„Where are we?”
They should have been in the past. Vanya shouldn’t have been awake yet after using so much of her powers, looking around with fearful eyes. Five doesn’t know what went wrong with his jump. The weight of his siblings must have tipped the scale.
But this grey setting of a movie isn’t where they should have ended up. Of that he’s sure. The place is chilly, a sort of icy fog sinking into his bones, wrapping around his limbs. A glance at his siblings on the ground make him do a double take.
“What the fuck?”
Klaus blinks his eyes open at Five’s raspy voice. He groans at the familiar chill to his skin without having to look at the dull sky to know where he is. He sits up, seeing his brothers do the same, Five is getting to his feet while Allison throws herself at Vanya. Raising a pale, ashen hand, he swallows down a whine and puts a hand onto his forehead.
And bursts out laughing.
He ignores Luther telling him to shut it, this is no laughing matter and laughs. Until his lungs are burning, shoulders shaking and his voice cracks.
“Five, where the hell are we?”
Vanya’s crying. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to!”
“How the hell should I know? Something went wrong.” Five says, voice sharp and stressed. “I told you this could happen.”
Why he’s stressed, Klaus has no idea. They’re done for if they’re here, there’s no fixing their problems via time travel from getting themselves a one-way ticket to this place. Wrong is a nice way to put the unspoken elephant in the room and he doesn’t dare break the fragile illusion his brother harbors.
Five, who’s spent his whole life, whole timelines running after them, to make sure they survive would take it the hardest.
Klaus doesn’t want to see him break over speaking out what they must already know.
“Vanya it’s okay!”
Silence falls over them.
“Your…Allison your throat.” Luther says in a faint voice. “You’re…you’re speaking.”
He sounds so happy over the fact, Klaus curls up tighter to disappear. He pulls his legs to his chest, arms wrapping around them and rests his chin on his knees, glancing to see his sisters embracing each other with relieved and joyous smiles and tear bright eyes.
His blood runs cold.
“Wait, hang on—” All eyes stray to him, at the sheer panic squeezing his throat to make these tortured noises. “—you…you don’t know where we are?”
They must know. How could they not? The ashen landscape around them with its frigid cold air, the washed-out trees and flowers and sky, nothing but his clothes are vibrant, too bright to look at. They stand out like a sore thumb against his snow-white skin, a sharp contrast speaking of a threshold.
If Klaus recognized this place for what it was the first time he set foot onto dry earth and icy wet grass, his siblings must know.
Except, Five’s lips twist into a frown and he stares down his nose and says, “That’s what happens when you get lost in time-travel. You’re lost.” Like he’s speaking to a small child trying to explain why the sky is blue.
No, no, no.
The realization his brother, the smartest of geniuses, doesn’t know he’s dead—Klaus would have to tell him, tell his brothers and sisters they died, Christ—sends a shiver down his spine like death itself is caressing his back.
He can’t do this again.
Diego steps closer and how does he not notice his missing Shadow? Klaus swallows down bile and flinches back. Shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut against the sting like if he tries hard enough to ignore them, they’ll go away.
“Stop the dramatics,” Five says surly, always quick to fall back on anger when he thinks he messed up to hide facing and owning up to the embarrassment.
“I’ll get us back as soon as I have enough energy to do another jump.”
There’s a whining noise of pain wrung from someone’s chest. Klaus raises his head to look whose, only to find his siblings staring at him with blatant concern.
Oh. The noise came from him.
“You can’t bring us back, Five.”
Outrage twists Five’s hidden concern into a glower. “What do you know? Of course, I can—”
“You can’t—” Klaus says, breath hitching. They don’t know, they don’t know—
How could he tell them? It’s not fair he has to break the news. They won’t believe him, the liar, the disappointment and it will only hurt them more when they realize the reason behind Allison’s healed voice is the fact in the afterlife nothing hurts.
Nothing but the hard truth that’s all you’ll be. Free of pain but also of feeling and happiness in a way the living takes for granted.
“—bring us back. There’s no coming back from death, not for you at least.”
The words get stuck in his throat, bitter and too harsh to voice with Five’s bright eyes staring at him in betrayal for doubting his abilities after he’s proved himself countless times.
Five’s eyes have color. Rising to his feet, shouldering past Diego he leans forward, hands braced on his knees to stare at his brother, who scowls and leans away—but doesn’t step back, because that would take away his ground, would be a weakness and Five never backed off even when knowing better—into his eyes.
His pale blue eyes. Baby blues of a foggy sky, the silk of their childhood pijamas and Klaus doesn’t blink as his gaze wanders. Five’s skin is a shade off, not as bright and pale like Klaus’s own Snow White, but darker. The uniform is black and white instead of red and blue.
He misses Five narrowing his eyes, leaning closer until he’s peering into his face with the pensive frown, he usually offers to the scribbles of math equations on his bedroom walls.
“You know where we are.” It’s not a statement, but a demand for answers.
Klaus laughs nervously and shifts back, to get away from these accusing eyes in favor to hide behind a clueless smile.
Don’t make me say it.
He doesn’t deny the words. Instead he looks around and sees nothing but a road. Full of ashen trees and flowers leading into the distance where his sight fails him. There’s no house, no barber shop around and it’s a small relief he soaks up to gain a bit of warmth into his frozen blood, to make his smile more real.
