The days tumbled over themselves. Winter became spring. New, pale green leaves appeared amongst the snowmelt, while bitter wind and rain washed the sky clean.
Outside the apartment building, Klaus held his face to the sky and squinted at the bright white clouds.
The street bustled around him, people wrapped up in coats darting here and there, their gazes glancing off him. There were trucks roaring past and car horns blaring and pigeons dawdling. The whole world was his.
He’d said he was going out for a smoke, when really he was itching for escape. It had been nice, staying at home with Vanya and Ben as he gathered himself properly back together and healed. Quiet and comfortable. But today he’d woken up and known it was time. He wanted out.
And so after smoking his cigarette, Klaus did not go back inside to the cramped apartment where his sister played scales on her violin, and where his brother read his book. They would be there when he came back. Instead, he stepped out onto the rainslick street and disappeared into the early morning rush, going wherever the next footfall took him: nowhere, and everywhere.
People heard about it in whispers, at first, if they were to hear about it at all.
Down that way, down the dodgy street - you know it?
Sprawling beneath the overpass was an assortment of tents and junk, a lifetime’s belongings sitting out in the dirt. It was the sort of place where the well-to-do walk a little faster as they pass the corner, where no one goes unless they have no other choice.
You’ll know it when you see it.
There, tucked up beside a rough concrete wall: an old and worn red tent. It had been patched on one side, and there were prayer flags fluttering from a brittle pole.
People waited outside until it was their turn. Their hearts would be beating fast. They’d be looking over their shoulder as if waiting for a mugging. Surely it was a set-up. A prank. They’d cast a glance at the nearest sleeping bag, the occupant’s face hidden from the sun, and wonder: why here of all places?
When it was time, they slipped past the beaded strings that hung in the tent’s doorway to sit nervously in front of the person who claimed a connection with the dead.
Inside it smelt like smoke and sun-bleached canvas. There was little there: a couple of thin cushions to sit on and a small table with two black candles and a tea set. The simplicity of it reassured them. So little effort leant some form of credibility to the seance itself.
And for those who had never dared come this way before, the grittiness of the place had a similar effect. This otherworld, this place of deviants and the downtrodden... oh, it tantalised them. Heady with their rebelliousness, their stepping here at all already a transgression - it meant Klaus hardly had to do any convincing at all.
Klaus sat cross-legged on his own cushion, sweating in the heat of the tent. He offered today’s guest tea, pouring from the tall, ornate teapot. The guest saw a flash of ink on his palms as he set the teapot back down, but not enough to read what it said. When they took a sip from the chipped little cup, the dark tea tasted sour and bitter.
‘So,’ Klaus said, right when their lips puckered against the taste. ‘What was it I could do for you today?’
Summonings were the usual favourite. It drained him, though, so he couldn’t do too many in one day. Luckily some didn’t want to see, merely wanted to speak, and it was easy enough for him to play telephone. Others wanted to know if they were being haunted, and by who. Often they wanted him to make a daytrip to their house or workplace or murder cabin in the woods, to banish the spirits that they believed resided there. For those, he’d bring out a notebook and get them to scribble an address and a time. (He was free as a bird and could flit places whenever he fancied.) They were the trickiest of his appointments, and the ones that put him in the most danger, so he very quickly learnt to bring along a friend or two.
Learning to banish the ghosts had unlocked this world for him.
There were still days when he couldn’t face them. Some ghosts he had to simply force out from his tent. Sorry, sorry, he’d say, hands trembling, this one’s not happening today. Here’s the money back.
It led to unfavourable reviews circulating sometimes, but he didn’t care. He’d never intended for this to take off like it had, like a little business - how entrepreneurial, how very not-Klaus - and yet here he was, reeling in the consequences of his own experimentation.
All he’d wanted to do was practice. And he had at first. It had been his own secret, discreet as anything for years. He’d kept it from his siblings and almost managed to convince himself it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t like it was anything official - he never decided one day to get sober and “work on himself.” God, he’d have bored himself half to death. No, it went more like this: he practiced his powers when he felt like it and got wasted when he felt like it, and if the prophets or the stars deemed it possible, then he stayed with his siblings, and then he lived on the streets when they got sick of him or he got restless, whichever happened quickest. Chuck a few stranger’s beds in the mix and he had a pretty sweet deal, Klaus reckoned - at least on the good days. There’d been a worrisome year or so there when he’d not come up for air from the harder stuff for too long a time, burning bridges everywhere he turned, and of course his powers had gone to shit then too, forgotten except as an excuse. He was six months out of all that now, had done a bit of time in court-mandated rehab, which had been awful, a total nightmare, but he came out of it more or less sober and less inclined to sink as deep as he’d been.
