This Time Around

Summary: For HazelHeart93 (on tumblr now known as WeAreTheOriginals). "A life trapped between a sea of thorns is no life for a rose, Elena. Either the Salvatores let you breathe, or they run the risk of suffocating you. I've been in love; it's not supposed to be suffocating. It's supposed to let you grow." Elijah gives Elena some much needed advice before the sacrifice ritual, unexpectedly coming to a strange conclusion about his own reasons for helping her.

He observes her.

She has developed an interesting routine, whereby she alternates between pacing the floor and sitting down to stare at the fire. Sometimes her fingers knot together; other times she lets them fall down by her side. She alternates between panicking and feeling nothing at all, and it's rather interesting to see unfold.

Perhaps interesting is the wrong word to use. He feels for her, for the situation she's in, for the role she has to play in a ritual that should never have been planned in the first place. Elijah knows he frequently walks the line between shades of morality, but he feels like on this issue, he has his feet planted on the right side. The Petrova bloodline has been persecutes throughout history; this he knows but doesn't share with her. She doesn't need to know how many of her ancestors were killed simply because they displeased Klaus by not possessing the face he needed to break his curse. Sometimes after his brother's reckless slaughters, Elijah would find himself closing the eyes of the victims, hating the fact that the same shade of fudge brown seemed to be passed down from the eyes of one generation to the next.

Elena shares the same exquisite shade of brown eyes; this he's already observed, already been entranced by. She can show an array of emotion in her eyes that has the power to sway even the coldest of hearts to a degree of warmth. Right now from what he can gather, her eyes show the tiniest slither of emotion – namely, fear – but are mostly coated with a sense of numbness, almost like she's afraid to feel anything, like it might just be the last time she gets to feel this way.

He rests against the wall, contemplating a million different moments in his own life, a million times when he felt exactly the same way, and it strikes him as odd that he can relate to her more than he could ever have related to Katerina and Tatia. He also has to marvel at her strength at being able to cope with two different kinds of love constantly surrounding; one love, protective and intense, at the same time that it's also suffocating and dangerous, the other sensitive and trusting, whilst on the other hand being too weak to protect her entirely.

He wonders whether she knows it'll be her destiny, like her ancestors before her, to hold the hearts of two men for a long, long time, perhaps even for eternity. A murmur of discomfort shrugs its way down his spine at the thought. What a burden it must be to have to play the role of lover, fighter and martyr all at once, like an actor filling in for the people who came and went before him.

"I must say I admire your courage, Elena," he speaks, his voice clouded by a sense of wistfulness he fears may derive from regret that his courage always failed him at the crucial moments. "You're willing to put your life on the line for all your friends. Your family."

She looks up, her head tilting fractionally to the side. Elijah gets the feeling even after putting her trust in him, she still doesn't quite know what to think about him. He understands; he's made himself an enigma over the years, shadowing his real nature to protect his still vulnerable heart, because he knows deep down he's just like her. Afraid of the world. Torn between what's right and what's easy. Desperate to protect his broken family.

"I don't think Damon and Stefan quite get what I'm willing to do to protect everyone I care about," she says, her tone laced with weariness, and he can hear the chords of arguments she's probably fired at the Salvatores a thousand times, each one going unheard, and it must be frustrating, to have that much courage stored inside you with doubt and the loves of two very different individuals surrounding you at every turn. "I don't want to die, but if that's what I have to do to keep the people love safe, I know what my choice is going to be."

He absorbs this, his eyes flicking onto the lazy flames, and he watches them hiss and spit like a disgruntled child for a brief moment. He wants to promise her that everything will be okay, that she will live through it with her humanity intact – and he thinks about telling her about the elixir he procured a while ago – but he isn't sure whether Klaus will count on that particular obstacle in his plan. His brother, though arrogant by nature, isn't stupid, and his continued survival rests entirely on his ability at being able to stay one step ahead of his enemies, including the Salvatores, and Elijah is sure if he can see the fact that they will do anything to save Elena, his brother will be able to see it too.

"You are a very remarkable young woman, Elena," he murmurs, his eyes falling onto hers. "And for that reason, I'm going to remind you of an aspect of the story I told you about which may yet provide an olive branch for you."

There's a spark of something in her eyes – hope – that fuels something inside his own heart. The corners of her lips lift up a little, but she still looks tired. Worn. And he knows without even knowing her she's been through so much that right now all she wants is for all this to be over.

Without hesitating, he ploughs on, "Remember when I said I told my brother that I might've found a way to spare the doppelgänger's life, and he told me not to be so weak, that love was a vampire's greatest weakness?"

She nods, "I remember."

He smiles tightly.

