"Nights avoiding things unholy
Your hand slips across my skin
I go down on you so slowly
Don't confess none of your sins
Have I lost my mind?
Have I lost my mind?
Follow me down to the river
Drink while the water is clean
Follow me down to the river tonight
I'll be down here on my knees…"
-The Pretty Reckless
"Follow Me Down"
Standing in the woods, it occurs to Dean that Elena might be crazy. It's not the first time he's had that particular thought, but it's the first that it seems to matter. Only a crazy person could come up with this kind of plan—the kind of plan where Elena is both bait and weapon.
She's definitely crazy—crazy enough to know that it will work.
The woods are dark and cold; every breath comes out in a white puff. Dean had realized a couple hours earlier that it's almost Christmas, only days away really. Idly he wonders if this is Elena's Christmas present to herself.
Merry Christmas, Elena, you get to kill the man who ruined your life, cherish the memories. It'll be over before you know it.
He has a syringe full of vervaine in his coat pocket, a stake in his hand, and he's leaning against a tree smeared with Elena's blood. There's a clearing in front of him, where Elena is waiting, blood leaking from her arm, and beyond that, Katherine is waiting with a syringe full of wolfsbane. She's hiding behind a tree smeared with Elena's blood too—they all are.
The smell of her blood overwhelms the scent of the witches, vampires, werewolves, and humans hiding in the forest. It's the perfect camouflage for hunting Klaus's minions. Since Elena is what Klaus came here for his minions are only focused on her. They haven't caught on to the fact that this is an ambush yet. They're dead before they even realize that they're not alone.
Elena is leaned casually against a tree across the clearing, staring out at the lake in front of her, there's a bridge nearby, the one they crossed when they came into town. The crunch of dead leaves and frost underfoot breaks the silence. Elena snaps to attention, meeting his eyes with hers. They both stand tense and silent, waiting.
"She's wounded, what did you do to her?" a man's accented voice accuses.
Dean looks to Elena and mouths, 'Klaus?' Elena nods, something akin to anticipation dawning on her face.
"I did nothing, she was injured when she killed that vampire you sent," Rebekah snaps. Part of it is true, Elena had killed the vampire, but he'd barely had time to touch her, let alone injure her. Elena did that to herself. It's all a part of her plan.
"She's got fire," he says in an admiring tone.
"She's a bloody pest," Rebekah retorts. Klaus laughs again. "She's smeared blood on practically every tree in this bloody forest, how the hell are we supposed to find her?"
Dean holds his breath.
"She does have a heartbeat, little sister." Rebekah scoffs.
"These woods are crawling with your witches, one heartbeat sounds like every other heartbeat," she retorts. Klaus sighs in exasperation.
"Fine, we'll split up, I'll keep going ahead, and you go that way." Dean lets out the breath he's been holding. "Don't let her get away again."
"I won't." Rebekah's footsteps crunch away. Dean focuses on the sound of Klaus walking, circling the tree so that when Klaus steps into the clearing he doesn't see him, only Elena.
Elena is leaned against the tree, staring out at the lake, perfectly at ease. Dean can practically see Klaus's smirk when he spots her. She is all long lines and silken skin, blood splattered across bare skin from the seeping wound on her arm. The blood curls around her wrist in curving loops, like macabre bracelets, glinting bright as rubies under the pale moonlight. She wears her blood in a way that makes her look both terrible and beautiful. Elena turns her head forward to look at the hybrid, perfectly calm. Peering from behind the tree, he sees Klaus sweep his arms out dramatically.
"So all of this—and you don't even try to run when I find you," Klaus says. Elena just looks at him.
"I was waiting for you," she replies. Klaus's shoulders flinch imperceptibly, not the answer he was expecting.
"You could've waited for me at your house with my sister, you didn't need to make a big show of it and run off, I was coming for you," Klaus counters. Elena smiles at last, and Dean loses his breath, she's that beautiful.
"How else was I going to get you alone?"
"So that's what this is all about? Getting me alone?" Klaus asks. Elena nods.
"Of course, I've been planning this moment since the night you killed me," she tells him. Klaus goes incredibly still.
"So all the dead bodies, the messages delivered by half-starved vampires, all of that was for this?" he asks, curious. Elena smiles again, light and angelic. She's been nothing but sweet and soft since the moment he stepped into the clearing.
"Yes," she says simply.
"You're nothing like Katerina, are you?" He paces closer.
"What makes you say that?" She cocks her head to the side, curious.