He hadn’t seen his family since before then, when he was at his worst, and for all they knew he was just as bad. He hadn’t worked up the courage to face them yet.
What he had learned, however, was that he could banish ghosts. It was the rehab that did it; he’d never managed it before then, not in all his practising. On a dreary midnight, sick with withdrawal and in such a panic that he was crushing himself against the wall, Klaus reacted instinctively: his hand shot out in front of him and he shoved the ghosts, metaphysically speaking. He shoved them as hard as he possibly could. His eyes were wide open in fear, so he saw when the blue light flickered around his fingertips, and he saw the ghosts’ outlines flicker in blue too, before they all vanished and the room was plunged into silence.
One of the social workers entered then - he must’ve been shouting, he couldn’t remember - and found him shaking and cold and covered in sweat. He wasn’t at all coherent. She tried to help as he slumped to the floor, no energy to hold any of his limbs aloft. Banishing the lot of them had drained his already low resources. But as he detoxed, as he got back his strength, he found he could do it more and more often, tiring himself out less each time.
And then he was out, with his shiny new sobriety chip, in much the same position as he had been before he went in. Except he had an entirely new tool at his disposal - and because of that, some might say he wasn’t in the same position at all.
So: the tent, and the paying customers. His accidental business.
It wasn’t his fault there was little privacy on the street. He definitely didn’t get to choose when to banish ghosts, not when they popped up out of nowhere. In the harsh light of day, people were going to notice someone with fists flickering electric blue. Once phantom friends of old began appearing and disappearing without a warning - well, it was only a matter of time.
Either I’m high, they’d say to their friends, or that was an honest-to-god actual fucking ghost. They knew Klaus was kooky, but this was a whole other kettle of fish.
The ones who didn’t like the idea of messing with spirits steered well clear, but there were others who were curious. And so they went to him. First with questions, which soon became requests.
And, well… the money wasn’t bad.
While word spread about the skinny white boy who did real seances for a fee, his own capability snuck up on him. A snap of his fingers and the world spoke back. Ghosts couldn’t touch things without his permission. Ghosts couldn’t hound him as he slept. Ghosts weren’t there at all unless he wanted them to be, as long as he was well rested and well fed enough to manage it. He was scared less and less. And on the days when he couldn’t be bothered with it all, it was easy enough to slink away, to scurry down the road and out into a different part of the city, where he could melt into blissful anonymity.
The man seeing Klaus today was nervous, visibly sweating - and not only due to the heat. He mopped his forehead with the back of his hand. ‘Am...am I being... haunted ?’ he asked, that last word somewhere between disbelief and true dread.
Klaus tilted his head, then held out his hand palm up. The word was clear now: HELLO.
‘Take it,’ he said, shaking his hand a little with impatience when the man only stared.
It wasn’t really necessary - the physical touch - but Klaus liked to think it helped. Definitely for performance factor, at least.
Klaus focused, and after a skip of a heartbeat, their joined hands were bathed in that blue light so familiar to him now. The skin between them went cold, the heat drawing inwards and the sticky sweat evaporating, and the flames of the two nimble black candles flickered, then went out.
‘Agh,’ the man said in shock, involuntarily. His hand in Klaus’s was trembling. Meanwhile, whatever ghosts linked to him were dragged into the room whether they liked it or not.
‘There’s a few here,’ Klaus said. ‘Would you like to see?’
The man paled. ‘No! Could you just… just say what they look like.’
‘Sure,’ Klaus said breezily. ‘There’s a woman, about fifty. Black hair, nice face - oh, and I love those boots.’ The ghost didn’t respond to his compliment, merely swayed to and fro on the spot with a blank look. Unoffended, he continued listing, ‘We’ve got another lady who looks similar to the first, but much younger. Aaaand... an older man in a blue suit. Bullet wounds, all three.’
His customer snatched his hand back, clutching it close. ‘Make them go away,’ he insisited, voice harsh. ‘Please. Make them leave me be. I didn’t mean - I never thought -’
Klaus gathered himself, then bid the ghosts farwell. He was gentle with them in making them leave - they’d been quiet, confused things, had stood like solemn statues in his tent. They didn’t deserve to be shoved away, but rather shown the way out, with a little dignity.
‘They’re gone,’ he said. ‘Anything else, while you’re here? It’ll cost extra.’
The guest ignored that last bit. ‘How do I know for sure? Where’s your proof?’
