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Bury Me (To The End)

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The hotel coffee machine is broken, so Five decides to start this apocalypse as he means to go on; chugging hard liquor that he’s not sure they’re able to pay for.

Swirling the amber liquid around once, then twice, he props himself up on the bar to raise his first glass of what he’s sure will be many, if they’re going to make it through this evening. His siblings, those present in the room anyway, seem to have the same idea. Allison looks ready to give him a run for his money (he’s pretty sure she’s had a head start on him anyhow), and although Viktor has never been one for a drink, he’s reaching across the bar before Five’s even had a chance to take a sip.

The joys of family alcoholism aside, seeing their merry band, plus a few interloping cuckoos (well, one’s a Sparrow, but Five never claimed to be Shakespeare) gathered around the half-empty bar, it really puts the end of existence into a strange, fish-eyed perspective. Time jump after time jump, give or take forty-five years, and here he is, surrounded by the same hearse load of doomsday fodder, a pile of meat in the making, at least when up against the moon or ICBMs or a literal, eternally collapsing black hole.

How can he expect to get them out of this again when the future literally tells you to give the fuck up?

He shakes his head and downs the glass. Christ, seeing your own, possibly senile corpse really gets you down in the dumps, doesn’t it? That steely, time-proof tomb has been running circles around his head, he’ll admit. But to be fair, if even the most cynical can’t get a little existential after watching your grey-haired, cataract-ridden self take his last breath, exactly who the fuck can?

No time for that now, old man, he thinks, scrubbing a hand over his face as he pours another glass. His three-quarter-life crisis can wait; let’s try and make sure his siblings get to see their mid-one.

Speaking of which, they’re still two idiots short. Luther and Sloane idly flip through a sticky-covered magazine, and Lila twists a silvery blade that Five isn’t gonna ask how she stole off Diego, but the man himself is nowhere to be seen. It’s been around (he checks his watch), yeah around thirty minutes since he went to get Klaus, but the two even numbers have yet to reappear, let alone the snot-nosed kid that, to be honest, Five isn’t even gonna think about. More carrion to save from the grinder, as far as he’s concerned.

The elevator doors slide open with a cheery ding.

Finally, Five thinks, turning on his stool. But instead of three-ish figures lumbering towards him with some new problem to solve, he catches the tail end of some large, pale shape being dragged off out of sight, while the kid, Fuck if Five can remember his name, walks towards them, hands in pockets and looking stubbornly at his shoes.

“Diego says-,”

He mumbles, talking more into his chin than anyone else. Up close, Five can see his eyes are red and puffy, and Viktor sits up straight in his seat, voice a little hoarse.

“What’s the matter … Stan, was it?”

“Yeah, uh…,”

Stan twists his hands in his sleeves.

“Diego says … uh … he says you need to come to the bathroom,”

They blink. Lila frowns, leaning on her hand.

“Um, I think he can handle that on his own, love,”

Stan rolls his eyes, dropping his hands and throwing his head back.

“No! No, he means, uh…”

He sighs, but something catches in his voice like his nose is stuffy. He looks around the hotel, eyes stopping on every uniformed waiter and guest draped in fur and pearls.

“Just come and see?”

Allison leans forward, one hand resting on her temple, like the hangover whatever’s in her flask will give her has already set in.

“Look kid, we’re kind of in the middle of something here, could you give us-,”

Stan raises his hand behind his head, gripping his hair, but before it falls Five catches flecks of red, like rust, or paint or … wait

Please, just come, already,”

Allison looks ready to shoo him away, but Five stands abruptly.

“Yeah, alright kid, lead the way,”

Stan sighs in relief, and without another word, he disappears around the corner.

Viktor frowns.

“Five, I thought we-?”

He shakes his head, doing up his jacket and fixing his shirt cuffs.

“Just a hunch,” he shrugs, before gesturing back to the bar, “I’d bring the bottle, though,”

One by one they trudge across the carpet, Lila leading the pack while Luther and Sloane bring up the rear, shrugging off the curious glances from their fellow guests as they twist and turn down the hotel corridors.

The bathroom smells like feet and conditioner, but it’s empty apart from the knife and kevlar-clad monstrosity Five calls his brother. He’s standing over one of the tubs, hands on his hips and … slack. Slouched over. He doesn’t even acknowledge them as they all file in, his eyes trained on the tiled floor.

Five blinks with a flash, standing beside his brother to briefly peer up at his face, but Diego only shakes his head and nods past him. Five turns with a heavy sigh, ready to see what’s so important that the end of the world can wait.

In the bath, there’s a rug.

At least, that’s what Five sees first. It’s white, shaggy and uneven at the edges, rolled into a thick, ungainly tube with loose bits of cord tucked snugly around the outside. But then his eyes follow up towards the taps, where he finds something limply leaning out where the carpet edges peel back.

It has long, lanky limbs, pale like fresh-cut paper, with black ink on its arm, on its wrist and on its palms. A shock of brown curls lie lank, spread like a halo, and it’s clad in bright, neon fabric, like palm trees and yellow sand, with a dark, circular stain on its chest.

The porcelain is painted red.

Klaus,

Luther chokes behind him, as Viktor collapses against the slick tiled wall.

Their brother’s head is tipped back, hanging at an odd angle with his mouth slack and open. He’s so … still, stopped like a clock with a hand trapped between seconds, a lung full of breath frozen in his chest.

Five stares and stares and stares as voices raise behind him.

“Who did this?”

“Okay, everyone, we need to calm-,”

“What do you mean calm, Diego, what the hell happened?”

It was an accident!

Five head cracks like a whip, turning to see the kid standing in the doorway, looking up at the adults with real fear in his eyes. Lila pulls him in like a pup by the scruff as Diego moves between them.

Allison’s voice tremors like an earthquake.

Talk, right now Kid, or … or-,”

Diego puts his hands up.

“Alright, there’s no need for that, he’s just a kid-,”

“Just the kid that, what? Murdered our brother?”

Stan trembles, bottom lip shaking as he looks up to Lila.

“We were just playing around, alright? I saw it on the mantle piece-,”, he gestures towards a gun that’s almost twice the size of him, propped against the shower cubicle, “-under the head, and I thought it was cool, and I wanted to see what it carried like and, and-,”

Lila shakes her head

“Christ sake, Stanley, we’ve talked about this, what am I gonna say to your-,”

Allison shakes her head.

“So that’s it? An accident, that’s all you have to say? That’s our brother you little-,”

Hey! Don’t talk to him like that, alright, he didn’t mean-,”

Allison smacks her hand on the wall.

“Klaus is dead,”

He is.

Five leans in close and it’s all true. The facts are right there in front of him, and then under his fingertips as he takes the cool skin of his brother’s wrist into his hand. He knows exactly 357 ways to end a life, Five's tried most of them himself, but nothing is quite so sure as a projectile to the heart. Now he feels the proof of it in the silence where his brother’s fluttering pulse should be.

At least his eyes are closed this time, Five thinks, remembering dust and sulphur and a furry cuff sticking out through the rubble. At least this way, he’s on his back, his face pale and bloodless but smooth, untroubled. Absent in a way only a corpse dressed in a shirt like that can be.

Diego’s voice sounds very far away.

