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all i could do was dream of you, darling

Chapter Text

He didn’t remember the first time they met - not really. Not once the dream had ended. He’d been much, much too young, and it lasted only as a vague sort of impression deep down in his memory. But at the time, it was so vivid. 

Two little boys nestled together under a shelf, tucked away in a pantry. It smelt of spices - cumin, paprika, black pepper - and there were bulbs of garlic hanging down in strings in front of them. Both boys in shorts and button up shirts, both with neatly clipped hair that seemed to want to curl or stick up out of place. Both hugging themselves small. One reached out, the older one, parting the garlic curtain with an unsure glance at the other.

‘What are we hiding from?’ asked the younger boy. He had chubby cheeks, bright blue eyes. 

‘Shh,’ hissed the other, looking afraid at the noise. Then, almost as an afterthought: ‘My dad.’ 

‘Oh.’ The younger looked relieved, and let go of his uncomfortable grip on his knees, sinking back against the pantry wall, legs slipping out the entrance. ‘I thought it was gonna be something scary.’ He’d been imagining monsters: vicious dinosaurs breaking into the house, or a swarm of enormous blood-eating mosquitoes coming to drain him dry. 

The older boy let the garlic fall back into place. It swung to and fro, papery skin rustling. Somewhere, a door slammed, and they both flinched from the suddenness of it. The bang reverberated for a while, far too long, although eventually it settled and the garlic finally stopped swinging. 

‘Why’re you hiding from him?’ 

The older boy, dark-haired with a narrow face, held out his hand. Delicately, he unfurled his fingers. Sitting in his palm was a bird’s skull, small and sharp. Something little, like a sparrow. Something harmless and mundane. 

Shivers went up the younger boy’s spine at seeing a dead thing. The older was too accustomed to be afraid like that any longer. 

‘I stole it,’ the older boy whispered. ‘From his study.’ 

‘Why?’

‘I wanted to bury it.’ 

Suddenly, footsteps began to approach, a heavy tapping on the tiles, long strides, moving fast. The older, slighter boy hid away the skull again and scrunched himself up as small as possible, pulling in his knees, curling his toes in his hard leather shoes and taking a gulp of air to hold, to hold and hold as long as he could. He didn’t dare make a noise. 

The other boy then realised his mistake - maybe this father really was something to fear, maybe hiding was still necessary - and he hurried to copy his fellow kitchen stowaway, and he too held his breath, stealing glances at the floor beyond, somewhere in the back of his mind wondering why exactly he was here at all - 

Footsteps, nearer and nearer. 

The younger boy was struck by an idea. He tapped the other on the arm, maybe a bit hard in his hurry because the older boy jolted and tried to move away from him. ‘Look, give it here,’ he whispered, eyeing the fist with the skull in it as the footsteps came closer and closer. ‘Come on, pass it over!’ 

‘You’ll get in trouble,’ the other breathed, wide-eyed. 

The younger boy shook his head confidently. ‘He’s only looking for you.’ How he knew this, he didn’t know, but he was certain that he didn’t belong here, in this warped game of hide and seek, and he wouldn’t be chased. 

A frantic moment passed as they stared at each other, as the older boy tried to make up his mind. Then he thrust his hand forward, dropping the skull into the awaiting palm, and immediately the younger boy scrambled out on elbows and knees, hand clutched closed to his chest, careful and protective like he was cradling a flimsy-shelled egg.

‘Bury it,’ called the boy who was left behind. ‘Please!’ 

He peered out through the tangled strings, watching as the little kid got to his feet and ran, startling the approaching man who had a face obscured by shadows and thunderclouds, dodging him by jumping over a chair like a dog running heels over hands, so surprisingly fast and nimble, and then he was gone, out into the fuzzy beyond, and the thin boy trembled and looked up into the impossible face of the one he feared the most. 

 

***

That’s how it began. Two little boys, nestled together. Two boys, two worlds, entirely different yet so alike, the two of them drawn back together again and again when they should never have met at all. 

Odds be damned, said the universe. These two fit best. So help me I will bring them close however I can.

Chapter Text

Klaus was eleven years old and he was in someone else’s dream. 

It came in flashes at first. Hot oil sizzling. A small, cramped apartment, the room sweltering and stuffy, curtains pulled, the single window shut. A woman standing at the stove, and a small child lying starfished on the bed, wailing her little lungs out, cheeks red, eyes scrunched closed. Her shirt was rucked up from her wriggling, and a boy, perhaps around Klaus’s age, perhaps younger, was trying to put socks on her little kicking feet. The tantrum just got louder and louder.

‘Come on,’ the boy muttered. He was rumpled, like he’d gotten dressed in a hurry. His sweater was on inside-out, his hair messy and flat on one side. ‘I have to go, Susie, I’m going to be late. I can’t be late today, not when it’s speeches at school. And I have to catch the train, but I don’t remember where it is, so I really, really need you to put your socks on now.’

‘No! No no no no no!’ 

‘Susie!’ the woman at the stove chastised. 

Please ,’ the boy added desperately. ‘Mom, I need to go, can you -’ 

‘Not now,’ she replied. Oil popped and crackled, and smoke billowed forth, obscuring her from view. 

Klaus was pressed into the corner, watching. The boy coughed and wiped sweat off his brow, bending down, hastening in his attempts to get the socks on his, presumably, little sister. The room was very airless. There was hardly any space to walk, with a second makeshift bed on the floor, and an ironing board segmenting the “bedroom” from the “kitchen.” 

Susie continued to scream, and the boy groaned in exasperation. 

‘Umm…’ Klaus said. ‘Do you need some help?’ 

The boy looked up in surprise. He deliberated, then nodded. ‘Yeah. That’d be great.’ 

Klaus squeezed and tiptoed his way across the room, trying not to stand on the pillows on the floor or knock anything over. 

‘Sorry,’ the boy said. ‘Should’ve rolled up the bedding by now. I’m pretty sure I already did it too.’ He sighed. ‘Nothing’s going right.’ 

‘It’s fine.’ 

The boy didn’t seem to hear. He was still fighting his sister, halfheartedly. ‘I’m gonna be so late. I can’t even remember my topic. Oh, jeez. Oh no. I’m actually going to die. Legitimately.’ 

Klaus reached the bed. ‘I’m pretty sure you won’t,’ he said, reaching down to hold the kicking legs still. The boy slipped the socks on at last, and seemed somewhat surprised to have done so. Susie stopped wailing. ‘There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?’ he said to her, just like Grace said to him sometimes. 

The boy checked his watch. ‘Ah!’ he yelped. ‘It started hours ago. Oh man. I can’t be late again…’ He tumbled off the bed, scrabbling for his bag which was overflowing with pens and scrunched up paper. 

Klaus sat down next to Susie, patting her on the head as she sniffled. She was very still now. He was starting to realise that he was in a dream - the usual irrationality, the strange unquestioning reactions of the people he met there. It was the boy’s dream, for sure. Some sort of anxiety-ridden one. He wondered if this was what his home really looked like, or if it was a weird manifestation of memory or imagination. Klaus hadn’t ever actually been to another kid’s home. This one was about the size of Allison’s bedroom - she had the biggest out of all of them. But it was darker, more cluttered. It seemed like at least five people lived in here. Maybe more. 

The pens kept falling out of the boy’s bag. He grabbed handfuls, stuffed them into his pockets as he made his way to the only door. He didn’t spare Klaus another glance, moving on fast, stuck in his own narrow vision as people in dreams so often are. 

Klaus found him kind of fascinating. He didn’t often dream about kids his age. He didn’t even know any kids his age, apart from his siblings. Maybe that was why he called out, ‘Your sweater’s on inside-out.’ Like it mattered. 

The boy stopped with his hand on the doorknob and turned back. He smiled thinly. ‘Thanks. I’ll try and remember to switch it.’ For a moment he seemed to forget his hurry, seemed to see Klaus fully at last, but before he could properly figure out that it was weird for Klaus to be there, he was caught back up in the dream-rush. Klaus was good at recognising the confusion by now. The boy’s brow furrowed. More pens fell from his bag. ‘I have to go,’ he said hesitantly. ‘It’s important.’ 

Klaus nodded. ‘Sure thing. I get it.’ 

The boy nodded too. 

‘Good luck,’ Klaus said, because it looked like he needed it. ‘For now, or for daytime. Whatever it is that’s worrying you.’ 

The boy smiled wider at him, sweet in all his disarray. Then he vanished out the door, and Klaus fell out of the fading dream. 

 

***

He’d been climbing the ladder for weeks, or so it felt. His hands were sweaty and calloused and his hair was in his eyes. It didn’t matter that every muscle in his body was screaming for rest, still he had to climb - what else could he do when there were hands brushing his ankles, and a piercingly sharp whistle blowing somewhere in the distance? As the sun baked him alive, as the ladder careened to and fro in the great blue sky, the next narrow rung was all that stood between him and certain death. 

At some point - he didn’t know when - the ladder widened to allow more than one at a time to scurry upwards. Like insects climbing a wall, people rushed up past him on all sides, dozens and dozens of them. He paused, catching his breath, no longer pushed with the tide. 

Beside him, a younger boy stopped to rest as well. Klaus glanced at him, sparking a memory that he couldn’t immediately place. Where had he met him before? 

The kid caught his eye and grinned, wiping his forehead on the back of one hand, hanging onto the ladder with the other. ‘Finally!’ he exclaimed cheerfully. ‘I thought you were never gonna stop!’ 

Klaus peered at him closely, slightly suspicious. The Academy was going to be revealed to the public soon, and his father had recently ramped up his warnings about how people would want to use them for their powers, and how they had to be especially cautious in who they trusted. The world was a big terrifying unknown, anyone a suspect, anyone a threat. Even this happy, strangely familiar kid. ‘Why were you chasing me?’ 

‘I wasn’t,’ he replied. ‘I just didn’t want to fall.’ He pointed downwards, and Klaus looked for the first time - he’d been solely set on getting to the top as fast as he could, he’d never though to look below. The ladder that should’ve stretched for miles vanished into thin air a few feet below them. ‘The faster you were going, the faster the ladder destroyed itself. And you sure went fast! You trying to win a medal or something?’ 

‘Only the weak use rewards as motivation,’ he said automatically, a little proud.

The boy blinked. ‘Uh. Okay. That’s… okay. Look, do you know where this thing ends? Or does it just go on forever? Because I kind of want to stop climbing soon.’ 

Klaus doubted that it had an end. He knew that’s what his dad would say - that evil never rested, that slacking off led to inertia, and to error, and to awful consequences that didn’t even bear thinking about. But the boy’s reaction left him slightly off kilter - he was supposed to be awed, right? Amazed at Klaus’s diligence, jealous that he was so disciplined. Instead he just seemed perplexed, and that left Klaus feeling no prouder than a deflated balloon. The words felt flat coming out of his mouth anyway - he normally listened to Dad or Luther spout that stuff. They’d probably pity this kid for his civilian outlook. Klaus simply felt embarrassed. 

So he lied. Lying, he would learn as he grew up, was an excellent tool to help smooth the path when navigating regular society. 

‘It ends just up there,’ he said, pointing into the fluffy white clouds. 

The kid grinned again and said brightly, ‘Cool! See ya!’ before taking off again. Klaus watched him go - the tag of his shirt was sticking up against his neck - and he suddenly remembered where he’d seen him before, in another dream, a crowded apartment, a rush. Almost a year ago now. 

Strange. 

The boy began to vanish into the clouds - but there, peeking out from the fluffy white mass beside him, was a dark metallic edge. A platform, perhaps, or a hovercraft, or a spaceship door. Klaus couldn’t tell. Either way it was some sort of escape - and that was even stranger. 

With a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, he gripped the ladder more determinedly and began to climb again, the end in sight. 

 

***

A clattering, rolling racket. Murmuring of voices, an unsteady floor. Windows. Squares of light flashing past, then darkness. A pole for him to grab, to steady himself. Sticky. 

Klaus had never been on a train before. If this was what it was like, it wasn’t very pleasant. In fact, he started to feel very claustrophobic, panic rising in his throat, a suffocating weight. 

The carriage was packed like a tin of sardines. It lurched to and fro, and Klaus lurched with it. He swung around, whacked into someone’s back - they glared. 

‘Watch it, kid.’ 

He pulled a horrible face back, eyes bulging. 

‘Hey,’ came a voice. ‘Over here.’ 

Klaus turned, tried to peer over the heads. He was pretty tall now, having shot up like a stalk in the past year, but still not tall enough to get a look over the grown ups’ shoulders.  

He pushed through instead, and found a boy on a seat by the exit. The boy waved, beckoning him over. It was surprisingly clearer over here. Klaus took a few deep breaths and sat down next to him.

On a second glance, he realised it was the same soft-curled boy from before. He looked neater now, no longer harried nor climbing an endless ladder, and was sitting quite calmly with a box on his knee. He was wearing shorts, grazed knees on show, and worn leather sandals. An off-white collared shirt, too. Kind of old-fashioned, as far as Klaus could tell. There was an angry-looking scab on his chin. 

‘Get in a fight or something?’ Klaus asked. 

The boy shrugged. ‘Something like that.’ 

‘Oh yeah? Or are you just saying that to sound cool?’ 

He faltered. ‘Well…’

‘Ha! I’m onto you.’ Klaus leaned closer, peering at the healing cut. ‘What actually happened?’ 

The boy leaned away from him a little, rubbing his chin. ‘I fell down the stairs.’ 

‘Seriously?’ Klaus said chirpily. ‘Dude, I did that a while ago too! Twins!’ 

‘Yeah?’ 

‘Yeah! I got worse than a scratch too. I broke my jaw. Couldn’t speak for weeks.’ 

The boy blinked at him, wide-eyed. ‘Ouch.’

‘See, that’s exactly what I wanted to say at the time. You get it.’ 

That won him a brief but bright smile, then the boy looked out the window into the dark, with its flashes of lights. 

‘Where are we going anyway?’ Klaus asked. 

‘The market,’ the boy said. 

‘Why?’ 

‘To get food.’ He said it like it was obvious. 

‘Don’t you get it delivered?’ 

The boy snorted. ‘Wouldn’t that be nice. No. I have to lug it all the way home.’ As he spoke, the train started to slow, and he stood up suddenly. ‘This is our stop. Come on.’ 

Klaus hadn’t even made it to his feet by the time the train stopped moving, breaks whining. There was suddenly a flood of people, coming from all sides, all fleeing towards the door beside them, pushing them outwards. His new friend nearly got trampled in the rush. Would’ve if Klaus hadn’t grabbed his wrist and tugged him back to the seats. It made a good distraction from his own fear of the crushing crowds and small spaces, looking out for this other kid. 

Before he knew it, impossibly fast, the doors closed and the train shot off again.  

The boy looked distraught. ‘That’s the fourth stop I’ve missed. It just goes like that .’ He snapped his fingers. ‘It doesn't normally go this fast, does it?’ 

‘No clue.' Racking his brain, Klaus said, 'Wanna try standing right in front of the door?’ 

They ended up doing just that, arm to arm, and when the train sped into the next station and the doors fleetingly opened, they jumped off the train, one leaping boy then another over the wide gap to the platform. Groundshock jolted up Klaus’s legs, but he ignored it like he’d been trained and dragged his friend out of the way of the onslaught of harried adults. The boy stumbled against him, and Klaus propped him up. 

‘Thanks,’ he said. 

‘No problem. Can’t have you crushed by a stampede.’

They stood there, near the tracks, as the crowd cleared. They were in some sort of underground station. The lights kept flickering. Eventually, the boy led him down a winding passageway, towards a very distant staircase.

‘What’s your name?’ Klaus asked as they went, having only just realised he didn’t know yet. 

‘David,’ said the boy. ‘You?’

‘I’m Klaus.’

‘Oh. You’re German?’ 

Klaus shrugged. ‘Maybe. Who knows. I was adopted.’ 

‘Must be hard having a German name. I know some people who changed them specially.’ 

‘I quite like it actually.’ 

‘You could go by a nickname!’ the kid said anyway. ‘I’m trying to get my friends to call me Dave. I think I like it better. Don’t you? Makes me sound fun. Kind of manly. Grown up.’ 

David adjusted the box he was carrying, tucking it under one arm. He had a happy, honest face, now that he wasn’t worried. The scab on his chin was endearing, made him look a bit rough around the edges, and his clothes too were very similar to the proper little uniforms Reginald made them wear, except David’s were well-worn, a bit dusty, and not the best fit on him. He was quite a lot shorter than Klaus, and rounder. Small in general. Yet he seemed so responsible, even in his dreams. Getting his kid sister ready. Doing the family shopping. Klaus wondered how old he was. 

‘Grown up?’ he teased. ‘What are you? Ten?’ 

‘I’m nearly twelve!’ David retorted. 

‘Oh, sorry. My mistake. Nearly  twelve.’ 

‘I s’pose you’re a teenager.’ He said it a bit nervously, like he was timid at the idea of being around someone older.

‘Mhmm. And does thirteen and two months count as nearly fourteen?’ 

‘No,’ David said, going a little bit pink. Then, quieter, ‘It’s my birthday next week, is all I meant.’ 

Klaus grinned at him, and had to fight the urge to ruffle his hair like he was an actual little kid. ‘Okay, I’ll give you that. And happy birthday in advance. I hope you get the yummiest cake in the world.’ 

David sighed. ‘I just want a dog.’ 

‘Will you get one?’ 

‘Nah. We don’t have the space. But it would be so cool. I could run about with him, and play fetch, and… I dunno. I’d be the kid with the dog. No one would… you know.’ He trailed off, even though Klaus did not in fact know, but before he could ask for details they reached the staircase, and with barely a backwards glance Dave was charging up. Lost to the dream impulse to keep moving, onwards and upwards. Klaus was forgotten, perhaps lingering in his mind only as an afterthought. 

Klaus turned back the way they’d came and let his thoughts drift until he drifted somewhere else altogether.

Chapter Text

Yellow, red, orange. Rows and rows. Slender green stalks, and laughter, shrieks of it, all under a beaming hot sun. 

Klaus was lying in the grass, looking up at the blue through tulips. He got to his feet. 

There, running with other boys, was David. His face was flushed, his hair sweaty. Glancing over his shoulder, he caught sight of Klaus and let the other boys take off without him. He waved,  before kicking up into a run and making his way over. 

This was totally unprecedented. Klaus had never, ever shared this many dreams with someone he didn’t actually know. 

David came to a skidding stop right in front of him. He had a straw hat on his head, and a long piece of grass in his mouth. Laughter in his eyes. Again, the honest sweetness of it almost bowled him over. Klaus thought that he’d quite like a friend like him. He was so different. 

‘You again!’ David crowed, blowing the grass out. 

‘Me again. I like your hat.’

David grinned and took it off, stretching up to put it on Klaus’s own head. It was a bit of a reach. Then he stood back to appreciate his work, and frowned. Somehow, even his frowns looked good-natured. 

‘You’re wearing a skirt,’ he said. 

Klaus looked down. ‘So I am. D’you like it?’ 

Klaus liked it, even though it was still the academy uniform. He’d been dressing up with Allison and Vanya the other week. They’d even put mascara on him. Or Allison did while Vanya watched. He liked being their doll. 

David shrugged. ‘I guess.’ 

‘You guess?’ 

‘Yeah. It’s a… very nice skirt.’

Klaus twirled the pleats with one hand, then slung his other around the boy’s shoulders. He could fill in the blanks easily enough. ‘On a girl, you mean.’ 

‘I’ve just never seen a boy wearing a skirt before,’ David said. ‘That’s all. It looks nice… I think.’ 

Klaus grinned down at him graciously. ‘Thank you. I know it does.’

A silence fell between them as they began to walk after the other children. Footsteps on rustling grass all they could hear amongst the distant shrieks of laughter.

David was watching the ground steadfastly. After a while he mumbled, ‘Sorry if I was rude. I didn’t mean to be.’ 

‘It's okay,’ Klaus said, thinking of all the names he and his siblings called each other. Living with six other kids had given him a thick skin. ‘I'm used to it.’

But if anything, that seemed to make David unhappier. ‘I keep saying horrible things when I don't mean them,’ he said. ‘That's not normal.’

‘I say nasty things all the time,’ Klaus offered cheerily.

‘But do you mean them?’

‘Mostly, yeah. I'm not very nice.’

‘Oh.’

Klaus studied the other boy. ‘You know what, David? I don’t think you have a mean bone in your body.’ 

The younger boy grimaced. ‘You don’t know that. I called my great-aunt an old hag right to her face the other day.’ 

The confession made Klaus laugh in delight. ‘Are you kidding? That's great.’ Dave's expression lit up minutely at his new friend's approval. ‘She must've really deserved it.’ 

‘She did!’ he said, emboldened, outrage making his eyes bright and wide. ‘She insulted my dad! She doesn’t know anything.

‘Why’d she insult him?’ 

‘Because she’s an old hag.’ 

Klaus laughed again. ‘A what? Go on. Say it again.’

‘An old hag,’ he repeated, louder. ‘A rotten, good-for-nothing, wrinkly old hag!’

Klaus pretended to cheer. ‘Yes, David!’

‘I'll get in so much trouble for saying that again,’ David said, though he was grinning now, eyes bright.

‘Who cares? It's your dream. You can say whatever you like, and no one can tell you not to.’

David stopped walking, falling behind Klaus. The other boys were far, far away in the distance now, silhouettes against the sky, racing through the field. Their own leisurely pace was no match. 

‘Is this a dream?’ David asked. His brow furrowed and his expression went distant. ‘Woah. It is a dream. I remember going to bed…’ He looked at Klaus intently. ‘Why on earth am I dreaming about you again?’

‘Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean anything,’ he explained hurriedly. ‘I just show up in people’s dreams sometimes. Normally people I know, but… well, we don’t really need to think about why, do we?’ 

He got a very blank stare from David. ‘What?’ 

‘I’m not actually a product of your imagination.’ Klaus put on his best fake-excited voice, and said, ‘I’m a real boy! Fancy that!’ 

‘You can’t be,’ David scoffed.  

‘Oh, but I am. A real boy delivered directly into your dream.’ 

‘That’s impossible.’ 

‘It’s really not,’ Klaus said. He cringed a little. ‘Sorry for barging in. It’s just… a thing I can do. Like a magic power. I can’t really help it.’

David made a face. ‘I don’t mean to doubt your word or anything… but that seems like the sort of thing that someone would say in a dream anyway. So… I dunno.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ Klaus said, slumping. ‘It’s pretty weird. Though it is true. Believe me, I wish it wasn’t.’ 

David placed a hand on Klaus's arm. It was surprisingly reassuring. ‘I guess it doesn’t matter really. Either way, you don’t need to apologise. I like the dreams you’re in.’

‘Yeah?’ 

‘Yeah. They turn out okay once you show up.’ 

Klaus brightened again and grinned at him widely. ‘Cute.’ He slung his arm back over David’s shoulder. ‘So, where were you lot running to?’ 

David pointed out to the far flung horizon. ‘There’s a beach somewhere. We were going to go see. Swim, probably. Play baseball. It’s all a bit hazy, now they’re gone.’

‘Fancy ambling over nice and slowly? You can tell me all about yourself. Like… how was your birthday? Feel old yet? Get a dog?’ 

‘Nah, no dog. I got some comics, though.’ 

‘What sort?’ 

‘Batman.’ 

‘Classic,’ Klaus said cheerily. He was mostly happy they weren’t Umbrella comics. 

David’s attention was diverted anyway: he grabbed onto Klaus’s wrist, exclaiming, ‘No way that’s a real tattoo!’ 

‘Real as you and me.’ 

‘Serious? Your parents must’ve lost it when they saw it!’ 

Klaus licked his lips nervously, looking to the side so David wouldn’t see. ‘Not really. They’re chill with it.’ 

The other boy just laughed in awe. ‘Woah. I wish my parents were so cool! Are they beatniks or something?’ 

Klaus wasn’t too sure what that was. Reginald didn’t teach them stuff he thought was irrelevant, and he had a pretty firm idea that this was one of them. ‘Yeah,’ he lied, proudly. ‘They’re really out-there. My mom’s a rock star, and my dad’s an artist, and they let me do whatever I want.’ 

‘Like wear skirts?’ 

Klaus grinned down at him, and winked. ‘You know it. They practically encourage it. What about your parents?’ 

‘Nothing like that,’ David said hurriedly. ‘My dad works in a factory. Though he’s training to be a teacher as well, which my great-aunt keeps forgetting. And my mom makes curtains and stuff when she’s not looking after my little sisters. They’re kinda… the opposite of cool.’ 

‘Yeah? What sorts of crap do they try and pull?’

David faltered. ‘Oh… you won’t be interested in that…’

‘I am! Go on, tell me! I’m your sympathetic ear for the night.’ He wanted to know so badly what it was like for other kids. 

‘Well…’ He seemed to be thinking hard. ‘They’re a bit square. Y’know. I don’t think they’ve even heard of rock n roll.’ He looked up at Klaus sheepishly. ‘That must sound crazy to someone like you.’ 

That was pretty outlandish. Even Pogo knew about rock music. 

‘And… I dunno…’ David continued, ‘they’re just really weird sometimes. I know they’re not really American* but sometimes I wish they blended in a bit more... And I wish they let me stay out later but they say I have to wait until when I’m thirteen, which is so unfair, and almost definitely what they said last year except then it was waiting until I was twelve. But maybe this year they’ll mean it, because it’ll be my bar mitzvah and also because honestly it’ll be embarassing for all of us if they change their minds again.’ 

Klaus stared at him, slightly awed. He didn’t know what he was expecting… but David’s parents sounded so resolutely, wonderfully normal, and it made Klaus almost sick with jealousy. But he could never admit that now. 

‘You don’t have to stare at me like that…’ David muttered, looking down at his feet, scuffing the toes of his shoes in the dirt - still leather sandals. ‘I know you probably think they’re horrible. But it’s kind of hard to think of examples because, well… they’re actually not that bad.’ He groaned, hiding his face in his hands. ‘And now you probably think I’m the most deeply uncool person you’ve ever met. Great.’ 

‘I don’t think they sound horrible,’ Klaus said quietly, the usual teasing tone gone from his voice. 

David gave him a funny look. ‘Don’t pretend.’ 

‘I’m not! And for the record, I think you’re pretty cool.’ 

‘Sure,’ David said, sounding like he didn’t believe Klaus one bit. 

They were knee-deep in long grass by now. It rustled around them in a swooping breeze, and Klaus clamped a hand on top of the straw hat to keep it on his head. He could hear insects chirping in the hidden green, trilling roundabout songs. Behind them were two paths where their feet had pressed down the blades of grass, stretching on and on.

Klaus was looking behind them because he was a bit put out by the other boy’s disbelief, and he didn’t want his hurt feelings to show. He should be used to it but now, the disregard, but it still stung whenever people doubted him or thought him careless. Especially when he really truly did care. 

‘Sorry,’ David said all of a sudden. He was quiet, a bit sheepish. ‘I’m being an ass.’

An apology was the last thing he expected. Klaus looked at him in surprise. The sunhat wobbled with the jolting movement, nearly falling off. David lifted his hand, shielding his eyes from the light, squinting past it at Klaus, and Klaus felt a very strange curdle of denial and unease and happy surprise try to burst out of him all at once. 

‘It’s okay,’ he managed to say without betraying any of that feeling. ‘And I meant what I said.’ 

David smiled at him. ‘Okay. I believe you.’ Then he stepped forward and swiped the straw hat off Klaus’s head, stealing it back for himself.

‘Hey!’ Klaus protested. ‘That perfected my outfit!’ 

David poked his tongue out. ‘So? Told you I can be rude.’ 

They continued across the field, bickering and telling terrible jokes, both boys relaxing and trying less to impress the other, until evenutally the path ran out, or the dream sun set, or they reached the beach - the details were all a bit misty in the morning when Klaus woke up in his bed, but of one thing he was certain: he quite liked dreaming of the boy with the round, sunny face. 

 

***

Next time, though. Next time he wished David wasn’t there. Lies unravel pretty easily in dreams. 

There was gravel digging into his knees and he was tugging at his hair, eyes closed, backed right back up into the corner. 

Carved names, cobwebs and frost, piecemeal throats howling raw and piercing and close. Too close. Right up in his face, in his bloodstream turned to ice, in his head telling him lies like join us it’ll all be better, like good for nothing waste of space, look at him cowering, little beast, like we’ve been waiting for you, like help us help us help us, we need you. 

We’ll kill you. 

Now you’re ours, little live one. 

We’ll never let you be. 

He moaned and writhed and wished he could become solid stone. 

‘Klaus?’

He put his hands over his ears. Always his name. Always his name. Once they start they barely ever stop chanting it. Voices layering voices until it becomes a drowning prayer, and he’s the cursed god destined to listen to their cries and pleas forever. 

A hand touched his shoulder and he screamed and struck out, meeting with solid flesh. Hands fought back, and he scrunched his eyes closed, because seeing makes it real, because it was all in his head and safer that way, but the other hands were firm and holding his own still, and now that he wasn’t covering his ears he could hear the person saying, ‘It’s okay, it’s just me, just look at me, just open your eyes. Breathe, Klaus.’ 

Klaus took a shuddering breath and followed the instructions. The quiet grew; he’d stopped crying out. As he blinked tears from his eyes the blurry figure in front of him came into clarity, as much as it could in the dark. It was David. David with a worried look, a scarf wrapped around his neck more times than Klaus could count, and a fresh scratch across his cheek, drops of blood beginning to bead on the deeper half. He had Klaus’s hands in his, so Klaus couldn’t wipe the tears that ran down his own cheeks. 

The ghosts had retreated. Somewhere. Lurking, waiting for the blind-to-them boy to leave their prey alone with them once more. Or biding their time before they come to gnaw on both their bones. 

What if they latched onto David too? What if he awoke with Klaus’s curse? Because by now Klaus realised he was in a dream, because in real life there was never anyone here except for himself and Reginald’s shadow in the doorway and the disentegrating remnants of people who once lived but have now been drained of all the goodness that once made them human. Hungry, slavering things. David didn’t belong here, yet here he was. 

‘Are you alright?’ David asked. Voice quavering. 

Klaus nodded shakily, before his chin met his chest in shame. 

‘You mind if I sit?’

Klaus shuffled over to give him space. The other boy finally let go of his hands, and Klaus gathered them up by his heart, picking at the skin by his fingernails. 

‘It’s your dream this time, isn’t it?’ David said carefully, making conversation like Klaus hadn’t just attacked him in a fit of madness. ‘Or… nightmare, I suppose.’ The wall behind him crumbled slightly. 

‘Yeah,’ Klaus said, barely discernible. He glanced up; David was looking around, neck craning. 

‘It’s a graveyard or something.’ 

Klaus wiped his eyes, cleared his throat. ‘Mm… Warm, but not hot.’ 

‘A tomb?’ 

‘Warmer. It’s a mausoleum.’ 

‘Spooky. Why’re you dreaming of that?’ 

Klaus shrugged. 

‘Rotten luck. Getting a nightmare, I mean. Especially for someone with your magic dream powers.’

‘Sorry,’ Klaus mumbled. 

David looked at him, big eyes shining in the dark. ‘For what?’ 

‘For dragging you in.’ 

‘It’s okay-’

‘And scratching you. I thought you were…’ 

David waited, then teasingly nudged him with his elbow when Klaus didn’t answer. ‘Didya think I was a ghost?’ 

Klaus said nothing. Resolutely stared ahead. The crack beneath the door was still deep aching black. There was no escape anytime soon. No Reginald come to gloat. 

‘I don’t mind the scratch,’ David said quietly. ‘Like you say - it’s just a dream. Besides, it’s a battle scar. I can say I got it fighting an ogre in a bog or something.’ 

Klaus eyed him sideways. ‘Thanks…’ 

David laughed. ‘You know that’s not what I meant.’ 

‘Yeah, I know.’ 

‘I probably shouldn’t boast about it anyway,’ David continued, voice still quiet but somehow warm in this achingly cold prison. ‘I bet it looks more like a cat scratch than some epic wound. Though, that being said, cats’ll scratch you to pieces if they feel like it. Don’t ever underestimate them. I should know.’

Klaus glanced at him again, interested despite himself. ‘Yeah?’ 

‘Yup. Me and my friends got chased by a… What d’you call a huge group of cats? A herd? Well, it was basically a herd of cats, yowling and chasing us full speed out of an alley. It was chaos, let me tell ya.’ 

‘Sounds like fun,’ Klaus said with a brief little smile. 

David smiled back at him. ‘It was. You could hang out with us sometime, if you want. D’you live in the city? We run around after school most days.’ 

‘I can only get out at night time,’ Klaus said. 

‘Oh. What about at weekends?’ 

He shook his head. ‘Same.’ 

‘Huh. Why?’ 

‘My dad’s pretty strict.’ 

David frowned and Klaus realised his mistake with a frantic skip of his heartbeat. 

‘I thought your parents were real cool with stuff?’ 

‘Wait! I meant - that’s not…’ He floundered, then deflated. ‘Ugh - shit. They’re not. He’s not.’

‘What?’ 

‘I lied to you. About him.’ 

‘They’re not beatniks?’ 

Klaus had looked up what exactly that word meant since that other dream. He snorted softly. ‘He’s like… the total opposite, my dad. He wears pressed suits and has a monocle and a butler. You’ve probably even seen him on TV.’

David’s mouth fell open. ‘But… but what about your mom? Please tell me she’s still a rockstar! I thought that was so cool!’ 

Klaus looked at his hands. ‘I don’t really have a mom. Well, I do. I dunno. It’s complicated. Either way, she’s not a rockstar.’

‘Oh. Okay.’ 

Klaus was a little afraid to meet his eye. He was such an idiot and had been planning on keeping this a secret for as long as possible yet here he was blurting out the truth behind his lies as soon as he was distracted. Such an idiot. The next thing out of David’s mouth was going to be an accusation of Klaus being an untrustworthy friend, a fraud, and he was going to get up and go and Klaus would never ever see him again. 

‘So your dad’s strict, huh? Guess that means you must’ve got a hiding for that tattoo then.’ 

Might as well stick on this streak of truths, Klaus figured. ‘Not really. He gave it to me.’ 

David blinked. ‘He what?’ 

‘Put me here too.’ Now he’d started, they were all spilling out. Why, from where, he didn’t know. He gathered his knees close, and his hair fell into his eyes. Cobwebs in it. Charming.

‘Here? In the tomb?’ 

‘Yup. Locked me in. Quite a few times. It’s supposed to be good for me.’ 

David stared at him, pale in the feeble moonlight that got through the cracks. The blood was drying on his cheek. He hadn’t touched it. Klaus couldn’t read his expression, and he felt silly suddenly, telling him these things. Like this other boy would care. 

David’s voice was barely a whisper when he spoke next. ‘This is a memory? You were actually trapped in here?’ 

Klaus nodded stiltingly. Then he shook himself out of the self pity. ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s always my fault anyway, coming here, because I’m lagging behind the others, or I’m being disobedient.’ 

‘But -’ 

‘But what?’ Klaus shot him a fierce look. ‘It’s not like I don’t deserve it.’ 

David looked a little frantic now. ‘Does anyone else know?’

‘No.’ 

‘You should tell someone. You have siblings, right? Or someone grown up… like a teacher?’  

Klaus turned away, lifting his shoulders. ‘I shouldn’t have told you.’ He could see the cracks of dawn under the doorway. Birds, maybe, outside. His father wouldn’t be long. If he found David in here with him, there’d be hell to pay. 

‘Klaus, I mean it. It’s not… it’s not normal, being locked up.’ 

It was the shake in David’s voice that made Klaus look back. He knew how he must look - a red eyed disaster, all in disarray. Academy uniform. Pale and peaky. And David, sunshine face dimmed, scratch on his cheek torn by Klaus’s own nails. Not really the young chubby kid anymore, though there were still traces. 

Despite how sweet and innocent he looked, he knew things about life and living that Klaus didn’t know. Seemed more like a grown up than him even though Klaus was older. At the same time the boy looked up to him, sometimes unbearably so, clearly thinking Klaus was the epitome of cool. After so many years of being looked down upon as the weakest link by his whole family, feeling worthless in comparison, having this kid who idolised his loud mouth and dark jokes and crazy ideas was both startling and flattering. 

But now that he knew the full embarrassing extent of Klaus’s hidden secrets it would all change. He’d never get his chance to be a normal kid, with normal friends and normal problems. He should’ve known it was impossible. Almost couldn’t bear it, the idea of David knowing.

‘It’s fine,’ Klaus mumbled. ‘I don’t care what you think. Just go away. Leave me alone.’ 

David looked sad and Klaus hated his pity. He hated David’s concern, and his long trailing scarf while Klaus shivered, and the drying blood on his cheek so dark and accusatory, and he hated his big blue eyes and his sympathy and the fact that now that Klaus had asked him to leave he was going to go and he’d never come back because why would anyone want to be around someone so horrible and wounding and lying and lost. 

Klaus wasn’t usually one to get angry. Or rather, his anger didn’t show in the obvious ways. No exhausting, loud, rage-laden fury. That didn’t mean it wasn’t there, because now, right now, he was thirteen years old and full of it. Full of torn and twisted feelings, all his big ideas smothered, and damaged notions of himself and other people. Full of voices that reminded him of all the ways he was a disappointment. Full of cracks he didn’t know how to fill. 

He’d been eight years old the first time he was locked in this tomb and it had started a major breaking, a shattering, that was still spreading throughout him to this day, until all that seemed to be left of him on the bad days were tiny splinters of a person, still reverberating with the shock of the crash. And an icy, cold fury, sharp as glass. 

It came on him, that anger, all in a rush. He felt it rise up his neck, David’s eyes burning into him, and the sounds of birds outside getting louder, a cacophony, claws scratching at the stone, pecking at the rock, and his heartbeat amongst it all, erratic. Da-dum, go away, da-dum, please stay, da-dum, I hate you , da-dum, don’t look at me - 

David carefully and slowly, like he was in the presence of a terrified, wounded animal, began to unwind his scarf. 

The rage soared and magnified. He bit his tongue, hard, to stop himself from speaking. What are you doing why are you still here I want you gone I want you to say it’s okay I’m not leaving, and I’ll think I’m sorry but I’ll never say it - 

David bunched the scarf up. It was striped green and white. The green was nearly black in the dim light. He held it out to Klaus. 

‘You’re shivering,’ he said. 

The rage dove and twisted something in him. He wanted to spit and hiss and turn up his nose with a scowl, but instead it overflowed in another direction entirely, as it usually did. Klaus’s eyes burned and he sniffed, taking the scarf without looking in the other boy’s eyes. How dare he see Klaus like this. How dare he stay. How dare he be so kind when Klaus was only ungrateful and horrid. 

He hung it loosely around his neck, afraid to do any more and have David see the way his hands were trembling. David made a soft sound and held out his hand - Klaus saw it from the corner of his eye, recognised it as a can I? gesture. 

He nodded, once. Stiffly. David reached closer and wound the scarf around, loop after loop, until Klaus was wrapped to his chin, loosely, not claustrophobically, and if his jaw hadn’t been so tense, his chattering teeth would’ve stopped. As it was, he was already holding it too tight for them to make a noise at all. 

The scarf was soft. 

‘I think I’ll stay til you wake up,’ David said. ‘I don’t really know how to leave anyway.’ 

‘Okay,’ Klaus said, stuffily. Appreciating the excuse. Already, he was feeling the rush of fury fade. Emptying on out. He wiped his cheek as fast as he could, hand shooting out then twisting back amongst the scarf’s tassels.

‘I’m sorry if I upset you.’ 

‘You did.’ 

‘Sorry.’ 

‘…It’s alright.’

‘Are we still friends?’ 

Klaus chewed on his lip for a while, before murmuring, ‘Mm.’ 

The two boys sat in silence for a while. The ghosts were peeking through the walls, strips of faces and flesh and decay, all dark hollows. Klaus kept his gaze averted. David played with his shoelaces, poking the end through the eyelet repeatedly. His arm was warm next to Klaus’s. 

‘Thanks for not running off,’ Klaus said softly. He didn’t feel like apologising, though he probably should. 

‘You would’ve done the same.’

‘Probably not.’ 

David laughed quietly. ‘Okay. Maybe I just like sitting in tombs then.’ 

Klaus flicked the end of the scarf at him. 

And whether Reginald ever ended arriving, he didn’t know. His panic ceased, the anger too, and the ghosts all stayed away, not properly gone but not right up in his face either. 

When he woke up in his bed he was warm. There were tears dried on his cheeks and his nose was blocked, but there was no chill in his bones at all, no dust like gravel in his eyes, no scratches on his arms. And no sunshine boy, but the memory of him was there, clear as day in those first moments: the sound of his voice and the way his face crinkled up with that bright grin and - startlingly sharp, for a dream - the blue of his eyes. 

 

***

In his own bed, David awoke in the same manner, the vividity of the dream fading fast except for a lingering afterimage of that spiky-soft boy with his chewed fingernails and tattooed forearm and secrets and lies. The frenzy of him, scratching and hitting blindly. The bite of him, tinged with shame. The hurt of him, like a kicked dog, which he’d seen flashes of before but never understood, always forgetting easily when the older boy cracked jokes and clowned around, saying things which shocked and awed him, so wicked and cool and wonderful. 

He remembered it this time - the sullenness, the dampened spirit. He remembered why, too. He remembered it when he tumbled from his bed laden with blankets, and he remembered it when he splashed his face with water, sniffing from the cold, and he remembered it when he ran off to school, torn piece of bread in his hand because he was late once more. Remembered it all day long. In fact, he thought of little else. It had worried him in the dream, and it worried him now. A gnawing kind of anxiety at the knowledge that somewhere out there in the city, there was a kid who thought it wasn’t much of a big deal for his dad to do those kinds of things to him. David worried that Klaus wasn’t going to tell anyone else, which meant he was the only one who knew. And that meant he had to do something about it.

Chapter Text

There were many more dreams. Little snippets, here and there - two boys meeting in the dead of night and catching glimpses of each other before being whirled away in another direction - perhaps David popping up in the corridors of the Academy, soon getting lost down the winding corridors, or perhaps Klaus finding himself seated next to David at a desk in what he supposed was a school, though it didn’t look much like the ones on TV. But then Pogo was always telling them that movies and television weren’t good examples of real life. 

The ones they shared properly were his favourite. In those, Klaus got to talk to him just like they would if they were hanging out in the city, no mention of past nightmares nor shitty parents. He almost felt like a normal kid. Even the absurd and inconsequential settings took their leave sometimes, fading away until the dream was about little else but David. 

They were some of the best dreams he’d ever had. 

 

***

It smelt like popcorn. Buttery and salty and fresh. Underneath it, the sweet: cloying pink and purple, cotton candy and caramel. Tinkling music, a carousel, bells and whistles and tents flapping. A crowd of people, moving like shoals of fish, here and there, then back again as if channeled somewhere secret, herded by an unknown force. 