"Katerina runs and runs and hopes that I'll never catch her, you flit and flirt and wait. You play games."
"Katherine plays games, just not with you," Elena says.
"Why not? I love games," he mocks. Elena smiles.
"Katherine doesn't want to die," she tells him. Klaus moves closer.
"And you do?"
There's rawness in her voice that makes Dean believe her.
Klaus changes the subject. "So, my Elena, what do you want with me?" he asks, wary but still relaxed. Elena is only human—a wounded human at that—and she hasn't so much as hinted at any ill intent towards him. He moves closer to her.
"Haven't you already figured that out?" she asks, evading the question. He laughs.
"No," he admits. She smiles in a way that makes her look like a fallen angel.
"I don't have anywhere else to go," she admits. "Everyone is dead, you're all that I have left."
"What about the school teacher and your brother?"
"I sent them away."
"Why would you do that?" The curiosity in Klaus's voice is palpable, he moves closer to her, now there is only a yard of space between them.
"Do you ever get tired of being death?" she asks him.
"No," he lies. She smiles as her eyes say liar.
"I do," she admits. "I get so tired." She stops. Klaus waits for her to continue, but she never does. He changes the subject.
"I hear the delightful Winchester boys are quite taken with you." Dean frowns. How the fuck does he know about him and Sam? "I wonder what it is about you Petrova women that attracts brothers." Surprise flickers across Elena's face. Klaus laughs. "Oh don't look so surprised, sweetheart, I know everything."
"They're nobodies," she lies for the first time since he stepped into the clearing. "Pests who want to save me." She sneers, a tremble in her lower lip, anger lurking. She's a breathtaking actress, convincing in the most horrible way.
"And you don't want their saving?" Klaus enquires, idly stepping forward, his hands clasped behind his back, looking for all the world like a proper gentleman instead of the devil himself. Elena smiles, and if Klaus is the devil then Elena is a siren, luring men to their deaths with nothing but the sound of her voice and those dark, dark eyes.
"I don't need to be saved, I'm right where I want to be." Klaus is right where she wants him, playing a game he doesn't know the rules to and he's none the wiser. Why be afraid when you're the strongest player in the game? Why be afraid when your opponent is a bleeding girl, a ghost of dead-lovers?
That is precisely the moment to be afraid; the weakest player has nothing to lose.
The last remaining tension in Klaus's shoulders drains away and he is perfectly at ease. He gestures towards the bridge.
"What a strange place you picked for this moment," he observes. Elena looks at him, curious but contained, always contained.
"Is it?" she wonders.
"Isn't that where your parents died?" he enquires, but it's clear he already knows that, Dean does not. He knows that her parents died in a car accident, but he never guessed that she would pick that place. In a way, it might be fitting, the bridge is the beginning of her sorrow, and if her plan works out, it will be the end.
"I died there too," she whispers. Klaus stills.
"I was there when you died, love, that's quite a few miles from here," he reminds her candidly. She smiles at him, still relaxed against her tree, ignoring the drip, drip, drip, of her blood hitting the ground.
"People die more than once, people die before their hearts stop beating all the time, you should know that," she chastises. "Living dead boy," she calls him, reminding him that he is neither dead nor alive and that he is both dead and alive all at once. He laughs.
"Yes, how true," he agrees. He's moved closer, there's barely a foot of space between them.
"Are you here to kill me?" she asks, looking up at him through her lashes, looking impossibly young and lovely.
"No, no I don't think I am." He sounds thoughtful. "I doubt your continued life is why my hybrid making attempts have all ended so disastrously, so until I know what I need I will keep you with me, safe."
Safe has never sounded more like a threat. Elena raises her chin, the corners of her mouth quirking up in strange delight.
"How awful for you," she says, lingering on her last word before continuing. "Knowing how you prefer blondes and all," she quips. He tosses his head back and laughs.
"Oh yes, how horrible," he says when he can speak again. "I shall simply have to bear it," he says solemnly. Elena nods in serious agreement. "Don't worry darling, it won't be a burden at all. We both know you're exactly my type."
Elena laughs a laugh that lingers between her bubbling giggle and her bitter laugh—Dean doesn't know if it's real or not. She's blurring lines with deliberate ease, erasing the difference between truth and lie, smearing the horizon between enemy and lover, easing Klaus closer. In this moment, she is at her most mesmerizing, when lies and truths and enemies and lovers are all one and the same.
