Long time no see, hm? Unfortunately this is anythin' but a new story; I wrote it almost a year ago. I kind of forgot to ever post it, though, and thanks to a blow of nostalgia I got during last night's insomnia, I'm finally uploading it.

This thing is rather light, even kinda humorous. Well, that was the intention when I wrote it anyway: a light-hearted story that manages to touch upon the connections between M1, M2, M3 and Super Smash Brothers, but mostly the confusion of joining Ness' and Lucas' worlds a little through SSB. This also includes the usual dose of romance, as it was requested by the people who wanted me to write this! Go ahead and read, I'll meet ya at the bottom!

-:-

(Because crushing on an oblivious momma's boy while being an oblivious-but-determined ex-commander can only end badly, and throwing your twin brother and overly optimistic friend into the mix can only end worse.)

-:-

Three weeks and two days after taking a pair of outsiders - twins, to boot - into his house, letting them stay over, showing them the entire city of Podunk and even teaching them how to play baseball, Ninten only knows that he knows next to nothing about them.

Lucas, the blonde-haired, kinder brother, for one, turned out to be rather timid, so he never said too much, never complained, never quite expressed more than he had to; Ninten learned to adapt, to read a bit more into subtlety and ignore the ocassional, spontaneous stuttering. Lucas, at least, made himself easy to befriend after their awkward. His first thought about Ninten was some very high-and-clear doubt - slight paranoia included - about staying at a stranger's house to await his transport to Smashville, and while Ninten wasn't about to tell him that his telepathy would pick up on it if he thought that loudly, Lucas didn't even need to say that he could sense that much. All he did was give a flustered apology, thank him for the hospitality, and try not to look too awkward whilst getting attacked by one of the local rowdy dogs that kept biting his shorts.

At least he was making himself at home, in a way. As he'd later learn, animals in Podunk weren't so different from those in Tazmilly; mice were rowdy, crows were spiteful, and someone's pet was always on the loose. It was a good thing that he'd brought his baseball bat with him, but it wasn't even Ninten who felt at-home enough to grab it and whack the canine away: accompanying Lucas, three vehicles and four days of freeloading away from home, was his twin brother, Claus.

Claus was… something else. Something Lucas wasn't, to start with. He was quiet in a serious way, straight-forward, daring, maybe a bit cunning and not very sensitive at all. It was hard to dislike a guy like Claus, who really had a way with words when he wanted to, but Ninten had mixed feelings about him: on one hand, the orange-haired boy's sometimes cold attitude threw him off, and in the other one, maybe for that reason, maybe because it's just what he does, he really wanted to be friends with him. So in the two weeks he spent with them and the extra days caused by a delay, what he did was precisely what he was good at: being friendly and talking a lot.

What he didn'tdo, though, was get more than three words out of Claus.

Three weeks and two days after Ninten took a pair of outsiders into his house, his third guest arrived.

Ninten isn't worried about how Ness will get along with the twins, and that's just what has him awake early, in the kitchen, making sure they have what they need for breakfast. Ness is just as good as Ninten at making friends, less insistent but more charismatic, and if he knows anything about his cousin, it's that he'll get something out of the secretive pair. Ninten expects him to have something for them to do or somewhere to go together, so he wants to be ready, but there's not a lot to prepare for a breakfast consisting of cereal. He can't really cook much else, and being the appointed host, with a mother in the department store and a pair of younger sisters staying at a friend's, he doesn't have any choice.

He shrugs the matter off - everybody likes cereal, he figures - and makes his way back to the living room to find the foreign trio already up, doing just what he didn't expect: nothing much.

"You'll be fine, really!"

Ness' voice is loud and confident, and the boy himself already looks like he's doing most of the talking; if anything, that much is expected.

Lucas' worry doesn't manifest itself with any awkward maneuvers around the subject, though, and that's another surprising thing. "But the tournaments started years ago… I mean, I'll be the new guy, and I don't even know what to expect, so…"

"That's nothing to worry about!" He pipes up, taking his seat beside Ness and pointing his thumb at him. "Nothing can go wrong if you have a veteran with you, right?"

"Y-You're a veteran?"

Ness gives a little laugh and a reassuring look to the blonde. "You could say that, yeah."

"Huh, where'd the modesty come from?"

"Geez, Ninten…!" Ness silences the shorter boy by grabbing the red bandana around his neck and pulling it up above his nose; Ninten swats the other's hand away, but still laughs along with Lucas, who smiles a calmer sort of smile now.

"That helps, but, ah…"

"I'm still going with him. We go together, or not at all."

Claus' statement almost makes Ninten jump. He guesses it's easy to forget he's there if he stays so quiet - the fact that he'd speak so firmly out of the blue helped as well - but the others don't seem at all startled. Ness, for one, just offers his most polite smile. "It's alright! I won't leave him alone, I promise."

The quieter twin's expression doesn't change at the amicable tone. "I know. Still, I'd rather be there myself."

"I dunno if there's rule against that," Ness says, looking pensive. "So I guess it's fine. S'that why you didn't come before, Luke? We sent you an invitation last time, y'know."

