I was walking down the street the other day
Tryna distract myself
But then I see your face
Oh wait, that's someone else
Tryna play it coy
Tryna make it disappear
But just like the battle of Troy
There's nothing subtle here
— Selena Gomez, "Bad Liar"
Elena knows how the story goes.
Amara, Tatia, Katerina, Elena. Four girls, one face. Four girls, one never ending tragedy. Four girls, and her, at the end of them all, the last of the Petrova's. All of them dead, one way or another.
Except. Five hundred years is the rule, not the exception. Five hundred years is the gap between Tatia and Katerina, between Katherine and Elena. One thousand years is the gap between Amara and Tatia.
Maybe it's just a magic thing, just a glitch in the system, but part of Elena thinks— hopes— knows that it isn't.
She knows it as well as she knows Death, as well as she knows the particular sensation that comes with watching someone die, with dying herself; the particular sensation that comes with drowning and burning and having her neck snapped and having every last drop of her blood drained from her body and—
Elena knows it as well as she knows Death, and she knows Death.
Just like she knows that there's another.
Another girl armed with a pretty smile and the classic Petrova brand of tragedy: dead parents and dead friends; wars fought in her name and for her honor; graves inscribed with no epitaph, no justification, just the combination of letters necessary to make up her name, their names, Amara and Tatia and Katerina and Elena and Helénē—
(The face that launched a thousand ships was always going to be her own.)
When she finally, painstakingly puzzles it out, Elena's not surprised. Part of her, deep down inside, already knew. Helen of Troy. Helen of Sparta.
Helen of Helen.
She belonged to no man, and she belonged to no city; just like the girl before her, just like the three girls after.
And Elena... doesn't have to do anything with that information. She doesn't, because it doesn't matter, not now, not all these years later. But she wants to, she does, because it's been hundreds upon hundreds of years, because there is finally a face to the name.
It means something. Maybe only to her, but it means something; it's a piece of her history, a piece of who she is, of who all doppelgängers are, and— and—
And Elena Gilbert is not the only doppelgänger. Another girl still walks around with her face, with her smile. Elena may hate her, just a little, maybe a tiny bit a lot, but this truth is just as much Katherine's as it is her own.
Maybe she already knows. Elena wouldn't be surprised. She didn't find out because of a picture or a book, didn't find out because someone told her, she found out because there is something in her bones, in the very foundation of who she is as a person, that screams Helen, she's Helen, you're Helen. Surely, the same voice is within Katherine, but regardless—
Whether she knows or not, Elena wants to tell her. Needs to tell her. It's their history! Their face! How can Elena not make sure she knows? How can Elena not share that? Regardless of anything that has transpired between them, regardless of the anger and loathing and resentment, no matter how much Elena hates her for impersonating her and hurting her and no matter how much Katherine hates her back for living the life she wishes she could've had—
This is theirs to share.
And so when Elena figures it out, she doesn't hesitate. She throws shirts and jeans and underwear into a suitcase, throws that suitcase into a car. Elena doesn't know where Katherine is. What she does know is this: if she gets into her car, no direction in mind, and starts driving, she will find her. (They are linked by more than blood.
Their minds call for each other.)
It's only after she leaves Mystic Falls, leaves Virginia entirely, that Elena realizes she never told anyone. Not Stefan, though, to be fair, his emotionless state doesn't make her at all keen to see him. Not Damon, either, despite all the time they've been spending together recently. Not Bonnie or Caroline, not Jeremy or Alaric. She packs her things, and she just... leaves.
There's something freeing about this.
There's something devastating about that.
There was a time in which Elena had actually been free. Before Stefan and Damon came to town, before Katherine came to town. Before Klaus and his family, all of them now awake, sauntered into Mystic Falls like they had the right, like this town belonged to anyone but Petrova's.
Before all of that—
Elena had been free. Truly free. She had smiled and laughed and loved, cried and mourned. That was freedom.
This, now? This is nothing but a cheap replica, a clear knockoff. She isn't supposed to leave town, because Klaus needs her blood for his hybrids— she's doing it anyway, but that isn't the part that matters. She is restricted. Because of something that is not in her control, because of her face and her blood and her heritage, she is restricted.
It's no way to live.
(Then again, she was born to die.)
Elena thinks, maybe, she can understand Katherine better now. Their situations are in no way the same, but there are similarities. Jeremy still lives, yes, but Jenna does not, thanks to Klaus, just like Katherine's family. She understands the fear and terror she must feel, the desire to run and never stop running, the desperation to be free.
If Klaus finds out she left before she returns... well, Elena doesn't know what will happen. Heads will roll, surely. Friends will die. (There is still a part of her that wants to stay gone despite this, that wants to say fuck you and look after herself, for once.
