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Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

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“There is no way that baby can swim,” Five said.

“Can you please stop calling Grace Ann ‘that baby’?” Diego muttered. “Her name is Grace Ann, my daughter.” 

“Right,” Five said, wrinkling his nose at Gracie. “But more importantly, this baby is too small to swim.”

“She is not,” Diego insisted. “She’s exactly six months old, which is old enough. I read it in a book.”

“Books can be wrong,” Five said plaintively. “And babies can drown.”

“Don’t mind him, he’s trying to get out of swimming,” Klaus informed Diego.

Five glowered at him. “I am not.” 

“You are to,” Klaus retorted, taking Gracie from Diego’s arms. He fretted, adjusting Klaus’ hands several times before finally getting back to paying attention to Five.

“Five, don’t be ridiculous,” Diego sighed. “I know you and water is a whole barrel of worms--”

“Is that the expression?” Ben muttered.

“--but come on. You learned to swim as a kid, it’ll come back to you.” 

Five glowered even more intensely.

“You realize I never learned, right?” Vanya said, tossing a towel over her shoulder. “Dad never bothered and I never got around to it later.”

 They’d come to the pool at a good time - midday, when it was all but empty save for a few women wrapping up some water acrobatics. The sun shone in the windows, rippling off the water as Allison dipped her feet.

Diego sighed. “We’ll teach you,” he said.

“About that,” Ben said. “It’s been at least 12 years for me.”

“So? It’s like riding a bike, you’ll remember,” Diego said.

Klaus cleared his throat, shifting Gracie to one arm so he could gesture while he spoke. Diego flailed, snatching her back before he dropped her. She cooed, unperturbed by the shifting. “Well,” he said, “assuming we knew how to swim in the first place.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Diego asked. “Dad made us all learn how to swim.”

“Weeeeell,” Klaus said. “I mean, Dad was more focused on you and Luther, when it came to swimming, what with your breath holding and Luther being… well, Luther. But let’s just say while you had Dad’s attention, we… had Allison.”

Allison looked up from where she was sitting on the edge of the pool, long legs sweeping through the water. “I told them they’d regret it, but they paid in chores,” she said.

“It was a good time to read,” Ben said. “Dad never noticed our books in our towels.”

“And the chlorine masked the weed smell,” Klaus said.

Diego stared at them. “Unbelievable.”

“Do you know how hard it is to jump in or out of water?” Five muttered.

“That’s more reason to learn how to swim!” Diego snapped.

“Yeah, but swimming is hard,” Klaus whined.

Diego rolled his eyes and shoved him into the pool.

**

“Really amazing how gentle you can be with Gracie, given that you tried to drown me, your brother,” Klaus said, kicking himself past Diego while Diego held Gracie up with one hand.

“Luther would have dragged you out before you drowned,” Diego said, smiling softly as Gracie paddled studiously.

“You’re lucky I float,” Klaus said.

“Everyone floats,” Diego said.

“Nu-uh,” Klaus said.

“Pretty sure he’s more buoyant than most,” Ben said, doggie paddling back to the shallow end under Luther’s watchful eye.

Diego eyed Klaus as he managed to cross his arms and put his feet up in the water without sinking. “Well, then I don’t know why you’re complaining.”

“You tried to drown me, man!”

Diego sighed. He nodded at Luther. “Hey, man, c’mere, I wanna see if Grace can swim a few strokes.”

“Sure,” Luther said, striding over easily.

Luther either swam like an olympic swimmer, or walked, Vanya noticed. He didn’t do any of the lazy paddling that even Diego and Allison did.

Diego adjusted his grip so he could let go of Gracie and catch her just as easily, waiting until Luther had his hands outstretched. He let go, hands following just below Gracie as she splashed her way over a few more inches into Luther’s hands. Luther let her paddle a few more times before she seemed to be tilting forward and he quickly lifted her out of the water.

“She’s a natural,” Luther said.

“Of course she’s a natural,” Diego said, preening like he did every time Gracie did anything at all.

Vanya snorted, leaning against the edge of the pool to keep steady while she practiced kicking. In theory, swimming didn’t seem hard, but in practice she ached in places she hadn’t known contained muscles.

“Can you hold her for a bit?” Diego said, nodding at Five. “I’m going to try to teach him something.”

“Don’t drown him,” Luther said, spreading his fingers to form a cradle for Gracie so she could paddle away happily.

Diego rolled his eyes, kicking away from Luther and coasting next to Five, who had at this point gotten a single foot into the water. The other was balanced on his thigh, and was occasionally bouncing nervously.

“C’mon, even Vanya can stand in the shallow end, you’ll be fine,” Diego said.

“I’m fine here,” Five said haughtily.

“Five,” Diego said. “At least convince me you’re not going to immediately drown the second you fall in some water.”

Five looked him in the eyes with the driest look a child’s face could produce. “I am not going to drown the second I fall into some water.”

“Prove it,” Diego said. “Come on, at least show me some dog paddling.”

“No,” Five said.

“Yes,” Diego insisted, tugging on the foot in the water.

Five snatched the foot back like a hedgehog retreating to a ball. “No.”

“It’d put us all at ease,” Luther said.

Five scowled at him, to which Luther responded with the most banal of gazes. Klaus snorted loudly, burbling slightly as he slipped under the surface for a moment.

“The shallow end has stairs,” Allison offered. “You can take it one step at a time.”

“Fine, you miserable bastards,” Five said, vanishing and reappearing at the shallow end. “I will dog paddle for you.”

“Good,” Luther said amicably.

How he’d managed to weaponize his earnestness - especially against Five - without losing any of the genuine emotion behind it was beyond Vanya, but it was hilarious to watch.

Five took a deep breath and stepped into the water, grimacing. “It is cold,” he snapped, like they’d intentionally made it cold.

“Get it over with and you’ll adjust,” Klaus said.

“No,” Five said, taking another step down.

“Suit yourself, you’re the only one suffering,” Klaus said.

“He’s right you know,” Ben said. “Rip it off like a bandaid.”

“No,” Five said empathetically.

Vanya rolled her eyes. At this point, she suspected he was only doing it out of spite.

Diego sighed, returning to Gracie while Five cursed profusely over the water hitting his waist. Five watched him, clearly measuring his chances, but Diego only peeked up at him with a tired look. “I’m still watching you,” he said.

Five grumbled at him inaudibly.

Gracie very pointedly stopped paddling and sat in Diego’s hands, and he lifted her out. “I think she’s tired.”

Allison held out her hands. “I got her,” she said. “Come on, Grace Junior, let’s sit next to the pool and watch your uncle suffer.”

“Fuck you too,” Five said.

“No cursing in front of Grace Ann!”

“She’s a baby, she isn’t learning words yet,” Five snapped.

“I’m going to drag you into this pool you little shit,” Diego snapped back. “Wait, no.”

Klaus laughed so hard he bucked under the water and only returned with a fair bit of splashing, and Vanya choked down a giggle with little success. “Just jump the rest of the way, Five,” she said. “It’ll only feel cold for a moment.”

“I’ll get in the water when I feel like it,” Five griped. “Just shut up and stop staring at me.”

“Nnnnahhhh,” Klaus said, putting his hands behind his head as he drifted in the water. “Oooh, oh, hey, watch this!”

He rolled over so he was laying just above the water surface. Vanya hummed, slightly impressed, and watched quietly as he tried to slowly stand.

This didn’t go as well, and he plunged back into the water, splashing all of them in the process.

“Don’t quit your day job, Jesus,” Ben said, and Klaus coughed and spluttered his way back to the shallow end.

“Hey, I got to a solid squatting on water there!” Klaus said.

“It was pretty cool,” Luther said.

“Klaus, you dick,” Five gritted out, shivering now that he’d been thoroughly sprayed by Klaus’ antics.

“I was trying to take the attention off you,” Klaus said, with the air of someone who had not been trying to do that at all.

Five gave him a withering glare that was somehow made all the more powerful by his shivering, and sat down in the water like a drenched alleycat.

“Alright, time to show off your doggy paddle,” Diego said.

“Fine,” Five said, still shivering all over. “But then we go home.”

“We’ll go home after you get across the pool,” Diego said.

“Why do I have to get across?” Five muttered.

“It’s like 50 feet, Luther can cross this pool in a single second,” Diego griped.

Luther measured the distance with his eyes. “Probably, yeah. At most two.”

“Fuckers,” Five muttered. “But fine.”

He lowered himself down to the bottom of the stairs, clutching the railing until he couldn’t anymore, and did his best to kick himself into the water.

He promptly flailed, and went under with all the grace of a panicked ferret.

**

“Stop trying to kick,” Diego said. “One half of your brain is freaking out and if you spend the other half trying to kick and paddle at the same time, you’re gonna drown.”

“Will you stop mentioning drowning!” Five snarled at him.

“Five, I’m literally standing on the bottom right now,” Diego said. “I’m not going to let you drown.”

“You let me swallow half a gallon of chlorinated water!”

“Yeah, because I thought you saying you’d be fine meant you’d at least, like, remember to stand up if you can’t swim!”

“I fucking hate you,” Five said, hedging on a sob.

Diego sighed and held him tighter, pulling him up before he plunged face first into the water. Again.

Klaus winced in sympathy, but there was something very unfortunately hilarious about watching Five make clear why it was called a doggy paddle - specifically because he looked very much like a very small, very wet dog that had not realized it was about to be subjected to water until it was nearly drowned.

It was the fact that he was churning the water more than he was putting any real force into his strokes, Klaus thought, or maybe it was the wide-eyed, absolutely frantic disgruntled look on his face. Or maybe it was the fact that they’d spent the previous hour watching Gracie - who was smaller than even Five’s lower arm - paddling away twice as efficiently as Five, despite having had a lot less help from Diego. 

Hell, maybe it was just the way Diego had to hold on tight no matter how much water Five shoveled into his face in order to prevent Five flailing like a rabid pinwheel, like the key element to staying above water was just to displace as much of it as possible in any direction possible.

“I know,” Diego said, in a way that had gotten increasingly more common in the past six months, and which Klaus liked to call the “proof that Diego Hargreeves had been waiting all his life for a very sweet baby girl to drag the soft dad hiding deep under many layers of anger out of him, probably kicking and screaming because this is Diego after all” voice.

