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We Are All We Have

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THE PAST

--

It didn’t start, Klaus liked to think, until after Uncle Monty had died. Except, deep under his skin, he knew better. It started long before then, but Klaus frequently rationalized, a word which here means, “lied to himself in order to feel slightly less guilty”, that he was only looking out for Violet, no matter what his actions may have been. This strange new desire, he insisted, came long after their lives were broken apart that day on Briny Beach, and there wasn’t the slightest hint of it before then.

What he hoped to accomplish by telling himself this, he wasn’t sure. It wasn’t as though being incorrect could have stopped them.

Violet, as the eldest sibling frequently does, knew better. Her perception of cause and effect, as it applied to herself and her siblings, had the benefit of just a little more time, a little more life, a little more experience. (This did not necessarily mean that she knew everything, just that she knew more.)

She knew that it had started on that day in Count Olaf’s attic, when she couldn’t seem to stop herself from crying, when her whole being was wracked with revulsion. Her tears rolled down onto her cheeks as she held her hands over her face, the frail frame of their bed in the attic trembling softly each time she breathed.

Her tears, to her unbearable shame, were not for the plight of her poor sister Sunny, tied up and hanging in a cage that looked structurally unsound and incredibly drafty. They were not for Klaus, who would likely meet a fate as grisly, a word which here means, “involving such grievous bodily harm, the mere idea induces feelings of discomfort in the stomach”, as their parents had, once the whole matter was done. They were, in fact, for herself, each one of them wrenched from her by the idea of what she was about to do, what she had no other choice but to do.

And so, when she felt Klaus’s hand on her shoulder, she looked up at his wide-eyed, bespectacled face and knew what had to happen. She could have just done it herself and gotten things over with, let herself be selfish, just for this one instance. She could have become the monster in this story, the aggressor, the easily identifiable person at fault. For a split second, she felt like she should, that if she were going to become Countess to the vile and despicable Count, she may as well begin to embrace the role.

Yet, the idea of the pain that she faced now, the knowledge of her own powerlessness, was enough to keep her from inflicting it upon Klaus. It was not enough to simply grant herself this small peace; she had to do it without robbing him of his own. So, instead, she spoke, her voice high and strained from her tears.

“I’ve never–” she began, and then her speech was interrupted by a cough, “I’ve never kissed anyone, before.”

Klaus looked confused for the briefest moment, and then Violet watched in anguish as realization bloomed in his eyes. It was the tip of a very, very nasty iceberg, a phrase which here means that there were so many other things she hadn’t done, that she didn’t want to do, not like this, that were quite directly tied to the role into which she had been cast. The heartbreak in Klaus’s face told her that he understood these things, and that hurt her all over again. Her voice was choked from her by tears again, and only the fact that she was trying to replace something vile and unwanted with something vile and potentially consensual allowed her to continue.

“…please? Please, Klaus, it can’t be him,” she shook her head, her hair flying on either side of her in absence of its ribbon. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, you don’t have to, but it can’t be him, I can’t spend the rest of my life remembering–”

“Violet,” Klaus said suddenly, and he stilled her by placing his hands on either side of her face, where she could feel them shake. “Don’t apologize. It’s okay.”

In an abundance of ways, it was not okay, but before Violet could tell him any of the myriad reasons why, she felt his lips on hers. They were warm, and wet, and as he approached, his nose bumped into hers for a moment, but Violet loved it more than she could possibly say. She loved Klaus, in that moment, for doing this for her, for giving her something nice to remember before everything was replaced with wretchedness, for being her first kiss so no one else could.

Violet decided to be selfish, then, because this was her first kiss, and although for all she knew, it was his, as well, she didn’t think about that. Instead, she pulled him closer to her, both of her hands on his shoulders to keep him near, and as best as she knew how, she kissed back. It felt much more slippery than she’d ever imagined, but it didn’t feel bad. In fact, it felt very good, and for that reason, she didn’t think about how long she kept doing it.

It was Klaus who drew back first, and she began to feel a bit sick with herself, but he was smiling. His arms came up around her shoulders, and for a minute or two, he just held her, rocking back and forth the way their mother had used to, when they were crying and alone.

“Thank you,” she hissed, her tears falling onto the soft scratchy fabric of his sweater. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Klaus said, and now his voice was pinched tight by tears, as well.

--

Count Olaf did not kiss her during the play, and thank god, thank god for small mercies. Soon after, they were brought to Uncle Monty, thank god for significantly larger mercies. Despite the unusually high number of scaly animals living with them, things felt shockingly close to normal, at Uncle Monty’s. Although they couldn’t forget about Count Olaf, not then, and not ever, it was easier than either of them expected to forget the kiss. They had a guardian who cared for them, who wasn’t trying to use them as a means to an end. They could be, if not normal, working towards normal. They had been, for an awful interlude, driven to extremes that did not need to be brought up, again.

That didn’t mean Klaus didn’t think about it. It didn’t mean his imagination didn’t frequently go off the rails, a phrase which here means, “shift its attention to the soft pink shade of Violet’s lips, or perhaps the way the fabric of her dress fit snugly against her body, when it was least convenient to do so”. It didn’t mean he wasn’t kept from sleep by the idea that if Violet asked him to kiss her again, for no other reason than she wanted him to, he would not hesitate.

He made frequent use of the convenient skill of rationalization, which was mentioned at the beginning of this story. He had read plenty about human growth and development, and therefore he knew the anticipated changes a boy of his age and physiology tended to go through. There were very few people he came into regular contact with, at least now, that he found pleasing to look at. Nevertheless, he felt a bit sick, sometimes, because Violet would catch him looking, and their eyes would meet for one terrifying moment, and then she would look away first.

There was also Sunny to think about, and he knew Violet often did. She almost never asked if he wanted to carry her, though he was more than capable of it now. When it became exceedingly obvious that their awful interlude was not over, she became more protective of Sunny than ever before. She also became more protective of him, as he did of both his sisters, but unless she couldn’t prevent it, Violet never seemed to let Sunny out of her sight. Klaus did not blame her in the slightest, though he knew she blamed herself, at least in part, for what had happened to her at Count Olaf’s house.

