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Cats Will Do As They Please

Chapter Text

“I still love you, even if you can’t love yourself!” Klaus called to Five’s retreating figure, spitting the stale bagel out dramatically. He glanced at Ben’s smirk.

“What?” he grumbled, continuing his search of the dumpster. He had only dumped the papers here the day before and all of the same bags of trash remained. He recognized the slightly mushy bag leaking questionable contents. So where were those papers?!

“Arg!” he growled, throwing back his head and baring his teeth at the sky. Pogo was never going to stop riding him. He stomped angrily, taking small comfort in the hollow metallic clangs his feet produced. Clangs and a feral growl. Klaus stopped his tantrum, startled by the sound. He had lived on the streets for a long time and had categorized the sounds they held.

There were the creaks of older construction towering precariously over some alleys and the choked yips of weaker dogs encountering stronger, meaner dogs. There were the sounds of blissful laughter, a bright contrast to the dingy streets and low, mournful sounds of passion. These sounds Klaus tended to avoid because they meant company and if Klaus was on the street, he usually had made a conscious decision that had ended up with him alone for a reason. Sounds of passion could quickly turn into sounds of apathy and Klaus just couldn’t stomach the train of thoughts that accompanied apathy.

This sound, however, he knew well. Feral growls like that were almost always accompanied by the longer yowls of animals in heat, specifically alley cats. Alley cats were a different breed of cat altogether. If street dogs were mean, alley cats were vicious. Street dogs used physical intimidation techniques, arching their backs to make themselves seem bigger and pulling back their lips to let their fangs glisten in the dim light. Alley cats didn’t bother with anything so menial. Alley cats were simpler, if not more effective, beings. Whereas street dogs growl as a warning to keep away, feral cats growl as an attack cry. If you heard the growl, it was already too late for you to avoid whatever assault was coming.

It was for this reason that Klaus felt giving a flinch was an appropriate reaction. He was not going to engage in a one sided blood match for scraps of food. Even if his belly wasn’t currently full, no scrap was worth the plethora of complications that wounds from a cat could bring on the street. No way. He cautiously peered over the side of the dumpster, moving almost comically slowly, as Ben hopped down from his perch to peer beside him. Klaus gave his brother an irritated look. If Ben provoked this cat and it attacked Klaus, he was never going to let Ben hear the end of it.

His irate train of thought was abruptly derailed by the sight of his adversary. Adversary seemed too strong of a word for the creature before him. It was unmistakably a cat, that was for certain. However, it wasn’t one of those mangy cats that were more filthy mats than fur. Oh no. This was one of the fanciest alley cats Klaus had ever encountered. He didn’t even think it could qualify as an alley cat, with its clean, glossy hair and eyes free of gunk. No, this cat was quite simply the prettiest cat Klaus had ever seen. It’s been Klaus’ experience that pretty things were that much more dangerous than regular dangerous things because the façade threw you off. Made you relax. Klaus gritted his teeth in preparation.

He wondered idly if this cat was someone’s pet.

The cat made a low growl in the back of its throat again, looking up at Klaus with poisonous green eyes, hunched at the ready to defend whatever it had claimed in the dumpster. Ben echoed the low noise the cat had made, startling Klaus and, surprisingly enough, the cat? Klaus whipped his eyes from Ben back to the cat, taking in the way the cat wilted slightly with the appearance of a second adversary. But... that wasn’t right. Ben was dead. Ben, his brother, his constant companion no one else ever believed was there, much less saw, was dead. Incorporeal. Despite this, the cat was staring openly at Ben, following Ben’s movement as he shifted to the lip of the dumpster. It was clear the cat saw Ben and, other than seeming a tad put out by another presence, was not in the least bit impressed or intimidated.

Now Klaus, having seen spirits his whole life, found this behavior slightly odd. Yeah, Ben wasn’t a bloody mess of a person like most spirits were, but he possessed an eerie aura around him nonetheless. He was both natural and unnatural, a natural essence and supernatural being at the same time. He had observed how strangers naturally gravitated away from Ben, minutely and unnoticed. Animals howled when he neared them, never acknowledging him but reacting to the wrongness his presence exuded.

This cat clearly didn’t care about any perceived wrongness or about acknowledging any threat. This cat seemed perfectly happy, smug even, to stare Ben down, like the cat would and could rip him to shreds. Klaus glanced back to Ben hesitantly, only to see a look of unfettered glee on Ben’s face. Klaus was never sober (yay for no ghosts) but that meant Ben was often alone with just Klaus for company. Even that was just some of the time, depending on how wasted he got. As far as Klaus knew, this was the first time Ben had been acknowledged by any creature, living or deceased, since he had died. After all, there weren’t a lot of ghost friends Ben could make because, again, drugs.

Glee was clearly not the reaction the cat was expecting, because a hint of puzzlement inserted itself into the glare. With the imminent threat of his disembowelment via feline averted, Klaus let out a delighted chuckle. This turn of events was absolutely delightful.

“Look at the little pussy cat!” he cooed at it, clasping his hands in pleasure. The “little pussy cat” pointed its stare back at Klaus, the hairs on its back standing up in offence. Klaus waved it off as Ben hopped down from the dumpster and neared the cat. The cat backed away warily, the air of being the one in charge of the situation wavering a bit. This cat was used to being the scariest one in the room and it definitely showed. If Klaus didn’t know better, he would say the cat was trying to save face as Ben crept nearer.

“No collar,” Ben announced, inspecting the neck as best as he could as tufts of fluffy hair obscured his view. “Probably doesn’t belong to anyone?”

That’s your take away from this encounter? You looking for a companion, Ben? A friendly,” he paused, observing the scowling expression and unimpressed air of the cat, “face to greet you each day after work? To snuggle with you in the evenings? Am I no longer enough for you?” he sniffed dramatically.

Ben, predictably, glared at him. He was as aware as Klaus was that not only did they not have a “place of dwelling” as Klaus sometimes referred to continual living spaces, he was also dead. Very dead. And the dead, as Ben was ever so painfully aware of, could not, in fact, snuggle. Among a plethora of other things.

“You’re an ass, you know that, right?” Ben groused. Klaus just gave him a shit eating grin.

The dreary clouds that hung low took that opportunity to begin to weep, a heavy drizzle engulfing the alley. Klaus sighed dramatically again, eyes heavenward as he implored the universe as to why nothing was working out in his favor. Ben rolled his eyes, shifting on his feet just for something to do. The cat growled low again, swiping at his too close form and swiping a second time when its paw was met with nothing but air. Klaus had expected it to turn tail and find a dry place to wait out the weather, but the cat looked even more determined to make a stand. For what, Klaus couldn’t imagine. Yeah, a food source was precious enough to defend, but there was also a hierarchy of needs when living on the street. Shelter usually preceded food on the list, mostly because shelter meant warmth, or at the very least, an absence of worsening cold. Food didn’t assist in the maintenance of core temperature whatsoever. Plus, didn’t cats hate getting wet?

Klaus weighed the merits of continuing his search in the steadily increasing rain versus giving up and having Pogo hound him for dear Daddy’s papers. He had already torn through every inch of the dumpster and had located nothing promising. Five had driven away ages ago and Ben was looking thoughtfully down the alley, like he was about to disappear to wherever he went off to. Searching without Ben to poke fun at, or get poked by in return, was definitely not as exhilarating. Besides, he was beginning to observe the shadowy figures of the ghosts slipping into the corners of his vision as the drugs receded. He was definitely not going to search for anything whilst sober.

With a decisive clap, making both Ben and the cat jump a good foot in the air, he declared, “Welp, Benny boy, let’s call it a night!”

“But it’s barely noon-“, Ben began.

“Nah ah ah!” Klaus interrupted loudly, hopping down beside his brother. He noticed the cat still stood its ground, though it looked more inconvenienced than mad at this point. Plus, he couldn’t take that adorable little scowl seriously with water dripping off its whiskers. “I’m hungry. I wonder if we could convince Mom to whip a little something up, hmm? Nice change of pace from dumpster diving!” He gestured to the half masticated bagel littering the ground.

“You just want to get high again,” Ben said in resignation.

“Mwauh? But of course!” He waved his ‘Goodbye’ hand at the cat. With a flourish, he twirled on his heel, making extra sure his patchwork coat flared out behind him dramatically, and began to march towards the opposite end of the alleyway. He didn’t even need to turn around to see if Ben was following him because he heard a quiet farewell to the cat (and since when did Ben speak to animals?) before he trailed Klaus, just inside his peripheral vision.

Ben kept his silence as Klaus held open the gates to the front door for his brother (he wasn’t without manners thank you very much). Klaus wouldn’t have normally cared about Ben’s silence, relished in it even, except for the fact that he couldn’t get Ben’s exuberant face out of his head. Ben hadn’t looked that excited in, well, as far back as Klaus can remember. Definitely not since he had died. What was there to be excited about if your life consisted of being tethered to your junkie brother who overdosed sometimes for fun?

“Fluffernutter,” Ben stated pensively.

“I beg your pardon?” Klaus asked, startled into his manners.

“Fluffernutter,” Ben repeated, his pensive face turning towards Klaus. Klaus stared at him blankly. “You know, the sandwich?” Klaus most definitely did not know.

Ben let out an exasperated noise behind closed lips. “The sandwich. Five’s favorite sandwich. The one Vanya used to make for him every night after he disappeared? With peanut butter and marshmallow fluff?”

Klaus pursed his lips for a moment before carefully asking, “Is that what you want Mom to make for you?”

“What? No, you idiot. The cat. I want to name it Fluffernutter.”

Klaus studied Ben’s face for any clue as to how to approach this sudden conversation. Was Ben joking? Why was he suddenly thinking of their missing brother’s favorite snack? What did peanut butter and marshmallow fluff have to do with some feral cat they encountered in an alleyway?

“Alright,” Klaus agreed neutrally, too sober to tease Ben about ghost Alzheimer’s or whatever was going on with him.

Ben was clearly losing his patience. “The cat. It was a calico. You know, the cats that have black and gold and white markings?”

“I know very well what a calico is,” Klaus sniffed haughtily. “We all had the same schooling, you know.”

“I sometimes wonder- nevermind. Fluffernutter sandwiches are gold and white. Toasted, they blacken. Calicos are black, gold, and white.” He repeats this last part like Klaus has a single brain cell incapable of any sort of conjecture. Which is quite frankly insulting, because Klaus happens to know he owns three brain cells, thank you very much.

“Ahhh,” Klaus says absently, tracing the umbrella design inlaid into the gate to the house. He was trying to decipher if Ben wanted his input on this declaration or if he should just let it be a statement.

“They are also almost exclusively female,” Ben continued, ignoring Klaus’ disinterested look. “Because the gene for coat color in cats is on the X gene and females have two X genes, so when a cat inherits one black X gene and one gold X gene, X inactivation randomly turns one off, creating the unique pattern-“

“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Klaus interrupts, waving a hand to dismiss all the information Ben just began spouting without warning. “Dear Papá would be so very proud of you and your retention of cat coloring-“

“Genetics-“

“-Whatever. My coat is getting damp Ben. You can’t imagine what water does to the material -“

“I’m sure I can,” Ben mutters.

“-and fashionable clothing is so delicate and you know how hard it is to find-“

Ben didn’t even acknowledge his existence as he walked right through Klaus and into the house.


