It’s not that Diego feels responsible for Klaus – because he really, really doesn’t – it’s just that nobody else is willing to take responsibility for him. Nobody else is willing to look after him like Diego does.
The seven of them have never known anything else besides each other, besides the Academy, but sometimes it feels like the only thing that connects them together is their joint circumstance.
Sometimes it feels like they’re worlds apart from each other even though they’re all stuck in the same house.
Sometimes it feels like the only reason they're here is because of their fathers harsh gaze and firm words, his controlling influence forcing all of their different worlds together in a mess of a supernova.
Other times it feels like they’re all too alike – too disjointed and bitter and desperate – but none of them know how to deal with that, really. None of them want to deal with that.
They all live in this big house under their fathers’ watchful gaze and their mothers programmed care, training to be heroes and struggling with the pressure that comes with it.
They all have different powers that are somehow complimentary when it comes down to their missions, but their father always thinks they can do better. That they can be more. So, they all disappear for solo ‘training’ and come back different, come back more tired and more brittle than when they left, but it usually doesn’t take long for them to rebuild themselves into something stronger.
(Something better, just like their father wanted.)
Klaus has been gone all day, though, which is weird. Usually Klaus’ solo training only lasts a few hours at best, but when dinner time rolls around neither him or their father have returned.
“Are they going to be gone for long?” Vanya asks their mother as she's serving them their food. With father not being here they’re being allowed to eat in the basement, meaning that the atmosphere is more relaxed and all of them feel more comfortable with speaking up.
“Who, dear?” Their mother asks with a pretty smile, red lipstick perfect and eyes kind as she stares over at Vanya.
“Klaus.” Vanya clarifies. “And father.”
“Oh,” Their mother blinks once, twice, smile remaining perfectly in place. “I’m sure they’ll be back soon, sweet. Eat up now.”
Diego shares a look with Vanya, nodding his head in a silent thank you for her asking. She smiles shyly at him, cheeks flushing and eyes soft when they flick to the empty chair to his left.
“How soon is soon?” Ben presses from opposite him, fingers tapping nervously on the table. “Klaus and I had plans for tonight.”
“What plans could you possibly have?” Five scoffs. Nobody pays him any attention, all of them more curious about Klaus’ absence.
“Soon.” Their mother repeats with her smile still in place.
“Yeah, but how soon, mom?”
“Master Ben,” Pogo comments as he walks into the kitchen. “That’s enough now.”
“I just want to know where Klaus is.” Ben argues stubbornly, lips pressing together in a firm line. Diego agrees with the sentiment – he too feels the need to know where Klaus is, to know if he’s okay and if he’ll be back any time soon.
“That’s enough.” Pogo repeats, sharing a look with their mother that makes Diego’s stomach twist unpleasantly. “Master Klaus will be back in due time. Until then I expect you all to be keeping to your normal routines. Your father wouldn’t be happy if he came home to find that you’ve be ignoring your duties.”
Luther perks up at this, shoulders straightening as he nods in agreement. “We should all eat our dinner,” Luther instructs. “And then we should go to bed. Tomorrow’s Thursday and Thursday is our early morning drill day.”
“Exactly, master Luther.” Pogo smiles at the younger boy, both of them more loyal to the head of the Hargreeves family then Diego will ever be.
Luther, predictably, glows under the praise and acknowledgement to his authority. Number One. Their leader.
It’s that same night their father returns from Klaus' training session.
Diego isn’t sure what time it is when he’s woken up by the sound of his fathers’ footsteps echoing up the stairs, but his room is dark and the moon is high in the sky, it's pale light peaking through the gap in his curtains. The floorboards creak a floor below him as his father turns in the direction of his office, the clicking of his mothers’ heels following closely behind, and then the click of the lock sounds a few moments later. After that the house is bathed in silence once again.
Diego falls back to sleep without thinking much of it, fully expecting to be woken up again during the night by Klaus sneaking into his room seeking comfort.
Klaus has always been, in Diego’s opinion, a bit different from the rest of them. They were all individuals, sure, but Klaus has always been the most contrary out of all of them.
The other boy is always all over the place and nowhere at once, messy and scattered and yet easily stilled. He’d set his homework on fire again the other day just because he was bored, and he had antagonised Luther to the point where their father had to step in, just because he thought it was fun.
Klaus is loud and obtuse and irrational, and yet there are times where he is the complete opposite.
Usually when Diego sees Klaus after he comes back from training, he’s always startled by the reminder that Klaus can be the quietest out of all of them.
