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Men Who Talk to Ghosts

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At this moment, the Pie-maker was thirty-two years, five months, twenty-eight days, fourteen hours, twelve minutes, and fifty-three seconds old, and life was wonderfully uneventful. He felt a sense of satisfaction as he pulled a triple-berry pie from the oven and placed it to cool. The girl called Chuck bustled into the kitchen wearing bright red and a smile. Without preamble, she asked, “Have you ever met someone by complete happenstance and immediately known they would just stick to your life like an extra-sticky piece of velcro?”

Ned couldn’t help the smile that spread over his face, a smile that always came with Chuck’s unbridled enthusiasm. He leaned against a counter as he answered. “I don’t really meet someones, and especially not by happenstance. And immediate isn’t my favorite, either. I prefer things that take time and are intentional, like choosing lace-up shoes when you’re finally allowed to graduate from velcro. And it still takes me a long time to tie my shoes.”

“I know. I think it’s adorable.”

Olive Snook, petite procurer of pies, leaned into the kitchen at that moment. “Ned, your pecan is a real pe-can’t today, but if you have more apple I’ve got an angry mob of autumn-loving customers craving a slice.” She turned to Chuck. “Is your ‘adorable’ about the burning hunk of bohemia in the corner booth? Because if so, I second the judgment.”

Ned cocked his head at Chuck. “Is he the velcro?”

She shrugged. “He may be the pair of shoes that inspired the question.”

All three of them walked out and leaned on the front counter, startling Private Investigator Emerson Cod mid-bite. “Can I help you all? Or y’all just gonna keep intruding on my personal space which is, I’ll remind you, both mine and personal?”

“Do you think he’s waiting for someone?” Chuck wondered aloud. “He was very polite when I gave him his coffee.”

Ned furrowed his brow. The man he saw was scrawny and oddly attired, but even from this distance, the Pie-maker could tell there was something magnetic and beautiful about him. Glancing over at Chuck’s grin, he asked, “Polite, like, ‘thank you, strange waitress whom I don’t know, for pouring me coffee,’ or polite, like, ‘come join me on my motorcycle across Europe?’”

Chuck scoffed a little at Ned. “Emerson, can you aggressively elbow Ned for me?” Emerson rolled his eyes and did not comply. “He wasn’t flirting with me, if that’s what you’re implying. He was very friendly in a way that felt like completely non-threatening velcro.”

“I wish he would flirt with me,” Olive interjected. In a conspiring tone, she conjectured further. “Do you think he’s composing poetry aloud for his next great anthology? Or maybe practicing a song. He must be in a band, don’t you think? He looks like the underrated bass player without whom the entire musical project would deteriorate into a brawl in someone’s mansion.”

Emerson finally turned around to look at the young man, who, though they could not hear him, seemed to be having a conversation despite being alone in his booth. He suddenly doubled over with laughter, and Emerson returned his gaze to the other three, still all leaning forward to stare in wonder. He clicked his tongue dismissively and shook his head. “The man’s high. Nothing mysterious or mystical about him. Just make sure he doesn’t run off with your pie and your money.” Ned’s mouth fell open and his head tilted precipitously to one side. Seeing this, Emerson snorted. “You never seen anyone high before?”

Ned shrugged defensively. “I was a very sheltered child and also adult in all things except emotional, parent-inflicted trauma. And frequent exposure to death. Just not frequent or any exposure to the sorts of illicit substances that might make a man come into a pie shop and put his bare feet on my table and talk to himself.”

Chuck grinned up at him. “I love that you call them ‘illicit substances.’”

Olive grabbed a pot of coffee. “Well, high or not, I’m going to see if I can’t convince him to drink another cup of coffee, buy a slice of pecan, and take me to his poetry reading.” She hurried her way towards the booth, and Ned watched as she and the young man beamed at each other and struck up a conversation.

Ned turned to face Chuck. “Velcro?”

“You should talk to him and then you’ll see what I mean. I think you’d like him.” Chuck was a firm believer in pushing Ned beyond the confines of his comfort zone and his kitchen.

He shook his head. “I like very few people and about two thirds of them are right here at this counter. I didn’t wake up this morning expecting to have to befriend someone who came into my restaurant all--all doped up and fur-clad.”

Emerson looked up from his pie and raised an eyebrow. “‘Doped up?’ Last time I checked you weren’t a middle-school health teacher but I can change my records if I need to.”

Ned crossed his arms, hunching down his shoulders. “I told you I was sheltered.”

Chuck entreated him with her eyes. “And isn’t it my job to un-shelter you? The world outside the shelter is full of fun surprises and new friends and fur-clad strangers.”

“You left your shelter and got killed. I feel perfectly content in my shelter and in my kitchen. Pie-maker, not pie-conversationalist.”

Chuck shook her head in exasperation. “You can’t use my death as your trump card without my permission. I have ownership over it. And I can’t make you talk to anyone, but I wish you would.”

Olive returned and hopped on a stool next to Emerson. “I've got the scoop. His name is Klaus; he doesn't have an accent but he must be European, don't you think? He came into the Piehole seeking the help of the moody private eye he heard spends all his time and money here. His father recently died under very odd circumstances and he wants to hire you.” She grinned triumphantly. “How’s that for mysterious?”

Emerson glanced at the young man again, who was smiling and waving both hands at him across the room. Turning to Olive, Emerson shook his head. “I don’t spend all my money here. I don’t spend any money here on account of I pay the Pie-maker his supplementary income. And that man doesn’t appear to have any means of supplementing anyone’s income. So you can just fly on back and tell him to enjoy his pie and the funereal.”

Chuck and Olive both gave him a shocked look. “That’s very cold of you, Emerson,” Chuck reproached. “Imagine your father died and the one person you turned to turned you away with a slice of pie and a sorry excuse.”

“That junkie can’t afford me.”

Olive piped up. “His father was Reginald Hargreeves.”

Almost before she finished speaking the eccentric billionaire’s name, Emerson was out of his stool and on his way to sit with the  young man, who clapped his hands in delight. Glancing at each other, Ned, Olive, and Chuck followed close behind and filled the booth.

Chapter Text

The Pie-maker sat himself next to Emerson and directly across from the young man, who was smiling around the table. “Look at all of you. Do I get the whole pack for the price of one?”

Emerson glared at Chuck and Olive, who were sitting next to the man and smiling at him. “Mr. Hargreeves, I’m Emerson Cod, and this,” he gestured to Ned, “is my associate. They,” he gestured to the two women, his voice exasperated “are not my associates.”

The man screwed up his face. “God, please do not call me Mr. Hargreeves. That’s dear dead dad. I’m Klaus.

Chuck leaned forward on the table, looking over Olive to meet Klaus’s eyes. “Ignore Emerson. I’m so sorry to hear about your father, Klaus. I know what it’s like to lose your father, like walking up the stairs at night and finding there’s one less than you thought. It’s terrible.” Ned, even so many years later, still cringed slightly at the mention of Chuck’s father. Still, he was glad she could empathize with Klaus.

But Klaus paused and smiled oddly. “Well, I wouldn’t say terrible so much as the best news I’ve gotten in five years. Ding, dong, the witch is dead, and all that. What was your name?”