"I may have a way to save you, Elena. Some things one just simply keeps hold of, even when it eventually proves to be redundant." He grimaces. "It still disturbs me how Katerina could so recklessly end her life that way." He glances at her, faint shadows flickering across her olive skin. "Personally I'm surprised the Salvatore brothers haven't tried turning you, although given Katerina's history, I would not like that fate to be yours."

"Stefan wouldn't turn me. He values my choice, even if he doesn't like it."

"And Damon?"

She closes her eyes, an indeterminable emotion passing across her face.

"I don't know what he will do. He's reckless, impulsive." She exhales sharply, before adding, "but he cares about me. And he wants me to be alive and safe, so how can I fault him for that?"

"You can admire the goal but not the way to achieve it," he remarks wryly. "As noble as Damon's intentions are, I fear his impulse may do more harm than good, in the end. As for Stefan, he is pure of heart and also very courageous, but I wonder whether you'll ever truly be safe with him, given the fact he may trust your choices, but as today showed, he'll never trust Damon around you. He'll trust him to keep you safe, but nothing else, and their division on how best to protect you concerns me."

"Why?" She frowns. "Why do you care what happens to me, or how they'll go about protecting me? You want Klaus dead. You need me to die in the ritual so that he'll be weak enough to be able to be killed."

"That is true," he admits, "but you have qualities, Elena, that I long to possess myself. You have a selfless nature I have rarely seen in any human I have ever come across. Believe me, I no more wish to see that extinguished than I would want my own heart ripped out of my chest."

She tilts her head a little more, her teeth grazing her bottom lip, the only sound between them coming from the fire.

"So you're not still mad about the whole stabbing-you-in-the-chest thing then?" she asks, sounding both wry and weary.

He surprises them both by laughing.

"No," he assures her. "Being who I am means I am frequently met with people who insist on wasting precious moments of our lives driving menial weapons through my heart, and though admittedly those that try end up with their hearts removed, I think I may just make an exception for you."

She laughs, and it's a warm, rich sound, and it strikes him for the first time that he loves the sound. It's beautiful, enticing, and weaves a story of an entirely different girl with an entirely different story, and he is more than perturbed by his own innate curiosity at discovering that other girl, the carefree one before all the supernatural had invaded her life.

"By all means tell me I'm crossing a line here," he begins, looking (rightfully) wary as he begins a new conversation topic, "but it strikes me that the longer you stay in this town, the harder your life will get. This town has hosted the supernatural longer than you know, and though it may seem hard to believe, there are worse dangers out there than my own brother."

"I find that hard to imagine, given what I've heard about him already," she says, twirling a strand of hair between her fingers.

"My brother wasn't born a monster, this you must understand. He was born into the supernatural, this I'll grant you, but up until a certain point, he was more than just my brother. He was my best friend."

"And now you want him dead." Elena's eyes swim with sympathetic tears, which he momentarily marvels at. Her compassion is both her biggest virtue and her Achilles Heel. "How does that even happen?"

"My brother and I haven't spoken for a long time, Elena, but that doesn't mean I don't hear whispers, rumours, of what he does, or what he's planning. And just because my humanity is shrouded in a darkness I can never escape doesn't mean I don't pity the victims Klaus chooses to torture and kill without remorse."

"I wouldn't have believed this side of you existed, Elijah, given how we first met," she remarks wryly, her lips twisting into a teasing smile, a gentle blush colouring her cheeks, her heart beating at the same speed of a skip of an innocent child, all of which he finds endearing about her.

"I know," he agrees, matching her wry tone. "And for my own reputation, I think it is better we say nothing about this conversation to anyone else."

He memorises the little details about her, the way her feet fidget restlessly together when she's nervous, that one strand of hair which seems to constantly fall across her face, the different shades of red she goes when she blushes. He has absolutely no idea why she's such an endearing character to him, particularly when he knows in one breath she can appear desperate and almost helpless, and then when your guard is down, she can drive a dagger into your heart without hesitation.

She's a fighter, but still a girl, and perhaps that's what fascinates him most about her. She endures all that life can throw at her, but still retain her humanity, because he knows had he gone through what she'd gone through when he'd been human, he thinks perhaps he would've fled a long time ago, because as a human he'd been a coward.

But he keeps that knowledge to himself, using his past weaknesses as a way of strengthening himself, and that includes his humanity. He keeps it guarded, cloaking himself with a heartless façade because it makes it easier to keep living this lonely life. Somehow, however, he realises after meeting Elena his guard dropped, and he finds he cares more than he should. He's making the same dangerous mistake he made with Katerina, and though he should rebuke himself for letting it happen, he can't entirely regret it. Feeling anything, even if it confuses the hell out of him, is better than feeling nothing at all.

"It's the waiting I think that's the worst part," she speaks in a low tone, her voice husky, her breathing steady as her heart beat.

"It always is," he says, walking closer towards her.

Elena raises her eyes to meet his, and there's an unanswered question in her eyes.

