Elena was acutely aware as she was training that she probably would've been better off sticking with the cheerleading.
Running across a weathered down track in the woods she'd grown up in, her hair tied back into a tight ponytail, she tried to ignore the bleating sounds of Rebekah yelling at her as she ran alongside her, keeping pace perfectly. Sometimes it would be just general tips she'd shout, like 'move faster', or 'keep your bloody arms tucked in, it's not hard for god's sake!' (sometimes she would contradict her orders just to make her life harder), and sometimes it would just be general insults to get her blood boiling to the point where the only way to blow off steam was to run it off.
Rebekah's fitness regime was usually carefully planned out, designed to test and improve the skills they needed to survive in a supernatural infested world. She would start the girls off with some basic running exercises – and by basic, this usually involved her chucking them out of her car after dropping them off in some remote location and barking at them through a megaphone for them to run as if an enemy was chasing them – and then would dedicate a good portion of the day to honing their fighting techniques. Elena was typically a charge-and-stab type of fighter, whereas Bonnie was more tactical and tried to plan out her attacks in advance, and as for Caroline, she was a combination of both – impulsive, but otherwise methodical.
As she ran, Elena couldn't help but think about the days spent combing these woods for her friends as they'd played the craziest games of hide-and-seek ever. Matt had been the worst hider, always choosing the same tree to crouch behind, and Caroline had always insisted on choosing the places which wouldn't mess up her hair or clothes, but had always ended up being tackled by her former boyfriend Tyler to the ground whenever he'd been the seeker and "found" her, so her aforementioned desires were always rendered moot. Those days seemed like a lifetime ago, yet she could still remember them with a startling vividness.
"Eyes ahead! Focus!" Rebekah barked in her ear.
"I'm running as fast as I can!" Elena wheezed furiously.
With a sigh, Rebekah gave her a heated look and then pushed herself into a faster run so that she was now ahead of her.
"Not fast enough evidently!" she mocked. "Vampires have the element of speed, Elena. No one's asking you to try and outrun them, but you need to be prepared for the possibility that you might have to outsmart them."
"How did you get so fast exactly?!"
"Isn't it obvious?" Rebekah gave her a disarming smile. "I'm secretly a vampire."
Even in mid-run, Elena managed to get out a derisive snort.
"You are many things, Rebekah, but a monster you are not, although Caroline may disagree with me on that point."
To her surprise, Rebekah laughed, although her eyes lacked the right degree of sincerity to sell it.
"She does resent me with a delicious intensity," she agreed, slowing her pace so she matched Elena's. "How's your head today by the way?"
"Surprisingly fine given the fact I tried to devour the contents of the Mystic Grill bar last night." Elena gave her a small smile. "Thanks for taking care of me."
"Don't mention it...ever," Rebekah returned. "I charge by the hour for taking care of drunken people, just to let you know."
"Do you never divulge in a drink yourself?"
"Alcohol dulls the senses. Even if you think you're sober, any trace of alcohol in your system slows you down. I can't let myself be hindered by the manufactured product of a species desperate to forget the sins they have attached to their souls."
"You talk like you're from a different time. I'd never noticed that before."
"I was educated in several prestigious schools when I lived in England," Rebekah explained, "so perhaps it's just the way I phrase certain things, giving them an inherent posh air to them, which confuses you."
Elena ignored the subtle dig at her intelligence.
"No, it's not how you phrase things, it's the way you say them," she countered, allowing herself to pant in between each word. "You sound a thousand years old sometimes. It's weird."
Rebekah gave a flippant shrug of her shoulders.
"One of my brothers always said I had an old head on young shoulders, but I think when he said that he meant it to be an insult. I was sporting a horrific bad hairdo at the time." She laughed at the memory. "I did resemble an old hag, but that was only because Kol, another of my brothers, had insisted on tackling me during a violent game our family used to play, and so my hair, rather like my family, descended into madness."
