Klaus creeps through the halls as quietly as he can. Just as he's about to turn the corner, he looks to his great-grandmother Belladonna and whispers, "Are you sure he's here?"
She nods enthusiastically. Klaus, encouraged by this, proceeds to round the corner. He makes it to the large window, turning back to Belladonna and silently counting to three before finally ripping the curtains open.
"Gotcha!" He yells. Ben groans, unfurling himself from the fetal position and dusting off his pants.
"How do you keep finding me?"
Klaus giggles as he helps his brother up. "Great-granny is really good at finding people." Klaus shares a conspiratorial grin with the woman, and Ben pouts.
"No fair," he whines, "using ghosts to help you win is cheating! They can phase through solid objects!"
Klaus sticks his tongue out at his brother. "It's not cheating, it's thinking outside the box. I'm just smart."
Ben scoffs, hands crossed over his chest. "You're lazy is what you are."
Klaus waves his hand dismissively. "Details, details," he says, before throwing an arm around Ben's shoulders and leading him downstairs.
"Anyway, let's go outside. I wanna catch some fireflies before dinner time!"
Klaus laughs as he chases the fireflies around the backyard. "You know, you'd probably catch more if you'd just use a jar or a net." Ben is perched on the porch swing their parents had bought almost exclusively for him, legs crossed like the mannerly little fourth-grader he is. The sun has yet to fully set, the summer season loathing to let go of its rays even as time trickled into the evening hours.
"Yeah, and then take all the fun out of it," Klaus retorts. He manages to snatch one, clasping his hands over it and running over to Ben and his jar. "Look, I got one!" He shoves his cupped hands in Ben's face, just barely cracking them open enough to show his brother the blinking little light between his fingers.
"I have no clue what's so fun about running around tirelessly and getting sweaty just to catch a single bug or two and let it go three minutes later. But whatever makes you happy," Ben tells him flippantly. He grabs the jar beside him and opens it so Klaus can put the firefly in and catch some more.
The lid is perforated this time, unlike when they were six and Klaus just put the bugs in the nearest mason jar he could find. Wednesday didn't mind when all the fireflies started dying from lack of oxygen, but Klaus certainly did. He'd cried, and Wednesday poked fun at him until he cried harder, at which point she attempted to make amends by telling him that this way, the ghost fireflies would light up the night for him all year round. He didn't seem to mind so much after that, but everyone still thought it best to keep the fireflies from dying around Klaus ever since then.
Ben doesn't actually know if there are ghost bugs, but Klaus never said anything about it, so he assumes they don't exist.
The boy is snapped from his musings when Klaus asks, "Hey, who's that?" He looks in the direction his brother's pointing in, to see a boy about their age. The kid examines his surroundings in confusion, still and unmoving just behind the treeline that borders their backyard. The stranger makes eye contact with them, visibly startling and turning to leave.
"Hey, wait up!" Klaus calls, running to meet them. Ben follows Klaus closely, curiosity piqued. They'd never met anybody their age in the neighborhood before. In fact, the only kids that live there are the ones next door, who are hardly outside long enough for anyone to even know what they look like. Hell, sometimes Ben forgets that they even have neighbors what with how rarely they see them.
The boy stops and turns to face them again as they catch up. Up close, Ben is able to make out his appearance- tan skin, messy black hair, and big brown eyes. He looks between the two brothers warily, which Ben finds odd, considering he's the one that popped up on their property.
"Who're you?" Klaus asks, not one for tact. The boy instinctively straightens, jaw jutting out and squaring his shoulders as if that made him cool or intimidating.
"I-I'm Number Two," Number Two says, tone sounding kind of like those soldiers in the military movie Ben watched once. Klaus quirks a brow.
"Number Two? At what?" Number Two's face goes blank, as if unsure how to respond.
Ben tilts his head. "Is that your name?" Number Two nods slowly, brows furrowed.
"Huh," Klaus says, then shrugs. He's heard weirder names- his sister is named after a day of the week, and to be honest, he's not even the slightest bit sure what a Pugsley is. "Okay. So, then, what are you doing here?" This seems to remind Number Two of something, as he scowls and clenches his fists.
"I needed to get away from my stupid brother," he spits, glaring at the dirt as if it'd done something to personally offend him. "And I'm sick of being stuck in the house."
