The first thing Five hears when he wakes up is the sound of his own name.
It’s likely that that’s what wakes him up, in fact; the room is free from any other disturbances-- lights off, curtains drawn, and yes, Five checks, windows still locked-- and he’s quite attuned to the sound of his name, more so than the average person. Old habits die hard, right?
He stretches his feet out, warming up his body in the slow, easy way that he typically relishes, as he listens idly for any other mentions of himself.
“-- only one example,” Luther’s saying. It sounds like it’s coming from the kitchen downstairs. No wonder he heard it, then; Luther’s voice carries. “What if it was just a bad day?”
There’s a muffled reply, and then Luther says, “he’d tell us, wouldn’t he?”
The pointed silence on the other end feels oddly satisfying.
Five rolls his neck. This body is pretty flexible and it bounces back quickly, but lately he’s been stiff. It’s nothing he can’t handle, of course, but he needs to be mindful.
He’d fallen asleep in his clothes, so once he’s done stretching he swings out of bed and pads out onto the stairs. Coffee is the first priority. Though he can’t say he’s mad about interrupting whatever secretive conversation Luther is having with someone.
Although, he supposes. It could be important, couldn’t it? Maybe he’s taking this too lightly. He pauses for a moment, foot hovering over the next stair and breath held. He needs to listen to more.
After a moment, he catches the stream of noise again. “-- an eye on him, yeah?” Allison’s saying. She sounds exasperated. She is talking to Luther, though, so perhaps that’s appropriate. “I’m worried.”
That is… more troubling. It must be about her personal life, then. If it was about the family, or about something important, she’d have told him. She would have known that he needs to know, as quickly as possible, in order to--
“It’s Five, Ally,” Luther says. “He’s fine.”
He pads the rest of the way down the stairs and rounds into the kitchen, controlling his velocity just so so that it appears that he’s casually strolling in as Allison says, “he just seems agitate-- oh. Good morning Five.”
Allison swallows. She’s dressed, in trousers and a purple blouse, but she looks half-finished, feet bare and hair tumbling around her shoulders. It’s a familiar sight for him now. Allison is an early riser too.
Selfishly, it’s his favourite look of hers. Like when they were children, and she would dress up in borrowed or stolen clothes a size too big and show off for all of them, proud and beaming and beautiful.
Except this morning she’s not proud or beaming. She rubs at her eye and glances at Luther warily. He shrugs.
“Uhm, we were just-- I was talking about you.”
Allison’s voice has shifted into Concerned Parent mode. Five grits his teeth.
He’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, but he does not like where this is going.
He pushes past where Luther is lingering against the counter to pour himself a coffee, sipping it as soon as his cup is full even though it scalds a little.
“What about me?” he asks as he sits. He’s not an idiot. He can piece together the conversation they were having. They think that he’s been agitated. She’s worried about him. But he still has to ask, has to hear what she has to say.
She glances down at her cup. Seems to think better of it, and meets Five’s eye. “You haven’t noticed how tense you’ve been lately?”
“I’m not tense.” It slips out automatically. He isn’t, though. Not any more than usual.
Well, okay, he has had that muscle stiffness. And there have been a few extra nightmares lately, and possibly a small increase in flashbacks. But he’s almost certain that she doesn’t know about those. So.
Her brow creases as she stares at him. “Five,” she says slowly, “you haven’t slept properly in over a week. The other day Diego tripped over you from where you were crouched on the floor, writing equations on the wall. And yesterday you threw an apple at Luther and almost broke his nose.”
Five glances up to Luther for the first time. Luther shrugs, red in the face. “I’m fine,” he protests weakly. Although now that Five sees him, his nose is kind of red.
But Luther had been acting like an idiot. He hadn’t been listening to anyone during lunch, domineering with his opinions, and he’d spoken over Vanya several times even after Five had tried to warn him, so--
“He deserved it,” Five says. He finishes off his coffee in one long sip.
“Hey,” Luther croaks at the same time Allison chides, “Five.”
“He did. I don’t know what you’re on about. I’m fine.”
“We’re just concerned for you, that’s all.”
“We?” Five asks. He shoots another look at Luther, who still looks constipated. When Allison follows his gaze he reaches in quickly, snatching her coffee cup from her. (Payback for her parental tone, he figures).
But when she doesn’t even flinch to find her coffee stolen, Five sighs. Maybe he should be more responsive to this. She’s just trying to be helpful, after all. It’s coming from a kind place.
