Forgetting about Klaus wasn’t Diego’s fault. Really, it wasn’t.
He did notice, in a vague, distant kind of way, that he hadn’t seen Klaus in a while. He distinctly remembered mentioning his absence at the family meeting, but impending apocalypse took precedence over their flaky, junkie brother. The mystery of Klaus had to be put on the back burner - and who could blame him? He loved Klaus, sure, but the guy was flighty and had a history of avoiding conflict, so it wasn’t a stretch to think he had decided not to stick around.
And then Harold Jenkins. Allison’s throat. Vanya.
So, Diego had been busy.
The siblings had gone to Vanya’s apartment after being attacked at the bowling alley, and waited in tense silence for their sister to return home. When she finally did, looking smart in her black tux, pale eyes swimming with tears, Allison had swept her into a tight, reassuring hug, and for a moment, they had thought that it was all over.
Then, of course, the commission had found them.
The fight had been brutal and messy and left Diego sore and aching. There were just so many of them. He knew that if Vanya hadn’t unleashed her powers, he would be dead. As it was, he felt pretty deathly - he had reopened the bullet wound on his arm, and his muscles screamed at every movement. So, once Five had assured them that he would take care of any remaining commission employees, disappearing with a briefcase in hand, he had trudged back to his apartment and promptly passed the fuck out.
That was how Al found him: fully dressed and drooling into the sheets.
“You better start paying me a wage if you keep using me as your fuckin’ secretary!” he yelled irritably.
“Wha’?” said Diego.
“Phone for you,” explained Al.
Frowning, Diego half jogged half stumbled to the phone, wiping sleep from his eyes as he went. “Hello?”
“Is this Diego Hargreeves?” said a cool, professional voice.
“Yes. Who is this?”
“This is Lenox Hill Hospital. I’m calling regarding a Mister Klaus Hargreaves? You’re listed as his emergency contact.”
“Shit- is he okay?” he asked urgently.
“I’m afraid I can’t give out information over the phone. Are you able to come in?”
“Um, yeah, I’ll be right there,” he said, hanging up and patting himself down for his car keys.
By the time he rolled up at the hospital, he had half convinced himself that Klaus was dead. No matter how many times he got the same damn call, he still panicked. He rushed down the too-familiar hospital halls, only pausing to get directions from a harried looking receptionist.
He ended up pacing the waiting room, heart thrumming in his chest, palms sweating. Waiting for the doctor to come talk to him always put him on edge. Klaus hated hospitals with a passion, and was liable to sneak out regardless of whether his doctors were ready to release him. For all he knew, Klaus was creeping out whilst he waited uselessly -that is, if Klaus was still alive.
“That’s me,” said Diego. He tried to read the woman’s expression, but she was inscrutable.
“Your brother was admitted four days ago,” she said, “after a head trauma.”
“Four days?” repeated Diego.
“We did try and call you,” she said mildly.
“Sorry, I’ve been- sorry,” said Diego lamely, skin itching at the lack of judgement on her face.
“He was found at a rave, unconscious.”
Diego sighed. “Yeah, he’s an addict.”
“Actually, there were no drugs in his system when he came in,” said the doctor.
Diego blinked. “Really?”
The doctor raised one crisp brow. “Really. He did, however, sustain a skull fracture and a traumatic brain injury.”
He felt like the air had been punched from his lungs. He drew a ragged breath, the words bouncing in his mind, leaving him sick with guilt. His brother had been in hospital with brain trauma for four days, and he hadn’t even worried?
“Is he- I mean, how b-bad is it?”
“He’s awake, and the swelling on his brain has already gone down. He was lucky; it could have been a lot worse.”
“Okay,” said Diego slowly. The doctor didn’t exactly sound happy.
“However, I need to ask some questions about Klaus’ medical history. Is that okay?”
“Um, sure,” said Diego.
The doctor took out a pen and neatly flipped open the chart in her hands. “Has your brother ever shown signs of any mental illness?”