It’s continually surprising to see the other boy spaced out, green eyes distant and voice subdued. Sometimes Klaus can get stuck in his own head for hours, for days, muttering to the ghosts that only he can see and trying to separate himself from everything as much as he can. Diego often suspects that the other boy is trying to separate himself from the world during those times, too. That Klaus tries to disconnect himself from everything in a way that makes Diego feel tense.
Klaus is - well. Diego doesn’t want to call his brother fragile, because Klaus can be so, so annoying. He can be frustrating and funny and troublesome and headstrong, but there’s something delicate about him. Something different. Vulnerable.
Klaus often has nightmares, almost always talks in his sleep, and flinches away from the ghosts that latch onto him. He seeks out comfort from Diego whenever he can because he knows Diego will give it without asking why.
Klaus is different. He is loud and bright and yet, somehow, he can still be the most scared out of all of them.
So, when Klaus comes back that night and doesn’t wake Diego up by curling up next to him, he tries to shrug it off. When there’s no sign of Klaus during the next day, Diego doesn’t think too much of it and he knows that none of his siblings do either. Well, none of them bar Ben who acts sullen and spends more time reading then talking to any of them, sulking quietly as the rest of them continue as usual.
Diego doesn’t let himself worry, reminds himself that Klaus is just a bit different, especially after solo training. It’s not like it’s uncommon for any of them to want solitude after training, after all. Diego himself is a big fan of shutting himself away and building himself back up in the privacy of his own room.
But then another day passes and Klaus doesn’t show up to breakfast - an affair much more private and enjoyable than dinner. He doesn’t show up for lunch and he doesn’t show up for their afternoon classes.
When Klaus isn’t there at dinner that evening Diego catches Ben’s troubled gaze from across the table, the other boy tilting his head towards Klaus empty chair in a silent question.
Diego shrugs, stomach turning with something he won’t ever admit aloud is worry. Klaus is infuriating at times, but he’s also clever and quick witted and tends to hover around Ben or Diego like a second shadow, especially when he’s feeling down.
He half thought that Klaus had sought out Ben’s company instead of his, something not that unusual, but Ben looks anxious – looks worried. He looks like he hasn't seen Klaus either.
“Father,” Allison speaks up suddenly, making Diego jerk. His eyes jump to her, body tensing at the stubborn expression on her face. They don’t speak during dinner. There is no speaking unless they’re spoken too. These are the rules, have always been the rules, but Allison looks determined. She looks like she's on a mission. “Where is Klaus?”
Diego hadn’t realised that anyone else had caught on, but he’s not surprised by her words. They’re siblings – more than siblings, in a weird way – and any small change is so easily noticeable to all of them. Klaus not being there for a meal is one thing, but Klaus missing dinner? That’s different. Dinner is mandatory, even when they’re bruised and sore and tired.
Their father doesn’t acknowledge that Allison has even spoken, eyes trained on his plate as he cuts up his food.
She shifts in her chair and Diego see’s doubt flash across her face before she steels herself again, clearing her throat and asking in a louder voice, “where is Klaus, father?”
“Eat your dinner.” Their father flicks his eyes up and scans over where they’re all staring at him, eye’s narrowing in disapproval before focusing on Allison's jutted jaw.
“Is he - He’s not in his room, father. Is he in the infirmary?” Luther speaks up, surprising Diego even more.
Luther doesn’t often speak out against their father, but he looks troubled tonight, sharing a look with Allison that Diego doesn’t understand. The Infirmary. Diego narrows his eyes, picking up on the tension between them.
He looks towards Ben who looks equally as confused and more outwardly bothered then Diego would ever let himself show.
“Your brother is otherwise occupied.” Their father says shortly.
“Is he getting extra training?” Five speaks up, eyebrows furrowing and lips pursing in distaste. “Because I’ve been asking for weeks if I can-”
“Children.” Their father slams his fork down, glaring at them all as if they’re more bothersome then he knows how to deal with. “I said be quiet. Number Four is occupied and that’s the only answer you shall get. Now either finish your meals or excuse yourselves.”
Five huffs, jealousy dancing across his face, but he doesn’t shove himself away from the table like Diego expects him to. Instead, he picks his fork back up and flicks his gaze over the rest of them, dark eyes lingering on Luther curiously.
Diego looks to Luther too and doesn’t like what he sees there – dropped eyes and tensed shoulders and Allison’s hand not so subtly clasped in his under the table.
Diego looks back to Ben and the other boy tilts his head, eyes flicking to the doorway behind Diego’s head. Shall we go?