She knows she won't. But she still thinks about it, even if only for a moment.)
Elena knows Katherine would've ran, knows that she already has. She ranked herself over her friends and family, over her community, decided that her life is worth more than theirs, said Better you die than I— this is the difference between the two of them. Elena can never do that, because her bones are weighed down with guilt, because she believes, deeply, that what's happening is her fault and she has a duty to fix it. She has a duty to fight.
Still, she wonders what Amara or Tatia would've done, wonders what Helen would've done. The face that launched a thousand ships— Elena thinks she'd be an awful lot like Katherine. For the first time, the comparison is a compliment.
Though she'll never admit it, there is a part of Elena that is... proud, almost, of Katherine. For escaping Klaus' clutches, and continuing to escape them; for staying a step ahead of him, always. It's silly, but Elena is glad that she is the only one who will have to die over this. She is glad that her face — her fate, her story, their story, all of them, Amara and Helen and Katherine and her, the story of the doppelgänger — will live on.
Katherine is a vampire, after all. Her blood is meaningless, now. Elena's is not.
("You don't want to die? There's another way out," she had told her, a long time ago. "Better hurry. Your opportunity is going, going, going and— gone. I made the other choice."
What would have happened, she wonders, if she had licked the blood? If she had made the same decision that Katherine had? Everyone she loved would die, possibly including herself. It wouldn't have been worth it.
But they could've ran together, her and Katherine. They could've kept each other safe, pretended to be each other, fought together. It would not have been worth it, but there would've been something beautiful, there. If she had made the other choice, they would've made it worth it.)
She didn't, though. She let the wound heal, stayed human. This, too, is beautiful, for it has to be. There's something powerful about the ability to choose, and Elena made her choice.
Five hundred years prior, Katherine had made hers.
All the heartache that came next was worth it. It had to be. There was no way to go back and make a different decision, and so Elena has no choice but to accept it, to embrace it. She keeps her head up, back straight, and welcomes the pain.
But now, well. Elena— she's tired. There's been a lot more pain than she initially anticipated, more heartbreak than she had prepared for. And that's fine, it is, because it means she's suffering rather than her friends, but. She's exhausted. It's a bone-deep sort of ache. Elena wants, desperately, to go to sleep for a hundred years, to go to sleep and never wake up, to rest though she knows that that is not an option.
If she was still in town, she'd be putting on a dress, getting ready for a Ball.
At least she doesn't have to do that. She doesn't have to deal with the Mikaelson family in its entirety, deal with whatever Esther planned on requesting of her. She just wants— wants—
That will never be an option for a doppelgänger, but when she talks to Katherine, Elena thinks she'll feel something like it. Despite the shared hatred, there will always be a kinship between them.
She's distantly aware she's passed through Carolina — both of them, North and South — and that she's now somewhere in Georgia, though where she is specifically she doesn't know. It's not a location or street name that she's searching for. Elena just has... a feeling. She knows what direction to go because she can sense it.
Elena also knows that she's close. When she started driving, it had been a lot more general. Vaguely to the West, now North-West, now West again; it was like she had been following a compass to get to her destination. Now she knows which way to turn on every street.
Katherine's close. Closer, closer, and...
Elena pulls to a stop outside of— damn, okay, she hadn't expected that. Bree's Bar. Damon had taken her here, once, against her will because that's how he worked best. He had been searching for information, about the tomb— christ, she'd forgotten all about the tomb— about how to free Katherine from it. After everything that's happened since, it feels like an eternity ago.
And now she's here again, because of Katherine again, but this time she's here willingly. This time she has a choice.
This time it feels like fate.
Elena breathes in, out, settles herself, then gets out of the car. She will need to stay calm for this, which may be hard; Katherine has always been good at getting under her skin. But then again, Elena has always been good at getting under Katherine's too.
The doors open — a bell jingles over her head — and Elena hesitates for a moment, scanning the room. She spots Katherine almost immediately, but Elena is curious about how their bond (minds screaming for each other, for the other part of themselves, louder and louder the closer they get) and hovers there a second longer.
Katherine turns, and though Elena may never know if she does so because she can feel Elena's gaze or because she can tell it's Elena, it prompts her into walking over.
"Katherine," she greets. Elena sits down next to her, reaching over to grab the glass her counterpart had been drinking from. She lifts it to her own mouth, draining the contents, then places it back in front of Katherine. It's— hm, whiskey, she thinks; tastes like Jack Daniel's. Elena can't get a year from the taste alone, though she knows it's expensive.
"Rude," says Katherine, though she doesn't seem upset, even as she gestures for the bartender to refill it. She twists her body to look at her. "I'm shocked, Gilbert. You didn't even wince."
