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"You doing alright?" 

Klaus feels Diego's solicitous hand on his shoulder for just a second before he lifts it back up again, the contact briefly tethering and pleasant through the sparkling distraction in the hollows of his face.

Still masked by his steepled hands, Klaus answers, "uh-huh," then sneezes a second time, pitching forward with an overstimulated shiver. "My God."

"Bless you."

"Uh-huh," Klaus says again. "Thank you." With a chafing, irritated sniffle, he shakes his head to try and get himself back into the game. The loud noises of the ballroom are only bothering him a little, maybe partially because it feels like his ears are logged with water and that's acting as a cushion against the volume, but the diversity in lighting is magnifying the aching band around his temples to complement the tightness in his forehead that's been budding since the afternoon. The building is old and sporadically haunted and he's starting to have trouble concentrating.

Diego shrugs and picks an hors d'oeuvre off of a passing tray with a poised, evenly twitched nod toward the server.

"You know, you could've stayed home," he says. "This thing wasn't mandatory and I think you've got the flu, man."

Klaus bows his head and shakes it back and forth as he clears his throat. "It's just a cold," he promises, watching Diego drink down the chilled gazpacho like a shot. "I know you love to worry but I've got to burst your bubble on this… this one…"

Another sneeze takes the reins, the kind that comes with an aftershock of chills and a heavy replenishment of congestion. He's really had enough of that for the day and he expected it to get better once he was in such a well-kept and expensive event hall, but this building is just as ornate and ancient as his childhood home, which means the air is dry and musty so he's probably not going to be getting a break until he steps outside. It's normally not this bad, but being sick has made him especially susceptible to that kind of irritation.

"Klaus--"

"I'm fine. I just need a…"

But he can't have a drink -- or even a shot of NyQuil -- so now Klaus is more or less at a loss.

"Come on. I'm going to find Five, maybe we can ditch early. I hate these things," Diego says.

"You're so weird." Klaus couldn't disagree more with the idea, but he still lets Diego guide him out of courtesy, knowing that his brother feels a sense of accomplishment and duty when he gets to pretend he's a shepherd. "They're so fun. Aren't you having fun? These guest of honor parties were like, the only good thing about having to play Baby Superhero."

Diego the mama bear slash lone wolf only scowls about that, go figure. The event is crowded, and the other half of his attention is attached to surveying the room for another one of their siblings who might be willing to make an escape with him, if not Five then definitely Vanya.

They don't get very far before Klaus needs to tug at the stiff fabric of Diego's very boring dress shirt to get him to stop.

"I think that lady wants to talk to us," he says. "She's trying to make eye contact."

Diego says, "I'm busy."

"Ugh, no you're not. We're supposed to mingle-- hi, Hello!"

She's quicker to stroll over than he thought she would be given the height of her stilettos. Klaus doesn't remember this one from their heydays, but people can change a lot in a decade and a half and he's been staying on his toes lately and waiting for others to introduce themselves first.

"The Séance and the Kraken," she says, accented, with a smile. "Did I get it right?"

There's always a point in a bout of illness where Klaus is so tired and fuzzy that he doesn't have it in him to talk to anyone, preferring to be talked at or otherwise left alone, but there's a very strange and almost manic energy running through the marrow of his bones underneath the glaze of fatigue that comes before and after, a magnification of his preexisting yearning for socialization. It helps to be around others when his senses are dulled and he has more trouble than usual telling who's real and who isn't, especially when he can tell Ben needs a break from standing guard and helping him differentiate.

So of course he wasn't going to miss coming tonight.

"Very good!" he says. His voice doesn't even crack. "I'm Klaus. This is…"

Diego smiles, but only barely. He's good at this if he tries; he's got the charisma for it. But for some reason he never wants to bother.

"Nice to meet you. Diego," he says, and Klaus instantly feels this rush of relief that he hadn't even been expecting, despite it washing over him every time someone he knows responds to whichever new stranger Klaus is talking to. The verification has always helped wonders.

"Oh, I know!" she says. "It's been a while since I've seen your code names. Did you come up with those yourself, hon?"

"Nah. The press just sorta gave them to us," Klaus says. She's too young to call anyone hon, probably barely older than he is, which is why he likes it that she does anyway. "Do you have one, too? I can give one to you if you'd like."

She laughs and says, "I'm just plain Mona. But I still think Mona's fine."

"Suit yourself." Klaus smiles at her and has to cut it short when it's time to sneeze again, eyelids tight as they slowly begin to close, mouth parted in suspense before he ducks down toward his wrist.

"Bless you, hon."

"Thank you!" Klaus straightens up, enjoying the shallow intimacy of the pet name.

"Are you okay? I thought you sounded like you might have a cold," Mona says.

"Right again," Klaus admits. He elbows Diego and says, "She's good."

"I'm married to a doctor," Mona admits, "but I don't think it takes much training to notice a stuffy nose."

"He's been sick for two days," Diego says. "He should be at home in bed instead of trying to chat everyone's ear off in a drafty ballroom, no?"

"Oh my God, Diego," admonishes Klaus, matching his brother's half-playful tone while also knowing that Diego had been fully serious in his inquiry. Klaus matches that sincerity, too. "Don't make her work while she's at a party! The lady's off-duty. Wow, I am so sorry. He's just trying to use me as an excuse to leave because he hates having fun."

"She said she was married to a doctor, not that she was one," Ben corrects him.

Klaus frowns at him so Ben knows he doesn't care, and in response, Ben holds in a laugh. Klaus has been loving him at these things lately; his brother looks magnificently out of place in a hooded jacket and skinny jeans among a hoard of suits and gowns.

"Sometimes it's nice to get a bit of fresh air when you've been stuck in bed," Mona agrees. "Have you been sick long?"

"Yes," Klaus says emphatically.

"It's just been two days," Diego says.

"Feels like forever," Klaus says. "It's not that bad, though, just all in my head, so… still good to party."