"Yes, I suppose I am," Elena agrees sedately. Klaus closes that final distance between the two, there is hardly a breath of air between the two and Dean can only see part of her face over his shoulder—an eye, her cheek, part of her nose, the corner of her mouth.
It occurs to him then that Klaus has known her face for a thousand years, has loved her face and worshipped her body. Elena knows that, and she's turned it into a weapon. She's weaponized her body, sharpened her features until a man would cut his fingers if he dared to cup her face between his hands.
Klaus doesn't raise his hands to touch that beloved face, but he drags fingers down her arm and through the blood leaking from her wound, licking the blood from his fingertips. Elena lets out an amused huff of air.
"Delicious," he purrs. Elena rolls her eyes.
"You would know," she deadpans and Dean actively has to hold back a snort of laughter. Klaus doesn't hold back, tossing his head back, he laughs in utter delight. Elena has him completely charmed.
Out of thin air there is a hand touched to Dean's arm, barely felt through his coat. Dean turns his head; it's Rebekah, ready for the next part of the plan. She's pressed close to him, hidden behind his body. The grimace on her face clearly announces her displeasure at being so close to him. He rolls his eyes and cants his head towards the woods. She nods, they are alone. The only people still wandering the woods are their own; everyone else had been slaughtered.
Together, they turn back towards the hybrid and the doppelganger. Listening and waiting for the perfect moment to set the next part of Elena's plan into action. The space between Elena's body and her murderer's is non-existent; every breath presses breasts to chest. This is where Elena thrives, in the press of bodies, the suffocating closeness that mimics intimacy. Elena is always intimate when she goes in for the kill, and this time is no exception.
Rebekah shivers, and Dean looks at her. Her lip is tucked between her teeth. There is a flash of guilt and doubt in her eyes before she releases her lip and clenches her teeth, resolved. Dean couldn't do to his brother what she is about to do to hers, but—
But there isn't a thousand years of betrayal and disillusionment between Sam and Dean. Sam has never killed someone that he loves, has never taken their family from him. He hasn't lived Rebekah's life so he can't say what he would in her position. He turns back to watch the pair in the clearing.
Klaus sweeps Elena's hair back, revealing the graceful curve of her throat, traces the silvery scar of teeth that mar the otherwise flawless expanse of skin. It's a kiss from a lover yet realized—and Dean can see it then, how desperately Klaus wants her in this moment. Elena sees it too, and the curve of that insidious smile rests at the corners of her mouth. She reigns herself in, barely.
"Nice girl, by the way—your sister," she says, her fingers cupped to his elbow, tracing patterns. She looks up at him with raised eyebrows. Klaus snorts.
"Rebekah can be a bit—temperamental," he allows. Elena laughs outright at that.
"What a glorious understatement," she drawls. Pressed against his back, Rebekah is uncharacteristically restrained; the only sign of her displeasure is a slight flare to her nostrils. "Funny though, because I could've sworn Elijah said all your siblings were dead." Elena quirks an inquisitive eyebrow and Klaus twirls his fingers into the silky length of her hair, his head dipped to the side in contemplation.
Dean realizes there is more to this story than he knows. She's never mentioned that she knows any of Klaus's siblings besides Rebekah, but here she is, speaking of Elijah in a comfortable tone, blatant affection for the man apparent in her voice.
"In a manner of speaking, they are dead," he agrees. Elena scoffs.
"I suppose there are all different kinds of meaning hidden in that statement," she teases. Klaus dips his head in acknowledgement.
"They are safe, waiting for a time when I deem it appropriate to wake them," he says simply.
"Safe?" Elena echoes, her fingers tracing infinity signs on the fabric of his shirt.
"Yes, safe in a warehouse far away. Why, are you worried for your dear Elijah?" he asks, sounding forcefully lighthearted.
"No," Elena says with a light shrug, looking down at her idling fingers. "He's with his family, just as he wanted," she says, her lips quirk up mockingly, something unforgiving in her voice. Yes, she is clearly fond of Elijah, but there is something more to the story, something like betrayal and a dagger to the back. Klaus laughs at her statement.
"He is," he agrees. "What would he say if he could see you now?" he mocks. Elena laughs.
"He'd say 'run Elena, run as fast as you can'," she guesses. Klaus trails idle fingers along her jawline; unaware of the razor's edge he's skating.
"Why don't you run then, lovely Elena?" he challenges. Elena smiles and meets it.
"I don't run." Klaus is closer now, his head bent down towards hers, close enough to taste, close enough to kiss, only a breath between the press of mouth on mouth. For the first time since Klaus stepped into the circle, Elena looks at Dean, and Rebekah recognizes her cue. She snags the sleeve of Dean's jacket, dragging him out into the clearing. Her free hand wrestles the stake from his.
