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Title: Taken (Chapter 29)
Fandom: The Vampire Diaries (TV series)
Characters/Pairings: Elijah/Elena, Damon, Katherine, ensemble
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None.
Summary: Post-2x15 AU: Elijah succeeds in kidnapping Elena, Katherine is out of the tomb and the Salvatore brothers have one hell of a mess to fix. Sometimes you have no choice but to make a deal with the devil. If you can get the devil to make a deal with you...

previously


29. Extreme Measures

Elena marvelled at the intensity of the lake before her, a deep clear blue unlike anything she’d ever seen. Around her, the forest was evergreen: she could smell the freshness of the pine cones, feel the softness of the needles underfoot. Above her, a flock of geese winged their way across the cloud-scudded sky. And beside her, there was a series of waterfalls, each one gushing into the next, dashing over rocks and into jagged gullies before settling down into the still mirror of the lake.

The air was startlingly clear; she felt as though she could see for miles, across the vast length of the lake, to the snow-capped hills in the distance.

It was breathtaking.

She walked over to the lake’s edge, warmly dressed in a long coat and scarf, and tucked her hair behind her ears as she drank it all in. Her breath formed little puffs of smoke, but she didn’t feel the chill. It was all... abstract. The idea of cold, she thought.

Elijah came to stand beside her.

She glanced at him. “Where are we?”

“Norway,” he replied. “The forests, before they were touched by acid rain.”

“It’s beautiful.”

Elijah nodded. “This fjord was formed by a glacier... Over thousands of years, the melt-water carves its way into steep valleys like this one... And at night, sometimes...”

They stood together in darkness, but as with the manner of dreams, this shift did not feel strange to Elena. The stars were cold pinpricks reflecting off the water’s surface. She stepped a little closer to Elijah, and looked up, awe-struck, as shimmering lights flickered across the night sky.

“The aurora,” Elijah finished. “The northern lights.”

It was like watching a celestial dance: loops of colour, pink and blue and green, swaying in the heavens. For a while, silence reigned; all she could hear was the wind blowing through the trees, and it was easy to imagine that the heavens were sighing. Elena thought that she could sense a rhythm to it, the movement of the aurora and the sighing of the wind whispering together, as though the swirls of colour were silken fabrics brushing over the dresses of dancers in the sky.

She was mesmerized.

“There are some things that are beyond us,” Elijah mused. “Beyond all of us.”

Elena tore her gaze from the aurora to look at him, at the lights playing over his face. She was reminded again of how old he was, the number of years he must have walked this earth... His eyes were intense. But there was a beauty in them, she thought, like the aurora. Cold, remote, unattainable, immortal; and yet here. She had danced with him. She had felt his heartbeat matching hers.

The wind whispered in her ears. She reached out, placing a gloved hand on his chest, and as he looked at her, she felt a delightful shiver in her heart. “Were you alone, when you came here?”

“Yes.” He gave her a small smile. “Perhaps it is better appreciated with company.”

“Was there ever anyone else?”

He blinked.

“After Tatia. Was there ever anyone else? Katherine–”

“No,” he said flatly, cutting her off. “I am a vampire. I have no use for love.”

He had become coldness itself again. She wondered what was holding him back. How could he have lived as a vampire for over a thousand years and not fallen in love? He hadn’t switched off his emotions, she was sure of that; they were all there, beneath the surface.

Above them, the aurora trembled.

She bit her lip. “Is that true?”

His voice softened. “It’s surprising how much you can accomplish without love getting in the way. Besides, the two aren’t exactly compatible.”

“With being a vampire?” She frowned, letting her hand drop back to her side. “You mean, being with a human...”

It was the inescapable truth that she had refused to face with Stefan: she could not grow old with him. They couldn’t spend their lives together. Not if she remained human.

“Being with anyone,” was his reply. “I am immortal, and love is not designed to last forever. It fades quickly. I wonder if the problem with vampires is their inability to let go of emotions that defined them when they were human... We are creatures frozen in time – you have the ability to move on. You can still grow.”

She nodded slowly, again thinking of Stefan. He was a perpetual teenager; it wouldn’t be long before she became physically older than him. Was she already beginning to outgrow him?

He took her hand, and she caught her breath, startled. “I’m sorry, Elena. But I must remind you of our immediate concerns.”

She blinked. The aurora had faded, the sky was darkening... Everything felt cloudy, heavy...

