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To Those With Love

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On Monday morning, Leo opened the door to the Libra main office and was literally blown off his feet.

It was actually a fairly common occurrence, and he had learned how to roll with it. There was a particular way it felt when Klaus's aura was flaring up. He'd convinced Steven to install a tall rectangle of padding on the wall directly opposite of the door, and he'd gotten very good at relaxing himself and -- going limp, essentially. He hit the wall with a small thud and rolled a little, back to his feet a moment later. After a pause to brush himself off, he ambled back to the door and peeked inside.

Just as he expected, there was Klaus, standing by his desk. He was so fired up that he was glowing faintly in Leo's vision; his aura rippled around him like actual flames.

And standing in front of him, between him and Leo and everything else, was another man who was -- somehow, ridiculously, impossibly -- even bigger than Klaus.

Leo made a startled noise as the fact registered, something like "wrrrrlgh?!" and the man turned around. Some distant part of Leo's brain registered intensely green eyes and a tamed mane of shaggy red hair, shot with streaks of silver at the temples, and a powerful lower jaw with two distinct little fangs protruding over his lower lip. His aura was enormous. Leo had never seen one bigger than Klaus's before --

-- well, also, come to think of it, he'd never seen any human be physically bigger than Klaus either --

-- and it took a surprising amount of effort to hold his ground and not simply let get blown back again.

For a moment they just stared at each other. Leo could see Klaus, just barely, standing behind the other man. He looked ... almost nervous, actually. As much as he ever did. The stranger -- though, if he let himself think about it, that man wasn't really one, though, wasn't he? -- had a very stern expression, his brows drawn together and a familiar hard set to his jaw.

And then, with a sudden and unexpected fluidity, he broke into a wide sunny smile.

"Ah!" he cried. He had a voice that was just as large as the rest of him; booming, really, with a vibration that Leo could feel in his toes. A moment later he charged forward with enough force that Leo's feet skidded a bit against the floor. He opened his arms open wide, as if for an embrace, and Leo's eyes opened in automatic self-defense. Before he could do anything about it, though, he was swept off his feet -- literally off his feet! -- and into a rib-crushing, spine-cracking hug. It was a little bit like being picked up by a very warm house. "Aha, so you are the one! Hello, hello! I have heard very much about you!"

"Uhh," Leo said. It was the best he could do, with what little air he had left in his lungs. Somehow he freed one arm, waving it wildly. He hoped Klaus could see it, especially after the man took it as an invitation and began to pat Leo on the back.

Well. "Pat" him on the back, which was more like whacking him, all the while making a pleased rumbling noise. Could lions purr? He had the vague recollection that they couldn't, but right now there was a very strong case being made otherwise.

"Fritz," Klaus said, "you are making it hard for him to breathe."

"Hm? Ah!" Leo found himself thrust back suddenly, though those huge meaty hands still gripped his arms, holding him a good foot or so off the ground. Up close, he could see a dozen more smaller details that made the face both deeply familiar and completely strange: the nose was sharp and proud, though it turned up just the slightest bit at the tip in a sharp angle, leaving a distinct point. Fine wrinkles gathered at the corners of his eyes, and in spite of his prominent fangs, he smiled wide and effortless, unselfconscious about his pleasure. "I apologize! That is no way to treat a brother."

"Uh," Leo said again. "... No hard feelings? But, er, if you could put me down, I'd appreciate it."

The man laughed at that. It was a deep belly laugh, and it made his entire body vibrate. He set Leo down with more delicacy than he'd picked him up, then stepped back, crossing his arms and giving him a more critical look. Though his eyes were bright and intent, he was still smiling so widely that he looked like he might start laughing again at any moment.

"I apologize," he said again, and then he put a hand to his chest and swept in a deep courtly bow. It was the sort of thing that could have come out of a period piece, though it was so effortless it managed not to feel out of place at all. "I was just very excited to meet you finally, Leonardo."

Leo stared. Part of him wondered if he should bow back -- was that what you did, in a situation like this? -- and then the name clicked into place.

"Wait a moment," he said.

The man looked up first, then straightened, back to his natural enormous height. He was a bit more subdued, though he was still smiling widely.

"Wait a moment," Leo said again. He looked past the man to Klaus, who still looked nervous. He was almost fidgeting in place, though he hadn't moved from where he'd been when Leo had first arrived.

"You," Leo said to the stranger. "You're ... are you--"

The stranger cocked his head and smiled again. His eyes softened, and he put a hand to his heart, though he didn't bow this time.

"Allow me to introduce myself," he said. "I am Friedrich von Reinherz, eldest son of the Reinherz family. I am aware of who you are, Leonardo Watch, and I thank you on behalf of my family and myself, for the care and kindness you have shown to our youngest, Klaus." After a moment he smiled again, brighter than before. "Please, call me Fritz."

Leo stared. He pointed a finger, his hand shaking as he moved between Fritz and Klaus. There was something huge welling up inside of him and he was fairly certain that it was panic. Klaus raised both hands, as if he meant to be appeasing, though he still didn't move from the spot.

When Leo found his voice, though, it was higher than he would have liked, and louder, and -- well, okay, in all honesty: it was a shriek more than anything else: "He's your BROTHER?!"

"Do not worry!" Fritz said happily. He gave Leo a hearty whack on the back, which sent him stumbling awkwardly forward until Klaus darted forward to catch him. "I am your brother, too. DIdn't I say? Thank you for taking care of our Klaus for us!"

"Oh god, kill me now," Leo said. The words were mostly lost in the muscled curve of Klaus's arm. Klaus patted his back, which was still a bit like getting punched, but it was at least marginally more gentle.

"He has been very excited about this," Klaus said, before he set Leo back properly onto his feet. He did not move his hands away once he had, though, looking to Fritz again. "I apologize for this being sprung on you, Leo; I was under the impression it would not be so soon."

"Ah," Fritz said brightly. "That was Adelbert's idea!"

"Adelbert?" Leo repeated blankly.

"Our other brother," Klaus said. "He is the businessman."

"He is a very good one, too," Fritz said happily. Leo was beginning to think that the man might not have any other setting. "I am the politician, he is the businessman, Klaus is the hero. Our mother is very proud."

"I'm not at all anything like that," Klaus said, but he sounded pleased. His fingers flexed against Leo's back but remained in place, steady and warm. "I am only trying to do the right thing."

"So are we all!" Fritz said. He almost boomed it, really, loud enough to make Leo's ears ring. "But only one of us is situated here, in Hellsalem's Lot, on the frontlines! I am policy, and Adelbert is philanthropy, but our Klaus, he retains the heart of what the Reinherz once were." He leaned down and in, his face abruptly so close to Leo's that Leo skittered a step back with a helpless little yelp. "Do you know about the Reinherz, Leonardo?"

"Er," Leo said. "You're all huge?"

Fritz blinked, then threw his head back and roared with laughter. It was beginning to make Leo's head hurt a little. "We are of good stock, it is true! We are strong and healthy. But we are more than that, see." He sobered -- though only barely, the amusement still obvious in his eyes -- and thumped a fist to his chest. "We are the pure heart, you see. It is a thing we are all very proud of."