“Why don’t you take a walk?” He says with the excitement Ben died with, pointing into the distance where the road blends into fog, finger shaking. “Clear your smart little head and afterwards, you can try—” He bites the inside of his cheek hard enough to bleed. “—and get us out of here, you grumpy little genius.” He winks.
Liar. His heart clenches around the word, imaging Ben standing next to him to shake his head like the disappointed ghost he was.
Shut up, shut up, shut up!
“What’s up with you?” Five takes a step closer instead of away.
Klaus ignores the unease in his voice, the way he ignores the ghosts following him daily.
“Me?” He points at himself, rocking back on his heels. “I’m just dandy, brother dear! Never been better if I do say so myself. There’s nothing to worry about, so go off.” He waves a hand to shoo him away with a grin.
“We shouldn’t split up.” Allison says, pulling Vanya to her feet. “We could get lost.”
“It’s a one-way street,” Klaus throws out a hand towards the road. “How the hell would you get lost in a one-way street? There’s only one way to go!”
Vanya flinches at his loud voice, curling into herself. “You want me to go away,” She says, eyes bright with unshed tears. “You’re…you’re scared of me.” She wipes at her eyes, shaking her head when Allison glowers at him, tightening the arm around her shoulders. “It’s okay! I…I get it with everything I did—"
“Vanya, no it’s not—” Allison says, shooting him a glare. “—you don’t need to go.”
You all need to go. Klaus doesn’t say. Couldn’t bring himself to scream when Ben’s heartbroken look a day before his funeral flashes across his mind at hearing them, not with Vanya shaking like a leaf in her pale white suit.
“You don’t see me getting scared when Five has a temper tantrum, do you?” He says instead, Vanya’s head snapping up to meet his gaze. “Sure, seeing you blow up Luther’s second home was a little…much, but maybe he’ll stop talking about it now that it’s gone. You’re tiny. I see dead people. Why would I be scared of someone who cried when we stepped on ants as kids?”
“You remember that?” Vanya’s sniffs, a hope lighting up in her eyes—a soft shade of brown—and Klaus snorts, running a hand through his hair.
“How could I forget?” She’d be near inconsolable for reasons he couldn’t understand.
Diego’s eyebrows shot into his hairline. “You can barely remember most of your twenties.”
“Well, yeah,” Klaus says slowly, putting his hands on his hips. “Why would I remember all the bad stuff? Sure, I was high as a kite most of the time but those memories are unimportant. So, who cares if I remember those?”
Vanya’s lips quiver. “And…and I’m not?”
“No,” Klaus can’t help the way he throws his hands into the air, to express the disbelief and anger festering in his lungs with his body to stop himself from shouting his throat raw. Better not antagonize wayward spirits with his loud voice or he’ll have to put up with dear Daddy one last time.
“Jesus, why are you all so stubborn?” He’s ready to tear his hair out to get them to listen.
“You’re not unimportant. Even when we thought you didn’t have powers; you were never unimportant. Ordinary? Sure, but that doesn’t mean we thought you better off gone. Remember that time I sneaked into your room to hear you play despite the way you were butchering through your first songs on the violin?”
She nods shakily, mirroring Allison’s look of confusion.
“There!” He points at her, watching her jump. “That had nothing to do with you having powers, did it? You were just tiny, mousy Vanya, drowning out the screaming ghosties. Powers don’t make you better. You gave me plenty of good memories just being your socially awkward self.”
Her face softens, tears spilling over her cheeks. He clamps his mouth shut, turning his head away from her face, never one to deal with tears without starting to cry as well.
What a fucking mess.
“Isn’t that touching?” A childish voice drawls behind him. “Sweet enough to give me cavities.”
Diego’s hands reach for his knives, coming up empty handed. Luther tenses up, drawing to his full height in an act of intimidation while Allison pulls Vanya behind her, stepping forward to shield her. Five bristles, hands flexing without glowing blue.
Klaus simply turns around. Waves with the hand showing off his “Hello” tattoo.
The little girl looks seconds away from strangling him.
“Hi,” He shuffles his feet like he’s twelve again, caught with stealing from the bar by his Mom. “We need a room for seven. No double beds, please.”
She hits him with the basket of flowers she’s carrying. He yelps, jumping back with a wince, holding his arm.
“Klaus,” Allison sighs, melting at the sight of a child like the mother she is and walks closer to crouch a foot away from the girl. “Hello there, where are you parents?” She smiles.
The little girl doesn’t spare her a glance, turning her dark eyes onto Klaus.
“Back so soon?” She bares her teeth in a smile. “I told you, it’s not your time. I didn’t mean for you to come back two days later. With baggage.” She wrinkles her nose distastefully. Klaus sees Five scowl at the way she addresses them like dirt on her pristine white shoes.
“This is not your friend’s house!”
“Whoopsie?” He scratches at the back of his head. “Wait, hang on, what do you mean it’s not my time yet? Again? Really?”
The world ended. How could he go back to the living when everything was dead?
“I don’t want you here.” She points out, cocking an eyebrow at his skepticism. “You can’t stay. I’ve told you this already.”
