some battles fought are battles won (but this ain't one of them)
by Sandrine Shaw

"I really am sorry that it's come to this, Elena."

Forced to meet Klaus's eyes, she can't find anything but sincerity in his gaze. Absurdly, she thinks that she'd almost prefer it if he was lying. She'd rather he'd treat this with the same kind of indifference that he usually has for her and anyone else except his family.

"I know," she says, and her voice sounds choked even though she tries to put her entire strength behind it. "Let's just get it over with."

Two days earlier

She wanders into the witch house three days after what she's come to refer as "what happened on the bridge" because she's lacking the words to describe what Stefan did to her.

It's taken her three days to come to terms with the fact that she'll never get her Stefan back, and the realization that he's not chosen Klaus but vengeance on Klausover her makes it worse instead of better and kills every last bit of hope she still had for him.

Three days she spent crying into her pillow and kicking the punching bag until her limbs hurt, and cutting Stefan from her heart as cleanly as possible.

Three days until she gathered all of his stuff she'd still been holding onto, put it in a box and went off to take it to him. She considered burning it, but for her to move on truly and completely, she felt she needed to tell Stefan that she was cutting him loose, firmly and calmly and without any of the dramatics of the night on the bridge.

That's what she set out to do.

Instead, she wanders in on Damon and Bonnie sitting in a room with Stefan and four coffins, heads bowed together like conspirators, as if he hadn't tried, less than a week ago, to drive Elena off the bridge where her parents died. As if they hadn't all agreed that going against Klaus was madness and would endanger the lives of everyone they knew.

The betrayal she feels is like a kick to the chest that abruptly drives all the air out of her lungs, and she thinks she's going to choke.

It used to be her and Stefan and Damon and her friends against Klaus. Then she thought it was her and Damon against Stefan, and as hard as that concept was to grasp, she had been coming to terms with it. And now... now she doesn't know whose side she's on anymore, but it certainly feels like it's her against everyone, through no choice of her own. She hates Stefan then, more than that night on the bridge even, for turning her friends against her. Hates Bonnie for keeping this a secret from her. Hates Damon most of all because he said It will always be youand then he went and chose Stefan over her and didn't even have the courage to tell her.

The box drops from her shaking hands, and Elena turns and runs. She hears Damon call her name behind her and she knows that she can't possibly outrun him. Fingers clenched into fists, she stops and turns. He looks like he's sorry, but Elena knows that any regret he feels isn't regret for his actions but merely regret that she found out.

"Don't," she says. Her throat feels choked up but her voice sounds utterly foreign to her ears, flat and hard, not at all like she's going to burst into tears any second. "I don't want to hear it."

Damon looks conflicted, like he doesn't know whether to come towards her or keep his distance. "Elena..." His voice trails off.

Elena shakes her head and presses her lips together tightly. Right in this moment, she has no words for him. They will come later: accusations and questions and doubts. But now she doesn't want to talk to him or listen to him or even look at him, and for once, Damon not only seems to get it but also has the wisdom not to push her.

When she gets into her car and drives off, he doesn't try to stop her.

The old Elena would have gone home and cried. She would have called Caroline to rage and rant.

Eventually, she would have got over it. She would have let Damon inside later that day and listened to him and she would have let herself be convinced that they were doing the right thing and that keeping her out of the loop had been for her own good.

The old Elena has been laid to rest, though. Matt and she held a funeral for her the other day on the bridge, imaginary ashes spread in the water, and Elena said her goodbyes.

The old Elena is dead, and this one keeps her head held high and pushes through.

She weighs her options carefully. It's not a choice she would make lightly. Not when the lives of everyone she knows ヨ everyone she loves ヨ are at stake.

She can join them in their battle against Klaus. Never mind the fact that revenge is a concept that's utterly foreign and pointless to her. But Stefan has already made it clear that he doesn't care what collateral damage this power struggle causes. Maybe Klaus is not going to make a move against Elena as long as he still wants more hybrids, but that doesn't mean that Alaric is safe, or Matt or Damon or Caroline. And how long until Klaus decides that he's had enough of Stefan using her as leverage and tests if Stefan will really kill her or turn her? How long until he just snaps and kills them all, trusting that he'll track down the coffins eventually without their help?