"E-Eh?" The tips of Lucas' ears begin to turn pink at the sound of the nickname, faintly enough for no one to notice but Claus, who sits close to him, opposite of the others on the table. His brother returns his glance before responding. "Not really, I c-couldn't- um, there was… something going on at home, and it's hard for Cla-"

"We had something to do," Claus cuts in. "A lot of stuff to solve, that's all."

"What do you mean…?"

Ninten expects a story, anything about where they come from; he's really paying attention to the siblings now. So, when Claus turns to him with a sharp look, he can't help but notice that his mismatched eyes - one green, one dark red - can be pretty unnerving. There's something he doesn't notice as well, and that's how Lucas' fingers ghost over Claus' still hand, causing the silent boy to relax.

And then there's the turning point that Ninten would've never, everseen coming and is never quite aware of, either: "Hey, don't worry 'bout it!" The black-haired, red-capped boy beside him suddenly says, with a shrug and his usual smile. "If you don't wanna talk about it, don't."

Nothing different in his Eagleland accent, or his demanour, or even his expression. But Claus pauses, gives Lucas an almost unnoticeable glance, and then nods. Although slowly and a bit less than comfortably, he gratefully smiles back at Ness.

Three weeks and three days after meeting Claus, things start going downhill.

-:-

All Sorts of Stupid

-:-

"The thing about baseball," Ness begins, catching the ball Ninten throws at him and quickly throwing it at Lucas. "Is- Nice catch! Hah… it's that it's a real team effort, y'know?"

"Is it?" Claus asks, on his turn to throw the ball at Ninten. His right hand, although only covered by a rather thin white glove, didn't budge with the impact and is equally flawless in his throw. "An exceptional batter doesn't leave the others much to do."

Ninten catches it easily, but pauses for a couple of seconds. "He'd get a bad swing sometime."

"Nobody's perfect." Ness states, taking half a step back to put extra strength on his next throw. The ball flies high, a good way above Lucas' head and past Ninten's front yard altogether, before hitting the ground and bouncing away.

"Guess so." Lucas smiles. "I-I'll go get it."

Claus takes a step in Lucas' direction even before the blonde dashes off; he never, ever has Lucas stray further than a couple meters away from him, that's his limit, he has to follow. His reflexes not far behind, Ness walks beside him and extends his arm before his chest, stopping him from running after his brother.

"Relax, it's just over there," he says in a peaceful tone.

For a moment, the orange-haired male gives him the same sharp look he'd given Ninten a few days ago. Despite how Ness looks right back at him and lowers his arm, he doesn't take another step.

Awkward feelings aside, Ninten chooses to think that's a good thing. He's noticed Claus' tension and protectiveness; what he hasn'tnoticed is that he's more preoccupied with giving Ness either his coldest glare or something entirely different and impossibly nice, as far as his expressions went. Rather, what he looks for are words, or any distraction to stop Claus from staring holes into his cousin, and Lucas thankfully suffices.

Were he not as distracted as the others, he would've had the time to feel relieved. "What's that?"

Lucas extends a small, white envelope to their host, already seeming apologetical. "No idea, I, um, s-saw it hanging out of the mailbox and…" He points to its round seal before stepping back. "That's the tournament's logo, right?"

"Woah, 'bout time." Ness comments, suddenly beside Lucas, an arm rested lazily on the shorter psychic's shoulder. "Are they gonna come get us now?"

"I dunno. Hold on, let me see."

Ninten takes a furtive glance around as he opens the envelope, and tries not to sigh as he unfolds the letter; Claus has come to stand on the other side of Lucas, this time staring at Ness' arm as if the scrutiny would move it away from his brother. The mere fact that Ness' arm is anywhere in contact with Lucas seems to be driving him silently crazy. Shrugging matters off again, the telepath looks down at the letter - concise as always, lacking everything but two lines of text and an oversized signature. "Ah… another delay," he says. "No date this time…"

"Again? Isn't that odd?"

"Kind of, but I'm sure it's no big deal."

"It's not the first delay," Claus insists.

"Well, yeah, the organizer's a bit of a… eccentric?" Ninten nods to himself before turning to Ness. "These things happen, right?"

"Aaaall the time," Ness nods back.

"If you say so," Lucas agrees, responding to the pair's optimism far more easily than his twin. "But, uhm, isn't there any way to ask what's going on? Just to make sure?"

"I could call, I guess," the Eagleland boy offers. "But Iunno if it'd go through, it's pretty far away. Ninten?"

"Maybe from the department store, I think there's another phone on the top floor."

"Alright then. I'll go call," he grins. "Problem solved."

"I'll go with you."

It's not a weird thing to do, Ninten thinks. Not at all. Maybe a bit sudden coming from Claus, who wouldn't go anywhere without Lucas, but that didn't have to mean it was badfor him to accompany Ness, and he wants to take that much for granted.

"Sure, let's get goin'."

It's about then, though, that he begins to notice things.

-:-

Leaning over the table, his right hand placed still on it, Claus drops the blunt knife. His white glove is gone and, in the lack of it, the entirety of his right hand lies visible; the metallic structure, the tendons struck together with tense cables, the gears, the joints on all his fingers, the pieces deeply sunken into what's left of his flesh, joining the prosthetic hand to the rest of his arm. He wasn't prepared to need a tool, didn't expect his hand to need so much maintenance, but…

It won't do. I'm gonna have to fix it again later.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah," he replies easily, giving Lucas a small smile. "Nothing broke, it just got loose."

