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Every person that you need to be, or: Nothing is ever so simple, when you're a Hargreeves

Chapter Text

The halls of the academy were quiet, save from the faint sound of violin music and Klaus’ echoing footsteps. It was usually quiet these days, ever since they re-built the academy. Stopped the apocalypse. Lost mum. Moved in together.

The last year went by in a blur of renovation and healing- their new and improved home fit for all seven of them, was standing tall like the embodiment of overcome childhood trauma. Or something like that.

Man, maybe he should get into poetry, Klaus mused, as he climbed the staircase to his space. This was some deep lyrical shit he’s just come up with on the spot. Imagine the potential.

He had time for another hobby, now that he was mostly sober. The day had so many more hours when you’re consciously aware of every single one of them. And he had the therapy and the AA meetings and his knitting- but there were only a certain number of hours you could fill with motivational sob-stories and colorful scarves. Some days he and Ben practiced his powers- both equally glad and terrified that he harbored a very big potential after all. Who would have guessed (save for the old monster they mistakenly referred to as their father)?

The ghosts ceased to bother him, now that he still felt powerful in their presence. He could control them. He spent most of his life believing the opposite.

Turns out, he was wrong about a lot of things.

They all were. (Here, he had to smile when the music stopped and some shuffling in the general direction of the shared kitchen reached his ears. It was good to have Vanya with them now. They all tried to make up for lost time). It was good to have Ben almost corporal back with them, too. Something good coming out of this clusterfuck of an apocalypse. Like a flower growing out of a dumpster.

 

“I should write that down,” Klaus said aloud to himself. Somewhere in his near proximity, he felt Ben’s presence roll his eyes. Now that he could be corporal for a couple of hours a day, Ben was bonding with the rest of his siblings, but he and Klaus still spent most of their time in companionship. Klaus didn’t think he would be able to give that up. Ben had grown to be a part of himself, he would be terribly lost if he would just… disappear.

“Don’t,” he tutted in the direction of his ghost-brother, who only eyed him over the rim of his newest book. “We can’t be all Whitman, but I’m getting there.”

“Whitman is overrated.”

“For shame, brother!”

“I’m still surprised you can read.”

Klaus chuckled to himself. His dear dead brother had “grown” into such a snarky little shit, the others were shocked into silence the first time they had witnessed the banter between them. “Being dead does that to a guy, I guess,” Klaus had explained in a fit of giggles and Ben had slapped him across the head for that (and was giddy for a whole two hours after that he was able to do that now).

Ah, fond memories.

He could use some more of those.

Again, they all did.

Part of the reason they decided to give living together another shot. It worked pretty well so far. About time they had something nice going for them.

 

When he passed Diego’s space, he was startled by an unfamiliar noise. Not, like, unfamiliar per se- he shared his consciousness with sad dead people and surrounded himself with sad ex-addicts on regular basis- but unfamiliar in connection with Diego.

It almost, almost sounded like a sob.

Which was absurd. Klaus firmly believed that Diego had punched all sense of complex emotion (save anger, naturally) out of his system like the though guy he was. Klaus couldn’t even remember the last time he had seen Diego cry. He knew he must have cried when Mum died (twice; for good now) or when his girlfriend was shot, but… Klaus had never seen it. Struggled to remember ever seeing it. Maybe the day when Ben died…

A crash followed. That was a familiar Diego-sound.

Klaus felt the need to investigate this strange occurrence. Diego had, seemingly, taken the fewest hits out of them all, bounced right back to his old self. Attended only a small amount of therapy compared to the rest of them, was even actively looking for a better job now. Klaus secretly envied this sense of purpose. Most days- when the dead weren’t getting on his nerves or he had to fight the urge to numb his senses or he missed Dave so much that it physically hurt- he didn’t really know what to do with himself. He had passed advertisements for community college classes every day for the past week, but somehow (despite Ben’s motivational taunts) he couldn’t gather his courage to actually enroll. There were things he wanted to try; things he genuinely enjoyed, like art or make-up or design or cooking (although Vanya and Alisson were him teaching him pretty well, his baking skill surpassed them by now), yet somehow, something was holding him back.

Maybe it was the looming sense of failure that was manifested around him since he was old enough to remember.

Thanks, Dad.

 

When he knocked on the door, the noises abruptly stopped.

“Diego? Are you decent? (A question he learned to make his highest priority, since that time he collided face-first with Luther’s ape chest) I’m coming in now-“

Holy shit.

He was decent.

But that was the only positive thing to say about the situation.

 

The bed (a nice, big one with a dark frame, the kind of bed Diego would have never been able to fit in his shitty boiler room “apartment”) was littered with paper scraps, which looked like they belonged to documents which had been stabbed to death.

In the middle of them sat Diego, knife still in hand, chest heaving, with– sweet baby Jesus on a bicycle - tears streaming down his face.

“Damn.” Even Ben had looked from his book.

The situation felt so thoroughly foreign that Klaus considered, for the briefest of moments, just escaping right through the door and going his merry way, forgetting that ever happened. However, he already had been a pretty shitty brother for most of his life.

Every day is a new opportunity for progress,” Karen from AA reminded him in his head.

Alright, then.

 

“Diego, hey. Are you okay? Nope, forget it, stupid question. Of course, you’re not okay.”

Being high all the time had made him forget how incredibly socially awkward he actually was. High Klaus was the life of the party and drunk Klaus had no inhibitions whatsoever. Sober Klaus however… Well. Social situations were hard sometimes, okay? He mostly relied on Ben to guide him through them, which was pretty pathetic now that he thought about it. His ghost brother charmingly agreed with him.

Diego’s big brown eyes, normally hard and unreadable, were now soft and open. And they bore into Klaus which such unmasked emotion that he felt momentary weak.

Diego looked sad. Really, really fucking sad.

And small.

Something in Klaus itched to hug him.

He didn’t, of course. Diego wasn’t big on physical affection, and Klaus wasn’t exactly keen on being stabbed for starting an attempt now.

Still. The itch was pretty strong.

Klaus had a big old heart, after all. (Being sober was turning him soft. That was actually a good sign, he figured. Meant he started caring about things again. Which was, you know, progress).

 

He tentatively got closer to the bed, until his knees were softly bumping against the frame. He was almost in Diego’s personal space (something his sibling was especially defensive about), so he halted and watched and freaked out inside. He wasn’t sure if he was qualified to deal with this situation. He was a wreck himself, after all. A pretty wreck, but a wreck, nonetheless.

Then again, his pretty wreck ass avoided the apocalypse.

He might have a shot at comforting his normally stoically collected brother having an absolute meltdown. Diego would do the same for him- heck, had done the same for him on more occasions than Klaus could count.

Oh, boy. He really had to make up for being the worst brother ever, and that took into account that one of his brothers had vanished for years and the other had sat around twiddling his thumbs on the moon. Klaus didn’t have that kind of excuses. He just had been a pretty shitty person.

And it had been Diego, always Diego, who had picked him up from dubious locations where he crashed on his last highs, who defended him against the vile company he chose to surround himself with, who patiently listened to him making empty promises about making this and the next and the tenth rehab last (after being scared shitless from the multiple near overdoses he experienced). He owed Diego this, and if he’s been honest with himself, so much more that he possibly couldn’t pay back in his lifetime.

 

“What’s wrong?”

For a moment, it actually looked like he would get a straight-up answer for this (something that, quite frankly, never happened, ever, in this family unless the question was apocalypse related) but then Diego just scrunched up his face and avoided Klaus’ gaze.

“Little help here, buddy,” Klaus murmured, hopefully low enough for his brother to miss it, in Ben’s general direction.

The ghost let out an audible sigh and complained lowly about socially inept brothers, needing the dead to sort out their business. Klaus thought Ben was being pretty sassy right now, considering the only reason he could even interact with them was said ‘socially inept’ brother.

“Use context clues,” Ben then answered, slightly sheepish because Klaus, after all, had a valid point.

 

Klaus focused on the paper, or more accurately, what was left of it, scattered on and around the bed. Some chunks were bigger than others, and they were just about enough to paint the picture.

Just because Diego looked for jobs didn’t necessarily mean he got invited to a lot of interviews. Naturally, he had kept quiet about the whole thing, nobody really knew how many applications (or for which jobs, for that matter) he had sent out, neither how many rejections he got.

Klaus had the sinking feeling that this wasn’t the first one.

But from what he could piece together, this one was a though one to overcome.

Klaus didn’t know why Diego was expelled from the police academy, nor did he give it much thought until that very moment. But there must have been some reason or another; Diego with his helper syndrome and skills was a nearly perfect fit for the job. Apparently, the academy didn’t think so.

Klaus started to feel awful for Diego, it must take enormous guts to re-apply for something you failed at in the past and it surely must be a devastating sensation to be denied a second chance.

 

“I’m sorry. You’ll find something else.”

How frustrating the situation might be, Klaus was still far more concerned with Diego’s extreme reaction to it. It was just a job after all. And Diego looked like someone had just killed his puppy.

“N-n-n-o.”

Klaus almost did a double take for several reasons: 1) Diego spoke to him (hooray!), without him having to pester his brother; 2) The reasoning was childish, of course he would find something else; 3) the stutter.

Christ, he had forgotten about the stutter.

It had been ages since he last heard it, nothing but a faint memory at some point, nothing not only vaguely connected to the person his brother seemed to be. Everything in Diego radiated self-control, that it was easy to forget the troubles he had to overcome as a kid. Was, apparently, still overcoming every single day. A complicated feeling of fondness swelled in Klaus’ chest.

 

Diego looked infuriated with himself. He opened his mouth to continue, but it was blatantly obvious that he was struggling to form the words.

 “T-t-t-this is the o-o-o-only (here, he took a big breath) thing, I-I-I’m good at.”

“Hey now, that’s not true. You have loads of talents. You’re probably the smartest out of all of us, right after Five-“ Here, Ben cleared his throat audible. “You’re dead, that doesn’t count; you’re not helping,” Klaus hissed between clenched teeth, before focusing his attention back to his distraught brother.

It was unusual for Diego to be insecure.

Then again, a lot of things were unusual about this whole situation.

 

Diego just shook his head. “S-s-s-s-stupid,” he said, as if it would naturally explain everything.

“You’re not stupid, oh my God, don’t listen to the stuff Five says, everybody’s stupid compared to him-“

“N-n-n-not him.” Here, Diego gathered up some of the snippets and shoved them in Klaus’ direction. “A-a-a-a-all of them,” he continued, fat tears still running down his cheeks.

Klaus made the executive decision that he needed to take control over this situation. This (slightly violent) self-loathing fest would not continue if he could help it. Diego was genuinely a good guy, he shouldn’t feel beat down by the expectations of some people who didn’t even bother to get to know him.

And, granted, he still wasn’t sure what was going on with Diego. Something creeped up in the back of his head, something he had encountered in his clubbing days, something that would explain…. But surely this wasn’t it, right? It was a pretty bizarre thought. Diego, slipping into little space? Ridiculous.

But…

Then again, maybe not so much.

Everything was possible when it came to the Hargreeves.

 

Right, he needed a game plan. Some tactics. Stuff that usually Diego was very good at. The irony didn’t quite slip past him, but he couldn’t appreciate it as much as he normally would. Not when an emotionally unstable Diego was still clutching a knife in his hand; a fact that was quite frankly alarming to Klaus.

“Diego, darling, could you put the knife down? Stabbing might not be the best solution to this problem.”

Somehow, Diego managed to look even more upset about this statement, which made Klaus snicker, before he could stop himself. It was adorable, in a very weird kind of way.

“I know, I know, aren’t I terrible,” he said good-naturedly, but watched keenly until the weapon was secured away in a safe distance from both of them. Klaus highly doubted that his brother was in the right state of mind to be near dangerous stuff, even though dangerous stuff was usually his forte.

Obvious danger diffused; the more delicate part of the operation began.

Despite all of his encounters with sad, frustrated, depressed (or all of the above) individuals, Klaus was pretty shit at comforting people. He was, more generally, pretty shit at a lot of things (including taking care of himself, jogging, healthy eating and winning against Vanya in Mario Kart, just to name a few). However, his usual mantra of ‘Fake it till you make it’ seemed hardly appropriate for such a delicate matter.

No, he had to take some inspiration. Maybe get help. Who was good at comforting people? More importantly, who was good at comforting Diego?

