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And Baby Makes 8

Chapter Text

The first step was telling everyone.

Well, technically that was the first step. Right after she could manage to climb off the examining table, which would only happen if she could convince the room to stop spinning and for her bones to be made of, well, bone and not Jell-O. That didn’t seem to be happening anytime soon, so she just sat on the edge of that cold metal table staring down at her fresh boxers. Daniella had brought her her favorites; the black ones with the skull and crossbones and “ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK” printed in white over the crotch.

“Klar,” Belle came and stood next to her, putting a ghostly hand over her own. “You’re gonna have to tell them.”

“I know, I know. I just-“ Klara sucked in a slow breath. “I need a minute.”

Belle pursed her lips, but nodded. Aside from the chill of the table Klara couldn’t feel much of anything at the moment. The room felt fuzzy. Reality had lost definition. Her brain was a mishmash of emotions- shock turning to fear turning to hope and turning back again- which all just resulted in a numb fog filling her from head to toe.

Suddenly there was a soft knock at the door and crispness came back to the world. The room was real. This was real.

Klara quietly told whoever-it-was to come in an Daniella stepped inside, closing the door behind her. “Five and Luisa have been arguing for the past hour and I’m pretty sure if either of them don’t get some answers soon there’s gonna be blood.”

She raised an eyebrow. “And you want me to stop this… why?

“Look, under normal circumstances I’d be all for watching Lu get punched in the face by a twelve-year-old-”

“Thirteen,” Klara corrected.

“-But an hour ago you were bleeding all over your bed and in so much pain you couldn’t stand up, s-s-so-” Daniella paused and glared at the floor. She was clenching and unclenching her hands in the gesture that Klara had long-since learn meant she was scared. Her heart sunk a little deeper as Daniella took a deep breath through the nose and finally continued, “So I think you owe us an explanation, eh?”

She didn’t need to see Belle’s expression to know that there was no way out of this one. Staring back down she wiggled her toes, willing sensation back, before looking up at her sister. “Could you get everyone in the living room for a family meeting?”

“Why?”

“I’m pregnant.”

It felt like the air had been sucked out of the room, or like she had taken it all by just stating the simple truth aloud. She was carrying the baby of the woman who had been her moon and stars in the jungles of Vietnam. It had been in her for almost two months and she had almost miscarried, but Pogo and Mom managed to save it. She wanted to laugh and scream and cry and punch something really hard and throw confetti around the room like a maniac.

Klara was pregnant.

Daniella opened and closed her mouth a few times before closing her eyes for a moment, then opening them and nodding. “I’ll get everyone in the living room.”

☂☂☂

Starting talking was more terrifying than anything else. Standing in the middle of that overly-ornate room in boxers and a giant t-shirt before a menagerie of expressions she knew far too well. Luisa’s dismissal. Arthur’s humoring. Five’s suspicion. Ivan’s vacantness. The mill of ghosts circling the room (there were far too many of them around nowadays) made a low howling noise in the back of her mind and she bit her lip, nails digging into her palms as she tried to get them to stop.

“Klara,” Luisa finally said after a minute of her standing and lip-biting. “Sometime today, please.”

They’re not going to listen. They’ve never listened. Why should they start now?

But then Belle’s hand closed over her shoulder, finally solid, and Daniella gave her a nod and a small smile. She took a deep breath.

As it turned out, once she started talking, she couldn’t stop.

Because the circumstances were so (extraordinary-unique-crazy-fuckin’ weird), there was a little more to explain than just the baby. “I’m pregnant” turned into “I timed traveled to the Vietnam War” turned to “I got kidnapped and tortured by those furries who attacked the house last month,” which continued on and on to pretty much every other (extraordinary-unique-crazy-fuckin’ weird) thing that had happened that since their so-called Dad's funeral. It felt good to finally tell someone all of this shit, even as she watched everyone’s faces go paler and paler as the story progressed.

She was just around the part where she met God when one of them spoke up. Naturally, it was Luisa.

“Wait a second,” she shifted in her seat on the couch and raised a hand. “Are you saying you died?

“No, Lulu, I had a spiritual awakening in the middle of a rave while you were having a dude shove his face in your monkey tits. Blues Brothers style. Big blue spotlight and everything.”

Luisa narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “No, no, that’s impossible. I was there. You were fine.” She had this too-bright, panicked look in her eyes. The last time Klara had seen her look like this was when Belle died. Dad, Pogo, and Mom worked on her in the infirmary and Luisa had sunk onto the floor outside the door, face in her hands and blood on her uniform. She wouldn’t wash it for days.

“Yeah, you were there, but you were also so high you could have gone back to the moon without a rocketship.” Klara sighed. “Look, some guys looked like they wanted to give you trouble, so I went to stop them. They threw me on the floor and cracked my skull open, but I guess I wasn’t God’s ‘cup of tea’ so she sent me back here. Though not before letting dear old daddykins tell me what a disappointment I was and that he Harry Carried himself so we could stop the apocalypse he technically caused. You’re welcome, by the way, but Pogo told you all that so I guess it was all for nothing. Old man gave a fan-tastic haircut, though.”

There was a beat before Daniella whipped her head at Luisa, ponytail swinging and red eyed. “She died and you didn’t even NOTICE?!?”

Before the issue could be pressed further Luisa abruptly stood and ran from the room. Daniella stood and started after her, but Arthur grabbed her by the arm without looking. “Let her go,” he croaked. “She’ll hear it when she’s ready.” Somewhere deep in the house a door slammed. Klara closed her eyes.

“You conceived a child with someone from 1968,” Five said slowly. “While still in 1968.”

Her eyes opened. Five still looked suspicious as ever, but not in a mean way. Just in the Five way. “Um, yeah. That’s the gist of it.”

“But the fetus still exists in the present, which means…” Five was on her feet now and beginning to pace. “Time travel is the projection of one’s self into continually existing temporal selves that exist throughout time, but no other selves but the one you accidentally created in Vietnam have been pregnant. A fetus is a human, but how can it have enough personship to have already theoretically existed? I’m not saying that this is impossible, because it’s clearly possible, but the exact question of how it is possi-“

“Is the baby okay?”

Five stopped mid rant. Ivan hadn’t spoken a word until now, but that was the million dollar question, wasn’t it?

Klara felt her arms fold over her stomach. It didn’t feel any bigger than before. She tried to do the math in her head: she’d been sober for about a month now, so that meant she’d been using for half the time she’d been pregnant. She knew she wasn't technically healthy, but she was in better shape than she'd been a month ago. That had to count for something, right? Mentally, well, she saw ghosts , for one, but she probably also had depression and anxiety and probably now PTSD- in general she was pretty fucking stressed. Not too long ago she was legally dead for about three and a half minutes.

She had literally just almost miscarried.

But the baby was alive. Miraculously, indisputably, perfectly alive.

But in what state?

“I don’t know.” It came out quieter, weaker than she wanted it to. She tucked her chin down and hugged herself tighter. “I really don’t know.”

Then there was a warm pressure all around her as Ivan rose from the couch and hugged her. Klara felt her body stiffen as he held her close, face buried into her shoulder.

“It’s gonna be okay,” Ivan mumbled. “We promise.”

Klara blinked and looked up. Five had already ported off to run the numbers, but Daniella and Arthur looked at her with the same warm eyes, and Belle’s presence flickered kindly like a candle in her peripherals. She felt tears begin to prick at her eyes and she sunk into Ivan, inhaling the old book and oatmeal shampoo smell he carried like it was a lifeline.

Everything’s going to be okay.

☂☂☂

(For a moment, Klara could have sworn she smelled napalm and crushed leaves mixed in with everything else.)

