Allison is on a swing. It's in a playground she has never been to. She pumps her legs to go higher, higher, and someone calls her name. She ignores the voice, even though it calls for her over and over again.
The earth starts to jerk and crumble under the swingset, and Allison’s heartbeat spikes.
There are hands on her, shaking her awake like Patrick used to when she had really bad nightmares, though she wasn’t having a nightmare. Barely conscious, she sits up and lashes out with one hand in a single motion. Her hand doesn’t connect with anything, also like how it was with Patrick, who learned quickly to get out of harm’s way if he was going to wake her up.
Allison’s on her feet next to her bed now, poised to fight even though she’s still blinking the sleep from her eyes, but as soon as she manages to actually take stock of her surroundings, the fight goes out of her. She’s in her childhood room, and there is someone else with her, but instead of Patrick standing on the other side of the room ashen-faced and with his back against the wall, it’s Five standing at the foot of her bed.
His eyes are wild with fear and manic determination, and the pieces fall into place for Allison, roughly forty seconds after her rude awakening.
She’s not the one who had a nightmare. She’s just living in someone else’s.
Five clearly just woke up, and Allison wishes he couldn’t teleport. At least then Vanya would be able to talk him down before he left the room.
“Get up,” Five snaps, apparently losing patience with her. “We don’t have time for this, everything’s going to collapse! We need to leave this place!”
Allison reaches out to Five, but he ignores her. “Get your notebook,” he says, and then he’s gone in a flash of blue.
It could be worse. At least he’s in the present day. He knows she’s alive (and voiceless, easy to ignore for the first time in her life).
Allison sighs and grabs her notebook, and runs into Vanya in the hallway.
Vanya looks exhausted. “He woke me up and then he left before I could even say anything, sorry.”
Allison shrugs and gives her a sad smile. What can you do?
“He’s probably downstairs by now,” Vanya says, but a voice from Diego’s room proves her wrong.
“Come on, Five,” Diego protests, and Allison and Vanya share an amused look in spite of the unfunny situation. “Leave me alone, I need sleep!”
“You need to survive, Diego!” Five says in irritated response. “Move your ass! Everyone else is already awake!”
“ Jesus Christ,” Diego says as he steps out into the hallway. He looks exhausted. He must’ve been out fighting crime until just a couple of hours ago. Well, that’s his own fault. Diego gives Allison and Vanya a half-hearted, exhausted glare. “Why do we humor him again?”
“He’s our brother,” Vanya says shortly, and she turns on her heel and goes downstairs.
Diego sighs, and when Allison jerks her head towards the staircase before heading after Vanya, he follows.
Klaus and Luther are already in the living room, Klaus reclining on the couch and Luther hovering awkwardly in front of it.
Five flashes into view, looks at them congregated in the living room, and spits out, “What are you doing in here? I told you the house was burning! It’s going to collapse! Go outside!”
“Five, nothing’s burning,” Luther says in a gentle voice.
“How do you not see it?” Five asks. “It’s everywhere!” He presses the heel of his hand to his head, and Allison and Vanya share an uneasy look.
“Take a deep breath—” Luther starts, but Five rolls his eyes in response and cuts him off.
“We need to leave!”
“Five,” Vanya says firmly. She’s loud, and Allison almost flinches, reminded of the screaming she tried to stop like it was just another tantrum, her throat opening like a second mouth and she can’t breathe and there’s blood thick and wet and hot against her hands.
(Vanya took Allison’s voice. Vanya feels awful about it, but the truth is there.
It was Allison’s fault, she reminds herself. She tried to do something she shouldn’t have, something she told herself she wouldn’t do again, but she had to go back to basics, it was just...
Vanya was suffering. She was going to cause suffering. Allison thought it was the right thing to do.
Allison fucked up.
Allison’s fucked up.)
“It’s Vanya,” Allison hears, and she struggles to come back to earth. It’s Vanya. That’s probably more comforting to Five than it is to her. “Look around you. We’re all here.”
