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I'm Not Okay (I'm Getting There)

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The thing was.  Well.  The thing was that for a long, long time, Klaus’s superpower had basically just been ‘dead brother.’  He’d been so fucked up in so many ways for so long—high, so high, higher up in the sky than poor, devoted, deluded Luther off on his moon escapades, and probably for longer, too—and he’d done it to himself for a goddamn reason.  He’d done anything and everything, whatever it took, in order to press his powers and everything that entailed down deep enough that he didn’t have to scream himself to sleep; the fact that Ben was still there didn’t have anything to do with him and everything to do with the way Ben clung to what was left of his connection to his living self.

Klaus himself, though, was incidental in the bargain.  Ben was the constant shadow over his shoulder who insulted and cajoled him, egged him on and pulled him back.  Sometimes he even whispered warnings in Klaus’s ear before a dealer in some skeevy back alleyway could shank him like he’d planned somewhere outside of Klaus’s hearing.  Klaus was the connection to the living world that Ben couldn’t avoid, not if he wanted to be anything other than just another shade, just another disembodied voice screaming out pain and suffering that the world they’d left behind would never hear.

Five could teleport and time travel.  Allison bent reality with just her voice.  Diego could curve whatever he threw and he never, ever missed.

Klaus kept their dead brother from getting bored and lonely in the afterlife.  It was probably still better than Luther’s ability, because all Luther had going for him was the raw strength and resilience of a dump truck, but not by much.

But maybe that wasn’t true at all, because if Ben could touch—and by touch Klaus meant punch Klaus in the face—then Klaus wasn’t just living life as the world’s worst satellite antenna.  Ben could have contact with the world for the first time in years.  Ben could—glow blue and defend their family from a hit squad bent on assassinating them, apparently.  That was pretty damn awesome, and it was because of him.  Go him!  Go Ben!

It had only been a single breathless minute, where his hands lit up with the same blue light tying Ben to the physical world, but it had been enough.  For a minute, his powers were limitless, were infinite, were muscles finally stretching after years spent coiled up tight and locked up inside in the dark.  For a minute, he wasn’t an antenna, a crackling misbehaved connection over the airwaves; he was the bridge between life and death, the live wire, the conduit, the medium—the Séance—and even gravity wasn’t quite holding him down the way it should.  Another minute more, and he was sure it would have let him go entirely.

* * *

They didn’t have another minute.

* * *

Then they were five-six-seven assholes standing in a ring and holding hands, holding tight to each other, surrounded by a different sort of blue light as Five’s powers rattled time and space around them.

Then they were themselves, but not, bodies slipping back to the wrong when; then they weren’t that, either, still the right minds but now in the wrong where—adult brains and memories in their childhood bodies and experiencing their childhood lives, and that wasn’t going to fucking cut it, no sir.  Even Five, who’d been living out something of the same thing through the whole apocalypse-plus-buildup, wasn’t going to stand for that.  Blue light shivered around them again, humming with that peculiar shhh-whoomp sound that Five’s powers left behind when he slipped through space and time.

* * *

Then they were a lot of things, in a lot of places, when and where.  Klaus didn’t pretend to understand whatever time-travel shenanigans they were undertaking, since Five was their resident ‘expert’ and even he seemed to be mostly making this shit up as they went along.

At least the Commission wasn’t interfering, wherever-whenever they were.  Five insisted that as long as they kept moving and didn’t make changes to the timeline that would stick, they’d be left alone.

They were fifteen, and then five, and then twenty-five.  Sometimes they landed together, and sometimes they slid into place in their old bodies-lives and had to go tearing across the city to get back together before they could jump again.  The longest it had taken was a week, when Allison had been in Europe for a movie shoot and had to wait until her manager left her alone long enough for her to escape without having to answer any questions.

So far no one had needed to go on an expedition to retrieve Luther from the moon.  With their luck, though, it was probably just a matter of time.

Vanya was the most fucked up by the whole thing.  She’d come back to consciousness with a jolt, and unlike Klaus on some of his most violent benders, she had remembered every last bit of what had been done—by her and to her—while she’d been on her power-crazed rampage.  She had some pretty wild mood swings, from an obsessive guilt to a swirling fury that was directed at everyone and everything equally.  In the early days, there was a lot of yelling, accusations and threats tossed around by just about everyone in just about equal measure, and not a lot actually got resolved. 

No one was actually, actively trying to kill anyone else while they went along, no matter how much resentment was quietly festering away underneath.  It was enough to start with.

Ben probably had it the worst out of everyone.  Far enough back in the timeline, Five’s powers threw him back into his physical body, with all the emotions and sensations that came with it; past the moment of his death, he was a ghost again, invisible and inaccessible unless Klaus got it together and managed to manifest him.

Klaus was not great at manifesting.

Diego disappeared for two days, once, and came back only when Ben had hunted him down and Klaus had showed up to find out what the hell was up with him.  As much as he’d missed and wanted to see his dead girlfriend—and god, Klaus got it, he did—it probably wasn’t a good idea to stalk her around town and loiter in her bushes or whatever, and Klaus pointed this out.  “Buck up and get your ass in there,” Klaus told him seriously after he’d pounded on the window of Diego’s car until his brother had given in and unlocked the door.  “Or get out of here.  You can’t watch her through the windows forever, buddy.  Someone’s eventually going to report the creeper with binoculars peeping on a lady from across the street.”  Diego went home.

Allison spoke as much as she could in the early days, like she was making up for the lack of her voice while she still could. The first time they jumped to a point in time far enough forward, she called up her daughter and talked for hours until her voice went hoarse, and the next day when she woke up to find she had lost her voice entirely, she had a panic attack and couldn’t be talked down until Luther made her some hot tea with honey and convinced her it would come back, this time.  Even as time passed, they still caught her reaching up to touch her throat every once in a while, like she was checking that it was still intact.  She took to dragging a notebook and pen along with her through the jumps, ready for the moment to come when she’d need it again.

Five took in everything he saw in the parts of the timeline he’d missed the first time around, with the detached curiosity of a zoologist observing a herd of wild animals in their natural habitat.  At any given moment, he was probably about five seconds away from whipping out a book to take notes.  Luther tried to ‘help’ Five and explain some of the changes, but he’d spent most of his life either mostly alone in a mansion, punching people in the face, or isolated on the moon.  His socialization and pop culture knowledge were either oddly specific or entirely lacking.  He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Top 40s hits of the 1980s and 90s, for example, but memes escaped him entirely, and the first time he saw a fidget spinner it had startled him so much that he threw the half-eaten muffin he was holding at the poor girl just trying to entertain herself behind the counter during her drop-dead dull diner shift.

Five not-so-politely told him to stop trying, after that.

* * *

One early jump threw Klaus back to a place he hadn’t exactly missed—strung out and half naked in someone’s house, with no idea whose, or where, or even why he’d gone in the first place, but it was hardly the first or only time and with whatever cocktail this past-body had in place of blood, it only barely mattered.  Klaus watched the ceiling spin and heave in unsteady waves over his head, and the world stayed peaceful and quiet as time stretched like taffy around him.

He’d missed this.  It hadn’t even been that long, really, and he had missed it already with a fixated, guilty intensity.  He was never, ever telling Ben.

He came back to his body a bit when Ben—in spirit only, in this when and where—dropped to his knees and started screaming in his face, words he didn’t understand and a meaning beyond comprehension.  At least it got him focused enough to start looking outside of himself again.  That was the only reason that when some crazy-eyed stranger barreled into view, he was with it enough for the adrenaline to jolt him into acting.

He rolled out of the way, quick enough to avoid the stab to the side that had laid him up for weeks, once upon a time, while he sweated out the fever and infection.  His fighting skills had never been as developed as his siblings’, and he hadn’t practiced for years, but there was still a reason they called it muscle memory.  Lashing out, knocking the other man’s legs out from under him, all came as instinctively as it did to ignore the shallow slice that he took across the arm in order to defend his chest and neck.  A sloppy grab and twist were more than enough to knock the knife out of this tweaker’s hand—the bastard was probably just as fucked up as Klaus was, if not more so, and that meant Klaus’s lack of coordination wasn’t so much a hindrance as an equalizer.

The blade went skittering across the floor.  The other man cursed, loud and long.  Klaus took the second of opportunity that gave him to waver between fight and flight, knowing he would rather run but also mostly sure that his legs weren’t going to hold him up if he tried.

Before he had to decide, an arm like a tree trunk came shooting into view, locked around the other man’s collar, and yanked him right off Klaus and entirely out of sight.

Klaus gaped, startled, at the empty space left behind.  “Weird,” he decided at last, when the patch of air stubbornly continued to lack anyone trying to kill him.  That hadn’t happened the first time around, he didn’t think.

“Hey, hey, bro, you with me?  Klaus, can you hear me?”

Klaus blinked, and sounds turned into words, turned his head to the side and could suddenly tell the words were coming from Diego, who had appeared next to him without warning.

That was also weird, but he didn’t mind this particular weirdness as much.  “Oh, hi,” he said, cheerfully enough, even though Diego was scowling like someone had kicked his puppy.  Klaus hadn’t done any kicking of anything, so it probably wasn’t for him, exactly, just pointed in his general direction.  “When did you get here?”

Diego probably answered, but now Klaus was registering sounds again and he was distracted by the weird noises coming from outside the room—thumps and crashes and a lot of yelling.  Klaus let his gaze wander that direction, saw—something, that definitely was some kind of thing, and it was taking a lot of brain power to try and work it out.

That was Luther out there, he could tell, flinging someone around the hallway like a fucked-up human frisbee—Klaus would recognize that refrigerator body anywhere, no matter how hard he was trying to hide it under a trench coat.  The whole picture was almost weirder than Diego appearing out of nowhere, actually, since it was a mostly normal turn of events but in the totally wrong context.

Diego grabbed him by the chin and dragged his gaze back around.  Klaus’s eyes slid over the empty spot where crazy-guy had been a minute before on the way by, and remembered he maybe had bigger problems.

“Hey, wait, wait wait wait.  Where’d he go?  The guy, you know, the guy who stabbed me?”

“Stabbed?” Diego repeated, alarmed, seeming to see the blood for the first time.  There wasn’t all that much, really.  Only, like, a medium amount.  Nothing to worry about.

“Oh, no, that was last time,” Klaus reassured him.  “No stabbing this timeline.  Still a bastard, though.  Where’d he go?”

“Luther’s got him, okay?  Nothing to worry about.  Can you focus up for me, please?  Can you tell me where the blood is coming from?”  The next bit was barely a mutter, probably not meant for Klaus at all.  “God, you’re so damn out of it right now.  What the hell did you even take?”

“It wasn’t me,” Klaus told him earnestly.  Whatever this body was on, the Klaus inhabiting it hadn’t had anything to do with it.  He took a second to offer out his bleeding arm, since Diego seemed so interested in it.  “I’m sober now.”

“Yeah, buddy, sure,” Diego said, immediately way too distracted by whatever he was doing to Klaus’s arm to really be listening.

“I am!” Klaus protested, rolling his head on a long loop around his neck, tipping it side-back-side-front-side and watching the world swirl and dive like a roller coaster while he stayed still.  “Three whole days.  I’m really doing it this time.  Tell him, Ben,” he insisted, when Ben dipped into view over Diego’s shoulder.  He looked back and forth between his two brothers.  “I pinky-swear, D.  I’m doing it.  Benny-boy punched the pills right out of my mouth last time I tried to fuck it up.”

“No shit.”  Diego glanced up at him, and then over his shoulder to check what Klaus was looking at.  “Really?”

When Klaus just stared up at him, not saying anything, Ben finally caved and said, “yeah, Klaus, that’s right,” in the special calm voice he only used when he really wanted to start losing his shit.  Klaus smiled and nodded up at him, because, really, it wasn’t as bad as all that.

“Shit,” Diego said again, with more emphasis.  “Only you, man.”

There was a shh-whoomp sound, and when Klaus jumped, Ben glanced over his shoulder to check it out, because Ben was cool like that.  “It’s just Five,” he said, scooting over so Klaus could see too.

“Oh.  Hey, little brother,” Klaus said, giggling at the scowl that broke out on Five’s grumpy little face.

“Good, you’ve got him,” Five said to Diego, choosing to ignore Klaus’s whole business.  “Allison and Vanya say they didn’t find him.  Obviously.  They’ll meet us outside.  Think you can turn this disaster into a walking disaster, instead?”

Klaus gasped dramatically, tried to throw a hand on his chest over his heart and ended up smacking himself in the mouth instead.  Good enough.

“Turn it down a couple notches.  He’s had a rough day,” Diego said, and then, through some kind of witchcraft, got an arm under Klaus’s shoulders, twisted and heaved, and suddenly they were all standing.

“Yeah, little bro, be nice to me.”  He waved his wounded arm in Five’s direction, noting with surprise that Diego had managed a decent bandaging job somehow without him noticing.  “I got stabbed.”

