Author's note: So, as a general rule, I tend to avoid the intense shipping wars regarding the great Stelena/Delena debate. Honestly, I can see the merits and downsides of both pairings. When it comes to TVD, I ship pretty much any combination of Elena/Elijah/Damon/Katherine. Hell, even all four of them at once (does a fic of that exist? If so, PM me asap.)
Summary: This time it wasn't a bargain or a deal, but merely a cry for help and she wondered when he had become the person she chose to turn to in her time of need. Elena/Elijah 3x14 oneshot.
Hints of Elena/Damon, Elena/Stefan (duh), Elijah/Katherine, Elijah/Tatia
Written because who didn't want Elena to knock the glass out of Elijah's hand in that scene?
You go to my head
And you linger like a haunting refrain
That I find spinning round in my brain
Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne
Oh, the thrill of the thought
That you might give a thought
To my plea casts a spell over me
You Go To My Head, Louis Armstrong & Oscar Peterson
Eye seeks eye – sympathy meets sympathy – what affinity is between these two creatures?
Keynotes and Discords, George Egerton
So real in faith and strong
Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise
Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
A guarded tongue.
Between Us Now, Thomas Hardy
A SHADOW'S SLANT
The clink of glasses. Amber eyes gleaming. Challenging. Dangerous.
The murmur and hum of conversation surrounding them seemed to have slowed to half time. The soft music playing receded to the distant background. Elena was painfully aware of the hard beating of her heart in her ears, the untouched champagne flute clenched so tightly in her hand it would surely shatter. Her world narrowed to the man (not a man) beside her who smiled with such meticulous politeness, such elaborate grace. A rush of emotions flooded her – a confusing mixture of fear and regret, passion and desperation. One thought ringing in her mind with resounding force. She could not do it. The words fell from her lips, frantic, unsteady, confused.
"Stop! Elijah – wait –"
He paused mid-motion, the crystal rim of the raised glass barely touching his parted lips. Through a fringe of dark-gold lashes, he glanced down at her, curious and unsmiling.
"Something you wish to say, Elena?"
In the corner of her vision, she saw Klaus drink from his glass, a deep, consuming draught. As slow and surging as the night he had drained her dry, long and lingering and deathly sweet as the life bled out her veins. The blood spun dizzyingly in her head as she caught the sight of gleaming teeth, white and immaculate. Ivory canines and lips red as blood. For a moment, Elena thought she was going to faint; it was only the flash of Jenna's face and the surge of grief and rage that accompanied it that kept her upright, focused on her purpose. Esther's plan had to be carried out. For her sake. For all their sakes. Her jaw tightened with a firm resolution to see this through to the end. She scanned the crowded hall rapidly, her gaze falling on the Mikaelson siblings standing at intervals along the base of the sweeping, marble staircase. Kol – Rebekah – Finn –
This was her chance. Her last chance –
Elena forced her lips into a strained, unnatural smile. "It's nothing… I…"
The ornate chandelier cast mirrored light across Elijah's face as his expression hardened. "Do not play games with me, Elena. I should have hoped by now that we may be direct with one another."
Her mind was still humming with panic, heightened. But his cool, methodical tones brought her back to herself, and Elena felt her heart slowly sinking within her. This isn't me. It was too cold, too calculated, too ruthless. She could put aside her guilt and drive a dagger through Rebekah's back. But this was Elijah. He wasn't just anybody. His word wasn't anybody's word. She knew that better than anyone. And to do what she was planning would be unforgivable. Even if, by some miraculous stroke of fortune he did not die, her silence would lose him forever. She had, perhaps, just signed her death sentence, but self-sacrifice was something that came naturally to her these days. So she swallowed hard and nodded.
"I need to talk to you. Alone."
Elijah looked at her – a swift, assessing glance – and nodded. To her relief, he had lowered the glass, a smooth, slow glide of the wrist. Without hesitation or asking for explanations, he took her arm in a coolly unsensual gesture and walked her from the hall.
He does not miss the glance she casts over her shoulder at the Salvatore brothers – not knowingly, as Katerina would have done, with exquisite derision gleaming in the dark corners of her eyes – but troubled and anxious, always so desperate not to cause anyone pain, and Elijah thinks it a pity that she is doomed to repeat the hopeless story of the doppelganger; a cycle of history she has no say in, caught between two warring brothers, both loving and despairing for them. Yes. A pity.
Her heels clicked against the floor as they walked along the brightly lit, high-ceilinged entry hall, Elijah's arm guiding her firmly to the left towards a shadowed alcove where there stood a pair of double doors. He reached for the scrolled brass handle, opened the door and gestured her to enter before him with that odd, old-fashioned, courtly manner he had with her. Restrained and considerate as always. If Klaus gave one the impression of a depraved rake, then Elijah was surely an aristocratic gentleman.
Elena did not know which unsettled her more.
She stepped through the doorway with a murmured thanks and felt his contained, curving smile behind her. She found herself in a dimly-lit dining room, dark timbers slanting across the high ceiling, a circular mahogany table dominating the space. Lamplight shafted along the windows, slid over old wainscots, old tapestry, old gold, old colour. The only sounds other than the steady crackling of the fire in the grate came from outside; the ticking of the great grandfather clock that stood in the hall, the faint rise and fall of steady conversation, the tuneful strains of a string quartet.
Elijah gestured at the wall, an artistic sweeping movement of the wrist, drawing her attention to the two paintings that hung over the mantle.
"These paintings," he murmured. "From the Baroque period; notice the intense quality of the lighting." He smiled faintly, a grudging respect evident in his voice. "Say what you will about Niklaus, he does have good taste."