(But then it was gone.)

Chapter Text

About an hour after the news was out, Arthur caught Klara by the crook of the arm in the hallway. “Let’s go to my room,” he said. “I’ve got some clothes I’ve been meaning to get rid of. Grace can bring us tea.”

He may as well have had “ULTERIOR MOTIVES!” floating over his head in giant neon letters, but she went anyway; Klara was never one to pass up raiding her siblings’ closets. She was going to need new clothes soon, anyway.

They were only about halfway down the hall when Arthur spoke again. “So… two months.”

“Yep.”

“Does that count the first month of gestation?”

Klara blinked. “Just- what?

“I’ll take that as a ‘I don’t know.’” A pause, then quieter, “Are you still using?”

And there it was. Klara felt the room get a little colder. “No,” she said firmly. “I’ve been clean for a month.”

Arthur nodded, eyebrows knit and eyes flickering. “That’s for alcohol and cigarettes, too. How much have you been using those?”

“I had some vodka after coming back, and a shot at the VFW, but nothing since then.” She didn’t feel up to explaining that “some vodka” meant “almost the entire bottle because self-medication’s a thing.”

“But no cigarettes!” she added quickly, noticing the way Arthur bit the inside of his cheek as he opened the door for her. “Yeah, no. None of that. I haven’t been able to smoke since OH WAIT- HOLY SHIT !

“What?”

“The smell! For some reason it was making me feel all barf-y all of a sudden! GodDAMN, why didn’t I notice that before?” She flopped onto Arthur’s bed and stared at the ceiling. Everything looked pretty much just like he’d left it years ago. Pale, warm colors. Posters for bands and old movies. A somewhat-creepy amount of pictures of himself. To each their own right to build a self-shrine, I guess.

“Huh,” Arthur commented, opening his giant closet and rifling through a few hangers. “Have you had any other weird changes?

He selected a big cream sweater with round wood buttons, considered it for a moment, then threw it at Klara. She caught it easily. It smelled like mothballs and the cologne Arthur used when they were teenagers. Not entirely pleasant, but familiar. “Idun’no… I kinda want pineapple pizza.”

“You’ve always liked pineapple pizza.”

“Because it’s fucking delicious, and only a fool would say otherwise!”

Arthur laughed and threw her another sweater, this one dark blue with patches on the elbows. “Luisa hates it.”

“I know what I said!”

He laughed again and continued picking out clothes. “Well, it’s a start, at least. And I’m gonna assume you haven’t had sushi or raw meat in the last few months?”

“Kinda hard to find a good deli in Saigon, Artikins.”

“At least coffee won’t be as big of a problem. God, could you imagine if it was Ivan? Or Five?”

Klara looked up from the lavender shorts she was testing the waist of, incredulous. “I can’t have coffee anymore?!?”

“Everything in moderation,” Arthur drolled, like it was something he’d had to say before a million times. “Even caffeine. Hence the tea.”

“Dammit, kiddo!” Klara shouted down at her abdomen. “You’re supposed to wait until after you’re born to try and ruin my life!”

“I know a few women who would say otherwise, Trish included. She was over a week overdue with Claire.”

Something in Klara’s mind short-circuited for a second before she forced herself to turn her attention back to the clothes. She’d forgotten that while she shot up in alleyways and Luisa camped on the moon for four years and Five married a department store mannequin in the apocalypse, Arthur had gone out and did normal adult things. Super high-end adult things that were built on a throne of lies, but adult things nevertheless. Having a job, paying bills, raising kids…

“Arthur, were you ever scared that Claire was gonna be born like us?”

Her brother stopped mid-motion, lowering the pair of joggers he was about to lob at her head and turning them over in his hands. “That’s kind of hard to say. I guess I was, because God knows what powers she could have had. I don’t think Trish and I would have known what to do. Trish hoped she would be normal, and I think I secretly did, too. But honestly? The idea of Claire having no powers at all scared me even more. We didn’t even do a gender reveal; I kept telling everyone I just wanted a healthy child, but after how I treated normal people my entire life? How I treated Ivan ? I didn’t trust myself not to turn into Dad”

He ran a hand over his hair and sat next to Klara on the bed, face full of regret as he managed an absent smile. “Of course, none of that mattered when she was born. I loved her so much. Claire was a real wake-up call for me. She made me want to be better.” Arthur chuckled bitterly. “Guess I made a mess of that too, huh?”

Klara watched Arthur pick at a hole in the knee of the pants. She’d considered what would happen of she made the same mistakes their father made in raising the baby growing inside of her, but she knew she could do far worse. “Arthur, what if the baby turns out like me?”

Almost the same question in terms of verbiage. Same number of letters, same number of syllables, and an entire world of difference in meaning.

Arthur looked up from the joggers at her, like she’d just broken his heart. Opened his mouth. Closed it. Then smiled, for real this time. “Then he’s going to be fantastic, Klar.”

Dad used to call them extraordinary. It was the only compliment he had ever paid any of his children. People tend to use positive words interchangeably, but ‘fantastic’ is different from ‘extraordinary’. Fantastic isn’t extraordinary. Fantastic is fantastic.

Tears in their eyes, Arthur and Klara hugged each other at the same time.

“Thank you for being here.”

“I should have been here far sooner. I’m not leaving you again.”

They stayed in the embrace for a long time, until Klara remembered something Arthur had said earlier. “I’m sorry, he’s going to be fantastic?” she asked, pulling away.

He sputtered for a few seconds. “Well, I mean, as long as he’s healthy-”

“You said it again!”

“Okay, fine! You caught me!” Arthur shook his head and laughed, blinking tears away. “I’ve already done the little girl thing. It’d be nice to have a nephew to chase around.”

“Man, this kid is going to win the aunt and uncle game!” Klara laughed, looking back at her abdomen.

“A regular Steven Universe,” Arthur agreed before hopping off the bed. “C’mon, let’s go ask Grace about that tea, and see if we can hook you up with some prenatal vitamins today.”

Klara grinned and joined her brother at the door, taking off down the hall.

Fantastic.

She could do that.

Chapter Text

Luisa wasn’t ashamed to admit that she’d been avoiding Klara.

Well, okay, she was, because it was cowardly. And stupid. And honestly way more trouble than it was worth because there’s only so many times you can randomly leave a room mid-conversation before people start to think that something’s up, and Luisa pretty sure she passed that mark by week one of her now almost-two month long self-exile. But… she was doing it.

She sighed and turned her record player up a little louder. Her most recent method of escape was just hiding in her room, which was working pretty well so far. Pastimes were limited to painting model rockets, reading, push-ups, and lying on the floor playing music and having existential crises (like she was doing now,) but that’s pretty much all she did on Earth anyway.

“Ooh, when I saw him standing there,” she mumbled along to Tiffany’s tinny voice on the vinyl. “Well, my heart went ‘boom’ when I crossed that room and I held his hand in mine…”

“Not bad,” Five commented from her bed. Luisa yelped and scrambled to a sitting position, the record player making a cartoony noise as she yanked the needle off. “Have you considered a singing career?”

“I told you not to port in here,” Luisa snapped.

Five shrugged nonchalantly and flipped the page of the astrophysics book she’d stolen from her bookshelf. “I didn’t. Your door was open.”

A glance to the left confirmed her statement and Luisa sighed. “Don’t you know anything about personal boundaries?” she asked, closing the door and standing against it for good measure.

“No.” Five closed the book with a slap and folded her hands in her lap, glaring at her like an unamused parent. “So, are you done fucking around, or am I going to have to drag you out of here?”

Luisa blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“You can’t hide in here forever, Lulu. That kid’s going to be born whether you like it or not, and you’re going to have to make peace with that.”