“You think I don’t know that? I do, alright, it’s ju-, ju-, just,”

Viktor joins in, then Luther, and even the Sparrow Sloane, but they all meld into one as Klaus fails, again and again, to get up and start breathing.

Denial over, Five skips to stage two.

FUCK,

He stands, slamming one hand on the tiles and the other over his eyes, as Luther comes to kneel where he was, the giant reaching gently for where Klaus’ palm hangs stretched open [GOODBYE].

“Five, where are you going, we have to-,”

“Have to what? What can we do, exactly?”

Because it turns out, Five can do absolutely fucking nothing.

He heads towards the door, but Stan and Lila block the way, and Five stares the kid down for a second, then another. Blood pulses in his ears, but the kid trembles as his mother’s grip tightens on his jacket, Lila daring him, with fire in her eyes, to try it.

But she needn’t have bothered. Five isn’t gonna chew out a kid, irresponsible little brat or not, he just needs to get out of the room where his brother’s corpse lies prone and limp like a bloody, brightly dressed rag doll.

Five jabs a finger at the couple, his hand barely shaking.

“He’s your spawn, deal with it,”

Then he blinks, and he’s in the lobby, then back at the bar. Grabbing another bottle, Five leans on the polished wood, pressing his forehead against the bitter stinking mats and coasters. He doesn’t even reach for a glass, just flicks the cap off and takes and swig.

He’s supposed. To be. Retired.

How many times does Five have to say it before the universe gives him a fucking break? They’d found a decent timeline, where the world was still spinning and craterless, and they were all in one place, for what that was worth. Now people are disappearing, their very existence is imploding in on itself and now … and now...

Now he’s one moron short.

Five wasn’t even there, is the thing. He’d been too occupied with his own mortality, forty-plus years in a future that may or may not exist. Maybe, if he’d stuck around, Klaus could be ambling by right now, not even knowing he’d kicked the bucket in the first place. He’d done it before, rewound a few seconds and his siblings walked away none the wiser. But no, without a briefcase there’s no way Five can risk another jump, not with every other consequence of his damned meddling falling in on their heads.

Fuck. He knew Klaus couldn’t live forever, he’s seen him still and cold too many times for that, but he’d thought he had a few more trips around the sun left in him, this time.

He smirks, hollow and hoarse, despite himself. Three years unsupervised, with a full-ass cult in tow, let alone how many years doing whatever it is Klaus does, and it’s a twelve-year-old with an attitude problem that finally takes him down.

Shit.

Leaning back against the bar and sliding to the floor, Five lays the bottle in his lap and sighs.

Maybe they should have stayed in Pennsylvania. Cowhenge is sounding pretty good right now.

Footsteps hit the carpet to his left.

“Sorry to interrupt, sir,”

Five looks up, blearily, to see the stone-faced concierge (Chet, he thinks his name was?) staring down at him, pressed uniform perfectly in place.

“What?”

The man tilts his head.

“I can’t help but notice that you and your family are in need of some assistance,”

Five raises an eyebrow, taking another slug from the bottle.

“I don’t know what you mean,”

Chet remains impassive.

“Why, your game, sir,”

“What game?”

The man folds his hands behind his back.

“I believe your brother called it, ahem, ‘gentleman in a carpet’,”

Five’s grip tightens around the glass and he straightens, alert. He thought this hotel was supposed to be discreet.

“And you ask … because?”

Chet smiles, lined face waxy and passive, the picture of polite regard.

“Well, we here at Hotel Obsidian have the perfect facilities to play … ‘gentleman in a carpet’,”

Five frowns.

“What do you mean?”

Chet nods.

“If you would follow me, sir,”

With that, the man turns on his heel and heads to the side, out through a door marked EMERGENCY EXIT.

Five doesn’t feel like he has a choice but to follow if only to see if yet another body has to be added to their tally, but as he blinks through the door frame he finds himself standing outside, the cool city air a relief on his sticky skin.

It’s a courtyard, all paving slabs and piled up garbage wagons, probably a backspace for the staff to smoke or dump their trash at the end of a shift, but in the centre, there's a square of dark, soft earth. It has a row of seed packets propped up along the outer edge, but nothing grows on the damp soil. The earth is far from flat, piled up in long, domed mounds, and a shovel sticks casually out of the mud, the handle stained a rusty red.

Except, again, Five still doesn’t think it’s rust.

He looks up to the other man, who stands silently with his hands behind his back.

“Perfect, don’t you think? For all your … carpeting needs,”

They stare at each other, Five searching for any motive behind those black, sunken eyes. But all he finds, after a few sullen seconds, is a man who probably wants the stiff out of his bathroom before it stains the shower curtains.

Practical. All about the big picture. For all he wants to bite, Five thinks he can respect that.

So he nods, and the concierge scuttles away as quick as he came, while Five shucks off his jacket and wipes one hand over traitorous eyes.

What’s another grave, huh?

Maybe it’s appropriate, he thinks, as he clears his throat, sniffs and blinks back to the bathroom, ready to face whatever carnage has happened at his brother’s impromptu wake in his absence.

Klaus did say he loved this place.

Guess he’ll never have to check out again.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

 

He has hair in his mouth, and he’s not in the Buffalo suite.

It isn’t a lot of information, but in his defence, Klaus was eating Menudo about five minutes ago, and now, as he lurches forward, it’s not garlic and pork that he tastes as blood furiously pulses through his skull.

His body shudders, but when Klaus tries to shake, move or anything at all, his vision stays stubbornly dark, pins and needles raging in his limbs and nausea rolling in his stomach as something holds him in place.

Hel-,

Klaus chokes as he tries to cry out, throat dry like cracked earth, and as he coughs his face scrapes along something rough, like sandpaper, that stinks of red wine and mildew.

Anybody? Hello-,”

Christ his mouth tastes like ass. He tries to twist, lifting his arms to rub his eyes, but he can’t-

He can’t move. Something has them tied down, pinning his hands to his sides. Klaus can feel them, his palms sweaty and nails scrabbling around his thighs, but as he tries to twist he finds himself wrapped tight, bound in coarse fabric that chafes against his bare skin.

Okay so that’s … that’s not great. That’s … oh dear.

He swallows, and twists, and starts to jerk, and he cries out again-

“Stanley? Diego? Five?,”

His voice sounds so loud in his ears, but each breath only tastes more like mould and dust.

Where the hell are they? Where the hell is he? Why can’t he move, why?

Hey, assholes, where am-

He coughs and wheezes, chest heaving and choking on thick bile, but his shoulders feel fused as he convulses.

He has nowhere to go. He’s stuck, he’s stuck, he’s stUCK.

Hello!?

Klaus tries to kick his feet, and again and again until … he feels something … soft?

He starts to swing harder, and the world moves, his feet grazing something different from the wall that scrapes against his nose, something wet and firm. So he kicks more and more, flailing because it’s dark and it’s cold and what the fuck is this shit and - hold on a sec

Whatever’s wrapped around him loosens, just a smidge, and Klaus twists his hands, dragging them along damp skin and sandpaper up to his face as he pushes and spreads his limbs.

Almost, any minute now-

There’s resistance on all sides, something pressing in and in and in, but Klaus has been told he’s a flexible minx, and as he wriggles and writhes he feels -

Yes!

