Actions

Work Header

It's In Making Decisions That We Learn To Decide

Chapter Text

It shouldn’t be so unnerving having kohl-lined eyes staring at him, but Diego couldn't help but feel a bit unsettled. ‘It’s Klaus,’ he kept telling himself, though the stare felt heavier than their normal light, banter-filled cadence. Plus, it couldn’t have been that interesting watching Diego mop the floor of the gym he still lived in after everyone else had gone home for the day. ‘Just ignore him, he’s probably not even staring at you. You’ve always thought this place was probably haunted anyway.’ 

 

Diego continued mopping.

 

Klaus continued staring.

 

“...what?” Diego finally caved with a sigh while he leaned his forehead onto the end of the mop handle for literal support. When Klaus didn’t answer him with his usual fast-paced wit, it made him roll his head to the side so his eyes could finally meet the other’s. 

 

“I just-” Klaus started when Diego looked over and stopped himself while sitting on a tall stack of boxes against the wall with one leg pulled up and hugged into his chest with the other still dangling over the edge. He had slept-in late hair, faint marks along his neck, and the too-big hoodie he was wearing was definitely not his own. “-I never know how to ask you about these things, or really you, because ‘we’re never allowed to focus on you' so….” The last bit was playfully mocked, the rest deadly serious.

 

Diego blinked, a bit taken aback by the stark difference in the other’s presentation. Instead of brushing him off like maybe a few of their other family members, Diego set the mop aside and came over to stand in-front of Klaus. He placed his hands on the other’s thigh and arm, comforting, as his own eyes turned to concern. 

 

“What’s wrong? You can ask me anything. I-....I’m trying-” 

 

“I know! I’ve noticed, and I’m so glad you talk to me more about things.” Klaus was quick to reassure Diego that the other's personal work was appreciated both with his words and his hands reaching out to meet Diego’s. He let his other leg down so he could lean in a little closer, eye level with Diego and so, so nervous. The other's eyes searching him trying to figure out why Klaus was so antsy was only making it worse. 

 

“Klaus-”

 

“What-was-it-like-when-you-left?” Klaus finally asked, rapid fire and almost one word of a question. He took a breath and cleared his throat, and then spoke slower. “You know, The Academy, walking out into this shithole world...alone?” 

 

A small look of realization came across Diego, and he could start to understand the other’s nervousness, though he was still a bit confused by how intense that nervousness was. 

 

“You’ve never asked me that before.” 

 

“I know.”

 

“In fact, we never talk about that-”

 

“I know, and I think….I think we should. I mean, shit, we ran around on the streets those few times a week we could sneak behind dad’s back, but I think stealing Doritos and beer from the corner store or egging our own house was a lot different than...than living it,” Klaus said, now keeping his eyes on anywhere but Diego while he spoke. The memories mentioned brought a fond look to Diego’s face even though it still seemed like Klaus was avoiding something, and it made him tilt his head slightly at the other. 

 

“Well, yeah, it was different. I’d say night and day different,” Diego validated, running his thumbs over Klaus’ hands. “I’m sure it was different for you too.” 

 

“Diego, come on, yeah of course it was shitty for me. I left not even a few weeks after you did. But I didn’t have to-....I mean I didn’t-….” Klaus was practically falling into him without actually doing so with how he was rocking his body back and forth slowly in his discomfort. Diego had to let go of his hands so he could steady his shoulders with just the right amount of familiar, grounding grip. 

 

“Klaus, Baby, I’m not angry.” Diego’s voice was softer than anyone else got to hear it, and he’d learned a long time ago that sometimes it was helpful to soothe something in Klaus. 

 

“Yes, but no, don’t do that. I mean, I love it when you do that, but don’t because it’s not about me, this is about you ,” Klaus emphasized again, a little more contained but still a bit shaky. Diego, instead of getting frustrated like he normally would, decided to stop trying to contain the other and let him ramble it out. 

 

“Like, it was different for you, I know it was, or it had to be, and maybe I’m an asshole for assuming but-...” And then Klaus’ eyes lit up as his brain seemed to finally find a way for him to get out these aching, trembling feelings. “I can’t stop thinking about that piece of shit Nazi at the store the other day,” Klaus started to explain, and Diego’s face changed from being so focused on the other to recalling the startling incident. His soft eyes hardened as metal crashing into metal sounded in his thoughts, and an echo of the white man’s face and hate-fueled voice and words followed. 

 

“I don’t like bringing it up, because it's vile and disgusting, and you didn’t even let me finish the job, by the way-” Klaus’ forever changing tone danced from scared, to angry, to teasing, and it made Diego feel dizzy. However, it also made him remember clear as day the image and sound of Klaus’ rage and fist connecting with flesh, and Diego visibly relaxed with a small grin. It was so hard not to say something, for once, but he let the other continue openly. 

 

"-but it’s got me thinking a lot lately. Like, if that pigshit, dumpster-fire can just be like that out of nowhere, at any time, then you know, anyone could have done anything at anytime and you must have-...I mean dad didn’t teach us any of this shit! He didn’t even think to be like ‘Hey, by the way, evil in this world isn’t just bad guys robbing banks but maybe your next door neighbor Bill the Bigot too!’”

 

Diego blinked while he took it all in, that grin growing a little bigger as Klaus’ tone got less anxious and more angry.

 

“And I have thought about this before, you know, over the years, the stupid reporters after missions asking if you, Ben, or Allison were as well-behaved as us which like, newsflash, you three were mostly better behaved than all of us besides Luther. Or like I just said, when we'd steal food and the guy behind the counter would be watching you instead of me even though we both were there being little shits. I just...I want to know, I want you to be able to talk about anything if you need to, I just….. I’m sorry  that I wasn’t there.” Klaus finished, finally, panting a little bit from not remembering to breathe properly and from the force, the emotion, the weight being brought back into the conversation. 

 

There was a long moment of silence, brown eyes looking into green. The only sounds were Klaus’ low pants, the low hum of the old ac intake in the corner, and the movement of one body sliding over cardboard to be pulled closer to another. 

 

Diego’s throat felt dry. He had the strongest urge to quickly walk away from this which was why his arms were hugging around the thin frame before him to prevent old habits from destroying necessary, beautiful moments like they used to. He suddenly couldn’t look at the other, so he pressed their foreheads together instead of looking away. Random memories of those first few years on his own played behind his closed eyes. Klaus swallowed thickly like he had done something wrong, and Diego had to speak, finally. 

 

“Baby, you don’t h-have to b-b-be sorry,” He finally stammered out. He silently wondered if that same feeling of euphoria he had felt about his partner that day at the grocery store, that was once again mixed into all of the others, would always carry him through moments like this. The rage, the fear, the sadness, and this particular side of love swirled and sank. He took a deep breath to continue, and luckily, Klaus didn’t interrupt him. 

 

“We were young, we were fucked up, we still are-” He managed to say in a more controlled way, though that pulled an amused snort from the other that made him smirk. “And, y-....y-yeah, it was hard, in a w-w-...way it w-wasn’t for you.” Diego’s control faltered but he spoke anyway. 

 

“I w-want you to know. And I’ll….I’ll tell you. I promise. O-only you. W-when I can.” Diego finally pulled back, but only enough to look at Klaus with glassy eyes. He let go so he could hold up his hands, and Klaus’ worried and touched look faded into a smile while he copied the familiar gesture. 

 

“Okay,” Klaus agreed, relieved, and they sealed it with their secret handshake that was as old as their sense of selves. Then Diego cupped Klaus’ face to seal it with a soft kiss that was slightly newer and more cultivated. Klaus returned it with zeal and wrapped his legs around Diego’s waist to pull himself flush to the other. He broke it for just a moment with a little aside. 

 

“But seriously, fuck that guy.”

 

Diego paused, chuckled, and mumbled.

 

Fuck.”

 

And kissed him again.

 

Chapter Text

This is my line, this is eternal
How did I ever end up here?
Discarnate, preternatural
My prayers to disappear

Absent of grace, marked as infernal
Ungranted in dead time and left me disowned
To this nature so unnatural
I remain alone


 

The first time it happened, Diego was laid wide awake in his bed with a sleeping Klaus half draped over him. A nightmare had woken him up sometime ago, and now he was pretty certain time had no meaning anymore, or had been made to stand still while he gently traced his fingers over Klaus’ bare back. The weight was comforting, as was the steady rhythm of rising and falling chests and synced heartbeats. 

Klaus was normally the one who was stricken with nightmares the most, especially after the war, the loss of Dave, the kidnapping, and Klaus getting and staying clean and becoming vulnerable to his own power. This night, he was sleeping soundly with one leg hooked over both of Diego’s like he was going to leave, again. 

Sometime in that twilight-zone haze of time when everything was at its quietest, something in the back of Klaus’ consciousness finally caught on to the fact that Diego’s breathing was just this bit too loud, and he hadn’t heard any faint snoring in hours. It roused him awake, slowly, though he didn’t move his position or look up. Instead, he ran his fingertips over Diego’s side where his hand was already resting, and placed a ghost of a kiss on warm skin. Diego acknowledged his touches by moving his hand up to rub affectionately at the back of Klaus’ neck just like he knew he liked, which pulled an appreciative hum from the latter. 

“Why aren’t you asleep?” Klaus asked finally, his voice thick still with the sleep he just abandoned, and his eyes finally peeked up at Diego. 

“Can’t,” Diego answered flatly, and then squared his jaw at his own stupid go-to response before he added with more honesty “...bad dream.” These words drew some movement from Klaus, pushing himself up closer and into his space. Klaus then paused. 

“Ew, I don’t know how you let me do this to you all the time,” He mumbled the aside while he wiped his own drool off the other’s chest with a corner of the blanket they had kicked off themselves at some point in the night. 

“I don’t know, it's not like your mouth isn’t already acquainted with my body or anything.” Diego’s lips turned sly, a bit grateful and hopeful for the divergence. 

“As true as that is, my Love,” Klaus said with a hint of dramatic flair while he nuzzled his face into the other’s cheek, “don’t think you can distract me. My expertise is not only oral ministrations but also aural...reverentions.” 

“Where does your brain come up with this shit?” Diego asked incredulously, while also not being sure if ‘reverention’ was a real word or not (it almost was).

“I don’t ask where your special gifts come from, though not that any of us actually know…” Klaus thought a moment, shook his head a little bit, and then continued, “...I just appreciate them, religiously, so you should do the same.” This caused Diego to roll his eyes a little and also turn his face so their lips brushed while he spoke. 

“I already worship at your alter basically every day, but if you need that much of a reminder…” His voice dropped an interval or two, his fingers running along the side of Klaus’ neck now. He felt more than saw Klaus visibly shiver, and he smiled as Klaus hummed once more against his mouth with a little chuckle. Without warning, Klaus scrambled to straddle him with a newfound source of energy that almost startled Diego. 

“No no no no! Don’t you dare, Mr. Suave.” Klaus leaned over him and waved a finger in his face, which made Diego laugh softly in amusement and try to nip at said finger. A small yelp of surprise and audacity left Klaus and then they were both giggling. “Stop! You’re so bad! Just because you really like morning sex does not mean you’re getting out of this.” 

“What? Is that a crime now?” 

“Diego,” Klaus insisted, a little firmer but loving. His eyes were on Diego’s now, and it took a couple moments, a few more half-hearted attempts at distraction from the larger man, and soft tutting from the smaller that eventually made Diego sigh in defeat. (He could have sworn that Klaus had to have been learning a thing or two in dominance dynamics over the course of their relationship, and a part of him was quite proud while another part secretly reveled in it.)

“It was stupid,” Diego shook his head a little, and when Klaus didn’t speak, he added “it was about just before I left...and a little bit after.” Guilt laid itself heavy in his chest and made it just this side of difficult to breathe. “You were there, you’d remember it too.” 

“Talk to me?” Klaus asked gently, an echo of hurt in his green eyes, but nestled in that uniquely Klaus kind of understanding and forgiveness. Diego's eyes reflected said guilt and his years-long, over-repeated apology back, and was met with a silly, soft kiss to the bridge of his nose.  

Sitting up a little more, he glanced around the room like he often did as if he was the one with the ability to see spirits. 

"I think we’re alone now," The real medium reassured with a wry grin. 

With a fond eye roll followed by a small nod, Diego finally agreed.

“I was back, or we were back...on that mission. The one where Ben died-”

 A layer deeper than Diego’s seemingly endless layers of ire opens up the day that Ben dies.

“-you remember? We rushed home with him and I-…” 

Diego insists, like he himself would die otherwise, that he be the one to carry his brother home. He has horrified, awe-filled tears in his eyes and his brother's blood staining his stupid uniform. The hothead is so quiet that it's unsettling, and no one dares to, or can, speak. 

“-I couldn’t think, there were no actual thoughts, only-…” Diego' eyebrows scrunched as he concentrated on wrapping imperfect words around long repressed emotions while he described the scene of his once recurring nightmare. 

Diego is free falling. 

"....-nothing." 

When they arrive home, Diego brings Ben upstairs. He ignores the small questions asked by Luther who is the only one managing to speak now. Klaus and Allison follow behind them with silent tears, Vanya still unaware wherever she currently was in the house. The other three pause, and it's only Number Four who dares to follow Number Two over the threshold into Number Six's room. Ben’s body is laid gently in his bed and Diego tucks him in like Mom always used to when he fell asleep reading- methodical and nurturing. Klaus just watches helpless, wordless, looking between where Diego is staring at the bed, and where Ben is also standing next to himself watching along too. Ben's face is indescribable. 

"I still don't know why I did that. Maybe I just...w-...wanted him to be c-comf- no...s-slee-...s-safe?"

"Home," Klaus breathed, wise. Diego blinked unexpected tears and squeezed shaky fingers into Klaus' hands before his eyes looked away somewhere else. He felt like he was swaying with a hidden tide and all of the motion sickness that came with it. 

Diego doesn't even think or bring himself to ask Klaus if he sees or hears Ben. Even here, now, he knows it would be wrong and gut wrenching to ask that of him. Notwithstanding both of their closeness to Ben, Klaus is still struggling with the spirits and his drug use, and pushing Diego away day by day.  

“You know what happened next.” 

Diego bottoms out, consumed.

"Yeah-…" Klaus waited.

Diego’s on his feet, and he’s running. He’s running away from Klaus’s calls of his name. He's running out of the room past his two other crying siblings, door ricocheting shut from the sheer force when his shoulder catches it in his path. He's running down the hall towards that forbidden, oppressive office. He's running and everything in his vision blurs, every atom in his body licks with flame, grief. He is running and grabbing at various knives in his harnesses and straps and hurling them all with the mental image, intention, and sheer will of sinking them all into their father’s heart. 

“-you tried to murder Dad,” Klaus finished after Diego, comical, matter-of-fact defense mechanism tone at the ready.

“Yeah, still not sorry for that," Diego answered in his casual dark tone cut from the same cloth. 

“Hey, I thought it was a superb idea," casually defensive hello and goodbye hands shrugged and rejoined the knife-thrower's. Diego soured. 

When he reaches the closed office door, it is littered with knives stuck deep in the grain all in a concentrated, intentional, bullseye formation. One or two of his sharpest had pierced clean through. Diego wrenches the door nearly off its hinges, and the old man’s chair is empty save for the two knives sunk into the refined leather at chest level.

“Luther didn’t think so.” Familiar bitterness returned in Diego’s voice, a momentary respite.

“Well, duh. It was Luther, " Klaus walked out on this thin tight rope with expertise and after a moment added, "he was angry though, he was furious with Dad after you left.” 

“....Yeah, well. I guess,” Diego begrudgingly accepted this logic or whatever nonsense it could be called- progress. 

Diego is a caged animal, turning around with wild, black eyes to the sound of Luther’s calls after him finally registering in his awareness. Number One’s large (though still human) form is mere feet away. Number Two screams while he charges forward instead of letting Luther trap him in that room, and tackles him to the ground. He unleashes blow after blow, wailing ‘I’m gonna kill him! I’m gonna kill him!’ He doesn't know if he means it about Dad or Luther at this point, and he doesn’t care. 

Luther, for once, isn't fighting back nearly as hard, and is instead trying to block those hits and overpower the crying, shocked, and out of control Number Two. ‘Diego! Diego, calm down! You’re going to hurt yourself!’

He feels the other two come close after catching up to their faster pace, too close, and he’s caged in again. He scrambles off of Luther, reaching back for a couple of knives off of the door, and takes off again trying to find the bastard. 

“I just….I wanted him dead, and I wanted to be the one to do it. I wanted him to be the one who suffered for once instead of us. It was his fault, always pushing Ben to do more with his power, always forcing him to go when he didn’t want to. I…. w-wanted it all to s-stop.” 

The string of stuttered expletives that rolls out of his mouth like how his knives roll off his fingertips, if intelligible, probably would have made a sailor blush. There is no rhyme or reason to the directions in which he runs, knowing he will run into the man eventually. Being just shy of their eighteenth birthdays, Reginald is always at home during missions until they are completed, or in this case, failed. 

Diego ends up running towards the dining room where he sees the emotionless bastard sat drinking tea and reading, drinking tea and fucking reading. He raises a shaky hand, two knives in a white knuckled grasp, and he is just about to throw them as he crosses into the threshold of the room. Mom steps into his path, her glassy smile turning to the saddest look Diego was sure he had ever seen her have. It distracts him just enough to make him lower the knives and almost fall over to stop himself from running into her. 

“And then….th-there was M-Mom….” 

‘Diego, what’s wrong? Are you angry? Do you need to take space?’ She asks him in her programed format, but he swears her eyes look so much more aware of just how wrong everything suddenly is. He tries to speak, still a stuttering mess, looking between her and Dad who now decides to look up from his reading material at him.

‘No, you’re crying, you’re sad. Why are you so sad?’ She concludes and analyses again. His free, blood stained hand is instinctively grasping at her arm and dress unable to let go while he is also trying to move around her to get to Dad.

“And...I…”

Diego is flying. 

His chest is swelling and heaving with every breath and heartbeat as the sadness comes gusting in. Still tithed to that pit of rage, he is whipped back and forth. ‘B-b-b-b…..Ben is g-go-….he’s d-dead!’ He yells at both of them while Mom takes his face in her hands trying to soothe him, but his furious eyes search for the look on his father’s face as he learns of the news. 

“Dee?...” Klaus whispered while running his hand through dark hair as he tries to bring the other back to the present. Diego swallowed painfully and shuddered at the whole body disgust at these visceral feelings and the surge forward in time.

“He had no fucking right to be sad,” venom dripped from Diego’s words “but I also wanted him to be as crushed as we all were. And nothing, same cold bastard he always was, but then I thought maybe...I saw him frown, or- that’s….that’s crazy.” 

“No-Dee-No, it’s not crazy. It know it feels crazy, but I totally know what you mean.” 

“Yeah…yeah you do.” Diego leaned his head into Klaus’ shoulder unable to face the other.

‘Grace, subdue Number Two, he’s a danger to us and himself right now,’ Reginald speaks as he stands up from his seat, the other siblings now running into the room after finally catching up again. ‘Mom, no! No! P-please!’ His face contorted to panic as she looked so sad at him. ‘I’m so sorry, Diego’ She said as she pulled a syringe from her built in emergency pack and jabbed it into a squirming and already faint feeling Diego’s thigh. ‘P-please! I’ll be good! I’ll be...good….’ 

“I remember.” Klaus’ voice was quiet, almost far away with his own memories playing alongside Diego’s. “I think he ended up doing that to all of us, we couldn’t calm down either, and he actually looked scared, first time that ever happened.” 

“Really? God, he really was a monster.” Diego took in the new information and wasn’t surprised in the slightest, but that didn’t prevent another sickening lurch in his stomach. “This wasn’t in the dream, but I left the morning of Ben’s funeral. I saw the beginning of it but I-...I couldn’t stay.” He admitted out loud for the very first time. “I couldn’t sit there and listen to whatever he had to say when it was his fault. I just couldn’t.” 

“Neither could I, it's why I don’t remember it at all,” Klaus ran a hand over Diego’s back. “I got so fucked up that whole week I could have bought stock in Peter the Pill Pusher and not waited a decade for our inheritance.” It shouldn’t have been funny, it really wasn’t funny, but Diego was laughing a sad and pitiful laugh and finally moved to look at him with wet eyes exposed. 

“You’re right, I shouldn’t take your special talents for granted.” 

Klaus reflected that amused and sad look back while he also chuckled at the absurdity. 

Diego wiped at his eyes with the back of one of his hands, and he hugged Klaus in extra close with another long silence. Everything still felt wrong, but a piece of himself that he couldn’t place or outline into a solid shape was altered.

“What a prick.” 

“Massive….no, he doesn’t get that kind of credit. Micro, that’s more fitting,” Klaus replied without missing a beat, and Diego snorts.

“Yeah, then it went dark, and the dream shifted.”

“Jeez, that’s not all?” 

“Yeah, but I’m not going there, not yet.” 

“Okay.” Klaus pulled away a little to look around the room, and at first, Diego thought maybe he was mad or upset. 

“Mi Corazón1-” He started, a soft name he had only recently started to whisper in concern or pure affection and would pull a surprised, occasionally even shy smile from the other. This time Klaus was shushing him lightly but looking back at him both with a hint of that shyness on the periphery and a classic Klaus ‘I have an idea’ look in the center. 

“Come on, grab your knives,” He urged as he got out of bed but kept his hands in Diego’s, essentially dragging him along with him. Instead of asking, Diego chose to remain curious, freeing one hand to pick up his belts of knives he still kept by the bed, and followed the other over to the other side of the apartment. 

Klaus let go only once he reached Diego’s targets hung on one of the walls. He started to ask, and Klaus waved a Goodbye in his direction without even looking back while he continued to look for something. 

“Shhh, wait for it, wait...for….yes! Come to papa!” Stashed in a nearby drawer and now in Klaus’ grasp was a stack of xeroxed pictures of their Dad. 

“How did-...Did you-?” Diego asked dumbly, blinking as the stack was shoved in his hands and Klaus took a few from the top. 

“A girl never stabs and tells.” Klaus went over and tacked them onto the targets and then turned around, eyes bright and proud. Diego’s jaw went a little slack, both at how brilliant Klaus was and looked while being so pleased with himself. Diego’s shock was replaced with a wolfish and proud smile of his own as he let the rest of the stack fall next to where he stood. He reached out his hands and Klaus pranced, literally, over to him and into his arms. 

Turning Klaus with care and hugging him from behind, he placed a knife in his hand and grabbed one for himself. 

“Ladies first?” Diego teased against Klaus’ ear, pulling a comical purr from the other. 

“No no, Sir, I insist.” 

Diego answered by whipping the knife from next to Klaus directly between the eyes of the picture, and he had a pretty good guess as to why it made Klaus squirm against him and laugh in delight. 

“Well now you’re just going to make me look bad,” Klaus murmured and reached his hand over to place Diego’s over his knife-clad one. Diego complied, using both of their hands to sink the cool metal into the throat. 

“Dead center,” Ben commented, corporal, from the side of the room with a sarcastic smirk, a mischievous laugh from Klaus, and Diego about jumped out of his skin. 

“If you weren't... already dead... I'd kill you myself." Diego panted out the words with all of the ruthlessness of an angry puppy. 

"Oh please, it only took over 10 years to finally witness something this satisfying," Ben added with even more sarcasm and a smile. Klaus protested, shrugged in defeated agreement, and Diego smiled back.

 

Chapter Text

I was a teenage anarchist, but the politics were too convenient. 

In the depths of their humanity all I saw was bloodless ideology. 

And with freedom as the doctrine, guess who was the new authority? 

I was a teenage anarchist, but the politics were too convenient.

Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire?

I was a teenage anarchist, but then the scene got too rigid.

It was a mob mentality, they set their rifle sights on me.

Narrow visions of autonomy, you want me to surrender my identity.

I was a teenage anarchist, the revolution was a lie.

Do you remember when you were young, and you wanted to set the world on fire?

 


 

The second time it happened, Diego wasn’t sure if it was something in the buzzing, crowded, sweat-soaked air of the small boxing club or if his mind was playing tricks on him when he looked across the ring at his opponent. It wasn’t the most important or high stakes fight he had ever been in evidenced by the size of the match (the venue was only somewhat bigger than the gym that housed his “apartment”). Diego took every match seriously, never knowing if there would be anyone there scouting for fighters on the regional or national level. He also never knew how a match was going to ultimately turn out, how many injuries would be sustained on either side, and the thrill of the uncertainty was a crutch he had grown to depend on. 

Still, something about this man across from him set his teeth on edge like he was chewing on tin foil. Although his view was somewhat obscured by the bad lighting, there was nothing particularly interesting about him: slightly taller stature than Diego, stocky build, bald head, light but sparse facial hair, arm and chest tattoos, white. He had probably fought at least a dozen men like this over the years, and he must have struggled to place him. The scene was big enough that people started to blur together after a while, but small enough to repeat matches and opponents over time. 

Diego pulled off his zip up hoodie revealing a naked, slightly scarred torso paired with black shorts with the most subtle red white and green flag icons on the sides of the waistband. Fingers lightly tapped at his calf, and Diego glanced down to see Klaus standing on the floor smiling up at him and reaching out to take his hoodie from him. The familiar, bright look attempted to settle him into pleasant complacency as it often did now. Diego was stoic on the outside save for the little nod of acknowledgement and his signature two-eyed wink he gave Klaus as he handed it off. He had to stay focused, and Klaus was often a source of (much wanted) distraction. 

Slipping on his gloves while his name was announced, Diego managed to single out Luther’s low timbre in the, albeit, small crowd of cheers that followed. Bouncing on the balls of his feet to get himself psyched and his blood flowing, he glanced over into the crowd and noticed Allison’s wild arms waving around with her enthusiastic cheers before he saw the conspicuous, bulky body of his brother standing and clapping next to her. Klaus moved into his line of sight to join them, and it shouldn’t be strange to have them all there. Klaus came to most of his matches nowadays, and he was supposed to be grateful and happy for the support the other two showed him now. Even though his family hadn’t even known about his boxing career until the apocalypse was upon them, they were all trying now. 

Retraining his eyes back across the diagonal stretch, Diego stepped forward into the harsh light hanging over the middle of the ring at the same time as his opponent. When the light draped over the shadows and angles of pale skin, Diego’s eyes widened as they came into focus on Sailor Jerry style combat boots tattooed across the throat, a long scar along the jawline, and “SKINS” badly scrawled between light eyes and above the bridge of the nose. 

Diego is all tremors, pulsating.

Rapid blinks settled to closed eyes, a cold sweat broke out across the back of Diego’s neck. 

‘Who do you think you are, you little shit?! Who you tryin'a be?’ 

The brick wall is cold and wet and entirely ungiving as Diego’s adolescent-thin body is thrown into it by a bald, tattooed man with a mean expression accompanied by three other look-alikes. He instantly tastes metallic when his teeth cut the inside of his cheek and pain throbs in his jaw. A calloused hand digs into his other cheek to keep him pressed there. 

‘We got ourselves a ballsy little- what- a punk? You trying to be white or somethin'?' The same voice mocks with laughter.   

Diego swallowed the acid in his throat.

Diego's stomach sinks, he hears blood rush in his ears, and he has no idea why. His body tenses and feels wrong, his head starts to slip away like it used to, he can’t register what those words are supposed to mean, and he has no idea why.

Sweat trickled down his neck.

Diego is the surface of water in an earthquake: glass...tremor...glass...tremor.

'And you people always accuse us of stealing your culture,' another voice adds from behind him filled with disgust and vexation. 

His heart beat sharply.

Diego is arrhythmia: beat, tremor, beat-beat, tremor…beat.

Diego isn’t sure who actually throws the first punch to his kidneys, but he is sure that it hurts like hell. 

The starting bell clanged in his head as Diego opened his eyes, and the tattoos and scars vanished from the other’s face and throat. His arms had lowered their defenses without his permission in his distraction, but he managed to raise them just in time to half dodge the first punch thrown. 

‘Get off me! Fuck you!” Diego grits out through the bits of gravel dug into his already bruising cheek and the blows across his back while he struggles to get free. ‘I don’t even know you, I didn’t do anything!’ 

His Elmer’s-Glue spiked hair is harshly grabbed and his whole body is slammed down onto the equally unforgiving concrete, his mind following and crash landing back into his head.