Elijah’s eyes gazed into hers.

“And back to the way you were.”

Elena drew in a long breath. She was... awake. Yes. It had been a dream, and already it was fading, as vivid as it had been. Her head was resting in the crook of Elijah’s arm, and she automatically curled around to press against his chest, one hand tugging at his suit jacket. Then her brain caught up with her senses. She sat up, arching away from him, embarrassed.

She was on his lap.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” said Elijah, amused. “You’re a clingy sleeper. I didn’t intend to wake you so suddenly, but we’re about to have a visitor...”

“What?” Her eyes widened; she was awake enough to process what he had just said, but not to react to it.

Then she heard a familiar voice, dark with fury. “Well, isn’t this cosy.”

Startled, Elena turned her head to look across the room, and her stomach dropped. She got to her feet, moving over to snatch up her necklace from the coffee table, and sensed Elijah standing up behind her. She lifted the necklace to put it on again as quickly as she could. The reality of their situation was setting in again, like a weight around her neck.

“I see it didn’t take long for you to use compulsion.”

Damon’s face was already changing, the blood darkening his eyes. He rushed Elijah, who moved too fast for her to see; all Elena knew was that in the next second Elijah had thrown Damon across the room – he crashed into the wall, breaking a desk chair and probably a few bones in the process.

“No!” she gasped. “Stop!”

Damon was already getting up, and Elena knew that there was only one thing she could do to stop this pointless battle: she ran forward and placed herself in front of Elijah, shielding him. Her hand found Elijah’s arm and took hold of it, and she felt him go still.

“I asked him to compel me, Damon,” she said.

Damon still looked furious, but they were locked into a stand-off. He gritted his teeth. “What?”

“I...” She stopped. She couldn’t tell him the real reason; the very thought of it felt too... personal. She swallowed, hoping that her cheeks weren’t red. “I needed leverage against Klaus. So I asked Elijah to compel me to kill myself if Klaus killed any of you.”

“Did you ask him to get so touchy-feely too?”

She couldn’t respond. She heard Elijah’s words in her head again: You’re a clingy sleeper. The truth was that she had just wanted someone to hold on to. She tried to mentally add anyone, but couldn’t.

She felt awful.

Elijah spoke. “Why are you here, Damon?”

“Picking up our girlfriend,” said Damon. “Assuming you’re done with her, of course. I’d hate to interrupt.”

Elena bit back an angry retort. He was upset; he couldn’t have been more obviously jealous if he’d tried, and lashing out at an upset Damon was never a good idea. She turned to glance up at Elijah. She could feel the tension in his body, as though she was holding back a dam: all that immense power, coiled up and contained by the simple act of placing her hand on his arm. But he looked at her, and when she nodded, he inclined his head almost imperceptibly.

“I was about to go anyway,” she said. She moved away from Elijah to pick up her jacket, knowing that both men were still watching her. “You can take me home, Damon. I need to be with my family. Elijah... We’ll see you later.”

She waited for either of them to object, but they didn’t. Damon immediately moved forward and grabbed her arm none too gently, pulling her away. At that moment she would not have objected to Elijah tossing him into a wall again, but she gritted her teeth and let him escort her out of the house.

Of course, Damon started lecturing her the moment they walked outside. “How many times do I have to tell you that Elijah is bad news?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry if taking an elixir that could save my life is such a terrible thing.”

“Just get in.”

He opened the car door for her – the passenger door, despite it being her car. She huffed, but climbed in anyway. If he wanted to be an ass about it, fine. She folded her arms and refused to speak while he started the engine and backed out of the driveway.

Once they got onto the highway, doubt began to nag at her.

“You are taking me home, right?”

“Yes. But I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re not being overbearing about it. We wouldn’t want that.”

He ignored the jibe, staring into the rear view mirror. “Well, if you’d stop being actively suicidal, maybe I wouldn’t have to save your ass every time you walk into Elijah’s oh-so-eager arms. If it isn’t bad enough that the Originals want to sacrifice you, now you actually want them to compel you to kill yourself?”

“I don’t have a choice! What’s your solution, Damon? Did you find out how to despell those rings yet? Because if you did, I want you to tell me.”

Her hands had balled into fists; she was breathing hard. Damon managed to infuriate her so quickly – well, the feeling was mutual. They just didn’t agree on how to handle the situation.

“One problem at a time. Right now, I’m making sure that you’re safe.” He looked sideways at her. “Katherine’s after you.”