Five shoved a good armful of water into his face, which didn’t seem to phase him much.

“Don’t just flail randomly,” Diego said. “You’re a physics whizz, bro, you know this. You want to create a force to keep you up and going forward.”

“I fucking know! It’s harder in practice!”

Diego sighed. “Look,” he said, trying to shift Five to one arm so he could use the other to demonstrate. This resulted in a large amount of water going in so many directions, Klaus couldn’t really follow. “Jesus Christ, dude, I’m not going to let you drown!”

“It’s just happening!” Five hissed.

Diego groaned. “Okay, okay, fine. Don’t try to stay afloat, I’m just gonna hold you above the water, and try to stop panicking, got it?”

“Oh, yeah, sure, just the easy stuff,” Five said. “What do you think I’m doing, you moron?!”

Diego rolled his eyes and planted his feet, lifting Five so his chin was over the water surface. It seemed Five could not stop kicking and flailing entirely, but he did manage to stop enough that Diego could hold him steady, his harsh breathing quieting down until it was just long pants fanning out under his nose across the water.

“I’m gonna lower you down just a little,” Diego said. “So you get used to tilting your head up when you start sinking.”

He moved to do as he had warned, sighing loudly when Five pitched forward in panic and then overcompensated, spluttering, and nearly headbutted Diego in the face.

“You okay?” he asked, after the spluttering stopped. “Can I try again?”

“I hate you,” Five whined.

“Last thing,” Diego said. “Then we go home.”

“Fucking asshole,” Five replied, a childish complaint stuck in the back of his throat.

“Uh-huh,” Diego said amicably, gently guiding Five’s head back and bending his knees.

Five kicked on impulse, trying to buck forward again - it was mostly, Klaus thought, a kneejerk reaction to being picked up from behind at this point - but Diego steadied him with a small touch to his chin and nudged him into breathing a few times even with his head nearly submerged.

“Okay,” Diego said, hauling him out of the water. “I’m far from relieved at how this has gone, but I think you might learn to stay afloat before Gracie learns the butterfly.”

“Fuck you,” Five said weakly, darting to solid ground the moment the railing became easier to grip than Diego. He was shaking like a leaf, and Ben quickly dropped a towel over his head. “Fuck all of you, really.”

“Five, you need to learn how to have crippling phobias in a less entertaining way,” Klaus said.

Luther made a pinched face. “Don’t call it entertaining, we all understand that this is a big adjustment for him.”

“Yes,” Klaus said. “And that it was, sadly, hysterical to watch. I know you thought so too, big guy, even with that soft heart of yours.”

Luther grimaced. “You just shouldn’t say it.”

“Thanks,” Five said. “I definitely feel less patronized now, Luther.”

“Sorry.”

“Of course you feel patronized. You suck at swimming,” Diego said.

Five glared at him. “Yeah, the dried out husk of the world and the zombie apocalypse are very good places to learn to swim.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have cheated your way through swim lessons as a kid,” Diego said.

“Yeah, because that half hour of free time we got every week was so rewarding,” Five said. “God knows why we’d want to stray from Dad’s schedule.”

Diego made a face. “Okay, point taken,” he said. “And once you can dog paddle well enough I’m convinced you could make it out of a kiddy pool without dying, I promise I’ll leave you alone.”

He reached for Gracie, who chirped happily at being handed back to him. “You on the other hand,” Diego said, “are gonna learn to swim properly, because you are a natural.” He thought about it. “Unless you start hating it. She seemed happy though today, right?”

Klaus gave Vanya a look to try to silently communicate, Your turn.

“Yes, Diego, she had fun,” Vanya intoned. “She’s gonna learn to swim before she’s three and she’s going to have fun because she’ll enjoy doing stuff with her dad.”

“You think?” Diego pressed, looking adorably fretful.

“Yes,” they all said.

Gracie, as always, hammered home the point by falling asleep on Diego.

Klaus wondered how old Gracie would be before she noticed she was possibly the most loved baby on the planet. He was betting on three or four years old, but she probably sensed it already.

Five wrapped the towel around his shoulders around himself tightly. “I want soup on the way home.” He thought about it. “Something that goes well with those oyster crackers.”

“Sure,” Luther said. “After we shower off and get changed, we’ll swing by the deli.”

“Why the hell would we shower after swimming?” Five muttered.

“Chlorine is itchy,” Klaus said wisely. “Since we’re in bathing suits anyway, we can shower together and I’ll help you wash your face.”

Five glowered at him.

It was unlikely that he cared to be reminded of the time when Klaus had made them both change into bathing suits to help Five shower, but he begrudgingly nodded anyway.

“We’ll be quick,” Klaus said. “And afterwards you’ll get the polygon crackers.”

“That’s not why I like them,” Five said.

“Excuse you, I saw you making a honeycomb out of crackers,” Klaus said. “Don’t try to deny it, nerd.”

Five sighed, but he let Klaus drape an arm over his shoulders and usher him towards the showers.

Chapter Text

“So we’ll all be turning 30 tomorrow,” Allison said.

“Speak for yourself,” Klaus said. “Us time travelling twins…”

Allison rolled her eyes. “If you want to get pedantic, sure, but chronologically…” She gestured at him pointedly.

“Okay, fine,” Klaus said. “But--”

“I have to go,” Five choked out, pale as a sheet, and he was gone.

Luther blinked at his empty chair for a few moments longer than he would have liked, then quickly swirled in his own chair to look around. “Shit, did he see something?”

The restaurant they’d chosen this time was mostly empty, only one other patron at a corner table and a waiter packing up an empty table.

“I don’t think so,” Ben said. “I think he’s just going through a thing again.”

Klaus sighed and set aside his plate. “He has so many things. Diego, can you drive us home? He’s probably there.”

Diego gave them a nervous look, sighing as he raked his hands through his hair. “Yeah, okay.”

Luther chewed at his lip. “I’ll go with you guys.”

Allison rolled her eyes. “Go, I’ll pay the bill.”

“Call us if you find him,” Vanya murmured. “Helen’s home, so she’ll be able to tell us when we get home.”

Luther grabbed his jacket and hurried outside, followed by Klaus and Ben while Diego jogged to pass him and unlock the car.

“Are you worried something… you know, apocalypse-related happened? Again?” Luther asked as Klaus clambered into the driver’s seat.

“Not really,” Klaus said. “I just think it’s a brain thing.”

“How do you know?” Luther pressed, as Diego floored it.

“I don’t know, it’s a hunch,” Klaus said. “And it’s been quiet for three months. I feel like with all the ghost ship clouds I’ve been exposed to, I would have known something.”

“Could be the Commission coming back, though, right?” Diego asked. “I mean, now that the world hasn’t been conquered by aliens, they’ve gotta be interested again, right?”

“I mean, maybe,” Klaus said. “But I just think he’d tell us these days.”

Diego sighed in acceptance, but sped up nonetheless.

“He’ll probably be at home,” Klaus said. “If he’s not, then we worry.”

**

“He’s not upstairs,” Ben said, crossing his arms as he joined Diego and Luther outside where they’d been hovering around the car.

“Shit,” Diego said. “Then where is he?”

“Calm down, Klaus is calling Helen, in case he went to Vanya’s,” Ben said.

“If it’s Commission related, shouldn’t we call Hazel?” Luther asked, looking fretful with a forcefulness few could manage.

“We don’t know it’s Commission related,” Ben said. “First let’s make a few calls, see if he went somewhere familiar. We could check out the construction site, too.”

“Not necessary,” Klaus said, sliding down the railing. “Good thing I thought to check the answering machine, because you’ll never guess where he went.”

They stared at him.

“Where?!” Luther blurted, after it became clear Klaus was waiting for them to guess.

Klaus gave him a reproachful look. “Dave’s. He went to Dave’s.”

“What?” Ben asked. Since they’d been staying at Klaus’ apartment, he and Five saw their fair share of Dave as well, but Five was, at best, still skittish around Dave. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Klaus said. “But he left a message saying Five was with him, and I called him back and he said Five was alright, mostly, but he wasn’t sure it was his place to tell us what was up.”

Diego threw up his hands in exasperation. “He didn’t want to tell us that?! Jesus, that kid’s gonna give me an ulcer.”

“Ha,” Klaus said, though Ben could tell he was worried too. “I think you guys can go home. I’ll call if I know what’s up.”

“We’re not going to Dave’s?” Luther asked.

“He says Five probably needs some space right now,” Klaus said.

“And we’re going to just take his word for it?” Diego snapped.

“Uh, yeah,” Klaus said. “This is Dave, it’s not like he’s lying.”

“We don’t think he’s lying,” Luther said hurriedly. “It’s just… Does he know what’s best for Five? Five’s a bit… Well. Um.”

“Do we know what’s best for Five?” Klaus asked. “I don’t know, but Dave manages me alright. I think… at least we should give them until tomorrow, right?”

Luther sighed.

Ben frowned. Tomorrow was their birthday. That had to be a part of whatever this was. Had Five forgotten? Surely this wasn’t about birthday presents or something of the like. Even Five had enough emotional awareness not to worry the hell out of them for that, but… 

“Klaus is right,” he said. “If Five went to Dave’s instead of home, he probably wants to be alone for a bit. We’ll call Dave again in the evening, see if Five is any more talkative.”

Diego sighed. “Fine. But call us if anything happens.”

Klaus nodded. “We will.”

**

“I don’t want to threaten,” Dave said, “but if you won’t eat or drink, I’m going to have to call your brother.”

Five couldn’t bring himself to respond. His limbs felt heavy and his throat threatened to plunge him into tears if he made use of it. Dave’s guest room smelled a little bit like Klaus, but mostly like an unfamiliar place that made Five antsy. He curled further into the blankets.

“Or at least I’ll have to ask him if he knows what’s wrong,” Dave said. “I don’t mind giving you a place to hide out, and you don’t have to talk, but you need a little bit of water, at the very least, and I don’t know you as well as he does.”

“Bottled,” Five mumbled, then swallowed furiously to avoid crying.

Dave sighed, patting his shoulder through the blankets and leaving the room.