The answer made his heart sink right into his stomach.

It couldn’t be easy, not even fucking once.

 

“You know what always helps me feel better?” Klaus heard himself say in a horrible imitation of Mum’s cheerful attitude. “A hug!”

Diego, obviously, wasn’t buying any of the shit that he was selling.

“D-d-don’t m-m-mock me.”

The fake smile fell right from Klaus’ face. “I wasn’t,” he replied more quietly, more like himself. “I thought it might… you know what? I’ll just leave you alone for a bit. Let you sort it out by yourself. Right, I’m going-“

There weren’t any disapproving comments from the side-lines, indicating Ben had left to give them some privacy. How Ben could be the one with the highest social and emotional intelligence out of all of them still baffled Klaus to a certain extent (and made him, when he thought about it longer than not at all, really fucking sad. Ben would have been an amazing person, a person the world needed more desperately than another fucked-up junkie).

Just as Klaus was about to turn on his heel and escape the room (his preferred way of handling problems), he felt a pull on his wrist that prevented him from moving and before he could process what was happening, he found his mid-section encircled by a still-sitting Diego.

He could only stare dumbfounded as his strong, stoic, badass brother hugged his stomach and buried his face against Klaus’ black tank top (formerly owned by Allison).

Well.

Progress?

Kind of.

He did offer a hug, after all. Not what he had in mind, but he could work with it.

 

Diego’s breath was warm against the thin material of his clothes and some of the wetness from the tears was seeping through the fabric. With the proximity, it should have something at least akin to sexual (Diego was a pretty hot guy, after all. Klaus could, on some aesthetic level, very much appreciate that and he would be lying if he said that he hadn’t thought about them in compromising situations from time to time), yet it somehow wasn’t. It was just sweet in a sad and desperate kind of way, Diego clinging to him, seeking warmth and comfort.

Hesitatedly, Klaus placed his hands flat on Diego’s shoulders to offer the man some grounding. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had touched Diego. Couldn’t remember the last time Diego had let him.  Didn’t dare to remember the last time anyone had touched Diego in such a gentle way.

It made him angry at the world, angry at their father, angry at himself.

Because Diego was good and kind and nice, but also so broken that he hid all of it. Maybe, when he ran away at 15, he should have taken Diego with him. Surely, both of their lives would have been a whole lot different, then.

 

“I m-m-m-miss Mum.”

Just like that, Klaus’ heart broke. The statement, in itself terribly sad, was addressed in the smallest, most pitiful voice he had ever heard. Coming from Diego only made it ten times worse.

“A-a-and Eu-Eu-Eu-Eu-“

“I’m so sorry,” Klaus saved him from his misery. He was clearly struggling to address the death of his sort-of-girlfriend in more ways than speech-production-wise. They had never talked about it. Then again, Diego had never wanted to talk about anything. Even at their family dinners, which were nowadays filled with honest, heartfelt, and happy conversations, Diego usually refrained to talk about himself. Up until this point, Klaus assumed there wasn’t just anything to talk about.

His brother tightened his grip around him, so tight that Klaus felt it physically restricting him. He didn’t say a word about it, however. It was clear that Diego desperately needed something to hold onto. Klaus was very familiar with that feeling. After he had lost Dave, for the longest time, he felt like every little breeze could shatter him to the point where he would jut shatter apart, if it wasn’t for the drugs holding him together.

 

So, they just stayed like this, for a small eternity; Diego breathing heavily and moist against Klaus’ stomach, Klaus stroking over the black leather of Diego’s ever-present harness.

It felt, dare he say, almost domestic.

The small eternity gave him some time to think, too. If it should be the case that Diego’s behavior might be explained by him slipping into a more vulnerable, more childish mind-set to deal with the overwhelming disappointment and grief he was experiencing, Klaus most definitely had research to do. And a conversation to have, once Diego was resurfaced and more like himself again.

Big himself, that was. Stubborn, stoic, emotionally constipated himself.

Fun.

Klaus felt a flare of panic flickering deep in his insides. What. The. Fuck. Was. He. Doing. He wasn’t the caring type. As established, he was, after all, the world’s shittiest brother of all time (alright. Maybe not all time. There were some pretty fucked up things going down in biblical times. But who’s counting?). He was completely out of his depth here. Should Diego be little, he would need someone to properly care for him. Somebody able and well-equipped. Someone that wasn’t Klaus.

 

“I’m sorry for being weird,” a slightly more adult version of the same small voice piped up. Diego’s face was still hidden from view, but his grip loosened a bit. “S-s-sometimes it’s just… a-a-and then… I-I-I know it’s-“

In a flare of enthusiastic and frankly insane determination, Klaus made up his mind about himself. Diego needed someone. And he started to trust Klaus with this vulnerable side of himself. Wouldn’t it be even more shitty to go like “Alright, sweetheart, but now we gotta search for somebody else to whom you can open up to, because I’m scared of any responsibility directed my way whatsoever”?!

He could give it a try.

He owed Diego as much.

 

“Nothing wrong with a good hearty cry,” he replied, keeping voice gentle and light. He desperately wanted to pat his brother’s hair for some reason, but he wasn’t so sure if Diego would be okay with that level of physical affection.

“T-t-that’s not what I meant.”

Diego, on some level at least, was aware of his different headspaces, then. Which, all things considered, was a pretty good start.

Klaus could only begin to imagine how much Diego must have beaten himself up about it for the longest time. About crying and liking hugs and craving affection and feeling small. On a deeper level, it all made so much sense now. Hoe Diego only seemed to grow harder whenever things had been falling apart around them. How he appeared to be distant and tense and somehow very, very far away.

Klaus was no expert in coping mechanisms (ha), but he was quite an expert at feeling ashamed about his own desires.

 

“Nothing wrong with that, either.”

Here, Diego looked up at him with a very pained expression on his tear-streaked face. The amount of self-doubt and self-hatred that was mixed into Diego’s awareness of his unusual coping mechanisms was blatantly written all over his face.

Klaus hated that it was there, hated that Diego thought the only good version of himself had to be a version devoid of everything that made him human.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he combed his finger’s through Diego’s now unruly hair.

 

“Do you still remember how I puked all over your new car-seats after this hellish bender when we were 27?”

It was a testimony of their weirdly beautiful connection that that, of all things, made Diego smile a tiny little bit. “The one where you fell out of love with tequila?” he asked, his voice now more even and much hoarser, the trace of the stutter gone again. Hidden.

“That exact one, my darling. Do you still remember what you told me when I sat there, all down and hating myself?”

Diego just looked at him for a moment, obviously struggling with himself, with all of this. With opening up, now that Klaus had witnessed his little breakdown.

“C’mon, I know you do.”

Diego sighed. “It was sappy and stupid, I only said it because you looked like you were about to bawl…”

Klaus didn’t budge.

Diego sighed louder and buried his face against Klaus’ stomach again. They had already gone that way, so why deny himself the comfort which it offered him?

 

“I’ll keep you save tonight,” he mumbled, recalled his own wording. He had been in emotional turmoil, hating the way Klaus so obviously hated himself, how he tormented his body, and how helpless Diego felt every time Klaus called him in that breathy, tight voice, asking him to pick him up. Klaus had only called when he had had way too much, when he was shaking and out of sorts and downright afraid to be alone, afraid that whatever was raging in his body might kill him for real, this time.

It were dark memories. Then in a sense, all of Diego’s memories were.

“And you did. That night and any other. Let me repay the favor. Let me keep you safe right now. And whenever you need it.”

“I don’t know, K-K-Klaus.”

 

Except, he did know. At least, some part of him knew. A part he wasn’t overly familiar with, a part he kept well-hidden, a part buried within all his hard layers.

A small part.

He didn’t really have a word for it (though Klaus seemed to know what was going on, so there must be a word for it), it was just some sort of bubbly feeling that came over him whenever… and sometimes just… out of the blue.

He usually swallowed it down. Usually, he didn’t indulge in the desires that welled up within him whenever he was like that. It was strange. Abnormal. Sick.

He was a grown man. A tough grown man.

He really…. Really shouldn’t. But Klaus was being so nice. Diego didn’t think anybody except for Mum had ever been so nice to him. It made him feel things; fuzzy, vulnerable things, and it was hard to keep his focus, it was hard to keep all his walls up when all he actually wanted to do was to let Klaus in.

He knew he could trust Klaus.

Somehow, he always did.

 

“I don’t know, either, DeeDee.” (at this sweet, uncharacteristic nickname, Diego’s resolve slipped even more, melting away. Wouldn’t it be nice to just… indulge for once? Just to see how it was, when this bubbly, floaty feeling wasn’t immediately labeled as something… bad? Weak?)

“But we could just figure it out together.” And didn’t that sound like just what he needed?

 

It was a risk.

It was also pretty stupid.

In a moment of enthusiastic and frankly insane determination, Diego decided for right now he didn’t care.

Just like Klaus decided that it didn’t really matter if he knew what he was doing, at least for now. For now, it was enough to make Diego waffles with little chocolate syrup smiley faces and be a big brother.

He could do this, for now.

And everything else would come to them with time, he was pretty sure of it.

 

Chapter Text

Things weren’t easy.

That just was a general rule in life. Most things weren’t easy. Important things definitely weren’t easy, emotional things weren’t easy, relationships weren’t easy.

But.

Right now, things were better than expected.

 

So, there was the occasional fall-out, either on Klaus’ side or Diego’s, whether it was drug withdrawal  related (aka those days when the underside of Klaus’ skin burned and he shook so much he couldn’t bring a cup of tea to his mouth without spilling it) or shame curtesy of toxic masculinity (aka those days when Diego wouldn’t even look at him and locked himself up in the Academy gym for hours, to punch every last inch of softness and vulnerability out of his system).

But they helped each other through down-times somehow. It seemed like a happy coincidence that their insecurities fit together like frazzled jigsaw-pieces (aka those days when Klaus felt a sense of purpose even though he was shattering apart, because Diego helped him enroll in community college classes and generally kept him busy and distracted; or those days when Klaus sneaked into the gym in the early hours of the morning, with gauze for Diego’s bleeding knuckles and blankets and a jug filled with hot chocolate and they stayed huddled together, watching the sunrise through the gym’s big ceiling windows).

 

Klaus still preferred it over living in a hazy daze between bars and clubs and seedy apartments. Dare he say, things were actually quite good right now. Example A: Sobriety (although a bitch to achieve and a struggle to keep); Example B: Purpose (he was the top of his make-up-design class and now made a casserole that was even better than Mum’s); Example C: Control (mostly over his powers, but also over his own body); Example D (although most importantly): Family. And, especially, Diego.

Yes, Diego probably was the best damn thing about all of the above.

The new aspect of their relationship had evolved quite organically and seemed to fit quite well into their new lifestyle. Of course, it still was weird sometimes. Of course, there were obstacles and struggles and problems they couldn’t solve. But their age-play dynamic helped. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, Diego’s little space didn’t demand anything drastic (although Klaus would be on board with almost everything, as long as it kept Diego as happy and well-balanced as we was right now), rather softer versions of things that adult Diego liked but denied himself. Movies and sweets and cuddles. It seemed to be Diego’s way of punishing himself, a more complex sort of torment. While Klaus used to actively try to destroy his own body, Diego’s way to keep himself suffering and centered was through denial. There was a thin line between the lifestyle Diego lead because he genuinely enjoyed exercising and eating healthy and the moments it turned into an excessive crusade because Diego also genuinely believed that he had to do it, that he didn’t deserve things like movies and sweets and cuddles. That he needed to prove himself before he was allowed to enjoy his life. Because he was Number Two. Always Number Two. Only Number Two.

It was a sad testimony confirming how much Reginald’s regime had crept into their brains and hearts, nestling and growing in there like a tumor. These moments made Klaus feel helpless. How could he- the addict, the lunatic, the family disappointment- show Diego the way to overcome ingrained childhood trauma? Who did he think he was, trying to show Diego that they were people and not numbers. He was only Number Four, after all. Always Number Four.

 

But he had managed to escape. He left. And left Diego behind. Diego, in all his 15-years-old stuttering reckless confidence, blocking the door so Klaus wouldn’t leave; telling him he was going with him, that Klaus didn’t have to go alone. But Klaus knew he had to, because Diego didn’t belong where he would go. To the dark places. Diego was good. Diego could learn from the training of the Academy to become a cop, the best cop there would be. All of this, he told Diego, in a sad breathy voice because he couldn’t bring it over himself to tell his brother the real reason.