Everything inside of Diego wants to go.
He wants to see if Klaus’ room is as empty as Luther hinted it being, wants to find his brother and reassure himself that he's fine, wants to see with his own eyes that the other boy is okay. They’d draw too much attention if they left, though.
Even though their father has offered, Diego knows it's not a real offer. Excusing themselves would equal in consequences and Diego actually wants to find Klaus, not be forced into a night of knife throwing or writing lines instead.
And so, despite the doubt the lingers under the action, Diego shakes his head no once before he goes back to finishing his meal.
“Diego?” Ben’s voice startles him and he twists around to stare at where the other boy is lingering in the doorway, his own hand still holding onto Klaus’ discarded shirt.
“You should be in bed.” Diego says quietly. He knows why Ben is here though, understands the clogging fear and worry that’s been lurking over them since dinner. Klaus, as reserved as he might sometimes be after training, isn’t one to hide away from them. From him and Ben especially.
Luther and Allison were a team, physical strength and power of the mind, whereas Ben, Klaus, and Diego often found themselves drifting together, defence and protection and observation. Five was their distraction, mostly. Their quick action man. It was dysfunctional at times, maybe, but it worked for them. It allowed them to be the heroes they were trained to be.
“So should you.” Ben takes a step closer, eyes dropping to the shirt in his hands. “He’s not in here, then?”
“Not that I can see.” Diego murmurs, carefully placing the shirt back to where he found it thrown over the bed. The room smells like polish and a lemony bleach, signs that their mother has been in here to clean, and all scent of Klaus are gone. There’s none of that earthy snell that follows him around, no sweetness from the bottle of Allison’s perfume he'd stolen.
“He came back though, right?” Ben asks quietly. “With father?”
“Of course he did-“
“Did you see him?” Ben interrupts. “Have you even heard him moping around anywhere? Talking to the ghosts?”
Diego pauses, eyebrows furrowing as he thinks over Ben’s words. He recalls the night he’d woken up to his father’s even footsteps, to his mother’s clicking heels. He had heard their muffled voices as he drifted off to sleep, fathers voice deep and quick, their mothers reply more soft and gentle. But had he heard Klaus in amongst any of that? His brother has always been light on his feet, sure, but Diego feels his stomach drop when he realises the answer to Ben’s question is no.
“You haven’t seen him.” Ben states aloud, reading Diego’s closed off expression for what it is. And then, clarifying, “he didn’t come back, then. He hasn't been here at all.”
“We don’t know that,” Diego argues, but it sounds forced, even to his own ears.
“I checked the infirmary.” Ben presses, voice growing more agitated. “He wasn’t there.”
“He could be in the bath,” Diego tries. “He loves the bath.”
Ben stares at him, eyes dark with worry and teeth digging into his lower lip.
“Not in the bath,” Fives voice comes from behind them, making both him and Ben flinch. “Or anywhere else in the house.”
“Fuck,” Diego breathes, eyes staring at Five’s bored face as his own mind starts to race. Klaus didn't come back home with their father, but what does that mean? Is he- Surely their old man would let them know if Klaus was dead, right? “Fuck.” Diego repeats, trying to force himself to calm down. Klaus wouldn't be dead. He couldn't be.
“Weird, right?” Five continues.
“Why do you care?” Ben snaps. “Get out of here, Five.”
“I care if he’s getting extra training.” Five drawls, looking down at his nails in disinterest. Diego can see the worry behind his eyes though, can see through the picture of indifference the other boy is trying to paint. “That’s not fair on the rest of us.”
“You think wherever he is gonna be fun, do you?” Ben steps closer to Five, eyes narrowed and words sharp.
“I want to go to the future.” Five says slowly, as if explaining it to a six year old. “And if that basket case-”
“Don’t call him that.” Diego speaks up, heart beating too fast in his chest. He doesn’t know where Klaus is, can’t tell if the other boy is okay, and Diego isn’t responsible for Klaus, not in the slightest, but something in him feels guilty for not knowing. Something in him feels stupidly, overwhelmingly, worried for not noticing that Klaus didn't come home.
“Oh, get over yourselves.” Five scoffs, rocking back on his heels. “He’ll be fine, wherever he is. He’s lucky to be getting extra training. I’ve been asking father for months.”
Klaus is different, though, Diego knows. Klaus can see the dead and it terrifies him – it makes him shudder and tremble, makes his skin grow paler then it usually is as his eyes flick to things that only he can see. Klaus hates his power and Diego doesn’t even want to imagine what extra training could be for someone who can see the dead.