“It’s not about that! I-” she raked a hand through her hair. Faint memories of rainbow lights, fizzy drinks, and a cute boy’s lips passed in her mind; not once could she see curly dark hair or wide green eyes, and she hated herself for it. “I left her to die, Five. She died and I didn’t even know.”

“None of us did,” Five said simply. “What makes you so special?”

“Because I was there!” Luisa pushed off from the door and began to pace. “I was right there and I should have done something, but I was too busy getting high to even care what happened to her! And when she tried to stop me earlier- Jesus Christ, I threw my pregnant baby sister against a wall. I just-“

“You were so caught up in your own feelings you didn’t think about how your actions might affect everyone else around you.”

Luisa sighed and sat on her bed. “Yeah, pretty much.”

Five looked confused. “So to punish yourself for doing that… you’re doing it again?”

Damn. Luisa looked away, letting her hair fall in her face. She never used to hide like this. “She doesn’t want to see me.”

A scoff escaped Five’s lips. “Why don’t you let her decide if she wants to see you or not.” With that Five slid off the bed, straightened her skirt, and headed for the door, turning the record player back on as she went.

The door creaked open and she took a step, but then stopped in the threshold. “They’ve started a betting pool on the baby’s gender. Klara could care less, but there’s at least fifty dollars in it between Daniella and Arthur alone.” She turned around fully and looked at the floor, hands in her pockets. “Also, the baby started kicking this morning. I…” Five shook her head and chuckled. Somehow, in that moment, she managed to look every one of her fifty-eight years and impossibly young at the same time.

“What do you think it’ll be?” Luisa asked before she could stop herself.

She rolled her eyes. “It’s simple math. A quarter has as much of a chance as guessing correctly than anyone else does.” Her eyes turned mischievous. “But between you and me, there’s too much fucking estrogen in this house.”

And with that she was gone, and Luisa was left in her empty room with nothing but Tiffany’s crooning. “Now I’ll never dance with another, oh, since I saw him standing there, oh, since I saw him standing there…”

☂☂☂

The next day she found Klara in her room in a pair of black sweatpants and not much else. Luisa lingered outside the door, trying to will herself to enter. Instead she just watched silently as the young woman struggled to put on a yellow, white, purple, and black striped binder. With time and plenty of encouragement from Grace and Arthur, her baby bump started to show around the middle of the three month mark and was steadily growing still. Klara herself was still too thin for anyone’s liking at this point, but the baby seemed to be doing pretty well. She was awkward and a little clumsy, but as with most fashions, Klara managed to pull it off well.

A hazy blue silhouette sat on her bed, seeming amused at the display. “I told you this was gonna suck.”

Belle . Luisa’s heart threatened to leap out of her chest. Or explode. Or stop entirely.

Klara hissed as the binder finally settled on and was now attempting to adjust her breasts underneath. “If I wanna be pregnant and wear a binder, then I’m gonna be be pregnant and wear a binder.”

The ghost held up hands in mock surrender. “Fine, but if you have trouble breastfeeding later…”

“All the forums said it was okay before the baby comes. And I’m obviously not gonna be able to fit into this thing for much longer- gotta enjoy it while I can!”

“Ask Daniella to go shopping with you. Get some sports bras. It won’t be the same thing, but they’ll help a little.”

Binder adjusted to her liking, Klara joined Belle on the bed and started painting her fingernails. “Thirty years of living and I’ve never gone bra shopping with my sisters. Weird that it’s happening now. About time.”

“You hated bras.”

“No, I didn’t need bras. Now I do. Hey, I just realized! This my only chance to have tits as big as yours!”

“Oh my God, please shut up,” Belle flushed and covered her face, but was clearly laughing.

Now also giggling, Klara put down the nail polish bottle and cupped her hands around her mouth. “HEAR THAT, DANNI? I’M GONNA HAVE BETTER BOOBS THAN YOU!”

“IN YOUR DREAMS, BITCH,” Daniella shouted from somewhere in the house.

Luisa herself was so caught up in the strange dynamic of the conversation that she didn’t realize she’d been spotted until she locked eyes with Belle, hard and cold as a wolf’s. Something rippled under her skin. Luisa tasted the tell-tale bitter spike of adrenaline in the back of her mouth; she couldn’t move.

“I think you have a visitor,” Belle finally said coolly, not breaking eye contact.

Oblivious to the power struggle happening to her left, Klara looked up, surprised. “Oh, hi! Long time no see!”

“Um, yeah. Long time.” Klara started off the bed and Luisa took her chance to enter the bedroom. “Don’t get up; it’s fine.”

Belle’s eyes flickered between the two women. “I’ll leave you two to talk,” she muttered, gave Klara’s hand a squeeze, and evaporated into the air.

Klara closed the bottle of nail polish and placed it on the bedpost as Luisa took a seat on the bed, the mattress dipping under her. She bit the inside of her cheek. Alright, Number One. You’re here. Now what?

“Ohhh-kaaaaaay, this is getting a little weird. Are you drunk again or someth-?”

“I wasn’t there for you,” Luisa blurted. “Not at the club, or when you were kidnapped, or when you were living on the street after leaving home. I wasn’t even there for you when we were kids. I’ve spent a lot of time rationalizing that as that being the right thing to do, and that’s… horrible. Really horrible.” She paused and cleared her throat. “I want to do better, for the team and for you. I know you have every reason to hate me, but I want to be a part of your life. You and your kid. I’m sorry.”

There was a beat, and then:

“Okay. Sure.”

Luisa just stared at Klara, waiting for the turnaround, but nothing came. “Wait, that’s it? You’re letting it go just like that?”

Klara sighed and rubbed her temple with one finger. “Lulu, I spent the first twenty-two years of my life getting tortured with six other kids in Batman’s mansion. My best friend and the love of my life are both dead.  I have a human being growing inside of me.” She laughed and spread her arms wide. “Do you think I have the time to be angry at everything crosses me?”

“But-“

“That’s life, sissy-poo! You’ve just gotta roll with the punches and hope things turn out okayish in the end. Leave the angst and brooding to Daniella and Five. I mean, it did take you twenty-nine years to get that stick out of your ass, but you’re here now, aren’t you?”

A huff pushed itself from Luisa’s lungs and she leaned back on her hands. It wasn’t like a magic spell or anything; she was still angry and hurt and confused, but she felt lighter than before. Better.

“I really am sorry, though,” she said, looking at the string lights on the ceiling. “I was a complete asshole.”

“Welllllllll,” Klara smirked. “The first step IS admitting you have a problem…”

“Gee, thanks,” Luisa deadpanned, then asked, “What’s step two?”

She threw her hands in the air. “Heck if I know! You think I actually paid ATTENTION in rehab?”

“That’s encouraging to know.”

“Go to hell,” Klara laughed. Her hand absently grazed her belly and she looked up at her. “Do you want to feel?”

“Really?”

“Sure, c’mon!” Klara shooed Luisa off the bed and scooted to sit in front of her. Hesitantly, she placed her hand on her stomach, round and smooth like an egg or a polished stone, but warmer than she expected. Her hand almost covered the entire bump and she felt self-conscious, not for the first time and definitely not the last.

“Hey, kiddo,” Klara talked down at the bump. “Feel that? That’s your Tante Luisa. She can be a bitch sometimes, but she tries really hard and she cares about people. She can’t wait to meet you.”

Two little pulses thumped against her palm; she felt them all the way down to her heart.

“Holy shit,” Luisa whispered, suddenly reverent. “She’s really in there.”

Klara looked up from her belly and smirked. “She?”

Luisa felt a blush creep across her face. Guess she was going to have to put some money in the pool.

