In another life, Vanya makes it out of the concert hall alive. She is barely breathing, numb to the world, and in serious need of a blood transfusion, but she is alive.
This is not that life. In this life, her siblings watch as death slowly leaks into Vanya's eyes like so much blood flowing from her throat. She closes them in her final moments and it is the last kindness she bestows upon her family.
Luther gathers her to his chest as gently as a newborn kitten and carries her out passed dead bodies and broken furniture and wailing sirens, the flickering lights from the police cruisers flashing red-blue-red against the stained white of her suit.
In another life, Vanya is given a tiny room in the general hospital which once treated Leonard Peabody. She is hooked up to a machine which breathes for her, a machine which pumps a stranger's blood through her veins, a machine which registers brain activity. Her room stays full of family after visiting hours are over.
In this life, she has not destroyed most of the academy; only the west wing has crumbled to dust- the foundation of which contained her cage. Her siblings clear the rubble enough for a grave.
There is no portrait of Vanya Hargreeves on the wall. There is no imposing statue to watch over her grave. She is buried on a sunny Tuesday morning, a reflection of her brother's grave across the yard. The funeral is silent and still. No argument breaks out, no punches are thrown. It is quiet and understated and no one knows exactly what to say for a eulogy- it is, all in all, an exemplary representation of Vanya's life.
"She was our sister," Luther starts when no one steps up. "She was- extraordinary."
Klaus makes a choked noise and is the first to tear away. Allison follows quickly after him, her protective instinct needing a new sibling to latch onto. Luther looks torn for a moment, but stays behind and starts shoveling.
Diego turns his back, clenching his fists furiously as he storms away from one fight he can't win with a well-placed punch. Twenty minutes later, Luther tries to place a hand on Five's shoulder only to receive a glare so sharp he nearly joins his sister in the afterlife. He leaves it.
Five spends a long time out there with her. The sun fades. He doesn't mind the chill in the wind as it ruffles his hair; he sticks frozen digits in his pockets and crouches beside her. They- none of them- had washed the blood from their skin until late on Monday evening. He didn't know exactly why none of the others could stomach it, but for himself-
That dried, flaking red was the last he had left of his sister. He could still feel it coagulating in the creases of his palms, so much more damning than any of the blood he'd ever spilled before. He is sure Diego has scrubbed the skin of his hands raw by now. Five thinks he noticed still more of it caked, unnoticed as of yet, under Allison's fingernails. He doesn't believe he'll say anything just now; Allison has been very fragile lately. He doesn't want to set off another sobbing fit.
"You're a hero now, Vanya," he tells her grave. His smirk is sardonic at best, tragic at worst. "Tell me- is it all you could ever imagine?"
The vitriol in his own voice burns as it makes its way up his throat, startling even himself. Blue crackles in the air for a moment before a violin (a deep burgundy, the backup Vanya kept in the left-hand side cupboard in her room in that dingy little apartment, right across from her bedroom window which she still didn't lock, the fool ) is placed gently against the gravestone Allison paid way too much money for. The white of the marble doesn't do his sister justice. But onyx wouldn't have been much better.
Five stands at his sister's side for one last time. "I apologize, that was uncalled for. I- you spent your whole life being sorry for living. You should know you didn't have to be. And-"
The wind in the branches rattles something which could be loosely defined as a heart in his chest. "And I'm sorry too. For not telling you that I missed you- that I still miss you."
His laugh resonates in the cavity where his innards should be, ricochets against his ribs, tears at his esophagus. "We're always missing someone, aren't we? Some things never change."
In another life, Allison stays at her sister's bedside until she wakes. She works tirelessly to research methods of dealing with emotional and physical trauma, how to move on from abusive relationships, how to mend familial bonds. She hires the best doctors and swears them to secrecy. She sleeps curled around her sister, slipping as close as she dares between all the medical equipment.
In this life Allison writes a book. It seems fitting.
Allison writes it all out on a typewriter she finds in Vanya's apartment. (She's paying for rent now, can't bear to give up the one place which was Vanya's and Vanya's alone.) The keys don't jam up with the salt from her tears, which Allison is thankful for. (She wonders once how many times Vanya cried over this contraption, heart twisting with the rejection her family didn't realize they were heaping upon her from the get-go, and has to stop for three days.)