"You're getting ahead of yourself, Fritz," Klaus said. After a pause, his hand slid up to Leo's shoulder instead, very gently -- and subtly -- drawing Leo away from Fritz, closer into the long line of Klaus's own body. "Leo was never part of that world before he came here; he does not know any of the history."

"Bah," Frtiz said. He straightened again and wrinkled his nose. It was a casual gesture, almost childish, and seemed weirdly at odds with his dignified features. "That is the boring part. The important part, Leonardo, is that we are a proud family, and we are a noble one, and as our newest member, I hope you will trust us to do our best by and for you. You have made our Klaus very happy. For that alone, we are indebted to you."

"... Uh," Leo said. Klaus's hand tightened on his shoulder for a beat. It almost hurt, but it helped center him as well, and he was more grateful for that than he wanted to admit. "I ... I'm trying my best."

"And that is all I would ask of you," Klaus said. His voice was gentle, and he leaned a little to study Leo's face. His gaze was intent and thoughtful, and after a moment, he said, "I apologize for imposing, but if I could trouble you to fetch us some donuts?" He pulled out his wallet, and from that produced a hundred-dollar bill. Just like that. Because of course he could and did. "As many as you can carry."

"Adelbert will be here soon," Fritz said. "He will also be hungry."

Leo stared at the bill, then looked up at Klaus's face. He was smiling with his eyes, enough that it turned up the corners of his mouth just a little. There was also something a bit more wry in his expression, too, something outright sympathetic. Something in Leo's chest eased at that. Almost in spite of himself, he smiled back.

"Enough for all of you? I can try," he said. "It's not my fault if this isn't enough."

"Oh, do you think you need more?" Fritz said. He started patting his pockets. "I, too, could give you some money, Leonardo--"

"No," Leo said. It came out a lot faster and more clipped than he meant, a NO instead of just a regular refusal, but neither Klaus nor Fritz seemed to think this was that rude. He began to back away, stuffing the bill into his pocket -- he'd have to go a longer route to avoid the usual gang of muggers, but ever since the incident with the witch three months ago, it was easier, at least, to switch to using the Eyes when he needed to avoid a Situation. "It's fine. You shouldn't ruin your dinner, right?"

"Ruin it?" Fritz blinked a moment at that, then looked at Klaus. He said something in German at that (and boy was that a language Leo probably needed to at least start trying to pick up), which made Klaus chuckle and answer in turn. After a bit of back and forth, Fritz turned to Leo again. "Oh, no, that is fine. A man like me, I am never full. Klaus has told me he has plans for dinner tonight, but a snack beforehand is never a bad thing. I am looking forward to it! If you'd like, I would be happy to accompany you--"

"Gilbert is making tea," Klaus said. "He's very excited to have the chance to serve you again."

"Ah, is that so?" Fritz's eyes went wide. "It would take a stronger man than I to disappoint him. Very well! I apologize, Leonardo, I cannot go with you today."

"Er," Leo said. He glanced at Klaus. "Thaaat's all right. I, uh. I can handle it. I'll, uh, I'll be right back."

That said, he turned and almost marched out. Once the doors closed behind him, he took a deep, deep breath, then mashed both hands against his face and let out a long whining noise. It sounded like a balloon deflating.

"Aha," Steven said. "I see you've met the brother."

Leo opened his fingers enough to peer through them. Steven had a cup of coffee in one hand and looked unfairly composed, as always. The corner of his mouth ticked up after a moment, and he held the cup out to Leo. For a moment Leo stared suspiciously, and then he grabbed for the cup and took a deep sniff.

"... Brandy?" he said.

"Technically it's a Spanish Coffee," Steven said. "Brandy and kahlua. You looked rather like you needed it more than I do."

"Bless you, Mr. Steven," Leo said, and downed half the cup in a single shot. It burned his tongue a little, but he barely even flinched. When he lowered it, he took a deep breath and let it out as a hiss.

Steven chuckled. It wasn't unkind, but it was also quite knowing. Before Leo could finish the cup, though, he took it back.

"You get used to them," he said. "... Eventually."

Leo just looked at him. After a few seconds, Steven laughed again, holding up his free hand like a surrender.

"It's the honest truth," he said. He beckoned and started to walk, and Leo trotted to fall in step beside him. "You were overwhelmed by Klaus first, weren't you?"

"Well, yeah," Leo said. "But that was -- that was different."

"Was it?" Steven glanced back at him, raising an eyebrow. "Really?"

Leo opened his mouth. He had the argument perfectly ready for it -- of course it is, why wouldn't it be, I mean, look at how we turned out -- and then he considered. He closed his mouth.

"It was a little different," he said at last. Because he was a mature and reasonable individual, it was only a tiny bit sulky.

Steven chuckled. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet and handed Leo a twenty. "You're going to get snacks for them, aren't you? Be a good friend and pick me up a Subway. You remember my order, right?"

"A footlong cold-cut combo on Italian, extra olives, no onions, bell and banana peppers, and vinegar," Leo said. "No chips, but a large of whatever Dr. Pepper knockoff they've got this week. A cookie if they've got the white chocolate, but they haven't had those in over a month, Mr. Steven, you might need to give up on that."

"Hope always springs eternal, young man," Steven said, and waved him off. "Go on, before Fritz decides he wants to accompany you after all."

The sound of his laughter followed Leo down the stairs and out the building. In spite of himself, Leo kept glancing back for the first few blocks, just in case. Not that he really thought Klaus would let it happen, or that Fritz was capable of being at all sneaky, but ... well. Just in case.

He bought the donuts first. Klaus favored the really fancy bakery about five blocks from the office, but today Leo was going for quantity over quality. If he went just a few blocks further, there was a place that sold cheaper pastries that were still at least half as good, when warm. He'd wondered before about the proximity of multiple higher-end bakeries in the neighborhood when one had to go all the way down to Ghetto Heights for a decent burger, but he suspected it all had to do with one particularly large redheaded reason. Klaus required a not-entirely-surprising amount of snacks to keep going through the day, and when allowed, he tended towards the sweet.

A hundred bucks bought a pretty decent amount of donuts, and after that it was another sidelong detour to the Subway. It was a particularly lucky day: even without cheating with the Eyes, no one gave him a second glance. He considered patting himself on the back, and was so distracted that he didn't actually notice the old lady until he'd run right into her.

They bounced apart, the way unintended collisions did, and Leo had to scramble for a moment to keep his grip on everything. He spared a moment to be thankful he'd gone for a bottle for Steven's drink and not a fountain cup before he looked up. "Oh, god, I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"

The woman in question was about the same height as Leo -- maybe a little shorter, certainly more delicate -- with bright silver hair swept up in a neat bun. Along with piercing green eyes and little half-moon glasses, a very nice sweater-blouse and pencil skirt, she was pretty much a poster for the whole "sexy older librarian look." She at least looked like someone who might have stepped off the pages of a catalogue, perfectly coiffed and composed even after being run into. Leo contemplated this for a moment, then very firmly put it from his mind in favor of fussing. She chuckled a beat later, though, waving him off.