In the back of Mr. Poe’s car, wondering if this would be their life now, running farther and farther away, with their enemies never more than two steps behind, he saw Sunny asleep in Violet’s lap. It was obvious in her sleeping face that she remained an infant still, despite what she had been through, despite her intelligent conversation, to anyone who could understand her. She couldn’t walk, she couldn’t speak any language but her own, and between the three of them, she was unquestionably the most vulnerable to bodily harm.

Klaus wondered if she would remember their parents, when she was older. Some base, sinful part of his mind wondered if she would remember no mother but Violet, no father but himself. If they would have to keep running like this, if she would never have anything but the two of them, if he and Violet would never have anything but each other, then what sort of family would they become?

He hated the idea of it, but he realized he could have hated it a lot more, if he did not love Violet the way he did.

That was the moment he realized it, that his love for Violet was no longer the kind of love talked about in children’s cartoons, the ones about estranged siblings who reconcile due to magic or determination prevailing. It had become the kind of love talked about in psychology textbooks, in true crime novels, in encyclopedia volumes that began with the letter I.

The realization itself felt a bit like a different kind of children’s cartoon, one in which the hapless protagonist, usually a predator or some sort, looks down to see that they have been walking on nothing but air, and not the sturdy cliff they had been expecting. He didn’t dare think about how long it had been since he’d truly walked on solid ground.

--

It was rainy, as it frequently was around Lake Lachrymose, but there was no thunder, just yet. Had there been the rolling noise of thunder intruding on the Baudelaire’s upstairs bedroom, it may have overshadowed the sound of Klaus waking up with a gasp, and Violet may never have been awakened, as well. But, there was only the sound of quite a good few raindrops on the roof, and so not only was Violet awakened, she could hear the slow, steady, small sound of breathing that told her Sunny was still asleep.

Even in the dark, she could see from the way Klaus began to sit up, his chest faintly heaving with his labored breath, that something was very wrong. Quietly as she could, she made her way across the room, telegraphing her movements as she went, a phrase which here means, “moved in a somewhat exaggerated manner so that her nearsighted brother was not startled when she reached him”.

“Klaus?” she whispered, placing a cautious hand on the bed beside him.

In an instant, his arms were wrapped around her, and she knelt down as quietly as she could so she could do the same. Gently, she kissed his forehead, and then his cheek, rubbing his back soothingly in an effort to calm him down. He trembled from head to toe, and with both arms, he clung tightly to her. She could feel his fingers tugging tightly at the fabric of her nightgown, and when he spoke, his voice was a disbelieving whisper in her ear.

“You’re still here,” he said. “Oh my god, you’re still here.”

“I’m still here,” she lifted one hand so she could run it over his hair. “I’m still here. Sunny’s still here. It’s okay.”

There is a certain sort of magic that comes with awakening in the middle of the night, a strange spell caused by a combination of darkness and sleepiness, that can make things utterly out of the ordinary seem perfectly alright. In this instance, Violet felt him press a firm kiss to her hair, and wanting nothing more than to soothe him, to reassure him of her presence, she followed him, leaning into his kisses. Klaus, perhaps even more affected by the spell of sleepiness due to his nightmare, pressed his mouth to the apple of her cheek next, and again Violet leaned into him, and again when she felt his lips on her own.

The spell broke first on Klaus, and she felt him stop moving abruptly, his lips flinching away from her own.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and then again, a bit louder, as he began to pull away from her. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”

Compassion whirled up in Violet, spurred on by the spell the darkness still had over her. With everything that had happened, everything that was happening, she was not going to give Klaus one more reason for melancholy. What on earth, she thought, did he have to be sorry for? She wasn’t about to have him wake up from a nightmare only to start panicking, again.

“Don’t be,” she whispered, running her hand over his hair, again. “It’s okay.”

It had been long enough that Violet’s eyes had adjusted to the dark, and so she could see very clearly that Klaus was looking at her with heartbroken eyes. It was the same, sickening kind of heartbreak that she’d seen the last time he had kissed her, though that time she had been the one apologizing to him.

“No, it isn’t,” he said insistently.

Violet sighed softly, and she was sleepy enough that she wouldn’t realize until morning that Klaus hadn’t been looking at her when he’d spoken.

“Klaus,” she began, and there were so many things she wanted to say, but before she could speak, someone else did, first.

Or rather, someone yawned rather loudly, that someone being Sunny, before rolling over in her sleep. The two of them jumped at the sound, and when they looked at each other now, the magic of the middle of the night was well and truly gone from the room. Violet was left feeling like she’d been caught doing something awful, and she couldn’t fathom what it must have been like for Klaus.

“…sleep well,” Violet mumbled as she stumbled back to her bed.

Klaus didn’t say anything, and as they drifted toward sleep again, they turned to face away from one another.

--

Sleep was coming to them with less and less ease. Sunny was always asleep first, by merit of her age, and though the abrupt change in the general safety of the environment had turned them into light sleepers, Sunny was still gifted with the somnolence that comes with infancy. In cases of emergency, it wasn’t as though she needed to be awake for one of them to take her and run, though it helped.

The near-constant danger around them had also made them very good at pretending to be asleep, to the point where at times, Klaus couldn’t really tell if Violet was asleep, or simply lying still and breathing deeply with her eyes closed. Neither, it seemed, could Violet tell the same of Klaus.

At least, Klaus was under the impression she couldn’t tell, because if she could, it was very likely she wouldn’t be doing what she was doing now. Klaus’s face was half-buried in his pillow, and through one now-open myopic eye, he could just barely see that Violet’s own eyes were closed. With the rest of her covered by blankets, he couldn’t really see a thing. If it wasn’t for the distinctly uneven pattern of her breathing, the very subtle lift and fall of her hips under the covers, he wouldn’t have known what she was doing. But he saw, and he knew, and he suddenly felt very, very warm.

He knew all sorts of things about human physiology, the kinds of things that had made him a person of interest at school once, first with his peers and then with the administrative staff. His parents had argued soundly in his defense that, since his knowledge of the subject was accurate, and the discussion had taken place outside of class time, it was neither inappropriate or disruptive. At the moment, it meant that, though he couldn’t see the precise movement of Violet’s hand – or perhaps hands – he could imagine what they might have been doing with all the detail of a textbook diagram.