Elena never realized before, never wanted to think about it, about her, about them— but Katherine doesn't actually know a thing about her. Before her parents died, she'd been a partier, best of the best. She had been a queen. It isn't a comparison she'll ever make aloud, isn't a comparison she wants to admit even to herself, but. It remains true. Who she used to be, before all the death and tragedy, and who Katherine is now are a lot alike.
So she just smirks back, the way Katherine always does, and says, "We need to talk."
Katherine laughs. "You're so precious," she says, though it's clearly an insult. "Did we start dating when I wasn't looking?"
Elena rolls her eyes. "I'm serious."
She picks up her cup, downs it, then slams the glass back down. "Ugh, whatever," Katherine says. She stands, and Elena does too. "You have a car or something?"
"You're a vampire," Elena points out. "You have like... super speed. What do you need a car for?" Katherine waits. She rolls her eyes — again — and reaches into her pocket to pull out her keys. "Yes, I have a car, don't be stupid."
Katherine snatches them from her. "I'll drive," she says, and without waiting for a reply, heads for the door.
Elena follows. "Do you even have a license?" she asks, though that's by no means what she wants to say. She doesn't want Katherine in her car at all, let alone driving it, but she has no feet to stand on in an argument. She came here, not the other way around. She came for Katherine.
She came for Helen.
"Hey!" the bartender yells, and they both turn around, though neither particularly wants to. "You need to pay."
Katherine walks back up to him, looks him dead in the eyes. "No, I don't," she says, compels, and Elena wants to say something, speak up. She knows Katherine won't care, certainly won't apologize, but taking away someone's free will like that, without even thinking about it, just for a free drink—
"No, you don't."
She returns to Elena, then past her, hopping into the driver's seat. Elena gets into the passenger seat, mainly because she has no alternative. They don't talk on the drive, because they have nothing to talk about.
Actually, they have a lot of things to talk about. Too many. Maybe that's the issue.
Elena only came because of Helen. But, now that she's here— Katherine knows exactly what she's going through. Yes, she ran, she didn't get sacrificed, her blood isn't necessary to make hybrids. But the rest? Klaus? Katherine understands that better than anyone else.
It isn't just her old self that Katherine is similar to. Even disregarding the fact that they have the same face, the same history, the same destiny— they're a lot alike. Katherine refuses to admit it, and Elena does too, but within the confines of her mind, she's willing to let herself realize. It would be all too easy, to stop caring, to put herself first, to be just like her. She's thought about it.
That should scare her, but it doesn't.
Elena internalizes her guilt. She puts the world on her shoulders herself, lets it hurt. Katherine doesn't. She forgives herself, absolves herself of blame. It's probably healthier, but Elena knows she can never do it. Her guilt is what keeps her going. And it is because of that that Elena knows, no matter how much she thinks about putting herself first, she never will.
"So much for needing to talk," Katherine says after a minute or two. Elena isn't sure where they're heading, though it turns out Katherine is a good driver; Elena can't decide if she's surprised or not.
She taps her knee once, twice. "I do," says Elena. "We do, I mean. But we can do that when we get to," she peers out the window, tries to pinpoint where they're going, fails, "wherever you're taking me. Where are you taking me?"
Katherine glances over, then away again. She doesn't actually need to watch the road, as her hearing is no doubt good enough that she can hear if a car or person gets too close, but she does anyway. Elena appreciates it. "The hotel I'm staying at," she says, eventually. "Don't worry, though, I have lots of alcohol there too."
Elena doesn't want to smile, but does anyway. Despite everything Katherine has done to her, she kinda likes her. Must be her face— it's hard to hate a pretty face, and Katherine's certainly is pretty. "Good," she says. "You better have vodka."
Katherine twists the steering wheel as they turn. "Vodka girl, then?" she asks.
"More like an alcohol girl," corrects Elena. "But sure. I like the way vodka burns."
"Diluted vervain has a similar affect on vampires." From the corner of her eye, Elena catches the way Katherine's mouth twitches upwards, a hint of a smile rather than her usual smirk. She wants to call her on it, wants to point it out and shove it in Katherine's face, proof that she isn't as unbearable as Katherine likes to imply she is. She refrains, if only because it'll do more harm than good. Not only will it destroy whatever tentative truce they seem to have, but Katherine might refuse to hear what she actually came here to say, and Elena can't risk it. Not when their history is on the line. Not when Helen is.
They pull into a hotel's parking lot, where a man in a red uniform walks up to them. He's a valet, because of course he is. Elena really should've expected that — as if Katherine Pierce would stay at a hotel without a valet — but she'd been distracted, too busy trying to figure out what she should say, and hadn't expected Katherine to get out and hand him the keys to her car.