So he meets her eye and nods. “It’s taken under advisement.” Then he grabs a chocolate croissant from the plate in the center of the table and takes a messy bite out of it, projecting himself back into his bedroom.
He lands at his desk without spilling a sip of Allison’s coffee.
The next morning when he arrives in the kitchen for breakfast, it’s empty.
He breathes a sigh of relief. It’s nice to hear the coffee maker percolating. The gentle sound of the water dripping into the pot acts as a pleasant backdrop to otherwise silent kitchen as he obligingly opens the curtains and peers out into the morning. It’s dim, as it has been for the last number of months; he makes a point to be awake before the sun is up. They’d just had the time change recently, so it’s even darker than he’s used to, but that won’t last much longer.
Still, it’s peaceful, this empty dimness. It’s familiar.
The sound of feet wandering in through the living room sparks his memory; Vanya has an early teaching gig this morning. That’s alright, though. She’s unobtrusive in the mornings.
He rolls out a kink in his neck as he pours himself his first cup of coffee, breathing deeply as he waits for her to enter the kitchen.
“Good morning,” he offers, as she breezes by him, a flurry of movement, grabbing her keys off of her hook. She smiles at him.
“Happy first day of spring!” she chirps, and pulls on her rain boots.
Five’s stomach clenches. He tightens his grip on his coffee mug.
“Yeah, you too,” he murmurs.
It doesn’t feel right somehow. She doesn’t seem to notice, though, smiling again as she heads out into the rainy morning. But Five still feels suspiciously unsettled as he sits, the careful placement of his cup on the table the only noise in the once-again quiet kitchen.
It’s not spring already, is it?
The next afternoon, he catches a glimpse of the daily newspaper when he goes to grab a bowl for lunch.
He almost drops the bowl.
When he teleports himself back to his bed, his hands are empty, and he has to squeeze them into fists to stop them from shaking.
The worst day of Five’s long life was not, in fact, the day that he discovered the apocalypse.
Nor was it the day that he found out about Ben’s death, huddled over Vanya’s book in the ruins of what once was a library, shuddering and sweating at once, while Delores murmured sweet comforts in his ear to soothe him. That day he had ripped the book to shreds the second he’d finished it, and never returned there.
The worst day of Five’s life was not a day at all, in fact; it was moment, on a day that he doesn’t remember anymore, in a month that he couldn’t name. In a time that doesn’t actually exist.
It was many years after he’d teleported into the hellscape of the post-apocalyptic earth-- maybe even decades after. By then he’d stopped etching the days into his wagon; by then he’d stopped caring. The only date that mattered, anyways, was April 1st. April 1st, 2019. The day that he had to destroy.
He and Delores were tired. He doesn’t remember why, but he does remember the bone-deep exhaustion, and how it had filled him up and emptied him out until he could barely move. It’s maybe the most tired he’s ever been. His body was lead and water all at once, fluid and heavy, stiff and boneless.
But he was happy.
Because he’d discovered a shelter for them to live in. It was small, but warm, and had enough of it’s ceiling that the ash didn’t get through, so they could finally be clean for a while. And best of all was the Bordeaux; a little shelf, a few expensive bottles, lined up neatly against the wall like the original owner had intended them for display rather than consumption.
Too bad whoever that was was dead, though, and Five was going to drink it.
Delores was thrilled.
“I think we deserve it, huh?” he’d asked her, smiling wearily. She returned the smile, eyes kind, and it lit something inside of Five every time she looked at him like that, to see her trust in him, her warmth for him. He was perhaps the unluckiest man in the universe, but she had a way about her that sometimes made him feel the opposite.
He waved her off as she reminded him to drink water but grouchily obliged, taking a sip from his canteen as he placed her against the wall, smoothing down her shirt. A floral purple blouse that they’d picked out together last time they’d found a town. “Yeah, it’s not a bad little place here, is it?”
He rarely stayed in one place for longer than a week or two, but it might be strategic to make this a longer dwelling.
A home, his mind whispered. A place to stay. A place to be together. Safe. For just a while. They were both tired, weren’t they? They both did deserve it, didn’t they?
“Yeah, me too, Delores. Me too.”
They’d settled in as the world continued turning beyond their door. Five had washed in the few centimeters of water he found in their bathtub, where the ceiling was open, and imagined the rain that must have put it there, the refreshing water, it’s cool touch leading to growth, to life, back when life had existed.
He’d wrapped up in his best sweater, feeling clean and resolving to wash Delores too, after they’d had their drink. He made them a feast, of canned beans and canned corn and a box of crackers he’d found in this family’s pantry, miraculously intact.