Chapter Text

1) Telekinesis ☂

“Daaaaaaaanniiiiiiiiii!”

“What?” Daniella answered, not looking up from the knife she was sharpening.

Klara’s head poked up from the other side of the couch, along with a hand that pointed across the room. “I dropped my knitting needle!”

Following the line of her finger, Daniella quirked a brow at the medium’s word choice. The needle in question was halfway across the living room, lodged down the open mouth of a taxidermy bird. She was almost impressed.

“Dropped?”

Klara pouted childishly, cheeks pinkening. “It slipped. Can you bring it over here? Pretty please?”

“Why can’t Belle do it?”

“Because Five said I need to take it easy with summoning because we don’t know how much stress it’ll put on my body. Also she doesn’t want to.”

“And why can’t you do it?”

“Because I’ve already gotten up to pee three times in the last two hours and I only just got comfortable after the last time. So, c’mon.”

“...Nah.”

“YOU WANT MY BABY’S FEET TO FREEZE!”

Daniella rolled her eyes and went back to sharpening her knives. Klara glared and pouted for a minute longer before sighing and dropping her head back onto the arm of the couch.

“Fiiiiiine,” she grumbled. “I’ll get my own stupid needle.”

A motion drew Daniella’s eye back to the couch. Klara’s hand was reached up, about to close over the couch’s back to use it as leverage to push herself up. Her fingertips glowed blue. Daniella glanced around the room; no sign of Belle, or any other ghost made physical.

“Uh, Klara?”

Before her question could get answered, the needle shot out of the stuffed bird’s mouth and flew across the room into Klara’s open palm. Her fingers closed around it on reflex and the glowing stopped.

Klara scrambled back to a sitting position and stared at the needle in her hand before whipping her head towards Daniella, eyes shocked and excited.

“Did that just happen?”

“I think it did.”

“Did you see that?”

“I saw it.”

“You saw that?”

“I saw that !”

“HOLY SHIT!”

“HOLY SHIT!” Daniella abandoned her work and ran across the room to the couch, laughing. “Do something else! Do something else!”

“Okokokok!” Klara got to her knees and looked over the back of the couch. “Lemme think for a sec!”

She closed her eyes for a moment, hummed, then opened them and reached for something across the room. It was at that time Five chose to port to the living room, nose buried in a notebook.

“Hey. I’ve been looking over my notes, and-”

SHING! One of Daniella’s knives ripped through the air, centimeters from Five’s face, and into Klara’s hand, who then immediately dropped the knife and gasped laughingly. “Oops.”

Five, ridge-backed and mouth still open, closed her book and then her mouth. She reached up and touched where her hair was now slightly shorter than it was on the other side. “Did you just use telekinesis?”

Klara shrugged. “Just a little.”

“Is that new?”

“Pretty much. Yeah.”

“She did a sewing needle earlier!” Daniella added.

Nodding, Five took a few slow paces before stopping and pocketing her notebook. “Are you able to do anything heavier? Say…” she climbed up and sat on the edge of the bar, hazel eyes glistening conspritally. “A chair?”

One look at her sisters’ matching wolf grins, and Daniella know it was about to get very messy very quickly.

2) Levitation ☂

It took a minute for Arthur to process what he was seeing. He’d only want to check on Klara; she had a migraine and went upstairs to rest. That was thirty minutes ago, and Grace sent him upstairs with a cold glass of water and a hot mug of tea. He had opened the door and went to set the tray on her bedside table only to discover his sister was asleep.

Asleep, and suspended in midair a good five feet above the bed.

“Hey, Lu?” Arthur called, trying to keep the volume and panic out of his voice. “I need you in here.”

Luisa entered the room, her dark blue eyes widening at the sight. Arthur watched her stop at his side; the muscles in her shoulders went slack and her pale hair seemed to glow in the iridescently lit room.

“Arthur,” Luisa said numbly. “She’s floating.”

Admiration turned to annoyance. “Yes. I can see that,” he snapped shortly.

Her head whipped toward his, embarrassed and panicked. “No, I mean, why is she floating? HOW  is she floating?”

“I don’t know! I came in here and she was just-!” He raked his hands through his hair as he imagined her suddenly waking up and plummeting to her mattress.

“Ok, ok!” Luisa took a step towards the bed, trying to gauge whether Klara was in a fixed spot or if she could be moved. “Should we just… push her back onto the bed? Keep her there with a sheet or something?”

“We’re not tying a pregnant woman to a bed!” Arthur paced the length of the room before coming back to the bed. “Okay, I know. You’re just gonna have to wait and catch her when she wakes up.”

“How long will that take?”

“I don’t know, but unless you have a better idea-?”

“Alright, fine!” Carefully, Luisa climbed onto the bed and stood on the mattress behind Klara’s floating form, then extended her arms so that they were about an inch underneath her. Her eyes flickered nervously between Klara and Arthur, which he found endearing.

It was at that moment when Klara chose to wake up.

“Oh, hi everyone,” she yawned, seeming unaware of her position. Still in midair, she rolled to a sitting position, stretched, then gracefully floated down to the floor. Arthur felt his jaw drop.

Klara looked at him quizzically. “What are you staring at? Do I got drool on my face or something?”

She did, but that was beside the point. “You’re floating!” Arthur accused.

He pointed at where Klara’s feet still hovered an inch or so off the ground. She glanced down as if only just noticing it. “Oh, that? Yeah, that started a week or so after Five started testing my telekinesis. Pretty neat, huh? SUPER useful, too. My feet have been hurting.”

With that she gave Arthur a pat on the cheek and floated out the door. It took him another minute to process what she had said before chasing after her, Luisa at his heels

“I’m sorry... TELEKINESIS ?!?”

3) Possession ☂

Surviving in the apocalypse meant being prepared for danger at all times, which meant the necessity of keeping an irregular sleep schedule. On the average day, Five could operate at normal capacity on four hours of sleep, divided into three, eighty-minute long increments over the course of the day. Sometimes, if it was absolutely necessary or if Dominick could convince her, she’d have an extra eighty minutes built into her schedule. It worked for the apocalypse, but it had some interesting repercussions in her family’s timeline. Waking up in a dark library at three o’clock in the morning, for example.

Five slithered out of her armchair and popped her back, redoing her tie and adjusting the barrettes in her hair. She needed coffee.

Quietly as she could, she crept down to the kitchen, only to find that maximum stealth was unneeded. Klara was seated in the middle of the kitchen table with a candle, unaware of Five’s presence. The refrigerator door was open, the carton of orange juice and a half-drunk glass at her side. She seemed quiet lost in her own little world, cradling her swollen belly and softly singing to it in an old, old language that took Five a moment to recognize.

“I didn’t know you knew Gaelic,” Five said, closing the fridge.

Klara looked up and Five’s hand stiffened on the fridge door handle. Her wide, sooty eyes were a glowing blue that overwhelmed the whites and pupils. They seemed to mist the air, circling her head in a pale blue haze.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Klara said in an Irish accent taken straight from the streets of Dublin. Five would know. The Commission sent her on plenty of jobs during The Troubles. “I didn’t think anyone would be awake.”

Slowly, Five let go of the handle and took a seat at the table. There were exactly three points of emergency exit in the room. Her tie was closer, but a pan or something equally heavy would be more effective to disarm. She knew where the cutlery drawer was if she needed to go further. She didn’t want to go further.

“You’re not Klara,” she said plainly.

Whoever-It-Was closed Klara’s eyes and sighed with Klara’s mouth. “No, I’m afraid not, dearie.”

“Who are you?”

“Saoirse. Saoirse Kent. I think I was in a fire.”