"Oh, yes, I am quite fine," she said. She tugged at her sleeves, and something about that gesture was naggingly familiar. A lot about her was, honestly. "I was also not paying attention. I apologize."

"It's easy to get distracted," Leo said. "Uh, then, I'll be on my way--"

"A moment, young man," she said, before he'd taken more than a step. When he glanced back, she was studying him with an unnervingly keen expression. Without breaking eye contact, she produced a small, neatly-folded square of paper from her pocket. "I am attempting to find a particular address. If you could help me?"

"Errrr." Leo fidgeted for a moment, then wrestled enough of his burden into the crook of one arm, so he could reach to take the paper from her. With a bit of fumbling, he got it open and studied the address.

"Oh," he said. "That's not too far from where I'm headed. Want an escort?"

Something about the offer seemed to please her: her eyes went wide and then her lips pursed, like she was trying to suppress a smile.

"I would like that very much," she said. She held out her hand, and Leo put the paper back into it -- but before he could withdraw, she caught his in a firm handshake. Despite her thin graceful build -- the word birdlike rose in Leo's mind, unbidden -- her grip was powerful and steady. "My name is Elisabet."

"Leo," he said, and managed a small, embarrassed smile. "Are you new in town?"

"Oh, no," she said, shaking her head. "I'm only here for a short time. I am visiting family."

"Is that so?" Leo hesitated a moment. His arm was beginning to hurt from the weight of the donuts and the sandwich, but something about the lady was undeniably elegant, and while he wasn't really the best for this sort of thing ... he offered his arm. He didn't have the same sort of suave charisma that Klaus would, in a situation like this, but he liked to think that he'd picked up a little, at least, over the past eight months.

Elisabet blinked slowly. Just as Leo was starting to think that maybe he should be embarrassed, though, she smiled and reached to curl her hand lightly in the crook of his arm. It was thin with long tapered fingers, outright fragile in appearance ... but Leo could see some surprisingly heavy calluses across the ridge of her palm and her fingertips. However flimsy she looked, she was no stranger to hard work.

"You're a very nice young man," she said. "Your mother taught you well."

Leo, who had not spoken to his mother in longer than he cared to admit, shrugged as best he could, embarrassed by the praise. "I try. I mean, no point in being a di-- a j-- rude, right?"

She chuckled at that. The sound was small and fond and somehow weirdly familiar. For just a moment, he was reminded of being a kid at family gatherings, and the way his mother and aunts would laugh over the things he said.

She's probably a mom herself, huh. She has that power. He glanced at her sidelong, and not for the first time, he was glad that he could see through his own eyelids. If Elisabet thought it was particularly strange that her guide kept his eyes closed, she didn't say.

"So, you're just visiting," he said after a brief pause. "Is this your first time in Hellsalem's Lot?"

"The first since it became such," she said. "I visited it when it was New York City on a handful of occasions. It was my husband's favorite American city."

"Oh." Slightly awkward, that. Leo kicked to send a pebble skittering. "Is he here too?"

"No, unfortunately." She heaved a sigh at that, deep enough to rock her whole body, but she was smiling again. "He came down with the flu very shortly before we were scheduled to leave. Even though he tried very hard to convince us he was well, bah!" She shook her head. "The doctors said that he must remain in bed, and so he stayed home. I am sure he has not stopped pouting since we left."

In spite of her words, her expression softened so much that Leo had to glance away, for a second too embarrassed by that amount of emotion. That was the way Klaus looked at him, sometimes, and usually when he thought Leo wasn't paying attention -- did he look like that, watching Klaus? In a couple of decades, would that be him, laughing about his partner being silly?

The thought made something twist in his stomach, though -- and not in a terribly bad way, either.

To be honest, he kind of liked it.

"And what about you, Leo?" Elisabet said. There was a certain keenness to her expression that reminded Leo entirely too much of grandmothers and aunts at every family reunion. Leonardo, we're worried, your parents aren't getting any younger, are you ever going to bring anyone home? He had to shake his head fiercely at that, then managed a slightly embarrassed smile when she cocked her head at him.

"I've got someone, yeah," he said. "We're, uh ... I guess it's been about a year now? But it's good. I'm happy."

Elisabet hummed, but her eyes softened. Leo felt weirdly like he'd passed some sort of test. "You're smiling."

"I am?" His shoulder jerked, like he had a hand free to touch his own face. Not his smoothest move, but Elisabet seemed more amused than annoyed. But there were floodgates there, and he could feel them starting to buckle as the words began to bubble out. "I mean, well -- w-why wouldn't I? I said I'm happy, right? He's -- they're -- I mean, just -- I don't think I've ever met anyone better than them. They're really ... it's nice."

"I see." Elisabet's expression grew even warmer. "Your partner is a man?"

"--Er." Leo shrugged a bit. "Yeah? ... That's not a problem, is it?"

"Oh, no." Elisabet clucked her tongue, then reached to pat Leo's arm gently. "I will tell you, Leo, I have seen and experienced a great many things in my life. And if there is love there, then that is all I would ever wish for, from one generation to the next."

Leo flushed a little in spite of himself. The nagging feeling at the back of his mind was stronger now than before. You're missing the obvious, Leo, you are being deliberately stupid, you know you are, you're going to be kicking your own ass in a moment ...

And indeed, as they rounded the corner for the right block, and Leo was about to point out the building that she'd written down -- right next to the market one cut through in order to get to the entrance of Libra's building -- when a familiar tall shape emerged. Leo almost stopped walking, but before he could even consider how to respond, Klaus turned unerringly towards them and brightened.

"Leo!" he said, and then hesitated a beat. "Mother!"

Leo stopped. He turned his head slowly and opened his eyes. Not much, really -- all things considered, he didn't want to be obvious about it, and there was still the slightest, smallest, most god-fucking-damn infinitesimal chance he was wrong ...

The woman on his arm smiled at him, her green, green eyes calm. Her aura, which had been so -- normal -- just a moment before, flared up so bright and strong it was like looking into the sun. Leo would have staggered if her grip on his arm hadn't tightened abruptly, like iron.

"Good afternoon, Leonardo Watch," said Elisabet von Reinherz, a moment before her youngest son was upon them. "I am very glad to make your acquaintance at last."



Leo grunted, but didn't move.

"I said, heyyyyyy." Zapp's foot prodded his head. "What the fuck're you doing."

"What does it look like I'm doing." Leo's voice was a flat monotone. "I'm helping organize cleaning supplies."

Zapp paused. He exhaled a long plume of cigar smoke, so heavy that it made Leo's nose itch. "Looks more to me like you're sulkin' in a goddamn closet. Ain't you supposed to be out of it? C'mon." He set his heel against Leo's back and shoved harder. "C'mon, c'mon, Leoooooooo."

Leo gritted his teeth. "Not so loud," he hissed. "They'll find us."

For a moment the shoving stopped. Then Zapp pushed hard enough to bend Leo nearly in double. "Are you hiding from them?"

"What am I supposed to do?!" Leo snapped. Well, it was more like a sullen wail. "They're all so -- BIG -- and LOUD -- and even the mom! Even the mom's huge!"

