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the year that wasn't

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They tumbled out of the portal and hit the ground in a heap. Diego was just glad they didn’t fall from the same distance Five did when he first came through; his knees couldn’t take the landing after years of crime-fighting, boxing and general reckless behavior.

Actually, these knees felt just fine. He looked at them critically, took in the rest of his body – then, with horror, touched his finger to his temple. No scar.

“Oh, god dammit,” said Five.

Diego must have been a minute behind, because everyone else was already staring around in shock, taking in the sight of all their siblings back in their younger forms, maybe 18 years old – Allison, before she’d dyed her hair. Vanya, with bangs. Luther, not a gorilla.

Five, still 13 years old, still hilarious.

“Oh, this is fantastic!” Klaus said, feeling his own face. “Except for the lack of facial hair. I worked hard for that facial hair. I smeared jizz on my face for that facial hair.”

“Please tell me you did not smear jizz on your face,” said Ben.

Ben.

“Everyone else can see Ben, right?” Diego said.

“Oh my god, Ben!” Allison yelped, leaping across the circle to hug him. “How –?” Diego closed his eyes for a moment. It was good to hear her voice again.

“The complexities of time compression are beyond my understanding,” Ben said, hugging her back. “Ask Five.”

Five scowled.

“Never mind, don’t ask Five,” said Ben. “Five doesn’t know.”

“The King of Time Travel doesn’t know how we got warped back to our 18-year-old selves?” said Klaus, smirking. “Ooh, that’s gotta sting.”

“I’m hardly the King of Time Travel, and I had a few too many distractions to put the proper thought into my calculations,” said Five. “I’ve never tried to bring passengers along with me before, there were – complications, I –”

“Long live the new King of Time Travel!” Klaus said, raising both hands. “I will be a fair and gracious ruler.”

“Hang on, why are you the new king?” Five protested. “You don’t know anything about time travel.”

Focus,” Luther growled. “We need to decide what to do about Vanya.” She was still bundled in his arms, looking very small and incredibly harmless in that oversized white suit.

“What to do about her? How about not lock her in a dungeon, how about that’s what we do about her,” Allison snapped.

“Yeah, that was a fucking terrible idea,” Klaus said. “I would say in retrospect, but it wasn’t in retrospect, because we were all telling you at the time this is a fucking terrible idea.”

“Okay, yes,” Luther said, looking wounded, “I realize that now, but –”

“What we do is beg for her forgiveness, tell her she has every right to be angry, and let her decide what punishment to dole out,” Allison said, a force of nature, a hurricane unto herself. “And you, in particular, will kneel at her fucking feet and promise to stop being such an overbearing jerk and then we’ll see how she –”

“Children!”

They all froze.

It had been a long time since Diego had heard that voice.

 

They filed inside like a troop of naughty schoolchildren, shooting anxious looks back and forth.

Ben’s statue wasn’t outside. In retrospect, Diego should have realized what that meant. Ben was still alive, so they were all still living in the Academy – all of them except Five, whom Reginald had shot a thoughtful look at but not spoken to as he ushered them all inside.

“Now,” he said, once they were all lined up in front of him, Vanya still conked out in Luther’s arms, “which one of you is going to explain this situation to me?”

“We were in the future, Sir,” said Luther.

Diego glared at him. Fucking brown-noser.

“The future?”

Luther stared straight ahead. “Yes, Sir, we – were on a mission, and we encountered some… difficulty, and Five had to transport us back with his powers to bring us to safety.”

“Number Five?” said Reginald, rapping smartly on his desk. “Report.”

“No,” said Number Five.

They all froze.

“No?”

“I’ve lived too long and seen too much to be frightened of you anymore,” Five said, glaring up at him. “I will not be bullied by an insecure old man with no real power of his own.”

Diego had never seen Reginald’s face so pale before. “I will not be spoken to that way, Number Five.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Five said, stepping forward in the line, and somehow even though he had to crane his neck even further to look Reginald in the eye, he looked ten inches taller for it. “You couldn’t stop me from leaving last time. You couldn’t stop any of them from leaving either.” He gestured behind himself at the line of them. “You die alone in this stupid empty museum because you couldn’t do anything about it. You couldn’t then and you can’t now.”

Reginald inhaled thinly.

“Now, if you don’t mind, I’m taking my team and we’re going to figure out how to cancel the apocalypse,” Five said. He turned on his heel and walked out.

As one, they turned their heads to look after him. There was a long, expectant silence.

“Ha!” Klaus said, breaking first. “Peace out, hombre!” He jogged after Five.

“Have fun rotting in hell, you old bastard,” Ben said cheerily, following.

“Luther,” Allison said.

Luther meekly followed her out, carrying Vanya.

