .

Cami was safe, but Rebekah was gone; her body was still preserved, but her mind had been sent somewhere else. Elijah was still out in Arkansas or whatever, where Klaus had driven Cami out to, and things were going uncommonly well as far as supernatural plans went, at least in Elena’s experience. Klaus told her that he had fed Esther vampire blood and killed her, and that she was in transition, and he hadn’t seemed willing to say anymore so she hadn’t pushed him.

That next day, there was a meeting between the wolves and the vampires, and Elena busied herself by cooking some breakfast: not that she had to cook for anyone, but she liked doing so. And cooking was a subjective term: she did make a colossal amount of bacon, but for the most part she just sent out Klaus to get coffee and beignets, much to his amusement. When he returned, she took two of the four coffee jugs and put just the right amount of blood in them, and labelled everything separately. She knew first hand how satisfying a good, blood-laced coffee could be.

After finishing preparations but before people had arrived, Elena found Hayley, standing on the balcony leaning on the railing. She wished she could just jump up there like she could have as a vampire, but instead she climbed all the flights of stairs just to get to the top.

“Hey,” she said. Hayley shot her a tight-lipped smile; not unfriendly, but clearly stressed and distracted. “What’s this all about?”

“Putting aside old differences to face a greater enemy,” quoted Hayley, in an affected voice. “Didn’t you listen to Klaus?”

“Do I ever listen to Klaus?” asked Elena, and Hayley laughed, just a little. “But seriously.” She tucked her hair behind her ear, and leaned forward against the railing. “There’s got to be more going on.”

“I’m going to marry Jackson,” said Hayley. Elena blinked.

“Oh,” she said. “The wolf alpha?” Hayley nodded. “Wow, um, congratulations.”

Hayley sighed. “There are ancient marriage rituals that say that if I marry him, my powers will be transferred to the rest of the pack.” She sighed. “My powers being, you know, turning at will and super-strength and all that.”

“That’s good,” said Elena. “Do you want to marry him, though?” Hayley didn’t respond. “Because if you don’t, you could offer to turn them all into hybrids. I’m happy to make a donation to the cause.”

Hayley laughed and grimaced at the same time. “I’m so grateful you’d subject yourself to the least virtuous blood drive of all time for me, but no, I can’t do that. I can’t let my pack become sired to Klaus.” She shook her head. “They’ve spent enough time as it is subservient to others, their freedom can’t come with that kind of cost.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” said Elena. “Well, good luck with the wedding, I’m here if you need any help. And, if you change your mind, well, I’ve grown pretty immune to needles.”

Hayley smiled, and Elena removed herself from the balcony. She knew when someone needed space.

When the wolves and the vampires did arrive, things seemed to be going pretty smoothly. So she should not have been surprised at all when Finn showed up to trap them all in the compound.

She wanted to stay close to Klaus—she was the only human there other than Kol, and Klaus was one of the only people she really knew—but he was shouting at people, and she didn’t want to get involved in that. She poured herself a cup of (non-bloody) coffee, took a seat on the bench, and started picking at a beignet.

“Don’t play with your food, sweetheart,” called Klaus from where he was standing, twenty feet away.

“You’re one to talk,” she said. Klaus stopped in his tracks and laughed, shooting her a filthy grin. A couple of wolves standing near her offered her sceptical looks, but Elena just broke off a piece of her pastry and took a bite.

“Um, Elena?” said a male voice behind her. She turned around and was met with the face of a vampire around her age, maybe a year or so older. “Oh, good, that is your name. I’m Josh.”

“Oh!” Elena placed her beignet down on her paper plate and wiped off her hand with a napkin. “Davina’s friend, right? Nice to meet you.”

She extended her hand. He shook it, his expression dubious.

“What does that look mean?” she asked.

“Um,” he said, widening his eyes. “Nothing, nothing, I’ve just heard a lot about you. I don’t really know what to think of Klaus having a pet human, in a—oh my god, I can’t believe I just said that.” He dropped her hand. “I’m so sorry.”

Elena laughed. “No, don’t worry about it. I’ve been called a lot worse.”

Josh raised an eyebrow, then darted a glance around the room. “Okay, I know that Davina would never actually ask you this, but I’ve gotta know: why are you…friends with Klaus, if he sacrificed you?” He shook his head. “Actually, how do you even be friends with Klaus? I don’t—anyway.”

Elena shrugged. “I… don’t know?” She shot a glance over at Klaus. He wasn’t watching them, but she thought he might be listening. “I mean—I don’t, I don’t know that we’re friends, that’s not the term I’d use, but…” She thought about the sacrifice, how terrifying, how intimate it had been, and how much she had lost, and then thought of how easy it was now to joke about it with Klaus. She took a deep breath. “To be honest, so much has happened between Klaus and I, we’ve done so much to one another, that I think we both lost score ages ago.”

Josh frowned. “That… doesn’t seem like a promising basis for…” He gestured vaguely at the space between she and Klaus. “This,” he said.

Elena made herself smile. “You think this is a weird turnaround?” she asked, and laughed. “Elijah and I met when he tried to kidnap me, broke into my house multiple times, and convinced me to sacrifice myself, and then I stabbed myself in the belly as leverage before daggering him, and I would call Elijah a friend.”

Josh’s eyebrows were high on his head. “You people are weird,” he said.

Elena had laughed and said “tell me about it” before even realizing that you people implied she and the Originals were one and the same.

Davina seemed to have arrived when they were chatting, and she seemed to be in serious conversation with Kol, Klaus, of course, lurking around them.

"He must be channeling something," said Davina, "a dark object, maybe?"

Elena didn't know all that much about magic, in the big scheme, but she knew about channeling, remembered Bonnie channeling the power of a hundred witches. She'd thought witches could only channel each other, but then that wasn't true, her sacrifice had channeled the moon and the moonstone, loads of spells used objects, and Travelers had always needed to channel her blood--

She heard Kol say, "Well, whatever it is, it's more powerful than anything we've got," and she was running forward, feeling more hopeful and triumphant than she had since the day they fought Mikael.

"Not true," she said, and three heads turned towards her. She met Klaus's eyes, and there was suddenly the hint of a smirk in the corner of his mouth, and she knew he'd caught on--or at least, that he knew she had thought of something the witches hadn't.

"Really, darling?" said Kol. "Have you got some magical talisman hidden away somewhere we don't know about?"

"Don't be stupid, Kol," she told him, rolling her eyes. She raised an eyebrow when he didn't respond. "You've got me."

"You?" he asked.

Elena smirked. "Remember me, doppelganger?" she said, a mockery of his words to her that day, in Davina's cabin. "It's not like my blood could, I don't know, create the entire vampire species."

Kol's eyes narrowed. "That was Tatia's blood, actually, or are you all in fact the same person?"

Elena shrugged, as though the very thought had never haunted her. "It's the same blood, Kol. But if you want to play the trivialities game, fine. It's not like my specific blood could break the hybrid curse and create a new species, or like you have a brother three feet away from you who can attest to it."

"It's true, mate," said Klaus, eyes bright with laughter. "I was there."

Davina made a sound somewhere between laughing and choking, but stopped when Klaus flashed her a brilliant grin.

"For the sacrifice, you had to drink my blood to the point of my death. Correct?" she asked Klaus.


"That would be precisely correct, love," said Klaus, the laugh now evident in his voice.

"So humans die when they lose over forty percent of their blood," she continued, freshman biology and rough mental math skills rushing back to her, "and I've probably got about three and a half litres of blood, so you probably drank, what, one point four litres?"

"If you're rounding," called Marcel from the other side of the room.

"If that's all the blood you needed to break a curse of that power, how easily can you break this spell using all of it?" asked Elena.

Davina frowned. "You want us to drain you of blood?" she asked.

Elena sighed. "Or you could channel it from inside my body," she suggested. "Or you could just take a smaller amount. Trust me, I don't mind getting my hand sliced open."

Klaus laughed quite hard at that. "I'm sure the use of a knife seems positively civilized to you," he said, "considering how prone you are to maiming yourself with blunt objects."

Elena scowled at him. "I have thus far maimed my hand, slit my throat, and been drained to the point of my death for your sake," she said matter of factly. "Show a little gratitude."

Klaus sighed. "Yes, yes, thank you, Elena, for your repeated and worrying attempts at suicide missions, they are truly appreciated."

Elena shrugged him off. “So what do you need from me?”

What they needed turned out to be as simple as having Elena spill her blood right onto the barrier line, which was easier said than done since there were dozens of vampires all around.

“No one’s going to try and drain you today, love,” Klaus said. “Don’t worry, I won’t let them.”

There was an unusual amount of affection in Klaus’s voice. Elena stored that observation in the back of her mind, to take apart and overanalyse at a later time. She didn’t even wince when Kol cut open her palm (and Kol wasn’t gentle about it, either), and she aimed the blood flow right at the floor, where the barrier began, or ended.

Davina and Kol were chanting very close to her, and she met Klaus’s eyes as she bled. There was something dark in his gaze. The cut was pretty deep and there was more blood spilling from her veins than these sorts of things usually required, and for some stupid reason she thought that Klaus was fighting the urge to pull her away and heal her.

“It’s done,” said Kol. Davina reached her hand forward, and met no resistance. “I don’t know if it’s permanent, but it’s gone for now.

In a flash, Elena had been pulled to the outside of the barrier and offered a bloody wrist.

“Thanks for asking first,” she said, a little annoyed. “Who are you, a Salvatore?”

Klaus let her go, and stepped back. He seemed thrown. “You’re right,” he said, which was the last thing she had expected. “I’m sorry. Elena, would you like me to heal you?”

She took her time answering, and examined her palm. It was pretty bloody, and there was no reason for her to lose blood if she could be healed. “Yes, please,” she said. Klaus extended his wrist again, and she pressed her lips to the wound, drinking just enough before drawing away. People filed out of the compound around them, not hiding their fascinated looks.

Davina was staring at her. “How do you not make a huge mess doing that?” she asked.

“Years of practice,” Elena replied with a smile, excluding the fact that some of that practice had been, well, vampirism. She turned to Klaus. “I should—“

There was a scream, and Elena looked back to see a vampire howling. “I thought this thing was down!” he exclaimed.

Davina shot Kol a worried look. “Finn must have gotten it back up,” she said. “Maybe even stronger.”

Kol, still on the other side of the barrier, stared at Elena. “Well, I suppose—“

“Don’t think about it.” Klaus snarled, stepping up next to Davina. “If you couldn’t channel the most powerful blood in the world well enough the first time, you don’t deserve a second go at it.

“Whatever Finn is channeling, it’s incredibly powerful,” said Davina. “The barrier is way stronger now. It will drop at sundown, but until then, I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”

“Then we wait until nightfall,” said Klaus. “I have more important things to do.” He glared at Kol. “Such as finding out whose body this cretin put my sister in.” He turned to Davina. “You’ll help me.”

“Like hell I will,” she said. “Kol’s stuck with a horde of hungry vampires.”

“I’ll help you with that once I’ve found Rebekah,” said Klaus.

“Um,” said Elena. “I’m going to go… get food or something, if no one minds.” She didn’t think she could maintain alliances—friendships—whatever—with Klaus and Davina if she got in the middle of a fight.

She took off, making her way down street after street. She was hungry, she realized, and it was just about lunchtime. She could go to a proper restaurant, get a good burger or something. She went into some cute restaurant and got a table by herself, and went to the bathroom after ordering. It was one of those places with little bathrooms that looked to have not been renovated it years, and she struggled with the door before making her way into the room.

Where Finn was.

“This is the ladies room,” Elena said, unable to help herself. Finn rounded on her, wrapping his hands around her throat. If she’d still been a vampire it would not have hurt at all, but as humans he was bigger and stronger than her.

“You little cow,” said Finn, as Elena struggled against his grip. “You and your damn doppelganger blood. Who do you think you are, spilling it to help my useless brother? You sicken me.”

He let her go and grabbed her arm, pulling her.

“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said.

He looked at her, amusement clear on his face. “The vampires still in the compound are starving, Elena, and I can make them hungrier and hungrier by the hour. What would happen if I loosed them on the streets of the city like that? This is a holiday here, after all. There are people flooding the streets.”

Elena gaped at him. “You would orchestrate a massacre just to make me come with you?”

“That blood would be on your hands,” he said, his grip tightening. “Now come along.”

 

 

Chapter Text

She was dragged along a street she didn’t know, into a building she didn’t recognize, and up a steep set of stairs. When they finally stopped moving, Finn threw her across a room and into a wall. Elena fell to the ground, her shoulders and back screaming in pain, but she didn’t make a sound. Then agony racked her body, something she couldn’t even trace, and she collapsed into a ball. She wanted to howl but she bit her tongue. It felt as though there were knives slicing up her stomach, her lungs, and just as she gasped for air she found she could not breathe. She pressed her eyes shut and endured. Her mind flashed to Jules, the night of the sacrifice, when Klaus’s witch had slowed her transformation so her body had been trying to rip itself apart.

After too long, she could gasp for air again. She used the wall to pull herself up to her feet, and then Finn strode forward and backhanded her across the face, the rings on his fingers tearing into the skin of her cheek. She fell to the ground again, and Finn kicked her in the shin, twice. She clenched her teeth and rose to her feet, despite the searing pain in her limbs, and then Finn’s hands were around her throat, squeezing, squeezing until her air supply was all but gone.

“You!” he said, and he had the same expression he’d worn the day he’d confronted her in the compound, of mania and power. “My mother gave you a chance to rebuke your doppelganger heritage, and you threw it back in her face! You were granted a second chance at humanity, and still you consign yourself to the world of vampires! You want to be the doppelganger, to play house with the monsters that killed you? And so you shall.”

Elena could not breathe, but she’d long mastered the art of speaking with no air. “What do you mean?” she asked, heart pounding in her throat, cold sweat trickling down the sides of her face.

“I curse you, Elena Petrova,” said Finn, and while she wanted to scream that that was not her name she could not believe it enough to do so. “I curse you to the fate of the doppelganger for all of eternity. I curse you to this body, and I curse this body to never change, not for vampirism nor any other state that could grant it power. I curse your fate to the hands of your killers. I curse the doppelganger to the hybrid, that she may never leave him or his fate. You threw yourself to the wolves, thinking that you could pack up and leave when the fancy struck you? You can never leave, doppelganger, and I curse you to the sin of your blood forever.”

Finn started to chant in what might have been Latin, but Elena could not think or hear, only gasp out “no” as forcefully as her lack of air would permit. She did not know how or why, but she knew Finn’s words were more than words, that there was magic in them, that they would become truth. She thrashed in his grip, desperate to interrupt his chanting and disrupt his curse, but to no avail. He stopped speaking, let her go so suddenly that she crumpled to the ground, and then he left, swinging closed a heavy door as he did so. She heard him speak a few words, and knew it was locked.

Elena could not stop her gasps, gasps that were almost sobs, tearing out of her lungs like hiccups, and she could not slow her heart rate, and then, not even aware of what she was doing, she crawled to the corner of the room on all fours and threw up.

She scampered to the other side of the room and wrapped her arms around herself, trying to think, to sort through what he had said and understand what he meant. Her head was pounding, and her mind kept hearing him say, “you can never leave” on loop, and she pressed her eyes shut as though she could make it go away. She hadn’t planned to leave soon, of course, but she had always known that one day she would go home, to visit if she couldn’t bear to stay.

She couldn’t bear to process that any longer. “I curse this body to never change,” he had said. That meant no vampirism, that was pretty clear. She tried to guess at why. Finn hated vampires, that was true, but if he could curse people not to become vampires, why didn’t he do that to everyone? It’s not about vampires, said a voice in her head. It’s about you. He’s punishing you by taking your choice, your agency. He’s consigning you to powerlessness. He’s mocking you for coming willingly to Klaus when you spent so long fighting him, fighting the role of the doppelganger, by forcing you into that role forever.

There had to be more to it than that, though. There had to be something else Finn wanted from her, but there was no way she could know yet.

She took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to ignore her growing headache. So she couldn’t become a vampire stay focused on objective facts did that mean vampire blood couldn't heal her, like had been the case with Katherine when she had taken the cure? Is that what she would be like? Finn had thrown around words like never change and eternity: did that mean she wouldn’t age? Katherine hadn’t started aging until the cure had left her veins, after all. Did Elena have that sort of immortal mortality now?

First experiment if you escape, said the part of her brain that had been a science student. Drink vampire blood and see if your body accepts it.

What other changes could Finn have meant? With a sudden burst of horror, Elena wondered if this meant she couldn’t have children, again. That couldn’t be the case. Finn’s curse encompassed permanent state changes, not temporary ones, didn’t it?

Second experiment, she thought, and scraped her thumb across a rough patch on the wall, hard. She winced and checked her skin, which was torn, and showed no signs of magic healing.

So the “never change” thing wasn’t entirely literal.

Another part of the curse came to mind. “I curse the doppelganger to the hybrid,” Finn had said. That was too vague for her comfort. So she couldn’t leave him, not if she wanted to run, but what did it mean other than that? She knew people could be magically chained to one another, but this couldn’t be that. She had no idea where Klaus was. Was it a physical curse, or a mental, allegiance-based one? Was there some sort of boundary spell for her around Klaus? What happened to her if she tried to leave, what happened to her if Klaus tried to leave? And was it mental at all? This wasn’t going to be some repeat of the sire bond, was it? The very thought made her want to puke all over again.

The pounding in her head was growing stronger. It wasn’t like a headache, but it was still familiar, and Elena realized that this was almost the same sensation she had had before the Tatia hallucinations. This wasn’t quite the same, though; it felt as though it was happening to someone else, but someone else inside her head.

Don’t be stupid, Elena chided herself. You are only one person, only Elena, only ever Elena.

She surrendered to the pain.

. . .

She woke up with a gasp in a wooden cabin that didn’t quite look real. The first person she saw was Finn, stepping over and giving her a startled glance.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Elena snarled at him. “You were thinking about Tatia, weren’t you?” she asked, pushing herself up to a sitting position. “Well, you got me instead. Fate of the doppelganger, right?”

“A sacrificial lamb,” said Elijah, as Elena caught sight of him. She looked behind her, and saw the mounted head of a sheep. “I must say, brother, of all our animal representations that one is certainly the most crass.”

The relief of seeing Elijah was so strong Elena wanted to throw herself at him, but she knew that they weren’t really here, that this was all happening in their minds, in some sort of dream dimension, and that she couldn’t be rescued in a dream world. She moved to get to her feet, and then gasped in pain; the dream world clearly hadn't eliminated the aching of her muscles and bruises on her skin. She gritted her teeth and stood, and then suddenly Klaus was in front of her.

Elena hadn’t had a hair-trigger fear reaction to Klaus in years, but it was coming back now, full force, and her heart was pounding and she was trying to hard to breathe steadily but she just couldn’t do it, and I curse the doppelganger to the hybrid was playing over and over in her mind. Klaus frowned and stepped back, so that he was no longer in her personal space. Through the tunnel vision of terror, a part of Elena still managed to appreciate it, that he was responding and adjusting to her fear rather than questioning it, just like he had done that night they had met with Esther.

“Where’s he got you, love?” he asked, his voice gentle. Elena, well-trained by now to communicate crucial information even at the height of panic, opened her mouth to respond, and felt her throat close like the fastest anaphylactic reaction in the world. Finn made a low humming sound, and Elena made very deliberate eye contact with Klaus. She nodded.

It was always painful to have someone tear into your mind, but Elena focused on all the memories she had of her location, the streets that led to it and the view of the outside, of the inside. She did not react to the pain, did not move a muscle that could clue Finn into what they were doing.

After more torturous moments than Elena could measure, Klaus left her mind. “I’ll come get you as soon as I can escape this bloody place,” he said, his voice still tender. Elena could not imagine what he thought had happened, for him to be so gentle with her, but she was glad of it nonetheless.

. . .

She managed to pull herself out of Finn’s dimension long before the others did. She thought it might be because she’d been summoned there as Tatia but wasn’t all Tatia—wasn’t at all Tatia—she didn’t know who she was. She sat in the corner of the room, a puddle of vomit in the opposite corner, shut her eyes, and stayed like that until she had heard the door open again.

She opened her eyes, fearing that Finn had returned, but it was Klaus.

In her wildest dreams, Elena would never have imagined being so relieved to see Klaus. Even through her automatic rush of fear, she felt as though she could breathe freely again.

He knelt down at her side and cupped her face in his hand, and Elena could not help but remember how often she had played out this scene with Stefan or Damon, and wanted to laugh at the thought, but could not do it.

“What had my brother done to you?” he asked, his voice only just louder than a whisper.

“Just get me out of here,” she pleaded. She could feel herself slipping out of consciousness. Klaus sighed, then picked her up, one arm around her back and another under her legs, and her last thought before passing out was that Damon had once carried her just like this, rescuing her from Klaus.

When she woke, she was lying on a couch in the Mikaelsons’ living room, and Klaus was sitting across from her, watching her intently. She sat up, and all her fears and thoughts and hypotheses came rushing back.

“Ask me to do something,” she said. Klaus, who looked as though he had been about to speak, raised an eyebrow. “Humor me, please, I need to test something.”

Klaus leaned back in his seat, a smile dancing on the corner of his lips. “Elena, I’d like you to get me a blood bag from the fridge.”

“No,” she said, and then: “oh thank god.”

Klaus cocked his head. “And why exactly did you think you were sired to me, love?”

Elena glanced at her thumb, which was still hurt. There was an empty glass on the coffee table. “Put a few drops of your blood in the glass and pass it over.”

Klaus seemed very amused, but cut his thumb on one of his fangs and squeezed a decent serving of blood into the glass, just like she had asked--a lot more than she had asked for, actually. He slid the glass across the table.

Elena picked up the glass, swirled the contents a few times, and took a long sip. She put it down, apprehensive, and checked her thumb. She didn’t feel the urge to cough up the blood she had swallowed, and just as usual, her thumb was healing, as was the rest of her. She gave her left shoulder a ginger pat, and it didn’t hurt.

“Now,” said Klaus. “Will you tell me what this is about?”

She took a deep, shuddering breath. “Finn,” she said. “He cursed me—I don’t know what with, exactly, but—he said—he cursed me to never changing, for vampirism or any other power—and it was real magic, I know that even if I don’t know how, and then he said something about cursing me to the sin of my blood, and—“

“And?” said Klaus.

Elena swallowed. She did not know what the curse meant, but it did not take away her will or identity, she still belonged to herself. “He said something about, “I curse the doppelganger to the hybrid,” she told him, trying and failing to sound casual.

Klaus leaned forward. “Said something about?”

“Said verbatim,” Elena amended. “I don’t know what it means—clearly it’s not a mental thing, thank god“

Klaus’s face was stony. “Well,” he said, in a voice like gravel, “I suppose it’s good for us that we have access to a few witches ourselves.

. . .

Davina was the one who showed up, glaring at Klaus even as she rushed across the room to Elena, who’d moved from sitting on a couch to sitting on the dining room table. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Elena nodded right away, and then at Klaus’s look she shrugged. “I mean, I drank some blood, so I’m not injured or anything.”

Davina raised an eyebrow, which was pretty obvious code for I take it that means you’re very much not okay but she didn’t comment on that. Instead, she said: “Do you remember the exact wording of the curse?”

Elena knew way better than not to memorize villainous monologuing. She recited the curse back to Davina, word for word, ignoring Klaus’s raised eyebrow at that she may never leave him and his fate and his eyes flashed with genuine distress at you may never leave, and she knew the distress was for her sake, not for his. Davina had her eyes closed and Elena’s hands clasped in hers the whole time. Elena thought she was feeling the magic, or something similar.

“He’s mixing up some old magic,” said Davina. “Old curses, old constructs. Really old ones. Half of those are biblical binding rituals, but he used ‘I curse’ instead of ‘I bind,’ and I can’t be sure what difference that makes.”

“Biblical binding?” Elena made a face.

“Like for marriages,” said Davina. “Or slavery. They weren’t that different back then.”

Elena looked at Klaus and saw her horror reflected on his face. “Practically speaking, though, what does it do?”

Davina frowned. “It’s a sort of boundary spell,” she said. “But it’s not a physical space, the size of it shifts. There’s a mental link there. It’s about where you are. So, for example, Klaus is in the city, so you can basically be anywhere in the city you want. I think the bayou counts, but I can’t tell. Magic doesn’t care about physical borders, but mental ones. Where allegiances are. Stuff like that.” She looked a bit nervous. “You can’t… you shouldn't the city, though, not unless Klaus is leaving the city.”

Elena bit her lip. “What if I do leave? Or if Klaus does? Does something happen to me?”

Davina winced. “I mean, you won’t drop dead or anything, but… you’d hurt. A lot. And the pain would just get worse the further apart you were, so say, leaving the state would hurt more than leaving the city. If either of you left the country, or the continent, I don’t know. It might kill you.” Davina pressed her lips together. “But there’s also… a pull, I think, that you would feel? I don’t know, the magic is a bit vague, here, but I think you’d automatically know to walk in a certain direction. Like a mental compass, I guess. Just until you’re within the bounds of the magic again.”

Elena took a deep breath, and Davina glared over her shoulder at Klaus. “If I didn’t know you and Finn were enemies, you know, I’d say you planned this on purpose.”

“Not my style,” said Klaus. Davina raised an eyebrow. “Really, it’s not,” said Klaus. “I much prefer to rely on compulsion when I want obedience, love.”

Elena rolled her eyes, but part of her was glad Klaus wasn’t claiming moral high ground right now. It would have been a lie, and it would have made her feel all the worse.

Davina sighed, and looked back to Elena. “I’ll look into ways to remove it,” she promised. “I’m sure there’s something, a spell or a ritual. Divorce wasn’t uncommon in ancient times, so there has to be a way to undo it.” She frowned. “I can’t—I don’t know any way to help now, though.”

“You’ve already—“

“Wait.” Davina dug into the pocket of her jacket, and pulled out a little bead. “This has protective properties,” she said. “Maybe if you put it on a bracelet?”

It broke Elena’s heart, a little bit, to have a witch searching for a way to help her that wasn’t Bonnie. She took the charm and put it in her back pocket, and gave Davina a light, one-armed hug, and Davina left with one last glare at Klaus. It was funny, how Elena could not hate Klaus and yet not resent Davina’s hatred of him at all; on the contrary, she thought it was fantastic.

“Can I get you anything, love?” asked Klaus, leaving his perch against the wall to walk towards her. Elena held his gaze for a minute, then sighed, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples.

She couldn't leave, she couldn't run, and it did not matter that she had no desire to do so because she wanted, needed the choice to still be hers. Her heart was pounding in her head. There had been something wild in Finn's eyes when he had cursed her, anger and victory scorching in his gaze, and it made Elena feel sick with sudden understanding. Finn wanted her to want to run, to feel the boundaries he had set on her like chains, to feel powerless and trapped.

“Elena?” asked Klaus, now standing next to where she was sitting on the table. Her name, as always, sounded foreign on his tongue, but so sweet, like he was speaking in a language he didn’t know but was determined to say it right. “Do you need anything?”

And then it came to her like an angry wave pulling her down into the depths of the sea. She was still herself, after all, a prisoner of body but not of mind. Finn wanted her to want to leave, to plead for freedom with her tail between her legs? She would want to be here, she could choose that, she still had that power left.

Before Klaus could comment on the tears burning in her eyes, she reached up, pulled his face down to hers, and kissed him.

Klaus responded immediately, without hesitation or question, and all of her fear that she was losing herself to her doppelganger heritage was washed away in the knowledge that this was her choice, in her desperation to have a choice at all. She wanted more than anything to have whatever power she could. She did not know whether Klaus was kissing her or one of the others, but then there was power to be gained in the refuge of her legacy, and she wanted to seize it with all she could.

She wrapped her legs around his waist and kissed him hard, as though if she kissed him hard enough she could make magic of her own, just to flip Finn (and what he had taken from her and whatever it was he still wanted from her) off in some mystical way. The thought came to her again that this seemed ordained, but she let that thought wash over her shoulders. She may have had more than just Elena in her mind, but she was Elena still, and if some part of Katherine or Tatia lived on in her, could be drawn from her, that didn't make her Elena any less, not for this purpose, at least. And it did not matter (or maybe it did, in the smallest, darkest part of herself) which one of them Klaus was searching for in her, because her choice was still hers was still hers was still hers.

He was kissing the old bite wound again, tongue running along the puncture scar, and drawing pleasure from it or at least from the memory, she could tell, and then his mouth was travelling lower. Elena did not want to stop him, but she'd never really been one for fucking anywhere other than a bed, and she did not trust herself to speak, was afraid that if either of them shared a word they would snap out of this, whatever this was. She pulled at his shirt with one hand and pushed back the table with the other, and then came the familiar swoosh of vampire speed (god, she'd missed feeling it) and her back was against the wall of his room.

He pulled at the hem of her shirt and she lifted her arms, and then his hands were running along her bare skin and she shivered, and some parts of her wondered at how she could be made so exposed in front of him, again, and yet enjoy it. She tugged on his shirt and he pulled it off in one motion (by yanking the fabric at the back of his neck, god, she didn't understand how boys did that) and then they were flesh to flesh. He unbuttoned her jeans and she stood, and pulled them down and kicked them off with ease, and she looped her fingers into his belt loop and tugged and he laughed, discarded them, and then she was falling backwards. Her back hit the mattress and then he was above her, his hands braced around her but not pinning her in place.

He reached his hands behind her back and traced his finger under the clasp of her bra, a silent question, and she pulled her fingers through his hair and hummed, soft, encouraging. He undid the clasp with one hand, fast and with ease (something Elena had rarely experienced in from a partner in bed), and then his hands were at the waistband of her underwear, and she pulled them down with him, until he tossed them aside, and then his fingers were on her.

Sex was kind of old hat to Elena by now, but this was different. His fingers had known her form for so long that she felt as though he were forming her anew, and she moaned under his touch, soft, deliberate, vulnerable when she knew that she could hold her silence through any pain or pleasure if she chose. He was kissing her mouth and then her neck again, her breasts, her stomach, the dip under her hipbone (and she couldn't help but arch up, then), and down, and her fingers were in his hair, tugging, tugging, and she was gasping. She wondered how many doppelgangers he had done this with for him to know to crook his finger just there, and—

Elena knew she could keep her mind running on full through any sensory overload, by this point, but she surrendered to it, thinking to herself that this was hardly the first time she'd invited a monster into her bed.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Elena woke up in Klaus's room the next morning to the streaks of golden light streaming through the blinds on his windows, and tried desperately hard not to think.

She had fallen asleep in his bed, thinking how grateful she was that he hadn't made everything terrible by getting up or asking her to leave, or speaking at all, truth be told. She had fallen asleep to the weight of his arm around her waist and of his lips pressing a kiss to her hair, to the warmth of his bare chest beneath her cheek. She had not fallen sleep so peacefully in months.

Waking up was peaceful too, until all of a sudden, it wasn't.

Elena was no blushing virgin, but she'd never slept with someone outside of a construct she didn't understand. When she and Matt had lost it together, it had been awkward and fumbling, sure, but they'd been going out, not in love but certain of what being together meant. Then she'd been with Stefan, and she had been in love with him, and she'd known it and he'd known it and the world had known it. And with Damon, they'd been in love by then too, and had basically been in a relationship from the moment they'd gone home from the Miss Mystic pageant.

Ridiculous as it was, she wanted to call Caroline and ask for advice. What do you say? But then, was Klaus even still there?

She risked a peek over to the other side of the bed, where, yep, Klaus was lying, watching her.

I'm gazing, she had said to Stefan lifetimes ago, to which he'd said it's creepy and she'd replied it's romantic.

Klaus met her eyes, and then openly glanced down to her body and met her eyes again, with a lewd eyebrow raise.

Elena threw a pillow at his head, and he laughed, and just like that everything felt a lot less nerve-wracking.

"Don't be so scandalized, love," he said, handing her back her pillow. "You've quite literally got nothing I haven't seen before."

After Damon had once walked in on her and Stefan, he'd said if I see anything I haven't seen before I'll throw a dollar at it, but Klaus was so far from being Damon. She shoved the thought out of her mind.

"What time is it?" she asked.

Klaus glanced over to his clock. "Eight-thirty," he replied.

She pushed herself up and got out of bed. Her legs shook when they hit the ground, and Klaus laughed out "easy, love," but she ignored him and walked to his bathroom. She peed, washed her hands, grabbed a soft robe way too big for her from the back of the door, splashed some water on her face, and then it hit her.

"Oh my god," she said.

Klaus laughed from the other room. "Did it take you that long?" he asked, and his voice was mocking, but there was something almost bitter in it, too.

"What are you-- never mind, it doesn't matter," she said, and strode back into the room, robe clinging to her sweat damp skin. "I need you to go buy me a morning after pill."

Relief blossomed on Klaus's face for half a second, and then utter confusion. "What?"

She picked up his jeans from the previous day off the floor, and threw them at him. "Klaus!" she said, with as much authority as possible. "We have learned the hard way that you are weirdly fertile for being undead, and since Tatia and Katherine both managed to have babies by the age of seventeen, I'm guessing I am too. Now shut up, get dressed, and go buy me plan B."

"But you--"

She waved her hands in the air, feeling a bit crazed. "Excuse me for not getting back on the pill since my return from the dead," she said. "It didn't exactly seem necessary."

Klaus laughed, but dutifully pulled on his jeans. "And why am I buying it for you?"

She gave him the finger without sparing him a glance, and pulled open a drawer, then threw the shirt on top in his direction. "You're the one with the freaky hybrid sperm," she told him. "A city full of vampires who could never get me pregnant, and I sleep with you? You bet your ass you're buying me the pill."

"And--"

"Oh my god," she said, and turned to face him. "Klaus. Look at your life right now. All this drama, and you've only got one baby. Are you really willing to risk another?"

He looked both horrified and amused. "I was going to ask if you had a preferred brand," he said.

She ran her hands through her hair. "Oh, god, these things have multiple brands," she said. "I don't know, ask the pharmacist."

Despite the meltdown being directed at him, Klaus seemed supremely jovial. He pulled his shirt over his head. "Fair enough, sweetheart," he said, then pressed a kiss to her cheek and left.

Goddamn Originals.

. . .

 She felt remarkably better once she’d showered and dressed, and only a little bit like lighting herself on fire. She realized when she went downstairs that she was absolutely starving, and also that she really did not feel up to making food. Everything was still sort of awkward and terrible, but she called Klaus all the same.

“Yes, I’m at the pharmacy,” he said, amusement still in his voice.

“Breakfast,” she said. “Buy some of that too. I’m starving.”

He laughed. “Having cravings already? I’d better hurry up, then.”

“Shut up,” she said. Then: “Are you still at the pharmacy?”

“Yes, love,” he said, sounding as though he were trying very hard not to laugh.

“Tampax, too.” She wasn’t due for a few weeks, but that wasn’t the point. Loads of guys would flat-out refuse to buy period stuff; she didn’t know why it mattered to her, but she wanted to know if Klaus was the same.       

“Regular size?” he asked, not sounding bothered at all.

“Yeah,” she said. “Thanks.” She hung up.

She wasn’t sure why she had done that. Caroline was the one who usually tested guys, or who used to. Elena had never done so. But then Elena had never felt insecure in a relationship, or had a lack of confidence about how much a guy liked her, or been unclear about what the status of a relationship was. She was always the one who was willing to have the talks and to define the relationship, the one who wasn’t scared that actually putting words to something would ruin it all.

She swallowed, and took a deep breath. What do I want? she asked herself. It seemed like a good place to start. She didn’t want a proper relationship right now; she was definitely not ready for anything like that. But then, she wasn’t exactly opposed to sleeping with Klaus again, or to him buying her breakfast and going on tampons runs for her. It was more than the sex; she had liked falling asleep with him. And even now, even amidst all the confusion and insecurity, she had been sure that if she called asking him to buy her breakfast, he would do so without complaint.

She made some coffee and drank it, letting her hair air dry in the warm glow of the sun, scrolling through her friends’ updates.

She was all ready to have the conversation when Klaus got back, only for him to toss a paper bag at her and say “I hope you’re willing to take this to go, love; I just got wind that Hayley might be spilling our secrets soon, and I can’t have that happen.”

So much for that.

“Where are we going?” she asked. “And why am I coming?”

“We are going to the bayou, to start searching for Hayley and her wolf suitor,” he told her, grabbing car keys from the kitchen counter. He was carrying a cardboard tray with two coffees, the label a name she did not recognize. “And you are coming because Davina seemed uncertain as to whether me going to the bayou alone might cause you debilitating pain or not, and I don’t fancy finding out the answer the hard way.”

It was sort of a touching sentiment, for Klaus. She hopped up from her seat and checked the contents—a muffin (banana walnut, she thought), a bagel, and a yogurt parfait.

She looked up at Klaus, who shrugged. “Wasn’t sure what you’d want,” he said. “Oh, and here’s your pill.”

He handed the package to her. There were two pills, actually; Elena read the instructions. She took one right then, swallowing it with no water, and then placed an alert in her phone to take the other twelve hours later. “Thank god,” she said.

“Are you good to go?” he asked.

She nodded.

The car ride dragged on for ages; Elena drank her coffee and ate her parfait, trying not to spill anywhere. She and Klaus had an idle discussion about how part of Hayley’s betrothal rituals would involve telling Jackson all her secrets, and how that included the fact that their baby hadn’t died. Other than that, though, they sat in silence. She was under the impression that Klaus was waiting for her to speak.

She had no idea what to say.

Once she couldn’t take the silence any longer, she said: “I’m sorry for losing it on you about the morning after pill.” She sighed. “It’s just that it’s been so long since that even had to be a concern for me, that the fact that I almost forgot about it completely was pretty horrifying.”

“It’s really not a problem, love,” said Klaus in a mild voice.

They drove on in silence, and then:

“Okay, fine,” said Elena, and Klaus looked at her with interest. “Listen—I know we need to have a conversation at some point, and I want to have that conversation, but I don’t want to start it when I’m not sure we’ll have time to finish it. I don’t know how long it will be until we get where we’re going, or until we’d be able to start again where we left off, so I want to wait until I’m sure we can both say what we want to say, no time constraints involved.”

Klaus looked at her as though he were trying to make sure he had heard her correctly. “That seems quite reasonable, sweetheart,” he said.

. . .

When they finally tracked down Hayley and Jackson, it was a complete disaster. Because Klaus was Klaus, his solution to the problem was just to try and kill Jackson, and even though Elena had never met Jackson she couldn’t stand by and watch Klaus torture someone who—not someone innocent, Elena wasn’t sure she could claim that moral high ground—but someone Hayley loved, at least.

“Okay, look if this marriage thing is such an issue,” she said, trying to keep the cadence of her voice as casual as possible, “my blood is still perfectly available for hybrid making. If you change your mind.”

“I haven’t,” said Hayley. “I can’t subject my people to a sire bond, Elena. I just can’t.”

Klaus tore off from where they were standing without a word. Elena, partly out of fear and partly because she had no idea where they were, if there were borders or boundaries nearby to worry about, ran off after him. By the time she caught up, he was fighting Jackson again—if it could even be called fighting, unevenly matched as they were.

She stepped in front of Klaus, laying her hand firmly on his chest. “Klaus, don’t,” she said, her voice louder and more forceful that she intended. “Just stop.”

“Did you miss the part—“

“Klaus, you can’t just kill him because you don’t trust him!” she shouted. “Hayley trusts him. Isn’t that enough for you?”

He growled. “Why would that be enough for me, sweetheart? When has that ever been enough for me?”

“Don’t you trust her?” she asked, stepping closer to him, getting in his face a bit. “I do. Don’t you trust me, after everything?”

His eyes were so dark. “I brought you along for your sake, love, but not to have to give me orders.”

“Well, I’m sorry that I won’t just roll over and play dead on command,” she shouted back at him. “Excuse me for being a person!”

He scowled at her. "Excuse me for expecting a little gratitude!” he snarled. “Maybe next time I won’t bring you along—"

Elena slapped him, full in the face, as hard as she could.

She knew full well she couldn't really hurt him, but she could startle him, could throw it off, and she needed him to know how much she meant it.

"Don't you dare," she said, and she thought she could feel that Petrova fire Katherine had spoken about flickering to life in her veins. "Don't you dare, not now, not ever."

Klaus's face was blank.

"What the hell is wrong with you, using the curse I'm under as some sort of threat?" she asked, hearing her voice rise as though it was happening outside of her control. "I don't have a choice, Klaus. I am the one who is going to go through agony if either of us ever breaks the boundaries of this curse, I am the one who had my free will, my agency, taken away from me like it was never worth anything in the first place. If you have even the slightest respect for me, or, hell, for any woman, you will take that back right now, and you will never use the violation of my ability to consent as a bargaining chip against me, ever again."

"I take it back," he said right away, and at least he had understood how awful what he'd said was, even if it didn't excuse the fact that he'd said it in the first place. "I'm sorry, Elena. I would never want—I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry."

Elena sighed, and rubbed her temples. "I'm going to wait inside until this is all over," she said. She turned and walked a few paces, and then spun back around to look at Klaus again. "I think I'm allowed to stray that far."

. . .

They drove back alone in silence. Elena clambered out of the car as soon as they arrived back at the compound and made straight for the kitchen. It was already night, and she may not have had much of an appetite but she needed to do something to keep her occupied. She didn't have much energy, either, but she filled a pot with some water and set it to boil, and grabbed a box of pasta out of the cupboard. Not long after, she filled a bowl and walked out to the dining room, to see Klaus sitting at the table like he’d been there the whole time.

“Oh my god,” she said, startled.

Klaus’s face was grim. “You said you wanted to talk,” he told her, the words sounding almost practiced in the way he ground them out.

She stared at him, and took a deep breath. “I’m really mad at you right now,” she said, staying rooted to her spot. “Actually, I’m furious.”

Klaus’s face was stony.

“So I don’t want to talk to you right now,” she said, and though Klaus’s face didn’t change much it did soften just a little. “I’m going to eat, and I’m going to sleep on it, and once I’ve calmed down enough that I don’t feel like screaming at you, we can talk.”

Of all the ironies in the world, her phone went off, and when Elena checked the screen the alert read MORNING AFTER 2. She swore, and put her bowl down on the table.

“Where did I put—“ She patted down her jeans pocket, and pulled out the wrapping for the other pill. She popped in out of it’s package and into her mouth, swallowing with ease.

Klaus raised an eyebrow.

“Pill two,” she said, even though she didn’t really need or want to explain herself. “Crisis averted.”

“Crisis?” came a female voice, a British accent that was both familiar and not, all at once.

Elena turned around. She did not know the face, but she was pretty sure she knew the girl behind it, and just as Klaus said “Who are you?” she said, “Rebekah?”

Rebekah sighed. “Really, Nik?” she asked, sounding absolutely put out, and walking straight across to the table “A thousand years, and Elena bloody Gilbert recognizes me before you do?”

“I’m really good at the body switching thing,” she volunteered.

Rebekah rolled her eyes. “Is there a crisis, then, or can I fill you lot in on mine?” she asked.

“Bekah,” said Klaus, face splitting into a grin. Rebekah shook her head at him, but hugged him anyway.

“Get Elijah on the phone,” she said. “There’s a situation we have to discuss.”

That situation turned out to be that Freya—the oldest Mikaelson who was supposed to have died of the plague, but apparently hadn’t and had been kidnapped by her super powerful witch of an aunt, good god why was this family so whack—was back among the living and also pretty powerful, had been in some weird witch asylum place with Rebekah, and was planning on paying them a visit in the near future. It made Elena want to roll her eyes.

Then again, she was the doppelganger, who kept being reborn every five hundred years, who’d been drawn to the other doppelganger with traveller magic due to some star-crossed lovers two thousand years ago. She really didn’t have any room to judge. Besides, she was stuck with them, for better or for worse, until (or maybe unless) Finn’s curse could be turned around. Elena hoped desperately that it could be, but until it was, she had to find a way to embrace being part of all of this.