The reason why he had never reached out to any of them for the longest time, the reason that he only started to reach out to Diego after he had found him multiple times in alleyways or during nightclub drug boosts.

The reason he erased himself out of the family. Reginald’s reason. The words he would never forget as long as he lived, the words that were engrained behind his eyelids when he closed his eyes.

 

You are like cancer.

It had been after a mission. Klaus didn’t cooperate, didn’t want to anymore. Was still high. Had sneaked out the night before. Their father had been fuming. Klaus didn’t care.

Not even when he was screamed at, it hardly mattered. He knew he was the disappointment of the family, he had heard it every single day for years; like a sick mantra, a prayer. Words already didn’t reach him anymore, he usually felt detached and very very far away.

“You are like cancer for the Academy. You demand your siblings’ attention and drag them down into your own spiral of self-hatred, until the only thing they care about is your misery.”

He loved his siblings. He really did. That’s why he went away. Because he loved them and wanted what’s best for them. And that wasn’t him.

Reginald’s reason, the words he would mutter to himself over and over in the dark, to ghosts, still now, sometimes. The words which made him leave, because he loved them and saw that they were unhappy whenever he got screamed at or got high or talked about the ghosts. The only thing he had ever believed coming from that monster of a man.

I am like cancer.

 

Only just now, when they would all sit together chatting happily; when he and Allison backed cookies and joked with Luther; when Five grinned at him for saying something quote “surprisingly smart”; when Ben hugged him first whenever he made him corporal; when Vanya played his favorite pieces on the violin just because she knew he liked them; when Diego looked at him like that….

Only just now, he realized that he hadn’t been the disease of the family.

One day, he would tell them, maybe. But not now. Not when they were happy. Not when the words slowly faded from behind his eyelids.

 

Most days, Klaus was pretty confident in his caregiver abilities, mostly because Diego never demanded more than he knew Klaus could give. Actually, Diego didn’t demand anything at all. He just took all the nice things offered to him like it was a blessing, like he couldn’t believe that he really deserved them.  Instead of screaming into his pillow in the middle of the night when he could be sure Diego beside him was fast asleep (because that was a thing that happened now, regardless of Diego’s headspace), Klaus did his very best to channel the bone-deep resentment and hatred that welled up in his chest into positive energy. Trying to be the best version of himself, always. For Diego.

It wasn’t easy with Diego.

But it was easier.

Their other siblings now, that was a different story. Diego was strongly opposed to share his ‘secret’ with them under any circumstances (he chose to exclaim this sentiment in a much more vulgar und gruesome manner, but Klaus would paraphrase it like this if he’d ever been asked. Diego had a foul mouth on himself, even some of the dead sailors in Klaus’ presence would blush if they still had blood circulation). While Klaus could on some level agree that Diego’s ‘dark and mysterious vigilante’ persona would suffer a drastic blow would they come to know about his little side, Klaus didn’t particularly like keeping secrets from them. Not when miscommunication naturally had been the root of all evil in this family for decades.

But Diego had made him pinky promise and everybody knows that pinky promises are binding contracts that shan’t be disobeyed.

Needless to say, their day to day life was interesting. Not just because of the secrecy, but simply because of the sheer proximity to each other they all found themselves in now. After all, they were all just getting to know each other anew, in a Reginald- and apocalypse-free environment. Living together was challenging; they all had their special quirks and some adjustments had to be made, not an easy feat when every family member was equally stubborn (Klaus’ pet peeve of the week, for example, was the fact that Luther was stealing his Girlscout Cookies and attempted to justify himself with bullshit excuses like ‘There were no Girlscouts on the moon, Klaus’ like that somehow made him entitled to all the Girlscout Cookies in the Academy now and he didn’t totally commit a thievery crime).

But at the end of the day, that hardly mattered.

It was good to have good days again.

 

The present day made out to be a very good day for Klaus, even.

To celebrate battling demons, Karen from AA invited the whole gang to a little get-together to her hometown Vermont. Klaus never went there (or really, anywhere, except for this damn city and Vietnam) and thus he had been incredibly excited; not only at the prospect of travel, but also about the prospect of having friends. That weren’t Hargreeves. Or dead.

It was only a three days stay, but he was giddy and anxious at the same time when Diego drove him to the airport. Diego had listened to him ramble patient like always, gently smiling to himself. And while Klaus was mostly hyped to spent quality time with people who genuinely seemed to like him (what a strange concept), he was also quite worried about the person he liked best.

They hadn’t been apart for longer than a few hours since they started age-playing. Not even at night. Especially not at night. Klaus wished that he could say they worked out a reasonable schedule for little time, but since Diego was absolutely unwilling to acknowledge the fact that he was dropping right before it happened, it was anybody’s game. Klaus (or more accurately, Ben) had read many articles about the beneficial influence of age-play with mental health problems and, apparently, some order and routine was a given when the experience should be cathartic and healing. But Klaus was really bad with order and routine; and Diego was really bad with his own feelings; so they just stumbled along, most of the time.

It was good, really good, when it happened, but until that point it was unpredictable and chaotic.

So, of course, Klaus had his doubts. He hated the thought of leaving Diego alone when he might need him.

 

“Hey, what’s going on? You’ve grown quiet..” Diego nudged his knuckles gently against Klaus’ ankle, which had gotten exposed because he propped his feet up on the dashboard of Diego’s car.

“… maybe I shouldn’t go.” The easy smile slid off Diego’s face and got replaced by a concerned frown.

“Is something wrong? You were so excited just minutes ago. Are you feeling unwell?”

“No! No… I’m just peachy. It’s just….” He gestured between them. “Maybe it’s too soon,” he added softly, almost as an afterthought. He watched Diego’s profile, the way his jaw tightened, and his mouth grew into a thin line.

Diego had been avoiding talking about it like the plague. And that, to be honest, made Klaus feel terribly lost sometimes. He did his best, but if Diego didn’t talk to him, it was impossible to know what he needed.

“In case,” he continued because the silence in the car felt suffocating, “you want or need to be little-“

“Don’t,” Diego interrupted him sharply. Klaus recoiled a bit, in spite of himself.  Diego’s emotions could be pretty intimidating. He wasn’t keen on having all the frustration and anger he knew was there directed at him. Not now, when things were so good between them. Not now, when they were like real brothers and friends and… more. The truth was, Klaus hadn’t felt this connected to someone in a terribly long time and the thought of endangering this was terrifying.

Noticing his apprehension, Diego softened his voice in apology and placed his warm palm against Klaus’ ankle, “You deserve this.”

“I know, but-“

“Then let’s not talk about this anymore. We’re almost there.”

 

Klaus suppressed the urge to sigh. Not talking about it was big Diego’s approach to anything age-play related which was exhausting for him. There was so much left unsaid and undiscussed which they should have done ages ago. They were steadily working towards a pattern that could possibly have disastrous consequences.

But there was no use trying to argue with someone as stubborn as Diego about this; not now when they were approaching the drop-off zone at the terminal.

The others were already gathered there and the sight eased some of Klaus’ tension. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, after all. They could figure it out, even if Diego should drop. Ben had agreed to stay behind and watch Diego and although Klaus was wary about not having Ben at his side for three whole days (considering they had for the longest time spend every one of Klaus’ waking moments together), he appreciated the sentiment. Ben couldn’t be much of a help, since he couldn’t interact with or be seen by Diego, but he would alert Klaus of anything happening even if Diego wouldn’t.

The car stopped some feet away from the group, who had recognized Klaus and were now waving happily. Klaus found that it was almost impossible to keep dwelling in gloomy thoughts. He slung his overnight backpack around his shoulder and started one last attempt.

“Diego? Just promise you will call? When you feel little?”

There was an eye-roll but there also was a miniscule nod, so Klaus counted it as a win.

 

Then, Diego’s expression softened like it did ever so often when they were alone and the possibility of them being something more didn’t seem all too farfetched.

He lend over in Klaus’ personal space and pressed a gentle kiss against Klaus’ lips. It never failed to take Klaus off-guard when it happened (not often, a handful of times at most), especially because of the warmth that erupted from the point of contact, traveling through his whole body.

That was also a thing that was just happening now.

Diego kissing him. But not just kissing him, no sir. Kissing him like it meant something. Kissing him like people in relationships did. Kissing him like he wanted Klaus to be his. It was the most bitter-sweet fantasy.

They also didn’t really talk about that.

But Klaus could entertain the idea. Honestly, he could. Sometimes he felt like it must be blatantly obvious that he was falling in love with Diego (at least, that’s what Karen said whenever he talked about him).

It were moments like these that made him wonder if Diego was falling in love with him, too. (if someone like Diego could fall in love with someone like him. Diego, who, might still grieve for the love he has lost; lost because of Klaus on some very complicated, very complex level. This was the one thing Klaus didn’t mind they didn’t talk about. He himself didn’t know if he’d be able to endure this conversation).

 

The kiss ended after just a moment but left Klaus breathless nonetheless, heart pounding from the way Diego had wrapped one had possessively around the back of his neck and leand his forehead against Klaus’ for a second after they broke apart.

It was yet another side of Diego he only just now came to know; so different from his vulnerable and sweet little side; but still so incredibly Diego. And Klaus was in love with each and every one of those sides.

It had taken too many sleepless nights to come to terms with it. Which wasn’t easy with someone like Diego by his side, someone who kept all his inner workings elusive. Technically, Klaus didn’t even know if Diego was romantically and sexually interested in men, let alone him, let alone the slightly unsettling pseudo-incest aspect of it all.

But then Diego kissed him- out of the blue, just because- and all those obstacles didn’t matter as much.

Of course, he still missed Dave terribly sometimes. Summoning him had been a mental and emotional hurdle Klaus had tried to overcome for months, but in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. During the apocalypse, it seemed to be the only thing that mattered, but now he wasn’t so sure. Their love had been deep and genuine, but it had also been intense and dazing, like a fever dream. He preferred to remember it how it had been, instead of spending his days with a soul deprived of its eternal peace for his own desire. Because him still being unable to see Dave meant that Dave had safely passed on to whichever place lay beyond and bringing him back would be a conscious effort on Klaus’ part; unlike with the ghosts he saw, who were troubled and torn between a god-forsaken in-between state.

Better let the dead rest and live in the present. (He was kind of bad with these uplifting motivational speeches for himself, but at least he tried.)

Being in love with Diego felt different. Solid. Sweet. Tentative. Alive.

 

When Klaus waved after the car, he felt strangely detached and in high spirits at the same time. Something in watching Diego leave without him in the familiar car strung a chord deep within him. It only lasted a moment, though, and the feeling passed, when Karen and Tom locked arms with him and let out appreciative comments about finally seeing Klaus’ “super-hot boyfriend”. With a private smile on his lips, Klaus- for once- didn’t bother to correct them (“You don’t understand, it’s not like that, we grew up together …”).

There might be some truth in it, after all.

**

The day Klaus left, everything had been alright, he even scoffed to himself (and probably Ben, Diego wouldn’t put it past Klaus’ newly awakened mother hen-ing to get their invisible ghost brother to spy on him) about Klaus’ ridiculous worries.

Absurd, right?

He was a grown man, thank you very much, he could stand to be ‘alone’ for a couple of days. And if he tossed and turned in bed that night, it was purely muscle memory. He had just gotten used to adjust his sleeping position accordingly to another body sharing the space with him. Seriously. Nothing more.

The day after, he felt a little bit like itching out of his own skin. He bravely ignored the queasy feeling settling somewhere in the pit of his stomach and busied himself with his excessive training routine and other somewhat aimless tasks around the house. Turns out, he was almost alone, after all, because every sibling seemed to have a pretty busy schedule these past two days; they didn’t even meet for family dinner.

But that, of course, was just fine with Diego. He had lived alone for years, so it was refreshing to finally have a breather without his siblings (or, so he told himself).

When night rolled around, though, loneliness seeped into his system. The quiet was unnerving and he couldn’t seem to get comfortable with himself. He had ignored it during the day, but now it was dark and so fucking quiet and he couldn’t help noticing it.

 

“Ben?” he asked, startled how his voice pierced through the silent room. He hated how shaky it sounded.

