From where Five lies sprawled across his bed, the alarm clock mocks him.
7:43 PM it proclaims in angry blinking red.
Far too early to actually fall asleep, not that he’d be able to anyways in the company of his turbulent thoughts.
An unfortunate side effect of this arrangement with his siblings.
He learned early on that the easiest way to deal with painful memories was to lock them away. Bury them deep within himself until the pain was dull and manageable. Until he was numb to it.
Recalling the memories now, speaking them out loud and even worse, watching his siblings’ reactions was undoing all of that. Like cracking open a dam, allowing a flood of emotions pouring out.
Even after all this time, Five never learned how to keep from drowning in their depth.
A knock on his door pulls him from his reverie.
The knocking persists, a familiar pattern he’d recognize anywhere.
“Ben, I mean it.”
“Five come on. Open up.”
Resigning himself to the fact his brother is clearly not going away unless he’s physically directed to, Five slides off the bed. He takes the time to walk there, making sure his steps are heavy enough to convey his annoyance. With the click of the lock, he opens the door just a crack, bodily blocking his brother from entrance.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay.” Ben says easily, too nonchalant to be anything but suspicious.
Five raises a brow, his brother producing a book in response to the silent question. “I was just looking for a quiet place to read. Everyone else always interrupts. Do you mind keeping me company?”
42 bedrooms, 19 bathrooms, an entire square block of property and Ben can’t find a single quiet place to read.
As if sensing his unfavorable train of thought, Ben employs his secret weapon and dirtiest trick, jutting his bottom lip out in the puppy dog pout he perfected in his youth. It shouldn’t work now. Ben is a goddamn adult and he has no right to look so forlorn over being denied entrance to his room. Five knows, he knows it’s an act and yet—
“Fine,” he grumbles, opening the door fully to allow his brother inside.
Ben brightens instantly, reaching out to ruffle his hair as he slips inside. Five almost kicks him right back out for it.
Ben makes himself right at home, hoping onto the bed to lean against the headboard. When he catches Five still standing at the door, he pats the spot next to him like Five’s seen kids in the park do to coax the more aloof strays closer.
He holds his place stubbornly until Ben snorts in amusement, abandoning his efforts. Then and only then, does Five crawl back onto the bed, spreading out on his stomach, head resting on an arm and tilted towards his brother.
They fall into a companionable silence, only broken by the flip of the pages and Ben’s breathing.
It’s nice. Calming he begrudgingly admits.
But its not long before the peace is eclipsed by his thoughts once more. The what ifs and could have beens. The creeping doubt and lingering sense of failure. The guilt and the self loathing and—
“Is it okay if I read out loud?”
He’s not an idiot. He’s aware of what Ben’s trying to do but he’s not some stupid child that needs to be read to and he hates being treated as one.
Five is perfectly capable of working through his demons on his own. After all, he’s been doing it for years now.
But… would it really be so terrible to allow himself the comfort Ben is offering to provide? Ben who never does anything with malicious intent and is trying his very best to be considerate and helpful, without overstepping boundaries.
“You know, you don’t always have to be the strong one,” he’d whispered to Five in the dead of night a lifetime ago, not knowing what was wrong but desperate to help. “You can come to us too.”
You can come to us too.
A terrifying concept at the time. What if he came to them and his siblings thought to do something about it? What if they stopped him from helping them, driven by some sort of misplaced guilt? What if they got hurt trying to protect him?
Or even worse, the terrible, selfish part of himself cried. What if they did nothing? What if they just dismissed him?
What if they’d known all along and never cared?
“Yes, it’s okay.”
It’s been a long time since Ben last read to him. Once it was a fairly common occurrence in the house.
Ben was always the best at telling stories. He didn’t just read books, he lived them. He lost himself amongst the pages, befriending characters, traveling to distant lands, and becoming a part of those other worlds.
Better worlds than the one they lived in.
It’s nostalgic, the hum of his brother’s voice.
It’s rainy days curled against the window in the attic’s alcove. It’s the quiet corner of the library after an exhausting day of training. It’s a flashlight and the sound of his siblings giggling, bundled in blankets or hiding under the sheets in the dead of night.
It’s everything he’d missed, sitting in the rubble of the Academy in a world of fire and ash. That and so much more.