Klaus got to his feet, his head hitting some of the trinkets that hung from the top of the tent. ‘I don’t exactly have a reason to keep them around. Trust me. They’re at peace now.’ He cocked his head, looking down at the guest who was still sitting, awkwardly cross-legged, and he smiled a slightly deranged smile. ‘If I were you, I’d be grateful there haven’t been any prying questions. Like, say - what did you do to that poor family?’
The man scrambled away faster than anyone Klaus had seen all week.
It was in the middle of that hot summer that Klaus considered for the first time that he might look for Dave.
It wasn’t brought on by anything in particular. Only temperatures were soaring, the stretch of road he seanced out of was sweltering amongst melting tar and rotting trash, and business had slumped a bit as people turned for cooler parts. He was restless with that kind of midsummer energy where the sky is too big and the sun too bright and all thoughts are either manic or melted. He felt stretchy. He needed to get his teeth into something. A project, an obsession - anything that would keep him from spending day in and day out high.
It felt almost sacreligious at first just thinking about him. After all that chaos following Ben’s injury, and Klaus’s coma - the one time where falling apart actually brought the Academy together - Klaus hadn’t really had the energy to process the lack of Dave. There’d always been a glimmer of hope in the back of his mind that one day the dreams would return, and with them Dave in all his sweet innocence.
(The dreams didn’t come back but his memories stayed, rising up in an instant with the sharpness of a knife. Like the brutality of dreaming about the face of someone you no longer know, a kind of torment that leaves you breathless upon waking.)
Klaus was twenty-four now. He had to face it: he wasn’t getting Dave back. Not that way. And yes, he’d sworn to himself when he was younger he’d never look for Dave in his own time. It was too messy; there was too much room for hurt. But now he had distance. He had perspective.
Klaus was sure he could handle it. Just think how wonderful it would be when he rang that doorbell or sent that first letter, just think of all the things he could say! This Dave would be old, wrinkled and full of stories and probably had a decent retirement package to boot. And yet he would be Klaus’s Dave, his childhood sweetheart, someone he’d once known better than anybody - or so it felt.
Klaus didn’t exactly have many close relationships. He knew a lot of people, and drifted between lovers. This restless summer in particular, though, he was constantly busy and surrounded, yet always lonely.
He ended up at a phone box with a bag full of quarters and a page he’d torn from a phone book with all the Katz, Ds in town. An expensive plan but a good one. He plopped the coins in one by one, the phone held between the side of his head and his shoulder.
It was an intimate kind of failure, the way each number one by one turned out to be either not a David or not his David.
Maybe he’d moved cities. In that case, Klaus would look further afield. Except David Katz was an awfully common name, and this was a large country. So Klaus went to the library to scour their records. It was the only thing he could think of doing, the only place he knew for certain where to look: the past.
It was cool inside, blissful relief.
Still feeling feverish, he went to the desk and asked for help searching the microfilm records. He gave them Dave’s name and the year he was born. Then he waited.
He wound his way slowly through the stacks in silence, barefoot, tracing with his hand the edge of the shelves, the spines of books, holding his breath and biding his time. After twenty minutes of idling, he steeled himself and returned to the desk.
The librarian had a little box of microfilms which he passed over, saying, ‘There’s a bunch of different people’s records under that name, so I grabbed the lot. A few births, deaths, news articles, military records, etcetera. The reader’s over there, take as long as you want.’
Klaus’s heart was racing now. He felt like he was standing on the edge of a precipice. It seemed only right to hold his breath.
He chose them at random and read the screen as if in a daze.
The first few weren’t his Dave. The ages were wrong, the details didn’t match up with the snippets about him that Klaus remembered. But the fifth file he brought up was the one. He was sure of it. He saw the name first, then immediately jumped down the page to the date of birth, the location of birth, both correct. There was a little section for physical descriptors too, taunting Klaus with their accuracy: blue eyes, brown hair, even the height seemed feasible. And there, in the secondary address: Dave’s mother’s name. A thrill ran through him. Here it was, proof that Dave had existed somewhere outside of Klaus’s mind.
He scanned the page, trying to figure out what this document was actually for, and that was when the first taste of thrill turned to horror.
Military service registration.
Klaus blinked, hard, as if that might make the words change.
‘What?’ he said aloud.
The words stayed where they were, plain as day, printed in black ink on decades old paper.
Frantically, he checked another file from that grouping. This one listed Dave’s name amongst the ranks of other soldiers, all of whom were being shipped to a place called the A Shau Valley. Another then - this one was a local newspaper article, one of those propaganda pieces, where Dave’s name happened to show up in a caption below a picture. It was tiny and greyscale but Klaus recognised the face wearing those army clothes, albeit filthy with jungle dirt and blurry from the paper’s smudged ink. It was him. His Dave. Klaus’s nose nearly touched the screen he was looking so closely.