Rage and panic filled his senses as they squared off around the ring just this side of too fast for his typical style of fighting. He threw his first punch early, and although it connected, it was weak. He quickly used this as a distraction and connected his non-dominant hand with the other’s face, it was brutal. 

‘What the fuck do you know? You’re wearing a goddamn Ramones shirt,’ The same man laughs again while Diego wheezes on the ground, staring up at the empty night sky, tall brick walls, and four pale faces looming over him with the word ‘SKINS' etched into their foreheads.

‘Fuckin' Jew bastards,’ one of the clones adds oh so intelligibly. 

‘Aw, did your mommy make that for you?’ Another one quips, his finger motioning to the hand embroidered logo across the front of his chest. Diego shields it with his arm and glares daggers at each of the men. Memories echo through time of him and Grace, the quiet moments when he would play his newfound favorites to condition her programming into liking the music, her voice clear Ramone, a name, origin- old German and Spanish: a variation of Raymond (German) and Ramón (Spanish) meaning wise defender or protective hands.’  

Four sets of hands grab the fabric, pulling, pulling, pulling until it tears. They all laugh at once.

Diego tremors apart.

The taller figure staggering backwards caused a wave of excitement to come through the crowd, and Diego knew he should hesitate, breathe, count to three, be patient. Yet, his breath was shaky and uneven as his internal clock ticked out of time. He crowded in and jabbed, too fast. The taller baited him in to strike a blow to his gut, and Diego doubled over. 

‘Hey, did your mom have a good time last night after your limp dick dad failed to fuck her the way I did?’ Diego’s blood stained mouth runs away with him before he can think about what he says, his stupid eighteen year old brain too full of fury to harbor enough room left for reason (apparently he hadn't learned a thing from twenty minutes prior when his initial greeting to the group was "I didn't know there was a uniform for clown school" when they had approached him). A swift combat-boot-clad kick to his side has him gasping and coughing, one from the other side follows with a sickening thud. His lungs can't expand fully, he can't form words, and yet his efforts to stand back up are not weakened by the lack of oxygen.

Diego is deafening silence before chaos. 

His opponent pulled a clattering uppercut into his jaw.

Within seconds, he is overwhelmed by four sets of legs stomping him down and Diego curls in on himself defensively while he continues to try to scream.

Dizzied, Diego shook his head while he moved backwards into a defensive position and tried to regain control of his faculties. The dull ache in his jaw and that familiar metallic taste in his mouth just amplified his internal distress. 'Get it together, you idiot!'

Light-headed and faint from the kicks to his head and neck, Diego knows he’s going to pass out or die here if he doesn’t do something. Flashes of drills and "preparedness training" comes back to him in an instant. Diego instinctively reaches an inch further down his fetal drawn legs for the ankle holster under his jeans. 

Diego sees red.

As quickly as he can manage, Diego unsheathes the knife and starts hacking around at the blurred images of white legs and black boots with red following after. The skinheads howl and grab at their legs in shock, and Diego has the briefest moment of reprieve. Breathing in as much air as his lungs could hold, he clamors onto his hands and feet, desperate, and continues to slice up any bit of the men he could reach or that came near him. 

The pace slowed to a comfortable, evenly matched back and forth though the hits Diego threw out were more forceful than necessary. He was tiring quickly. His mouth started rattling off insults, uncharacteristic of the normally silent, focused fighter. Shit-talking was integral to fighting. Yet, Diego had trained himself out of it in favor of utilizing an unreadable self-control based on the rhythm of his breath. He used it like a gear shift, revving it up and down as necessary to always stay one step-ahead.

Diego spits blood into the first man’s face and jumps to the side to dodge another man lunging for him. In the same motion, Diego pushes said man into another that had the same idea, the two bodies collide and collapse. Diego runs (limps) to the last man and jumps on his back so he can brutalize the back of his head with his knife-free hand. 

Those damn tattoos kept reappearing during the scuffling in the blink of an eye, and vanishing the next. Diego was distracted each time without fail into missing his blocks and taking another hit. It also made him more erratic with his movements as time went on, shaky arms jabbing when he should have blocked, ducking hits too soon, almost letting himself get backed into corners.

Diego is dancing. 

Diego jumps off the man once he is incapacitated enough, holding his knife perpendicular and swinging around in a circle until it pernitrates deep into the stranger’s side followed by a panicked cry. As fast as it connects, he yanks it free and shoves the body into the man still blinded by the blood. The original man falls back into the same wall he had thrown Diego against, and a knife follows through the air. Cool metal cuts down the edge of the man’s jaw, clattering against the brick.

Diego is sanguine.

Standing there looking at all four of them, his hands, face, and already bruising torso freckled in blood, internally disconnected, he finally lets out the breath he had been holding the whole time. 

Diego is death.

‘Get the fuck out of here before I kill all of you damn cowards! You have no idea who I am! You have no-' He has no need to yell anything else, but he continues with threats as the group runs off down the same alleyway they had found Diego in sat against the wall lightly dozing and listening to Ruby Soho by Rancid.

Diego trudges over to the tattered, blood stained shirt to pick it up, examines it with bloody, light fingertips for an extended period of time, and finally tosses it in a nearby dumpster.

One explosive punch to his torso, two back to back across each side of his face, and three seconds passed before Diego staggered backwards and fell onto the floor. 

 


 

“Diego…..Diego, wake up, you just got Ali’d into next year,” The voice Diego heard was distant and slowly faded in closer and closer, though it was hard to make out the words. 

“Don’t wanna train today, Mom,” Diego mumbled in his stupor with his eyes still closed and his hands barely coming up in protest of the warm hands with long fingers trying to rouse him. Familiar snickering followed. Then he felt even larger hands on him and shot his eyes open with a start. His own hands blindly shoved down to get those hands off immediately. 

“Dee, breathe, come on like our Lamaze class. In, hold, hold, hold...and out,” Klaus came into his view, his face quite up close to his own, and Diego smiled at him a little lost and entirely, unguardedly fond. 

“What?” He asked dumbly, the entire joke lost on him. Then his eyes trailed to the left and saw Luther almost equally as close and his face was replaced with another jolt of surprise. Luther didn’t seem fazed, Allison next to him looked plain worried out of her mind, and Klaus laughed softly in amusement (and to cover over his own worry). 

“Are you okay?” Luther asked in his usual blunt manner, but there was genuine concern for his well being etched into the lines of his forehead and that was...unusual. 

“Yeah, yeah I’m fi--” Diego cut himself off as he looked around further to see that the match was over. Some of the people started to file out while others looked on from the side. “...--fucked. I’m fucked, actually.” Matter-of-fact, he laid his head back down, knowing that ending up on your back never meant anything else.  

“Oh honey, you’re not in any shape for that right now,” Klaus chided with mirth, and it was worth it to see Luther’s face scrunch uncomfortably and for Allison to simply roll her eyes with the smallest upturn of her lips.

Diego, headstrong (or not so much) as ever, moved to sit up despite all three of their objections. It wasn’t nearly the first time he had been knocked out, but it had been the first time in a long time that he had been knocked out in the first round. It was painfully embarrassing, and Klaus read it all over his cool, collected exterior that refused to look any of them in the eye. It only served to increase that worry that was showing itself more in the faint lines around his eyes and cheeks now instead of only in his gaze. He made a light suggestion for Allison and Luther to go grab a drink at the bar while he got Diego cleaned up.

The fighter went to stand up on his own, and instead allowed Klaus to help him all the way up to his feet. He even allowed Klaus to carry his gym bag and to put his hoodie back on him, too sore to care, and knowing he should (was told to) let others (only Klaus) help him sometimes. 

They walked with their hands laced together, Diego tugging lightly in a different direction when Klaus goes to lead them back to the locker room. Klaus gave him a confused look for a moment, but easily followed Diego out a side door and into the biting, crisp night. It was a stark difference to the hot and humid air inside, and Diego found himself taking extra deep breaths of the relief. 

“Just needed some air,” He volunteered to the other, who nodded at him while he watched. They stood in the alley between the venue and the next building, and Diego’s ears instantly recognized the distant cars driving by, the dripping water in nearby gutters, and the faint sounds of people gathered in front of the building after the end of the event. What he didn’t recognize was the absence of Klaus’ voice until it was made present again in light mumbles.

“It happened again, didn’t it?” Klaus caught Diego’s eyes. There was something somber and dark in Klaus’ expression that Diego identified and related to, and he irrationally wanted to take it away from (for) him. 

“Yeah,” He averted his eyes, “was it obvious?” 

“Probably not to most people, to them you would have just seemed off your normal game, maybe having a bad night,” Klaus reassured with so much surety “but to me, you didn’t seem like you were fully there, or here. You were stuck somewhere in between.” 

Diego wanted to ask the stupid question of how Klaus knew that, but he already knew the obvious answer(s). Instead, he gave a half-hearted almost smile and gave Klaus’ hand a small squeeze.

“It’s weird being a time traveler,” Klaus added with his usual wistful smile coming back to his face. Diego blinked at him pointedly, forcing himself not to smile in recognition at the hurt layered irony. God, why did their lives always have to be so fucked up and tangled together?

“It is, isn’t it?” was all Diego could think to say, and then his mouth betrayed him with said lopsided smile. It didn’t mean he had to let Klaus see it though, looking off in the opposite direction with a hand caressing the small of his back. The other leaned in closer, hugged in, and pressed his face into Diego’s cloth-covered shoulder. He would have made a comment about how sweaty he was, but he had already learned that Klaus was quite queer (both strange and sexually) and never minded (actually enjoyed) it. Twisted bonehead.

“Where did you go?” Klaus’ fingers walked over Diego’s chest. 

“You remember a few days ago, the uh-” Diego paused to clear his throat before he continued “-the nightmare I had?” When Klaus ‘mhm-ed’ in agreement, Diego added “That part I didn’t tell you about.” 

“Ah, after you left the academy, yes?” Klaus more stated than asked, and Diego confirmed. 

“The guy I was up against tonight, he looked...just like someone, a random guy I hadn’t thought about in years,” Diego started and shook his head a little bit as that image of the man’s face tried to come back. “I couldn’t stay with it, I couldn’t get out of my own head. It was like I was back fighting the guy from the past. It was so weird.” 

“Yeah, it is when that happens,” Klaus crawled his fingers up to touch lightly and experimentally at the bruises forming on Diego’s cheek and eye. It hurt a little, but the touch was nicer. 

Diego leaned back against the wall while he attempted to coherently and clearly explain to Klaus what he had seen during the match. It was a little difficult with Klaus interjecting small phrases or sounds of hatred when he realized the brevity of what Diego was describing, and Diego still isn’t sure if this anger was purely protective, or borne from guilt, or both. Still, feeling like Klaus believed him and wouldn’t talk over him made it that much easier to allow himself those moments of hyperfocus on crystal clear details, moments of maybe not telling everything in the exact right order, moments of sarcasm to get through the story. However, he didn’t even realize that a good amount of the story was missing until afterward when Klaus started to try to help him make sense of it, fleshing out the context. 

“So how did Lord Voldemort and his death eaters find you in the first place?” Diego shook his head but thought for a moment at the question, trying to right his own timeline.

“I had to uh, get by after I left. I was homeless for a while, had no idea what I was doing. I mean, I know you were too, so you get it. So, I tried to get a job, any job, but they wouldn’t take me without proof that I had a right to work, or was a citizen, and they give you ‘the look’,” Diego’s face demonstrated the furrowed eyebrows of suspicion, eyes looking up and down, and relaxing into disbelief. It changed to a more Diego-like bitter grin while Klaus scoffed and rolled his eyes at the mention of the microaggressions. 

“That’s such bullshit. Shouldn’t they have recognized your name? I mean, we were all over the news at that point, ‘Umbrella Academy member killed in action,’ ‘Second umbrella academy sibling dead, others missing’, ‘Where it rains, it pours on the Umbrella Academy’-”

Diego waved his hand dismissively. “Ah, that’s a whole other thing, social suicide of the Hargreeves name aside.” 

“Of course,” Klaus agreed to let the subject go. “So these skinheads found you when you were squatting somewhere?” 

If anyone had asked him months ago, they would have met his guardedness and maybe a warning of sharp metal blurring past their head. However, Diego had crossed paths with Klaus in those positions himself; it was silently understood.

“Yeah, basically. They weren’t the first people who had tried to mess with me, but it’s uh...hard to kick ass by yourself when you’re used to doing it in a group,” Diego admitted with the faintest tinge of color on his cheeks while he looked at the ground. 

“True, you all would have to deal with that adjustment,” Layers of history of look out duty and self deprecation made up Klaus’ quip, and Diego snorted. “You learned though,” Klaus added, motioning a hand to the venue. 

“Yeah....see, I uh….” Diego paused and laughed a little nervously, a little bitterly. His hand let go of Klaus to rub at the back of his own neck. “I didn’t really have a choice. I mean maybe I did? Thinking back on it. But it’s too late now to change it.” 

“You know, I love your obscure, brooding self, and how sexy that makes you, all tall, dark, handsome, and mysterious, but-” 

“Yeah yeah, I know, details,” Diego's hand moved back down to return to Klaus’ back. “Those guys weren’t the only ones who had found me.” 

Diego’s time runs out.

His nimble fingers card through his gas-station-soap-washed hair while he sits on a secluded bench on the edge of the public park. The money he had stolen when he left The Academy a month ago is almost gone along with most of his food and supplies. A light breeze caresses his face, and he ignores the rustling of a newspaper with Sir Reginald’s cold, proud gaze and the new public defamation headline of the week laying at the foot of the trash can to his right.

He does, however, contemplate where Reginald could have hidden his personal documents, the weak spots in the Academy’s security systems, and how he might breach them with the same breaking and entering techniques he was taught within its walls, if he needs to, of course. He only has a vague awareness of how lockpicking replaced recess, how mixed martial arts pushed aside money management, or how Dad’s research came before social skills and play. Under the veil of his consciousness, he knows the emptiness of carrying those missing pieces of his childhood and the constitution of their holes, intimately. Nonetheless, he has one invulnerable conviction burned into the forefront of his thoughts; he would rather die free and starve out here on the streets than return “home” to his old prison cell. 

Ironically, his stomach decides to make itself known in that moment, and he forces himself to ignore the hunger pangs. 

“I had been out for almost a month, and trying to figure it out, you know, make a plan.” 

"Yes we all know how well that tends to go." The sarcasm earned the lightest tap to the back of Klaus' head, a gentle alternative to old habits. 

Having learned his lesson a couple days prior, he has one ear uncovered and pauses the music when he hears footsteps approaching. Diego is more careful, trying to not make it seem like he had noticed those steps in case he needs to keep the element of surprise as an option. Accompanying the footsteps are two voices speaking a language that Diego vaguely recognizes as...Spanish, Portuguese? 

“There were three different guys who came up to me a couple of days after I got jumped,” Diego explained, letting out a soft, tired sigh. 

‘....¿Crees que este tipo es una buena impresión?’2

‘Que's lo que usted dice, ¿papá?’3

Diego is able to make out a couple words here and there, something about ‘good’, maybe something to do with ‘impressions’, but the rest flies over his head. He had only learned the bare basics of Spanish from Mom when she had told each of them to pick a language and culture to learn about in their homeschooling for a short time, something to do with Reginald thinking it would accelerate their brain’s development and potential at specific developmental points. Diego had chosen Spanish, because it seemed the easiest to pronounce and enunciate with his stuttering. 

‘Mis hijos, estamos a punto de ver, ¿no?’4 A third voice, older, answers the second as they sounded closer.

Diego is on edge as he feels the presence of the voices within speaking range.

'¿Que pedo, wey? ¿Eres compa Del Sol?'5 Diego looks up finally as two young men stand in front of him. A third, older man keeps off to the side. Diego takes a moment to sweep his eyes over the one that addressed him. The man appears African American, possibly mixed race, and has a friendly but guarded expression adorned with soft dark brown eyes and full lips. He is clean-shaven while his hair is textured and natural, grown out about an inch and a half on his head. He seems a bit taller than Diego but much stronger with lean muscles showing through his white under tank. Diego has no idea how to respond, only piecing out the word "sun", and he can't figure out why these men would be talking to him about such.

“They were speaking Spanish, so I was just-” Diego pulled his big eyed, confused look that he often sported according to Klaus, especially when Luther was involved in anything. It made Klaus snicker with a “classic,” in response.

'¿Estas pinche sordo?'6 The next man's speech is laced with impatience and aggression as if it's Diego's fault he can't get his words out fast enough (though to Diego they sounded like rapid fire anyway). His face is all angles with the lines of his jaw jutting out slightly further than his cheekbones, small tattoos scattered on his face, a slight gap in his teeth, and a dark goatee. He couldn't have been that much older than Diego himself. He reminds Diego of a shark. 

Diego swiftly incurs the strong impression that he is expected to answer, quickly, in the same language, and he is unequivocally lost.

'I, uh….' He barely gets out before the first one is sighing impatiently, and the second starts laughing, all teeth. 

“Of course they caught on I knew next to nothing, and that didn’t go over well,” Diego was flippant.

“What did they want with you?” 

'Really? You don't know Spanish? ¿Tu no se Español?' The first speaks again. Diego is sure he could have gone about this in a better way, but it appears to be too late.

'No? Why would I?' An incredulous Diego moves to a standing position as the once laughing man is now staring at him like he has three heads, and the other man is looking less and less patient by the second. 

‘You are not Latino?' The shark's eyebrows met in confusion, but he quickly takes a step forward with a newfound acquisition, 'You lying? Too good for us, yeah?'

'Its none of your goddamn business who I am,' Diego spits back. The small hunch in his shoulders attempts to make Diego feel bigger, more intimidating, yet it did nothing to stop dread from climbing up the bones of his spine at the possibility that these people recognize who he is, or rather, who he used to be. The fact that he also doesn’t know what the label of Latino means, exactly, and the foreign prickling sensations traveling over his skin does nothing to quell his hot defensiveness. 

'Chicos,' the older man warns the other two in a tired tone. They don’t seem to hear him as they both start to walk closer to him in mirrored fashion like they’ve done this before. Diego steps forward to posture back without breaking eye contact. His stubble dusted face and scrawny body may still be bruised up, he’s thinner than he probably ever has been, his clothes are dirty and hanging off his frame, but his pride is a skin unscathed. 

“‘Superar la prueba’...’pass the test’.”

The second man jumps first, pulling Diego’s attention to him by forcing him to block a fist, the first man following in a staggered fashion to ensure his hit to his gut is successful. Yet, Diego is so pissed off, so done with people trying to kill him lately (and for basically his whole life) that he’s barely phased even though his bruised ribs shoot in agony. The fighter instead shoves the two men away. His young face hardens, hot coals burn behind his dark irises, and the other two pause for half a moment in surprise.

Diego skitters backwards over the bench unexpectedly, making them follow him until he can counter by running towards the first one on purpose, shoving him down with the momentum. The angular faced man catches him in the mouth and then grabbed for him, but Diego gets a leg up to push him off and tumble back over the other one on the ground. 

'Is that all you got? Huh?!'

The second man growls as he scrambles to his feet again and comes for Diego. Instead of calculated moves, the man moves fast and sloppy, and Diego can barely react. He holds his own enough to stay on his feet, but takes more than he resists even through his frustration. He is distracted long enough to be backed into the first man, back on his feet, who hooks his arms through Diego’s behind his back. The second man pulls out a switchblade, a sadistic look coming across his face as the old man calls on them to stop once more.

Before they can converge on him, Diego gets a strong leg out and roundhouse kicks the aggressive man in the face, taking him down again. He runs backwards and slams the first man into the back of the bench that was now behind them, and gets out of the other’s weakened grasp. He picks up the unfamiliar knife, adrenaline fueled veins standing out down his scruff covered neck. 

'Enough! ¡Suficiente!' The old man bellows out with a metallic click. Diego’s eyes turn to see the man approaching him slowly with a gun drawn and pointed directly at him. It’s not the first time he’s ever looked down the barrel of a gun, but it is the first time it is commanded by someone that walks with such purpose instead of a clumsy, scared criminal. 

'Put down the knife, now,' The voice isn’t loud, angry, or forceful but the opposite. The surety of the man’s rounded, oval shaped face, the steadiness of his hand on the gun, and the lifted eyebrows of concern paired with the slightest upturn of the corners of his facial hair covered mouth makes something in Diego’s stomach quiver. Its an expression he doesn't recognize; his own angry mask steels in a challenge. A long moment passes and the man doesn’t move, doesn’t change his expression, and Diego feels as if the man was looking through and past him and at all the vulnerable, hidden details in between. He finally drops it. 

'Thank you,' The man states again, resuming his chameleon slow pace, and Diego narrows his tired, dark-circle painted eyes and tilts his head in suspicion. As the man comes closer, Diego notices greys peppering the man’s facial hair, the balding hairline, the thicker stature, and the way he lowers the gun and places it back into its holster on his belt. 'I’m sorry for my sons giving you trouble, but you’re quite the impressive fighter.'

Diego blinks once, confused by this sudden change of pace. He was fighting for his life one moment and being given compliments the next? 

'Sure,' Diego finally states, coolly. 

The man’s movements are methodical, easy-going, and it would have been obvious to anyone that he isn’t scared of Diego in the slightest, nor is he hostile or aggressive like one of his sons. 

'You seem like the kind of kid who knows how to handle himself, unlike these two idiots, yeah?' He motions a hand to the two men still recovering on the ground near them. 'Heard you took on four gringos alone and sent them running,' He adds with a prideful smile (something else Diego has no idea how to recognize), and Diego’s suddenly spiking heart rate betrays his cool exterior with a youthful kind of fear widening his eyes. 

“Wait, how did they-?” Klaus’s eyebrows knit together.

'How did you-?' He starts before he can stop himself from confirming it, and the older man just shakes his head with an expression of admiration. 

'You’ve started to make quite a name for yourself, even though no one actually knows your name. You see, I’ve lived in this neighborhood for a long time, I’ve been where you are, I try to look out for guys like you, now. People around here notice who’s new and who’s family, we especially notice when Skinheads try to cause trouble,' The man talks animatedly with his hands, there is a kindness, and Diego feels a tether in him pulling his attention towards the other, making him want to believe him. 

“They must have been following me, or had eyes on me, or something. I had been 'squatting' in their neighborhood, they had to make sure I wasn’t going to cause trouble, or if I could be helpful.” 

'Listen, all I’m saying is, you’ve got something special, Chico. Don’t let it go to waste, there may even be money in it for you,' Henry says, holding his hand out with a card in it to Diego. He eyes it with caution, something is telling him this has to be too good to be true, but his chest feels full and tight and he doesn’t know why. Diego’s hand is only the slightest bit nervous when it finally swipes the card quickly out of his hand, the warmth of the other’s skin echoing across his hand, and notices a fifty folded up behind it. 

'Hey-'

“Wow, smooth move, creepy guy,” Klaus’ much appreciated commentary earned a silent smirk.

'Call me if you’re interested, or stop by the restaurant on Main and say Henry sent you. Get yourself something to eat, looks like you need it, kid.' He said frankly, and Diego can’t even speak again before the man turns to walk away. 

'Chuck! Jester! Levanta tus traseros estúpidos y suéltalos.'7  Henry’s voice now sounds teasing, but the two men just glare at Diego as they obey the man’s orders and follow him out of the park. 

“So you called him??” Klaus leaned into Diego's space eagerly, seeming riveted by the story. Diego opened his mouth to speak, and the side door swung open with Luther’s large frame maneuvering through the door like oversized furniture. He emerged into view a moment later with Allison following. Diego rolled his eyes at the interruption and bit lightly on the inside of his lip, and he tries to stifle the headache that Luther still somehow managed to birth into existence around him. 

“Everything alright?” Allison asked before Luther could, though her question didn’t hold as much weight as Luther’s would have- there were no further plans to be made or interrogating questions to be had. A quick nod from both Diego and Klaus was enough for her to look at Diego with warmth and place her hand on his shoulder. 

“Thanks for letting us come out, this was fun.” Allison had started doing this ridiculous thing that made Diego’s head hurt in a different way, a way that he had no scope for and no guidance on how to react unlike the old adage with Luther. She seemed to want to talk about feelings and such lately and be more honest. It was sickening. “I’m proud of you, so many people were talking about you in there. Fans, Diego.” She emphasized, leaving the rest of her sentiment in her bright, squinted eyes and small smile: 'fans you made on your own'. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and tried to manage a nice smile at her, knowing she meant well and he did feel a certain amount of  happiness from it deep down in those layers often riddled with half lit neon 'no vacancy' signs. He just hoped it didn't look as much like a grimace as it felt. “Anyway, we’re going to head home now. You two want to come? We were going to watch stupid 80s movies and try to educate Five on more things he missed during ‘The Lost Years’, if he’s around.” 

Diego’s first response was to decline and take Klaus home to shower and cuddle and watch stupid movies in peace. However, he had finally started to feel guilty about being self-absorbed about six months ago, and it was awful (being an emotionally stunted, shut down man-child was so much easier). In favor with his morals as always, he looked at Klaus who was looking at him with big puppy eyes, and oh so surprisingly, he was unable to decline. At least that earned him a glimpse of true, unfiltered excitement from Klaus that he had seen a thousand times over in the different lifetimes they had shared. It still did something to his heart. 

Klaus came up beside Allison to walk with her and start arguing over whether they were going to watch The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles, which one Molly Ringwald was more iconic in, and which had the better soundtrack. Luther and Diego trailed behind them walking next to each other in an awkward, dependable silence. 

“So uh…” Luther started, the first to speak as always. “...where’d you learn to fight like that?” 

“Not from sparring with you, Space Boy.” Diego smiled smugly and reached a hand back behind himself with a little flutter of his fingers, and Ben's undetectable ghost hand clapped down through it in true appreciation for the sick burn. Diego could have sworn he had felt it. 

Chapter Text

I heard he sang a good song

I heard he had a style

And so I came to see him and listen for a while

And there he was this young boy

A stranger to my eyes

Strumming my pain with his fingers

Singing my life with his words

Killing me softly with his song

Killing me softly with his song

Telling my whole life with his words

Killing me softly

With his song

I felt all flushed with fever

Embarrassed by the crowd

I felt he found my letters and read each one out loud

I prayed that he would finish

But he just kept right on

Strumming my pain with his fingers

Singing my life with his words

Killing me softly with his song

Killing me softly with his song

Telling my whole life with his words

Killing me softly

With his song ...

He sang as if he knew me

In all my dark despair

And then he looked right through me as if I wasn't there

And he just kept on singing

Singing clear and strong

 


 

The possibility of it happening for the third time was the farthest thing from Diego’s mind while he sat on the edge of his old bed, in his old room, in his old ‘home’ with Klaus looking over himself in his old mirror. A set of dog tags and a white rabbit's foot attached to a key ring of car keys rested on the old bedside table, under the old lamp.

Running a hand over his face and through his sleep-mussed hair, Diego's gaze traveled up the slender, toned, supple frame of his love. The morning sunlight was filtering in through his window and highlighting messy brown curls with deep auburn undertones and smooth planes of his skin. The profile of the shadows created in the angles of his neck, the curved jawline, facial hair framed pigmented lips, prominent nose, high arched cheekbones, and one of those large, rounded green eyes had Diego cracking a small, warm grin. It would have been (was) an incredibly cliched sight if Klaus hadn’t also been hunched over with his face super close up to a mirror, completely naked save for his neon patterned briefs, and twisting his ankle over and over with an absent-minded pop-click of the joint. His hand reached for the drawer where he kept one of his many little stashes of makeup that had over time insinuated themselves into Diego’s spaces without much conscious effort. The way Klaus checked his teeth for bits of popcorn from their family movie night only served to further push this image away from some sappy, romantic trope, but it only made Diego’s own teeth show through in his private adoration.

Diego stood up and raised his hands over his head, a series of cracking joints cascading up with his motion with a low grumble of relief following. He stretched as far as he could reach, the muscles of his naked torso rippling over his ribs as he did so. His eyes closed, a soft yawn followed, and then his body relaxed. He took notice of Klaus now drawing dark, defining lines at his lashlines with a kohl pencil.

Diego padded barefoot over the wooden floor and came into view in the mirror behind Klaus. His lithe fingers reached out to trace over firm lines along his sides and abdomen. He briefly remembered a time he could almost touch thumb to thumb and middle finger to middle finger around Klaus’ middle; to see some of the lean muscle and healthy color return over the last year was one of the most reassuring, grounding things Diego ever had the chance to touch.