Five hadn’t bothered to close the door after Ben came in, their rooms the only ones on this floor and side of the house. When Klaus pokes his head through the doorway, he realizes what a foolish mistake that had been.
“Ooo is it story time! Can we join?”
Vanya appears beside him, smiling meekly. “Promise we’ll be quiet.”
He turns accusing eyes on Ben who shrugs innocently, pausing his reading. Up to you.
“Say a single word and I’m kicking you out. No additional commentary,” he directs at Klaus, remembering all too well his brother’s penchant for interrupting to crack jokes and to demand what happens next, too impatient to wait until the end.
Klaus mimes zipping his lips and throwing away the key before launching himself on the bed, forcing Five to roll onto his side towards Ben or be crushed.
Sending Klaus a dirty look over his shoulder, he asks Vanya to close the door behind her, unwilling to gain any more unexpected guests.
It’s a tight squeeze with the four of them. Vanya’s seat looks quite precarious despite Ben scooting in as much as possible. To the point where Five can feel Ben and Klaus on either side of him.
Even more so when Klaus throws an arm around him, hugging him to his chest loosely with the claim that he’ll fall off the bed without the additional stability.
Five briefly considers knocking him off but Klaus too has a fairly effective kicked puppy routine and he’s too tired to really protest.
It’s clear his siblings are adamant on doing…whatever this is. He finds he doesn’t really care as long as Ben keeps reading and that, he does.
The sob catches him entirely unaware. Ben is chapters deep when it rips from his chest, all painful jagged edges.
He squeezes his eyes shut, bracing for the bombardment of questions, unwilling to see the looks on their faces, and feels wetness trail down his cheeks.
But it never comes.
Ben's voice falters for a single moment before continuing, infinitely softer than before. Vanya shifts, the bed dipping with her movement, but she remains in place without a word.
Klaus too says nothing, only pulls him closer.
Pressed against him like this, Five can feel each of his brother’s inhales, the steady beating of his heart against the backdrop of Ben's words.
All anchoring him to the present.
They let him sniffle and cry. The tears he hadn't been able to shed for Chase then. The ones his friend always deserved to have fall in his honor.
They allow him the moment to breakdown, without letting him drift too far into his grief.
On the bed, Ben’s hand brushes again his own, tangling their fingers together.
With his hand otherwise occupied, Vanya takes over turning the pages.
Before he’s even opened his eyes, Five knows something is wrong. But he trained for this.
He forces his body to remain relaxed, measuring his breaths carefully, unwilling to give away his return to consciousness without some idea of the situation he’s found himself in. However, despite straining his senses for several minutes he can’t pick up on any sounds.
With no other choice, he opens his eyes.
A man in a mask wearing a white lab coat stands next to him. Far too close to not have been perceived. Syringe in one hand and reaching with the other for an instrument on the silver tray beside his bed.
Five jolts backwards, attempting to reach a sitting position but is promptly yanked back down into place.
Restraints. They bind him to the bed like the ones used in psychiatric hospitals.
Like the one’s Reginald used to train him to escape.
Reaching inside himself to tug at the familiar thrum of his power yields nothing. It’s present, but beyond reach and that disconnect steals any semblance of calm, his fight or flight response triggering, despite his inability to do either.
Five pulls at the restraints, struggling desperately to get free before the scientist can come any closer. The straps are tight but perhaps dislocating his thumbs will allow him to slip his hand out? He’ll have to be quick before the man calls for back up. Before he moves to inject him with the contents of the syringe or he’s sedated once more, except...
Except he’s not moving. Hasn’t moved at all this whole time his panicked mind slowly pieces together.
Nothing is moving. The world muted and so very wrong. Not a sound but Five’s own panting breaths.
On the wall, the clock’s hands never push past 8:41 PM.
“Oh good. You’re awake.”
He jumps at the statement, craning his next to try and visualize the speaker.
"I was wondering how long you were going to keep pretending to sleep."
The Handler sits on the other side of his bed, just behind him and out of his peripheral sight. She stands, dragging her chair noisily to sit beside his bed. Five flinches at the sound, the screeching against the floor amplified by the nothingness around them.
It’s when he attempts to demand an explanation that Five realizes the dryness in his mouth is not a result of the drugs alone.
