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Vanya is making sandwiches.

Peanut butter on both slices of toast, exactly one fistful of mini marshmallows on one slice, the other on top. Squish once, then cut into triangles.

She makes three of them, as always.

One for her, two (four triangles) to drape on a plate and leave at Five’s place at the table.

She will turn on all the lights in the front-facing rooms on her way to bed and tomorrow, her brother will be back.

It’s been three months now, but she knows that tonight is the night. Tonight he’ll come home. He’ll bring fantastic tales of whatever far-off time he travelled to and then he’ll promise never to do it again.

And Vanya will have all her siblings back where she knows they’re safe.

She will.

(She won’t. She had to turn ten to get so much as a name, a gesture afforded even to hurricanes and pets. She doesn’t get a happy ending.)

Something moves in the hallway.

Vanya holds her breath.

The movement turns into shuffling, distinct footsteps and she knows this particular kind of motion, the peculiar tap-slide-tap of Klaus moving, half dancing as he does, barefoot even in the depth of winter.

Last week Father made him go through wilderness training barefoot. Vanya thinks it was meant to make Klaus wear his shoes, but he just kept wiggling his toes happily even after, when Mom had to pick all kinds of debris out of the bleeding soles of his feet.

He stumbles in a moment later, a bottle of something amber in his hand. It takes him a few breaths to notice her in the low lighting. When he does, he beams at her like he hasn’t seen her in weeks and she knows he’s drunk again.

Klaus has been drunk a lot since he discovered alcohol.

He waves once he does, a strange undulation of his left hand and then slips into her space, settling his bony butt on the counter right by the peanut butter. His eyes are big and dark and he smells like he hasn’t showered yet, all sweat and boy, and she spies dark splotches on his white cuffs, mostly hidden by the oversized sweater he’s donned on top. It’s probably Diego’s. He likes stealing Allison’s clothes better, but Diego and Ben are the only ones who don’t mind when he does. Allison shouts.

Vanya wouldn’t mind either, but he never tries with her.

(It seems cruel, to steal from his little mouse of a sister, who barely dares speak in another person’s presence, much less scream at him when he deserves it, so he doesn’t.)

“Hey, sis. Whatcha doing?” He grins and it’s too wide, somehow, a showing of teeth more than a smile. He doesn’t look happy.

She shrugs, suddenly ashamed. Allison laughed at her when she found out what Vanya does down here every night. Luther snorted derisively when Allison told him and called her childish.

Luckily, Klaus doesn’t need much of a reply. “Hey, can I have one of those? I’m super hungry.”

He snags one before she can tell him they’re not for him. It leaves her with an uneven number of triangles. She considers taking it out of her portion and being done with it, but from the way he’s scarfing it down, he’ll want more.

He missed dinner again because he had special training.

So she sets her jaw against the frustration that isn’t going to help anyone and she makes more.

It’s easy. She’s had the practice.

In between bites, Klaus sips the stolen alcohol, grimacing at every taste.

“Why do you do that?” she asks quietly and regrets it almost immediately when he turns those big eyes on her. They’re still a little glassy, a little blurry, but there is something unsettling about them, always. Sometimes, for all that he’s flighty and scatterbrained, Klaus sees and knows far too much.

“Do what?” he demands, mouth full of sandwich.

“Get drunk.”

“Because it’s the only way to shut down my shitty powers.” He offers, easily, shrugging. He lists a little with the movement, over-corrects, catches himself with a hand on her shoulder, then steadies with a giggle and a sniffle. He wipes at his nose, grins again.

Vanya frowns, confused. “But… why?”

If she had powers, she would never, ever shut them down. If she had powers, her siblings would play with her and include her and father would be proud of her and she would be famous and have fans and not be so alone.

“Because I hate them and I don’t want them and I’d rather be like you, Van.” Another sniffle and maybe, maybe his eyes look this glassy because he’s been crying. They are a little red.

(Maybe the dirt on his cuffs is blood from where he gouged at his arms in an attempt to prove himself he was still alive. Maybe the alcohol is meant to drown out the sobbing, yelling, screeching ghosts that followed him home. Maybe he can’t sleep because every time he closes his eyes, the walls come down and they can reach him. Maybe.

But Vanya doesn’t know any of that, yet.)

She checks his face for a trace of mockery, but finds none. He’s being honest. Given, Klaus usually is, not seeing much point in lying, but.

Why?!” Her hands have stopped moving, knife dangling limply from her fingers.

Klaus steals his third triangle and bites into it.

“Because I hate my power. There’s dead people everywhere and they bleed all over and shout and try to make me do stuff and I can’t help them and they don’t let me sleep or eat or do anything and I hate it. So I get drunk. They can’t yell at me when I’m drunk.”

He tips the bottle in silent salute.

“I mean, Luther and Allison, they’ve got cool powers, right? They can control them. But me and Ben? No way. We’re freaks, lil’sis, and it sucks.”

He toasts his own speech with a long swallow, sputtering after.

Vanya stares at him.

Klaus… doesn’t like his powers? He doesn’t… want them. He wants to be like her? Mousy, ordinary little Vanya?

“But… you get to go on missions and save lives. I’m just… boring.”