Naturally, he didn’t really expect an answer, but was still relived when some writing magically appeared on one of Allison’s notepads they kept around in every room (her speech therapy was going great, but there were bad days).

‘Here’ it read. In Ben’s italicized, yet scribbled handwriting.

Of course. Part of Diego’s brain wanted to be annoyed at Klaus, but the bigger percentage was just glad that he wasn’t all alone. Their possibilities of interaction were limited, but just knowing Ben was there eased some of the anxiety he didn’t notice had been building in his chest.

Another scribble (it was amazing that through Klaus’ strength, Ben managed to interact with the physical world just through his link with his brother): ‘Need help?’

Diego rolled his eyes. Ben was a semi-constant part of their … (here, his brain came to a stuttering halt, unable to even think the word; the word Klaus always used which he hated because it made all of it so real)  and some of Klaus’ overbearing tendencies had obviously rubbed off on their dead brother. As if Diego needed help just because he had been alone for over a whole day…

“Just checking, buddy,” he replied in staged nonchalance, switching on the tv and pretending to be interested in the program that was showing.

Still.

It kind of made him feel better.

 

It wasn’t until two days later, early in the morning, when Diego finally surrendered.

The morning was by far the worst, the culmination of a terrible night. He didn’t sleep at all (again) and somewhere around midnight it creeped into his mind and wouldn’t leave him alone. They hadn’t… in a while, it didn’t happen frequently or anything, but this definitely was the longest time it didn’t happen since they started it.

It shouldn’t bother him. He shouldn’t even want it. But he did and he was so ashamed. It was worse now that Klaus wasn’t here, telling him it was alright to want to be cared for, to like soft things, to enjoy cuddles.

Klaus was only gone for three damn days. He would return later that very same day. Yet the need almost suffocated Diego as he lay in Klaus’ bed, because it smelled of him (he was too agitated to lie to himself about his motivation at this point). Klaus deserved the trip, Klaus deserved feeling careless, Klaus deserved being happy without a weight on his legs holding him back.

Klaus shouldn’t feel responsible for looking after Diego because Diego could look after himself. He had done so for years; if anything, he had been the one feeling responsible for Klaus during the bad phases. But now his mind was all messed up.

It wasn’t right to want vulnerability, because vulnerability meant weakness. And Diego was strong. Always strong. Somebody had to be.

 

As the sun finally rose, however, Diego admitted defeat. He wasn’t strong right now. Klaus always told him it was alright. Sometimes, Diego could almost bring himself to believe him.

But now, when his whole body radiated pent-up tension, Diego just felt like the gigantic failure he knew he was. There was a reason why he was only number two, after all.

His hands were trembling when he dialed Klaus’ number.

Anxiety churned around in his stomach, making him feel slightly nauseous. Klaus had asked for nothing but this one nice thing, and Diego couldn’t even give him that. Because he was…. because he was…

He only needed to hear Klaus’ voice, he told himself. Just to… check in. Surely, he was just worried for Klaus because Klaus was important to him. He didn’t need to make this call. He just… wanted to. For Klaus.

 

“G’morning, baby.”

The familiar warm tone (still rough from sleep) mixed with the intimate nickname reserved solely for it made Diego’s pretense slip. It was his nickname, his only. Klaus, ever since being sober, started to let glimpses of his big heart seep into his day to day interactions, so he genuinely enjoyed calling people by pet names like ‘Darling’ or ‘Honey’. But never ‘Baby’. Baby was Diego’s only. The bubble feeling, he had tried to ignore all day yesterday dared to overspill. But Diego was determined to keep the façade up for as long as he could.

“Morning, Klaus,” he replied, forcing his voice to sound calm, even though there was a certain pressure building up in his throat. Whether it was from tears or his stutter making a forceful return, Diego didn’t dare to guess. But he forced himself to swallow it down because that’s what he had been drilled to do for as long as he could remember. Forced to swallow the relief and the longing and the urge to address Klaus with one of the nicknames that were solely reserved for it. (Klaus, he knew, liked “Boo” the best, because of the irony of calling the brother who could talk to ghosts “boo”).

He was just emotional about the sweet nickname, he told himself. Nobody ever called him that; because he wasn’t sweet or precious or anything connected with the term ‘baby’. Nobody but Klaus. It seemed like he was seeing something in Diego that nobody else did. Not even Diego himself. Especially not Diego himself. The first time Klaus had called him that, he even cried a tiny little bit. Klaus was always so nice about his stupid, irrational, weird desire to…

“Are you good?”

Of course, I am. (too quickly, too loud.) How’s Vermont? You alright over there?”

A small huffed breath indicated Klaus didn’t believe him in the slightest but good-naturedly decided to play along for now. That, more than anything else, made Diego feel strangely chastised and small.

“Vermont’s lovely, thank you; a shame that we’ll leave all those magnificent mountains behind in some hours. Oh, the poetry I could write about them- ”

“I can i-i-imagine,” Diego forced out. This was normal small talk. Adults did it all the time. It shouldn’t be so fucking exhausting.

 

There was a pause at the other end. Diego could almost sense Klaus frowning to himself. When he spoke again, his voice was gentle and soft. Diego would recognize this tone anywhere.

“Ben told me you were having a rough night.”

‘Ben’s lying,’ Diego wanted to reply, but the words died on his tongue. It had been a rough night. And it was nice to know Ben had been there to watch over him. It felt… safe… which was… stupid. He had been safe all along, there wasn’t anything dangerous in the Academy. And if there had been, he’d be responsible to take it down. He was being irrational, he sternly told himself.

“I couldn’t sleep very well myself. I miss falling asleep and waking up with you.”

And just like that, Diego’s heart was in his throat, because only Klaus could be genuinely sweet like that, talking to Diego like he was… like they were… He tried to find the right words, but even in his mind, he stumbled over the syllables.

Instead, he just replied “y-y-yeah,” hoping Klaus would understand that the sentiment was reciprocated even though Diego was unable to articulate it right now. Words were leaving him fast, as the bubbly feeling fogged up his mind.

“I took a bunch of pretty photos; we can look at them tonight after dinner. Tom showed me a new recipient for hot chocolate which I’d like to try out, too, while we’re at it. I’ve been told the secret ingredient is a pinch of salt-“

Diego knew, he just knew, what Klaus was trying to do and he hated to admit that it was working. But he couldn’t be l..l…l… that, not when Klaus wouldn’t be there for a couple of hours.

“C-cool,” he forced himself to sound unimpressed by the prospect of hot chocolate and most likely lots of cuddles.

Klaus sighed quietly into the receiver. “I know you’re dropping, DeDe. And it’s okay if you want or need to. It’s okay to be little right now.”

Diego started to fidget with the hem of his shirt to busy his trembling fingers as a hot blush burned high on his cheeks.

“It’s h-h-h-harder without y-you.”

“What is?”

“E-e-every t-t-thing.“ Because, quite frankly, that was the gist of it, and speaking started to be really exhausting, mentally and emotionally.

“Aw, baby… I’ll be back before you know it.”

 

There was some shuffling on the other end of the line, as well as Klaus’ muffled voice addressing somebody else in the room.

When he spoke into the receiver again, Diego had to resist the urge to suck on his fingers. He might be l…little, but he wasn’t like an actual baby. Only babies sucked their thumbs.

“Alright, sugar plum (Diego preened from the cute nickname. It made him feel even more special), I have to get going. So, here’s what we’re gonna do-“

**

Klaus felt light-headed and happy when he turned his key in the lock to the Academy and slipped quietly inside.

The trip to Vermont had been fun and refreshing, but there was no place like home (now that he actually had a home, that is).

He had absolutely refused Diego’s offer to pick him up at the airport, even though Diego insisted (and Ben confirmed that he hadn’t been fully little but rather in an in-between-state the whole day. The call this morning hadn’t really come as a surprise (Diego wasn’t exactly subtle and Klaus had felt that he had wanted to be little for a while but just didn’t allow himself to drop) so he had plenty of time to prepare a game-plan (Luther was rubbing off on him, he thought amused).

 

Ben had been keeping a keen eye on Diego after the call, not leaving his side once to check in with Klaus. Granted, the invisible ghost brother wasn’t the best kind of babysitter-material, but he was the only babysitter-material available (Klaus had tried multiple times to make Ben corporal over a distance, but he just wasn’t strong enough yet, to his great disappointment).

Maybe, some day in the near future, when they had all the conversations which were long overdue, Diego would be comfortable enough with this part of himself to let the others see him little.

Not even this, just knowing that it was something to look out to would be an immense relive to Klaus’ conscious (yes, he was totally spiraling into an overprotective behavior pattern, but he couldn’t help himself. He would hang the moon for Diego, big or little, if the other would ask).

Klaus felt Ben’s presence beside him.

“Are we good?” he asked quietly, although the hall was completely empty, with small distant noises coming from the kitchen, indicating his siblings must have come home, too, at some point.

A spark of energy travelled through him, and then Ben was standing right next to him.

“Thanks to your plan, yes,” Ben murmured pleasantly, while pulling Klaus in for a quick hug that never failed to make him emotional. “Turns out you have good ideas from time to time.”

“You know, even a broken clock is right twice a day and all that.”

 

When Ben went upstairs to get Diego (who downright refused to be in the common areas of the Academy ever since the call), Klaus entered the kitchen and greeted the domestic scene he found before him.

The room was filled with chatter and the smell of coffee, and quiet hums of acknowledgement of his return. The genuine happiness in his siblings’ faces when they saw him still took Klaus aback sometimes.

That, however, was nothing compared to the look on Diego’s face when he sprinted into the room, too absorbed in Klaus’ arrival to feel self-conscious about his in-between state (it wasn’t like it was obvious or anything… but Diego was paranoid like that).

The force of the hug almost knocked him off-balance, when he found himself with two arms full of Diego. His heart beat wildly at the unrestrained display of affection, even though they were in front of an audience. Klaus had wanted to initiate more physical contact between them, but it wasn’t just the two of them, there was an air of untouchability Diego carefully surrounded himself with. But now, it seemed like it all melted away.

He enclosed his arms tight around Diego’s slightly shorter frame, burying his face in Diego’s shoulder. He noted that he smelled fresh, of lavender and honey, which meant he had obediently kept up with Klaus’ masterplan for an emergency drop (aka small tasks that would keep Diego occupied and distracted until Klaus was back; some self-care time being one of them. It wasn’t the best of plans, but, evidently, it had been enough).

“Diego-“

And then, Diego turned his face to him and kissed him.

Square on the mouth.

In front of their siblings.

Although they never talked about it. Not about what “it” was; not if they wanted their siblings to know; nothing.

Klaus melted into the kiss and pushed all of these worries to the back of his mind. The way Diego kissed him was forceful, yet sweet- a powerful testimony how much Diego had missed him, how much he meant to Diego.

 

The room around them had grown quiet, and when Klaus caught his breath, he realized it was the case because he kitchen was now empty.

He huffed a small laugh against Diego’s cheek. Undoubtedly, they all would pester them with questions soon enough. And maybe, by the time that happened, he even would have answers himself.

Maybe.

 

“Are you okay, baby?”

“N-now I am.”

Chapter Text

Of course, they didn’t talk about it. Not even a little bit.

Klaus tried, he did.

But, Heavens, Diego could be stubborn. And Klaus had his fair share of experiences with stubborn people, alive or otherwise. But this, this was getting ridiculous.

 

Klaus also tried to not take it personally.

Diego had always been secretive, even if they had been children and they all did their best to bond behind their father’s back to stand up against his mistreatment some day (oh, childish illusions). Diego had never talked about the things that had been done to him, the things that had been said behind closed doors. Diego just never liked to talk, past-Klaus had assumed, because he was embarrassed that he couldn’t speak very well all the time.

But now they were fucking thirty and Diego could deal with his stutter just fine, at least most of the time.

The silence and the mysterious air did wonders if Diego needed respect- whether it had been in the gym or on the streets- nobody fucks with the silent guy all dressed in leather throwing knifes about. He had to be threatening to be taken seriously on the streets. Klaus could sing a note or two about the ins and outs of street credit. He himself had gotten by just fine not relying on his strength, which was shit, but on the mysterious sex-appeal that seemed to radiate off of him. There had always been a strong thug eager to proof his manliness to him as a form of foreplay; and Klaus had taken this kind of security over fending for himself any day. Against popular belief, he never actually whored himself out for drugs; it had usually involved a more complex longing for being safe on the streets, even just for a couple of hours or better yet a couple of days. It still made him kind of a whore, but he preferred to think of it in terms as basic survival instinct. And the guys had usually been nice to him, although he certainly didn’t deserve that, and he had felt really bad when he let them go to chase another high, and then to chase another man with whom he could kid himself into feeling safe. It had been an incredible destructive circle, but a pretty effective one. Most of the time, nobody had dared to touch him, and he almost never had to fend for himself.