Klaus was fighting the crowd, trying to go the other direction. He wanted to look around the back of the main tent to sneak up on the performers. He’d never been to a circus before, unless you counted the spectacle of horrors that was the Hargreeves mansion, which he kind of did. But he mainly wanted to see the animals. They were meant to have animals, right? Or was that just in movies? 

He reached the tent, striped red and white like peppermint, and pulled up a huge peg from the ground so he could slip beneath the canvas. Poking his head through and peering up, he found himself face to face with David, who was crouching down and holding his finger to his lips. He was wearing a too-big top hat and a ridiculous circus coat made of lush red velvet, which Klaus immediately adored and wanted to steal.

‘Hello you,’ Klaus said, scrambling under and taking David’s outstretched hand to get to his feet. ‘You’re looking rather dapper. Perfect for tonight’s destination.’ He brushed yellowed grass off his pants. 

David blushed. ‘Shut up. It’s not like I want to be here. Circuses freak me out.’ 

Klaus nodded sympathetically. ‘The clowns, right?’ 

‘Not really. I mean, they’re horrible, sure… but I dunno… the place just gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s probably the music. I feel like someone’s sneaking up on me with a knife, gonna shank me or something.’ 

Klaus cocked his head to listen, and somewhat agreed. Then David suddenly yanked him behind a cart of some sort, filled with pretzels, and the two of them ducked down, David slowly peeking out over the top like a meerkat. He probably didn’t realise how much of his very tall hat showed by the time he got his eyes past the edge, and Klaus didn’t bother to enlighten him. Instead he stayed hidden quite happily, stuffing the pretzels in his pockets for later. 

‘What’re you looking at?’ he whispered, as David continued to scan the area. 

‘An acrobat,’ David said. ‘Oh, and one of those tigers.’ 

‘A tiger? ’ 

‘Yeah… you know. The ones on the loose.’ 

‘Wait - what?!

‘Oh…’ David looked down at him wide-eyed. ‘Didn’t you know yet?’ 

David!’ Klaus exclaimed. ‘Are they attacking people?! Will it eat us?!’ 

‘Shh!’ He ducked back down, crouching with his face right up in Klaus’s. The top hat had a shiny white ribbon wrapped around it, and the end of it fell in front of one eye. He looked deadly serious. ‘You gotta be quiet! Unless you want it to maul us. It already got the lion tamer.’ He grimaced. ‘It was pretty gruesome.’ 

Klaus stared at him. ‘Well, shit, David. You had to go and dream up a bunch of man-eating tigers, didn’t you. We couldn’t just enjoy the carnival.’ 

The familiar fuzzy look came over David’s eyes. ‘Ah. I’m dreaming?’ 

‘Duh. That’s why I’m here.’ 

After a moment, David shook his head clear. ‘Right, yeah. Though I suppose I’ve been thinking about you a bit in the daytime too. There was something… something I needed to remember, something to do with you. But I… I’m not sure what…’

An ominous growling started up across the other side of the tent. A man, the acrobat, wailed in fear. Klaus and David shared a worried glance, then peeked up over the top of the pretzel cart in unison. 

By the far side of the flap, between a set of swinging bars and a stand of seats, a mangy tiger was prowling upon the man who was trapped between with nowhere to go. He was wearing a skin-tight leotard that looked very much like the academy mission uniforms, sleek and black, and Klaus wondered if that was his own addition to the dream. Sometimes that happened - his own overrides. 

Maybe it was the similarity that made his concentration sharpen. Instinctually he scanned the tent for exits and weapons. To the left, the entrance - but it was blocked by a fallen cage. To the right, the main stage. It was hard to see what was on it, as the whole tent was filled with dry-ice smoke for dramatic and mysterious purposes, wavering and shimmering in the air, and it was particularly thick in that part. Directly across from them was the unfolding situation with tiger and prey - near the seats closest to the stage. 

‘Your coat,’ Klaus said. ‘I need it.’ 

David frowned, puzzled. ‘This isn’t really the time for dress ups.’ 

‘Says the guy in a top hat,’ he retorted. ‘Just give it to me. Come on!’ 

David shrugged it off and dropped it in Klaus’s arms. The velvet felt as luxurious as it looked. 

The acrobat started to sob, the tiger’s growls becoming more menacing. The man was backing up against the edge of the tent now, as it billowed and tugged against its pegs. The tiger slunk and slithered near to the ground, paws not making a sound. 

Klaus kept low too and went to dart around to the nearest edge of the stage. 

‘What’re you doing?’ David hissed, grabbing onto Klaus’s wrist and stopping him in his tracks. 

‘Improvising.’ 

The younger boy didn’t let go right away, so Klaus shot him a seething look until he did. 

Creeping along to the stage, the whirling smoke shrouded him from view. Looking back over his shoulder, he couldn’t see David any more but he figured he was still hiding behind the cart. Good. He was safer there. He didn’t have the mission training like Klaus did, the skills honed for rescues like this.

He scrambled up onto the stage itself, the coat tucked under an arm. It was high, but he was taller than ever now he was almost fourteen. A beanpole, Grace called him. From there, the tiger and the acrobat would’ve seemed non-existant, if it weren’t for the whimpering sound and that dark rumbling death call. 

He ran across the stage, trying not to make a sound - luckily he was barefoot, though he was sure he’d been wearing shoes earlier. Then, orange stripes loomed out of the smoke, five feet below, and he ran and ran then leaped off the stage, arms and legs paddling through the air - just in case he suddenly learnt to fly. 

With little poise, he crumbled into his landing between big cat and acrobat, ground shock jolting through his bones, and the tiger yowled, retreating in shock from this cannonball of a boy, the prepared pounce forgotten. Excellent. Klaus had been hoping that would happen. 

‘What -?’ the acrobat breathed. 

Klaus didn’t have time to talk, though. The tiger was already recovering, its hackles raised, and now that he was close up, it was becoming very apparent that it was less the size of a tiger and more the size of a hippopotamus. Built like one too. Horrible horrible horrible - he was definitely staring his bloody, messy demise right in the face. 

Frantically, Klaus shook out the red coat and waved it in front of the tiger. ‘Come on, come on,’ he muttered, trying to hypnotise it, or whatever it was red cloth did to animals. 

‘That’s all you’ve got?!’ the acrobat wailed, sinking to the ground. ‘It’s not a bull, you moron!’

‘Oh, sorry ,’ Klaus shot back through gritted teeth, still waving the coat around and feeling sillier each second. ‘Any better ideas?’

The acrobat didn’t seem to hear. ‘I’m doomed!’ 

‘HEY! OVER HERE!’ 

A ringmaster’s whip came sailing through the air, bouncing off the tiger’s back.

Klaus froze, as did the acrobat, as did the tiger. Then - achingly, awfully slow - it turned to look at the culprit. Klaus looked too, and saw David standing in the middle of the tent, arm sinking down slowly from where he’d thrown the whip, horror pasted on his face as he stared right at the tiger - as big as an elephant now. He was glued to the spot.

The tiger crouched, doing the thing which housecats do, wiggling its back end. It might’ve been comical if Klaus wasn’t suddenly deadly afraid for David’s continued existence.  

The tiger’s tail whipped back and forth, riling up a small whirlwind, and Klaus was suddenly struck with an idea. He cast out a quick prayer to Pogo, thinking please please please bless me with your monkey skills, before once again leaping forward, seizing onto the tail - as thick as the trunk of a tree - and there, while hanging on for dear life, he began to climb up it, the velvet of the coat held between clenched teeth. 

‘RUN!’ he cried, muffled. At the same time, the tiger began to charge forward, whipping its tail furiously, and it yowled at the intruder hanging off its back. Klaus scrambled up, light and lithe, until he was on the back, riding it like the worst cowboy that ever existed, on the worst horse that ever existed. The spine was bucking between his legs, the fur was bristly and sweaty, but still he clawed his hands in it, pulling himself along, as the tiger ran circles around the huge tent, the very top of David’s tophat bobbing in and out of view much too close to the tiger’s mouth. 

Eventually Klaus reached the neck and he took the coat, clamping on with his knees, this time begging the rodeo god not to let him fall, and he shook the red velvet out in front of the tiger’s face, covering it up entirely.

The tiger shook and wriggled and roared and writhed. In a mad surge, Klaus was thrown from the tiger’s back, flying across the tent. He landed in a mess of limbs and pretzels. Inevitably, the velvet coat soared with him, a puddle of red a few feet away. 

Dazed, he saw the tiger bolt for the somehow now-cleared exit, ignoring the three pesky people, ripping the tent roof as it went. The caged animal free at last. Klaus breathed a sigh of relief. 

Footsteps shook the ground, someone running towards him. 

‘That was amazing! ’ 

David skidded down onto his knees, the top hat finally falling off. Underneath, his hair was springy and soft looking. He was grinning so, so wide and breathing hard, and he pulled Klaus up into a victorious hug, squeezing him tight. Klaus grinned too, letting his head fall down onto David’s shoulder in sudden exhaustion. Then Dave let go, even though Klaus would have been quite happy to stay there for a while longer. ‘And completely insane,’ he continued. ‘I’ve never been so scared in my life!’

‘Couldn’t’ve done it without you,’ Klaus said, finally catching his breath. ‘Throwing that whip - I would’ve been dead without that.’ 

‘And it would’ve eaten me alive if you hadn’t jumped on its back!’ 

They stared at each other in disbelief then burst into a fit of laughter.

‘Oh man,’ Klaus sighed after a while, having sprawled out on his back in his relief, arms spread like a starfish. ‘That was actually kinda fun. Pretzel?’ 

‘Please.’ 

Munching on the pretzels together and picking at the dry grass poking through the canvas floor, the two of them ran through every detail of their escapade, reliving it through each other’s eyes. They didn’t know where the acrobat had gone. Probably fled sometime in the manic rodeo chase. Good riddance, Klaus thought. The civilians were always pretty useless. 

Whatever it was that David had been trying to tell him earlier was forgotten by both boys. There was too much to boast about and gloat in, their shared victory. And eventually they broke into another tent where the costumes were stored, a whole new distraction, the rest of the carnival continuing on without them - but they were quite content for it to be just the two of them for now. 

In this new tent they finally found the perfect opportunity for dressing up. Klaus placed the top hat back on David’s head, giving it a jaunty lean, and David posed for him, pretending to be all macho. Klaus found a horrendously disgusting wig, tresses and tresses of bright pink curls, which he placed atop his own head and loved like nothing else he’d ever seen before. He paired it with the velvet ringmaster’s coat, of course, and a ruffled, glittery petticoat. David found a cape that looked like the night sky, with stars that seemed to twinkle, and big pirate boots. Klaus stayed barefoot, leaping around in the dried up grass, a nymph, a pixie, and he found a gramophone which he didn’t know how to work but which David did, saying his aunt had one, and it played the most breathtaking, mysterious music. Klaus didn’t tower above him so much now, so he held out his hands and bowed his head, and the two of them swung and jumped around the tent in a gleeful, youthful romp. 

They found the make up, which David peered at suspiciously. Klaus coaxed him into it, coaxed him close, poking out his tongue as he traced the black eyeliner along the other boy’s waterline, trying to get it looking good even though David wouldn’t stop blinking, and then the deep red lipstick, perfectly applied then immediately smudged when David smacked his lips, grinning. While the other boy examined himself from all angles in the mirror, Klaus put it on his own lips too, trying very, very hard not to think about the last lips it had touched. 

‘Woah, wait up - you can’t do it all yourself,’ David said. ‘I thought it was gonna be my turn.’ 

Klaus glanced at him disdainfully. ‘You didn’t even know what eyeliner was.’ 

David scrabbled amongst the mess on the desk. ‘So? That’s the fun of it. Can I put this on you, then?’

A big fluffy brush, and a pallette of pink. 

‘I don’t wear blush,’ Klaus said. ‘I’m trying to be a goth.’ 

‘Well, I don’t even know what that is. I’m putting it on you, no complaints.’ 

And now David was leaning close, concentrating hard, and all Klaus had to do was look and stay still. The brush tickled his cheek, the other boy was using it so delicately. David wasn’t even touching his face with his hands, not like Klaus had, turning him this way and that. Klaus wanted him to. 

His heart was beating fast, which alarmed him, and he wanted to shake his head to clear it - because he’d always liked David but not liked him, because, well, he was kind of small and more like a little kid than someone Klaus’s own age, although the longer he thought about it he supposed that he never really thought about that stuff all too much when they’d first met anyway - but right now he was too busy looking at the freckles scattered across his nose and the bits of black on his eyelashes from clumsily applied kohl, and the little secret smile he still had even though he was concentrating so deeply, and Klaus suddenly wanted to know his secrets. Have a sleepover like he did with Allison and Vanya sometimes, if they could tolerate him, hiding their faces in pillows to mask their blushing cheeks, flicking through the teen mags, playing truth or dare. He wanted to know all David’s secrets. Did he, you know… was he even like Klaus? He scanned him again, trying to look for a sign, but it was nearly impossible and then he was distracted by the atrocious way David was holding the brush - clutched in his fist like a toddler - and it was possibly the stupidest, cutest thing Klaus had ever seen. He suddenly felt like he might just burst into a fit of giggling, or die. Preferably the latter. 

David bit down on his lip in his mission to perfect the blush, and when he pulled away, he had lipstick on his teeth. He snorted - and oh no, it was way too endearing - and spun Klaus’s chair to face the mirror. 

Klaus’s jaw dropped. ‘You asshole!’ he shrieked, jumping up and running after David, who’d already bolted and was laughing uncontrollably. 

Somehow - and how the hell hadn’t he noticed - David had covered his cheeks, both entire cheeks, with the thickest blush Klaus had ever seen. 

Klaus was fast, and he caught him. Maybe David let himself be caught. The two of them toppled over, and the other boy’s laughter was infectious, so Klaus was laughing too - because he didn’t really care about the blush, not when he was playfighting with David on the ground. It was the last thing he knew before something - a distant alarm bell - dragged him away: the top hat rolling away, and David laughing beneath him, lipstick smudged down his chin. He was looking right in Klaus’s eyes, and it was the most joyful thing Klaus had ever seen. 

 

***

David had three sisters. Two parents. He had lots of friends but no best friend. Sometimes the other boys ganged up on him, teasing him or playing around all rough and tumble, sometimes leaning a bit too close to hurting, though David never told him that last bit - Klaus only guessed it from the way he went quiet, frowning. 

He tied his laces with double knots and liked to keep his curls tidy and properly parted. He could throw a decent punch. He didn’t believe it when Klaus said he knew how to headbutt a person, and insisted Klaus try it out on him, and nearly got knocked out. He always laughed at Klaus’s dark jokes - genuinely, too, not that half-hearted laugh Klaus got most of the time. Never the sideways, unsure-and-quite-concerned glance either. He didn’t bring up the time in the mausoleum. He listened to all the stupid things Klaus had to say. He said stupid things too, and soon enough they were rejoicing in it, bouncing ridiculous ideas off each other, doubling over in laughter and stitching together a patchwork of jokes that only made sense to them - until suddenly Klaus was more certain than ever that none of it was stupid at all. How could it be, when it made him so happy? How could it be when someone else understood? 

Tonight, they were supposed to be working on a ship of sorts. A grim, furrowed-looking man was barking orders at them while dressed as a lobster, and Klaus gave David a look - he wasn’t even particularly sure what the look was supposed to mean, but it didn’t matter because David sent him a knowing look right back, before whispering, ‘I think that’s my math teacher.’ 

In wide-eyed unison they turned back to the lobster-man, who continued to rant about the importance of swabbing the deck, brandishing his mop like a victory flag. 

‘Maybe this is his dream,’ Klaus murmured. 

‘Oh, god,’ David breathed in reply, shaking his head in denial, eyes glued to his teacher. ‘Oh no.’ 

‘Looks like he’s having a good time.’ 

‘It really, really does.’ 

‘You know I try not to judge, but… seems pretty kinky if you ask me.’ 

Klaus could feel the shake of David’s silent laughter. ‘ Klaus…

‘Don’t you see it?’ 

‘I can’t look away , you dickhead.’ 

Klaus leaned down to whisper right in his ear, ‘I reckon it’s the pincers that do it for him.’

David choked, quickly disguising it as a coughing fit. Klaus grinned at him, quite pleased with the shade of red that the other boy had gone, when suddenly the lobster-man was shoving mops of their own into their hands and they found themselves trying to mop up ankle-deep puddles. 

They were working half-heartedly when David stopped, leaning on the handle of his mop. 

‘I want to meet you properly. When we’re awake.’ 

Klaus kept his attention on his mop and the slow swish-slosh of it through the water, ignoring the way his chest tightened. 

‘I think it’d be nice,’ David added, uncertain with Klaus’s silence. ‘To be proper friends.’ 

Klaus swirled the mop another time then let it come to a standstill, the water murky and slowly milling. ‘Does this not count?’ 

‘Of course it does! Absolutely. I just… I thought you’d want to meet. You do, right?’ 

‘It’s tricky.’ 

‘I know. But I was thinking, even though your dad only lets you out at night -’ 

‘He doesn’t let me out,’ Klaus mumbled. He thought it had been established that this topic was a no-go area. ‘I sneak out my window.’ 

‘Oh,’ David said. ‘Well. I guess it doesn’t matter how you get out. But I can try and get out at night time too, and then we can meet up. Anywhere. Whatever’s easiest for you. I can even come and meet you at your house if you want.’ 

Klaus shook his head. ‘Not there.’ 

‘Okay. But somewhere else?’ 

If Klaus hadn’t already wanted to, the eagerness in David’s voice would’ve swayed him. As it was, the tightness in his chest was already fading, mixing with a different kind of buzz. A nervous flutter in his stomach. Because David wanted to see him. In the daytime, in person. They’d really, truly meet each other, and while it’d be different to the safe and sweet dream-world they’d carved out for themselves, this pattern he’d become so accustomed to, it would also be David , and he was worth all the nerves in the world. Klaus would face the repercussions of revealing who he actually was with his head held high. He’d withstand any inevitable punishment from his father too. 

‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Why not?’ 

David smiled and prodded him with the end of his mop. ‘Cool.’ 

‘Cool,’ Klaus echoed, batting it away, a small smile in return. Feeling those butterflies again. 

Yup. David was definitely worth even this new deliriousness. He was the boy that turned the show-off shy. 

‘Where’s good? And when?’ 

As they mopped, they made plans. Friday night, on the wharf. Nine pm. Not far from the main road and the big pedestrian crossing. 

‘Better hope you remember all that,’ Klaus said. 

‘I’m gonna write it down as soon as I wake up,’ David replied.

‘Nerd.’ 

‘Yeah, yeah. See you soon, Klaus.’ 

‘Friday.’ Klaus could hear the smile in his own voice, and wasn’t that revolting. 

‘Friday,’ David affirmed. 

The dreams were random, scattered days or months apart depending on the whims of the universe. This little bit of certainty tasted so sweet. 

 

***

It was dark, with flickering lights. Cramped too. The worst sort of cramped - blank grey walls, underground, stifling. Some sort of bunker. 

Klaus scanned the room and when his eyes fell upon David he prickled with annoyance, then resolutely looked away. 

It was too late. David had seen him. 

‘Klaus?’ 

‘Go away.’ 

‘Don’t be like that,’ David said, squishing himself in the small space next to Klaus. ‘What happened?’ 

Klaus tensed, willing himself not to fall for the bait, but he couldn’t help it - he turned on him. ‘What do you mean, what happened? I waited for you for hours. ’ 

David frowned. ‘You did?’ 

‘Yeah,’ Klaus snapped. ‘And you didn’t even bother to show.’ 

‘That’s not true - I went! I couldn’t find you. I thought maybe your dad -’ 

‘This doesn’t have anything to do with my dad! I got out fine, I told you, I’m used to sneaking out. I waited exactly where we said, on the corner of the wharf, nine o’clock on Friday.’ 

‘That’s exactly where I was!’ 

‘By the bar?’ 

‘What bar?’ 

‘The bar on the wharf. With all the lights. By the crossing. Which you’d know if you were there.’ 

‘I was, Klaus! There isn’t a bar there. I should know, because I was standing there for nearly two hours! I could even draw you a map.’

The people around them were whispering and staring, but Klaus didn’t care. He was furious, because not only did Dave not show up when he was the one who’d pushed to meet in the first place, now he had the audacity to lie about it to Klaus’s face. 

‘You’re the one who needs a map,’ he said, scowling. 

‘Well, one of us was clearly in the wrong spot.’ 

‘Not me.’ 

David huffed. ‘Fine. I wasn’t, but let’s say for now that I was. We can try again, and get the details absolutely certain this time.’

‘Fine.’ 

‘Okay.’

Something rumbled distantly. The walls shook. An uneasy muttering spread through the crowd. Klaus peered around, checking for the exits, but there were none to be seen, so he slumped back and tried to make himself small.

He’d been so excited to see his friend. He’d spent half the afternoon dreaming up what he was going to wear, buzzing with excitement, unable to concentrate on any of his training. 

He’d stood by the bar in the darkening drizzle of the night, peering at each figure that neared, trying to supress the smile that kept threatening to show. He didn’t want to look insane. He kept going over in his head how he’d say hi. It sounded so smooth in his head, but he never got a chance to test it out. 

Instead, he’d been faced with the utter embarrasment, the dull-hearted betrayal, of standing in the dark by himself, watching others traipse past with their loud laughter and glittery clothes, until he stopped looking altogether, getting colder as the minutes ticked on by, while his neck began to hurt from how long he’d been staring at his shoes. 

When an older woman stopped by him, asking if he was alright, he told her yeah, he was only waiting for a friend, just been here a few minutes really. Once she was gone he crossed his arms and left, heading home, unable to comprehend doing anything else except for crawling under his blankets and forgetting every feeling he’d ever felt ever in his life. Let them all go. No use. 

Yet here in the bunker, they bubbled up still. Anger. Guilt. What if he had been wrong, after all? He wasn’t, but still, what if he had? Frustration too. He felt like one of those donkeys with a carrot dangling right before its nose. It wasn’t fair. He felt like the victim of the meanest trick in the world, and David had to be the culprit. It was the only thing that made sense. But then actually it didn’t make sense at all, not here cosied up next to the boy himself, not when the frustration mingled with the warm affection Klaus somehow still had for his friend.

Apparently, he didn’t know how to stay angry at David. 

Klaus wanted to try to meet him again. He wanted to believe that David hadn’t purposefully left him out alone in the dark. Somehow, his friend - so good and bright - always seemed to lure him back into the trap of trust. 

Eventually the distant booms rattling the bunker quietened, and the tense atmosphere mellowed a little. 

‘You’re not lying, are you?’ Klaus murmured, barely audible. 

David shook his head. ‘I should’ve looked around more. I thought your dad had caught you.’ 

Reginald had caught him, but only on his return. He’d disposed of Klaus’s box of precious art supplies and made him watch as Grace painted over the things he’d written and drawn on his wall. But it was fine, he told himself over and over as he watched. A fresh canvas. It was fine, he’d be fine. Once he found more marker pens. That was was fine too, he could do that. Reginald wouldn’t know what hit him. 

‘Nah, I’m too sneaky for that old psycho,’ he told David. ‘You didn’t get in trouble with your parents?’ 

‘They weren’t happy. But I’m thirteen now, so they can suck it.’ 

Klaus smiled. ‘Rebel rebel.’ 

‘You know it.’ David looked over at him, something thoughtful in his expression. Then he sighed and rested his head on Klaus’s shoulder. His hair tickled Klaus’s chin. ‘Can I say something?’

‘Sure,’ he replied slowly. 

‘Promise you won’t bite my head off?’ 

‘Well, now I’m intrigued. I love a bit of drama.’ 

‘Yeah, I know,’ David said, laughing, a hushed sound. Klaus suddenly wanted to wrap his arm around the other boy. He settled for leaning against his side, feeling the warmth of him through their layers of clothing. ‘But honestly, this thing I’m gonna say - I mean it with the best intentions, and because I… well, I care about you. Okay? So please just hear me out.’ 

‘God, just say it already.’ 

David sat up straight again and looked Klaus right in the eye. The directness of it was almost offputting, and Klaus had to fight the urge to look away. 

‘There’s this place… I mean, I’ve been doing some research. When I’m awake. Obviously. When else would I do it? But, ugh, that doesn’t matter… Basically, I’ve found this place - it’s in the city so you can definitely get to it - and I’m not saying you should go, I just want you to know it’s there. It’s called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and it’s on -’ 

Klaus held up a hand, interrupting him. When he spoke, his voice was flat. ‘What?’ 

David bit his lip. ‘See, I knew you were gonna be mad -’ 

‘I’m not a child, ’ Klaus said harshly. ‘And I don’t need you to be getting your nose in my business.’ 

‘It’s not literal. It just means if you’re underage.’ 

‘Still not your business.’ 

‘Klaus, I’m serious -’ 

‘And I’m not? Give me a break.’ 

Klaus had to give it to him; David was brave. He ploughed on ahead anyway, despite Klaus’s general snippiness. ‘Look, I don’t know much about how they work, but you could sneak out and talk to them. They’ll know what to do. You’re not the only kid in the city who has a shitty family, they do good stuff. My parents said -’ 

He sent a look of betrayal David’s way. ‘You told your parents?!’ 

‘I told them it was hypothetical!’ 

‘Christ, David. This is great. Really, really great. Exactly what I needed.’ The sarcasm positively dripped. 

‘I just want to help you. Can’t you see that?’ 

Klaus glared. ‘But you’ve got it all wrong. I don’t need any help. If you knew me at all, you’d realise it’s really not that bad. I exaggerate, sometimes. I know I do. And, he’s… you know… doing good. My dad, I mean. Like, it’s for a good reason. And we have to be grateful for all we’ve got and been given, because we’re luckier than most kids on earth. It’s important, what we’re doing. More important than most people realise.’ 

David frowned at him. ‘That just sounds like you’re brainwashed.’ 

He hid his discomfort behind a scoff. ‘Grow up, David. Last I checked, this was real life. Not a movie.’ 

‘Klaus, listen -’ 

‘No, you listen. I. Don’t. Want. Your. Help.’ 

‘He locked you up! That isn’t okay!’ 

‘It’s fine!’

‘It’s abuse, that’s what it is!’ 

Klaus whirled on him. ‘How the hell would you know?’ 

‘I told you already! Because I’ve been researching it. It’s child abuse -’

He clamped his hands down over his ears. ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!’

David went silent, though he had a thunderous expression. Klaus felt his eyes burn, tears threatening to spill over. He hated this. He hated this so much. He wished David didn’t know anything at all about him. He wanted to be the sparkly, shiny Klaus. The one who had fun and never ever got upset, who was never weak.

The other boy sat next to him, holding himself as stiff as a board, distinctly uncomfortable, but his gaze never wavered from Klaus. Less thunder the longer their silence stretched, more pity. It was worse. 

After a while Klaus let his hands fall into his lap. 

As soon as he did David said, ‘Please just remember what it’s called, so if you ever get a chance you’ll know where to go. Write it down or something before the dream fades.’ 

Klaus didn’t reply. He folded his arms and slumped against the bunker’s metal wall. 

‘Klaus,’ David begged after a while, lying his hand lightly on Klaus’s arm. ‘Please -’ 

‘You don’t understand,’ Klaus said. ‘You don’t understand what he’s like. The whole world loves him. I bet even you do. Sir Hargreeves. That’s his name. Esteemed, honourable asshole.’

David shook his head slowly. ‘I’ve never heard of him.’ 

‘Bullshit,’ he scoffed, stubbornly turning away from the other boy. He couldn’t bear to look at him. ‘We’re in nearly all the newspapers.’ 

David kept shaking his head. ‘I haven’t…’ 

‘Well then,’ Klaus retorted. ‘If you haven’t noticed those, then I doubt you’re clever enough to know anything about “child abuse.”’ 

The scathing words hung between them, the bunker hushed and stifling. His face felt red in the dark. Burning and breaking, that fragile sweetness between them gone bad. 

‘You can be really cruel, you know,’ David said.

Klaus heard him, and it hurt. He shrugged carelessly in reply; it was all he could muster. He knew how much it would infuriate. 

After a while, David stood up, and still Klaus didn’t look. He didn’t look while the other boy stood there waiting for some form of acknowledgement, nor did he look when the other boy sighed, nor when he walked away. 

By the time he did, David was long gone.

Chapter Text

David Katz went by Dave these days. Couldn’t be plainer and simpler than that. Spent less time dreaming and more time yawning: in class and on the subway and in the icy early mornings, same as he did in the heavy hours after midnight. He had his own room now in their family’s new home, a cubby off the kitchen, with a bed that he spent as little time as possible in and a rickety desk he spent too much at, hunched over school notes and essays until the words blurred and his head bowed in exhaustion. Too exhausted to dream, hopefully. 

Above his desk: a pinned newspaper clipping from 1928, black ink leeching with damp, mentioning a Mr R Hargreeves and an umbrella factory. The paper was curling at the edges with age. It had been old when he cut it out of the paper, and it had aged further since the last time he’d taken it down from his wall to study it, trying to decipher what it all meant. 

There’d been one day, a couple of years ago now, when he’d wrapped up warm against the chill of the winter, scarf covering his nose and mouth, and he’d trekked over the city following a name, a map in his head he’d studied long enough to memorise. It was a busy, industrial part of town, buildings towering into the ice blue sky, chimneys billowing. He marched the streets with purpose. Eventually, he came to a fence, wrought-iron and cold to the touch. It barred entrance to the old factory. He’d read that this place had been making umbrellas way back in the 1890s when R. Hargreeves bought it, bringing production to an end a few years ago. What he was doing in there now, David had no idea. Not making umbrellas, that’s for sure. It was dead quiet. Half of the shops and buildings around it were closed-up too. Windows boarded, half-rotted leaves piling in front of doorways. It should have been bustling. 

He pushed at the gate, which creaked and whined, but refused to budge. Trailing fingers across the bars, he followed it around the corner, looking for a more private spot to climb over - which he did with relative ease. It didn’t look like anyone had been here in weeks. Months, even. Certainly no sign of a kid his age. But then Klaus had said he wasn’t allowed out anyway, so there weren’t many traces he could leave in the first place. 

David looked up, craning his neck. His scarf loosened itself and exposed his mouth, chapped by the wind and set in a frown. Was he in there? Locked away or hiding or not even there at all? He’d said his mother was a rockstar once, a mother he didn’t even have - what were the chances the billionaire father was any more truthful than the other tall tales? It could be that was why he got so angry when David tried to figure out just how bad the guy was. Guilt, maybe, for making it all up. 

Still. He didn’t know for sure. And he wasn’t going to give up, not yet, even as he remained frustrated with the strange boy from his dreams. 

(Stupid, stupid, stupid, he thought, all this effort for someone who probably wasn’t even real.

But he felt he real. He felt real and illuminating and wonderful and scary. He wouldn’t get out of David’s head, sleeping or waking. It was Klaus-Klaus-Klaus around the clock. Odd, confusing, wonderful Klaus.) 

He looked around to make sure no one was watching him from the street, then darted up the front steps and tried the door. It was locked. He knocked, hesitantly. 

There was no answer. 

He knocked louder, waited a second, then decided no one was going to answer this either. He tried to scramble up on the window ledge, wondering if he could peer in through the window grime and prickles of frost and see what lay inside. It was precarious, and his hat fell off into a puddle below. 

He was scrabbling for a grip, halfway to dropping, when the door opened. 

David jolted in shock without meaning to, and fell. Footsteps tapped on the step. For one moment he didn’t dare look, not wanting to face the person who’d caught him trying to get in through the window, but his curiosity was stronger. 

He looked. A stern older man was watching him disdainfully. He was utterly silent, and that was perhaps the worst bit. 

David garbled, ‘I, uh - I’m sorry. I was just… I was just looking. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to -’

His sentence stuttered into nothing. He gaped up at the stranger, who still had barely moved. 

‘Leave my property immediately,’ the man commanded, ‘or I will summon the police. I do not tolerate trespassers. Especially not ruffian children.’ 

From within, David could hear classical music playing softly. Violins. He tried to peek around the man. The room inside didn’t look desolate - in fact, it was well lit and clean.  

‘Am I understood? If I see you here again -’ 

‘Wait,’ David interrupted, ‘please - I just wanted to see Klaus. Is he okay?’ 

The man’s face barely moved. He stared at David coolly, then said, ‘Who?’ 

‘Your son. Klaus. I’m… I’m his friend.’ 

‘I don’t have a son.’ 

David’s face fell. ‘But I thought… you are Mr Hargreeves, aren’t you?’ 

‘I am.’

‘I thought - Klaus told me -’ 

‘I have no children.’ Hargreeves retreated into his factory-turned-home, moving to pull the door shut. ‘Leave immediately, or I shall press charges.’ 

‘No, wait -!’

The door slammed resoundingly. 

David stumbled backwards off the steps, reeling. He snatched up his hat and hurried for the fence, climbing back over then taking off down the street without looking back. His heart was pounding and pounding. 

At home, he sat by the stove, warming his hands. Hargreeves had to be lying. He had to be covering something up. Klaus was in there - David knew it - and he had to do something to save him. Hargreeves was a crook, locking up secret kids, and chasing errant ones from his property like it was a crime to knock on the door with a question, and he was crazy living in an old factory, and who knows what sorts of dangers Klaus was in, dangers David could hardly conceive of, and it was either Hargreeves lying or Klaus lying and he knew who he wanted to trust. 

In the weeks after the Hargreeves incident, he often had dreams where Klaus showed up - but unlike the other times, in these it wasn’t actually Klaus. He didn’t know how he could tell the difference. Perhaps they were less vibrant, this Klaus made from memory and shadows. Perhaps it was just something in his gut that told him. Even so, night after night this other-Klaus would appear in his dreams. Fleeting and silent. Ignoring David when he called out to him, vanishing in crowds, appearing out of thin air at inopportune moments. Often the dream was just about him - his face, close, and David forgetting to breathe and talk and think. He would wake up bewildered.  

Days went by and he was at a loss of what to do, how to help, how to figure out the mystery of where and who Klaus really was. He was waiting for another real, proper dream, but it never came. 

It became harder to see why Hargreeves would have lied. When he looked at that newspaper clipping above his bed now, he no longer obsessed over the secrets it held. Thing is, it meant nothing. He had to stop denying the truth. Hargreeves didn’t have any children, let alone the one he was looking for. The clipping, the factory - they were all dead ends, evidence of lies he’d been told or stories he’d been gullible enough to believe. Dreams he’d confused with reality. 

He threw himself into other things. Months passed.

His parents were proud of his dedication to his studies, and his swimming practice, and his eagerness to help with whatever chores they had no matter how tiring. Other kids might be lazing about in bed in the morning, but not their Dave. 

Though his mother did say he looked pale. His father said he had to be careful not to tire out, when he came home late and saw Dave burning the midnight oil. His sisters pinched him and told him to stop being such a goody-good because he was making them look bad. But the thing was, if he kept himself busy, tired himself out - well, then the chances were he wouldn’t dream at all. 

Sometimes, idly, he found himself thinking of that thin face and green eyes and dark eyelashes. Of tumbling over each other in playfight. Moments their faces were so close, when all it would take was one small movement for his lips to brush over a smooth cheek or those chatterbox lips. 

Then his heart would skip a beat, all hollow, and he’d squint at his schoolwork and try to focus. Breathless and confused, he’d feel the gazes of his schoolmates on his back, boring through his skull, surely all aware of the sound of blood rushing in his ears and each tiny movement he made. Even the creak of his desk, the scratch of his pen were somehow tell-tale signs of the unwelcome things he’d just been thinking - and he couldn’t even blame them on his unconscious mind. He’d clench his fist around his pen and forget how to write, swallow uncomfortably, and still he’d see floppy dark hair fall into those piercing eyes, all a mess, a tangle. He didn’t understand this obsession. Surely it should have faded by now. 

At lunchtime, he stood with his friends out in the cold. The guys passed around a cigarette and preened for the girls watching from where they stood in the warmer doorway, huddled in their coats. They threw stones at pigeons and tussled with each other, always casting looks over their shoulders to make sure their efforts still had an audience, and Dave made sure to join in, pushing aside his inner strife. He’d been trying to be more like them for a while. It was worth it: they’d started treating him the same too. 

His pal Jimmy asked Dave to the movies one weekend. When he got there, Jimmy was chatting with Patty Irvine, a girl from school, while her friend Mary waited shyly to the side, playing with the clasp of her purse. She smiled at him, sweet as anything. Dave figured he should say hello. He liked Mary well enough. She was clever and not that annoying in class. 

‘You going to the movie too?’ he asked. 

Her smile dimmed a little. ‘Uh… yes.’

‘That’s cool. I suppose we could all sit together. That is, if you haven’t got your ticket yet.’

‘I suppose.’ She frowned now. ‘But… didn’t you know…?’

‘Know what?’ 

There was a brief pause, before she muttered, ‘Never mind.’

He stood there awkwardly for a moment, glancing over at Jimmy for help. But his friend was too busy cosying up with Patty, and all of a sudden Dave realised that this was not a coincidental meeting at all. He felt his ears burn red, before stumbling out with, ‘Um, Mary - did you… did you want some popcorn?’ 

That made her smile. 

He bought her ticket too, like she’d been expecting, and he sat next to her and smiled at her in the brighter scenes when he could see her face. He supposed she was quite pretty. She had nice brown hair. And her hand, when he held it, was very little and soft. He told her so, in a whisper, and she looked at him oddly. He didn’t say much else after that. 

They went to the movies the next weekend, on their own this time, and the next weekend they went out for lunch at a diner. 

He was enjoying his caramel milkshake when she said, ‘So, am I your girlfriend now?’ 

He coughed. ‘Um -’ 

‘Because I like you.’ 

‘You do?’ 

‘Yes,’ she said firmly. ‘Don’t sound so surprised. I could name five girls off the top of my head right now who do.’  

‘Oh.’

‘So do you like me?’

‘...Yeah?’ 

Like like?’

Dave looked down at his drink and twirled the peppermint stripe straw, and supposed that he probably did. He looked up at her again where she sat so sweetly, red ribbons trailing in her hair. ‘Yeah,’ he said. 

Mary hid her smile. ‘Ask me then.’ 

‘Ask you - ?’

‘You know. Go on!’

His palms felt clammy. ‘Um. D’you wanna go steady with me?’ 

She beamed. ‘I’d love to.’ 

 

It was something different, that’s for sure, being one of the few guys in his year to have a girlfriend. Especially such a pretty, popular one. All of a sudden he was aware of just how many girls there actually were at school - namely because Mary was always around him nowadays, not to mention Jimmy’s girlfriend Patty, and all of their friends. Thankfully, some of them were actually quite funny. 

He celebrated his fifteenth birthday with a bunch of them, as well as his own friends. It wasn’t a big party, not like some people had, but his mother did her best and cooked ferociously for the event. He and his sisters carried the laden baskets to the park. It was a sunny day, ants got all over the sticky bottles of coca cola left lying in the grass, and his nose got burnt, but he was wonderfully happy. Mary played chase with him, lured him behind a stand of trees, and there she twirled in her party dress and asked him to kiss her.

He did, a peck on the lips. She laughed and went pink and told him he was so nice. 

That night he was buzzing, kept smiling as he sifted through the memories of the day, all still so vibrant in his mind. He sprawled out on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, and felt not only perfectly normal but on top of the whole wide world. Remembered shouts of laughter. Sugary drink. The taste of birthday cake. His friends singing to him. His sisters dancing with him. Happy bursting through him. 

Tangerine sun and sprawling lawn, he was running after Mary, her red satiny skirt tangling around her legs. He could hear her laughing as she darted into the trees, into the shadows, and he was right behind her, just a glimpse away from catching up. Barefoot and nimble. 

He stumbled on a tree root, went sprawling. The world hushed. Darkened. Slowly he sat up, dusting off his hands, when he heard footsteps cracking twigs behind him. Mary. She’d come back for him.

‘I fell over,’ he told her, because she was sure to be wondering why he’d stopped. 

‘I know,’ came the reply, but it wasn’t Mary. ‘I saw.’

Dave looked over in confusion and his heart froze. 

Standing close to a tree trunk, looking quite like he wanted to vanish into it, was Klaus. ‘Hey,’ he said nervously. ‘Long time no see.’ 

Dave didn’t know what to say. He stared. 

After a painful moment, Klaus took pity on him, coming over and holding out his hand. Dave took it, let himself be pulled up to his feet. 

Klaus laughed, more in surprise than amusement. ‘Someone got tall.’

Dave looked down at himself as if he’d forgotten what he’d looked like, then met Klaus’s gaze. ‘Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?’ 

‘Two years.’ 

‘I know.’ His tone was cool. After all this time, here Klaus was again - as strange and spindly as ever. There was dark kohl lining his eyes, and a fidgety restlessness about him. His fingers where they had touched Dave’s were cold as stone. Dave clenched that hand into a fist and shoved it in his pocket, then asked, ‘Did you see where she went?’ 

‘Who?’

‘Mary. The girl in the red dress.’ He paused, then added, ‘My girlfriend.’ 

‘No, I don’t think so,’ Klaus said. ‘I only saw you. You know - faceplanting in the dirt. It was kind of distracting.’   

‘A root tripped me,’ he replied before stalking off between a couple of trees, looking for her that way. The park was quickly becoming thickly wooded forest. ‘What’re you doing here anyway?’ 

He couldn’t hear Klaus’s footsteps trailing behind him, and wasn’t sure the other other boy was still there until he answered. ‘There’s never really a reason. I know it’s been a while, but surely you remember that.’ 

‘Why now, then? Why not before?’

Klaus skipped up beside him. ‘No clue. Why? Did ya miss me?’ 

Dave pushed past a prickly branch, holding it carefully to make sure it didn’t whip back and hit the other boy. ‘No.’ 

‘Gee, thanks.’ 

‘I mean, I did for a bit.’ 

Klaus huffed a laugh. ‘Wow, you’re really flattering me now. I’m honoured, David.’ 

‘Dave.’ 

‘Hm?’

‘It’s Dave now.’ 

‘Oh, sure,’ Klaus said, smirking. ‘In that case, I’m Four.’ 

Dave frowned at him. ‘For what?’ 

‘I’m all for it. Suits you. Dave. How macho. That’s the effect you’re going for, right? Manly man? It sorta reminds me of this guy I met once, I think he was a construction worker - you know, with the yellow hardhat and everything. Anyway, his name was Dave. Maybe. It could’ve actually been Steve, or Dick short for Richard, something like that. He was cool. Bought me a drink.’ 

‘A drink?’ Dave asked, slowing down in his rush into the woods. The canopy was thick; all the light filtering down was green-tinged. There were no birds, no sounds except for them and the occasional breeze rustling through the leaves above. ‘You mean soda?’ 

Klaus snorted. ‘Sure. Soda.’ 

It was clearly a lie, but Dave decided to focus on pressing on in his search, looking for a glimpse of red in amongst the green. 

‘So, a girlfriend, huh?’ Klaus asked chirpily. ‘Is that part of the big macho makeover too?’ 

‘No, it’s -’

‘What’s she like? Pretty? Have you kissed? Ooh, have you had sex yet?’

Dave nearly tripped over again, and forgot his standoffishness. ‘Sex?!’ 