Elena couldn't help but note the way Rebekah's eyes lit up when she slipped up and talked about her past, despite her bizarre stance on not addressing it. It was a pleasant change to see, like watching the ice queen thaw out under a spring sun.
Then, as if she'd flipped some sort of switch, the warmth fled from Rebekah's eyes, and she increased her pace, as if trying to outrun their conversation, and Elena felt excruciating pain in her side as she tried to match hers.
They carried on this way for another half hour, with conversation kept to a bare minimum (if you counted Rebekah's sharp orders as conversation that is), and Elena gradually felt the loss of feeling in her legs. When Rebekah said that they could stop, it was with a half sob, half laugh that she collapsed, panting and wheezing. A good physical physique, she was beginning to realise, did not equal good physical fitness. Even cheerleading had been a struggle sometimes, although that could've been because Caroline had been just as ruthless as Rebekah at pushing her to her limit.
"I think we should call it a day," Rebekah announced, studying Elena coolly. "I'm not going to get much more out of you, and we should really save some energy for fighting later."
Elena couldn't make heads or tails of the way her companion could just switch from hot to cold in under a second flat, but rather than aggravate her, she nodded, and decided to just go with her rapid mood swings. She had a feeling Rebekah was one of those odd characters you met who never explained anything they ever did, or why they were the way they were, if you pushed them for answers; you just had to let them open up in their own time.
She began some exercises designed to cool her body down, aware cold eyes were plastered on her the entire time. She paid Rebekah no heed, still recovering from last night's drinking session, aware the great pain she tried to cover up with alcohol still resided inside her, an irremovable mark akin to a tattoo which could never be erased. Maybe part of the problem was believing in this absurd theory that if she drank frequently enough it might just be enough to make her forget altogether.
"You gonna give me a lift back?" she yelled as she followed Rebekah to her car, watching as the blonde effortlessly slid into the seat and then started the engine, with no indication she was waiting for her.
With a devilish smirk, Rebekah turned back, moving the car forwards an inch which gave Elena her answer.
"Consider the walk back your cool down exercise!" she called, with a strange amount of mirth for a supposed ice queen, and then sped off.
"BUT IT'S FIVE MILES BACK, AND I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS ANYMORE!" Elena bellowed, aware of the futility of her somewhat delayed response. "YOU CAN'T LEAVE ME OUT HERE!"
But she had anyway.
Rebekah did her own thing, regardless of anyone else's input, which was something Elena was coming to learn about the blonde.
She scowled, annoyed, but not entirely surprised, with how this day had gone so far.
It wasn't like she didn't know the way back home anyway, but her legs ached, and there was a dull pain arising in her stomach, and her hair stuck to her face thanks to the layer of sweat she'd built up on the run itself, and all she wanted to do was go home, take a long shower, and then collapse onto the nearest soft surface so she could just rest.
With an irritable sigh, Elena decided she could either yell fruitlessly some more after her companion, or she could actually begin the arduous journey home, and she elected to undertake the latter after a moment to gather her breath, cursing Rebekah and her very nature all the way home.
"And you're actually surprised she left you behind?" Caroline snorted. "Sorry, Elena, but you kind of had that coming. We all know Rebekah is a dump 'em and leave 'em type of girl, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if her romantic history follows that exact same pattern."
The three girls sat in a booth in the Mystic Grills, nursing their wounds after another tough day under Rebekah's strict eye. Caroline had been pushed to her limits on a five mile trek from the centre of town to the fringes of the woods, and Bonnie was battered and bruised from the fighting exercises the blonde had put her through, left pale and stricken and rendered quiet by some deep emotion she wasn't, at present, revealing to anyone. At some point during the day, they'd been allowed a certain amount of rest before moving on to the next activity. Rebekah had this weird policy of ensuring that they did their training regimes separately at least a couple of times a week, but Caroline had sarcastically theorised it was because she liked to verbally pick them apart individually because as a group they proved to be resilient to criticism. Needless to say, all three of them were sore, tired and ready for a drink.