The next was a record for a badge of honour he’d been awarded in 1968. And then there was an obituary from the very same year.
Klaus stared unblinking. He’d frozen over. The bustle of the library became white noise.
Private David J. Katz, 28, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, died in combat on the 12th December 1968. His family are deeply grieved to have lost their -
Klaus stopped reading. The breath he’d been holding shuddered out of him and he stood up, pushing his chair back with a ragged scrape that drew the disgruntled glances of other patrons, but he didn’t care, he barely noticed. Already he was staggering away, abandoning the machine and the files, his vision blurring over, trying to find the way out. The room didn’t seem like a room any more. He was disoriented, nothing was making sense. People lurched out of nowhere in front of him - someone stopped him, they were holding his arm, and now they were asking if he was alright. Was he? He nodded, pulled away, and stumbled down the stairs. All along this is what he’d feared, the possibility he had never been willing to entertain. But he’d done it now, he’d sought it out.
That boy he’d known was dead.
He was out into the scar-bright day, shielding his eyes. Compassionless heat. The ground was blistering the soles of his feet the longer he stood there, so he moved on, and still the world didn’t quite seem real: too harsh, too wide. He took the closest route to a liquor store and after that people avoided him on the street, veering to the side when he neared. He walked all over, wobbly, facing into the setting sun so it blinded him. He didn’t know where he was going until he made it to the pier by the sea. When he realised he laughed, choking on his swig. How many years had it been since that disappointing night? All that time he’d been waiting for a dead man. He finished the bottle, and threw it into the waves as far as he could, spinning with the force of the throw, laughing again, laughing to keep himself from breaking. He considered jumping in after it. He opened the next bottle instead.
Sitting out there on the waterfront, he realised one more thing: if he’d looked him up earlier, if he’d been less afraid, he might’ve had the chance to warn Dave while they still dreamed. He could’ve saved him.
But no. All he had were ghosts. That was all there ever was and all there would ever be.
It was a few days later. Perhaps over a week - Klaus wasn’t sure. This was the closest to his right mind he’d been in a while.
He wound his way along a grassy path, following the directions the undertaker had given him, taking a fortifying sip from a flask. He couldn’t cope with coming to a graveyard sober. Not at the moment.
There was a funny feeling in his chest. He’d been pushing it away all morning, hoping the crush of it would dissipate. His toes and fingers were numb. It wasn’t even cold; the sun was directly overhead in a cloudless sky, a summer-sweet breeze curling around headstones. And yet he shivered.
He found it sooner than he would have liked. Ideally, he never would have found it at all.
‘So,’ he said, standing before it. His voice didn’t sound right. ‘Here you are.’
It was a simple gravestone, with no flourishes of decoration except a Star of David at the very top. Klaus read it all, once, twice, and a third time. The words themselves were legible, but they made no more sense to him now than they had in the library.
His fingers moved of their own accord, trembling as they reached for the flask again. He took a deep drink this time, the burn still in his mouth as he spoke. ‘Jesus Christ, Dave. What the hell were you thinking?’
The grave did not speak back. No bloodspattered Dave appeared curled around the weatherstained stone. Klaus was very much alone.
He slipped his shoes off, stepping softly on the grass as he came up to sit next to the headstone, leaving the tatty sneakers back in the middle of the path. It felt like the polite thing to do. And then he sat there, perfectly still and in a heavy silence, for a long, long time.
Eventually he shifted, sighing. The sun was going down. The alcohol in his blood had burnt off too, and he wiped his face then brushed one hand along the top of the stone, like a caress.
‘I never told anyone about you,’ he said. ‘I probably should’ve boasted about you, now I think about it. Everyone would’ve been so jealous. But we didn’t get much that was ours - only ours. And you were all mine, so I kept you that way. I hope you don’t mind.’
It was one of those strange afternoons where the moon came out before nightfall, pale and slender in the lower sky. Klaus smiled a tight smile to match the slicing curve of it.
Whispering now, he said, ‘You deserved better than this.’
Deserved to be more than a grave weathered by four decades already past. It would’ve been old even by the time of their first dream. Klaus simply couldn’t understand how Dave had ended up here. It didn’t make sense - there was no sane world where that nosy, goof of a boy, with his sunshine smile and unflinching kindness, could die so violently and so young.
At least it was sunny here. At least it was peaceful. If Dave ever drifted back to this realm for a visit, he’d be able to watch the birds nest in the trees and listen to them sing good morning and good night. They were starting to come home now, darting across the sky to roost in the shadowed slopes of branches.
Watching them, Klaus thought again of that last dream, and not for the first time wondered why he’d shared his childhood with a man already dead.