It was almost ghastly to imagine. Mary was nice, but… no, he didn’t even want to think about it. Besides, he was only fifteen

‘I’ll take that as a no.’ 

‘Definitely a no.’

‘Bo-o-oring.’

‘Why?’ He turned to face Klaus, who wasn’t far behind, and was pulling a leaf to pieces as he walked. He looked amused. ‘Have you?!’

‘Maybe,’ he said, winking. 

‘No way you have!’ 

‘Whyever not? Don’t think I’m cute enough?’ 

‘No, it’s not that… You’re just… I just meant…’ 

The words weren’t coming out. It didn’t seem right, thinking of Klaus doing something like that. Suddenly, despite how long the last couple of years had stretched, their last few dreams together didn’t seem that long ago. They’d still been young boys together then, none of this messiness with girls. Back when a dirty joke was just a joke and not anything real. Klaus had always seemed cooler and more experienced, more knowledgeable, but Dave had known a lot of it was all talk, yet now suddenly Klaus seemed leaps and bounds away from him - he who’d only just had his first kiss with his girlfriend that morning, a kiss he hadn’t even particularly wanted. 

He felt as though he was being left behind. Felt like curling up and crawling back to a simpler time when there was none of this to worry about. Felt like he’d suffered a loss. 

It was odd. Was he jealous of Klaus? Was that what this was? 

‘Sorry,’ Dave said eventually, unsure. ‘I’m being weird.’ 

Something in Klaus’s teasing expression softened. ‘You’re okay. I like weird.’ 

Maybe Dave just missed him. It had been a very long time since they’d seen each other. Yes, that was it - he was just reacquainting himself with his friend, adjusting back to all his strangeness. Of course things were going to have changed. But not everything. They could still joke. Surely they could still joke. 

‘Hm,’ Dave huffed. ‘Makes sense, coming from you.’ 

‘Hey!’ Klaus complained, batting him lightly on the arm. Dave swatted him away, laughing, and internally breathed a sigh of relief. 

While they were stopped, a mossy path had appeared - a small, bracken-draped one that wound near to tree trunks in lazy loops. They followed it. 

‘So,’ Dave said, forcing himself to act like he was supposed to. ‘How… how was it?’ 

‘Don’t you know? A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.’

‘What was it like, I mean. Scary? Or amazing?’

Klaus shrugged, evasive. ‘It’s whatever. But you - you’ve got a girlfriend! You still haven’t told me anything about her. What was her name again?’ 

‘Uh... it’s Mary, but -’ 

Klaus skipped past him, singing, ‘ Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow.’ He brushed his hands through the ferns beside the path as he went, leaving a rippling trail. 

‘I kissed her today,’ he said. 

‘What!’ Klaus crowed, turning back with eyes alight. ‘I knew it!’  

Dave found himself grinning. ‘No you didn’t. Impossible.’ 

‘Nope. I can tell. I have a knack for these things. Was it wonderful, then? All the nice lovely things you expected?’ 

Like it was happening once more, he felt the brief press of her lips - a shadow of the sensation. Felt the way he held himself stiff as a board, the flurry of confusion and relief as he wandered back to his friends. Relief that it didn’t go horribly, of course. Not that it was over. 

‘It was just a kiss,’ he said. 

‘Wow. I can feel the enthusiasm from here.’ 

Dave shrugged. ‘People say it should be this great thing, but it’s not actually that realistic to have expectations like that.’ He grabbed a branch and pulled himself up onto a tall log which lay beside the path, continuing with a blasé, ‘Life’s not over the top like you think it will be when you’re a kid. God knows my life isn’t. They don’t tell stories about people like me.’

He turned behind him to offer Klaus his hand and pull him up too. The other boy gladly took it, wobbling as he tried to find his balance.

‘People like you?’ 

‘The non-glamorous sort.’ 

Klaus jabbed him with his finger. ‘I wouldn’t say you’re unglamorous .’

‘Oh yeah? What am I, then? Nice and normal?’

‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with normal,’ Klaus insisted. ‘Trust me, I would know. The alternative is shit.’ 

And just like that, Dave remembered himself. He felt as though plunged into cold water. ‘Right. Sorry, I forgot. Son of a rockstar and an artist, or something.’

‘Wait, what?’ Klaus asked.

Dave went silent, and continued to walk along the log, arms out either side for balance. It was actually a massive fallen tree, slippery with moss and taller than anything. 

‘I thought I told you -’ 

‘Oh, that your dad was actually just an old billionaire?’ He was being petty and he knew it, but he couldn’t help it; all his annoyance was woken up and ready to go. 

‘Yeah...’ 

‘Right. So you’re sticking with that one. Okay.’

He could hear Klaus behind him still, keeping pace. 

‘Do you not believe me?’ 

Dave couldn’t think what to say. He had believed him, once, but he didn’t now. It was difficult.

At the end of the trunk he stopped and looked at the ground below. Skeletal leaves carpeted it thickly. 

‘Dave?’ 

‘I don’t see why I should.’

Klaus didn’t reply, so Dave turned to look at him. The other boy was frozen a few steps behind, chewing on his bottom lip. He looked hurt. Not angry or scared or annoyed like Dave had seen him before, but honestly hurt. 

Dave took pity on him. ‘Hey… Don’t be… look, I’m not angry with you.’ 

Klaus clearly didn’t think that was true. Still, he roused himself and mumbled, ‘I know I lied before. But not about that. I swear. Never about that. And I know you have like no reason to believe me this time-’

‘I went to his house,’ Dave interrupted. 

‘You did?’

‘Yup. About a year ago. It’s Reginald Hargreeves, right? I got that correct?’ 

‘Yeah, that’s him.’ 

‘Okay. So I spoke to him. And he doesn’t have any children. So you can probably see why I’m struggling to understand how he’s supposed to be your dad.’ 

Klaus blinked at him in total shock. ‘What?’ 

‘He said it to me himself,’ Dave replied, trying not to get too defensive. 

‘But he does!’ he spluttered. ‘I live with him. I’m asleep there, right now!’

‘Klaus -’ 

‘No, look!’ He pushed up his sleeve and held out his arm for Dave to inspect. The tattoo stood out on his skin, stark as ever. ‘You’ve seen this before, even before I told you about him - it’s his brand, he branded me, Umbrella Academy, all that - I’m Number Four, I swear, I am! I’m not making it up!’ He shook his arm in front of Dave as if that would help it make any more sense. ‘Bullshit he told you he didn’t have any kids - the whole world knows about all of us.’ 

Dave took hold of Klaus’s arm, studying the tattoo. He’d forgotten. All that time, all that thought and energy and worry, and he’d forgotten the umbrella tattoo. He kicked himself for being so thick. 

‘I don’t get it,’ he muttered, running his thumb over it, as real as anything could be in a dream. ‘Why would he lie?’

‘He always lies,’ Klaus said. ‘Always.’ 

Dave looked up at him, suddenly shivering. Klaus’s eyes were a dulled green, none of their sparkle. He looked tired. 

‘Okay,’ Dave said. ‘I believe you. Sorry.’ 

Klaus didn’t reply to that. He left his arm in Dave’s grip, but gestured with his other to the ground. ‘Wanna climb down? I feel a bit…. exposed.’ 

It was quite a drop so they helped each other descend, gripping onto the deep grooves of the trunk and reaching out with long legs, hoping to touch the forest floor. Once they were securely sinking into the detritus of fallen leaves, leaning up against the trunk, Klaus shot him a wistful look. 

‘I wish someone else answered the door.’ 

Dave smiled sadly, remembering the soullessness of the factory-turned-house. ‘Me too.’

The prospect of growing up locked inside such a place was grim. Everything Klaus seemed to insinuate was grim. 

Dave cleared his throat. He needed to get the story straight, and that meant asking the questions Klaus always seemed to evade. 

Turning to Klaus, who was staring off into the trees, he asked, ‘So this Academy thing, then-’ 

‘Mm?’

‘You made it seem like everyone knew about it.’

Klaus startled to attention. ‘Yeah..?’

‘Well, I don’t.’ 

A flicker of Klaus’s previous outburst danced across his face, but he didn’t seem to have the energy to rant about it again. ‘You don’t know the Umbrella Academy?’ he asked instead, question soaked with disbelief. 

‘Nope.’ 

‘You’ve researched my dad and been to our house and you still don’t know about us?’

Dave shook his head. 

Klaus’s mouth seemed to have fallen open in his shock. ‘You’ve never even heard of a bunch of superhero children fighting crime in the city you live in?!’

That didn’t sound real. That really, really didn’t sound real.

‘Should I have?’ he asked faintly. 

‘Uh, yeah!’ Klaus exclaimed, a little frantic. ‘Are you literally living under a rock?!’

‘No, I’m not! Please, try not to insult me for not knowing this stuff again, okay? That wasn’t great last time and it isn’t great now.’ 

‘Well, sorry, it’s just a little obscene -’ 

‘Maybe, or maybe your dad’s just telling you that you’re famous -’

Klaus laughed, totally unamused. Perhaps even a little hysterical. ‘Oh, no, no, no. Don’t go saying that.’ 

‘What? I’m not saying it’s right of him, I’m saying he keeps you isolated in that place-’ 

‘I leave the house, David! I haven’t just sat quietly at home like a good little boy these last couple of years, okay? I know what people think of me, I’ve met them. I’m not delusional. I’m not.’ 

‘Okay, okay. Don’t get mad at me, I’m just trying to figure this out. I don’t think you’re delusional, and I’m not an idiot, okay? Can we agree on that at least?’ 

Klaus frowned at him with crossed arms, then nodded. 

Dave felt like he needed to catch his breath. His mind was buzzing. The trees were rustling. In that moment, the fallen trunk behind his back and the palpable frustration of the boy beside him were the only real things in the entire world.

‘You’ve really never heard of the Academy?’ Klaus asked quietly.

‘Never. Can’t say I know much about real life superheroes either.’ He watched the other boy closely as he spoke. ‘But I’m willing to find out, if you wanna tell me. Because I’ll listen to anything you have to say, Klaus.’ 

Klaus shook his head, ignoring all of that and saying, ‘No, hold up, I just - what about the Paris museum heist? What about that? D’you know it?’ 

Dave racked his brain, but came up blank. He shrugged. 

‘But it was worldwide news!’

Dave shrugged again, a little embarrassed now. ‘When?’ 

‘Like, 2003 or something -’ 

‘2003?!’

‘Yeah, a couple years ago. I know I hadn’t told you about the Academy then, so it’s fair if you didn’t notice, but-’

Dave had thought he misheard Klaus. But he hadn’t, and now he went cold all over. Klaus noticed his sudden discomfort and trailed off with a questioning glance. 

‘Klaus, I-’ Dave started, but his voice was all sticky and small and wouldn’t work properly. He felt shaky. Like a broken machine, he repeated, ‘2003?’ 

Klaus was frowning now. ‘Is that wrong?’

‘It’s 1955,’ Dave whispered. ‘That’s the year…for me. 1955.’ 

Both boys went very still. Shock was frozen upon Klaus’s face - cold, sick shock. Dave couldn’t tear his eyes from him, even though his mind had whirred into a deafening silence. Everything devoid of meaning.  

Then, like lightning, Klaus set off at a run into the forest. 

Barely a moment later, Dave tore after him, following the lithe figure with the flaying limbs, fighting against the twigs and branches slapping and tearing at his face, squinting into the dark. 

‘Klaus!’ he yelled. ‘Klaus, stop!’ 

A wind picked up. The trees swayed and groaned around him. Still they ran deeper and deeper into the forest. 

Klaus was fast when he wanted to be. Shadows gathered around him. Tree branches turned skeletal, pale as moonlight. There was a rumble in the air, in the ground, like thunder. He was darting through the foliage, further and further away, blending into the sudden storm-night, while Dave was lagging and losing him, claylike and heavy. He wished with all his heart that he could fly with the wind forward. Not this time, he thought, not this time - I won’t let you run away and hide, won’t run away from you either, won’t leave you alone all lost in the dark -

He felt warm for a moment, smelt cinnamon and other spices, a half-remembered sensation of running fast as he could, a life’s mission, born onwards by crow’s wings or gull’s wings - or sparrow’s wings, perhaps - and he thought, I’ve been here all this time no matter how far and so I’ll be here always no matter the time -

It was merely a dream so he was able to let the wind pick up once more and take him up into the lightest, longest leap he’d ever leapt. He clenched his eyes as tightly shut as he possibly could, until colours burst alive in that false dark, and when he opened them again the forest was alight with sunbeams. It had been his dream alone before Klaus arrived and forested it, and now it was his again, the trees stretched apart and the forest floor sprouting with grass and daisies; he made the world a meadow, made the park he’d spent his birthday in come back to life. 

Klaus was stopped still in the middle of the meadow, knee deep in grass, looking around in quiet awe. Dave reached him in a moment now. Eventually he turned to Dave - there were tear tracks streaked down his face, wet on his eyelashes, but Klaus was not ashamed - and Dave kept on walking, right up to him, and pulled him into a hug. 

‘It’s okay,’ he said, holding Klaus tightly. He received a crushing squeeze in return. ‘It’ll be alright.’ 

Klaus said tearily, ‘Did you already forget the fifty years apart bit?’ 

He was trying to joke already, trying to make it easier, and Dave wanted to laugh but he also wanted to cry too, because he hadn’t thought of it in those terms yet and it was quite a lot to process. 

‘I’m here now,’ he said. 

They stayed hugging each other as the meadow continued sprouting and blooming around them. They’d never hugged before. Klaus was spindly and bony, suprisingly strong. Even so, he fit right there. No discomfort about it. 

Soon they were breathing in tune with each other, heartbeats synced, and he wondered if that meant that both of them in their individual beds were doing the same - together in this moment, the fifty years only a blip.

Fifty years.

Klaus sighed. ‘This is so stupidly unfair. I can’t believe it.’

‘We’ve still got the dreams.’

‘Fuck the dreams.’ Klaus pulled back, freeing his arms to wipe at his eyes. ‘A certain someone got me excited about meeting up in real life all those years ago, so I think I’m allowed to be upset now I find out it’s actually impossible. Like, god,’ he groaned, ‘what a tease! It’s not fair .’

‘It’s only fifty years,’ Dave said. ‘I’m probably out there somewhere, in your time.’ 

‘Yeah, but you’ll be ancient.’

‘I’ll still be alive, though. Surely. You could go and find me -’

Klaus screwed up his nose. ‘Ew. I don’t want to go hang out with an old guy.’ 

Despite how hollow he was feeling, Dave grinned at him. ‘Can’t believe I’m technically older than you. When were you even born?’

‘...1989. Suppose you were born in like the 1800s or some shit.’ 

‘1940.’ 

‘Same thing.’ 

‘Is not.’

‘Is so- ’ 

After that, the dream got muddly. They talked and talked in that meadow for hours, it felt like. He learnt, through uneasy summary, what Reginald Hargreeves would become and what the umbrella tattoo really signified. They bickered over time and place and past obliviousness, teased each other about strange things that finally made sense. Klaus gave him a speedy rundown of what he considered the coolest events of the rest of the 20th century, the details vague, mostly concerning something called a walkman and MTV. Dave asked him if he’d ever heard of Elvis. 

For the first time in a long while, he didn’t want to wake up. 

But the sun was rising, somewhere far from here, and his hold on this reality began to loosen. In a slow or sudden switch - it was always impossible to remember how exactly it happened - he was no longer dreaming at all but awake in his bed, fifteen years and one day old, and feeling something bittersweet. 

 

***

He thought about the dream all day. He burned his breakfast toast; Mary complained that he was even less talkative than usual; and his teacher had to call his name thrice in class before he realised he’d been asked a question. 

There was no Klaus in his world, not while he was awake. He was not born. He was living a lifetime away, a swift glimpse of a world layered onto Dave’s own, a layer that did not yet exist. But as the bustle and banter of his schoolmates slipped into background noise and blur, the memory of the boy from his dreams stayed intensely real. Klaus felt more important than any of these around him. 

Something had snagged the fabric of time, bringing phantom pasts and futures together, and there was nothing Dave could do but watch and wait. Like other unexpected prophets, he had his inexplicable vision and no idea what to do about it. 

 

***

Klaus was fine for most of the morning, and then he wasn’t. 

He’d distracted himself with routine - up at the bell, eating breakfast in the usual silence, drowning out thoughts by actually listening to today’s pick of troublesome philosophers.

They still had the dreams, David had said. (Though it was Dave, now: macho wannabe, not-a-kid-anymore Dave. Kind, wonderful, beautiful Dave.) But they weren’t enough. 

How was he supposed to be okay knowing that the best friend he’d ever made was yet another ghost leaking through from the past? That they weren’t kept apart because of their own foolishness and inablity to plan, but because of a cruel universe that seemed solely out to get him? It had been years since he’d seen Dave, years of subliminal hoping tinged with regret for wasting the last chance they’d had to talk with sulking and insults. Perhaps he was right to seek all the artificial happiness he could get his grubby hands on. He didn’t deserve the real thing. 

He was moping - and by afternoon, Dad had chucked him out of training for getting in the way, due to his ‘general ineptitude and airheadedness.’ And that’s a quote. Probably true. 

He went up to his room. Lit a joint. He didn’t want to think about anything. 

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he mumbled to himself, closing his eyes and imagining himself anywhere but here, 

‘we are floating -

- in space.’ 

 

***

 

Afternoon time, now, and Dave was home, still abuzz with worry and wonder. He thought about asking what his dad knew about prophecies. He thought about asking his mom for a hug. 

But he couldn’t explain it to them if he tried. Didn’t understand enough himself to put it into words that made sense. He felt like a riddle machine. 

There’s a boy, far away, and he’s young but old and scared but bold. He’s like me but not at all. I think about him all the time. He doesn’t exist. He’s volatile. He’s the future and the best person I never met. I need to help him. But we can’t talk without stumbling most days. We can’t even see each other most days. The universe decides when and where, all we can do is wait. 

 

***

His plan didn’t work. Klaus ended up thinking all the same. 

The worst thing, the worst thing, ladies and gentlemen - was that fifty years was a long time, and Klaus knew more about death than he knew about life. 

Fifty years was a long, long time. And he hoped that Dave was just really, really old. 

 

***

Dave lay on his bed and ignored his homework. That could wait too. 

Would he still dream of Klaus in 1989? Would he go to sleep and see a 50 year old, and then wake up to a world where his friend was a newborn? Or would he suddenly start to dream of a baby? What would a baby even dream about? Would he have to look after the baby, in the dream?! He didn’t know how to look after a baby.

He confused himself just trying to conceptualise it. The universe must have a good organisational system, to avoid getting threads crossed.

But then - maybe that was what this was: merely a mistake. A lost thread. A snag in time. 

 

***

Klaus swore to himself that he’d never find out for sure. 

He’d never look in history books, never scour the streets for an address Dave couldn’t give him, never read gravestones too closely (not that he particularly enjoyed doing that anyway).

He’d bury all this down deep. He’d never think about it again. The dreams might even stay sweet. Wouldn’t that be nice.

 

***

Or maybe it wasn’t a mistake, this meeting. 

He knew Klaus was in a bad home. He’d known that for years now. Had tried to help, uselessly. 

He’d never doubt him again. He’d never fail him again. 

 

***

Klaus couldn’t bear to fill the missing gaps. The tale’s end was inevitable once he learnt it. Stonework already laid down. 

As long as he evaded knowing, it wouldn’t be real. Not yet. 



Even though anything he did was a stab in the dark, Dave couldn’t sit back and let history make itself happen, like it was some inevitable thing. He had to do something. 

 

Ghosts, every way he turned. Look at all you cannot change.

 

Visions, sprung from midnight dreams. Look at all that might be done.  

 

***

Both boys lay on their backs, on their beds, twelve miles and fifty years apart. 

The universe cradled them in two cupped hands. It watched them breathe in unison. It saw them like no other could. They were the light that was cast, the shadow that fell. The cry and the echo. Shifting form, switching places: the deadwood, the meadow; the skull and the wings.

Chapter Text

The music was pounding, loud enough to feel in his heart, and he was sweaty and sticky and dizzy - his mouth was dry. He should probably get something to drink. Water. Probably water. 

Earlier, after hearing some students talking about a rave in a dilapidated house, he’d followed them from off the street like a silent shadow. They had to pay at the door, so he crept around and found a window to climb in. He was getting good at climbing up and down buildings these days.

He couldn’t believe no one had kicked him out yet - though he was taller than some of the college guys here, and it was dark except for the flashing strobe, so maybe they just didn’t realise how young he was, or maybe they just didn’t care. 

He hadn’t seen those students since he arrived - the place was packed - but he made other friends easily enough, friends who were off their faces and very generous with the goods. Who cares what their names were. He couldn’t find them now anyway. He was wobbling through the crowd, trying to find a cup or a tap or a bottle - anything, really, to drive away the thirst, parched lips and sandpaper tongue, numb and fat, all his words coming out blurry, like slush. Stumbling, bracing against the wall to help him stay up even though maybe it was better if he fell, if he lay down here, because it seemed stable and he was spinning so fast - no, the room was spinning - he was the centre of stability, the only thing still, it was everything else that was off kilter and fuzzed - and oh! Now he was on the ground! Kind of comfy. He’d recommend. The floor was old wood here, the planks so nice and cool against his cheek. His eyes fluttered shut.

‘Klaus?’ 

He groaned. 

‘Klaus?!’ A busybody shook him. ‘You okay?’

‘Go ‘way,’ he mumbled. ‘Sleepin’.’ 

‘Yeah, I know. Me too. Come on, sit up at least.’ 

He peeled open one eye reluctantly. It was the very last person he was expecting to see. ‘Dave? Wha-?’ 

‘We’re dreaming.’

‘No. ’M at a party.’ Klaus flopped his hand in a vague gesture around them - and it was true, they were still at the rave in the old crooked house, almost exactly as he remembered. Almost . ‘See? So you can’t be here because you’re old. ’ 

‘It’s a very loud dream,’ Dave said, wincing. ‘If this is what music is like…’ 

Not a dream.’ 

Dave patted him on the shoulder. ‘Sure,’ he said, then pulled Klaus up so that he was sitting slumped against the wall. Now, rather than plaster, the wall seemed to be made of mesh. It was bouncy. ‘There we go.’ 

Klaus licked his lips. ‘Do you have any water?’ 

In the worst betrayal, Dave shook his head. His hair was bouncy too. The curls went s p r i n g. Or maybe they didn’t. Maybe he was still seeing things weirdly. He’d never been on such a concoction of things before, and that might be why the world was so melty and funny. But Dave was here. So he must be asleep. Maybe he dreamed it all in the first place. 

Dave was very pretty. Klaus hoped he realised how pretty he was. 

‘We can go look, if you want?’ he said, gazing at Klaus in concern.

‘In a mirror?’

‘What? No, I meant - there must be a tap somewhere.’ 

‘Oh, is there?!’ Klaus scrambled to his feet, and tilted worryingly. ‘I’m thirsty!’ 

Dave jumped up too and caught him, ducked under Klaus’s arm and helped him balance. Sturdy. 

They stumbled across the room, the people swooping around them. Some people had crow’s beaks for faces, some had bull horns piercing up out of their skulls. A person leapt in front of them, their eyes bulbous like a frog’s, legs long and bendy and webbed at the feet. 

Klaus tried to hide from them, turning his face away, eyes shut. He didn’t like them. 

‘Just through here,’ Dave said. 

Something creaked, then they stepped from the swelter and into something fresh and cool. Klaus dared to look up again. 

‘Woah,’ he said, mouth dropping open. The whole room was a refrigerator, literally, and it was blasting icy air. It was blissful relief. 

There wasn’t a tap, but there were ice cubes and Klaus grabbed handfuls of them, crushing them in his hands until they were ground down into perfectly square droplets of water. He gulped them down, one after another, sitting cross-legged like a child in the middle of this beautiful cold room. No matter how many he scoffed, though, the thirst continued to linger. 

In here, the quiet of the party lulled to a background pulse. A brief moment of respite.

Dave was sitting by the door, keeping it propped open with one leg. ‘You okay?’ he asked.

‘Still thirsty,’ Klaus replied murkily. ‘A little better. Um - thanks.’

‘It’s nice to see you again,’ Dave said, smiling. ‘Even in a bad dream.’

This wasn’t a bad dream, Klaus thought. But it was nice to see Dave again, even though all he’d done since the last time they’d seen each other was panic and fret, and then try to numb everything as fast and as thoroughly as possible. He’d been running himself into the ground in his mission to forget. Ignorance is bliss, or so they said. 

‘And you, of course,’ he said, with a lazy, loop-de-loop smile in return. ‘Funny thing... don’t really remember leaving the rave. Must’ve decided to take a little nap.’ 

Dave squinted at him. ‘You’re at a party in real life?’ 

‘Think so… it was getting boring anyway.’ He got up wobbily and peeked out the door. Outside, the rave continued, full of writhing figures like Egyptian gods, part animal, part human. He was still much too warm and sweat began to bead on his forehad again. ‘I think some girl was talking about hieroglyphs earlier. That’s… that’s probably why…’

‘They’re pretty spooky,’ Dave said, looking out through the crack too. 

Klaus tore his gaze away from the grotesque mass. ‘D’you think they’ll go away soon?’ He really wasn’t feeling great. His body was too heavy, his limbs too weak. He wanted to get out - out of this fridge room, out of the crumbling old house, away from the rave, away from all of this. The walls were crushing in, pressing him down. He slumped next to Dave, heart erratic, burning up, most of his energy focused on not being sick. ‘I wanna go…’

‘...Home?’ Dave prompted.

Klaus shook his head, his vision hazing. Anywhere but there. He’d been abysmal in training all week, Dad had threatened special training as a reminder, the last straw on his already mangled back, and he’d really be in for it now that he’d been gone so long - 

‘Okay. That’s okay. Not there. We’ll - oh... Klaus -?’ 

The colours of this cold room dimmed and curdled, like blueberry juice seeping in custard. Thick and thin, indigo ink and sickly yellow. The lights brightened unbearably. He squinted, slumped.

‘- are you alright?’ 

The walls started to melt. He couldn’t breathe. 

‘Klaus - say something! Anything - shit!’ 

There was something in his throat. Something blocking his throat. His hand fluttered against it, scratching, trying to get it out. He was too feverish. He couldn’t get it out. He couldn’t breathe, not at all, and Dave blurred in front of him, something frantic, saying things that made no sense, then suddenly his face went crooked and melty too, skin like wax, dripping - and his face was no longer youthful and bright but old and decrepit and wrinkled, utterly wrong - and Klaus tried to scream but there was no air left, no sound either, the party silenced, the lights going out - not one by one but in a great sweep of darkness that he couldn’t stop. 

He floated in terror then even that was gone, leaving sleep like he’d never known before, quiet and lonely and blank.  

 

He was in a room so bright his eyes stung and his head pounded. In and out of focus, a kind-faced lady leaned over him. 

‘What’s your name, sweetheart? Can you tell me your name?’ 

It took a while for him to realise the words were coming from her mouth - there was a slight delay, they weren’t moving in time with each other. 

‘Four,’ he breathed. 

‘Is that your name?’

He frowned, then a moment later remembered. Shook his head minutely. It hurt. Everything ached. 

‘Can you remember-?’

‘Klaus,’ he whispered. ‘Hargreeves.’

She smiled. He saw one smile, then two, then three, as she multiplied before his very eyes. ‘Thank you, that’s perfect. I’ll be right back with you. Everything’s going to be okay.’ 

 

He was in one of his father’s locked rooms. Reginald wasn’t there. Klaus was alone, strapped to a chair. 

It was the room where they practiced interrogation resistance. He didn’t want to do it today. He didn’t want to hear any questions. He didn’t want the water or the noise or the total darkness. 

The door creaked. He looked out of his periphery, unable to move. 

Ben came in, rubbing his face. He paled when he recognised the room, then frowned when he saw Klaus. 

‘What are you doing here?’ he asked, voice echoing in the chamber. ‘Where have you been?’ 

‘Go away,’ Klaus moaned. ‘Just go away.’ 

The door creaked again. Diego and Allison, this time - bickering. 

‘Klaus?’ they said, their argument forgotten, sliced into silence. 

‘Please,’ he whispered. ‘Please, go. I don’t want you here.’ 

Vanya peeked in at the door, then Luther pushed past her. The room was too small for so many of them. They stood around him where he was secured to the interrogation chair, and they didn’t untie him. 

‘It’s been days since you’ve been home, Klaus,’ Luther said. ‘Dad’s worried.’

‘No he isn’t,’ Diego said.

We’re worried,’ Allison said. ‘You’re dreaming, right? You don’t normally pull all of us in at once.’ 

‘I don’t know,’ Klaus murmured. ‘I don’t know what’s happening. Please go. Please.’ 

Ben frowned. ‘But are you okay?’ 

He stumbled over a reply. Words were liquid, unfathomable; his thoughts scattered whispers that wouldn’t stay put. All he knew was that he didn’t want to be seen. Not like this. Yet here he was, subconscious on full beam and sucking them all towards him, moths to the unwilling flame. The brightest light in these dark, dark nights.

His siblings called his name, and called it again. 

But Klaus felt a downwards tug. A sick, swooping feeling in his stomach. The walls rushed outwards. His siblings vanished. He floated. 

 

In the white glare the kind lady was helping him sip slowly at a cup of water. There was an IV in his arm, a machine beeping softly in the background. 

‘- and we nearly lost you there, too. Your heart stopped. Can’t fathom what -’

‘Stopped?’ he croaked. 

She set the cup down. ‘You’re very lucky. We’ve called your family, your father will be here soon. Then, as I understand it, you’ll be transferred home to be looked after there.’

He didn’t have the energy to argue. The ghosts weren’t back yet but they would be soon, he could tell, and surely with a vengeance in a place like this, a hospital, the house where life and death shook hands. But where would ghosts hide in all this gnawing light.? How had he come here at all? He’d been in the dark, in the heat, new friends, bad friends, acidic taste in his throat and then Dave-Dave-Dave, oh he’d been calling out to him, calling with joy and then calling for help. His sweet Dave, who’d never ever reach him. 

Klaus felt as if he were still dreaming. He was numb. Thoughts were slow and confused. His eyes would not focus, and he didn’t even have the energy to rub them clear.

He’d almost died. 

It really didn’t shock him as much as it should.

 

His father arrived, swooping into the room in his black wool coat and bowler hat. 

The nurse startled to attention. ‘Oh, you must be -’ 

‘Get up,’ he commanded, ignoring her. His gaze glanced off Klaus, before deeming his state uninteresting compared to the medical chart at the foot of his bed. 

Klaus fumbled with the IV, but the nurse gently pushed his hand away. 

‘I’ll sort that for you,’ she said quietly. Her demeanour had changed. The cheer was gone - she’d been trying to brighten him up while he lay there feeling sorry for himself - and it was replaced by a quick-moving seriousness. 

Moving made him feel dizzy. She helped him stand.

‘You can walk on your own two feet?’ his father asked, still not looking at him. 

‘Yes,’ Klaus replied through gritted teeth. He felt nauseous. But it was okay - he could walk. He took a wobbly step, then another. His head throbbed. 

‘He’ll waste no more of your time,’ Reginald said to the nurse. ‘Apologies, and good night. Come, Number Four.’ 

Klaus, head down, followed him out. 

There were others in the hall that Klaus didn’t recognise, wringing their hands, watching them go. He heard, distantly, the nice nurse saying, ‘- called him Four -’ and someone else, ‘need to sign this, he gave -’ and her again, ‘non- disclosure ?!’ 

He pretended he heard nothing at all. 

 

***

It was peaceful in the infirmary. He dozed in and out of consciousness. The last time he’d been in here for so long, he’d been twelve years old, learning exactly what it was that morphine did to the ghosts. There was only one there today, hanging about by the window. Defied recognition, the way it was all mangled, but at least it was quiet. If he closed his eyes, he might almost be alone. Thank god Dad hadn’t made him stay in the hospital; he’d likely say it would teach Klaus a good lesson. But reputation came before all else for Sir Hargreeves, and there Klaus was flaunting it with all its tatters and holes - that would never do. 

A while after the lunch bell Vanya came in with a plate of food. 

‘Mom told me to bring you this,’ she said, setting it aside. Her eyes were big and worried beneath that thick fringe of hair. ‘And she said you might want some company. I know it’s just me... but all the others are training…’

Oh Vanya, he thought. 

He shuffled over to one side of the bed, and patted the sheets next to him. ‘Come on, cosy up.’ 

She climbed in, letting him slump down and lie his head on her shoulder. She held herself very still and said, ‘We all dreamed about you last night.’

‘Yeah,’ Klaus said. ‘Party at mine, huh?’ 

‘But what happened?’

‘Didn’t Dad say?’

‘No, he didn’t even say you were back.’ 

‘Well, I am. Hooray.’ He gave a lacklustre whoop of celebration. ‘Home sweet home.’

Next to him, Vanya felt as though she was afraid to breathe, she was holding herself so stiffly. ‘You don’t sound very happy about it.’

‘Oh, I’m overjoyed, really -’

But before he could finish, she turned to him, an intense look in her eyes, voice low and urgent. ‘You ran, didn’t you? You ran away and he found you and made you come back. But you did it. You got out.’ 

Klaus blinked. ‘Uh. Kind of. I was always gonna come back. I think... You know, I didn’t really plan, that’s not really my thing.’ He frowned at her. ‘Why? Are you thinking of… of running away? ’ 

‘No.’ It was a defensive answer; he knew those well. Suddenly and quietly, Klaus’s entire perception of Vanya imploded, even as the passion on her face closed off again. ‘I’m just asking.’

‘You know,’ Klaus said, propping himself up a bit, ‘he probably wouldn’t bother bringing you back.’ 

‘Don’t.’

‘Don’t what?’

‘Rub it in.’

‘I’m not -’ 

‘Yes, you are,’ she insisted, in that mouse-quiet way of hers. ‘You’re making it a joke - it’s not like I don’t already know he doesn’t care about me.’

He made a show of scanning the room. ‘Uh - who’s laughing? Not me, not you,’ he pointed at her, then at the ghost across the room, ‘and definitely not them - though I don’t think they could laugh anymore if they tried.’ 

She sighed. ‘Okay, Klaus. Just forget it.’ 

‘No, I’m serious! If anyone could run away, it’s you.’ 

‘I don’t want to run away!’

He startled at her unusual outburst. ‘Why not?’

Her hair fell around her face and she hid within it, not replying. 

Klaus didn’t really notice; his thoughts were leaping off track, circling back to something else she’d said. ‘Vanya… you know - you know he doesn’t care about any of us, right?’ 

The more he thought about it, the more sense that made to him. Dave had planted the seed long ago, and it had been unbearable to hear then. But time worked wonders. It was starting to take root. 

In many ways, he’d always known it. He just hadn’t wanted to believe it. 

She replied, deadpan, ‘You just said I’m the only one he wouldn’t bring back.’ 

‘No, no, that’s different. That doesn’t mean he cares about us. It’s like, I dunno...’ He racked his brains for the perfect scenario as example. ‘Say you got a really valuable pet monkey or something - a chimp like Pogo. Actually, no, imagine it’s a capuchin monkey, they’re cuter. Imagine you found out that little capuchin could do cool shit, crazy tricks and things, and it was worth so much money, like crazy amounts of money that you’ll never have again - you’d want to get it back if it escaped, right?’

‘...I guess.’ 

‘But - get this - the only way you can get this poor little monkey to do its tricks is by…’ He wanted to say by hurting it, but he couldn’t drum up the courage. ‘...you know. Being a bastard. And so that little monkey hates you.’ 

Vanya was peeking out from behind her hair. ‘I get what you’re saying,’ she said lowly. ‘He could be nicer to you. But you don’t know what it’s like, not having powers. I’m invisible. I might as well not be here at all.’ 

‘At least he leaves you alone.’ 

‘It’s not nice.

‘Neither’s training! It’s abuse, all of it!’ His voice cracked, still a little rusty from last night and coloured now with emotion. ‘To you, to us. All of us. Abuse.’ 

Vanya was trembling beside him. He might have been trembling too. He’d finally spoken it out loud, that word he never wanted to say nor hear.

‘It’s not okay,’ he added. 

‘But you don’t try,’ she whispered. ‘That’s why he treats you worse. Treats you like me.’ 

‘I know,’ he said. It was true. His stomach twisted, eyes flickering towards the ghost at the window. ‘But it’s still kind of wrong, don’t you reckon?’ 

She shrugged minutely.

 They sat there for a while, Klaus picking at the plate of sandwiches, tearing the bread back so he could eat the filling. He didn’t really want to talk about this anymore. 

‘Sorry,’ Vanya said. ‘I probably didn’t help you feel any better. I’m not… I’m not very good at this.’ 

And that was his ticket out of this discomfort.

‘Bullshit,’ he said, mouth full. ‘You distracted me plenty from my many other mortal sufferings.’

‘...Okay. If you say so.’ 

‘Hey, you did!’ He offered her a piece of chicken, which she took. ‘Now, tell me - we haven’t talked music in ages - did you hear that new Green Day song? Boulevard of broken-’

‘Yes!’ she exclaimed, brightening up, and he settled back down on her shoulder which - for the record - was surprisingly comfortable.

 

***

He dreamed of a pool: sharp chlorine smell, air close and heavy all around him. Water sloshing, excited chatter. His feet in a puddle, the concrete beneath scratchy with little lumps of pebbles, the lapping water neither cold nor warm. Embryonic. Sound was distorted, like he was underwater, but he wasn’t. Dave was, though. The shape of him rippling beneath as he swam along the floor, rising slowly. Long and lithe. 

It felt like Klaus watched for hours, waiting for Dave to surface. His eyes muddled by the refraction of light, his thoughts just as liquid. Come closer he whispered to himself. I want to see your face. I want to know you’re breathing under there. I want to check you still look like you. 

Something held him back from diving in himself - perhaps the triangular fins slicing the water, circling menacing in the middle of the pool, or perhaps the way the edges of the pool blurred and widened, opening up onto an achingly wide Pacific sky. Too open. In the distance there was a white sand beach, dotted with coconut palms that swayed gently. It was hard to tell where it changed from an indoors pool; it blended seamlessly, even from where he was sitting. Stuck on that ledge, gazing outwards, Dave somewhere between, somewhere just out of reach. 

His friend broke the surface, spluttering a little. 

‘Hello you,’ Klaus said.

Dave wiped water from his eyes. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘I thought this was real practice.’ He pulled himself up onto the ledge beside Klaus, splashing droplets everywhere. ‘No wonder I was swimming so slow. Though I suppose usually there’s no sharks. Makes sense.’ 

The ease and the normalcy of his friend made Klaus’s heart sting. So much for numbness. 

But of course Dave was always more astute than Klaus would like him to be, and so it wasn’t much later that his friend decided the time was right and asked (with little subtlety and overflowing armfuls of care) how Klaus was. He should’ve expected it. The last time they’d seen each other was undoubtedly a lot fresher and clearer for Dave than it was for Klaus.

‘It was like you had a fit, or something,’ Dave said.

‘Oh, I’m fine,’ Klaus said quietly. 

My heart stopped, he thought. I nearly died. And I did it to myself. 

He couldn’t say that, though. Things were already different between them, or they would be soon enough, once Dave caught up to the reality of the situation. Klaus couldn’t mess their friendship up further. Knowing what Klaus got up to in the waking world would only bring his sweet friend further strife. So he wouldn’t tell him the truth. 

‘I was just unwell,’ he added. It was the sort of lie that was okay, wasn’t it? A little white lie to stop others from hurting when they didn’t need to. ‘All better now.’

Dave was studying him intensely. Klaus stared back, challenging him to question further, but his friend must have been worried about overstepping, because he eventually acquiesced and didn’t press. 

Klaus looked out at the pool again. There were rows of red-capped children swimming down the nearby lanes, arcs of spray from their kicking legs, arms slicing gracefully, all avoiding the infested waters in the middle.

‘So you swim, then? In real life?’ Klaus asked, changing the topic. 

Dave let him. He made a happy sound, and told Klaus about the YMCA, about the school race team, and the time he came second in backstroke out of all the boys in his grade. Klaus stole glaces at him all the while. That fluffy hair half dried, sticking up at funny angles. A constellation of freckles across his chest. Water droplets gathered in the crook of his arm, and crinkles in the corner of his eyes when he smiled, which was often. 

Klaus was captivated by one of them when Dave said, ‘But how about you?’

He’d lost track of where the conversation was drifting. ‘What?’

‘How’ve you been since finding out about… everything?’

‘Ah -’ Klaus mumbled, taken off guard. Not this. Anything but this. ‘Oh. Good. You know. Not really thinking about it.’ 

Dave saw right through him, the perceptive asshole. Though that wasn’t saying much; it was even weaker than his last lie.

‘I’ve been thinking about it a lot,’ Dave said. ‘It’s crazy, right? One day I’m just a normal kid and the world seems like it’s never going to change. And the next I’m questioning everything, wondering if whatever I do that day is gonna affect the future - your future. And then I start wondering what that future will even be like. Because suddenly it doesn’t seem that far away at all, y’know? There’s things I can’t know, but I want to know them, desperately.’

Klaus swirled his feet in the water, distinctly uncomfortable. He didn’t want to have to think about their helpless situation at all, though at least this line of questioning was better than discussing his feelings . ‘So... you want me to tell you more about what happens.’

‘Not that, not really,’ Dave said, shaking his head. ‘It just doesn’t seem sensible having that kind of foresight. But I guess I do want to know some stuff.’

‘Well, first lesson: the future’s shit. Majorly.’ 

‘No, I meant… I want to know what’s going on with you.’ 

Klaus frowned at him. ‘Me?’ 

‘Yeah.’

His eyes narrowed in suspicion. ‘Why?’ 

‘Because I’m your friend,’ he said. ‘Friends care about what’s going on with each other.’ Dave was determinedly looking at the water. Something shifty was going on.

‘That’s not it,’ he said slowly. ‘You’re up to something. I can tell.’ 

When Dave still didn’t look at him, Klaus scooped his hand through the water and splashed him. That got him to look, at least. 

‘Hey!’ 

‘Don’t look so offended! You’re the one being weird.’

‘I just want to make sure you’re okay,’ Dave said, frazzled. ‘That’s it. Nothing crazy.’ 

‘Lucky for you I’m fine, then.’ 

‘I mean all the time. Even before we met.’ 

Klaus laughed, at first. It didn’t quite sink in. ‘Okay, weirdo. You’re a bit late for that, but I appreciate the thought.’ 

‘No, you’re not getting it.’ Dave pulled his legs out of the water spun to face Klaus. He seemed off-balance, out of sorts. He spoke fast, like the words had to be propelled from him at speed lest they get lost along the way. ‘Look, I know it’s too late for you, but it’s not too late for me, right? Nothing that’s ever happened to you has happened yet on my side. It could still be different. Just think - I could change things for you. I could change them from how they are now. We could. But to do any of that I need to know what’s going on with you so that I can pinpoint exactly what I might do to help from my end.’ 