"You should really be more careful…" Lucas sighs, resting his chin in his palm and peering at Claus from his spot in a nearby stool. He grins when his twin turns to return his gaze. "Too bad you're not a lefty. You're already bad at fixing stuff, you don't need to be any clumsier!"

"Tch, clumsy? Who couldn't play catch because he got hit in the face four times, again?" The blonde makes a flustered noise, then, a sort of choked sputter, and Claus calls it enough of a triumph. He leaves his seat, putting his white glove back on, covering the metallic structure and disguising it into a very convincing semblance of a normal hand. "I'll go back before Ness comes looking."

"Mornin', Claus!"

It's just past breakfast time, he's just left the kitchen and has just finished adjusting his glove when Ninten greets him, jumping down the last three steps of the stairs. Internally, he can't get over the convenience of the timing. "Morning."

"What's- hey, where are you going?"

"Outside."

"Why?" Ninten strides ahead fast and turns back to him, standing close enough to the doorway to block exit. "Want me to go with you?"

Claus steps besides him and puts a hand behind his shoulder, gently pushing him forward. The way free, he continues behind the black-haired boy. "…that's fine. I'm playing catch with Ness."

"Oh, so… you guys already ate?"

"Yeah. See you later."

Ninten is left stranded behind the closed door, deciding on the odd aftertaste. He's interrupted something, or annoyed someone, or... diving too deep into his own intuition. (Must be hard being a telepath, he recalls Loid telling him once. Too many... emotions around you, all together. Must be confusing. Must be kinda annoying. Being a telepath, that is.)

He furrows his brow; something bothers him.

"…Claus can cook…?"

(Must be hard being a hero, he recalls Ana telling him all the time. Specially when you're so bad with priorities.)

"Aah, nope, I did."

He's already smiling again by the time he turns around. "Hey, Lucas! How come everyone's up early?"

"Ness was already out when we got up." The blonde shrugs, a soft smile on his lips; exasperated but fond, Ninten vaguely acknowledges. "A-And Claus always does that."

"Goes to sleep really late, too..."

"Uh-huh."

"Claus does a lot of weird stuff, doesn't he?" Ninten crosses his arms over his chest, sighing. "...I hardly see him these days."

When he notices the way Lucas is looking at him, he wishes he could've bitten back the words. It's not that he feels particularly intimidated - come on, he remarks to himself that if he's not intimidated by Claus' iciness, he won't be intimidated by a pair of big, blue eyes and a tilted head - but he does feel... observed? Well, more than the obvious.

"A-Anyway! I should go make sure they're not knocking each other out!"

He's outside before Lucas could begin to formulate the remark he most certainly saw coming. What he doesn't foresee, however, if that his lack of evasive skill would only get him as far as the fence before the blonde caught up, running up to him.

"Wait, Ninten, what... was that? Are you okay?"

"N-Nothing, I just don't... see him very often! Like, he doesn't talk to me a lot, that's all! It's crazy, it's like he's even avoiding me, haha..."

"He doesn't do that on purpose..."

Ninten stops, suddenly and completely. Ahead of them, seeming unaware of their presence, Claus and Ness are engaged in their fast-paced game. Ninten looks away. "...I wouldn't know. It's hard to tell what he's thinking. Why is he like that?"

"Uhm, that's just how he is... he's going through a hard time, s-see..." Lucas looks at the ground sheepishly. It's obvious that it's an explanation he doesn't want to give very much, as much as Ninten would really want to understand. "So... please be patient with him, okay?" He glances straight at Ninten's eyes – much like Claus' mismatch, one blue, one brown, a lot warmer and easier to look at than the acidic combination of bright green and red. "Is it that important to you?"

"It's not that it's important like that, it's just bugging me a lot," Ninten replies stubbornly. He's worried, alright, he's sensitive enough to be worried about everyone, and being a telepath, the weird silence that raises a barrier between his senses and Claus' thoughts is very unnerving. But it does have a lot to do with his pride as well, with the fact that he's trying so hard to get close, to help, and Claus just... shoves him away.

But he doesn't shove Ness away, and that's what bothers him the most. Why is it so easy for Ness to make people trust him? What is he failing to do? Does Claus just dislike him and that's all? He's really trying! And he doesn't dislike Claus, for one. He actually thinks he's pretty damn cool and awesome, and probably a nice guy under all that oh-so-important, oh-so-distant attitude of his. He just has to... crack him! But with kindness!

And then he hears Lucas giggling softly under his breath, and realizes that he's been thinking way too loud, way too clear, and that Lucas has sensed everything. "Whoops," he mumbles, which only seems to make the blonde giggle more.

"I'm glad you like my brother so much. Even though he's not being very friendly," he says, thankful. "A-And it seems like you'd really like to know what he thinks of you...?"

He nods slowly. Lucas steps beside him, hands shoved in his pockets.

"I'm p-pretty sure he thinks of you as a friend! He's just... n-not very good at showing it, but I don't think he dislikes you at all," he says, smiling a sheepish smile. "He was… away for a long time, he's still getting used to things."

