Actions

Work Header

holding on to one anothers hands

Chapter Text

When Grace was young, all she had ever wanted was a family. She wanted babies to care for, children to nurture. She wanted to pack their lunch boxes with personalized notes and make them smiley faced pancakes for breakfasts. She wanted to tuck them in every night and make sure that no matter what, they knew they were loved.

Some people might say that had something to do with her upbringing, but that wasn’t really all that important in the end game.

Her mother had been like her, born with a beauty that made other women jealous and men twitchy in their seats. Margaret, Grace’s mother, married young at seventeen to a man who had a smile like a shark and a family business big enough to fund his more unpleasant habits.

His name was not important, as Grace had decided that he wouldn’t be a part of her story when she was very young.

He however, still affected her home life, which was not not unpleasant. Growing up, she had a large pretty house, with pretty paintings and vases and sculptures she wasn’t allowed to touch. The maid came every Wednesday.

Her mother had long ago given up on the idea that her perfect marriage would ever be perfect, and had turned to spending the large amount of money they had on frivolous things, such as said paintings and sculptures and vases.

Grace’s mother also had formed a pretty severe drug habit by the time Grace saw her tenth birthday.

Margaret Moore was not your average addict. Or, at least that was what she told Grace when she mustered up the courage to ask about it.

Margaret was what as known as a “functioning addict”, and had most parts of her life under control. It didn’t really matter that she started the morning with a vodka tonic and a bump of cocaine, or that she went to bed after a generous glass of brandy and two valium. Prescribed, of course.

She was still a good wife, and dressed up for the parties Father sometimes took her to. Sometimes.

Grace grew up knowing not to bother Mommy when she locked the door to her study and didn’t come out for sometimes days. Grace knew how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and she always did her homework. She brushed her teeth every morning and night, and knew the route to the private school her parents had enlisted her in.

By the time she was nine, her father had hired a car to take her to and from school.

By the time Grace was thirteen, she had an understanding with her parents. They would leave her be, and she would leave them be. She’d look the other way when her mother drank a few too many Long Islands at dinner and had to be helped to bed. She pretended she didn’t notice when Father stayed out late and came home with lipstick on his collar. She pretended she didn’t hear the funny noises coming from his study more and more frequently.

She pretended her father’s eyes didn’t make her skin itch, and she carried on.

Grace was blessed, in both beauty and brains, and she graduated her Very Private and Prestigious High School at the tender age of sixteen.

She had applied to a menagerie of colleges, all very far away from her hometown.

She was accepted at Columbia, with plans to become a doctor. Or at least, that’s what she put down on paper. Really, she wanted to get as far away as possible, and it was one of the only colleges her father agreed to.

Freshly seventeen, a freshman at the private college of Columbia, and in a city she’d never seen besides in movies, Grace felt more free than she ever had.

She was on her own, but she was used to this. She loved learning, and found secret small joys in taking classes that her father would call ‘a waste of time’ like art history and child psychology.

She was well liked by the student body, and the faculty. She was polite, gentle mannered, and overall quite beautiful. For a few glorious months, she felt happy. She felt as though she could achieve her dream.

Then came Reginald Hargreeves, and Grace was plucked from her tiny bubble of happiness.

*

At first, Reginald was quite kind. His family came from old money, and could trace their roots back to the Mayflower. He told her this many times throughout their relationship, as if that was something to be proud of. It should have been her first clue.

But Reginald was handsome, and a true gentleman. He didn’t try and sneak kisses, he didn’t pinch her anywhere, and he spoke to her like she was a person, not just a prize to be won.

He asked her about her opinion on his eccentric theories, and actually took her thoughts into consideration.

He was kind, and he accompanied her often. He seemed more interested in his theories and experiments than her, but that was alright. She’d never had a friend before, and Reginald was almost friend-like.

Until, two years into their relationship, he asked for her hand in marriage.

She was confused, to say the least. He laid it out like a business proposal, and it was quite lacking in the areas of romance and affection.

But, it meant that her father wouldn’t have a hold over her, and Reginald promised that she’d never have to see him again.

She said yes.

*

The marriage was a quiet affair. When she was young, she dreamed of a flowing white gown, and a beautiful cake, and happy friends and family dancing and celebrating.

In reality, it happened on a cold Tuesday morning, during a rainstorm. She signed the paper with shaking hands, and smoothed down her nicest skirt.

Reginald looked as he always did, dressed neatly in a suit, and perfectly contained. He signed the paper without any flourish, and they were married.

And so began the loneliest years of Grace Hargreeves’ life.

*

Almost immediately after her marriage, she dropped out of college. It didn’t seem to have a point anymore, seeing that she had left her parents in the past. It didn’t have the same charm.

That, and she didn’t want to still be attached to her father. Even in something so small as tuition money.

Reginald, never Reggie, moved her into his brownstone in the city. It was in upper Manhattan, and quite extravagant, in a way she hadn’t expected. Stuffed animal heads, and original pieces of art, and and odd number of artifacts she never quite scraped up the courage to ask about.

Shortly after their marriage, Reginald graduated. He then began to slowly encase himself into his odd little home, rather like a hibernating bear. He had groceries delivered, and expected Grace to keep up with the chores. He kept a strict schedule, disliked small talk, and was often very curt with her.

Ah, she thought, wedded bliss.

Even so, there were many books for her to read, and maps to study, and art to view. She had a free pass to come and go, as long as breakfast and dinner were ready at the appropriate times.

She found herself visiting museums, and zoos, and the orchestra. It was all very lovely.

They slept in separate beds, on separate sides of the house. He never once touched her.

She ached, terribly, with the need for companionship. Someone to talk to, someone to sit with, anyone really. For the second time in her life, Grace found herself yearning for a child.

She knew how one went about getting a child. She wasn’t silly. At the ripe old age of twenty, she had been exposed to some of it.

Problem was, she didn’t have any drive to initiate the process of creating a child.

It wasn’t Reginald, she supposed. If she found herself out and about, she might catch the eye of a handsome young man. She could never imagine herself, with any man, like that.

So, on a November evening over a dinner of roast duck and boiled potatoes, she told Reginald Hargreeves, “I want to adopt a child.”

His response, in her opinion, was rather outlandish.

“Absolutely not. I will not have any sticky fingers disturbing my home, and absolutely not interrupting me during my studies.”

It was a simple answer. Straightforward. So was her own answer, she thought.

“I’d like a divorce, then. Please.” She sat primly, her silverware crossed over the remains of her meal, her aw set in a hard line.

Reginald seemed surprised at this. He squinted at her from across the table, and sat back in his chair.

“Very well. I’ll have my lawyer draw up the papers in the morning.”

And that, as they say, was that.

*

She decided to stay near New York, just for the ease. Reginald was completely civil in the divorce, so much so that the divorce lawyer made a joke of how his job had never been easier. Reginald, aware she was relying on him for money, had invested in a farmhouse a few hours north of the city, in a small little farm town. He had given it to her, and a small amount of money, without a fuss. She’d felt odd, taking his money, but he had insisted.

He was nothing if not a gentleman.

The house was big, and quiet. Its rooms were drafty and empty. She found herself wandering the house, feeling like a ghost.

She hated it, and loved it all at the same time.

Grace had never been on her own, and found it surprisingly difficult in some areas, and insanely easy in others. She went to the local farmer’s market (They had a farmer’s market! She’d only ever heard about them from books or movies!) to buy second hand furniture, and very carefully began to build herself a nest.

Like a bird, she flitted through the living spaces, adjusting everything until it felt right. She started in the living room, because it was the easiest to furnish.

It didn’t take long until the space felt warm, and welcoming. No expensive art to never be touched. No priceless vases to worry over. Just comfort. A home.

After the living room, there was the kitchen. As much as she had been forced to take up the mantle of housewife her entire life, she found joy in cooking. In feeding, providing to loved ones.

Then was the dining room, and after that all she really had to do was furnish the master bedroom.

For some reason, she found this extremely difficult. It did feel cozy, but it also didn’t feel like it belonged to her yet. It felt foreign.

Regardless, she settled in quite nicely. She grew to know the people of the small town, which made her endlessly happy.

She met Agnes, the owner of the local bakery, and her doddering husband Hazel. They were an odd couple, but it was easy to see how much they loved each other.

She met Detective Patch, never Eudora, who had a soft spot for Agnes’ chocolate eclairs. Patch, as she was only referred to, liked Grace and often invited her over to drink wine and watch bad horror films.

Patch was Grace’s first friend.

Then came Mr. Pogo, an old man who seemingly single-handedly ran the library (not that there was much to it). He was always helpful, and always had an answer to any questions she asked.

It was a small town, but everyone knew everyone. And slowly, Grace became a part of that everyone. She had a community of people, good people, who had her back.

Patch rubbed her back and cursed out her father the first time Grace ever broke down and told anyone about her upbringing. She was there to hold her and comfort her when Grace confessed her deepest fear, of being alone. Patch was also there when Grace told her about her dreams of motherhood. Of how she thought she was probably never meant for it, but it was a nice thought all the same.

Then came the night when everything changed. The night where twenty two year old Grace Williams (she had her name legally changed, she didn't wan't to be a Moore like her parents) became a mother of one thirteen year old boy.

Luther.

Chapter Text

It’s late when Grace gets the call.

She’s already in bed, tossing restlessly and wishing for sleep. The jarring ring of her phone is a welcome distraction.

“Hello?”

“Grace, it’s me. I need a favor.” Patch’s voice is rough, and she sounds exhausted.

“Where do you need me?” It’s a no brainer for Grace, and she’s already stumbling into something acceptable to wear before Eudora even finishes listing the address.

*

He’s quiet as the police wander around the cabin, keeps his head down. He doesn’t make eye contact. He answers any questions they ask him directly, otherwise he’s silent.

He can hear them, whispering about the poor kid, and his Father, and how fucked up everything seems. He stays quiet, even though something in his chest itches to correct them. His Father didn’t abuse him. His Father was training him.

There’s a sound of another car in the overcrowded front lawn, and Luther can’t help but wince. Father would hate how many people are in the cabin, how many strangers.

The detective that’s been keeping an eye on him glances through the window, and something in her shoulders relaxes.

A spark of fear shoots up Luther’s back.

A woman enters, looking nothing like the other police officers in the tiny house. She’s blonde, and pretty, and wearing jeans and an oversized sweater. Luther can’t help but think of how tiny she is. How he could probably pick her up with one arm, if he tried.

He doesn’t want to try.

She seems to know exactly what’s going on, and marches through the throng of officers like a man on a mission. She heads straight for Luther and the detective.

“Hello.” Her voice is sweet, and soft. She doesn’t crouch down to meet his eyes, mostly because she doesn’t need to, and she addresses him first. “I’m Grace. What’s your name?”

She doesn’t call him sport, or son, or kid. She doesn’t talk to him like he’s too stupid to understand what’s happened. She talks to him like a person.

“Luther, ma’am. My name is Luther.”