She paused, all her emotion deflated through sheer surprise. “What?”

“She got away from Klaus, she wants to stop the ritual, and she’s looking for you. Best way to do that is...”

“By killing me.”

Elena hadn’t thought that things could get any worse. She hated how often that had been proven wrong. She leaned her head back against her seat, sighing. Just something else beyond her control.

“Relax,” said Damon. “I won’t let that happen.”

The car was slowing down. Elena frowned when she noticed. They were still outside town, in the middle of nowhere. The highway was empty.

“Damon... What are you doing?”

He’d pulled over to the side of the road. Without speaking, he opened the car door and got out. Angry and confused, Elena did the same, stalking over to glare at him.

“Why have we stopped?”

“Because we’re not going through with this,” said Damon. “Any of it. Until these rings come off, Klaus can’t have you. Simple as that.”

Understanding dawned. She shook her head. “No... He’ll kill you. He’ll kill everyone.”

“Didn’t you just say that you’re compelled to kill yourself if that happens?” The look he gave her was mocking. “So if I’m not already dead, I’ll get to watch as you commit suicide.”

No, she thought. That wasn’t how she had wanted it to happen. She regretted telling him now; she had meant it only as a safety measure, not a gambit to be played or gambled with.

“He’ll never believe that you’ll do that.”

Damon’s voice was carefully light and controlled, simply stating a fact: “He’ll believe when I feed you my blood.”

Her breath caught. She backed away, suddenly afraid of him. “No, Damon... Don’t.”

She watched as the vampire in him rose to the surface again: his eyes darkened, his fangs bared.

“Damon,” she tried again. “If you love me, you won’t do this. Please. I don’t want this.”

But she knew, her heart sinking, that her plea was all in vain: it was because he loved her that he would do this to her. It was because he loved her that he lashed out, that he had snapped Jeremy’s neck, plotted to kill Elijah behind her back, constantly ignored her wishes in his mission to save her life no matter the cost.

He bit into his wrist.

A hand clamped over her mouth, muffling her scream.

*

“Excuse me for pointing out the obvious,” said Gloria. “But aren’t there supposed to be seven of us? I only count six.”

Bonnie looked around at the others in the circle. Abigail, Lucy, Gloria, Jonas, Luka, and herself. They had channelled the power that resided in this house; every single one of them was capable of taking down an Original vampire. But Gloria was right, Bonnie thought; they were still missing one person. There was no one else to call on.

It was Jonas who replied. “We’ll complete the circle tonight,” he said, “when my daughter joins us.”

Startled, Bonnie exchanged a glance with Luka. Greta? Did the Martins really think that she would join them? Luka gave her a small nod. He believed it, she thought. But he hadn’t seen Greta, the way she had strolled up to them at the ball and taken them out.

“Your daughter,” Gloria repeated, sounding unimpressed. “So why isn’t she here now? Did she get held up baking cookies?”

“Because she’s working for Klaus!” Bonnie said, unable to hold it in any longer. “Doctor Martin, do you really think she’s going to switch sides? She did this to me.”

She held up her hand, showing the ring that Greta had forcibly attached to her finger.

Gloria stepped forward, curious. “What’s that on your finger, honey?”

Bonnie bit her lip, a little nervous in front of the older witch, before holding out her hand. “Klaus’s witches attacked us. When we woke up...”

Gloria lifted her hand up, running her fingers over the metal. She seemed to sense something that Bonnie couldn’t, because she shook her head.

“This pretty jewel ain’t a ruby; it’s glass. This is a blood ring. You said Klaus did this to you?”

She nodded. “Klaus said that it would bind our lives to his. So if he dies...”

“So do you.” Gloria’s face was grim. “That’s his blood in the glass. Neat trick.”

Abby stepped forward. “Can’t you do something about it? Anyone?”

Gloria shook her head. “Only the witch who cast the spell can undo it. Unless you have her spellbook.”

They didn’t, of course. So she had to hope that there was a chance of getting Greta on their side. She looked at Jonas and Luka again, but before she could say anything, both of them looked up at something behind her.

The atmosphere in the room tensed. Jonas’s jaw had set, Gloria raised her eyebrows, and Lucy’s expression became visibly cooler.

Bonnie turned.

“Stefan,” she said.

He was at the top of the staircase, looking down at them all. “Bonnie, can I talk to you for a second?”

She frowned. “Sure.”