Naturally, Klaus understood why Diego wouldn’t just go around telling everyone randomly about his emotions and insecurities. One could never be too cautious; their acquaintance of Harold Jenkins had taught them as much.

Klaus even understood why Diego was apprehensive to talk to most of their siblings about things that moved him or made him upset (Not angry, though, as it was the only complex emotion Diego never hesitated to voice to anyone that was available). He understood where the apprehension was coming from- the constant contest with Luther subjected to him in his childhood, the suspicion towards Vanya because of the book, Five’s complete social ineptness due to his decades spend completely isolated- really, if Klaus hadn’t been the notorious over-sharer that he is, he might even hesitate to talk to these people about anything personal.

 

So, to summarize, Klaus understood that Diego in their childhood days had had his reasons, he understood why Diego now preferred to surround himself with an air of calm untouchability, he understood that Diego didn’t want to talk about his feelings to just anyone.

But over the course of their new relationship dynamics, with the age-play and the kissing, Klaus also came to understand that he apparently wasn’t just anyone to Diego.

Which lead him to the depressing conclusion that he didn’t understand why Diego wouldn’t talk to him.

 

And Klaus tried to not take it personally.

But.

He really took it personally.

 

So, they were both utter shit when it came to healthy relationships, Klaus wouldn’t claim anything otherwise (not with his sad record of “security fucks” as he referred to them now as a shining sign of his own hypocrisy). Granted, him and Dave had something really good going on. But this was neither the time, nor the place- literarily. And granted, he didn’t know if Diego was decent when it came to relationships- because, surprise, they also never really talked about that. Not about Patch- which, fair point, still was a fresh wound- but not even about the general ideas of relationships. Klaus still didn’t know if Diego actually was into blokes, and despite the kisses, couldn’t 100% tell if Diego was into him, which didn’t bode well for the prospect of a relationship.

Ben even told him as much.

Kind of disgruntled, Klaus had snapped at him if he had gotten himself a ghost girl- and/or boyfriend or why else he suddenly became the relationship expert of the family, to which Ben had only grinned at him; and now, on top of everything else, Klaus could also not stop thinking about the prospect of ghost sex.

It had been a taxing few days.

 

What has complicated matters even further was, that ever since Diego had kissed him in front of the whole family, they all just presumed that they were together (when in fact, Klaus couldn’t be sure because they never talked about it) and were playfully pestering him about details of their relationship (which he couldn’t give, because he didn’t know them himself).

“C’mon, we’ve been dying for some good boy-talk,” Allison said for the tenth time during their weekly ‘girls’ night’. “You don’t have to be so secretive with us, we’re your favorite sisters, after all.”

Klaus- feeling miserable that there was nothing he could share with them- thought he might ruin the fresh coat of nail polish he just applied to Vanya’s toenails (a compromise, since the new orchestra where she held the first chair now didn’t tolerate painted nails) if he cried into it a little bit.

He himself was dying to talk to someone (except for Ben, who was, well, dead).

But he had pinky promised to both big and little Diego that he wouldn’t tell anybody about age-play until Diego was ready (if he would ever be) and that was honestly the only aspect in their relationship that at least seemed to follow a clear progress.

So he kept quiet and hoped that his grin came off as raunchy enough that they just presumed there were so many dirty details to their ‘relationship’ that were better left unshared (although, Klaus would be dying to talk about those, too, if they would actually exist).

Only he could be lucky enough to be stuck with a sensitive, handsome, sweet guy that was also the king of emotional constipation.

 

He shouldn’t take it personally.

Diego surely had his reasons. Diego always was such a reasonable person. And it wasn’t like he wasn’t affectionate towards Klaus- he was. And it wasn’t like Klaus didn’t enjoy what they had- he did. He adored the age-play and the kisses, and the way Diego looked a him when he thought that he wasn’t looking.

It just was this, sometimes Klaus just didn’t know what to do anymore. He could see that age-play was important to Diego because it helped him cope and heal- but he didn’t know where his boundaries lay or what he actually needed from his caretaker. And Klaus couldn’t pretend to do what felt natural, because he was the least nurturing personality on the planet, safe for maybe Five. Even Ben-who, and he couldn’t stress this enough, was dead- would be a more suitable caretaker when it came to intuitive caretaking ability. And Klaus was reading about it now, he was learning, trying to be better for Diego. But more and more often he had arrived at a point where he felt helpless in the face of the great unknown surrounding what was supposed a safe space of healing.

Truth be told, he was so scared of fucking this up, and every day of Diego not talking to him about anything even remotely related to his emotions fed into this fear.

 

He even started to have nightmares about it.

When he was young, his night terrors had always circled around the same thing: the ghosts surrounding him, clawing at him, calling out to him. No waken moment he had been safe of their constant attention until they had followed him, figuratively, into his sleep. When he discovered the sweet, all-encompassing numbness the drugs offered him, the relief followed him even in his unconscious phases. It had been hard to distinguish between being asleep and being awake for years, but Klaus just presumed he must have slept sometimes and when it happened, it was a nightmare-free void of nothingness. Going through withdrawal and belated PTSD, the nightmares returned with a vengeance, as if to make up for all the years in which Klaus denied them to hunt him. Most of them were about Dave, about the war, about the torture. You know, your usual cocktail of traumatic experiences. But lately- as he, too, began to heal- they arrived at more subdued, more intimate fears. Like Diego telling him that he could never love him, because he was unlovable. Because Klaus had been a little manipulative slut. Because Diego blamed him for the death of his girlfriend. Because Diego secretly wished ChaCha would have shot him.

Klaus knew that Diego would never say something horrible like that, would never think something horrible like that. But still, the dreams always left a lingering foul aftertaste in his mouth.

 

This is how he found himself at the receiving end of one of Diego’s infamous moods.

And the day had started so well, too.

A shame to waste such a perfectly fine start of the day.

They’ve had a lovely breakfast, just the two of them, when suddenly Five had popped in from somewhere, un-ceremonially dumping their mail on the table and vanishing again almost immediately. From the number of letters addressed to Diego (three in total), Klaus guessed some of them were answers from the applications he presumed Diego had written at some point. The whole job-situation remained a touchy subject, so Klaus was tapping in the dark about it, too. The amount of topics Diego was actually willing to discuss with him stood as a sad handful compared to the heap of topics Diego didn’t discuss with him.

Klaus tried to wash his disappointment down with a long gulp of coffee. It didn’t work.

 

From the moment Diego had opened the letters to skim them briefly, things had started to go astray. His face had clouded over with a stormy expression and he abruptly left the table with some half-assed excuse about training.

Klaus sighed some more into his coffee, by now quite used to such sudden departures. The only time when Diego didn’t immediately run away from Klaus (and his own emotions, presumably) was when he was little. Klaus traced the rim of the cup absent-mindedly with his pointer finger, pondering about the differences between big and little Diego; counting the days since Diego last dropped (it had been a while); cursing himself for failing to come up with an age-play routine that would dispose the tension of sudden drops (but that’s kind of hard to do on your own).

With a sigh, he stood too, dumped the mug in the sink to be taken care of later, and on his way out of the kitchen caught sight of a paper lying on the floor. Picking it up, he realized Diego must have dropped it on his way out. His eyes fell on it purely by accident (despite popular belief, he wasn’t one for snooping around in his sibling’s things, unless it was Alisson’s wardrobe or make-up collection), gluing on the first line.

 

‘We’re sorry to inform you-‘ So, that had caused the mood to change, then. Klaus was with Diego on this one, rejections did sting something awful.

He should have stopped reading there, probably, but Klaus wasn’t a saint by any means and a childish urge to nose around in Diego’s private life egged him on.  He wouldn’t have to do it like this, if Diego would just communicate like a normal human being.

 

“Maybe he just doesn’t want you to know,” Ben huffed behind him, unimpressed by his brother’s ‘sneaky’ behavior.

Klaus sneered at Ben so he wouldn’t see the black void the simple statement had opened up in his heart, since there might be some truth in it, after all.

“Impossible, brother dear, since I’m an absolute delight.”

“You’re an absolute prat, as far as I’m concerned.”

“You’re not concerned, Benny dearest. Now shoo, go have ghost sex or whatever.”

Klaus knew he was being unreasonably irritable, but something about the whole situation was rubbing him the wrong way. Ben, quite used to Klaus’ temper, only rolled his eyes and left in the direction of the (new and improved) library of the academy.

 

Klaus proceeded to read the document stubbornly (although, quite honestly, it wasn’t his business at all, but now that he had been snarky with Ben about it, it felt like he had to prove a point), skimming over the information briefly, not really all that interested in the details of Diego having to search even longer for a job that wasn’t his vigilante schtick. However, when he reached the last paragraph, it caused him to do a double take.

‘We assure you, our rejection has nothing to do with your learning disability, since there are plenty of ways to balance dyslexia out in a modern workspace-‘

Klaus abruptly stopped reading and dropped the document as if it had burned him.

He stared at it in complete incomprehension. Diego didn’t have dyslexia. Diego did have his stutter, but that was the only slight disadvantage that he was aware of. Surely, he would know if his own brother/little/maybe-possibly boyfriend had trouble with reading and writing.

Right!

… right?

Diego kept a lot of things from them, even when they had been just children. While all the others had been schooled in groups (even Vanya!), Diego did always get to have private tutoring with Mum. Klaus had always assumed it was because Diego was such a mama’s boy and Grace liked to spoil him when she had the chance.

Surely, that had been the whole reason. It just had to be.

Diego wouldn’t keep something like that. Not from his siblings, for crying out loud. Not from… not from him, right?

The letter was just being obnoxious for the fun of it, assuming things about Diego that weren’t true.

 

“Ben,” he called faintly.

Not even a second later, his ghost brother appeared right by his side, with a thick volume of Nietzsche crammed under his arm.

“Now you’re concerned- look at this bullshit. There’s just no way, right?”

He held out the document (aware that he had just taken another step to violate Diego’s privacy by showing it to Ben) and willed his hands not to shake while Ben read through it.

He was feeling nauseated and he couldn’t even pinpoint why. Even if… if… there was some truth in it, he was in no way entitled to this truth.

It wasn’t about the statement per se. Klaus was by far the last person to judge anyone by whatever baggage they carried around with themselves. Whether Diego was dyslexic or not wouldn’t change a rat’s ass about his feelings for him.

But there was something in the prospect of Diego keeping something so big from him that made him feel faint. He was supposed to know how to take care of Diego, he was supposed to know how Diego felt about him, he was supposed to know things about the person he grew up and fell in love with. He just was supposed to know.

But he apparently didn’t know shit.

 

Ben’s silence made him even more antsy. There was a bubble of anxiety growing in his stomach, pressing all his organs towards his throat.

Now Ben was just looking at him like he knew exactly what was racing through his mind just now.

“Honestly,” he started carefully, “I’ve had my suspicions. Have you ever actually seen him read or write anything? It’s… it’s not exactly uncommon. It would… explain some things.”

Klaus was going to throw up, he was pretty sure about it. Because, of course, Ben was right. Now that he looked at it, so many things that had puzzled him about Diego started to fall into place. Why he never got invited to interviews. Why he was hiding all the documents. Why he had dropped out of the police academy in the first place.

Oh, God.

Klaus had assumed it was because of Diego’s unconventional ways of handling delicate situations, but the more he thought about it, the more it sounded like some half-assed excuses Diego was telling himself.

 

They never went to school.

There was no way Diego would be officially diagnosed with a learning disability, since there had been nothing official about their upbringing.

Heck, Reginald had probably assumed Number Two was just stupid and Mum just didn’t know any better. He had programmed her, after all.

When all Diego would have needed was some recognition. Some help.

Dyslexia didn’t have to be a life-sentence, with the right attention it was nothing more than a bump in the road (at least, that’s what Tom from AA always said when he talked about his own experiences with it, and Klaus did take his word for it).