The sides of his new world give, and for one, brief moment, Klaus tastes sweet victory.

Then there’s something in his mouth, pouring down his throat and in his nose, in his eyes and-

Oh.

Oh no.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

As funerals go, Viktor knows he’s seen worse.

There’s less fighting this time, at least. Sure, they came close in the bathroom, but there’s not much to punch over with a kid at the centre of their mock murder trial.

If anyone was gonna be angry, it’s Diego; but Stan’s his, apparently, and that seems to settle the matter, even as his brother trips over every sentence in the boy’s defence, the defeated look in his eye betraying more than his stubborn, stumbled words.

So, they get out of there without a single shot fired between them, and it’s probably for the best.

But, saying that, Viktor remembers their Dad’s funeral, however long ago that was. The image is so clear; Klaus pale and manic as usual, skirt fluttering in the wind and a cigarette in hand. Viktor almost smiles as he remembers his brother egg One and Two on.

Hit him!” he’d yelled, pink umbrella slung over one shoulder, before groaning as they’d all watched Ben’s statue crash to the floor.

Maybe Klaus deserved a few outbursts of his own.

He’d have appreciated this funeral’s brevity, or perhaps its location, if nothing else, as they take one drink, then another, in relative silence at the bar. Maybe they’re all callous bastards, after everything they’ve been through, or maybe the end of the world is a stunning distraction, but they’re back to discussing the apocalypse quicker than they’d have liked, Luther still with grave dirt on his jacket.

Five’s disappearance was a gaping wound, Ben’s death tore their family apart, but thirty minutes after Klaus bleeds out on a carpet and suddenly it's Sparrows and Kugelblitzes and ‘making a deal’. Soon Viktor’s brought back from that grim patch of earth outside as he remembers that Harlan is still waiting for him, upstairs in his room.

Harlan, who he’d left behind to struggle, all alone.

Harlan, who killed Alphonso and Jayme.

Harlan, who wrote them out of this universe altogether.

So Klaus is dead, but he’s not going anywhere. Right now, he’s just someone else for Viktor to learn how to talk about in the past tense, like he did with Five (who came back), and Six (who came back wrong), and Sissy (who-).

Shit.

Viktor wipes his eyes, turning away from where he feels Alison’s scrutiny burn on his neck.

Just another brother, another little love in his life that he’ll have to mourn when they get the luxury of time and space to breathe.

The gap between him and his family yawns once again, as his friend is sized up like a chip in a poker game, but he’s grateful for the drink they all shared together, in a fleeting, triaged recognition of Klaus’ memory.

The liquor burns in his throat, but it dulls the tears for a few hours more, and Viktor knows he’ll need that liquid courage if he’s going to do what needs to be done.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

Don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t pANIC

Klaus’ fingers feel foreign on his face as he scrabbles over his skin, breathing in sweat and iron and the faint smell of nicotine under his nails and oh christ. Inhaling sharply through his nose, he hears himself whine, high and scraping like a caged animal, but he keeps his mouth firmly shut, tasting grit and salt on the back of his teeth.

Scrubbing over his eyes, he tries to peek through the lids, skin barely touching skin to keep the dirt from his lashes, but it’s just black. Pitch black, and Klaus can’t even make out the tips of his fingers in the dark.

Oh no wait, he stands corrected. Lights, bright little flashes start to dance as his lungs wheeze, throat burning and head starting to spin and he’s…

He’s …

He’s running out of air.

Oh shit.

Klaus twists, moving his elbows out as he flails in all directions, but he just meets more damp, claggy earth. Pulling his hands from his face, he tries to dig, to crawl and he even manages to twist, turning in place like a screw as he groans and sobs and pleads in his head while it pounds and pounds and pounds.

He might be moving, he doesn’t know, so he lets himself keep turning over and over, shifting inches at best in some direction with his feet tangling in whatever it was he was wrapped in, but after a few seconds, minutes, days, Klaus freezes.

Which way was he lying down, before?

Which … which way was up?

He turns one way, then the other, but both press in on either side like a vice, clutching his skinny frame like a monstrous, wrinkled hand, pressing into him with sharp nails and warty skin. Gravity’s nothing but a sweet memory here, as the sky and the sea and God’s green earth presses and pushes and clutches from above and below.

Oh God.

Someone help.

Please … anyone … please-

All energy drains away, every muscle cramping and tongue limp and Klaus … and Klaus can’t… he can’t…

The earth grows silent.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

Harlan killed them, and Viktor lied.

Those two facts drop like a pin in Alison’s head as she stares at the man tugging the blanket over his shoulders like a cape, the sun beating down on the tarmac behind them.

Harlan, who they’d risked everything for back in the 60s, at that barn in the snow. Harlan, who she’d smuggled out of the hotel against her whole family’s will.

Harlan, who Viktor lied to her face for.

Allison won’t kid herself; she’s thought very little of the woman who’d sold her all those years ago, and cared less about her alternate self, except in the nebulous hope that if she exists, with all the tools her voice could give her, then her daughter would too. She would meet some other Patrick, live some other life, all there for her baby to breathe and live again.

Otherwise, they’re strangers, that other her and her other mom. They’re much like Harlan himself if she’s honest; a means to an end at most, and two timelines in, Allison’s learning that you have to pick who you mourn for wisely.

And that’s why it’s Klaus’s words that come to her, gathered around that shitty little bar with a weathered notebook in hand, holding the pages open on a faded photograph and a tattered newspaper clipping.

He’d never seemed to care much for their real mothers either, not before this timeline anyway, but he’d held that book to his chest and leaned close to all of them. Her poor, dead (he’s dead, they’re all dead and they’ve never existed, too, so does it even matter, does any of this even matter?), hyper little brother had sighed and declared with a wistful sort of pride;

This is my real mother; she’s called Rachel and I have her eyes!

A connection, however faint, to a mother they never knew, and a child who never existed.

Allison frowns, Harlan steps back, but they both know he has nowhere else to go.

Claire had her eyes too.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

“What the hell was that?”

The little girl stares back at him, pausing as she pours him a glass of pale, sort of yellow liquid from her pitcher.

Klaus lies on the soft fabric beneath him, the chalky pink blanket spread out over pastel grass, stretching his limbs as far as they’ll go. He rests his head in the crook of his elbow and watches him watch her.

“What, nothing to say, huh?”

He takes the glass, but still, she’s silent, now pouring her own drink into a clear crystal cup. Her bike is leant against a gnarled, old oak tree behind her, and the field rolls out far into the distance, lined with rickety fences and watercolour flowers, washed out but tinted in the warm, summer sun.

“I was just here, you know, and what, now you just let me come straight back? Revolving door kind of thing?”

She raises an eyebrow, then looks at the glass in his hand, before taking a sip from her own.

“That’s fucked up, that’s what that is,” he whispers to himself, but lifts the cup to his lips anyway. He prefers his lemonade with a little kick if you know what he’s saying, but he hums in surprise as he tastes it. Sharp and sweet with a bitter aftertaste and maybe … hmmm yeah, a little strawberry in there too.

He finishes the glass, and straight away she pours him another, though he didn’t see her pick up the jug again.

“You know, I’m not gonna wanna go back if the service up here is so good,”

He grins and she stares, so he drinks some more, enjoying the flat taste and the cool trickle in his dust-caked throat, still sore and grainy even beyond the veil.