He nods at Lucas, who lets out a relieved breath. "Well... yeah, fine. To be fair, Ness is ridiculously and unfairly good with people, I guess..." But that doesn't mean he can't make it, too. Maybe he's not as far from Claus as he thinks. With a bit of a satisfied smile on his lips, Ninten turns his attention back to the game of catch.

If Claus considers him a friend, he thinks, that's good enough. And besides, he's certain there has to be a very good reason for him to be so distant. Just as long as it's not some sort of irrational dislike toward him, that's fine.

It's about then, too, that an especially strong throw from Claus sends a tired Ness stepping back and eventually jumping to catch the ball, before falling to the ground. The dark-haired boy makes no move to get up and only holds the ball up high, waving his arm for Claus to see that he'd still caught it. Claus, in turn, only looks mildly surprised and promptly looks away; Ninten is halfway through assuming that he's just a sore loser when he hears a chuckle coming from his direction.

If being a little distant wasn't weird of Claus, Ninten thinks, thatdefinitely had to be. He's laughing? Actually laughing?

Claus rushes over and extend his hand to help Ness to his feet, and Ninten just wants to kick something. He's both very optimistic about his approaches to Claus, and very pissed at how in the heckie does Ness manage to make broken people laugh so faaaast. It's just unfair, seriously unfair.

-:-

Ninten has a plan. Not a very elaborate or impressive plan, but he has an idea of what he wants to do, so he figures it's a start: he'll get everyone together, wait for Ness to get Claus in a merciful mood and ask questions. He doesn't really know what questions, but he has to start finding things out and if Claus laughs again maybe Lucas will have some questions of his own, too. All he needs to do is call them downstairs for a random reason - there'll always be an excuse, he'll just cross that bridge when he gets to it - and wait. Pretty simple.

"Ness? Neeeeeeess?"

Except that the key piece of the plan just doesn't respond.

Well then, he'll just go get him. No big deal. Ninten climbs the stairs fast, and wonders just how distracted Ness has to be.

"Ness! He- …hey?"

Nobody around, all doors open except for the makeshift guest room's; he stops and blinks at it. Ness didn't seem to be anywhere else, but that's not a room he could just… go into, not since Claus asked his mother - with an impressive vocabulary and polite tone - to turn it into a temporary guest room for the twins. It's not right, for one, and he really, really doesn't want to interrupt anyone in anything, but…

Well, his hand's already on the doorknob, so he might as well turn it. "Um… Lucas?"

Of course, flaw or natural ability, the worst case scenario is exactly what Ninten doesn't expect, and exactly what he gets. On the other hand, flaw or extra confidence, Claus doesn't expect the intrusion either; less than calm, he stuffs his old personal belongings back into his bag and sits up straight. "He's out, training." He explains, speaking hurriedly.

"Oh…" Ninten stammers. That's one less. "Um, and Ness?"

"With him."

Well, that did it. He can barely talk to Claus nowadays, much less ask him things, much less have him answer them. Being alone with him would've been nice any other time, when they could talk or go somewhere or play games, but when he had a specific question to ask and suddenly less bravery than he knows himself to have…

"Aren't you gonna come in?"

Then again, Claus is pretty impatient, and Ninten doesn't really have many 'no's in him. He only nods twice, fast, and takes just one long step inside, looking ready to bolt right back out. All the while, Claus gives him a measuring look.

He clears his throat; oblivious, Claus supposes. "So aren't you, um… gonna go with them?" He asks. Claus' eyes instantly drift elsewhere, silent. "I mean, I didn't see them going out anyway…"

"Neither did I," Claus responds, looking up. "Lucas left a note."

That explains a bit."W-Well, you shouldn't be worried about that! 'Cause-"

"I know, I know. He'll be okay. I just don't like it when he goes out alone..."

"But he's not alone! If he's with Ness it's okay, you-"

"I can trust him, I know that," Claus says easily, shrugging. In all honesty, he already does trust Ness.

"So what's the-" Ninten cuts himself off when Claus raises his hand, settling it atop his head; he bites back his words in a bit of a hurry. With a look that suggests it's the most normal thing in the world, Claus just takes his hat away, examining it between his hands. "W-What…"

"Nothing. It's just like this is the exact same..." Claus looks at the inside of the hat, peering attentively at the details, the places where some thread hangs off or the fabric itself is damaged. "I'm just curious. It's not the first weird thing I notice. Do you know anything about this?"

"Huh?" Ninten feels the need to look at his hat as well, as though he doesn't know every detail by memory already. "No, I mean, it's not the same thing. Do you think it's some kinda weird time paradox thing? 'Cause I'm sure this is my hat, it has the little burn mark from back on my adventure and everything."

"Ness' does too. In the same spot." Claus explains, flipping the hat to show the little marred bit near the backside of it. He then shrugs, deciding that Ninten isn't really aware of anything and, instead, he puts the hat atop his own head.

"Hey! What're you doing there?" Ninten complains. His head feels weird without his hat, already.

Claus just flashes him a smile before turning to look at his reflection in a small mirror nailed to the wall. He promptly decides that kind of look doesn't go with himself at all. "Just messing with you."