Ben understands that, too. It’s not always easy to deal with each other, but they both have a soft spot of sorts for Klaus. There’s mutual agreement between them both that they’ll look after each other – that they’ll look after their brother. Seeing the dead isn’t a fighting power and Klaus has always been all bird bones and big eyes, long limbs and a quick wit that gets him into more trouble than it's worth. He needs someone watching his back as much as they need him watching theirs.
Five doesn’t get it, Diego reminds himself. Five is too absorbed in his own life, in his own desire to be more, that he wouldn’t have time to notice that Klaus flinches away from the ghosts he sees. He doesn’t know that the other boy seeks comfort from the nightmares that haunt him at night.
Five understands enough for it to be weird that Klaus is gone, understands enough to feel rattled by the change, to go looking for their brother off his own back, but it’s a twisted sort of caring. A care built off of unawareness and self-interest.
“Fuck you,” Ben snaps. “You’re so selfish, you little-” Five flashes out of sight with an eye roll before Diego can tell Ben to back off. “-Prick.” Ben huffs, spinning around the room with narrowed eyes as if Five would linger after being insulted.
“Leave him,” Diego says. “You know he doesn’t mean it.” Ben sulks, turning his frustrated eyes onto Diego. “He doesn’t.” Diego reminds the other boy firmly. “And anyway, we’ve got bigger things to worry about than Five.”
The silence of Klaus’ room looms over them suddenly, louder than if Klaus were here talking about all his usual nonsense.
“What do we do?” Ben asks, anger dropping to reveal the anxiousness that’s been following the other boy around all day. He looks towards Diego as if he has the answers, expression turning desperate when Diego hesitates. "Diego, what are we gonna do?"
Diego wants to say we go and get him, wants to say let’s go find our brother, but he’s got no idea where to start. Their father wouldn’t tell them where Klaus was even if they begged, and it’s not likely mother or Pogo would know either, which means, “nothing,” Diego says, hating himself for the words. “We do nothing.”
“Diego,” Ben’s voice turns pleading. “We’ve gotta try and do something. It’s Klaus.”
“There’s nothing to do but wait, Ben.” Diego sighs, dragging a hand across his face. He’s tired, sleep disturbed by worrying about his stupid brother, but deep down he knows they can’t do anything. They don’t even have any leads to go off of.
Diego had only come into Klaus' room to confirm what he heard on dinner: that Klaus wasn’t here.
Ben makes a frustrated sound, eyes darkening in anger as they stare at Diego, but the other boy doesn’t argue further, obviously seeing the truth in Diego’s words. As much as they might want to, there isn’t anything they can do. They don’t know where Klaus is, and they have no way of finding the other boy, so the best thing they can do is wait.
There’s no sign of Klaus the next day and even Luther is starting to look outwardly concerned. When Diego walks into their training room he sees Vanya talking quietly to Allison until their father pulls her away.
“Does she know anything?” Diego asks shortly, eyes tracing their sisters’ footsteps as she walks away. She’s close to their father in a different way to them, her lack of powers leaving her available to help him in a more upfront fashion. It often means that she knows things they don’t, that she’s privy to information they can only dream of.
“She hasn’t seen him.” Allison says quietly, Luther and Ben stepping up beside them, all of them forming a small circle in the corner of the room.
“It’s only been three days.” Luther tries to reason.
“When was the last time any of us had three days’ worth of training away from the house?” Ben says shortly. “Away from father?”
“We don’t know what it is he’s doing. It could be important.” Luther responds in a calm tone. “He could be on a solo-mission.”
Diego thinks it unlikely but chooses to stay quiet over starting an argument about Luther's stubborn ignorance.
“It’s extra training.” Five says swiftly, appearing next to Allison with a disgruntled look on his face.
“We don’t know that.” Luther repeats. “We have no idea what Klaus is doing.”
“We do, actually. Well,” The other boy sniffs, crossing his arms together. “More precisely, I do. It’s extra training.”
“How do you know that?” Diego questions, eyes narrowing in on Five.
“I overheard father talking to mom and Pogo.”
“You mean you eavesdropped?” Luther demands. “Again? Five, how many times do I have to tell you that you can’t do that-”
“Luther,” Allison tries to interrupt. “Come on, at least he's found something out-”
“I wouldn’t need to eavesdrop," Five says over the top of them both. "If father would just talk to us.”
“You’re going to get us all in trouble.” Luther hisses. “It’s- It’s disrespectful and rude and against the rules.”
