When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not damage the oil and the wine."
Revelation 6:5-6 New American Standard Bible
March 25th, 1911 New York City
Five dodges impatiently past the people on the busy New York sidewalk, Dolores and Malakai keeping pace silently behind him.
He stops when the entrance to the Asch Building comes into sight and checks his watch.
He ducks into an alleyway. Once they join him, he grabs them and jumps into the Asch building, to the 8th floor of the Washington Place stairwell. It's empty as they were told it would be. Giving them a moment to adjust and straightening himself out, he walks through the door and into the main floor room. Dolores follows a second later.
Their entrance goes completely unnoticed. The room is abuzz with noise, hundreds of workers operating sewing machines and snipping at fabrics. Dressed in the same uniform as the others, they blend in easily.
Once they’re both in the main room, Malakai shuts the door, remaining in the stairwell. Over all the machines it’s almost impossible to pick up, but Five hears the soft groan of the metal as Malakai effectively renders the door useless. He’ll do the same to the door on the ninth floor.
Five turns his attention back to Dolores. They’ve only got a few minutes left to finish the job on schedule but her attention is elsewhere. Her eyes are locked on two young girls, no more than fifteen years old. They race up the Greene street stairs towards the ninth floor.
Up the staircase which will catch fire in the next few minutes.
“Dolores,” he whispers, concern bleeding into his tone.
She practically jumps as his voice snaps her out of the momentary lapse. “Its fine,” she replies, shaking her head as if to clear it. “Let’s just get this over with.” She starts across the room and to the other staircase, Five following after her.
As they walk, a single flame flickers to life at Dolores’ fingertips.
The moment they pass the cutters table at the northeast corner, closest to the stairwell, it jumps discretely from her hand to the scrap bin underneath.
Five moves to the stairwell and slides open the window, to generate the updraft which will propel the flames to the higher floors. Once Dolores joins him, he pulls her up and out of sight before jumping them back to the alleyway.
Dolores leans back against the alley wall for a moment, and Five checks his watch once more.
4:40 P.M. Right on time.
They settle in to wait. Within a few minutes, the smell of smoke fills the air, the cacophony of fire trucks and panicked people accompanying it soon after.
With a resolute sigh Dolores makes to head back into the street.
“Hey!” He catches her wrist before she can exit, before the building comes back into view. “We can just wait for Kai here.”
They’re supposed to go out and watch. To make sure it goes off without a hitch and they both know it. But Malakai is still out there and he trusts that he’ll get the job done.
Dolores shakes her head and manages a weak smile entirely for his benefit. “I did this...I have to face it.”
He knows better than to argue so reluctantly he follows her out.
On the street, chaos has descended. They slip in with the group of onlookers who have gathered. The police have set up a perimeter around the building, firemen desperately trying to combat the flames. The 8th, 9th, and 10th floors are completely ablaze.
For a brief second, he's back in the Apocalypse. The heat of the flames and the scent of burning flesh throwing him headfirst into a flashback.
As if sensing it, Dolores grabs his hand, squeezing gently until he's back to himself before stepping away again.
She's always had an uncanny ability to tell when his grip on reality is slipping, even when he shows no outward signs. Unfortunately, Five figures, it makes sense. If anyone would know, it's her. In the early days when he was just starting to deal with his trauma from his stint in the Apocalypse, her fire would trigger massive panic attacks. That is, until the trainer decided immersion therapy was the best way to overcome that fear.
People have started frantically jumping from the windows of the building in panic, the fire department's nets not strong enough to catch them. It’s an absolutely horrific sight.
Five feels the familiar thrum of self hatred, but it's not like they had much of a choice.
On the one hand, he’s glad Chase isn’t here. Makes a mental note to shower and change before seeing the other boy, unwilling to subject him to the scent of burning flesh that will surely linger on his clothes and person. On the other, he knows the Handler only kept him behind to keep the rest of them in check. Insurance as she says. Five isn't willing to risk what will happen to him if they step out of line. It's selfish, but he's always been willing to put the lives of the people he loves above everyone and everything else. This is no exception.
Malakai appears a few minutes later looking solemn and a little sick, having remained to remove any evidence of external tampering. His eyes land on Dolores and he shoots Five a worried glance. He nods in acknowledgement. It’s going to be a bad night. Several bad nights. This sight will linger to haunt them.