Dread twists his stomach into knots as he gapes at her righteous fury. She’s serious, dead serious about sending him back to hell. Literal hell on earth. His skin breaks out in cold sweat.
“Tough luck,” He says with a laugh, crossing his arms across his chest and sits down cross-legged to stare up at her. “I’m not leaving without them.” He jerks his chin towards his siblings, pausing when he sees Five’s wide eyes.
His brother is staring at the little girl like she’s the apocalypse, eyebrows furrowed in horror as his jaw hangs a little open, hands slack and limp at his side.
When their eyes met Klaus tears his gaze away. He’s seen one sibling come to the realization they’re dead, he doesn’t want to see the rest of them shatter upon finding out they’ll be stuck with him when God throws his ass back out.
“That’s not how it works,” She says with a sigh, like he’s being stubborn to be a pain. Not because the thought of abandoning his siblings scares him to near madness. “You know that’s not how it goes.”
She huffs out a breath. “Yes!”
“How?” He throws up his hands into the air, the grass he’s ripped out falling around him like cheap confetti. “Just because I talk to damned dead doesn’t mean I understand how death and the afterlife works!”
A sharp gasp.
Oh fuck. Shit, shit, shit.
“We’re…we’re dead?” Luther is the first to find his voice. “We’re dead?” He sounds so small, unlike his tall frame packed full of muscles and assured confidence of being Number One, like the time Reginald actually scolded him for breaking a plate with his strength.
There’s a sob, a whimper and Klaus doesn’t dare look at any of them. He stares down God with quivering lips, biting down on them to stop the hysterical laughter bubbling up his throat. If he laughs now, he’ll end up crying in full blown sobs.
Figures the only time his power would be useful would be to tell his family they’re dead. To have them close, but always far out of reach, to let them watch him spiral down the rabbit hole without coming up for air in his grief.
“Welcome to the afterlife,” He spreads out his hands, “The host is a little shit.”
She ignores his comment like he hasn’t said anything worthwhile to speak of.
“That’s because you’ve given up on yourself, on death, long before you learned how to live.”
Klaus scoffs, nails digging into the palms of his hands. “Like I haven’t heard that one before. Stole that line from dear old Reggie? What, he’s not gonna show up to help you write poetry about what a disappointment I am?”
“Klaus, get over here.” Five’s urgent demand has him turn around on instinct to look over his shoulder. “Don’t provoke, don’t pick a fight. Just stay quiet.”
Any protest falls silent on his lips when he sees the tremor in his brother’s outstretched hand, gesturing for him to hurry over.
“Surely,” Five says, childish voice losing its harsh touch, trying to play into the part of a child to gain sympathy. “there can an arrangement made? For…for my brother at least? Since his time isn’t here yet.”
The little girl doesn’t bat an eye, doesn’t answer.
It’s the closet he’s heard his brother come to pleading and Klaus bristles when she doesn’t deign him worth her attention. An answer whether that be a rejection or a simply glance of distaste.
“Hey,” Klaus says sharply. “Quit ignoring him. Why aren’t you talking to any of them?”
“Why would I?” She scowls, tossing dark hair over her shoulder. “I don’t talk to the people that come here.”
He doesn’t understand. “You talk to me. Every time!” Even when he wishes she didn’t. Having him met dear old Dad instead of the love of his life still stung like salt in fresh wounds.
“You’re not welcome here,” She reminds him. “Nor are you like the rest.”
“I’m dead.” He says, seeing Luther and Diego flinch at the admission out of the corner of his eyes. “Shouldn’t that give me free entry to this place?”
“No, not for you.”
“I’ll go,” He gestures to his siblings with a hand. “If you sent them back with me. Deal?”
For a moment, he sees her eyes soften, like she’ll crave to the desperate plea his voice melted into and do him a favor. Then, she shakes her head, firm and final and something in his chest spiderweb cracks.
“I can’t send them back.”
“Bullshit,” His vision blurs into a smear of blood, flashing red like traffic lights. “If you can send me back then—” He cuts himself abruptly, gasping. “You can’t.” He says, breathless with the rush of a high he never got to experience as realization lights him up like a Christmas tree.
Diego’s stutter is faint to the pulse skipping beats of victory in his ears. “Wh—What?”
“You can’t make me,” Klaus claps his hands together, giddily rocking forward to peer into her face. She looks like she’s bitten into a rotten apple. “You can’t throw me out! Can’t, can’t, can’t! That’s why I rub you the wrong way! Because I can stay and you can’t kick me out.”
You can’t make me! He’s drunk on unbidden glee.
Finally, something his powers were good for. He can stay with his siblings, can maybe see Dave if he searches long enough—he’s got eternal peace for the rest of his days, he’ll search forever if he has to—and there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about that.
The hands gripping his shoulders from behind turn him around, fingers digging into his flesh. Five is kneeling in front of him, throwing the girl dirty looks before they focus on his face.
The sound of his name being spoken in such a grave tone, soft like Five isn’t, makes alarm bells roar to life inside his mind. It throws a bucket of ice over the flames of happiness inside his heart, pulls him back to crash to earth from his high.
He doesn’t want to hear what Five has to say with such gentle, pitiful eyes.
“Listen to me, idiot.” Small thumbs press into his flesh. “I know you don’t want to—"
“Listen, I know you don’t want to do it but I need you to conjure Dad for us.”
