There’s something he’s missing.
Five read the Commission Handbook cover to cover multiple times—it’s not like he had much else to do in those days aside from the constant murdering, anyway—and he swears he knew the stages by heart. He memorized them fairly easily, but he never thought he was missing any steps.
But clearly, there’s something he’s missing. That’s the only viable explanation for this—for why, a week after the apocalypse is successfully stopped, Five is very much not okay.
He’s begun to card through the lingering stages of paradox psychosis now, the ones that were unfortunately either left out of the Handbook or slipped from his memory at some point. It starts with this pounding headache he develops as soon as they get back to their home timeline—intense, stabbing pain in the back of his skull, like ten migraines layered on top of one another. Then there’s the hallucinations: fleeting, horrific glimpses of his family lying scattered around him, bodies riddled with gunshots and oozing blood and brain. Add that up with severe insomnia, constant full-body tremors, and the excessive body heat—something is definitely wrong with Five indeed, and he intends to find out exactly what it is.
Luther is the first one to find him up late. It’s sometime in the dead of night, long after the rest of their family has gone to sleep, when Luther stumbles into the kitchen to find a disheveled Five furiously scribbling in a notebook over an entire pot of coffee.
For a long few moments, Luther waits in silence for Five to say something, to acknowledge his presence. Five is sharp like that—he always senses when someone enters the room, and Luther, with his hulking figure, is one of the easier people for Five to detect. But if Five notices, he seems to decidedly ignore Luther, continuing to scrawl almost feverishly.
Finally Luther clears his throat, and only then does Five look up. Luther almost startles at the sight of him—there are deep, dark circles under his eyes, so purple they look almost like harsh bruises against his pale skin. A thin sheen of sweat covers his ghastly face, and his lips are severely chapped. He looks—well—like somebody who’s had to deal with two apocalypses in the span of two weeks. He looks terrible.
“Luther,” Five deadpans. His voice holds no air of exhaustion, or weakness; if Luther wasn’t looking at his wrecked figure now, there’d be virtually no way to tell anything was wrong in the first place. That was the scary thing with Five; he could hide nearly any ailment or injury from the passing eye, shrouding it beneath his usual prideful front. Then Five adds, “I didn’t see you standing there.”
Now this is concerning. Five didn’t even notice Luther come in? Luther wasn’t making any particular efforts to be quiet, and even if he had Diego’s stealth, there’s no way he would be able to go undetected with Five’s perceptiveness. Something is amiss here.
“Are you alright?” Luther asks, and he can’t keep the fretful tone from his voice despite his best efforts. He can see how it annoys Five; Five can’t stand it when any of them use anything close to a nurturing tone around him. He hates feeling looked down on. Now that hatred is evident in Five’s face as it pulls into a tight scowl, and he returns his gaze to his notes.
“I’m fine, Luther,” Five says with a curt air to his voice, almost as if reading the situation as a challenge and attempting to come out sounding more condescending. “Just running a few numbers.”
Luther swallows. “No offense,” he says cautiously, and immediately sees Five visibly tense. Every conversation with him is like walking on eggshells, Luther thinks to himself ruefully, but plows on anyway. “But, Five, we’ve just got back for good. The apocalypse is off. I don’t think any of us are in need of your math anymore.”
Five exhales haughtily, shaking his head. He slaps his pen down with a harsh clatter. “Well, you’ll be delighted to know that this doesn’t have anything to do with you assholes for once,” he snaps. “This math is for myself.”
Luther lets out a sigh as Five picks up his pen again and resumes his scribbling. “Can I ask why, exactly?”
Without looking up, Five says, “I’m currently experiencing lingering symptoms of paradox psychosis, and I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the only way to stop it is to time travel back to the exact moment I first laid eyes on my younger self, reverse the effects by re-aligning that timeline with our current timeline, and then return to the present.”
Luther blinks dumbly. A few beats of silence pass; the only sound that fills the room is Five’s pen scratching against paper. Finally, Luther says: “You’re gonna time travel?”
Five doesn’t even try to hide his smirk at Luther’s slowness. “Yes, Luther,” he enunciates slowly, as if speaking to a child. “I am planning on time traveling.”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
Now Five barks out a laugh, looks up. His icy pale eyes are sharp as knives. “And why’s that, Luther? Go on, enlighten me.”