"You poor thing." Mona chuckles, lighthearted, and Klaus hopes Diego can use her as a model not to take all of this so seriously. "I know this makes me sound like a grandma, but I have a couple hard candies if you want them. It might help your throat."

"Yes," instructs Ben needlessly. "Take one, Klaus."

"You're the real superhero, Mona," Klaus accepts. "Yes, yes, thank you."

"What flavor?"

"Surprise me. Whichever one you hate the most."

She motions for him to hold out his hand, and her hands are warm when she wraps his fingers around the two colorful pieces of plastic-wrapped sugar she places on his palm.

"You want one, too?" she asks Diego. "I'm trying to get rid of them."

He smiles back at her and says, "Okay, sure."

People like it when you let them take care of you, Klaus knows, and it works in his favor most of the time because he doesn't have enough of an ego to reject that kind of treatment so long as it stays safe and shallow, away from the threat of any actual intimacy and sacrifice. In his experience, letting someone help you makes them like you more when they think it was their idea. It makes them feel proud and important, like they're a protector or a healer or something like that.

It shows in this case, naturally, because he and Diego continue having a perfectly pleasant conversation with Mona for another ten minutes, during which Klaus enjoys himself enough to forget about the sprits lurking around the corner and the pressure in his head.

Diego gives up after they split with her, deciding to wander off away from Klaus to find somebody else and see if they'll leave with him instead. Klaus hops around through the masses of the one percent and the brain fog as he does the opposite.

Chapter Text

"Be careful," Ben says to Klaus as he sips on a cup of literally just tonic water, because he can't taste anything so it doesn't matter. "Last time you got caught talking to the open air after like, half an hour. Luther thought you were delirious." 

"It's tough because I don't want to touch people when everyone keeps reminding me of how contagious I am," Klaus says. "So it's like, do I or don't I?"

"People don't care," Ben says. "And you seem to forget about that while you're in a conversation, anyway."

"Well excuse me for being personable," Klaus says. His voice breaks on the last word and he clears his throat, which Ben hears over the roaring chatter of the crowd.

"Are you feeling much worse than this afternoon?" he asks at the reminder.

"No, the same," Klaus says. "I've got plenty of stamina, Benjamin, don't you worry about me."

"It's impossible not to worry about you."

"Holy shit, is that the action figure guy?" Klaus says suddenly (and genuinely! Not only to steer Ben away from his soapbox). "Do you remember? From like a billion years ago, the collector? We have to go talk to him."

"He's talking to Allison," Ben observes. "Holy shit."

"Let's go rescue her. Do you want to join? I can bring you in, make his day."

"Save your strength. But I am going to watch."

"So sacrificial. If you say so, Number Six."

They'd all met him a couple of times when they were kids and each gotten an individualized, well-meaning interrogation of what kinds of things they all wished would be included in an updated and "ultimate" action figure of their superhero personas -- all masked, of course, no first names or anything, all up until they were starting adolescence and Daddy Dictator had stopped worrying about their anonymity to such an oppressive degree.

Although he was intense, they all agreed that he was more or less well-meaning and probably just very, very lonely; a would've-been toy-maker or superfan with big dreams for franchising that never quite made it off the ground. Diego hated all the personal questions, but Klaus and Ben had loved indulging him through teasing ricochets and made-up answers. Until now, Klaus had forgotten all about him.

The man has aged, of course, like they all have, his chestnut hair going mousy brown-gray but still tied back in the same elegant low ponytail he wore back in 2001, wire glasses exchanged for more stylish ones with a thicker rim. As they get closer, Klaus realizes that he's taller than him now -- by quite a few inches, actually -- and that's always weird, but he doesn't mind it.

Allison sees him approaching first. "Hi, Klaus…!" she calls, her enthusiastic tone depicting a pleading command that he's happily ready to obey.

"You!" declares the action figure guy excitedly.

"Me," Klaus confirms, then he takes a shallow, humble bow. It shifts the congestion in the upper part of his face and aches like a bitch, but he tries not to show it and makes a personal vow not to do that again. "You're all very welcome. So what are you finding out about my sister?"

"I'm actually learning a lot about Derrick this time," Allison says.

"Who's Derrick?"

"I'm Derrick," says the action figure guy.

Klaus smiles pleasantly, hiding his teeth, and says, "You sure are."

"Nice one," Ben says. Klaus clears his throat.

"I was telling Allison about my dissertation on unintentional super powered effects," he says. "Emotions and well-being changing the way someone's abilities might perform, whether it's dulled or magnified, and what that could mean about the energy behind them."

"Oh," Klaus says. One of his personal rules for these parties, over the years, has been to talk about his powers as little as possible. It always gives him stress or bums him out, even now with a few months' worth of extra training bulking up his aptitude. "Are you cheating on us, Derrick? Who are the other sorry freaks of nature you've been working with instead?"

"It's all theory right now," Derrick says. "But I'm only here to socialize, not solicit test subjects, rest assured. It's just something fun to think about."

"Seriously?" Ben says. "Toy store guy?"

"I didn't know you were a student," Klaus says.

"He's a professor… Sort of," Allison says. Klaus remembers that this guy had a rich family who probably bought him into the position, which is more or less the standard trajectory for somebody from that kind of background. "Right?"

"I'm getting my third Ph.D.," Derrick tells them.

"Jesus Christ. Glad that's not me," Klaus says. "All that scrutiny? Working with the board and everything?" He puts on an exaggeratedly haughty effect. "You must be quite the trooper. Have you talked to Allison about her voice yet?"

Derrick laughs and says, "I'm showing some self-restraint."

The eye contact Allison makes with Klaus says he's lying. And he's probably doing it without even knowing it, poor guy, his self awareness is so thin.

"Well, you can ask me anything," Klaus says, crossing his arms and tilting his chin up proudly. "Everyone's been so good tonight, we've barely had to talk about saving the world or our plans for the future or anything else boring like that, and I'm feeling generous. Our old talks were so fun, weren't they?"