“We’ll be with you guys in a second,” Stefan said, nodding at the rest of them.
Bonnie gave her mother one final look – they were bound together now, all of them, whether they liked it or not. Abby looked as though she wanted to speak; her mouth trembled, but she said nothing. She nodded, stepping back, and Bonnie turned to follow Stefan.

Her mother didn’t want her to die fighting Klaus. She supposed that she ought to be grateful, to have some sign that Abby cared about her, but Bonnie was already filing it away as another complication to be dealt with. Every single witch had to be onboard with what they were about to do. If any of them faltered...

Stefan didn’t stop until they had reached the front entrance. Bonnie had to blink to adjust her eyes to the sudden light before giving him a questioning look.

“What is it, is something wrong?”

“Katherine’s after Elena,” said Stefan quietly. “We think she’s trying to stop the sacrifice ritual from happening. Damon’s gone to collect Elena.” He explained, Bonnie listening in silence. “That’s not all,” he finished. “Klaus has Tyler. Alaric and Caroline have gone to rescue him.”

She stared at him. “What? But if Klaus doesn’t have a werewolf, he can’t perform the sacrifice ritual.”

“I know,” said Stefan heavily.

“So what, we hold off for another month? I brought these witches together so that we could finish Klaus tonight.”

How were they supposed to survive another month anyway? Klaus wouldn’t be happy if any of them thwarted his plans.

“Tyler doesn’t have to die,” she went on. “If we go ahead as planned, we can take out Klaus before he sacrifices anyone.”

He nodded. “Caroline didn’t want to take that chance. And Elena... She doesn’t want us to go through with this if we die in the process.”

“I know a way around that.” He raised his eyebrows, and Bonnie continued: “The witch who cast the spell has the power to undo it. All we have to do is find Greta... and convince her to help us. The Martins can help. It could work, Stefan.”

He frowned, and she stared at him, imploring him. They couldn’t turn back now.

Finally, he nodded. “Then let’s go find Greta.”

*

Caroline sat in her car, tapping the steering wheel nervously. She was waiting for Alaric to collect his weapon stash so that they could go and rescue Tyler. In the meantime Matt was sitting next to her. He’d insisted on coming, even though he didn’t really know what he was getting into.

This was awkward. She couldn’t even look at him.

“So,” he said, “Tyler’s a werewolf? I didn’t see that coming.”

“Let’s just say you’ve missed a few things.”

“You wanna tell me? What are we up against?”

She sighed. “An all-powerful Original vampire, a couple of witches, and his vampire minions.”

“I’m starting to think that this must be a really bad dream,” said Matt.

Privately, she agreed. Her eyes flicked to the rear view mirror, spotting Alaric approaching with his weapon bag. She started the car, and only then did she look at Matt.

“You should get out, you know. Walk away, go back to school. No offence, Matt, but there’s really not much you can do to help.”

He shook his head. “Maybe not, but I can try. I can’t leave you to go it alone, Caroline. Even if you’ve got a vampire-hunting history teacher to help you.”

He said that as Alaric climbed into the back seat, and leaned forward to look at both of them. Caroline spoke over her shoulder.

“All stocked up?”

“I always am.”

“Okay,” said Caroline. “I’ll explain everything on the way.”

By the time they pulled up outside Klaus’s temporary hide-out, Matt had gotten the full story, or the most relevant bits at least. She had neglected to mention that she was also a vampire. That could come later.

“You still with us?” Caroline asked, giving him a look. She knew it was a lot to take in. He looked even paler than normal, and he swallowed, but his jaw set.

“Yeah. Tell me what I can do to help.”

“Well,” said Alaric. “We’re going in there. I’ve got a ring that protects me from supernatural death, and Caroline has a couple other tricks up her sleeve. As the resident unprotected human, and as my student, I’m gonna have to tell you to stay here. We’ll get Tyler out, and you can take him home. Okay?”

There was a moment’s pause before Matt nodded. Caroline shared a look with Alaric.

Okay, she thought. Here we go.

*

The house seemed dark and empty, devoid of any living occupants. Elijah was packing up, getting ready to leave, when he heard the staircase creak. He tensed at once, looking over to the bedroom door which was only slightly ajar. Did Klaus know that he was here?

“Elijah?” a voice called.

He would have relaxed, for it wasn’t his brother, but the nervous timbre in that voice set a knot of anxiety burning in his stomach. Elijah set the ties that he had been arranging down on the bed, and looked up as the door opened.