He nods to himself once and, with that rare smile still on his lips, places the hat back atop its owner's head. Ninten's hands rise up to it instantly; he knows they've brushed against Claus' cold ones, but doesn't know why that seems so worthy of notice at all, and the smile really, reallybothers him, but he tries not to think much of it. Claus, on the other hand, has put some distance between them to ease his own overthinking.

Done adjusting his hat backwards, Ninten's hand drifts down to fiddle with his bandana. "Say, Claus… can I ask you something?"

"I suppose so," Claus replies, impassive except for a few rapid blinks at the other's change of tone.

"What's up with you and, uh…" the black-haired boy doesn't miss the impatient look he's given, then. "Y'know, Ness?"

Claus looks him straight in the eyes, and Ninten has the vague impression that he's asked the right question. "What are you talking about?"

"I dunno, you act… weird around him," he begins, motioning vividly with his hands to cover for his lack of words. "It's… it's just weird, well, not weird, it's not that you act weird, but you're a bit different so I figured- actually, I don't really know what to figure there, so I guess the point is-"

"Is?"

He remains quiet for a few seconds, and briefly wishes he were as eloquent and straight-forward as Claus as he formulates his question. "What do you… think of Ness? Is he like... your bestie or something?"

"Pft, no. He's just… nice. Relaxing to be around, I guess."

"Oh." Ninten blinks. That was… simple.

Though, seeming displeased with the conclusion, Claus inspects his shoes intently and speaks again. "He's… really, really… nice."

"I heard- …oh."

And that's when Ninten decides that he either doesn't pay enough attention, or Claus is way too hard to understand. If he didn't notice a small, slightly crooked smile on the older boy's lips before, he certainly does now. But it's a bad thing, isn't it? Claus couldn't like Ness that way, that'd be bad. Because... well, it'd just be bad and it wouldn't work at all. Not cool, not cool at all.

What Claus, on the other hand, doesn't notice, is the appreciative look he's getting, because even someone as careless as Ninten finds some things worth looking at. And Claus really looks less like the uptight asshole brother and more like the nice, slightly overprotective guy he really is, when he smiles a little more. So what he can see is that Ninten is blushing, a lot- he's the last person who would notbe embarrassed about the subject they just touched - and what he doesn't is the reason.

Then again, neither does Ninten. He's anything but an expert in the things that made people like Claus smile quite like that, or the ones that made him get so red, or the nauseating summersaults his heart apparently insists on doing, or-

"Ouch…"

"Huh?" Ninten looks at Claus, figures it's not a very good time for a comforting pat on the shoulder, and lowers the hand he'd raised. "You okay?"

What Claus feels, then, is exactly what he tells Ninten: "Just a headache. I guess I should lay down."

What he doesn'tis the messy state of the nearby telepath's mind, so he, naturally, never does put two and two together. It's never happened to him before, after all, but Ninten is the greatest telepath amongst them, and his chaotic thoughts and feelings are the living amplification of a headache for the unfortunate orange-haired psychic beside him.

"Um, alright. I'll go, then. Okay?"

Then again, neither does Ninten. He has no idea he's causing it. It's hard to notice that your psychic abilities are giving other people headaches when you're busy counting smiles that - for that exact reason - aren't there anymore and your only coherent thought is "well, that sucks". So what Ninten knows is that those smiles are really, really nice and what he doesn't - sort of- is that he wants some for himself, too.

-:-

It's near goddamn midnight. Where could Ness and Lucas have gone? What could they be doing? Lucas' note said they'd be back before nightfall - did he mean dawn? Did he have the slightest idea of what Claus would think?

He sighs. He should stop thinking about it. But he doesn't think he can, just like he can't help himself from being an obsessive bastard, or not being as carefree as he was before, or how his smiles are all so forced nowadays, or- he hangs his head. He thinks too much and does too little. That's his problem. He can't over his own goddamn tragedy, poor him, blah, blah, blah...

He'll go no further, he decides, and it takes all of his willpower to make himself turn around and head back toward the house. Maybe they'd come back and he didn't see. ...nah, he would've seen them. Sure, his eyesight's a bit too red, but it's pretty good in the dark, and he's just gonna screw with himself more if he starts on thatsubject, so he tells himself to shut up and walk.

He makes it back to the house and lets himself in - so far, so good. He takes a quick glance around the empty living room, the quiet hallway as he climbs up the stairs - so far, so good. He lets out a breath and enters his room; so far, so-

"...Ninten."

The younger boy turns to him at once, with a jump-

...and Claus just can't help it. He breaks out in laughter despite the intrusion, leaning back against the door. "What're ya doing?"

Ninten frowns a little, and although he couldn't quite manage to look menacing either way, the fact that his nose is donning a- a somethingwith a pig snout imprinted only makes it all the funnier. "Trying to figure out what this is," he says, pulling it off.

"That's an eyepatch, Ninten," Claus says, shaking his head, still chuckling under his breath. "It's not for your nose. You dope..."

Ninten proceeds to redirect his attention at the eyepatch, looking at it with what Claus assumes is his version of a very intense glare. Then, as though having gained something from the scrutiny, his expression begins to soften.

"Ninten?"

