AN: Written at the request of X5 - 452 and 494, who after reading a line from one of my previous stories, wondered who Stefan would choose if in a life or death situation it came down to Damon or Elena. The request inspired this angsty one-shot...

Thank you for the suggestion! I enjoyed writing this and I hope you like the way things play out : )

(The line was "She just never considered what would happen when it came down to her or Damon..." from my one-shot "Because he loves you")

I do not own!


He can hear his pained groans coming up from the cell in the basement. Every whimper, every sharp intake of breath feels like a stake in his own chest. He wishes they could trade places. He'd gladly take the pain from the bite if it meant never having to hear those sounds from his brother ever again.

Stefan never was very good at seeing Damon in pain. Ever since he forced Damon to become a vampire, he felt this incessant need to protect his brother, to look out for him... When Damon was hurt it felt like a personal failure - Like he should have done something to stop it.

The first time Damon was bit something in Stefan died a little bit. He'd never been so afraid for his brother before, so afraid that he'd lose him. Damon always seemed indestructible. Nothing was ever supposed to hurt him, not really anyway. Stefan attributes that thought process to residual little brother/big brother hero worship from when they were human. He knows Damon can be hurt, had been forced to witness it time and time again, but when he got bit it was different. For this time there was the very real possibility that Damon was going to die. Stefan couldn't let that happen.

Making a deal with Klaus wasn't even a choice really. It was just something he had to do.

This time was no different.

Xx

He finds Klaus in the mansion he renovated, sitting by the fire, a glass of what Stefan suspects is bourbon cradled in his hand. He looks normal, human. Few people would be able to tell by looking at him that he was a sadistic, killing hybrid.

He knows Klaus knows he's here but the hybrid makes no move toward him. He doesn't even acknowledge him verbally. It's all part of his game, Stefan's sure. Klaus wants to control him. He hates that he's giving him the opportunity to do just that.

He stops in front of the chair, directly in Klaus' line of vision should he choose to glance up. Stefan can see the beginnings of a smirk on Klaus' face.

"I need your help..." His voice trails off.

It kills him that he's here. Once again putting his and Damon's fate in Klaus' hands. But he doesn't have any other options. Klaus' blood is the only cure they know of for a werewolf bite. Stefan briefly considered trying Tyler's or another hybrids blood but he suspects it wouldn't work. And he doesn't have the time to try. Damon is dying.

Klaus' smirk is full blown now and he looks up at Stefan, amusement shining in his eyes. He's enjoying this.

"Well, isn't this familiar" he taunts, "I do believe we've done this before."

He's trying to make him angry. Make him lash out. He can't find the energy to, and he refuses to play into Klaus' game anymore than he has to.

"He's dying, Klaus," Stefan's voice breaks, "He got bit."

Klaus' bottom lip just out and he shakes his head slowly in mock concern. "Damon, Damon, always getting himself into trouble. You know, Stefan, one day he'll be beyond saving... even for you."

He ignores the last part. He'll never not save Damon. "Will you help him? Will you give me the cure?"

Klaus sits back in the chair and crosses his ankles in front of him. His smirk is still firmly in place. "I'm sure I could be persuaded."

Stefan expected this. Klaus never does anything out of true compassion. Stefan's not even angry. As long as Damon gets Klaus' blood; he doesn't care what he has to do.

He nods. "What do you want? Another decade of loyalty and servitude?"

Klaus cocks an eyebrow. "I haven't even gotten the first decade yet," His voice is light, almost teasing. "And besides, what makes you think I'd want you around again? You're not nearly as amusing as you were in the 20s"

"You want the ripper? Fine, you can have him. No guilt. No emotion – just the hunt." He means it too. If that's what it takes, he'll do it. He'll truly let go of everything that ties him to his humanity.

Klaus' eyebrow rises even higher. "Hmm, tempting, but I'm not convinced you even have it in you anymore,"

"Let me prove it to you," Stefan's voice has taken on an edge of pleading. He hopes Klaus doesn't notice.

Klaus laughs and stands from his casual position in the chair. Stefan is forced to take a step back to avoid contact. He hadn't realized he'd been standing so close to Klaus.

