Bit of a delay with this one, thanks for waiting! I am changing the story's rating for this chapter, so head's up.

Theme song of this chapter is "When You're Ready" by Kate Earl, and "Eyes On Fire" by Blue Foundation

Thanks for reviewing!


Denver, Colorado II

He takes her back to the hotel, a blur of darkness past prying eyes.

For a long time she cries into Elijah's shoulder, shivering and quiet. Here, she is safe from ghosts, safe from Klaus, safe from the life she let slip by the wayside. Nothing can hurt her with Elijah's lips breathing soft promises in her hair, so she lets the past wash over her at last.

Her brother hits first: gorgeous and living and heartbroken at their parents' grave. He pulls out his Playstation and hides in the car, unable to stand the sight of dirt clumps falling on oak.

After Jeremy come the faces of her victims, patterned before her eyes in a slow dance of recrimination. A cheerleader with a blue ribbon, then a waitress serving coffee to vampires. Outside Belarus she killed man who sold pastries because she wanted to test her curfew, and in a hundred cities she fed on the living to keep herself strong.

Pushing away their fear, Elena tries to picture the place where she was born. When she leaves the safety of Elijah's arms for the bathroom, the sight of Uncle John's casket swims in her vision. As she steps into the shower, shivering and exhausted, each drop of water burrows an old memory into her skin. She feels them all: Matt's hair like golden straw under her fingers the first time they kiss in the eighth grade, Bonnie's warm cheek pressed against hers while they cried. She remembers Stefan's mouth sliding over her thigh, and Damon's hands fighting so hard not touch what he can't seem to keep.

Pain is not the right word for what Elena feels, because this sensation is enveloping, not invading. Like a blanket wrapped around her thoughts, it's comforting and familiar. A friend returned from a long absence. Elena pleats her wet hair into a pony tail, and she thinks of Caroline making games for their sleepover parties. She puts on her jeans and heeled boots—a black leather pair she bought from a shopgirl in New York with Jenna's bright hair. When she steps out, all the hurt is buried under a red velvet top, a sweater, a coat, and even a scarf. Layers might be unnecessary to her kind, but tonight Elena craves any ritual that will offset thinking.

From the door outside her hotel room, Elijah is a black hole of sound and scent. His eyes track her as she walks into the hall, but she catches his gaze and shakes her head, once.

He lets her go, though his hands fist at his side and his expression cuts her into tiny pieces with its concern. The older vampire hasn't looked at Elena that way since Mystic Falls, the night he held out his hand and spirited her away from their two broken families.

Liar liar, whispers the heart in her chest where the stone should be. Elijah has given her a thousand expressions. Every frown, every smirk, and every smile is a promise she never bothered to return. Yet they're all still here, tucked beneath the thing that beats and the blood that flows, if she only cares to see.

"Stay," commands Elena, because some things are too bright to look at.

He stays, she goes, and snow crunches beneath her feet as she runs.

When she reaches the highest building in the city, Elena compels the night guard to let her in. She rides the elevator to the top and sits out of the farthest ledge, where the great confessions happen in the movies she grew up watching with Jeremy. The romance is disappointing in its absence: no more brothers, no more friends, no lovers to chase her honor up the balcony. It's cold, ten below at street level, and the wind up here gathers her hair into a tangling mess.

Taking the most precarious ledge, she lets her feet swing over the city and contemplates what a massive mistake it is to let her emotions erupt again. Hasn't it been easier, this life? No one dies for the innocent little doppelganger anymore, and because she has no friends there's no one to exploit for favors or protection. Elijah gives her things to do, and aside from his errands she eats when she's hungry, screws when she's horny, and doesn't spend a single minute of the day thinking about her past.

Breathing deeply, as a human would, she leans out further to watch the glowing vehicles meander through traffic. They move like yellow Christmas lights on string, and prompt something at the edge of Elena's mind.

"Oh shit," she says to the cars, spine tensing straight up while her entire body seizes with memory. "Oh god, I burned all my mother's ornaments."

Elena steps back from the ledge, distracted by a new and overwhelming fear: there may be literally nothing left of the Gilbert legacy thanks to her stupid tantrum seven years ago. Were her grandfather's journals at the house, or in the cabin? Who owned the cabin now? The deed was at the bank but banks required identification, and her birth certificate was at the house, tucked under her jewelry box with—

With a letter. Her eyes snap shut and even though her hands are near frozen to blue, she can feel the texture of soft paper smoothing between her fingertips.

"Carry it with you," she whispers. The wind howls across the roof, stealing his words . Her whole body starts to shake, and Elena turns to the rooftop entrance. As she descends, she begins to jog. One minute passes, two, three, and the jog becomes a flat sprint. Her pounding feet eat up floors and then whole streets as she runs back to the man standing sentinel at her door.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, says the vampire heart inside Elena Gilbert.

Two hours gone and he's still waiting when she slides to a stop in the carpeted hallway. Elijah looks up from where his fingers skim the surface of his phone, and this time his expression fills her until every broken piece has found a place.

"Elena," he says. He steps from the wall he's been leaning against, all the coiled power of a tiger made casual for human pretense. Wide and soft brown, his eyes take in her frazzled appearance. "How do you feel?"

"Big," replies Elena, mouth dry as she stares at the person who's been carrying her soul in his pocket for years, ready to dig it out, brush it off, and offer it back to her unconditionally.

Always, and forever.

I'm leaving Mystic Falls.

There are no happy endings, because nothing ends.

She can see him at sunset beside the pool in Abidjan, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows and blood smeared in the corner of his mouth. She blinks, and the clock moves. He's beneath a street lamp in Mexico City, bent over laughing about some stupid video on the internet she didn't bother to watch.

Elena takes a step toward him, and says, "So much bigger than yesterday."

One step follows the next. Elijah breathes her name like a talisman—


—and the tiger pounces.

Her back smashes into the door of the hotel room, pushing it in as Elijah's hands cup her waist and ass so possessively it wipes her thoughts away. Elena takes his face in her grasp, her mouth fighting for space in their kiss.

The lights of the room are still off, and he has her against a wall. Elena's legs pincer his rib-cage while she curls her fingers into his hair, as long as it was the day they met. There's nothing new about his scent, because she's smelled his power and his blood for seven years, but she's never tried to crawl inside his skin before. In the exploding sensory experience of having her heart back, every touch is new and every spike of arousal is exhilarating.

This is hers, all of it. She wants every limb, every inch of flesh. Something to match the secrets she's already coaxed out of his heart. Elena wants him, has lived in want of him, and with the curtain lifted Elijah Mikaelson is hers for the taking.

She digs between the buttons of his shirt, catching and ripping them. Untroubled, Elijah is busy taking apart her layers while his lips slide a hot, wet trail over her neck. Everything feels too slow, then too fast, and when she crashes into the bed Elena gasps because his fingers follow her down. She arches, his digits circling the nub of her sex.

"What do you want, Elena?" he asks, slipping another finger inside her to counter the stimulation of her clit. "Name it, and I'll give it to you."

She gasps, eyes tight shut. "I don't know."

"You do, ask." Every word is punctured with a swipe of his thumb or a thrust of his knuckles in the wet between her legs, and his lips move across her cheek to the place beside her ear.

He murmurs, "There's nothing I wouldn't give you," and it sounds like a promise.

"I want—I want your mouth," she moans, and Elijah replies with a hard kiss that presses her into the mattress. When she whimpers, he rears back, gathers her legs on either side, and runs his hands over her calves as he slides her up the bed.

"A fine beginning," he agrees, and Elena stops thinking at all.