“You know something, Vanya?” Five’s words floated down after her as she fell away into the dark, “I never liked you.”
It had only taken Klaus a matter of seconds to put an end to her grand finale, but she had already been gone by then. Reopening her eyes to a shockingly familiar domino mask momentarily convinced her Five was now more than ready to end her as well.
“You’re awake.” The foreign-sounding voice was as familiar to her as the domino mask hovering two inches above it; up way too close and examining her intently. Vanya, aware but motionless on the ground, blinked the blurriness out of her eyes.
“You’re not Five.” She tried to say, only to have it come out as a barely audible whisper.
“No. I’m not Five. I’m Ben. And you’ll be happy to know this isn’t the Academy; it’s the Void.”
“Ben,” Vanya sat bolt upright, but the searing pain that erupted from the side of her head made her cringe hard enough to force her hands up to her temples, “It hurts because Five shot me.” She recalled. Then it hit her, “The bullet holes are gone.”
With the stars floating across her field of vision beginning to dissipate, Vanya was able to lift her gaze, and glance over THE HORROR; her adopted brother, Ben Hargreeves. Somehow sitting cross-legged, yet floating upside down on top of a large, mirrorless, wooden dresser. He still looked the little hero in his Academy uniform, showing no signs of aging, dying, or rotting away. There were no holes visible anywhere around his midsection either.
“Ben…” She couldn’t seem to voice level up over a murmur, “You look…”
“Super ordinary?” His face, impassive so far, broke into a large grin, “This place has s way of bringing out the normal in people. Kind of like you, Vanya.”
“Me?” No, no, no! Her frustrations wanted to yell in protest. Everyone lied to me! I just levelled the Academy, and blew up the moon! I’m not ordinary at all! I’m… She moved her hands from her temples, wanting to pick up her violin and give her brother a proper demonstration. Not only did she not have her violin, however, she was stunned to discover she no longer looked like one either. With her short black hair, her human-coloured skin, and her petite figure clad in a t-shirt and shorts, Vanya Hargreeves looked… Well… Exactly like herself.
“It’s good to see someone again. I doubt he told anyone, but Klaus has been ignoring me for awhile.” Still floating, sitting cross-legged, and upright, on his otherwise upside-down dresser, Ben moved off a bit.
“No… Klaus didn’t…” Ever say anything about a Void, Ben hanging around, or,
“… What’s that?” She asked about the building she had just noticed in front of her, on Ben’s left. He turned his head, opened his mouth, closed it, thought hard for a minute, and finally said;
“So, imagine back when we were eighteen, dad kicks Klaus out of the house. Klaus, predictably, overdoses at the back of some alley, and crashes here, swearing this building already existed.” He attempted to explain as Vanya gawked at him incredulously, “Yeah, I know, right? Except don’t imagine anything because this actually happened.” He flipped himself right side up, hopped off his dresser, and walked towards her.
“… Klaus’ bar?” Klaus had a bar? How did Klaus have a bar? Let alone have a bar in some weirdly empty, pocket dimension no one else knew about? Ben reached his hand out, answering her question before she could ask;
“He traded his soul off to some formerly human android living on another planet for what’s left of his sanity. From what I’ve gathered, anyway. Like I said. He’s been more or less ignoring me since we’ve been here.” That almost made Vanya smile, and she took hold of his outstretched arm, helping him help her get up on her feet. Stumbling over on weak legs, she almost fell on top of him. Instead, he caught her by the waist, and she wrapped her arms around his neck in a long overdue hug.
“Good to see you too, Ben.” Vanya smiled for real this time, knowing full well he wasn’t what had triggered her explosive anger. Unfortunately for both of them, their sweet and tender moment was cut short by a sudden series of ear-splitting howls. Appearing out of virtually nowhere, the orange tomcat zipped around a nearby tree, darted between their legs, and made a beeline for the building’s back door. Stopping itself short of crashing head first into it, it sat itself down, curled its tail around its paws, and began meowing to be let in.
“Cute kitty. Is it yours?” Vanya asked Ben, trying not to lean into him too much as he kept his arm around her waist and lead her towards it.
“No. It only showed up a few days ago. I think it belongs to the android who owns the place.”
“You think?” She raised a somewhat mocking eyebrow at him.
“Yes, I think. It hasn’t let me get close enough to pick it up, read its collar, or find out if its male or female. All it does is run around, and howl to be let in and out. Like I’m its valet or something.” He frowned, “Can you stand up by yourself if I let you go?” He asked her. Vanya wasn’t sure she trusted herself, but she nodded anyway. He slowly loosened his grip, watching as she teetered, fumbled, then straightened herself out.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Ben once again asked, and Vanya once again nodded. He turned his back to her, and opened the door. Evidently annoyed they had made it wait all of twenty-seven seconds, the cat screeched as he tore across the linoleum floor, flew up on the stage at the far end, and disappeared under the closed, nearly identically orange curtains. While this was happening, Ben kept the door open for Vanya as she slowly stepped on through, following right behind her in case she fell. She tottered over to the counter, pulled up a stool, and let out a sigh of relief as she sat down.
“Would my long lost sister like something to drink?” It was Ben’s turn to stand behind the bar, and he took the time to look over the notes stuck to the side of the cash register, ”EREMIS WAS HERE.” The first one read, and the next,
”PLEASE FEED ARTEMIS. THANK YOU.” He chuckled to himself as he read out loud, “Guess I was right. It does belong to the android who runs the Void. How’ bout that?”