"Look what I found, brother," she coos, sneering at him. Dean struggles against her iron grip, the frown on his face very real. Klaus turns from Elena, his hand dropping from her face, his face a mask of impatience.
Behind him, Dean can see Katherine creeping closer; almost pressed to the tree Elena is leaning on.
"What's this, trouble?" Klaus asks, eyeing Dean with distaste, unaware of Katherine. Elena looks at him impassively, only the twitch of her fingers as they slide away from Klaus's elbow gives away her excitement.
"What are you doing here?" Elena asks Dean dully. Her disinterest is feigned but feels intensely real. He doesn't answer, his part isn't a speaking role, and he knows better than to diverge from Elena's script. He feels Rebekah's fingers ease into his coat pocket, closing around the syringe waiting there.
"I do believe the lady asked you a question, perhaps you'd like to answer it?" Klaus asks. There is still barely space between the two, and he seems reluctant to move away from her. It hasn't taken Elena very long to entangle him, but perhaps this is only the short-term game, maybe she began twisting him around her nimble fingers months ago with teasing messages and desiccated corpses. It's a twisted game she's playing.
Dean doesn't respond again, and before Klaus can move from Elena's side Katherine is there, pulling the needle of her empty syringe from his neck, devious delight written all over her face. Klaus convulses, turns to see his assailant in the same breath that Rebekah injects the vervaine into the other side of his neck. He lets out a strangled gasp and slumps against Elena.
Elena brushes soothing fingers over his face, smearing it with her blood, as she makes comforting shushing sounds. "Shhh, it's all right, sh-sh-shhh, it will all be okay," she murmurs tenderly, stroking back his golden curls.
"Did you?" Klaus accuses, grasping at her waist weakly. Elena smiles tenderly, the Madonna alive, and nods her head.
"Good night, Niklaus," she whispers, her fingers fisted into the hair at the back of his head. Before he has a chance to fully grasp her betrayal, she breaks his neck. His body falls to rest at her feet, her blood painted across his lifeless features.
Alaric shuffles up behind them, the rest of their party close on his heels. He grins.
"I taught her that," he crows with fatherly pride. Dean laughs as Sam comes to stand at his side. There's a bruise forming on his cheek and a leaf in his hair, but otherwise he is no worse for wear. The rest of the group is in a similar state, a deputy clutches his arm to his chest, Jules is bleeding from a gash on her head, but that is the worst of it.
Katherine nips at her wrist and offers it to Elena. Elena frowns but takes the proffered wrist. Her mouth closes around the wound and she drinks, her injury healing right before their eyes. Katherine runs tender fingers through Elena's hair, smiling affectionately at the girl. Elena unlatches her mouth from the uninjured wrist and wipes blood from the corner of her mouth. Katherine grabs her wrist in turn and licks all the blood of her arm while Elena giggles at the sensation. It's gross in a way, but why should the blood go to waste?
"Delicious," Katherine purrs and Elena giggles again.
"Dork," Elena calls her. Now that it's over, she is clearly shaking from the cold, under-dressed for the weather. Dean shrugs out of his jacket and offers it to her and she takes it gratefully. It positively swamps her and she looks adorable. Elena smiles up at him, triumph shining in her eyes. He wants to kiss her, but Rebekah interrupts the moment.
"While this is all well and good, my brother never actually said which warehouse he's keeping our brothers in. You broke your promise," she accuses. Elena rolls her eyes and turns to face the blonde.
"He didn't need to say, as soon as he told me he was keeping them in a warehouse, I realized I already know where they are," she says, smirking. Rebekah gapes at her, shocked.
"And how exactly do you know that?" she questions, recovering her voice. Elena smiles and slips her phone from her boot.
"I had a rather interesting experience in a warehouse in Chicago," she tells her, searching through her phone for something. She looks up for a moment to address Dean, "I'm sure you remember it," she teases. He laughs and nods. How could he forget? It was the only time he's ever actually seen her fight anyone, and hopefully the last. It was kind of terrifying.
"Anyway, I went back to make sure there wasn't any evidence of me being there, and stumbled across something pretty interesting." She's found whatever she's looking for on her phone. "I wasn't sure of what it was until now." She shrugs. Holding out her phone to Rebekah she shows her a picture of a coffin with a stylized M on the lid. "Recognize it?" Elena asks.