"I don't think her love life is for us to comment on, Care," Elena interjected, but she was too exhausted to try and summon up a defence for Rebekah's character, not when she thoroughly irritated with the vivacious blonde herself.
"You think it's okay to be drinking after your binge session last night?" Bonnie changed the subject promptly, eyeing the dark brown liquid Elena happened to be nursing, her lips pursed. It was clear she wasn't quite all there, but the concern she showed for Elena was part of Bonnie's nature, given the fact that they two, out of the three of them, had the longest history, knowing each other since they'd been infants.
"It's just the one," Elena assured her. "Believe it or not, that run earlier knocked the hangover right out of my head. Kind of did wonders for me, actually."
"So Rebekah actually did a good thing?" Caroline made a face. "Nah, that doesn't sound right at all."
Elena couldn't help but laugh, because Caroline's dislike of a person – any person, not just limited to Rebekah– showed so much on her face, even when she had to talk to them in a civil way, and it made it a more comical affair to watch as she tried to attempt to hide the condescension buried in every line along her face. Caroline was one of those people who firmly believed you had to click with a person to be friends with them, and that anybody you didn't click with it was for a good reason and you were better off avoiding them altogether.
This didn't make Caroline anti-social at all, but it made her extra cautious about who she trusted, because due to a traumatic event a few years ago, life had made it clear even family couldn't be trusted, and so she'd had to retire her bubbly, overfriendly personality altogether, creating a warier, but still bubbly, personality all for the sake of protecting her heart.
The fact of the matter was that Caroline didn't click with Rebekah, but the reason for which, Elena suspected, was down to jealousy. Rebekah's clean cut, overly beautiful facade, combined with her ruthless strength and ridiculously organised personality made her a worthy opponent, and Caroline was still deep down the competitive cheerleading type yearning to be top dog, and so that led to the two of them butting heads not long after they'd first exchanged equally wary 'hellos'. Elena found it quite fascinating to watch, and although she gave Rebekah a fair trial whenever Caroline insisted on holding her accountable for something, no matter how trivial the complaint was, she always took her best friend's side.
"Where are we off to next then, Bon?" she asked, nudging her dark haired friend with a smile, also appraising her friend with concern clearly evident on her features. "Somewhere glamorous I hope?"
"Like Vegas!" Caroline interjected excitedly.
"Vegas isn't glamorous, Care," Elena pointed out with a grin.
"Anywhere that has gambling, alcohol, and a ridiculous amount of lights to make it look like a giant fairground attraction is definitely glamorous in my book."
"Then your standards of glamour are very low."
Caroline poked her tongue out.
"Always gotta be a buzzkill, Elena, don't ya? We should just call you Buzzkill Elena."
"I do try," Caroline said, winking at her.
"Hey guys," came a familiar sound, one which had Elena instinctively on edge.
"Hi, Matt Cheatovan," Caroline greeted chirpily, though her eyes narrowed into slits. "How's the love life?"
"Caroline," Elena hissed.
She did not need her friends to still be angry with him on her behalf, but the fact they resented him for her sake was nothing short of touching.
"No, it's fine," Matt said dismissively. "Nothing I don't deserve."
He looked downcast for half a second, then rebounded surprisingly quick and took their orders before abruptly turning on his heel and retreating to the kitchen.
"He looks so sad," Bonnie observed quietly.
"Good, he deserves it. He cheated on Elena. Cheaters don't deserve happy-ever-afters," Caroline declared.
"I'm all for the Team Elena love, Care, but try not to rub it in his face every time we come here," Elena implored. "We're trying to be friends."
"Can't be friends with an ex, Elena. Haven't all the rom-com movies we've watched over the years taught us that?"
Elena rolled her eyes but didn't press the matter.
"Speaking of lousy boyfriends, how's Ben these days?" Caroline then moved on to Bonnie's love life – or lack of one.
Bonnie gritted her teeth, looking paler than normal. "Stop asking, Caroline. He's history."