Klaus told himself that it was good of him not to be repulsed at this realization. He told himself that, even if it weren’t for the (inappropriate, disruptive, maladjusted, dysfunctional, so many other words he couldn’t remember) way he felt about his sister, he wouldn’t have begrudged her this indulgence. There was so little, lately, in the lives of the Baudelaires, that brought them pleasure, and so it would be very unfair of him to resent her for finding something that did.

If anything, he resented the fact that she had to be so quiet, that she could only do this because she didn’t know he could see her. He wished he could put his glasses on and see her better, that he could be honest with her about what the sight of her, the sound of her, did to him. He felt so fortunate just to see her, even if only with his sight of her obscured by blurred vision and blankets.

He felt extraordinarily awful that she didn’t know, that she couldn’t know. He felt disgusted with himself for feeling the way he did, but he reasoned with himself that he could keep some of his integrity if he looked away. He should have looked away. He should have shut his eyes and actually fallen asleep, instead of feigning it. He should have forgotten all about what he’d seen, what he’d heard.

What he did was let his fingertips slip under his waistband. When the touch of them against the hot, shamefully rigid length of him sent a wave of relief through his body, he knew there was truly no hope left for him. The grief and stress and loss had finally broken him, and this was what was left.

He was just as quiet as she was, maybe even quieter, since he did his best to regulate his breathing. But, there are some things that not even the most indomitable force of will can overcome, like the reflex to pull your hand back from a hot stove, or the ugly sounds your stomach makes if it’s exceedingly empty. He heard a soft gasp from Violet, saw her body twitch upward, and he could not help but respond with the same sound, the same movement.

In the sleeping part of his mind, he wanted to feel what she felt, or at least the closest approximation. He wanted to know with as much certainty as he could that she had found a source of joy.

Her face began to pinch, those involuntary muscular contractions that resembled pain but were the farthest thing from it. He wondered what his own expression looked like, what he would do if her eyes were to suddenly open. In equal measures, he hoped they did, and he hoped they did not. In equal measures, he hated himself for both longings.

They never opened. Violet’s mouth was open, just a little, but her eyes stayed shut. He heard her breath catch, stilling for a long moment before leaving her in a long sigh, and he wondered for a moment if that meant she was done. It was followed almost immediately by a quick, almost hissing intake of breath, and a movement of her arm so great, he saw her shoulder shift under the covers.

It sent a flare of heat through him, and where the covers hadn’t been precisely adequate before, they were now stiflingly hot. There was a faint tingle, under his fingers, one that he hadn’t felt in ages and ages, one that his body wanted so badly to give in to, but his mind knew he couldn’t. Not before she did.

He saw her body tilt a little, barely enough for him to register, without his glasses, and then, to his absolute, if momentary, horror, she spoke. It was just as soft and silent as every other sound from her had been, but shaped very distinctly into words that Klaus could not have misunderstood if he’d wanted to.

“…are you close?” she whispered.

It took significant effort for Klaus not to jolt backwards. He’d been under the impression that Violet couldn’t hear him, or if she could, she wouldn’t have been able to tell by sound alone what was going on. The sick feeling curled through him, again, though now it was not for his present course of action, but for the fact that he had been willing to do it without believing she knew. It may have been the case that his body’s own desires were getting the better of him, but didn’t it make it better that she did know? That, from the sound of it…she was alright with it?

“Yeah…” he whispered back, lifting his face enough that his speech would be clear.

Violet’s first response to him was a deep, delighted breath, and now the pinch in her brows was accompanied by a smile, broader than any expression she’d allowed herself thus far. For one terrified, elated moment, he thought her eyes would open, but they did not.

“Good,” she turned her head to one side, still smiling, and oh, her smile was beautiful, “…that’s good.”

He watched as her body tilted again, her hips lifting upward as her breathing became even more erratic, and it seemed to him that she was more than just alright with it, after all. The tingle under his fingertips began to spread, and he fought hard to keep his eyes open while her head snapped to one side, then the other. Her hips raised to the point that he could faintly see the outline of her arm under the blankets, and then he watched her whole body shake, harder than he’d ever seen and yet still so subdued.

Her breath left her in trembling, fragmented, stair-step exhales, her mouth opened wide, and he knew this was it, this was Violet in honest bliss. This was Violet in bliss, knowing he was awake, chasing his own pleasure across from her. It didn’t free him of as much guilt as he would have liked, but it still made it better, when he couldn’t keep his eyes open, when he had to bite his lip and push his face into the pillow. It made it better, when his hips jerked forward, when the tingle shot up his spine like lightning, knowing she knew.

Their breathing was the loudest when they were both coming down from it, panting slowly under blankets that felt hot, in clothes that felt sticky, and oh god, he’d deal with that later. He’d deal with all of this later. He was so tired, now. He opened his eyes for a moment to see her roll onto her stomach, her whole body forced into relaxation. With a smile, he did much the same, and together they fell into sleep like stones into water.

--

When they awoke the next morning, Klaus felt unspeakably dirty, and the fact that Violet wouldn’t look him in the eye did not help.

--

Things changed one day, later, far later than anyone involved would have liked, when Klaus found a book on civil law. He studied briefly the section concerning legal emancipation, showed it to Violet, and then through an absolute, yet primarily metaphorical, whirlwind of events, they found themselves living in the closet of a library. Specifically, the closet of Justice Strauss’s library, who appeared rather haunted at the sight of them, dirty and scared and near to tears with how desperately they needed her help. Whether she fully understood their situation or not, it appeared that the reality of what she had nearly been part of during the play had settled over her with the passage of time.

There was much discussion regarding the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law, an agreement on both sides never to speak of the Baudelaire’s location or the time they spent in the library, and Violet found herself enmeshed in more paperwork than she had ever thought possible. She was glad for it. Suddenly, things were busy, again, distracting, desperately important, and while sleeping tucked away in a windowless closet inside of the library wasn’t ideal, it was better than the bright, open rooms of the house. They were, to their great discomfort, getting used to this sort of arrangement.