"No, Stefan, I don't want your servitude." He pauses and a look comes over his face that Stefan has trouble defining. He looks almost, nostalgic? "Contrary to what you believe Stefan, I never wanted that from you. I wanted my friend," the last part is mumbled, almost like Klaus hadn't meant it to be said or heard.

Stefan's surprised that he feels sad. "Klaus..."

The hybrid's head snaps up and the look is gone from his features. "You have nothing to offer me," his voice is hard and he brushes past Stefan as he makes to leave the room.

With a speed greater than a human eye could detect, Stefan is standing in front of Klaus, blocking his exit. It's stupid of him, he knows that. He can't survive against Klaus. But the thought of Damon wasting away at home demands he at least try. He needs to save Damon and to do that he needs Klaus.

"Don't be stupid, Stefan," Klaus says menacingly.

"Please, Klaus! I will do whatever you want. I will give you whatever you want just, just don't let him die. I can't lose him, please!" He's begging. He feels moisture build up in his eyes. And he doesn't care.

Klaus studies him silently. Stefan counts it as a small victory that the other vampire hasn't ripped his heart out yet. He waits. Silently pleading Klaus with his eyes to help him. He doesn't want to consider the alternative.

He can't live without Damon. His brother has always been there. Always. Even when he hated him, even when he was making his life miserable – at least he was there. Stefan would take that any day as long as it meant Damon was still alive!

He hadn't forced Damon to turn for no reason. He'd needed him, still needs him, will always need him. He can't face eternity without his big brother. He won't.

"Anything?" Klaus finally breaks the silence.

He doesn't even need to consider it. He nods.

Klaus consider him. "You'd die for him," it isn't a question but Stefan answers it anyway, "If I have to,"

Klaus nods slowly, "Well, lucky for you I don't want you dead,"

It's an interesting thing for the hybrid to say. Klaus had been particularly open with him tonight. Stefan feels the need to examine his words more closely but not right now. He can't think about Damon and his messed up relationship with Klaus at the same time.

"Elena," Klaus breaks the silence again.

Stefan shakes his head to dispel the thoughts about the original. He cocks his head to the side, his brow furrowed in confusion. Klaus is smirking again.

"Elena?" Stefan repeats.

Klaus nods. "I'll give you my blood to save your brother. But I get to take Elena. No trouble from you or your brother. I take her, I leave Mystic Falls and I use her blood to make more hybrids. And you? You walk away."

Stefan's face falls more with every word that Klaus says. Take Elena? Every fibre of his being rebels against the thought. He'd pushed her away, refused her pleas to get back together but that didn't mean he didn't love her. He loved her with everything that he was. Elena was the first thing in his long existence that made him feel alive. He'd die for her the same way he would Damon. How could Klaus think that he would just let him take her?

"Are you out of your mind? No!"

Klaus shakes his head sadly. He's mocking him again and Stefan feels himself getting angry for the first time.

"Then Damon dies,"

Stefan shakes his head frantically. He feels sick at the words. "You, you can't-"

"Yes, Stefan, I can," he glares. "I have given you more than you deserve. I've let you live when you betrayed me, lied to me, stole from me. I've already saved your brother once before. I've been a friend to you and you've opposed me at every turn. This is how it is, how you made it... So Stefan, who's it going to be? Elena? Or Damon?"

Xx

Stefan sits silently on the bed with his head leaned back against the headboard. He's staring blankly at the wall in front of him. This is the position he's occupied for the last half an hour. Damon is asleep on the bed next to him, oblivious to Stefan presence. For the time being, Stefan prefers it that way.

Damon was alive. He'd probably never speak to him again, but he was alive. Stefan won't blame him either. He doesn't see how he's going to be able to live with himself – he'll understand that Damon can't either.

He sacrificed Elena. He gave her over to Klaus, dooming her to life as an unwilling blood donor until Klaus, or one of his hybrids, eventually killed her. All in exchange for the blood that would save Damon.

He always knew that he would sacrifice himself to save Damon. He just never thought he'd be willing to sacrifice someone else. It scares him. How much he is willing to do for his brother. How much he has done. What scares him even more is that he knows, given the option again, he'd make the same choice. Even though he knows Damon will hate him for it, he needs him. And isn't that just the most dysfunctional relationship out there.