Rebekah nods. "Very well," she replies. "Chicago, that makes sense. Nik always did love Chicago," she says to herself. Elena laughs.
"Why do you think I was there in the first place? I was tailing him."
"Do you happen to have an address?" Rebekah demands. Elena smirks and nods. Taking her phone back she sends a text message.
"There you go, I just sent it to you," she says, slipping her phone back into her boot. She turns to Alaric. "You should head home and get Jeremy, I promised he could be there for the finale." He nods and heads out of the woods. Elena turns to address everyone else.
"We should get moving, he won't stay down for long." Everyone nods. As a unit, they begin to follow behind Alaric. Katherine and Brady hoist Klaus's body between them and bring up the rear. Curious, Rebekah asks a question.
"What exactly happened to you in that warehouse in Chicago?"
Elena pauses. Dean holds his breath, wondering what she'll say.
"A crazed serial killer tried to kill me but instead I kicked his ass and cut off his head," she replies casually. Sam quietly snickers while Dean laughs out loud. Elena looks at him and smiles affectionately.
"That's my girl," Katherine says with an amused grin.
"Huh," Rebekah responds. Perhaps she underestimated the girl.
By the time Klaus comes to, the ritual is well underway. Already, the witches have spelled the tomb. He cannot escape. The ritual they are performing is a new invention, layering and mixing blood rituals to create an elaborate hybrid spell, one that will hold him indefinitely.
"What are you doing?" he croaks, sprawled across the dirt of the floor just within the tomb. Elena wants him to watch, to be aware of what is being done to him. The vampires had gone first. Rebekah and Katherine spilled blood into an iron pot, binding his vampire side to the tomb. The werewolves went next. Brady and Jules spilled their blood to bind his werewolf side to the tomb. He woke up just as the witches, Lucy and Gloria, were spilling their own blood.
Elena looks over at him and smiles that deadly insidious smile she had hidden from him earlier. Dean is standing next to her; he can see the way her eyes dance with glee in the firelight. He thinks back to the first time he'd seen her and thought of her as a goddess. She has never looked more like one than in this moment, gleaming with triumph.
"Sending you to hell," she replies. She turns back to the ritual. They stand in a circle, blood boiling in a pot at its center. The witches complete their binding, preventing any witch but witches of their bloodlines from undoing the binding. Next they call the humans into the circle.
The spell requires more humans, human blood can sustain an entire race of beings, but it isn't high in magical properties. Sam, Dean, Jeremy, Liz, and Alaric present their wrists. Blood of humans who are also supernatural hunters has a certain kick to it.
That part complete, Rebekah steps in, family blood to damn him. She had given as a vampire first and now she is giving as his kin, demanding that only a member of their family as well as witches from Gloria and Lucy's bloodlines be able to undo the spell.
Finally, as one, Elena and Katherine step into the circle, to seal the spell and bind the hybrid's fate to the doppelganger once more. In the end, even if someone gathered all the necessary blood for the ritual, it would be useless without the blood of the doppelganger.
Once, the blood of a Petrova girl had been used to trap him in his own skin. Once, the blood of a Petrova girl had been used to unleash him on the world. Now two Petrova girls willingly trap him again, this time in his own personal hell.
The ritual complete, Elena makes eye contact with Klaus, and smiles at him serenely. He's sitting up now, leaned against the wall of the tomb.
"You're going to desiccate in there. You're going to feel your veins rub against each other like sandpaper. And one day, you will be so dry you won't even be capable of moving. You will be a living mummy," she tells him, her voice soft and sweet as honey. He trembles with rage as he stands, trying to hide his terror. He sneers and addresses his sister.
"Little Elena Gilbert is my undoing, who would've thought?" he quips, rage burning in his eyes. Rebekah is stone.
"You should not have killed them, brother. You created a monster," she says, eyes cold. He laughs dryly.
"And you helped her, because I killed your precious Stefan, am I right?" he asks, forging on before she can reply. "Another knife in my back, funny how they all bear the family name on the hilt." He sneers again. Rebekah is unrepentant.
"You should not have killed him, brother. You gave the monster a knife." With that, she turns away from her brother. He fixes his hateful eyes back on Elena.
"Let me out, Elena, and I won't slaughter everyone you love," he spits. Elena smiles with dark humor.
"Haven't we already been there, done that?" she quips. He bares his teeth at her, feral.
"Make them undo the bloody spell!" he demands, beating his hands against the border spell. Elena is unmoved by his theatrics.
