Five squeezes his eyes shut in the vain hope that failing to acknowledge them will make them go away.
He’s too weak to lift his head and look anyways.
He doesn’t want to look.
It’s not better. The lights are back on and he was foolish to think this was better while stuck in the dark. None of it is better.
The steps stop before him and his traitorous body trembles.
Five flinches instinctively, sensing the hand reaching out to him, a useless whine of protest muffled by the gag.
It’s too soon. Not again.
“Oh god Five. What did he do to you?”
His heart shutters to a stop.
It can’t be.
It must be a trick. A hallucination.
Hands take his face with a gentleness he hasn’t known in so long.
His skin still twinges at the contact, an electric shock, but it’s not the bolt of all encompassing agony he’d expected.
“Five please,” the voice begs, fingers brushing his cheek, coaxing him to open his eyes.
Taking the risk, he blinks hazy eyes open.
There’s blood and dirt on her clothes, period wear from her last assignment. Her hair is thrown carelessly in a messy bun and there are dark bags under her eyes which tell of stressful sleepless nights.
But it’s her. It’s really her.
Five has never been so happy to see anyone in his life.
The relief is so immense it brings him to tears.
Dolores croons in sympathy, wiping at his wet cheeks and tugging the gag free from his mouth.
She looks around the small room and makes to walk away, turning back immediately at his scratchy protest, shushing him so as not to further agitate his raw throat.
“It’s okay, I promise I’m not going anywhere. It’s over. I just need to get you down. I’ll be right back.”
Dolores waits patiently for his approval and he gives it easily, despite the overwhelming fear the mere thought of her absence leaves him with.
What if she doesn't come back?
With a watery smile, she moves behind him, keeping her actions loud and speaking constantly. Following her warning, a wheel clanks and chains rattle as his bonds slacken, lowering him down.
His feet touch solid ground for the first time since waking up here. He tries to brace himself, but following the next bit of give his legs buckle, the strain of his own weight too much after the period of disuse. It sends him crashing down before the manacles catch him again.
Five cries out, his right arm jolting painfully.
Dolores curses behind him, though it’s no fault of her own.
The Inquisitor dislocated it days ago.
She lowers him until he can sit back on his heels. Reappearing before him, Dolores pulls a silver key from her coat pocket.
“This is going to hurt,” she cautions, pressing into his side to take his weight.
Starting with the dislocated arm, she unlocks the cuff and lowers the appendage slowly, pausing whenever Five whimpers to rub at the strained muscles.
Another sob breaks loose once he’s finally freed, chest constricting with emotions he can't even name. Dolores is gracious enough not to acknowledge Five’s pathetic display of weakness, allowing him a moment to collect himself in her embrace.
“I have to pop it back in,” she murmurs eventually, regretful. “Then you can rest.”
She makes it quick, the shoulder stiff and swollen and bound to be painful either way.
Satisfied with its placement after careful prodding, Dolores pulls off her coat, draping it over him and drags them back to lean against the wall. Arms wrap around him and he nestles into her warmth, too tired to do anything else.
Dolores tends to his mangled wrists and ankles, plying makeshift bandages from torn pieces of her clothes. Other than that, there’s not much else she can do for him now. His other wounds either superficial or already stitched up.
Five shivers as she checks the stab wound in his side for signs of infection.
He can feel the phantom pain of the needle breaking through flesh, the harsh tug of the thread on each pass. The Inquisitor’s fingers prodding back into the wound, wiggling under his skin, tearing the stitches out and ripping flesh, just to repeat the process again. And again. And again.
Dolores’ hold tightens in response.
Feeling returns slowly, in unbearable pins and needles. Every point of contact with his body burning. Muscles throbbing in time with his heartbeat.
Dolores rubs a hand up and down his limbs, trying to draw feeling back into them faster. Five buries his face into her neck in response, biting the inside of his cheek to keep silent.
“It hurts,” he gasps when he can manage it no longer, tears dripping onto her skin.
“I know,” she breathes and it sounds like she truly does. Like she’s in pain too. “I’m sorry. It’ll pass. Just try to relax.”