Still, each time they ventured into the house for a meal, or to bathe, or to get to one of the books that Justice Strauss liked to keep in her living room, they checked that the house across the street was empty and quiet, and even then, they closed the window blinds. Still, Violet had constructed a system of acoustically-designed tubes – nothing electric, so the power could not be cut, so it would be easy to tell if something had gone wrong – that let them know if the phone, or worse, the doorbell, had rung. Still, Klaus had researched and created a list of potential places to run, should the need arise, should they make it far enough to run in the first place.

Still, if they did not hear the sound of Justice Strauss making breakfast each morning, they would wonder which window they would find broken, which cheek they would find purpled by snake venom, and each of them would look in panic to ensure neither of the other two had been taken during the night.

--

Just as it had been easy when things had been normal, it was easy now that things were so abnormal, the three of them were in a state of near-constant panic, to forget about the elephant in the room.

This is a very common phrase, describing an issue that is easy to perceive, but is not spoken of aloud. The elephant in question is nearly always a figurative one, and usually takes the form of something visual, such as a person with a very bad haircut or a cast around one leg. The elephant is not talked about out of politeness, or perhaps out of concern for the cast-wearing person’s feelings.

Klaus and Violet, however, were dealing with a very different elephant, one that was not made of a single thing, a single event. In fact, it would be better to say that they were not forgetting a single elephant in the room, but a whole herd of smaller, miniature elephants, that ran and trumpeted and played fun, tiny elephant games all across the room. The elephants, in this case, were having a great deal more fun than Klaus and Violet were.

They were made of thoughts, feelings, and strongest of all, memories. One for the warmth in Violet’s chest each time Klaus smiled at her, one for each time Klaus had awoken from a nightmare to find Violet at his bedside, one for how well they fit together in the trundle bed that had been wheeled into the closet, Sunny tucked between them. So many memories they had made, since their awful journey had begun: holding each other close, kisses that could have been accidental, kisses that definitely weren’t accidental, but had been given after or during significant distress.

(The elephants that were the most difficult to ignore, as though they wore rather spangly vests as they ran about the room, were made of a darker kind of memory. They were made from the hushed movements in the dead of night, the feeling of rare and precious bliss rolling through their bodies, when they had not touched anyone but themselves, but the things they had whispered to each other…)

But, they had to move quickly, had to finish this task before someone with a false name and a ludicrous disguise came to stop them. They had their safety to think about, not to mention Sunny’s. Sunny’s place in this strange story of theirs was not an elephant – it was a creeping vine that had grown around each of their throats, and its thorns scratched at them in a way that could not be ignored. Even thinking about the things they’d done seemed so selfish, when they thought of Sunny.

So, Klaus did not think about how Violet’s tongue against his own had been an acquired taste, but one he now craved, and Violet did not think about how it had felt, the first time their legs had tangled, so that Klaus’s knee had pressed intently at her skirt. Most importantly, neither of them ever thought of the night both of their eyes had been open, both sets of clothing undone and uncovered: god, Violet, I think I’m close; yes, let go, let me see you–

Except, of course, for days when they did. Quiet days, waiting on forms to be processed, when even the book on secret organizations could not fully hold Klaus’s attention. You see, Violet was seated beside him, and there was a space of approximately three, perhaps four inches between the edge of her skirt and the fabric of his pant leg. This was not terribly unusual, but he didn’t like it. He could see the fingers of her hand resting so that her pinky had slid just off of her skirt, and was resting on the sofa cushion, and he could feel in her posture that her arm was tense.

He had been thinking quite hard about the things they’d done, the things he felt for her, because they were the reason for her tension. Before all of this (though what “all of this” was, he wasn’t sure), she hadn’t ever hesitated to sit close to him, to rest a hand on his leg from time to time, lean on his shoulder as they read a book together. She was hesitating now because the meaning behind the action would be different, now. She was afraid to be too close to him, because now it was wrong, and if they tried to make it normal, it meant they were wrong.

Klaus took a deep breath. Could he bring himself to confront that, in the middle of this desperate attempt to take some control over their lives? Would it help, or would it just make things worse?

He glanced at Violet, where a book with very, very small print rested in her lap. It could have been about anything, but Violet didn’t seem to actually be reading it. Her eyes weren’t scanning the page, as they should have been. She was staring down at nothing, and she looked miserable.

Klaus was sick to death of seeing Violet miserable, and if he could do something to help lessen her misery, then damn it, he was going to do it.

“It’s okay,” he murmured, gently placing one of his hands on top of hers.

There were so many coded phrases in their life, but these two words may have been the first they truly understood. Two words, almost invariably false, somewhat hollow-sounding, but nonetheless effective. Its hidden meaning had come from repetition, in moments like these, dark nights filled with soft sighing, soft kisses where no one could see them. I want you to touch me.

She didn’t look any less miserable, and he braced himself for the signal to back away. No, it’s not, and he would let go in an instant. The only thing he hated more than seeing her miserable was the idea that he might be the cause of it. But instead, she turned her hand over to clasp his, and with the other, she set the book on the side table, and she looked at him with tears in her eyes.

“This is our last chance,” she said. “It’s our last chance to have…”

She looked down at their hands, and her eyes pinched shut, her face twisting with an awful realization.

“We’re never going to be normal again,” she whispered, “are we? No matter what happens, we can’t ever go back.”

“The definition of ‘normal’ is based on perceived averages that are usually derived from inaccurate…”

He launched into the analysis without even thinking. He couldn’t keep from jumping to the one thing he knew best, because he felt so nervous, so afraid. But then, his words failed him, and he just trailed off, his whole mind going blank, and all the studies and books in the world couldn’t help him. He shut his own book and put it on the cushion beside him, and then he took a deep, shaking breath. All of his words were gone, except for the truth.

“I don’t,” he took another deep, deep breath, “I don’t think this is going to go away.”

He gave her hand a squeeze, to let her know which “this” he was talking about.

