Klaus does not know a lot of things, but he knows death. Death has been his constant companion for thirty-four years. It stared at him in the cradle, it screamed at him in the mausoleum, and it breathed down his neck in Vietnam. He knows its tricks, its rules, its truths. And one of those truths is that people never die in the ways that they deserve to. Death has its own definitions of wrong, of fairness, and they do not comply with the rules of the living. Death is not justice.
But, then again, Klaus has always broken convention.
The Horror constricts itself around his chest. After a moment of unbearable pressure, his sternum and ribs give way. Hot shards of bone pierce through his organs, shredding his lungs and heart. His nose, mouth, and throat fill with blood. He’s too torn up to even draw in a last breath. He’s finally been shut up.
After silencing Ben for seventeen years, after letting him fade away without getting a chance to even say goodbye, Klaus knows very well that this is what he deserves.
The Horror howls and shrieks. The sound is far, far away. Klaus’s family screams, too. Klaus’s eyes aren’t working, his vision blurry from what he knows is shock, but even he can see that the room is filling with Vanya’s blinding white light. Maybe, just maybe, his family will get out of here. They’ll escape. They’ll defeat the Sparrow Academy, throw Reginald out onto the street, and live long, happy lives. Open a donut shop. Have a sitcom life, like the one they dreamed about when they were kids. Without Klaus, sure. But that doesn’t matter.
Maybe he doesn’t deserve to hope. But he takes that tiny spark and pulls it in, nice and close. It’s warm, and everything else is cold. He shuts out the screaming, the blood, and everything else that hurts. His family will live, because they have holidays to celebrate, and weddings to go to, and children to have. They’ll live, because Diego has to bring Lila home, Allison has to find Claire, Five has to finally have a good cup of coffee. They’ll live, because they can’t die like this.
The light brightens, burning, and Klaus closes his eyes against its brilliance. The Horror’s grip tightens, and something else inside him cracks open and it’s slippery-hot and he closes his eyes and it’s pain and dark but he can’t scream and—
Klaus opens his mouth. Air comes in. Air goes out.
He can breathe.
He remembers this air. It’s different from Earth. It’s clean and pleasant, like a glass of mouthwash for his insides. He wiggles his fingers, brushing them against the cool grass that’s beneath him. It’s pleasant. The sky above him is pale grey. It’s soft, like early morning daylight, but there is no sun in the sky. He stares and stares, because he’s dead, and there’s not much left to do but onserve.
“You didn’t listen to me.”
Klaus doesn’t need to turn his head to know that it is the little girl lying beside him. His memory is bad, ruined by years of consistent drug use, but it would be impossible to forget something like her.
“I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter,” Klaus points out.
“I don’t care,” she says shortly. “You’re still here.”
He doesn’t want to look at her. He spent year dealing with the knowledge that God, the creator of all things, knew him and personally hated him. He was used to people hating him, but something about it being God made the sting of the rejection all that much worse. The single-minded devotion of his cult followers helped him get over it, but if he looks at her and sees her face, sees the hatred, the disgust, it might just come rushing back. He can’t cry in front of her, he’s already had enough humiliation.
If one of his siblings was in his place, they’d know what to say. What to ask. They’d know how to take advantage of the opportunity and learn more about the secrets of the universe. But he’s not one of them, he’s Klaus, and he long ago accepted that he would never be able to be something they would approve of. That anybody would approve of. “Do I have to go back?” Klaus asks, instead.
The little girl doesn’t even hesitate. “Yes.”
He tries to keep his voice steady, but it comes out broken and wet. “Why?”
She doesn’t say anything. Klaus brushes his “hello” against the grass, which is soft as shag carpet. No sharp edges, little rocks, or sticks. The girl stays silent for so long that he was honestly sure that she wasn’t going to reply, so he jumps a mile when she finally speaks. “It’s not over. You still have a chance to fix what you broke.”
There’s a horrible swoop in the pit of his stomach. Klaus forgets his goals of dignity and looks at her, panicked. Her angelic little face is twisted up at him, her expression very much unimpressed. “Stop what?” he asks. He sits up, his breath sticking inside of his throat. “The—the Apocalypse? I thought it was over, I—we fixed it, Ben fixed Vanya all up. It’s not over?”
The little girl stares imperviously.
“What the fuck do you expect me to do about it?”