He nods so Derrick will nod back, and he does, even if Klaus isn't sure if he means it. People usually follow his example when he tries to get them to. Allison is smiling like she's expecting Klaus to make a joke, but he can't decide if he wants to, yet. His ethics have strengthened since he got sober back in the Spring, and even more so since he last saw Derrick as a young teenager and told him a wealth of lies about being able to see into people's past lives and supply total strangers with stunningly faultless horoscopes. He wonders if any of Derrick's ever came true.

"I do have one question, if you'll indulge me," Derrick says confidently. Something fun about his interrogations were that they really could bring in an interesting conversation, even the power dynamic there had always been sort of off.

To communicate his acceptance, Klaus nods through the tingling sensation in the middle of his face growing out from a dull buzz to an overwhelming prickle, spreading in size and intensity until it passes the point of no return and he needs to sneeze off to the side, accidentally tapping Allison with his left hand and while he shields his face with the right one, keeping it flat with his fingers held straight.

"Bless you," Allison says when he squares back up.

"Sorry. Thank you," Klaus returns. He looks back up at Derrick. "Okay, sorry, I'm ready."

"Drafty in here, isn't it?" Derrick says, almost apologetically, while he looks at the sheer sleeves on the top Klaus picked out for the event. It almost seems like he's scanning him for goosebumps.

"I just have a cold," Klaus says. "It's fine."

"Oh!" Derrick perks up. "That's exactly the kind of thing I've been writing about!" Yikes. "Has it affected your powers at all?"

Klaus shifts his weight so he's leaning on his one leg, hand on his hip, casual, while he considers the question. Of course this guy was gonna go there.

"I guess," he says. "Doesn't it affect everybody's powers, though? The power to concentrate. The power to get a good night's sleep. The power to smell and taste--"

One of the best things about shooting the shit with Derrick, Klaus remembers, was his sense of humor. No matter how evasive he got, Derrick didn't turn sour. It's nice to realize that he wasn't just being patient with a bunch of kids that whole time.

"You spilled, like, two cups of tea this morning without touching them," Ben says.

Yeah, and a bunch of household contraptions flew off their hooks last time he had a fever, Klaus thinks, but Dr. Derrick doesn't need to know that. And neither does Allison.

"Fair enough," he says to Klaus. "Have the two of you been up to anything special this season?"

So that goes on too, for a while, because Derrick has a lot of enthusiasm and is bad at reading social cues, which makes him difficult to get away from, even for Klaus whose boundaries and know-how have statused him as a master at slithering out of a conversation the moment he's done with it. It's harder to navigate things with a headache and the occasional intangible distraction sounding out behind him.

Someone steals Derrick away eventually without Klaus nor Allison needing to do anything. Of all the Hargreeves siblings, Allison probably needs rescuing the least, when it comes to social situations, but her penchant for diplomacy is a lot higher than his is and sometimes she maybe needs a loose cannon like Klaus to provide her some relief. 

"I missed him, didn't you?" he asks her when Derrick is halfway across the ballroom.

Allison scoffs fondly with a shake of her head. "You would miss him," she says. She unclasps her purse, sparkly gold to match her nails. "Here, do you need a tissue, or something…?"

Klaus realizes he's been sniffling, though whatever is in his head is thick and oppressive enough to barely budge when he consciously tries. "Thank you," he says before she even pulls them out.

"You're sick as a dog," Allison says, "I can't believe you didn't think to pack any for yourself. You have pockets."

"Are you really surprised?"

She smiles at him, but it looks a little exasperated, maybe almost sad, when she pillows the entire pack onto his palm.

Chapter Text

Allison does a visual sweep of the room's glittering lights and lavish guests while Klaus blows his nose. He follows Allison's eye line as he peeks over the top of the folded white paper as she smiles and realizes Luther is working on coming over. 

Klaus indulges himself and ends up using two sets of doubled-up tissues, then he crumples them into the pockets that Allison was so jealous of and keeps the packet for himself like he does most things. He assumes Allison won't be needing it more than he does, and if that does end up being the case after all, then she at least knows where to find them.

When Luther reaches the two of them, he sighs hello from his enormous chest like he's knows he's supposed to be relieved to find them but actually isn't. "Did you guys see that Derrick Lisowski's here?"

"Please tell me you talked to him," Allison says.

"Trying to avoid him, actually," Luther says. His mouth has gone straight and his eyes flicker around in a declaration of his edgy nerves. He never did like talking to the weird fans as much.

"Why?" Klaus asks. "He's awesome."

"He interrogate you?" Luther asks, gaze twitching from Allison to Klaus.

"He did until Klaus came and saved me. Thanks, by the way."

Klaus sniffles and says humbly, "Ah, you paid me back."

"You didn't say anything incriminating, did you?" Luther asks.

It's a fair question. With a hand over his heart, Klaus says, "Number One, what do you take me for?"

Luther tries Allison next. "Did he?"

"You can relax," she says dismissively. Allison has such a good sense of humor. She's smiling now, but anyone else would get annoyed with Luther's constant double-checking, Klaus is sure of it. "He mostly just wanted to know if being sick affected the whole psychic powers thing."

"That's actually a good question," Luther says. "Does it?"

"Yes," Ben says.

"Sorry to let you down, big guy, but us superheroes get normal colds just like eeeeeverybody else," Klaus says. "Nothing but chills and sneezing and chapped lips, it's all very exciting."

He rocks back and forth on his feet, crossing his arms and waiting for a response so he can leave this topic where it is and tread elsewhere. He makes another effort at breathing through his nose and the congestion has it so swollen that barely any air gets through, the action sounding out in a brief and pathetic crackle. Luther's confused, offended and pouty frown says, Hey! I'm a superhero too!

Allison makes contact with Klaus, rubbing his back for a second as she says, "You're okay."

"Yeah, yeah." Klaus waves a hand at her sympathetic directive to toughen up. "I'm going to seek some more nourishment. I just saw them bring out another tray of tapenade so, you know, excuse me."

