Actions

Work Header

Die Easy

Chapter Text

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

When it comes



 

When asked how it happened, years later, Matt would have no answer to give. He'd never been good with words, never been good at articulating his emotions. He was good at having emotions, sure, but talking wasn't his strong point. He was more of a listener.

It was rare that Matt wanted to speak. It was rare that someone prompted him to do so, that someone pulled words from him until he had nothing left to say, until he had no answers left to provide.

If there was one thing Elijah Mikaelson was, it was rare.

Elijah, for his part, could provide no answer either. There were things he could explain, old mysteries he could answer—Loch Ness, JFK, The Bermuda Triangle, and more—but, every now and then, something happened that he couldn't wrap his head around.

It was rare, but it happened.

And, if you asked Elijah, Matthew Donovan was rare.


Matt slung his suit jacket over the back of the bar stool, slipping onto the wood. He knew how easy they were to fall off of—had watched many a drunk patron do it while working there, and seen his mother do it long before that—so he braced his feet on the sides of it to keep himself safely on. He proceeded to unbutton the cuffs of his ill-fitting suit in an attempt to relax.

After the night he'd had, he deserved it.

Phil, the bartender for that night, eyed Matt. "You look like hell," he said, Brooklyn drawl out in full force. Matt didn't know why anyone born in the city would choose Mystic Falls of all places to settle, but Phil was a contrary kind of guy.

"I feel like it, too," said Matt. "Coffee?"

Phil slapped the counter. "Coming right up."

Matt sighed, settling back into his stool. His hand throbbed where Kol had grabbed it, wrenching it around.

Original vampire douche: 1. Matt: 0.

As freaking always.

Phil set the coffee cup down in front of Matt silently, moving on to serve other customers. Matt took a long sip from it, wondering how Phil managed to make a cup of joe so strong he could literally feel hair growing on his chest every time he took a sip.

"Hi," said a small, familiar voice.

Matt set the cup down, turning to see Rebekah standing beside him. She was still clad in her emerald green ball gown, but her hair was a little mussed, and she seemed nervous. She set her purse down on the counter and leaned closer to him. "What are you doing?"

"Well, let's see," began Matt. "I went to a dance and got my hand crushed. Found out that I don't have health insurance, so … I just needed a minute to myself."

Rebekah winced. "Well, I thought maybe I'd buy you an apology drink."

Because apology drinks fixed broken hands. Well, maybe if she put some blood in it, it would, but Matt could do without the vamp blood in his system. "Maybe you could just leave me alone," he suggested, voice tight.

Rebekah blinked. "Look, I-I'm really sorry about Kol, he's a lunatic—"

"Look, Rebekah …" He pivoted on his stool to look her in the eye. "You're really fun and pretty and all, but I really need you to leave me alone."

He pulled his suit jacket from the back of the stool and jumped down, walking away and leaving his cup of coffee behind.


It wasn't easy, unlocking a door with only one hand, and not your dominant hand, either. Driving had been painful enough, but standing there trying to fit the key into the lock for five minutes was agonising in more ways than just the physical. How many times had his mother had this exact same problem? Minus the broken hand and plus a few dozen tequila shots, this was a scene this door must have seen a thousand times over.

"Might I be of some assistance?"

Matt turned, finding Elijah standing there. He scoffed, palming his key and trying his best to look unruffled. "Thanks, but your family's done enough for me for one night."

A tic leapt in Elijah's jaw. "Yes, I'm aware of Kol's … indiscretion. I came to provide my most sincere apologies."

"You can apologise by leaving town and taking your whole family with you."

Something like a shadow of a smirk flitted over Elijah's face. "Yes, I imagine that would be an apt apology. Unfortunately, my family seems inexplicably linked to this place. We were born here, after all."

"And you died here. Maybe it's time to let it go before you get anyone else killed."

"Fair point, well made. And I will … put the suggestion to Mother, see what she has to say on the matter. Niklaus did go to all that trouble, building the mansion for us, but even he can be swayed with the right motivation. Perhaps a chateau of some sort will suit his fancy."

Matt snorted. "Buy a village of chateaus for all I care. Just get him out of here before more people get dead." He turned back to the door, hesitant to try unlocking it in front of Elijah yet again. He didn't need an Original vampire witnessing his failure to conquer a freaking lock.

"You do care for you town, don't you," said Elijah. There was no question in his tone.

"It's all I've got going for me, so yeah."

Elijah's gaze flicked to the front window and back to him. "You have no family."

"None that give enough of a damn to stick around. Why do you care?"

"I simply know what it is like to feel abandoned. My parents were hardly models of good parentage, and my siblings—"

"I know enough about your siblings. Been there, done that, got the broken hand."

Elijah eyed the makeshift splint Matt had set around his fingers. "Is that what passes for medical treatment in these times? I had thought humankind were more civilised."

"It's what passes for medical treatment when you've got no insurance."

Eyes widening in understanding, Elijah pulled up his suit sleeve and unbuttoned the cuff beneath, beginning to wind it up his forearm. "Here, have some blood—"

"Thanks, but no thanks. Look, just—leave me alone, okay? Don't you have something better to do?"

"Better to do than cleaning up after my family? Never. It's a full-time occupation, I think you'll find."

"I'll take your word for it." Matt winced as he accidentally brushed his hand against his leg, pain shooting through his fingers.

"I do wish you would let me help you with that."

"I'd rather not become like you, thanks."

"It only takes 24 hours for the blood to leave your system, Mr. Donovan."

"It only takes one second for you or one of your freaky siblings to snap my neck." Feeling a little woozy with the pain, Matt braced his uninjured hand against the door and slid to the floor, the hard wood cold through the fabric of his pants. "Would you mind leaving me to wallow in peace? I'm sure there's some other mess of your family's for you to clean up."

Elijah chuckled. "By now, it's likely. But for tonight it seems that things are quiet. Almost too quiet, in fact."

"Well, I don't need to be caught up in more of your family's drama, thank you."

"On the contrary, you seem rather adept at handling the supernatural world. I've never seen anything like it."

Matt drew his knees up to his chest, bracing his injured hand on them in a bid to elevate it enough that the blood would stop pounding painfully through his fingers. "When you live in a town like this, you get used to the crazy pretty quickly. It's that or get used to being dead."

Elijah wandered over to the porch railing, leaning against it with one hand tucked into his pocket. "It must be infuriating to be left so vulnerable all the time. And yet you are appalled at the thought of becoming a vampire."

"Being a vampire doesn't always lengthen your life expectancy in this town. Quite the opposite, actually."

"How so? The Salvatores seem to being doing just fine, having long overstayed their welcome on this earth. The same could be said for my siblings and I a hundred times over."

Maybe it was the pain, the exhaustion, the sheer ridiculousness of the night in general, but Matt found himself saying, "It didn't work like that for my sister."

Elijah was silent for a moment. "What happened?"

Matt didn't look up at him as he continued on. "Damon got bored one day and turned her. She couldn't cope with the bloodlust, so Stefan staked her through the heart after she tried to drain Jeremy." And then I saw her as a ghost for a while, but that's neither here nor there.

"I am sorry for your loss, Matthew."

"It's just Matt."

"The longer form suits you. More biblical."

Matt snorted. "Not a whole lot biblical about my life."

"And yet you stand tall in the face of evil, walk a lonely path of righteousness, and speak with devils on your doorstep."

"You're not a devil," said Matt. "You're just a man that's been alive for longer than he should've been."

"Quite right."

Matt dropped his head back against the hardwood door. "Does it …" He cleared his throat. "Does it get any easier? Losing someone you loved, I mean. I, uh, I know about your brother. Henrik."

Elijah's eyes creased with something that was almost sympathy. "It becomes more bearable, yes. But the pain does not leave altogether." He paused. "I am sorry if you would have preferred a different answer."

"I'd prefer to never have to ask. But if I do have to, I'd prefer the truth."

"A kindred spirit," said Elijah. "I find myself pursuing truth even when I fear it. Perhaps that's why I can never be happy in the present, always looking for the lie in my life."

"Is that what tonight was about? Finding the truth?"

"Mmm. Though I'm not entirely certain I have all of it, my mother did take steps to convince me of her sincerity."

Matt couldn't stop his laugh. "Yeah, because moms never lie." He rubbed at the nape of his neck. "My mom gave me this bear when I was born, one of those ones with a message tied into the stomach. My mommy loves me. Now I know that, looking back, she's been out of my life more than she's been in it. Who does that to someone they love? The first message she ever gave me was a lie." He shook his head. "But yeah, I'm sure yours mom is being honest. I mean, look at the paragons of virtue she gave birth to."

An almost dangerous quiet settled over them, prompting Matt to look up at Elijah. He found the other man tense but stoic, dark eyes hooded.

Maybe pissing off an Original wasn't the best idea.

Drawing in a deep breath, Matt said, "Look, I'm sorry if I—"

Elijah stepped forward, hand outstretched. It took Matt a moment to realise that he didn't intend to strike him, but to help him to his feet. He took the offered hand begrudgingly, seeing the man—who was, by all accounts, smaller than him—not budge an inch. Elijah also managed to extricate the key from his hand in that maneuver and had the door unlocked and swinging open before Matt could protest.

"No need to worry," said Elijah. "I cannot enter without invitation."

"Thank you," he said, taking the key back and stepping inside the relative safety of his home.

When he turned around, Elijah was gone.


Matt woke in agony the next morning.

It was a Sunday, supposedly the day of rest, but an aching hand did little to help that. He'd considered asking if Elena had any pain meds leftover from after her parents' accident, but he didn't want to bring her into this. He wasn't sure if she even knew his hand was broken. Had Stefan and Damon told her? Had they even cared to start with?

He set about making himself some toast, trying to find his failed attempts at buttering it comical instead of sad. He had the TV turned on, as always, warding off the silence that settled over the house like a pall to remind him that he was all alone in the world.

Toast buttered, Matt chowed it down with some ibuprofen he'd found in his mom's closet, presumably her hangover stash. When his hand stopped hurting enough to make him want to hurl, he flushed the weed he'd found in his mom's closet too.

He was just towelling off after a shower when his phone rang, the tinny speakers blaring out a Taylor Swift ringtone Caroline had chosen for him while they were still dating. He picked up, sure enough noting the woman's name on the caller ID as he did so.

"Hey, Care," he said. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah, everything's fine," she confirmed, sounding chipper but a little tense. It was practically just how she spoke now. "Bon and Elena just wanted me to let you know that maybe you should stay in today, you know, out of the way."

Matt felt his heart jump in his chest. "Is something happening today?"

"Uh, yeah, kinda. Look, just, please, we don't want you vulnerable to being used by them while this is all going down. If they wanted a bargaining chip, they'd go for you, and—"

"Me? I'm pretty sure you mean Elena."

"Well, Elena's always with one of us, for protection, so." Caroline sighed. "I'm sorry to leave you all alone with this, but—"

"What's actually going on here?"

The line buzzed to fill the quiet. "I can't really talk about it right now. Just, please … stay inside today."

He wanted to argue, but he knew it would be as useless as his hand was today. "Okay, I will. I promise."

"Thank you," she breathed, her voice warm with gratitude. "I'll call you to let you know how it all goes."

She hung up with a click, leaving Matt with nothing but the TV to keep him company. Again.


That wasn't true for long.

He heard a car pull up out front at about noon, and a peek out the window told him it was someone with more money than god and good taste in European vehicles.

Elijah stepped out of the driver's seat, locking the car remotely as he strolled toward the house with one hand in his suit pocket. Matt was surprised the guy didn't have a driver to escort him around.

Matt opened the front door but stayed firmly in the house, watching Elijah climb the front stairs and sidle closer.

"Matthew," Elijah greeted. "How are you today?"

"Fine," said Matt. Did this visit have something to do with whatever had caused Caroline's tense tone over the phone? Probably. "What are you doing here?"

Elijah stayed quiet for a moment, teeth running over his lip. "I wanted to continue our discussion of my mother's intentions. The one we began last night."

"I told you, I don't know anything—"

"My apologies, Matthew. I did not mean to intend that you had lied to me. I have faith in your sincerity. I merely meant that you provided some insight to me yesterday, and I wondered if you might listen to some more of my concerns."

"Don't you have, like, seven siblings?"

The corner of his mouth lifted. "Five living, actually. And I have made some attempts at voicing my concerns to them, but they are all rather convinced that my mother's intentions are in no fashion untoward."

"Then why aren't you?"

"Because," he began, fishing around in his pocket to retrieve what looked like a cluster of herbs held together with ribbon, "I found this in the room my mother used to hold her meeting with your friend yesterday."

"What is that?" said Matt, looking a little closer. The herbs were singed and brittle.

"Sage. A common ingredient in privacy spells. I believe my mother spelled the room so that she could converse with Elena without being overheard, and I cannot conceive of a reason for this that is pure. I wondered what you thought."

Matt was genuinely floored for a moment. A thousand-year-old Original vampire was on his doorstep, asking him for his opinion. "Uh, I don't know your mom enough to really judge, I guess. But it does seem weird." He shifted on his feet. "Look, if Elena told you that nothing was going on last night, I'm sure she was telling the truth. If you don't trust Esther, trust Elena. She's a good person, and she keeps her word." He eyed Elijah. "Something you haven't always done yourself."

Elijah smirked wryly. "Point taken, and I have apologised profusely for that … situation." He braced an arm against the door frame for a moment, his gaze lingering on Matt. "You are likely correct," he concluded. "Elena isn't one for subterfuge. Her honour has been a constant in my dealings with her, something that cannot be said for mine. It would be foolish of me to presume to doubt her intentions when I myself have given more cause for that. Perhaps, in a way, I see betrayal everywhere because I am a betrayer myself."

Matt felt profoundly uncomfortable, like he was privy to someone's most private thoughts. But Elijah was here himself, giving these musings to him. And for what?

"Why did you need to talk to me about this? For real."

"Because your perspective is valuable, something you've proven twice over now. Because my family has personally sought to end your life and yet you stand here without a stake at hand, and I'd guess you have plenty of them in your home."

"A few." Dozen.

Elijah smiled knowingly. "Thank you for your time, Matthew. As always, it has been a pleasure."

And with that, he left, strolling back down the front steps and unlocking his car. Matt watched him drive away filled with something like sheer disbelief, shaking himself as though shrugging off a dream.


Matt heard nothing from anyone for the rest of the day. He called Caroline, Bonnie, Stefan, and Elena a dozen times each, receiving no reply. He was even desperate enough to consider calling Damon, but figured if he had to hear bad news from Damon he'd rather not hear it at all.

Finally, on the fourteenth try, Elena picked up. "Matt?" Her voice sounded rough, like she'd been crying.

"Elena? Is everything okay? What's going on?"

"Uh, it—um, it's not great. I'm sorry I didn't answer your calls, I've been kind of … occupied."

"With what?"

"Rebekah kidnapping me and trapping me in the tunnels."

Matt sat bolt upright on the sofa. "What?"

"Well, technically Elijah kidnapped me, but Rebekah took over for him. They were using me as blackmail material to stop Esther from using a spell to kill them all—"

"Woah, woah, woah," said Matt. "Esther wanted them dead all along? I thought you said she was legit."

Elena's breathing echoed down the line for a second. "Yeah, well," she began, voice thick, "I lied."

Matt ran a hand over his hair. "Did the—did the spell succeed?" He didn't know how he was supposed to sound when he asked that, like he hadn't spent more time in the last twenty-four hours with Elijah than he had with any of his friends.

"No. Stefan and Damon stopped it. But they … they had to turn Abby into a vampire to do it."

"What? Why? Is she—"

"She hasn't woken up yet, and it's complicated. I went over to see them, but Bon didn't really want to see me, so."

"Why?"

"It's my fault, Matt. It's my fault Damon did that to her, because he did it for me—"

"I'm sure Bon doesn't resent you for that."

"Well, she still told Care to send me away."

"I'm really sorry, Elena. That sounds super shitty. Do you want me to come over?" Driving wasn't easy with his injured hand, but he'd manage it if she needed.

"I think I'm gonna curl up on the couch and cry for a bit. Probably best that I don't have an audience for that. Ric'll be home at some point, though, so don't worry about me."

"After the day you've had, I kinda can't help it."

"Well, try to. I'll be okay. And I'm sorry we didn't keep in touch with you all day, it's just—"

"Hey, I get it. When you're all scrambling for your lives, keeping me updated isn't a priority. Don't worry about that. You just take care of yourself, okay?"

"You too, Matty. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"I'll come over early with some of those bagels you like." He was pretty sure he had some money for it somewhere. Maybe if he dug in his mom's closet …

"You're a lifesaver, Matt."

"Yeah, okay. Get some sleep."

"You too." Click.

Matt threw his phone down on the sofa beside him, burying his face in his hands. That hurt his injured hand, of course, causing him to curse and throw it away from him, hanging it in the air while being completely unable to do anything but ride out the throbbing pain.

And then he heard the knock at the door.

Somehow he knew who it was before he even got up to answer it.

Sure enough, Elijah stood at the threshold, smelling like woodsmoke and looking about as exhausted as he probably felt. "Good evening, Matthew."

"What makes you think I want to see you right now?"

He winced. "I am … sorry about Elena. My family was at risk, and I did what I had to do."

"And what you had to do was kidnap my best friend and leave her with your psycho sister?"

"My sister is in as fit a mental state as could be expected of her—not that one's mental state is an indicator of the danger they pose. Some of the greatest killers I've ever known were rational, cool-headed men."

"And this helps me look past what you did today how?"

Elijah shook his head. "No, I'm sorry, it was … I came here because I knew that by now you would have heard what happened. I left a letter for Elena, explaining myself and providing my apology, but I felt that I owed you a visit to articulate how sorry I am for what has occurred."

"Why do I warrant a visit when the girl you actually hurt gets a note?"

"Because the girl I actually hurt was not privy to my innermost ponderings on the topic of my mother's intentions, as you were. The way we left things, the matter seemed settled. My determination to pursue Elena's wrongdoing was against your advice, however much it proved to be the right thing to do."

"The right thing to do. Yeah, that's what you did."

"I am sorry, Matthew," he said, tone imploring. "But I cannot believe that the rest of you would not have done the same, had the tables been turned."

That was probably true, he conceded. "That doesn't change that fact that the table was set the way it was set, and you made your own choices."

"I am aware of where I went wrong, Matthew, and I am sorry for it. But my family lives on, and I cannot say I am displeased by that fact."

As angry as he was, Matt wasn't exactly upset by it either. "So did you just come here to apologise, or—"

"I also came to say goodbye."

"You're leaving? I thought your family was making your home in this town."

"That was before certain revelations."

"So, because your mom tried to kill you, you're giving up on the home you tried to build with your family."

Elijah raise an eyebrow. "An odd argument coming from someone who only yesterday evening was begging for me to pack my things and take my family with me."

"I'm not trying to convince you to stay. I'm just confused."

Elijah's jaw tightened. "It was not my mother's true nature that was revealed tonight. It was my own. When a threat knocked at my door, I answered it with such ... violence. And for what? Another thousand years for my family to plague this earth, only to end up back here again, in another town, with other people wanting to see us dead. Perhaps Mother will reincarnate herself in some other form eventually, haunting us for all our eternity as Father sought to."

"You survived your father. What makes her different?"

"In Father, there was only ever anger. But when I looked into my mother's eyes as she stood amidst a spell intended to kill me I saw no anger there, only … regret. Pain. Clarity. And then I, too, felt it."

"So you'll leave."

"To spare you all more of my family's ways, yes. Mother and Finn have absconded, Kol has left to go who knows where, and I will follow suit. I have attempted to encourage Rebekah to do the same, but I doubt she will heed my call for her exodus. I know better than to attempt to corral Niklaus anywhere other than precisely where he wishes, so I leave alone."

"But not without saying goodbye to someone you've only really known for two days."

"Perhaps because I knew you were the only one who would receive my farewell without stopping me or otherwise trying to kill me. And I do so tire of my siblings' incessant desire to rally against me."

"So I'm the closest thing you have to an ally."

"In this, yes."

"That's embarrassing. You know that, right?"

Elijah's smile was sad. "Perhaps. But today, it is not my greatest shame." He seemed to consider something for a moment. "Would I be correct in assuming that you are in possession of a mobile phone?" At Matt's nod, he continued, "Would you fetch it for me?"

"Why?"

"I would like to provide you with my number, in case you need advice on how to deal with my siblings. I may have no intention of remaining to deal with them, but that doesn't mean I want to leave you and your friends to the wolves, so to speak."

Matt nodded again, wandering back into the house to grab his phone. As he returned, Elijah held out his hand. "May I?"

Matt eyed the offered hand a little skeptically.

Elijah sighed. "You may set it on the ground and slide it across the barrier, if you wish."

Matt shook his head. "No, uh, here." He stuck his hand out past the barrier, letting Elijah take his phone directly from his hand. He tried not to make it look like he pulled his hand away quickly out of fear, but he did really prefer it when all arms and legs were inside the house.

Elijah made quick work of entering his details, offering the phone back to Matt. "You may contact me anytime," he said. "I always answer."

Well, that was more than could be said for his friends, apparently. "Uh, thanks."

"Before I leave, I suppose it cannot hurt to ask one more time. Are you certain you don't want me to heal your hand?"

Yes, I'm sure. Matt paused. He'd spent the entire day wishing for anything in the way of pills. He had no health insurance, nothing to help him. His fingers were broken badly enough that it would affect his ability to work and therefore earn money with which to pay for medical treatment. He was kind of trapped.

"So, what? You just feed me your blood?"

"If you have some sort of cup for it, I can bleed into it for you. A few drops will suffice, and you may consume them with any sort of beverage to conceal the taste."

Matt knew he should say no. Primarily because if he showed up in front of his friends with a healed hand they'd want to know how it had happened, and this was not a situation he could explain very easily. On the other hand, he was desperate, and actually asking a vampire for blood was worse than accepting blood from one that was already offering.

"Okay," he said, and Elijah's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "I'll just go get a mug or something."

He found an old, chipped mug that had once been red but had faded to a cherry pink. He handed it to Elijah over the threshold, careful not to let his hand linger past the barrier.

Elijah turned away to bite his thumb open, not showing Matt so much as a glimpse of his fangs. When he turned back and returned the mug to Matt it had a half-inch of blood in the bottom of it.

Matt cupped his hands around it, careful not to hurt his broken fingers. "Thank you."

"It is no hassle to repair that which my family has broken. Unfortunately, that may be the last time I can do that for you in some time, so don't go getting broken again. I cannot fix you over the phone."

Matt snorted. "Yeah, I'll try not to get into any more arm wrestling matches with thousand-year-old vampires."

"A good rule." Elijah smiled at him, sadness still lingering behind his eyes. "In all sincerity, I do hope you take care of yourself, Matthew. You're a rarity in this world of vicious supernaturals. It would be a shame to see you crushed by it."

"Something we can both agree on."

Elijah nodded one last time, turning on his heel to leave. He hadn't driven, so Matt just assumed he'd disappear into the night, vamp-speed style.

"Uh, hey, Elijah?" he called after him. The other man didn't turn, just slowed to a halt and cocked his head to the side. "You take care of yourself too."

Elijah raised one hand in farewell, then disappeared into the dark.


Saturday mornings were for sleeping.

It was a sacred law in the Donovan Household (of which Matt was the only member). Matt—who got up at 5am every morning of the week to set up the tables and chairs at a cafe on the main street before he walked the rest of the way to school—had little patience for anything (or anyone) that woke him on the weekend.

He was starting to find that patience was all he was allowed to have.

Groggy and with the beginning of a headache, Matt struggled upright and grappled for his phone where he'd thrown it on the other side of the sofa the night before. BONNIE CALLING flashed at him mockingly, the shrill sound of his ringtone drilling into his skull.

Answering the call, Matt rested the phone against his ear and fell back against the sofa. "Hey, Bon."

"Actually, it's Care. I stayed over at Bon's and didn't bring my phone charger. Did I wake you?"

"Nope, I'm good." He rubbed a hand over his face as though it would clear the cobwebs from his mind. "Everything okay?"

"Um, it's okay. Bonnie … Bonnie says that Abby's gonna complete the transition."

"Wow. That's heavy. Is she okay?"

"She will be. I'm here to help out, so things should be okay. Just as long as I can teach Abby control, that is."

Matt bit back the bitter taste that always flooded his mouth at the mention of newborn vampires and control. Something told him that Abby wouldn't be staked for being out of control. Not like Vicki was. "How can I help? Do you want me to come up there with blood bags or something?" He wasn't thrilled at the thought of raiding the Salvatores' stash, but that was a step up above stealing it from the blood bank directly.

"No, we're all good here. Would you mind talking to Elena? Knowing her, she's probably already up and ready to get up here. It might help if she knows what's going on, how we need space, that kind of thing. But we're all good for support, thanks."

Translation: Deliver the message to Elena, but don't get involved. "I can do that," he said.

"Thanks!" chirped Caroline. "Look, I've gotta go, but take care. Call me and let me know how it goes with Elena!"

"Will do," he managed to get out before she hung up.

Sighing, Matt got up to go and wash his face, hoping vainly that it would wake him up. So much for sacred Saturday morning sleep-ins.

As he returned to the living room to collect his things and call Elena to let her know he was on his way over, he found a text message waiting for him from Elena herself.

Come jogging with me? Could use a chance to work through some stuff.

Well, that was that, then.


Matt walked to Elena's, just a couple blocks. She was already out on her front lawn doing stretches by the time he arrived.

"You good to go?" he asked, nearing her.

"Desperate to, actually," was her reply, and she took off.

Biting back a groan, Matt resigned himself to chasing after her. Like that wasn't a metaphor for their entire relationship.

She also hadn't noticed his healed hand, but that wasn't unexpected.


"What are we running—a marathon?" Matt panted.

Elena didn't seem the least bit puffed as she rounded the corner at a sprint. "If you can't keep up …"

"Elena, you can't outrun your problems … though it looks like you're gonna try." Matt gave up, slowing down. "I talked to Bonnie!" he called after her, watching her slow to a halt too.

Elena whirled to face him. "What did she say?"

"They're at her mom's house." Well, he hadn't exactly talked to Bonnie, but he didn't want Elena to know that apparently Bon still wasn't up to even picking up the phone. He guessed she was already feeling guilty enough. "Abby's gonna complete the transition."

"She decided to become a vampire?"

"Yeah. Caroline's gonna help her through it. Teach her control and stuff."

Elena nodded, absorbing. "Did Bonnie say …" She shifted on her feet, wrapping her arms around herself. "Is there anything I can do?"

"She knows it's not your fault, Elena." At least, I think she does. "She's just … upset."

"Damon turned her mom into a vampire to save my life. It's absolutely my fault."

And there it was. Once Elena boarded The Self-Blame Train, there was no getting off—only holding on for dear life until it eventually ran out of puff. "You're gonna make me run more, aren't you?" Matt asked, trying not to let his exhaustion show.

There must have been a god after all, because that was the moment Elena's phone rang. "Who is it?" she asked curtly. "Sheriff Forbes? Is everything okay?" Her brows furrowed, changing her entire expression from one of grief and guilt to one of anger. "He what?" She listened for a moment longer, nodding even though the Sheriff couldn't see her. "I'm on my way."

"What's going on?" Matt asked as she hung up. "Is everything okay?"

"Ric's been arrested," Elena said breathlessly, shoving her phone back into her pocket and turning back the way they came, towards the police station.

"What? What for?"

"She didn't say, just said I should get down there."

Matt struggled to keep up. "I'll come with you—"

"No, Matt," said Elena. "I've got this. I'll talk to you later."

She jogged away, leaving him behind without even a farewell.


Matt had barely gotten out of the shower when he got another text from Elena.

Need to talk. Come over?

Texting his agreement back with one hand, Matt went off in search of a clean T-shirt.


Elena's front door was unlocked when he got there. He thought about telling her that was a bad idea, but on the list of dangerous things she did, it was pretty low.

"Hey," he greeted, finding her pacing in the living room. "What's going on?"

"Meredith thinks the killer is Alaric," she said. "So does Sheriff Forbes."

"Okay, well, that's … crazy. Ric wouldn't do that."

"I know!" said Elena, irritated. "But I went to Meredith to talk to her and she told me all this stuff about Ric—"

"What kind of stuff?"

"Stuff like a history of violence and a restraining order from his ex-wife."

"No way that's true." Matt the biggest fan of male authority figures, but Ric was a decent dude. "She's gotta be lying or something, right?"

"I don't know," Elena fretted, burying her hands in her hair. "I mean, he is a vampire hunter. He had the drive to do that, to be that—"

"That was after he thought Isabelle died, though. It's not him. It's not who he is."

"I know, I know. I just don't know what to do about it."

Matt was sick and tired of being benched, of being the second to know, of being the last to be called. Feeling emboldened, he said, "Then let's find out more."

"How?"

"You know where her apartment is?"

"Yeah."

Matt snagged her car keys from the coffee table. "Then I'll drive."


Unlike Elena, Meredith didn't leave her front door unlocked. This was an issue that only lasted 30 seconds before Matt found a bobby pin in Elena's purse.

"How long have you known how to pick locks?"

Matt had always known how to pick locks, ever since his father taught him as a kid. It was one of the only memories he had of the guy. "A while," he replied cryptically, feeling the tumblers click into place. Trying the doorknob, he found no resistance, and the door swung open.

"Wow," said Elena. "Nice job."

Matt kept the bitterness out of his tone. "I'll add breaking and entering to the list of life favours you owe me."


There was nothing particularly special about Thurmont, Maryland. It was more of a place on the way to other places than a place of its own. Elijah was certain he'd driven through it once or twice, recognising the stout, brick houses and kitschy shopfronts he beheld as he rolled into town in a Mercedes new and sleek enough to feel obnoxious.

It wasn't spectacular, but it was as good a place as any, he supposed. After all, it wasn't like he had anywhere better to be.