*

The lights at the police station are buzzing, and Grace already has a headache the size of Brazil forming behind her left eye, but she has no plans to leave Luther’s side. He’s a big kid, she was shocked when Patch told her he was only thirteen.

But he has the face of a kid. He’s trying to hide it behind a militarian like mask, but she can see the edges of fear in his eyes. It’s why she’s still here. He’s just a little kid.

Patch comes down the hallway with a thin folder, and gestures for Grace to follow.

“Luther, I’m going to talk to the detective. Would you like me to get you anything? Are you hungry?” The boy looks oddly skinny, despite being tall and broad and well muscled. She wonders when the last time he ate a full meal was.

“No, thank you, ma’am.” His voice is quiet, and he keeps his head down. She desperately wants to offer him a hug.

“Alright then. I’ll be back soon.” She hesitates, then places her hand gently on the top of his head. She does her best impression of a gentle mother’s touch, and she watches his shoulders tremble.

He doesn’t flinch, or pull away, though.

Patch watches her as she scurries to the detectives side with an odd look in her eye. Grace decides to ignore it, and asks, rather abruptly, “What can I do?”

“Well,” Patch begins, her eyes still calculating, “He came home to find his father dead of a heart attack.”

Grace’s eyes widen almost comically, and she turns back to look at Luther.

“Oh, god. Does he have any family? Anywhere he can stay? Jesus, do you think he’ll need counseling?” Grace wrings her hands, her eyes never leaving Luther. She misses the look Patch gives her.

“No family on record, his mother died in childbirth. He and his father have been living off the grid ever since. And, I don’t know if you noticed, but his dad was a bit of a survivalist. There were a lot of unregistered guns in that dump.” Patch pauses, and watches as horror slowly drains into her friends face.

“He doesn’t have anywhere to go.” Grace can barely get the words out, and she kind of feels like crying, but she swallows all that. If she feels this bad, how bad must Luther feel right now? How scared must he be? How alone must he feel?

“I have space. It might not be perfect, but if he needs somewhere to stay, my door is open.”

Patch almost laughs. It really was too easy, to get Grace to all but adopt the orphan boy, and she almost feels bad about it. Except she doesn’t, because she knows that Grace will do just about anything to help the poor kid.

“If you’re sure. We can transfer him out to a foster home once the paperwork is done-”

“Absolutely not. I’ll take him.” Grace’s blue eyes are fiery as she turns to look at Patch, and then, hesitantly, “How do I sign up to become a foster parent?”

*

Luther stands in the middle of the sparsely furnished room, with all of his worldly belongings in two garbage bags by his feet. Neither of them are very full.

His clothing, of which is second or third hand, mended by himself. He has two pairs of jeans and three pairs of underwear and he doesn’t know how to ask Miss Grace if he could maybe get some more, at some point. It was easier with Dad, because it didn’t matter if he wasn’t clean all the time. The were surviving. Off the grid. They didn’t have time to shower every day, boy.

He had a few small sculptures he’d made himself, with his own whittling knife. They’d let him keep the knife, but none of the guns. He wasn’t too upset about the guns.

There was and old radio that Dad had taken out on special occasions. He’d liked the songs. Luther loved music, and had often snuck away to dance to whatever radio station he could find. He couldn’t dance in front of his Dad, because real men didn’t dance like a monkey, boy, quit makin’ a damn fool of yerself.

He had the few books his father had taught him on, books about the wildlife in the area, and on survival skills. There were three, and Luther knew them front to back. He was scared of the part where they made him go to school. He didn’t know any other books.

As he stood, quietly, in the middle of his new room in his new house in his new life, he heard a gentle knock on the door.

“Luther? May I come in?” Miss Grace had rules in the house, that she stuck to like glue. One of which, was to always ask permission before you enter someone else’s private space. And to respect their answer. This concept was foreign to Luther, but it did make him feel a little bit safer.

“Yes, Miss Grace.” She opened the door carefully, and poked her head in. She was big on boundaries, and respecting Luther’s.

“I made some dinner, and I can bring you up a plate if you’d like. Or we can eat together, whichever you prefer. I know it’s a lot, all of this.” Her smile was sweet, like the wildflowers that grew near the river behind the cabin, and it made his chest feel big.

“I can. I can eat with you.” Luther knew his manners, and eating at the table was one of them. He didn’t want her to think of him as some kind of wild boy.

She smiled, and offered her hand. It shocked both of them, it seemed, but she didn’t back down. Luther hadn’t ever had that sort of casual touch. He’d grown up riding through the country with a military father and no mother to speak of. He’d grown up in the woods, hidden from town, and any other kids his age. He’d grown up without so much.

Her hand was warm, and tiny in his grip. But she smiled at him, and he felt a little safer, like she could protect him from just about anything.

*

Luther was quiet. He was painfully shy, and polite, and Grace hated it, because she remembered being there. She remembered how scared she had been, to act like that. So, she decided to pull down a board game, and try to get him to open up a little.

When she asked if he’d like to play checkers, he answered with his usual “Yes Miss Grace,” And settled quietly in front of the board. They were in the living room, and Grace wanted him to feel safe. She made them hot cocoa, which Luther huddled over like he’d never had anything like that, and she had to hold her breath and count to ten so she wouldn’t cry.

“This is.. Good. Thank you.” Luther speaks into his cup, and Grace has to fight to keep her voice steady.

“Of course, dear. I can make it for you anytime you like. Or I can show you how, in case you wake up in the middle of the night. I find it helps me sleep.” Luther nods, and thanks her even more quietly, and that’s that.

They played in mostly silence, until Grace hops up to turn on her radio. Luther stares at it, after that, and sways a little as they played.

“Do you like music, Luther?”

He ducked his head, like he was expecting to get hit, and Grace’s heart broke a little more.

“Yes, Miss Grace.”

She smiled at him, and moved a red piece on the board. “What kind of music is your favorite? Do you have a favorite song?”

Luther paused, his fingers curled around one of his pieces. “I like. Happy music. With fun sounds. Like. Like Miss Whitney Houston.” He stumbled a little over the name, like he wasn’t quite sure if he was right.

Grace grinned, happy to have even a little bit to go on with. “Really! I love her, she sings so beautifully.”

Luther peeks up from under his eyelashes, almost nervous. A small smile played around his lips. “What is your favorite?”

Grace leaned back, and put her finger to her chin. In truth, she had never really thought about who’s music she loved the best, but it seemed to make Luther happy, this little game.

“Oh, well. I suppose Madonna is truly a pioneer.” She smiled at him, and shook her head a little. It made him laugh, just a bit. I’m afraid I don’t listen to enough music. You’ll have to introduce me to it!”

Luther seemed surprised by this, and smiled crookedly at Grace. “I’d love to, Miss Grace.”

Chapter Text

Luther has state mandated counselor sessions twice a week. The judge though that with all the trauma Luther had endured, it would be a good idea. The judge had also decided that Luther would stick to an at home curriculum, seeing as he was far behind where he should be at his age.

Luther isn’t really sure who hates the judge more, between him and Miss Grace.

He can remember, after one court appointment, where the judge had spoken about Luther like he wasn’t even in the room, like he didn’t matter, Miss Grace grabbed his hand and stormed out. On the way to the car, she spouted some particularly foul language, all having to deal with the judge and his opinions on Luther’s mental capacity.

It was the first time he felt like someone else had his back.

But the counselor still waits, twice a week, just like the lessons Miss Grace spends hours going over him with. He’s learned, from a fancy doctor’s diagnosis, he has something called dyslexia. Luther thinks it sounds made up, but it explains why he has such trouble with the words on the pages.

He doesn’t mind the counselor. They talk, and Luther tells her about growing up with his Father. He tells her about how, in the early days, his home was the bench seat of his Father’s truck. About the long days of nothing but the highway, and gas station food, and the sticky sweet smell of beer.

He tells her about the cabin. How, in the beginning, it had seemed like a dream come true. He had a bed, and a toilet, and a roof over his head. Sure, his bed was a pull out couch in the tiny living room, but it was his. And sure, the pipes froze in the winter, and there was water damage everywhere. The cabin always smelled like mold, like decay.

But it was his home.

The counselor stays quiet throughout all of this, never interrupting. When he pauses, trying to find the right words, she waits patiently. She’s kind, like that.

He can see her stiffen when he talks about the training, and a part of him doesn’t want to pour out all of his anger on this woman, but he’s also angry. The longer he’s out of the cabin, the more he realizes what happened wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that his father taught him how to shoot, and he had near perfect aim by the time he was six. It wasn’t fair that his father taught him to fight, and would train with him regularly. He knew the feeling of his Father’s knuckles far too well.

All through this, the counselor listened. She was quiet. Until, a rainy spring afternoon.

“Luther.” Her voice was very no nonsense, and he appreciated that. All day, his mind had been wandering and his gaze lingered on the puddles of the sidewalk.

“Yes, ma’am?” Luther made it a point to never use an adults name, barring Miss Grace. It was something small, and selfish, just for him. He didn’t trust them, so he didn’t individualize them in his mind.

“I’d like to talk about the day your father died.”

He stilled, and felt the request buzzing around in his skull. The Day His Father Died. It wasn’t all that interesting, really. He had come home to find his father cold, and not breathing. Then, he had dialled nine-one-one, and waited for the police to come.

Simple.

He had sat outside, so he wouldn’t have to look at the body.

But he knows what she’s really asking, why she’s sitting primly with a pen and notepad.

She wants to know where he was. Why he hadn’t been there, for his Father’s heart attack, that had happened nearly twelve hours before the police called.

He blows out a breath, his hands folding together.

“Dad sent me out, hunting. I only just got back.” That was possibly the simplest way to put it.

In reality, his Father had decided when Luther was ten, to knock him unconscious, then leave him in an unfamiliar part of the forest with only a small hunting knife.

If he made it back before twenty four hours had passed, he got a beer and a chocolate bar.

If he didn’t, then… well.

Luther held this point in his mind, rolled it around like a marble. He could tell her. Then she would know, and it would be out there, in the world. He could speak it, make it real.

The thing was, he didn’t want to, necessarily. Not to her, at least. It was too fresh, too raw. He didn’t want to trust her like that.

So he didn’t. He answered her questions with the bare minimum of information, until his hour was up. Then, he thanked her and wished her a good day, and tucked his hands into his pockets.

He made it all the way to the car before he started to cry.

He didn’t know why he was crying, there was no love lost between him and his Father. He was safe, now. Miss Grace had bought him new clothes, and a warm coat for winter, and had even ordered a tiny plane making set for his Very First Christmas. He was safe.

And still, he curled into himself and tried to quiet the sobs that racked his body. He tried to apologize, even as he was gasping for breath.

The whole time, Miss Grace was doing her best to fit all of Luther into her lap.

She crooned to him, wordlessly, and waved away his apologies. Se rocked him, back and forth, and let him cry. She didn’t hush him, or promise that it was okay. She just held him, and that made Luther love her all the more.