 

Something hot rose up in Klaus’ throat and to his surprise, he realized it wasn’t bile but anger. To his even greater surprise, the anger was not directed at Reginald Hargreeves, at least not more than usual whenever he realized how much of a fuck-up their childhoods had been.

No, not entirely.

He was furious with Diego.

 

Keeping your sexual orientation was one thing. Keeping your feelings from everyone, another. Hiding your own vulnerability, fair enough.

But, this?

After all the times Klaus had offered him to help with his applications, assuming Diego would benefit from his eloquence? After all the times they had spend alone in a perfectly save space and Klaus had opened up to Diego about his own demons? After all the trust he had put in Diego and had been assured, Diego returned on some level?

All this time, Klaus would have been able to actually help Diego with something he was profoundly struggling with?! And Diego didn’t once ask for his help because keeping himself hidden was apparently more important than succeeding at something?!

Diego had helped him to apply for community college classes and Klaus had practically worshipped the ground on which he was walking.

But Diego, Diego was apparently too concerned with his fucking image to come to him for help- him, of all people in this fucking academy! Him, out of all the people in the fucking world! And there he was- silly unimportant Klaus- assuming that he could be anybody’s ‘someone special’!

 

It felt like the culmination of all the nightmares and unanswered questions- the one little push that somehow made Klaus snap.

How bizarre that this- this of all the things- was where he reached his limit.

All he wanted was to care for Diego, in the best way he possibly could. All he wanted was to be loved by Diego. All he wanted was to be trusted, for fucking once.

In all his years of being a junkie, nobody had told him anything- and he was too out of it to care. But now, he was there and conscious and so ready to be trusted, to help- but not even the person who he loved most in the world put enough trust in him to let. Him. In. 

 

The world closed in on this one hot-tight feeling located deep in his chest. The feeling clawed at him and demanded immediate attention, making him shaky and feverish- but focused, razor-sharp. He was over-reacting, he was aware (it was, easily, one of his worst traits). But he couldn’t help the sensation pulsing through his veins- a sizzling power, overwhelming and consuming. He knew the feeling from when he used to have panic attacks before he discovered the drugs. When he had just been addicted to the drowning sensation of his own emotions.

He clenched and unclenched his hands, the ‘hello’ and ‘good-bye’ tattoos appearing and disappearing in blinding speed; but it didn’t help to put him at ease, not even a little bit.

He tried to tell himself that this wasn’t about him; but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was supposed to be about him, as well. If their relationship- every aspect of their relationship- could even have the chance to evolve, it needed to happen on a basis of trust. Even stupid, good-for-nothing, formerly unlovable prats like him knew that.

All his hopes for a future with Diego slowly slipped from him, replaced by the icy realization that, really, Ben must have been absolutely right. Diego didn’t want him to know. Diego didn’t want to open up to him- not about being little, not about love, not about himself. Because he didn’t trust Klaus enough.

Because Klaus wasn’t enough.

 

Fuck.

He couldn’t deal with this. He still was a mess, he still had mental health issues, he was still struggling, and he couldn’t deal with this. The constant humming of insecurity and poorly masked anxiety was wearing his nerves paper-thin. And it wasn’t like he had ever been a healthy person to begin with.

Dear God, Diego might have a point in the assessment of his piss-poor abilities…

 

“You’re shaking. C’mon. Don’t do this to yourself, Klaus. Everything’s not as bad as it seems, I promise.”

Sweet, careless Ben. Was that what death did to a person? How could a ghost have the audacity to tell him that his relationship troubles would ever be alright? When he just felt like all the air was forcefully punched out of his lungs? A person who didn’t even have air in his lungs anymore? Where was the fucking irony in that?

“Why doesn’t he talk to me?” he asked and hated how small and fragile his voice sounded. “I thought… that we… that we have something, but I just can’t… I just don’t know, Ben.”

“Make me corporal,” his brother requested gently. “Let me give you a hug.”

**

Klaus was standing at the entrance of their spacy gym, sick to his stomach with nervous energy. He was only here because Ben insisted that he should try to talk to Diego about it, even though Klaus had insisted that Diego’s inability to talk to him was what brought them in the situation in the first place. All Klaus wanted to do, quite honestly, was hide in his room. These last few days, and especially today, somehow drained him and he wanted to run away instead of being responsible for himself.

Working himself into a full-blown anxiety attack might have not been the smartest approach to action. But at that time, he hadn’t been able to help himself. Caring for little Diego, being a valuable part of this family, taking community college classes- all these positive experiences sometimes made him forget that he was supposed to go to therapy much more regularly than he did. In his thirty years of existence he had failed to acquire any sort of coping mechanism which didn’t involve substance abuse of any kind.  He needed something- and he also needed help. He liked to pretend that it was only Diego who needed him- if only when he was little- but the truth was Klaus needed Diego, too.

Maybe that had been the main reason why everything had felt so much of a betrayal today. Diego held the most special place in his life, and it had stung so much when he was confronted with the possibility that this sentiment wasn’t returned.

He had been so sure, despite everything, but now he just… wasn’t.

 

The sound of punching bags rattling against their chains and the dull collision of fists against leather filled the room.

Diego had always been one to express his emotions with his body rather than with his words, and by the sheer force with which he fought with the punching bag, Klaus had a vague idea that he was very, very upset.

It takes two to tango, after all.

 

He walked near his brother slowly, still keeping enough distance that he could be out of the door in the blink of an eye if necessary. He wasn’t afraid of Diego in any way- but he acknowledged that Diego objectively was a dangerous man with a very destructive anger.

“You could have told me, you know?” He started, willing his voice not to shake.

Diego halted his merciless punches for a split second to acknowledge Klaus’ presence, but choose to ignore the statement altogether.

Against his better judgement, Klaus felt the first flames of anger lick his insides again. He had told Ben this would be a bad idea- he wasn’t in any sort of state, mentally, to have a calm, mature conversation.

But now he was here.

Might as well.

 

“Fine, don’t talk to me, then. Don’t talk to me at all! It’s not like- I don’t know- I’m supposed to be someone who you’re actually comfortable talking to! I’m just me, after all, just Klaus-“

“You looked at my things. Without my permission. Now you come to me and act like I’ve upset you. What do you want from me, Klaus?”

Of course, Diego would have noticed that he had dropped one letter. Of course. Diego could be very observant if he wanted to be.

“I want to be able to know things about you without having to snoop around behind your back! I want you to tell me things!”

At this, Diego stopped the punches to look at the man beside him. His brow furrowed before his face settled into that careful mask of indifference that Klaus started to hate beyond belief.

“It’s none of your business.”

 

Klaus was aware that he started to shake a little and willed himself to be calm. Over-reacting would do nothing to improve this train-wreck of a conversation, but he felt his control slip away from him. All the conversations he initiated that didn’t happen, all the time he had been calm and collected and ready for them, all the disappointment which he swallowed was now pooling in a gigantic knot in his throat.

“I could have helped you- I can still help you. I want to help you-“

“I don’t need your help!”

 

The tone of the sudden outburst made Klaus flinch and take several steps backwards. He was aware that he was treating on very thin ice- instead of creating an ideal environment where Diego opened up, his words seemed to provoke his brother. This wasn’t at all how he imagined any of their conversations to go, but it- as he now realized- was the first time Diego was willing to talk to him.

But he was mad.

So mad.

The last thing Klaus wanted to do was to evoke any negative emotions within Diego. Sure, he was mad, too, but coming from a controlled person like Diego, anger read more like a natural force.

 

“I’m not stupid, I don’t need to be coddled, I’m not a charity project to boost your self-worth!”

Klaus, gripping on the last strand of his self-control, digged his nails deep into his palms and willed these words spoken in anger not to hurt him. It didn’t work.

“I’m a grown-ass man and I can get by just fine by myself! I don’t need you!”

 

Diego wheezed as if the words had taken a physical toll to get past his lips and for several seconds, they just stared at each other. Both of them thunderstruck by the sheer intensity of the moment.

Klaus blinked, letting the words sink in.

Letting them pull him under.

Letting them sting him like a slap in the face.

 

“Right, of course,” he didn’t even recognize his own voice, heavy with something. He felt weirdly detached from himself all of a sudden, only aware of his heartbeat roaring in his ears. He had to get out. He had to get out now.

 

Diego’s face crumbled as he realized how hurtful he had been, without meaning to. How harsh and unforgiving and unfair. To Klaus, of all people.

Because he had felt hurt and insecure.

Because he had spent so long surrounded with silence that he didn’t know how to break it anymore. Except for now, when he had broken it in the vilest possible way- out of spite, out of damaged pride.

“Klaus-“ he started, but the other was already out of the door.

 

Dejected, Diego looked at his own bloody knuckles, feeling strangely empty. He had fucked up royally when Klaus had been so good to him. So patient. Diego knew- he knew- he had been a jerk for dodging every attempt at a serious conversation but there were so many things he wanted to say and he couldn’t find the words to say any of them.

Instead, he did what he did best. Pushing people away. Pushing Klaus away. Pushing them away.

Christ, he had to make this right.

Chapter Text

Klaus wasn’t at dinner.

In and of itself, not a worrisome and/or peculiar occurrence.

They didn’t always have dinner together- their schedules didn’t always overlap- so naturally, sometimes it just didn’t happen, sometimes they all ate separately, sometimes it was the whole gang.

Klaus’ absence shouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

 

However, in this special case, it was.

The reason being, that it was Mac and Cheese night.

If there was one food that Klaus loved more than anything else, it was Mac and Cheese.

Klaus had not once missed a Mac and Cheese night since they became a thing. He made them a thing in the first place, showing how far his devotion to the carb-y, cheesy goodness went. He even went as far as arrange that only him or Allison were allowed to prepare the, quote, “most superior of all dishes” since he didn’t trust anybody else to do it just the way it was perfect.

Really, it had become a tradition at this point (and since a sober Klaus asked for surprisingly little, the whole family was glad to offer him something that would make him happy).

 

Keeping all this in mind, Klaus’ absence from the dinner table was just a tad disconcerting. Diego stared down at the plate of steaming noodles before him and felt like utter shit. If anyone, he shouldn’t be sitting here to enjoy Allison’s exquisite cooking. Right after Klaus had made his hasty retreat (to hide away in his room, presumably), Diego had started to channel his self-hatred into a brutal sparring session with the punching bag that had lasted several hours and left his knuckles raw, bleeding, and bruised. He only stopped because Allison had insisted, because Klaus always enjoyed eating with some company, because Five and Vanya couldn’t make it tonight and the dinner table would be so empty with only three people there.

She’d been right about that, Diego mused darkly, as he eyed the seat right across from him, where a heaping portion sat, left untouched. The familiar space and setting felt strangely empty when Klaus wasn’t there, wasn’t already overflowing with bubbly happiness to eat his favorite food with, quote, “his favorite people”. Like a dull pulling deep inside his chest, Diego realized how much he missed him- even though they hardly were apart. Save for the times he decided to be a jerk and exclude his ray of sunshine from his life in an act of false pride and misplaced self-punishment. He stabbed a macaroni angrily, mercilessly impaling the poor innocent noodle on his fork with way too much force.

Luther cleared his throat, like he always did when he sensed tension in the room but had no idea how to dissolve it, but Diego carried on stoically to ignore his siblings in favor of brooding. He felt Allison’s calculating gaze on the side of his face and fought the childish urge to turn his head away from her. He knew exactly what kind of expression she was wearing- questioning, but in a soft concerned kind of way; the type of expression that made Diego wonder if she knew that he sometimes dropped into little space.

Instead, he stared down the- objectively delicious looking- food as if it was to blame for Diego’s unnerving inability to voice his emotions without being vile and hurtful. Without screaming and belittling and anger. So much misdirected anger. But all he saw was his favorite person’s favorite food and the sight made his stomach churn anxiously.

 

Klaus was his favorite person- how could he not be? Klaus was the sweetest soul in the whole academy, heck, probably in the whole town. Sweet, and patient, and caring. Diego wasn’t sure if he had ever been loved unconditionally and without any question by an entity that hadn’t been programmed to do so- but he was sure being loved like that wouldn’t be any different from how Klaus was already treating him. And, if he knew what love was supposed to feel like, he was pretty damn sure the feeling was mutual. Sometimes, when the weight of all this instilled childhood ableism and expectations threatened to crush him, the only thing he could be absolutely sure of was that Klaus would be there- with an easy smile and gauze for his bleeding knuckles and a hot cocoa for his bruised ego.