“You were screaming too loud,” the Handler says, in regards to the gag. “It couldn’t be helped. Noise complaints and the like. There is important work to be done after all.”
Despite being muffled by the gag, it’s cathartic to curse her out.
Some basic tests she’d said. “It’s important to know what makes our new assets tick.”
Bullshit as usual. Basic tests don't usually involve being restrained and drugged, his powers striped from him. They don't usually cause you to scream even while unconscious.
“I thought this would be a good time for us to talk, just the two of us,” she says, tapping him on the nose. “Well I suppose I'll be doing most all of the talking. It’s just so difficult to separate the four of you these days.”
He stills at the subtle threat, listening attentively.
“I must admit, you fascinate me,” the Handler starts with a grin. “I was most adamant on acquiring you, for purely selfish reasons I'm afraid.”
“You see, we are just so alike you and I. Our abilities allow us both to alter time,” she gestures at the frozen bubble around them, 8:41 PM dragging endlessly, “and yet, it treats us so differently.”
Five’s mind whirs at the revelation she’s so casually dropped. Thoughts flying in a thousand different directions. Why reveal something like this to him? Why now? What could she possibly stand to gain?
Then the reality of the threat she poses hits him and everything else grinds to a halt.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re together or how well they watch one another’s backs, in an instant she could kill them all. At any time, in any place.
So difficult. It wouldn't be difficult at all.
He’s nauseous at the realization.
Five wants to panic and panic he will, but for now he needs to learn what he can.
This is a game of chess, a battle of wits. Luckily, he already has years of experience against Reginald Hargreeves. He’ll learn to win against the Handler too.
“When I hold Time it my hands like this, it constantly struggles to escape. It fights me. It hates being stopped.”
He can work with that. If Time fights against it too, if her hold is already tenuous, it shouldn’t take much. Just a push in the right direction.
“But you? Time embraces you, greets you like an old friend. It lends you its strength. Lets you bend it and play in its folds. And I just, I don’t understand why. Why are we different?”
He discards the majority of this as nonsense. Unclear from where she thinks she can draw claim to what his experience manipulating Time is like. Though it is interesting, he's only met the resistance she claims to constantly feel once. The only time it ever really mattered.
There are several variables he'll need to consider. Most importantly, he needs to determine whether or not he can detect the use of her power while influenced by it and break himself out. Assuming of course, that should she try to murder his friends, she'd neutralize him too. Determining the range of her gift is also essential. But such a thing requires witnessing her power and testing his own against it, preferably without her realizing it. As much fun as her expression would be after escaping a bubble of time she intended to trap him in, it would also forfeit the element of surprise when he truly did need it.
“I mean, it’s a part of you. I can actually feel it in you,” the Handler laughs, reaching out to run her fingers along his skin, trailing the path of his veins down his arm. “Running through you like blood. Perhaps," she purrs, "it’s just as vital.”
He snaps from his plotting, goose bumps rising in her wake. Danger, something in him warns, this has become dangerous.
“I wonder what would happen… if I stopped it.”
From one heartbeat to the next, she’s grabbed him in a bruising grip that’s impossibly still tightening, practically grinding his bones together.
His pulse jumps at the sudden shift, heart rabbiting like an animal that’s been snared in a trap.
The smile is gone as she leans in, towering over him, so close he can feel each exhale on his face.
He’s never felt so small before her. He’s felt unease, discomfort, undermined, and objectified, but never the genuine fear he does now.
Locked in the Handler’s feral gaze, some instinctive part of him screams.
Five wonders if she’s right, if the feeling is Time itself crying out.
“What do you think? Would it be enough to kill you?”
That’s the fourth time tonight.
With a groan Ben pulls himself up, flicking on the lamp on Five’s bedside table.
“Shhh you’re okay Fivey,” Klaus murmurs sleepily, trying to calm their whimpering brother. “Shhhhhhh”
Ben sighs, heart heavy with things he can’t quite verbalize, but sees reflected in Klaus’ gaze.
After Five had fallen asleep, curled sweetly in Klaus’ arms, Vanya had taken her leave wishing them a good night and bidding that they look after the snoozing teen.