The bird’s skull in the dry grass. The lightness of it in their palms. The searing brightness.
Had it held a whisper of truth? A warning, perhaps, of what was to come? Chilling as the moment he first dreamt it, Klaus saw Dave dig out the sparrow skull from the earth itself, the speckles of dry dirt crumbling around a secret neither of them could recognise yet. Brittle bone with a voice of its own: He’s not long for this world.
At the time he’d wondered if it had been a warning about Ben, or about the loss of his dreamwalking. He’d never imagined it could mean this. A cold stone half buried in the dirt, with time-weathered words written for a man that Klaus couldn’t quite recognise and never actually met.
The melancholy dropped away from Klaus and he sat up straight, blood abuzz.
That dream hadn’t ever been a warning of what was to come. No - it had been catching him up on the cold, hard facts! No considerate gestures for him, no shakily hopeful questions of how long’ve I got, doc? It had been a kick in the face reminder. Death sticks around you like a bad smell, kid, did you truly think you could escape it? Take the damn skull. Look at this beautiful boy from another time, look at him right in the eyes, and for once in your life use that hollow head of yours. He’s been gone for a long, long time, and you’d better realise it.
There was a rushing in Klaus’s ears. He was tired of waiting. He closed his eyes and clenched his fists and chose to stop ignoring the murmuring around him. He listened. There, the below-earth whispers of worms eating the dirt that once was people, and over there, voices spilling out of the cracks in tombstones, and there too, in the breeze ruffling his hair off from his forehead, carrying prayers and secrets and wishes and threats from all over. He’d braced himself without realising, as he still so often did, but the dead didn’t always scream.
Klaus leaned into the mutterings, breathed in the ebb and flow of cold-current energies, and cast his awareness out like a line with a tasty bit of bait, thinking: David Katz. David Katz. David Katz.
‘Come on,’ he whispered, waiting for the electric zap of an answer. The tug on his line.
It didn’t come, so he ramped up the effort, summoning his memories of Dave with all the intensity he could muster until it felt like his power was fizzing under his skin.
But when Klaus opened his eyes it was to a graveyard full of bewildered spectres all looking right at him, and none of them Dave.
‘Where even are you?’ he snapped, looking around and gesturing at the unfortunately awoken ghosts, as if Dave was only hiding behind one of them. ‘You can’t seriously have someplace better to be! All that time we tried and tried to find each other and now you’ve finally got a chance, now I’m here and I’ve finally figured it out - and you can’t even be bothered to show? What’s the fucking point, Dave? I miss you!’ His voice broke and he fell into a bitter silence.
Even his outburst hadn’t brought Dave forth. Hopelessness washed over him. Where else would he be able to summon him, if not here?
Feeling old beyond his years, Klaus wearily got to his feet. He stood there a moment, ignoring the other ghosts, all his attention on the place where Dave lay. Giving him one last chance. Another moment might be the one.
Klaus lifted his goodbye hand to his mouth and kissed his fingertips, and then pressed that kiss to the headstone, resting his hand lightly there, lingering.
He’d draw him out from wherever he was hiding one of these days yet. Until then, it wasn’t goodbye. It was see you soon .
He couldn’t bear it otherwise.
He still visted that quiet graveyard, even now. Sat there in sunshine - he only went on sunny days - and talked. Dave never showed, but if he was listening then he was bound to be entertained by the tales upon tales of scandal and youthful stupidity.
Klaus had always been good at talking anyone’s ear off. This was no exception. He’d stretch out with a lazy smile and talk until the world fell away. Anyone looking on might have seen a picture of ease - happiness, even - though they would almost always scan the space around the headstones and upon finding no-one, their understanding of the scene would be tempered with pity.
Klaus too came away from those sunny afternoons feeling bittersweet, an ache behind ribs. All those old dreams hung around him, torn ribbons of what might’ve been, his own failure slowly burying itself under his skin day by day.
But he swallowed back the disappointment. That teenage era of his life was hazing over, memories yellowing like pages in an old book, and although each graveside visit and every seance of his own was a promise to himself that he would not give up, with time it became more ritual than determination.
And so the days went by.
He’d been at the cemetery today, and was coming back through the city to the homeless encampment under the overpass - not to stay, just to make the rounds, to see if anyone had been enquiring after him. Might as well make the most of being sober, get some easy cash. After that he had vague plans to be on the other side of town for an acquaintance’s lavish house party, where he intended to get utterly wasted. An early birthday treat.