Elijah found the nicest motel available, glad to find it clean and with good service. He might have ordinarily opted for a fancier establishment, but there was something casual but homey about the motel, something to do with the older couple running it, with how the man had escorted him to his room and told him about the air conditioner's quirks and not to "worry about the pipes banging, lad. They're dramatic, is all."

Elijah thanked him for his help before he left; alone, he dropped down onto his bed. The cover was garish, as was the abstract art that hung on the walls, but the place smelled like the pouches of lavender that hung in the wardrobe and the Thai food the people in the room beside him were eating for dinner, so it wasn't all bad. Listening in, he heard the sound of squealing children and a tired father begging them to come over and eat their dinner, for the love of god—

All sounds of a family travelling, but not sounds that Elijah could ever relate to.

Sighing, he tugged off his tie and grabbed a light wool coat, his wallet and phone, and a flask of good bourbon he kept in case of emergencies. The squeals reached a fever pitch, turning into complaints as the children's father corralled them to dinner at last. Elijah tuned the sound out, leaving his room behind to go in search of food.


Being yelled at by Sheriff Forbes wasn't a pleasant experience. The last time it had happened, Matt had been 7, Liz had been a Deputy, and it had been over a stolen lollipop. It had also been Matt taking the fall for Tyler, though he'd never told her that.

Now, it was for breaking and entering.

"I'm disappointed, Matt," she said, giving him the same look she had all those years ago. "I really expected better from you."

You don't even know about the theft yet. Not knowing what else to say, Matt clenched his jaw and went after Elena, hoping to catch up with her before she disappeared down the street.

"Hey, Elena," he called. "Wait up."

Elena slowed but didn't stop. "You don't need to walk me home, Matt. I'll be okay."

She wouldn't be so desperate to leave him behind once she found out what he'd stolen, he wagered. "Hey, there's something—"

That was the moment they rounded the corner and saw it.

A woman with a bloody neck lying on the ground, a clean-mouthed Damon hunched over her and feeding her his blood while Stefan stood to the side.

"What are you doing?" asked Elena.

Stefan turned around, wide-eyed and with his chin streaked with blood.

"Stefan?" Elena breathed, horrified.

"Elena …"

"What are you two doing?"

"Relax, Elena," said Damon, straightening up. "It's just an experiment. There's no need to make this more dramatic than it needs to be."

With every word Damon spoke, Matt wanted to punch him in the face that little bit more. But they had to leave before this escalated, because Matt couldn't be sure how far gone Stefan really was. "Elena, let's just go," he said. When she resisted, making as though to start towards Stefan, he tightened his grip. "Elena," he said again, this time more forcefully.

Giving in, she let him propel her away, walking her home.


Elijah ate a quick meal of passable kung pao chicken, tipped exorbitantly, then ducked back out onto the street, turning his collar up against the wind.

He wasn't ready to resign himself to a night alone just yet, but he had nowhere pressing to be. He was rather at a loose end without his siblings, he'd found. There was no mess to clean up, no body to have dumped, no traumatised onlookers to compel. No bribes to make, no kneecaps to threaten with shattering.

His family really was like the mob, he reflected.

Elijah presently found himself entering a bar. It was the nicest one on the main street, with gleaming windows and a relatively clean bartop, and the crowd was more subdued than at the others.

Sidling up to the bar, Elijah slipped onto a stool, not bothering to shuck off his coat. The bartender was a nice, mild-looking woman with just enough steel in the set of her jaw to stave off most unwelcome attention, Elijah would imagine. That said, he'd long since learned not to doubt the depravity of drunken men. For many, a steeled jaw was less a deterrent and more a challenge.

"Whiskey, neat," he said. "Please."

She nodded, not speaking as she fetched one of the better bottles from the shelf and poured him a finger. "Let me know when you want more."

Not if. When. He must have had quite a look about him.

Maybe he should've worn a tie after all.

It was as Elijah sat there, eyeing a game of pool turning sour in the corner, that he noticed two smaller, faster heartbeats than there should've been in the establishment. They were coming from beneath the counter, vibrations running up to his elbows occasionally as the owners of the heartbeats shifted.

A sniff of crayon-scented air was all it took to confirm the theory formulating in Elijah's mind: There were two children hidden under the bar. He assumed their mother was the bartender, and from the look of her she wasn't exactly swimming in cash. It was unlikely that she could afford babysitting, so the little ones were busy at her feet.

The whiskey was terrible enough that he didn't ask for a second, but the way the bartender kept glancing nervously down towards her children had Elijah leaving an exorbitant tip.


"Sit down," said Matt, making sure to lock the door after Elena. "I'll make you some tea."

He knew where everything in the Gilbert kitchen was, of course. He'd spent a while memorising it as a kid, envious that they always had clean dishes in the cupboards and didn't have to find their mugs reeking of vodka and god knows what in their mom's bedroom.

He wasn't jealous anymore, obviously. Not when he saw Miranda and Grayson's favourite mugs side-by-side, untouched since their death.

Tea served, Matt joined Elena at the table, setting her mug in front of her. He was trying to bite his tongue about the night's events—about the year's events—but apparently some of his struggle showed on his face, because Elena said, "Just say it.'

He shrugged. "I just don't get it. Your thing with them."

"I know it doesn't make sense. But at the beginning … After my parents died, there was something about being with Stefan that just felt safe."

"Safe?" Matt scoffed. "Elena, he's a vampire."

"I know, believe me, just saying it out loud sounds crazy, but … it's like I knew that he would never stop loving me. Like he would never …" She trailed off, uncertain.

"What?"

"Die," she finished. "Like he would never die."

Understanding dawned. "Like your parents did." He supposed it was obvious. " And Damon?"

"Damon just sort of snuck up on me. He got under my skin and no matter what I do, I just can't shake him."

Matt couldn't help but smile, as though she hadn't just described how he fell in love with her. "Once you fall in love with someone, I don't know if … I don't know if you can ever shake them."

Elena absorbed the sincerity of his words, wincing. "I'm sorry is this—is this weird? Talking about them with you?"

"No. Not really." He was surprised to find that it was true. Things were easier with Elena, now that they'd both moved on in their own ways. "I got you something." He reached into his bag, pulling it out and handing it to her.

"The journal?" she asked, incredulous as she turned it over in her hands.

Matt shrugged. "It's your family's; you should have it. Meredith and that idiot deputy were too busy questioning you to give a damn about me." At her questioning look, he continued, "Sometimes it pays to be the only normal one in a town of vampires." He knew it sounded self-pitying, but part of him wanted to hear her contradict him. "I'm practically invisible."

She smiled kindly, making no move to argue. She might've done, eventually, but then the front door opened to reveal Alaric, freshly released from his cell.

Elena shot up from her seat. "Are you okay?" she asked him, enfolding him in a hug.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm all right," Ric replied, hugging her right back.

Matt shouldered his bag, knowing that his role was done. He patted Ric on the shoulder on the way out, not expecting a farewell from either of them.


Elijah returned home just as the mother of the children nextdoor was singing them to sleep. He wasn't sure why he was being taunted by families on this journey, but as he was after a break from his own, he couldn't find it in himself to care.

Showering and dressing in a pair of pajama pants (he didn't sleep in a suit, contrary to his brothers' teasing), Elijah slid between the sheets in the motel bed, finding the low thread count like sandpaper against his skin.

He'd once slept on sacks at night. He wondered when he'd become this caricature of snobbery, wondered how he could unwind the clock back to the humbler man he'd once been.

As an afterthought, Elijah picked up his phone to check for messages. There would almost always have been something from Klaus by now, something telling him there was a problem, an emergency, some reason for him to return posthaste.

There was nothing. Elijah told himself he wasn't disappointed.


Matt fell backwards onto the sofa. He'd taken to sleeping on it at nights instead of his bed—it was much more comfortable. His mom's and Vicki's beds were the best, but he didn't want to use them. Wasn't interested in even opening their bedroom doors most days.

Settling in, Matt switched on the TV. He didn't watch it, just used it to lull himself to sleep with the illusion of company.

Despite his exhaustion, Matt felt restless. He tried in vain to sleep, changing positions and channels until there was nothing but infomercials and pillowy softness and absolutely no excuses left to him.

Irritated with himself, Matt picked up his phone. Maybe it was because he was anxious, because he thought someone was going to call him.

No messages. Matt told himself he wasn't disappointed.

Chapter Text

 



CHAPTER TWO

 

To bury me



 

Finding a decent bar in Thornsbury was a taller task than Elijah had imagined. The whiskey was terrible at the first bar, but the service was dreadful at all the others.

It was on his way home from trying out the fourth and final establishment—finding the decor lacking and the drunkards over-friendly—that Elijah heard the sound of raised voices. A man and a woman. Ordinarily, he sought to remain separate from human dramas, but there was an anxiety to the woman's tone and a gruff nature to the man's that made him pause.

He ducked down one of the backstreets, arriving at the scene quickly enough. It was just out the back of the first bar he'd visited, and the altercation involved the same bartender that had had her children crowded under the counter.

"—daycare exists for a reason—"

"You think I can afford daycare with the money you pay me?" The bartender sounded incredulous.

"I think I can't afford to have kids in my bar, scaring away the customers."

"They stay under the bar, Rolf. I don't have a choice—"

"Well, I do. You're fired."

Her heart stuttered in her chest. "What? No, I—please, I need this job—"

"Not enough to find somewhere else to put your spawn, apparently."

"I'll do anything. Please."

The manager laughed. "I know you're a whore, Tam. The whole town does. Hiring you was enough of a risk to my bar's reputation as is. You think I'm going to get caught with my pants around my ankles around you? I'm a married man."

Elijah had heard enough. He made certain to step lightly as he made his way toward them, not alerting the owner to his presence until he dropped a hand on the man's shoulder and spun him around.

Wide, watery eyes regarded Elijah with surprise that quickly transformed to anger. "Do you mind, buddy? I'm in the middle of something."

"No, you're not," said Elijah, tightening his grip. He leant down an inch to meet the man's eyes. "Are you paying this woman minimum wage?" he asked. "Tell the truth, now."

The man blinked heavily. "I don't have to pay her shit. No one else will hire her."

Elijah was careful not to let his anger break the compulsion. "And you are leveraging this to pay her a pittance and punish her for struggling to raise her family as a result, correct?"

"Yes."

"Not anymore. Pay her a fair wage, let her see to her children as she pleases, and if you ever call her a whore again know that I will personally eviscerate you. Understood?"

The man nodded dumbly, and Elijah released him. "You'll cover the bar for the rest of the evening."

Still blinking away the haze of compulsion, the man did as he was told, returning to the bar and leaving Elijah alone with the bartender. Tam.

"I could've handled that," she said, folding her arms over her chest.

"It appeared to me that you had run to the end of your options. My apologies if I was overstepping."

Her jaw worked stubbornly as she blinked back tears. "Thank you. I don't know how you convinced him like that, but thank you."

Elijah nodded. "It was no hardship, and you are most welcome. Enjoy your evening."

He made it halfway down the alley before she called after him. "Why do you even care?"

Elijah turned back, letting a smirk slip through. "You serve good whiskey."

"Liar."

"What can I say?" He shrugged. "I have diverse tastes."

She shook her head at him, rolling her eyes before turning to head inside, presumably to fetch her children. Elijah watched her go, listening carefully for a moment before giving up and moving on.


Matt finished setting up the cafe early that morning. He had a good system down and knew how to wrangle the tables with faulty legs, so he made good time and arrived at school earlier than usual.

He hadn't slept well. Between Ric's problems and Abby's vampirism, things were tense in their friendship group. No one called to let him know what was going on, but he told himself that was a good thing. He didn't want to get involved.

He waited by the front of the school, sprawled out at one of the picnic tables on the front lawn as he waited to see any of his friends. The bell was two minutes from ringing when Caroline texted him.

We're all staying home today. Get our grades from McNealy pls? xx

Matt fired off an affirmative text and shoved his phone back into his bag. He didn't know what else he could've expected, really.


He didn't expect Damon to turn up in the cafeteria at lunch.

"Hey there, handsome," he said, blue eyes sparkling as he slid in next to Matt. He eyed the school lunch on Matt's tray, plucking the pudding cup in his hand. "Yummy."

"What do you want, Damon?" Matt asked, snatching the cup back from him.

"Well, I have a bit of an … Original problem, and I was hoping you could help me out."

Matt froze. Did they know about Elijah? He wasn't sure how they'd feel about him talking to the Original, but he knew it wouldn't be good. That was probably why he hadn't told any of them about it. "Uh, what do you mean?"

"Rebekah's got a secret, and I'm thinking it might be juicy. Wanna come and help me pry it out of her?"

"Why are you so interested? Why can't we just be done with them all?"

"Need to know basis, Matty." He tried to grab the pudding again, but Matt blocked him.

"Well, the answer is no."

"Oh, come on, Matty-boy—"

"One, don't call me that. Two, quit trying to take my food. Some of us actually need to eat what we pay for. And three, the last time I got involved with the Originals, I got my hand crushed. I'm not getting involved again."

"But—"

"End of, Damon." He grabbed his tray and stood. "If you don't mind, I'm gonna go eat outside."


Elijah didn't go grocery shopping very often.

It wasn't that he shared his siblings' disdain for the plebeian masses; on the contrary, he appreciated humanity to a degree that bordered on unhealthy. He had lived long enough to see such remarkable things come from humanity, after all.

Then there were the bombs and automatic weapons, but that was neither here nor there.

Elijah didn't go grocery shopping very often because it was rare that he was called upon to cook his own food. He typically dined at restaurants or relied upon room service, despite his own reasonable skill in the kitchen.

He didn't need to cook a three-course meal while in town, per se, but he'd concluded that it would be helpful if he had more on hand to sustain him than just blood and alcohol. He'd made a pseudo-home out of the motel room, determined to stick out the restlessness that called for him to move on already. If he was pretending it was a home, he needed a respectable stock of earl grey.

He located the store's tea selection easily enough, filling his cart with as many varieties as he could see. He'd never tried half of them, but now was as good a time as any to try something new.

Moving on to the produce, Elijah wrinkled his nose at the scent of pesticides and headed to the organic section. It was pitifully small and half of the range was lying about how "organic" they truly were, but he found some apples, pears, and carrots that he didn't mind the look of. If he was staying for much longer he'd have to look into finding a produce store that sold products of a higher standard.

He'd just set out in search of the chickpea section (he made a lovely garlic hummus) when the pattering of footsteps had him stopping short, barely avoiding running over a sprinting toddler.

"Dylan!" called a familiar voice. "Lex, can you go get your brother for me please? I have to get the pasta sauce."

"Sure, Mom."

Another boy rounded the corner, a taller one of maybe 9 or 10. Elijah waited for him to pass, then wheeled his trolley into the aisle. Sure enough, Tam, the bartender he kept running into stood in front of the wall of pasta sauces, fingers smoothing her shopping list nervously. She must've sensed him approaching as she yanked her trolley closer to her to make room for him to pass; it wasn't until she looked up that she recognised him.

"Oh, hi. It's you." She blinked a little, looking exhausted. Her hair was in a messy bun as though she'd just rolled out of bed, and Elijah knew she worked late enough for that to be likely.

"Nice to see you again. Pasta tonight?"

"Tomorrow night, hopefully. If I can get off early." Tam glanced back at the shelf. The better (more expensive) brands were at eye-level, with the cheaper ones on the bottom shelf. It was obvious as her eyes flicked between the two.

He could see what was happening.

"Ridiculous, isn't it," Elijah said, hoping he sounded casual. "Such a variation in price for the same product. There's really no difference, after all."

"Oh?"

"Not even a little. Of course, nothing compares to an authentic Italian restaurant, but when it comes to off the shelf, it's all the same. Some may have a higher quantity of vegetables, but not enough that it's worth the hike in price."

"Yeah, absolutely." She nodded, stooping down to get the store brand sauce, dropping two bottles into her trolley. The boys came back around the corner, the older, Lex, with his arm around the younger tight enough to stop the boy from bolting again. "Thanks, Lex. Dylan, you can't keep running like that. If you do it again, I'll put you in the trolley."

"I don't fit in the trolley!"

"You will if she squishes you up," contributed the older.

"Not helpful, Lex," Tam snapped tiredly. "Just, stop running off, Dylan. Okay?"

Dylan pouted at her, crossing his arms over his little chest.

"Can you boys go and get me some carrots and bell peppers? Two of each."

"Sure, Mom," said Lex. "Come on, Dylan. You can count how many black titles there are on the way."

Angst forgotten, Dylan began stepping diagonally across the black tiles, holding his older brother's hand all the while.

Tam turned back to Elijah, smiling in apology. "Sorry about them. Kids, you know."

"They seem lovely."

"Yeah, on a good day. You have any of your own?"

"Oh, no. But I have plenty of younger siblings. We may all be grown, but we squabble enough to be children still."

"Must be nice to come from a big family."

Something told him that Tam couldn't relate. You didn't end up in a small town with a "reputation" like hers and kids you had to hide under a bar if you had a big enough family to support you. "It can be," he said vaguely. "But I'm not currently with them. Had a bit of a falling out, actually." He didn't know what was going on with him lately. Maybe it was reconnecting with their mother and the undaggering of his brothers; perhaps it was just old age. Whatever it was, it had him spilling the most personal things to the strangest of people. First Matthew, and now Tam.

"That's no good," she said. "So you're just in town visiting someone?"

He shook his head. "It seemed as good a place as any to park myself for a time."

"I'm sure you could've found somewhere with better whiskey."

"Perhaps. But if I move on, I risk finding somewhere with worse whiskey. I'm not certain my taste buds would survive it."

Tam laughed. "Then I guess you'd better stick around."

The boys came running back, all thoughts of jumping on the black tiles forgotten. "Thank you!" said Tam, taking the plastic bags of vegetables from Lex. "Let's go and find some cheese, shall we?"

The boys started a race to the cheese aisle, but Tam hesitated. "Would you …" She cleared her throat. "Would you like to join us for dinner tomorrow night?"

Elijah considered the offer for a moment. It was unexpected, but was it unwelcome? "I would love to," he decided as he said it. "What can I bring?"

"Oh, nothing. It's just pasta."

"I can bring some wine—"

"Ah, I don't drink. Three years sober, actually." She caught the look on his face. "I know, I know. Working as a bartender really was a last resource."

"You've done well to keep at it. Can I bring some form of dessert then?"

"Uh, yeah. The boys would love that. Nothing too fancy that they can't pronounce, otherwise they won't try it. They can be a bit picky, sorry."

"Some form of chocolate cake will suffice?"

"Sounds great. Here, let me grab your number—" She fished her phone from her purse where it hung over the trolley. "I'll text you the address."

Elijah provided his number, watching as she entered it in.

"And what's your name?" she asked.

"Elijah."

"Just Elijah?"

"For now, yes." He had no intention of using his family name, but he didn't want to lie to the woman.

"Okay, then," she said, stuffing her phone into her purse. "It was nice running into you." She grabbed the trolley, heading toward the produce section in search of her sons—and leaving Elijah dumbstruck in her wake, wondering exactly what had just happened.


Meeting in the woods 7.30am. Come alone.

Matt got the text at 5am when he woke up for work. It said it was from Stefan, but the others used each other's phones often enough that he couldn't be sure who'd sent it.

What followed was a scramble to get ready, get his work done setting up at the cafe, scrounge up enough cash to buy gas on the way to the woods, and walk to their usual meeting spot without getting lost.

Elena and Caroline were already there when he arrived, chatting amongst themselves. They noticed him approaching and began walking toward him.

"Hey," he said, hoping he didn't sound out of breath. "What's with the cryptic secret-meeting text?"

Elena shrugged. "I don't know. Stefan just said to meet here."

"Where's Bonnie?" called Stefan. They all turned to see him approaching with Damon and a duffel bag full of god knows what. "I texted her too."

"Uh, Bonnie's mom bailed on her, again," explained Caroline. "I think we should leave her out of this one."

"What are we doing here?" asked Matt, growing impatient.

"We found some more white oak," replied Damon. "Long story; wait for the movie."

Matt clenched his jaw, trying not to betray any emotion while his mind whirled.

"Hang on," said Elena. "White oak? You have a weapon that can kill Klaus?"

Stefan smirked. "Nope," he said. "We all have a weapon." Unzipping the duffel, he dropped it on the ground, revealing what looked like a dozen freshly carved stakes.

"So, what?" asked Matt. "We just walk up to them and ram a stake through their hearts? They're a thousand years old."

"Klaus has always been one step ahead of us, but now we have the advantage." Stefan spoke with an almost gleeful tone. "We're all armed and they are all linked, meaning we only need to kill one of them. We need to seize the best opportunity, which means we need to prepare for every opportunity."

"Scenario number one," said Damon, advancing towards them and gripping Elena by the shoulders. "You get to play Klaus."

"Rebekah is our target," Stefan continued. "So we distract her, keep her off guard. To do that, we need to keep Klaus separate and occupied. Caroline."

Caroline crossed her arms over her chest. "Why do I always have to be Klaus bait?"

"Because he's obsessed with you," said Damon. "But for right now, we need you to play Rebekah." He stepped forward, looking at Matt. "We use the quarterback to keep her distracted—just keep her talking."

"How?" asked Matt. It wasn't like Rebekah was falling over herself to listen to his problems, and he wasn't keen on hearing hers—a fact that he'd made clear on multiple occasions.

"Act interested," said Damon casually, as though it was nothing. "She's lonely, desperate."

That'll make two of us, thought Matt.

"Clearly," said Caroline, exchanging a mirthful glance with Elena. "She slept with you."

"Mmm," Damon said, ignoring her. "Beefcake holds bombshell, I come up from behind her …" He moved behind Caroline, grabbing her by the arms and slamming them together behind her back.

"Ow!" cried Caroline.

"Which gives me time"—Stefan strode forward, aiming the stake at Caroline's heart but stopping short—"for one shot. Got it? Good." He stepped back and Damon released Caroline, ignoring the daggers she shot him with her eyes. "So, we each have one stake. We keep it hidden, and we look for any opportunity to strike."

"No last-minute attacks of pity for any of them," said Damon, gaze zeroing in on Elena.

Elena shook her head. "Don't worry about me. Not after what happened to Bonnie's mom."

"Barbie?" Damon asked, eyeing Caroline.

"Oh, I'm ready," she said, voice shaky but firm. "Anything that will free Tyler from his sire bond to Klaus."

Damon turned to Matt. "Busboy?"

If he was being honest, he didn't want to do this. Elijah was a good guy, and Rebekah was decent when she wasn't surrounded by her brothers. And they were all still linked.

But it wasn't like he could say no.

"Do I have a choice?" he asked. Tell me I have a choice.

"Good point," was all Damon said breezily, moving on.

"We have twelve stakes," Stefan continued. "Twelve shots at killing one Original. We can do this." He bent down to pick up something from the duffel. "All right. Let's try another scenario. Elena, grab a crossbow …" He dropped one into her hands. "Matt, you play Klaus."

Unable to complain, Matt stood stock-still as Elena aimed the unloaded crossbow at him.


What followed was two gruelling hours of running scenario after scenario. Matt took great pains to be cooperative, even when they got to the "so Elijah has returned to town mysteriously" phase of their scenarios.

It was like play-acting in the woods as kids, but with more murder.

"Can we call it already?" asked Matt, wiping at the sweat on his brow. "If we're doing this today I gotta go home and shower."

"He's right," said Elena. "Go put on something nice to distract Rebekah with. Care—"

"I know, I know. Go dress up for Klaus."

Taking the opportunity, Matt snatched up his jacket and went walking in the direction of his truck.

Thank god that was over.

"Donovan," said Damon, the sound of his footfalls getting closer and closer.

Matt groaned, turning around to face him. The bastard hadn't even broken a sweat while they were out there. "What?"

He held a stake aloft, tossing it in Matt's direction with enough force that it was impossible for him to catch it. "You forget something."

Stooping down to pick it up, Matt bit out, "Thanks," and tried to get on his way.

"I'm guessing that was an accident, right?"

"Obviously." It was the truth. "Can I help you with anything, Damon?"

He shrugged. "Not really. I was just wondering … you didn't seem all that into it."

"Should I be excited about it? Is that something that's expected from me now?" He scoffed. "Look, I'll do it. I'll distract Rebekah, and I'll carry around a stake, and I'll help you end them because they're a plague on the town and I have no choice. But I don't have to like it, and I sure as hell don't have to enjoy working to kill them for what they've done when I was never given a chance to kill you after what you did to Vicki." It was true: hurting Elena was worth going to war, but hurting Matt was barely worth an apology.

"Hmm." Damon looked him up and down, searching for something.

"Are we done here?"

"Just one more thing …" Damon sidled a little closer, reaching forward to pick up Matt's wrist. "Wasn't this broken?"

Shit. "You noticed, huh? How big of you."

"Mmm. And I suppose you got vampire blood to heal it, right?"

"Obviously."

"It's just … I know you didn't get it from me, and I haven't noticed Stefan leaving to go see you, so … Caroline?"

Matt's heart rate rocketed. If he said it was her and Damon thought to investigate … "No, it wasn't. It's not like any of you are paying attention to me anyway."

"So it was Rebekah then," Damon concluded. "And is that going to be a problem today?"

Matt felt relief flood him. It being Rebekah made sense—she'd felt guilty about that night, about what Kol did. Damon knew this. "It won't be a problem," Matt confirmed. "Can I go now, or did you want to continue the heart-to-heart?"

"Leave the sarcasm for me, Matty-boy."

"Don't call me that."

Damon grinned. "I'll see you later, Donovan."

Matt ignored him, turning away to head for his truck.


It would be safe to say that what followed was a day from hell—that is, if it wasn't no different from any other day.

Really, it was just another day in Mystic Falls.

Damon and Bonnie were both AWOL, so they couldn't count on any help from them. Matt was caught bussing tables at the Grill while watching Sage and Finn drinking tequila shots and reconnectubg, wondering just how to get out of this all the while.

There was no getting out of it. If he failed, Damon would kill him. It was the one thing he knew for sure.

When Sage asked him for more shots, he made sure to wait until Phil was out from behind the bar so he could spike them with vervain. From there, everything unfolded beautifully.

Well, as beautifully as something like that could unfold.

Finn and Sage followed Stefan out into the alley, spitting vervain from their mouths as they went. Matt grabbed Elena and ducked into the service hall, headed for the door that led out to the alley.

The moment the door opened, Elena fired her stake at Finn's chest. It hit dead center, not near enough to his heart to slow him, but enough to enrage him.

Matt saw the fury in Finn's eyes, zeroing in on Elena—

He was going to kill her.

Matt did the only thing he could.

Leaping forward, he brought his stake down in an arc, driving it home in Finn's chest.

He knew he'd hit the heart. Could see it in the fear in Finn's eyes—eyes like Elijah's, like Kol's—

He turned away, feeling sick. Elena gripped him by the arm, hauling him back into the service corridor and shutting the door.

Sage's screams echoed through his ears, begging for Finn to stay with her. The roar of fire flaring to life on his body was audible even through the closed door.

"Come on," said Elena, voice breathy in his ear. "We have to go."

He let her pull him away, legs moving mechanically and mind somewhere else.


Elijah dropped the third tie option, deciding to forgo it entirely. It wasn't often that he went without it, but he figured it was time to start changing how he did things.

He'd found a nice chocolate cake at a bakery on the main street, hoping it would suffice. It felt odd to attend without any form of wine, but it was for the best. Sobriety was a virtue he'd never indulged in as a rule; he didn't think it would hold much weight for him to abstain from whiskey while still drinking from the vein. There was only so much space one could occupy on the moral high ground while still in possession of fangs.

Unfamiliar with it as he might be, sobriety was something he could support, so cake it was.

Dressed and ready, Elijah decided it was time to get going.


Elena drove Matt home at a speed that was definitely illegal, but he couldn't find it in himself to care. She bid him goodnight when they pulled up, obviously desperate to head back to the Salvatores' to find out if the linking spell had worked, if they were all dead.

Weirdly, Matt didn't have the same compulsion.

He lumbered up the steps, dizzy with the light swimming over his house from Elena's car as she reversed and sped away. He unlocked his door on the third try, slamming it shut behind him.

He barely made it to the bathroom before he emptied his guts, hurling until there was nothing left.


The house was quaint, if a little rundown. Not as bad as Matthew's had been, but still.

Elijah picked his way around the toys strewn across the postage stamp-sized front lawn and made his way up the front steps. He pressed the doorbell, finding it broken, and had just resolved to knock instead when the patter of feet approaching the door reached his ears. The handle turned before him and the door yawned open to reveal the toddler, Dylan, dressed in some sort of fairy costume.

"He's here!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.

"Yes, yes, I know," said Tam, out of breath as she jogged into view wearing jeans, a T-shirt and an apron covered in stains of various sorts. "Go help your brother set the table, will you?"

Dylan cantered off down the hallway, leaving them alone. Tam stepped forward to shake Elijah's hand, ushering him into the house.

"Good to see you again," he greeted, raising the cakebox to present it to her. "The cake that was promised."

She accepted it from him with a grateful smile. "This looks lovely. Come on in."

It was a short walk from the front door to the kitchen-slash-dining area. It had been mostly cleared of the clutter to be found in the rest of the house that Elijah had seen, though the kitchen was laden with dirty dishes from the cooking process.

"Dinner's nearly ready," Tam told the boys, who had just finished setting the table with cutlery and salt-and-pepper shakers. "Go wash your hands."

Elijah wondered why they'd set the table before that, but he made no comment. He'd survive some germs.

"Please, sit wherever you like," said Tam, ducking over into the kitchen to put the cake in the fridge and grab a stack of plates.

Elijah avoided the seat at the head of the small table and the one with a cushion on it, presumably there to help Dylan sit up high enough to reach his plate. Finding somewhere appropriate, Elijah shucked off his coat and hung it over the back of the chair, tucking himself in awkwardly.