It was the best he’d felt since he arrived in that time.
But then it had all gone to shit.
“His trauma-versary is coming up,” Klaus says, that evening over dinner. He shoots Five an apologetic glance. Five bristles. He doesn’t need anyone else to explain his behaviour for him-- so what if he broke the chair handle? They’re old chairs, it probably wasn’t even his grip that did it. It could have happened to anyone. It could’ve happened any day.
“My what,” Five deadpans. Vanya’s staring at him with no small measure of concern. He wants to break the other handle.
“Your traumaversary,” Klaus repeats. “It’s March 19th today, right? We all know what April 1st was. It’s been almost a year.”
Heat rushes to Five’s face. The whole family is staring at him now, with soft concern, with surprise, with dawning realization. He hates it. He hates it.
Besides, he’s fine. He is.
It only gets worse from there.
On Wednesday, Vanya finds him under his desk, muttering to himself about heat and bodies and loud noises, too loud, too close, he can’t escape, and not again, he can’t do this again. As soon as she snaps him back to reality-- this reality-- he teleports away, finding himself an hour later hidden in the library behind a stack of books, his pillow clutched over his face.
Thursday, he freezes with one foot hovering over the front entrance as he’s suddenly hit with the gut-wrenching, blood stopping realization that the apocalypse is coming.
He shakes his head a moment later, chiding himself for forgetting the year that separates him from that particular task, and heads out the door.
That night he wakes on top of the refrigerator to the sound of his own screaming.
On Friday, Klaus provokes him and Five kicks him in the shin and maneuvers him to the ground, only stopping to pant when his foot is on Klaus’s throat.
“That escalated quickly,” Klaus gurgles from the ground, and Five is inclined to agree.
By Saturday, Five-- who has never gone all the way to crazy, not once in 45 years-- thinks that he might finally be losing his mind.
It follows him like an unscratched itch. Under his skin, over his body, around his energy, like a mosquito that won’t leave him the fuck alone.
April 1st. April 1st. April 1st. No matter how many times he acknowledges them, thinks them, whispers them, screams them, the words follow him around. April 1st. An insatiable beast, his subconscious.
When he does give into the demand, that’s when the questions start forming. Childish, ridiculous, illogical questions. He’s had that number-- April 1, 2019-- etched into his brain for 45 years, had quite literally carried around a stack of newspapers taller than a phone book so that he could check, over and over and over again until one of them disintegrated, and then pull another one off the stack. That date is folded into the very fabric of his being, and yet--
What if he’d gotten it wrong?
What if it was April 1st, 2020?
What if it could be this year?
What if it could be any year?
When will he ever know that it’s over?
He doesn’t let himself pause long enough to even contemplate the question, let alone answer it. Or ask any others that might be more difficult to fight off.
The only way he can blot it all out is to keep moving. If he can ignore it, he can function.
“Are you crying?” Klaus asks. His voice is high and lilting-- teasing-- as he ambles over to the couch, but when Five turns to glare at him, his expression is surprisingly earnest. Rimmed green eyes stare at him with a lucidity that Five has no right to be surprised by anymore. Klaus smiles, but it’s gentle. Like he’s talking to a child.
It’s worse than teasing. Five doesn’t need pity, for fuck’s sake. Especially not from Klaus.
He tells his brother as much.
Klaus just rolls his eyes and lights up a cigarette, but Five doesn’t miss the way his face falls with something akin to resignation. Five takes a breath in, clenching his fists in his lap. Shit, Klaus is so goddamn sensitive. And that’s not Five’s fault to fix. It’s not.
Although. What he’d said might not have been entirely fair. Klaus’s lucidity is a testament to his efforts to stay more or less sober over the past year, after all. His brother has been trying. Is trying.
Five just-- wants it away from him.
“I don’t cry,” he says anyways. Because he doesn’t.
(Babies cry when they require their needs met. For them, it’s logical; emotional displays are a social function. Five had learned very quickly as a child that his tears had served no purpose, and in the apocalypse they would’ve contributed even less if he’d attempted them, so he hadn’t bothered).
Also, if Five talks again, maybe Klaus will stop looking like he pissed all over his favourite skirt.
It works. Klaus pulls a face. “Oh, yeah, me neither,” he agrees, feigning solemnity. Five snorts. He closes his notebook, resigning himself to having whatever conversation this is instead of finishing the equation he’d been working on. He probably needs a break, anyways. Time has gone hazy around the edges.
“You cry all the time.”