"He was a scumbag though, like a proper scumbag," Caroline ranted, unaware of the seething looks her friends were giving her. "Who has the time to be a chauvinistic douchebag in this century though, really?"
"I mean, his whole attitude to you was just insane. Asking you to make him sandwiches, joking about your appearance to his friends, calling you his woman, I mean it's so disgusting and so –so... "
"Please...stop." Bonnie snapped, slamming her hand on the table in a movement which had her friends instantly flinching. "What is this, anyway, boyfriend honesty hour?" She rose to her feet, suddenly looking worn out. "I just – I can't do this right now, Care." She exhaled sharply, visibly flustered, marks of stress sketched into her skin. "I – I gotta go..."
And with that she disappeared out of the bar, leaving a perplexed Caroline in her wake.
"What's with her?"
Elena gave her a quiet look.
"If you'd bothered picking up your phone this morning, Care, you would've learned that her grandmother died, okay? This was supposed to be a way of helping her forget her troubles, not reminding her of them."
Caroline suddenly looked stricken.
"Oh god," she bemoaned. "And I was only dodging her because I just had no desire to talk to anyone after the morning I've had. How did she even have the energy to let Rebekah boss her around this morning?"
"She said she needed to keep busy, keep her mind off the funeral arrangements, plus she only found out at noon, so up until a certain point she was blissfully unaware anything had happened."
"How did her grandmother - ?"
"Heart attack," Elena replied solemnly.
Caroline didn't speak for a long time, her expression one of misery.
"Why do I always say the wrong thing, or just fail to be there altogether?" she moaned aloud after a ten minute pause.
Elena gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Bonnie knows you're there for her. She just could've done without the reminder of her ex-boyfriend on top of everything else today, that's all."
Caroline slumped across the table. "I'm a horrible human being."
"No, you're not. Look, Bonnie wasn't even going to say anything to anyone – for some strange reason she has the need to bottle everything up, put everything on hold until she can deal with it later – but we were talking, and I noticed she was acting off, so I pulled a, well, a you and got the truth out of her."
"That's what this meet up was about..." Caroline trailed off. "I thought it was weird she was the one who got us together for a binge drinking session of all things. Bonnie isn't really a drinker." She glanced at the space where Bonnie had been sitting, frowning at the array of shot and wine glasses littered where she'd been. "Wow... she really needed those."
Elena nodded solemnly.
"Looks like it's just the two of us for a while, Care. Bonnie says she wants to handle all the funeral and stuff, and then she wants to take some time off from all this vampire business."
"But we can't do this without her. She's the brains."
"And I'm the beauty," Rebekah trilled, sliding into the seat opposite them, either blissfully unaware of the simultaneous transformation of Elena and Caroline's expressions into paralleled looks of combined dread and irritation or electing to ignore them. "What's going on?"
Elena shot her a look.
"Bonnie's grandmother died, so we're taking some time off."
"No, you're not. I don't care if the President died, we're getting you girls in shape and ready to fight vampires," Rebekah said coldly.
"Seriously?" Caroline demanded, looking close to boiling point. "This job doesn't pay, and it's mostly voluntary work," here she gave Rebekah a dirty look, "so in essence we make our own hours. If one of us wants to take some needed time off to grieve a family member, then they should get to take that time off, no questions asked."
"Fascinating," Rebekah gave a mock yawn, "your impassioned speeches really are quite moving, Caroline."
"Shut the hell up." Caroline threw her a disgusted look. "I'm not here for this. I'm going to go see if Bonnie's okay."
And she stormed off before Rebekah could get in another comment designed to ruffle her feathers.
Elena peered through her eyelashes at a momentarily disgruntled Rebekah.
"This bitchy act ... is any of it actually real?" she questioned.
"I assure you, love, it's all me, all one hundred percent real so no need to cry over it."
An exasperated sigh pushed its way past Elena's lips.
"You don't make it easy to defend you, you know."
Rebekah looked confused.
"Why do you even try then?"