Tam brought the plates over, setting them—three china ones and a plastic one covered in cartoon characters to go at Dylan's spot. The boys came racing in, taking their places, with Dylan up on his cushion and Lex at the head of the table.

Elijah greeted them with an awkward smile. He'd spent little time with children over the years, but he hoped it didn't show.

As Dylan turned to him with a wide, toothy grin, he wondered if that hope might be a bit naive.


Matt finished washing his face, trying to calm himself. He grabbed a beer from the fridge—the last one there—and banged it open on the edge of the counter.

Settling in on the sofa, he stared at his phone listlessly. He wanted to call Elijah, wanted to see if he was still there. If he'd died in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the knowledge that his family was dying too …

He didn't want to know. He didn't want to know. He didn't want to know.

It was a mantra he repeated between gulps of beer until finally he threw his phone down and gave up altogether.


The pasta was edible, Elijah supposed. He'd eaten worse, but he'd also eaten better; he tried to focus on the former rather than the latter as he cleaned off his plate, gulping it down with tap water from his glass.

"So, Elijah," began Tam, having just settled Dylan back at the table after his sixth attempt at escaping. "What do you do for a living?"

"Old family business, mostly. Managing investments, that sort of thing. I'm taking a break at the moment."

"Sounds interesting."

"Occasionally. I'd return the question, but I already know the answer."

She laughed. "Yeah, bartending isn't glamorous, but it pays the bills. Well, it does now that I've gotten a raise."

"Mom said you convinced old Rolf to give her more money," said Lex, eyeing Elijah. He hadn't spoken much during their meal, opting to observe his brother's antics instead. The boy wasn't timid, just watchful.

"I held a conversation with him about properly paying his employees, yes," Elijah confirmed.

"Why?"

"Because your mother—and all workers—deserve to earn enough to support themselves and their families. Rolf was in the wrong in many ways, so I sought to remind him of that fact."

"What makes you so special?"

"Alexander," hissed Tam.

"It's quite all right," Elijah assured her. "And it's not so much a matter of being special, Lex. It was more that Rolf was …" Well, he couldn't very well say that the man had been compelled, could he? "Rolf was and remains a deeply misogynistic pig who fails to listen to any woman in his life, your mother being one of them." It was true. "Being confronted by a man was a different matter."

"So he wouldn't listen to my mom because she's a chick, but he'd listen to you?"

"Unfortunately, that is the way that some men operate. That your mother has to contend with him every day is a travesty she bears well, from what I've observed."

Lex nodded, placated. Tam took the lull in conversation to interrupt. "Lex, please clear the plates. No, not yours, Dylan. You're staying there until you finish it."

"But Mommy—"

"No arguments, Dylan. You're eating your dinner or you're not getting cake."

Dylan seemed on the cusp of a tantrum for a moment, face beet-red and puckered lips quivering, but the urge left as soon as it arrived, colour leaching from his face as he tucked back into the remains of his meal.

Tam eyed Elijah, smiling apologetically. "Kids, am I right?"


The phone rang later that night, jolting Matt out of the light sleep he'd fallen into. He leaned half off the sofa to pick it up from where it had fallen, scrambling to answer it.

"Yeah?"

"It's Caroline. We have a problem."

He rubbed at his temple. "What now?"

"The spell was broken before we staked Finn. They're all still alive. Except Finn, obviously."

Matt ignored the relief he felt at the revelation. Klaus was still alive, he reminded himself. All of his friends were still in danger. "That sucks."

"It gets worse."

"How could it possibly get worse?"

"When we killed Finn, Sage brought her other vamp friend to attack us at the mansion, but they died right in front of us. Just desiccated and dropped dead. Apparently if an Original dies, so does their entire sire line."

"Which sire line are you?"

"We don't know. They're gonna try to find out, but it's not like the Originals are gonna be forthcoming with that information. And it kind of doesn't matter, because—"

"Tyler is Klaus's line." Matt's heart sank. "No. Care—"

"I know, but I'm gonna talk to Stefan about it—"

"He won't care, Caroline! If the Salvatores aren't from Klaus's line, they'll kill him. They're not gonna care about Tyler, not in the scheme of things."

"We can make them care—"

"It's not going to work. It's just not."

Caroline sighed on the other end. "Yeah, I know. Look, you'll … stay in and take care of yourself tonight? Rebekah kidnapped Damon today, and I'd prefer it if she didn't take you next."

"Wait, she took Damon?"

"He's okay," Caroline said, her tone not very reassuring. "Stefan traded stakes for his life, but not all of them. We have enough to kill three out of the four left."

"But not your sire, or Klaus."

"Yeah. Look, I've gotta go. Bonnie's not doing so great. Call me if you need anything?"

"I will."

"Okay, bye."

Matt clenched the phone in his hand until he heard the plastic creak.


The chocolate cake was met with approval from the boys and sincere thanks from Tam. Dylan guzzled down his piece with none of the reticence he'd shown with his dinner, miraculously recovered from the state of near-violent fullness that had overcome him during the final bites of his pasta.

Tam invited Elijah to stay longer, but he declined. He wasn't certain what she expected from the evening—he assumed nothing untoward, given her children's presence—but he felt it best to excuse himself once the dessert dishes were cleared away.

"Thank you for the lovely meal," he said, meaning it. "I appreciated the invitation."

"Oh, well, anytime," Tam said, a little flustered. "Did you park nearby?"

"I walked."

Her eyes rounded comically. "All the way from the motel? That's quite a way—"

"I enjoyed the chance to stretch my legs." Not to mention that he could cross the distance in under a minute without breaking a sweat, if he were so inclined. "Again, thank you for your hospitality." He shrugged on his coat and made his way towards the front door, raising a hand at the boys where they reclined in the living room amidst their toys watching some sort of cartoon. "Good to see you, boys."

Lex nodded quietly then returned to the program, but Dylan offered a hearty goodbye. He showed plenty of zest but not nearly as much as he had when consuming his cake, so Elijah told himself he shouldn't be too flattered by the boy's enthusiasm.

"Something tells me you'd be welcome back here any time," said Tam, brown eyes sparkling. "Especially if you bring more cake."

"I'll keep that in mind," he replied. "Good night, Tam." He leaned down to kiss her cheek in farewell, feeling her stiffen. He often forgot what was and wasn't in fashion for human interaction, spending so little time with them in a social capacity, but by the time he drew back she seemed all right.

"Good night, Elijah."


Matt knew that etiquette guides were a thing that existed—had seen Caroline with a few during Miss Mystic Falls season—but he wondered just how broad the genre was. There were etiquette guides for ladies, for gentlemen, for distinguished persons of all varieties.

But was there an etiquette guide for human-vampire interactions?

Was there anything anywhere that could tell him how to deal with the urge to tell someone that you stabbed their brother and killed him? Especially when it was someone you barely knew, someone more dangerous than you could fathom …

Fathom was a good word. A word that kind of etiquette guide would use.

Focus, Matt.

Matt tapped his phone against his knee, staring at Elijah's number in his contact list. It would be easy to text him, even easier to call him … but could Matt justify contacting Elijah? He'd be found out, obviously. Damon already suspected something about his hand being healed, and if the Salvatores found out the Matt was anything approaching sympathetic towards a Mikaelson, he wouldn't last very long …

But why should he be afraid? Because Damon killed his sister once, and Stefan did it the second time? Because they knew how to hide dead bodies? Because they could make him disappear, make everyone that ever loved him forget he even existed?

He didn't think Stefan would do that, but that was beside the point. They were dangerous. Matt would never have the privilege of forgetting that, not like Elena and Caroline seemed to. Bonnie's mom being turned was a vicious reminder for her of just what vampires brought them, but that would pass. Elena would forget it, Caroline would let it go, and together they'd convince Bonnie that Damon didn't mean it, not really. Matt would be the odd man out. Again.

In the long run, they didn't care. Not really.

An angry, vicious part of him wondered if maybe the Originals were exactly what they needed to remind them that this was what this world got them. This was what it did.

It also wasn't like Elijah didn't already know about what had happened to Finn.

Blood boiling, Matt opened up a text chat with Elijah and got to work.


Elijah was halfway home when his phone buzzed in his front pocket. Just twice in quick succession. If it was his siblings, they'd be calling in order to bother him at length, so he fished his phone out more out of curiosity than anything else.

A message from Matthew.

Can we talk?

Elijah didn't hesitate, hitting the call button and lifting the phone to his ear as he continued to stride along. Matthew answered after two rings.

"Uh, hey."

"Yes."

"Huh?"

"Yes, we can talk. How may I help you, Matthew? Is something wrong?"

On the other end of the line, Matthew sighed. "Kind of, yeah. Have you talked to Klaus or Rebekah yet?"

"I was determined to dodge their calls, but I haven't received any to dodge. Why? What do you imagine they would have to say to me?"

"Uh, nothing. I should probably leave it up to them to let you know. No one's supposed to know that we're talking, anyway. This is for the best."

"You don't sound sure of that."

"I'm not sure of anything these days." Silence. "I, um … I wanted to explain myself to you. I thought you already knew what happened. I'm sorry, I can call back after, or not at all—you probably won't want to talk to me afterwards—"

"What makes you think that?" asked Elijah. "Don't tell me you've finally managed to oust Niklaus."

"No, Klaus is fine. It's Finn."

Elijah snorted. "Finn? I thought he scarpered away after the fiasco with my mother."

"Your siblings lured him back with some chick he used to date."

Elijah sighed heavily. "Sage?" She'd never been good for Finn.

"Yeah, that's her."

"So, he came back. And then what happened?" Elijah waited a moment, then prompted, "Matthew, you can tell me. I'm well aware of your friends' vendetta against my family. You can't shock me."

"We found some white oak."

Elijah stopped dead in the middle of the street; his heart stopped dead in the middle of his chest. "Why would you tell me that?"

"Because Klaus and Rebekah already know. It's not like you knowing changes anything at this point."

Elijah clenched his free hand, watching the tendons bulge over the back of his hand. Why hadn't they called him to ask for help? "And I suppose that this means Finn is dead."

"He is. The linking spell was undone in time, obviously."

Elijah closed his eyes, seeking calm. "You killed him, didn't you?"

"How could you tell?"

"You sound guilty."

"I didn't—I—" Matt sniffed. "I never wanted any of this, Elijah. Please, believe me. But he was gonna go after Elena, and I had a stake so I just—I acted. I'm so sorry." His voice had turned raw, vulnerable.

"I don't blame you, Matthew," said Elijah, voice as heavy as his heart. "My siblings never should've brought him back there. They started this feud; Finn had no place caught in the middle. You were protecting your friends, your town—"

"If I gave a damn about this town I'd burn the Salvatores in their sleep." The anger in his tone was something Elijah knew all too well.

Elijah waited a moment. "Why don't you?" he asked gently, already knowing the answer.

"Elena would get hurt." He hesitated. "You seem pretty chill about this."

"Believe me, Matthew, I am many things, but chill has never been one of them. I'm simply … exhausted by it all."

"Yeah, I know how you feel. Are you gonna come back?"

"Eventually, I assume so. But not until my siblings call to ask for my help."

"Why wait?"

Because if he didn't, his family and Matthew's friends would know that Elijah had found out another way. It would be easy to spin it as coming from some sort of spy, but there was always the chance that the truth might be uncovered, and Elijah knew full well that the only person that would suffer for that would be Matthew.

But he wouldn't say that, he decided.

"Because Finn's death is a loss, true, but my family will recover from it with or without me. I have no intention of returning until I am asked for. It's about time they recognise that they need my assistance, rather than just leaving me messes to clean up without even noticing." It came out bitterer than he'd wanted.

"Seems like a weird time to be making a point."

"There's never a good time for these things, Matthew." If his siblings were ever going to learn enough to mend what was broken in his family, it would have to be now. "And how are you? Any more injuries I should know of?"

"I'm fine."

"I doubt that very much." Elijah paused, jaw working. "How is Abigail?"

"She took off, actually. Bonnie's pretty devastated."

Elijah winced. "I am sorry for my involvement in that. Transition isn't always easy for humans turning into vampires, but for witches … It's a very particular kind of torture."

"Caroline tried to help her, but she couldn't do much."

"That's often the way."

Their silence left the line crackling.

"Hey, uh, I was wondering something …" began Matthew. "Have you ever seen someone using one of those rings to come back to life?"

"You mean like the one in Alaric Saltzman's possession?"

"Yeah, those."

"I can't say I have. Why?"

"We think Ric's might be making him … do stuff. He blacks out, loses time, that kind of thing. We're trying to deal with it, but I just wondered if you'd seen anything like it before."

"I'm sorry to say that I haven't. Do you know where he goes while he loses time?"

"Yeah. He, uh, kinda turns into this super vampire hunter guy. Kills people sympathetic to vampires."

"Aren't you sympathetic to vampires?"

"Not particularly, but I guess I qualify. He's mostly focusing on people that help keep vampires safe and hidden at the moment. I don't really do that, beyond keeping my own mouth shut."

"An invaluable contribution nonetheless. I recommend that you watch your back around Alaric. I understand that he's your friend, but this murderous alter-ego … it will only escalate. Take care to protect yourself."

"I don't die easy."

Elijah remembered the state of Matthew's hand from that night on his front porch, the bent, purple fingers so messily splinted. "You'll die easier than most."

"I don't see why Ric would care what I do. I'm practically invisible around here anyway."

"I think you're more appreciated than you realise."

"Yeah, okay." He sounded skeptical.

"Without your support, they'd surely flounder. You should demand more respect from them."

"Like you're doing with your family?"

"Exactly like that."

"I can't exactly leave town until they decide to ask me to come back."

Elijah surveyed his surroundings, they soft sky just on the darker side of twilight, the squat, brick buildings and blinking neon signs. "If you did, I could direct you toward a rather pleasant small town. Not too far away, but just far enough."

"If I was gonna leave, it wouldn't be for another small town."

"Oh?" Elijah asked, a little amused despite himself. "City life more to your liking?"

"Just anything that doesn't remind me of this place, I guess."

"Mmm. I'll think on it and make some more recommendations, shall I?"

"Knock yourself out. It's not like I'm going anywhere."

"You could be, you know. You never know what's in store."

"Thanks, Oprah."

Elijah chuckled. "I do hope you don't intend that as an insult. She's a rather exemplary woman."

"I don't know what I mean it as. I shouldn't even be talking to you."

"Then why are you?"

"Why are you?"

"Touche."

"Look, uh, I gotta go and get some rest, but it was good talking to you. I'm glad you're not too … broken up about Finn. I mean, he did try to kill you, but—yeah."

"Thank you for taking the time to let me know what was going on. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other eventually, if not soon."

"Yeah, I figured. Good night, Elijah."

"Good night, Matthew."

Elijah let the crackling silence linger until Matt hung up.

Chapter Text

 



CHAPTER THREE

 

Put a fifth of rum in my hand



 

Matt's first ever decade dance in middle school was the 90s. He'd raided his dad's old clothes, poked extra holes in a belt to keep the jeans up, and tried to participate.

Ty rarely bothered to participate—not until he and Caroline started dating, at least. Then he was on board. But Matt had always tried to pitch in, help out, and show up as much as possible. Part of succeeding at school with average grades was just in the showing up and being visible to staff, so he did his best.

Like he was now, ferrying boxes of feather boas around and watching faux champagne fountains be set up in the gym.

"What is this?" demanded Caroline, marching toward him with a stride that made her curls bounce. When they'd been kids, it had made her pig-tails swing around like they could help her take flight.

"It's a decade dance," he replied, not bothering to inject any excitement into his tone. "You made us all sign up, remember?"

"No." She picked up a fistful of lavender-coloured feather boa. "This. The 20s. We're doing the 70s."

"Too flashy, people!" Rebekah's chirpy voice had a visible effect on Caroline's face, like someone had taken her nose and pinched it until she went bright red. "It's supposed to be a speakeasy, not the world fair." She spotted Caroline and made a beeline towards her. "Ah, good. You're here. They need help setting up the tables, so … get to it."

"What do you think you're doing?" demanded Caroline.

Matt ducked his head, focusing on doing anything other than getting involved. For now.

"Somebody has to be in charge."

"Yeah, me," said Caroline. "I'm the chair of the dance committee. The theme of the decade dance is the 1970s."

"So you'd rather dress in tacky clothes with awful hair than be a classic flapper from the jazz age? Honestly, I don't know what my brother sees in you."

"Well, maybe he sees a challenge. See, unlike some other people, I don't sleep with everyone I make eye contact with."

Even Matt cringed at that one. Slut-shaming wasn't Caroline's style unless there was a point to it; telling Damon to grow a pair and stop screwing with Elena by … well, screwing other chicks, that was one thing. Acting like Rebekah was evil for sleeping with the Salvatores rather than for everything else she'd done? Even for what they were trying to achieve here, that was nasty.

"How about we do both decades?" Matt suggested.

"No," they both chorused, barely glancing at him.

Well, at least they agreed on something.

"Go on, Matt, don't be a coward," said Rebekah. "You know you loved my 20s idea when I presented it to the group."

Caroline whirled on him, eyes wide. "Traitor!"

"Bell-bottoms and disco?" Matt asked. Taking Rebekah's side could only help their position. Caroline would forgive him, and she was less likely to kill him. That, and he needed Rebekah to talk to him today. "I don't know, this just seemed cooler."

"See?" Rebekah leaned in closer to Caroline. "This is just cooler."

"Whatever!" exclaimed Caroline. "Have fun at your stupid dance." She stormed out, curls bouncing once more.

Matt waited a minute or so, then followed her out, looking for all the world like a good dude wanting to make things up with a friend.

"Caroline!" he called, jogging after her on the front lawn. "Wait!" He caught up with her at her car, finding her grinning at him.

"Impressive," she said, eyes shining. "You sold it."

"And you bought yourself a day."

"Thank you. Just … keep her occupied. And be careful."

"You too," he replied, stepping back so she could get in. "And, uh … tell him I said hi, okay?" It had been way too long since he last talked to Ty.

"I will," she promised, ducking forward to kiss him on the cheek.

Matt watched her go, enjoying his final moments of freedom before heading back inside.


Rebekah had already decided on the red, white and black colour scheme. She'd drawn sketches of the set-up for the gym, giving clear instructions to all the volunteers. Even Caroline would've been jealous of her ability to run the show, and Caroline was the queen of doing just that.

Matt, for his part, mostly went where he was told. Hanging streamers, bead curtains (of all things), and dotting balloons here and there.

They took a break for lunch when the volunteers demanded it (Matt was pretty sure he heard one or two them mention the Geneva Convention, which meant Rebekah heard it too). Unsurprisingly, she was left alone on the front lawn as everyone else grouped off to chow down the pizza someone had ordered. Rebekah remained seated on the grass, smoothing her jeans primly as though she were wearing a gown instead. He guessed it was a big change from silk skirts to denim.

Matt piled pizza high on two paper plates and wedged two cans of soda under his arm, heading over slowly so as not to drop anything. She saw him, but it took her a moment longer to realise that he was headed for her, not just in her general direction.

"Oh, um," she floundered, taking the cans from under his arm and setting them on the grass. "Thank you."

"No problem. I don't know what you like, so I got you one of everything." He handed her her plate then settled next to her on the grass.

Rebekah eyed her pizza skeptically, picking at a slice of pepperoni. "Do I want to know what meat this is?"

"I wouldn't even know how to answer. It tastes good, though." He bit off a part of his own, groaning. "It's really good, actually. I take it back. This is all for me." He reached for her plate jokingly, and she pulled it away from.

"Absolutely not. Get your own disgusting mystery meat pizza."

"Okay. But you have to actually eat it, or I'll try and get it again."

"So you're blackmailing me into eating? How truly revolutionary this post-feminist world is."

"I don't know that it's post anything, but yeah." He gnawed on his crust, watching Rebekah's delicate nibbling with an amused eye. "Things must be different here, huh? For women, I mean."

"Yes and no. Women seem to have freed themselves from the base level of oppression—open ownership of them and their bodies, being practically sold for cattle, the works—but Stacey Coolidge still curls her hair every day because Bryce Smithton and his cronies rated her as the ugliest on the cheer squad, and Elise's mother has bruises she thinks she hides under her baggy sweaters. It's not gone, it's just … quiet."

"It must've been weird to watch stuff happen to human women like that. Did you ever do anything about it?"

"I eat rapists whenever I come across them."

Matt paused, bite of pizza heavy and tasteless in his mouth. "That's … probably not the worst thing you could be doing with immortality. I mean, it's no due process, but it probably accomplishes more."

"They don't rape again, and their victims get to live their lives with the knowledge that those who hurt them are rotting in the ground."

"And that there's someone willing to defend them," Matt reminded her.

"Mmm. It must be nice, that."

Matt frowned. "You don't think you have someone to defend you? Your family is made up of the most powerful people on that planet."

"Unfortunately, yes, we are." She must have caught his incredulous look, because she continued, "Once you bear the mantle of 'most powerful', a slew of people come knocking to disprove you. They covet the title, wish it for themselves, and seek your demise as a means of achieving that. Knowing this, my brothers have become … determined to maintain their status, whatever the cost to us as a family. The daggering is but one part of the price we pay for our role in the supernatural world."

"How does daggering help you all stay powerful?" Matt would've thought that stabbing relatives was something more divisive than uniting.

"It helps Nik maintain the illusion of power. We as a family are the most powerful, but Nik is the most powerful among us. Being a hybrid, he doesn't share our weakness for the daggers. Using them against us is a sweet torture he rather enjoys."

And then Matt understood. It was nice for the women Rebekah had defended to know that there was someone to protect them; Rebekah couldn't share that relief, as her own big brother, someone who should have defended her at all costs, was the one she needed defending from. All other evils she could face, but her brother's anger was insurmountable.

"Does Elijah do anything about all of this?"

"What could he do? Elijah and I are equals in power, if not in our positions relative to Nik. He and Nik share a bond I do not, being close in age and temperament. Elijah hides it well, but Mikael's rage runs through him just as Mother's cunning does Nik. But there is nothing Elijah can do to stop Nik. Nothing but pray that he will redeem himself one day, and in that, we shall all be free of his influence for good."

"I can't imagine living like that."

"You get used to it."

"You shouldn't have to."

Rebekah set down her plate, holding her grease-slick hands palm up so as not to mark her clothing with them. "As your friends have made clear on many occasions, I deserve what I get."

"No one deserves to live like that."

"Not even Finn? He lived in a box more than he walked as a man, no more than a glorified paper weight for centuries. He deserved freedom, and life, and the woman he'd once loved, but you took that from him when you staked him in the heart."

Matt had really been hoping that wouldn't come up. It was stupid, he knew. "He was going after Elena. I had no choice."

"It happens," said Rebekah, tone light. "I'm under no illusion as to our position here. I know you sought to kill me, Matt. To kill all of us. And I know we deserve it. What I don't know is why you support my proposals at dance committees and bring me food. What game are you playing?"

None, he wanted to say. He wanted it to be true so desperately. It just wasn't.

Taking his silence for an answer, Rebekah scoffed. "Right. As I thought. Enjoy the rest of your food."

She marched away, leaving her half-eaten pizza and unopened can behind her.


It hadn't been easy, figuring out what to do with himself in this small town.

Elijah visited the cinema twice, finding it irritating but palatable both times. A local production of Othello had provided a pleasant way to pass the time; the young girl playing Emilia was particularly enlightened as to the play's true intentions, in Elijah's (rather learned) opinion.

He saw it three times. That was also the number of times it ran for.

He ran into Tam and her boys around the place. It was a small town, after all, and he lived only streets away from where she worked. He'd figured out that while the bourbon and whiskey was terrible, the vodka wasn't half bad, nor were the old fashioneds (even though they contained the terrible whiskey).

Tam was practically a new person. Whoever said that money couldn't buy happiness had never known the bite of hunger deep in a belly, nor the hard choices to make with small mouths to feed. There was a point where more money was irrelevant, but that was not a point Tam had ever experienced. For her, money was freedom, and a raise in pay went a long way.

For starters, the boys no longer huddled under the bar. She paid her neighbours' teenaged daughter to watch them while she worked, and she worked hard. Elijah accepted that he could only find opportunities for snatches of conversation with her while she was behind the bar, though he often joined her for her break out in the alley where she smoked a cigarette (always her last one) and talked about her boys.

She never asked Elijah where he'd come from. Never asked him why he stayed. This was a good thing, given that he didn't have an answer to either of those questions.


Matt shouldered his bag, flipping off the gym lights. He shut the door behind him, leaving it unlocked for the janitor he could hear vacuuming just a way down the hall.

Strolling out to the front lawn, Matt took in the front of the school, strewn with litter. Rebekah stood at the curb, facing the road with her arms wrapped around herself.

"Hey," said Matt, walking toward her. She barely turned to acknowledge him as he continued, "Missed your bus?"

"Funny," she said, tone acerbic. "Nik was supposed to pick me up. I suppose he forgot."

"Don't tell me you can't afford a car."

"I've had a dagger in my heart for the better part of a century. When do you imagine I've had time to learn to drive?"

"Good point. Want a ride home?"

She finally turned to face him. "You'd do that?"

"Well, I do know where you live." And anything that put off going home to an empty house was a good idea in Matt's books. "Come on. You can pick the music."


As it turned out, Rebekah had no idea what music was currently popular, so Matt flipped on a random radio station and left it at that. A quick study, Rebekah learned how to change the station whenever a song came on that she didn't like.

They rode mostly in silence, but it wasn't companionable. Matt wanted to say something, to ask her questions about her life and her family and Elijah, but who was he to demand answers from her? Just a convenient human giving her a ride home.

"Your hand is better," she noted. "I'm glad."

"Uh, yeah. Vampire blood's a miracle cure, apparently."

"Not always. But in this case, yes. I'm glad. Sorry about Kol, again. He's a bit of a …"

"An unrepentant bag of dicks?"

"What a charming turn of phrase," she said sarcastically. "But yes."

"It's no problem. I get problematic families. My mom made out with Tyler once. It was weird."

"I haven't seen her around."

"She's off with her latest boyfriend, I imagine."

"Not with you? Her son?"

"She's never been the motherly type."

"I can't imagine. My mother's a nightmare, but she still tries to take care of us in her own demented way. What possible reason could yours give for abandoning her child?"

"She's pretending it's because of Vicki, but she's always been like this."

"Vicki?"

By that point, Matt just assumed everyone knew about his sister. "Vicki was my older sister. She died."

Rebekah went quiet. "I'm sorry. I'd say I can't imagine, but unfortunately I can."

Matt didn't know if she was talking about Finn or Henrik. He didn't bother to ask.

They reached her house in silence, Matt pulling up over the cobblestone driveway.

"Here we are," he said, putting the car in park and turning to her. "Home sweet home."

She gave him a dubious side-eye that would've made Caroline proud—if she didn't hate Rebekah, that is.

"Okay, spill," she said. "Why are you being so nice to me?"

"I drove you home," he said as though it was obvious. Please, don't pry. "You don't have a car."

"Not just that. I mean, helping me with the dance and standing up to Caroline … I don't buy it."

Abort, abort. "Buy what?"

"The whole gentlemanly thing after everything my family's done to you. What are you up to?"

Manipulating you for my friends. Again. "It's sad you can't just get a ride home from school without thinking there's some ulterior motive." It was true—it was sad. That didn't mean that she wasn't right.

Rebekah stared him down for a moment, then looked away, sighing. "You're right. I'm probably gonna organise the whole dance and then have to compel myself a date."

"Let's not get crazy." Matt laughed. He knew of at least ten guys dying to ask Rebekah to the dance. "Goodbye, Rebekah."

She returned his smile, hand on the door handle. "Goodbye, Matt. Thanks for the ride."

He watched her in the rear view mirror as he drove away, standing all alone on the curb again, just as he'd found her.


Matt got a call from Elena mid-shift. He put up with the glare from his manager as he ducked out to take it.

"Hey. Is everything okay? Did you find out who sired the Salvatores' line?"

"It's Klaus," said Elena. Matt couldn't hear any relief in her tone, but he felt enough himself. As long as the Salvatores were linked too, Tyler was safe. "But that's not why I called. Jer's coming back, and he might need to stay with you guys for a bit." 

"What's going on there? I thought he was—"

"Yeah, he was, but Kol's been here stalking him, so we're bringing him home instead. I don't know if Kol will come after him again, or get any of his other siblings to do it—"

"And none of them have been invited into my house," Matt finished for her. "Got it. I'll set up the couch or something."

"Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate it. Look, I've gotta go, but call me if you need anything, okay?"

He doubted she really meant that, but he said, "Yeah, thanks," anyway, waiting for the click as she hung up.

Sighing, he tucked his phone back into his pocket and headed back in to finish his shift.


Matt pulled into his driveway, truck sputtering as he turned it off. The brakes were squealing again. He'd have to check them out in the morning before he headed to the school to help set up for the dance.

Heading inside, Matt switched on the TV just to have some noise in the house. He reheated the two remaining slices of week-old pizza a little too long, hoping the extra heat would kill the bacteria or something. He knew it wasn't good to eat old food, but it wasn't like he had much of anything else.

Falling onto the sofa, he found himself scrolling through his contacts to find Elijah again. He opened up their conversation, finding his last text sitting there.

Can we talk?

It looked kind of pathetic on its own without a reply. He knew Elijah had called him 10 seconds after he sent the text he'd agonised over for half an hour, but still. It looked kind of sad.

Setting his pizza aside, Matt wiped the hand he'd been using to eat on his jeans so he could hold the phone in both, tapping out a message.

Did you know Kol was spying on Jeremy?

He stared at the unsent message for far too long before deciding to suck it up and press send.

The phone rang 15 seconds later. He knew because he counted.

He answered the phone with, "You really don't like texting, do you?"