She was still for a long moment, and then she released his hand, but before he could panic, she wrapped both of her arms around his shoulders. She pulled him close, almost into her lap, and untied, her hair all but fell into his face. He loved how soft it felt, how clean they both were, after everything they’d seen. He loved how he couldn’t feel any wrinkles in her dress, as he wrapped his arms around her. Neither of them smelled like dirt (or rust, or ash, or blood, or smoke, or). It was like vengeance, how presentable they both were, now.

“I love you,” she said, sighed it despondently against his shoulder, as though she were confessing some terrible crime.

Over her shoulder, between strands of her long, beautiful hair, he cast his eyes across the room as best he could. It was empty, as far as he could see, from their plush little sofa that faced the door. He was thankful for it, as much as he resented that it had to be, in order for him to do what he did next. Leaning back, he brushed her hair back, and with his fingers loose on either side of her face – he made sure she had room to draw away, room to say ‘no’ – he leaned in close and pressed his lips to hers.

“I love you, too,” he whispered, and then he couldn’t help but kiss her again.

However quiet his words were, saying them in the daylight, in the open, however empty the room was, felt like an earthquake. She relaxed into him, held him close as she took his lower lip gently between hers, and then she leaned back and looked at him with sad, tired eyes.

“…they wouldn’t have wanted this,” she said, and even though she didn’t let go of him, her voice sounded so defeated.

He didn’t have to ask who she meant, but he was surprised he hadn’t heard her bring them up, until now. It was her last resort, he realized, to try and convince him, convince herself that they shouldn’t. The hell of it was, she had a point, but not the one she thought she did.

“You’re right,” he sighed. “They wouldn’t have wanted any of this. They would have wanted us to be happy.”

There was a moment in which he thought she might cry, thought it might all be over, and they would just have to go through the rest of their life trying to ignore all of these elephants. But then, for the first time he could remember in a long while, she smiled.

She took his hand again, pulled him gently off the sofa and toward their shared closet. He locked the door behind them, having long since memorized the tricky little mechanism she’d installed. He let her handle the sound pipes; the latch to seal those off was more complicated, but it was vital that the pipes that carried sound out of the closet were closed. She looked at him, once it was done, and now she looked afraid, again.

“If there’s anything you don’t want, anything you don’t like,” she said shakily, “anything at all, please tell me.”

“I will,” he nodded. “You do the same.”

“I will,” she nodded as well, and he was so thankful that the usual ease of their conversation wasn’t completely hindered by nerves. 

She took another step forward and kissed him, pressing him gently against the back of the closet door.

“I love you,” she said, and there was no regret in her voice now, no sorrow, no fear.

“I love you, too,” Klaus could feel his eyes water, but he was smiling.

Even though there weren’t any windows, the closet felt so bright. They couldn’t seem to keep from smiling, as they unwrapped and unfastened, and really, it wasn’t as though they had never seen each other like this. They knew, especially thanks to recent events, what lay beneath long sleeves and cotton skirts. But, only now did it feel like a good thing, to be bare, to be vulnerable.

For a long time, they just looked at each other, curled up beside each other on the bed, and the way Violet looked at him, like he was some wonderful thing, made Klaus’s heart flutter in his chest. He wrapped his arms tightly around her, and in an instant, he learned how completely wonderful it was, to feel every inch of her with every inch of him. She felt soft, she felt warm, and it was so lovely, to be so close to her.

“Your hair is so long now,” she said, twining a strand around one of her fingers.

“So is yours,” he replied, feeling a few stray ends brush over his skin.

Everyone’s hair had grown, even Sunny’s. Sometimes, it felt like the only way to measure how long they had been caught in this nightmare, how long time had continued to move forward while they had been stuck in the grip of a hurricane. But now, the dark strands that curled in his peripheral vision felt like a badge of honor. Look how long we have endured. Look how alive we are.

Her fingertips moved from his hair to the edge of his jaw, and with a soft smile that he loved, she leaned forward and kissed him. When she moved back again, she pressed her lips to his neck, soft and gentle, and he shivered. There was something remarkably sensitive there, something he’d never expected, and it was like branching tunnels, the way such faint contact sent curls of delight under his skin. He gasped every time her lips landed, jumping a little along with it, but when she leaned up to look at him, he almost whined.

“Does that feel good?” she asked, as casually as she would have asked him what book he was reading.

He appeared to be out of words, for the moment, so he nodded as best he could. He tried to pull her closer, did his best to be gentle as he tried to bring her back to his throat. She grinned wide, and her first answer was a little press of fingertips from the hand holding his hip, which he liked a lot.

“I’m glad,” she said, and there was mischief in her tone that he enjoyed more than he’d expected. “I like the way you jump.”

She leaned in toward him again, and now the hand on his hip moved up to his hair, and he held her as tightly as he could as he felt her lips, then her tongue, slide softly over his skin. At the press of her tongue over the crook of his neck, he gasped, and his body twitched forward. She made a soft sound that he felt as much as heard, and then he made his own in response, and suddenly she rolled on top of him, and they had a bit of a problem.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like it. Far from it, unbelievably far from it, but there was a rather persistent ache between his legs, and the most pressing evidence of it was pressing, as it were, inside of her hip. They were dangerously close to doing something that was, for a list of reasons that just kept getting longer, an astonishingly bad idea.

“Violet,” he whispered, “Violet, I don’t think…”

“I know,” she said softly, drawing back a little. “Sorry, I just…got carried away.”

“No, it’s okay,” he murmured. “I…I like how…I don’t know, how solid you feel…?”

Her cheeks turned a deeper shade of red than they had been before, and she took her lower lip between her teeth. Even though her hair was down, he could see the gears turning in her head, making plans for later, if later ever came.

“There are other things we can do,” she said, and as she rolled them back onto their sides, her hand slid down his neck, down his chest, down further still until the whole of him was shaking with anticipation.

“Yes,” he nodded, and now that she wasn’t pressed on top of him, he felt a pull to take the initiative. “M-May I…?”

His hands slid over her side, the innocuous middle ground, and she laughed so nervously, it actually reassured him. She was just as out of her element as he was, not that he’d ever had reason to believe otherwise. It was comforting, how lost they were together.