“Understatement of the year!” He tries to shake off Five. But his brother latches onto him with the desperation of a drowning man to a floating piece of wood.
“—but you need to go back.”
Klaus bursts into tears.
There are many things Five regrets. A lifetime full of shame. Not paying attention to his siblings, to Vanya. Ignoring their issues, his own flaws and brushing them off in favor for the greater good, to name a few.
There’s no guilt in trying to survive, to get back home to what he loves and misses, so he flicks off blood from his dirty hands, the lives he’s taken a weight he carries around with barely any effort. His tendencies for murder, violence and his talent to hurt people scream psychopath and he wears the title with pride whenever he needs to and indifference when he doesn’t.
All he does is hurt. People, himself and his family. Only one of those three things are utterly unacceptable in his mind and much like his regrets, the desperate affection lurking in his heart only ever extends to his brothers and sisters. He doesn’t give a fuck about the world, about the people living their lives because to him, his siblings are his world.
Which is why, he can’t accept this.
“No, no, no!” Klaus is a mess of tears, not losing his vibrancy even in the face of death. “I don’t want to go, I don’t wanna go. You can’t make me!”
The desperate cries of a lonely boy. Five imagines he must have spent quite a lot of conversations like these with their Dad and hates himself for what he’s about to do.
“Don’t be selfish,” He says without sympathy, feeling his brother flinch underneath his hands. “You get the chance to go back, to fix this mess and you’re refusing because what? You’re afraid? Christ, think about the big picture here.”
It’s not fair. To let out his anger at having killed his family out on his brother, but Five doesn’t care about cruelty. All he cares about is getting his brother back to life. If he has to shove him down from heaven, he will. No matter how far the fall will be.
Klaus has always given in to them, even at his worst.
“Why should I?” He spits out, gives Five’s shoulder a shove, and he falls backwards at the unexpected act of violence. “I didn’t want to go back the first time! Now, you’re telling me to suck it up for what? A chance for a life where all of us are happy?” He lets out a brittle laugh that turns halfway into a sob. “When were all of us ever happy?”
“I don’t need happiness,” Five snaps, gripping his brother’s green vest. “I need you alive! Do you want us dead?” He gives the collar a little shake.
“Of course not!” Klaus flails with his arms, eyeliner smudged and eyes puffy. “But I don’t want to be alive either! Not without you.” He adds at Vanya’s horrified gasp.
“The Commission will come for you,” Five says, takes a deep breath, “In a few years. You can take a briefcase and travel back, okay?”
Diego crosses the distance, sinks down next to them to throw an arm around Klaus’s shoulder, pulling him close, for once not looking uncomfortable at showing kindness. His eyes are glassy and pained, the fragile quality of a mirror reflecting what Five feels but cannot express without messing up, the sort of affection he gives Mom when she frowns at them paddling into her infirmary after training.
“He’s right.” Diego says quietly, letting Klaus lean into him. “Even if he’s an ass about it.”
The rest of their siblings shuffle over until they’re sitting in a circle, the little girl observing them with keen, cool eyes from a distance.
Five will kill the next preacher coming to their door to shout about the love of God as soon as he’s alive. With a cross to make his point and he’ll fucking relish in the cries and blood he’ll spill.
“There’ll be so many ghosts.” Klaus sniffles, shivering at the thought. “I’ll just end up back here because I’ll go mad.”
“We’ll be there.” Vanya reaches out to take his hands into her own, squeezing. “Just…just like Ben, okay? We’ll be there with you.” She tries for a smile but it falls flat on her tear-stained face.
Allison nods, nudging him from his other side. “You can make us corporal, remember?”
“I don’t know how to get back,” Klaus says, “Last time everything just went black.” He perks up, turning to look at the little girl with the basket. “Wanna explain that one to me?”
Five tenses up at the disrespectful tone, waiting for a reaction and bracing himself to shield them from a, a blast of lightning? He doesn’t know what only that it would be painful and unpleasant.
Instead she rolls her eyes. “Unbelievable,” She shakes her head, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You’re the doorway between life and death and you don’t have a clue about trespassing into the afterlife? No, of course you don’t. You’re more of a window I can’t get shut, letting the wind blow around my paperwork and mess up my office.”
“Terribly sorry,” Klaus rises to his feet, brushing off dust that isn’t there. “My powers didn’t come with an instructions manual, just the screaming dead, so if you had a few pointers that’d be great. Might want to tell me how to shut them up while you’re at it if you don’t want me barraging in here when you’re having a tea party.”
“Why, thank you.” Klaus beams, clasping his hands over his heart. “Hurry up, though, before I change my mind.” His eyes dart to them, weary and impossibly sad.
Five can’t recall a time he’s felt like shit for getting what he wanted. Even his jump to the end of the world didn’t compare to the way what little of his heart he has shrivels up inside his chest to drop to the bottom of his stomach.
“Remember this—" She gestures with a delicate hand, encompassing their group. “—this is payback for showing up unannounced, twice, without permission. I don’t want to see you again. Not before I say it’s time, got it? You’re far too guidable and a horrible guest.”
If Five had his way, his brother wouldn’t show up at all. None of them would.