The worst part about it isn't writing about the wrongs Vanya has committed- writing the book, turning her back on them (even if she wasn't to blame for all of it), beginning the end of the world to name a few. It's the good parts which hurt the most, mostly because they are so few and far between. (Waking up to the smell of pancakes on her birthday only to hear from Mom weeks later that her sister was the one to go behind their father's back to make them for her. Settling in the library, too tired to study after training, and letting the faint strains of her sister's music wash away the doubt and fear and shame her father piled at each of their feet. Clinking glasses with Vanya in a bar, giddy with the hope of sisterhood and second chances. The way her sister had smiled at her moments before making the terrible decision to rip herself from Allison forever. The way her sister's sacrifice saved an uncaring world.)
Too few memories for thirty years, but Allison writes them anyway. When she finishes, eight months after the near apocalypse, she sends the first draft in with a nom de plume. She will not sully the memory of Vanya's hard work by getting her story published simply with the name 'Allison Hargreeves.'
The first draft comes right back- she's not as good a writer as her sister. The second and third drafts come back too. One publisher tells her no one wants to read such depressing fiction about such a boring character and Allison nearly asks Five to have him shot. He'd do it, too.
The fourth draft, Allison lets loose. She falls apart. She stitches herself back together while listening to records the orchestra's head assures her have her sister as third string chair. She plasters her name on the cover but makes sure it's in smaller print than her sister's. She refuses an author portrait.
The book is published in record time. It sells out in an hour.
It's not enough.
In another life, the doctors say that noise stimulates the human brain while in a coma. In another life, Luther visits Vanya's room with new records every Friday morning. He works his way through his old collection and those that his father occasionally remembered to send to the moon. He buys new ones and feels a strange excitement to be sharing his first experience of them with his sister, unconscious though she may be.
In this life Luther builds a greenhouse across from the graves of his siblings. It's slow going and painstaking to build, especially because his sheer mass and height get so many looks and muttered comments that more often than not Luther is sent scurrying home with his tail between his legs. The man who runs the local nursery nearly faints from fright when Luther's shadow darkens his door.
The tomatoes insist on dying, too persnickety about the amount of water Luther's clumsy, oversized hands should feed them. He thinks for a long time that the basil and bay have bit the dust too, but they rebound once the rainy weather clears and they can drink in the sunlight. The potatoes need no help at all, and soon Luther is leaving Diego hashbrowns for his morning eggs. He knows it's not enough of a peace offering.
Luther gathers new seeds every other week from what is fast becoming his favorite nursery. The flowers which he grows are bright and fragrant and soft, so, so soft. They remind him, as they were meant to, of the fragile young woman whom they had to lose to save the world. He thinks often of the moment before he tightened his arms around her, when her face was pressing wet, hot tears into his sweater, when her hands clung to him, desperate and trusting. She'd felt as small as a child in his arms and he'd thought better of his actions for just a single moment-
But Luther can't take it back now. So he grows flowers instead.
There is a fresh bouquet on her grave every Friday morning. He's working his way through the nursery's supplies of seeds, but he thinks his sister likes yellow roses and daisies the most. They are the brightest, most delicate, and the ones that last the longest.
She'd have outlasted them all, he thinks, if she'd ever been given the chance to grow.
In another life, Klaus braids Vanya's hair in her sleep. He stays as long as he can by her side, but in the end he has to turn away from the painkillers and the pills and all the temptation. But he can't force himself away too far; he ends up becoming a regular in the group of smokers outside the hospital. The registered nurse on Vanya's floor loves his dry wit.
In this life, Klaus reaches for the dead.
"Come back," Klaus mutters over blue fists, sweat dripping from his brow. "Come back. Where are you?"
His brother, ever watchful, places an incorporeal hand on his shoulder. Klaus shakes it off.
"Klaus," Ben tries. "Klaus. Stop it. You've been trying for days, you're exhausted. Just stop it."
"No!" He whirls on Ben, eyes too wide and mouth too dry. "God damn you, no I won't stop! How can you ask me to stop? This is our sister!"
The blue around his fists grows, creeping up Klaus's forearms, but he's too busy toppling the desk in his childhood bedroom to care. Clothes are thrown in the air, the window ends up cracked from the force with which he launches his lamp.
"She was right there!" He screams at Ben, gesturing to the space in his room which used to house another wall, another room, another child. " She was right there and we didn't even see her! Why didn't we see her?"
Ben has no answer and Klaus isn't done yet.
Under his bed, Klaus kept a hammer- he doesn't remember when he got it exactly, but he does remember vague plans to threaten to whack his father upside the head with it if he didn't agree to stop taking Klaus to the mausoleum at night when he was sixteen. He ended up running away instead. Both he and Sir Reginald knew he'd never go through with it.
The hammer takes out a good chunk of the brick when Klaus swings it at the wall, even though he's far from fit enough to do any kind of home renovation.