"No," she says simply. He beats against the boundary of his cage uselessly before he falls to his knees, tears leaking out of the corner of his eyes and spittle coating his chin.
"So this is what you meant when you said you'd been planning this night since I killed you?" he asks, his voice soft, almost defeated. Elena smiles, and it's all the answer he needs.
"Enjoy hell," she says. Jules and Katherine move the tomb's door into place and the witches paint the binding rituals in blood, chanting. The spell is complete, with an extra kick that will repel any potential prey from this place. The tomb is sealed. As long as the spell is in place, Klaus will rot in his own personal hell, alone in the dark.
Elena had only explained the extent of her plan to them the night before; the residual shiver of its cruelty still rested in their spines. Elena is the first to move. She leans against Dean's side, her face content. He smiles and throws an arm around her shoulders, pressing a kiss to the side of her head.
Rebekah looks at her brother's tomb at last.
"How long am I supposed to leave him there?" she croaks, not as unaffected as she had appeared before. Knowing that he can still hear them, Elena makes sure her answer is precise.
"He's serving sentences for his sins, and I suppose since we have been his jury and his judge, then we also have the right to decide how many years he will serve for the crimes he has committed," she responds. Turning so that she is facing into the circle again, she begins.
"I sentence him to five hundred years, the amount of time Katherine spent running from him, and to one hundred and seventy two years for Damon." Elena turns to look at Dean beside her, indicating that he should go next. He thinks for a moment.
"I sentence him to the length of Elena's lifetime, for all the years she will have to live without the ones she loves," he says at last. He turns to Liz beside him. Her answer is instantaneous.
"I sentence him to the rest of my lifetime, a lifetime I should've spent with my daughter, my Caroline." She turns to Katherine. Katherine pauses long enough that Rebekah grows impatient.
"Get on with it!" she snaps. Katherine rolls her eyes but complies.
"I sentence him to nineteen years, the length of time that Tatia lived before she lost her life because of him, I sentence him to the lifetime I should've had with my daughter." She pokes Jeremy in the ribs. "Your turn little Gilbert." He swats at her hand but complies.
"I sentence him to seventeen years for Matt and seventeen years for Bonnie, for the lives he cut short." He looks at Alaric beside him.
"I sentence him to thirty years, for Jenna's lifetime that he cut short," he says, his voice husky with grief. Brady is beside him but he declines a sentencing, he doesn't have any grudges toward the hybrid, he's just here to please Katherine. Lucy, who is beside him, is not as merciful.
"I sentence him to a thousand years, the length of time witches of my bloodline have been fixing his and his vampires' mistakes, and for the ones who lost their lives in the battle against him." Her voice is strong and clear as she condemns him. To everyone's surprise, Jules does have a sentencing.
"I sentence him to seventeen years, for Tyler," she says, adding quietly, "He was just a kid." Gloria clears her throat and speaks with no hesitancy in her voice.
"I sentence him to one thousand years, for all the witches he killed, brutalized, and blackmailed during his wretched life." Sam stares at the fire for a long time, but he speaks.
"I sentence him to the lifetime of every person he has ever killed," he says. When no one else speaks to sentence him, Rebekah sniffs back the sting of tears and nods her head, ready to condemn her brother for the final time.
"I sentence him to one hundred and sixty five years for Stefan, and to all of the combined years that he kept my brothers and I daggered."
"How many years is that?" Dean asks. Rebekah looks at him.
"A very long time," she says. "Some of us only served decades, others?" She shrugs. "Centuries."
Everyone has done their sentencing, so Elena finishes it for them.
"So it is done and he shall serve every day, year, decade, and century for the crimes he committed," she intones, her speech unusually formal, but appropriate for all intents and purposes. Rebekah sniffs again, a tear leaking out of the corner of her eye. She goes from condemning to unsure in a matter of seconds.
"So that's just it, I'm supposed to leave him there?" she snaps at Elena, glaring. Elena stares her down.
"Yes," she says simply.
"How am I even supposed to know how long I'm supposed to wait until I open it? There were an awful lot of 'lifetimes' thrown around, how can I be sure?" She sounds surly, but Elena doesn't let that annoy her.
"Find the average lifetime for each time period," she suggests, shrugging. The purpose of the sentencing hadn't been to give her an exact date that she could release her brother, it was to emphasize that he would be in there for a very long time.
"That's an awful lot of math," Rebekah growls, deliberately contrary.
"Buy a calculator," Elena deadpans.