With Malakai back, Five reaches forward and grabs Dolores’ wrist, tugging her gently towards him and away from the view as three more people jump, flames licking at their bodies as they go. She comes without resistance, eyes unseeing as tears slip down her face. Malakai moves beside her, arm wrapped around her shoulder to offer guidance. They walk away, weaving through the spectators. People are openly sobbing, some hiding their faces away from the sight.
Behind them, metal groans as the exterior fire escape collapses from the heat, sending the people attempting to escape on it plummeting.
Five pushes Dolores to walk faster, the sound of screaming and bodies hitting the ground echoing behind them.
The next morning arrives much too soon for Vanya’s taste. She had decided to spend the night in the Academy with the rest of her siblings, wanting to be nearby in case Five returned. He never did. As a result, she spent a mostly sleepless night tossing and turning in worry.
By the look of her siblings when she finally stumbled downstairs for breakfast, they’d all had similar nights. She mumbles a greeting before heading to the coffee machine and pouring herself a cup.
“Anything?” she asks once she’s had enough coffee to feel like an actual human being again.
Allison shakes her head. “Not yet.”
Ben sighs, deep and long from where he’s perched on the counter. “Maybe it’s for the best.”
“Nuh uh! No way Benny boy,” Klaus waggles his finger at Ben. “We agreed. No getting out of this.”
The two fall into a hushed argument and despite everything Vanya finds herself smiling, she hadn’t quite realized how much she’d missed Ben and Klaus’ constant bickering. By the look of fondness on Allison’s face, she's not alone. Eventually, they quiet down and everyone is left to stew in silence, palpable anxious energy surrounding them.
“Diego dear?” Mom’s voice abruptly calls from the hallway, breaking the spell. “Could this be what you’re looking for?” She appears holding a black cardboard box the size of a briefcase, sealed together with twine.
Diego jumps up to grab it from her, thanking her before setting the box down in the middle of the table. Mom smiles gently, cheerfully wishes them all a good day, and then excuses herself to go do laundry.
They’ve all settled around the table now. Leaning forward expectantly to stare at the package but no one quite willing to be the first to open it.
Diego breaks the tension, pulling a knife from his side and slicing through the twine. “Here goes nothing,” and he pulls the lid from the box to reveal its contents.
There’s a single piece of paper at the top, which Diego grabs first. He scans it quickly and then holds it thoughtfully, Allison craning her head to read it from over his shoulder. Beneath, Vanya can make out folders, sealed manila envelopes, and what she thinks might be cassette tapes tucked in a corner.
In the meantime, Klaus snatches the rest of the box towards himself, riffling through it. He carelessly tosses most of the documents aside towards Ben.
Ben takes to them instantly. He starts flipping through the files quickly, scanning as if looking for something before moving on to the next when he can’t quite seem to find it. Never spending too long on any particular thing. Vanya can’t think of what he could possibly be looking for.
“Ooo videos!” Klaus exclaims pulling out a small stack of VHS tapes from from the box. “Let’s do that. No point reading the book when you could watch the movie am I right?” and he swats the folder from Ben’s hands.
Ben shoots him a glare, plucking the folder back off the table angrily. The action doesn’t seem to perturb Klaus who only turns to Luther and flutters his lashes to ask that his ‘big, strong brother’ go grab the old television set. Luther rolls his eyes but complies.
Vanya turns to glance at Ben, who has obviously found whatever he was looking for. At her questioning look, he offers her the page of the file he’s holding. “I had a hunch but…I was hoping it was wrong.”
The majority of the page has been redacted which makes it easy for Vanya to quickly find what he’d stumbled upon.
“Dolores,” Vanya gasps eyes darting up to meet Ben’s resigned face and then back down to the page to make sure she's reading it right.
The name immediately draws the rest of her sibling’s eyes towards her, including Luther who’d just returned and was helping Klaus set up the monitor.
“What about Dolores?”
Numbly, she hands the page back to Ben who addresses the group. “She was one of the Horseman – War. When Hazel mentioned a girl I guessed it might be…,” he trails off and then points to another file. “The other boy, Famine, was named Malakai.”
“Shit. She was real,” someone mumbles but the sound doesn’t quite reach as well as Five’s words from the other day which are now ringing in her ears.
