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you could lay on your back and be beaten, you could put up your fists and fight

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Diego searched through the drawers of the beat-up dresser in his old bedroom, and vehemently wished he was back at his own place. This stupid heatwave made him want to do nothing more than barricade the door of the storage room he called his apartment and relax in nothing but his boxers, but here he was, freaking out over the concept of even wearing a tank top in front of the others. He couldn’t handle the concept of showing them everything, couldn’t take the disgust in Luther’s look, the pity in Allison’s, Klaus’ surely insensitive comments that he’d pretend to brush off, Five’s disapproval, and Vanya… he didn’t even know how she would react. His entire body shook as he tried to take deep breaths, finally finding a black long-sleeved top that would probably be too small for him, but at least it was something. He couldn’t exactly continue wearing the one he had on, with the large tear across the left arm that dried blood was caked over. It had been so stupid of him to go out last night, but they were getting nowhere with this “end of the world” bullshit, and he’d felt so cooped up, especially being back here for the first time in years, that he’d needed to do something, throw himself into a fight before he got the urge to do something worse. He’d saved the day, he hadn’t gotten shot or wasn’t bleeding profusely, so according to him, he was fine, but it had been past two by the time he was done, and he couldn’t have gone back to his place like that, or else Al probably would’ve called the police again. The old man always got paranoid whenever Diego arrived after midnight. So he’d gone back to the Academy, exhausted and bloody, and passed out in his childhood bedroom, hoping none of the others would wake up before him.

He’d gotten lucky in that regard. He hadn’t always been a light sleeper, that was trained into him, but it was six o’clock when the birds outside his window woke him, and his body screamed for a shower. So he’d shaken himself awake, and there he was, searching for anything that could replace the bloody clothes he’d fallen asleep in. He had a shirt, but there were no pants in his drawers that still fit him, he’d taken all of those when he’d left the Academy. All that was left was a pair of skinny jeans several sizes too small, and a pair of shorts. If they’d been knee-length, he would’ve maybe considered it, but they had been gifted to him by a sixteen-year-old Klaus, who’d said his “emo look” needed to be updated for the summer. They were very short. He’d never worn them, but he didn’t think Klaus had ever noticed. And he wouldn’t say that he didn’t mind Klaus’ comments about how emo he still was, or Luther’s subtle dismissals of his vigilante work as childish. But they were easier to deal with than actually telling them why he did the things he did. Some days, he just wanted to scream into their faces, asking if they ever considered what the alternative to his going out and starting fights was, ask them if they’d ever thought about what he’d done with all of that pent up nervous energy before he had the chance to leave the Academy, when he was stuck in his room with nothing but his knives, self-hatred, and a desire to feel alive in any way possible. But he kept his mouth shut, just rolling his eyes and occasionally firing back with some quick comment. They couldn’t know. He was weak, and they just couldn’t know. And since there was no way he’d be able to get all of the blood out of his jeans before at least one of the others woke up, desperate times called for desperate measures.

So he left the clean black shirt on his bed, and went to go pound on Klaus’ door. Part of him hoped that his brother wasn’t even there, that he could just slip in, grab what he needed, and go take a shower without being disturbed. But, as he knocked, a tired groan from inside the room squashed his hopes. He slipped in the room, where Klaus was hanging halfway off of his bed, peering at him with eyes barely open.

“Do you have any jeans? All of mine are back at my place, and these ones are bloody. Don’t want Luther giving me shit all day for it. And you’re the only one that’s anywhere close to my size.”

Klaus muttered something unintelligible, and pointed to his dresser. He started searching the drawers, as Klaus grew slowly more conscious. “It’s the hottest spring on record, you sure you don’t want a pair of shorts? Or a skirt? They’re really nice and breathy when it’s hot like this, you should really try one, you might like it.”

Diego said nothing, continuing to rifle through the overstuffed drawer that he’d figured out held Klaus’ pants and skirts. He pulled a pair of black skinny jeans, relief flowing through him, until he saw the large rips in the lower legs, and the knees… and the thighs. Nope. Can’t wear those. Of course, once Klaus saw him with the jeans, his brother just couldn’t refrain from making a comment. “What’s wrong with my ripped jeans? I think they’re just your style, with your dark and brooding emo personality. They’d look good on you.”

Diego almost came close to telling the truth. Klaus would probably be the person that would understand the best out of all of them. Hell, Klaus probably had almost as many scars as he did, but Klaus didn’t care about showing off the pockmarks from past needles, or the deep scratches on his arms from withdrawals, cigarette burns that he didn't explain and no one asked about, the scars from fights with other junkies, or even from his Academy days. And that was the thing, Klaus didn’t care about anything. He was who he was, and he was entirely unashamed of it. Klaus didn’t care what the others thought of him, or at least didn’t show it. And that’s why he wouldn’t get it. Diego had stitched his mask of self-confidence long ago, and these days it was ripping at the seams. If he told Klaus, the whole thing would tear apart, and the others would know how weak he was. They’d know how many fights he’d lost, and how some of them didn’t even have an opponent.