“If the place were actually burning down, buddy, we’d be freaking out too,” Klaus says, and his tone is gentle even if the words aren’t. “But we’re not. It’s all in your head. You got mixed up, it happens. A lot. It happened last night, and the night before that…” Klaus cuts himself off and tilts his head. “I’m totally helping,” he mutters at thin air. At Ben.
Ben can talk. He seems like thin air, but at least he can talk to Klaus, and Allison’s jealous of a dead boy now. That’s pathetic.
She has her notebook. She has the ASL book that Diego gave her. Everyone can see her, at least, even if they don’t seem to.
The words she has are useless right now. Five won’t read them, so she doesn’t write them. Her body is limp, her hands are heavy and tingling.
“Five,” Diego says, and now he’s trying for gentle too. He isn’t bad at it. Allison was better. Your body’s your voice, Allison, he told her a few weeks ago, and she’s trying to think of it like that, except she’s realizing now that it’s more like her body was part of her voice. Body language is everyone’s first language (Claire gripping her finger, smiling with her milk teeth just coming in, twisting and flailing and screaming like she’s possesed and once Allison said I heard a rumor you left his body ), but Allison’s rusty and she didn’t even notice until now.
Your body’s your voice.
Allison’s mind wanders. She only comes back to herself when a hand is placed on her shoulder.
Vanya’s the one touching her, and Allison jerks away. Vanya’s eyes flood with hurt, and Allison thinks, uncharitably, good. She walks away.
The guilt hits her as she steps into her room. Vanya’s going to feel horrible after that. But Allison spoke with her body, even though she can’t translate her exact words. All she knows is that it was mean, and unfair, and this was on her, remember?
Five’s probably gone back to bed. Allison wishes she could’ve done something. Allison wishes it would’ve mattered that she spaced out. She wants to scream. She wants to do something other than stand by and watch the others talk him down. She used to be the person who talked people down.
I heard a rumor you didn’t jump, she told a man once. He killed himself anyway, weeks later. Allison recognized his face on the news.
“You couldn’t make him want to survive,” Ben said sympathetically when Allison went to him upset, because she always went to him for the kind of comfort she couldn’t get from Luther, who had trouble understanding really complicated feelings.
Two years later, she remembered what Ben said when she told a woman who was about to jump, I heard a rumor you didn’t want to kill yourself anymore.
And the woman didn’t kill herself. Not right then. But when Allison looked her up a month later, she’d already been dead for three weeks, COD suicide.
Allison cried herself sick, hollow with disappointment, and Ben held her and said, “It’s not on you, Allison. You just can’t fix some things.”
Years after that, she heard Ben’s voice in her head, telling her to stop torturing herself as she stood in front of his statue for hours and said, “I heard a rumor you didn’t die.”
Once upon a time, Allison could bend reality with a single phrase. Once upon a time, she could sweet talk herself into anything, even without her rumors. Once upon a time, she reminds herself, she was still powerless in the ways that mattered most.
The thought doesn’t make her feel better.
If life worked according to a neatly-written narrative like the ones in the movies Allison’s starred in, Five would be fine—or as fine as he can be—after the nightmare for a few days at least, just to give the story some breathing room. It’s been one crisis after another for the past week, and if it keeps going like this, the audience is gonna get burned out on the whole mental illness plot.
But, as Allison knows intimately, things do not work like they do in the movies, so it doesn’t surprise her when she hears Five start screaming from his room not a day after his nightmare. He’s having a rough patch, she tells herself bleakly. He’ll get better. Especially if they get him a therapist, and a psychiatrist, and medication, though that’s a big “if”.
Her chest constricts. She’s the only person home, everyone else at some support group or therapy or work, and Allison was relieved that she didn’t have therapy today, but she’s not relieved anymore.
Her feet take her to Five’s room, because she can’t just leave him alone. She’d seem heartless.