There’s a gramophone next to them, a shiny black record spinning round and round, though Klaus can’t make out the tune, and somewhere in the distance, there is bird song. The sky goes on forever, and his toes feel like they can stretch out even further.

“You gotta be nuts if you think I’m leaving after that shit,”

The little girl straightens her hat and says nothing.

“I’m serious, I know I’m new to this whole thing, but I really don’t think it’s my scene, is all, you know what I’m saying-,”

He gestures around him.

“Not that I’m a frequenter of the great outdoors, mind you, but you know, a girl can learn! Maybe I’ll take up painting, some yoga, or even a light stroll - hey! How about you and I go on an ol’ cycle trip together, that sound’s nice, doesn’t it?”

His glass is full again, so he takes another sip, sugar sitting sweetly on his tongue.

“Must be lonely, riding around in this lovely, wide-open space, so I think it would be best if we stick together, what do you say?”

Nothing, that’s what.

Klaus sighs and goes to drink some more, so thirsty for some reason he can’t fathom, but as he does he finally looks down at his glass and sees that this time, it’s iced.

He has seven cubes exactly, bobbing gently in the milky liquid, except when Klaus swirls the glass, they stay in place, like little floats in the ocean. The pattern is random, studded like rhinestones in vegas- velvet, but he knows it, doesn’t he? He saw it somewhere, just now, and he can’t for the life of him remember-

“Try again,”

Klaus looks up, and the little girl raises an eyebrow.

“Ex-squeeze me?”

She blinks.

“Try. Again.”

Klaus drops his glass. The world goes black.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

“Weren’t there six of you?”

“Weren’t there seven of you?”

“Well, your friend saw to that before he got what was coming to him-,”

“Ben, we discussed that in the interests of diplomacy, we should-,”

“What happened to the other one, anyway? Stiff breeze knock him over? Did he trip and fall on his ass-,”

“Why don’t you shut your mouth-,”

“Guys, I think we need to just calm-,”

“Okay, Diego, we’ve got things to do here, take it down a notch-,”

“I will when the tentacle pimp here-,”

“What did you call me?”

“Oh, you heard,”

“Why don’t you come over here and say that to my face-,”

“Maybe I will you piece of-,”

GUYS,

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, he can’t bREATHE.

How long has he been here? Klaus can’t tell anymore, only the briefest flash of brightening sunlight through a sepia sky marking the moments when he stops being here and starts being there.

He thinks he’s been back there again, in that strange almost technicolour field, but it’s hard to tell. Klaus feels like Dorothy, he does love Judy after all, except red has never been his colour and he’s really not a dog person. Oh yeah, and he keeps getting kicked out of fucking munchkin land and back into Kansas, only to wait for the twister to rear its dusty head to spit him right into Oz again. The world feels like one of those old film reels, little cells spliced and cut together at odd intervals and those big wheel things turning and turning, flinging him from the dreary start to the magical big reveal, all without a glitter-clad good witch and magic teleporting sneakers in sight.

But the periods of relief, those brief little trips down the yellow brick road (Klaus didn’t know he knew the movie so well, to be honest) grow shorter, an instinct he didn’t know he had only growing stronger. Something keeps dragging him back down here in the dark, his sense of this side and that somehow snapping him back into his battered broken body. Like he’s training a muscle he didn’t know he had.

But that’s bullshit to him if it only sends him back here faster, the girl’s silent, patronising, infuriating little face tattooed on his retinas as he’s catapulted out of a daydream to a literal, living nightmare.

Has he had this one before? He’s collected a few terrors over his lifetime, he knows, but it’s the most vivid he’s ever had. It cracks his bones, burns his lungs, and he has to wake up soon, please for the love of God, let him wake up. Or never again, that would be nice, just stop with the fucking mortal merry-go-round please.

Is anyone coming? So far… so far no, not even the so-called god he has on speed dial. But someone has to, right? Fuck, he’ll take anyone with a bloody shovel, and with all this noise he’s making, groaning into the dirt, surely somebody must have heard him by now? It’s different this time, they all said so, and that means soon he’ll hear Five or Allison or Diego or Viktor or Ben (yes even that one will do).

But most all, in the dark and the crush with just the worms and his spiralling thoughts for company, he wants… he wants Dave. He’s crawled around in mud before, soaked in motor oil with a tin helmet jammed on his head, but at least he had that crooked smile, those pretty blonde curls and something strong to hang on to. He had that handsome soldier boy with his books and his charms to pull him out and take him away (if only in the wishful thinking they played with in the smallest hours of the night).

But he’s gone, they’re all gone, and he’s alone the fucking pricks and … and…

He shifts his elbow and stops, his skin brushing something hard and cool. He startles, but blindly reaches for it, wrapping his fingers around something long and smooth. It feels like wood, except that as he strokes around the edges in the dark, his fingers find a jagged edge; not splintered or grainy, but sharp, like a broken vase.

Can he dig with this? Maybe he can use it to move the earth, push it through the top, whichever way that is, however far away the surface might be. He wrenches in closer, groaning as the whole world tries to hold it back, but as he yanks he hears a deafening, sickening pop, like a lid loosening from a jar.

He brings the strange thing closer, feeling blindly along each side and briefly stopping along a rounded bottom. But then fingers brush something looser, like paper, or leather or-

He freezes.

Skin. Loose, hardened, rotting old skin. Which means the thing in his hand is a … is a…

Klaus screeches, all low in his throat and his gut, and tries to drop it, but there’s nowhere for the fucking thing to go. He kicks madly as his head spins to get it far away, but he can’t move, he can’t move, he needs help, get him away from here, please

Just help, please…. he needs … he needs….

K….

Wait…

Kl-

What the-?

Kl….. Kl…… Kl….ssss,

He coughs but keeps moving, sluggishly jerking his feet. Someone’s heard him, they have to, he just needs to shout, flail, something.

”Hello-! Five! Someone, it’s me, it’s-“

He swallows lungfuls of soil, but inches closer, the sound coming from above him, beside him, below him.

”Klaus,”

Klaus stills

His breath is hot and close (too close, too close he caN’T), but something cool washes down his arm, like the first puff of AC on a sunny day or rush of wind outside a sweat-soaked night club. His limbs tingle, like pins and needles, right where the tattered limb had crushed into his palm, and Klaus starts to twitch.

Something brushes like breath on his face.

He freezes.

”Klaussssss”

No.

klaus, klaus, klaus-klaUS-,

Not this. Anything but this

klaus- klAUS- KLAUS- KLAUS

He’s alone, no he has to be alone, please don’t leave him down here with-

He keens, the noise strangled in his dirt-choaked throat, and feels the wetness trickling from his eyes to water the earth he’s been left to seed in.

Hands move from his face to his ears, but they only grow closer, slithering through the dust and reaching, always reaching, for him.

”KlausKlausKlausKLAUSKLAUSKLAUSKLA-,”

His heart hammers, his head pounds and finally, finally, the darkness starts to soften, bruises start to numb and lungs mercifully spasm.

His name ringing in his ears, Klaus drifts away from bedlam towards birdsong.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

Blinding Orb of Light’, huh Klaus?

