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It starts like this.

Vanya has a problem. Like most of the problems in her life, she has elected to speak to no one about it and let it fester until she moves out or she dies, whichever comes first.

She would, she supposes, talk about it if pressured. But that remains an untested hypothesis: the only person who would ever pick up on her troubled demeanor, and more importantly ask her about it, was Five. When Five left he took that gift with him.

She’s had this problem for a month now. Well, she’s had this problem her entire life, she just wasn’t fully aware of it until about a month ago. And really, she wishes she could go back to that feeling from before, of being distantly peeved at all times but not knowing why. Because knowing why meant that she knew she could never fix the problem.

And that problem is she really, really fucking hates her uniform.

It feels ridiculous. She’s worn the same thing every day her entire life; she gets even less variation than her siblings, because at least they get the combat outfit they wear on missions, which she would totally wear because –

Because the problem isn’t so much the entire uniform, but the dress. Which is why she is currently standing in her bedroom in her pajama pants and her uniform shirt and blazer at five in the afternoon, playing a violin piece she knows so well she could play it in her sleep. She really hates her dresses, and can’t quite figure out why.

And she’s thought about it. Lord knows she’s got too much time on her hands, so she’s diverted her energy into figuring out what exactly it is she hates about them. Because yeah, it’s not the uniform itself (which she does hate, but in a different way; she hates the uniforms as a whole for what they represent, but aesthetically she doesn’t really care one way or the other), it’s the dress – she doesn’t mind the blazer, or the tie. She actually likes the tie. When she looks at her brothers, she feels burning jealousy. She’s seen pictures of kids from outside the academy, she has a vague idea of what is fashionable and what isn’t, so she knows logically that their dumb schoolboy shorts are stupid, but she can’t convince herself that her dress is better. It isn’t. She’s never worn shorts before, but she just knows that they would fix this feeling.

She hears a wrong note; not one that anyone else would notice, but one she knows is there. She lifts the bow from the violin, takes a deep breath. Tries to stop getting so worked up. ‘Getting worked up’ is kind of a new feeling for her; not much has penetrated her almost palpable haze of depression for – well, as far as she can remember. Since Five left, she guesses? He left when they were thirteen, so for two years. That’s kind of embarrassing. But it’s not like anyone knows or cares, so what’s there to be embarrassed by?

It’s weird that this is what breaks through, though. It shouldn’t, by all means, be a big deal. They’re just clothes. Maybe it’s because this is a relatively small problem, so it’s easier to focus on – it’s easier to think about not liking her clothes than it is to think about her father hating her, her siblings ignoring her, her utter lack of importance to this family. (It kind of scares her that thinking about that works her up less than her clothes do.)

But the clothes are a big deal. She can’t explain it, but they are. And the only other person she could talk about it with, to try to figure out what’s happening, is Allison, who is already so unapproachable. And Allison looks so comfortable in her clothes in a way Vanya knows she never could be. Allison twirls her skirt and stands tall and always bounces when she walks in a way that shows off the flow of the fabric.

When Vanya walks, she’s stiff as a board. She steps with slightly bent knees to minimize that bounce that Allison loves so much. She hunches her shoulders and ducks her head low to keep attention off herself. Luckily for her, she’s already the shortest of them all, and the rest aren’t even done growing yet. The worst was when they were eleven and she was the first to go through her growth spurt – she’d towered over her siblings, gangly and awkward and far too noticeable. Maybe it’s weird, she thinks, that she both craves and hates attention. Maybe she’s just scared of something she knows so little about.

Allison also gets to wear casual clothes (real casual clothes, like other kids wear) for publicity photo shoots. Vanya’s seen the posters, read the magazines. The boys always go for jeans or slacks and tee shirts or button ups, but Allison stays feminine, wearing dresses and skirts and blouses. Vanya doesn’t know how much choice Allison has in the matter – the world doesn’t know Vanya exists and as such she’s never invited to these photo shoots – but she’s positive that Allison would wear those clothes anyway.

And Vanya wouldn’t. She never would. When she gets those magazines, she can’t stop looking at her brothers’ clothes and imagining herself in them.

Hence the late afternoon pajamas. They’re the only pants she has, so this is what she does: she wears them with her shirt and blazer and tie in her room, pacing up and down the limited space and pretending they’re real clothes. She’s keenly aware of how pathetic it is, but she doesn’t feel enough shame to stop.