“Sure, Dad,” Klaus makes a face, shoulders hunched up to his ears. “Let’s get this over with, yeah? Got a schedule to keep, a ghost to come back to.”
“I’m watching you.” She warns, an ominous promise but Klaus only flashes her a crooked grin and a peace sign.
A violent gust of wind hits them, the trees rustling and they shield their eyes as dirt is hurled up into their faces. When Five blinks his eyes open after the wind settles, the little girl in the white summer dress is gone.
But Klaus is still there. Looking at himself in confusion, scratching at his head and patting himself up and down to make sure he is solid. He glances around, freezing when something catches his attention and Five follows his line of sight, the path not a one-way street anymore but leading up to a small pound with a bench—
“Dad?” Luther says, eyes widening.
“Oh, come on!” Klaus shouts, sounding furious and they flinch away from the outburst of sudden anger, the noise a rarity to hear. “Not this shit again! I’m ready to leave, not to go to hell, the fuck do we need him here for? Criticism?”
“…did you call him here?”
Klaus rounds on Allison, gapping in full offense.
She flushes, lowering her head. “Right, sorry.”
“We should speak to him.” Luther is already walking forward; towards the bench their Father is waiting on. There’s not an ounce of joy on his face at seeing him again but Diego still bristles.
“Fuck that, we—”
“We should yell at him a little, call him names and then when I’m feeling better try to find a way to get me back to Ben and turn you into little Caspers, so that you can relieve Benny of his babysitter duties for a bit.”
Klaus storms off, passing Luther in his approach, head held high and they follow him, Vanya and Allison bringing up the rear.
“Daddy!” Klaus calls out with fake cheer, stopping a foot away. “How does it feel to be the cause of the apocalypse? Look, I’m calling a family meeting minus Ben to call you out like last time. Fun times, I know, but hey, better late than never. That’s what we said about your death, by the way.”
Christ, Five thinks fondly, the corners of his lips twitching up against his will. Vanya giggles, the sound a tad bit hysterical but in this state—dead—she’s as dangerous as a kitten and more breakable than glass.
“Number Four,” Reginald begins, lips twisting into a disapproving frown. The instinctual reaction of seeing Klaus.
Luther steps forward, laying a hand on their brother’s shoulder and says, “That’s not his name.”
“You’re wasting time.” Their Father continues, narrowing his eyes at Luther before his gaze turns back to Klaus, a clear dismissal for his Number One. “This foolish behavior will get you nowhere but into death’s permanent embrace.”
“Are you going senile in your old age?” Klaus raises an eyebrow. “I’m already dead.” He says cheerfully, like his death was something joyous to rub into Reginald’s face like his drugs.
Reginald merely blinks to the news. “It is a relief to hear you can recognize your own state even if you remain obvious to the states of your brothers and sisters.”
It’s the obvious distain, the clear implication in his voice disregarding their brother’s mental capacities to be smarter than a village idiot that gets Five’s to act before thinking.
He darts forward, pulling back his fist and punches Reginald across the face.
He tries to. But his fist goes right through their Dad’s face, eyes wide and angry when Five pulls his hand away and Klaus makes a noise two parts dying whale and one parts of finding a hidden stash of drugs in his room after being clean too long.
What the fuck.
“What the fuck.” Allison echoes and Five isn’t as offended about sharing a thought with his sister, considering there were worse options among them.
“Number Five—” Reginald hisses, rising to his feet to tower over him, but Klaus steps forward and shoves him—actually shoves him back down onto his ass on the bench and grins like he won the lottery, staring at his hand.
“You’re not dead!” He cries in glee, ducking under Reginald’s swat to the back off his head with an uncomfortable reflex none of them want to think about. “Holy shit, you’re actually alive in the afterlife!”
“Number Four,” Reginal barks out, causing them all to tense at reflex. “Cease this nonsense at once and act your age. This matter needs to be sorted out, lest all your siblings will join you and me sooner rather than later.”
“I’m so dumb,” Klaus shakes his head, squinting at each off them with laser eyes like intensity causing Diego to shift uneasily and Vanya to flush and look away. “You’re not looking like him,” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder at Reginald sitting on the bench, “I mean, sure, your clothes look like they belong into a sixties movie now, but your eyes have color and your skin is a shade too dark to rival his kind of white, no offense to you sister dear.”
“Uh, what?” Allison blinks, smiling weakly. “None taken.”
“Hang on, if you’re not dead why are you here then?”
Reginald purses his lips, voice tense. “That would be because of you.”
“What?” Klaus spins around, eyes wide in alarmed horror. “I’m doing this?” He asks quieter than they’ve ever heard him all those years, small and young and uncertain of himself.
“Do you know of someone else having the ability to cross over the in-between bridge between death and life?”
Reginald doesn’t offer any reassurances.
“Who was also present when Number Five attempted another time-travel jump and got his calculations wrong? Honestly, boy, I’m beginning to think you’ve killed every braincell with poison.”
“How do you know?” Five cuts in. “That I got my calculations wrong?”
“I was watching you children.” Reginald pauses. “After our last conversation got interrupted by your rather rude resurrection, I expected you to show up soon after. When you didn’t, there was nothing else to do but watch.”