“You did not get stabbed,” Ben muttered.  Diego, meanwhile, dragged at Klaus until they started moving forward.

“Stop calling me ‘little brother,’” Five snapped, because his priorities were very different from Ben and Diego’s.

“Oh, but you’re all my little brothers and sisters,” Klaus insisted, shambling along in his best impression of a steady walk.  “Vietnam, remember?  I’m ten months older than these punks now.”

“Ten months?” Diego repeated to himself.  And then, much louder, added, “Vietnam?

“Well, sure,” Five said, waving Diego off, “you’re a bit older than them, but you’ve got decades to go before you catch up with me.”

Klaus grinned up at him, mostly teeth, since he’d clenched them together to try to keep the giggles that kept trying to escape inside.  “They’re little in age,” he said, pressing the side of his face into Diego’s shoulder to try to muffle the laugh.  “You’re little in…”  He gestured at the top of his own head, and then let his hand drop to hover down at the level of Five’s.

Somewhere behind Klaus’s back, Ben burst into laughter.

Five did not.  He sighed, deeply disappointed.  “You have absolutely no filter when you’re high.”

“He’s not,” Diego said, clipped and short in the way that told Klaus he was pissed off.  “Or at least, he shouldn’t be.  He says he’s supposed to be clean, hasn’t taken anything in a couple of days.”

“And you believe him?” Five said with a raised eyebrow, not exactly in total disbelief, but definitely getting there.

Diego shrugged, and Klaus felt the motion slide through Diego’s arm and then down and up his whole body, wavering until Diego tightened his grasp and steadied him again.  “He said Ben punched him in the face last time he tried,” he told Five.  “I believe that, hell yeah.”

“Well, shit,” Five said, eyeing Klaus like something slimy he’d found in a test tube.  “I didn’t know that would happen.”

“Can you fix it?” Diego said tightly.

Five shrugged.  “Probably.  I don’t know everything, you know.  I can try to figure this out, make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“Aw, it isn’t so bad,” Klaus announced with the sort of careless nonchalance that only someone very stupid, very fucked up, or very much both could muster.  “But don’t tell Ben.  He punches really hard.”

No one argued with that.

* * *

Klaus didn’t know what Five had done, exactly, but after that, in every jump they took, Klaus’s body and age matched the time-place, but the state of that body matched Klaus’s personal timeline, instead.  It was really just a fancy way to say that Klaus was getting to enjoy withdrawals and detoxing in all kinds of interesting points in his past, instead of riding the high like he had the first time around.

“I think I’m getting the hang of this,” was all Five said, when Klaus tried to ask, and wouldn’t say anything else.

He did wonder if Five was doing the same thing for Vanya, too.  They were hopping around times when she’d been on her pills, after all.  The walls weren’t shaking down around them or anything, so maybe Five’d made the executive decision to leave her drugged up, but Klaus didn’t think so, and not because he didn’t know that Five was plenty mercenary enough to do it if he thought it was necessary.

It was because every once in a while, out of the corner of his eyes, he could see her eyes shining a beautiful, brilliant white.

* * *

A hundred times, a hundred little moments, a hundred different places and ages all blurring together.  Five seemed to have some sort of theme going, most of their stops tossing them together at moments when Vanya had reached out and been turned away, or when they had reached out to her and failed to connect.

Klaus figured he was turning into some kind of time-traveling Jiminy Cricket, except still infinitely more stab-happy.  That didn’t stop any of them from taking the chances they were offered.  Diego was bad at it, but he was trying—showing Vanya his knives, asking questions about her and her music, which was at least something he was genuinely interested in.  Just by being sometimes present, Ben was doing a better job, since he’d been gone so long none of them had taken the time to really build up much resentment.  And he was sweet to her, too, with none of the playful mockery or tough love he liked to throw at Klaus.  Allison and Klaus followed his lead, that gentle coaxing invitation.  They called Vanya in to join them while they sat and painted each other’s nails.  They asked her opinion.  They listened when she spoke.

Even Five slowed down, hesitated, focused in.  At last he told Vanya he should have stopped to think or at least say thank you, say goodbye, that morning when they were kids, when he had run out of the room and kept running until he had hit the aftermath of the apocalypse.

Luther struggled.  Vanya flinched whenever he got too close and tended to look at him like she would have happily blasted him across the room, if only she could control her powers enough to do it.  Klaus could sort of understand that feeling.  He didn’t end up being a part of whatever reconciliation they were trying for, there, though he did catch a lot of glimpses of Allison or Diego shoved between Luther and Vanya while the two talked, or, more accurately, shouted at each other.  Vanya and her little noodley stick arms would have been allowed, under sibling law, to shove and smack at Luther when she got angry.  Luther, who could bend iron bars with his bare hands, was not.  By family vote, he’d have to get by without physical aggression going forward.

No starting a fight with Diego to end an argument.  No taking a swing at Klaus when he got pissed off.  Absolutely no choking Vanya out and putting her back in the basement.

They were doing more than just doing a speed-run through some heavy immersion therapy for Vanya.  Five didn’t have that kind of precision understanding and control, or even a precise knowledge of every critical point in their lives after he’d left.  The rest of them got chances with the others, too, to change the things they knew now, as damaged adults, had needed to be changed.

Support instead of competition, or at least in addition to competition.  A hand up when one of them hit the floor.  Backing each other up when Dad got too intense.  Family stuff.

It didn’t matter where-when they were.  It didn’t even matter that when Five made the next jump and dragged the six of them along, he promptly erased every change they had just made.  They were moving together, so it was still happening to them, even if it wasn’t happening to the rest of the world—a thousand little statements to Vanya, to each other, that they were there.  That they’d do better from now on. 

* * *

“I really think we’re getting somewhere,” Five said thoughtfully, after about two months of travel.

Luther scoffed.  “Yeah, we’re definitely getting somewhere, Five.  We’re getting all over the place, actually.”

“Like a pinball in a windstorm,” Diego muttered.

“More like I’m figuring out how to do this in a way that means someday we get to stop,” Five shot back.  “But, hey, I’m open to alternative suggestions.  Do let me know if you’ve got any better ideas.”

* * *

When they arrived in the next place-time, their original selves were on a mission, Klaus could tell that much.  It took a minute to process the change to the environment enough to decide which one, exactly, it had been—and then he remembered.

Understanding hit him like a kick to the gut, knocking the wind out of him for a crucial few seconds.

He cried out, spun around in place.  He didn’t waste time with planning or strategy, just dove through and around obstacles because he didn’t have time, still not enough time, and even though he could see some of the others trying the same out of the corners of his eyes, they were all of them too far away, too busy with their own opponents, too slow.  Klaus had nightmares about this in the original timeline, would have them again in whatever future he had still to come, only this time they would be memories—where he went running as fast as he could, and was still too slow to do anything but catch a face full of the blood spray as Ben took the hit.

The fatal blow.

Last time, Ben had been long gone by the time Klaus had gotten to him, by the time anyone realized something had gone wrong.  This time, Klaus caught him before he hit the ground, almost before the entities in his stomach finished their work and pulled back inside, leaving wholly-human Ben behind.

Ben, with his massive amounts of internal and external bleeding.

Klaus thought he was maybe apologizing and almost certainly crying as they went down the rest of the way together, Ben shouting once with the pain of it, short and sharp, even though Klaus had gone as gentle as he could.  This was familiar, wasn’t it?  He’d held the bodies of the people he loved time and time again, with Ben, with Dave, with a hundred buddies and allies from the war—bodies on the ground and blood sticky-hot against his hands as he tried to keep it where it was supposed to go.

What was less familiar was the way Ben smiled up at him, easy as anything.  Nobody should look so absolutely fearless even while they shook and shivered and bled to death in Klaus’s arms, especially not Klaus’s brother, his best friend.  “Hey, hey, this is fine.  It’s okay,” Ben said, gasping for breath around whatever had gone fucked up with his lungs.  “We’ve done this before, yeah?  We can do it again.  I’ll be right back, you know I will.”

“Yeah,” Klaus choked out, swallowed the gasping sobs that wanted to break free.  Ben didn’t need that right now. 

He gave up on keeping pressure on the injuries in favor of a frantic flurry of movement.  He grabbed at Ben’s hand as tightly as he could, ruffled his hair, pulled his brother up a little from where he was lying halfway across his lap and wrapped an arm around his shoulders—hugged him tight the way he hadn’t dared do before, the way he’d wanted to so desperately from the moment Ben’s spirit had first reappeared to him, and Ben leaned into it with everything he had left.  It had to hurt, but Ben didn’t seem to care.  “Yeah, Benny, I know.  I’ll see you soon.”

“I promise,” Ben said on a wheezing sigh, barely a breath of air in Klaus’s ear.  He squeezed Klaus’s hand once, twice, convulsive, like it was one last message he was trying to convey, and then—and then—

Everything stopped.  The gasps for breath, the struggling heartbeat.  Ben’s body went limp, went still, one last time.

Now it didn’t matter if Klaus lost his shit.  “Fuck, damn it, Ben—not again—”

Five’s powers whisked them all away again.

* * *

Klaus lost time.  He thought he remembered Diego shaking him, Luther yelling, Five slapping him almost delicately across the face.  Someone shouted at them; they backed off.  Allison and Vanya came and sat with him for a while, the three of them wrapped up in a circle of knees pressed too close together and arms twisted around backs and over shoulders—even Vanya’s hold on her shining white fury was wholly forgotten in the face of old grief made new again.

It could have been hours later; it could have been days, or weeks.  The first time he’d counted the wait down to the minute, desperate and out of his mind, equally terrified that Ben would and wouldn’t appear.  This time, his fucked-up brain had decided to engage in some good old-fashioned dissociation instead; there was nothing in that soft, hazy disconnect, nothing good or bad to think about or feel.  He could drift along, untethered, easy.  Let the others handle the emotional baggage for a while.  Klaus had checked out.

Allison had eventually made him change his clothes and rinse off, and then she’d taken a cloth and warm water and wiped his hands clean of the last of Ben’s blood.  Vanya had wrapped herself around his back like a living blanket, and Diego had appeared from somewhere to gently hold his wrists and keep them steady while Allison worked.  It didn’t matter.  He was still picking dried blood out from under his fingernails.

None of it mattered.  He was still waiting.

“You look like shit,” Ben said, wandering into view and looking Klaus over with the same critical nonchalance he used when he caught Klaus shooting up in a crackhouse or sleeping in a dumpster.  Klaus was totally sober and doing nothing more socially deviant than lying flat on his back across the kitchen table, staring blankly at the ceiling, so probably it should have felt harsh.  Instead there was only a totally disproportionate rush of elation, relief.

Living-Ben had jumped around in age and appearance the same as the rest of them.  Spirit-Ben appeared exactly as he had been on the day of the apocalypse every time, thank fuck—clean and whole, not the tattered and bloody mess he’d been as he died.  Klaus’s heart crawled up into his throat and tried to choke him.  “You’re one to talk,” Klaus said, lied, and Ben was kind enough to pretend not to notice the way his voice cracked down the middle, the way he had to cover his face with both hands for a minute until he got himself back under control.

“Aw, did you miss me?” Ben said, smiling.  Gentle.  So, okay, it turned out the asshole was actually just giving him a minute to let his guard down before starting in on the mockery.

Brothers.  Honestly.

“Not even a little,” Klaus said, still lying, but of course there was no way Ben didn’t already know the truth.

* * *

They jumped again, and again, and again.

“I’ve almost got it,” Five said, though what ‘it’ was and where that might take them was still a mystery.  It had been a little more than three months in time as they’d lived it since they’d started.  “I mean it this time.  We’re almost done.”

* * *

And then, so far back it almost didn’t make sense, almost couldn’t register as proper memory, there was a teeny tiny Allison—she couldn’t have been more than four years old, for god’s sake—stepping toward an equally tiny Vanya at Reggie’s not-so-gentle nudge.  Klaus recognized, with a distant sort of horror, the cage, soundproofed and spike-filled and nightmarish when he knew that it had been made with this squeaky-small version of his littlest sister in mind.  The rest of them shouldn’t have been there, hadn’t been the first time around, but no one seemed to notice the sudden appearance of a squad of toddlers on the scene.  “I heard a rumor,” Allison said—

I heard a rumor you think you’re nothing but ordinary, that little Allison had said, once upon a time, and Klaus knew it even if he’d never heard it said.  It echoed, a fixed point in time, a shiver in reality as Daddy Dumbass pushed them along onto the first step of what would eventually become the end of the world.

All at once everything flickered blue—Five’s blue, not Klaus’s.  When it passed Dad was gone and suddenly it was grown-up Allison and Vanya positioned in their counterparts’ places—Allison in the doorway with her throat held together with stitches and tape and a prayer, and Vanya vibrating with rage and glowing with power, barely contained by the metal cage built to hold in what their father hadn’t ever managed to control.  The rest of them were back to their future selves as well.  Klaus could tell without looking in a mirror, feeling a rightness of self that had been missing while they had all jumped around.