The sun had just set, turning the buildings and towers into dark silhouettes, the sky beyond still tinged with a firey glow. Klaus wound on and off the footpath carelessly, dodging pedestrians and ghosts alike, barely slowing as he cupped his hands around a cigarette to light it. He relished the chill in the air on his bare arms.
When he reached the underpass, waving a cheery hello to some of other longtime residents, he ambled over to his worn tent. His neighbour, an older man who had frequent seizures, was sitting sleepily in his foldable chair, patting the head of a tail-wagging dog.
‘You got visitors,’ he said, nodding to Klaus’s tent. ‘Told them to wait out here, but…’
The zip door was askew; they’d let themselves in. Vaguely offended, Klaus thanked his neighbour, took a brief moment to compose himself, then ducked in through the entrance.
‘About damn time,’ Diego said.
Klaus halted mid-step, his jaw dropping open. Ben and Diego were sitting like school children in the middle of his tent, both looking deadly bored, but already their eyes were lighting up.
‘Well, this is a surprise I was not expecting,’ Klaus said. He dropped his bag to the floor. ‘How’s it going, brothers dearest?’
‘We’ve been waiting here for four hours,’ Ben complained, though there was a grin sneaking across his face. In the next instant he was across the tent, and he and Klaus tackled each other in a hug. Klaus swayed them back and forth, then, seeing Diego waiting, reached out and dragged him into the hug too.
‘Aw, I missed you guys,’ he said happily.
Muffled, Diego said, ‘We thought you’d disappeared off the face of the planet.’
‘He means “died,”’ Ben said. ‘Glad to see that’s not true.’
Klaus snorted and let them go, then went about lighting up the tent. ‘How’d you find me?’
‘Were you hiding ?’ Diego asked.
‘I only meant I don’t exactly have an address. I’m impressed.’ He waved his hand dismissively. ‘Anyway, seeing as it’s just you two… fancy a drink?’ He had already unlocked his padlocked storage box in the corner, and was pulling out a cheap bottle of tequila.
They didn’t say anything for a moment that stretched just the slightest bit too long, and Klaus felt their eyes burning into him until Ben said, ‘Sure, I’ll have a bit.’
Ben offered it to Diego next, who shook his head, so Klaus took it back.
‘Looking after yourself?’ Diego said with a pointed look.
Klaus rolled the bottle between his palms then grinned at them both, one of his intentionally carefree ones. ‘Still alive, aren’t I?’ He sipped from the bottle and sat on the floor, sprawling out his long legs, leaning back against his bag. ‘So. To what do I owe the pleasure on this fine evening?’
Ben and Diego glanced at each other.
‘Klaus…’ Ben began slowly, frowning a little. ‘We just wanted to see you. It’s been… what, three years?’
‘Three years since you kicked me out, you mean.’ Klaus didn’t say it at all bitterly; it was matter of fact to him now. He knew that year was the worst he’d ever been. Wondered if today was the day he’d finally face the consequences.
Ben grimaced, clearly taking it as an accusation. ‘You stole all our rent money. All our savings.’
He wasn’t wrong. Klaus only remembered vaguely the amount it had been, not what it had been for. A stronger memory was the elation he’d felt when he found it tucked away in a tin under the sink. He definitely didn’t remember the following week, which was a total blackout.
He sighed. ‘I’ll pay you back.’
‘With what?’ Diego asked sharply, gesturing to the ragged tent.
‘I’ll find something -’
‘No, wait,’ Ben interrupted, glaring at Diego. ‘That’s not what this is. We haven’t come to “collect on our debts” or whatever. I mean, sure, it’d be nice, but also that was three years ago. We legitimately just want to see you. Right, Diego?’
Diego’s expression softened, and he nodded.
When Klaus had been kicked out of Ben and Vanya’s place, he’d gone to Diego’s. It was embarrassing to think back on, the way he’d flopped against the frame and begged. Diego had steeled his face into a mask, telling him he wasn’t letting him in, not until he’d sorted his shit out. You’re digging your own grave , he’d said, and Klaus had hissed and sworn at him for it.
Not exactly an amiable farwell.
Klaus wondered if his brothers would ever be able to forget how he’d been. It wasn’t like it was ancient history never to be repeated. His whole life felt balanced on a tightrope, like he was outrunning ghosts (metaphorical ones, for once) that constantly threatened to deteriorate his mental state, until staying afloat no longer seemed possible, let alone worth it.
It was no excuse. However, with that softening glance from Diego, that lowering of the guard… it made Klaus wonder whether he might be forgiven even so.
‘I should’ve visited sooner,’ Klaus said softly. He sipped from the bottle again, then sealed the cap and put it aside. ‘How have you two been, anyway? And the others?’