The plan’s finally taking shape after god knows how long, the wrong-Ben and the crow lady firing back and forth with the rest of them, go team. But Diego is stuck staring at the “Kugel-whatever” that’s, sure enough, in the very same luggage room Numbers Two and Four used to, uh, let’s say ‘medicate’ in their recreational hour off.

Maybe they should get a notebook, or a whiteboard, or something. That way they could keep track of the slippery bastard and pick out the useful nuggets amongst the mindless bullshit. Hang it over the bar, they’ll all end up there eventually, after all, and it’ll save them all the trouble of prying information out of him like teeth themselves.

When the Sparrows told him what they had hiding in the basement, he could almost see the little shit’s face; all pale with a wide grin and bright eyes screaming ‘Told ya so!’. He says stupid shit all the time, but of course, only Klaus would blurt out the key to the whole doomsday plan halfway through a sentence about huffing paint.

Yeah, he thinks, as Lila and Sloane line up next to each other and Viktor crosses his arms, Whiteboard for Klaus, pair of those little backpack reins for the Kid.

Except he doesn’t have either now, does he? Never had Stan in the first place (thanks for that intel, Lila), but the little kleptomaniac had grown on him, you know, he’d really put him through the wringer these past few days.

And Klaus is … Klaus is gone.

It still doesn’t feel real. Where the anger sits, it meshes too well with everything else they’ve been through, one more tragedy that strikes numb where raw tender flesh should be.

They’d jumped from doomsday to doomsday for so long now, it hadn’t occurred to him that they wouldn’t all make it out, where ever they ended up. Especially Klaus, who’d lived his life like he never saw an end, bouncing from couch to crisis to hospital bed and barely stopping to brush himself off before he launches into his next hairbrained scheme.

But still, he can feel the gap where his brother used to linger, as Sparrows and Umbrellas bicker with eachother over the end of days, knowing now that he hasn’t just wandered off or snuck away to the liquor cabinet. It’s almost like he can hear him, in those pauses where he would poke and prod and roll his eyes. Fuck, he may well be, knowing Klaus’ spooky deal, haunting their asses like he’d threatened to a few times. But without him on this side of things, breathing air and pumping blood, it’s little use to any of them.

Fuck.

Diego shakes his head and catches Lila’s eyes, who winks. She gestures to the nightmare-vacuum-thing, and mouths with a grin; ‘piece of piss’.

He smiles, despite himself.

Diego has to fight for what he has left, and if he’s gonna do that, whatever he’s feeling about his train wreck, soft-hearted, dead baby brother might have to wait a little while longer.

For now, he’ll have to settle for kicking this paradox’s shiny ass.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

He’s on his front this time, a pair of sandalled toes beneath his nose, but Klaus just lets the fresh-cut grass press against his forehead.

“Why,”

He doesn’t look up, but he can picture her face clear as day. Klaus doesn’t even bother to keep the whine out of his voice. He’s too tired.

“How long do I have to do this?”

Klaus feels the sun beat on his back, but shifts when he hears fabric rustle as a pale, striped skirt folds to sit beside him. The gramophone keeps spinning, long crooning notes he can almost hear now, and a small hand taps on his head.

He looks up, and her dark eyes, still black as night in the full-colour landscape around them, narrow.

“Until you learn,”

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

Where the hell did Mom get the flamethrower?

Luther jumps back as she open fires, then it’s all hands on deck as he throws himself between Grace and the others, the Cube screeching as their mother’s single plastic eye widens.

In his head, he counts the room as she shouts and spreads her flames, moaning on and on about some kind of God and eternity and divine wrath. Whatever it is, he doesn’t care, only that Sloane and Viktor and Lila are behind him, Ben is to his left, Allison and Five to his right and Diego taking cover behind the pillar.

And Klaus-

Oh. Yeah.

But then he’s forced to duck again, and all thoughts of his brother, with his carefree laugh and strange clothes, his odd taste in music and his pale, half slack face are-

He jumps again.

Shit, that was a close one-

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.

One. Two. Three. Four-

Klaus

Just keep counting. Just keep counting. It’ll be over soon, it will, just keep counting you piece of shit, just keep-

Something moans, whines in his ear, but Klaus covers his face and starts again.

He shouldn’t be able to breathe, or what passes for breath down here. He ain’t a scientist or nothing, but he’s pretty sure he should have run out of the old O2 a long, long time ago. Maybe even the first time his heart gave out, let’s be honest. But nope, he still hangs on, if only for a few minutes in the in-between, every fucking time, because her holiness is an asshole and the universe hates him personally.

Which means he’s dead. It doesn’t matter that he’s back here, because soon he’ll be back there again, and that’s all that matters. He just has to wait now, just a little longer, and he’ll go away again, back to her, and maybe this time she’ll tell him to stop, she’ll let him stay, she’ll turn the shittiest cosmic superpower back down to zero and he can finally, finally STOP.

”Klausssssssss,

One. Two. Three…. Four….. Fi-

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

April 7th, 2019. Friday.

Effects of medication subsiding. Withdrawal symptoms remain relatively stable. Recommend hydration and secondary stimulant until effects reduce.

No sign of 00.04 (Timeline A) for several days. Sparrows report deceased (projectile through sternum).

No great loss.

Alternative subjects remain viable. Approx. 3 days until total cosmic and temporal annihilation.

Work continues on Project O.

R.H.

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

… and now … the end is near … and so I face … the final curtain…

He’s back again.

She puts down her book and regards him, quietly. The shambling pile of limbs on her blanket sighs, but this time he rolls over, gingerly tensing and relaxing his fingers as he looks up to the skyline.

He’s been quiet these last few times. She imagines it’s quite tiring doing this over and over again as he insists on. It’s all necessary, of course, and doing its job, although she’d have preferred he not go to such extreme lengths in his learning curve.

She sees the evidence of the last few cycles in his chest, his palms and even down to his toes. They buzz and glow like … what was it they decided to name them? Yes, fire flies or something of the sort. They flutter and hum, pale but bright under his skin, mixing pleasantly with the world around them and phasing in and out of the in-between where they rest.

He blends right in around here.

A long, beleaguered sigh.

“Yep, me again,”

He actually sits up, crossing his legs beneath him, so she marks her page and turns away. Wordlessly, she opens the basket to her left and offers him the blue metal tin. He doesn’t even ask, just plucks a muffin from the pile and tucks in, picking one, two, three … all seven of the chocolate chips and popping them in his mouth.

“-fanks,” he remembers, after a second, stuffing the creamy sponge down his throat.

She says nothing, just turns to twist the dial on the player to her right. She sees him squint, craning his ear, as the words drift through their shared little gap in the universe.

I've loved ….. I've laughed and cried …I've had my fill … my share of losing

He shakes his head.

“Take it there’s no point asking, is there?”

She doesn’t need to answer, so he sighs, long and musical, picking a bit of grass and running it between his fingers. His voice lowers.

“Guess we’ll both keep waiting, then,”

She raises an eyebrow. She can see down there, he must know. There’s no need to lie to himself. She knows that he knows the truth of his predicament. She knows he knows the unlikelihood of a mortal rescue.

It must show on her face (maybe she should try a new one if this has become so transparent) because he screws up the white paper wrapper and flicks it back in the tin.

“No one’s coming for me, are they?”

