Chapter 1: Denial
The first time, had been an accident.
Klaus Hargreeves was ten, the first time he realized he couldn’t die. At that age, he feared death more than he had words to articulate. Dead things talked to him. They seemed to be in pain. Anything dead only came in the dark, when he dreamed or when his father made him look.
He hated looking, hated ghostly eyes and screaming mouths and anything macabre. He got nauseous if Diego wanted to watch a horror movie. He was weak, and soft, and everything his father hated. Klaus loved rubbing it in the man's face, when he wasn't busy feeling inferior for it.
It happened outside, on a day where the sky was weeping. He could remember how slick the pavement had been, his uniform shoes struggling to find a hold as he’d raced around out in the wet grass. He didn’t care about a little rain. He cared that he was being chased by Diego, cared about the set of knives he had clutched to his chest. He cared about the manic grin on his face and the sound of his brother shouting at him (too slow).
Klaus had always been the fastest, as a child. Well, fastest using his feet alone (five was a cheater).
He raced ahead, feeling joy and exhilaration as a high in his veins. He made a sharp turn, planning on ducking into the woods and out of Diego’s sight. He hadn’t seen that the rain had made the ground soft, treacherous. He took a step, then another. Then, the ground gave way.
Klaus didn’t have time to react, not fast enough. One second he was upright, the next he was pitched forward. The woods were on a steep incline, the roots of the trees curved up out of the ground in an attempt to stabilize. Klaus’ other foot twisted in one of them, and he had a moment where he saw a large, grey rock rising up to meet the side of his head. He dropped the knives, the handles slipping from his grasp.
There was a sharp pain, a wet crunch, and then white.
He woke up in a world of grey, a place he didn’t recognize. He thought he’d gotten used to the unexpected, what with seeing spirits from beyond and all that. This though, he could admit was strange.
He could have sworn a minute ago he’d been tormenting Diego, and now he was standing on a dirt road, amongst white picket fences and an idle breeze. The sun was out, even though he could remember his hair having been slicked against the back of his neck from rain.
Usually when something new happened, a ghost inevitably appeared. That was why he was nervous when he heard the ringing of a bicycle bell, and saw a young girl peddle her way towards him on the dirt trail.
She wasn’t as scary as ghosts usually were, at a glance. There wasn’t any blood, or broken bones, and she didn’t wail or scream the closer she got. Klaus counted himself lucky for that, frozen as he was to the spot. Still, he didn’t like the way her dark eyes roved over him, how she clicked her tongue against her cheek as if annoyed.
“You’re too early.” She announced, tone acidic. Klaus bristled, uncertain by her tone. Early to what? She shook her head, turning to stare at the sun in the sky with unreadable eyes. “You’re not expected for at least ten more years, but people like you always rush ahead without thinking, don’t they?”
“Um, not that this chat isn’t helpful and all but uh… where am I?” She shot him a withering look, all attitude. Well, Klaus could play along.He shoved his hands in his pants pockets, adopting his best sneer.
“No offence, but I was always told not to talk to strangers.”
“I’m no stranger; Klaus Hargreeves. Not to anyone and especially not to you” She smiled, and it was tepid and impersonal. “You’re in a place between two worlds.” She said simply “People like you like to skirt the line, brush this place with the tips of your fingers… but this time you strayed a bit too far.” Her brows lowered, a look of seriousness alighting her face. “I’m not sure you’ll be able to get back on your own, given the time period you came from.”
Klaus suddenly remembered the rock, hurtling to meet him. A feeling of unease wormed his way in the back of his throat. The girl kept staring, almost as if she was looking through him.
“Wait,” He said, hands nervously beginning to wring themselves. “Y-you’re not saying-”
“You died.” The girl said airily “Quite irresponsible of you, really. It’s far too early for you to be here.”
Klaus ignored the last part. He was a little too busy trying to steady his breathing. His heart should have been speeding towards a quick march- but he was disturbed to find it silent in his chest. He clutched at the front of his shirt, struggling to find some hint of a pulse.
His brothers and sisters were going to kill him. Dad, was going to kill him.
Not if you’re already dead, idiot.
He knew he was panicking, because the thought threatened to bring a hysterical laugh to his lips.
The girl made a disgusted noise at the back of her throat, her dark eyes rolling.
“No need for all that just yet. You aren’t too dead. It’s early enough that a good shove should get you back to where you’re needed.” She dismounted off her bike, smoothing down the wrinkles in her sun dress. The girl held out her hand, fingers wide and outstretched as she looked at him expectantly. Klaus peered at her fingers, still straining to believe that this had happened, was happening.
The girl sighed, and grabbed one of his hands. Her touch was warm, almost scorching. Klaus yelped as he was tugged forward, until the little girl’s arms were locked around his skinny middle. Her lips were pressed to his ear, chiding and severe.
“The world is not done with you yet, Klaus Hargreeves. So, the dead won’t have you today.”
Klaus’ vision began to spin, and a blooming headache burst across his temple. His eyes squinted shut in pain.
When he opened his eyes, it was raining. He stared up at the sky, dizzy and confused. Something sticky was tangled up in his hair, and he shakily reached up to touch it. His fingers came back red and crusting. He groaned, pain making itself known in his body at impact points.
He was in a ditch, and there was colour again. Some time must have passed, because his skin was chilled to the bone. He shuddered, and a crack of lightning streaked the sky. It was dark. Distantly, he could hear his siblings yelling his name. Diego must not have been able to find him, and had gone to fetch the others.
Klaus sat up, grimacing at the mud streaking his uniform. Dad was going to have a fit when he saw him. He then looked over, finding Diego’s prized knives. Klaus gathered them, and shakily tried standing to his feet. The entire world swayed dangerously, and he leaned against the trunk of a tree and gagged. Dying apparently, hurt.
He wondered if that’s even what had happened, if he hadn’t just gotten knocked out and had some crazy fever dream. That felt easier to explain than this.
He stared at his own hands, the rain already beginning to wash away the blood. That much, felt real to him. He was going to have a migraine tomorrow, that much he was sure of. He shook away the jittery remnants of fear, picking his way slowly back up the hill that he’d fallen from.
Only after his siblings found him, scolded him, did Klaus put the image of the girl and the black and white road behind him.
Chapter 2: Anger
Warning for violence in this chapter, as well as alcohol consumption and drug ment.
The second time, had been hasty.
Klaus was sixteen and acne-ridden, Five had vanished, and two months after, Ben had died. Nothing it seemed, was sacred. Two of these were obviously more important than the first.
He and his siblings all dealt with the blows in different ways. At this point, Klaus could acknowledge internally at least that his family was more than a little fucked up. It was like watching someone tear a thinly knit sweater apart.
Allison threw herself into her beauty routine, into being fit and active and pretty and everything she couldn’t just rumour into existence. She was up at six AM and in bed by nine PM. Klaus hardly saw her, unless he was in the process of stealing some of her eyeshadow or clothes. She was snappy and ate far too many carrot sticks for anyone’s comfort. Klaus suspected it was the introduction of kale into her diet that made her so grumpy.
Luther was more controlling than he already was, if that was even possible. He saw himself as the team leader, and his team had been decimated in a short time. Those that had made it through felt a lot of resentment. He made up for it by trying to tighten the reigns on everyone else, because that made sense somehow in his thick skull.
It made Klaus want to scream, every time his idiot brother chose to lumber into where he didn’t belong, Dad’s favourite and so in charge by default. He wasn’t the only one who felt this way, but he was the only one that would retaliate by duct taping most of Luther’s personal items to his bedroom ceiling.
Vanya just stopped talking to anyone. She’d never been loud to begin with, but Klaus didn’t think he’d seen her leave her room during the day for nearly three weeks. The only evidence that she did was the peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches left out, hoping against hope for a miracle. Klaus caught Pogo once or twice cleaning up after her.
Diego cycled back and forth between spitting mad and brooding. He spent most of his time with a punching bag or at target practice. Klaus had nearly gotten the edge of his ear cut off by a well-aimed knife when he’d dared to suggest a healthier coping mechanism. When he wasn’t throwing sharp things, he was trying to fix the sudden regression in his speech impediment. He often could be seen late at night in the foyer, running through speech exercises with mom and failing about half the time.
And Ben. Well, Ben was Dead.
Klaus had always wondered if he’d immediately recognize when one of his family members kicked it. He’d been betting on Dad going first, though he wasn’t sure how he might have managed having Reginald Hargreeves haunt him.
He’d known from the instant he’d seen him materialize however that Ben was no longer a member of the living. It’d been written in the fear in the boy’s eyes as he’d looked at Klaus, and the blood covering one half of his face. Klaus had been listening to his headphones when it happened, had spun on his heel only to nearly drop his CD player. The music continued to play, Ziggy Stardust crooning tinny and suddenly fake in his ears.
It had been a mission. Klaus had been left behind with Vanya, his abilities too weak to take on whatever their Dad wanted them to do.
He’d looked at Ben, and felt his knees buckle as his joints turned to water. He must have started to scream, because the distant sound of Pogo running up the stairs was all he could hear. Only Grace, Pogo, Ben and the empty house got to see him unravel in a way that felt like the stitching of his sanity was being pulled loose. By morning, it’d been tucked into a box. Klaus had learned by now that open emotions, feelings that their father would disagree with, would be punished. Klaus no longer feared death. Or rather, he feared his father more.
That night was the first night he’d scrambled for something, anything to stop the ghosts. He’d had a few drinks here and there, had smoked some pot, but had always limited himself under fear of getting out of control.
Klaus found himself downtown, having snuck out in an attempt to stop the sound of Ben trying to speak to him, begging to know what was happening. Klaus wanted to lose control tonight. He wanted the world to fall apart like he was. He wanted Ben to stop talking, because looking at him hurt and it hurt equally to also ignore him like he did all the other ghosts.
Sixteen and having stretched through a growth spurt, Klaus could pass for an adult. Something in the way his eyes burned as he ordered two shots of vodka at the bar made the bartender not question his request. As the night dragged on, Klaus fed his grief to his fury.
His father had killed Ben, drove Five to disappear. For that, Klaus could never forgive him. For a lot of things, he couldn’t forgive.
The night escalated quickly. He’d gone out in black eye shadow and clean hair, but by three AM he was more panda-eyed, curls plastered to his face with sweat. He couldn’t hear or see Ben any more, though, and he counted that as a victory. He spent the night flitting from person to person, conversing and pretending like he was just a normal person. Like he hadn’t been trained from a young age to be lethal. It was fun, but it made him feel transient and temporary.
Somewhere through his fuzziness, it occurred to him to check his phone as he left the bar.
Zero messages. His lips quirked into a mirthless smile, something hollow vibrating inside his chest. His brother was dead today, and not one of his brothers or sisters had thought to call him and make sure he was okay. Typical.
When he rounded the alley, his knuckles found the red bricks building the wall. The impact was sharp, splitting skin upon contact. The pain felt good, real. Klaus did it again, and again. Each punch felt better than the last, adrenaline pulling him up from underwater.
He was so absorbed in the act of it, that he didn’t hear the group of men approaching.
A drunk, slurring voice called out in the darkness.
“Well, what do we ‘ave here?”
Klaus turned unsteadily. In the dark of the alley, he could make out five shadows. The flicker of a streetlight illuminated interested eyes, and the glint of a brown bottle.
He was suddenly aware that he was wearing one of Allison’s skirts, and that he wasn’t armed.
“What’re you doin’ here all alone? You need a ride home, kid?” The men stepped forward, and Klaus felt some of his anger abate to fear. The group was tall, and broad in a way that was in sharp contrast with his skinny, teenage body. He took a half-step back, cursing himself when his legs were wobbly.
Think. Remember the training you’ve gone through.
All he could think about was the mausoleum, which wasn’t exactly combat training. Klaus squeezed his eyes shit, pushing the thought of pressing coffins and darkness aside.
He wasn’t supposed to use his martial arts practice on civilians, but Klaus wasn’t really thinking about that at the moment. He was thinking about the brown bottle at the leader of the group’s side, and how it could be broken to make a weapon. The thought sent a peculiar thrill through him, and he realized something that made him tremble. He wasn’t afraid.
No, Klaus was excited.