Later that night, lying in her own bed, she tried to sort it all out. She was angry at Klaus, rightfully so, but she was stuck with him nevertheless, and at the very least, he seemed to have immediately understood the line he’d crossed and why she was angry, which was more than she could say for some other guys she’d known. And mad as she was at him, she still wanted to have that conversation with him—needed to, in fact—but she didn’t know how to have the talk she wanted to have feeling the way she was feeling.

She turned over, and tried to empty her mind, inviting in sleep. There were enough things for her to worry about to last all of her lifetimes.

Chapter Text

This time, Elena woke up to the sound of Klaus and Rebekah fighting.

She groaned, pulling her pillow down over her head. Come on, she thought. She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but she recognized their voices—god, it was uncanny to hear what were so clearly Rebekah’s sentences and intonations in what was definitely not Rebekah’s voice. She had not missed this. The first time she’d met Rebakah, she’d been privy to a fight between Rebekah and Klaus over, of all things, Elena’s necklace (which was apparently Rebekah’s necklace, whatever).

She rolled over in bed and tried to get back to sleep, but she knew in her heart of hearts that there was no way she wasn’t awake for good. She sat up, wincing at how sore she still was, and then wincing again at the reason why she was still sore, but it wasn’t just from being with Klaus the night before last; she felt a bit like a truck had run her over. She pushed herself off her mattress and to her feet and made her way to the shower for a quick rinse, then pulled on a soft pair of shorts and an old Timberwolves spirit jersey, leaving her hair up in a messy shower bun. She made her way downstairs, and met Rebekah’s eyes first.

“Brilliant,” said Rebekah. “I’d almost forgotten we had one of those hanging about.”

“Missed you too,” mumbled Elena. “I forgot how relaxing it was to be in the same vicinity when you two are together.” She tread her way over to the kitchen before anyone could reply and poured herself a mug of the already brewed coffee (Rebekah’s newly-human needs, maybe?) and then stumbled back to the room the others were in, planting herself in a chair and pulling her legs up so she was sitting in a ball.

She listened to them argue a little more—Klaus seemed to be mad that Rebekah hadn’t asked Freya for more information when they’d met.

“I was still processing! You can’t expect me to have thought to ask that right away,” Rebekah was saying, and then, “Even Elena will agree with me.”

“I agree with Rebekah,” murmured Elena, eyes shut.

Both Mikaelsons paused and looked at her. “Elena, are you feeling all right?” asked Rebekah. Her voice was mostly mocking and sarcastic, but just intoned enough that there was a serious question in there, and it was so strange to Elena how quickly she could adapt to Rebekah being in a new body.

Elena shook her head.

Moving fast enough that it was sort of amusing, Klaus came to her side and placed his wrist over her forehead. Elena swatted at him with a feeble arm.

“Stop that, I’m still mad at you for last night,” she said, her voice a little more than a whimper. Klaus straightened out and frowned.

“You’re burning up,” he told her, and looked to Rebekah.

Rebekah shrugged. “What do you expect me to do about it? I haven’t been human in just as long as you, and besides, I really don’t care.”

Klaus looked helpless. “You’re a woman,” he said.

Rebekah scoffed. “You’re an arse,” she said. “Just because—“

Despite the fact that she agreed with what Rebekah was about to say, Elena really needed some pharmaceuticals. She rubbed at her temple. “I’ve got Advil in my medicine cabinet,” she said, interrupting a tangent. She heard a telltale swoosh and then Klaus was at her side with the whole bottle of Advil. She smiled at his total confusion and took the bottle, swallowing two pills without water.

Klaus stayed by her side, hovering, in a way that reminded Elena of how he had lived an entire millennium and yet hardly spent any time around humans. “Why do you feel sick?” he asked. “You’re not p—“

“Oh, god,” she said, pushing him. She had no strength to put into it, though, but he took a step back out of courtesy. “First of all, no. Second of all, I would not be feeling sick yet. Third of all, just because the only human you’ve spent a concentrated amount of time with was a pregnant woman doesn’t mean that’s the only reason we feel—“ she yawned—“feel sick.”

Klaus looked as though he wanted to say something, but then the door to the compound swung open and in came Kol, striding along looking more intense than Elena was at all used to. She could see in his face that something was really wrong, and she could feel something off of him too, something similar to what she had been feeling since Finn—

“Did Finn curse you, too?” she asked, voice bleary.

Finn had done worse, it appeared. He’d cursed Elena to a crushing lack of freedom; he’d cursed Kol to die. It upset Elena more than it should have, and she might have felt differently had she not been responsible for Kol’s death the first time around. She voiced none of this, however, and watched in silence as Kol and Klaus fought, as they always did. She was a bit surprised when Kol managed to drop both Klaus and Rebekah, but she didn’t say anything, just met his eyes for a long moment before he stormed out.

“Right,” said Rebekah. “Great show of sympathy there, Nik.”

Klaus rounded on her. “He wants to kill me!”

“Everyone wants to kill you at some point,” said Elena, in a mumble that Rebekah could hear because of their proximity but that Klaus wouldn’t have heard had he not been a vampire. “And you want to kill everyone else. Don’t be so offended.”

Rebekah laughed, and Klaus scowled.

“I’m only letting that one slide because you’re sick, sweetheart,” he said.

Elena rolled her eyes. “How merciful of you,” she said.

Klaus looked like he wanted to retort, but held his tongue. “Rebekah, take this one to a doctor,” he said. “Or to a witch, I don’t care, just take her to someone so we don’t have a delirious doppelganger on our hands.

“Why do I have to do that?” asked Rebekah. “And if you say “because you’re a woman”, I am going to scream.”

Elena sighed. “You know I can take myself to the doctor, right?” she said. “I’m an adult.”

“Yes, you are,” said Klaus, and there was something a little lascivious in his tone (though she might have only imagined it.) “And last time you were out by yourself, you were captured by Finn and subjected to one of his curses, albeit one I’m less inclined to use on him in retaliation.”

“Finn cursed you?” Rebekah asked, and Klaus gave her a look. “Fine, alright, I’ll ask on the way. But just so you know? You owe me more for this favor than for six months of babysitting.”

There would be no point in arguing with Rebekah, so Elena just sighed and got to her feet, trudging behind as they walked to the car. Once they’d pulled out into the road, Rebekah did turn to her with a question, but it wasn’t the one she was expecting.

"Why did Nik think you were pregnant?" asked Rebekah.

Elena blinked. "Huh?" she asked.

"Thought I missed that bit?" Rebekah shot her a smirk. "Not quite that oblivious, you know. So why did Nik think you were pregnant?"

"Um," said Elena. "Well… see, I--"

"Oh god, you shagged him, didn't you?" Rebekah stuck out her tongue and wrinkled her nose. "Oh, god, that's what you meant by 'crisis averted'. God. That's disgusting."

"Not as disgusting as Katherine boning Elijah," Elena said, and then shook her head, regretting the words instantly. "Ugh, I mean-- it happened once."

"Bloody hell, Elena," said Rebekah, rolling her eyes. The car pulled to a stop at a light. "Hang on. You're not--"

"No, god," she said. "I took the morning after pill, I made him go buy it for me.” Rebekah snorted at that. “I don't know why he thought that. Even if I were, I wouldn't know it yet."

Rebekah shrugged. "Well, Nik's an idiot, so I'm not surprised. But you? Really? No offense intended-- actually, yes, all offense intended, what the hell were you thinking? What happened to your snotty upstanding moral judgment?"

Elena grimaced. "I guess it didn't come back when my humanity did," she said.

Rebekah laughed, then cut herself off. "Well," she said, "I suppose you're slightly less of a pain in the arse than you were before you turned it off."

"Aw, Rebekah, that's so sweet," said Elena. "I'm tearing up here."

Rebekah smiled just a little, then shot Elena a stern look. "Don't get used to it," she said.

. . .

The doctor they saw at the clinic couldn’t find anything physically wrong with Elena, which meant it was either borne of exhaustion or some form of magic, likely Finn’s curse. They pulled back into the compound just as Elena’s phone rang, and she answered it as they walked back inside.

“Elena?” said Caroline, her voice urgent.

Elena stopped walking. “Care? What's wrong?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Klaus turn his head towards her. She didn’t feel… jealous, exactly, but disappointment rose in her nonetheless, less at Klaus’s feelings for Caroline and more at the reminder of the world they’d come from, the world they’d met in, the world that made this whole… whatever so much more complicated.

“Are you sitting down?” asked Caroline. “You need to sit down for this. Go sit down.”

Elena made her way to the living room, sending a warning look back at the Mikaelsons in the hopes that they wouldn’t follow. She sat on a couch.

“Okay,” she said.

“It’s Bonnie,” said Caroline, and Elena’s heart went from beating normally to pounding and pounding in her ears. “She’s back.”

What?” asked Elena. She thought she was going to cry, and her lungs burned from holding her breath. “You’re—you’re telling—

“—the truth?” came the voice Elena most wanted to hear in the world.

Elena was crying and laughing. “Bonnie,” she said, after what felt like a thousand years, “oh my god, Bonnie— how—“

Bonnie took a deep breath. “I didn’t die, I—we went to an alternate dimension, a prison dimension, and—no, Elena, I’m so sorry. Damon’s not back.”

She felt like the worst person in the world, because the thought hadn’t even occurred to her yet, but the confirmation of something she hadn’t even guessed at made her heart so heavy in her chest. “Oh,” she said, her voice quiet. “Is—“

Bonnie sighed. “He… he sacrificed himself so I could come back,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s dead for sure, but… I think he is, Elena. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh,” said Elena again.

“But,” said Caroline, forced cheer in her voice, “on the plus side, this year’s Friendsgiving is going to be so much better than we thought.”

Elena sighed. The last few days felt like the weight of the world on her shoulders. “About that,” she said, “I… are you sitting down?”

Caroline giggled, the sound a bit nervous. “What is it?”

“Finn’s back,” said Elena. “So is—was—Esther, and Mikael, and Kol—and—“

“And you’re there why?” asked Bonnie.

“Finn placed a curse on me,” said Elena, cutting to the chase. “I can’t leave—I mean, I technically could leave, but I’m magically bound to Klaus so I can’t leave unless he does. I think, I don’t know, I think Finn still wants something with me.”

“Oh, god,” said Bonnie. “One thing I did not miss in the alternate prison dimension was Original drama.”

. . .

She spent the day in bed while Klaus and Kol and Rebekah dealt with whatever the Finn drama of the day was. The next morning she got up early when she could no longer sleep and made her way down to the living room, where Klaus was already sitting.

“Hope is coming home,” he told her with no pretense.

She felt her face split into a smile. “Klaus, I’m so happy for you,” she said.

Klaus smiled back at her, and for a second it felt so silly and simple, just the two of them grinning, and then he said, “Finn knows she’s alive, he tracked her down. There’s no point keeping her survival secret.”

“So she’ll be here in time for the wedding?” Elena frowned, and then something came to her. “Hang on, isn’t that today?”

“Tomorrow,” said Klaus. “Kol thinks whatever you’re sick with is magical, and until we know what it is, we can’t expose an entire pack of wolves to it in case it could affect them. And besides, we still have no idea how to—“

"Lucky for you, you've got the foremost witch expert on doppelgangers here to help," came a voice, that voice, the sweetest sound in the world--

"Bonnie," said Elena, but Bonnie had already thrown her arms around her.

Somewhere, from far outside their warm embrace, she heard Klaus saying, "You told me the Bennett witch was dead."

"Was," said Bonnie. "I got better."

After Klaus had excused himself from their reunion for a good half hour, they were all seated around the living room, and Elena's hands were clasped in Bonnie's.

"It's the other doppelgangers," said Bonnie after seconds, which was so much faster than anyone else had ever figured this stuff out, and as happy as Elena would have been to have a perfectly human Bonnie back it was also pretty nice that she had magic again. "There's some sort of, I don't know, some sort of magic bringing the doppelgangers to the surface; there's always been a part of each of them in you, but always completely blocked out, and now there's magic trying to draw forward those memories, putting your mind at war with itself--I can't tell you why or to what end Finn's doing this, but it's putting a massive strain on your body, and that paired with this binding thing--"

"What does the binding thing have to do with it?" asked Elena.

Bonnie sighed. "The binding magic draws on both of your strengths to create an even pull, like, I don't know, a perfectly matched round of tug-of-war. Except, of course, for the fact that the curse was supposed to happen between humans. Klaus, being a hybrid, pours a lot more strength and energy into this curse than the average person, and your body has to expend a hell of a lot more power to try and match that. It's drawing on all of your resources, and leaving you physically drained."

"Is there a way you can even that out?" asked Klaus. Bonnie looked up at him, surprise clear on her face.

"Yeah, actually," she said. "Elena needs magic to draw on to even it out. She can't actually use magic, but if I can redirect the curse to, say, a talisman--" She paused. "What's that on your wrist?"

"Oh," said Elena. "Davina-- a witch-- she gave it to me after I was cursed, said it would protect me."

"Well, she had a good idea," said Bonnie. "It is a magical talisman. If I can just--" she held the talisman between two fingers, and muttered off a string of latin under her breath, "phasmatos" this or that. "There," she said, after a minute.  "That should help a lot."

Elena didn't feel back to normal, but she already felt a bit better. "You are the greatest friend a girl could ask for," she said.

Bonnie grinned. "Yeah, you know it."

. . .

Bonnie had a flight home booked for that night (“there’s a lot going on in Mystic Falls, Elena—witch stuff—I can’t explain. Okay, I could explain, but I’m not going to yet. Hopefully I won’t have to.) but she was there for the time being, which meant that when Cami and Elijah showed up with a baby in tow, Bonnie was there for that too. Elena couldn’t not smile at Klaus when he saw Hope, and Bonnie shot her a look for that, but then cooed at the baby like everyone else.

After everyone had met and held the baby (who was adorable, good god, for half a second Elena sort of regretted taking morning after pills if Klaus’s babies were this beautiful, and then she mentally slapped herself for the thought), Hayley and Klaus moved off to the side with the child, leaving the rest of them just standing around. Bonnie and Elijah exchanged polite greetings, and Elena gave Cami a hug hello, and then she turned to the one person there she didn’t know much at all.

“Hey,” said Elena to Jackson, who looked at her with surprise. “I’m Elena. I know we technically met, that time Klaus was trying to kill you—“

“I think ninety-nine percent of the introductions in your life could start that way,” Bonnie quipped.

“—but I’m not counting that,” said Elena.

Jackson smiled, looking perplexed but friendly. “Jackson,” he said. “And you are—“

“Just passing through,” said Bonnie, with a grin. “I’m Bonnie.”

“She’s a Bennett witch,” Klaus called over, with a grin. “They’re a useful crowd to know.”

Bonnie scowled at him. There was still a bit of a laugh in her eyes, but the look was still unfriendly, and it rattled Elena to realize it had been months since she’d been with anyone who’d known her when Klaus was really her enemy, excluding the Mikaelsons themselves.

Elena was feeling well enough by now that she’d changed and showered, and she shot Bonnie a smile.

“While you’re here, I’ve got an idea,” she said, half because the idea was great and half because she wasn’t sure she wanted Bonnie to see her recent dynamic with Klaus firsthand. “How would you like a tour?”

Elena wasn’t yet an expert at the city, but she knew the area near the compound well enough, and the fact that she was with Bonnie meant that Klaus couldn't say that she had no protection. She brought her to some touristy spots she knew the way to, walked her through some shops she knew to be run by witches (the witches all glared at her, but held their tongues when Bonnie introduced herself, and Elena remembered that being a Bennett witch was, in fact, kind of a big deal). She brought her by the church because she knew Bonnie liked churches, not so much because Bonnie had any particular faith but because Bonnie’s dad had always been a church sort of guy, and then was struck by a bit of inspiration.

Hey, any chance you’re in the church attic? she texted Davina.

Yeah, why?

Elena grinned. “How would you like to meet a witch who actually likes me?”

She led Bonnie up to the attic and knocked on the door. She could hear Josh’s voice from inside, and then she pushed open the door.

“Hey,” she said to Davina, who looked surprise but still sort of pleased to see her.
“This is—“

“Bonnie Bennett,” said Kol, right before Elena noticed him.

Bonnie frowned at him. “Do I know you?”

Kol grinned. Bonnie looked at Elena quizzically, and then realization dawned in her eyes. “Oh my god,” she said, sounding neither happy nor upset, just shocked as shocked could be. “Kol?”

“Does everyone you know have some sort of tie to the Mikaelsons?” Davina asked, and then her gaze darted back to Bonnie. “Hang on, did you say Bennett? As in—“

“—one and only,” Elena confirmed.

Bonnie was still staring, open-mouthed. “Elena told me,” she said, “but—“

“—don’t look so surprised, I thought you’d died,” said Kol. “The Other Side collapsed. You were still on it.”

“I did die, sort of,” said Bonnie. “I was in a prison world. I just got back the other day.”

Elena knew that Kol and Bonnie knew each other, but she’d never realized they were—that they knew each other beyond cordial enmity. She’d missed a lot of what was going on with Bonnie, after Bonnie’s first return from the dead, and even before, when she’d turned off her humanity—really since she’d started dating Damon. She felt a little sick at the thought. She’d thought she had a history with Kol, what with helping to kill him and then him trying to kill her when the veil was dropped, but she was clearly wrong.

After another moment, Bonnie’s whole body seemed to shift, as though she’d snapped out of a trance. “Hey,” she said to Davina. “Sorry about that. I’m Bonnie.”

. . .

“I still can’t believe Kol got pulled from the Other Side before it fell,” Bonnie said as they walked down another street, late afternoon sun hot on their backs. "When Klaus called and asked what was going on with the Other Side, he seemed mostly concerned about Mikael--"

"Wait, what?" asked Elena, stopping dead in her tracks. "When Klaus called? You talk to Klaus?"

Bonnie frowned. "Not regularly, or anything," she said. "He needed an answer and insisted on me giving him one."

Elena felt like she'd lost her balance. "I didn't even know you had Klaus's number."

Bonnie stopped, and then giggled, just a little. "Oh my god, come on, Elena, we all have everyone's numbers. It makes no sense. You've had Klaus's number since, what, that day he came to school and made Tyler a hybrid? Damon has too. Stefan's the only person with a good reason for that. I'm pretty sure you've had Elijah on speed dial since before the sacrifice. I mean, for god's sake, you have Silas's number. How did that even work? 'I know we're all attacking each other, but sidebar, I need to add you to my contacts?' None of it makes sense."

It was so strange, when Bonnie put it like that—it crossed Elena’s mind to go through her phone later and see how many enemies’ numbers she had—but she laughed still. They turned a corner—

Elena stopped dead when she saw Finn, but she made sure to say his name, so Bonnie at least wasn't caught off guard.

Finn smiled. "Leaving without Niklaus again? I have to say, I never took you for stupid." He paused, and then looked over at Bonnie. "I recognize you," he said, sounding puzzled. "One of the little friends from Mystic Falls, I suppose."

Bonnie didn't answer, only smiled in silence. A second later, Finn had dropped to the floor, howling in agony.

"Finn Mikaelson," she said, smile curving up into something darker. "The mommy's boy. I recognize you too." She took a step forward, and seized his chin in her hands, pulling his face up.

"You need to calm down," she told him in a flat voice. "You try to kill Klaus all you want, we've all been there before, I won't judge. But if I hear that you hurt anyone else, I will come to New Orleans again, and I will end you. Do I make myself clear?"

"Well, I thought I'm come to your rescue, but it appears your friend has that covered," said Marcel's voice from behind them. Bonnie turned back, distracted, and Finn broke free of her grip and disappeared. Bonnie cursed under her breath, than turned around.

"Bonnie, hi," she said.

Marcel grinned, looking as charming as Elena had ever seen him. "I'm Marcel," he told her, "and that was some powerful magic. If I still ran this joint, you'd be number one on my watch list."

Bonnie laughed. "I should be number one on way more people's watch lists," she said.

Elena smiled. “I appreciate the intent to rescue,” she said. “How did you know?”

“Davina mentioned you’d stopped by for a visit, and when I saw Finn creeping about I figured you were in for a nasty surprise.” He grinned. “For the second time this week, I might add.”

Elena raised an eyebrow. “You… know about that?”

Marcel laughed. “Are you kidding? Klaus threw a fit when he realized you’d been taken. He called me to send my men out to search before remembering that we’d all been trapped in the compound.” He shot a look over his shoulder. “Are you ladies headed back to the compound? Because if you are, I think I’ll join you.”

They headed back together, Bonnie sharing tales of the various kidnapping Elena had found herself a victim of, Marcel laughing at the right moments.

Klaus was in an uncommonly good mood when they got back (she’d never seen Klaus like this, the way he was with his daughter), going so far as to offer Bonnie a ride to the airport. They hugged on the sidewalk outside the terminal.

“Thank you for coming down,” said Elena. “I’m so sorry I can’t be with everyone.”

Bonnie smiled. “That won’t last forever,” she said. “I’ll find a way. And in the meantime, I can always pop down for a visit now and then.” She leaned in, conspiratorial. “I don’t know what the hell is going on between you and Klaus, but whatever you’re doing, you’ve made him a lot less horrible to be around.”

Elena laughed. “He’s just in a really good mood today,” she said. “He’s still Klaus.”

“Yeah, well, if he wasn’t, it would actually be scary.” Bonnie gave her one last hug. “I’ve got to catch my flight, but I’ll call you when I land. I love you.”

“I love you,” replied Elena, and then Bonnie walked into the airport.

. . .

“Do you feel better, then?” Klaus asked her on the way home.

Elena smiled. “Yeah, I do,” she said. “Bonnie’s redirection magic really helped. I feel fine.” She looked over at Klaus, whose profile seemed deliberately blank of emotion. “Thanks for offering the ride. I really appreciate that.”

“It’s not a problem, love,” he said.

The car pulled to a stop, and she looked over at Klaus, who seemed to be deliberately avoiding looking at her. They still hadn’t had that conversation, and she was still upset about the other night, but he was so un-Klaus, all of a sudden. He wasn’t making any move to leave the car, either; he was clearly waiting on her.

Elena sighed, and waited until he met her eyes.

“What do you say you buy me a drink?” she suggested, and his mouth quirked up into a small smile.

He brought her to a small place, a classy joint that had a bit of a French feeling to it. She ordered a vodka soda and he ordered a scotch, and they grabbed a table next to a window.

“Is this a date, then?” asked Klaus. His lips were twisted into a smirk and his cadence was mocking, but it was a loaded question, and they both knew it.

Elena sighed. “I don’t know,” she said honestly. Klaus’s eyes were trained on her, dark and solemn, and she knew he was hanging onto her every word. “It’s… it’s not that I don’t want it to be, but I don’t know if I’m ready for it to be.”

She could tell Klaus was coming up with some witty retort, so she placed her palms on the table and leaned forward.

“Listen, Klaus,” she said, her tone frank, and he blinked. “I’ve got my cards on the table, and I’m happy to be an open book. I like you; I shouldn’t, but I kind of do, anyway, and I liked the other night, but I’ve got a lot to deal with right now.” Their fingers brushed over the table, and she took a deep breath. “We both know that. You have almost none of your cards on the table, and I don’t know what you want. But I’ve spent four years in… in really serious relationships, and I’m still figuring out who I am when I’m on my own, and I can’t commit to anything but that right now.”

Klaus was still, for a moment, and then: “Alright.”

“Alright,” said Elena, and she smiled. “Cheers.”

They only stayed for one drink; Klaus had a baby at home, after all. They walked home, chatting amiably about Hayley’s wedding the next day, who they thought was going to come, whether Josh and that werewolf Aiden would actually come as a couple or not (Klaus thought not; Elena thought yes.) When they arrived back at the compound, Klaus paused, a strange look on his face, and met her eyes.

She knew he was going to kiss her before he did, and she let him.

The other times they’d kissed, they’d been desperate, passionate, fuelled by desire and by the desire for the kiss to lead someplace else. This was just a kiss, slow and sweet, like the dawning warmth of the sun on a still-brisk spring day. It was a kiss for the simple pleasure of kissing, and Elena kissed him back, gentle and tender. He cupped her face with his hand. There was a light breeze in the air; a few tendrils of her hair curled around his wrist.

After a few moments (she couldn’t have said how long, but she was not so giddy that she’d think it lasted hours or days or centuries), he pulled away, his face unreadable. She smiled up at him, lips closed, saying nothing, and she could see in her mind’s eye how she must look; eyes dark and enigmatic, face of a Petrova, inscrutable and lovely.

“I’m off to sleep,” she said simply. “It’s a big day tomorrow.”

He opened the door for her and she went up to bed, watched herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth and washed her face. She knew he was on his best behaviour, and that paired with his delight over the return of his daughter, it made him so much nicer than he actually was. But it had been easy, so easy to let him lean in and kiss her, and it would have been so easy for her to reach over and hold his hand on the walk home.

He had not said what he wanted, but she had an idea nevertheless, and despite what she’d told him at the bar, if he asked, she wasn’t entirely sure she’d say no.

 

 

Chapter Text

Hayley and Jackson’s wedding went off with hardly a hitch, which Elena had not expected at all; she was sure that some catastrophe would erupt to wreck the whole thing. Most of the big events in Elena’s life had a terrible track record; school dances, her graduation, first night of college, and so on and so forth. It was an unsettling yet pleasant surprise for something to go smoothly, but it still hurt her heart that it was only her life that was so cursed to horror.

She stayed next to Elijah the whole time. She didn’t really want to be there with Klaus, because that would make her Klaus’s date, making the whole situation more complicated. Besides, she could tell that Elijah was having a hard time with the wedding. From watching them and from listening to Klaus’s little hints, she’d figured out that Elijah and Hayley had almost been something, and that Elijah had feelings for her. She wasn’t sure if having the face of two of his exes as his date would be of any comfort, but she thought it might be nice for both of them.

And besides, there had always been something between them, an almost, a maybe, an in-some-other-lives.

He had knocked on her door before guests had started arriving, and Elena wanted to laugh; it was such a gentlemanly act, the kind of thing she’d expect from a boy meeting her parents, or taking her to prom, back when she’d been a real girl and not the shadow of monsters. She opened the door with a smile, and Elijah smiled back at her.

“Elena,” he’d said, and extended a hand. “You look lovely.”

“Thank you,” she’d said, placing her hand in his. “You don’t look too bad yourself.”

“Are you ready?” Elijah had asked.

Elena had laughed. “Yes,” she said. She was wearing a new dress she’d ordered online, and the same tall heels she’d worn the night she’d met Esther again. Her hair was straight; she wanted to avoid looking like Katherine at any costs, and even though she now sometimes wore her hair in waves or loose curls, she knew the straight hair was a distinguishing factor for most people, including Elijah.

Elijah had disappeared at one point, though (she thought to talk to Hayley, and a big part of her wanted to tell him not to go but she didn’t voice the thought), and she found herself standing with Josh and a werewolf boy she vaguely recognized.

“Hey,” she said, plastering on a pleasant smile.

“Oh, Elena, hi,” said Josh. She thought Josh liked her well enough, in large part because Davina liked her (and she wasn’t sketchy like Kol), but didn’t really know what to make of her, what with the whole Klaus situation.  “This is my—“ he turned back, as though checking with the boy, “this is my boyfriend, Aiden.”

“Nice to meet you,” she said, shaking Aiden’s hand. They chitchatted idly about the wedding, and Elena forced herself not to mention the whole doppelganger-hybrid-maker thing. She respected Hayley’s decision, what she was doing for her people; she didn’t want to undermine it.

Elijah came back a moment later. He looked sad, but Elena figured she was one of the only people who wouldn’t mistake it for stoicism. He led her over to a seat and grabbed her a glass of champagne, and she giggled, thinking about the last time they’d drank champagne together, at his mother’s ball, when she’d sort of accidentally almost gotten him killed.

“Cheers,” he said, tapping his glass to hers, and they drank.

She smiled, biting her lip, and the exhaled. “Elijah, are you okay?”

Elijah offered her a look of bemused surprise that was clearly practiced. “What do you mean?”

Elena sighed. “Come on, you might be able to fool everyone else, but you can’t fool me. I know you’re upset.”

He held her gaze for a long moment, and then his lips quirked up into a smile. “You are perceptive as ever, Elena,” he said, and then lowered his eyes for a moment before looking back up. “But I’ll be quite alright.”

She tilted her head to the side. “If you say so,” she said, and took a long sip from her glass.

Elijah laughed. “You’re in quite the rush.”

She smirked. “I’ve never been to any kind of formal event where something terrible didn’t happen,” she said. “Knowing your brother, we’re going to end up with at least three dead bodies before the day is out. I’m not dealing with that sober.”

Elijah smiled, lifted his glass to her, and tipped it back, draining it. Elena laughed and then finished hers as well, and with a charming grin, he went off to refill them.

“Besides,” she said, after clinking her glass against his for a second time, “knowing your brother, this champagne is incredibly expensive, and I intend to enjoy that thoroughly.”

“Elena Gilbert,” he said, smiling down at her. “I didn’t know you were a connoisseur of fine wines.”

“I’m working on it,” she said, grinning back. “If you ever want to donate a bottle from the ancient Mikaelson family collection to the cause, I won’t say no.”

Elijah laughed. “Be careful what you ask for.”

Elena’s eyes widened. “How long do wines last, anyway?”

“With the right packaging and storage?” Elijah paused. “Centuries, potentially.”

“Do you have any wines from 1492?” she asked, and Elijah seemed genuinely taken aback. “Ones that Katherine drank when you knew her back then? We could conduct a doppelganger taste bud experiment.” She gave him a playful nudge. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“Once every five lifetimes,” Elijah corrected, and Elena laughed in genuine delight. “I suppose that would be quite the experiment.”

“It’s a plan,” said Elena, and giggled as Elijah fetched them a third glass of champagne. “This is my last glass, by the way,” she said, as he handed the flute down to her. “I’ve learned my lesson about human tolerance.”

“Yes, the hard way, if I recall,” said Elijah. “That was quite memorable.”

Elena scowled playfully at him, and he grinned back at her.

. . .

After the wedding, Elena learned from Klaus that Elijah had moved out, and even though she was upset, she thought it might be for the best -- and then she learned that Kol had died. Davina came to her that night in a heap of tears, and Elena held her and stroked her hair and told her that it was going to be very hard but one day it would be easier, and Klaus followed in behind her in silence. Elena cared for Davina, and she knew that Davina knew Elena had been through the same thing, but it broke her heart that out of everyone in Davina’s life she was the person Davina had to go to; no parents, no family, not many friends. Davina stayed all night; eventually her sobs quieted as she drifted into sleep, and Elena had Rebekah (not Klaus; she knew Davina wouldn’t appreciate that) carry Davina up into her own bed. Elena tucked her in and pressed a kiss against her hair, and then went downstairs, where Klaus was sitting and drinking.

“I’m sorry,” said Elena. “I really am.”

“I’m sure,” said Klaus, his voice bitter. Elena didn’t reply, just poured herself a drink took a seat next to him on the couch.

After a few moments of drinking is silence, Klaus spoke. “How is the little witch doing?”

“She’s a mess,” said Elena. “She’s seventeen. Your brother was her first love, she’s absolutely destroyed.” She paused, took a swig from her glass. “Why did you bring her here? Did she ask, or—“

“I offered,” said Klaus. “She was—crying hysterically on the ground in a cemetery, I couldn’t just leave her there, so I told her that you were at the compound and she nodded and didn’t say a word ‘till we arrived.”

Elena nodded, licked her upper lip, and then looked at him. “You’re not going to be a dick to her tomorrow, are you?”

Klaus scowled. “I don’t plan on speaking a word to her, sweetheart. I think that would be for the best.”

Elena nodded. If there’s anything I can do, she wanted to say, but she didn’t know what Klaus would interpret that as, whether he would think she were offering her services or offering herself. She wouldn't say no if he asked, but she didn’t want to offer, not tonight. She could have excused herself to go to bed; her bed may have been taken, but there was no shortage of empty rooms in this house. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to leave Klaus alone to his grief, especially since she’d been responsible the first time Kol had died. She sat up with him all night, until she fell asleep herself on the couch.

Klaus wasn’t there when she woke up, but he’d lain a blanket over her, which was awfully sweet and un-Klaus-like. She was still up before Davina, though, which she was glad of. Jackson was wandering about the compound looking like he needed something to do, so she sent him off with a grocery list. He came back pretty promptly with everything she needed (Hayley had clearly lucked out in the arranged-marriage department), and by the time Davina came downstairs Elena had already whipped up a batch of pancakes.

“Hey,” she said, setting the food down on the kitchen table. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” said Davina. She took a few sips of orange juice, then shrugged. “Actually, not really better at all.”

Davina ended up staying a few days. She and Elena watched countless movies together; Rebekah joined for a number of them, or turned up with takeout late at night when no one was sleeping. Cami even came over with her psych work, and studied in the room with them a few times. There were a lot of tears.

Klaus mostly stayed out of the way; he’d occasionally toss a comment in their direction, to the effect of “I’m leaving, don’t burn the place down,” or “Elena, I restocked the bourbon,” and Hayley would come over to tell them that Hope was sleeping and to not wake her, or else.

A few times, Davina asked her about Damon, about how she’d coped. It was hard to say; getting over Damon’s loss had been like getting over a migraine, bit by bit by bit until it was gone and she hadn’t even noticed. It still hurt like hell, of course; it always would, but it no longer loomed over her like a dark shadow. She loved him, and it hurt to have lost him, but she no longer felt desperate and disparate at his absence.

It had been weeks, now, since she’d really thought about him and about losing him, and about how she felt at it all. She had changed, since coming to New Orleans; she felt more like her old self, more centered, more somber, and she should have wanted to be fun and carefree but it felt more right to acknowledge the weight she carried with her at all times.

After about a week, Davina came over, gave Elena a hug, and told her she was ready to leave.

“No offense,” said Davina, “but living in the same house as Kol’s siblings isn’t really gonna help.”

“That’s fair.” Elena pursed her lips. “But I don’t want you alone. How about where Marcel is living? He’s got to have a room for you down there.”

Davina stared at her blankly, then finally nodded. “Okay, yeah. That sounds good.”

“I’ll drive you over,” said Elena.

. . .

Before getting in the car, Elena figured she’d give Marcel a car to make sure he was home. When she checked her phone, there were a dozen missed calls from Bonnie and Caroline and Jeremy and Stefan and even Alaric. She knew she should call back, but she didn’t want to leave Davina waiting, so she called Marcel.

“Hey, Marcel,” she said. “It’s Elena.”

“Elena, hi,” he said, his voice sounding a bit dubious. “Did you hear?”

“About Kol? Yeah, Davina crashed here for a while. She doesn’t want to stay but I don’t think she should be alone, so I was going to drop her off at your place—“

“That’s fine, but—you didn’t here about the vampire?”

Elena frowned. “What vampire?”

“Some guy’s been about town asking after you. Something Salvatore? I was going to give you a call—“

“Stefan? Huh,” said Elena. “I’ll call him once I drop Davina off.”

Once she did so, she called Stefan. “Stefan, hey,” she said. “Are you in New Orleans?”

“What? No,” said Stefan, “it’s—Elena, Damon’s back.”

Elena felt as though the entire world had just collapsed in her chest, like her lungs were glass orbs that had just shattered into a thousand splinters, like there was a hole in her chest she couldn’t fill no matter how deeply she tried to breathe. “What?” she tried to say, but could hardly force it out. “What—“

She’d mourned Damon so deeply, but she had never, not in a thousand years, expected this or prepared for it.

She turned off the ignition in the car and made her way into Marcel’s building, legs shaking beneath her as she walked. Marcel was still in the entrance way, and frowned when he saw her.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“What… what exactly was he saying?” she asked, the words catching in her throat. “Damon.”

“Oh,” said Marcel. “The vampire? He was out on the town last night, pretty intense, asking after you. One of my boys got in his face about coming after Klaus’s—his words, not mine—Klaus’s pet human, and he got in a fight. I got in the middle before anyone got killed, and he told me to tell Klaus he would find you.” Marcel frowned. “I gotta ask, what is going on? He was going on as though Klaus had kidnapped you—“

“Klaus didn’t kidnap me,” she said. “I—Damon—he, he was my… he was dead, um, I guess he came back.”

“Shit,” said Marcel. “That’s tough.”

Elena looked up. “Tough?”

“I mean, you’re with Klaus now, right?” asked Marcel.

Elena almost laughed, or cried. “What?” she asked. “No, no I’m not.”

Marcel’s eyebrows raised. “Wait, really?” he asked. “I could have sworn you two—“

“We did—but we’re not—it’s complicated.” Elena sighed. “I just—I—“

“Do you need someone to drive you back?” asked Marcel.

Elena looked at him, holding her breath, and then nodded. “Yeah, I—but you shouldn’t leave Davina alone, she needs you—“

Marcel disappeared, and a second later reappeared with Elijah at his shoulder.

“Thank you,” she said, her voice barely more than a sigh. “I can’t—I don’t think I can drive.”

Elijah drove her car back to the compound, and they sat in silence. Elena didn’t know what to think, how to even begin thinking—everything felt torn and confused, and she could hardly remember how to breathe she was so lost. Five minutes after they parked, Elena thanked Elijah and got out of the car, heading into the compound.

“Do you need me to stay?” asked Elijah. Elena knew he didn’t want to be anywhere near the compound, and it meant a lot that he’d offer anyway, but she refused with the best smile she could plaster on. She made her way to the kitchen, and started doing dishes, trying to empty her mind through the routine of the motions, but she found she could hardly keep the dishes from breaking. She should have called Damon, but she couldn’t do it, didn’t want to face what she wanted, didn’t want to ask herself what she wanted or what she was going to do.

She closed her eyes and thought about the year before; how she’d been as a vampire, how she’d been with Damon, how she’d been so different. She had been the girl she was before her parents died; the cheerleader, the party girl, and as much as she wished she could still be that girl she wasn’t, she was the sad girl with the dead parents. She was human again, and while everyone said that vampirism heightened who you were Elena found it to be almost the opposite; she felt more like Elena as a human than she ever had as a vampire, and it was only when she’d been a vampire that she and Damon had worked. She wasn’t sure she would ever be willing to be a vampire again, or at least, not any time soon, and not unprepared; she wasn’t right, like that.

It was nighttime by the time she heard his voice outside the compound, and the very sound made her eyes glisten with tears. Klaus opened the door and Damon barreled in, at her side in a second, where she was sitting on the table.

“Elena, I’m here, I’ll get you out of here,” he said, his hands on her elbows, and she shook her head.

“I’m not—Klaus didn’t kidnap me, Damon. I’m here by choice.” She looked at him and frowned. “Hang on, you’re still a vampire?”

“Came back from a magical prison world, not the Other Side,” he said, with a half-assed smirk that made her laugh and want to cry at the same time. “Come on, let’s go home.”

Klaus came over, in that stalking, angry manner, and Elena shot him a pleading look.

“Klaus, please,” she said. “I’m—please, give us some privacy?” She swallowed. “Don’t listen in.”

Klaus glared at her, but vanished a second later, and Elena turned back to Damon, trying to measure her breathing.

“Damon, Finn cursed me so I couldn’t leave,” she said, because it was the easiest thing to start on.

“Son of a bitch,” said Damon, and linked his fingers with hers. “I’ll get us a hotel room, then. We can talk.”

Elena was shaking her head, and she felt her tears escape her eyes and start trickling down her cheeks.

“Elena, don’t do this,” said Damon, and she could hear the desperate urgency in his voice. “Just come on, let’s go.

"Damon, I'm sorry," she said, and she could hardly hear herself over the sound of him chanting, "Elena, please, Elena."

She could taste her salty tears as they fell down her face, and she knew that hard as she might try she would not be able to control them. She forced herself to get to her feet. "I can't leave, Damon," she said again, though there was more to it than that. "I can't go back with you, I can't leave this city."

"Then I'll move to New Orleans," said Damon, his blue eyes wild and desperate. "I'll get a nice apartment on Bourbon Street, just for the two of us, and we'll get Bonnie to come down and put up every protective spell she knows to keep you safe from Finn--"

It was all Elena wanted and more, and she wanted, she wanted to desperately to say yes, but she could not, and it felt as though her heart were breaking all over again. She was fully sobbing by now, but she forced herself to speak the words regardless. "Damon, I can't," she said, through her tears. "I-- you and I, we worked, we worked when we were both vampires, we--"

She remembered how it had been before, before she had ever turned, how she had felt the way she felt about Damon but could not help but try to change him, to be more moral, more human, and she knew that after she turned it had been just the same the other way round, him changing her to be more ruthless, more dangerous, and she'd loved him so much but she'd turned into someone she hardly recognized. She could not become that person again; she missed Damon so much but she knew herself again after so long. And she could not be with Damon without one of them needing to cave. Damon had tried to change for her, when she was human, but he had never stopped being Damon. She knew that if one of them changed, it would be her.

She thought of Klaus, how monstrous Klaus was, so much worse and so much darker than Damon had ever been. She had thought for so long that it made no sense, that it was so wrong, that she had struggled so much with Damon's darkness and yet never even bothered to rationalize Klaus's, but now she saw how much sense it made. Klaus was nothing other than what he was, and with him Elena was nothing other than what she was; they weren't trying to change the other, the thought had never even occurred to them, they were so vastly different that neither of them would be them if they tried to be more similar. They were a clash of two ideals, two unmoving forces coming together from opposite points again and again throughout all of history.

She could be that unmoving force with Klaus, and she could be Elena still with Elijah, and with Stefan, but she could not be with Damon without having to choose between him and herself, and it felt like the entire world was collapsing and her heart was in her throat but she knew she had to choose herself. A part of her wished this was more about Klaus, that she was choosing between two people; she knew how to do that and she'd done it before. But she wasn't doing that now. She didn't know if there was anything to choose when it came to Klaus, and even if there was she wasn't yet sure she would choose it, but she now knew that she could not be herself and be with Damon; and as much as it killed her, she knew she had to choose herself.

"Damon, I love you so much," she said, trying to control her gulps for air, "but when I love you I'm not me. Loving you made me go mad, it turned me into someone I'm not, Damon," she swallowed, "Damon, I'll always love you but I'll never stop wanting to change you, and you'll never stop wanting to change me, and someone's going to have to lose one day and I don't want that day to come."

There were tears on Damon's cheeks, though still less tears than there surely were on Elena's.

She leaned forward and kissed him, soft and tender and bittersweet, long enough to show she meant it but final enough to make it clear that this was a goodbye kiss. She pulled away and held his face in her hands, one last time. His hands were encircling her wrists, and he was looking at her like he was drowning, and she couldn't bear to meet his eyes but she kept on looking because she owed him that much.

"I love you so much," she whispered, running her thumb along his cheek. "But this has to be goodbye."

. . .

She cried herself to sleep that night, face buried in her pillow to keep her sobs quiet, and while she saw neither Elijah nor Klaus that whole time Rebekah had come by for an hour with a bucket of ice cream. It was the nicest thing Rebekah had ever done for her; she didn't know what she'd done to deserve it, but they sat together on Elena's bed with two spoons and one tub of Half-Baked, and while the ice cream helped a little, just sitting with another girl meant so much more, made her feel like she was just a twenty-year-old girl with a broken heart and not a girl haunted by monsters who in turn were haunted by her face.

The next morning she managed to get out of bed, but only just. She couldn't even bring herself to shower. She threw her hair up in a bun and pulled up her laptop, plugged in her headphones, and queued up every comedy she thought stood a chance of making her smile. She was halfway through Clueless when Klaus burst into her room unannounced.