He sighs dreamily and she’s aware, with the vague intuition of a child, that the only reason he’s telling her all this is that he’s drunk, but she needs to press on. She needs to know.

“Boring. Sounds amazing. You get to do whatever you want and play the violin. You’re real good at that. I like listening to you. I suck at saving people’s lives. I’m always the lookout because my powers are useless.”

Another sigh. Another drink.

“You listen when I play?”

He chuckles. “We all do. This house isn’t exactly soundproof. But I like it. It drowns out Them.”

Ben talks about Them, with that same strange emphasis. He means the things inside of him, the things that sometimes want out. She doesn’t think that’s who Klaus is talking about. His eyes flicker to the far corner of the kitchen and he cringes a little, hides it under another sip from the bottle.

For the first time, Vanya wonders what he sees there.

And it gives her an idea. She puts down the knife, squishes the replacement sandwich she made and then cuts it, putting it out of Klaus’ easy reach. She’ll forgo her portion tonight.

“I can play for you now, if you want? If… if you stop drinking, I can play. Make them… make them go away?”

He blinks at her again and suddenly, those big eyes she always envied lose all their focus, getting soft and damp. He slumps like someone cut his strings and asks, very quietly, “You would?”

+

She gets into trouble for playing the violin so late in the evening, but Klaus, hidden away on her bed under her pillows and mounds of blankets, sleeps like a baby until breakfast.

+

A week later, Klaus and Ben are waiting for her in the kitchen when she comes down in the evening.

Klaus waves. Ben grins.

“Hello,” she says quietly, surprised.

She hesitates briefly, then goes to get the ingredients for sandwiches out. Mom has started leaving the marshmallows on a lower shelf last month, so she doesn’t even need to climb the counters anymore.

The boys watch, making her nervous. Fidgety. She feels like they’re playing a joke on her, like they’re just waiting for the right time to be mean.

They aren’t usually, at least not intentionally, not Ben and Klaus, but why else would they be here?

Eventually, Ben jostles Klaus, who jostles Ben right back. They hiss at each other. Then Ben rolls his eyes.

“So, Klaus says I need to tell you that I would rather be normal like you than have powers. I don’t know why I need to tell you, but he’s been an asshole about it all week. So.”

He opens both hands, palms out, then shrugs and pulls a book out of nowhere and starts to read.

Klaus beams at Vanya. Vanya stares at him.

Did he… did he make Ben come down here after curfew to tell her that just because… why did he?

She asks him. He shrugs, slinking closer, tap-slide-tap.

“You didn’t believe me.” He steals a marshmallow. His breath only smells a little of alcohol. “Hey, the others are going on a mission tomorrow. Can I listen to you practice?”

+

After that, Klaus finds her.

In the kitchen at night, during the day when she practices. Sometimes he does it just to keep her company, rambling on about this or that for hours. Sometimes he comes with bags under his eyes and begs her to play for him, please, please.

He’s drunk or high a lot, but less when he plans to visit her because he knows she doesn’t like it. He tries and she rewards sobriety with her loudest, longest pieces, giving him as much peace as she and her violin can manage.

Diego complains about it once, but Vanya just shrugs. “Klaus says it drowns out the ghosts.”

Their big brother purses his lips, angry, like he used to when he couldn’t get a word out right, but says nothing else.

Luther, close-by, rolls his eyes. “Four is just being a drama queen. Don’t listen to him, Seven.”

Vanya doesn’t really like Luther, but Diego will sometimes join after that. Not often, but every now and then when she goes to town with her bow, Klaus watching dopily from a random perch, he’ll slink into the room, bump shoulders with their brother and sharpen his knives for a while.

+

Sometimes, Vanya has a new dream now.

Not the old one, where she discovers some clever, hidden power and finally gets accepted into the circle of her siblings for real, but another one.

It’s a quiet dream where she goes to college, moves into a little apartment with big windows to play in front of and Klaus comes with her.

He sits there all day, listening to her practice, and he doesn’t need the drugs or the alcohol anymore because she can make all the ghosts go away and that’s her secret superpower. She can make Klaus better.

They live there, together, her and Klaus and the music, and Diego and Ben come to visit and Vanya is still ordinary, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.

When she’s awake, she can almost see it happening.

Klaus steals less, money or whiskey, spends more time with her. His eyes are clearer and his rants less confused and funnier. Sometimes he spends whole afternoons in her room with her, trying on her skirts and dresses, letting her play with his hair and there are neither drugs nor music to help him along.

He looks happy.

Vanya thinks she might be happy, too.

+

Then Ben dies.

+

Klaus keeps staring at a point just behind her ear, biting at his already bloody nails, shaking and gibbering. His eyes are glassy and wide and empty and Vanya has lost two brothers for the price of one.

“Klaus?” She takes a step closer. He startles like he didn’t know she was there. “Do you want me to play you something?”

His answer is to clamp his hands over his ears and whimper like an injured animal.

The next morning he’s gone.

+

Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, Vanya only ever sees Klaus in stolen moments when he sneaks into the house, shaking with a comedown, fingers dancing over everything, looking for something to pawn.