Alternatively, Elena can pretend that she doesn't know what she knows. Feign ignorance, be on nobody's side, try to stay out of it, and let them battle it out. Except that it will end in bloodshed and each side will try to use Elena to defeat the other, like a pawn in a deadly game of chess no one is going to win.

There's a third option, the road less traveled, and a part of her dies inside when she realizes it's the only choice she can make.

Nobody is going to forgive her for this, but at least they're going to live.

A sullen-looking redhead is standing guard at the door of Klaus's mansion. One of his hybrids, Elena presumes, and she steels herself for confrontation as she walks up to him. But when she strides past and opens the front door, he doesn't question her or try to intercept her.

For a brief moment, she wonders if the hybrids feel some sort of loyalty towards her because it's her blood that made them into what they are, but she dismisses the idea as quickly as she considered it. More likely, he just doesn't see her as a threat.

She's barely stepped inside when Klaus already meets her, arms stretched out like a proud host showing his estate to the guest of a dinner party.

"If that isn't my lovely little doppelganger! Hello, sweetheart. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Klaus's jovial manner takes her by surprise. The last time she saw him, back when she brokered a deal and handed him Rebekah's withered body, he'd been distraught and shaken. She should have known that he would bounce back in no time.

She takes a deep breath.

"Promise me you will not hurt the people in this town. Any of them." She doesn't say 'my friends'. She doesn't know to whom the term is still going to apply once this is done. She's not sure whom it applies to now.

Klaus raises an eyebrow at her. "And why would I make such a promise, love?"

"Because I know where your family is, and I will tell you if you give me your word."

Before she can do as much as blink, he's right in front of her, and his fingers are digging painfully into her arm as he grabs her. His previous airiness has been wiped away at once, replaced by an intensity that would frighten her if she weren't prepared for it.

"Tell me," he demands.

"After you promise not to hurt anyone."

The muscle in his temple twitches, betraying his tension. "You're testing my patience, sweetheart."

Elena holds his gaze steadily, keeping her lips firmly locked. The pressure on her arm increases, but she's determined to win this battle of wits.

He lets her go so suddenly that she almost stumbles. The smile he gives her looks a little pained. "Fine. Alright. I promise you that none of your friends will get hurt. Can we get on with it now, please?"

It's hard to trust his word, after everything, but it's all she has. It has to be enough.

Klaus tells her that she needs to be the one to lure the others away so he can get to the coffins.

"That wasn't part of the deal," Elena says firmly.

He shrugs. "As you wish. Shall I send a few of my hybrid friends, then? No guarantees that they're not going to spill any blood, of course. You know how they are. Feral creatures, the lot of them." He takes out his cell phone and makes deliberate show of typing a message until Elena can't stand it anymore and snatches it from his hands.

"Fine. I'll do it."

When it comes down to it, her betrayal cannot get any worse than it already is. She'd be deluding herself if she thought that sitting back and letting Klaus do the dirty work will absolve her of guilt for her part in his plan, so she might as well step up and take a more active role. At least that way, she can be sure that everyone is out of harm's way.

"Good girl." The smile Klaus gives her is so smug and self-satisfied that her hand is itching to slap it off his face.

"Go to hell," she says, turning around and walking out on him. Behind her back, she hears him laugh.

It's Damon she calls, even though right now she'd prefer to deal with Stefan rather than him because Damon's betrayal is fresher and hurts more. But it's obvious that he'll be more amenable to her demands because he's feeling too guilty to deny her.

She doesn't bother with pleasantries and greetings, or give him the chance to apologize. "We need to discuss what's going to happen next," is the first thing she says when he picks up.

"Elena, we ヨ"

"No. We will talk about it later. All of us. Tell Stefan and Bonnie I want us all to meet at the boarding house tonight at nine. If we want this to work, we need to stop keeping secrets from each other."

Damon is only too eager to agree, and the guilt sits in Elena's stomach like a hard, cold lump.

Tonight. 9pm. You might want to bring a witch to get into the house, she texts Klaus.