“I already told you,” the girl says, tone impatient. “Do what I made you to do, and fix it.”
Then, the ground is gone from beneath him. He’s falling, falling, falling, into bottomless darkness.
He tries to fight it. Make his way out of whatever hell that little bitch has thrown him into. But the darkness is so thick, so hard to move in, it’s like his whole body has been set to slow motion. He can’t breathe, the few moments of air he had in the afterlife just wasn’t enough. The darkness seeps cold into his bones, flows into his lungs and fills them, and he might die here, be sent back here, again, and again, and again. He keeps thrashing, like it might make a difference.
A different type of cold steals over his body, and a little voice echoes inside his skull. Stop panicking, I’ve got this, it says. A voice that sounds oddly like…Five? Then, his body moves through the darkness as if on its own volition. He’s surrounded by a bright blue glow, the world is tilting sickeningly and—
There’s air. His blood rushes in his ears with greedy relief, and he tries to gasp the air in, but his breath catches. He coughs. Then, he can’t stop. His lungs feel raw, like he’d just smoked a bowl of glass shards. There’s water coming out of his body, seemingly endless, and he coughs and chokes until his body finally seems satisfied that he’s expelled all of it. By the time he’s done, he’s on his hands and knees, his head is spinning, and his eyes are streaming with tears. Well, that settles it. He’s alive. Disgustingly so.
He opens his eyes. Everything is blurry and smeared, as if between dying and drowning, he’d somehow taken some real good shit. He blinks a few times, clearing his eyes, but the image still isn’t perfectly clear. Maybe he needs glasses. He squints, and, huh. The surroundings, they’re familiar. He knows those flickering streetlights, those dingy grey warehouses, the filthy black water lapping at concrete. He even recognizes the buildings, the shapes that the lighted windows make in the distance.
She hasn’t sent him to hell. She’s sent him to the grimy docks, near the industrial district. Old stomping grounds. He’s sucked dick for blow behind more than one of these dumpsters.
Five steps into Klaus’s field of vision. He leans forward, squinting, like Klaus is a particularly interesting science experience. His eyes flick over to different parts of Klaus’s body, finally landing on where Klaus’s chest had been cracked open like a walnut. Klaus just breathes, air his new favorite drug. He thinks he might have to thank Five, for apparently jumping him out of the ocean and saving his ass, but he’s not up for the sincerity. Especially not when Five is giving him that look.
His older brother leans back on the heels of his bowling shoes. At least, Klaus thinks they’re shoes. They’re out of focus and are more blue-red splotches than shoes. “You’re alive,” Five diagnoses.
Klaus sniffles. Hacks up some filthy saltwater slime and spits it on the ground. “You’re truly one of the greatest minds of our time.” It’s so fucking cold. His clothes are soaked all the way through, but it’s so cold that they’re starting to freeze onto his body. His breath rises up in little smoke clouds.
“You weren’t lying about Ben possessing you. At dinner.”
Odd non-sequitur, but it feels kind of good, too. Someone believes what he says, for once, and it’s even Five. That is doubly cool. “Yeah.”
Behind Five, there’s movement. Klaus’s eyes are now focusing better. He can see that the figures looming behind Five are not, in fact, the quiet accident and murder victims that usually roam the docks. They’re his family. Five is obviously heading up the group, arms crossed and expression impervious. Luther stands a few feet behind him, body language awkward and unsure, though it always seems to be that way. Allison stands close to Luther and Vanya stands close to Allison. Diego hangs further back, away from the circle of light cast by the streetlight that they are standing under, masking himself with darkness. They’re all here. Well, not Ben (never Ben again, he knows), but he’ll learn to deal with that, it’s okay.
All of them have really strange looks on their faces, but after what they’d just experienced, he can’t fault them for being a little off.
Klaus scrambles up to his feet, the cold and drowning forgotten. “Oh, thank God.” He regrets his phrasing instantly—he does not want to draw God’s attention again—but this is something that he’s okay with thanking her for. “How did you guys get out of there? Vanya, did you…did you kill, the, uh, emo Ben?”
All of them, even Five, blanch.
Klaus throws his hands up, hastily clarifying, “It wouldn’t be your fault if you did! I mean, you saw what he was doing, I thought he was going to rip us all to bloody shreds, honestly, so it would be pure self-defense, absolutely, no judgment here. Just, would be good to know if I need to look out for Mr. Tentacle Hentai Dreamboat in the future, or if he’s crawled back into the internet sewage where he belongs.”