‘I lost her because I couldn’t leave you here to die…and you think I don’t even care’
They’d all been treating Dolores like an imaginary friend, dismissive over Five’s attachment. But if she’d been real…
Clearing herself from rather painful thoughts, she gestures to the page Diego is still holding. “What’s that?”
He blinks owlishly at her for a moment before responding. “It’s a letter from Hazel,” and then begins to read it out loud.
This is everything I could find on the Horsemen; it looks like a lot of it has been destroyed or redacted. I owe you, so I did you this favor but, there are some things that are better left unknown.
From what I’ve seen, this is pretty heavy stuff. Especially the tapes. They’re hard to watch. Be warned.
Make sure this is what you really want to do. That there is no other way.
I really think you ought to just talk to him.
“Soooo tapes first right?”
As one, they all shoot Klaus an incredulous look.
“WHAT! He said especially the tapes! They must have the most important stuff. No use beating around the bush at this point.” Before anyone can respond, he grabs one of the tapes and pops it in. Vanya just barely makes out that it’s labeled Assembly before he does so.
The screen comes to life, but Ben grabs the remote off the table and pauses before the recording can begin. He moves to eject the tape but stops in his tracks as he catches sight of the monitor.
Vanya moves forward curiously to get a better look.
The video is shot from above, a surveillance camera most likely. It's an auditorium or a stage. She can just make out a few rows of an audience in the bottom part of the screen.The stage takes up most of the view and it is lined by armed guards which form a wall in the background. There are four other people present on the stage in their early to mid twenties. A boy and a girl stand off to the side, further back. Not just any girl, Vanya is suddenly reminded, Dolores. She drinks in as much detail as she can on the small screen.
“Oh my god,” Allison breathes, voice soft as she traces a figure on the monitor. Vanya doesn’t know when it happened, but all her siblings are now surrounding the screen, looking at it intently.
Her eyes follow where Allison points, heart swelling at the sight. Five is unmistakable, despite the fact he’s older than she’s ever seen him before. She feels a twing of pride seeing him all grown up. He’s quite handsome now - taller and muscled, the same messy hair and sharp intelligent eyes. She’s struck by the urge to hear his voice. To know if the cadence has changed with age.
She’d been so engrossed in studying her brother’s features, that it takes her a moment to recognize the fwump of Five’s powers. By then, it's already too late.
“What are you doing?” and at the sight of all the scattered documents on the table, “What the hell is all this stuff?”
Vanya jumps at his voice, spinning around to face her brother. With all of them standing surrounding the monitor on this side of the table, Five has unimpeded access to the box and scattered documents. She opens her mouth to answer but no words come out.
Five eyes them all suspiciously when no one responds, and then grabs one of the folders off the table.
Diego makes an aborted move to lunge forward but it's already too late. With a sinking feeling in her gut, she watches Five’s confusion morph into recognition which morphs into indignant anger a second later.
“What is this?!" he asks through gritted teeth. "Where did you get this?!”
They can only stare back. Deer caught in the headlights.
“WHERE DID YOU GET THIS!” Five yells slamming his hands and the folder down on the table and breathing hard like he’s just run a marathon.
Allison takes a step forward, hands up in surrender. “We got it from Hazel. Five, just let us explain…”
“YOU WENT BEHIND MY BACK!”
Luther moves forward as well, stepping in front of Allison protectively, as is Five is an unstable animal about to jump across the table and attack her. He ignores the outraged look Allison shoots him. “Yes, we did. Five, you never would have told us otherwise!”
“NO OF COURSE I WOULDN’T HAVE! THAT’S THE POINT!”
“Five please,” its Ben this time, eyes shining with apology as he approaches. “We were all just worried about you. Let’s talk about this.”
“NO!” Five snaps, violently collecting all the documents scattered around the table and dumping them into the box in which they came from. “You don’t get to see this! You have NO RIGHT!”
With their brother about to disappear with all the information they’ve managed to obtain, Klaus choses that exact moment to grab the rest of the VHS tapes and impulsively shove them down his pants. The action brings Five’s attention straight to Klaus and then to the monitor beside him, black and white screen still displaying the auditorium.
The color drains from Five’s face instantly, and for a brief second Vanya is afraid he’ll pass out.