Klaus felt as though slapped. ‘What?’ 

Dave looked so earnest. Those blue eyes bright and wide and so, so naive. ‘I mean it. I’d do it. I’d change the future, for you.’ 

Klaus shook his head, wordless for a moment. ‘Dave… you can’t - you can’t do that.’ 

‘I can,’ Dave argued, ‘I’m sure of it, if we work together, we’ll find something -’ 

‘No,’ Klaus said. ‘No, stop! Stop talking!’ There was something deadly serious in his voice and Dave immediately fell silent, going pale, his freckles standing out even clearer on his face. Klaus couldn’t tear his eyes away, rendered immobile by astonishment. But there was no anger in him, no malice, when he said, ‘I don’t want that, Dave. I really, really don’t. You can’t be meddling with my life like that.’ 

A red flush began to creep across Dave’s cheeks. ‘Oh,’ he said.

‘What would you even do? Unwrite everything that’s ever happened to me? Like, yeah… it’s all a bit shit, sure, but without it I wouldn’t be the same person. You have to understand that. It’d be like I was dead.’ 

There was a look of devastation about Dave as the fantasy came crashing down around him,  like it hadn’t even occurred to him that Klaus wouldn’t want this. 

Klaus, meanwhile, was still reeling with disbelief and - quite honestly - surprise. He couldn’t quite comprehend the scope of it: both of what he would lose, and the depth of feeling with which Dave offered it, no matter how flawed a plan. He must’ve been thinking about it for a while. Klaus couldn’t really picture anyone wasting that much mental effort on him. 

His friend was still staring at the water. ‘I didn’t mean…’ he said, so quiet. Ashamed. It hurt a little to hear.

‘Hey - I know.’ As Klaus said it he knew it was true. Dave had meant well. But what could he possibly change? Reginald Hargreeves was already around in his time - they’d even met already. What would a world where his father had never adopted him look like? His life would have panned out in ways he had no way of imagining - an unfamiliar family, new problems, different ghosts. And no kidding: the prospect was tantalising. That was what scared him the most. His whole life he’d wished for an escape, but not one that came at the price of losing all that history. All his brothers and sisters strangers to him, to each other, and everything they experienced turned to dust. They were a team, they’d never lived apart. No matter how much they griped and argued, he loved those suckers, and there wasn’t anything that could make him destroy that. Definitely not a hypothetical happiness that would only be lived by another version of himself. 

And what if Dave took another route? Spent years of his life tethered to Klaus within dreams, waiting and searching for something to change closer to 1989, the two of them aging in step with one another. It was a horribly slow prospect, and doubtless Dave would get sick of him along the way, and in that case there’d have been no point in it all along. 

‘I just wanted to do something useful,’ Dave mumbled. ‘I didn’t think. But you’re right. It could change too much. Don’t know why I ever… Stupid, really. Sorry.’ 

‘Hey - sometimes there’s nothing you can do.’ He nudged Dave, trying to get him to perk up, to show that he wasn’t angry. His friend glanced up, sheepish. ‘You know you don’t need to worry about me, yeah? I’m a big boy. I can handle things.’ Apart from his most recent misfortune. But alas, that was an anomaly. He had everything else under control. 

Dave nodded, still deflated. 

Klaus swished his feet through the water. This was all very serious, wasn’t it? A bit too miserable for his taste. 

He sighed, hugely, then put his arm around Dave under the premise of giving him a comforting, you’re-still-my-friend hug. Dave stiffened at the touch, then relaxed into his side - and it was that dropping of the guard that Klaus was waiting for. With a heave, he shoved Dave off the ledge and back into the water. His friend dropped to the bottom like a stone, then surged back up with such an offended expression that Klaus couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

Dave took advantage of that and pulled Klaus in by the ankles, accompanied by a ferocious battle cry. 

They tangled in the water, wrestling with each other, chlorine taste in their mouths and water up their noses, tumbling and turning, trying to duck each other, Klaus clinging onto Dave when he got bored of keeping himself afloat, then fighting to stop himself from being thrown backwards with yet another almighty splash. There were legs kicking out at legs, snorts of laughter, and gulps of air: and then everything slowing, everything coming to stillness as they treaded in the deep, heads just above the water. Catching their breath. 

‘Hey Klaus?’

Klaus spat water out. ‘Mm?’

‘I really am sorry.’

‘What? About that old misunderstanding? I’d already forgotten.’ 

Dave shook his head, an unwilling grin appearing. ‘Liar.’ 

‘Who, me? Never .’ 

Suddenly the water wasn’t as deep; they could touch the floor. All the noise and bustle of others at the pool had gone quiet. There was nobody there but them. Even the circling sharks in the distance were gone. 

Dave’s expression turned serious, and slightly bewildered. Like he couldn’t quite understand himself. ‘It’s just,’ he said, hesitating, ‘I think about you a lot. All the time, kinda.’ 

Klaus went very quiet. There were droplets clinging to Dave’s eyelashes. His cheeks were pink from exertion. Klaus found he was still breathless, somewhat lost for words, unable to do anything but look and look and look.

‘I don’t really know why,’ Dave said. ‘I think… I think that…’ 

And then Dave stepped closer and kissed him. 

It was only brief: a shy, sweet kiss. Dave’s lips were warm, and he pulled back almost immediately, looking shocked, touching his mouth like he wasn’t sure what had just happened. 

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what -’

‘You need to stop apologising.’ Klaus grabbed his hands, wide-eyed. His heart was hammering in his chest. ‘I like kissing anyways.’

Dave, still looking confused, raised an eyebrow. ‘Even by a… by me?’ 

‘Especially by you.’ 

That didn’t seem to help reassure him, so Klaus pulled him closer again and kissed him once more - not so feather-light this time.

And the floor fell away, and they floated, they didn’t need to swim. Klaus’s eyes were shut, so he didn’t see - but the water around them was alight with glittering starlight, night now, the roof-turned-sky speckled with more stars than the bare eye could ever hope to see.

 

***

So you see, said the universe. I have created a glitch. I blew a kiss to the stars and on the gentle whoosh of my breath, fate and time got tangled up. 

And now the pattern has changed. Of course, some threads must stay the same; they run through the core of the weft. But look at them: so much different already, and they don’t even know it. But I do. I have been keeping watch. 

Isn’t it beautiful?

Chapter Text

Let’s spend a while in the waking world, shall we? Dream kisses, no matter how sweet, do not work miracles overnight. 

***

Klaus wasn’t feeling too impressed with himself at the moment. Partly because he hadn’t told Dave about the overdose. (He didn’t want to bring all his general strife into Dave’s life, not when he was a disaster already in motion, tumbling over and over and picking up debris and more problems as he went. His friend would surely be dragged under by the immensity of it. It’s why Klaus had to chase him off whenever he tried to help.) He also hadn’t told Dave how much it was messing him up, knowing how unfathomably far from each other they were. That secret wouldn’t usually bother him, especially because it wasn’t something his friend was likely to care about, but Dave was probably going through something similar and might’ve liked to know he wasn’t alone. 

He felt bad for kissing him too. He’d never felt so much guilt from a kiss. But yet nothing had ever felt so right. So impossible. 

It didn’t feel real anymore, here in the quiet daylight of one of the many abandoned rooms upstairs. Klaus was basking in an old armchair in a narrow square of sunshine, watching dust motes drift aimlessly, the air hazy and sweet with smoke. It was a pleasant enough place, and didn’t really deserve such unpleasant thoughts. Yet there he was nonetheless, musing moodily on all that he had left of the dream: flashes of damp freckle-scattered skin and a sense of blue. He struggled to remember exactly what Dave’s voice sounded like. When he pressed fingertips to his own lips it was with an emptiness that knew those lips had never really touched his, either. Not properly.

With his joint pinched in the corner of his mouth, he heaved himself to his feet and went to the window, squinting out into the bright. He didn’t think about how Dave might be out there, too. Old and wrinkled but now. He didn’t think about going to find him. He didn’t do anything but look, letting his thoughts turn to trails of smoke - impossible to hold down and easy to disperse. His high finally, finally began to wash over him and for a moment he stopped worrying about anything except how to keep on floating upwards and upwards. 

His hidey-hole solitude was disturbed by the creak of floorboards outside the door. He turned to look as Vanya poked her head in.

‘Oh. There you are,’ she said. ‘You have way too many hiding places.’ 

‘No such thing as too many.’ He blinked at her, big-eyed, smoke curling in front of his face. ‘Why? Were you looking for moi?’

‘I, uh… yeah. I wanted to talk.’ She stepped inside, closing the door behind her, nose wrinkling. 

That made him curious. ‘Well, I can do that. I’m pretty good at it, actually.’ He ambled back over to his armchair, slumping down into it. There was another beside it, and he kicked it lightly with one dangling leg to indicate she should sit in it. She did exactly that, after a brief struggle to set it upright while he watched. They were hefty old armchairs, the sort that looked like they were covered in tapestries, the fabric was so thick and heavily embroidered. 

Once she was settled, she was quiet like she was waiting for him to say something, even though he had no idea what she wanted. Klaus took a slow drag, then said, ‘So. What do you want to chat about, dear sister?’ 

The memory of their last heart to heart briefly surfaced. That time she’d been sent by Mom. Vanya didn’t normally seek any of them out - and they didn’t really seek her out in turn. Out of all his siblings, she was the one he knew least about. All she did really was play the violin and stay out of the way. She didn’t chat. 

In all fairness, he wasn’t just being mean thinking that: she seemed to be struggling with the idea of it too. Faltering, clearly unable to start off her sentence. 

He thought about offering her a puff of his joint. That could help? But before he could hold it out, she said, all in a quiet hurry: 

‘I was wondering if you knew where to get fake IDs.’

What?’ he exclaimed, laughing in his shock. It made her shrink back, that reaction, while he in turn sat up straight, suddenly very engaged. ‘Look, if you’re trying to steal my sister’s identity you’re going to have to do a little more research because the Vanya I know would never -’ 

‘I’m serious,’ she muttered. 

He laughed again, delighted. ‘But what for - that’s the fun question, isn’t it? What’s the rebellion of choice? I bet you want to get booze. Or cigarettes. Or - wait, you’ve got a gambling addiction?! Oh, god. Vanya. That’s it, isn’t it?’

Klaus. Look, just… do you know how?’ 

‘Yeah, I guess.’ He was grinning at her, still surprised and somewhat proud. ‘I know a guy. You have to tell me why, though. It’s the rules.’ 

‘No it isn’t.’ 

‘It is! They only give them out to people if they know what they’re using them for.’ 

She frowned. ‘Really?’ 

He nodded primly. 

‘Fine.’ Wrapping her arms around herself, she said, ‘You have to be a certain age to rent an apartment.’ 

‘...And?’

‘I want to rent an apartment.’ 

Klaus stared at her. She seemed totally serious - but then she was always like that - and he had the sudden flashing realisation that he truly didn’t know Vanya at all. It had never occurred to him that she’d be off making plans by herself. That she’d want to leave. 

There was their conversation in the infirmary, but that had been a strange blip. Things had gone back to normal after that - him and the others, doing their thing, and Vanya doing hers. That’s how it was meant to be. 

‘So,’ she said, ‘can you get me one?’ 

‘Wait, wait, wait.’ He got up and once more returned to stand in the sun-soaked window. His thoughts were lightest here, in view of the big wide world. They felt less crushing. Less likely to overwhelm. ‘You want to leave home?’ 

‘I don’t just want to. I’m going to.’

He scrunched his eyes closed and waited a couple of seconds, to see if this strange apparition that wasn’t quite his sister would vanish.

She didn’t. 

‘Um,’ he said. Uncharacteristically speechless. ‘Uh, okay. Wow. Yeah. Yeah, I can try do that. I’ll ask. It’ll… it’ll cost... quite a bit.’

She gave him a fragile smile. ‘So will renting a place. You’re not the only one who knows how pawn shops work.’

‘Pawn shops too? I can’t believe this,’ he said, shaking his head in awe and mock disappointment. Then, a beat or two later: ‘Wait. Wait. You’ve been stealing stuff to sell? From Dad?’ 

‘I -’ 

His mouth fell open before she could say anything else. ‘The vase. Oh my god. The vase!’ He saw it in her face that he was right. ‘You sneak! I told Pogo I didn’t touch it! 

‘I thought he wouldn’t notice. Sorry…’ 

‘Yeah, well, you didn’t say much when I took the fall! Unwillingly!’ He slumped dramatically against the windowframe. ‘Betrayed by my own sister. And now she wants me to help her. The audacity...’

In all honesty, that ornate vase didn’t get him as bad a punishment as half the other stuff he’d stolen. He’d begun to question whether he had stolen it and just forgotten. But all that was weeks ago now. This new novelty of his quiet sister turned rebel was much more fascinating. 

If there was anything Klaus knew about himself, it was that he loved drama. And god - Vanya running away? That’d be the peak. The looks on his siblings’ faces when they realised… and he’d have inside knowledge from the start. It was tantalising. 

Vanya was looking at the floor again. ‘I’m really sorry, Klaus. Just… never mind. I shouldn’t have asked. Stupid idea, really.’

‘Yeah, you really, really owe me.’

‘I know. I’ll tell Pogo it wasn’t you.’ 

He shook his head. ‘Nah, no need for that. I just hope you know I’m going to be taking an indefensibly large cut as your intermediary.’ 

She glanced up fast. ‘Wait - you mean you’re going to -?’

‘Guess so,’ he said, shrugging. 

And then she leapt out of her chair. There was a light in her eyes which he wasn’t used to. Maybe it was the glint of sunlight from the window, making them shine bright amongst the otherwise dim room. ‘Oh. Oh! Klaus, wow. Thank you. Thank you so much. And I’m so sorry, I swear.’ 

‘You’d better be, sneak. ’ But he was grinning at her. ‘Lucky for you, I do love the black market.’

She nodded along with this like it was a sensible thing. ‘Just let me know how much. And whatever else you need.’ 

‘Well, on top of my cut... desserts for a week.’

‘Done.’ 

‘No, wait - a month.’ 

She paused. ‘Okay.’

‘And…’ He racked his brains. ‘Allison rumoured me to stay out of her room, so I want you to steal back my Prince poster, please and thanks.’ 

‘Fine.’

‘Good. We have a deal then.’ He shook her hand vigorously. 

Just before Vanya left, she turned to say, ‘Hey, Klaus? Don’t tell anyone else about this. I don’t want Dad to find out.’ 

‘I’ll try,’ he said.

She gave him another fleeting smile, then she turned and went back downstairs. Klaus, in turn, flopped back into his chair, mind whirring. 



He got it for her easily enough. It was just a matter of time and money, really, once you knew the right person. And Vanya hadn’t been lying - she had the money he asked for, which included the cost of ID and a cut for himself as the middle man. He’d already made himself quite ill more than once from the double dessert situation too. 

She hugged him thanks when he gave it to her. Unusually, she’d pinned her fringe back, her forehead bare. It made her look older, more confident. 

‘When are you going to go?’ he asked. 

She shrugged. ‘Not sure yet. Whenever I get a place that’ll accept this.’ Waved the ID at him.



Their rooms were next to each other. He could hear her playing the violin as he lay on his bed, staring at the fairy lights as they flickered.  

It was a familiar sketch of an idle afternoon. If she hadn’t come to him, he’d never have known anything was different at all. But there she was - with plots and plans simmering underneath the surface. It had been a while since their secret arrangement. He wondered what she was waiting for. There was still a part of her, clearly, which was afraid to make that first step. He could tell. Talking to him had been the easy part. 

He still didn’t know why she’d done that. Maybe it was due to that uneasy understanding they’d reached in the infirmary. Maybe she was more ruthless than all of them, willing to use his skills of ill-repute for her own gain. 

He wanted to dream - to talk to Dave about all this. He’d listen, then say something that was so simple and plain but made the most sense, and suddenly Klaus would understand. 

He also just wanted to see Dave again. Hadn’t in ages, not since the pool dream. But he couldn’t make it happen with a snap of his fingers, not even with all the power of his will. Useless superpowers - that was him in a nutshell. 

So he lay there. Mulled and wondered and chewed on his lip. 

What would Dave say?

Don’t get involved. It’s not your business. Not worth it. 

No, that wasn’t right. His dear Dave was nosy, to a fault. Instead, he’d say, talk to her. Ask her if she’s afraid, because you think she might be. See what you can do to help. Help’s good. It’s okay to ask for help, Klaus.  

He’d do his research too. I asked my teacher. My parents. I found this place, it’s called… 

He’d say, There’s always other options, right?

You won’t have to live there forever. 

You deserve better. 

But it was just talk, and not even real talk for that matter. All just words in his mind. He told himself that as he stood up, as he felt the blood rushing to his head from getting up too fast, as he left his room and paused outside Vanya’s, as he lifted a hand to the door and knocked lightly. All talk. Big words. Nothing more.

The violin squeaked into silence, and his sister opened the door. 



‘You and Vanya are close all of a sudden.’ 

He and Ben were running on treadmills, Reginald’s heart monitors pressed to their chests. Klaus was struggling. His lungs weren’t what they once were, seeing as he didn’t use his fake ID for honourable purchases like a certain someone. 

‘Oh?’ he managed. 

Ben was sweating too, but he was considerably more composed than Klaus. ‘Yeah. You never used to hang out with her at all, let alone every evening.’ He glanced over suspiciously. ‘What’re you up to?’

‘Nothing,’ Klaus wheezed. 

‘If you’re going to mess with someone, it’s pretty cruel to pick her. At least the rest of us can hold our own.’

‘Not - messing -’ 

‘Oh, sure. I believe you.’ The sarcasm was pointed. 

Klaus stepped off the treadmill, sick of that. Chest heaving, sweat pouring, he said, ‘Jesus, Ben. I wouldn’t do that… I‘m not a monster .

‘Debatable.’ 

He flicked Ben’s arm. ‘Says you, tentacle guts. Why d’you assume she can’t hold her own? Pretty cruel of you , actually.’ 

‘Touche.’ Ben stopped his treadmill too, slowly coming down to a walking pace. ‘But why, though?’ 

Klaus smiled glibly. ‘Unfortunately, I’ve sworn an oath of secrecy. My lips are sealed.’ 

‘Okay, you are definitely up to something.’

‘Maybe,’ he said, shrugging carelessly. ‘Go ask Vanya if you’re so intrigued.’

‘I think I will,’ Ben said as though that was meant to worry Klaus.

‘Delightful!’ he replied. ‘You do that. Oh, and watch out - she’s not as goody-two-shoes as she looks.’ 



He’d not said much to Vanya, that other afternoon. It had mostly consisted of an offer to help, because that had been the easiest thing to manage, requiring no vulnerability or any more icky soul-searching. He wasn’t good at being open with his feelings, not like Dave was. But he could mimic things Dave had already said easily enough. 

Turned out Vanya was hesitant. The prospect of actually beginning the hunt for an apartment was extremely adult and totally unfamiliar ground. She’d been putting it off. Didn’t even know where to start. Procrastination-station. 

‘I can help,’ Klaus had said, equally hesitant. The words felt an unfamiliar shape in his mouth. ‘If you want.’ 

She’d frowned. ‘Really?’ 

‘Yeah. Weird, I know. It’s just… I’ve got this really annoying little voice in my head that keeps saying I should, you know? So - tah-dah. Here I am. The worst assistant you’ll ever have.’ 

He wasn’t a good salesman - yet, somehow, she didn’t complain. 



They scoured advertisements in the paper. They figured out what part of town had the cheapest apartments, the only sort she’d be able to afford. They tried to get their heads around how much food cost, and electricity. Well - Vanya did most of that. Klaus was good at looking for stuff, imagining, inspiring her to keep at it, but the nitty-gritty was less his thing. It was her future anyhow.

She sat cross legged on his floor calculating sums, chewing on the end of a pencil, while he looked out the window, impatiently wondering whether any of the buildings seen in that sliver of a view were going to be Vanya’s future home. Her escape. 

He could go and visit. Stay for sleepovers, maybe. If she didn’t mind. Make sure she’s doing okay. 

 

She’d finally decided to go to a viewing after he twisted her arm, convinced her it was at least worth a shot to see what she was dealing with. The apartment faced a brick wall, had a soggy floor in the bathroom from a mysterious leak, and a potential rat problem if the scurrying sounds coming from the walls were any indication. Even so, he could see it already: late nights in the kitchen raiding the cupboards for offbrand cereal; there wasn’t much room but he could sleep in the bathub if she ever let him stay; they’d plug up the mice holes with tin foil, and pretend to be fancy with the cheapest bottles of wine in mugs, pretend like they’re homeowners, like they’re properly grown up with jobs and responsibilities and other crazy shit. 

‘So…’ he nudged her. ‘What d’you think?’ 

‘It’s different.’

‘I think you mean it’s perfect!’

‘No. But it’s cheap . ’ 

‘Come on then, Vannie. What’ve we got to lose? Is this it?’ 

She tucked some loose hair behind her ear, and stood up straight. A fragile smile, shining like straw spun to gold. ‘Yeah, I guess it is.’ 

Klaus clapped his hands together in excitement, and managed to stop himself from going too crazy and hugging her. They needed to look professional. ‘I’m going to come visit you so much,’ he said dreamily instead, spinning around in a circle to better take it all in. 

 

Ben assailed them that evening, barging into Klaus’s room without even knocking. The audacity. 

He swung the door wide open with accusation already pasted clear as anything upon his face. Outrage on his lips. But the planned words died before he could say anything, and out fell a low, ‘Oh. Homework? That’s all?’ 

Between Klaus and Vanya was a scattering of papers, all of which made the plan very clear. The two of them stared in surprise for a moment, then Vanya began frantically gathering up all the sheets in her arms, but none of them were stacking sensibly, pokey edges sticking out and stray pages fluttering back to the floor. 

Ben, suspicious again, darted down and grabbed one, immediately retreating. 

‘Hey, go away, nosy!’ Klaus cried out, chasing after and snatching it back. ‘That’s private. ’ 

But Ben was a fast reader. ‘A rental application?!’

‘No,’ Klaus retorted. 

‘That’s what I read.’

‘Well, you’re wrong because that’s not actually what it says.’ 

Ben would’ve rolled his eyes if he hadn’t been so shocked. ‘You’re trying to rent a place.’ 

‘You don’t know that -’ 

‘Klaus,’ Vanya interjected, voice soft. ‘It’s okay.’ She turned to Ben with an awkward smile. ‘Yeah, we are.’ 

‘Not me,’ Klaus said. ‘Just Vanya. I’m only helping.’ 

Ben blinked at them both. ‘You asked Klaus to help you move out?’ 

‘He offered.’ 

‘He offered? ’ 

Klaus threw a pencil at his brother. ‘Told you - I’m nice sometimes. Now can you go away? You’ve figured out our little secret, so shoo!’ 

‘Um, not without a bit more of an explanation!’ 

‘What’s there to say? Vanya’s leaving the nest. She’s on her way up in the world. She’s jumping ship and abandoning all of us to our poor, poor fates and yet somehow she has all my support.’ 

Ben ignored him and looked earnestly at Vanya. ‘When are you going?’ 

‘As soon as this stuff is approved,’ she said, waggling the papers at him. ‘We don’t know if we’ll get it yet.’ 

‘Oh. That’s soon, though. If you do.’ 

‘Yeah.’ She smiled sadly. ‘I don’t really want to be here anymore, you know.’ 

‘Fair,’ he said.  

‘You won’t tell anyone, will you?’

‘Yeah, zip zip mi hermano,’ Klaus added, miming shutting his lips. 

‘I won’t tell,’ he promised, voice downcast. Ben was often quiet but this was unusual, even for him. 

Klaus frowned at his brother for a moment, then sighed. ‘Hey, what’s up you weirdo? Why’ve you gone all emo on us?'

His mouth thinned into a line. ‘I’m fine. I’m just surprised is all.’ 

‘Alright,’ Klaus said, digging a pre-rolled joint out of his pocket and lighting it. 'Didn't care anyway.' 

‘You know, Ben -’ Vanya started to say but Ben’s attentions were elsewhere and she was drowned out as he complained, ‘In here, Klaus? Really?’ 

‘It’s my room!’ 

‘So? You’ll make us stink of it too.’

‘Go stand in the corner then -’

‘Hey. Guys. Guys.’ Vanya crossed her arms. ‘Can you please stop bickering, for once.’ 

‘Oh, sorry, mom , I didn’t see you there,’ Klaus said, while Ben said, ‘We don’t bicker that much.’ 

‘That’s not the point,’ she said. ‘I was trying to say that you can join in with us, if you want.’ 

Ben blinked. ‘I can?’ 

‘Yeah, you can help read through the contract, to see if there’s anything dodgy. I don’t think Klaus has read it properly.’ 

Klaus shrugged. ‘I found the bit where you sign.’ 

‘Yeah. Thanks for that.’ She held the papers out to Ben. ‘I’d like you to.’ 

He took them, smiling, and settled down on the floor to read. 

 

Vanya got the apartment. Her ID was approved, despite her tiny baby-esque stature, and despite never working before, and despite only being “eighteen.” They figured the landlord just wanted to get the dump of a home filled, and the deposit she sent was just as legal as any other cash - with no way to tell that it was from selling stolen goods. 

He and Ben went with her to see it for the second (and first) time. The key was a long, ancient looking one, and it had to be in the lock at a very precise angle to turn. Once they were in, the main room was musty and stuffy, so they opened all the windows as wide as they’d go, which wasn’t far, and then once they’d inspected all the cupboards and drawers and peered into the one rusty mirror, which was all there really was to do, the three of them gathered back in the middle of the room, a room totally outside of the jurisdiction of their father, and they found they couldn’t help it anymore: they grabbed each other’s hands and squeezed them tight and jumped up and down for joy, utterly rapturous. They’d done it. Ben, not so much, but he’d been there for the last hurdle and here they were - they’d done it

 

They were back at home and helping her pack when the Academy’s alarm bell went off. Klaus rolled his eyes. 

‘I’m not going,’ he muttered. 

Ben was already on his feet. ‘You can’t not go. We all need to be there.’ 

Vanya had frozen, halfway through placing an item in her bag. She was watching them with wary eyes. 

‘I haven’t even been to training in weeks!’ Klaus argued. ‘Dad doesn’t care about me anymore, I’m more of a nuisance than anything else.’

‘It’s not about Dad, it’s about us. The team! You’ve always come before.’ 

‘Yeah, and this time I promised Vanya I’d help her move her stuff. I’m not going back on that just because there’s a gang of criminals to murder. ’ It was the big day, after all. He’d been fizzing inside with excitement for it all morning, could hardly sleep last night either. It’d been so long since he’d been so invested in something, longer than he could remember, and the apartment was awaiting them, awaiting Vanya, and he was so, so sick and tired of all the Academy business anyway. 

The alarm continued to blare, loud and ringing, the light in Vanya’s room flashing red. It struck Klaus that it wasn’t entirely fair that she had to have the light in here too, seeing as she was totally excluded from the whole affair. Outside the door, there were the frantic sounds and quick footsteps of the rest of their family preparing. 

‘It’s okay,’ Vanya said. ‘You can go. We’ll move another time. Tomorrow, even.’ 

Klaus scowled and continued stubbornly to pack. ‘I promised today. And so did Ben.’ 

Ben made a raw sound of frustration. ‘They can’t go without me! I’m the Horror! They need me.’ 

‘Well if you wanna go so bad, then go!’ 

‘I’m going to! But if you want Dad to know you’re not coming, you have to tell him yourself.’ At that, he stormed out the door, slamming it behind him. 

‘Jeez,’ Klaus muttered. 

The alarm was still making a racket. He and Vanya continued to pack in stony silence. Eventually, she said, ‘Thanks, by the way. For staying.’ 

‘Didn’t really fancy going anyway. I’m tired of all that.’ Then he put his head down and didn’t say any more.

Just before they finished up emptying her last drawer, the alarms went quiet. The house was still and empty. It was only ever this silent in the deepest, darkest hours of the night, when no one was up to hear it. 

‘Come on,’ Klaus said, offering her a hand to stand up. ‘Let’s run before they come back.’

‘It feels like we’re breaking the law,’ she said.

‘Breaking the law’s more fun than this. Trust me. This is just… sad.’ 

‘Yeah.’ She chewed on her lip. ‘I was going to say goodbye.’ 

He patted her on the shoulder, trying to be reassuring. ‘We’ll come and visit. I’ll bring the others under oath of secrecy.’ 

Vanya laughed, eyes downcast. ‘I don’t think we’ll need to be that careful. You said it yourself, ages ago. Dad isn’t going to try to bring me back. He’ll probably be happy I’m gone.’ 

‘So? He’s an asshole. Just think, Vannie - you’ll be free.’ 

She paused. ‘Yeah. And alone.’ 

Klaus didn’t really know what to say to that. Instead he leaned down and slung one of the laden backpacks over his shoulder. She did the same. 

They caught a bus over to Vanya’s and lugged her bags up the eight flights of stairs. They unpacked her clothes into neat piles on the floor. They spread her a makeshift bed next to them, on the bit of carpet that looked least suspicious. Furniture could come later. For now, they needed food, and distraction from the thought of their siblings and whatever danger they might be facing without them. 

It wasn’t the happiest of occasions. It certainly wasn’t the celebration it should have been. Klaus ended up grabbing a couple of her coats and sleeping under them, too cowardly to go home tonight. 



Should’ve stayed with Vanya. 

Little comfort now. He never expected… he’d been foolish, thought surely useless enough to be ignored, but no… the punishment came, and why this, why now, why did he come down with his full force of cold, cold fury - oh, he was so cold, his bones aching, his jaw too, his voice so hoarse he would never speak again never dream again never never never disobey nor hope nor anything at all.

Should’ve stayed with Vanya. Idiot idiot idiot - on and on and on it flew in his head. Crow’s wings, bat’s wings, battering his eyelids, headache throb, and still the screaming, still the endless death fossilising here in the dark under all the weightless pressure of the walls and the wights till he couldn’t even remember how to cry for help.

 

Reginald reached the table and took his seat, the cue for each of his remaining children to sit too, in well-practiced silence. Apart from the clatter of furniture and utensils, they did not speak. To an outsider it would seem uneasy, perhaps awkward. To the Hargreeves, it was so commonplace as to be unnoticeable. 

Klaus felt twitchy about it today. His version of the room, after all, was not a quiet one, nor peaceful. He couldn’t drown out the ghosts, couldn’t stop his gaze from flicking over them, making sure they weren’t coming too close. They were stalking his siblings. They were saying awful things, taunts and violences that made him feel physically ill, heart overbeating, not hungry one bit for the plateful in front of him. 

How long had it been since he’d eaten? Since he’d had anything at all? He couldn’t quite remember. He didn’t want to think back -

‘Don’t you know I nearly killed that one. Nearly got my hands around his neck tight enough to squeeze…’

Klaus put down his knife and fork. The ghost was right up in Diego’s face, not that he knew it, and was miming the attack never fully carried out. 

Too much for Klaus right now. 

‘I don’t feel well,’ he said. 

His siblings looked at him; he felt their gazes. Reginald didn’t seem to hear. Klaus wished he had a similar lack of sensory ability. He needed to get out of this room, desperately - it was too airless, too close, and he was too sober for it all, could only think of going upstairs and searching and taking what he needed with nimble, shaking fingers. Each precise step played out in his head, and all the while he hoped the ghosts wouldn’t notice his terror. His throat was dry, he couldn’t swallow. 

Reginald was still eating, slice by small slice. The sound of his knife on the plate, scraping, the chewing, the low threats of the ghosts, one close behind Klaus now, breathing heavily by his ear. A swarm around the table. Him and his murderous siblings. They had all turned back to their own dinners now, leaving Klaus to suffocate. Fair enough. He wouldn’t get involved either if he was in their place. Not worth putting your neck out like that. 

'I’ll gut them in their sleep,’ the one behind him said. ‘I‘ll wait until they’re dreaming and I’ll slice them open - reckon it’ll go easy, like butter.’ 

The words alone gutted him. 

Klaus didn’t think he could speak again so he simply pushed back his chair and stood up. 

Reginald paused, fork hovering. Slowly, he lowered it back to the plate. He did not look at his disobedient son. 

‘You were not excused, Number Four. Sit down.’ Menace in that chilling voice. 

‘I can’t,’ Klaus breathed, unable to look anywhere. It made him seem crazy, that restless, never-settling gaze, like his thoughts were loopy. And why not look crazy? He was. His tie to reality had been extremely tenuous since he’d come back, and now something had cracked inside, some last little slip of sanity, his quota for the day, the week, the year - all used up. Thoughts were like fog, his mind a piece of mesh. His limbs didn’t feel like his own. Everything ashen. 

He never should have come back. 

Ben -

He looked at Ben now, Ben who looked paler than usual. He wasn’t eating much either. He was staring at the table top. 

‘Number Four.’ The warning tone. 

Klaus felt light-headed. Torn between sitting back down and doing what he was told, and bolting from the room as fast as he could. Prickle of danger. Cold blooded fear. What if he takes you back there? Only just got out and right back again. Oh, god. Oh god, you thought you were too old for that place. You thought you’d never have to - 

His father stood up, marching over, and Klaus couldn’t move, he just stood there. Going back there and there’s nothing you can do, nothing. Then Reginald lifted an arm to push him bodily back into the chair, saying, ‘You will not disobey me again,’ and Klaus flinched like an electric shock had run through him.

But Reginald never touched him. 

‘Holy shit,’ Diego said.

Klaus opened his eyes again. He straightened up. All around the room, he saw now, were the ghosts - but rather than solid colours they were blue, luminous. His father stepped back in shock, yet there was a sickening glint of curiosity growing in his beady eyes, and Klaus’s siblings too were staring in awe at the people they’d killed, the ghosts that wanted to kill them in return. If they got their hands on any of them - that one there was leering nearer to Allison, and that one slipping closer to Luther - it would not be good. He knew this instinctually. This power that was so much out of his control was still a part of him, after all. But this sudden concern, on top of everything else? Klaus couldn’t bear it. He looked around in horror, then clawed at his face with glowing hands, shaking his head, that electric feeling swelling and intensifying until it shook too, the full stretch of his powers. 

Then it burst and in an instant was gone. It hurt, though. Left him aching under the skin. Had he cried out? He wasn’t sure whether he’d made a sound or not. 

‘Klaus?’ someone said. 

He looked. The ghosts were gone, and it was Luther who was speaking, and Allison was getting up, reaching out for him - dinner forgotten, their father forgotten. Diego was standing too, and Ben had his face in his hands. 

Klaus shook his head at them all, not knowing what to do with their concern. He was unsure how to breathe. On unsteady legs, he stumbled from the room, reaching for the door frame, the walls, to catch himself on. 

Somehow, he made it upstairs to his room. 

He closed the door behind him and sat against it, blockading it, shivering. Then on hands and knees he crawled on the carpet, scattering items as he went, hunting, needing. 

The mausoleum was still on him - the cold of it, even though he’d showered the dust and cobwebs away to look up to Reginald’s standard for dinner. The chill seeped into his bones after long enough. 

And the ghosts. Blue and bright and right there. That wasn’t okay. He wasn’t okay with it. None of it. 

Klaus was trembling now. Half-sobs breaking out. On his hands and knees, barely able to see, searching for salvation and finding it, taking it with fumbling fingers. Then another few for luck. He collapsed onto the floor, rolling onto his side. His cheek on the cool wood. He curled inwards like a child, trying to become as small as possible, a mess of nerves, a broken thing, full of fear and fizzing chemicals and very little else. 

 

Klaus lay there until night fell. Perhaps he slept. If he did, he drifted in and out. There had been voices outside his door, asking after him. And some had even come in. He wasn’t really there enough to notice who, but somehow they’d moved him onto his bed - probably Luther - and someone had draped a blanket over him, and another had left him a glass of water with a plate of cookies. Not that he had an appetite, even by the time he finally noticed them by his side. 

They’d turned the fairy lights on too. There they were, twinkling above. 

He rubbed his eyes. The house was quiet; everyone else was likely in bed. The dead were banished, for now. And he could feel his body again: there were pins and needles in his legs as slowly got up, slowly unstiffened, unfurled. He rejoiced in that feeling. 

Thoughts were back, too. He wasn’t thinking about about that dinner, of course, nor the shadowland before then, but he was making a plan. It was hasty and slapdash and a little bit too late for any praise, which were the components of most plans Klaus made, but it was a plan nonetheless. 

It involved: one, packing a bag, and two, going to Vanya’s. Ideally in the dead of the night and without parental permission, conditions which luckily meant that it was a plan he could carry out immediately. 

In fifteen minutes he had everything he thought he wanted (but not necessarily needed) stuffed into a couple of bags that were straining at the seams, and he was delicately closing the front door of the academy. Normally he wouldn’t care about making a racket, but no risks. Not tonight. 

Then he was out into the fresh night air, walking onwards with all his determination, managing to steal little bites from the cookies he’d stowed in his pockets as he went.  

 

That night, once again tucked under one of Vanya’s coats, he dreamed at last of Dave.

Chapter Text

Right where we left off,
2006

 

The two of them chasing through swampen fields knee deep in water, dancing past reeds and waterlilies, following a flaxen rope. The weave of it rough against their palms. The light sunset-orange, the mud drying on their faces. 

All the while they talked, and they stole fleeting glimpses, enough to last until the next, searing into memory. There was no time to rest: the water was rising, their shadows stretching back long and thin, their world becoming the sloshing and the splashing and the stickiness of mud, until they were running, short of breath, hands clasped between them, the rope forgotten. 

The faster they went, the steeper the hill beneath their bare feet. Then water began to trickle past ankles, then rush, then fall, and them falling with it, tumbling like twin pebbles into a dark, dark pond - 

and they found themselves in a forested grove where

amongst firefly embers and the dying sun

they wiped specks of mud from the other’s cheeks 

dusk soft.

 

And then he was awake, fingertips tingling, his heart erratic. Even as the vision faded in intensity, he couldn’t help but think that the mornings always seemed duller for their lack of Dave Katz. 

Trying to ignore his spinning headache, Klaus stretched, the blankets on his makeshift bed falling off him. Vanya’s coat had served him well until about a week into his stay, when they decided an actual blanket could be good, finding a tatty thing in the bargain bin at the nearest thrift store that did the job. It was a faded patchwork and looked like it had had about five different owners before him - though Klaus wasn’t one to complain. 

(That was a lie. Every night he moaned and groaned across the room to Vanya about how itchy it was. It wasn’t something he was used to. Reginald may not have offered Klaus the happiest childhood, but apparently his father hadn’t minded shelling out a fair sum of his fortune for decent bedsheets. Must’ve been important to his image.) 

She’d said he could stay as long as he liked. Klaus took that literally, and a corner of the room was now his own dedicated space, with a tumble of clothing strewn about him, half in and half out of bags. He hadn’t gone back to the Academy yet to get the rest of his stuff, hadn’t dared to. But he was starting to remember other essentials that hadn’t been top of his list when he first fled, like most of his wardrobe, the pair of headphones that weren’t broken, and, you know: saying goodbye to his siblings, letting them know he’s alive, yadda yadda. 

It wasn’t like he was afraid to leave Vanya’s apartment. He’d been to the corner store, hadn’t he? He’d been out. It was just that he didn’t really fancy the whole trek home to the Academy. Didn’t fancy the necessary explanations or facing the pressure to stay or paying the return bus fare. He didn’t much like the idea of seeing Reginald’s face again, or any of the gloomy rooms in the children’s wing, or anything really that wasn’t the comforting newness of Vanya’s apartment. Their apartment. 

It wasn’t exactly like he’d imagined. He’d spent most of his two and a half weeks here in a muted state, his usual restlessness lying dormant. Rather than celebrating, he’d been sedating himself, too afraid of another flare of his powers bringing the ghosts across the veil, and of remembering the details of that long, cold night. Vanya had tried to talk to him about what it was that set him loose from the Academy. He hadn’t said. He felt frail in a way that he never had before, and talking about that final visit to the mausoleum was impossible. Maybe he’d talk about it one day. For now it was a graze open to the air, smarting, and it was best to just leave it all alone and take his medication for the pain.  

But that wasn’t entirely true, though, was it? He had talked about it, in an around about way, just not to Vanya. It had made Klaus feel a little lighter once he had. Safer. More like a human again. It hadn’t been as hard as it was talking about this stuff to his siblings, who were so closely tied up with his sense of shame, so much a part of what hurt. 

Dave, though. Klaus had dreamed of him only two days after he’d come to Vanya’s, after weeks without contact, as though finally his mind could breathe, out of the snare.

In that canny way of his, Dave had noticed something was going on with Klaus - that something had battered him more than usual. He’d gently and earnestly convinced Klaus that maybe it wouldn’t be quite so bad if he shared what was hurting him, just a little. Not the whole of it, not the thoughts that made his brain go quiet and wrong. But enough. So he’d said, in a sideways kind of way, that something had happened: I’m not sure I want to say much. I can’t. 

He did something? 

Yeah. 

Are you okay? And… safe? 

I will be. I’m at my sister’s. Indefinitely. 

And that wasn’t much to share, but it was acknowledgement at the very least. It was enough. Dave knew, Dave cared, Dave with his arm slung around Klaus’s shoulders oh so casually, with his visible but silent relief upon realising Klaus was out of there, with his other hand reaching for Klaus’s - not looking, only touching, palm to palm, a squeeze of reassurance. I’m here, it said. Even when you think I’m not. Even when you can’t see me. I’m always here. 

At least that’s what Klaus liked to believe it meant. 

He was up and wide awake now. He went about his usual routine, pottering delicately around the apartment, then taking a cup of coffee and his cigarettes out onto the rooftop a few floors above. He’d figured out how to get up there about two days into his stay. They weren’t technically allowed, but the padlock on the door was old and rusting and, most importantly, unlocked - the work of a past ally who got there before him - so of course he’d made it his little spot. He could hardly turn his nose up at such a gift.

There was a brisk wind out there on the ledge, but being nearly midday the sun was high above, bathing him in warmth. 

He sat there until even his bones were no longer chilled, and in the meantime closed his eyes and tried to picture his dreams as if he could bring them into the here and now. They felt like the only things he could count on. 

(He couldn’t count on them, though, could he? He knew that deep down. They’d scarred him too, those irrational, uncontrollable dreams, the carrot dangling in front of the donkey, tempting him with something sweet he’d never be able to bite. 

But he didn’t think about that. Those thoughts had been banished for the sake of his own sanity. 

He could feast forever on the scraps.)

 

***

A little leap forward,
1961

 

The bar where he met Vinny was a dark, quiet, clean place, with diluted drinks and strict rules, the workers and patrons both throwing careful glances at the door. It was the first Dave had heard about, the most respectable one, and therefore the safest (he reasoned) - especially for someone as wide eyed and fresh as him. He’d gone in with a nervous sort of walk, his hands straying to his jacket pockets every other moment as he tried to blend into the wallpaper. Hoping he wasn’t sweating too visibly, and reminding himself to breathe. 

Vinny noticed his discomfort from across the room and, bored with the man he was chatting with, he wandered over to introduce himself. 