“I tried to conjure you on the night I came back, the night before your funeral—”
Klaus snaps, breath ragged and steps away when Diego reaches out to steady him when he starts shaking. Luther shares a bewildered glance with Allison at the confession, remembering the clear and firm rejection of attempting such a thing after asking.
“—but of course, you couldn’t bother to show up. Stubborn prick. Of course, I needed to die to see you again. Anything less dramatic wouldn’t get you to come when I actually try to give you a phone call. What did you want me to do after waking up? Kill myself so I could listen to you call me a disappointment again?”
“I didn’t believe you would have minded,” Reginald says, “Considering you seemed all too happy to hear the news of your death last time.”
“What?” Five’s head snaps towards his brother, spine going rigid. “Care to explain?”
While Klaus was fumbling for the right words, shrinking underneath’s Five’s harsh glare, Luther takes a step forward.
“You expected our brother to kill himself to see you again?”
The sheer horror in his rising voice causes Vanya to flinch into Allison’s supportive arm around her shoulder. Luther is staring at Reginald with wide eyes, every muscle tense to the point of anticipation, like he’s waiting for their Dad to say the punchline, to deny his words.
“Number Four knew I held vital information regarding the apocalypse.”
Reginald’s eyes dart towards Vanya, not bothering to elaborate and Luther staggers back, shaking his head, blood draining from his face and making him rival the color of the dead.
“Klaus wants to know how he kicks his siblings out of here and back to life,” Klaus says in a raised voice, shaking off Five’s heated gaze while snapping his fingers to get them all back on track. “Seriously, tell me and we’ll be gone and you can go back to playing tennis with Hitler or to your barber shop, whatever the fuck you do aside from stalking us.”
Ignoring the second half of that sentences they turn to Reginald, each of them eager to leave.
“The only one who has an answer to that is yourself.”
“And here I thought I was the useless one,” Klaus says, “But no, that’s just you. If you don’t want to help fuck off.” He plops down on the bench as far as he can from Reginald, burying his face into his hands.
“Always so quick to give up,” Reginald sighs. “I’ve told you to focus, Number Four and try to control your abilities rather than to write them off.”
Five watches his brother curl tighter into himself and decides he has enough of their Dad’s bullshit.
“Go away,” He snarls, sitting down between them on the bench. “He can’t focus with you around, so if you don’t want the world to end, do everybody a favor and go back to hell.”
Reginald narrows his eyes, the sight usually enough to make him watch his tongue as a boy, but he doesn’t reprimand, merely stands up.
“Do rethink your choice of distance in your calculation and adjust your siblings to the equations in terms of conscience upon the arrival of your destination, rather than mere numbers of weights you need to pull along, Number Five.”
He walks off into the distance to disappear into fog. Five stares after him, waiting to see if he doesn’t reappear before turning to his brother, filtering the information into the back of his mind for now. Fuck the old man for having a point.
“He’s gone now.” He informs stiffly. “Now, let’s sort out this mess. None of us have a good grasp of your ability, so you’ll have to do the thinking for once. My powers rely on calculations and stamina, Vanya’s on sound. You must have a common ground between life and death, right? A trigger, or an anchor.”
Mind already sorting through the possible theories in his mind, he’s not ashamed to admit he’s lost in the concept of a death formula. He doubts telling Klaus to clear his head and to wish them back into their bodies will do anything but get his blood pressure to rise when it fails, so he doesn’t offer the suggestion. Finding an exit won’t do and the risks off wandering too far, the general risk of exploring this place which could lead them to get stuck and die for real are too serve to consider as a solution.
Five frowns, a bit annoyed at having his thoughts interrupted. “What?”
“Ben isn’t here,” Klaus says, raising his head to count them, as if something as big as Ben’s presence among them could be missed. “Even though we were in contact when I came here.”
“So?” Vanya asks hesitantly, adjusting the tie on her suit, pulling at her collar to get a bit more breathing room.
Klaus wets his lips, unsure about what he’s about to say with all the eyes on him. Diego gives him a sharp nod, prompting him to continue as they listen with rapid attention.
“—he’s not here because he doesn’t have a body. Y’know, being a ghost and all, there’s no ties to a physical vessel and if I dragged him along, he wouldn’t be able to come back, he’d have to stay.”
“Because there’s no anchor in the real world, not without you at least.”
Five nods at the reasonable explanation, unwilling to write it off with the skeptical glances Luther shares with Allison and Vanya’s small frown. Diego takes the word as face value, knowing better than to doubt the possible reasoning after seeing Ben for the first time in years at the theater. With a power that people can’t see, or find plain unnerving, it was hard to believe Klaus without having proof.
“It doesn’t explain why you died and we did not.”
“Maybe it was just a freaky reflex?” Klaus’s brows furrow, deep in thought. “The prick said you got it wrong and that could have killed us, so maybe, and that’s a big maybe, I recognized the signs of death and did a Houdini? Like pulling us to the safety of the afterlife before the messed-up time travel killed us and because I brought us here, I died?”
Like the most morbid trade off in history. It made a stunning amount of sense, Five had to admit and he hums to let his brother know he was listening.
“How do you recognize death in a flashing blue light?” Allison says doubtfully, hurrying to clarify when Klaus looks at her in resigned hurt, turning away and gritting his teeth.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you’re speaking nonsense but…is that a thing? That you can do? See death before it happens?”
