Klaus’s hand is on his arm and for a second Five can't breathe. The touch is unexpected. Warm, even through his blazer. Then it's gone.
“Tag, you're it,” Klaus says and Five just stares at him, his mind focused more on the pressure he can almost still feel than on the words that go with it. “Aw, come on Five. If we have to look like kids again we might as well act like them.”
It's tempting. His hand itches to tag his brother back. And then he remembers that tag is just a game. Meaningless. Empty. (Empty, like the spot on his arm where Klaus’s hand no longer sits.) It wouldn't fix a single thing. Five shakes his head and goes back to reading, gripping the book even tighter than before.
It's 1 A.M. and Ben is exhausted from their mission. He can barely keep his eyes open as they leave the site of the attempted robbery and is asleep almost as soon as they sit down. His head drifts sideways until it's laying on Five’s shoulder.
Five freezes. Ben’s head is a soft weight. Their bodies are pressed so close he can feel his brother's shoulders move with breath, can smell his shampoo. He holds unnaturally still, not wanting to jostle Ben and risk losing this small moment of contentment.
“Number Six!” Reginald snaps, “Now is not the time for sleeping!” Ben blinks awake at the sound of their father's voice, the one sound none of them can sleep through.
When Ben realizes where he was sleeping, he sits up quickly, muttering an even quicker “sorry Five” as he does so. Something twists painfully inside Five at the words. Twists at the implications of you should be upset with me and I’d want you to apologize. Hurts because he doesn't want Ben to be sorry for laying his head on his shoulder. He wants him to do it again.
They've been back for weeks, working hard in their limited free time to get Vanya used to her power. She's hesitant, fearful, but she's making good progress. Until the day she isn't.
She falls behind in their morning workout. Reginald, already in a bad mood, makes no secret of his disappointment, telling her in front of the whole family (Grace and Pogo included) that without a power, ordinary tasks like the one she just failed at are her only hope of being good at something.
Later, they gather in their hideout and she has trouble focusing. First she can't make her power work at all. Then it comes out too strong. She breaks down at that, crying and blubbering that “Dad's right about me” and “I'll never control it”. Allison is by her side in seconds, grabbing her sister’s hands and whispering reassurances.
The twisting in Five’s stomach is back. He turns away. Tears prick at his eyes because this is it, this is the one he can’t explain. He replays the memory, the way Allison’s hands closed around Vanya’s like it was second nature. The way Vanya’s tears have grown steadily quieter since she did so. He chokes back his own tears, swallowing against a lump in his throat. Don’t make this about you, he berates himself. Don’t be selfish. Now is the time to deal with Vanya’s problems, not yours. Don’t make this about you. Don’t. You. Fucking. Dare. He takes a shaky breath. Another, smaller, voice argues back so when will it be time for you? He bites the inside of his cheek to interrupt the thought.
When he turns back around, no one can tell the difference. It’s practically his specialty to deflect and avoid, to bury his feelings so deep no one can even tell he has them. He’s all bluster and false cheer when he adds his voice to the group’s insistence that, yes, Vanya can do it and yes, powers are hard to control and no, she isn’t worthless.
He lets the tears fall that night, in the darkness of his room as he rubs his thumb back and forth across his own wrist.
He’d tell himself, sometimes, during the apocalypse that everything would be better when he got home. That he was only lonely because he was alone. He sees the sentiment now for what it was: the foolish self-deceit of a foolish child. Alone is the good kind of lonely. Alone can be fixed. But there isn’t a solution to every problem. He can’t remember what it’s like to be hugged and it is not the apocalypse’s fault. Rejected. Unwanted. Untouchable. Unlovable. There’s no circumstance he can blame because he’s always been like this. He can’t fix it.