Diego’s stomach turned. He hadn’t tried to- to hurt himself, had he? “No. I mean, I don’t think so, no.” With Klaus, would he know? He always kept his emotions so close to his heart, always grinning and joking and too high to let anything touch him.
“No signs of psychosis? Hallucinations, delusions?”
“What? No, of course-” Diego cut himself off. “Oh. Is this about the ghosts?”
“The… ghosts?” repeated the doctor, brow wrinkled.
Diego steeled himself. “You heard of the Umbrella Academy?”
He watched as the doctor mouthed the words, realisation lighting up in her eyes. “ Oh. You don’t mean-... The Seance?”
“That’s the one,” he said grimly.
“That would explain a lot,” the doctor said faintly. “We thought… the head trauma…”
“Yeah, well, if you had actually listened to my brother he could have explained all this,” said Diego caustically. He imagined Klaus, alone, twitching in that antsy way he always did around hospitals, being dismissed as psychotic. He was probably terrified of being committed.
“Well, that’s something else we need to discuss.”
Diego paused. “What?”
“Brain injuries are… unpredictable. We don’t really understand how the brain works, and sometimes-”
“What are you trying to say?” he snapped.
The doctor coughed. “Your brother is experiencing retrograde amnesia.”
A beat. “What?”
“It seems he is unable to recall autobiographical information - that is, he doesn’t remember who he is,” the doctor explained.
Diego shook his head. “I don’t- he doesn’t remember anything?”
“He remembers general information about the world, and how to perform tasks. Personal information - his parents, his home, his occupation - that is what he is unable to remember.”
He swallowed tightly. “He d-doesn’t remember me?” He hated how small his voice sounded in that moment. Hated it.
The doctor softened slightly. “I’m afraid not.”
“W-what about, um, the rest of it? Like, is he still…” he struggled for words.
“It’s somewhat difficult to tell, but so far it appears that his ability to create new memories is unimpaired. It may be that the retrograde amnesia is the only symptom of the brain injury. However, it’s not always possible to tell straight away, especially considering the… emotional distress.”
“And if there are m-m-m-,” he took a breath. “More symptoms?”
“He may experience some difficulty with language, or previously learned tasks. Seizures, maybe. It’s too soon to tell,” she said. “Would you like to sit? You look pale.”
He shook his head and said, “No. I want to see him.”
“Of course. This way.” She lead him down the corridor and paused outside a doorway. “I’ll come in with you and explain who you are, okay? Any questions before we go in?”
“No. Wait, yes. Is it permanent?”
The doctor grimaced. “I’m sorry, but there’s just no way of knowing. Some patients spontaneously remember, some don’t. Others only get some things back.”
“I know it’s a lot. Just be patient with him, okay? It’s a very confusing time for him.”
“Of course,” said Diego indignantly. “He’s my brother.”
She nodded in approval before opening the door.
“Hello, Klaus,” she said cheerily. “How are you feeling?”
Klaus was sitting on a hospital bed in a position that reminded Diego of when he was very young: knees tucked under his chin, hands over his ears. At their entrance, he uncurled just enough to face them properly, dropping his hands and pulling a face. “I’m okay,” he said.
He looked. Different. Diego couldn’t put his finger on why exactly. Maybe it was the lack of make up on his face, the way the starch hospital gown was hanging on his thin body - and had he always been so thin? A patch of hair along the side of his head was shaved away, a neat line of stitches in its place. Or maybe it was none of that. Maybe it was the way Klaus held himself, without any of the usual theatricality. His face held no recognition, none of the usual mix of happiness and nervousness that he usually wore when he saw Diego. He was just… blank.
“Hi, Klaus,” he croaked.
Klaus licked his lips, looking awkward in a way that sat wrong on him. “Sorry, I don’t- do I know you?”
Diego’s stomach clenched painfully.
“This is your brother, Diego,” the doctor said.
“Oh,” said Klaus, looking at him curiously. “You don’t look like me, do you?”
“Adopted,” said Diego.
“Oh,” he said again. “Are you older than me? Or younger?”
“The same age, actually,” said Diego.