"If there's any damage to this," she says, "you'll regret it." It's very clearly a promise. Elena could do without the threat, but she's oddly flattered that Katherine cares about the state of her car.
By the time they get into the room, Elena is nervous. On her way to Georgia, she came up with thousands of possible conversation starters, yet she can't remember a single one now. She crosses the floor to the window, pulling open the curtains just so she can see. It's a beautiful view.
"Well?" Katherine prompts.
"I was thinking... about timelines," says Elena, because she can't come up with anything better. She watches the rain streak the window, preferring this sight over looking at a girl who has her face. "And about doppelgängers, about the differences between us. About the similarities. And I realized that I knew the names of four of us. Amara, Tatia, Katerina, Elena. There's five hundred years, between Tatia and you, between you and me. But there's a thousand years between Amara and Tatia. Which means... there was someone else. Another girl with our face, somewhere in the past. Someone... we don't know about yet."
Katherine leans against the wall, eyeing her. Elena can't see it, but she can feel it. Sense it? Possibly both; they're linked in ways that no science can explain, and they've never even tried to figure it — any of it, the connection, the magic — out. Elena knows why they haven't, knows that they hate each other too much to really try, but she finds that reasoning faulty. Finds it sad. "That doesn't explain why you're here, Gilbert."
Elena turns. "Petrova," she corrects, because this, now, here, is important. Acknowledging this is important, for her, but also for Katherine. However distantly, they are family. "Let's not lie to each other."
She looks vaguely pleased. Katherine pushes off the wall, stalking forwards, towards her; she stops in front of Elena, eyebrows raised. "You figure it out, then? The identity of the missing doppelgänger?" Something about her eyes—
"You know," Elena realizes. "You already know."
"Of course I know, Gil—" Katherine pauses. "Petrova," she says, and her mouth curves upwards into a smirk. "I'm sure you found out the same way I did. It's written in the stars, our story. We only need to look hard enough." Elena stares, pointedly, and she sighs. "Helénē, yes, I'm aware. The face that launched a thousand ships was mine. Fitting, I think."
"Ours," Elena says. "The face that launched a thousand ships was ours."
"Mmm, yes," she concedes. "Makes sense, doesn't it, though? Of course it's ours. It's always ours." Katherine steps away, perching herself on the corner of her bed. "Helen of Troy smiles, and it stops hearts, stops Gods, stops time. Starts wars." Katherine tilts her head, curls spilling in front of her face. "It was never going to end with a smile."
"The story," corrects Katherine. "Maybe she was like you, Elena. Good and kind and pure, but let's be honest, I started like that too. By the time she smiled, I bet she was just like me. She knew exactly what she was doing."
Elena laughs. "That's funny," she says, and it actually is, the way their minds go down the same path, the undeniable connection between them, "because I thought the same thing. That's a compliment, by the way."
Katherine flicks her hair over her shoulder, entirely for show. "Oh, I know," she says. "Not that I care, but is this really why you're here? To tell me about some long dead doppelgänger?"
"Yes," says Elena. She pauses, then adds, "No. I mean— yes, that's why I came here, initially. I needed to tell you, because... I don't know. The information won't matter to anyone else, to anyone but you and I, and I needed to tell someone who would care. But, also..." Elena sighs, then sits down next to Katherine. She doesn't look at her, stares straight ahead, though she knows Katherine has no such qualms; is happily scrutinizing her every move. "Klaus and his whole family are awake, and living in town. His mother, too. I guess I just wanted to get away, for a day; to be myself again. And I knew... you'd understand."
"I do," she agrees, however begrudgingly. "Look, Elena, if you want my advice, just this once, I'll give it to you. You need to make a decision. Right now, you're out. Either stay gone, or go back, and if you choose the latter... go back now." Katherine pauses, purses her lip. "I'm done now, by the way. There's my good deed for the year."
Elena finally looks at her. "I don't think I can live with the guilt, if I leave and they all die," she says. "Some of it, I can handle. Stefan and Damon... they've lived a long time. I can deal. But, the rest?" When she thinks of Jeremy and Bonnie and Caroline, of Alaric and Liz, of Matt and even Tyler— when she thinks of them all dead because she chose to abandon them all? Because she decided that her life mattered more than all of theirs? The thought makes her sick.
"Then go home."
Elena stands and walks back to the window. This view is wasted on Katherine. "If you had an opportunity to kill Klaus, would you take it?"
Katherine doesn't hesitate: "Yes."
"Then why did I leave?" she asks, mostly rhetorically, but maybe Katherine will have some much-needed insight. "There's a Ball tonight, hosted by his family. His mother, Esther, asked to see me. I can't prove it — I came here instead — but I think she wants him dead. I think... she could've done it, too. And yet, I'm here."