They told him about Allison’s baby, Claire, and how Vanya was training as a music therapist to work with non-verbal kids. How Luther had finally moved out.
‘I’m doing my own thing,’ Diego said. ‘Ben’s being smart and shit.’
Ben made a sceptical face. ‘I’m a tutor for college kids,’ he explained, turning to Klaus. ‘It’s pretty basic stuff. And I’m, uh, contributing to some studies on interdimensionality.’ He pointed blithely at his torso. ‘Diego’s thing, by the way, is being a vigilante. Just so you know. He’s out there with a mask and everything.’
Klaus laughed, rolling his eyes. ‘Oh my god, Di.’
‘It’s important, ’ Diego said.
‘Is it? Is it really?’
‘I still can’t believe that after our entire childhood,’ Ben added, grinning widely, ‘you’ve gone back for more .’
Diego huffed. ‘You’re the one willingly science-experimenting on himself.’
‘I told you, it’s a controlled study.’
‘It actually helps me!’
‘I’m sure your vigilantism takes place in a controlled environment too, Diego,’ Klaus said, enjoying this very much. ‘With safety knives.’
‘Hm,’ Diego grumbled.
‘On that note,’ Ben said, turning to Klaus with a curious expression, ‘we hear that you’ve been holding seances.’
The word hung in the air, emphasising the sudden silence and the way Klaus froze.
He swallowed, then mumbled, ‘So that’s how you found me.’
Diego dug around in his pocket and brought out a piece of folded paper. He handed it to Klaus. ‘I got this from my friend,’ he said. ‘She’s a cop. She thought it was just a prank on the newbies, but… well. When she told me about it, I got a funny feeling.’
Klaus unfolded the paper. It was a lacklustre report on “a medium who is alleged to have dealings with criminals.”
‘Well, that’s stupid,’ he said. ‘“Dealings.” Psh. It’s not like I hold their hand when they decide to stab someone.’
‘So it is you,’ Diego said.
Klaus looked at him sideways, amused. ‘How many other mediums do you know?’
‘There’s quite a few in the phonebook, to be honest,’ Ben said mildly.
‘ Real ones,’ Klaus retorted. He felt oddly like he had to defend his pride.
‘But are you a real one?’ Diego asked.
Klaus clutched at his own face with amusement and despair. ‘Diego! I know it’s been three years, but Christ. Am I a real one?!’
‘I meant, practicing. We didn’t know if it was you, because we didn’t know if you’d be able to. That’s all.’ Diego’s words were heavy with assumption.
Klaus sighed, then he lightly clapped his hands together. In an instant the tent was crowded with ghosts, shining ethereal light onto his brother’s faces. These ones were noisy ghosts, all speaking over each other to try and get Klaus’s attention. He bore it for one long breath, then another, and then he sent them all away again.
In the following long silence, Klaus relished the shock on his brothers’ faces.
‘Well,’ Ben said eventually. ‘That’s new.’
Klaus did a little bow, then he reached over for the bottle, which had rolled to the side of the tent. He held it out encouragingly to his brothers, and even Diego had some this time, muttering, ‘Holy shit,’ under his breath - all wide-eyed, the dearie.
‘So, the police are looking for me,’ Klaus said. ‘Is that what you’re saying?’
It turned out they were looking, but only half-heartedly because no one could believe that it was a serious report. Diego didn’t know much about that anyway, he hadn’t bothered to ask further. He had only been curious about whether it might be Klaus, and - having had no luck finding him before now - took it upon himself to start asking around, following the chain of rumours about a medium all the way to Klaus’s tent.
‘He brought me as back up,’ Ben said, winking, while Diego scowled at him and said, ‘No, I didn’t. Ben just missed your stupid face.’
‘Aw,’ Klaus said. ‘I feel so loved, Ben.’
It also came out finally that the main reason they’d been looking for Klaus was to invite him to their shared birthday party. They were all turning 26 in half a week, and Allison was going to be in town for it too. She was flying in with her daughter specially.
‘Let’s be real - you’ve missed too many, bro,’ Diego said.
Ben held out a piece of paper - a hand-written one with his address. ‘I’m hosting. Even if you don’t come, keep it anyway so you know where I am. But you should definitely come. In fact, if you don’t, we’ll bring the party here.’
‘Of course I’m coming!’ Klaus exclaimed. ‘I am the life of the party. It’ll be a total flop if I’m not there and that’s just embarrassing for all of us.’
Ben nodded. ‘This is true.’
‘Besides. I want to meet my niece. Ooh - are we doing presents?’
‘Presents?’ Diego scoffed. ‘Hell no. There’s six of us. That’s… that’s so many presents.’