“Elena?”

It was her. She hesitated before stepping inside, her hands shaking a little on the doorframe. He regarded her uncertainly. Something was wrong.

Elena took a deep breath. “Damon fed me his blood.”

Her eyes dropped. From the way she said it, he knew that Damon had forced it upon her. His jaw twitched; he could feel a great rage building up within him, like a tidal wave crashing over the sea, but the object of his anger was not here. Why had he not insisted on accompanying her with Damon? He should have known that the younger vampire’s impulsive nature would get the better of him.

So Elijah seethed inwardly, but he controlled himself. “He is determined to ensure that you survive whatever the cost.”

She nodded. “There’s nothing to be done, is there? Klaus will kill me... and I’ll come back as a vampire.”

He knew that becoming a vampire was the last thing she wanted. Damon had left her with no choice. He would rip out Damon’s fangs for this, but in the meantime there was Elena trembling before him. If it came to it, he thought, he would help her transition, and do his best to ensure that becoming a vampire didn’t destroy her. But before that, he would do everything in his power to ensure that she didn’t turn. She deserved that much.

He approached her, Elena watching him with wide eyes. “I’m sorry, Elena. Feeding you vampire blood rendered the elixir useless.”

Confusion flashed across her features for a second before she shook her head. “It’s okay. I didn’t come to you expecting a solution. At least if Klaus is dead... it might be worth it.”

“If it comes to that,” he said, “you can count on my help.”

She nodded, mouth tight. “I – I should probably go. I just thought that I should tell you in person.”

He frowned for a moment, opened his mouth and then closed it. It was probably better not to question her. A suspicion was forming in his mind, and he didn’t want to give that suspicion away.

“Of course.” He lifted her hand, and pressed a light kiss to it. “Until tomorrow, Elena.”

Her eyes widened. She stared at his hand, surprised, but then ducked her head. “Until tomorrow.”

She left quickly, her head still down, long hair shielding her face. She didn’t look back.

Elijah watched her retreat, and then glanced down at his hand, feeling the ghost of her fingers in his. She had been wearing a ring, silver, set with a ruby. Elena had described those rings to him. Rings that bound the life of their wearer to another.
He curled his hand into a fist. Katerina.

*

Elena had suffered the indignity of being bundled into a car and stripped to her underwear, but at least her assailant had neither hurt her nor attempted to shove blood down her throat. She lay curled up on the back seat, wearing Katherine’s clothes, and wondered miserably if she even wanted Damon to find and rescue her.
On balance, she decided that she didn’t.

She was in an abandoned car park somewhere on the outskirts of Mystic Falls, and locked in. Katherine had left one of the windows open a crack, which was thoughtful of her. So maybe she hadn’t been left to die here. That was only a vaguely comforting thought.

After what felt like an age, the back door clicked open and Katherine climbed in, holding out Elena’s vervain necklace.

“Okay, switch up.”

Elena took her necklace, swallowing, as Katherine unceremoniously stripped off her sweater. She averted her eyes, which felt as ridiculous as the first time she had done it – they looked exactly the same – but she still couldn’t watch, didn’t want to see how identical they really were. Instead, she leaned down to pull off the high-heeled boots that Katherine liked to wear.

“Come on,” said Katherine, tossing a camisole at her. “Don’t be shy.”

Elena caught it, and handed over Katherine’s jacket and top before the vampire could get too impatient. “So you’re not going to kill me?” she asked.

“Why would I do that?”

Katherine wriggled out of her jeans and Elena looked away again. “Damon thought–”

“Oh, never ask Damon what I’m up to. He’s always wrong.”

“So what are you up to? Pretending to be me again? That’s a dangerous game when Klaus wants to sacrifice me.”

“Jeans, Elena.” She obeyed, awkwardly; there wasn’t an awful lot of space with the two of them in the back seat, and Katherine continued: “I needed to go meet Elijah, and he needed to not realize it was me. He’s developed quite the soft spot for you.” She made a face. “Acted like he was practically in love with you.”

Elena gritted her teeth. “We’re helping each other. Not that you’d know anything about that.”

She wasn’t sure if the elbow that almost hit her face was deliberate or not, but Elena knew which way she would bet if she had to. Katherine had pulled on her jacket, and she lifted her hair up so that it fell around her shoulders.

“It’s called being smart,” she said. “Don’t stick around with the Original vampires who want to kill you.”