"Huh?" Zapp sounded confused. "She's even more of a pipsqueak than you are."

"Be nice to her, she's a lady," Leo snapped, then buried his face in both hands. "Look, you can't see it, but she's definitely like ... bigger than all of them combined. You'd be surprised. Her aura is just like ..." He spread his arms as wide as he could, then wider, until his shoulders protested. "Boom."

"Boom." Zapp didn't sound terribly impressed. "Yeah, well, the bossman asked me to come find you, so here I am, being a good and responsible worker. C'mon, you." He reached down and snagged Leo by the collar, bodily lifting him up. Leo let out a yelp of protest and started kicking furiously a few seconds later.

"Hey! Come on, what the hell, leggo! What are you doing?!"

"Like I said," Zapp said, and it was really unfair how easily he could haul Leo without even trying. The man ate like shit and would rather sleep than do anything that required physical effort, how the hell was he so strong?! "The bossman wanted you, so I'm bringing you to him. You tell him no, see how well you do with that."

Leo whined. The bossman usually meant Steven, and in all honesty, Leo couldn't actually blame Zapp for doing what he was told for once. Klaus would let things slide without much protest, but Steven ... it'd take a braver man than either Leo or Zapp to say no to Steven, most of the time. Still, he continued to flop around like a landed fish, because he wasn't going to get away, but he didn't have to make it EASY, either.

Not that Zapp even seemed to notice, damnit. He hauled Leo down the hall and kicked the door open.

"Yoooo," he said. "I brought the shrimp." And then he bodily hauled Leo up and outright tossed him into the room before slamming the door shut again.

Leo hit the ground and rolled a few times before he managed to claw his way to sitting upright. "Zapp! You traitor!" he yelped, then hesitated and glanced back.

Klaus was seated on one of the sofas with Elisabet next to him. There was enough room for one more normal-sized person, but the man on the couch across from him -- that had to be Adelbert, Leo's mind helpfully supplied -- was too large to fit in that space. Unlike either Klaus or Fritz, he sported a full and thick beard and mustache, so dark red that it looked almost brown from a distance. Like his brothers and his mother, his eyes were intensely green -- and also like his brothers and mother, his aura was so huge that it practically took up its own spot on the couch.

"Aha, there he is!" Fritz cried. He had been standing -- there was simply no room for him on either of the couches, and frankly, with his energy, he didn't strike Leo as the sort of person who liked to sit around -- and in a moment he had bounded across the room and seized Leo's hands, hauling him back to his feet. "Leonardo! Come, now, you must meet our Adelbert, as well. He has been very curious."

Before Leo could say anything either way, Fritz dragged him back to the couches. If it had been no trouble for Zapp to yank him around, Leo wasn't sure how he could describe this. Ridiculous? Too easy? Like a bear carrying a speck of dust?

"Adelbert," Fritz said, and he thrust Leo forward, like a proud parent with a beloved child, "here he is! Klaus's Leonardo. He is in fact real. Look at him!"

Adelbert leaned up and forward. He was a lot ... thicker than either Klaus or Fritz; he gave a whole new definition to built like a brick shithouse. With his beard and his hair -- more unkempt than either of his brothers -- he looked like some kind of barely-tamed wild creature, a modern-day mountain man descended briefly into civilization.

"He is ... very small," he said at last. He stroked at his beard with one hand, looking Leo over. "It is a good thing he is not a woman, Klaus. He would break, to bear your children."

Leo choked at that. Elisabet set her teacup down and cleared her throat. Adelbert blinked a bit, then bowed his head apologetically -- not to Leo, but to her. He said something to her in German, and all Leo really caught out of that was the mention of the Reinherz name.

"Do not be rude," Elisabet said, in English. "Leonardo, you do not speak the language, do you?"

"Er." Leo shrugged, running a quick nervous hand through his hair. "Nnnnot really at all. Nope. I, uh, I took Spanish in high school, but that was kinda years ago. Aha."

Okay, okay, I get it, I'm uncultured swine, but for crying out loud, it wasn't like I EXPECTED to ever start dating a guy who spoke other languages -- okay, to be fair, I didn't really expect to get really long-term involved with anyone, but--

"Then we will use English," Elisabet said firmly. She looked past Leo to Adelbert. "All right?"

Adelbert bowed his head again. For all that he was bigger, broader, and -- honestly -- meaner-looking than Klaus (and again, Leo was amazed that any of these things, let alone all three, were even possible), he also looked genuinely contrite. Even his aura contracted a little at the scolding, like a guilty puppy.

"I am sorry, Leonardo," he said. "With family, it is ... easier, for me, to speak as we normally do. I did not mean to cut you out of that."

I'm a little more worried about the "having his babies" comment, Leo didn't say, but he forced a smile, awkward as it was. "Ahaha, nah, it's fine, it -- my aunts do it sometimes with my grandparents, usually when they're mad ..."

"Not German," Adelbert said. It both was and was not a question.

"Italian," Leo said. "My dad's mom insisted her kids learn, but none of them made any of us ..." He trailed off a bit awkwardly at that. Part of him wanted to apologize, obscurely, for -- what? Not pushing to learn? For not knowing any language other than English? Wasn't that kind of dumb? "A-anyway, even though I never got the hang of it, I've heard it done before. It's all right."

"That is one thing, this is another," Elisabet said. She did not gesture or make any other apparent movement, but Gilbert materialized out of nowhere to pour more tea into her cup before she picked it up again. "It would be good for you to learn, Leo, but you should not need to, in order to converse with us. Klaus has not made you, has he?"

"Of course not," Leo said, and then, quickly, "not that it's his fault or anything! Or, uh, his problem, he just didn't -- Klaus is a great guy, he wouldn't make me do something like that if I didn't want, please don't be mad at him--"

Fritz let out a bark of laughter and whacked Leo on the back. It was hard enough to send him careening forward, and once again, Klaus had to lunge to catch him. "Hah! Listen to him! Trying to defend our Klauschen from us, of all people!"

"Fritz," Klaus said. When Leo glanced up, he was blushing. "You needn't go so far."

"Oh, I need," Fritz said. He dropped a heavy hand on Adelbert's head and ruffled, which left his hair a worse mess than before. Adelbert accepted it with surprisingly good grace; he still look more abashed than anything. "What a good person you've found, Klaus. He is willing to fight your family for you; that is important."

"Is it really," Leo muttered. His mother's one major weakness had been daytime talkshows. He'd heard a lot about fighting a partner's family. Klaus rubbed his back a little in response.

"Let him sit," Elisabet said. "There are some things I would like to talk about."

"Talk?" Leo asked faintly, but Klaus was gently -- at least it was gentle, thank god for small favors -- urging him to the couch. He ended up sitting on Elisabet's other side, and even though it was a bit of a squeeze, at least the three of them fit mostly well. "About what?"

"About your m," Fritz said, before Elisabet shot him a pointed look and he shut up. It was actually kind of impressive how quickly he did. Elisabet continued staring at him for a few more seconds, then turned to Leo with a sunny little smile.