“Morning,” He greeted softly, getting the word out without much effort as he leaned forward a little to press his front all along the smaller frame of the other. His eyes still held squinted signals of sleep.

“Hey there, Big Guy,” Klaus mumbled in return, looking at him a little coy in the mirror. The eyeliner was easily forgotten as Diego pressed his face into Klaus’ long neck and nuzzled nose and eyelashes against warm skin. Klaus's own body went at ease with a hand reaching for the nape of Diego’s neck. The way Klaus moved through life might’ve suggested that of the two of them, he was the one constantly seeking. Yet, Diego had never been quite sure who was the first person to start this game of tag between them. Who asked to play? Who had reached out with the first touch? Something old in the back of his mind said it was him.

Instead of answering with words, Diego responded with light, languid kisses that made Klaus’ eyes flutter shut and his hand press on, encouraging. Diego’s arms wrapped around with a hand splayed out over the dips and ridges of Klaus' stomach with the other on the planes of his chest. His fingertips grazed his skin with a feather-light touch at the same time his teeth came up and caught Klaus’ earlobe. It was just sharp enough to elicit a surprised gasp, and hot enough for a breathless chuckle and visible shiver to follow. Diego’s watchful gaze studied the reaction in the mirror, the slightest crinkles on his temple becoming visible as his lips slowly turned up around the flesh. He caught the way the other man smiled and looked so at peace in his arms, and he was torn between preferring this picture or the thrill of pulling Klaus' strings that snaked up inside him. He decided to refuse a choice.

“You know, it’s not fair to just go for one of the 'fuck me buttons' off the bat,” Klaus said a bit breathless.

“Don’t care,” Diego returned, letting go of the lobe and continuing to speak between efforts to nibble a mark behind said ear. “Are you in?”

“You’re about to be,” Klaus quipped back with his consent and without a second thought. Diego smiled.

“See, if I really wanted to be unfair-” His nimble hand dragged up Klaus’ chest painfully slow, fingers curling to allow the nails to make contact and to press with more pressure as it went. Whiter nail marks trailed over white skin and let up when his long fingers expertly wrapped around Klaus’ throat, pressureless. “-I’d have started here while I did that.” He spoke through Klaus’ sudden, low, drawn out moan with the movements.

Klaus’ hips pressed back into Diego’s in the same motion, the thin materials of their underwear the only thing separating sensitive skin. He leaned into Diego as far as he could, practically plastering himself over his whole shape for that scrap more of intimate touch. His own hand squeezed on the hand around his throat. It was a silent question, one that Diego shook his head at while his lips trailed down an angular shoulder and collarbone.

“Ah ah, I want to hear it.”

Come on, we both know what I’m gonna say already and how much of a little minx I am for it, and you offered it and started all of this, if you recall the last five minutes, so I didn’t even ask for it in the first place, and-” Klaus watched him in the mirror while he started to ramble in a way he perceived as persuasive and Diego heard as bratty. Klaus stumbled over said words when Diego's fingers shifted to expertly rest on the safe spots on his neck. The curve of Diego's normally protective, powerful hand fit within the natural grooves on either side of Klaus' windpipe and the underside of his chin perfectly. An experimental, barely there squeeze halted Klaus' words with another needy sound, and shaky, sinking knees made him look smaller.

"God yeah, please? Pretty, pretty, pretty please, Diego? Sir?" Klaus begged finally as he shrunk down to kneeling, the eagerness coming alive in widened green irises that turned all the way around to look up at the vigilante stood above him. A ripple of pleasure came across Diego's mind and down his spine with the sight.

“Well, you are a pretty little thing, aren’t you?” He asked, gracious and fond, index finger gently stroking under Klaus’ chin, his other hand stroking his cheek. Diego openly admired how striking the other was, and the bright look that was returned at that was worth everything Diego had.

Diego’s lips pulled into a cocky smirk as he lifted the other back to his feet with one arm. He slowly started to apply more even pressure while his arm tightened its hold on Klaus to keep him upright as he predictably gave into it, boneless.

Diego finally kissed him soft and hot and hungry. His hand let up and then applied more pressure, building and releasing while he kept close attention to his timing of Klaus' breaths. Klaus kissed back and trapped Diego’s bottom lip with his teeth, pulling a low, throaty moan out of him. The playful man also started rolling his hips back in an actual rhythm, forcing Diego to break the kiss and release the pressure. Klaus drew in a deep breath, Diego groaned and reapplied the pressure and switched to the other side of Klaus’ neck to give a sharp nip soothed over with kisses.

The urgency that Klaus adopted so quickly started to sneak its way into Diego over the next few minutes of this, taking him a bit by surprise. His plan had been to draw Klaus out for longer, really take his time playing with him. Instead, Diego found himself letting go of his partner to spin him around and shove him into the wall with his body weight and bruising kisses. His hands touched over every bit of Klaus he could over-saturate his senses with, pushing his underwear off at some point in the process. Diego broke the heated exchange to get on his knees and take Klaus in his mouth in a single, confident motion. He heard before he saw another surprised gasp followed by a low mewl, Klaus’ back arching off the wall in response to the sudden stimulation.

“Fuck, Sir. I don’t...know what I did-” Klaus managed to get out while Diego moved his head up and down, shameless, taking in a bit more each time and working his tongue like he knew Klaus loved. “-to get, ah....spoiled, like this-”

Diego answered with a filthy, throaty hum around Klaus’ cock and finally smiled around it when Klaus somehow kept talking through moans “-but I’m gonna...give you a, reminder, of when we were fifteen... and you somehow made me come, after only two minutes, of making out. Please don’t make me relive that.”

Diego had to pull his mouth off the other’s dick just to point out “I didn’t even touch you, nor did your pants come off, so this is totally different.” Klaus seemed to be trying to catch his breath in relief while Diego lazily stroked him and returned to standing. “But if you insist.” He crowded into the other against the wall again and kissed him with easy passion. His other hand reached blindly in the dresser drawers next to them until it closed around a bottle of lube (Diego had quickly learned to reappropriate Klaus’ stash spots) at the same time that Klaus tried to crouch down to return the favor.

“Ah, ah, ah. No.”

Klaus literally whined in protest with big eyes, and Diego gave back another low, appreciative hum. “I know, I know, you're such a good Baby who loves getting on his knees for me, but you see I’ve got this problem…” While he praised (which Klaus ate up like a starving man lost at sea), Diego was taking Klaus’ hand, uncapping the lube, and squeezing some onto his fingers. Klaus watched, restlessly biting his own lip and wordless, for once. He knew what Diego was going to do, and he still was so, so turned on. “...I need to be inside you as fast as possible.”

“Well that...that is a problem…” he smirked in return, playing along by wrapping a leg around Diego's waist while he moved Klaus’ hand down to his own ass and guided those fingers to tease himself. “I’m probably already...ready...you know, I like to be...ready for you...” Klaus spoke even more breathless, and Diego shook his head at him.

“We have to be sure, because I’m gonna love you down, Baby, through and through,” Diego mumbled sweetly, their lips brushing with it. He held their eye contact while he felt Klaus start stretching himself open, his hand twisting and turning with ease.

“God, just fuck me now,” Klaus demanded through his sounds, though his body language arching into Diego and his inability to look away said otherwise about who was making the demands here. “...Please, now?” He asked, repeating it every few seconds while Diego just shook his head at him with the most salacious smirk. "Please now?.....please?...now please?...please and thank you?....please?" Klaus got more and more desperate and frustrated while Diego drank it all up, thirsty and satiated at the same time. He pushed his own underwear down and finally lubed up his own neglected cock, chuckling breathless.

“Fuck, Diego, just fuck me already you asshole!” Klaus growled at him now with his neck and chest now red in his indignation. Diego took him off guard by easing his hand out and then urgently pushing him up further against the wall with strong arms grabbing and holding up his thighs. Klaus instinctively wrapped his spindly legs around Diego’s waist and his arms around his shoulders. His louder, trembling moan pressed into the side of Diego's face as he was thrust up into in one, fluid motion. Diego’s own deep, needy groan mixed in with Klaus’ as those polish covered nails bit into his back. He stilled at the hilt for a drawn out moment to savor every sensation while his lips trailed tender over where they could reach on Klaus who was whispering little words of confirmation and pulling on tangled fingers in his dark hair.

Lips caught each other sensual and sloppy, as Diego pulled almost all the way out and pressed back in deep and firm, aided by gravity in setting this slow pace that had Klaus moaning his name and pressing his hips down with him.

The other’s nails kept curling into his skin, urging him to go a bit faster after a couple minutes. It wasn’t unknown that Klaus lived for variety, but Diego learned just how far that aspect of his character went after the first few times they had sex. He knew how to change up the speed, strength, and sometimes the angles to pull Klaus apart most of the time, even changing positions more than he normally would have needed for his own pleasure.

Scratches appeared across Diego’s shoulder blades and finger bruises gave way on Klaus’ hips and kiss marks found themselves on both of their necks before Diego had Klaus laid out on his stomach over the edge his bed. He fucked into him fast and hard, Klaus’ sounds slightly higher in pitch and strings of nonsense at the acute, addictive pleasure.

“God, so good, so fucking good, use me, use me I’m-” Klaus gasped as Diego gave him a warning slap on his ass.

“What was that?”

“I mean I’m yours, Sir, all yours, I want to be, please don’t stop-” Klaus begged so pretty, trying to look over his shoulder at Diego with those eyes even with the fast pace. Diego rewarded him with praise again.

“There’s my good boy.”

Klaus hissed and cried out even louder in surprise at Diego’s teeth biting firmly in between shoulder blades while his hips slowed way down to a tantalizing crawl. His hand reached around to clench the base of Klaus' cock to prevent him from coming. He was in love with the way Klaus’ back arched away from the pain instinctively and then arched up into his teeth even more as he seemed to almost come apart under him. Diego gently kissed at the same spot and snickered when Klaus managed to squeak out “you’re trying to kill me.”

“Maybe...just a little,” Diego’s voice said with wicked undertones that had Klaus laughing breathlessly at one of their inside jokes born out of Klaus’ odd love for languages.

“La petite mort.”8

“Oui,”9 Diego added which made Klaus laugh a little bit more. Diego slowed to a stop and turned Klaus over on the bed, watching with pupil-blown eyes at the breathtaking sight of limbs and body below him. Pushing him further up onto the bed, he moved between Klaus' legs and pressed in again, excruciatingly slowly. Diego was getting close but he wanted Klaus to come first, knowing he almost had just then.

“Christ on a bike, you’re so beautiful,” Klaus caught him entirely off guard with the raw honesty and care in his voice, his hands touching over Diego like how his eyes often tried to take him all in at once. It was almost enough to make Diego stop, but he forced his hips to keep moving while the faintest tinge of red crept onto his face. Klaus’ hands came up to touch there, and Diego finally gave in and smiled shy, pressing his lips near the umbrella tattoo. He normally would have taken the compliment with ease and let it stroke his ego (or so he told himself), but here, with touch-starved skin to touch-starved skin, no barrier between them, it hit him in that unique way that made his throat constrict.

Running his hands over Klaus’ thighs again, Diego moved them so Klaus’ ankles were hooked over his shoulders, and he rolled him up to press in deeper and so all their skin was touching. He kissed him for a long moment while he gradually increased the speed of his hips. He then grasped Klaus’ throat once more with their foreheads pressed close.

“Come on, Baby, come for me, be my good boy,” Diego coaxed and praised between heavy pants, waiting for Klaus to take in a deep breath before applying that sweet pressure and focusing his attention away from his own orgasm to precisely count the seconds.

The strained, choked out sounds Klaus wanted to let out drove Diego to thrust harder, trying to keep his hips at the best angle. He released to let Klaus take a few breaths, those sounds coming back to life again before he quieted them once more with another clasp.

It only took a few more cycles of this before Klaus went stiff, clenching and trembling all over. Klaus’ own hand worked over himself quickly, and choked sounds faded into raspy moans as Diego slowly let off his throat through Klaus’ orgasm. Diego came a minute later, the mental dominance and tenderness combined with the physical sensations sending him over the edge. He buried his face in Klaus’ neck with a moan of his name, his hips slowed to a stop as that white hot pleasure consumed him. He rested his weight down on the lighter frame while they panted heavily and clung to each other.

“So...what...did I do to earn that again?” Klaus asked, his nose nuzzling Diego’s. Diego’s lip twitched upwards.

“I just love you, you Idiot.”

“I just love you too, Asshole.”

 


 

 

When their days were free and started off in one of Diego’s favorite ways, it was sometimes customary to pair that kind of physical intimacy with Klaus’ favorite of a different color. But today Klaus’ growling stomach won out against his love for taking baths. After they cleaned each other up and got dressed, Diego was sat across from Klaus in the downstairs kitchen. They had smiley face pancakes and bacon in front of them at the insistence of Grace.

Diego’s toes lightly ran over Klaus’ bare leg under the table, and Klaus’ absently returned the affection while they both ate in a comfortable silence- that is, until Klaus took a bite of his pancakes and spoke.

“So, you called that guy, didn’t you?” He asked, easy, but his mouth pressed together uncertain. Diego paused, his fork stilling for a moment.

The dial tone on the other end of the payphone reverberates into Diego’s chest and raises his heart rate with every passing ring. What is he doing? Why is he actually calling? His heart leaps into his throat when the line picks up, and he hears a slightly familiar voice on the other end.

‘Yeah?’

Diego blinks for a moment, his mouth going dry.

‘Hello?’ The voice speaks again when no response is given. Diego closes his eyes, trying to picture what he wants to say while swallowing down the stutter.

‘Hey, uh…’ Diego finally gets out, trying to find the right words. ‘I’m-...last week, at the park-’

‘Ah, yeah, you calling about the fights, kid?’ Chuck recognizes Diego’s voice before he even refers to their last meeting, but he lets the kid scramble a little with an amused tone in his voice.

‘Yeah, I want in.’

‘You sure about that?’ Chuck questions, ‘I don’t know if you could handle it.’ He sounds patronizing.

‘I handled you just fine.’ Diego jabs back, and an amused, light laugh follows on the other end of the line that both makes him feel annoyed and like he had a headache threatening to come on.

‘Okay, no need for the bigshot game here. It's just you and me talking. Besides, we went easy on you.’

‘Yeah, right.’ Diego feels his own frown almost as much as he hears the other’s smile.

‘Whatever helps you sleep at night. Speaking of, you got somewhere?’ Chuck asks, voice...softening? Diego’s wide-eyed look trails to the side as if Chuck is there to receive his confused expression rather than the shadows of people walking past him in the street.

‘Yeah, why?’ His response is too quick.

‘Just making sure, you looked kinda rough…’ Chuck hesitates before adding “...gotta make sure you’re at 100 percent for the fight.’

‘Sure.’

‘Anyway, meet us at the restaurant tomorrow at 12. I’ll tell you the rest if you show up.’ Chuck challenges.

‘I’ll be there,’ Diego accepts.

“Yeah, of course,” Diego shrugged his shoulders. “What else was I going to do? I was young and stupid,” Diego stabbed at his pancakes, heat starting to crawl up his neck. “I had nothing, no one, I needed a job, I needed money.”

“Hey, I-”

"And it's not like old Reginald sent us on safer missions than this. I knew I could handle myself."

"Yes, and-"

“Besides, I was just doing what I do best.” Bitter, sardonic grin shrugged and met worried frown. Worried frown deepened to a scowl as Klaus rolled his eyes a little.

“Bullshit, Diego,” Klaus shot back, sitting up a little straighter and pulling his legs back. Instead of getting up to walk away, or cracking some weird joke, or just agreeing blankly, he pressed on entirely serious. “Look, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s peachy keen to me. You’re still Diego. Nothing you tell me is going to change the way I see you, and you’re just going to have to deal with that, Jerk.”

“Oh yeah? How do you know that when you have no idea? I’ve barely told you anything compared to the rest.” Diego doubled down, cold and detached. Klaus' hands came up to emphasize his inflections and words, and the honesty behind them.

“Because I know you, Diego. Duh! I know the shit you’re capable of on all sides of the crappy coins we were dealt. I’ve seen it. I’ve-…I’ve been on both ends of the shitty stick that has no good end.”

Diego sobered at that, looking down at his food and feeling that heat dissipate. He knew Klaus was telling the truth. What he didn't know was 'where the fuck did that come from, Diego?'

“Sorry,” He offered, small. He tried to keep eating even though he wasn’t hungry any longer.

“It’s okay,” Klaus softened, his hand reaching out to take Diego’s. Tentative, round eyes glanced up, their fingers brushing as Diego set down the fork. Klaus didn't hesitate. “I only saw bits and pieces of you over the years, I’m just trying to help us put the damn puzzle back together.”

Diego swallowed at Klaus’ gentle smile and in moments like these, he genuinely didn’t think he deserved Klaus. Then he tended to remember some of Klaus’ not so innocent antics that became hurts and came back to a level head. Still, it was difficult to smile back, but Diego managed something resembling the humility he felt.

“You ever going to tell me your story?” He finally managed to say after choosing his words carefully.

“I’ve been telling you my story for years, Toots. But maybe you can play librarian with my books and catalogue them all one day, too. Right now, this is helping me for some reason? And I think it's helping you,” Klaus hinted at his own struggles: sobriety, grief, self-esteem, his powers. Diego caught the subtleties.

Klaus’s fingertips traced over Diego’s knuckles, and he wondered if the other could feel the tiny creases of scar tissue healed fractures in the joints.

“I fought in my first 'legitimate-illegitimate' fight the next day after I called,” Diego began, his toes unconsciously returning to at Klaus’ leg once more.

Diego barely gets inside the restaurant before he is escorted outside by Chuck and a group of similarly dressed guys. They all speak Spanish, it seems, as their mouths bend around unfamiliar shapes of the unfamiliar words filling Diego’s ears. The men are laughing and joking with each other and seeming to ignore Diego’s presence. That is, until Diego notices hand gestures motioning to him, and he guesses that they’re mostly talking about him. He frowns but says nothing, having no way to confront it.

“We all walked over to where the fight’s taking place as a group. No one talks to me, they’re all talking to each other in Spanish.”

“Huh,” Klaus commented, thinking on it for a moment. “I guess they had trust issues too, eh?”

“Yeah, something like that.” Diego commented, amused.

‘Güey cree muy duro, pero apenas pudo conmigo cuando peleé con él la semana pasada. Gachis.’10 Jester says a little louder than the others, Diego finally noticing the unique lines of his face among the group.

‘¡No manches! Jester, dejar de mentirte. Es una pelea punto de todos modos.’11

“Chuck and Jester are there, by the way, the two guys who fought me in the park.” Klaus nodded in response to the clarifier. “So I’m just trying to understand what's going on, I have no idea what to expect.”

Diego tries to ignore the baiting and instead tries to gather as much information as his eyes can tell him. Reading enemies was something he and Allison had become particularly good at, almost like a reflex, and he is still trying to tell if these men were ‘useful’ or foe, having no interest in friendship.

“And then something happens…” Diego tried to find the right words as old feelings pulled into his awareness again.

The first thing he notices is almost all of the men visibly look similar with varying shades and undertones of medium brown skin, thick but varying textures of dark hair, and eyes in varying shades of brown. Young, brown eyes stare at his own hands as if for the first time, then looks around at the others, and feels something akin to recognition. Diego realizes it's the first time he’s ever been surrounded by people who look like him, goosebumps rising on his skin. His family is (was? didn’t he disown them?) full of misfits from around the world of varying colors and creeds, this ‘family’ seemed pulled together by a likeness encompassed by something bigger he couldn’t name. Something in his head shifts and clicks into place but has no marker, no words for the label under that particular slot.

“You felt like a piece of you belonged to the world, for the first time,” Klaus tried on a name to Diego’s experience, and Diego paused a moment before he smiled softly, that fondness returning.

“Yeah, I guess that is close to what you could call it, isn’t it?”

“I remember feeling that way myself, in a completely different way,” Klaus shrugged with a little half-hearted flit of his hand, his turn to look a little bit shy at his own revelation. Diego just gave said hand a soft squeeze of reassurance.

He is distracted from his sudden, alarming urge to tear up by noticing one of the men who presents the same in all previously described avenues except his skin was lighter than the rest. This man had a strange way of carrying himself that looked familiar, limbs hardly ever sitting still, his voice talking in strange, varying tones and pulling more laughs from the others than other individuals of the group.

‘¡Vince, mira, mira!’12 Jester emphasizes to get the man’s attention, and motions to Diego again. Vincent, apparently, just smiles all amused and then nods before replying in Spanish.

“Vince was there.” Diego stated, eyes watching for Klaus’ reaction to a shared piece of information. Klaus pursed his lips as he often did when he was in throught, and then his mouth fell open a little as it dawned on him.

“Oh yeah. Vince, Vinnie, InVincible, whatever. People called him all kinds of names but yeah, I remember that crackpot. So, this was when you met him.” Klaus shook his head for a moment as two pieces of his own puzzle fit together. “Feels like a lifetime ago, now.”

‘Sí, está tan perdido ahora mismo, ¿no? Pobre tipo. ¿Realmente no habla Español?’13 Vincent’s brown eyes caught his own and he gave a zany, but possibly friendly, smile. Diego blinks at him and looks away, not even trying to figure that one out right now.

It just so happens that this is when Diego finally notices that they have walked into a more suburban area of the city with small and humble homes. They all shifted while walking and still talking to each other, putting him in the middle and surrounding him as they go down a lane that ran between a row of houses. A glint catches his eye, and he glances over to Chuck who has a chain around his neck and a gold emblem hanging from the center. It’s circular with points of varying lengths around the outside, with intricate, geometric, maze-like patterns on the inside, reminding him of the sun. His eyes caught a similar symbol on an earring stud, a couple bracelets or watches, even in tattoos on the men around him.

Towards the other end of the lane, Diego sees a group of bald, white men all dressed alike walking towards them with worn combat boots. He feels like he’s seen a ghost, and he probably looks it as well since Chuck comes to walk next to him.

‘So, here’s what's going to happen-,’ He starts to explain, though Diego is finding it difficult to listen as Chuck’s voice fades in and out. Underneath his still healing cuts and bruises on his face and neck, his brain keeps trying to remember if any of those men looked like the ones who had jumped him only a week, maybe two, prior. He can’t for the life of him remember what they looked like, though, since they had all looked the same. He forces himself to look at Chuck and try to pretend like he wasn’t afraid. Face relaxed, eyes blank, voice calm, even breath. He mentally repeats it to himself like a mantra: face, eyes, voice, breath. He hopes it pulls some kind of mask forth.

‘-Once the others get here and the bets are made, we wait for the signal. They throw out their guy, we put you out, and you go until one of you falls to a knee or down, or you give up. Normally the goal is a knockout, but since this is what we call a bitch fight, it's a little more simple. No weapons, no assistance from anyone else, nothing fatal.’ Chuck continued and touched his shoulder with the back of his hand. ‘You got all that?’

‘Yeah,’ Diego says dryly, seeing him roll his eyes a little which just pulls out a tiny bit of satisfaction.

‘Just be ready.’

Diego brushed him off by looking away and cracking his knuckles, trying to pretend to be not interested, but actually taking in the advice. If his recent experiences were anything to go by, this wasn’t going to be easy, 'bitch fight' or not.

“So there’s rules to underground fighting?” Klaus asked, face scrunched.

“Yeah, at least there was then with the different gangs. Something Chuck used to explain as a way to try to ‘keep the peace’. There’s a whole unspoken etiquette thing, not that everyone always followed it.” Diego turned his head to the right to expose the scar behind his left ear to the other. Klaus doesn't remember really noticing this mark too closely until now, reaching out to brush his thumb over the slightly raised, smooth skin.

Diego doesn’t know what the signal is, but what he does know is that he is shoved forward through his own group and then into the middle of the small crowd at the same time as his opponent. The man before him is scrawny, no tattoos, still has hair and looks to be a year or two younger than Diego. Diego hesitates for a moment, not sure if he wants to fight a kid, but then hands came flying at him, and Diego’s instinctive reflexes kicked in immediately.

Diego closed his eyes with the guilt and turned his head to give a soft kiss to the inside of Klaus’ wrist.

“Looks worse than it was. I tried to end it quickly. It only took a few hits and the kid was shakey on his feet. He got freaked out, or something-”

The loud shouts of all the men around them, some in different languages, some encouraging words and some disparaging, roar in Diego’s head as he gets another shot in along the jaw. He licks his own lip, tasting blood from the one hit the other managed to get, as he watches the boy stumble backwards. He walks backwards himself and felt proud claps to his shoulders from a few of his men behind him. Diego finds himself smirking and something in his chest swells like the pride was transferred to him through the touches.

Diego, riding the high of the fight, takes a few steps forward once more, holding his arms out wide, showing off and posturing. The man glowers with a snarl, withdrawing a knife and lunging for Diego. In only a few short seconds, Diego dodges the wild slashes and turns to roll out of the way, the tip of the blade catching the back of his ear.

“Hey Fanático14, you don’t fuck with my family!” While grabbing at the sharp sting with his hand and feeling something warm and wet, Diego heard Jester yell and only caught a brief glimpse of the man running for the guy with a knife with his own drawn. Both men were suddenly seized, Jester by Chuck and the other by a bigger man from their group. Vince grabbed Diego then, trying to hold him back incase he tried to go after the man as well.

‘Whoa whoa, back down, big man. You good, you won! This pussyfoot just can’t handle it.’

“Things were broken up after that. I won by default because he pulled the knife.”

“How much did you win?”

“100 bucks.”

“Not too shabby!”

‘I’m good, I’m good,’ Diego reassures Vince, blinking a bit at the strange words. Diego is handed a balled up shirt to press to the cut now to stop the bleeding. He tries to watch while Chuck deescalates the situation, though he’s getting more pats and words of praise from the men around him. Chuck doesn’t let go of Jester until the crowd starts to disperse, and he goes to collect the money.

Chuck comes into view and hands him five 20s and pockets the rest. More hollars of celebration are heard, more proud pats to his shoulders are given, and they all start to walk back together with talks of celebratory drinks and food.

Diego moves to walk next to Jester who has been stone silent ever since Chuck let go of him, watching the ground almost blankly while they walked.

’...Thanks, you know,’ Diego gestures behind himself awkwardly.

Jester laughs mockingly. He looks him up and down while he says ‘Sólo quería una excusa para pelear con un gringo hijo de puta.’15 He pushes past him to walk at the front of the group. Diego rolls his eyes.

Diego glanced down to his arm where Klaus’ hand touched at the inside of his right wrist. Guarded eyes watched Klaus’ curious look while he studied the circle filled with angles and a face tattooed there and waited for the other’s response. Although Klaus has seen this mark in his skin countless times, he was really noticing it now.

Almost a minute of silence passed, Diego’s fingers touching light at Klaus’ forearm which finally prompted their eyes to meet. Klaus looks like he has many more questions, but then he relaxed into a contented reassurance. Diego let out a soft sigh that he didn’t realize he’d been holding.

“That’s how it tended to go for the first couple of years,” Diego picked back up. “One to three times a week, I’d go meet up with those guys and fight different people from the other gangs. Sometimes it was spontaneous, sometimes it was planned for weeks behind this store or that, maybe in the back of a club.”

“So you started hanging out with these guys? That’s how you know Vince too?” Klaus asked, and Diego shook his head. Klaus’ eyes drifted to the side, a bit distracted.

“Not really, I was…pretty antisocial.” Diego smirked knowingly.

“Who, you? No way, Bro.” Klaus imitated Diego’s voice. He ignored it.

“I dipped as soon as I could after the fight, and after almost all the fights for the first six months. I didn’t want any part of it except the money.” Diego shrugged and Klaus nodded, his eyes drifting to the side again.

“If you kept going back, you must have made some good moolah. You win a lot? Crowned king of the street fighters?” Klaus’ questions came one after another, and he shook his head at their ridiculous, entertaining nature.

“I did make a decent amount to live on, but I didn’t win every time-”

“Just most of the time,” Klaus insisted, Diego tried to find words to argue, and then Klaus seemed to tense while trying to not make it obvious. Now Diego was distracted by movement in the corner of the room, seeing Ben’s figure come into view. Klaus addressed him. “What did you want to say, Benjamin?”

Ben smiled and looked between them.

“This is the part where the dramatic fighting montage is supposed to happen, when you grow from a boy…to a man,” Ben declared, curling his biceps and striking his best strong-man pose with his late adolescent spindly limbs. Klaus’ eyes widen in excitement, and he opens his mouth.