“No.  Fuck rumors,” Allison said, her voice barely a voice at all, only a dry, rasping scrape of sound that hurt just to listen to.  It didn’t stop her from pushing on, leaning forward so she could grab the force of nature they called their sister by the shoulders and shake her, hard.  She flickered blue again, the bandage on her throat disappearing as she dropped a couple days-weeks-months of time without losing an ounce of intensity.  When she spoke next, her voice was clear.  “Fuck Dad.  It was never true, and I’m so sorry I was ever young and stupid enough to say it.  You’re extraordinary, Vanya, you are, and it doesn’t have a single fucking thing to do with your power.  You’re our sister, and we’re fucked up in all kinds of ways but we love you.  I love you.

Vanya’s expression tightened, light growing more intense around her.  Klaus sucked in a breath, heard Five do the same from where he was sweating with effort.  Luther went to take a step forward, and Klaus felt a panicked jump in the pit of his stomach before Ben lunged forward and grabbed Luther—actually grabbed Luther by the shoulder to hold him back for that critical second before Diego sidestepped casually in front of him and elbowed him hard in the gut.

Allison flickered blue, clean white bandages reappearing on her neck, and opened her arms.

The white glow winked out all at once, like flipping a switch.  Vanya threw herself forward and into Allison’s hold, face crumpling as she burst into tears.

“There it is,” Five said softly.  “That just might do it.”  He relaxed, tucked his hands into his pockets, and looked around at his siblings with firm satisfaction.  “Well, who’s ready to go home?”

* * *

They huddled together in a circle in the basement, as far from the doorway to Vanya’s prison as they could get, Allison and Vanya with arms linked, Ben hovering in the space left at Klaus’s side.  They’d gone through a round of hugs, for those of them who were comfortable with it—mostly Klaus had jumped on his two sisters and tried his best to crush the stuffing out of them, while Diego had gingerly patted Vanya on the shoulder and Luther and Five had hovered in the background.  Klaus hadn’t quite gotten Ben solid, but he was amped up enough that he had dragged him into view, shining blue, for just long enough to offer a nod to everyone and mime a pat on the shoulder that no one could feel.

The girls were still sniffling, a little; even Diego had teared up for a minute or two there.

Five, though, was all business.  “None of this happened,” he told them, waving a hand to indicate everything that the ‘this’ might possibly encompass.  “Or, at least, that’ll be true as far as the timeline is concerned.  We’ll go back to a fixed point where we all existed together—I think the moment I first came through the portal in the yard should do nicely—and we will substitute this version of us, the version furthest along, for the version that ought to exist then in the proper timeline.  Eight days of activity, erased, and we get to relive the week leading up to the apocalypse with the firm knowledge of what we need to do and avoid, and a grasp of the consequences of our actions should we fail.”

“Avoid the crazy lunatics with the suits and the masks,” Diego said immediately, planting his feet firmly in place.

“Get our shit together and work our problems out like real adults,” Klaus added, accepting a firm nod and a high-five from Allison, who had her lips clamped together tightly so she wouldn’t forget herself and try to talk out loud again.

“Keep control, don’t blow up the moon, and avoid the end of the world?” Vanya suggested tentatively.  Allison didn’t give her a high-five, but she did reach out to squeeze her hand briefly, which Klaus thought Vanya might appreciate more anyway.

“Don’t look at me,” Luther said.  “I don’t know what changes I need to make.  I didn’t cause our problems.”  Allison glared at him.  “What?  I didn’t!” he protested.  “I’ve been on the moon!”

“Let’s add ‘get Luther to address his daddy issues, his anger issues, his control issues, and his persecution complex’ to the list,” Five said, rolling his eyes.

“And make him stop bringing up the moon thing every five minutes,” Ben said, grumpy.  “It’s really annoying.  Besides, it’s the moon.  That’s so fucking awesome.  Blah blah blah, he had to go to space, be an astronaut, do what little kids dream about doing when they grow up.  Well, I had to be dead.”

Klaus nodded sympathetically in his direction to acknowledge a very fair point, and then leaned across their circle to clap Luther on the shoulder.  “Ben says living on the moon is way cooler than being dead, so maybe shut up about it.”

OOH, BURN, Allison took the time to write in her notebook, where only Klaus—and by extension, Ben—could see.

Alright, children, that’s enough,” Five shouted, rubbing at his eyes to show just how done he was with all their nonsense.  “Shall we go?”

* * *

There was one last leap, one last screaming push into the blue void, and then they all fell together in one big pile out back behind the house: all of them looking just as they had when they’d left, most of them still in their bowling shoes, tumbling down to the lawn in a mess of limbs.  Ben’s spirit-self landed neatly on his feet in the middle of the mess, phased half-through a torso and a couple of limbs.  He waded straight through everyone on his way out, looking pissed off about the whole thing, like he’d been dropped into a mud puddle instead of a pile of his siblings.

It was the day of the bastard’s funeral.  It had been a little over three months since the apocalypse; at the same time, there was a little more than a week until the scheduled end of the world.

They scraped themselves off the ground and trooped inside together.  It didn’t take much for Five, still in a thirteen-year-old body, to convince Pogo about the general details (for physical proof they had Vanya, all in white, her eyes still glowing with power) and for Diego to convince Pogo fix Mom’s programming (a pointed comment and steady glower were more than enough).  And then the seven of them sat down and told Mom and Pogo everything.

“Great job, folks,” Five said when they’d finished, reaching for a heavy glass with one hand and a bottle off the bar with the other.  “Crisis averted.”

* * *

They all crashed hard that night.

* * *

“No wonder the bastard had so much trouble training us to stop the apocalypse,” Klaus said idly on the first new morning, while Mom set the table for breakfast. 

They had all shuffled into the kitchen at more or less the same time, not yet willing to linger too far out of each other’s sight, and sorted themselves into seats while Mom finished cooking.  Diego had offered to help and was soundly turned away with all of Mom’s typical cheer.  Five had turned up that morning clutching two empty coffee pots in one hand and an unboxed coffeemaker in the other like a security blanket (none of them had asked), and was starting on brewing the second pot, all the while clinging to the entirety of the first batch and looking an inch away from hissing at anyone who tried to take it from him.  Nobody had even questioned the empty seat next to Klaus, even though it was prime real estate, which meant Ben could sit at the table too without worrying about accidentally phasing through a sibling who couldn’t see him.

“Hm?” Mom said, looking at Klaus over her shoulder.  “What’s that, honey?”

“Well, it turns out that this whole time, the answer to stopping the end of the world was just active communication plus the power of love,” Klaus said, waving a hand between Allison and Vanya, both half-asleep and leaning on each other as they waited for more coffee to brew.  “It makes sense the old man struggled with that, since, as we all know, he only loved one thing besides himself.”

“Oh yeah?  And what was that?”  Diego was clearly only barely paying attention, but he still mustered up more than enough venom to suggest that dad’s Number Two was having trouble thinking of anything their father had loved at all, excepting his illustrious self.

“Keeping secrets,” Vanya mumbled under her breath.  “Abusing his children.”

Both of those were also true, actually, but not where Klaus had been going with this.  “Oh, his Mr. Peanut cosplay, obviously,” he told the table seriously.  “I think it might have been a sex thing.”

Across the table, Luther choked on a drink of orange juice and ended up spraying half of it out his nose.

“Master Klaus!” Pogo snapped at the same moment, totally scandalized.

Klaus put his nose in the air, sniffed, and then spoke with total conviction.  “Why are you booing me?  I’m right.”

“Homophobia,” Five said flatly.  He was perched up on the counter like some sort of gargoyle, his hair a wild mess standing practically straight on end.  He’d vanished late the night before when everyone else was heading off to sleep for the night, apparently to ‘make absolutely fucking sure’ that his ‘former coworkers weren’t about to show up and fuck everything up again.’  Wherever he’d been, it didn’t seem like he’d slept at all.

Klaus sighed dramatically, sprawling back in his chair.  “I knew it.”

Ben mimed patting him on the back, but he was clearly rolling his eyes.  “Hoo, boy.  Someone’s been drinking their Dumb Bitch Juice this morning.”

Pogo shook his head and let it go, but Luther was still spluttering, juice dripping down his face.  Still, it was Vanya who spoke up, her face screwing up into a look of exaggerated concentration.  “A sex thing, huh?  I always thought he was in a long-term committed relationship,” she said, and paused just a split second to make sure she had them on the hook before she delivered the finisher.  “With his bathroom mirror.”

Everyone but Luther, Pogo, and Mom burst into laughter at that.  Even Five let out a little cackle.  Luther just wheezed in horror, a sound like a dying whale, and slid down in his chair until even his massive shoulders disappeared from sight behind the table.  That meant he was at an angle where he couldn’t read the note Allison scribbled out to show around the room, but that was probably a good thing.

THAT’S STILL A SEX THING, she had written, and there was no way Luther could have come back from a blow like that.

* * *

It was hard to believe that they were back to a place where they were just—living their lives, with nothing to worry about except for whatever plans they’d made and the day-to-day shit that carried them along.

Ben had it simplest.  He was dead.  Unless he wanted to head off into the great beyond, he was stuck with Klaus for a while.

* * *

Of the ones still in the land of the living, it was Five who probably had it together best, which was really saying something, because Five was actually a deeply traumatized man-child with attachment issues and problems dealing with his emotions in healthy ways.  He also was a deeply traumatized man-child who’d already taken more than fifteen seconds to process that the apocalypse had ended and that he’d need to find a new purpose in life, which put him an order of magnitude ahead of the rest of them.

He was pissed off to find himself stuck as a thirteen-year-old again; nothing he tried would change it.  He theorized, mostly to himself but in the rest of the family’s hearing, that whatever he’d done wrong in that first jump back to rejoin his siblings had done some kind of permanent damage to his footprint in the space-time continuum.

Namely, that he looked thirteen again, and was possibly staying that way.  If he did age, it was going to have to be at a normal rate.  It did not make him happy.

He also missed Delores.  Apparently, they’d broken up sometime during round one of the pre-apocalypse week, and now he was trying to give her some ‘space.’  They were still friends, Five assured the family, ignoring the collection of politely blank or absolutely befuddled looks he was getting in response.  Of course, Five said, he would visit her.  The idea of a tiny teenager wandering into a department store to have friendly conversations with his mannequin ex-wife was deeply, deeply hilarious to Klaus, and he hoped Five would let him tag along at least once.

Five got sloppily drunk more than a few times over the course of the week, and his siblings kept finding him sprawled across some surface or other around the house with a bottle or a glass in hand.  Diego thought he might be doing it that way on purpose—at least if he was passed out at home, in plain sight, then Luther and Diego knew they didn’t need to go on another city-wide manhunt to find him.  It was a sign that he wasn’t going totally off the rails.

Allison took him shopping after the third or fourth time it happened, and they came back with a handful of receipt slips for a tailored collection of teenager-sized new suits.  Allison steered him toward looks that wouldn’t look completely out of place on a body his age, but that would still help him look and feel less like a schoolboy.

There were only the usual levels of drinking after that (usual for Five, not for a schoolboy).

* * *

Allison, meanwhile, might have thought about her career and her daughter, but she had bigger immediate concerns.  Right off the bat, she let Mom check out her throat.  Her vocal cords were damaged, still, but Pogo and Mom were pretty convinced that they’d heal up well enough after a while.  As soon as the stitches came out, Pogo said, she would be able to whisper and hum to her heart’s content; eventually she’d be strong enough to vocalize again, even if her voice might always be raspier, quieter, than it had been before.  Until then, she was stuck on enforced silence while things healed, so she stuck to her little notebook.  A little thing like a ban on speaking up would never keep Allison from being heard; she took to thwapping people over the head with her book and pen if they didn’t wait for her to write out what she wanted to say, when she wanted to say it.

They all learned fast to let her say her piece.

Still, there were some things she couldn’t do without a voice.  She ended up recruiting Luther to help her call, and then video chat, with her daughter and ex-husband.  Apparently the two of them were under the impression that she had been in a minor accident on the way to her father’s funeral, which probably was what got her enough pity points from her ex to initiate a conversation.  The fact that she couldn’t rumor anyone was probably what convinced him to let it continue, though.

Klaus hadn’t really been a part of any of those conversations, but he had wandered through the background of a few Skype calls with Claire, his niece.  That was a trip.  She seemed like an adorable kid, thrilled to see her mom and Luther and even Klaus himself, who she called ‘Uncle Klaus’ and actually recognized on sight.

Klaus hadn’t known that Allison had talked about them so often. 

“Do you think she knows about me?” Ben said quietly, his face soft as he looked at her smiling little face on the screen.

Klaus felt something clench hard in his stomach, probably just heartburn, and tossed out a cheerful “Uncle Ben says hi!” as he made his hasty way out of the room. 

Behind him, he heard a dramatic gasp, and then a little voice shrieked, “Whooooooooa!  Uncle Ben is here too?  Awesome!”