Chuck, momentarily stunned at the flat rejection of her earnest and compassionate condolences, found no response. Ned jumped in instead. “Sorry, Emerson rudely forgot to introduce us all. I’m Ned, and this is Chuck and Olive. Maybe you can start by telling us what happened to your father?”

Klaus sighed and slumped further down into the booth. “Probably nothing. The demon that was occupying his body called it quits? His cold dead heart finally froze the rest of him? That’s what the coroner said. Natural causes.”

“Not to dissuade you from doing so, but why are you hiring me, then?” Emerson asked, completely unbothered by Klaus’s callousness. Chuck and Olive, on the other hand, were wearing matching expressions of disbelief. Ned found himself caught between the two--wondering at Klaus’s reaction, while some small part of him wondered if he wouldn’t react the same way.

“I’m hiring you, because,” Klaus drew out the word as though relishing it, “My brother thinks he was killed. He thinks one of us did it, someone in the family. Now, I don’t agree, and I normally wouldn’t give too much of a shit, and  just leave him to bloviate on. But dearest Luther is the executor for papa’s will and refuses to begin dispensing the familial funds until he’s satisfied none of us had anything to do with the tragedy. And I am truly depending on that will, I can tell you.” Ned found himself oddly entranced by the almost musical way Klaus had of speaking, even when the words were so blatantly self-interested.

Emerson was immune, though, and he narrowed his eyes. “So what you’re saying is, you’re broke ?”

“Tragically, yes, but I’m hoping for a massive inheritance very soon. If you can settle the issue for us.” Klaus tilted his head, big puppy eyes aimed at Emerson.

“Will you excuse us for a minute?” Emerson stood and Ned, Chuck, and Olive followed him back to the front counter.

From behind, Ned heard Klaus whine, “Well, I wasn’t going to lie, was I?” When he turned around, though, Klaus was facing away from him, seeming to talk to the empty space next to him.

Emerson shook his head. “The guy’s broke, high, and crazy. I ain’t taking that case.”

“Oh, come on, Emerson! It sounds easy enough, right? You just have to prove it was natural,” Olive urged. “Wouldn’t it be fun to go see the Hargreeves mansion?”

Chuck sighed. “I can’t believe someone would talk that way about their father right after he died. It must be so sad to realize you can never fix that relationship.”

Ned glanced back towards Klaus, still arguing with the air beside him. “Sometimes you may not want to fix it. Sometimes it might feel like the only choice is to forget there was a bond in the first place and view the whole father-son project as a lost cause.”

Emerson fixed Ned with a hard look. “We are not taking a case because your daddy issues and his daddy issues wanna be friends. The man can’t pay, I won’t play. It’s simple.”

“I did hear that, actually,” Klaus said. They all jumped, turning to see him pouting behind them. “Sorry to eavesdrop, loves, but I was hoping for another slice and the charming waitress seems to be all caught up in the P.I. team.” He flashed Olive a grin; she returned it. “Anyway, Mr. Cod, I do have something in the way of a sort of down payment for you. Grabbed it from papa’s desk.” He held out a gold pocket watch, spinning it on its chain. “I wouldn’t dream of selling any of his things, of course, given the sentimental value, but to catch his killer, anything.” He made a great show of choking up at this last bit, before laughing and tossing the watch to Emerson.

“Mr. Hargreeves, just how much do you stand to inherit if your father’s will is executed as planned?” Emerson asked, inspecting the pocket watch.

“Emerson!” Chuck scolded. “Don’t be so nosy.”

“You will get your money, mon amie. I absolutely promise. If Luther fucks me over and I don’t inherit anything anyway, I think I’ll probably rob the place blind. I can cut you in on the commission there.”

Ned, Chuck, and Olive all shot Emerson pleading looks, only outdone by Klaus’s over-stylized trembling lip and saucer-eyes. Finally, the detective sighed. “Alright, we’ll take the damn case.” As she opened her mouth, he turned to Olive. “You ain’t coming.” Her disappointment was palpable.

***

When Klaus Hargreeves was eighteen years, twenty-two days, four hours, fifty-eight minutes and twelve seconds old, he walked out the front door of the Hargreeves mansion with no intention of returning. Following a childhood full of trauma and lacking in affection, the loss of his favorite brother in combination with a particularly potent drink compelled him to leave forever.

He had left in search of brighter worlds, an escape from the thick walls and dim windows he’d been raised on. Life took him as far from this place as he could get, and still it was inside of him. Habits learned here spread outward and infected everywhere else he’d ever gone.

Now, as he sat next to Chuck in the back seat of Emerson Cod’s car, prattling away, he dimly thought that these people seemed to live an exceptional life, all colors and continuity. He wondered vaguely if they would bring that to the Academy or if the Academy would impose its darkness on them. He was unable or unwilling to dwell on the thought as Chuck told him about her bees, which he found hilarious without quite knowing why.

Emerson parked the car and Klaus threw open the door. “Home, home, home, my friends. Welcome to the familial abode. Welcome, welcome, welcome…” he trailed off.

Ben rolled his eyes as he followed Klaus out of the car. “You need to get it together. This is a terrible idea already and if you don’t play it right, the others won’t even let them in the front door.”
Klaus stopped in his tracks and muttered, “What would it take for you to be supportive of my ideas for once?” He placed a hand on his heart, feigning injury. “It is a blow to my self esteem to be trailed by a constant critic.”

“I wouldn’t be critical if you didn’t have bad ideas all the time.”

Klaus wanted to reply, but the Piehole gang were standing beside him now, staring up at the Academy.

“You grew up here?” Chuck asked, a smile lighting her face. “It must have been magical.” Ben snorted.

Klaus just laughed. “Oh, absolutely. The hallowed halls of…” and he couldn’t make the joke, not quite. He shook his head and beckoned them to follow him inside.

The house felt empty. He was sure at least a couple of family members were somewhere in this crypt, but it was big enough that he could spin around in the entrance and say, “Yes, you’re really here, the Umbrella Academy itself. Feel free to compensate the tour guide. Now father dear ought to be in the parlor…” He meandered in that direction. Calling over his shoulder, he added, “If you’re very lucky you’ll get to meet my siblings who are just a bunch of charmers. Not sure where they might be--” And he ran directly into Luther.

“Klaus, what are you doing? Who are these people?” His brother’s voice was frustrated and, as always, condescending. Klaus fondly remembered when he had given all his siblings their first taste of alcohol, for once in his life being better and knowing more than them about something. Luther had been scared shitless of being caught and being drunk, he recalled smugly.

“Luther, my dear, after your... chilling accusations, I took the initiative to locate some professionals. Aren’t you proud, brother?” Klaus wheeled around. “Emerson Cod, Chuck, and Ned. My brother Luther.”

Chuck, of course, beamed and reached out an eager hand. “Hi, Luther. I’m so sorry about your father.” Luther shook her hand, confused. Klaus already liked her, but seeing how hard it was for Luther to understand her only strengthened the sentiment.

Emerson pushed forward past Ned, who was smiling awkwardly with his hands behind his back. “Emerson Cod, Private Investigator. You the brother with suspicions?”

Luther glanced between Klaus and Emeron. “Um, yeah. Or, I--” Klaus just grinned at his brother, relishing the discomposure.

Ben sighed. “Be nice to him.” Klaus ignored him.