His face was slack with surprise, and she just looked at him for a solid minute, unable to spare the energy to say a word. After what felt like ages, he said, in a stunned-sounding mumble, "I heard you in here, I figured you were packing."

Elena narrowed her eyes. After ten seconds or so, she said, "Wait, what?"

Klaus shook his head. "Where's Damon?"

And it both warmed and broke Elena's heart to realize he didn't know.

"I don't know," she said. "On his way back to Mystic Falls, I guess."

Klaus had already opened his mouth to start speaking before she'd finished talking, but he stopped dead. "Wait, what?"

"You weren't eavesdropping?" she asked, very shocked and slightly touched.

Klaus's lips thinned into a line. "You asked me not to," he said.

Elena frowned. "Yeah, I just figured you would anyway." They looked at each other a few moments more before she sighed. "It's… we, I…" She grimaced, and then laughed without humour, and just shook her head. "It's done," she managed to say.

Klaus nodded and looked down at the ground. A second later, he looked up, and said, "You--"

"Klaus?" she interrupted, and he nodded. "I ended it," she said, "but I'm, I'm really upset, and I really don't want to talk about it."

"Can I ask why?" asked Klaus, and she knew he meant why to the break up.

"A lot of reasons," said Elena. She said it because it was true, but also because she didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing the role he'd played in it, or face his disappointment if he thought the role he'd played wasn't big enough.

Klaus frowned. "I take it you already regret it?"

I broke up with a boy because we were different people, because I kept trying to change him and he kept trying to change me and it wasn't healthy. It's the most normal thing I've done in years.

"No," said Elena. "No, I don't. Doesn't mean it doesn't suck."

 

 

Chapter Text

She should not have been at all surprised when she woke up on the floor of a cold dark room, with Finn standing over her.

She groaned, sitting up—her head hurt and her limbs were all sore. “Again?” she asked, trying to sound more blasé than she felt. “This is getting old.”

“Drink up,” said Finn, and she noticed a glass of water on the floor next to her.

She frowned. “Did you poison this?”

Finn laughed. “I wouldn’t be so wasteful as to kill a doppelganger with poison,” he said, and she rolled her eyes, ignoring the fear crawling down her back. She took a sip of the water, tentative.

Finn narrowed his eyes. “Finish it.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What if I don’t?”

“Then I will forcefeed it to you. I’m not willing to waste my time arguing with you, Elena. Drink the water.”

She didn’t need to be told again—she had a lot of questions, and there was no need to get Finn any angrier than he already was at this point. If she knew anything by now, it was that antagonizing someone when you didn’t have an out planned was a dumb, dumb idea. She chugged down the water, and Finn seized her upper arm and pulled her to his feet, his grip painful.

She followed him along a narrow hallway into a room with an all-too familiar setup.

“You’re not just taking my blood the old fashioned way?” she asked.

Finn shoved her forward, and she stumbled towards the single wooden chair. “I’m not procuring your blood, I’m cleansing it of the foul vervain you have tainting it.”

Elena swallowed. “I—I haven’t had any vervain,” she said.

Finn grabbed a needle. “I’m hardly going to believe that,” he said. “Now sit in the chair and be still—I will drain you of vervain whether you are complacent or not, but resistance will only result in additional pain for you.”

Elena sat in the chair, measuring her breaths. Once Finn had the blood flowing, he couldn’t be impatient, he’d have to wait, and maybe he’d answer her questions. She hardly paid any attention when he stabbed into her vein, and she didn’t speak until he was a couple of steps away.

“How did you get me?” she asked. “Why don’t I remember—“

“You were asleep,” said Finn. “Rebekah’s been targeted by the Tremé coven of witches. I didn’t even need magic to get to your room.” He gave her a cruel smile. “My brother must care so much for your safety.”

“That’s not going to work, Finn,” said Elena.

“Oh, please, tell me of my brother’s prevailing love for you,” said Finn. “Swear up and down that he would never leave you unprotected. Your confidence is inspiring.”

Elena sighed. “People have literally died for me, Finn,” she said, her tone as matter-of-fact as she could make it. “I’m not exactly insecure about people valuing me. It really doesn’t matter what your brother did or didn’t do.” She took another breath. “Why did you take me?”

“I still need something from you,” said Finn.

Elena couldn’t help but scoff. “What, you couldn’t take whatever it is last time?”

Finn grinned, and it wasn’t pleasant. “Last time?” he asked. “Please. That was some simple foundational work, nothing all that crucial. I just needed to make sure you’d still be here and human when the time came.”

“The time for what?” asked Elena. It seemed the obvious thing to ask.

“You’ll see,” was all he said.

She frowned, but didn’t ask again. Instead, she went in a different direction. “How did you come to hate vampires and vampirism so much?”

Finn laughed. “I don’t suppose you would ever understand it, vampire lover that you are.”

“That you are,” she replied. “I remember Sage, you know. You turned her into a vampire. Why would you turn someone you love into something you hate?”

Finn’s face grew very still, and he stared into her eyes with such intensity Elena was tempted to look away. She did not. Finally, he said, “I did not hate vampires as much once I met Sage, I was… I became weak. I did wrong by her—I never should have turned her.”

“That didn’t stop you after your brothers found her and brought her back to Mystic Falls,” said Elena. “You were just as in love with her then.”

Finn grimaced. “I had not seen her in a thousand years,” he said. “Again, I was weak.”

“But you hate me for having fallen in love with vampires?” she asked. “I never wanted to become a vampire—I spent months after I turned searching for the cure—but most of the people I love are vampires. Can’t you at least understand that?”

Finn frowned. “I can understand that,” he said. “But I can disapprove, too. I was willing to give you a chance when my mother offered you a new body. I thought, perhaps, that you would see her cause, that you would feel remorse for the sins of the doppelganger, or perhaps that you would agree on the sole condition that your little friends be extended the opportunity as well. I was mistaken, just as I was mistaken about my mother’s conviction. It is no matter.”

Elena closed her eyes—the blood loss and maniacal speeches were getting to her. “How long is this dumb draining thing going to take?”

“Almost done, now,” he said. “I apologize for the inconvenience, but your blood can’t be tainted.”

“Why does it matter?” she asked. “I had vampire blood in my system during the…” She yawned. “During the sacrifice. And that went fine.”

“This is a little more complex than my brother’s sacrifice,” said Finn.

“Are you ever going to tell me what this is?” asked Elena. “Because all this doppelganger drama has gotten really old.”

“I highly doubt I will,” Finn replied, hint of a smile on his face, “and trust me, your blasé words don’t fool me.”

Elena squinted up at him. “What do you mean?”

“Acting as though you’re simply bored with the mythology of the doppelganger,” said Finn. “Please. Perhaps your little friends back home grew tired of it, but not you, never you.”

“I’m not tired of being abducted and leered at for wearing the face of a girl I’m not?” asked Elena. “I’m not tired of spilling my blood at the drop of a hat, over and over again, until I don’t even hesitate to cut myself open? Okay, then. You’re right; I’m not bored of learning about my heritage. But I am so, so done with the amount of drama that follows me around because of it.”

“And yet you refused to abandon your body,” said Finn.

“It’s my body!” Elena insisted.

“Come on, now,” said Finn. “We both know that’s not true.” He leaned over and tugged the needle out of her vein, more harshly than he needed to, but it did not hurt nearly enough to make Elena flinch. “I think you enjoy being the doppelganger, as much as I’m sure you would deny it. The special one, the one chosen by destiny—I think you can’t get enough of it.”

Elena kicked his foot with feeble motion. “I think that I don’t want to abandon my heritage, as tragic and depressing as it might be.”

“Don’t martyr yourself,” Finn bit out between clenched teeth. “You wear your tragedy like a crown of thorns, Elena Gilbert. I saw you come to meet my mother in the graveyard that night; you and my brother were Death and the Maiden personified, and don’t even think you can convince me you didn’t enjoy it. Your face has haunted this earth for a thousand—“

“Two thousand—“ she corrected, feeling faint, and Finn laughed, high and delighted and crazed.

“See? You can’t even help yourself! You can deny it as much as you like, but you are obsessed, obsessed with your legacy. You are obsessed with how much you have suffered. You are a cataclysm dressed as a girl and you like it. What does that say about you?”

Elena forced herself to open her eyes, stare Finn in his face. “I think it says that everyone I love keeps dying and it’s nice to think it’s not my fault,” she said. “Can you blame me for that?”

“People die around you, Elena Gilbert,” said Finn. “I’m sure at first, you blamed it all on the Salvatore brothers, or on my brothers, but surely by now you’ve understood that it’s all you, all because of you. And I don’t care how much you want to blame it on fate or destiny or my mother; it’s you. And the guilt kills you, doesn’t it? The rest of the world may think that you have no power over your fate, that it’s all so tragic, the curse of your face, but you and I know that you aren’t cursed by your face; you curse the world with it. You are not a doppelganger. You are the doppelganger, and you are to blame for two thousand years of calamity, and you know this, and you like it.”

Elena did not, could not speak. She was so faint, so tired, and she did not think she could move without crying, and she was not going to cry. She stared up at Finn, eyes burning, trying to make sure he could see how much she hated him.

“Go to hell,” she settled on saying, because she was good at that one, by now.

Finn laughed. It wasn’t a cold laugh or a cruel laugh. It was genuine, full of genuine humour and amusement. “That was mean, wasn’t it?” he said, and stepped back.

“And with you so weak.” He disappeared for a moment, and then pressed a glass of water into her hand. “Drink up,” he said. “I do need you conscious, you know, terrible as your company may be.”

Elena was lucid enough to sniff the glass before she drank it. There was definitely something in it, but she thought it might be to help her blood replenish itself; if he needed doppelganger blood, he couldn’t just hook her up to some random other blood.

She felt a little stronger, as though she were waking up from a trance. “What now?” she asked

Finn smiled. “Now, we get to work.”

Elena sighed. “So why did you yell at me about being a doppelganger for so long?”

“Oh, we’re not done with that,” said Finn. “It’s funny, of course, how you’ve been sacrificed for your blood and met two other women with your face, and yet it’s only these past months in New Orleans that you’ve really had to confront your heritage.”

Elena felt goosebumps all over. “What are you talking about?” she asked.

"Let me guess," said Finn, and his voice was cold, so cold. "You've been worrying about your doppelganger heritage lately, isn't that right?" His voice took on a mocking tone. "Who are you, really? Are you your own? Who is it my brother really wants?" He leaned in, so his voice was right next to your ear. "All those memories, those slips. You must have thought you were going mad."

"Actually, I thought you or your mother were up to something," said Elena. "And it looks like I was right. Shocker." She grimaced at the magic binding her to the chair, but didn't do something stupid like try to struggle against it. "Are you going to tell me why you've been messing with my mind?"

Finn grinned. "You know, I wasn't going to, but now I think I might." He cleared his throat. "I'm sure you know that powerful spells need to be bound to something powerful, too."

"Like doppelganger blood, I know," she said. "You're still not getting to the point."

Finn laughed. "Do you know what's more powerful than the blood of one doppelganger?"

"Let me guess," said Elena, tone mocking. "Oh, what's that? The blood of more than one doppelganger? Color me surpri--" Elena had been letting the Katherine in her run her mouth, but all of a sudden her mind had gone far beyond her mouth, and she knew what was more powerful than the blood of doppelgangers. "A sacrifice?" she asked, her mouth dry. "What--where are you going to get--"

Finn smiled wider and wider as it dawned on her.

"That doesn't make sense," she said in a low voice.

Finn chuckled. "The doppelgangers are all versions of the same person, living out different lives and making different choices. Your differences are all in nurture, girl; your bodies and minds are exactly the same." He leaned forward, and his face was so close, too close to hers. "And you only exist separately because of magic. There's no reason why all three of you can't be in the same mind at once, and there's no reason that you can't be made separate again."

She thought to argue that they were four, but then Amara had been her own person, no one's copy or shadow self. She didn't even know if Amara counted as a doppelganger at all, in that sense. Or maybe Finn really didn't know much about her; his siblings hadn't, but his mother must have, to know to use Tatia's blood to create vampires.

Finn leaned even closer, grinning, and then placed his fingers on her temples. Just before he started chanting, she started screaming.

The pain was sharper than anything she had ever known, like in the The Little Mermaid book she had read as a kid, the original story, when the mermaid had turned human and felt as though she were being sliced through with a sword. That was what this was, but this was more; she felt as though a knife were cutting the shape of her body out of her, right under her skin, carving open her mind, pulling her apart, creating her into someone different and yet forcing her to remain the same.

The pain lasted long, so long; Finn would pause and grimace, and Elena would hope desperately that it was over only to realize that he had to take breaks to manage the spell, and then it would start again. Hours went by, hours of screaming until her throat was dry and she was sweating through her clothes, hours when she did not remember who she was and hours when she knew for a fact that she was two different people. The world seemed to shift around them, trembling, like a scratched disk; she felt as though there were the tiniest error in the air and the makeup of the room, and she was dizzier than she had ever been. Then Finn placed his fingers on her temples once more, and she shrieked and kicked and thrashed, completely spent, ignoring that she knew how dangerous it could be to interrupt a spell partway through.

For a blazing second the entire world burned like an inferno and she seemed to weight more than the atoms of her being could carry.

Then she fell out of the chair to her left, and heard a thud on the right, and turned to face herself.

The other one--Elena didn't know who she was, if she was a doppelganger Elena knew or not, because there were no tells. She was an exact copy of Elena; not just her face and form, but her clothes, her sweaty, frazzled hair, the dirt under her nails. She blinked wildly at Elena like a trapped animal, and then her face contorted into something far more familiar.

"What the hell," said Katerina Petrova, the second doppelganger of Amara.

 . . .

(and it reminded Elena of something from the Bible, from near the very beginning of Genesis, before she'd put it down and given up on reading it, and long before any thought of heaven had disappeared to give way to the monsters that would surround her-- God had formed Eve out of Adam, out of a lung, or a rib, or some other part of him, just taken it and made a whole person of it. This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman'.)

Chapter Text

There were very few things in this world Elena would enjoy less then chatting with Katherine, but in the empty room, all wood and all dark but for the light of some candles, there was nothing much else to do.

"What are you?" she asked, and Katherine looked at her as though she were an idiot. "No, I'm serious. Finn dragged you out of my brain--are you a copy of Katherine or Katherine back from the dead?"

Katherine made a face. "You're the only copy of me out there, honey," she said. "Back from the dead, and trust me, it was not nice there."

Elena frowned. "Bonnie said that you didn't make it to the other side, that you were pulled away into a--"

"Bonnie wasn't lying," Katherine bit out. "Can we not talk about it anymore?"

Elena hated to acquiesce to Katherine, but she had enough trauma of her own to respect other peoples' triggers. "Okay," she said. "So you're back."

"Clearly." Katherine seemed awfully put out about something. "Although that witch obviously did something wrong, since I seem to be human, again." She picked at the dirt under her nails. "You might not remember, on account of, oh, me possessing your body for my last few weeks of life, but that didn't exactly end well for me last time."

"Well, that makes perfect sense, seeing as you were brought back in a copy of my body and I'm human," said Elena.

Katherine jerked her head and met Elena's eyes with a dark look. "What?"

"I died and came back from the other side human," she said. Katherine seemed to be genuine in her shock, and Elena realized that Katherine really knew nothing. "Damon and Bonnie, um--the other side collapsed and took them with it."

"Oh," said Katherine. She didn't elaborate. Elena was pretty sure she couldn't bring herself to make fun of Damon dying, but that she wasn't willing to say anything that could be construed as friendly. Elena felt a mild urge to tell her that both Damon and Bonnie were back, but she couldn’t really bring herself to do so. After what felt like forever, her other self sighed. "So what's going on here, anyway? Who is that witch, and not that I don't like this side of death a lot better, but why did he bring me back?"

"You don't--"

Katherine gaze was scathing. "I've been dead for--I don't know, not that long if your fashion sense still hasn't evolved, but I've been dead. Excuse me for not being caught up on your drama."

"That witch is Finn Mikaelson," said Elena, and Katherine froze, went absolutely still, as though someone had hit pause on her entire person. "Esther brought him and Kol back in witches bodies' before the Other Side collapsed."

Katherine's face was still, but her eyes were searching Elena's like a drowning girl begging for help. "That’s-- Finn, he's Klaus's brother?"

Elena nodded, and through her hatred of Katherine she felt a little sympathy. "We're in New Orleans," she said, her voice slow. "Esther is dead, I think—she may just be a desiccated vampire, I’m not sure—but Finn is still working to take down Klaus--and the rest of them with him. He already killed Kol. Rebekah's been put in another body too, but he still wants her dead. They have an older sister, Freya, who's back from the dead somehow too, and I think she's helping Finn."

Katherine nodded, and started to breathe again. "What about us?" she asked, her voice still vulnerable.

Elena took a deep breath. "Finn just lost a big chunk of his power, and he needs something else to draw magical strength from. He's been messing with the doppelganger thing for a while. He created you out of me, and I'm guessing he'll try to get Tatia next, maybe out of you, I don't know--and once he has us all, I think his plan is to, uh," she took a deep breath. "To sacrifice us."

Elena had seen Katherine afraid, and distressed, but she had never seen her quite like this before, panicked to the point of history. "No," she whispered, scrambling backwards, "no, no, no--"

"What--it'll be fine, okay?" There was a vindictive part of her that didn't want to comfort Katherine, but she couldn't just sit there and watch her fall apart. "We'll get out before he can do it. He still needs to get Tatia out, and Klaus--"

"Klaus?" Katherine stared, and then laughed, the laugh crazed and bitter. "God, Elena, what is wrong with you? You think Klaus would save us?"

Elena wasn't exactly planning to just sit around waiting for a rescue, but she would need help to get herself- to get them out, and it was a comfort to know that there was someone else she could count on, that she wasn't in this alone.

"Trust me, Klaus is working on something," said Elena, trying to keep her voice grounded and distant.

Katherine stared at her. "Wait," she said, lifting a finger to point at Elena. "No. Just… you are not sleeping with Klaus. Oh my god, and here I thought you couldn't be more of a useless idiot." She scoffed, and Elena, as always, marveled at the fact that a sound like that could come out of her own mouth. "Don't tell me you think he actually cares about you."

"I think," said Elena, "That he doesn't want his brother sacrificing his doppelganger."

“Sure, then, he’ll come for you, maybe. You’re the one who went willing to the sacrifice like a lamb to the slaughter. You’re not the one who betrayed him.” Her voice was coarse and her face was hard, and Elena could see fear in her eyes. “He’ll kill me for sure.”

“He won’t kill you,” said Elena right away, without even thinking. “I won’t let him.”

Katherine laughed as though if she didn’t do so she would cry. “Because he’ll listen to you?” she asked, and then: “You hate me, Elena.”

“I loathe you,” said Elena. “But I know that the reason you’re, well, you is because Klaus tried to victimize you when you were just a girl, and I’m not going to let you have gone through all that just for him to victimize you again.” She shrugged. “And Klaus isn’t going to let Finn sacrifice you, if only because sacrificing doppelgangers is his thing.”

There was naked vulnerability on Katherine’s face, but Elena could see that she was pushing it down. “So what, the big bad wolf is going to come save us?” She blew a hair out of her face. “I bet he doesn’t even know where to find us.”

Elena looked over to one of the candles in the room, and something Bonnie had taught her, a lifetime ago, rose up in her mind. “We can let him know,” she said. She still had the bracelet with Davina’s charm on.

She grabbed the candle and put it down on the floor, right between them. Katherine gave her a skeptical look, but Elena ignored her, pulling off the bracelet and snapping the string in half with a strong tug. The charm on it slid off without any difficulty, and Elena placed it right in the flame.

“Davina Claire,” she whispered.

“Hang on, do you know magic?” asked Katherine.

Elena raised an eyebrow. “No, but we don’t need to know magic for this. Our blood is magic enough.” She yanked a few hairs out of her head, lay them over the flame, and then gave Katherine a meaningful look. At Katherine’s blank one, she sighed, then leaned over and pulled out a few of her hairs.

“Ow!” Katherine glared at her as she placed the hair in the flame. “What the hell? You already had your hairs.”

Elena sighed. “Two doppelgangers makes for stronger magic than one.”

She pulled an old receipt out of her pocket, and then placed her thumb in her mouth and bit down, hard, hard enough to bleed. It was hard to do that, to get past the instinctive, self-preservative layers of her mind enough, but she drew blood, and then pressed her thumb to the receipt until there was a solid bloody thumbprint.

“What are you doing?”

Elena rolled her eyes. “Davina—the witch I’m contacting—she’ll figure out this is my blood, and she can trace our location through the residual magic.” She placed the receipt on the flame, and then squeezed drops of blood from her thumb, into the fire. She stared at Katherine until Katherine sighed and bit her own thumb as well, and dutifully squeezed out some blood. The receipt burned up.

“I hope that worked,” said Katherine. “Or we’re trapped and bleeding.”

 . . .

Elena heard the commotion outside before Katherine did, and rose up to her feet just as the door flung open, Davina standing with her arms outstretched. Then Klaus appeared in the doorway, and she stumbled toward him. He grasped her around the elbow and looked her up and down, and then his eyes traveled to the other girl in the room.

Klaus might not have guessed what was happening, but Elena looked over too, and the sheer terror in Katherine's eyes more than gave her away.

Klaus smiled. It wasn't pleasant. "Katerina," he said, and let go of Elena's arms, taking a predatory step in her direction.

Elena stepped back, mirroring him, and placed a hand on his chest. "Klaus, don't."

"Don't?" said Klaus, his voice low and mocking. "Elena, sweetheart, you must be jesting."

"I'm not," said Elena, standing to her full height, looking him in the eye.

Klaus's eyes danced with anger and amusement. "All right, love, I'll play. Where exactly did this moral high ground come from? Did you not shove the cure down her throat? Did she not possess you for months?" He raised his hands. "Even if we ignore my very real desire to punish her treason, don't you loathe her just as much as I do? Why on earth would you want to tell me 'don't'?"

"Because she's mine," said Elena, the words more true than she'd realized. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Katherine's head snap toward her. "She's my doppelganger. Finn brought her back out of my body, out of my mind. She's mine, and I say don't." Klaus looked between the two of them, and then stepped back. “Also: really? Katherine is somehow back from the dead and your first instinct is to attack her without even asking how?”

“I’m sure you would have explained it to me after,” he replied.

Finn lay unconscious on the floor when Klaus led them out, his arm looped around Elena's waist so she could sag effectively against him. Davina's eyebrows jumped halfway up to her hairline when she saw Katherine and Elena, as did Josh's and Aiden's.

Something rushed up in Elena, some primal instinct to protect the doppelganger heritage at all costs. Two human doppelgangers in the same place was a dangerous prospect.

"That's my sister," she said. Something suspicious flickered across Davina's face, and Klaus's grip tightened for a second, but no one objected. She glanced over to Katherine, who looked stressed and afraid, but not like she was planning to correct the lie.

When they got outside, Elena used the little strength she had left to give Klaus a gentle push, and he let go of her. She walked over to Davina, and heard footsteps rushing to catch up with her; it was Katherine. It struck Elena that out of everyone there, Elena was the closest thing Katherine had to a friendly face. Klaus was the only other person she knew, and as much as Katherine hated her Elena knew Katherine would pick her over Klaus any day.

Davina grabbed Elena's forearms and Katherine came to a pause next to them.

"Oh my god, are you okay?" she asked. "I got your message."

"Thank you," said Elena, and Davina wrapped her in a hug. "Josh, Aiden-- thank you guys for coming, too. It means a lot."

"Yeah, sure," said Josh. "Finn wants to kill me no matter what I do, so I might as well help screw over his plans." His eyes traveled again from Katherine's face to Elena's. "I'm sorry," he said, "it's just-- it's freaky. I didn't know you had a twin."

"Yeah," said Elena. "Trust me, I get that a lot." She felt a pang of sympathy for Katherine, as much as she didn't want to feel it, and she took a step back, letting Katherine into the circle.

"This is Katherine," she said, with a gesture to her right.

"You've never mentioned her," said Davina.

"We're not close," said Elena. Katherine coughed, but Elena had heard that sound out of her own mouth enough times to know she was hiding a laugh. “Guys—please don’t tell anyone she’s here. Or that you’ve met her. Please—it’s really important that this stay secret.”

“Of course,” said Davina. “Yeah, don’t worry about it.”

"Come on," called Klaus, voice dark. "Let's get going."

"I'll text you tomorrow," Elena told Davina, and turned around. She saw Katherine's body tense in her peripheral vision, but she didn't feel a particularly strong urge to comfort her. She walked up to the front seat and opened the door, then shot a look over her shoulder. Katherine was standing a few paces away from the car, looking downright afraid.

"Get in the car, Katerina," barked Klaus, and Katherine flinched. Elena met her eyes after Klaus had closed his door.

"Get in, Katherine," she said, not sounding quite as exasperated as she meant to. Katherine scowled at her, but Elena could see the fear underneath. "I told you I won't let him hurt you, so just get in."

Elena sat down, and was surprised by the rush of relief she felt in the car, the immediate sense safety. After a moment, she heard another door open and shut.

"Good girl," said Klaus, his voice cruel. "Now listen carefully, Katerina. This is how it's going to be--"

Elena sighed. "Klaus, that's enough. You drive, I talk."

Klaus gave her a look that she thought was meant to be angry but didn't quite manage. He sighed, started the car, and Elena turned around in her seat.

"Okay, here's what you should know," she said. "Finn placed a curse on me: I can't turn and I can't leave the city. I don't think I age, and vampire blood still heals me. Since you're in a copy of my body and not your original one, I'm guessing you're under the curse too. It ties us to Klaus."

"Yes, speaking of the two of you," said Klaus, who apparently could only stay quiet for so long. "Why exactly did you tell your little friends that the two of you were sisters?"

"Are you always going to refer to anyone who likes me as my "little friends"?" she shot back. "And I said that because two human doppelgangers in a town full of psychotic witches is a recipe for disaster."

"You realize that not one of my family members will be fooled?" asked Klaus.

"Duh," said Elena. "That's not what I'm worried about. It's the entire rest of the supernatural community. The last thing we want is the Tremé witches or some rogue wolves or vampires getting it into their minds to kidnap a doppelganger or carry out their own sacrifice." She shrugged. "And on the off-chance that your crazy Aunt Dahlia doesn't know about the doppelganger, I mean, that can't hurt."

"You have a crazy aunt Dahlia?" asked Katherine.

"Ah, she speaks!" Klaus turned back to grin at her predatorily.

"Hey, eyes on the road," said Elena, grabbing his chin and turning his head. "And yes, he does. Mikaelson family dysfunction apparently goes back even further than we thought. He also has the ambiguously-aligned sister, Freya."

"Right," said Katherine.

They drove on in silence until Elena couldn't take the guilt and pity anymore, and turned back around. "Okay," she said, leaving out the 'fine' she wanted to include. "We're headed to the compound. That's where Klaus and I live, along with Hayley--you remember Hayley." Katherine nodded. "So Hayley, her new werewolf husband Jackson-- I guess Rebekah's moved back in?" She glanced at Klaus, who nodded. "She's in a different body, though. She's a witch--um, I guess you can take a room somewhere. There's plenty available."

"She can stay in the garden underground," Klaus suggested.

Elena smacked his arm. "She can stay in my room tonight. We’ll figure the rest out in the morning."

. . .

After she’d pointed out her room for Katherine to go to, told her to stay there until she figured something out, and Katherine had trudged off in uncharacteristic silence, Klaus rounded on her.

"What were you thinking?" he roared, gripping her wrists.

"What was I thinking? You're blaming me for this? I was here in your house, I didn't do anything." She scowled. "This was why Finn cursed me, why I was remembering things-"

"What, because he wanted Katerina back? That's his master plan?"

"His master plan was a massive doppelganger sacrifice!"

Klaus froze, his grip on her wrists going slack. "What?"

"He was planning to kill me, to… to slaughter us, this whole time," she said. "He cursed me to stay, to not turn or change, so I'd be a sitting duck. He was going to sacrifice me to hurt you, just like Esther did--"

Klaus let her go, taking a few steps back. She tried to control her breathing, the heaving of her chest, and she ran a hair through her still-sweaty hair. They stared at each other; Klaus's gaze was blazing and dark, and she felt warm all over. Her hair fell over her shoulder to expose her neck, where the old scar from his fangs was still visible. His gaze traveled down to it, and wrong as it was her blood seemed to sing in her veins as his eyes grew darker and darker.

He strode towards her, and she kissed him back when he kissed her, tugged hard on his hair when he picked her up, brushed the pad of her thumb along the veined, uneven skin under his eyes. Something crashed behind her--a lamp, maybe a table, something pushed aside without a second thought. Then her back was against the wall. Her heart was pounding, blood racing right beneath her skin, his hands felt so big around her tiny waist. She tugged at his shirt and he pulled it off in a heartbeat, and then his bare chest was warm under her touch, and she wrapped her hands behind his neck and pulled him closer, her mouth desperate and hungry against his. A hand travelled up her leg under her dress, to the juncture of her thigh--his fingers brushed her and she bucked against them, but he just grasped the waistband of her underwear and then ripped them at the seam, and they fell off her skin without her even needing to move her legs from around his waist.

His hand was absent from her skin for a moment, and then on her again, moving down from her waist, and they paused.

"Please," she whispered, "god, Klaus--"

 His hands were urgent as they hiked up her dress, but he was still gentle, even as she shuddered around him. His lips traveled wet and hot down her neck, pausing there-- "yes," she gasped--

She had never really wanted anyone to drink from her, but now her breath hitched in her throat when she felt his fangs pierce her skin again. His hands guided her rhythm, rocking her, and she thought to herself that she'd lost her mind right before everything went white.

. . .

This was the second time she had woken up in Klaus's bed.

Unlike the last time, however, she wasn't nervous or anxious. She rolled over and sighed, contentedly, shutting her eyes in the hopes of drifting off again. She heard Klaus's low laugh and shifted towards him.

"You're awake," he said. She could hear the grin in his voice.

"No," she whimpered, and he laughed. "Fine, yes," she said, and opened her eyes.

His face was close to hers. She laughed, then leaned forward and kissed him. He kissed her back; she pulled away and giggled, and then he kissed her again, more deeply, and they shifted together, her moving underneath him. He had just started kissing down the curve of her neck when there was a commotion downstairs.

"What the bloody hell, Elena?" shouted Rebekah.

Elena groaned, and gave Klaus a gentle shove. "That would be Katherine." She moved to leave the bed, but Klaus wrapped an arm around her waist such that she ended up lying on top of him.

"Come on," he said, and she could feel his voice vibrate in his chest. "Let Rebekah rip her head off."

She laughed. "Tempting as that is, that's a no," she said, and gave him a light kiss.

"You hate her," he said, arms encircling her waist, hands resting at the small of her back.

"She's my doppelganger."

"You're her doppelganger."

"I'm her shadow self," Elena corrected. "We’re each others’ doppelgangers." She kissed him once more, than pushed herself up, and he groaned. "Come on, lend me a shirt," she said. "I can't run interference naked."

He sighed, but offered her one of his henleys, which hit her midthigh and the sleeves of which she had to roll up.

She rushed down the stairs to the kitchen, Klays close behind her, and ran in to find Rebekah with her hand around Katherine's throat.

"Rebekah, stop!" she said. "She isn't me, I'm right here."

Rebekah looked from her to Katherine, and then let Katherine go with a sigh. "You've got to be kidding me."

Elena stepped forward. "Seriously, Katherine?" she asked. "You've been alive all of twelve hours, and you’ve already impersonated me and pissed off Rebekah?" She ran a hand through her hair.

"Okay, how the hell was I supposed to know that was Rebekah?" Katherine demanded.

Elena rolled her eyes. "Whatever, just…" She turned back to Klaus and Rebekah. "Give us a moment."

They filed out, Rebekah shooting Katherine one last scowl, and then Elena rounded on Katherine.

“What the hell was this?” she asked. “You can’t just do what you want and piss people off anymore! What are you even doing down here?”

Katherine narrowed her eyes. “I came downstairs for a glass of water,” she said. “Excuse me for not sitting around like a freaking prisoner.”

“You should have waited for me to come to you, so we could figure out what to do about all this,” Elena said. “God, Katherine, you are not safe here.”

Katherine quirked up her lips. “Right,” she said. “And I’m stuck in this dumb city because you went and got yourself cursed. Great going, Elena.”

“Yeah, and if I hadn’t gotten myself cursed you would still be rotting in hell or whatever and wouldn’t be brought back to life,” Elena shot back. “And—you know what, this is so useless. Can we please just not do this this time?”

“Maybe if you stop acting like you can tell me what to do,” replied Katherine, and Elena turned back towards her.

"Let me make something very clear," she said, icy steel in her voice. "Finn wants to sacrifice you, but he's not your only threat. Mikael is back, and he will want to kill you. Same goes for Esther, wherever she is. Klaus and Rebekah are both itching to end your little second existence, and the only reason they won't is because I tell them not to, and the only reason you've even survived this long is because I've put you under Klaus's protection. Elijah is having a chronic psychotic breakdown and our face keeps triggering hallucinatory flashbacks of him killing Tatia-- the original."

She stepped forward, and leaned in, so that her face was only inches from Katherine's. "And you're under a curse that means you can't turn and you can't leave. Look, I am all you've got here, Katherine. I am your only ally. So don't even think about screwing me over."

 

Chapter Text

She strode out from the kitchen, where Klaus was standing, very obviously having eavesdropped and very obviously not ashamed of himself.

He grinned at her and she sighed, jabbing a finger in his direction. "If you make a single doppelganger-on-doppelganger sex joke, Klaus, I swear to god—"

He caught her wrist, laughing. "Only one doppelganger, love.” His hand shifted, so his fingers were linked with hers, and then he reached out to hold her other hand as well. “Though I have to say, the way you told Katerina off was—"

"Seriously!" said Elena, shoving his hands a little bit without unlinking their fingers. "It's not funny."

Klaus laughed harder at that, and then leaned down and kissed her. She lay her hands on his chest, sliding them up to his neck—

"No," she said, pulling away. She ran a hand through her hair, "no, hang on, we should… we should call Elijah, he should know—"

"Know what?" said Elijah, stepping though the doorway. He smiled at her, and then his eyes landed on the girl behind her. His face seemed to go perfectly blank; not shocked, or glad, or confused, just blank, eyes glazed over, face perfectly still, and he stayed so still so long that Elena was getting nervous. Finally, he said: "That's not possible," his voice without feeling.

Elena took a step back, and looked over to Katherine, who was standing frozen, holding a pot of coffee. Her hair was messy and unstyled like Elena's, and she was wearing Elena's pajamas, and Elena did not know which one Elijah thought she was. She could tell that Katherine was worried about this, too; she seemed to be holding her breath, and her eyes were wide, and her bottom lip was trembling just a tiny bit, so subtly that only Elena could have noticed it. Elijah took another step toward her, blinking a few times, his face shifting to be somewhere between curious and shocked.

At last, he said "Katerina," and Katherine's face melted into relief.

"Did I mention I invited my brother over for lunch?" Klaus asked from behind her, his mouth close to her ear, not hiding the amusement in his tone. He slipped an arm around her wait.

"You're such an ass," she muttered, and he laughed.

"How did you know it was me?" Katherine asked, her eyes narrowing a little, her mouth curving around the words so suspiciously, in a way that was so Katherine Elena couldn't begin to imagine imitating it. Her eyes were fixed on Elijah and only on Elijah; she did not even seem to have noticed Klaus and Elena.

"Niklaus would not be half as amused were it Tatia risen from the dead," Elijah said, a hint of disapproval in his voice on his brother's name. He paused. "And you are not so hard to tell apart as you might think, disregarding when one of you is impersonating the other." His gaze slid over to Elena, then back to Katherine. "I thought you had died."

"Because you cared enough to come say goodbye," Katherine snapped, and then her face softened again. "I—I did die. Your brother, um, Finn, he brought me back, using some doppelganger crap—"

"Finn doubled my body and then pulled Katherine's consciousness out of whatever hell she was in and into his copy of me," Elena piped up.

Katherine scowled at her.

Elijah frowned. "When?"

"Yesterday," she said, and Elijah's gaze grew quizzical.

"Oh," said Klaus behind her. "I… actually did forget to mention that."

"Finn abducted you again?" Elijah asked.

"Again?" Katherine echoed. "You got yourself kidnapped twice?"

"Once again, you would still be dead if I hadn't, so maybe some gratitude," said Elena.

"Fine," said Katherine, sneering. "Thank you for having terrible self preservation skills, Elena."

"You're welcome," Elena replied haughtily, and Klaus laughed. Elijah seemed lost as he looked between them, and it occurred to Elena that other than that one time Katherine had snapped her neck, Elijah had never seen two doppelgangers together.

(Neither had Klaus until yesterday, of course, but it was clear that Klaus was loving it.)

Elijah looked at Katherine a moment more. There was a tenderness in his gaze, and something like awe, but then he looked away as though snapping out of a trance. "I presume, Niklaus, that there were no lunch plans and you simply wanted to take me by surprise?"

"I just wanted to see your face," said Klaus. "It was excellent, I might add."

"Very well, then," said Elijah. "Then I do have business to attend to--"

"Yes, we do," said Klaus, letting go of her waist and striding forward. "Finn-shaped business."

"Finn's-host-body-shaped business," Elena corrected, and then sighed. "Fine. I'll stay here and… ugh, tutor Katherine up to speed, I guess."

Klaus looked back to her. "You aren't going to demand to come along?"

Elena rolled her eyes. "Let me think. Do I want to put myself in the immediate vicinity of someone whose plan is to torture and sacrifice me?"

Klaus grinned. "You willingly let me sacrifice you," he said.

"Ah, but you never forced me to put up with Katherine," Elena said sweetly. "That makes all the difference." Klaus laughed, and reached out to her, easy and relaxed. She planted a kiss on his cheek, and then turned to go upstairs, gesturing for Katherine to follow.

They strode up to Elena’s room, where the bed was still unmade from Katherine having slept in it. Elena threw the blanket back over the bed and then flopped down on it, closing her eyes for a second, before pushing herself up to a sitting position.

"Okay," said Elena, setting herself down. "Today, I guess, I'm going to get you up to date on what's been going on."

Katherine scowled at her. "That's really not necessary," she said, tone scathing.

"I think it really is," Elena replied, voice identical. "Okay. You know Klaus came here because of that warning about the Deveraux witches you gave him, you know he came back when you were dying and slept with Caroline, I think you know that Tyler came down to New Orleans at one point. Do you know anything else about what's going on in this city?"

Katherine frowned. "No," she admitted after a minute.

Elena took a deep breath. "Okay, fine," she said, grabbed her laptop, and opened a map. "This is where we are, in the compound," she said, "and this is the building Finn had us in…"

Katherine was a quick study, not that Elena was really surprised. She used Facebook to show her who Marcel, Jackson, and Cami were (she figured they were the most likely people for Katherine to run into around the compound), gave her an abridged version of what had happened thus far in New Orleans. She made a face when she heard about Hayley having had Klaus's child, and something strange passed in her gaze when Elena told her that Esther had tried to kill Hope, that Klaus had been separated from his child for her protection, and Elena's mind called up a memory of Katherine's child being ripped from her arms (she didn't know if it was an image she'd conjured or the actual memory, and she wasn't going to ask.)

After about half an hour, Elena stood up and went around the room, grabbing items from her dresser and bedroom, and came back a few minutes later with a little collection. She dumped them out on the bed; there was a curling iron, various hair products, a few pairs of jeans and the most revealing tops Elena owned. “I’ll set you up in the next room over,” she said, “but until we can buy you your own stuff, here you go.”

Katherine made a face. "Why are you being nice to me?"

Elena sighed. "I told you. As much as I hate you, you still don't deserve to be forced to live under Klaus's roof. And Finn brought you back in a copy of my body, pulling you out of my mind. I still hate you, but I'm not you. Our heritage actually means something to me."

Another half hour later, they’d set Katherine up in a room, and Elena, who’d been wearing Klaus’s top this entire time, got to take a shower at last.

She didn’t usually take endless showers, but this one felt sort of necessary, if only because it offered a momentary reprieve from the endless drama that was her life. Once she felt like she was starting to prune, though, she turned off the shower, dried herself off with a dark red towel, threw on a soft robe she’d stolen from Klaus, and stood over her sink.

She looked at herself in the mirror. It had once been a game for her, staring at her reflection, searching for details that set her apart from her doppelgangers, and always coming up disappointed (her face might have been rounder than Katherine's, but then Katherine wore more makeup, more bronzer than Elena; her eyes may have been bigger than Katherine's, but then Katherine's eyes were always narrowed in contempt); until she finally understood what it meant to be the doppelganger, and how useless the game really was.

There was a difference today, however; the puncture wounds on her neck were fresh and reopened, stark against her smooth skin. Even those were not fully unique to her, though, not anymore; Katherine was quite literally a copy of Elena, and Elena had seen the faint shadow of the same scars on Katherine's neck. Those would fade even further, though; Elena's may have healed up more had it not been for Damon and Rebekah and Stefan, reopening those wounds, following Klaus's tracks.

She had let Klaus drink from her. She had let Klaus drink from her; god, she was losing her mind. She'd wanted—she'd never wanted anyone to drink from her, never in her relationships with Stefan and Damon—and she could so clearly remember every instant of the sacrifice, the second Klaus's fangs slipped into her neck, the long, pulling gulps he'd taken of her blood, his arms tightening, wrapping around her torso as she grew fainter and fainter, the heat of the flames—and that was it, that was when she'd blacked out, when she'd died. It was the only time she'd ever willingly let someone drink from her neck (not that she could have stopped him, if she'd changed her mind about the sacrifice)—god. The memory was rising to the surface, and she wanted to run both to and from Klaus as fast as she could.

She rubbed over the wounds, taking a deep breath. This wouldn't do, to stand here, her conscience ripping itself apart. There were two conflicting parts of her mind, and there was no need to weigh them against each other, because she knew which one won out at the end of the day, and trying to talk herself in and out of this or that was a stress that she did not need. Both states could coexist; they would have to.

She took a deep breath, and stepped away from the mirror, pulled on a pair of tights, and a dress, and then, for what felt like the first time in ages barring special occasions, pulled out her hair dryer and her flat iron, and did her hair. It didn’t take as long as she remembered, but then, her hair wasn’t as long as it had been in high school, and by the time she was done, she looked just like the old Elena Gilbert—exactly like her—she took a sharp intake of breath to realize that, if she hadn’t died that night off of Wickery Bridge, this was what she’d been meant to look like graduating high school.

She put on some light makeup and headed downstairs. She was thinking of trying her hand at cooking something (she’d only ever been able to make breakfast, really) when Klaus strode in, his face looking completely taken aback.

“Finn’s no longer a threat,” he said, and then, “the girl claiming to be our sister Freya says she’s on our side,” and then, finally, “she entrusted Mikael with protecting Hope’s life.”

“How—wait, what—“ She paused, swallowed, tried again. “Oh my god, are you okay?”

“Why any sister of mine would think to win my allegiance by setting my father loose on this world is beyond me, to be sure,” said Klaus, and his eyes were very wide and his face was tense despite his attempt to sound blasé about the whole thing.

“That’s ridiculous,” Elena muttered, and then: “I’m sorry, I want to talk about Mikael, I do, but I really need to know what you meant about Finn—“

“Freya trapped his consciousness in her charm,” said Klaus. “His body has been restored to its previous inhabitant.”

“Huh,” she said. “That’s incredibly reassuring—right, back to Mikael. Are you okay?”

He stared at her, his expression lost.

“Would seeing Hope make you feel better?”  she asked, trying to keep her voice tender.

“Quite possibly,” said Klaus.