Five exchanges a look with Luther. Diego flips one of his dumb knives in his hand, expression stone. Klaus is babbling, he knows it, but he usually gets a reluctant smile from Allison by now, at least. Klaus tries to catch Allison’s eyes, but she looks away, jaw tight. What did he do to piss them off this time?
“I…” He pauses, takes a couple of deep breaths to replenish those pesky oxygen stores, and continues. “I know seeing my gross dead corpse was probably traumatic, but it’s all good now, it’s fine, God hates me and kicked me out of her clubhouses. What’s with the funeral faces?”
Luther squares his shoulders, opening his mouth to speak. He looks…different, Klaus thinks. Smaller. That’s it, Klaus needs to get glasses. “What do you remember about what happened?”
Klaus casts his mind back to the events of the past few hours. “We used the suitcase. Reggie told us we were useless apocalypse-inciters, death-harbingers, and fashion abominations, and he sicced his attack Bentacles on us. We fought, I was KO’ed…I don’t remember anything after that, but I think Vanya powered up her charge attack and got us out? And now we’re, here?” He wracks his oxygen-deprived brain for more details, but comes up blank.
Vanya and Five shake their heads in eerie synchronicity. Allison opens her mouth, closes it again. Diego turns his back to all of them, tilting his face up to the sky and rubbing the back of his neck.
“What?” Klaus frowns. “I just pulled a Jesus act here, why do you have your panties bunched up because I can’t give a perfect mission report?”
“Klaus,” Luther begins. “There’s no easy way to say this…” Then, he just trails off. They all stand for a few seconds, waiting for Luther to finish, but that seems to be it.
“Wow. I guess there isn’t,” Klaus says.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’ll do it, you pussies.” Diego’s sentence comes out in a low growl. He whips around and marches up to Klaus. For a moment, it doesn’t register in Klaus’s brain that it’s his mostly harmless brother, because he just looks like big and man and angry. He flinches back, and Diego stops short. Most of the anger bleeds from his face, but he’s still tense and drawn. More serious than Klaus thinks is necessary for the situation at hand.
This must be bad.
Something important happened, and it’s bad, and Klaus has somehow fucked up and missed it again. That’s why Diego is angry. It’s because Klaus wasn’t looking out and paying enough attention, because he was a fuckup like he always was. “What is it?”
When they were little kids, and Klaus got roughed up during training sessions, he always went to Vanya. She was quiet, and didn’t ask questions, or imply that the injuries were personal failures. She’d gently dab hydrogen peroxide on his cuts and use soft fingers to smooth band-aids over each one, no matter how shallow they were. She’d always given him the princess band-aids, even though they belonged to her and he wasn’t supposed to have them, because they were pink, and he was a boy.
Like any Hargreeves child, Klaus was used to pain, but that seemed to just make the tiny things worse. So, when Klaus had to rip his band-aids off himself, tearing off hair and healed skin, he just couldn’t seem to do it. Vanya, like Klaus, was too hesitant. Gentle, slow, and causing more pain because of it. So, when he needed to have his band-aids ripped off, he went to Diego. Diego would count to one, two, skip three, and rip them off. No hesitation. No fuss. Of course, he complained about playing nurse, but he was a big softie, and he did it for Klaus every time.
When Diego got older, he lost his caring, soft edges. But he never stopped being the person that Klaus went to when he needed something done, even if that thing would hurt.
Klaus knows the expression on Diego’s face better than the hello and goodbye on the palms of his hands. This is not a princess band-aid, but Diego tears it away like one.
“Klaus…we didn’t make it out of there.”
The world around Klaus, the glinting city lights and the stars beyond, had been slowly sharpening. With that sentence, it starts fading into obscurity again. Klaus swallows, hard, and plays dumb. “What do you mean?”
He looks away from them, out at the dark water. He doesn’t want to look too close at them. He doesn’t want to look at Five, at his bone dry uniform, even though he’d just pulled Klaus out of the ocean. He doesn’t want to look at Allison, or the strange sticky patches in her hair. He doesn’t want to look at Diego, see the lack of light in his eyes.
“We didn’t make it out. We died. We all died, except for you.”
For the second time today, the ground crumbles away. Klaus is cold and alone, in empty, empty, air.