She rests her cheek against the top of his head, humming a soft melody. Her other hand curls around his nape, thumb running circles on the skin there and then alternating to brush her fingers through his hair, tucking errant strands behind his ear.
He fixates on that. Focusing on the soothing repetitive motions and trying to ignore everything else.
It lulls him into a calm that has his eyelids drooping without his permission.
He shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t fall asleep here.
But he’s just so tired.
And Dolores is here. If Dolores is here, he’ll be safe.
He’ll be safe.
When he next wakes up he’s in a bed, bundled comfortably in a fuzzy blanket.
The back of a hand presses against his forehead as he blinks owlishly, assessing his surroundings.
The hand is Dolores’. He’s in her room, on her bed.
Practically laying on her lap.
“Hey,” she smiles down at him from where she rests against the headboard, “you with me?”
Where else would he be?
Dolores chuckles. Had he said that out loud?
“You caught a fever. It fried your brain for a bit, but looks like it’s gone now,” she explains. “Think you can manage sitting up?”
Five responds by attempting it and half manages, Dolores pulling him up the rest of the way until he’s settled flush against her side.
Testing his limbs, he’s pleased to find them both responsive and less painful, nothing but a dull tingling left in reminder. His wrists too, have been wrapped in actual sterile bandages.
He’s handed a glass of water and what’s likely a stolen painkiller once he’s steady and he drinks gratefully, watching Dolores curiously from his peripheral.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” It’s not the croak he’d been expecting and that at least is something though his throat is still sore.
Markedly more coherent, his mind spirals through worst case scenarios. Surely Chase can’t have been caught so soon? Dolores would be doing something about it if he was. She wouldn’t have let him lay in bed uselessly, if Chase needed help right?
She barks out a humorless laugh and he snaps to attention at once. “Really? You can’t think of a single thing that might be wrong right now.”
“Dolores,” he demands.
Eyes drift down and away from him.
“I have to leave soon. I’ve already stayed too long.”
“What? Why? You can’t have another assignment already?”
She says nothing. The silence makes him uneasy. Dolores has never been one to hold her tongue, more likely to speak her mind, consequences be damned.
Her hands tighten to fists at her side. “I have to help them look for Chase.”
Five freezes. Certain he’s misunderstood. That he heard her wrong.
“Five,” she turns, taking one of his hands in her own. She meets his gaze head on now, desperation shimmering in her eyes. “It was the only way. They weren’t going to let you go unless I made the deal and I couldn’t just leave you there.”
“You’re serious,” he mumbles dumbly.
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“Didn’t have a choice...of course you did! You do! Dolores, you can’t!” He must look just as desperate now too. “They’ll kill him. If you do this, he will die.”
“The Handler said she wouldn’t,” she protests with little conviction, because they both know that’s bullshit, even if she’s clinging to a false hope. “And if I do nothing, what will happen to you?”
“It was my fault,” he begs, searching for her concession and finding none.
Five rips his hand away, putting distance between them.
It feels like he can’t breathe.
“He trusted you! He trusted you and you’re going to betray him like this!”
“That’s not fair!” She shouts back, eyes watering. “I had to do something! He wouldn’t have wanted you to suffer like this!”
“But he wants this!? He wants to be hunted down like an animal for slaughter!”
“Five you were DYING!” Her voice cracks at the words, crying in earnest now.
He wants to say he’s surprised, but he’s really not.
He remembers begging to die. The Inquisitor had laughed at the request.
“You have no idea how difficult this is for me... How hard it is to make this decision.”
Wherever she is, the Handler must be enjoying herself. Watching Five’s pain and now forcing Dolores to suffer as well.
To save one friend at the cost of betraying the other.
He gets what a difficult position it is to be placed in. He really does, but he has no sympathy for it. As far as Five is concerned there’s only one acceptable outcome in this scenario.
The very idea of willingly giving himself over, of being in the same room with the Inquisitor again, terrifies him. But his own fear is inconsequential.
It hasn’t changed his mind.
“Then I’ll make the decision for you. If you do this Dolores, I will never forgive you.”
Tear filled eyes widen in shock. “What?”
Five forces himself to calm. It’s not her fault after all. This too is another byproduct of the Handler’s great fun, driving a wedge between them.