“I don’t want trouble.” Klaus said, feeling like a liar even as he said it. He was usually a runner, not a fighter, but liquid courage and grief did strange things to people. He’d done the same combat training as the rest of his siblings, after all.
He thought he could hear Ben yelling at him.
“Shut up.” He said, aloud.
The men in front of him frowned, the leader’s face turning dark and nasty.
“What’d you say to me? Want me to teach you a lesson on manners?”
Klaus didn’t need further incentive. He moved faster than frankly he thought was possible for him. He was in front of the man, throwing a well-aimed punch at his face. It connected with the man’s noise, a sickening crunch reverberating through the air. The man let out a shout, and suddenly Klaus was fighting.
By his count, he broke three of five noses, five fingers and placed a particularly satisfying bite into someone’s wrist before he went down. It was inevitable, he wasn’t Luther after all, or Diego. He wasn’t super strong. Besides the ghost thing, Klaus was mostly a normal teenager, and on the thin side to boot. His arms were pinned behind his back, his knees taken out from beneath him. When his cheek made contact with the pavement, he snarled out a string of unintelligible curse words. His mouth was filled with copper.
That was when the men starting really whaling on him, throwing punches to his kidneys and head that sent starbursts of agony. Klaus howled, his eyes peering through the legs of one of the men, towards the back wall of the alley.
He saw Ben, shouting words he couldn’t make out. His brother’s eyes were wild and desperate, and Klaus felt a moment of small regret that it’d gone like this, that Ben had to witness it. His vision was beginning to go grey, and he had an idea of where he might be headed.
Then, the brown bottle was cracked across his head, and Klaus slipped away from his body, untethered like the rest of his thoughts.
“…Why are you here?”
Klaus knew before he opened his eyes just who had asked the question. He had an idea of who the little girl was, and someone had to take the brunt of his resentment right now.
Klaus’ eyes snapped open, finding himself lying face-up on a hard dirt road. He immediately had to squint, the sun blazing down on him from a grey, cloudless sky.
A desert. The grey-space was a desert, this time. He sat up, finding himself glaring up, up, up.
The girl was seated on a white horse, its reigns gathered in her hands. Her dark hair was tied back, a cowboy hat perched atop her head to protect her from the sun. She stared down her nose at him, dark eyes narrowed in exasperation. She hadn’t aged a day since Klaus had last seen her.
He inhaled the taste of dry sand, sour alcohol, and fury. Klaus stood to his feet, brushing the dirt from his skirt and tacky Hawaiian button-up.
“I don’t know, you and your tacky pinto tell me.”
The horse snorted, ears flicking back at Klaus’ tone. The girl sighed through her teeth. She dismounted from her horse, striding forward until she was inches away from Klaus.
“You cannot be here yet. You’re needed in the living world still and I cannot be your babysitter to ensure you do not get lost in The Between.”
“Who ever said I needed a babysitter?” Klaus snapped back, arms crossing over his chest. He still had the buzz from the fighting coursing through his veins. “And if you don’t want me here, then you shouldn’t have let Ben die or Five disappear.”
“All things die.” The girl retorted “and I do not control the choices people make in the world of the living. You however, control what you choose to do.” She huffed. “So tell me, why did you choose to pick a fight with some random simpletons?”
That wasn’t an answer, at least not to Klaus. He let an inarticulate snarl of displeasure, pushing past the girl to make strides out into the desert. He was irritated that he didn’t get very far- the sound of hooves beating along the desert trail soon followed him.
“You need to go back.” The girl stated matter of factly. “If you don’t, your body will detach itself permanently from your consciousness. You won’t be able to return, stuck like the ghosts that you see.” Klaus ignored her, and the sound of hooves sped up until the white horse and its rider passed him. The girl stopped her horse in front of his path, dark eyes piercing. “You have a duty to return to. You don’t get to just opt out of it.”
Klaus arched a delicate brow, his hands shoved into his pockets. At least here, he didn’t feel the effects of his injuries. He felt fine… angry, but physically alright. He knew going back was going to hurt like hell.
“Duty? What makes you think I care about duty? If duty involved watching my siblings destroy themselves because our dad is an asshole, I think I’d rather watch from the sidelines. My duty isn’t putting up with my dad’s shitty parenting techniques.”
“It’s not about you.” Her voice took on an unearthly tone, quaking the ground beneath them and making Klaus trip. He righted himself quickly, teeth already bared. He wasn’t able to get a word in before she was in front of him again, this time moving towards him with a power no normal little girl should have. “Your childishness is testing my patience, and there is precious little time.”
Dark clouds had begun to gather on the horizon. Klaus’ anger had abated slightly, turning into regret that his mouth moved faster than his impulse control. With the sky turning dark, the little girl in front of him looked less like a child and more like something inhuman. Her horse nickered, eyes rolling nervously.
“You have been given a power than few can wield wisely- and yet you use it to fling yourself into danger and for what? Your brothers aren’t here. Ben is with your body. Where do you think he’ll go without you to tether him to the world?”
It was an unfair shot, but it didn’t stop Klaus from remembering the look on his brother’s face as he’d been beaten into the ground. A tightness pressed in on Klaus’ chest, and suddenly the anger was a hair’s breadth away from despair.
“You don’t understand. No one ever understands.” He meant his power, how much it affected him. He couldn’t sleep without the ghosts coming, and his nightmares had come true. His brother was one of the people now haunting him.
She wasn’t sympathetic, but the clouds stopped darkening quite so much. Lightning flickered, but no thunder followed.
“Life hurts. But to those that are trapped between life and death, it hurts more.” She held out her hand, the gesture steady. Klaus stared at her outstretched fingers as if they might burn him. “Ben is tethered to you, and having him witness your murder will cement that tether. If you want a chance of him finding a resting place, you must go back and live.”
Klaus wanted to slap her hand away. He couldn’t get the image out of his head of Ben being there, even when dead. He wasn’t so sure the others would have found him instinctively, had they died. He was many things, but Klaus’ soft heart in the end trumped the apathy and the hard edges still. He wasn’t angry any more. Now, he was just sad and inconvenienced.
“For fuck’s sake- fine.” He grabbed her hand, and was ripped from the arid desert and the oncoming storm in the distance.
Klaus woke in agony, each breath ripped wetly from his lungs. His entire body felt like it’d been broken into a thousand tiny pieces. He struggled to draw in a breath, cracking open the one eye that wasn’t swollen shut.
Ben was hovering over him- literally hovering. There were tears streaming down his face, his hands trying and failing to curl into the collar of his jacket.
Hearing came in bits and pieces, stuttered half words that took Klaus a minute to hear and understand.
“-S-stupid Idiot! Why did you- You can’t die!” The last part was said in a desperate snarl, and Klaus couldn’t remember a time when Ben had shouted like that in life. It was more animal than deliberate.
He cracked a small smile, his words croaking like he’d been swallowing glass.
“Sorry, took a little nap there didn’t I, bro?”
It was the first time he’d actually acknowledged Ben as a spirit. He felt foolish now, and selfish for ignoring him.
Ben didn’t seem to care. A wet sob escaped him, and if he could have touched him Klaus was sure he would’ve been shaking him.
“Y-you weren’t breathing. You stopped breathing and I didn’t know-”
“Happens sometimes.” Klaus murmured. He wondered if he could sit up long enough to call 911 for himself. If he still had his phone, that was.
“You asshole.” Ben said miserably. And then, wetly. “Now that you’re talking to me: I love you.” He scrubbed at his face, curling his knees up towards his chest as he leaned back and sat next to Klaus’ prone body.
Klaus’ fingers found the front of his coat pocket- relief filling his body when his fingers brushed the smooth edge of his phone. He pulled it out, still seeing the empty message box.
He didn’t think about it as he dialed 911. Instead, he cast the phone to his side, letting it ring out. He stared up at the polluted, starless sky, and finally let the tears he’d kept trapped inside him for months out. Ben sat by him, silent but for the hand that passed through Klaus’. The thought of comfort was what counted.
Chapter 3: Bargaining
Klaus was nineteen, and life was all a game. Death was a curse (and a dickhead) and existence a prison, so might as well have a good time.
He took another sip of his strawberry daiquiri, and wondered if he could get someone to dance with him.
He loved this bar- it had everything he needed. Bright lights, loud music, other queer people, and a shit ton of drugs in every variety. It was his club of choice.
Ben looked bored and frustrated, which was the norm when Klaus went to his usual places to pick up. Since that rainy night when he’d watched Klaus nearly get killed, the two of them had become used to one another’s presence. In a way, Klaus was almost glad to have the ghost of his brother haunting him. If he didn’t think too hard about it, it was like having his brother hang out like when they were kids. He was one of the few ties Klaus didn’t mind having to his past. The rest, he’d done his best to scrub out of his life since he’d moved himself out.
“I think this is going to be a bad idea.” Ben said, echoing what Klaus had suspected he’d been thinking. He’d always been a bit of a worrier, after all. Klaus shrugged, a lazy smile curling over his face.
“Relax, bro. I’m just going to find a way to enjoy myself, and you’re going to do your best to relax your resting heart rate and general anxiety.”
“I don’t have a heart rate.” Ben pointed out, not looking entirely convinced. He was casting a nervous glance towards Klaus’ drug dealer, who had just made their way to the bar. Ben didn’t like Roland, which was fair. He gave Klaus pot and cigarettes and occasionally xans. Tonight though, he’d promised Klaus a treat, and in Ben’s mind it wasn’t going to end well. “Look at him. He has a rat tail. You can’t tell me he doesn’t spit in the coke he sells.”
Klaus tutted, downing the rest of his drink. He restlessly moved black-polished fingernails along the line of condensation his glass had made on the bar.
“Relax. Roland’s a dick, but I’m not stupid.” He’d picked Roland because he thought he was a little thick, in fact. Klaus wasn’t comfortable with anyone trying to manoeuver some scheme around him, and Roland probably couldn’t maneuver his way out of a cardboard box.
“Besides,” Klaus added, addressing the shadow in the corner of his vision. It was a woman, her throat slit and her eyes blank. She wouldn’t stop screaming. “We have a stowaway to take care of.”
Ben sighed, knowing that this was a losing argument. Klaus never reacted to other ghosts well, but the noisy ones were especially grating. Ben looked unhappily towards the woman, something sad in his expression.
“Do you ever think that they come to you for a reason?” He asked quietly. He looked almost wistful, and Klaus didn’t like the expression. He swallowed past a tightness in the back of his throat, refusing to look again. His hands curled at his sides.
“If they’re looking for something, then they should have picked someone who’d been given an instruction manual as to how these powers work.”
He pushed off then from his leaning slouch against the bar, making his way over towards Roland. Ben had no choice but to vanish, or follow.
The club was crowded, though most people were either dancing or at the tables drinking. Roland had chosen to tuck himself to the side of the dance floor, near the speakers. There was a thudding, rhythmic bass that felt like a second heartbeat in Klaus’ chest as he approached.
This was an exchange that Klaus was quickly becoming good at, and he soon slid beside Roland casually, tilting his head up at the pulsing lights above them as if he was just trying to get a better look at the dancing.
Roland’s voice was high, and it cut through the thump of the bass speakers behind them well. He had dark, sharp eyes and a tattoo of a snake curling up his neck. He never seemed to pause for a breath.
“Price is gonna be a bit higher than last time for this stuff. You got my text, right?”
He had, and Klaus had the money. The threatening way in which Roland spoke was just an attempt to intimidate him, and a poor one at that.
“I always pay you.”
Roland grunted, not sounding convinced despite it being true enough. He put a hand in his pocket, pulling out two Ziplock baggies. One had some pills, the other was a finely crushed, white powder. He didn’t hand it over to Klaus right away, despite how Klaus subconsciously leaned towards it (The woman in the background was inching closer, pale eyes locked on Klaus with a hunger that was making his skin start to itch and memories resurface).
“I’m warnin’ you that coke’s dangerous ‘round here, let alone the Molly. I’m not responsible if it’s not as clean as my guy claims it is.”
Speaking up from his side, Ben’s voice was tight with stress.
“Klaus, I don’t like this. I think you should-”
Klaus slipped a fistful of cash into Roland’s waiting palm, ignoring Ben’s protests. The crying woman was close enough now that the hair on the back of his arms was beginning to stand on end, his nervous system warning him of the danger he refused to look at.