"Just to learn more about you, for one," she said. "We have heard a great deal about you from Klaus's letters and his phone calls, but that is not the same thing as getting to know you as a person from yourself. Other than that, of course, we would like to know more about your intentions towards our Klaus."

"... Intentions," Leo said.

"Intentions," Elisabet repeated, serene as always. Just behind her, Klaus was watching Leo with a clearly nervous intensity. For all that he dwarfed her, Leo had a clear vision of a mother bear staring down a potential threat. It was actually pretty terrifying. "You've been seeing our Klaus for ten months at this point. He has been very happy about it, and we are all therefore very happy for him. But you must understand." And here her expression sharpened and turned outright keen. "The future of the Reinherz line is secured. Both Fritz and Adelbert have fine wives and children. The only thing we are truly concerned about, in this situation, is the happiness of our Klaus."

"Um," Leo said. He considered his options.

He could try running; he was actually getting pretty good at the desperate sprint. He could probably make it ... five steps. If he was being generous to himself.

He could try willing himself to disappear, the way Chain did any time she was confronted with something she didn't like or didn't want to do. It probably wouldn't work, but he could still try.

... or he could answer honestly, which ... was probably the best choice, and the one that would win him the most points, and was only slightly the most embarrassing thing.

"... I like him a lot," he said finally. All four Reinherz were staring at him without blinking, and while he was (mostly) used to that from Klaus, having that multiplied was actually pretty damn intimidating. "I mean, it's all -- it's still kind of new to me, okay? I haven't done anything like this before either. This is my first serious kind of anything. So I really just -- I want to do this right."

His voice was awkward and stammering to his own ears; he resisted the urge to wring his hands. That was a sign of weakness. Don't let them see you sweat, Leo, they can probably do stuff like smell fear or whatever.

"Look, I just like him," he said, almost helplessly. "I don't think I've ever liked anyone as much, and I've got no real idea of what I'm doing, but I still want to do the right thing, just I'm not always sure what is, but Mr. Klaus -- Klaus -- I feel like he's got a better idea of that than I do, so no matter, what, I--"

"Leo," Klaus said. He reached around his mother at that, putting a steadying hand on Leo's shoulder. Though he didn't say anything more, he did squeeze, and his fingers were warm and solid. Leo sucked in a hard fast breath, feeling his lungs burn with the sudden effort. He hesitated for a beat -- and then he decided to hell with it, they already know and reached up to touch Klaus's fingers with his. It was a small gesture, but it calmed him more than he expected, and he took another deep breath, slower and more calming this time.

"I don't really have intentions, exactly," he said to Elisabet. "I just ... want to be happy, and I want HIM to be happy. And I don't really want to have to plan ahead for that either. Not yet. Uh. I mean, I don't really think that rushing into anything is a good idea anyway, so just ..." He shrugged at that, almost helplessly, and pressed harder at Klaus's hand on his shoulder. "... and anyway, it's not even all my choice, is it? It's not like I get to make all the choices. Klaus gets just as much of a say as I do. Right?"

Elisabet hummed. Klaus glanced at her and finally let go of Leo's shoulder, sitting back further on the couch and folding his hands. It was an almost prim gesture, and certainly more delicate than one might have expected from a man of his size.

On the other hand, Leo knew firsthand that Klaus was quite good at delicate maneuvers.

"You have a good point, young man," she said. "Leo. If I asked you to give up on him right now, what would you do?"

"What," Leo said, and then, "Uh, no? I mean, I guess if he wanted to, but no?"

"Mother," Klaus said, his brows drawing together. Elisabet raised a hand to silence him, never looking away from Leo's face.

"The Reinherz is a powerful family," she said. "There are many resources at our disposal."

"So?" Leo set his fists on his knees. It wasn't a threat, but it was as belligerent as he could make his posture. A part of him felt like he deserved a reward for that, especially in the face of Elisabet's two other hulking sons, neither of whom had any especial fondness or knowledge of him. "Like I said, if Klaus wants to break it off with me, that's one thing. But if it's just because you wanted to? No way."

Elisabet pursed her lips. All three of her sons looked to her. Fritz's body language had changed, somewhere along the way, from relaxed casual to utterly focused. He was still smiling, but it was tight-lipped now, his eyes narrowed, and Leo could see, abruptly, how such a jovial easygoing man could hold the position of the Reinherz -- head? The heir to head? However that sort of thing worked. Adelbert's hands were both in plain sight, curled into loose fists on his knees, and Klaus ...

... well, to be honest, Klaus looked kind of devastated, which did nothing at all for Leo's own desperate bravado. He held it, though, and resisted the urge to open his eyes for effect, or even just to stare them down. While he wouldn't have been surprised if Klaus had told his own family about that part, he didn't particularly want to show that off yet. Just in case.

Then Elisabet laughed.

It was a soft sound, but pleased and affectionate. She leaned forward and patted Leo's knee; her touch was actually rather gentle.

"You're a good boy," she said to Leo. "Klaus made a good choice, with you."

That seemed to be a cue; all three Reinherz sons relaxed at that. Elisabet glanced at them and clucked her tongue, then got to her feet.

"Now is where we will give them a bit of time," she said. "I would like to rest before dinner. Klaus, we will see you at six. Bring your young man."

"Mother," Klaus said, but he offered nothing more. He kept his hands folded in his lap and watched as Adelbert rose up from the other couch, both him and Fritz waiting for Elisabet to walk past before they fell into step behind her.

"I have already had Gilbert call the restaurant," she said, serene. "They were happy to accommodate another diner."

That was the last thing she said as she swept out of the room. Adelbert followed after her obediently, but Fritz paused in the doorway and turned to look back at them. He grinned a beat later, wiggling his fingers in a clear sort of see you later gesture, then left as well. Leo stared after them for a few seconds, then slowly turned his head to look at Klaus.

"So," he said. "Your mom."

"I'm sorry," Klaus said. He spread his hands a little, and something in his expression was vulnerable, almost helpless. "I did not think it would quite go like that. I expected a bit more time before she would ask such questions."

"... But you knew she'd ask them," Leo said.

"Not precisely such," Klaus said. He bowed his head. "But what she said was true. The Reinherz family is old. It is very powerful. There will certainly be people who disapprove of this relationship."

"Yeah, well." Leo leaned back a little, and he saw Klaus track that movement and deflate the tiniest bit. "Trust me, I've gotten that before. I've got a couple of aunts who'd love it if I swore off guys altogether. Would you have dumped me if she asked?"

It was blunt, and maybe a bit harsh. Okay, a lot harsh, and he saw Klaus flinch a little at that.


"Nuh-uh." Leo crossed his arms. It was a belligerent posture copied straight off of Zapp. "I deserve to know, don't I? Are we seriously gonna -- this is the twenty-first century? We're supposed to be beyond things like, I dunno, arranged marriages or whatever--"

"Only the head's spouse is selected by the family," Klaus said. He shrugged a little at the look Leo shot him. "For both my father and my brother, it turned out very well ... the elders of the Reinherz family have modernized as well; they would not pick an unsuitable bride, it's only ..." He laced his fingers together and took a deep breath. Finally he looked up, uncertain and huddled, like some huge guilty dog.