“Perhaps, Luther, we can let the nice detectives see dad. If you want to get to the bottom of whatever you think is going on.”

Luther took another moment before deciding to take control. “Right. Private Investigators. Come this way.” And he led them to their father’s body.

Klaus giggled to himself and trailed behind. He turned to Ben. “Was he always this easy to manipulate? Just make him think it’s his idea?”

Ned, a few feet ahead, turned and raised his eyebrows. “Sorry?”

“Oh, not you, I’m sorry. All sorts of ghosts in this house,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows a little. Ned gave him a strange look, but shrugged.

Once in the parlor, Klaus collapsed onto a couch and tuned out Luther as he told Emerson the reasons for his suspicion. His focus was reclaimed when Luther grew agitated. “I don’t understand, and I don’t like it.”
“What’s not to understand?” Emerson replied testily. “We need the room. To examine your father’s body without you two and your family feud distracting us.”

Luther was about to object again, and Klaus practically fell off the couch trying to get up. “Come on, Luther, let them work. What could you possibly be worried about? He’s already dead.” He tried to grab Luther’s arm and tug him out of the room, but Luther swatted him away easily. “Ow.”

“They’re very good, Luther,” Chuck reassured him, “We won’t need more than five minutes. Promise.”

Luther narrowed his eyes but ultimately complied. “I’ll be right outside that door,” he said. “And I’ll come back in in five minutes.”

“Oh, thank god,” Klaus gushed. “My hero, truly. Now let’s go.” And they left Emerson Cod, the girl called Chuck, and the Pie-maker alone with Reginald Hargreeves.

Chapter Text

As soon as the brothers shut the door, Emerson Cod opened Reginald Hargreeves’s casket. “Alright, touch the man and we can get on our way. Something’s off about this place and I don’t want to stick around to find out why Mr. Torso back there is suspicious every last one of his siblings.”

Something about the idea of waking a man who had, in all likelihood, died naturally, nettled Ned’s sensibilities, but he nonetheless started his watch and touched the man’s hand.

Hargreeves’s eyes flew open and he took the scene in, sitting up like there was a rod in his back. “Who are you people and where is my son?” He looked imperiously at the three.

They glanced at each other. “Which one?” Chuck asked helpfully.

“Number Four, of course. He must be here, unless…” Hargreeves narrowed his eyes at Ned. “How old are you?”

Taken aback, Ned replied, “Um, thirty-two--”

Hargreeves interrupted. “Hm. Too old. But--” he once more surveyed the room. “If he’s not here…”

Ned tried again. “Mr. Hargreeves, this may come as a shock, but I’m afraid you’re currently...dead.”

The man looked at Ned contemptuously. “Of course I am, you halfwit, that’s the point. I must speak to Number Fou--”

Emerson interrupted. “Your son thinks your death wasn’t accidental, Mr. Hargreeves. What do you remember about how you died?”

“It’s not how, young man, it’s why.”

“Did. Someone. Kill. You?” Emerson, clearly frustrated by half-answers and condescension, asked through gritted teeth.

“What did the coroner say?”

“Heart failure.”

“Very good.”

Emerson was about to ask another question when Chuck leaned forward. “Do you have any last wishes, or requests, or messages we can send along?”

Hargreeves fixed her with a hard stare. “Make sure they stay together, all of them. They need to stay together.”

Emerson, glaring at Chuck, tried one last time, raising his voice. “Was your death natural or not?”

“The most natural thing in the world,” he shouted back, before Ned touched him and he slumped forward. Seconds later, Luther burst back into the room trailed by a vaguely apologetic Klaus.

“I heard yelling,” the larger man stated, shifting his gaze from the Private Investigators to the open casket, where his father’s body lay, bent double, with one arm dangling out the edge. Luther strode forward and rearranged the body. “What are you doing? Have some respect.”

Ned’s eyebrows shot up in discomfort. “So sorry, sir, we were simply...looking for signs of struggle.”

“And did you find any?” Luther demanded. Ned decided that he was not particularly fond of Klaus’s older brother.

Emerson spoke up. “We have no reason to believe as yet that your father’s death was anything but natural.”

Luther squinted at him. “What?”

“He’s saying,” Klaus needled, “That dad dropped dead and none of his children had anything to do with it, which is actually the shocking part, now that I think of it. But what that means is that you can execute away. The will,” he added, when Luther gave him a blank look, “The will, Mr. Executor.”

“Oh, for--is that all this is about for you?”

“Hm, let me think, yes.”
“Did you find a P.I. to try and assuage me just so you could get your money? God, I bet they aren’t even real detectives, you heartless--you--”

Emerson interrupted. “Excuse me, I am as real as they come and I promise I never laid eyes on your deadbeat brother before this morning. Now let me explain something to you. Coroner says, heart failure. Son says, ‘but I miss my dad! I need someone to blame!’ Detective walks in, finds nothing but a grownasss man clinging to his daddy’s cold hand and accusing everyone around him without cause. There’s nothing here. You need to bury the old man and move on with your life.”

Luther set his jaw, ignoring Klaus’s delighted laughter. “If you’re really a Private Investigator, you should talk to my siblings before making that call.”

Chuck interjected, just as Emerson seemed liable to grow violent. “Are your siblings here? We’d love to meet them. It must be such a comfort to have each other right now. I would have given anything for a sister or brother when my dad died.” Ned marvelled at her easy vulnerability and openness, this ability she had to instantly find connection. He smiled down at her.

Klaus, however, burst out laughing, and even Luther smirked. “Well, Luther, are they here? Where might we find them all?” He began to count on his fingers. “Number One, present and larger than life. Number Two, throwing knives and wearing leather across town. Number Three...well, she might be upstairs. Number Four,” he gestured dramatically towards himself, and Ned, Chuck, and Emerson all made meaningful eye contact. “Number Four, present and having a wonderful time. Number Five, watching from above.” He mimed an overly reverent sign of the cross. “Number Six…” he turned to look at an armchair and smirked. “And Number Seven, dutifully sad, somewhere else.”

“Well,” Luther said, “They should all be coming back this evening. Soon. I told them to,” he added, as though that served as an absolute guarantee of their compliance. Perhaps it did, Ned thought, still doing his best not to stare at Luther’s upper body.

Klaus meandered toward the bar. “I recommend a drink, my friends, if you spend one more minute in this place. Only way to stay sane. Don’t even say it,” he added, speaking once more to the space where no one was.

***

Though he was unsure how much time had passed, Klaus was vaguely aware that the light in the room had grown dimmer as the sun began to set. Ned, Chuck, and Emerson were perusing the house, followed closely, he presumed, by a defensive and overeager Luther. He chuckled a little at the idea of the three of them running into Pogo, or even his mother, but this house had always been vast enough to make accidental encounters unlikely.

Unlikely,  but not impossible, he found, as he heard the tell-tale click of Allison’s heels approach. “She’s going to ask what’s wrong with you,” Ben told him, “You look like shit.”

“You are so rude,” Klaus muttered, keeping his eyes closed.

“Klaus? What are you doing? Are you okay?” came Allison’s concerned and collected voice from above him.

Finally, he opened his eyes and smiled broadly. “Hey, you. I’m doing great, just really great. Been having a lovely little time down here while Spaceboy and the Private Eyes peek around upstairs.”

