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On My Terms

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Her fingers are cold on his face, her nails sharp as knives, her voice a husky, breathless whisper in his ear that sends a painful, jolting shiver down the crook of his spine: Let’s make a deal.

 

Every fiber of his being screams against it. For a split-second, a raw, animalistic fury rises up within him, a swelling, indignant anger that he has never allowed himself to feel towards her before; he wants nothing more than to leap at her, to take one of Diego’s knives—or, better yet, a butter knife, something blunt, something that will make a horrific mess—and skewer each of her eyes, then make a pin cushion out of her chest. He always said he didn’t like the killing, the endless assassinations he was ordered to carry out, but every time she would caress his face in that icy way of hers. She’d tell him, Of course you like it—that’s  what makes you so good. He denied it, because he never wanted it to be true, not the first time, not the last time. But somewhere deep inside of him he knows that he would enjoy every second of killing her. He would savor it, slowly, like peanut butter on his tongue, tasting the sweetness and the salt and the suffocation all at once; he would relish the feeling of the knife going into her, the sight of her flipped inside out, her screams of agony—anything to make her pay. To make her regret what she’s done to him. Yes, he thinks, he would like that very much. 

 

But the next words that leave her red-stained lips drain all of the fight out of him in an instant. A deal, she says, that will save your family.

 

Five blinks. Beneath his eyelids, he sees his siblings. He sees them standing in a helpless line, watching the world transform into a brilliant disaster, the sky erupting in bright orange waves that swallow their bodies whole and burn the flesh clean off of their bones. He sees them buried under rubble, limbs mangled and twisted in ways they’re not supposed to be, eyes open and frozen in perpetual indifference and staring unseeing into his face. 

 

He opens his eyes. He breathes. He watches the Handler’s lipsticked smile grow across her face like a scarlet paint stroke. 

 

Do you like me in red? she had asked him once, as those cold, cold hands swaddle him, as he sinks deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, until he’s drowning and he can’t breathe and he can’t feel anything except for her. I figured, since you always make your work so bloody. 

 

My family, Five tells himself. My family.

 

“What do you want me to do?” he asks, keeping his voice as steady as he can.

 

The Handler sighs—an airy, wispy sound, elusive, like a wind chime caught in a winter draft. “You’ve always been so business-oriented,” she says mournfully. Her fingers play in piercing circles on the side of his face. “I’m not indenturing you, Five. I just want what’s best for you and your family. But I am by no means forcing you to do anything.”

 

“Tell me,” Five says through gritted teeth, blowing past her remarks—he can’t take any more of her mind games—“Tell me what you want.”

 

She smiles. She releases his cheek, and the spot feels frozen stiff. Her eyes glitter like icy lakes. 

 

“I just want things to go back to the way they were,” she says. 
















She tells him about the new board, about her demotion, about the lack of respect on her name— it’s so hard, she says, going from being the man in charge to a complete nobody. You know that feeling, too, don’t you, Five? 

 

I don’t know what you’re talking about, he tells her.

 

Oh, you’re smart enough to know. She laughs. Her fingers stroke through his hair, her long, sharp nails scraping the surface of his scalp. Unless you’re just playing games to be cute. 

 

Five swallows back the bile that threatens to rise up his throat, saying nothing.

 

Well, she goes on. He pretends not to notice the slight tinge of disappointment in her voice; the dissatisfaction that he’s not playing along. If I must say it out loud. You went from being the Commission’s top assassin to a helpless little thirteen-year-old playing house with his family. We’re the same in that way, you and I. 

 

You and I are not the same. He hates the way his voice wavers at the end. He attributes it to this god awful puberty. 

 

Oh, but we are, she says. Don’t you realize how much stronger we were when we were together? 

 

You mean when you turned me into an assassin against my will. 

 

Her eyes sharpen like knives. I turned you into something unstoppable, she says, her voice steely. You were nothing without me. 