"There's blood on it..."

He shrugs, quickly taking and replacing it with a clean one from his nightstand. "Here ya go, have a new one. What did ya expect?"

"I don't... really know," he shakes his head, smiling - Claus' pleasant demeanour, he supposes, should be allowed to last. He tries the new eyepatch on, covering his left eye with a red X. "How do I look?"

"Ridiculous."

He pouts, taking it off before Claus can laugh again. He's a bit of a jerk, nothing new, just as he's a bit of an idiot for what he asks; he'll call it curiosity or something better after some self-kicking, but there it is anyway: "Are these, um, yours?"

Claus, who has already taken seat on the bed and gives him an impatient look, would've called that obvious, if it weren't for the fact that it's a two-eyed look anyway. "Uh-huh."

"But your eyes are... okay."

"Kinda."

"What's wrong with them?"

Claus raises an eyebrow, not looking one bit humored. "You really wanna know?"

"I'm asking."

(He really wonders why people call himdumb, sometimes.)

"Eh, you wouldn't like it if I told you much 'bout it."

That's a lot of words, he notes. For Claus, that is. "Try me."

"Better not."

"Hey, you don't have to tell me everything! Trying doesn't hurt, you know. Just try."

"I dunno if I want to."

"You'd tell Ness."

He really doesn't know where that came from, but it sounded way too bitter for his own taste. Claus just stares, equally surprised. "...I guess."

"Why won't you tell me?"

"I dunno. Don't feel like-" And he simply hates how Ninten glares a lot better when he's not even going for that look. "...tryin'." But damn it all, really. "Okay, okay, fine."

"Thanks, Claus." Ninten smiles, and doesn't seem to realize he's not getting anything he should thank the older boy for.

He doesn't have the patience to be properly pissed (and figures that ought to make some sense). He heaves a long sigh; the sort that would make anyone a little unhappier and a little scared to test his patience further, but then again, he's decided that Ninten is a bit too slow for things like that.

He looks up at the boy squarely, waits for him to hold his gaze for a moment, and points to his left eye. "This," he says, "this one isn't mine."

Well, damn. Now Ninten seems completely stranded, and has that one look girls (and Lucas) have before crying.

The funny - except not really - part is that he blinks it away pretty fast. "...a-ah?"

"It isn't mine. It's... fake, I guess. I can see with it just fine, 'cept a lot redder, but eh..." Claus' expression indicates that he does not find it funny anymore. "Long story. Reallylong story, okay?"

"Um, alright. If Claus would rather not tell a long story, well, alright."

Well, at least he's more or less satisfied with that. He smiles softly. "Thanks," he mutters, reaching for the eyepatch still in Ninten's tightly-closed hand. He uses his other - warmer - one to open the boy's fist before taking it away. "Also, I can still tell you're blushing, y'know."

Ninten chokes on air, or spit, or embarassment, and Claus doesn't care that his smirk at that probably makes him come off as a real jackass. It's not his fault, after all. He just doesn't come into contact with people a lot nowadays, and Ninten kinda gets like that easily. Well, that, and he's got to be too utterly good-looking for his own good. Yeah, that's probably-

Noise. The door opens downstairs. Ness and Lucas don't seem to be bothering to lower their voices or watch their steps.

Son of a-

Claus practically jumps to his feet, as soon as he remembers that he owes Ness a punch in the gut. Which is not very hard, all in all, because he's just decided it.

"Ah, they're-"

He cuts Ninten off by throwing the door open in a wide motion, storming out before the doorknob hit the wall and it bounced right back, closing with a slam. Ness and Lucas, already on the second floor, pause to give him brief glances. Lucas looks startled for a moment, but looks away quickly. He supposes Ness just knows what's coming to him.

"Where the fuck were you?" He says easily, like a greeting.

Ness doesn't seem to notice how nicehe's bothering to be, a tired look in his eyes. (Ness... tired... it doesn't fit too well, but he decides he doesn't give a damn at the moment.) "Don't start this right now, Claus, seriously..."

"Don't give me orders. It's fucking midnight." He turns to Lucas, who continues to avoid his eyes. "Where the hell were you?"

He likes the look in Lucas' eyes even less than the one in Ness'. He already feels like a mess; he doesn't need know things really area mess, specially when he has no idea what the hell happened and why no one is telling him a damn thing.

Lucas shakes his head. "We're leaving tomorrow." And it doesn't help matters at all, but it apparently is all he has to say, because he immediately turns around and begins walking to their room.

Angrier and more confused than before, Claus moves to follow him - and is stopped short. He hadn't noticed Ness extending his arm in front of him. It really, really doesn't help that he suddenly noticesthat walking into it and having Ness hold him back is the closest contact they've ever had and, somehow, the uncomfortable feeling that drops into his gut makes it too hard to cool down now.

"Let me go."

"We just talked to the organizer."

"Let me go."

"Lucas asked some questions."

"Let me go, Ness."

"He had a feeling something was off- something to do with your world and mine, and our timelines too, so he asked."

"Let. Me. Go."

He pulls away from Ness with a difficulty he doesn't expect. He doesn't expect being so fast to grab him by the collar of his shirt and raise a fist either, but that doesn't particularly bother him.