“Give me that tape! Give me those tapes RIGHT NOW Klaus so help me!”
With all the petulance of a child being threatened with having their favorite toy taken away, Klaus stomps his foot and refuses, hiding behind Diego at the murderous look Five sends his way.
Five disappears with a pop and returns a second later, their father’s mace held in a white knuckled grip. A rather drastic escalation but Five has always had a flare for the dramatic. Luther rushes forward with an outraged roar to intercept, but Five has disappeared again.
He reappears behind them, aiming not for his brothers (thank god) but for the television. But his jump is sloppy, uncoordinated in a way Vanya hasn’t seen since Five first started to develop his powers. As a result, he lands within Diego’s reach.
“Jesus,” Diego breaths catching Five’s wrist before he can successfully smash the monitor to pieces. He yanks him forcefully away from it, prying the weapon from his hands, and keeping a firm grip on his wrist to keep him trapped there. “What the HELL is wrong with you?!”
“No, no!" Five shouts struggling in Diego's grip. "You don’t get to watch that! You CAN'T watch that!”
“And we don’t have to,” Luther responds calmly, which Vanya considers quite a feat all things considered. With Five restrained by Diego, he seems to have settled. “Not if you sit down and talk to us.”
“I..I can’t,” Five’s chokes, eyes wild and afraid as he meets his brother's. Vanya can’t remember ever seeing that look on his face.
Either Luther doesn’t notice, or it doesn’t matter as much as getting answers because he forges onward undeterred. “Five we need to understand. This is non negotiable.”
“UNDERSTAND that this is the worst possible thing you could be doing! If you do this, it’s not for my benefit.” Five spits, vicious and angry like a corned animal.
“We can all watch it together right now.” Luther tries to negotiate. “Klaus play the-”
“NO!” Five lunges towards Klaus and the monitor in panic, only to get pulled back by Diego once more.
Diego looks incredibly conflicted as he stares down at Five. “Five, if it has you this freaked out we ought to know about it.”
Five turns to stare up at him, still tugging at his wrist weakly. “Please. Please don’t do this…” he begs desperately. Diego’s face drops in regret at the sight. They still haven't reconciled from their fight yesterday and with how upset Diego had been about the whole ordeal in the aftermath, she can only imagine that causing Five such distress so soon after is killing him.
When the grip on his wrist doesn't relent, Five turns to her in search of support. “Vanya?” he questions and she can hear the hope in his tone.
She's at a complete loss of what to do. “Five…” she trails off, unsure what to say to make this better. Hurt flashes in his eyes for a moment as the realization dawns on him that no one will be siding with him on this.
Just as quickly, he’s steeled himself again.
Five stomps down hard on Diego’s foot, jerking out of his grip in the distraction and jumping before Diego has the foresight to grab at him again.
He lands on the other side of the table again looking absolutely murderous. “Well FUCK YOU! Fuck all of you! Do whatever the FUCK you want, but I’m not staying here. I’m not watching THAT,” and he points and glares at the monitor like its poisonous. Five stumbles backwards, grabbing the box with the rest of the things Hazel had sent them, and disappears from the kitchen in a flash of blue.
A heavy silence descends in the kitchen, Vanya fidgeting with her fingers nervously.
“We can’t watch this,” Ben argues. “He completely freaked out!”
Luther scrubs a hand over his face in exhaustion before meeting Ben's gaze resolutely. “That’s exactly why we have to watch it.”
Whatever argument is about to break out on the moral quandary of what to do when trying to help your brother ends up hurting them instead is interrupted by Klaus.
“Whoops!” he yelps, flailing away from where he'd stumbled into the monitor. The general murmur of an audience fills the room as the video starts to play.
“Klaus!” Ben reprimands.
“It was an accident!”
“Turn it off!”
“I’m tryiiiing!” He knocks his hand against the monitor several times, tries the buttons there, and then starts pressing the buttons on the remote in a panic.
“Are you serious it’s a VHS player not a rocket ship?!” Diego growls out, stalking over to the monitor.
“I’m pressing every button on this thing, nothing’s working!”
“Don’t hit it! Just press it gently.”
“I am pressing it gently!” Klaus hisses proceeding to slam another button in an act that is nowhere near gentle. “It's not working!”
