The first things he’s aware of is an incessant beeping.
The next, is the sluggish weight of his limbs. The drag on his body as he tries to will it to obey, like trying to move through molasses.
There’s a pressure on his hand.
He groans when he finally manages to open his eyes, the light sharp and piercing.
Once he’s adjusted, he takes in his surroundings. He’s laying on a hospital bed, in one of the disquieting glass rooms that makes up the Commission’s infirmary. Dolores sits next to him, having dragged a chair to his bedside. His hand is wrapped in both of hers, her forehead pressed against their joined hands as she dozes lightly.
“D—lores” he slurs on his fourth try, tongue heavy from the sedatives.
She jerks up at the sound of his voice, eyes red rimmed but dry.
“You’re an idiot you know that.” There’s a tremble to the words, but a ferocious fire burning in her eyes. “The biggest fucking idiot I’ve ever met.”
Attempting to answer sends him into a coughing fit.
There’s a glass of ice cold water at his lips by the time he’s collected himself.
“Do you remember what happened?”
Her hand is steady on his arm, both easing its shaking from the exertion of holding the glass up, and a reminder not to drink too fast, lest he make himself sick.
He thinks back as far as he can go, images shifting in and out of focus like they’re being displayed on an old projector.
The silence of the city at night. Light filtering underneath a door at the end of a dark hallway. The rapid beat of a small heart against his chest and the feel of Dolores’ pulse under his fingers. The retort of a gun, pain, and a fire. Chase begging him to stay awake for just a little bit longer. Tears splashing against his dusty cheeks.
Five nods and there’s something like relief in the way she sinks down into her seat, accepting the half empty cup back.
“How l-ng?” he scrapes out.
“A few days now. They had to put you under to keep you from moving while you were in critical condition. The bullet grazed your heart.” She pauses, then offers a saccharine smile. “Don’t worry, despite your best efforts, you’re going to be fine.”
His eyes rove over his companion, seeking any potential injuries. Other than clear exhaustion, she seems to be alright, but still. “Are you?”
Dolores scoffs, tossing her head back in something like a silent prayer for patience. “I’m not the one who thought it would be a good idea to jump in front of a bullet, so yes I’m fine.” There’s an angry bite to the words, which, fair enough. If she’d pulled the same stunt for him, Five would be pissed too.
With a sigh, her eyes soften. “So are Chase and Kai,” she offers, to ease any lingering panic.
It works. With the knowledge his friends are okay, his body immediately tries to drop back into dreamless oblivion.
He fights it stubbornly back.
“How long have you been here?”
Dolores spares a glance at the clock behind her. “Few hours. We’ve been taking shifts. Didn’t want to leave you alone—”
She cuts off as one of the scientists shuffles past, glaring daggers, daring him to come any closer.
The memory of what happened the last time he’d woken up here alone is too much to deal with at the moment, so he smothers it under the haze of drugs.
“What about the—” He loses his train of thought when he catches sight of himself. “The hell is this?”
His left arm is covered in ink doodles.
Dolores cracks a genuine, fond smile. “Chase,” she explains. “He got bored waiting for you to grace us with your consciousness.”
That explains the subject matter.
The majority of the scrawled drawings are little animals whimsically displayed. A monkey rides a giraffe into battle, wielding what appears to be a flaming sword. A whale with wings jumps out of a fishbowl. A horse with a top hat stands on its hind legs twirling a cane.
They’re… surprisingly well done.
All of them except—
“What’s that supposed to be?” He asks indicating a smudge with… five legs? Or maybe that’s supposed to be a tail? He’s not exactly sure what he’s looking at.
“It’s a cat!”
He can’t hold back a snort at that.
“Be nice,” she reprimands, “Malakai drew it.”
“Is that the butt?”
“That’s his face.”
“Those are the eyes.”
“Those are not eyes.”
Dolores bursts into helpless giggles.
God he loves that sound.
It’s also contagious, because he finds himself laughing with her.
“It’s so bad!”
“I know,” she finally concedes catching her breath. “But he tried so hard and Chase already made fun of him, so you be nice.”