“Because I think you should give time travel a rest once and for all.”
Five scoffs, as if that’s already out of the question. “You clearly weren’t listening to a thing I just said. Luther, I could go through with my plan right now, zip back to the 60’s, take care of my business, and come right back, and you wouldn’t even know it happened.”
“Well,” Luther says. “Why don’t you?”
Five glares at him like he wants to burn a hole through Luther’s head. “Because,” he says through gritted teeth, “I need to do the math first.”
Before Luther can say anything else, Five snaps his notebook shut and jumps, disappearing in a flash of blue light that fizzles out into nothingness.
The next day, while Five is out getting more coffee beans for his unhealthy caffeine fixes, Luther gets the whole family together and sits them down on the couch for a very serious conversation.
“I think Five’s lost it,” he tells them.
Four pairs of eyes stare at him, unblinking, for a few moments. Then Allison raises her hand.
Luther points at him. “Yes?”
“Is this like the first time he lost it, or like the second time, or more like the third? I think we should know, for reference.” She gives him a dazzling smile, which he meets with a dead stare.
“I’m serious, guys,” he insists. “I mean I think he’s lost it for real this time. He thinks he’s still going through paradox psychosis.” Luther pauses, and then feels he should add, “He’s planning on time traveling again.”
This finally gets a reaction out of his siblings. They all whir into motion as if brought to life like wind-up toys, all sitting straight up in their seats and protesting loudly.
“Um, no,” Diego says. “Tell him no fucking way.”
“Yeah, I just got back to Claire after years of not even knowing if she still existed,” Allison adds, raising her eyebrows. “We are not risking screwing up the timeline again.”
“Didn’t he learn anything from last time?” Vanya complains.
“Besides, I haven’t been the same, you know, since the first time he jumped all of us,” Klaus remarks thoughtfully. “I kind of lost my sex drive, and it’s terrible, you know; I’ll put on a tape, but—”
“Okay, all of you, shut up,” Luther commands, grimacing at how selfish they sound. “Do you guys really only care if it concerns your lives?” He doesn’t wait for his siblings to answer that. “He doesn’t want to take us back with him. Guys, he wants to go back by himself.”
His words sink into the room, effectively silencing the family and filling the air with a thick curtain of tension. All four of his siblings have gone quiet, exchanging worried glances.
“Is he… okay?” Vanya presses, brow knitted in concern.
“I don’t know,” Luther says honestly. “I think he’s cracking, to be honest. He didn’t look so good when I saw him last night.”
“Maybe I should go talk to him,” Vanya suggests, to which Klaus raises his “ Goodbye” hand in opposition.
“Oooh,” Klaus hisses, “don’t think that’s a good idea, no offense.”
All eyes turn on him now. He sits up straight—or, somewhat straight—and inhales deeply through his nose, then explains:
“As someone who has been on and off drugs for the past, what—” Klaus glances haphazardly down at his fingers, counts them down pensively— “fifteen, twenty years of my life? I know from personal experience that it’s not very pleasant to be swarmed , especially when the accusers don’t know anything about what’s going on.”
“So what’re you saying?” Diego snaps. “We just sit back and do nothing?”
“No, no, no.” Klaus waves a finger in the air. “We give him space, and observe.”
“Klaus actually has a point for once,” Luther says.
“ Merci!” Klaus chirps, smiling pleasantly. Then he blinks, faltering. “Wait. For once?”
Ignoring him, Luther forges on, all business. “We should all keep our eyes on him and take note of anything we find wrong. Get him to talk if you can, but don’t push it. We can report back with our findings and decide how to proceed afterwards. All in favor, say aye.”
Diego stands up from the couch. “Nope,” he says as he strides past Luther. “We’ll go with that plan, but I am not saying aye.”
Luther deflates. “Really?” He glances hopefully at the three siblings on the couch. They all nod soberly back at him. Luther lets out a sigh.
“Okay, fine,” he says. “Just… go with the plan, then. And try not to act weird.”
THE FIVE LINGERING EFFECTS OF PARADOX PSYCHOSIS (unstated in the Commission Handbook)
Luther is acting weird.