“I dunno—” He reaches up to take hold of the dog tag. “—death just feels familiar to me? Y’know, the ghosts bring along this…this chill, I guess? Case in point, this place—” He gestures at the trees and sky with his free hand. “—feels cold, right? No matter how many layers you have on you, the freezing chill doesn’t go away. There’s a heaviness, not necessarily burdensome, but the pressure of something is there, like you’re not alone and it pings up in my head whenever I get back from a high or when Ben shows up.”
The long glances around the room frowning at nothing, hands tightening around a fork moments before Klaus would flinch at an unheard noise during breakfast, the shivers before stepping into a bank where a robbery takes place and whirling around to stare at a corpse with grim anticipation.
“Like the tugs I feel when I’m about to jump,” Five proposes, on board with the theory. “You feel it itching and let it pull you along and instead of finding yourself across the room like me, you end up here.”
“I guess?” Klaus unfurls, tight muscles relaxing with a breath. All at a bit of positive attention. “I never came here before I died, so I’m not an expert. Or at least died sober. Never visited the little girl after an overdose.” He clarifies at the wide-eyes stares, clearing his throat awkwardly.
“But yeah, since I’m clean, maybe my body knew better than me, unconsciously and dragged me here with you guys along for the ride because we were all holding hands like besties. Ben was safe so he didn’t get a ride by yours truly and it is kinda like how I made Ben go all tentacle monster like in the theater. Didn’t know I could do that either.”
“What else can you do?”
Diego shakes his head, rubbing at his forehead like he’s getting rid of a headache. Five knows he can’t get one because his body doesn’t feel like he’s been torn apart by the hooks of the universe pulling at his molecules.
“I’ve got to ask, because you went from “I can see dead people” to the human equation of a surprise bag. In a few days of being sober to boot. Anything else we need to know?”
“Not that I know off.”
“Good. Now that we’ve got a theory on how we got here; can we try to leave?”
“Fine, fine,” Klaus rises to his feet, wiping off his hands on his pants and stretches. He turns to them, holding out his hands. “Alright, so, my best bet is we’re gonna stand exactly how we stood down at the stage and I’ll try not to fuck up and get our souls or ghosts into the wrong bodies.”
“But—” Luther’s face pinches, eyes darting towards Vanya with the look of someone about to hold a ticking time bomb.
“Suck it up, buttercup,” He pats him on the shoulder, feeling Diego grab his hand. “Or do you wanna stay here? I’m not leaving if one of you stays, that deal is off the table since I knew I was the only actual dead one.”
He hears Allison whispering with Vanya, tapping his foot impatiently and feeling Diego give his hand a firm squeeze.
“It’s freaky, seeing you so pale.”
Five stalks up to them, standing in place. “It’s not like he’s got a better tan when he’s not dead.”
“Touché, brother of mine,” Klaus tugs at Diego’s hand when he flinches. “C’mon, I’m not even staying dead! Relax, I’m gonna pull a Jesus act. Think long hair would suit me?”
“I’ve never seen anything you didn’t pull off aside from the drugs.” Luther says, shifting on his feet when all stares turn to him, he flushes. “What? It’s true.”
“Wow, you’re not just nicer to Ben when he’s dead,” Klaus snorts, watching Vanya shuffle closer with an uncomfortable frown on her face. “I’ll keep that in mind next time you’re being an asshole. Now that we’re complete, let’s try to hurry back to Ben before he gets any angrier than he already is.”
Luther awkwardly sweeps Vanya off her feet, who goes stiff as a board in his arms, not daring to breath and reaches for his hand. Five takes hold of Diego’s and Allison’s and Klaus instructs them to close their eyes so he can concentrate without being gawked at.
Minutes pass and nothing happens.
“Alright, so try talking to each other. Turns out with all the screaming ghosts around usually, the silence is giving me the heebie-jeebies.”
Diego is the first one to speak, their eyes all still closed. “I thought about seeing Dora again.”
Klaus tightens his hold onto Diego’s palm as Five makes a noise of recognition.
“That lady of yours?”
“Yeah.” A pause. “But she would have kicked my ass for showing up so soon, wouldn’t have let me stay with her when I’m not dead.”
As much as it pains him to do so, Klaus lets Diego’s words wash over him without listening to their meaning. Their voices are blending together, none of them asking him to hurry, not even Vanya who’s no doubt unhappy with the situation.
He thinks about Ben instead, who got left behind. His hand firm on his shoulder, his shadow. The blue light bathing the room, the crackling of Five’s power in the air, the smell of ozone potent in the room and the heat of his brothers’ hands grounding him, not letting go. Imagines himself walking out a door, stepping into a summer breeze instead of the cool air of winter.
The lights behind his eyes grows darker, the chatter of his siblings’ fainter until the noise dies out and someone gives him a shove, the phantom of a hand pressing between his shoulder blades to make him stumble forward.
A flash of blue fills their vision, Five shouts out curses and a popping noise rings out.
The world lurches sideways and the blue light vanishes.
Luther barely avoids throwing up on Vanya when they find themselves in the garden in the rain, shoving her unconscious form to Allison who falls onto her ass from the impact of having time-traveled and he vomits onto the wet grass near their Dad’s ashes.