Breaking apart the last of the Horsemen, everything remotely good they built here, in one fell swoop.
He won’t have it.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. She needs to understand. “I just…I won’t be able to live with myself. It can’t be my fault too, not like—” He chokes, unable to say his name even after all this time.
Sorrow clouds her eyes. She opens her mouth to argue but Five cuts her off with a shake of his head, unwilling to have that conversation right now, on the precipice of another one of his failures. Despite whatever misplaced loyalty led her and Chase to constantly affirm that Malakai’s death hadn’t been his fault, the truth is unavoidable.
Five hadn’t been able to protect him and now Malakai is dead.
He can’t do it again. Can’t take the heartache of another loss. He’s simply not strong enough.
Even if it means forcing Dolores to shoulder it instead. He’s always been selfish like that.
Selfish and self centered his siblings had said. An insufferable know it all, capable of caring for no one but himself.
“Delores please. Don’t do this.”
She’s upset but ultimately looks unsurprised.
Self sacrificing Malakai had said once, with a terrible martyr complex.
For all the good that had done him in the end.
The fallout from their argument doesn’t last very long, in the way most fights with Dolores never do.
While she spits vitriol in the moment, ruthlessly exploiting their insecurities if it serves her point, she always apologizes profusely for it after. It’s something they’d just grown used to. Dolores’ temper as explosive as her ability at times.
She contacted the appropriate person, informing them that she’d no longer be aiding them in the search for Chase.
He curled back into her side shortly after, when she’d taken one look at him perched on the side of the bed and demanded that he, “Get back here before you fall out of bed. You’re heavy and I’m not picking you up off the floor.”
And that had been the end of that.
But that was yesterday. And since then, dread has steadily pooled in his chest.
There would be backlash for the disobedience, that much was a given. It was only a matter of when and it felt as if that time was ticking ever closer.
Dolores was meant to report in almost a half hour ago. The deadline hanging over their heads like a noose.
They're past due for company any moment now.
She half heartedly offered a game of cards for the wait, anything for a distraction from the palpable tension. He'd agreed for the sake of his own sanity.
A surprisingly inane and common activity to partake in while waiting for the Devil herself.
For all his anxiety, he still fails to detect her until she’s here. It’s frightening complacency. He’s grown so used to Chase serving as a forewarning, his enhanced senses able to detect threats long before any of them could, that he stopped watching his own back as carefully.
As a result, they both jump when the Handler appears in the doorway, a hard edge to her eyes and a false smile plastered to her face.
Dolores is on her feet and standing between them in an instance.
Part of him wants to stand with her, uneasy with the vulnerability inherent to sitting on the bed and uncomfortable leaving Dolores to face the Handler alone. But he’s still shaky on his feet and it’s more than likely he’ll need what little strength he has very soon. So begrudgingly, he remains where he is.
“War, you failed to meet the rest of the recovery team at the appointed time.”
“As I told your men, I’ve changed my mind. I’m not doing it.”
The Handler laughs darkly, shaking her head. “I can only imagine you have something to do with it,” she glowers, eyes trained on Five.
Dolores shifts uneasily.
With a sigh, the Handler runs a hand over her face. “I won’t lie, I’m disappointed War. Naturally, you can’t expect me to keep my end of the bargain if you’re backing out on your end so… I guess we’ll just have to see how long it takes to change your mind.”
Her attention switches back to him. “Will you at least be reasonable and come with me yourself Five or must I bring soldiers to drag you out?”
“He’s not going anywhere,” Dolores protests, gearing up for more.
“Enough!” the Handler snaps, tone sharp and brokering no argument. She so rarely raises her voice at them that it makes Dolores take a startled half step back.
Studying the Handler more carefully, Five notes the chips in her nail polish. The wrinkles in her clothes. Cracks in her usually impeccable appearance.
She’s stressed. They’ve actually managed to throw her off kilter.
It’s a good sign for Chase.
“Enough…I think it’s best you both take some time apart. I’ll be taking Death back to the Apocalypse. Give you both some time to think.”
It’s probably the best case scenario given the situation, and hasn’t his life clearly hit a new low with that revelation.