 

She remembers herself, and that terrible, twisted smile returns to her face, pulling at the edges of her red lips. I do hate change, she says. But it doesn’t have to be permanent, Five. We can do things exactly the way we used to. 

 

On my terms, are the words that she doesn’t say, but both of them hear it lingering in the air like a thick, poisonous fog just the same. 

 

So he follows her first order. He goes to assassinate the Commission’s Board. He finds himself standing in front of a vending machine in a room he doesn’t know, when a wave of disgust hits him for what he’s about to do—for what he has done, for what he is— and he imagines her face in the glass, and he screams his throat raw and throws his fists and shoulders into it until she shatters in every direction.  

 

He takes an axe. He steps into the meeting room. He paints it with blood— red, red, red, the color of her lips and the stain they leave on the vulnerable part of his neck—and the worst part of it all is the sheer exhilaration of the slaughter, the way he likes it somehow, even when he hates liking it, even when he hates himself for liking it. That’s what makes you so good. 

 

When he stumbles out of the building covered in crimson, she dabs at his face with a handkerchief. He notices the way that she wipes with a calculated deliberation—ensuring that each stroke spreads the red over the untainted patches of skin—coating him rather than cleaning him. 

 

“I did what you asked,” he tells her. “Now, the briefcase.”

 

Her eyebrows raise in mock-surprise, red lips curling up her face in a sadistic smile. 

 

“You didn’t think that was all, did you?” she asks. 

 

She leans in towards him, her fingers twisting in his collar. She straightens his tie, then straightens his blazer, and then her hands run down the front of his sweater, agonizingly slow, and his vision grows spotty and red red red. 

 

“Our little deal isn’t over just yet,” she coos. 

















He ignores Diego and Luther’s fretting when he gets to the house, tearing past them into the bathroom and locking the door. 

 

“Five?!” Luther’s voice. He’s shouting. Probably scared to death. “Five, are you alright? Will you tell us what happened to you?”

 

Five runs the bathtub faucet. “Nothing happened to me,” he shouts over the running water. Then, he thinks about it a little harder, realizes that may not be entirely the truth. So he amends—“It’s not my blood. And it’s not important.” Two sure truths. 

 

“Do you need any help in there?” Diego asks. 

 

“Yes, I’m two years old and I need you to help me wash up,” Five snarls. “Go the fuck away.”

 

He doesn’t intend to be mean about it, but of course he ends up being mean anyway. He doesn’t know how else to deal with the dark, swirling vortex of anger and despair and fear inside of him that’s deepening by the second. He doesn’t want them to get involved in any of this. So naturally he lashes out. It seems to be all he knows how to do.

 

It works like a charm, anyway, the way it always does. He hears Diego muttering to Luther about what an asshole he is, but sure enough, it’s followed by the sounds of their fading footsteps as they leave him in the bathroom to rinse the blood from his sweater. 

 

It doesn’t come out all the way; of course it doesn’t. Blood is tricky like that. When it stains, it doesn’t ever really come out. The water in the tub is turning a bright, champagne pink. 

 

Five cups his hands under the running faucet, then splashes water onto his face. The blood has long since dried on his skin, and now it comes away in crusty, hardened flakes—he scrapes at it with his fingernails, scrapes and scrapes away—he doesn’t think of her touch on his cheeks, of her nails against his scalp, of her red lips—

 

He chokes, gags once, and then throws up into the tub. It’s loud and messy and disgusting and he’s glad nobody’s around to hear it.

 

“Five?” Luther’s voice calls from just outside the door.

 

Fuck. Five wipes his mouth sloppily, casts a bitter glare towards the bathroom door, betrayed. “I thought you left,” he croaks, his voice too weak to be as snappy as he wants to. He coughs up the remaining bile and then washes his mouth out.

 

“Diego left, but I—” Luther stops. “Are you sick?”