"If I wish to convey something via text, I will compose a letter. Is Mr Gilbert unharmed?"

"Uh, I think so. Elena didn't mention him being hurt, and he's on his way back here, so I think he's fine. Why would Kol spy on him anyway?"

"I imagine Kol was acting under Niklaus' orders. If you're given reason to believe that this behaviour will continue, I can return. Although I'd warn you that doing so may reveal our conversations, which would go far more poorly for you than it would for me."

"Jer's staying with me until we figure things out. None of you have been invited in here, so."

"Ah, so it's not just me," said Elijah, something like humour colouring his tone. "Good to know. Please inform me if there is anything I can do to be of assistance. I'm perfectly happy to deal with them both, though these are symptoms of the greater disease that is this feud among you all."

"You say that like you've had no role in it." Matt winced. That was maybe not the best thing to say to a centuries old vampire.

"Excellent point, well made," was all Elijah said of it. "And how are you, Matthew?"

Matt hesitated. "I, uh, I'm fine, I guess. Been busy setting up for the dance. Your sister's helping, so it's gone pretty well. Very efficiently."

"Rebekah does know how to throw a party. Take care with her. She is somewhat volatile at the moment, especially with regards to Elena."

"Literal backstabbing will do that to someone."

Elijah's chuckle crackled down the line. "Yes, it will. Thank you for seeing that."

"Hey, I get it. I wouldn't be so quick to forgive Elena for that either." And the way Rebekah had looked, quipping about compelling herself date while that fear lurked behind her eyes … Matt knew that fear all too well. Being left out was never fun for whatever reason, be it blood feuds or a lack of money. "But she seems to enjoy setting up the dance, and I know a few of the students have been impressed, if a little fearful."

"A common reaction to our family."

Matt laughed outright. "Yeah, maybe. How are you, by the way?" It felt an odd thing to ask, but that was what people did, wasn't it? Ask one another how they were?

"I am well. Enjoying the slower pace of my new locale. Living out of a motel isn't ideal, but some vacancies have appeared in one of the finer establishments so I'm considering shifting myself a little."

He made no note of where he was, only vague comments. Matt supposed that made sense. Why should Elijah trust him? "Sounds nice to be somewhere where no one knows you."

"A fleeting pleasure, and one a person should be careful when partaking in. The longer you linger, the more they know you. To maintain a sense of mystery one must travel, and I do find that so dreary."

"Car rides not your kind of thing?"

"I do not only ride in cars, Matthew. I can drive them as well. But yes, the open road isn't nearly as freeing as the label suggests. The road itself is contained by borders." Quiet crackled between them once more. "Tell me more about this dance. Black tie?"

Matt snorted. "Figures that you'd want to talk about the suits. No, it's a decade dance. The '20s."

"Ah, a truly magical decade made marginally less so by my father. Though I did enjoy the fashion."

"I wouldn't know. I still have to rent my outfit." Hopefully somewhere nearby would have something left. He'd only gotten paid that night. "It's tomorrow night, so that's not ideal, but I'll make it work."

"I hope you do. The suits were fantastic. I knew a tailor in New York by the name of Farwell that made the finest suits. His great-niece tailors my suits to this day. I wouldn't trust anyone but his family, truth be told."

"I wasn't aware that good tailoring was a genetic quality."

"Oh, of course. Family businesses count on it."

"Really? Because the Mayhew's Bakery on Main Street got terrible after old Jeb died."

"The exception that makes the rule, I assure you."

"I'll take your word for it." Matt picked at his cold pizza. "I should probably get going. I have to get up early tomorrow morning if I'm going to get my jog in."

"Exercise is important," Elijah agreed. "It was nice speaking with you."

"Uh, yeah. Me, too." He cringed, because that really didn't make any sense. "I'll talk to you later, I guess."

"Goodnight, Matthew."

The phone clicked as Elijah hung up.


Matt came back from his jog the next morning to find a '20s style suit straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel hanging on his porch. He didn't question it.

He also didn't question how Elijah knew the moment he'd reached it (and also assured himself that it wasn't creepy, not really), because that was the same moment his phone vibrated in his pocket.

He pulled it out to find a text message from Elijah himself.

It's not a Farwell, but my assistant assures me that it is just as genuine. Enjoy your evening.

Matt replied with his thanks. He didn't expect a response, and wasn't disappointed when he didn't receive one. He was too busy being floored by both the suit and the first text.


Matt hefted the container of ice, pouring it into the punch. The room was warm and the AC wasn't working as well as it should have been, and warm punch was definitely on Caroline's no-no list for dances.

"Have I told you how amazing you are?" asked a familiar voice. Speak of the devil.

Grinning, Matt turned around to find Caroline standing there in a bright red flapper dress. "Yeah, I'm one of the good ones, I know," he said. She returned his smile, but he knew the look in her eyes. "Why the compliments? What else do you want?"

"I know that you and Elena have been getting closer lately …" she began, somewhat leadingly.

He tried not to roll his eyes at her coy smile. "And your point is?"

"One way or the other, she's pretty much spoken for," she explained, her words slow. Did she think he was dumb?

"Elena's my friend, Caroline," he said, tone measuredly cheerful. "I'm just looking out for her."

"And I'm just looking out for you, because sometimes the people that love her get caught in the crossfire."

Matt sighed. Was this conversation really happening? He'd more than moved on from Elena—hell, he'd dated Caroline, hadn't he?

Just as he was about to respond, he spotted Tyler over her shoulder. "What's he doing here?" Klaus was still out to get him, and it was monumentally stupid of him to just show up like this.

From the look in Caroline's eyes, she rather agreed, spinning away from him to give Tyler a piece of her mind.

Matt settled back against the drinks table. They didn't have servers, mostly trusting the kids to be able to pour their own punch, but it was best that someone kept an eye on it. He'd be willing to bet anything that a good dozen of the guys there had flasks of some illicit variety shoved into their coat pockets.

It was a good place to observe from, he discovered. He watched Caroline and Tyler argue until she gave in, letting him literally sweep her off her feet. He watched Bonnie and Jamie, her date (who Matt made a note to introduce himself to later), dancing with abandon. She looked more joyful than he'd seen her in a while.

And he watched Elena and Stefan arrive, the former coaxing the latter into dancing—

And he saw the moment her smile fell as the crowd parted to reveal Damon, clad in leather and sticking out like a sore, scowling thumb. They left together, Jeremy trailing behind.

Matt wondered if he should follow too, but what good would he be? He didn't even have a magic ring to bring him back to life. He was just plainly, painfully human. If they needed his help, they'd have asked for it. And they never asked for it.

Besides, they were probably just dealing with their love triangle drama, and Matt had no intention of getting involved in that.

Minutes later, Jeremy stormed back into the gym, Elena following closely behind. Matt considered following them, too, if only to lend emotional support to Jeremy. He'd been through a lot, and Matt had been trying to get him to open up while they stayed together, but to no avail.

Then Jeremy came sprinting back in, and Matt knew something was wrong. Jer grabbed the Salvatores and bolted out, and Matt pushed himself off from the wall and followed after them.

The air was cooler outside, hitting Matt's face like a bucket of ice water. Thankfully, the suit was heavier than it looked and protected him from the elements well enough. He wondered, briefly, if Elijah had had the weather in mind when he made the request.

He forgot all about it when he saw what was happening. A circle of salt outside the school, and the Salvatores stopped right at the edge of it while Jeremy crossed over it with no hassle.

He may have been only human, but he paid attention when Bonnie talked. He knew that salt was a powerful binding agent.

"Where's the witch?" Damon asked him as he approached.

"I think she went off with her date," said Matt. "Do you think she can undo it?"

"I'm not asking for her just so she can evaluate its decorative qualities," Damon snarked as he passed Matt, disappearing into the school.


With Bonnie trying to undo the spell, Matt stood watch at the boundary as humans trickled out one by one. Their hypothesis could only be considered confirmed: Every supernatural was trapped inside, but humans were free to pass as they pleased.

Giving up on what was obviously a fruitless endeavour, Matt jogged back inside, finding them all congregated in the history room while Bonnie chanted.

"People are walking right out of the dance, past the barrier," he said, eyeing Klaus as he passed him.

"If Matt and I can leave, we can stop Esther ourselves," said Jeremy. "We gotta find out where she is."

Stefan sighed. "Suicide, Jeremy."

Klaus blurred as he dove for Jamie, lifting him up by the throat. "Suicide would be disappointing me." He looked at Bonnie. "Now work your magic, witch, or I'll start killing people you fancy."

Matt fisted his hands by his sides, desperate to jump in but knowing it would be futile.

"Let him go!" cried Bonnie.

"Not until you get us out of here."

"Ah, don't be stupid," said Stefan, sauntering over to them. "Bonnie doesn't give a damn about us. The only reason she's helping right now is to save Caroline and Tyler. You start killing the people she cares about, she'll tell us all to go to hell."

Klaus glowered at him, dropping Jamie to the floor.

"I can't do it," said Bonnie. "It's not working."

"Maybe our best bet is to let Jer and I go," said Matt. "Find out where Elena is, and we'll take care of it."

"So we're trusting the busboy now, are we?" asked Damon.

Matt glared at him. "Do you have any better ideas? Thought not."

"I need Gilbert blood to track Elena with," said Bonnie. "And I'm also gonna need some space."


Jeremy had packed Matt's trunk full of Ric's vampire hunting paraphernalia before they left. Matt had at first balked at the idea of carrying vervain grenades in his only vehicle, but it was a good call.

Jeremy's phone pinged in his pocket. Pulling it out, he announced, "Bonnie says they're at the old cemetery."

Matt grabbed a rifle, tossing it at Jeremy. "I'll drive."


They parked down the road from the old cemetery. Jeremy foisted the rifle on Matt, who barely had any practice with the thing, and found a crossbow for himself.

Matt raised a skeptical brow at the sight of Jeremy running his hands over the crossbow almost reverently.

"What?" said Jeremy. "Bows and cross bows are where it's at. I'm a guy that knows what he likes. "

"And what you like is weird." Matt tucked a few syringes of vervain (capped, of course) into his belt and slammed the trunk shut. The moon was bright enough to see by, so he didn't bother pulling out his phone to use as a torch. "You're crossbowsexual. Bowsexual for short."

"Nope, that's you."

"It's bisexual, dumbass." Matt resisted the urge to elbow Jeremy as they made their way off the road and into the woods. It probably wasn't a good idea to start play-fighting while holding lethal weapons.

They made quick work of the trek to the cemetery. Apparently witches' main weakness was needing to use a million fucking candles in the dark, because an orange glow led them right to Esther's hideout.

They stalked closer, Matt testing out the sight on his rifle. He'd shot before while hunting with Jeremy's dad, and he'd had plenty of practice with supernatural shootings. He just didn't know if he'd ever tried to shoot a witch before.

Years later, they'd still be arguing about who stepped on the stick. On his deathbed Matt would swear it was Jeremy's clumsy ass.

Whoever it was, the result was the same. Esther came strolling out of the old Salvatore crypt, walking slowly as if she had all the time in the world.

Jeremy stepped toward her first, crossbow raised. Matt clicked off the safety, drawing her attention to him as well. "Don't move," he said, looking down the sight and trying to swallow down the bile rising in the back of his throat. This was Elijah's mother. Rebekah's mother. They'd loved her, once.

Whatever. She was trying to kill her own kids.

"Where's Elena?" demanded Jeremy.

"Jeremy?" called Elena, running out of the crypt.

"Let her go," Jeremy insisted, readjusting his grip.

Esther looked him up and down, eyes not betraying a hint of anxiety. "How foolish of you to risk your lives in defense of those who will kill you." She looked back at Matt, staring him down with a knowing smirk. "But if that is your choice …" She raised her hands towards them.

In his hands, Matt's gun began to shake. At first he thought it was him, his nerves, but then it turned of its own volition, pointing at Jeremy. And Jeremy's crossbow was pointed at him.

"Matt," said Jeremy, panicked. "Matt, drop the gun."

"I can't! I'm not controlling it."

"Esther, stop it!" yelled Elena.

And she did, with a heavy gasp. Matt lowered the rifle, his arms still twitching from the spell.

Esther slid to the ground with a thud. Over her body stood Ric, bloody stake in hand. Not taking any chances, Matt aimed the rifle at the body, advancing toward her.

He knew she was dead even before he checked her pulse. Somehow, he just wanted to be sure.


What followed was a mess of "Are you all right?"s and "God, that was so close"s. Matt tried to offer his help, but there didn't seem to be much he could do.

Accepting that he'd outgrown his usefulness for the time being, Matt lingered outside, trying not to eavesdrop on the conversation happening inside the crypt.

Alaric wasn't going to complete the transition. Matt didn't have to spy on them to know.

After Jeremy and Ric started exchanging the phrase "man of the house", Matt decided it was time to make himself scarce. He was just on his way back to the car when he came across Esther's body again. Stabbed in the back as she'd been, her wound wasn't even visible, and it was too dark to see her blood on the ground. She simply lay there, blank eyes staring up at the sky.

She had the same eyes as Elijah.

Matt bent down, closing her eyelids. He didn't know what he'd want to happen if his mom had died after trying to kill him, but he knew he wouldn't have wanted her body left out for the crows. But what to do with her? He couldn't cart a dead body around town, and it wasn't a good idea to have her end up in the coroner's hands. He didn't even know if the new coroner was up to speed with the protocol for supernatural deaths: When in doubt, animal attack.

Scooping up her body, Matt carried it just out of sight, covering it with some fallen branches. He found a stick shaped like an 'S' and stuck it in the ground so it'd be easier to find later, then jogged back to the crypt.


Jeremy was silent in the truck on the way back, crossbow across his lap and fingers absently playing with his suspenders.

"Wanna go straight home?" Matt asked.

Jeremy shook his head. "I don't know if I can be there just yet."

Nodding in understanding, Matt made a left onto the main street, then ducked down a side road to park behind the Grill. "Let's go make a toast," he said, grabbing the keys out of the glove box. "Crossbow stays in the car."

Neither of them laughed.


Matt called Elijah to tell him about Esther's death. He figured the guy deserved that at least. He described the location of Esther's body, Elijah said he'd inform Klaus (while leaving Matt's name out of it), and the Original then bid farewell.

Matt let him go, pretending he didn't hear the thickness in Elijah's voice. He could afford him that dignity at least.


Three days later, everything had changed. Again.

Matt drove home with the taste of bad tequila in the back of his throat, sliding across his tongue with every exhalation of breath. He'd only had the one shot, just to celebrate with everyone, and had made his excuses soon after dropping the paint cans at Elena's so she and Jeremy could re-do Jenna's old room.

It was a time for new beginnings, apparently. Too bad all Matt could think of was the new problem.

Impatient, Matt pulled over at the side of the road and grabbed his cell phone from where he'd thrown it to on the passenger seat. He had Elijah on speed dial by that point, still filed under 'E'.

"Matthew," Elijah greeted after two rings. "I hope this is a social call."

"Not really." Matt cursed silently; he couldn't believe he was doing this. "You need to come back to town."

"What's wrong?"

"Ric is a superhuman vampire hunter turned Original by your mother, and he's … he's gonna hunt you all down and kill you. The others already desiccated Klaus and they're keeping his body safe because he's their sire, but once Rebekah finds out what they did—"

"She'll kill you all," Elijah finished. "They have to release his body to me. It's the only thing that will satisfy her."

"So you'll come back?"

"I'm needed, apparently."

"Please, just, swear that you won't hurt anyone. I'm trusting you not to make things worse."

"I will try, Matthew," said Elijah, voice strained. "But you must understand that my family is my top priority."

"My best friend is sired to Klaus' line. Right now, his safety is my top priority too."

"Good. I'll see if we can't find a way through this for us all."

Matt let out the breath he'd been holding for what felt like all day. "I don't even know what to do about this all anymore. I want to keep Elena safe, but she's stuck in the middle of all of this and I can't see a way to fix it."

"As long as Elena is in the presence of vampires she will be in danger. The only way to protect her would be for her to leave town, but that is unlikely to happen. If there's a way to keep her out of the coming confrontation between my family and Alaric Saltzman, I recommend you take it for both her and yourself. Leave town."

"She won't go for that."

"Convince her. I don't want to see Elena injured either, believe it or not—"

"I do believe you, Elijah. It's dumb, but I do. I just … I don't know how to cope with all of this anymore." He hoped Elijah couldn't hear the tears in his voice. (Part of him hoped that he would.)

"Matthew, you are what, seventeen years old?"

"Eighteen."

"A negligible difference; you are a child. You have no role in this fight, and the same goes for the rest of your friends. The Salvatores had no business installing themselves in your lives, and there is no shame in reeling from the mess your life has become." The sound of shuffling, something clicking into place. A cupboard door slamming shut. "I have to take my leave of you for the moment, Matthew, but I'll be in Mystic Falls by tomorrow if I can. Call me if you need anything further."

"You're already doing enough just by getting in the middle of all of this."

"I was born in the middle of all of this. You have a chance to be free of it. Never forget that. Goodbye, Matthew."

"Goodbye, Elijah."


Elijah farewelled Tam at the bar just before closing, his things already packed in his car. She gave him her thanks, asked him to call if he was in town again, but otherwise left it be.

It had been nice, having a friend. Elijah would miss it.


Things had quickly reached the point where Matt woke early every morning, expecting a phone call telling him something was wrong. He was usually right.

He got the call from Jeremy at 6am telling him that Elena was in the hospital. Something about being stable, awake and talking. She'd hit her head in the kerfuffle the day before, but she was recovering well and could Matt please set up the house for her when she got back?

Biting back the anger at Elena getting hurt in a vampire showdown again, Matt did as requested. He let himself into the Gilbert house by the key under the ceramic duck out front and did a lap of the house to see what needed doing.

He sponged the blood off the floor in Jenna's room, then scrubbed the half-dried paint from the floorboards. He opened every window upstairs and set up pedestal fans to try and air out the paint smell that had gathered thickly in the air.

His head was dizzy from the fumes by the time they arrived. Stefan set Elena on the sofa, Jeremy covered her in a blanket, and together the three men stared at her like she was about to collapse again.

Matt tried to convince her to leave; he really did. Stefan made snarky comments about free will and letting Elena make her own choices, and Matt was left pissed and knowing full well that when Stefan said "free will" he did so aware of the fact that Elena was so blinded by love for him that she'd leap into lakes of broken glass. And that was saying nothing of whatever was going on between her and Damon.

Elijah arriving was a relief like no other. Sure, everyone else tensed up and got ready to fight, but Matt could hardly disguise his relief.

The terms Elijah set were fairly simple, and Matt shared none of the others' hesitation in accepting them. He kept quiet, though, knowing his place in this discussion.

They agreed. Of course they did; it was Elijah doing the bargaining. When Elijah left, it was without a glance at Matt, and he thanked god for that. There was no way he could deal with the others knowing about his and Elijah's alliance of sorts.

That would only end one way.


Matt knew there was no excuse for it. He knew it was bad, and he should feel bad, but he didn't have time to feel much of anything as he loaded Elena into the car.

He'd spiked her tea.

Ignoring the part of him that argued against what he'd done, Matt buckled her in and made sure she was settled before he closed the door as quietly as he could without waking her.

"It's the right thing."

He didn't jump when Elijah's voice drifted over to him. "If I need a vampire to reassure me that I've done the right thing, I probably haven't."

"I mean it," said Elijah. "The Salvatores would never let her leave, and if you tried to convince her, she'd tell them."

Matt turned to face him. "I don't need you to lecture me. I know we're all way past the good choices. Just … don't. Please."

Elijah seemed taken aback. "I'm sorry, Matthew. I was under the impression that you appreciated my counsel."

"Not right now."

"Noted," Elijah said, jaw working. "Drive safely." He whipped away before Matt could reply.


It was dark by the time Elena came to. She was understandably incensed, but somehow not surprised once she pushed past the confusion. He guessed that spoke to how she was treated by the vampires in her life.

Matt ignored the pang that came with comparing himself to them.

"I'm getting you out of town, Elena," he said finally, hoping his tone left no room for argument. "It's the only way to keep you safe."

"I'm the doppelganger, Matt. There's no getting me away from this. It'll just follow me."

"Elijah will take his siblings and leave. He'll keep Klaus under Bonnie's desiccation spell until you die, and he'll make sure the location of any children you have stays hidden so Klaus can't hound them for blood." Just like he promised me he would. "You'll be safe, Elena. It'll be over. You just have to get through tonight, just until Klaus is returned to Elijah and we deal with the whole Alaric situation."

Elena shook her head, staring out the window. She sniffed lightly, obviously hiding her tears.

"Elena," said Matt, hand brushing her arm. "It's what your mom would want you to do. We're kids. This isn't our fight, and it's not fair that we got caught up in the middle of it. Let it go."

"I can't just—I can't just let it go, Matt. I care about them."

The Salvatores. "I know you do. But you need to care about yourself, Elena. They're dead. They've lived longer than any human will. You're still here, and you're still alive, and you have the capacity to live this incredible, full life if you just let yourself—"

"A life with you, you mean?"

Well, that hurt. "Elena, I'm over you. I love you as a friend, as Jeremy's sister, but that's done. You and I, we didn't work. I'm not some puppy trailing after you. I'm someone that loves you like family and wants you to have everything you deserve, everything that's going to be taken away from you if you stay in that town. Please, Elena," he said, tone pleading. "I'll turn around if you say so, but please, just … consider it. Consider that maybe your life is worth at least as much as theirs."

She was just about to respond when he got the call from Jeremy.

Alaric had killed Klaus.

"We have to go back," said Elena, face pale. "Listen to me, Matt. If Klaus is the one that turned their bloodline then that means they're all gonna die."

He grit his teeth together, hands tight on the steering wheel. He'd been full of words only a minute ago, but now he had no idea how to tell her.

"We have to go back, Matt!"

"Elena," he began. "Damon's not with them. He's a hundred miles out of town. I can keep driving to him … or I can turn around and go back to Stefan."

He'd told her she had to choose. She knew she had to choose. Neither of them had thought the choice would come so soon.


Elijah stood in the woods, staring into the space where they'd all stood. Caroline and Stefan and the Gilbert boy. All gone to lick their wounds and say their goodbyes.

He hadn't had the chance to do either. His brother was gone.

He felt her arrive more than heard it, whirling around to find Rebekah standing before him.

"Elijah?" she said, voice as small and innocent as it had been when she was a child.

He had missed her terribly.

"There was nothing I could do to stop it," she confessed, tears running down her face.

He pulled her to him, no words left.

But it didn't make any sense. Why were the others still alive? Niklaus had been certain he'd sired their line, and Elijah could think of no way any other of them had done so …

Perhaps Matthew had the answer.

"Go and pack what you can," he told Rebekah, pressing a kiss to her tear-stained cheek. "I'll meet you at the mansion once I've finished up some things. Alaric is still on the loose, and we have to move."

She nodded, face drawn and wan. "Be careful." She tugged him in for another hug, then sped away.

Dialling with shaking hands, Elijah put the phone to his ear.


Matt's phone rang from the console between them. A glance at it told him it was Elijah.

"E?" asked Elena.

"It's Elijah; we exchanged numbers when we made the deal. You can answer it."

She did so, seemingly satisfied with his explanation. "What do you want, Elijah?"

"Elena," Matt could hear Elijah's voice clearly. Elena must've put him on speakerphone. "Where are you?"

"Just outside of town. Why?"

"The Salvatore brothers are still alive, yet Rebekah is certain that she saw Niklaus dead." Matt didn't think he was imagining the hitch in Elijah's voice as he said the words. "Do you know anything about it?"

"No," said Elena, tone turning hopeful. "I thought Klaus sired their line—"

"As did I." A shuddering breath. "And you know nothing about it?"

"No. I'm sorry."

"My apologies for wasting your time." Click.

Elena handed Matt's phone back, pulling her own out. "I have to call Stefan," she said, trying to turn it on. "I think it's dead."

"Here, use mine," said Matt, handing his back to her. He watched her face carefully, looking for any sign of what she was feeling. Hope, but a confused sort, and Matt knew how she felt. If the brothers were still alive, maybe it was all a lie, maybe Ty was fine too—

Elena's eyes widened as she looked up at the road. "Matt, look out!" she screamed.

He turned back to see a figure in the middle of the road, unmoving. He hit the brakes, swerving to miss them—

And dove off the bridge, right into the black water.


Matt woke on the riverbank, alone and choking.

Water, warm and sickly, streamed from his nose and mouth. He coughed the last of it up, whole body convulsing. He sat up when it was over, head spinning. A touch of his fingers to the source of the ache in his temple revealed a gash that covered his fingers in blood.

What the hell was going on?

Looking up, he could make out the outline of Wickery Bridge, lit by the few streetlights they'd installed during the rebuild. Part of the fence along the edge was busted—

He remembered now. They'd ploughed off the side, into the water.

Elena.

Struggling to his feet, Matt had just cleared his throat enough to call out for her when Stefan emerged from the river, water streaming off him and Elena in his arms.

She was still. Pale.

"Is she—" Matt choked again, throat sore.

Stefan didn't answer, just dropped her onto the grass and began pumping her chest with his hands.


First those who lived nearby came, having heard the tires squealing on the road. They called the ambulance that took Elena away, Stefan still pumping her chest in a desperate attempt to find her heartbeat.

"You okay, son?" asked an older paramedic, steering Matt towards the back of their ambulance. "Let's take a look at that head lac, shall we?"

Matt didn't speak beyond answering their usual questions. What year is it. Who is the president. On a scale of 1-1o, how is the pain?

As they pulled him back into the ambulance, sitting him down and strapping him in, Matt looked out across the river.

He could've sworn he saw Elijah on the other side.


Elena was coming back, as it turned out. Meredith Fell had given her vampire blood without telling anyone. Matt had to wait until he was discharged to find out from Stefan, who was guarding the morgue like it was his job.

"Why did you save me?" asked Matt, voice still rough. His head pounded where they'd stitched it up, and he definitely didn't have the money to fill the prescription for pain meds he needed.

"It was her choice," said Stefan, as though he was talking about the sun rising in the east or the colour of the sky. "She chose you."

They both knew it was the wrong choice.


Meredith dropped Matt home. His car was wrecked and Jeremy wasn't leaving the hospital until Elena woke up, so his options were limited.

She barely spoke, just watched him go and left him with a caution to avoid deep water while his head was still spinning.

Like he was ever going near more than a teaspoon of water again.

He watched her drive off, limbs feeling like he was moving through water even still, all slow and clumsy. He'd made his way up half of the front steps before he heard the whoosh behind him. He knew who it was.

"Matthew."

He didn't stop, just trudged up the stairs and reached the door, realising that his key was at the bottom of the river, along with the spare he kept in the truck.

And the actual truck.

Pounding his fist on the door, Matt groaned. "I don't s'pose you got high and mighty and made yourself a key?"

"I'm afraid not," said Elijah, barely making a sound as he climbed the stairs and joined Matt. "But I can still open the door, if you want."

Matt moved away wordlessly, watching Elijah shatter the lock and leave the door swinging. Matt all but fell inside, legs numb.

"I am truly sorry," said Elijah, resting a forearm on the doorway. "Rebekah … you must know that I didn't know what she was going to do. That she would go after Elena, and you in the process. Many things have happened tonight that I will regret for some time to come, but what happened to you … it was unnecessary, and I am sorry."

Elijah waited only a moment, the silence stretching between them like rubber band that could snap any moment. But who would it hit?

"I'll take no more of your time," Elijah said, making to turn away.

"You can come in."

Elijah froze, glancing back at Matt. He didn't know what he looked like, but he couldn't imagine it was a pretty sight. "You aren't obligated to invite me into your home, Matthew. Especially not after tonight."

"Not obligation," Matt replied. "Choice. You can come in."

Matt would never know—could never know—what went through Elijah's head then. Whatever it was, it ended in him stepping over the threshold, hands fisted by his side. "Thank you for your trust."

"What have I got to lose?" Matt shook his head at the pitying look Elijah sent his way. "I'm gonna go change. Make yourself comfortable.


Elijah did as instructed, settling on the lumpy sofa after moving the blankets aside. It appeared that Jeremy Gilbert was staying here, or had been before today. Elijah guessed he'd want to be at his sister's side during her transition.

Elena Gilbert, a vampire in transition. The Salvatores alive. According to Miss Forbes's tears (that Elijah had spotted while spying on them at the hospital), Tyler Lockwood had passed. So why did Elijah feel like he didn't have the whole story about Niklaus's loss?

Perhaps it was the denial. Or, worse—hope.

Matt reappeared in fresh clothes, carrying a bottle in one hand. "Found some of my mom's old Malibu rum," he said by way of explanation. "I'd offer you bourbon, but I think this is the only booze in the whole house."

"I'm more of a whiskey man," said Elijah. "But rum will do nicely in whatever form."

Matt found two glasses for them, half-filling them with the rum. "I'd mix it with something, but I don't have anything," he said, almost sheepish.

"I can take it," Elijah promised, accepting the glass from him. He raised it in a mock-toast, watching Matt mirror his movements. "To making our own choices."

"Whatever the fuck that means," Matt finished.

They clinked glasses and downed their drinks, then sat in silence with nothing but the memory of the wretched day.

Chapter Text

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Might as well

 

 

Elijah never slept unless he wanted to.

It was a part of being centuries old, he supposed. He could stay awake for days on end without consequences, only sleeping when he wished to. He felt the need for sleep, of course, but there was little use in succumbing unless he was comfortable.

Matthew's home was many things, but comfortable wasn't one of them.

Once he'd dozed off, just after a dose of vampire blood to clear up his head injury, Elijah was left with the remained of the rum and the stretch of the early morning hours ahead of him. He downed another mug of the stuff, just enough to start feeling its effects, and bid his goodbyes in the form of a note.

He was already texting his assistant as he left.