Weirder than normal weird. He seems jumpy, almost as if trying to anticipate Five’s every next move—which is honestly more irritating than anything. When Five reaches for the stove, and Luther leaps in his path, snatching up the pot of coffee before he can.
“You want some coffee, Five?” he asks.
Five narrows his eyes, raising a brow. “Yes,” he deadpans, sizing Luther up. Luther looks nervous. Something is definitely off here.
“Here, I’ll pour you a cup, Five,” Luther says. “Hey, why don’t you sit down, Five?”
“I’m good,” Five says with a humorless smile. In truth, he has avoided sitting down as much as he possibly can these past few days; sitting makes his weariness start to win over, and he can’t afford that at a time like this. So he just shoves his hands in his pockets and stands as he watches Luther clutter around awkwardly for a mug. Luther finds one, starts filling it up.
“I was just gonna drink from the pot, you know,” Five says.
“Yeah, I know,” says Luther. “I saw you doing that the other night. That’s not a very good habit.”
Five rolls his eyes. He hates when Luther uses that tone—or any of his siblings, for that matter. It’s considerably one of the worst things about this god awful thirteen-year-old body. “If you’re about to give me a lecture,” Five warns, “I strongly advise you against it, Luther. I’ll remind you that I am—”
“Fifty-eight years old, smarter and better than all of us combined, yeah, I know,” Luther says dismissively. “You remind us so often it’s pretty hard to forget at this point.” Five wants to slap him upside the head for not taking him seriously. Luther finishes filling the mug of coffee and hands it to Five. “Here, old man.”
Five takes the coffee from him, opens his mouth to make some kind of witty retort, and in an instant a blinding pain rips through his head, eliciting a full-body flinch from him. The mug falls from his hand and shatters on the floor in an explosion of ceramic and piping-hot coffee, but the sound is distorted and faraway beneath the drum-like pounding in his head. For a moment, Five sees white, and panic reaches up through the wave of agony and seizes him in its fist. “Fuck,” he gasps out.
Then, finally, the pain subsides enough for his vision to clear again. Luther is at his side now, gripping his arm like a lifeline in his vice grip. “—ive,” he’s saying, “Five, can you hear me? Five!”
“Get your ape hands off of me,” Five hisses through clenched teeth, weakly pawing at Luther’s hands. Luther lets him go instantly and Five nearly topples over, but he manages to catch himself on the kitchen island. He stands there for a moment, hunched over the marble countertop with his hands clutching at his head, sucking in ragged breaths and trying to blink away the remnants of the pain.
“Are you alright, Five?” Luther frets. “What just happened?”
Five inhales sharply. “Migraine,” he mumbles, grimacing. “It just got bad there for a second.”
“I can get you some painkillers,” Luther suggests. “Ibuprofen, excedrin—”
“Trust me,” Five grits out, “the kind of dose I would need to actually make a difference would be near lethal for my thirteen-year-old body. I just need to wait it out, until I get my equations sorted out, alright?”
Luther just stands there in a dazed stupor, eyes wide, watching Five as if he’s some sort of caged animal. Five hates the way he’s being looked at; almost as if under a microscope. Shit. He knows he hasn’t quite been... right in the head since they got back. But the way Luther is looking at him now—staring, the way you’d look at someone who’s going...
Don’t say it, Five tells himself harshly. Don’t say that word. Saying it makes it real somehow, and—and it can’t be real, because if it is...
”Why are you looking at me like that, you bumbling idiot?” Five bites out, pushing back the onslaught of panic that threatens to overtake him. Fuck, his head is throbbing—but he doesn’t dare let that on, not again, not when Luther is watching him like this.
“You, um.” Luther swallows hard. “You have coffee on your socks, Five.”
Five clicks his tongue in annoyance. “Just do me a favor and worry about yourself, Luther,” he says. It’s a plea, really, although he won’t say it out loud. A desperate wish to just drop it, to stop whatever the hell he’s doing, because Five knows it’s something. Five clears his throat. “And, by the way, you’ve got coffee on your socks too.”
Before Luther can say anything else, Five zips away.