He didn’t notice he was clutching the pair of ripped jeans with white knuckles, breathing shakily, just trying to keep it together, until Klaus did. “Hey, Di, are you okay? You’re really looking at those jeans like you could set them on fire with your mind. Man, wouldn’t that be a cool power? Wish I could do that instead of ghosts. Anyways, you want some weed? Always calms me down.”

Diego wordlessly threw the pants onto the floor and resumed searching for something he could actually wear, every ounce of effort put into not breaking down in his brother’s room. He just had to find something to wear, and then he could go shower, pretend he couldn’t feel the tears running down his face, mixing with the droplets of water. There, finally, a pair of dark red skinny jeans, and as he carefully checked them over, no rips. He mumbled out an “I’ll give these back tomorrow,” and quickly exited before Klaus could express any more concern for his well-being. In his room, he robotically gathered underwear, socks, his combat boots, and a holster for his knives, making sure to grab his shirt on the way out. He carried the pile to the bathroom at the end of the hall, his mind far, far away, and finally, he could shower.

As he washed the dried blood off of his arm, (and his face, but that blood wasn’t his own), he told himself he was crying because the hot water stung his fresh wound, but he knew that the tears were for wounds long healed by the passage of time. He managed to calm himself down without too much trouble after the initial tears were shed, showering was good for that, and by the time he’d gotten out, he was semi-stable, at least, by his own terms. Which wasn’t really anywhere close to stable by anyone else’s terms, but it was as good as he was getting. He dried off, brushed his teeth, and started getting dressed. Which is when he noticed that his shirt wasn’t in the pile of clothes anymore. He manically searched the whole bathroom, but there was only one explanation. He’d dropped it on his way to the bathroom. Which wouldn’t be the worst thing, if he hadn’t taken an especially long shower and it was now late enough in the morning that he definitely wasn’t the only one awake.

He knew Luther was used to waking up early to watch the sun rise on the moon, that Klaus probably hadn’t gone back to sleep, at least for very long, after he’d disturbed him. Five probably hadn’t slept at all, too busy trying to figure out how to stop the apocalypse, but would only come out of his room if he knew some of the others were awake and he could start rambling on about his theories. Allison and Vanya were wild cards here, Allison would probably be the most likely to sleep in, but she was taking the apocalypse stuff seriously, so if Five was awake, she’d probably want to be too, to know what was going on. Vanya, he didn’t know. Hell, he didn’t even know if Vanya was still here. When he concentrated, he could hear some kind of commotion from downstairs, probably breakfast, but he couldn’t make out exactly whose voices he was hearing. Five’s… or maybe Klaus’, and then one of the girl’s, maybe Allison’s, it was hard to tell.

He cracked the bathroom door open, and the hallway was empty. His shirt was nowhere to be seen. It was probably Mom, he thought he remembered Allison asking her to wake her up the next day, so she’d probably seen the shirt, folded it up, and put it on his bed for him. At least, he hoped it was on his bed, that she hadn’t put it in the wash. If she had, he would be truly and completely fucked. That had been his only long-sleeved shirt in his dresser. He’d taken the majority of his clothes when he’d left, so all that had been in that drawer was the too-small shirt, and an old band tee-shirt that he’d cut the sleeves off of when he was thirteen. Before things got bad. He’d stopped wearing that one a long time ago, but it had nice memories associated with it, so he’d never gotten rid of it. He hoped all of them were downstairs, and, as dressed as he could be, took off down the hallway towards his room. He wasn’t afraid to admit that he ran to his bedroom, for a door he could close, if not lock, behind him, where he could figure everything out.

Luckily, he made it to his room without being seen, but unluckily, the shirt was not on his bed. He stared at himself in the mirror hanging above his dresser, and something he could barely recognize stared back.

There were the dark circles under his eyes, telling the world that he hadn’t slept for more than four hours a night in at least a week, kept awake by his vigilante habits.

There was the new wound on his arm, that thankfully wasn’t bleeding anymore, and would be fine in a few days, but definitely wouldn’t heal up without leaving a mark.

There was the strange-shaped scar just above his collarbone from a fight where he’d allowed himself to be grabbed from behind, and he was held in place and stabbed at age ten. If he hadn’t twisted his head around and bit that man’s arm with all the force he could muster, that knife could’ve gone in his throat, or his heart. It had been his very first life-threatening injury, but nowhere near his last.