Five wanted to communicate with him, at least enough to tell him why he was here, camping out in his guest room, hiding under two blankets and frozen like a deer in headlights. But it was a lot harder than it sounded. The very thought of trying to put a voice to the emotions looming over him sent his mind into a frenzy.

Dave returned with a bottle of water, setting it on the bed. “Klaus would like to know if you’re coming home tonight.”

Five shook his head.

“How much can I tell him?” Dave asked.

“Whatever,” Five murmured.

“Okay,” Dave said, leaving Five in silence again.

**

“Dave says he just seemed quiet,” Klaus said. “Said he pretty much begged him to let him stay and to ask us not to come over after him.”

“Well fuck that,” Diego said.

“Diego,” Vanya chided. “Is he okay? I mean, like, does he seem alright? For… Five, you know?”

“Dave says he won’t eat, but he got a bottle of water into him over the course of the night,” Klaus said. “Says since he got there, he won’t really say much.”

Vanya gave him a sharp look. “Then Diego’s right, we have to go over there.”

“Dave thinks he needs the space,” Klaus said. “And I agree. I don’t think we’ll gain much by barging in when he asked us not to.”

“Would you still say that even if Dave hadn’t said it first?” she asked.

Klaus resisted the urge to tell her that unlike some people, he wasn’t apocalyptically naive. That was too personal, too simplistic, and motivated primarily by an ache somewhere in his chest that said, Dave’s helped me through shit you guys never had the capacity to notice, much less help with. “Yeah, I would,” he said. “Just because I trust Dave doesn’t mean I’m not thinking this through. But for the record, I do trust Dave. He knows how to handle me and my weird shit, and at the end of the day Five and I aren’t that different.”

“Yeah, but clearly something’s going on,” Allison said. “I mean, come on! I mention our birthday, Klaus says they have different birthdays, then he runs off to Dave’s house and refuses to eat and drink on our birthday?”

“You think he’s upset it’s not his birthday anymore?” Luther asked.

“I don’t know, but I know he’s not okay. We can’t just abandon him,” she said.

“Well, the other option is just to ignore his wishes and pressure him into explaining what’s wrong,” Klaus said. “And if he’ll barely speak, I doubt he wants to talk about whatever trauma he’s buried under today.”

“He won’t eat,” Allison said. “I mean, how long do we let that happen?”

“Why don’t we just… let him wallow through our birthday, and then… after that we’ll go bug him. Birthday over, time to talk,” Klaus said.

Diego and Vanya both started protesting loudly.

“Okay, whoa, whoa,” Luther said, holding his arm out before they leapt to their feet to yell louder. “There’s no sense getting heated. We vote.”

“You’re always telling us to vote instead of doing shit!” Diego snapped.

“Yeah, because it’s the only way this family gets anything done without collapsing into chaos!” Luther snapped back. “I don’t know why I’m the one who has to remind everyone about this every time, but it’s true!”

Allison sighed. “I think a vote is a good idea.”

“Shocker.”

“Shut up.”

“I’m with Klaus,” Ben said. “A day of not eating isn’t going to kill him, and if he needs the space, he needs the space. He doesn’t avoid us often anymore, if he’s doing it now there has to be something behind it.”

Klaus nodded.

“Yeah, me too,” Allison said. “Just for the day. And then… We drag him out into the fresh air and hound him until he eats at the very least.”

Diego and Vanya stared at Luther.

“I… I think they’re right,” Luther said apologetically. “We can’t force him to talk. He tends to come around whenever he’s able, anyway.”

“God, fine,” Diego said. “But I want updates.”

Klaus rolled his eyes. “Sure, I’ll get updates.”

**

“No, no food, but he’s got the TV on,” Dave was saying from the kitchen. “Well, it seems like a step forward. At least he’s out of bed. He’s watching some cooking show. No, I don’t know. I will. I love you too.”

He pulled the blanket tighter around himself, turning the volume down as Dave inevitably came to sit near him, not looking directly at him like was liable to run.

“They’re really worried, aren’t they?” Five mumbled. Tears sprang to his eyes, emboldened by the fact that there were words coming out of his mouth. If he could produce words, why not hysterics, his body seemed to ask.

“Yes,” Dave said simply. “Of course they worry. But if you need time to get through whatever you’re going through, you shouldn’t stop just because they worry.”

“I stopped thinking about it in the apocalypse. Both of them, really, but timeline one especially,” Five said. “It’s just one of those things I had to stop thinking about or go crazy.”

Some of which he’d thought about since - the fact that Delores wasn’t, per se, real, for example, and the fact that he’d spent all his life trying to quietly protect his siblings for whatever reason only to trip over his own ego and abandon them to their deaths - and some which he’d not.

This was one he’d decidedly not thought about up until now.

The fact that--

Panic and a lot of other emotions surged through him with so much force he found himself sitting quickly, praying he wouldn’t throw up.

He hadn’t thrown up in years and he was not keen to see how it affected his terror at the moment.

“Would it help if I sat with you?”

“Don’t know,” Five mumbled, drawing his knees in and hiding his face while he breathed.

Dave’s hand rested, warm and light on his back as he sat down next to Five. “If you want to talk, I’m here to listen, alright?” he murmured. “Let me know if I’m bothering you.”

“I’m scared to talk about it,” Five croaked. “I don’t know if my brain can… I think it’s more than Delores, or anything, and I’m scared if I acknowledge the thought, it’s just going to break something inside, and… I mean, I do have two backups, but…” He swallowed hard. He was aware that he wasn’t making much sense, but it was hard to try to communicate around a pit of horror that threatened to consume everything if he poked at it too much, like a scab that would peel off all his skin if he picked at it.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” Dave said. “It’s just an offer. It’s okay if we just sit here and watch cooking shows.”

Five nodded. “Okay,” he said, and continued trying to breathe.

**

Diego pounded on Klaus’ door.

After a moment, Ben cracked it open.

“October 2nd,” Diego said. “You coming with or not?”

“It’s like five in the morning, man,” Ben managed.

“You coming or not?” Diego growled again.

Ben sighed. “I’ll get Klaus.”

He shut the door in Diego’s face, leaving him in several minutes of silence before returning with a bedraggled Klaus.

“I think I hate you a little,” Klaus muttered, hugging his crossed arms to his chest.

“Get in the damn car,” Diego hissed. “I swear to god, Five better have a damn good explanation for this.”

“Are you seriously trying to pretend you’re not scared shitless for him? Come on, man, what the fuck. It’s too early for this shit,” Klaus muttered, whirling around suddenly. “I’m sorry, what part of too early for this shit did you not understand? Visiting hours are noon ‘til 4pm, get out of my face!”

He stormed to the car and glared at Vanya, who was currently in the passenger’s seat. “No. Shotgun for me, it’s so early it’s still dark out and what the fuck did I just say?! Go away!”

Vanya glared at him, but climbed into the back seat nonetheless so Klaus could curl up in the front. “Asshole,” she griped.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be sorry when the sun comes up,” Klaus said, pulling his coat over his head and falling back asleep while Diego swerved into the street.

**

“What if he’s asleep?” Luther asked.

He and Allison had taken a different car, and had, fortunately, picked up coffee on their way. “Ohohoho,” Klaus managed, snatching the coffee up. He paused. “Does coffee count as a drug?”

“No,” Vanya said. 

“Well that just seems arbitrary, but okay,” Klaus said, before chugging half of it.

“I don’t want to wake him up,” Luther continued.

“Seemed fine with waking me up,” Klaus muttered darkly. “Ooh, Klaus, we know you haven’t slept for most of your life, how do you feel about waking up at holy-fucking-hell o’clock to pester our brother who doesn’t want to be pestered?”

“You can sleep after we’ve made sure Five is okay,” Vanya said.

“Bite me,” Klaus muttered, but he sidled up to the door anyway.

“Seems rude to wake up Dave, too,” Luther said.

“Oh, come on!” Diego said.

“Dave wakes up at five most days,” Klaus said. “And Five can’t sleep without us, remember? God, you drag me out of bed and then you can’t even do shit. You’re all a bunch of disasters.” He knocked on the door.

After a moment, Dave opened the door. “Hi,” he said. “You’re up early.”

“You know, if I murdered my whole entire family, I would never really have to miss them or anything,” Klaus said. “Just a thought.”

“I can’t argue,” Dave said, patting his cheek in comfort.

Five cleared his throat from the backseat of Diego’s car. “Can we go home now?” he asked. He thought about it. “Well. Klaus’ place.”

“Jesus Christ, Five,” Vanya said, heart in her throat. “What the fuck.”

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Five said. “Can we go home?”

“Hold this for me?” Klaus asked, handing Dave his coffee.

Dave sighed, giving Klaus a look that suggested that Klaus reconsider, but Klaus was already at the car, leaning on the top to look in the open door. “Hey buddy,” he said, with a tenuous calm. “How are you? More specifically, are you going to have a panic attack if I pull anything unexpected and possibly violent?”

“No,” Five grumbled, allowing whatever was about to happen to happen.

“Good!” Klaus yelled, and threw himself into trying to strangle Five despite the fact that Luther was already on it and dragging Klaus out of the car kicking and screaming.

**

“So,” Klaus said, draining his coffee cup. He stared at it and sighed. He’d been trying to avoid addictive behaviors, Allison knew, but he seemed to be considering breaking the streak to drink another cup of coffee. “What the actual fuck.”

Allison set down the sandwich he’d just made in front of Five and then joined them all in sitting around Klaus’ very small living room, all angled intently at Five, who’d taken up an easily defensible position in the armchair.

“I’m sorry I ruined your birthday,” Five mumbled.

Klaus put his hands on his face and screamed, flopping back onto the floor and kicking his bare feet.

“What Klaus is trying to say,” Ben said, “is that that’s really not the point.”

“Fuckerrrrrrrrr,” Klaus whined. “Why do we have to be doing this at six in the morning?”

“Diego and I were awake,” Vanya said.

“You two are real assholes, you know that?”

“Guys!” Allison said sharply, before looking back at Five. “Five, we’re not going to make you explain everything, but you have to give us something. We were worried. You ran off without telling us anything, and then all we find out about you is you’re refusing to eat, you’re shutting down for the whole day, and then you’re just… what, you’re just fine?”

“I didn’t say that,” Five said. “I just said I’m sorry about your birthday.”