She waits. He swallows, then drops his hands.

“Why are you doing this?”

She’s not doing anything. It’s not her who’s keeping him out, not really. He’s just not meant for one place, not meant to ‘sit still’ like she knows his nominal father always chastised him for. It jibes with her, his ‘many-ness’, irritating like a buzzing fly in a glass. But like everything she sees, it’s difficult not to stare. His brushstrokes are coming together, his boat is leaving the shipyard.

Maybe he just needs one final push.

He’s given up waiting for his answer, picking up another muffin but eating it slower; delicately. The music croons and the wind blows, and she waits for him to ask the right question.

“Surely you must be tired of all this nonsense too?”

She can’t be tired of anything.

His voice rises, hands animated with a little life as his train of thought is spoken aloud.

“Is what I’ve done so terrible? The stealing and the drugs and the incredibly brief EDM phase? Is this, what - a punishment, for all my mortal sins?”

He jabs a finger at her.

“Because you know what young lady, you’re only punishing yourself here too!”

That’s not how anything works, but even if she wanted to respond to that he keeps going.

“You know, this is your fault, right? You ‘made me’, allegedly, so you gave me this power, yeah? I didn’t ask for any of this,”

She might have. He didn’t.

There’s little fight left in him now, though, so he drops his hands with a sigh.

“Could have at least given me something useful,”

That’s close enough.

“I did,”

He blinks.

She sits up, making him jump and straighten himself, a reaction she knows was trained into him even after all these years.

Leaning across, she takes one hand, then the other into her own. Feeling him freeze, she turns both palms to lie face up, and brings them up to her face.

[HELLO]

[GOODBYE]

The lights pulse, a little dampened by years of neglect, but there they are, under the ridges of his fingertips.

He stares at her, holding an unnecessary breath, and she places them both in her lap.

“Use what you have,”

He laughs.

“What do you-?”

She tightens her grip.

“Use. What. You. Have.”

He frowns.

He vanishes.

She nods, satisfied, and resumes eternity as her speaker croons.

… the record shows .. I took the blows …

…I did it ….

…. My way

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

Do you know what Klaus has? A fucking headache.

Mud clumping between clammy fingers, he rubs his hands over his face, strangled voices still ringing in his ears. He feels like he’s being grated as he tries to curl in on himself, though of course, he knows by now that he’s got no room in this mole hole even to try and move. He’s not gonna be here long though, he hopes, so if the little girl wants a full fucking inventory, Klaus is more than happy to provide one.

Let’s see, he’s got uh, a dull ache in his chest that turns to a stab every time he moves. He’s got the shirt on his back, that's probably ruined now, what with the blood and worm mush and all that, thanks a lot. He’s got a fucking bone that he can still feel brush against his knee every time he twitches. He’s got about 50 tons of earth pressing from every possible angle.

And oh yeah.

All.

These.

Fucking.

Ghosts.

He’s almost grateful he can’t see them, but instead their voices, garbled and rabid from a scream to a whisper, drown him beneath their weight.

klausklausklausklaUSHELPUSKLAUSKLAUSKLAUSHELPUSHELPUSHELP

He chokes, somehow squeezing his eyes shut harder.

You know what, boys? Klaus would like some of that help too, but it ain’t coming, is it? Lord knows, one of the assholes he calls his family would be here by now if it was, so how about you pipe the fuck down.

Actually, better yet, how about some of you bastards help him, wouldn’t that be-

Cold.

Suddenly, Klaus is really fucking cold.

He cracks an eye but immediately squints with a hiss. His hands, which had been a vague concept squished against his nose for however long he’d been stuck down here, are alight, aflame, the cool blue glow almost burning through his lids. His fingers prickle, a familiar but long unwelcome feeling, and it spreads through his wrists and up his arms.

Nope, nope, nope.

He tries to shake them, bringing them away from his face in the small cave he’s carved for himself, but they only grow brighter. His eyes adjusting, Klaus sees his tattoos highlighted against pale skin [HELLO] and he gawks as tracks of light push down his veins like a river.

What the fuck?

Klaus whines, flexing his fingers and holding his breath, for what good that’s worth. God he wished he learned how to turn this thing off, for christ’s sake, how-?

Klaus

A face.

Twisted, gaunt, feral, with loose, rotten teeth and, and-

It reaches, mangled flesh grasping through the dirt like its only mist, with gnarled hands pushing past earth and clay to clamp around Klaus’ almost translucent wrist.

If he had air left to spare, Klaus would scream, but all he can do is jerk with a strangled squawk as thick, receded nails scrape across his fragile skin, gripping him like a vice. Illuminated in the spectral glow, the dark pits where its eyes should be open like pools as they tug him closer.

It starts to pull.

Klaus twists, but flinches as he feels more hands pressing through the tattered fabric of his shirt, clasping his neck, his chest and his feet, and soon they all start to squeeze and grab and tug. They scrabble and scratch, but Klaus can’t fight, how can he? He can barely squirm as half ravaged flesh, spectral but somehow solid, finds him, prying him from the stinking grave where he’s been slung. Where they’ve all been slung.

This is hell. Klaus is in hell. Take him back, send him back or get him out, he can’t do this. Someone, please get him out, get him out, get him out.

A pulse.

He feels his hands thrum as boney fingers press with blackened, slick skin, and Klaus watches that strange shimmer turn into a blinding, breaking beam, light throbbing down his veins and suddenly out, into the soil and breaking through every soul trapped down here with him.

But their grips only grow tighter, realer, and the pull grows stronger, his legs now untangling from the thick, furred fabric still wrapped around his waist as they drag him up, up -

Up.

He’s moving up.

It’s like the world stops for a moment, the earth pulling back to just leave Klaus, as the strange electric fuzz beats in time with his hammering heart and the voices of the unquiet dead spin in his skull.

outklausoutklausoutKLAUSOUTKLAUSOUT KLAUS OUT KLAUS OUT

Out. Up. Up and out, they’re-

They’re all he has.

There’s no time to think. Klaus clenches his fists, a practised but unsteady motion, unused for years but there, still there, so he clenches and swallows and finally, finally he pulls-

A flash. A burst of light, cracking like a firework and flaring like a backroom nightclub, and Klaus is seized by a thousand desperate hands, reaching, always reaching, but this time he finally reaches back.

Klaus scrabbles, biting his dirt-caked lip and twisting his hand to catch onto the boney claws locked around his wrist.

outoutoutoutoutoUTOUTOUT OUT OUT OUT

The world squeezes and the earth screams, but Klaus keeps his hands gripped tightly as he pushes further and further.

please please please please PLEASE

A crack. A shift. A groan.

Then the top breaks in two.

Klaus chokes, dragging himself forward on broken fingernails as he gulps the most perfect lungful of air he’s ever tasted. Elbows dragging first along gravel, then hard, cracked concrete, Klaus heaves on his hands and knees.

Out.

For a few minutes, it’s just him and whatever the fuck this brown gunk he’s puking is, spluttering in the beautifully cool air. Spit dripping down his chin (lovely), he finally rolls over on his back, every bone in his body aching as one hand drags across his forehead.

The sky - dear lord above the sky - is dark, that in-between, inky black with the bright orange glow of half-lit street lights haloing the fortress of tower blocks around him. No stars, but fuck em, right now Klaus is happy with the flash behind his eyes, as his fingers run down his face, still a faint glow dancing between each brown fingernail.