"Are you our neighbor?" Ben points to the forest in the general direction of the Hargreeves estate. Number Two nods. "Hmm," he muses, then shares a look with Klaus. He gives the medium a shrug, and the curly-haired boy claps his hands together.
"Alright. Do you wanna play with us til you have to go home?" Number Two is visibly shocked by this sudden turn of events, but also isn't keen on returning before he absolutely has to.
"Okay. How do we play?" If Klaus was even remotely phased by the wording, he didn't let it show.
"Today, we're going to catch fireflies, and then put them in the jar. Usually we'd play guillotine or something, but Wednesday's hogging it and we were already trying to collect some earlier. Oh! Thanks for reminding me!" Klaus smiles up at thin air, confusing Number Two, before turning back to their guest. "I'm Klaus, and this is my brother Ben. It's very nice to meet you!" He continues to lead their new friend back to the firefly jar.
"Um, okay." Number Two doesn't know what else to say, which doesn't bother Klaus in the slightest, since he has the innate ability to hold a completely one-sided conversation. "How d-do we catch... fire-y flies?"
"It's very simple. You find one, then you chase after it, and then you cup it in your hands! And then Benny here will open the jar and you'll put it in as fast as you can to keep the other fireflies from escaping!"
They spend the next hour chasing the bugs around and putting them in the jar. It's very obvious to Ben that Number Two has likely never so much as heard of fireflies before, let alone caught any, as he takes a while to distinguish fireflies from every other bug he finds, and even longer to successfully catch one without squishing and killing it.
Eventually, they decide to move onto some other games, like Witch Doctor and tag. Klaus makes it a point to tell Number Two that he likes Witch Doctor the best, because their land is full of things they can put in any number of potions and the like.
"Why is your yard full of weird stuff, anyway?" Number Two asks them. "Almost everything in it is ei-either dead or some kind of poison."
"Because they're horrific," Ben tells him. "And mother loves the dreadful side of things." Klaus nods enthusiastically.
"It's a family thing," he tells Number Two proudly. "We all have a fondness for the frightful. They're actually quite lovely." He shows Number Two their mother's flowers closer to the front of the yard.
"These are her best. They come out the prettiest every year. Their scientific name is Convallaria majalis, but most people call them Lily of the valley or May Bells. And then these are her Mountain-laurels, or Kalmia latifolia, and her Hemlocks- Conium maculatum. They're not as pretty as the May Bells or the Mountain-laurels, but just as deadly. But Oleander and Belladonna are way more poisonous- they're over there- and they look absolutely lovely during full bloom. I like Oleander's colors the best, but Belladonna just sounds so beautiful. That's probably why my great grandmother was named Belladonna, it's much more fitting than Oleander or Hemlock, though I suppose Laurel could've worked."
"You sure know a lot about this stuff," Number Two says, voice wavering somewhere in the midst of amused, wary, and awed. Klaus preens.
"Yes, of course! I want to work with these too one day, and mother will only let me if I know what I'm doing." Poisonous plants are probably the only thing Klaus will ever willingly study. Ben knows that by now, Klaus has already finished almost all of the toxicology and plant-related books they have in their family library, which is honestly a lot. Mother was very proud to hear that her son is so fascinated with poisons, and has taken to buying him books at nearly every opportunity.
Ben, who is a regular to the family library, finds this beneficial as well, because there can never be enough books. However, he makes sure to regularly request other things as well, since he doesn't find poisons nearly as interesting as Klaus does. They aren't quite old enough to understand some of the older texts the library has yet, but their parents are somehow always able to find books that were an easy enough read for nine-year-olds to understand. He's fairly certain it has something to do with a great uncle of theirs who writes books- he's seen some of his works, like Guillotine Assembly and Care for Kids and The Art of Strangulation, Beginners' Edition.
"How poisonous are most of these, anyway?"
"Very. They can cause all sorts of things, from as minor as a stomachache to dysentery to death."
"Bloody diarrhea and inflamed intestines," Ben pipes up. "It's an extremely painful infection, and you can die from it if left untreated." Number Two is now thoroughly disturbed, and Ben can't help but smile as the boy inches away from the plants.
"Don't worry, you won't die just from touching them. Mother doesn't grow any contact-poisons. You'd have to get them in your body for it to hurt you." Klaus blinks. "Ben, do you think feeding them to Cthulhu would kill it?"
"I'm not sure. I don't think it even eats. If it does, it's probably getting its food through me, which means we share a stomach and I would also die." Klaus pouts.