That clenching feeling was spreading, moving up to his chest, to his throat.  Man, heartburn was a real bitch.

* * *

If Klaus had to name the two most important things in Diego’s life, the answer would have been easy: Diego loved his knives, and he loved his mom.

Klaus was starting to think that might be wrong, though.  Not the part about Mom—Diego had latched onto her the minute they had reemerged into the time stream and was refusing to let go.  Diego would have happily run into a collapsing building to save her, and Klaus knew that for sure, since he’d been the one to have to drag him back when Vanya had knocked the house down and Diego had tried to get back inside.

But maybe there was one other thing Diego thought was more important than his knives.  Klaus had known that his brother cared about his detective, a thought that filled him with guilt just as much as empathy, but Diego, it turned out, loved her, and that made it ten times worse that she had died, that Diego had to be the one to find the body while it was still warm.

Klaus knew that feeling too.

The first thing Allison had tried to do when she came back to the present was talk to her daughter.  The first thing Diego had done was call Eudora.

There were more than a few phone calls after that over the next few days.  Patch had been suspicious at first; it seemed Diego had been wringing that police connection as much as he could, as often as he could.  But Diego seemed to have taken ‘active communication and the power of love’ as his new motto, because Klaus had wandered across him tucked away in various corners of the house, having long emotional conversations where the two of them got working on fixing their issues.

The first time he’d stumbled across Diego in the middle of one such call he almost hadn’t recognized who was speaking.  Soft words, soft voice—Diego put on such a front that it was easy to miss the fact that he was actually a squishy toasted marshmallow under the layers of genuine badassery.  Patch, it turned out, had the honest privilege of interacting with a Diego with a few of those outer layers stripped away, and what was left behind was a man who was actually quite sweet.

It was hard to believe it of a man who wore nothing but leather and harnesses, like he’d styled himself straight out of a BDSM fetish magazine.  But it was what it was, and Klaus hoped the lovely detective knew what kind of a good thing she had going.

* * *

Vanya had what was, in Klaus’s opinion, the most sensible reaction to all the shit that had happened: she called her therapist.  Klaus hadn’t known that anyone in their family had the guts to open up to a stranger about all their shit, even if they were all very, very damaged people who definitely needed the help, but Vanya had lived her life as the ‘normal one’ and normal people went to therapy when they had serious problems.

After breakfast the first morning, she went into her room for almost an hour to talk to her old therapist on the phone, and then took a cab into the city, where she disappeared for practically the entire rest of the day.  Allison went alone to pick her up, and the two of them came back with gallons and gallons of ice cream and about eight pizzas before setting up downstairs in one of the big sitting rooms to watch movies the rest of the night.

Klaus and Ben wandered in first, totally by accident, and ended up getting sucked into the whole thing.  Ben used the dead brother card to get everyone to agree to see some movie he’d missed after dying, something that had come out while Klaus had been too far down his self-destructive spiral to do normal shit like go to a movie theater.  Klaus got Allison to dig out a couple bottles of old nail polish that had probably seen better days, and he and Allison competed to paint Vanya’s nails, taking one hand each.

Allison’s efforts were uniform and neat, a mix of pretty blue and white.  Klaus’s version was a mish-mash of styles, sometimes with spots and stripes, sometimes with layered colors that he painted over each other before the one underneath had time to dry, leaving odd brownish patches in places.  He covered those mistakes with little flowers that he dotted on with the legs of one of those little plastic tables out of a pizza box.

Diego showed next, and he came in with microwave popcorn already in hand, a still-hot bag that he offered to Vanya like he was trying to bribe his way in.  Mom came in behind him with fresh stuff she had popped herself on the stove, and nothing that Diego or anyone else said convinced her that she didn’t need to go to all that effort; she kept them well-supplied all night.

Luther edged into the room halfway through a movie, and settled onto the edge of a couch like he thought he was about to be asked to leave.  He inched his way closer to Allison over the course of the night, until eventually she rolled her eyes and just leaned up against his side, twisting so that her legs were on the couch and her feet on Vanya’s lap.

A good hour or so later Five finally poked his head around the door, noticed the mob of people, and immediately teleported away.  Klaus assumed he’d run for his antisocial life, right up until the moment started popping back in and out in little flashes of blue, carrying blankets and throw pillows and duvets and basically anything he could find or strip out of the rest of the house.  He tossed a blanket or two at Allison and Vanya, a soft and squishy pillow at Klaus when he made pathetic noises and grabby hands in its general direction, and piled the rest into a sort of nest on the floor.  Once he was satisfied, he crawled in, pulled the topmost blanket up over himself so that only his eyes peeked out, and refused to come back out for the rest of the night.  Every once in a while, Diego refilled the popcorn bowl someone had settled just outside the edge of his blanket cave, and after a minute or two, a narrow hand would sneak out to snatch up a handful at a time.

Maybe it had started as something of a pity party.  But it turned into something—nice, good, in a way that being a family, being together, hadn’t been good for a long time.

* * *

The second morning after they got back, Five came to Klaus’s room around seven A.M. and threw loose shoes in Klaus’s general direction until he woke up with a shout.

“What?” Klaus said, scrubbing at his eyelashes until crusted old mascara crumbled off and let him open his eyes to stare blearily across the room at his brother.  “What, what is it, what do you want?”

“Get up and get dressed,” Five ordered.  “You’re taking me to where Hazel and Cha-Cha were staying last time.  Some crusty old motel, I’m sure.  We’re making absolutely sure they’re not showing up this time around, and you’re the only one here right now who knows where it is.”

Klaus blinked at him while he tried to process that.  “Uh, that sounds like a riotous good time and all,” he mumbled, “but I cannot express to you just how much I do not want to go back to the place I was kidnapped and tortured in the hopes that the weirdoes who did it maybe aren’t there.  Because I don’t want to.  At all.”  He rubbed at his eyes again, in the hopes that Five would maybe disappear and this would all turn out to be a very weird dream, but no dice.  “Ever,” he finished firmly.

Ten minutes later Klaus found himself in the passenger seat of a car driven by someone who looked like a thirteen-year-old, regretting everything.  This was what he deserved for having a tiny force of nature as a brother, and also the strength of will of a wet noodle when he was just waking up, he guessed.  Even Ben hadn’t bothered to come along.

They got to the motel.  Klaus showed Five to the correct room, thinking they could get this whole thing over quick and easy as Five teleported through the door to check inside when no one answered their knock.

He didn’t realize that, when that one room turned up empty, Five was going to want to check the other ones, too.  All of them.  Every.  Last.  One.

When they got back home almost four frustrating hours later, Five jumped away and Klaus headed upstairs on his own, only to run back into Five and also Diego in the hallway just outside his bedroom.

“What’s Ben say?” Diego demanded, blocking Klaus from moving forward with his whole body.

At almost the same time, Ben said, “Tell him it’s clear.”

“He says it’s all clear,” Klaus repeated slowly, stuttering to a stop.  He tried to edge around Diego again, and this time, his brother let him.  “Guys?  What’s going…on…”

His room looked like a tornado had blown through it, which was totally normal, except this tornado had left almost everything in a different spot from where it had been when Klaus had left that morning, which was not.

“We cleaned you out,” Diego said.  “Or, well, I did, while Five distracted you.  Ben kept an eye on everything.  Even Mom joined in for a bit when she figured out what we were doing.”

“I hate to tell you this,” Klaus said, eyeing his room, which was still a disaster zone.  “I don’t think you cleaned anything.”

“He said cleaned out, not cleaned up.”  Five strolled into the room.  “By which he meant that he found and removed any drugs, alcohol, etcetera that you were keeping in here.”

“Mom says she’s already hunted down and cleaned up anything you hid in the rest of the house from when we were kids,” Diego added.  “So now the whole place is drug-free.”

“Not alcohol-free, of course, this family would collapse if no one in here could drink to forget their problems,” Five added.  “But if you want to do it, you’re going to have to do it out in the open, and under supervision.  We’ll know.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Klaus snapped, stuck somewhere between confused and pissed off.  “You went through—you did—what?”

“You heard us,” Five told him, cheerful in the face of Klaus’s misery.  “You’re going stone-cold sober, we’re all very proud, very supportive, blah blah blah.  We figured the best thing we could do was remove temptation as much as we could.”

Diego nodded along.  “It was Ben’s idea,” he added.

Ben set this up?”  Klaus eyed Ben, then his other brothers, trying to figure out how Ben had managed without Klaus around to translate.  Maybe a Ouija board?

Five rolled his eyes.  “Hey, remember that trip we took through the best hits of our past?  Happened maybe the day before yesterday?”  He actually waited for Klaus to nod before he carried on.  “Ben wasn’t a ghost the whole time, dumbass.  He asked us to do this if we ever got back, and told us where you hid most of your stashes.  All Diego and I had to do was get you out of the house for a bit.”

“Betrayal,” Klaus gasped, clapping a hand over his heart and turning to Ben with his best heartbroken look.  Ben looked pleased in response, not at all chastened.  “Treachery!  How could you play me like that?  My own brothers?”

“Oh, calm down, drama queen.”  Diego rolled his eyes.  “The rest of your trash heap’s right where you left it, except the stuff Mom ran through the laundry.  And Ben warned us not to look in the box in the closet, so your freaky shit’s untouched.”  A mental image popped into Klaus’s head, of Diego covering his eyes and carefully lifting the lid on the box, while ghost-Ben peeped over his shoulder so he could look through it for any illicit substances.

There was no use getting upset about it.  What was done was done, and—well, he was sober now, wasn’t he?  And he did want to stay that way, even if sometimes the temptation dug at him like claws in his skin.  (Maybe his brothers had the right idea.)  “Well, that’s fine, then,” Klaus said, and skipped across the room to fling himself on the bed, which smelled like a mountain spring and fresh air.  Nice—Mom must have washed the sheets, too.  “As long as the dildo collection is safe.”

“You have a dildo collection?” Diego said, horrified.

“You have a dildo collection?” Five said, mostly intrigued.

“You wish there were only dildos in there,” Ben said on a sigh.

That was one comment that Klaus was more than happy to translate.

* * *

In the middle of the week, the first chair in Vanya’s orchestra broke her hand and needed to be replaced.

Vanya got stuck in a spiraling panic attack in the library when she found out via an email mailing list the morning of the auditions for a replacement.  She didn’t come out of it entirely until Five took a trip over to Harold Jenkins’ place and made sure the woman hadn’t actually gotten murdered and her body hidden up in the attic this time around.   He disappeared for a few hours, and when he showed up again, he reported that she was alive and well, aside from the cast on her arm, and that Harold Jenkins wasn’t going to be a problem for a good long while, if ever.

Vanya took the news with nothing but relief.  Allison narrowed her eyes, but didn’t question it.  Luther didn’t appear to be listening; he mostly just seemed glad that the crying had finally stopped.

There were a couple spots of blood on Five’s collar and neck, high up and faint enough that Vanya didn’t notice.  Diego did (ex-cops had still been trained to notice that kind of thing, once upon a time), and Klaus did too (junkies who were only barely ex-junkies were also great at noticing shit like that, those little danger signs).

“Did you kill him?” Diego asked bluntly, pulling Five out of Vanya’s earshot by the elbow.

Five rolled his eyes.  “No, I did not, but thank you for the vote of confidence.  I can go one full afternoon without violence, no matter what you might think.”

“Hey, uh, about that.  Five, buddy, you’ve got a little something on you just there,” Klaus said, gesturing at the general spot on his own neck.

Five wiped a couple fingers roughly around the curve of his throat, and looked down at the half-dried red streaks that had brushed off onto his hand with irritation.  “Damn, I thought I got that all off,” he muttered.  His gaze snapped back up, and his eyes narrowed.  “Fine.  But I can go one afternoon without lethal violence.  He was alive when I left.”

“And?” Diego said, hands on his hips.  “Is he going to stay that way?”

Yes, for god’s sake.”  Five pinched the bridge of his nose.  “I roughed him up a little, knocked him out, framed him for assault, possession, and deadly intent, and then called his parole officer.  But that’s all.”

Ben whistled, short and sharp.  “Wow.  That’s brutal,” he said.

“Ben approves,” Klaus announced with relish.

“Well, I’d thank him, but I don’t live my life on a quest for familial approval,” Five said, but he did look a little flattered.  “I’m not Luther.  Now let’s go see if Allison’s gotten Vanya calm, or if we’re going to have to make another run to the store for more lightbulbs.  I swear, if I get mistaken for someone’s kid one more time, I’m going to start the apocalypse myself just to end it all.”

“Too soon,” Diego told him pointedly.

It turned out that in the time it had taken them to have their little chat, Allison had gotten Vanya calm, convinced her to audition for the spot again, and volunteered Diego to drive her there.  Diego looked like he wanted to be upset with Allison for that, but then thought twice when he realized that Allison had also taken care of all the sticky emotional bits that he desperately didn’t want to have to handle.

“I’m meeting up with Eudora today,” Diego said instead.  “But if she doesn’t mind, I guess we can take an hour or two to give you a ride.”