 

Five can’t suppress the near hysterical smile that makes its way onto his face. Luther is so naive, he wants to laugh. “I guess I am,” he says honestly. Sick. If only his siblings knew of the things he’s done. Sick. 

 

“I’m coming in.”

 

“Don’t.” Five turns off the faucet once the mess has drained out. “I’m fine, Luther. I’m already finished.” 

 

He stands on shaky legs to fetch a towel. He buries his face in it, numbly feeling the softness of it, the fluffy texture against his hard features. It feels wrong, too light, too gentle—too warm. Not cold cold cold. He does not feel like he’s supposed to be touched like this. 

 

When he opens the door, Luther is wearing his pathetic kicked-puppy look, sizing him up with fretful eyes. 

 

“Are you running a fever?” Luther asks. “I can run out and get you some medicine. Anything you need.”

 

“I feel fine,” Five insists. “Really. Right as rain.” He gives Luther a smile, but judging by his expression, Luther clearly doesn’t buy it.

 

“I’m worried about you,” Luther says.

 

“Well, you’ve got no reason.” Five pushes past him. “I know what I’m doing.”

 

He knows exactly what he’s doing. Because he’s done it all before. 
















She tells him what to do. Where to put his hands. Where to put his mouth. He follows her orders, lets his mind drift away the way it often does during fights—acting purely on instinct and direction, listening and obeying, but he doesn’t allow himself to be fully present. It’s easier that way. It doesn’t feel as vile, as wrong. 

 

“You were so lonely when I first met you,” she tells him after she’s done. “With that pathetic little mannequin for company. So… repressed. I could see how badly you wanted a real partner.”

 

She sits down next to him. She places her hand on his knee, stroking it gently, fingernails grazing bare skin.

 

“You were fun then,” she whispers, her voice sickly sweet, thick as cough syrup. “But I must say, I like this new little package of yours.”

 

Her hand is moving up. Five’s eyes blink, but he feels strangely disjointed from reality—as if he’s immersed in an ocean of blood, and all he can see around him is red, red, red, and he wants to scream, but he’s frozen, feet glued to the floor, and he can only watch idly as her touch rises slowly up his leg, up, up, up…

 

He finally manages to find his voice. “Don’t,” is what he says. A single word. It comes out feeble and weak, and he wants to laugh at how much he detests it—he’s a seasoned serial killer, and yet she reduces him to this so easily, a blinking, blubbering mess. 

 

She scoffs. “You do want that briefcase, don’t you?” she asks. 

 

My family, Five reminds himself harshly. He repeats it over and over in his head, like some kind of twisted mantra: my family. My family. My family.

 

“Yes,” he grits out. “I want the briefcase.”

 

She smiles. “So show me.” 
















When Five gets home, he smashes his fist straight into the wall so hard that his knuckles fracture on impact. 

 

Allison is the only one there—she’s on her feet in an instant, yelping and shouting, “ Five!” He looks at her and sees that her eyes are huge, pupils blown wide in terror.

 

Five swallows, detaches slowly from the wall. He clears his throat. “My bad,” he says casually, and then turns to walk away.

 

“‘ My bad?’” she echoes loudly. Her voice is indignant, demanding. She wants more than that, apparently. 

 

Five sucks in a breath, but pushes his pride down with some annoyance. “Fine,” he says. “I’m sorry . There.” 

 

She looks stunned, like he’s just slapped her in the face. “Um,” she says, “what? That’s not what I—Five, you’re not gonna explain why you just blinked into the room, punched a hole through the wall, and then turned to leave?” 

 

He thinks for a moment. “No,” he says decidedly. 

 

“Five. Can you please just talk to me like a normal person for once?” 

 

He has to hide the way he flinches. He’s not a normal person—not anymore. Doesn’t she get that? 

 

I turned you into something unstoppable, The Handler’s voice whispers in his ear.

 

He shakes it loose. “I’m not obligated to tell you anything,” he says shortly. 