Matt woke with a headache pounding like a siren in his head, washing over him with a nausea unlike anything he'd ever felt. He sat up, head swimming and limbs flying as he knocked the coffee table, something rattling and sloshing on top of it.

Ah. A mug full of tap water and a bottle of aspirin.

Matt scooped up the aspirin, breaking the seal on the bottle (where had Elijah gotten a new one during the night?) and downing two with the water. He located the accompanying note, the writing a little smudged from the spilt water.

Matthew,

I have family matters to attend to today, as I'm sure you understand. If you become concerned about the vampire blood in your system I am a phone call away.

You will also find some rudimentary breakfast supplies on your doorstep, courtesy of my assistant. There are some perishables among them, but I estimated your waking time to be 8am and hope that a 7.30 delivery will suffice for them to be brought inside without spoiling.

Regards,

Elijah

Matt dropped the letter back onto the table and reached for his phone, finding the battery dead. He plugged it in to charge, hands shaking clumsily as he tried to drive the plug home, then went out to find the groceries.

Milk, orange juice, eggs, bacon, and bread.

Sometimes being kind-of-friends with an Original was a bad idea. Other times it was the best idea he'd ever had.


Matt dined on bacon and eggs and the freshest juice he'd ever tasted outside of the Gilbert household. It may have been "rudimentary", in Elijah's words, but to a hungover teenager it felt like the breakfast of champions.

His phone was finally charged enough to function by the time he was done, and, lo and behold, he had about 20 text messages from Caroline.

Oh, yeah. Ty.

Overcome with shame at having almost forgotten, Matt flicked through the texts as quickly as possible.

(11:54pm) Matt I need to talk to u

(12:05am) MATT

(12:32am) Matt where r u? I went to hospital, ur not there

(12:45am) Matt I'm starting to get worried? Call me pls

(1:12am) Matt Donovan I swear to god if you don't tell me where you are right now I'll do something we both regret

The later the timestamp on each message progressed the more Matt could hear the desperation in Caroline's voice in his head. He tapped out a quick response: Care, I'm home, I'm fine, I can come and meet you? Where are you?

Her response came moments later: I'm at the hospital. Thought you might have been moved to a different room.

It's 9am. You've been there for hours?

Elena woke up. Salvatores took her home and I couldn't find you after.

Wanna meet somewhere?

Yes, please. Ppl are looking for me though, can't really drive through town

I'll meet you back at the hospital. It was the last place Matt wanted to go, but if Caroline needed him there, it was where he would be.

He just needed to find the cash to order a cab first, because his car was at the bottom of the river.

He found $200 in his wallet that he didn't remember putting there. Matt most certainly did not live the kind of lifestyle where you could put $200 anywhere and then forget about it, so there was only one place it could've come from.

Whatever. If Elijah needed help feeling better about what Rebekah did, Matt wasn't going to stop him.


After a quick meeting with a distraught Caroline, Matt made his way to the Gilberts'. He didn't know if he'd be welcome—he didn't feel like he should be—but he had to see if Elena was all right. He couldn't help Care, but if he could do anything to make the transition easier on Elena, he would.

He approached the house tentatively, almost as though the residence itself was a wild animal in need of taming. Matt couldn't remember being this nervous walking up to the front door since his first date with Elena.

The nerves right now were different, obviously.

Knocking on the door, Matt let himself in, peeking inside with no small amount of trepidation and finding Damon, Meredith, and Sheriff Forbes congregated in the living room.

One moment he was asking about Elena. The next he was up against the wall, Damon's hands around his neck.

It was like drowning all over again.

Damon said something, something Matt couldn't hear over the rushing of blood in his ears. He clawed at the hands around his throat, trying desperately to free himself, knowing he probably didn't even deserve that—

And then he was released.

Matt barely managed to stay on his feet, gulping air down like water, ironically.

"That's enough," said Liz, tone final. "It's not his fault, Damon, not any more than it is yours. Now shut up and help us find Pastor Young."

"Pastor Young?" asked Matt, voice weak.

Liz continued addressing Damon "With your vervain and Alaric's weapons, they could be anywhere."

"Come on guys, think," said Damon, apparently already bouncing back from murderous rage. "It takes a lot to hold a vampire. Reinforced steel, iron doors …"

"The pastor has a cattle ranch," Matt said. "Those pens could easily be modified." He knew; he'd locked April Young in one of them once, back when they were kids.

"It's remote, it's secluded …" said Meredith, starting to nod.

To his credit, Matt did try not to flinch when Damon turned back to face him. "Well, guess what? Looks like you get a chance to prove how sorry you really are. Let's go."

Not having much of a choice in the matter, Matt let himself be dragged on.


The car trip was awkward, to say the least. Matt had developed an all new loathing for cars after last night's trip off the Wickery Bridge and he already hated Damon, so it wasn't a fun combination for him.

As they pulled up at the ranch, Matt craned his neck to see into the back seat. Yep, no weapons.

Deciding against silence, Matt inquired about it as they got out of the car.

"Nah, we don't need weapons," Damon assured him. "Just bait."

And then there were fangs in his neck.

Matt didn't hear much after that. Pastor Young opened the door, and he and Damon exchanged words. Matt laid on the ground the whole time, hand over his neck as he groaned in pain.

And then Damon got shot. It sucked because of what they were there to do, but god it was a good sound.

They lay out on the ground for a while, Matt trying to crawl towards the house. Two more guys came out to get Damon but he attacked them, snapping one neck and stabbing the other guy with his own rifle. Brutal, but effective.

Matt tried to keep crawling toward the house only to find himself kicked in the ribs.

Sprawled out on his back, Matt groaned in pain. "Go ahead and kill me," he told Damon, breathless. "You can't possibly hate me more than I hate myself."

Damon grinned. "Oh, yes I can." His foot came down on Matt's throat, cutting off his airway and it was like he was drowning—

And then it stopped, and Elena was screaming, "Leave him alone!" Her eyes were glowing red and fangs gleamed in her mouth.

She'd done it. She'd become a vampire.


Matt couldn't handle the reunion for long, hauling himself to his feet and stumbling over to the barn. They were probably still trapped there, he thought, he had to get them out—

He fell to the floor upon entry, finding the cells all open and only Stefan in there. He rushed over to Matt, biting open his wrist and shoving it into his mouth without so much as asking first.

As soon as he had the strength, Matt shoved him away. He didn't want to be saved. Not anymore.


Elijah had opted not to stay at the mansion the next day. He booked himself a room at a hotel in town instead, spending the day there collecting his thoughts. Rebekah hadn't returned any of his calls and he hadn't heard from Matthew, either, so he was left at rather a loose end.

Until his phone finally buzzed in his pocket at around 9pm, yielding Rebekah's hysterical voice.

"Calm down," said Elijah, pacing the length of his hotel room. "What happened?"

"The bastard is alive, Elijah. He's alive and he didn't even tell us."

"But how?"

"He made a pact with the Bennet witch. She put him into Tyler Lockwood's body, and now he's back in his own. Cheated death again and didn't even see fit to let us in on his plan."

Elijah ignored the anger that surged through him at this revelation, that his brother had let him grieve so painfully for his loss when it could so easily have been avoided. "I'll go and see him to explain the issue at hand—"

"And then he left me to die, Elijah. He left me with some mad vampire hunter while he rescued Caroline, leaving me to rot. He left me!"

"Perhaps he didn't see that you were there, Rebekah."

"He saw me, 'Lijah. He looked right at me. I escaped and confronted him about it and he told me he never wanted to see me again, that I'm nothing to him."

Elijah closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'll speak with him, Rebekah. You know he didn't mean that."

"I don't know anything anymore." She sniffed. "Elijah, I spilled all of Elena's blood. She's a vampire now and he can't get any more. He'll never forgive me for that."

"We're family, Rebekah. Always and forever. He will forgive you for anything, believe me. Just have some faith."

"I'll try." He heard her take a deep breath on the other end, blowing it out until it was loud enough to make the line crackle. "I'll leave you boys to your confrontation, then. He's at the house, but don't expect me to be."

"I won't. Take care of yourself, sister."

"You too." She hung up without another word, never one to waste them.


The house reeked of blood when Elijah arrived. Elena's blood, to be more specific.

Had Rebekah not forewarned him, Elijah might have been concerned. As it was he found the pools of drying blood and ruined living room to be precisely as he expected, as was his brother's haggard appearance.

"Rebekah called you," he said, frighteningly calm as he stood amidst the bloody wreckage.

"She did."

"She always was a snitch."

"We believed you were dead, Niklaus," said Elijah, emotion clouding his voice and straining his vocal chords until they were almost painful. "We thought you were gone forever at the hands of that hunter. And you let us believe it, didn't prepare us for what was to come, for what?"

"I needed your grief to be genuine."

Elijah gave no warning before he attacked, slamming his brother into the wall hard enough to send chips of plaster flying. "Was that genuine enough for you?" he asked, voice raw. "Would you like more?"

Klaus tossed him back like he weighed nothing. "Don't be ridiculous. I didn't have time to tell you anyway."

"You could have found it! You could have tried for once to consider anyone but yourself—"

"Why would I do that?" Klaus demanded, arms spread wide like they always were when he was grandstanding. "I've seen what living like that does to you, running around with your nose in everyone's business—"

"Oh, please, like you know the half of what I do!"

"You had Mother's body taken away before I even knew she was dead, and you weren't even in town!"

That had been Matthew, not Elijah, but he couldn't tell Klaus that. "Why wouldn't I keep control of things? It's not like you can manage without me!"

Klaus laughed. "You really think that's true, don't you?"

"I guess we'll find out," Elijah replied. "Because I'm done being your lackey. You're on your own, Niklaus."

And he left.


Stefan dropped him home in one of the cars he'd hotwired at the farm. Matt ignored him for most of the way.

"Thanks," he bit out before getting out of the car, because he wasn't born in a barn. He just almost died in one half an hour ago.

Hauling himself up the front steps, Matt found another note resting on the welcome mat.

Matthew,

Having discovered that my brother survived Alaric's attack and is currently free and in possession of his own body, something which he did not see fit to inform me of prior to making the deal to protect himself, I have decided to go on a sabbatical. As always, I will be accessible via mobile phone should you need anything.

Thank you for the rum and company,

Elijah

Scrunching it up in his fist, Matt ignored the angry, violent thing welling up in his chest and went inside the empty house.


The news was all over town the next morning.

Pastor Young and the Council had been killed in an explosion at his house.

At first Matt wondered if Caroline and Tyler were involved somehow. Not that they would do that, but the Council was threatening them and forcing them to leave town, and it was convenient for them all to be gone now. Maybe Damon had done it in the name of helping Elena keep her friends around, maybe it was his way of apologising for almost killing Matt, to just kill more people—

"It wasn't Damon," said Caroline, pulling in at the high school. "And it definitely wasn't for us."

"Then who was it?"

"We don't know, but maybe we'll figure it out. Right now, our main focus is the memorial. Do you need a ride later?"

"No, Jer's taking me over to the church once we load the supplies from the student council."

"Okay!" said Caroline. "Have fun, and I'll see you there." She kissed his cheek before he got out.


Matt was proud of the set-up for the memorial service. He'd worked hard, they all had, and it was nice to see it play out well.

That is, until Elena started losing control at the podium.

Stefan helped her down and back into the row beside Matt, trying to mask her panic as grief.

Apparently, someone was bleeding.

"Get her out of here," Matt told Stefan.

Stefan shook his head. "I can't. There's somebody watching us."

Well, shit.

The argument continued, Damon seconds away from leaping up onto the balcony and killing whoever was doing this when Matt finally suggested, "Elena, feed from me." There was no other way.

She seemed about to protest, but Stefan pushed her towards Matt. She tucked her head into his shoulder as though crying, her fangs sliding into his neck.

Right where Damon had bitten him not two days ago.

Fighting back panic of his own, Matt kept a solemn facial expression and wrapped an arm around Elena's shoulders as though he was comforting her.

When she finally pulled away, she thanked him and wiped her mouth surreptitiously. Matt ignored the feeling of blood sliding down along his collarbone and flipped his collar up to hide the wound.

He didn't know what the chances were of them all surviving this, but he didn't think they were good.


Matt could admit when he was wrong, especially when he was glad to be wrong. Everyone lived, even April, who had been stabbed by some hunter in an attempt to draw them out. She'd been healed and compelled and Elena hadn't killed anyone, though half the town thought Tyler was dead after he got shot ten times in front of them all.

They survived the memorial for long enough to have one of their own. Matt could only be grateful that Damon bailed, thinking it was lame, because that was the only way he could really relax.

They lit their lanterns, naming those they remembered, and released them into the sky. As Matt watched his lantern float away, he wondered how different from Vicki he really was. Resting a hand on the bandage over his neck he watched her go, lighting up the sky all the way.


Elena drove Matt home after the memorial, silent all the while.

When they pulled up, she turned to face him. "I wanted to thank you and apologise and … say a hundred other things, and I don't know which to go for first."

"Don't worry about it—"

"No, Matt, you saved my life in there. You saved me, and I'm so grateful. If you hadn't let me feed then I don't know what would've happened, so thank you for that."

He wanted to say it was no big deal, but it was. Nodding carefully, he said, "Any time. And you might need more, you know. If you can only drink fresh blood for whatever reason, then you'll need a donor."

"I can't ask you to do that."

"You didn't." I owe you. "I'm offering. Whatever you need, I can do it. And it's better than hunting strangers, right? I'm consenting. I'm okay with it. How often do you need to feed?"

"Two or three times a day. Matt, are you—"

"Yes, I'm sure." Matt reached over to squeeze her shoulder. "You saved me. Let me do this for you."

Nodding, Elena said, "Okay."


Matt popped open a beer and thumbed through the contacts list on his phone, pretending to himself that he was perusing options and didn't already know exactly who he wanted to talk to.

He kicked his feet up on the table as he waited for the phone to dial.

"Good evening, Matthew."

"Hey, Elijah. How are you?"

"Maddeningly unoccupied now that I exist independently from my brother's whims. And yourself?"

"I'm okay."

"What happened?"

"Uh, Elena fed on me."

A sharp intake of breath on the other end. "I can be there in a few hours—"

"No, it wasn't like that. I gave her permission. It was a tense situation."

"What happened?"

"There's a vampire hunter in town. Apparently he wants to draw out his prey, so he waited for the memorial service and stabbed a friend of mine so the vampires would reveal themselves at the scent of blood. Everyone survived, but Elena needed to feed on me so she wouldn't reveal herself."

"Who's idea was this? If Damon Salvatore intends to use you as some sort of blood bag—"

"It was my idea. I knew it was a possibility, which is why I didn't take vervain. I wanted to be ready if she needed anything."

"Matthew, you aren't beholden to her. She chose to request that you be saved in the river because she was the one conscious; had you also been awake, I'm sure you would have told Stefan to take her. Circumstances beyond your control are not something you have to compensate for, especially not by putting yourself in danger."

"I'm not trying to compensate. I just want to help her."

Elijah paused. "I suppose an isolated event can't hurt. Just … be careful. I can have some more vervain shipped to you if you need it."

"I have heaps, but thanks for the offer."

"She's a vampire now, Matthew. She is changed. You cannot rely on her as you once did, so please, take precautions."

Precautions like not agreeing to be fed on indefinitely? A bit late for that. "I will," he said. He didn't know why he didn't bring up his offer to Elena. Maybe because he knew Elijah wouldn't think it was a good idea. Maybe because he was worried Elijah would be right.

"Where are you right now?" Matt asked. "Enjoying a Klaus-free life again?"

"I'm staying in a motel in town. I was going to leave, but a part of me is waiting for him to apologise."

"Are you at least enjoying a Klaus-free life while you can?"

"Honestly, I'm finding it difficult to relax. I expect a dead body around every corner."

"Maybe that'll fade in time."

"That suggests that there will be time for it to fade. I expect Klaus will reel me back in at some point or another."

"You still have hope for his redemption?"

"Hope is one thing my family has been lacking for some time, but yes. I do wish for it."

"You know that talking like me owing Elena for saving me is wrong and then insisting that you owe your brother protection and loyalty is kind of hypocritical, right? He's done nothing for you. The first time you sided with him against us you ended up with a dagger in your heart."

"I have experience with my brother beyond what you're aware of. His capacity for good isn't commendable, but it isn't absent."

"You know he probably holds your hope for his redemption over your head, right?"

"Oh, he definitely does. This is not news to me."

Matt couldn't help but roll his eyes. "At least you're aware."

"If I am anything, Matthew, it is aware. But thank you for caring to try and explain it to me."

"No problem." Matt took another swig of his beer. "I should probably get going."

"Mmm. A decent night's rest is important. Do keep me appraised of the Elena situation, if possible."

"There isn't a situation, but okay. I will."

"Sleep well, Matthew."

"You, too."


God, he'd really fucked it up this time.

When Connor Jordan cornered him about his bites, he'd said the first name that came to mind that wasn't one of his friends: Rebekah Mikaelson.

It was wrong, he knew, but if someone had to die, he couldn't let it be Elena. She'd done too much for him.

Besides, Rebekah couldn't die, right?

Turns out that Jordan had tricks up his sleeve, because a quick dose of werewolf venom in the kegs at Rebekah's party was all it took to poison both Rebekah and Elena.

So Elena had spent the afternoon dying, until Klaus finally showed up. And she was bound to be hungry in the aftermath.

Matt jogged to her place, letting himself in and finding her in the kitchen.

After listening to him fumble over his apology, Elena shook her head at him. "I already had this conversation with Jeremy, and you can't have known. I didn't even know I was going."

Matt rolled up his sleeve, ready to offer her his arm as she continued.

"Stefan told me about this, about how I'd feel, but I didn't expect this. I wanted to kill her right there in front of everyone at the party. I just … I don't even feel like myself anymore."

Matt felt bad about Rebekah being targeted, but he wasn't about to let Elena feel that same way. Rebekah had killed her. "She deserves it, Elena."

"Maybe she does, but she's not the only problem. My head is all screwed to hell."

Matt started unwinding the bandage, revealing the wound from the last feeding.

"I'm just so …" Elena ran her hands through her hair as veins popped out around her eyes, her fangs dropping into place. "I'm so hungry."

And she lunged.


Matt was walking along the side of the road. He didn't remember getting there, or wanting to get there, but there he was. It was vaguely in the direction of his house, but he was so dizzy he didn't think he'd make it.

Maybe he should just sit down for a second. Yeah, that seemed like a good idea.

Dropping down onto the grass, Matt put his head between his bent knees and tried to breathe while the world spun around him. This wasn't normal. This didn't happen after Elena drank from him, not usually.

She had drunk from him, hadn't she? He couldn't remember that well.

Deep breaths stopped working once he started puking, left weak from each convulsion. This wasn't right. This wasn't okay.

Pulling his phone from his pocket, Matt almost called 911. But he couldn't. People in this town knew about vampires, and they knew what bites looked like.

Fingers numb from the cold, Matt stabbed at the first number on his speed dial.

"Matthew? Come to seek more counsel?"

"'Lijah …" He winced, falling sideways onto the grass. "S'mthing … I think s'mthing's wrong with me."

"Where are you?"

"I don't …" Matt shuddered, cold washing over him like he was back in the water all over again. "I don't know."

"Look around you, Matthew. Do you see anything? Any buildings? Signs?"

Matt squinted up at a street light, tearing his eyes away from the mesmerising warmth of it to look around—

A street sign.

"H-Hartnell."

"A street?"

Matt made a sound to confirm. His arm was bleeding again, right through the fabric of his shirt and jacket.

"I've found it on the map. I'll be there shortly, Matthew. Can you keep talking?" The sound of a car door opening and closing rang down the line, then the rumbling growl of the car starting. "Tell me the last thing you remember."

"E-Elena."

"Is she with you?" A shrill beeping sounded from Elijah's end.

"Seatbelt."

"What?"

"The beeping." Matt tried to swallow, finding his mouth dry. "You're not wearing your seatbelt. Reckless."

Elijah's chuckle was a little hysterical as something clicked and the beeping stopped. "Thank you for your concern. Can you tell me more about what you remember?"

Vision blurry, Matt groaned.

"Matthew?" Panic sharped Elijah's tone. "Matthew!"

And everything went black.


Elijah pulled the car to a halt as soon as he came up on Hartnell Lane, tires squealing. In his haste to get out, he shredded the seat belt Matthew had insisted he wear.

Once in the open, Elijah scented the air. Fresh blood was never hard to find, and he followed the trail until he saw the heap along the side of the road. The body, heart barely beating.

He was on his knees beside Matthew in a flash, turning him over. He was unconscious and his arm was a bloody mess, leaking through his sleeve. "Oh, Matthew," Elijah sighed. "What have they done to you?"

Tearing open his own wrist, Elijah pressed it to Matthew's lips. He used his free hand to bring Matthew's injured wrist up to his teeth, shredding the fabric of his jacket and shirt as well as the bandages to get a better look at the injury.

A bite mark, deep and messy. Like from a newborn. And as far as Elijah knew, there was only one newborn vampire in town.

The wound closed over, leaving a bloody mess in its wake. Elijah waited a moment and pulled his hand away from Matthew, the gashes on his own wrist healing as he did. Matthew had barely stirred enough to drink, still unconscious from the blood loss. Elijah took a moment to listen closely for anything else, any broken bones grinding together or the wet ebb and flow of blood in the lungs being tousled with each breath, but Matthew seemed all healed up.

Choking back his relief, Elijah said, "Let's get you home."


Had he been in full possession of himself, Elijah might have thought to put a blanket down on the backseat before laying Matthew across it. Not that it mattered. His assistant always knew how to get blood out of even the most difficult materials, and the buttery leather and spongy floor mats in this vehicle would be no exception.

The drive to Matthew's home was a short one—he must have been walking there when he was attacked, Elijah reasoned. Elena's newborn hunger was liable to be uncontrollable, and casualties were unavoidable, but Elijah had never imagined that her friends would pay the price for her new lifestyle. That she had hunted Matthew down like that, leaving him there to die …

But he'd had bandages on his arm. So it must have been planned, or she took care of him afterward. How had she not known he'd lost too much blood? It was foolish for her not to have been taught, the Salvatores were practically asking her to kill an innocent at this rate—

Elijah pushed the thoughts aside as he pulled up into the drive, coming to a halt. It was a good thing Matthew had invited him inside; this way, at least, he could take him in out of the cold.

"Matthew." Elijah tried to stir him gently, but he remained asleep. After whatever trauma he'd suffered, it was likely best to permit him this reprieve.

Finding the keys in Matthew's pocket, Elijah unlocked the house and turned on all the lights, setting the air conditioner to heat before coming back out to fetch Matthew. He carried him carefully, making certain not to knock him against any doorframes as he brought him to the sofa and set him down on the pillows there. He eased the grass-stained, vomit-splashed jacket off his shoulders and fetched a cloth from the cupboard in the hall to wipe the blood up with. He wasn't about to change Matthew's shirt and trousers without his permission, but at least he could take care of the bulk of the bloody mess he'd been left with.

Left with nothing else to do, Elijah surveyed the house. His modus operandi so far had been to leave a note behind and make his exit while Matthew slept, but he didn't feel right doing that. Not until he knew what had happened.

Besides, Elena had been invited into this house, surely. She could get in whenever she wanted, and if she wanted to finish the job … well, that couldn't happen. Elijah thought better of her than that, but he'd never thought she'd go after Matthew like this, either.

No, better that he stayed. He was needed.

Settling in on the other end of the sofa, Elijah pulled his phone from his pocket and opened up one of the infernal, addictive games Rebekah had installed. It was going to be a long night.


Matt woke to the cracking of bacon cooking with the heat turned high. Groaning, he sat up and stretched, back popping. His sleeve was stained with dried blood, but he was otherwise fine.

He knew who was cooking even before they returned to the living room, spatula in hand. "You're awake," said Elijah. "I had hoped the smell of bacon would rouse you. Do you think you can walk to the kitchen, or would you prefer to eat here?"

Matt rubbed the sleep from his eyes, trying to get Elijah in better focus. He was wearing an apron that Matt was sure hadn't been in this house before today, waiting patiently for Matt to get his shit together and answer.

"Uh, I can walk." Matt stood, surprised by how steady he felt. "I'm surprised you're still here."

"You were in no condition to be left unsupervised."

Matt wandered into the kitchen, surprised at what he found. More food than he'd had in the house yesterday, more than he'd ever had in the house, period. Pancakes and bacon and eggs were all laid out across the breakfast bar, the clutter of unpaid bills and old newspapers having been cleared to make room for them. There was also a glass jug he'd never seen before full of pulpy orange juice, and if the sagging halves of oranges on the bench were any indication the juice had been freshly squeezed.

"You didn't have to do all this."

"And yet I did. Please, sit."

Matt crossed his arms over his chest, the blood-encrusted sleeve cracking against his chest. "You shouldn't be hosting me here. It's my house."

"The deed is in your mother's name, though I agree that it is yours in effect. And I am hosting you because you almost died, and you deserve some time to recover."

Matt raised his sleeve to indicate the smooth, unblemished flesh. "I did recover. I'm guessing your blood had something to do with that?"

"You were almost dead when I arrived. The amount of blood you lost—"

"And you couldn't have helped me without giving me your blood? You just had to heal me?"

Elijah's jaw flexed. "Had I not provided you with my blood, you would be dead. You were cold to the touch and losing consciousness. Elena took more than she should have and left you to die, so yes, I did have to. Now come and eat something. You should keep your strength up."

The bacon smelled heavenly enough to convince Matt to drop the subject for now and take the plate offered to him. He served himself bacon and pancakes and drizzled both with maple syrup, then settled into his chair while Elijah siphoned some eggs onto his own plate, sprinkling them with sprigs of some herb Matt couldn't identify.

"So," said Elijah, pouring Matt a glass of juice and sliding it over to him. The aspirin bottle was already at the table, ready for him. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I woke up in a really weird dream." Matt took a bite of his bacon, almost groaning at the taste of it. "You?"

"My wellbeing is not currently a matter of concern. What happened last night?"

"I—" Matt stopped funnelling food into his mouth and took a moment to swallow. "I don't really remember. I went to Elena's because she was hungry after being poisoned yesterday, and I think she fed on me and sent me home."

"The marks on your arm suggested that she lost control, bit too deep. She never should have taken that much to start with."

"I'm sure she knows. I'll tell her when I see her next."

"And since you were clearly there for the purpose of feeding her, I'm assuming you had no vervain on your person?"

"I … no, I didn't. But she wouldn't hurt me on purpose. I'm sure that taking too much was just an accident, you know, after the day she'd had."

"I was also referring to the absence of vervain leaving you vulnerable to compulsion."

"Elena would never compel me."

"Elena isn't the only vampire in this town."

"Well, I don't think I was compelled. I mean, I don't feel compelled." At Elijah's disapproving look Matt continued, "Okay, okay. I know I wouldn't be able to tell, but … I'm sure last night was an accident. She probably doesn't even know that she took too much."

"If she hasn't learned by now, that's the Salvatores' fault. Mentoring a newborn is about teaching them control, everything they need to know to avoid taking lives. If Elena Gilbert can only drink from the vein, they were fools not to teach her how to do so properly."

"She'll learn. It'll be fine."

Elijah hummed, pushing his eggs around with his fork but barely eating.

"I'm sorry," said Matt. "Last night wasn't something you should've had to handle. I'm sorry I called you instead of someone else."

"Don't be. A human wouldn't have saved you and the vampires in this town would've made it worse. Miss Forbes may be able to handle it, but even Stefan has his darker side. It's not a risk you should ever take, understand?"

"And you don't have a darker side?"

"I have control. Stefan does not."

"So you never go overboard? Never take too much, never mess up?"

"Not anymore," Elijah said in a tone that suggested that particular conversation was over. "Do you have work today?"

"Later this afternoon, yeah."

"And I don't suppose you'd consider calling in sick?"

"Why? I'm fine. Too fine, actually. If someone notices that the bite marks are gone—" Matt set down his cutlery. He was only halfway through his meal, but he was already losing his appetite. "You might have to bite me."

Elijah froze. "I beg your pardon?"

"I can't go back to Elena without any bitemarks, not when it's so easy for her to confirm that the Salvatores and Caroline weren't the ones that healed me."

"You mean you intend to return to Elena for feeding? After what she's done?"

"Better me than a stranger. I can tell her that she took too much this time, that I'm feeling a little sick and need a day off, just while your blood works its way out of my system. Then you bite me, and I go back. It'll be fine, and she'll know that she went too far and she should be more careful next time."

"Absolutely not." Elijah downed the rest of his orange juice. "I won't be a part of this."

"You don't have to feed," Matt argued. "Just bite. I thought you said you were in control."

"I am in control. This is me, being in control, and telling you no, Matthew, I won't do it. If you wish to dangle yourself before Elena like fresh meat then by all means, do so. But I will not help you do it."

"Please, Elijah." Apparently Matt wasn't above begging. "If she sees, she'll know that we're talking. They'll all think I betrayed them. My friends—they're all I have, Elijah—"

"You have almost died for them again and again, Matthew. No more."

Matt slammed his hands on the table. "Dammit, Elijah, please—"

"No, Matthew," said Elijah. "I can't help you with this. It's not right." Elijah stood stiffly, picking up his plate and glass. "I'll clean up and put the leftovers in your refrigerator. You should go and clean yourself up if you're expecting to work later."

"I can help."

"I'd prefer to do it alone, thank you." Elijah returned to the table, taking Matt's dishes.

Left with no other option (and preferring not to stay and suffer Elijah's chilly silence), Matt got up from the table and left to grab a shower. He figured Elijah wouldn't still be there when he got out.

He was right.


Matt hitched a ride to work with Jeremy, grateful that he made no comment on the bandages on Matt's neck and arm. There were no wounds beneath them, obviously, but he kept them covered to maintain the illusion. A vampire might be able to tell there wasn't any old blood under them, but other than that he looked exactly like he should after being Elena's blood bag for a week.