It’s not that she doesn’t want to be a girl, it’s that she just...doesn’t want to look like one. Diego stopped wearing the dresses when they were much younger – so young, in fact, that Vanya barely remembers it – but that was different. Diego’s a boy, so of course Dad wouldn’t make him wear the dresses.

She realizes she’s been standing and staring off into space for a good couple minutes now. She shakes her head, puts the bow back to the strings, and resumes playing. Vanya could just ask, she guesses. She could ask Mom or Pogo, and not Dad. But she knows it wouldn’t work. Mom and Pogo don’t have the final say on anything. And if Dad found out, well. Best case scenario, he would deem the request unworthy of response. Worst case scenario, he would make her wear nightgowns.

She glances at the clock on her bedside table. Dinner’s in a little under an hour. She’ll have to change her clothes for –

There’s a knock on her door. The violin screeches when she jumps.

“Come in,” she starts to say, but her voice is too rough to be heard. This might be the first time she’s spoken today. She clears her throat. “Come in!”

Klaus swings the door open, leaning against the doorframe with his hands in his pockets and an easy smile on his face, the picture of casual confidence.

“Heyyy, Vanya. V. Van. Sev-Van –”

“Yes, Klaus?” When she had approved of Mom’s choice of name, she hadn’t taken into consideration how easy it would be to make puns off her number. It wouldn’t have changed her decision – she loves being Vanya – but she wishes she had been more prepared.

“How’s my favorite sister today?”

And that’s how she knows he wants something. Knowing that doesn’t stop the flutter in her chest, though.

She lowers her violin, shuffles her feet a bit. She’s not used to being asked so directly. God, she’s pitiful. “I’m doing well, thank you.” Who the fuck talks like that? she thinks to herself.

He looks her up and down, taking in her outfit. She chooses a point just over his shoulder and looks at it – meeting his eyes is too difficult right now, it feels like a physical pressure. “Nice ‘fit, Vanny.”

He keeps talking, which is good, because she has no idea how to explain herself.

“That actually brings me to my question.” He takes his hands out of his pockets, crosses his arms. Klaus is always in motion, even when he’s standing still. “I’ve become dreadfully bored with our standard uniforms, and dear Papa offers me so little to work with.”

Vanya likes Klaus, in the same way she likes all her siblings, but he makes her a little nervous. The way he talks, with his lilting intonation, and the way he smiles, lazy but with something sharp and biting behind his eyes, always makes her feel like he’s making fun of her, even if she can’t figure out how.

“I can see by the way you’re dressed that you’ve run into the same problem,” he continues.

Yeah, he’s probably making fun of her. She’s tempted to grab her medicine bottle and take one of her pills, but taking more than the prescribed two a day makes her nauseous.

“I – yeah. I guess,” she replies, for lack of anything more eloquent to say.

“Since you don’t appear to be using them, I was wondering if I could perhaps borrow one of your dresses?” Vanya’s not surprised – Klaus steals their mom’s shoes all the time, dresses aren’t a big leap. What does surprise her, though, is that he’s asking her.

“Why haven’t you asked Allison?” Every word feels like another stab to her heart, which is stupid since she’s the one asking, but she can’t help herself. She needs to know why, for the first time in what feels like forever, one of her siblings is coming to her first.

“I have,” he says with an exaggerated sigh, “but she’s so stingy, that one. She was absolutely loathe to part with even one.” He raises a hand to his forehead, palm out, like a woman in one of those old movies Allison likes to watch.

Oh. Okay then. Vanya should feel mad, probably, but she doesn’t. She just feels sad. And disappointed in herself for getting her hopes up. A weight drops down, somewhere deep in her chest, and she feels tired. It’s not an unfamiliar sensation. She always blinks when it happens, for some reason.

If he picks up on the words’ effect on her, he doesn’t show it. He pushes himself off the doorframe, stands in a wide stance and shifts his weight from side to side like a tennis player. “So whaddaya say? Care to donate to a child in need?”

Vanya doesn’t give a shit. Like all of them, she has seven uniforms. She can say goodbye to one. She nods and turns to her dresser as he punches the air triumphantly.

The dresses are neatly folded. She grabs one, but hesitates before giving it to Klaus. Maybe she can leverage this. It’d be big – she’s never really asked anything like this from any of her siblings before. But Klaus had come to her with his question first, so there was a precedent, right?