“I’m the one who’s stuck with it,” he murmurs petulantly, “I should get to make fun of it too.”
He’s rewarded with a whack to his side from Dolores, and a sharp pain in his chest when he inhales too quickly for another bout of laughter. Dolores’ brow creases with worry, but he waves down her concern.
Wait a minute.
“There’s nothing on my face, is there?”
He narrows his eyes suspiciously.
“I promise.” She raises one hand. “Scouts honor. Plus, I wouldn’t have been able to keep a straight face this long if there was.”
He eyes her a moment longer, before deciding she’s likely telling the truth.
Though it doesn’t mean Chase won’t remedy that if he’s left on bed rest much longer…
“You didn’t draw anything?”
Dolores freezes, pink dusting her cheeks, as she ducks her head away from him.
Since he first woke up, Dolores hasn’t released her hold on his right hand, but now she drums a finger along the back of it.
Curiously, Five disentangles their fingers, to get a look at his palm.
It’s more of a geometric design, than any one thing. It covers the entirety of his palm and crisscrosses up each finger, in repeated spiraling shapes. In some areas she’s followed the lines of his hand and in others she’s ignored them completely.
It’s chaotic but cohesive. Beautiful in its complexity.
In the middle of it all, from where all the other designs originate and branch out, there’s a little heart. Darker then the rest, as if she’d traced over it with the pen, again and again.
“Oh,” he manages intelligently. “It’s nice.”
When he looks up at her again, she’s even redder than she was before his inspection. But she clears her throat and composes herself quickly. “Alright that’s enough. You’re supposed to be resting.”
His declaration about not being tired would likely have been more believable if his traitorous body hadn’t yawned halfway through it.
“What about you?”
“I’ll go rest when your next babysitter gets here,” she mocks.
The bags under her eyes are more than a few hours in the making, the supposed length of her shift watching him. Plus, Chase and Malakai have both been drawing on his left arm, but there are no such drawings on his right. Only what Dolores has drawn on his palm. So, Chase never got the chance to doodle on his right. That, coupled with the fact she’d practically been dead to the world when he first woke up, tell him she has not in fact been resting.
May not have even left his side.
His stomach does a funny little flip at the idea.
When she doesn’t refute him, Five knows he’s right.
It takes every bit of strength he has to scoot over and make room on the bed for her. Dolores fusses over him for his efforts, hissing that he shouldn’t be moving like that and that he’ll tear open his stitches.
Five yawns again, the simple act sapping so much of his waning energy. “Just get in. I’m tired,” he whines.
Dolores glares for a moment before relenting, crawling in under the covers beside him.
She’s incredibly gentle, cautious of all the tubes and wires sticking out of him, as well as his healing injuries. Finally, she settles, ducking under his arm to curl into his side, throwing an arm around him and resting her head on his chest, hair tickling his chin. Their legs tangle together under the sheets.
Where her fingers rest over his ribs, she rubs soothing circles in his skin.
Five hums contently, sleepily cuddling further into the embrace.
“I’m going to kick your ass for this once your better,” she murmurs into his chest after a beat.
“You’re an idiot.”
“So you’ve said.”
Dolores takes a deep breath and the exhale tickles against his neck.
“Don’t you dare do that again.”
He doesn’t bother responding. Not about to make a promise he can’t keep.
That and perhaps more significantly, the drugs are dragging him under again, the warmth too comfortable to ignore any longer.
With the last vestiges of consciousness, he hears her whisper once more.
“Don’t you ever scare me like that again.”
Diego is vaguely aware that his siblings are having a conversation around him. But it’s like they’re underwater. Far away.
Yet he still catches some of it.
He hears Ben recounting how Five would step in to interrupt his training whenever their Father was too rough. How Five would disappear for hours, sometimes days after, only to return exhausted and covered in bruises. How Ben never really believed they were all from training.
He hears Klaus mumble about the mausoleum, their Father catching Five there keeping him company once. Hears his brother plead with the others, asking them desperately whether Five had been physically hurt each time Klaus had taken up his offer of help.