“Absolutely,” she took his hand with hers, brought it to her chest. “I want to feel you everywhere I can.”

He made a sound at those words, and at the feeling of her soft, soft breast, and at the sight of her head turning to the side, her eyes closing softly. He had no idea what to do, but he knew what he wanted to do, which was to give her pleasure, and happiness, and love. So, he slid his hand, then hands, lovingly over her skin, pressing and kneading gently, adoring the soft sigh it got him. She was warm, and when it was his movement that turned them, so that she was the one on her back, she was even warmer under his tongue.

Oh,” she sighed again, looking down at him happily. “Somehow, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Is it good?” he asked, punctuating the question with an open-mouthed kiss to the inside curve of one breast.

“God, yes,” she laughed softly, letting her head fall back down onto the pillow.

His heart glowed, and cautiously he let one hand slide down her stomach, as the other remained with his mouth at her chest. Her legs moved apart to let him feel her, and right here, right where he felt soft curls and slickness, she was warmest of all. She made a noise that was somewhere between a moan and a whimper, and he wanted to hear more of that, wanted to know what other sounds he could draw from her.

From books upon books, he knew so many medical, technical, indifferent-sounding terms for what he was feeling, and they all seemed so inadequate. Not a single one could describe the sheer elation on her face, when the very tip of his finger began to open her. Nowhere had they mentioned the delighted way she hummed, when his other hand traveled down to where he had seen her place her own, before. Certainly, none of them had mentioned how she smiled at him, even as her eyes started to shut, when he began to move his fingers in earnest.

“I’m so glad it’s you,” she sighed, and then she gave a surprised cry that turned into a soft, almost pleading moan.

It took a surprising amount of coordination, even once he had found his rhythm, two of his fingertips curling insistently inside her, the pad of his thumb drawing tight circles above. He did his best to remember the one time he’d seen (in detail) how she did it on her own, which was equally as distracting as it was helpful. What was more helpful, though also more distracting, was the way she reacted. He had never seen her so undone, so utterly relaxed, and that, more than the sounds she made, more than the way she squeezed hot and snug around his fingers, was what made him want to keep going.

Abruptly, her head snapped to the side, and with her hair falling in her face, she began to gasp. Her hands scratched at the sheets, and he felt her hips twitch upward, felt her give tight little squeezes to his fingers. She moaned loudly enough that he was almost concerned for the insulating on the sound pipes, and then she spoke, a constant, hissing whisper that wound his own arousal even tighter.

“Don’t stop, don’t stop, please don’t stop…”

He did as she asked, pressing down firmly and watching as her back began to arch upward, tilting her hips toward him. Her head began to tilt back, and he watched her chest begin to heave, her breath leaving her in high, strained pants, until her eyes squeezed shut with a loud cry. Her whole body shook and shook, and the strength with which she clenched around him, again and again, drew a soft, wondrous moan from him. He had done this. He had given her this. He wondered if she would like him to do it again, tonight.

“Enough,” she gasped, and he stopped, let her go.

She lifted herself up before she’d caught her breath, and he realized perhaps a moment late that she was reaching for the cloth beside her. His fingers, the ones that tasted so richly of her, were already in his mouth, by the time she turned to hand it to him. Despite what they’d just done, her face turned redder than he had ever seen it, the blush spreading all the way down her neck.

“…later,” she murmured, so softly, it was as though she were talking to herself.

She pulled him gently down, so they lay side by side once more, and with embers in her eyes, she kissed him deeply. His hands found their way to her back, holding them close so he could feel the whole of her, again. When she drew back, he felt her hand at his hip, and the sound he made could easily have been described as desperate.

“Violet…” he whispered, not knowing what else to say, what else to do.

“It’s okay,” she leaned in closer, murmured the words into his ear. “It’s okay, I’ve got you.”

Her hand came around between them, took the length of him in hand, and he could feel the way her hand was shaking as she began to stroke him. Her mouth was at his neck again, hot, sticky, open-mouthed kisses that sent shivers through him. The pleasure flowed through his body, from her hand between his legs, from her mouth at his neck, from her chest against his, from their tangled legs. He held onto her as tightly as he could, kept her as close as he could, and every sound he made was lost in the soft darkness of her hair.

Behind the way she had taken charge, he could feel her nerves, and he knew she was just as out of her depth, and he loved her for it. Her hand settled into a rhythm he knew, a rhythm he had composed himself, and the thrill it sent through him had him moaning into her ear. She’d remembered, the same way he had.

“Violet,” he said again, “god, Violet, that feels good…”

She gave a shuddering sigh, and the sound of it made him jump, almost as much as he did when she tightened her grip. His eyes pinched tightly shut, and this wasn’t going to continue for long, he knew it. It was too good, it was far too good, and he loved it, and he loved her, and he knew in his very core that she loved him, too.

“Violet,” he whispered, he couldn’t seem to stop, “Violet, god, Violet–”

Pleasure hit him like a lightning strike, hot and fast, and he could do nothing but cling to her and shake as the thunder rolled through him. She sighed again, and she sounded so happy, and he thought for sure his heart would burst. She didn’t let go until he asked, until it had all left him and he was far too tender. Then, once she had taken the cloth and wiped the stickiness from them both, she kissed him, slow and deep and wonderful.

“I love you,” she whispered. “God, I love you so much.”

“Love you too,” he smiled, feeling rather boneless.

They just lay like that for a while, catching their breath, and then there was the sound of pots and pans being moved around through Violet’s tubes. The clock leaning in the corner of the room, told them it was the time of day Justice Strauss usually ate dinner. They decided it would be a good idea to re-emerge, and so after a little cleanup and reapplication of clothing, they did.

--

Despite the fact that Violet knew for sure her sound tubes could be sealed with complete effectiveness, she still found it a bit difficult to look Justice Strauss in the eye at the dinner table. Sunny seemed to find this hilarious, which didn’t exactly help matters, and also gave her something else to worry about.

“Klaus, are you alright?” Justice Strauss asked with concern. “Your face is awfully red. You aren’t having a reaction, are you? Oh gosh, was there any peppermint in this recipe…?”