"You're insufferable," Rebekah hisses. Elena smiles, still comfortably tucked into Dean's side.
"Yes, I am," she says simply. Rebekah stomps out of the clearing intent on getting away from the doppelganger. Elena stops her.
"Rebekah?" she calls. Reluctantly, the blonde stops at the crumbling stairs up to the surface and turns back to look at Elena. "Don't open it," she says flatly. Rebekah nods tersely. Unsatisfied with the girl's response, Elena tries to drive her point home.
"If I have to come back from the dead just to kill you, I will be very upset."
Rebekah laughs, the ire draining from her body. "I swear on my honor as an original that I will not open that tomb, not for several millennia," she promises. Elena nods, satisfied. With one last look, the original leaves them.
It's New Years Eve when Dean finds Elena in the Salvatore Boarding House. Katherine left the day after the ritual. She wanted to stay longer, but the witches and werewolves were chomping at the bits to get home—to get away from Mystic Falls really. Since she was heading to Chicago to drop off Gloria, she ended up giving Rebekah a ride. A recipe for disaster if there ever was one.
The Winchesters stayed. Dean was worried about Elena, and that worry grew with every passing day. She withdrew into herself, becoming more and more taciturn and brooding. If she was terrifying and stoic before now she is unnerving and distant. As far as Dean can tell, she hasn't slept since it happened. It's beginning to show.
Her skin is swallow, her lips cracked; she's shrunken in on herself. She has half-moons imprinted under her eyes and a restless jittering in her limbs. She looks not unlike Brady, except there is no fear in her bones. She is unafraid, but scattering into pieces.
She looks ghostly now, frail almost. It's as if the life is slowly draining from her body. It's almost as if she had only been alive to complete her mission, to destroy Klaus as he destroyed her and so many others. Now that she has finished, she is listless and restless all at once. She's falling apart.
The worst part is, she won't let anyone in. She slips out before anyone is awake, wandering the town until it gets dark. She is kind enough to come home then, so no one will worry. Before, there was never any doubt that she could take care of herself, but now she is so distracted, so far into her head, who knows what could happen to her.
They're all worried, Dean, Sam, Jeremy, Alaric, the sheriff. She keeps her distance though. Answers their concerns with vague smiles when she can't escape. She tells them she's tired. It's not a lie, but she'd be less tired if she actually slept.
It's the breaking point; she didn't come home the night before. Frantic with worry, they search the town. Dean is the one to think of the Boarding House. He gets directions from a surly lady at the local bar.
It's a beautiful house, big and old and stately. He finds her in the first living room he comes to. She's curled on the couch, staring into the fire she must've lit, wearing the sweater and jeans she left in the day before, Damon's jacket abandoned on an end table beside her. She rolls something between her fingers.
"Elena?" he says, approaching her carefully. She isn't easily startled, not even with her recent distraction, but just because she is on the edge of what looks like a breakdown, doesn't mean she isn't dangerous.
He is afraid of her. Who wouldn't be?
She doesn't respond to him, just rolls the object between her fingers and stares. He hesitantly sits beside her. He can see what she's playing with now. It's a ring, a big, gaudy thing. It's blue with silver detailing. Her fingers twirl it around and around, tracing the S engraved at the center of it. Her hands move quickly, repeating the motion again and again. He keeps expecting her hands to stumble, the ring to drop, anything but the continuous motion of the ring twirling between her nimble fingers. She never fumbles.
"It didn't make it go away," she says suddenly, breaking the silence. She clamps her hands around the ring and turns her head to look at him. Her dark eyes are almost wild, on the brink of madness. It's terrifying.
"It didn't make what go away?" he asks gently. She gnaws on her lower lip, already torn and bloody from what he suspects was an endless night of contemplation. There is an idea rolling around in her head, eating away at her insides. He's glad she's willing to share it with him at last.
"I always knew it wasn't going to bring them back," she continues as if he hadn't spoken, "but I thought- I dunno, I thought it would help." She blinks back tears, her face tight with pain.
"Help what?" he coaxes gently. She holds his gaze.
"The guilt. I thought it would make it go away. I knew I could never bring them back, but I thought if I hurt him, if I hurt him like he hurt them, then I'd stop feeling so guilty." She's breathing hard and tears are coming fast. Cautiously, he moves closer. She doesn't move away, so he slowly puts his arm around her shoulder. She sags against him, sobbing. Her fingers are clenched around the ring, tucked between her knees.
He runs his free hand through her hair, soothing her as best he can.