And as he continued to stab one noodle after the other, a memory forced itself into the forefront of his mind- a memory of the last time something like this had happened and Klaus had eased him gently into little space (something which, he could admit to himself in the privacy of his thoughts, he craved desperately but didn’t know how to attain by himself) and Klaus had cooked Mac and Cheese just for the two of them. A lump about the size of a stone settled sideways in Diego’s throat as he stared at the dish in silent defeat and remembered, vividly, how Klaus had placed a cup of apple sauce next to Diego’s plate because he knew that Diego liked the unusual combination and had then given him that smile-

And now there was no applesauce and no Klaus and Diego longed for applesauce and being…. little (he was still getting used to calling it that, giving it a name made it real and undeniable; something he was struggling with but learning to be better at) and the feeling that came so close to what love must feel like.

 

He was about 0.2 seconds away from abandoning the dinner table to start another brutal work-out session, when his only present brother spoke up.

“Where’s Klaus? He’s never late for Mac and Cheese night.”

The question was directly aimed at him and made him unreasonable irritated- like he was the one who was supposed to know where Klaus was at any given time, like he was the one closer to Klaus than anyone else at the dinner table (if their roles would have been reserved, Klaus would have been able to answer easily)- which, was absolutely how it should be but wasn’t because he…he…

“How would I know?!” he snarled with a tone that made Luther and Allison pause and look at him.

 

Allison opened her mouth as if to reply, but then closed it again, as if she had thought better of it. Luther- still slightly confused by the animosity surrounding his brother tonight, an animosity he had worked hard over the last couple of months to overcome- cleared his throat again.

“Well- uh- I just presumed since you guys are-“ here, he waved his hands around in a clumsy vague gesture, as if he had to catch the right words out of thin air- “really close, that you would. Know, that is.”

“Well, I do-don’t,” Diego muttered and bit his lower lip, as if that was enough to force the insecure stutter out of his voice.

In truth, he started to worry, too. He had just presumed- too self-absorbed in his own self-pity to really give it a thought- that Klaus was hiding around the house somewhere, waiting for him to cool off and apologize (a way their “arguments” usual went down, although the previous instances had never been this severe). But now he wasn’t so sure anymore. The memory of the broken tone and the crestfallen expression right before Klaus had left suddenly nauseated Diego.

Because… because Klaus was still Klaus, recovering ex-addict with a bag full of issues, although it was easy to forget with all the progress he had been making lately.

 

“He’s probably just forgotten the time, I’m gonna get him.”

The scarping of Allison’s chair and her retreating footsteps were followed by a tense silence. A deep uneasiness made Diego’s heart jump on top of everything else- they were just being nice and helpful- and he was being the worst version of himself deliberately to push them away. Their relationship had gotten better but was still a bit strained- years’ worth of contest drilled deep within Diego’s mindset clouded his vision sometimes, made him overly aggressive and competitive; not really seeing Luther at all, just the distorted image of Reginald’s “number one”. Which wasn’t fair to his brother at all- but then again, the list of things Diego did to people who cared about him that wasn’t fair was about the length of the whole fucking room, so there’s no surprise.

Allison arrived back at the kitchen several minutes later, alone, with a tight expression.

“He’s not here. I-“ she swallowed thickly- “I checked his room, and the library, and everywhere else. He’s gone.”

She wasn’t even done talking, when Diego’s fork clattered against his plate- a sound unnaturally loud in the quiet space- and he was halfway out of the door, cursing under his breath, trying desperately to think straight over the roaring in his ears.

 

“Diego, what’s going on?”

We had a fight. We had a fight and I’ve been awful to him and now I’m terrified, I’m so fucking terrified… if something happened to him, it’s my fault.

An uncontrollable wave of sheer guilt centered in on Diego with enough force to blur his vision momentarily. Images of Mum and Eudora entered his mind unbidden, resting heavily on his ribcage, constricting his breathing.

All the people he had failed.

All the wonderful people he hadn’t been able to save.

To imagine that Klaus could be among them was….was….

 

“I’ll look for him. Try calling him, stay here. Inform me, as soon as you hear from him.”

There. That sounded calm and well put together, like he had an actual plan. His voice didn’t even shake. The only plan he actually had was to check up on all of Klaus’ old hang-up spots, trying to stay calm but really expecting the worst. Klaus had told him about therapy. He had told him that sometimes, it was still so hard to fight the urge to just let go. Like the slightest blow might trigger him, shake his self-control violently apart and then, he would just succumb to the allure of the numbness.

This wasn’t just a slight blow. It had been a forceful slap across the face.

 

In the car, Diego wasted a second or two just breathing into his own hands, rubbing at the wetness around his eyes with shaky movements. If something happened to Klaus, anything at all, he would never be able to forgive himself. He still remembered, vividly, how his heart had stopped for a beat or two, every time the police radio had crackled something about a heavily injured junkie in an alleyway. The same helplessness was washing over him right now. It reminded him of almost drowning.

Christ, I’m overreacting. He’s…fine….he’s gonna be just…fine

His meager tries to calm himself weren’t working. Worry churned around in his stomach and he was breathing too shallowly, too close to the panic attacks he sometimes had as a child.

‘He’s just sensitive,” Mum had tried to defend him when Reginald had been furious with “number two” for being so “weak” (he had almost drowned in the experiment his “father” had conducted to find out the limits of his extraordinary breath holding ability. He had never been more terrified in his life. He had cried himself to sleep every night for a month. Still does, every time he remembers it). Sensitive. Perhaps it had been that moment when he decided to close himself off from the world, choosing to not let anyone see behind the façade.

‘The boy’s probably just stupid,’ Reginald had said when Mum told him about his underdeveloped reading and writing abilities. ‘He doesn’t need to read to throw knifes.’ Stupid. Perhaps that had been the moment he decided to never let anyone know that he was struggling.

Diego’s fingers digged into the leather of his steering wheel, breaking the soft material with the force of his grip. He pushed his teeth together tightly, because if he hadn’t, he might have screamed himself hoarse.

**

Two blocks down the road, it occurred to Klaus that he had nowhere to go.

Well, not nowhere, strictly speaking.

The town was big enough, with its bookshops and diners and cinemas. These were places where he could go, but he couldn’t bring up the energy to do so. Public spaces were taking their toll on him these days, now that he was sober and more than a little aware that he seemed to stick out of certain areas like a sore thumb. Not that anyone had ever been anything but lovely to him there, but he felt like they could smell the ex-junkie air wavering around him. Karen from AA told him that being hyper-aware of one’s own self-conscious feelings while becoming sober was a perfectly normal development. But still. Didn’t mean he had to bite that bullet today.

With insecurity-inducing options scratched, the list did shrink considerably (a lot of stuff made him insecure, these days).

Vanya and Five were out of town (and leaving entirely seemed a bit too drastic), Luther and Alisson were at home (and returning home was the last thing he wanted to do).

So, he just wandered without direction for a good while, ignoring Ben’s attempts to comfort him.

He didn’t need to be comforted.

People didn’t need to be comforted when being told the truth.

And that’s what Diego had done, he told him the truth.

Now it was Klaus’ job to handle this truth.

 

Lying to himself about his significance in Diego’s life- in Diego’s heart- had been fun while it lasted. But it couldn’t’ve lasted forever. But it had been sweet, so sweet that Klaus instantly missed it, that fluttery warm feeling of being wanted and needed and adored.

But some things just weren’t for him.

Some things just weren’t for unstable addicts like him.

He had become too comfortable, imagining he could have something he didn’t deserve, that he could be someone he just wasn’t.

All the emotional energy had drained out of him, leaving behind a very empty, but very level-headed shell. He no longer desired to make himself heard, he just wanted to forget who he was.

Or who he could have been.

 

He stopped in front of a familiar door. The faint sounds of music and the smell of booze welcomed him like an old friend.

Maybe it was the only real friend Klaus had.

He should turn around. He hadn’t even realized he had walked to one of the bars he used to frequent. Must’ve been muscle memory…

He should go. Far away. This place was toxic- but then again, at the moment, so was home. But he shouldn’t go inside, he should call someone from AA, meet up, talk it out. He shouldn’t give in temptation, no matter how sweet the temptress was.

“No,” Ben told him firmly- like a parent, reprimanding a misbehaving child. “Absolutely not. You’ve been doing so well, you’re not throwing all your progress away just because of him-“ Here, his voice dropped a note, turning into an eerie hiss. It was easy to forget that underneath all these soft hoodies and thick books laid an actual monster dormant.

Klaus never forgot it.

But he supposed he had his monster, too, sitting in the middle of his chest, taking any chance it could to claw its way outside out of his ribcage. (If he had been in a better mental state, he would have congratulated himself on the excellent use of metaphor).

 

“Don’t,” he says weakly, because he would have felt bad to just ignore Ben, not when he had been so kind to him all the time, but his mind was already set on the void he was about to face. “Not now.”

Being sober was hard work. And sometimes…. He….doubted that it was really what it was made out to be. That it was worth it. Didn’t he just see that he was still treated the same by those (this one…) who he truly cared about? Wasn’t staying sober, then, a bargain where he won less than he lost?

Why all the effort?

What for? (For yourself. For control. For being strong. For self-worth.)

Oh, but he was tired.

So, so tired.

**

If someone had recognized him and had offered him something, anything, he would have taken it, no questions asked. This thought more than anything else, made him hesitant and skittish, staring at the wine he had ordered over half an hour ago and which sat, to this moment, deep red and untouched before him.

This wasn’t a big deal.

It was just wine- not drugs, by all means, not even strong liquor.

It was just plain simple red wine.

Something you’d order to treat yourself, something shared over a nice dinner. Something to be savored and enjoyed, something sweet and tangy and fresh.

Something nice.

 

Except that it was a big deal for someone visiting AA, for someone overcoming an addiction to substance abuse.

This was the first step into relapse.

But.

But also.

Something safe.

 

And oh, Klaus longed for safety. Knowing who he was, where he belonged. Always being attached to an otherworldy realm filled with dead people fostered a feeling of detachment over the years, a sense of the ambiguity of belonging.

And wine wouldn’t be able to solve this existential conundrum, but wine could help make him forget. Alcohol gently fogging over his brain like a warm hug after a long day (Klaus loved those, especially Diego’s, they were the best).

His heart gaze a painful squeeze at the thought.

Diego must be worried by now. The others, too. He never missed Mac and Cheese night. And he was missing it now, in both senses of the word, like a physical ache deep within him.

 

This morning, the day had been bright and full of opportunity.

Now he was about to throw months worth of hard work away over a broken heart.

How peculiar, this battle with addiction. While you’re fighting the fight, you feel as if you’re making a dent, really tackling your demons, but in reality you’re just eager to stay in motion because… because when you stop you’d see that you had barely moved at all.

The morning had been so well.

Breakfast had been so lovely.

Now he was here.

Among the stools filled with restless souls like himself, lonely bastards drowning in their own misery, seeking for the warmth provided by the bottom of a bottle.

 

One glass of red wine.

Surely, one glass wouldn’t hurt?

One glass wasn’t so bad.

It would barely count as relapse, right? (He should get out. He should call someone, anyone. He shouldn’t be alone right now. Not here, of all places).

 

He was about to become the version of himself that he hated, so much, so deep from within, but the only version that didn’t feel like shattering apart right now. The only strong version.

And, boy, wasn’t that all kinds of fucked up?

Wasn’t he all kinds of fucked up?

He felt the gaze of the barkeeper warm on the side of his face. Burning, almost. He knew, Klaus was sure. They all did. They must know.

The wine sloshed in the glass- crimson, deep, alluring. Smelling rich, of smoke and summer. Of good things. Nice things. Comfort.

‘So this is it,’ Klaus thought, strangely detached from himself, ‘this is where my sobriety ends.’

 

The cool glass already touched his lips, his moist breath fogging it up. He was so close, he could taste the rich smell of the wine on his tongue, an echo for what was about to come. His hands were shaking but it was… okay.

Everything was… okay.

This would only hurt for a quick moment, only for a little bit-

 

The door slammed open and suddenly Diego was right there- up and close in his personal space. Before Klaus could even register what was happening, the wine was gone and he was engulphed by warmth-

“Do-Do-Don’t ever sc-scare me like that again.”