She still looked concerned, towering over him. “Why are you on the floor?”

“Am I?” He looked around and found she was right. “Huh. Well, it’s remarkably comfortable.” He propped himself up on an elbow. “How are you?”

Allison sat hesitantly on the sofa, eyeing her brother. “Did you say Private Eyes?”

“Yes, yes, they’re investigating dad’s very unmysterious death.”
She shook her head; Klaus was tempted to call the look in her eyes disgust, but it could just as easily have been pity. From his angle it was hard to tell. “I can’t believe he hired detectives. We know how dad died, it was in the coroner’s report.” Klaus started to tell her he had hired them, but decided it wasn’t worth the explanation. Allison offered him her hand and fairly dragged him onto the couch next to her. She looked at Klaus with the same eyes that used to scoff, now full of something bordering on affection. “Klaus...how are you, really? I know everything is crazy, but...you can talk to me, if you need to.”

He couldn’t buy it, not the way she meant. There was too much there, rivers of disdain and skies full of distance, for him to tell her anything like that. He grinned. “How I am is wonderful, sister dear, though I’ll admit things would be far better if I could get out of this house with my rightful due.”

Allison looked amused and frustrated, but before she could respond Diego, followed several feet back by Vanya, walked in. Allison sat up straighter and glanced at her watch. “It’s past six. Luther should be down here in a minute.” Diego greeted Klaus and Allison and immediately started pacing, toying idly with a knife. Vanya curled into a corner of the couch, as small as she could be. Klaus waved both his hands at her with a grin, receiving in return the expected tight-lipped smile.

He tilted his head back to look at the ceiling and thought about how little he knew them, really. How little they knew him. And then his mind turned from the cold room to the sunny Piehole, and he wished for something he couldn’t name.

Luther and the investigators entered the room, and Diego, Vanya, and Allison turned to eye the newcomers. Emerson introduced himself and his colleagues, and then said, “In order to complete our investigation, we’ll need to talk with each of you. I understand this is a sensitive time, of course, but if I can set up a time tomorrow to meet with all of you…”

“Tomorrow?” Klaus whined. This whole thing was supposed to be easy and fast and done so he could move on with his pockets weighted down.

Luther replied. “These are professionals, Klaus. They know what they’re doing, and they aren’t just going to wrap everything up so you can get your money.”

Diego, seething, walked up to Luther. “What more do you need to understand it? He’s gone. It doesn’t matter who you hire, he’s dead.”

“I didn’t hire them,” Luther replied, clearly a little smug. “It was Klaus.”
Allison, Vanya, and Diego all turned in disbelief to Klaus. Perfect. He defended himself, stumbling slightly on his words.  “Well, yeah, but-but to prove him wrong. I mean, come on, any reasonable person can see what’s happening, right? We shouldn’t need to be interrogated.”

“Then you shouldn’t have hired detectives,” Allison said, full of exasperation. “What did you think was going to happen?”

“I don’t need to prove my innocence to anyone,” said Diego. His lip was curled, disdain aimed at Luther. “This entire exercise is ridiculous.”

Luther stood even straighter. “No one is getting a penny of dad’s money until they’re done investigating. And that means talking to all of you.” God, he’s boring, Klaus thought. This was prototypical Luther all over, right down to the injured look he got when Allison glared at him.

Diego started to say something about principles, and Allison interrupted. “Perhaps we can have this discussion privately?”

Chuck and Ned, Klaus thought, glancing at them now, seemed profoundly uncomfortable; Emerson simply looked bored. “We’d like to be on our merry way as much as you want us to leave,” he said, “But once you have all your fun, come to the Piehole tomorrow. We’ll be there.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Chuck said sweetly, already ducking out of the room. Ned opened his mouth as though to add something but just smiled weakly and followed her.

Klaus closed his eyes and braced himself for the long argument undoubtedly to come. If he behaved himself, maybe Luther would start the process tomorrow and he would come into his money before too much time passed.

Chapter Text

In her years pouring coffee and waiting tables at the Piehole, Olive Snook had learned many things. She had learned which smile earned her the most tips; she had learned to read Emerson Cod’s mercurial moods. She had learned how to brew a perfect cup; she had learned to love without envy the girl named Chuck. She had learned how to approach solving mysteries big and small; and she had un-learned her feelings for the pie-maker.

What she had never learned, however, was not to get her hopes up. Olive Snook was a master of wishing, visualizing, and striving, no matter how often she was disappointed. Yesterday, left behind once again to man the Piehole while her friends set off on more thrilling adventures, she had felt in the pit of her stomach that small, angry fire.

But today she did not let it show. The bell rang and in walked Emerson in a sour mood. Before he even sat in his favorite booth, Olive had a cup of coffee poured and a slice of pie prepared for him. “What’s the skinny? Did dead dad get done in? Was it one of the kids?”

Emerson didn’t even look at her. “Me and my coffee need ten minutes alone before I’m gonna answer any of your questions. Same goes for you two,” he added to Ned and Chuck, who had just approached the table.

Ned ignored this last bit and slid into the booth, followed by Chuck. Olive always wondered how Ned and Emerson worked; Ned’s extreme politeness and mild manners didn’t seem to extend to Emerson, despite the latter’s acerbic personality. “I couldn’t sleep last night. Could you sleep last night? Something about them was so off and I can’t name it. It was like when your mom makes you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for school every day and then one day switches the type of jam. I can’t shake the wrong-jam flavor.”

“Did you meet all of them?” Olive asked. She was sure that her excitement was visible but she didn’t bother to hide it. “Was Diego there?”

The other three all looked at her in confusion. “You know this family?” Ned asked, his two ridiculous eyebrows knitting together. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Everyone knows them, right? The Umbrella Academy.” She received blank looks in response. This was just like them, though. “Nothing? The crime-fighting kid wonders? They were everywhere for a couple of years. I had one of those fold-out magazine posters of Diego when I was in middle school. Is this really ringing no bells for any of you?”

Chuck shrugged. “Living with my aunts my entertainment was mostly limited to synchronized swimming championships on TV and Say Cheese Magazine . I guess I must have missed them.”

“And I didn’t get much in the way of culturally relevant media at boarding school,” Ned added.

They turned to Emerson who, predictably, rolled his eyes. “I must have been busy not giving a damn. What do you know about this family?”

“Well,” Olive began, sliding in to sit next to Emerson; she ignored his dirty look. “The six of them had these wild powers, real life superheroes, you know? They were the coolest . For a couple of years. Reginald Hargreeves sort of trained them all, I think. But they sort of faded out for some reason. One of them died.” Ned and Chuck were looking at her in shock, and Emerson was trying to say something to Ned without speaking.

“When you say super powers…” Ned began. Olive could hear the quotations around the words. After a pause, he picked up again. “When you say super powers, do you mean ‘look at these kids on TV doing improbable things for a paying audience,’ or ‘the thing that just occurred should not be possible but it really happened?’”

“I mean six kids stopping a hostage situation and taking down five armed robbers and making it home for cake. So what did you find out yesterday? I’ve gave you intel, fair’s fair.”