She opens the door without knocking, and steps inside. Five is rooted to the floor, taking in surroundings that she doubts match his room, obviously disoriented, terrified in a way that makes Allison’s breath catch. He’s not here. He’s not home. This is worse than the nightmare, and Allison doesn’t know what to do. She’s not used to this.
Usually this is when the others say something. Allison has a lot to say, a million things on the tip of her tongue, but she might as well be paint on the wall. The knowledge brings on a dizzying wave of devastation.
“Where is everyone?” Five is asking himself. He shakes his head. “Fuck. Fuck! This can’t happen again, I fixed it, I saved them. When did this happen?”
Who are you talking to?
Not her. It turns out it’s easy to stop talking to someone when they can’t talk back.
Allison feels tears blur her vision, and blinks them away. She hates crying like this, when it’s not on purpose, when the sobs become uncontrollable and she can’t make herself look pretty and tragic.
“No!” Five screams, like he’s protesting against an unfair universe.
Five! she’d say if she had a voice. Listen to me. You’re home. It’s Allison. It’s been months since you stopped the apocalypse. It’s been years since you got out. It's Allison. I'm here.
A tear trails down Allison’s cheek, and she wipes it away roughly before taking a few steps towards Five, getting in his line of sight.
He sees her, but the moment he registers her presence, his hackles rise and he shakes his head. “No, no. You’re not…” He looks around, and something seems to click. “I’m in the mansion,” he mutters, and then he darts another look at her. He shakes his head again. “You’re not here. Allison’s not here, this isn’t Allison.”
Allison feels like she’s been struck in the face or the solar plexus or both. She feels like her ribs have caved in and punctured her lungs. She shakes her head, opens her mouth. Of course nothing comes out. She shouldn’t have tried.
He looks at her like she’s an imposter.
“The real Allison talks,” Five says, an accusation that makes Allison reel back. She doesn’t feel like she’s floating anymore.
You’re hurting me, she wants to say. That could get through to him, just the right shade of manipulation. But she's silent.
Floundering, barely breathing, she takes a step closer to Five, but he just stumbles back, baring his teeth like a cornered animal, and Allison, knees weak, takes several steps away as though she’s been pushed.
Should’ve let him push you, she thinks distantly. Touch…
The thought escapes her. Five turns away so that she can only see him in profile, and starts to pace. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven steps, and then he turns on his heel and goes the other way. Allison is helpless.
The thought makes her feel a surge of anger.
No. Fuck that.
Allison is furious.
(Allison is going to get her family back.)
Desperation pulses inside her, in time with her heartbeat, mingling with the anger.
“She’s not here,” Five says to himself, and Allison snaps. She unleashes herself.
The real Allison.
I heard a rumor you calmed down I heard a rumor you knew I was alive I heard a rumor you were okay I heard a rumor you stopped being afraid I heard a rumor you went to sleep and didn’t dream I heard a rumor you recognize me I heard—
The words trip and fall through Allison’s mind. They thrum in her mangled vocal cords and she tastes them on her lips and she opens her mouth to give up and say something to fix this, to make it all better, but…
A tear runs down her face, and then another. A keening sound tears from her throat, but she’s the only one who hears it, a thin, wheezing noise that cuts at her windpipe like a knife. Her neck throbs.
“Nobody’s home,” Five says, pacing, hands pressed against his head, breaths skipping and shallow. “Everyone’s gone. She’s not here, this isn’t real, she’s dead, she’s dead, you know she’s dead.”
Allison feels painfully alive, but with the ugly scar on her neck and unable to say anything or even call for help, of course Allison seems like a hallucination, not able to do anything but cause distress, can’t help like she could’ve before when she was...
No. Stop. You can’t fix this. You never could. But you can help. Just do something, do something, do something, are you useless? Dad would think so. What are you without your powers? What are you, Allison? Who are you?
Allison’s inner voice is screaming. It fills up her body.