“Our birthday,” Vanya corrected softly. “You keep saying it like it’s not your birthday too.”

“It’s not,” Klaus said. “Five and I have different birthdays now.”

“Klaus is right,” Five said. “Also, I’ve already had this birthday. No point in pretending I’m going to be turning 30 again.”

“It’s really more symbolic,” Ben said.

“I know,” Five said. He wavered for a moment, then added, “This birthday is kind of the last birthday I ever had.”

Diego frowned. “What? That doesn’t make sense.”

Five’s mouth worked around the words he wanted to say, in a way that Allison had noticed he only did when he wanted to say something particularly painful. “It’s not like I really celebrated them before… this one,” Five said. “But they were good for timekeeping. And sort of… a thing to think about when I was too tired to think about survival and math all the time. A bit of a once-a-year break, if you could call it that. They sort of… sucked too much to really be a break, but lying around being miserable and shitfaced for a day is still a change from digging through rubble and doing math all the time.”

“Must have been hard to… well, not celebrate alone,” Luther muttered.

“Yeah,” Five croaked, quiet tears coasting over his cheeks. The quiet tears, Allison thought, were always the worst sign. When Five sobbed and gritted his teeth and hiccuped like an even smaller child, then it tended to be more of a shedding of emotion that was just plain necessary for the kind of recovery ahead of him. When he cried like this, a stunned, silent crying, he was freezing, drawing further into himself in all the worst ways. She leaned in, watching carefully for how to help, and urged him to continue. “And then I got older than all of you.”

They all went silent. It hadn’t occurred to Allison how painful such a simple thought could be.

“I turned 30,” Five said. “It was the first time I’d be an age none of you had gotten to. And I realized every year I’d be aging... alone. None of you would ever turn 30, or anything after that.”

“But we just did,” Diego said, though he sounded uncertain about whether that was helpful or not.

“You don’t get it,” Five gritted out. “Delores, the alcohol, it was…” He gritted his teeth. “If I fucking lost it, I’d never get back. I needed Delores because I couldn’t… I couldn’t keep hallucinating all of you and forget that I needed to go back for it to be real and I’d… I’d started to.”

“Oh,” Vanya said softly.

Klaus sat up slowly, shifting from playful objection to intent listening.

“So I just… opted for something safer, because I know I’m not exactly right in the head as is, but I needed to be coherent, at least. And it was even worse, when I realized every year I’d be getting older alone again… after the first year I just stopped letting it be… you know. I stopped letting it be a thought I could have at all. And now I’m back and it… I just…” He stopped, clearly unsure how to phrase what he felt.

“Oh, buddy,” Klaus said, scooting closer. “Hey.”

“I just couldn’t be around any of you yesterday,” Five said. “I couldn’t… exist in that day at all.”

“Well, just that day?” Luther asked.

They all squinted at him.

“I’m just…” Luther said, sighing. “Look I don’t want to make it worse or anything, but I figure… kind of like how losing the house gave us the opportunity to make it our house… technically October 1st isn’t any of our birthdays anymore.”

Allison blinked at him. “Oh. You’re right.”

“It’d be September 27th,” Diego muttered. “Right?”

“No,” Five said. “We spent 3 days in the past, but we jumped back to eight days before we’d jumped from.”

Diego stared at him, thoroughly lost.

“So that’s 11 days you guys lost,” Five said, sniffling slightly, seeming glad for the distraction.

“So September 20th.”

“Okay, no, but by that logic,” Klaus said. “My birthday is sometime in December now.”

“And Five has three birthdays,” Allison muttered to herself.

“February 21st would be my 14th,” Five said, counting on his fingers. “November 23rd is my 28th, and… well, 58 year old me… well, hell if I know.”

“Want to share mine?” Klaus said. “We are twins.”

“When in December?” Luther asked.

“I don’t know, I can’t count,” Klaus said.

“So we’ll have a family birthday in September and a twin birthday in December?” Allison asked.

“That’s not fair,” Ben said. “Why do they get extra birthdays if we don’t?”

“Because Five’s time traveling started a hellish venture into the very depths of trauma as we know it and my time in the past was the result of being tortured while none of you noticed my absence?” Klaus offered.

“I died,” Ben protested.

“Yeah, we’ve all had a rough time,” Vanya said. “You can’t just give two of us birthdays and not the rest.” She gave Luther a look.

“I wasn’t…” Luther tried, “I’m just making suggestions, because Five was very upset about the birthday thing.”

“What if we all get a second birthday,” Klaus said. “You guys will have to pick birthdays, and Five and I will share a December twin birthday.”

“When in December?” Five asked.

“I don’t know, I could ask Dave when he lost the arm,” Klaus said. “I’m guessing it was when he died when I was there, naively pushing him ever so slightly to the right.”

“Time is fickle,” Five agreed sympathetically.

“God, that seems so morbid,” Allison said.

“Yeah, I’m gonna ask, though,” Klaus said, leaping to his feet.

Five jumped after him.

Allison sighed. “Okay, fine, but Claire’s is June 3rd and no one is sharing with her, got it?”

“And Gracie is due sometime in March,” Diego blurted.

Allison rubbed at her temples.

“I like April 25th,” Vanya said.

“The world ended in April,” Ben said. “I think it should be the polar opposite of April 1st.” He squinted. “Then again, that’s October 1st.”

“Pick something else in October then.”

“Fine. Halloween.”

“That’s already a holiday!” Diego protested.

“And now it’s my holiday,” Ben said. “I think it’s very fitting.”

“Fine, then mine’s November 1st,” Diego said. “And we have to celebrate it right after you’re done celebrating yours.”

“Fine,” Ben said.

“December 23d!” Five yelled.

“I think we should also celebrate his 14th,” Ben said innocently.

“We’re not celebrating my 14th,” Five replied, cutting down his own point by wiping his tear stained face as he said it.

“C’mon,” Ben said. “The candles will still fit on the cake.”

“No.”

“Wait, wait, if we all have two birthdays each, when do we change our age from one to the next?” Allison said.

They all stared at her.

“September?” Luther offered, slowly.

“So it’s your 15th in February,” Vanya said.

“No, he’ll be physically 14,” Allison said. “We can’t just skip to 15, that’s not fair to baby Five.”

“14 is not a baby!” Five snapped.

“Okay, so what if we only bump Five’s physical age in February?” Ben said.

“But then what happens in December?” Diego asked.

“I’ll be 31,” Klaus offered.

“Wait, what?” Luther said.

“Yeah, 10 months, man,” Klaus said. “I’m significantly older than all of you, including two thirds of Five.”

“10 months is not significantly older,” Vanya protested.

“It’s old enough that I’ll be 31 in December, and you’ll all be 30 until September,”  Klaus replied.

“So wait,” Allison said. “Then in December, we bump timeline 2 Five, and in February we bump his physical age…”

“Then what happens in September?” Diego asked. “He turns 60?”

“You guys know I estimated the 58 years old thing, right?” Five said. “I’ve only stuck with it because I knew you’d all argue, but I said 45 years give or take. That version of me could easily be 60 already.”

“Wait, what?” Luther said.

“Yeah,” Five said. “Like I say, I really stopped counting. In the Commission I didn’t keep track of days spent at all, just the date I was in. It was the only thing relevant for calculations. And before that, I had a correctional factor so I could round to the nearest five years and stay pretty accurate. So that version of me is definitely not more than 61 but could also be as young as 56.”

“So… wait…” Diego said. “Okay, so we can’t… We have no clue how old a third of you is.”

“We have a ballpark,” Five said. “But frankly, that third of me is really not compatible with birthdays, so why bother?”

“Okay, fine,” Allison said. “So timeline 2 Five ages in September, physically he ages in February, and December is just the birthday celebration for both of these two, in which neither of them ages.”

“Technically we age every day,” Five said.

“You know what she means!” Diego snapped. “You’re giving me a headache!”

“Wouldn’t if you were smarter,” Five said.

“If you were smarter you wouldn’t need so many damn birthdays,” Diego muttered.

“So wait, then Five’s getting three birthdays,” Vanya pointed out.

“I think we can spare an extra birthday,” Klaus said. “He literally has birthday trauma.”

“I have birthday trauma!” Vanya said. “I shared my birthday with six world famous assholes!”

“So did we!”

“No, the rest of you had to share with five world famous assholes and one of me,” Vanya said.

“Vanya, would you like three birthdays?” Luther said tiredly.

“Not really,” Vanya said. “I just want it to be noted that I think it’s unfair.”

Five burst into tears. Loud tears, this time.

“Oh, god, what now?” Klaus asked.

“I just distracted by the math and now it came back around,” Five sobbed, sliding down to the floor to bury his face in his knees. “I missed all of you so much and it was so awful to know I was getting to be an age you’d never be and… and just… We always shared the birthday and then I was alone, and…”

“God, you are always stealing my thunder,” Vanya said, though her voice was soft.

“I’m sorry,” Five whimpered. “I don’t mean to, it just happens.”

“I’m kidding, Five,” Vanya said, putting an arm around him. “Of course I’m kidding, you can cry all you want to.”

“Oh, gee, thanks,” Five said, though a small laugh wormed its way in between sobs.

Vanya sighed and hugged him, and Klaus hugged them both. “She’s right, but also can you stop crying so I can go back to sleep?” Klaus asked. “I only slept six hours, which I’ve come to realize is not a whole lot of sleep.”

Five let out a strangled noise between a laugh and wail.

“Or we can just move aside the coffee table, put on a movie and I’ll sleep on you,” Klaus said. “If you need us all close for a bit.”

“Yeah,” Five said, voice wobbling.

Luther pushed himself up and lifted up the coffee table to put it away.

Allison sighed. “And please eat.”

“Okay,” Five mumbled, picking up the sandwich gingerly. “Can I also have a glass of water?”

Allison leaned forward to kiss the top of his head, then stood. “Sure. Should I make some popcorn too?”

“Yes,” Five said, sniffling as Luther clambered over the others to pick him up and pull him into his lap, sitting against the couch so Vanya and Klaus could return to resting against him. “Happy birthday, though. I really am sorry I ruined it.”

“To tell the truth,” Diego said, scooting closer to ruffle his hair, “I think we pretty much stopped celebrating them when you were gone. Just didn’t feel the same without all seven of us being there.”