Klaus frowned. His eyes darted away briefly, then back. “How old am I?”
Diego felt a jolt of nerves zip up his spine at the question. He had to grit his teeth against the urge to run, or hit something, or yell. “Twenty-nine,” he said.
Klaus nodded, and then flinched at something unseen, hands twitching towards his ears. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“Shit, don’t-” he cut himself off at the expression of open distress on his brother’s face. “Sorry. Um, you’re probably seeing a lot of people right now, huh?”
Klaus chewed at the inside of his cheek before replying, “I know they aren’t real.” Then, contrary to his words, he jerked sharply, as if under attack. Diego couldn’t remember ever seeing Klaus like this before. Had something about the head injury made his powers stronger? Was that even possible?
“Actually, that’s something we needed to talk to you about,” said the doctor gently. “We were wrong, earlier. Remember how I explained about hallucinations?”
Klaus’ eyebrows pulled together. “Yeah?”
The doctor nodded to Diego, and he said, “They’re real. You have an ability to see the dead.”
“Ghosts. You can see ghosts,” said Diego.
“Oh,” said Klaus. Then, his face crumpled, and he began to cry.
“Wait- Klaus, don’t-” stuttered Diego, horrified. He had made his brother cry. He took a step towards him, made an abortive attempt to touch him before withdrawing; would Klaus want to be touched by a stranger?
“They’re so, they’re so,” sobbed Klaus, burying his face in his knees. “They’re horrible! They won’t stop screaming, oh my god, they won’t stop-”
“Klaus,” the doctor said, voice calm but firm, “You need to slow your breathing down.”
“I can’t- I can’t-,” said Klaus, shoulders shaking. “They’re real?”
“Yeah,” said Diego. “Just breathe, okay?”
But his breathing didn’t seem to be slowing at all. “Oh god, oh god, why won’t they go away? How do I- How do I make them go away?”
Drugs, thought Diego, stomach turning at the thought. He had always thought that Klaus was weak for his addiction, but if the alternative was this-
“Please, please, let me out, I’ll be good, let me out, dad -,” moaned Klaus before he was overtaken by fast pants, choking on air. Diego looked to the doctor and back, stricken. What was Klaus talking about?
The doctor was quick to take action, crouching and Klaus’ side and talking him through a breathing exercise in a low, soothing voice. Diego watched, helpless, useless, his ears ringing with his brother’s words. Let me out, Dad.
What the hell?
It took a solid ten minutes before Klaus could breathe without the aid of the doctor counting each breath. He looked pale and sweaty, drooping into his pillows.
“What did you mean when you said that?”
Klaus looked at him, forehead creased. “What?”
“You said,” Diego said, “You said, let me out, dad.”
“No, I didn’t,” said Klaus blankly.
Frustration unfurled hotly in Diego’s chest at the denial. He had heard him.
“Diego, a word outside?” said the doctor. Her tone was genial, but her eyes were hard.
“What?” he said, as soon as the door swung shut behind them.
“Your brother just had a panic attack. He’s confused and frightened. Now isn’t the time for an interrogation.”
“But what did he mean? Why did he say that?” demanded Diego.
The doctor took a step back, and ran a hand down her face. “Some people with traumatic brain injury display symptoms like spontaneous, iterative speech. He probably wasn’t intending to say it at all.”
“But why? Why did he say it?”
“I wouldn’t like to speculate,” said the doctor with an air of finality.
Diego said, “Fine.”
“We also need to discuss what happens next. His insurance is covered by your father’s policy-” (Diego decided not to mention his recent passing) “-but I have no up to date address for your brother.”
“I’m not sure that he had a permanent address,” Diego edged.
The doctor raised her eyebrows. “Homeless?”
Diego’s hackles raised. “I offered for him to stay with me, but he always said he was staying with one friend or another.”
“Well, he’s going to need somewhere to stay, and probably a full time carer initially, at least until we can better judge his capability.”
“He’s staying with me,” said Diego, tone leaving no room for argument.
The doctor smiled, pleased. “Let me go get the paperwork.”