Roland squinted at him reproachfully, annoyed that his warning had been taken so lightly.
“On your head be it, mate.”
Klaus watched as the man shrugged his way from the bar’s edge, melting into the crowd. The lack of care or further protest didn’t faze Klaus, he preferred it this way. Slipping the drugs into the front pocket of his jacket, he ignored Ben’s anxious looks and pushed to the opposite direction of the club.
The woman silently followed him, but hopefully, not for much longer.
Klaus opened his eyes, knowing in a vague way that he was trapped in a memory. The detached, slow way he tried to peer at his own hands proved that. Try was the operative word; it was pitch black. He wondered why, until he inhaled the smell of earth and dust and sour air. His lungs seized with panic, because he knew what memory this was.
He was back in the mausoleum. Klaus felt his breath hitch, because he was small and thinner and younger and there was something whispering in the dark. His skin had broken into hard gooseflesh, a whimper leaving his lips.
The whisper pleaded. Klaus blinked. When his eyes opened again, there was the outline of a face inches form his own. Black, rotting teeth grinned at him lifelessly, jaw opening to emit a smell that made his stomach churn and tears prick the corner of his eyes.
“HELP US!” The ghost screamed.
Klaus screamed in kind, the sound animal and howling. His eyes wrenched open, and he was spitting up bile on a dirty bathroom floor at the club. The checked tiles flickered, sometimes grey, sometimes black in his vision. His heart was pounding in his ears, pinprick eyes locked on the rim of a toilet seat. Acid rose to the back of Klaus’ throat, and something in his chest spiked with pain.
The pain didn’t stop, turning sharper as Klaus heard and felt his heart begin to gallop away from a steady rhythm. His eyes rolled back up into his head, and the darkness claimed him once more.
Ben wasn’t shouting this time, was Klaus’ last coherent thought. No, his brother was curled in the opposite corner of the stall, his knees drawn to his chest. The sight tugged at Klaus, his mind somewhere between fog and blackness.
He’d always hated making Ben cry.
He knew he’d died before he even truly woke up. Klaus was beginning to recognize the silence, the lack of ghostly muttering. He was either dead or high, and his head hurt way too much to be high. He groaned, opening his eyes to a familiar black and white world.
His bubblegum-pink crop top stood out at least. He sat up slowly, chest still aching and a cold sweat slicked to the back of his neck.
The kick came out of nowhere, landing squarely an inch from his groin. Klaus yelped, flying back to see the little girl standing over him, clearly furious. Klaus blinked up at her, taking in her clenched hands, the impatient tick of her dark brow. He blinked wide, green eyes up at her. Innocently, he asked.
“God, is that you? It’s me, Margaret.”
She was stronger than a regular little girl, at least. Klaus had barely time to react before she was hauling him up by the armpits, shoving his lanky form up to his feet. He stumbled with the force of it, mouth popping open in mock-hurt.
“Get Out.” She hissed, and Klaus felt a pang of force trying to shove him, push him back into his body. He shoved back on instinct, and was pleased to see when the little girl’s features flickered in some surprise.
“Yeah, that’s right! You can’t just push me around like I’m nothing!” He crowed, holding up his hands in loose fists. He was going to fight her. Klaus was going to fight God and win and he was most definitely, still high.
The invisible force suddenly doubled, and he was forced to his knees. Klaus grunted, trembling with the effort it took to stay in the in-between. He could feel his body as an echo, a thread that was still attached but only just.
Distantly, he could hear the keen of a siren near that body. He wrenched himself away from the noise.
“Even when out of your mind you’re annoyingly persistent.” The girl was very clearly still annoyed, although less mindlessly furious. Something calculating took on her features. “You’re staying for a reason, or you wouldn’t be fighting so hard. Not with Ben still left behind.” Her head tilted to the side, curious. “What do you want, Klaus Hargreeves? Or do you intend to make your heart stop as many times as possible before I give up and let you die?”
She was only partially right. This wasn’t entirely planned, though an idea had been boiling at the back of Klaus’ head for years now. He’d been wary of trying it, but tonight proved itself to be good at pushing him into the deep. On his knees, he smiled up at her.
“I want to know if Five is dead.”
She stared at him in disbelief. The disbelief soon melted into exasperation.
“You’re more stupid than I’d anticipated. I told you all those years ago: Neither of your brothers are here!”
The news sent a bolt of liquid relief into Klaus’ veins. He wasn’t sure why, he wasn’t even sure when he had realized he’d wanted to know. A weight lifted off his shoulders with the knowledge that he’d never have to see his brother as a ghost. It was enough to make him laugh, the sound nigh-hysterical. This had been the final tie in his mind, holding him to that damn house. His trauma, his past, all of it couldn’t keep him grounded in this world. Five had- what if his brother had found him as a ghost, and he’d been too fucked up to even acknowledge him? His siblings always had held Klaus back, even though they’d made it clear that Ben excluded, none of them thought about him.
It was the final piece, and he could stop pretending that he had his shit together. Klaus was a distant star, exploding after years of pressure and strain. He could let go, he could let go, he could self-destruct. Apparently, it wouldn’t even kill him!
The little girl watched him laugh and shake, something unreadable on her face. When she shoved him back into the world of the living, Klaus went without a fight. When he floated back to the land of the living, he was having an oxygen mask pressed to his face. The light of the ambulance reflected in his eyes, but he saw nothing beyond the glare.
Chapter 4: Depression
tw: behaviour that could be viewed as suicidal ideation. If that triggers you, be careful with this chapter.
Klaus was twenty, and He’d just gotten out of rehab. The little plastic wristband glittered under the sterile fluorescent lights as he raised his hand and waved at John, the security guy. They were good friends now; he was pretty sure. He couldn’t remember his name offhand, but he could guess it. He waved as he was escorted out, in any event. Best to be friendly, he had a feeling he might be back again.
The visit to rehab had been a court-mandated order, for a petty vandalism crime that Klaus honestly had very little memory of. Something about a billboard with his father’s face on it, something about a can of yellow spray paint and a genius vision of giving the man’s cold face a set of fangs and horns atop his head. It hadn’t helped that Klaus had also tried to fight the cop that’d arrested him, and then violently vomited all over his shoes.
Still, he thought being arrested for the whole thing was just a little extreme. But between rehab and jail, Klaus was a coward through and through. He picked the rehab, though even going in he’d held very little hope for it being effective.
After all, there was no cure for seeing the undead.
“This could be a fresh start.” Ben, ever the optimist, drifted beside him as he left the facility. His brother had watched him go through the rounds with withdrawal, an invisible cheerleader when all Klaus wanted to do was curl up in a ball and die. Klaus would never admit it, but his brother’s presence had anchored him.
That didn’t mean he had to listen to him, however.
There was a terrible sort of face in the corner of Klaus’ vision. The ghost was too old, too degraded for him to even tell its gender. It was merely a shape, a grey smudge that struggled to hold itself in the vague manifestation of a person. Dark sockets where its eyes once had been glared balefully at him, its mouth an abnormally wide slit. From it, came a howl that sent hard gooseflesh along Klaus’ arms.
“Think about it,” Ben was warming up to the idea of this whole ‘fresh start’ proposition, his ghostly eyes shining. “You could take up a sport or… or a musical instrument! Like Vanya! Or juggling, finally join the circus like you used to threaten you’d do as a kid!”
He prattled on, and Klaus kept his silence because he knew that his brother was only trying to postpone the inevitable. The thing was, Ben knew that this was a lie. The attempt at recovery had not been Klaus’ decision, and his brother had never done anything that wasn’t his own choice and come out of it alright. Control for Klaus was as rare as it was important, and he clung to it tightly when things felt uncertain.
He told himself that it wasn’t just because he was trapped in a rut, an endless loop where days were starting to feel like TV show reruns where he was Shaggy in Scooby-Doo, jumping at every ghost around the corner. He’d yet to find the villain behind the mask, but he was beginning to suspect that there wasn’t one.
The thought brought him up short, and he interrupted Ben’s rambling by stopping his restless walk in the direction of his drug connections. There was no man behind the mask, only himself. He’d never much liked old cartoons, because someone always had to take the blame. Someone was always responsible for the protagonist’s misfortunes. Klaus had put his father as the villain in his personal tragic backstory, but his father wasn’t here. His father hadn’t been a part of his life in a very, very long time.
So why did it feel like his shadow was hanging over him?
“Ben,” Klaus was barely aware he’d spoken aloud. His brother peered at him curiously, brows tilted upwards in question. Something in Klaus’ eyes made that question turn into worry on his face. “How do you… I don’t know, cope with being dead?”
Ben seemed to consider his answer carefully. His voice was soft, his dark eyes clouded over in the way they did when he was forced to consider being undead.
“I didn’t have much of a choice, did I?” He tucked his hands into his jacket pockets, breathing out but leaving no smoke despite the chill in the air. “But, even when I was scared… you were there. That made it better, I think.”
Klaus’ green eyes flickered, his posture becoming shuttered. He hated himself for asking, but it was the only way to kill the shadow of Reginald Hargreeves for a time.
“Will you… stay with me?” The unspoken was heard: Will you stay with me even though you hate seeing me high?
Ben couldn’t touch Klaus, not really. It felt like a chill on his shoulder when his brother’s hand passed through him. Still, it filled Klaus with comfort.
“Of course.” Ben didn’t waver. His voice seemed to be filled with a quiet sort of pain that Klaus would even have to ask. “Of course I’ll stay with you.”
It was a weight off of Klaus’ chest, even if he’d never say it out loud. The next question was perhaps uglier, but the ghost was drawing closer and his skin and mind were beginning to itch and crawl.
“Will you stay even if I go to the other place?”
He had told Ben about the in-between. Klaus knew it was a place that terrified his brother, because it was unknown.
Ben was silent for a long time. When he did speak, his voice cracked dangerously.
“Klaus… do you even understand what you’re asking me? Going to that place by accident is one thing, but…”
“There’s no ghosts there, and I’m not high when I’m there, not really.”
His brother’s face was pinched, and Klaus knew that this hurt Ben more than the other times he’d accidentally kicked the bucket. Klaus waited patiently, promising himself that he’d accept any answer Ben gave him. This wasn’t a fair demand, but Klaus felt the need to ask this of Ben. There wasn’t anyone else that he could ask, really.
“You need to come back.” Ben finally spat, rare anger simmering up in his voice. His dark eyes bore into Klaus’ as he turned to look at his brother. “You’re coming back, and if you can’t guarantee that then my answer is no. I won’t watch my brother die, not for real. Not again.”
Klaus took it as acceptance, albeit an uneasy one. His stomach felt like it’d turned to water, he was so relieved. That was how he knew that something had come undone inside of him, perhaps something permanent.
Normal people didn’t look forward to killing themselves, even if it was only by half measures.
Klaus was vaguely aware that in another place, another world, his heart had once again stopped beating. Somewhere, an ambulance driver that had kept him from dying a lifetime ago in a dirty club bathroom was doing his best to restart said stubborn heart.
He opened his eyes to familiar grey sky, not a cloud in sight. Klaus felt a curious kind of home here, in the in-between. He wondered what it said about him, that he was starting to find it almost peaceful to come here.
He was just… so tired.
“You know, I might just let you die at this point. You’re very determined.”
The girl sounded tired, but not as angry as Klaus had last left her. He turned, and found her leaning against a hazel tree. Her floral summer dress moved in the wind, but she herself cast no shadow upon the ground. She didn’t look up from what she was doing as Klaus approached, absorbed in making what appeared to be a flower crown.
“I’ll go back in a few minutes; I’m actually not trying to stay here. Good news for you, I’m sure.” He was pleased to see the familiar flicker of intrigue cross her features, quickly hidden by careful indifference. She didn’t look up from her work, but she did stop the endless looping of flower stems together.
“Then why are you here? This is not a place of rest. This is a holding space, a place for those who did not complete their duties in the world of the living. It’s no place for someone still alive, and you are not dead enough yet to go beyond this.”
“I mean; I’ve died enough times now that I think I can say that I don’t entirely qualify as ‘one of the living’.” He cracked a smile, and was surprised and a little pleased when she didn’t immediately use her godlike powers to shove him back inside of his living body.
It was so quiet here, in this grey place. Klaus closed his eyes and listened for a moment to silence, the wind tugging at his curls, sending raised gooseflesh across the back of his arms. Strangely, it didn’t bring as much relief as he hoped it might.