"You can't trust them," says Katherine. She sounds serious, no hint of humor in her voice, no biting wit or sharp sarcasm. The oddness of it — the un-Katherine-ness — is jarring, enough that it makes Elena rotate back around to face her. Their eyes meet, prompting Katherine to continue. "You can't trust any of them, no matter how much you may think they're on your side. No matter how much they may think they're on your side. There's a reason why their motto is 'always and forever'."
She thinks of Elijah, of his deals and charm and titles, the gentleman, the noble brother, the honorable one.
She thinks of how easily he betrayed them, after finding out his family weren't truly lost at sea. How easily he would do it again, for his family, for his siblings, for Klaus.
She thinks maybe he's the worst of them all.
"I've only met three, you know. Klaus, Elijah, Rebekah," says Elena. "I get that Klaus is the big bad wolf, that he is the reason I can't live. And Rebekah, she's Barbie Klaus, or— whatever, I mean, she's an Original, that somehow makes her evil, or so is the thinking. But. Have you ever thought that maybe—?"
"Yes," says Katherine.
Elena frowns. "I didn't even finish."
"You were going to ask me if I've ever thought that Elijah is the worst of them all," she says. "The answer is yes. I've thought that. But he's not. You can't trust him, not with this, not ever, Elena. The motto means more to him than it does to anyone else. But, when it comes to anything else—" her face softens, her eyes warm, and Elena knows that look. She's seen it before on her own face, with Matt, with Stefan, and she knows what it means. "He can be merciful. He can be kind."
"You love him," she says, and it rings true.
Katherine stands, looks at Elena, looks like Elena. "I'm not interested in a heart to heart," Katherine says, which is as much a yes as 'yes' would've been. Her entire body language has changed from reluctant openness to instantaneous coldness. "Frankly, I'm not interested in anything. You said you came here about Helen. Well, you told me, good for you. I think it's about time you leave."
Elena wants to say no. Wants to fight her on it, make her accept her, but... Katherine has a point. She needs to go home. No matter how much she may not want to, she needs to go home.
"Okay," she says. "I'll go."
Elena looks out the window one last time, the view still taking her breath away. What would it be like, to travel, to see the world? Elena will never get to, she's sure, but she wants it, wants it deep in her soul. The stunning beaches of Greece, the humidity of Australia, the magic of Paris— she wants that for herself, the memories, the experiences. Then she turns, walks past Katherine, to the door. It's harder than she thought it would be, to walk away. Despite all the heartache Katherine has brought to her life, despite turning Caroline and getting Jenna killed, despite everything—
More than that, they're doppelgängers. That means something. That matters.
But maybe it only matters to Elena.
Right when she opens the door, Katherine sighs, loudly. "Jesus, stop," she says, sounding annoyed. Elena listens and closes the door, turning back around. "You are just... radiating misery. Do you have any idea how frustrating that is for me? It's awful, Gilbert."
"Petrova," she corrects, even though— what? Can Katherine somehow feel her emotions? Her mind races, fills with question after question. Could she always, or is this new? If it's new, then how? Why? Will Elena ever be able to feel Katherine's? Is it based on proximity or some sort of emotional connection? What would happen if they touch?
In a world of magic, doppelgängers are the most precious of them all.
Klaus may not be the only one who wants her blood and if that's true, then Elena needs to be ready. She needs to be prepared. She needs to understand.
"God, whatever," Katherine snaps. "Do I look like I give a shit? Christ. Get back over here. Do I need to give you a fucking hug? Cut it out."
Elena stills, considers it. "Actually," she says, and smiles. "A hug sounds great."
"I literally hate you." Elena expects her to push her away, or mock her, or dismiss the option, but instead Katherine walks towards her, frown on her face, but arms still undeniably outstretched.
Elena considers stopping her, for Katherine's sake, but—
The arms wrap around her, and they're her arms, she's basically hugging herself, and yet she's not, it's Katherine, which. Nobody ever saw that coming. It's surprising, it's unexpected, but it's nice, too. Elena's always known she's a good hugger, but it's nice to have proof.
It's nice to see Katherine with some of her walls down, too.
Katherine pulls back. "I hate you," she repeats, retreating to the bed. She sits down at the edge again, though this time she kicks off her shoes and pushes herself back, till she's leaning against the pillows at the other end.
"I know," says Elena, serious where Katherine had not been. "I understand why."
She laughs, though the sound is not kind. "I really don't think you do," Katherine says, pushing her curls away from her face.
"I know enough," Elena offers. "I haven't had an easy life, but it's been easier than yours. The things that happened to you— the pregnancy, being ostracized, getting taken in by the Mikaelson's only to realize they were going to kill you, killing yourself in order to be free and Klaus slaughtering your entire family for it— all of that? I never had that. I've faced loss and heartache and heartbreak, people have died for me and instead of me, but not to the extent that people in your life did. Comparatively, my life is much better than yours."