"... I would not, Leo," he said. "But it would be difficult for me. My family has been very ... very generous towards me. They have forgiven me things that they should not have. I owe them much more than most."

I am only alive by the grace of God and acceptance of my family, Leo remembered him saying. Klaus had been cursed with slow amnesia a few months ago, and that had been one of the things he'd blurted when he could only remember being sixteen years old. Leo had always meant to ask, but there had never been a good time for it. Now there was this, and it still wasn't.

He sighed. There was the beginning of a headache growing at the base of his skull. It was late afternoon by this point, and even if he'd spent a couple of hours in a dark closet, but the familiar creep of sensory overload was there. Some days it was harder to remember how not to be irritable than others. "Yeah, but--"

"But I would not," Klaus said. He reached out, hesitated, then seemed to steel himself, completing the motion to take Leo's hands in his. His touch was steady where the rest of him wasn't, and he leaned in closer, his gaze earnest unblinking. "I confess, Leo, it would be difficult. I would be tested. But my heart is settled on this, and I would not waver. I love you. No matter how much it tested me, I would not--"

"Okay," Leo said. His face was bright red, he could tell, and he pulled a hand free from Klaus's grip to shove it in his face. "Okay, okay, I get it. Sorry! It was just. Kinda weird."

Klaus made muffled noises against Leo's palm, and so he moved it to let him repeat himself. "I am sorry, Leo. She has been nothing but supportive when I spoke of you to her before. I didn't think she would ask such a thing."

Leo sighed. After a moment he scooted closer and leaned in enough to knock their foreheads together.

"No, I get it," he said. "She's your mom. It's her job to worry about you. Mine would ... probably do the same."

Probably, he thought, with a bit of an internal guilty wince. How long had it been since he'd actually talked to her? He'd sent them a very quick email when he'd first arrived in Hellsalem's Lot, and then ... well, it wasn't like he hadn't meant to, the same way he kept meaning to write to Michella, but it had all been very one thing leading to another and now ... ugh. Maybe he should call her later for real.

"Probably?" Klaus asked. He waited politely, in that uncanny way of his, as if he knew exactly how much time to give Leo to mull through his own thoughts. It was entirely possible that he really did. "What do you mean?"

"Ehhhh." Leo shrugged. "I mean she always was the one who would stare down anyone I brought home. Dad basically only cared that we weren't fooling around in the house. But Mom, she always wanted to know everything about them, and, well, that was only when it was casual. So now ..."

Klaus's expression softened. He pressed Leo's hand between both of his own. "Now, it is different?"

"I like you," Leo said by reflex, then corrected himself, "I love you. And I've never done that with anyone else before you. So yeah, that's pretty different. I don't think she'd be as scary as your mom, though. Uh, not that your mom's scary -- well, actually --"

"No, I understand," Klaus said. There was the echo of a laugh in his voice. "There are plenty who look at her and look at my father and make the mistake of whom to fear. My father is very gentle. He is the anchor to her force." He paused a moment, then added, like an explanation, "My brothers and I all take after him, quite strongly."

"... So you're saying he's huge."

"He is the born and bred Reinherz," Klaus said. "Fritz, however, is taller than he is. It has been a point of contention between them ever since it happened."

"Oh, thank god," Leo muttered. I don't want to know how people are taller than seven feet. That's just too much, even for this family. "So, uh, did I pass? With your mom."

"I cannot say for absolute certain," Klaus said, and he reached up to curl a hand behind Leo's neck, warm and solid and steady. "But I think you impressed her. There are not many men who would look Frau Reinherz in the face and tell her he would defy her for love."

"That's not," Leo said, and then he stopped to consider. "... That IS what I said, isn't it ..."

"You did." The corners of Klaus's eyes crinkled. It was one of his nicer smiles, all warm and pleased as well as amused. "I was very moved."

"I'll show you moved," Leo said, but all he did was flop himself more aggressively against Klaus's side. "So I guess I have to do this dinner thing, huh."

"I would highly recommend it," Klaus said. "It is a very quiet little place, one that I like very much. It is better for intimate dining. I think you would like it."

"Do I have to wear a suit?"

"That would also be recommended."

"All right," Leo said, and while he couldn't precisely close his eyes -- he could dim them, and he did so, keeping himself plastered against Klaus's side, rather like a grumpy cat. "Fine. Fine. I'll have dinner with your mom and your two huge brothers."

Klaus chuckled, a low vibration of sound, and put his arm around Leo's shoulders. "Thank you, Leo."


At exactly six -- showered, dressed, and even somewhat groomed (Gilbert had managed things with that comb that only Leo's mother had managed before in his whole life), Leo stood by the elevator and did his best not to fidget. Klaus, standing next to him, was as composed as ever. He'd traded in the usual waistcoat for an actual double-breasted jacket and bowtie. If he'd somehow procured a top hat and a monocle to complete the look, Leo wouldn't have been surprised.

He started to turn and maybe say as much, when the elevator doors opened.

Both Fritz and Adelbert were dressed similar to Klaus, all sharp crisp lines in their black coats, and once again Leo had to lock his knees in order to simply keep from being blown away.

Elisabet, on the other hand, looked like a queen straight out of history; her dress was blood-red, complete with a short train, with a high neck and flared sleeves; her silver hair had been done up in a complicated net of braids, with a net studded with dark red stones -- rubies, or maybe garnets -- set over it. There was no way she would be missed, dressed like that -- but, on the other hand, she would have all three of her sons, and anyone brave or stupid enough to try anything would regret it quickly.

Leo felt rather underdressed.

"Ah, you're ready," she said. She extended a hand. Along with the fancy dress, she was wearing a rather impressive amount of rings. Leo was a little surprised that she could even bend her fingers with that many. A beat later, he realized she was reaching out to him, so he took it and held it, feeling more awkward than before.

"Mother," Klaus said. He sounded concerned. Leo glanced up at him, and his expression was as stern as he'd ever seen it -- but Elisabet chuckled at that, and she pulled at Leo's hand until she could hook her arm with his properly. Whatever shoes she was wearing put her at the same height as him.

"It's not for him, Klauschen," she said. "I am not stepping out into your city without being prepared."

Leo looked between her and Klaus again, and her words seemed to appease Klaus, if only a little. "You will be with us, though," he said.

"And would you leave behind your own weapon?" she asked, and she arched an eyebrow at the end of the question. She looked pointedly to Klaus's hand, resting relaxed by his side. There was no sign of the knuckle duster, but Leo had no doubts it was there somewhere, within easy reach. Klaus bowed his head a little, which seemed to be his answer, because Elisabet smiled and patted Leo's hand with her other. It had slightly less rings on it. He eyed them a bit nervously, but said nothing as she pulled at him, leading them back into the elevator.

Weapons, she said weapons. He was worried. What the hell, do I have to worry about jewelry now? She's a Reinherz, though, so maybe she can use the same technique he can ... wait, but she married into it, didn't she? Did she just learn it or something? Shit, can you do that? I mean, Zapp and Zed had the same teacher, so maybe you could, but seriously--

"Leonardo?" Elisabet said. He jumped at that, his head snapping around to look at her. "... You did not hear a thing I just said, did you?"