“I’ve heard this before,” Elena replied, equally unimpressed. She was dressed by now, and felt confident enough to look Katherine in the face. “You ran away. Well, guess what, Klaus is still alive and he’s still after you. I’m choosing a different path.”

Katherine laughed softly. She leaned forward again, tipping up Elena’s chin with a finger, and Elena swallowed. “There are two kinds of people in this world, Elena. Those who are victims, and those who prey on them. I refuse to be a victim.”

She was afraid of the vampire, deathly afraid: Katherine’s face was an inch from hers and her pupils were dilated, liquid eyes that gazed at her hungrily, like a cat stalking its prey. But Katherine had already said that she wasn’t going to kill her. So Elena stared straight back, and her voice remained steady. “Maybe so, but I’m not the one who’s all alone. Is it worth it? Becoming like that? Stefan and Damon hate you. Everyone who knows who you really are hates you or wants to kill you. How does it feel, being so hated?”

For a second, she thought that Katherine’s eyes had darkened and that she was about to regret her rash words. Then Katherine leaned back again, lounging over two of the seats so that Elena remained wedged in the corner. She gave Elena a calculating look – almost intrigued, in fact – and Elena wondered how long she was going to have to endure this parody of girl talk. Maybe Katherine intended to keep her until it was time for the sacrifice.

“You assume that I care,” Katherine drawled. “I really don’t. Feelings only get in the way.” She shrugged. “You’d be amazed how much easier it is to get by without other people tying you down.”

Her words provoked a memory. Elena frowned. “Elijah said something like that.”

She murmured it without thinking. She hadn’t intended to say it aloud; she wasn’t even sure when she had heard Elijah say that. It felt recent. It had been recent, hadn’t it? When had they talked about anything like that?

Katherine raised an eyebrow. “Did he? That doesn’t surprise me. He is the king of not caring.”

Elena shook her head, focusing on the present again. “It’s not true. Not for either of you. Your humanity – your feelings – whatever you want to call it. That doesn’t go away when you become a vampire.”

“Oh, so you’re the expert?”

“I’ve seen enough,” said Elena stolidly. “Elijah cared about you before you became a vampire.”

Katherine scoffed. “Before he decided to hunt me down for the next five hundred years? Elijah pretended to care about me, just like Klaus did. They told me nothing. And here we are now, centuries later, and you know everything. Yet you’re still here. My descendants have sure dumbed down over the years. I’m almost ashamed.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

Katherine looked at her then, a shrewd look that took in every inch of her, assessing her. Reading her own face on someone else’s body. Elena shivered.

“Do you?” she purred. “Are you actually planning to survive this, Elena? What’s your agenda?”

“If I had one, I wouldn’t tell you.”

“So you’re not completely stupid. What about becoming a vampire? Have you re-considered that? It looked like Damon wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”

“No, he wasn’t.” Elena twisted her mouth. “And no, I haven’t changed my mind. I need to stay as far away from Damon as possible until the sacrifice is over.”

Katherine grinned. “So I did you a favour.”

Elena didn’t answer, although they both knew that it was kind of true. She had escaped Damon forcing his blood on her. Not that being kidnapped by Katherine was a great alternative.

Katherine leaned forward. “Come on, admit it.”

“You’ll be doing me a favour if you keep me away from Damon,” Elena corrected her. “He’s probably still looking for me.”

“No problem. I don’t want you becoming a vampire. I’d rather you stayed dead.”

Elena sighed. Oddly enough, she was safe with Katherine. She was becoming so used to being kidnapped that this didn’t even faze her.

“Well, this has been an interesting conversation.” Katherine sat up, stretching fluidly. “And believe me, I didn’t expect that. But we’d better hit the road.”

She opened the car door and got out. Elena watched, but didn’t move. She knew it was pointless to make a break for it. Katherine stepped over towards the front of the car, then–

She jumped as something slammed against the car, hard. Everything shook; she heard Katherine cry out. Elena scrambled forward, and saw–

“Elijah,” she gasped.

Elijah had Katherine pinned against the car, fingers curled around her throat. He spoke without looking at her. “Excuse me, Elena. I have another doppelgänger to deal with.”

Elena climbed out of the car, far less gracefully than Katherine had, but she couldn’t wait; she wasn’t going to stay trapped. She wanted to – she didn’t know what she wanted to do, all Katherine’s words about refusing to be a victim were echoing in her ears, and she couldn’t decide if they sounded hollow or not – but there was Katherine, the tables turned, pleading for her life.