All of his siblings are lying dead around him, eyes frozen and unblinking at the ceiling of the farmhouse. They’re glazed over, don’t look quite real—almost like glass eyes. But everything else is real: the ragged bullet holes torn into their flesh, the blood pooling around their corpses, the smell of death and decay that’s thick in the air, that Five is all too familiar with, and once again he’s the only one left, the only one still alive, and there’s nothing he can do to save his family and they’re all already dead—
And then Diego sits up suddenly, eyes wide open, and says, “Five?”
Diego is standing over Five. Diego is gripping Five by the shoulder. Diego, who is completely unharmed, warm, breathing, alive—
“Five,” he says again. “Man, you’re scaring me. Are you okay?”
Five flinches back. “Jesus,” he mutters under his breath, blinking a few times. Diego really is here, and he’s staring with a worried expression knit tight on his face.
“You looked scary for a minute there,” Diego tells him. “You looked like you were—I don’t know. Like, a ghost, or paralyzed, or something.”
“Catatonic is probably the word you’re looking for, but intellectually incapable of producing,” Five informs Diego before turning on his heel to walk up the stairs.
Diego stops him. “Hey,” he says. “Uh-uh. You don’t just get to zone out for a minute straight and then just insult me and walk away.”
“I think I get to do whatever I want.” Five turns back to the stairs, but not before Diego catches his wrist. When Five turns back to him, Diego’s eyes are softer, more gentle around the edges.
“Come on, man,” Diego practically pleads, “tell me what’s up with you.”
Five takes a shaky breath. “You wouldn’t get it.”
Five gives Diego a sharp look. “Okay, fine,” he says. “I just hallucinated that all of you were dead, except it wasn’t like the apocalypse, when I found your corpses—I watched you get killed right in front of my eyes. All shot to death, riddled with bullets, lying in pools of your own blood. And it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, either; I actually watched it happen when we were back at the farmhouse, before I rewound the last few seconds and stopped the Handler from shooting you all. Does that satisfy you, Diego?”
Five lets the bite of his words sink in. He wants Diego to react—to get scared off, to let him go and leave him alone— but Diego’s grip on his wrist doesn’t loosen. Diego is gaping at him, face frozen in shock.
“Five,” he says. “That—that really happened? Jesus, why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I—” Five starts to feel like he’s choking, and he swallows the sensation back. “Because it doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it does,” Diego argues.
Five snatches his wrist back. “No,” he says fiercely, “it doesn’t. There’s nothing any of you can do about it, so you need to just let me finish working out my math so I can fix this whole mess.”
With that, he turns and storms up the stairs.
Five startles awake to see Allison standing over him holding a quilt.
“Jesus!” Allison yelps, jumping away. “Oh my god. You’re so scary.”
Five sits bolt upright, becoming acutely aware of his surroundings in an instant. He’s lying on the cold tile floor, limbs tangled together. He must have collapsed here. That’s not good.
“What were you doing?” Five asks Allison. She’s still clutching onto the blanket like a safety.
“You were walking around the living room,” she explains to him. “And then you—you just sort of fell down, and started sleeping, so I thought I’d get you a blanket.”
“You thought you’d get me a blanket?” Five echoes disbelieving, voice bordering on hysteria. He stands up, ignoring the way the world tilts around him when he does, and pinches the bridge of his nose with his fingers in frustration. “Allison, if you ever find me sleeping anywhere that’s not my bed, you need to wake me up immediately, not get me a blanket.”
“But—you never sleep in your bed!” Allison protests.
“Exactly,” Five growls.
Allison finally winds down enough from her shock to be indignant. She crosses her arms. “Five,” she says firmly, “when was the last time you slept?”
“Just now.” Five smiles blankly.
She narrows her eyes at him. “Okay, smart-ass,” she says. “When was the last time you got a full night of sleep?”
Five thinks, and finds that he actually can’t remember. Was it… a week ago? No—a week ago, he was trying to stop the apocalypse. Two weeks ago, then? No… two weeks ago he was trying to stop the apocalypse for the first time. So…
“I don’t know,” Five says honestly. At Allison’s expression, he quickly adds, “But it doesn’t matter. I don’t know what it’ll take for all of you pea-brained idiots to realize that.”
“We may not be as intelligent as you, Five,” Allison says, “but at least all of us are smart enough to know how to take care of ourselves.”