“Oh, Diego, don’t be so cynical.  I’m sure the good detective would just love to meet some of the family.  And I think it might be a good idea for one or two of us to meet her, too—you know, just to make sure she’s good enough for you, ask her about her intentions, maybe give her a shovel talk.”

Ben shook his head.  “We’ve had this conversation, Klaus.  Stop threatening police officers.”

“I’m not going to threaten anybody!” Klaus protested.  “I’m just going along with my sister to her very big, very important audition, purely as moral support, and if I happen to get the chance to meet my brother’s secret girlfriend along the way, then…”

Diego’s eyes went wide.  “Oh, hell no.”

Oh, hell yes.  “We’ll just go get ready to go, then,” Klaus said brightly, linking arms with Vanya, who looked about three seconds from laughing and showed no signs of coming to Diego’s rescue.

* * *

Vanya got the slot, which thrilled and terrified her in equal measure.

Patch apparently found Klaus delightful, which thrilled Klaus as much as it terrified Diego.  Ben mostly just wondered out loud how Klaus had learned to lie well enough to fool a trained officer of the law.

At the very least, the slapstick humor of their family drama kept Vanya from freaking out again.

* * *

It wasn’t likely that Diego had forgotten entirely; he’d probably just shelved the knowledge sometime between Detective Patch’s untimely death and then their return to a time when she was still alive and intact.

Klaus and Detective Eudora Patch had actually met before.

Not counting the time-traveling hitmen, Klaus had been the last to see her alive.  The last thing she had ever done was save his life; the last time he’d seen her, he’d been wriggling away through the vents to save his own cowardly hide.

Klaus had been wrung out from more than a few rounds of torture and burning through the first few stages of withdrawal, so his recollection wasn’t exactly as clear as it could have been.  He’d showed up in Vietnam with a mild concussion, actually, from the way he’d rammed his forehead into the table again and again to catch her attention from the other side of the door.

He’d only barely remembered what she looked like.  In Klaus’s memories she was haloed in light, a literal angel.  She had a soft voice (quiet, so quiet, so Hazel and Cha-Cha wouldn’t hear), a soft touch (pulling the duct tape off, getting Klaus free, careful of the injuries she had been able to see), and a firm stance with her gun (so grounded, so confident, so certain she was in the right).

If Diego had asked, Klaus would have told him everything, but Diego hadn’t asked.  It was only Klaus who knew, and now that they’d come back around again and Patch was safe (and hopefully staying that way), it was probably going to stay that way.  Diego was the only other one who knew it had ever happened, but Diego was also self-aware enough to know he didn’t want to know.

They were getting better now, figuring out how to be a family without ripping each other to pieces in the process.  But they all had things they didn’t talk about, things that none of the others knew, or maybe knew only in fragments, in passing bits and pieces.  Patch was Diego’s, mostly, excepting that little bit that Klaus was sober enough now to keep to himself.

Five had years alone in the end of the world.  Allison had whatever had gone down with Patrick.  Luther had his isolation on the moon.  If Ben had secrets that he was keeping from Klaus, they were nothing compared to the black hole of information that the rest of their siblings had on his recent life.  Most of Vanya’s biggest secrets had been stripped down and examined from every angle in the last few days-slash-months, depending on what timeline Klaus used to count, but it probably wasn’t fair to count that against her.  She was just as emotionally crippled as the rest of them; she just tried harder.

And Klaus had the war.  Klaus had Dave.

To be perfectly honest, he would be more likely to talk about the war, the sometimes-crippling PTSD, than he would be to talk about Dave.

The war was over.  It was gone, and that was good.

Dave was gone, too.  Klaus was still struggling with that one.

* * *

But about the war—it was a hell of a thing that had happened to Klaus, when he’d opened up that briefcase.  Klaus might have shown up in-country with nothing but a coat (non-regulation), a towel (bloodstained), and said briefcase (a terrifying fucking nightmare machine), but it hadn’t stayed that way for long.  Ten months was plenty of time even for good old efficient Army inefficiency to rustle up some gear, a helmet, a footlocker, a gun.  And there was more, the things he picked up for himself, good and bad.

A tattoo, for one.  A broken heart.

Klaus had also made it to ‘Nam without even a passing attempt at boot camp, which normally should have made him worse in his unit’s eyes than even the shiniest of shinies, so fresh out of training that the polish still hadn’t worn off his boots.  Useless.  Only good for cannon fodder and getting the rest of them killed.

But there, at least, Klaus had a few things working in his favor.  He was—if not likeable, then at least not unlikeable, and odd enough to be entertaining.  He was utterly fearless, both of death (his constant companion) and of rigidly inflexible authority figures screaming impossible demands in his face (warmly and familiarly reminiscent of his childhood).  He was crazy enough not to stand out but not crazy enough to freak out.  And then, of course, there was Dave: sweet, strong, lovely Dave, who had been there from the moment Klaus had arrived and who had—departed—only moments before Klaus himself.  Dave had taken him in right off the bat, and it was because of Dave that Klaus’s complete lack of knowledge became not an annoyance, but instead an affectionate joke, a funny little oddity that the unit cheerfully, brutally corrected.

And that was how, in the middle of a warzone, Klaus finally learned to use weapons—grenades and guns and heavy artillery.  How to hold his rifle.  How to aim it, fire it, strip it down and clean it and put it all back together again in sixty seconds or less.  He learned how to drive a Jeep and ride a tank.  He learned how to travel through a minefield: both the ginger, bowlegged walk single-file through known treacherous territory and the spread-out abandon of their lines when the danger was only a possibility and not yet confirmed, each man far enough apart from the next that any explosions couldn’t catch more than one or two at a time.

Here, he wasn’t the only one who saw the dead, or even the only one to talk to them, though he was possibly the only one who did it in truth.  Ben wasn’t here—eventually Klaus stopped panicking long enough to reason out that Ben’s ghost had no business being in a time before he had ever existed, dead or alive—and though there were drugs and booze aplenty, it was no good getting as blitzed as he was used to when he’d need to be sober and upright enough to aim a gun at any moment.  So, yeah, Klaus saw the dead here, Americans and Viet-Cong and civilians alike; he saw them brutalized and bleeding, burned and raw.  He saw victims of guns and bombs, of the gas cans, of Agent Orange and his brother herbicides that they set off to paint the jungles all the colors of the rainbow.

It was fine.  Mostly.  Almost fine.

What difference did it make?  Alive, alive-in-spirit, dead-in-body, dead bodies sprawled among the trees and in the streets.  Sometimes Klaus chatted with buddies in passing for days at a time before remembering they’d been dead for weeks, and no one still living did more than blink.  This was Vietnam: no one wanted to be here.  Everyone was crazy.  No one cared.  Klaus was as sober as he could be (not very, really), as put together as he ever was (not very, really), and sometimes Dave would lean over and ask who he was talking to, and when Klaus told him he’d always nod and say hello to what had to look like nothing but empty air.

All in all, it was pretty good.  And that was saying something, because ‘it’ was Vietnam and nobody should sit around at night thinking they almost preferred the war to life at home.

And then—well, Klaus knew what happened to bring it all to an end.  He didn’t think he could ever forget.

And then—well, and then he came back, blood still on his hands from the ending of his own world, just in time for the ending of everyone else’s.

* * *

Klaus had dealt with a lot of problems with his particular set of abilities.  His total failure to summon one specific ghost, despite the fact that he actually wanted to be haunted for once in his goddamn life, was basically the cherry on top of his emotionally damaged sundae.

Dave.  Dave Dave Dave.  What was he doing wrong?  Sure, it was a bit of a long-distance call, but using his powers was nothing like using a phone—it wasn’t like he was bound by satellites or the whimsical rulings of a cell phone carrier.  Ghosts had leapfrogged all over time and space to bother him, before, so why not this one?

He tried.  He waited.  It was all he could do.

If he’d ever really had some level of control over his powers, he didn’t remember it, and since then he’d scrambled his brains over and over again like eggs in a blender.  It was gone.  He was relearning instinct and natural ability at the same time that he was trying to teach himself new skills and fine control.  Why walk when you could run?  Impulse control wasn’t exactly his forte, and it didn’t always work out in his favor.  Summoning Ben, letting his powers loose—that had been almost something happening through him rather than because of him, even if it had been his own strength that held Ben in the physical world long enough to destroy the band of assassins set on killing them all.  And now he struggled to keep Ben solid long enough for a high-five, never mind anything significant.

It was Allison who cut in first, showing up to one of his practice sessions in the library without so much as a single comment or question.

DON’T MIND ME, she wrote when Klaus finally gave up and stared her down.  I’M JUST HERE TO TRY SOMETHING.

She built up a little stack of books in the corner and started to read.  Klaus tried ignoring her at first, but his own frustration was building as he kept trying, and trying, and only rarely getting anywhere.  Ben swung wildly back and forth between encouraging and insulting him, in the hopes that either determination or irritation was the key that would get things started.

It wasn’t going fabulously.  Over the course of an hour, Ben had managed three things: blowing air at a stack of papers and moving the top few very slightly off kilter, catching and holding a tinfoil ball Klaus tossed to him for about a second and a half before it dropped to the floor, and swatting a hand wildly through Klaus’s head like it was nothing in a useless but very funny attempt to give him a good smack.  It had worked the first time, after all.

That was about when Allison started gesturing to herself off on her side of the room, and Klaus allowed himself to be distracted.

“What are you doing?” he asked, wandering over and hovering just off to the side so he could glance at her books and notes.

LEARNING SIGN LANGUAGE, she wrote.  Her free hand shaped the letters A-S-L, which Klaus actually recognized from a misspent summer in the library when he was twelve.  He’d picked up the A.S.L. alphabet and not much else.

“I thought Pogo said your voice would come back?” Klaus said, tipping it up into a question.

Allison nodded.  STILL GOOD TO LEARN, she wrote.  SOMETIMES SAFER NOT TO TALK OUT LOUD, WITH POWER.

Klaus blinked.  “You think you can use your powers through signing?”

Allison shrugged.  MAYBE.  REAL RUMOR NOT ALWAYS SPOKEN, she wrote in her notebook.  She tapped at the word ‘rumor’ and then put her pen down so she could make a quick sign, both hands moving to shape a flat circle in front of her while her thumbs and forefingers pinched and opened, pinched and opened.

Nothing happened.  Still, if anyone could figure it out, it was Allison.

“Huh.”  Klaus thought about that.  “Cool.”

YOU? Allison wrote.  GOING WELL?

“Eh.  Not great.”  Klaus still had the crumpled-up tinfoil ball in his pocket, so he pulled it out and chucked it at Ben as an example.  Ben fumbled for it, not expecting it, and there was a weird moment where it didn’t stop completely, but it did hit his palm and sort of—slow down, a bit, visibly hesitating mid-fall before it finally slipped through and dropped to the floor.  Hm.  “Could be worse,” he decided.

Allison’s eyebrows did a strange caterpillar dance.  Klaus had no idea what that had looked like from her perspective, but it was probably pretty weird.  COOL, was what she actually wrote, and it looked like she meant it.

Klaus figured it was fine if Allison stayed while he practiced, after that.

A few accidental meet-ups later, which they mostly spent working independently, Allison brought Vanya along with her.  SHE NEEDS PRACTICE TOO, Allison wrote, while Vanya fidgeted in the background. 

Vanya still had the tendency to assume she was in the way unless someone specifically told her otherwise, so Klaus was doing his best to keep his expression totally non-judgmental, even as a joke.  “Ooh, yeah, that makes sense,” he said.  “Are we getting a mini-concert in here today?”

“Oh, no, sorry,” Vanya said.  “No violin.  It’s actually—quite a bit easier to control when I’m playing.  I was thinking—I want to practice with controlling it without the music.  Turn it on and off, direct it, control it better.”

WE HAVE PROPS! Allison wrote, adding a little smiley face to the end of the message even though they could all see her actual smile.  She opened up a little paper bag she was carrying and pulled out a collection of little objects—an electronic metronome, a metal clicker that Klaus was pretty sure was used to train dogs, a very small analog clock that ticked way louder than seemed warranted by its size, and a set of tuning forks.

“Sure,” Klaus said, having no idea what any of that was supposed to be for, and deciding maybe it was better not to ask.  “You do that.  We’ll just be…over here.”

There followed a bizarre hour where odd noises popped up at random intervals.  Vanya sometimes spoke, usually softly enough that Klaus would have had to strain if he wanted to eavesdrop (he did, but not enough to make quiet, skittish Vanya uncomfortable in the exchange), but other than that, the only sound from the girls’ side of the room was ticking, beeping, pops and clicks and chimes.  For the first half-hour Klaus and Ben both kept catching themselves looking over, startled, every time there was a change in noise.

Eventually the girls settled on one that seemed to work the best, and the other sounds phased out in favor of the tuning forks.  Those were actually kind of pretty, a musical hum at a pleasant pitch, and it was actually easier to focus once the noise became semi-constant and less irregular.