This place was a canvas, and there were only pencil lines drawn in to give it an idea of a finished piece. He got the feeling that if he wandered too far, the drawing would end, and he’d be left in only a white wasteland.
“You came here for a reason again, but it’s not the same as last time.” The girl stated, dark eyes peering up at him. “Last time, you were angry. Now, you’re… something else. Something that is very much not like you at all.”
Her words struck a chord with Klaus, though he didn’t reply. In truth, he hadn’t felt much like himself for some time. Perhaps, that’s why he’d been drawn to this place, unfinished and grey. It was how he felt, and how he wished the world sometimes looked when he was exhausted deep in his bones.
“I came here to remind myself that there’s something worse than being alive, even if I see ghosts and have a raging drug addiction, face homelessness and have massively unhealthy coping mechanisms, I guess.” As he said it, he realized it was the truth. He looked at the girl, and to his irritation she was smiling at him, an oddly proud and smug smile.
“And what would that might be?” She asked, already knowing the answer. Klaus sighed in self-disgust, tilting his head back to stare up at the white, bland sky.
“Being bored.” He groaned. Of course, of course that was the problem. That was always the problem. The only thing that Klaus feared more than the ghosts, more than his own fear, was the idea of nothing interesting happening ever again.
“There you are.” The girl said, as if he’d been hiding behind the tree she was leaning against.
When she pushed him back into his body, Klaus went willingly, despite the pain. He felt the tingling current of electricity running through him, a searing agony in his chest. His lungs quivered, desperate for the air the paramedics were giving him.
He was alive. He was alive, alive, alive. Klaus listened to the beating of his frantic heart, felt the blood rush to his head and laughed as he sat up in the ambulance. He was living, and somehow brushing by death had reminded him of just how precious something like that could be.
Chapter 5: Acceptance
Klaus was thirty, and was watching his idiot of a brother channelling his inner furry. Life had been a weird shit-show for the past few days, what with dear old dad dead and gone and Five back from the future.
In truth, Klaus was still reeling. He’d come back from the dead, prepared to give this whole ‘living’ thing one more good try.
Of course, when he was most determined to put his best foot forward is when things had a tendency to get all the more difficult. Klaus had worked hard, painfully hard, to close the gaping wound his sibling’s absences had left in his life. Coming back had ripped that hole back open, and it was bleeding sluggishly somewhere around his heart.
With it, came growing pains as Klaus began to realize that in many ways, his siblings were just as bent as he was. The growing pains upon being told that the world was going to end. The growing pains on knowing that in many ways, dear old dad had ruined all of them and because of that, the world might end.
The girl had been right, he and all of his brothers and sisters were all apparently were tied irrevocably to the future, a future where they died if Five was to be believed.
(Klaus believed. He believed because he’d been sent to the past, and the past had given him war and blood and Dave and so many scars that Klaus couldn’t believe his brain made it all up. Even he wasn’t that damaged).
Though Klaus wasn’t exactly afraid of death at this stage, the death of his siblings was enough of a motivation for him to at least consider paying attention to what his littlest brother was saying.
Five didn’t lie, not about something like this. At least not this Five, who was hard cutting like he used to be, without any of the empathy or childlike vulnerability. Something ached in Klaus, seeing that, but it helped him take the situation seriously. Well, mostly seriously. He did accidentally knock over dad’s ashes, but that had been before Five got back to his proper time.
It was just too bad that his siblings hadn’t seen him for a long time, or were ever likely to take him seriously. It didn’t matter that all of them were aware to an extent of what Dad had done to them, because long ago they’d all cut out the parts of themselves that allowed them to care about one another (or tried, whether or not they succeeded was a debate in itself). Klaus could admit at least to himself that he was not the same kid that had stolen Diego’s knives as a prank. Time had changed him, war had changed him, and he was in many ways a contradiction- outrageously selfish and self-destructive at once.
Diego really had been right when he’d dared to say it at Reginald’s funeral: Their father had been a monster- and he had turned his children into monsters of their own in the process.
So Klaus had tried to deal with his pain, with missing Dave, with trying (trying so hard) to get sober and use his abilities for good. He’d dealt with it the only way he’d ever been able to: distraction. He threw himself into trying to make his siblings hurts ache less, into making them a team again. He threw himself into chatting with Ben and into teasing Luther and Five, and into making Vanya smile once in a long while.
Now he was paying for it, because his error had been assuming that Luther thrived on distraction, too. Instead, Klaus had the sudden and desperate realization that where he fell apart, his brother held himself carefully, so carefully in check for a reason.
Klaus never really considered the fact that his siblings were capable of killing him, even indirectly. As children it hadn’t been how they were trained, wired to operate as a unit (albeit a prickly, dysfunctional unit that was competing for Dad’s attention).
Klaus had a lot of mixed feelings towards Luther especially, but he’d never really thought about how being isolated with a man like Reginald for years could change you.
Luther was different, clinging weirdly to order until he hit a wall. The manic, desperate mood he’d entered was half-gratifying to see, half-worrying. Klaus could work with this version of Luther, because it was startlingly similar to how he’d been when he’d first left The Umbrella Academy.
He hadn’t expected his dolt of a brother to get so drunk that he’d go blackout. Being over a hundred times stronger than an average man, as well as being catastrophically drunk, was not a good combination. Klaus also hadn’t really expected the temptation of drugs so freely available at the club he’d taken his brother to, though that one could be on him.
The thing was, Klaus didn’t have the same outlook or caution towards death as the average person did. Death wasn’t a fear for him, it was a grey line that he’d been straddling for years now. So he hadn’t thought twice about tackling the guy Luther had started a fight with. His brother was going to get in trouble, and some part of the child in Klaus that had been dead for a long time sprung back to life unthinkingly.
He didn’t realize his head was hurtling towards the concrete floor of the club until pain was exploding across one side of his face. For the first time in a while, death had come to his path, and he hadn’t really meant to reach out and touch it. It collided with him, and he had the startled thought that maybe this was the time that he’d died for something. Maybe Luther was supposed to stop the apocalypse, and maybe his death to protect him allowed it.
Luther was perfect, Luther had made their Dad proud. Luther was stronger, and made good decisions. Luther went to the moon, even though everyone had seen the act for what it was: a man throwing away a toy he’d finally managed to damage beyond repair. Luther was probably more practical than him, and definitely more focused on the good of mankind.
Klaus wished he didn’t feel bad for the bastard most of the time. Klaus also wished Luther made it easier to sympathize with.
Through pain and his vision going grey, Klaus could see his older brother’s back. He was walking away, like he hadn’t even noticed. Maybe he hadn’t. Klaus had thought maybe things had been changing, but maybe not as much as he’d hoped. Maybe the music was just too loud, and Luther too drunk. It still felt oddly like every time before. Somehow, he was thirteen years old again and being told to be ‘lookout’ or a ‘distraction’.
It hurt much more than any time before.
Klaus kept his silence, because in spite of how much pain he was, he could feel Ben at his side. He wasn’t alone, though loneliness ached in his heart as it stuttered in his chest. He wasn’t sure any more if the pain was physical or mental, but both were slipping away.
Then he was gone, and Klaus would enter the in-between and meet his father of all people. He would find out that Five wasn’t lying, and Vanya would start the apocalypse. He would realize that life was maybe a lot of pain, and that loneliness was contagious and family more contagious.
He would be sent back, and Klaus would realize that maybe, the world didn’t have to end after all. Maybe, there was still something to save in his family.
Chapter 6: (+1) Closure
so i wanted to write something about the nature of healing from past abuse, and how healing isn't always a linear or even logical thing. I also wanted to show how different people heal, using the hargreeves as examples. This fic was the result.
I really enjoyed writing it, and I hope you enjoyed the read.
TW- suicidal ideation, and binge drinking
The world was saved, everyone was home, and Klaus had never been around his family for so long without wanting to kill himself or someone else. Life was, surprisingly, maybe, okay.
Mom was making waffles, the kind with lots of chopped fruit and healthy amounts of whipped cream. Beside him, Ben reached out and dipped his finger into the whipping cream when her back was turned. Klaus could tell by the smile on his mom’s face that she knew what he’d done, letting him get away with it.
It still threw Klaus sometimes that Ben was alive, that they had gone back in time to fix the world and their childhoods in the process. Thinking about it made his head hurt, like trying to look out of the corner of his eye at a blurry image. Five said it had something to do with the nature of time travel, the brain wanted to forget what didn’t make any sort of sense.
Klaus privately thought it wasn’t the worst thing. He sipped his coffee and tasted French vanilla. Tilting his head back, he took a deep breath and felt calm settling deep into his bones. It only lasted a moment.
There was the subtle sound of Five ‘popping’ into existence in the kitchen, followed by the clamour of Klaus’ smallest sibling scrambling up onto a countertop. Since coming back, Five had grown a little bit- he no longer looked thirteen but closer to fifteen as he reached up, rifling for peanut butter in the cupboard. He was however, still somewhat too short to reach top shelves.
Mom tutted as she watched him, a note of disapproval in her voice. She waved the spatula at him.
“Five, you could’ve just asked for some help.”
Five grunted, the tone not particularly attentive. He continued to rifle through the cupboards, until he came across his prize. Clutching the peanut butter to his chest, Klaus had the hilarious thought that the kid looked a bit like a raccoon caught raiding the kitchen.
“What?” Five challenged, noticing Klaus’ grin. His eyes were narrowed dangerously, and Klaus noticed that Five had still not changed out of his pyjamas, despite it being almost noon. This wasn’t exactly abnormal- Five often had a bad habit of staying up late to work on some equation or other. Still, if he was sleep deprived, that meant he was probably grumpy.
Klaus kept it light, an easy shrug of his shoulders as he reached out to steal some of Ben’s (also stolen) whipped cream. Ben squawked indignantly, trying to swipe at him and missing.
“Y’know, it’s almost a good thing dad taught us some grappling skills.”
“I’m not going to ask Mom to get things for me. I’m in my fifties, not actually a teenager.”
“There’s no shame in asking for help.” Ben tried to be the voice of reason, but the twitching around his mouth gave away that he thought it was a bit funny too.
Five huffed, getting down from the counter to rifle through the drawers for a knife. He found one quickly, grabbing apparently an apple as well to go with his sandwich. He started cutting it, Klaus watching with reluctant respect as his brother’s hands blurred with efficiency. The apple was cut into precise slices, perfectly even and attractive. Five hadn’t even used a cutting board, which would no doubt make Allison irritated when she found the grooves etched into the counter.
“I’m a highly efficient, trained assassin, and I need food to fuel my brain. I’m working on a particularly difficult equation, one that’s been giving me admittedly, some trouble.” Five’s mouth tightened in irritation as he said this, he’d always hated not having an answer to things.
Klaus tilted his head in interest. Five didn’t often elaborate on how he spent his free time.
“It must be bad to get you this worked up.” He joked “You’re wound up more tightly than Luther’s asshole.”
Ben made a noise of disgust at the comparison. Five snorted.
Klaus watched as he popped a slice of apple in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. Five spoke as he chewed, the action crunchy and vaguely nauseating to watch to anyone who hadn’t spent many years in an apocalyptic future.
“I’m working on the equation for death. I want to make sure that should an emergency arise, then I can prevent one of us from dying in certain situations.” Klaus blinked, a little surprised that Five’s goal was something so selfless. His brother continued, oblivious to his surprise. “But it’s starting to already look like a lost cause. There’s too many variables, and too many times when death serves as a catalyst for future events. It’s not like I can test any equations I make either, given the ethical dilemma should the equation be wrong.” Five leaned his elbows on the table, green eyes keen as he stared off into space. He wasn’t exactly talking to Klaus any more, instead muttering to himself. “There’s a weird gap in the equation, too. Mostly in situations where someone’s death isn’t certain. It’s a gamble, and I can’t predict the percentages accurately. I could shoot you, and depending on the location, time of day, access to healthcare and whether or not there were witnesses it’s an absolute crapshoot as to whether or not you’d die.”
It was somewhat automatic, the way Klaus made a noise of disagreement. He regretted it as soon as he made it, Five’s gaze now burning as it looked at him, demanding an explanation. Klaus scrambled for some sort of justification that made sense, something that wasn’t ‘Oh yeah I found out a while ago that until the little girl lets me, I’m stuck alive on Earth. Potentially forever.’