"That's a shame," he says. "It would be awesome if Cthulhu was immune to everything."
"What?" Number Two couldn't seem to decide which person he wanted to ask, because he keeps looking between the two of them incredulously. "What's a Cth-c-clu- what is that? Why is it part of your stomach?"
"I have tentacles that live in my stomach, and everyone calls it Cthulhu like the Eldritch horror." It's only after he says this that Ben wonders if it's perhaps too soon to mention something like this. After all, while his family doesn't mind his extra passenger in the slightest, it doesn't take a genius to see that the Addams family is far from the norm. None of the kids at school are comfortable with his abnormality, as most of them are either afraid of him or simply don't believe that he actually has a bundle of tentacles hiding in his abdomen.
"Huh," Number Two says. "That's kind of weird."
"You don't seem very surprised."
"I mean, that's definitely different, but one of my brothers can teleport, and I don't need to breathe, so it's not like you're alone." Klaus' eyes light up at this.
"Does that mean you're like us?"
"If by that you mean if I have powers, then yes."
"Yeah, but like, are you one of the 43 too? A miracle?"
Number Two's brows furrow. "I wouldn't call it a miracle, but yeah, me and my siblings were all born to random ladies on October 1st."
"Of course you're a miracle! That's what mother calls us, at least. Isn't your family happy to have you?" Number Two's face twists with an emotion Ben can't recognize as anything other than anguish. Seeing the boy shrink in on himself, he rushes to change the topic.
"Klaus, why don't we keep playing? We don't have much time before supper."
"Okay! What should we do next?" Klaus tilts his head, seemingly waiting for a response. Just as Number Two opens his mouth, a smile spreads across Klaus' face. "You're absolutely right!" He exclaims suddenly, and then turns to his new friend. "Two, let's play Inquisition!"
Before Number Two can ask what that is, Klaus skips ahead to grab the thin blanket from the porch swing. He turns instead to Ben, and asks, "is he always like this?"
"Depends on what you mean."
"Like, bouncing around and stuff. And talking to thin air." Ben hums.
"Yeah, probably. I mean, it's not like I remember what he was like when we were babies, but as far as I know, he's always been hyper. And he's not talking to thin air."
"Then what is he talking to?"
"Ghosts," Ben tells him quite plainly. If Number Two wasn't surprised by Cthulhu, he shouldn't be surprised by Klaus being a medium either. "He can see and talk to them, and sometimes he can make them visible." What a day that'd been, Ben thinks, recalling the time that Klaus had accidentally summoned a ghost at the dinner table. They were all extremely pleased, but their parents also made sure to make a new rule- no summoning ghosts at the table. However, they followed this up by giving them all cake, which probably wasn't the best way to prevent Klaus from doing something they didn't want him to do.
"A-are they ugly?"
"Sometimes." Ben remembers that the ghost Klaus summoned that first time was covered in blood and screaming. "Klaus thinks it's really funny, usually. As long as they don't try waking him up."
Klaus flounces over to them with the thin blanket now wrapped around his tiny nine-year-old shoulders. "I am King Ferdinand of Spain!" He cries, waving a stick at them. "The Spanish Inquisition is now in order!"
"If you're Ferdinand, where's Isabella?" They usually play this game with Wednesday and Pugsley, as purging heretics was only fun when you weren't sure who was actually a heretic.
"Isabella is on a diplomatic voyage!"
"That's not historically correct."
"Shut up, heathen!" Klaus thwacks Ben with his stick, which Ben swats away half-heartedly.
They play until the sun finally begins to set, and Morticia comes to summon her sons for dinner.
"Boys, supper will be ready soon. I'm afraid you'll have to retire for today and wash up in time to eat." Klaus sighs dramatically.
"Coming Mother!" Both boys say as one. They look at their friend somewhat regretfully. "I guess you'll have to go then," Ben says, "before your family comes looking for you."
"But we can play again soon, right?" Klaus' eyes are wide and hopeful, making Number Two lean away awkwardly.
"Uh, we'll-we'll see. I'm not usually allowed out, but I-I'll try and come back as soon as I can." That was enough for the young medium, who smiles brightly, and pulls the other boy into a sudden hug.
"See you later, Two!" Klaus grabs Ben by the wrist and runs back to the house. Just as Number Two turns to leave, he hears the curly-haired Addams call out to him. "Hey, wait!"