He’ll sit on her bed like he used to and listen to her play with his eyes closed, sometimes for a minute, sometimes for hours. Then she shakes will get too bad and he’ll run away again with a kiss to her temple, a sweaty hug and a muttered, “We love you, sis.”

+

She never really… stops making sandwiches for Five, but she misses a night and then three and then she’s only doing it once a week anymore and it’s less of an honest attempt to make him come home and more a quiet ritual.

A promise that she hasn’t forgotten him.

A sort of quiet mourning.

They have no grave for Five.

At least Ben gets that stupid statue that doesn’t look like him.

When she makes the sandwiches now, she tells him about her day, her week. She tells him about Klaus and how she worries and quietly, once, in the dead of night, she apologizes, sobbing, for spending more time with the last of her favorite siblings than with him.

She hopes he understands. Klaus… she can still reach Klaus, she thinks. For now.

+

She moves out on her eighteenth birthday.

Father sets her up with a stipend and tells her to pursue her ordinary life and it’s half her dream come true, big windows and an apartment that’s all hers, but Klaus isn’t here.

She leaves her address with Pogo because all the others have gone and she doesn’t trust Luther to pass it on to Klaus.

Pogo only nods, a heavy set to his shoulders, and folds the little note into his pocket.

“I will try to catch him the next time he passes through, Miss Vanya.”

Downstairs, Diego honks the horn of his seventh-hand car. He only has a few hours to help her move, then he has to be back at work.

She runs.

+

Klaus shows up three days after Christmas that year, looking pale and haggard and half dead himself.

He raises one hand with a blocky hello tattooed on the palm and tries a smile that comes out a grimace. “Hi, sis. Nice digs. Can I come in? Thirty days sober, I swear.”

He sounds somewhere between proud and gutted, flipping a coin in his free hand.

Vanya leaps at him with unexpected ferocity, wrapping her arms around his neck hard enough to yank him down and holding on for a long, long minute.

“Six months, you asshole. I haven’t seen you in six months. You can’t do that to me!”

+

“Every Sunday,” she tells him, later, both of them curled up on her bed, playing with each other’s hair and fingers. “Once a week, every Sunday, you check in .Come by, call me, whatever. I’ll be here. Every Sunday. Just let me know you’re okay, yeah? Please.”

He jerks to one side, looking past her shoulder at the one ghost they never talk about, then nods. “Ok. We’ll call.”

She closes her eyes. “Remind him when he forgets, please?”

It’s not meant for Klaus, who leans closer, his breath damp on her collarbone and whispers, “He says he will.”

Vanya cries herself to sleep that night, but for once, she’s not alone.

+

They go to a fair one Sunday when Klaus shows up in that fragile equilibrium between high and come-down, almost normal except for the mania.

But then, he was manic before he was a junkie, so that might just be him.

Vanya’s teaching thing is finally taking off, she has a little money to burn and the weather is sweet and warm, so she lets herself be dragged onto a fairground.

Klaus gets them cotton candy from somewhere, although Vanya is afraid to ask how he paid for it, and they walk arm in arm, taking in the sights. His bare feet are dusty up to his ankles and she could spend hours just watching him nimbly dance between other people’s shoes, never once getting his bare toes stepped on.

Once, a burly type in a biker get-up tries to make noise about Klaus vibrant crop top and the leather pants, but he just blows the man a kiss and flaps his goodbye hand before dragging her away. He keeps his head cocked in the way that means he’s listening and Vanya relaxes because she knows their retreat is covered.

At the Ferris wheel, she buys three tickets instead of two and sends Klaus to ride with a stranger. She blushes scarlet when the man taking her tickets gives her and the empty seat next to her a weird look, but stands her ground. She paid for that seat to be empty.

(Sometimes, Klaus makes her brave, just by being there. Just by seeing her.)

Up in the air, she kicks her feet, leans back a little and says, “I seriously hope you’re here and that I’m not making more of an idiot out of myself than I already am, but hi, Ben.”

She smiles at the shrinking fairground instead of at him because she knows she’d miss his face and that would probably hurt. Like when Klaus looks through her, but worse. “I’m glad you’re still here and that you’re with Klaus. You two can look out for each other. Although I guess I know who’s doing the bulk of that.” She chuckles. “Thank you. For making him remember to call. For being here. And… I’m sorry. I’m sorry you died alone and that I didn’t get to spend more time with you and I…,” she takes a deep breath. “I love you. I miss you. Please be ok.”

She wouldn’t know what else to say, but the ride is a small one and they hit solid ground only moments later.

She scrambles out and back to Klaus’s side, suddenly needing a hug, which he gives. For once, he doesn’t even supply commentary, except to lean low and whisper in her ear, “Ben says thanks. And he loves you, too.”

It’s one of the best days of her life.

+

She’s knocking so hard the entire door is rattling in its frame and she doesn’t care. She’s twenty-three and it’s ten PM on a Monday night and Klaus hasn’t checked in.

She keeps banging.

Eventually, a pretty brunette woman with big eyes and a kind face opens the door. She keeps one foot behind the door, the way Diego made Vanya learn when he helped her move into her place years ago.

“Can I help you?” she asks, pointedly.