Her phone beeps a second later. Let me worry about the details, love. Have fun with the Salvatore boys. X

She wonders if he ever considered that this might be a trap. That she told Stefan and Damon and Bonnie and they might wait for him, prepared with spells to trap him and secret weapons to destroy him. Except there is no spell, no secret weapon. Whatever trap they would set for him would probably end with Klaus leaving the bodies of her friends scattered all over the floors of the witch house, and Klaus probably knows that as well as she does.

It's easier than it should be to lie to her friends.

Elena wonders if that says more about her and how devious she's become, or about them and how much they've distanced themselves from her that they couldn't see that she's lying to their faces.

It's breaking her heart.

Later, when she's detained them long enough for Klaus to have got what he needs from the house, after she's listened to half-hearted apologies from Bonnie and hollow explanations from Damon and angry rants from Stefan for what feels like hours and lets them lay out plans that she's sure would never have worked, she feels the tears she's been holding back start coming. She's on her way home from the boarding house. She starts walking fast and faster until she breaks into a run, as if she could outrun her impending breakdown.

Her cell phone rings. When she checks it, Damon's name is glowing on the display. She doesn't answer.

The next time the phone rings, it's Klaus. She's at home already, tired but composed, and freshly out of a shower that failed to wash away any of the guilt or the anger or the disappointment.

"What do you want?" she asks harshly.

"Just checking how you're doing, love." He sounds cheerful and satisfied, like a man whose plans worked out just the way he imagined.

(It was her plan, too. She wishes she felt at least a small part of his contentment.)

It's hard to even muster up the energy to be angry. "Don't pretend you care about that. I can't deal with any more of your games tonight, Klaus."

He doesn't immediately reply. The pause stretches long enough that she thinks her rudeness was enough to drive him off. But then he speaks, and his voice is for once lacking its characteristic flippant edge. "I know how it feels when the people you love betray you. Believe me when I say that this is a kind of pain I do not wish on anyone."

Elena swallows against the lump in her throat. "I was the one who betrayed them when I made a deal with you."

"Come on, love. You and I both know that they betrayed you first. Stefan called me the other night, remember?"

She closes her eyes, reliving once again the night on Wickery Bridge: Stefan's blood in her mouth, the distorted grimace of his face, her fear, her screams, her begging, and the way Stefan taunted Klaus with it.

"It doesn't make what I did any better," she says quietly. "It's not like two betrayals cancel each other out and everything will magically be okay again afterwards."

When she says the words, she realises that even though she's talking about her and her friends, the same applies to Klaus and his family, who have been unable to break the cycle of betrayal and counter-betrayal for centuries.

If he notices the significance of her statement, he doesn't let on. When he speaks again, he sounds as blas?and glib as ever, the moment of seriousness between them already passed. "I'm afraid we're not quite done yet. There's another small matter to attend to. Do you think you could come over to the mansion, or do you want me to pay you a visit?"

She's too tired to object and secretly glad that she can get out of the house before Stefan finds his coffins gone and realizes what happened.

"I'll be with you in twenty minutes," she says, cutting the line.

Klaus is waiting for her in the drawing room, perched on the edge of the couch and nursing a glass of red. Wine, perhaps. Blood, more likely. He looks relaxed, but there's a tightness in the smile he offers her as she steps into the room that puts her immediately on her guard.

"I never thanked you properly, did I?" he says, standing. "But I truly am grateful for your cooperation. I'm sure I would have found a way to retrieve my siblings without your assistance, but it would have involved considerably more effort and probably more bloodshed."

She shakes her head. "Don't thank me. We both know I did the only thing I could have done to keep my friends safe. Now you have what you want, you can stop threatening them."

She watches him put his glass down and cross the distance between them, and it takes every ounce of her resolve not to back away and hold her ground.

"Of course. We did have a deal. There's just one more thing. I can't allow Stefan to continue using your life as leverage against me. You know that, sweetheart, don't you?"

His hand is trailing down the side of her neck, tender like a caress ヨ but she feels the threat in the gesture, and she hears what he doesn't say, realising at once the loophole in the deal she proposed. Even if Klaus has what he wants, he still needs to punish Stefan for going against him.

The gentle touch makes her shiver involuntarily. She bites her lip and nods, not meeting his gaze. "And the only way to stop him and send a message is to kill me yourself. Of course."