Not that he has any idea how he’s supposed to survive in the Apocalypse now, when he feels like a strong breeze might knock him on his ass, but it’s not the Inquisitor and that’s good enough.
“No! You can’t!” She wavers for a moment and then her eyes harden dangerously, fire flickering to life at her fingertips. “I won’t let you.”
Five swallows at the similarity of the situation. Can imagine Chase standing beside her.
If Five was at his best, they might have a chance. Maybe they could even kill her. But as it stands now it’s too risky.
He can’t lose them both.
“I’ll go with you.”
He wobbles unsteadily onto his feet, casually leaning against Dolores to keep himself standing. An arm wraps around his waist to hold him there.
“No need to be so dramatic,” the Handler scoffs at them, with a roll of her eyes. “I’ll bring him back as soon as Conquest is returned to me. Simple as that.”
He fights back a growl, turning to Dolores instead.
“I’ll be ok,” he reassures, placing his back to their avid audience to block her view. Gingerly, he takes one of Dolores’ hands, tracing a heart on her palm with a finger.
I love you.
She smiles at the familiar gesture, a genuine one, though the worry doesn’t leave her eyes and repeats the motion.
I love you too.
He’ll survive until the Handler grows bored or until they can figure out another way to keep Chase safe. He’ll survive as long as it takes.
There’s no other option.
Simple as that.
“You’re not telling us something,” Ben accuses, eyes narrowed at Five. “It doesn’t make any sense. If you were really only being interrogated, then why would Dolores agree to something like that?”
The teen opens his mouth to respond when Klaus interrupts. Instead of the annoyance he usually radiates when someone interrupts him, Five seems almost…relieved.
“I’ll tell you what doesn’t make sense. If you were such an elite important super team to them, why were they so gung-ho about killing you all?”
Through sheer force of will, Ben doesn’t groan out loud. Dear god Klaus has no filter.
“The Handler didn’t care what happened to us.”
“Wow, seems like a shitty caretaker.”
Also the wrong thing to say.
“The Handler was never our caretaker,” Five snaps, all bristling anger. “We belonged to her. We were her possessions. Just weapons to add to her collection.”
His stomach ripples as the monsters’ squirm restlessly, snarling their displeasure at Five referring to himself as an object. At the woman who dared think she could own his brother.
Their siblings look equally distressed. A small crater in the armrest of Luther’s chair and a sudden crack in Vanya’s glass the most tangible signs of it.
But they’re derailing. Though Five’s revealed more than he intended to, it’s still a deflection. There’s something else.
“Even so, why risk it?” Ben prods carefully. “If you were part of her… arsenal, surely you must’ve been the most important part.”
Five shakes his head, glancing at his hands under the table. “We were replaceable. Just like everything else.”
“You were replaceable? Super powered kids are replaceable to the Commission?”
Five sighs, resigned and its times like these when Ben really sees his fifty eight years of age.
“We weren’t the first,” he admits. “I don’t even know if we were the last...”
Diego leans forward, devouring the words. “Wait a minute, what the fuck do you mean you weren’t the first?”
It’s there. The pieces so close to clicking together.
The gaps in his stories, the answers are in the omissions.
But even prior to that. Something he’d seen with his own eyes and never understood.
A brief moment in the front of an ice cream truck. A blank in his memories. When he’d ceased to exist, yanked away from Klaus’ magnetic pull only to be dragged back to the very same second, like it had never happened at all. A change so imperceptible, there’d only been one other piece of evidence to prove that it occurred. That he hadn’t imagined the whole thing.
Racing back to the car in the middle of that deserted road, Luther had sworn Five disappeared. That it was different. No whoosh of space-time fabric ripping or flash of light to signal it.
He’d been there and then gone, no time passing in between. Just like how Ben had been there and then gone.
Diego, Klaus, and he had been looking for Hazel and Cha Cha. For revenge. But Luther and Five, they’d been waiting for…
“The Handler,” he blurts, eyes widening because how had he not seen it sooner, “she’s—”
“One of us,” Five finishes. “Yes."
"The Handler, the Trainer, the Collector, and the Inquisitor. They were the first.”