‘Hello, gorgeous,’ he said. He was dressed in a well-pressed suit, hair short. ‘Don’t you look like a right fish out of water.’ 

‘It’s my first time here,’ Dave said. 

Vinny leveled him with an amused stare, one eyebrow raised. ‘I’d never have guessed.’ 

The sarcasm reminded him of Klaus. He was the one who told Dave that bars like this existed, back when they still saw each other, when they were kids, back when the awareness of this part of himself was still brand new. It was old news now, but it still took a good long while for him to work up the courage to come here at all. 

So there he was. At the bar. Sitting in the uneasy discomfort of knowing that other people knew, feeling on edge, on display. But as the night wore on and as the drinks loosened him up, he found the wonder of it begin to unfold. Vinny was giving him the rundown of all the best bars in town, the people to seek out and the people to avoid, and Dave found himself looking around with something like awe in his eyes, catching glances with others, thinking look at all of us.

Everything he’d ever heard growing up said it was a lonely life. But Klaus had said, years ago, ‘You just have to find your people, y’know?’ as he lay sprawled out in some dream-field, dream-grass burnt crisp and brown by the dog days of a dream-summer. ‘Funnily enough, other gay people do exist. You can be out with them and have fun and fall in love and actually live happily. Like… god. What’s the alternative? Hiding away your whole life?’

‘Maybe in your time -’ 

Klaus rolled onto his stomach, squinting at Dave, swatting grass away from his cheek. ‘It’s harder for you, sure. But I bet… I bet…’ Balancing awkwardly on one arm, he rummaged in his pants and pulled out an array of loose coins and pocket-lint dotted cigarettes. ‘I bet you all of these that you’ll find people in your own time who are the same.’ 

‘I don’t want your imaginary cigarettes,’ Dave said, pretending to grumble but smiling all the same under the beat of that relentless dream sun. 

‘Your loss,’ Klaus said. He stuck one in his mouth and shoved the rest away. ‘You’re gonna go to so many wild retro parties, and you’re gonna kiss as many guys as you want, to hell with the law. Rules are for losers anyway.’ 

And Dave, though he was unsure who else he’d ever want to kiss besides Klaus, found himself willing to believe the boy sprawled beside him. Full of that honey sweet and feather light feeling all the way from head to toes, he’d listen to anything Klaus had to say, no matter how mad or naive. 

Well, Klaus, he thought, coming out of his reverie and looking around once again, the scanty lights in the dim bar glinting in his eyes. It was busier now; he’d gotten here so early, after all. Everywhere there were people in chairs, or leaning against the walls, or making a beeline to the bar, animated with laughter and chat. You were right. Here they are. 

And there was Vinny in the sharp suit with the swish hair. Vinny with the boyish, gaptooth grin that appeared once he lost his composure. Vinny, who was tall and beautiful and warm - and real. 



***

Back a bit,
2006

 

Tonight they were at the place where the water met the shore, the sand underfoot silken and pale, piling up around the tent they’d found billowing in the wind, its fabric a burnt red, the only speck of colour for miles. Even the sea was silvery, totally still, rippled with moonlight. It went on forever. 

Dave stood out there, ankles kissed by the tide. Klaus watched, thinking of joining him, but savouring looking from afar for now: the trousers rolled half way up his calves; the well-ironed shirt with its sleeves rolled up too; the strong and graceful arch of his neck; the stillness of him as he looked out to sea, lost in thought. 

He turned back, saw Klaus watching, raised a hand. It was too far away to tell, but Klaus knew that he’d be smiling. 

Something caught his eye. Above, sharp-beaked hawks flew in sweeping circles, black against the greying sky. They flew so high it seemed for a moment they might collide with the luminous moon, but they didn’t, they cut across it in a violent dive, and then suddenly the boys could hear their cries, high-pitched and eerie, enough to bring their skin out in shivers. 

Klaus felt for the thick canvas door of the tent, and clutched it hard in his fist. ‘Come on,’ he called. ‘Get in here.’

Dave hurried across the beach, keeping a cautious eye on the circling birds. The distance between them stretched, elastic, but he was nimble and got there in time. 

‘Close one,’ he said, tumbling inside. 

The light in there was soft red. It was warm. Klaus laughed and complained when Dave fell on top of his legs, then laughed again as Dave crawled towards him with total inelegance. Knees and elbows. The ceiling was low, they had to press close together. 

‘I saw you looking at me,’ Dave said.

‘Oh yeah?’ 

‘Mm. You must like me or something.’

It was intoxicating, hearing this. Klaus felt warm all over. He couldn’t remember how to think. Dizzy with happiness. Heart beating twice as fast. 

‘Something like that,’ he murmured. He pulled Dave nearer. ‘Go on then. Kiss me.’ 

 

They met at the donut shop, for old time’s sake. Klaus was slumped in a booth with a pair of sunglasses and a floppy hat on, early for once, when Ben came in, carrying a laden bag full of Klaus's things. 

‘Allison’s started threatening to move out now too,’ he said as he slipped into the chair opposite Klaus. 

‘Oh, hello to you too, Ben.’ 

‘Hi.’

Klaus pouted. ‘That’s all I get? It’s been a month.’ 

‘Feels like longer than that.’ 

‘Aw, miss me that much?’

Ben rolled his eyes. 

‘Aren’t you curious about my accessories?’ Klaus asked, lowering the sunglasses ever so slightly.  

‘Not really.’ 

Klaus elaborated anyway. ‘I’m in disguise. Seeing as I’m back on the home turf and all. Need to make sure that any of the cronies Dad’s inevitably sent out to search don’t recognise me.’

Ben snorted. ‘I don’t think he’s even noticed you’re gone.’

‘Well, with that lovely reminder…’ He took the sunglasses off, to better see his brother. Ben had dark shadows under his eyes. ‘How’s life?’

‘I’m exhausted .’ He folded himself over the table for emphasis, before sitting back up with a deep breath, words ready and waiting to overflow. ‘You wouldn’t believe the fights there’ve been. Everyone’s at each other’s throats, never even mind Dad, all talking about betrayal and “the team” and trying to one up each other or stab each other in the back, and I mean that literally, and now it’s just a matter of time before everyone follows in yours and Vanya’s footsteps and just opts out , and I have no idea what’s going to happen then. Everyone’s gone crazy. More crazy than usual. It’s obscene. I feel like my head’s going to explode every other minute.’  

‘Sucks for you,’ Klaus said. 

Ben groaned, and slumped back down, faceplanting on the table. ‘You’re meant to console me, you asshole.’ 

‘Am I? Sounds like a big load of not-my-problem to me.’ 

‘Nope. You started it,’ Ben complained, muffled, into the table, ‘so fix it.’ 

‘Uh, I think you’ll find that it was Vanya, actually -’ 

‘Excuses.’ 

‘I’m out of there for a reason,’ Klaus said, holding up his hands. ‘I don’t want anything to do with all that anymore, and I shouldn’t have to.’ 

‘But… pleeeeease.’

Klaus gritted his teeth and whacked his brother lightly on the head. ‘Sit up, you ninny.’ Ben did so, reluctantly. He did look very tired, and a little sheepish. Klaus patted his hand awkwardly. ‘There there. That’s better. No need to get all worked up now.’ 

Ben pulled his hands away. ‘Ew. I said help me, not mother me.’ 

‘Well, I don’t know what to do! That’s why I left in the middle of the night on a whim! Easy peasy, no questions asked. Why don’t you just do that? Stop stressing - it’s honestly not worth the energy. Seriously. Nada. Dad’s little Academy isn’t exactly what he hoped for and you can’t imagine it’s going to get at all better from here.’ 

‘I can’t just run away,’ Ben muttered.

‘Why not? It’d solve like, all your problems.’ 

Ben glared up at him. ‘I don’t care about dad, but don’t you think I owe it to our siblings to maybe stick with them? Show a little loyalty? Unlike some…’ 

Klaus’s stomach twisted uncomfortably. He scowled and studied the specks of spilled sugar on the table instead of looking at his brother. ‘That’s not what it was about. I had bigger things to worry about. Like… you know.’ He cleared his throat. ‘You saw.’ 

Ben opened his mouth with a retort, but the workings of his mind were plain to see and as the memory finally clicked into place, his words fell short. ‘But - oh.’ 

Klaus felt reassured, at least, that the night he left the Academy hadn’t been scarred into his brother’s memory as much as it had his. 

‘I forgot,’ Ben said. ‘It was… well. It was kinda weird, wasn’t it? All the blue people.’ 

Feeling panicked, Klaus closed his eyes and thought of... anything else. Vanya making noodles. The mouse scurrying across their room yesterday. The last dream he’d had, with Dave, stupidly happy. 

‘They were ghosts, weren’t they?’ Ben asked, wrecking his concentration.

‘No, they were my other imaginary friends.’ 

‘Right. Sorry, that was a dumb question.’ Ben laughed awkwardly. ‘But why did they mean you had to go?’ 

Klaus couldn’t believe him. ‘Are you kidding? I made them real.’ 

‘So?’ 

‘So they could’ve hurt you!’ 

Something must have actually clicked this time, because Ben sat back with a resounding thump, realisation dawning over his face. Finally understanding the seriousness of the situation. 

‘You see?’ Klaus continued. ‘I don’t know how or why they showed up like that but I had no idea how to control it, I still don’t, and I don’t plan on ever letting it happen again. And I couldn’t stay there, because - well, you saw the look on Dad’s face. He’d force me to bring them back. Which I can’t do. I just can’t. And he would’ve… if I refused, he’d have…’ Klaus’s mind refused to go there, though, and he stopped speaking. 

‘Okay,’ Ben said. ‘That’s… that’s fair. I get it.’ He paused, tapping his fingertips on the table, thinking. Then, he cautiously said, ‘We could’ve helped, though. I could’ve.’ 

Klaus sighed. If he really understood, he would realise that “help” changed nothing. ‘How? They wanted to kill you and I brought them here, I made it possible -’ 

‘Klaus.’ Ben gave him a hard look. ‘When I say I get it, I really mean that. You’re not the only one who has a problem with a bloodthirsty monster.’

‘Oh.’ 

‘Yeah.’ 

‘I forgot.’ 

Ben grimaced. ‘I figured. Everyone tends to. But I’ve always been terrified of what my powers could do to you all. Have been for most of my life. So I guess that’s just what I meant. I could’ve… helped.’ 

‘Well, I left instead.’ Klaus shrugged. ‘But thanks anyway.’ 

It was that lull in conversation which seemed to offer an opening to the waitress, who finally darted up to their table. 

‘Can I take your order, boys?’ she said, smiling down at them. 

Ben seemed a little flustered, like he’d not only forgotten they were in a diner but had in fact forgotten that other people existed at all, so Klaus offered a hasty smile and ordered a raspberry donut for them both. 

As soon as she was gone, Ben said, ‘I feel like it’s my fault.’ 

Klaus made a confused sound. 

‘I just mean... you always get the blame. And that dinner, I could tell Dad had… I don’t know. Done whatever it is he does to you. It’s been ages since you’ve come back looking like that.’ 

‘What’s your point?’ Klaus said, uncomfortable. 

Ben took a deep breath. ‘If I’d gone with you guys too, then Dad wouldn’t have been as hard on you, ‘cause there’d have been two of us. I almost went anyway. That should’ve counted. He just didn’t find out. And if I’d gone, then… well, the whole ghost thing probably wouldn’t have happened, right?’ 

A dozen thoughts spiraled through Klaus’s head: that it was better that only one of them had been punished, that of course it wasn’t Ben’s fault, he was being ridiculous, and that even though he was much more astute than Klaus gave him credit for, he was also wrong, because manifesting the ghosts was Klaus’s fault anyway. He was the one who’d forgotten to dose himself up properly. In all the excitement of Vanya moving, there’d been less of a hole to fill, less thoughts to distract. That whole week he’d felt the way he did after waking up from a dream with Dave, in those precious moments before reality rushed back in, when it felt like something soft and light was sheltering his heart, when he not only felt like a different person, but truly believed in the possibility of this brightness lasting. That’s how he’d been living, for days, deluded, and it had left him vulnerable. It was his fault, entirely his. 

He said none of that, though. Instead, he frowned, saying, ‘Look, it was ages ago, Ben. Who cares?’ He didn’t want to talk about this. They were supposed to be hanging out, catching up, not playing therapist for each other.

Ben wrapped his arms around his stomach. They were quiet for a moment, tucked away in their booth. As they looked at each other solemnly, the donuts arrived. The waitress didn’t hang around, probably picking up on their sticky, problem energy. 

‘We’re a mess,’ Ben said. ‘Both of us. All of us.’ 

Klaus laughed. ‘Tell me about it.’ And at that, he took a big bite of his donut, icing sugar puffing up in small clouds. He gestured for Ben to eat too, and said, mouth full, ‘I hope you’ve got the money for these, by the way. I’m kinda broke at the moment.’ 

 

After the donuts they went out for a walk in the fresh air along the dock. Klaus balanced on the wooden ledge, arms flung out, leaning worryingly over the inky water below, while Ben walked beside him, keeping a close eye on his unruly brother in case he needed to leap out and catch his arm to stop him plummeting to a watery death. 

They left the serious stuff behind for a while, talking like they used to. Klaus told him about the apartment life so far, which Ben felt strangely homesick for. Maybe he just missed his brother. Ben went into further detail about the chaos back at the Academy. Allison’s threats to fly across the country. Luther’s fretting and bossing. Diego’s storminess. He made it funnier than it was. He didn’t mention his stomach aches, as the Horror was lured closer to the surface by the scent of hostility, or how he had to shut himself up in spare rooms to calm his breathing and count to ten, until it settled, until the nose-cold metallic smell of the Otherplace vanished too. 

He looked sideways at his spindly brother. Klaus seemed happy to see him, didn’t he? For some reason he couldn’t explain, Ben had been afraid before meeting him here that Klaus would shrug him off carelessly, treating him as something to leave in the past. His brother had always been flighty - he’d left home in the middle of the night without a word, after all, and his absence hadn’t really concerned anybody until a week had passed and still neither hair nor hide had been seen of him. Upon realising that absence was something more final, though, Ben had worried whether that flightiness translated to family too. He didn’t want to be left behind. 

Seagulls cried overhead, the sinking sun burning the backs of their eyes. Ben squinted out across the harbour.

‘You still haven’t told me what I should do,’ he said. 

Klaus looked down from where he stood on the ledge, wind ruffling his hair. ‘You really want advice from me?’ 

‘Not really, but you’re the only option I’ve got right now.’ 

‘Vanya exists.’ 

‘She’s not here, though, is she?’ 

‘Fine.’ Klaus hopped down from the ledge, taking up Ben’s hands and bowing his head to them in a gesture of obeisance. ‘Your wish is my command. After much thought, I’ve decided that you shall break into dear old Dad’s study, steal the most expensive looking foreign treasure, making sure it’s embossed with gold at the very least, sell it, and then use the profits to become a pirate in the Indian ocean.’ 

Ben tore his hands away, and started walking back down the wharf. ‘You never take anything seriously.’ 

Klaus followed quickly behind. ‘What do you want me to say?’ He made a huffing sound, reaching out to grab a fistful of Ben’s t-shirt to slow him down. ‘It’s not like I can read your mind.’ 

‘I just want a solution!’

‘Ben, look - hey, look, just stop walking, will you?’ 

Ben didn’t. Klaus tried to keep up, throwing out absurd suggestion after absurd suggestion, which only made Ben walk faster. Eventually he groaned in frustration and said, ‘If you hate it so much there, then just come and stay with me and Vanya for a bit. Maybe then you’ll have, I dunno, the mental space or whatever to figure out what the hell it is that you actually want.’ 

Ben stopped. He didn’t turn back to look at Klaus, but stayed studying the lines in the wooden pier. ‘Really?’ he said quietly. 

Klaus circled round in front of him, studying Ben and frowning a little. ‘Sure.’ 

‘You don’t think Vanya will mind?’ 

‘She’s already putting up with me. She’ll probably cry tears of happiness if I bring you back too. You’ll side with her in arguments, naturally, and then…’ He paused dramatically, grimacing. ‘Ah, god, you’ll both gang up on me and boss me around.’

‘Yeah, that sounds about right.’ 

‘You know what? I’ve changed my mind, you shouldn’t come -’

‘No take backs,’ Ben said quickly. 

‘No!’ He clutched his heart. ‘I’ll literally die!’ 

‘Good, more room for me.’ 

‘Christ, you’re mean,’ Klaus said, even though he’d already betrayed himself by laughing.  

 

Back at the Academy, Klaus lurked behind a lamp-post, waving goodbye to Ben as he took the stairs up to the Academy two at a time. Ben flashed him a farewell grin as he closed the door, much happier, and Klaus felt strangely content. As he walked back home to Vanya’s place (and his place - it really was his too, wasn’t it?) he mulled over the afternoon. It made much more sense now, Ben being so adamant that Klaus could offer him a solution: he’d simply been too afraid to ask for what he wanted. Silly of him, honestly, because in what world would the answer have ever been no? But Klaus could sympathise, because hadn’t he dithered in the same way with Vanya? Hadn’t he shown up in the middle of the night rather than ask earlier and risk exposing the part of him that wished and dreamed and hoped? And hadn’t she had to reassure him that she’d thought of it as theirs ever since he started to help her? He’d never picked up on that, not once, and it had apparently been slowly driving her crazy, so that when he left her alone on that second night she’d felt heavy with an empty kind of disappointment that tasted rather like loneliness. 

Well. Ben had gotten his answer eventually, just like Klaus had. As he hailed a bus and swung himself onboard, a small fizzle of excitement started to burn and grow within him: Ben would be there soon, the three of them free. He could already picture exactly where on the floor the third pile of blankets would go. 

 

***

A glimpse ahead,
1963

 

There was a raucous dinner party spilling out into the garden. Allie and Marlene were all about the idea of a communal garden, and what had started as a scraggly herb patch in their small city yard was now thriving with the early summer lush. Dave sat smoking with Vinny, the two of them plucking cherry tomatoes from beneath fragrant leaves, laughing over something Marlene had done. 

The lights were on in the house, yellow against the blue dusk, and inside were some of the others they lived with - Han and Nick - amongst a number of other guests. The kitchen was bursting, too small for crowd, but it suited the sharehouse. Hardly a weekend went by when it wasn’t busy.  

Dave hadn’t planned any of this. He’d never even dared to hope for it. But somehow he’d fallen into a life where he wasn’t just living - he was thriving. A makeshift family, all chaos and noise and politics. Not that he was estranged from his own - his parents just seemed to suffer from situational forgetfulness and deafness these days, when he visited. But here in this ramshackle house, surrounded by these wonderful people: this was where he felt at home. 

Reaching over, he tucked Vinny’s hair behind his ear. He was growing it longer, it made him look like a European romantic. Dave liked it. They hadn’t intended to get together - not like this. It had been a casual thing for so long, ever since they met, but the last few months Dave had spent more time here at the house than away, until Vinny and his housemates had joked that maybe he should start helping with the bills. It wasn’t really a joke. But neither was it said in annoyance. They just thought he might as well.

And mostly, as Dave found out later, it was because Vinny wanted him to stick around and had wrangled his friends into disguising the question. It was a Vinny thing to do. 

They’d been quiet for a while, appreciating the atmosphere. But then Vinny turned to him and said softly, ‘You ever been in love before?’

Dave raised an eyebrow. ‘Did you forget what I said to you this morning? Something along the lines of, uhh, I love you? ’ 

‘Ah, no.’ He grinned sheepishly. ‘I didn’t forget. I only meant... before we met.’ 

Dave stubbed out his cigarette on the paver they were perched on. ‘I dunno. Maybe. I didn’t really think about anything in those terms back then. Why?’ 

‘Just curious.’ Vinny shimmied over and leaned his head on Dave’s shoulder. ‘I don’t think I ever was. Used to think so, but now that I’ve met you… well, it pales, y’know.’ 

Dave hummed in agreement. But then something inside him winced, because agreeing was a lie. It had been a long while since he’d felt those teenage feelings, but they resurfaced now and again, even though the dreams had long stopped, even though the memories were dusty. 

‘Actually, there was someone,’ he murmured. 

‘Oh?’ 

‘Yeah. We were just kids. I haven’t heard from him in years now. He was kind of troubled, but mostly he was just… he was something else. Let’s just say that.’ 

Vinny sat up and looked at him closely. ‘You haven’t ever spoken about him before.’ 

‘Like I said. Was a long time ago.’ 

In that last dream they’d shared, he’d been, what, sixteen? Klaus had been seventeen and lighthearted and more ridiculous than ever - ridiculously beautiful, too - and that’s how he’d stayed in Dave’s memory, a dream-shade of a real boy he’d never meet, and even so somehow bigger than life, bigger than whatever Dave’s heart could handle. They’d kissed in that last dream, so much, and they’d talked for what felt like eternities, about everything, anything, and they’d rolled in the dirt under the sun, skin brown with it, their t-shirts riding up to bare their stomachs. It was a dream - it should have paled in comparison with everything that was real. But even now, he could picture it. The sunburnt meadow, the wispy sky, the green light of Klaus’s delighted eyes. These memories would never pale. None of those dreams would. Every one could come flying back with the greatest intensity, triggered by the strangest things - cotton candy, graveyards. Tulips and trains. The ripple-light of water on the roof of the YMCA. Suddenly he’d be a boy again. In awe again. 

‘Well, that definitely wasn’t my intention.’

Dave came back into the moment, found Vinny faux-pouting at him. ‘Huh?’ 

‘Make you go all moon-eyed over your childhood sweetheart.’

‘Bullshit,’ Dave replied, elbowing him. ‘I’m not moon-eyed.’

Vinny grinned his boyish, gap-tooth grin, elbowing back. ‘Oh yeah? Was that an impromptu reverie for me, was it?’ 

‘You asked!’ 

Dusk had properly fallen now, and Dave looked out into the night, over the fence, where the city lights were a glowing haze. There were a few stars, faint. Vinny, beside him, was looking up too.

‘I’d love to see him again,’ Dave said softly. ‘If I could.’ 

Vinny took his hand. ‘Is he… still around?’ 

It was a loaded question. Not easy, living like they did, outside of their own circles. 

‘Yeah. I think so. Hope so. But nowhere I can find him.’ Squeezing his lover’s hand, Dave smiled tightly and cleared his throat. 

Vinny looked sombre too, and he leaned in and kissed Dave gently on the cheek. ‘Maybe he’ll show up one day. And hey, who knows, maybe I’ll like the look of him too.’

Dave laughed. ‘Nope - you’ll think he’s a kook.’ 

‘Oh, god, a kook! I’ve already had it up to my ears with all these damn hippies. This’ll be the death of me, gorgeous.’ Vinny stood up, dusting off his pants. ‘Wanna go inside?’ 

‘Will in a bit. Just gonna…’ he nodded at the general shadows of the garden, ‘mull a little.’ 

‘Suit yourself. Don’t get too lost in your daydreaming.’ 

As Vinny’s footsteps faded, Dave leaned his chin on his knee and closed his eyes. It was noisy, all around - not a bit of peace. Roaring traffic nearby, and honking cars, and chatter from the house, and next door, and down the road. It was normal for this part of town, the bohemian district, one part of town that never slept. Maybe that was why there’d been no dreams. He was always busy, the place was always awake somehow. Like when he was a kid and he’d tried to stop the dreams, too afraid of his own feelings to sleep. 

His heart hurt a little, for Vinny. That can’t have been nice. The guy wasn’t a saint, no one was, and he’d probably bring it up in a more vulnerable moment and ask for reassurance. Dave would give it to him. Klaus was history now, living in the future. But he wasn’t Dave’s future, and there was no sense in living his life waiting to fall asleep. They’d never even had a chance to discuss that dilemma, the dreams had stopped too fast, too soon, before they were grown up enough to care - but likely story is they would’ve eventually. Once the bloom of whatever was happening between them had fully opened up to the world. As it was, it was cut off just as it blossomed - left pristine and pretty enough to press in a book as a keepsake. The cut still a little raw sometimes too. Cut without them even knowing. 

Compared to that business with that poor girl Mary, who he’d actually had to break up with on account of “not really liking you anymore,” which had been painfully awkward at the time, especially when she cried and he’d felt obliged to pat her on the shoulder, but in the long run hadn’t bothered him much… he was at least a little glad, then, that he and Klaus never had to have a conversation like that. 

And glad he managed to survive the lack of closure. 

He thought of it now - the strange dream, where they’d talked for hours lying in the dirt. Remembered it like it was yesterday. The way he’d said, ‘I can’t imagine not knowing you,’ in the softest voice he’d ever spoken with.

‘D’you think this counts as knowing?’ Klaus had replied. 

‘I think so.’

Klaus rolled onto his side, and Dave did too, so they were facing each other. Plucking a long piece of grass, more like straw, Klaus used it to brush across Dave’s cheek. It tickled. 

‘You’re not the only person I dream with,’ he said, ‘but you’re the only one from sometime else. I don’t know what that means. I don’t even know how to control it. I wish I could. Then I could see you whenever.’

‘Invent a time machine for me then.’ 

Klaus snorted. ‘Yeah, okay. One time machine, coming right up.’

‘Maybe we’re just meant to meet here,’ Dave suggested, brushing past the joke and following this new thought - whatever it was. He had a feeling: an odd, prescient one - like dust disturbed. Like deeply buried bones shrugging to the surface. ‘Maybe we’ve been dreaming of each other for longer than we can even remember.’ 

Klaus squinted at him. There was no sun in his eyes. ‘You really think that?’ 

‘Yeah.’ 

‘Why?’ 

‘I just do.’ 

Klaus twirled the dry stem of grass pressed between fingertips, then sighed. ‘They’re only dreams, Dave. A little weirder than usual, sure - but they’re still just dreams.’ He gave a halfway-there smile, and tickled Dave’s nose with the grass. A cheap distraction. ‘I didn’t know you believed in fate.’ 

Dave blushed, scrunching his hand in the dry dirt beneath the grass. ‘That’s not what I meant.’ 

‘Oh yeah?’ Klaus teased. ‘What were you talking about then?’ 

‘Nothing,’ he said, as he dug his fingers deeper. The earth was cooler there. Damp. ‘I don’t know. It was just a feeling I had.’ 

He still had that feeling. A feeling that he’d been here before, this bone-dry field in the blazing sun, once upon a time. Now he was back, and the feeling was telling him he had to dig. 

Soil shifted and grass roots tore. His fingertips scratched against something pocked. Something not-dirt. 

‘Fate doesn’t exist,’ Klaus mused, while Dave focused on slowly tracing the edge of this buried object. ‘I mean, if it does, it’s a real bastard, right? Think about it - fate handing out the best life to like, one person, and the total worst to another, and then they have to just put up with it? You’d start to question why exactly you deserve that shit, right? Like, what the hell did I do? I’m the one seeing corpses -’

‘Hey, Klaus,’ Dave interrupted. ‘Look at this.’ 

He’d excavated the thing from the soil. It weighed lightly in his hand. There was dirt under his fingernails and lining the creases of his palm, yet still he sat half-up, propped up by one arm, and held the other out. Klaus sat up and leaned over it, inspecting, then picked it up with his own slender fingers. 

They fell silent, caught in silent observation of the miniscule skull - its once sharp-pointed beak now dulled, the fine bone yellowed by age and weather. A sparrow’s skull.

Klaus was the first to speak. ‘Where’d you get it?’

‘It was right here.’

‘Just lying about?’

‘Buried.’ Dave sat up, crossing his legs. There was a buzzing in his ears. He felt as though he should never have disturbed the skull from where it slept, yet somehow simultaneously understood that he was the only one who could have ever dug it up. The only one who knew where it lay.

It sat in Klaus’s palm now, precious and gently cradled. It looked like it belonged there. Klaus gazed at it without any recognition - perhaps his spine wasn’t electrified like Dave’s, his hairs on end. He looked mostly peaceful, but there was a strength about him. A power. The sun was briefly blanketed by a lone cloud; he was bathed in otherworldly shadows, as calm as the earth. With that skull in his hand, he looked like a god. 

‘I think you’re meant to have it,’ Dave said. 

At that Klaus shrank away. He shook his head, tried to pass it back to Dave. ‘You found it. It’s yours now.’ 

Dave felt that feeling again, like something breathing but using his lungs to do so, like something tracing the line of him as he lay in the dirt, something whispering stay where you are. He suddenly understood that although he would be able to take the skull if he truly wanted to, he would be making a very grave mistake by doing so. 

The sparrow skull had been so, so light. In Klaus’s hand it seemed to be growing heavier and heavier. 

‘Take it,’ Klaus said, sounding scared.

Dave hated the way fear sounded in his voice. He wanted to make it go, felt almost like crying when he said instead: ‘I can’t.’ 

In the distance, a new forest was growing fast, framing the meadow but not daring to come too close. It was skeletal, bare of all leaves. At the foot of each tree something pale, half buried.

‘Please,’ Klaus begged, watching the new dead-growth anxiously. 

Dave wished he could break the strange atmosphere that was eating them up, the lingering feeling of a memory not quite fully lost. Instead, he found himself saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve kept it for you long enough,’ and he didn’t know where those words had come from.

At that moment, the cloud in front of the sun shifted along, exposing them to its full heat once more. The otherworldly shadows disappeared, and Klaus once more looked like a normal teenage boy, albeit pale. Then, suddenly, the sparrow skull in Klaus’s palm began to glow with a bright, white light, too bright to look at. 

Dave had to look away, and that was it - that’s when he’d woken up. 

That was the last time he’d ever dream of Klaus Hargreeves.

 

***

One last time, 
2006

 

… there he was, trembling with it all, the weight of the sparrow skull in his hand, the unearthly whirlwind that battered him, a wind which Dave did not seem to feel, his beautiful, wonderful Dave who so callously refused to take it back, this skull he un-buried, this skull so familiar and terrible, this skull beginning to burn white-hot against his skin ‘til he couldn’t see Dave’s face anymore…

The dream changed. Klaus gasped, plunged into total darkness, a world without light. It smelled of metal and ice. It was unimaginably cold. He wrapped his good arm around himself, trying to keep himself warm, contained. The other hand he shook - it felt singed, though he must’ve dropped the skull or left it behind in the other dream. He’d never return for it. 

The darkness he was within was unlike any other. This one did not press around him, nor did it suffocate. It was the emptiest place he’d ever been. The darkness had no end, there were no subtle shapes or shadows looming, there was nothing here but him. 

At least, that’s what he first thought. But as he floated in that void, hurting and confused, wondering where Dave had gone, he heard a sound - a slippery, deep groaning. It did not echo - there were no walls for the sound to bounce off. Instead it amassed in volume, starting small and growing more and more awful until the sound was all around him, everywhere, becoming the very darkness itself.

It sounded like rusty machinery. It sounded like rolling thunder. It sounded like a thousand screams coming from deep underwater. 

And worst of all - Klaus knew that sound. 

His heart skipped. 

‘Ben,’ he said. His voice was too quiet in this bodiless void. ‘Ben?!’ 

Something cold and dank and slimy touched him. He whirled around, a cry of complete fear falling from his mouth, and then squished himself into a ball, clutching his arms with sweaty hands, hiding his face, every bit of him alive with an ancient fear. 

Then, out of nowhere, there was a sweet wind. It was fresh and smelt of home. Klaus lifted his face, and saw a pinprick of light. He willed himself towards it, and suddenly was bathed in the daylight that was spilling from a crack - the portal between worlds. And beside the crack was his brother: Number Six. Ben. 

His face was covered in blood. 

With dazed eyes, he staggered towards Klaus. ‘Help.’ 

Klaus caught him. ‘Ben, what -?’ 

‘You shouldn’t be in here. The Horror, it’s -’ 

‘I know, I felt it.’ 

‘How are you here? You shouldn’t -’ 

‘I’m dreaming,’ he said, hurrying to soothe Ben, telling himself to be brave. ‘We’re dreaming. It’s okay, it’s just a nightmare. We just need to wake up. It can’t really hurt us.’ He willed himself to believe it. He’d never walked into Ben’s nightmares before. Had never wondered what other ways people might access the Otherplace where the Horror dwelled. 

‘It’s not just -’ Ben started to say, but he began to choke. Klaus strained to hold him up. When he stopped convulsing there was blood on his lips, and he turned aside to spit it past Klaus’s arms. ‘Not just a dream.’ 

‘What do you mean?’ 

Ben spat again. His breathing was laboured. ‘Got hurt.’ 

‘Ben -’ 

The crack of light began to dampen and close. Ben slumped in his arms, and Klaus made a desperate sound of disbelief - it wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be real, his heart was stuck in his throat, stopping his breath. 

‘Come on, get up,’ he managed to say. Ben was still there, still breathing against his neck, just heavy and not right. ‘You’re too heavy, you asshole. I can’t hold you if you don’t stand up a bit. Only have twigs for arms, remember?’  

Ben made a sound halfway between a laugh and a groan. He didn't stand, though; he wasn't able to. 

Klaus crumpled, accidentally letting Ben go. The void caught him. Klaus kneeled beside him, while around them the darkness grew deeper, the crack closing sliver by sliver. Part of him wanted to believe that this was only part of the dream, but another part knew instinctively that it was something more than that, something happening in the waking world and leaking through. He unlike any other knew what it was to sense the veil of death on a person, lingering. He hated that he recognised it, wished he couldn’t tell, but there it was shrouding Ben, plain as day.

‘You’re supposed to come to Vanya’s,’ he said desperately. ‘Remember?’ 

Ben nodded, then crumpled inwards. ‘It hurts,’ he said. His voice was so small.

‘It's gonna be okay,’ Klaus lied. He hoped if he said it out loud, he could make it true. ‘It's only a bit of pain. Just... come on, Ben.’

‘Klaus, I...’ Ben's breath hitched, and then his body convulsed.

‘It'll be okay,’ Klaus repeated. He had started to cry bitter, angry tears. He swiped them away. Something terrible had happened to his brother, was happening, and he was powerless to help. Always powerless. 

Unbidden, Klaus remembered a dream of his own in a dark room of nightmares, summoned by his subconscious as he teetered between life and death. He’d called his siblings to him too. Had they hurt like this, upon seeing him? Would they also have offered anything, anything in the world, if only to make everything right again? 

Somewhere, Ben was dying, his subconscious reaching out, searching for his brother. The others - Luther, and Alison, and Diego - they would be with him, surely, holding his hands and begging him in words he couldn’t hear to please, please stay. But no - they would have been chased from the medical bay by Pogo. Instead, they would be pressed up at the door, waiting to hear the sound of his heart on the monitor taking up its normal rhythm once again. 

Klaus wasn’t there. 

He wasn’t there but he had to do something. Anything. 

The crack of light in the void vanished back to a pinprick, twinkling like a solemn star. Somewhere distant, the Horror made a sinking, mournful sound, like distorted whalesong. 

In that awful dark, Klaus fell upon his brother’s body, placing his hand on the side of Ben’s face. It had gone slack. He used the hand which was still faintly stinging from a phantom burn to feel for Ben’s chest, for his heart, splaying his fingers wide. The heartbeat below was too slow. And inching towards it, the final frost of death. 

Closing his eyes and forgetting everything except for that heartbeat, Klaus found himself saying, ‘You’re not going anywhere but back home, okay?’

He didn’t know if Ben could hear him anymore. He didn’t even know where the words were coming from - his voice was shaking, so were his hands, and there was a wave of absolute despair growing within him as he sensed the frost march onwards, as Ben’s chest moved less and less.

‘Yeah, you heard me,’ he continued, somehow. ‘Back home. And then you can get up and pack your bags and come right to my place. I’m not letting you go that other way. You’re not -’ He choked on the words, voice coming out all broken. ‘You’re not allowed. Okay?’ 

But his words, for all the feeling behind them, meant nothing. 

He sunk lower until he was bowed over Ben’s body, as if in prayer, alone in the dark. Even the Horror had gone quiet. Ben had gone still. Klaus couldn’t help it anymore; the pain he was feeling burst, and he was overcome with sobs, pressing his face into Ben’s ribs, begging them to move once more. Just once. He felt the way death clotted around the two of them, thickly, and in his misery he cried out, hating it, all of it, the presence that had stalked him as long as he could remember. With his cry, he felt once more the electric snap of something deep within him, but this time, rather than flinching from it or pushing it away, he instead let it do what it wanted: he let it out. 

It bolted through him with more intensity than he ever thought possible. His head flew up, the force gnashing his teeth together. He felt the whirl of it spinning and stinging its way through his body, from his core, all the way through his veins, transforming every bit of him to ice. It condensed in his fists, achingly cold, then reached beyond even them, outwards in cascading tendrils. 

He opened his eyes, tearstained, and felt them burn with an otherworldly light. 

For a moment he let the power dance and sing within him, exhilirated by the way it took him up in its frozen embrace. The void around him seemed to hum. He tasted ozone, like a thunderstorm, and suddenly he sensed the place where the dead went, the door with no return - and behind it, the dense weight of all the life that had ever been, pushing at the cracks, trying to come to him because he was calling, calling louder than he ever had before. He should let them come. He controlled them, he understood now, he could summon and banish with a twist of his hand, a blink of his eye -

No - a small voice said, the voice in his head, seeming to come from far, far away - concentrate. 

 

Out in the real world, Vanya awoke bathed in a strange blue light. It was emanating from her sleeping brother, across the room. In shock and confusion, she scrambled over to him.

 

There was so much Klaus could do now that he almost didn’t know where to begin. But it was Ben that was important, Ben that held all his attention, and so he swept the leylines of the earth until he found his brother’s spirit slowly drifting towards that one-way door.

‘I didn’t say you could go,’ he said. 

Ben didn’t listen. He didn’t seem to notice Klaus, not yet. Not until he’d passed through and become something else would he be able to hear that command. 

 

In their apartment, Vanya fell down beside her brother and shook him, trying to get him to wake. A moment later, she gasped, recoiling, clutching her hands. He was cold as ice, and now she was closer she could feel that frigid energy radiating from his body. 

Not knowing what else to do, she gathered all the blankets and coats they owned and placed them on top of him, tucking all edges in. Still he did not wake or move. She accidentally touched his skin again. Had to put her finger in her mouth to warm it. 

 

At Ben’s bedside, Grace pressed her fingers to his wrist, even though she didn’t need to: the other machine was making it clear enough, the tone long and stable without any gaps. 

 

Klaus couldn’t let Ben go through that door. He raced ahead, slammed it, suffocated it, banished those trying to inch their way out and tried to stop those being pulled in. But still they came. He wasn’t strong enough to do it. Couldn’t smother the entrance, couldn’t prevent his brother from going the way they all had to go. 

In desperation, he let go of his final grip on himself. He had to do something. He couldn’t just sit and watch. So Klaus gave up every last bit, all his hope and warmth and love, every little whirl and spark of that unnatural and familiar power, from the tips of his fingers to the deepest marrow of his bones. He didn’t care what it did to him, had to dig so deep, didn’t care what it broke. He gathered it all to him and then let it go, sending it out in one great howl to do his will.

 

Vanya was begging her brother to wake up when his body jolted, then jolted again. The light from his fists grew brighter, impossibly bright. He kept shaking. She had to look away. 

 

That moment, all across the world, all those who had been walking a fragile balance between life and death, those whose hearts had just stopped: in unison, they took a new breath, their eyes flashing open, their loved ones dropping forward to hold them, silenced into shock, tears still drying on their cheeks. 

 

In the Umbrella Academy medical wing, Ben Hargreeves sat bolt upright with a rattling, life-returning gasp. 

 

Across the city, in Klaus and Vanya’s little apartment, the unearthly blue light went out, plunging them once more into darkness.

Then Klaus, buried under a pile of blankets, went limp. 

 

Chapter Text

Vanya took the stairs two at a time, her heart in her mouth. Once she hit the ground floor, she careened round the corner, socks slipping beneath her on the tiles. 

There, with trembling hands, she dialled the emergency services.

The kind, calm voice that answered didn’t seem right. They weren’t panicked enough, weren’t as urgent as they should have been. When they started asking her questions, she felt all her words bubbling up in the wrong order, scattered and hopeless. She wasn’t making any sense. Her brother was upstairs, colder than death itself; she should be with him, she should be doing anything else but this.

‘He’s just… he’s so cold,’ she cried into the telephone. ‘I don’t understand. I don’t know what’s going on, please help, please. He won’t wake up.’ 

The operator wanted her to warm him up. Vanya sobbed, tried to explain they didn’t have heaters, they had nothing but threadbare blankets and coats. 

‘Your body heat can warm him,’ the operator said, still calm. ‘Wrap yourself around him and rub your hands on his skin, okay? Create friction. We’ll be with you soon.’

Vanya obeyed, not wanting to be away from him any longer than necessary. She raced back up all those stairs, trying to suppress her frightened sobs. Back in the room, Klaus was exactly as she’d left him: prone on the floor, tucked under layers and layers of anything she could find: coats and shirts and skirts and sheets. She threw most of them aside, went to hug her brother, to give him her warmth. As she did, she gasped - couldn’t help it. He was still so unnaturally cold, and it hurt. 

She told herself it didn’t matter, she could do it, could ignore the way her skin started to go numb even through fabric, like she’d pressed her hand to the inside of a freezer and left it there. The seconds ticked by, horribly slow. Her own warmth was eaten up. She began to shiver. He did not wake.

Then, at last: a siren outside. 

‘They’re here,’ she whispered to him. ‘You’ll be alright.’ 

 

She rode with him in the ambulance. The paramedics had kept him wrapped in blankets and had applied heat pads, and though they weren’t saying anything while she was there, she knew they were all deeply confused as to how he was still alive. The first one that had touched his skin in the apartment had sworn aloud in shock. 

The world seemed a blur. There were tears in her eyes no matter how much she blinked. She held his hand and hoped. 

 

Ben had been drifting in and out of consciousness.

It felt wrong, somehow, that only three of them were there to stand vigil. Their numbers had dwindled down to mere scraps. He should’ve had all five of them holding his hands and murmuring prayers to gods they’d never believed in before that dark night. All six, even. 

Sometimes he awoke fitfully, eyes glazed but wide, seeing things - monstrosities, perhaps - that they couldn’t.

‘It’s a fever,’ their mother said. His body was fighting it, she told them, but for now all they could do was wait for it to burn its way through. 

So they waited. They stroked his hair from his forehead and paced the room in tense quiet. 

At one point Ben gasped. His eyes were wide once more, only now his gaze seemed to rest on them one by one, counting. One and Two and Three. They surrounded him, reassurances falling from their lips, but all he said was, ‘Klaus.’

‘He’s not here,’ Allison said, her heart heavy. She hated seeing him hurt like this. She wished she could bend the rules of the universe just that little bit further than she normally could, and say the words that would make him well again. This kind of helplessness tasted bitter. ‘I’m so sorry Ben.’

But Ben didn’t seem to hear. His eyes got that gauzy look again. ‘Klaus,’ he said, his voice weak and weary. ‘Where are you?’