Diego’s voice surrounded his soul, like it was reaching out into his chest and squeezed his heart, and just like that, all the stoic determination melted away and Klaus’ mind caught up with the graveness of the moment he just almost made happen. Shame didn’t even begin to describe the deep sense of failure washing over him when he realized that he had been mere seconds away from re-entering his vicious circle of relapse and recovery and relapse. He shuddered in Diego’s arms and his brother pulled him in tighter, closer still, until Klaus felt Diego’s erratic heartbeat hammering next to his own.

God damn it.

God fucking damn it.

And suddenly, Ben’s presence was back at his side, right there, showering him in its soft glow; the glow he came to associate with his dead brother, with companionship and trust and home.

God fucking damn it, why had ever wanted to be alone?

Clearly, being alone had been the worst thing to do.

He was incredibly harsh on himself when he was alone.

 

Maybe it was luck, maybe Ben somehow found a way to communicate his location (since his presence had been completely absent from Klaus’ side the moment, he had entered the bar) but oh, Klaus didn’t care either way. He tried not to inhale to deeply, tried not to feel pathetically calmed by Diego’s familiar scent.

He felt drained on a deep existential level, like he was about to shake apart from the exertion of even being there- in this moment where he had been so close to his biggest personal failure (and for a character like Klaus, that’s really saying something).

There was a big hand in his hair, a warm palm patting over his unruly curls, gently pressing his face against a strong neck- shielding him, hiding him from view. Klaus didn’t understand why it felt the need to do so, until he recognized the pitiful little noises coming from the back of his throat that felt a tad too much like choked-off sobs.

He hadn’t cried in years.

He didn’t know he still could.

 

Just like that, his mind caught up again, this time to the mini breakdown he was apparently having, and Klaus slumped against Diego bonelessly, as if to bury himself into him. He bit his lip and pressed closer, until the only thing he could sense was Diego’s heartbeat, the clammy warmth of his skin, the gentle arche of his neck, the rough astray stubble under his own cheeks. It burned the tiniest bit, but Klaus welcomed the sharp tuck to keep him somewhat grounded in reality.

He had been so close to fucking up his new life.

So close.

Too close.

 

The next couple of minutes went by in a blur, with Klaus being too occupied by being consumed by immense self-loathing to notice he’s being picked up and carried outside, to Diego’s car.

Klaus loved the car- with its run-down leather seats and faded dashboard- mainly because in his mind it has been linked to safety and affection since he first encountered it. To the feeling of being caught by someone, being cared for enough to be cared about. This wasn’t by far the first time Diego had picked him up from a bar, but- with a surge of almost nauseating determination- he promised himself it would be the last time- the very last time, ever.

 

They just sat for a very long while- Diego in the driver’s seat and Klaus wrapped around Diego, pressing his face so close into his neck that it almost hurt. But he just couldn’t let go. It was pathetic that he needed Diego- still needed Diego the way he did, even though he went on pretending the last couple of months that he was fine. Diego’s words from this cluster-fuck of a day still rung in his ears like a twisted mantra- ‘I don’t need you, I don’t need you, I don’t need you’-

‘But I do. I need you. So much. Because I love you.’

This, more than anything else, made Klaus sob- soft and small, but unmistakably for what it was.

There was just no way Diego would ever feel the same- no fucking way- and it stung relentlessly like an inflamed wound to know- or to believe- that they would never be anything more than what they were. That there would never be anything more than the occasional age-play and the occasional kisses; because how… how could there be? He was fucking needy and self-destructive and Diego didn’t even trust him, not one little bit, and he couldn’t even blame him for it anymore. Klaus didn’t even trust himself, not after the wine stunt.

 

And then he opened his mouth, because the longer they were silent the louder got the vile voices in his head hissing in harmony with the ugly sniffles, because after a moment like this, it was hard for Klaus to be alone with himself, even for just a second.

“I’m sorry, I am, I didn’t…I don’t, I’m sorry-“

And Diego was there, right there, pressing a warm kiss against his temple that merged something in Klaus’ twisted little heart.

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for, boo (and oh, wasn’t that the sweetest torture to hear this nickname now, of all moments- their nickname for when Diego was little and looked at Klaus like he’d hung the moon and fuck, fuck, fuck, he couldn’t deal with this, it would break him-). I mistreated you. I wasn’t honest with you. I didn’t respect you. I didn’t pay attention to you. I am so-so-sorry.”

The quiver in Diego’s voice at the last word was something so utterly familiar that Klaus’s erratic heartbeat calmed against his better judgement. It reminded him of how soft Diego could be, how close they had been, how lovely it was to have a favorite person. To be a favorite person.

“Klaus, look at me. Please, look at me.”

**

Something big and complicated welled up in Diego’s chest when deep green eyes (happy eyes, lovely eyes, eyes with specs of gold in them- eyes like sunshine in the forest) met his, rimmed red and swimming.

His heart had felt like it had stopped when he finally found Klaus- and it had been kicked into overdrive ever since. He started panting without even realizing it. It was a strain, to talk so much, to talk about things that made him so vulnerable and small. But he had scolded at himself the whole time in the car, that as soon as he found Klaus, he would be coming clean, he would communicate, he would talk to Klaus- because ultimately Klaus’ well-being should be ten times more important than his uncomfortableness.

Because that’s what being in love was about, right? He himself wasn’t sure- could never be sure with complex emotions because he had grown up to pretend that he was an insensitive prick, when in reality there were so many soft emotions inside of him that he couldn’t quite place them. He had been taught to dismiss them, had been conditioned to fear them for as long as he could remember.

In a sense, he had lost Eudora over this; had lost Eudora long before she was shot because of these awful reasons. Because a strong part of him still believed this fucked-up agenda about people being numbers and emotions being weaknesses.

And he almost lost Klaus because of them, too.

 

But he was here- warm and solid in his lap, looking at him with this damn heartbroken expression. Diego didn’t even think when he cupped one wet cheek, cradled it in his palm, and brought their lips together for a desperate kiss. It was open and raw in a way their kisses had never been before, no longer just small lingering touches speaking of equal affection, but a passionate plea for something- a wild exchange of emotions that seemed entirely too big for words.

Klaus made a little sound in the back of his throat and clambered his arms around Diego’s neck, nails burying in the soft base of its nape.

It was also hungry in a way that none of their other kisses had been and it overpowered Diego like an unstoppable wave. When they both came up for air- Klaus’ shallow breaths hot against the bitten skin of Diego’s lips- three words forced themselves over Diego’s tongue- three words burning inside of him for the longest time- three words he had been terrified to voice and yet….

Yet… they were the only thing that felt right. Nothing had ever felt this right.

 

“I love you.”

Klaus just stared at him, brows knitting together. It was a ridiculous look, especially with the tear-tracks on his skin and his lips plumb and kiss-swollen. Prepared for a dramatic reaction, like it was Klaus’ forte when confronted with feelings, Diego was puzzled over the silence.

 “What?”

“I love you. So-so-so mu-mu-much,” Diego repeated slowly, insecurity suddenly bubbling up in his throat. It wouldn’t be the first time that he read a situation completely wrong.

There was the tiniest twinkle of something in Klaus’ eyes, before they hardened into a calculating gaze.

 

“Don’t say things you don’t mean just because you know that…that…”

Here, the expression faltered, and Klaus turned his head to the side, biting his lower lip. Soft ringlets of curls tickled the back of Diego’s hand. He could smell Klaus’ shampoo, a fruity, fresh smell; a smell that remembered him of this morning, where the world had been still alright, where he hadn’t fucked their relationship up.

“That?”

“That I want to hear them.”

Relief washed over Diego at the implication of that statement. He had been pretty sure that the issue wasn’t that his feelings wouldn’t be reciprocated, although doubt had creeped into his heart just now.

“I’m not.”

Klaus sighed and looked a little bit like he might start crying again, something Diego wanted to avoid at all costs. “You weren’t so sure this morning. Or the last months. And I get it, Dee, I do. I’m… I fabricated some false hopes and now… what I’m saying is, you don’t have to do this for me.”

 

‘You almost relapsed because of me and now you’re acting all self-sacrificing?’ Diego wanted to say, but didn’t, because that would have been vile and hurtful and him being vile and hurtful was exactly the kind of behavior that brought them into this mess in the first place.

Instead, he said this:  “I lied. I didn’t want you to know because I was deeply embarrassed. I thought if you’d see the extend of my vulnerability that you would… y-yo-you would le-leave. But you left because I wasn’t being honest with you a-an-and being…being without you, the thought of being without you, sc-scared me more than anything else.”

 

“Is this why you don’t trust me? Apart from the whole me being a good-for-nothing, almost-relapsed junkie, that is.”

And it physically hurt Diego to see Klaus- clever, funny, sweet, amazing Klaus- his Klaus so easily degrade himself, like it was the most logical thing in the world. It was that exact moment in which Diego realized that he really hadn’t been paying as closely attention to Klaus as he should have all this time.

Klaus took care of him all the time, even when…when he wasn’t little, and what a proper partner would have done was taking care of Klaus in return.

But he hadn’t.

 

“I trust you; Christ, I’m little in front of you- I trust you with the most fragile parts of my being. I’m sorry I never told you. I’m sorry that I hurt you.”

His voice quivered with the effort of keeping the stutter at bay, but it was hard with all the emotions welling up inside of him. This was the point of a conversation where he’d usually retreat, to calm himself down- enough so that his feelings wouldn’t overspill. He took a deep breath and stayed, right where he was- with Klaus pressed against him in the safe familiarity of his own car.

Klaus’ eyes were roaming over him and he fought the urge to hide his face, fought the urge to deny how raw and open he felt in that very moment.

 

When Klaus kissed him, then, it took him entirely by surprise. A big part of himself believed that they were over. Relive quivered inside of him like leaves in a powerful breeze.

“I know, baby.” Hearing that name in a gentle whisper against his lips did it for Diego. He let out the most undignified whimper, as he drew Klaus- his Klaus- closer and buried his face against these soft curls. If Klaus noticed that he started to cry a little bit, he was kind enough not to say anything about it.

“That doesn’t make it alright, though. I think we both learned a lot about ourselves today and it will take…time and conscious effort and therapy to work through what happened. You still hurt me. I still hurt me. We’re not alright. But we will be.”

Diego nodded against him because words felt entirely too big for him right now, as his world zeroed into the points of contact between them and the fact that Klaus still wanted to be his.

He would do better. At least he would try.

He owed himself and Klaus this much.

**

They held hands on their way home. The silence between them no longer felt oppressing and huge, but comfortable and intimate. Klaus had called the academy immediately after he and Diego had spent a small eternity wrapped around each other, profoundly apologizing for making them worry so. He had heard the smile in Allison’s voice when she told him there was a big plate filled with Mac and Cheese waiting for him. He felt a twitch deep in his heart.

It was…peculiar and wonderful to know, that no matter how deep he’d sink, there would be someone waiting for him back at home, from now on. There would be someone to catch him.

And hadn’t he been stupid, so utterly stupid, to assume that he belonged more into a bar- a space where nobody really belonged- than to this peculiar and wonderful family?

 

His thumb grazed over Diego’s knuckles softly. Traced the fine wiring of scars there. Diego. His Diego, who loved him.

Sure, that didn’t automatically make all their problems disappear (as often as Klaus dreamed about his life being a Disney movie, real life didn’t work quite that magically), but it was a step taken in the right direction. And for this train-wreck of a day, it was definitely good enough.

More than just good enough, in fact.

 

“For what it’s worth, I love you, too,” he said, because he hadn’t before and because he could.

“It’s worth everything in the world.”

Klaus smiled to himself then, slow and bright. It was sappy, but he was a sap- and he absolutely basked in the verbal love and attention that had been denied to him all these months (because….because…even….even…if he…almost relapsed…he was worth it. He was worth this. He deserved this. Despite everything that had happened today, Klaus now felt a wild surge of pride at being able to form and genuinely believe this thought. Seemed like he did make progress in the never-ending battle, after all.)

He looked at Diego’s profile and almost laughed out loud when he heard Ben’s voice near his ear, asking if it was safe to join them now, if they were quite done with all the romantic babble.

“Only a little while longer,” he mouthed in Ben’s direction, who huffed, but smiled genuinely at him before disappearing once more.