He's not even mad at Klaus, not really anyway. Sure the hybrid placed him in this position and he'll always hate him a little for that, but it was his choice and he made it. Now he just had to live with it. The only thing that angered him is that he wasn't the only one who would have to live with it. Damon would to.

Damon shifts suddenly in his sleep and Stefan stops breathing. He'd yet to work out what to say to the older vampire.

Damon's eyes open fully and he sits up slowly, blinking the room into focus. His head hurts but not nearly as much as it should and the pain in his arm that had been unbearable hours ago is strangely absent. He glances around before his eyes fall on Stefan on the bed next to him. Damon fills with dread.

"What did you do?" It's said calmly, resolutely.

Stefan wants to put off the conversation and the goodbye that will surely follow it, probably for forever. "Maybe you should -"

"What did you do, Stefan?" Damon interrupts. "I should be dead and I'm not. Last time that happened you made a deal with the devil. So what did it take this time? You're here, which is different than the last time. Did Satan let you say goodbye before you go off on another blood bender?"

Damon's tone is sarcastic but Stefan can hear the anxiety. The fear that Stefan had once again sacrificed his free will, his humanity. If only that is what he had done.

Damon watches him closely. Something is off, he knows that. There is no way Klaus saved him out of the kindness of his heart. It would require a heart. He's trying to read Stefan but his little brother appears to be trying desperately to keep him in the dark.

"Okay, seriously, what the-"

"Damon..."

"- hell happened?"

Damon frowns. Stefan sounds so broken, so scared. It stirs his big brother instincts and he reaches a hand out to rest on Stefan shoulder. He grips it comfortingly and with his other hand turns Stefan's face to him. He flinches when he sees the tears in his brother's eyes.

"Stef..." His voice is soft and Stefan breaks.

"I'm so sorry, Damon." The tears are falling now, he can't hold them back. "I had to make a choice. I couldn't let you die. I'm so, so sorry."

He's not making any sense to Damon. But the sight of the tears has Damon bordering on panic and without much thought he tugs his brother against his side. His arms go around him of their own accord. Stefan's own arms wrap tightly around Damon's waist and he buries his face in the crook between his neck and his shoulder. Neither brother thinks about how odd this is for them.

It's remembered instinct from a time when a little boy held his crying baby brother for the first time, when a few years later that same little brother would come to him in the night after waking from a nightmare. A time when that same brother, many years later, pleaded with him with tears in his eyes to stay with him for eternity.

Stefan's mumbling how sorry he is against Damon's neck and he can feel the tears on his skin. He's worried, panicked even. What could have his brother reacting so strongly. He'd kill Klaus himself for whatever he did that made his brother react like this. He gives him a few minutes until he hears his sobs lessen by a degree before he pulls back.

Stefan's hands tighten on his shirt when he feels the movement. He doesn't want to let go. Letting go means he has to tell Damon what happened and then he'll never see him again.

Damon feels Stefan's resistance and is quick to reassure him. "Hey, I'm not going anywhere. But we need to talk and we can't do that with you crying into my neck," He's being unusually gentle, he knows that. But Stefan is hysteric, he's only responding to Stefan.

Stefan nods and allows Damon to pull back enough to where they can see each other's faces. They sit next to each other against the head board, their sides pressed together from shoulder to ankle. Damon keeps one arm around Stefan's shoulders and Stefan leans into the touch slightly.

"You're going to hate me," Stefan says quietly by way of a beginning. Damon opens his mouth to refute the statement but Stefan shakes his head, silencing him. "You don't know, Damon. You don't know what I did." Damon doesn't argue – he needs to know what the hell happened while he was slowly dying.

"I went to see Klaus. You were dying, again. Faster than the last time you were bit. I didn't have time to consider anything else, or to tell anyone else. He was reluctant." Stefan's explanation is choppy. He doesn't seem to know what he wants to say but Damon follows him well enough. "I told him I'd do anything," Damon's grip on Stefan tightens at this. That is what he's afraid of. What that anything entailed.