“MANNERS Ben! Who raised you, a wolf? We do not walk through people!” Klaus hollered towards him as he stomped inside, shutting the door a bit too hard behind him.

Chapter Text

Klaus padded down the stairs of the Academy, barefoot and exasperated. It had been a week since they had stopped the apocalypse, since they discovered their dear baby sister had powers, since Allison had lost her voice, since he had made Ben corporeal. One whole week since he lost Dave, the grief washing over him in irregular and violent waves. One whole week of being sober as the day he was born. One whole week of the dead wailing in his ears incessantly.

 

His earphones cradled his ears, but the music was silent. It was just for show, anyways. Not that Klaus didn’t want to listen to his music right now, he most definitely did, but he wanted to not throw up more. That morning he had woken up with the manifestations of a migraine that had been building in strength throughout the day. It began with a faint, but distinct, pressure behind his eyes that gradually built until it felt like his eyeballs would liquidate. Currently, it was preparing to evolve into something fiercer, and Klaus didn’t want to recall what it was like to have a migraine with nothing in his stomach. Dry heaves and migraines usually ended up with him passed out with only hypoglycemia to awaken to.

 

The silent earphones served two purposes: one, it prevented his siblings from thinking he could hear them and therefore staved off conversation and two, it tricked (some) of the ghosts into believing he wasn’t capable of listening and (sometimes) took the wails from ear-splitting to just booming, which would only do good things for his migraine.

 

It didn’t help that it had been storming quite violently all day, thunder claps vibrating the walls and lightning illuminating dark rooms into brilliantly lit spaces. Dark rooms such as Klaus’ own bedroom, which had been blessedly dark before the storms rolled in. He had even unplugged his fairy lights, sacrificing his safety net of visibility to the invisibility the dead preferred. Thus, the purpose of his earphones, despite them being only partially effective. The bright flashes also drove him to wakefulness, in all its agony and despair, and he could only take so much tossing and turning before he had to get up and just do something.

 

He had decided that going down to raid the refrigerator served the purpose of doing something and staving off hypoglycemia. Two birds with one stone was more appealing than no birds, or whatever the opposite of that saying was. Was there an opposite to that saying? Two birds in the hand were worth one in the tree? That wasn’t quite right. Why was he even thinking about birds anyways-

 

An especially loud clap of thunder shook the house, followed by the slamming of… the front door? This was immediately followed by a streak of something on the ground and a sudden and sharp pain radiating from his foot accompanied by a spray of cold water. His brain was still reeling from so much sensory input when Diego appeared before him in the foyer, brows knit in curiosity.

“What-“ was all Diego got out before a bigger streak of sister sprinted between them, wailing a “nooooooooo” and knocking both Diego and Klaus to the ground. The fall reverberated through his skull, ratcheting up his migraine tenfold. Klaus was quite proud the complete scale of his agony was not betrayed by his vocal cords. The only sound that escaped was a breathy moan he hastily cut off as soon as he realized the sound was coming from him.

 

Diego, of course, recovered first. “Vanya, what-“ he spluttered, untangling himself from Klaus’ lanky legs that had somehow mixed with his own in the fall. Klaus bit his tongue to stop the wince caused by Diego’s voice. As his brain quieted its agonized screams at him, Klaus became aware of the sharp, hot pain in his foot. Glancing from around his knee, his foot greeted him, sporting several long, thin, bleeding cuts. Had Vanya stepped on his foot when she had toppled him over? No… there was something that happened before that. His brain slogged along, struggling to process everything that had just happened in spite of the all consuming pain. Thunder, a door slammed, a streak of…

 

“Fluffernutter…?” Klaus breathed, because Klaus was fairly certain if he made any sound louder than a whisper, his brain would implode and leak out his ears. Which, honestly, might provide some sort of relief right about now. He concentrated on the blood wending its way from one of the larger cuts between his toes.

 

“What?” Diego stopped extricating himself from Klaus’ limp legs, sending a spike of pain into his brain. It didn’t make him want to claw his eyes out of his head, however, so Klaus hoped his migraine was ebbing back to where it had been moments before… this.

 

“Fluffernutter,” Klaus said again, voice a bit stronger. He tore his eyes away from his bleeding foot and scooted away from Diego, standing in one fluid motion. Black and white spots danced across his eyes, but he ignored them, stumbling into the living room where Vanya, and possibly a cat, had disappeared.

 

“Fluffernutter? Klaus? I… what?” Diego called after him, but Klaus was already in motion and stopping now wasn’t an option. He wended his way through the austere furniture, following the cooing and shushing sounds his sister was directing under a couch.

 

Klaus kneeled carefully beside his sister, removing his headphones and placing them on a side table. Vanya had already shoved herself halfway under the couch, leaving only her lower half of her body visible. Klaus steeled himself for another change in longitude as he lowered himself to the floor next to her. Vanya had somehow located and sequestered a working flashlight and the beam was currently illuminating a spitting mad, sopping wet, and very familiar cat.

 

Fluffernutter’s long coat was absolutely soaked, a rapidly growing puddle spreading out in every direction. Her green eyes were almost consumed by black, despite the light source. She was alternating between throaty growls and vicious hissing, spittle flying everywhere.

 

Vanya kept up a stream of whispered words, trying to simultaneously calm and get closer to the cat. Judging by the murderous look in her eyes, Fluffernutter was having none of it. Klaus was torn between concern for Vanya and concern for the cat. Vanya’s powers were nowhere near stable after only one week.

 

“Vanya, Klaus, what the hell?” Diego had clearly made his way from the foyer and now stood behind them. Vanya didn’t stop her steady stream of words, so Klaus figured it was up to him to tell Diego what was going on. Not that he was entirely sure what was going on, either. But he also didn’t want to risk startling Vanya or escalating the situation, so he carefully made his way to a sitting position. Only a wave of dizziness washed over him instead of the expected nausea, so there was that. He waggled the fingers of his ‘Hello’ hand in preamble. Diego arched an eyebrow.

 

“Sooooo,” Klaus began, letting the word lengthen and fade. “There’s a cat under the couch.”

 

“A cat?” Diego echoed, glancing at Vanya’s contorted, half visible body. “And what is a cat doing underneath our couch?”

 

“I think Vanya let it in,” Klaus shrugged.

 

“No shit,” Diego said in exasperation, motioning to their sister who seemed to be trying to disappear completely under the couch. Diego stared at Klaus, arms crossed, waiting. Probably for more specifics. Well, he was so outta luck, because beyond the fact that there was indeed a cat underneath the couch and that Vanya had something to do with its current location, Klaus had no idea how this situation had come about.

 

After a long stretch of silence, only interrupted by Vanya’s desperate attempts to soothe an angry, wet, feral, cat, Diego threw up his hands with a frustrated noise and turned away from Klaus, running his hands through his short hair. He took a couple of deep breaths, probably something he learned in the police academy because no one in this house knew a single thing about calming techniques, before turning back to Klaus with a slightly less murderous expression on his face. Vanya had taken that time to begin wriggling out from underneath the couch, much to Klaus’ relief. He had already relayed all of the information he knew and his aching brain flat out refused to provide anything else.

 

Vanya peered up at Diego and had the decency to look sheepish. She fidgeted with the hem of her shirt before drawing herself up and addressing him. “I heard scratching at the door, so I went to look because it could have been someone who needed help-“ at this, Diego and Klaus exchanged a look over Vanya’s head, “-and when I opened it, there was this cat sitting there, and it was all wet and shivering so I went to pick it up to bring it inside and I guess it didn’t want to be picked up so it ran straight at my feet and…” Vanya trailed off, going quiet. “It ended up here,” she finished rather lamely.

 

Silence fell, punctuated only by the growls of thunder and the even louder growls of the unhappy cat. Diego looked like he wanted to shake Vanya in frustration, but also kind of like he wanted to go upstairs and just leave this situation altogether. His fingers twitched, like he kept deciding to do something and aborting it immediately after. Vanya watched him warily, fluctuating between standing confidently and curling in on herself. Klaus could take a guess on what was going through his mind. Their sister had opened the door with the intention of inviting a stranger inside after everything that had just happened only a week before fresh in their minds. Vanya, who wouldn’t purposely hurt a fly, but could also level a city block in seconds. Their sister, who no longer needed their protection but woke up every single brotherly instinct in the both of them regardless.

 

Diego was silent for so long, Klaus began to weigh whether he could just get up and leave the room so he could go and get food. Or go and find his bed. Either, at this point, were acceptable outcomes.

 

Diego, however, surprised him.

 

“Fluffernutter?” Diego said, ending the word a little higher than the beginning, like it was a question he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer to.

 

“Ah,” Klaus said, because he was never a connoisseur of words on his best day, and this was definitely not one of those. He ploughed on when Diego opened his mouth again. “That’s the name of the cat. Ben named it. Because of fluffernutter sandwiches.”

 

What?” Diego growled, clearly getting to the end of his patience.

 

“Fluffernutters!” Vanya exclaimed at the same time. “Of course!”

 

Klaus glanced over at Ben, who had finally decided to grace them with his presence. “Yeah, Fluffernutter. Five’s favorite snack. They are gold and white and black. Sort of. So is the cat.” He gestured helplessly to the couch.

 

Ben rolled his eyes. “Very eloquent,” he observed dryly. Klaus gave him a dirty look.

 

“What about fluffernutters?” a voice interjected. Klaus whipped his head towards his littlest and oldest brother, who now hovered in the doorway. His head wailed a protest and he pressed his back harder into the couch as he willed his vision to return.

 

“What are you doing here?” Diego snapped, clearly losing his hold on his temper.

 

Five gave him an even look. “I followed the bloody footprints.” He gestured to the glossy red footprints that were beginning to dry to burgundy. Klaus glanced down at his foot, now streaked with flaking and clotted blood, and winced. Mom was going to be very disappointed.

 

Diego apparently didn’t know how to respond to that, so he settled on ignoring Five and turned back to Klaus and Vanya. Vanya brightened with Five’s appearance and offered, “I saved a cat from the rainstorm and her name is Fluffernutter.”

 

Five looked at Vanya, but all he said was, “Huh.” Klaus stifled a giggle. Apparently even the smooth talker Number Five could be at a loss for words.

 

His attention was snagged by Ben, who was leading a still very wet but not as angry Fluffernutter out from underneath the couch. Klaus gaped. He wasn’t sure he could parse this new revelation out even if all of his cylinders were online. As it was, he concluded he was utterly and completely done with this situation. The dead were wailing in earnest now, Five’s dead joining with the others in the room as they drifted towards Klaus. Vanya was safe, from both the prospect of a dangerous stranger and from the savage Fluffernutter, so Klaus’ brotherly duty was sated. He was vaguely aware of his siblings talking again, but he easily tuned them out as he replaced the headphones and climbed sloppily to his feet. As far as he was concerned, he had done his familial duty for the year and had earned the respite of his dark and quieter room.

 

“Are we keeping it?” Five asked, cutting into Klaus’ train of thought.

 

“Are you insane?” Diego looked incredulous.

 

“Can we?” Vanya chirped, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

 

That was his cue. Klaus began to pick his way back to the foyer, giving his siblings the widest berth he could manage. Their voices clamored over one another, escalating in insistence and volume. It was all Klaus could do not to clap his hands over his ears and sprint out of the room.