“Yes! We-”

“No.”

“We-”

No.”

While Klaus and Diego argued, Ben snuck off to the music player kept in the communal kitchen for when Diego insisted on helping Mom with the dishes (not that they didn’t have a music player in almost every major area of the house anyway). Not a minute later, Klaus and Diego stop as they hear dramatic, rhythmic horns, and a man making barking sounds?

Ben has his back to them, his hood pulled up. It takes a moment, but when the beat drops at the same time that Ben jumps to face them, Klaus and Diego instantly recognize DMX’s “X Goin Give It To Ya”. Klaus laughs, hard, and Diego is just blinking in awe as Ben starts dancing, quite badly.

“Being kind of alive again...really did something to you, didn’t it?” Diego already knew the answer to his question, and Ben ignored it anyway. Then Klaus got up, and Diego knew it was all over now. The two partners in crime started to pretend to fight each other, throwing punches with the ‘ROCK’ and ‘ROLL’ and ‘POP’’. Diego was thrown back to when he and Klaus often goofed around with Ben just like this to try to pull him out of his shell, sometimes in this very room. He couldn’t hold back for very long, finally letting out his laughs when both of them came over to throw fake punches at him. They both then grabbed him up to join their shenanigans, and Diego still has just enough awareness to take note of the warmth on his skin from all four hands.

Eyebrows pulled forward in confusion and a surprised smile watched from the doorway.

“I don’t know if I should or shouldn’t be surprised,” Five stated, blinking under said eyebrows. “But I’m getting a hazy sense of Deja Vu.”

“Me too, but much less hazy, Old Man.” Vanya teased with her smile, and then gave him a little shove into the room. Five’s eyes widened when he was spotted by the other three, and space jumped to the other side of the room when Klaus ran towards him. Instead, Diego and Ben went after him, and Vanya laughed harder when Klaus kept going and came for her, shyly throwing her tiny fists into the pretend fight.

 


 

 

A cool breeze floated through the open windows and brushed across Diego’s face during the quiet ride home. Klaus sat in the passenger seat, engrossed in whatever new knitting project he had started earlier in the day. His once fumbling fingers now pointed and exact in their movements with the needles and string. Instead of a rambling stream, his partner was commenting on a natural line of easy conversation here and there, and in the normally chaotic nature of their weird lives, things here felt easy, safe.

He turned his head to watch Klaus for a moment while they were stopped at a red light. The sun had started to set, casting a warm orange haze over everything and a backdrop of pink and purple clouds behind Klaus’ head. Warm brunette colors were highlighted in his short hair, pale skin turned golden, eyes and nose cast down, lips pursing in concentration. Klaus, ever intuitive, sensed Diego’s gaze. He met it and offered an easy grin. Diego didn’t return it, but he did find himself taking a right when he was supposed to go straight.

“Weren’t we just stopped?” Klaus asked, looking behind them as if to find whatever thing set Diego off onto this new path. Afterall, it wasn’t something the driver was accustomed to doing if his mind was already set in one direction.

“Yep.”

“Now we’re going this way?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.” Diego replied honestly. All he knew was there was a frayed string tied around an aged hurt nestled in his gut that was pulling him along. Klaus seemed to believe him, trust him, watching the streets now and setting his knitting down. Diego made a few more turns, heading closer to downtown, and those hurts started trying to rise in his throat like bile while his mind still played catch up. He wondered for a moment if this was what Klaus’ intuition must feel like.

Once they hit the area with the night clubs, a memory came bubbling up into his consciousness like groundwater flooding, major plot points raced through without details, and he now knew exactly where he was going.

“Do you remember the first time we saw each other again after leaving the Academy?” Diego asked, interrupting the curious silence that had passed over them. Klaus didn’t respond right away, his eyes still scanning the different passing buildings and street signs. Diego wasn’t sure if he had heard him.

“I should be saying yes,” Klaus finally admitted with a little sigh, and Diego couldn’t tell if he was trying for humor or finding guilt in his own words.

“10 months and 3 weeks. There was a big fight organized behind this club,” Diego explained as his car pulled up to park along the street in front of an unremarkable nightclub. Klaus blinked at Diego’s specificity while he turned his body to face Klaus.

Diego stands in the alley way between two nightclubs with a few familiar men. His hair is longer, the top slicked back somewhat with gel, facial hair grown in around his mouth and kept neat.

‘Did you get Gabriella to come out?’ Vince asks Chuck around his cigarette, a teasing tone dancing around his words that made the latter roll his eyes.

‘No, she had plans tonight,’ The older man answers, sounding tired. To be fair, it wasn’t the first time Diego had heard this name mentioned by Vince or Jester, almost always directed at Chuck.

‘Juan, you think Chuckie is full of shit too?’ Vince directs his question at Diego at the same time he tossed him a bottle of water. Diego caught it with ease against his plain white shirt with his already taped up wrists and hands. He had long grown used to Vince throwing random names at him all the time, “trying to see what sticks” he had argued since Diego had still refused to tell them his real name.

‘So full of shit,’ Diego offers with a smirk at Chuck who just turned to walk around the back of the building, giving the excuse of checking to see if the others had shown up, but they all knew better by now.

“I used to go here,” Klaus mumbled, looking at the more colorful, drag-queen flyer clad club nextdoor like he was glancing in the mirror. Diego studied his reactions, seeing if there were any signs of distress or flashbacks on the other. When he was sure Klaus was fine, he agreed.

“Yeah, you must’ve. I went there sometimes, when forced to.” He pointed to the other night club, and Klaus scoffed a snort.

“Of course.”

“Vince! Vinny boy!” Diego’s eyes widen like moons as he instantly recognizes Klaus’ voice call out from behind himself. His stomach clenches, he’s going to be sick, and yet he’s also spilling over the brim with anticipation. He knows he should absolutely, unquestionably, without a doubt resist turning around to look, to confirm what he already knew in his bones. He instantly regrets that he didn’t pretend to follow Chuck. His dumbass instead impulsively looks over his shoulder, and sees the stumbling, messy silhouette of Klaus in the darkness of the night and street lights.

“You came through there,” Diego pointed in the direction of the alley “while I was hanging out with Vince before the fight started.”

“Yeah, classic Klaus.”

“Vincent! I got a present for you,” Klaus calls out again, a few bills of cash clutched in his hand as he came closer clad in skin tight, ripped, glitter covered jeans and a torn up, barely there, neon pink shirt. His eyes are darkened and striking with a heavy smokey eye look. It only took a couple more steps before Klaus steps into clearer light and stops in his tracks, his mouth falling open.

“Diego!” Diego’s head shoots forward again, swallowing down the lump of dread and anxiety. Fuck.

“Diegooo,” Vince drawls out on purpose with an accomplished smile. “So you’re Diego, and you know Klaus, eh?” His smile morphs into smarmy jest, and Diego wants to haul off and deck him.

“No, I don’t know him at all,” Diego scowls and denies vehemently, tensing up as Klaus walks up to them both.

“You came dawdling up to us,” Diego said, smiling sadly, “and I had no idea what to do.” Klaus turned his attention back to Diego while he spoke, bracing himself.

“Diego, look at you!” Klaus exclaims and throws his arms around him. Diego recoils at his touch instantly, his stomach twists once more as he can smell the alcohol coming off of the other as much as he can see the overly languid expression on that baby face. “I’m so glad you’re not dead-”

“I’d thought of what seeing you again would be like, I worried about you, but I had to start forcing myself to stop.”

“Don’t touch me,” Diego snaps at him, and then tries to cover “I have no idea who you are.” His lie is obvious, though Vince doesn’t call him out, and Klaus is out of it enough that he only looks bewildered.

Diego looked down, guilt punching him in the gut even worse than earlier. He took in a shaky breath to steady himself, and held it without struggle while he continued.

“I didn’t want anyone to know who I was, in case they knew about us from when we were all over the news as kids.”

“Diego, what-”

“Don’t call me that! I don’t know you.” Diego insists pointedly, hoping Klaus was getting his message loud and clear. He had already gone through great lengths of not being found out, (it turns out its really difficult to find excuses to cover his left wrist, and he had to refrain from throwing his knives, or throwing them at least semi-realistically) and he wasn't going to let Klaus ruin it.

“You were ashamed of me,” Klaus stated, though there was a hint of a question in his words that Diego answered outright.

“No. Not of you. Of the name, of Dad. I promise,” Diego reached for Klaus’ hand that pulled away. “Trust me, please.” Diego looked at Klaus, waiting for him to see his sincerity. Sad, distant eyes slowly trailed back up and chanced locking eyes. Klaus had to look away quickly, but he finally nodded.

Klaus flinches back from him, looking hurt, before he rolls his eyes and turns to Vince, quickly swapping the cash for a little baggie of something Diego refused to look at. Witnessing the repeated cycle, Diego was thrown so fast from his anger into stress and worry. He hadn’t realized Vince was a dealer, and he felt incredibly stupid. This, of anything he had to learn over these many months, was something he actually had previous experience in.

It just so happens that Jester came wandering baçk to get them at the same time. An amused smile unfolds, and Diego really didn't need this on top of everything.

'¿Quién es el maricón?' Jester jokes. 'Ten cuidado, podría intentar-’16 A taped fist knocks the words out of Jester's mouth, and Diego is seething. He shoves him into the wall harshly, and before he can process it, he has a knife from his pocket out and held up to his neck.

'If I ever hear you say something so ignorant again, I will cut the words out of your throat.' Jester's face has fallen and it's the first time Diego notices fear in his eyes. He clears said throat nervously before he speaks.

'Yo no se.’17

Diego presses the cool metal to skin, and Jester caves quickly while Vince has come up behind him to try to subdue him. Diego shakes him off and makes a show of putting his knife away while Jester stares at him like Diego was the crazy one. He scurries off in the same direction he had come from, towards the fights in which he and Diego would soon be taking part.

Klaus squirmed a little in his seat with his emotions and blinked at Diego, his mouth opening to speak before he had words. Instead, barely there attempts at speech left him before he finally found them again.

“You really did that?!”

Diego nodded silently, eyebrows crinkling.

Klaus had to look away, though his hand reached over to give the boxer’s a firm squeeze. Diego mimicked his actions before he finally spoke again.

“It was complicated, and I was stupid back then. I always felt like I was still at the Academy, having to always be ready for a fight, or an end of the world mission, or someone wanting to hurt me or take advantage just because I was this freak with powers. And I didn’t trust these people yet, either.”

He looks back at Klaus who stands there, slightly swaying, watching the whole exchange. Wide eyes fixated on Diego, and for a long moment, it's like he’s looking at a complete stranger he tries to recognize and place. Diego doesn’t regret his old protective instincts showing their face once more, and he doesn’t regret Klaus witnessing it, but something ugly gnaws at his insides and settles in his bones that he can’t tolerate.

Yet, before he could do anything stupid, he heard another man’s voice calling for Klaus down the alley towards the street. He was tall, dark hair, stereotypically handsome and instantly irritating to Diego, especially with how Klaus so quickly looks back and disappears. Diego is left acutely aware of the growing space between them.

“Doesn’t help that I was always running away, too.” Klaus now mirrors Diego’s sad smile. “I’m sorry.”

“I am too, I’m sorry I didn’t kill Dad sooner.” Diego only half joked, but Klaus snickered anyway, sipping the bitter metaphorical tea.

‘He’s not worth it, Bro. He’s gorgeous, yeah, kinda weirdly charming, but too flighty, too…’last night in Paris, and I finally found you’, you know?’ Vince offers, a knowing but friendly tone with his hand coming to touch at Diego’s shoulder. He tenses again, the ghost feeling of Klaus’ skin growing foriegn. He gently shrugs him off as he forces himself to finally turn around to head off towards the fights.

‘Yeah,’ He mutters under his breath, though he’s sure Vince could hear him. ‘Just do me a favor.’

‘Yeah, what you need, Man?’

‘Don’t sell to him anymore.’

“You jerk, you really told him that?” Klaus asked, mouth slightly agape and his hand lightly pushing at Diego’s shoulder with all of the anger of a very proud boyfriend.

“You’re damn right I did.”

“Thank you very much.” Klaus was playfully sarcastic, though his hunched, curled in body language suggested otherwise. Then he added “not that he listened to you.”

“Oh, I’m aware,” Diego scoffed, and then he was quickly, awkwardly starting the car again before Klaus could ask further. “Let’s go home.”

“Yes, lets.” Klaus agreed lightly, his eyes watching Diego with a little concern.

“Can you do me a favor?” Diego requested, his hand returning to Klaus’.

“Sure thing, chicken wing.”

“If we ever, god forbid, stumble upon some strange suitcase or get the ‘heroic’ urge to time travel again,” Diego said, thumb pressing over knuckles “can we make a pact to never go back to this particular era?”

“What, you didn’t love the whole coming of age, young man, zero to hero timeline?” Klaus teased with his own bitterness. Diego answered with silence.

“...Yeah, yes, a thousand times yes.”

They sealed it with a handshake and a kiss.

Chapter Text

Dear mama

Don't you know I love you?

Dear mama

Place no one above you

(Dear mama) Oh mama, I appreciate you

Although my shadow's gone

I will never leave you

Now ain't nobody tell us it was fair

No love from my daddy cause the coward wasn't there

He passed away and I didn't cry, cause my anger

Wouldn't let me feel for a stranger

They say I'm wrong and I'm heartless, but all along

I was looking for a father he was gone

I hung around with the Thugs, and even though they sold drugs

They showed a young brother love

I moved out and started really hanging

I needed money of my own so I started slanging

I ain't guilty cause, even though I sell rocks

It feels good putting money in your mailbox

I love paying rent when the rent's due

I hope ya got the diamond necklace that I sent to you

'Cause when I was low you was there for me

And never left me alone because you cared for me

 


 

It was difficult for Diego to accept the idea that it had started happening more frequently and had become woven in his present life, but a little diversion was sure to do the trick for tonight. Standing on the porch of the noisy, overly inhabited house, Diego stilled Klaus' hand from knocking and met his eyes. Diego was not normally in the business of dressing up for Halloween, and Klaus’ long-term love-hate relationship with the holiday was a complication he had been planning on mitigating for weeks. So, it was a bit surprising when Klaus insisted upon them going to a Halloween party that a 'friend' of his was throwing, a friend that Diego had never heard of or met. Klaus spoke before he could voice his concern.

"Dee, I'm fine, I promise. You've been giving me the big eyed stare all night, and I know it's not just because of how ravishing I am in this dress." Klaus made showy hand gestures emphasizing his long, bell-sleeved, goth style black dress that wrapped around all his angles just right. He paired it with a long, black wig; expertly blended smokey grey eye shadow with black winged eyeliner; sculpted and contoured, sharp cheekbones; and deep red lipstick. His lips were almost permanently fixed in a small, knowing, flirtatious look. Klaus could always play parts well if he really wanted to, and their matching costumes were his idea to begin with.

"That definitely is not helping matters because you look fine." Diego's voice lowered in a sultry tone, leaning in close and kissing Klaus' cheek, his thin mustache tickling the skin with it. Klaus could faintly smell the woodsy, ‘manly’ scent of the fancy pomade Diego had used to slick his hair back, and he couldn't help but to run his hand over the sleeve of the other’s black and grey pinstripe suit. “That dress is driving me wild,” Diego quoted with a little grin, bringing up said hand to kiss it.

“I’ll never wear another,” Klaus replied on queue, dramatique.

Diego let the humor pass over him, wanting to let his worries go, but he paused and sighed a little. "But Baby, how do you know this is okay? I mean it's a Halloween house party by some guy that you barely know." He was already remembering some of Klaus' trusted 'friends' from over the years.

"I’ll have you know his name is Brian, and I know him well enough. It's okay, because it's a 'dry' party."

"Wait…like no alcohol at all?" Klaus shook his head at Diego's question. "No pills? No yay? None of that?"

"Nope, nada, nilch."

"But we just took a few hits before getting out of the car." Diego pointed his thumb back in the direction of where they were parked. He was so proud of all the efforts Klaus was finally putting in towards maintaining his sobriety. He had set up a little cozy corner in the apartment when he noticed Klaus trying to learn meditation and yoga. He kept frozen oranges in the freezer at Klaus' request (though why he needed them, Diego couldn't guess). He even kept Klaus' yarn supplies stocked up when he noticed a certain color getting low or he saw a new funky skein that reminded him of the Séance.

"Oh, no one will be able to tell, Cavaliere Mio18" Klaus patted his cheek, smiling at the way Diego's impossibly big eyes were just slightly hooded, appearing a little more ordinary than the unique feature they normally were. It had taken a little while for Klaus to allow himself this one respite every now and then from his powers (a respite that didn't even work quite all the way). Diego had argued that Klaus needed to learn moderation even in self-care (and that weed was never actually the problem after all), and Klaus had argued Diego needed to learn how to chill out (or let go) once in a while. It was something they only did together now, like in the beginning when Klaus had been too scared to try it alone.

"As long as you're sure, Cara Mia.19"

Klaus finally wrapped his knuckles against the door, and it opened a moment later to reveal a tall vampire resembling one of his new friends.

“Ah, welcome Gomez and Morticia Addams!”

 


 

For all that Diego was not the most social person, he didn’t do too bad when he was able to loosen up and had an act to fall back on. During their very limited free time as kids, he and Klaus had gone through a phase of watching the black and white Addams family reruns and eventually the newer movies. When they couldn’t watch TV, they would reenact the scenes for fun, Klaus always as Morticia and Diego always as Gomez. Needless to say, Diego had memorized his lines years ago.

After showing off some of their dancing skills, and Diego trying to remember these people’s names, his social tank was close to depleted. Seeking a comfortable corner in the kitchen to stand in nursing a bottle of water (since he didn’t drink soda), he watched the party while letting his thoughts wander.

‘Here’ by Alessia Cara started playing over the sound system just as Klaus came snaking back up to him, singing the words at him.

“I’m sorry if I seem uninterested, or I’m not listenin’, or I’m indifferent.” Diego tilts his head at the other with a look of amusement while Klaus continued through his motions of opening up another soda for himself. “Truly I ain’t got no business here, but since my friends are here, I just came to kick it.”

“Hey-”

“But really I would rather be at home all by myself, not in this room with people who don't even care-”

“Klaus.” Diego waits, and Klaus stops with a shameless smile on his face.

“Oh look, I found your theme song,” He sassed, his eyes coming alive with the revelation, pulling Diego’s seemingly weirded-out face into a smile. Diego pulled him in closer, lightly running his hands over black lace covered hips and sides.

“God, you remind me so much of Patch sometimes,” Diego sighed, “when we were younger.”

“I do, huh?” Instead of looking hurt or confused, Klaus looked hopeful at hearing this, though Diego couldn’t miss the hint of guilt nestled in the corners of his mouth that Klaus always carried when his former partner was mentioned. Klaus still felt some sense of responsibility for Eudora’s death no matter how many times Diego tried to reassure him that it was his own fault. Over the course of their current ‘official’ relationship, both men had talked about their lost loved ones with each other in different moments, sometimes in the middle of the night when sleep wouldn’t come, or sometimes nestled together in a public or social setting like this.

“Yeah, she used to make fun of me so much...and she was much more social like you, able to get along with so many different kinds of people…wanting to always see their good sides,” Diego expressed honestly, trying to find the right words. Nostalgic amusement followed, “Though not with me, not right away.”

“Tell me about it, Dearest.” Inviting and momentarily contained, Klaus persuaded Diego by laying his black, acrylic nail adorned hand on his shoulder.

“It's just, when I first met her,” Diego started, “I was about to be 20, she was already 22, and I was with the guys at that club we stopped by a few weeks ago.”

Diego can’t fathom why the guys, or rather Vince and Jester, like going out to nightclubs on such a regular basis. Chuck came along more willingly than Diego, but he also didn’t seem to see much merit in spending time in a room where the music was so loud, and the lighting so bad, that having any kind of real conversation with someone was next to impossible. Luckily, they are standing in a group off to the side against the wall and able to hear themselves think, let alone talk.

'We need to get you a girl, Güey20,' Jester insists, like he often does, when he returns from the bar and shoves another beer in Diego’s hand that he wasn’t legally supposed to drink. The youngest used to refuse. When that got tiring, he started pretending to drink to placate the others. Now he found himself going with the social pressure, unable to place just when that transition had occurred.

'Or a guy,' Vince literally points out his finger, matter-of-fact like he often does, with a rhythmic nod to the shitty house music playing. Diego scoffs at the idea of both while he catches Jester rolling his eyes at Vince directly who just smiles obnoxiously back.

'I love how I don’t get a say in this,' Diego’s sarcasm falls on deaf ears as they’re both already scanning the crowds trying to pick out potential matches, and he tips his head back to down the alcohol to try to drown out the dread in the pit of his stomach. Diego hasn’t found anyone worth pursuing ever since he last saw Klaus, nor had he been in the right head space or life circumstance to pursue dating. He had yet to figure out that team double trouble hadn’t necessarily meant dating.

'Good luck with these two,' Chuck says, advisingly.

Both men started pointing out different women, Vince interspersing some male-appearing picks as well, while Diego rejected all their suggestions with different, shallow reasons.

'What’s wrong with her, Fool?!' Jester points at the last woman suggested. She looks pretty attractive from the vague profile Diego could see of her curvy stance by the DJ booth.

'Too...brunette,' Diego lies, not knowing how to vocalize that he just doesn’t have any desire to play this game at all.

'You just said you don’t like blondes.'

'Also true,' Diego looks pleased while Jester looks like he wants to shake him, and both Vince and Chuck are laughing.

'Come on, give it up, Diego can do this on his own,' Chuck insists, which is ignored as Vince notices two women standing together at the other end of the bar that triggers a smile of recognition and has him touching at each of their shoulders.

“And there she was,” Diego spoke playfully, holding his hand out in a dramatic cliche. Klaus giggled and copied his actions.

“Looking too good for you.”

“Yeah, exactly.” Diego confirmed, actually serious.

'Lookie what the cat just dragged in,' He sing-songs, winking at Chuck who takes a moment to follow where Vince is pointing, and then his whole face shifts into a wide-eyed look of dread. Jester’s mouth falls open for a moment before he’s pointing a protective finger at Chuck and ranting at him in Spanish. Diego blinks, having no idea who they were all suddenly reacting to. What he does notice is a visually gorgeous girl standing at the bar around where their attention was drawn. She has wavy brunette hair paired with shiny hoop earrings, a cute little red dress, and matching heels. What actually catches him is the bright smile she displays while she laughs at something the other brunette girl with her is saying. To the left, he notices the second woman standing slightly hunched forward, and a forearm crutch decorated in sparkling gems (that impressively matched her outfit perfectly) wrapped around her arm to steady herself with the other resting against the bar.

‘Será mejor que no pienses pasarse de la raya con mi primo21’ Jester warns Chuck as Diego’s attention focuses back in on the men right next to him half yelling at each other in the now “semi-foreign” language, though its so fast his novice brain struggles to keep up.

‘¿Por qué lastimaría a esta mujer?22’ Chuck fires back.

‘What is going on?’ Diego asks, and Vince smirks.

Gabriella,’ He answers with a weight behind her name that Diego has heard countless times now, ‘On the left, her best friend Eudora is on her right.’

‘She’s the one Chuck is whipped for, eh?’ Diego’s smirk matches Vince’s while the latter nods proudly.

‘Oh yeah, for years, ever since her and Jester came to live with dad and mom.’ Vince details his narrative like it's the most natural thing in the world, like he almost seems to admire their dynamic and story. By now, Diego is well aware they all know each other through Henry adopting them over the years, officially or not.

‘Huh,’ Diego shrugs, his eyes trailing back to Eudora, much more interested in watching her talking with her hands, seeming like she was telling a story of her own. He gets lost in taking in the details of her he could see, so much so he misses the way Vince switches back to Spanish and pushes Chuck to go talk to Gabriella, while Jester tries to stop him.

‘Have you always been this picky?’ Klaus interrupted Diego, thoughtful.

‘I...guess so,’ Diego stopped and then concluded, having never realized that about himself.

‘Look, you won’t need to go alone, Diego can go with you!’ Vince suggests, pointedly speaking in English again, pulling Diego out of his thoughts and back onto Vince who is looking entirely too delighted and secretive for his comfort.

‘What? No-’

‘Well this asshole is clearly trying to be a cock block, and you’re a loyal guy, you wouldn’t do that,’ Vince puts his arm around Diego’s shoulders, looks at Jester who is glaring at both of them, muttering something about a traición23. He whispers something in Diego’s ear, something meant to be some pointers on talking to women before he’s speaking out loud again ‘Come on, Diego, time to grow up and be a man, as swift as the coursing river-.’

‘This is some stupid bullshit,’ Jester cuts Vince off and gives in reluctantly, knowing he was outnumbered. ‘Eudora is such a fresa24, she’ll never like you,’ He adds with a sprinkling of resentment.

‘You’re both ridiculous. I have no problem walking up to her, Okay? See?’ Chuck pushes past both Jester and Vince with enough force to make them stumble, but not enough to impede Vince from pushing Diego in the same direction. He looks back at him offended, and Vince waves him off with his hands. Diego waits, trying to contain his anger that had risen to the surface. He shakes his head with it before he follows Chuck.

Nerves come alive in his stomach, a slow roll that becomes a crackle as more and more of her details come into focus. He notices that the lines of her face are soft, her bottom lip is slightly fuller than the top, and her eyes were passionate and happy (not to mention the way she was leaning against the bar, he got a nice view of her cute butt and legs defined by her heels). “Everything is fine, just some pretty girl who isn’t that important,” is what he tells himself as he comes to stand next to Chuck who had stopped a few feet away from them, frozen to the spot. For the first time, Diego feels sympathy for him even though Chuck got on his nerves being so bossy and needing to have control over most situations. They share eye contact, Diego gives him a small nod of encouragement, and Chuck forces himself to close the gap.

Klaus shifted in Diego’s arms in anticipation.

‘Hey Gabi, Eudora,’ Chuck greets them with Diego at his side. Both women turn their deep, brown eyes to them, both recognizing and greeting Chuck immediately with hugs. They take Diego in curiously. ‘This is Diego,’ He adds, Diego giving them both a nod and hand held up in greeting.

Chuck moves to stand on the other side of Gabi, grabbing her attention away and mentioning something about being happy to see her out and enjoying herself. Diego pauses awkwardly as Eudora watches this exchange and rolls her eyes with a soft smile. She looks at him for a brief moment with her smile fading before she turns to face the bar once more. Diego blinks in confusion, then came to her other side to mimic Chuck’s movements.

‘Happens often?’ Diego offers, and Eudora gives a firm nod as she picks her drink back up for a sip. He looks around for a moment, trying to think of something to say. Then words are spilling out of their own volition, ‘I don’t know how anyone could ignore someone who looks... like you.’

“No, you didn’t,” Klaus emphasized, and Diego just nodded, faux mourning his dignity.

“I did, I really did.”

Those passionate eyes look right into him, and Diego forgets to breathe.

‘What do I look like?’ She tilts her head with her question that sounds so innocent. Diego blanks. All he could think of was one of Vince's "lines" he had been trying to "impart" on Diego.

‘...A fine mami25,’ Diego offers with a smirk, and Eudora laughs.

“She laughed in your face?!” Klaus asked, laughing himself. “Good for her.”

“She did, and god I deserved it.”

‘That’s the best you could come up with?’ She criticizes, and Diego is brutally disoriented.

‘What? That’s a compliment.’

‘Yes, some random kid calling me “mami’, how could I forget to be so gracious?’

‘I’m not a kid,’ Diego asserts, frowning before he recuperates.

"You were so a kid," Klaus teased and Diego nodded in strong agreement, mouthing a 'oh yeah' silently.

‘I’m 21.’ He winks.

"You lied?! Diego insert-middle-name-here Hargreeves," Klaus reprimanded which only made worse the other’s mischievous grin.

‘You’re 21.’ She repeats, her face flat and disbelieving. Diego nods, trying to look confident with his smirk. Instead, Eudora just smirks back at him. ‘Okay, big man, order a drink.’ She nods her head in the direction of the bar.

Diego’s smirk falters, and she quirks an eyebrow at him in confrontation. He finally remembers to breathe as he tries to signal the bartender down.

