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Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

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“If she gets hungry, there’s a bottle in the fridge, and if she’s cold her blanket is--”

“Diego,” Klaus said, rolling his eyes. “She’s gonna be with Mom most of the time anyway. And you’ve already shown me all the stuff.”

Diego squinted at him. Klaus wondered how much sleep he’d been getting lately. Probably very little. “I’ll call in an hour, so--”

“You will not,” Eudora said. “Klaus, just give her a little bit of human cuddling over the course of the night, but otherwise Grace will handle it.”

“Yes, I know,” Klaus said. 

Diego hovered between being indignant on behalf of Grace and protective of Gracie. “She can’t tell the difference.”

“She can. She needs a bit of time with someone warmer,” Eudora said.

“Fine, but she likes Mom.”

Eudora sighed and put her arm around Diego to drag him away. “Yes, she likes your Mom.”

Allison rolled her eyes. “Don’t teach Claire any curse words. And don’t burn the house down.”

“We’ll do our best,” Klaus said.

She rolled her eyes and followed Diego.

Klaus closed the door and locked it. Whether or not Diego would try to climb back in any windows remained to be seen, but at least this way he’d have more time to think about what he was doing.

“Okay,” Klaus said, clapping his hands together. “The adults are gone, the house is ours.”

“Can’t believe you made me stay,” Five muttered, while Claire held up her small hand for a high five. Klaus indulged her happily. “I could have snuck in.”

“Okay, first of all, you look like a child. Second of all, you have the body of a child. Third of all, you have to be sober with me! We’re twins!” He clambered onto the sofa, squishing Five under him.

Five grumbled and shoved at him until he could breathe. “What the hell does that have to do with anything, dickhead?”

“It means we have the same additive genes, you alcoholic bastard,” Klaus replied. He looked at Claire. “Claire, you know which of these words to not say in front of your mom, right?”

“Of course,” Claire said, very sagely for a six year old.

“Good girl.” Klaus gave her a thumbs up. “What’s our feature presentation?”

 “Muppet Treasure Island,” Claire said.

“I’ve never seen that one sober,” Klaus said. He stepped over Five’s head to grab the bowls of popcorn he’d prepared. “This one has syrup in it,” he said, handing the bowl to Claire. “And this one is boring.” He handed that one to Five.

Five made a face. “Some things don’t need syrup.” He took a handful of popcorn and lowered it off the couch to offer it to Mr. Pennycrumb.

“What does sober mean?” Claire asked, gingerly taking a piece of syrupy popcorn so that it touched the least amount of her skin.

“It means,” Klaus said, sighing, “that I used to have a real bad relationship with my brain, on account of all the ghosts I see, so I ate and drank stuff that was very bad for my brain, so that it would stop working and seeing dead people. And then I stopped, and now my brain works a-okay again, and that is what sober is.”

“Don’t know if your brain has ever been a-okay,” Five said.

“Well, it functions, is the point,” Klaus said.

Claire nodded, thoroughly convinced.

“Anyway, your Uncle Five did that too only maybe a little bit less,” Klaus said. “So now we’re both stuck here while your Mom and Aunt and Uncles partake in small, responsible amounts of brain-killing things, because your Uncle Diego needs a bit of a break from how he’s constantly stressed about your cousin.”

“That makes sense,” Claire said.

“Smart girl,” Klaus said, sliding down to the floor so Five could sprawl out on the couch in peace. “Okay, movie time.”

Five picked up Mr. Pennycrumb and deposited him on his chest. Mr. Pennycrumb, as a result, made a loud noise that Klaus swore sounded like someone trying to talk, if that person had chain smoked a pack of cigarettes and then swallowed another whole. “Sir,” Klaus told him, “I’m going to need you to be quiet during the movie.”

Mr. Pennycrumb griped at him, but settled when Five scratched his head. “He’s just getting comfortable,” Five said.

“Please be a dignified gentleman, Mr. Pennycrumb,” Klaus said severely.

Mr. Pennycrumb protested the request loudly, then attempted to curl up on Five’s chest, only to fall into the space between Five and the back of the couch and flail for purchase.

Klaus sighed. “I think your dog is a bit of useless sausage,” he said.

“Yeah, a little,” Five said. “Go ahead and start it, he’ll be fine.”

**

“You always get so sleepy when Mom reads or we watch movies,” Claire remarked.