 

He stopped abruptly when the cat stepped into his path. Klaus bit back a groan. He didn’t want to have to deal with a moody, possibly violent cat on top of escaping his loquacious siblings and increasing, constant screams of the dead. Besides, the cat had already drawn blood. What more did she want?

 

“-you want to take care of an animal? You? You, who considers coffee breakfast, lunch, and dinner?” Diego was now yelling, gesticulating wildly at a cross-looking Five.

 

“I don’t want anything, I was just asking!” Five snapped back.

 

Klaus drew his eyes up to Ben’s, carefully dodging eye contact with any of the now dozens of ghosts vying for his attention. Except, that wasn’t quite right. Ben was most definitely there, but there was also a distinct ring of space around him and Klaus where the ghosts had been. They were still in the room, Klaus knew without having to look, as their cries of despair hadn’t disappeared. But the cries sounded a bit more muted, more… hesitant?

 

He was delirious. He must have been. His migraine had skipped past the skull splitting and had gone straight to hallucinations. Hallucinations never ended up well, so Klaus carefully stepped over the cat and increased his pace of escape. His head pulsed with his heartbeat.

 

Right before he passed Five in the doorway, face flushed with indignation, his foot made contact with slimy fur. He glanced down again, eyes wild with pain and urgency, only to see the cat, that damned cat, had planted herself in front of him once again. Not only that, but he had kicked her. He had kicked the cat who had already tried to take a chunk out of Vanya’s arm and had tasted his blood. Literally. His brain filled with white noise as he tilted his head back and closed his eyes, waiting for whatever inevitable fallout to happen. He hoped it was quick and involved his loss of consciousness.

 

His hearing faded away slowly, but with a sense of finality. Here he was, a 30-year-old ex-junkie, who had OD’d more times than he could remember, who fought in the Vietnam War and helped stave off the apocalypse and lived, only to die by the hand of a feral cat named Fluffernutter that his probably well-meaning sister had let inside. Not that it would stick, he thought darkly. No, he would just have to wake up alive again after the tiny girl God sneered in his face and rejected his plea for rest. She hadn’t even had the decency to heal his concussion the last time he died, so she definitely wouldn’t heal the awaited wounds he would receive from a cat. Hell, she’d probably have a good laugh at his expense.

 

“What are you doing?” Five’s blunt question tore through his melodramatic musings. Klaus’ eyes snapped open, only to find every person in the room staring at him with expressions ranging from incredulous (Five) to worried (Vanya).

 

Klaus gestured resignedly at the cat in front of him. Who was no longer there. Had he been spared? Klaus’ eyes sought the cat, only to find her sitting serenely behind Five, peering disdainfully up at one of his brother’s ghosts. Who looked… terrified? Klaus squinted at the cat and then at the ghost, bloody brains trailing down the back of his skull. Ghosts often kept the expressions they died with, usually grotesque and terror-stricken, but this ghost was also retreating. Quickly. Very quickly. Away from the cat. Away from him. Klaus’ eyes found Ben, whose expression was morphing from complete shock to… understanding?

 

“Of course…” Ben declared softly as he nodded to himself.

 

“Would you like to share with the class?” Klaus muttered, shock warming into irritation. Five shifted on his feet, but otherwise didn’t question him further, which thankfully meant he knew the question wasn’t directed at him.

 

“Look at them,” Ben gestured to the ghosts in the room. Klaus most definitely did not want to look at them, had spent most of his sober hours pretending they didn’t exist., but Ben knew all of that. So Klaus took a deep breath and looked.

 

The ghosts were now scattered across the perimeter of the room, blurring into one another as they retreated into the corners of the room. In fact, it was a little trippy to look at some of them as they backed into each other’s forms in their hasty retreat. Klaus frowned and returned his questioning gaze back to Ben. Ben seemed to think this was something that happened as a result of… what? His powers? Had he somehow gained the ability to banish the dead because he was suffering a migraine? That didn’t make any sense. Sure, he figured his powers were affected by the state of his body and conscious self, but his migraine should have dimmed the ghosts a bit like his drugs used to, not physically repelled them away.

 

Ben’s gaze, however, was on the cat. The cat that could see Ben. Who was a ghost. The cat that wasn’t bothered by the wrongness of his brother. The cat that was currently in a staring contest with another ghost and was winning.

 

“Oh my God,” Klaus breathed, a look of wonder crossing his face.

 

Five, who had been torn between watching Klaus and glancing at where he thought Ben was, pursed his lips in frustration but said nothing. Diego was looking at his siblings like he was the only sane one left in the house. Vanya was wringing her hands anxiously, trying to get a read on the room and failing.

 

“Oh my God!” Klaus exclaimed louder, turning fully towards Ben.

 

“What is it?” Five ground out, clearly vexed by his inability to process the situation.

 

“The cat,” Ben said happily.


“The cat!” Klaus crowed in delight.

 

“Klaus, I swear to everything that’s holy, if you don’t stop ignoring us I am going to stab you,” Diego growled. “What about the cat?”

 

“The ghosts are scared of the cat!” he proclaimed, a grin splitting his face. His brain complained loudly. Klaus ignored it. “The ghosts are running away from the cat!” he giggled with the sheer insanity of it all. He began to prance around his siblings, unfettered joy radiating from him.

 

Five was the first to understand. “Oh… oh!” He almost sounded gleeful himself, if Klaus didn’t know better.

 

“Will someone please for the love of god explain to the rest of the class?” Diego moaned, pinching the bridge of his nose.

 

“The ghosts,” Five begins, not sounding haughty in the least, “that never leave. Klaus said the ghosts are always there, always loud. It’s why he took drugs, right? To make them go away?" This seemed like a very important observation, but Klaus was too busy making pirouettes to process it right then. "Well somehow, the ghosts can’t stand to be near this cat,” Five gestured to Fluffernutter, who did not at all seem upset Klaus was dancing circles around her. “Which means the ghosts are retreating-“

 

“Which means they are leaving Klaus alone,” Diego finished, a note of awe in his voice.

 

Vanya’s face lit up as she went to tackle Klaus into a hug. “That’s wonderful!” she squealed, circling her arms around him and burying her face in his neck.

 

“It is!” Klaus agreed, squeezing her back. Ben was beaming at him. Diego was doing that soft smile he usually only reserved for Mom. Five was, well, not scowling. His vision was beginning to grow hazy around the edges. “You know what this means right?”

 

“We’re not keeping-“ Diego began.

 

“We’re KEEPING THE CAT!” Klaus declared to the room at large, then promptly passed out.

Chapter Text

Waking up after passing out in front of half your family wasn’t quite as fun as Klaus had thought it might be. Not that Klaus thought it would be fun at all, but the thought had occurred to him several times over the years after waking up, usually disoriented, from drug benders. He had thought it would be nice to have his family not only notice he was suffering, but actually do something about it, such as catering to him hand and foot.

 

He was wrong.

 

As it turned out, he needn’t have worried if his family noticed his lapse in consciousness. According to Ben, the whole block had probably surmised there was a problem. It was lucky that the manor took up the whole block, Klaus thought wryly. No pesky neighbors to come and investigate surprise training drills at three am or the cacophonous yells of their childhood sparing sessions or the sudden shrieks of terror his siblings had performed not long after he had bonelessly collapsed to the floor. The last assessment was Ben’s words, not his.

 

Apparently, Five had post-apocalyptic spidey sense training that had alerted him to the fact that Klaus was about to make a dead drop to the floor. Because of this, he had quickly side stepped right in front of Klaus, causing him to be semi-crushed by his ganglier brother, but allowing Klaus’ skull to avoid the very hard ground. Klaus was very grateful for this fact. Having a goose egg join his migraine would have been the end to his week-long streak of sobriety. Nothing could have come between him and a vial of morphine at that point.

 

Unfortunately, his trust fall on top of Five meant that not only had Five been knocked to the ground, he had also not been able to regulate his fall and their combined weight had come to fall on Five’s left wrist. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Five had to be part of the ten percent of the population whose left hand is also their dominate hand. They were fairly sure it was just a bad sprain, Ben had told him, but as Five wasn’t allowing anyone near him at the moment, it was difficult to confirm.

 

Diego had been the second sibling to dive after Klaus. He did this in classic Diego style, sliding to his knees dramatically with a warrior’s cry and yanking Klaus off of a flailing Five. Vanya had screeched so loudly, Ben had suspected she had had her mouth open to speak and ended up giving her vocal cords a head start on making a sound. The whole house had lurched, plaster groaning and a few windows shattering and spitting glass from the stress. This, of course, caused everyone to flinch and duck while they waited to see if Vanya could reel in her powers or if they would all be crushed by the Hargreeves manor.

 

Once the possibility of their imminent demise had passed, Diego had scooped up his unconscious body while Vanya had taken hold of a spitting mad Five and marched both down to the infirmary.

 

Ben relayed all of this to Klaus the moment he noticed his sibling was regaining consciousness, trying to stave off the usual rough return to awareness. His soft murmurings had definitely cut short the budding panic building in his chest at the sharp smell of antiseptic surrounding him. As his senses slowly returned, he heard the quiet beeping of a heart monitor somewhere off to his right as well as the familiar clinking of the jars their mother kept freshly stocked at all times on the counter to his left. There was also a strange, if not pleasant, weight on his chest adding to the overall feeling of safety.

 

Hushed whispers were ebbing and flowing around him. The vice that had been holding his head hostage had seemed to abated a bit. At least now he no longer felt like throwing up his internal organs, though a pervasive exhaustion still clung to his limbs like tar. Opening his eyes didn’t seem like a possible task and for a moment, he wondered if his siblings had done something insanely stupid like drug him. The pinch in his arm was definitely delivering something into his bloodstream, if the slightly unnerving coolness entering his body was any indication. But while he didn’t exactly trust his living siblings to know the significance of giving him anything more than a baby aspirin, he was certain Ben would have stopped them had they tried anything stronger. It wouldn’t have mattered if his powers were as AWOL as his consciousness, Ben would have found a way.

 

A sharp poke in his ribs startled a moan out of him.

 

“I know you’re awake,” Five’s voice droned.

 

“’M not,” Klaus slurred back.

 

A heavy sigh. “Aside from your conscious response, your heart rhythm changes when you regain awareness, dumbass.”

 

“You listening to m’heart now? Knew you cared,” Klaus murmured back, a dreamy sigh escaping.

 

A sound of exasperation followed a whoosh of air. “He just threw his hands up,” Ben narrated. “And it seems he forgot one of them is injured,” he added worriedly.

 

Klaus wasn’t about to get up from this warm, semi-relaxing, quiet, state for anything short of imminent catastrophe, but the concern in Ben’s voice made him crack an eye to visually inspect Five. What he wasn’t expecting, however, was the unexpected eyeful of cat that greeted him.

 

“Ben……” Klaus trailed off in a hushed whisper.

 

“What… oh,” Ben had clearly not been looking in Klaus’ direction and had obviously forgotten to mention the single most important part of the narrative. The part where a feral cat– not a stranger, but definitely not friendly- was currently situated on Klaus’ chest, staring straight into his face. A feral cat with sharp teeth and even sharper claws was glaring at him from atop his chest within maiming distance from every single vital organ Klaus possessed.