“Elijah.” Katherine choked out the name. “Listen, you need me. Both of you.”

She looked at Elena, who stood with her fists clenched, watching her. Elijah let go of Katherine’s throat, but he hadn’t stepped back. She was still trapped.

“Elena, you want to get rid of those rings, don’t you? So that you can save your friends? I know the witch who cast the spell. I can take you to him.”

Elijah raised an eyebrow. “Then tell us.”

Katherine shook her head. “I know you came here to kill me. I’ll take you to him. That’s all I’m offering.”

“She’s tricking you,” said Elena, unable to stop herself. Everything that Katherine did was a lie. “She wants to lead you to Klaus, or get one of his witches to attack you – don’t listen to her, Elijah.”

“Elena speaks sense,” said Elijah softly. “If it’s her word against yours, Katerina... who do you think I’ll choose?”

“You don’t have to choose,” another voice called, and Elena jumped.

It was a male voice, low and even, and completely strange to her. She spotted the man a few yards away, on the other side of the car park. He wore a black coat, but other than that he had no particular distinguishing features. Was he a vampire? How had he snuck up without Elijah hearing?

Elena had only a moment to take all of this in. After that, several things happened at once. She heard an awful crack, and Katherine slumped down on the tarmac like a broken doll. Elijah disappeared – no – he had blurred towards the other man and there was no way that any other vampire could match him, she thought, not unless he was another Original–

The man in the black coat held up a hand.

Elijah stopped, doubled over, a pained gasp escaping his mouth.

Elena looked at Katherine – she was completely still, head lolling at an unnatural angle. Not a threat then. Ignoring Katherine, she dashed over to Elijah, placing a steadying hand on his arm to help him up.

“Stop! You’re hurting him!”

“I’m fairly certain that he was about to hurt me,” the man replied. There was a slight strain in his voice. Now that she was closer to him, she could see the beads of sweat forming on his brow. Keeping down an Original had to take a lot out of him. “I don’t want to harm either of you. I’m here to talk.”

The man’s hand returned to his side, and Elijah straightened up. He stared at the man with narrowed eyes. Elena could almost feel the controlled fury emanating from him.

“Who are you?”

“I’m Maddox,” was the reply. “I’ve been helping out Klaus with a few spells.”

So he was one of Klaus’s witches. Elena shared a frown with Elijah; she knew that both of them were thinking the same thing. Why had Maddox approached them?

“What do you want?” she asked.

Maddox smiled. “To give you a demonstration.”

*

The gravel on the driveway crunched under Caroline’s feet. She winced, sure that her footsteps would be heard, and made an extra effort to tread as lightly as possible. Alaric followed behind her. He couldn’t move silently no matter how hard he tried, so Caroline resisted the urge to shush him and tiptoed over to the house entrance, where she pushed open the door and tentatively held out a hand to see if she could get inside.

No barrier met her. Well, that was something. At least Alaric didn’t have to go in by himself. She nodded at him, gesturing for him to go first before stepping inside.
Alaric was looking around, alert and wary, already carrying a stake in his hand. The place seemed deserted, but the vase of flowers on a nearby table was fresh, and there was no dust. The house was being maintained, and to a very high standard; Carol Lockwood would have approved.

Caroline stood still, and listened. She waited ten seconds, twenty seconds, feeling Alaric’s eyes on her every moment, waiting for her to give them directions.

Then she took a breath, pointed up the stairs, and mouthed, “Ready?”

Alaric’s brow creased. He nodded, tucked the stake into his jacket, and took her arm. His hold was steady, though she could see the worry in his eyes. Caroline didn’t hesitate. In a blur of motion, she darted upstairs and burst into the room where she thought she had heard Tyler, taking Alaric with her. She heard a muffled curse – perhaps Alaric hadn’t been as ready for the sudden turn of speed as she had thought.

Only one thing struck her. The cage. And inside that cage, filthy and bedraggled...

Tyler’s voice was a husky gasp. “Caroline?”

Then someone slapped her.

It was a full-on, stinging backhand to her head, and it threw Caroline clean off her feet. Pain flared in her skull and then she crashed against the cage and it felt like every bone in her body jarred upon impact. A hand closed on her shoulder. As the stars stopped dancing in front of her eyes and the dizziness receded – thank God for vampire healing, or that blow might have killed her – she recognized Tyler’s voice at her ear.