There was the shallow groove carved out on his side from a bullet that hadn’t really barely grazed him like he said it had at age twelve, because Luther, Ben, and Allison hadn’t gotten off as easily as he had, and they had needed medical attention more than he did. He'd walked with a limp for days afterward, his training increased because the three in the infirmary weren’t getting any. Reginald hadn’t even noticed, or if he had, he never said anything.

There was the long scar that stretched almost all the way across his stomach, and the one that started right below the stabbing scar and ended halfway down his chest, and the shorter, diagonal one on his hip, from meeting someone much more skilled than he was at close range combat, that he’d said he could take alone because they had been so, so outnumbered in that fight, at age thirteen. He’d lost so much blood in that fight that he’d almost passed out in the middle of it, but Five had noticed him stumbling, and the man had gone down with a bullet between his eyes a second later.

There was the one that curved around his other hip, from one of the most terrifying missions they’d ever been on, an opponent who threw all of their powers right back at them, so the knife that should’ve slashed open her throat so she would stop manipulating Allison to attack the rest of them was instead curved back towards him like a boomerang, and would’ve gone straight through him if he hadn’t dodged at the last second, at age fourteen. For weeks after that day, he would be woken in the middle of the night, hearing Allison cry out in her sleep in the room next to him, nightmares of killing her siblings torturing her. But she always had Luther to calm her down.

There was the one that went from elbow to palm on his left arm, from when he’d just finished subduing the person he was supposed to go after, but noticed Klaus struggling against his own opponent, so he threw himself exhaustedly back into the fray to help, and it was either take that blow with his forearm, or give the attacker a chance to go for his heart, at age fourteen, only two months after he'd gotten his last scar. After this one had healed, he’d stopped wearing short-sleeved shirts, and started wondering if there was something wrong with him as he stared at his knives and thought about what it meant to feel alive.

There were the small marks all across his chest and stomach from days where he’d failed to curve away the things being thrown at him during training, at age- fuck, for as long as he could remember. The number of those scars increased as he got older and took on more training sessions so Klaus and Ben, the ones who hated their powers, didn’t have as many. Those were the pieces of him that whispered that he could never truly be free from the Academy, from Reginald, that he would wear his abnormalities on his body forever.

There were the ones he couldn’t see, too many on his legs to even try to get into, the ones that littered his back from when he was drawn away from a fight and captured as the bait for an ambush that the others didn’t find for at least an hour, at age sixteen. Once his hands were tied up and bound to his chest, he was useless, and everyone there had a lot of fun with that while they waited for his siblings to find him. Threats turned into prodding him with guns, turned into shoving him around, turned into cutting the fabric of his shirt open with the threat and anticipation of them doing more, turned into a few of the most sadistic ones beginning to break his skin open with their knives out of boredom, terrified tears streaming down his face, hearing laughter at his stubborn refusal to scream, turned into them digging in with their blades harder and harder, trying to make him scream so that the others would come find him, but the most they got were weak whimpers and gasps, turned into indignation, anger that they’d been waiting so long, and one man pulling a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and really making him scream. They’d been expecting four tired, injured super teens who’d exhausted most of their powers during the first fight, they hadn’t expected Ben to nearly rip himself apart letting the monsters out for the second time that day, and for Luther to have plenty of extra ammo on him. He had refused to speak for hours after that, just shook like a leaf and allowed Mom to patch him up in the infirmary. Reginald had been too busy debriefing the others about the surprise ambush to even come look at his wounds. Every time he closed his eyes for weeks, he’d be back there, surrounded by men with knives and guns and lit cigarettes, but at least he didn’t scream when he was dreaming. He would’ve felt guilty waking anyone up with his nightmares, it had been his own fault that he’d been led away from the battle.

And then, of course, were the ones that weren’t just mistakes and poor form, his shoulders, his upper arms, his thighs, and the nightmares he still got about his wrists. It had been only a month after the ambush, he’d stopped sleeping because of the ever-twisting memory of that afternoon haunting him when his eyes closed. He hadn’t planned on dying when he took out his knife that evening, but he spiraled out of control and started to wonder if it would really be so bad to leave it all behind. It had seemed alluring, the concept of finally being able to escape the Academy, so instead of watching a few drops of blood fall from a new line on his arm, identical to every other line he’d made in two years of practice, he stared at his tattoo, the umbrella branded onto him, and slowly cut into the vein that ran through it. The amount of blood that poured out surprised him, but instead of discouraging him, he only felt like out with it came draining every horrible thing he’d ever done or had happened to him. Every mistake that had lead to another scar left his body with the blood that stained his clothes and sheets. As he grew light-headed, he felt as if he could laugh about the whole thing, that this entire time, he’d been just giving himself a tally mark for every bad day, when he could’ve escaped ages ago. And then he changed his mind and started screaming. Crying out for Mom, who found him sitting on his bed, swaying from dizziness. He blacked out when he felt himself being lifted into her arms, and when he awoke, Reginald’s disappointed face greeted him. His blood-soaked shirt had been taken off, the man had to have seen everything, but he’d never once brought it up, or questioned it. Just disappointed eyes and a week off of training for him to recover.