Diego’s hands are shaking.
How many times had Five covered for him? How many times had he appeared unasked, apparently willing to suffer if it meant Diego didn’t have to? How many times had Diego gone to Five and asked for his help, knowing their father was furious, that the punishment would be particularly severe and unwilling to face it himself?
He finds himself trying to analyze every instance he can think of.
Had Five ever hesitated? Had Diego ever seen fear in his eyes and chosen to ignore it?
God, he’d never even gone to check on him after! Not once. Dozens of times Five protected him and not a single fucking time had Diego even entertained the notion of visiting his brother in the aftermath.
His stupid, selfless, brilliant, martyr of a brother.
Diego’s going to kill him.
What’s the saying?
Speak of the devil, and the devil shall appear.
Well Five must be the devil, because he chooses that exact moment to saunter in.
Five’s juggling three boxes of doughnuts in his arms. Completely unaware of the mood in the room, he smiles, a rare, genuine thing, while announcing his entrance, dimples out on full display.
It feels like getting punched in the fucking gut.
He’s so small. Looks so unbearably young and fragile.
And he was even smaller than this when he started taking Diego’s punishments for him.
When he gave himself up on a silver platter. A whipping boy for the rest of them.
Diego’s fucking furious.
“You little shit!”
The smile drops from Five’s face, confusion masking his features.
Someone scolds him, warns him to calm down. But he’s too angry to calm down.
Diego wants to throttle their father. To put his first through the goddamn wall.
He’ll have to settle for yelling at his asshole little brother instead.
“You lied to me!”
Five looks at him, down to the doughnuts, and back up at him, trying to figure out what he’s done wrong.
It’s almost comical.
“You said he didn’t hurt you!”
Annoyance filters past the confusion. Five’s patience thinning at the lack of clear explanation and the aggression being directed at him. “Diego, what the hell, are you talking about?”
“Dad,” he snarls. “You said he didn’t hurt you. That’s what you told me.” He jabs his finger out on the second ‘you’, pointing at Five accusingly.
He catches the flash of shock in his brother’s eyes, before Five is able to hide it. Five drops the doughnuts on a side table and Diego can actually see him raise his defenses. He crosses his arms, face going carefully neutral, gaze roving over the others uncertainly before landing on Diego again.
“What does it matter?”
Diego fights not to yell. What comes out is just barely not that. Voice scathingly level through clenched teeth. “You got yourself hurt, for years, protecting me. That’s why it matters!”
He can count on his hands the number of times he’s seen Five Hargreeves flustered. This is apparently one of those rare events.
“That’s not— I wasn’t—” he cuts off, stumbling over his words and finally settles on, “I can take a beating, Diego!”
It’s the wrong fucking thing to say.
“You shouldn’t have had to!” Diego explodes.
“Ya, well I did have to!”
“No you didn't you stubborn asshole! You could’ve let me take my own damn punishments.”
Five’s eyes darken dangerously. “No.”
Diego barks out a hysterical laugh. “No!? What I wasn’t strong enough to manage? You had to protect your weak, stuttering brother. Because god forbid you see us as equals.”
“Are you purposely being this dense?!” Five growls back. “It has nothing to do with that. I’ve never seen you as anything less than my equal.”
“You didn’t deserve it!”
“And you did!” He screeches incredulously.
“It was going to happen anyways.” There’s a slip in the armor, and for a second Diego can see his brother. The tired resignation on his face at a truth he’d discovered long ago. “I didn’t see a reason for any of you to have to go through it, if it could just be one.” Then the armor is back up and the steel returns to his eyes as he defends, “It was the logical choice.”
Diego’s actually going to kill him.
He’s going to grab Five and crush him to his chest, and wrap his arms as tight as he can around his tiny little body, and he’s not going to let go until one or both of them is dead.
“The logical choice…” Diego breathes into the silence, shaking his head in disbelief. “And I’m the dense one!”
As expected, the taunt at Five’s intelligence is enough to send his brother into a frenzy again.