Diego took his hand. He could be so gentle when he wanted to be. His own face was scraped and sore; the hand he used to hold his brother’s was bandaged tight. It hurt to move it even slightly, so he had to grit his teeth. But Ben’s hand he held like it was fragile as eggshell. 

Ben writhed with fever, and cried out, ‘No, don’t.’ His voice caught. His eyes fluttered shut. 

Diego willed the fever dreams away. He wished he could go back in time to fight a better fight, to stop this from happening at all. And as he held Ben’s hand he thought how unfair it was that Ben should suffer like this, calling out for a brother who wasn’t here to answer. He was here, wasn’t he?

For a moment Ben calmed again. Luther was standing at the foot of the bed, trying to be strong for his siblings. He held on to the rail at the end of the bed like a lifeline, and when he eventually moved away an indentation of his grip was left behind, pressed into the metal. That wasn’t good; he hadn’t been aware he’d been crushing it. He always had to be aware, always had to be monitoring the weight of his touch. 

Ben was motionless now. He looked so broken in those starched white sheets.

It was Luther’s fault. He’d not been the leader they needed, he’d slacked, he’d missed something crucial and now Ben was paying the price. Nearly died. He should’ve realised, should’ve helped sooner, should’ve kept the team together better, but no, half of their number were scattered to the wind: Five lost, Vanya gone, and Klaus gone too, a shadow of himself the last time they spoke. 

He should’ve done better. 

They waited a long while by Ben’s bed. At one point, he woke once more with a shaky inhale. The sickly sweat on his forehead beaded, and Grace, who had been monitoring him quietly all night, wiped it away. 

He opened his eyes, still cloudy and feverish, and saw them all standing there. ‘What happened?’ he asked in a wobbly voice. ‘Is he okay?’ 

‘Just rest,’ they told him. Rest and sleep and dream sweet dreams. We’ll tell you more in the morning. We promise. No need to think of all that horror now. 

His second question left them perplexed. But of course he was bound to be confused. They disregarded it for now, and then once Ben fell asleep again, Grace sent them off to their rooms, saying he needed quiet, seeing in their own faces the exhaustion of the long night. It was near dawn. They were reluctant to leave, and they probably wouldn’t even be able to sleep until they knew for sure their brother would come through. She knew that. She wished she could spare them that worry and tell them everything would be alright, but unfortunately it was still too soon to be sure. 

So no, Grace didn’t give her children false hope. Instead she gave them what she could: permission to rest. They’d done enough, they’d been so brave. It was okay to go to bed, she would stay up and watch over him. 

She wished she could watch over all of them. Even the ones she could no longer find. 

 

Vanya was festering in the waiting room. She had no idea how long she’d been here, whether it was day or night, whether Klaus was alive or dead. There were other people around her, their voices murmurs, sometimes crying, yet she was totally alone and silent. Who would she talk to? She didn’t think she could talk if she tried. She didn’t even have any tears left. 

If Allison were here - 

Allison always knew what to say. She’d tell the doctors to let them into Klaus’s room. They’d listen. And if Diego were here he wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’d charge on through, scattering clipboards and medicine bottles in his wake. Ben would never have left Klaus’s side in the first place, never have ended up waiting in this grey, dismal room alone. Luther would be in the waiting room with her, not causing any disruption, but probably planning on how best to get Klaus out, get him home, where he could be looked after properly. Any of them would be better than her, none of them would be as helpless. 

It was just the way she felt when Five vanished. Leaving out sandwiches like it mattered. Like she could make a difference. 

Useless. 

‘Vanya?’ 

She startled, looking up from the floor. A kind faced nurse was standing on the other side of the room. She beckoned and, like a robot, Vanya went. 

The nurse led her to a quiet consultation room, ushered her in and offered her a chair. 

‘Is he awake?’ she found herself asking. 

‘Not yet, sweetheart.’ The nurse’s voice was kind too. The name badge on her shirt said she was called Janine. She took a seat next to Vanya, and offered out her hand. Vanya didn’t take it. 

Janine said, ‘I’m afraid the situation with your brother is looking quite complicated.’ 

A little blip of panic. Vanya didn’t want to panic again. She should’ve brought her meds with her.

‘You’ve been exceptionally brave, Vanya. You’ve done all the right things.’ 

‘What happened?’ she whispered, too afraid to be any louder. ‘What’s wrong with him?’

Her heart flitted like a little bird while the nurse told her not to worry. She told her that Klaus’s temperature was rising back to a normal level, that he was otherwise stable. But despite warming him up, despite his miraculous survival, despite everything they’d tried: Klaus was unresponsive. 

When the nurse said that, all the sounds of the hospital - dulled in this closed-off room but still audible: the beeps, the chatter, the doors swinging open then closed, the creaks of wheels, the elevator ding - all of it rushed up in her ears, a wave of unbearable noise getting in the way of her thoughts until she felt like she was drowning in it, like her mind might explode with it. 

Through the senselessness of that noise she felt herself closing off, as she willed herself not to believe what she’d heard with her own two ears. 

It was too much to ignore. Her best efforts failed; the words sunk home. 

Klaus wasn’t waking up. 

The overwhelming roar of sound in her mind died off and she slumped forward into her chair, face in her hands. Into them, she mumbled, ‘Can I see him? Please?’ 

‘Of course,’ the nurse Janine replied. ‘But, first - do you have anyone I can call for you? Your parents, maybe?’

Vanya felt so alone and overwhelmed. She wanted desperately for her siblings to be here with her. That by itself was enough to almost make her say, yes, there is, there’s a whole family of us, because of course they would all want to know and would all want to be here for him. But then the fear of Dad finding out reared its ugly head. The nurse would not settle for siblings. She’d ask their father to come. He would find them, and Vanya knew for a fact that he was the last person Klaus would want to see, if ever he woke up. 

So, mouse-quiet, she said, ‘No. It’s just us.’ 

Saying it made it feel true.

‘Okay, sweetheart,’ said the nurse. ‘That’s okay. You just let me know if you think of anybody, though.’

Vanya decided she’d tell their siblings herself once she knew Dad wouldn’t be able to find them. They’d sleep easy for a few more nights, this way. 

Until then, she’d wait here for Klaus, alone. 

 

***

‘You need to see this,’ Diego said, coming in to the room, brandishing a newspaper. Luther and Allison were sitting on the bed next to Ben’s, who was sleeping. 

‘Keep your voice down,’ Luther chastised. 

Diego ignored him and spread the paper out between them, pointing at the headline. 

It read: 

WORLDWIDE MIRACLE - LIFE AFTER DEATH
Thousands Given Second Chance, Medical Professionals Stumped

‘That’s weird,’ Allison said.

‘Look at the time it happened,’ Diego said. Without waiting for them to check, he continued, ‘It’s the exact same time Ben came back.’

Luther frowned. ‘Are you saying..?’

‘He wasn’t the only one. The same thing happened, to all these other people, all around the world.’ 

The three of them looked at Ben in unison. He looked beaten-up and sickly, but his chest moved up and down with a constancy that reassured them. Earlier today he’d been awake, though only briefly. There was a long road of recovery ahead of him. 

They’d made themselves at home in the medical bay, bringing in not only Ben’s favourite things - his bedside stack of books; the framed photo of them all when they were thirteen, before Five disappeared; the little cactus he’d kept alive for at least two years - but also all their own things. Spare sweaters and bowls of cereal and a stack of newspapers for the crosswords. Diego had gone out to get a new one, and come back a different kind of puzzle. 

‘It’s kind of like when we were born,’ Allison said. ‘All at once.’ 

‘So, a random phenomenon?’ Diego replied. 

‘We don’t know that our birth was random,’ Luther said, frowning as he scanned through the article.

‘Exactly,’ Allison agreed. ‘Something could’ve caused it.’

Diego said, ‘So you think something caused this too? The same thing?’ 

She shrugged. ‘I have no idea. But it is strange.’

‘Has Dad seen this?’ Luther asked, which prompted an eye roll from Diego. ‘What? He might know more about what’s going on.’ 

‘If he knows, he won’t tell us. Don’t kid yourself.’ 

‘You don’t know that.’ 

‘Uh, yeah I do. When has he ever told us anything? We found out about our own freaky birth in a television interview, remember?’ 

Luther remained adamant. ‘That’s different. This could help Ben.’ 

‘Fine,’ Diego said, losing his bite. ‘Tell him, seeing as you want to so bad - but don’t get your hopes up.’ 

Allison cleared her throat. She was reading the article with an expression both thoughtful and a little concerned. ‘You don’t think it has anything to do with Klaus, do you?’

Both her brothers turned to look at her, rendered momentarily speechless.  

Then Luther said, ‘Klaus? He can’t even conjure a ghost.’ 

‘And I doubt he’s been spending his new-found free time practicing ,’ Diego added quietly. 

Allison could see the truth in that. Still, something in her gut made her want to linger on the idea. ‘Death stuff is his… thing, though.’ She traced her finger under the headline. It was impossible, wasn’t it? But everything about them was impossible.

‘Yeah,’ Luther said, ‘and Ben didn’t die. Well - maybe he did briefly. But then he came back to life. That’s different.’

‘I suppose so,’ she said, as she studied the cuts on Ben’s cheek. Some impossible things were simply too hard to believe. ‘I just… I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense...’ She paused, her voice threatening to betray her. ‘You know. Seeing him like this.’ 

Luther put an arm around her. ‘He’ll be okay. It doesn’t matter what it was that saved him, if anything. All that matters is that he’s okay.’ 

She nodded, still looking at his bruised body. 

They fell into silence again. The Hargreeves had never been so quiet in their lives. 

Diego began pacing by the window, in the small square of silty light that fell there. The window was grimy with city dirt; it was hard to see out. 

‘We need to find Klaus,’ he said, tapping on the glass, looking outwards. ‘And Vanya, wherever she is. They need to know.’ Talking about his absent brother had reminded him: they didn’t get to run from this.

Allison frowned. ‘They could be anywhere.’ 

‘So we need to look, then,’ he said. ‘Are you with me, Luther?’ 

Allison expected Luther to disagree. She was surprised when he stood up, nodding at Diego. ‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘Any ideas?’ 

 

They didn’t know where to begin.

Allison searched the scanty remnants of Vanya’s room, such a tiny space that it took her all of ten minutes to conclude that her sister had left nothing behind that told of her whereabouts. 

Diego and Luther tackled Klaus’s together. It was a bombsite. 

‘You know,’ Diego said, stepping carefully across the room, ‘I’m getting the feeling that we have an actual rat for a brother.’ 

He had so many things: an entire collection of old teapots; scrolls of tatty posters; piles of clothes, everywhere; ashtrays in the unlikeliest of places, on top of his wardrobe and in-between his bedsheets; a fishbowl full of colouring pencils and paintbrushes stiff with paint; empty bottles clinking under his bed and used glasses gathering dust on his windowsill. 

‘Okay, this is definitely Allison’s,’ Luther said, pulling out a box of rings and necklaces, while Diego screwed up his nose in distaste at the countless empty baggies, wondering what the hell Klaus was up to out in the wide world, before deciding that maybe he’d rather not know at all. 

There was torn-up paper in the bin in the corner. By that point Allison had joined them, and the three of them pieced together the fragments. It was a hand written note, in Vanya’s recognisably neat handwriting, and amended by Klaus’s more spidery one. It listed the essentials - toothbrush, toothpaste and soap. Cutlery and cups. A towel. Medicine. Klaus had underlined that last one, and added "YES!!! " (He also suggested she include a selection of their father's valuables.)

‘He must’ve known she was leaving,’ Allison said in a subdued voice. ‘Maybe that’s why he didn’t come to that mission. It was the last night I saw Vanya, now that I think about it.’

‘I figured he’d just been… you know,’ Diego said. ‘Drunk.’ 

Luther leaned over the paper, scanning it again. ‘He’s not the sort to keep secrets, though, is he?’ He sounded genuinely puzzled, like he was asking to be reminded whether this was the truth or not. ‘And this would’ve been a big one to keep. If he knew.’ 

‘He clearly kept this one,’ Allison pointed out. 

‘Doubt he would’ve taken it seriously,’ Diego said. He scrunched up the fragments of paper and sprinkled them back in the trash. ‘I bet he wrote on it as a joke, just to annoy her, and didn’t think any more about it. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, none of this helps. We already know they’re not here.’ 

Allison got to her feet. ‘What do we do, then?’ 

Diego shrugged. He had no idea. Searching through the room had demoralised him. Finding Klaus was an impossible task at the best of times - he’d looked for his brother before, those few times he’d gone missing without a word, and he’d never heard a whisper no matter where he looked. This time would be no different.

 

Ben was awake when they returned, lying still as a statue on the bed.

‘Hey,’ Allison said, soft-voiced. She got a weak smile in return. ‘How’re you feeling?’ 

‘Oh, not bad,’ he said. He sounded tired, but the deadpan humour was pure Ben; she could read it all over his face too, through the scrapes and the healing bruises. It was a relief to see him back, acting like himself again. The possibility of him recovering suddenly less of a glimmer of hope and something more solid instead. 

She laughed. ‘Sorry. Stupid question.’

He laughed too, ever so slightly, then winced. 

Diego and Luther sat themselves on either side of Ben, pulling up the chairs they’d brought down from the kitchen table. 

‘Do you need anything?’ Luther asked. 

Ben shook his head. ‘Mom’s been in.’ 

‘She say much?’ Diego asked. 

‘Only that I need to rest.’ 

The three healthy Hargreeves felt suddenly awkward. They’d been so worried, tied to this room for hours on anxious hours like it was their only lifeline, that now they almost didn’t know what to say. 

‘Where are the others?’ Ben asked. 

Luther swallowed uncomfortably. ‘They aren’t here. And we can’t find them to let them know what happened.’ 

Ben frowned. ‘But… shouldn’t they know already?’ 

‘Absolutely,’ Allison said. ‘We’ll tell them as soon as we figure out how.’ 

‘No, that’s not -’ Ben shifted in discomfort, grimacing from the subtle movement. ‘They already know. I thought… I thought they’d be here.’ 

‘They will be, just not yet,’ Allison said, while Diego said, ‘You’re confused. That’s, uh… that’s normal. I think.’ 

‘Not confused,’ Ben said. He sighed, sinking deeper into his pillow. ‘Klaus did this. He knows.’

The other three all looked at each other with wary expressions. 

‘What do you mean?’ Allison asked. 

Ben’s gaze darted between them, surprisingly sharp. He didn’t look like his thoughts were dampened by fever any more. ‘Klaus saved me,’ he said.

‘What?’ 

‘We were dreaming,’ Ben said. ‘He did something. I don’t know what.’

‘Oh,’ Allison said, an understanding of some sort dawning upon her, ‘I see. But... Ben, dreaming together doesn’t mean he saved you. His powers don’t… I mean, it’s just the same as any other dream, right? Except that he’s there with you. They don’t actually change reality.’ 

Her brother shook his head. ‘This was different.’ 

‘He was calling out Klaus’s name,’ Diego said, looking at Allison. ‘Just saying. And weren’t you convinced only yesterday that Klaus might have had something to do with it?’ 

‘I don’t know, Diego! Nothing was making any sense!’ 

While those two argued, Luther leaned towards Ben. ‘Are you sure? Klaus… did this?’ 

Ben nodded, closing his eyes again, tired out. 

Luther believed him. ‘Okay. We need to find him, then. Any ideas?’ 

Ben’s lips twitched. ‘Mm. His home’s probably a good place to start.’ 

Allison and Diego fell silent. ‘Ah,’ Luther said. ‘I’m guessing you know where that is.’ 

‘Yeah.’  

‘Well. That’s convenient.’ 

Allison grinned at her brothers, searching her pockets for a spare bit of paper and a pen, while Diego scowled, saying, ‘Of course he only told the invalid.’ 

 

***

Vanya had been sitting at Klaus’s bedside for most of the day; her bones were stiff, creaking like an old woman’s. She’d called in sick to her job at the local supermarket for the second day in a row. Klaus still hadn’t woken up.

The room he was in was small, but there was a window that let sunlight in at least. She’d picked flowers from the curbside and gathered them into a glass, mostly long-stemmed dandelions and daisies. She figured he’d like them. He’d always liked pretty things no matter how scruffy. Roadside weeds seemed appropriate. 

Klaus himself didn’t seem like the brother she knew, though. Even when he slept on the floor of their apartment, he’d been restless - muttering through the night, tossing and turning, sometimes crying out, sometimes laughing. He was as twitchy as he was in the daylight.

This brother slept without a sound. He did not move. His eyes behind his eyelids did not even flick back and forth, no subtle movement to be seen. 

Tonight she was going to go home. She needed to go - she’d only popped back once, to get some of her things. She’d been sleeping here, too afraid to go home for long. What if he woke up when she was gone? All alone? But she needed to sleep in her own bed, not to mention shower and change into some new clothes, so once the sun went down she said goodbye to a silent room and took the bus home. 

The first thing she noticed when she reached her floor was that the door was askew. She panicked, checking for her keys - had she left them there? Or had she forgotten to lock it properly in her rush? Still searching her pockets, she nudged the door further open, apprehensive and holding her breath. 

She hadn’t been expecting to find Luther, Diego and Allison sitting on her floor-mattress, all looking rather bored. 

‘Oh my god,’ she said, startled. ‘What? How are you here?’ 

And then she remembered - of course. Ben. Klaus had asked him to come and stay, he’d told her, and they’d been waiting for him to make the move any day now. He must’ve come only to find their empty apartment left in disarray. He would’ve worried. He would’ve told the others. It all made sense. 

She couldn’t believe she’d forgotten he was coming. 

‘Vanya,’ Allison said, and suddenly she was across the room and giving Vanya a hug. Allison gave good hugs; she squeezed tight. Vanya hugged her back, all the heaviness and loneliness of the last few days threaten to overflow. ‘It’s so good to see you.’ 

‘You too,’ Vanya said. Voice thick. ‘I’m so sorry, I’ve been meaning to call you, I just- these last few days…’ 

‘I know. It’s been horrible.’ 

Vanya nodded, then stood back. She smiled watery half-smiles at Diego and Luther, who both looked shattered. 

‘You knew, then,’ Diego said. ‘Why didn’t you come home?’

‘I couldn’t leave him,’ she said. ‘I would’ve, I just -’

‘Leave who?’ Allison interrupted. 

Vanya looked between her siblings. ‘...Klaus.’ 

The other three frowned. 

‘Where is he?’ Luther asked. 

And then it all came out. They’d been talking about different brothers. She’d been worrying about one while they worried about another. 

And Ben - oh, Ben. 

‘He’ll be okay,’ they told her. 

‘Klaus saved him,’ they said. ‘So Ben says.’ 

She knew in an instant that it was true. She told them about her half of that night. The horrible cold. The eerie light. The ambulance and the hospital room and the never-waking sleep. 

They all looked crestfallen. 

‘The idiot,’ Diego whispered. ‘Never knows when to stop.’ 

A murmured agreement. Their hearts heavy with worry and a strangled kind of awe, too. 

Klaus had never ranked high in their esteem. He wasn’t the strongest or wiliest member of the Academy, but in a way that hadn’t really mattered to them - he was Klaus. The underdog, a little bit useless but good fun (when he wasn’t being the most annoying human being on the planet, which was, to be fair, quite a rare occurance.) 

They’d never expected him to do something like this. 

It was hard to imagine. Had he known he could stretch his powers so far?

They could hypothesise all they liked. Ben’s memories were too foggy to clarify anything for them. They’d simply have to wait for Klaus to wake up and actually ask. 



***

There were ground rules:

One: Try not to fight. It is a hospital. There are other people

Two: Don’t tell anyone who we are and deny it to all those who suspect

Three: No one tell Dad 

Vanya had made the third rule was her final stand. She’d never really stood up to her siblings before, never raised her voice or joined in on their arguments. They probably wouldn’t listen to her, she’d tell herself, and even if they did, she didn’t really care all too much about the issue of the week to get involved. 

This, though. She’d been the only one to see Klaus the week after he left home. There were only so many vacant stares and vomit buckets she could deal with, only so many nightmares she needed to hear, to be sure that whatever made him finally abandon the Academy had left him in a bad place. Sure, she hadn’t lived in Klaus’s pocket at all back home; she might have missed some things. But those first days… she couldn’t stress it to the others enough: it had been worse than ever before. 

It didn’t take much imagination to guess who might have caused it. 

There wasn’t much to do on the ward, and they’d not been able to bring Ben to visit yet, so of course they started to wonder whether it’d be better to bring him home and have Mom take care of him. Luther was the biggest proponent of this plan. He wanted to tell Dad so it would all be organised, so that Klaus would get the best care possible - and Vanya knew that it came from the best place, but he just didn’t get it. 

So she spoke up. She told them no. No one tells Dad anything. No one takes Klaus home. No one tells Mom, or Pogo, or anyone who’d let Dad get even a hint of what was going on. 

Amazingly, they listened. Mostly. 

‘He doesn’t know that it was Klaus who saved Ben, though,’ Luther said, one freezing day on the ward. It was hailing outside. ‘Seeing as it’s to do with his powers, surely -’ 

‘No,’ Vanya reiterated. ‘That’d be even worse. He’d never let Klaus out of his sight again.’

Luther fiddled with the mittens in his lap. ‘But we need to face the fact that we don’t know when Klaus is going to wake up. Or if he ever will.’ 

‘Jesus, Luther,’ Alison said, and at the same time Diego insisted, ‘He will.’

‘We don’t know that,’ Luther said. ‘But Dad… Dad might know something to help.’ 

‘No, I’m with Vanya,’ Diego said. ‘Bringing Dad into this will only make things worse.’ 

‘Seriously, Diego?’

‘Uh, yeah. Did you ever see him down visiting Ben? He nearly died and Dad couldn’t have cared less, except for the fact that it nearly ruined his picture-perfect vision of the Academy. It’s bullshit. All he’ll do for Klaus is milk the story for the media and get some pity from our sponsors, so that when Klaus wakes up - yes, when - he’ll be greeted by a whole new nightmare. Vanya’s right. He doesn’t need that. He’ll run from it harder than he’s ever run before.’

‘Thanks,’ Vanya said, smiling appreciatively at Diego. Ben had been on her side from the start too, from his at-home hospital bed. To everyone else she said, ‘He’s right.’

Luther kept quiet, and the others considered the decision final.

Hail battered the windowpane. The lights were on inside even though it was daytime, making everything yellowish and cosy, and Klaus was, as usual, completely stationery between them all. Allison had been painting his fingernails a new colour as they talked; the room smelled of acetane. 

There had been many quiet moments up there in Klaus’s hospital room. 

Vanya missed him at the apartment. Allison had been to stay with her a few times, and it had acutally been pretty fun, just the two of them. Acting like proper sisters for once. She almost felt like extending the invitation to her to move in permanently too, but of course once Ben healed and by the time Klaus woke up, the little apartment would be much too cramped. 

Anyway, Allison kept talking about Los Angeles. It was her new goal: a glittering star on the walk of fame, a life of sunshine and adoring fans and freedom. Vanya didn’t see the appeal. 

She knew Luther had been getting a little concerned at such a far flung ideal. He kept trying to reel her back in, and Vanya too. Team strongest together, all that nonsense. She wasn’t even on the damn team. All his efforts didn’t matter anyway, seeing as none of them were going to leave until both Ben and Klaus were better. But the edges were looking awfully tatty. All frayed and coming apart. It’d probably been happening for a while, but Ben’s near-death had shoved in their face the fact that they were not invincible. Any day another could be hurt, or lost. Maybe One through Three were happy to take that risk for themselves, confident in their own ability, but were they willing to risk their siblings? Or each other? 

Life was already messy enough. 

‘It’s Christmas next week,’ Allison said. 

They looked at her. ‘So?’ Diego replied. They’d never celebrated it growing up. Reginald didn’t believe in the frivolity let alone the religion; getting a cake on their own birthday was a stretch. 

‘All the other rooms I’ve seen are decorated.’ 

That was true. The hallway was also slightly more glittery than usual. 

‘It could do with some colour in here,’ Luther said, looking around at the grey upon beige upon white. 

Allison smiled. ‘Klaus would like it, don’t you reckon? We could get fairy lights.’

‘Tinsel round the bed frame,’ Vanya added. 

‘And surely a little tree?’ 

‘Ugh, tell me we’re not playing carols too,’ Diego said. 

Luther made a thoughtful humming sound. ‘They do recommend playing music for people in comas.’ 

‘That’s right,’ Allison said. ‘We can have a sing-along!’ 

‘Nope,’ Diego said, getting up and waving his hands about dismissively. He walked to the door as if to leave. ‘I’m out.’ 

‘Yeah? What if he wakes up?’ 

‘Earplugs, then.’ 

 

Christmas came. It was bitterly cold outside, another dark and gloomy day. They tumbled into Klaus’s room as soon as visiting hours began, this time bringing Ben along with them in a wheelchair. He’d insisted on coming, only just well enough to make the trip. 

Pogo had asked where they were all going. After Ben’s accident there’d been a temporary respite from training as they all recovered. Now, they were supposed to be resuming training again, but they were out of the house more often than in it and none of them gave any hints as to where they were going or why. 

In the end, Allison resorted to rumouring Pogo. Dad hadn’t shown his face, hadn’t for days, but she’d rumour him too if need be. 

The room when they arrived was actually quite cheery. Their decoration was worth it. There were paper snowlakes hanging from rainbow string in the window, twirling delicately back and forth; green tinsel interwoven between the bars of the bed, the shine of it catching the light; a miniature plastic tree on top of the bedside table, dotted with plastic holly berries; and beside the table, a little puddle of fairy lights that were waiting to be wound through the bed frame along with the tinsel. 

There were no carols, to Diego’s great relief. 

Upon seeing Klaus, Ben went quiet. More so than usual. It’s true that it was a shock; the others were now used to the way he didn’t look at all like the brother they knew, but it had taken them time to see past it all. The limp hair and the motionless body. Hospital gown making him gaunt and thin. The absence of stupid jokes. No bizarre thoughts being needlessly shared the moment they popped into existence. None of Klaus at all. 

Vanya rummaged through her bag, bringing out a silvery box of little cakes and pies. ‘I brought these for you guys,’ she said, placing them on Klaus’s bed. They gathered round and took their pick, spilling crumbs everywhere. Diego and Ben each held a treat beneath Klaus’s nose (a tiny pecan pie and a gingerbread cookie respectively). And they did end up playing some music, but nothing at all Christmassy; instead, they’d gone through Klaus’s stash of cassette tapes, and they had that playing softly in the background. 

All in all, it was quite cheerful - according to their standards. 

They stayed until visiting hours ended. Night had fallen, the glow of the twinkling lights was more inviting than ever, the warmth of the ward yet another reason to stay. None of them wanted to leave him there. It was the hardest leaving-time out of any, the moment where their resolve to not take him home with them wore thinnest. Surely it would be okay, they all thought, each of them alone in their own heads. Surely it would feel more right. But they couldn’t. It was the most important rule they’d set themselves, even if it didn’t seem that way right now. 

Throats thick, they wound their scarves and put on their coats, and wondered if when he finally awoke he’d wake alone. 

Would he know that they’d been there? That as they left, they’d all quietly lingered in the doorway to check on him just one last time?

Chapter Text

A thousand years he might have lived in that grey, quiet world. 

He lay on his stomach and watched colourless grass grow tall and spindly before it shrunk back like hair receding into a skull, over and over again. Like the ground itself taking deep, slow breaths. 

There was a ladybird with black spots standing out dark on its shiny grey wings. It had six little legs and six little feet and with those it clung, shivering, to a blade of grass, waiting for the moment when it might take off once more. He held out a finger (he was lucky enough or wrong enough to be made of colour) and almost touched it. But he decided not to at the last moment. What if it fell? 

He rolled onto his back. No more looking down. Now he stared upwards, the sky yawning wide, clouds like white teeth, like molars, clumped and thick. Sometimes the clouds moved and looked like elephants. Sometimes they looked like bottles of milk. And once or twice - the best of times - they looked like entire ecosystems with mushrooms and saplings and canopies and trunks. An enormous world carved out in a brief skip of a thought, before dissipating, shapeless water vapour once more. 

He sat up after the third cloud-world died a lonesome death. 

Beside him there was a girl. She was standing with her arm draped over the handlebar of a bicycle, and she must’ve been very quiet to sneak up on him like this. It was as though she’d appeared from nowhere. 

‘You really do have to go now,’ she said, checking her wrist for a watch she wasn’t wearing. ‘Haven’t you rested long enough?’ 

Klaus said nothing. She considered him a moment - then, clearly displeased, she turned up her nose and got on her spindly bike, riding off along the path. 

He watched the wheels spin.

A fair distance away she stopped, skidding her white-sandaled foot in the dirt so it puffed into the air. She turned back, saw him still looking, and shook her head in annoyance. 

‘Didn’t you hear me? You can’t keep hiding here.’ Her voice was carried to him on the non-existent wind.

Klaus squinted, trying to figure her out. There wasn’t anywhere in particular that he was supposed to be, was there? In fact, this place of all places seemed like where he belonged, despite being not quite canny enough for comfort. 

Suddenly, it clicked.

‘This is a dream, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Your dream, and I’ve jumped into it.’ 

But even as he said it, he realised it didn’t feel like one, not in the way it usually did. Usually he could sense it on a subconscious level. That feeling was gone.

‘Of course it’s mine,’ said the girl. ‘All dreams are mine. But it’s not yours, not anymore, and I’d very much like you to leave.’ She rested one foot back on the pedal, ready to take off again. 

‘But where are you going?’ 

‘To play,’ she said. ‘You’re not invited.’ 

‘Oh.’ 

Above her, a cloud spun itself from cotton into sugar. Klaus began to fuzz over on the edges again, lost in watching, and that was when she rang the bell on her bicycle. It made a delicate, happy sound. 

‘Honestly, if you want to get something done...’ she muttered. Then, louder: ‘Bye. Also, don’t do that again.’ 

He blinked at her, baby-bird innocence. ‘Do what?’ 

She rang her bell once more. It was louder, harsher. ‘Don’t take such liberties. You paid for it handsomely, but I don’t appreciate you doing it in the first place.’ 

‘Uhh, okay? What exactly are we talking about?’ 

She made that distasteful look again. ‘You humans are so slow .’ Then she rang the bell for a third time, saying, ‘I hope I don’t see you again soon.’ 

The bell clanged, ringing an urgent warning, red-hot in his ears. It kept ringing. The noise of it spun like a siren, getting louder.

Something pinched him.

He became a cloud and dissolved into the white sky. 

 

Still, the noise. 

Wouldn’t someone stop it? 

He had to stop it. He had to - reach? His arm wasn’t following. Couldn’t see - wasn’t sure - was he blind? He had no eyes, but no, that was them, that was a slit of light, his eyes opening, his eyes stinging. Why was it so bright? Even looking didn’t help, he couldn’t see anything more, he was in a cavern of ice and the sun was gleaming and there were creatures looming over him with skinny angled arms and beeping voices. Hooked to him. 

This wasn’t his bed. He wanted to go back to the soft grass. The bedside beings were going to get him. He was all tied up. He moaned, his voice creaking like it’d turned to rust, and then he realised he was thirsty, so thirsty, wished he could open his mouth and summon rain. Waterfall, please. Kitchen tap. Why had he let himself dry out like the dust of old bones? Was that all he was? And his name… his name...? 

The noise stopped. There was another creature, and - oh! They pinched him! He groaned and tried to get away. His limbs bashed against something, but he didn’t mean that to happen. He just wanted to roll over. Escape. 

Couldn’t, though. Couldn’t. 

 

Eventually he realised the difference between the bedside creatures (medical devices) and the pinchers (nurses). He remembered what people were. They asked him things, and he didn’t really understand their questions for a while, until suddenly he did - alhough replying was beyond him. That came back a few days later. By then he had forgotten that inital disorientation. The day he properly woke up was the day language made sense again, the day he remembered his name. The rest of his memories followed soon after.

Three and a half weeks was an awfully long time to spend lying in colourless grass. 

He’d lain there for so long that his muscles had started to forget themselves. Only three weeks and he was wobbly as a newborn deer when trying to stand. The nurses helped him to move, holding him securely under his arms. Luther and Diego helped him too when they were there. He didn’t really understand why they fought over taking turns with the task. He’d figure that one out later. Even with memories chugging away again in the old skull of his, sometimes - in those early days - he took a while to reason things over. 

People were being patient with him. 

He wasn’t being very patient with himself. 

The nights were the hardest, especially as the concoction of whatever it was that had kept him alive trailed out of his system. His sanity came back hand in hand with his insanity. He couldn’t sleep because the half-dark sparked fear in every nerve of his body; there were always spectres lurking here, but at night there was no one to distract him. Electric red and green lights from hospital equipment blinked like beady eyes from every dark corner and sometimes the ghosts’ eyes gleamed too with an undead sheen. 

One night with his pulse running fast as a rabbit’s and his palms sticky with sweat, he gave in to desperation and tumbled to the floor in a net of wires and sheets. His limbs shook trying to hold himself up. Across the room was his posse of fans, rabid and broken and mostly just sad; he didn’t look at them, not one glance. Instead he clumsily extracted himself, felt something that tasted like terror in his throat, thick and sour, and then he crawled across the room until he reached the doorway where he tried to pull himself up, and then again, then once more - one, two, three, heave.

He couldn’t do it. He slumped against the frame, felt the skin of his cheek kiss the cold linoleum floor as tears welled in his eyes. 

Someone squatted next to him. Klaus looked at their ankles briefly, before ducking his head down, willing her away. It was one of the corner ghosts, a skeletal young woman with short-shorn hair.

‘No, he’s still conscious,’ she said, to one of the others. ‘He’s just crying.’ 

‘What’s he got to cry about?’ another said croakily. ‘He woke up, lucky bastard.’ 

‘Maybe he’s sore from falling down,’ said another, a child’s voice. 

Klaus covered his ears and tried to hold his sobs in, building a great dam from which nothing could escape: no water nor sound nor movement. 

A nurse found him like that. He made soft sounds of comfort and got Klaus back into bed. It made Klaus cry all over again, silent tears that he couldn’t stop. He didn’t know whether it was because of the kindness or the failure of his escape. Maybe both. Before the nurse went Klaus begged him for something, anything, to knock him out, to make him not need to be aware any longer.

‘I keep seeing things,’ he said, not caring if it made him seem crazy. ‘I’m scared, please, please. ’ 

He begged for morphine most of all. The nurse ended up giving him a less powerful sedative, saying they’d talk about this tomorrow with his therapist. He had two of those. A physical therapist and an emotional one. Trying to get inside his head. 

The sedative sent the ghosts away and then took him off to sleep. 

He slept, then he woke. 

He did not dream.

 

***

The mornings were cool and pale this time of year. He ate breakfast in bed, picking at a bowl of tinned peaches alongside two pieces of cold toast, and listening to a compilation of 50s music on his walkman. His siblings had bought the cassette tape at his request. 

There was too much time to think. 

It didn’t take him long to put two and two together: since he’d woken up from his coma, Klaus hadn’t dreamt once. Usually, there wasn’t a night that went by where he didn’t dream - whatever it was about his powers meant he didn’t easily forget them either. He’d spent his whole life like that. It had tired him out sometimes and there had been more than a few occasions when he’d wished he could sleep and see nothing like others did. Now it seemed that wish had come true: no more nightmares, no more dreamwalking, and no more Dave. There was always a catch for wishes like that, wasn’t there?

He didn’t want to think about what it meant yet. 

Instead he mulled over the dreams themselves, the last three he’d had, which he could remember near perfectly. They had been some of the first things to come back. Felt like only yesterday.

The rude girl with the bicycle had said he’d paid a price, which must have been his dreamwalking. And the thing he’d done to need such payment - well, that was obvious. It was perhaps the blurriest part of that dream with Ben, but he could still remember the raw scrape as he stretched himself too thin, the way he’d stopped his brother from leaving him by closing the doors of death - and not to just one spirit, but to all that were passing over in that split second. It brought shivers out in his skin to think of it.

His siblings had shown him the article. His apparent handiwork. He was halfway convinced that it was simply a huge prank they were playing. Surprise, they’d say, we got you good. You really thought you could do something like that? 

Allison brought Ben to see him one day, wheeled him over in a wheelchair right next to Klaus’s bed. Klaus hadn’t been coherent enough the last time Ben visited. 

Ben stood, briefly and shakily, then lay down next to Klaus, Allison with a helping hand on his elbow. Once he was settled, she said she was going to the cafeteria, and left them alone.

They were lying side by side, both staring at each other and seeing new scars.

Fragments kept popping into his head. Ben keeling over. The dark splatter of blood on his face. The sound of the Horror mourning. 

‘Do you remember it?’ Ben asked. 

Klaus nodded. He didn’t think he’d ever forget.

‘I was so afraid.’ 

‘I know.’ He swallowed thickly. ‘So was I.’ 

They lay quietly for a moment, then Klaus rolled and wrapped his arms around his brother. Ben hugged him back. The hoodie he was wearing smelled of laundry detergent and home. He was warm. ‘Thank you,’ Ben whispered. 

Muffled, Klaus said, ‘Next time you feel like dying, try giving me some warning. I was not prepared for a three week nap.’ 

Ben snorted despite himself. ‘Lucky I don’t plan on dying again.’ 

‘Yeah, that’s what they all say.’ 

 

It wasn’t the last conversation they had about what had happened. They only talked about it when they were alone, had mutually decided the others wouldn’t understand. They still didn’t really understand it themselves. It was probably normal for a knife-edge dance with death to leave them reeling. Normal to feel as though they’d lost something of themselves in that awful, devouring dark. 

Another visit: rain in sheets down the window, Diego and Luther braving it to find them decent hot chocolate, not the watery stuff available here. 

‘Do you feel different?’ Klaus asked vaguely, sitting crosslegged on top of the covers. 

Reclined in his chair, Ben held out his arm - still encased in a cast. ‘Bit sore, I guess.’ 

‘Aw, poor you. Want me to kiss it better?’ With barely a moment’s pause, he switched from the snippy teasing back to seriousness. ‘I mean, do you remember being dead?’ He didn’t tiptoe around the question; it was too commonplace for him. 

Ben shrugged, a little taken aback. ‘It’s a blur now. I remember the dream. I heard you talking to me even when I wasn’t there anymore, though I have no idea what you were saying. Then… I think I forgot who I was. I didn’t hear you anymore. Kinda like fainting. Then it was days later and I was awake.’

‘But has it changed anything for you?’

Ben replied slowly. ‘I suppose I’m kind of… more aware of my own mortality now. As you’d expect.’ 

‘So no crazy visions?’

‘Um. Apart from the dream itself, uh… no.’

‘Mm,’ Klaus said. ‘Fascinating.’

Ben frowned. ‘Is that all you’re going to say?’ 

‘Yup.’ 

‘Why’d you even ask then?’

‘Because, personally, I think I met God.’ Klaus wasn’t entirely sure of the words coming out of his own mouth, though he made it sound like he was. All blasé confidence. 

‘Okay.’

‘I’m serious.’ 

Ben laughed. ‘Oh, of course. Did he meet you at the pearly gates and say there’d been a mistake? Point you in the direction for hell?’ 

Klaus threw a pillow at him. ‘I wasn’t dead , asshole.’ 

‘Right. Just dreaming. With God.’

‘Yes, exactly! Though, I’m not exactly sure if it was God or something else entirely, but that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that now I can’t dream anymore.’ 

‘Was he that scary?’ 

Klaus threw an empty water bottle this time, which Ben ducked. ‘ She was not scary, thank you very much, although she was a very rude little girl. Also, when we were chatting, she insinuated that I wouldn’t be able to dream anymore.’ 

‘Only insinuated?’ 

‘She was very confusing, trust me.’

Ben seemed to realise that Klaus wasn’t joking right about now. He began to say something, then thought better of it and instead asked, ‘Was she right, though? Can you..?’ 

‘No.’ Klaus stared into his lap. ‘Not since.’

‘Oh. They might come back?’ 

‘Maybe,’ he replied doubtfully. 

‘But have you ever not dreamed before?’ Ben asked, looking thoughtful. ‘Surely there’ve been times -’

Klaus shook his head minutely. ‘I suppose it makes sense after what I did. Gotta give a little, take a little, you know. Didn’t know I was doing it, though.’ 

The door opened then and Diego and Luther came in bearing steaming drinks. 

‘I cannot wait until I can forget about running errands for you two invalids,’ Diego announced as he passed them over. ‘So hurry up and get better will you?’ 

‘Uhh, I’m ready to leave whenever,’ Klaus replied. 

‘Ready my ass. You couldn’t walk to the elevator if you tried.’ 

‘I’ll roll.’ 

‘That doesn’t seem like a good idea,’ Luther said. 

‘Carry me home to Vanya’s, then. They’ve basically discharged me already.’

 

He wasn’t lying. After a few more of the night-time incidents where the nurses had found him halfway out the door and catatonic with fright, one of them - his favourite nurse - came to have a chat. 

‘We’ve noticed you get quite distressed here, at night,’ she said. ‘Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable? Anything which isn’t pain medication,’ she added quickly.

‘Pretty please?’ he tried, but she only looked stern. ‘I mean, there’s like... nothing else. Hospitals just aren’t good places for me.’ 

He knew that she knew he was from the Academy, even though it wasn’t spoken about. If the hospital staff on this ward hadn’t already guessed from the tattoo on his arm when he was unconscious with only Vanya to look after him, then they definitely would’ve figured it out by the time the rest of his siblings made it in. 

‘Okay, hun,’ she said. ‘We do have other options, though. Normally we’d like to keep you in until you’re at least walking again, but you’re recovering well, with hardly any complications. And although I know your home situation is… difficult -’ 

He laughed lightly. ‘That’s one way to describe it.’ 

She smiled, humouring him. ‘I thought perhaps you might want to spend the rest of your recovery there.’

‘Not there,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Between you and me, I’d rather rot in a sewer infested with flesh-eating rats.’ 

‘Somewhere else, then. Is there somewhere else?’ 

There was Vanya’s, wasn’t there? He told the nurse as much. 

 

So on a brisk winter’s morning, Klaus left the hospital with an entourage of his siblings (minus Ben and Allison, who were back at the apartment, secretly setting out a welcome-home feast of pizza and cake and garlic bread.) 

Over his shoulder, he waved cheerily goodbye at the nurses and the occasional startled patients and guests. Diego had snuck him a joint for this farewell trip, after Klaus’s insistence that a tour through the whole damn hospital wouldn’t bode well for his mental health (he liked throwing around words like that since his first ever therapy stint, even if it was an enforced one), seeing as he was already struggling enough with his own ward’s infestation alone. So he was happily high and there were no ghosts to be seen. 

He was going home. 

 

***

As soon as Klaus could walk to the bathroom and back on his own, he declared himself recovered and promptly went out to run his most important errands. He did it on a whim, didn’t tell anyone, merely grabbed his coat and got out of the tiny room that was staring to feel more like a prison to him than anything else. 

When he finally made it back near the middle of the night, blind drunk for the first time since the accident, he found not one sister but two. Vanya had called Allison over to help searching for him, apparently, and they had a list between them, dotted with question marks and scribbles, as well as Allison’s own coral-coloured phone. 