Five is flat out cold, slumping to the floor like his beloved mannequin would have upon being dropped and Diego is too busy falling to his knees and trying to stop himself from following Luther’s example to catch either of his brothers when Klaus falls forward and crashes onto the dirt next to him.
They breath, heartbeats slowing down as the world stabilizes itself.
“Why the fuck is it so freezing?” Klaus says with a whine, blearily blinking up at the murky sky and Diego’s hovering face above him when he’s rolled over. “Christ, everything hurts. Last time I was fine. I pulled my back out carrying all your asses over the threshold like some sort of groom. Can somebody please get a freaking blanket?”
“Shit, you’re colder than ice.” Diego snatches his hand away from where he put it on his forehead, dark eyes full of concern. “The hell is up with that temperature of yours?”
“Death can do that to you.”
“I’ll carry him inside.” Luther says, walking into his field of vision. “You take Vanya and Allison will get Five.”
If his limbs weren’t stiff and his body not throbbing with unknown aches, Klaus would be offended his brother thought he was the heaviest between the three of them. He took his lack of nutrition very seriously and he wore Allison’s old clothes for Christ’s sake!
Diego grumbles but complies while Luther scopes him up careful not to jostle him.
“You’re so heavy, seriously, Luther, do try to wear a little less muscle. She didn’t mention any of this bone chilling ache drying me out from the inside when I took you back. God actually pranked me; can you believe it?”
“I was there,” Luther says, walking into the house and not pausing when Pogo demands to know what happened. He walks up the stairs, passing the ape without second thoughts to linger and explain the situation. “Can’t say I’m a fan of her now.”
“You don’t have to see her again,” Klaus sulks as Luther swaddles him into blankets on his bed, limbs limp with fatigue. “Or talk to her. She could have told me you weren’t dead.”
“You don’t either. You’re not dying soon.” Luther throws him a sharp look.
“Guess not after that attitude. I don’t want to find out what happens next time I go there.”
“Good,” Luther says, “Then don’t.”
As if it’s that simple. Klaus huffs, settling down into the bed like a cranky child making a fuss about missing his nap. Luther awkwardly pats his shoulder, lingering near his bed. Klaus hopes he’ll leave, maybe watch over Five and he’ll get Diego as a babysitter while Allison stays with Vanya, despite them knowing Ben wouldn’t leave him alone as soon as he came back to wherever he disappeared to.
No such luck.
Luther sinks into his desk chair, silent and unmoving and Klaus drifts off to sleep.
As it turns out, staying too long in the afterlife will you give a good case of hypothermia.
“This is the worst,” Klaus groans, scowling at Ben’s failure to pretend his laughter was a bad coughing fit. He wasn’t putting any effort into his act, even after Klaus had demonstrated how coughing out his lungs sounded ten minutes ago. “You’re the worst, laughing at my misery, how could you Ben? After everything we’ve been through!”
“You’ll live,” Ben says dryly, “I’m not so sure about Luther.”
“Careful, there, or you’ll have to start growing out your hair if you insist to hold grudges like the lady from The Ring.”
“I’m just saying. Vanya’s not going to forgive him for a long time, Allison is giving him the cold shoulder and Five’s pissed. That lowers his chances for survival down to next to nothing.”
“They’re not going to kill him,” Klaus sneezes into his elbow, fuck the cold death has given him, “We’re dramatic but that’s going a bit far, isn’t it? He’ll have to grovel, beg, do the monkey dance and endure a beating but there’s no way he’ll go back to Daddy. Nope. Not happening.”
Squirming in the hold of Luther, naked from the chest up—curse Five for treating hypothermia with body heat instead of a hot bath and Papa dearest for turning Luther into the warmest, hairiest blanket on earth—he sniffles before freezing when Luther shifts, grumbling in his sleep.
The situation of cuddling with Luther is so weird and uncomfortable, Klaus would rather have put burning hot coals onto his back to chase away the persistent shivers.
“Now, make yourself useful and be a good ghostie and tell me another bedtime story to distract me. Chop, chop!”
Ben looks concerned. “That bad, huh?”
“Withdrawal is a bitch—” Klaus sinks into pillow, turning to face away from Luther to stare at Ben sitting against the wall, legs outstretched. “—and I’m bored. Bad combination. Entertain me or I’ll do something stupid.”
“The things I do for you,” Ben lets out a dramatic sigh but because he’s secretly a softie at heart he stands up to sit on the edge of his bed and says, “Once upon a time—" in an old scratchy voice while keeping a straight face and retells one of the few fairy tales they got Grace to read them as children.
With the upcoming doom of a family regarding Vanya’s powers and his inability to die that’ll happen as soon as he’s healthy again—Diego’s fearful glances at the ceiling whenever Klaus spoke sarcastically of the little Girl were hilarious—he’s not in a hurry to feel better.
Maybe it’s because all things considered, he’s not feeling all that bad. Not with them all together and attempting to fix their mess. Not that he’ll tell anyone that, no. He’ll indulge himself a little, let them worry and walk on eggshell around him with the knowledge of the afterlife for a few days before he returns to be his loud, cheery and fabulous self.
For now, listening to Ben’s voice lulling him to sleep is more than he could ask for.
Ben always knew how to make him feel better when everything else failed.