“I mean; in my opinion I’d live in that scenario. We’re in the house, and Mom knows First Aid, and you’re my brother. You don’t always like me, but you did travel through time and space to make sure we didn’t end the world and die in the process.”
“But you can’t be sure.” Five stressed, seemingly on the scent now for deceit. “Mom could malfunction, I could be playing the long game, trying to gain your trust so I could kill you. Hell, you could at the same time happen to choke on strawberries and whipped cream and die from asphyxiation while suffering from a gunshot wound.”
Klaus swallowed the strawberry he’d just put in his mouth. It’d been more sour than the others he’d been pilfering. He coughed, trying to wave away Five’s suspicion.
“I’m just saying, that when it comes to me I’m pretty lucky. I come out alive, more often than not.”
“More often than not?” Five interrupted, but Klaus pretended like he hadn’t heard. He gave his best silly grin, reaching a long arm out to pat Five on the shoulder.
“Besides,” He said, and could feel Ben’s silence like a lead weight beside him “I trust you. You’re spending your free time trying to find a way to cheat death, all because of a possibility. As much as I get it and appreciate it, I think you should focus your attention on something not apocalypse related.” Klaus said this gently, though Five still bristled. Still, his brother didn’t argue, which was improvement from even a year ago. Klaus took it as a good sign, his voice taking on a note of seriousness. “Look, I know what it’s like, to feel stuck in the past. There’s a lot of things that I still wish hadn’t happened, and we had a second chance to redo it all. Sometimes, Five, you have to let things run their course. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think most people when they do, don’t want to live forever. They just want to live instead of survive.”
Five’s gaze was searching, trying to find an angle behind Klaus’ words. His brother gave him nothing, and Ben had gone silent in a way that was all too suspicious. Not that Klaus could do anything about that, though. He’d asked his brother to carry enough secrets, Ben deserved his feelings at least.
Klaus could feel Five’s eyes on the back of his neck, watching him as he left the kitchen. He was personally not very hungry, not any more. Five had never liked vague answers, and Klaus had a sick feeling that this wasn’t a topic that Five would just let drop.
The sound of a fist hitting a punching bag was something that always forced Diego out of a mood. It was probably Pavlovian, and probably unhealthy. Then again, it was healthier than his other coping mechanisms.
According to a very well-paid therapist, boxing was better than breaking his fists punching concrete walls. Diego would take it, like he accepted his anger management issues, and his stutter. It was part of him, and he was getting more and more comfortable with the ugly parts of him, as well as the shiny parts.
It didn’t mean however that Diego wasn’t irritated, because on some level he was already irritated. At this particular moment, there was a culprit behind such irritation. A certain gremlin in fishnets and ‘juicy’ booty shorts was sprawled on one of his stretching mats, scrolling through their phone.
Klaus had for some unknown reason decided that Diego had a responsibility to drive him places. Klaus couldn’t drive, at least not legally. Apparently, having ghosts randomly appear in the rear-view mirror meant he had a tendency to jerk the wheel. Coupled with his old drug habits meant he was a menace on the road. Diego didn’t understand however why that meant that he had to take his brother to Dairy Queen.
“It’s not like the bus doesn’t exist, y’know.” Diego groaned, leaning back from the punching bag he was busy eviscerating. The sweat on the back of his neck was already starting to drip, and it was making a skin crawling sensation that made him crave a shower and a nap after.
Klaus didn’t look up from his phone. He was sprawled on the mat, seemingly without a care in the world. He lowered the cat-eye sunglasses he had on down the bridge of his nose, giving his brother an unimpressed look.
“Look, sometimes a man just needs to consume his bodyweight in cookie dough ice-cream, and he doesn’t need public witnesses to see his shame while he does it. Plus, the bus requires change, and waiting out on the street. Anything could happen, I know a lot of drug dealers. Also, my goal is to walk so little that my legs atrophy.”
“You really shouldn’t say that like it’s something to brag about.” Diego muttered. His shoulders were already slumped though, defeated. There was no use fighting Klaus sometimes, he would just continue to babble nonsense at you until you gave in. It was one of his many ‘charms’ that weren’t really charms, more like curses.
Diego grabbed the sweat towel he’d brought with him to the workout, and started to wipe his neck and shoulders down. Klaus grinned, shark-like and excited for the drive ahead. Diego pretended he didn’t notice that under the excitement and sunglasses, his brother looked exhausted.
‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac blasted at top volume from the car speakers as Diego came back with two ice-cream cones, cookie dough and pistachio for himself. Klaus was half-slumped in the driver’s seat, eyes half-mast behind his glasses as he squinted against the glare of the sun. The lower half of his face was lit up, while the upper half was hidden in the shadow of the passenger front mirror.
He didn’t crack a joke as Diego came back to the driver’s seat, not even about the outfit Diego was wearing. Personally, Klaus’ brother found it a little eerie. Klaus took the ice-cream without a word, licking it mechanically. Mentally however, Diego got the feeling that his brother wasn’t entirely in the present.
He shut the driver door, sitting for a moment and watching Klaus eat his ice-cream with the obnoxious music he’d picked blasting in the background. Diego found it a little eerie, how good his brother was at appearing lifeless despite the rise and fall of his chest.
Diego’s therapist had helped him understand that part of the reason he was so angry was because he’d never really been taught how to communicate as a child. When there was no one to talk out feelings with as a kid, it could apparently really screw you up. Lately, they’d been practicing in his sessions ways to initiate conversations about feelings. Diego wished suddenly that he was better at this exercise, as so far each session had ended with him getting immensely frustrated, his stutter coming back and his words feeling inadequate.
He cleared his throat, licked his ice-cream. Klaus didn’t take the bait, shoulders hunching as if the impending conversation was a knife being aimed towards him. Diego frowned, trying again.
“So uh, you doing alright?”
“… Are you… asking about my feelings?” Diego bristled at the vaguely incredulous tone in Klaus’ voice. Irritation sparked, but he breathed carefully through his nose, and tried again.
“Uh, yeah. I’m working on um… talking better with everyone. And no offence but it doesn’t take a genius to tell you’re not doing so hot today.”
Klaus was silent for a stretch, seeming to weigh whether or not to humour his brother’s effort. Maybe, he was just weighing the odds of this being some sort of elaborate prank. Diego held up his ice-cream cone, trying to coax him.
“C’mon, I bought you some ice-cream. Promise I’m not trying to take the piss here.”
“...When I used to take drugs, it was to drown out the sound of the ghosts.” Klaus spoke bluntly, his arms crossed tightly over his chest. He spoke like each word pulled teeth.
Diego absorbed the information, a little surprised. Klaus wasn’t one to be honest about his struggle with addiction. He also had never really talked much about the nature of his power. Diego had sort of assumed that Klaus could tune it in and out, like a radio. Certainly, Klaus hadn’t given any real indication, verbally at least, that his ability was stressful.
Maybe he was just too tired to pretend, at this particular moment. Diego decided to take it as a good sign. He thought about the response, and came to a rather lame effort at comfort.
“That uh, that must suck? Are the ghosts… are they loud?”
Klaus snorted. His smile was more of a bearing of teeth.
“They’re always screaming. Asking for help, mostly. Some are just angry though. Most just want someone to hear how much pain they’re in.” He stared down at his ice-cream, the fingernails of his free hand skating across his knees restlessly. “It’s like I’m a haunted house, and without the drugs I’m constantly getting jump-scared. I get… migraines, sort of.” Klaus said this more quietly, hunching lower in his seat in misery. “This one’s on day three.”
“I’m sorry.” Diego said, because he was. He could see how much pain Klaus clearly was in, and how tired. His brother was a mess of limbs right now, half-delirious apparently from pain-induced insomnia. Now that he was looking properly, Diego could see he’d lost weight as well. That was never really good for someone of Klaus’ build.
Diego was about as nurturing as the desert, they all were. But he wasn’t an asshole. At least, he was working on being less of an asshole. He searched for something that might bring comfort to Klaus, sifting through memories of their childhood. What did mom used to do when any of them were sick? Now that Diego thought of it, he could remember something. His ears reddened at the thought, if only because none of them were exactly physically affectionate. Not anymore.
“Do you uh… want a hug, bro?” He winced at his own awkwardness. But the words were out now, and they hung in silence in the car between them. Klaus’ eyes flickered with some sort of emotion behind his sun glasses, but he didn’t draw away. Instead he cocked his head to the side, as if trying to puzzle out Diego, who had become a particularly confusing Rubik’s Cube in front of him.
“You haven’t hugged me since that time you lost me in the woods. When I stole your knives as a kid, remember?”
Diego was surprised to find he did in fact remember. A smile twitched on his lips, and he scratched at the scar running along his temple.
“Wow, that was a while ago. We’d been looking for you for four hours, and those woods were huge. I was so relieved when we found you, and so mad when I found out you’d been sleeping in a ditch the whole time.”
Klaus’ smile didn’t waver. His laughter rang funny in Diego’s ears, but his brother wasn’t sure why. Diego’s own humour at the story faded. In truth, he was a little ashamed as he thought about how long he went at a time without touching a single other person.
No wonder he had anger management issues, Christ.
“What happened? You told that story, then acted like you saw a ghost.” Klaus didn’t respond. Diego’s voice turned more serious.
“Uh… did you see a ghost, back then? Is that why you disappeared?”
Klaus didn’t respond, but he didn’t deny it. Diego was uncomfortable at the tugging in his chest. Guilt was a curious thing, because he hadn’t even known what his brother’s powers really were until now. Imagining Klaus alone, with a migraine and seeing some sort of fucked up dead person in the middle of the woods made Diego want to kick himself. He should’ve looked harder, should’ve paid more attention. They all should have.
“Offer’s still on the table.” He murmured, giving Klaus an out if he wanted it.
Instead, his brother wordlessly uncoiled from his perch in the passenger seat. Like the world’s most awkward octopus, he wound himself around Diego, pressing his face against his shoulder. Diego responded instinctively, though he hardly had much practice.
He hugged his brother back, and he and Klaus didn’t let go for longer than either sibling would ever publically admit. Diego thought about that evening at the veteran’s meeting, and wondered if Klaus would ever stop having secrets.
When they got back to the house, Klaus returned to his usual cheery, annoying self. Diego watched him bully Luther, a thoughtful frown on his face. He’d never known Klaus was such a good actor.
Diego turned his head, and interestingly enough locked eyes with Five, sprawled on the piano bench in the living room. Five was also watching Klaus, scribbling complicated equations into a notebook without looking once at the paper in his lap. Oddly enough, he did not seem satisfied with his results.
“Why are you like this?”
Allison’s voice drifted from her bedroom, and Klaus poked his head out of her closet like some kind of guilty ostrich. He had a bright pink feather boa wrapped around his neck, cheap tinsel falling onto the floor as he stepped back and did a little twirl.
Allison regarded her brother’s outfit choice with resigned criticism. About half of the clothing he wore was from her closet, including the lime green crop top and floral leggings. The leather jacket was too small for his shoulders, so he’d left it unzipped. This, coupled with black skinny jeans that were his own and hot pink combat boots created a fashion disaster that was both pleasing to look at and immediately nauseating.
“It’s the trauma.” He responded, the sound muffled. Allison snorted as Klaus revealed himself to be eating a Poptart without hands, chewing rapidly as he hunted for clothing.
Klaus was apparently unbothered that he looked as if he were channelling the spirit of a sad fashion clown. He ran a hand through his brown curls, and that was when Allison noticed he’d put product in his hair. Actually, fashion choices aside, everything he was wearing was objectively nice. Even his nails were freshly painted. He confirmed her growing suspicions when he ignored her comment, instead somewhat nervously asking for her opinion.
“Is this appropriate date apparel to go to a restaurant? Do I look like I’m trying too hard? I mean I can’t really drink so I’m trying to appeal to him by my body, y’know? Show off the curves, make him think my ass is worth having a sober date for the night.” He swayed his hips, and Allison couldn’t help but chuckle. She approached Klaus to straighten the collar of his jacket, fondness in her voice as she replied.
“If they’re a good match for you, they won’t care that you’re sober. In fact, a really good date will encourage you not to drink, once they get to know you a bit better of course. But I didn’t know you were getting back into the dating scene?”
