Vanya has been running away since she was seventeen. She's been alone longer than that. Living on the lamb doesn't suit her, exactly, but she is used to it by now. She has no friends, no acquaintances, no one to talk to. She is a ghost, slipping in and out of cheap motels and dingy diners; she's cultivated her entire persona around the goal of being invisible. (Growing up as ordinary Number Seven made that easy- almost second nature.) Vanya is used to not being seen, and even more used to not being interesting.

So when a body drops into the seat across from her in a cafe in upstate New York she is understandably surprised.

Dread wins out in her gut, however, when her sister smiles pleasantly and says, "I heard a rumor you didn't run away from me."


Vanya is twenty-eight and feels like a child when her sister slips her sunglasses to the end of her nose and inspects her head to toe. "You gonna scream if I don't rumor you to be quiet?"

Vanya grits her teeth against a swell of bile and grinds out, "What do you want, Three?"

That gets to her sister; Allison purses her lips and taps too sharp nails on the tabletop. Somehow, none of the other patrons have realized the tiger in their midst yet. The fools won't know what hit them if Vanya makes a wrong move now. "Now, that's no way to treat your long lost sibling, is it? I have a name, you know. I've been told it's very beautiful by some very reliable sources."

Vanya can't help but scoff. "And how many of them did you have to rumor to wrestle that compliment out of them?" She should not be antagonizing her sister, but God it's only been a few minutes and it's like she's ten again, squabbling over who got to the bathroom first. She should not be this- she's not comfortable, of course not, but it shouldn't be this easy to look at Allison's face and see passed all the glitz and glamour and malevolent sweetness to the kid who used to hold her hand and ask if Vanya wanted to sleep over every Saturday night.

Allison is glaring. "I didn't rumor you when you said it was pretty . "

Vanya remembers that- she'd been the first person ever to use her sister's given name. It twists a knot in her stomach. "That was before."

"Ah, before! Before, before, before. You're stuck in the past, sis."

"And you're a raging lunatic; tell me something I don't know."

Allison smirks and Vanya curses herself for still thinking of her with her given name after all these years. She has to remember that the woman before her hasn't been Allison in a very long time. "Homelessness gave you claws, didn't it?"

"I'm not homeless," she protests, but it's weak even to her own ears.

"Well you certainly haven't been back in quite a while. We were getting worried, you know. You could have called home."

That startles a bitter laugh from Vanya's lips. Her legs are straining beneath her jeans, anticipation and fear making her tremble under the weight of the rumor. "The Academy hasn't been my home in a long time, Three. Maybe ever."

Something about what she says or maybe how she says it gives her sister pause. Allison's eyes are softer now. "I did tell you I wanted to change that, Vanya. I still do."

"The cost was too high back then," Vanya reminds her, clenching her fists around her lukewarm coffee. The cafe seems to be collapsing around her, her vision tunneling. "And it's too high now."

"We'll see." Allison hums. She slips the sunglasses back on, stands, and hooks a friendly arm through Vanya's. She has to stumble to her feet clumsily and feels even more childish, standing nearly a foot shorter than her sibling. "Anyway, Dad's dead. Come on."


Number Three grins. "We've got the car out front."

"I'm not going anywhere with you. Any of you."

"I heard a rumor you came with me. Quietly."

Diego has always had a soft spot for muscle cars and Vanya can see from the big black number parked in front of the Midnite Bite Diner that that hasn't changed in eleven years. The engine revs before they even step out into the baking sun and Allison rolls her eyes at Vanya, grinning like they're carefree teenagers again.

Vanya wants to retch.

Allison's hand on the back of her head as she is stuffed into the car is heavy and unrelenting. Her nails scratch at Vanya's scalp in a way that would be comforting in another setting; here it just makes Vanya shiver uncontrollably. The air conditioning is blasting inside and she hopes she can pass that off as the reason for her sudden shakes.

"Vanya! Long time no see."

Klaus ( Four, Four, why couldn't she get this through her own thick skull? ) is waiting in the backseat. He spreads his arms wide, the feather lining of his duster brushing her cheekbone, her ear. His fingers are already curling in her hair and Vanya is abruptly thrown thirteen years into the past, when he used to braid her hair just for something to do with his hands. She used to love him for it- it was probably one of the reasons she had kept her hair so long.

Now it's only this long because she doesn't have the cash or the time to go to a barber. And there's always the chance someone would see her, someone who'd seen the 'missing person' posters and wanted to be a Good Samaritan.

Or she might be seen by someone seedier- someone who knew who she was, knew who her family was. Someone who'd have heard about the reward Klaus had promised the criminal underground for any details on his wayward little sister. Someone Diego had threatened into being a snitch to a few corrupt police officers. Someone rumored to follow any woman with long brown hair out at night and report back to the Academy.

It doesn't matter now, she supposes. Whoever saw her, they talked all too willingly, and now here she is.

Klaus tugs on a lock of hair and grins. His eyes are dazed but his teeth are so sharp. "Penny for your thoughts, dear sister?"

"Go to hell," Vanya snaps, and ignores the snort from the driver's seat. Allison slides into the passenger side, slams her door and pops a stick of gum in her mouth. The car peels out.

"Already been, honey," Klaus leans over her and for a moment all she can smell is sweat and musk and that old cologne she should not find as familiar and comforting as it is. Then he pulls back and clicks her seatbelt into place. "I'd never ever ever wish it on family. Take notes."

"Are we family?" Vanya asks, channeling her best attempt at Five's old sardonic tone. She can see her brother's shoulders hitch forward. His expression crumples for a second before smoothing over into a genial smile and a raised eyebrow.

She tells herself she doesn't feel guilty.

"Yes we are!" That comes from the front seat. Ah. Vanya should have known Diego wasn't going to keep his mouth shut for long. He catches her eyes in the rearview mirror and she has to tear away; not because of his glare, mind you, but that shade of brown, the nick in his brow- there's too much history there for her to look directly at. Her head spins and the bile is back. "How could you say that about us? All we've ever wanted to be was a normal fucking family Van. It wasn't any of us who messed that up."

"Could've fooled me," Vanya mutters resignedly, and turns to rest her head against the window for the rest of the duration of the ride.