Five tries to hide his grimace. That stings harder than he thought. But he straightens before she can see and turns around to face her.
“Allison,” he says, “if I ever actually need a girl half my age to mother me, I’ll let you know. Alright?”
He pats her on the arm condescendingly and walks away, but not before he hears her mutter, “Asshole.”
- UNCONTROLLABLE SHAKING
Vanya actually notices his shaking before he does.
They’re sitting on the porch together after dinner, Vanya to have a smoke, Five in an attempt to clear his head. His eyes are fixed on the Academy gate, where he jumped through all those years ago after dinner; he’s running through his equations in his head, double-checking the math two times, three times, four times, five times. He can’t afford getting anything wrong again. Everything has to be perfect. He’s almost got it—
And then Vanya says, “Five, you’re trembling.”
He glances at her. She’s staring at him with that deep, sage gaze of hers, exhaling a puff of smoke from between her straight lips.
Five frowns. “No, I’m not.”
Vanya reaches out. She places her hand on his knee, and he looks down to see that it’s shaking like a leaf. He wills it to stop, but he can’t.
“You haven’t seemed relaxed since we got back here,” Vanya tells him. “You seem… on edge.”
“I’m fine,” Five says for what feels like the hundredth time, because he is, and why can’t his stupid family just get that?
“I still have my anxiety meds,” Vanya says. “You know, maybe you could use them, just to get yourself to relax for a day. I think your body is overstimulated.”
Five snorts. “You want me to use the same medication Hargreeves used on you to keep your powers dormant for years? I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
Five gives her a level look. He can’t tell if she’s pulling his leg or not. “Other than the fact that they were an inadvertent cause for you ending the world the first time?” he snarks. “I am not about to medicate my powers into dormancy.”
“You don’t need them anymore, though,” Vanya says. “Your powers. You do know that, right? You don’t need them right now.”
“Yes, I do!” Five protests.
“For what?” Vanya demands, voice rising.
“For—for—” Five stops, trying to gather his thoughts. Jesus, it’s hard to think these days. “Something could happen,” he says.
“Five, you’re preparing yourself for another apocalypse that’s never going to happen,” Vanya tells him exasperatedly. “You need to take a break.”
“Thanks for the advice, Vanya,” Five says coolly, stalking back into the house and leaving her alone on the porch.
- EXCESSIVE BODY HEAT
Five’s almost got it. He’s working through the last of his equations when Klaus comes sauntering down into the living room, dancing, singing out, “Who’s my favorite little Fivey Five?”
“Do not distract me right now, Klaus,” Five says without looking up.
Klaus promptly stops prancing around the room. Out of his peripheral vision, Five can see Klaus staring at him.
“Ooh, little bro,” Klaus says. “Hey, you don’t look so good.”
“I’m serious, Klaus,” Five says, warning in his voice. “I am burning through the last of this math right now and I don’t need you messing me up when I’m this close.”
Klaus makes his way over to Five anyway. He reaches out and places a hand on his shoulder. “Oh, gee, yeah,” he breathes. “Five, you’re on fire.”
“I know,” Five says dismissively.
“No,” Klaus says. He places the back of his hand on Five’s forehead and Five hisses, pulling back—it’s freezing to the touch. “I mean you’re boiling, Five . I think you have a fever.”
“It’s just a side effect,” Five explains. “Of the paradox psychosis. But once I get this right I can finally fix it.”
He slaps Klaus’s hand away from his face and goes to stand up, but his legs immediately buckle. Klaus catches him before he goes down in a heap. Five blinks, furrowing his brow, trying to make sense of the hazy, spinning blur of the world around him.
“Whoaaa there, buddy,” Klaus says with a bubbly laugh. “I gotcha. Don’t worry, Papa Klaus can take care of you.”
Five claws weakly at Klaus’s arms around his torso. “Let—let go of me, Klaus,” He says, but he feels like his tongue has gone numb inside his mouth. His words come out badly slurred. “I gotta… gotta…”
He promptly forgets what he was going to say, giving in to the blackness that swallows his vision whole.
“So,” Klaus says. “ That was a nightmare. I just tucked him into bed, but jeez, he is totally losing it.”