“Uhh, Vanya?” he says, waving his hand a bit to get her attention. “Can I have it or...?”

She turns back to him. This is it. Go time. Her hands begin to shake. “Yes. You can have it. Under – under one condition.”

His eyes widen and he does a double take, but his smile grows. This smile is huge and bright, not like the falsely jovial one he likes to wear as his resting expression. She thinks it’s the first genuine smile he’s had since he knocked on her door. “Why, Vanya Hargreeves! Look at you, running around making deals. I happen to be in rather dire need of that dress, so name your price.”

She swallows. “I want a pair of your shorts.”

He doesn’t look shocked, which is a good sign. His eyes furrow a little bit, but his moment of confusion passes immediately. Instead, his smile grows even more, and he does a dance as he turns to leave her room, motioning for her to come with him. “You know, I think I’ll just be able to swing that. Let’s move this little transaction next door.”

She follows him. His room is only a touch bigger than hers, but far more lived in.

He starts digging through his dresser, carelessly tossing clothes onto his bed until he finds what he’s looking for. “Aha!” He pulls out the shorts with a flourish and holds them out toward her. “Your clothing, madam.”

She trades him the dress. He claps his hands and bounces. “Okay okay okay okay! Let’s try these bad boys on.”

They both turn around and face opposite walls. She switches out her pajama pants for Klaus’s shorts, tucking in her shirt. There’s no mirror on this side of the room, so she can’t see herself, but.

But.

She already feels so much better. She can’t describe it; even with all the angst she felt earlier, she didn’t realize just how bad it was until it was gone.

“Are you ready, meine Schwester?” Klaus calls. She turns around just in time to see him do a mad spin, the dress’s skirt flaring up around him. “Because I certainly am!”

He had ditched the blazer and sweater vest, but kept his own shorts on under the dress. There was already a considerable height difference between the two of them, so her dress goes down to just above mid-thigh on him. His tie is loose, but still tucked beneath the neckline of the dress, like how she wears it. “Do you like it? I’m kind of going for the worst look possible. I’m calling it umbrella chic.”

She laughs. Well, it’s more of a snort, but she doesn’t laugh very much so she’s going to give herself this one. “You look dashing.” And she’s not lying – he makes it work. She imagines that if he got his hands on some real dresses, he’d look amazing.

He curtsies. “Thank you, thank you.” Then he stops, looks her over. “Oh no. No, I can’t abide by this.” He shakes his head.

That weight drops in Vanya’s heart again. He can’t – really? Now? When she’s finally gotten what she’s wanted? She never thought she would get this far, but she has and it’s amazing and she can’t stand him taking it away from her.

She takes a step backward, but he’s between her and the door, and really, what is she going to do? Fight him? She’s little Number Seven, she’s never done combat training, he could kick her ass without breaking a sweat.

But he continues: “I’m too tall for you, those shorts look more like bastardized capris.” Instead of making her give them back and get out, he twirls back around to his dresser and starts digging through the lower drawers. “I know I have them in here somewhere...Dad makes me wear them for formal events, diplomatic dinners and the like. Here we go!”

He tosses a pair of pants at her.

She manages to catch them, somehow. “They’ll still be too big, but you can cuff them a couple hundred times and they should be fine,” he tells her.

He hands her a belt too, and turns around so she can change. After recovering from her near heart attack, she does. He’s right about the length – she has to cuff them three times, but they fit well otherwise. She tucks her shirt in, straightens her tie, and turns back around to face the mirror.

These are even better than the shorts. For the first time in her life, she’s wearing clothes that make her look how she wants to look. All those hours spent picturing herself in her brothers’ clothes are nothing compared to actually doing it – she’s the closest she’s ever been to the image of herself in her head. These clothes don’t feel like a costume, they feel like hers.

“Well don’t you look handsome,” Klaus says, joining her reflection in the mirror. “We make quite a pair.”

She agrees.

It feels silly, since this whole affair has only taken a few minutes, but she feels closer to Klaus than she ever has before. She knows this is the kind of thing that siblings do, trading things and being friendly and joking around. For years she’s watched her siblings do it, but has never felt bold enough to join in. And it’s not like anybody invited her.