Normally, Vanya would be dying of mortification right now.

Normally, Vanya isn’t at the edge of panic. “I need Diego. Is he home?”

“Yeah. Who are you?” The woman isn’t moving. She should be getting Diego. Vanya needs Diego, now!

“I’m Vanya, his sister. Where is he?” She can hear her voice getting shriller, but is unable to stop it, really.

Something like recognition flits across the other woman’s face. “Oh, I’m sorry. Hi, I’m Eudora, Diego’s girlfriend. Come in.”

She moves her foot and opens the door. Vanya bounces in, jerky and jittery, feeling almost as wired as Klaus on a bad day. As Eudora goes to find Diego, she looks around. It’s a nice place. Lived in, but in a comfy way. Not like her place. There are pictures on the wall here and a pile of shoes by the door.

The TV is on, but muted.

Diego appears from a short hallway, sweaty and with headphones dangling around his neck. His girlfriend trails after him and at one point, Vanya will be angry with him for not telling her that he has a girlfriend. One he’s living with, actually, if the pictures are anything to go by.

But not now.

“I need you to help me find Klaus,” she blurts.

“Hey, Seven,” he snipes. “Come in. How are you?”

She stomps her foot, helpless and exhausted and terrified. “Diego. I need you to help me find Klaus!”

He rubs a towel over his face and scalp, drops it onto the sofa and shakes his head. “He’s probably shooting up, somewhere, Vanya, you know that.”

“Your junkie brother?” Eudora asks, quietly and Vanya hates Diego for a brief, bright moment because that’s how he talks about Klaus. The junkie brother. She’s probably the boring sister and Allison the rich sister. Ben’s the dead brother and Five the missing brother and he doesn’t even want to know what he calls Luther. The asshole brother, maybe.

Well, right now, he’s being the asshole brother!

She marches up to him and for once she doesn’t feel tiny and useless in front of her powered siblings. She just feels angry. “Klaus didn’t check in yesterday. We have a deal. He calls or he comes by. Every Sunday.”

Diego snorts. “Yeah? How long has that been going? A week? Or did he make it to two?”

“Four years,” she snaps. “And he never missed a single Sunday. Ben’s made sure of it. So I know something is wrong! Help me!”

There is no-one else. Five and Ben are gone or out of her reach, Allison is in LA, Luther is in that damn house and Klaus is…. Well.

There’s only Diego.

“Ben’s dead,” he snarls, just as angry as she is suddenly and then his girlfriend wedges herself between them, moving them apart.

Vanya takes a deep breath and then another. She digs up a pill, dry-swallows it.

“Okay,” Eudora says, “Vanya, I think you need to explain from the beginning. Diego told me your brother Ben is dead? And that no-one has contact with Klaus? Sit down, I’ll get you something to drink.”

She flits into the kitchen, returns with three glasses of water. Sits down and puts a hand on Diego’s thigh in a very clear ‘stay’.

He breathes hard through his nose and Vanya tries to calm herself down, sort herself out and not think about how Klaus might be dead in some alleyway, ODed or shivved or murdered by a bad john.

She focuses on Eudora because it’s easier than talking to Diego and his anger. “Klaus, Number Four, is a medium. He’s constantly surrounded by ghosts. That’s why he takes the drugs. They mute them. Ben, Number Six, died when we were sixteen. He’s been haunting Klaus ever since.”

Diego snorts, spiteful and furious. “Bullshit.”

“Why do you all believe that? Klaus summons the dead. Why wouldn’t Ben be with him? He knew he was dead before Luther ever came back from that mission. Ben’s been with him ever since!”

“Yeah? I thought the drugs make the ghosts go away? So how does he see Ben, huh?”

(Maybe because, as Vanya has long since suspected, the drugs don’t really make the ghosts go away, so much as they simply make Klaus numb enough to not mind them anymore.

Maybe because all the pills do is make Klaus dead enough to not notice all the other deaths around him.

Maybe because it’s himself he’s trying to make go away.)

“It’s not important now. I made a deal with Klaus and Ben years ago. They check in on Sunday. Every week. When Klaus is too high to remember, Ben makes him. And it’s always worked out. Even when he was in rehab, or really bad, he always called. He didn’t call yesterday. Something’s happened and I’ve been out looking through his usual haunts all day and I can’t find them and I need your help. Diego, please, I don’t know who else to ask.”

There is a long moment of silence, before Diego hangs his head and nods, just once.

Eudora takes that as a sign. “Okay. Diego, go shower. I’ll call the station, see if they have anything. Maybe he got picked up. He wouldn’t be able to call then, maybe. Vanya, you should eat something. We have leftover Chinese in the fridge. Take half an hour to relax. Once Diego is ready, you can go out and look. I’ll check the hospitals. Did you leave a message at your place for Klaus?”

Vanya likes Eudora.

+

Diego has a car.

It makes searching Klaus’ usual spots a lot easier and faster. He’s also, apparently, in the Police Academy, along with Eudora, which means they both know enough cops to put out the word that they’re looking for Klaus.

Eudora mans the phones from Vanya’s place, in case Klaus comes by. It was her idea. She didn’t even hesitate to offer her help, give up her night. Somehow, Diego managed to find himself a good one. Later, Vanya will tell Klaus so he can tease their grumpy brother.