Emerson begrudgingly responded. “There’s nothing there. Beefy big brother told me he’ll pay even if the junkie doesn’t, so we’ll talk to them all, but the old man must have died naturally.” He stabbed his pie. “I still don’t like it. Whole thing’s too messy. They’re all their own type of crazy.”

“Are you talking to them here?” Olive pictured herself serving Allison Hargreeves peach  pie and felt a flutter in her stomach. “Are they all coming here?”

“They’re supposed to be,” Ned said, glancing around the restaurant. “We kind of left in a hurry so precise details may not have been quite hashed out.”

The bell rang, and Olive stood to seat the new customer. She was small, wearing a shirt buttoned to the top that made her look like a child in clothes that were bought for her to grow into. If it hadn’t been on her mind, Olive would never have recognized her as the seventh one, the obscure one. Because they had been talking about the Hargreeves family, though, Olive called to mind the book she had bought and never read. Her eyes widened. “Vanya, right? Well it is a pleasure to meet you. Would you like some pie or something to drink? We do have an espresso maker. I’m not that good at using it, but I can try for a latte if you want. Or just some plain coffee. Where would you like to sit?”

The other woman looked slightly overwhelmed and very lost. “Um, is Emerson Cod here? I think I was supposed to meet him…” she trailed off, voice uncertain.

“Oh, of course,” Olive replied. She was aware of her babbling, but she had found it was never worth trying to stop it. She led Vanya, whose grey and blue ensemble was jarring against the bright decor of the Piehole, to Emerson, Ned and Chuck. Vanya sat gingerly next to Emerson, and Olive sat next to Chuck, perching on the edge of the seat.

Chuck beamed and earned a small smile from Vanya. “It’s so good to see you again. We didn’t really get to talk last night. I’m Chuck. It’s Vanya, right?”

The other woman nodded. “Sorry if you’ve been waiting. It was a...strange night.”

Emerson, skipping formalities as ever, asked, “Miss Hargreeves, where were you the night your father died?”

She flicked her eyes to Emerson, but kept them aimed at the table. “I was practicing. Violin. I play the violin.”

“And is there anyone who can confirm that?”

Vanya paused, no discernable difference in her expression. “Probably the man at the theatre. They let me practice there sometimes, when no one needs the stage.”

“Why does your brother think your father’s death is suspicious?” Ned asked, tilting his head slightly.

Vanya laughed. No, that wasn’t right, Olive thought; Vanya exhaled in a way that suggested she had laughed once. “Luther was always dad’s favorite. And dad was Luther’s favorite. I think...he probably can’t accept it.” She shrugged. “Our father lived a strange life. It’s almost weird that his death was so normal.”

Emerson asked, “What was your relationship with the man like?”

Vanya said nothing for a long moment. “He was my dad. He was hard. But that’s not just me. It was always a lot easier to hate him than to get along with him. But you still kind of wanted to.”

Olive couldn’t understand this woman in front of her. In the same circumstance, Olive might be crying, or she might be yelling, or she might be doing both, but she would not be calm. She almost never was.

The bell rang as Emerson was asking another question; Ned shot Olive a meaningful look, and she reluctantly stood to help the new customers. She threw on her best smile and led them to a booth. “What can I get for you today?” she asked brightly. “We have a veritable plethora of pies.”

The man was heavyset with doleful eyes, not unlike a basset hound Olive had adopted briefly as a child. “I’ll have a cup of coffee and a slice of you favorite.” She beamed at him.

The woman was shorter with blunt bangs and a blunt attitude. “Just coffee,” she said.

“Coming right up!” As Olive turned, she saw Vanya slip out the door. “Damn it,” she muttered. She brought pie and coffee to the two customers, both of whom looked like they might be flight attendants in those drab navy uniforms, and wished she weren’t always just missing the most interesting people.

***

An impeccably dressed chimpanzee opened the door. The pie-maker blinked.

Olive’s description of the Hargreeves from two days ago had ignited something in the pie-maker. For thirty-two years, five months, and twenty-eight days of his life, he had seen no sign of magic in this world but his own inexplicable touch. He had always taken it for granted that he was an anomaly, perhaps explicable by electric charges or karmic design, but certainly not a part of a larger world of wonders. The Hargreeves, it seemed, changed that reality.

Now, as the chimpanzee asked politely but cagily if he might be of help, Ned met Emerson’s eyes and saw disbelief mirrored back at him. Emerson, never one to let others see him discomfited, cooly replied. “We’re here to see Luther Hargreeves. Spoke with him on the phone yesterday afternoon.”

“I’m afraid Master Luther is rather indisposed at the moment. I’ll let him know you stopped by.” Emerson shot his foot in the door before the chimpanzee was able to shut it.

“Today’s not the day to shut me out of this house,” he growled. “I know there are other Hargreeves just crawling around this place and I will speak to one.”

The chimpanzee, though clearly affronted, straightened his suit jacket and opened the cold, imposing door to let the two men in. “Very well. I shall see if I can’t find Miss Allison for you.”

The entrance hall was destroyed, and Ned gaped. “That chandelier used to be hanging from the ceiling. That shouldn’t be on the ground.”

Emerson inspected the scene. “Could be the same sons of bitches that shot you up the other night.” Ned shivered at the memory.

After Vanya had slipped out of the Piehole, none of the other promised Hargreeves siblings had shown up. Frustrated, Emerson left in the evening, complaining about a wasted day but soothed by Chuck’s offer to take him out to dim sum for dinner. As Olive started cleaning up and Ned tidied the kitchen for the night, a few last customers came in. Olive had shot back to the kitchen and, all excitable confusion, whisper-yelled at Ned. “That kid looks just like the Hargreeves kid. The one who vanished very mysteriously! Why is he sitting in our restaurant in the Umbrella Academy uniform?” Olive was in a whirl, and kept flitting up to Ned to report on him.

She had followed him into the back as he took the garbage out for the night, and as she started to tell him something else the kid had said, they heard sudden and sharp gunfire. Five minutes later, when it had gone quiet, the two hesitantly crept back inside and found a room full of bodies. Olive’s scream had been torturous and long.

All the next day, Ned and Olive had spoken with the police and started hesitantly to clean up the damage. Emerson, exhibiting the loyalty that often hid beneath his gruff exterior, was on the case. Still they didn’t hear from the Hargreeves family, and so now, two mornings after the shooting, Ned and Emerson came to the mansion while Olive and Chuck spoke to the detective.

Standing in the wreckage of the front hall, Ned began to understand the radio silence of the Hargreeves siblings. Emerson suspected that the Piehole had been targeted for its connection with that family, and like an old cat, Emerson rarely exhibited affection but fought fiercely when his loved ones were attacked.

Into the silence, Ned abruptly spoke. “Why do they have a chimpanzee butler? That seems very strange.”

Emerson shot him a look. “You really want to talk about strange?”

“His name is Pogo,” came a slightly amused voice, accompanied by clicking heels. “Can I help you? Now’s really not a great time.”

“Allison, right?” asked the pie-maker. The woman nodded and crossed her arms, as though keeping track of how much of her time they wasted. “You never came to the pie-hole the other day.”

She shook her head in apology. “Things around here have been...intense. I completely forgot about it, to be honest. Sorry. I don’t think we need your services anymore, though. Things have gotten,” she paused, “Clearer. Family business, you know?”