“Alright,” Luther says, “let’s get all of the information sorted out. I know, for one, that he’s been having really bad migraines.”
“He’s hallucinating,” Diego says.
“Can’t sleep,” Allison adds.
“He was trembling,” Vanya puts in.
“And he has a fever,” Klaus says.
All five of them stop. They glance at one another; everything clicks at once.
“Well,” Allison says, “I think we all know what’s wrong with him, then.”
Before anyone else can say anything, a new voice says:
“What’s wrong with who?”
They all jump. They look towards the staircase, where Five is hobbling down with what appears to be great effort.
“Christ on a cracker,” Klaus breathes. “Can’t you stay in one place for two minutes?”
“What’s going on?” Five demands as he reaches the bottom of the stairs. “What are you guys talking about?”
The siblings exchange looks.
Five’s expression shifts. His eyes grow dark.
“If this is what I think it is,” he says slowly, “it better not be.”
None of them say anything, all waiting for someone to make the first move. Finally, Diego is the first one to speak. “Five—” he starts.
“No,” Five says instantly.
Diego throws his hands up. “You didn’t even let me explain.”
“You don’t need to explain,” Five says, waving a dismissive hand through the air. “I know exactly what’s going on here. You’ve all been acting weird the past few days and now I finally know why. You thought it would be a good idea to try and observe me like some kind of exotic specimen and then decided to stage an intervention.”
Allison speaks up. “That’s not—” She stops herself, blinking a couple times. Her brow furrows. “Well, actually that is true. But, Five, you’ve been worrying all of us lately.”
“So you decided you’d whisper about me behind my back like school children instead of telling me to my face?” Five demands furiously, eyes flashing with dangerous rage.
“We didn’t want to upset you,” Vanya reasons faintly.
“Well,” Five laughs darkly, “looks like you all did a great job with that.” He turns and blinks up the staircase, vanishing in a cloak of blue light.
The siblings all stare after him for a few long moments, saying nothing. Then, finally, Luther heaves out a sigh and turns back to them.
“That went well,” he says.
Suddenly, a loud crash rattles through the Academy. Followed by another. The sounds are all coming directly from their bedroom hallway.
“That doesn’t sound very good,” Klaus remarks. “Alright, kids, who wants to check on him?”
The siblings all stare at each other for a moment, unmoving. And then Klaus cries out, “Nose goes!” They all put their fingers on their noses as fast as they possibly can.
Allison is the one who drops her finger and stands up with an exasperated breath. “Okay,” she says, “this is pathetic.”
“You dropped,” Diego says. “You’re going.”
“ You’re pathetic,” Allison counters.
“Klaus said nose goes!” Diego says defensively.
“We’re all going,” Allison says. “Luther was right before—about us being selfish. From now on, we all need to start taking accountability for each other, together. All in favor, say aye.”
“ Aye,” the family says together in chorus.
Luther gapes. “Um,” he says, deeply offended.
“Luther,” Allison says impatiently.
“Okay, fine,” he grumbles. “ Aye.”
When they get to his room, Five has practically split his head open on his wall.
He’s ramming his skull into his doorframe over and over again, shoulders hunched over and shaking badly, his teeth gritted hard. Luther rushes forward instantly, grabbing him and wrestling him away from the wall before he can do any further damage.
“What the hell are you doing?” Luther demands. He runs his hands over Five’s head, carding his fingers wildly through the dark, sweaty mess of hair, and only manages to be somewhat relieved to find that there’s no blood. “Jesus shit , Five. Are you trying to brain yourself?”
“Let me go!” Five screams. His voice is animalistic, raw at the edges—and, worst of all, scared. It effectively silences his siblings, who are all thinking the same thing: Five never sounds scared. But right now, kicking and flailing helplessly in Luther’s grasp, he looks and sounds pitifully like a child for the first time.
“Five,” Luther says again, more calmly this time, trying to keep his own distress out of his voice for his brother’s sake. “You need to relax. Why were you hitting your head against the wall?”