He was getting used to the repeated clack-chime-fade of a tuning fork hitting the desk and then ringing out, his brain turning the noise into a soothing backdrop of sound, one that he could tune out and ignore.  Of course, that also meant that he didn’t notice there was a problem right off the bat.

Clack-chime-fade.  Ben’s hands fell right through Klaus’s.

Clack-chime-fade.  Klaus’s hands gave off a few blue sparks, quickly fizzling out.  Ben’s left hand slipped against Klaus’s palm before going full ghost again, never entirely solid but present enough to sizzle like static electricity.  Progress!  Ben grinned at him.

Clack-chime.

There was something—Ben moved in again, and this time Klaus grabbed and held that sizzling feeling, until his hands sparked again, blue light gathering slowly in his palms, between his clenched fingers.  This was it, he had something, he—

A notebook thwapped into the back of his skull.  The blue light went out.

“What, what is it?” Klaus snapped, spinning around and rubbing at the back of his poor, abused head.  “Come on, I almost had it—”

He saw what was going on, and snapped his mouth shut with an audible click.  The air around the desk was rippling like a heatwave.  Vanya had dropped the tuning fork—Klaus could see it on the floor—but the sound was still going in a way that was very much not natural, and it didn’t seem like it was stopping any time soon.  Vanya’s eyes were glowing white.

“Uh-oh,” Klaus said.  Allison threw her hands up in the air with a pointed no shit expression on her face.

Ben got closer to Vanya, who was fast on her way to turning into a ticking time bomb.  “Talk to her, Klaus.”

“And say what?” Klaus hissed back at him in a hushed whisper.

“Something, anything!” Ben snapped back.  “Calm her down!”

“Hey, hey, Vanya,” Klaus said.  He took a few careful steps closer, close enough to press his toes down on top of the fallen tuning fork, hoping that would muffle the sound.  It did not; the noise had been caught up in Vanya’s powers, now, and it wasn’t following the laws of physics anymore.  If anything, the sound got louder.  “What’s going on?  You…good?”

Ben gestured angrily, disapproving.

Klaus gestured back, equally angry, because what else was he supposed to say?  He wasn’t good at this, and Ben knew it.

“Vanya,” Klaus said again.  “Can you relax for me?  Take a deep breath?  Please?”

Vanya didn’t seem to be able to hear him.  The ringing sound droned higher and higher, piercing, impossible to escape even with the way Vanya was clamping her hands down over her ears and hunching over, folding into herself.

“Aw, shit,” Klaus said, and the words were swallowed up by the sheer wall of sound before they’d even left his mouth.

The noise was almost deafening now, a physical force strong enough that the lightbulbs were flickering, hanging light fixtures swinging on their delicate chains.  A decorative cup holding office supplies rolled off a side table and smashed, sending pens scattering wildly across the floor.

Ben ducked in close to shout in his ear when the first lightbulb exploded with a neat pop like a kernel of corn and a spray of glass.  “Move!

He’d always had been the sensible one.  Klaus grabbed Allison by the elbow and Vanya by the shoulder and did his best to shove them both down and behind the heavy wooden desk they’d been using.  They both went easily enough, and just in time—the rest of the bulbs in the light fixtures around the room burst at the same moment, and the windows blew out only a second or two after that.  Bursts of wind shrieked into the room.

For fuck’s sake, Allison mouthed, maybe.  Klaus was hardly an expert at lip reading.  Whatever it had been, it was immediately followed by Allison reaching into her pocket and whipping out a whistle like a football coach might carry.  She leaned in right next to Vanya where she was busy curling in on herself, took a deep breath, set it to her lips, and—

“Nice,” Klaus breathed into the sudden silence that had fallen after a second or two of that.  Everything had gone still.  Nothing distracted someone as thoroughly from a loud, ear-shattering sound as an even louder, even more ear-shattering sound, Klaus could definitely agree with that much, and he was pretty sure Allison’s whistle had been designed to break the sound barrier.

“Has she just been carrying that around this whole time?” Ben grumbled.  He was the only one left standing amidst the carnage, leaning against the wall behind them, completely ignoring the inch-long shard sticking out of the wall only a half-inch from his face in favor of rubbing his hands roughly over his ears.

“Oh,” Vanya said, finally uncurling a little, clearly still trying to catch her breath.  By the time she looked up and glanced around the room, her eyes were back to their normal color.  “Ah.”

Allison put down the whistle; Klaus’s thoughts formed the phrase in the exact same tone he would have used to say ‘the lunatic put down the gun.’  THAT COULD HAVE GONE BETTER, she scribbled in her little book.  Her hand was shaking, but she still turned a gentle smile in Vanya’s direction to take the sting out of it.

“Yeah,” Vanya agreed, nodding like a bobblehead.  “Yeah, it definitely could have.  Um.  Whoops?”

Klaus clamped both hands over his mouth, shoulders shaking with the effort—and still couldn’t stop the snorting laughter from breaking free.

Allison patted Klaus gently on the shoulder, but otherwise both his sisters left him alone to get himself under control.  NEVER REALLY LIKED THE DÉCOR IN HERE ANYWAY, she wrote.

Vanya opened her mouth, presumably to agree—the old man’s fashion sense had run the gauntlet between oppressively, claustrophobically spartan and so obscenely gaudy it was tacky, with a few brief asides into mad scientist territory but lacking anything resembling good taste or common sense.

That was when Luther burst into the room, wild-eyed, with Mom at his heels and Five following behind at a far more sedate pace.  “What the hell is going on?”

* * *

Mom had ushered them out of there immediately and into the sitting room just off the library, presumably so she could safely pick up all the broken shit and bits of glass that had scattered across the room.  Pogo hadn’t come to investigate, so he either hadn’t cared about the noise (unlikely) or he just hadn’t heard it (Klaus was pretty sure people on the moon could have heard it, so who knew where that left them).  Diego was out for the day, still—probably had convinced Patch to spend the day with him again, the lucky dog—so he got to miss out on the hasty round of explanations that followed.

It shouldn’t have turned into a family meeting.

Hell, it wouldn’t have been a family meeting, or any kind of meeting at all, if Luther wasn’t such an uptight asshole all the time.

Case in point: “She’s out of control,” Luther said, pacing back and forth in the little block of space between where three short couches were arranged facing each other along three sides of a square.  “She can’t keep going like this!”

She’s right here,” Vanya muttered, scowling down at her hands where she was clenching them in the fabric of her jeans, “and she can hear you.”  She and Five had claimed the middle couch.

Luther threw up his hands.  “Whatever!  Fine, Vanya, you can’t keep going like this.  This is how we got to the apocalypse last time around!”

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration,” Five said.  He’d let Luther drag him in and force him into participating, but he’d poured himself a glass of something first, perched himself up on the armrest of the chair rather than the seat, and was busily pretending that he didn’t care about any of this shit at all.  If it wasn’t for the way he tensed up defensively whenever Luther’s pacing brought him a little too close to Vanya’s seat, Klaus would almost have believed it.

“She lost control and then blew up the moon,” Luther said.

Five shrugged.  “Like I said—a bit of an exaggeration.”

Allison grabbed Luther by the elbow when his pacing brought him close enough to her seat, and yanked him down onto the couch next to her, as far from Vanya as it was physically possible to sit without going to get a whole new chair.  SHE’S LEARNING, she wrote.  RELAX.

“Yeah,” Klaus agreed.  He’d thrown himself down flat on his back across the whole length of the couch to the right of the one Vanya and Five had claimed, his legs tossed partially over the backrest, under the assumption that this whole conversation was going to be long and stupid, and that he should be as comfy as possible for it.  “This time around is going way better.  Look, the moon’s still totally fine!”

He gestured out the window, where the moon was not at all visible, and was roundly ignored.

Vanya tried to speak up.  “I know last time was bad—”

Luther’s eyebrows furrowed together.  “Bad?  Last time, you blew up the house!  There’s a literal cell down there designed to control your powers, and it couldn’t hold you for a full afternoon!”

“Yikes,” Ben said, his voice drifting in from somewhere behind Klaus, out of view.  “Conversational strike one: reminding your sister that you once locked her up in the basement.”  Klaus hummed in agreement.

“—I know last time was bad,” Vanya said firmly.  “But I didn’t learn I had these powers until recently, and I’m sorry, but it’s going to take more than a wave of my hands to figure them out.  And—and I can’t just ignore them and hope they go away.  At least if I practice now, where it’s mostly safe, then I won’t hurt anyone accidentally the next time things get…”

“Totally fucked?” Klaus offered helpfully.

Vanya bit her lip.  “…Stressful,” she decided.

“Well, how did you manage before?” Luther asked.  “It’s not like you’ve gone around for years blowing out windows and exploding lightbulbs.  What’s different?”

Five took that one with a roll of his eyes.  “What’s different, pea brain, is that she’s no longer taking whatever garbage Dad claimed was an anxiety medication in order to get rid of her powers.  Or have you forgotten about that already?  No more pills, no more power suppression.”

Luther shrugged, tilted his chin up like he was gearing up for a fight.  “Well, maybe she should start taking the pills again.”

“Oof,” Klaus said, wincing.

“Strike two,” Ben agreed.  “Who offers traumatizing mad science drugs as a genuine solution to a problem?”

WHAT THE HELL, LUTHER, Allison wrote at the same time in her notebook, letters slapdash and rushed.

Luther shrank in on himself a little bit in the face of Allison’s fury, but it didn’t stop him from pushing onward.  “Look, now you know what they really are,” he pointed out, “so you can just take them once in a while, when you need to.  Just enough to—to give you an edge.  Just enough to give you some control.”

Vanya scowled at him, clearly resisting the urge to snap him in half, but Allison was scribbling something in her notebook—and Klaus didn’t know about the others, but he, at least, was too scared of that whistle to even think about interrupting her.

BUT WE KNOW THEY HAVE SIDE EFFECTS, TOO, the note said, when she turned her little book around.  Klaus had to tip his head to the side and crane his neck a little off the edge of the couch to get a good enough angle to read it.  SHE DOESN’T NEED THAT.

“They limit her emotions, yes, which are connected to her powers going completely out of control!” Luther said, scowling.

“Her emotions,” Five pointed out, “which we also know she’s allowed to have, and deal with, however works best for her.  Just because it’s slamming people into walls and throwing them across the room that works best for you…”  He trailed off meaningfully.

“Yeah, Vanya’s a lot better adjusted than the rest of us in that regard.”  Klaus idly dropped a heel to kick it against the arm of the couch.  “If I’d known, I would have killed to get dear old daddy to make me some pills, no matter how stupid an idea it would be in the long run,” he mused wistfully, staring up at the ceiling.

Luther sighed heavily, and Klaus jumped, not realizing anyone had actually been paying attention to him.  “Yes, thank you for your contribution, Klaus.  We already know you’re a junkie.”

Leave it to Luther to totally miss the point.  “Yes, yes, thank you for stating the obvious one more time, brother mine,” Klaus said, rolling his eyes.  “I’m not talking about that.  I’m just saying it would’ve been nice to take something designed to shut my powers off, rather than just doing whatever and hoping it would—”  He waved a hand through the air, trying to illustrate his point when words failed him.

“Hoping it would have a pleasant side effect?” Ben suggested, finally drifting into view.  He had both hands stuffed into the pocket of his hoodie as he circled Luther’s couch once, like a shark, before wandering over and across to the far side of the room.

Klaus rolled his head around on the couch to watch him pass, and pointed dramatically at him once he’d finished speaking.  “Yeah, yes, exactly that.”

No one questioned the aside.  Either Ben was visible again suddenly—possible, but not likely—or the others were so used to seeing him talking to thin air that they didn’t care enough to ask.

“But of course, Five’s right, for all he’s a bloodthirsty little nutcase,” Klaus said with a sweeping wave of his hand.  “Little sis has only known about her powers for a hot twenty minutes, give or take.  She’s got plenty of time to figure out what works for her.”

“We know what works,” Luther said with a growl.  “Her prescription, which she’s already been taking to suppress her powers.  For years.”

“I’m not taking the pills,” Vanya cut back in, soft but no less intense for it.  Her eyes glowed a bit, but nothing rattled or shook, so Klaus was taking it as a sign of progress.

“There, you heard her.  She’s not doing it.”  Klaus shifted himself in place, wriggling a bit so that a stubborn fold in the couch cushions wasn’t digging into his back.  “And I wouldn’t say they work, exactly.  Prescription or not, I don’t think any doctor on the planet would have agreed with Dad’s bullshit pseudo-psychiatry when he started giving meds to an undiagnosed four-year-old.”  He paused, thought.  “Maybe dear old daddy was on a little something himself when he went about it, hm?  A sniff?  A sip or two?”

Five raised his left hand, thumb and pinky out, middle three fingers folded in, and waggled it up by his lips in the universal sign for tipping back a drink.  It was especially pointed considering that he had a glass of something amber and probably alcoholic in his right hand.