Emerson Cod, Ned knew, would not accept three wasted days without being paid, and he expected the other man to launch a protest on that front. Instead Emerson took off his hat and spun it absently at his side, staring at the fallen chandelier. “Miss Hargreeves, we have reason to believe that our connection with your family has been noted and that that notedness has led to less than pleasant attention in our direction. Now we can talk about your father’s death, but I think we both know that’s unnecessary,  even if the Muscle isn’t convinced. Or, we can talk about what in the damn hell happened to your house and whether it has anything to do with the six armed men who shot each other in the Piehole two nights ago.”

Though her expressions were schooled, generally, she betrayed some shock at this last revelation. She pressed her lips together. “Let me get Diego and Luther and we can talk about this.”

As she turned to go, Ned spoke up. “And Klaus, too, please, if he was there.”

She paused and tilted her head. “I guess he must have been. I’ll see if I can find him.”

After she left, Emerson rolled his eyes. “That drugged up bum isn’t going to have anything useful to say to us.”

Ned shrugged. “Maybe you’re right.” But the pie-maker felt there was something true about Klaus, though he couldn’t explain why. It was like the two of them were the same note played at very different octaves. “Aren’t you worried about him, though? He invites worry.”

“You worry about everything. He’s got nothing to do with me, I’m not going to worry.”

When Allison returned, a miserable looking Luther and moody Diego followed her, but no Klaus. Both Diego and Allison looked expectantly at Luther, but he seemed not to notice; after a brief but uncomfortable silence, Diego said, “Why don’t you tell us what happened at your restaurant?”

Ned relayed the story, including Olive’s certainty that the young boy was somehow a Hargreeves. The three siblings exchanged glances.

Allison spoke up. “That would be Five. He’s been...through some things.”

“The guys here were after Five, too,” Diego said, pacing a little. “Has anyone seen him?” Luther and Allison shook their heads. “Right. We need to find him. I’ll go look for him.” He was already walking.

“I’m coming too,” Luther said, finally speaking. Diego rolled his eyes but made no protest.

“Wait just a damn second,” Emerson ordered. “Y’all don’t get to just waltz on out of here without explaining this mess to me.” He gestured broadly.

Over his shoulder, Luther said, “Allison will tell you everything,” which left both Allison and Emerson annoyed.

“I guess I’m telling you everything,” she said sarcastically, and she did. Ned would have found the whole story quite upsetting if he hadn’t just lived through a similar ordeal. Emerson insisted they scour the whole house, which took quite a lot of time, but Allison was patient with them.

In the bathroom they found a tub full of cold water. Emerson leaned over and picked up the dangling wire of a pair of earphones and raised an eyebrow at Allison. “I’m going to guess big brother doesn’t fit in this tub, and you and knife boy don’t strike me as the sad old bathtub types.”

Allison cocked her head and clicked across the bathroom. “I think...those are Klaus’s. Oh, that’s definitely Klaus’s,” she added, pointing to a pair of leather pants in a corner, black stark against pale tile. “Why would he…”

Emerson had been right earlier: Ned worried about everything. Now, though, the parts of his brain that spun out worst-case scenarios were hyperactive as Emerson knit his brow and gave the bathroom a closer look.

“No towel. Could be in his room, but it doesn’t look like he put on any clothes,” he muttered. “Everything all kicked over, too. Looks like a fight to me.” He glanced up sharply. “And you say you haven’t seen him since last night?”

Allison, eyes wide, shook her head. “No, I haven’t. Luther and Diego said they hadn’t, either. Shit, do you think something happened to him?”

Ned and Emerson met each other’s eyes. “Can you describe the two assailants for me in detail?” Ned’s mind began whirring, and he knew Emerson was in his element. A true mystery, a real question, with a definite goal. It was only a matter of time

***

Ben was trying, and Klaus could appreciate that.

But he was so tired, and so scared. He was so scared.

The cleaning lady hadn’t heard him. If only Ben could scream.

Klaus didn’t like feeling scared. No one did, probably, but for Klaus it was worse.

What would happen if he died? Where would Ben go? Where would all of them go? Because they were starting to come back. He was sobbing. The duct tape muffled the noise. “It’s okay, Klaus. You’ll be okay. I’m right here.” Ben’s assurances were nice, sure, but wasn’t that part of the problem?

Time passed and it was a thousand years, and no time at all. He hoped a million things. He couldn’t tell which sounds were in the world and which were only in his world. Too many voices, but why did that one sound so familiar?

“Klaus?” It was one of a dozen voices calling his name, but it rang, even in its whisper. “Klaus, are you here?”

Hoping against hope he made as much noise as he could. God, god, please.

And the closet door opened, and there was Olive Snook. He could have died of relief. Her eyes were saucers as she hissed, “Emerson! Holy mother of god!” Klaus didn’t think anyone had ever been so beautiful as Olive Snook untying him from that chair.

He couldn’t say anything; there were a handful of ghosts lurking right behind her, and they inched forward. He grabbed onto her hand and gripped it. He was going to need cash, fast, to shut them all up. Slowly he stood. Emerson looked over his shoulder from where he was digging through a drawer. “Snook, get him out of here. I’ll be at the car soon and we’ll meet Ned at the Piehole.”

Olive tried to guide him to the door, but Klaus stumbled away from her. What was valuable here? There had to be something. His eyes raked the room but he felt blind. He was vaguely aware that Olive and Emerson were shouting at him, but so were about a dozen other voices. “Shut up, shut up, shut up,” he shouted, one hand clutching his hair as he fell to his knees. The carpet was thick with years of apathy. He crawled to the vent; they couldn’t hunt him in there, he thought, hoped, his mind a whirlwind. He was weak, but Olive was small and so though she tried to drag him away, he stayed fixed in front of the wall, taking out each screw. He could just crawl in there and die.

There was a briefcase. He grabbed it. Strong arms grabbed him. “We’re getting the hell out of here,” someone said.

Klaus clutched the briefcase like it could get rid of them all. “Ben?” he called. “Ben, where are you?”

He felt a hand over his mouth. This was all too familiar. He panicked, he tried to get free. He couldn’t. He passed out.

Chapter Text

Klaus Hargreeves, in his nearly thirty years, had often woken up uncertain of where he was, and, oftener than that, he had woken up afraid. Harsh evening sunlight beat in through the window and he was uncertain and afraid. His eyes sprang open and he shot up, immediately clutching his knees.

“Thank god,” came a quiet voice. Ben. He sounded so scared; Klaus hated that. Ben wasn’t supposed to be afraid. What was left for him to fear?

“God,” Klaus breathed. “Are they coming? Where are they?”

“No. They didn’t follow you. It’ll be--”

“I can’t do this again.” He felt a sick panic rise in his chest. He scanned the room he was in, with its double beds and striped wallpaper hemming him in. “They’re somewhere, they’re fucking everywhere, I need--where am I? I need something before they show up.” He couldn’t keep seeing them. He needed something to pump into his system or else god knows what he’d see, what he’d do.

“Klaus, please,” Ben’s voice was almost desperate as Klaus began to scour the room for something, anything, and that almost made Klaus pause, but he was driven by animal force.