‘Hey, my dude. Can I get another?’ He asks when he’s spotted, holding up his beer. The man gives him the once over, and Diego watches him expectantly, which prompts the man to oblige. He looks so proud when he gets handed the drink and he exchanges it for a few bills placed on the counter.

"You got really lucky with that one."

Diego focuses back on Eudora who doesn’t seem phased at all by his accomplishment. Instead, she shakes her head at him, a little incredulous smile on her lips.

‘You're all ridiculous.’

‘Who?’

‘Jester, Chuck, Vince, all of them. I guess you're the newest addition to the machismo26 cliqua27.’

"Now, I'm getting confused because the cliqua were the boys who only came around as protection for the fights, or when Vince wanted someone to run a delivery for him, you know, less serious friends I guess." Klaus nodded to Diego's added context.

‘I'm not in the cliqua, besides those guys are more with Vince and Jester,’ Diego insists. He glances over behind her shoulder to see if Chuck could hear this, but the older man is busy making shy smiles and saying whatever jokes or flirts that had Gabi laughing behind Eudora and shoving at his arm. Diego has no idea what he is doing wrong.

‘Aside from Jester, you are their starfighter. Tough guy with a million names. El Mysterio28, No Nombre29, El Extraño30...’ She continues.

‘I didn't ask for any of that, I just ne- wanted the money.’ Diego tries to play it off, not wanting to come across as in need of anything.

‘Oh...well in that case, you must be doing pretty well for yourself,’ She plays along, leaning in a little closer and looking impressed.

‘Yeah, I am actually, I can get you whatever you want,' he smirks again, his eyes trailing over her face. ‘Clothes, ice, shoes...’

‘Oh yeah?’ she asks, biting her lip, her face leaning closer and closer, making Diego lose focus as he anticipates her trying to kiss him. She glances off to the side at the other bar tender before refocusing. ‘Anything? How about another drink?’

Diego turns his head and flags down the other bartender, who comes over and looks at him with a bored expression.

‘Can I get this lovely woman another drink?’ He asks, and pulls out another bill of cash. She blinks at him.

‘Can I see some ID?’

‘What?’

Eudroa smiles and slides the bill over to herself. ‘Yeah, Jester told me you were only 19.’

Diego's mouth falls open. ‘I'm almost 20!’

He is going to kill Jester.

Putting the money in front of herself, she orders a drink and gives the bartender the whole amount for her tip as well much to Diego’s shock.

‘Next time, try something a little less sexist when you’re trying to pick up a girl.’ She reaches out and taps him on the cheek lightly with her hand with a patronizing grin. Picking up her new drink, she climbs off the bar stool and lets Gabi know she was going to dance.

“Wow, she tore you apart!” Klaus teased, the delight all over his face. Diego was humbled even now. “I remind you of her?”

“Well, you know, you call me out on my shit, and you like talking to people, being social, putting yourself out there.” Diego espoused with Klaus’ happy look, giving him a soft smile back and pressing their foreheads together. He then heard the music shift to something slow and heartfelt.

“Before we head to Gritty's...How long has it been since we waltzed?” Diego quirked an eyebrow. Klaus tilted his head and looked at him with heart eyes.

“...hours,” Klaus breathed.

 


 

In direct opposition to their ordinary routine of sitting across the table and making suggestive quips at each other, Klaus insisted they sit side by side in the same booth because 'it's what Morticia and Gomez would do'. Diego was sure it was because Klaus was cold in his mostly lace gown and didn’t want to admit it.

After he finished devouring his waffles, Klaus wrapped his arms around Diego's left arm while Diego finished munching on his sprinkled donuts. When he felt something pointy pressing against him through Diego's suit jacket, he gasped obnoxiously with huge eyes.

"Are you...packing heat?!" He stage-whispered.

"Sh-hhhh," Diego couldn't suppress the chuckle that slipped through since they had smoked again in the car after arriving at the infamous diner. It was the only way Diego had finished 3 huge donuts and was working on his 4th. "You know those are just knives, and of course I am. You never know what people are going to do on Halloween."

Klaus' own giggles slipped through as he settled, laying his head on Diego's shoulder. "Still, you're always ready, like some kind of messed up boy scout."

"Isn't that basically what our w-whole childhood was?" Diego asked, another chuckle leaving him.

They both slipped into a comfortable lull, and Agnes came by to refill their coffee mugs with a pleasant smile at the sight of the cute couple. Diego offered her a small look back, remembering when she used to let them all eat way too many donuts on their secret escapades, or when she had given him the food to be thrown out at the end of the night more times than he could count in those first two years on his own.

"So, if you weren't a part of ‘the cliqua’, what were you to them?" Klaus asked, turning to rest his chin on said shoulder. Diego slightly turned his head in his direction, his eyes drifting to the mugs of coffee.

Diego hurries down the road, black hood up to protect his face from the pouring storm. He had Chuck drop him off a few blocks away so the older man didn't know exactly where or how he lived. Truth be told, Diego thinks he’s clever.

Yet, his cleverness slips into his blind spots tonight- he fails to realize he’s being followed. Diego is also carrying more money on him than he ever preferred, weighing a dangerous hole in his hoodie pocket. His face is a bit bloodied with his hands black and blue, and he has a fresh slice right through his eyebrow that Chuck had stitched for him which was sure to scar over.

Diego slips through a gap in the gate of the back fence that runs all the way around the local storage unit business. He touches at the wound, wincing a little while he makes his way down the lanes of units until he comes upon his own. Leaning down, he slips his key into the keyhole of the door and pulls to slide it up.

A large, wet hand slams into the metal door next to where Diego's crouched, and rattling metal mixes in with Diego's shout of surprise. In the same second, he jumps back and pulls a large throwing knife, seemingly out of nowhere, and pointed it protectively at the figure.

'What the fuck are you doing?!' Chuck yells in disbelief.

"Familia," Diego uttered, "according to them."

'J-Jesus christ,' Diego swallows down his rattled stutter and heavy pants, immediately thinking back to himself: "face, eyes, voice, breath". 'What the fuck are you doing?'

Both men start yelling at each other at the same time. Diego puts the knife away but gets in Chucks face instead.

'Why are you living in a goddamn storage locker? You're damn right I followed you, Fool. You always sneak off when others aren't watching, you always get dropped off out here, and you don't tell me anything.'

'What does any of this have to do with you? I can do what I want-'

'Because this is what I do, I look out for everyone. I'm the oldest, I make the plans, I organize the deals, it's my responsibility.'

"A few weeks after I met Eudora, Chuck followed me one night after I won a particularly bad fight and found out I had been living in a storage unit," Diego added blankly, still caught up in the specifics of the memory.

"A storage unit, seriously?"

"I still didn't have my papers, didn't have a car or license, and it was so cheap compared to apartments and hotels."

"Because there's no heat! Or water!"

"So what?" Diego shrugged. “You find places to shower, you get an extension cord and a small heater for the winter....”

Klaus gawked and shook his head, pointing at his own chest indignantly. "I’m supposed to be the family fuck up who doesn’t care about his own survival. Me!"

Diego shook his head back, moving his arm to put it around Klaus now. “Not a chance, and not anymore.”

Diego casts visual daggers at Chuck, pointing his finger at the other’s chest. 'I don't give a shit about any of that. I'm not one of your lackies to boss around-' Chuck gets that tired look on his face again while Diego continues to go off, '-and you think just because I needed some money you're number one?!'

'What are you talking about? Güey, are you done yet? God, you're more stubborn than Jester.'

'Fuck off, I'm nothing like him.' Diego goes to pull the door open all the way.

Chuck scoffs, shakes his head, and just grabs Diego’s hood. 'Grab your shit and lets go, punk.'

'Get off me!-'

'Nope, you're coming home with me. We have to help mom with Día de los Muertos31. After that, you can come back to your little hole in the wall.’

“Chuck basically dragged me to his family’s house. He kept saying we needed to help his mom prepare for Día de los Muertos, which I had no idea what that meant at the time.”

“The Mexican holiday after Halloween, yes?” Klaus reached over from where he was settled to pour entirely too much sugar and cream into his coffee.

“Exactly. You ever saw it celebrated?”

“Oh yeah, many times,” Klaus started, glancing over across the table and throwing a balled up straw wrapper at the empty air.

“Ben?” Diego asked said air, having learned how to address Ben now that he was aware of his presence around Klaus. He pulled his head back when a hazy shadow tried to materialize and then dissipated as quickly as it came.

“Okay okay! Stop yelling.” Klaus’s pained expression changed to one of defeat. “I might’ve had one or two flings over the years who tried to invite me to the festivities, and I would disappear ever so conveniently. See, the dead coming in droves was not something I think even the strongest stuff could touch, and I wasn’t going to wait around to find out.”

Diego considered this, running his hand over Klaus’ shoulder and then leaning in to give a soft kiss to his temple. “Makes sense, Baby.”

“Plus, you know, it's not my culture so why should I get to be there? Got enough people trying to make it their own who it doesn’t belong to. All those clothing stores selling sugar skulls on shirts year round? Just because it's cute doesn’t mean it's okay.”

Diego watched Klaus get distracted by Ben for a moment, whining at him a bit about being too tired to make him corporal right now. All he could think about was how Klaus really had to be so acutely aware of others to understand things like this, silently wondering if Klaus had understood these complicated dynamics long before he learned for himself. His fingers pulled the long wig back behind Klaus’ ear while he thought, snapping out of it when the other’s attention was suddenly back on him.

“Um….is it gonna be bad for you if I talk about it?” Diego covered, and Klaus shook his head and encouraged him to go on.

Diego broods in the back seat of the car (he was definitely not sulking) during the whole drive. It turns out the house wasn’t far from his own makeshift home. Diego takes in the modest, two story brown and white house for the first time when Chuck pulls into the driveway. There’s a porch with a metal, cushioned sitting bench, steps down to a paved path connecting it to the driveway, a little garden to the left that wraps around from the front to the side of the house with wilting flowers and warm colored leaves on trees throughout the yard still clinging to Summer-turned Fall leaves.

He had heard the guys reference this house many times in passing conversation, including the different inhabitants in it, but seeing it in person pulls a weight over Diego’s shoulders. Watching Chuck get out of the parked car, he has the oddest sixth sense in his gut that if he follows him inside it was all over. His efforts to remain detached, his long-term plans to run away, again, and his strive for independence would cease. Diego looks out the window on the other side of the car, knowing he could run right now. He could bolt out the car door and Chuck could never catch him, wait until the other gave up to grab his shit and get out of dodge entirely.

“I was so ready to leave again, I didn’t want to get attached to anyone new.” The angst showed itself for the briefest of moments before sinking below the surface again.

“What made you stay?” Klaus couldn’t have looked nor sounded more naive if he tried.

Then Diego thinks of Klaus.

Diego leaned down and pressed his forehead to Klaus’ temple, letting his eyes shut and feeling the warmth spread through the other’s cheek against his nose. He doesn’t need to voice it.

He’s unsure if Klaus was still in the city, but he feels him the same way he feels the rain trickle over his skin when Chuck opens the door and exposes him to the elements. He looks down, squares his jaw at his own stupid heart, and lets out a quiet, frustrated growl as he steps out, bag in hand, and heads up the path towards the house.

Chuck doesn’t ask. Diego doesn’t explain.

“At least you know already that its not the same as Halloween,” Diego started again, clearing his throat. He frowned when Klaus purposefully gave a small shake of sugar into his black coffee and looked at him oh so coy before Diego took a sip anyway.

‘Isn’t Halloween at the end of the week? Why are we here now?’ Diego waits at the front door while Chuck pulls out his keys.

‘Yeah, and Día de los Muertos isn’t the same as Halloween. It’s not “Mexican Halloween”, either.’ Chuck spells out for emphasis. ‘We’re here to clean first.’

Diego steps inside after Chuck lets them in, watching the way the other toed off his wet shoes and hung up his jacket on the coat rack and following suit with his own. He was still damp all the way down to his shirt and pants, and ignored the chill it brought.

‘Hola Veija!32’ Chuck calls out, and Diego hears a distant feminine voice call back from the other end of the house mixed in with the sound of soft romantic guitars and heartfelt Spanish singing.

‘We’re cleaning?’ Diego sees Vince walk down the stairs carrying a long-handled mop, giving both of them a winking head nod in greeting and mumbling a “¿que onda33?” in passing. ‘Vince is cleaning?’

‘We’re all cleaning.’ Chuck reiterates as he leaves the room. Diego looks around for a moment, taking in the different pictures of the men (and Gabi) who took up a lot of his time lately hung up on the walls of the front room. There were other kids he didn’t recognize, presumably other foster kids that didn’t stick around or come back.

'Hi Diego,' Gabi greets cheekily while she rides the electric stair lift down the stairs. She has her hair pulled up and fixes a bandana over the front to catch remaining stragglers.

'Hey Gabi,' Diego returns her greeting coolly, trying to brush her off like he hadn’t made a fool of himself the last time he saw her.

'Eudora’s not here.' She continues to smile at him as she reaches the bottom, grabs her crutches from their holder, and boosts herself to her feet.

“I like her,” Klaus declared. “Do you still know her?”

“Yeah, maybe one day you could meet her.”

‘Who?’

‘Cute.’ She laughs at his feigned ignorance. Diego lets her move ahead of him as he finally steps further into the home.

Upon entering the main living area, Diego’s eyes are drawn to a dark oak table on the far wall covered in deep red fabric. There are a few pictures of a young man he recognized from a few of the previous pictures, cylindrical glass candles of different colors with a woman painted on the front lit and flickering, and various little figures and objects interspersed between little vases of flowers. Diego is mesmerized for a moment, feeling inclined to look closer. He needs to rub the petals between his fingers to see if they were real, to smell the candles for any particular scents, to study the little objects and why they were placed just so; he needs to understand what such a dedication to one child could mean.

The sound of young voices mixed with Gabi and Chuck’s forces him to look away and follow them into the kitchen. Gabi has taken up a spot in front of the sink to start washing a pile of dishes, Chuck grabbing some more cleaning supplies from a nearby closet. Two young boys, about 14 and 10, are sat at the kitchen table with books and papers out in front of them and their backpacks on the floor. The older one was speaking to the younger in Spanish, pointing at the other’s paper, when he stops as Diego comes into view. They both regard him, the younger looking him up and down carefully, and Diego clears his throat before he gives them his own head nod.

‘Hey, I’m-’

‘You are Diego,’ a kindly, alto voice comes from his right, and Diego gazes upon a tiny woman with a smile and face that matches her voice. She is petite with chin-length, deep auburn, dyed hair, sanguine eyes, squared and worn features framed with light age lines. Diego blinks at her and finally nods. Her face falls into concern as she reaches out to touch at his soaked shirt sleeve. “Aye, look at you, nothing but rain.”

‘I’m okay-’

‘No, no, I won’t hear it, you silly boys and your pride.’ She lightly chastises him. “I heard you are the worst.” Her eyes narrow, and for a moment Diego is sure she can see right into him and the way he is still trying to ignore the chill-induced trembles at his core, though her smile returns and she laughs genially. Diego relaxes, realizing she was joking, and gives her the shyest grin he’s experienced in quite a while.

‘¡Henry, Mi Amor! ¿Le traes ropa seca a Diego?34’ She calls out to her husband. Diego swallows, immediately tensing under the clingy cloth, though he kept his face and body language relaxed. He had seen Henry here and there over the many months since the older man had pulled a gun on him, mostly at the host counter at the restaurant. They would exchange a few polite words here or there, Henry always asking him how he was, what he had been up to, how the fights had been going, with Diego almost always giving one word answers. Henry never let him pay for food he ate there, and soon none of the waiters did either, even at Diego’s insistence. Hell, sometimes he was shooed out with ‘ "care packages" shoved into his arms by whoever else was working at the time, and Diego never knew what to make of it.

‘So you’re Susanna,’ Diego states, and she nods. ‘It’s nice to finally meet you.’

‘Yes, for you too. This is Lucas and Miguel, our youngest boys,’ She indicates to the two boys. The youngest gives him an easy greeting, the older one still quiet and trying to make him out. ‘You’ve been a ghost around here, hearing about you but never seeing you,’ Susanna teases him with a pleasant lilt to her accent, and Diego feels that shyness trying to creep back in. ‘Now you are here, mi casa es su casa.’

‘My house is your house,’ Diego repeats back to her, and her face seems to brighten in surprise.

‘Jester and Chuck tell me you cannot speak Spanish!’ Her hand gives his arm a soft push, and Diego’s smile cracks open a little more.

‘I have been learning...trying to.’ She asks him further and he adds, ‘a free class down at the library. I sorta stumbled upon it one day. I can’t speak yet, but I can understand, somewhat.’ As much as Diego found himself speaking more with her than he ever did with the others when he first met them, he was not about to admit he went there to learn what ‘Latino’ meant exactly.

‘Oh, very good!’ She claps her hands lightly with her excitement.

‘Doesn’t help all the time. Sometimes I still have no idea what the guys are saying, or only some of it,’ Diego admits, not sure why he is telling her this, but it makes her laugh, a small seed of accomplishment planted.

‘Don’t let them fool you, they do la jerga, the slang, thinking no one understands them. I will help, you will surprise them half to death one day!’ Susanna’s conviction is strong and her words are full of youthful amusement, and Diego is chuckling and nodding in agreement with her as Henry comes in with the requested clothes from the stairs.

‘¿Hola Diego, como estas?35

‘Estoy bien, señor. Muchas gracias36,’ Diego gives Henry a nod of respect as he takes the offered clothes from him. The older man returns a warm smile and gives him directions to the bathroom upstairs where he can wash up and change.

‘I want you right back here, señor. You still need chores for Día de los Muertos.’

‘Sí, señora,37’ Diego responds with another small grin.

“Aw, you found a Grace,” Klaus smiled so genuine at watching Diego describe this woman that his airbrush defined cheekbones almost looked gaunt and strange, but Diego simply smiled back. “But like a human one, right?”

“Yes, she was human.”

“Only you would be able to find that twice,” Klaus teased, giving him a soft peck before softening. “I’m really glad you did, you must have needed that.”

“I did,” Diego admitted with no shame whatsoever.

Scrubbing floors and raking leaves is not Diego's idea of a good time, but watching all of the hard work happening around him motivates him to contribute. He had never seen a family work so well together, especially seeing Gabi helping in the specific ways she could, and how the rest of the family accommodated the tasks accordingly. Even Jester, who normally seemed to be a bit of a loner who had to do everything his own way, volunteers for the most difficult of jobs. It becomes a bit of a competition between them after Jester makes a comment about Diego's "soft hands" for the hundredth time since he has known him. It eventually leads to Diego cleaning out the gutters to realize how stupid the competition became, yet Susanna is tickled by their dedication, and Henry is impressed. Susanna invites him to stay each night, and each night he finds himself accepting a makeshift bed on the couch and trying to not stare at the altar he is so curious about.

It's only until the end of the third day of cleaning that Susanna answers Diego's original question.

'We clean to welcome our passed on family back home,' She explains while she is measuring out different ingredients on the kitchen counter for what looks like at least 10 recipes and putting them in different containers. 'The veil becomes thin, and passable. If we show care and respect, those we miss and love will return home to be with us.'

“Absolutely true,” Klaus volunteered before Diego could even think to ask. “It feels easier to turn Pinocchio into a real boy around this time of year, at least I noticed it last year after 'the big revelation'.” Klaus wiggled his fingers with flair.

“Really?” Diego was a bit amazed, his mouth opening with his awe. He saw Ben’s figure trying to come through again, and he has to blink back the sheen that unexpectedly appeared.

Instantly, Diego is free falling melted wax.

He’s grateful Susanna has her hands busy and her eyes diverted, because his chest is tight, and his head spins.

Diego is the rushing air, plummeting.

He has to lean on the nearby wall for support. He squeezes his eyes shut, trying to force the images of Ben's dead body out, the feeling of his blood soaking into his clothing, his father's echoing words, “Grace, subdue number two.”

Diego is cradled in tree branches, inches above unforgiving earth.

Diego flinches violently when he feels small hands on his face. His eyes fly open and see Susanna looking up at him, asking if he's alright.

'I'm okay, I just-' He motions to the other direction, not being able to think of an excuse. He makes a bee line for the back door, taking in a large, chilled, Autumn breath.

Subsequently, self-consciousness wanted to give way with Diego suddenly acutely aware of his fear of what Ben must have thought about all of this. Still, it was probably good to show the other how much Diego had cared, still cared.

Diego returns an hour later to continue helping Susanna. Over the next few days, his role morphs from cleaning to sous chef as he finds himself unable to leave her side as time went on. She continues to teach him.

She teaches him how to make corn tortillas from scratch.

'There is a secret for knowing the right amount of water. Slap it! Open hand.’

She teaches him how to say curse words in Spanish.

'Come on, say it with me now: “pinche38.” Is a beautiful word, fits everywhere!'

She teaches him about the Aztecs and Olmec peoples.

'They believed death is a part of life, the soul lived on in the afterlife with the gods, and we celebrate the dead with great feasts of food and happiness.'

She teaches him about the Spanish colonists.

'The Catholic conquistadors came from Spain. They tried to take away the culture of the people. They say it’s “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”, November 1st and 2nd.’

She teaches him about La Calavera Catrina.

‘She comes from the ancient symbols of death with skulls. Now, she means the importance of life. Around the...50s, some women try to deny their heritage and pretend to be white to get ahead in life. The Caterina is “the great equalizer”, no one can escape death.’

She teaches him about papel picado.

‘They are beautiful art, made out of thin paper. Gorgeous. All different colors, strung up together.’

She teaches him how to make pan de muerto.

'We put our memories in the bread while we knead, and we make ‘bones’ to go over the top.'

On the morning of the first day of Día de los Muertos, Diego helps her make the sugar skulls of all different sizes, though seeing so many smiling bones staring up from the table makes him a little uneasy. He sits with the entire family who comes together to decorate said skulls in the late afternoon. There is still Spanish music playing in the kitchen, bottles and bottles of colored frosting littering the table, and conversations abound.

‘Espero que mis padres estén a salvo39,’ Jester says softly. Gabi nods and voices agreement about her own parents. Diego pauses pink dots copied from watching Miguel’s designs next to him to see the cousins exchanging deep hugs.

‘Both sets of their parents were deported almost 10 years ago,’ Henry leans over to explain quietly to Diego.

‘What did they do wrong?’ He asks, figuring there had to be a reason for them to be sent away. Henry sends him a patient, but morose grin.

‘Nothing,’ Henry replies, and Diego shifts uncomfortably in his seat. ‘They didn’t have enough money to pay. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars it costs to come live here, or to stay and renew green cards. The violence going on in El Salvador made having that money next to impossible.’

Diego thinks back to his own family, wondering if they would have taken risks that big to help each other escape danger and terror. He gets a sinking feeling that they wouldn’t, they hadn’t. Sir Reginald is still alive after all, and Diego has no idea if only he and Klaus escaped or where the others would go.

‘Will they get deported too?’ Diego asks Henry, solidifying his resolve to not make that same mistake again.

‘There is always a risk,’ He answers bluntly, direct, and Diego finds himself appreciating it. ‘They are safer, though, than undocumented people or people who become undocumented, like their parents. Jester was born here, making him a citizen, Gabi’s green card is still active and paid for, we make sure.’

Diego listens while he goes back to carefully drawing shapes and patterns with the icing, overhearing Susanna asking Chuck about his own parents.

‘Have you heard from them?’

‘Not this year, not since a few years ago. Last I knew they had both checked into different rehabs and then disappeared,’ Chuck replies, his expression blank and hard to read. Susanna puts her hand on his arm.

‘Your siblings?’

‘They’re good, safe, not that far,’ He adds with a little more happiness, and Susanna smiles more.

‘Good, good, we will focus our love on your parents tomorrow. ¿Agregaste a tus padres al altar?40’ Chuck gives Susanna a nod.

‘...And then my foster mother and my bio mother start duking it out in the parking lot-’ Vince rambles in a story he had started telling to Jester and Gabi, the former eating it up and the latter looking skeptical. ‘And my foster mother is all, "O Vince tem de ir à igreja ou tornar-se-á um satanista!41!" and my bio mom is all, "Tarde demais para isso! Você não pode forçá-lo se ele não acredita!42"'

‘Our mom’s dead,’ Miguel pipes up, speaking directly to Diego who struggles to switch gears between Vince puppeteering a reenactment with a sugar skull in each hand and the dark subject matter in the eager boy’s request for his attention.

‘Miguel,’ Lucas scolds, and Miguel just ignores him.

‘Our dad left, and our older brother tried to take care of us, but he died in the war, too.’

‘Oh?’ Diego blanches with no idea how to respond to that. Luckily, Miguel is speaking again before he has to.

‘Yeah, but it's okay, because we have this familia43 now.’ Diego was about 95 percent sure it isn’t okay by the sad look in Miguel’s eyes that does not match his tone, and the annoyed look on Lucas’ face.

‘Miguel, stop. We’re not supposed to be here.’

‘What? We’re familia too!’

‘We don’t even know anything about our parents!’

‘Ustedes padres,’ Henry interrupts gently, setting down two small sugar skulls in front of the two brothers, ‘son dos inmigrantes mexicanos que te quieren mucho, y que nunca quieren echarte.44

Diego watches as Miguel smiles big, and that sadness seemed to roll off his shoulders for the time being as he takes one of the skulls. Lucas was less apt to accept so quickly, but his demeanor does lighten. He takes the other one with a mumbled thanks.

‘What about you, Diego?’ Miguel asks. Diego tightens, and hears the other conversations die down. ‘Where do you come from? Do you have familia to add to the altar?’

‘Miguel!’ Lucus yells, a hand coming to cover his face in embarrassment.

‘What?!’ The two boys are the only ones speaking now, and Diego’s eyes dart around seeing everyone looking at him and waiting for an answer. Susanna, at least, tries to look at him with concern.

Burning heat crawls up Diego’s torso and into his face. He feels a strong tingle of anticipation and urgency in his bones. Thoughts of Ben and Five (and Klaus) swirl. He self-consciously puts his left arm under the table even though he had a golden bandana tied around his wrist in his usual attire. He snaps his face away from everyone, and his stomach unexpectedly lurches.

Diego’s up and out of the chair in a flash, darting for the familiar upstairs bathroom. He makes it by the skin of his teeth as he starts to vomit all the bile, vitriolic, decaying contents of his stomach.

He sobs with it.

He is unsure of how much time passes, but he hears an easy, maternal voice before he experiences a tender hand running over his back as he finishes dry heaving. Susanna is kneeled next to him and wipes his mouth clean with a soft towel. Something about that rips another sob out of Diego involuntarily.

She pulls him into her chest and continues to rub at his back, lightly scolding him when he weakly tries to resist such a dire need. Tiredly, he hides his face. She whispers soft words in both English and Spanish. Diego struggles to visualize and place an old, hazy memory of when he was four and Grace held him like this after he must have suffered some kind of childhood injury of small bruises or scraped knees. It was before his father had found out and reprogrammed her to prevent the children from becoming ‘too soft’.

‘I was a-adopted.’ Diego finds himself saying when he could almost speak again, and his sobs had quelled in intensity. ‘My adoptive “D-Dad”, if you want to call the a-abusive bastard that, he p-p-paid off my birth mom, and he raised me and my adopted siblings.’

"Cheers to that," Klaus murmured with care as he clinked their mugs together. Diego is grateful for the momentary Klaus-style diversion before he could get choked up in public, even though the diner was basically empty save for Agnes.

‘You never met her?’ Susanna predicts, and Diego nods.

‘N-Never, I have no idea who she is…or w-where she’s from.’ Diego finally pulls back from her embrace and soothing hands to sit with the hurt as it washed over his skin. His eyes are cast down, looking at his powerful, healing black and blue bruised hands. ‘I don’t know w-who I am.’

Susanna is silent for a long moment, as she looks down at her own hands. Diego wipes harshly at his face to get the tears to stop, though they prove to be as stubborn as he is. He waits, that shaky tremor crawling up and out of his body. Diego is certain that rejection will follow, as it always had. He isn’t one of them, and he was never accepted in his own “family”, either.

Diego is no one.

‘Tú eres Diego, you are Diego,’ Susanna starts, and Diego has to look away again in shame. He is painfully aware that he is entirely too old to be having this kind of reaction, yet here he is, crying just because someone isn’t treating him like dirt. ‘Diego is a Spanish name, for James.’