“This was, no joke, orgasmic,” Diego said, winking at Sir Reginald and following them.

 

Five had led them to his bedroom, where Luther laid out Vanya on the bed and the rest of them gathered on various pieces of furniture.

“Damn, Five,” Allison said, sounding impressed. “That was killer, have you been preparing that one?”

“Yeah, when did you get a chance to see Pacific Rim?” Klaus said.

“What?” said Five.

“You know, today we’re cancelling the apocalypse? At the end of our hope?” Klaus waved his arms. “You came up with that all on your own?”

“Edge,” Diego said.

“What?”

“At the edge of our hope.” Diego had watched that movie maybe 20 times.

“What? No.” Klaus furrowed his brow. “I’m sure –”

“At the edge of our hope, at the end of our time,” Diego said.

“Twenty bucks says you can’t do the whole thing,” Klaus said.

“Why would you make that bet?” Ben said, appalled. “He clearly knows it by heart.”

“Yeah, but I’m hoping he’ll do an Idris Elba impression and I’ll thusly come in my pants,” Klaus said, grinning.

“Guys, can we focus on the actual apocalypse we’re experiencing?” Allison said. “Instead of some dumb movie apocalypse?”

Diego, Klaus, and Ben all made identical noises of protest at the same time.

“Can you guys at least pretend to take this seriously?” said Luther, clearly irritated.

“I guess we just don’t see what we have to do with anything,” Klaus said, looking at Diego and Luther. “Five’s gonna jump us back to the future when he figures out how, we’re going to not lock Vanya in the torture chamber from Matilda, crisis averted, big party, everyone eats cake, I’ve put weed in the cake, we –”

“I don’t know if it’s that simple,” Five said, stroking his chin and starting to mark a series of incomprehensible equations on the wall.

“That’s your job to figure out, dumplin’, not mine,” Klaus said. “When you have a plan, feel free to update me, but I’ve put in my three cents.”

“Two cents,” said Luther.

“That was worth at least three cents,” Klaus said.

“Klaus is right, he’s actively making it worse, I’m actually getting further from solving this problem,” Five gritted out. “Everyone out. We’ll debrief tonight.”

“What about Vanya?” Luther said.

“What about Vanya?” Five said, just as Vanya stirred with a groan.

 

Allison had requested that Diego and Ben accompany her on Vanya duty. Diego agreed, because Luther wasn’t entirely wrong, and Vanya was too dangerous to allow unaccompanied in wider society. He figured if worst came to worst, Ben would be useful to subdue Vanya, and then Allison could rumor Ben, and Diego could help with the police presence in the aftermath. His siblings were terrible under interrogation, they all just fell apart completely.

They’d let Ben pick the restaurant, given he hadn’t eaten food in over a decade. Evidently there were a lot of new restaurants he’d wanted to try.

“Sushi,” Allison said. “It was all the rage in the mid 2000s, before ramen became the new sushi.”

“Which was already the new cupcakes,” Diego said.

“Yes,” Allison said, pleased.

Vanya groaned and put her head in her hands.

Ben happily ate a mouthful of sashimi, and then he froze. “Oh, it’s raw fish,” he said. “I’m eating raw fish.”

“Yeah, is that… weird for you?” Allison said, gaze darting to his midsection.

Ben laughed. “Only because I don’t like raw fish. What, you think they’re, like, relatives or something?”

“Death has changed you, bud,” Diego said, clapping his shoulder.

“They’ve got vegan options,” said Allison, checking over her shoulder.

“Yeah, just what everyone wants. Vegan raw fish,” said Diego.

Allison rolled her eyes.

“Are we going to talk about it?” Vanya said, in a miserable, small voice.

They sobered. “Do you… want to talk about it?” said Allison.

“Not really, but it’s even worse not to,” said Vanya. She rubbed her hands over her arms like she was warming herself. “I’m… really sorry.” Her eyes welled up immediately.

“So are we,” Allison said softly. “We provoked you –”

“But I’m the one who –”

“But we still shouldn’t have –”

“But you were only doing what –”

“Okay, clearly, there is blame to be distributed,” said Ben loudly. He’d pushed away his plate of sushi, and he was looking serious and thoughtful, just like he always had. It was amazing how easy it was to slot him right back into the empty space he’d left. “Can we use that guilt and transform it into something productive?”

They looked at each other.

“Like, say, not causing another apocalypse?” Ben said.

“I didn’t mean to cause the last one, I don’t know how…” Vanya said hesitantly.

“I think that’s what we’re here for,” Allison said. “Not riling you up, but talking you down. Every time you’ve snapped, you’ve been pushed into it. Maybe we should stop… pushing.”

Vanya bit her lip. “But what if it happens again?” she said. “Do you promise you’ll kill me next time?”

“No,” Allison said.