"Because I was raised to see the best in people, even if they believed themselves not worth saving, and also because I've marathoned enough Criminal Minds to see right through this facade you put on."
Rebekah snorted derisively. "Unlikely, but please, do divulge your findings. Your bullshit might actually be enough to entertain me in this otherwise dismal town."
Leaning back in her seat, Elena cracked her knuckles, smiled enigmatically and opened her mouth to relay her findings.
"So this bitchy act is just that – an act. You push people away because you don't want to get hurt. You've been hurt before – "
"You're just repeating what little I've told you, so, so far je suis unimpressed," Rebekah cut across her.
Elena scowled but otherwise ignored the interruption.
"You retreat into this cold bubble that no one can penetrate, and you close yourself off, distancing yourself from anyone you could call friend, and you hide your heart away, only it's not just to keep yourself from getting hurt – it's to make sure no one gets close enough to find out who you really are, because the idea of someone knowing you, really knowing you, terrifies you."
Rebekah rose to her feet, quiet anger brewing behind the black pits of her eyes. She slammed a furious hand down on the table, leaning over so that she was almost nose to nose with Elena, who was surprised, nay shocked, to feel something – sparks of some description – ferment between them, not quite electricity but something pretty darn close, a feeling which had her shifting uncomfortably, her skin growing uncomfortably warm...
"Don't. Presume. To. Know. Me," Rebekah snarled. "I am not some fancy textbook you can read and learn in a day. There are things about me that would curl your toes if you knew them. Secrets so scandalous it would rock your universe let alone your world. I'm not a girl you get to know, okay? I operate alone."
Elena rose to her feet in a fluid movement which had Rebekah leaning back with a degree of surprise.
"Then why are you here? Why are you training me, Caroline and Bonnie? It can't be out of the goodness of your heart – by your reckoning, you don't have one. So what is your motivation here? It's the one thing about you I can't figure out."
An unpleasant sneer uncurled on Rebekah's lips.
"I'm sure you'll try your best to work it out, Elena. You make it your business to know what goes in everyone else's lives, so snooping around in mine should be no extra skin off your nose to do."
And with a flare Elena was quickly coming to realise was one of her trademark qualities, Rebekah stormed off.
It didn't tell her a whole lot about her, but Elena could glean this much from their few and far between interactions.
Rebekah was hiding something – and Elena was going to find out what she was hiding.
But first she needed to join Caroline and see if Bonnie needed any help with the funeral arrangements of her grandmother. Friends, after all, came first and then later on, when the dust had settled, she could get back to trying to work out the details of Rebekah's life, not beforehand.
All the same, her brain cautioned her, be aware that some things are meant to be learned, and some are meant to be kept secret. Don't pry if you can't handle knowing the truth.
She was sure she'd heard that advice somewhere before, but her memory failed at coming up with who'd given it to her.
Shrugging her shoulders, Elena went to the bar to pay their – frankly – overly expensive tab, and then left the vicinity, throwing one last look at Matt (because she was that weak, damn it) before she left.
Almost breaking into vampire speed, Rebekah stormed off to her ridiculously expensive looking property on the outskirts of Mystic Falls, flummoxed by her own spectrum of emotions, which now included a kind of rage you couldn't categorise into the normal sectors of 'jealous induced rage' or 'idiotic behaviour induced rage'. It was an internalised rage at how she'd let her guard down, thus allowing Elena a glimpse at the panicked girl behind the ice queen mask.
Once inside her grand mansion – which she'd never allowed the girls to come and visit – she descended the white staircase, finding the grand display of all her frivolous purchases – from the expensive decor, to the pointless furniture which she hardly used – didn't settle her like she usually did. The illusion of home, of having a place to escape to at the end of a rough day, usually calmed her frayed nerves, but not today. No, there was something about Elena which frazzled her. She let her get too close to the edge, and now she'd seen a peek of the apocalyptic nature of her true personality.