“I do not,” Klaus gasps, eyebrows furrowed. His head turns slightly to the right.“Shut up I don’t.”
Five shrugs. Klaus can deny it as loudly and flamboyantly, or as darkly and cynically, as he wants, but his body doesn’t lie. For all that the world continually kicks Klaus when he’s down, Klaus has always stubbornly held onto the hope that the day would come when it wouldn’t. It’s illogical, but it is Klaus.
“I don’t, seriously!”
There’s a spark of genuine hurt underneath his dramatics, and honestly, Five doesn’t have the strength to be annoyed anymore.
He’s just... so tired. And old. What’s that expression? Scraped out with a spoon. That’s how Five feels. Like a pumpkin. Empty, or mostly empty, except for this stupid pressure, rattling around in his veins.
(April 1st, his brain reminds him. He bites his cheek).
“It’s not a bad thing,” he says. It comes out more sincerely than he’d intended.
Klaus blinks. “Whatever.”
His spindly fingers bring the cigarette back up for a long drag and he closes his eyes, arm extending past the edge of the couch to absently tap the ashes off before he rushes it back to his lips. They wobble to the ground, landing somewhere beyond Five’s eye line.
He could probably calculate where exactly beyond his eye line, if he wanted to. How many feet away from him they are, based on the distance to the ground and the movement that dislodged them. He could probably determine exactly how many piles of ashes are scattered around this room, too; Klaus always smokes two back to back. He doesn’t smoke in the house often, probably twice per week or so. Over the past year, assuming the approximate weight and size dimensions of the ash in an average cigarette, that would mean that--
“Yoo-hoo, Five.” Klaus’s hand is wiggling in front of his face. Some of the ash lands on Five’s nose.
“What?” he snaps.
“Where’d you go there, bud?”
Five pinches his nose. “Nowhere. I was doing math. Until you interrupted me.”
Klaus puts on a parody of a guilty expression. “Sorry, sorry.” He waves his hand dismissively. “I just wanted to let you know that it would be okay if you wanted to. You know?”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. Maybe he’s not too tired to be annoyed. “Okay if I wanted to,” Five parrots, deadpan. When Klaus just looks at him, head lolling down to make eye contact, Five raises an eyebrow. “Okay if I wanted to what, Klaus.”
Klaus considers the ceiling for a moment, clasping his hands behind his head. When had he put out his cigarette? “Cry,” he says. He pauses, stiff, before looking back down at Five imploringly.
“I told you, I don’t do that.”
Klaus shrugs, exposing a section of his stomach. Five wants to tell him to knock off the casual act, but he figures Ben’s already got that covered. Or maybe it was Ben’s advice to pitch casual; Five is prepared to yell at him too. “Whatever bro,” Klaus says. “I just hope you know that it’s normal, yeah?”
“I’m aware of the statistics on human emotions, Klaus. I’ve read more books than you can even comprehend.”
He’s being rude again, and he knows it, but he doesn’t care. The itch is getting stronger and rage is bubbling up, heavy and humid, in his throat. He doesn’t want to talk about this with Klaus. He doesn’t want to talk about this with anyone. Crying is illogical, all of this is illogical. He doesn’t need to sing kumbaya to his emotions, he’s need them to go away.
He hadn’t realized that he's been clutching his fists again until Klaus is gently unfurling them. Five blinks. How hadn’t he seen that coming? Klaus’s hands were behind his head, and then-- fuck, he really needs a drink.
“You’re bleeding,” Klaus points out. He nods to Five’s hands. “Just so we’re on the same page.”
And Five’s ready to snap again, to tell him that he can take care of his own damn self, thank you very much, and he doesn’t need Klaus’s lectures or his warm hands or his gentle expressions or his anything. But then he looks down at the little red half moons he’s managed to carve into his own palms with his nails, and he deflates again.
“Tell Ben I’m sorry,” he mutters, feel a wash of guilt rinse the anger from his stomach. “I know he hates it when I do that.”
Klaus’s head whips up. “Ben’s not here,” he says, with a low titter. Five shakes his head.
“I know he’s not, idiot, but he’s been walking by every few minutes to snoop, right? So tell him next time.”
Klaus’s laugh is somewhat hysterical. “Christ on a cracker,” he says, “I don’t know how you do that, bro.”
Five rolls his eyes. “I’m a trained assassin, dumb-ass. Besides--” he cuts himself off. Neither of them need anymore fuel for their protective, stupid sibling bonding missions. He won’t give them any.