Elena said nothing. He had a compelling presence, almost terrifying, though she could see he was trying to moderate it for her benefit. There was something majestic about him, something ageless and unassailable and ruthless, and for a moment, a flicker of fear awoke within her. It intensified when he closed the door, effectively trapping her in the room with him.
"You're looking enchanting tonight," he observed dispassionately.
"Thank you," she said uncertainly, her heart beating in her throat. Yet in spite of herself, she felt the tension instinctively ease from her shoulders at the smooth melody of his voice that reminded her of russet and oak and elegant things. Old things.
He turned to face her, polite and inquisitive. Polished and pristine and calm, so calm. His coppery hair was shorter than she remembered, not falling sleek and sweeping over his brow, but instead drawing attention to his face, all chiselled lines and smooth angles.
"Now what is this about, Elena?"
He brushed an invisible speck of dust off his sleeve. The very picture of blasé nonchalance.
"If there is something you wish to say to me, now would be the time."
His voice. Smooth and authoritative as any compulsion. Elena's power of speech temporarily fled. Overwhelmed by the silence and the unshakeable apprehension of coming violence.
Elijah waited patiently. Polished cufflinks gleamed in the dim light. He continued to stare at her calmly until the blood came slowly to her face, which began to burn. She braced herself hopelessly, gloved hands fisting in the netted lace skirts of her gown, light reflecting off the gold and black sequins. "When you asked me if your mother said anything, I lied to you."
"I know," he said simply.
She stared at him, too startled to speak.
"You are human, Elena," Elijah explained, with supreme patience. "I can hear your heartbeat, and it quickens when you're being dishonest. But it's more than that. When you try to lie there is an expression in your eyes that…" He broke off, his jaw tightening, and Elena couldn't help but feel on some level that she had disappointed him. It troubled her more than it should have. Somehow, his high opinion of her mattered, and she wanted – needed – to live up to his implicit belief in her. Could not bear the thought that it might be shattered.
"Elijah, I can explain – "
He spread out a hand. "Please do."
He sounded so reasonable it made her shiver.
Her throat felt thick and crowded. "There… was a spell. Your mother wanted blood. And… not just Klaus's. She's used magic to bind you all together so if something happens to one of you, it happens to all of you." She took a breath. "So if one of you dies…"
"We all do," he finished gravely.
He can hear the blood beating hard in her throat. A fluttering pulse of mortality. Awakening that predatory instinct, old as life itself, that he has spent long years restraining with an exerted will of self-control. And Elena, so oblivious, so lovely in the evening light, innocently telling him his own mother wants him dead. At first, Elijah is struck only by the sheer arrogance of it. He is an Original – immortal – untouched by the tedious passions and pains that buffet humanity like leaves in an autumn wind. He is guided by reason and clarity, not emotion (Tatia lying in the meadow grasses with flowers entwined in her hair… Katerina running breathlessly, long skirts streaming out behind her… Elena's dark eyes gazing into his with solemn conviction, I'll be back. You have my word…) Nature and long experience have taught him efficiency, and he will handle this – problem – with the delicacy of touch and ruthless finesse that have made him so feared (so honoured). This is no different. No different at all.
"We all do."
His voice was low and grim. Deep, unreadable shadows lurked in his dark eyes.
Elena braced herself, waiting for some response from him, but he gave no sign. Instead, walking steadily over to the table, Elijah took the glass from her that she had not realised she was still holding and refilled it from the decanter. The sound of splashing liquid was startlingly loud in the tense quiet of the room. The wine crisp, misty, golden.
"Drink?" He said this so simply, so lucidly, that she could only stare.
"No, thank you, I –"
"I insist." He smiled serenely, but his eyes were steel.
Elena took the proffered glass, feeling the warm brush of his fingers against her own, that did not linger a moment longer than courtesy demanded. She swallowed, feeling the chill liquid trickle down her dry throat. Her shaking hand set the glass down on the table. Her heart thudded in her temples. This anticipation was more than her battered nerves could stand.
She tugged nervously at her elbow gloves. His lack of reaction unnerved her far more than any outburst of violence, though she tried to hide it. She wasn't quite ready to let him know the power he had over her. He probably knew, anyway.
It was almost a relief when he finally spoke.
"So she wishes us all dead. I suspected she would not allow Niklaus to live, but –"
"I'm so sorry, Elijah."
"For what?" he demanded, swift and sudden. "Agreeing to my mother's plans to kill us all, or attempting to lie about it?"
"It wasn't like that," she said desperately. "Esther knew how to kill Klaus and this seemed like our only chance! I saw a way to protect the people I loved, and I took it!" She looked at him, wide-eyed and entreating, silently begging him to understand. "You would have done the same."
"And you stopped me as I was about to…" Realisation dawned on his impassive face, a shadow slanting across the thin line of his mouth. "The champagne," he said softly. "Of course. Asking us all to drink… how did I not see it?"
Elena nodded miserably.
"My brothers – Rebekah – they all drank the toast?"
"Yes," she said.
He sighed. "Yes, I suppose it had to be done. And yet you told only me. Why?"
"Because – because you're different. I know you and I…"
"Trust me," he finished quietly.
"Yes," she said.
He toyed meditatively with the glass in his hand, and she could not help but feel he was toying with her also – straining her nerves to the last limit. They had gone back to this uneasy power play, both wanting, bargaining, teetering on the brink of life and death. That constant push and pull between them.
Elijah slanted her a knowing look. "I suppose you know the great risk you've taken in telling me all this," he remarked coolly. "I would say foolish, but we both know that not to be the case." He looked at her intently, dark eyes alight with curiosity. "You genuinely wanted to save me."