 

Ben shrugged. “She’s been sitting there ever since we got you down to the infirmary. We’ve tried to get her to move, but she only growls and no one has been brave enough to try and force her. She’s not hurting anyone.”

 

Klaus was trying to put together a rebuttal to that statement. Things like ‘Claws and teeth!’ and ‘Feral!’ spun around urgently in his mind, but Five had returned with Vanya and Diego before Klaus could even string a sentence together.

 

Five lightly cleared his throat. “Fluffernutter, we would like to examine our brother. Would you mind moving aside?” Five asked placidly.

 

Maybe they did give Klaus drugs after all, because there was no scenario that would ever exist in any reality in which Five would respectfully address anyone, much less a cat, in that manner. What, was he going to invite the cat for a spot of tea and crumpets next? Maybe for a riveting game of chess? Klaus just stared at the cat, too flabbergasted to even know what to address first. Unconsciousness was really looking like a gift right about now.

 

Fluffernutter cocked her head towards Five, careful to keep her body still turned directly towards Klaus’ face, considering him. Then, just to really screw with Klaus’ sanity, she daintily hopped off of his chest and to the ground, eventually settling herself on the counter Diego and Vanya had come from. Klaus screwed his eyes shut and groaned.

 

“What did you give me?” he lamented forlornly. This was it, he thought. His sobriety was in shambles. Why did he even bother? Why did he think he could have nice things? Here he was doing his damndest to stay sober, to get himself together for the first time in near decades, to see Dave again, and his siblings, his well-intentioned siblings, had blown that right out of the water in record time. He just couldn’t win. He was never destined to catch a break and damn if that didn’t make him want to curl up on himself and wither away. He just-

 

Klaus!” Ben snarled, finally catching his attention. He tore his eyes open, finding Ben’s face inches from his own. Satisfied he had claimed Klaus’ attention, Ben leaned back to reveal his other siblings who were staring at him with identical looks of fright. Just add that to the list of all the ways this day was going awesome.

 

Five, bless his no-nonsense and pragmatic heart, recovered first. “We haven’t given you anything but fluids,” he stated, tone even and measured. “You were dehydrated and hypoglycemic, so I ran an IV of dextrose and an isotonic crystalloid solution of sodium chloride. It should be done in the next ten minutes or so.”

 

Five tended to become very cerebral when he was overwhelmed, Klaus recalled. As a child, his facts had grounded him. Apparently the apocalypse hadn’t changed that, it had just provided more facts for him to consume. Klaus hadn’t really needed any other information beyond IV fluids, but he gave Five a smile and patted his arm gently in thanks anyways.

 

Klaus’ eyes drifted towards Fluffernutter sitting calmly on the counter, staring into his soul. “So, you speak cat now?”

 

“What? No, that’s preposterous,” Five dismissed with a wave of his good hand. “She just didn’t want to be near so many people.” Five vaguely indicated Diego and Vanya, both of whom were looking very lost and a little freaked out still.

 

“And yet when you politely addressed the cat, she granted your request,” Klaus stated, drawing his eyes up to the ceiling. He wanted to know how Five had found a way to communicate with a cat, but he also didn’t much care as his migraine gave a twinge of warning deep in his skull. There were just too many things he didn’t have answers to and answers required energy which he didn’t have to spare.

 

Five gave a noncommittal shrug. Another mystery in their mysterious lives, apparently.

 

“How are you feeling?” Vanya was the next to speak, surprising both Diego and Five if their slight flinches were any indication. She stepped forward next to Five and began to fiddle with the IV tubing. She looked very… unsteady. Klaus recalled what Ben had said about her brief loss of control. He frowned slightly.

 

“My head is still attached and there’s no blood, so that’s always a step in the right direction,” Klaus brushed the question off. “How are you, though? Ben says you lost control a little? I know it’s scary, navigating something you never thought yourself capable of.” Klaus gently took both her hands in his, stilling them.

 

Vanya looked away, ducking her face behind her hair. She had begun to wear it down more recently, but Klaus knew it was more of a defense mechanism, a way to hide from the world, than it was for a change of fashion. When they were little, she was barely seen not hiding behind her long hair, peering through the strands at the world at a removed distance. He hated that she had become frightened enough in the past two weeks to return to that old habit.

 

She finally gave him the smallest of shrugs, but she didn’t pull her hands away. Klaus looked to Diego, who grimaced. It seemed Vanya and her powers were still something that no one had any idea how to deal with, especially Vanya herself. The uncomfortable silence stretched, so Klaus did the first thing that came to mind: he seized Five’s left arm.

 

It was surprising that Five didn’t immediately deck him in the face. It was a sheer miracle that Five didn’t break his hand and make a hasty retreat to a dark corner to lick his wounds. He only glared at Klaus darkly. Klaus took that for as much permission as he would get.

 

The wrist was twice its normal size and mottled with deep blue and purple bruising. Klaus gently probed the site, noting the increased warmth and sharp hisses from Five. He was definitely no expert, but he had injured enough joints to know definitive answers only came from x-rays. As it seemed he was the only sibling Five was allowing to examine him, though, the burden of getting Five to accept treatment fell to him.

 

“I don’t think it’s broken,” Klaus starts, glancing around the room. “But Mom would be able to tell you for sure. Where is she?”

 

“Ah, well, we haven’t gotten her yet,” Diego scratches the back of his head sheepishly. “Everything happened so fast and you had just passed out and we were worried about possible head injuries and Vanya had ahold of Five…” Diego trailed off with a shrug.

 

“So instead of getting Mom to give me an IV, you guys do it instead?” Klaus asked wryly.

 

“We weren’t sure how immediate your needs were,” Five defended with a huff. “Your veins were onerous to locate, by the way. You have some peripheral venous scarring from your junkie days.”

 

“That’s very kind of you to presume those days are in the past,” Klaus responded sweetly.

 

Five just gave a long suffering sigh and blinked away.

 

“I was kidding!” Klaus called after him, giving Diego and Vanya a pleading look.

 

Moments later Five was back, though he had a pinched look around his eyes. “Mom will be here in a minute,” he pronounced.

 

Klaus hummed distractedly, eyeing Ben who was currently cooing at Fluffernutter. The cat made no indication she even knew Ben was there, but Klaus noted her tail was betraying her as it swayed contentedly. A thought occurred to him.

 

“Hey, whose stupid idea was it to put a murder cat on my defenseless chest?” Klaus groused, pouting.

 

Vanya looked offended. “She’s not a murder cat!”

 

Diego gave an exasperated noise. “Oh yeah, we totally rushed you down here and provided medical treatment only to go out of our way and put a potentially unstable cat on your chest.” Diego rolled his eyes. “You know us so well, bro.”

 

“Well, that’s more plausible than a feral cat choosing to sit on an unconscious person!” Klaus snapped. Ben gave Klaus an irate snort.

 

“It’s a cat, Klaus. Since when do they do anything they don’t want to do?” Ben turned back to Fluffernutter, running his hands over the cat like he could touch her.

 

Klaus grinned evilly. He fisted both of his hands, producing a soft blue light. He and Ben had been practicing with his powers over the past week and he had gotten fairly good. Ben, who was mid stroke, suddenly became corporeal. Several things happened at once.

 

Ben, now touching cat fur, made a half surprised half distressed noise. Fluffernutter, who was now being touched without her permission, swiped viciously at Ben’s hand. Ben flinched back, holding his hand close to his chest, but not before Klaus spotted dark scratch marks marring the ghostly blue skin. Fluffernutter backed away in a crouch, growling and spitting again. The violent twitching of her tail upset several of the jars and caused them to crash to the ground.

 

Grace rounded the corner just as medical supplies spilled all over the floor. She paused, eyes taking in the scattered gauze and bandages before looking up at her children with a mildly scolding look on her face. Klaus let his power fade, disappearing Ben from view.

 

“Children! This is unnecessary,” she rebuked, pursing her lips and side stepping the mess. “I’ll clean it up in a moment. Now, Five, let me see your wrist.”

 

“But Klaus is the one who asked for you!” Five scowled and tucked his wrist closer to his body, almost sounding like an actual thirteen-year-old.

 

“Now, now,” their mother smiled softly. “I will see to Klaus too, but I can see how much that wrist is hurting you.” Grace extended a hand towards Five, who was looking distrustfully at it. After a moment, his resolve crumbled and he slowly allowed Grace to see his arm, his expression soft and almost wistful. Klaus glanced away, feeling like an intruder on this fragile moment. Five was never a touchy-feely personality to begin with, especially as a child, but Klaus has dealt with being touch-starved before and it could be debilitating. Five may have had company in the apocalypse, but there’s something entirely different about comfort coming from your mother. Klaus resolved to give Five more casual touches from now on.

 

Five was led over to a smaller alcove in the infirmary where they kept the x-ray machine. His eyes were downcast, a bittersweet expression now on his face, as Grace gently placed a lead blanket over his torso and situated his wrist on the pedestal. The last thing Klaus saw before Grace shut the rest of them away from any harmful radiation was a sweet smile on Five’s face.

 

A heavy silence encompassed them all, each of them avoiding eye contact with the other. Klaus desperately wanted to break it, but it also felt disrespectful to Five somehow. He turned to Ben, who was still clutching his hand reflexively, looked shaken. Klaus’ mind finally caught up to everything he had missed.

 

“Oh my god, Ben, are you okay?” Klaus demanded, reaching towards his brother.

 

“What’s wrong with Ben?” Diego asked, looking incredibly puzzled.

 

Ben met Klaus’ eyes, a shudder running through his form. He eyed his hand, transparent skin smooth once again, before looking to Klaus once more. “I… felt it.” He ran one hand over the other. “The fur, the pain… I felt it.” He looked stunned.

 

“Oh,” Klaus breathed, dropping his own gaze to his hands, ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ staring up at him.

 

Diego snapped his fingers in front of Klaus’ face. “Hey, what’s wrong with Ben?”

 

“Um,” Klaus glanced over to Ben, then back at Diego. “He felt the cat fur. And the cat swipe.”

 

“Oh,” Vanya echoed.

 

“Ghosts can get scratched?” Diego spoke over Vanya, looking incredulous. “What the hell, man.”

 

Klaus threw up his arms so violently, he dislodged the IV needle. Diego paled. “I don’t have any idea, Diego. I spent more than half my existence high out of my mind! I didn’t exactly have any ghosts lining up in a polite queue, waiting patiently to help me explore my powers. Their tortured screams didn’t exactly encourage me to be curious!”

 

“Not broken!” their mom announced cheerfully, pulling back the drapes and guiding Five carefully over to the counter and sitting him on a stool. “Just a bad sprain.” She smiled sweetly at Five as she rummaged through a drawer and pulled out a small wrist splint. She busied herself preparing a shot of what Klaus assumed was some sort of pain medication, drawing his attention back to the cat.

 

Fluffernutter had crept up to Grace’s elbow, curiously watching her slightly faster than normal to be human preparation. Grace looked up and smiled gently, continuing her preparations. The cat carefully put a paw in the middle of Grace’s collection, only to have Grace tut quietly and scoop the Fluffernutter up. “No, no, silly kitty. These need to stay sterile. Here,” she gently placed the cat in Five’s lap. Five tensed and stilled as Grace went back to her task. Klaus dropped his hands, the IV needle falling to the floor, as he watched Five with bated breath. Vanya squeaked, making an aborted move to try and intervene. Diego cursed quietly under his breath. The only sound was Grace humming a slow melody.