Diego shoves Klaus to the side roughly, intending to fiddle with it himself but Klaus slaps his hand away before he manages to. Diego looks downright offended for all of two seconds before slapping back at Klaus. In seconds, they’ve dissolved into the equivalent of an elementary school cat fight.
“Are you kidding me,” Allison grounds out in exasperation, moving forward to physically pull their idiot siblings apart and deal with the situation herself.
“Silence!” A voice commands, comically freezing her brothers in their tracks mid motion. In the video, the room falls silent instantly.
In the time her brother’s were bickering, a woman with short white hair appeared in the center of the stage. She’s dressed as if she’s heading to a funeral, an air of superiority discernible even from the old recording. Despite looking largely unassuming, something insider her screams that this woman is dangerous.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I’ve called you all here,” the woman begins, all attention on her. She stalks across the stage, the click of her heels a steady rhythm.
They should stop this. They should turn the video off now Vanya knows but she can't bring herself to move and nobody else does anything either.
“You recognize my Horsemen of course,” the woman states as she paused, hands sweeping to indicate the group behind her.
She shoots the audience a deadly smile as she moves back the way she came towards the other side of the stage. “And of course, you’ve heard by now of their feats! After all they’ve never failed a mission!" She gives a theatrically disappointed sigh and stops.
"That is, until today...”
A shiver runs down Vanya’s spine.
“Surprising isn’t it?" Her voice is intoxicating, commanding the space in a way that makes it impossible to look away. A snake swaying to hypnotize its prey. "I found myself disappointed too. My infallible team is fallible after all. Just like all of you," she mutters the last part in barely concealed disgust.
"But then," she holds a pointer finger up in the mimicry of a sudden revelation, "I realized the problem…"
“Discipline. You all need to be disciplined.”
The woman makes her way back to the center of the stage.
“So I thought it best to lead by example. And what better example than the very best,” another blinding smile arms out at her side in question. She takes a moment to gaze out at the audience. To ensure she has everyones full attention before launching into the story.
“My Horseman were out on assignment. They were tasked with the neutralization of a target. However, they were unable to accomplish this simple goal, despite the training I soooo graciously provided.” Vanya clenches her fists in anger, the kitchen cabinets rattling in response.
“Do you know why?” the woman asks rhetorically, she's made her way to stand just before the two men in the center of the stage.
She turns and grabs the boy beside Five, pulling him forward a step and towards her. Beside him, Five tenses, hands becoming fists. Vanya comes to the horrible realization that Five and this boy’s wrists are shackled.
“My black horse Famine,” the women’s voice is sickly sweet as she grips him hard by the chin, holding him still from behind and leaning her chin to rest on his shoulder, “underestimated his opponent. He thought to offer mercy and as a result, he was almost killed.”
She releases him roughly, shoving him backwards before starting towards Five.
“He would have been killed, had it not been for Death here.”
Vanya hates this. Sees the line of tension running through Five’s body as this woman leans in close to him, moving into his personal space and tugging at his hair roughly to accentuate her words.
“You see instead of accomplishing the mission objective, OUR ONE AND ONLY GOAL", here her voice booms in sharp anger. "Death decided he knew better. He decided to save Famine’s life." She has Five by the back of the neck now, nails sinking into his flesh and so sharp that Vanya can just make out beads of blood. "He allowed the target to escape, with the knowledge he was being targeted, all to save his partner’s life. “
She finally steps away from Five and back towards the front and center of the stage.
“That..,” and she shakes her head back and forth as if the very situation is ludicrous, “that is unacceptable, ladies and gentlemen.”
“It won’t do. It simply won’t do at all,” she repeats again as an after thought.
Her heels click as she circles back. A predator eyeing her prey. She makes it behind them and shoves them both forward, from the middle, to the front of the stage. At the center of attention.
“And I plan to ensure it never happens again.”
Vanya realizes what’s about to happen a second before it actually does. It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. Her mouth opens against her will, heart speeding up, and she has the sudden urge to shout a warning – to do something.
But she’s powerless to stop what has already happened.
There’s nothing she can do but watch.
Vanya watches in horror as the Handler takes out a gun, presses the muzzle to the back of Famine’s skull, and pulls the trigger.
His body hits the ground with a dull thud.