“Yeah, and it was even worse after Ben,” Vanya said. “I think my birthdays were really just an excuse for me to feel pissed about anything bad that happened on that day.”

“Ha,” Diego said. “Yeah, same here.”

Five sniffled loudly, trying to quell his sobs.

“I used to try to celebrate them,” Luther said. “But that’s me. And it was mostly just sad after you’d all left.”

“Yeah, I think Ben and I made an attempt,” Klaus said.

“If by attempt you mean you got high off your ass and I sat around being bored,” Ben said.

“Yeah, pretty much,” Klaus said. “We should do something actually fun in December. What’s something actually fun?”

“You think I know?” Five said.

“Of course I don’t,” Klaus said, curling up against him and Luther. “God. Look at you.”

Five snorted, tears easing as he finally managed to finish his sandwich.

“I think watching a movie together is a good birthday celebration,” Luther said. “Even if we are a few days off.”

“Mhmm,” Klaus mumbled, half asleep. “If you wake me up this early on our December birthday, though, I’m going to hurt you.”

“Okay,” Luther said, hauling Five into the crook of his shoulder. “Oh, hey, Five, at the risk of making you feel worse… happy birthday for all the ones you had alone.”

Five wrapped his arms around Luther’s wide shoulders and squeezed. “Luther, you dick,” he mumbled, hiccuping a little.

Luther smiled and rubbed his back. “I know. But I mean it. I’m really glad you’re here to celebrate with us again. On… you know, whatever day.”

Five sniffled and hugged him tighter. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

“It is extremely boring to not have any crises looming over us,” Five said, having spent the last three minutes watching Klaus try to balance a plate on one finger and then remove that finger.

“Personally I think it’s unfair how quickly the revelation that I can get actual sleep got old,” Klaus said, finally getting the plate to stay in place while he pulled his hand away. Five poked at it slightly, and it dropped. “I mean sleep is still soooo good, but it turns out after like… nine hours a day it just gets gross.”

Five hummed absently as Klaus started on the process of balancing the plate again. “Yeah.”

“What really sucks is that if I have enough spare time and brain-space, I start trying to negotiate with myself,” Klaus said. “And I’m very good at it.”

“Drugs?” Five asked, spinning the plate on Klaus’ finger slowly.

“Just some weed,” Klaus said. “Weed’s not so bad.”

“Alcohol is worse. Sweet, sweet alcohol.”

Klaus sighed, leaving the plate in the air again. Five batted at it, and it swayed, but didn’t drop. “I wouldn’t stop at weed.”

“I miss Delores,” Five said.

Klaus sighed. “Would it be so bad to just swing by and say hi to her?”

“Would it be so bad to smoke just one joint?” Five said, resting his cheek on his fist. “Dave says I should find hobbies to share with all of you.”

“That’s good. Dave’s smart,” Klaus said.

“I told him I don’t think I know your hobbies,” Five said.

“Do I have any hobbies?” Klaus murmured. “I think my hobbies were crack cocaine for the most part. Sometimes LSD or ecstasy, and every once in a while some unlabeled pill I bought from a man who looked like a rat.”

“My hobbies were rooting through corpses to gather warm clothes for the winter,” Five said.

“You know, that doesn’t sound too bad compared to mall shopping,” Klaus said. “Overpriced garbage, and I can never find skirts in my size.”

“What about thrift store shopping?” Five asked.

“Too hard to shoplift,” Klaus said. “Also, sometimes I feel guilt.”

“We have money now,” Five replied. “And if I buy at least one piece of clothing, it’ll get Allison off my back for a bit.”

“Maybe if you stopped stealing everyone’s clothing…”

“I like it like this,” Five said. “Ben has comfortable pants.”

Klaus sighed, sitting up. “Sure. Why not?”

Five jumped away, to Grace’s room. She’d put up several of her cross-stitches over the aquarium, and was humming away over another at the moment.

She’d started putting her feet up on the couch, folded under her elegantly, but it seemed, Five thought, a bit of a rebellion. 

“We’re going out, Mom, can you let Mr. Pennycrumb out into the courtyard in about an hour? He’s sleeping in my bed.”

She looked up, smiling. “Of course, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, Mom,” he said, awkwardly leaning over to give her a kiss on the cheek.

She was a good place to start practicing initiating affection, because she never overreacted or made a comment, just smiled sweetly and let him go on with his life.

He jumped back to find Klaus eating Nutella from the jar. “Are we going?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Five said. “Let’s go.”

**

“Hey, what do you think of this?” Klaus said, brandishing a sweater at Five. It was an odd turquoise that seemed alright at first and got increasingly garish as one looked at it, and had a stiff white collar sewn into the neck.

“I guess,” Five said. “Vanya already has a sweater like that in grey, though.”

“Yes, but that’s Vanya’s,” Klaus said. “This would be yours.”

Five gave him the most mulishly calculated lost look. “But I like hers.”

Klaus sighed. “Come on, Five, you need at least one item of clothing that’s actually yours.”

“I found some of the clothes you grew out of,” Five said. “I like them.”

“That doesn’t count!”

Five crossed his arms.

Klaus sighed and looked around. “Ooh, hey look,” he said, racing over to the shelf and grabbing a baby doll from it. The doll had seen better days, one eye missing and patches of paint all over its face. “It’s your son.”

Five wrinkled his nose. “There’s no way that thing isn’t possessed by something.”

“Nah, I’d know,” Klaus said. “Besides, I don’t think ghosts can really possess things.”

“You possessed a man,” Five reminded him.

“Well, I was a ghost and he was a man.”

“Are you positive you could see demons?” Five said. “They’re supposed to be something other than human.”

Klaus stared at him, then gingerly put the doll back on the shelf. “Just in case.”

He grabbed the next thing that caught his eye, which just so happened to be a large wax goat. “What, exactly, is this for?” he asked. “Decoration? Is anyone this into wax goats? Or even goats in general?”

Five stood on his tiptoes to get a better look. “Burn him,” he said.

“Well he’s not that bad,” Klaus said.

“No, look,” Five said, pointing at a wick in the goat’s back. “It’s a candle.”

“Oh, god,” Klaus said. “This goat is too lifelike to be a candle. What does he look like melting? Do you think his head will fall off before the rest of him goes?”

Five stared at him for a long, contemplative moment before saying, “How much is he?”

Klaus turned him over. “Ooh, four bucks, that’s a steal. Should we name him before we set him on fire and watch him melt?”

“I think he looks like a Joe,” Five said.

“He does! Horrifying, thank you!”

Klaus stuffed the goat under his arm. “Well, I think we’ve already gained something from this endeavor.”

Five vanished, then reappeared with a shirt that read, in large letters, SMOKING POT SUCKS.

Klaus laughed so hard he nearly dropped Joe, and Five grinned at him proudly.

**

“Oh, Christ, what’s happening here?” Allison asked.

“I’d really be shocked if Christ was involved in any of this,” Klaus replied, which was a good point considering that he and Five had a candelabra in the shape of a pentagram with five candles of various colors in the slots and a large goat in the middle, and Five was currently taking a pair of scissors to what looked like a perfectly good t-shirt.

“Klaus doesn’t like the collar of this shirt,” Five added. “But he has to wear it.”

“Why does he have to wear it?” Allison asked warily.

“You’ll see,” Five replied.

“Klaus, have you found a new power?” she tried.

“Not today, but I did levitate a plate,” Klaus said, lighting a match and then, somehow, the goat. “And we have one single hobby now!”

“Say goodbye to Joe,” Five said. “If it makes you feel any better, he was doomed from the start. I think he’s made his peace with his fate.”

“Godspeed, Joe,” Klaus said very seriously.

“Well, I’m glad you’re bonding, I guess,” Allison sighed. “Please don’t summon any demons or burn down the house.”

“We’ll try,” Klaus said.

“We’re good at fire safety,” Five said. “No guarantees on the demons, though.”

She sighed, shaking her head as she closed the door again. Some things, she thought, were better left unknown.

Chapter Text

“Hey.”

Luther cracked his eyes open.

“Hey, big guy.”

Luther groaned. His head and neck ached.

“You good there?”

“What happened?” he mumbled, though he was starting to piece it together from the car, the smell of blood, and the relief on Diego’s face to see him awake.

“Slid off the road,” Diego said.

Luther winced. It hadn’t been raining that hard, had it?

His stomach lurched, and he nearly cursed before he saw the way Diego was very carefully keeping his voice calm, one arm pressed over the passenger seat. 

Five? Luther mouthed at him.

“Go get help,” Diego said. “We slid down a hill, you’re definitely going to be able to climb back to a phone faster than any of us.”

“I can,” Five said, voice shaking, “I can jump to…”

Diego’s arm tightened over him. “No. No, you don’t want to move,” he said. He gave Luther a look.

“I’ll be right back,” Luther said, leaning forward to pat Five on the shoulder as an excuse to get a better look.

The hood of the car had crunched into an accordion, pinning Five’s leg. With the metal obscuring it, it was impossible to tell if it had hit any major arteries, but it was too badly placed. Luther saw Diego’s point - if Five jumped out of the car and blood started gushing, they wouldn’t be able to help him before he bled out.

“Okay,” Five said, quivering with pain and possibly panic. “Yeah, sure.”

Luther ruffled his hair, then kicked the car door off its hinges, giving Diego a final nod before clambering out.

**

“If I let you go, you gonna stay put?” Diego asked.

Five looked at him, eyes wild, nostrils flaring as he looked at Diego.

“Don’t jump out of here, man,” Diego said. “Got it? Don’t try it, you’ll fucking bleed to death.”

He let go of Five and slowly reached for a knife.

“Now I’m just going to…” he started slowly, leaning forward only a little before Five whimpered and flailed against the seatbelt cutting into his throat. “Oh, come on, what the fuck now?”

“You’re not real,” Five choked out. “You’re not real, you’re not real, leave me alone.”

“I am real,” Diego said. “I am real, dumbass, now just stay still while I…” He placed his hand softly on Five’s shoulder while leaning over him to try to cut the seatbelt.

Five let out a noise like an animal in a trap, halfway a sob and halfway a downright feral snarl. “Get away from me, you’re not real, you’re not and you can’t hurt me!”