Klaus returns with the jar of fireflies in hand, offering them up to a confused Number Two. "Here, I almost forgot," he says, shoving them closer to the other boy.
"Why?" Number two queries. "I thought y-you wanted those?"
"I can catch them anytime I like. But you're not allowed out a lot, right? I could tell you've never seen these before. So you can take them instead. Though, you'll probably have to release them before you go to bed, or else they'll die." Number Two takes the jar from Klaus, staring at the blinking little lights in wonder. He has to admit, they were really pretty, and it makes him happy that Klaus wants to give them to him. He does feel somewhat embarrassed that he's obviously never seen these things before today- he didn't even know that that wasn't normal until he decided to hop the fence that evening.
Still, he manages a quiet, "thank you," and is kind of amazed to see Klaus' face brighten even more. He doesn't know it yet, but Klaus doesn't have many friends outside of his family. And while the young Addams child doesn't quite mind this, he's still a very social creature (surprising, when comparing him to the likes of his sister), and is always mildly disappointed when people avoid him in school. He definitely has more friends than Wednesday, but it wasn't like she was even trying. She doesn't like friends at all, says they're only good for when you want to stab them in the back dramatically. (Klaus is all for drama, but he still wants friends.)
"No problem," Klaus assures him, before adding, "see you soon." With a lingering smile, he runs back inside where the rest of his family is waiting for him. Number Two stands there for a moment, watching the shadows through the windows of a happy family gathering for a meal. They're loud and full of joy and laughter, something he didn't know belonged at the meal table until this moment, and something in him aches. He shakes it off, knowing his own dinnertime will be starting soon, and runs home.
"I saw that you seemed to have made a friend," Morticia says at dinner. Her youngest sons nod in unison.
"We found him wandering the perimeter," Ben informs. "Klaus was the one that wanted to talk to him."
"His name is Number Two!" Klaus is proud to have befriended someone his age, especially since this 'Number Two' is actually alive. "He lives next door!"
This causes Gomez to slow in his eating for a second, before resuming his normal pace. "Oh? You mean the house with the large umbrella on the gates?" Ben nods.
"He ran through the woods, and I guess he got a little lost, because he somehow made it to our backyard."
"Number Two is an interesting name," Morticia remarks. "Do you know where he got it?"
"Nope!" Klaus pops the 'p' and shoves another piece of chicken in his mouth.
Gomez and Morticia share a look. It's not to say that they don't like the Hargreeves, necessarily, or even that they don't want their children speaking to them- they're quite pleased to hear that their sons are making friends. However, they both know full well that Reginald Hargreeves is not the safest of men, and while the naming could simply mean the man was fond of numbers, the couple is sure that it means something far different.
Still, this is just a bit of a hunch, one that their Grandmama doesn't seem to pick up on, since she's still giving Pugsley a bit of a hard time about the mess he's been making at the table so far. So they decide to just take quiet note of this fact and leave the matter be.
"I'm very glad to hear you're getting along with the other children in the neighborhood," Gomez flashes a kind smile at his sons, who smile back. "Maybe next time you can have them over for dinner." Ben grins, and Klaus lets out a squeal of excitement, his cup vibrating in the slightest. It catches Morticia's eye, but she doesn't bring it up.
"We'll be sure to ask next time," Ben assures his father. They then move on to other topics, and the matter is nearly forgotten.
Dread coils in Number Two's stomach as he gets closer to his house. His father is probably incredibly unhappy that he ran away- and there's no way he doesn't know, considering the cameras that cover every inch of the place.
Still, he has to return at some point, or face the consequences that would surely be worse if he forces his father to come get him. So he steels himself and knocks on the front door.
Pogo opens it, giving Number Two a look of appraisal (and moderate weariness). He sighs and opens the door wider for Number Two to step inside.
"Welcome home, Mister Two," he greets. Number Two nods.
"Thanks, P-pogo," he murmurs.
"Would you like me to take that for you?" Pogo's hands reach out to the blazer Number Two has balled up in his arms. "If it's dirty, I will see to it that it is washed." Number Two shakes his head. His jar of fireflies is hidden in it, and he's not very keen on the idea of letting anyone see it- he knows there's no way his father will let him keep them if he sees them.