Diego swallows the lump forming in his throat, taking in her words. He speaks, softer, ‘My m-mom….my adoptive m-m-mom named me, named all of us.’

‘So she knew, then. She gave you this name so your heritage wouldn’t be lost. We madres always know,’ Susanna continues, fond for how Diego very clearly still had love for his adoptive mother. Diego turns to Susanna of his own accord finally, seeing her genuineness. There is no way she knows his mom is actually an empathy-based robot created by his awful father, but the way she puts so much faith into Grace mirrors Diego’s own. His eyes soften, as do his swipes at the tears still forming and falling over. His hand is replaced with Susanna’s a moment later at her insistence, and he doesn’t fight her.

‘M-my b-brother, he was 17, he d-died in front of me,” Diego lets out, feeling his chest slump a little with the weight releasing. ‘Another one, he r-ran a-a-away when w-he was 13. He’s b-been gone for...years now.’ Diego corrects himself, realizing he was about to say too much. ‘I have no idea if he’s alive or dead.’

"Turns out the little bastard was hanging out in the future the whole time," Diego chided.

"And I was stuck with this loser," Ben said, sitting across from them clear as day. Diego had to rub his eyes a little to make sure he was really seeing Ben.

"Hey, sometimes you left me to my own devices. Maybe you snuck off for a visit." Klaus waved a pointed finger at the ghost.

"This guy? Nah." Ben pointed at Diego with his thumb. Then he tossed him a knowing wink.

Diego has to force his smile away, poorly, and he hit Ben in the face with a balled up napkin.

‘Mi hijito45, I knew you must have survived terrible things. Since I first heard about you, I waited.’ She ran a hand through his thick, soft hair, looking at the stitches and bruises and giving him a sad smile that Diego returns. Part of him can’t believe that a woman he’s only known for a week would care so much, yet it seems she has known him longer than he had ever realized.

‘How am I supposed to celebrate them when I am still like this?’ He asks her honestly, voicing his internalized struggle that he had grappled with all week.

‘Would your brothers stand for your sadness?’

‘....No, maybe one of them,’ Diego jokes about Five, knowing he was a real prick sometimes, but he was also known to bestow “random” acts of kindness as long as it seemed anonymous enough. ‘But no.’

‘Pretend they are here now, they might be you know. Don’t let them see this, bring them gifts, food, blessings. Show them how much you miss them by celebrating their lives.’

Diego takes a moment to let her words land on him before he speaks again. 'Can I celebrate them like this? What if I'm not like you? Neither of them were either.'

'You forget the most important part. It is culture, yes, which is important, but Jester y Gabriella's parents are from El Salvador. They celebrate their lost family with us, and also in their own way, with wreaths of flowers that are so beautiful like they do in El Salvador, and we make room for them. Vincent is not Latino, yes. He is White, Hispanic, and probably Portugese. He celebrates with us, because he is our family. He chooses to not do the calavera face, feeling it would be disrespectful, but helps every year with painting it on the others. Lucus and Miguel are Latino, but don't know where their family is tied to. We introduce it to them, and then let them make the choice. It is about familia above all.' Susanna takes his hands and gives them a small squeeze. 'It is your choice.'

For the first time, Diego realizes he has a choice without stipulations or consequences. He has the ability to choose for himself, not for someone else holding the puppet strings. His first true act of free will lays itself in his mercy at his feet.

'I want to.'

Diego chooses to be someone.

Klaus beamed up at him.

Pride settles in Susanna's eyes, and Diego's smile is shy but strong. She pauses with a new thought, and then new life fills her eyes with her inspired idea. ‘Go to them. Tonight, when we go to decorate the graves. It is Dia de los Angelitos, the day for the children. Go wherever you believe they could find you, I’ll make sure you have what you need.’

Loving hands find his face once more, and he sighs relief into them.

‘I will, and I’ll come back.'

Klaus lifted his head from Diego's shoulder and squinted to focus on the clock on the far wall of the diner, and he tapped at Diego's side lightly.

"Guess what time it is."

"What?"

"Its 12:30." Klaus' look was infectious.

"God, I feel so old," Diego began to groan at the time when Klaus shushed him.

"No, happy Día de los Muertos, Mister." Diego mimicked Klaus' actions by looking at the clock, realizing he was right, and he smiled down at him.

"Feliz (happy) Día de los Muertos," he replied to Klaus, and then held his coffee cup up to Ben.

"We should go home, get some sleep before the festivities tomorrow," Klaus insisted, and Diego tilted his head in question. "We have to celebrate, clearly! You celebrate it still, right?"

"Uh...I mean, sort of, normally by myself-"

"But it's supposed to be celebrated with family, and we're still stuck with one of those." Klaus threw some money on the table and started trying to shove Diego out of the booth.

"Shouldn't we ask Ben? I mean it's kinda his day I guess?" Diego motioned to the hooded man waiting for them to get up.

"Ben's okay with it! We can celebrate Dave and Patch too! But is there a way to keep someone from visiting though, say an Olympic gold medalist with a bigger affinity for apes instead of children?"

"Not that I’m aware of...." Diego trailed off, distracted by trying to ensure Ben really was okay with it. Ben just gave him a gentle nod of reassurance while Klaus kept rambling.

"Oh, I've got my own ideas, I'm sure they'll work swimmingly." Diego finally let Klaus and all his restlessness out of the booth. Long fingers tangled with his, a black lace blur ran past him, and he was dragged out the door.

 


 

Diego had to admit, watching his brothers and sisters being ordered around by Klaus was one of the most satisfying sights.

"What do you mean I have to clean the inside of the ventilation system?!" Five could be heard yelling at the taller man donned with a captain's hat and a feather boa.

"You're the smallest of us, Five." Diego snorted to himself at Klaus' answer. He braced himself, knowing Five was going to go off about how stupid this was and 'why did they have to celebrate some tradition they never celebrated before' or something simular.

"Ben's already here," Five underlined instead, eerily calm.

"Where?" Klaus asked, holding his arms out while he spun around to 'look' for him. Diego peered around the doorframe from Grace's kitchen where he could see into the main foyer, and just caught the priceless expression of Five's anger boiling over. It was only made better (worse?) by the fact that Ben was standing, corporal, in the corner of the room with, for once, little effort from Klaus.

"Klaus, come on, be serious please," Vanya pleaded as she puts her arm out to stop Five from jumping on him. Diego has no idea how her petite limb could hold back the rage of a 59 year old assassin going through his second puberty.

"Okay okay, you two go make the courtyard look nice. Luther, use your super tall reach to clear out the cobwebs from the corners in all the rooms Ben ever had fun in and bring them to me, Allison please tidy up sir Benjamin's room."

"Why am I bringing them to you?" Luther questioned, addled and apprehensive of the answer.

"So I can do something you won't do, now go on," Klaus shooed him to his task, and everyone shook their heads. There were few things that gave Diego more satisfaction than knowing Klaus was going to put them all in Reginald’s office, along with any of the other filth that managed to be collected.

"Diego, everything is ready to begin," Grace announced behind him, and Diego turned back and smiled back at her bright one. He came and took her hand, leading her back into the kitchen with romantic, Spanish words drifting out of the nearby music player.

"Okay, Mom. Now that we made all of Ben’s favorite food, let me show you how to make the pan de muerto and sugar skulls now. It's pretty easy."

There was something especially pacifying and normal about watching them all painting the skulls with frosting towards the afternoon. It was interesting to see how each of their personalities showed through: Luther’s methodical, classic designs; Allison’s fashionable take of matching colors and innovative patterns; Five’s carefully counted dots representing all of Ben’s missions; Vanya’s not so perfect but still unique work; and Klaus’ use of every color on every one he made. It was exceptionally amusing, too, to watch Ben walk around and eat at least one from every person.

Before they were due to bring all of the offerings and decorations out to Ben’s statue and sit around to ‘visit’ with their brother, Diego dragged Klaus away from all of the hullabaloo.

“Where are we going, Dee?” Klaus asked, letting Diego led him up to Reginald’s office.

“The same night I came back to decorate Ben’s statue and the mantle under Five’s portrait,” Diego explained, fingers pulling Klaus’ along, “I might’ve broken in to do it.” Klaus’ mouth fell open again, earning a satisfied smile from Diego.

“I don’t know why I’m surprised that the family vigilante broke into his own childhood home.”

“I broke in through the windows in the green house, there’s no cameras up there,” Diego explained, moving to hug Klaus from behind while he continued to walk with him towards the office door, pulling smiles from the medium. “Then I disabled the cameras as I went.”

“You naughty boy.” Klaus gave a playful groan.

“I snuck through the halls, and came right up here.” Diego reached around Klaus to slowly push open the office door.

A burning ache of satisfying trepidation thrums through Diego’s pulse points as he slinks through the long corridors of the Hargreeves mansion and around its dark corners. As he passes the hollow, unused rooms, they appear to adopt a new adage; what was once a barrack now read like a haunting.

Diego remains focused on his second goal, having taken the time to pay respects to each of his brothers previously. Learning a few tips from Jester, Diego picks the lock to the forbidden office door. He struggles for a long moment, his heart rate picking up with each passing second. He was certain it couldn’t have been this easy, that Luther or Pogo were going to become alarmed at any moment and try to stop him. Worse, their father would imprison him once more and never let him see the light of day again.

When the lock comes undone and the door gives way, Diego hesitates, staring. An uncrossable barrier was just a fucking board of wood and metal-an ordinary door.

He shakes the trauma out of his hooded head before he quickly crawls inside.

“Picked the lock, and tore the office apart, more or less.”

“Oh yeah?”

Diego starts careful, and quickly becomes impatient. Of course, the old man would hide it from him, keep it just out of reach like everything else. He thumbs through different files, picks the locks on the locked drawers, and checks between books on the book shelves. He tosses papers aside or tears them up completely as he becomes more frenzied and pissed off.

“Yeah, and can you guess where the bastard had our files?”

“His underwear drawer?”

Diego is about to give up, knowing he was being careless and could be caught at any moment. He was on all fours under the desk checking for loose floorboards when he growls in his frustration and brings his head up too quickly. His skull collides with a hollow thud with the underside of the desk, and he lets out a loud curse that he muffles with his hoodie sleeve. Pain throbs in his head with each heartbeat, but it dawns on him.

Diego moved Klaus over to the dust and cobweb covered desk. He took the other’s hand and guided it to the sliding drawer directly under the surface meant for writing utensils and other necessities.

“No!” Klaus’ eyes widen with his mouth agape.

Diego scrambles up to sit in the tall, leather chair and pulls on the shallow drawer. It pulls free despite the embedded, brass keyhole that matched those of the side drawers. He discovers an orderly array of fountain pens, their father’s monocle and case, and 6 manilla folders stacked in order from Number One to Number Seven, skipping number Three.

They both pulled the drawer open to discover fountain pens strewn about, the empty monocle case, and 4 manilla folders. Number Two, Three, and Seven were missing.

“Just when you think he couldn’t have been any more of a monster,” Klaus uttered.

“Right here, all along, within our grasp.”

They both laughed at the absurdity until they couldn’t breathe. All of the dust probably wasn’t helping.

His hands quiver as he brushes Luther’s file out of the way in disgust and takes back his own: ‘Number Two: Legal Adoption Documents’.

‘D-....Diego?’ A small voice rips him out of his thoughts as half-calavera meets the frightened, lost image of Vanya. She had a plate with a fluffernutter sandwich in her hands.

Diego froze on the spot, unable to move for fear of what the smallest Hargreeves would do. She could call Dad, just down the hall in his bedroom. She could call Luther, who would also call Dad. She could call Mom, and would he register in her data system as Diego or a threat? She could not say anything and hide away.

‘Why is half your face painted like that?’ She asks instead with a soft yawn, and Diego can’t help but sigh in relief knowing their special loyalty is still intact. Something about never being good enough for dad was binding and real. 'And what happened to your eyebrow? Are you okay?'

‘Why are you still here?’ He counters, and she gives him a small shrug. Diego understands before she even answers. What else did she know in this world?

‘Don’t have anywhere else to go. Besides, what would I do?’

The folder in his hands becomes heavy. Diego looks down at the stack, back at Vanya, and then picks up hers as well. He rushes over to her and gently presses her folder to her chest. Her free hand clutches it there.

‘You have to get out, Vanya.’ Diego couldn't have been more sincere and urgent. ‘You have to go find your life. Of all of us, you could do anything, be anything. You’re not tied to all of this.’ He finally gives her the smallest grin. ‘Go play violin, go take over orchestras, or teach, or learn something new entirely. Please.’

Vanya is so consumed by his passionate plea that she finds herself agreeing with him without even thinking. Something about Diego was different, and it wasn’t just the half-skull painted on his face.

Diego finally relaxes. ‘I have to go,’ He says regretfully, moving to walk past her out of the office. He remembers the letter in his pocket, and he turns back on his heel. ‘Give this to Mom for me.’

‘I will, she misses you, you know.’ Vanya takes the letter in her hand still holding her own folder.

‘...Now I do.’ Diego smiles wistfully and turns away.

“Hey, guys, I think everyone is ready to start," A small voice interrupted from the doorway of the filthy office. Vanya stands there, her hands fidgeting together awkward and unsure, though her face showed her happiness with having the family come together in a reaffirming way (as much as they could, at least). Diego still grappled with his anger about her book, the sting of betrayal still running deep. Here, he chose to try something different.

“Okay, Sis,” Diego replied and reassured as carefully as he could. “We’ll be right there.”

When she was gone, Diego pulled back from Klaus and picked up the folder that read ‘Number Four: Legal Adoption Documents’. He held it out to him in offering, tilting his head in question.

Klaus looked at the manilla cardstock with their Dad’s scrawl across it, then brought his gaze up to Diego.

“You can know where you came from, too,” Diego stated, and Klaus brought his hand up to his mouth in a nervous habit. He thought about it carefully before he took the file out of the other’s hand.

“No,” he answered, placing it back with the others. “I don’t need it. The legal stuff I’ll deal with when I eventually grow up,” Klaus spoke in jest, but fell back into seriousness with, “but I’d rather not know.”

Unexpected and perplexed, Diego gaped with a mixture of annoyance and disappointment that Klaus didn’t feel the same, didn’t seem to understand the bigger gesture. He took in a breath, and realized what he felt wasn’t either of those things. He was jealous, envious that the other didn’t carry the same burden he had. He was disgusted at himself for wishing that on his best friend.

“I’m sorry,” Klaus whispered, taking Diego’s hands in his own. Open, deep eyes settled on their interconnected hands, taking in the contrast between brown and white skin.

And then he was calm, remembering the bigger picture.

“Don’t be sorry, Mi Corazón,” Diego mumbled back as he pressed their foreheads together.

 


 

The sight of Ben’s statue illuminated by the glowing candles in the night air combined with the flowers, pictures, and knick knacks gathered from the home was as picturesque as it was moving. Allison had made room on one side for her pictures of Claire, and even Five had dedicated items to Delores. Grace and the siblings were all stood around the display making awkward conversation with each other (talking openly was still often difficult), mostly directed at Ben. It was their one chance to talk to him without so much reliance on Klaus after all.

Diego found himself stood next to Luther, with Klaus and Allison on either side, respectfully. The taller leaned down close to him for an awkward moment and then seemed to think better of it, deep in thought. Another couple minutes passed before he did it again and Diego looked up at him now.

“What, Luther?” Diego sighed.

“I just-...I knew about you coming every year,” Luther alluded, hand indicating the altar in front of him to fill in the gaps he couldn’t find words for. “I knew it was you after the first year, and I tried to keep Dad from-...” He cleared his throat and his eyes darted away nervously. “I saved a lot of it, in one of the spare rooms.”

Number Two stared at Number One for a long moment, dumbfounded and at a loss. He looked back at the altar, and then at Ben smiling at Allison while she told another story about Claire.

“Thanks, Man,” He admitted softly, and Luther’s equally as quiet hum of confirmation was enough.

Diego nudged Klaus for his attention and stepped up to the side closest to them with the other. He pulled a couple pictures of Eudora from his pockets and set them on the altar along with her lucky rabbit's foot.

“Dad’s not here, right?” Diego asked while Klaus removed Dave’s dog tags from around his neck and placed them on the concrete base with a soft sigh.

“Nowhere in sight, thank god. All these people staring down Five, however, is a little distracting.” Klaus’ eyes averted over to Five for a moment before Diego was directing his attention back.

The knife-wielder revealed the picture from the veteran’s bar that Klaus had been glued to on that particularly special day during the apocalypse, and that he still sometimes visited. Klaus was floored.

“How did you-...?” He was overcome with emotion before he could finish his question, eyes shining in the candle light.

“Sometimes it pays to know a delinquent,” Diego smirked with his signature two eyed wink and placed the picture behind the dog tags. “Especially if he’s good at lock-picking.”

Klaus flung himself at Diego and latched on, hearty laughs bubbling up and out. Opening wet eyes and looking over his broad shoulder, the medium smiled against Diego’s neck.

“I think we have some special visitors.”

Chapter Text

I knew

When you told me you don't wanna go home tonight

And you tried to just shrug it off when I asked you why

Somebody hurt you, somebody hurt you

But you're here by my side

And I knew

'Cause I can recall when I was the one in your seat

I still got the scars and they occasionally bleed

'Cause somebody hurt me, somebody hurt me

But I'm staying alive

And I can tell

When you get nervous

You think being yourself means being unworthy

And it's hard to love with a heart that's hurting

But if you want to go out dancing

I know a place, I know a place we can go

Where everyone’s gonna lay down their weapon

Lay down their weapon

Just give me trust and watch what'll happen

'Cause I know

I know a place we can run

Where everyone gonna lay down their weapon

Lay down their weapon

Don't you be afraid of love and affection

Just lay down your weapon

Right now

It's like you're carrying all the weight of your past

I could tell all your bruises, yellow, dark blue, and black

But baby a bruise is, only your body

Tryna keep you intact

So right now

I think we should go get drunk on cheap wine

I think we should hop on the purple line

'Cause maybe our purpose

Is to never give up when we're on the right track

 


 

November 23, 2009

Dear Mom,

I hope you received my last letter. I told Vanya to give it to you, and I have faith that she did. In it, you would have read my reassurances about my safety and about the new people in my life who have been very kind to me in my first couple years away from The Umbrella Academy.

What I left out of that letter was my apology to you for leaving, and especially for not saying goodbye. I hope you understand, or that one day you will come to understand, I needed to get out. I knew if I stopped to see you before I left that it would have been too hard to go. I also didn't want to say goodbye, because I knew that I would find a way to reach you one day without Reginald always watching. I hate that you are still trapped there with him. I hope maybe one day I can help you escape, too.

I haven't seen Klaus since my last letter, but I know he is still around the city like I am. You know, sometimes if you are still long enough, and listen hard enough, you can just make out his loud, ridiculous voice shouting euphemisms across town. As always, I will do my best to look out for him, as long as he lets me.

I have no idea where Allison went, and I worry for her safety with how difficult this world has been for me to adjust to, let alone her. The emphasis and consequence that follows based on an outward appearance such as ours has been a difficult lesson that I still don't quite understand. Maybe she has the best chance of us all, and my worries are futile.

I still haven't seen any sign of Five.

To my knowledge, Luther and Vanya were the last ones there, though Vanya might be gone now too. If that's the case, then I'm afraid that's my doing as well. I think she, of any of us, deserves to see what this world might have to offer her. I just hope she comes home to visit you when the rest of us can't.

One day, I will too.

I will write to you again when I can. I hope you enjoy the vintage pearl earrings enclosed I found at a random flea market. They reminded me of you.

Your son,

Diego Har-

'Diego! Diego! Diego!' Diego’s pen flies off the paper when he hears Miguel calling for him down the hall, moving to fold the contents away as quickly and as neatly as he could, stuffing it into the desk drawer. He makes a quick mental note of the exact hour Grace will collect the mail tomorrow morning.

The preteen boy barges into the spare bedroom that Henry and Susanna have somehow talked Diego into temporarily accepting a second later, holding two baseball gloves and a ball in his hands.

'Yes?' He asks, pushing away his momentary anxiety to replace it with some semblance of patience. The boy 10 years his junior doesn’t seem to notice.

'Come outside and throw the ball with me!'

'I don’t know, Miguel…' Diego says, wary and adjusting his long shirt sleeves self-consciously. Miguel is not persuaded that easily, and instead attempts to hand him the glove anyway. His big eyes and petite nose were paired with a pouting lip.

'Come on, please?' Miguel begins to beg, bouncing on his feet with the pent up energy behind it. Diego recognizes the all too familiar loneliness crept into a reflection of the hope. His shoulders slump in surrender.

'Alright.'

'Yes! Race you outside!' Miguel dashes away and down the hall, and the competitive spark is ignited in Diego as he chases after him.

'Hey! You can’t do that!'

He spends the next hour learning all about public school life through Miguel’s rambling stories of him and his classmates while Diego also tries to concentrate on not throwing the ball too perfectly. Catching, however, proves to be more challenging than Diego wants to admit. Miguel lights up at the chance to show him different techniques when he notices the older’s struggle. Diego takes the opportunity to practice swallowing his pride, and to appreciate Miguel’s honest-to-god acceptance of his lack of skill.

‘My dad showed me that, before he left.’ Miguel drops another heavy moment onto Diego. ‘He used to play catch with me when I was small. Did your Dad ever play with you?’

Ignoring the fact that Miguel is still quite small in Diego’s eyes, he tries to be careful with his answer, though he couldn’t think of any lie he could pull off here, nor one that wouldn’t make him feel like a piece of shit.

‘No, he didn’t.’ Honesty speaks up for him, impulsively.

'¡Miguel! Es hora de hacer la tarea,'46 Lucas interrupts from the sliding glass door of the backyard patio.

'No! I’m teaching Diego about baseball. He’s almost got the rolling catch down. Watch, Lucas!' The young boy lines up to do another practice throw with Diego who rubs at his face to hide the embarrassment that wants to escape and show itself.

'Miguel, come on, you know you don’t have a choice.' Lucas says more firmly as he steps outside and looks to Diego for some help. For all he had tried to be a leader to his siblings, Diego had no clue how to handle someone so much younger than himself. He rubs at the back of his neck and glances over at Miguel who calls for him to get back into position.

'C-...ome on, Miguel, we can do this another time, I promise,' Diego insists, clearing his throat. to cover over the stumbling pause in his speech.

'Awww, fine.' Miguel pouts once again, but thankfully complies, though not before running over and throwing his arms around him.

'Also, uh, Susan- Mom told me to get you,' Lucas directs to Diego, unable to hold eye contact with his own unwieldy adolescence enveloping him. Diego, while awkwardly patting at Miguel’s back and ignoring the heat gathered in his cheeks, wonders momentarily what that must be like, growing up and having the space to be imperfect, "not finished", inbetween, etc.

'Okay, thanks.' Diego gives him a small nod of acknowledgement and waits for Miguel to detach and go inside first before following.

Eudora and Gabi are seated together in the living room with Jester, Vince and Chuck on their own couch watching some reality show on TV. Well, Eudora is reading instead of watching, and Diego tilts his head downward to try to get a glimpse of the spine while he walks by. “Pablo Friere-

Of course her quick witted eyes catch him, and Diego is, metaphorically speaking at least, pressed up against a wall. Yet, he holds her look in a playful challenge and offers her a small smirk before turning his head away. He misses the eye roll she throws at him, and she misses the way he relaxes and rolls his fingers into a clenched fist at his side in nervous habit.

In the other room, he notices Miguel’s animated voice expounding all about the time Diego spent with him to Lucas, though he couldn’t comprehend what the big deal was. He isn’t the only one who takes the time to do things with the younger guys when they ask (which so far with Lucas was rare, but expected from the quiet teen).

'There you are,' Susanna greets lively. She wraps him in a hug that he returns with his eyes closed, trying once again to pacify the pavlovian, visceral tics at such forms of touch.

'Sorry, I was out throwing the ball with Miguel.'

'No apology accepted for family time. Don't worry, I saw you with him earlier. Now. It is time for your lessons.' She asserts with the softest yawn, patting at the pencil and paper across from her at the empty chair.

'You really don’t have to-'

'Diego, don’t make me sing and dance La Cucaracha47 for you again. You know I will!' Diego shakes his head quickly with a short laugh.

'No, no, no, that will not be necessary.'

'You are learning already,' Susanna laughs herself with a playful wink that makes Diego chuckle again. Apparently, he had been the only person on Earth who hadn’t heard said overly stereotyped song before. He would do anything to prevent another reenactment.

She spends the next hour going over what Diego had been learning in his recent Spanish classes and both helps him to put the information into the dialects of the family and local community, and helps him practice pronouncing the words he refused to say in class out loud in the comfort of her presence.

‘Good! You understand, now say it yourself.’

‘Creo q-que…’ Diego closes his eyes in frustration when he stutters for perhaps the hundredth time, and Susanna puts her hand on his tensing arm. ‘...esta muger-’

‘Ah, ah, its okay! But remember, this one,’ Susanna points to the ‘j’ in mujer, ‘sounds like “huh”,”huh”, not “guh”. Put it in your head before it comes out here,’ She teaches ever patient, pointing to the words, to her head, and then to her own mouth. With the pang of nostalgia in his heart, he tried again with more patience.

‘Creo….que...la mu-...jer...’ Diego takes his time with long pauses between words, though movement in the doorway grabs his attention mid-sentence. Eudora had presumably gotten up to get something and is now paused, listening. His nervous eyes catch hers. ‘....es hermosa.’48

The small grin that makes an appearance on her features could have meant anything. She could have been laughing at his shakey pronunciation, she could have been trying to be polite, or maybe...perhaps...she could have even been-

A plume of aching pain across his face ripped Diego out of his sleep with a broken gasp. Eyes still shut in that strange, suspended millisecond, panic took their place in a rebounded reflex of his hand finding one of his hidden knives between the mattress and the wall. Eyes popping open, he was pulled into the general darkness of his boiler room apartment and into the side of his thrashing, half-crying partner in the bed next to him.

Diego released the knife at once, panting back his own panic to cope with Klaus’.

“Baby, hey, I’ve got you,” Diego croaked out as his hands took hold of those thrashing limbs. “Klaus, come on, come back to me.”

“Can’t-...can’t contact sky division...Dave, someone...help, others...pull’-pulled under...ground, trap...!” Klaus cried through a sleep-strained throat with his nails digging into Diego’s hands.

“Come on, come back to Diego, you’re dreaming, Baby Boy.” Diego spoke soft, juxtaposed to the strength and weight he used to help contain the wild limbs to safely touch at Klaus’ face with a now free hand. Repeating and repeating himself, his patient support finally had Klaus sucking in a breath and his tear-filled eyes breaking free.

Diego never thought in a million years he’d end up helping a loved one cope with Vietnam-specific shell shock. Nevertheless, he found himself naturally inclined to understand another soldier's grief with war.

“Hey, there you are, there’s my Baby. You were dreaming,” Diego reassured, running his hand over Klaus’ wet cheek. “You’re safe, you’re at home with me.”

“Shit….fuck…” Klaus whimpered between quiet sobs. He clung back to Diego desperate and shaking. “Dee...thank god. I’m really here, I’m really home?” He grasped at his own skin in some form of a pinch with a loud ‘ow!’ before adding “okay, I’m really here, it's not a trick.”

Diego pressed reaffirming strokes to Klaus' back, the fondest smile on his face as he delivered the lightest kisses over Klaus’ temple. “I’ve got you, nothing can get you here.”

Klaus choked on a soft moan. He gripped at different parts of his partner’s arms and chest to ground himself into believing and feeling how real, solid, and steady Diego was.

“Yes, there we go, Baby. I’m going to turn the light on.” Diego vocalized his movements for the hypervigilant man. Reaching over Klaus, he bathed part of the room in light with a flip of the switch on the bedside lamp.

Klaus looked back at Diego, clearer now, and sucked in a quick breath. His hands found his own mouth.

“Dee, what happened to your face?!” Diego had been so centered on waking up and calming Klaus that he had completely forgotten about the aching, burning pain behind his right eye and cheek. Before his fingers could even feel for a bruise or injury, it dawned on Klaus. “Oh shit, I did that, didn’t I?”

“Did what?” Diego asked, then blinked rapidly in a reflexive response to the pain that he probed at. “Oh...I mean...no-”

“God, please don’t lie. Shit! Okay, okay hold on-” Klaus was out of the bed in a flash, and Diego could only blink after him as he tried to sit up in even half the time.