“I’m not going to fucking hurt you!” Diego said. “Just stay put, alright?”

Five flailed at him and Diego pinned his arm as gently as he could, hacking through the seatbelt and pulling it away from Five’s throat. It had cut into his shoulder quite hard, but it was better than the alternative.

“Okay?” Diego snapped, putting his knife away. “See?”

Five blinked at him, still spooked. 

Diego put a hand on his head. “Why would I hurt you, you little shit? Huh?”

“You’re angry,” Five said. “You’re always angry.”

“That’s true,” Diego admitted.

“I didn’t mean to let you die,” Five mumbled.

“Five,” Diego said. “You know where you are?”

“Yes.”

“Do you? Because it sounds like you don’t.”

“I know. I’m not stupid.”

“Tell me something about it,” Diego said, keeping his hand on his head. “If you’re so damn confident.”

Five was silent for a moment. “We’re in the car.”

“Yeah, we’re in the car.”

“I’m not in the driver’s seat,” Five said, slowly.

“No, you’re not.”

“You were driving.”

“Yeah.”

Five took a deep breath. “You’re not dead.”

“I sure as hell am not.”

“You’re a shit driver, though,” Five mumbled.

“Yeah, fuck you,” Diego said, sitting back into the driver’s seat, resting his hand on Five’s arm. “Don’t move too much, your leg’s in shit condition.”

Five nodded, and set to work on breathing. 

“Is it broken?” Five croaked, after a while. He’d been staring at the ceiling like he’d been building up the courage to ask the question or determine it to himself.

“Uh, yeah,” Diego said. “Your ankle’s like… in your knee, man.”

“Shit,” Five said, breathing hard. “Shit, shit, no nonono…”

“Hey,” Diego said. “No, it’s not that bad. It’s not really that bad.”

“I’m gonna starve to death,” Five croaked. “After all this shit, I’m gonna starve to death because I can’t walk…”

“Hey,” Diego said. “Whoa, whoa. You’re not gonna starve. I’m here, remember? Luther’s gonna get help, Mom’s gonna fix your leg, and we’re all gonna wait on your sorry ass hand and foot.”

Five gave him a blank look, breathing harsh and fast. “What?”

“Do you remember where you are?”

“Yeah, I’m fucking trapped and I can’t walk and I’m gonna starve to death,” Five snarled. “Fuck off!”

“Five! Snap out of it!” Diego yelled back.

“Shit,” Five wheezed, breathing slipping out of control entirely. “I can’t breathe, I can’t…”

“Five!”

Diego shook him, getting a grip on the back of his neck to sit him up properly. “Whoa. Whoa, whoa. No apocalypses here, bro, you’re back. Okay? You’re back.”

“Mmnot,” Five gasped. “You’re always... lying... about this shit. This is why… Where’s Delores...?”

“I’m not fucking lying to you,” Diego snapped, petting Five’s head. “Tell me where you are. Details, Five, gimme details.”

“Car,” Five gasped. “Car, I’m in the car.”

“Yeah,” Diego said.

Five’s hands gripped the sides of the seat, knuckles white. “Passenger seat. I’m in the passenger seat and I’m… shit, shit my leg.”

“Don’t look at it,” Diego said, forcing his voice to be soft. “Okay? It’s not as bad as it looks, just don’t… Don’t look.”

Five let out a bitter sob. “Don’t do that,” he said.

“Don’t do what?” Diego said, trying his hardest not to let his annoyance slide into his voice.

“Be soft,” Five said. “It’s scary as shit. You being soft. Feels like you don’t want to tell me I’m dying.”

Diego swallowed. He was pretty sure he’d seen blood dripping from the place where Five’s leg was pinned, which was not good. “Gracie does that shit,” he said. “Every time she falls, she looks at me to decide if she’s gotta cry about it or not.”

“Poor kid’s gonna grow up thinking a scraped knee is fucking fatal,” Five muttered.

“Oh, fuck you,” Diego said. “I kiss it better and if she’s still crying then I worry.”

“Yeah?” Five managed. “You gonna kiss that shit better?” He pushed himself up slightly to take a look, then slammed back against the seat. “Oh, shit, fuck fuck fuck, not my leg, not my… I need to be able to move what the fuck…”

“I fucking told you not to look at it,” Diego gritted out, leaning over Five.

Five’s hands came up instinctively to shield himself, and he yelped when the instinct to curl up jerked his leg against the metal impaling.

“Stop moving,” Diego said.

“Ow,” Five sobbed. “Oh, ow, ow, fuck.”

He sounded young. Nothing good ever came of Five sounding young.

Diego’s fingers found the latch to tip back the seat, and using his foot, he pushed it all the way back to horizontal. Five all but shrieked at the sudden lack of seat below him, grabbing onto Diego like he was about to plummet into the abyss if he didn’t.

“Calm down, you little brat, I’m just getting around behind you.”

“Why?” Five mumbled, breathing hiccuping around tears.

“So that I can…” He hissed, carefully squirming around so he could sit behind Five. “... fucking…” He wrapped his arms around Five’s middle, hooking his chin over Five’s bony shoulder. “... hold you.”

“Oh,” Five said. “Fuck, you’re warm.”

Diego felt his cheek with the back of his hand. “And you’re cold as hell.”

 “Sssprobably bloodloss,” Five muttered, melting against him.

“Anyway,” Diego said. “What I was saying, ” he continued, “before you decided to mock me like you always do, you absolute bag of dicks, was that emotionally you have the structural integrity of my two year old.”

Five laughed, though it was a breathy, shaky affair. “Yeah, probably.”

Diego rubbed his shoulders and then moved to stroke his hair out of his face.

“Where’d Luther go?” Five mumbled.

“Went to get help.”

“I didn’t imagine him?”

“Jesus, how many times do I have to tell you?” Diego asked, worry churning at his gut. Five didn’t sound like he was having a PTSD episode so much as he sounded confused, and that was very bad. “I’m really here. Luther was really here, and he’ll really be back soon, you traumatized little shit.”

Five snorted through an absent laugh.

“What?” Diego asked.

“You,” Five said. “Cussing me out while petting my head.”

“Yeah, you should see yourself, buddy,” Diego said. “Trying to talk shit while crying like a baby.”

“Dick,” Five said, voice cracking.

Diego hugged him tightly. “‘S g-gonna be okay.”

“Stutter,” Five mumbled. “Am I dying already?”

“You’re not dying,” Diego said. “You’re just a dick. Don’t point it out.”

“If I die you gotta take care of Mr. Pennycrumb,” Five said.

“Yeah, you’re not gonna die. And I can’t believe you named that mutt Mr. Pennycrumb.”

“Ssagood name,” Five slurred.

“Hey, stay awake,” Diego said. “No sleeping in my goddamn car.”

“I think you’re gonna need a new car,” Five mumbled. “Maybe a minivan, now that you’re a dad.”

“Uh-huh,” Diego said. “Maybe after a few more kids.”

“Are you gonna have more kids?”

“Don’t know. Maybe.”

Silence.

Diego’s heart skipped a beat. “Hey.” He shook Five. “Hey, the fuck did I say about sleeping?”

“Mmwake,” Five mumbled.

Something thudded against the car, and both of them jolted.

After a moment, the car door was wrenched off, and Luther poked his head in. “How’s he doing?”

“Mmmlosin a lotta blood,” Five mumbled.

“Okay,” Luther said. “Mom, come on.”

“How’d you have time to get Mom?” Diego asked, while Grace kneeled down to get into the car.

“I ran,” Luther said. “Really fast. And then I broke a lot of traffic laws.”

“Luther, dear, you’re going to have to lift this bit of metal very quickly after I get a bandage in position,” Grace said. “Ready?”

Luther nodded, reaching in past them to join her hands.

On one, she mouthed. He nodded. “Alright, Five, sweetheart, hold still. We’re going to remove it on three.”

Five nodded, swallowing jerkily.

“One,” Grace said.

Metal crunched, and Five shrieked.

**

“Shit, he’s waking up,” Vanya hissed.

“What’s happening?” Five mumbled, trying to sit up and failing.

“You have metal in your leg and my blood in your veins!” Klaus chirped. “Also, sidenote, I can give blood now, because sobriety.”

“We’re all very proud of you, Klaus,” Ben said.

Five’s leg jerked where it was propped up with a sling. “Shit,” he croaked, growing panicky. “Shit, no, I need to be able to walk, I have to…”

“Cookie?” Allison asked, extending him one of the cookies they had, at long last, found that Five would eat as a snack.

Five took the cookie a lot like it had appeared out of thin air. He nibbled at it, as though testing that it was real before making a fool of himself. “Oh.” He relaxed.

“Told you it would work,” Diego said.

“Well done, you absolute dad, you,” Klaus said.

“Guys,” Five said. “Am I like… really high right now?”

“Yeah, man, you snapped your leg in half,” Ben said. “That sort of thing comes with some painkillers.”

“Oh,” Five said. He held his hand out for another cookie.

Allison snorted, and gave it to him. “You’re going to be on bedrest for about a week,” she said. “But your leg is going to be fine.”

“I want soup,” Five said. “Bedrest means soup.”

“I’ll make you soup,” Allison said. “In the meantime, would you like another cookie?”

Five blinked up at her owlishly. “Yes.”

“God, you’re such a damn hassle,” Diego said, and patted Five’s head.

 

Chapter Text

“I want a little sister,” Gracie said.

Diego stopped short. He’d been attaching a shelf to the wall of Gracie’s little corner - orginally a timeout corner, now a “calm down in your own space” corner with a child-sized couch, a soft lamp and several shelves that made it very difficult for anyone not Gracie-sized to get inside - so she could start putting up picture books. 

He had thought Gracie had been awful quiet while watching him do it, but he hadn’t expected this. “Why would you want a little sister, Grace Ann? Siblings are a pain in the butt,” he asked.

She gave him a thoroughly unconvinced look. “My friends have little brothers.”

“What, all of them?” Diego asked.

She nodded severely.

“Well, that just means they have to share a lot. You really want to share all your stuff?”

“With a sister it’s different,” Gracie said sagely. “And I don’t have to share all of it. Connor has special toys.”

Diego groaned. “What if,” he said, “we got a cat instead.”