Later.

Now, they’re in what can only be called a crack house, following a clue from a guy they found in an alley Klaus sometimes sleeps in.

“Jesus,” Diego hisses as he almost steps on a needle. It smells like piss and vomit and there is something dark brown smeared on the wall. It might be blood. Vanya has spent years dressing Klaus in second-hand clothes and throwing out his rags, feeding him and letting him shower at her place for hours, buying him the bare necessities only in small quantities because she knows he’ll lose or sell anything more. Shoving condoms in his pockets by the dozen and ordering empty air to bring him back to her next week, please, please.

She doesn’t think Diego ever really thought about what ‘my brother is a homeless junkie’ really means before.

“You let him live here?”

Vanya rolls her eyes. An hour ago he didn’t believe Klaus checks in, now he thinks she can control what their brother does.

“I’ve offered him my couch a million times. He…,” she hesitates, biting her lip, because this is private, is personal. But…., “I think the ghosts drive him out. Sometimes he says things… I think out here, on the street, he can’t really tell the difference between living and dead.”

It must be a comfort, to someone like Klaus.

Diego kicks at an empty can. “Yeah. Because out here, everyone’s dead.”

A pile of blankets in the far corner moves and a man in a scraggly beard peers at them, hands clutching something tightly.

She tries to smile at him. “We’re looking for Klaus?”

He grunts, spits something, nods toward the stairs. It’s the first time they’ve gotten more than a vague headshake and maybe another address. Diego won’t let her go first, carefully testing every step of the creaky, rotten stairs and she follows, silently, hands clenched, praying to Ben as she goes.

Klaus is in the last room on the topmost floor, wrapped up in an oversized military surplus coat and a few scattered newspapers worth of paper. He’s shivering and beaten black and blue and his hands are caked in dried blood.

Vanya wants to throw up.

Instead she flies forward and carefully, carefully, feels for a pulse, finds it, sobs with relief and shakes him. Gently, gently.

“Klaus? Klaus, wake up, Klaus. Come on, wake up, what happened?”

He wakes.

His flailing hands almost catch her in the face as he scrambles backward, obviously in pain, until he hits the far wall, curls into himself and starts begging not to be hurt.

“Hush, Klaus, please, it’s okay. It’s only me and Diego. Vanya and Diego, okay? We’re not going to hurt you. It’s okay. Is Ben here? Hi, Ben.”

If Klaus has any anchor left in this world, it’s Ben.

(She hopes, often, that she helps, too, a little.)

He stills, the way he does when he’s listening, then mumbles something. It gives her a moment to collect herself. To try and check him over. He’s holding his left arm funny, like it hurts, and there is blood down one side of his shirt without an obvious wound.

“Ben says he’s sorry we missed Sunday. It’s my fault. We had a gift for you. I lost it.” He peeks out at her from under his arms.

As if she cares about some damn trinket he stole her, or another poster he found to try and decorate her apartment with.

“Can I… can I hug you?”

He hesitates long enough for her to know Ben is talking. Then he nods. She scrambles forward so fast her knees burn with it, but then she’s got her bony, knobby brother in her arms and he’s alive. He’s breathing. He’ll be fine.

+

Klaus has broken ribs, a broken arm, bruises all over, and a cut on his left shoulder. He’s also three days into withdrawals and coming down like a meteorite.

When he mentions it, the nurse purses her lips tightly and says nothing. She asks, instead, quietly, if she should fetch a rape kit.

Between endlessly apologizing for missing Sunday, Klaus just shrugs and offers a glib, “Oh, that part was fine. We didn’t get in a fight until the fucker refused to pay.”

Diego leaves the room at that point. Vanya pops another pill and decides once and for all, “You’re coming home with me. You’re getting clean and you’re coming home with me. End of story.”

“Wow, sis. Love it when you take charge.” He winks. In combination with his black eye, it makes her want to sob.

+

They let him out on day five of his unintentional cold turkey.

Diego has helped Vanya Klaus-proof her place as much as possible and Eudora has filled her fridge with all kinds of food, even though all three Hargreeves told her not to bother. Klaus throws everything up when he’s getting sober.

(They both watched, more than once, when their father locked Klaus away to forcefully sober him up. They’ve seen it all before, for all the good it ever did.)

They set up on the sofa with movies, soda and crackers and Vanya holds him through the shakes until her arms hurt.

On day seven, he tries to sneak out. Only Vanya coming back for her forgotten notebook stops him.

On day eight, Diego comes over when Vanya has to leave.

On day nine, Eudora shows up.

On day ten Klaus tells her he’s going to kill himself if she doesn’t let him go because he can’t stand the fucking wailing anymore.

She plays the violin until the neighbors threaten to call the cops.

On day fourteen, Diego brings them cupcakes. To celebrate two weeks sober. Eudora makes her excuses and she sounds honestly regretful to be missing it. They place the forth cupcake on a plate in front of an empty chair and Vanya thinks she hears Diego mumble a quiet apology to thin air.

+

Day seventeen:

“Pease just let me go, please, please, please, just let me go? I’ll be out of your hair, you can have your couch and your life back, please?”