“But –”

“No, Vanya,” Allison said gently. “We won’t.”

Vanya took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “…Okay.”

 

Diego didn’t realize until they got back, but Allison had very intentionally distributed the groups the way she had. When they came back to the Academy, Luther was looking shell-shocked in the main room, sitting on the settee and staring at his hands.

Five and Klaus, Diego imagined, made a very effective good-cop, bad-cop team. Five was, after all, terrifying, and Klaus was so weird and irreverent that you were never sure what was going to come out of him. Bad-cop, surrealist-cop.

They’d put the fear of god into him about his chosen restraint tactic for Vanya, Diego was sure. If you ever try anything like that again, I will personally put you down vs If you ever try anything like that again, I’ll rub soup in your hair.

“Where’s Dad?” Diego said, pausing in the doorway.

“Up in his office,” said Klaus from the wet bar. Diego jerked; he hadn’t realized he was there.

“You drinking?” he said, vaguely disappointed but not surprised.

“Mocktails, buddy,” Klaus said, wiggling a lime at him. “Delicious, liver-friendly mocktails.”

Diego smiled.

“How’d it go with the Antichrist?” Klaus said.

“I don’t know, you said he was up in his office,” Diego deadpanned, and Klaus laughed. “But she seems… good. Like she’s not going to destroy the world today.”

“The best we can hope for,” said Klaus. “I’ll drink to that.” He toasted with something fizzy.

“Yeah,” Diego said. “L’chaim, salut, cheers.”

Luther gave a weak smile.

 

Mom made them dinner that night. They all sat in their normal spots at the table, except for Reginald, whose seat stayed conspicuously empty. Diego got the feeling he was hiding out of embarrassment from being thoroughly dressed down by a 13-year-old.

“Any updates?” he asked Five.

“Not really,” Five said. “I can easily take all of us slingshotting around time and space, but ending up exactly where I mean to? It’s difficult.”

“Why do we need to go back at all?” Klaus said through a mouthful of potatoes, waving his butter knife.

Ben nodded. “Won’t the forward progression of time take care of that for us? Eventually we’ll come to the same point.”

Allison looked down.

Claire, Diego thought. Allison was the only one of them who had left something in the future worth going back to.

“Because your consciousnesses aren’t meant to be here,” Five said, like it should have been obvious. “Let me put it this way – in three years, there will be an earthquake in Haiti that will kill hundreds of thousands of people. In four years, the nuclear power plant in Fukushima will detonate. In five years, a gunman will walk into an elementary school and open fire, killing dozens of children. How many of you will be amenable to sitting back and watching these things happen without interference?”

Diego’s fingers went tight around his knife.

“Oh,” said Klaus in an unfamiliar voice, small and lost.

“And you will try to change history,” Five said, “and the Commission will find you, and they will kill you, and nothing will be different.” He sighed. “People are not meant to relive the past. I know that better than anyone.”

“So we’ll… go back to our own time,” said Luther.

“And just let those this happen?” Diego growled. “When we can do something to change it?”

“You can’t change it,” snapped Five. “Get that idea out of your head, because it isn’t happening and it never will.”

“But –”

“I am not letting you go on some bullshit suicide mission because you think you’re more powerful than you are,” Five said. “Do you understand me?”

Diego opened his mouth, and then he felt something nudge him under the table. He looked over.

Klaus was shaking his head, his eyes large and kind and sad. “Sometimes people die, Diego,” he said. “Sometimes the best you can do is honor their memories.”

Diego snarled wordlessly.

“You can’t save everyone,” Luther said.

Coming from the grand holy martyr himself, this was rich. “I can fucking try.”

“And kill your siblings in the process?” Five said. “When the Commission comes, they’re not going to stop at just you.”

“We have to go back,” Allison said.

“Fine,” Diego said, because he wasn’t going to win this fight. He stood up and stormed from the room.

“Diego?” Mom said, immediately following after him.

“I’m not hungry,” Diego said, heading up the stairs to his room. He shut the door and flopped onto his bed, folding his hands on his chest and glaring up at the ceiling.

Being back here, arguing with his family, hiding away in the one place in the Academy that had always been his alone… It was so easy to fall back into those old patterns. It felt like he’d never left.

 

Some time later, there was a knock on the door. “Not now, Klaus,” he said, because no one else would have bothered him when he was really worked up.

“It’s Vanya.”

Diego almost told her to fuck off, but then he stopped himself, thinking of those cold blue eyes, and of the way she’d beat her hands against the window of that little room. How he’d protested, but let Luther lock her away anyway. How maybe, some tiny part of him had been relieved not to be the one to make the decision.

He’d never actually finished her book – never made it past chapter 1.

He wondered what she had to say about him.

“Yeah, come in,” he said, sitting up in bed.