“Rules,” Five scoffs out a laugh. “What sort of rules are we following here?”
“Five,” Luther straightens out his back, positioning into a more dominating stance. His Number One stance. “I’ve said-”
“What sort of extra training?” Diego cuts in, not needing to witness another argument between any of them and Luther. Finding out about Klaus is more important to him.
“Why should I tell you?” Five asks in a haughty tone. “Number One is just going to protest if I tell you all of these deep, dark secrets I’ve overheard.”
“My name is Luther,” Luther snaps. “And if you know – If.” The other boy huffs out a breath, looking frustrated, eyes flicking towards Ben and Allison before he takes a deeper breath, a calmer one, gaze settling back onto Five. “Do you know if Klaus is okay?”
Five narrows his eyes at them all, a small smirk playing on his lips. Diego wants to throttle him sometimes, especially when the other boy acts so high and mighty, but then Five drops the act into something more real, something more subdued and uncertain, and it makes him seem younger. “I don’t know,” the other boy confesses. “They didn’t say.”
“Fuck,” Ben says, echoing Diego’s words from last night. “How- Where? Do you know where he is?”
“No.” Five shakes his head again. “I only know that he's training.”
Fuck, Diego thinks. What sort of training could Klaus be doing that requires him to be alone for three days?
“Why is he training alone, then?” Allison questions, having followed the same trail of thought as he did. "Why has father left him wherever he is?"
Five opens his mouth to reply but a whistle sounds and whatever truce they had is broken. The whistle means the race has begun, that their father is watching and waiting, so Five offers a small, quick shrug before snapping out of sight, Luther grunting as he rushes around them to catch up.
“He’ll be okay,” Allison lingers near them, eyes flicking between him and Ben. “Right?”
“Yes.” Diego says, not sure who he's trying to convince more. He doesn’t know if Klaus will be okay, but he doesn’t want to distress his brother and sister further by letting his cynical thoughts out into the open. Somebody has to be strong, has to remain hopeful, and Diego lets himself fall into that role. “He’s Klaus.” Diego remembers Ben saying the same thing last night for the opposite reason of what he's saying. “Of course he’ll be fine.”
Diego jolts awake when his mattress shifts, hands automatically groping for the knives under his pillow before he twists and presses the intruder into the mattress, knife pressed up against their throat. His brain wakes up a bit more when the person under him doesn’t struggle, doesn't even make a sound, and his grip loosens when he sees familiar eyes staring back at him, big and green and damp. Klaus is underneath him, wet cheeked and trembling.
“Klaus,” Diego breathes, shifting away to give his brother space. “Klaus" he repeats, dropping the knives onto the floor. “Sorry man, I didn’t hear you come back.” He reaches out to place a hand onto his brothers arm but Klaus flinches slightly, causing Diego to freeze.
His hand hovers uncertainly between them and he keeps his voice low as he calls, “Klaus?” quietly, eyes slowly adjusting to the dark of the room. He tenses when he takes in his brother properly, the moon spilling in through his open curtains and painting Klaus in it's pale glow.
The other boy looks terrible, Diego notes, and the sight of him makes his heart stutter. Klaus’ skin is pale – paler than he’s ever seen it – and his face is hollowed, dark bags standing out under his sunken eyes and hair damp and matted from a bath. He’s wearing the same pyjama shirt they all own, blue and stripped, but his collar bones peak out from the drooping collar, sharp enough to cut. His legs are bare and curled towards his chest, knobbly knees bruised and covered in scratches, some bandaged and others left to air. His eyes though, usually so bright and lively, are dull. They’re flat and watery, spaced out.
“Klaus?” Diego repeats softly, uncertainly. The other boy doesn’t respond, doesn’t even blink, and Diego feels concern bite at his skin. “Hey,” he says in a gentle voice, hand slowly touching the other boy’s arm and hissing at how cold it is. “Christ, Klaus.” Diego murmurs, blindly reaching for the quilt with his spare hand. “The fuck are you so cold for, man?”
He isn’t expecting a response this time but is still disappointed when he doesn’t get one. Diego shifts, pulling the quilt up and bundling it around him and Klaus as he settles in next to his brother, staring in concern at the other boy’s blank stare. “It’s okay,” Diego says quietly, squeezing the other boys arm awkwardly. “You’re okay, yeah?"