"Fuck you," says Katherine, because that's the sort of person she is.
"Can you really look at me and tell me I'm wrong?" she asks. Katherine opens her mouth to do just that. "Truthfully?" adds Elena.
Katherine's mouth curves upwards, something between a smile and a smirk. "You know, Petrova, I have spent over five hundred years in this body," she eyes her, gaze sharp enough to make Elena uncomfortable, "In our body. I know what every expression means, what every shift in body language means. Everything you have done, I have done first. I'm sure nobody's ever told you this before, but just so we're clear? Pride is a beautiful look on us."
The compliment nearly makes her smile. "Not everything," Elena corrects, because this is what's comfortable, this is what she's good at. Denials and half-truths and games. "You haven't let Klaus kill you. You haven't been sacrificed."
"All the important stuff, then," amends Katherine. "Sex. Every time you touch lovely Stefan or daring Damon, they're going to think of me, of my hands doing the same things, of my mouth—"
"Perhaps," she agrees, even though the thought makes her stomach roll. Katherine knows how to hurt her, knows what words to use to break her, but Elena reckons it's as much Katherine's weakness as it is her own. "But by the same logic, that means whenever you touch Elijah, he's thinking of Tatia."
Katherine snarls, teeth and all.
"I'm not going to apologize for that, because I'm not sorry and neither are you," Elena says.
"I could kill you," threatens Katherine, though the attempt is halfhearted at best. Elena has been scared of her before; she knows that Katherine is capable of making her fear for her life. Right now, Elena just feels tired. "I could drain you dry right now. You wouldn't be able to fight me off, Gilbert, you're human. Nobody would ever know where you went, Klaus would kill everyone—"
"I know you could," she says. "But you won't."
Katherine looks away.
Elena does not. She continues to look at her, at her hair, the same color as Elena's, and her skin, the same color as Elena's, and her posture, slightly slumped the same way Elena's is.
"I said, before, that I understood why you hated me," she says. "I told you why. I didn't tell you everything."
Katherine looks back at her, eyebrows raised. "Oh, there's more?"
"Stefan," says Elena. She presses her lips together. "And Damon. You have a history with them, one that I still don't know everything about. You had to have been mad, when they both... liked me." She swallows, unsure if she wants to bring up her own issues, unsure of how Katherine will respond. Even if all she gets is ridicule, Katherine surely will understand in a way nobody else could. "Look, I know you told me it's okay to be selfish, to love them both, because you did, but— I don't know if I love either of them."
Katherine eyes her, contemplative. "Why not?" she asks. "Damon— I suppose I can understand. Despite his interest in you, nothing has ever happened there, as far as I'm aware. But Stefan?"
"When we met... I thought he was cute. I thought he was kind. And it helped, being near him, because he didn't know me. Everyone else, even my friends, they all kept thinking about how sad it was, how sad I was, what a terrible tragedy my parents dying had been. But Stefan— he didn't know the old me. He just knew the new me. He didn't have any expectations or judgments. So I fell for him," she says. "Then, vampires. Then, you. Then... Klaus. He compelled him to turn the switch off, or— whatever. But being emotionless, it doesn't make somebody a liar, right? It just means you won't care if what you say hurts the other person. So everything he said to me, he meant it. He always meant it. So maybe I hate him a little, now. I don't know. Maybe I hate him more than I love him."
"Then, me," repeats Katherine. She sounds proud, looks proud, but her eyes tell a different story. Her eyes look sad.
"Like you said. Every time he touches me, how could he not think of you? He loved another girl with my face. That's not something you get over. That's not something you accept or move past. But, I tried. Tried and tried and tried and I mostly succeeded, but. Not well enough, I guess," Elena tells her. "It got in my head. You got in my head."
She presses her lips together, clearly thinking something over. "I suppose," Katherine begins, her hands clenched into fists, knuckles white. She looks like she's physically in pain.
Elena sighs. "If you're going to apologize, it's unnecessary," she says, though it would've still been nice to hear. "It's— like, it's you, but it's really him. He made the choice to date someone who looked identical to his ex, and that's not— how is that okay? How am I supposed to be okay with that? It's like... he loved you but you hurt him, so he replaced you with me to feel better about what happened, or, or whatever. I mean he says he loves me but... he'd have never looked at me twice if it weren't for my face, right? Your face. It would be easy to hate you, but that wouldn't be— I'd just be shifting the blame so I'd feel okay continuing to date him, and that's not okay."