*

It was summer when Luther could tell Miss Grace about any of it. She’d never pushed, never prodded. She was quiet, and let him talk until he felt empty, then she brought him some water and hot cocoa and had told him that, no matter what, she loved him. That she would never let anything like that happen to him again. That here, with her, he was safe. By that time he felt safe enough to tell her that at some point she stopped being just Miss Grace.

She was Mom, too.

Chapter Text

Grace gets the call right as the cookies are done.

It’s Patch, and she sounds exhausted, not to mention frustrated. She tells Grace about the skinny little eight year old they found trying to shoplift at the local pharmacy.

The kid was trying to steal peanut butter cups and a bottle of water.

Grace hesitates, because even though she knows the kid needs someone, she has Luther to worry about. She pokes her head into the dining room, where he usually sets up his schoolwork, and hesitates.

“Luther, love?” His head perks up, probably smelling the cookies.

“Yes, Mom?” Grace’s heart squeezes a little every time she hears that.

“Do you remember Detective Patch?”

*

Luther’s excitement for a possible new foster sibling is a little surprising, but it makes Grace so happy she could cry. He’d offered to ride to the station with her, but she had thought that maybe it would be easier on them both if she went it alone.

She’s used to Patch, who comes over every Tuesday night for dinner and a movie, who thinks Luther is doing amazingly, who teases Grace that she’s a natural mom.

She’s not used to Patch looking so frazzled.

She is sitting outside an interrogation room, with her head between her hands. She looks like she’s ready to scream, or cry, or both.

Grace offers her a cookie.

In the interrogation room, sitting at a metal table, sits a very small child.

The kid is dirty, like they’ve been running around outside. Their hair is cut short, choppy, like they went at it with a pair of old scissors.

They also have the biggest scowl Grace has ever seen.

“Hello. I’m Grace.” She introduces herself, carefully sitting in the chair opposite the child. They don’t answer, but that doesn’t deter her. She reaches into her bag, and pulls out a tupperware container containing a carefully prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She also has a bag of cookies, if it comes to that.

Carefully, she opens the container, and sets the sandwich in front of the kid.

“They told me you wouldn’t eat anything from the vending machine. I hope you aren’t allergic to peanuts.” She then sits back, and waits patiently.

She doesn’t have to wait long.

The poor thing rips into the sandwich like they expect to have it taken back, so Grace just sits, and keeps her hands visible.

“I’m Grace. I live not to far from here. What’s your name?” The child’s eyes are squinting at her, and she doesn’t know if its the mistrust or the need of glasses.

“Diego.” It’s the first word she ever hears him speak. He sits up in his chair, pushing his little chest out. “I’m a boy.” he stresses the last word, like he expects her to fight him on it.

“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Diego. Would you like a cookie?”

*

Patch sends them off with everything they had found on the boy (two small race cars, a small batman figurine, and a pocket knife.) and a quiet muttered ‘how the fuck do you do that, jesus’ and a half hearted request to let her know if they found out anything else about Diego.

Grace tells Diego about Luther, and the house, and the garden she’s been tending. She talks a lot in the car ride home, mostly because he doesn’t seem inclined to stop her.

By the time they pull up to the house, it’s later in the day. Diego stares at it like it’s a prison.

“Diego.” She says his name carefully, and keeps her eyes ahead.

He peeks at her from the corner of his eye, and doesn’t respond.

“Would I be wrong if I guessed this wasn’t your first foster home?” He stiffens at this, his tiny fist clutching Batman, his knuckles turning white. He nods.

“Would I be wrong if I guessed that’s where you’re running from?” Another, smaller nod.

“Can I ask you to do a favor for me?” His shoulders hunch, but he nods, again.

“If I ever do something that reminds you of the bad places you’ve been, I want you to tell me. I won’t do it again, and we’ll try and find a different way to do things.

He turns towards her outright, his eyes guarded. Grace meets his gaze head on, and makes sure to show him she means it.

“I don’t want you to go back to a place that made you unhappy. So I’ll keep you here, where it’s safe. If you want, I can foster you here. I promise it won’t be anything like the others, before.”

His hands are shaking, and she watches him struggle to form the words.

“Y-you. D’you mean. Mean, mea- mean it?” Her heart is in her throat, and she promises him.

“Absolutely. I don’t like to see other people hurting, and my home is always open to those who need a safe place.” Her voice shakes, but she keeps his eye contact. He nods, slowly at first, then quicker.

“How about we get you into some fresh clothes, hm?”

*

Grace understands a little more when they make it to the bathroom. Diego is stiff, and withdrawn When she takes off his spiderman shirt, he covers his chest like he’s scared of what she might do to him.

When she pulls down his dirty cargo pants, she understands.

“Diego. Diego, darling. Look at me?” Her voice is quiet, and the sound of the tub filling behind them fills the small room.

He lifts his head, his eyes still turned from her.

Carefully, Grace weighs her words. How do you explain to and eight year old that you know they meant it when they declared themselves a boy?

“If you want, tomorrow we can go get you more clothes that fit. And maybe a haircut? You seem to like superheros, which one is your favorite?” She helps him into the bath, gently, and takes a rag to his back.

“Spiderman.” His voice is quiet, but firm.

“When you grow up, do you want to be like Spiderman? He’s a very good superhero.” Diego’s head shoots up to squint at her, still trying to see if she means it.

“Spiderman. Not. Not. spider- spider.” He stops, his words getting caught on his tongue.

“Easy, Diego. Just picture the word in your mind.”

“Spider. Girl?” His eyes search hers, frantically. Grace feels tears well up in her eyes.

“Spiderman.” Her voice breaks, and she runs her hands through his hair. “You’re a very handsome young man, I wouldn't want you to feel uncomfortable.”

Diego stays quiet after that. She washes his hair, and hums gently. He’s so small, she thinks. She knows she shouldn’t get attached this quickly, but he’s so sweet.

After she helps him dry off and dress in some of Luther’s old clothes, she guides him to the dinner table.

“Luther, I’d like you to meet Diego. He’s going to be your little brother, from now on.”

Chapter Text

Diego likes the new foster home. He likes how it’s quiet at night, how there’s always something to eat, and Miss Grace makes good dinners. She also makes smiley face pancakes, which are his favorite. Mostly just because Miss Grace made them.

Diego likes Luther, too. He was scared in the beginning, that Luther would be like other big kids and push Diego around and call him mean names and stuff. But he didn’t. At first, Luther tried to show him all of his model airplane making kits, but Diego got bored, so Luther showed him the really cool hunting knife he has from his dad.

Diego would’ve taken it when Luther wasn’t looking, but Luther’s dad is dead so Diego figures he should at least have something to remember him by.

He likes that he gets his own room, and he can hang up pictures he draws and posters Miss Grace brings him. He likes that he can dress how he wants, and no one calls him a ‘homo’ for wearing Captain America boxer briefs.

He likes that his room is his space, and that there are rules about being in other people’s spaces. He likes it even better when Luther listens to them when Miss Grace isn’t looking.

He likes that when school starts up in the fall, his name on the attendance list is going to be Diego Williams, not the other name.

He likes that Miss Grace is looking at doctors to help him so he won’t grow girl parts. When she told him that, asked if it was okay, he cried like a baby. But Miss Grace held him, and soothed him, and she didn’t tell anyone.

He still gets scared, even though the house is basically perfectly safe.

He steals steak knives from the kitchen and keeps them under his pillow, just in case someone tries to break into the house. He wants to protect Miss Grace, and Luther, too. He also keeps them there because he remembers the third house, and Daniel Bower’s big meaty hands and how he tried to make Diego do gross things, so Diego bit him really really hard and then he had to go to the fourth house.

It was worth it, because Daniel had to get eight stitches.

So Diego keeps his hand tucked under his pillow when he sleeps, his hand loosely curled around a carving knife, always ready to leap out of bed at a moments notice.

Miss Grace worries, because he’s a light sleeper, and she wants him to get enough rest. He tells her he’s fine, promise.

Diego has always been a light sleeper.

*

It’s late summer, and Luther is taking Diego out behind the house for a secret. Diego would be worried, except he has his pocket knife and Luther’s pretty cool, anyway.

They don’t go too far from the house, because Miss Grace worries, before Luther pulls a small poorly wrapped box out of a hidey hole.

“This is for you, because we missed your birthday. Mom knows, but she wants you to be careful.” Luther’s voice is deep, and Diego’s heart jumps. He bounces on his feet as Luther kneels in front of him, and carefully places the heavy box in Diego’s hands.

“What is it?” He’s ripping into the present before he even finishes the question, and when he uncovers a small, glossy, black wooden box, his heart nearly stops.

He opens it delicately, like it’s made o gold or fine china or something stupid. But it feels like it’s that important. Inside, laid in a soft red fabric, are four sharp shiny little knives. They gleam, prettily, and Diego gasps.

“They’re throwing knives. I thought I could teach you, because you like knives and stuff.” Luther’s voice is quiet while Diego strokes his fingers over the pretty knives, back and forth.

“Uhm, I. I thought. It might help you feel safer.” Luther’s looking at him carefully, like he expects Diego to scream or cry or something stupid.

“It’s safe here.” Diego repeats Miss Grace’s montra, his hands shaking slightly.

“Yeah, but sometimes your brain doesn’t believe you. Sometimes, it’s like you never got out of the scary place, even though you know your here, with Miss Grace, and me, and you’re safe.” It’s the most words Diego’s ever heard Luther say at once, but it makes his chest hurt.

“Did you. Y-you,” he begins, the words getting stuck in his throat.

“Easy, buddy. ‘Member what Mom says? Picture the word.” Luther’s big hand comes down on Diego’s shoulder, and it makes a few tears spring free.

“You weren’t. Weren’t safe? Too?” The sentence doesn’t make much sense, but it takes almost all he’s got to push it out.

“Yeah. We both came from pretty bad places. If you wanna talk, or whatever, you can always talk to me. I know. I know what it’s like to feel like the only one on your side.” Luther is rubbing Diego’s shoulder, his eyes somber and downcast.

Diego flings himself at Luther, burying his head in his brother’s shoulder. He muffles his sobs there, embarrassed to be crying, but Luther only rubs his back and shushes him. Like Miss Grace did.

“It’s okay. You know, Miss Grace once told me that she came from a bad family too, so you can talk to her. I know you start therapy sessions soon, but I think yours will be way more fun than mine.” Luther runs his hand down Diego’s head, stroking his hair and rocking him back and forth.

“My therapist is annoying. But I’ve seen your therapist before. She does a lot of stuff in the art room, so you can make all sorts of drawings. If you ask nice, she might even let you make a mug.” Luther continues talking until Diego can breathe, until he can lift his head from Luther’s shoulder, until he can quietly whisper;

“Thank you.”

Luther looks at him for a long time, then carefully wipes some of Diego’s tears away. “Anytime, buddy. I. You’re my brother. You know that, right? You’re my brother, and Miss Grace is your Mom, and we’re a family now.”