Elena searched his face earnestly, desperately seeking that innate nobility he always aspired to, buried somewhere beneath the endless barriers of unassailability, untouchable courtesy and gracious words. But there was no breaking through that gilded armour he had wrought so methodically through the centuries. She saw only the exterior. The assured movements, the proud angle of his head. Serene and silently powerful, impenetrable as a sphinx.
Still, she had to try.
"I've decided to trust you, Elijah. Please don't make me regret that decision."
The slight tilt of his head as he regarded her thoughtfully. So very human – and again, not quite. Elena submitted to his silent scrutiny unflinchingly. She knew he was the remembering the last time he had doubted her – when she had thrust a dagger into her own stomach. She would die a hundred times if that was what it would take for him to trust her. She looked at him with such certainty that she knew he perfectly believed her. Their eyes met over it in such a way that he could not be without a doubt. Elijah nodded gravely, as though having made some silent decision.
"Well," he replied, smiling at last, "Then it seems I am in your debt."
"I know," she said. "And that's why I want you to help us kill Klaus."
The words are uttered with a startling integrity, almost impossible to imagine they come from this mortal girl, slender and light-boned, graceful as a wild bird. Her sleek dark hair frames her olive cheeks, her expression both strong and vulnerable. He can feel the desperation, smell it on her skin. Intriguing. That she dares… Does she know who she is dealing with? But Elijah is no longer surprised. When it comes to protecting those she loves, it brings to the fore those qualities he admires most about her. Self-sacrificing. Passionate. Ruthless. He has seen this girl willing to die – knows the hidden fire beneath the calm repression and it warms his cool skin, brings life to his old, empty bones.
Elijah's dark brows rose with faint incredulity. "You wish to make a deal with me?"
This was more familiar territory. He could be reasoned with. She held on to that thought. He obeyed a certain code of rules, and Elena felt she knew him well enough now to appeal to that sense of justice that governed his actions. At this point, it was almost a tradition between them.
But it was too cold and heartless, this callous bargaining with life and death. It was time to change the rules. Because this time it wasn't a bargain or a deal, but merely a cry for help and she wondered when he had become the person she chose to turn to in her time of need.
"I don't want to make a deal with you, Elijah. I'm asking for your help, as an ally." As a friend. But she did not dare say that aloud.
He turned his emotionless gaze on her. Her eyes were held by his, she dared not move. "You expect me to turn against my own family for the sake of helping you?"
"I had hoped... you're a man of honour, Elijah. Not so long ago, you were prepared to kill Klaus before the Hybrid Curse was broken."
"Klaus had taken my family from me. My family are now reunited; what reason is there for me to betray him?"
She had not wanted it to come to this. But he left her no choice. "You broke your word, Elijah. You promised to help us kill Klaus, and you betrayed us. I understand why you did it, but I lost someone I loved because of you. You have an obligation to help me now." She knotted her fingers together, slick with sweat inside her silk gloves. "I know you are a man capable of compassion. We should be working together."
His expression turned to stone at her words. And in his dark eyes, a brief flicker of something – regret? – hurt? It was gone a moment later, but it was enough to make her hope. Enough to make her think she had a chance. Elena held her breath. She was negotiating with someone who could tear her heart out from her chest. Who could simply compel her to obey him. But she knew instinctively that he wouldn't. Elijah was a man of traditional values at his core. And he would consider that unspeakably rude. Only once had he compelled her, back when they had been enemies and he had been seeking the Moonstone, but never again had he repeated that violation of her mind. To do so would undermine every moment of trust and integrity that had been steadily building between them since the night they had sealed that first alliance in her bedroom.
Instead he smiled, slow and grave. "You have an old soul, Elena. It is one of the things I like most about you." The light from the fire flickered across his marble features, a movement of shifting shadow. "I am going to ask you a question and I know you will answer it truthfully. Is it only Klaus you're intending to kill?"
"If we can. The spell – I don't know – maybe there's a way to reverse it, so no one else gets hurt…"
"I suppose it's possible that the Bennett witch may be able to find a spell to undo the binding."
The binding. And there it was. The weak point in his otherwise inviolable armour. Kol. Rebekah. Finn. Each of them would be consumed in flames the moment someone killed Klaus. Family, she thought. It all came down to family. Elijah had betrayed her to protect his family.
And he would help her to protect his family.
"You don't want them caught in the crossfire," Elena said aloud, sudden understanding dawning on her. "And that's why you're going to agree to help us." She smiled faintly, raising a thin dark brow, her voice soft. "Better the devil you know."
Elijah turned to face her, his profile a sleek black line in his tuxedo, the taut column of his throat visible above the white collar. His immaculate features were guarded. Always keeping his distance. His tones were measured, serene; a casual observer would never have guessed the emotion behind them. "So I have your word that you'll not harm my other siblings?"
"As long as they don't try to stop us… then we have no reason to."
"And that includes keeping your Salvatore brothers in check," Elijah added quietly, a troubling note of finality in his soft voice.
Easier said than done, Elena thought, feeling a moment of apprehension when she considered Damon. Could he be relied upon to honour an agreement in which he had played no part? She had a sudden memory, of a lake house and the terms of a broken deal, strong arms around her dying body and hands slick with blood…
"They won't do anything. I'll make sure of it." Her voice rang steady with conviction. After Stefan allowing Mikael to be killed instead of Klaus and Damon doing everything in his power to stop her reaching Esther tonight, she was losing patience with Salvatores derailing her plans. This time, it was going to be on her terms with someone who could be relied upon to keep his word.
Elijah was watching her, head tipped to one side. Smiling slightly. Elena had a sudden suspicion he knew precisely what she had been thinking, but could not tell whether he was admiring or amused at her exasperation.
"I have underestimated you before, Elena Gilbert," he said seriously. "Be assured that I will not do so again."