True, she'd not let down enough to warn Elena she was trouble, but Rebekah still felt as though she'd revealed enough to set off the alarm bells of Elena's curious personality, and that meant unless she did some damage control, she was likely to be found out.
Lesson one about women: never underestimate their powers to be able to find out any sort of truth, good or bad.
Her phone rang, cutting into her thoughts, and it was with a frenzied sort of anger that she answered it.
"How's my sinfully naive baby sister?"
She rolled her eyes.
"I'm in Mystic Falls, I'm bored, and I'm trying to keep a low profile – how do you think I am, Nik?"
"Ah, the joys of attempting to blend in to an otherwise dull-as-dishwater society. I don't see why you bother to be honest."
"You know why I bother, you ungrateful bastard."
"Tut, tut, such vulgar language. You know the score, Rebekah. Keep Elena there and none the wiser until I return in two weeks."
"She knows about vampires, Nik, and she knows how to kill them. It's only a matter of time before she stumbles upon my secret – our secret, should I say."
"I can't assist you until I ensure everything else for the ritual is at the ready. I lost track of the moonstone along the way, so that's been a damned nuisance to try and locate, and there's the matter of acquiring a werewolf and vampire to sacrifice too."
"If need be, I can turn someone here and have them at your disposal," Rebekah replied, thinking of a certain blonde haired individual who she held a special kind of hatred for.
"That's my girl. Always thinking outside the box. Now, remember, do what you need to do to ensure Elena remains in the dark. If she gets a hint of the truth, she'll run, and we'll have ourselves a Katerina situation all over again."
Rebekah hung up before her brother could lecture her even more on the critical importance of making sure this ritual took place. He was an undermining, self-deluded, arrogant man, but he was a crafty and intelligent individual at the same time, and he'd been planning this ritual for a long time, making sure he knew exactly what it entailed and how it worked so that he could reap the results in the correct fashion.
She should've told him to let it go, to drop his selfish desires and just enjoy an eternity with his family, but he was impulsive and stubborn, and once he had a goal in mind, nobody could try and coax him to do anything other than pursue it.
Why did she continue to let men use and abuse her, she wondered? Some came in appealing packages, with gleaming eyes and sinful smiles, promising her love and affection, what she craved most in the entire world, and they came with an equally appealing package of normality, but they'd all broken her heart, and the few relationships she'd pursued with women had been equally as fruitless, because men were easily tempted into straying, and women were fickle with their own desires.
She hid a bitter tear, electing to turn off her emotions for the moment.
And yet she found even humanity less, the room she stood in felt larger and emptier than it actually was, her eyes taking in everything with a detached interest, her heart vaguely aware it was supposed to care about the fact she had essentially the equivalent of a modern day empire – the everyday man's empire, if you will – with no one to run it with.
Not that she needed love to be happy. She could function just fine without it.
But Rebekah knew her own mind - her own heart even - and it just craved a companion, someone to trust; an ally who would go above and beyond for her.
You know, Elena's kind of gone above and beyond for you already, a tiny voice inside her mind craftily reminded her. You know, by defending you with her friends, who are perfectly right in their assessments of your character. You don't make it easy for anyone to like you.
Shut up, shut UP! You're wrong, she silently screamed back. I make it easy for people to betray me! If I've closed myself off, it's for a reason. I have to look out for myself here because no one, not even my own family, will do that for me.
Such a defensive tone for someone who claims to not give a damn about anything anymore, her mind simpered sarcastically.
Rebekah's barrier guarding her humanity from seeping into her features suddenly felt weaker, and she knew that all the times she'd spent building it up had taken its toll on it. One day it was going to break, and the floodgates would open, and misery would consume her, but for now she'd kept her humanity at bay, indulging in some emotion, but not enough to make her essentially a sitting target for men equipped with false promises and promiscuous natures.
It was worth noting, however, that since she'd arrived in Mystic Falls, all the times she'd come close to letting true emotion flood her body they'd been triggered by one Elena Gilbert.
Maybe it wasn't men she needed to watch out for here.