Diego sucks in a big breath, and nods, feeling safer than he has in his whole life.

*

Luther was right, his therapy sessions are more him coloring pictures and talking to the lady than anything else.

Sometimes she asks him questions, and sometimes he stumbles over his words, but she’s nice. She calls him Diego and talks about him like he’s a boy. Se asks if he likes his new home, and Diego can barely keep up with his words about how great Miss Grace is, and Luther’s pretty cool, and he’s learning how to throw knives, but only with dummy ones. Luther won’t let him use the real ones until he’s good enough.

She asks if he likes to read, and he says sometimes, but he likes it better when Luther reads to him. Luther struggles with words on paper just like Diego struggles with words in his mouth.

She asks if Miss Grace is good to them, and he nods so much his head hurts. She’s always nice, and she says if he wants they can get bicycles and learn to ride together, because she doesn’t know how to, either.

He tells her he’s excited, because his shots start soon, and eventually he’ll get different shots that make him grow tall and strong like Luther. Diego hates needles, but he thinks he can be brave. That, and Miss Grace said she would hold his hand, and if it got too scary, they could change it.

After that the time is up, and the therapist lady promises that next time they can try to make a mug. Diego wants to make one for Miss Grace, and Luther, too.

*

It’s dark, and he wakes up with his hand curled around a knife.

His heart pounds in his chest, and he can feel cold sweat down his back.

He’s had a nightmare. He can still feel the edges of the dream clinging to his mind, so he lays back down and takes a deep breath.

Then he smells it, and almost starts to cry.

He peed the bed, like a baby, like a stupid little baby, and now he has to clean it up before anyone can see and make fun of him.

His therapist told him that nightmares might happen, and that bed wetting was common. He had shrugged it off, thinking himself too brave for things like that.

He balls up his fists and presses them into his eyes, trying not to cry. All he has to do, is clean everything up before anyone else wakes up, then it doesn’t count.

He slides silently from the sheets, and pulls off his soiled pajamas. He then strips his bed, as quick as he can, and quiet as a mouse, moves to the laundry room.

Diego knows how to do laundry, because he likes helping Miss Grace with her chores. He likes being around her, she makes him feel safe.

Once he’s stuffed everything into the washer, and carefully measured out the soap, he hits start and runs to the bathroom. Sometimes the washer starts loudly.

After he’s cleaned himself up, as best he can, he stumbles sleepily to the living room. He doesn’t want to sleep on the bed, in case it’s still wet.

Except, at the door to the living room, he sees the kitchen light is on.

He’s quiet as he tiptoes through , trying to see who’s up this early.

It’s Miss Grace. Except, she doesn’t look like she usually does. Her hair is messy, and her eyes are puffy and red. She's holding a big mug full of hot cocoa.

“M-Miss Grace?”

She jumps, even though he said it quietly, and he watches her try to hide her tears.

“Diego! Oh, honey, you startled me? Is everything alright?” She moves around the counter, crouching so she can hug him. He clings to her, quiet for a moment.

“Why are you crying?”

She takes a shaky breath, and tugs him into her lap. They lean against the counters, as Miss Grace carefully curls around him like armor.

“My mother died, Diego. I just got the call.”

Diego’s eyes well up in sympathy, and he hugs her tighter.

“She wasn’t very nice to you, was she.” It’s not a question, but Miss Grace nods all the same.

“I’m still sad. Isn’t that silly? She wasn’t a very good mom, but I’m still crying.”

Diego turns his head into her shoulder, quietly building the words in his head.

“My mom was a crack whore, and she died from an o-overdose. She never made me pancakes, or r-read me stories. Like you do. I still cried when the police told me.” He sits, and Miss Grace squeezes him tighter. They stay like that for a while, while Miss Grace rocks them back and forth.

“Thank you, Diego.” Her voice sounds scratchy, and Diego looks up at her. She still looks sad, and like she’s been crying, but she’s smiling at him now, too.

Quickly, he kisses her forehead.

She laughs, then peppers kisses all over his face and tickles him, gently, telling him how much she loves him. He laughs, and basks in the big warm feeling in his chest.

She picks him up, and sighs into his hair. “Let’s get you to bed, mister.”

His heart drops.

“Um. I can’t.” His words stumble over each other.

“Why, darling?” She kisses the crown of his forehead, and squeezes him a little tighter.

“I wet the bed.”

She nods, like this is a perfectly acceptable answer, then begins making her way up the stairs.

“Well, we’ll just have to sleep in my room.”

Diego’s eyes widen, as something like excitement bubbles in his chest. Only real moms and sons can share the bed.

“Does that mean I can call you Mom, now?”

Grace hesitates, her hand hovering over the doorknob. Her chest feels tight, and she can feel even more tears welling behind her eyes.

“Of course, darling. I’d be honored.”

*

Diego, as it seems, is a bit of an octopus in his sleep. Grace wakes up to a post cry headache, and a tiny eight year old strapped to her side like a parachute. If she listens closely, she can hear Luther snoring down the hall. Life, she decides, is absolutely perfect.

Chapter Text

Grace Williams née Hargreeves wasn’t one for television. Her boys would tease her for it, not recognizing regular shows like Spongebob or Teen Titans. But she didn’t mind that Luther and Diego watched it, often renting television shows from the library.

Naruto was Diego’s favorite.

So it surprised her one afternoon when a sleek black car pulled into her driveway, and a woman wearing a sleek black suit knocked on her door.

Grace came from money, so she knew it when she saw it, but she didn’t know what it was doing on her doorstep at 2:37 in the afternoon.

“May I help you?” she asked, before the woman could even open her mouth. Diego would be home from school soon, and she wasn’t keen on this woman being anywhere near her children.

“Yes. I’m a representative of the state, and I’m here to assess your home for a sensitive case.” Grace, not being a huge fan of TV, didn't immediately piece two and two together. All the same, she lead the representative of the state through her home, let her see her children’s rooms, and see that Grace was a good and loving mother.

At the end of it, after Diego had done his best to scowl the woman away, all while clinging to Grace’s waist, the representative smiled at her.

“I like your chances, Miss Williams. The child in question would be very happy here.”

Of course, after the sleek black car had driven off into the night, both boys had a million questions.

“What did she ask you?”

“Was she mean?”

“Does she have a memory stick like Will Smith?”

Grace rolled her eyes, and ran her hand through Diego’s hair.

“No, she didn’t erase my memory like the Men in Black.”

“But how could you know?” He stressed, hanging off her arm.

She laughed, and ferried them off to bed, tucking Diego in and singing him lullabies. Some might say he was too old for such babying, but Grace would tell those people to stick it. Diego absolutely flourished whenever she showed even the slightest bit of affection, and she loved him as fiercely as if she’d born him herself.

Luther ducked his head, and let her kiss his forehead before bed, and she spent the next few moments floating around the house.

As she tidied the living room, and then the kitchen, she wondered.

Who the hell had that woman been? Sensitive case? Child in question?

She huffed, and settled into her night routine, not paying it another thought.

She had children to worry about.

*

“You signed me up to foster a celebrity child?” Grace wasn’t angry, per say, more surprised that Patch would do such a thing.

“I didn’t think they’d pick you! Plus, like, you’re an amazing foster mother. And she seemed really sad on TV!” Eudora was gesturing, almost frantically, as Grace stared at her with her hands on her hips.

Grace had an excellent Motherly Stare, thank you very much.

“Well they did, and now there’s a child in that room that I have to take home! What about my boys? Will Diego be angry? What about Luther? I’m pretty sure he’s never seen a girl his own age before.” Eudora lifted her shoulders apologetically, but Grace sighed. She turned around, and pulled out her phone. She’d have to ask them here and now, then.

*

Allison Clarke sat in the back of a car she’d never been in, on her way to a house she’d never seen, to a life she’d never lived.

She couldn’t even miss anyone. Mom had been to high to pay attention, to busy moving from one summer blockbuster to another. Her father had never been around, and was only spoken of in whispers.

She hadn’t even had a steady nanny. No one, because of her mother’s predisposition to move frequently.

She felt bad for herself, in a way. She’d been on television since the day she’d been born, America’s Sweetheart’s sweetheart. Her mother had done maybe a million interviews about being a mother, and Allison had been an afterthought.

Of course, when her mother was on the correct medication, every once in a blue moon, she’d stay with Allison and tell her funny stories. They’d sing together, and laugh. She liked her mother best then.

But those nights only happened once in a blue moon, and as her mom had gotten older, less frequently. Mom didn’t like aging, and took just about anything to reverse the effects. Or just about anything, period.

Grace had been home alone when her mother was arrested for Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence. Which was a fancy way of saying that her toxicology screen had come back an absolute mess.

So, Jeanie Clarke had lost custody of her daughter in one fell swoop. Currently, mom was in a rehab in Connecticut, maybe. Allison couldn’t remember.

Her father was a whole other bag of worms.

Junior Stone had been the bad boy to her mother’s good girl. They had a torrid relationship, most of it spread out across magazines and blog posts. It was on and off, until Allison was maybe three, and her dad just stopped answering her mother’s calls.

Junior Stone was Point Guard for first the LA Lakers, then after a few too many scandals, he was transferred to the New York Knicks, then the Chicago Bulls, then most recently, the Boston Celtics.

He was also going through a rather public abuse allegations trial. It wasn’t looking good for him.

So, her father was out, too. But of course, there weren’t any aunts or uncles, and her grandparents were all in homes. Which meant that she had to go into the foster system.

But not just any foster home, they had to sign NDA’s and agree to keep her out of the public limelight while everything died down.

Meaning, they had to be boring.

Allison hadn’t ever lived a boring life, it wasn’t something she was keen to try. She was used to grand mansions and infinity pools, designer clothes and expensive tastes. She’d pretended to be lost royalty, an heiress hidden away in the mountains, the love child between a king and a servant, anything to occupy her imagination in the extravagant houses she was often left alone in.

At the tender age of fourteen, her whole life was changing, and Allison Clarke was not a fan. Not at all.

*

Grace had never had a daughter, and Allison seemed intent on keeping it that way. She called Grace by her name, which seemed to surprise Luther. Diego just thought she was stuck up, which she kind of was. But still, Grace treated Allison with all the love and respect she treated her boys with, hoping that she could at least feel safe, here.

Allison was prone to her moods, and was taking at home lessons, so that no paparazzi could find her. She often times locked herself in her room, and blasted music, but it never seemed to bother the boys. If anything, it just started a number of impromptu dance parties.

It was a chilly Wednesday when they got the call that Allison’s mother had relapsed, and would be staying in the rehabilitation center for an undetermined amount of time.

When Grace pulled Allison to the side, she didn’t expect tears. Allison wouldn’t want to cry in front of her. She got a quiet nod, then Allison returned to her schoolwork, all the while stone faced.

It wasn’t til later, til after dinner and bath time and bedtime stories, that she heard it.