Hope really was adorable. Elena rocked her on her lap, making silly faces at the baby as the baby giggled and gurgled, and Klaus looked on with an expression she didn’t recognize. She ticked Hope and called her some cutesy little nicknames, her days of babysitting coming back to her.

She started to hold Hope out to Klaus a few times but he shook his head, and she wondered if this was him feeling too much the monster to be a father, if the fact that there was still some blood on his sleeve held him back from touching his daughter. He seemed content to just watch them, though. When Hope started to get tired, Elena rocked her for a few minutes, and she nodded off to sleep with surprising ease.

“What a sweetheart,” Elena said, after they’d left the nursery. “She’s so precious.”

“She is,” said Klaus, a couple of steps behind her on the stairs. He seemed calmer, now, but of course he was still Klaus so he was never calm.

“What are your plans tonight?” she asked.

Klaus frowned. “I don’t think I have any,” he said.

“How about this,” she suggested, turning on a step to look up at them. “I check in on Katherine, as somehow I’ve found myself in a household where I’m the person who hates her the least, and then we go out and grab a bite.”

Klaus looked at the ground for a second, and then looked up and nodded. “What are you in the mood for?”

“Honestly?” asked Elena, forcing out a giggle, trying to seem as light and happy as possible to bring him out of his brooding. “I’m kind of craving pizza and beer. I know, that’s ridiculous—“

“I know a place,” Klaus interrupted, the hint of a smile playing on the edge of his lips.

Elena smiled. “Perfect,” she said, and danced down the stairs to Katherine’s room. Katherine was sitting on her bed, staring up at the ceiling.

“Have you been in your room this whole time?” asked Elena.

Katherine scowled at her. “Someone threw a fit today about me leaving,” she replied.

“Right,” said Elena. “Yeah, um.” She frowned. “We should probably figure this whole thing out soon.”

“Yeah,” Katherine retorted, “because telling everyone I’m your twin is such a brilliant plan and will totally help us avoid any suspicion.”

Elena pursed her lips. “Okay, well, I didn’t see you coming up with anything better. Besides, I trust Davina and her friends.”

“Josh and… Aiden?” Katherine said.

Elena grinned. “Oh, good, you were listening.” She bit her lip. “Maybe I should ask them to take you for dinner tonight. I can’t exactly leave you to fend for yourself.”

“You’re leaving?” asked Katherine. Despite the disdain in her tone, she looked almost apprehensive.

Elena rolled her eyes. “Of course I’m leaving, I’m not your babysitter. I have a life here, you know.”

Katherine eyed her suspiciously. “Right,” she said. “With Klaus. That totally counts.”

Elena sighed. “Haven’t you always wanted friends?” she asked. “I’m literally handing potentials to you on a silver platter, all you have to do is… I don’t know, not be Katherine.” She pulled out her phone and turned her back to Katherine, hitting her speed dial for Davina.”

“Hey,” she said. “Thank you so much for last night. You’re a real lifesaver—I mean, literally.”

Davina laughed on the other end. “Don’t worry about it. Anytime.”

“Do you mean that?” asked Elena. “Because, if you do, I kind of have a favour to ask you.” She caught sight of her wrist, and paused. “Actually, I have two.”

“Go for it,” said Davina.

“You asked for it,” Elena replied. “Okay, first of all, the charm you gave me, that I burned up to contact you last night? It was kind of spelled over again by Bonnie to, I don’t know, like, give me enough magic to balance out Klaus in this whole curse business? Which means I’ll start feeling really sick again if I don’t—“

“I’ll make you something tonight,” Davina promised. “What’s the other favour?”

“Is there any chance you could take Katherine out for dinner tonight?” she asked. “Or just hang out with her? I can’t leave her to fend for herself, but at the same time, I’ve already spend more time with her today than I can stand in a whole week.”

“You two really aren’t close, are you?” asked Davina.

Elena laughed. “That's a massive understatement.”

Davina didn’t speak for a moment, then said, “I know you two aren’t twins, you know. I’ve heard all the Originals call you a doppelganger at some point or another. I don’t know exactly what the significance of that is, but I’m not stupid.”

“No, I know,” said Elena, “and it’s not that I don’t trust you with it, its just… there’s a lot at stake right now. Two human doppelgangers in one place? I mean, doppelganger blood is a powerful commodity, and doppelganger sacrifices are massive sources of power. And Katherine can’t leave the city either, which means our best chance of survival is to keep the least people in the know as possible.” She paused, then looked back at Katherine. “Actually, there’s a decent chance we’ll just resort to her impersonating me whenever we aren’t together.”

“Duly noted,” replied Davina. “Okay, I’ll take her out somewhere. I’m on my way.”

“You’re the best,” said Elena. “We’ll hang out soon, I promise.”

“You’re welcome, Elena,” said Davina in a singsong voice.

Elena laughed, and hung up. “You be nice,” she told Katherine. “Davina’s a good person. And a powerful witch. And she’s low key trying to kill Klaus, so you two have something to bond over.”

“Looking forward to it,” said Katherine. “I also loved the bit where you enlisted me to impersonate you.”

“As if that’s not what you were planning to do from the start,” said Elena. “And don’t pretend it’s a chore.” She sighed, and looked up at the clock. “I’ll be out until whenever, I don’t know. Don’t call me unless there’s an emergency.”

She left, headed right over to her room, and grabbed a leather jacket. When she got downstairs, Klaus was waiting.

“So Davina’s trying to kill me?” he said, sounding fairly amused.

Elena scoffed. “Davina’s been low key trying to kill you since she met you, come on.”

Klaus laughed. “Fair enough,” he said. “You hungry?”

“Always,” she replied, and took his arm.

Neither of them called it a date, but it sort of was one anyway, and they both knew it. Elena was over trying to have a conversation about it, though; she and Damon had had hundreds of conversations about their relationship, and she’d had to end that anyway. She actually got carded; it was the first time she’d been carded since that time she’d met Cami, and she was so used to just drinking all the time with Klaus that she’d sort of forgotten that she was technically underage. She offered Klaus a look of panic, and he sighed in a fake-exasperated way before compelling the server.

He turned to her, laughing, once the server is gone.

“Come on!” she exclaimed, swatting at his hand on the table.

“No, no, it’s not that,” he said, laughing harder at her protests. “I just realized that as many versions of you have walked this planet, not a single one has survived to be twenty-one. It’s quite hilarious, in a morbid sort of way, that you might be the first.”

“Not so fast,” said Elena. “Technically, my body is still only eighteen.”

“Eighteen?” Klaus laughed. “I was sure it would have turned nineteen by now.”

The server came back with their beers, and Elena sat back, thinking. “I died… either really late on November 6th, or really early November 7th,” she said. “Let’s go with the seventh. My birthday’s June 22nd. I became human again on May 2nd, which would mean that my physical 19th birthday is…” She counted on her fingers. “December 17th?” She frowned. “Wow. That’s actually soon.”

“We’ll throw you a party,” he said, and then frowned. “June 22nd?”

“Yeah?” she asked.

“Katerina’s is June 5th,” said Klaus. “June. We used different months, back when Tatia lived, but I wonder…”

“Aren’t we born five hundred years apart?” asked Elena.

Klaus shook his head. “Katerina was born in 1473.”

“What?” asked Elena. “I was so sure—I mean, I was born in ’92—“

“And Katerina died in 1492,” said Klaus. “You were born five hundred years after her death.”

“Oh,” said Elena. “Wait, so Tatia must have died—“

“—in 973,” said Klaus. “The same year we turned into vampires.”

“Oh, wow,” said Elena. “973. Huh.” She paused. “Wait, hang on. Katherine was born in June 1473, that means she was eighteen when she died, and then—wow, that’s weird. I always figured she was seventeen, I guess, since I was seventeen when I met her.”

“Not quite,” said Klaus. “She was always a little older than you, physically—until now, I suppose, since her body’s exactly the same as yours.”

“Weird,” said Elena. It was so strange, to think that there had been a physical difference between them, however small, and then to think that even that was gone now. She shook off the thought. “Am I still aging, though?” she asked. “I mean, with Finn’s curse?”

Klaus shrugged. “How would I know?”

She frowned. “I haven’t had to trim my nails yet,” she said.

“Don’t stress about it,” Klaus advised her. “If you’re not aging, it’s nothing to complain about.”

“I’m just wondering,” she said. “I mean, I’m still human.” She bit her lip, thinking, and looked out the window. “I should probably get back on the pill, huh?”

Klaus laughed. “That sounds a bit like a promise, love.”

Elena scowled. “I better not be pregnant, you know.” She raised her bottle, and he tapped his against hers, still laughing.

. . .

She could hear Katherine’s footsteps in her room when they got back, and she made a face. “Dammit,” she said. “She’s back.”

Klaus laughed. “She’s not in your room,” he said.

Elena pouted. “Yeah, but I have to pass her room to get to mine,” she said.

Klaus grinned. “Then don’t go to your room.”

She laughed, taking a step back to properly face him. “Are you propositioning me, Mr. Mikaelson?”

He disappeared for a second, and then he was back, a bottle of red wine in his hand. “I’m proposing,” he said, “that you join me for a drink.”

She took the bottle from him, trying to look haughty but ending up just smirking. “Well, fine,” she said. “But only because it’s a Bordeaux.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Elena shot up in bed, heart pounding in her throat—no, maybe those were desperate gulps of air she was choking on, her chest was heaving, her lungs were burning—

“Elena?” said Klaus, sitting up next to her, and his voice made her jump, so close, “Is something wrong?”

“Just a nightmare,” she gasped out, voice high and thin. She grasped her hand around her throat. She could feel the shadow of Alaric’s hand strangling her, Rebekah’s hand, Rebekah’s fangs, Elijah’s, Stefan’s, Damon’s, Klaus’s—the noose around Katherine’s neck when she’d killed herself—Esther’s blade on Tatia’s throat—she gasped for air, but she could not breathe.”

“Elena?” came Klaus’s voice—she could hear him saying her name, ordering Stefan to drink from her in the school gym, and at the sacrifice, “thank you, Elena”—hot tears pricked at her eyes—

“I,” she tried one, two, three times to swallow, “I think I’m—“ she couldn’t breathe, she was drowning in the car with her parents, with Matt, “I think I’m having a panic attack—“

She heard Klaus get out of bed, and then the lights were on, and she gasped, loudly, finally taking in some air. Sweat dripped down her temples, the back of her neck, if she kept her eyes open she would start to cry but whenever she closed her eyes she was somewhere else, her neck was constricting like there really was someone choking her—

She pushed herself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, falling on her knees in front of the toilet, and cradled her head in her hands, trying to center herself, ground herself, remind herself that she was safe—

“Elena—“

“Please don’t talk,” she said, swallowing down a sob, “I’m sorry, I just, I just need a minute—“

Rebekah snapping her neck—

She didn’t puke, but there was nausea coiled in her stomach. Klaus pressed a glass of water into her hand and she took a sip, measuring her breaths. They were starting to slow down. She shuddered and pressed her eyes closed, tight as she could, scrunching up her whole face until she could just see blackness, no memories, no flashbacks. She put down the top of the toilet seat and then sat down on it, taking small sips of water, rubbing her temples, until she sort of felt like a person again.

“I’m sorry,” she said, though she knew she shouldn’t have to apologize, “I don’t—I don’t know where that came from—probably just, just the last few days, with Finn, and Katherine, and all that…”

She was lying through her teeth. She knew exactly where that had come from, and she had the freshly-opened puncture wounds on her neck to prove it. The last time Klaus had drank from her neck, he’d killed her; she wasn’t at all surprised that now that it had happened again, her subconscious was dragging up every throat-related bit of trauma she’d been through.

“I’m fine,” she said, and then, “I mean, I’ll be fine, in just a minute.”

“Are you sure?” he said.

She nodded, holding the glass of water to her cheek. “Yeah, I am. I—go back to bed, it’s okay, I’ll be there in a second.”

He stared at her for a minute, but she didn’t make eye contact, and finally he retreated out of the room. As soon as he was gone she held the glass of water to her neck, to the wounds, and just breathed, deep and steadying. After a moment she finished the glass, then rose up to the sink and splashed some water on her face. She swallowed, took a look at herself, and then switched off the light and left.

Klaus didn’t say anything when she got back into bed, but he reached his arm out across the pillow, and she curled into him, resting her head against his chest, the cool cotton of his shirt. She closed her eyes, measuring her breaths against his, and willed herself back to sleep.

. . .

"Family brunch?" asked Elena the next morning, sitting at the dining table. She had not mentioned her panic attack that morning, and Klaus mercifully had not brought it up either, or even alluded to it. "Wow. Clearly Freya doesn't know you at all, or she'd know how threatening any event that involves sitting down with you at a dining table can be."

"Come on, now, love," said Klaus, laughing by the coffee pot. "That's not fair."

She snapped her fingers. "You're right," she said. "Any event that involves you drinking alcohol is threatening. Doesn’t need to be a meal."

"It's eleven in the morning," he said, bringing over her coffee.

"Since when does that stop you?" she asked, and then took a long gulp of coffee before continuing. "All you do is drink. Actually, all we do is drink." She paused. "Physically, I should still be in high school, you know. This is kind of a point of concern."

"She says, whilst holding a bottle of champagne," he commented.

She laughed. "Very true," she said, putting down the mug of coffee to her right. "Might as well get a head start, though." She grasped the cork and popped it with ease.

She heard footsteps upstairs, and a second later Katherine popped her head out of her bedroom door. "What the—" She scowled. "What—why are you drinking?"

"Ah, Katerina," said Klaus, and Katherine's mouth did that tiny quivering thing it always did when Klaus spoke to her. "Glad you made an appearance. You should come downstairs, you know, we ought to discuss whether or not Freya can be clued into your existence."

She pursed her lips in suspicion, but came down the stairs, coming to a stop next to Elena. Elena felt an unwelcome rush of pity, and turned to Katherine.

"I don't know how this is possible, but Davina texted me to say you guys had a good time last night," she said.

Katherine tilted her head and pursed her lips. "Well, maybe this is a surprise to you, but until you came into the picture, people actually liked me."

"That is a surprise," Elena told her.

Klaus cleared his throat. "That's enough bickering, ladies."

"Pot meet kettle," Elena shot back. "But you're right. Freya?" She took a long swig of coffee as she waited for him to reply.

Klaus stepped closer to her. "Obviously, Freya can't be aware of the presence of two doppelgangers, lest she relay this information back to Dahlia."

"Would Freya know about the doppelganger, though?" asked Elena. "I mean, she got separated from you guys before Tatia was even born, and you said the only time she ever saw you was at some party you threw a hundred years ago. What's the likelihood she even knows what the doppelganger looks like?"

"High enough to be a risk," Klaus countered. "Weren't you the one trying to "protect the doppelganger legacy" just the other day?"

Elena sighed. "I just think that hiding Katherine right under Freya's nose is a terrible idea," she said. "Don't you remember Harry Potter? One minute, Harry's hiding in his room, making no noise and pretending he doesn't exist, and the next he's dumping a cake over his uncle's head."

"Your memory of that movie is really inaccurate," said Katherine, sounding a bit disturbed. "That's literally not what happens."

Elena rolled her eyes. "The point is, if we hide Katherine from Freya and then get caught doing so, that might be even worse for our sake."

"She has a point," said Elijah, striding in at an incredibly appropriate moment for the second time in two days. "The whole point of this… invitation, was to demonstrate to Freya that we trust her—"

"Which we don't," Klaus contributed.

"—in the hopes of gaining her trust in turn and finding out what she knows," Elijah finished. "If she finds out we're hiding something from her, that's far less likely to work out in our favour."

"So what do we tell our miraculously reappearing sister?" asked Klaus. "That they're doppelgangers? Twins?"

"We don't tell her anything if she doesn't ask," said Elena.

"Alternatively," said Klaus, "Katerina call Davina, who for some reason seems to like her, probably due to their mutual hatred of me, and not be in the compound when Freya shows up."

"I like that option better," said Katherine.

Elena stared at her. "So… call her?"

Katherine sneered at her. "I don't exactly have a phone, do I?"

Elena sighed, but unlocked her phone and handed her cell over, and a minute later Katherine held it up to her ear. "Hey, Davina," she said, and then shot Klaus a killer glare. "Actually, it's Katherine. Sorry to call you out of the blue, but Klaus is being a massive asshole as usual, and I need to get out of this house."

Klaus offered a threatening smile. "You're lucky Elena won't let me kill you," he said.

Elena smacked Katherine's arm with no real force behind it.

"No, that’s fine," she said. "I've known my fair share of witches. I'm sure I can help out a bit. Yeah, I'll be over soon. Thanks." She hung up, and after what appeared to be a moment of deliberation, turned to Elijah, as though having decided he was the least threatening person in the room. "How do I get to her family crypt?"

"She's spending her days in the graveyard?" asked Klaus.

Elena's heart went out to Davina. "It's a common pastime for us orphaned teenagers," she said.

Elijah stared at Katherine, as though considering, and then nodded. "I'll walk you over," he said. "Do you need anything else before we go?"

Katherine shot a venomous glance at Klaus and Elena. "No, I'm ready to leave right now," she said.

"Godspeed, brother," said Klaus with a smirk.

When they were gone, he turned to Elena. "Freya may arrive before Elijah's return," he told her. "Are you ready?"

"To meet another Mikaelson?" She wrinkled up her nose. "Ugh, never." She grabbed a champagne flute. "Not sober."

Freya showed up once Elena was on her second glass of champagne, before Elijah had returned.

Klaus offered her one of his I’m-going-to-be-an-ass grins. “Sister,” he said, voice full of cheer. “Glad you could make it.”

“Brother,” she returned. Elena could absolutely see the Mikaelson genetics in her—she looked like Mikael and Rebekah both. Her gaze traveled over to Elena. “And… you are…?”

“I’m Elena,” she said, all smiles and charm, but without getting up from her chair. “So nice to meet you.”

Freya smiled in a cautiously pleasant sort of way, then turned to Klaus. “I thought this was a family brunch,” she said. Her tone wasn’t rude, or scornful; rather, it was very measured, as though testing the waters.

“That it is,” said Klaus. “Elena’s certainly qualified, at this point.”

“What a terrible thing to say about someone,” Elena retorted.

Klaus grinned at her. “It’s true.”

“Of course it’s true,” said Elena. “Still rude.”

Klaus laughed, and then turned back to Freya. “Do make yourself comfortable, sister,” he said. “Elijah should be along shortly.”

Freya shot her another wary glance, and then set about meandering around the room, looking at some trinkets. She was just commenting on a Danish switchblade when Elijah returned.

It wasn’t long before Freya launched into her life story, which was so par for the course for the Mikaelsons that Elena had no trouble believing she was Klaus and Rebekah’s sister.

“And now you’re dedicating yourself to getting revenge?” asked Elena, once she was through.

Freya shot her a strange look, suspicion and curiosity and disdain all in one. “Do you know what it’s like to be terrorized?” she asked.

Elena met Klaus’s eyes. They stared at each other for at least a minute; Elena remembered him possessing Alaric’s body, compelling students to give her messages from him, dedicating a song to her at the decade dance; she remembered him taking her from the boarding house, then making her watch as Jenna was turned and killed; she remembered him showing up at school, threatening Bonnie and Matt, forcing Stefan to feed on her, killing Tyler with no guarantee of him becoming a hybrid; she remembered him holding Jeremy, Alaric, Bonnie, Caroline, Damon’s lives hostage so she would help him find Stefan; she remembered him trying to drain all her blood after she’d saved him from Alaric; she remembered him hollering at her and Jeremy for killing Kol, swearing to burn down their house with them inside, then murder them both.

“Yeah,” she said, keeping her tone even. “I do.”

“And yet you don’t understand?” asked Freya.

“No, no, I totally understand,” said Elena. “I really get it. I just wanted to make sure I had the story straight.”

. . .

Then there was Rebekah drama—of course Rebekah would find herself possessing a body that was fighting back, that was just standard for their lives—and when Freya said she could fix the problem, Elena met Klaus’s eyes, and she knew long before it happened that he was going to snap Freya’s neck. She didn’t flinch when he did so.

“I like her,” she announced, as Klaus stood over Freya’s prone body, after Rebekah and Elijah had stormed off in huff of disappointment.

Klaus rolled his eyes. “She can’t be trusted,” he said, his voice a little aggressive.

“Obviously,” said Elena, tone flippant, and Klaus grinned at her. “I still like her. I hope she wasn’t lying about not being able to die.”

“You going to stick around with me to find out?” he asked.

Elena sighed, and pushed back her chair. “No,” she said. “I think I’m going to go reprieve Davina, and figure out how on earth she actually likes Katherine. Let me know what you learn, though.”

She texted Davina to bring Katherine back to the compound, which didn’t take very long. As soon as Katherine was firmly in the compound Elena was out of it.

“If you run into a really intense blonde inside,” she told Katherine, “that’s Freya. We’ve met her. We’re inclined to like her.”

Katherine rolled her eyes but nodded, then disappeared into the compound.

“You two seem really used to doing that,” said Davina.

“We’ve been doing it for years,” Elena replied. She frowned. “I think the first time she ever impersonated me was… February 2010?”

“So a few months shy of three years?” said Davina. “Wow, that’s…”

Elena rolled her eyes. “Don’t even get me started on Katherine,” she warned, and Davina laughed. "But seriously. You actually like her?"

"Yeah," said Davina. "Sort of. She kind of reminds me of Kol." She shrugged. "Or Rebekah, with all her sarcastic comments."

"Never tell that to either of them," Elena warned.

Davina laughed. "Do all the Mikaelsons hate her?"

"Not quite," said Elena. "She and Elijah used to be a thing." She made a face. "Yeah, still gross."

"You're sleeping with Klaus," Davina offered.

Elena stopped, gaped at her for a moment, then put her hand over her eyes. "Oh my god, how do you know that?"

"Everyone knows that," said Davina. "Just from seeing the two of you together, it's pretty clear. And the way he flipped out both times you went missing? It's obvious how much he cares about you."

"I'm sorry," said Elena. "I hope you don't feel--I mean, I know how much you hate him, and you've got every right--"

Davina sighed. "You literally killed Kol, and I never held it against you," she said. "I'm not mad at you for hooking up with Klaus. I'm just judging you. Very, very harshly."

Elena laughed. "You wouldn't, if you knew my romantic track record. It's pretty par for the course with me."

Davina made a face. "I love you, Elena, but remind me to never take dating advice from you."

Elena scoffed. "Kol Mikaelson isn't that much better, you know," she said, her voice teasing.

"Say that to his face once I resurrect him," said Davina.

“Looking forward to it,” she replied, and Davina laughed.

. . .

When she returned, Freya appeared to have woken up, and was in the middle of telling some story, some bit that she’d left out when pleading her case to the rest of the siblings earlier. She entered the room and sat as quietly as possible, and listened to Freya talk about the loss of her beloved, and of her child, at the hands of Dahlia. When Freya was finished, Elena exhaled with force.

“You two are so much alike,” she muttered.

Klaus raised an eyebrow at her. “And why do you say that, love?”

“The whole ‘getting my way by telling my sob story’ maneuver?” She laughed. “I mean, you basically invented that.”

“I very well might have,” said Klaus.

Freya sighed. “I’m sorry if I’m rather confused,” she said, and her gaze passed over to Klaus, then back to her. “Exactly how are you connected to our family?” Her lip curled a bit, as though weighing how much she wanted to offend them. “Elijah didn’t bring along his companion to a family sit down.”

“Nobody says companion,” said Elena. She would have been offended, once, had this been Rebekah talking, but Freya reminded her far too much of Klaus for her words to really upset her.

Freya just offered her that vague sneer.

Klaus laughed. “You’re quite out of the loop, sister. Just because you’ve been following our family for hundreds of years doesn’t mean you know half of what we’ve been up to, or whom we’ve been involved with.”

“Okay, “involved with” sounds even grosser than “companion,” just for the record,” said Elena.

Klaus grinned at her.

Freya stilled, and stared at the space between Klaus and Elena. “You’re married?” she asked.

“What?” Klaus and Elena said in unison. Elena made a face. “No, we’re not—what?”

Freya’s eyes seemed a bit glazed over. “Then how do you explain the ritual magic—“

“Oh, that,” said Elena, feeling a bit relieved despite herself. On Freya’s words, Elena’s mind had flashed—not to a wedding, but to a wedding ring, planning family dinners, helping a school-aged Hope with her math homework—and she was not prepared to think about any of that. “Yeah, that’s—I mean, we’re not literally married. That’s a whole other thing.”

“And?” asked Freya. Elena scrambled for a good story, a good excuse, something almost true but that didn’t mention the doppelganger thing.

“And I have a long history with your siblings,” she settled on saying. “And with your parents.”

Freya’s mouth twitched. “Are you going to say any more?” she asked.

“Are you?” Elena countered.

Freya smiled; it looked more like a grimace. “Very well,” she said. “I suppose I’ll be in touch.”

Once she had left, Klaus picked up the bottle of champagne. “It appears none of my siblings were in a particular mood for mimosas,” he said, with a grin.

“Not in the mood for mimosas?” Elena asked, voice teasing. “I don’t think that’s a real thing.”

Klaus shrugged. “Well, I suppose it’s up to us to make sure the good champagne doesn’t go to waste.

“So selfless of us.” Elena laughed, and Klaus leaned over to pour her a glass, not bothering with any orange juice. Once he’d poured his own, she tapped her flute against his.

“Chin chin,” she said, and drank.

 

Chapter Text

It had been presumptive of Elena to hope that Esther had died in that tomb.

“Your mother?” she repeated, when Klaus brought up that he needed to bring Freya to Esther to sort out some witchy hijinks. “Your mother? God, can’t she just die for good one of these days?”

Klaus laughed. “It seems Freya would agree with you on that.”

Elena rolled her eyes. “So what, you want me to come with you? Or go with Elijah and Hayley?” She made a face. “Honestly, if I’m being given the choice, I’ll take your mother over that time bomb any day.”

Klaus grinned. “That isn’t quite the plan,” he told her. “Katerina? I know you’re in the hallway. Come in here.”

Katherine came in, looking a little sullen. She made a wide arc around Klaus to sit next to Elena. Elena hated, more than anything, that the resurrected Katherine was living under Klaus’s roof; she could have been as hateful towards Katherine as she wanted anywhere else, but when it came to Klaus, Elena was torn between pity for Katherine’s traumatic past with him and a strange sense of guilt for betraying her doppelganger, even though neither of them had ever been remotely loyal to one another.

She scooted over a little on her bed, and Katherine sat next to her.

“Yes?” Katherine bit out.

Klaus grinned; for once, he wasn’t looking at Katherine like she was Little Red and he was the Big Bad Wolf. “Today would be an excellent time for Elena Gilbert to be in two places at once.”

“No,” said Katherine immediately. “No, I’m not coming with you and your freaky sister to see your psychopath mother. No way.”

“Then we shouldn’t have a problem here,” said Klaus. “I thought you’d tag along with Elijah.”

Katherine’s face gave way to a bit of relief.

“Seriously?” asked Elena. “Elijah, Katherine, Hayley, and Gia, the dream team?”

“Elijah and his many loves, a more generous soul might say,” Klaus contributed.

“Fine,” said Katherine. “Whatever.”

She seemed more on edge, more defensive than usual, so Elena took a deep breath and turned back to Klaus.

“You’re dismissed,” she told him, her voice haughty. “We’ll coordinate from here.”

Klaus grinned, but left the room. Elena sighed, and turned back to Katherine.

“Okay, well, this is your area of expertise, I guess.”

Katherine shrugged. She seemed deflated, today; then again, she’d been less and less like Katherine ever since moving into the compound.

Elena stood. “Okay, fine, don’t say anything.” She took a breath. “I guess we should wear something similar.”

She dug through her closet, pulled out two green sundresses that looked somewhat alike, and tossed one over to Katherine, along with a pair of combat boots and a black leather jacket. “You’ve got your own flat iron, right?” she asked, and Katherine nodded. “All right.”

Katherine got up, clothes in hand, and left the room without so much as a snarky parting remark. Elena was concerned enough to notice, but not nearly concerned enough to do anything about it, so she set about getting dressed.

. . .

Elena did not ask why Freya was being led in chains, and neither Mikaelson sibling volunteered the information. Klaus threw a blood bag out into the darkness, and Elena stood at his side, waiting, a little nervous even though she knew nothing bad would happen to her.

Esther’s hand shot out, and Elena shuddered despite herself.

Klaus gave her a look that was half-mocking, half-concern. “Don’t tell me you’re still that terrified of the woman,” he said. His voice was teasing, but he reached down and clasped her hand in his nevertheless.

Elena forced herself to roll her eyes. “Excuse me for managing to forget the extent to which your mother is the worst,” she said.

Freya froze. “Our mother?” she whispered, and then there was Esther’s new face. Elena was braced for the instant onslaught of terror when it came, and the feeling passed quickly now, when she knew what was going to happen. Klaus walked forward and Elena followed and tried not to listen, tried to concentrate on the weight of Klaus’s hand in hers, on the steady sureness that Esther had no magic, and that Klaus could kill everyone else in this room before they had even a chance of touching a hair on her head. Esther was manageable, now; and Elena could stake a vampire as easily as the next hunter. There was nothing to fear.

Esther gasped as though choking for air. “Elena,” she said after a moment, meeting Elena’s eyes. “I admit, I thought you would have left the city by now.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but your son made sure I couldn’t,” she said, her voice a little strained. Esther’s eyebrows rose. “Finn,” Elena clarified.

“Still, you don’t seem to unhappy to remain here,” said Esther, with a deliberate glance at Elena’s hand, linked with Klaus’s. “It appears I wasn’t mistaken when I guessed your intentions in my son’s life.”

“Well, it appears I wasn’t mistaken when I told Rebekah that if you died with her blood in your system you wouldn’t be able to body jump,” Elena replied, keeping her voice as measured as possible.

“This was your idea?” Esther closed her eyes and sighed. “I admit, I had hoped that you would turn out to be more like Tatia than Katerina.”

Elena refused to reply to that. “Well, I’d hoped that I’d never have to see you again, but we don’t every time get what want, do we?”

Klaus let go of her hand for a moment, only to pull Esther through the streak of sunlight into the main part of the cave; Elena relished Esther’s yelp of pain.

“As much as I enjoy Elena’s hatred for you, mother, we aren’t quite done with the pleasantries yet,” said Klaus. “There are still introductions to be made, after all. Mother, Freya, Freya, Mother.”

“It can’t be,” said Esther, just as Freya started to back away. “My beautiful Freya.”

“Who you traded to your psychotic sister?” Elena couldn’t help but ask. Both Esther and Freya shot her looks; Freya’s was a lot less hostile than Esther’s.

Freya looked to Klaus. “You won’t trust me, but you’ll trust her?”

Elena almost laughed at the thought, and Klaus told Freya as much, then grasped Esther’s chin. The thought that Klaus was going to compel Esther—that Esther could be compelled—came to her as a relief.

Just after Klaus was finished, Elena’s phone started to ring.

“There’s service down here?” she mused, and pulled out her cell. It was Katherine, from her new phone. “I’m so sorry, I have to take this,” she said, not risking mentioning Katherine again with Freya here. “I’ll be right back.”

The air was cool when she stepped outside, and she slid her thumb across her screen with more pressure than she needed to. “What is it?” she asked.

“That Eva bitch stole Davina,” said Katherine—good god, it was weird to hear her own voice over the phone—“She’s going to kill her, and she’s going to try and kill Klaus’s kid too, so you guys had better be figuring something out over there soon.”

Elena looked back at the cemetery. “Yeah, I think Klaus just filling Esther in. You know, he had to take a few minutes—“

“—to be a dick to everyone first, I know,” said Katherine. “Ugh.”

“Is Josephine Larue going to help, at least?” asked Elena. She could hear Klaus growling inside the crypt.

“Nope,” said Katherine, popping the ‘p’. Elena mouthed the word to herself, trying to imitate Katherine’s mannerisms, but didn’t realize she was doing so until Katherine spoke again. “And after all that, too.”

“All that?” asked Elena.

“The whole ‘Elijah and his exes’ thing,” said Katherine, and Elena could picture Katherine waving her hand as she spoke. “God, ew. Elijah’s taste in women has really gone down since I died.”

“I like Hayley,” said Elena.

“You would,” retorted Katherine. “But seriously, she and that baby vamp? Possibly the two people with the least decorum I’ve ever met, and I’ve met your friends.”

“Gee, thanks.” Elena looked back down to the crypt. “Not that I’m really worried, but how did your whole impersonating-me thing go? You haven’t gotten rusty, have you?”

“Oh, it was great,” said Katherine. She put on a voice: “But Miss Larue, you can’t just let Rebekah die! I mean, I let Kol’s entire line of vampires die, but that was different. Also, I once almost let Rebekah die because I wanted to kill Klaus, but now he’s my boyfriend so she has to stay alive. You’re such a bad person.”

Elena bit her lip. “Klaus isn’t my… boyfriend.” 

“Ugh, of course that’s the part you would take offense to,” said Katherine, and Elena could just see the eye roll (could have seen it for real, if there was a mirror for her to imitate it in front of.) “But seriously, it went fine. I shot dramatically unsure looks at Elijah and made pointless comments about morality, no one’s going to suspect anything.”

“They’d better not,” said Elena.

Katherine sighed. “Why did Klaus want me to come to this thing anyway? It’s not like I was of any use—“

“On the contrary,” said Klaus, coming up behind her, and Elena rolled her eyes but put the phone on speaker. “Josephine Larue is smart enough to know that I can create hybrids with your blood. You being there served as a reminder of my power; it allowed me to be there by proxy.”

“You’re such an ass,” said Elena.

“And you should get back down here,” said Klaus, disappearing back into the crypt.

Elena turned off speakerphone. “I gotta go,” she said. “Thanks for the update.”

“Whatever,” said Katherine, and hung up.

Elena stood there for a moment, looking around the cemetery, breathing in the cool air. It was winter now, but winter in New Orleans was generally still warm, like early fall or late spring in Mystic Falls—but today was cooler, cold enough that Elena was shivering even in a leather jacket, cold enough that goose bumps were running all the way up her legs. She dropped her phone in her pocket and turned back to the crypt.

When she entered, Elijah was there as well, Freya had broken her chains, and Klaus was lying on the ground, his neck snapped. She looked around the room, and settled on making eye contact with Elijah, the only person in the room she could honestly say was not a threat.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Freya shook out her hair. “Let’s go,” she said to Elijah. “We’re running out of time.”

Elijah’s look was apologetic, but he followed Freya out of the tomb, and Elena was left there with Klaus’s unconscious body and a vampire Esther.

Elena wanted to back up against the wall, but instead she crouched down beside Klaus, movements very deliberate, and pulled his head into her lap. She met Esther’s eyes and refused to flinch.

“Don’t worry, Elena, I’m not going to hurt you,” said Esther.

Elena pursed her lips. “I wasn’t worried.”

Esther shot her a patronizing smile. “Weren’t you?”

“You’re a vampire who’s been desiccating for weeks,” Elena said. “I’ve been trained by a hunter—a hunter who was good enough that you chose him to end the vampire race. I think I could take you.”

“Awfully confident for one so afraid,” said Esther.

“I’m not afraid, I just don’t like you,” Elena replied.

“Beginning to sound exactly like Katerina, love,” said Klaus, and Elena felt his chest start to rise and fall against her legs. In a flash, he was standing again, towering over his mother.

It had always upset Elena so much, that even as Esther hurt and plotted against her children, she claimed to love them, to want the best for them—and Elena believed, despite everything, despite what a horrible person Esther was, that she did love her children. She wished she could say that it upset her on behalf on said children, and it did, it really did, but it also upset her somewhere far deeper, far more visceral—somewhere that made her want to both cry and claw Esther’s eyeballs out.

It was about Isobel, of course.

Elena could remember the first time she’d met Isobel—in the Mystic Grill, Stefan standing guard by the pool table, Damon and Alaric waiting outside in case they were needed. She remembered the jolt of fear that had run through her upon seeing Isobel’s face—this is my mother, this is my mother, she’d thought, and she’d started searching for similarities because this had been months before she’d known about the doppelgangers—and Isobel had mocked her, threatened her, laughed and told her that human life meant nothing to her—Elena had only met her in the first place because she’d been threatening to go on a killing spree, but she’d still thought, or hoped, or expected something, some glint of affection, some sense that, beyond the bloodthirst and the vampirism, this was the woman who’d given her life, and she’d been met with nothing but coldness. She’d put up a good face for the others, but then she’d sobbed and sobbed all night, sobbed so hard she thought she was going to vomit, and then sobbed again in Bonnie’s arms the next day. That hadn’t been enough, of course; Isobel had almost killed Matt to get Elena to do what she wanted, and after Isobel had finally left, Elena hadn’t felt sad or victorious, just hollow, like there was a wound in her chest cavity no number of deep breaths could fill.

She’d been disappointed that John was her father—John, who she’d also hated—but it had also been a relief, a weight off her shoulders; she could sleep knowing that at least one of her birth parents loved her, for better or for worse.

After that week, the next time she’d seen Isobel, Isobel had kidnapped her on Klaus’s orders and then killed herself in front of Elena—also on Klaus’s orders—she had never liked thinking about that, but she liked it even less now.

It had always sort of infuriated her, that even though Esther was a horrible mother who did horrible things to her children, she did love them. And of course that wasn’t fair—Elena’s other mother, her real mother, had loved her and hadn’t been terrible at all, and she knew that Isobel had kept her humanity off, but it still brought up some old resentment buried deep: why couldn’t you love me?

She blinked back the mild burning in her eyes, just in time for Klaus to tell her they were leaving. Usually she would have come back with some remark to the effect of “Oh, are we, now?”, but she just nodded, and let him help her to her feet.

. . .

Once Freya had saved Rebekah, and had finished anchoring herself to Klaus and Elijah, she met Elena’s eyes.

“How are you a thousand years old and a human?” she asked.

Elena blinked. “Excuse me?”

“I saw you,” she said. “In my family’s village, and then in Medieval England, I saw you. How are you human?”

Elena swallowed. “What, how much did you see?” she asked, trying to sound taken aback, not as though she were prying for answers.

Freya frowned. “I saw your face, over and over again, in both of their minds—are you with both of them?”

Elena raised her eyebrows, met Elijah’s eyes, than Klaus’s. So she’d seen… Elena was pretty sure that Katherine had slept with Klaus back in the day, and she knew Katherine had been sleeping with Elijah, and she knew Tatia had chosen Elijah but had at least kissed Klaus before—god, Freya must have been so confused.

Elena decided that the best route was to stick with the truth. “I used to be a vampire,” she said, ignoring the question about her relationships. “I died, but then came back from the Other Side human before it collapsed.”

Freya frowned. “Other Side?”

“Former supernatural purgatory,” said Klaus, grin in place, springing back into his default menacing playfulness. “Imploded a few months back. My, my, sister, you do have a lot to learn.”

Klaus went off to Rousseaus, but Elena declined to go with him. Instead, she caught up with Katherine at the compound, watching Netflix. Katherine slammed the screen shut before Elena could see what she was watching.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“Right,” said Elena. “Well, we’re the same person now.”

Katherine rolled her eyes. “I know how to impersonate you, Elena.”

“No, I don’t mean you’re me,” said Elena. “I mean, we’re each other, and also Tatia, but we’ve been called Elena the whole time.” At Katherine’s confused look, she sighed. “Freya caught glimpses of our face throughout time, with no context.” She paused. “We’ve slept with both brothers.”

Katherine laughed. “Don’t sound so scandalized. I have been with both of them.”

Elena made a face. “Ew.”

Katherine sighed, and collapsed back on the pillows of her bed. “Oh my god, Elena, I’m literally you.”

“Yeah, exactly, that’s what makes it so gross,” Elena replied. “It’s like, my sex life, but it’s not.”

Katherine scowled. “You don’t have to tell me that. You think I like you sleeping with Klaus?” She made a face, then took a breath, and shrugged. “Well, this makes things easier for me, at least. You’re the one who has to pretend you’ve slept with Elijah.” Katherine bit her lip, and then sat back up again. “Not that you haven’t thought about it, I’m sure.”

Elena rolled her eyes.

“Come on,” said Katherine. “I know all about it, you know. I bet you felt so guilty, back when he was trying to have you sacrificed and you couldn’t get him off of your mind. And don’t tell me he wasn’t; I could see it all over your face that day you visited me in the tomb.”

Elena groaned. “You are such a pervert.”

“At least I’m upfront about it,” said Katherine, on all fours now, leaning towards where Elena was sitting on the other end of the bed. “All that torment, and you’ve never so much as kissed the man.”

“I’ve made out with Elijah,” said Elena, and Katherine froze.

“You have?” she asked, sounding shocked to the core. “Wait, when?”

“When I was impersonating you? Back when we were all searching for the cure?”

Katherine froze, and then sat back on her heels. “Oh, with your humanity off,” she said. “Right. Let me guess; as soon as you kissed him, Elijah knew you weren’t me?”

Elena shook her head, trying to suppress a smirk. “Actually, it was when I didn’t know where the cure was.” At Katherine’s offended look, she let the smirk spread into a grin. “Come on, Katherine. ‘I’m literally you,’ remember? You’re not the only good kisser in this room.”

“I have five hundred years of practice on you, thank you very much,” Katherine replied.

Elena shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a natural.”

“Oh, wow, and I’m the bitchy one?” Katherine whacked her with a pillow.

“Ow!” she said, even though it didn’t really hurt. “Fine, be like that. I’m going to bed.”

“Whose bed?” asked Katherine, voice mocking.

Elena was already halfway across the room, but at that she turned around. “Actually, I was just going to go to my room, but you know what? Just because you said that, I’ll go to Klaus’s.”

“Gross,” Katherine called out to her as she left the room.

. . .

Elena was half-asleep when Klaus got back a few hours later. He flicked on his lights, and then paused, eyes on her.

“Not that I don’t love this sight—“

“I’m proving a point to Katherine,” she said. Her voice came out light and breathy; she thought about clearing her throat, but then decided to roll with it. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Not with such honorable intentions,” he replied, crossing over to his hamper and pulling off his shirt. “Are those your only motives?”

“Well,” she said, drawing out the word. “Your bed’s pretty comfortable, I guess. There are worse mattresses in this city.”

Klaus laughed as he continued to undress. Elena watched him from the bed, appreciating the view, and not making any attempts to hide her gaze. “Ah, I see how it is,” he said. “You just want me for my furniture.”

Elena sighed for effect, feeling rather glamorous, lounging about in the king bed. “You’ve found me out,” she said. “I’m just using you for your,” she yawned, “your featherbed mattress and your luxurious shower.”

Klaus switched off the overhead light and climbed into bed, propping himself up on his arm to look down at her. “I don’t believe you’ve ever used my shower,” he said, voice teasing.

“Mmm,” said Elena, feeling drowsy again. “What a shame. Might have to rectify that tomorrow, if you’re up for it.”

Klaus laughed, affection in the timber of his voice, and placed a gentle kiss on her temple. “Sweet dreams, love,” he said. She rolled into him lightly, and he slid his arm around her waist, pulling her close enough that she could lay her head against his chest.

They made excellent use of the shower the next morning. Klaus really could do incredible things with his fingers—with his mouth, too, although he didn’t exhibit that particular skill, likely due to the amount of body wash all over, well, everywhere—and by the end of it Elena wasn’t sure how she’d manage to walk that day.

Somehow, she did manage—Klaus took her out to lunch, a cute little really expensive seafood place (she never felt like she was mooching off of Klaus; it might have had something to do with her literal death at his hands, but she preferred to think of the money he spent on her as sacrifice reparations, rather than charity).

They took a stroll in the neighborhood after they ate—a very slow stroll, with several pauses, full of Klaus laughing and Elena smacking his chest. They’d been walking for about fifteen minutes when all of a sudden, Klaus had disappeared.