Olives and capers and oil all together on bread is going to be strong enough for his suffocated taste buds to sense at least a little, he figures as he wades through the spectacle of patricians. He flinches when someone fucking wails near the activated piano and then he cautiously moves his eyes over and back again quickly after seeing a nobleman in a top hat who's missing half his face. He must be dead, Klaus thinks, not only because of the way he looks, but because absolutely nobody else in the room is reacting to him. That's always a good litmus test. It sucks having to see things like that all the time, but it's even worse to feel the pressure to look normal every time they appear.

"The crostini is going to shred your throat," Ben nags, probably to distract him.

"Got to live on the wild side every once in a while," Klaus mutters. Mona's lemon drop had dissolved back when he was telling Derrick about his waning interest in getting his powers to work, and his poor, virtuous voice box is dry and sore again.

He slides the treat off of the marble slab -- yes, seriously -- on the refreshments table, and while he can't detect any details of its flavor, it feels incredibly salty and that's almost all the stimulation Klaus needs. 

"Too bad you're dead, Ben," he says cheerfully while he's crunching. "Bet you wish you could taste one of these."

"Can you?" Ben asks.

"Uh," Klaus says. He swallows. "Almost."

"God, that looked like it hurt."

"Don't worry, it did. As does everything else above my chest right now, if you must know, little brother."

"Stop talking to me," warns Ben as Klaus stuffs the other half of toast into his mouth. "I think that guy behind you is--"

Someone taps Klaus on the shoulder. Quickly enough, he levels his hand flat underneath his bottom lip to keep from spilling.

"Fuck," he says before he hurriedly swallows his second bite and then holds back a groan. It hurts so much worse than the first one did. "Well, hello."

"Mind if I squeeze in?" asks the stranger. He's younger than most of the patrons at the event and looks like he plays sports, with his neat clipped hair and post-adolescent muscles. It reminds Klaus of what Luther might have looked like if he'd been allowed to live a normal life, his posture schooled and gaze steely-friendly.

Klaus clears his throat, which of course stings horrendously, and says, "Yeah, sorry. Good stuff, man."

He goes to leave and the young jock says, "No, hang on," as he takes his sweet time carefully selecting an appetizer. There's someone scowling behind him, waiting impatiently for their turn, and Klaus sincerely cannot tell whether it's an actual guest or if this kid is one of those rich people who's haunted enough to be followed by the consequences of his evil colonizing ancestors to and fro.

Klaus decides he'd rather look rude than crazy. He pretends not to see them.

"What's up?"

"I think I recognize you," the stranger says. Klaus is savvy enough to know that he's not making a joke or flirting and is genuinely that out of touch with the party. Klaus respects that; he's been that guy more times than he can remember, literally.

"Everyone here recognizes me," he says, not bothering to sound proud nor bitter, because it's nothing but a nostalgic fact. "Not to be conceited. But this humble affair is being held in my--"

"Oh, you're one of those?" the kid asks. The figure behind him reaches for a piece of coconut shrimp and their calloused hand goes right through it, but Klaus doesn't shiver while he watches because at least now he knows he was right to avoid eye contact. "Which one?"

The self aware one, Klaus thinks as he says, "The handsome one, the junkie."

"Sorry?"

"The, uh, the medium…?" Maybe he didn't read Vanya's book. "Chit-chatting with the dead, you know, yadda yadda, et cetera and all of that."

"Oh," the kid says. "You never really did much."

Ben laughs voicelessly and Klaus almost joins him, but it catches on his throat and he smiles through a cough instead.

"Still don't."

"Fair enough." The kid sets his plate down and holds out his hand. It's very chivalrous, and he stands with that practiced, defensive confidence that shorter guys sometimes get when they stand really close to Klaus, even though he doesn't think he's very intimidating even with the height. "I'm Sebastian."

Klaus holds his hand out like a dame, palm down and wrist flaccid, just to mess with him a little. Sebastian raises both precisely groomed brows and shakes it like it's normal.

"You don't look like a Sebastian."

"What would you call me instead?"

"I don't know. What would you call yourself?"

"Sebastian."

"Hats off to mom and dad, then."

Sebastian hums and eats the tapenade crostini in one bite, licking his fingers afterward and then reaching for another one.

"That is so unsanitary," comments Ben. He's very selective with that word.

"They're big fans," Sebastian says to Klaus. "That's why we're here. They brought me as punishment; I hate dressing up for these stuffy social functions."

"You sound like my brother." Maybe Diego's already made his escape. Klaus hopes not. "What'd you do?"

Sebastian's resentment toward his parents radiates off of him like a magnetic forcefield as he scowls. There's nothing Klaus loves more than an I-hate-my-stupid-parents gabfest, and it's a lovely distraction from the escalated pounding-tickling-aching inside of his face. "I took my girlfriend out on their yacht and docked it too close to another boat."

"You crashed it? Nice."

"It was a mistake," insists Sebastian. " I've been trying to get back in their good graces for like, three weeks."

"Oh, no," Klaus says, though he can't actually muster up much sympathy. "As someone who was never once in their parents' good graces, well… I wish I had some advice or wisdom to offer you other than not to pull another Icarus when you steal their Lamborghini."

This guy Sebastian is seriously going to put away all of this tapenade during a single conversation. It's hard to tell whether he really, really likes it or is one of those people who always needs something to do with their hands, but Klaus has his fingers crossed that the caterers will bring out a second tray because even though it had felt like a salty, scratchy weapon on his throat, his painful encounter with the tapenade was the first time he'd been able to even vaguely taste anything all day.

The scandalized, perturbed bearing on Sebastian's face may only partially be attributed to the suggestion that he become a repeat offender when it comes to stealing from his incredibly rich parents, because the crostini flying out from his hand horizontally before landing several feet away from him -- face down -- is arguably more offensive and startling.

"What the fuck?" he says.

Klaus looks at him and then at Ben, but his attempts at nonverbal communication halt when he jumps at a jagged, screeching cry cutting through the air of the ballroom from just outside its grandiose double doors.