“Why do you do this to yourself, Klaus?”

The scathing look thrown over the edge of the palms folded over his face is a surprise. “Dear sister, I thought we covered this at the tender age of thirteen. You, me, the glaring absence of Five? Remember?”

Sometimes, Klaus is an asshole.

“You said it makes the ghosts go away,” she summarizes. “But we both know that’s a lie.”

Ben is still here, no matter how fucked-up Klaus is and Vanya wants the truth. She has her theories, but –

“To be numb,” he finally mutters, into his palms, eyes averted. Briefly, he flashes goodbye at her, then shuffles sideways, as if that’s going to get him out from under her gaze.

Vanya opens her mouth.

Then she closes it.

The question is pointless.

She was there.

In the aftermath of the mausoleum, when Klaus wouldn’t sleep for weeks. When they all came back from a mission covered in blood, flinching and terrified. When Father singled Klaus out, every single time, his biggest disappointment, the useless one, the dumb one, the slow one. When he got caught wearing make-up or a skirt and sent to be without dinner for days. When he said something wrong in front of the press and wasn’t allowed to leave his room for a week. When he screamed for someone to please, please, make them go away and Father disabled Mom so she couldn’t go to Klaus.

Vanya was there.

She remembers being thirteen and dreaming of being special. Of being like her siblings.

Looking at Klaus, small and skinny and broken under three blankets and still shivering, she can’t believe she was ever that naïve.

She climbs up next to him, wraps his arms around him and tells him, as firmly as she can, “I love you. I need you. I want you in my life. Please stay sober.”

He hides himself in her, small and always too boney and she almost wants to laugh because the two of them are all angles and skin, really.

“Just let me go, Van.”

“You’ll die out there, Klaus. You could have died this time.”

He sobs, once, and clutches her to the point of bruising and whispers, ashamed, “That wouldn’t be so bad, would it? At least Ben wouldn’t be alone anymore then, right?”

“But I would be,” she whispers right back and maybe it’s not fair, putting that weight on him, that guilt, but at the age of twenty-three, Vanya has already lost one brother and buried another. Luther and Allison are as good as gone and even Diego isn’t really here. He has been trying, but.

She’s lost too many siblings, already. She refuses to lose another.

If she has to cheat to keep this one, she will.

+

Eudora calls on day thirty-two.

Klaus is looking almost healthy, apart from the cast on his arm, and his smoking habit is going to clear out her bank account if he keeps it up, but his eyes are clearer than they have been since they were children.

Last week, he made Ben visible for a full five seconds. He has a brand new mp3 player with expensive headphones to drown out the other ghosts.

They’re okay. He’s only tried to sneak out to score twice since day seventeen. The second time he came back by himself.

“Is Diego with you?” Eudora asks and something in her voice makes Vanya wave Klaus over, switching the phone to speaker.

“No, we haven’t heard from him? Why?”

“He got kicked out of the Academy today. Fighting. I don’t know what it was about. We argued over it when I came home and he stormed out and now – “

Klaus leans into the phone. “Don’t worry about Two, U. He’s probably holed up somewhere, sulking. He’s like a hurt cat when he gets angry. He’ll be fine.”

“We can help you look for him, if you want,” Vanya adds.

“In fact,” Klaus offers, “why doesn’t littlest sis here come over to your place to keep you company. You can bitch over men and paint your nails. I’ll find grumpy cat and drag him home, mhm?”

Vanya studies him closely. It’s late and Klaus hasn’t been out at night since the hospital. And never alone, even during the day. He’s always stuck to her or Diego or even Eudora, once or twice. Someone to pull him back when he was tempted to slip away into an alley and then oblivion.

He reads her mind, winks at her, and sticks a hand into his pocket, audibly rifling through his tarot deck, the one he hadn’t touched in years.

Their father gave it to him as a tool, long ago, to hone his skills. To learn focus. Vanya’s never understood what summoning ghosts and telling the future have to do with each other, but Klaus is scary accurate with his readings when he’s sober and he’s been using the cards as touching-practice for Ben.

A crutch. A tool. A comfort. They’ve been his constant companion for weeks, ever since he pulled them out of a box of junk Vanya took from his room when she moved out, but never touched.

He fidgets with them instead of shooting up, he says.

It’s a reassurance now, the reminder that they’re there.

She nods.

+

Vanya spends the evening curled up with Euroda, telling her stories about childhood as a Hargreeves while Klaus looks for Diego, checking in every half hour with a cheery still clean text.

“How’s that going?” Eudora asks, nodding at Vanya’s phone as it chimes for the fifth time.

“Klaus?” She shrugs. “He’s sober. I think,” she corrects herself, “I hope it’ll last, this time.”

She put the weight of her happiness on one side of the scale and prays, every night, that it sits there heavier than his own desire to be numb. To just be gone.

The leader of the group he’s been going to says Klaus has latent suicidal tendencies. Vanya doesn’t really think that’s true because what’s suicide to a medium? What’s death to someone who lives steeped in it?

She thinks he just doesn’t see much difference between the two states, alive and dead. She thinks she’s going to have to remind him.