Elena took a few steps around the corner and saw him holding a man by the throat, next to Hayley and Jackson. She rushed over best she could, just as Jackson’s eyes went strange and he started to speak, and Elena leaned down and picked Hope up from the stroller as fast she could, holding the baby tight against her.

And just like that, the moment was over. 

“What just happened?” asked Jackson, as Elena rocked Hope against her hip.

“Dahlia,” Klaus replied.

 

Chapter Text

“So some psycho witch can just take over our minds?” asked Katherine.

Elena shook her head. They were standing in Katherine’s room, Katherine pacing circles into the rug and Elena holding Hope while all of her blood relations were arguing downstairs. “Not us. Apparently, she’d have to take over the entire doppelganger consciousness, or something, and since that spans two thousand years, there’s no way she has the strength.”

Katherine sighed. “At least one good thing came out of this.”

Elena laughed. “What, you don’t love being a doppelganger?”

Katherine offered her a fake grin. “Oh, we could have had it all, Elena. Taking tests for each other, playing tricks on guys’ minds, pulling off terrifying Halloween twin routines—I can’t believe I never embraced it.”

Elena laughed, then looked back down to Hope.

“Thinking about having Klaus’s babies?” Katherine asked.

Elena rolled her eyes, incredulous. “Oh my god, Katherine,”

Katherine shrugged. “I’m just saying. That is one adorable baby.”

“Right, of course,” said Elena. “And then in roughly five hundred years, we’d have a great-something-granddaughter who looked exactly like us.”

“Right,” said Katherine. “Of course you put that weight on your shoulders.” She sighed.

Elena always found it strange to remember that Katherine was her direct ancestor; that Katherine had had a baby, Nadia, and then Nadia had had a baby, and that baby had had a baby, and so on and so forth until Elena had been born. Katherine wasn’t just her doppelganger; Katherine was her family, distant as she might be.

. . .

Once the family meeting was over, Hayley came upstairs to collect Hope, but Klaus was nowhere to be found. Elena sat in the dining room with Hayley as Freya and Rebekah tried to track Dahlia through Jackson—or something, Elena didn’t completely understand—when Rebekah broke away. “You,” she said to Freya. “You’re the reason Dahlia is able to use such powerful spells. She’s channeling you!”

Elena frowned. “Didn’t we know that?” she asked—the whole story, after all, had been that Dahlia had bonded herself to Freya to use her power—but, of course, no one listened to her. Hayley started yelling at Freya (which, okay, Elena would probably be yelling at someone too, if her daughter was in danger), and Rebekah was a little more gentle, but told Freya to leave nonetheless.

“Isn’t that a terrible idea?” Elena said.

Rebekah turned to her. “Elena, she’s bonded to Dahlia. Even if she doesn’t mean to be, she’s a danger to—”

Elena rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she said. “I’m going after her.”

“I don’t want her back—“ Hayley said.

“I’m not going to bring her back here,” Elena told Hayley. “I’m just going to make sure you two haven’t driven our most useful ally away.” She rushed out of the compound, saw Freya down the street, and ran over to her.

“Hey,” she said.

Freya shot her a suspicious look. “What is it now?” she asked.

Elena took a deep breath. “Look,” she said. “Hayley’s… impulsive. She gets really angry, really easily, and now she’s a mother whose daughter is in a lot of danger. I swear it isn’t personal; it’s just that this situation is hard on everyone. And Rebekah—Rebekah has a long history of trusting people too easily and suffering for it. She’s under a lot of pressure to not be too trusting, especially now that she’s in a vulnerable body, and—Rebekah was raising Hope in hiding while we were trying to defeat Esther, from the day she was born until just days after you woke up. She’s terrified for that baby too.”

Freya frowned. “Did they send you here to make amends for them?” she asked, and god, she reminded Elena so much of Klaus—and she was so clearly hurt, and so clearly not working with Dahlia, and even though Elena didn’t completely trust her, she was even more sure that she liked her.

She was pretty sure Freya didn’t like her at all, but that didn’t bother her.

“No one sends me anywhere,” she said. “Come on. Let’s walk.”

“How do you know my siblings?” asked Freya, even as she started to walk.

Elena sighed. “That’s a really long story,” she said.

“And of course, you can’t trust me with it,” said Freya, voice full of venom (so much like Klaus, when he was trying to cover up hurt.)

Elena took a deep breath. “I like you, Freya,” she said, voice frank, and Freya shot her a look that was both surprised and distrustful. “I do. And I know that you’re being honest about how much you want to be free of Dahlia, and trust me, I believe you when you say that all you’ve ever wanted is your family.”

Freya raised an eyebrow. “So, of all people, you’re the one who trusts me?”

“I wouldn’t say that I trust you indiscriminately, but yeah, I know you’re on our side.” She shrugged. “I’ve always had really good instincts about people, though.” She thought about Damon, about Elijah, but didn’t elaborate out loud.

Freya looked like she was going to say something, but she seemed to get distracted, and Elena looked around to realize that everyone on the street was staring at them. Freya gasped, and Elena spun around to follow her line of sight; there was a woman with white eyes, just like Jackson’s had been.

“No,” gasped Freya. “No—“

“There you are, after all these centuries,” said a voice, and Elena looked around again to catch sight of Dahlia—it had to be Dahlia. “Hello, my Freya.”

Her gaze turned to Elena’s, and she looked faintly quizzical, though still amused. Freya was trembling next to her, her breaths coming in in gasps.

There had been times in the past when Elena had been beyond terrified, when all she’d needed was someone to be strong for her; she resolved, as best she could, to do that for Freya.

“If you’re trying to use your kenning magic on me, or whatever, you might as well give up,” she said. “You’re not nearly powerful enough for that.”

Dahlia didn’t seem daunted, but seemed just a little less amused. “And who would you be?” she asked.

Elena didn’t reply.

“There’s old magic about you, girl,” said Dahlia. “Very, very old—I wonder—“

“Two thousand years old,” she said, crossing her arms. “Or thereabouts—it gets hard to keep track.” She smiled, tight-lipped. “Now, correct me if my math is wrong, but I think that means I predate you by about a millennium.”

Dahlia met her eyes, searching, and then a smile crept onto her face.

“You’re a doppelganger,” she said. Freya looked over at her, but Elena refused to break eye contact with Dahlia. “Fascinating. I’ve heard legends, of course, but I never expected to meet one. A pleasure, darling. Might I have your name?”

It wasn’t just that she didn’t want to give Dahlia any ground; if Dahlia did any research, she could find out the order of the doppelgangers with ease, and that meant Dahlia would be able to sacrifice them.

“Petrova,” Elena told her, lifting her chin. “That’s the only name that matters.”

Dahlia seemed—charmed, that was really the only word Elena could describe it as—she seemed charmed by Elena, as though she was watching a pet doing a trick, or a child saying something precocious.

She looked back to Freya, and began to speak to her again, and—god, Elena hadn’t thought this much about Isobel in years, but something about Dahlia brought Isobel right up to the surface; the cold amusement interlaced with threats, the utter lack of affection, and, more than anything, the fear she invoked in Freya; while Freya had always seemed to have something to say around her siblings, she was terrified speechless of Dahlia, and Elena could remember how that felt, to be so vulnerable to the woman who should have made you feel safest, to be made powerless by the intimacy of her callousness; to be held hostage by the knowledge that you were not loved.

She had never had the courage to stand up to Isobel, and no one had ever really stood up to Isobel for her, either; Dahlia raised her fist and Freya screamed in pain, and Elena was suddenly, blindingly furious.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked, grabbing Freya around the waist, refusing to let Dahlia have her on her knees. “You’re the one in the wrong; you don’t get to be disappointed in her.”

“Your childish appeals to my moral judgment are a waste of time,” said Dahlia. Freya clutched at Elena like a lifeline. “I’m curious, though; for one so vulnerable, and so valuable, you should be far more afraid.”

“You’re the one who should be afraid,” Elena said, gritting her teeth. “Haven’t you ever heard? Seeing a doppelganger is really bad luck.” She swallowed, searching for something to say, trying to cling on to something that could give her power, at least in Dahlia’s eyes. “Especially for your family.”

Dahlia grinned at her. “Whatever do you mean, darling?”

“You don’t know about your sister?” she asked, and the smile slid off Dahlia’s face—she did not look upset, but she no longer looked amused. “She died because she sacrificed one of me.”

“One of you,” said Dahlia.

Elena set her shoulders. “One of me,” she confirmed.

Dahlia laughed. “The ‘you’ is plural, child.”

“It’s sweet that you think there’s a difference,” said Elena. It was the opposite of everything she’d ever insisted to anyone; but the legacy of the doppelganger was so much bigger than any of them that it just might be enough to give Dahlia a sense of unease.

Dahlia moved on from the subject; Elena decided to assume it was because she did not have a response. “And my sister channeled a doppelganger?”

“My blood created the vampire species,” said Elena. It did not feel like a lie.

Dahlia smiled. “And you are not frightened that I will seek to use your sacrifice for power as well?”

Elena smirked. “I’d like to see you try,” she said.

Dahlia laughed. “Your bravado is enchanting,” she said.

Elena stepped toward Dahlia, but made sure to keep Freya’s hand in hers, to give her something steady and sure to hold. “You don’t know the first thing about doppelgangers,” she said, and she felt like all of them and none of them, felt two thousand years of destiny on her shoulders, in her bones, in her every breath. “You have to sacrifice us in order, did you know that? Of course you didn’t.” She smiled, vague. “How many of us are there? How many of us are human, how many of us are vampires, how many of us are something else entirely? What order were we born in? Who’s who?” She took another step towards Dahlia, holding her self up to her full height. “You can’t even tell us apart,” she pointed out. “So no. I don’t think you’ll be figuring out how to pull off a full-scale doppelganger sacrifice any time soon. We’re Petrovas; we survive.”

She stepped back. “Nice to meet you,” she said, and then moved to walk away.

“Your friend may be filled with misplaced self-assurance, Freya, but you know better than to defy me,” said Dahlia, “a lesson your father and brother will learn shortly.”

Elena thought of something; it was a bit ridiculous, maybe, but it just might have impact. She spun back around. “Did you know that me and mine have guarded the realm of the dead for two thousand years?” So it had just been the Other Side, it had just been Amara, and it was no longer the case, but it sounded impressive. She smirked, Katherine-like, at Dahlia. “I’ll look out for you in hell,” she said, and then walked away.

“She’s gone,” said Freya, a couple of moments later, and Elena grabbed her arm and rushed back to the compound as fast as her sore body could take her. “What—“

Elena shook her head, and Freya fell silent.

They strode in the door a few minutes later, and Hayley looked down the hallway at them. “Elena—“

“Rebekah,” Elena said over her, “do you know where your brother keeps his needles and bloodbags?”

Rebekah frowned. “What—“

“Elena?” said Elijah, stepping out into the hallway. “Freya—“

“Elijah, you have to know,” said Elena, letting go of Freya’s arm to step closer to him. “I know he’s still got them somewhere.”

“I believe they’re in a supply closet,” Elijah said, sounding a little bemused. “Is there a problem?”

“I need to draw out some blood,” she said. “My blood, I mean.”

Elijah tilted his head. “And why—“

“We just ran into Dahlia,” said Elena, and Hayley exclaimed what the hell and kicked what sounded like a chair. “She’s terrifying, she’s awful, I’ll get into it later, but look, I just remembered something. Is Katherine here?”

“She’s still upstairs,” said Rebekah, crossing her arms and frowning.

“Katherine!” Elena called, and she heard footsteps a few seconds later.

Katherine showed up on the stairs. “What?” she asked. Freya gasped beside her, and Elena remembered that she’d never seen the two of them before.

“Come down here,” Elena told her, and Katherine rolled her eyes but did so.  Freya was staring openly, and Elena really couldn’t blame her; both of them had let their hair air dry, it would seem, so they had the same mussed waves, and neither of them wore makeup or heels. They looked about as alike as they could.

“Look,” Elena continued, once Katherine had joined them. “I don’t think any of you know what ended up happening with the Travellers in Mystic Falls, but they were able to use the blood of the last two living doppelgangers—“

“I was dead,” Katherine said.

Elena shook her head. “No, me and Stefan—“

“Stefan isn’t a doppelganger,” said Rebekah, and Katherine and Elena shared a look.

“He’s Silas’s doppelganger,” said Elena, “but it’s not the same—“

“Please tell me this doesn’t have to do with that terrible prophecy crap,” Katherine said.

Elena sighed. “Look, the point is, they managed to use doppelganger blood to reverse spirit magic—which is what Dahlia uses, right?” Freya nodded. “They created a perimeter around Mystic Falls where no magic could be used. Katherine and I aren’t the last doppelgangers of any kind left, but we are the last two human doppelgangers, so maybe we can do, I don’t know, something like that.”

Elijah raised an eyebrow.

“It’s worth a shot,” said Rebekah, who then looked at Katherine.

Katherine rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine, I’ll donate some blood to the cause.” She pointed a finger at Freya. “Only one bag of it, though. If it turns out you can’t make it work, I do not want bags of my blood falling into the wrong hands.”

While Elijah—who was apparently the only person who knew how—set up all the tubes and machinery and what not, Rebekah grabbed Elena’s arm and pulled her aside into the kitchen. It wasn’t as though that would be of much use, in a house where everyone had supernatural hearing, but Elena didn’t say this.

“What is it?” she asked.

Rebekah seemed almost nervous. “I know you like her, Elena—I like her too—but do you really think we can trust her?”

“Absolutely,” she said. “I don’t—I don’t think she’s put all of her cards on the table, and I think she still might do something impulsive or reckless to try and stop Dahlia, but—“ She took a deep breath. “Dahlia treats her like Mikael treated Klaus,” she said, and Rebakah inhaled sharply. “Except that Dahlia has a lot more power over her than Mikael had over Klaus, at least, since I’ve known him—I don’t think we can put all our faith in her, but I know we can trust her when she says she would do anything to defeat Dahlia.”

Rebekah nodded. “I want to trust her, I do—“

“I get it,” said Elena. “You don’t want to ruin everything by trusting too easily. And I think—she’s so much like Klaus, she’s just, I don’t know, less inclined to kill people to cover up her feelings.”

Rebekah laughed at that.

Elena felt a rush of apprehension when she sat down in the chair Elijah set up; the last time she’d given blood like this, Klaus had been trying to drain and kill her. She swallowed, and tried not to think of it.

It was so strange, beyond strange, to be sitting like this again with everyone around. Rebekah didn’t seem particularly phased; she’d been around for the entire time Elena’s blood had been used to make hybrids, after all. Elijah seemed mildly uncomfortable. Hayley looked disgusted but intrigued, Jackson looked shocked—then again, she wasn’t sure Jackson had ever seen she and Katherine together, though she was sure Hayley had told him about her— and Freya still seemed to be processing the whole doppelganger thing.

“So,” said Elijah, once they were all hooked up. “Dahlia.”

“She just wanted to give Freya a scare,” said Elena, looking over to Freya.

Freya swallowed. “Was it true, what you said?” she asked.

Elena made a face. “Some of it,” she said. “Most of it, sort of—I kind of exaggerated the whole doppelganger thing for effect.”

Katherine nodded in understanding; everyone else looked at her in confusion. Elena sighed.

“She doesn’t know our names,” she said, addressing her words to Katherine but intending them for everyone. “If she doesn’t know who’s who, or what order we were born in, she can’t know what order to sacrifice us in, which means she can’t sacrifice us, which means we’re more or less safe.”

“As long as she doesn’t find out,” said Katherine. Elena nodded.

Chapter Text

A little after they’d finished drawing blood, Elena received a text from Klaus. Finally. She checked in that Freya was okay one more time, and then headed out to where he’d said to meet. When she arrived, she was met with the sight of Davina, Klaus, and Mikael.

She froze.

“Ah, here you are,” said Klaus, with a grin. She crossed over to him right away; she knew having her with him would make him feel better around his father. “What took you so long, sweetheart?”

Elena sighed. “I was just checking that Freya was okay,” she told him.

“And why would you be checking on my daughter?” asked Mikael.

Elena turned to him and rolled her eyes. “I like her,” she said. “And I think she likes me.”

Mikael scowled. “And why would you need to check on my daughter?”

Elena pressed her lips together. “Dahlia showed up,” she said.

Klaus turned to her so fast it was comical. “Did she tell you what happened?”

“I was there,” said Elena. “I was with Freya when she showed up, I met her.”

“And?” asked Klaus.

Elena shrugged. “And, she’s awful. Freya’s terrified of her—she was like me, that day we saw Esther in the cemetery, only worse.”

“What did she do to her?” asked Mikael.

“Traumatized her, tried to torture her, tried to possess me to scare her—you were right about the kenning thing,” she told Klaus. “Didn’t work. Oh, and she knew about doppelgangers, enough to figure out that I was one.”

“You tried to conceal that from Dahlia?” Mikael asked.

Elena rolled her eyes. “We weren’t exactly volunteering the information,” she said. “It’s fine, though, she doesn’t know how we work, or who’s who, or that we don’t have a mass doppelganger hive mind, or anything like that.”

“A mass doppelganger hive mind?” asked Davina. “That’s not freaky at all.”

Elena laughed. “Yeah, she doesn’t like me very much,” she said. “But I’ll fill you in later. What’s this about?”

“They’re making the weapon to kill Dahlia,” said Davina. “Well, actually, I’m making it. They’re just the ones forcing me to.”

Elena shot a glare at Klaus. “Forcing?”

“Trading,” Klaus corrected. “I’ll give her Kol’s ashes in exchange for this favor. It’s an even trade, sweetheart, no coercion involved.”

“There’d better not be,” she told him, and then walked over and squatted next to Davina. “Isn’t this all Freya’s plan, though? Why isn’t she part of this?”

“Freya doesn’t need to be put in any more danger than she already is,” said Mikael.

Elena pursed her lips. “Oh, I’m sorry, do you actually care about one of your children, or did I just step into an alternate universe where you aren’t a megalomaniac hunter who’s devoted his life to filicide?”

“Watch yourself, girl,” said Mikael.

“Oh, I get it,” said Elena, anger from this morning still coursing through her veins, even though she really shouldn’t have said anything. “Freya was taken before she could develop any agency of her own, so your domineering patriarchal sensibilities were never offended by her own personhood.”

“Someone’s been reading up on her feminist theory,” Klaus said, his words sounding only half like a joke.

Elena rolled her eyes. “I may have taken gender studies as an elective last year.”

“You mean you actually went to class?” said Klaus. “I thought you only attended deadly school dances and occasional murder sprees in the gymnasium.”

“Yeah, maybe that was because you were always a key player in the deadly dances and murder sprees,” said Elena. “And besides, you once taught a class that I was present for—“ She broke off, remembering that class, replaying it in her mind knowing that Alaric had really been Klaus. “God, sometimes I forget how creepy you are.”

“If the two of you are quite finished?” said Mikael, his tone sharp.

“Okay, okay, fine,” said Elena, standing back up. “What’s the plan?”

The plan turned out to be meeting Dahlia at a trap she’d set up and killing her—it also turned out that they didn’t have a part for her in this plan, and that Klaus had just wanted her company. She would have made a joke about that, except for the fact that she didn’t blame him for wanting her around while Mikael was there. She walked with them to the church, and then, partially to throw something in Mikael’s face and partially because she was genuinely afraid for his life, she gave Klaus a kiss for luck. Once they were gone, she dialed Elijah’s number.

“Elena, yes?” he greeted.

“Klaus and Mikael teamed up to fight Dahlia,” she says, with no greeting. “They made the weapon and met a trap she’d set for them at the church—I have no idea what’s going on in there now—“

“I’m on my way,” said Elijah. “Is there anything else?”

Something she’d said flashed in her mind—“How many of us are there?—and she came to a decision. “Bring me a change of clothes.”

“Anything in particular?” he asked.

She felt a little bad at what she was going to say, but nowhere near bad enough not to say it. “Something you think Tatia would wear.”

She could hear Elijah’s breath hitch in this throat. “And might I inquire as to why?”

Elena closed her eyes. “If Dahlia thinks there are a bunch of doppelgangers running around, or that there’s one older than Katherine, or more—it leads her off the scent if she thinks she needs a sacrifice.” She swallowed. “Besides, it can’t hurt for you and Klaus to look like you’ve got your own personal collection.”

“You’re not an object to be collected, Elena,” said Elijah, guilt and grief hidden under a mask of exasperation.

“Of course I am,” she said, her throat burning. “That’s all the doppelganger was ever meant to be. At least I can use it.” She hung up.

She was a person, not an object, but sometimes it could be hard to remember that—she had been the object of machinations for a thousand years before she’d even been born. Sometimes she felt as though she was constantly clawing her way through blood and guts to try and breathe; other times, she felt as though the entire world was laid out in front of her in sharp edges and straight lines, felt as though her mind was so hard it had crystallized, as though every decision she would ever make had been etched in stone in her soul, the day she had learned about the doppelganger, or maybe even the moment Katherine had offered her blood, sitting in the tomb. “There’s another way out,” she had said.

Elena closed her eyes and called up everything she’d ever remembered of being Tatia, everything she’d ever heard about her, every word, every image, the tilt of her head, the timbre of her voice. She could do this; she would hardly have to try.

. . .

She ran into the church in a white maxi dress and a jean jacket, wearing her hair half-up. She didn’t know if Elijah had picked it out because it was the longest skirt she owned, or because he thought it actually did reflect Tatia’s style, but it was different enough from her look or Katherine’s that she could work with it. She was wearing nude flip flops, which were somehow less comfortable than heels to run in, but which looked innocent enough, and she’d taken off the necklace she’d been wearing.

She just hoped that no one would give her game away.

She stood as close to Elijah as possible; Elijah seemed to be suppressing a fair amount of discomfort at the whole situation, but she didn’t feel as bad for him as she should have (or maybe she felt just as unaffected as she should have; she thought viciously that Tatia was hers, not his.) She kept her eyes and face as shocked as possible, like the time Tatia had stumbled upon Klaus in the wake of his first killing spree.

Klaus and Mikael were both on the floor, surrounded by dead bodies. She thought she should be afraid, and held onto Elijah’s arm.

“Ah,” said Dahlia, and she met her eyes right away, thinking deer in the headlights to herself. “Petrova girl.”

An amateur would have said who are you right away, but Elena looked up to Elijah, wide-eyes and vulnerable, and conjuring Tatia’s exact accent and lilt in her mind. She looked back to Dahlia and set her shoulders, trying to make herself look tiny but resolved. She swallowed and lifted her chin just a little, the way the Elena who had just learned about vampires would have.

Tatia was terrified, but she had courage. She took a deep breath.

“Is—“ she cut herself off, and swallowed again. “You’re Dahlia,” she said, voice pitched a little higher, trembling but true, accent just right.

Dahlia smiled. “And I suppose this isn’t some trick?” she said. “To make me believe there are two human doppelgangers?”

“Two? Th—“ she started to say, and thank god Elijah had caught on and jerked his arm, the motion subtle but enough for Dahlia to think she’d just managed to spot it. She swallowed. “I’m sure you would like to know,” she said instead, with the same feral undertone she and Katherine both possessed hidden under tremulous fear.

“Hmm,” said Dahlia, seeming intrigued and amused. “Perhaps.”

That was all the attention she had for Elena—for Tatia—but it was enough. Elijah had left her side with the subtlety of a shadow, stepping over to Klaus, wrist extended. Elena was so grateful that it had been Elijah who she’d entered the church with, because Elijah was the only person she ever could have played this with in a thousand years; he was the only other person she knew who really thought like her, who moved through the world the same way as her, moves and countermoves, perfected performances hiding feral resolve; and despite the danger and the violence all around, Elena relished the feeling of the two of them having finally played on the same side.

Klaus was looking at her with wide eyes, and she was glad Dahlia couldn’t see. She almost wanted to smack Klaus upside the head, no, of course there’s no chance I’m actually Tatia, but she did nothing of the sort. She hugged her arms to her chest and started when there was a sudden motion near her, gasped when Klaus fell right through where Dahlia had been standing, and only fell out of the role once Dahlia was gone for good.

. . .

They walked back to the compound; Elena walked next to Klaus, feeling a bit out-of-body in her outfit—she had felt like a doppelganger in a fairy tales, stealing Tatia’s voice, standing with Tatia’s lover. Klaus broke away from the group to grab a scotch, and Elena joined him. They drank in silence.

The moment Mikael walked in, Elena knew Klaus was going to kill him. She stood by in silence still as Klaus snapped, as Freya screamed and thrashed, as Mikael’s burning body fell to the floor.

(Elena’s mother had burned to death, too.)

Klaus strode off, tense and angry, and Elena darted after him. She was running a bit but he was still walking faster than her, so much so that when she finally caught up with him, she was out of breath.

"Hey," she said, placing a light hand on his, "hey, Klaus—“

“Not now, Elena,” he said, his voice little more than a growl.

“Look, I know you’re upset, you don’t have to pretend,” she said, but of course that wasn’t it; she’d always admired and envied the way Klaus had never felt the need to hide Mikael’s abuse or its impact on him. “No—you were—Klaus, talk to me.”

“I don’t have anything to say,” he said, turning up the stairs, and Elena chased after.

“You always have plenty to say, don’t lie to me,” she said. “You were fully within your—I don’t know about right in a bigger sense, but as far as I’m concerned you had the right to kill him.” She swallowed. “I would have done it.”

“I killed an Original for Viking ash, and you killed an Original for the cure,” said Klaus. “You did do it.”

“You didn’t—“ she sighed, and entered his room behind him. For a moment, she’d thought he would close his door in her face, but he didn’t. Now that he’d stopped moving, she stepped up to him, running her arms up along his chest to wrap them around his neck.

“I’m sorry you got a shit answer out of him,” she said, and apparently that had been the right thing to say, because it was as though something inside of him clicked.

"Maybe he always knew," said Klaus. "Perhaps he could tell from the day I was born. He knew my whole life he had no reason to love me--"

"No," she said, placing her hand over his. "Klaus, that's not how it works."

Klaus raised an eyebrow. "You know that?" he asked, the hint of a mocking smile at the corner of his lips.

"Yeah, I do," she said. "My parents adopted me, and they loved me just as much as Jeremy even though I wasn't their child."

"You were their niece," Klaus contributed.

"My aunt Jenna--" Klaus looked up sharply; she never spoke about Jenna around him, and she stepped away and walked to the bed because talking about Jenna when standing so near still felt wrong. "My aunt Jenna had no blood relation to me, and she knew that her whole life, and when it came down to it, she put her whole life on hold to take care of me. Meanwhile, my birth mother was horrible to me, never gave me the time of day unless she needed something from me, threatened to kill the people I loved, worked with you to arrange my death. The nicest she ever was to me was when she kidnapped me, right before she killed herself in front of me-- which you compelled her to do, by the way, so thanks for that."

He chuckled at that, and came to sit next to her.

"But listen, okay? Maybe Mikael wants to think that he always knew in his heart of hearts that you didn't share blood, but he didn't know. He thought you were his biological son.” She swallowed. “Regardless of everything that came after, he's still your father, and you deserved a decent father."

She thought again of Esther and Isobel, and of how hasty she’d been in her resentment. True, Klaus's mother loved him despite everything, whereas Elena's mother had not; but then Elena's father had loved her, while Klaus's father hated him. John wasn’t quite Esther, but John hadn’t lived to see her become a vampire, hadn’t ever gotten to know that deep down she was as vicious a monster as the rest of them. She liked to think he would have accepted and loved her regardless, like he’d said he would in his letter, but she had no way of knowing.

After what felt like ages, Klaus started to say, “About your aunt—“

“Don’t,” Elena said, her voice an octave lower than she’d intended it to be.

Klaus blinked. “I was going to—“

“Apologize, I know.” She hoped this would be enough to shut him up, but she was sure it wouldn’t be. “Don’t.”

Klaus seemed to be on edge again, now. “You just—“

“Let me make something very clear,” said Elena. “I can talk about Jenna if I want to. You can’t. Not ever.”

“Not ever,” Klaus repeated, and there it was, the hostile tone in his voice again. “That’s a very long time, sweetheart—“

“Not long enough,” she said, and then wished she hadn’t sounded so resentful, and then resented the fact that she almost felt the urge to apologize for it. “We aren’t doing this right now,” she said, standing up, but she knew that it was coming, that she’d been pushing this off for far too long already. Flashes of that night were already rising in her mind, Klaus pinning Jenna to the ground, tender and terrifying, taking his time staking her because he knew he could, her screaming and sobbing and feeling her lungs collapsing in her and her world crumbling around her.

"And here I thought we'd come so far," said Klaus, rising to his feet as well, his tone dark and menacing--god, it was probably the worst voice he could have used that that moment, and Elena turned and walked a few steps away from him. "I thought we'd moved passed it all, but apparently you're still holding on to old grudges, still withholding forgiveness."

"Of course I haven't forgiven you for Jenna," she said, running her hand through her hair, and then turning back towards him. "You murdered my aunt in front of me. I'm never going to forgive you for Jenna." Klaus looked like he'd been struck, but she kept talking, striding back towards him. "And guess what?" she continued. "You're never going to forgive me for killing your brother in front of you. We both know it." She laughed, a bit crazed and lacking any humour, and then met his eyes again. "'Cause here's the thing: you don't regret killing Jenna! And, look, I don't regret killing Kol! Neither of us ever will, that's just who we are!"

"So you're saying it doesn't matter?" Klaus sounded angry and upset and confused, all at once, like he was searching to translate her words into something he could understand. "That we're even?"

"Of course it matters!" Elena took a deep breath, pressed her hand to her temple and her eyes firmly shut. "And, god, no, we're not even."

"Then what are you saying?" asked Klaus.

Elena looked up, and met his eyes, daring his gaze to burn as fiercely as hers. "I'm saying that I'm not going to stack up all the terrible things you've done and try to rationalize them." She took another step forward." I'm not going to try and make excuses for you. I can't! And I wouldn't want to try to!" She closed the distance behind him, feeling fire behind her eyes and in the pit of her belly, warm as if there were flames all around them once more. "I know you're a killer, and a monster, and a terrible person, but knowing that isn't going to change the way I feel about you, either, and I'm not going to spend my life hating myself for the fact that those things conflict with--" 

Klaus grabbed her wrists and caught her words with his mouth, kissing her, kissing her like he was a damned man and she was salvation, and she cupped his face and kissed him back, searching for clarity, for lucidity, and it was like gasping breaths after rising from death, the desperate coil in her chest blossoming like fresh air in her lungs, like deliverance from perdition, like finding cool water when the whole word was a brilliant inferno and trying to drown in it rather than burning alive. His lips seared against hers like a brand; it was like kissing fire and brimstone, and if the earth were to split apart around them, leave them surrounded by bottomless chasms right then and there, she wouldn't have flinched.

 

Chapter Text

“I really need to get a drawer up in here,” she said the next morning, pulling the white dress she’d been wearing back over her head. “I don’t even like this dress.”

“I admit, I prefer you without it as well,” said Klaus, and Elena flipped him off.

“Seriously, though,” she said. “I’ve all but moved into your room.”

Klaus raised an eyebrow. “I could be behind on modern etiquette, sweetheart, but I don’t think you get a drawer in someone’s room when you live in the same house.”

Elena rolled her eyes. “I think you do when there’s approximately eight billion people passing through said house on rotation,” she told him. “And while we’re on the subject, I’m buying myself some toiletries to keep up here. I smell like men’s shampoo and body spray.”

Klaus, who was shirtless and doing up his jeans next to her, grinned. “I don’t think that’s from the shower, love.”

“You’re the worst,” she told him. “I’m—“ Her phone buzzed. It was a text from Rebekah. Please put on a pot of coffee asap.

She replied: what are you, hungover?

Very, Rebekah replied. Elena sighed, and ran a hand through her tangled hair. “Go make coffee,” she told Klaus. “I’m going to stop in my room, I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Yes, m’am,” he replied, and she shoved his bare chest. He let her push him backwards, laughing, and she went to her room.

She threw her hair up in a bun and had a quick rinse in the shower, and then threw on a tank top and jeans—it was a relief to be dressed like herself again. She ran a brush through her hair and opened up her jewellery box, more out of habit than because she had anything in mind, and then paused.

She picked up a necklace; it was a gold pendant with an open triangle on it. She’d had it for a few years—since about when she’d turned her humanity off, anyway—but she’d never quite realised how much it looked like the tattoo Klaus had on his back. She ran her thumb along the side of the necklace, then flipped her hair in front of her shoulders and did up the clasp behind her neck.

She arrived in the dining room around the same time Rebekah did; Elijah was already there, and Klaus had broken out mimosas and pastries (because of course he had; before moving to New Orleans, Elena would never have pegged Klaus for a brunch enthusiast.)

“Give me that,” said Rebekah, making for the pot of coffee in the kitchen. Klaus laughed at her, but Elena ignored their bickering in favour of Elijah, who looked put out.

“You okay?” she asked him.

He met her eyes. “Do you know if Niklaus has a plan?” he said, his voice conversational, though Elena knew him well enough to see that he was agitated.

Elena tried not to laugh. “Have you ever met your brother?” she said. “This is Klaus we’re talking about.”

“First rule; always have a back-up plan,” said Elena’s own voice, and Elena looked over to see that Katherine had come out of nowhere. She raised an eyebrow. “Something Klaus said to Damon, once.”

“Says the girl who told Damon she always has a plan B, and a plan C, and so on?” asked Elena. “Huh.”

Katherine rolled her eyes. “If you make some comment about how we’re more alike than we want to think, I will slap you.”

“I didn’t say anything,” said Elena.

Elijah wasn’t paying attention anymore, though; he was offering Klaus a blank stare.

“Oh, come on!” said Klaus. “We all fled Mikael’s tyranny together for centuries! I would have thought the mood this morning might be a little more jubilant!”

Elena elected not to comment on the terrible mood Klaus had been in just last night.

“Mikael’s dead?” said Katherine. Elena tried not to let her surprise reach her face; Katherine almost never addressed Klaus directly.

Klaus raised a hand in her direction. “See, even Katerina’s glad!”

“I never said that,” Katherine replied.

“I’m going to ignore that,” Klaus said. “But in the spirit of good-naturedness, Katerina, you might want to keep thoughts like that to yourself in the future. You so rarely have my approval as it is; I suggest you don’t ruin it for yourself on the few occasions that you do.”

Elena jumped in before Katherine could either retort or bite her tongue. “I will say, though, it was about the best thing you could have done if you were trying to drive Freya away.”

Klaus looked at her in mock betrayal. “You’re the one who said I was right to kill him!”

“Hey, I’m glad you did,” she said, holding up her hands. “I still feel bad for Freya, though.”

Klaus sighed. “There you go again, befriending all my enemies.”

“I’m pretty sure I could count on one hand every friend of mine you don’t consider your enemy,” Elena commented.

Klaus looked like he wanted to reply, but Elijah beat him to the chase. “Under normal circumstances, the annihilation of our father would be rather commendable, Niklaus.” He gave Klaus a significant look. “Unfortunately, we have a greater threat to contend with.”

Elena sighed, and walked over to the kitchen to grab a coffee mug. She thought of Freya’s face, the night before; she’d reminded Elena of herself. She poured herself a cup, grabbed some milk from the fridge, and then heard a voice.

“Elena,” said an older woman’s voice, and Elena almost replied before realizing whoever it was was addressing Katherine—which meant it was the woman she and Elijah had gone to meet—which meant—

She ducked under the kitchen counter, just out of sight, managing not to spill her coffee. This was someone who didn’t know about the doppelganger, which meant this was someone who could not find out by accident.

“Miss Larue,” she heard Katherine say—she wanted to think that she never sounded that falsely innocent, but she was pretty sure that would be a lie.

“Josephine,” said Elijah. Elena heard the floorboards shift, and figured he was moving to stand in front of Katherine.

The woman spoke; something was wrong, something was awful and terrible and wrong, but Elena could not have said what. And then, the woman said something just so, and it was all too clear; this wasn’t that Larue woman speaking. This was Dahlia.

Dahlia knew the name Elena, then. She and Katherine would have to figure out a plan for that.

She had never been as grateful to Katherine as she was when Katherine said “Dahlia,” just right, just like her.

“It is you, then,” said Dahlia, and Elena could hear her smile. “I’m no expert on your kind, I admit, but I thought you were my Freya’s little friend.”

“Freya isn’t yours.” It was just what Elena wanted her to say—Katherine had never met Dahlia before, hadn’t known what had transpired between them yesterday, and yet—and yet

It wasn’t that she was playing Elena, not exactly; but she was playing the same role Elena played when she was playacting at being herself, when she went out of her way to be Elena Gilbert the Doppelganger instead of just acting natural; it was so strange to her, stranger than how well she could play at being Katherine and Katherine could play at being her, to think that when they played The Doppelganger the result was the very same. She wondered if this was who they’d been meant to be, who they’d all been meant to be, had their lives not been torn wide open by monsters.

A few sentences later, she heard the ripping of flesh; she risked a peek to see that Klaus had decapitated the woman. Katherine met her eyes and nodded, and she came back out into the dining room.

Klaus was looking at Katherine as though he’d never seen her before, and Elena remembered the last time he’d seen Katherine pretend to be her, the night they’d allied with Mikael to try to kill him.

“Am I the only one who thinks the two of you are downright freaky?” asked Rebekah.

“Nah,” she and Katherine replied in unison.

Rebekah rolled her eyes.

. . .

Rebekah went off to meet with Freya, and Elena, not wanting to be there while Elijah and Klaus argued, wandered around and up to Klaus’s study, only to run into Aiden.

“Oh,” she said, frowning. “Aiden, hi. I didn’t…know we were expecting you?”

“You weren’t!” said Aiden, taking a step back. “I mean, sorry. I should have texted to let Klaus know I was dropping by. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Okay,” said Elena. “Huh.” She stared at him for a moment. “Why did you stop by?”

“Huh?” Aiden frowned. “Oh!” He picked up a stuffed rabbit sitting on the desk. “Hayley asked me to get this. Apparently, she forgot it, and… I guess it’s Hope’s favourite.”

“Right,” she said, and then thought back a bit. “Hang on, where are Hayley and Hope?”

Aiden frowned. “They went to a safe house down on—didn’t you know? Davina used your blood to block magic from the safe house.”

Elena stared up at him for a moment, and then laughed, shaking her head. “God, sorry. I’m so behind. I’ve been wrapped up in…old, old drama.” She felt like there was more to the story, but kind of felt like an idiot, too, for being so out of the loop. “I’m sorry if I weirded you out,” she said. “I’m really out of it today. Can I offer you a drink?”

Aiden frowned. “I don’t know—“

“Yes, Aiden, do stay for a drink.” Klaus walked into the study, wiping paint off his hands with a rag.

“I’ll grab some bourbon,” she said, and stepped out to the nearest liquor cabinet. She grabbed a bottle that had already been opened, figuring they wouldn’t finish a whole bottle, and a case of glasses, rather than carry three in her hands and risk dropping one. She poured Aiden a glass first, and handed it off.

“Thanks,” he said, with a nervous grin, and then knocked it back. A second later, he winced. “What the…”

“What is it?” she asked, and sniffed the bottle. Drunken memories came flooding back. "Oh, shit," she said. "That's my blood supply."

Klaus frowned. "Your what?"

Elena grimaced. "I may have spiked that bottle with some of your blood for emergencies."

Klaus raised both his eyebrows. "And how—"

Elena wanted to laugh, but Klaus seemed sort of put out. "You gave me a glass of your blood at one point, but I only needed a few drops," she said. "And I just put it aside. Then, when I was drunk that night—"

"You realize that you drinking some of my blood and then getting drunk covers many, many nights, don't you?" Klaus asked.

Elena laughed. "Don't be judgey," she said. "I was drunk, and I decided having a store of your blood somewhere was probably a smart plan. Still is, sort of."

"And of course, you chose a bottle of bourbon as your hiding place." Klaus nodded. "Sound logic."

"Shut up," she said, and turned back to Aiden. "I'm sorry about that. We have actual liquor in the house, I swear." She turned back to the cabinet and grabbed an unopened bottle of bourbon, just to be safe, and poured out a few glasses. Aiden looked dubious, but took the glass anyway.

"Thanks," he said, and took a careful sip. “Yeah, this tastes more normal.”

Elena laughed. “I’m so sorry about that.” She poured a glass for Klaus, and then a glass for herself.

Klaus was looking at her with a strange expression.

“What?” she asked. “I told you, I was drunk.”

“I know,” he said. “And yet even your drunken idea was still a survival instinct.”

Elena did not want to go down that path, did not want to think about that, did not want to get bogged down in legacy while they had a guest. She shrugged, trying to look more careless than she felt. “What can I say?” she said with a giggle. “I’m a Petrova.”

She turned back to Aiden, taking a long drink from her glass, and then spun back to look at Klaus. “By the way, thanks for telling me that Hayley and Hope had moved out to a safe house.”

Klaus frowned. “You didn’t know?”

Elena rolled her eyes. “I was a bit distracted by, you know, all your problems,” she said, and Klaus laughed.

. . .

"Well?" said Freya, standing in front of a shrine to Mikael, as Elena walked up behind her. "What are you doing here?"

"I heard about your ultimatum," she said.

Freya turned, lips curled into a sneer. "I didn’t pose it to you," she said, and there's a layer of hurt behind all the resentment. "You are not my sibling, and I know where your loyalties lie. You would never betray Klaus."

"Actually, you don't know anything about my relationship with Klaus," said Elena.

Freya's mouth quirked up into a doubtful smirk. "Don't tell me your loyalties lie with Elijah."

"They did for a long time," said Elena, and now Freya raised an eyebrow. "They still do, to an extent, Freya- what do you think you know about my history with your family?"

"You've known them for a while," said Freya, "my brother is in love with you- but of course I'm sure your story goes so much deeper, doesn't it?”

You have no idea, she thought, while ignoring Freya's comment about Klaus. "I've tried to kill every single member of your family before," she said, and Freya blinked. "When I was seventeen, Elijah and I spent months allied to kill Klaus. We came seconds away from it— Elijah had his hand around Klaus's heart when Klaus told him that the rest of your siblings were alive, not dead and scattered in the oceans like Elijah had been led to believe.”

Freya frowned. “And why are you telling me this, Elena?” she asked. “It’s all well and good that you have a history of opposing my brother, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re firmly on his side now.”

“You’re right,” she said. “But I—I guess I just wanted to make sure you knew that I’m not just blindly loyal to him. If I thought he was in the wrong, I’d side against him.”

“But you don’t think he’s in the wrong,” said Freya. “And I do. I don’t see—“

“Klaus compelled my mother to commit suicide in front of me,” said Elena. “And he killed my aunt—my guardian—in front of me, just to spite me.”

“If you’re trying to convince me to trust him, you’re doing a terrible job of it.”

Elena blinked. “No, I’m not,” she said. “I don’t—I don’t really have a point, actually.”

Freya bared her teeth, just a little. “Then why are you here?”

Elena shrugged. “Because I like you?” she said, and Freya drew her eyebrows together. “I don’t know if I trust you, but I like you, and—I don’t want you to think I don’t feel for you, because I do.”

Freya didn’t speak for a long moment. Finally, she said: “That’s all well and good, Elena, but my father is still dead.”

“You’re right,” said Elena. “And I’m sorry.”

Freya didn’t reply. Then, “I had a feeling I would be seeing you.”

Elena turned around to see Elijah step out into the shadows. “I’ll wait outside,” she told him, and left the room.

Elijah came to meet her a few minutes later.

“Any luck?” she asked, falling into step with him.

Elijah shook his head. “As much as I sympathize with her, I cannot understand why she refuses to have sympathy for Klaus.” He sighed. “Or why Klaus refuses to have sympathy for her.”