Once again, she's made a deal that ensures everyone's safety but her own. She didn't exactly think about it before, what exactly this deal with Klaus meant for her, but she's not surprised either. Perhaps in the back of her mind, she's known all along.

"What about your army of hybrids? You need my blood to create more."

"I don't need more hybrids now that I have my family and Michael is dead. And should the need arise... I still have a couple of blood bags in my freezer, courtesy of your gracious donation." His hand snakes around her chin, turning her face towards him. She forces herself to meet his eyes and tries very hard not to cry. "I really am sorry that it's come to this, Elena."

The worst thing is that she's certain that he means it. Though, maybe, the absoluteworst thing is that she understands him. Stefan forced his hand, and she's the one paying the price.

Suddenly, his gaze is too intense, burning deep into her mind, and she can't stand looking at him any longer. She turns away and nods, exhausted and weary. "I know. Let's just get it over with."

He draws his hand back from her face, the sudden movement catching her attention, and she watches in horrified fascination as he brings his wrist to his mouth. His face changes in a flash, all yellow eyes and veined skin and sharp canines that sink at once into his own flesh. When he turns his arm towards her, there's a gaping wound in his wrist and the blood is dripping and running down his arm.

It's a testament to her exhaustion and numbness that it takes her a moment to understand what he's offering.

She shakes her head reflexively and backs away. "No. I can't. Iラ"

She expects him to grab her and force his wrist into her mouth ヨ d?vu, over and over again. But Klaus just shrugs. He doesn't take his bleeding wrist away, but he makes no move towards her either. "You don't have to, love. But it's there if you want it. You're going to die tonight either way. I'm not Stefan; whether or not you have my blood in your system when you do isn't going to make a difference to me."

Elena stares at the wound.

"I don't want to be a vampire," she says, but Klaus seems to hear the lack of conviction in her voice because his arm doesn't waver. It's true, too: she doesn't want to be a vampire. She doesn't want to be a corpse either.

In the past, the choice had always been made for her. By Damon, and Damon again, and then Stefan ヨ she never had any say in it, and she hated that. And now here's Klaus, offeringher his blood, offering a choice, and Elena finds herself wholly unprepared for it.

The wound gradually closes before her eyes, like an hourglass slowly running out. I don't want to die, she thinks, and she steps forward and gingerly takes hold of Klaus's forearm. His skin is cool against hers, and she feels feverish and nauseated. When her mouth closes over the wound, Klaus smiles.

"That's it, love."

She closes her eyes and shuts her mind off and starts drinking, trying not to choke on the coppery taste.

Beneath her lips, the skin heals itself and the blood stops flowing. Elena lets go of his arm and steps away, wiping her mouth. Her hand comes away coated in red, disgustingly sticky, and she wipes it on her jeans. In front of her, Klaus laughs.

"Don't worry, you'll get used to it."

Elena glares at him, but she's pretty sure it lost some of its effect due to the fact that she just willingly drank his blood. What he gave her wasn't much of a choice, but it was a choice nonetheless and the decision was hers. She can't forget that. But she's not going to be grateful for it.

"Now what?" she asks.

"Come here."

He holds out his hand to her, and for a moment, she considers refusing it, like she's done before. There would be little point in a symbolic act of rebellion now, though, and she puts her hand in his and lets him pull her towards him. There's a split second when they're face to face and she thinks he's going to kiss her. In her mind, she already feels his lips on hers, and it terrifies and excites her in equal measure. But before she even comes to a decision as to how she'll react, he's spun her around, her back towards him and his fingers gently pulling her head to the left.

"It seems we've come full circle, love," he whispers against her skin, and then his teeth sink into her neck. There's sharp pain for a second when he breaks her skin, and this time, Stefan is not around for her to focus on. Instead, she lets herself feel it: the pain, the odd intoxicating kind of pleasure when he starts sucking, the way he's drawing small circles on her skin with his fingers.

She feels lightheaded, dizzy, and when she wants to hold onto something, all she can grab hold of is the arm he's snaked around her waist to steady her. She doesn't make a conscious choice to entwine her fingers with his, but somehow that's what happens. She feels her body become limp and lose balance, and when her knees buckle, Klaus lowers her to the floor. He's still holding her hand.

As her vision fades and blackness creeps in from around the edges, she hears him say, "I'll see you on the other side."