Until someone opened the door, and he straightened up, eyes wide. Staring back at him was Chuck, looking for all the world like this was exactly how she wanted to spend her day. She spoke quietly, gently. “Good, you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

Klaus tried to ignore whatever was clawing out his chest. “Oh, just peachy, really.” His heart wasn’t in it. “No better way to wake up than in a stranger’s bed after hours of physical torture, right?” What did she want from him? She was just looking at him with those eyes.

“I can’t stand what they did to you,” she pronounced, as though arguing a point. “If I had it my way they’d be locked up right now.” Klaus wished he could appreciate her fierce and perhaps unearned loyalty, but he was still gripped with fear. She was saying something else, and he missed it. At his blank look, she smiled, a sad little thing, and repeated, “Can I get you something to eat, or drink?”

“Right, right, sounds good,” he replied absently. “Listen, do you know where my coat might be?” He hoped those assholes hadn’t taken everything out of it, that there might be a pill or two left in some inside pocket.

Chuck nodded, pleased--he was giving her a concrete way to help him--and he followed her to the kitchen, where his coat slumped over a chair. Manically, he attacked every pocket and sure enough found two capsules. Every inch of him relaxed as he swallowed both at once; now he only had to wait. He ignored the concern on Chuck’s face and tried to school his expression into something upbeat. “Well. Thank you. Am I...Whose clothes am I wearing?”

Chuck perched in a chair, inviting him to do the same. “You don’t remember, do you. Emerson stormed in here this afternoon with you over his shoulder like a sack of flour. Ned was downstairs but Emerson and I got you into some clothes of Ned’s and into bed.” Her eyes were wide--were they ever not wide?--and she sounded so certain that it mattered, what had happened. “You weren’t very lucid, so I’m not surprised you don’t remember, but you kept shouting at us. Not ‘what are you doing’ sort of shouting but ‘who the hell are you, anyway’ sort of shouting.”

“Sorry, sorry. Well. I certainly know who you are, now, at least. If that helps. This shirt is awful. You let him wear this shit?” His levity didn’t sound very convincing, even to himself.

“Klaus, you don’t have to act,” Chuck insisted. Ben snorted. “What they did to you was terrible and you didn’t deserve that. It’s okay to take some time now.” She sounded like she believed it.

Taking some time was a concept Klaus couldn’t get his head around. His entire life had felt rushed, even when there was nothing to run to and he had already escaped what was chasing him. Still, he slumped a little in his chair and met her gaze as evenly as he could. “Right. Well. Thanks for the permission, I guess.” He wished he could say it without sarcasm. Because he could see her sincerity. She looked at him and saw a person, not a problem, and it made him choke up a little, if he was being honest. “What did I ever do to get a handful of guardian angels?”

Ben gave him a pointed look from where he leaned against the doorway. “You deserved to be saved, Klaus. Listen to her. Listen to me.” Klaus tried to ignore him.

“You know,” Chuck continued, a smile flickering onto her face, “When I was a little girl, my dad used to tell me that I should be friends with my guardian angel, that I should ask for its name and it would tell me. Isn’t that a nice idea?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Klaus gave a distracted smile. He was itching to move, both his legs shaking restlessly. He was still waiting for the pill to kick in and as long as it wasn’t fully in effect he was nervous. Guardian angels and fathers’ nice ideas weren’t doing much for him. “What was your angel’s name?” He had to try, anyway.

“Oh, I don’t know. I never did like praying to things I couldn’t see.”

There was probably something nice there, but Klaus couldn’t sit still anymore to respond, He flinched at the sound of his chair scraping against the floor as he stood. Chuck tilted her head at him, her entire face a question. Klaus wrung his hands together. “Pie, maybe? Downstairs? Shall we?”

Chuck was beatific. “Of course, if you’d like. Let’s go.”

***

At that very moment, several stories below, the Piemaker was also restless as Olive relayed for him, not for the first time, the circumstances in which she and Emerson discovered Klaus. When she began, with eyes alternatingly wide and narrowed, to describe Klaus’s screams as though she were auditioning for something, Ned cut her off abruptly. “Oh, look, I think the gentleman in that booth is trying to get your attention.” It was stilted, but, disgruntled, Olive turned on her heel and went to the designated booth.

Not unlike the berry medley pie he had just pulled out of the oven, Ned seemed from the outside even and uniform, but beneath a thin crust, he was a random assortment of vaguely related feelings tossed together to stew. He couldn’t say why, precisely, his heart had stopped when Emerson told him, all resignation and twisted mouth, what had happened at the motel. He always considered that, while he loved those he chose fiercely, he was slow to incorporate new people into that circle. And yet Klaus had found his way there on the basis of one day of acquaintance.

Chuck, hands in pockets, strolled into the kitchen, and Ned instantly felt just a little better. “I’d ask what’s on your mind,” she began, “But I know it’s the same as what’s on mine. He asked me to bring him a drink. Do you think that’s smart? Do you even keep any alcohol back here?”

Ned opened his mouth to respond, then shut it and opened a cabinet. Bourbon, for pecan pie. “I’ll take it to him.”

Chuck smiled sadly like she knew everything inside him, which she very nearly did. “Good luck. He’s not doing very well. And he’s in your clothes, still. As a warning.”

Ned crossed his restaurant and slid in across from Klaus, gently placing the bottle in front of the other man. Klaus, muttering at his lap, jerked his head up and gifted Ned with a broad smile.

“Hi,” said the pie-maker. “How are you feeling?” He spoke slowly, carefully. He wasn’t sure which words might work and which might ruin something.

Klaus blinked. “What an interesting question. Physically, I’m an enormous bruise, but I think that’s only to be expected. Mentally, I’m...on the upswing. Things are looking up.” He took a pointed swig from the bourbon and sighed like he’d been dying of thirst in a desert and found an oasis.

“Good. That’s good.” Ned wasn’t sure where to go next.

Klaus’s eyes narrowed a little as he stared at the space immediately to the left of Ned. “And who’s your friend?” he asked warily.

Wondering if Olive had materialized, Ned glanced over his shoulder; no one was there. He was uncertain how to respond. He tilted his head at Klaus. “Sorry?”

Some change seemed to come over the other man at Ned’s confusion. “God, no, please.” He drank desperately. “Just leave, can’t you just leave me alone?”

Ned stood abruptly. He felt like an idiot. “Of course, I’m sorry to have intruded or disturbed. I know how unwelcome an unwelcome intrusion or disturbance can be. I’ll just--”

“No,” Klaus said sharply. He tried to smile at Ned; it was a weak attempt. He continued, “I’m sorry. Please sit. Stay. I wasn’t...I wasn’t talking to you.” Ned felt his eyebrows rise in confusion. He paused, halfway between sitting and standing. More warmly, Klaus insisted, “Stay a while.”

Ned sat. There wasn’t really any ignoring this and so he decided simply to ask. “Who were you talking to, if you weren’t talking to me? Though if you were talking to me I understand and no hard feelings are felt if you want to be alone. If you were talking to me.” He knew he was doing what Chuck called tripping up the verbal stairs and what Emerson called babbling. Hopefully Klaus wouldn’t mind

Klaus sighed and looked pointedly out the window. “Ned, Ned, Ned. Do you not know, about my family? Adventures and heroes and intense trauma?”

“Olive mentioned something about that.” At the reminder of a common ache in their pasts, Ned felt a great deal of compassion suddenly. Klaus’s eyes flicked to meet his own, then looked away again.