He lets them drop to his chest though, feeling around between the opening of his shirt and sighing in relief as he finds the long looping chain around his neck. He raises the two stamped plates to his mouth, the dips in the metal familiar on his lips.

Christ, Davey, what the fuck was that?

The gravel beside him crunches.

Rolling on his side, Klaus finally heaves himself up on one elbow, only to meet a pair of pale, boney, short-clad legs. Mouth still like the bottom of a sandpit, Klaus follows them upwards, and more and more figures bathed in pale blue seem to shift into the cold, concrete courtyard.

Blinking, Klaus takes in this morbid motley crew, every gaunt, bloodless body straight out of a B-List horror set-piece, all latex and fake ketchup blood. Except the longer he looks, the stranger the assembled cast becomes. A half-dressed bus boy hobbles on one leg, a maid shuffles still with a feather duster in tow, and a lady towards the back, clad in velvets and dripping with silver, leans in with hollow eyes hidden behind gem-studded sunglasses, lipstick smeared over bloodstained cheeks. Behind them, there's a trail of sodden, sludge-like mud leading to a gaping hole in the earth, pitch black and open wide like a hollow, toothless mouth.

Klaus blinks and sits up on his knees, watching them as their black, empty eyes stare back silently in the open air.

He raises a trembling hand, light pouring off like steam on a winter’s day, and he swallows.

“Uh … thanks?”

They say nothing, blank and gawping, until one, dressed in a tattered shirt splashed with faded birds and exotic, tropical blooms, raises a single, bloodied palm.

Klaus twitches and looks once at the hole, then back at the hoard, and then shrugs.

“So … bye? I guess?”

He waves his left hand, a little awkwardly, and it shines, another pulse spreading from his fingers, his toes, and the centre of his chest. Sensation washes down his arms and out, lapping like a tide across the courtyard, and Klaus watches every figure, each spiritual spectator, disappear like a burst of sea foam against a rock.

His arm outstretched, he turns the palm to face him, and as the shimmering aura finally disappears he’s left with only one word [GOODBYE].

He shakes it out once, then draws it back to his chest.

Well then…

Ahem,

Klaus whips his head, wincing as his fragile skull protest loudly, to find a figure with a garbage lid in one hand and a plastic bin liner in another. With a pill-shaped hat on their head and gold buttons glinting in the dim light, Klaus breaks into a grin.

“Chet! My good man!”, he shouts hoarsely, stumbling to his feet, “aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!”

The concierge looks at Klaus’ face, then his feet, then his chest, which is still feeling a little tender, now Klaus thinks about it. Chet places the black sack in the can, letting the lid drop like a tolling bell, before unfurling a bland, placid smile.

“I take it sir would like to re-open his tab?”

Klaus smiles.

“You bet your ass I do!”

He wobbles over, holding out one hand which Chet takes only to wipe his own on the back of his jacket when it’s released. Klaus sighs, his throat sore and head still pounding.

“If you could tell my dearest siblings I’m back in business, too, my dear boy, that would be grand,”

He pats his arm, but Chet tilts his head.

“I’m afraid, sir, that your family has not been at the hotel since yesterday,”

Klaus frowns.

“Any idea where they went?”

Chet stares back blankly.

“Well, one doesn’t like to speculate sir…,”

Klaus leans forward, propped on the trash can and puts on his most charming smile, hoping there isn’t grave dirt on his teeth.

“Aw come on Chet, don’t be like that, we both know you know everything that goes on around here, that’s what makes this place so perfect!”

He gestures behind him.

“Hasn’t my day been crappy enough?”

The other man blinks and takes one more look at Klaus, then the sinkhole in his ‘vegetable patch’. His mouth twitches, so fast Klaus almost didn’t see it, then loosens back into that plaster mask.

“Well sir, one might have an idea…,”

Klaus claps his hands.

“Perfect! That’s perfect,”

He straightens, cracking his spine and rolling his neck.

“Come one, pour me a drink and we’ll have a catch up, see what I missed, how’s that sound?”

Chet nods, turning into a brisk walk back towards the building, all business.

“Would sir like his usual?”

Klaus waves his hands, following gratefully towards what, no matter the timeline, will always be his home away from … well a home, at least.

“You fucking bet your ass he would,”

Chet opens the door, holding it for him as Klaus steps over the threshold, his feet luxuriating in the feeling of soft, almost-clean carpet.

“I’ll make it on the house, sir,”

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

=-=-=-=-=-=

Five doesn’t remember Mom being this much trouble, but he guesses this timeline is full of surprises.

He blinks, one arm around her back, and they’re in the foyer, Five twisting the weapon from her grip and kicking her back. She’s steadier than she looks though, and Five lands hard on his ankle as she takes a swipe at him, knocking against the stair rail.

His judgement shall claim us all, we must bow before her might, how dare you all commit such sacrilege in their-,”

“Yeah yeah,” Five mutters, wiping one hand on his nose and cricking his neck, “now stay still would ya?”

But she ducks again, skirts flying around her knees as she lunges for him. Why’d Dad make the babysitting robot so fucking strong, that’s what Five wants to know, but he blinks again, higher this time, to jump up on her shoulders.

They both stagger back towards the door, but she remains upright, static pouring out of her voice box as she struggles beneath him.

Come on come one come ON-

Five can’t get the right angle on her, but he keeps trying, hands reaching out for her neck and, and-

She yelps, if that’s a sound she can make, suddenly toppling backwards over something behind them Five can’t see. But he grabs his chance and snap, he blinks away as the pile of metal and plastic finally crashes to the floor.

He stares down at the smoking wreck, all latex skin and leaking wires, and Five is glad, at least, it was him who had to do the deed. Him and whatever it was she tripped-

“Aw, Mom,”

What?

Five spins, neck cricking awkwardly as he follows the noise, the voice behind them, and he finds not a stray umbrella stand or a smashed antique, but, but-

“Klaus?”

Diego’s voice echoes across the entrance hall, followed by a rabble of siblings crowding around the narrow entrance, but all eyes are on the shuffling figure leaning luxuriantly against a pillar, tracking muddy prints onto the polished marble. One foot still stuck out beside the sparking android, the figure grins and raises his hand [HELLO].

“Howdy strangers,”

Five feels sick.

“What did I miss?”

Five rushes forward, hearing footsteps thunder behind him, sliding to a halt and grabbing him by the collar.

“Whoah there Five, take it easy!”

He ignores him, shaking him once, then twice.

“What the hell?”

Klaus shrugs, eyes bright despite the thick layer of grime caked on his face, swaying slightly as Viktor comes up on his other side to grip the crusted fabric of his shirt.

“I know I know, sorry I’m late, it was a nightmare getting here,”

Five watches him swallow, then his chest rise to breathe in and fall to breathe out, a long-suffering sigh colouring his cheeks, pumping blood through his veins because Klaus is…

“Wasn’t he dead?”

Ben’s voice calls from the back of the pack, standing on his toes with a frown to look at Klaus, who steps out of Five’s grip and into Viktor’s, with suspicion.

Ben turns to Fei, slightly quieter.