Grace had found that when someone in the house couldn’t sleep, neither could she. She liked to think it had something to do with her motherly senses, but it might just be the thin walls and creaky floors.

She wandered, poking her head into Diego’s room, to see him asleep with his stuffed dog clutched to his chest. His breathing was even, and he drooled a little. She didn’t think there was anything more beautiful in the world.

When she checked in on Luther, he was curled, like a comma, on his left side. His right hand rested near his mouth, like he’d sucked his thumb at one point. On his desk was a half finished airplane set, and his snores rumbled in his chest like a little lion. She felt a small part of her unclench, and she made her way to the only other occupied bedroom in the house.

*

She was muffling her sobs in her pillow when there was a soft knock on the door. She turned, half expecting someone to come bursting in, before she remembered the rules.

She weighed her options. She could tell whoever it was (Grace) to go away, and then they’d have to. But she was tired.

Her eyes were sore, and she had a headache, and her chest felt heavy.

“Come in.” She sounded like a dying frog.

Grace’s footsteps were delicate, like a dancer’s. She knelt near the head of the bed, and carefully offered Allison a glass of water and two small tabs.

“Aspirin. I know I always get headaches when I cry.” Grace’s voice was even soft, gentle. Allison swallowed them, then took a few sips of water.

They sat, in the quiet, while Allison sipped, and Grace knelt, and everything was very quiet.

“You don’t have to stay.” It wasn’t even close to what she had meant to say, but it came out all the same.

“I know.”

They sat some more, and then some more, until Allison’s eyes began to droop.

“Why can’t she ever get clean?” Her own voice sounded wobbly, and she bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood.

Grace sighed, and lowered her head. Then carefully, she adjusted herself until Allison’s hands were encased in hers.

“I don’t know. I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. I’ve been asking myself the same thing for a long time. My mother was a lot like yours, I think. A little less strong, though.” Allison’s head jerked up, and she squinted at Grace.

“Your mom did pills, too?”

Grace laughed, but it didn’t sound very happy. “Yes, among other things. She had a drinking problem.”

Allison hesitated for a moment, then carefully asked, “What happened to her?”

“She died. Of cancer, lung cancer. She didn’t tell anyone about it. I only knew she was sick after I got the call that she had passed.”

Allison could feel tears well in her eyes, and she squeezed Grace’s hands.

“I’m sorry.”

Grace smiled at her, and whispered, “You know what? It’s okay. She died peacefully, which is all I could have asked for. My mother wasn’t very motherly to me, but I still loved her. Still worried. It’s natural, I think, to feel like that. Especially when you’re a young woman.”

Allison ducked her head, and bit her lip.

“Sometimes. Sometimes I wish she wasn’t like she is. Famous. Then maybe she could be just my mom. Or maybe not.”

Grace ran her hand carefully over Allison’s curls, and took a breath.

“I wish I could take the hurt from you. I wish I knew how to make it so you never had a sad day again. But I don’t.” Gently, Grace tucked her finger’s under Allison’s chin. “But I can be here for you when you have them. I can hold your hand, or rub your back, when you feel like you need it. When you have to cry, you never have to be alone. I’m notorious for my crying skills.”

Allison giggles a little, then hiccuped. Her tears had started all over again.

“Can I stay with you, tonight?”

Grace rose, her hands already tucking Allison into her tummy.

“Anytime. My door is always open, love. You don’t need to ask.”

Chapter Text

Allison lays her head on her arm, sighing as loudly as she can.

She’s bored.

She’s finished all of her school work for the week, and even helped Luther and Diego with theirs. It’s late Saturday afternoon an she couldn’t be more bored.

“Stop breathing so loud.” Diego’s smart ass comment makes her wanna turn around and strangle him, but she breathes through it. Her mandated therapy sessions are a lot of self soothing tactics.

“Stop thinking so loud.” Luther’s comment surprises her, seeing as he pretends he’s the dad of their little family. She’s not sure how she feels about the fact that she considers these people family.

She sticks her tongue out at him, childishly. He laughs, and sticks his thumbs in his ears.

“You all need an activity.” Grace’s voice is chirpy, and happy, and on instinct all three children groan in unison.

“I’ve been thinking. It’s fall, and we can’t garden in the winter. There’s not a lot of indoor activities to do this time of year. What do you think about adding a new member to the family?”

*

Allison stares, wide eyed, at the metal door with a dingy little window.

It’s really loud, and kind of jarring. The whole place smells like horses, kind of. Diego, not a fan of loud noises, leans into her side. She winds an arm around him, looking to Grace nervously.

Grace nods, and gestures for them to go ahead. She seems excited, and Luther is practically bouncing out of his skin. Allison turns, and straightens her spine.

They can totally do this.

When Luther yanks open the door, the raucous noise gets infinitely louder, but they all march forward, undeterred.

In the first little cage is a creature that looks like the pointiest pony in the world. The name tage reads “Hi! I’m Geode, and I’d love to live in a quiet household. I want to live out my golden years comfortably!” All three of them know that Geode isn’t for them, but they still kneel in front of the kennel and stick their fingers through the wire to scratch at her ears.

“The next kennel holds a dog that’s not good with kids, and the next one has a name tag that reads “NOT AVAILABLE”.

The next dog is a shivering little mass that’s as big as Diego’s head.

The next dog is floppy looking. He’s currently doing his best to chew apart a rope toy, and when Luther crouches in front of his kennel, he leaps to his feat like a newborn deer.

“I like this one.” Luther says unnecessarily, his heart eyes practically bursting out of his skull.

“Is he still a baby?” Diego peers at the large dog, untrusting, even as it slobbers all over Luther’s hand.

“Yeah, but he doesn’t have a name yet.” Allison scans the little name tag, reading about how he was found hiding under someone’s porch. “If we get him, we could name him.”

“He’s gonna be big.” Diego has moved to sticking his fingers through the wire, giggling when the dog licks at him.

“He’s the same kind of dog as Scooby Doo. We could name him Scooby.” Luther is currently trying to fit his whole hand through the tiny wire holes, and would probably sign the papers immediately.

“You can’t name him Scooby,” Allison scoffs, “There must be a million Great Danes named Scooby in the world. It’s unoriginal.”

“Naruto!” Diego seems sure of his decision, and turns to his older siblings with a firm nod.

“Diego, you can’t name everything Naruto.” Luther sounds exhausted, seeing as Diego has been forcing Luther to sit with him and rewatch every episode of the anime.

“Why not Muppet? Or something silly, like Harold Andrew Garfield the Third?” Allison offers, knowing that no matter what, this is the dog.

She wanders as her brothers argue over proper dog names, and finds herself in a quiet room with big cat trees. She peeks in all of the hidey holes, and aside from a few tiny toys, she doesn’t find anything.

When she walks down a short aisle, she sees why.

The wall is full of milk carton sized cages, some open, some empty, some occupied. Three or four cats mill around the small room, one sleeping in a litterbox.

She doesn’t see her at first.

Allison makes her way through all of the cats, doling out head scratches and kisses as needed. Each one is sweet, although none of them capture her. She thinks of Luther, and how his eyes lit up at the puppy that’s probably going home with them, with an even weirder name.

She traces her fingers over an empty cage, then hears a rumbling mrowl. Not so empty, then.

When she leans over to squint into the cage, the cat is small. Really small, shaved down to her skin. She’s grey, and kind of looks like a goblin, and she’s the most perfect thing Allison has ever seen.

“Hello, sweetie,” She starts, kneeling in front of the cage. She tries to think of what Grace would do, and she settles in front of the cage.

“What’s your name, I wonder?” The little grey goblin cat doesn’t say anything, or make any movement. She looks regal, like she’s sitting the throne over her royal court, her distaste for such frivolous things palpable.

Allison tells her so, and the cat burp meows at her.

She sits in front of the pretty ugly goblin queen, and tells her stories. The more Allison talks, the more the cat seems to relax. She talks until her throat itches, and opens the cage slowly. The cat keeps an eye on her the whole time, her hazel eyes never really blinking.

“Allison?”

At the sound of her name, she turns, and finds Grace with a staff member at her side. As soon as she stops talking, and turns away from the goblin queen, the cat leaps gracefully, if a little painfully, into her lap.

The staff member gasps, like it’s an old time horror movie. Grace simply raises her eyebrow, the picture of calm.

Allison wraps her arms around the goblin cat, feeling strangely protective of her little scrawny body.

“This is Madeline.”

Grace smiles, her eyes sparkling with silent laughter.

“Oh? Well, she’s quite lovely.”

Allison gulps, tugging the poor cat closer to herself.

“Do you think we have room for her? She doesn’t like it here. Says it’s too noisy.”

Grace laughs then, and the poor employee looks close to fainting.

“I’m sure we can find some room. She’s more than welcome.”

Allison’s heart explodes like a fireworks, bright and loud and colorful. Madeline, as if she can sense the change, lets out a rolling rumble that sounds like a car engine. She’s purring, and Allison doesn’t think she could be any happier.

*

“MACARONI!” Diego’s voice is full of laughter, and Allison peeks over her shoulder.

The young boy is chasing after the new member of the family, who has Diego’s stuffed dog carefully held in his mouth.

Diego is full of giggles, and even manages to rope Luther into trying to corral the large, gangly pup.

Allison turns to look at Madeline, who is currently sitting on a table mat, her eyes closed in almost sleep. Carefully, Allison strokes Madeline’s back, which is growing out her fur quite nicely. The cat grumbles, but accepts the affection gracefully.

Allison smiles, because she feels at home. It’s a new feeling, a little uncomfortable at first, but it settles nicely. Being here, with her cat on the table, finishing an essay for English about Frankenstein is something that triggers it. She also gets the feeling when she and Luther help Grace in the kitchen, whether it’s for dinner, or maybe a sweet treat. She gets hit with the feeling when Diego asks her to play darts with him, a new gift that she thought he might like. She isn’t very good, but Diego is always happy to have her.

Grace moves swiftly from the kitchen, her eye on the boys.

“Darlings, I’d love to keep the house in one piece. Why don’t you take Macaroni on a walk? I’m sure he’d love it.” Grace’s voice is fond, even amused, at the antics. She loves them, Allison thinks.

Luther grabs the leash, and then it’s a race to see who can get ready the quickest. It’s snowed recently, enough to stick to the ground, and Macaroni thinks that snow is possibly the best invention ever. Diego also loves to instigate snowball fights.

They leave in a rush, the noise following them out. Grace sits across from Allison, and smiles at the door.

“They have so much energy. I wonder where they get it from.” Grace rests her chin in her hand, and turns her smile towards Allison.

“You feed them pretty well, maybe it’s the vegetables.” Grace laughs quietly, and scritches Madeline between her ears. The cat starts her motor-like purring.

“How are you doing, love?” It’s not a question Allison expects, and she pauses to find her reply.

“I’m. I’m good. Happy, I think. It’s nice, to have everything on a schedule. It’s nice, to not be the only one in the house.” Grace nods, her blue eyes full of understanding.