Usually when Klaus comes to Diego it’s the other boy who initiates all the conversations and the contact. Klaus is always, always the one to reach out and fill the silence of the night with inane chatter, to curl into Diego's side or hold onto his hand. Diego isn’t sure that his brother is even aware that he’s here, though, thinking it more likely that Klaus’ brain has led him here on autopilot.
He rubs his hand down Klaus’ arm, trying to warm him up as he quietly whispers reassurances between them. “You’re here now,” Diego says, watching as Klaus’ eyes flutter shut. “I’ve got you. It’s okay.”
Diego slows his movements after a while, letting his hand still on Klaus’ wrist. He curls his fingers around the skinny wrist, the feeling of the other boy’s pulse reassuring him. In the pale moonlight Klaus looks half dead, too still and too pale. The silence around them grows, his voice slowly tapering off as Diego feels himself drifting off.
Klaus shifts before he can fall asleep, making his eyes flutter open and focus on his brother.
“Klaus?” He asks, not expecting an answer.
“Diego?” Klaus answers in a scratchy voice, forehead scrunching in pain. Diego’s heart starts to beat quickly at the sound of Klaus’ voice, at the small sign of his lucidness.
“Hey,” Diego squeezes the other boy’s wrist. “It’s me.” Klaus keeps his eyes shut, other hand blindly reaching for him. “Hey,” Diego catches the hand with his own and tangles their fingers together before settling their joint hands on the mattress, trying not to wince at how hard the other boy is holding onto him. “Hey, Klaus. Can you look at me?”
Klaus shakes his head, lashes growing wet and breath hitching. “Don’ wanna.”
Diego blinks uncertainty, unsure on what to do. He’s never seen Klaus this bad before, even after the worst of the other boys’ nightmares, and he’s half tempted to go fetch help, but it’s obvious that Klaus had already received all the help that their parents are going to give. The bandages, the damp hair, the smell of floral soap – all of that implies that mom has already helped Klaus as best she can.
“Okay,” Diego says, hand reaching up to push Klaus’ bangs away from his face. The other boy presses up into his touch, nudging his head against his hand like an overgrown cat and making Diego’s lips twitch slightly. “That’s fine too, I guess.”
They lay quietly for a while, Diego petting Klaus’ hair as the other boy tries to even his too fast breaths. “Diego,” Klaus presses closer, skin still so cold and voice more scared than Diego has heard it for a long time.
“Yeah Klaus?” He asks, trying to keep the worry out of his voice.
“Can you- They’re so. Um.” The other boy shifts even closer, breath hitching. “Can you talk? Please?”
Diego blinks, mind quickly trying to piece together the source of the other boy’s hesitance. “Sure,” he says. “About anything in particular?”
The other boy takes a breath, fingers griping impossibly tighter where they’re holding onto Diego’s, and he already knows what’s coming before Klaus even says it. Still, a small smile comes and his heart settles at Klaus’ quiet “that time when you told dad to fuck off.”
It’s been years since Diego’s been naïve enough to swear at their old man to his face, but it’s still Klaus’ favourite story – a familiar comfort, a glimpse of an independence that they don’t often feel. Even the punishment Diego had received had been worth it, especially when he recalls just how excited Ben and Klaus had been after it had happened. Even Allison had snickered at the time, Vanya biting back a smile as Five had trained his gaze pointedly on the ceiling. The only disapproving one had been Luther but Diego suspects that his scolding had been more out of respect for their father than actual need to do so.
Their father deserved it, anyway.
He tells the story again, words familiar and easy, and Klaus slowly melts against him, body curling up smaller and forehead pressing against Diego’s chest. By the time he’s finished Klaus’ breathing has evened out and his body isn’t as cold as it was before, breaths warm and slow where they hit Diego’s chest.
I’m sorry, Diego doesn’t say. “I’m glad your back.” he whispers into the other boy’s hair, settling in closer and letting himself drift off to sleep.
When Diego wakes up again it’s only just starting to get light outside, rays of sun starting to shine in through his window. It takes him a second to realise what had woken him up, but when he does he lets out a quiet groan. Heat, stifling and uncomfortable, surrounds him.
He takes in his surroundings and tries to figure how it’s so hot in his room in late January. There’s the familiar weight of Klaus’ head resting on his shoulder, his arm numb underneath it, and the other boys curls are tickling his chin. There’s a different pressure on his ribs, something oddly warm, and he blinks his eyes open and twists his head in confusion, snorting when he sees the cause of his suffering.
Ben is curled against Klaus’s back, arm thrown over the other boy’s skinny body and sprawled onto Diego’s chest, which explains why Diego is burning. Where Klaus runs cold, Ben runs stupidly, stupidly hot, and it doesn’t take long for it to grow uncomfortable, especially when the three of them are all crammed into one bed.