“And if it doesn’t?” Eudora asks gently. She’s distracting herself from the fact that her boyfriend got kicked out of the Police Academy for fighting and then told her to go fuck herself before disappearing into the night. Men. So dramatic.

“Then we start over.”

“You’re so patient with him.”

Tucking her feet under, Vanya leans into the saggy couch. It smells like herbal tea.

“When we were seven or eight, Father decided that Two wasn’t learning how to curve his knife throws fast enough. To provide additional incentive, he made one of us sit in front of the target. That way, if Two missed, he hurt one of us and it made him try harder. Four always volunteered to keep the rest of us safe.” She chuckles. “Especially One. Because we all knew hitting One wouldn’t make Two try harder at all. He’d spend hours just sitting there playing with his cards, in front of the target, letting Two practice. And when he got hit, he just threw the knife back and said, ‘again’. Until Two got it right, ten out of ten. I-“

She doesn’t know why she tells Eudora that, except to make it clear how very kind Klaus is, deep down. How kind he was, as a child. How patient. How much he loved all of his siblings and how far he would go for them. Even then, Father always called him useless and he never argued, just took it with a wink and a grin and then tried so hard anyway. Not for Father. For them.

Eudora has only met adult Klaus, the gangly, broken, mad thing their father turned him into. But all Vanya sees when she looks at him is the boy he was. The boy who was loud and bright and sometimes unbearably kind.

For Klaus, Vanya will keep trying until the world ends.

Eudora shakes her head, looking incredibly sad suddenly. “You know, Diego tells me stories like this sometimes and I just…. The worst part is the numbers. You still do that. When you really want each other to pay attention, you use your numbers. Like they mean more to you than your names.”

“Well, they did come first. Our names were our birthday gifts when we turned ten. Pogo and Mom convinced Father to let us have names, and Mom gave them to us.” She smiles. It’s a good memory.

“And you, my darling Seven, will be…. Vanya. For the country you came from.”

Eudora shakes her head. “That doesn’t make it ok. None of it. And Diego – “

“Just be patient with him,” Vanya advises. They all deal with their shitty childhood in different ways. Klaus gets fucked out of his head, Vanya plays and Diego covers all the soft parts of himself, the parts Father liked to pick at, in a hard, angry shell to keep himself safe. “He wants to be with you. He’s trying so hard.”

Eudora sighs, then nods. “I will.”

+

The boys stumble in at two AM, dirty and laughing and scuffed-up, like they forgot they’re grown men and just rolled around in the dirt and Eudora laughs at them before punching Diego in the arm and then ordering them into the bathroom to clean up.

It’s too late for anyone to go home and there is no guestroom and only a tiny couch. She offers to take it, let the siblings have the bed, but Diego just grunts and scowls and all four of them play a rousing game of Tetris with their limbs until they’re all folded into a single bed.

It’s hot and uncomfortable and so much like the rare occasions they curled up together as children that it hurts. No Five, no Luther or Allison. Only the three of them and Eudora, a new constellation, with Ben watching over them from his perch on the dresser, glowing a soft, steady blue.

They all sleep like the dead.

+

On day one hundred and fifty-eight, Vanya has a mix-up with her students and no time to refill her prescription.

She thinks about it, long and hard, and then, when Klaus comes home from his shift at the coffee shop (nine days in and they haven’t fired him, she’s keeping her fingers crossed for two weeks, this time), she tells her student to keep practicing that note and tugs him into the bedroom.

“I need a favor,” she tells him, no preamble.

They both wince as a shrill note emits from the living room.

He blinks big, sparkly eyes at her, eyeshadow more on point than hers ever will be, flops onto the bed and sighs. “Now?”

“Yes, now. I’m out of my meds and I need you to run and get my refill. Please.”

Klaus freezes.

Next to him, Ben bleeds into blue existence like… well, a specter, looking between his siblings with a worried expression.

“Are you sure it’s wise to give me your prescription, sis? Temptation being what it is and my self-control being what it, let’s be honest, isn’t?”

He looks to Ben, undoubtedly only visible so he can disapprove along with Klaus. Or maybe not. Lately, Ben has taken to just… showing up. Once or twice even when Klaus was asleep.

His tarot cards have predicted the last four major events on the news in almost scarily accurate detail.

Vanya purses her lips, meets her dead brother’s gaze and knows they agree. Until now, Vanya has always kept her pills on her when Klaus was around. When he first sobered up, she kept the bottle at Diego’s and only kept a few days’ worth in the apartment.

“I trust you. You’ll get my refill, you’ll give it to me, and the bottle will be sealed and everything will be okay. Because you’re strong and we’re proud of you.”

Ben nods, patting Klaus’ shoulder before winking out again.

Klaus shivers, shakes himself once, like a dog, and then sits up. “Alright. Fuck. Okay.”

She holds out the little slip of paper.

“Really?”

“Really, really.”

+

Hours later, after dinner, he slips the bottle out of his jacket pocket and flips it at her, seal unbroken.

He stares at it in her hands for a long, long moment, before humming loudly, shaking his head and snapping his fingers. “So, uhm, I mean, you’ve always taken pills, as long as I remember, but, I couldn’t help but notice… what the fuck are you taking, sis?”