“Meros,” said Sunny, which Violet took to mean, You’re making it worse by asking about it.

“Sunny’s right,” she said, knowing from Justice Strauss’s expression that she hadn’t understood that. “It’s warm in here, is all. You feel fine, don’t you?”

She glanced at Klaus, who was staring resolutely ahead.

“Yes,” he nodded, just once. “I’m fine.”

Justice Strauss looked like she was about to cast doubt on their reassurance, the idea of which was turning Violet’s face red, as well. However, she was interrupted by perhaps the one thing more terrifying than her discovery of how Klaus and Violet had spent the afternoon.

The doorbell rang, and it rang twice.

Klaus and Violet were no longer red-faced, but instead very pale, indeed. Violet slowly stood up, walking around the table to pick up Sunny, preparing to run for the library as Justice Strauss approached the door.

“Remember the peep hole!” she hissed, a moment before Justice Strauss reached the door.

They were in the living room by the time they heard her gasp, and halfway to the back door before they heard her speak.

“Jacquelyn!”

They froze, looking wide-eyed at each other, and then Klaus ventured back towards the kitchen.

“It can’t be…” Violet said.

“It is.”

Klaus waved her over, and she recognized the woman at the door in an instant, though now she was less gold-painted and more suntanned. They watched from the dining room as Justice Strauss hugged her, exclaiming excitedly about it being ages and ages since last she’d seen her. Jacquelyn smiled warmly at her, and then she pulled a small box from the weather-worn bag she carried.

“We’ll have time to catch up,” she said, “but right now, I’m actually trying to deliver a package.”

“…oh,” Justice Strauss looked at the box with some confusion. “Well, who’s it for?”

“It’s for me,” Klaus said, “isn’t it?”

Jacquelyn looked over at them with a wide smile, and for reasons she didn’t fully know or trust, Violet was filled with the sense that things were alright, that this surprise visitor came bringing good news. Against all odds, she was right.

“You don’t know how glad I am to see you, Klaus Baudelaire,” she said.

“How did you know we were here?” Violet asked, feeling worry stir in her gut.

“It’s a long story,” she said, walking over to where they stood. “One that we can tell over dinner, perhaps?”

“Oh, of course!” Justice Strauss made sure the door was locked and then bounced into the kitchen. “I’ll fix you a plate!”

They learned so many things, that evening, as they talked with Jaquelyn over dinner. The most important thing, the thing they had needed to hear for so long, was the fact that Count Olaf was dead. He’d been dead for a while – “A harpoon gun, really?”, and Jacquelyn had pictures that Klaus didn’t look at but Violet did, because she had to know, and Klaus trusted her eyes.

Violet sat back in her chair, when Jacquelyn put the folder full of pictures back in her bag, and she took a long, deep breath. She did not have the ability sometimes called a photographic memory, but nevertheless, she knew she could never forget those photographs, not even if she wanted to. She looked at Klaus and smiled bitterly, nodded just once, and then took a long drink of her lemonade.

“That’s all there is to tell, really,” Jacquelyn said, pulling her bag onto her shoulder and turning to Justice Strauss. “Now, there’s something I’ve needed to talk to you about for years, but I need your slide projector to do it.”

“Oh, there’s one in the study,” Justice Strauss looked at the three of them with concern. “Do you want to finish your dinner? It seems like you all have a lot to think about.”

“We do,” Violet nodded, “thank you.”

With a nod, Justice Strauss led Jacquelyn into the study, and Violet found to her surprise that she was still hungry, after all.

After a few minutes of quiet, Sunny glanced at Klaus, then at Violet, and then back and forth a few more times. She took another few bites of her broccoli – still frozen, just how she likes it – and finally, she spoke.

“Nenjawaa?”

Violet’s fork clattered to the floor, Klaus jumped in his seat, and the two of them whipped their heads around to look through the dining room door. They couldn’t see into the study, but nevertheless, they waited to see if anyone had heard Sunny’s question but the two of them. They were certain at this point that Justice Strauss didn’t usually understand Sunny’s personal language, but sometimes she very much did. They had no idea about Jacquelyn, which was even scarier.

A moment passed in utter silence, then two, and finally Klaus and Violet had to turn back around and answer their sister’s question.

Are you ever going to get married?

“Sunny,” Violet laughed nervously, “what do you mean?”

Violet knew exactly what Sunny had meant, as did Klaus, but the two of them were, at present, very afraid of what implications this question might have had regarding their behavior in the past. They were both terrified that they hadn’t been cautious enough, in one way or another, and as a result, they had hurt her.

The look Sunny gave the two of them was reminiscent of the way she had once looked at Aunt Josephine, what felt like a lifetime ago. With her wispy curls hanging down above her eyes, her face slowly starting to lose its roundness, its incredulity was magnified. Violet felt more than a little embarrassed; sometimes she forgot how intelligent and observant Sunny could be, despite her age.

“Nenjawaa?” she asked, a little more insistently, this time.

“We,” Klaus hesitated for a moment, and then he sighed. “We can’t. It’s against the law.”

“Why?” Sunny looked perplexed again, and Violet sighed heavily.

“It’s not,” she hesitated, “it isn’t right, for siblings to marry.”

Sunny said something neither of them really understood, due to the high pitch and volume of its delivery. Nevertheless, they both took it to mean something along the lines of, “Count Olaf’s technically legal plot to seize control of their money through the process of marriage should be outlawed, instead of the theoretical marriage of Violet and Klaus.” The two of them looked back at the study again, fully expecting Justice Strauss to rush in, worrying about their safety.

“We know, Sunny,” Klaus said gently. “When have the rules ever made sense?”

Sunny just sighed heavily and crunched another piece of broccoli between her teeth.

They were nearly finished eating by the time Justice Strauss did come back, and she brought with her an envelope thick with paper.

“I’ve been meaning to get these back to you all day,” she muttered. “I can’t believe it kept slipping my mind. Here, Violet, this is yours.”

Violet’s eyes went wide as she slid the paperwork out of the folder. She hardly believed what she was reading, though so many of the forms bore Justice Strauss’s signature. By the time she reached the end, there were tears in her eyes.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“It was the least I could do,” Justice Strauss said. “It really was.”