 

Fluffernutter, for her part, didn’t look too bothered she had just been manhandled. She glanced up at Five, whose face was unnervingly blank, before decisively curling up and making herself comfortable.

 

“Is she purring?” Klaus stage whispered to Ben, who nodded in confirmation. Five sent a glare in Klaus’ direction, which Klaus brushed away with his ‘Goodbye’ hand. Vanya was bandaging his arm where the needle had torn a decent sized hole. Diego was saying something about “damn crazy cats” under his breath, as he rubbed the bridge of his nose.

 

“All done!” Grace declared, putting a colorful band-aid over the injection site with a flourish. Five’s wrist was now safely ensconced in a splint, though he still hadn’t moved an inch since Grace had deposited the cat on his lap. Grace cupped Five’s face and planted a kiss on his forehead before turning towards Klaus. “What have you gotten yourself into, now?” she tutted, stripping her soiled gloves and donning new ones.

 

“I’m good now,” Klaus chirped. “Perfect health, never better.”

 

“He has a migraine,” Five informed their mom smugly. “He passed out and was hypoglycemic.”

 

“Traitor,” Klaus growled. He turned to address Grace. “But our dear little brother gave me an IV and fixed me right up! So now I’m right as rain!” To illustrate, he hopped off the infirmary bed, doing his best to ignore the sharp thundering in his head.

 

Grace was kind enough not to call him on his lie. Not completely, anyways. “It looks like you didn’t finish your IV,” she retrieved the needle from the ground. “Sit back down and I’ll get you another sterile needle.” Her brow furrowed a bit. “I can’t give you anything for the pain…” she trailed off, a bit sadly.

 

“Oh, it’s fine!” Klaus grinned. He knew he couldn’t have any medication, not this soon after getting sober. Besides, his migraine seemed to be abating and he had experienced worse pain than this. “The care of my dear siblings has perked me right up!” He gave an exaggerated wink to Diego and Vanya and blew a kiss towards Five.

 

Vanya flushed, but glowed with happiness. It was sad that was all it took to make Vanya smile and he vowed to make that smile a more common occurrence.

 

Diego sighed loudly. “So glad you’re feeling better, bro. Not that this hasn’t been fun, but I have other things to do.”

 

“Liar, you love hanging out with me!” Klaus teased with another wink. “Come back soon to see your ailing favorite brother!”

 

Diego rolled his eyes and waved him off, giving a smile to Grace as he left. “We’re not keeping the cat!” he hollered back.

 

“You’re not my father!” Klaus sang after him. He looked at Vanya and waggled his eyebrows in an imitation of Daddy Hargreeves, causing her to choke off laughter.

 

Grace came around to Klaus’ uninjured arm, easily reinserting the IV into an uncompromised vein. She patted his hand soothingly. “I’ll come to take that out in thirty minutes or so. Don’t take it out yourself, alright?” she gave him a knowing look. “Vanya, dear, would you like to help me make some cookies for your brothers?” Grace took Vanya’s hand as Vanya nodded enthusiastically.

 

“We’ll be back,” Vanya said softly, but not timidly. She gave Klaus and Five a soft smile and followed Grace out the door.

 

“Is it true Ben was able to… feel?” Five asked after a long stretch of silence.

 

“Mm? Oh, yeah,” Klaus nodded, his eyes slipping shut. With the absence of most of his siblings and the ghosts, exhaustion was beginning to tug at him once more.

 

He could feel Five’s curiosity humming in the air and Klaus silently begged him to just drop it for now. It was too much to process now and he didn’t have any explanation for Five. Not yet.

 

Five sighed in frustration, but didn’t question him further, thank goodness. His brain was finally being lulled into a warm drowsiness and he didn’t want anything to provoke it again. The silence wrapped around him and he let the tension in his body drip away.

 

The last thing Klaus heard before letting sleep claim him was Five’s whispered, “We’re definitely keeping you.”

Chapter Text

Five sat with his back against his bed, looking up at his ceiling. His splinted arm hung limply between his legs as he sat, waiting for sleep to come. He knew it wouldn’t; it never did when thoughts of the destroyed world swirled in his head. He sat still, his sniper training taking over, car headlights sweeping lazily over his ceiling. The house groaned quietly as it settled around him.

 

It was late. His body screamed for sleep. Yet, his mind simply refused. He needed a drink. He needed Dolores. He needed equations, numbers flashing through his mind quicker than he could make sense of them.

 

A soft knock broke through his spinning mind. He debated which of his siblings could have been coming to him in the middle of the night. None of them were strangers to sleep problems, but normally they never came to each other for comfort. They weren’t raised that way, after all.

 

“Hey, hey, hey, hey, it’s alright. I’m not going to squash you,” came a loud whisper followed by a low growl.

 

Five rolled his eyes and blinked to the door, decidedly too tired to coordinate his limbs into moving for themselves. He threw his door open, startling a squeak out of Klaus who was clutching a very cross looking Fluffernutter.

 

“Lord!” Klaus exclaimed, shifting his grip to keep a hold on Fluffernutter. The cat was wriggling and hissing, raking her claws over Klaus’ arms to try and make him let go. Bloody welts crisscrossed over every exposed area of skin, but Klaus didn’t seem to notice.

 

“Hm,” Five responded, turning away but leaving the door open reluctantly. It was easier to deal with Klaus immediately than ignore him and let him gain momentum. From the soft footsteps, Klaus had accepted his invitation. The soft click of his door closing followed by the heavy thunk of what Five could only assume was the cat finally drew his stare towards Klaus. Klaus met Five’s eyes briefly before looking down, shifting from one foot to the other. His arms were a shredded mess of flesh, old and new scratches mingling with one another. Fluffernutter was nowhere in sight.

 

Five waited for Klaus to say something. Klaus was looking at the mess of equations on his walls and, in some cases, his ceiling. Silent Klaus was uncharted territory and Five was definitely not in the mood for awkward staring, so he stated the obvious.

 

“You’re bleeding,” he observed, raising a sardonic eyebrow at Klaus. Klaus looked at Five before glancing at his arms and smiling sheepishly.

 

“Uh, yeah, it’s fine,” Klaus brushed the comment away with his ‘Goodbye’ hand distractedly. “Just a few scratches.”

 

Five snorted. “You have open wounds,” he indicated the small spatters of blood that had dripped from Klaus’ fingertips. “Wanna talk about why you’re dragging a cat around like a child’s security blanket?”

 

“It was loud in Vietnam,” Klaus murmured, the non sequitur drawing Five’s attention back to Klaus’ face. Five studied it more carefully. His face was gaunt and drawn, eyes hooded. He was worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth as his fingers picked at the scabs littering his arms.

 

Five sighed and blinked to the bathroom, gathering gauze and disinfectant before blinking back. Klaus was still where he left him, standing forlornly at the bed and fidgeting with his arms. Clearly, Five was going to have to take charge.

 

Firmly, he took Klaus’ arm with his good hand and tugged him towards the bed. Klaus let himself be manhandled silently, sitting heavily on the bed and dislodging some of Five’s blankets. Klaus’ skin was cool and clammy to the touch, but Five couldn’t address that until he stemmed the bleeding. He wet one of the washcloths and began to wipe away the blood. Although there was a lot of blood, it didn’t look like there were that many cuts. Lots of them had already scabbed over, but several of the fresher ones still welled blood.

 

Fluffernutter gave another growl from somewhere underneath Five’s bed.

 

“So,” Five broke the silence decisively. “Why were you bringing around a cat that doesn’t want to be held?” He took hold of a particularly nasty cut and applied liquid stitches into the wound. Klaus gave a slight flinch, but otherwise made no indication he even felt it.

 

“It’s quiet,” Klaus breathes, closing his eyes. He swayed a bit, like he was dancing to music only he could hear. Five frowned. He may have been gone a while, but his brother was still the same bundle of energy he was as a kid. He was always moving, even in his sleep, so for him to be so still and quiet unnerved Five. Fluffernutter peered out from under the bed up at Five and it finally clicked.

 

Klaus had always said the ghosts were loud. Their constant presence ensured that Klaus was never alone and was never able to experience silence. As a kid, Five never believed this. After all, he could turn his powers off and on, so obviously Klaus was just being indolent. It wasn’t until after getting stuck in the future, after reading Vanya’s book, and after he had quite literally all the time in the world to think that he gained some insight into what Klaus always maintained. The ghosts wouldn’t shut up so Klaus would make it so his body could no longer hear them. The alcohol and drugs Klaus always sloppily hid from the household began to make more and more sense. Five himself had done a lot of exploring with his powers from a young age. When he had a headache, his jumps always seemed that much harder to perform. If he had a cold, there was no telling whether his jumps would even work much less if he could control his destination. So it made perfect sense that if Klaus somehow incapacitated his brain enough to alter his senses, the ghosts would cease bothering him.

 

It had only been thirteen days since they had averted the apocalypse. This meant that Klaus was at least thirteen days sober, without anything impairing his mind. No impairment meant that he was completely aware of the ghosts, the ones he spent hours of his childhood drowning out with his hands firmly covering his ears or headphones and, later, drugs. But a cat came along and introduced Klaus to a solution to his problem that was independent of himself. As far as Five knew, Fluffernutter came and went from the Academy as she pleased, which robbed Klaus of his quick fix. He knew his brother was trying his best to stay sober and having the ghosts back off helped to stave his cravings. It made perfect sense that Klaus decided to keep the cat near him to the best of his ability. At least, it made sense in theory, because apparently Klaus decided to completely ignore the other ways this solution harmed him. Namely, his shredded arms.

 

“The bombs were already raining down when I got there,” Klaus’ voice startled Five as he finished bandaging the worst of the cuts. “It had been thirteen years since the fighting had begun, after all. The dead were everywhere.” Klaus snorted in disdain, freeing his arms from Five’s ministrations and raking his fingers through his curls. “Everything was so loud. The bombs, the guns, the screams of the living and the dead. When I first got there, I couldn’t sort through who was alive and who wasn’t. Dave was there from the beginning. I was dropped right next to his cot. Then bombs were wailing and dirt was flying and I was shoved into clothes and into the fray.” Klaus gave another sigh and started to worry with his dog tags.

 

Five looked down at Klaus’ bare feet that were definitely not helping the shivers that had just begun to plague his brother. In one fluid motion, he grabbed one of his abandoned blankets from the ground and tossed it around Klaus. His aim wasn’t great and Klaus’ head ended up half covered, but Klaus shifted it and pulled it tightly around his shoulders. Five’s frown deepened at his brother’s vulnerable body language and he elected to sit on the bed with Klaus instead of on the ground like he normally would. Klaus always preferred proximal contact with his siblings and Five figured he could at least give him that right now.

 

“Dave took me under his wing. He didn’t ask many questions. He preferred to live in the moment. He had been asleep when I appeared, so he never suspected my appearance was anything other than another soldier being brought in to join them. He made sure I had a cot and blankets. He even insisted I be added to the group when it turned out there was no record of me existing anywhere.” Klaus chuckled ruefully. “Not that they would have sent me away. A body fighting, no matter where they came from, was one more soldier to fight the enemy.” Klaus broke off with a wet intake of breath.