Vanya, in the process of popping her evening pill, frowns. “What? Those are my anxiety meds. Same as always.”

“Yeah, but, no.” he leans in, snagging the bottle, pointing at the label. “See this? This is an antidepressant, which may be used to help out with anxiety, but the dosage is way too high? Also, this is kind of the hard stuff. Like, if I took that, in this dosage, it’d shoot me up to fucking Mars. That can’t be right.”

Slowly, she lowers the pill, studying it. “It’s the kind I’ve always taken.”

But. If anyone knows drugs, it’s Klaus. Klaus, who spent their teens carefully teaching himself the basics of chemistry so he could numb himself in exactly the right way, for exactly the right amount of time. He stopped caring eventually, falling into the trap of more, faster, harder, but he’s always been very aware of what drugs not to mix, of what to avoid. For someone addicted to hard drugs, he was downright careful.

“Your doc is a hack, then.”

“It’s the prescription dad got me when I was a kid.”

There is a long, long silence as they both think about that. Years out of that house, and somehow, Vanya is still taking the pills her father gave her. She never even considered getting a second opinion. She kept the same doctor, kept the same meds. Never thought to question because she’s taken them literally almost all her life.

She used to get punished for not taking them.

Learned response. (Learned helplessness, too.)

“You really think the pills are wrong?” The concept is frightening because she never even considered it and all of a sudden it’s there and terribly, terribly plausible.

“I think this drug is used for crippling depression, for eating disorders and severe OCD. It’s easy to overdose, can lead to sexual dysfunction, heart problems and all kinds of other, fun risks that you do not take unless you have no other choice. I think if this is what dad gave you, what, twenty years ago? Then yeah, there is something definitely wrong because there is no reason on earth you would give this to a child. None. And I think you should go to a doctor. One dad isn’t paying.”

She feels… stupid, suddenly, because god, it’s not like she doesn’t know their father isn’t a good person. She stopped accepting money from him years ago, doesn’t take his calls, doesn’t even acknowledge he exists when she can help it and yet, she left this obvious, giant hole in her stone-walling of him.

She doesn’t trust him at all, but she’s been taking his pills all this time.

She feels like an idiot.

Her first impulse, as the dark, ugly feeling twists in her gut, is to pop a pill. She stops herself, suddenly breathing hard.

Then she throws the bottle across the room.

“Whoa. Hey. No. I mean, go you, awesome, but, you can’t just go cold turkey on this stuff. It… your brain chemistry would go hell out of whack, sis. You need… you need an appointment with a decent doctor. Fast. I’d recommend one, but all the ones I know are hacks who like to make a little money on the side, if you know what I mean.”

He waggles his eyebrows.

Ben helpfully whacks him upside the head.

And just like that, Vanya can breathe again.

+

Three weeks later, she and Klaus get into a tickle fight with Diego over the remote and suddenly, Eudora’s grandmother’s vase explodes on the side table.

Vanya spends days laughing over the irony of her, the normal one, the boring one, the ordinary one having powers, having them now, when she knows better than to want them, anymore.

Ben pats her back a lot and teaches her breathing exercises. Klaus alternates between making tea and casting manic predictions with his tarot deck. It keeps coming up Major Arcana. His grin keeps getting bigger and more vindictive.

Diego just comes over with a bag full of tequila and limes.

It fixes nothing, but it does keep her from marching back to the Academy to atomize their father, much to Klaus’ dismay.

+

(It’s not okay. Not really.

None of them ever will be, in the end, because their pasts drag behind them like anchors, weighing them down, pulling them under. There is loss and heartbreak and simple pain there, more than any child should have to bear, more than any adult should have to remember.

But they are better.

In some ways.

On some days.

They catch each other and hold on to each other and after a while, after trial and error and more failure, they learn to trust each other.

They learn to trust themselves.

It doesn’t change everything. But it changes enough.)

+

Epilogue

+

Reginald Hargreeves dies alone in a big, empty house.

He never learns that his big plan to avoid the end of the world comes not to fruition because of him, but despite him. He never learns that it was his children saying fuck you and holding on to each other, not violence and pain, that saved the world.

(Well. Until Klaus summons him and tells him. In painstaking detail.)

Vanya, Klaus, Diego and Ben show up to the wake together; Eudora has a double shift at the station. She promised them take-out if they don’t burn down the house.

Allison stares at the three (visible) siblings in tight formation and frowns. Luther makes a crack about them dragging Klaus out of an alley for the funeral and promptly gets slammed up against the nearest wall by the ghost of his dead brother.

Vanya motions with both hands, separating them. Her eyes glow white and her hair shifts in an invisible breeze. Diego rolls his eyes and fingers his favorite knife.

Klaus claps, delighted, and orders, “Let’s get this shit over with. I was promised Chinese by my favorite sister-in-law.”

Thirty minutes later, their thirteen-year-old brother falls out of the sky, seventeen years later than he was a moment ago, young and angry and alive.

+

(Elsewhen, in Commission Headquarters, the Handler stares at various timeline reports and tries to figure out when, exactly, the apocalypse was derailed.

She fails.)

+