"Klaus, it's fine. You didn’t mean to.”

“No, Diego, its bad. It’s really bad, I’m so sorry.” Klaus called back from what sounded like the kitchen part of the big, open layout. The echo of stiff, cold rustling confirmed it.

“It can’t be that bad.”

“Are you saying I’m weak?”

“No, just-”

“Cause I am, which is why this is so surprising.” Klaus' voice got closer as he reentered the limited expanse of light offered by the lamp with a wrapped ice pack in one hand and one of his highlighter compacts in the other. Diego could just make out the garish color of a frozen orange tucked under his pale chin and dark tuft of facial hair.

“What-”

“Just look,” Klaus tucked into his side with a sniffle and held up the now opened compact for Diego to see himself in the mirror. After a brief distraction provided by the way the make up glistened in the low light, he saw what Klaus was talking about at last. Diego had faint blue bruises already forming around his eye and across his cheek bone highlighted with a ruddy undertone of irritation on the light brown skin. His face was already beginning to swell.

“Ah,” was all he said in recognition, biting on the inside of his cheek before adding “I’ve had worse, its okay.” Klaus rolled reddened eyes.

“That really makes me feel better, Dear, thank you.” Klaus’ sarcasm wasn’t that impactful with more of his sniffles interrupting it. He gingerly pressed the ice to Diego’s face before the other could protest, and Diego grimaced at the combined sensations of cold and pain.

“I really am fine, Klaus. It's not your fault, you were having another nightmare, or terror, or-”

“Flashback, yeah, but fucking Christ. I’m always giving you shit for marking up your gorgeous mug when you go play Batman, and here I am marring the work of art myself.”

Diego couldn’t stop himself, he chuckled. He took hold of the ice himself in the same motion he leaned in to peck the other’s salty, tear-stained lips. “I forgive you, does that help?”

“No, you forgive too fast when it comes to me.” Klaus returned the affection in reluctant guilt before he glanced down at the frozen fruit he was pressing into his skin.

“Okay, Kettle. And what are you even doing with that?” Diego asked, though Klaus was too fixated on the elephant in the room.

“Listen, Pot, I’m pre-tty sure by this point I’ve put you through the ringer more times than you ever managed to do to me.”

Diego's face fell, all playfulness escaping with a sinking dread in his core.

“You’d be wrong." He mumbled before he added with intentional clarity, "let’s try to get some sleep.”

“What?” Klaus was perplexed by Diego's sudden shift in demeanor. “Hold on, you have to sit up for a while and keep icing that or it's going to wake you up again in an hour hurting like hell.”

“I’m fine, Klaus.”

Tonight, Klaus wasn’t taking no for an answer. He squeezed his way behind him so he was between the knife-wielder and the pillows with the larger man laid between his legs. In his spine, Diego could feel how fast Klaus’ heart was still beating.

“You’re so stubborn.”

“I know you are, but what am I?” Klaus looked over him from above and pushed the orange to Diego’s forehead. The chill was biting with a fleshy, icy give under the rind. It was kind of oddly satisfying.

“Very mature,” Diego caved, knowing he wasn’t going to dissuade Klaus. “Do you want to talk about your dream?”

“Eh. It's the same one from last week,” Klaus answered, returning the orange to his own skin again. Diego remembered Klaus previously describing the dream in detail and the gory, unpredictable environment he had been trapped in. He had told Diego that it was the first time he thought he had lost Dave, and it had been the second hardest time he’d had over there. Klaus hadn’t learned yet to take for granted the miraculous luck Dave had seemed to have over those 10 months until his luck had finally run out.

“I don’t mind hearing it all again,” Diego reminded Klaus, and the other gave him a soft squeeze around his torso with his free arm as an answer.

“Just can’t forget how loud and overwhelming war can be, ya know? And how fast something can change,” Klaus snapped his fingers in demonstration.

“Yeah...” Diego touched at Klaus’ wrist when it returned while his own thoughts wandered, and his eyes seemed far away. “It makes people do crazy things.”

“You’re definitely not yourself, that's for sure.” Klaus waited then, letting the silence fill the space with no idea what to say. Diego was also at a loss, but the silence he used to cherish and covet in the last few years before the apocalypse was making his skin start to itch.

“Do you want a distraction?”

“Yes, pu-lease,” Klaus emphasized, pressing his face into the back of Diego’s hair as his tears had finally seemed to dry.

“I was actually having a pretty good dream before you-"

“Decked you in the face?”

"Well-yeah, so,” Diego started, narrating to Klaus the memory he had revisited in the dream.

Klaus made small sounds of approval as he went, speaking when Diego finished, “I’m glad you had some good times with them.”

“I did, there were a lot of great times. It was really complicated…” Diego trailed off.

“That’s life, Baby.” Klaus spoke next to his ear. “I’d like to hear about some of them, if you wanna share. Just think about a random memory, don’t think too hard about the circumstances.”

Diego found a random spot on the far wall to stare at and zoned out into a blur.

The image of a young, pre-teen Latino boy with short hair stares back at Diego sullen and entirely too serious pulled over supple, rounded cheeks. He has seen this picture, and the picture paired next to it of the same boy in a late adolescent body dozens of times by now. He’s up early, lighting the Virgin Mary prayer candles nestled between red Dahlia flowers one by one while reciting the same prayer Susanna, and sometimes Henry, would recite in Spanish. The fact that he has no idea what the greater wisdom behind the half-translated phrases in his head really meant in their religious contexts wasn’t as important to Diego as was his practice with saying them, and more importantly, his inherent need to pay respect.

‘...Santa Maria, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros, pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.’

‘-ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte, Amén.’49 Henry’s voice fits into Diego’s own seamlessly as he finishes the prayer, making Diego’s eyes turn to him in surprise. The small upturn of Henry’s lips reassures Diego the other isn’t angry. The twenty year old offers him the lit, long matchstick to light the last candle.

‘Thank you, Diego.’

‘Of course, señor50,’ Diego replies with his head down.

‘You don’t have to call me that, you know.’ Henry nudged the other’s elbow with his own, and Diego shrugs while still not looking at him. Henry doesn’t push it. Instead, he runs his fingers over the edge of the picture frame on the younger photo.

‘Pedro.’ He takes in a breath and lets it out slowly while he continues. ‘He had refused to call me anything other than “Jefe” after he turned 10.’

‘...Boss?’ Diego guesses from his limited knowledge.

‘Literally, yes. Where Susanna and I come from, it can be endearing, you know, but still a little...a little bigger than that.’ Henry explains.

‘Kinda like “Old Man?”’ Diego asks, sneaking a glance up and to the side at Henry who grins again.

‘Exactly like that. He was really advanced, really smart, and he knew he had finally become smarter than me.’ Henry speaks with pride, though Diego is overcome with an overwhelming grief between the lines. ‘I didn’t appreciate it at the time, not the way he deserved.’

Diego is at a loss, though he knows it is important to do or say something, at least. He settles for a nod to the words, and he notices the way Henry wipes a tear from the corner of his eye.

‘Henry, estoy empezando el desayuno ¿Terminaste de encender el altar de Pedro?’51 Susanna’s voice carries from the nearby kitchen with the clinking sounds of utensils and appliances starting.

Diego looks to Henry, eyes widened and shaking his head silently to dissuade him from answering her truthfully.

‘No, Diego actually lit the altar. I will come help,’ Henry smiles back at Diego while he lightly defies him, and Susanna pokes her head out from the kitchen.

‘Ah, Diego, buenos días52. Do you want something to eat?’

‘No- I mean, buenos días, señora53. I’m alright.’

‘Too bad, you’re getting eggs just as you like them.’

‘Tsk, you poor boy, you have it so rough here.’ Henry jokes and musses up Diego’s day old, gel infused hair.

“I don’t know why that was the first thought that came to my mind,” Diego admitted.

“It seemed like a decent one,” Klaus offered and was met with a soft shrug, shoulders brushing over his chest.

“Yeah, somewhat... I don’t know how to describe just how weird it is to have a man trying to be a father figure to you, a good one even, after almost 18 years of ‘Sir Reginald’.” Monotone and disconnected, Diego continued to stare at the same spot as before. He finally noticed the spot must have been chipped paint.

“I can’t even begin to imagine that dysfunctional charade.”

“It was like...you feel broken, defective. Like 'why can’t I just accept these generous things this man is going out of his way to give me?' I mean- he didn’t have to do any of it. I wasn’t his problem. I could have just starved on those streets or whatever else I would have resorted to.” Diego shook his head a little, his gesturing hands coming to fold together. “And then you remember that he is a man, and you remember what men can be capable of.”

Klaus, for once, didn’t know what to say yet again. He hadn’t heard Diego speak like this since the apocalypse (and a little after they had first returned and were still dancing delicately around each other in their grief). He gave the normally carefree man plenty of reasons to worry, but none ever seemed to hit home quite the same as when there seemed to be nothing left of Diego behind his words. Instead, Klaus placed the orange on the bedside table and wrapped his arms even tighter around Diego and held on, silently.

Diego blinked at the added pressure, and was thrust into acute awareness of how his and Klaus’ bodies were presently intertwined in his bed, their bed, as if he were a spectator instead of a participant. He also remembered he was supposed to be distracting Klaus from his own demons and was currently failing at that.

“Sorry, I-”

“Shush. You're just stuck. You should keep going.” Diego glanced over his shoulder at Klaus, unsure and distant and yet the words struck him like the echoing crack of a baseball bat. Klaus added, “sometimes reaching the other side helps.” Home run.

Diego turned forward, his eyes glancing over at the small twin bed set up in the corner for Ben. He wasn’t sure if Ben even slept or needed to, but he was learning to become okay with these silly things he felt urged to do as long as no one else besides Klaus saw them (little did he know Klaus told everyone anyway because it was too damn wholesome to keep to himself).

A smile finally came back over him as another thought occurred to him, clearing his throat to begin again.

"There was this one time we were watching tv- Me, Gabi, and Patch."

"Do you want to be America’s Next Top model?!" Diego isn’t sure if there is anything more boring on television than reality tv except actually watching sand pile up. It is much more entertaining watching Gabi’s reactions as if the people in the TV could actually hear her critiques and compliments. He is pretty sure Gabi’s spirit could rally any team into winning no matter the sport or the competition.

"When did this happen?" Klaus' hand rested in Diego's short hair which pulled his eyes closed with it while he answered.

"Around the same time period, before or just after Christmas for sure..."

The most interesting thing to watch, however, was Eudora sat at the dining room table with two huge books and a typewriter with a few smaller books resting off to the side.

"You were just swept off your feet with her, huh?" Klaus' voice smiled. He rested his chin on Diego's head.

"Shut up," Diego retorted without denial.

She has a notebook rested on top of the open book in her lap, and she’s quickly scribbling and making the softest hums with her different trains of thought. Diego tries to not appear creepy or too obvious, forcing himself to look away and back at the boring tv screen frequently. And still, he picks up on the way she bites her bottom lip and twirls one of her curls around a finger when she would stop writing to read more of the passages.

Diego could feel the way the other gripped a little tighter to him with that admittance. He so badly wanted to ask what was running through the weirdo's mind, but he kept speaking instead.

Getting up the nerve to stand up, he offers to get Gabi a drink which she declines with barely any notice to him, trying to see around him.

‘You want anything, Eudora?’ He offers to the other woman, who simply points to her own bottle of water without looking up.

Taking in a silent breath of slight embarrassment, Diego follows through on his act in getting himself a drink and then comes over to sit adjacent to her. She doesn’t look up at him, and he watches her more astutely. It was here he notices her jaw change shape slightly, her grip on her pencil tightens, and his own smile came over his face before he even realizes why.

‘What?’ She asks him when her eyes finally glance up and see the proud look, her own tone careful and neutral. Diego’s face fell and he tried to recuperate, pulling the "cool" act on.

‘Nothing, just curious about what you’re doing.’

‘A paper for my class.’

‘Obviously.’

‘My Recidivism class.’

‘...On?’ Eudora's mouth pulls into pressed annoyance at his persistence.

'...A big mess about race and parenting and their roles in the higher incarceration and recidivism rates for non-white teens in the juvie and prison systems. My Criminal Justice professor likes to pretend it's all just a big coincidence.'

'So you're trying to...teach him a lesson.' An impressed smirked appears with Diego’s realization of her tenacity. Eudora allows a small smile to appear.

'Yeah, basically. With his own tools.'

'I think that's pretty badass.'

Eudora’s smile grows, though the little roll of her eyes and her firm shove to his shoulder does nothing to dissuade him from his newfound past time of pulling different reactions out of her, even stunning ones like this.

‘I think you’re just trying to mess with me.’

‘Am not, I think this stuff is interesting.’ Diego did not think this stuff was interesting. At the very least, he did not find it as interesting as watching and hearing Eudora talk about it. Sometimes he would catch the tail end of one of her classic rants about this unfair thing that happened to this person or that injustice she saw on the way over.

‘Yeah, sure, Big Man.’

‘Know-it-all.’

‘Mike Tyson.’

“Is this your version of flirting?” Klaus was not impressed in the slightest, which made Diego tut in amusement.

‘Hey, I have not bitten a guy’s ear off.’

‘You know you would, though.’

‘No, you’re mixing me up with Jester.’ They both laugh softly at that before Diego is finally asking, ‘seriously, can I?’ He motions to one of the books she has laid out to the side. She gives him a small nod.

He picks it up with his thumb holding the page open while he read the front cover “Pablo Freire: Pedagogy of Freedom.” His bottom lip juts out curiously, and he flips back and he zooms in past her other cluttered notations in the margins to a whole block of highlighted text.

Diego leaned over and rummaged around in one of the mostly unused drawers built into the bottom of the bed frame. He surfaced with said book in his hand, and flipped open the front cover to reveal Eudora’s name written in her classic feminine, but still messy, scrawl. Klaus planted a soft kiss to his temple, presumably for still having her book in his possession.

"I might’ve stolen it."

“You? No way.” Diego doesn’t even have the energy to respond to Klaus’ sarcasm, and instead found the right page. He traced his fingers over the slightly faded highlighter and the grooves of both her and his annotations added later, taking in a deep breath before he read the passage for Klaus.

Freedom becomes mature in confrontation with other freedoms, defending its rights in relation to parental authority, the authority of teachers, and the authority of the state. It is clear, of course, that adolescents do not always make the best decisions regarding their future. For that reason it is important for parents to take part in discussions about the future plans of their children. They cannot, ought not, deny that they must know and assume that the future of their children belongs to their children and not to the parents. In my view, it's preferable to emphasize the children's freedom to decide, even if they run the risk of making a mistake, than to simply follow the decision of the parents. It's in making decisions that we learn to decide.” (Freire, 2000)

Diego’s face relaxes as the words wash over him, his whole body feeling lighter and coming alive with a dawning realization. All he can think about is Reginald Hargreeves always holding it over his head that he knew what was best for an "overly emotional, insolent brat" like Diego. He remembers the number of times the police had stopped him over the last few years when he was still homeless. He glances over at Eudora, whom now carefully watches his reaction with another curious look. He continues.

I can never learn to be who I am if I never decide anything because I always have the good sense and the wisdom of my mother and father to fall back on. The old arguments of ‘Imagine the risk you run and the time and opportunity wasted on this crazy idea,’ are simply invalid. What is pragmatic in our existence cannot be exalted above the ethical imperative that we must face. The child has, at the very least, the right to prove the craziness of his or her idea.”(Freire, 2000)0

“Huh...a grown man said that? He had to have been the coolest dad ever.” Klaus nodded to the logic presented, following it with ease. “I totally dig that sentiment.”

“Same, especially back then.”

‘What do you think? Freire can be a bit polarizing.’

‘I...think it’s really interesting.’ With the amazement evident in his voice, he finally looks over at her again with intense, open eyes. ‘Can I borrow this? When you’re done with it.’

‘....yeah, sure. I can drop it off here next week?’ She offers, which Diego accepts gladly.

“Then Gabi started having a meltdown,” Diego joked, “at just the right time, of course.”

“Of course! Like you do.”

'No! How dare you Tyra Banks!' Gabi laments, pressing her face into the throw pillow she had been clutching during the nail biting climax of the show. 'Why do you always send my favorite girls home?'

'Is...she gonna be okay?' Diego inquires, subtly pointing his finger in said woman’s direction while her best friend just chuckles to herself before addressing her directly.

'Is Sundai still there, Bee?' The little up and down motion from behind the pillow seemed to satisfy an answer for Eudora. 'Yeah she'll be fine.'

“And some weird brotherly obligation came over me, like a fever.”

“Oh so weird, you’ve never acted like a good brother to anyone, ever.” This time, Klaus earned himself a playful pinch to his leg, the startled response serving up instant satisfaction.

Diego is on his feet and sitting on the couch beside Gabi before it dawns on him that he, like so many times in the last few months, has no idea what he is doing. He looks around the room as if the inanimate objects would help him with the uncomfortable crises of a woman’s tears before he places an unsure hand on Gabi's shoulder. She slumps into his side with ease even when Diego goes stiff under the touch.

'I would kill to be on that runway, wearing all the gorgeous clothes, all the over the top makeup, having people know my name.' Gabi sighs against Diego's shoulder, apparently not actually crying and not appearing to mind when his hand stays firmly at his side, not touching her.

“You and me both, Sister.” Klaus mourned as if Gabi were sitting right next to them.

“Neither you nor her could kill the damn spiders that show up out of nowhere-” Diego was solely trying to make a point and nothing else.

“It’s not their fault-” Klaus started.

“-completely uninvited-” He was not still angry at the spider in the shower from last week that paid him a non-consensual visit.

“They don’t understand invitations!”

“Just saying.” Diego did not glower in the slightest.

'Would you, though? You? Kill?' Diego teases her, which earns him a matched shove to his arm still recovering from the previous one from Eudora. He’s satisfied. 'But really, why not? You could do that, easily.'

Gabi lets go of her annoyed act when her face naturally falls careful and serious, and then scrunches, incredulous. 'Uh...no, I couldn't.'

'Why not? You seem like you know this stuff. You're always matching your clothes and other things together, right? I mean that’s half the...what?' Diego stops his explanation when Gabi's eyes start to glisten in real time and she's looking at him in a way he can't call by name, but that touches him deeply.

“...Am I missing something here too?” Klaus tilted his head as he craned around to look at Diego’s face.

“...sometimes I worry we’re too alike, but then there are too many other things that reassure me that we, in fact, aren’t.”

'Diego... You better not be trying to be funny.' Eudora warns with fire ready to catch, having moved to stand next to Gabi’s side of the couch sometime during the exchange.

'I'm not, I'm serious! Gabs does have everything all coordinated, she’s got creative ideas and designs for rooms and houses and shit. And she's always trying to show me some famous designer band person's latest features in the magazines, or whatever.'

Without warning, Gabi hugs Diego tightly around his arms and his middle, believing in his sincerity and conviction and blatant naivety.

'You really think I could pull it off?' She asks soft, then drops the other shoe, 'with my crutches?'

“Yes, Gabi! Of course you can!....” Klaus cheered, and his whole body deflated with the rest. “Oh….”

“Yeah.” Diego gave Klaus’ hand a gentle squeeze.

'Yeah! Why the hell wouldn't you use them? You need them?' Diego is pretty sure his ribs will crack at any moment against his own elbows with the way Gabi is squeezing him with some kind of point that he still didn't get. Her warbly words of gratitude only register on the confusing surface.

'Diego, look at the screen. They don't let crutches on the runway. You have to be able to walk on your own.' Eudora points out with a softness to her voice that mirrored Gabi's. It’s only now that Diego realizes that none of the thin models have any kind of mobility aid or anything out of the “ordinary.”

'But...why? You even match your crutches to your looks, or paint them yourself. Don't think I didn't see that.'

“Oh you sweet, sweet emotionally stunted man.”

Thanks.”

“I’m serious! I’m sad I missed a lot of this still kinda innocent Diego.”

‘Diego, my whole life people have seen me differently,...because of my Spina Bifida and my crutches-’

‘That’s fucking stupid.’

Klaus cackled.

Diego clears his throat and apologizes to both of the women who close their eyes with patient smiles on their faces at his knee-jerk, unforgiving response.

‘Yes, it is, and it’s good that you agree.’ Eudora squeezes herself between him and the end of the couch with a supportive hand on his back. ‘But ableism is alive and well in society, and people can act like real assholes about disabilities like Gabi’s.’

‘Who? I’ll fight ‘em for you,’ Diego doesn’t realize he’s joking until both of the girls laugh loudly (he’s pretty sure he wasn’t). He smiles with them anyway.

“Yeah, I stand by that. You’re the softest man I’ve ever met-...well, tied with Dave. Apparently, I have a type.” Klaus smiled, planting kisses to Diego’s scar streaked cheek, probably ironically. Ignoring the damn butterflies or whatever winged creatures they were fluttering around in his stomach, Diego simply allowed the affection.

“Hardened men who killed people but still, somehow, have a heart?” He guessed, trying to sound dry and bitter, but failing.

“Yes, and who could touch me so gently with the same hands," Klaus continued, completely normally, nuzzling his neck with yawn. “And who loved me, of all people.”

“Its surprisingly easy.” Diego turned his head to finally kiss him back, simple and sweet, before they both laid down once more, together.

 


 

Absently wiping the fresh blood off his knives with the pant leg of his thigh, Diego drove through his barrio54 at ease. As the police radio in the passenger seat reported another anonymous interference with a call for a breaking and entering and attempted grand theft, his lips pulled to the side in unadulterated satisfaction with himself for a job well done. But it fell alongside the sigh escaping him as the exhaustion began to set in not a moment later.

A long line of bodies with glitzy exposed skin and clothing branded with the foriegn names of people who would never tread foot here caught his attention as he passed the nightclub he frequented all too often, once upon a time.

‘Chuck, ser-ously, get it together,’ Diego teases with a slight slur at the man who keeps staring at Gabi across the table from them. She watches the people on the dance floor with her thumb stroking at the cool, pink metal of her crutch, obviously a little lost without her partner in crime joining them. Next to her is Jester whose eyes wander around the open layout of the club for the next Mami he could talk up and take home.

‘Shut up, she’s gonna hear you.’

‘Chuckles, no one can hear us over this shit,’ Vince half yells from the other side of Chuck, Diego barely able to make it out over all of the pop music ruckus. ‘Just go ask her to dance. She looks too good, and completely bored out of her skull.’

‘We shouldn’t have dragged her out, she doesn’t want to be here without Eudora.’ Both Vince and Diego roll their eyes at him at the same time, though Diego does notice some asshole who walks by give Gabi and her hand painted crutches an eyebrow lift. He even laughs. Diego wants to spring up and knock it off his face. Gabi's innocuously innocent and perfectly timed "accidental" hit to the stomach with said crutch is followed by the douche bag doubling over and what looks like a sticky, sweet, no sugar added sorry on her face. His rage settles into pride.

‘No, Pendejo55, she is waiting for you to ask her to dance. Even I can see that.’ Diego self deprecates in a rare move. It pulls a laugh from Chuck and earns him an elbow shove at his side. Over Chuck’s shoulders, he can see Vince trying to get Jester’s attention once more while he slams down another fruity cocktail without shame, but with the mini tropical print umbrella he had insisted on having undulating with the change in tide.

The intrusive memory started to wash over his wandering thoughts, and for once, he allowed it.

‘Well if you can see it…’ Chuck figures. Diego just nods and gives his arm a firm shove with a locked-elbow follow through at the same time he mimics Vince to throw back the rest of his own whisky laden soft drink that he hates. Chuck urges Vince out of the booth.

The exchange that takes place between Chuck and a now smiling Gabi is short and sweet. A little nod from the woman and Chuck’s hand taking hers with a charming kiss to her knuckles makes her blush in a classic, sickening display. Diego is ready to vomit. He is spared as the now displaced Vince unceremoniously climbs over the table and into the booth next to Jester, glasses clinking and rattling all over. He demands the fighter's attention with an obnoxious tapping on his arm and then his face. Jester appears to laugh at the touch and pretends to try to bite Vince’s fingers, and Diego's head tilts. However, Vince looks quite pleased with it all, and drags Jester off to dance himself.

Diego let out a soft snort of amusement at the thoughts while he pulled into the back parking lot of the gym and into his unofficial spot. He wasted no time in resheathing his knives and headed inside the back entrance.

Diego rubs his face in annoyance when he suddenly finds himself alone, bored and indifferent (detached). He returns to the side of the bar with his hook up from the cliqua and gives said bartender The Nod. Not a moment later, he has a shot and a mixed drink in front of him, taking the shot without hesitation. His thoughts swirl pleasantly; the liquid swirls with fire. The light tingle of the alcohol joins the course of the previous drinks, just enough to get him absently moving his body idly to bass beats booming in his chest. “Maybe I can get out of here without getting caught, it’s gotta be more peaceful on the streets right now.”

The intact tripwire outside Diego's door always brought him the rare peace of mind he secretly coveted each time he came across it. He had plenty of reasons to be paranoid after all, if past experience had any say on the matter, even if the present had been presented to him over the last year as a uniquely safe and calmer time. The fact that Diego still wasn't sure just how old he really was anymore after jumping through time with Five (though he got his normal body back, thank god) did little to quell those irrational nerves.

Stepping into an empty, Klaus-less apartment shattered his temporary reprieve. The sudden, scratchy voice rattling through the radio attached to his belt injected a hot streak of overstimulation through him, causing him to switch it off violently. He then thought better of it, remembering the real, proven off chance of hearing about an ‘eccentric character in a feathered jacket in pursuit’, and switched it back on.

“Klaus?” He called out carefully against his instincts as he hurried down the steps, knowing the rising trembling in his gut and the burning impulse to act was completely absurd. Normally the other was home at this time of night, presumably to lightly chastise him about old habits that die hard. ‘You showed him the wire, he knows how to reset it,’ Diego tried to reason with himself, though the other side ruminated stubbornly ‘Remember last time, remember last time, remember last time, remem-’.

“L-last time was w-with Hazel and Cha Cha,” Diego corrected aloud to himself as his throat started to close, unsteady hands rummaging around for a note or some kind of tangible sign as to where Klaus could have gone. ‘Remember last time, remember last time-.’

‘Hey, stranger, you dropped your pocket.’ Diego hears a well-known voice in his right ear he could place anywhere, though he still falls for the joke obtusely. The delighted giggle that earns him makes Diego smile before it finally registers in the forefront of his alcohol-laden mind.

“Hey, stranger…” Klaus greeted Diego from the doorway, looking as colorful, healthy, and worried about Diego as ever.

His head shoots over, and Klaus stands there in all his colorful, mismatched glory. The awkward, boyish face he remembers is all smooth planes with slightly sharper cheekbones and eyes that still, apparently, made his heart stop. His big head is now more in proportion with his own body, though not by much.

‘Hi,’ Diego greets, a bit dumb, and then doubled down with a dumb smile to boot.

“There you are.” Diego hurried back up the steps to the front door where he pulled Klaus in, tight.

‘Hi you,’ Klaus greets back, his smile huge and infectious.

“Here I am…?” Klaus agreed, unsure wrists curling and returning the hug with a little pat on his back. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m good.” Diego let out what he thought was a subtle breath of relief, though the strength of the hug was anything but. He turned his head to place soft kisses to the smooth cheek.

“I thought you’d be home later. I went out to meet up with some... friends. You know, the ones from the party.” Klaus’s hand gestured back, though the movement was prematurely halted in confusion and touch-deprived distraction provided by this clingy Diego. He instinctively turned his head into those kisses, and Diego’s lips tenderly found his own. The soft noise of surprise in Klaus’ throat didn’t deter him from returning said kisses properly and patiently. After the moment passed, he pulled back to cup Diego’s cheeks carefully.

“Oh…” Well Diego hadn’t felt this stupid in a long time, and he was forcing back the anger at himself that normally would have made itself known right about now. Instead, he added “Of course that’s okay. You just need to let me know, leave a note, or something, okay?”

“Yeah, totally. I thought I told you. I’m sorry, Diego.” Klaus pressed his palm into his own face, a guilty gesture that Diego pulled away and replaced with his own hand instead. Dark eyes searched over that face as if for the first (or last) time.

“No apologies. I’m just glad you’re here.”

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Probably the same reason that brought you here.’ Klaus reaches for his hand and Diego lets him take it, his wide-eyed, awed look saying it all for him.

‘Yeah?’