"Claus, don't."

And that's not Ness' voice, which is sort of fortunate, because he thinks any word from the black-haired boy would've earned him a broken nose, no two-ways around it.

He doesn't let go of Ness as he turns his head to look at Ninten. The younger boy's expression reminds him of Lucas, and he briefly wonders if he somehow knows something Claus doesn't.

"...Please. Please don't fight here."

He gives in. He doesn't know exactly why, but he does. He releases Ness with a shove and makes for his room again, door slamming shut behind him.

Ninten lets out a breath; there was something in Claus' posture as he held Ness, back perfectly straight and shoulders squared, that made him nervous. He manages a sympathetic smile - because he has to manage somethingnow, he feels - and approaches his cousin. "What happened?"

Ness stops glaring at the spot where Claus had been standing - "Not right now, Ninten" - only to storm away himself. Ninten can't bring himself to press any further, so he lets him go.

The second door slams shut, nearly startling him, and then he's alone.

-:-

Sleep, although scarce and pretty much restless, does cool him down considerably. Claus is barely even ticked off when he wakes up and doesn't see Lucas on his bed.

Which, of course, doesn't mean that he won't go looking, or that he's not entirely too protective. But he can live with that.

He sits at the edge of the bed while he collects his clothes from the floor, sliding into the same ones he wore the previous day. He doesn't have a lot of clothes anymore - the ones from three years ago mostly don't fit, save for the ones he remembers being far too big to even keep over his shoulders. At least his shoes look exactly the same, although they're a new pair; he'd lost the original pair a long time ago, before the start of the entire mess, and the mess that caused it, and the mess that would come later.

He stares at his hand, for a moment, inspecting the joints between the metallic pieces, and quickly retrieves a pair of gloves from the nightstand. It... wouldn't do to go out without that.

The hallway is quiet, too quiet for the awkward shuffle Lucas still couldn't help carrying himself with. Claus is wandering down the stairs when he catches a hint of bright red and yellow out of the living room's window, and strides the rest of the way in long, purposeful steps.

In retrospective, it was still pretty unobservant of him to completely pass by Ninten, who stood in open view by the coffee table, but the black-haired boy didn't seem to notice him until then either, so he supposes they can call that a null round.

"Y-You're up!"

"Everyone is, apparently," he says in an even tone, not at all surprised when he confirms that it's both Lucas and Ness who sit outside, on the fence.

"Claus…"

"What?"

Ninten gives him an unreadable look - why does he even pay attention anymore? - accompanied by both a sigh and the smallest smile as he glances our the window, before turning back to Claus. "Just let them be alone for a while, okay?"

He frowns. "It's late. I don't see why I should."

"They have a lot to figure out," Ninten replies, firmer now, with conviction that throws him off for a moment, but doesn't stop him from giving an incredulous look in return. "I can tell."

No, Claus thinks, he can't. He can't tell anything of what's going on, he doesn't know shit. He can't tell that there's something really wrong with their world, with him, most of all, and he can't just go around acting like it's totally fineif he doesn't know what Claus is or what Lucas has done. He can't.

But he does, and Claus doesn't stop him anyway. Just like that, he directs his attention back to the window, not even giving him a second glance when the younger boy's hand finds his and just holds it. The annoying thing about it, he supposes, is that he does hold it in return, and he's suddenly very relieved he didn't neglect wearing gloves. Ninten just stays by his side quietly, holding his hand in case he does something sudden or something stupid.

Lucas moves outside, jumping off the fence and digging in his pockets for something. Claus recognizes the bright yellow yo-yo all too easily; it feels important even now, although he pushes the memories of the pedestal and the entire museum of trivial belongings to the back of his mind.

Ness jumps to his feet as well, seeming to stumble a little before-

"He'd lost that a long time ago..."

And Ness is suddenly holding Lucas and trembling, slumping until it's Lucas holding him instead and Claus is connecting the dots way too fast and- Friend's Yo-yo,he recalls, Master Pokey's friend,and something dizzying and faintly angry is bubbling up his chest. Master Pokey's friend, for whom Master Pokey had made an entire museum of things he once had, an entire movie teather just to show the same movies about him over and over again. Master Pokey had been obsessed with him, and even more obsessed with that yellow Friend's Yo-yo when Lucas had innocently taken it. It was Ness', and Lucas was returning to him now, which meant...

Ninten, he notes, can only rest his forehead as high as between his shoulderblades as his arms circle around him from behind, hesitant. Claus lets out an uneven breath, and decides that maybe he cantell what's going on, after all.

"I'm sorry I'm not Ness and you don't trust me that much, I'm sorry things have been so hard for you, I'm sorry for... what they did to you, you know. I really want to help, but I don't know what to do, Ness is the only one who always knows what to do, and I'm... sorry."

He is, too. But that has more to do with him being Ninten than not being Ness, and he just can't shake off the feeling that it also has everything to do with how he needsto hide his hand from him, needsto believe he can't tell what Claus is.

-:-

They leave the next morning, like Lucas said. They rise early and pack in silence, Claus throwing his belongings in his bag haphazardly but taking his time to fold his clothes. Old shirts with yellow and sea-green stripes, brown shorts - the ones that still fit him, that is. He still rather likes them.