Klaus grinned back at him.  Vanya looked vindictively satisfied.  Even Allison couldn’t quite keep in a bit of a chuckle at that one, and that was what really got the golden boy’s hackles raised.  Luther flushed an angry red and sneered.  “And what would you know about prescription medication?  You think you’re an expert in pharmaceuticals all of a sudden?”

Five choked on a laugh that he didn’t quite manage to hide in his glass.  “That’s one way of putting it.”

Klaus waved that aside to focus on Luther.  “God, you have no fucking clue what it’s like to be me, do you?” he said, and giggled to himself for a good few seconds before he could make it stop.

“Oh, boo-hoo, cry me a river,” Luther said.  “I’ve done some of the same shit you’ve done, too, in case you’ve forgotten.”

Ben cackled like a hyena at that while Klaus rolled his eyes.  “Luther, honey, you went to one rave, got so fucked up you started stripping in public, and then went home and lost your virginity to a girl who thought you were a furry,” he pointed out.  “That night, while hilarious, does not and will never put you on my level.”

“Shut up, Klaus.”  Luther’s obvious fury was a thin mask over the embarrassment underneath, and it didn’t hide the quick, guilty glance in Allison’s direction.  He hurriedly changed tack.  “Your many, many issues don’t give you some kind of magical insight into what Dad had to do with Vanya’s pills, or—or what we decide to do about this!  Being high right now isn’t actually a point in your favor in this argument.”

“And there it is,” Ben said with a sigh.  He sat down right where he was and stared up at the ceiling.  Maybe he was hoping it could tell him why all his family members were dumbasses.  “Strike three.”

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Klaus said, throwing up his hands.  “I’m not high.  I haven’t been high.  I’ve been clean for months now.”

Luther sighed, radiating disbelief and disappointment strong enough that Klaus could feel it like the beginnings of a bad sunburn, sizzling on his skin.  “Sure, Klaus.  Whatever you say.”  Dismissive.  Luther never had cared about what Klaus had to say.

Klaus felt—something.  It sure was a feeling, whatever it was, yawning red and aching in his chest, and it was kind of irritating that if he had been on something, he probably wouldn’t have felt it at all.  “Oh, are we doing this, then?  Are we really having this conversation now?” he said.  His legs were jittering, shaking, so he swung them around to the floor, got up, and stumbled around to hover behind the back of the couch, doing little spins and swirls to keep himself moving.  “Fine.  Okay.  Sure, Luther, whatever you say.  I’m just a useless addict.  None of you would ever do the shit I’ve done, none of you are weak enough to give in like I did, right—no, shut up, Luther, it’s my turn to talk now!” 

Klaus bared his teeth in a grin like a wild animal, and almost started giggling again when, somehow, it was enough to startle Number One back into silence. 

“Thank you,” he bit out.  “So—where was I?  Right.  So—if you think Vanya needs to be medicated so badly, why not get her going with a little something non-prescription?  Something fun, just like your little nighttime experiment!  What do you think, Vanya?  You want to try it?”

“Uh,” Vanya said, eyes flickering from Klaus, to Luther, to Allison before coming back to Klaus.  “I don’t…think so?”

“Come on, Klaus.  Don’t be absurd—”

Klaus shrugged, and merrily carried on before Luther could get out anything else, focusing on Vanya instead of his brother.  “Oh, you can start off easy, if you like.  I did.  Just go pop a Xanax or something every time your power gets out of hand.  Maybe smoke a quick joint.  It’s not the best coping strategy in the world, probably, but it’ll mellow you out enough to get through it, help you sleep at night.  Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Vanya didn’t answer that time.  There was something in her face, something quiet and almost ashamed, that knew he was right, and he knew the others could see it too.

“Careful,” Ben said, just a gentle warning.  Klaus didn’t need the reminder, but he appreciated it nevertheless.  Ben knew where this was going; Ben knew where Klaus had been.  None of that guilt needed to get shoved off on sweet little Vanya.

“But it’s not just at night that you’re struggling, is it?” he said, too quickly for anyone to try to get their two cents in.  “So maybe you can start doing it more often.  You’ll need it, won’t you?  Things get so out of hand, without a little bit of help.  It’s just to make it through the day.  Just enough of an edge to give you some control.

He paused, watched the phrase land and familiarity dawn sick and pale across every face, but this time no one said anything, and it wasn’t because Klaus was actively cutting them off.  Silence rang like a struck bell, or like one of Vanya’s tuning forks.

Klaus hummed to himself a little, snuck a glance at Vanya and Five out of the corner of one eye, then Luther and Allison out of the other, before he focused on Ben instead, who was safe to look at, perched up as he was on the countertop all the way back on the far side of the room.  “But your powers are still there, aren’t they?  They’re still there.  They’re always there, telling you things you don’t want to hear, hovering over your bed in the middle of the night when you’re trying to sleep, and they’re ripped open and covered in blood and they’re screaming at you all the time, there’s so many of them—”

Ben cut him off, steady and calming.  “Breathe, Klaus.”

Klaus sucked in a breath, refocused.  “They’re still there.  And it’s hard, isn’t it?  You haven’t slept in days.  You don’t know how else to make it stop.  And Dad didn’t help, either, with all his bullshit training.  Dad didn’t teach you anything, just locked you up overnight in the maus—well.  He just left you to sink or swim.  So, one day, maybe you already took your daily dose, you already took one, but it’s not working as well as it used to, not as well as you want, and you think—you think—”

Five took a slug of his drink with a flourish, enough to catch Klaus’s eye.  “You think, maybe just one more,” he said quietly, and grabbed the clean-cut crystal decanter off the side table to pour himself another double.  Of course, the youngest-looking of all of them got it—Klaus’s angry old man brother trapped in the body of a child, with all his decades spent alone after the end of the world.

Klaus shot him a salute, one that started off military-pristine and then went sloppy.  “That’s it, that’s exactly it.  Maybe one more.  Maybe something else.  So you try that.  It’s fine, isn’t it?  You’ve got it under control.  You’re just testing a theory.  And what do you know, it works!  Some drugs help you sleep and some help you forget.  Add a drink or three on top of that and it takes you far enough outside yourself that you don’t even care that you can still hear the mother of three murdered up the road shouting and crying in your ear while you’re trying to eat your breakfast.  You’re not sure what it is you have in the baggie you bought yesterday, but as soon as it kicks in you know you won’t see the way her guts spill out across the table, and maybe then you can eat Mom’s oatmeal in peace and quiet, so doesn’t that make it good?  Doesn’t that make it alright?  Wouldn’t you take it again tomorrow?”  He would.  He did.

This time, he almost wanted an answer, but he probably wasn’t going to get one.  They were all staring at him, Klaus realized.  Allison’s pen slipped from her lax grasp and dropped to the floor. 

“What the fuck,” Vanya said weakly, and then snapped her mouth shut as soon as Klaus met her eyes.  “Um.”

There was nothing for it but to just press onward.  “Of course, sooner or later you know there’s a problem, but what are you going to do about it?” Klaus said.  He was almost babbling now, mouth open and words sliding free without any conscious thought or permission.  “It’s double the withdrawal, and isn’t that just great?  Isn’t it so much fun?  Rehab isn’t going to do anything for the way the powers kick back in once the high is finished wearing off.  Do you know how many people kill themselves in and after rehab?  How many kick it in a hospital?  And the way they look, Jesus fucking Christ, all these fucked-up goddamn nightmares staring at you from the hallways and the corners of the room.  The ones with slit wrists still bleeding, drip-drip-dripping on the floor.  The ones with the bedsheets still knotted too tight around snapped necks, gaping eyes and tongue lolling out and the face all blue and swollen, still kicking their heels.  The ones all wasted and withered away to nothing, just skeletons with cracked paper skin stretched over the top.  All the split-open skulls and missing limbs and gouged out eyes, bloody and burnt and impaled and broken, standing overhead, crowding together, whispering every detail of it all in my ears nonstop every day and night, asking if I knew that I had bedsheets too in the exact same style, and the mirror in the bathroom would shatter so easily, so many sharp glittering pieces to slice myself open, or maybe I could get enough to OD at the nurse’s station in the hall—”

Enough!” Luther roared, wild-eyed, lunging halfway up out of his seat.  Allison was clinging to his arm, her face white, but that wasn’t enough to hold him down if he really wanted to break free and pummel Klaus hard enough to make him stop.  “That’s enough.  We get it.”

Klaus blinked.  He didn’t remember moving, but he was leaned up against the back of the couch, elbow propped on its back cushion and chin propped on the heel of his hand, casual as anything.  He didn’t remember Ben moving, either, but Ben was next to him, now, hands hovering in the air the way they always did when he wanted to touch but knew that neither of them could stand the disappointment when he fell straight through.

He was laughing, a little.  Maybe he had been for a while.  That was probably what had gotten to Luther so badly.

“Hey,” Ben said, solid and sincere.  “You’re fine.  Everything is fine.  But you should probably stop now.”

“Yeah,” Klaus said, pushing himself up from the couch a little less smoothly than he would have liked.  There were no other ghosts over Ben’s shoulder, but Klaus was more sober than he’d been in years, so he knew there could have been, and so he looked.  “Yeah, I probably should.”

“Should what?” Five said sharply, eyes flickering from Klaus to the open-space-that-was-Ben at his side.

Klaus waved him off.  “Chill out, grandpa.  I’m excusing myself from a potentially damaging situation, not swanning off to shoot up in the bathroom.  I’ve gone to therapy and Narcotics Anonymous more than most psychologists; I know my emotional triggers when I slap myself in the face with them.”

He turned to leave the room, but not before he caught Allison mouthing the phrase ‘emotional triggers’ with a furrowed look of confusion on her face, while Vanya nodded solemnly along.  Vanya had probably done well in therapy.  She had the vibe of one of those people who listened carefully and took notes and did whatever bullshit therapy homework got assigned that session.  She’d figure out some better coping mechanisms soon enough.

Five scowled at him, but didn’t argue.

He paused, hanging half off the doorframe and halfway out of the room, to turn and look over his shoulder at Luther, who had apparently been stunned into silence.  Wonders would never cease.  “Oh, I almost forgot.  Just so we’re all clear, Vanya won’t be taking anything she doesn’t want to take,” Klaus announced.  His voice was light and teasing, but he meant it, and he meant it sincerely.  “And no getting sneaky, brother mine.  Whomsoever tries to make her will be getting dosed with the exact same thing at triple the strength.  Believe me—I’ll make sure of it.”

Luther’s expression crumpled into something between horror and anger as the threat registered, despite how gently it had been delivered.  “Klaus,” he started to say, a warning Klaus fully intended to ignore, especially in contrast to the way Vanya’s whole face had just lit up like the fucking sun—so damn thrilled, even around that strange look in her eyes that hadn’t gone away despite the fact that Klaus had now stopped vomiting his emotional issues all over everyone.

Holy god, it was upsetting easy to make her happy.  Right now, he didn’t want to think about what that said for the sort of standards they’d set for familial love and support in this house over their lifetimes, so he didn’t.

Klaus grinned back at Luther instead with a smile like a mouthful of needles.  “Ooh, I’ll tell you what.  Maybe I’ll take a little for myself, too.  Make a competition out of it, since I’m the pharmacological expert in the family, and we can see who’s still in a place to force anything on anyone by the end of it all.”

He flounced out, Ben at his heels, only barely remembering to slide the door shut behind him.  Even muffled by the door, he could still hear Five say, in his best mocking old man voice, “Better be careful, Number One.  You might be built like a brick shithouse, but in a game of tolerance and willpower, I’m always going to bet on him, not you.”

Pausing at the foot of the staircase, Klaus thought about how he would normally deal with something like this, and realized that none of the usual methods were going to work.  Most of them, in fact, would get him nothing but a smack across the face from Casper the Disapproving Brother Ghost.

Hm.  Maybe Vanya wasn’t the only one who needed to think up some better coping mechanisms.

Ben clicked his tongue against his teeth a couple times.  “Hey, Klaus?”

“Yeah?”

“Remember that book of Dad’s?  The one in the weird gold box that you sold?”

Klaus tipped his head to the side.  “Yeah, I remember it.  In case you’ve forgotten, the only reason I sold it was because I was out of shit to take in the first place.  I wasn’t fucked up enough to black out.”  He hesitated.  “Yet.”

“Chill, man, I know that.  It wasn’t a dig.”  Ben waved off Klaus’s vaguely apologetic look.  “Do you think it’s still here somewhere?”

“I mean, I didn’t go chucking it into any dumpsters this time around, so I don’t know where else it would have gone.”

Ben nodded, like that confirmed something for him.  “We should go ask Pogo if we can give it to Vanya.”

“I mean, sure,” Klaus said, game enough, and started to walk up the staircase.  He thought he remembered seeing Pogo wandering around somewhere upstairs earlier.  “But why would Vanya want it?”

“Because Dad wrote about her in there, dumbass.  And Dad obviously knew about her powers.  It’s probably full of shit that could help her out.”