 

He steps past her, but she reaches out for him, and then she grabs his hand. White-hot agony flickers up his sleeve like little tongues of flame, and for a moment spots overtake his vision, and he lets out an involuntary hiss of pain. Allison makes a startled noise and releases him instantly.

 

“Shit,” she rambles. “Jesus, Five, I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you—”

 

“It’s okay,” he reassures her quickly. “It’s not important.”

 

“It is important,” Allison argues. Her eyes are blazing. “At least let me patch you up.” When Five starts to protest, she adds: “Please.”

 

Five hesitates. He locks eyes with her, and sees the mother in her—all of the concern and the compassion, and it almost hurts more than anything. It twists his heart up; it makes him feel like a kid, and he wants to cry, but he doesn’t. He nods. “Fine.”

 

He ends up sat on the kitchen counter, with Allison rustling through a first aid kit, tearing through a pack of alcohol swabs. He grudgingly passes his hand over to her, and she winces at the sight of it—the skin around his knuckles is torn up and bloody, already beginning to turn purple from the bruising.

 

“Anything broken?” she asks.

 

“Don’t know,” he says. “Not badly, at least.” 

 

He watches the way her hands move with the alcohol swabs—careful, not in a calculated way, but thoughtful, gentle. He thinks about the Handler dabbing at the blood on his face, and observes Allison now, as she wipes the blood from his hand. She cleans out the scrapes. There is no cruelty in her eyes, no wicked smile playing at her lips—just focus, and—and love. It makes him cower slightly, and he averts his eyes, feeling vaguely embarrassed.

 

“You sure you don’t want to talk about it?” Allison asks while she cleans.

 

Five shrugs. “There’s nothing to talk about. I was just letting off steam.”

 

“Well, is there a reason why you’re so…” Allison makes an awkwardly placed gesture towards him. Five huffs out a mild laugh. 

 

“Full of unfathomable rage?” he suggests.

 

“I was gonna say, ‘stressed out’, but that works too.” 

 

“I guess racing against the clock to stop two apocalypses in the span of two weeks can do that to you,” Five says dismissively, studying a crack on the kitchen wall. He traces it up slowly with his eyes, following it from where it begins on the counter to where it ends, just under the cabinet, in a shaky, hairline fracture. When he looks back at Allison, she’s gaping at him.

 

“Two weeks?” she echoes. “Two weeks?” Her voice is uncomfortably shrill, and Five winces.

 

“Yes, two weeks,” he bites out irritably. “Do I need to spell it out for you?” 

 

“Five!” Allison exclaims. “You mean—you went straight from 2019 into last week without a single break?”

 

Her reaction is confusing him; he doesn’t get why she’s getting so loud about this. He racks his brain briefly. “I sat down and got coffee with Vanya a few days ago,” he says lamely.

 

“Yeah, because you were gathering all of us from different parts of the state to tell us about—” Allison stops and sucks in a breath. “God, do you even know how to relax? Or is running around trying to stop doomsday some sort of twisted coping mechanism for you?” 

 

Five feels like he’s been punched in the gut. He stares at her, not quite believing the words that have just left her mouth. “You think I like having to deal with this? Having to be the only one in this family who even has a clue how to stop this thing?”

 

All of the anger saps from Allison’s face in an instant, replaced by a sinking horror. “Five, that’s not what I meant.” 

 

“I know what you meant,” he snaps. “You think I’m just a washed-up lunatic who never really recovered from all those years in the apocalypse, and you’re so much better than me because you’ve got this new life now, and you think it makes you less fucked up. Well, I’ve got news for you, Allison—you’re still just as dysfunctional as the rest of us, and no amount of fame or friends or cute little husbands will ever change that.”

 

He lets himself breathe, and the words are so bitter in his mouth they leave a coppery taste behind. Allison stares at him for a long moment, saying nothing. 

 

Then her lips wobble slightly, her eyes getting suddenly glassy, and Five just sinks.