Chapter Text

It's almost funny how much more Klaus is startled by the room's reaction to the scream than he is by the noise itself. He still flinches, used to hearing people howl in agony as part of a day in the life of the damned, but it doesn't exactly alarm him like it does the rich attendants of the party, all of whom are immediately worked up into a hilariously chaotic little tizzy.

Only a moment later does he realize the scream wasn't just a figment of the afterlife and had happened for real just on the other side of the wall. Klaus usually isn't very slow to react to events, his reflexes sensitive and always on guard, but now maybe it seems that way because he's become so used to ignoring that kind of sound after almost thirty years of having to do it for the sake of his own survival. His seeming lack of awareness probably doesn't reflect very well on him in the eyes of the civilians, especially for someone who's presently being celebrated for saving the world. Luckily, he's never been very committed to the superhero reputation to begin with; it's true that he's not very good at it and there are far more bad memories of its practice than good.

"What happened?" asks Vanya, who is the first to find him; she must have been close by. "Did somebody get hurt?"

"You heard that?" Klaus asks, just to make sure.

"What, did you not…?" Vanya's expression changes and she says, "Oh, Klaus."

He's always been careful not to talk too much about his powers, especially not with any sincerity, out of the fear that once he started discussing them he wouldn't be able to stop. Up until he realized he could do more with his abilities than get harassed day in and day out by the gruesome memories of the dead, he hadn't had much interest in confronting them with anyone but Ben (and even that was only because he had to).

By now, Klaus has said enough to his brothers and sisters about what he sees -- in the interest of intrafamilial communication -- for Vanya to have probably realized why he had to ask.

"We don't have to do that right now. Come on," he says. He beckons for Vanya to follow him because she's so tiny that tugging on her arm wouldn't seem right, and she obeys anyway so he doesn't really need to. He's sure to keep about half a pace in front of her so she'll be shielded by his capable body in case anything strikes again.

Too bad he didn't think about something coming up behind her, though, and before Ben can warn him to tell Vanya to look out in a game of hurried and futile telephone, Klaus hears his sister gasp before she's pushed right up against his back. Klaus halts but he doesn't stumble, and Vanya grabs onto his arm to stay upright.

He steadies her and then touches her shoulder to make sure she's good, looking around the area to make sense of what might have happened.

"That one just ran into her," Ben says, nodding toward the lithe young woman dashing into Sebastian's arms. He pets her hair and murmurs something while she squeezes her eyes shut, forehead on his chest. "I think she's his girlfriend."

"She seems worth stealing a boat for, huh?" Klaus says, then tilts his head down to address Vanya. "Are you okay?"

"Uh-huh," she says.

"Come on," he repeats.

There are several sets of doors leading into the ballroom. It's necessary, lest it be filled to capacity and create a fire hazard, but everyone is moving away from them and toward the back walls that are made up mostly of tall, multi-story windows reflecting their frightened dispositions against the lonely mystery of the black night sky. It's easy to find their siblings this way, because although Klaus is ready to retreat along with the rest of the guests, he sees Diego, Luther and Allison all rushing in the opposite direction to try and save the day. 

Once they navigate past the initial panicked throng, it's not so hard to catch up.

"Diego," Klaus says when they reach the group, "what's going on?"

"Did you see what happened?" Diego responds urgently.

"No. I wasn't there."

"It came from that corner, where you were standing," Luther says. "You really didn't see anything?"

Klaus sighs. "Didn't see anything. I wasn't there," he repeats.

Five blinks himself into the empty spot next to Vanya.

"Coast is clear," he says. "There's a body, too."

"Great," Diego comments flatly. He and the others move forward to follow Five out into the polished, echoing corridor so they can inspect the tragic and gruesome scene of the crime as a family.

Or not?

"You two stay back here," Luther commands, resting in reluctant agreement with Diego, whose hand is pressed against Klaus' chest to keep him from joining the band.

"What?"

"Why?"

"You're sick," Diego says, no-nonsense and matter-of-fact, even though he's plenty bendable which means that tone doesn't really hold much weight. Never has. "That means you're going to be weak and distracted. Plus, you said it yourself: your powers aren't working right."

"And you haven't been training for long enough to trust that yours will cooperate," Luther adds in regards to Vanya. "Everyone's safer if you both just hang back for now. We don't know whether what happened was an accident, or who might still be out there. We'll come back and let you know when we have more information."

"What, so we're supposed to just, like, fraternize while the rest of you go off and do the important stuff?" Klaus asks. "How's that going to look for the team? "

Truth be told, Klaus doesn't care too much about things like that. Missions are interesting sometimes, but he'd never caught the passion for the greater good like his brothers had. Most of the time, Klaus is content hanging out while the rest of them meander off to do all of the hard work, but he knows Vanya is new to all of this and hasn't had very many opportunities to be used as an asset. This must be sad for her, being told that she's fine to work alongside everyone so long as it's a low-risk situation and the public isn't around to watch.

"It's going to look like we care about our siblings enough not to make them expend themselves when they aren't feeling well," Diego says, "and that we don't throw them cold into the ringer when they haven't been training their whole lives like the rest of us. Just stay here."

"Fine. Ben, do you want to go with them?" Klaus says.

"Yeah," Ben answers. He uncrosses his arms and transitions from his listening posture into his ready-for-battle posture, malleable and enthusiastic.

"Ben's coming," Klaus relays.

"Don't you dare manifest him," Allison says. She looks at the wall where Ben isn't and tells him, "We know you're here, don't worry."

"Orders, orders, orders." Klaus waves a hand and scoffs. "Whatever. Vanya, let's go and conduct some interviews. That's the real important work here, anyway, don't you think?"

Vanya's lost, disappointed affect smoothly changes into one of determination instead. That makes Klaus feel better, at least.

"Follow my lead," he says around the barbs in his throat. "I'll do most of the talking."

Chapter Text

Most of the talking, it turns out, is quite the ticket toward your throat screaming red and your voice rusting into worthlessness. 