Five took a deep breath and drummed her fingers on the table. “Could you explain to me what you’re doing in my sister’s body, Mrs. Kent?”

She lifted her head and turned towards Five. “I didn’t mean to, honest. We’ve been watching her, her and her baby, The Others and I. I was curious, but the poor dear’s always so afraid of us. So I was watching her while she slept. I just wanted to feel the baby kick, but when I tried to touch her...”

Saoirse shook her borrowed head sadly. “I’m not proud of it. It’s a shameful thing I did, but Roddy and I tried so many times to have a child. We loved children so. I managed to conceive once or twice, but then I lost them. I never got to feel what it was like. I think I was in a fire.”

Not quite sure how to respond to that, Five watched silently as Saoirse wiped at her eyes and took a sip of orange juice.

“Her blood sugar’s been a bit low,” Saoirse explained. “She won’t tell you because she doesn’t want to be a bother, but she needs to understand that her health comes first.” She stared into her cup for a moment, watching how the pulp clung to the sides of the glass. “She’s awfully young to be doing this alone.”

“Yes,” Five managed a nod. “She is.”

Nodding, Saoirse smiled in a way that reminded her of Grace. “But you’ll take care of her, won’t you dearie?”

Five sat up a little straighter, folding her hands on top of the table. “I will. And in doing that, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Saoirse nodded again. “I figured you were going to say that.”

With that the blue glow vanished from Klara’s eyes and her expression turned confused. “Five?” she asked in her normal voice. “What am I doing in the kitchen?”

Five buried her face in her hands. She was getting too old for this shit.

Chapter Text

There’s a ghost in the bar.

Of course eighty-two year old Ray Thompson knows that that’s ridiculous. There’s no such thing as ghosts. He’s seen plenty of other crazy things in his life: his mama tried to jump off a bridge when he was nine. He spent most of his twenties getting shot at in the A Shau Valley. He’s been married twice. He’s had kids. His KIDS have had kids. He’s been in a car accident that should have taken his life by only took his ability to walk. But he knows that all those crazy things are real. There’s no ghosts, no aliens… the only monsters that exist in this world are the skeletons that live in his closet.

That doesn’t stop him from staring at the young woman who’s been coming in here and talking to the 173rd memorial on the VFW’s wall, who’s hair and posture and mannerism were so familiar it made his head ache.

She doesn’t come often and doesn’t stay for very long; when she does one of the vets starts giving her a hard time and then fights break out. Ray doesn’t like it. She’s not doing anyone any harm and even the most vision-impaired of the regulars here could tell that she’s pregnant, but she seems to hold her own well enough before storming out, only to come back a few weeks later for more.

Maybe it was the desire to avoid another incident. Maybe it was because it looked like her feet were starting to hurt her and he wanted to offer her a chair. Maybe it was just the need to confirm his world view and that there wasn’t a ghost in the VFW. Either way, this was the day when Ray unlocked the wheels of his chair and rolled himself over to the mystery woman. As he gets closer, he can hear her hushed, one-sided conversation.

“...so at this point Arthur says they should have eyes now, and will maybe even start blinking in a few weeks! I bet they’ll have your eyes. What color eyes did your mom have? We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess. After this Danni’s taking me to get this ‘baby band’ thingy which is supposed to help with back pain or something? This kid’s already crushing my hips and I’m only six-and-a-half months along, so it had BETTER work…”

“Excuse me?” Ray reached up and tapped her on the shoulder.

The girl gasped and turned around, a little unsteady. She’s in a pair of heavy boots, black leggings, a black and gray men’s flannel open over a white t-shirt, and an olive green vest that threw him back in time as much as she herself did. Curly dark hair, cut short and messy. Elegant nose. Arched, expressive eyebrows over round cat eyes smudged with black like a flapper girl. A pair of tags jingled from her neck.

She’s a dead ringer for Hargreeves.

“Thompson?” she squeaked, blinking a few times.

“How do you know my name?” Ray asked, the surprise enough to shock him out of his stupor.

“It’s on your hat,” she pointed at the accessory in question. “You’re also up here in the pictures.”

Ray raised a brow, wheeling closer. “You could recognize me from that old thing?”

She laughed, incredulous. “Of course! A few more lines and spots, but the chin and ears are still the same. You’ve also got that freckle pattern on your cheek- the one that looks like Aquarius?”

He chuckled, surprised. “You have a keen eye.”

“I should hope so! Kind of hard to serve in a combat zone without twenty-twenty!”

“You serve?”

The girl shrugged and glanced away. “Not anymore, and not for very long. Long enough to get stationed, meet my partner, watch them die, and get honorably discharged for mental health.” She chuckled bitterly and pointed at her baby bump with both thumbs. “I got a hell of a souvenir for it all, though!”

“Damn.” Ray set his chair in park next to her, his mind spinning “You’ve been through a lot.”

They had the same laugh, too.  Bright and frequent and a things that shouldn’t be laughed at. “Yep! I’m a regular Odysseus! Maybe next week I’ll go out to sea and sing with the sirens.”

“They didn’t sing with the sirens in The Odyssey ; they had to plug their ears to keep from being driven mad and drowning themselves.”

“You don’t know me very well, do you?” She smirked wickedly before turning back to the memorial on the wall. It wasn’t much. A few photographs, a few patches and badges. A blurb of text in the corner. Twenty years of hell and high water all wrapped up in a 36” by 30” panel of glass. It wasn’t enough. It was too much.

“I just like coming here,” she said softly. “Give Opa updates on how the baby’s doing.”

So that was it! Ray thought, but still chose to ask, “Hargreaves?”

She barked a surprised laugh and looked down at him. “How did you know?”

“My eyes may not be as good as they used to be, but I can still see well enough; you’re his spitting image!”

The girl blinked at the photograph of the regiment, locking eyes with the tiny, grainy, identical face in the back row. Her brow furrowed, but she also grinned, like this was the weirdest thing that had ever happened to her. “I guess I do,” she said, then added. “But I’m cuter.”

Ray gave her a more critical look. She didn’t look much older than Hargreaves looked in that photo; the both of them too young for kids, in his opinion. “I didn’t know he had children.”

“Just the one. Mama said he had her really young.” Her eyes glittered like she was repeating an old joke. “Sixteen. Young and terribly misguided.”

He sighed around a laugh. “Yeah, that sounds like him…”

Before the conversation could continue, a car honked twice outside. Hargreaves Jr. jerked her head in the direction of the door, then back at Ray apologetically. “That’s my ride.”

“I’ll talk to the owners,” Ray promised. “Make sure no one gives you any more trouble.”

She grinned. “Glad to see you’re still looking out for me, Ray.” Then she disappeared out the door before he could ask what she meant by that, or how she knew his first name which definitely wasn’t on his hat.

There wasn’t a ghost in the bar; there was no such thing as ghosts, but that didn’t mean that Ray Thompson hadn’t seen something far stranger.

Chapter Text

When Ivan was sixteen, Klara started hanging out in his room. Originally, it was a means of her escaping their father, who in her own words, “would never ever dream of setting foot in here.” (Which hurt, but it was true.) Over time, these once in a blue moon visits became monthly, then weekly, then two or three times a week. Not because Sir Hargreaves had become any more cruel (just a different sort of cruel, but that’s another story,) but because Klara likes spending time with him- a concept that a teenaged Ivan could have never imagined.

These visits were bittersweet overall. Sometimes they’d talk, sometimes Klara would be so high she couldn’t do anything but stare at him. Ivan would almost always play for her. It was during these visits that he had gotten his first nickname, and it was during these visits when Klara asked him if he wished he could be her and he said yes. In response she had popped three pills of unknown origin and told him he was an idiot, then started crying.