"What if your way to help me doesn't work?"

It's then he realises just how terrified she really is, and that her show of courage is just that, a show. Oh, she's still so brave, he won't deny her of that, but if anything he admires her more for her vulnerability than her displays of strength, because both traits accentuate the other, making them even more remarkable to watch.

"It will," he assures her.

She nods, not really convinced, but maybe she'd only been fishing for assurances, not real truths, and he gives her an earnest look, trying to determine what she's more scared of here, dying, or that her death will not ensure the outcome she desires here. He can understand that completely, the conflict between two fears, each strong as the next, but only one able to dominate her mind completely, so he changes the subject.

"Where are Stefan and Damon tonight?"

"Damon's probably out causing trouble of some sorts," she mumbles into her hands, "and Stefan is going over the plan with Bonnie. She's had to hide, because Klaus believes her to be dead and she's our secret weapon."

Elijah nods. "I see. Wise decision. At some point I may have to speak to Miss Bennett myself, just to confirm at what point she can use her magic to before I intervene."

"Thank you for helping to save her life," Elena says, sounding more than grateful, but it's hard to establish what emotion lines her tone. "If it wasn't for you, the only way to have defeated Klaus would've been to let her use all the magic she has, and that would've killed her and I – I can't lose anybody else that I love."

"I understand. But," he hesitates, picking his words carefully, "you do understand that your friends feel exactly the same about you. Should this go wrong, should my way not spare you the fate I wish you didn't have to face, you should know that as admirable as what you're doing is, it will tear your friends apart."

"I know..."

"Do you?" He picks apart every emotion flickering across her face with his eyes. "Elena... I've loved and lost over the span of my life, and I can tell you the loss of someone never gets any easier to deal with. All I'm asking is that you take a moment to understand that should you survive the ritual – and I am confident you will – you remember you are not alone in what you feel. I barely know the people you love, but if what you've told me about Miss Bennett reflects the rest of your friends and family, my guess is that there is nothing none of them wouldn't do to save your life."

She smiles, but it doesn't touch her eyes. She looks haunted, and he knows she's remembering something else, a memory he isn't privy to, and he gives her a moment, adjusting his suit as he thinks about his family, the ones he knows he will never see again, and he closes his eyes, picturing Rebekah's curls, Kol's smirk, Finn's eyes – which always held more wisdom and morality than the rest of them could ever have dreamed of possessing – and he even takes a moment to think about his fallen brother, Henrik, before pulling himself back to the present.

"I think you're going to have to help me convince Stefan and Damon to help us with our plan," Elena speaks. "Stefan will be on board, but Damon won't be. He doesn't trust you, and he doesn't trust me." She sees his eyebrows rise at that remark, and adds, "he isn't exactly subtle about the fact he thinks every plan I come up with will end in disaster."

"He's an impulsive creature, your Damon is," he observes. "And yet he is wise to doubt, for even I cannot predict the outcome of all this. If I might make another observation, Elena, I think you'd be wise to leave the company of the Salvatores, if not after all of this, then at some point in the near future."

"Why do you say that?"

"A life trapped between a sea of thorns is no life for a rose, Elena. Either the Salvatores let you breathe, or they run the risk of suffocating you. I've been in love; it's not supposed to be suffocating. It's supposed to let you grow. It's supposed to provide opportunities, not limit them. And from what I've seen so far, they have shown me very little evidence that they are capable of letting you be free."

"Stefan lets me make my own choices," she offers up in defence of one brother (but not the other, he shrewdly observes).

"True, but there needs to be a balance," he fairly evaluates. "Yes, you must be allowed to make and execute your own decisions, but there must be a point of interference when a decision could cost you heavily. The Salvatores are both ends of the scale of extremity, and I fear that may effect your future."

She closes her eyes, pursing her lips together.

"I'd rather not talk about my future until after this is over, Elijah. After I survive the sacrifice ritual, then I can begin to think about what comes next."

"I understand."

And he does.

"I still don't understand why you're telling me all this, why you're giving me all this advice," she says, somewhat shyly. "You said caring for someone was a mistake you didn't intend on making again, and yet all of this seems to show you care about me, at least enough to keep me alive."

He looks away, already aware he's given away too much of himself tonight.

"Maybe I want to keep alive the best evidence there is that humanity, for all its flaws and weaknesses, is still worth saving," he offers, but it's a weak explanation for what he really feels.

Maybe I want to do this right this time, hopefully saving the only doppelgänger who even deserves a second chance at life.

But rather than elaborating to a clearly curious Elena, he clenches his fists by his side, and concentrates on the fire, pretending the affection he feels blooming inside his hollow chest for her isn't there, that even if it is present, it's easy to stamp out, even if denying its existence is the hardest thing he's ever had to do in his entire life.