 

“Allison,” he says, his voice wavering. “I didn’t…”

 

“I know you didn’t mean that,” she says quietly. “You get mean when you don’t want to talk. I’m sorry for pushing it, okay?”

 

She lets go of his hand. He glances down; he hadn’t even realized that she finished the bandages, but it’s wrapped neatly and tightly. 

 

Then she reaches out, and she strokes through his hair with her fingers. It’s a casual touch—sisterly and affectionate—and it should be easy, it should be normal, but it’s not, and he can only feel her fingernails, her touch, and he flinches, hard. Allison recoils like she’s been bitten, eyes wide. 

 

“Five?” She sounds wounded, and the hurt on her face is enough to cleave him in two. Five does the only thing he can think to do. His hands burst into shutters of blue light, and he jumps, leaving her alone in the kitchen.
















“This has gone on long enough,” Five growls. “I’ve done everything you asked.”

 

The Handler’s eyes drift down towards his bandaged hand. Her lips quirk upwards, amused. “You have a new boo-boo?” she teases. “What happened?” 

 

Five ignores her. “When do I get the briefcase?” he growls. 

 

“So demanding,” The Handler remarks. “Relax, Number Five. I only have one more task for you.”

 

Five raises his eyebrows impatiently. The Handler smiles radiantly at him, then lifts up a stack of folded cards.

 

“I need to deliver these letters to some of my clients,” she tells him. “And it’d make my day a whole lot easier if you jumped me to their addresses.”

 

Five shoots her a skeptical look. His eyes dart to the briefcase in her hand.

 

“Of course, I could use this briefcase,” she says. “But you know just as well as I do that all briefcase activity is monitored at the Commission. And I like to work under the radar.” Her eyes sweep towards him, spidery black lashes batting in his direction. “So, will you help me?”

 

Five exhales through his nose. My family. 

 

“What’s the first address?” he drones out.

 

He jumps her through town; it wouldn’t be that bad on his own, but jumping other people with him has always taken a steep physical toll on him. By the fifth address he’s dripping with sweat. By the sixth one, he’s starting to sway on his feet.

 

On the seventh, he nearly loses his footing, and he has to catch himself on a parked car. The Handler tiptoes by him mindlessly, her heels tapping against the concrete as she makes her way to the house’s mailbox, slips the card in, then walks back over to him. She smiles. “Alright, let’s get a move on. We don’t have all day.”

 

Five pants roughly. Every muscle is throbbing from the strain, his head and ears pounding. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with the back of his palm. 

 

“Oh, don’t give me that look,” the Handler sighs, pouting at him in mock-sympathy. “I only have one more of these, Five, and it’s for you. Just bring us to wherever you’re staying and I’ll drop it off. Then this little darling—” She lifts the briefcase, drums her fingertips against it. “All yours.” 

 

Her teeth flash white in the sun. 

 

Five glares at her. My family , he reminds himself impatiently. He takes her by the arm, pushes his hands out in front of him, ignoring the way they shake with fatigue. The air around them ripples. He forces them through the swirling blue portal, pushing through despite the way his entire body aches and screams against it—

 

And they pop through on the other side, in his bedroom. He hits the floor hard. All of his muscles have gone limp, and his vision is swimming. He can’t make sense of the world around him. Up or down. Everything is the same. A pair of high heels walks sideways into his vision. 

 

“You’ve done such a good job, Five,” her voice coos from above. 

 

Five wants to say something back, but his brain feels like it’s been turned into a pile of mush. He’s so exhausted that he can’t think. Can’t feel. Can’t move. He feels himself starting to slip away, black creeping into the corners of his vision. 

 

Then, his hand explodes in agony, and he lets out a tortured howl as he’s forced back to his senses by the sharp pain. The Handler’s heel is digging into his injured hand; he can feel the fractured bones shifting, the fresh wounds opening back up again. 