 

Silence blanketed the room once again, only broken by the soft ticking of Five’s clock and the quiet, choked sobs from Klaus. He watched as Klaus’ shoulders shuddered with his hitched breaths, sobs silent. Their father had taught them that, how to cry silently. It wasn’t even a lesson he had a personal hand in, the sick bastard. No, they learned how to cry silently in the stolen moments they embraced each other after a particularly difficult mission or when they were too exhausted to hide their raw emotions after training. If they cried at all. Five had ceased crying completely by the time he was six, but he sometimes couldn’t help the wetness that leaked from his eyes when his body crumpled into his bed after “special training”.

 

A slight weight shifted the mattress and Five looked behind him to see that Fluffernutter had invited herself onto the bed. She was taking hesitant steps towards Five, more out of fear of being grabbed than fear of either one of them, and settled herself carefully in the space between Klaus and him. She resolutely extended one of her front paws towards Klaus, settling on the blanket he shielded himself from the world with. She casually flipped her tail and positioned it on Five’s knee. She stared straight ahead, acting for all the world like she had no idea either one of them existed, though she wasn’t fooling Five. He fought the fond twitch of his mouth.

 

“I tried leaving, that first night. The dead were like a dense fog everywhere I went, locals and soldiers alike screaming, always screaming. I was still sober from my time being tortured and Hazel had destroyed my drug stash. I took the suitcase behind a tent and opened it. But I didn’t leave,” Klaus sniffed, wiping a hand over his eyes.

 

“They have to recharge,” Five said quietly, nodding to himself.

 

“Yeah,” Klaus murmured, giving Five a sad smile. “But by the time it had recharged, I didn’t want to leave. Dave…” Another shuddering breath. “He was everything I didn’t know I needed. But when he…” Klaus swallowed hard. “I couldn’t bear to stay.”

 

Silence surrounded them once more.

 

Five refrained from fiddling with his own blanket. Klaus was always the one of all of them that was the most sensitive and empathetic. He would beg their father to help the homeless on the street and when he was refused, he would sneak out of the Academy later with whatever finger foods he gathered unawares from the dinner table. He was the one that was always there when one of them needed comfort of any kind, especially after missions. He would secret Ben away after dealing with The Horror and wouldn’t let him leave until he was giggling and grinning, the haunted look on his face gone. He would put on fashion shows for Allison after she had Rumored herself hoarse. He would tease Diego until he stopped brooding, often at the cost of his own skin. He would sit with Five until the shakes of exhaustion from blinking ceased. He always sat nearby as often as possible when Vanya practiced her violin, flattering her with praise until he coaxed a grin from her.

 

Klaus was the pure boy that their father warped and twisted into something broken and desperate. Yet despite his broken pieces, Klaus was never sharp. He always had a smile for the world, especially if there was nothing to smile about. Five was almost Klaus’ exact opposite. He was sharp and bitter and blunt. There was not a ‘fuzzy’ bone in his entire body, even as a child. But his brother was hurting and, despite what he would have everyone believe, he hated it when his siblings were in pain. After all, he didn’t survive forty-five years of the apocalypse and as a temporal assassin without the pure need to save his siblings. He endured loneliness, training, genetic altering, and killing with the sole goal of saving his family.

 

Five didn’t have a lot that he could offer to improve the situation, but he was going to do his damndest to do what he could.

 

“I still taste ashes,” he said quietly, pulling Klaus’ attention to him. He stared down at his hands. “Ashes rained down for weeks… after. They coated your mouth and lungs until your teeth turned gray and you spit up grime. Ashes of the world and the dead.” He traced symbols lightly on his bare feet. “Sometimes, they sealed your eyes shut as you slept. Not that there was much of that. Sleep.” He gave a sigh and shot his brother a sardonic smile. “But I guess you understand that.”

 

Klaus gave him a weak smile, eyebrows drawn down in concern. Leave it to Klaus to be in the middle of a breakdown only to put his pain aside and worry about others. Sometimes, he wanted to strangle the stupid beanpole. If Klaus spent as much time worrying about himself as he did for others, he wouldn’t be in this position. He had spent so much time as a kid accusing Klaus of being selfish when in reality, he was the least selfish of them all.

 

“It wasn’t all scarring,” he continued, keeping his tone light. “I did get to visit some truly incredible times and places. See artists and musicians in their prime. Watched Notre Dame be built. But, no matter where I was, I would always taste ashes.”

 

Klaus hummed, drawing his gaze back to his lap. Five fell silent again. He watched Klaus from the corner of his eye, hoping what he was trying to convey had worked. That Klaus wasn’t alone in this experience. That he had majorly screwed up when he had come in after Klaus had quite clearly come back broken by being more interested in the briefcase than his own brother. Five had so many feelings but he had never been good at conveying them, especially not to the ones he cared for most. Dolores always said he was too harsh.

 

“Some people burn too brightly for this world,” Klaus said softly.

 

“And some burn brightly enough,” Five added gently.

 

“Do you still taste ashes?” Klaus asked, eyes shining with concern.

 

“Sometimes,” Five smiled to himself. “But not nearly as often.”

------------------------------------------------------- 

 

Diego groaned to himself when he let himself in to Klaus’ room. The bed was half strewn around the room, discarded clothing decorating the floor. Klaus, however, was nowhere to be seen. It was his turn to help with breakfast. Not that anything he made was edible, they had found, when Klaus decided to make them all a ‘special’ dinner consisting of boiled hot dogs and freezer burnt waffles. This was why Diego was up. Diego may not be a gourmet chef, but he knew how to make food that turned out edible.

 

Kicking a crumpled shirt, Diego stomped out of the room in frustration. Allison’s door was open as she was currently on her morning run and Luther’s was shut tight. Vanya was away for an early morning lesson, which meant that Five was the only other one of them at the Academy right then.

 

Diego stopped in front of Five’s room, debating whether or not he wanted to drag the cranky old man down to the kitchen to help or not. On the one hand, Five would probably slit his throat. On the other hand, if he got coffee in him fast enough, Five could be a decent cook when he wanted to be.

 

Steeling himself, Diego knocked on the door. Silence answered back. Suddenly suspicious, Diego grabbed the doorknob and carefully opened the door, thankful Mom kept all of the hinges in the house well oiled. He braced himself for a sharp object or tiny hands around his throat, but nothing came.

 

Thoroughly confused, Diego opened the door wider. As his eyes adjusted to the dimmer space, he bit back a gasp of surprise.

 

Klaus was curled up at the head of the bed, one of Five’s blankets wrapped tightly around his lanky frame. Five was curled up against Klaus’ back, bare feet tucked beneath the comforter that was strewn half on the bed. Both of them were asleep. Fluffernutter was languorously draped over Klaus’ face, looking very pleased with herself.

 

Diego quickly looked around Five’s room for the small camera he kept there when he was a child. Quietly, he positioned himself at the foot of the bed and snapped a picture of the scene. He deftly retraced his steps to the door and, after giving the cat a salute, gently shut it. He could manage breakfast by himself.

Chapter Text

Vanya took a deep breath and let it out to the count of five. She slowly clenched and unclenched her fists, tensing and loosening her shoulders. She had been practicing the relaxation techniques Klaus had taught her over the past week.

 

They had decided she needed training. They being all her siblings, though some were more for the idea than others. Not to say that any were against it, per say, but there was a certain reluctance Luther had towards the idea, though Vanya was fairly certain it was borne of his actions, and fear, towards her and her powers. To be completely fair, the whole incident of him overpowering her and everything that came after still made her sick to her stomach, so she felt very similarly towards Luther.

 

Which was why Klaus, of all her siblings, had decided to head up her fledgling training. Well, Klaus and Five and Ben. Since their powers were the only ones of all six of them that required any sort of honing to master, it made sense. Luther was always strong. Diego could just bend flying objects to his will, mitigating circumstances in his favor. Allison, even, could use her power with ease, especially when they had found her trigger words. It was only Four, Five, and Six that had the more nebulous powers similar to her own.

 

And Ben. She was amazed when Klaus had somewhat shyly explained to her that yes, Ben had been there all along and that he could prove it. She was amazed, but also ashamed she had never really believed her brother. Her brother, the loud and boisterous and vulnerable man he was, had always had a quick smile or a sly comment that was designed to ensure no one took him seriously or looked too closely. He hadn't always been that way, Vanya had admitted to herself long ago, while she wrote her autobiography. He had been transparent and earnest as a child, full of joyous energy and wide eyed wonder. She had watched that pure and mischievous ball of sunshine slowly be smothered and twisted under their father's training until a bitter and broken man remained. She remembered watching the transformation in a curiously detached manner. It was a shame, in a distant way, but Klaus had definitely helped himself along the path of destruction. After all, he had had a power. He was special. Even if he hated his power, he should have been grateful to have one at all. At least, that's what her Before Self had thought.

 

There was a lot that her Before Self had been wrong about. She had thought there would have been nothing better than her Father's acceptance of her as special. She had thought her siblings cruel and selfish, leaving her out of things intentionally and never accepting her as their equal. She envied their seamless integration into the world, while she sat on the sidelines, always a sore thumb or a hangnail. The ease in which her siblings were able to interact with everything had always been terribly difficult for herself. Everything took at least ten times more effort with half the success, like she was walking through thick molasses or being slowly smothered by a damp blanket. She was watching the world run by her at full speed, when all she could manage was half speed at best.

 

It all changed, After. After Leonard, after her medication, after Allison and her own bow dripped with blood, after her world was colored with emotions so strong they consumed her, after, after, after.

 

"Vanya?" the voice was soft, but jolted her out of her downward spiral of thoughts. She flinched regardless. That was her current state now; frightened, jumpy, ashamed.

 

Ben looked at her with an encouraging expression, soft and kind. But that had always been Ben; soft, kind, and naive. Perhaps not so naive anymore, she thought ruefully as she eyed Klaus off to her left. Klaus was sprawled up against one of the walls of the courtyard, one bare foot crossed over the opposite knee, face screwed in comical concentration as he applied bright turquoise nail polish to his smaller toes. When he noticed her attention, he waggled the glowing fingers of his 'Goodbye' hand slightly, giving her a sloppy grin. She instinctively bit back her own grin, before letting it creep across her face slowly and deliberately. She was still getting used to this, her new normal. Her After Self.

 

"You need to concentrate, Vanya," Five admonished, though not unkindly. He was sitting cross legged directly behind Ben a few yards away, intensely immersed in a heavy tome. His eyes didn't leave the page, but she could feel his attention on her. Fluffernutter the cat reclined about a yard to Five's left, feigning nonchalance to everyone, especially Five.

 

"Should we try again?" Ben asked gently, drawing her attention back to him. A little thrill still shot through her every time she saw him. His blue glow was dim in the bright sunlight, making him look more tangible and less supernatural. They had decided that out of the three of them, Five and Six had the best handle on their powers. So, in an effort to help along Klaus' training as well as her own, it was decided that Klaus would summon Ben to help navigate her powers at the same time as Klaus'. Two birds with one stone and all that.

 

Vanya nodded and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath like Klaus had shown her and released it again, concentrating on the sounds around her. In her first "training session", though it was more of a baseline to see where they should start, Klaus was the one who noticed how terrified Vanya had been at the prospect of demonstrating her powers, even in a safer setting. All she could think of, could hear, could smell, was the coppery tang of Allison's life seeping out of her and her own horrified sobs. Klaus had come close and gently grabbed both of her hands, carefully prising them away from their death grip on each other. He took one of her hands and placed it over his heart, while the other he held loosely in his 'Hello' hand.