“I’m glad. I want you to feel safe here.”

Allison ducks her head, color rising in her cheeks. “I do. I feel. I feel loved, here. Thank you, for that.”

Grace offers her hand from across the table, and Allison tucks her own inside.

“I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. I want you to know, no matter what, you always have a home with me. No matter what.” She squeezes Allison's hand, her voice smooth and sweet.

Allison fights of the prickling of tears behind her eyes, and smiles at the table. “I know.”

Carefully, she looks up from beneath her eyelashes. “Thank you, Mom.”

Allison doesn’t think she’s ever seen anyone smile so big and beautiful in her life.

Chapter Text

Christina Engle was checked into the hospital at 8:45 am, because her water had broken.

It was a bit of a surprise, considering she hadn’t even realized she was pregnant until about fifteen minutes earlier.

She was a young girl, of about sixteen. She had been at her boyfriend’s apartment when the cramping had started, and they had been shooting up a bit of heroin. For that quick morning jump.

Her boyfriend at the time had been shocked when his skinny, teenage girlfriend, had suddenly stood up, with blood and water running down her legs. He’d driven her to the hospital, but had left soon after, probably due to the fact that he was still quite high. And also twenty four.

She had a quick labor. It was painful, and gruesome, and left her near exhausted. But by 9:34 am, Christina had given birth to a fifteen ounce, eight inch long baby. She names him Klaus Engle. After her grandfather.

Of course, the hospital wondered at what to do with a sixteen year old drug addict and her twenty three week old infant. Christina gave them the number of her boyfriend, now baby daddy, and her parents. The first refused to answer, for fear of going to jail. The second nearly didn’t listen, because they had thought their girl had been kidnaped, or worse, killed.

It took four days for the parents of one Christina Engle to arrive at the small Brooklyn hospital, take one look at the tiny baby, and decide that Klaus Engle was not going to join them in their home. Christina wailed, and fought, and screamed, but her parents were firm in their decision.

They took her away from her baby about a week after his birth. Her father allowed her to say goodbye, and her mother stood at the doorway to the NICU, and Christina Engle pushed her bony fingers through the tiny windows.

She stroked her son’s downy little head, and held his impossibly small hand. She whispered to him, about how sorry she was. How much she would miss him. How much she loved him. How she would pray for him, every night. She wept at the feeling of his tiny hand clenching her finger, and begged him to stay alive. He was perfect, and she couldn’t imagine a world without him.

“I’ll come back for you, angel.” She whispered, touching his cheek. “I’ll come back, and we can be a family. I promise.”

This, she promised.

*

Christina Engle was checked into a rehabilitation center for teens two days after she left her son in the hospital. She was quiet, and didn’t often say much during groups. She was determined to get her thirty day chip and leave, because she had a son who needed her.

She passed her thirty day trial without any incident, excepting for the fact that an hour before her parents came to pick her up, Christina Engle mysteriously disappeared from the rehab’s grounds. Her thirty day chip was left on her windowsill.

*

Christina sat, exhausted, on a seat next to Klaus’ incubator. She’d dodged the nurses throughout the day, hiding in bathroom stalls and closets. They all wanted to know if she’d be picking up her son once he was out of NICU. She was, but she didn’t have any money, so she couldn’t let them know that.

Klaus was growing bigger every day, she was sure of it. Like a timelapse of a flower blooming, her baby was growing, strong and beautiful.

Carefully, she pushed her littlest finger into his hand. Even in his sleep, he grasped onto her with such strength. It set her heart at ease.

Her stomach snarled, and she winced. She’d run back to New York, this time for her son, and she had run out of money the day before. She was hungry, but it wasn’t anything she hadn’t felt before.

If she wanted to keep her son, she knew that she’d have to find a place to stay. Her boyfriend (ex, now, most likely) wasn’t an option. She could probably find a shelter, or someplace like that for teen mothers, but that’d require her name. They’d alert her parents, and she’d have to start all over again.

Carefully, she pressed a kiss to her two front fingers, then pressed those fingers to her son’s forehead. She has work to do.

*

Christina knocked on the door of a man she’d begun to hate about four weeks prior.

Ethan opens the door, his eyes blown wide, and eyes her up and down. She can feel his gaze like a grubby hand, squeezing at her all over.

“You look good.” Christina knows, in fact, she does not. She hasn’t eaten in three days, and she’s been sleeping in parks. She’s wearing an old tshirt, and it hangs off her shoulder. She looks weak, which is the same thing in his eyes.

“Can I come in?” She tries to make her voice as small as possible, tries to make herself look young. Wide eyed, and desperate.

He opens the door wider in a silent invitation. She feels relieved, she might eat tonight. She might sleep on a mattress.

“So like. What happened to it.” He follows her to the kitchen. His eyes on her body the whole way, dragging along like a ball and chain. She searches through his cabinets, finding a box of Fruity Pebbles that’s half empty, and a jar of peanut butter.

“What.” She pretends she doesn’t know what he means, is still the drug addled girl he was fucking over a month ago. Pretends she isn’t painfully aware of where her son is.

“The baby, moron.” A part of her wants to scratch his eyes out for even speaking about Klaus like that. She wants him bloody, wants to rip out his tongue. Instead, she shrugs, and pretends that eating peanut butter with a dirty spoon is more interesting.

“Dunno. They took me to rehab.” He laughs, as if the idea of her sober is something funny. He slides into her space like he has a right to it, and puts his hand on her waist.

“So what, you want something?” She shrugs, and eats another spoonful of peanut butter.

“I’m hungry, asshole.” He laughs, and moves to his dingy kitchen table, rifling through some plastic bags and tinfoil.

“I’ve got something that can take the edge off.” She shakes her head, thinking of her baby in his little plastic box, tubes down his throat, helping him breath.

He shrugs, and takes a small package pouring it out on the table. She watches him cut lines, and snort whatever it is, and wonders how she ever thought he was attractive.

He’s like poison, she thinks.

Unfortunately for her, he’s a necessity. She lifts her shoulder up, and sticks her nose up. “Hey, you got anyway for me to make a little money?”

He grins, and his teeth are sharp like knives.

*

She tucks the fifty into her waistband. Her head is a little fuzzy, but she only ever indulges when she’s working. It makes things easier.

She knows how she looks. Painfully skinny, and dark hair, dark eyed, bambi type. People pay a lot for that. Even more when she’s more obviously underaged. So she lines her eyes with dark brown, rubs her lips with a pinky rose color, and wears Limited Too cropped tops with fishnets and tennis skirts.

She hates it, but she has a plan to stick to.

She needs enough money to find a place. She doesn’t want to keep Klaus at Ethan’s, so she needs enough to at least rent a motel room. She thinks, if she finds the right place, she can keep it for a little extra on the side.

She needs a place for her son.

Christina sucks in a deep breath, and turns to her next customer.

*

Klaus is still, she thinks, the most beautiful thing in the world. He’s off his respirator, and his little green eyes blink up at her. He smiles, toothless, and her heart feels a little lighter.

“He’s growing, like a weed. He’s gonna be skinny, that boy.” The nurse by her side eyes Klaus with fondness, and wiggles her fingers in his direction.

“Like his Mama.” Christina has a massive hangover, but she still woke up at 7:00am to visit her son. She thinks the staff probably notice that she isn’t exactly well, but she’s always sober in front of him. Always.

Klaus tries to shove his fist into his mouth, but he’s blocked by a tube.

“He still isn’t eating well?” Christina feels anxious at this thought. He’s nearly fully grown, the size he would have been if he’d been carried to term.

“He’s fickle. Misses his mom.” Christina melts, helpless, and cradles him in her arms.

“Oh, my love, my darling, I’m so sorry.” She rocks him, and he reaches for a lock of her curls. His grip is strong, and his eyes are bright. She brushes her nose over the top of his head, indulging in the baby smell everyone talks about.

“You’ll be home with Mama soon, my doll. Soon, soon, my angel.” She kisses his forehead, and takes a deep breath.

“I promise, Klaus.”

*

Christina has a rule. No customers in her motel room. That space is kept clean, kept safe from everything else.

It’s where she keeps her heart, Klaus.

She has a deal with the maids, they check in on him when she’s working, and she pays them a little extra.

She always waits until she’s sober until she sees her baby. She doesn’t want him to see her like that. Even if he’s too young to have memories, she has rules.

It’s why, currently, she’s considering quitting.

Everything. The drugs, the sex. The money. It’s 3:12 am and she’s only just coming home. Klaus is whimpering, quietly, but he soothes when she comes a bit closer.

Carefully, she kneels down and presses a kiss to her two fingertips. She presses her fingers to his forehead.

“Did you miss me, angel?” He huffs, but his eyes track her as she strips from her clothes.

“I missed you. Terribly. My day was awful. But seeing you makes everything better, angel.” She lifts his bassinet carefully, and brings him into the bathroom with her. He hates being left alone.

She showers with the curtains open, so she can see him. He drifts, lulled into sleep by by the noise of the shower. He loves the water.

When she’s clean, and dry, and dressed, she turns on the television and pulls his bassinet as close to the bed as she can. She checks his diaper, and premixes a few bottles. He watches her the whole time.

When she lays down to sleep, she reaches out and rests her hand over his chest. It’s the easiest way to keep track of him, and this way he never cries too loudly.

She wishes him sweet dreams, and shuts her eyes.

*

Christina shuts her eyes, and does her best not to cry.

The manager of the motel called her in the middle of an appointment, and demanded that she come home. Klaus was screaming, and no one could stop it.

He’s getting bigger, even though he’s still a bit small for his age. His first birthday is coming up soon, she thinks.

The haze of whatever it was she snorted is thick, and she wants nothing more than to lay down and sleep. But, she can’t. Klaus.

He’s sobbing, when she gets home, promising the fat manager that she’ll quiet him. And give him a freebie, later.

He reaches for her like she’s the only thing in the world, and she can’t help but pick him up and hold him close. He’s only quiet when she’s holding him, and singing.

She hates that her outfit probably smells like drugs, and that she still has the taste of a stranger in her mouth. Her knees feel like jello.

She rocks him, gently, stripping on her way to the bathroom. She fills the tub with warm water, all while running through her knowledge of Fleetwood Mac lyrics. She feels like Stevie Nicks is an appropriate lullaby.

When she’s got him settled, she runs her hand through his hair. Water rolls down his face, making him look like some sort of mermaid.

“What is wrong, my love? What is making you cry?” She rubs his little ear, and splashes water up onto his back.

“Bad man, mama. Bad man.” Christina sighs, and drops her head. He’s a precocious little boy, and with his smarts comes an active imagination. Klaus has nightmares, sometimes waking ones, of a ‘Bad man’. She doesn’t know much about him, other than he terrifies her son. She thinks, briefly, of the night time cold medicine in her bedside table.