“No,” Gracie said.

“Dog?”

“No.”

“A pony?”

She gave him a withering look like only a three year old could. “No.”

“A snake?”

That one made her think. “If I get a sister can I never have a snake?”

Diego smiled despite himself, picking her up and depositing her in his lap. “No, I guess you could have both. But come on. Siblings are the worst. Have you seen how your uncles drive me crazy? That’s what siblings are like.”

“I’m different,” Gracie declared. “I would bite them.”

“Grace Ann Hargreeves,” Diego said. “What did I say about biting?”

“Only if I need to and not where Mom can see?” she asked.

“Yeah. And your Mom would be watching a baby sister, wouldn’t she?” Diego said.

Gracie thought about that. “I guess,” she mumbled.

Diego sighed. “I’ll talk to Mom about it, okay?”

“Can’t you just give me a sister?” Gracie said, eyes wide.

“No,” Diego said. “It takes two people to make a baby.”

“Then make Uncle Luther help,” Gracie said. “He always gives me what I want.”

Diego sighed. “Uh, no,” he said. “That’s not… It takes a Mommy and a Daddy to make a baby.”

“Austin has two dads,” Gracie informed him.

“Well… Okay,”  Diego said, sighing. “I… In that case, that probably means they… Well, they borrowed a Mommy so they could make the baby, and then… Then they agreed to share.”

Gracie made a face, thoroughly confused.

“It’s very complicated,” Diego said. “And… And it’s something you need to be older to understand. It’s a secret process.”

“Why?” Gracie asked.

Diego sighed. “Magic?”

“You’re doing the grownup lying,” Gracie said.

“Yeah, I am,” Diego said. “When you’re eleven, I’ll tell you how it works, okay?”

Gracie frowned at him. “How many is eleven?”

Diego put up both hands. “And one more.” 

“That’s so many!” Gracie protested. “Daddy, I’m only this many!” She put up three fingers.

“I know that,” Diego said. “But it’s just an eleven year old secret. I don’t make the rules.”

“Ten,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. “Deal.”

She grinned at him.

**

“Grace Ann wants us to have another kid,” Diego said, sliding under the covers.

Eudora eyed him suspiciously. “You say that like you want me to say no.”

“Come on, Eudora, we can’t have another kid!”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Eudora said. “If you want out of this, you have to be the bad parent and tell her no.”

“Why?!” he protested.

“Because I’m always the bad parent!” Eudora said. “And because I also want another kid!”

“What? Since when?!”

“Since I found out what a good father you are,” Eudora said, giving him a sultry look. "I think it's very sexy how you let yourself be soft and vulnerable around our daughter because you love her so much and want to give her the whole world." 

Diego glared at her. “That’s cheating, you can’t just say that.”

“Come on, two kids is the ideal number of children. They can look out for each other!”

“You’re blinded by only child nonsense,” Diego said. “Siblings are the worst.”

“Bold words from someone who is only having this conversation because Vanya is babysitting,” Eudora said.

“Vanya is not babysitting,” Diego said. “Vanya’s wife has stolen our child for her amusement park fetish.”

Eudora swallowed down a laugh. “Diego. Being an only child sucks. And we’re not talking six more kids, we’re talking one more kid.”

“We’d need a bigger house,” Diego said. “I mean another kid would need another corner, and another bed, and we’d need a bigger bed…”

“Or our children could stop sleeping in bed with us,” Eudora said. “It’s not, like, a fundamental need of theirs.”

“They should feel free to stay with us if they want!” 

Eudora rolled her eyes. “Look, you guys are still renovating the back of the house, we could just section off a part of it for the family and - don’t give me that look!” 

“You want to have another baby,” Diego said, “and move in with my family?”

“You guys have so much room!” Eudora protested. “And Claire’s switching to weekends in LA and you know how much she loves Gracie. It’d be so much easier for your siblings to babysit, and we could make an entire room a playroom for the kids.”

“But--”

“We could build our own custom bed into our room that’s big enough for five children!” Eudora said.

“Five children? We’re talking about one more!” Diego blurted.

“Yeah, I’ve talked about this with Allison, if we’re nearby, Five will join us,” Eudora said.

"He's nearly 18," Diego said.

“And then Claire likes to be social, so she’ll join in, and we’re already up to four children. And maybe a dog?”

“Grace Ann wants a snake,” Diego said.

“Mr. Pennycrumb?”

Diego groaned. “That dog wheezes like a lawnmower.”

“Come on, Diego, I like your family,” Eudora said. “They’re so stupid, but they’re trying really hard.”

Diego groaned harder. Gracie had definitely inherited her extremely effective puppy dog eyes from Eudora. “We already got lucky with Grace Ann, do we really want to tempt fate again?”

“Lucky?” Eudora said. “Diego, I love our daughter, you know I do, but she’s a terror. She bit a child.”

“He pulled her hair!”

“She drew blood!”

“She told him she didn’t want him to touch her, and he did, and she bit him. It was perfectly reasonable.”

“She should have gotten an adult!”

“She solved the problem! He hasn’t pulled her hair since!”

Eudora gave him a look. “Diego, I swear to God, if you bought our child ice cream for biting another child…”

“No, I talked to her,” Diego said. “About excessive violence, like you said.” He’d also bought her ice cream, but he wasn't going to admit to that.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You’re a menace to society.”

“You said I’m a good father,” he reminded her.

“You can be both.”

“Anyway,” he said. “I mean she’s a girl.”

“Oh my God, Diego,” Eudora groaned. “I get the initial anxiety, but you’ve seen now how soft you get around Gracie, why would you be any different around a boy?”

“No,” Diego said. “I’ve… I’ve noticed patterns. I’ve pulled the tough dad shit on Gracie, she’s just… you know. It’s compensated by the fact that society tells her to be soft.”

“What are you talking about?” Eudora said tiredly.

“You know. The… ‘walk it off, kid,’ ‘toughen up,’ stuff,” Diego said. “I’ve done it before.”

“I have seen you tell her to walk it off one time when she was already trying to, and I have seen you kiss nonexistent bruises better at least fifty times,” Eudora said. “You gave her a bandaid for brain freeze.”

“She feels better with bandaids!”

“Yeah, exactly,” Eudora said. “You’re going to do fine if we have a son.”

Diego sighed. “If you say so.”

“Also if we’re already on the second child, we should really get married,” Eudora said.

“Yeah, the romance of you bribing me into a kid is really doing it for me,” Diego said, though his heart skipped a beat as she said it.

She grinned. “You want me to get down on one knee and propose?”

He was probably blushing. “Yeah.”

She all but wiggled with glee. “Okay. After we have another kid.”

“Okay,” he said, shaking his head. “I get it. Message received, we’ll have another damn kid.”

She laughed and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”

**

“You are ridiculous, you know that?” Eudora said. “Do you need to sit down? Are you going to pass out?”

“No,” Diego snapped. “I am not going to pass out from an ultrasound, it's only needles that do it.”

“Not even from anticipation?” Eudora asked.

“Oh!” the technician blurted.

Diego’s head snapped up. “What oh?”

“Nothing bad,” the technician said. “We just missed it in the last ultrasound. You’re having twins, Mr. Hargreeves.”

“We’re what?” Diego said.

Eudora bit her lip to stifle a laugh.

“Yep,” the technician said. “We usually catch it at about 10 weeks, but they seem to have been hiding this time.”

“Are they girls?” Diego asked desperately. “Please tell me they’re girls.”

“One second…” the technician said, watching the screen.

“God, please be boys,” Eudora whispered under her breath. Diego smacked her lightly on the arm, and she struggled not to giggle. The technician gave her a look to stop moving.

“Oh,” the technician said, in a way that said everything Diego needed to know. “Well, they’re healthy, that’s all I can give you.”

“Boys?” Diego asked, trying to breathe deeply. “Twin boys?” 

“I’m afraid so, Mr. Hargreeves.”

“Are you sure you’re not going to pass out?”

“Nope.”

**

“How’d it go?” Allison asked. Behind her, Claire seemed to be showing Gracie how to use Luther as a jungle gym while he stood indulgently still, arms extended.

“Don’t ask,” Diego said.

Klaus grinned where he was playing go-fish with Five. “Oh, boy, here we go.”

“Do I have a sister yet?” Gracie called.

Diego put his hands on his hips and breathed.

“About that, Gracie,” Eudora said. “Remember when we told you we can’t really decide what kind of baby we make?”

“Oh, no,” Vanya said. “Are you having a son?”

“A brother?!” Gracie blurted. “That’s even better!”

“Actually, two,” Eudora said. “We’re having two babies at once.”

Klaus and Five’s heads swiveled around lightning fast. Diego brandished a warning finger at them, but they were undeterred.

“TWO BROTHERS?! I’m gonna be the biggest sister!” Gracie shouted, running to shake Claire. “Did you hear? Two brothers!”

"I heard," Claire laughed.

Diego pointed at Klaus and Five and gave Eudora a look. “Did you see that? Look at them! They’re vultures, Eudora, vultures!”

She sighed. “You do realize that your twin brothers are not the epitome of twins? There are many, many twin boys who are nothing like them.”

Klaus grinned even wider and whispered something to Five, who smirked, both of them looking at Diego with a glint in their eyes.

“They’re devil children,” Diego said. “They’re… If anyone could infect unborn babies with whatever it is that makes them demons, it would be those two. We are going to have demon babies, Eudora.”

“Okay,” she said. “Maybe you need to sit down and breathe for a while. They are not demon children.”

“I don’t know what you’re worried about,” Klaus said. “We’re lovely children and we’ve never done anything wrong ever.”

Diego and Eudora glanced over at them, both leaning over the back of the couch with matching innocent expressions that did anything but inspire confidence.

“Okay, yes, your brothers are demon children,” Eudora said. “But they’re not contagious. They’re just like that.”

“Like what?” Five asked.

“You know what you are,” Eudora told them.

“They’re going to torment me into madness until these babies are born,” Diego whispered.

“Okay, yes, that’s probably true,” Eudora said. “But I promise it is extremely unlikely that our twins will be anything like them.”

“What if it’s hereditary?” Klaus asked. “Just a Hargreeves family twins thing?”

Eudora rolled her eyes. “You’re adopted!”