"Still failing out of History?" Matt asked, hoping to start a conversation.

Jeremy nodded. "Apparently the new teacher isn't as much of a pushover as Ric was."

"I'm sorry." They all missed Ric. It had barely been two weeks, and his absence was profound enough to have sabotaged Jeremy's high school career already. Their new teacher certainly couldn't compare.

"Yeah, well, it's how it goes, right?" Jeremy said, tone light but grip hard on the steering wheel as he pulled up at the Grill. "I can come by and pick you up later. Just text me when."

"Thanks, man." Matt patted Jer on the shoulder before bailing, making a note to have a longer conversation about it on the way back.

As it turned out, he'd be driving himself home in the brand new truck Rebekah had bought him.


Elijah spent the day at the motel, reading classic novels on his phone and waiting for his car to be cleaned. The blood wouldn't come out easy, he'd wager, and the his seatbelt needed replacing after he'd torn it off in his haste the night before.

The argument with Matthew had been foolish. On whose part, Elijah didn't know, but he suspected that it was the both of them. Matthew was so determined to hide their strange friendship from the others that he was willing to go to such ridiculous lengths, and Elijah could have been kinder in how he responded to that.

Matthew would rather die than disappoint his friends. He felt he owed Elena a debt and was determined to pay it, no matter the personal cost. Not three days ago, Elijah would have done the same for Niklaus.

Elijah sat up in his chair, realising he'd been scrolling through his book without taking in a word. He switched off his phone, dropping it onto the table beside him.

To Matthew, the opinions of his friends was everything. Perhaps it was rooted in their childhoods, seeing them all with functional families and middle-class lives while he was left with nothing but an alcoholic mother and an absentee father to fund him, and neither had done well. Matthew wanted his friends to think highly of him, and it shouldn't have been a difficult goal to achieve—he was a good man, a loyal friend, and a decent person. Thinking highly of Matthew was no tall task.

But then why did he try so hard to maintain his status among them? Why was Elijah such a threat to that?

Ultimately, it was a question of loyalty. Elijah knew all about that.


Matt pulled up into the driveway, truck purring smoothly all the while. No sputtering, no weird smell from the air conditioner, nothing. It was the first car Matt had ever driven that smelled new.

He really didn't want to thank Rebekah, but in that moment he was tempted to.

It wasn't exactly a surprise to see Elijah on the front porch. His car wasn't there, so he must've walked. "How does it run?" Elijah asked as Matt approached.

"Great. I'm guessing it was your idea, then."

"Rebekah's regret is sincere, and it was her idea to purchase a vehicle for you. My input was in the model that best suited you."

"Well, thanks for that." Matt moved past Elijah and unlocked the front door, walking right in but leaving it open as an invitation.

"You're very welcome, and I'm glad you accepted it."

"Might as well, right? Close the door behind you."

Elijah did, shrugging off his suit jacket and hanging it over the sofa as they walked into the living room.

"Want a drink? I have water, orange juice, and beer you'll probably hate."

"I'm fine, and I also don't want to know how you manage to get your hands on alcohol."

"Playing the responsible adult now?" Matt asked, smiling crookedly.

"You're an adult as well, and no. Drink whatever you please, and let me know if you want something on the more expensive side."

"Funding underage drinking. Nice." Matt settled back into the sofa, wriggling until he was comfortable. "Is there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?"

Elijah looked pained, but it passed quickly. "My blood should be out of your system in a few hours."

"And?"

"And, if you still need me to bite you, I will."

Well, Matt certainly hadn't been expecting that. "I—thanks, but Elena doesn't want to drink from me anymore. She went to Duke so Damon could teach her how to feed properly without losing control."

Elijah raised an eyebrow. "How interesting that he felt the need to teach her this now rather than earlier."

"You think that means that he knows she lost control last night."

"It's certainly a coincidence."

"Yeah, well, I'm not sure I want to ask them."

"I could always compel the truth from them. I doubt either of them are on vervain, not when it would weaken them."

"Please don't," said Matt.

Elijah glanced down at his hands, then back up at Matt. "There is another way to know for sure."

"What?"

"There are spells capable of undoing compulsion. They're long and painful, but they work. I know a witch who would do it for you."

"What would that involve?"

"Travel, most likely. You'd need to take time off from your friends' drama for long enough to go there, complete the spell, and return. A few days at least, a week at most."

"I can't do that. They'll all know."

"I may be able to pay the witch to commute, but he's rather picky."

"You don't have to pay. I might be able to find the money somewhere."

"Believe me, Matthew, not enough. Let me see to it."

Matt shifted. "I don't like the idea of you spending money on me all the time. It doesn't make sense to me. With Rebekah and the truck, I get it, but with you—"

"We're friends," said Elijah, feigning a casual tone. "Friends do things for one another. You listen to my family woes, I find a way to free you from any mind control left in your head by your so-called friends."

Matt sighed. "I don't have time to disappear right now, not even for a day or so if they were to come here."

"I understand that," said Elijah, obviously choosing his words carefully. "But you are allowed to choose yourself over others. You can tell them you're taking some time, and just leave. It's within your power to do so."

Well, it doesn't feel like it. "Thanks, but not right now."

"The offer will remain open to you, of course."

"Yeah, I figured. Thank you for offering."

"It's no hassle. I'm at rather a loose end myself."

"Right." Matt nodded, biting back a chuckle. "How is your Klaus-free life?"

"I'd say dull, but the blood being scrubbed from my car would likely animate just to call me a liar. But it is … different."

"Sorry about the blood. And different how?"

"Different in the sense that my concerns have not ceased, but my inclination to assuage my fears regarding my brother is no longer present. I have no doubt it will return eventually, but for now I exist anxiously but without direction."

"There are brochures about how to deal with unemployment at the mall," said Matt. "I can get one for you if you want."

Elijah laughed. "Thank you, but I think I'll be fine. If there are any that could tell me how to deal with motel food, however, I'd appreciate that."

"No good, huh? There's a decent Italian place I can order from if you want something that wasn't brewed in a vat."

Elijah grinned. "Sounds heavenly."


Matt got home just after dusk the next day, so exhausted he could feel it in his bones.

Taken hostage by a homicidal vampire hunter? Check.

Threatened with super vampire-killing bombs? Check.

Life saved by a wine cellar and creepy tunnels under the town? Check.

Honestly, he just wanted to sleep. But he'd also almost died, and he was used to talking about that with Elijah. It was probably a weird habit to get into, but it was one he had.

Maybe he should call him, Matt thought as he got out the truck. Maybe Elijah would want to know about what had happened with Connor Jordan.

No, he wouldn't call. It would just worry Elijah even more, and for what? Life was shitty; everyone knew that.

He might as well just deal with it.


"'Why thank you, Matt,'" Matt muttered to himself as he watched Damon march out of the Grill. "'You've supplied us with invaluable information, Matt.' Well sure, Damon. It's what I'm here for."

Matt picked up the glass of bourbon left behind, sniffing it and wincing.

"Yes, it's certainly not the good stuff," said Elijah, emerging from the corner.

Setting the glass down, Matt pivoted to face Elijah. The bar was empty and he was supposed to be locking up, so no one would interrupt them at least. "What are you doing here?"

"I heard there was an incident here yesterday." Elijah slung his coat over the stool next to Matt's and joined him at the bar. "Something about a gas leak and an explosion. It sounded like a rather neat cover-up for a supernatural disaster, so I set out to ensure you were all right."

"I'm fine. The hunter in town decided to take a stand, but we dealt with it." Tapping the bar, Matt asked casually, "I assume you've heard of The Five?"

Elijah sat up straight, face impassive. "The vampire hunters? Yes, I have."

"I figured. Klaus seems to be acquainted with them. Connor was one of them, and Elena killed him."

"When was this? Is she—"

"We fixed the curse. Had to awaken a new hunter to do it." At Elijah's questioning look, he said, "Jeremy."

Elijah tensed his jaw, hands fisting and unfisting. "That won't end well, Matthew. Hunters are driven to hunt their prey. You must watch him with care so he doesn't endanger others. Or himself."

"I will. Do you know what to look out for?"

"No. I only know that even men and women of reason are driven to the hunt. I don't know what form of torture they receive if they fight their urges, but it's substantial enough that I've never seen one resist the desire to kill. Perhaps with a supply of other vampires to kill, Jeremy could slake his thirst for violence, but … it's untested, and I have no definitive answers. I am sorry."

"No, don't apologise. That's more than we had before you came in here. Thank you."

"It's no problem." Elijah ran a finger around the rim of the glass between them. "It is technically my family's fault the hunters exist to begin with."

"True. I guess we're all responsible for things we don't want to be. All we can do is try our best to deal with it."

"A truer word has never been spoken."

They lapsed into silence, neither willing to continue the maudlin conversation.

"I should lock up," said Matt, sliding off the stool to stand. "It's past closing time."

"Of course. Would you like any help?"

"No, it's fine. I have a method." He headed behind the bar, mostly to avoid the question of how to say goodbye. Not a hug. A wave would be weird. Was shaking hands something people did? "Thanks for stopping by."

"Of course," Elijah replied smoothly, slipping his coat on. "Call me if you need any help with Jeremy."

"I will," Matt promised. "See you."

Elijah nodded in lieu of returning the farewell, ducking out the back door by the kitchen. He was keeping a low profile in town, though Matt did wonder why he bothered coming out in public at all. Or why he was even still in Mystic Falls, for that matter.

Pushing the questions out of his mind, Matt slung a dish towel over his shoulder and set about cleaning up.

Chapter Text

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Come and take my soul



 

 

Elijah took a long sip of his blood and bourbon, letting the flavours mix on his tongue. The two liquids didn't exactly mix well, separating after even a minute left still, but the taste was exquisite enough that Elijah couldn't find it in himself to mind.

His phone buzzed in his hand, a notification dropping down over his reading app. A message from Matthew.

Have time to talk?

Elijah tapped the message, selecting call instead. As soon as Matt picked up he said, "Yes, I do."

"Great. I thought you might be asleep or something. Do you sleep?"

"Only when I want to. Why are you up so late? It's past midnight and you have school tomorrow." Elijah winced. "Not that I'm passing judgment."

"No, it's fine. I wish there was someone around to tell me to go to bed sometimes. And I'd love to be asleep, but I've had one of those days."

"Ah. Do you just wish to vent, or can I help in some way?"

"You already helped when you warned me about Jeremy."

"What did he do?"

"Tried to kill Elena. She's fine, but I'm staying at his house with him until he figures out some control. Guess I'm babysitting, technically, so no school for me. Besides, we only have like three days until we're on break for Christmas anyway."

"What measures are you taking to help him control his urges? You may need to divert him from his sister, send him towards other, less benevolent vampires."

"Maybe he can just wait it out, you know? It's a shock right now, but he has to learn."

"His hunger to kill must be fed somehow. Waiting for it to become a bigger problem is not a solution."

"I'll talk to him about it. Jer's not going to want to start prowling for vamps."

"He'd be doing the town a service."

"Mm, maybe. What about you? How are you?"

"I'm well enough. The same, which is a blessed relief. If you need to discuss this further, you can come and see me."

"I don't even know where you are."

"I'm at Folger's Motel. Room 325."

Matt's silence made Elijah smirk.

"You didn't expect me to tell you where I was staying, did you?"

"Not really."

"I trust you'll exercise discretion. And you can visit anytime you need a break from the situation with Jeremy."

"Folger's, that's, uh, on the other side of Wickery Bridge, right?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Nothing, just trying to remember where it is. It's been a while."

Elijah was used to going by a person's heartbeat to determine whether or not they were being truthful, but he didn't feel the need; he could tell there was something Matt wasn't saying. "Is everything all right?" Elijah prompted. He had to at least give him a chance …

"Yeah, fine," Matt insisted, voice cracking a little. "Look, it's late. I should get to bed. I just wanted to update you and thank you for giving me the heads up on Jeremy's situation. I don't think I would've paid as much attention if you hadn't, and god knows what would've happened."

"I'm glad I could help," said Elijah, a little disappointed. "Sleep well."

"Yeah, you too."


Matt got the call at 2am.

"Carol Lockwood is dead," said Caroline. "Ty needs you."

Matt barely remembered to wake Jeremy as he left, sprinting out of the house with Jer right behind him.


The police station was busier than it had any right to be at this time of night. Matt had been there this late once, while he and Caroline were dating, and it had been Liz and maybe two other officers.

Right now, it was buzzing with activity. As it should be. The mayor was dead.

"How much longer is this gonna take?" Jeremy asked, leg tapping on the breakroom floor.

"They're asking questions," said Caroline. "It shouldn't be that long. It just needs to be on record that they talked to him."

Right on cue, Tyler emerged from Liz's office, face haggard and eyes blank.

"Let's get you home, dude," said Matt, grabbing his attention as he walked past. "I'll drive. Jer and I can stay with you."

"Thanks," said Tyler, voice cold. "But I'd rather be alone right now."

Jeremy shook his head. "Come on, Ty—"

"Just leave it, Gilbert," Tyler bit back.

"Don't," Caroline said, stopping Matt from going after Tyler. "I'll take care of this. Just … you guys need to focus on Jeremy's situation. We'll see you at the assembly, okay?"

Matt forced himself to nod as he watched Tyler go over her shoulder. "Okay. But make sure he knows he can talk to us."

"He knows," Caroline promised. "It's just not helping right now."


Elijah saw the article on the local news app the next morning.

Town Mayor Lost in Suspicious Circumstances

He didn't have to click on the article to know it was Klaus. He did so anyway, if only to know just what his brother had done.

By the time he'd finished, Elijah felt sick. Drowned in a fountain after a Christmas celebration. And for what? This ridiculous war with the hybrid, Tyler?

Elijah made the connection between Tyler and Matthew a moment later.

Pulling up the conversation with Matthew, he texted, I heard about Mayor Lockwood, and I am deeply sorry. Do you have time to talk?

Not on the phone, came the reply. I'm with Damon and Jeremy at the moment.

It made sense; if they spoke on the phone, Damon would hear them.

You can call me when you have time, said Elijah. I'll see what I can find out about what happened.

We know what happened. Please stay out of it. You're not supposed to be still in town.

Elijah sighed. I may be able to help.

You can't change anything.

I can try.

There was a break in messaging for a while, then, G2g, please don't do anything until we can talk.

Though it pained him, Elijah agreed. Call me once Jeremy is asleep. We need to talk about this.

He received no response.


Matt was an athlete. He wasn't just a quarterback, either—he'd run track, done marathons for town charity events, gone to the gym five times a week when Elena's parents bought him a year-long membership for Christmas one time.

Nothing on the field or the treadmill had quite prepared Matt for what it would feel like to run through the woods in the black of night, heart pounding as vampires shot after him, each compelled to go for his neck and not stop until he was dead.

Panting, Matt stopped behind a tree to try and catch his breath. His lungs burned, vision swimming. As soon as he had the energy, he looked back over his shoulder the way he came, finding nothing.

Time to keep going, then.

He turned around to find himself face-to-face with a vampire.

Teeth rammed into his neck, the bite meaty and clumsy and just short of anything vital. Matt cried out, struggling against the panic—

Thunk.

The vampire toppled over, crossbow bolt protruding from its back.

Jeremy.


They ran to lake house at full tilt, vampires spearing out of the trees around them. Jeremy felled them one by one, Damon bringing up the rear and tearing out hearts as necessary.

The moment Matt realised Jeremy wasn't beside him, his heart dropped into his gut. "Jeremy?" he called, panicked. "Where are you?"

"Keep going," Jeremy replied, still not in Matt's line of sight. "We're almost there."

Doing as instructed, Matt doubled his pace, making it twice as bad when he tripped over something—a tree root? A rock?

Rolling over, Matt found himself face-to-face with another vampire, this time dragging Matt towards him, fangs extended—

Until his neck snapped and he was thrown backwards off of Matt.

Elena loomed over him, but he barely saw her. She was going to kill him, going to feed—

"Are you okay?" she asked, brown eyes wide with concern. "Here, let me help you."

Forcing himself to calm—this was Elena, for God's sake—Matt let her help him up. She'd just started fussing over his neck when Jeremy caught up with them, dripping with sweat and panting heavily. "Get to the house!" he yelled. "Hurry!"

They barely made it in time before another wave of vampires came up behind them, banging at the doors.

"What the hell is going on?" Elena asked, locking the front door. It didn't matter so much; they couldn't get in regardless.

"Klaus," Jeremy bit out angrily. "He compelled them all to hunt Matt."

"Why?"

"Ask your boyfriend."

From the murderous look on Elena's face, she intended to do just that. "Come on," she told Matt. "The first aid kit's in the bathroom."


Matt left like a bat out of hell as soon as the sun came up. The newborns wouldn't have daylight rings, so he figured he was safe. No way did he want to stick around any longer than he had to, not with Elena's guilty looks and Damon's obnoxious rants about how he had no choice but to team up with Klaus, how it was all for the greater good, what the fuck ever.

Barely taking note of where he was driving, Matt found himself at Wickery Bridge, stopping just short of crossing. His heart was pounding again, and he was beginning to think it wasn't just the leftover adrenaline from the night before.

Pulling off onto the side of the road right before the bridge, Matt tried to force himself to calm, to breathe, to do anything. He ran his hands up and down his thighs, pressing in with his fingertips until they hurt. His palm found the shape of his phone in his pocket, and his heart dropped.

He hadn't called Elijah.

Pulling out the phone, he set about rectifying that immediately.

"Is everything all right?"

"I'm sorry I didn't call." Matt hated how his voice wobbled, how he couldn't keep it steady no matter how hard he tried. "I meant to. Things just got kind of messed up."

"Messed up how?" Elijah demanded. "Where are you?"

"Near the bridge. I—I don't think I can drive over it. Not after last time." Not when he could still see the shoddily patched up fence along the bridge, right where he'd ploughed through it.

"Would you like me to come get you?"

"Can you?"

"Of course. I'll be there shortly."


Elijah found Matthew's car parked on the opposite side of the bridge, his heartbeat racing from within. He could hear Matthew's breathing ease up as he noticed Elijah's arrival, and that was something at least.

Parking behind and walking to the truck, Elijah opened the driver's side. His gaze went immediately to the source of the stale, bloody scent in the air: a bandage on Matthew's neck. Swallowing back the anger, Elijah said, "Move along. I'll drive."

Matthew did as instructed, sliding along so he was in the passenger seat. "Thank you."

"Of course." Elijah hopped in and closed the door, tucking his own car keys into his jacket pocket. "Would you like me to drive you home?"

"I'm staying at the Gilberts'."

Elijah tried breathing through his mouth instead of his nose, if only to avoid the scent of blood, but he only ended up tasting it on his tongue instead. "I'm guessing you don't want to be there?"

"Not particularly. I was coming to take you up on your offer. I just didn't think about the bridge."

Of course. The bridge he'd run off of last time, right into the water Elijah could hear frothing and running below. "Would you like to try going over while I'm driving?"

Matthew nodded. "I might just close my eyes, if that's okay."

"Of course." Elijah put the truck in drive, pulling out onto the road again. Matthew's pulse skyrocketed as they moved over the bridge, Elijah maintaining a steady speed. They crossed to the other side in no time at all.

"We're over," Elijah announced, glancing sideways at Matthew, who had sweat beading over his forehead. "Are you all right?"

"Fine. Can we—can we keep going, please? I just need to be away from it."

"Of course." Elijah sped up, taking them away from the bridge, listening to Matthew's slowing heartbeat all the way.


The motel wasn't too far a drive. It was nice, if basic, painted in butter yellow with white trims. It was more of a bed-and-breakfast, really, though the recently painted sign out front stubbornly declared it Folger's Motel.

Elijah pulled Matthew's truck into the space by his motel room, right at the end of the block. Shutting off the vehicle, he asked, "Can you walk?"

Matthew nodded, opening his door and doing just that. His steps were slow, but that seemed to be more exhaustion than weakness. Regardless, Elijah stayed nearby, ready to intervene if he stumbled.

Elijah let Matthew into the room, inviting him to sit at the small table in the corner. He located some cold-pressed apple juice and packaged cookies in the minibar, setting them in front of him.

"Would you like some blood for your neck?"

"It's fine." Matthew avoided his gaze, cracking open the juice and taking a sip. He must have seen how Elijah's gaze was drawn to his neck, because he said, "It wasn't Elena."

"Do you remember who it was?"

"Yeah. I wasn't compelled." This time.

Elijah folded his arms over his chest, leaning against the wall. "Are you going to talk about what happened?"

Matthew fiddled with the packaging on his cookies. "It's not a big deal. I'm fine."

"Was it one of the Salvatores?"

"No, it—I don't know who they were. Some vampire Jer was trying to kill to finish off his tattoo. I've been helping him out."

Elijah resisted the urge to ball his hands into fists, standing stock-still instead. "Jeremy Gilbert is no longer human," he said. "He's a hunter, and he can finish the mark himself. Your assistance is not required, not when it puts you in danger."

"Don't worry. I doubt he'll want me around to get hurt after this."

"But as long as you're staying in that house with him—"

"I know, I know," said Matt, rubbing his face. "I'll figure things out. I might be reckless, but I don't actually enjoy being chowed down on." He sipped at his juice again, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. "I just need a break before I get back into it."

"You can stay for however long you need."

"Thanks. It won't be that long, though. I have a shift this afternoon."

"Should you be working?"

"I should be earning money to pay bills, so yeah. I can't keep missing shifts."

Elijah watched Matt closely, how his eyes drooped, his shoulders slumped. "I'll go down the street to find something more substantial for you to eat," he said. "You should lie down, get some rest. A nap will rejuvenate you, and I'll brew coffee after that. Work should be easier after sleep and caffeine, maybe even food with some nutrition."

"You don't have to do that."

"I want to. Whatever is happening now, it started with my family. Let me repay you for your struggle."

Matthew obviously wanted to argue, and under any other circumstances he may have done, but he was already half-asleep just sitting up in his chair.

"Take the bed," said Elijah. "I'll wake you in an hour so you can eat and get ready for your shift." Matt's eyes opened a little and he sat up straighter. "I'll lock the door and take the keys, but you can still unlock it from the inside if you need to leave. And I'll walk so the truck is still here."

"Thank you," he mumbled, just as Elijah was on his way out.


"How did you sleep?" Elijah asked, setting the bowl of pasta down in front of Matt.

"Fine." Matt rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, surprised to find himself refreshed. "You didn't have to do this, not with the dodgy motel kitchen and all."

"You needed meat and carbohydrates; I was happy to deliver. Coffee?"

Matt swallowed his first bite of pasta, and damn it was good. "Maybe after?"

"Of course. I'll brew a pot." Elijah wandered into the tiny kitchenette area and set about making the coffee. "I bought some medical supplies as well, in case you felt like changing your bandage."

The bandage Elena had applied to his neck was itchy and loose now. "Yeah, sounds great."

"And you're welcome to take the supplies with you. I have no need of them, of course. Unless you anticipate arriving here injured and unannounced again."

Matt played with his pasta. "What do you want me to say? That this won't happen again? I thought we were being honest here."

"We are," Elijah affirmed, leaving the pot and walking over again. "We are being honest, which is why I have to ask: Do you honestly believe you weren't compelled last night? That your memories of your attack are your own?"

Matt remembered, all right. He remembered that Klaus had compelled all of those vampires to kill him, and he remembered the moment he realised that Elijah could never know about it. "Of course I can't be sure there was no compulsion. If there was, I wouldn't remember it."

"And therein lies the issue we face."

Matt spooned more flakes of parmesan onto his pasta, watching them dissolve in the sauce like wafers on a tongue.

"Have you been drinking vervain?"

"No."

"But you are not waiting for Elena to feed from you again?"

"No, I'm not. And before you offer, I have plenty of vervain. I just … every time I go to drink it, I think, what if it's today? What if today is the day I'm needed again? It's happened before, and if my blood is the one thing I can give to help people—"

"Not people, Matthew—vampires. Vampires who will survive starvation, who can be revived from desiccation, and who, most likely, have cheated death more times than there are breaths you have taken. I understand the need to protect Elena and Caroline, but the Salvatores will only use you. My family is the same. Exposing yourself like this will only ever bring you here, injured again and wondering if you trust your own mind." Elijah braced his hands on the table so he could look Matt in the eyes. "I will not tell you what to do. I will not coax or wheedle or manipulate, not as my brother has done to me a thousand times over. But I will ask you, please, take yourself into greater consideration."

"And how do you suggest I do that?"

"Drink vervain every morning. Learn how to grow it yourself, should your supplier fail you. Carry stakes in your vehicle, and practice using them. Don't invite strange vampires into your home. If you have cause to doubt those you have already invited in, call me, and I'll have the deed changed and someone else compelled to never invite anyone in unless it's on your say-so. And you know what I believe you should do about the compulsion you may have already suffered."

"The witch that can undo it."

"Yes."

Matt gave up eating, dropping his fork onto the plate and pushing it forward. "Even if I wanted to, I don't have time."

"I understand that, and I acknowledge that concealing this from your friends is important to you."

"And I appreciate—"

"But so is being in possession of your own mind. Starting on vervain doesn't stop compulsion you've already been placed under. Damage may already have been done, and every day you delay, you risk doing more. Is that a risk you are comfortable with taking?"

"Of course not, but I don't have a choice. Maybe if an opportunity presents itself, but that's not likely. There's always another drama around the corner." Matt stared Elijah down, finding the other man's gaze firm but not without compassion. "Look, I need to get going."

Elijah nodded, standing up straight. "I purchased some disposable cups. Change your dressing and I'll pour some coffee for you to drink on the way, hmm?"


They drove to the bridge together, Elijah stopping just beside where his own car was still parked on the side of the road.

"This is the third time you've been injured in the last two weeks, Matthew."

"I'll start taking vervain," Matt promised. "I don't want to be unsure. Not any more than I already am, anyway."

"Thank you."

"I'm not doing it for you, and you're not the one that should be saying thanks, so … thank you for having my back."

Elijah smirked. "A ghastly phrase, but yes, I do."

"I appreciate that. Hopefully the next time we talk won't be as …"

"Quite," Elijah agreed. "Take care."

"I will."


The next time Elijah saw Matthew was the following night. He heard Matthew's truck rumble into the parking lot outside the motel and peered through the curtains to check that it really was him.

He opened the door as Matthew approached. "You drove across the bridge," he said, more than a little proud. "That's progress."

Matthew did not respond in kind, face hard and drawn, heartbeat hammering nervously.

"What's going on?" Elijah asked. He scented the air. "You're not hurt."

"No, I'm not. I, uh, I just got a call from Elena."

Elijah stepped sideways. "Come inside and let's talk about it."

"You might not want me in there once you hear what I have to say."

What on earth was he talking about? "I told you that you were always welcome here, and I meant it. Please, come in and sit down. You don't have to fear me."

"I'm not afraid of you. I'm afraid of what I have to tell you."

Elijah steeled himself, reaching out to touch the doorframe. "Niklaus?"

"No." Matthew took a deep breath. "It's Kol. He's gone."

A tremor of something ran through Elijah, cracking something dark and deep wide open. "Gone where?"

"Gone as in … dead. Jeremy stabbed him with the white oak after he spent the day trying to cut off his arm."

Elijah froze. Surely, this wasn't unexpected. The situation was always going to escalate, and with Finn already dead …

But that was different. Finn had posited that they were monsters, had sided with their mother to eradicate them. Kol was no such thing. Kol was no betrayer. This was different.

Or perhaps the difference isn't who is dead, but who killed them, his mind supplied, because he would never fault Matthew for slaying Finn.

"I'm so sorry," Matthew was saying. "He tried to kill my friends, but I didn't want it to end like this."

Forcing back his anger, Elijah said, "What does Niklaus make of this?"

"He didn't seem to care."

"Of course not." Elijah cleared his throat. "Thank you for informing me, Matthew. Will you be needing any assistance with driving back over the bridge?"

"Uh, no. Look, Elijah—"

"Then thank you for your time."

He may not have wanted to, may not have been proud of it, but with tears pricking the backs of his eyes and fangs threatening to cut through his tongue, he had no choice. He closed the door in Matthew's face and hid away.


Days later found Matt knocking on Bonnie's door, barely hearing her, "Come in!" before entering. He found her packing in her room, shoving clothes into a duffel bag she'd definitely borrowed from someone.

"Hey, Matt."

"What's going on?"

"Elena didn't tell you?"

"I haven't really been kept in the loop lately." Matt did try not to sound bitter. Try being the operative word.

"We found out where the cure is. Everyone's heading to the island where it's hidden now."

"Woah, okay." Matt blinked, processing. "I'll get packing—" He cut himself off at the look on Bonnie's face. "Except that I'm not going."

"Sorry, Matt. No room."

Story of my life. He bit the words back; bitterness was never helpful. "Will you try to stay in contact? Let me know what's happening?"

Bonnie reached over to touch his shoulder. "Of course we will. Everything will be fine, Matt. We'll get the cure for Elena, and everything will be fine."

Matt covered her hand with his own and squeezed. He almost believed her.


"So, uh, Elijah, it's me, Matt. I know you probably don't want to hear from me right now but I wanted to keep you informed. They found the cure's location through Jer's Mark, and most of them are headed to the island now. Klaus is staying, along with Caroline, Ty, and me. Rebekah's going, too. So if you wonder where she is … that's where. I'm really sorry about what's happened, but I hope things work out for everyone and we can go our separate ways.

"Anyway, I, uh, have to get going. Stuff to do. Again, I—I'm really sorry."


Elijah didn't return the call. Instead, he turned up at Matt's place the morning after everyone left.

Matt had just woken and was still desperately trying to push his hair down where it spiked up at the crown when Elijah all but invited himself inside. "Elijah, it's—it's good to see you." Matt grabbed the pizza boxes from the coffee table, kicking stuff aside to try and make the place more presentable. "I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting you."