“They’re too much alike,” she said, and Elijah nodded. “If this whole thing falls apart, that will be why.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Elijah. “And I’m sorry you didn’t have any luck.”

Elena bit her lip. “I do like her, a lot, but I don’t think she likes me that much. She might, if it weren’t for Klaus.”

“I think she is well-disposed towards you,” said Elijah. “Or was, at least. I don’t think she’s well-disposed towards any of us after Mikael’s death.”

“But that’s just it, right?” Elijah shot her a puzzled look. “She doesn’t know Klaus,” Elena said, trying to find the right words to express what she meant. “Or any of you, really. So while none of us were surprised when Klaus pulled out that stake, she…” Elena swallowed. “I don’t think she saw it coming at all.”

“Whereas to the rest of us, it was all to predictable,” Elijah said.

“And we don’t expect Klaus to explain himself, because he’s Klaus,” she said, and Elijah nodded along, on just the same wavelength as her. “And of all the terrible things he does, this is the one that he wouldn’t even need to explain to us. We all get it.”

Elijah lifted a hand. “But then Freya’s quite the same,” he said. “She resurrected Finn and has offered us no explanation. I expect she thinks it’s self-evident.”

“Which it would be, of course, if Finn hadn’t died in the process of trying to murder an infant.” Elena ran a hand through her hair. “Like I said, they’re too much alike.”

“Indeed,” said Elijah. He looked as though he were going to say more, but he trailed off, and Elena looked forward to see Klaus coming towards them.

“Your transparent attempts to therapize me have failed, brother,” he said.

Elena turned back to Elijah. “You called Cami?” she asks. “You didn’t expect him to appreciate that, did you?” She sighed, and rolled her eyes. “I’ll leave you two to it, then,” she said, walking forward. She paused next to Klaus. “Text me when you’re done yelling at each other,” she said to both of them, and then walked off.

. . .

She was drinking Merlot by herself in a bar when she got the call from—of all people—Jackson.

“Oh my god,” she said.

Jackson was growling into the phone. “You need to get your boyfriend to come back here,” he said, and Elena resisted the usual instinct to correct him. “He can’t just kill a member of my pack and then take off. And so help me god, Elena, if you try to defend him—“

Elena closed her eyes, feeling nauseous, and ran through every reason, every information, every—

She opened her eyes, and the world clicked into place. “I’ll take care of Klaus,” she said. “Bring Aiden’s body to the compound—and get someone to fetch his heart.”

She hung up before Jackson could question her, downed the rest of her drink, and slapped a twenty down on the table before striding out of the bar and onto the streets. The wind whipped against her cheeks as she walked, and she stormed into the compound.

Rebekah was there when she arrived, and she heard a commotion upstairs. “What—“ she asked, but Rebekah was already running up to Klaus’s studio.

She ran into the room right behind Rebekah, just to see Elijah's fist clenched around a dagger, buried in Klaus's heart.

Klaus's eyes met hers.

"Elena—" said Rebekah, but Elena was striding forward, she knew how to pull out daggers so well by now—

Elijah grabbed her shoulders, his hold tight and forceful— he had not manhandled her so since the day they'd met, in that house Rose had brought her to.

"Elijah, let go of me," she said. "This is ridiculous—" She tried to wrangle her way out of his grip, but she just succeeded in shifting so his hands were holding her forearms, tight enough to bruise. "Elijah, you're hurting me—"

"I'm sorry, Elena," he said.

She laughed. "You know this is ridiculous, right?" she said. "Why the hell would you go up against an ancient, all powerful witch without Klaus? Even we were never that stupid."

"Dahlia isn't Silas, Elena," Rebekah said.

Elena glared into Elijah's eyes, then relaxed her body, taking a step back with her arms raised. "Fine, be reckless," she said. "Hopefully you survive long enough for me to say 'I told you so.'"

She took another step back, but Elijah grabbed her wrist, and she gasped in pain. "Do you have any vervain in your system?" he asked.

Panic rose up in Elena like an icy wave. "Don't you dare—" She looked over at Klaus; blue veins were starting to crawl up his neck. Elijah grasped her chin in his hands and pulled her face towards his.

She tried to close her eyes, but he started to speak too soon. "You will not pull the dagger out of Niklaus' body," he said, and helpless to do anything else, she repeated "I will not pull the dagger out," and then her breath caught in her throat, and then he released her.

She slapped him across the face.

He put a hand to his cheek; she was sure it was force of habit, not because she'd caused him any pain.

"Elena—"

"How could you?" she asked, tears threatening to spill. "That's my mind, Elijah— I thought you respected me more than that." She saw a flicker of guilt in his eye, and all her cruellest urges sprung to the surface. "I guess you're still the monster I had nightmares about when I was seventeen," she said, and he flinched, and she knew she shouldn't but it was her mind, and he'd taken her choices away.

"Elena—"

"You didn't kill Tatia," she said, dangling the worst card she had to play in front of his face. "But her last thought before Esther killed her? Was of how terrified she was of you." She felt so awful when he exhaled like he'd been punched, but she was so mad, so hurt— "Maybe she was right to be."

"How could you—"

"How could I?" she said, raising her voice. "How could you? I’m not a puppet, Elijah!" She was breathing hard. "Do you remember that time you trapped me in a cavern underground and put a timer on my life?" she asked. "How you manipulated Rebekah over there into almost killing me? You wrote me a letter afterwards. You told me that you abhorred what you'd done, that you would carry your regret always and forever. And you know, I believed you, man of honour that you were supposed to be." She stared at him, and shook her head, the motion small. "Turns out it was a load of crap."

"You should leave, Elena," said Elijah, jaw tense.

"No, I live here," she said, raising both eyebrows, stepping closer to him. "I'm not going anywhere— unless, of course, you're going to compel me to go?" She took a step back, scoffing— she'd never really scoffed before, but she'd heard Katherine do it, she knew it would sound fine. "In fact, while you're at it, why don't you compel me to join Freya's side, huh? Why don't you just go into my mind and change my allegiances, right, because my agency doesn't matter to you?"

Elijah paused, staring at her. "Where is all this venom coming from, Elena?" he asked, his voice soft. "I don't understand."

She thought she was going to cry. "Because I was terrified of you for so long," she said. "I was a seventeen-year-old girl, and you held the lives of everyone I loved as leverage to convince me to sacrifice myself. And even after that, I wanted to badly to trust you, and I did trust you, and I moved past all of that because—" she broke off. "I shouldn't have said what I did about Tatia," she admitted, and then met his eyes. "But, Elijah— how could you do that to me?"

"Niklaus has gone off the rails, Elena," he said. "Killing that boy—"

"He didn't kill him."

Elijah stared at her. "Elena, surely you haven't deluded yourself into thinking that my brother wouldn't kill an innocent."

"I'm not saying he wouldn't, of course he would, I'm saying he didn't." She swallowed. "I know he didn't."

"ELENA!" came Jackson's voice, as if on cue. She ran out of the room, not even bothering to fit in one more glare at Elijah. "Elena, I got his heart like you said, now are you gonna tell me what—"

"Put it back in his chest," she commanded, and he looked at her with distrust and revulsion but did so. In seconds, Aiden's body started to heal, heart reattaching itself to other organs, chest closing up, and Jackson looked at her in total shock. Elena snatched a knife from the table next to her and strode over to them. She climbed up onto the table and pulled Aiden's head into her lap, and then Aiden's eyes opened and he took a desperate gasp.

He was pale, quivering, clearly in severe pain. Jackson strode towards her. "What the hell are you up to?" he asked, his voice barely more than a feral growl.

Elena ignored him, picking up the knife, raising it above Aiden's body.

"You—" Jackson growled, and ran at her.

She slashed open her wrist, and Jackson came to sudden stop. Horror was etched on his face; on Elijah's too, but Elijah's expression was of horrified realization.

She lowered her wrist to Aiden's mouth and pushed it down, hard, feeling so much like Klaus. "Come on, drink up," she said, her voice trying to be soothing but unable to lose a hard edge. She stroked his hair back from his face. "It's alright," she said, her voice tender.

Aiden moved slow, so slow, but she felt him gulp the blood filling up his mouth, and then his hands clutched her arm, pulling her wound closer, drinking with more hunger. His eyes closed, and then flew open, and they were bright gold. He pressed them tightly shut again, and then he began to convulse.

She pulled her arm away. "Shhh," she whispered, still stroking his hair, and then his eyes opened again, still bright gold, but with dark veins tracing down his face. "You're fine."

"What the—" Jackson said.

"He died with Nik's blood in his system," said Rebekah, sounding stunned.

Elena met Elijah's eyes. "Happy?" she asked, and then pushed Aiden off of her and slid off the side of the table. "You're welcome," she said to Jackson, in the most scathing voice she could muster up, and then she walked up to Elijah.

“You need to leave,” she told him.

Elijah looked at her with sad eyes. “Elena—“

“Get out!” she said. “Get out of this compound, get out of the quarter, and don’t come back. I don’t want to speak at you, I don’t want to look at you, I want you to leave. Now.”

Elijah shook his head.

Elena lifted the knife, still in her hand, up to her throat. “Go,” she said. “We both know I’ll do it.”

Elijah hesitated.

“Go,” she said again, and dug the tip of the knife into her throat. Elijah vanished, and she lowered the knife.

“What the bloody hell, Elena?” said Rebekah.

Elena ignored her. She marched back up to Aiden, who still had her blood on his face and looked lost. “Here's the deal,” she said. “You’re a hybrid now. There’s a good chance you’re sired to Klaus, but Hayley can fix that. It’ll hurt, but she has experience.” She abstained from commenting on how Hayley had only ever helped unsire hybrids so that Klaus would massacre them and help create an expression triangle. “Josh thinks you’re dead, so you should probably call him.”

“What the hell just happened?” asked Jackson. “And this doesn’t mean Klaus didn’t kill him.”

Elena rolled her eyes. "If Klaus were going to murder Aiden for treason, he would have made a show out of it. There would have been an audience, and Klaus would have accused him of treason and asked him how he plead and called it an execution. He would have made an example of Aiden. It wouldn't have been on some street corner with no one watching." Jackson still looked hostile, but Elena knew that he knew Elena was right. "That's what Klaus does, Jackson, that's who he is. I know who Klaus is. Apparently I'm the only one."

"That's not—"

Elena turned to face Rebekah. "Yes, Klaus is a terrible person. But you of all people should know he's a specific sort of terrible."

She turned around and marched upstairs, pulling out her phone and clicking on her contacts. “Katherine?” she said, once the heard her pick up. “Get back to the compound. We need to talk.”

 

Chapter Text

Elena did not want to stay in the compound with Klaus’s daggered body, but there was no way she was leaving it—she knew that the compound gave her power, that if she played her cards just right she could be the de facto mistress—queen— whatever of the place while Klaus was out of commission. She shut the doors to the study without looking in. She couldn’t bear seeing him like that, and she couldn’t allow herself the weakness that would come of it.

She ran through her options in her head, but it only took a few moments. It wasn’t like she could get anyone to undagger Klaus for her: Katherine wouldn’t help Klaus if hell froze over, or Davina, or Josh, and while there was a slight chance Aiden being sired to Klaus might—

She shook her head. She wouldn’t do that. She couldn’t—she could have, but she wouldn’t.

Cami—Elena had only met Cami a few times, but she might have been inclined to help—Elena didn’t have a number for her, though, and if she called up Davina she couldn’t have asked for it without explaining why. She’d think of a natural way to ask, but in the meantime, she had work to do.

Her phone went off, and she answered it before even checking Caller ID. “Hello?” she asked.

“What the hell, Elena?” said Josh’s voice.

She blinked. “Josh, hi,” she said, and then waited for Josh to keep talking.

“You turned Aiden into a hybrid?” he said. “What are you—“

Elena rolled her eyes. “I finished his transition into a hybrid,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Josh. “Again: what the hell?”

Elena sighed. She understood that Josh was freaking out; she could try and make the patience for it. “Aiden had Klaus’s blood in his system when Dahlia killed him—“

“Dahlia?” said Josh. “Don’t you mean Klaus?”

“No, I mean Dahlia. Dahlia killed him. Say what you want about Klaus, but he wouldn’t have been stupid enough to forget that Aiden had drank his blood.”

“And you couldn’t just tell Jackson all of this?” he asked. “You had to cut your own wrist and feed him your blood?”

“Yes, I did. Anyone else’s blood would have killed him.” She sighed. “Look, I know you must be scared and confused, but I’m really not—“

“Elena, until five minutes ago I thought my boyfriend was dead,” said Josh.

“Well, he’s not,” she said. “Mine’s lying in a coffin, though, so I’m going to let you go.” She hung up.

She had cleared everyone out of the house and was sitting at the head of the dining room table when Katherine got back. She was scoffing, curls bouncing in time with the click-clack of her heels, but she was still hurrying. “What is it?”

“Klaus has been daggered,” said Elena.

Shock registered on Katherine’s face, then a smirk that looked just a little forced. “Well, you can stay here while I grab the champagne,” she said, and Elena rolled her eyes, though she’d been expecting it.

“You might want to make some coffee instead, because we’ve got plans to make,” she said. “The Mikaelsons are in chaos, an evil witch is trying to kidnap a baby, I just created a hybrid out of said witch’s attempted murder victim, which means that doppelganger blood is about to get a lot more of her attention and we have no Originals to serve as insurance.”

Katherine sank into a chair. “So what, you screwed us over again?”

“Again, my last screw up brought you back to life, so ixnay on the judgment, please?” Elena ran a hand through her hair. “And we’re not screwed. We might be the opposite of screwed, if we plot this out well enough.”

“If we plot what out?” asked Katherine, sounding quite annoyed that she was asking in the first place.

“Killing Dahlia and stabilizing the Quarter, of course,” Elena replied.

Katherine blinked. “Naturally,” she said, and then rolled her eyes but leaned forward. “Fine, I’ll bite. What do you want to do?”

Elena shrugged. “Well, here’s the thing. If the whole hybrid thing actually does pique Dahlia’s interest, it wouldn’t be hard for her to do a little research and figure out who’s who, order of birth-wise.”

“And figure out that I’m the one she’d have to sacrifice first,” Katherine said, with more than a little bitterness.

Elena shrugged. “I mean, I did impersonate Tatia, so we may have thrown her off the trail there. But if she figures out Tatia’s not around, then yeah, she’ll be targeting you.”

Katherine sighed. “Do you have anything more profound than just dramatically stating the obvious?”

Elena shrugged. “Not really. Since, you know, it’s obvious that we have to switch places.”

Katherine paused, then looked at her, really looked at her, eyes traveling up and down Elena’s form. They looked so similar, to start with, but Elena had only lived without Katherine for seventeen years; she wondered what it was like for Katherine to roam unmirrored for five hundred years and then to find Elena, living out her own past, wearing her face and stealing her lovers and suffering her fate, like a fairy tale come to life, except being so wholly different from her, saying things Katherine would never say and doing things Katherine would never do. She wondered if Katherine felt like the swan in Swan Lake, watching helpless from the sidelines as a girl with her face took everything that had ever been meant to be hers.

She thought she might be able to understand why Katherine hated her so much.

Katherine stared at her for a long moment, and Elena sat still as stone as the minutes dragged on. Ages later, Katherine’s lips quirked up into a smirk. “You’ll never pass for me,” she said, just as she’d said in that diner, two years and a hundred lifetimes ago.

“You’ll never pass for me,” Elena replied, just the same, just right, and then smirked back.

. . .

“Okay,” said Elena, running her fingers through her hair. She’d always looked like Katherine, but looking in the mirror with her hair curled by Katherine and her makeup done by Katherine was something entirely different. “So, remember, you just exiled Elijah and are furious at him, so if you run—“

“Yes, yes, Elena, I’m not going to forgive Elijah while I’m dressed up like you,” said Katherine as she made a few finishing touched with a flat iron. “Oh, and by the way: thank you for getting past your Converse phase. Seriously, it means a lot.”

Elena rolled her eyes. “They’re comfortable, thank you very much.”

“So are sweatpants,” said Katherine, making a face. “I’ll text you when I find Dahlia. Unless, of course, she kidnaps and sacrifices me, in which case fuck you.”

“You’ll be fine,” said Elena. “Now off with you.”

Katherine rolled her eyes, unplugged the iron, and bounced out of the room. Elena stared at herself and sighed, then turned and followed her out.

The plan could go wrong in so many ways, but neither of them were amateurs, so Elena was pretty sure it wouldn’t. The mission, of course, was to figure out whether Dahlia knew who was who and knew that Katherine was the eldest; if she did know, then she’d probably be after them. If she decided to kidnap Katherine-as-Elena she wouldn’t kill her right away, and if she went after Elena-as-Katherine then Elena could reveal who she actually was and save some time. Hopefully, though, Dahlia would still be buying that Tatia was around, which would make everything a little safer for the both of them.

She didn’t really know what Katherine would do by herself in the compound, but she figured alcohol was a good bet, so she headed down to the wine rack and picked herself out a Bordeaux. She chose one of the more expensive-looking wine glasses the Mikaelsons had and poured herself a glass. She’d taken just one sip when her phone—Katherine’s phone—went off in her pocket.

She picked it up, decided on a greeting phase, then answered. “This better be good,” she said in a drawl.

“Is it true about Aiden?”

Elena paused. “Hm?” she said.

“That Elena turned him into a hybrid,” said Davina. “That’s what I’m hearing, but I can’t reach him or Josh.”

“And you’re asking me and not Elena because…?” said Elena, holding her wine glass the way Katherine would and shifting her weight to one leg.

“Katherine, please,” said Davina.

Elena sighed. “Yes, it’s true,” she said. “I didn’t see it happen, but that’s what Elena told me. Which again, begs the “why aren’t you asking Elena?” question.”

Davina was silent for a moment. “I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t—I don’t know if I should talk to her right now.”

“Why not?” asked Elena.

“I’m the one who made the dagger,” said Davina, the words spilling out. “The—you know about—“

“I know about Klaus, yeah,” she said. She tried to say ‘Klaus’ just the way Katherine said it, full of revulsion and disdain and suppressed fear, and thought she got it right.

“And look, I’m glad I did,” said Davina. “Klaus had to be put down, I’m not saying I regret it. But…I don’t want her to hate me for it, either.”

“You don’t need to be worrying yourself about that,” said Elena, walking the length of the room. “Haven’t you heard? Sweet, understanding little Elena Gilbert doesn’t hold grudges against her friends.”

She could hear Davina’s breathing over the phone line. “I,” she said, after a moment, “what I heard about Elijah—“

“That’s different,” said Elena. “He compelled her—look, if you’re worried that she’s going to hate you for making the dagger, don’t worry, she won’t.” She sighed. “Hey, Davina, I like you and all, but if you just called me to talk about Elijah then I am really not in the mood for it—not that I ever am—“

“Sorry,” said Davina.

Elena closed her eyes. “It’s fine,” she said. “Sorry. I’m having a bad day.”

“I’ll—hang on, that’s Cami calling. I gotta go,” said Davina. “I’ll call you later.” She hung up.

That had gone relatively well.

She sighed, taking another sip from her wine glass, and then turned around when she heard footsteps.

“What are you doing here?” asked Rebekah.

Elena raised her glass. “Drinking,” she said. “I’d offer you some, but if I remember correctly, your taste in wine is almost as awful as your taste in men.”

Rebekah rolled her eyes and picked up the bottle of wine, examining the label. “Allow me to rephrase that; why are you alone in the compound you hate, drinking wine directly below the room where my brother’s lifeless body rests? I’d have expected you do be out celebrating.”

Elena sighed. “Trust me, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”

Rebekah raised an eyebrow.

Elena grimaced. “Unfortunately for me, there’s a good chance Dahlia has doppelgangers on her mind, which means that until I know for sure that she’s not coming after me, I’m staying put.”

“And how exactly are you going to know for sure?” asked Rebekah.

Elena rolled her eyes. “Elena’s off playing at reconnaissance, or whatever.”

“And you’re just sitting here, trapped, drinking alone?” Rebekah smirked.

Elena held out her arms. “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”

“Whatever,” said Rebekah, turning around. “I’d hoped to catch Elena, but I suppose that will have to wait.” She walked out and left without so much as a goodbye.

Elena didn’t want to risk getting tipsy, so she had only a couple of sips of wine, though she held it all the same. She went up to Katherine’s room and searched until she found nail polish, then painted her nails the same pale pink she usually saw Katherine wear. Once they were dry, she headed back downstairs, and stood around in the dining room, taking the occasional sip from her glass.

She thought she was doing a pretty good job of being Katherine; she'd fooled Davina and Rebekah, and she didn't find the task particularly difficult— at least, until Elijah walked into the room.

She tilted her chin. "Elijah," she said, the exact same way she'd said it last time she'd been imitating Katherine. "I thought Elena had kicked you out."

"I was," he said. "Then Rebekah called and told me you were hiding out from my aunt with no protection."

She smirked, but made sure the smirk looked affected, made sure it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Watching out for little old me?" she asked. "I'm touched."

She knew she'd nailed it the second she'd said it; Katherine would turn up the… well, the Katherine-ing to cover up her hurt over her breakup with Elijah, but she had to make sure Elijah knew that was what Katherine was doing, and didn't think she was over what had happened.

Elijah shifted, seeming a little uncomfortable. "Yes, well, human doppelgangers do have a tendency to get in trouble—"

"Mmm, right," she said, taking a few steps in her painfully high heels. "And if I remember correctly, you and your brother have always been the reason for that, in my case." She met Elijah's gaze, putting on a look of fake innocence. "Oh no, wait. You were just keeping an eye on a poor little Bulgarian girl who was new to England, weren't you? So noble, Elijah. How will I ever repay you for that?"

Elijah's eyes narrowed. "How much have you been drinking?" he asked.

Elena laughed without humor. "Right, because the only reason I would ever have to be mad at you would be that I was drunk. It's not like I have any reason to be bitter or resentful towards you, you've never done wrong by me in your whole life."

Elijah stepped forward. "Katerina, if we need to have another conversation—"

Elena didn't want to have an important conversation in Katherine's place, and she didn't know what their previous conversations had consisted of, so she tried to backtrack. "We don't, Elijah--not right now, at least, maybe later. I'm sorry— no, you know what, I'm not sorry. I've got plenty of things that I should apologize for, but I have every right to be angry at you, so don't act like I'm being overdramatic."

"Katerina, I've always maintained that you have every right to hate me--"

"But I don't hate you," she said, and she saw with sudden clarity that this was getting far too personal, that there was only one way this could go. "That’s the whole problem, Elijah." She walked towards him, taking slow, measured steps. "I want to hate you, I've always wanted to hate you, but I can't." She stopped, inches away from him. "Because no matter how hard I try to, you always…"

She leaned forward and kissed him.

It shouldn't have worked; Elena was pretty sure Elijah was with some other vampire girl, and she expected him to push her off right away, or stay still for a moment and patiently wait. She didn't expect him to respond immediately, placing a hand on the side of her ribcage and deepening the kiss. She'd been too emotionless to really notice the last time, but Elijah was an excellent kisser; probably, technically speaking, the best she'd ever kissed. She was a pretty good kisser herself, and she did her best to kiss as Katherine. She should have felt guilty, but she didn't; she was still furious with Elijah, and she wasn't at all confused about why she'd kissed him.

Katherine’s phone beeped out her own text tone— Elena scrambled to get it and check it, pulling away from the kiss. All clear, it read.

"Thank god," she said, and wiped her lips.

Elijah looked lost.

"I'm Elena," she told him, and he blinked rapidly. "Katherine and I swapped to protect ourselves. Sorry about that— wasn't planning on a repeat of last time, I swear." She stepped backwards. "Not that I really feel like giving you advice, but this?" She gestured at the air between them. "You and Katherine really have to talk about it sometime."

"I thought—"

"Get over yourself, Elijah," said Elena, walking backwards. "You can't tell us apart if we don't want you to. We're way too good at it by now." She thought of Elijah's words, the first time she'd met him, in that creaky old house Rose had kidnapped her to. "And if you think you can beat us at our own game… you can't."

She saw a spark of recognition in his eyes, and tilted her head, challenging, self-assured, and then spun on her heel. She strode out the open doors and onto the streets of New Orleans, and called Katherine.

"I heard Elijah came over,” said Katherine. “Did he fall for it?"

"One hundred percent," said Elena, strolling down towards the cemetery, feeling kind of empowered and more than a little deadly. "Oh, and Katherine?"

"What?" she snapped.

"Just in case he's got you fooled— Elijah's definitely not over you," she said, and hung up.

 

Chapter Text

“Hey,” said Katherine, when she caught sight of Elena walking into the cemetery. “There you are, thank god.”

“What?” said Elena.

Katherine rolled her eyes. “Davina and Rebekah and… some other blonde girl are in the crypt. I told them I was just waiting for you.”

“Why are we meeting them in the crypt?” asked Elena.

Katherine sighed. “I found Dahlia, she seemed distracted, called me “you again” and then pulled a disappearing act. Then I ran into Davina, told her I wasn’t—you weren’t mad at her, and now here we are.”

Elena blinked.

Katherine sighed. “God, it’s not like you would have said no to her. Authenticity, right?”

“You really do like Davina, don’t you?” said Elena.

Katherine scowled, and walked off. Elena followed suit.

“Katherine,” said Davina when they went inside, and Elena smiled her best Katherine smile. “Thanks for stopping to help—“

“What the hell?” said Cami’s voice. Elena turned to her. She was pretty sure Katherine hadn’t met her yet. “Who are—“

“I’m the pretty one,” Elena quipped, and Katherine rolled her eyes and offered a dramatic sigh behind her.

“This is Katherine,” Davina offered.

Cami looked over at Katherine. “I didn’t know you had a twin,” she said. It wasn’t accusatory, but there was still shock in her voice, and somewhere in the back of Elena’s mind she pulled up a memory of knowing that Cami had a twin—used to have a twin. Cami frowned. “You are twin—“

“Would you believe I’m her evil doppelganger?” said Elena, and Rebekah stifled a laugh. Elena sighed. “But seriously, what am I here to help with?” She shot Katherine a look. “Elena conveniently failed to mention that part before roping me into something.”

“We need something to fool Dahlia with,” said Davina, looking back down at the book she’d been leafing through. “Something to imitate the baby, so that she can be lured into a trap.”

Rebekah sighed, walking over from where she was standing towards Davina, but stopped next to a table covered by a sheet. She paused and moved to peek under it.

“Don’t touch that!” Davina snapped.

Rebekah pulled the sheet full off the table, and Elena swallowed. There was some sort of… ritual set up on the table, with red and black candles and dead birds and a circle of something dark.

Rebekah covered her nose. “Ugh!”

“What is that?” said Elena.

“It’s a resurrection spell for Kol,” said Davina, and then shot a fake smile over at Rebekah. “Remember him? The brother you swore to save?”

“Kol?” asked Elena, and then her mind raced, trying to guess at whether or not Davina had told Katherine he’d been back for a while. She figured it was better to go with Katherine knowing more. “How does that work? Wouldn’t that just bring back the witch he was possessing?”

“Well, I’ll let you know once I figure it out,” said Davina.

“Wait,” said Rebekah, looking away from the set up and over to Davina. “When Kol was trying to get out of dying, he used representational magic. He tried to transfer the curse into a clay doll, a golem.” She turned around and looked through a bookshelf, then pulled out a doll and handed it to Davina. “Here.”

“You’re right,” said Davina, smiling. “If we can find a way to replicate the baby’s power source and transfer it into the doll? That’s our decoy.”

“Am I the only one who thinks that thing is really creepy?” asked Elena.

“No, you’re not,” said Cami, with a look of mild horror. She sighed. “I’m going to grab coffee. Any requests?”

“Yes,” said she and Katherine in unison, in the exact same tone. They frowned at each other.

“Actually, no,” said Katherine, after a moment. “I’d love to stay and help, Davina, but I can’t. I have—“ she shot a glare at Rebekah, “business to take care of.”

She turned around and made to leave the room, then looked back at Elena. “Coming?” she said.

Elena rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine.” She followed Katherine out of the building, and out of the cemetery.

“Where are we going, again?” she asked.

“Back to the compound,” said Katherine. “I have a better idea than—“ she gestured to her outfit, “all of this.”

“What?” asked Elena.

“We just wear the same outfit,” said Katherine.

Elena rolled her eyes. “Okay, that was my idea first, just a few days ago.”

“Fine, whatever.” Katherine rolled her eyes. “Oh, and by the way, little Gilbert called.”

Elena stopped for a moment, then hurried to catch up. “Wait, what? Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know, probably because it’s about to be Christmas and you haven’t talked to him in, like, two weeks?”

“Shit,” said Elena. “Christmas. I forgot.”

“Yeah, you’d better figure that out,” said Katherine.

. . .

They ended up wearing pretty simple outfits: jeans with black combat boots, long-sleeved white T-shirts, and hooded beige army jackets; among the only near-identical items they owned. It wasn’t just that their outfits were the same, though. The outfit didn’t fall into either of their distinctive styles; they could switch personalities like masks if they needed to.

“Alright, then,” said Katherine, running a hand through her hair, now in loose curls. “I’m off to bed.”

Elena turned and raised an eyebrow. It was midday; sunlight streamed through the windows. “Why?”

Katherine raised her eyebrows. “Hello? We’ve been up for, like, thirty hours, and I’d rather catch up on my sleep now than pass out when it matters. You should too, if you’re smart.”

She bounced out of the room, not looking back, and Elena sighed, looking back at her reflection. Time had slipped by, yes, but it was more than that; Elena hadn’t slept in her own bed in ages. It had become habit for her, curling up in Klaus’s bed, even when they didn’t have sex; for so many mornings now, she’d woken up to the steady warmth of his presence, looking at the paintings hanging on his walls. She spent plenty of other time in her room, showering or changing or reading, but she looked at her bed now and felt her stomach sink.

What the hell, she thought, and headed out of her room.

She’s been in Klaus’s room without him there, but he was always nearby, or on his way, or having just stepped out, and now his absence weighed on her mind like a wall had been stripped blank or all the paintings had disappeared. She kicked off her boots and pulled down the covers, and then sat on the bed, just sat there, staring around the room. She checked her phone without really looking at anything; a few minutes passed, and then she sighed and lay down on her side, hair over one shoulder. The pillow didn’t smell like him, of course, he had his linens washed or changed every day, but she let herself believe it did regardless.

She struggled to open her eyes when she felt someone’s hands shaking her awake, but when she did, there was Katherine, bent over her so low her hair touched the sheets. “Come on, Elena,” she said, her voice sharp and terse and hurried, and Elena sat up, blinking rapidly. She shot a look out the window, and saw that it was dark.

“What is it?” she asked.

Katherine swallowed. “It’s Klaus,” she said, and Elena felt cold and not in the least bit sleepy. “He’s gone.”

“Gone where?” asked Elena, though the words sounded silly. Gone and awake were two different things, though.

Katherine rolled her eyes. “From the damn coffin, Elena. His body isn’t there anymore. Rebekah thinks he managed to wake up.”

“Like Mikael did?” Katherine shot her a blank yet irritated look. “Never mind,” she said, mind and heart racing. She checked her phone, but there were no alerts. Had he known where she was? Had he decided not to see her? Was he—she swallowed, and felt the heated panic fade away. She knew how Klaus felt; she didn’t doubt it, or second guess it; and she would never have expected to be Klaus’s first stop when he was betrayed and angry, just as Klaus wouldn’t have been her first stop had the roles been reversed. Doubt was natural, maybe, but it was a waste of time and mental energy. “What—”

“Considering that he hasn’t showed his face anywhere, I’m gonna guess he’s plotting his revenge,” said Katherine. “Something I really don’t want to see.”

“So you want me to find him and talk him down from the edge?” asked Elena. She sighed, and pulled on her boots, still on the floor where she’d dumped them. “Why do you care? You’re not the one he wants revenge on.”

Katherine was more agitated than usual. “This is Klaus we’re talking about,” she said, and it was clear in her voice that she was trying very hard to sound nonchalant. “He wants revenge on everyone. And Elijah—”

So Elijah was in the compound?

Elena finished pulling up her boots, and got to her feet. “Well, he doesn’t want revenge on me,” she said, and called him. “I need to get out of here.”

She left the room, heading down the stairs and out of the compound as fast as she could. It was pouring rain, and she looked up—she’d been so distracted inside that the roaring thunder hadn’t even registered in her mind. She pulled up her hood and crossed the road, walking close to buildings to try and catch cover from their awnings, but she kept moving; she couldn’t be in the compound right now. Her call went to voicemail, and she frowned, and called again, stepping into a bar. When she reached voicemail again (she noticed that Klaus did not have a personalized message—a simple “the number you are calling is unavailable at the moment. Please leave a message after the tone,”) she decided that maybe he needed to hear her voice, and know that this wasn’t just his siblings tricking him into picking up.

“Klaus,” she said, “it’s Elena. I promise. I’m not with your siblings or Hayley or anyone, just please call me back, or at least pick up the phone. Please.”

The bartender had noticed her, so she stepped back out into the rain and walked along. She half-expected Klaus to call back, but she wasn’t surprised when he didn’t. That was fine—she’d just try to figure out where he was.

Even though Davina had made the dagger in the first place, there was no way she’d want an angry Klaus plotting revenge out of sight; since Klaus was awake, she would probably be willing to cast a locator spell. Elena pulled out her phone, searched through to Davina’s number—

And of course she’d lost service in the storm.

She took slow breaths, forcing down the frustration creeping up in her. Davina had been at the cemetery earlier that day, and it wasn’t a far walk. She’d start there and see if she could find her.

The storm was raging harder and harder as she walked, and it was right over the city; there was almost no time between flashes of lightning and thunderclaps. When she’d been a kid, her mother had sat with her during storms, telling her to count those seconds, that the more seconds there were the further away the storm was, that even if the lightning was bright and the thunder was deafening, she was still safe. She wasn’t safe now, but she’d committed to a course and she was going to follow through. Besides, the sooner she found Klaus, the less likely he’d be to do something awful.

She headed for the tomb full of Kol’s crap, but then heard something creak. She paused, and looked around for something the wind might have knocked over, but there was nothing in the direction of the sound, just the gates of a tomb. She frowned, and walked toward it, taking slow steps. It was alit from within; it looked like candlelight. She paused at the gate and tried to listen in; it sounded like there were voices, but she couldn’t make out whether they were real or just a trick of the wind.

Still, there was no way anyone who would hang out in a tomb at midnight would be someone she didn’t know. It could have been Dahlia, but then, Dahlia wasn’t an immediate danger.

If she was going to go in, she couldn’t be slow and hesitant; whoever it was would hear her. She had to be sure, and walk in with purpose.

She swallowed, then pushed open the gate and marched in, pulling down her hood and flipping her hair out so it fell down her back. She heard movement within but she kept walking along the short hall.

She turned the corner, and there was Klaus.

She felt a flutter in her stomach despite herself, and then realized that Dahlia was there, too. There was so much terribleness and chaos that could have meant, and yet the world seemed to crystallize around her, her mind hard and sharp and clear as a diamond. Klaus wouldn't ally with Dahlia. There were reasons for that— Klaus relegated everyone to either the ally or enemy camp, and it took a hell of a lot to make him shift someone from one designation to another, he knew Dahlia had framed him and he would still be mad about that, the Mikaelsons were way too codependent to ever fully turn on each other, Klaus would never trust anyone who loved his mother—but none of that mattered; it was a fact, and she knew it to be true. If Dahlia thought Klaus was her ally, then Elena had to use that, for her sake and for Katherine's, and the only way to do that was to make it clear to Dahlia that the doppelgangers were part of the package, to make it clear that Dahlia had no chance or hope of turning Klaus against them.

She burst into a short run, keeping her eyes trained on Klaus’s, though she was far more aware of Dahlia, in her peripheral vision. Of course she was glad to see him—more than glad—but she could not lose herself in emotions when there were plans to make and hierarchies to implement. She ran three short steps, and then she flung her arms around Klaus's neck and kissed his open mouth.

She shifted her weight backwards, knowing that Klaus would place his hand at the small of her back to hold her—he did, of course—knowing what a romantic portrait they would be, and knowing that it would not be lost on Dahlia.

She allowed herself to get lost in the kiss, just for a moment—she'd been so mad and so worried and god it was good to be touching him again—and then she pulled away, but only just. She pressed her forehead to his and breathed; it was somehow more intimate and more reassuring than the kiss itself, something that wasn't for a performance but just for them. After a moment, she made herself look over to Dahlia.

Katherine had seen her while impersonating her, earlier that day.

"You again," she said, and recognition (of the wrong doppelganger, of course) flared in her eyes. She looked back at Klaus right away, as though Dahlia was utterly uninteresting.

“When I call you,” she said, voice low, “pick up your fucking phone.”

Klaus blinked, still seeming dazed, and she stepped back. He didn’t seem all that stable on his feet—which made sense, given the daggering incident—he needed—

Dahlia was standing right there, and she never thought she would—but this was a power play for her and Klaus alike, and she couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this one, for her sake, for Katherine’s sake, and most of all for Klaus’s sake.

“Oh my god,” she said, running a hand through her curls, which were only a little damp, “you haven’t eaten since you woke up, have you?” Klaus gave her a somewhat suspicious look, but he could find her as dodgy as he wanted, that didn’t matter now. She swept her hair over her shoulder, again exposing the scar from his fangs, the scar she was sure would never go away. She didn’t say anything, and she didn’t have to; Klaus was not going to refuse blood, especially not when it was freely offered, and never when the blood in question was doppelganger blood.

He lowered his mouth to her neck, and bit in.

It wasn’t erotic at all, not this time. Elena forced herself to keep her face blank for Dahlia’s sake. It was painful; it had always been painful, but when it had been mixed with pleasure it had been good, even if it had upset her later. This pain wasn’t anywhere near the worst she’d had, but it was unpleasant all the same.

Klaus had always had control, though, even when he’d drained her at the sacrifice. That had hurt, too, but it had been like this; sharp at first, but fading into a dull, throbbing pain after a few moments. When Damon had bitten her when he was hallucinating from werewolf venom—when Stefan had bitten her because Klaus had made him turn it off—it was been so much more violent, so much less civil, she’d had her back pinned to one surface or other and she’d been held in place, in Stefan’s case he’d slammed her into the wall of the school—whereas now, she wasn’t being held in place, she could pull away or run if she wanted to and Klaus wouldn’t have stopped her. It still hurt—she didn’t like it—but it was fine.

Klaus drank for longer than she’d expected, but he drank in slow, small sips. She stood and bore it, stone faced, and then at last he did pull away, wiping a stray drop from his chin. He brushed his thumb over the wound on her neck, and it came away a little bloody. Elena felt a bit weak, but it was manageable. She did not feel nearly weak enough to ask for blood, and especially not in front of Dahlia.

She looked over to Dahlia, deliberately meeting her eyes. Dahlia’s expression was still somewhat inscrutable; there was mild fascination, like the first time they’d met, but Elena couldn’t tell whether it was amicable or hostile, whether she was surprised by Elena’s arrival or not.

She was glad she’d arrived before Klaus found another source of blood—and she hated that she was glad. She’d spent years feeling like Damon’s keeper, feeling responsible when he went off the rails, or like it was her responsibility to forgive him. Klaus was monstrous because that was who he was, and Elena could never change it, had never particularly wanted to change it, and yet she was worried that one day she would. She hadn’t forgiven Klaus for anything, either, and he knew that, but this was different. If Klaus were really on Dahlia’s side, Elena couldn’t stand by him; and yet there was a part of her she didn’t want to acknowledge that was all too aware of Klaus’s paranoia and was a bit afraid of what Klaus did when he felt betrayed. That wasn’t right; that was no way to live, to fear the one you loved, to—her mind raced ahead of her and she forced herself to lift her chin, to focus on the physical, to—this was no time to get caught up in ideas. There were tangible threats to deal with first.

She searched back through her mind, to the part of her life she liked to think on least: when she’d turned off her humanity. She called up the physical sensations, how she’d held her face, how she’d intoned her voice, positioned the part of her that girl right underneath her skin.

“So what have I missed?” she said, voice aloof, face blank, eyes dead.

 

Chapter Text

Elena hated this.

Klaus was being—well, horrible, but not uncharacteristically so—and while she usually would have yelled at him or stormed off, this whole Dahlia situation meant she had to stand there and seem utterly uninterested with everything. She knew she’d signed up for this, that it had been her idea, but it was also driving her crazy.

She knew this whole thing with Klaus was a fragile dance of no expectations and deliberate obliviousness, and she’d always known that that was a pretty unhealthy basis for a relationship—and that as good as she and Klaus were at acting functional together, they were walking a delicate tightrope over the cold horror of everything that lay between them, were standing on a bridge that was already on fire and just plainly ignoring it—but it was one thing to know that the way she knew all of her relationships were dysfunctional and would probably remain so forever, and another to be giving her tacit agreement to whatever terrible thing Klaus was going to do.

The only thing that she could rationalize about this was that this was a power play; that was something that she could understand. She walked through the crypt, keeping her face and form aloof, and ran her fingers along the stone table, flicked her finger through the flame of one of Dahlia’s candles, picked up a bundle of some flower or herb and gave it a dismissive look, just trying to be as tactile as possible, touching and picking up and moving around whatever she could, giving no respect to Dahlia’s own items or space.

Klaus was telling Dahlia about his plans to destroy his siblings—which was a regular Tuesday for Klaus, and wouldn’t have concerned Elena if it weren’t for the presence of Dahlia to encourage—but no, she was lying to herself again, always lying to herself; Klaus talked about destroying his siblings all the time and usually did mean it, and this time he knew his paranoia wasn’t just his usual delusions of persecution talking—and Elena was both mad at herself that she cared about Klaus hurting Elijah and mad at herself for wishing she didn’t care.

“So,” said Elena, taking her time with her words, choosing them just right, and saying them with disinterested sarcasm, “don’t get me wrong, this talk of retribution is poetic and all, but I guess I couldn’t make out the practical details. Such as: where are we going first?”

Klaus looked over at her. He was filled with rage, of course, and he didn’t look any less angry when he looked at her, but she met his gaze; she was here, and while he would have asked it of her he never could have expected it, and they both knew it.

After a moment, he smiled, that terrible smile he favored when he was so angry he saw the whole world filtered through only hatred and amusement; she knew it too well.

“Marcel,” he said, and Elena didn’t allow herself to react.

“Thank you,” she said, lips curling around the words. She picked up one of Dahlia’s candles, taking care not to let the flame touch anything else, and then realized who she was copying by touching all of someone else’s possessions.

Elijah, in her room in Mystic Falls, settling into her window seat and flipping through her diary and telling her, with cold amusement, that they were going to make deal about her death.

She blew out the candle in one sharp breath, and followed Klaus out into the storm. 

. . .

She didn’t enter Marcel’s living room until Klaus had knocked him out—she stood out with Dahlia, instead. Dahlia was watching her the way she always did—rapt with attention but ready to think about more important things at a moment’s notice—and Elena didn’t love feeling like she was under scrutiny, so set about pulling a Katherine and finding food to snack on as she waited. She wasn’t hungry at all, really, but eating was a thing to do, and so she walked into the kitchen and grabbed a muffin from a muffin tray—she wondered who it was who liked to bake. Probably Josh, she would have said usually, but then he was off with Aiden now—maybe Davina had come over recently.

Dahlia had followed her into the kitchen, though Elena didn’t know whether she’d walked or just pulled a witchy teleportation trick. She tore off a bit of the muffin and popped it in her mouth, then turned around to look at Dahlia.

“Can I help you?” she said, with as much attitude as she could. She kind of wished she had bubblegum to blow in her face.

Dahlia smiled. “I’m simply curious, darling.”

Elena made a face. “Can you be curious three feet away? I realize your family doesn’t have much of a concept of personal space, but it’s really not that hard.”