She entered carrying a plate. “I thought you might be hungry.”

Diego smiled a little. It smelled amazing even across the room. He reached out and accepted it when she walked it to him.

He thought that was all, but she took a seat at the end of his bed. “I was always the most jealous of you,” she said.

Diego choked on his lamb. “Me?”

Vanya nodded.

“Why me? I just throw knives – I’m a circus sideshow attraction, not anything worth being jealous over,” he said. “I mean, Allison, or Five…”

“That’s why I was jealous,” she said. “Everyone else, their powers were so huge, so overwhelming… I mean, I watched everyone else’s powers poison them from the inside. Yours were enough for people to take notice, but not enough for everyone to think you were the one who could save the world.”

Or destroy it, she didn’t say. They were both thinking it.

“I think Five is jealous too,” she said softly. “If you could time travel, but you knew you couldn’t do anything to prevent a hundred thousand disasters from taking place… I can see how it would keep him up at night.”

“And I just throw knives,” Diego murmured.

Vanya nodded.

“Are you still jealous of me?” Diego said.

“More than ever.”

Diego smiled. “Thanks, Van.”

She squeezed his hand. “Anytime.”

 

He came out of his room late in the night, unsurprised that Klaus was up and knitting in the parlor. He’d always kept odd hours, and without chemical substances to help him sleep, little wonder he was awake now.

“Hey,” Diego said.

“Hello, you honorable prince among men, you,” Klaus said, not missing a beat.

Diego rolled his eyes.

“You know that everyone dies, right?” Klaus said.

Right to the meat of it. Klaus was usually flightier than this, liked to play guessing games, make people wait. He must have gotten impatient waiting for Diego to come out.

“I know.”

“Do you?” Klaus looked up, eyes both luminous and voluminous in the dim light. “Do you really?”

Diego scowled. “I could just go back to my room, dickhead,” he said.

“I’m serious,” Klaus said, and he sounded like it, which was rare. “I want you to acknowledge to me that you know this.”

“I know it,” Diego said hotly.

“There are worse things than dying, Diego,” Klaus said, his voice as soft as Diego’s was heated. “Eventually, everyone’s thread meets its end.”

“Then why are we bothering with stopping the apocalypse?” Diego said, gesturing sharply with his hand. “Why are we even trying, when everyone’s going to die anyway. Shouldn’t we just let it happen, if we’re going to be all zen and bullshit about it?”

Klaus flinched.

“Forgive me for wanting to protect people, I didn’t realize it was such an unpopular opinion among this crowd,” Diego said. Sometimes he thought it was the only good lesson Reginald had ever taught him. Sometimes he wondered why he’d been the only one of his siblings to think so.

“It’s not that we don’t want to – It’s just that we know there’s nothing we can do,” said Klaus. “The apocalypse? That’s something we can change. The future? That’s something we can work on fixing. But the past is the past.”

“How wise,” Diego said sourly, sitting on the couch and drawing up his knees. “I feel like I just snorted the inside of a fortune cookie.”

“Dude, don’t say the word snort right now,” Klaus said immediately. “My delicate mind can’t take it.”

Diego looked at him, taking it all in. “So you’re really trying, huh?” he said finally. “I would have thought…”

Klaus looked away. “Feels like this is my one shot,” he said. “If not now, when?”

“I’m all for it,” Diego said, shrugging. “Seems like as good a time as any. If you need any help…”

Klaus grinned. “You’re such a caretaker.”

Patch used to call him a martyr. “Some people say.”

“No, really,” Klaus said, leaning over and poking his cheek. “Behind all that leather and bluster, there’s a little Kanga looking for her Roo, isn’t there?”

“I genuinely have no idea what the fuck that means,” Diego said, honestly.

Klaus laughed.

“Sometimes I think you’re weirder when you’re sober,” Diego said.

Klaus shrugged. “The world is my drug, Diego. I’m –”

“If you say high on life,” Diego said, shaking his head.

Klaus dimpled at him.

His eyes never used to sparkle like that, not when they were all hazy and glazed over from the drugs. Diego had always liked Klaus’s eyes.

“What?” he said, when Klaus kept staring at him.

“I admire that about you,” Klaus said. “How much you still care, even after the rest of us forgot how.”

Diego scowled and looked away.

“I mean it,” Klaus said, turning his face back to meet his with a hand on his cheek. “I find it really inspiring, Diego.”

Diego stared as Klaus’s face kept getting closer. “What are you…?”

The world tipped, suddenly, and Diego went rolling off the couch, bracing himself for the collision with the floor that never came.

*

They tumbled out of the portal and hit the ground in a heap.

“Oh, god dammit,” said Five.

“Oh, god dammit,” said Diego, staring around at his siblings as they all stared around at each other.