“I’m awake, Allison,” Five mumbled.

Claire jabbed at his cheek. “Claire.”

Five opened his eyes and swallowed hard. “Sorry. Claire. I’m awake.”

“Don’t get sad,” Claire said, dragging Mr. Pennycrumb into her lap as she sat down next to him.

It was hard not to. She looked so much like Allison when she let her hair down. “Sorry.”

She poked at his shoulder aggressively.

Five sighed. “Where’d Klaus go?”

“I’m babysitting,” Klaus said, returning with Gracie under one arm.

“You can’t hold a baby like that,” Five said. “Come on, we’ve told you this.”

“She likes it!” Klaus protested. “If you know so much, you hold her!” He swung Gracie around to lift her into Five’s face like they were in the Lion King.

Five shrank back into the couch. “No way,” he said. “Just hold her right!”

“Five,” Klaus said. “Are you scared of little Gracie?”

Five rolled his eyes. “No, I am not scared of the baby,” he said. “I’m not always living in some kind of weird, hidden state of terror.”

“Only most of the time,” Klaus said. “Come on, hold the baby.”

Five grimaced at him. “Fine.”

Klaus deposited Gracie in his hands, and Five winced, trying to support her head as Diego had shown him. 

“She is too small,” he declared.

Klaus burst out laughing. “You’re so weird,” he said.

Five sighed. It was unspeakably odd, after everything he’d been through in the past several decades, to be handed a baby. They’d had a few, in timeline 2, but he’d never exactly been asked to watch any of them. In timeline 1, he definitely hadn’t gotten near any babies.

Gracie squeaked at him. His nerves were probably off-putting. At least it was going better than it had with Ben, who had to keep at least a foot between him and the baby in order to keep her from crying. 

He sighed and handed Gracie to Claire. “Trade you.”

Claire rolled her eyes, but she dumped Mr. Pennycrumb into his lap and took Gracie, sitting back so Gracie could sit on her lap properly.

Gracie blew an odd raspberry at her, while Mr. Pennycrumb danced with joy at being returned to Five.

The door opened, and Diego burst in, as though the night out had been, rather than relaxing, a night of waiting to see his daughter again. He made a beeline to her, a little tipsy as he reached out for her.

“Did you have fun, Uncle Diego?” Claire asked patiently as she helped him gather little Gracie into his arms.

“Uh-huh,” Diego mumbled, entirely distracted by greeting Gracie. “Hi, Grace Ann, I wish you knew how much I loved you.”

“You guys staying over tonight?” Klaus said.

“Yes,” Allison said. “We all drank.” She handled her alcohol better than Diego did, but she looked tired. “And Diego showed the bartender all of his baby pictures.”

Klaus snorted. “Not surprising.” 

“We watched Muppet Treasure Island,” Claire said. “And then Klaus showed me how to fold a paper boat, since Five fell asleep.”

“It’s a spectacular movie,” Klaus volunteered. “Even Five laughed.”

Five glowered at him on principle.

“You did,” Klaus said. “What, you embarrassed?”

“Heads up, Luther is very clingy right now,” Allison said. “You will get a bear hug. He’s currently distracted by a cat outside, but any minute now…”

As if on cue, Luther stumbled inside, trying to adjust his coat to look like he hadn’t.

Five sighed and put Mr. Pennycrumb on the ground just in time for Luther to catch sight of him and nearly cry. “You’re so small,” Luther said, picking him up easily. “Sometimes I forget how small you are.”

“Yep,” Five said, feet dangling off the ground as he accepted his fate.

“And there’s two of you!” Luther continued, freeing one arm to grab Klaus too.

Klaus allowed it, patting him on the back. He was swaying, but their weight didn’t seem to bother him at all even so. “Hey buddy, how about we go to bed, huh? You seem like you could use a nap.”

“Me too!” Claire yelled, darting between Luther’s legs and clambering up his back like he was a jungle gym. He leaned forward to make it easier for her, letting her get onto his shoulders. “Come on, Mom, read to us!”

Allison looked up from where she’d stealthily slipped a camera from her coat pocket to take pictures of Diego kissing Gracie’s nose like he was trying to make up for lost time. “Coming, coming.”

Luther squeezed Five and Klaus so hard they both groaned, then started up the stairs. 

Klaus met Five’s eyes, as if to say, You have a way out.  

Five rolled his eyes, and didn’t take it.