She said the last bit as a question, because it was true. For the past year, Klaus hadn’t dated anyone. He’d shown no interest, which was a surprising feat for Klaus. Allison had many memories of having to sneak out past love affairs, and of covering for Klaus’ more questionable dates. Her brother had never really stayed away from relationships long, preferring to boyfriend hop one week to the next, keeping things casual. Something about the end of the world had stopped that, and truthfully Allison was a bit curious why now of all times her brother had decided to try again.
Klaus narrowed panda-shadowed eyes at her, shiftily avoiding her gaze. One hand came to finger the dog tags he kept habitually about his neck, the metal glinting with the sunlight pouring through her bedroom window. Something sad crossed his face, and Allison found that she was able to recognize the emotion. Her playful expression dropped, turning to a more seriousness question in her gaze.
“… Do you… Still miss Patrick?” Klaus’ question made Allison pause, because it’d been some time since she’d spoken with Patrick. Their relationship was no longer as strained it was true, but they still weren’t entirely friends. Allison couldn’t really say she blamed him, given the mistakes she’d made with Claire. Trust had fundamentally been broken, there. She didn’t think it’d ever wholly be repaired.
“Sometimes.” She answered truthfully, her voice quiet. Klaus nodded, now gripping the dog tags more tightly. His brows were knit together, and he seemed for a moment younger as he looked to her and tentatively asked for advice.
“I… I was seeing someone before everything happened. His name was Dave. It’s… not the same, though. Not really. He didn’t leave he’s… gone.”
Allison felt something in her chest squeeze tightly. She instinctively reached out to touch her brother’s arm, secretly pleased when he didn’t flinch away.
“Klaus, I’m so sorry.”
“I miss him. Sometimes. A lot.” Klaus ignored her apology, nearly stuttering over his words like Diego did when he was nervous. Every word sounded like Klaus was giving up pieces of glass inside of him. “I know your situations different, but… I want. Wanted. To make him happy. I don’t think he’d want me to just… sit here and miss him.”
Allison understood, then. She nodded slowly, realizing that this was a delicate territory to tread on. Klaus didn’t usually open up, a Russian Doll of sarcasm and odd coping mechanisms. Allison was worried that if she wasn’t careful, she was going to scare him off.
“So you set up a date? To try and move on, right?”
Wordlessly, Klaus nodded. He was still gripping the dog tags.
“I can’t ask his ghost, he won’t visit. I just… every time I try, I hit a wall. I keep seeing his face, and it feels like I’m trying to forget him.” He laughed, the sound brittle. “God, it’s stupid.”
“Klaus, when Patrick and I first divorced, took Claire away… I didn’t leave my bed for a week.” Allison had never admitted that to anyone before. Well, anyone who wasn’t paid to listen to her. Klaus seemed startled by the revelation, as if he couldn’t imagine his normally confident sister being so depressed. Allison pushed on, sensing that she had his attention. “For the first month, I cried every day. Sometimes, I cried multiple times a day. It felt like a hole had been carved open in my chest. Honestly? I almost didn’t come to dad’s funeral because of it. I didn’t want to deal with it.”
She sucked in a breath through her nose, the weight of what she was about to admit weighing heavily on her.
“There were days I didn’t want to exist, honestly. The guilt of what I’d done to Claire, to Patrick, kept eating at me. I had no one to blame but myself. I wanted to punish myself, so I stopped myself from seeing anything bad about Patrick. I didn’t want to blame him for anything, even though our relationship wasn’t healthy to begin with, even before Claire. Then everything that happened with Vanya happened, and I had even more guilt associated with that. So yeah, I know a bit about what it’s like to feel guilty about moving on from the past.” She smiled, but it was a smile without warmth.
“Dave was good, though. He was funny and smart, and gentle. He made really good food, even when there wasn’t much around.”
“Then I can see why you’d miss him even more.” Allison took Klaus’ hands away from the dog tags. Her fingers rubbed soothing patterns across his knuckles. “It’s okay to still be sad, you know? It’s okay to miss him, and to not want to go back into the dating scene. But you’re right that if he was as wonderful as you say, that he probably doesn’t want you to be unhappy.”
“…What if he made me happy, though?” Klaus asked, almost too quietly to hear. Allison squeezed his hands, letting her brother get the words out he needed to speak. His green eyes were distant as he spoke, and he trembled the way he did when he was craving a cigarette very badly. “I think about it sometimes. I wish he was a ghost, even though that’s cruel and unfair. I wish he was here, or that I was… that I was there.”
“There?” Allison prompted gently, worried despite herself. Klaus shrugged, thin shoulders sharp under the jacket. He wouldn’t meet her eye.
“Death has always been… not as big of a deal, to me. I know I’m supposed to be afraid of it, but it’s hard to be. I deal with it every day. Sometimes it seems that there’s not a clear divide, for me.”
“Klaus, what do you mean?”
Allison tried to catch her brother’s eye, but he avoided all efforts. Klaus reached up, pressed his hands against the back of his head as if to protect himself from some unseen blow. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, shaking his head. The dog tags clinked with the motion. When he opened his eyes again, Klaus had a false smile plastered to his face.
“Sorry about that.” He said, ignoring the worry on Allison’s face. “I get silly, sometimes. Too much overthinking, y’know?”
“I think you’re right. I think I’m okay with not dating yet. I still want to remember Dave, and hold onto those memories a bit longer. There’s no time limit, after all.” He laughed, as if he’d told some great joke that Allison failed to understand. Klaus placed a hand on her shoulder in a move that was probably meant to be reassuring. “Thanks, sis. Sorry for getting ‘fake deep’ on you there.”
Allison wanted to argue. There was an alarm screaming in the back of her mind, that his was a red flag she’d stumbled upon. Her brother wouldn’t let her. Klaus was already whirling back around, grabbing armfuls of clothing he’d taken from her closet.
He began to make a mad dash to and from her bathroom, putting on outfit after outfit, a fashion show like when they were kids. Allison’s jaw was tight, her hands burning in her lap where she’d touched Klaus’ knuckles. She couldn’t get the image of her brother admitting that he wanted to join Dave out of her mind’s eye.
With her father’s legacy off her shoulders, Vanya most days felt like a different person. It was odd, to remember what she was like in a different timeline, a different reality. All of it most days felt like a very bad dream. A bad dream where she was the Boogie Man.
She packed away her violin, and told her student (Jenny, a gap-toothed first grader), that she would see her for her next lesson next week. Jenny smiled up at her, and Vanya felt a bloom of affection in her heart for her life, and for how far she’d come. Most days felt like a dream, but at least it was a good dream. She shut the front door behind her student, and drifted into the living room.
Her initial goal had been to find a book to curl up and read, but instead she found her brother. This was a bit surprising- Klaus normally did his level best to avoid reading at any and all cost. Yet her brother was sprawled on one of the long couches, long limbs folded awkwardly like a baby giraffe’s. In his hand, he held a book.
Vanya’s throat constricted when she saw said book. It was more of a manuscript, and it’d been taken from her room.
In this timeline, she’d never written the book that had ostracized her from her family. She hadn’t needed to, if only because her siblings had gone back in time and fixed how they treated her. Her father had still been a monster, but the pain from that was less of a jagged wound and more a thorn in her heel. Still, she had felt the urge to write something in her free time. She hadn’t been sure what at first, but an idea had hit her in the early hours of the morning one day.
“’The Umbrella Academy- How Seven Extraordinary Children Learned To Recover Through the Ordinary’. Bit mouthy, don’t you think, Vanya?” Klaus read the title off nonchalantly, his expression neutral as he peered up at her. Vanya couldn’t tell what he thought of the book so far, and it filled her with uneasiness. She resisted the urge to cower, because Klaus had never been scary to her. She refused to give him the satisfaction of cowering over a book that she’d written for herself.
“It’s good.” Klaus said next, startling her. “Much better than the book you wrote in the other timeline. That one was admittedly a bit of a downer, no offence.”
“None taken.” Vanya stuttered, smiling at the praise despite herself. She stood for a moment longer in the doorway, before her curiosity got the better of her. She approached, and when Klaus didn’t push her away, sat on the end of the couch where he made space for her.
“is your part okay?” She asked anxiously, hands wringing themselves in her lap. “I didn’t want to hound you guys with questions, but I also want it to be true to your stories. Dad was hard on all of us, but I only want to share what you’re comfortable sharing.”
“You wrote me pretty well, actually. I could be more charming, or more handsome, but I get that can be difficult to convey through writing.” Klaus grinned wolfishly, scratching the stubble along his jaw as his other hand thumbed through the pages. “I especially like this part: ‘The Séance, Klaus, had two favourite pastimes when we were small kids- kissing our injuries to make them feel better, and arson.’”
He cackled, and Vanya couldn’t help but join in. It filled her chest with warmth. Klaus continued to read, his voice lilting through the library and Livingroom. Vanya had never realized, but he really did have a voice for storytelling. As he read, his voice took on a note of wonder.
“’Despite our father’s cruelty towards all of us, Klaus never lost his sense of fun. He was the first to make us laugh, and the last one to cry. He could make even Pogo laugh until he got stitches in his side. I firmly believe that without our brother, none of us would have been able to make it through what we did. I truly owe Klaus for my sense of humour, even in the face of adversity.’ Do you… really mean that?”
Klaus asked, looking up at her with eyes that were a little wide. Vanya nodded, her eyes crinkling at the side as she smiled.
“If I was going to write this book again, I wanted it to be about who we are. Not what our father made us. You’ve always made us remember how to have fun.”
Klaus lapsed into what was apparently, stunned silence. Vanya arched a brow as she watched him try to process this. In truth, she had thought Klaus already knew this about himself. She thought it was rather obvious. Vanya had an idea about who was to blame that her own clown of a brother didn’t seem to realize that he was funny. It was the same person responsible for her still sometimes fragile self-confidence.
She hummed to herself, watching in silence as Klaus flipped through more of the manuscript. So far, she had written on everyone except herself- possibly due to the self-confidence issue once again. She could feel the silent question in Klaus’ gaze as he reached the end without any reflection of herself as a child. Vanya shrugged, running her hands along the textured fabric of her tights.
“I’ve tried to write a few pages, but all of it feels pretty scattered. The time travel affected me the most, and I’m not really sure if I’m more of ‘Vanya, first chair and music instructor’ or ‘Vanya, apocalypse trigger’. It’s making the process hard.” She laughed self-consciously, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.
“Do you want me to give you adjectives?” Klaus asked, somewhat excited by the prospect. Vanya narrowed her eyes, expecting her brother’s teasing by this point. Sure enough, Klaus didn’t disappoint.
“You’re so loud, but vibrant. Kick-ass powerful, of course. Ummmm good at moving large slabs of concrete through the air and breaking windows.”
“Thoughtful,” Klaus continued, more seriously than before. “Empathetic. You always felt so much when we were in pain, or stressed. You were always the first to fuss over us when we got home, even when we were mean to you in the other timeline.” Vanya felt a lump begin to form in her throat, heat rushing to her face. She ducked her head, still unused to being praised. “You work harder than any of us, always have. Even with Allison’s rumour-thing, you had a job and were more independent than any of us. You used to help Mom with cleaning the kitchen, even though she didn’t get tired.”
Klaus smiled, and he tapped the manuscript in his hands thoughtfully. “You should put that in your chapter, I think.”
“Thank you.” Vanya said, nearly soundless. Klaus sat up, rustling her hair until it fell out of its messy bun. Vanya groaned, trying to brush him away. Klaus stood, cackling and handing her the manuscript.
“I didn’t mean to steal it by the way- I was looking for a lighter. Cigarettes only, scout’s honour.” He held up three fingers, putting on a fake expression of piety. Vanya’s mouth twitched. She then remembered what else she’d meant to ask her brother. She flipped the manuscript open, turning to the pages where she recounted what her siblings had done to stop the Time Travellers from killing Five.
“Oh, also: I never found out really what happened to you that time you spent with Cha-Cha and Hazel. Do you think you can give me the Spark Notes summary?”
She’d expected some sort of dramatic tale about a scuffle, told expertly by the head drama king himself. Instead, Vanya was startled by the way Klaus’ shoulders went rigid. The smile on his face vanished.