“… sparkling lemon water with a little umbrella in it?” As deathly quiet as she was, Ben almost missed Vanya saying. He spun on his heels, staring at her staring right back at him until they simultaneously doubled over laughing.
“I don’t think there’s anything that fancy back here. How about some coffee?” He suggested once they’d calmed down, and caught their breaths.
“No. Just some regular water. Thanks.” Coffee was Five’s thing, and the mere thought of him was enough to make her shudder. Eagle-eyed Ben caught that as well;
“How is the family doing?” He asked casually as he rummaged around for a glass and some ice cubes. Vanya leaned forward on her elbows, and pursed her lips, unsure how to reply.
”Where would you like to me start, Ben? When dad died? When I jeopardized another mission? When Diego chewed me out? When I betrayed everyone? Want me to tell you how I blew Pogo’s brains out? How about the way I slashed Allison’s throat open so she’ll never talk, or rumour anyone, ever again? How about that, Ben? Would hearing about that make you happy? Fill your life with joy? Please, tell me so I can tell you.”Vanya’s eyesight blurred again, this time from the monster-sized tears she had welling up there, and she dropped her face in her hands before she could choke up completely.
“Hey… Hey now. It’s okay. I didn’t mean it like that.” Ben told her as he placed her glass of water on a coaster in front of her, “I’m only asking you because they dropped in, and left you a bit of a present.”
Vanya let out a noise that was neither a laugh, or a sob, but somewhere between them, “… A present?” She hiccuped, wiping off her tears, “For me?”
“It’s behind the curtains, and I can’t go get it for you. You’ll have to get up, walk to the stage, and see for yourself.” He said. Vanya winced despite herself; the stage wasn’t far, but she could barely stand up. What were the chances she could make it over there without falling on her face? “Don’t worry. It’s not going anywhere. Take your time.” Ben said as though he’d read her mind. Her curiosity quickly overtaking her wobbly legs, Vanya soon slid off her seat, and shuffled towards the curtains. Griping the thick orange fabric, she hoisted herself up, pushed them open, and stuck her head through the narrow gap. What she saw there pretty damn well near made her scream in sheer, unadulterated emotion.
It was her violin. Her white, lacquered violin. Exactly like she’d been holding on to it half an hour earlier, but now gleaming, untouched, and untarnished, securely padlocked in a display case under a row of bright spotlights.
“Ben… This is my… My… How did it even get here?”
“Klaus and Five left it here awhile ago. I couldn’t tell you why though. I wasn’t invited to that meeting either.” Five. Of course. He’d been right there when she had lost consciousness. Of course he had taken her violin from her, and locked it up somewhere she wouldn’t be able to use it.
“Because I deserved it.” She knew, but was a long way away from admitting it, “I deserve this. I shouldn’t have done that. To my family.” Her adopted siblings could be godawful, but they were still the only siblings she had ever known.
“You’ll have to play something for me sometimes.” Completely lost in thought, Vanya had tuned out her surroundings, and the sound of Ben’s voice so close behind her made her jump. He laughed, “I’m honest. I haven’t heard your music since… You know…” He gestured towards his stomach, and cut a pretend line across his neck with his finger. Acting as though he hadn’t come within an inch of giving her a heart attack, Vanya placed her hand on top of the bulletproof, plexiglass casing holding her instrument captive, biting her bottom lip. Somewhere in the background, Artemis howled as what sounded like a pile of crates crashed to the floor. It fell quiet for a split second, then started right back up meowing again.
“That cat has to be as dysfunctional as we Hargreeves are. I didn’t think that was possible.” Ben sat down on the edge of the stage. Vanya followed suite, and sat down next to him. He nudged her, “So, are you going to play me your violin #7?”
“I can’t play my violin, #6. It’s locked up, and I don’t have the key.” Her voice was improving, but it wasn’t quite there yet, “Besides, I don’t think I’m ready… For any of that… Right now.” She breathed out.
“It’s okay. Really. There’s no rush. We’re not going anywhere.” Ben repeated. Grateful for the moment, Vanya leaned her head on his shoulder, and closed her eyes.
“Hey, Vanya.” Ben whispered in her ear before she could fall asleep.
“Hmm?” She stirred, but didn’t move.
“I heard a rumour you only killed the present version of Pogo.”
“Hmm?” She opened her eyes, and looked at him sideways, “What did you just say?”
“I also heard a rumour you’re going to wake up to Allison, and no Five.” He kept going.
“You hear a lot of things.” Vanya, her head still resting on his shoulder, kept this… Entire Void… To be nothing more than a prank. An elaborate hallucination. A Klaus-induced trip to Lalaland she would simply snap out of at any time now. Why not? It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen to her. It wouldn’t even crack her top ten, “You keep saying everyone is ignoring you too.”
“Everyone is ignoring me too. It’s my sixth sense telling me everything’ll work out.”
“Your present sense you mean?” She offered.
“Yup. Merry early Christmas everyone!” He declared, causing them both to laugh again.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.” He replied. Then he added, “Try to remember we’re here waiting for your encore, alright?”
“I’ll try.” Vanya answered as best as she knew how, “I can’t make any promises.”
“I know. I’ll take it.” Ben grinned, and Vanya kept smiling as she drifted once more.
(And On We March)
(To Be Continued)