"It... was upsetting," Katherine offers, tentatively letting her walls come down, showing the smallest sliver of vulnerability. "When I found out he was dating you. I may have hurt him, he may hate me for turning him, but I also liked him. And you're... nice and sweet and everything he used to think I was, and it's as if he— well, you said it. He replaced me with a better version of me. Same face, but an upgrade in the personality department. In his mind, that is; I am in no way saying you're actually better than me."
Elena frowns. She's spent a lot of time thinking about how upset she is, being the replacement, but she can't imagine being Katherine, the person who got replaced. Katherine won't want pity and it isn't pity, exactly, that Elena is feeling. She feels... apologetic, perhaps, for her role in it, because on purpose or not, she is involved. She hadn't known at first, not when her and Stefan started dating, but once she did know? She should have dumped him immediately.
But she didn't. She chose Stefan, who she loved and who loved her, over Katherine, who hated her.
Apologizing won't change anything. In fact, it may make things worse, so Elena won't. That being said...
"I was wrong," says Elena. "I won't apologize for it, because at the time, I didn't regret it, and now... well, if I spent all my time regretting things I did in the past then I would be driven crazy. But I was wrong." She hesitates, then adds, "But you're wrong too."
Her eyebrow arches. "Was I?"
"You said I was kind. Perhaps I am, on occasion. But not all the time," Elena tells her. "I used to rule my school. Not that I ever stopped, but, you know. Trauma. You don't get to where I was by being kind." She sighs, bites her lip. What's the best way to put this? "I imagine you stalked me, for a bit. You must've, in order to imitate me. Or maybe you just figured you could get by with straight hair and a gentle smile and sweet words. I don't know. But you don't know me, Katherine. I'm not as sweet as you think I am."
Katherine looks at her for a long, hard moment. "Kinder than me, at any rate," she offers, though even that isn't necessarily true.
Elena will let her believe it anyway.
"Or perhaps not," Katherine says. "You seem to have forgotten I can feel your emotions, Gil— Pet—" she frowns, trying to decide what word to use. "Elena," she decides, eventually. "You, for example, just felt... amused. You disagree. You think... you're the same as me."
Elena meets her gaze steadily. "You say that like it's a bad thing," she says. "Don't get me wrong, Katherine. There's a reason why we don't like each other. But, like we said earlier. Helen must've been just like you. And it would be an honor to be like her."
She tilts her head, acknowledging the point.
They fall into a comfortable silence, neither of them having anything to say. Despite that, Katherine looks... contemplative, like she's thinking very, very hard. Still, nothing is said, so Elena leans back and lets her eyes flicker shut. It is a very, very comfortable bed.
Time passes slowly, but it does pass. By the time her eyes reopen, the sky has begun to darken, and Elena knows that it's time for her to go. She may have packed a suitcase full of clothes, but her absence has surely been noticed by now. If she waits too long, then who knows what she'll return to?
She has picked her family and friends over herself time and time again.
She's not about to change her mind now.
Elena opens her mouth to say as much, but she doesn't get the chance. After... however much time has passed — an hour, perhaps? Two? — Katherine has finally decided what she wants to say.
"I don't like you," she confesses. It's not news. "But to be fair, I don't like anyone. Yes, you're right— part of me resents you because when I compare our lives, I find yours... well. Happier, overall. I have spent hundreds of years secluding myself. I don't regret that, it's kept me alive, but it has been lonely. And yes, there's the brothers— Stefan more than Damon. However." Katherine presses her toes into Elena's shoulders, hard enough that Elena gets the hint and sits up, facing her. "You stopped me from apologizing earlier. I appreciate that. But I am sorry, Elena, for what I have done to you. Or... not what I did, necessarily; I did what I had to do. I'm sorry for how it affected you. I'm sorry I hurt you."
Elena blinks, then blinks again. She swallows hard. "I..." she starts, then stops. "Thank you. For whatever it's worth, I'm sorry too, for how my actions have affected you."
They are silent, again, for a second. Two. Three. Four. Then—
"I know you have to leave. It's late. But, if you wanted... I've been running for five hundred years, and by now, it's old hat. It's easy. It's instinct. So. I suppose I have two offers for you," says Katherine, hesitantly. "The first, you'll likely say no to, but I will offer nonetheless: you could run with me. People you love will die, but I would keep you safe. We could learn more about what links us, about doppelgängers. I... never really thought much about it before, but I confess to being curious now. I can feel your emotions. Just hints, perhaps, and only the stronger ones, but nonetheless... I'm intrigued. We could figure it out, if we left."
Elena... doesn't know what to say. She wants that. She wants it as much as Katherine seems to want it; desperately, with great enthusiasm. But she can't leave.
She just can't.
"I'm sorry," says Elena. "No."