Klaus seems to forget what he just said, because he’s leaning in close and brushing his nose against the slight stubble on Diego’s cheek with a pleased sound, causing Diego to close his eyes and lean further into the touch. ‘I missed you, Dee.’

“I’m glad I’m here too…?” Klaus’ eyebrows knitted together again, and it was his turn to kiss Diego with his own worries behind it. Diego returned them without question, and with passion.

‘I miss you too.’ Diego replies without hesitation. He can feel Klaus’ smile on his skin, and it pulls another bright one out of him. When he pulls back, Klaus frowns into a look of concern and his fingertips graze over the newly healed scar across Diego's eyebrow, and the still healing faint blue and black marks across his face from his most recent scrap a week and a half earlier. The empty ache in his palm left behind in the motion made Diego's hand follow and gently lace his long fingers through the other’s once more. The faintest tinge of color appeared on his face at such acute and soft attention that was, at one time, ingrained in their budding teenage relationship, and now he was no longer accustomed to. ‘How are you?’

Diego was the one to break the kiss this time, the memory pulling up too many old roots to keep to himself. He spoke with hope, “do you remember the next time we saw each other after the alley way incident?”

“....The first time I remember seeing you up close and not just in passing on the street was at a night club-”

“Yes, that’s it,” Diego smiled, his hope satiated, "it was cold outside, probably only just after the holidays." He didn’t have the energy to ask him what he meant by ‘just in passing on the street’.

“Well, clearly I found you again and had to have you,” Klaus spoke with jest, his playfulness easy with its truthfulness. “Pretty sure I was sick of dancing around whatever weird little game we were playing.”

'Fine. More than fine, really. I am just perfect, now.' Klaus’ smile was sweet and genuine, but he saw that edge of unhappiness in the corner that pulled at his gut. Had he been sober, he probably would have also noticed the sheen over still captivating green, or the water bottle clutched under his arm.

‘Where have you been? Like, where are you living? Are you safe there?’ Diego asks one after another.

‘I’m okay, Dee, really, I promise. I’ve got places I can go, friends I can call. I’ve got a little place up town right now.’

‘Where?’

“So was I, clearly.” Diego nudged the bridge of his nose against the tip of Klaus’. His body started to relax.

‘I’ve got a teeny, tiny, little friend I’d like you to meet, actually,’ Klaus continues, reassuring and kind as if Diego had become a young, stuttering mess all over again. Diego tilts his head, and then narrows his eyes in suspicion when Klaus pulls a circular, unmarked, white pill out of a baggie in his pocket and holds it out in front of his face in offering.

“I shouldn’t have uh, you know…”

‘Seriously, Klaus? What is that?’

‘What is what?’

“Tried to drug me?” Diego teased the other bluntly, much to Klaus’ apparent surprise.

Diego pulls away, a bitter snicker on his lips at the predictability. He knows he probably should feel furious, but all he can find in his numb bones is a rush of disappointment.

“I know, I know, I’m sor-...wait, are you smiling?”

‘Wait, wait, wait, Diego, hold on.’ Klaus wraps an arm around the other to pull him back in, flush against his smaller figure that Diego now realizes is more disproportionate to his own than he remembers of their spindly, adolescent bodies. Klaus, of course, is still too thin but with a slight broadening of his collarbones and shoulders that late puberty brought, while Diego’s body had finally started taking on the muscle he had demanded of it from the start.

‘Klaus.’

“Maybe it was a little fucked up,” Diego conceded, though he lightly moved his head from side to side with his next words, “but you were right, I did need to let go, have a little fun. I was holding onto a lot of shit. Too much, way too much.”

‘A little birdy told me you’ve been getting into some dangerous shit, and by the looks of you, I now know that birdy was telling the truth.’ Diego tries to protest, but Klaus interrupts with, ‘it’s hard out here for people like us, you know? It’s cold...and lonely...and so unforgiving. I just want to help you feel something good, Baby.’

“Babe, you were drunk already.”

“Yeah, but that wasn’t enough.”

‘But y-o’re good enough?’ Diego slurs, sincere, and he squeezes the other’s hand and waist for emphasis. The way Klaus’ mouth pulls together bittersweet is a look Diego needs to fix. Klaus’ self-doubt is not something he can carry anymore.

‘God, some things really never change, huh Dee?’ Klaus brushes at Diego’s product infused hair with the ring and pinky finger on the hand still held out to his face. ‘Come on, you work too hard, my little curmudgeon. You deserve something, yanno, a little extra, a little something that will be nothing but harmless fun.’

‘Klaus.’

Klaus gives Diego a long, blinking stare and tries (and fails) to not crack a grin.

‘Do you trust me?’ Klaus proposes, holding the pill inches from Diego’s mouth now.

‘This isn’t that addictive shit?’

‘Scouts honor, I swear on my own ass that it’s safe.’ Klaus salutes him with the valor of a draft dodger, and yet Diego finds himself enlisted in his confidence. ‘Do you trust me?’ Klaus repeats his question, and Diego washes down the last of his self-preservation with a nervous swallow of saliva.

“What? I consented!” Diego insisted.

‘This is such a bad idea, and you were never anything close to a boy scout, by the way.’ Diego retorts with their eyes locked, and he opens his mouth.

“You can’t consent when you’re drunk!” Klaus insisted back, shaking his head in disbelief, again. “I can’t believe I’m the one with the morals here, and I’ve only been recently educated in this area. Seriously, it was pretty fucked up of me. Hold me accountable.”

He feels the brush of Klaus’ fingers on his lips more acutely than the weight of the pill on his tongue. He swallows it down with the water tipped into his mouth, his eyes closing in surrender.

Klaus’ lips take the place of the bottle and an umbrella marked arm finds the hem of Diego’s shirt and hungrily presses under fabric to feel skin with a soft groan at the simple contact. Diego is not stupid enough to believe the drug could have kicked in instantly, but his current sensation of tipping over his center of gravity and floating into the air couldn’t possibly exist in the same reality he has come to know.

“Oh, hold you?” All mischievous and faux ignorance, Diego smiled again and pressed in for more kisses, his hands clutching around Klaus’ waist to caress under his shirt and over his back. Klaus laughed against the kiss for a moment in disbelief, pressing in even closer with his body and his mouth in his own nonverbal consent.

‘Come on, Stud, dance with me,’ Klaus whispers a cheshire grin against his ear with another soft brush of lips, and all of the touch is so warm, and so inviting. Diego can’t help but giggle honestly with the delight, and lets Klaus lead him off to the dance floor.

“You’re incorrigible when no one’s looking,” Klaus mumbled with their lips brushing, and Diego shrugged his shoulders.

“Listen, okay. I got to kiss you and touch you-” Diego started, while the memories continued to play along with his present reality with Klaus both as a backdrop and side-by-side.

Heat, sweat, and cascades of pleasure start to migrate over his skin while the music commands his body, and Klaus demands his attention. The colors of the lights swim bright and impossibly ethereal over Klaus’ face: neon purple, neon pink, neon red, neon green, repeat. The scattered white light of the tacky disco ball cascades over them like diamonds. He’s smiling, and laughing, and Klaus is smiling and laughing, and here, and so, so close.

“-and laugh and dance badly with you-” Diego continued, softening back to fondness.

Diego’s arms have him happily captured. Klaus grinds his body into him like all of the strangers around them but with the combined sexual finesse that left Diego aching combined with that stumbling, niche awkwardness that he could catch and correct even while completely out of his mind. Diego spins Klaus in and out to the poppier songs, and even dips him in the cheesiest of moves they had seen time and time again on tv.

Klaus, the bastard, turns out to be right. Diego feels good.

“-and have something feel good and safe for the first time in years.” Diego’s eyes fell shut once more while he searched for the right language. “Everything was just so...harsh. All the time. Hell, maybe it really was wrong, maybe drugs weren’t necessary, but it’s a happy memory for me anyway, and you know that’s saying something given all of that...”

Klaus pulled back enough to look at Diego’s face fully, and he searched the other for a scrap of typical anger, or hidden hurt, or anything. All he could find was admiration and ease. “So in your weird little Diego head, even though it was 1000% wrong, you’re still happy it happened.”

Without any knowledge of how or to whom the idea (fault) belonged, Diego suddenly feels the cold tiles he's pressed up against and hears the reverberation of the men’s bathroom door swinging shut. The startled moan that escapes him causes his love to laugh into their kiss, briefly interrupting the visceral coma that all of Klaus had his senses in.

Diego zeroed in on his current body again to find that Klaus had gently pushed him into the cement wall next to the closed door at some point. He silently affirmed Klaus’ words and connected their lips, staring in surprise when Klaus pulled back, again.

“And you can’t stop kissing me all of a sudden?” Klaus observed, his own teasing tone coming out along with that wild gleen in his eyes that often pulled at that little string in his gut that could give way to excitable, juvenile feelings.

“Cause I can kiss you now, whenever I want-”

‘Fuck, you feel so good.’ Diego laughs freely through their kisses, his hands hungry under Klaus’ clothes feeling over his stomach, sides, ass, back. He brings one up to run his fingers over Klaus cheek which pulls a little throaty keen from Klaus with an impassioned ‘God, you do too.’

“-no one telling us we can’t-” Diego added, ignoring the ghost of a stabbing pain in his chest.

‘It’s like breathing, kissing you.’ Diego declares, pupils blown unnaturally. It’ Klaus’ turn to giggle while he ruts against him a bit obscenely. He’s so, so sure this is the best thing he’s ever felt, and he mimics Klaus easily.

“Not even ourselves,” Klaus chimed in, his pupils dilating appropriately with their back and forth. “I always held back from you, thinking I wasn’t good enough, and that you were too good for me.” He whispered his confession and blessed Diego’s aching lips with a couple more soft brushes.

‘You always feel the best, too good, too much.’ Klaus rambles back at him, and then stops with the most ridiculous, big-eyed, awe-inspired look on his face Diego has ever seen.

“Then we grew up to realize we’re both incredibly flawed assholes.” Diego’s words had Klaus laughing heartily against the marks he was kissing and nipping into Diego’s neck while his hands moved to undo the buckles and straps of Diego’s harness of knives, moving with expert precision and rote memorization. Diego’s own hands were busy with undoing whatever weird faux corset type of top Klaus had decided to put on with its own straps that were much less familiar.

‘What? Tell me, tell me!’ Diego urges with boyish excitement.

‘I have to know what you feel like in my mouth.’ They both wait for a long moment staring and panting at each other under harsh fluorescent lighting casting an eerie tint to their skin, bluish white to Klaus’ and a translucent light green to Diego’s. Then they both crack up again at the same time, Klaus falling to his knees with it. Diego is distracted long enough that he doesn’t notice Klaus’s eager hands starting to undo his fly on his jeans until he’s pulling them down and the sweet friction on all of his skin against the rustling clothes dances up his spine again in a shudder.

Klaus’s shirt was off by the time he got all of Diego’s clasps undone, let it pool to the floor, and impressively had the other’s fly undone, too. He was sure to let Diego know.

“Having some trouble over there?”

“Screw you.” Klaus laughed breathlessly at the childish return as he pushes Diego’s pants down before their lips catch briefly. Then he was on his knees with his hands in a sure grip keeping Diego’s hips against the wall. He took the length into his mouth with ease, and shivered with Diego’s uncharacteristically premature, throaty urges of “god” and “yes” and “please.”

‘Whoa whoa, Baby, wait…’ Diego holds Klaus’ shoulders, his fingers rubbing over the skin there with a mind of their own even while he tries to be serious. Klaus stops immediately and brings his eyes up to Diego, pressing his cheek into his thigh with a little sweet nuzzle at the same time.

‘Come on, please? Let me? I really, really wanna, unless you don’t. But it looks like you do.’ Klaus sing-songs the last bit and smiles affectionately at Diego’s very obvious hard on tenting his boxers.

‘I do! I do. But, here?’

‘Why not, silly?’

‘I...don’t know…’ Diego struggles to come up with a reason, knowing he has one, somewhere. Yet, he really, really wants to test out Klaus’ theory if just feeling the other’s hands on his body and his mouth on Klaus' felt like heaven, let alone more. 'Okay, fine-'

The bathroom door bursts open with a loud knock to the wall, and a laughing Jester and Vince stumble in half hung onto each other. They talk animatedly in Spanish with faces inches apart about some girl this and some inside joke that. Diego and Klaus freeze on the spot (except for those needy, wandering hands still unsatiated), watching them in wonder for a few beats while they went unnoticed. It isn’t until Vince almost falls over while trying to take a piss, and Jester helps catch him that they spot the both of them huddled up in the far corner.

‘H-hola, Señores.’ Vince laughs out, the little tropical umbrella standing out loud and proud from where it sits nestled into the side of his head. Jester straightens up a little bit, though he looks more lost than hostile compared their last meeting.

‘Are you serious right now?’ Diego asks, actually whining for the first time since he was probably under the appropriate age to start having fantasies like the one he was just about to live out with the only person he’d ever loved like this. ‘Fuck off, already.’

‘Perdón, perdón56 but hey, look at you two.’ Vince gives them both a wink, and Jester is looking away to give them privacy while trying to urge his best friend to stand upright.

Klaus stands up himself, and he grabs his head with a soft groan of pain. Instantly worried, Diego puts his arms around Klaus and asks him what’s wrong.

‘Nothing, Dee, I just think I’m coming back down.’ Klaus grumbles and moves away.

‘Wait, don’t-’

‘I’ll be right back, I promise. I’m just going to get some fresh air.’ Klaus reassures with kiss swollen lips pressing against Diego’s hands a few times. Diego whines again, so worried about letting Klaus out of his sight.

‘Please let me come with you.’

‘Sorry about killing your vibe, Babe.’ Vince speaks apologetically to Klaus and hands him a cigarette, which he takes gladly while waving off his words as he walked out. Diego moves to follow, but Jester holds him back, wanting to talk "business."

The feeling of Klaus’ warm skin wrapped all up in his own while they lay tangled together in a panting, passionate lump was something Diego was sure he’d never get tired of. He was certain there was no where else he felt safer, save for maybe a close runner up in Grace’s embrace when he was still small. Sometimes he wondered if he enjoyed sex so much for this part moreso than the rest.

“Dee?” The man in question instantly recognizes the rare nervousness in Klaus' voice.“There’s something I never told you about that night.”

“What is it?” Diego asked, continuing with, “wait, let me guess, you got pregnant, never told me, and gave the kid away to some rando.”

“Yes, his name was Straus cause it was the closest I could come to having a Jr that looked exactly like you.” Klaus deadpanned back.

“I knew it.”

“Besides that whole thing, I left that night with some girl who offered me a place to stay. I uh...I lied about having somewhere to go... I actually had hoped you’d take me home.”

“I know, and I...would have, if I could have.” Diego answered, again surprising Klaus with the ease of which he took it.

“You knew?”

“Yeah, the bartender was a friend of mine and told me he saw you go out the front door with someone, and I knew you were gone again.”

“I genuinely wanted to see you too, you know, I swear it!" Diego soothed over the worry that overtook Klaus with a calm hand stroking at the tension in the other’s neck.

“Mi Corazón, I know,” Diego replied emphatically. “You’ve never been able to hide your genuine enjoyment of my company. Ever. Even when you’re high off your mind or mad at me.”

“Well...as long as you know.” Klaus yawned, more relaxed as he settled heavy into Diego’s space once again.

“I do, and I always did. Even when things changed between us after that.”

“Shh, too tired to keep rehashing the guilt and apologies tonight.” Klaus got out, already half asleep as he did so. Diego just chuckled softly and nodded into the other’s deep curls with that and his own soft yawn.

“Fair enough, but I didn’t finish the story…”

“Yes, Dear?”

“In conclusion, that was the fateful night that I, too, went home with some random girl.”

Klaus sat up with the last of his energy, his mouth falling open with a “no!”

“Yes.”

“You popped your cherry that night?!”

“In that particular way, yes.” Klaus let the shock wash over and returned to their cuddle pile, the low hum of the heater settling into the space.

“...was it good?”

“Shit. Utter shit. I barely remember it, but it was bad.” Diego snorts at himself, feeling lighter than he had in weeks with the humble confessions. “Awkward, silent...over too fast.”

“No fucking way,” Klaus laughed harder into him, and Diego enjoyed the shakes. “Not with your stamina.”

“Yes, and I will kill you if you tell anyone.”

“Ben doesn’t count.”

“Ben totally counts. Good night, Klaus.”

Good night, Two Pump Chump.”

Pretending to be asleep in avoidance of prolonging this embarrassing conversation didn't stop Diego from giving the back of Klaus' head the lightest tap with his fingers. Klaus was out within a few minutes, and Diego eventually let himself succumb to the weight of the much welcomed slumber.

Strumming electric guitar chords with a glittering brilliance files in to focus and fills the car, causing Jester to sneer.

'Why do you always play this gringo shit in my car? Güey, es mi carro.'57

Diego bats the others hand away from taking out the cd he just put in. 'Just listen, güey, one song.'

Jester huffs with a small eye roll while the braying, smokey, punk almost-singing starts.

"I'm red eyes, I've got a big surprise. There’s something burning in an electric sky, that says 'son don't bother waiting around to die. I've got it covered keep your head up high.'"

‘What is that? You can’t even understand what he’s saying!’ Jester bitches. Normally, Diego would already be arguing with him, but instead, he is open and amused.

‘I’m surprised you don’t like punk music. It should be right up your ally.’

"And I'm red eyed when we packed our car up tight, when we escaped the gallows hanging no man’s land. Can someone tell me what the underworld is like?-"

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Just listen, man. It’s angry, it’s in your face, it’s about struggle…’ Diego tries to explain, though Jester scoffs.

‘I like it,’ Lucas comments from the back seat with a timid but pleased grin. He gives Diego’s open palm held back to him a firm slap while the older man whooped in victory.

"-Don’t worry brother this will blow over (Don’t worry brother this will blow over)..."

‘I’ve been listening to this CD for weeks, its that good.’ Jester pretends to not listen.

"Don’t worry brother, anything less is fucking surrender!"

‘Okay...maybe it’s not that bad,’ Jester concedes, actually grinning at the strong, passionate lyric that he and Diego obviously related to, ‘but it’s still white boy music.’

"Cause we can get away from this, we can run as far as Mexico."

‘Really?’ Diego motions to the cd player, and Jester makes a fed up face at him that is so funny, Diego has to bite his lip to keep from actually laughing. Lucas does.

"And be something better that just 'I told you so'..."

‘Plus, there are punk bands made up of more than just white boys, yanno.’ Diego adds, and decides to ignore pointing out how Jester’s head is subtly rocking up and down with the beat now while he looks left and right before making a turn. The verse ends and repeats.

"We’ll throw our pennies in a wishing well (Don’t worry brother this will blow over)..."

‘Eh, whatever. That one song was alright.’ Diego knows that was all he was going to get from the other as the song winds down, but he counts it as a win in any case. ‘Now let me show you what I’ve been on non-stop.’

The cd is swapped out in exchange for one covered in funky purples, greens, and reds, block letters, and a black and white illustration of a woman with medium length hair and sunglasses on with her tongue sticking out. Turning up the volume, skipping through tracks, and absently pulling a drag on the joint Diego somehow didn't notice before, Jester comes more to life as a repetitive metallic drone in a catchy rhythmic groove that he swears he has heard before (he has, the song samples The Clash), the bass coming in a measure later before the vocals.

"I fly like paper, get high like planes. If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name. If you come around here, I make 'em all day. I get one down in a second if you wait."

Jester sang and rapped along with much less talent than the feminine voice coming out of the speakers, and Diego found himself grooving along to the catchy beat easily.

"Sometimes I think sitting on trains, every stop I get to I'm clocking that game. Everyone's a winner, we're making our fame. Bona fide hustler making my name."

‘Pinche! I love this woman. I would marry the shit out of her,’ Jester declares while the verse repeats itself, hand coming over his heart, and Diego swears he starts...swooning? His head is thrown back against the headrest, and he has a stupidly happy look softening his face.

‘Dude are you seri-’ Diego jumps as the chorus comes in loud and abrupt.

"All I wanna do (BANG BANG BANG BANG!), And (CLICK!), (KA CHING!), And take your money."

The gunshots startle Diego out of his head with pangs in his chest and snippets of almost forgotten child-hood bank missions. As it repeats, he realizes the music purposefully utilizes the gunshots, gun click, and cash register sounds to paint a specific, vivid caricature. Jester makes gunshot motions with his fingers, pretends to click it off, and rubs his first three fingers together, all in a synchronized fashion to the music. Diego turns his head back to look at Lucas, who mirrors his confused look. He motions to Jester for emphasis, and Lucas just shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders while his eyes become squinty with the amusement he holds in. It makes Diego smile as he turns back and gives Jester a little shove.

‘You’re a fucking goof sometimes, Bro.’

‘Hey, that is no way to get a wedding invitation, Bro.’ Jester returns with a gleeful, tongue-out smile of his own, and Diego finally laughs freely.

‘What is with you and this singer?’ Diego asks while automatically holding the offered joint from the other.

‘She is an artist, and a fantastic one. Perfection.' Jester kisses his fingertips like a satisfied chef. 'There is nothing sexier than a woman telling it like it is, brutally honest, nothing held back.’

‘What do you mean?’

'Just listen to her story.' Jester rewinds the song to the beginning of the verse.

"Pirate skulls and bones, Sticks and stones and weed and bombs. Running when we hit 'em. Lethal poison for the system."

Diego tries, but he really doesn’t get it. It sounds like a bunch of nonsense save for the obvious mentions of visas and robbing people.

‘It sounds kinda like she’s stereotyping-’ He pauses when Jester shakes his head and holds up a finger to silence him. He sings along again with the next words with even more passion.

"No one on the corner has swagger like us. Hit me on my Burner prepaid wireless. We pack and deliver like UPS trucks. Already going hard just pumping that gas."

It isn't the first time music like this tended to go over his head the more he was exposed to it, but he would be lying if he didn’t find himself enjoying it.

‘She’s mocking the people who believe all that bullshit about us, throwing it in their jetas racistas58. No apologies.’

"M.I.A. Third World Democracy, Yeah I got more records than the KGB, so uh, no funny business. (ha ha)"

Diego nods his head slowly as it starts to finally make sense to him. He’d heard different snippets of conversation here and there about these falsehoods, and all too often, he sees them lobbed at people in the barrio whom had never been nothing but nice and generous to him, a stranger.

"Some some some I some I murder, Some I some I let go, Some some some I some I murder, Some I some I let go."

‘That is pretty honest, huh?’ Diego admits as the chorus sounds again towards the end of the song, and Jester does the little dance motions in his seat once more. Diego lets out a ‘pft’, though it’s precipitously cut short as he catches sight of a tall, bald, white man in the distance walking down the sidewalk. The sight alone triggers an old pain in his lower back and remnants of repressed memories of pissing and tasting blood for days. He can make out the distinct line of raised scar tissue across the side of the scowling face sucking on a cigarette. He stomps down the road in black combat boots, with a matching tattoo on his throat. He misses the exchange that takes place between Jester and Lucas, catching far away words like 'Vince' and 'got' and 'yes.'

‘Güey?’ Jester asks, tapping at his arm which jars Diego back to the car and the paused music.

‘What? I'm good,’ Diego tries to play it off even though he's holding his breath and forcing his body to let go of the tension. His mind fades in and out of blank nothingness in any effort to stop it all as the car passed.

Jester cranes his head to look back at the white man for a moment as he pulls over to a stop, and old recognition appears on his face. For a moment, those harsh lines scrunch into that second hand, protective anger. Not even a few seconds pass before he relaxes into a wicked joy. He pulls the car out again and makes an abrupt left turn.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Nothing, my friend, nothing,’ Jester pats his knee in this patient way, and it's weird. Diego sits up straighter along with the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck.

‘You’re thinking something…’

‘Me? Little old Jester? No, no way.’

‘Jes, why are you acting so freakin’ weird?’ Lucas names the elephant in the car with a tired voice that would have matched someone easily three times his age, much to Diego’s scattered mind’s relief. Jester just chuckles again.

‘Come on, weird is my middle name, mi gente59.’ Jester took another left turn, and then another.

‘If you don’t tell me right now what the hell is going on…’ Diego warns.

‘I just think we should pay a visit to you-....our old friend.’ Jester hints, looking at Diego with a wild fire behind his eyes.

‘What? Who is he talking about, Diego?’ Lucas asks. Diego stares at Jester as he makes a right turn onto the original road, going in the opposite direction.

‘No, Jester.’

‘Just a short one.’ Jester insists, lightly.

‘No, Bro!’ Diego yells and smacks his arm, which fails to be persuasive. Jester speeds up the car with the mechanical whirring and jerking of shifting gears. ‘Are you crazy? What are you doing? This is not some The Fast and The Furious bullshit!'

‘Did you know I have a passion for teaching?’ Jester questions, entirely calm. Diego sees the figure of the man now from behind and across the road come back into view. ‘Sometimes, people need to be taught a lesson.’

‘Jester, you fucking lunatic-!’ His heartbeat thuds faster.

Jester jerks the wheel into a curb spot facing the opposite of the flow of traffic, the skinhead continuing to walk unaware.

‘Yo, get in the driver's seat. Be ready, carnal60,’ With a few pats to Diego's shoulder, Jester rolls out of the car, hand going for one of his pockets.

‘You know I can’t drive! Jester!’ Diego growls out after him, with Lucas also calling after him.

‘What the hell is he doing?’ The fear is obscenely obvious in Lucas' voice as he whiteknuckles the sides of Jester's seat in front of him.

‘Something very, very stupid. Stay right here.’ Diego is stern and level with a laser focus as he manoeuvres over the gearshift and into the driver’s side to go for the still open door. He spots Jester down the road just as he brings the lumbering bigot down.

A gunshot explodes.

‘Oh shit!’ Diego scrambles back into the driver’s seat, slams the door shut, and tries with shaky hands to figure out how to get the car to go.

‘Oh god, oh god, oh god,’ Lucas is panting in a panic, doing the sign of the cross with one hand but also slapping at Diego’s arm with the other. ‘¡Conduce! Put it in D! ¡El acelerador está a la derecha! The right!'61

Diego somehow gets the car in motion, clipping the car in front of them before he’s fumbling for reverse, and with Lucas’ half-english half-spanish driver’s ed gibberish, he manages to free them and speed down the road.

Jester runs into their path, causing Diego to slam on the breaks. Lucas hits the back of his seat which knocks the wind out of him.

‘Lucas! Shit, ¿estás bien?’62 Diego shouts, and he barely hears a wheezed out ‘Si’ in agreement as Jester is slamming the passenger door shut and rapidly tapping at the dashboard.

‘Lets go, lets go! Vamonos!’

‘Don’t tell me what to do, Cabrón63! You just killed him!’ Diego fires back.

The bleeding skinhead lunges at the back door and gets a grasp on Lucas’ door handle, just getting it open. Lucas screams. He reflexively kicks the door from the inside. Diego floors the gas once more and leaves the bigot tumbling on the pavement.

Jester whoops with the smell of burning heat filling Diego's lungs, dancing and waving the gun around.

‘Put that away, man! What the hell is wrong with you? Where did you get that?’ Diego fires question after question, his volume decreasing slightly though his vice grip on the wheel remains. Jester did as asked, clicking the safety on before shoving the gun in the glove compartment. He shoves bills and bills of cash, some singles some in wads, some clean and some stained with blood, into Diego's lap.

‘All I did was scare 'em and whip 'em! He’s one of their enforcers, I could tell he was carrying.' The excitement in Jester's whole body cools just enough. 'Look. This, my friend, is reparation. Pieces of shit like him get access to this with no problem all the time. They can work, they can shop, they can walk down the street and they don’t get killed by police.’ Jester speaks with such conviction and entitlement, Diego can’t help but feel that righteous anger start to burn in his the center of his chest, too, right next to his fear.

‘I don’t think... it's quite that literal,’ Lucas pipes up, small, from the back where he’s still laid across the back seat, panting.

Diego awkwardly skids onto a side street and then off to the side, stopping with one of the tires going up onto the curb. Save for their heavy breathing, all three of them sit there staring forward in silence for a beat.

 

 

Two beats.

 

 

Three beats.

 

 

Four...

 

 

Laughter rips through them all at the same time, the adrenaline rush coming down into the thrill of relief-fueled euphoria.

‘Hey, where’s my joint?’

Jester earns a smack from Diego.

‘Man, fuck you.’