‘What the hell, Klaus!’ Vanya exclaimed upon the sight of him. ‘Where’ve you been?’

‘I just went out for a little walk , ’ he slurred, tripping over his own feet. He was exceptionally tired, and had spent most of the day sprawled out on a park bench, getting his fill of the wide blue sky, resting his legs. 

‘You’re meant to be resting, you idiot,’ Allison said, cuffing him on the head with the phonebook. 

‘Ow! Please, give me more brain damage.’

‘We were worried!’ 

‘I was fine!’ 

‘You’re drunk,’ Vanya said. 

Klaus laughed. ‘Who, me? Oops.’ 

His sisters exchanged a look. Klaus ignored them, preoccupied with stripping off the annoying layers of clothes he was wearing, before giving up halfway and flopping down onto his bed, face down. He was asleep even before they came over, shifting him so his arm wasn’t caught so uncomfortably in its sleeve, and so he wouldn’t choke on his own vomit in the night. 

 

Apparently, while he slept, his siblings had decided it was appropriate to stage an early intervention.

‘Are you serious?’ Klaus said, cramped up against the cupboards the next afternoon, looking at  each one of them helplessly. 

‘Dead serious,’ Diego said. 

Klaus glared at him. ‘You know that’s a touchy subject for me.’

‘What, being serious?’ 

Death. But that too.’ 

‘If anyone has any right to be touchy over that right now, it’s Ben,’ Allison said. She was leaning against the door, next to Luther, the two of them managing to look very imposing and strong. Still, it was worth a shot. Klaus darted towards the door, but as soon as he moved she said, ‘Nope. Get back. One more step over here and I rumour you to shave all your hair off.’

‘All of it?!’ he wailed, dismayed. In that moment, Diego manhandled him to the mattress and sat him down.

They all joined him in a circle. It was starting to look very culty.

‘I’m not holding hands with any of you,’ he said sulkily. 

‘You have a problem,’ Diego said. ‘We want to help.’ 

‘I don’t need any help.’ 

‘Debatable,’ Vanya said quietly. 

‘You were sober that whole time in the hospital, Klaus,’ Ben said. He wasn’t sitting on the floor, but his wheelchair was moved as close to the mattress as possible. ‘We haven’t seen you like that since… well, I don’t even remember when.’ 

Klaus sighed and flung his head back. ‘This is embarrassing. For all of you.’ 

‘You can’t just get right back onto your usual shit, okay?’ Diego said. ‘Come on. Look at us.’

He groaned and sat up straight again. ‘What else do you expect me to do? I’m stuck in here all day, it’s dull as hell! I think I’m starting to lose my mind.’

‘But Klaus, you lost that years ago,’ Ben said. Klaus flipped him off with both hands. 

Then, mysteriously, the rest of them shared a cunning glance. 

‘Hey, what’s that for?’ Klaus demanded. ‘What are you all up to?’ 

Allison cleared her throat. ‘It’s not just that you’re bored, is it?’

‘What else -’

‘We know the only reason they let you go from the hospital when they did was because of all the ghosts there. They were getting to you.’ 

Klaus froze where he was, his mouth half open. 

‘The nurse told us,’ Vanya said softly. ‘I think she hoped we’d… check up on you. About them.’

‘We saw them, Klaus, remember?’ Luther added. ‘That one dinner.’

The air in the room started to feel uncomfortably close. Klaus discovered he couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes. 

‘Yeah, uh...’ he said lightly, trying not to let his voice shake. ‘That sure was weird, huh? Strange old fluke. But you guys missed out - they were boring ghosts! Do you know I once saw the ghost of a stripper and they were still on the pole? I don’t really understand it, even now. And I’m pretty sure I met the ghost of James Dean one night.’ 

Still he didn’t look at them. 

‘Klaus,’ Allison said, carefully. ‘We don’t want this to be hard for you.’ 

He laughed at that, then grimaced. Tapped his fingernails against the floor. This was mortifying. He wanted to crawl away and hide. 

She continued: ‘What we want is… for you to try and control them. Your powers. And we’re not going to bring Dad into it, absolutely not. It’ll just be us. We know what it’s like. We’re probably some of the only people in the world who do.’ 

Klaus steeled himself and said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with the ghosts.’

Allison started to reply, but Diego butted in. ‘That’s exactly it, though. If you learnt to use your powers, couldn’t you just make them go away? It can’t be a big ask after the show you put on round the world.’ 

‘Mm, I’d rather take some of my special pills for that, please and thanks.’ Now he looked up. Somber faces all around the circle. ‘Aw, would you look at that? We’ve come full circle. I don’t need to work on anything! I already have a way of dealing with them.’

‘At least try,’ Luther said. ‘You know you’ve got it in you, so why not?’

‘Oh I dunno - maybe because I don’t really fancy it.’ 

‘But -’

‘Fucking hell,’ he snapped. ‘Give it a rest! I just don’t care. Not one bit.’ 

Luther shook his head, disappointment radiating from him. ‘I don’t understand you. You could do so much good.’ 

Klaus was properly pissed off now. 

‘Aw, well, lucky I have you to do it all for me, huh? Daddy’s perfect son - though, oh, that’s right, not so perfect, are you?’ He knew how to sniff out the spots that hurt the most, and these words bubbled up and overflowed, even as he didn’t truly mean them. ‘Couldn’t save Ben, could you? That was all me. And I did it myself, no thanks to you - to any of you.’

The tension in the room grew stifling. He made the mistake of glancing at Ben, who gave him a scathing look of disbelief, and betrayal. 

Klaus ignored it for now. ‘Honestly, I pull one trick out of the bag and suddenly you’re all interested? I have one fucking drink and you think I’m a lost cause?’

‘That’s not -’ Allison began, but Klaus scoffed, standing up.

‘I don’t care. Whatever this is,’ he gestured around at them all, the awkward circle on the floor, ‘I’m having nothing to do with it. Get a life. All of you. And leave me alone.’ 

He stormed across the room, and no one grabbed him to make him stay.  

Right before he left, Ben said, ‘I thought you’d changed, after what happened to us. But you’re just the same as ever.’ 

Klaus slammed the door in reply. 

 

Diego followed him out. 

‘Klaus!’ he yelled. ‘Slow the hell down!’ 

Klaus didn’t, but he was still not up to walking easily and so Diego caught up halfway down the street. 

When he did, Klaus spun around on the spot, folding his arms. ‘What do you want?’ 

Diego shrugged, passing Klaus the coat he’d forgotten to bring with him. ‘Just want to walk with you a bit.’ 

‘I don’t need a babysitter.’ 

‘I know. Ever been to the tiny noodle place down that way?’ He pointed into the distance.

‘No.’ 

‘They’re great. Come on, I’ll buy you some.’ 

Diego took off ahead and after a fierce internal debate, Klaus reluctantly followed, pulling on his coat. 

The restaurant was hidden down an alleyway, tucked behind a 24-hour convenience store. Inside, it was warm and cosy. There were delicate bottles of chilli oil and soy sauce on their table by the window, and condensation dripping in lines down the glass. 

‘How’d you find this?’ Klaus asked, once they were sitting. Diego was lucky Klaus could never stay properly angry for long - though he wasn’t very happy right now, either. 

‘Allison was craving noodles, so I had to walk until I found some.’ 

‘And you looked all the way down here?’

Diego shrugged. ‘I wanted to stretch my legs. Vanya’s place isn’t exactly spacious.’ 

Klaus nodded, not feeling up to performing cheerfulness for his brother. He fiddled with the lid on the chilli and twirled the bottle around on the table. 

‘You know, you’re lucky in a way,’ Diego said. Klaus raised an eyebrow, but Diego didn’t see - he was looking out the window with a pensive expression. ‘You missed most of it. With Ben.’ 

‘I saw him die.’

‘I know. But you weren’t there, after. You didn’t wait up with us all night, not sure if he was going to make it or not. You didn’t see him at his worst, in those first few weeks. You don’t know how that felt.’

In a small voice, Klaus said, ‘I would’ve been there if -’ 

‘I know. I’m not trying to guilt you. We know you saved him, and fucked yourself up doing it. But we were fucked up too. It’s just… there were only four of us left, and we were scared, man. You don’t know how scared. It eats away at you. You can’t sleep, you can’t stomach any food, you can’t even bear to think, sometimes. And it was this horrible double-whammy, right? Ben - and you.’ Diego had taken his knife out at some point, and was twisting it in his hands. ‘I didn’t know if I was going to get either of you back.’ 

Klaus leant his head on one hand. ‘That would’ve sucked. Luther would’ve been your only brother.’

The corners of Diego’s mouth twitched, and he kicked out at Klaus under the table. ‘You don’t do yourself any favours.’ 

‘I was sympathising!’ 

A waiter came with two steaming bowls of noodles. Klaus almost dove into his, having not eaten breakfast yet. The “intervention” had begun mere minutes after he woke up. 

‘Luther meant well, back there, you know,’ Diego said. ‘I hate to say it, but it’s true.’

Klaus shook his head, a noodle poking from his mouth. ‘Not this again.’ 

‘He was wrong, going about it the way he did. I don’t care about how useful your powers could be, but I’ve seen your ghosts, and they’re terrifying. I couldn’t live with them. I honestly don’t understand how you managed to do it for most of your life, before all this… junkie stuff.’

‘Junkie stuff? Really?’ 

Diego ignored him. ‘You need to find a better way to cope, bro. I couldn’t bear it if…’ He shook his head, trailing off. ‘Look, I just think you should take control of your own life. Let’s face it - even if you pretend this is you “in control,” the ghosts are basically running the show.’

Klaus swirled his chopsticks through the noodle soup. ‘Thanks for the inspirational speech, Di. Much food for thought.’ 

‘I’m right and you know it. Don’t look so miserable.’ 

Klaus scowled at him. ‘I’m just trying to figure out when you all decided this was your business to meddle in. You never cared before.’ 

‘We’ve all had to grow up a lot these last few weeks.’ He took a gulp of his soup, then set the bowl down, wiping his mouth. ‘Look around, Klaus. Any ghosts in here?’ 

It was a tiny restaurant, empty except for them. Even the staff were out the back. At least, that’s what Klaus was telling himself. But at a table in the corner there was an old man, unmistakably gruesome. Diego was following Klaus’s gaze and saw when it caught on what to him was thin air. 

‘Okay, so yes. How many? Just one?’ 

Klaus nodded slowly, his heart starting to race. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to play this game. 

‘Show me,’ Diego said. 

That sent a bolt of shock down Klaus’s spine. ‘What?!’ 

‘Go on. Do what you did at home.’ 

‘I don’t know how -’ 

Try. ’ 

‘No! I’m not doing it!’ 

‘Yes, you are. And just cause I know you’re gonna whine about it: no, I’m not going to ask you anything else. No bargains of sobriety, no promises to train, nothing. I just wanna see if you can, right here, and right now. That’s it. Prove it, this one time, and then I’ll never ask you to do it again.’ 

When Klaus looked like he was going to protest again, Diego said, ‘I bought you food. It’s only fair. Come on, do it before anyone else comes in.’ 

In a bit of a fluster, Klaus stared down into his bowl, saw his shiny red reflection staring back. Now he had acknowledged the ghost, his heart was thumping madly in his chest and his palms had gone all sweaty. He really didn’t want to do this. The idea of it alone was making him feel breathless with panic. He didn’t want anything to do with any ghost, even if all it was doing was sitting peacefully in the corner of a restaurant. 

Swallowing thickly, Klaus considered making a run for it. But Diego was watching him carefully, that damn knife twirling in his hands, and the clock was ticking, and maybe it’d just be easier if he tried, just this once, if only to get his brother off his back. He’d do it fast. Like ripping off a band-aid. Then never again. 

That didn’t mean he had any idea where to start. The last time he’d done this, he’d been asleep , and the time before that it hadn’t been at all intentional. 

He tried to calm his breathing and focused inwards. It took a while, and he never fully calmed, but he managed to eventually sniff out the trail of death in the room - which was less a trail and more a presence that ebbed and flowed around him. It was made of the same stuff as second thoughts, the regretful ones, and the shivers of awareness that come before bad news. The cold finger running up your spine when someone’s stepped upon your grave. Or the sense that someone’s in the room with you when you know you should be alone, a door creaking ajar with no footsteps and no wind. The things that Klaus felt almost always, and which he chose to ignore. 

Now he welcomed them, breathed them in. The hairs on his arms stood on end as he let the sensations be more than mere feeling, let them become something coherent. He liked to think of it as the frail curtain that kept the worlds apart… curtain, door, intangible metaphysical border, whatever it was, he was reaching, reaching, ready this time not to close it but to part it open with a delicate touch, to split the very air itself in this cosy restaurant, to let the lone ghost peek through -

‘Is it working?’ Diego asked.

‘Yes!’ Klaus hissed. ‘Shut up.’ 

And there it was, the electric spark of frustration setting it all off: a sudden zap of power, icy and burning in his core. Klaus opened his eyes. The soup in front of him was tinged blue as well as red, the blue emanating from his hands. The sides of the bowl had iced over with a slow-creeping frost.

‘Okay, yeah, I see it.’ Diego was grimacing at the ghost’s table. He looked away quickly. ‘That’s enough.’ 

Klaus dropped it. The curtain fell back into place. He slumped against the table, drained, his insides humming with remnant energy quickly turning to an ache.

‘Nice job,’ Diego said, to which Klaus grunted in reply. ‘So do you think you can do that but instead make them go away?’

‘He’s not doing anything,’ Klaus mumbled. ‘That’d be a little mean.’

‘Hypothetically.’

Klaus sighed enormously. ‘I don’t know, Diego. Maybe? I’m tired, and hungry, and my ramen’s frozen over. I thought you weren’t going to ask any questions anyway.’

‘Has it?’ Diego grabbed the bowl to have a look, ignoring the last thing Klaus said. ‘Weird. Have the rest of mine, then. I’m not that hungry. Then we’ll go back to the apartment, okay? I said I’d bring you back.’ 

‘I don’t want to go back there.’ 

‘You afraid Allison will rumour your hair off?’

‘No,’ he lied. 

Diego snorted. ‘Yeah right.’

‘I’m not!’ 

‘Prove it then.’

‘Ugh, I told you, I don’t want to go - ’ Klaus started, but when Diego started to make chicken sounds with a smug little look on his face, he changed tack. ‘ Fine , you dick. I’ll come. But if I end up bald, you have to shave all yours too.’ He tipped Diego’s bowl to his lips and sculled the rest of the soup.

Diego got to his feet. ‘It’s a deal.’

 

And so Klaus went home with gritted teeth, though when he got there the place was empty once again except for his sisters. Allison was clearly biting back words from the moment he stepped back inside, while Vanya was shining her violin and didn’t look up. 

He dropped his coat on the ground beside his bed and went to the bathroom, where he slid down to sit on the floor. 

Whatever anger he’d been feeling had receded, leaving him a puddle of guilt in its place. It was more than just guilt though - he was entirely bewildered too. He looked down at his palms, pictured the blue light flickering between fingertips. He’d never thought… it had been easy, almost, hadn’t it? And entirely in his control too: the ghost had been there one moment and gone in the next, exactly when he’d wanted it to. 

He wasn’t going to do it again, though. Hadn’t he made it clear already that he had better methods to look after himself? And even if it turned out that maybe those methods weren’t the best option available to him, there was no way he’d give his family that satisfaction, right? 

Klaus had never been good at impulse control.

He found his eyes closing and his fists clenching, almost of their own accord, as he sank back into the meditative state from earlier. After a few moments, the air prickled with cold. And there, beyond the apartment, in a room somewhere upstairs, he could sense a hollow spot of decay: something searching for a way out with nowhere to go. Klaus didn’t call for it, he didn’t drag that ghost into the room with him. He was only looking. 

He searched further, spreading his consciousness thin, a lacelike frost on the surface of all this buzzing, beautiful life-heat. The whole floor, then the whole building, then the curb of the bustling street. Every time he touched upon a ghost his power jerked, like magnets snapping, and it took all his concentration not to let that recognition become a link. The road itself was a stretch too far to reach towards, but he remembered what it felt like to reach for the whole world and more, wanted to feel it again, just for the hell of it; so he fought his own stamina, his fast-draining energy, and strained towards that great divide - 

His power flickered. He gasped and came back, blinking, to the bathroom. 

The room spun.

Dazed, he stood up, clumsy and slow in his movements, and went to splash water on his face. The ever-dripping tap had developed a miniature icicle. He turned the tap on anyway, but when he leaned over he lost his balance and toppled sideways with a crash and a groan. 

‘Klaus?’ Vanya called, tapping on the door. ‘Um… everything okay?’ 

He groaned again.

She came in. ‘Oh, god, are you alright?’ 

‘Just fell,’ he mumbled. 

She helped pull him up to sitting. ‘I think this is why you’re supposed to be resting.’ 

‘Okay, mom .’

Vanya rolled her eyes, then got up and turned the tap off. ‘I’ll get you some water. Also, the others have gone now, if you feel like you’re done hiding.’

‘Good riddance,’ he said sulkily. 

She left, and he rubbed his face, his thoughts all foggy. 

So he’d done it again, albeit with a poor show of restraint; he’d have to practice at learning his limits. Being hungover and exhausted probably didn’t help. 

Painfully, Klaus got to his feet. Glancing back at the tap, he saw that the icicle had long melted. 

Looking at it, he felt… bemused, and a little proud. 

He had danced along the edge of the other side, and he had sensed the ghosts before they sensed him, and he’d done it almost effortlessly. (If you didn’t count near-collapsing with fatigue.) That, in itself, made him curious. So much of his fear came from powerlessness, from not knowing, not understanding how. But he’d figured a little bit of it out, and on his own too. Training who? 

He wouldn’t tell anyone, though. Wouldn’t try again either.

At least, maybe not until another day.

Chapter Text

2007

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. 



2013

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. 

So: Dave. 

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. 

Still nothing.

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. 

 

September, 2015

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.’ 

‘So?’

‘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. 

 

October, 2015

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.

 

March, 2019

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?

Chapter Text

Thirteen years since he last dreamed with Klaus, Dave Katz began to see him once again. 

It wasn’t the same as last time. For one, they weren’t dreams per se, even though logically that’s all Dave could think of them as: little slips of the subconscious. 

The first time, he’d been sleeping. He was woken up by what was either a freak flash of lightning or some kind of quiet, bright explosion, and in the second before his soldier-trained mind switched from groggy to alert, he could’ve sworn he saw a familiar pale face in the shadows. He’d memorised that face, once. He sat bolt upright and furiously rubbed his eyes. It wasn’t long - it was barely a second later - but when he squinted back into that dark corner of the tent it was empty. Then artillery fire was upon them. He returned to the maelstrom, and it was only afterwards, catching his breath in a moment of quiet, that he thought about it again and dismissed it as a dream. 

It wasn’t the end of it. Perhaps those powers of his let him delve into daydreams now, because Klaus wasn’t only coming along when Dave was sleeping - he was there in broad daylight too, when Dave was wide awake, and as the days passed it felt less like a dream and more like a haunting. 

In the middle of a midnight firefight, when Dave happened to glance into a dense stand of trees: there Klaus was, standing still as a statue and draped in darkness, more phantom than person. 

Once, heading to the mess hall surrounded by others from his squad, he caught from the corner of his eye a flicker of movement as someone dressed in unregulation black darted between tents in the half-sketched twilight, looking very much as if he did not want to be seen, something like a briefcase in hand. 

And then that time when he caught a glimpse of something dark amongst the green from the grimy window of a transport vehicle. Dave pressed his nose right to the glass as they sped past, and saw that it was Klaus lifting a hand to part the tall green grasses along the roadside. He stuck out like a sore thumb, but no one else seemed to see him - no one else was looking for him like Dave was - and for the briefest second before the grasses sprang back into place, their eyes met. It sent a jolt through Dave, no less jumpy now he knew it wasn’t a VC lying in wait. 

It wasn’t real, Dave decided after that sighting. 

At best it was some kind of madness setting upon him. That wasn’t unheard of out here; it was only fair he had his turn. The relentless heat of the season probably had something to do with it, so humid his sweat never had a chance to dry. They were all waiting for the sky to burst open with the monsoon rains. Maybe they’d wash away his delusions.

At worst Klaus was an omen. He didn’t know what for, only that it couldn’t be good, not after all he had done. All he was still doing.  

He began to watch the shadows like a man possessed. He forged a habit of checking twice over his shoulder no matter the time, and he found himself waking with a start in the middle of the night just to see if his dreams were out walking. Klaus was never there when Dave was looking for him, though. He only appeared when Dave’s guard was down. 

One endless night, drenched to the bone, Dave found himself muttering into the dark, ‘Come face me. Come talk to me.’ He didn’t care if the guy out on watch with him heard; he was huddled in his own miserable puddle a few feet away. Dave hadn’t cared about small privacies like that in a long, long time. All he knew was that he was delirious with exhaustion, seeing shapes in the murk that morphed into faces: of the dead, of the enemy, and of Klaus. ‘Why’re you hiding?’ he breathed. ‘You want something from me? Is that it?’ 

He came to believe that these visions of Klaus had been delivered upon him. Were meant to torment him. He was already in hell, after all, day after day getting deeper into the insanity of it, living with the dread of seeing what once horrified him become mundane. It was all adding up in his mind, this huge moral cost, him teetering nearer to breaking point with each passing slaughter, perhaps already past it, here in this fight he’d never wanted to join, doing things he never wanted to do, things that no human should. And all the while Klaus watching him do it. 

He was Klaus as he might’ve been if Dave had known him as an adult. Thin and wiry, with a searching, desperate look in his eyes. Always the eyes glinting from the shadows, the sheen of moonlight or the flicker of firelight. There one glance and gone the next.

Some days Dave wished he could get closer, if only to look at him one last time. The need of it shocked him. He was hungry for it, for another vision, more fuel for his flame. 

On others, filled with sudden, visceral fear, he begged not to see anything at all. He must stay in the dark forever. This part of him must never be known. 

 

One hazy morning about five months into his tour, Dave’s unit was ambushed out in the rice fields near a village that was supposed to be abandoned. 

In their lack of readiness his unit was forced through the shallow water and up the bank towards the buildings. They were stupidly easy targets from both directions, with nowhere to take shelter nor place to fire safely. As bullets rained upon them it became clear it was every man for himself. 

Dave saw the grenade come flying through the air towards him. All the action around him hushed into silence, time itself seeming to slow so he might watch the arc of it as it soared, a dark speck from the bushes just beyond, growing larger and larger until it came tumbling to his feet. But in truth there was no time. There was nowhere to go. Only splinters of a moment left to him and within them something came unstuck, the seeds of a prayer falling into his mind: Let my death atone for all my wrongs. 

There was nothing more to be done. 

Then someone grabbed his arm, and the grenade exploded, and the earth shifted underfoot. 

 

***

Morning turned to night. Rice fields scarred with battle became dense jungle. Dave barely saw it, he was half blinded by a flash both blue and red, and now there were black spots dotting across his vision too, the whole world off-kilter, leaping in and out of reality. 

The pressure on his arm was gone; whatever had been gripping there, holding him upright, had let go. He collapsed onto his hands and knees on the thick soil of the forest floor. His skin felt scorched, his ears were ringing, and his whole body hurt like he’d been slammed head on by a truck driving full speed down a highway.

He’d been exploded. This was what it felt like to die. 

Then, above the calls of night birds and insects and the rustling of leaves, he heard a groan. 

Despite his disorientation, Dave was suddenly on full alert. He felt for his gun fallen beside him then forced himself upright, crouching on one knee. From there, he swivelled around, pointing his weapon into the gloom even as he swayed, as his vision blurred. He blinked hard. His heart pounded; his finger rested upon the trigger, shaking. 

There: a few feet away, half hidden by foliage, a figure lying facedown in the dirt. It was too dark to see who. They were shifting with the slow, clumsy movements of someone coming back into consciousness, so Dave got up while he had the upper hand and stumbled towards them, keeping his gun as level as he could. 

Branches snapped beneath his feet. Stealth was beyond him right now; even if his body had been working properly, the starlight never made it this deep into the rainforest. 

The man on the ground tensed - he’d heard. Dave noticed, and read it as a warning. 

‘Move one inch and I shoot,’ he said. 

Paying no heed, the man twisted around. Dave flinched with the speed of it, pulled the trigger in his panic, and at the exact same time the man on the ground said, ‘Dave, wait -’ 

The bang of the gun split the night. In the spark of light from firing, Dave could just make out a pale face. Klaus’s face.

Dave’s blood froze. There was a moment of sickening stillness - time had shortened again - all his fright holding him down as he tried to make sense of it, and then in a rush his heart resumed racing. He felt suddenly dizzy, and on impulse he uttered Klaus’s name into the dark, pitched high like a question - his voice sounded strange, half-buried, muffled by the warning shot ringing in his ears. His gun was still pointed into the trees just beside where the blur of Klaus lay, pointing just enough away, but it was dark, and he’d jumped as he fired so he couldn’t be sure where the bullet had gone. Was he even sure of what he saw? Because Klaus never came so close - it couldn’t be him - he was only a mirage, only a ghost -

‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ the mirage-Klaus said weakly. His voice was shaking. ‘A bit trigger-happy there.’

And at that Dave came to his senses. He dropped to his knees, casting the gun aside, and swiped his hands in the dirt, trying to find where the dark ended and Klaus began. ‘I didn’t… please tell me I didn’t hit you -’ 

‘No, you missed,’ came the eerily-familiar voice. ‘I hope that was intentional, because otherwise for a soldier you’re a hell of a bad shot.’ 

‘Oh thank fuck,’ Dave breathed, his voice hoarse. He stopped searching, his body going limp, trembling and sick now with adrenaline. 

There was a rustling sound, and then the rasp of a lighter. In that pinprick of light, Klaus was only a few inches away. A few moments more and Dave would have found him. His eyes were wide and he had a split lip that was oozing. The little flame flickered by his thumb and Dave stared and stared. It was him - Klaus with his adult face, the one that had been stalking him for months. The one that didn’t quite match the memories. 

Dave held his breath. Head thudding, he waited for him to vanish into smoke, and when he didn’t, when Klaus stayed right there in front of him as solid and real as everything else, Dave crumpled over and retched. 

His omen, in the flesh. And Dave had tried to shoot him. 

The lighter went out. Klaus’s hand came to rest lightly on Dave’s back and stayed there until he stopped convulsing. 

Eventually Dave gathered himself together and sat back properly, resting his head on his knees. There were plenty of thoughts racing around his head, but through all of those he had one question, and not even truly a question at that: 

‘This is a dream, isn’t it?’

It was the only thing that made sense. He was fully prepared for Klaus to say duh, of course it is, like he had so many times before. 

Instead, Klaus said, ‘No. Not this time.’ 

For a second, Dave was shocked. If not dreaming, then what? Then he remembered the ambush, remembered the last stretching heartbeat as the grenade rolled towards him. He was supposed to be blasted to smithereens right now. Possibly he already was, and that was why he was seeing Klaus again, talking to him after all this time, impossibly far from the ricefields, deep in an impossible night. ‘Ah,’ he said, gripping his own arms, feeling the solidity of himself, and a strange blankness. ‘Dead, then. Well.’ 

Beside him, Klaus let out a breath. Perhaps it was a sigh, perhaps a laugh. Dave wished he could see to tell the difference, and right that same moment the lighter clicked again. And in its glow, Klaus had a strange expression: almost hopeful. 

‘I know something dead when I see it, Dave,’ he said. ‘You’re not quite there yet.’ 

Dave frowned. ‘But there... there was a grenade. It was right there. And I… I wasn’t here. Not in the jungle.’

‘I moved you.’ 

‘How? There wasn’t time.’ 

‘There was just enough.’ The flame danced in the wind, danced around Klaus’s thumb. ‘It was close though. I think we caught a bit of the blast.’ 

Dave shook his head, ignoring the singed feeling of his skin, not ready to understand yet. ‘If it’s not a dream… if I’m not dead -’ 

‘I promise you, it’s not. You’re not.’ 

‘Then, how? How am I seeing you?’ 

‘Because I’m here,’ Klaus said. He held out his muddy hand. Dave took it; the firm clasp of it felt as real as if he’d pinched himself. ‘I’m here. I’m in your time.’ 

‘That’s impossible,’ he breathed. 

Dave still didn’t know what to think except how? And Klaus seemed to understand that. He kept that grip on Dave’s hand steady, and his gaze was steady too, overwhelming in its intensity, every drop of his attention concentrated. They stared in silence, both murky with shadows to the other. Dave had forgotten what it felt like to be looked at by Klaus Hargreeves.

‘I thought so too.’ Klaus’s voice was closer than it had ever been. ‘I’ll try and explain. Can you stand?’ 

They helped each other up. Dave had to lean heavily on Klaus’s shoulder; his body was still in shock and exhausted after a night of marching. Klaus wrapped his arm around Dave’s waist for more balance.

‘Basically, I have a thingy,’ Klaus said, shining his lighter into the deeper shadows and steering them in that direction. ‘It’s over here somewhere.’ He shook the flame and it flickered, then went out. ‘It’s going to sound ridiculous, and honestly I don’t know how to make this not overwhelming for you, but the long and short of it is: I found a time machine. Some might say I stole it.’ 

They stopped in front of a box that Dave hadn’t noticed before. It had a smouldering corner. Klaus nudged it with his foot.

‘The psychos this belonged to technically kidnapped and tortured me,’ he continued, unable to actually cut a tale down to its bare bones with no embellishment, ‘so it’s totally karma that they lost it.’ 

‘Fucking hell,’ Dave croaked. ‘Tortured?’

Klaus’s arm around his waist got tighter. ‘This isn’t the difficult part, Dave.’ 

‘But are you alright?’ 

‘I’m fine. I sort of planned for them to find me. They were useless anyway, they didn’t have any idea who they were dealing with.’

Dave was too confused, too intrigued. He felt like he’d sleepwalked into a different reality, one where Klaus was real and beyond belief, and one where death didn’t stick - impossible delusions. No matter what Klaus said, it had to be a dream. 

‘It was a bit embarrassing for them, but good news for me,’ Klaus said. ‘Five had told me they had a time machine, and I needed one of those so I could get to you.’ 

‘To me,’ Dave echoed. If this was real, if it was really happening, then that was the sort of miracle he would’ve wished for when he was younger. Hearing it now, he wasn’t so sure. ‘You didn’t come and see me just for old time’s sake, though, did you?’ 

‘Yeah, not really. Um. So, about that grenade…’ Klaus paused, taking a deep breath, steeling himself. It gave Dave just enough time for his thoughts to jump ahead, connecting dots and sending cold prickling down his spine. ‘You’re only technically alive right now because I jumped in with the briefcase just before it went off. But in some other timeline or whatever it is we’re dealing with here, that grenade killed you.’ 

Dave’s blood thudded in his veins. He swallowed thickly. ‘Are you sure?’ 

There was a long moment where Klaus didn’t speak. When he did, he sounded nothing like the boy Dave had known. 

‘I’ve been to your grave. It had the date of the ambush on it. A bit of research and I found out all the rest - when the battle occurred, what place, etcetera. That’s why I’m here. That’s why you’re not dead, and why we’re definitely not dreaming.’ He paused then added, ‘Sorry it took me so long. But I wasn’t going to let you die. Not once I knew how to stop it.’ 

‘I -’ Dave started, trailing off into silence before he even began. ‘Does that... does that mean the whole time when we were kids, you knew -?’ 

‘Nah,’ Klaus said, sighing. ‘I was too chicken to look you up back then.’

Dave laughed, distressed, and then sat back down on the ground, suddenly afraid of the floor dropping out from beneath him. He cradled his head in his hands. Klaus was right; this was all too much.

‘Sorry,’ Klaus said again, sitting down beside him. His voice was a whisper. 

Dave shook his head.  ‘Don’t be. I shouldn’t be alive right now.’

‘But you didn’t ask for this. For me to -’ 

‘I didn’t ask to be in the war,’ he interrupted. He closed his eyes, listened to the sound of his own breathing. ‘What happened to the rest of my unit? Do you know?’ 

Again, Klaus didn’t answer for a long time. ‘It wasn’t good,’ he said eventually. 

Dave appreciated the honesty. It would’ve been so much easier to lie. To make this miracle a guiltless one. 

Still. The grief he felt in that moment was physical, his whole body pained by it. He felt carved inside out. 

He looked up through the canopy and tried to see the sky. It was fruitless: their spot of jungle might’ve been deep in a pit for how thickly the awful dark wrapped around them. Even the night birds had gone quiet. There was no wind, not even a whisper. There should have been no escape. 

‘What now, then?’ Dave asked.

‘I-’ Klaus hesitated. ‘I can take you anywhere. Any time.’

‘Home?’ It was his first thought, accompanied by a raw, homesick longing. 

‘Of course. We can be there five minutes ago if you want.’

There were shreds of hope and excitement in Klaus’s words. Already Dave’s second thoughts were overshadowing that. 

‘I want to,’ he whispered. ‘But…’

‘But?’

He shook his head. He wasn’t even sure what it was holding him back. ‘I don’t know.’

‘It’s a lot, I know,’ Klaus said. ‘We can think about it all later, if that helps. Nothing… nothing’s set in stone.’ He seemed wound tight like a spring beside Dave. ‘Why? Were you -?’

‘My head’s whirling, that’s all.’ 

‘No surprise.’ 

‘Just feels an awful lot like I’m running away, y’know.’ 

Klaus made a confused sound. ‘You’re not, though. You would’ve been -’ 

‘Dead, yeah. I get that.’ 

He didn’t get it, though. He didn’t know what was up and what was down, still wasn’t sure if he could trust his own senses, still was struggling to grasp exactly what it meant to be breathing right now, to be next to Klaus once again. A lifetime apart and an armful of impossibilites to bring them back together, and now he was actually considering going right back to the fight that should’ve taken his life, some desperate hope of changing things clanging about in his head, even though he didn’t want to fight anymore, he’d never wanted to in the first place. 

He couldn’t do that. He’d be a fool if he didn’t take this miracle and run. Besides, next to him was a Klaus that could very well be real. If only there was a bit of sunlight to see him by. If only he could unwind time and be seventeen again and see his face sweet as it was then, and Dave the same. There was a time he’d have followed that Klaus anywhere, would’ve done anything for him. That had been a long time ago.

All he wanted was to lay his head down and sleep til this endless night ate him whole, all his fear, his guilt and regret, and all his leftover dreams. 

Dave took a long, shaky breath. ‘Let’s just go,’ he said. ‘You’ve gotta take me home or else I don’t know what stupid thing I’ll do.’ 

Klaus squeezed Dave’s shoulder then scrambled forward, dragging the briefcase into his lap. ‘Right. Home it is. I can do that, easy peasy.’ His voice was brimming with relief.

The spot he’d touched on Dave’s shoulder burned. Dave was stuck where he was, staring into the dark and searching for sense. He wasn’t finding it. There was a kind of hollow in his head. The jungle’s humidity didn’t reach him either; he was cold as bone. 

Klaus got his lighter out again. ‘Can you hold that?’ he asked, passing it to Dave, already peering closely at the small dials on the briefcase, twisting one experimentally. It made a thin clicking sound as it spun. 

Dave held the light steady. He studied Klaus as he set up their impossible time machine. It hurt to look, though Dave was so numb right now that he couldn’t feel the full extent. It hurt to see the years, to feel the loss. But Dave couldn’t look away. 

‘Okay, I think that’s it,’ Klaus said. 

A sudden nervousness clawed up inside Dave. He was asking the question before he even thought it through. ‘When we get there, you’ll stay, won't you? Just for a while? You won’t just drop me off and leave?’ 

Klaus laughed abruptly, short and sharp. ‘Uh, what else? It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.’ 

The Klaus he remembered would’ve said it in just the same way: flippant, yet sincere and without hesitation. It was all Dave needed to know. 

‘Any other ridiculous notions we need to get out of the way?’ 

‘No,’ Dave replied, ‘no, I think I’m all out.’ 

‘Great. Let’s get out of here, then.’ 

The briefcase was ready. Klaus was standing now. Dave joined him. 

‘Hold on to me,’ Klaus said. 

Dave didn’t have to be told twice. 

 

***

Home was Dave’s parents’ place. They dropped right into a glistening December morning, about half a mile west of his parent’s home. Dave stumbled with the landing, and before he could get his bearings Klaus grabbed his arm and began dragging him along the street at speed. It was bustling with pedestrians on their morning commute. Fortunately, they had landed in the gutter, right between a lamp-post and a parked car, rather than in a crowd of people or out in the middle of the road - that would have been especially deadly this time of day. Only one older man had noticed their appearance and he was rubbing his eyes and frowning now, like they’d glitched on him. 

In the daylight they could see each other properly. They were walking briskly, dodging in and out between other people, and still they managed to steal glances at each other. They didn’t speak. The world around them was too loud, too busy and bright. All they could do was look. Klaus in his black coat, with his half-healed split lip thanks to those assassins, and his converse all coated in mud. Dave in his fatigues, wary, skin sunburned and bloodied in parts. Older and stranger and unsure of each other. 

When they made it to the house, upon answering the door Dave’s father clutched the wall for fear of falling over, and his mother, glancing over to see who it was, forgot the dish in her hand and dropped it. The plate shattered into a hundred tiny pieces. Automatically, Dave crouched to try to pick up the bigger shards, but already his father was stopping him, grabbing his forearm and pulling him up again, seeing all the mud, a fresh wound still weeping on his forehead, the old blood staining his shirt, and he saw it all and didn’t care that it made no sense - his son was home. 

Dave’s mother was muttering a prayer under her breath, unmoving, then she hurried towards them, crunching ceramic underfoot as she joined the embrace of her husband and son. 

Klaus leant against the doorframe, half-in, half-out, and felt much the way he did after a successful seance. He always felt an echo of their happiness or their relief, their solace, but always tainted with a kind of loneliness. It’s just how it was, bearing witness to this kind of thing. He was used to it. 

So he let the hollow-feeling be, and focused on Dave. It hadn’t been long for Klaus, not even a full day since that first appearance in the tent in 1968, even though it was months later for Dave. Klaus had jumped on through, stealing glimpses along the way, each one sending a thrill through him that made the rest of the world fade into background noise and blur. He’d seen Dave in rain and shine, in action and at peace, surrounded by others, laughing, and alone in thought. 

It had been easy to recognise the boy he’d known, who once barely made it to Klaus’s chin. But this new Dave wasn’t quite the one he knew either. That’s what kept Klaus slightly breathless, and tentative - not at all like him. It was why he’d stopped for one last look so many times before making his way to today. This Dave was everything the young one had been, but he was so much more too. Klaus didn’t know him well enough to figure out what made the difference. He wanted to find out, though. He wanted that more than he’d ever wanted anything before. 

So he watched hungrily as Dave reunited with his parents. It scared him a little, that hunger, but when Dave turned around looking a little frayed at the edges, no doubt ready to collapse from a combination of exhaustion and shock, and beckoned him in, Klaus forgot any fear. He stepped over the threshold and let himself be introduced.

Here was Klaus, a dear childhood friend they never met, and yes, Dave should be half a world away, and yes, he looked like he’d come right off a battlefield, and yes, nothing was making sense. 

Let us wash, then rest, Dave said to them. It’s been a long day, full of terrors and miracles. We’ll talk it over when we wake. 

Chapter Text

Klaus nudged the door open with his hip, carrying a bowl of oatmeal in one hand and a steaming cup of coffee in the other. The curtains were drawn in the bedroom, leaving it gloomy even though it was nearly midday, the weak sunlight trying to inch in through the gaps. Dave was lying motionless, but he wasn’t asleep. Klaus could tell by the way the silence felt. 

The bedside table had another cup on it, the one Dave’s mother had brought in earlier, undrunk and cold. 

‘Hey, Dave,’ Klaus said softly. ‘We thought you might be hungry.’ 

Dave made no response. 

Klaus placed the items down, the ceramic clinking. He chewed on his lip, torn between leaving him alone in peace or staying. It had been three days since they arrived here. Dave had been okay initially, had been going about the usual motions as he and Klaus tried to figure out what on earth they were going to do next, but near the end of that first day back he went quiet. They’d been eating dinner with his parents, and his mother was talking about getting his sisters around to visit, maybe the extended family too, might as well make it a proper celebration considering it was Hanukkah. ‘You’ll stay with us for the festivities, won’t you?’ she said to Klaus, and he nodded, said he’d love to. But Dave’s father Josef was watching his son carefully, and suggested in a quiet voice that perhaps they keep it small this year. 

Dave was staring at his plate. He set his fork down and claimed tiredness, then retreated to his room and had neither gotten up nor spoken since. 

Klaus felt responsible. He also had no idea how to act around Dave, no idea whether he was being presumptuous coming in here, disturbing his peace, or whether keeping away was making it worse, isolating Dave even further. 

He dallied a moment longer, then went to the window and pulled the curtains open with a quick, harsh movement. The window was on a latch; he opened it as far as it was able to go, letting fresh icy air pour in. 

When he turned around Dave had not moved an inch, but now his eyes were open. He was looking at Klaus levelly, little emotion there except for exhaustion. 

‘You don’t have to do anything,’ Klaus said. ‘I’m not going to make you get up.’ 

There was just enough room on the small bed for him to sit, so he did. Dave rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, shading his eyes. 

Klaus rambled. ‘Your parents are nice. Surprisingly chill with a total stranger living in their house. That’s pretty rare, you know - speaking from experience. Not that I stay in places as nice as this very often. They keep making food for me, and I don’t know how much your mom thinks I eat but I don’t know how to say no.’ 

Idly, he picked up a picture on the bedside table. It was of Dave in his uniform, alongside three young women. ‘Are these your sisters?’ he asked. He was pretty sure they were, but he wanted to encourage Dave to talk again. 

There was a pause. Dave covered his eyes fully with his hand. 

Klaus laughed, a huff of air out through his nose. ‘It’s weird having to ask this stuff, right? I can claim you’re my childhood friend all I want, but a proper one would know all that. Guess this category of friend just never existed before. Like, are we dream acquaintances? Psychic pen pals?’

Dave cleared his throat. ‘Bit more than that, I’d say.’ His voice was hoarse, unused. 

Klaus hummed his agreement. Then he flopped down so he was lying on his back beside Dave, arms pillowed beneath his head. ‘And what would you say we were?’ 

‘Doomed.’

Klaus was so surprised he laughed properly this time. ‘Wow. Okay, I see how it is. I’ll show myself out.’ Though he didn’t make any effort to move. 

‘No, that’s not -’ Dave mumbled. ‘I only meant... I can’t think about when I was young without thinking of you.’ He turned to face Klaus. There were purple-dark shadows beneath his eyes and a raw edge in his voice. ‘Yet we’re strangers now.’ 

‘Strangers...?’ Klaus echoed, sceptical.

‘You were just… gone. And I’ll never be the same as I was then. I’m… I don’t know who. This is someone else, Klaus. You saved the wrong person. That Dave’s lost.’ 

‘Yeah? Lost where?’ 