"He didn't want anything. Anything, except... except Elena."

Stefan's body tenses and Damon freezes at the words that come from his brother's mouth. Elena.

"Stefan..." he says slowly. "What did you do?"

The tears are back. Stefan looks at him with eyes so broken that if Damon's heart was still beating it would stop.

"I made a choice,"

Xx

Damon hasn't said a word. He hasn't moved, other than to remove his arm from around Stefan's shoulders, and Stefan doesn't know what to do. What can he do? It's only a matter of time before Damon stands up and walks away from him.

"Damon-"

"We'll get Ric, Barbie, and Judgy and go after her."

Stefan's head falls. "We can't,"

"Why the hell not?" Damon demands, his eyes are angry. Stefan wants to cry.

"Because it was part of the deal that we don't go after them."

Damon looks at him with an expression of incredulity. "Are you kidding me? Screw the deal, Stefan! "

"God, Damon! Do you really think it`s that simple?"

"What are you talking about?"

Stefan sighs. He's so tired. He hates this. "If we go after them Klaus is going to kill you. Have one of his hybrids bite you and put us right back in the position we were this morning. You dying and me having to sit back and watch."

Damon turns away from Stefan then. His face is set in an expression of anger and Stefan waits anxiously for the moment when Damon leaves. He can't draw this out anymore. Damon's been so still that when he stands abruptly and starts pacing the room, Stefan jumps from the surprise. He recovers quickly though and his eyes track Damon as he paces the length of the room.

"So what?" Damon asks suddenly. "We don't do anything? Just let him have her?"

Stefan can't bring himself to answer so he simply nods; his entire expression and posture screaming in defeat. Damon growls and tugs at his hair.

"How could you do it, Stefan?" He's stopped pacing and is now staring at Stefan from across the room. Stefan raises his eyes to meet Damon's.

"I had to make a choice," he answers.

"How could you choose this!"

Damon feels so hopeless. He needs to understand how they got here. He has the irrational thought that is he can only understand how it happened then maybe he can change it.

"It's not like I wanted this Damon, but I had to make a choice. And no matter what, I'm always going to choose you." He'd proven that to himself today.

Damon stops. Stops moving, speaking, even thinking for an entire minute. He hears the echo of his own words to Elena so many months ago when he told her he would always choose her. He'd meant them, or he thought he has anyway. And if it came down to his own life or Elena, it was true. But what if came down to Stefan or Elena? Who would he choose?

He remembers thinking that no one had ever chosen him. Not his father, not Katherine, not Elena... he'd had many the destructive outburst and he'd pleaded with Elena, asking why no one had ever chosen him. But he'd been wrong. There was one person who always chose him. Stefan. When it truly mattered – Stefan always chose him. Over his own life, over Katherine, and now, even over Elena.

It forces him to question who he would choose. Who he was going to choose now. Elena? Which would result in his own death and Stefan's being alone, possibly dying. Or Stefan? Which would result in saving Elena.

He's surprised that there isn't even a choice. Stefan had always chosen him; it was his turn to do the same.

"Okay," He doesn't have anything else to say.

Stefan looks up at him, confused. "Okay?"

Damon nods. "We won't go after Klaus. But I don't want to stay here either."

Stefan breaks a little more. He knew of course that Damon would leave. But it kills him that he was right. Damon sees the look on Stefan's face and he understands immediately that his brother has misunderstood.

"So pack whatever you don't want to leave here. I don't want to come back here for at least a decade so if there's something you're going to want, grab it."

Stefan still looks confused but now there is hope there as well. "You... want me to come with you?" The surprise in his voice has Damon feeling bad. They really have to start communicating better.

He nods, "I made a choice too, Stef"

Stefan almost smiles. He can't bring himself to smile fully, not under the circumstances, but he's still happy, probably happier than he should be. He wasn't sure how either of them were going to live with the choices they'd made but they would figure it out.

Damon sees that Stefan is deep in thought and rolls his eyes as he moves to his walk in closet to grab some clothes. He felt a little broken now too. They both were. But he'd made his choice and he wasn't going to turn back. He'd have to live with it. They both would.


Review and let me know what you thought please! : )