She’s swapped books with Ben before, but that isn’t unique. He trades books with everyone. But this exchange…it feels special. Something tells her that she and Klaus are the only two of them who would do this. Allison doesn’t want Klaus’s clothes, and none of her brothers want Vanya’s. It feels good, it feels really good, to be the only person Klaus could do this with.

“We should change before dinner,” Klaus mutters. “I think meals are the only time the old man would give a shit about how we dress. Though I suppose if we cut your hair and sat you in Five’s seat he wouldn’t notice.” He laughs.

Vanya wishes he hadn’t said that. She doesn’t like when the others joke about Five’s disappearance, because it’s not funny, and never has been. Never will be. But, she reasons, this is Klaus she’s talking to. That’s just how he is. If one of them were to die, she’s sure he would crack jokes at the funeral.

(She also doesn’t point out that there would still be an empty seat at the table. Because he’s right. Dad wouldn’t notice.)

He steps back and looks her up and down with a critical gaze. “This is a look for you though. Oh, you know what!” He grabs a sweater vest from the pile of clothes on his bed and hands it to her. “Take this too.”

“Are you sure?” she asks, even as she hates herself for doing so. She should know better from when she asked about Allison earlier: she shouldn’t ask questions she doesn’t want the answer to.

But he just nods his head. “Yeah, bro. It’s not like I need it.” He puts one hand on her shoulder, and uses the other to wipe away an imaginary tear. “It’ll be going to a better home.” He mock sobs. “They grow up so fast.”

She can’t really believe it. Half an hour ago this had been a pipe dream, something to fantasize over while killing time before dinner. It was not within the realm of possibility. But here she is now, with a new outfit and a new good memory with her brother and more autonomy over her appearance than she’s ever had before.

She places a hand over the one he has on her shoulder and returns his kitschy smile. “I’ll take good care of them, I promise. Thank you, really.”

“Don’t worry about it, kiddo. And hey, thank you for helping this world’s next big designer create his newest masterpiece.” He gestures up and down his outfit.

Vanya nods solemnly, but she can’t stop herself from smiling. “Well, as long as it’s for the sake of the world.”

He winks. “It always is.” He looks at his clock, then back to her, clapping his hands together once. “It seems dinner is almost upon us, so we must draw this little party to a close.”

“I thought it was a transaction?”

“It was a transaction. Now it’s a party.” He sighs. “Or rather, it was a party. I’m going to have to ask you to leave the premises. I have to powder my nose, you know how it is.”

Maybe she should mind that he’s kicking her out, but she doesn’t really. She’s too preoccupied with everything else that she’s feeling right now: a small adrenaline crash from asking for Klaus’s clothes in the first place, a new adrenaline high from actually getting the clothes, pure undiluted happiness from getting to share this moment with her brother. The excitement that it happened at all is outweighing the disappointment that he’s cutting it short.

As she goes back to her room and changes into her dinner clothes, she wonders if this meant as much to Klaus as it did to her. He gets along with their siblings – particularly Allison, Diego, and Ben – in a way she never could. Maybe this was just another day for him, another vignette in the life of a kid with five (six, if you count Five, which Vanya does) siblings. She tries not to get her hopes up as she reverently folds and places the pants and sweater vest in her dresser.

The next morning, she puts on her new clothes. Dad never eats breakfast with them, so she should be safe. She messes with her tie until it’s perfect – it gives her an excuse to look at herself in the mirror. Looking in the mirror feels so different now, now that she likes what she sees. The shame she didn’t fully realize she had regarding her appearance is gone. She doesn’t mind being seen, at least not on a literal level.

When she goes down to the kitchen, everyone’s already seated. Klaus is wearing his new outfit too. He smiles at her, and it feels nice.

Luther looks up from his oatmeal, eyes darting back and forth between the two of them. “Did you…switch each other’s clothes?”

“So?” Klaus asks, leaning his chair back until it’s standing on two legs.

Diego twirls his spoon in his fingers absentmindedly. He looks half asleep. “When did that happen?”

Klaus gets that faintly mocking look in his eyes, but this time Vanya knows she’s in on the joke. “That’s between me and Vanya. We don’t have to tell you anything.”

This sets off yet another inane breakfast time sibling argument that will end up being about something completely different, but as Vanya takes the morning medication she brought down to the kitchen with her, she feels like she’s glowing.