"Errrrr." He shrugged, embarrassed and apologetic both. "Sorry."

She clucked her tongue, but she seemed more amused than annoyed. "It was not a terribly serious question. I only asked if you had been in this city for very long, before you encountered Klaus."

"Er," Leo said. "Not really. Just about six months, and then a monkey stole my camera ... and here I am."

Said monkey had been extremely put out when he'd been told he couldn't come to tonight's dinner; it had taken Gilbert's intervention with the promise of banana bread and cookies before Sonic had stopped sulking. Even with that, Leo knew he was going to be scolded for it for weeks, if not months.

"A monkey?" The corner of Elisabet's mouth ticked up. She looked a bit like she was trying not to laugh again. "I had not heard about that."

"Technically, this was before we met," he said. "Like, literally just before. It's because of Sonic I met Zapp, and because of Zapp that I met Klaus. It all connected in the end."

"Fate will have its way, sometimes," Fritz said. He seemed deeply pleased by the idea as they stepped out of the elevator, and he took the lead now, heading towards a long sleek black car. Leo didn't recognize the make at all. "How romantic! A chance encounter, and now here we all are!"

He opened a door and made a sweeping gesture. At Leo's questioning look, he said, "Gilbert has tonight off. I rather thought I would like to drive. It has been a long time, so I'll be taking us tonight."

"... uh-huh," Leo said. Adelbert and Elisabet got into the car without hesitating, but Klaus put a hand on Leo's back, as if to steady him.

"We will be late if we do not go now, Leo," he said. "If you would?"

I would like it, his expression said, I promise you will be mostly safe. His fingers flexed a little against Leo's back. I will make sure of it.

Leo sighed and got into the car.


The reservations ended up being at a small restaurant overlooking the water. There were only fourteen tables in the place, and only a third of those were occupied, all by people who were dressed so nicely that Leo, even in his tailored suit and straightened bowtie, felt shabby in comparison. The menu had no prices printed on it. He tried not to feel too nervous about that.

Dinner ended up being only about half as excruciating as Leo expected, which meant that it was still pretty painful, but at least there were some highlights. The food was good, and Klaus seemed a great deal happier and more relaxed than he'd been in some time. He still didn't talk a lot -- Fritz dominated the conversation, as Leo had imagined he would, with the occasional input from Elisabet or Adelbert -- but he was attentive and bright-eyed. Whenever Leo peeked at him from under his lashes, he was practically glowing with it. Several times a phone was passed around, and Leo peered over Klaus's arm at photo after photo of a handful of children. Most of them had familiar red hair and green eyes, and some of those even had prominent lower jaws, complete with a set of fangs.

Looking at them made Leo's chest flutter in an odd way he didn't particularly like.

It wasn't that he disliked kids. He did okay with them, when he had to deal with them, and some of them could be pretty cute. He'd had plenty of friends, pre-Hellsalem's Lot, who'd recoiled at the very idea of them, but he'd always been fairly neutral on them. They were just people, too, and some were tolerable and some weren't. In the back of his mind (and that was probably the influence of his aunts, he knew that), he'd always vaguely taken it as a given that he'd have some of his own, someday.

Now, though ... he glanced up at Klaus as he passed the phone back to Adelbert.

There was a softly wistful expression on his face, and it didn't take someone with special eyes to read it perfectly: he wasn't envious, exactly, but it was the look of a man who'd seen something he wanted, and had long since resigned to never having.

Leo pretty much lost his appetite after that. The food still tasted plenty good, but it sat heavily in his stomach and he felt almost sick. Thankfully, Fritz continued to chatter throughout the rest of the meal, and Klaus was so distracted by his brother that he didn't notice. Leo didn't think he wanted to deal with that overwhelming earnest concern, and especially not in front of Klaus's family. He pushed his food around the plate and ate a bite or two more. He answered questions when they were posed to him, but otherwise did his best to fade into the background, as it were. At least Elisabet no longer seemed interested in grilling him, and they made it all the way to the check -- which Fritz scooped up for himself, laughing at Klaus's protests -- and then outside without incident.

As they were headed to the car, though, there was an explosion that seemed to rock the entire city block. A ripple of bright blue light passed over them. It lifted Leo clear off his feet for a second before Klaus snatched him and curled around him. Leo in turn grabbed at Klaus's jacket, wide-eyed and staring as the buildings around them began to wobble and shake, as if they'd gone from being made of stone and concrete to jell-o.

"Aha!" he heard Fritz cry a moment later. He sounded kind of disgustingly happy. "Look, over there!"

Klaus finally uncurled somewhat from Leo -- not that much, but enough that Leo could turn to look. Frtiz stood facing the water, pointing out towards it. Something had risen out of the depths, growing steadily larger as it came closer to land. The head looked an awful lot like a something out of Jurassic Park, but the rest of it was human-shaped. Nominally.

Human-shaped, probably, for a body that had been in the water for a few weeks.

I'm so glad I didn't eat that much, Leo thought. Klaus's arms tightened around him for a moment, and then he was gently set aside, out of the way. When he stepped back, he was already pulling the duster on -- how did he DO that? -- striding to stand shoulder to shoulder with his brother. Leo started to take a step after him when a hand landed on his shoulder, pulling him back.

He turned to look at Elisabet, who offered him a small, surprisingly sympathetic smile. The rings on her fingers seemed to glow. The gems somehow managed to still look deep red, even in the strange blue light.

"I would not," she said. "Klaus would be very upset if anything were to happen to you."

"I can help," he said immediately. "I want to."

She left her hand on his shoulder and gave him a long thoughtful look. There was a series of tremendous crashing noises to the side. Leo could see from the corner of his eye that the thing had made land, and now it was taller than the restaurant they'd just come out of, if only just. Klaus and his brothers appeared to be circling it.

"It is not an easy life, to love a Reinherz," she said, and that drew Leo's attention back to her. "Even my Rudolf, though he is much gentler than the family would like, is trouble at times. There are times where you will have to break your heart to remain by his side."

Leo swallowed. For just a few seconds, the entire rest of the world faded out. He could still hear the shouting and the crashes of the fight itself, but they seemed muted and distant. There was Elisabet, with her familiar, intensely green eyes, looking straight at him. It was like taking an arrow to the heart.

"I've already done that before," Leo said quietly. "I broke my heart. I was ready to let it stay broken, even, but all it took was just ..." He shrugged. It wasn't even that the words were embarrassing to say; it was more that they couldn't really encompass the enormity of the feeling. "I don't think I could stay away from him, even then."

Elisabet regarded him for a few more seconds and then smiled. She squeezed Leo's shoulder and then tugged, turning him to face the fight. Somewhere along the way the monster had sprouted a number of translucent blue tentacles. One of them was wrapped around Fritz, hefting him up high.

"Then, Leo," she said, "let's take care of things here and get you home."


As it turned out, as impressive as watching one Reinherz plow through a fight, watching four of them was nothing short of outright terrifying.

Leo, who'd always had a soft spot for action movies, wondered if he would ever see something that impressive ever again.