But the knowing glint in Klaus’s eye tells him it’s too late. “Whatever you say,” he says with a wink. And then Ben seems to enter the room, because Klaus looks up. “Five loves us.”
“I don’t,” Five pouts. God, he really, really needs another drink. But-- “Just Ben.”
He hears it before he sees it. It’s too late; the pillow thwacks into Five’s face and he gets a mouthful of it, sputtering. “I’m-- I’m gonna fucking kill you,” he threatens, low and dangerous, as the pillow bounces into his lap. “I’m gonna murder you, Klaus, I swear to God I will.”
Klaus, the infuriating bastard, just puts his hand over his heart and turns consideringly to his right, away from the murderer who just threatened to end him. “Awh, look at our little murder child, Ben!” He snuggles his arms against his chest like he’s cradling a child. Five images he could strangle him, if he replicated the position. “He’s gonna kill us with his-- owh, what the fuck--?”
Five grins. “Gotchya.”
Klaus looks dumbfounded. He gapes at Five, eyes wide. Then his expression morphs into one of absolute, pure, revolting delight. “I cannot believe you just participated in a pillow fight.”
Five shrugs, cracking his shoulders as he settles back into the couch. “Pillow decimation, maybe.”
And Klaus cackles, long and hard and high. He clutches his stomach as he giggles it all out and then finally sniffs, wiping a tear from his eye.
Five can’t help but think that all of this was worth it, for that.
“Alright, this has been fucking swell little brother. I’m gonna quit while I’m ahead, and frankly, alive.” Klaus stands up to with an audible pop, groaning slightly as he tugs his arms over his head and angles up onto his toes like some kind of ridiculous cat, taking up as much horizontal space as physically possible as he reaches toward the ceiling. “I’ll catch you later, yeah?”
Then he pauses, squinting at Five with a measure of consideration. It’s alarming how quickly his expression falls back into earnestness, into a quiet seriousness that makes Five squirm. His bare heels fall back onto the earth with a soft thud.
“Seriously, though,” Klaus adds. “If you do ever want to talk about what you’re feeling… I’m a vet, remember? And daddy’s favourite little experiment, not that that counts much to you, I know. But still. I served, and now I’m sober, and there is a reason that I’m up in the middle of the night with you.” His stare is intense, imploring. Five’s sweating. “Just… remember that. Oh, and Ben says that he forgives you-- if you patch those up. Properly. With little car band-aids and everything.” That last part is probably his addition, judging by the innocent way that he flutters his eyelashes at where Ben must be standing.
Five ducks his head. The little half-moons have stopped bleeding-- the cuts weren’t deep to begin with-- but they seem to stare back at him, glistening and taunting. What an irrational thing that was to do, Five ponders. Injuring himself helps no one. It serves no function. No purpose.
Though-- it did make Klaus take notice, didn’t it? And it compelled Ben to check after his safety.
Shit. Five has fallen into the most childish, most humiliating trap of social dynamics. Was he trying to get attention? What is he becoming? Why can’t he be better than this?
There’s a speck of ash on the carpet behind his hands, and Five squeezes the cuts tightly to avoid shuddering. He can’t be in this house anymore. He can’t be anywhere, anymore. He wasn’t lying when he told the Handler that, a year ago.
A whole year ago. That whole thing was a year ago. Almost 365 complete days have gone by since he’s gotten back.
And Five still doesn’t know how to be a person again.
But maybe Klaus does. Maybe Ben does, too, in his way. Hasn’t he been doing the same thing, since they all started believing Klaus that he was there? Learning how to be real again?
Five tugs the blanket over. It’s too cold in here. It’s too cold, and too warm, and he’s-- he--
“Hey, Five.” Someone quietly snaps their fingers. “Five, hey, you’re alright, yeah?”
Five bites the inside of his cheek. Makes himself look up. The world is surprisingly blurry, somehow. He sees Klaus through fog. “Hm?”
Foggy Klaus stares at him, and then nods slowly, eyes brightening in recognition. “He’s crying,” he hears Klaus whispers conspiratorially, but Five can’t think who he might be talking about. He’s tired, so tired. He just needs to rest. He’ll be better after that.
Maybe he says it aloud, because suddenly there’s another blanket headed toward him, the soft afghan from Klaus’s bedroom (when did he leave to get that?), and it’s guided gently over his shoulders by knobbly, familiar hands.
And then there’s different hands-- ones he recognizes too, from somewhere, ones that make him feel, all at once, a quieting of the agitation in his veins-- and they’re brushing the hair back from his forehead. Softly, so softly. Five exhales.
And then he sleeps.