The worst thing about it all was that it wasn’t even some grand, selfless thought that made him change his mind. He didn’t decide he wanted to live for his siblings, because of the bond between them that, frankly, had been rocky or nonexistent, depending on which one of them he was talking about, ever since Five’s disappearance. He didn’t even decide that he wanted to live at all. He just couldn’t take the thought of being turned into a martyr by Reginald, who would make up some lie about his death for the press, possibly even for his siblings, a painting of him put up next to the one of Five. He stopped himself from dying because he refused to let that bastard win. But he still ended up telling his siblings that he’d been practicing, just fucking around, really, and his hand had slipped. They seemed to believe him in varying degrees, but none of them ever questioned it to his face, even when it happened again, though that time he hadn’t wanted to die at all.

He had just been so sick and tired of everything, so apathetic that he just watched the blood run onto his sheets and clothes without any concern or relief, but the thing that snapped him out of it was that it had only been three months after Ben’s death, and he knew that if he joined him, it would destroy Klaus. Klaus had taken Ben’s death the hardest, since the two of them had been arguably the closest out of all of them, so he’d been clinging to Diego ever since, whose relationship with Klaus for the past few years had basically consisted of Diego sticking up for him to Luther and Reginald, half because they really were dicks to Klaus, and half because he just liked to piss them off. But he was the closest thing Klaus had to a friend after Ben died. He hadn’t become super close with Klaus through those three months, but he couldn’t let himself do something that would destroy one of his siblings so badly. Even if he would be dead, he couldn’t have that on his conscience. So he’d stumbled out of his room, calling for Mom just as he had last time, except without as much intensity. And she’d patched him up again, and Reginald had been disappointed without words again, and his siblings had visited him in the infirmary again, except this time, they didn’t ask what had happened, and he didn’t tell them. He’d stopped actively wanting to die when he left the Academy, and after that, anytime he felt the urge to watch himself bleed, he turned on his police radio and went to find a criminal to beat up. Eudora had called it a terrible coping mechanism back when they were dating, and told him that he needed therapy, but it had kept him alive so far, and that had always been his definition of being fine, so he just continued on.

He looked into the mirror and saw someone who shouldn’t be alive. He looked into the mirror and saw someone who had never been good enough. He looked into the mirror and couldn’t take the sight of himself reflected back. So he destroyed it. It was like watching himself in third person as he punched the glass, stumbled backward onto the bed, his fist bloody and his eyes wild, the pain not setting in yet. And then the dam broke, and he was sobbing, holding his injured hand, because nothing had ever been okay and it was never going to be okay. Because he’d been repressing everything that made him hurt for so long and only letting it out in small, painful doses, because the only emotion he let himself feel in front of anyone was anger, because he’d traded out one vice for another, because one day, he was going to die, and it might not be by his own hand, but it would be by his own doing. And in the end, was there really any difference between the two?

Footsteps. The others had heard his outburst. They were coming to see what he’d done now. And they were going to see everything. They were going to know. And there was nothing he could do to stop them. So he just cried harder, for a weakness he once kept so close finally coming to light. And as they burst into his room, not even knocking, he couldn’t even get his eyes to focus enough to tell who was there and who wasn’t. For a brief moment, nothing happened, and he could feel eyes on him, observing him in shock as the freak he was. And then there was someone else on the bed with him, and he was being pulled into a hug by skinny but surprisingly strong arms that couldn’t have belonged to anyone but Klaus. And then, from the other side, a hesitant hug, an almost too gentle touch that couldn’t have belonged to anyone but Vanya. And somehow, he felt just a tiny bit less horrible. Because eventually, Vanya would grab the first aid kit off of his dresser, and tenderly clean and bandage his hand, and the wound on his arm from last night, while he mumbled apologies that were half sobs about the way he’d treated her all these years, and she would accept them without hesitation. Klaus would run to his room and bring back two shirts, one with sleeves, one without, so he could make the decision whether he wanted the others to know. And a wet laugh would bubble out of him as he chose the tank top that read “too hot to be straight.” The three of them would talk about things they’d never talked about to anyone before, and they’d revel in each other’s comfort, as the other three made apocalypse plans downstairs that they wouldn’t have been included in either way. Except it didn’t matter, because they belonged here, together, forging a bond that would change everything. But right now, Diego just let himself cry in the arms of two of his siblings. Because he was surrounded by love, and maybe that wasn’t the cure to all of his pain, but it was at least a start.