Dahlia just seemed charmed. “Is this what all doppelgangers are like?” she asked. “Switching allegiances so easily. Do you care?”

It sounded like something Finn would say, except Finn would have thrown it out like an accusation, whereas Dahlia just sounded curious, as though she was genuinely wondering whether doppelgangers possessed human emotions.

“Sure I do,” said Elena, and then took another bite from the muffin and pretended to think. “When it’s not too much effort, I mean.”

There was a loud thud upstairs that Elena would have bet money on being Marcel’s unconscious form. She brushed past Dahlia to head upstairs, still holding onto her muffin.

When she arrived in the doorway, Klaus was tying Marcel up, and Elena’s guilt hit her full force. She forced herself to walk over to where Klaus was standing.

“Oh, fun, torture,” she said, in the most apathetic voice she could muster, and then made a face, feeling like Katherine. “Yeah, I’m not sticking around for this part.”

She planted a kiss on his cheek for appearances’ sake and then hightailed it out of there.

. . .

She went to a café and grabbed a latte, because there was nowhere she could really go, now, knowing what Klaus was doing and who Klaus was hurting. Her phone rang, and because it was Katherine she answered it on instinct.

“Elena?” said Elijah’s voice, and Elena seriously debating hanging up on the spot. “Elena, are you safe?”

“Hi, Elijah, how are you, I’m so sorry you compelled me and robbed me of my free choice, I know you can never make it up to me but I hope you’re going to try,” she quipped. “I’m fine.”

Elijah was silent for a moment—she could just about hear his discomfort over the phone—but he soldiered on. “Elena, I know you want to find Niklaus, but please, come back to the compound. He isn’t safe—”

“Actually, I’m two steps ahead of you,” she said. “I found Klaus. And no, he didn’t tear my throat out. I’m not the one who conspired to put him in a coffin. I may be the only person in the city of New Orleans who didn’t conspire to put him in a coffin, actually.”

Elijah ignored her sarcasm, possibly because he didn’t know how to respond—Elena didn’t really know what to think, either. She wasn’t particularly inclined to sarcasm, unless she was imitating Katherine, and now here she was. She didn’t know if she liked this development or hated it.

“What is he planning?” asked Elijah.

“What do you think he’s planning, Elijah?” she asked. “Revenge, of course. ‘They have all forsaken me,’ and the like, except he’s way, way angrier than usual.”

“Are you with him now?” said Elijah.

Elena frowned. “No,” she said, and swallowed. “Look, he’s got some sort of plan, he’s not a wild animal let off a leash. He’s just—“ she swallowed, and remembered hearing him say that what he had planned for Hayley was far worse than death. “Warn Hayley,” she said. “I think he’s more mad at her than at any of you.”

“Elena—“

“Okay, I’ll warn her,” she said, and hung up on him.

She hesitated before pressing the call button next to Hayley’s number in her phone. She’d aligned herself pretty clearly with Klaus, which meant she’d aligned herself pretty clearly against Hayley—and yeah, Hayley running off with Hope was pretty stupid, not because she wasn’t right that Klaus would be kind of terrifying to coparent with but because Klaus was the most likely person in the world to save Hope from Dahlia—but Hayley didn’t play mind games and fake friends. You always knew where you stood with Hayley, and Elena thought she was doing alright.

Hayley picked up on the second ring. “Elena?” she said, her voice half a shout. “What—“

“Klaus is awake,” said Elena. “He’s awake, and he’s furious with you.”

She could just picture Hayley’s scowl. “Look, if you’re his little messenger—“

“He doesn’t even know I’m calling you.” Elena swallowed. “Hayley, he’s on a bigger revenge kick than he was that night he murdered all those hybrids with a sword. I don’t know what he has planned, but I know it’s something bad, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

“Appreciate the sentiment,” said Hayley. “Not loving the fact that you can say all that and still be on his side, though.”

Elena frowned. “Do you honestly think me getting in a fight with him now would be anything but a horrible idea for all of us?”

“No,” said Hayley, “but the fact that you’re saying that about the guy you play house with is really, really fucked up.”

Elena closed her eyes. “I know,” she said. “I’ll figure it out one day. Maybe. Look—please be careful. I know he isn’t going to kill you, but that’s literally it.”

“Thanks for the heads up,” said Hayley, and hung up the phone.

. . .

She arrived at the compound a few hours later and was greeted with total and utter chaos.

Marcel was dragging Rebekah upstairs and out of sight; Cami and Elijah were laying around, unconscious—at least, Elijah was unconscious and Elena sure hoped Cami was too, and not dead—and there was a smoldering corpse that Elena didn’t recognize, though she wasn’t sure if it was because she didn’t recognize the corpse or because of the whole smoldering thing.

“Oh, good, you’ve rejoined us,” said Klaus. There was something to his demeanor—Elena didn’t really know how to pin it down, but it had been there all day. It was as though every time Klaus saw her, his automatic instinct was revenge, and he had to remind himself over and over that he didn’t want revenge against her at all. She wondered if that was how Klaus’s brain worked, when he was in vengeance mode, if he just kind of came back down to his list of enemies and methodically doled out punishment, and she was still on that list of enemies because he hadn’t rewired his brain yet—and she was quite sure he wasn’t seeking revenge against her for anything, but there was still this hard edge to his voice. “Get in the car.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Out to the bayou, of course,” he said, and she held back a shudder at his grin.

. . .

Hayley had been smart enough to send someone off with Hope, but of course Klaus had decided to curse all the wolves, which meant that the kindly old lady had abandoned the car the second the transformation started. Klaus was taunting Hayley, calling her Queen, and just like that Elena couldn’t handle it anymore; she rounded on Klaus, just out of Dahlia’s hearing.

“Klaus—“

Klaus looked down on her, a smirk on his lips and terrible rage in his eyes. “Are you going to try and appeal to my humanity, sweetheart?”

Elena ignored the jab. “Look, I’m not—you have every right to be furious with Hayley. She fucked up, she fucked you over, I get it, okay?”

“Somehow I sense a ‘but’ coming,” said Klaus.

“Yes,” said Elena. “But you’re not the monstrous original hybrid anymore.”

“Am I not?” said Klaus. He sounded amused, and hurt, and terrible and angry and patronizing all in one.

“No, you’re not,” said Elena. “You are a father.”

Klaus’s smirk slid off his face; she didn’t think he’d been expecting that.

“You are Hope’s father,” Elena continued, trying to ignore the snapping of bones all around her, “and Hayley? Hayley is Hope’s mother. And it doesn’t matter how furious you are with her or how badly she wronged you, Hayley will always be Hope’s mother.” She was breathing hard, trying to get all of this out without drawing Dahlia’s suspicion, trying to communicate that she knew he wasn’t really on Dahlia’s side without saying it. “And it’s your—it’s your job to care more about what’s best for Hope than about revenge, or justice, or retribution, or any other grandiose, like, Shakespearian Original bullshit.”

She heard a growl in the background, and tried harder.

“Okay. Think about it like this. If—and I am not comparing you to Mikael in this metaphor, okay, don’t go to that place—if Esther had taken Hope and run, run from Dahlia and run from your father and just—just tried to run, I mean, would you have blamed her? It would have been a hell of a lot better parenting than handing over her kid. Hayley is just trying to do what she thinks is best for Hope—and that might have been a really dumb decision but she made it with Hope in mind. So please—please make this decision with Hope in mind too.”

She wasn’t sure that Hayley’s decision had been all that stupid, though, honestly—it had been tactically stupid, of course, but Hayley wasn’t approaching this as a strategist, she was approaching this as a mother, and of course all the people around her weren’t just figures on a chessboard but figures in Hope’s life—Elena didn’t know that she would have made the same choice, but she could see with sudden, blinding clarity why Hayley would have tried to take her daughter away from monsters this vengeful. If this were a court case, Hayley would totally have won custody.

But of course, this was supernatural war, and Klaus always won at that. And Elena felt stupid for even hoping he’d change his mind.

She headed back over to the van, feeling utterly defeated even though the wolves were still howling and Hayley was screaming bloody murder, and picked a crying Hope up out of the car seat.

“Hey, baby girl,” she said, and it was so hard to look at Hope and know she was losing her mother for who knew how long, but she did it anyway, and rocked her on her hip. “It’s all going to be okay.”

Chapter Text

Elena held on tight to Hope when Klaus and Dahlia eventually made their way over, but she did her best to look casual, like she wasn’t terrified the baby was going to be snatched up out of her arms by an evil witch. Come on, she thought, looking at Klaus. Whatever you have up your sleeve, now’s the time.

What he had in mind, it turned out, was linking himself to Dahlia—and then Elena knew what to do.

“And I guess that means you want to link yourself to me?” she asked, sounding bored. “Fine.”

Dahlia gave her an inquisitive look. “And why do I want to do that?”

Elena looked at her as though she were an idiot. “I’m reborn every five hundred years?” she said. “If—god forbid—something happened to Hope, she’d come back.” She put her hand over Klaus’s and tried not to grip too hard. Despite how horrified she was by him right now, this was a comfort still.

Seconds after the linking was complete, Klaus plunged the dagger into his heart, and he and Dahlia both collapsed onto the ground. Elena stayed upright.

It had been a risk, guessing at consequences when the magic was all tied together, but she’d been right. The magic was made to neutralize immortals; Elena wasn’t one, so it didn’t affect her.

Still clutching Hope, she launched herself over to the car, scrambling through the backseat until she found her phone. She heard a loud gasp behind her and spun around.

“Freya?” she asked. “Oh, wow. I forgot you were here.”

“What happened?” asked Freya. “What are—“ She caught sight of Dahlia and Klaus on the ground and paled.

“Klaus linked himself to Dahlia and then daggered himself,” said Elena. “Hang on—“

She so desperately didn’t want to do this, but she called Elijah.

“Elena,” said Elijah when he answered the phone. He sounded shocked and furious at the same time.

“I’m somewhere in the middle of the bayou,” Elena said. “A couple of hours north of you, near… Pearl River, I think. Get Katherine and get here. Hope is safe.”

She and Freya waited for the next two hours, mostly in silence, until Elijah rolled along. The sight of him set Elena’s stomach off; she was actually relieved at the sight of Katherine clambering out of the car.

“What just happened?” asked Katherine.

“It was all a plot, Klaus linked himself to Dahlia and then daggered himself to take her out for a bit,” she replied.

“After cursing Hayley?” asked Katherine. Elijah shot her a look. “Excuse me for listening,” she snapped at him, and then turned back to Elena. “He did curse her, right?”

“Yeah,” said Elena. “He did.”

A wave of nausea seemed to come over Elijah’s face, and Elena knew she had to get out of there before he blew up and she blew up right back.

"We're taking the car," said Elena, gesturing to Katherine. "Come on, grab the baby and buckle her in."

Katherine did as she said, but frowned. "Why?"

"My question exactly," said Elijah, who at least seemed distracted from his impending rant.

Elena turned to them. "Dahlia is linked to us," she said, and it was so obvious to her and should have been to them. "We're linked to Klaus. If we leave the city- let alone the state- it'll hurt us like hell, which means it will hurt her like hell, which means it might weaken her."

"Ugh," said Katherine, making a face. "Just because your modus operandi is self-mutilation doesn't mean I'm game for a plan that relies on us "hurting like hell," thank you very much."

Elena raised her eyebrows. "Boo hoo," she said, and Katherine rolled her eyes at her. "It's just pain. Suck it up."

Elijah frowned, and stepped forward, concern clear on his face. Elena shot him a glare. "I don't want to hear it," she said. "Don't try to reach me unless you have news about Dahlia."

"If Klaus daggering himself rendered Dahlia unconscious," Elijah mused, ignoring her rebuke, "why are the two of you still awake?"

"It's a matter of power imbalance," said Freya. "Klaus and Dahlia are linked, and Elena and Dahlia are linked - and Katherine and Elena are linked - but Elena is bound to Klaus. The laws of their bond rely of physical space, not physical state, and the binding magic only works one way."

Katherine scowled. "Let's just go," she said, hopping into the passenger seat. Elena swung herself up into the driver's seat and shut the door. She wanted to slam it, but she didn't want to scare Hope.

Elijah's brow creased. "Are you certain that Hope is safest with you?" he asked.

Elena offered an insincere smile. "Safer than she would be with you," she replied, doing up her seat belt. She turned the key in the ignition, shifted into drive, and took off.

Katherine looked very put out. "Do you even know where you're going?" she asked. "This car doesn't exactly have GPS."

"I drove down back in the summer," said Elena. "If I can get onto a main road, I'll know the way."

"And you're going to find your way off of all these dirt roads how, exactly?" said Katherine.

Elena clenched her jaw. "I'll figure it out," she said.

She'd been in the bayou before, but only ever really at night. She tried to remember the way they'd driven in today, and the way she'd driven into the city - she'd definitely taken the I-10 in through the bayou when she'd come down, and it had definitely run parallel to the lake. She drove vaguely west, eyes peeled for anything familiar.

It took her about ten minutes, but she eventually found her way. Soon enough they were on the interstate, driving smoothly along, and that was when Elena noticed it.

"God," said Katherine, at the same time Elena thought it. "My head is killing me."

"Mine too," said Elena, and Katherine turned sharply to look at her. "Just… out of nowhere."

"I guess it's starting, then," said Katherine, and she looked at Hope over her shoulder. She rubbed her temples. "Ugh, it's like a… milder version an aneurysm."

"Okay, there's no way it's an actual aneurysm," Elena said, glancing over at Katherine. "We're not vampires. That would be ridiculously dangerous."

Katherine scoffed. "I'm not saying it is one, you idiot, I'm saying it feels like one."

Elena tried to smirk, but the headache was really getting to her, now, growing and growing, so she kept her focus on the road. "Too much for you?" she asked, tone light.

Katherine laughed without humour. "Please. I've gone way further into desiccation than you ever have. I'll be fine."

"Save it until we hit the state line," said Elena.

The highway pulled out of the bayou and over the lake, and they drove like that for about ten minutes. Traffic was pretty minimal; then again, it was seven in the morning during holiday season. The curse, bond, whatever it was hurt, for sure, but it wasn't incapacitating by any means. Usually, if she were stuck in a car with Katherine, she would have turned on the radio to fill the air, but she didn't think either of them would have appreciated music right then.

They drove along the highway, the pain growing, and Elena clenched her jaw as they turned right along the highway and through some sort of wildlife preservation area. "We're about twenty minutes from the state line, I think," she said to Katherine. "You ready?"

Katherine rolled her eyes.

When they crossed the state line, Elena felt light for a fleeting second; the headache was completely gone, and her mind felt nearly blank. She almost slowed down from the relief, but kept her foot firmly on the gas--

"Fuck!" said Katherine.

The pain was sharp and searing and immediate in her stomach, and Elena gasped. She lifted her foot from the gas on instinct, and then pressed back down right away, clenching her teeth. It was like period cramps on crack, like clawed hands were twisting and ripping apart her intestines. The pain was as sharp as a knife, and it came out of nowhere; she was fine, and then she was not. It was familiar, too, like some long-lost memory, something from when she'd been a child. It became tolerable after a minute; it still hurt like crazy, but it was no longer excruciating once the initial shock of it wore off.

"Why does this feel so familiar?" asked Elena, keeping her voice as steady as she could so as to not disturb the baby.

"It's like childbirth," said Katherine, after a moment. "Before the pushing part."

Elena frowned. "I didn't think labor was all that bad until the pushing part," she said.

Katherine shot her a dark look. "Mine was," she said. "We didn't exactly have epidurals in 1490."

. . .

It was dark by the time they finally stopped driving—Katherine spotted a motel that didn’t look too sketchy, and Elena was more than ready to take a break from driving for longer than a five-minute gas station stop. They parked and got out of the car—at this distance from Klaus, Elena’s whole body ached as though she’d been run over by a train—and she unbuckled Hope from the car seat. They’d stopped at a few gas stations along the way to change and feed her, and by now Hope was fast asleep. Elena held her carefully, and Katherine gave them an odd, guarded look. She stripped off her jacket and Elena did hers all the way up—they didn’t even have to talk about it; they couldn’t walk in wearing the exact same outfit.

The woman working the desk looked taken aback when she saw them walk in, but not shocked—it wasn’t as though a regular human would see them and think anything but “twims.”

“Hi,” said Elena, smiling and walking forward—god, walking hurt. “We were hoping to get a room for the night?”

“Of course,” said the woman. “Are you going to be staying in town?”

“No, just driving through,” said Elena, looking down at Hope.

“Where’re y’all headed?” asked the woman.

“Atlanta.” Katherine and Elena spoke in unison, and Elena resisted the urge to look over at her—she hadn’t even realized it, but, of course, she’d chosen Atlanta because Katherine had chosen Atlanta, in 1864, when she’d needed a backstory.

Something dark came over the woman’s expression, and she looked down at Hope. “You aren’t taking that baby away—“

“No!” said Elena, and laughed, and made it sound realistic. “God, no. We’re going up to visit our parents. Nik’s getting a flight up tomorrow, but he had a work thing he couldn’t get out of.”

“Alright,” said the woman, looking a lot less suspicious. “What’s her name?”

“Miranda,” said Elena, and pressed a light kiss to Hope’s cheek.

They ended up in a room with a queen bed and a crib—thank god they had a crib, Elena hadn’t even thought about it (but she’d have to start thinking about it, at least until Hayley was—she felt ill from the very train of thought.) Hope was already sound asleep, and Elena flipped out the lights and crawled into the bed, Katherine right next to her.

“You can’t honestly be planning on sleeping,” Katherine said, and Elena shushed her, turning onto her side so she and Katherine were facing each other.

Katherine rolled her eyes. “If she didn’t wake up in the lobby, she’s not waking up now,” she said, but at least it was in a whisper.

“I’m not planning on sleeping,” said Elena. “But pacing around the room is just going to exhaust me even more. Besides, I don’t think I could sleep right now.”

Katherine, who was, of course, in just as much bodily pain as Elena, nodded in agreement.

“What’s our game plan for tomorrow?” asked Elena.

Katherine sighed. “I don’t know, Elena,” she said, sounding like she was going for classic Katherine snark but wasn’t at full energy at the moment. “I’m just along for the ride, remember?”

Elena closed her eyes for a moment. “Okay,” she said. “Fine. Thank you for coming, Katherine. Happy?”

“Not even a little,” replied Katherine, kicking her under the sheets. “But, I’m here now.”

. . .

They got a call from Elijah at around ten in the morning. Elena shuddered when she saw caller ID, and Katherine snatched the phone and hit speaker.

“What is it, Elijah?” she asked.

“Katerina, I presume?” asked Elijah, the mildest hint of amusement in his voice, and Katherine rolled her eyes.

“Duh,” she said.

“Are all of you—“

“I’m fine, Elena’s fine, baby’s fine, why are you calling?” said Katherine.

“It appears Dahlia’s magic is allowing her to melt through the dagger,” said Elijah. “Very slowly, of course—Freya thinks your distance is slowing her progress immensely, but progress is progress still.”

“So you want us to go further away?” asked Katherine.

“On the contrary, I’d like for you to return,” he said, and Katherine shot Elena a weird look. “Once Dahlia breaks through her slumber, she will be able to track Hope and therefore the two of you, and nobody will be there to protect you.”

Elena looked at Katherine, and knew that the both of them were desperate to say ‘I can protect myself,’ but that they both knew that wasn’t true, not now, not with Hope in the mix.

“We’ll get on the road,” said Katherine.

They stopped by the continental breakfast for coffee and pastries—well, one muffin for Elena, and four for Katherine—and Elena fed Hope (thankfully, the car they’d found Hope in had had a bottle,) and then they drove back down the way they’d come. They hit the labor pains again a few hours later, which weren’t quite as bad the second time but were still pretty awful, and then the migraines, which were just terrible, and then they reentered the bayou. Elena stayed on the main road, wishing desperately that Hayley was around in human form and not as a wolf, feeling horribly guilty that she had Hayley’s daughter in the car with her, but not letting herself even slow down.

“So,” said Katherine, and Elena could tell from her voice that she wasn’t going to be particularly nice. “You’re going to be a mother, now.”

“What?” asked Elena.

Katherine scoffed. “Come on, don’t tell me that isn’t exactly what you’re thinking. Hayley’s out of commission for god knows how long, maybe forever—“

“Don’t say that,” said Elena.

“—and you can’t honestly think that Klaus doesn’t fully expect you to take her place and be a perfect happy family with him.”

Elena swallowed, because of course Katherine was right, and of course it was the last thing Elena wanted to think about.

“I’m not going to be Hope’s mother,” said Elena. “That’s only ever going to be Hayley.”

“Says the adopted child,” said Katherine.

“Stop it,” said Elena, through gritted teeth. “That’s not the same and you know it.”

“Are you excited to have a baby?” said Katherine. “You always wanted to be human again so you could have a family, right? Don’t tell me you’re not looking forward to it at least a little.”

“Katherine, please, don’t do this,” said Elena. “Seriously—“

“Seriously,” Katherine imitated. “Is that supposed to make me feel—“

“Katherine, I can tell you’re jealous, and last time we fought over your jealousy I shoved the cure down your throat, so can we not do that again, please?”

Katherine paused for a moment. “You—“

“I know you,” said Elena. “You think you had your baby ripped away from you and now I’m having one handed to me, and it’s another example of something I stole from you, and all I do is steal, steal, steal your life like a folk story, and I get that you’re upset but I seriously can’t deal with this right now—“

“Pull over, Elena,” said Katherine suddenly, voice sharp.

“What—“

“Just do it!”

Elena pulled over, putting the car in park. She turned to Katherine. “What—?”

“You need to calm down, or you’re going to get us both killed,” said Katherine. “Your hands are shaking like crazy.”

“Oh,” said Elena, and closed her eyes, taking deep breaths.

“Speaking of crazy, why the hell are you freaking the fuck out?” asked Katherine. “I thought you were at least—“

“You don’t get it, do you?” asked Elena, and then ran her hands through her hair, resisting the urge to pull it out. “God, you never get it, you’re so hell-bent on blaming me for taking everything from you that you never even want to consider the fact that maybe you wouldn’t want it!”

Katherine almost snarled—if she’d still been a vampire, she would have shown her fangs. “I had my life stolen from me—“

“So did I!” Elena put her head down on the steering wheel and took a few, long breaths, and then sat back up. “Look, yes, of course I want to have a family someday. And yeah, of course I know that Klaus is going to expect me to step in as Hope’s mom, and if you could just see past yourself for one second, maybe you’d understand that that’s terrifying.”

“Because you’re ‘not ready’?” asked Katherine.

“Because Klaus is terrifying,” said Elena, and Katherine blinked.

“Is that so?” asked Katherine. “I thought you two were past that,” she said, and used air quotes for emphasis. “I thought you were so in love—“

“He’s still Klaus!” said Elena. “He still killed me, and Jenna, and so many people—you think I’ve forgotten what he did to your family? You think I’m not fully aware of who he is, now that he’s just turned the mother of his child into a wolf? Guess what that means for me, Katherine—I get to be the one on watch for betraying him. And if I want to leave, I can’t, because now I’m responsible for a baby, and if I wanted to take the baby and leave, I can’t, because I am all too aware of what happens to the people who betray Klaus, especially when those people are doppelgangers, so—“

“You want to leave Klaus?” said Katherine.

Elena stopped in the middle of her sentence. “No,” she said, and then: “Yes? No, I don’t—I don’t know what I want—I don’t want to leave—I just, I want to have a choice, I don’t want to be trapped and I don’t want to be scared and I don’t want every choice I make to have to keep in mind that I’m now responsible for a baby I didn’t ask for.” She swallowed, and it hurt. “And I feel guilty as hell because Hope is perfect, and she doesn’t have a mom, and of course I’m gonna take care of her but I don’t want to have to—“

She sat back in her seat, breathing deeply. “I need to get driving again,” she said, “and this isn’t helping.” She shifted back into drive, and pushed down on the gas.

A few minutes after they’d gotten back on the road, Katherine started to speak.

“I thought Klaus was going to marry me when I was younger,” she said, and Elena almost took her eyes off the road to look at her in shock. “A lot younger,” Katherine admitted. “When I first went to England, he was courting me. I thought we were going to be married. I thought I was going to have his children. I thought maybe, if I were married to a rich English nobleman, I could go back to Bulgaria and find—” Katherine paused for a moment, then took a deep breath and kept going. “And then he wanted to sacrifice me, and he murdered my whole family and hunted me down, and I didn’t see Nadia until five hundred years later, when I was the last person she’d want me to meet, and then she died, and then I died, and then I come back and guess what I find.”

“I’m sorry,” said Elena.

“I thought the man who fathered Nadia loved me, but he ditched me as soon as things got tough,” said Katherine. “I thought Klaus loved me, but he just wanted to drain me of my blood like a pretty little tool. I thought Elijah loved me, but he hunted me down for centuries even after he decided to side against Klaus, just to punish me for running from him. I thought Stefan and Damon loved me, but… well, you can see the pattern.”

They drove in silence for a minute, listening to Hope’s steady breathing, and Elena tried to imagine Katherine getting up and seeing Elena with a baby and Elena with Klaus and Katherine, who’d fought and fought and lost everything, seeing Elena, who she figured never fought and somehow got everything.

It wasn’t true, of course, but Elena could imagine it still.

“I’m going to make Klaus buy you an apartment,” said Elena.

“What?” said Katherine.

“You shouldn’t be living under his roof,” said Elena. “When all this is over, you can go find an apartment you want to live in and I’ll convince Klaus to pay for it. You can’t leave the city, but at least you can leave.”

Katherine didn’t say another word the whole ride down.

. . .

When they walked into the house, Freya was kneeling over Klaus’s body, stake in hand, and Elena lost it.

“Stop!” she cried out. Katherine took the baby from her in one swift motion and Elena ran over, falling to her knees at his side. “Freya, you can’t do this, please.” She looked past Hope and saw Marcel struggling, and then she reached out to grab Freya’s wrist and was thrown back. “Freya, you don’t have to do this, please,” she said. “There’s another way, you don’t have to—“

Klaus’s hand shot up to stop Freya, and he pushed himself to his feet.

He looked over to Elena and Katherine. “Put Hope upstairs,” he said, and they ran up, just before they heard Dahlia coming to.

They were only upstairs a few moments when something started to rustle—vines were growing out of the floorboards.

“What the hell?” said Katherine.

“It’s Dahlia,” said Elena, and then a vine wrapped around her waist and held her in place. “She wants—“

A vine pricked Hope’s hand, drawing blood, and then everything stopped. A second later, Klaus was there.

“I’m sorry,” said Katherine, which was so unexpected Elena almost forgot to be scared. She handed Hope over to Klaus. “I didn’t—“

“There was nothing either of you could have done,” said Klaus. “Unfortunately, I have no idea where that vile harpy has fled to.”

. . .

After Klaus dropped Hope off with Cami, Elena and Katherine followed him into the dining room, and froze.

“Ah, mother,” said Klaus. “I’ve arrived just in time for another of your deaths.”

Esther was sitting there, in her original body—wearing red lipstick, for some reason—and smiling serenely.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” asked Elena, and all the eyes in the room turned to her. “Seriously? Seriously?

“Elena,” said Esther, still looking perfectly pleasant. Her eyes travelled over a few inches. “Katerina, I presume, though I don’t believe I’ve ever had the pleasure.”

Katherine stepped back, angling herself slightly behind Klaus, though Elena didn’t think it was conscious on her part.

Elijah was there, of course. He met Elena’s eyes and she looked away.

“That’s new,” remarked Esther, because Esther was the worst.

Elena took a seat just as Elijah said, “You’re in excellent spirits,” practically growling. Esther looked over at her.

“You despise me so deeply, Elena,” said Esther, “and all I’ve ever done was wish to free the world of the monsters I created.”

“All you’ve ever done was ruin every doppelganger’s life from now until eternity,” said Elena. “And murder Tatia.”

Esther smiled. “Surely you’ve heard that it was Elijah’s doing?”

“I have Tatia’s memories of that night,” said Elena. “I remember her dying, and it was your blade that killed her, so don’t try that on me. And I’m not finished, either. All you ever did was sell away two of your children—”

“Two?” said Esther.

“Freya to Dahlia and Klaus to Mikael,” said Elena. “So look, I’m sorry if you feel like you haven’t done anything wrong, but from my perspective, all you do is ruin life after life after life.”

“You think your life is ruined, then?” asked Esther. “From what I know of you and my son, I’d say the opposite.”

“Your son killed me when I was seventeen,” said Elena. “Because of you. Every parent I’ve ever had is dead, and most of them because of him, because of you. I’m twenty years old and I live with monsters and killers, and I have been both of those things, because of you. If you hadn’t killed Tatia a thousand years ago, both Katherine and I could have had actual lives and loves and freedom. We’d both have had families. We’d have had a shot at being actually happy. But go ahead and tell me I’m beingoverdramatic.”

. . .

Elijah had told her not to follow them when they went to meet Dahlia, to which Elena had replied “oh, are you going to compel me, then?”, which had made Klaus laugh hard enough that he couldn’t then turn around and tell her not to come, so there she was, following the Mikaelsons and their mother along to the location Marcel had found through Davina. Elena didn’t want to think about what Davina would have to say to her; she felt horrible, once Rebekah had explained how they’d gotten Esther back, and if she hadn’t been too afraid of setting Klaus off she would have made a bigger scene of it. Katherine was at her side, which was sort of strange, seeing as Elena thought she’d feel safest next to Elijah, but then Klaus was furious at Elijah and not at Elena and there was no way Katherine wouldn’t be thinking about that very fact.

Right before they arrived, Klaus turned around. “You two,” he said, and Elena realized that she and Katherine were still wearing the same clothes, and that there was a fair chance Klaus didn't remember who was who—and then she realized that out of everyone here, Katherine was the person Klaus was the least angry with, barring Elena herself.

(Klaus was off the rails, and Elena was the only person in his life he wasn’t angry with—that felt like a hell of a lot of pressure.)

“Stay out of sight,” he said. “If Dahlia sees you, she could use you against me, and we can’t have that.” He was looking directly at her as he spoke—he did know which one she was, then. That was nice.

She stayed just out of sight with Katherine, resisting the urge to dash forward when she saw Freya on her knees—Katherine could clearly tell, because she yanked back on Elena’s arm—she stayed out of sight when Dahlia pulled out the stake, when she did god-knows-what with it and it appeared to evaporate into lightning—and then all of a sudden, Klaus was coughing and Rebekah was falling over and Elijah was already on the ground and she knew, she just knew, she was using the stake to kill all of them, they were breathing the white oak—

–Klaus couldn’t die. Not only could she not let Klaus die, but Stefan, Caroline, Damon, Josh, Aiden, now, Marcel—she couldn’t think about it. She had to look for solutions, for something to do—

Freya was the only Mikaelson not dying, but Freya was trapped in Dahlia’s circle—and there had to be some sort of boundary spell on it— if the circle could be broken, Freya might be able to do… something.

This would work so much better if Katherine were to catch on, but Elena coludn’t count on that.

She ran to Klaus’s side and fell to her knees, bringing her palm up to his lips. Klaus started to shake his head—of course him drinking her blood wouldn’t stop the white oak, she wasn’t an idiot—so she brought her hand closer.

“Trust me,” she whispered, low as she could.

Klaus looked at her for a moment, and then bit her palm, hard.

Blood rushed up through the wound; it was deep, but that was exactly what Elena needed. She dared a glance over at Dahlia, whose attention was all on Esther (who Elena refused to even look at), and Elena crawled over to the circle and slammed her hand down on it.

She met Freya’s eyes, which looked frantic, and Freya started mouthing a string of words Elena could not make out. Elena squeezed her hand, trying to make more blood gush out, but it was useless if Freya couldn’t finish the spell before Dahlia noticed—and Dahlia would notice any second.

A bloody hand hit the circle to her right, and Elena looked over to see Katherine kneeling next to her.

The circle broke seconds later, and Freya gasped, and Elena and Katherine were thrown back by the force of the magic. Dahlia’s head snapped towards them, but then Esther moved, suddenly, and it took Elena a moment to realize that Esther was wrapping her chains around Dahlia’s neck. Freya thrust her arm forward, and Elena felt Klaus’s hand—his smooth, not-at-all desiccated hand—grab her own.

He was going to live. They were all going to live.

“Elijah,” Esther whispered, and Elena looked over to see Elijah grab the knife. There was blood trickling down his chin; it had to be Katherine’s. Elijah tossed the blade in the air and Klaus caught it with the hand that wasn’t holding hers. He rushed forward, and then that was it. It was over.

She rose to her feet, and nearly fell, due to the exhaustion or the continual blood loss or both. Elijah grabbed her at the elbow, and Elena was too tired to snatch her arm away but not too tired to push herself off of Elijah and stumble into Rebekah, who let Elena lean against her and gave her a little blood. By the time Klaus had stepped back to where they were standing, she felt fine.

“I guess we’re officially orphans,” said Klaus, and Elena, who had spent the last five years being orphaned in every way imaginable, almost laughed at the relief in his voice.

Chapter Text

Elena slept in her own room that night—she was too drained for anything else, and Klaus had disappeared with Hope once they’d arrived back at the compound. She fell straight asleep and slept fifteen hours. When she woke up, she took the longest shower in maybe her whole life, and by the time she was ready to leave her room, it was evening again.

“Sweetheart,” said Klaus, when she came downstairs at last. He was holding Hope, which made for a distressingly sweet image. “Had a good sleep?”

“Yeah,” said Elena, and then paused. “Hang on.” She inhaled deeply through her nose. “Klaus… do you know how to change a diaper?”

“No,” he said, sounding hugely relieved, “no, and neither does Freya, Cami changed her this morning but we’ve been waiting—“

“How long has she been sitting in a diaper? That’s so unhealthy, Klaus, oh my god.” She reached out her arms. “Give her here.”

Thank you,” said Klaus, passing Hope over.

“Is all her changing stuff in the nursery?” Klaus nodded. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll deal with it—in the meantime, make me some coffee.”

“Yes, m’am,” Klaus said, and laughed.

“And then I’m going to teach you how to do this,” said Elena. “Because this is embarrassing.” She paused, and frowned. “Hang on, where’s Rebekah? Doesn’t she know how to change a diaper?”

“Rebekah left,” said Klaus, and Elena could hear the anger playing on the edges of his voice. “Freya put her back in her witch body.”

“Right,” said Elena. “She switched—right. I’ll go deal with Hope.”

Elena had done enough babysitting to be pretty much immune to the general grossness of changing a diaper. Clearly, Klaus didn’t feel the same way—he stayed downstairs the entire time. When she came back down, her coffee was ready.

“Biscotti, too?” she asked, examining the saucer he’d placed the mug on.

“You’ve had quite the ordeal, these past few days,” said Klaus, but she could tell that there was more to it than that.

“So do you want something, or are you apologizing for something?” The moment she said it, she wished she hadn’t. Without looking up at Klaus’s face, she asked: “Have you fed Hope?”

“This might come as a surprise, sweetheart, but I do actually know that children need to be fed,” he said.

Elena laughed. “I was just checking,” she said, and then passed Hope back to Klaus and sat down. She really needed the coffee. “So it’s almost time for dinner, isn’t it?” she asked. “What do you want to do?”

Klaus raised his eyebrows at her.

“I can’t cook,” she said. “I mean, I can make breakfast, but on principle I am a terrible cook.”

Klaus laughed. “I wasn’t going to–“

“Yes, you were, don’t lie,” she said, and then finished her coffee. “I’ll call that Italian place, they probably do orders for pick-up.”

“And who’s going to go pick it up?” Klaus asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Not me,” she said, and reached for Hope. Klaus handed her over, laughing. “Hey, what day is it, anyway?”

“December 22nd,” he answered, sounding puzzled.

“Oh, god,” she said.

Klaus frowned. “What’s wrong with that?”

“I have to call Jeremy,” she told him. “It’s almost Christmas. I keep forgetting.”

She hadn’t seen her brother in months and months, and she almost liked it that way, because if she didn’t see or talk to anyone from Mystic Falls, she could almost pretend that none of it was real, that she hadn’t left everyone behind over grief for a boy she’d dumped the second he’d come back to live, that she hadn’t lost so many people in that town that she couldn’t even think straight under the weight of the grief.

After a moment, Klaus spoke up. “Feel free to invite your brother down for the holidays,” he said.

Elena blinked. “Wait, seriously?”

“Why wouldn’t I be serious?” he asked.

Elena swallowed. “Wasn’t the last time you saw him the time–“

“–he killed Kol? Yes, but Kol’s come back and died all over since then, so it’s bygones, really.” Klaus brought his phone up to his ear, and it took a few seconds for her to realize he was ordering their dinner. “I’ll pop out and pick that up, then,” he said. “Back in a few.”

She went back up to her room, holding Hope all the while, and thought. Of course she wanted to spend Christmas with Jeremy, and of course she couldn’t go to Mystic Falls. She sighed, and picked up the phone.

“Hey,” she said, as soon as she heard him answer.

“Elena!” Jeremy sounded surprised – too surprised, and it made Elena feel bad that she hadn’t kept in better touch. “Hey, how are you?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m, I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch, things have been crazy–“

“Yeah, that’s what you said when I called you the other day,” said Jeremy.

“When–“ Katherine had mentioned Jeremy calling when they’d switched placed. “Right,” she said.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Elena. “Yeah, it is now, mostly.” She swallowed. “I wanted to talk to you about Christmas.”

“Yeah,” said Jeremy, sounding tired more than anything. “Bonnie said you can’t leave New Orleans?”

“I still can’t,” she told him. “But… I was wondering if you wanted to come here?”

“To Louisiana?” Jeremy sounded taken aback.

“Mmm-hmm.” Elena took a deep breath.

“I mean, yes, of course I wanna see you,” said Jeremy. “But don’t you… I mean, aren’t you staying with the Mikaelsons?”

Elena exhaled. “I am,” she admitted.

“You really think they wouldn’t kill me the second I walked in?”

“Klaus offered to let you stay, actually,” she told him.

“Do you guys, like, actually get along now?” he asked.

“You could say that,” she said.

Elena picked Jeremy up in her own car– the one she’d driven down from Virginia all those months ago– and got to the airport just as his plane landed. He texted her from baggage claim, and she sat and thought through what she had to tell him. What could she even say, really? By the way, I sleep with Klaus now? She’d entertained the idea of staying across the river, or even at a hotel, but there was no way she was leaving Hope alone with Mikaelsons for all of Jeremy’s visit.

But that made everything worse, now that she thought about it; Jeremy wasn’t just going to be seeing her with Klaus, he’d be seeing her with Klaus’s baby. And Klaus, being Klaus, would of course take things too far. She remembered Jeremy telling her about the time he drew the Hunter’s Mark for Klaus, how he’d complimented his lines and called him “Young Gilbert” and then threatened him in almost the same breath.

She heard a knock on her window, and looked out.

“Jer!” She jumped out of the car and wrapped him in a hug. He was bigger than she remembered; she didn't know whether that was because she’d lost weight (she’d hardly remembered to eat or drink, during the whole Dahlia debacle), or because Jeremy had grown (and he could have; god, he was only eighteen.) She held on tight, and tried not to cry; she’d been gone so long it had become almost easy to forget what she’d left.

“So,” she said, once Jeremy was in the passenger’s seat and his bags were in the trunk, “you hungry?”

“Are you kidding?” asked Jeremy, and Elena laughed.

She took him to Rousseau’s, even though she probably should have taken him somewhere they wouldn’t risk seeing anyone she knew, and sure enough, they’d only been there ten minutes before someone called her name.

“Elena?”

She spun around. “Josh! Hey!” If they had to run into anyone, Josh was probably her top choice. “This is my brother, Jeremy.”

“Family visit, huh?” Josh took a seat next to Jeremy. “Where’s Katherine?”

“She and Jeremy don’t exactly get along, either,” said Elena hurriedly. Jeremy narrowed his eyes at her, and then sighed his face going blank again.

Josh looked between the two of them. “Davina wasn’t kidding when she said you guys had history,”

“No, she wasn’t,” said Elena. “Do… you happen to know where Katherine is today?”

“I think she’s with Aiden,” said Josh. “Apartment hunting.”

“Of course she’s already found some poor guy to wrap around her finger,” said Jeremy, with enough bile in his voice to take Elena aback.

“Oh, no,” said Josh, who looked startled and a little uncomfortable. “Aiden’s my boyfriend, actually.”

“Like that would stop her,” said Jeremy.

Elena jumped in before the situation could escalate. “How is Aiden?” she asked, and then froze, remembering that the last time she’d talked to Aiden she’d turned him into a hybrid. “Oh my god, Josh, I didn’t–“

“He’s fine,” said Josh. “Good, or– I mean, not dead, so I say that’s good.”

“How is he holding up?” she asked. “With what happened in the bayou– I’m so sorry–”

“Not your fault,” said Josh. “Look, the way I see it, Aiden would be cursed or dead if we weren’t friends with Klaus’s girlfriend–“

“Klaus’s what?” Jeremy was so loud that people at other tables looked over.

Josh’s eyes went wide. “Did you and Klaus not DTR yet, or does he not know–“

“The latter,” said Elena, and took a deep breath. “I mean, both, but the latter.”

“Since when do you have a relationship with Klaus to define?” Jeremy was getting angrier and angrier, and Elena didn't even know what to do, how to diffuse the situation. “He killed Jenna, Elena? He tried to run me over– he killed you! And Tyler’s mom, and, and your birth mom!”

“It’s not like I’ve forgiven him,” she said. “And I’m not–“ she sighed, and turned to Josh. “I don’t want to be rude, but–“

“I’m, uh, actually meeting someone,” said Josh. “So I’m going to–“ He got up and walked off. Elena put her head in her hands.

“Are you going to explain any of this to me?” asked Jeremy. “And– what the hell, Elena, Katherine?”

Elena looked up and exhaled. “Katherine came back to life. Esther came back, and was getting up to some… I don’t know, you know what Esther’s like, she pulled some shit. She’s dead again now. Um, Klaus and I…” she trailed off, then looked at Jeremy, pleading. “Look, I haven’t forgiven him. We’re not all good. But… I got kidnapped, and then cursed, and then I was… I don’t know, things just sort of happened–“

“You’re hooking up with him,” Jeremy said, and for some reason he seemed a little more okay at the idea that it was just physical, even though it was weird as hell to hear her little brother commenting on her sex life.

Elena bit her lip. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“Yeah, I wish you had. Told me about any of this, actually.” Jeremy closed his eyes for a moment. “But it’s okay. We’re fine. I’m sorry I yelled.”

Their food arrived, the waitress looking a little worried about approaching them. Elena resolved to tip especially well.

“So, if you and Klaus are…” Jeremy swallowed. “Whatever. Do you think he’d let Alaric come and stay?”

Elena frowned. “Do you think Alaric would even want to come?”

“Well, his flight lands in a few hours, so I’d say yes–“

“Jer!” Elena laughed, despite herself. “What–“

“Hey, I didn’t know what I was walking into!” Jeremy held up his hands. “There are originals everywhere. I thought I might need backup.”

Elena sat back, laughing. “Okay, okay. Thanks for the lack of faith in me.”

“You have a knack for getting into life-threatening situations,” Jeremy told her.

Elena shook her head. “I’ll text Klaus,” she said. “We can go pick Ric up after lunch.”

. . .

Christmas turned out to be an exercise in pre-emptive damage control.

It was amazing to have Jeremy and Alaric around in the compound with her; to come downstairs to Alaric brewing coffee and Jeremy channel surfing, in the home she loved. She was still on edge about the Klaus of it all, but he wasn't around much on Christmas Eve; he had therapy, at her insistence, and was off to Cami's for however long. He did plant a kiss on her cheek before leaving, which got her two weird glances.