“It’s the math,” Five pants out, eyes glazed over and giving him a rabid look. He’s struggling hard to breathe, each of his breaths coming in a ragged, desperate gasp that hurts just to listen to. “It’s all wrong. And I’m stuck here and there’s nothing I can do and—and—and you all think I’m crazy—”
Five manages to twist out of Luther’s grasp. For a moment, Diego lunges forward, thinking Five’s going to jump again—but Five is far too clumsy and disoriented for that now. Five takes one step to the side and instantly loses his balance, falling onto his bedside counter and knocking over his lamp.
“I’m not crazy,” Five tells them. “I’m not crazy.”
And then he starts crying .
The effect it has is like a shockwave, instantly waking a nurturing instinct in all of them; he looks so much like a kid right now, it’s heart-wrenching, and he’s crying. Tears are spilling down his fever-flushed cheeks, his hair is matted to his forehead in sweat, and he’s shaking all over like mad.
“Five,” Vanya says. She takes a tentative step towards him; he flinches away like she’s poisonous and shrinks back against the wall. “We don’t think you’re crazy.”
“You held a meeting to stop me,” he moans, strained.
“We held a meeting because we came to the conclusion that you’re sick, Five,” says Diego. “We don’t think you’re crazy. We think that in the past two weeks, you’ve been working to stop two apocalypses without a single break or a night of good sleep, you’ve pushed your powers about twenty times past your normal limit, and you’ve been forced to watch all of us die for the second time in your life, and as a result your body is shutting down and you’re sick.” Diego stops to take a breath. “And you’re also having somewhat of a breakdown, apparently, but that’s expected.”
“You think I’m sick,” Five echoes, his eyes blazing. Then, it all registers. His expression softens, his shoulders finally relaxing slightly. “You think I’m… sick. Oh. That… makes sense, actually.”
Without warning, Five’s eyes roll back in his head and he goes down in a heap on his bedroom floor.
Allison crosses over to him. She bends down, feels his forehead, and shakes her head. “God, he’s burning up,” she says. “We need to get him into bed with a cool rag. Luther, help me lift him.”
Within five minutes, they successfully lift Five onto his bed, drape a cold washcloth over his forehead, and take his temperature. 102. Not great, but not life-threatening, either. They all stand around the foot of the bed, watching him sleep; he’s out like a light, and he actually looks… peaceful.
“I’m gonna stay and watch him,” Luther says. “I don’t want him to wake up and jump again.”
Vanya puts a hand on his shoulder. It’s not an easy feat, with her tininess and his hugeness—but she looks up at him and gives him a firm nod. “We’re all staying,” she tells him.
For the first time, they feel sort of like a real family.
Klaus is the first to wake. He lifts his head, blinking the sleep from his eyes, and rests his gaze on Five’s bed.
He instantly spurs into motion, sitting bolt upright. “Oh no,” he says as his siblings begin to rouse on the floor. “Guys, we lost him again.”
“What?” Allison is immediately alert, her motherly instincts kicking in as she climbs to her feet. “What the hell?”
“Come on,” Diego says, making a beeline for the door. “Everyone follow me.”
They all tear through the hallway, rushing down the staircase. Diego skids into the kitchen, then comes to a dead stop; the others all follow suit.
Five is standing with his back towards them, facing the stove. He’s… cooking.
“Five?” Vanya calls out cautiously.
He turns around. He looks considerably better than before, although that’s not saying a lot; but the circles under his eyes are much shallower, and some color has returned to his face.
“I apologize for my earlier outburst,” he says, almost mechanically. He’s recovered his usual poise, the rigid posture. “I initially believed myself to be under lingering side effects of paradox psychosis, and then I started to worry that I was finally beginning to lose my mind, which started to drive me over the edge. But you were all right; I was just under the weather, and there was no reason to panic. I’m sorry for scaring you all before.”
Five returns his attention to the stove. The siblings look at each other.
“Okay, first of all,” Allison says, “there’s no need for you to apologize to us, Five. You’ve been through hell and back non-stop the past few weeks—”
“Actually, more like the past forty-five years,” Vanya points out.
“Exactly,” Allison says. “No one’s expecting you to be okay. And second of all, you’re still sick—you shouldn’t be making food for yourself.”
“The food is for you guys, actually,” Five says in a low voice. He stops, placing a hand against the kitchen counter. “You all spent the past few days worrying over me for no reason, so I figured this was the least I could do to try and make it up to you.”