"My apologies for not calling ahead. I've been … occupied."

"Understandable. Would you like to sit?"

Elijah shook his head. "I won't stay long."

"Right, yeah." Matt tucked his hands into his pockets, ramming them as deep as they'd go. Of course Elijah wouldn't want to stay. His brother was dead. Matt didn't know why he was even still in town.

"I wanted to know if you would like me to call my associate to remove your compulsion." Nothing on Elijah's face betrayed any emotion. "You have expressed that it is difficult to find time in between disasters, but as the current situation is occurring elsewhere and you are without the company of either Elena or the Salvatores …"

Matt blinked, feeling more than a little stupid. "I thought … I didn't think you'd want anything to do with me."

"I made an offer. I don't intend to go back on it."

Right, obviously. This was just Elijah being Elijah, and it didn't mean he'd forgiven Matt for being involved in two of his brothers' deaths. "Are you sure?"

"I have nothing else arranged for the next few days. I can have them come, assist you, and leave with little to no disruption to my schedule."

"Okay, then … yes. I would appreciate that."

Elijah nodded tightly. "Then I will make the arrangements and let you know. Would you prefer to do it here or elsewhere?"

"Uh, here, if that's okay. Unless it needs to be somewhere else."

"Here is fine." Elijah pulled his phone from his pocket, tapping a message into it faster than was humanly possible, fingers blurring effortlessly. Once finished, he tucked it back into his jacket pocket and met Matt's gaze. "I'll be seeing you."

As he turned to leave, Matt considered saying something. Maybe I'm sorry, however trite it felt.

Elijah was gone before he could make up his mind.


Matt didn't hear from Elijah again until that night, his phone buzzing and waking him up from a beer nap around 5pm. He answered it with unsteady hands. "Yeah?"

"It's been arranged. We'll be at your residence in the morning."

"Oh, uh, thank you." He blinked sleep from his eyes, trying desperately to think more clearly. "I appreciate this, Elijah."

"I gave you my word."

"Yeah, you mentioned. Still. You didn't have to do this."

Silence. "I'll see you tomorrow. 9am."

The line clicked, leaving Matt with silence. 9am, great. That meant he had … 16 hours to over analyse every conversation he'd had with Elijah on the subject of compulsion. Sounds fun.


Matt woke early the next morning. Whether from nerves or because he'd become accustomed to it for early shifts, he didn't know. He just knew that he was wide awake at 6am, staring at the early morning light like it offended him.

The coffee was unnecessary (and not cheap), but he found he needed something to do that felt like preparation. He didn't know exactly what this would be like, but Elijah had said it was a long, painful process the first time he'd brought it up. Matt could only steel himself so much for something he didn't understand.

Maybe he should call Elijah, just to ask him more questions. It would help put his mind at ease.

Unfortunately for him, he'd relinquished that right several dead brothers ago.


Elijah arrived at 8:50. Matt was already dressed, the house as clean as it would get while he couldn't afford decent cleaning supplies, and while he'd spent the last hour telling himself he was ready it took only one glance at Elijah to know that he really, really wasn't.

"Is something wrong?" were the first words out of Elijah's mouth, obviously prompted by Matt's waxen complexion.

"No, it's fine. Come in." He stepped aside, giving Elijah a wide berth. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"I'm fine. Have you eaten?"

"I … had coffee. Why?"

Elijah perched on the sofa, shrugging off his … sports coat? Matt hadn't realised he owned one of those, let alone the T-shirt underneath. "It's going to be a long day. It's best you keep your strength up."

"I'll be fine." Matt meant it as a reassurance, but the uncertainty in his tone presented it as a question: Will I be fine?

Elijah either didn't catch the hidden query or ignored it altogether. "They'll be here soon. Are you doing this here or in your room? You'll want somewhere comfortable to lie down."

The bedroom was still a mess that Matt didn't care to have examined, so he said, "Here? The sofa works, right?"

"It should."

Silence fell again, leaving Matt off-kilter. He leaned against the wall, pulling the arms of his sweater down to cover his hands—a nervous tic from childhood he'd never quite grown out of.

"Look, Elijah—"

The sound of an engine interrupted Matt, a car coming to a halt outside and a door opening. He peered out the window to see someone with long hair and broad shoulders leaning into the backseat of their beat-up VW beetle, emerging with a large leather case of some description. They shut the door with their hip, then set the case on the roof of the car while they fiddled with the locking mechanism for at least a minute.

Not exactly conspicuous. Matt could only hope that Tyler and Caroline were spending the day together, as planned, and wouldn't be coming this way.

The visitor tread almost daintily over the grass, tapping up onto the front porch with loud clacks. "Yoo-hoo!"

Matt registered Elijah standing in his peripheral vision as he moved to open the front door and greet the newcomer. Up close, he could see the purple streaks through their hair, a canary yellow blouse almost as bright as the lime green eyeliner pasted liberally over their eyelids, verdant sparkles falling down to dust the dark skin of their cheeks.

Elijah appeared at Matt's side, stepping forward to take the case from them. "Nice to see you again, Allie."

Allie's smile widened upon seeing Elijah, becoming almost wild. "Long time no see, old man."

Returning the smile, Elijah said, "And this is Matthew Donovan."

Allie turned their beaming grin on Matt, sticking their hand out for him to shake. "Lovely to meet you."

"So," began Elijah. "Let's get this over and done with."


Elijah could tell Matthew was nervous. Even if he hadn't been able to hear his heartbeat, he would've known from the the too-wide smiles and the way he laughed at Allie's sad attempts at humour (and Allie was categorically unfunny, in Elijah's books).

Matthew ended up lying prostrate on the sofa, as he suggested, with his feet almost hanging off one end. A towel was bundled up under his head for the sweat, and Allie—blessed, forward-thinking Allie—had thought to have him fetch one of his mouthguards to stop him from biting his own tongue.

Looming over him, Allie rubbed their hands together. "Now, no looking up my skirt, you hear?"

"You're wearing jeans."

"Oh, right you are." Allie chuckled, but this time, Matthew's smile was only a weak one. "Are you ready, Matt?"

"How long will this take?"

"A few hours. We can take breaks, but that'll only prolong it. Have you eaten?"

"No. Should I?"

"Are you feeling hungry?"

"Not particularly."

Allie shook their head. "Best not to push—eating this close to it will only end in vomit anyway. We can take a break for some crackers, maybe some juice later. Sound good?"

Matthew nodded, seeming placated. Allie was good that way. Of all the people Elijah could've called, they really were the best option for this sort of work. Perhaps not as quick as the others, but more comforting, less abrasive. There was also the small matter of how much he'd missed them, outrageously bright tops and all.

"All right. Let's get started."

Elijah pulled a chair in from the kitchen table, pushing it behind Allie's knees until they were forced to sit. They shot him an irritated look, then turned their attention back to Matthew, spreading their hands out on either side of his head.

"Mouth guard," Elijah reminded.

Matthew met his gaze briefly before putting it in, biting down and lying back, staring up at the ceiling. His hands were already fists at his sides.

"Here we go," Allie said, and then began.


Matt had felt a lot of pain in his life. Nothing like this.

He was going to die. This was going to kill him. He was going to die, right here in this house with a stranger splitting his head open with some fucking spell—

"Breathe, Matthew."

Matt tried to spit a curse back at Elijah, because what a ridiculous reminder to give, but then his vision danced a little and oh, maybe he hadn't been breathing after all—


Elijah saw Matthew's eyes roll back, his body going slack even as the spell continued. "Should he be unconscious?"

"It happens sometimes. For the best, really. This first part is the worst."

"Should he regain consciousness soon? When does it become a concern?"

"When I decide it does," Allie replied, tone as close to sharp as it ever got. "Sit down, Elijah. It's going to be a long day."

Begrudgingly doing as he was told, Elijah sat on one of the armchairs, gaze fixed on the beads of sweat already forming on Matthew's forehead.


Matt opened his eyes to a world that was dimmer than he remembered, blurred at the edges. The pain in his head had retreated to a dull throb, and he could see Allie's face hovering above him.

Spitting out the mouthguard, he asked, "S'it over?"

"Not yet," said Allie. "But we're halfway, and Elijah got some food for you. Do you think you can sit up for me?"

Matt struggled, but he managed it. The food Elijah had procured was the promised crackers, some orange juice, and what looked like pale grated carrot.

"It's apple," Elijah said from the arm chair he'd set himself up in. "Helps settle your stomach."

Matt tried to nod, but the world swam with the movement. "Thank you."

Still feeling a little woozy, he struggled to keep the food down, but managed it. He was hungry, and it was something, at least.

"Do you want to continue?" asked Allie. "We can wait longer if you need it."

"No. I want to get this over and done with." Matt brushed the crumbs off his hands with a napkin.

"You should know that you probably won't pass out for the next part. It'll still hurt, but you'll be conscious, aware of the weight lifting from your mind. Memories will resurface, not all of them good."

"That's kind of the point, isn't it?"

"They're making sure you're prepared for it," said Elijah. "As you should be."

"I'm prepared. Just, please, can we get this done?"

Allie nodded. "Lie back."


For the second round, Matthew screamed. At least, he would have without the mouthguard. Elijah itched to stand, to pace, to do something, but there was nothing he could do to contribute. All he could do was sit there, as useless as the furniture he sat on.

It took another two hours and what seemed like a never-ending stream of tears down Matthew's temples, but eventually he went limp as the spell ended. Blinking slowly, Matt struggled even with the task of pulling the guard from his mouth.

"I—" His voice cracked, dry and raw and dissolving into coughs. Cursing himself for the lack of forethought, Elijah used vampire speed to get a glass of water from the kitchen, almost breaking the tap in the process. He handed it to Allie, who helped Matthew sit up and take a few long, slow sips.

"How are you feeling?" asked Allie.

"Tired."

"Understandable. Do you remember anything?"

Matthew wiped at his tears, at the sweat dripping from his nose. "I remember everything."


Allie fussed for the better part of the afternoon, writing out instructions for Matthew:

  • No swimming unsupervised for a week
  • Eat light until your stomach settles
  • Sit down in the shower
  • Apply a cold compress to your head before bed
  • Take aspirin
  • Drink vervain, or I'll come back to do it again
  • Name your firstborn after me

Perhaps Matthew would appreciate their sense of humour when he was feeling a little better. At least, that's what Elijah told them as they stood by their car, the afternoon light refracting off the warped windshield that Elijah was certain wasn't legal.

"Seems like an intense guy."

"He's had reason to be."

"If he needed this spell, then I'd bet so." Allie set their case down in the backseat again. Elijah wasn't sure why they brought it around everywhere despite not needing a fraction of the items inside, but they were a "be prepared" kind of person. "Are you going to be sticking around?"

"If possible."

"Good, because he'll need it. The physical ramifications of the spell are nothing compared to the kinds of memories that resurface. As you well know, a vampire wouldn't go burying memories of happy events. This is a whole different kind of trauma."

"You do this spell a lot?"

"Vampires compel a lot. You and I know that better than anyone."

Elijah nodded but chose not to respond to that particular comment. "Thank you for doing this. Expect payment in your account."

"You mean other than the deposits I find magically dumped in there every time I check? Stop fretting about me. I'm a legitimate businessperson."

"I don't think anyone with marijuana in their car can call themselves that."

"What? I don't sell it. It just happens to take the edge off. And you know me, Uncle—I'm all edges."

Elijah chuckled as Allie embraced him, tucking themself under his chin.

"I missed you, and so does Mom. You should come by sometime, when you're not playing white knight to high schoolers."

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

"It also makes my mom get pissier." Allie released him at last, stepping back. "Also, just as a quick aside …"

Elijah rolled his eyes. "Whatever it is, give me a figure and I'll have it in your account by the end of the day."

"It's not money, Uncle. God. Though I'd rather talk money than this." Allie bit their lip, hard. "The bitch is back."

"That's no way to discuss your ex-girlfriends."

"Not mine, actually. Yours."

Elijah stilled. "Katerina?"

"The one and only. She's been poking around your old associates, trying to get in touch with you. Mom told her to fuck off, but I didn't get a feeling she liked that."

"Did she do anything? Threaten anyone?"

"Nope. I guess she doesn't want you to kill her when you see her. But if you don't respond, who knows what she'll do to get your attention."

"Mm. I'll take care of it. If she stops by again, call me immediately. I don't want her bothering you."

"No arguments here." Allie went quiet, looking him over. "You seem different."

"I am different. No longer bound to my brother's whims, if you'd believe it."

Allie considered him. "No, I don't believe it. You're not free enough for that."

"Do I strike you as a man easily trapped?"

"By Klaus? Yes. As soon as he calls for help, you'll go running. Just like you're already planning on running to Katherine."

"You just suggested that I contact her."

"No. If you're taking suggestions, mine is that you kill her. I don't like how she talks about you. It's like she owns you or something. She's just Klaus with boobs."

"And thank you for that lovely image, Allie. As always, it's been a pleasure. Drive safely."

Allie's grin wasn't as easy as it should have been. "Please be careful with them. Katherine and your brother, they mess you around. Don't let them."

"Don't give me advice. I used to change your diapers."

"Sixty years ago."

"Still, you don't look a day over forty."

"Try thirty." Allie poked their tongue out, revealing the stud buried in it. "I'll see you soon, okay? Mom misses you."

"I miss her as well, and I'll come when I can. Drive safely."

"You said that."

"Because you're terrible at it."

"I'm a creative person. I don't always color inside the lines. Or drive inside them."

Elijah sighed heavily, feigning irritation at the joke he'd heard a thousand times before. "I'll see you soon, Allie."

"See you soon, Uncle. Take care of Matt."

They blew him a kiss before hopping in the car, starting up the sputtering engine, and speeding off down the road.


Matt sat in the semi-darkness of his living room, the curtains drawn and all the lights off. His head still hurt, though the aspirin had taken the edge of. He'd turned down the weed Allie offered, despite their insistence that it was ideal for people in his condition. He had no intention of getting arrested, and he didn't have magic to get himself out of it.

Elijah returned after an hour of talking to Allie outside, a faint smile still on his lips. Until he spotted Matt, that is.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, closing the front door as softly as he could.

"Could be better, could be worse." Matt rearranged the cold compress on his head. "You don't have to stay, you know."

"I disagree." Elijah returned to the armchair, sinking into the cushions. "What did you remember?"

Vicki telling him she was attacked by a vampire, and Stefan covering it up. Caroline feeding on him after she turned, and Stefan covering it up. Elena almost draining him, and Damon covering it up, plus leaving him for dead.

"A bunch of stuff. Nothing we couldn't have guessed." Nothing I can tell you without you ripping them all apart.

"You don't have to edit your responses for me. Tell me the truth, Matthew."

"You shouldn't worry about it. I'm getting on vervain again. Everything's going to be fine."

"The memories that have resurfaced are going to make things a little less than fine, Matthew. It helps to talk about these things, and who else can you discuss them with?"

"I have Jeremy." Matt sighed. "Look, Elijah, I get it. I know you don't want to be around me, and you shouldn't have to stick around out of some messed up sense of duty. You should go."

"I'm here to help you—"

"Because you promised. And you have helped, you've fulfilled your obligation, and it's over. Just … you should leave."

Elijah drew back a little, masking his hurt. "I can return in the morning, then."

"No, Elijah. Leave town. Klaus doesn't give a shit about you. Rebekah went to the other side of the world without telling you. Kol and Finn are gone. You don't have to stay. There's nothing keeping you here but promises that other people broke a long time ago, and you shouldn't have to keep them anymore."

Elijah went silent for a moment. "You shouldn't be alone after the spell."

"Jer will be back in a few days. He'll come back to stay, and I'll be fine." It would be fine, he reasoned. Just as long as he could get past everything that had happened, everything he remembered, he'd be fine. Jer would help him. "I have a support system, Elijah. You should go and find yours. Preferably one that doesn't involve anyone that's killed your brothers."

"Finn deserved what he got for what he did—"

"But he was still you brother. So was Kol." Matt leaned forward, looking Elijah in the eye. "You need to leave. For good. Stop using me as an excuse to stay here, because I'm not answering the door for you anymore. This, whatever it was … it's over now."

Elijah drew back, gaze chilly. "All right, then." He stood, gathering his coat but not bothering to put it on. "I'm so sorry to have inconvenienced you."

It wasn't the truth, and he'd certainly never been inconvenient, but arguing meant backtracking, and Matt would rather just watch Elijah go and let it be. So he did.

How was he to know he'd come to regret that?


Elijah pulled the car over halfway back to the motel, hands squeezing the wheel so hard they split the leather cover. Taking a few deep breaths to steady himself, he picked up his phone, searching through his contacts for Allie.

Did Katherine mention where I could find her? he sent. They didn't text while driving, but once they pulled in for a coffee or something undoubtedly carcinogenic they'd see it, and Elijah would have his answer.

All he had to do before then was start packing.


Matt slept in the next morning, dismissing his alarm happily. He woke again later to what he thought was another alarm—until he scrambled for it and saw Caroline's smiling face on his screen, the pulsing green phone symbol winking at him.

Swiping it along, Matt answered it still lying down, head spinning.

"Matt?"

Just the sound of her voice was enough to remind him of that fresh, raw memory, of her mouth painted with his blood. "Uh, yeah, I'm here. Is everything okay?"

Silence.

"You need to get over here. To Elena's house."

"They're back?"

"Matt, you need to come over."

Forcing himself to sit up, Matt rubbed at his eyes. "What's going on, Care?"

"It's …" Her breathing brushed down the line, heavy and tense. "It's Jeremy."

"What about him—is he hurt?"

"He's … Matt, Jeremy's dead."

Chapter Text

 

 

VI. ‘Cause I can’t take it

 

Matt ran red light after red light, screaming through corners and clipping hedges. More than one indignant jogger flipped him off as he tore past. He didn't care.

He pulled up at the Gilbert residence, scraping the wheels against the gutter. He bailed out, not bothering to lock the truck as he took off across the grass. The door was unlocked, but had it been otherwise he felt desperate enough to take it right off its hinges.

Caroline was in the living room, makeup smudged with tears and exhaustion. "Thank god," she breathed, and it was all she got out before Matt tackled her into a hug. When she continued, her voice was muffled against his chest. "I thought you might run over someone on your way here."

"I was careful," he lied, pulling back but keeping Caroline at arm's length. "Where—how—"

"Elena took him upstairs. She—" Caroline lowered her voice, mindful of vampire senses. "She thinks his ring will bring him back."

A spark of hope ignited in Matt's chest, quashed instantly by the subsequent realisation. "It only works on humans that are killed by supernaturals."

"And while Katherine is supernatural—"

"—so is Jer. Fuck." The hollow ache returned to Matt's chest, one he knew all too well. "I'll go talk to her."

Caroline nodded. "I'm gonna try calling Ty again."

Hugging her one last time, Matt left to give her some privacy.


 

Elijah had never much liked Pennsylvania. A discomforting encounter with Quakers way back when had cured him of any affection for the wretched state. The summers in particular were unbearably humid, somehow worse than any he'd experienced in Louisiana. How many suits had he ruined with sweat in this awful piece of country?

To be fair, though, he'd ruined more with blood.

Setting aside his prejudice, as a learned man was wont to do, Elijah forced himself past the border and deeper into the state. The coordinates Allie had provided took him west to a small, armpit of a town that already festered with the coming summer.

(It was actually quite lovely, but he was in no state to acknowledge that.)

The town's hub of activity was a stretch of cafes and antique stores in a short street adjacent to the main one, and it was there that Elijah found himself. He bypassed the juice bar for a more traditional diner with checkered linoleum and a jukebox he was willing to compel them all not to touch. He ordered a black coffee and sat on a stool that creaked beneath him, the entire set-up a mockery of a bar. Even the smooth, plastic countertop beneath his fingers was red and sparkling clean so as to aid the sliding of milkshake glasses to eager customers.

Elijah accepted his coffee from one of the workers, a pimpled man with a nametag that read RANDY and who'd known every other customer by name, and who drawled at Elijah, "New in town?"

"Is it obvious?" Elijah replied, gesturing to his suit. Everyone else was dressed like they were going to the beach, with the exception of the uniformed workers at table No. 9.

"Yeah, you don't look like the regular folk, unless you're a real estate agent."

Elijah returned the man's smile despite having seen such a real estate agent setting up fliers on his way here, an agent who had been wearing a polo shirt under his suit jacket. "I'm here looking for a friend, actually."

"Who? Maybe it's someone I know."

Elijah pulled his phone from his pocket, first noting the absence of messages from Matthew, then tapping in his code and bringing up the picture of Elena he'd filched from the Mystic Falls High website for this exact purpose. She wasn't who he was looking for, but they were quite literally doppelgangers. "This woman," he said, showing the phone to the worker.

The worker leaned in close, squinting at the picture. "Can't say I've met her. Maybe you could ask around, though?"

"Perhaps. I was told she'd made herself quite a fixture in the town." Actually, Allie's exact words had been She's talking like she's the fucking queen boss, Uncle. "If you see anyone matching her description, do let her know I'm looking for her." It could make her run, but it could also draw her out enough for a conversation. Elijah was willing to take the risk.

"I sure will," the worker affirmed. He leaned back over his shoulder and yelled, "Going on break, boss!" then tossed his dishtowel over one shoulder and disappeared into the kitchen.

Elijah checked once more for notifications, then switched his phone off and returned it to his pocket. He shouldn't be this anxious really—Matthew had told him to leave, and he'd been right. It was time for Elijah to stop hanging onto his brother's apron strings. The solution to this was, of course, to track down the woman that had ruined his relationship with his brother to begin with.

By the time Elijah finished his (annoyingly decent) coffee he'd well and truly talked himself into a mood. So it wasn't really his fault he didn't notice someone was following him out of the diner until he was three streets away from the main action and their heels kept clicking on the sidewalk in a syncopated rhythm to compliment his.

He glanced over his shoulder quickly, finding no one there and the sound gone. Attuning his senses, Elijah froze. The scent wasn't like Katherine's—he knew that too well to be mistaken—but it was female and vampiric.

"I know you're there," Elijah announced in a cool tone. "Playing games will not end well for you."

"You're looking for Katherine," said the woman, her accent a crisp, almost too-perfect British.

Elijah tried to attune his hearing, to seek out a heartbeat, some whisper of breath in lungs, but found nothing. "And you can help me."

"Perhaps."

"If you could show yourself, I'd appreciate it."

"Why? Can't you find my heart, Elijah Mikaelson?"

He'd already been irritated; now he was what the Americans so aptly referred to as pissed. Which didn't help, because the roaring of blood in his ears only made it harder to pick out her location. Even her scent was difficult to negotiate among the alley they'd found themselves in, all sorts of unsavoury scents occupying his olfactory senses.

"Is she here?"

"So what if she is?"

It took conscious effort to un-grit his teeth. "I am not one to be run around by childish games. Either tell me where to find Katerina or I will leave."

Silence. Then, a heart beat. It began slowly, quickening to a more normal rate and coming with breaths and the sound of heels on a brick rooftop. Elijah looked up to see a vampire loom above him, short and round in stature and with short, pin-straight hair. She stepped from the rooftop as though she were descending a staircase, landing on the ground in front of him like the jump had been nothing at all.

"You stopped your heart," Elijah said, stepping back to survey her.

She dusted off her dusky pink cardigan with a few stiff, practiced movements, then turned her gaze on him. Something about it was unnerving, exacting. "I did."

"And you are?"

"Juliana Porter. I work with Miss Pierce."

With, not for. An interesting word choice, and a deliberate one, too, if her meticulous nature so far had been any indication.

"She's here, then?"

"Not presently, but she sends her apologies. She has been waiting for you, but other matters took her away."

"Why has she been waiting for me?" And how did she know I would come?

"I think you know the answer to that, Mr Mikaelson. Now, would you like me to show you to your room?"

Elijah raised an eyebrow. "I have a room?"

"But of course." Juliana's grin was large enough to show the place in her gums where her fangs laid in wait, just barely pressing against the pink. "Like I said: Katherine has been waiting for you."


 

Matt had seen too many dead bodies.

One could argue that one dead body was too many, but Matt did feel like he could almost have handled that. Maybe.

Who was he kidding? He could barely handle seeing undead bodies.

Now he was seeing both dead and undead: Elena, undead and perched beside Jeremy, dead and laid out on his bed as though he were only sleeping after all.

"I know what they're saying," Elena said, breaking the silence. "I'm not crazy."

Matt swallowed the lump in his throat. "No one's saying you're crazy."

"Just that I'm wrong." Elena's thumb brushed over the Gilbert ring on Jeremy's hand, fingernail catching on the blue stone.

"He's not human anymore, Elena. He stopped being human as soon as we activated his Hunter's curse." Just like werewolves, it was the first kill that brought a hunter out to play. The first vampire Jeremy had slain sealed his fate.

Elena shook her head. "Just—shut up, okay? He's gonna be fine. Everything's gonna be fine."

And though Matt knew otherwise, he sat beside Elena and tucked an arm around her.

Maybe things would be better once the Salvatores got back.


 

The room Juliana took Elijah to was exactly to his taste, from the plush, navy rug to the mahogany endtable to the precise threadcount on the Egyptian cotton sheets splashed over the memory foam mattress.

"Miss Katherine designed it for you especially," Juliana contributed from the doorway. "She said you'd come to find her."

Katherine always had been one step ahead of them. Elijah had long since given up on figuring out how she managed it. And though part of him wanted to run contrary to her assumptions, to not be kept waiting like some insect in amber until Katherine saw fit to fetch him … this was what he'd come here for.

"Shall I ask the kitchens to draw you some tea?"

Elijah turned back to face Juliana. For someone that had been so adamant about working with Katherine, not for her, she was sure behaving like a maidservant. "No," said Elijah. "I think some rum will suit me better."

Juliana raised an eyebrow. "Right you are, then. I'll leave you to it."

She departed, shutting the door behind her and leaving Elijah alone in the space his oldest love had carved for him.


 

Matt set the coffee cup down beside Caroline and slid into the booth across from her. "Still nothing from Ty?"

Caroline shook her head, setting her phone down. "Radio silence. I guess Klaus really got to him."

"He'll come around."

"Nope," said Caroline, popping the 'p' and bringing her coffee up under her nose. "I think the point of leaving was that he's never coming around again."

"He won't abandon you."

"I told him to go. We agreed it was for the best. Said goodbye and everything."

Funny, since Ty hadn't seen fit to show Matt the same courtesy. A dead best friend and one that might as well be dead, too. Fitting.

"I'm sorry," said Caroline, catching sight of Matt's face. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Matt bit out. I just picked a hell of a time to get rid of Elijah. Would he even care that Katherine had killed Jeremy? He had a history with her, Matt remembered. Then again, he had a history with Jeremy, the guy that killed Kol.

Once, just once, Matt would like to feel an uncomplicated emotion.

"You can talk to me." Caroline reached across the table to grab onto Matt's hand. "Jeremy meant a lot to you. And losing Ty, too …"

Matt withdrew a little. "I'm fine."

Caroline seemed about to argue when her phone started ringing. She said, "Stefan," and picked it up hurriedly. "Is everything okay?"

Matt couldn't make out the voice on the other ended, but it didn't sound particularly thrilled. Not that it should.

"Oh. Oh." Tears welled up in Caroline's eyes like they belonged there, though she fought them valiantly, biting her lip and tensing her frame in an attempt to gain control. She met Matt's gaze as she told Stefan, "We'll be right there."


 

The Gilbert house was burning.

Caroline had to get creative in driving through the amassed crowd, and even then they could hardly get onto the street before they were stopped by a ring of firetrucks forming a barrier. A few hoses were going, trying to douse the flames, but it was too late for the house. Half of it had crumbled before Matt even got out of the car.

The house he'd spent his entire childhood in was becoming a husk before his eyes.

Caroline grabbed his wrist and pulled him past the firetrucks, breathing, "Elena." They pushed forward to get to the Salvatores and Elena, who stood on a neighbouring lawn. Damon was blank-faced, Stefan was grim, and Elena …

Matt stepped forward, trying to get her attention. She watched the fire with a neutral expression, her tears long since dried by the warmth. "He's inside," she said. "They're fighting because they think he's still alive."

Jeremy. They had to find a cover for his death. It was smart, if not horrible. "Are you … okay?" Matt asked, hating how it sounded.

Elena looked away from the fire easily, turning on him with a blank expression. "I'm fine." She flicked her gaze to Damon. "Let's go."

To Matt's shock, Elena strode away, Damon trailing after her. He looked back over his shoulder to exchange a look with Stefan and was gone.

"What the hell was that?" Caroline demanded.

"That was Elena," Stefan answered. "Without her humanity."


 

The shower was just as luxurious as the bedroom had been, multiple nozzles and enough room for ten men to stand in. Elijah took more time than he needed, glad for the reprieve from motel showers.

The moment he turned the water off, Elijah knew she was back. Her scent reached him even through the steam, even as he heard her unmistakable heart beating outside.

He took his time drying off, shaving meticulously, and slipping on silk pyjama pants and one of the bathrobes provided. Katherine also seemed to be stalling, only just crossing the threshold as Elijah finished in the bathroom. He heard her farewell Juliana, who she seemed on good terms with. He heard her curse under her breath as she removed her heels halfway up the stairs, stockinged toes sinking into the lush carpet.

He did love her. Each reminder of the affliction was another punch to the gut.

Katherine slowed as she passed his bedroom door, but didn't quite stop. She picked up her pace and headed into her own room down the hall, leaving her door open. An invitation.

You've come this far, Elijah reasoned, tying his robe a little tighter, tucking his phone into the pocket. He headed down the hall and rapped his knuckles against the doorframe that thresholded her room, hoping the pattern of knocks sounded sufficiently bored and entirely undesperate.