 

"Listen to my breathing. Feel my heartbeat. Try to match my breaths, okay? You're going to hyperventilate at the rate you're going," he chided lightly. She hadn't realized how her breaths had turned into ragged gasps, but she tried her best to do as she was told. Klaus' chest rose and fell slowly and deliberately, his cool hands a balm to her sweaty ones. She counted his heartbeats, copied his breathing, and soon, the terror of that night seeped from her mind and out of her body.

 

When she had reopened her eyes again, Klaus was beaming at her with so much pride, it hurt.

 

"How… where…" she began, still feeling a bit discombobulated.

 

Klaus waved her off, grin still firmly in place. "Just some old relaxation techniques they teach in rehab," he said inconsequentially. "Now, let's start again, right? You don't need to be scared, we all had to come to terms with our powers at some point. Now we can do it without good ol' Dad!" He had clapped his hands gleefully and stepped away to give Vanya space once more.

 

She had decided that day she wasn't going to do any training without learning every technique Klaus knew. When she had declared this, more forcefully than her Before Self would have ever done, Klaus had given her the most delighted look before assuring her that it was nothing special, but if it would help her, he would be more than happy to teach her everything he knew. Which, as it happened, was quite a bit more than Vanya thought possible, though Klaus dismissed it evenly as "going through the classes a lot". In the interest of keeping her newly freed emotions in check, Vanya decided to unpack that particular bit of information later.

 

She picked up a sound, the sweet melody of a nearby bird, and concentrated on it. The song was lovely, a five note repeat, and she let the energy it created wrap her in its embrace, bundling it inside of her. She let it build, a slow crescendo, the pressure both uncomfortable and exhilarating. She heard Ben say something encouraging, but her ears were full of the song and her mind sang back blissfully.

 

A car backfiring tore her concentration in half. She grappled for the energy she had built, desperately trying to keep hold of it, but it was too late. A wave of energy exploded from her, the shockwave making the scant trees in the courtyard groan ominously, beheading Ben's statue (again), and knocking the real Ben onto his back. It blew closed Five's book and knocked the turquoise nail polish out of Klaus' hand and shattered it against the wall beside his head. Fluffernutter flicked an ear back in irritation, but otherwise seemed rather nonplussed.

 

She fell to her knees hard, bruises blossoming, as she slammed her hands over her ears and frantically tried to recall one of Klaus' calming techniques. Cold arms wrapped around her firmly as she rocked, a stream of apologies falling from her lips as her eyes stayed firmly screwed shut.

 

"Hey, hey, it's okay. Just breathe. See? It's fine. You can't hurt me. I can't become more dead. It's alright. Even if I could, we all know how infuriatingly persistent Klaus is. I wouldn't be gone for long. Come on, Vanya, breathe. Everyone's fine. No one's hurt." Ben's calming voice guided her back from her own panic until she finally felt safe enough to open her eyes.

 

Ben had his arms firmly curled around her, though he flickered slightly every now and then. Vanya looked over to Klaus, who had relocated beside Ben and her, wide green eyes full of concern as he wrung his hands. He still had trouble keeping Ben corporeal if he was distracted, apparently. Five was on Ben's other side, small face solemn and grim, though his eyes betrayed his worry. Vanya took a deep, slow breath and released it in a gust.

 

"I'm so sorry, I-"

 

"What did we say about apologies?" Five cut her off a bit harshly. She knew he wasn't being short with her, even if that's how her mind automatically interpreted it for a split second. He just didn't do well being caught off guard.

 

"I'm s-," she cut herself off. Swallowed. "Is everyone okay?" she asked instead.

 

"No harm no foul," Ben smiled warmly at her. "You did very well."

 

She scoffed at him. "My concentration was shot," she grumbled, shame flooding her face.

 

"No, don't do that," Five grabbed her chin and yanked it a bit too forcefully towards him. "You did well. You were able to catch some of the wild energy and disperse it harmlessly."

 

"Yeah? And how do you know that?" she snapped, pulling away from him and Ben, standing up quickly. She angrily swiped at the dirt on her knees.

 

"Because we saw it," Klaus interjected. "Well, kind of. I don't know. There was this wave, this distortion, like heat coming off the road? All wavy and stuff? And it was really thick and then you reached out or something and just took some of it back. It was incredible!" Klaus waved his arms around in some sort of wild interpretation, giving her a wide grin. His face and curls were spattered with turquoise paint, making the whole scene quite absurd.

 

She glanced over at Fluffernutter. The moment their eyes met, the cat let out a derisive hiss and turned her head away, ears still pulled back in irritation. Klaus looked mortified.

 

"No! Don't say that to our dear Vanya! She did a delightful job, take that back!" Klaus scolded, walking over to the cat and shaking a finger at her. Fluffernutter just let out a low growl and Klaus looked scandalized, taking a step back. "You don't mean that! How hurtful! Ben! Tell her it wasn't Vanya's fault! Make her apologize!"

 

Ben just gave a sigh and looked towards the sky, a smile fighting to grace his lips. "Leave the cat alone, Klaus. She's probably just startled. You yelling at her isn't going to get her to calm down any faster."

 

"It was quite rude," Five muttered, eyes on the ground. Ben just gave him a long suffering look while Klaus nodded his head vigorously in agreement.

 

Vanya let out a peal of laughter. She couldn't help it. Klaus was speckled in turquoise nail polish reprimanding a cat, Five was pretending not to care but definitely agreed, and Ben looked like his children had once again disappointed him. It was just too much.

 

Her laughter filled the courtyard. Five's serious old man expression gave her a startled look, but that only caused her to laugh harder. Klaus looked torn, eyes watching her double over with mirth before looking at the sour expression of Fluffernutter and back again. He clearly wanted to join in, but didn't want the slight against her to go unpunished. Ben looked incredibly content to stand and bathe in her laughter.

 

When her laughs petered out and she stood there gasping for breath surrounded by her brothers, Fluffernutter took a few cautious steps towards her. Her face now sported a contrite expression, if cats could even feel guilt, as she wended her way through her brothers and to Vanya's feet. She stood there resolutely, eyes downcast but posture proud. Vanya smiled warmly and knelt down, giving the cat a few strokes on her head. Satisfied her apology had been accepted, Fluffernutter turned around mid stroke and walked back over to where she had been reclining, acting for all the world that nothing was amiss.

 

Healing and learning both took time, Vanya knew. But all of them would come out the other side even better than they could ever imagine, she was sure of it.

Chapter Text

If you had asked Klaus where he saw himself the summer before his thirtieth birthday, he would never had said "Practicing my powers with my stabby brother and my dead little psycho brother who happens to be not dead or little". To be completely fair, he probably wouldn't have thought in complete sentences, much less even acknowledged that he had a power.

 

But here he was, standing in the unforgiving heat of July, trying to dodge Five's attempts at tackling him to the ground and avoid Diego's low thrown knives like some macabre game of jump rope.

 

It had all started innocently enough. At least, that was Klaus' memory. If you asked any of his other siblings, they would probably have described it as 'traumatic' or 'horrifying'. But as Klaus didn't usually ask for his siblings' advice, particularly if it was going to be negative, he chose to believe in the innocence of the incident. Anything else just put a damper on everything.

 

He had been leaning against the bannister at the top of the stairs, one foot propped up on the railing as he applied a fresh coat of nail polish. Vanya and Five were in the foyer below practicing focusing her waves of energy into more concentrated points. Allison was sitting on the bottom step of the stairs flicking through a pop culture magazine while Fluffernutter had claimed her lap. (He definitely wasn't jealous about that last part.)

 

He had just leaned closer to blow gently on the wet varnish when a loud crack had sounded and the bannister he had been propped on gave way suddenly. He didn't even have a chance to gasp in surprise before he was falling, falling, hurtling towards the unforgiving ground.

 

Then he wasn't.

 

When he wasn't reduced to a bloody mess on the floor, Klaus opened his eyes (when had he closed them?) and cautiously peered around. He was currently hovering about three feet above Vanya and Five, who were frozen with twin expressions of shock on their faces. Allison, who had displaced a now very cross Fluffernutter in her haste to reach Klaus, was currently a few feet away from Vanya, hand outstretched towards him and mouth a perfect 'o' of surprise.

 

Diego chose that moment to come thundering in from where ever he was in the house, sock feet sliding comically into the room, knives drawn. He looked around, confused for a moment, before he spotted Klaus from his mid-air perch and went stock still.

 

He now had five pairs of eyes on him, Ben similarly frozen on the upper level he had just fallen from, seemingly forgetting that, as a ghost, he could very well hover beside Klaus if he so chose. Which brought him back to the fact that he was floating above his siblings.

 

"Shit," Five muttered and Klaus wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment.

 

"W-w-w…" Diego trailed off, mouth working around the word. Allison was frantically writing on her pad, marker squeaking loudly in the silence.

 

"What the hell?" Vanya exclaimed loudly, dropping her hands from the defensive position they had jumped to.

 

Klaus gave an exaggerated shrug which set his body into a slow-motion mid-air spin. "You'd know better than me, dear sister. I had no idea you were getting along so well with your powers! Good for you!"

 

"This isn't Vanya," Five snapped, jaw working in what Klaus could only assume was shock being covered by frustration.

 

"Well then who is it? It sure as hell isn't moi," Klaus gestured to his floating self again. "I'm the one who sees spooky spooks, remember?"

 

Diego was still opening and closing his mouth like a slowly drowning fish as Allison shoved her writing pad in front of him, gesturing wildly to her neat scrawl.

 

"I think it is you," was written in large, bold strokes.

 

Klaus let out a loud guffaw. "That is simply ludicrous," he assured her good naturedly.

 

"N-no, I th-think she's r-right," Diego ground out, determined to squash his stutter.

 

"Yeah," Ben agreed quietly, still looking at Klaus like he had turned into the large inflatable unicorn floatie he had almost purchased at the store yesterday. "Who else could have done this? 'Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth.'"

 

"Don't go all Sherlock Holmes on me," he growled, but there was no heat in it.

 

"Ben?" Vanya had asked in a small but hopeful voice.

 

"Yeah. He thinks it's me, but he has been around me almost as long as I have been around me and I am pretty sure I would have remembered being able to freaking float," he exclaimed, trying to ignore the growing feeling of unease that kept getting stronger the longer he floated there.

 

"How long have you been sober?" Five asked, sounding a touch suspicious.

 

Klaus threw up his hands in annoyance. "For almost four months! What more do I need to do to convince my oh so loving siblings that I am clean? Are you guys gonna have me pee in a cup for you? I mean, circumstances right now aren't exactly ideal, but I've made more work with less."

 

"Ew, no," Five pulled one of his most disgusted faces. "I was asking because you're obviously developing more of your powers, dumbass."

 

Klaus still wasn't convinced. He didn't feel any different than he usually did. His hands weren't glowing. Other than the quiet nerves gaining traction in his stomach, every inch of his frustratingly sober body felt the same.

 

Allison was scribbling again as Diego watched over her shoulder. Finally, she faced the pad towards Klaus.