Klaus had always been good at moving in tandem with others. Leo had seen him move with flawless grace in time with Steven; the two of them together made a pretty formidable team. He even worked well with Zapp in a fight, which had to be something of a minor miracle all on its own.

But with his brothers -- even knowing that it had to have been years since the three of them had done something like this, if ever -- they were a veritable army. One punched as the other ducked low to kick and the third slammed some kind of Brain Grid technique down, and it was never any one doing the same thing each time.

And if the brothers were the army, then Elisabet was the general.

Her technique was not the Brain Grid -- or rather, it was, with variations, and those variations seemed to be enough to change things up completely. While the brothers hemmed the creature in, with all its component parts -- occasionally a blow would simply rip off a part of its body, and that part simply shaped itself into a smaller version of the original; there were about ten of them total at this point -- Elisabet simply speared those trying to escape straight down with man-sized blood crosses.

It was still containing them, in a way.

Leo, for his part, tried to remain out of the way. All bravado and determination aside, he was still small and squishy. You will not be much help if you get smashed, and if you get smashed, Klaus is going to be unhappy, and if he's unhappy, that whole thing's gonna just fall apart. He kept the Eyes open, though, occasionally popping out from behind the wall Elisabet had led him to in order to shout directions. Left uppermost tentacle is trying to split off! I think that's the heart, it's showing right now, hit it!

Things like that. It was actually kind of fun, in a weird way. Was this how the Reinherz family bonded?

... all things considered, probably.

In the end, it was actually Fritz who landed the final blow, launched up high into the air with a combined heave from both Adelbert and Klaus. Leo wouldn't have believed that such a huge guy could get that much lift, but on the other hand, he'd always known Klaus was brutally strong, so why wouldn't his brother be, as well? Elisabet had pinned down the thing on multiple limbs, its tentacles outright staked down, and Fritz came down with a roar of a technique Leo had never seen before -- Pattern 900, which of course had some name in German that he couldn't decipher -- and the thing just sort of ... imploded.

Imploded had to be the right word, because for a moment it just arched up, the whole weird body shaking like it might go the other way, and then there was just -- a weirdly loud schlorping noise (and yeah, schlorp was the best word; Leo's dabbling in journalism had always been focused on photography, not writing articles) and it simply folded in on itself and was gone. There wasn't even a cross to mark it, like with a Blood Breed.

For a moment there was just silence, everyone remaining still where they'd been standing when it happened. Leo could hear his heart beating in his ears.

Then Fritz stretched his arms over his head with a loud groan. Things in his spine popped and cracked.

"Ah," he said. "Ah, I'm hungry again. Do you think they would let us have another dinner?"

"We shouldn't inconvenience them," Adelbert said. "There's already been a conflict outside of their establishment. I'm sure it was bad for the ambience."

Fritz put both of his hands over his stomach and hung his head. He started to actual crumple with that, standing amidst the wreckage -- a few seconds of wilting and he actually dropped to his knees. Leo had the uneasy feeling he might even start crying in a few seconds.

"Come now, Friederich," Elisabet said. She patted Fritz's head, gently, like one might pat a dog. He leaned against her hip and whined. "We will be able to find something for your belly. Don't frown so. The future Head of the Reinherz must have a bit more dignity for himself."

"My dignity is lost to me," Fritz said sadly. "It cannot fill my belly, and therefore it is of no use."

Elisabet sighed and caught him by the ear. He yelped at that, loud and startled, and he scrambled to his feet as she began to walk, one step at a time. Leo had to do his best to not laugh at the ridiculous picture: a huge hulking man staggering after his tiny delicate-looking mother; it was perhaps lucky that Elisabet continued to scold gently as she pulled him to the car, so any sound he made was lost. He still had to look away to keep more from bubbling out, and there was Klaus next to him -- mussed and dirty from the fight, but mostly uninjured. He smiled at Leo before he reached out to put a careful hand on Leo's back. He was steady and solid as always. Today, this time, he was all right. Maybe someday, he wouldn't be, but for right now, he was.

It is not an easy life, to love a Reinherz.

Maybe it wasn't, but Leo thought he'd be pretty okay with it, however it turned out.

"Shall we go home?" Klaus asked.

"Yeah," said Leo. "Please."


"We will come back for the holiday proper, with Father," Fritz said the next morning, as Gilbert brought suitcases down to pack into the car. "He pouted so very much about this, you know. If I can manage it, I will also bring Anna and the children. They want very much to see their uncle, and to see America. My Antonia, she is showing a great deal of promise in the family tradition."

"I would like that," Klaus said, and though his expression was solemn as ever, there was a brightness in his eyes and a certain fervor to the way he clasped his brother's hand. "I would like to meet the person I have seen in the photos."

As this was going on, Leo hung in the background with Zed, slurping slowly at the dregs of a soda.

"I can't believe they're leaving after just a day," he said. His own voice sounded hollow to his ears. "Is that what it's like to be rich?"

"It must be," Zed said. He sounded more bemused than annoyed. "From what I understand, they're all very busy people."

"Busy people, yeah," Leo said. "But it takes like a whole day to fly from here to Germany, doesn't it? That's if you don't have any layovers or anything. Do you have layovers when you're rich?"

"The Reinherz have their own private plane," Steven said from behind them. Zed started away, automatically, but Leo just hung his head.

"Their own plane," he said. "Of course they do. Why wouldn't they. Oh my god."

Steven put a hand on Leo's shoulder, heavy enough that he could feel his feet rock in his shoes. There was a wide and very pleasant smile on Steven's face. It looked almost genuine as he watched the elder Reinherz brothers and their mother pile into the car, but his eyes were shrewd. He was definitely enjoying himself, Leo thought with some despair.

"You knew what you were getting into, young man," he said. "You might as well resign yourself." And then he looked at Leo and his expression softened; the smile looked a lot more genuine now. "You'll be fine."

Leo watched Klaus watch the car pull away, and he straightened up as Klaus turned back to them. Rather in spite of himself, he could feel a wide doofy smile cross his face. God, every time. Every time. There had to be a point where he would stop being so stupid about it, he was positive of it ... but he hadn't really found that point yet.

He thought about the fond way Elisabet had mentioned her own husband, and the enthusiasm with which Fritz had shown off his family, and he thought that if it took a long time, he really didn't mind after all.

"Leo," Klaus said, as he drew close, "I wonder if you'd be willing to accompany me for lunch. My paperwork is done for the moment," and this seemed to be more addressed to Steven, even though he continued to look at Leo, "and I find myself with some free time. I know that you often dine with Zapp and Zed, however ..."

"I'd like that," Leo said. After a beat, he said, "But nowhere fancy. Okay?"

"There is that diner you like," Klaus said. "I remember that the coffee was drinkable."

Which was higher praise than Klaus gave any coffee other than what Gilbert made. Leo felt himself grin, a wide doofy smile he couldn't quite contain.

"Yeah, okay," he said. After a moment's pause, very daringly, he reached out and took Klaus's hand. Klaus seemed surprised for a split second, and then he curled his fingers warmly with Leo's, the grip gentle and strong. Leo's grin widened. "Let's do it."