‘Diego speaks for himself,’ Ben said. ‘Definitely get me a present.’
‘And will I get one in return?’ Klaus tilted his head sweetly and batted his eyelashes. ‘My wishlist is longer than one of Pogo’s lectures.’
‘Maybe. It’s conditional.’
‘ Conditional? ’
‘Yup. Depends on whether you actually end up bringing one for me. And also it can’t be from a dumpster. Or stolen.’
Klaus pouted, somewhat jokingly. ‘How’s that fair? What about the spirit of gift-giving, Ben?’
Ben just shrugged.
Diego chimed in now. ‘Why not use a little of your seance money? Making the big bucks I’m sure.’
‘Could do,’ Klaus said, pondering. A glint appeared in his eye. ‘Especially considering I charge family double.’ He held out his hand expectantly.
‘Us?’ Diego frowned. ‘When did we -’
‘Remember all those ghosts that showed up ten minutes ago?’
Ben laughed. ‘Oh, come on.’
‘And all that tequila you’ve sampled - that’s not complimentary. Who d’you think I am?’
‘Our dearest brother,’ Ben said sarcastically, ‘back more powerful and stingier than ever.’
Klaus held his hands up with a grin that said and what about it? Guilty as charged.
That was the cue for Ben to tackle him, of course.
The breath rushed out of his lungs, but he and Ben were laughing as they tumbled around. Diego rolled his eyes and fought a smile, then eventually he navigated flapping arms and grabbed them by the collars, holding them apart like they were cats.
Klaus rubbed his ear. Ow, he mouthed at Ben.
Ben said, ‘That’s payback for the rent.’
‘I forgot how annoying you two were together,’ Diego complained, dropping them and heading out the tent door.
‘Oh, sorry!’ Ben called out. ‘Should we call Luther round so you can have a fight too?’
Klaus snorted and held out his hand for a hi-five.
Klaus remembered to go to the birthday party. He saw his family again, and met his tiny niece, who immediately clawed her fingers into his hair and pulled so hard he worried he’d get a bald patch. He forgave her the very next instant, of course, and spent the next hour playing an indulgent game of peek-a-boo. He drank ridiculous cocktails with the rest of them, played countless party games, then he and Luther got everybody dancing, and sure by the end of the night he’d tipped the scale in favour of quite a few too many, but apart from that he’d been on his best, best behaviour. And when he tumbled out the door at two in the morning with Diego and Luther on either side, the three of them laughing, all going their separate ways home, he knew he’d be back. There was nothing quite like the disaster that was the Hargreeves family. Klaus hadn’t ever realised how much he missed it.
Klaus caught the news on his friend’s television and choked on a mouthful of wine.
‘Holy shiiiiiiit ,’ he said, once he was able to breathe again, setting the glass on the floor. He laughed, once, airily. ‘About fucking time.’
In some respects, the day went as it always had.
Dark-clothed siblings descended upon the house that raised them. Like spectres, they haunted the hallways of their own past, passing through rooms with a curiosity which surprised them. It looked different to how it did in their memories, and yet it also looked exactly the same. The six of them met in the main sitting room in the afternoon to discuss their theories and to plan what to do, and then not much later they gathered as seven in the gloomy courtyard, their long-lost sibling alongside them, ready to scatter ashes to the windless air.
In other ways, though, the shape of the day shifted.
They had seen each other a month or so earlier, for instance, when Allison brought Claire into town for a visit. So their greetings were warmer, less stilted. Luther, upon hearing the news, came straight from his job at the observatory and had been at the house since. Together, he and Diego sorted through their father’s room, an uncomfortable job, for sure, and especially irritating when they kept double-checking on the other to make sure everything was being done correctly. (The monocle was missing.)
When she arrived, Vanya didn’t doubt once that she should be there, and when Ben said hello to everyone they all said hello back.
Klaus still looted his father’s office - but can he really be blamed? It was forbidden territory, a treasure trove… and so he skimmed the room for the things that caught his eye, filling his pockets, and tossing with abandon the things he considered trash.
And Five, that mysteriously old little brother, still came tumbling into 2019 with a whole host of problems: namely, an impending apocalypse that, as far as Klaus was aware, was entirely caused by a mismatched pair of bowling shoes. Yeah, he didn’t understand what Five was on about, or how in such a short space of time this many people were already out to kill him. The kid had only been back a couple of days! What had he been doing?!
But somewhere in the come on, catch up, don’t you know I’m a know-it-all speech that Five was giving them all, something about bureaucracy and assassins, there was a phrase that snagged in Klaus’s concentration.
‘Wait, wait, wait,’ he said, leaning towards Five. ‘Did you say time machine? ’