She thought how strange it was, his courteous, gentlemanly behaviour, while they were standing here discussing the very real possibility of his own death. It somehow made it all the worse. But everything, everything she had endured over the last few months had pushed her to this point. "I know I shouldn't even be asking, but –" Jenna's face flashed vividly in her mind (along with her parents, along with Isobel, along with John Gilbert), gripped Elena with a painful reminder of the greatest fear she could imagine, the most blinding grief she could ever endure – "I can't lose anyone else, I just can't –"
"I will help you, Elena."
She closed her eyes, the sheer intensity of relief crashing over her like a great wave. Desperate and overcome, she felt her shoulders fall forward, her hands grasping the table before her. "Thank you," she stammered at length, and knew that he felt the force of sincerity in her words.
It must have taken a lot of courage for her to say what she did, Elijah thinks. But he has learnt of the strength she possesses, the steely core beneath the soft exterior that shows itself in the steadiness of her gaze as she looks at him. He remembers (with incredulity now) his initial, casual dismissal of her in that first bizarre meeting – the devastating Petrova resemblance aside – regarding her indifferently as a scared little fawn of a girl, the tear-bright fear evident in her doe eyes, possessing none of Tatia's earthy vitality or Katerina's bewitching coquetry . It had taken him longer to be surprised, then moved by – and finally marvel at – her honesty, her compassion, her selflessness and passionate conviction to help those she loved.
Elijah began to walk slowly around the table, running his fingers lightly along the polished oakwood surface. The disturbance made the dust motes dance, gold and glittering in the warm air. "I feel I owe you an apology, Elena," he began calmly. "I see that in choosing to follow my brother that night that my actions had unintended repercussions. Many innocent lives might have been spared. It is not often I have cause to regret the things I've done, but…"
Elena stood very still, hearing her heart beating thickly in her ears. Klaus had killed Jenna, taken Stefan from her, stolen Tyler's free will, killed without remorse, terrorised the people she loved and all Elijah could say was unintended repercussions? She felt her breaths come, fast and shallow, as she sought to maintain self-control.
"I've made you angry," Elijah noted coolly. His face was impossible to read in the shadowed corner of the room.
"You have no idea what it's been like," she said, her voice shaking as she fought down the furious tears that threatened to surface. They burned on the edges of her lashes. "Caroline is devastated, Tyler's gone. And Stefan… Stefan…" A convulsive wave of emotion crashed inside her, spilling her heart open, bleeding red, weeping red – "How can you let Klaus do this? Are you really that scared of him? Or is it that you've been a Vampire so long that you can't remember what it's like to feel anything human –"
A blur of movement, faster than thought, and suddenly he was standing directly in front of her. Elena felt the mesmerizing force of his presence as never before; he was sheer power and fury and metallic energy that radiated from him in rippling waves. Gold eyes turned blistering coal. She was certain he could hear the intense pounding of her heart. Thud thud thud. "Let us be clear about one thing," he said, his voice low and deadly. "I am prepared to concede a lot for you, Elena, and considering that my family may very well die while I give you my assistance in killing Niklaus, I don't appreciate being provoked." His words were steel, punctuated with ruthless intent. Elegance and menace. "You should show me some respect."
Elijah turned away, passing a hand over his brow. He remained in that manner for some moments, still and unmoving as a statue. Then she heard him sigh softly. "Forgive me, Elena," he said finally, and his voice had returned to its smooth, unperturbed timbre. Chivalry at its finest. "I have no wish to quarrel with you."
Elena was unnerved to realise she could not stop trembling. Her pulse was beating raggedly, her breaths unsteady. The convulsion over, he was standing calmly, relaxed, powerful; his hair shone deep gold in the lamplight. Like a fresco of some ruthless angel of justice. His unlined face was somehow terrifying in its untouchability, but she had had a brief glimpse of the mask slipping. She did not dare think what he might be capable of.
Wordlessly, she backed up a few steps, the polished floorboards creaking loudly beneath her feet. The reaction seemed to amuse him faintly. A tawny lion poised for the kill, toying with her with a lordly paw.
"Oh yes," he murmured. "I've frightened you, haven't I?"
"No offence, Elijah," she said shakily, trying to get a hold of herself. "But I've seen you rip people's hearts out."
"Vampires," he corrected. "And only when necessary."
She had to concede the truth of that, however reluctantly. He lacked the vicious streak of sadism that made Klaus so terrifying and unpredictable. There were no messy kills, no unnecessary waste of life with Elijah. She realised suddenly that she had never seen his Vampire's face reveal itself. Never seen him truly lose control. Even when angered at her, he was still holding back. Always remaining distant and enigmatic. This was the Elijah she was familiar with; unemotional, ruthless and frighteningly efficient.
Elena found her gaze almost unwillingly drawn to him as he idly examined the champagne flute between his fingers, watching carefully as the rose(blood)-tinted liquid tilted with the easy motion of his wrist. Light gleamed off his cufflinks, diamond-studded steel. His expression was thoughtful, absorbed.
She was not naïve. She knew that he wouldn't tell her everything, that there were things he would keep from her – what he chose to reveal and conceal was always done with careful deliberation – but everything he had told her had been the truth.
She owed him that same honesty. After all, if they were to be allies, she could not continue to remain bitter about the past or hold it over him like some dreadful sword of judgement. They needed to approach this as equals. Together.
"I forgive you, Elijah."
Her moral fortitude overrides the rigid sense of purpose which governs his existence. Pity appals him, for it weakens and clouds one's judgement, a mistake he will not make again, has not made for five hundred years (that is too sad for me to accept, my lord). But from her compassion is a gift, something to be cherished. Dominated so long by his ruthless pride, secure in the universe he masters (it is a lonely one), it is ironic (inevitable) that a Petrova should be the one to move his stony heart.