“I swear they said he was dead,”

Klaus presses a grimy kiss to the top of Viktor’s crown, whose knuckles are white as he stands on his tip toes to hug him back. Then Klaus grins.

“I did, actually, you sweet old thing!”

Viktor steps back, eyes glistening, and Klaus gives their other sort-of brother a wave.

“Did ya miss me?”

Ben rolls his eyes, folding his arms and leaning defensively against the table, but Diego breezes past, sparing a look to the nuts and bolts at his feet with a frown but returning to the flesh and blood miracle highlighted against the glass doors.

“But, but Stanley, he, he-h-,”

“I know, I know! As a door nail, so I’m told, but apparently, it’s a thing I do, who knew right?”

“It’s what-?”

Klaus shrugs.

“Don’t you worry about it babe, just got a few good friends upstairs, you know me!”

He winks at Allison, who still stands apart, eyeing Viktor at Klaus’s side and leaning against the wall, but Five sees her finger itch at her sides, the moisture in her eyes, that sheet of glass not even cracked by this, this-

“But how did you… you were …,”

Allison’s voice chokes, but it’s Viktor who picks it up.

“-it’s been four days?”

He swallows, staring at where Klaus’ shirt opens, where all that time ago Five had found a gaping, open wound encircled with inky blood. The stain is still there, though it’s hard to see under all the soil ground into the fabric of his shirt and his jeans, but there’s barely even a scar on his sternum.

Klaus waves him off, wiping his hands on his thighs with a sigh.

“Yeah, well, it’s been…,”

He falters, losing momentum all of a sudden.

“...four days, huh?”

He sways, and just for a second something hangs behind his eyes, cold and still; he looks past them all, bright pupils highlighted by dark circles, staring like the walls are windows to something they can’t see. A smile keeps trying to twitch at his lips, a laugh catching in his throat, but his eyes are clear and open, and for once some soft underbelly shows itself through all of his … Klausness.

Five stumbles a little, because he hadn’t known or planned or calculated for this, for a fucking miracle, let alone for what that might make someone …

But then he’s pushed aside as Luther swoops in, lifting Klaus up off his toes and crushing him against his chest, Klaus choking and patting his back.

“Whoah there big guy, it’s alright, you big softie,”

Luther pulls him back but still holds him aloft under Klaus’ armpits, cheeks glistening and mouth agape.

“You’re, you’re-”

Diego slaps his back-

“You’re alive,”

Followed by Allison-

“You’re filthy?

Klaus looks down, and this can’t seriously be the first time he’s looked at himself since … since whenever the bastard got back. But he shrugs it off, waving his hand dismissively.

“Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you don’t use protection, okay kids?”

He frowns, then points a finger at Luther, who finally puts him down but still holds his hands out like he’s afraid Klaus might break.

“Actually, yeah? How come you guys skimped out on me? What, carpet all I’m good for you fucking cheapskates?”

Diego chokes, but Five sees Viktor finally snort, a smile breaking across his face, and as always it’s all the encouragement Klaus needs.

“You see the coffin Ben got? Absolute master craftsmanship, that was, beautiful. The photograph, the tentacles, shit, even Dad forked out for that!”

He jabs one at Viktor now, but he only shakes his head, eyes bright and face pale, but running his hands through his still freshly shorn hair with his lips twitching.

“Were all the funeral homes shut? Undertakers on holiday? No one willing to share?”

They gawk at him as Viktor snickers, but that just makes Klaus get louder.

“Unbelievable, un-fucking-believable, the lot of you, seriously, not even a cardboard box, for your dear brother? You’re favourite brother? I-”

Five shakes his head.

“Alright Klaus, that’s enough-,”

“No! I don’t think it is, I want y’all taking notes for next time, I’m thinking lining, some of that nice french polish, you know, those funny little handles-,”

Diego grabs his arm, shaking him out of his rant.

“Well there’s not gonna be a next time, all right man, so you can quit with the will, okay?”

Klaus does stop, but Five sees him swallow, something shaking behind his eyes.

“Well, there better not be, alright?”

Then he grins, all teeth, with a flounce.

“I’m really not cut out for gardening, you see what it’s done to my manicure?”

Diego smacks him, pushing his head back but patting his back, resting a hand heavily on his shoulder.

“Alright, I’m done with this, let’s drink,”

Other Ben pipes up from the doorway.

“Amen to that,”

The party of Umbrellas and Sparrows breaks up as Klaus is shepherded towards the front room, and by extension, the bar, and Five can’t say he disagrees as he follows the voices into the room.

“Oooh, what are we celebrating?”

Diego shakes his head.

“Saving the world,”

Klaus pouts with a shrug.

“That is always a good one,”

“Yeah, yeah,”

Five lets Fei and Sloane pass him as Allison brings up the rear, hanging back only to take one last look at the robot slumped over the bannister, her skirts spread out like a fan.

Well, that’s that then.

But he follows to the top of the stairs, where sure enough he sees a familiar three-piece silhouette and a monocle glinting in the candlelight. Hargreeves says nothing though, snapping the leatherbound notebook in his hand shut and stowing a pen in his top pocket. With a nod, he disappears up the stairs without a word.

Five frowns, before a record scratches and music starts to drift through the archway, followed by-

“Aww no, not Stanley! I liked the little kleptomaniac-,”

“I mean, didn’t he-?,”

“I know, I know, but that’s water under the bridge now, I mean,”

A sigh, followed by an audible pat.

Damn Diego that sucks, poor kid,”

“Yeah, yeah I know,”

Glasses clink.

“Come on, let’s pour one out for the short-stack bastard,”

“Wasn’t he like, twelve?”

“When has that ever stopped you?”

“Maybe I’m a changed man?”

A cork pops, chatter rises, and Five shakes his head.

Idiots.

But Five looks at them, his family, through the doorway, as glasses clink and he hears, over the lilting notes, one brother regale the other on what he missed while he was … away.

Sure, two of the others might actually bite chunks out of each other before the day is out. Three of them are … step-siblings? Does it count if they’re from alternate timelines all together? He shakes his head. Either way, they’re allies now, maybe, and one is almost a brother, so it has to count.

More toddlers to baby sit (and a Cube, now it’s eaten the apocalypse for them). More bodies to worry about.

But then Klaus laughs, spinning in one place as if to show off the full extent of grave dirt embedded in his fashion choices, before Diego wraps an arm over his shoulder, scrubbing a hand over his hair and Klaus loudly protests.

“Hey!”

Five looks up, and Lila slides beside him to hand him a glass, something he’s learning to read as mischief in her eyes.

“We’re celebrating, old man,”

She grabs his sleeves and tugs him into the room.

“No loitering, get in here,”

He smirks and shakes his head.

“Yeah, yeah-,”

He may not be retired just yet, but he ain’t dead either. Best enjoy the good times where they last, he supposes.

Five gathers with the rest of them around the coffee table, some old crooner droning on the gramophone. He watches Klaus jump back as Ben peers down and pokes at his chest (“hey man, buy me dinner first!”), Luther top-up Viktor’s glass before turning to hand another to Sloane.

So Five raises his own to Lila, who grins and taps it back before they both join the festivities.

Sometimes the world doesn’t end. Sometimes you find a way out yourself.

And sometimes, he thinks, as he starts to sway to the music, sometimes things come back.