“Fuck you,” he growls, teleporting to stand on the couch and gain height. “You’re making a big deal for no reason! Reginald knocking me around on occasion, that was nothing! You think the Commission didn’t do worse! You think I wasn’t trained to take it. That was my life!”
Someone lets out a startled, “Excuse me, what?” at the later proclamation but Diego barrels right on through incensed by the first.
“No reason! I’m the one being unreasonable right now!”
If their argument thus far could be considered civil, it dissolves into all out chaos after that. He doesn’t even know half the things he’s shouting in Five’s face, but it feels damn cathartic. Five is giving as good as he’s getting, not one to be outdone.
He’s been peripherally aware of their siblings this whole time, passively trying to rein them in with gentle words. Clearly their tolerance wanes, because they decide to go for a more active approach.
“Ok, that’s enough,” is all the warning Diego gets before Luther hefts him off his feet and away.
It does surprisingly little to dissuade them.
Allison snaps first. “Would you two stop yelling!"
“No, I’m upset and I’m going to yell!” Diego yells back in response, elbowing Luther to be released, which he does albeit begrudgingly.
“If he’s yelling, I’m yelling!” Is Five’s childish and incredibly immature response, made worse by the fact he’s still standing on the couch like a brat.
“This is stupid you’re both acting like toddlers and I would know.”
They react at the same time to that. Diego's “Excuse me!” overlapping with Five's "Don't lump me in with him!".
“Oh for god’s sake you really don’t get it do you?” At their blank stares, Ben sighs deeply before turning to each of them in turn. “Five, Diego’s mad you used to protect him, because he cares about you and can’t stand the idea you got hurt for him. Diego, Five just doesn’t want to admit he was protecting you, because he cares about you and doesn’t want you to feel bad, since there’s nothing you can do about it now. You’re both just showing that you love each other in really convoluted ways and for some reason also screaming angrily about it!”
Diego takes a deep breath. Then another and another.
The very idea that Five had managed to trick him into letting him take his punishments...
The realization that Diego had been that terrible of a brother.
“Alright nows the part where we hug and make nice like reasonable human people,” Klaus prompts expectantly, like an over enthused kindergarten teacher.
“C’mere you fucking asshole.” He grabs Five’s wrist and yanks him off the sofa and into his arms. Five startles, surprised Diego decided to take Klaus’ advice most likely, but he doesn’t jump away and eventually he returns the embrace, so that has to be something.
“You shouldn’t have done that for me, and… I should’ve noticed. I should’ve been looking out for you too. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. As if you’d ever be perceptive enough to discover something I was actively trying to hide from you.” Diego chuckles despite himself, figuring that will be the extent of what he'll get from his brother. But then Five buries his face in Diego’s shoulder, the last part whispered for him alone. “And you have nothing to be sorry for. I made a choice, and I’d make it again. I don't regret any of it.”
He’s not sure how to respond to that. Not sure he could, even if he wanted to, with the way his throat is closing all of the sudden. He pulls Five in just a little tighter, and hopes that’ll be enough.
Their other siblings remain silent. Allowing them the moment.
“Now that we’re done yelling," Allison speaks up once he sets Five back down. "We can calmly talk about this.”
Beside him, Five looks up curiously.
“We are talking about this.” He affirms before Allison can continue. “We are definitely talking about this, but not right now. I can’t. If I have to hear any more about the things Dad did, in this house, right under my fucking nose.” Deep breaths Diego, deep breaths. “I’m going to lose my shit.”
Ben has the audacity to raise his brow. “And this was not you losing your shit?”
Klaus is right, death turned Ben into a cheeky little bastard.
“That’s fair. The talking about it later I mean.” Vanya supports and Diego sends her a small smile in thanks.
“Great we're tabling that talk,” Klaus claps. “Now that that’s settled, shall we go back and analyze the deeply disturbing Commission Thing Five just casually mentioned? Cause I think that’s exactly what we need to do.”
Every eye turns to Five, who shrinks under the entirety of their attention.
“Can’t we just have doughnuts instead?” he pouts.