"Always and forever," Elijah murmured softly, his low voice a solemn litany. He paused gravely, his gaze distant. "Yet some sacrifices must be made."
Elena understood his meaning at once – again, there was that uncanny ability to communicate without words. She saw it in the subtle hardening of his features, the dreadful emptiness in his expression.
"We'll keep them safe, Elijah. I promise you, if we work together we can protect them. Even… even if they've hurt me."
At this, for a minute, the steady lightness in his eyes gave way to gravity; it was as if the long look they exchanged held them together. He sighed, deep in his throat. "I am old, Elena. Impossibly old. When you have lived as long in this world as I have, things begin to take on a different… significance. There are things that death is a small price for. You of all people must know that."
Something strained and broke inside her at his weary, terrible acceptance. "How can you be so calm about this? Your family might die –"
"What would you have me do, Elena? Succumb to tedious theatrics in the face of a situation that I can do nothing to change?"
"I just want you to feel something." She spoke with an earnestness that, if almost excessive, conveyed the urgency of her feelings. Trying to break through those barriers, that terrifying ability to rationalise. Appealing to some part of him buried deep beneath the surface that she knew was there… "They're your family, Elijah."
"You pity them," he said wonderingly.
She looked down with a sudden self-consciousness, aware of something in the way he was watching her. "They shouldn't have to die because of what Klaus has done."
"Rebekah would have killed you last night," he reminded her quietly.
"I put a dagger in her. She was betrayed, lashing out."
"Be that as it may… she will come after you again. And I may not be there to protect you."
"I know," said Elena with a sigh. "I'll be careful. I know she's dangerous –"
"We are all of us dangerous, Elena," he said solemnly. "Never forget that. If you hadn't told me of what occurred tonight, I may have had to hurt you. No matter how deeply I would regret it. Let us not have any misconceptions about this arrangement you've proposed. You and I both know that I could kill everyone under this roof if I so chose, and if you wish for only Niklaus and my mother to suffer the consequences of this evening, then I suggest you listen and do exactly as I say."
And Elena knew he was right. He was dangerous. Possibly the most dangerous creature she had ever met. Theirs was a mutual partnership forged in fire. He was a strange kind of saviour. Whether she trusted him or betrayed him, he was deadly. Steady, reasonable and controlled. And fatal. He wouldn't indulge her, he wouldn't treat her as though she was made of glass – and he wouldn't surrender to her, either. No, this was why she had come to him. This was the Elijah she needed. He was so strong, and she was so tired. She nodded and looked up at him, drawing the hair back from her face with shaking hands.
"What do you want me to do?"
"To begin with, stop antagonising what remains of my family. Kol is… impulsive. But he may be persuaded to see reason. Rebekah, on the other hand… she will never willingly betray Niklaus. Not even to save herself. Yet alone, she would not openly challenge me. If she does, it will be her own misfortune."
"You would let her die. Wouldn't you?"
"If I had to."
The vestiges of that elegiac mood still lingered in his eyes. Elena felt as though she was intruding on something private and intensely personal. It was as though he had completely forgotten her presence, or even worse, did not care. She wondered, with a sudden uncommon flash of self-doubt, whether he even regarded her at all, or merely thought her an impertinent diversion that could be treated with calm indulgence. The thought filled her with a sadness sharper than she could have imagined. Despair weighed, thick and miserable, inside her chest.
"I know what you must think of me."
"No, Elena," he murmured, looking up at last. "I don't imagine you do."
"I'm asking you to turn against your own family," she whispered disbelievingly. "You must hate me."
He moved closer – not to intimidate– no, he was always surprisingly careful and restrained around her, but Elena was still unnervingly aware of his proximity, his age or power or something making her skin tingle with the sense of his otherness in a way it never did with Stefan or Damon. He was standing before her, precise and trim in his tailored suit; she did not have to lift her gaze too far to meet his. The strange warmth of him radiating against her. His strong, graceful fingers curved beneath her jaw, tilting her face up to his. Close enough to see the tawny flecks in his dark eyes. Close enough to see the lashes edged with gold. "I think you are tremendously brave," he said gravely. "You are incredibly loyal. And you deserve to live a full, long life."
The intensity with which he regarded her was almost too much to bear. A deep and sincere admiration that she knew she did not deserve.
"Thank you for saving my life," she managed, a little unsteadily.
He shrugged, a poised and weary gesture. "You've done the same for me." His voice was calm and matter-of-fact, without sentiment. It was an anchor in the chaos that surrounded her. Everything felt precarious, and for now, it was a relief to be around someone so utterly certain of himself.
Her great dark eyes lift to his and there is something wistful and affectionate in her gaze. She is painfully young to one so old as him, and yet, and yet… shadowed by a blood-drenched history she had no hand in, she is no mere girl. She carries the Petrova blood, that ultimate elixir. Poison and wine, forbidden and intoxicating. The curse of the Originals. He has had time to ruminate in the depths of daggered sleep, of dead girls and dead loves, all wearing the same face. Yet, looking at Elena, so delicate and graceful, Elijah cannot resent her for the betrayals of those who came before. There is something very precious and human in her expression, one of the virtues he admires most about her. Elijah finds himself strangely touched by the softness in her face, the fragile hope lingering there, and suddenly understands why it is that the Salvatore brothers will do anything, anything in the world to keep her safe.