She’s not a hallucination, so she does something a hallucination can’t do.
You have a body. Remember? You are not your voice. You are your voice.
She thumps her fist against the wall, calling out to Five over and over again. He stops in his tracks, and Allison feels a surge of desperate hope. His eyes are still closed. His hands are still pressed against his ears. Maybe he can feel her. Allison stomps her foot against the hardwood floor, and Five draws inward. A tear crawls down his cheek. His chest is heaving, but Allison’s not sure if he’s actually breathing.
He’s a mess. So is she. Her face is wet. Once when she was fourteen years old, a bank robber caught her off guard and before she could tell him anything, he hit her over and over again and by the time Luther pulled him off of her she was almost unconscious and her face was covered in blood, her lip split and nose broken and Dad was so disappointed and she was fourteen and now she’s thirty years old. She sniffs. She swipes her arm across her face, doing nothing but spreading around the mess, and walks towards Five, circles around to face him. He’s standing still.
He looks small and scared and, thoughtlessly, she grabs his shoulders. The hallucinations don’t touch him. At least, she doesn’t think they do. She thinks he told her that once, or told someone that once and she overheard, since she’s really good at eavesdropping now and God, she hopes that this isn’t wishful thinking.
The hallucinations never talked, they never touched him, they just watched him, animated corpses, parodies of ghosts.
So Allison touches him, and when she does, Five’s reaction is immediate.
Five’s hands drop from his head. His eyes fly open, and he reels back and finally meets her eyes, and for a moment Allison is terrified that he’s going to scream again, that he’s going to push her away, that maybe dead Allison touched him after all, that maybe he’s right and she’s wrong and she’s not even here, but then he just stares. He’s shaking. So is she. His chest heaves and his breaths skip. Her own breaths are wheezy and labored through silent sobs.
Five looks at her.
Five looks at her as if he hasn’t seen her in a long time, and his eyes are still shining and sparking with panic, and Allison is still holding onto his shoulders when her knees give out. She didn’t expect them to, but it’s what happens, and Five follows her to the floor. They land with a thump.
Five looks like he’s seen a ghost, and another sob shakes Allison at the thought. The crying is uncontrollable, but it’ll stop on its own.
Five whispers, “Allison.”
Allison nods. Yes. That’s her.
They’re kneeling close enough to each other that their knees are pressed together, and Allison runs her hands up and down Five’s arms before letting go. She feels heavy and dizzy at the same time, and a sob makes her gasp and cough. She presses one of her hands to her chest and lets the other drop to her lap, and she must look awful, but she keeps her eyes on his face, watches him watch her exist, watches him slowly come back to her.
He leans in slightly, reaches out and places a tentative hand on Allison’s cheek. When his skin meets hers, his breathing turns shaky and shallow for a moment, and then he takes a deep breath, and Allison can feel his own relief bleed into her body.
He can feel her, and everything’s turning out okay, and it’s not a rumor, it’s the truth.
Five moves to wipe away her tears, and frowns when they just keep coming, the fear and disorientation in his eyes morphing into sadness. He pulls his hand back and stares at his wet fingers, blinking slowly. His breathing is slowing down.
Allison takes his hand. Her own tears are damp against her palm, and Five looks at their joined hands and then back to her face. She smiles. A tear drips from her chin and falls onto her thigh, darkening the faded blue fabric of her jeans.
Five closes his eyes for a few moments, taking a deep breath. Allison breathes with him. It helps. When he opens his eyes, he looks exhausted, as if he’s just come home from a long trip. She’s the first person he sees.
“Allison,” he murmurs, voice hoarse, and Allison nods. Yes, that’s her. That’s her, she’s home. That’s her body heat mingling with his, those are her tears. He swallows. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs. “I know you’re real. Most of the time. You’re the real Allison.”
She nods. She knows too.
I’m alive, Allison mouths, and Five nods in agreement.
He squeezes her hand.