‘Dead in the mud in ‘Nam.’

Klaus’s stomach wrenched. ‘I never expected you to be the same as you were at sixteen. I know I’m not.’

‘This is different,’ Dave said. He tried to hide his face again but before he did, Klaus saw the shine of tears gathering in the corners, the clench of his jaw. ‘That time machine of yours. Why not go, take it, find me before all this shit -’ 

‘Why would I want to do that?’ 

‘I don’t know, Klaus,’ he muttered, voice cracking. ‘I don’t know anything about you.’

‘That’s not true -’ 

‘It is! It is . Our whole adult lives -’ 

‘Okay, then we can talk!’ Klaus insisted, propping himself on one elbow. ‘We can catch each other up. You still knew me as a kid, that still happened, we don’t lose that -’ 

‘But I’ve done… I’ve done things that I never -’ Dave’s breaths were coming fast, his eyes were wild. ‘I’ve murdered-’ he said, choking on his own words. He started clawing at his scalp, grimacing unseeingly, and Klaus sprang up and tried to pull his hands away, to hold them safe in his own. Dave shook him off, thrashing and crying out, ‘Let go of me!’ 

Klaus dropped them as soon as he said that, backing right off the bed. He hovered there, hands aloft. ‘Sorry. I’m sorry. I won’t touch you.’ 

There was a soft knock on the doorframe. Dave’s father peered in, a small man with a kind, worn face. He was frowning. ‘Everything alright in here?’

Klaus was shaken, but he nodded. 

‘David?’

Dave didn’t reply to his father. He was back to lying curled on one side, facing away from them, arms over his head. After a few seconds, Dave’s father beckoned Klaus out with a tilt of his head, and Klaus went, obedient like he’d never been with his own father. He wanted to stay, to keep watch and keep Dave company. That’s what he would usually do: whatever he wanted. It wouldn’t help though. His presence only complicated things further, dragging Dave deeper into this mire, and so against his own wishes - against his own nature - Klaus let him be. 

 

***

It was about one in the morning and Klaus was wide-awake in the living room, feeling cooped up and bored. He was trying to build a tower out of cards on the floor when he looked up to discover Dave standing in the shadows of the narrow kitchen, watching, a tasselled woollen blanket pulled over his shoulders like a cloak - or a shroud.

Klaus jumped, knocking all the cards down in a sudden flutter. 

‘Hello stranger,’ he said, recovering fast. 

Unfazed, Dave pointed to the spot next to him on the rug. ‘May I -?’ 

Klaus nodded, sliding cards out of the way. 

Dave’s knees creaked as he sat down next to Klaus, the blanket draping across him in folds. ‘Can’t sleep?’ 

‘Oh, I’m a bit of an insomniac,’ Klaus replied, wondering how long Dave had been watching him for. ‘You know how it is. Besides, everything fun happens at night anyway.’

‘Like stacking cards?’ 

‘Trust me. I can make anything fun.’ 

Dave half-smiled. He ducked his head, then with careful precision began to interlace his fingers with the blanket tassels, clutching them tight, as if he needed something to hold on to. Once he had a firm handful, he asked casually, ‘Is it because of the dreams that you don’t want to sleep?’ 

Klaus blinked. He’d forgotten Dave didn’t know why the dreams had stopped. ‘Oh, um… not exactly. I don’t really dreamwalk anymore. Like, ever.’

‘You don’t?’ 

‘No.’

Dave frowned at him. ‘Why?’ 

‘I just can’t. It’s a bit of a long story. Do you remember that last one we had?’

‘Of course.’ 

‘Yeah, so I didn’t wake up from that for weeks.’ 

Klaus told him how he’d plunged from the dream with Dave to one with his brother. How he’d held death itself at bay for Ben. How the toll it took on his body left him in a coma.

‘You saved his life,’ Dave murmured. 

‘And lost you. It cost me my dreamwalking.’ Klaus paused, then smiled ruefully. ‘I mean, no offence, I’d do it again. He’s my brother after all. Just… that’s why.’ He picked up a few of the cards on the floor and brushed them against his hands, straightening them, fiddling. ‘I suppose it turned out okay anyway, seeing as you get to live now too. It was weird, though. I couldn’t ever find your ghost. I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough, but maybe this,’ he gestured at Dave in all his living glory, ‘is why.’ 

‘Wait,’ Dave said. He looked around, skittish now, scanning the shadows. ‘I didn’t think - there aren’t any here, are there?’ 

‘No,’ Klaus said hurriedly. ‘No, and if there are, I’ll banish them.’ 

In truth spirits had been ebbing in and out of existence around him over the past few days. Klaus was doing very little else with his time and energy, so he was finding it easy enough to keep on top of banishing them. Every so often, though, he’d find himself jumping out of his skin in the dark hallway, or being taken off-guard by a burnt face in the bathroom mirror. They’d be gone in a snap of his fingers, of course, but the fear continued to rake its cold claws through him for a good while afterwards. 

‘You can do that?’ Dave asked.

Klaus shrugged. ‘I have to if I want to stay sane. I’m a little bit better with the ghosts now anyway.’ He glanced at Dave, who looked very small hunched over and wrapped in that blanket. His jaw was shadowed with stubble, his whole face thin and hungry and haunted. ‘Come on,’ he said, getting to his feet and pulling Dave up too. ‘You must be starving.’

He rummaged in the pantry for some bread and butter. Wonkily cut and unevenly slathered, he set it in front of Dave and told him to eat up. 

Dave picked at it. ‘Sorry about this morning.’

‘You were fine,’ Klaus said. He was nibbling on a crust himself. ‘I was kind of in your face.’

‘No, you weren’t,’ Dave insisted. Klaus raised an eyebrow at him. ‘Honestly. I really appreciated it. You’re good at talking.’ 

‘Talking nonsense, yeah.’ 

‘I think that’s what I needed.’ 

Klaus smiled. ‘Well, I can do that anytime, Davey.’

Pulling apart his bread into pieces, Dave asked, almost shyly, ‘Could you…now? About yourself, I mean.’

‘You mean like, catch you up on all these years?’

Dave nodded. ‘I’d tell you about myself too, but my brain’s too full of bees to...’ He trailed off, sprinkling crumbs over his plate, then looked up at Klaus, gaze piercing. ‘I can listen, though. And I really want to know. I do.’

‘Oh, I’m sure you do,’ Klaus teased, thinking back to Dave’s nosiest days as a kid, while at the same time he was flattered and encouraged by the interest. ‘Well. I suppose something new is that I kind of host seances for a living nowadays. And when I say living, it’s really not much, but I can afford to have my own hired room and everything. Like... it’s technically an “office,” which if I’m honest disgusts me a little bit, but what can I say? I’m a sell-out. The only redeeming thing is that I went all out on the decorations. It’s magnificently creepy. Also, I may or may not live there too, but that’s technically a secret for tax evasion purposes…’ 

Klaus talked until his voice got sore. Dave listened attentively. He even let Klaus get him another slice of bread, with jam this time - and he didn’t shred this one to pieces. 

Despite being initially convinced he couldn’t, Dave ended up sharing little tidbits of his own from his life before he got drafted. Not many, and none too detailed either; his exhaustion was taking its toll. But even so, Klaus found himself enthralled, and perhaps a little proud. That young boy he’d known - so afraid and unsure, the world a place designed to crush him - had done it. He’d found a way out, found people he loved and people that loved him too, and he’d thrived. Of course, it sounded like he’d made some sacrifices along the way, had told some lies that he still had to live to this day. He didn’t go into the details. I can always ask later, Klaus thought, resisting the temptation to gather it all right now, filling in this vast hungry gap that he hadn’t even realised existed. 

Eventually, yawning, Dave headed back to his room to try and actually sleep. Klaus watched him go, then returned to his squishy bed on the couch, burrowing down into the blankets so only his nose poked out, the lamp near his head shining brightly. He was overwhelmed by how much he wanted to hear all Dave’s stories, and starting to realise that he’d wait however long it took for them all to come out. He wanted the grand ones, and the goofy ones, and all the minutiae. Every bit of trivia felt like something familiar slotting back into place, every moment listening to him a necessary thrill. All the swirling memories of those sweet summertime dreams, the two of them talking for hours in the night - they returned to him now, touched with nostalgia. 

It wasn’t until he was nearly asleep that he remembered that perhaps there wouldn’t be a later moment to hear the rest of the stories. He and Dave hadn’t figured out what they were going to do yet. He had Five’s warning about the Time Commission running around in his head nearly every other second, making him worry about continuity and all that shit, while Dave had briefly voiced his own worries about the day his death notice might arrive in the mail. There could be serious consequences for him here if he was found alive, suspected of going AWOL. And none of that even considered what Dave actually wanted, whatever that was. Because that’s what they’d do, that’s what Klaus had told himself. Whatever Dave wanted. 

Would he care to have Klaus hanging around, nothing but a reminder of all that had changed? For all Klaus knew, in the next few days he might be back in 2019, alone. After years of wondering what it would be like to see each other again, this might be all the time he got. 

 

***

One night, Klaus awoke in the Katzs’ living room to a murmur of voices. He cracked an eye open, and saw by the lamplight a trio of ghosts loitering by the doorway and speaking urgently to one another. They were dressed in khaki uniforms. Sighing, he rolled over and banished them with a scrunch of his fists and a shiver of cold. In that last moment before they vanished, though, his ears pricked up, having heard something interesting; they’d been talking about Dave. 

Suddenly wide awake, Klaus sat up. It was the witching hour, the whole world now silent except for the ticking of a clock. Moonlight shone through the window, spilling onto the floor in a silver puddle, and by its light he could see his breath fogging in the air. It was so cold. Much colder than usual.

Klaus got up, peering around curiously, then tiptoed out into the hall. The front door was wide open, creaking on its hinges in a breeze. 

Frowning now, he looked outside. It was beginning to snow, patches of the ground already frosty white, and beyond by the road there was a blanket-cloaked figure standing beneath the light of a streetlamp. Klaus nearly called out then changed his mind, instead slipping on a pair of shoes that didn’t belong to him, standing on the backs and not bothering to tie the laces. Then he hurried down the front steps and out to the street. 

Dave was standing in socks, the blanket half fallen off one bare shoulder, and he was staring at a distant traffic light. It was a street of townhouses, all tall and brick and hemmed in, the sort that leave few places to look but away down the street, or up at the thin belt of sky. 

Klaus went to him. ‘Dave -’

Dave glanced at Klaus then closed his eyes. ‘Please, go back in.’ 

‘What’s going on? How long’ve you been out here?’ 

He shook his head. 

‘Come on,’ Klaus said, shivering. He gestured with his head back at the house. ‘Let’s talk inside.’ 

‘I can’t,’ Dave said.

‘Can’t what? Can’t talk?’ 

‘The walls,’ Dave whispered. ‘They’re too close in there. It’s too quiet. I thought I missed the quiet. I thought…’ Involuntarily, he trailed off, making a distressed sound.

With a trembling hand, Klaus gently pulled the blanket back over Dave’s shoulder, smoothing it down. ‘Hey, no, it’s okay.’

‘It’s not.’ 

‘Right, no, it’s not. It’s actually all pretty shit, isn’t it? But… just… come on. We’ve gotta go inside, Dave.’

Dave’s whole body was shaking. ‘I don’t think I can.’

‘Well, you can’t stay out here. I’ve slept out on nights this cold before. It’s not fun.’ He put an arm around Dave and tried to press warmth into him, hoping his urgency wasn’t too obvious. ‘Look. We can open all the windows. That’ll make it feel bigger in there - you don’t want it to be stuffy. And I’ll put some music on too, if it helps.’

Dave sighed, head hanging heavy. Klaus tighted his grip around him, and squeezed his arm, hoping he’d agree. 

A little way down the road a car turned, too far to hear beyond a low rumble, its headlights spinning a wide arc, revealing falling snowflakes in its beams. Even once it was gone, the traffic light continued to flicker between red, yellow and green, signalling for no one. Their stretch of road was empty again. The whole world except for them was asleep. 

Dave nodded now. ‘Okay,’ he said, hushed. ‘Let’s go in.’ 

 

When Klaus awoke late the next morning, Dave was shaving in the bathroom.

‘I take it you warmed up alright, then?’ Klaus said, leaning against the frame. 

Dave glanced up sheepishly and nodded, lowering the razor. ‘Thanks for bringing me back in.’ 

Klaus shrugged. ‘Not like I was going to leave you out there all alone, you maniac.’

‘Well, thanks.’ Turning back to the mirror, Dave resumed shaving, holding his jaw still. Klaus found himself watching closely, almost entranced by it. The gleam of the shaving cream, the smooth-husk sound of the razor blade, the deft way his hand curved. 

Trying to shake himself out of it, Klaus said, ‘You know, if you go off the rails in the night again you can always wake me up, if I’m not already awake. We can talk or something.'

Dave barely paused in his shaving, but he looked sideways at Klaus. ‘Oh yeah?’

‘Mhmm. And I won’t give you any good advice, promise.’ 

That made him laugh. ‘Well, that sounds perfect.’

The laughter did something to Klaus. Perhaps his sense hadn’t kicked in yet, seeing as he was still half asleep, but his stomach flipped and his gaze centred in on the arch of Dave’s neck, on the ridge of his Adam’s apple, and then in the next second he left the doorway, squeezing right beside Dave. Like he’d been hanging about for his turn and gotten fed up with waiting, he immediately turned the tap on and splashed water on his face, grazing his arm against Dave’s as he did so, then nudging his hip against Dave’s like it could be an accident. Dave went still, and when Klaus blinked the water from his eyes he found Dave peering down at him with a curious kind of look.

‘What?’ Klaus asked, innocently, like he hadn’t barged his way in, like this wasn’t one of his usual tactics - putting himself in other people’s spaces, right in their way, so they had to notice his closeness and do something about it. 

Dave blinked, then went back to shaving. ‘Nothing.’

Suddenly Klaus felt nervous. What did that mean? It’s not like Dave had moved away - his elbow continued to bump into Klaus’s side, just not in an on-purpose way. But his face… it was as good as blank. There was nothing there that Klaus could read. 

Klaus didn’t know what to do. The impulse to be nearer and to touch him had come out of nowhere; he’d barely even realised what he was doing until he was already there at the sink. But now he remembered this wasn’t just anybody. This was Dave. In a flood of regret, he cursed his own forgetfulness, wishing he hadn’t done it at all, because weren’t things already tricky enough?

Before he did anything stupider, Klaus gave a nervous-edged grin, risked a flash of a glance at Dave, who remained utterly fixated on his task, and then sidled out.

 

It seemed like this day was destined to test him, and in the process make him look a fool. It was his own fault, really, because he’d been talking away to Dave’s mom when suddenly she brought up the ludicrous idea of baby photos - baby photos - and Klaus’s curiosity got the better of him. 

‘Here we go,’ she said, giving the a small bundle to him. 

The initial fateful conversation had taken place in the kitchen. Now, in the living room, Dave propped himself up from where he was lying on the couch, and when he realised what was in Klaus’s hands he groaned, cringing. ‘Ma, no, what are you doing?!’

She hushed him, laughter twinkling in her eyes. ‘Can’t I be proud of my baby boy?’ 

Dave just groaned again, and fell back dramatically. 

‘Now isn’t this going to be fun,’ Klaus said, smiling wickedly and making sure Dave saw. Delicately, he removed the protective cloth, and then turned the first page of the photo album. 

He was met with a scattering of sepia photographs - not many - of a very chubby little baby. 

Klaus melted. It was such a ridiculous, unfamiliar feeling to him - even worse than when he met Claire for the first time - that he burst into cackles of joyful laughter just to give the feeling somewhere to go. 

The tiny Dave was staring somewhere off camera with enormous dark eyes and a slightly bewildered expression, wrapped in a knitted cardigan and matching white shoes. 

Dave’s mother hummed happily. ‘He was such a good baby. He didn’t cry at all.’ 

‘This is mortifying ,’ Dave moaned, writhing on the couch. 

Klaus turned the page with a light touch. Now, he had to bite his cheeks to stop his smile getting any bigger. ‘Aw.’ He glanced over at Dave, who was half hiding behind a cushion. ‘I remember you like this.’ 

One photo showed Dave as he’d been in their very first dreams: a neat-haired boy with his scabby knees on show, and that open, cheerful expression touched just slightly with apprehension. In the other few photographs, he had the biggest, sunniest smile. 

Right now, it was all still fun and games, more dreadful for Dave than Klaus. But it was when he turned the next page over that he realised he’d made a mistake. 

Oh ,’ he said, voice soft. 

This was teenaged Dave now. Dave as Klaus remembered him best. There were only three photos: one of him at about fourteen, a time when they hadn’t been dreaming together; another with his three little sisters, wearing a cone party hat, string around the chin and all, his nose scrunched up in embarrassment; and then finally one at about eighteen where he was wearing a medal - for swimming, surely - head tilted to the side, eyes closed, caught in the moment of laughter. 

‘...Look at you,’ Klaus murmured. It was too much. Everything inside of him, all the stress he’d been feeling for the last couple of days, for the last few years even, snapped.

That was when he started to tear up. 

Dave’s mom patted his head. ‘You’re a nice boy,’ she said. ‘I’ll go make some tea.’ 

Klaus sniffed violently. He didn’t have any problem with crying, but crying over Dave’s teenaged photographs? He had to pull himself together - and he tried to, he really did, internally cursing himself, thinking oh no oh no oh no - then he glanced at the pictures again and ended up laughing at himself and crying harder all at once. 

Dave had noticed now. He sat up, perplexed. ‘Klaus? Uh, are you alright?’

Klaus waved a hand at him flippantly. The next moment, Dave was kneeling next to him, looking concerned and also a bit amused. ‘What on earth are you crying for?’ he asked in the fondest voice, a hand resting easily on Klaus’s back. ‘Is it because it’s such a terrible photo?’ 

Klaus just laugh-sobbed again, pointing at the picture. ‘We were so small .’

‘Um,’ Dave said, trying not to laugh too. Klaus admired his control. ‘Okay, yeah. We were, weren’t we?’ 

‘And you look just like you did then, in my head,’ Klaus said, rambling. He felt seventeen again. He felt just like he did when that Dave had loved him. But also not: he was uncomfortably aware of the gulf between then and now, between the static square of the photo and the living, breathing Dave sitting right beside him. ‘I know that makes no sense but -’ 

‘I get what you mean. Maybe I’d be crying too if there was a picture of you for me to gawk at.’ Dave grinned then reached over and gently wiped the tears off Klaus’s cheeks with a callused thumb. It was done without thinking, something so sweet and intimate and instinctive; Klaus barely had a chance to register it before he was staring in surprise, and he saw the moment of realisation flicker briefly in Dave’s expression. Neither of them moved. 

His hand lingered there for an impossibly long second and Klaus stopped crying, he stopped blinking, he stopped breathing, even - they were so close, their hearts both racing all light and fast like a little bird’s. 

Then Dave dropped his hand and sat back on his feet, eyes cast towards his own lap. Klaus glanced out the window at the same time, taking a fortifying breath, blinking the last few stray tears away.

 

***

It was a few days later. Dave had gone quiet again this snowy afternoon, but he had stayed out of his room, sitting nearby and staring out the window while Klaus chatted to his father. Now, Josef had left them alone and Klaus was suddenly determined to fill the silence. 

There was a side-table in the corner of the room, half smothered by curtains, with a record player on top. He’d been looking at it earlier - they had a decent collection of music, most of which apparently belonged to Dave’s youngest sister - and he went to it now and rummaged, searching for something suitable. 

The needle scratched as Klaus lowered it onto the record, then as the song began he went to Dave and held his hand out. 

Startled from his quiet window-gazing, Dave first looked at Klaus’s hand in surprise. Only now did he notice the music, he’d been so far away off in his own head. It looked like he might say something, but he thought better of it and took Klaus’s hand tentatively instead. He stood up, one hand pulling off the blanket that so often graced his shoulders. He was cold easily; hadn’t adjusted back yet since leaving the heat in Vietnam. 

As Klaus walked them into the middle of the room, he swung their joined hands back and forth, swaying a little himself in a clownish way, head tumbling. Dave barely moved, even when Klaus twirled himself under Dave’s arm, though he did get a glimmer of something in his eyes. Klaus couldn’t what tell exactly. Reading Dave’s face was not second nature anymore. 

The song picked up, and so did Klaus, and Dave had to move or else his arm would be hurled from its socket. He shuffled along in his slippers - Klaus had been teasing him about those, calling him old man. It had made Dave laugh, ducking his head and owning it. Hey, don’t be disrespecting your elders, he’d joked back, looking up through the corner of his eyes.

The laughter was nice. All it took was one smile and there it was, that jolt of something. He wasn’t sure if it was excitement or happiness or relief, only that he found himself chasing the thrill of it more with each day. It made him hopeful. Dave had enough grief and guilt and horror to last a lifetime, and it could be months or years before he recovered from it - God knows it had taken Klaus half his life to get near it himself - and while a small, lurking voice in his head told him that it might never happen at all, still there remained that undercurrent of hope. It was a potent thing. 

Daringly, Klaus stepped a little closer, bringing Dave’s hand to his waist, placing his own on Dave’s shoulder, until they were a mockery of formal dance, all pointy elbows and pin-straight backs. He raised his chin, proud and bold. Dave didn’t complain at the silliness of it. Instead it seemed to awaken him. He was moving his head only slightly out of step with the music now, and his hand was feather-light and electric on Klaus’s waist, and there: twinkling like starlight, a secret smile hiding in his gaze. 

It was terrible dancing. They would’ve been the laughing stock of all nightclubs and retirement homes alike, but Klaus didn’t care one bit. If Dave’s parents walked in, he probably wouldn’t even notice they were there. He had eyes only for the man opposite him. 

The next song began and still they danced, slower now. 

...What a dream I had, pressed in organdy...

‘I don’t know how you do that,’ Dave said. 

‘Do what?’ 

‘Bring me out of it.’ 

‘I was only bored,’ Klaus said, shrugging. He moved both his arms up so his wrists were draped loosely around Dave’s neck, and in turn both Dave’s hands naturally settled on Klaus’s waist. 

‘Yeah right,’ Dave said. ‘That was a total scheme if ever I saw one.’

‘Hm. Maybe.’

They were close enough now to step on each other’s toes. All Klaus wanted was to be closer. How he held himself back, he didn’t know. 

...And when you ran to me, your cheeks flushed with the night…

‘You don’t have to do all this, you know,’ Dave said. ‘You don’t have to stick around.’

Klaus trod carefully. ‘You asked me to stay.’ 

‘I know, but -’ 

‘And I want to,’ Klaus added. ‘Not to be all gross and sentimental, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.’ 

‘That can’t be true. You have a whole life somewhere else.’

‘Pshh. I go wherever my whims take me. I always have. Right now, that’s here.’ He frowned at Dave, a horrible thought occurring to him. ‘Why? Do you want me to go?’

A flash of something - regret, or dismay, or annoyance? Klaus couldn’t tell. Then hurriedly Dave said, ‘No! No, that’s what I meant at all.’ 

Klaus wanted to believe him. Perhaps that made him a fool. 

‘I only meant if you wanted to,’ Dave continued. They’d stopped swaying back and forth together now, and once they realised they both let go of each other and stood apart. Klaus’s arms felt awkward, like they didn’t know where to go instead. ‘I don’t want you to feel like you have to stay. Like you’ve signed on to something and now…’ Now you regret it. 

‘That’s not how I feel,’ Klaus said. 

‘But… surely you’re not… surely you wish…’ Dave stopped and ran a trembling hand through his hair, avoiding Klaus’s gaze. ‘You’re stuck here, losing day after day while I sulk around like -’

‘You were in a war ,’ Klaus interrupted. ‘I think you’re allowed to be a bit fucked up for a while.’

Dave shook his head. ‘I don’t know what’s normal anymore. I can’t think why you’d want to stay. With me like this.’ 

‘2006,’ Klaus said.

‘What?’ 

‘2006. That’s the year it was when we last dreamed.’

Dave looked at him now. ‘It was 1956 for me.’ 

‘Yup,’ Klaus said. ‘And that’s, what? 13 years ago?’

‘Yeah…’ 

‘Okay, so, last week in my time, I discovered that time machines exist.’

Dave frowned. ‘You’ve already told me -’

Klaus held up his hand, and Dave fell quiet. ‘I’ll be honest, there was more than a lot going on with my family at the time. But in that moment, even after thirteen years, my first thought was of you.’ 

Dave swallowed and looked at his feet. Klaus felt heat rising in his cheeks, felt a little ill, and had to fight the whim to drop the conversation and run away. He took a deep breath and said, cagily, ‘Isn’t that weird? Isn’t that a little bit insane? I mean, it’s not like I was planning to come and find you for all those years. I’m not that ridiculous. It was only when I realised that I could …’ 

‘Klaus…’ Dave said. 

‘And, you know, you’re talking to someone who never makes big decisions. I’ll do anything not to disturb the status quo. Why ruin a good thing, am I right? But you-’ Klaus paused, pointing his finger at Dave, chewing on his lip. ‘You made me try it. And so I’m here. This isn’t any accident - I didn’t just wander in off the street. You know that, right? Right?’

Dave nodded slightly. 

‘Okay.’ Klaus crossed his arms, holding himself tight. He tried to make his voice jovial and carefree, but it sounded thin even to his ears. ‘But I am used to overstaying my welcome too. So if I’m getting up your nose… just remember that that’s normal, everyone gets sick of me soon enough. It’s not like you asked for me to be here -’ 

‘That’s not true,’ Dave retorted.

Klaus shrugged. ‘You literally didn’t. I appeared out of thin air then fucked with your head for months . Not on purpose, but still.’ 

‘No,’ Dave said, shaking his head. ‘I meant I’ve never gotten sick of you.’ 

Klaus grinned sharply. ‘Well, okay. But it’s only been a few days yet. And I’ve been on my best behaviour.’ 

‘You think I care about that? I’m just glad you’re here .’ 

‘Are you, though?’ 

Dave blinked, startled. ‘Yes. Of course. Of course I am.’ 

Klaus nodded, then went to the record player - the music had stopped - and lifted the needle, making as if to replace the vinyl with a new one, but stopping before he could take the last out. It was like he’d forgotten how. His thoughts were elsewhere. 

‘Klaus,’ Dave said, suddenly beside him, his voice low. ‘Surely that’s not something I have to say.’

‘I don’t know.’ He tapped his fingertips against the shiny plastic of the record player and chewed on his lip. 

‘Oh. Okay. Um.’ Dave cleared his throat. ‘Klaus, I am so thankful that your first thought was of me. You saved my life. ’ His voice rang clear in the living room, and it was touched with awe. ‘I know I’m struggling, adjusting back. I know how it must seem when my head gets all crazy. Like I don’t want to be here. Like I wish you’d left me to…’ He paused, took a deep breath. ‘I know how it looks. And I can’t imagine how it feels to see me, struggling. To have spent all that time knowing what would’ve happened. But there’s never a moment I’m not grateful. Not a moment I don’t want you here.’ His voice was tight. Getting smaller. ‘Not one moment.’

‘That makes it sound all heroic,’ Klaus said, still studying the record. Thin black grooves trapping the light. ‘It wasn’t like that. It was just something I had to try. If I still wanted to be able to live with myself, you know.’ 

‘Oh, I dunno. It was pretty heroic for me.’ Dave came closer, touched a feather-light finger to the outer side of Klaus’s wrist to get him to look. Like it wasn’t taking all Klaus’s effort to keep his gaze away. Day in, day out, Klaus kept stealing glances at him like he’d vanish in the next moment, so with that gentle encouragement, all his resolve fizzled out. Of course he looked. And Dave - beautiful, kind Dave - said, ‘I would’ve done the same. I would’ve done anything for you.’ 

But would you still? Klaus wondered, desperately. 

When Dave didn’t say anything more, Klaus nodded, smiling in a way that didn’t reach his eyes, and set about rummaging for a different record. He put it on and then, claiming he’d be back in a tick, locked himself in the bathroom. He stayed there, lying flat on the cool floor, until the sick feeling twisting inside him mostly went away.

How unbearable. How humiliating. 

He squeezed his eyes shut and saw Dave, putting on his socks. Dave, eating his cereal, clinking the spoon on the bowl. Dave, shaving with a careful hand. The creases he had in the corners of his eyes now, and the roughness of his hands, and the smell of him - something he’d never had in dreams - all mint and tobacco and soap. 

Nothing like he’d been. Maybe that was why Klaus couldn’t stop paying such close attention. Maybe that was why this was starting to feel much less like fondness from years ago, and more like his brain and body were melting from the inside out - in a bad, terrifying way, as opposed to a more gentle destruction. 

Klaus didn’t fret over this stuff . He was confident. Knew what he wanted and how to get it. But Dave left Klaus trembling . He left him unsure of what he saw, unsure of what he wanted, until he was scrubbing at his eyes on the bathroom floor as if that’d get rid of the image that had been burned there: Dave with his arms around Klaus’s waist in the weak winter sunlight, leaning closer. 

 

***

‘Okay. We need to go on a walk. If I don’t get out of here, I think I’m literally going to break into your parents’ liquor cabinet like the feral creature I am.’ 

Dave glanced up from his book. ‘I don’t think it’s locked.’

‘That’s entirely beside the point,’ Klaus said. 

They were in Dave’s room, and Klaus was inspecting his reflection, trying to touch up his eyeliner. (He’d found Dave’s sisters’ supplies. Ancient but doable.)

It was another day. Klaus had tried to brush off any residual meaning from their other conversation. He wasn’t sure of anything at all except that he was restless and jittery and desperately close to falling head over heels again for his childhood sweetheart, which was ridiculous not to mention unfair, but even after twenty-four painful hours he still couldn’t keep his thoughts off the man, couldn’t keep away from him, couldn’t even manage to do his eyeliner right because he kept glancing in the mirror to see if Dave was looking at him from behind. And to admire him too, looking so thoughtful all lost in his book, cigarette dangling from his mouth, his head propped up by one strong arm, not even the decency to wear a longer sleeve. The t-shirt he was wearing fit impeccably well, all those army muscles...

Dave snapped the book shut. ‘Alright, then. Fancy visiting the park?’ 

Klaus tore his gaze back to his own reflection, smudging the pencil there a couple more times. ‘Anywhere’s fine,’ he said chirpily. 

Just before they were about to step out, Dave caught Klaus’s arm. ‘Hang on,’ he said, and proceeded to jam a woolly hat on Klaus’s head, smooshing it down in one swift movement until it covered Klaus’s eyes. By the time Klaus had recovered enough to push it back a bit, Dave was enthusiastically winding a scarf round and around too. 

Dave! You’re mummifying me!’

‘It’s cold out.’ 

Klaus was already all in borrowed clothes, including an old winter coat of Dave’s with too-short sleeves. He looked a right state, and being swamped in wool too was hardly going to help. He protested by trying to bat away his hands, even when Dave’s knuckles brushed against his neck, sending shivers up and down his spine.

‘There we go,’ Dave said, standing back all pleased. The teasing look of him made Klaus furious in the best of ways. Then Dave opened the door, and they were swept out into an arctic blast. 

It was good to be in the fresh air. The sky was hugging them close, the clouds were so low. Speckles of snow catching on eyelashes and turning noses and cheeks red. 

The park wasn’t far. It was hilly in parts, the path winding between large trees, their branches spiking dark against the white. Dave was so cold he’d wrapped his scarf over his mouth and nose so only his eyes peeked out over the top, hunched with his hands in his pockets, whereas Klaus’s was already trailing loose behind him. Because of the slower pace they were going, he was jogging on the spot, brimming with restless energy. 

‘Do you need to go on a run or something?’ Dave asked.

Klaus raised an eyebrow and immediately stood still. ‘I don’t run . Not unless I have to. Which - okay, that is quite often, but the principle remains.’ Restless energy still threatened to overflow, so he looked for another distraction and found it above. Squinting, he stuck out his tongue and tried to catch a snowflake. 

The next thing he knew, something cold and wet collided with his shoulder, sending cold bits scattering over his neck and face. 

‘Agh!’ he yelped, spinning around to see where it came from. And there, a few feet away, was a mischievous-eyed Dave, another snowball in his hands, already aiming. He threw it quick as a rabbit. Klaus flinched but he couldn’t move in time, and this one got him in the chest.  

Klaus dove to his knees and immediately started scraping up handfuls. 

Their snowball fight was fierce and full of laughter. Klaus got Dave back almost immediately, somehow managing the middle of his forehead, which as well as being pure luck was also basically the only bit of visible skin on Dave. At least, it was at the beginning of their fight; Dave’s scarf slipped down soon enough. Klaus was losing by that point, forced to duck volley after volley while he tried to throw his own. 

‘You’re a machine!’ he yelled, shielding his face. ‘Diego would weep before you!’ 

‘Oh, please!’ Dave shouted back, grinning wide. ‘This is child’s play!’ 

Acting like he was greatly offended, Klaus threw another that missed by far. Then, calculating fast, he turned and ran for the trees, forgetting that he did not run. 

‘Oh, no you don’t,’ Dave called, not far behind. 

Klaus skidded around one of the very first trees, nearly tripping over its roots. Hidden there, he crouched, gathering the biggest handful of snow he could, then stood up just as Dave appeared. Dave screeched to a halt but it was too late - he was too close - and Klaus got him square in the face, all the excess scattering out around him in a fine powder.

‘Ha! Got you!’ 

Dave’s eyes were squeezed shut. He was laughing, brushing the snow clear from his face. The two of them were covered in it. Klaus’s hat had fallen off a while ago; the snow was scattered through his hair, bright against the damp curls. He brushed a hand through, then in an offer of truce he stepped forward and swept some off Dave’s shoulders too. 

Dave was watching him when he finished. His eyes were sparkling, and he was right there . Klaus suddenly remembered why he’d wanted to get out of the house, why he’d wanted all this space. It was too hard to stay away from Dave Katz in there. Out here it was supposed to be easier. Out here it wasn’t meant to be possible for Klaus to sidle up without realising, to touch him without a thought. 

And yet. Here they were. Inches apart again, both red-cheeked and panting, their breath steaming in the icy air. 

Dave’s gaze was endless and inscrutable. 

Klaus forgot how to move. He whispered Dave’s name because he didn’t know what else to say. He wanted - he needed - something.

Dave glanced past Klaus at the open park they’d come from. Then he moved closer. ‘You’ve got a bit of -’ he said, leaning in, brushing his hand against Klaus’s cheek. It was cold and wet from the snow, but Klaus’s own hand followed, curling around Dave’s, keeping it there. 

Then Dave kissed him. 

It was gentle. It became more. Klaus stumbled back a step until he was leaning against the trunk of the tree and Dave followed, pressing near. He wrapped his arms around Dave’s neck, hanging on for dear life, kissing him with all the pent-up frustration of these last few days, all the heartache for the years they never had. It was artless, but he didn’t care. It was enough of a miracle that their bodies remembered each other after thirteen years had turned to dust. After this whole week spent as near-strangers reacquainting themselves, this whole week of tiptoeing and speculating, it was the answer Klaus needed. It’s not too late. 

They stopped to breathe eventually, forehead pressed to forehead. Klaus would’ve been smiling with his whole being if he could. Dave too. And when their eyes met they both started laughing.

‘This is ridiculous,’ Klaus said. ‘I feel delirious. ’ 

‘Me too,’ Dave replied. 

‘I never feel like this. I think there’s actually something wrong with my heart. Like, seriously. It shouldn’t be doing whatever it’s doing.’ 

Dave’s eyes shone with laughter, and then he kissed Klaus again. It didn’t help with his heart-rate.

‘I think...’ Dave said a while later, arching his neck as Klaus pressed soft kisses to his jaw. ‘I think I’ve been very silly.’ 

‘How so?’ 

‘By telling myself I was making things up these last few days. Trying not to read too much into… into you. ’ 

‘Well, that’s ironic.’ 

‘Ah. Let me guess. You’ve been doing the same?’ 

Klaus lay his head back against the trunk. ‘Yup.’ 

‘There we go. Fools. The both of us.’ 

‘I have been tormented, ’ Klaus declared with a dramatic sigh. ‘I was never this useless when I was a teenager.’

‘You were very bold back then. I always admired that.’ 

Klaus kissed him once, quickly. ‘Thank you. Usually I still am, hence the confusion. But you’ve… you’ve done something to me, Dave.’ 

Dave laughed. ‘All I’ve done is mope.’ 

Klaus tutted and stroked the side of his face. ‘Maybe I just found that relatable. I like to mope too, you know.’ 

‘Oh, of course. Birds of a feather.’ 

‘Yeah, but I started it. Trend setter and all. Don’t pretend you didn’t know I was a disaster long before you were.’

Dave looked at him fondly. ‘I missed you so much, Klaus.’

And just like that Klaus felt breathless again. A part of him wanted to meld with the tree trunk behind him and never take human form again. Instead he smiled, almost shyly. ‘See,’ he said. ‘There you go doing it again. Making my heart go all… all weird.’ 

‘All queer, you mean?’ 

‘Oh my god,’ Klaus muttered, covering his face with his hands. 

Dave laughed and pulled him into his arms, hugging him firmly. There Klaus nestled his face against Dave’s, and he thought to himself that he’d missed Dave too, more than he’d ever realised, and for longer than he could really remember. So long that he’d forgotten he was ever missing anything at all. 

 

Later, in the kitchen of the otherwise empty house, they made food for their rumbling stomachs. As if in a dance they darted around each other, light presses of hands against each other’s backs as they chopped and sauteed, maybe a little sideways nudge of the heads if they were close enough, and a tangle of fingers when that didn’t suffice - when they would rather put down their tools and let the meal come near to burning than not touch at all. It was like their physical selves were hooked together; they couldn’t bear to stand too far apart. Touch was the one sense they could trust. It was real, realer than anything they’d known together before, when touch had only been phantom. 

They were making goulash, flavoured strongly with clouds of paprika. The steam from it had fogged up the window, the heater was on full blast, and the room’s lights were shining warm and bright, turning the whole kitchen into a cosy oasis. It took them quite a while to get it cooking, all things considered, but soon the stew was bubbling away - they could leave it be for a while. From behind, Klaus wrapped his arms around Dave, kissing him on the soft part of his neck.

Dave hummed. ‘This’ll take some getting used to, won’t it?’

‘What d’you mean?’ 

‘I mean having you here. Being able to just -’ Dave paused, spinning around, then he pulled Klaus to him and kissed him fervently. 

‘I’m not complaining,’ Klaus said, when he could. 

‘Oh, me neither.’ Dave got a coy look about him, and he leant and whispered in Klaus’s ear, ‘In fact, I kinda want to take you to bed and stay there forever.’ 

‘Really, Mr Katz?’ Klaus murmured, delighted. ‘I quite like the sound of that.’ 

‘I thought you would.’ 

They were flirting with smiles fit for racing hearts, all talk for now, promises for later. By nightfall they’d be intertwined in Dave’s small bed, dozing and talking and laughing, tracing cheekbones and the bow of each other’s lips. There’d be the sort of talk that comes out in those midnight hours, things they’d never dare say in the light of day.

Things like, ‘All I know is whatever we choose to do, I’m not going anywhere without you.’ Those words fell from Dave’s lips right into Klaus’s ear with all the softness of a feather falling, then they hit him in the chest with a sensation far heftier. He faltered over what to say in reply, found he had to hide his face lest it be seen in the sparse moonlight.

But it was midnight, and he was cocooned beneath a thick quilt in the arms of one of the first people he’d ever trusted, so he managed to say something otherwise unspoken too. A whisper: ‘Yeah, same here.’

And by the cool light of dawn there were decisions to make and discussions to have. Proper discussions: those of dreams and sorrows, of logistics and plans. 

‘What about this?’ Klaus said then. ‘We go back to my time, try to stop this maybe-apocalypse, and we can see if you like the future or not.’

Dave nodded thoughtfully. ‘And if the world does end?’

‘Um. I guess we’ll ditch before it gets to that point.’ 

‘Wow,’ Dave said.

‘Let’s pretend it won’t get to that point.’

‘Okay. Noted. Everything’s gonna be hunky-dory.’ 

‘Yep. Definitely.’

‘I mean, the future does sound pretty cool. How can I say no to time travel?

‘I know, right?’ Klaus said. ‘There’s just like… your family to think about.’ 

‘And everyone I’ve ever known. But… the same goes for you.’

Klaus grimaced. ‘I guess.’ 

Dave rubbed his face. ‘This is hard.’ 

‘This is really hard,’ Klaus echoed. 

They talked it over a lot. It would take them about another week to come to a decision; despite the new delight they found in each other, there were hard days ahead of them both, and Dave fell back into that silent depression of his upon the arrival of the letter announcing his death. His parents were understandably confused by it, and Dave was stressed and afraid, and the prospect of bidding farewell to his family and going further from them than ever before wasn’t helping either. 

Klaus felt worn thin by it all. He went off by himself into the city for a while, enjoying the novelty of exploring the historical streets, dropping anachronisms on random strangers like it was his future-born duty. It took his mind off things. Eventually he returned, and he and Dave talked some more, as did Dave and his family, all of it hard and sincere and deeply sad. 

They made up their minds. 

So, in a click of a briefcase, there they were: 2019, the very same day Klaus had left. It was utterly unchanged (except for the sudden presence of one David Katz, of course.) 

Once there, they made a brief stop at Klaus’s seance parlour, then began to track down Klaus’s so-called sorry excuse for a family, wherever they were. Once they’d caught up with them, then they’d get cracking on the rest of it, stopping the end of the world, saving the day, etcetera. Classic Hargreeves’ family stuff. 

But all that happened later. 

For now, they were still in the Katz’s warm kitchen. They were sitting on the floor now, side by side up against the cupboard, their legs tangled together and their fingers interlaced too. Klaus was savouring the feeling of being together; even now it felt as if they and the world around them might slip away at any moment. It would take time for that feeling to leave them alone, he knew that much. He still hadn’t truly comprehended how it was possible at all, this hard-won oddity of existing in the same room at the same time, the two of them stealing moments they never should’ve had. But it was real, they truly were here next to each other, their backs pressing into the cabinet doors as they listened to the stew bubbling away, the world and all its worries away out the darkening windows, out of sight. There was no room for fear nor uncertainty. Not in this moment. Instead there was warmth, and contentedness, and a fragile kind of joy - that of being lost, then found. 

And so Dave leaned his head on Klaus’s shoulder, and Klaus leaned his head atop Dave’s, and although they were merely waiting for their dinner to be ready, it didn’t feel like waiting at all.

***

Somewhere nearby, a sparrow fluttered its wings. 

They’ve awoken now, it said, soft as a whisper of the wind, sure as starlight. They’ve made their way home. 

I have never been one for modesty. I am not sure I am even capable of it. So when I say I meddled only once, and long ago, you may be surprised. But it is true. This path they tread is entirely of their own making.

I’ll let them be now, if you don’t mind. There is a sun-shower I wish to dance within. Other worlds to poke and prod and play with. Already I am taking flight, dragging the dusk from the corners of my wings, devouring dreams and planting them too.