He was practical and logical, exactly what she needed right now. Someone who would measure himself coolly against the situation and know exactly what to do. Elena found herself leaning towards him instinctively, startled to realise she trusted him, trusted him in a way she had been unable to trust anyone lately. Stefan might not even be Stefan anymore, and it was far too dangerous to ever truly trust Damon (that incited a storm inside her she had no wish to dwell on, a kiss that had altered everything, shaken the very foundations of her existence). Whirling between the two in a dizzying, endless waltz.
She could already hear Damon's incredulous voice inside her head; imagine the cynical slant of his piercing eyes. Are you kidding me? Every time we trust Elijah, someone ends up daggered, dead, or turned. And did I mention the crazy siblings? For all we know, they might be even more messed up than Klaus! And are we forgetting the whole Rebekah trying to kill you part?
Tonight Damon had been everything she had come to expect and dread from him. Impulsive. Controlling. Destructive. Ruthless. Guilt burned inside her at what she had already done to him this evening (what she had allowed Stefan to do to him…) Another impossible decision, another necessary cruelty. Was it possible to love someone too much? To become so mercilessly narrowed in the single-minded purpose of keeping a loved safe that it wrecked a path of destruction around everything else, burning even himself in that uncontrollable fire? The thought was too much to bear; she could not live with herself if it were true. If anything happened to Damon because of his desire to protect her…
Elena drew a deep breath and looked steadily at Elijah. "I need you to do one more thing for me."
That awakened echoes of the past (we're negotiating now?), a soft, slow dance with ritual. Each measuring one another. Yet now it was a different brother she was pleading for. She tried to rationalise it, to justify it to herself. Told herself that she was asking only because Damon needed her help more (but Stefan, it will always be Stefan...)
"Ask," Elijah said simply.
"Stefan and Damon… they don't trust you. At least… not like I do."
He shrugged; a rippling movement of the shoulders like a stretching cat. "I have no fear of Stefan or Damon Salvatore."
"I know," she conceded. "But Damon… when he's afraid, he tends to get… reckless. I'm worried he'll put himself in danger."
"Then that will save me the necessity of ripping his heart out."
Her throat turned to ash as she stared at him, unable to form words. His tanned, chiselled face was unmoving.
"That was a joke, Elena." His mouth turned up at one side, that wry, dry humour that so rarely expressed itself. For some reason she was not yet ready to consider, he allowed her these occasional glimpses inside him, past the formality he displayed before everyone but her. "Though he does… irritate me."
A relieved sigh escaped her, though she could not suppress a look of disapproval for him making so light of what she considered of life and death importance. She wondered whether he did not understand or just did not care. Most likely the latter. They were caught in this uneasy stasis, and she was unable to quite define the nature of their strange relationship. More than allies, less than friends.
"What is it you're asking of me?" He sounded indifferent, bored, as he always did whenever she spoke of Stefan or Damon. She could not understand how he could merely treat them as minor annoyances when just the thought of them made her soul burn, each in such different ways. It was like a steady and constant flame that gave warmth and life against the flare of a blazing inferno that annihilated and consumed.
"Just… look out for him. Please."
Elijah would call it audacity but for the tentativeness with which she asks the favour of him, her expressive face alight with gratitude and a deep, abiding trust. Young Vampires break easily and the Salvatores easier than most – broken bond, broken brotherhood, broken hearts – but for her sake he will abide by his word to keep them safe. Her face blurs suddenly, that different sameness momentarily unsteadying him from his implacable severity (eyes like embers, lips parted like poisoned petals) But Katerina would never have asked. She would have lied, demanded, manipulated. But that is not Elena's way, Elena who is bound by honour, a restraint and purity of motive. Modest and melancholy, wise beyond her years. No, she is far more himself than Katerina. Elijah wonders if she, like he, senses that they are stronger together.
Even after they had betrayed one another, there was an unshakeable honesty in him that drew her back again and again. Elena wondered why it was that she felt he would provide the solace she so desperately sought. Perhaps it was because he treated her like an equal and respected her ability to make her own decisions. We have an understanding, she thought.
Warily, tentatively, she moved towards him in a rustle of silk. Aware of trembling need for comfort, for something apart from the fear and confusion. He was warm and solid before her. So touchable (so real). Her hand rested lightly on the plane of his cheek. "Thank you," she said quietly. "It means a lot."
Elijah's head tilted slightly, his steady gaze sliding over her face, and suddenly, the atmosphere between them changed. Elena realised how close they were standing, felt that subtle magnetism of his presence. The warmth of his russet hair, his tawny eyes. Old eyes. She could feel the weight of centuries looking out at her. She could smell spice and pine woods and old cologne and something metallic; a refined and powerful scent that was somehow so completely Elijah.
"What you did tonight was extremely brave," he said, low and soft. "I won't forget it."
Suddenly, it was very hard to meet his soft, searching gaze. Elena felt herself falling into the depths of those dark, devastating eyes. She sought to say something conventional, polite.
"I couldn't watch you die and do nothing." The words came out thin and wavering, not at all how they had sounded in her head. She tried to pass it off lightly as simple of act of human decency, something she would have done for anyone, hoping he wouldn't read too much into it. Not wanting to give the gesture too much significance, too much meaning. But one tentative look at him through the veiled line of her dark lashes told her he knew exactly what she had meant.
She jumped when Elijah took her hands in his. She could feel the beat of the pulse at her wrists against his fingers. Throbbing fast, uneven. The breath caught in her throat and Elena felt, rather than saw his smile. Too familiar to be comfortable. He held her too tightly, and her heart fluttered in skips and starts, unable to match the regular, steady rhythm of his. They both remained still, in tandem. She was caught, like prey in the claws of a cat. And so terribly warm.