A bout of coughing against his shoulder and a few ounces of luscious black tea from a tall bone china cup are enough to get Klaus nearly back up to speed, but at this point Vanya has watched him enough to start to feel familiar with the guests and do just fine taking the lead all on her own. Klaus has always felt bad for her at these parties, not quite understanding what it must be like to be so shy and stuck on the periphery of the spotlight. She's pretty good at things like this once she loosens up, especially now that she's off Reggie's personality killer pills. Hopefully she's starting to believe that, herself.

"You didn't see anyone coming in or out of the doors back there, did you?" she asks a flustered diplomat, who only shakes his head zealously.

"I was getting a cocktail," he explains, cross and frigid. "Which one are you again?"

They sure do love that line.

"I can't believe you don't know, " Klaus says. He looks down at Vanya. "Out of touch. What a shame. Absolute shame. Well, thank you for your time, ambassador. Enjoy your evening."

Poor Vanya. She doesn't really know when to be offended by the public, how to skirt the line between gracious and honorable. People tell Klaus that he doesn't know how to do that either, but he has the experience and intuition to accurately sense most forms of disrespect. While he might tolerate it against himself or even another one of his siblings every once in a while, he doesn't like to see it upon a rookie like Vanya.

As they walk away and search for their next respondent, Vanya says, "Klaus, you sound terrible."

"I feel like I swallowed a sea urchin," he agrees. "But also like someone put a bunch of wool inside my face. You know that feeling? But other than that, I'm peachy keen."

"Maybe we should take a break," Vanya suggests.

"It's okay. Let's go talk to that lady, she's all alone and doesn't seem too upset by the potential murder at the royal ball."

She's one of those old women who looks like she'd bake cookies every day and knit you a sweater every year for Christmas, her voice muzzy and doting, but her temperament turns out to be surprisingly severe and hardy. She almost definitely hasn't been to war -- and Klaus would know -- but she's clearly seen some shit, somewhere down the line of her long and lavish life. Her present and attentive engagement combined with the way she acts like nothing of interest is really happening sends a surprising message.

Her name is Josephine, she tells them, and she's very sweet for someone so apathetic. She continuously offers her napkin to Klaus, who sneezes several times throughout their conversation, and tries to feed Vanya a piece of cake in hopes that it'll get her to settle down. There's a nurturing element there for sure, but without the usual insistence that people wind up when they try to take care of somebody.

"Everything's such a big deal to people these days," she muses once their questioning is over. "I'm sure you'll do what you need to do. I'm not worried."

"You seem like you've seen something like this before," Vanya says.

"Oh, sure," answers Josephine. She doesn't say anything else about it; it's almost like she expects them to pick up on a subtext in a language neither Klaus nor Vanya knows how to speak. "You let me know if you need any help. I'll only be a holler away."

Klaus would like to work with Josephine, if not only because he wants to know what the hell is going on with her, but there's no way Diego is going to trust a stranger to join the gang, especially with Klaus as her recruiter. Ah, well.

"We'll keep you in…" Ow, ow, ow, something sharp tugs on the space between his throat and his chest, and Klaus gasps suddenly into a cough.

"We'll keep you in mind," Vanya finishes. With a soft smile, she stands up. "You okay?"

Klaus clears his throat, careful not to fall into a fit. "Yeah," he answers after a moment, mirroring his sister and shakily getting to his feet as well. "Thanks, Josie. You're a star."

Vanya doesn't say anything when Klaus clears his throat again -- far too roughly -- and makes one of the plates quiver violently on the table to their left. He can tell she sees it happening because she looks right at him once it stops, but she's not assertive enough to address it unless Klaus acknowledges it first. Small mercies. Her intuition has always been pretty solid.

It can't have been more than half an hour since everyone split, but their company seems to have started to calm down and dispersed themselves more evenly throughout the ballroom as opposed to backed up and pressed up against each other near the back walls. It's funny how quickly these people will forget about a terrible event as soon as they stop getting instantaneous information about it and realize it's probably not going to affect them.

He opens his mouth to impart the observation to Vanya, but Klaus can't get a word out before Five teleports a few paces to the left and marches over to them with fervor.

"Where have you been?" he asks tightly.

"Uh, hanging back like you told us to do," Klaus says. "Where have you been?"

"We've been looking for you for almost fifteen minutes." Five taps Vanya on the shoulder, holding his arm around her briefly. Even in his thirteen-year-old body, he's got at least an inch on her. "Family meeting. Let's go." He guides her forward and then turns back to look at Klaus. "You too."

"Obviously me too. Jesus." Klaus rolls his eyes. "What did you find out? Did you catch the killer?"

"Not exactly," Five says. He keeps his head high and his eyes sharp, gliding between the party's dazed guests without excusing himself, clearly unfamiliar with and agitated by having to actually walk somewhere, God forbid, especially with living, upright bodies in his way. Klaus tosses people a low wave every once in a while when Five almost bumps into them.

He leads Klaus and Vanya through the doors in the front, halfway down the room from the area the scream had originally come from. It's dark in the corridor, bronze lanterns glowing orange alongside the polished, marbleized walls, making their siblings appear way too somber and brooding as they whisper their plans and theories to one another across a semi-circle.

Klaus makes eye contact with Ben to try and get a read on what's going on. All Ben does is frown and move his eyes over toward everyone else before he says, "This doesn't look good."

"Finally," Allison says when she sees the three of them come into view. 

"Where the hell have you been?" asks Diego.

"Not my fault if you make up a shitty search party, detective," Klaus says. "We were in plain sight."

"We really weren't trying to hide," Vanya adds.

"Well, just stick with us from now on," Luther says. Vanya tilts her head, verging on offense.

"Why just me?" she asks.

Allison steps closer and says, "We found a note."

"…On the body?" Klaus asks.

"It was in his jacket," Five clarifies.

Klaus huffs. "Pretty sure you're supposed to let the coroner do that," he says.

"That's what I told them!" adds Ben. 

"It was kind of an emergency," Luther says.