 

“Can’t have you falling asleep on me,” she says. “Not when we still have unfinished business.”

 

Unfinished. Through the thick haze of pain, Five manages to turn his head against the floor so that he’s looking up at her, his eyes narrowing in confusion. “I did... everything,” he slurs, the words heavy in his mouth. 

 

The Handler bends down so that she’s crouching next to him. She holds up the last card; she unfolds it, and shows him the contents. 

 

Completely blank.

 

Everything clicks at once.

 

“Shit,” Five breathes. 

 

“You know,” the Handler says, “I always thought those limits on your powers were a hindrance. The one thing keeping you from being a truly perfect assassin. But then I figured out how to turn it into something useful.”

 

She moves her knee over his legs so that she’s straddling him. He’s completely trapped under her now; she is a cage of flesh and bone. He reaches up to shove her off, but his arms are so weak that he can’t even find the force to hit her. She pins them to his side easily, and her hand begins traveling down his sides, towards his waistband. 

 

“Stop,” Five groans, clenching his teeth so hard he thinks they’ll shatter. He feels sick. She’s intruding his vision—he can’t look anywhere that’s not her. “Get—off.”

 

The Handler shushes him, as if he’s using his outside voice in a library, as if he’s not being violated against his will. She leans forward, and her red red red lips find his neck; her breath is hot, suffocating, he wants to scream, he wants to hit her, he wants to kill her, he wants to, but he can’t

 

And then, suddenly, a shout tears into the room: “What the hell’s going on here?”

 

The Handler swears loudly, stepping off of Five. Five looks towards the doorway to see his siblings, faces frozen in shock. Their eyes survey the room, taking in Five’s limp body, then fluttering towards the Handler, and Five watches it register on their faces. He watches their expressions turn violent in an instant, pure, unadulterated rage consuming their features. 

 

Diego grabs a knife from his belt, but the Handler moves just as quickly, bending down and snatching Five up by the collar. Five whimpers in spite of himself as she yanks him onto his feet and holds him out in front of her as a body shield. 

 

“Get the f- fuck away from him,” Diego warns, his voice dangerously low and shaking in a way Five hasn’t heard since they were kids. “You have two seconds before I slice your head clean off your neck.”

 

“Shame, we were having such fun,” the Handler sighs into Five’s ear. “Deal’s off.” 

 

She opens her briefcase and zips away into nothingness. Without her supporting his weight, Five crumples to the floor of his bedroom, trembling badly. His siblings rush towards him, and all he sees is a sea of hands, reaching for him, touching—

 

“Get off,” Five bites out. “Don’t touch me.”

 

He scrambles back until he hits the wall. Deal’s off. The words ring through his ears, taunting him, eating at him. He’d done everything she asked. He’d killed, he’d touched her, he’d let her touch him back—and all of it was for nothing. How could he have been so stupid? Blinding panic sweeps over him and seizes his ribcage. He chokes, vision going white as he struggles to breathe; slowly, painfully, he manages to get air into his lungs, enough to calm down. Enough to get the blood flowing to his head again. Enough to stop shaking so badly—enough to look up at his siblings and glare at them. He finds Diego amongst them, and raises an accusatory finger in his direction.

 

“You—” Five sucks in a ragged breath. “You just ruined our one chance to stop doomsday and go back home.”

 

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Diego demands, fingers still twitching around the hilt of his knife.

 

“She was going to give me a briefcase!” Five shouts with as much fury as he can manage with his head still spinning and his body still aching with exhaustion.

 

“She was molesting you!” Diego explodes. 

 

“I knew what I was doing,” Five insists. “What I was letting her do.” He’s finally starting to get some feeling back into his limbs. He pulls himself into a proper sitting position, although he’s still shaky and weak.

 

“Were—” Vanya’s eyes fill with fear. Her lips press into a firm, tight line on her face. “Were you going to let her…” 

 

She doesn’t finish. She doesn’t have to. Five fights off a shudder. 