Diego sighs softly, rolling his head to look up at his ceiling. He should’ve guessed Ben would end up here too. He shifts, trying his best to stretch without disturbing anyone, and tries to figure out just how he’s going to get the quilt off of him without waking the others up. All of them are light sleepers, but if Diego doesn’t move the covers away then he’s going to melt. Actually, they might all melt if they stay under here together.
He tries to be quiet about it, tries to be gentle, but Diego only has one free arm and he’s boiling, skin sweaty and uncomfortable, and by the time he’s managed to throw the covers away, Klaus is shifting next to him and Ben is pushing himself up on one arm to squint over the other boy.
“What’re you doin’?” Ben asks, voice rough with sleep.
“S’hot.” Diego grunts.
“So you woke us up?” Ben asks in confusion.
“No.” Diego huffs. “Why would I want to wake you up? You’re annoying.”
“Loser,” Ben drops back down with a yawn. “You’d be lonely without us.”
“Sure,” Diego drawls, skin finally starting to cool down now there’s no blanket trapping heat around him.
“I’d be l’nely.” Klaus’ murmurs into Diego’s skin, making both of them grow quiet. Klaus shifts, blinking green eyes up at Diego. “Without you both.” The other boy clarifies, twisting his neck to glance at Ben.
“Sap.” Diego scoffs, but his heart melts inside of him, all the panic and worry that’s built over the past few days starting to thaw at the sight and sound of the other boy.
“He loves us too,” Ben smiles at Klaus, eyes flicking over to Diego warmly. “Even if he won’t say it.”
“Ugh,” Diego grumbles, pushing himself up to slump against the headboard. Klaus shifts with him, staying close and nestled into his side. It’s what Diego had expected when their father first returned – the clinginess and the need for reassurance – and he feels stupid for not realising Klaus wasn’t in the house sooner. “It’s too early to play happy families.”
He tugs lightly on one of Klaus curls, though, before reaching over and ruffling Ben’s hair.
“You okay?” Ben asks Klaus, tangling their fingers together when the other boy only offers a shrug.
Klaus looks small between them, all coltish limbs curled in on themselves and head of curls tangled together. They’re all the same age technically, but Diego often feels like he’s the eldest out of the three of them, like he’s the third oldest after Luther and Allison. Vanya often feels like the youngest amongst them, Five’s brattiness putting him just slightly above her. Klaus and Ben lurk somewhere in the middle of them all and, as the ones closest to him, Diego often feels a sense of accountability for them. He’s used to comforting them both by now, used to looking after them as much as he can.
So, when Klaus doesn’t tense up against Diego’s side and doesn’t shy away from Ben’s hand, he gently pushes the other boy, recognising that it’s unlikely the other boy will pull away when he’s squished between them like this.
“Extra training, huh?” Diego prompts gently.
“Yeah.” Klaus says quietly. “Extra training.”
“Bad?” Diego knows it was, can remember Klaus’ distant gaze and can see his bruised and battered knees clearer in the morning light, can see his bitten and bloodied nails.
“Bad.” Klaus confirms.
“Wanna talk about it?” Ben asks softly.
Klaus shrugs again, throat clicking when he swallows. “He. He locked me- in.” Klaus shudders then, starts to shake his head and covers his ears with his trembling hands. “No.” Klaus shakes between them both, Ben’s concerned and pleading gaze landing on Diego. “No. No. Sorry. Nono. Nope. No.”
“Hey,” Diego shushes, hands reaching out cover Klaus’ and carefully applying pressure. He doesn’t understand what it is Klaus see’s or hears, but he knows enough that the other boy finds it all too much – too loud and too vivid compared to everything else. Too real. “Hey. It’s okay. You’re fine, Klaus.”
“I keep hearing them scream,” Klaus chokes out. “They never – they haven’t been this loud before.” He lets out a laugh then, stilted and painful. “I guess the training works.”
“You’re okay.” Diego murmurs, feeling helplessness grip at him. He hates their father, he knows. He hates this situation, hates that the second the alarm goes off they’ll all have to go back their own rooms to get ready or face a scolding from their father. “It’s okay, Klaus.”
“It’s not.” Klaus laughs. “It’s not.” he repeats, staring at something none of them will ever be able to see. “It’s not. Shut up- it’s.”
“Diego,” Ben says, eyebrows furrowed, and lips pinched, eyes trained on Klaus. “What do we do.”
