I'm haunted by this photograph

It was a small photograph. Large enough to barely capture her beauty and small enough to not be missed. A portrait for her senior yearbook. One of the many she'd brought home in a packet from a photographer's studio. Brought them home out of habit, only to face the painful reminder there was no one home to see them. No mother to fawn over her beautiful outfit, no father to gruffly proclaim, "Guess I have to get the shotgun ready, right?" There wasn't even a brother to roll his eyes as yearbook photos were hung in the hallway. There was no one.

Because there was no one, Elijah had no qualms with taking one of the photos. One of the smaller ones that fit perfectly in the creases of his leather wallet. He'd pull it out from time to time when his memory could no longer conjure a perfect image of her smile.

You're such a beautiful face, I know those eyes

"Elijah?" She still lived in the Gilbert home on Abernathy Street, but the door had been painted red and her hair was curlier than it had ever been before. Her smile was a bit hesitant, wide brow eyes taking in his unchanged appearance. He was the same. She, however, had changed drastically.

"I do not mean to cause alarm," he said, giving her his most disarming smile, "I was merely passing through and thought I'd stop and see how you were. May I come in?" Even after two decades the invitation into her home remained and Elena held the door wide, allowing him to pass by her. She lead him down the hall towards the kitchen where a pot of traditional Gilbert chili was simmering away for the Mystic Falls picnic later in the day. Damon wasn't here to mock her chili this time and the thought of the eldest Salvatore sent a tingle of pain through her heart.

"Are you alright?" Elijah asked as Elena stirred the chili, giving it a taste before adding a few more spices. She thought about lying, but the memory of their last moment still hung in the air. I can hear your heartbeat. It jumps when you are being dishonest.

"Caroline left with Klaus," she spit out, "But you probably know that since he's your brother. Damon and Rebekah left though, did you know that? And Stefan and Finn sort of bonded over their love of eating rabbits and the last I heard, they were trying to convince Sage to join their anti-human diet. Alaric passed away last year and Jeremy and Bonnie got married and moved to Denver. Tyler never came back."

He reached out and grasped her hands that were fluttering over the cutting board as she sliced away at tomatoes. She stilled beneath his touch and looked up, lashes impossibly long and eyes just as fathomless as they'd always been.

"What are you trying to say?" he asked and her mouth screwed up and her brows furrowed as she fought back the onslaught of tears.

"Everyone's gone," she squeaked out, voice cracking. Elijah rose and walked around the island, breaking their unspoken, unofficial vow to never invade too far into the other person's space. He ran his thumbs over her knuckles and smiled.

"I'm here." She fell forward into his arms and he held her, pressing a kiss to the top of her head as she wept.

I wish I could tell you what you don't know

"I can't believe you came back," Elena said as they sat in her room later that night. She'd skipped the picnic, declaring her chili terrible and unable to liven up her pallid face. Seeing Elijah after twenty years had put her into a state of shock.

"Neither can I." Elena rolled onto her side, sprawled across her bed and took in the sight of him sitting in her window seat. She had opted to keep her own room even after Alaric and Jeremy had left for good and he was thankful for the familiarity her choice provided him with. Her room was as warm and inviting as it had always been.

"Why did you come back?" Elijah was never one to fidget, so when his hands found the need to unnecessarily adjust the cuffs of his jacket, Elena rolled out of bed and sat beside him. She hesitated for only a moment before dropping a hand to his fidgeting ones.

"Tell me. Please."

I dream about that day

Elena stared down at the creased and weathered photo of herself from what seemed to be a lifetime ago. She couldn't recall a time where she didn't have crows feet, short hair, and when was the last time she had smiled like that?

"My apologies for the minor theft," Elijah said, eyes focused on the expanse of skin just below her eyes. Elena smiled, fingers tracing the image of her younger self before returning the photo to him.

"I'm touched," she said, "Flattered, really. I can't believe you've kept it for so long."

"Twenty years is nothing," he said, slipping the photo back into his wallet. Elena laughed, a half-hearted and quiet chuckle as she folded her legs beneath her.

"I imagine it is, especially when you'll live forever." Elijah watched her wide eyes fall to the floor and he reached out and grasped one of her curly tendrils gently, giving it a light tug. She turned back to him and his fingers grazed her jaw.

"What's done is done, Elena. You cannot change anything now."

"I know," she whispered, "I just wish things have been different."

"Do you? Do you really?" She shook her head and leaned into his shoulder, letting out a weary sigh.

"No," she confessed, "After all, you did come back."

I'll be yours tonight, but I can't break free from this life

She fell asleep beside him that night and he tucked her into bed. She asked him to stay and he did. He stayed the next night as well. And the next, and the next, and for many nights after that. Eventually, she replaced the hideous ceramic mermaid on her bookshelf with a photo of them. He was happy and she was smiling in a way she hadn't smiled in a very long time.

And he was right. Twenty years was nothing when you had forever.

A picture doesn't lie

•§•

a/n: Song is 'She could Be You' by Shawn Hlookoff. I'd like it if Elijah hurried back to Mystic Falls. Until then: fave, flame, faint.

oxox