(He didn’t understand what she meant until years later.)

This went on for about six years; they abruptly stopped altogether after Belle died when both of them moved out.

So when he heard the frantic knocking at his apartment door at 2 AM, he wasn’t surprised. He definitely wasn't expecting it, not at his own home, but he wasn't surprised by it.

He lowered his violin and went to the door, but stopped short. “Ohmigodohmygod,” he could hear Klara’s shaking whisper on the other side of the door. “Pleasebeawakepleasebeawakeohmigodpleasebeawake…”

Ivan bit his lip and opened the door to Klara’s pale face and too-bright eyes.

“Hey, Van. Let’s hang out. Like right now.” Without waiting for an answer she shoved past him into his tiny sitting room.

“How did you get here?” Ivan asked, closing the door slowly.

“Left your address on the fridge. Took a bus. No biggie.”

Everything came out of her mouth short and clipped, like a trick firecracker. Her eyes were always moving, hands always fidgeting. She didn’t so much as pace the room as she rocked back and forth on her feet, turning in a slow circle. It was almost like she was…

No. Klara had been sober for seven whole months now. She may have not respected herself much, but she respected Daphne and she respected her baby. She wouldn’t just start using again, especially when she was so close to term.

Pushing the hair out of his face and into the hair tie from around his wrist, Ivan approached Klara cautiously, like how one might approach a wild horse. “Do you want to take off your coat?”

“Oh,” Klara blinked, shrugging off her patchy fur coat. “Yeah. Sure.”

Underneath she was in gray cotton shorts and a sweater that must have been stolen from Luisa by the way to completely devoured her, but did nothing to hide her stomach. At a little past eight months, Ivan wasn’t sure how much more baby her body could take. Klara had always been slim, drawn-out and wiry like a greyhound, and even though this was technically the healthiest she’d been since before puberty, the bump still completely overwhelmed her body’s kinetic angles and long limbs. Her back must have hurt terribly.

Arms full of coat, Ivan glanced down and sucked on the inside of his cheek. No shoes. She’d come here in some kind of hurry.

“Do you want to sit down?” he asked.

Klara glanced nervously from the couch to him to her baby bump and back to him. “Okay,” she whispered and lowered herself down, shaking so hard she was practically vibrating.

Ivan sat across from her on top of the coffee table and studied her carefully. Twitch. Flicker. Scratch. Repeat. She may have not been high, but she was clearly terrified about something enough to come to his crummy apartment at two in the morning alone with no shoes. He inched a little closer; Klara inched back. “Is everything okay at the house?”

“What? Oh. Yeah. Everyone’s okay.”

“Are you okay?”

Frantic nodding slowly morphed to frantic head-shaking. Black tears dropped down her nose and onto her sweater. She didn’t seem to notice.

“Shit,” he hissed, lunging across the table for the half-empty tissue box and handing it over. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to- I shouldn’t have asked.”

The girl just shook her head and blew her nose. “I can’t sleep,” she finally admitted.

He blinked. “Is that it?”

“No. It-“ Klara paused and sniffed. “I really can’t sleep. It- it’s been days”

“Jesus, Klar… how many?”

“...Two? Maybe three?” Klara rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands, smearing her makeup more. Ivan couldn’t tell where the eyeliner ended and the insomnia bruising began. “It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’ve gotten a little. Little naps here and there. But… there’s just too many of them. They’re all trying to see what’s going on and, and my room’s just full of them. All the time! Everything keeps floating, too. I-I can’t stop it, and ignoring it’s not working, and I’ve been trying really hard not to freak out because Arthur says that stress is bad for the baby but I haven’t slept in two fucking days and there’s so many ghosts I can’t see Belle sometimes and how am I supposed to raise a kid if I’m constantly thinking about shooting up again because there’s too many fucking ghosts?”

With that Klara buried her face in her hands and completely broke down. When the sobbing turned to heaving Ivan dragged the wastepaper bin over from next to the bookshelf and Klara leaned over the side of the couch and gagged. As she coughed and sputtered Ivan reached over to rub her back and she flinched- like actually flinched , jerking away as far as her body would allow and shielding herself with her hands. She hadn’t done that since they were kids. Ivan felt his heart drop into his socks.

“Please don’t touch me,” Klara said quickly. “Or- no- yes? No. Don’t. Just… just stay here? Huh? Just stay here.”

And so he did. For about five minutes Ivan sat on the edge of his coffee table watching his sister with the eyes that saw too much cry and dry heave into his trash and try to disappear into the folds of her enormous sweater.

Ivan had spent most of his life watching his siblings fight from the sidelines.

He wasn’t about to let one of them go to battle alone again. Not anymore.

Sliding the elastic from his hair, feeling the newly-freed ends tickle the back of his neck, he leaned forward slightly. “Klara, I want to try something to help you relax. I promise I won’t hurt you and I won’t even touch you if you don’t want me to, but I’m going to need your permission. Is that okay?”

Nothing. Then, a sniffle. A weak nod. “M’kay,” Klara whimpered.

“Okay.” Ivan sat up straight and braced his hands on the tops of his knees. He took a slow breath in through the mouth- so the air whistled slightly against the backs of his teeth- breathed out through the nose, closed his eyes, and listened.

The hum of his refrigerator. His sex-positive neighbor’s mattress creaking on a piston’s beat. Frank Sinatra on vinyl being played two floors above. The early October wind and beginnings of raindrops pittering in desonate harmony, making the old bricks and glass of his building creak and groan.

No, not that. Closer.

A thumping noise. Steady, solid, a little worried but always consistent. The tick of a metronome. Hands giving CPR. "Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin alive, stayin alive..."

Too close; go out.

Another thumping noise, this one fast and frantic. Destructive, but almost beautiful in it’s wrongness. A butterfly trapped in a glass jar. Hummingbird wings too close to one’s ear.

Deeper. Go deeper.

“Focus, Number Seven.”

“Do it, Ivan.”

No. Not them. Never again.

Just think, Van. Try again.”

Thank you, Five.

There.

There.

Another thumping. Tiny, muffled, but just as strong and just and steady as the first. The bass of a jazz band in the back of a club. A new star pulsing to life in the far reaches of the solar system.

Ivan latched onto this sound and let it fill his soul; let it stretch from the depths of his mind to the soles of his feet, and when he thought he might burst from all the noise inside of him, he let it overflow into the apartment. All else seemed to vanish. No fridge, no mattress, no Sinatra. Just the rolling waves of the tiny beat pushing in and out, in and out, warming his apartment golden.

Slowly the sound naturally receded, like the fading last dregs of an echo, and Ivan opened his eyes. Klara opened her eyes, too. He didn’t realize she had closed them, or that in his trance he’d closed the gap between them and was now touching her belly. She didn’t flinch back, however, and she wasn’t upset. In fact, Ivan couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his sister so genuinely calm.

He looked up a her, a little uncertain. “D-Did that help?”

“‘Did that help?’ Ivan, that was…” she trailed off in a airy laugh. “What was that?”

Ivan stood up and blinked, surprised that she didn’t know. “That was your baby’s heartbeat.”

Klara didn’t respond right away. Instead she just stared at him, blinked away the last of her tears, and huffed a surprised laugh. “Ivan, you’re fantastic.”

Had he ever been called fantastic before that night? Ivan didn’t know, but the golden feeling from before returned, glowing like a candle in a dark room.

A smile worked its way onto his mouth as he crossed to the kitchenette, pulling out mugs and coffee beans from the cabinets. Klara hadn’t been drinking much coffee since she found out she was pregnant- something about a caffeine limit- so he felt like this was an occasion that deserved a treat.