Violet handed the papers to Klaus, who read through them carefully, looking for legally exploitable language the way he’d promised to do. Violet said nothing, in fact no one said anything, not even Jacquelyn, when she came back into the dining room. After he had read them three times, he looked up and smiled at Violet with something that looked like relief.

The tears in Violet’s eyes finally fell.

Afterwards, as the three of them curled up on the library sofa, Sunny perched happily in Klaus’s lap, she looked up from the hard candy she’d been gnawing on and smiled at Violet.

“Wambuu,” she said, which meant, you look happy.

She turned to look at Klaus after she said it, to indicate that she was speaking to them both.

“Thank you,” Violet gave her tummy a gentle tickle. “You look happy, too.”

Sunny giggled around a mouthful of candy, and Klaus saw Violet’s eyes pinken with tears, again. His arm around her tightened, and as she leaned her head on his shoulder, he pressed a firm kiss to her hair.

--

THE PRESENT

One of the first things they do is get their parents’ money – their money, now – out of Mulctuary Money Management, and into a bank whose staff not only takes Violet seriously when she asks about their security policy, but asks for identification when they arrive.

Violet has always kept a nebulous sort of idea of how much money her family had, but it becomes clear almost immediately that she hadn’t had a clue. It’s enough to rebuild the Baudelaire mansion, with an expanded library and an upgraded workshop, to give them back the home and the life that was stolen from them–

…or to leave, to move far, far away, to somewhere nobody’s ever heard of the name Baudelaire. Somewhere nobody will think twice to see the two of them picking up Sunny from school, somewhere they can hold hands in public, even kiss now and then. Somewhere they can stop being the Baudelaire orphans and start being the Baudelaire family.

Klaus wants so, so badly to uncover the secrets of the spyglass, of VFD and everything their parents never told them, but Violet looks at him with sad, sad eyes and says, “I don’t think this is going to go away”.

The second they can get access to a car – and none of them are in the backseat, now, Violet is driving and Klaus has Sunny in his lap – they leave. They say goodbye to Justice Strauss and Jacquelyn, making promises to stay in touch they know they can’t keep, and then they are gone. They are gone, and they are together, and they have nothing but each other. They told no one but their new bank where they are headed, because even with Count Olaf dead, even with Violet finally in control of her own wealth, of her own worth, they don’t dare risk anyone knowing where they’re going, or where they’ve been.

--

They’re the kind of people who need a bodyguard, now, but Marco and Kate are very kind, entirely free of tattoos, and most importantly, they listen. It’s also helpful when their classes run late, and they need someone they trust to bring Sunny home from school. They do their best to pick her up themselves, together if they can manage it, but some days, schedules don’t permit.

Their education has taken up most of their time, in the years since their relocation. It’s no small feat to go from less than a secondary school diploma to the youngest students (and teacher’s assistant, in Violet’s case) in the social science and mechanical engineering departments. They managed it, though, and not a single transcript request was sent anywhere near Prufrock Prep.

It’s easier than they thought it would be. They have the same last name, they wear matching rings on their left hand, and they share legal guardianship of Sunny. Most people, in the way most people do, assumed the best of their situation, and they find themselves frequently commended for choosing to adopt. Klaus has read three and a half of the five encyclopedias in the library, cover to cover, and they all depict what they have done, what they are still doing, as an invariably harmful violation. Klaus is beginning to suspect that encyclopedias are written by people whose lives were very, very different than his own.

Perhaps the saddest part is Sunny. It’s not that she’s unhappy, but that she understands too well that she isn’t part of a normal family, and that talking about it too much can be dangerous. Talking about her tumultuous past – which she remembers in its entirety – is also something she doesn’t do much, mostly because she found out the hard way that very few people will believe her. Still, she’s doing very well in school, and her friends never fail to have a good time when they come to visit. Recently, she’s earned a reputation for living at “the house with the really neat doorbell”.

--

Violet comes home exceptionally late, one evening, after a prototype decided to stop working two days before she’s supposed to present it to the science department. She can see Klaus in the kitchen, and from the looks of things, he’s nearly done with the stir fry she had planned for dinner. He turns around to look at her, at the sound of the door closing, and the ease of his smile makes her heart skip a beat.

“You’re just in time,” he says, nodding to the stove. “They’re about done. Sunny’s in the library, if you wanted to tell her dinner’s ready.”

“Sure,” she hangs her keys on the hook and walks into the kitchen, “but, first things first.”

He meets her halfway, when she pulls him down to kiss him, and the stress of the broken prototype begins to fade, in the smallest increments.

“Love you,” she whispers.

“Love you too,” he kisses her cheek softly. “Glad you’re home.”

“Glad to be home,” she smiles broadly.

She heads into the library to find Sunny sitting upside-down in an armchair, socks pointed toward the ceiling, a book of poetry by Henley held in both hands. Violet reaches down and tickles her stomach, causing her to drop the book with a delighted shriek and kick her feet in the air.

“Dinner’s ready,” she says with a laugh.

“Violet!” Sunny laughs, reaching up for her. “You’re late!”

“I am,” she picks her up – she’s not too big for it yet, and rue the day she ever will be. “A machine broke down, and I had to build a new part. I’m sorry. I know we were supposed to paint your room today.”

“It’s okay,” Sunny leans her head on Violet’s shoulder. “I’m just glad you’re home.”

Violet’s heart sinks, and she kisses Sunny’s forehead gently.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” she says, “so you knew I was okay. There was just so much to do, but I should have taken the time.”

“Diilu,” Sunny replies, which means, Sometimes I hate the engineering department.

“That’s okay,” Violet carries Sunny toward the dining room. “It’s okay to be angry.”

When they reach the dining room, Klaus has already set their plates out, and Sunny hops down to take her seat. Violet takes her place beside Klaus, and with the smell of stir fry wafting up around them, the Baudelaire family sits down to dinner. Nothing truly terrible has happened today. Nothing truly terrible happened yesterday. Violet sincerely hopes nothing truly terrible will happen tomorrow, but she cannot know for sure.

She can, however, make a pretty good guess.