“I don’t want that in the book.” He said sharply. Right away, he apparently realized he’d been too harsh to brush it aside. Vanya was half-standing, reaching for her brother as if she could draw him closer to get the truth.
Klaus took a half-step back, nearly flinching away. Vanya’s concern melted into alarm. She held up her hands, as if to indicate she wasn’t a threat.
“Hey, that’s okay, yeah? I told you, I’m not going to share anything too personal this time.” Klaus didn’t seem entirely reassured. His gaze was restless, darting across the room as if he was trying to find his best exit. He’d called her empathetic, and it was true that all of Vayna was screaming that her brother was hiding something from her, from all of them.
It made her nervous, very nervous. Klaus didn’t get scared, not about anything to do with life, at least.
“Klaus, what’s wrong?” She asked, but she’d barely gotten the words out before there was the sound of the front door opening and closing. Allison came into the room, each of her arms laden with groceries. Beside her trailed a very excited Claire, who had been allowed to visit for the weekend. The little girl was chatting animatedly at Luther, who seemed to be doing his best to follow while looking particularly confused about something called ‘Moomin’.
Klaus took his chance. He greeted the group warmly, cutting off Vanya’s route of communication. He wrapped Claire up in a big hug, spinning her around until she shrieked with laughter. Vanya watched, a sick feeling stewing in her stomach.
Allison caught her eye, and whatever good mood she’d been in melted away when she saw Vanya’s face.
Klaus was already gone, waltzing out the front door while dramatically moaning about needing a cigarette. If he returned that night, Vanya didn’t hear him come into the house. She stayed up until the first grey light of morning came, replaying in her mind the tense conversation she and Allison had shared once Claire had been laid to bed.
She couldn’t shake the bone-deep worry that something was terribly wrong.
The truth was, sometimes siblings naturally found each other irritating. As far back as he could remember, Luther could admit that he and Klaus were not really inclined towards getting along. They were two opposite planets, revolving around a common need but ultimately, deeply different people.
Luther tried to be a better leader than he had been. He tried to acknowledge that his desire for control stemmed from some pretty bad expectations dad placed on him from childhood. He tried and tried, but it was like dad was steeped in him more deeply than the others. Some days he looked in the mirror after messing something up, and wondered when he would start seeing his father in the reflection.
Control had been an aspect of his life that made sense. Organization, order, if everything went according to plan then the house was a well-oiled machine, and he was a cog directing the others where they needed to be. If everyone did what they were told, then dad wouldn’t punish them. It was their fault when they were punished. As a kid, Luther had made this rigid structure, and now despite the fact that he had outgrown it (both physically and mentally) he couldn’t seem to always shake it.
He hated that Klaus never felt that frame biting into his neck, had never seemed to care what their father thought of him. Luther could admit if only to himself that the hate was rooted in jealousy, in a perceived sense of unfairness. The leader didn’t get to act out, not like Klaus did (or had). The leader couldn’t afford to, because if he did then someone could die.
Ben’s death in the previous timeline had been especially hard to cope with, given that everything had until the very end, gone to plan. So, who was to blame? Luther knew where the guilt lay, and had carried that as well as the frame on his shoulder.
Then, Ben was alive. Luther couldn’t breathe sometimes when he looked at his brother, sitting on a chair eating toast, enjoying life. It didn’t take the mental image away of cradling Ben’s body in pieces, and bringing him home.
Apparently, Klaus had been able to talk to Ben the entire time. Another perceived bout of unfairness, though this one Luther was somewhat aware was unreasonable. He hated himself in fact for even thinking it, and yet the kernel of jealousy had still remained. Klaus had lost a brother, but he’d never really lost him. Why did he get to pretend then that he’d mourned the same way?
Why did Luther still feel guilt, even though Ben’s heart was beating, even though he was alive and well?
Klaus was everything Luther couldn’t be, and for that, his brother’s every action sent an initial spark of irritation through Luther. An unfair one, but a real one nonetheless.
Therapy was helping some days. Most days, it was an uphill battle. Dad had never encouraged Luther to admit his feelings, either. It would’ve been seen as weakness. He pushed through though, because therapy meant that he stopped hurting people, and therapy meant that he didn’t risk hurting Claire or other children he might encounter. Therapy meant that he had somewhere to rant when Klaus decided it’d be a good idea to teach Claire how to use a sword, ending in one of the stuffed deer’s heads getting shredded.
He was going to definitely need that, considering the earful Pogo was now giving him about ‘respecting the household’. Luther pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, barely holding in his temper.
Klaus, as per usual, seemed pretty unaware of his brother’s mounting annoyance. That, or he just didn’t care. It could be hard to tell with Klaus, though the impish way he was holding the shredded deer head in his lap suggested the latter. Luther grit his teeth, trying very hard to resist the urge to begin this conversation with shouting. Claire was still here after all, though she’d grown bored of eviscerating decoration pieces in the house. Instead, she’d taken to colouring in one of the colouring books Allison had gifted her.
“Miss Claire, why don’t you go see if Miss Vanya would be willing to teach you some violin.” Pogo, perhaps sensing the tension that was mounting between the two brothers, stepped in. Claire didn’t fuss, she liked Pogo a lot, mostly because in her words, he was her height and very ‘gentlemanly’(Pogo had in fact been secretly flustered and pleased by this compliment, much to Allison’s amusement).
Luther waited until little girl and chimp had gone upstairs, silently counting down from one hundred before he let himself speak.
“Would it kill you, for just a moment, maybe, to think on the consequences of an action before just doing whatever the hell you want?”
Klaus’ grin, which had stretched lazily across his face, twisted into a frown. He glared sullenly up at Luther, suddenly every bit a petulant child.
“What? It’s not like you shot the creepy deer.” He held it up, where the deer’s glass eyes stared blankly up at Luther. Klaus moved it so it covered his head, the tone he took when he was mocking their dad muffled behind it.
“How dare you destroy Reginald Hargreeves property! It’s not like he was a bastard of a man, a gold medalist. Abusive prick, Philanthropist-”
“Alright, that’s enough.” Luther ripped the deer from Klaus’ grasp. Where his brother needed both hands, Luther lifted it with ease. His body was no longer warped and misshapen, but it was still stronger than any one man’s. He tossed the deer on the sofa, where it stared dejectedly up at the ceiling.
Luther pointed a finger at Klaus, trying to keep his voice even. “I get it, ok? Dad for just about everyone was a monster, and I’m not excusing his actions at this point. But he left us this house, and I’ll be damned if you destroy it just because you’re determined to piss on his grave.”
Klaus snorted, the sound filled with disgust. His green eyes squinted in annoyance as he leaned back against the arm of the couch, limbs akimbo on the hardwood floor.
“Sorry, alright? Christ, I just wanted to do something fun with my niece.” The comment might have made Luther feel a little sheepish for snapping, but Klaus of course wasn’t finished. He couldn’t resist getting a jibe in, because mocking Luther was a fun game in most of the family’s mind, an old instinct for childhood hurting. “You don’t have to be so fucking aggressive all the time, it’s not like we’re eight years old.”
“It’s not like you’ve changed much from then.”
Klaus let out a wordless groan of frustration, getting to his feet. Luther wasn’t one to let people run away from confrontation. He stepped into Klaus’ path, eyebrows lifting as if daring him to try and push his way through. His brother glared up at him, and even though they weren’t that far apart height-wise Klaus seemed dwarfed by Luther’s bulk. It didn’t stop him from smirking, looking for soft spots to dig at.
“Let me leave. You’re not Number One any more, Luther.” Klaus said, deadly-soft. “I’m gonna have no problem at this point kneeing you in the nuts if you don’t.”
“Like my title would’ve stopped you before.” Luther replied, not budging an inch.
Sure enough, Klaus reacted. His knee came up, but Luther knew well enough to block him before it hit the prize. He thought nothing of lifting Klaus up into the air, spinning him around harmlessly until he was stumbling back towards the deer’s head. Luther’s tone was blasé.
“Clean up your mess. I’m not having this argument.”
“Running away? Aw, just when our fight was getting good. Prick.”
Luther looked at Klaus more closely, because this felt more than a little dramatic for something so small. Granted, his brother did tend to make the most out of even tiny conflicts, but he was beginning to suspect something was bothering Klaus besides having to clean up the deer.
Sure enough upon closer inspection, Luther spotted telltale signs of Klaus trying to cover for something else. His brother had a tick when he was lying, a little twitch at the corner of his eye. Even though he seemed angry, there was an undercurrent of fear that Luther didn’t understand.
Since when was Klaus afraid of him?
“You gonna tell me what’s got you wound up? Or do I have to find Ben?”
“Fuck you.” Klaus spat. “You’re not dad, and I don’t have to tell you shit. We’re not kids any more, Luther!”
He said this resentfully, two-parts spite and one-part pain. Luther flinched from the venom in Klaus’ voice, unused to his brother baring his teeth in any conflict.
“Just let me have fun with my fucking niece, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like it’s hurting anyone. Sorry for wanting to make some good memories here.” Klaus’ jaw clenched, as if he’d realized he’d said too much.
“Klaus, we had good times here too-”
“You did, maybe. Dad had to keep his ‘leader’ from being too miserable.” Luther stared down at his brother, rendered mute by Klaus’ outburst. His brother’s gaze was suddenly tired as he ducked under Luther’s arm, his parting shot leaving Luther feeling cold.
“But what do I know? I was just Number Four- fuck-up-extraordinaire.”
Luther stood in the living room, the dead-eyed deer glaring balefully up at him from the couch. He heard the sound of the front door opening, slamming shut. All of it felt strangely underwater. He breathed through his nose slowly, the rise and fall of his chest grounding him even as his hands shook at his sides with the urge to hit something. Somehow, he’d fucked up again.
He’d never understood how two people could grow up in the same house, and really not know anything about each other at all.
In the end, it was Ben that called the meeting. The sun was weakly trying to peek through a smudged, grey sky. It illuminated him as he sat on a stool by the bar, his hands folded in his lap. Ben looked tired, and as his brothers and sisters wandered into the room the gaping absence left a clue as to why.
Klaus hadn’t been around for about a day and a half. At one time, this wouldn’t have bothered any of the Hargreeves. At one time, their brother had gone on benders that would’ve left him absent for weeks at a time. That had been a long time ago, though, in a different timeline.
They had all felt Klaus’ absence, and all worried about it in their own individual ways. Slowly, they had all come to the conclusion that something was wrong, and none of them could put their finger exactly on what. Instinctively, they’d sought out each other. Things really had changed since the last timeline, it seemed.
“I called us here because we need to have a talk.” Ben’s voice rang out in the silence that stretched between all of them. He sounded heavy, weighted down by something pressing. He’d held a note of gravity to him since the day they’d managed to keep him from dying, like being a ghost had bled into him a sense of purpose in every word he said.
“Is it about how Klaus has been acting uh… a little cuckoo for cocoa puffs lately?” Diego spoke from where he was sprawled on the couch, his legs propped up in Luther’s lap. Luther looked mildly irritated by this, though not enough to start a fight over it.
“That’s not the nicest way to put it, but essentially, yeah.” Ben sighed. “I need anything you can get, but essentially I’d like to know how long he’s been like this that you’ve guys have noticed, and how ‘weird’ he’s been lately.”
“I’ll start,” Five piped up, standing from where he’d been slouched against the bar. He stuck his hands in his pockets, keen eyes looking Ben up and down as if searching for cracks in his normally calm exterior. “That day in the kitchen, where you wouldn’t tell me anything and Klaus alluded to knowing the answer to my Death Formula. Our brother’s never shown an interest in theoretical philosophy, or physics before.”
Ben’s mouth tightened unhappily. He looked down at his hands, shoulders hunched.
Five wasn’t the only one with concerns. Diego piped up from where he was on the couch, cleaning out the dirt from under his fingernails with one of his knives.
“He had that meltdown at the veteran’s bar. I thought that was it, but then he’s sitting in the car not three days ago shaking because- get this – he still can’t control his powers very well. But he’s never decided to tell any of us that he can’t just turn it on and off and that the ghosts haunt him constantly.”
Ben winced, looking guiltly.
“Oh, yeah. About that, that’s kinda a sore spot-”
“No shit. But you knew about it from the start, so I’m wondering why you didn’t decide to tell any of us?”