Katherine nods, disappointed but unsurprised. "Option two," she says, "is... more difficult for me to offer. Especially because we aren't friends. I can't even begin to fathom why I'm offering, really, except for the fact that we... we are family. We are Petrova's, and Petrova's survive."
"That's a nice sentiment," Elena says, because it is. "But. What's the offer?"
"I come back to Mystic Falls with you."
Elena's reaction is not just visceral, it's visible. She jerks back, eyes wide, completely speechless. Katherine is patient, waiting for her to regain control of her vocal chords. For that alone, Elena wants to say yes, then keep saying it until she loses her voice all over again; she wants to scream it.
Katherine understands what she is going through in a way nobody else is capable. She understands Klaus, the fear that Elena feels whenever she's near him, the gut wrenching terror. It's not that her friends don't try: they do. But their fear of him is not rooted in anything tangible; that's clear whenever Caroline laughs at his jokes or flirts with him and whenever Damon looks at him without even a hint of fear. Klaus killed Elena. He killed Katherine's family.
Having her at her side would be incredible.
Katherine will be in danger, if she returns. Elena appreciates the offer more than Katherine will ever know, but—
"No," says Elena. "Everyone there wants you dead. No."
Katherine smiles, and it's a real smile; one that completely lights up her face. She looks younger, happier, more like Elena than she ever has before. "I won't be there as myself," she explains. "I'll be there as you. If we're both in on it... nobody will know I'm Katherine unless I want them to know, and I won't. I could keep you safe."
"Why would you want to, though?" Elena asks. "We have one heart-to-heart, and suddenly things have changed? Two minutes ago you were talking about how you don't like me!"
"I want to know," says Katherine, "because of this." Her hand strikes out with speed no human can match, fingers wrapping around Elena's wrist in the time it takes for her to blink.
Elena's mind stops.
It is, for a brief, blissful moment, completely silent.
Then her brain restarts and comes back to life screaming. Elena has never felt anything like this before, and she can't decide if she ever wants to again. Within seconds, her mind goes into sensory overload mode, everything too complex and confusing to comprehend.
There are thoughts and emotions coursing through her that are not her own, things that have to be coming from Katherine, and Elena can't think, can't breathe. Her own thoughts and emotions are going haywire and to feel Katherine's on top of that is excruciating. It's not just Katherine's she's feeling, either; through her, she can feel an echo of her own emotions, back and forth and multiplying, slightly duller each time, again and again.
Her grip on Elena tightens, fingers pressing deeper into her skin. Elena gasps, half in pain, half because—
It isn't possible, it can't be possible, and yet on the back of her eyelids, memories that are not hers stream across.
Katherine screaming as she gives birth, then louder as her baby is stolen from her. Being disowned and subsequently homeless, nowhere to go, no one willing to help. Meeting the Mikaelson's, flirting with Klaus and Elijah in turns, then realizing they want her dead. Trying to kill herself, then trying again and succeeding, becoming a vampire. Finding her family dead, finding her mother dead, and running and running and running. Meeting Stefan and loving Stefan and turning Stefan, watching him from afar, then seeing him face to face again and being thoroughly rejected. Through Katherine's eyes, she sees herself, sees how devastated Katherine was by her presence, sees why she hates her.
Some of her own memories are mingled in, seeping through the connection with Katherine. She can see her parent's car going off the bridge; the moment when she found about vampires; the moment when she found out about Katherine; telling Alice that the doppelgänger is alive and ready to surrender; Isobel killing herself in front of Elena; slowly dying in Klaus' arms; realizing John traded his life for hers. They are the worst moments of her life, and Katherine is living them.
Katherine yanks her arm away, finally ending the exchange. When they both open their eyes, they see that the other is crying. Though her mouth is quivering, Katherine manages to pull herself together enough to say, "That. That is why I want to come with you."
There is nothing Elena can say except: "Yes."
"Good," says Katherine, trying very hard to pretend she'd had no doubts about the outcome. Now that they — connected, mind-melded, whatever — Elena can see through her act and all her façades and walls and just see... her. Katherine Pierce.
It's life changing.
Moreover, it's lovely. When Elena made the decision to seek her out, she never expected... this. Their newfound camaraderie, or how it formed. She expected arguments and glares and cruel comments, not empathetic or telepathic or strange unnamed mind links.
But she thinks Helen would be proud, if she could see them.
She launched a thousand ships with a single smile. Now there's two of them, same bodies and faces and grins, and the world is at their feet. Elena can't even begin to fathom what they're capable of. It's possible that together they can finally put at end to Klaus' reign of terror.
They can finally find peace.
"You better start packing," says Elena. "It's time to go home."
With Katherine at her side, the story will be whatever they want it to be. Amara, Helénē, Tatia, Katerina, Elena... no matter what happens, the story of the Petrova doppelgänger will go down in history as legendary.