"I thought you two just slept together," Jeremy said, once Klaus was gone.

Elena felt herself go red. "Jeremy!"

"That Josh guy was right, huh? He is your boyfriend."

"Don't try getting her to admit it," said Katherine's voice from the stairs.

Elena rolled her eyes.

"Wow," said Katherine, walking down into the room. "The little ragtag family reunites. I really am getting déja vu." She brushed into the kitchen, grabbed a mug, and poured herself a cup of the coffee Alaric had made, then opened the fridge door and frowned. "Did you get more creamer?"

"If you want to develop a taste for hazelnut coffeemate after five hundred years of living without it, you can buy it yourself," said Elena.

Katherine wrinkled her nose. "We've always got milk stocked for you," she pointed out.

"That's because milk is a normal thing to have in your fridge," said Elena.

"Whatever." Katherine poured a generous amount of milk into her coffee. "Are you going to Marcel's shindig tonight?"

Elena sighed, and looked over to Alaric and Jeremy. "Probably not, but I hadn't brought it up yet," she replied.

Katherine shrugged. "You should make an appearance. Isn't that part of the job description for trophy girlfriend?"

"Oh my god, Katherine." Elena snatched the milk from her, and grabbed her own coffee mug.

Katherine laughed as she moved around the kitchen. "I'm off to brunch," she said, and then fake-gasped. "Don't watch The Polar Express without me!" she said in mock horror, and then disappeared back up to her room.

Jeremy frowned after her. "Is that normal?" he asked, and it took Elena a second to realize he was talking to her.

"Pretty much," she said, and took a sip of her coffee. It was a bit too hot; she winced as she swallowed it, and headed over to the fruit bowl.

"So, what's this party you're supposed to go to tonight?" asked Jeremy.

Elena rolled her eyes as she rinsed off the apple. "I'm not supposed to do anything, Jer," she said, and Jeremy laughed.

"Seriously, what is it?" he asked. "Who's Marcel?"

"He's the king of the vampire faction," she said, and took a bite of her apple. "God, that sounds like a bad novel. He's the leader of the vampire faction of the quarter, though."

"I thought that was Klaus's whole deal," said Alaric.

Elena picked up her coffee and sighed. "It was," she said. "He handed the reins back to Marcel a few days ago. Marcel ran the city for about a hundred years while Klaus was… gone."

"You mean, while Klaus was murdering the civilian population of Mystic Falls?" asked Jeremy.

Elena shot him a dark look. "Among other things," she said.

Jeremy sighed, and pushed himself up off the couch, walking over to her. "Seriously, what is the deal with the two of you?" he asked. "I don't get it."

Elena swallowed. "I don't know," she said. "It just… happened?"

"That's how it always goes, isn't it?" said Alaric.

Elena laughed. "Anyway, Marcel is having a Christmas party tonight, kind of a reestablishing his position sort of thing." Freya was taking care of Hope today, so she could actually go without having to worry. "I like Marcel a lot," she said, "and it would probably be fun, but I don't want to drag you guys to–"

"Let's do it," said Jeremy. "I want to see what this whole supernatural French Quarter thing is about. Let's go."

Elena looked to Alaric, who shrugged. "Sure," he said.

"Okay," said Elena. "I guess we're going to a party."

. . .

Elena was looking in the mirror, putting on earrings, when Klaus came back. "Ah, sweetheart," he said. "You've decided to come after all?"

She thought there was a pretty good chance Jeremy and Alaric could hear them through the walls. "Don't be weird or creepy tonight, okay?" she asked.

Klaus feigned offence. "Excuse me?"

"Come on, you know you can be kind of a creep," she said.

"I'm hurt," he said. "And if you're referring to–"

"–whatever speech or toast you're planning to make tonight? Yeah," she said, and turned to face him. "Don't do anything weird, or bring me into it or Hope into it. Please."

"All right, love," he said. He picked up the necklace she had lying out on the dresser, and she held her hair out of the way as he fastened it for her. "Your visit seems to be going well," he commented. "I'm glad you're enjoying my gift."

"See? That's what I mean. You're being creepy," she said. "I live here. It's Christmas. I appreciate that you invited my family into your home, but it's not some benevolent gift you're giving me, so don't act like it." She let down her hair and sighed. "And besides, you'd better be giving me an actual gift, so don't act like this is it."

"Very well, love," he said, wrapping an arm around her torso and pulling her closer to him. He placed a light kiss on her neck and she leaned back into him, just for a moment. She was wearing a blue dress, and Klaus was wearing a shirt in the same shade of blue, even though they hadn't discussed it; he must have seen her dress hanging in his closet earlier.

Typical, she thought. She stepped away to grab a pair of strappy silver heels from the shoe rack, and kneeled down to do them up. Klaus offered her a hand to help her stand and she accepted even though she didn’t need to.

. . .

Marcel’s party was pretty great; it took place at a venue not far from the compound, and even though Jeremy and Alaric weren’t on the guest list, they were ushered in with Elena and Klaus without even the need for compulsion. Elena figured she should start with introductions, rather than put them off. She spotted Marcel up on the balcony of the floor above, and made way for him.

“Elena,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Other than Rebekah, for obvious reasons, Elena was pretty sure she was Marcel’s favourite member of the Mikaelson clan. “How are you doing? You look lovely, of course.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I just wanted to introduce–”

“Your family, right?” Marcel grinned. “Josh mentioned your brother was in town.” He gave Alaric a quizzical look. “I don’t think he mentioned you, though.” It wasn’t rude, or menacing, or accusatory; Marcel was maybe the only person in the entire city capable of tact.

(Part of her mind went to Elijah, but she dismissed the thought right away.)

Alaric stepped forward and shook Marcel’s hand. “Alaric Saltzman,” he said. “I was their guardian– I’m still Jeremy’s, actually.”

“Yeah, except the part where you were dead for a year and a half,” said Jeremy with a grin.

“Pleasure to meet the both of you,” said Marcel, and then he turned his attention back to her. “Hey, have you talked to Elijah?”

“You’re kidding,” said Elena, voice flat.

Marcel laughed. “Right, right, you guys are on the outs,” he said. “Okay, forget I asked.”

Marcel couldn’t stand Elijah. If he was asking after him at the party, there was probably something going on.

“Is this about Hayley?” she asked.

Marcel frowned, and looked back at Jeremy and Alaric before returning his gaze to her. “Why don’t I get you a drink?” he said.

Elena nodded. “I’ll find you guys downstairs?” she said. Alaric nodded.

Marcel plucked two glasses of champagne from a passing server and handed one to her. “We’ve got rosé, too, if you–“

“–Marcel, what’s going on?” she asked.

Marcel looked around, and then sighed. “The full moon is Friday,” he said, and Elena’s stomach dropped. “Hayley’s going to be human. Elijah–“

“There’s no way Elijah’s getting Hope from Klaus, if that’s where you’re going with this,” she said.

“That’s what I told him,” said Marcel. “He wasn’t planning on asking.”

“Oh,” said Elena, and took a long sip from her drink.

“Look, if I take Klaus out Friday, I can try to keep him from the compound for the night. If you hand Hope over to–“

“I’ll take Hope to Hayley,” Elena said. “Klaus won’t be as pissed if he finds out. You can orchestrate running into Elijah while you’re out to alleviate suspicion.”

Marcel paused, and raised an eyebrow. “You serious?”

“Yeah,” said Elena. “Of course I’ll help.

Marcel gave her an appraising gaze; she couldn’t quite tell what he was thinking, but then he raised his glass to hers.

She went off to find Klaus, next; she’d been missing a little too long. She spotted Katherine across the dance floor, laughing as Aiden twirled her; Alaric was standing near the chocolate fountain, looking deep in conversation with Cami; Jeremy was grinning and talking to a girl Elena vaguely recognized as one of Marcel’s vampires, holding a drink.

Elena felt a hand at the small of her back, and turned to face Klaus.

“There you are,” he said, and extended his hand. Elena took it, letting him pull her in for a dance.

“Tell me you haven’t gotten up to anything terrible while I wasn’t watching,” she said, only half joking.

Klaus laughed and twirled her. “Nothing too dastardly, sweetheart. Promise.”

. . .

They got home a little before midnight, Elena laughing even as the alcohol was starting to wear off. They didn’t come home alone, though; in her buzzed state, she’d invited a fair number of people over for a nightcap. Klaus popped a bottle of champagne as Elena giggled over a truly terrible pun he made, and Freya fiddled with an old record player until some classic jazz was playing through the house.

“You,” Cami said, pointing a drunken finger over at Elena, “are gonna be so hungover tomorrow.”

“Like you won’t be?” Elena replied, laughing. She glanced over at a clock, which read 12: 04. “No! Wait! We’re going to be hungover today,” she announced. “Merry Christmas!” She raised her glass, shrieking with laughter when Josh drunkenly broke out with “You have to make eye contact when you cheers! You have to make eye contact or it’s seven years of bad sex!”

“Don’t you sing Auld Lang Syne when it becomes Christmas?” Freya asked.

“That’s New Year’s, honey,” Katherine said, a little too tipsy to sound properly patronizing.

Freya frowned. “It was Christmas in that movie,” she said, but didn’t press the point.

“Should we put out some food?” asked Elena, to no one in particular. “We should put out some food.” She walked over to the fridge, wavering a little on her heels.

“Aren’t you going to take those off?” Klaus asked.

Elena looked at him over her shoulder with a coy smile. “A lady never takes off her shoes,” she said, and Katherine cackled.

She had always been good at hosting, though, so she found some cheeses she’d had Klaus buy for Christmas Day and some nice serving knives, and laid everything out on a fancy cutting board the Mikaelsons had lying around. She carried it all over to kitchen island, smirking in Klaus’s directions.

“Oh my god, this is so good,” said Cami, going straight for the Brie.

“I want pizza,” Josh said.

“We aren’t ordering pizza,” Elena and Katherine said at the same time.

Josh looked between them and laughed. “Wow, that was trippy.”

Elena rolled her eyes and reached for a cheese she didn’t recognize. “Is this pasteurized?” she asked Klaus.

Klaus rolled his eyes. “Of course not,” he said. “What do you take me for?”

“Watch out, everyone, Klaus is involved with the illegal cheese black markets of New Orleans,” Cami said, which prompted another round of drunken laughter.

Jeremy and Alaric had both stepped out early in the gathering, but eventually everyone went off on their way. Elena sat up on a clean part of the counter, nursing her drink, while Freya spelled the mess away and then made her way off to bed.

By the time Elena and Klaus got up to Klaus’s room, Elena was already feeling a bit sobered up. She took off her shoes and slipped into a nightgown, and then fished her favourite brush out of Klaus’s medicine cabinet. She started to work her way through her hair, slow and sure, her hair looking incredibly dark against the pale blue silk.

She saw Klaus’s reflection in the mirror, and smiled at him, but stayed put until her hair was brushed through. Klaus watching her, his face inscrutable.

When Elena was finished, she put away the brush, making sure to stand on her toes to reach a high shelf. She slipped her fingers under the waist of her underwear and pulled them off, dropping them in the laundry hamper. She made a point of not putting on a fresh pair.

“Did you enjoy the party, sweetheart?” he asked, reaching out to sweep her hair behind her shoulder.

Elena smiled up at him. “Yeah,” she said, meaning it. “Why don’t we go out more often?”

“We could throw a party for New Year’s,” he mused, still playing with her hair. After a moment, he placed a gentle hand under her chin, and she rose up on her toes to meet his kiss, smiling against his lips. It was slow and warm, and she smiled against his lips.

They moved to the bed; she had her legs hooked around his torso before her back was fully against the mattress. Klaus’s hand brushed against her leg, then travelled up, pulling up the hem of her nightgown   until his thumb was at the base of her breast, and he leaned down. His mouth traveled down her stomach, warm against her skin, until he was kneeling at the foot of the bed with his head between her thighs. His breath was hot against her groin, and her muscles clenched despite her. It seemed to take forever before his mouth came anywhere near her, but when it did she bucked against him, the rest of her body cold but the juncture of her thighs so warm. She clenched her thighs around his head and gasped; she had one hand pulling at his hair and another clenched in the bedsheets, her nails digging into his scalp as he slid one, two fingers inside of her. She arched her back when her fingers started to move, sweat running down her back, trembling all over.

He pulled back, moments before she came; she dug her nails into his shoulder, wrapped her legs around him hungrily as he moved up. His fingers slid down the back of her leg before gripping the underside of her knee, and she whined under his touch, squirming below him, too desperate to even be embarrassed.

It only took moments for them to find their rhythm, they knew this dance so well; her eyes fluttered shut as she lay her head back on the pillows, breaths hitching in her throat, teeth sinking into her lip hard enough to draw blood.

 

Chapter Text

That Friday, once she was sure that Klaus had had a fair amount to drink, Elena got in the car. She made a point not to rush; if Klaus came home and she was acting like she had something to hide, he'd get suspicious for sure. She took her time buckling Hope into the car seat and drove over to Davina's, and went inside, car clearly parked in the driveway. She grabbed Marcel's keys from the kitchen table, walked out to his car across the street, and – quickly, this time – strapped Hope in, started the ignition, and drove off.

It was frightening to drive into the Bayou by herself in the middle of the night, just on principle, but she knew the monsters that lay in wait. She was headed for them, after all.

She drove for a good two hours before pulling up to her stop. She looked around before getting out of the car, but there seemed to be only humans mulling around, and she sighed in relief; no wolves to worry about. Someone shouted "hey!" when they caught sight of her car, and Elena shifted into park and pulled the keys out of the ignition. There were people coming towards her (not at super wolf speed, thankfully), but she didn't hesitate; she opened the doors to the backseat, unbuckled Hope, and held her on her hip. She locked the car out of habit, and then walked over to the group of wolves.

They all recognized her once she came into view; somebody swore. She recognized a lot of faces but no names, so she just kept walking forward, looking back a couple of times to make sure Klaus hadn't materialized after her.

"Hayley?" she called, once she was fairly far into the group of people. A low murmer ran through the crowd, and then she saw a familiar head of brown hair turning at the sound of her voice.

"Elena?" said Hayley, voice hostile. "What--"

She went dead silent. Then: "Oh my god."

Hayley was in front of her in a second, and Elena carefully shifted Hope off of her hip and into Hayley's arms. "Oh my god," said Hayley, this time sounding like her voice was stuck in her throat, "oh my god."

There wasn't really anything to say, so Elena stood by, feeling a little invasive listening to Hayley's choked up chorus of "hi, baby girl." Hope clearly hadn't forgotten her mother; she was reaching up for Hayley's face, touching her hair, gurgling happily. Elena had made sure to make Hope's nap extra late, so that she wouldn't be too tired for this.

"Hayley?" called Jackson's voice, sounding even huskier than usual. "What's going on?" He came around, and stopped when he saw Elena. His eyes travelled from her, to Hayley, to the baby in Hayley's arms, and then back to her.

"Elena?" he said.

Elena summoned up a weak smile. "Hey, Jackson."

Jackson's eyes were wide, and he looked down at Hope again. "You brought her--"

"We can't stay all the way to sunrise," said Elena. "Klaus is out with Marcel tonight, but… I don't want to know what would happen if he found out. And I don't know what time you guys turn back into wolves, so…"

Jackson's gaze turned sharp. "You're still with him?" The words were accusing.

"Would you rather I leave Klaus to take care of her all by himself?" she asked.

"Jack, don't," said Hayley, taking Elena by surprise. She didn't think Hayley had been paying any attention to the conversation at hand. Hayley met Elena's eyes. "How has she been?"

"Good," said Elena. "She's started trying to put everything she comes across in her mouth, so I locked away all of Klaus's art supplies, much to his horror." Elena swallowed, feeling horrifically guilty for having stories about Hope that Hope's mother wasn't there for, but knowing Hayley would want to hear them even if it hurt. "She also tried crawling a few weeks ago, but, so far, she's only figured out how to crawl backwards."

Hayley choked out a laugh that sounded like a sob. "I was worried she wasn't gonna remember me."

"She remembers you," said Elena. "She always reaches for my hair, and then gives me the judgiest little looks when she realizes it isn't attached to your head. She's got your sass, for sure."

"Mine or her Aunt Rebekah's," said Hayley.

"It's a powerful combination, for sure."

Elena stuck next to Jackson while Hayley walked around rocking Hope under the light of the moon, looking out over the river.

"Elena," said Jackson. "About Klaus."

Elena swallowed, bracing herself.

"Look, I've known girls who were in bad situations with bad guys, and Klaus is the worst guy. If you need to get out--"

"Jack, I really appreciate it, but it's okay," said Elena.

"It's not okay if you're not okay," said Jackson. "I know you're scared of him. That's not okay."

Elena took a deep breath. "There's a part of me that wants to believe that I'm different," she said. "That if he gets mad at me, we'll fight like a normal couple, maybe-- break up like a normal couple, that I'm some sort of exception. He's never really gotten mad at me, and we've hardly really fought, so technically, that part of me could be right." She wrapped her arms around herself, against the dull ache in her belly from being away from him and the breeze of the bayou.

"But I'm not stupid," she continued. "I've seen him angry. Look at what he did to you and Hayley -- Hayley's the mother of his child. Look at the way he treats Elijah and Rebekah -- he's loved them for a thousand years, and all he's done is hurt them and torment them if they so much as insult his pride. It doesn't matter what we are; I don't think he has it in him to not be vengeful."

"You're not alone, though," said Jackson. "You're friends with powerful people. Elijah, Davina, Marcel-- if you wanted to leave, you could get away. You'd have people to protect you."

Elena kept her eyes firmly on the water. "I don't want to leave."

"Why not?" asked Jackson.

Elena took a deep, shuddering breath, her eyes starting to burn. She knew her voice would get stuck in her throat if she tried to use it, and she shrugged. "Because I love him," she said, and then laughed, the sound choked in her throat. "I shouldn't, I… I don't want to, but I do."

She stayed there until early in the morning, but made it home long before Klaus got back.

. . . 

They did host that New Year’s party; Elena wore red silk and gold jewellery and feels like a queen on high. Klaus hired staff; he originally offered to compel them, but Elena insisted he hire proper catering staff, and that he tip them double the standard amount. Everyone who was invited showed up; Freya, of course, and then Marcel, Josh and Aiden, Cami, Davina (who Elena had to call to make it clear Klaus wouldn’t act up), Vincent, Katherine, of course, and whoever else they could think of who would make decent company without being a pain. They had endless champagne and delicious food, and Cami insisted on slightly more up-to-date music – it was still pretty traditional jazz while everyone was eating, but later it veered more towards Elena’s choices. She and the girls danced shamelessly when “Crazy In Love” came on, and she dragged Klaus out onto the floor when she heard the opening cords of “No Church In The Wild.”

“Sweetheart,” he said, laughing, “I don’t dance to this digitalized rubbish.”

“Okay, if you’re turning down a dance with me, you must be the doppelganger here,” said Elena, and he laid a hand on her waist as she drew nearer, “because the Klaus I know would never ever refuse that opportunity.”

“You do have a point, sweetheart,” he said.

She darted a glance around the room. “You know, Rebekah had a point, when she made our Decade Dance theme the twenties. We should throw a twenties party.”

Klaus laughed. “The majority of us were alive during the twenties, love.”

She rolled her eyes, and he twirled her. “A Gatsby-themed party, then,” she said, and let him lead as she came in close again, alcohol warm in her blood. “I don’t know. You can’t pretend it wouldn’t be fun. Or good for dramatic speeches.”

“I do not determine my social activities by the proclamations I want to make,” he said, and she laughed.

“Of course you do,” she told him. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Their hips swayed together to the music, her arms snaking around his neck, and she tossed her head back, just a little, so her hair spilled back far enough to brush his hand on her waist. He leaned in, planting a warm kiss against her exposed neck, and she grinned and leaned forward, so the curtain of her hair offered them just a bit of privacy. His lips trailed up the underside of her jaw to the sharp point of her cheekbone, and then his mouth met hers, and if they weren’t in a house full of vampires with supernatural hearing she’d have dragged him into a closet.

Instead, she kissed him, long and slow and promising more later, and then took his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. He grinned, then spun her out fast and pulled her back against him, his arms wrapped around hers, their fingers still locked together. She laughed in soft surprise, grinning as they swayed for a long moment, and then he twirled her back out.

She was laughing as she twirled, and so distracted she almost missed the sight of Elijah, slipping by in the shadows. She stopped dead in her tracks.

“Did you invite Elijah without telling me?” she demanded, her voice gentle so as to not attract extra attention. She felt Klaus still behind her.

“Certainly not,” he said, and then wrapped an arm around her waist. She could feel his breath on her hair. “I wouldn’t have expected him to come even if I had, though.”

She swallowed, jaw tensing. “Then what the hell is he doing here?” She stalked out of the party after where she saw him, heard Klaus’s footsteps following hers but didn’t look back, and ran up the stairs the way she saw him going. She felt a splinter as she slid her hand up the bannister, and winced but didn’t slow her pace.

“Elijah?” she said, walking into Klaus’s study, knowing he was sure to have heard the tapping of her heels by now. “Elijah, if you’re going to show up in my compound uninvited you can at least have the decency to show your face.”

“Your compound?” Elijah asked, and she turned to meet his steady gaze.

She lifted her chin. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” she asked, voice cutting. “I thought I made it clear that you weren’t to come back.”

Elijah didn’t step towards her, or make any movement at all. “Are you certain you’re in a position to ban me from my ancestral family home?”

“Ancestral implies it belonged to your ancestors, and not just your ancient immortal ass,” she retorted, crossing her arms. “And yeah, I am certain, and frankly I’m starting to think I should ask Klaus to sign the deed over to me so that the place isn’t running rampant with unwelcome vampires.”

She heard a creak in the floorboard, which meant Klaus was there; she appreciated that he made his presence known, since he could have stood in total silence and left her none the wiser.

Elijah’s eyes met a point over her shoulder. “Niklaus,” he said, voice curt.

“Elijah,” came Klaus’s reply. “Happy New Year’s Eve. I’d have extended you an invitation, if I knew you were so eager to be here, but then I don’t think my girl here would have taken well to that.”

She didn’t react to his voice, just kept her glare trained on Elijah. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” she repeated, steel in her words. They came out so forceful it hurt her throat.

Elijah gave her a considering look. “Katerina asked to meet,” he said, holding up his phone as though as evidence, and Elena felt betrayed even though Katherine owed her nothing.

“Not here, you idiot,” Katherine said, walking in the doorway. She shot a nervous glance behind Elena, and it took Elena a moment to register that it was meant for Klaus. Katherine’s jaw twitched, for a moment, and then she met Elena’s eyes.

Elena gave her a blank stare. “Did you invite Elijah in here?” she asked, voice even.

“No,” said Katherine. “I wanted Elijah to meet me at St. James Infirmary, but he decided to blaze on in here without a second thought.”

“Why are you meeting Elijah at eleven-thirty on New Year’s Eve?” Elena asked. “Because it had better be urgent.”

Katherine looked at her, then back at Elijah, and took a deep breath. “Tristan de Martel,” she said.

Both Elijah and Klaus’s breaths hitched in their throats. Elena looked between them.

“Who?” she asked, hating that she was the only one who didn’t know.

“Tristan de Martel,” said Klaus, with the grandiose tone he took on before a history lesson. “He was the first human Elijah ever sired. We were living in his father’s castle in France, at the time, having spent the past year and a half fleeing our father–”

“Look, I don’t know or care about learning a whole new chapter of the Mikaelson Saga of Family Dysfunction,” Katherine interrupted. “I just care that he’s apparently booked a flight to the city.”

“How would you know this?” Klaus asked, taking a step in her direction.

Katherine scowled at him. “I may have been dead for a year, but I still know people. They tell me things.”

“I wasn’t aware that you knew Tristan,” Elijah said.

“I had a run-in with the Strix in the eighteenth century, in France” Katherine replied, and Elena refused to ask what the Strix was. “Some of your… I don’t know, sirelings wanted to use me as bait to take down Klaus, because they knew I was being hunted. They gave up once they realized you’d all fled Spain, but not before I had the pleasure of meeting your little mini-me.”

“I don’t understand,” Elena said, hating that she had to admit this. “Why is Tristan coming to New Orleans such an alarm bell?” She turned to Klaus. “Does he want to kill you?”

“You know, I actually wasn’t all that worried about what it meant for the continued survival of your boyfriend, Elena, I was a little more wrapped up in what it meant for us.”

“What does it mean for you?” Elijah asked.

Katherine rolled her eyes. “Wherever Tristan goes, the Strix follows, and the Strix is obsessed with undermining Klaus. If they’ve god it into their heads that the doppelgangers are leverage, or a bargaining chip, or what have you… they’re just about impossible to stop.”

Elena stared at Katherine for a moment. “We’ve got another deadly enemy?” she asked. “It’s only been like a week since we dealt with the last one.”

Katherine shrugged. “I don’t know if we have a deadly enemy. That’s why I asked Elijah to meet me, discretely, instead of sending out the damn bat signal.”

Elena sighed. “Do you know when he’s arriving?”

Katherine looked over her shoulder at Elijah, then back to Elena. “Not for a few months,” she said. “Probably planning his move, or, I don’t know, waiting for openings at his favourite restaurant. Yet another reason why I wanted to be discreet.” She threw a glare in Elijah’s direction.

“Okay, fine,” said Elena. She ran a hand through her hair. “Fine, we can have a group debrief this week. But first, since we have a short break from facing imminent death, I want to enjoy my New Year’s Brunch tomorrow, and I want to enjoy my New Year’s Party tonight, and,” she turned back to Elijah, took a few steps towards him, “I want you to get the hell out of here.”

“Elena,” said Elijah, the word both patronizing and pleading.

“Should have thought twice before manhandling and compelling me,” Elena said. “Get. Out.”

Elijah stared at her a moment longer, than disappeared.

They all headed back to the party. She drank two more glasses of champagne, and danced with Klaus until the countdown to midnight, and then she pulled his face to hers for the first moment of the year and kissed him until the final chords of Auld Lang Syne had finished playing. She pushed Elijah from her mind and danced the rest of the night away, drunkenly slow dancing with Cami, joining forces with Josh to teach Davina how to grind, and even reached a point of inebriation where taking selfies with Katherine to see how identical they could render their expressions seemed like a good idea. Marcel twirled her around the dance floor, a better dancer than Klaus despite Klaus’s centuries of practice, and they even reached the point of the night where Elena had everyone rounded up around a table to race at taking shots of tequila (she won, of course). It was a near-perfect night, until she got a phone call from Stefan at four in the morning, once most of the guests had left but they still had music playing and bottles open.

She answered, laughing. “Stefan!” she said, wavering a bit as she walked to a place where she could hear him. “Happy New Year!”

“Elena,” said Stefan, and she could tell right off from his tone that there was something very, very wrong.

“Stefan, what’s going on?” she asked, and swallowed. Klaus must have been listening in, because he appeared at her side in a second.

“I’m so sorry,” Stefan said, and she bit her lip. “It’s Caroline’s mom. It’s Liz. She’s… the doctors have found a tumour, and they don’t think she’s going to make it.”

 

Chapter Text

Elena sat on the couch, a glass of bourbon in her hand, eyes fixed on the wall across from her. Klaus was beside her; he wasn’t touching her, which she was glad about, because right now the last thing she wanted was to be touched.

“Liz took us in,” was the first thing she managed to say. “Me and Jeremy, after our parents died, for those first few weeks, she basically adopted us.” She swallowed.

“Stefan said the doctors have given her at least a month,” said Klaus, and, that’s right, Klaus had caught the phone when she’d dropped it and spoken to Stefan. “You should go and say your goodbyes.”

“I can’t go alone,” Elena told him, and a few strange expressions she couldn’t quite place crossed his face before he understood.

“The curse,” he said, and she nodded. “Very well,” said Klaus, and rose to his feet. “I’ll finish up any pressing business as quickly as I’m able, and get us out on the next flight to Mystic Falls.”

“Thank you,” Elena said, the words an instinct, and then frowned. She blinked back tears. “Cancer,” she says. “We seriously don’t have a magic that can cure cancer yet? Freya, Davina – you don’t think there’s anyone who knows how to remove it?”

“I don’t know,” said Klaus. “I can ask. I have to admit, sweetheart, in all my centuries, cancer is a villain I’ve had very little exposure to.”

She went to bed feeling hollowed out. She wasn’t asleep by the time Klaus slid in under the covers next to her, but she didn’t move, and he let her have her space. When she woke up, she had an awful hangover, but couldn’t let it get in the way; she threw on a pair of sunglasses, moisturized, drank water and coffee, and then called Caroline.

Caroline didn’t answer. Elena hoped it meant that she was still sleeping off a great New Year’s, but thought she was probably sleeping off a night of crying. She swallowed when the recording asked her to leave a message.

“Hey, Care,” she settled on saying. “I heard the news. I’ll be in Mystic Falls in a few days. If… if you don’t want to talk, that’s fine, but if you ever do I’m here. I’m so sorry. I love you.”

Klaus was paused at the doorway. When she hung up, he told her that they had tickets to go to Mystic Falls in three days.

Nothing had much changed, but she felt somewhat better. They went to brunch the next morning as though everything was fine, even though it wasn’t at all.

When they flew to Virginia, they brought Hope with them – after all, there was no Hayley around to object, or a full moon that they were going to miss, and frankly no one was going to question Elena as much if she was going to be holding a baby the whole time. She went to Caroline’s alone, first thing; Stefan opened the door and then Caroline ran right into her outstretched arms, and it was clear she hadn’t stopped crying since the news broke.

In some ways, Elena felt lucky that she didn’t have time to stew before the people she loved died. She couldn’t imagine this waiting, this prolonged dying; it was hard enough to handle with Liz going through it, and Liz wasn’t even in her family.

Klaus stayed out of the way with Hope, even when Elena extended an uncertain invitation for him to come to the hospital. “I’ll make an appearance at the funeral, love,” he said. “Until then, I think the most considerate course of action for me to take is keeping out of sight.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Part of her enjoyed being back in Mystic Falls, catching up with her friends, being home, but most of her was seized by the desire to run far and fast until she was miles from the town border. There was something insidious about Mystic Falls, she thought, something terribly wrong, and it seemed to steal into cracks in her brain and spaces between her bones, and she was scared if she stayed too long it wouldn’t let her leave again and she’d choke on it until it drowned her.

When it was time to go, she got to the airport an hour earlier than Klaus said they really had to, and she felt like a weight was being lifted as she watched Virginia get smaller and smaller from the plane window. She felt cleansed with relief.

She only had a day to recover from the trip home, though, because, as was par for the course in her life, the next night, she had to attend a group debrief regarding the latest and greatest threat to their lives. If this had to be her life, though, she did prefer the way group meetings went down in the French Quarter over the way they’d happened in Mystic Falls; at least this way, there was usually fine dining involved.

Elena made a point of sitting at the head of the table when they arrived at the restaurant - an old French bistro, across the river, on neutral ground - and ordering a drink the second she sat down. There was a power in seeming at perfect ease, and, considering that Elijah was coming to this family meeting, it was a power she intended to exercise for all it was worth.

(It might have been a power she'd learned from him, once upon a time, but that was irrelevant now.)

She did not stand for Elijah's arrival, even though to her right Freya rose and hugged him. She took a sip from her glass, and then arched an eyebrow at him until he took his seat.

"Elena," he said, and nodded at her.

"Elijah," she returned, and pursed her lips, staring him down a moment longer before returning her attention to Klaus, who was seated at the other head of the table.

Katherine arrived a moment later, and, given the choice between sitting next to Elena and sitting next to Klaus, took the spot to Elena's left. "God, you people are punctual," she said, and then reached over and took a gulp of Elena's wine. "Am I the last one here?"

"Not quite," Elena said.

Katherine narrowed her eyes. "Rebekah left town, Hayley's in the, er, canine way... is there a member of the Mikaelson family plus doppelgangers club I'm forgetting about?"

"There is, actually," said Elena, and looked up to see Marcel entering the restaurant.

"Marcellus," Elijah said, as Marcel approached the table. "I wasn't aware you would be joining us today."

Marcel took the seat to Klaus's right, straightening the blue tie Elena had gotten him for Christmas. "Elena told me that I now have an open invitation to family meetings," he said, and then gave a significant look to the glass in Elena's hand. "Oh, is that a Bordeaux? Let's get a bottle."

"Did she, now?" Elijah asked.

"Executive decision," Elena replied smoothly, lifting her chin and leaning forward so her curled hair spilled over her shoulders.

Elijah raised an eyebrow. "And since when do you make executive decisions for the family?" he asked.

"Since I started changing Hope's diapers," she replied. She held his gaze until he looked away, and then leaned back and raised her glass. "We'll actually have a bottle for the table, please," she told the waiter.

“The issue we’ve gathered to discuss,” Klaus said, and Elena turned her attention back toward him, “is the apparent arrival of Tristan de Martel, who, for those who aren’t versed in certain chapters of family history, is the first of Elijah’s long line of insufferable progeny.”

“Insufferable?” Marcel quipped. “Can’t imagine where they get that from.”

Elena didn’t hide her laugh at that.

The bottle arrived then, and there was a moment of silent tension before Klaus caught the waiter’s eye to taste the wine. Elijah would usually take that responsibility, Elena knew, and she was tempted to look over at him to assess his reaction, but resisted the urge.

Klaus tasted the wine, approved it to the waiter, and then, once they were alone, continued. “According to Katerina’s as yet-unnamed sources, Tristan is scheduled to arrive in our city in roughly six weeks time.”

“Is the punch line that he’s coming here to kill you?” Marcel asked. “’Cause the way I see it, that’s the only reason some immortal ass visiting his sire calls for a family meeting. Not that I’m not glad to be invited, of course,” he added, and raised his glass in Elena’s direction with a nod.

“Tristan’s a pain in the ass, but he’s not the real problem,” Katherine said, and leaned forward. “The problem is that he has this secret organization called the Strix, and he never goes anywhere without them, and so in two months’ time the city’s going to be overrun with a group of really old, really dangerous vampires, and we need to be prepared.”

“I like the initiative you’re showing there, Katerina,” Klaus said, and Katherine shirked away from his glance as always. “Very moving, your concern for my city. Of course, I’d be far more touched if you’d divulge the source of your information rather than calling on us all to make arrangements based on your untrustworthy word.”

“I’m protecting my source,” Katherine replied. “My information is good. I promise.”

“And, historically speaking, your promises are worth so much,” said Klaus. There was a cruel grin playing at the edge of his lips, and Elena felt her heart speed up against her will.

“I trust her on this,” she said, voice more assertive than usual. “So let’s get back to the problem.”

By the end of the dinner, nothing much had been decided, except that they couldn’t go ahead and kill the entirety of the Strix, they did have to come up with a contingency plan if they went after the doppelgangers, and that no one was in the mood to be cooperative. They set a plan for a brunch that weekend, and Elena and Klaus stayed behind as, one by one, everyone filtered out and back to their respective abodes.

When it was just the two of them left, Klaus drained his glass and stood. “Care to move up to the bar?” he asked.

They ended up at a small table in the lounge section, next to each other on a couch, Elena’s legs hooked over Klaus’s. He was drinking bourbon, and she was nursing a cosmopolitan.

“So, sweetheart,” he said, a few minutes after they’d taken their seats. “I wanted to ask you something about dinner.”

“Mmm-hmm?” Elena asked, and tried to keep her breathing steady; she had a feeling she knew where this was going.

“Do you know who Katerina’s source is?” he asked.

Elena shook her head. “I don’t,” she said, honestly.

He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. “You’re sure? You’re not hiding anything from me?”

Elena sighed. “Klaus, I have no idea who her source is.”

“Your heartbeat sped up as I was asking her,” Klaus said, and it was clear he had no intention of letting this go.

Elena knocked back her drink. “You mean accusing her?” she asked, and Klaus blinked. “I don’t know who her source is, but I trust that she’s telling the truth, and I trust that she’s not telling us where she got her information for a good reason.”

“Do you?” Klaus asked, quirking up an eyebrow. “Because, love, I’d say I trust Katerina as far as I can throw her, but you and I both know that I could throw her quite some distance.”

Elena bristled. “Don’t,” she said.

There was a flicker of annoyance in Klaus’s eyes. “It’s an expression, sweetheart.”

“It’s a threat,” Elena said, voice forceful so it didn’t shake.

“Yes, perhaps, but not against you,” Klaus told her. The words came out quickly, and with an undertone of frustration that made Elena’s skin itch.

“If you’re imagining hurting Katherine, you’re imagining hurting me,” Elena said, and she couldn’t quite keep a tremble out of her voice. “We look the same. Her body is my body. Terrible things have been done to me because people wanted to do them to her and couldn’t.” She left out what might have been the most obvious example – the sacrifice – but the thought passed between them, unspoken.

“I’m quite aware you aren’t Katerina, sweetheart, even if you’re still insecure about it,” Klaus told her, sounding bored. “In all honesty, though, I thought you’d overcome that particular foolishness–“

Elena snatched her legs off his lap. “Excuse me?” she asked.

Klaus sighed. “I didn’t mean to insult you, love,” he said.

“That’s exactly what you meant to do,” she replied, and she stood, wavering on her feet a little.

“You’re going to storm off?” Klaus said, with a cruel edge to his voice. “Love, be reasonable.”

“I’m going to the bathroom, Klaus,” she said, looking him in the eye. “And you’re going to hope that by the time I get back, it’s not to throw a drink in your face.”

She strutted off to the bathroom, hips swaying, and thanked the powers that be that there was no line. She sat on the toilet, head in her hands, taking heavy breaths. She was tipsy, sure, but she wasn’t drunk, wasn’t overreacting or being dramatic–she’d never been inclined to that, even when she’d been the girl who insisted their cheerleading uniforms were designed for body shots and did the splits over keg stands to prove she had a higher alcohol tolerance than Caroline. She knew what she was saying; she knew why she was upset.

She washed her hands, and examined her reflection, the flush of alcohol in her cheeks, the hairs at the nape of her neck curling with sweat, the red stain of wine on her lips. It was her face; it was Katherine’s, too, and she couldn’t stand the way Klaus looked at Katherine’s face because for all intents and purposes, he was looking at Elena’s, and as much as she sometimes wished people could separate the two it wasn’t possible, she knew it wasn’t possible. Katherine was part of her, was her, inserted in an exact copy of her body; Katherine was the very same mind as her, just shaped and sharpened and whittled into form by different experiences; Katherine was her doppelganger, her shadow self, her reflection in the mirror, and if Klaus loved her–

–but then that was the question, wasn’t it?

He loves me, he loves me not, Elena thought, and offered herself a wry smile in the mirror. She wasn’t that girl. She’d never, not once, had to wonder if someone loved her, only ever if she loved them back. She didn’t want to wonder if Klaus loved her, she didn’t want Klaus to love her, she wasn’t sure he could, and she didn’t want to love Klaus, but here she was, and here was her life.

She’d never asked for any of this.

She took a deep breath, wiped some stray mascara out from under her eyes, and then strode back out to their table, chin up. Klaus wasn’t at the table, and after a moment of searching she saw him standing at the bar. She slid in next to him.

“Let’s pay our tab,” she said, and offered him a brilliant smile. He blinked. “I want us to go for a walk.”

She held his hand as they went, trying not to teeter on her sky-high heels. It was January in New Orleans, and much cooler than it had been when she’d first arrived, but there was still a warm breeze, curling up under her hair, skimming along the surface of her skin. The light from the moon bounced off the pavement, shimmering and bright.

“This isn’t the way back to the compound,” Klaus remarked, his voice bemused, after they’d walked a good ten minutes in silence.

“I know,” was all she replied.

A few minutes later, she walked up the steps of St. Anne’s Church, and pushed open the door.

She dipped her hands in the holy water at the door, and performed the sign of the cross. She’d never been much of a churchgoer, and she wasn’t Catholic, either, but there was a strange power in ritual, in tradition, in reverence, and more importantly, this was the church Cami’s last family members had given and lost their lives to, and that meant something to Elena.

The church was empty; Elena wasn’t surprised, being that it was near midnight on a weeknight, but she was glad nonetheless.

She let go of Klaus’s hand, and walked down the aisle of the church, steps slow, light, deliberate.

“What are you doing, sweetheart?” Klaus called after her, but she just kept walking.

About halfway up the aisle, Elena turned, and took a step to the right. “This is where you were standing,” she told him. “Or kneeling, I guess. Right here. And I was standing” and now, she raised her arm to gesture to him, and it felt like she was moving under water, “right about where you are now, when you noticed me. Do you remember?”

“When we were fighting Dahlia?” Klaus asked. There was a slight smile on his face, but an undertone to his voice, like an animal relaxing under someone’s hand but still poised to strike if that caress turned into a blow. “Yes, I remember.”

“Do you remember what I was wearing?” she asked, running her hand along the wooden arm of the pew.

Klaus raised an eyebrow. “Are you asking for my thoughts on your wardrobe?”

“Klaus,” she said, her voice not quite rebuking, but charged with meaning.

Klaus laughed. “If I recall correctly, I think you were wearing a white dress.”

“I was wearing the outfit Elijah picked out for me when I asked him to choose something that would make me look like Tatia,” Elena said, and Klaus went still. “And then I walked into this church and pretended to be her. You remember that, too, don’t you?”

Klaus nodded without saying a word.

“Do you remember the way you looked at me?” she asked, taking a step towards him. “When you thought, even for just a moment, that I was her, that you were seeing her? I remember. You looked stunned,” she said, and took a step towards him, “and you looked hurt, but there was something else.” She took another two steps towards him. “It was the same expression that’s always in your eyes when you look at me.”

She took the final steps to reach him, and brought her hands up to his face, running her thumb along his cheekbone. He still had not moved anything but his eyes, which were fixed on hers, horror in his gaze.

She lifted her face to his. “How much of the way you looked at her is in the way you look at me?”

Klaus reared backwards in a violent flinch, and Elena didn’t react, just let her hands fall away. “Elena,” he said.

“I’m not angry, Klaus,” she told him, voice gentle. “I’m not jealous, I’m not even upset. I understand. You loved her, and I have her face. You’ll never be able to separate us, not completely, and that’s okay. You don’t have to. I get it.”

Klaus no longer looked afraid, but he looked wary, as though apprehensive of being led into a trap.

“How do you think I feel when I see the way you look at Katherine?” she asked.

Klaus blinked, startled. “Katerina?” he repeated.

“Katherine has my face, just as much as I have Tatia’s,” Elena told him, keeping her words at an even, steady pace, keeping her tone light and soft. “You see something of her when you look at me, and you see something of me when you look at her. It’s inevitable. But how do you think I feel, when you look at her the way you do, talk to her the way you do, and seeing some part of me?”

“You are not Katerina,” Klaus replied, voice low.

“I’m not,” Elena said, taking a step towards him. “But I’m a part of her, and she’s a part of me. We both know it.”

There was something naked and vulnerable on Klaus’s face. “What is it you want me to say?” he asked, throwing the words down like a gauntlet.

“I’m not asking for a declaration of love, or anything like that,” Elena told him, managing to say the words without hesitation, without her voice breaking, without her heart speeding up. “I know you care for me, and you don’t need to say anything about that, you know it, I know it. But you hate Katherine so much, and sometimes – like tonight, the way you were questioning me? Sometimes I worry how much you see of her when you look at me. And the idea that any of that hatred for her transfers to me – the idea that one day, your loathing for her will overpower what you feel about me – that scares me.”

She took his hands in hers.

“I’m not asking you to say anything, Klaus,” she told him. He was looking at her like he’d never seen her before, and she refused to let it scare her. “I’m just asking you to understand.”

She leaned up and pressed a kiss, butterfly-light, against his lips. Then she let go of his hands and walked around him and out the doors, leaving him in the church at her back.

She walked into the night alone.