Ben holds up placating hands. "Klaus, what are you-"
"She was right here! Right on the other side of the wall, for years! I used to hear her cry, did you know that?" Ben is pale even for a ghost and Klaus can't stop the terrible laugh which rips its way from within his voice box. His throat is left raw. "Yeah, all the time, man. It was a regular concert, just for me! Sometimes I didn't even open my eyes at night when I heard it. Hell, I think it helped me sleep. Some kind of sick, huh?"
His lungs are burning now and Ben is a watery blur. "I told myself I didn't know what to say, that I had it worse than she did, that she wouldn't want pathetic old me to take care of her anyway. I told myself anything I could to make myself feel better, and you know what?"
Ben doesn't reply. Klaus can't stop laughing but somewhere along the way it may have turned into sobbing. He can't be bothered to tell the difference these days. "You know what the fucked up thing is? It worked! I forgot about her crying every damn morning because I just didn't care enough! I mean, shit! She looked fine, didn't she? She wasn't sick, was she? She was still playing that damn violin, wasn't she? Good enough for poor old Klaus! No need to get involved."
"It's not your fault," Ben tells him quietly. Klaus stares, wordless, and then just- lets go. The resulting yell is loud enough to shake the glass in their panes.
"It is!" He tightens blue fingers around the hammer and brings it slamming back down onto the brick. "You know that it is! Because I knew she was hurting and I did nothing, and if it were you in the same position with me, Ben, you'd never forgive yourself for letting me go. Would you?"
" Would you? "
"No," Ben answers after a beat. Klaus cocks the hammer back over his shoulder again. "I wouldn't."
"Yeah, baby!" Klaus cries, flinging the hammer down again. It clips the wall and is torn from his palms. He watches with a strange detachment as it rebounds into the plaster of the next wall and sticks there, trembling from the force of its travel.
"Yeah, baby," he repeats, tired suddenly. "So I can't stop. I'm gonna get her back. I- I have to. I have to."
He looks around himself, unsure of his surroundings. Ben perches on the edge of his bed and pats the space next to him. Klaus sinks down, boneless.
"I took her room, man," he says, and his brother snorts.
"Yeah, that was a pretty dick move."
"I'll give it back," Klaus reassures desperately. "I'll give it all back, I'll rebuild the wall myself, I'll decorate and make it nice and I'll save up money for a good bed and- and-"
"I'll do it. I'll do it, or I'll finish what she started and tear this place to the ground myself, I swear to God."
"If she doesn't want to see us, she's not going to respond to your summons, Klaus. You know she won't."
"Yes she will." For once, Klaus is certain. "She has to- she's our sister. She has to. She has to."
In another life, Diego stands guard in her doorway. The doctors and nurses hate him with a passion, but he can't help it. He stays there most nights, fiddling with a blade and pricking his ears at every footstep. Sometimes, when they try to kick him out, he scales the side of the building and they find him leaning against the door jam in the morning, tired, bruised eyes on the vulnerably prone form of his little sister. Eventually Allison pulls a chair over to the door and he sits there night after night.
In this life, Diego polishes her violin.
He was the only one to hang back and watch their backs as they left the concert hall that night. His memories of that night are fuzzy at best (flooded with the blood of a little sister he always meant to protect better than he did and all the anger and fear and guilt twisted knots into his vocal cords so much he couldn't even get out one- only one, the only one he'd ever have said to her- quick I love you before her eyes closed; God,would someone stop letting his loved ones die in his arms?). But he remembers reaching down and curling numb fingers around the neck of a pure white violin. He left the bloodstained bow behind.
He had to research how to treat violins with varnish and alcohol and all the polish in the world. He didn't even dare touch it for a few weeks after- after. He'd left a bloody handprint around the neck.
The first thing Diego did was strip the white from the thing. He could recollect a thousand memories of a younger Vanya standing framed in her doorway, long brown locks blending with the wood of her instrument so well it was hard to tell where she began and the violin ended. He wants that shade of brown back.
He repaints it, polishes it. He learns how to string and unstring it, how to make sure the wood doesn't rot or knot or warp. On Wednesdays he takes it out to her gravestone and sits under the sunshine and the trees and the birds and polishes for hours. It's strangely soothing; almost as if he were sharpening one of his knives. He trades his violin for Five's on those afternoons, makes sure they're both fit as a fiddle (terrible pun intended- Vanya loved them when they were kids).
Diego wonders if he could have had this with her, once upon a time. The answer brings a lump to his throat.