"I appreciate your honesty," Elijah murmured deep in his throat. Something hung between them, taut and expectant. The light of the room was golden and inviting. Caramel, champagne, and mahogany. Warm colours. The heat of the fire basking along the line of her bare arms. And Elijah before her, calm, collected, contented. So certain (of what?) His pupils dilated, their colour deepening. "And feel I owe you the same in return. So I hope you'll forgive me for what I'm about to do."
"Forgive you?" she echoed in confusion, "Forgive you for what? Elijah, I don't –"
"Elena." She was silenced by the quiet authority in his voice, stunned by the desperate and deep rawness of it. She started at the brush of his ashen hair against her brow. As he lowered his mouth to hers with a faint smile.
If Tatia introduced him to love and Katerina had shown him its pains, then Elena is the one who has restored his faith in it. And it is different, Elijah reflects with a vague sense of wonder as his head bends to hers, to the youthful infatuation and doomed obsession (regrets, missed opportunities) that have haunted him over the distant span of centuries. This is beautiful and honest and human. Not a naïve passion, nor a bitter disillusion. A saving grace.
Elena felt her body still with shock as he kissed her. Not demandingly, not with aggression, but with a calm, determined purpose that was somehow harder to fight than if he had used force. Her first bewildered thought was that his mouth was cool where Stefan's was warm and Damon's was burning, but then all thoughts of the Salvatore brothers fled from her mind as his fingers slid tenderly through the dark waves of her hair, curling around the back of her neck, tracing the bare skin that shivered beneath the light, smooth caress. A lingering, slow burn. Elena held herself motionless, determined to remain stiff and aloof, but his warm, coaxing touches had her melting like wax before a flame. He held her face carefully in his hands and there was power – centuries of power – in his hold, but it was leashed, his touch astonishingly gentle. Elegant and yearning, languid and sensual.
Until it wasn't. Because, all at once, Elijah's legendary control snapped.
She felt it as a physical force; a shift, a great surging power rippling over her, through her. Elena opened her eyes, unaware she had closed them, and felt the deep intensity of his gaze on her, never faltering, never looking away. His eyes were obsidian held before a flame. She wondered if this was what compulsion felt like, the warm, sinking feeling, all sense of control falling away with a soft, devastating fervency. This was so much more dangerous than anything Klaus could do to her. Hating an Original was easier than trusting one. His head tilted slightly to grant him a better angle, his mouth thorough and exploratory, tasting the heady flavour of champagne that lingered on her lips. Graduations of intensity, now rising, now falling, leaving her both drained and thirsting for more.
And suddenly, her hands were on his shoulders, fisting in the crisp, clean fabric of his suit. His body was warm as the stones by the hearth, warm as the alcohol in her blood. Her fingers slid upward, past the smooth lapels, brushing against the golden skin of his throat that was just barely exposed by the high collar. Elena felt the sharp rise of his chest as he inhaled, their bodies pressed so close they seemed fused together. Elijah's firm hands moved down her throat, over her bare shoulders, tracing the wings of her shoulder blades. Shivers trailed across her skin. A black-flannelled thigh slid effortlessly between her own, parting her skirts like water, the raw silk so cool, his touch, so warm. Heat, liquid, cloying, pooled within her. Everything was moving too fast, yet at the same time drawn out and lingering, agonisingly slow. His fingers slid down her back, burning through her dress, the thin silk seeming to dissolve beneath his touch. Those deliberated caresses so consummate, delaying that instant gratification, forcing her to wait (forcing her to beg). So perfect and destructive. His lips blazed a trail to the curve of her throat where he paused, inhaling deeply. She tensed instinctively, but Elijah only spoke softly, murmuring her name like a solemn prayer on his lips. Her name. Elena. There were no ghosts; for once, everything was honest and real. He breathed it against her parted lips. Elena. Elena.
When he lifted his mouth off hers, she dragged in a breath, staring up at the ceiling, plaster dappled the palest gold from the dim evening light. Revolving, like her mind. She felt unsteady, light-headed –
Elena took a step back. Away. Out of his grasp.
Her breathing was ragged, her heart racing as though she had been running for miles... away from something, towards something…
Elijah did not move. Strange energy in his expression, an uncommon fire smouldering in his dark irises, their edges lined with gold. A latent passion, burning all the more strongly for being concealed beneath the surface. And finally, the cracks in his composure; beneath the mere wanting was pain and longing and hope. It was all too much. She couldn't bear this – not from him, not from Elijah – she had expected him to be calm and solid and reliable and controlled, and the realisation that he could lose all that (for her) was possibly the most frightening thing that had happened tonight.
His hand curved along the line of her jaw, slowly turning her face up to his. Up to those dark, solemn eyes. She trembled in that firm, tender hold.
"Look at me, Elena." His voice so gentle, soothing. It made her ache.
"Elijah…" she said unsteadily, "I can't…"
He paused. Then that force of will, the iron control with which he always sheathed himself, came down. He nodded, a swift jerk of the head, his hand sliding away from her face as he graciously withdrew.
"And you don't have to," he said gently. "Your gratitude is enough."
She saw, to her relief that the frightening intensity had left his expression and he was as she had always known him, meticulously cool and polite once more. He was the one who had overstepped the bounds of their constrained, formal relationship, so why was she the one wracked with guilt? His unspoken admission had left her raw and vulnerable, as though the ground had been pulled from under her. It would be easy, so easy to become swept up in her desperate desire to help, to alleviate the depths of sadness she saw lingering in his eyes. Tonight, tomorrow, the next day, he might lose his entire family, and the fault of it was hers. Yet he did not judge or condemn. Her heart burned at the vast unfairness of it all. Elena instinctively reached out a hand to soothe him, but drew back at once, self-conscious colour burning in her cheeks. She bit her lip, feeling strangely on the verge of tears.