He didn't wait for her invitation to enter—her bedroom was many things, but a human residence, it was not. He had no need for permission, and he knew for a fact that she would never give it. A verbal invitation sounded too much like a question, and a question permitted a response in the negative. Katerina Petrova was never denied.

She wasn't laid on the bed, as one might expect. Instead, she'd planted herself on the heavy leather chest at the foot of her bed, rubbing her now bare feet. Her shoes and stockings were in a pile at her feet, her trench coat draped beneath her like a skin easily shed. All she wore was a dress of the brightest blue, the kind that almost pulsed in the dim light.

"Hello, Katerina."

Her smile was guileless. "Elijah. So nice of you to join me."

Elijah leaned against the bed frame, ignoring the way her fingers dug into the arch of her foot, relieving a phantom ache that she didn't feel. She was a vampire, after all. The illusion of relaxation was just that—false. He wouldn't let it ease him. "Since you've had me waiting on you this past day, I'd say it is you that has joined me."

Katherine stood without warning, almost nose-to-nose with him in an instant. "We can join each other." She stepped away just as quickly, dissipating like a mist as she sat at her boudoir, shedding her dress on the way. She sat before it in a black slip only, facing her own reflection yet peering at him through the mirror.

"I'm so sorry to keep you waiting," she said, tone nothing in the vicinity of apology. She pulled one string of false eyelashes off, slowly, tossing it aside. As she moved to give the other one the same treatment, she locked eyes with Elijah. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

"Your own foresight, if my room is any indication."

"Oh, do you like it?" she asked, voice muffled by the tissue she was wiping her lipstick off with.

"It's precisely my taste, as you know."

She turned over her shoulder to gift him a smile. There were flecks of lipstick staining her teeth, pink and sparkling where she'd pressed them there with the tissue. He doubted that was an accident, nor how swollen her lips looked after cleaning them. "How are you, Elijah?"

"Well enough."

"I heard you and Klaus had a falling out."

"One hears many things if they listen. Not all of them are true."

Katherine opened a drawer and retrieved a packet of what appeared to be wipes. She pulled one out and began rubbing it over her eyelids, the shimmering powder come off like a dusting of sand under a saltwater spray. "I lied," she admitted. "I didn't hear it. But I could see it in your eyes when you walked in, and I guessed it when I prepared your room for you. I've always known you, Elijah."

And there it was: the reason he'd come. The one thing he loathed her for was the one thing he needed her for the most. Even Matthew hadn't been able to see how scarcely Elijah was holding on.

"Am I to guess the nature of this falling out, or will you save me the trouble and regale me with another tale of Mikaelson woe?"

Elijah broke her gaze in the mirror, looking around the room instead. "It was the usual. Lack of cooperation, plotting without our knowledge. He faked his death this time, though. That hasn't happened before."

"It's not exactly beneath him, though, is it?"

Opting not to reply, Elijah scooped up the discarded dress and stockings, placing them in the laundry hamper just beside the bathroom door. He fetched the coat and heels and wandered into the adjoining walk-in wardrobe, finding their places easily: the coat among its sisters, the shoes in the only spare place along the floor. By the time he returned to the room, Katherine was finished, beaming at him with a youthfulness that was almost hard to look at.

She looked like Katerina. Sometimes, she was.

"Always cleaning up after me, Elijah," said Katerina, not budging an inch. "After all of us. You must be so exhausted." Where once her tone had been mocking, now it was only sincere.

Left with nothing else, Elijah had only the truth. "Why else would I come?"

"The same reason you always do."

Katerina extended her hand. Elijah took it.


 

Matt sunk into the sofa, the same place he'd always sat. He knew the Lockwood mansion better than his own home—had likely spent more time in it, most of his best memories either here or the Gilbert house. He was almost certain that the reason the sofa in the den molded so well to him was the impression his ass had left in its surface during thousands of hours of Call of Duty with Ty.

All that time, he'd never thought he'd own the place. But he did—in his name and everything.

Honestly, if you asked Matt, Ty could go fuck himself. Acting like the mansion was a substitute for friendship. It was almost 3am and Matt was alone, all alone, in a house that had never embraced a single owner in its entire span. Everyone here was lonely eventually; Matt had watched Ty's parents grow colder every year in it. He was convinced it was cursed.

But it was also all he had left.

Pulling out his phone, Matt scrolled through his contacts for a while, just watching the names spin by like the world's saddest slot machine. He'd really fucked up when he let Jeremy go to that island alone, when he'd accepted his non-invitation without a fight. For what? Time with Elijah and some useless memories he didn't know how to deal with?

Maybe there were some things you just weren't supposed to know. Maybe the fact that your ex-girlfriend fed on you and compelled you to forget multiple times, that your other ex-girlfriend almost killed you and let her current maybe-boyfriend compel away your memories and leave you for dead, that your friend had compelled you to forget your own sister's death … maybe these were things Matt could have gone without knowing.

He did know he'd trade them in a second if he had half the chance.

Anger burning through him, Matt scrolled back through the names until he got to E. Pulling up his and Elijah's text messages, he found himself faced with the last few. All business, making plans to meet up, to get his memories fixed. Checking in on each other through drama after drama.

He wondered if Elijah knew that Jeremy was dead. Wondered if he cared.

Not giving himself a chance to think, Matt tapped out, Hey, where are you? He only barely stopped himself from sending it. What right did he have to ask? He'd sent Elijah away.

He'd sent everyone away.


 

Elijah stared at the bright rectangle of his screen in the dark.

No new messages.

Beside him in the bed, Katerina stirred. "'Lijah?" she whined, shielding her eyes from the light. "Something wrong?"

"No." Elijah clicked his phone off and set it on the nightstand. "Everything's fine. Go back to sleep."

Katerina hummed, reaching out to pull him to her. He went willingly, resting his cheek against her collarbone. He matched his breathing to hers until sleep took him.


 

Three days later, Elijah woke to his phone ringing. It was 3am and Katerina, who'd already shown her distaste for phones in the bedroom, groaned beside him.

"Sleep," Elijah told her, kissing her jaw and pulling the covers up. He swept up his phone, slipped on some pants and sped away, ending up down the street where the conversation wouldn't disturb his sleeping lover. And then he looked at the caller ID.

Answering in confusion, Elijah said, "Tam?"

"It's Lex."

"Lex? What are you doing with your mother's phone? Is everything all right?"

"Mom needs help. She won't call Grandma June, but she said I could call you."

"What happened?"

"She got hurt at work. Some guys came to the bar and stuff. She's in the hospital, and there's a lady here to take Dylan and me away."

"What lady?"

"She's a social worker. She says it's just to look after us while Mom's in the hospital, but she also asked a lot of questions about us being there when it happened."

"You were at the bar?" Of course they were. If childcare fell through, Tam couldn't just abandon her shift. Goddamit.

"Yeah. Can you please come? Dylan won't stop crying and Mom can't talk. I don't wanna go with the lady but she she says we have to."

Elijah ran a hand over his face. "All right, Lex. I need you to tell the lady that I'm your uncle. Say I'm coming to look after you, so she won't need to."

"What if she doesn't believe me?"

"You can put me on the phone to her now, if you like. But you have to keep up the story, make sure she doesn't think we're lying. Can you do that?"

"Yes, Uncle Eli." Shuffling on the end of the phone. "My uncle wants to talk to you."

More shuffling, then a woman's voice. "Hello? This is Janet. Who is this?"

"I'm Elijah, the boys' uncle."

"I was unaware Tamara had a brother."

"Uncle on their father's side. I'll be by to take care of them soon. I'm in Pennsylvania at the moment, but I'm packing as we speak." A lie. He was standing shirtless in the middle of the street. "I appreciate you looking after the boys while I make my way there."

"Yes, well, anything to help. It's been a rather traumatic situation for them both, and I'm sure Tamara will appreciate your help. You can pick the boys up from the child protective services office on the main street."

"Thank you so much. Would you mind putting Lex back on the phone?"

"Of course." More shuffling.

"Uncle Eli?"

"Lex. Janet is going to take you to her office, all right? I'll come by and pick you up before it's even light outside."

"What about Mom?"

"I'll make sure she's okay just as soon as I get you and Dylan sorted. She'd want you to take care of yourselves first. Do you understand?"

"I guess."

"Keep your mother's phone on you so you can call me if anything changes. I'll see you soon, all right?"

"All right."

With a beep, Lex hung up.

"Sounds like an interesting kid."

Elijah forced himself not to jump. "Hello, Juliana."

She emerged from the dark, heart resuming its beating. He'd have to ask her how she managed that. "So you're leaving, then?"

"I have matters to attend to. I'll leave a note for Katherine."

"Don't bother." Juliana smirked. "I'll be sure to give her the full story. Have fun on your little trip."

She flashed away without a word, leaving Elijah alone in the cobblestone street.


 

Elijah did, in fact, leave a note for Katerina. It was simple and without flowery sentiment—just the way they both preferred. He drove the entire way to Maryland in silence, hands clenching and unclenching on the wheel.

The Child Protective Services Office was a squat, brown-bricked building with a gravel parking lot inserted out back. It was empty but for one vehicle, presumably Janet's, and most of the lights inside were off.

The doors were locked, as was probably sensible, so Elijah rapped on the frame until a middle-aged woman appeared, her blue eyes watery—perhaps from crying, perhaps because they were just always like that. She unlocked the door quickly and offered him her hand to shake. The wall of warm air and peach-scented perfume hit Elijah like a physical force, almost knocking him back a step.

"Janet Payne," she introduced herself. "You must be Elijah?"

Elijah shook her hand and nodded.

"Please, come on in. I'll take you to the boys."

She led him in past the front desk, one with a perspex barrier and only a slot to pass paper back in forth through. Elijah imagined one would come in handy if he ever reconciled with his family. The 'TAKE A NUMBER AND WAIT YOUR TURN' sign had its own appeal as well.

The boys were in a room brimming with toys that looked like they'd seen better days. Then again, so did the boys. Lex's hair was sticking up at all sides and Dylan's mouth was ringed with something white and foamy, perhaps … ice cream? They were both in desperate need of baths, fresh clothes, and hair cuts. Only two of those were an easy fix.

"Elijah!" said Lex, standing up upon spotting him. He seemed unsure of how to react, whether to go for a hug or what. Knowing that Janet watched on, Elijah stooped down to embrace Lex himself. The assertion that they needed baths was confirmed by closer proximity.

"Come on," said Elijah. "Pack up your things and let's get going."

"I'll need you to sign some paperwork first," said Janet.

Elijah turned to her, catching her eye carefully. "If you check again, I'm sure you'll find that everything is in order."

She blinked heavily, compulsion falling over her mind like a soft blanket, and said, "Of course."

"Come now, boys," Elijah directed over his shoulder. "Let's get going."


 

As it turned out, Lex and Dylan were very well-behaved for relative strangers. Lex wasn't entirely trusting, but he seemed to have gauged Elijah as their only viable option while Tam was still in hospital.

Dylan crashed in his bed just after Lex gave him a bath. Elijah didn't interfere; young children were particularly difficult when they deviated from routine, and Elijah had no intention of triggering a tantrum. The only child he'd interacted with in recent memory was Allie, and they'd been a nightmare to deal with at times.

With Dylan in bed, Lex sought Elijah for more food and company. Elijah had pulled together what he could from the kitchen—some eggs on toast, as it was almost breakfast time. Lex didn't seem all that tired, though.

"When are we going to go see Mom?" he asked through his egg.

"Once your brother wakes. I called the hospital to make sure they told her you're with me."

Lex nodded and set his cutlery down to pick up his toast and start chewing on it. "Where did you go?"

"I had family business to attend to."

"What kind of business?"

"The difficult kind."

Lex considered him. "Do you have kids?"

"No. I have siblings, though." And that's sometimes the same thing. "Why weren't you with your babysitter last night?" Tam should have had the money for it. Elijah had compelled her a raise, after all.

"Mom caught the sitter stealing some of her clothes last week. She hasn't found a new one yet."

People really were heathens sometimes, Elijah concluded.

"Are you gonna leave again?" Lex asked. There was nothing in his tone to indicate how he felt about it—he certainly wasn't upset, in any case. And why should he be? He barely knew Elijah.

"Not until I know everything's all right."

"Why can't you just stay?"

"Because I have things to do, Lex."

"What do you do for a living?"

"I'm … a writer." The lie came easily; he'd used it most recently, when trying to worm his way into the Gilberts' lives. Just a writer researching Mystic Falls history, he'd told Jenna. He wondered if his lie hurried her death at his brother's hand.

"That's cool, I guess," Lex said boredly, playing with his now soggy toast.

Elijah stifled a laugh. Children were always good for the ego.

"You should get some rest," said Elijah. "Your mother will want to know you're doing well when she sees you."

"I'm not tired, though."

"Don't lie. I know you yawned when you were coming down the hallway. Finish your toast and get some sleep."

Lex didn't complain, but Elijah could tell he wanted to. "I'm not hungry," he said instead.

"Good. Brush your teeth. I'll wake you in a few hours."

"What if it's not visiting hours at the hospital?"

"I'm sure we'll figure something out. Go on, now."

Lex shot him one last look before wandering off down the hall, leaving Elijah with the half-eaten toast and an uncomfortable silence.


 

The hours passed slowly, Elijah monitoring the boys in the back of his mind. Dylan stayed right out until mid-morning, but Lex tossed and turned for the better part of three hours before he drifted off.

Entertaining Dylan wasn't difficult, much to Elijah's relief. He mostly drank from juice boxes and watched TV; neither of these things were strictly healthy, but Elijah didn't know enough about Tam's rules to enforce them. He allowed it, listening closely from the next room in case he was needed.

Lex didn't need waking. He rolled out of bed after a meagre two hours of rest, as grouchy as the teenager he would be in a few short years. He dressed both Dylan and himself, barely stopping to eat before insisting on going to see his mother.

Elijah drove with the radio on, something he rarely did. The music was annoying, but Dylan knew one or two songs and Lex seemed content to just be.

The hospital wasn't busy, thank god. It was a small-town one with barely enough room for two ambulances in the bay. There was only one nurse working the front desk—an older woman in purple, flowery scrubs. Her breath smelled like the egg she'd had for breakfast.

"Well, hi, there," she cooed, looking down at Dylan and Lex. "Everything all right, folks?"

"We're here to see Tamara Knight. She was brought in last night, injured in a bar fight."

"You a relative?"

"Her brother."

The nurse clicked at her computer for a moment. "Yep, here she is. Room 204. Go down the hall, turn left, then right, then left again. You should find her easy enough."

"Thank you."

Elijah led the boys down the way the nurse had said, but he didn't need the directions. He could hear Tam's breathing, her heartbeat—he could smell her scent. They arrived at her door, 204, and Lex knocked without being asked.

"Come in!"

Lex opened the door, making way for Dylan to dart in toward his mother. She reached over the edge of her bed and took him into her arms.

"Careful," Elijah cautioned, drawing Tam's gaze to him. Her eyes caught Elijah's, sharp, then turned to Lex as she motioned him closer. The three of them embraced, and Elijah ducked out, closing the door behind him.


 

Half an hour later, Lex poked his head out to find Elijah standing in the hall. "Mom wants to talk to you. I'm s'posed to take Dylan to the vending machine for some food."

"Do you have money?"

"Duh. Come on, Dylan." Lex pulled Dylan along down the hall in search of food, leaving the door wide open for Elijah to step through.

Inside, Tam was sitting up in her bed. She looked brighter than she had when he caught a glimpse of her earlier, some more colour in her cheeks, brighter light behind her eyes. She wasn't hooked up to any machines or drips, though there was a bandaid over the back of her left hand.

"How are you feeling?" Elijah asked, sitting down beside her.

"Fine. I had a slight concussion, but they said I should be out by tonight."

Elijah could smell the blood on her, so he kept staring until she continued, "And there's a cut on the back of my shoulder. Not too deep, but they stitched it up." She motioned to her shoulder, the bandages rustling as she moved. They were mostly out of sight, but made her hospital gown look bulky.

"What happened last night? Lex said you were attacked by some man."

"Yeah, just a regular patron."

Elijah stared at her, unimpressed.

"What?" asked Tam, raising her arms innocently. "It's true. He's in there all the time." She sighed. "But we also dated."

"And was his anger at you related to his patronage or your relationship?"

"The latter."

"I trust he's in custody?"

"Yeah, but he won't stay that way. His brother's one of the deputies. Gets him off for everything—DUIs, drunken disorderlies, all of it."

"He won't be this time."

"You sound so certain."

"I am. What else can I do for you?"

"Nothing, really. You already took the boys."

"You don't sound entirely comfortable with that."

Tam shook her head. "Lex was right to call you. There wasn't another option. I just didn't sleep well knowing my kids were in the care of a relative stranger."

"Would you have preferred I leave them with social services?" Elijah intended it as a genuine question. "If so, I apologise, but the situation as it was communicated to me—"

"No, it's fine. They would've looked the kids up, called their grandmother."

"Yes, the famed 'Grandma June'. Your mother or their father's?"

"Mine."

"You were seriously injured in a bar fight. Your mother has no place in this?"

"If she set foot in this town, she'd be reporting me to social services."

"She'd incite a custody battle?"

"She'd win it, too. She's got money, a nice house, a good name, a college education. I've got a record for solicitation and I just got glassed in a fight with an ex-boyfriend while my children cowered under the bar I work at." Tam laughed bitterly. "Maybe they'd be better off with her."

"Do you believe that?"

"I hated living with her, but I might've hated living like this, too."

"You love your sons more than she ever will."

"Love isn't always enough."

"Not always, no." Elijah thought of Niklaus, begging him to free him from his chains with their father beat him, while their mother cursed him. He thought of Rebekah suffering at Niklaus' hand again and again while Elijah watched on. He thought of Marcel, the boy they rescued and left to Niklaus to ruin. "You have to choose whether you allow yourself to be their mother or a spectator in their upbringing. Choose wisely, and choose quickly, because there are two police officers sixty seconds away from arriving at this door to question you over last night's events."

Tam's eyes widened. "How do you—"

"I just know. Choose, Tam. They have your police records, they know who you are, and they have the power to report you to the relevant bodies. Choose what you want me to help you achieve."

"I can't." Tears welled up in her eyes. "I can't stop this from going wrong."

"Do you want me to? I can make this all go away."

"I … I don't know. What would you do?"

"This isn't up to me, Tam. Now, tell me—what do you want?"

The door opened, revealing Lex and Dylan. Dylan wandered right in to show his mother the bag of cheetos from the vending machine, but Lex stayed rooted in place, looking down the hall at the approaching police officers.

"That looks yum, baby," Tam told Dylan absently. "How about you go and get some real food with Elijah and your brother, huh?"

"Tam, I can stay—"

"No, Elijah." Tam met his gaze. "I have some things to take care of."

The officers arrived at the door, Lex still staring up at them.

"Tamara Knight?" asked one of them, fingers hooked into his belt.

Lex stepped away from them, back into the room. "Mom?"

"It's fine, sweetie. You're going to lunch with Uncle Elijah while I talk to the officers about last night, okay?"

"Can't I stay?"

"We'll come right back," Elijah assured him. "I swear."

Lex didn't repeat his protests, eyeing the police officers with trepidation as Elijah led him out.


 

Lunch was awkward. Dylan picked an ice cream shop that Elijah didn't have the presence of mind to argue against. Lunch became sundaes, and being babysat by "Uncle Elijah" turned into an hour long sugar high that Elijah didn't dare bring back to the hospital.

It was Lex's suggestion, going to the park. He seemed to have inferred the need to fill in time, and having Dylan burn off the high was only a positive. Elijah sat on a bench beside a breastfeeding woman while he watched the boys. Dylan raced around the equipment, Lex following him with a watchful eye.

Elijah's phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out, finding himself facing a raunchy selfie of Katerina. He had no idea when she'd had a chance to enter her new number and add a contact photo, and he didn't have the presence of mind to wonder. The woman on the bench beside him must have seen the image, too, as she slid away from him a fraction and tightened her grip on the baby.

So, really, Elijah could hardly be blamed for answering the phone with a curt, "Hello."

"You don't sound as happy about my new contact photo as I thought you would."

"You don't ask for permission as much as I think you should."

"Because it's boring. Where are you?"

"Did Juliana not fill you in?"

"She said something about Maryland, some kid calling you. Care to fill me in? Oh, thank you, Randy," Katerina cooed, taking a long sip of something.

"You're at the diner."

"And you travelled interstate. Spill."

Elijah hesitated. Trusting Katerina had never ended well for anyone, and he had no intention of falling back into old habits. Had he known Juliana was listening to his conversation the night before, he'd have found somewhere else to talk. As it was, Katerina had caught a scent and she had no intention of letting it slip away. "Can we discuss it when I get back?"

"When will that be?"

"Soon." Elijah got the sense that Tam didn't like having him watch the boys, and if she was doing what he thought she was then how she felt wouldn't matter much longer anyway. "I'll update you when I know more. Things are … complicated."

"Then tell me. Maybe I can help."

"Not to doubt your skills, Katerina, but I doubt there's anything here that you can handle that I cannot. It's all rather …" Elijah watched Lex help Dylan onto the see-saw. "Mundane."

Katerina chuckled. "I'll steer clear, then." There was a pause, only the sound of chatter in the diner and wind in the park between them. "You were gone when I woke up."

"I left a note."

"You could've woken me and told me yourself."

"You travelled far enough. You needed your rest."

"How do you know how far I travelled?"

"Your hair smelled like dirt when you first returned. I assumed you wouldn't allow yourself to be sullied unless it was in a remote location, lest someone capture the incident on film."

"The worst of all human inventions." Another pause. "I hope I don't have to wake up alone for long."

"I'll be back soon." Back. Not home. He didn't say that anymore.

"Promise?"

"Of course. And if you miss me, you can just call."

"Mm. I guess my photo should entice you back on its own."

"That it should," Elijah replied, as though he had no intention of changing it as soon as the call ended. The last thing he needed was one of the boys picking up his phone while Katerina called it. "I look forward to seeing you again."

"You'd better. See you soon."

The indistinct chatter cut off, leaving Elijah with a dead line.


 

Walking into the hospital felt more like walking into a morgue. The police cruiser was absent from the parking lot as he pulled on, but the moment Elijah opened his car door he caught a waft of peach perfume and knew exactly what was coming.

Janet was there.

Lex helped Dylan out of his carseat. The toddler's eyes were droopy, his hair slick with cooling sweat at the temples. He was certainly past his sugar high.

"Let's go see your mother," Elijah said, trying (and failing) to get a reaction from one of them. As when they first came by, it was Lex who held Dylan's hand when they crossed the road. Elijah was more of a spectator than anything else as Lex followed the path they'd originally taken, arriving at his mother's hospital room door. It was ajar, both Tam and Janet inside.

"What's she doing here?" asked Lex, eyeing Janet with disdain.

"She's here to talk to us about a few things," Tam replied. She spotted Dylan and opened her arms wide. "C'mere, baby!"

Dylan wandered over to his mother, climbing up onto her bed and settling in along her side. She ran a hand through his damp hair, then looked back at Lex, who hadn't moved an inch.

"Come in, Lex. We need to talk."

"I'll … give you all a moment," said Elijah, excusing himself. He shut the door behind him and avoided Lex's gaze through the glass as he walked away.


 

Two hours later, Elijah was still studiously ignoring the loud conversation he could easily eavesdrop on—Lex was currently accusing his mother of abandonment, and Elijah had no intention of intruding on that difficult moment. He'd visited the billing department to see to things, but that had been irritatingly free of bureaucratic nonsense and concluded in half an hour. Elijah soon came to the conclusion that there was only so much time a person could spend in the cafeteria before they lost track of any world that existed beyond it, which was how he found himself staring down at the mimicry of a sandwich before him while the argument on the other side of the hospital reached fever pitch.

"I promise I'll visit you there, Lexi," Tam was saying. "It's not forever—just for now."

"But you hate Grandma June! You never want to see her—"

"I don't hate her, Lex. She's my mother. We don't always get along, but that doesn't mean you won't."

"We don't even know her."

"You knew her when you were a baby and you loved her. She used to sing you songs and play all kinds of games; you thought she hung the moon. Trust me, Lex. This will be good for you."

"But this is our home …"

Elijah forced himself to tune out once more, taking a bite of his sandwich. He promptly spat it out, but at least it was distracting enough from the matter at hand to give him a temporary reprieve.


 

Tam was discharged by 4pm, as sworn by the medical staff. She enquired about the bills and was informed of their status as paid; something in the way she looked at Elijah told him she wasn't thrilled by his interference. She had bigger things to worry about.

Elijah drove the three of them home after Janet departed. Tam was forbidden from driving while she was on pain meds, though Elijah could tell she hadn't taken any yet. Her shoulder bothered her, but she put on a good show as she tried to get Lex to talk to her.

He wouldn't.

With the boys home and unpacked from their day, Elijah was left at rather a loose end. He quickly got the impression he was an unwelcome hoverer in what was Tam's last few hours with her boys before her mother arrived the next morning, so he made himself scarce.

Surprisingly, the old man running the motel recognised Elijah from his visit several weeks previously. Unsurprisingly, the same room was free, the ice machine was still broken, and Elijah wished desperately he were anywhere else.

Dropping down onto the bed, Elijah checked his phone for messages, finding nothing. He told himself he was waiting to hear from Katerina. He knew it wasn't true.


 

Once the blood started flowing, Tam's ex-boyfriend was a screamer. Elijah kept him silent enough.


 

Elijah stayed clear of the Knight house the next morning. Tam had his number; she'd call if she needed him. She didn't until late that afternoon, when the sun's light filtered through the motel window and lit up the dust motes Elijah was trying desperately not to see.

"They're gone," was the first thing she said. "CPS wasn't even involved. I just let her take them."

Elijah paused, waiting for more information. She didn't speak, just breathed heavy on the line. "I'll be there in five minutes," he said, ending the call.


 

Elijah arrived in three minutes, wasting no time in letting himself in by the unlocked front door. He flicked it locked behind him and continued on, finding Tam at the kitchen table with the remains of what looked like a very depressing lunch in front of her.

"Are you all right?"

Tam didn't speak, just met his gaze with an exasperated look—or as exasperated as it could be while her eyes were so unfocused. Elijah scented the air for alcohol, finding nothing. She must have finally taken her meds.

"You should get some rest," he suggested. "I can find some dinner for when you wake up—"

"I need you to leave."

"Pardon?"

"Leave town," she clarified, struggling up from her chair. "I can't rebuild my life with you looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like you can fix it. It's not yours to fix, and I don't want you here while I do it myself."

"Tam, please, let me help you."

"Why?" asked Tam, words slurring together. "Why d'you care? You drove all the way here from another state to watch my kids. I let you b'cause of what you did f' me, b'cause I trusted you, b'cause I thought nothing could be worse and that anything was better than my mother and you'd just be helpful for a little bit then you go and pay my bills and you're just here all the time and it's … what do you want from me?" She drew in a breath, stepping back from him a little until her back hit the wall. She hissed at the pain. "Why did you have to kill him?"

"Tamara, what—"

"I know Benny is dead. They found his body in the river. Said it looks like a suicide, but I know better." Her gaze was accusatory, her stance defensive. Perhaps not quite enough for someone accusing another of murder, but still, the judgment was there.

"Tamara, he—he hurt you. He would've hurt your sons."

"You don't know that!"

"I ASKED HIM, Tamara!" Elijah snapped. "I asked him, and he told me everything he did and everything he was going to do. Why would I let him live?"

"His brother's a deputy," said Tam, breathless and wide-eyed. "I could turn you in. You'd never see the light of day again."

"You won't." Elijah tried to sound certain. He could always compel her, but he didn't want to. She'd do what she did and he would face the consequences.

"Why not? Why shouldn't I? You're a killer, Elijah. I let you watch my children and then you killed a man."

"A man that tried to hurt you."

"That doesn't mean you can kill him!" Tam kicked the back of her foot against the wall, eyes screwed shut. "Just … leave, Elijah. Please."

"You've been through a lot, Tam. You're angry now, so get some rest. I'll come by in the morning with breakfast—"

"Oh, my god, no. This isn't some trauma response, Elijah. I need you to go."

Elijah drew back, calculating. "I'll be in town until tomorrow morning," he said, deciding as he said it aloud. "If you ask me to stay, I will. But if I don't have a message from you by nine tomorrow, I'll know you want me gone for real."

"Are you always this smothering?" Tam scoffed. "No wonder you don't have a family."

"You're lashing out," Elijah said, rationalising. "I'll take my leave. Please—call me if you need to."

Tam didn't respond, just watched him carefully as he retreated. He could've sworn he still felt her eyes on his back, all the way down the street.


 

No call came through from Tam by morning. Elijah didn't know what he'd expected, but the feeling was familiar. First Klaus, then Matthew, now Tam—all making it perfectly clear just how unnecessary he was.

It's unbecoming to pout, he warned himself, schooling his features as he stopped by the front office of the motel to check out.

"Good day for travel," said the old man, taking the key back from Elijah and hanging it on its hook. "You drive safe now, friend."

"Thank you for your hospitality." Elijah swept up his suitcase, not one for wheeling it—there was something plebeian about the movement that he abhorred—and made his way out, stepping lightly over the cracks in the concrete before arriving at his car.

Inside, Elijah paused. His phone burned a hole in his pocket (almost literally, as he'd been informed there was a slight overheating issue he needed to have seen to). Pulling it out, he found the conversation with Katerina and tapped out a message.

Heading back to town.

It took Katerina all of ten seconds to reply. I've always wanted to have a picnic at the gazebo in town.

I know the one. Should be there about 1PM.

Make it 2. You have to stop for food for us.

Elijah snorted. Katerina Petrova did not fill baskets with pastries for outdoors picnics. 2PM it is. I'll see you soon.

And with that, Elijah got on the road.