“Do you want me to call you a cab?” he asked, setting the beans in the grinder, a deep almost-toffeelike smell permeating the air. “Or you can stay here if you want. I can take the couch.”

“No cab, but could I call the house?” Klara glanced at her bare toes and blushed. “I kinda snuck out.”

There was a beat of eye contact before the two burst out laughing. Nothing was fixed, not really, but between the laughter and the smell of coffee and the sound of rain on his windows, Ivan could believe that things were going to be okay.

☂☂☂

Three days later, Klara went into labor.

Chapter Text

I was there when her vagina opened.

We were all there: her mother, her husband and I,

and the nurse from the Ukraine with her whole hand

up there in her vagina feeling and turning with her rubber

glove as she talked casually to us--like she was turning on a loaded faucet.

Mom entered the infirmary first, then Daniella, then Luisa cradling Klara’s trembling body. The less people in the room the better. That’s what Mom said. Arthur, Ivan, Five, and even Pogo (on emergency standby) were forced to wait in the living room. If Mom had any say in the matter Belle would be waiting with them, but even if she could leave, the spirit would be hard pressed to be anywhere away from Klara now. Especially since, judging by the faint blue glow to the hands white-knuckling Luisa’s coat, it was going to get very crowded very quickly.

“Put her down here,” Mom said while pulling on a pair of cheerful pink rubber gloves, circling around the newly-installed delivery table, deadbolted to the floor as per request. “Then go take your coat off, Luisa dear. We don’t want it to get messy.”

She did, and Daniella took her place, sliding an extra pillow behind Klara’s head and swiping a hand over her dark, downy curls. Klara looked up at her with wide eyes, stomach heaving, clearly forgetting everything Arthur had been drilling into her head about deep breathing for the past six months.

At the foot of the table, Mom slid off her drenched underwear and dropped them to the floor. “Klara, I’m going to need you to spread your legs.”

“Buy me a drink first, Mama,” Klara snarked between gasps, but did as she was told.

Daniella had to avert her eyes as Mom slid her calm, gloved hand inside of her, carefully feeling and turning. Instead she focused on Klara, who took one look at her face and laughed. “See, Dee? This is what happens if you have sex.”

“Shut up,” she rolled her eyes. “Focus on your breathing.”

“Hmmm… I could, but you’re a lot funnier.” She started to laugh again, but a contraction cut the giggle short and her face contorted like she’d just drunk a cup of lemon juice. “Ooooon second thought, breathing might be fun. Yeah. Fun. Sure. We can do that.”

“You’re coming along wonderfully, sweetheart,” Mom said warmly, like she wasn’t wrist deep in her daughter’s uterus. “I can’t feel the baby yet, but you’re dilating steadily. It shouldn’t be long now.”

Klara sighed and sunk against her pillow, boneless as Luisa attached the heart monitor to her finger. “Oh, goodie.”

I was there in the room when the contractions

made her crawl on all fours,

made unfamiliar moans leak out of her pores

and still there after hours when she just screamed, suddenly

wild, her arms striking at the electric air.

An hour passed. Then two. Then ten.

Still no baby.

Despite any joking Klara had done early on, she didn’t say much else now outside of reams of swears that would leave even Five blushing or whimpering requests for water or pain meds. Only the earlier of said requests would be filled; with Klara’s medical history, they didn’t know how any of it would affect the mother or the baby. Theoretically it would be fine- women had been doing this for centuries without the use of heavy sedatives- but theory didn’t mean much when Klara’s contractions got harder and more frequent, and Daniella was realized that epidurals were invented for a very good reason.

When the most recent contraction passed, Klara sobbed and Daniella took her hand. The faint flicker in her fingers had gradually turned to a steady glow throughout her hands, beginning to crawl up her veins. Objects around the room would bob to mid air, linger, then drop like stones and repeat. In her peripheral vision Daniella would see blue, human-shaped silhouettes mill around and try to get closer, only for them to vanish if she tried to look directly at them. It was unnerving.

“Pls’,” Klara whimpered, clinging to Daniella’s hand with shocking strength. “M’ke it stop. I don- I don’ wan…”

Before Daniella could respond or Klara could even finish the thought, the monitor spiked and Klara screamed. A lightbulb exploded in the back of the room. A shelving unit tore free from the wall and flew directly at Mom’s head in a blur of blue. Without looking up from her work, Mom merely put up a hand and the shelf broke in two across her palm. The wooden planks clattered to the floor on either side of the table. Klara levitated a few inches off the table and Luisa materialized next to them and grabbed her ankles, anchoring her down. “Daniella! Her shoulders!”

Blinking a few times, Daniella felt like she was floating as well as she pushed Klara back onto the table. Something felt caught in her throat and she didn’t trust herself to speak clearly as she watched her poor, beautiful, brilliant sister writhe and howl under her hands.

Daniella liked to think she had fairly few fears. Needles, the ocean, her family dying… things that were pretty easy to avoid. But no matter how much she hated it, she could never avoid feeling helpless.

Like now. All Daniella could do was watch. Sure, she could hold her hand and give her water and make empty promises that everything was going to be okay, but all throughout that she had to watch her sister scream and sweat and struggle under this massive task and there was nothing she could do to make it better.

Finally, Klara stopped screaming, panting like she’d run a marathon. Luisa slowly let go of her legs, ensuring that they were firmly on the table once more, and Daniella shushed her gently. “Y-you’re doing good, Klar. J-just stay with us.”

Klara made a whimpering sound and opened her eyes; solid blue, glowing, and starring up at the ceiling and a thousand miles away. “There’s too many… I can’t-“ she cut off and swallowed, tears trickling from the corners of her eyes.

“Belle, please… don’t let them hurt my baby…”

I was there when each of us, her mother and I,

held a leg and spread her wide pushing

with all our strength against her pushing

and her husband sternly counting, "One, two, three,"

telling her to focus, harder.

“Girls,” Mom said as the next hour ticked by. “I think we’re going to need a more proactive approach.”

Luisa looked up from blotting Klara’s forehead. “What do you need us to do?”

“Help Klara scoot down, then come over here. You too, Daniella.”

Though reluctant to leave Klara’s side, Daniella came and stood by Mom. The girl in question winced as her position changed from a slight incline to flat on her back. “Mom?”

“Baby’s just having a little trouble, darling.” Mom looked up from her work and smiled gently. Her hair was beginning to fall into her eyes. Daniella brushed it away and redid the bobbypin. Her smile turned to one of gratitude.

“Thank you, dear,” she said kindly. “Now, you and Luisa need to take her legs. Make sure her foot’s planted against your chest and that she won’t accidentally kick free. Klara-“ she looked back up, “I’m going to give Baby a little help. All you have to do it listen carefully. When I say ‘push,’ you push. Can you do that for me?”

She nodded as Daniella took hold of her ankle with both hands, pressing it firmly along the line of her sternum. On Mom’s other side Luisa did the same thing and made nervous eye contact with her as Mom got down and reached inside again. Klara gasped as the hand entered, the position of her legs spreading her wider. Daniella felt her try and squirm away.

“Focus, Klara,” Luisa called. “Remember what Arthur said. Count backwards by twos.”

A sniffle, then, “Ten… eight… s-six…”

“Almost… I’ve got it! Now, Klara! Push!”

She didn’t need to tell her twice; Daniella had to replant her feet and push back against the bony foot suddenly being shoved through her chest. Was she always so strong? Even Luisa seemed surprised as she unbuckled her knees and forced Klara still as she groaned and eventually collapsed back again.