"I didn't mean to…"
While she was flushed and uncertain, Elijah was smooth and immaculate. All business. Even his suit was pristine. He spoke calmly, as though nothing had happened. Gracious in defeat. "Of course."
How like Stefan he was, she thought desolately, how very easy it was for him to turn off his emotions and act as though nothing had happened. Elena caught sight of her reflection in the decanter. Everything she felt revealed itself all too clearly on her face. Her cheeks were still flushed, eyes shining with unhappiness, thick dark hair tumbling over her shoulders in a disarray that betrayed exactly what had passed between them a few moments ago.
Why did he do this? How could he think this coldness was better than showing emotion, better than honesty? Did he really think he was being kind? Elena wanted to shake him, break through that infuriatingly cool façade. It happened, Elijah. And pretending that none of it was real, that denying it to yourself is gonna make it all go away won't work… I know you feel something, just show me, Stefan please –
Elena froze, shaken by the emotions that passed through her. Stefan's image faded from her mind and it was Elijah who faced her once more. His seeming indifference hurt, but she was the one who had rejected him, demanded that he repress what he felt (what did he feel?) This denial, this cruelty was killing her softly, but what else could be done? Her lips parted… inside she was trembling, burning, the words caught in her throat, plaintive and agonised. How do you do that? Act like… you don't care… like you don't feel anything?
Instead, she said with a calmness that almost equalled his; "Why are you prepared to give me your help?"
"Because you trusted me enough to ask for it." And there, there was the warmth in his gaze as he looked on her. The sound of his words soft around her shoulders like a comforting blanket.
"What you are doing is extremely dangerous," he continued quietly. "In challenging Niklaus, you're taking a very great risk. It is possible you may die. People you love may die. But understand one thing, Elena." Certainty blazed in his eyes. In that moment she believed he would have walked through fire to keep her safe. "You will never be in danger where I am concerned."
"I know," she said.
He is silently awed by the triumphant spirit he glimpses within her. Fierce, compassionate and beautiful. He wants to nurture that spirit, like the spark of a flame, not see it quenched by the darkness of the Salvatore brothers tearing each other apart to possess her pure heart. Elijah is aware of an anger unfamiliar to his nature shaking the foundations of his unmovable frame, deep and absolute. Threatening the weary reason he has spent years solidifying, always allowing to prevail over his actions. He idly muses whether things might have been different had he met her first, but then on reflection decides that it hardly matters. After all, he is a patient man, and they say third time's the charm.
"We should go," Elijah said heavily, "Before my mother notices our absence."
Elena nodded, shivering slightly as reality returned in a sudden, unwelcome rush. Soon, she would have to step outside this room and face the consequences of tonight. But she had only followed her instincts (followed her heart). Unable to shake off that sense of foreboding in her bones, the overwhelming conviction that Esther was not to be trusted. She rubbed her silk-gloved hands along her bared arms, suddenly strangely cold (away from his tantalising warmth –) "There are so many people, I'm sure she won't miss us."
"Yes, she has certainly put on a fine show." His features hardened as he waved a contemptuous hand at their surroundings. "This… tedious opulence. It is a celebration of our deaths."
"It won't come to that," she said fervently. "We will find a way around this, Elijah. I promise."
He nodded, a short, sharp gesture. She felt the heaviness of his gaze settling on her. "I won't insult you by telling you the consequences you will face if you attempt to break the terms of our deal."
She looked up at him with a daring archness, an unexpected playfulness lacing her low tones. "I thought we agreed this wasn't a deal?"
Interest flickered in the enigmatic depths of his eyes. A slow smile tugged the edges of his sculptured mouth. "Then what would you call it?"
The silence stretched between them. Trying to guess his thoughts was like attempting to break through a smooth and polished wall. His smooth, classic features betrayed nothing. So very different from Klaus, whose hateful face was a constant presence in her nightmares, handsome and violent and insane (had she really seen him dancing with Caroline earlier?) Smiling like a hungry wolf, so wild-eyed and full of blood rage. Elena wondered how he could wield such a powerful hold over someone as deliberately self-reliant as Elijah, and fear rippled through her. Family was a far more powerful bond than compulsion. Once again, she remembered herself trapped in a circle of fire, gasping, half-sobbing as she could do nothing to prevent –
What if it was Jeremy next time? Or Alaric? Or StefanandDamonDamonandStefan –
The words burst from her, strained and raw with panic. "He won't stop, Elijah. He'll keep coming after everyone I love –"
Elijah's expression softened. "Your love for those around you is far more dangerous than anything you have to fear from Niklaus. Remember that, Elena." His voice was low and decisive as he strolled over to the hearth, holding his hands over the sullenly burning flames.
Elena remained still for some moments, strangely unwilling to leave him. But Damon was probably tearing down every door in the building trying to find her, and Stefan… her throat burned, that dull, familiar pain throbbing in her temples… Stefan probably didn't even care. She was a tool to him now, nothing more than a means by which he could destroy Klaus. The other Originals were merely collateral damage in his eyes. And Damon made it no secret that he would sacrifice anyone and everyone but Stefan to keep her alive. Was it any wonder she had placed her faith in Elijah instead?
They had come to an understanding. He was a noble and honourable man. Elena felt a strong resolution burning within her, a desire to live up to the trust he placed in her. She had endless gratitude to make up.
She moved to the door in a rustle of black-jewelled gold silk. Glancing over her shoulder, hesitating. She felt like she should say something. Thank you felt too inadequate. But what else was there? She drew a breath, steeled herself.
And started slightly at the sound of his voice.
Elijah was still standing with his back to her, toying with his cufflinks. She heard the wry smile in his tone.
"Enjoy the rest of your evening."
In the words of our favourite Original: I want reviews on the count of three, or heads will roll…