"I'm fine, Pogo, it was just a bit h-hot out. It's summer," the boy points out. Just as Pogo looks as if he's about to say something, someone clears their throat. They turn to find Reginald striding over to them, expression tight.
"Number Two," he begins, and the child tries his best not to shrink in on himself. "Do you have even the slightest idea what time it is?"
"I-i-it," he gulps, feeling even worse when the corners of his father's lips curl downwards at his stutter. He takes a shaky breath and tries again. "I-it's a-almos-t dinner, sir."
"And where, exactly, have you been this whole time?" Number Two opens his mouth and then quickly shuts it, not wanting to tell his father about Klaus and Ben. Was it wrong to already see them as friends, as his little secret? It was something special that he never wanted to share, especially not with his father, as that might ruin things. He doesn't want the magic getting ruined.
Reginald quirks a brow as his son opens his mouth and then closes it once more. "I did not raise a fish, Number Two," he says, as if he raised Number Two at all. Still, the boy knew better than to voice that opinion, lest he never see the light of day again.
"I-I w-w-wandered in-in-into some-someone's backy-ard."
"And you stayed there?" Number Two shifts his hold on his cargo for a moment.
"Doing what, exactly?" The jar of fireflies seem to get heavier in his arms.
"Talk-talking. A-about flow-flowers," he adds quickly.
"T-t-they li-like flowers," Number Two cringes at this, knowing this not only doesn't impress his father, but that he may have just given away his location with this. There were only two houses in this specific area of the neighborhood that have a garden of any sort (especially in the backyard), and only one of them belongs to a family. The other was a very old woman who lived alone with her many stray pets.
"The Addams family, hm?" Those words threaten to squeeze all the hope from Number Two's chest, knowing that he did, in fact, give away his location. "Very well."
Number Two's eyes widen at his father, but he remains silent, knowing better than to ask.
"There are worse places you could've wound up," Reginald decides, before dismissing his son, who wasn't yet shocked enough to pass up the opportunity to leave as soon as possible. "Be sure to clean up, dinner is in thirty minutes and we will not wait for you."
As Number Two retreats, he hears Reginald pose a question to Pogo. "The Addams, they have two sons born October first, do they not?"
"They do, sir. They were why we-"
"Yes," Reginald interrupts his butler. "I know. It is why I have yet to punish Number Two for his behavior today."
Number Two sprints up the stairs, the voices fading behind him. If he'd stayed, he might've heard the rest of the conversation, and maybe it might've changed the way things play out in the future. But he doesn't, and it won't.
Instead, he makes it to his room, hides his jar in his closet, washes his hands and changes his clothes, and goes back down for dinner.
It's late at night when Number Two finds the courage to take out the fireflies. He double checks the lock on his door, before grabbing the jar and sitting on the window sill.
He watches them for a while, the way they dance, glittering little lights spinning around each other gracefully. He knows they're just bugs, that there's a very plain and boring reason why they light up, and yet he doesn't let that stop his tentative imagination from pulling him into the magic of it. If he just sits back, lets his eyes glaze over as he watches them float, he thinks he sees fairies, fluttering and twirling about. He thinks he sees embers, little sparks of flame that glow and hum with warmth and never die out, birthed by an unknown fire and swirling, flying away into the night sky.
He thinks he sees beauty, or at least something beautiful, with the potential for more as it gleams the way lightning does, flashing in and out, bright and maybe a little mindless, but something to behold. Something that radiates heat, a smoldering bolt that leaves you maybe a little breathless.
He sees hope, maybe because of the day that passed, with the boys with the big eyes and warm smiles and how one of them saw nothing wrong with handing him this piece of wonder, something so small and seemingly mundane, but that fills him with fascination. Something full of magic and beauty, like fairies or glowing embers, that glimmers in the sky like stars and illuminates the night.
And as he thinks this, his heart fills in his chest, expanding until he thinks it's stealing room from his lungs, getting larger and filling with something light and fuzzy until he thinks he just might float away, float like the fireflies, float to the moon. And so he unscrews the cap, a whisper of something like a wish to his ears, and watches as one by one, these shining little lights of hope, sparks that set off fire, escape into the night sky, glittering and gleaming like the twinkling stars.
He's so taken by the beauty of it all that he almost falls forward out the window, his heart aching with the desire to take flight with them, to leave everything behind and become a glowing ember, a shard of lightning, a glimmer of hope.
And maybe some tears fall, but Number Two is alone, so who is to tell?