“Oh,” Klaus sighs, putting a hand over his heart. “That’s so sweet. And simultaneously very, very fucked up. Five, you know you don’t have to compensate us for taking care of you.”
“Well, seeing as I’m a fully grown adult man,” Five says, “I find it a little pathetic to have to be talked down by my siblings who are half my age.”
Without warning, Luther steps forward and sweeps Five off of the ground in one swift motion.
“Hey!” Five yelps, slapping Luther furiously on the back. “Put me down, Luther!”
“You still have a fever,” Luther says. “You shouldn’t be near the stove.”
Luther marches Five out of the kitchen, dropping him into his dining room chair.
“But—my pasta,” Five protests, although he’s already starting to slump over in defeat, the fight draining out of him.
“I’ll finish the pasta,” Luther tells him. “Just sit down here and do nothing for once. Okay?”
Five glares half-heartedly after Luther as he takes over at the stove. His other siblings sit down at the table with him. He eyes them dangerously, willing them to say something.
Klaus clears his throat. “I—”
“I know what you’re gonna say,” Five says. “‘I told you so.’ Yes, I know, I was wrong, you were all right, go ahead and rub it in.”
Klaus raises his eyebrows, genuinely impressed. “Wow,” he says. “That is so completely the opposite of what I was gonna say, it’s crazy.”
“Nobody’s trying to outsmart you, Five,” Allison tells him. “We just want you to take care of yourself. And let us take care of you.”
“I don’t need to be coddled,” Five points out impatiently.
”No,” Allison agrees. “You don’t need to be. But is that really a way to live? Just by survival?”
Five falters. He finally seems to come down, as if realizing for the first time that there’s no fight, no apocalypse, no doomsday to prepare himself for. He swallows, glancing down at the surface of the dining table, and runs his palm over it—gently, feeling the smooth texture of the cherry wood under his fingertips. Distantly, he is thinking about the wood—about it once being a tree, alive, surrounded by other trees. About it being cut down. Dead. But then, being turned into something new. A place to rest his hand on.
“I think a part of me is always gonna think the world is ending,” he says slowly. “I know it’s not, but—I’ve spent so much of my life on survival mode that I… I don’t even remember how to actually live anymore.” His voice breaks towards the end, and he glances up at the ceiling.
Vanya reaches out and puts her hand over Five’s, on the wooden table. “You’ll get there,” she promises him. Then: “We’ll get you there.”
Allison puts her hand over Vanya’s, and Klaus puts his over Allison’s, and Diego’s over Klaus’s. They all sit like that for a while, not speaking, not moving, doing absolutely nothing for once—just sitting in each other’s company, all breathing and alive and real and here.
Luther finally breaks the spell when he trips out of the kitchen, clumsily handling bowls of pasta. “Okay,” he says. “Food’s here.” He places a bowl in front of Five, drops a fork into his hand. “Fair warning, I think I may have fucked it up.”
Five stabs a piece of rotini and shovels it into his mouth. He chokes, and then breaks into wheezing laughter. The family tenses up, all eyes on him.
“What?” Diego frets. “What’s wrong?”
“He did,” Five says between giggles. He reaches up, wiping earnest tears from his eyes. “Fuck it up. My god, Luther, I already had half of it made. You practically just had to take it off the stove.”
“I’m not good at cooking, alright?” Luther defends himself, but he’s struggling and failing to hide his own smile.
“Oh, my god.” Diego spits a mouthful of the pasta into his napkin, making a face. “Dude, you can’t cook for shit.”
“And that’s coming from a guy who had his mom cook all his meals until he was in his twenties,” Five points out.
Diego turns betrayed eyes on Five. “Oh, you are so dead, you little gremlin.”
Half the family ends up involved in a chaotic game of cat-and-mouse, until they finally manage to settle down for long enough to eat their dinner. Afterwards, when Five stuffs his face so full of Luther’s bad pasta he can hardly move, he winds up in a lethal food coma on the couch, surrounded by his siblings, Klaus’s foot dangerously close to his face—and when his eyelids grow heavy and he finally falls asleep, he dreams of absolutely nothing.
It’s the best sleep he’s gotten in a very long time.