“He cannot get you, my love. You’re safe now.” Klaus cuddles up to her chest, and Christina closes her eyes. Today, she thinks, is her eighteenth birthday. She thinks to herself, maybe I’ll take him to the park today. Get an ice cream. Celebrate.

Klaus whimpers, and presses himself closer to her chest. She wraps her arms around him and squeezes, thinking that there will be no bad man in his life. Not for her angel.

*

Tomorrow is Klaus’ second birthday.

Today, he is sitting in front of the television, eating a special breakfast of McDonald’s pancakes. He’s watching his shows intently, his little body swaying back and forth. He is the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.

She wants to buy him a cake, maybe. An ice cream cake. They didn’t have a cake for his first birthday, he was too little. But now, she thinks, now she can spoil him. He’s already wearing some of his presents, a warm dark velvety dress, and some little black leggings.

He chose them himself, and she thinks he looks fabulous.

Klaus suddenly turns to her, his eyes bright. He has the prettiest, biggest green eyes. Almost like emeralds in the sunlight.

“Mama!” He calls, reaching for her. She can’t help but come whenever he reaches for her, because she’s the only thing he has. And he’s the only thing, for her, too.

“Yes, my love?” She licks her thumb and wipes away a bit of syrup on his cheek, smoothing his hair down.

“Pretty? Me pretty?” She laughs, because of course he wants that. She picks him up and spins him into the bathroom, where her makeup is cluttered on the counter.

“You’re already prettier than your mama, love.” Carefully, she smokes some eyeliner out around his eyes. She touches the lipstick, and rubs her finger on his little pout. She teases his hair with her fingers, and pretends to squint at him.

He giggles, his whole body wiggling.

“Perfect, my dear.” She swoops him off the counter, and watches him run to the mirror in the bedroom.

He gasps, placing his little hands on his cheeks.

“Do you like it?”

He turns, his skirt swirling around his legs. “Love it!”

She laughs, and settles herself down on the bed. Good, she thinks.

Christian Engle doesn’t know it, but today is her last day with her son.

*

For a last day, it’s fairly nice. She brings him to the park, and swings with him. She slips him into a museum, and they wander around for hours, looking at dinosaur skeletons and mummified bodies. They eat hot dogs, on a bench, and throw crumbs to the pigeons. It’s lovely.

Christina brings her son home, to the twenty third room of the motel. She brushes his teeth, and changes him into pajamas. She kisses his forehead. She tucks him in, with the nightstand light on, because he sleeps better in the light.

She walks out of the room, on her way to where she usually trolls for clients, and she never comes back.

*

It takes the police three days to find her body.

*

It takes the staff four to realize that there’s still a child in room number twenty three. Klaus doesn’t speak, or move, or cry. He doesn’t do anything.

He doesn’t speak for another eight months. That’s when he starts to hear things.

Chapter Text

They begin reaching out for potential foster families when the boy is in the hospital.

They’re selective, which of course they’d have to be, and they warn everyone beforehand that the case is a difficult one.

It’s not everyday you find a ten year old boy on the streets, trying to self medicate with anything he can get his hands on.

*

Grace talks to each of her children at length about the possibility of a new sibling.

Diego, who’s recently celebrated his ninth birthday, is keen on the idea of another brother, especially one closer to him in age. When Grace tells him about the drugs, and the homelessness, he doesn’t seem phased. He reminds her that they all came from rough backgrounds, and that he’s got a good feeling.

Luther is nervous. He takes a sort of responsibility for each of his siblings, and as soon as Grace mentions the possibility of another, it’s like she’s already signed the papers. Luther wants to visit him in the hospital, bring him books. He worries that their new little brother will be lonely.

Allison is quiet, at first. She’s the eldest, therefore she pushes for the most information. There isn’t a lot, as the boys history is spotty at best. But she wants to help. She knows about addicts, and their behaviors.

Grace herself has to spend a while thinking on it. She receives updates on the boys health, that he’s safely detoxing in a hospital bed in Queens, that they’re worried that the drugs have done long term damage. They’re worried, because he’s showing unusual symptoms.

It breaks her heart, to hear about him, but she needs to think of her family first.

So, she has two questions. Is he, in any way, violent towards others? And two, are they allowed to visit?

*

The whole family is packed up in Grace’s car, and she’s beginning to think that she might need a van with all the children she’s picking up. Or possibly a small bus.

Macaroni and Cheddar Cheese, the nearly full grown puppy, and Matilda the Mysterious, are being watched over by a frankly frazzled Eudora Patch.

There’s a hotel a few miles from the hospital, that accepts her request for two rooms with two beds a piece with ease. They plan to stay for four days. Diego’s currently on his spring break, and Luther and Allison prepared for the week off early.

She’s nervous. She hates to admit it, but she’s nervous.

In all the time that they’ve had for planning, the boy has been sent to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. He’s been placed on two separate antipsychotics, and a mood stabilizer to help him sleep.

She’s worried. What if it isn’t a good match, what if they got this poor boy’s hpes up for nothing? What if he doesn’t fit into their mismatched family, if he doesn’t like them?

Grace should really know better by now.

*

She enters first, alone. She has to test the waters, so to speak.

The boy is skinny, startlingly so. She knows that they’re feeding him, obviously they are, but she can’t help but feel like they should feed him more. He’s so skinny.

He’s sitting at the window, staring idly out, swaying softly. He might be singing something, but the nurse interrupts him before Grace really gets a chance.

He’s got great big greenish eyes, like a cat, and he smiles at the nurse.

“Hello, Amber.”

The nurse smiles, and drags two chairs a little closer to him.

“Hello, Klaus.”

*

He’s quite sweet. He likes to joke, and seems years older than he actually is. When she asks how he’s feeling on the medication, he pauses.

“Slower, I think. Like running in a pool. They haven’t gone away, but it’s easier to tell that they aren’t real.”

Grace is suddenly extremely worried until the nurse, Amber, says he has hallucinations. Then it bubbles down to a mild nervousness.

“They’re not all that bad, really. Mostly I just hear my name, sometimes feel someone tapping me on the shoulder.” He smiles at her, and Grace’s heart breaks a little.

“He has recurring hallucinations when he’s having an episode, but the doctor will tell you about those.” Klaus rolls his eyes at this, and waffles his hand.

“Those are rare, really. I’m perfectly safe to be around, no danger to others at all!” He smiles, like he’s a car salesman trying to sell himself, and Grace knows she’s probably taking this boy home. Definitely.

“Not a danger to others, but he can be a danger to himself.” The nurse gives Klaus a look, which he ignores, and Grace promises herself that she’s going to ask his doctor everything.

All in all, it’s a fine visit.

*

Diego takes one look at Klaus and nearly adopts him on the spot. He sits on the windowsill Klaus is daydreaming at, and shows him his current favorite book. He talks about their dog, and his knife throwing skills. He’s getting alarmingly good, at least when he remembers to wear his glasses. There haven’t been any serious accidents, yet.

Klaus seems pleased by the attention, and lays his head in Diego’s lap while the younger boy rambles on and on about how much Klaus is going to love it, they can share a room, too, if you want. He’s got plenty of space.

Luther is worried. He always is, but he’s extra worried. He knows where they are, and what that means about his (possible) new brother. He worries on ways to keep Klaus safe, and wanders the floor, politely asking every single nurse and doctor a menagerie of questions. They all seem shocked a fourteen year old could show such care with someone’s mental health, but they’re helpful nonetheless.

Allison likes him. He compliments her skirt immediately, and Allison compliments his eyeliner. Which, all things considered, is quite the feat. How he managed to have eyeliner on, in the middle of a three month hospital stay, is impressive.

The family spends an hour together, wandering in and out of Klaus’ room, talking to the staff, and each other. It feels homey, even with the hospital beds and scrub like clothing Klaus is wearing.

Diego tells Klaus that he’s in good company, and that they all have problems. He then gives Klaus a peanut butter cup, which Grace has absolutely no idea how he managed to sneak that in.

Really, it’s all settled in the first visit. It’s only a matter of paperwork.

*

Diego has decided that because Klaus will be bunking with him, they need to paint the walls. Blue, Diego pronounces, a soft blue.

So, the family spends a weekend clearing out Diego’s room, and paints the walls a soft, soothing blue.

Diego is excited when Grace asks Luther to help her build a bunk bed, but she explains to Diego that he’ll be keeping his old bed. It’s for Klaus.

She doesn’t tell him why, because she doesn’t know if she’s allowed. It feels odd, to betray a ten year old boy’s trust. Especially when it comes to his hallucinations.

Allison thinks that winding the shell of the bunk bed with fairy lights is a brilliant idea, and makes sure that both beds are dressed with enough pillows to drown a man, possibly. Diego’s room isn’t big enough to fit a vanity, like Allison wanted, but Grace says that maybe they can share the one in Allison’s room.

This inspires Allison to clean out her vanity, and dedicated some space for Klaus and his new makeup collection.

The rest of the house is worked on quietly, with much less enthusiasm. Grace baby proofs the drawers with sharp things in them, and locks away any knives.

Luther scans the house, top to bottom, for all the medications. They decide it will go in Grace’s bathroom, and that it’ll be locked up as well.

Both her and Luther worry, endlessly, about Klaus. He still has a few weeks of therapy left, and they plan to visit later on, but they miss him.

Even the pets feel it, strangely enough. Madeline takes to hiding in the bottom bunk of Klaus’ bed, and hates to be moved from her new favorite space.

Macaroni will set his head on the bottom bunk, then turn to look mournfully at anyone else in the room.

It’s like they know. They know that one of their own is out there, and they miss him desperately.

*

The hospital suggests a visit at the home, just to make sure. A stern faced case worker follows Klaus around like a hawk, her eyes booring into every crack and crevice of the farmhouse.

Klaus gasps when he sees the bunk bed, and holds his face in his hands. Diego, who’s been leading Klaus around like the king of the castle, hesitates. Has he said something wrong? Is Klaus having an episode? Does he hate the color?

“I thought, maybe, it’d make you feel a bit safer if there were two beds.” Grace places her hands gently on Klaus’ little shoulders, and bends closer so she can whisper, “I didn’t want Ben to feel unwelcome.”

Klaus whirls in her arms, and hugs her with a strength that’s frankly a little scary. But Grace doesn’t miss a beat, and she drags the boy as close to herself as possible. She focuses on warmth, and safety, and happiness, and pushes all of this into her hug. She prays he feels even a little bit of it.

“Thank you.” His voice is wobbly, and so very small. She feels tears prick at her eyes, and presses a kiss to his temple.

“Here, in this house, I want you to feel safe. I want you to know that you are loved, and that your needs and wants will be met. I want you to feel that this home, this room, is a safe place for you. There will be no judgement, no cruelty, nothing sour. Here, I want you to feel at home.”

Klaus nods, his little face pressed into her neck, and she can feel a sudden wetness there. She only holds him tighter.

*

Klaus has been to the farmhouse on three separate occasions. His caseworker, understandably, is rather worried that he feels safe, and welcome. She goes over his file several times with Grace, and reminds her of the monthly visits into the city they will need to make.