“Klaus didn’t want you to know-” Ben denied, the conversation quickly derailing into an argument where Diego’s face was slowly becoming pinched and driven.
“I think he’s suicidal.” Allison piped up, interrupting the two of them sharply. Her arms were crossed over her chest. Though she stated this aloud, her eyes found Luther’s, as if looking for a solution that couldn’t be found.
“What?” Diego said sharply.
“What do you mean?” Vanya spoke at the same time, sounding distraught and confused.
Everyone looked then towards Ben, who did not look nearly as surprised as they’d all hoped he’d be.
Ben sighed once through his nose.
“Look, we need to talk. Or I need to explain some things, and all of you need to listen and not interrupt.”
“Hell yeah you need to explain yourself, why the fuck would you sit on something like that-”
“Diego.” Luther spoke, his tone inarguable. Diego for once, shut up.
Ben stared at his hands for a long while, apparently looking for the way this story began. Then haltingly, painfully, he found the words.
Ben told them what he could, what he knew. It was a long story, but none of his siblings interrupted him. Instead they listened in mute horror, as Ben recounted how Klaus died again and again, brought back each time by a person Ben suspected might actually be ‘God’, in a sense.
It was a story that was difficult to hear. Really, ‘difficult’ was an understatement. Each Hargreeves felt pain in their own ways as they realized what their brother had been sitting on, what they had selectively ignored or been unable to see.
By the time Ben quietly finished his story, Vanya was crying. She wasn’t the only one. Diego was scrubbing angrily at his face, not one to show his tears even if he was in many ways the softest of all of them. Allison was staring blankly ahead, lost in thought with her hands clenched tightly against her upper arms. Luther’s hands had tightened to white fists against Diego’s leg. Even Five, normally stoic had an expression on his face that was torn between cold fury and hurt.
It was Five in fact who spoke first, his tone devoid of emotion like he was talking about the weather.
“I’m going to go back in time, and I’m going to kill Dad.”
“Count me in.” Diego swung his legs off of Luther’s lap, getting to his feet. Vanya gripped Diego’s arm, holding him back from whatever action he was itching to take. Her voice was soft and brittle.
“We need to find Klaus. We need to…” Her voice trailed off, and it sharpened into a wicked-sharp point of anger. “Why didn’t he tell us?”
“In the old timeline, he seemed to think no one would care.”
Ben scratched the back of his neck. A spark of old resentment glinted in his eyes. “And to be fair, I think it’s not entirely an unwarranted belief.”
“What? That we could’ve cared less had he managed to actually kill himself?” Luther growled.
“Yeah, actually!” Ben responded. He unfolded his arms, spreading them wide as if daring Luther to come at him. “I was there, remember? I don’t recall any phone calls that weren’t about how he ‘needed to get clean’ or about yourselves.”
“That’s not fair, Ben.” Allison interjected, but Ben was apparently warming up to his rant. He continued, daring anyone to meet his eyes.
“Isn’t it? Look I’ll be the first to say that in this timeline we made improvements. Not tormenting Vanya as a kid was something we managed to avoid this time around. But no one ever cared about why Klaus is such a mess, myself included. I had to die to realize that our brother’s got a shit tonne of trauma and unresolved issues, and that’s objectively- fucked up!”
“So how do we fix it?” Diego snarled.
“We can’t.” Five reached into his blazer, pulling out a small, beaten notebook. He threw it onto the table, the spine cracked to open at a specific page. It revealed an assortment of scribbled equations, most of them crossed out. “Since we messed with the timeline, our existence is very, very fragile. We can’t move through time, not in the major way that we’d need to in order to keep Klaus free from all trauma. What happened to him is unfortunately mostly ‘crux’ events: things that needed to happen in order for us to come together and stop the apocalypse. We can't just 'fix' his trauma and pretend it never happened.” Five's brows were pinched together, "We didn't really 'fix' Vanya's either, we just. Changed our behaviour."
Ben snorted, shaking his head derisively.
“Yeah, that’s why Klaus thinks he can’t die, by the way. The girl apparently every time keeps telling him that he’s important for stopping the apocalypse. I’ve been grateful because it kept him from leaving permanently, despite everything.” His voice was bitter as he said this. "I don't think it's the trauma that Klaus has been through that's damaged him, besides. I think it's the fact that he thinks at the end of the day that he's disposable. Which is our fault, by the way."
“But the apocalypse is over.” Vanya murmured, her voice becoming more tightly wound as she thought it through. She kept wringing her hands as she thought about it, mouth quivering. “We have to find him. I don’t… what will happen if he-”
Diego swore, curse words mounting into a full tirade before he began to stutter, his hand pressing to his mouth. He looked sick.
“We’re going to find him.” Allison said, her tone final. She held her head high as she looked towards Luther. Not to seek confirmation, but looking for compliance. “And when we do, we’re all going to do our best to make sure that something like this never happens again.”
He really didn’t need to be told twice. He loved his brother, even if he was a stupid, self-destructive asshole that apparently couldn’t see it.
“Ben, does Klaus have any hiding places that we wouldn’t know about? Somewhere he might choose to hide or maybe an old drug connection who’d house him for a bit? Would he have gone far?”
Ben thought for a moment, gaze drifting towards the open window and the backyard. Realization soon dawned.
“I think I might know.” He said.
The ghosts whispered to him discontentedly, as if aware of what Klaus was considering. He closed his eyes against it, curling deeper into the filthy beanbag chair. The attic of the Hargreeves house was more a crawlspace, and was horribly dusty. It made Klaus’ eyes water, but he didn’t move from the corner he’d cleaned for himself.
As a kid, this had been his hiding place from dad. Only three people knew it existed, and it was a secret that He, Pogo and Ben all kept very well hidden from the rest of the Hargreeves’ household. This was because it was where Reginald Hargreeves had kept the more expensive wines in his collection.
In theory, Klaus wasn’t even supposed to know it existed. He’d found it by accident as a child, when Mom had been cleaning the space and he’d gone looking for her. It was kept closed by a pin pad, the door tucked behind a painting in his dad’s office. Klaus had learned the code, and used it as a private space to hide when things became more than he could handle.
He currently had cracked open a bottle of vintage Bordeaux, and was making his way steadily through the bottle while contemplating his options. He’d been kicking around a theory for a little while, one that Ben would certainly disapprove of. It was a dangerous idea that’d been a marble in Klaus’ shoe, bothering him at inopportune moments. Five had been the first one to really make him acknowledge it inadvertently, that day in the kitchen.
The Death Formula, and how he might or might not be immune to it. It was no longer a certainty, was it? Klaus’ existence had hinged on the apocalypse, something he’d cursed and been relieved by in equal parts for years. Yet the apocalypse was officially done, and the timeline was set properly. He’d done his duty, talking to dad and helping his siblings save Vanya.
So, where did that leave him?
It was a question that required lots of wine. Lots and lots of wine. He was already finished the bottle, it seemed. Klaus blinked at the empty bottle, a little unsettled by how smoothly it’d gone down.
He’d always been told to evaluate the pros and cons of a situation, and though he didn’t always think to use the method he did so now.
The pros of dying were as such: Knowing for sure whether or not he could die, seeing Dave possibly, and getting rid of the screaming ghost in the corner of the attic that seemed intent on carving a hole in his eardrums. Being done with Luther was also a nice bonus, he couldn’t forget to factor that in.
Klaus smiled bitterly, reflecting on their argument. A small part of him argued that he’d been as much to blame in that fight as Luther. Klaus chose to ignore that voice, despite how it sounded strangely like Ben. He worked on prying out another cork in a wine bottle with a pocket knife.
Cons to dying were: dying, for one. That shit hurt. The second would be that things had actually been improving, weirdly, amongst him and his siblings. Klaus had never thought he’d see the day, but the thought of losing that made his chest oddly tight. He’d also lose Claire, who turned out to be pretty cool! Who knew that Allison’s kid could be so funny, or so sweet?
The third was that there was the chance he’d just wake up again in the attic, embarrassed and probably frustrated beyond belief. He didn’t think he could live that down, if his siblings noticed (they wouldn’t notice, would they?).
The ghost was still screaming. Klaus grit his teeth against the noise.
“You’re making it difficult to think, you know!” He snapped at it. Though he tried to make a habit of not talking with the dead, Klaus had let that rule fall a bit lax since the encounter he’d had with Hazel and Cha-Cha. Apparently, sometimes, ghosts could be reasoned with. To an extent at least.
This ghost was old, older than other Klaus had managed to communicate with. He couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman, but Klaus had the feeling the spirit had hung itself here from the rafters, at some point. It hovered in the air, its neck tilted at a disturbing angle. Dark eyes glared balefully at Klaus, the screaming still continuing on.
Klaus rolled his eyes, pressing his head against the wooden wall behind him. He thumped it again, and again, until he had a rhythm going that made a counterpoint to the ghost’s wails.
“I get it, you’re eternally damned and fucking pissed about it. I’m sorry! I’m not the one who decided that a rope necklace would be a neat fashion accessory!”
Nothing. The ghost seemed incapable of making words. Still, Klaus blinked as the flicker of an image appeared in his mind’s eye. It was degraded, like a very old photograph. He squinted, making out three images: A little girl crying, a wedding ring, and an overwhelming feeling of loss.
“I can’t help you. Chances are, the people you’ve lost are dead too.” Klaus closed his eyes, shutting out the image of the ghost. His voice fell quiet with defeat. “Don’t you get it?” He thought about Dave, and how try as he might he could never get the man to appear in front of him. “They’re not here anymore. They’re gone, moved on.”
To his surprise, the screaming lessened. Klaus opened his eyes, still clutching the wine bottle to his chest. The ghost appeared to be looking at him curiously, and he got the uncomfortable, prickling sensation of someone else’s interest on the back of his neck.
“Why am I here?” He asked. The ghost didn’t reply, but it showed the image again of the girl, this time with a feeling of question. Klaus found he understood, and maybe it was the alcohol but the feeling sent an ache through his chest as he thought of Claire, and his brothers and sisters.
“Yeah, I have someone like that. People, really.”
The image of the wedding ring again, once more with the question. Klaus clutched the wine bottle harder around its neck.
“Yeah. I had someone. He’s… not here, though. Not anymore.”
The ghost seemed to contemplate this, which in itself was kind of a new thing for Klaus. Usually, there was more unholy screeching when he revealed to a ghost that it was dead. He blinked blearily up at it, trying to figure out just what it wanted from him. The ghost brought the image of the girl to him again, this time with new feelings- love, and warmth, and an echo of a hug around Klaus’ shoulders.
Klaus didn’t want to understand, this time. He swallowed tightly, feeling shame creep through him as he realized what he was doing: contemplating his own death while his family probably worried over him. He smiled, the feeling fragile.
“Yeah… guess I’m being a little stupid, aren’t I?”
The ghost was no longer wailing. Klaus couldn’t see its face but it seemed to drift closer to him. For once, Klaus wasn’t exactly afraid of it. He let it come closer, and he set the wine bottle down on the wooden floorboards.
“But you… your people aren’t here. Not anymore, yeah? I’m sorry. I know it’s scary, but if you want to see them, you need to leave this place.”
The ghost moaned, the sound sad and lost. Klaus could make them out a little more clearly, now. He caught the image of a man, his hands over his face as he sobbed wordlessly for someone, or something. He felt the emotion that slid over him like a second skin- an echo of guilt holding the ghost in place like chains. He’d left them, Klaus realized. He’d left in the worst way possible.
“You can let go of all of that.” Klaus whispered gently. “Things have changed, since then. They won’t care, not anymore. They’ll just want to see you again. I’m sure of it.”
The ghost flickered, and Klaus saw the man lift his head. He had wild, unkempt blonde hair, and brown eyes in a heavy-set face. Klaus saw the resemblance in the hair to the little girl the ghost had shown him. “You can let go of it.” He said “It’s alright. There’s nothing holding you down here. Not anymore. You don't have to live in the past.”
Klaus suddenly didn’t want the wine anymore, watching the ghost begin to fade even as the sun began to set orange through the slats of the attic window. He felt a heaviness go with the ghost, like he too was flying.
With it, there was the sound of the pin pad being opened, and several pairs of feet scrambling up the stairs. With it, Klaus felt maybe he was seeing things clearly for the first time.