 

“No,” he says. Then falters. “Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. Yes.”

 

Yes?” his siblings repeat in petrified unison.

 

“Yes!” Five admits, exasperated. “Yes, I think I was, okay?! What choice did I have? She offered me a free ticket to get all of us back home and safe, as long as I did whatever she asked!”

 

“That’s not a free ticket, Five,” Allison says. “She was manipulating you.”

 

“Of course I know that,” Five says irritably. “But saving you all is worth a few inconveniences.” 

 

“You getting preyed on by a creepy old woman is not an inconvenience ,” Diego hisses. “I don’t care what deal she offered you—it’s not worth it.”

 

Five feels heat rushing to his face. He struggles to his feet, indignant. “I’m fifty-eight years old,” he reminds them. “I am perfectly capable of making my own choices.”

 

“You’re in a child’s body, Five,” Klaus says. “That’s, like—insanely fucked up, regardless of your mental age.”

 

I like this new little package of yours, she’d said, and, oh, Jesus. Five needs to sit down. He staggers over to his bed and sits hard, his head reeling. 

 

Luther tentatively approaches the bed. He reaches out for Five, but is mindful not to touch him: “Are you alright?” he asks.

 

“Peachy,” Five says with a dark laugh. 

 

Luther winces. “Bad question. Sorry. I—can we do anything…?”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Fuck that,” Allison says. Five blinks, looking up at her, eyes narrowing. She holds his gaze fearlessly. “I’m tired of you telling us there’s nothing we can do. We can do something.”

 

Five rolls his eyes. “Allison, I’m not a—”

 

“Make eye contact when I’m speaking to you,” Allison orders. She’s not even rumoring him, but there’s such command in her voice that his gaze snaps in her direction involuntarily. 

 

He frowns. “I—”

 

“No, I’m talking. You listen.” Her voice is so stern that Five actually stiffens. “I’m going to get you something to eat that’s not fluffernutters, and something to drink that’s not coffee. And you’re gonna sit there and—and you’re gonna take it, and you’re not gonna complain. Got it?”

 

“Yes,” Five says, a bit quicker than he wants to.

 

“Good.” Allison nods faintly at him, before turning and stalking out of the room. 

 

Luther looks pensive for a moment. Then, he moves over and sits down on the mattress beside Five. He looks unsure. “Is this—okay?” he frets.

 

“Fine,” Five says.

 

Vanya comes over and sits on his other side. Diego and Klaus sit on the ground around him. Strangely, Five does not feel caged in by them; he doesn’t feel trapped, or cornered. He feels—protected. 

 

Five clears his throat. “I suppose I owe you all some sort of real explanation,” he says meekly. 

 

“You don’t have to,” Vanya says quickly. “If it makes you feel uncomfortable.”

 

“I don’t need to go into details.” Five glances up at the ceiling of the bedroom. “But before I made it back to you guys, she liked to… play with me. She never went— there— but she did touch me. And fucked with my head.” Five sucks in a breath. “And I didn’t think much about the fact that it’s obviously different now, given my current physical state. When she offered to get all of us back home, I just—short-circuited. I didn’t even think about it.”

 

“I know this is hard for you to understand,” Diego says, “but we care about you just as much as you care about us. Sacrificing yourself for us is not an option, no matter what.” 

 

“We love you, Five,” Vanya says, so earnestly that it makes Five’s eyes sting. And the rest of his siblings nod, and he knows they mean it, and it makes his insides churn slightly, but he just lets it happen this time. 

 

I turned you into something unstoppable, the Handler’s voice says, a whisper at the base of his skull. You were nothing without me. 

 

You turned me into nothing, he tells the voice. I let you turn me into nothing. 

 

He closes his eyes and sees black, black, black. A peaceful change. 

 

I am something, he thinks to himself, on my own terms.


And it’s enough.