They’d stayed up a while longer, speaking in whispers until Klaus started yawning and it grew contagious. Calling it a night, he’d flicked off the light switch and cuddled up to them too, falling asleep almost instantly, warm and content in a way he hadn’t truly felt in years.
Only to wake a couple of hours later to the sound of Five crying out, in the midst of a nightmare.
They’d stared at each other dumbly, wide eyed and confused because Ben can’t ever remember a time when Five had been prone to such things. Another soft keen snapped them out of it. Thankfully, or not so thankfully, Klaus has his fair share of experience with nightmares and the like to fall back on, and he’d been able to lull their smallest brother back into a more peaceful slumber with gentle hands and soothing words, which was an incredible relief.
But then it had happened again and again and again.
Now he wonders if this has been happening the entire time. If while they foolishly believed everything was fine, Five had been restlessly tossing and turning like this, trapped in the memories they’d been forcing him to relive.
Five jerks, a leg kicking out in his sleep and then he’s bolted upright.
Klaus freezes. Eyes wide and instantly awake, as if he just now realized exactly who he's been cuddled up against all night. Like a tiger and not a teenager had just woken up in his arms.
“You with us Fivey?” Ben asks because his eyes are darting around in panic.
“Five,” he calls again more firmly when he gets no response. This time when Five meets Ben’s eyes he can tell, he’s actually seeing him and not through him.
“Ben what—” he tenses halting his movement when the weight of Klaus’ arm makes itself known.
“It’s just Klaus.”
“Hey there kiddo.”
“M’not a kid,” Five grumbles but he relaxes after the confirmation, flopping back down on the bed at Klaus’ coaxing. Surprisingly docile or maybe just relieved.
They give him a few minutes to breathe. The last dredges of his panic subside, leaving sleepy confusion in its wake.
“What’s going on?”
“You were having a nightmare.”
“Oh.” Even in the low light, Ben can see his cheeks color in embarrassment. “Sorry for waking you.”
He’s about to reassure Five that there’s no need to apologize for such a thing when his brother seems to realize exactly where they are.
“What are you guys still doing in my room?”
“It’s a sleepover with your two favorite brothers of course,” Klaus chirps cheerfully.
“We don’t have sleepovers.”
“We do now!”
Five huffs but doesn’t kick them out or extricate himself from the tangle of lankly limbs that is Klaus, doing his best impression of a koala bear.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“It wasn’t your fault,” he tries.
Five sucks in a breath. His fingers fist in the sheets and when he speaks again it’s so quiet Ben has to lean in to hear. “Please…please don’t.”
Swallowing down his own sorrow, Ben forces a small smile. “Okay, sorry.”
“Well I don’t know about you guys," Klaus says breaking the tension. "But I could sure use some more shut eye. What do you say short stack, think you can go back to sleep or shall we take this party downstairs?”
A yawn is his only response and Ben’s heart warms to see Five still scrunches his nose like a kitten the same way he did when he was actually thirteen.
“Bedtime it is then,” Klaus declares and there’s a hint of relief there, even though Ben knows he’d willingly stay up the rest of the night if Five did without being asked.
With that decided, Ben makes to turn off the light again but a hand catches his wrist first.
“Wait!” Five releases his grip once he pauses, eyes looking anywhere but at him. “Are you, um, will you—”
“We’ll be here,” Ben promises and runs a hand through Five’s hair fondly.
At the show of affection, Klaus nuzzles against Five with a whine for attention. From the way Five presses his lips together, the beginning of a smile forming despite the pinched expression, Ben assumes Klaus is purposely tickling his neck with his facial hair.
For Five’s sake, Ben concedes, alternating between petting them both.
It’s after the lights come off and Ben is right on the precipice of sleep that he says it.
“Anytime,” Ben murmurs against Five's hair. Across from him, Klaus hums his agreement.
Well that’s… Ben can’t remember the last time Five said that to him. He’d always known. Of course he had, but hearing it out loud like that...
Klaus makes a choked little sound, seemingly as stunned as he is. “Love you too buddy,” he says and Ben feels him squeeze Five tight. “So much.”
Ben nods in the darkness, throwing an arm around both his brothers. “Love you too,” he echoes and if his voice cracks with emotion a bit at the end, neither of them bring it up.