In another life, Klaus is able to call forth his brother whenever he wants, relative to how much he has eaten and rested beforehand. In another life, Ben is afforded his own seat by his sister's bedside, and he stays in it even when invisible. Allison even remembers not to throw her coat through him. In another life, Ben wishes he could be corporeal enough to hold Vanya's hand in his all the time, but he settles for playing with her fingers when Klaus can manage to concentrate enough.
In this life, Ben goes back to the concert hall.
"Klaus is going to figure out where you are eventually, you know," he calls out to the figure onstage. "He and Allison are looking for you. They'll find you at some point."
"They may figure it out," Vanya concedes, kicking her feet lightly where she sits at the edge of the raised platform, "but they won't come back."
Ben draws near, raises a brow. "What makes you so sure?"
His sister glances behind her pointedly; her own blood still darkens the hardwood. Ben winces. "Point taken."
Vanya smiles a little and tilts her head back. The moon is waning above them, but it still throws off enough light to catch in her hair. If it weren't for her bloodstained suit and the gash at her throat, Ben would not hesitate to call her beautiful. Even if her smiles are always so sad.
"But it won't matter in the end, Van." He's been testing out nicknames on her. She's yet to not be startled any time he uses a term of affection. It makes him crumple inside more often than not, but it also makes him sure to come back with more the next time over. "They'll come to you someday. They love you too much not to."
Vanya looks skeptical. "I don't know about that."
" I do," Ben reassures her, and takes a seat beside her. The moon really is quite something through the glass ceiling. The curve of the dome catches the light differently, throwing diamonds of it through the two of them. "I know they're tearing themselves apart because of you."
Vanya shrinks from him. Phantom blood pours from her wound, and Ben throws his hands up, palms out.
"That came out wrong. I didn't mean it like that- listen! "
She had started to fade away. At his commanding tone, Vanya snaps back into existence (relatively).
"I just- I mean that they love you, Vanya. And they're so- so sorry."
"What?" Vanya looks confused, wrapping her arms around herself tightly. Ben often finds himself with the overwhelming urge to hug her. "Why would they- I did this."
"They think it's their fault. They think they pushed you to it. Klaus, he's begging you to come back every night, Van. Allison pretty much lives in your apartment now, and Luther won't stop trying to will away your death with flowers. It's really weird. Diego is suddenly obsessed with violins. And- and nobody can really pin Five down most days."
Vanya bites her lip, shakes her head. A wind that doesn't howl through the concert hall lifts tendrils of her hair around her pale face. "What do you want me to say, Ben?"
He hops up, stands in front of her and tries not to be offended when she flinches back just a little. "Say you'll come back. Say you'll be part of the family again."
She scoffs. "Don't know if you noticed, but me not being part of the family in the first place is kinda what started this mess."
"Then let us try to fix it."
"I already fixed it!" She pushes right through him, spins on her heels and marches over to her own death bed. "I made everyone safe, don't you see?"
"The apocalypse, it was me, right? And I fixed it. No one else but me. I did that. I saved everyone. You can't take that away from me."
"I wasn't going to, Vanya." He keeps his voice soft. It does little to help tame her ire.
"This- this is all ridiculous," she scoffs again, muttering more to herself than her brother. "This is not how it was supposed to go. They weren't supposed to-"
"To what?" She pauses, and something cold drops to the pit of his stomach. "We weren't supposed to, what? Care?"
"It'll be okay," Vanya tells him. The earnestness in her expression makes him sick. "You'll move on. It's all alright now. The world is safe. You're all safe."
"Nothing is going to be okay without you Vanya." He tries to reach out but his sister backs away, feet slipping over her bloodstains. "That's what I've been trying to tell you for weeks- no one is okay without you. Everyone wants you back, they want to apologize, they want to be better. And now, Klaus could make you corporeal! It's not the same, but I could help you and we could be a fami-"
"No." Her voice is firm, but she's smiling so softly at Ben. It's the worst thing he's ever felt. "It's okay, Ben. It's all okay now. Tell Klaus- don't tell Klaus anything. Just let me rest now."
Her eyes are too vacant, her smile too soft, too far away. His heart lurches. Ben reaches forward, but his sister is already fading out.
"You'll get over me," Vanya reassures him. "Just let me rest, and let them live without the apocalypse hanging around every corner. They earned that, at least."
But he is too late, and she is already gone. "Vanya! Vanya! "
The concert hall doesn't echo a ghost's yells back at him. Ben spins, trying catch sight of her but there is no one. He is alone.
"They won't give up, Vanya! And I won't either!"
The silence would be suffocating if he weren't already dead.
Ben slumps, defeated, but raises his eyes to the moon just one more time. "However long it takes, Vanya. We're gonna wait for you to come back home. That's a promise."