He's always so blunted whenever anybody tries to have a little fun. In a way, though, that quality adds to the fun.

"Anyway," continues Allison, "there was a pretty unsophisticated plan covering most of the page, and it wasn't hard to decipher. He was after you, Vanya."

"What?" Vanya says. There isn't much panic in her voice; it's more like a humble flavor of surprise, as though she wouldn't expect anyone to consider her to be valuable enough to capture or attack or whatever this guy was trying to do.

"Wait." Klaus squints and bobs his head back. "That means the killer wasn't evil, then, right?"

"We don't know that," Five says. 

"We don't know who they were," lists Luther, clarifying, "how they knew about this guy's plan, or what their motivations could've been. That's why we can't split up like that again until we get to the bottom of this."

"Okay. How do you propose we go about doing that?" Diego asks.

"I don't know," Luther admits. To Klaus, he says, "Did you talk to anyone suspicious? Or see anyone who… might have seen anything?"

"What, like a ghost?"

"Sure."

"No. The ghosts have been very unhelpful today when they have come out of the billion-dollar woodwork, but thanks for asking about them," Klaus says. He'd tried questioning a couple of the deceased about the gunshot, but they'd all been incredibly useless. "No one in there could give us any leads, either. So."

"What about the man who died?" Allison asks. Klaus hums.

"Not everybody becomes a ghost," he explains. "At least I don't think they do. I only get to see the ones with unfinished business or mortal disturbances, or whatever you want to call it. Everyone else probably just goes wherever they deserve to go. No offense."

Ben just shrugs.

"Well, someone's got to know something," Allison says. "Did anyone see any security cameras?"

"A place like this can afford hidden ones," Five says. "If we watch the tapes I'm sure we'll see who might have left the room or been in the vicinity of the crime as it happened." We'll go and find someone from staff to give us access."

"Who's 'we'?" asks Diego.

Five sighs and says, "Who else wants to come?"

"I'll go," volunteers Vanya. "It's probably better to keep away from all of the action right now."

"Good call," Luther says. "Then I'm going, too. Allison?"

"I'm going to see if I can rumor anyone suspicious into giving us more information," she answers. "The two of you couldn't have covered that much ground in just half an hour, right?"

"Nope, not really," Klaus says. Allison had said something a few months ago about wanting to be more careful with her power for the sake of her upcoming establishment of ethics, but protecting civilian strangers is a lot different from protecting their actual sister, so Klaus is assuming that a good portion of everyone's rules have fallen to the wayside tonight. No complaints here.

"Anyone I should pay attention to?" she adds.

Klaus shrugs.

"All right, then, you and I," Diego says, motioning between Klaus and himself, "can take a walk through the rest of the building."

"You're just assigning it like that so you can keep an eye on me," says Klaus.

"Someone needs to," Diego says. Wow, so he isn't even going to try and deny it. Okay. "More importantly, we're more likely to run into a rogue or a-- or a ghost if we're looking through the uninhabited spaces."

"Ugh. You're gonna make me talk to them, aren't you?"

The look Luther shoots at Klaus isn't a great one, all perturbed like he's half exasperated and half sorry and can't decide what to do. Klaus gives it a rest.

"Ben, why don't you stay in the ballroom? See if anyone says anything incriminating. We'll have a major leg up since they can't see you," Luther says. Ben is standing very far away from the direction in which Luther is giving his order, but he doesn't seem to mind, happy to have been included and given a job to do.

"He's in," Klaus says. "Good idea. Aw, I wish you guys could see him. He's so excited."

"Let's meet in the security room in forty-five minutes," Luther says. "That should give us enough time to do our respective digging."

"So much for the party," Klaus complains.

"Speak for yourself," says Allison. Klaus makes a face at her.

"Forty-five minutes seems like a long time," he adds. "What if we get bored?"

"I'm sure we'll be able to stay entertained," Diego responds, his voice flat and body language very, very antsy. He claps Klaus on the shoulder and starts to guide him down the hall, away from the others. "Let's go, Haley Joel."

Just before Diego steals back the warmth of his own palm, Klaus says, "You wish I was him," as the two of them charge down the hall to follow through with their self-delegated assignment.

Chapter Text

"Do you know who this is? I think I recognize her."

Klaus watches Diego turn around and draw his eyes toward the photograph he's pointing to: a vintage portrait of an old woman hung up regal and shiny on the wall. While most pictures taken at the time depicted their models with a respectable stoicism, this woman seems to be almost scowling, her round features pulled tight.

Diego walks backwards so he can take a better look. "It says she died in the fifties," he says. Klaus sighs, frustrated by the mystery.

"That doesn't mean anything to me."

The glass cracks along the portrait's lips.

With what he has calculated to be a perfectly appropriate quantity of surprise, Klaus directs an imploring gaze toward his brother, whose eyes are just as wide and confused when they connect. Diego's eyebrows are creased close together, concerned, his mouth open just slightly and creating a gap shaped like a lemon.

"Uh…" Diego says.

"Normal ghost energy stuff," Klaus lies flawlessly. "Happens sometimes. Creepy though, huh?"

"You sure?" Diego says.

Klaus walks away and continues on their path down the shadowy hallway. "Yep."

Diego follows him.

"You sound funny," he observes. That's no good.

Klaus sniffles purposefully. The pressure in his head expands and makes him shiver. "Did you forget about the horrendous cold that's taken over my poor, innocent body, Diego? Of course I sound funny."

"I didn't mean like that," Diego broods. The sound of his heavy footsteps says that his paces are wide, and he gets to Klaus only a second later.

It's safer not to engage with him. Diego has never been as articulate as some of their other siblings are, and while he usually can't put a finger on it, he's pretty good at listening to Klaus and pinpointing when something is off. He's not so good at finding out what exactly it might be, but he's so stubborn and entitled that he'll make it the day's mission to get Klaus to fess up without even a second's yield.

Usually, Klaus has the energy to distract him, but right now he's distracted, himself.