"It's my fault, it's all my fault, they're dead because of me," she sobs. He shakes his head.
"No it's not," he insists firmly. She looks up at him. She doesn't believe him.
"Of course it is, they would've lived if it weren't for me," she says with absolute belief. "I'm the doppelganger, all I brought them was death and destruction."
He grasps her face in her hands. There is no sharpness in her features anymore, but she is brittle, falling to pieces in his grasp. He does his best to hold her together.
"You didn't choose to be the doppelganger and you didn't kill them," he tells her. "This is not your fault."
She shakes her head, but he can see it in her eyes, she wants to believe him. He presses a kiss to her forehead.
"One day, you'll believe me," he promises. She rests her forehead on his shoulder. At last her hands open. Her palms are imprinted with the design on the ring. The S is sloppily stamped on the center of her right palm. She's been marked. The ring rests innocently in her shaking hands.
"Who did it belong to?" he asks. She doesn't pretend that she doesn't know what he's talking about. She sits up, pulling out of his embrace.
"This one was Damon's," she tells him, turning it over in her fingers.
"I gave Stefan's to Rebekah, and Liz has Caroline's." She wipes the tears from her face with her sleeve. She straightens her spine and clenches her jaw, and for a second she looks formidable again. The kind of girl you don't want to meet in a dark alley, no matter how beautiful she is. She closes her fingers around the ring again.
"None of them would want you to torture yourself like this," he tells her gently. He didn't know any of them, but it doesn't mean he isn't right. She looks at him with that dead-eyed stare that sends shivers down his spine every time.
"What does it matter? They're dead." Her voice is soft, calm, cold. He doesn't buy it for a second.
"Doesn't change the fact that not a single one of them would want you to blame yourself for something you had no control over." He is stern in his delivery, knowing that with this version of Elena there can be no weakness. She nods her head, placating him halfheartedly. She's pulling away again.
She stands up and walks over to a collection of alcohol in beautiful crystal bottles. She places the ring next to a particularly stunning bottle full of amber liquid. Then she turns back to look at him with intent in her eyes. He stands up too, anticipating something, but not entirely aware of what it might be.
"You and Sam should go now," she says, shocking him. "You have things to do, people to save." She smiles wryly. He starts to protest but she cuts him off.
"I'm going to be fine, Dean," she tells him; there is conviction in her voice. "But I'm gonna have to be fine on my own."
He understands what she means right away. Part of him wants to fight her. The other part knows she is right.
"You don't even know who I am without Klaus hanging over my head. I don't even know who I am without him anymore. Which is massively fucked up, if you think about it too much. I need to figure out who I am. I need to forgive myself and find a way to move on with my life. I held onto him so tightly because he was someone to blame—the right someone to blame, but still.
"I held on because it meant that I didn't have to grieve for all the people I lost. I didn't have time for grief because I was so consumed with hatred. That's why I held onto it so tightly in the first place. The anger gave me something to hold onto while I was drowning in the pain, in the guilt. It twisted me though, turned me into someone I don't know. I have to remember what it's like to be that girl who loved so deeply. She was a good girl, and I know I can never have her back, but maybe I can find a way to bring that part of her with me while I figure out who I am now.
"In some ways, that was the worst part of her—the way she loved. It was the worst part of me, the most reckless, breakable part. It was my fatal flaw, the thing that made me easy to hurt and to destroy. It was also the best part of me." She stops suddenly, cutting herself off. She looks at him, and waits for him to speak.
She looks like she expects a fight. He wants to fight her on this, wants to be there for her, be with her. But—
This is the hardest thing he's done in a while. She's right, though. This is her journey.
"Okay," he says. She looks relieved for a second before another tear slips down her tired face. She swipes it away and nods her head.
"Okay," she repeats. He crosses the distance between them, until there are only centimeters between them. He touches her face, slowly, softly, memorizing the feel of it. She rolls her eyes at him, understanding what he isn't saying. He hasn't said much anyway.
"You'll find me again," she promises. "The universe is trying to tell us something, remember?" he laughs and nods in agreement. He kisses her one more time, soft and long and slow.
Then he walks away. She stops him at the door.
"Thank you, Dean," she says. He looks at her.
"For what?" She smiles.
"For being there even when I didn't think I needed you, especially then." He smiles, doesn't tell her she's welcome. He turns back towards the door and leaves.
This isn't the end of their story—it's the beginning. He finds her again at Duke University three years later. He looks up and there she is, across the quad, smiling and beautiful.
He isn't looking for her, but he finds her anyway.