There was a strange, grainy sound like sand through a sifter; when Daniella looked down she could see all of the floor’s dust and dirt floating back to their home from knee-level. The silhouettes surrounding them weren’t silhouettes anymore. Instead there was about thirty people of all different ages and styles of dress, all whispering and watching.

“Not even married yet,” scoffed a portly man in a khaki suit with a knife in his back.

“It’s a right of passage. At least she gets to be inside,” clucked a blonde teenager, her colonial dress completely soaked with rain.

“Your sisters are here, dearie. Just keep going,” encouraged a middle-aged woman with an Irish accent.

In the midst of it all, a familiar spectre with a dark braid and a black hoodie stormed along the line of ghosts, giving anyone who tried to get closer a shove. “Back it up!” Belle hollered. “Give her some space!”

Daniella had no time to process it all; Mom was already calling for Klara to push again.

I was there when the doctor

reached in with Alice in Wonderland spoons

and there as her vagina became a wide operatic mouth

singing with all its strength;

first the little head, then the gray flopping arm,

then the fast swimming body, swimming quickly into our weeping arms.

“Your ma’s going to see the head soon.”

Daniella looked up. One ghost had broken free from the crowd; a spirit with short hair and a bullet wound on her chest that dripped blood down the front of her blue gingham dress. Klara looked up at her like she was seeing the face of God. Daniella had never seen this person before, but knew exactly who it must be.

“Daphne.” A fresh round of tears broke out and Klara reached up to touch her, but the ghost grabbed her hands before she could.

“We’ll have time for that later,” the ghost- Daphne! - said, smiling down at Klara so lovingly that Daniella felt weak in the knees. “I’m sorry I took so long to get here. I’ve missed you so much.”

Exactly on cue, Mom glanced up excitedly. “I can see the baby’s head, Klara! One more push should do it!”

“Just hold my hand, darlin’. You’ve got this.”

Klara nodded, took a deep breath, and pushed. Her silence turned to a moan which turned to a scream. The bolts holding the delivery table groaned ominously. The glow in the room brightened and Daniella ducked her head to shield her eyes, only to see the miracle occur.

First there was nothing. Then a forehead, a nose, a chin. One arm up, one arm down. A slimy gray-pink belly with a yellowish tube going inside. Tiny feet with tiny toes and tiny nails.

First there was nothing.

Then there was a baby.

“Fantastic,” Daphne whispered.

Daniella dropped Klara’s leg, arms suddenly full of lead. She couldn’t look away.

Klara collapsed back onto the bed, the glow and groaning vanishing. All was silent as Mom quickly snipped off the umbilical cord and wrapped the tiny body in a towel and took it to the other side of the room. Following after her, Luisa was asked to get Pogo and Daniella was asked to get Klara a blanket. “We need to prevent shock.”

Back at the bed, Daphne stroked Klara’s hair. “I have to go now, but I’m so proud of you. Don’t just live for me. Live for yourself, and our child.” She leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you. I love both of you.”

Three things happened on three distinct beats in this order:

The baby began to cry.

Daphne, and all of the other ghosts in the room, vanished.

Klara started to laugh.

That was when Daniella managed to get back to Klara and wrapped her in a thick wool blanket. She brushed her shoulder while wrapping her; she was suddenly freezing. But still she laughed with complete an utter rapture.

Smiling and blinking away tears in a mimicked gesture, Mom deposited the screaming bundle against Klara’s chest. The wailing lessened by a fraction. She held the baby reverently before looking up at Daniella with huge wet eyes.

“Look, Danni,” she laughed. “I did it!”

“Yeah,” Daniella cradled her sister against her shoulders while she cradled this new life. “You did.”

I was there in the room.

I remember.

Chapter Text

Here’s what everyone knew:

The baby was born at 2:17 AM on October 9, 2019. Around one month premature, nineteen inches long, weighing in a a little more than five and a half pounds. While the child miraculously showed no signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, there were other complications in the form of respiratory distress, low body temperature, and infant withdrawal syndrome. For the first week Pogo and Grace kept careful observation of the baby; just to make sure they could pass the withdrawal safely.

Klara didn’t sleep the entire time.

☂☂☂

Babies crave warmth; human warmth. They crave skin and heartbeats and being held tightly against the chest someone who loves them. Klara can relate. Pogo explained all of this to her when the baby was out of withdrawal; how they weren’t completely out of the wood yet, and that the baby was still very small and weak, and how Klara would play a vital role in returning the health to the child.

None of that mattered, of course. Not immediately. Because for the first time in a week, Klara finally got to hold her baby.

Belle faded into existence across from her on the bed, cross-legged and awestruck. It took a minute for Klara to notice her; seven days ago she had a person inside of her. Now that person was in her lap, warped in a blanket, and attempting to nurse from her. 

“It’s a girl,” Klara finally managed. “I mean, I’m gonna ask her what she thinks once she has enough personhood, but… yeah.”

“She’s fantastic,” Belle beamed.

Klara grinned and looked back down, fascinated, as the little mouth worked and sucked at her boob exposed by the undone buttons of the shirt she’d stolen from Luisa (or was it Arthur? Ivan? It didn’t matter anymore). She didn’t see much resemblance to her, or Daphne for that matter, and Klara had no memories of any biological family to compare to. As far as she could tell, the only person the baby looked like was, well, herself.

She rather liked that.

Her bedroom door creaked and she looked up to see five curious faces peering around the edge. “Knock, knock,” Arthur said with a barely-suppressed grin.

“Are we interrupting?” Ivan asked.

“Not at all!” Klara waved them over. “C’mon! You’ve got a niece to meet!” All of her brothers and sisters filtered into the room, Luisa bringing up the rear and holding an enormous teddy bear with a pink satin bow around its neck. “I see Mom already told you the news?”

Daniella grinned like a shark. “Final pool tally: four-hundred and and thirteen dollar, plus thirty-two cents, evenly split among Lu, Van, and your’s truly.”

“Guess who’s going to sleep through the night AND put in two down payments on his rent?” Ivan beamed.

Arthur groaned and sat on the edge of the bed. “Sure. Rub it in, why don’tcha?”

Ivan leaned against the bed frame and gave Arthur a look. “I think I’ve earned the right to brag about something in my life.”

“Low blow, bro,” Arthur replied, but was still smiling.

Luisa deposited the teddy bear at the foot of the bed while Daniella sat next to Arthur. Five climbed onto the bed and crawled around to Klara’s other side, peering over Klara’s shoulder at the bundle in her arms, suddenly looking very much like an ordinary thirteen year old girl. It was an illusion that was quickly shattered.

“I’ll be damned,” she said plainly, huffing a breathless chuckle, then looked up at Klara. “Have you picked a name yet?”

Klara beamed. “Laurel. Laurel Belle Hargreaves-Katz.”

“Perfect,” Arthur smiled and rubbed Klara’s shoulder. Belle’s spirit glowed a little brighter.

As if on cue, Laurel finished nursing and blinked sleepily up at the menagerie of faces above her. Did her real mother- some poor, terrified German girl desperate for answers- hold her like this? Did any of the nannies who had nursed them before Mom was built? Was the ability for a mother to cradle her newborn child purely intrinsic, or was there a muscle memory involved? The ability to transfer the right amount of pressure and to position one’s hands just right as to make a baby feel as safe and as loved as humanly possible? Klara didn’t know.

Here is what Klara knew:

She was in her bedroom. She was exhausted and achy and felt as though everything below her waist had been replaced by a black hole. On all sides she was surrounded by six out of nine people in the entire world she knew loved her. In her arms she held Laurel, who was alive and almost healthy and loved more than any child who had ever been brought up in this house. The room smelled faintly of crushed leaves and napalm.

Perfect, indeed.