"You can put your knives away," he says anyway, over the pounding, tickly feeling behind his cheekbones. "You can't stab a ghost."

"The murderer could have had an accomplice," Diego argues, "and you're unarmed."

Klaus rolls his eyes as they turn a corner. The marble stops and becomes black and white tile, the kind with the tiniest squares like you'd find in a locker room, so Klaus guesses they're about to take the hallway less traveled. Maybe something interesting will happen.

"How long's it been since we did something like this?" he asks. "Most of our missions as kids were pretty straightforward. We never got to split up and explore."

He can tell that Diego is on edge about the change in decór. Poor guy. Klaus keeps talking in an endeavor to get him to calm down.

"Remember when the art thief went into hiding?" He taps Diego's arm to get him down to earth. "Allison tried to use the P.A. system to rumor him into telling us where he was, and then everyone in the museum started spilling all their secrets. Dad was so pissed." 

"I learned a lot about people's broken marriages that I didn't need to know," Diego recalls.

"Probably the most sex education you'd ever had," Klaus says. "How old were we? Eight?"

"Nine."

Klaus sneezes just once, off to the side. "Oh, yeah. That's right. Nine."

"Bless you," Diego says.

"Thanks."

They turn another corner and it's back to marble. So much for distraction. Klaus pushes his hand on the wall to steady himself as he sneezes again.

Diego doesn't say anything that time, just asks, "Do Allison's rumors work on ghosts?"

"Nope." Klaus sniffles and catches up. "Otherwise I'd get her to rumor them to leave me alone."

"Can't you do that already?"

"Sort of, now," Klaus says. "It doesn't always work. And it would've been nice twenty years ago."

He could maybe try it with the man he notices slumped against the wall of the oncoming dead end who is almost definitely not alive, just to see if it'll work. Klaus is pretty tired, but he can see him, which means the thing inside of Klaus connecting him to the netherworld is hanging on by more than just a thread.

For just a moment, he wonders where they go.

"I could see if it works with this guy," he says to Diego with a shrug, and the man doesn't seem to hear him. "Hey."

"Talk to him first," Diego insists.

"Hey," Klaus says again. "Hello? Uh, I think he's asleep."

"Can you… I don't know, wake him up?"

"I have no idea how to do that."

Diego looks at him, pressing him to try.

The icy blue glow around his hands comes on more slowly than the build Klaus is used to, a steady flow of his arid reserves of energy slowly filling the space between the living and the dead. Maybe the presence of it will do something to get the man's attention.

He jumps when a lightbulb shatters a few feet away.

"Shit," Diego says. "Was that you?"

Klaus says, "Uh. No."

His hands start to warm up. The muscles in his arms will probably stop trembling in a moment.

"You sure?"

Of course he's not sure, and neither is Diego, but denying it will get Klaus out of a conversation about it, so he ignores his brother and addresses the ghost below them instead.

"Hey. Heeeey. Hellooooo. Anybody home, man?"

No response. Klaus waves his hand.

"Think he's a lost cause," he says to Diego, who already has a hand on the doorknob next to the guy.

"Figures," he says, then he fastidiously grabs the handle.

"You better stay out of there," the ghost says.

"Jesus!"

Diego stares at Klaus with wide-eyed alarm and says, "What?"

"Oh, so you've been listening to us the whole time?" Klaus says to the man on the ground. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Take your hand off the knob. Don't go in there," the ghost says. Great. So he's one of those.

Klaus turns toward Diego.

"I think he's like a guard," he says. "He does not want us walking through that door. Total broken record. Doesn't seem to be much else upstairs."

Diego says, "Why?" 

"Why what?"

"Why does he want us staying out?"

"Let go, Diego, I think you're pissing him off."

"Ask him why."

"Hold on." Klaus ducks his head down so his lungs can try to escape from his chest. The cough is definitely the worst part of all of this, every time. His eyes prickle as the brief fit fades out.

"Are you okay?"

Klaus clears his throat and says, "So why shouldn't we go inside? …Fuck."

"What?"

"He's gone," Klaus announces. "Oh my God. This is so annoying."

Thoroughly confused, Diego says, "What, did he walk off?"

Klaus sniffles. "Nah. I don't see him anywhere. He's just gone."

"Did you…?"

"I wasn't trying to."

Diego frowns, brimming with disapproval and concern, and twists the knob. "Maybe he's in here," he says.

Flatly, Klaus drolls, "No, Diego, don't do it…" and readily follows along into the room after him.

Thankfully, it's empty, aside from a couple of old couches and a whole lot of dust. Diego pulls the metal-beaded string on a lamp on the other side of the room and says, "Someone was just in here."

"What a dick!" Klaus says. "That ghost was totally trying to sabotage us. It's always the quiet ones."

Diego's ignoring him, skulking alongside the wall in search of more clues. On purpose, Klaus tests out his powers and flips the light on and off to get his brother's attention.

"Oh, shit. It worked that time."

The lights do it again, only now it's an accident.

"What's going on?" Diego asks.

"I think we should keep looking for that guard, or whoever he was," Klaus says. "I think he was withholding information."

"He didn't want to talk, though, did he?"

"Only because we weren't listening to him, either. Probably."

Probably.

"This looks like it could have been the murderer's hideout," Diego argues. "We'll have more luck looking here."

"Okay, you stay here and keep playing detective," Klaus says, "And I'll go and--"

Diego turns his head sharply and says, "No way. We're not splitting up."

"You don't want to cover more ground?"

"You're just trying to skip out so you can go back to the party."

"Whoa. That's a good idea. I didn't even think of that!" Klaus taps on the wall next to the door frame. "I'm not much help anyway. Can't sense a thing. So I'll see you--"

"Klaus."

"--later."

He spins on his heels and ignores the way it makes his head swim, his sinuses heavy and aching with plenty of help from the lack of ventilation in the room.

Diego doesn't throw anything at Klaus to stop him, but when he does speak up, it has just about the same effect.

"Come and look at these footprints," is what he says. Klaus halts in the doorway.