Help him, Diego wants to say. Distract him. It doesn’t work like that though. It never works like that. Klaus’ power is also his kryptonite and they’ve long learnt that there’s nothing they can do for the other boy. Diego presses his hands more firmly against Klaus’ ears, hoping to block out whatever it is the other boy can hear.
He meets Ben’s eyes and doesn’t say nothing, but Ben looks away, pained, as if he heard the word all the same.
So, it’s not like Diego feels responsible for Klaus, because they all look out for each other in their own way. They’re a team at best and a family at worst, but it’s enough for them. It’s part of their duty to look out for one another, to watch each other’s backs and pick each other up.
Diego has always had a soft spot for Klaus, though, and maybe that’s why he’s acutely aware of the fact that Klaus is never the same after the extra training their father took him on. Continues to take him on. Klaus never admits to what it is their father does, but Diego gathers enough to paint the ugly picture for what it is. He knows enough to make him mad.
(He knows that whatever this training is, it involves locking Klaus up and forcing his power into overdrive.)
It changes Klaus, whatever happens when he goes away to train. Sometimes it’s not that noticeable, but Diego see’s the differences in startling comparison to what Klaus used to be.
Slowly, Klaus starts to unravel before his eyes, all fraying edges and constantly dancing on the edge of something more manic than before. Diego tries his best to keep him together, to distract him and get him help, but then Five disappears and the cracks in their family really start to show. He’s been so busy focusing on Klaus that he hadn’t noticed the crevices that had started to form between them all, deep and dark and dangerous.
At first they try their best to stick together, to make it work and force themselves through the difficulty, but years’ worth resentment slowly becomes Diego’s friend, his crutch, and when he sees Ben and Klaus struggling, when he hears Allison crying and watches Luther try to control an uncontrollable situation as Vanya stares at them from the side, the absence of Five louder than ever, he doesn’t see it ever working for any of them.
All he wants is out, really. He wants out for all of them. He wants freedom.
Klaus starts to disappear for long hours, stops sneaking into Diego’s room at night and doesn’t talk about his nightmares anymore. Doesn't talk about the ghosts. Ben question’s Diego about Klaus – asks what he did, asks what they can do – but Diego doesn’t have the answers the other boy wants. He’s just growing up, he thinks as he watches Klaus stumble during training, Allison’s stolen eyeliner smeared around his eyes. He’s just finding himself, he tries to convince himself when Klaus stares at him with half lidded eyes that swim with guilt, with loneliness. This is just who he’s growing up to be, he tells himself when he finds Klaus passed out on his bed, all skinny, skinny limbs and hollowed cheeks.
Luther is the one to find the drugs. Diego is the only one not surprised.
It causes disruption. It causes distrust and a mess so big they’re all affected. Too many emotions that they were never trained to deal with pool over, anger and pain and hurt and resentment, leaving everything tilting on the edge.
And then Ben dies, and they fall apart for good. The splinters and cracks that had slowly been forming finally break.
Like a bow pulled too tight, the news of Ben's death is the thing that pushes Klaus over the edge. He goes out and get's so high that he doesn't return for days, phone going to voicemail and lack of presence as noticeable as Ben's and Five's. Allison cries and mourns and refuses to be in the same room as Luther - Luther, who carries his guilt as if it’s a physical weight, pained and closing himself away. Vanya is the first to pack up and leave and Diego follows her lead, thinking she has the right idea, especially when Klaus starts claiming he can see Ben.
And then, as if Klaus’ fragile mind breaking wasn’t bad enough, as if their whole family falling apart wasn’t painful enough, Vanya releases her book. Diego reads it in one night, book clutched in a white knuckled gripped as anger flows through him, as resentment and hatred take over.
Late at night when the moon shines through the window and his bed is too empty, too cold, Diego often finds himself wondering whether or not they were ever a family at all.
He hears about his siblings through other people mostly. He see’s Allison on the TV, all pretty face and blonde hair. He rarely see's Luther, but when they do meet it always ends in arguments, ends in bitterness and quick, angry decisions. He bumps into Klaus the most, usually in dark alleys when the other boys pupils are blown wide and there are too many track marks on his arm.
Diego doesn’t actively stay in contact with any of them – can’t stay in contact, maybe – and in the end it’s easy for them all to convince themselves that they were never family. It’s easier to just say that they were always just strangers living under the same roof, stuck together through unfortunate circumstance.
That’s what Diego spends the next twelve years trying to convince himself, anyway.