“Does the name Lawrence Schatz mean anything to you?” Klaus asked the window.

Ned’s stomach plummeted. He tried never to think of the man whose life had been the price of his happiness. How could Klaus know… “Who--I--did you--know him?”

Klaus shrugged irritably, sliding further down his seat. “I do now. He’s--” Klaus paused and smiled a little. “He was sitting next to you. He’s who I was yelling at.” Ned wondered if his apprehension and guilt were palpable. Klaus continued. “You see, Ned, while Luther got the muscle, and Allison got the charm, and fucking Vanya got off scotch free, I got stuck with everyone’s ghosts. All around, all the time, unless,” he raised the bottle of bourbon, “I take precautions.”

The gears in Ned’s head were frustratingly slow as he tried to understand what this could mean. Finally, he spoke. “Sorry, you see dead people? Talk to them?”

“Not when I can help it.” The ruefulness and resentment in Klaus’s voice were too familiar, and Ned studied the table carefully as he thought. This was remarkable. It was like walking through life seeing a color no one else can, and finally hearing someone else describe it with a different name.

Ned made a split second decision to trust, something so unlike him it surprised himself. He leaned forward and spoke quietly. “I have a magic finger.”

Klaus cocked an eyebrow. “Well. I certainly appreciate it but I don’t think Chuck would be very happy with us.”

Ned turned bright red and leaned back. “Not...what I meant. I--I touch dead things and they come back to life.” Klaus was silent and looked at him blankly. Ned fumbled on, only a little worried he’d made a mistake. “Is that--when you were talking to nothing, or no one, the other day, was that another...ghost?”

Klaus didn’t answer the question, but his face finally registered interest. “You have a midas touch, but for bringing dead people back to life? That’s...god, that’s so much better. Dad would have loved having you on the team. Why can’t we just go back in time and fucking switch?” He laughed a little; Ned wasn’t sure what the joke was. “How’s it work? Just--” he poked Ned’s arm and giggled again. “Zap, and up you go?”

Ned wasn’t inclined to laugh, almost ever, and especially not after revealing his darkest secret to a near stranger. He replied in all seriousness. “It’s more like zap, and up you go, and then zap, down you go. Or someone else does. For a...supernatural gift, it’s oddly precise. There are rules.”

“Someone else?” Klaus now seemed intrigued.

The weight of his guilt made Ned shift uncomfortably. “Lawrence Schatz...was a someone else. If I keep someone alive for more than a minute, there’s a sort of random-proximity generated recompense.”

Klaus was still kind of laughing and Ned was still kind of annoyed about it. “So you kept someone alive and that killed someone? Holy shit… Who was it?” Ned felt his eyes flick reflexively towards Chuck, behind the counter, and he could almost hear Klaus figure it out. “Oh, my god. That’s...wow.” Klaus’s voice was at least a little amused and, Ned thought, at least a little horrified. He shuddered bodily. “Morbid, man.”

Ned didn’t particularly want to dwell on this exact aspect. He shrugged and looked downwards. “I just wanted to let you know that I understand what it’s like, feeling like death is a tangible thing and it’s following you. Or running you. I’m usually at least kind of horrified with myself and sometimes ‘kind of’ becomes ‘consumingly.’ I just...wanted to let you know.”

Klaus leaned forward. “See, yours is a choice though, isn’t it? You don’t have to touch anything. If I’m not on something, it’s a fucking avalanche. Even when I am taking precautions there’s still Ben.”

Ned decided not to unpack the particular horrors and traumas associated with his gift; a side-by-side comparison probably wouldn’t serve any real purpose. So he allowed for the change of subject and asked, “Ben?”

“My brother.” Klaus sighed. “He’s pretty much always around somewhere.”

Ned thought about Klaus’s conversations with no one. “So he’s the one you...talk to, when you’re talking and no one’s there.” Klaus nodded. “Do you sometimes find it more lonely, with him?”

Klaus didn’t hesitate. “Nothing could be more isolating. It’s like I’ve got death infused in my bones and they keep getting heavier.”

The two men looked at each other for several moments. Ned felt as he had the first time he met Emerson, the first time he took Chuck to see Lily and Vivian, the last time he saw his father: something new was beginning in his life, and he smiled to meet it.

***

Emerson Cod took little interest in the activities of strangers. He used to do the same as regarded his friends, as well, but years of Charlotte Charles had worn him down, and even more years of the Piemaker had taught him to be a friend. Even so, he was not inclined to go so far as to concern himself with a customer in the Pie-hole.

The child across from him now didn’t seem to give him a chance.

“You know this used to be a donut shop?” he slurred, without preamble. “Fucking shit. It’s like they can’t leave you anything to even be nostalgic for.”

Emerson knit his eyebrows together. “Wrong table, kid. Your parents must be somewhere else.”

The boy narrowed his eyes and seethed, suddenly all rage, “My parents are a dead man and a robot and if you call me kid I swear to fucking god--”

“Now you listen to me,” Emerson began, confident in his ability to out-roar this kid, seemingly drunk, grubby in his school uniform--

Oh. The kid. Like Olive said. “Oh, I see how it is,” Emerson said, changing his tone. “Number Five, right?”

The kid looked discomfited and cagy. He began to slide out of the booth, eyes warily on Emerson. “And who are you? Do I know you?”

“No, but you’re gonna. Emerson Cod, Private Detective. I was hired to investigate your father’s death but since then the shit’s been hitting the fan in a constant stream and now I’m investigating about six different things. And you’re going to help me. Tell me what you know about the night this place got shot up.”

Five’s eyes remained narrow. “And why should I help you? When there are bigger fish to fry than you could even comprehend?” The last word was slightly beyond his intoxicated tongue, and Emerson smirked as Five stumbled over it.

“I fry my fish one at a time and if you want my help at your cookout you’d best tell me what I want to know.”

Five sneered. “And why should I want your help?”

What an absolute ass, Emerson thought. “Because I’m the only one who’s done jack shit in the last four days. While your deluded brothers ran around the city looking for you, and clearly not finding you, I found the junkie, brought him back, and confiscated some key evidence including what look to be orders from the bitches who kidnapped him.”

Five sat up a little straighter. “What does Klaus have to do with this?”

Emerson rolled his eyes. He didn’t have the patience for this kid. “He was taken by the assholes who shot up your house and tortured, for hours, he says for information about you.”

“And you said you have their orders? Show me.”

Emerson raised one eyebrow. “And what’s my incentive?”

“Jesus Christ,” Five muttered. “Alright, you seem competent and in possession of basic intelligence. Let me tell you what your fucking incentive is…”

***

At the end of the long day, Ned and Chuck strolled into their apartment. Ned hadn’t yet told her about his and Klaus’s revelation; he figured it was the other man’s decision. They had sent him upstairs at closing with the agreement that they’d join him with Thai food.

“Klaus,” called Chuck, setting down her takeout box. “Pad See Ew, all yours!”

He didn’t emerge, and Ned quickly glanced around. “Klaus?” Panic started to creep in as he and Chuck looked through the apartment. No Klaus. He, along with everything he’d brought, was gone without a trace. Ned looked helplessly at Chuck, who returned his gaze somberly.