“Caroline, you need to go! Run!”

She blinked. In front of her, Alaric had just dropped to his knees, groaning, and kneeling down beside him was...

Isobel. Of course. She was the guard.

“You shouldn’t have come here, Ric,” said Isobel softly. Alaric made no effort to resist when she jerked the stake from his hand. Caroline wondered if he was injured, too weak to fight back, or if he simply couldn’t bear to attack his ex-wife.

Caroline had no such qualms. Her head had cleared. She launched herself at Isobel, feeling Tyler’s hand slipping away from her shoulder, and the next few seconds were a whirlwind of grappling, tearing, clawing – Caroline knocked the stake out of Isobel’s hand early on and kicked it away before Isobel slammed her into a wall. Caroline broke her grip with a judicious elbow to the face which caused Isobel to cry out, blood gushing down her nose. She was on fire; all she could think was that she had to save Tyler, and she pressed her advantage by leaping on Isobel and pinning her to the ground. She had a hand around Isobel’s throat – and some dim part of her mind registered surprise; Caroline wasn’t used to being in this position, the assailant – but she could barely contain Isobel thrashing beneath her.

Then Isobel’s hands curled around her head like vices, one on each side of her face, and she drove her thumbs into Caroline’s eyes.

Everything went black. She keened like a wounded animal, wretched and fearful and full of pain. Before she knew it, she was thrown back, and a strong pair of hands – Isobel’s hands, no doubt still bloody – wrenched her arms behind her back. Caroline struggled, crying out, but Isobel had won; she couldn’t escape the older vampire’s grasp. And even if she did, she couldn’t see.

She couldn’t see, but she could hear. Sound, always loud to a vampire, magnified threefold. Her heart roared in her ears. Whimpers wracked her chest. She heard scuffling, a body slamming into metal, Tyler shouting, Alaric shouting...

Footsteps. A female voice. Something about it sounded familiar...

“Need help? Here.”

A movement in the air. Something thrown. The soft sound as wood came into contact with skin. The black was receding from Caroline’s vision, replaced with milky white, as though light was hitting her eyes again. She was healing. Did every body part just grow back? Could she be chopped into pieces and still heal? She shuddered at the thought.

Her head was yanked back; Isobel had pulled her by her hair. Caroline whimpered.

“You’re the one that got away at the party.” Isobel’s voice was flat. No emotion. The quintessential vampire. “That’s a pity. If you’d stayed away, you might have lived.”

I’m going to die, she thought. For real this time. I’m going to die.

She had imagined that it would be worth it to die saving someone she loved. If she had to go, that was the best way, right? But she didn’t feel anything. She just didn’t want to die. She didn’t.

“Please,” she whispered.

*

In the Gilbert house, Jenna and Jeremy waited. And waited. And made frantic calls, none of which were answered – until Damon gave her the curt news that Katherine had kidnapped Elena and that he had no idea where she was.

“But what is she–” Jenna started.

He cut her off. She stared at the blank screen of her phone, breathing hard. Obviously he would be searching for Elena, but he couldn’t waste five seconds to fill her in on what was going on – never mind that she could be an extra pair of eyes and ears. Never mind that Elena was her niece and that she had sworn to help.
Screw Damon Salvatore.

She stalked into the living room where Jeremy was waiting for her.

“Okay,” she said. “That’s it. I am not waiting around in this house any longer. Jeremy, go fetch the crossbow.”

Jeremy didn’t need to be told twice. He headed upstairs while Jenna shoved her phone into her pocket and grabbed the pepper spray from the kitchen. It was meant to be a defence in case some asshole tried to assault her, but she had replaced the pepper with vervain. That of course made it useless against human attackers, but Jenna wasn’t expecting any problems on that front. She strode over to the front door – she could at least act purposeful, even if she didn’t know where to begin looking for Elena. Even if everyone thought she was a liability. She’d put a dagger in Elijah’s heart, hadn’t she? She wasn’t useless.

Jenna opened the door, and stopped dead.

Someone was waiting for her. A man, blond, blue-eyed; she might have thought that the dimples in his cheeks were cute, but his smirk was too self-assured for that. She immediately pegged him as a jackass. Which right now probably meant vampire. Which probably meant...

Jenna swallowed.

Klaus gave her a pearly grin. “Afternoon, Jenna.”

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