“Wait, it is?”  Klaus came to a complete stop halfway up the stairs, so suddenly that Ben stutter-stepped straight through him.

“Yeah.”  Ben stopped a couple stairs above Klaus and looked down at him over his shoulder.  “You didn’t actually read any of it before you dumped it, did you.”

It was not a question.  “You did?”

“I looked at the first few pages, same as you,” Ben said, which—fair.  It wasn’t as if Ghost-Ben was flipping through Dad’s notes like library books when Klaus wasn’t there to turn pages for him.  “It just had some ‘introductory notes on Number Seven,’ nothing about her powers, but I’m sure he gets to that later on.  What were you doing when you were looking through it, if you weren’t actually reading any of it?”

Klaus squinted up at him.  “Thinking about how weird Dad’s handwriting was.  Duh.”

“…Oh.”

“Yeah, yeah, come on.  Let’s go bother Pogo.”

* * *

Pogo, it turned out, didn’t actually need all that much bothering before he caved.  Klaus kind of got the feeling he’d wanted to let Vanya in on it all for a while, and had been too—scared?  In awe?—too something of Dad to go against what the old fart wanted.

“Not trying to force you into anything,” Klaus told her, raising both hands to signal his innocence when Vanya took one look at the cover of the notebook that he’d dropped on the table in front of her and recoiled like he’d just offered her a live rattlesnake.  At least it immediately shut down the likelihood that she was going to want to talk about everything he’d babbled at them earlier.  “But Pogo says that Kentucky Fried Daddy’s got all kinds of notes in this thing.  He didn’t get the point of ethics, obviously, but he was big on the scientific method, so even if everything he did was super messed up and psychologically damaging, it was all written down.  In obsessive detail.  Maybe if someone less fucked in the head takes a look at it, there might be some ideas for how to deal with all this—some good ones, this time.  Less drugs and solitary confinement, more, uh, meditation?  Deep breathing?  Sorry, Vanya, I don’t actually know how your powers work.”

Kentucky Fried Daddy,” Ben mumbled, clearly not about to let that one slide.

Klaus shrugged.  “He was kind of rocking that whole Colonel Sanders vibe, you know?  The guy on a bucket of KFC?  With the white mustache and the goatee—”

“Where did you get this?” Vanya interrupted.  “How did you get this?”

“Oh, uh,” Klaus said, refocusing on the issue at hand.  “It was in his study.  He’s dead, obviously, so he doesn’t need it anymore, and Pogo said I could have it…?”

“No, I mean…”  Vanya reached out a single, cautious finger and poked at the cover of the book like it really might turn around and bite her.  “Last time, uh, the first time around, he had it.  Leonard—Harold Jenkins did.  It’s how he knew that I could do…what I can do.”  Her hand waved wildly for a second, which Klaus guessed was probably supposed to mean something about her powers.

Oh.  Oops.

“Yeah, that’s—that might have been kind of, a little bit, my bad,” Klaus said, rubbing a hand over the back of his head.  Ben elbowed him in the gut; Klaus couldn’t feel it, because Ben was in full ghost mode, but he took it in the spirit that it was meant.   “I mean, barely at all.  I didn’t, like, go hand it off to the first creeper I saw on the street or anything.  But I did throw it in the dumpster outside, so he must have—found it?  While digging through our garbage?”  He stopped for a second to consider that, wrinkling his nose.  “Wow, that’s actually really messed up, isn’t it?”

“Says the guy who ate food out of that same dumpster one day later,” Ben pointed out, but his face had gotten all scrunched up as well.  Yeah, he thought it was weird, too.

Vanya poked at the book again, this time a little more firmly.  “I only saw it for a minute, but I know it’s got all kinds of information on me.  On my abilities.  On whatever tests and stuff Dad did when I was a kid to try to figure them out.”

“Yeah,” Klaus said again, drawing the word out a bit.  “Pogo says there’s shit about all of us stuffed in his office and, like, in the rest of his files.”  Their father had been a weird, damaged old man.  No surprises there.  “Damn, CPS would have had a field day, if they’d ever checked out the house.”  Apparently, a billionaire white guy could just buy as many kids as he wanted and bring them all into the country, and nobody ever bothered to ask what he wanted with them or check up on them later.  “But forgetting about that asshole for a second, I thought—”  Ben ghost-elbowed him again.  “—Ben thought that maybe it’d help you to have a starting point.”  He twitched his way through a shrug.  “I mean, we didn’t read it, so I have no idea how useful it is.  Only dear old Daddy has any idea what’s in it, this time around.” 

By that, he meant that this time around Harold McStalker Jenkins hadn’t seen it, and wouldn’t have any reason to go after her again.

That settled her.  Klaus had kind of thought it might.  “Oh.  That’s good.  And—thank you, Ben.  That—that was a nice thought.”

“No problem,” Ben said, and then gave Klaus the side-eye until he remembered that no one else could hear their dead brother and translated.

There was a pause.  Vanya switched back and forth between staring intently at the notebook and staring blankly off into space, but she made no move to take it, or explain what she was thinking.

Klaus fidgeted in place.  “So…”

“What if I can’t do it?” Vanya asked quietly, before Klaus could make an awkward excuse and leave.  “What if it’s better to just, just take the stupid meds?  Luther’s right—”

“Luther is a dick,” Klaus interjected.

Ben agreed.  “He is a massive, throbbing penis.”

“Yeah,” Klaus said.  “And not even in the fun way.  You know?”

She was shaking her head.  “But he’s still right.  It’s safer, it’s—it’s easier if I’m on the pills.  The apocalypse wasn’t ever an issue until I stopped taking them.”  Vanya looked up at him, and her Bambi eyes should probably be classified as a lethal weapon.  “I know what Luther wants and why he wants it.  He’s still worried about Allison, after I—after what I did to her.  And I get that, I do, but I also know that when it came down to it, he decided to lock me up in the basement instead of deal with me.  And I can’t live my life like that.”

“You won’t have to.  He was just scared,” Klaus said.  Scared, and stupid.

Vanya nodded.  “Yeah, he was.  Is.  But he’s also one of the few people who understands what we went through and who’ll give me an opinion worth something.  Diego doesn’t care as long as I’m not actively going nuts, Allison is too busy trying to be supportive of my choices to give me a straight answer, and Five—uh.  Five probably would have dealt with me himself by now if I wasn’t his sister.  I know he cares about us, about me, but sometimes I still think he’s just waiting to see if I can handle it on my own before he tries anything more, um, extreme.”

“Yikes,” Klaus said with a little wince.  Ben shot him a look, and he shut up.

“So.”  Vanya took a deep breath and pushed onward.  “So, I’m asking you, now.  What do you think?”  Probably there were worse people in the world she could have asked, but Klaus, feeling vaguely hunted, couldn’t think of any.  “Should I keep trying?  Like this?  Or should I just go back to—to—”  Her hands fluttered at her sides and up near her chest, like nervous little birds, all puffed up feathers and flapping wings.   “—the way it was before, you know?”

“Aw, little sis,” Klaus cooed, stuttering out a laugh.  “I have no fucking clue.  You think I don’t ask myself the same thing every day?  All the time?”  He squashed down the urge to ruffle her hair, pinch her cheeks.  “How about you tell me if you figure it out?”

* * *

Vanya didn’t take the pills.

She did take the book.

* * *

The day of what had once been the apocalypse dawned the same as any other day, or at least Klaus assumed it did, since it wasn’t like he was awake to see it.

Sunrise was at five in the morning, or something equally horrible.  The only times Klaus had been awake at five A.M. were the times when he had never actually gone to sleep the night before.  Mornings were the worst, and Klaus would never be out of bed before noon if Diego didn’t threaten him into it.  Diego didn’t like it when Mom got that ‘politely disappointed’ look on her face, the one that would have been outright devastation on any mother figure not programmed with a maximum of three expressions.

Still, Klaus made it down to the kitchen at a decent hour, that particular morning.  They hadn’t exactly trapped themselves in the house for the week, and they’d all done a fair bit of spreading out and getting in a little quiet time after months of time-hopping and trying to stick to one another like glue.  But the morning of the former apocalypse, they all silently agreed to stay together again.

Mom baked fresh muffins for breakfast and switched everyone’s coffee over to decaf.  It didn’t exactly help, but Klaus could admit that it was pretty hard to have an existential crisis or a panic attack while holding a hot-and-fresh blueberry pastry, so in that sense it was pretty much a success.

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, Five made margaritas for everyone.  Vanya, Klaus, and Ben got virgin ones, not even a drop of alcohol, even with Klaus complaining until Five finally shut him up by adding an entire jar of maraschino cherries to his glass—Vanya because she had a performance, Klaus because Allison had decreed they weren’t allowed to enable him anymore, and Ben because, as Five put it, it just wasn’t worth it to waste perfectly good top-shelf tequila on a ghost who could neither drink nor get drunk.  Klaus dropped a couple of his cherries into Ben’s glass to ease the sting of it.

Eventually evening came.  Vanya left the house first, needing to get to the venue a few hours early for set-up and rehearsal.  That left the rest of them to hover awkwardly around the house, twitchy and uncomfortable for reasons they all understood and didn’t want to acknowledge.  Klaus wasted time by trying on various outfits, bits of pieces of which had been stolen from his siblings’ wardrobes.

Finally, Allison informed them that it was close enough to the concert’s official start time that they could leave without getting there so early the doors would still be locked to the general public.  It wasn’t all that much time to wait, in the grand scheme of things, but it was still long enough that Klaus could actually see Five’s left eye starting to twitch when he thought no one was looking.

Just as they were about to head out, Klaus grabbed the bag he’d hidden in the closet in the foyer earlier in the week and whipped out five sets of brand new bowling shoes, which he had absolutely paid for (he’d rented them, okay) and also had every intention of returning (if the opportunity arose, which it probably wouldn’t, since he had no intention of ever going back to the bowling alley he’d gotten them from.  He’d stolen five pairs of shoes from them, after all, so he was going to be persona non grata there for a good long while).

“I’m not wearing those,” Five said, sounding tired, but he still held onto the shoes when Klaus pressed the appropriately-sized pair into his hands.

Diego looked horrified.  Then Luther started in on Klaus for ‘inappropriate timing’ and making jokes ‘in poor taste,’ and suddenly Diego had to be on Klaus’s side for the whole thing, unless he wanted to be as much of a stick-in-the-mud as Number One. 

In the end, they all wore the shoes, if only because Allison decided it was fun and bullied Luther into going along with it.  The others had fallen in line after that.

So they went to the concert, and settled into the seats Vanya had reserved for them ahead of time.  Ben sat on the armrest of Klaus’s seat, legs dangling out into the aisle, but only because Patch had asked if she could come along at the last minute and Diego had looked so guilty when he’d come to Klaus and Ben about it.  It was hard to justify what would look like an empty seat to the rest of the world in the face of that.

The lights went down, and the music started.  No assassins appeared to shoot them down.  Nothing glowed or rattled or shook.  Vanya’s suit stayed firmly, appropriately black.

After a certain point, Klaus stopped worrying about that and started enjoying himself.  He wasn’t a big fan of classical music, and he had enough childhood memories of a younger Vanya sawing away at the poor strings to have a knee-jerk fear of violins with all their squeaking and screeching and wailing.  Also, the music-driven destruction of earth hadn’t really helped him get over that fear.  By the time Vanya stood up alone for her solo, though, he had mostly managed to put it behind him.  These musicians knew what they were doing, and no matter how intently he focused, he didn’t hear a single squawk or shriek out of any instrument, though it was pretty interesting to try to catch them at it.

Klaus forgot about that as Vanya started to play.  He forgot about everything.

They all knew Vanya was talented, but they had known it objectively, the same way they all knew that Mozart and Beethoven and whoever were talented for writing the music that the orchestra was playing.  They’d never heard Mozart play his own work; they’d never really heard Vanya perform, not like this.

The rest of the orchestra dropped to a background hum.  It was all Vanya, now, and when she moved the music moved through her. 

Sometimes another musician or two crept up out of the background to join her, sounds curling together or echoing back and forth in a call-and-response.  Sometimes the whole orchestra swelled up like a wave and carried Vanya and her violin up to even higher heights.  It almost didn’t matter.  The rest of the group could stand up and walk off the stage and the audience would still have stayed in their seats, totally enraptured, so long as Vanya had kept playing.

Nobody was watching the clock.  But if they had been, then they would have known the exact moment that, in the original timeline, a burning chunk of the moon had crashed down to earth, and they could have acknowledged it as it passed.

But that timeline wasn’t this one; that crisis was no longer coming. 

This time, the concert carried on, triumphant, completely unaware of the disaster it could have become.  This time, Vanya’s violin sang pure and sweet, notes floating and twisting through the air and pulling the audience along like kites on a string. 

Nothing happened, except for the music, on and on.  It was the most beautiful thing Klaus had ever heard.

And at the end of the night, the music ended.  The world did not.