 

"How will you get down?" Her pretty face was marred with a concerned frown as she studied his hovering form.

 

"Uhh…" Klaus looked around himself for anything that might be able to help him. He was far enough away from the second story that he couldn't grab ahold of the remaining bannister and pull himself to safety. He could grab ahold of the chandelier, but that would leave him in the same precarious position he was in now and he would have to wait until Luther came home to try and fish him down. Definitely not the most ideal solution.

 

"Maybe if you think it? Like, think about your body floating down to the ground?" Ben suggested, pacing back and forth in front of the broken railing.

 

"I have been thinking of nothing else this entire time, brother dear," Klaus responded breezily, now reposed on his back.

 

Ben shot him an annoyed look. "Have you tried to visualize it?" Ben's tone was scathing.

 

Klaus rolled his eyes so dramatically, he could feel the strain. "Of c-"

 

It was then that his body decided to plummet to the hardwood floor.

 

He had ended up with bruised ribs and one hell of a goose egg. Grace had called him lucky. He figured that was an incredible understatement.

 

So that's how he ended up with his old man baby brother trying to take out his kneecaps alternating with his stabby brother trying to take off his ankles, both trying to force Klaus' levitating abilities out. So far Five had managed to tackle Klaus to the ground five times and he had at least three shallow cuts from Diego. The dodging that he had managed to do was purely athletic and had nothing to do with his powers.

 

"This isn't working!" he whined sadly, slumping his shoulders and hanging his head in a dramatic defeat.

 

"You're not concentrating hard enough," Five countered, not looking a bit winded at all, the bastard.

 

"I am concentrating!" he groaned, putting his hands together in a placating manner. "Can we pretty please try something else? Like running laps? Or push ups?"

 

"Can you even do a push up?" Diego asked skeptically.

 

"Well, no, probably not. I mean, I can definitely do one but-"

 

"None of that is going to help you access your levitation. Maybe we should just shove you off the roof," Five said contemplatively.

 

Diego looked alarmed. "We are not tossing our brother off a roof just for your amusement, Five," he said sharply.

 

"Well I don't know any other way of forcing his brain into accessing his powers, do you?" Five retorted back.

 

"He can't access his powers if he's mush," Diego snapped back.

 

"Or maybe his self preservation instincts will kick in and he won't be mush," Five countered back.

 

"This is Klaus we are talking about! He wasn't born with self preservation instincts!"

 

"Hey, hey, hey, hey," Klaus got between his two increasingly incensed brothers. "First off, ouch, I totally have self preservation instincts."

 

"Ben doesn't count," Diego interrupted flatly.

 

"And two," Klaus pretended to ignore Diego. "We can practice other stuff! Like keeping Ben corporeal? That's a thing we can do!"

 

"Except you've already been practicing that," Five said dismissively. "We need to explore your new powers."

 

"But I'm tired," Klaus whimpered. "Pretty please?" He clasped his hands together and threw himself prostrate at Five's feet.

 

Five growled and threw up his hands, stomping away from Klaus in a huff. Diego gave a gusty sigh.

 

"Fine! You are useless, you know that?" Five hissed.

 

"Yay!" Klaus squealed, giving Five a big hug (and earning himself a punch in the gut) before twirling away in a perfect pirouette. "Oh Benjamin!" Klaus sang, already fisting his hands and coaxing the otherworldly blue glow from under his skin.

 

"You rang?" Ben replied cheerfully, now fully corporeal.

 

"I hate this family," Five muttered crossly.

 

"You love us," Klaus grinned, punching Five in the shoulder playfully. Five narrowly missed grabbing his hand, probably to break it.

 

Ben gave Five a hug from behind that Klaus was certain would get Ben a fist to the face because that's exactly what Klaus would have gotten, but Five gave a fond huff and ducked away from Ben's embrace, curiously quiet. Klaus was definitely not jealous, nope.

 

Ben leaned down to scratch Fluffernutter under her neck. She had been curiously absent this entire training session, so it figured that she would show up the moment Ben did. Ben said that she was partly his cat anyways, because she had at least lost one of her nine lives hanging around Klaus and that was Ben's territory. So he had claimed, anyways.

 

A frisbee chose that moment to smack Five in the back of the head. Five whirled around, eyes flashing, to where Diego stood several yards away with the world's biggest shit-eating grin on his face. Before he could do something irreversible, like decapitate Diego with the frisbee, Klaus snatched it up and threw it to Ben. At least, Ben was his intended target, but he ended up hitting the ground a few inches away from Fluffernutter, who let out the meanest hiss Klaus had ever heard from her. Ben grabbed it from it's rolling trajectory, but aborted his move to throw it back to Diego in favor of contemplating the plastic disc.

 

"Where did this even come from?" Ben asked, confused, because that was obviously the most important question to be asked in this whole 180 degree change of events. "We don't own a frisbee?"

 

"Got it at the grocery store a few days back," Diego shrugged. "It's summer. That's what families do, right? Play outdoor games with one another?"

 

"Doesn't a game mean that everyone has a chance to win?" Klaus pouted, indicating Diego and Five with his 'Hello' hand.

 

"No," Ben grinned. "The definition only stipulates that it is a contest that is played by a set of rules and is decided by skill, strength, or luck."

 

"Of which you have none of," Five said breezily.

 

"That's kind of a dick thing to say," Klaus said sulkily. "Thanks, Merriam-Webster." He sent a glare towards Ben.

 

"Truth is truth," Diego grinned at Ben, who nodded in agreement.

 

"Beeeeeeeen, you're supposed to be on my side!" Klaus whined, clutching his chest with a wounded expression.

 

"No, thanks." Ben chucked the frisbee at Klaus, who only managed to avoid getting struck in the face because he backed up too quickly in anticipation and fell flat on his back.

 

The riotous laughter that followed took the sting out of his humiliation only marginally.

 

That was how a fairly intensive game of frisbee began in the courtyard of the Hargreeves manor. Not Ultimate Frisbee, mind you, because it was agreed that would only end with Five and Diego violently hurling the potentially dangerous disc of plastic at one another until serious injury or death interrupted them. No, it was a somewhat toned down game of normal frisbee, enough so that even Klaus was able to catch it a couple of times. Whenever it was his turn, he had tried to play Keep Away against Five who always blinked and intercepted the frisbee away from its intended target and sent it back towards Klaus harder than necessary.

 

Klaus was disappointed when the fatigue of keeping Ben corporeal began to hit him after only thirty minutes. He had been practicing this specific skill quite often, but only with Ben so far. None of the other spirits around the manor had been friendly enough to reintroduce to the land of the living. He knew his limit, and thirty minutes was nowhere near it.

 

The strain started small, a tightness in his chest similar to a fatigued muscle. He pushed it aside because it was familiar and he would be damned if he let his body tell him what to do.

 

After about an hour, the strain felt more like a vice between his temples, slowly but indomitably putting pressure on his brain. He excused himself from the game by cheerfully offering to retrieve lemonade for them all.

 

After retrieving the lemonade, the four of them agreed to relax in the shade for a bit as they sipped their cool drinks.

 

"There's too much sugar in this," Five griped at Klaus, making a face.

 

"It's to help offset your bitter personality," Klaus responded sweetly, earning himself a punch to the shoulder.

 

Klaus gave a dramatic whimper as he massaged his aching limb while Ben, bless his soul, started a conversation about literature to distract Five from anything more savage.

 

Five's perpetual frown had lifted during his banter with Ben as Diego lay on his back in the gravely grass a few feet away, soaking up the sun's warmth and the presence of their favorite brother. Things got a bit hazy after that. Their words ran together, murmurs and bright laughs turning staticky. They seemed perfectly content to ignore Klaus, which was really everything he could have asked for at the moment.

 

The vice turned into a jackhammer, punching holes in his cognizance of the situation. His chest felt tight, very much like when he had had pneumonia on the streets last winter. His body ached and shuddered, the muscle of his power begging for a release of tension. But he was also a stubborn bastard and he would be damned if he ruined this for his brothers. How many times had Ben missed out on family time, much less time with Five? When was the last time they were so relaxed and content to laze away in the warm summer afternoon, cool glasses of lemonade sweating delicately? Never. Klaus was not going to be the weakest link in this equation. He may have had a next to useless power, but he didn't have a weak will.

 

He didn't even feel unconsciousness take him.

 

-----

 

The change was abrupt. One minute, Ben and Five were chatting happily about Lovecraftian monsters and how Ben's Horror were similar and the next, Ben was gone. Diego wouldn't have even noticed the change had Five not interrupted himself mid-sentence and loudly sucked in a breath of surprise.

 

Diego had scrambled up to his feet, eyes adjusting to the shady area his brothers had been in. Five sat cross-legged alone, face still holding a dumbfounded expression. Klaus was several feet away, but lay crumpled on the ground instead of the lounging position he had been in moments before.

 

Before Diego could even move a muscle, Five had blinked next to Klaus, face unreadable and fingers deliberately finding his pulse point. The silence stretched a few beats before Five let out a small breath and looked up at Diego.

 

"Unconscious," he reported grimly.

 

Diego made his way to his brothers in a few clipped strides. Kneeling down, he did a quick inspection of Klaus. His face was drawn and slightly gray and  his pulse seemed too fast. His nail beds were a healthy pink even if his skin was cool to the touch.

 

"He overdid it," Diego stated, though this was already quite obvious. They all remembered the training their father had put them through, especially their individual sessions. Diego still couldn't quell the nausea completely whenever he was near the water. He knew Five was thinking along the same lines as he paled, probably remembering his own sessions and his frailty after.

 

"Moron," Five groused, but without any heat. He hovered his hand over Klaus' forehead before delicately laying it there. "Why didn't he say anything?"

 

"My guess is because he didn't want to come across as a failure," Diego sighed fondly, moving to scoop up his gangly brother.

 

"Of course he's not a failure," Five growled indignantly. "That's ludicrous."

 

Diego bit back a jaded laugh as he stood up with Klaus in his arms, shifting until it seemed he was comfortable. "We haven't done much to convince him otherwise," he remarked simply.

 

Five's visible consternation was quickly replaced by his usual expression of holier than thou boredom. He looked like he was going to say something, but closed his mouth and gritted his teeth. Diego stepped around him. When Five got like this, it was better to let him stew alone. Too much emotional stimulation made him volatile and brooding.

 

Diego had almost made it to the door to the kitchen when Five spoke. "Do you-" Five closed his mouth, chewing on the words. Diego just waited.

 

"Do you… think that some food would help?" Five was carefully looking at the frisbee he now had clutched in his hands, knuckles white. His bangs hid his eyes, but the minute shifting of his feet betrayed him.

 

Diego gave a soft smile. "Yeah. Yeah, I think it would." He turned and maneuvered the kitchen door open, leaving Five alone in the courtyard.

 

------

 

By the time Diego had gotten Klaus into some more comfortable clothes and into bed, Klaus' skin was beginning to return to his healthy tan. He turned off the overhead light, letting the fairy lights softly illuminate the space, as he quietly padded towards the door.

 

Diego's toe nudged something solid and ceramic sounding as he made his way into the hallway. A plate holding two fluffernutter sandwiches, carefully cut in diagonals, had been placed primly in front of Klaus' doorway accompanied by a half full glass of milk. Diego let his expression morph into a fond grin.

 

Maybe there was hope for all of them after all.