“It’s important you keep these appointments, as well as the weekly sessions here in town. He needs to take his medication, without fail, even if he thinks he’s better. It is imperative that he is watched over, and that he is minded carefully. In the fall, he’ll begin homeschooling along with your other two, until his psychiatrist and his psychotherapist agree that he’s ready for a school experience.”

The woman says all of this bluntly, and makes sure that Grace is listening at the end of every point. When all the points have been made, she snaps her folder shut. Her face is pinched, and she looks like she’s holding a lemon in her mouth.

“You’re welcome to visit, of course. Beyond the surprise checks, and the monthly wellness checks. Ma’am.” Grace smiles sweetly at the older woman.

Her shoulders tense, but she eyes Grace carefully.

“He’s fond of you, and he seems to trust you. If you’re amenable, you’re welcome to visit him as often as you’d like.” Grace holds herself still, and watches the woman argue with herself.

“He’s. He’s a shit. Most of the time. But all he really wants is attention. He likes being the center of attention. He’s also a smartass, who’ll drive you up the wall on his bad days. But. He’s a good kid.” Her voice is quiet, and Grace nods.

“If. If you’re sure. And he approves, of course. I would enjoy visiting him.” Her shoulders are stiff, and the poor woman looks as though she’s never encountered kindness in her life.

“We’d love to have you, Ms. Cha-Cha.”

*

In the end, he settles. There are bumps, just as there are to every child, but he fits into their odd lifestyle so fluidly Grace can barely remember life without him.

He annoys Luther to no end, and delights in ‘girl time’ with Allison and Miss Madeline. He says Miss Madeline and he have a special arrangement, and the poor goblin cat really does only seem to love Klaus and Allison.

He adores Macaroni, and calls him increasingly intricate names, often for hours on end. The dog loves the attention, and often climbs into Klaus’ bed. The dog has an extra sense for children’s nightmares, Grace is sure of it.

He follows Diego around the house, and bothers him about school. By the first week in, Klaus is up to date on all of the hot gossip in fourth grade. He watches Diego practice darts, and golf claps everytime Diego hits the center. No matter where Klaus is in the house, he claps, which is odd, but then again. What isn’t, in this family.

Chapter Text

He’s woken at around three by a small Russian lady who won’t stop complaining.

She isn’t a new one, but she’s new to the farmhouse. He lets his eyes slide over her, grounding himself in things he knows are there.

His overstuffed blue elephant, that Allison had carefully picked out. The fuzzy pillow that Madeline likes to sleep on, although she isn’t there. She must be with Allison.

Across the way, Diego, and the small scar above his left eyebrow that he got from running into a tree without his glasses on. Diego’s stuffed dog, Naruto, and his well loved ears. Diego has a habit of worrying the fabric when he’s nervous.

Klaus makes the decision to ignore the hallucination, and reach a scrawny arm over to plug in his lights. Diego never complains about the lights, which Klaus appreciates. It helps him sleep easier.

*

He wakes slowly the second time, feeling a hand stroke his hair back. She’s singing, and Klaus would recognize the voice anywhere. He keeps his eyes closed for just a little longer, basking in her presence. She doesn’t come around often, now that he lives at the farm, and feels safe, but he does miss her.

When he peeks his eye open, he catches the color of her hair, and the crooked little smile she gives him before she goes.

Klaus thinks today will be good, now.

He stays curled in his blankets, enjoying the warmth and the safety that comes with waking up at Miss Grace’s house. It’s been a long time since he could luxuriate in waking, and it’s something he takes full advantage of now.

He wiggles his fingers and toes, and stretches beneath his four blankets. Allison likes to tease him, say that he sleeps like he’s hibernating.

“Are you just gonna lay there all day, you’re missing breakfast, man.” Klaus peeks out of the corner of his eye, to see his second oldest hallucination and his first friend sitting at the foot of his bed.

“I could. Then you’d miss all the stupid jokes Miss Grace makes.” Today, Ben is a little fuzzy at the edges. He’s not completely there, which means Klaus can engage with him. Or at least, those are the rules he gives himself.

Ben pouts at him, because Ben likes seeing the family in the morning, when Luther is going over last night’s homework with Diego, and Allison is double checking both of their work. When Miss Grace is in her pajamas, still, that usually have something silly like little llamas on the pants.

He likes the quiet chaos of mornings, because neither of them have ever experienced something so deliciously normal.

Ben pouts, and complains, and tries to poke at Klaus, but Klaus leaves his bed on his own time. He stretches, and grabs the stupidly fluffy bathrobe Allison and Diego gave him last week.

He pads on bare feet to the kitchen, where Luther is currently trying to wrestle Diego into a wind jacket.

“Good morning, sunshine!” Allison calls to him from the kitchen, and he blows her a kiss.

“But it’s not cold!” Diego weasels, trying to turn the full force of his baby brown eyes on Luther.

“It will be later, so just wear this so you have the option.” Diego is still squirming, even though he holds still for a moment for Klaus’ customary good morning peck.

He ruffles Luther's hair as he makes his way to the kitchen, where the island is mostly clean, except for a single covered plate and the bottle of syrup. Sometimes, Klaus gets hit with the weirdest urge to cry. Like now.

Allison is reading the paper, because she fancies herself nearly full grown, and sips at the black tea that Grace lets them have in the morning. Klaus knows for a fact that Allison has added at least two spoonfuls of honey.

“How’s the world today, my dear?” Klaus does his best to fit his whole body onto the barstool, perching like a bird of prey over his breakfast.

“Awful. They keep messing it up.” Allison wrinkles her nose, her eyes judgmental as she reads about how the adults of today are ruining the world.

“I’m sure you’ll be able to put everything back in order when you’re in charge.” Klaus lifts the napkin, to see two pancakes, with a blueberry smile and strawberry slice eyes. He grins back at the little breakfast man, feeling entirely too pleased.

“Well, of course, it’ll just take me longer.” Allison huffs, and sets the paper aside with a huff. She turns her eyes on Klaus, who’s currently drowning his poor breakfast friend in syrup, when she asks, “How are you today, one to ten?”

Klaus sighs, then wishes his elder sister weren’t so perceptive. He slides the syrup to her, and spends a moment nibbling on a single blueberry.

“Six, maybe five. Nothing awful, today.” He swirls his fork over his breakfast, quietly weighing his environment. Ben is sitting in the empty seat next to him, and is currently trying to peek at the paper’s headlines.

“Good.” She nods, and smiles at him. “Today I’m going to call my mother, and we’re going online shopping. Would you like to join us?”

Klaus can’t help but perk up. He loves Allison’s mother. She’s incredibly dramatic, and also somehow completely droll. She makes Klaus laugh, and she’s the only other addict he speaks to on a regular basis.

“Of course, love! I’ve been needing a new outfit.”

*

Klaus lays in the midday sunlight, his body warm.

His eyes are closed, and his feet are curled into the grass. He can hear Luther try to teach Macaroni to roll over a few feet away, and he knows Allison is sitting on the back porch, devouring her newest novel under an almost comically large sun hat.

He can hear Miss Grace humming, and Ben’s trying to remember the lyrics to the song. Madeline stares at them all with hate filled eyes from behind the screen porch.

All in all, it’s a perfect Tuesday.

He should have known something would ruin it.

The next time he opens his eyes, he’s not on a farm in rural upstate New York, but in a dingy, dirty, abandoned packing facility near the river in the city. The ground smells, like rust and dirt and old, and the hallucination is so strong it almost takes his breath.

He remembers what his doctors tell him, and he does his best to search for the truth in all of this. The feeling of the sun on his face. The smell of green growing things. The ground beneath him, cool and covered in sweet smelling grass.

It doesn’t pull him out soon enough.

He can hear the crying of a one child, and the sharp muffled screams of the other. He can smell the blood, the stench of fear, the piss on his legs.

He can remember the very specific noise of bones being broken.

When he opens his eyes, he is curled in Miss Grace’s lap. She’s rocking him, back and forth, and everything feels opposite. He can see the happy green of the grass, but all he can hear is the way it sounded when they hit him. He knows Miss Grace is talking to him, but all he can smell is the foul odor of an older man, feel his heavy weight on top of Klaus’ much smaller body. He feels dizzy, but he doesn’t want to close his eyes. He doesn’t want to go back there.

Miss Grace continues to stroke his hair, and slowly, but by bit, to more he focuses on the now, the more grounded he feels.

Five senses.

One. Touch. The blades of grass he has clenched between his fingers.

Two. Sight. The butterflies and bumblebees that float over the section of grass they haven’t mowed yet, the one with all the clover flowers.

Three. Sound. Miss Grace, who’s singing voice is lovely, if a bit wobbly from the tears. It’s Holding Out For A Hero, one of Klaus’ favorites.

Four. Smell. He can smell the garden on Miss Grace, and the sharp green smell of the weeds she’d been pulling.

Five. Taste. Is tears, left over from the episode.

When Klaus feels steady enough, he squeezes Miss Grace’s hands twice. That’s to let her know he’s here, he’s back, it’s safe for now.

She doesn’t hesitate in lifting him into her arms, and carrying him to the bathroom.

*

He has no idea why, but he never feels like himself until he’s had a proper bath.

Now, he’s sitting in the frankly alarming amount of bubbles, all while Miss Grace hums songs to him.

The water is warm, and it smells like oranges. He likes oranges.

“Klaus?” Her voice is gentle, and he blinks owlishly at her.

“I didn’t hurt anyone, did I?” It’s his least favorite question, the one he’s most afraid to hear the answer to.

“No, love. It was small, just a bit of shaking.” Klaus nods, and lets out a sigh of relief. He’d hate it if he accidentally hurt someone here, he loves them.

He sinks back into the bath, and lets Miss Grace wash his hair. His mind wanders, drifting in and out of focus. Sometimes, this happens, but he knows it’s safer than an episode. He just feels a bit empty, at the moment.

If he looks over Miss Grace’s shoulder, he can see a familiar silhouette sitting on the laundry basket. She’s smoking, but he can’t smell it, so he leaves her be. She’s just here to check up on him, after all.

When Miss Grace lays him back down, Madeline seems to have made herself a permanent fixture on his bed. She grumbles when he’s tucked in, but as soon as his head settles next to her, she’s purring like a broken engine.

Miss grace hands him the tiny pink pill, and smiles sadly at him. She’ll have to tell his doctors about this.

“Can you tell them it was an accident? That it wasn’t anything you did?” He asks, his voice sounding much smaller than he’d meant for it too.

“Of course love. We know these things happen, sometimes.” She strokes his hair away from his forehead, and he breathes in relief.

“I don’t want them to take me away.” Miss Grace’s eyes flash at that, like lightning.

“Don’t worry, my love. I won’t let them. You’re safe, here. I promise.”

Klaus nods, and squeezes his eyes shut. He does feel safe here. He opens his mouth to tell her, but he’s already asleep.