He doesn't say much when Ninten tells them he can't go see them off, doesn't say much when the younger boy bids him see-you-later with a hug, only tries not to be too straight-forward or clumsy in returning it, and he doesn't say much the rest of the way.

They depart in a small white ship, Ness jumping in first and motioning for them to hand him their luggage. He approaches his twin while he's checking their bags a second time, making sure they've left nothing behind, and finds it entirely too difficult to speak up, but eventually does it anyway.

"Did you... figure it out?"

Lucas looks at him curiously. Claus smiles a little in return. "About our world and theirs."

The blonde's eyes lit up then, warmly, genuinely, and he smiles as he shakes his head. "Um, not yet, but... I think I could figure all of it out, if I go through with this."

The words make a pang of something he can't quite name constrict his chest; it's difficult, he knows, for Lucas to keep handling all these changes. It hurts. It has to, because he never did like anything that was new, new things scared him, and yet it's been nothing but new things lately. "It might be hard," he comments, still unable to decide just why Lucas seemed so resolute. "Are you sure?"

"Well, to be honest, I don't know at all."

He pauses for a moment, because if his brother grinned, then he doesn't understand anything anymore, and Lucas hops right on board anyway, Claus himself following mechanically, so-

"But... you have to try, don't you think?" The blonde says. "Despite the chances, and how scary and weird it seems. Trying can't hurt."

He turns right on his heels and runs and smilesas he does, and Lucas calls out too him a second too late.

"Claus? W-Where are you going?"

"Back! I'm sorry, I have to-!"

"But your clothes are still here!"

"I know!"

And it's a pity, really, because he wanted to try and wear his old shirts again. But he supposes he can live without them, for the time being, so he just runs and smiles, runs and smiles - he notices that much, but what he doesn't is that he hadn't been so genuine about it in years.

He leaves the coastline behind in moments and goes forward, ahead, wherever, but he's going and- "Try me".That was it, huh? Trying. "Trying doesn't hurt, you know."

He turns to follow the traintracks as soon as they come in view. Trying. Trying. Well, heck if he knew it doesn't hurt, and heck if it makes a difference anyway. He's inclined to believe that much is a given, but still.

Merrysville. Not much longer, but his mind races so fast he barely remembers the shortcut to Podunk until he's running through it, bolting right past a pair of guards who shout something he honestly doesn't care about. He'll let them. He'll let bystanders yell their compaints as he rushes past - the white fence is visible, now, perhaps a hint of red and blue nearby - just like he'll let Ness do whatever he wants, and he'll let Lucas go and trywhatever he fucking wants because that isNinten turning around and-

"I'm sorry things have been so hard for you, I'm sorry for..."

But Ninten tried, didn't he? And he was trying then, wasn't he? Even though he knew just what Claus is and what Lucas has done and all the things Ness didn't want to think about. He's sure know, he's sure he has underestimated Ninten severely. He's the best telepath out of them all, he should've guessed, but he's sure now that Ninten does know the whole story, he just probably didn't care that Claus is some sort of aberrant creature.

Claus could care less. He's whatever he is and he'll try whatever he wants, and he thinks he likes the change a little this time. He likes the weariness of running and thinking so much, so fast, he likes the surprise in the black-haired boy's eyes and he's certain he adores the way he squeaks and stumbles when the older boy collides with him.

"C-Claus?"

He grins down at him, knees on the soft grass (ah, he does kind of like that, too, he supposes, but how he wishes he were wearing shorts), Ninten sprawled awkwardly between them, and gives him no time to move away, pulling him into an embrace as soon as he sits up. "Hey."

"W...What are you doing?" Puzzled, of course, but his hands still rest on Claus' sides.

"Staying with you," he smiles, holding on tighter. "If that's alright."

"I thought you wanted to go with... um, Ness...?"

"Oh?"

"I thought you... l-liked Ness...?"

He gives a small laugh. "That's… different. I told you, he was just really nice to me and Lucas."

"So… what am I, then?"

"Toonice. But I'mnot, so you'd only…"

And Ninten's hands drop. "I don't get you. You don't like me because I'm too nice? And why do you say you're not nice? You are too."

He pulls back just enough to take hold of them, eyes avoiding Ninten's. The smaller boy frowns.

"Claus?"

"Oh, you know why, don't play dumb," Claus says, holding his gaze just a little less.

"What? You mean the thing with your hand and your eye and your leg, too?" He says, like it were the most obvious thing. "How does that make you any less nice of a person? You're the only one making yourself less nice, when you act like a jerk. And if that's why you don't like me, then I really don't get you at all!"

"…I like you anyway," Claus says, feeling a strange relief wash over him. Unable to find any other way to channel the feeling, he places a kiss to the back of each of Ninte's hands; the corners of his lips curve upwards just slightly as he notices the other's blush. "So I can... I can try to stop being a jerk, I guess. It won't hurt. So... can I stay here? A little while?"

"Yeah, of course, but... are you... sure of that?"

And when he grins, he feels like the same Claus he's really always been.

"Well, to be honest, I don't know at all."

-:- End -:-

A fanfic and a lesson in trying no matter what sort of stupid we are!