“Like that would stop us,” Five said.

“That…” She groaned. “Ignore them.”

“This is your fault,” Diego muttered. “One more kid, you said. Just the one.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

"Unbelievable."

**

“Ten bucks says Diego’s twins will be beautiful angelic kids,” Klaus said, poking one of the bouncy balls in front of him.

“I’ll take that bet,” Five said. “I had to grab Gracie off the shelf in the laundry room the other day.”

“That’s like six feet up,” Klaus said. “How’d she get there?”

“She gets everywhere. She’s almost as bad as I was at that age, which says a lot about her tenacity,” Five said as they climbed up the stairs.

“Hm,” Klaus said. “Well. Anyway. Are we ready?”

“Yeah,” Five said.

Klaus let his powers go, and approximately five hundred bouncy balls hit the ground at once, bouncing off of each other, the walls and everything in between. Something shattered.

“How are we going to clean this up?” Klaus asked.

“You know, I hadn’t thought that far yet,” Five said.

The door opened.

“Jesus Christ,” Diego said. “What happened here?”

“We were borrrrrrred,” Klaus whined. “Do you have babies? Show us our successors!”

“Don’t call them your successors, you’ll curse them,” Diego said. “Luther’s bringing them in, and I’m going to put the extra pillows in our bed for Eudora.”

Five jumped down to meet him while Klaus thundered down the stairs.

“Do not curse my children!” Diego snapped as Luther came inside with a baby-filled carseat tucked under each arm.

Luther sighed heavily. “We left you two alone for two days. How did you do this?”

“They’re adorable,” Klaus cooed, ignoring Luther completely. “Look at them!”

“They look less like raisins than Gracie did,” Five allowed.

Diego sighed, storming over. “Stop calling my children weird shit, you little asshole,” he said. “This one’s Jacob Klaus Hargreeves.” 

Klaus gasped, clapping his hands onto his cheeks and nearly falling over with joy. “Really?”

“Yes, really. And the other one is Elijah Fievel Hargreeves,” Diego said.

“Fievel?” Five said, outraged.

“I’m not naming my kid a number,” Diego said. “Take it or leave it.”

“Leave it!” Five hissed.

“Yeah, no. You have no say over what I name my children,” Diego said.

Five made a face at him.

“Fievel,” Klaus said, grinning. “Like the mouse.”

“You shut up.” 

“Little mouse,” Klaus said, poking Five’s nose. “And baby mouse.” He leaned in to boop Elijah’s nose as well. “Hi there.”

“Do not call me little mouse ever again,” Five said.

“Well with that reaction, I don’t know why I’d ever call you anything else.”

“I hate you.”

“That’s nice,” Klaus said, already distracted by Jacob. “You have my name, little man! We’re gonna be best friends!”

“And they’re going to be absolutely nothing like you,” Diego said. “And if they are, I’m blaming you, and I will kill you.”

Klaus and Five exchanged looks. “How fast do you think we can corrupt these babies?” he whispered.

“Only one way to find out,” Five whispered back.

“That’s it,” Diego said, grabbing them both by the collar. “Enough baby time for you, go…” He sighed at the state of the floor around them. “Clean up all these balls.”

“God, there’s a good pun there,” Klaus said, as Diego shoved them away. “Five, help me out, it's gonna be a great joke whenever I think of it.”

“No, gross.”

Diego shook his head. “Please tell me they’re not going to be like those two,” he pleaded at Luther.

“They won’t be,” Luther said. “They’re two of a kind.”

“Thank you,” Diego said. “I hope for all our sakes you’re right.”

Chapter Text

“Hi,” Ben said. “You’re in my bed.”

Five looked up at him from where he was holding Ben’s pillow like a sulking child might a teddy bear. “Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d be back tonight.”

“It wasn’t really a ‘stay for breakfast’ kind of thing,” Ben said. “And that doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

Five gave him a look. “What if he’d stolen your kidneys?”

Ben sighed, sitting down on the bed. “Were you that worried?”

Five shrugged.

“Klaus and I are a pretty good judge of character when we put our heads together,” Ben said. They’d gone to an event at one of the organizations Dave volunteered at, and Ben had quietly told Klaus to go home without him and make his excuses to the family. Clearly, Klaus had told Five exactly what that meant. “Also, organ traffickers don’t usually wait for you to tell your brother the exact address you’re going to and for how long and to point out the guy’s face, especially after you’ve told them your brother sees dead people.”

Five huffed, unmoved from his sullen expression.

“Is there more to it than you being worried?” Ben guessed.

“I don’t know,” Five said. “Maybe. I just… I don’t like it.” He looked at Ben, a slightly ashamed look in his eyes. “I don’t know why, I honestly don’t.”

Ben sighed. “Can I guess?”

Five shrugged, burying his face in Ben’s pillow.

“Maybe you just don’t like me having sex with people,” Ben said. “In general?

“I’m not jealous,” Five said, wrinkling his nose. “That might work for Allison and Luther, but I’ve always considered all of you--”

“Not what I meant,” Ben said. “We’re on the same page there, don’t worry. I mean, maybe you don’t like that you’re now the last virgin in the family?”

“Well that’s a patronizing way to put it,” Five griped.

“I mean, maybe you don’t like that this leaves you as the only person who doesn’t… you know, get it?” Ben tried.

Five gave him a withering look that did an awfully good job of confirming Ben’s suspicion.

Ben sighed. “Look, maybe later it’ll click,” he said. “You’ve got all the weird age stuff, who knows how your brain is handling hormones. Or maybe it won’t. It’s really not that big a deal.”

“Whatever,” Five muttered into the pillow. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “Okay. You want to stay here tonight?”

“You smell disgusting,” Five said.

“If I shower first, do you want to stay here tonight?” Ben asked.

Five nodded quietly.

Ben groaned as he got up, ruffling Five’s hair. “I’ll be right back, then.”

“Thanks,” Five mumbled.

**

Klaus groaned as the phone rang. He’d been getting awfully comfortable, laying in Dave’s lap while Dave pet his hair. He’d been hoping they could slowly segue into equally comfortable sex.

“I can let it ring,” Dave offered.

“Nah,” Klaus said, sitting up. “Want me to get it?”

Dave shook his head, leaning over to pick up the phone. “Hello?”

Klaus chewed at his thumbnail as Dave waited silently for the person on the other end of the line to respond. He put a hand over the receiver. “It’s your brother.”

Klaus sat up straight. “Which one? What’s up?”

Dave held up a finger to tell him to wait a moment. “Yes, I’ll hand him over to you. Alright. Yes, I’m handing him over now. Yes.” He sighed and handed over the phone while Klaus clambered over him to take it.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” Five said. “It’s you.”

“Yes,” Klaus said, trying to make sense of the way Five sounded. “Wait, are you drunk?”

“Yeah,” Five said. “I know I know we were doing the.. The sobriety an’ all, but I thought it’d help.”

“With what?”

“Stuff. People stuff. That people do.”

Klaus groaned. He supposed it was karma, having to deal with this after all the times he’d haggled rides out of Diego while high off his ass, but Five had a drop of alcohol since he’d been back the second time, and it was obvious he hadn’t been prepared for how it’d knock him onto his 19 year old ass. And he thought he was the smart sibling. “What are you talking about?”

“Y’know. The sex. The sex that people do.”

“You got drunk in order to have sex?” Klaus blurted, vaulting from frustrated to terrified at an inadvisable rate. At least he didn’t smoke anymore, so his heart could probably take the stress. “Five… Jesus.” He wanted to ask details, but that seemed not to be a thing to do over the phone. “Where are you?”

“I don’t know,” Five said petulantly. “I am too drunk to jump reliably. There is a payphone.”

Klaus rubbed his hand over his face. “Obviously. Do you see street signs anywhere?”

Dave quietly handed him his shoes, and helped as Klaus struggled to put them on with the phone pressed between his shoulder and his ear.

“Main. And something. It’s perpendicular.”

“Okay,” Klaus said. “Okay, just stay in one place, we’ll drive down Main and come get you.”

“Dave,” Klaus said. “Can I ask--?”

Dave jingled his keys at him. “I’ll drive.”

Klaus let out a breath. “Thanks.”

**

It took them a full fifteen minutes of driving down the streets before Klaus caught Five huddled up behind a payphone. He batted at Dave’s arm until he slowed down enough to let Klaus vault out of the car and across the street.

Klaus grabbed Five, patting him down, nearly getting an elbow to the face before Five recognized him. “Are you okay?” Klaus said, breathless. “Are you hurt?”

“No,” Five said. “I’m just broken.”

“What?” Klaus managed, heart in his throat. “What are you talking about? Five, what happened? Who did this?”

“No one,” Five said. “I’m just… in the brain. I’m too broken in the brain to do normal shit.”

Klaus took a deep breath. “Can you… Okay, can you just tell me what happened?”

Five shrugged. “I figure I’m old enough now. I wanted to try it out, you know, see if I could get it, because now even Ben… Ben just goes out with strangers! And does stuff!” 

“Uh-huh,” Klaus said, forcing himself to refrain from grabbing Five by his shirt and shake him until he got to the point.

“I figured I’d just try to get with the first person who looked… palatable. For that sort of thing.” 

“For sex,” Klaus said, pressing his hands to his face so he didn’t try to strangle Five for having the dumbfuck idea of sleeping with someone just because they seemed ‘palatable.’

“Yeah,” Five said. “But no one did, not even after, like, three shots, maybe? So I just let this guy buy me a drink.”

Klaus looked Five up and down. He looked young. He looked way too young. He bit the inside of his lip to keep from interrupting.

“And we started going to his place, but we stopped in an alley and made out, and it was gross, so I just chickened out,” Five said.

“And?” Klaus choked out. “Did he… Did he do… Jesus, Five, what the fuck happened?”

“I ran away,” Five said. “But I’m really drunk, so I didn’t know where I’d jumped, so I called you. ‘Cept you didn’t pick up, so I had to sit around for a while remembering Dave’s number, and I threw up, and it sucked.”

“Okay,” Klaus said, self control shredding at the realization that this wasn’t the worst possible scenario. “So just to be clear. You went to a bar to hook up with someone, despite the fact that you are still legally under the drinking age. You weren’t attracted to anyone, so you got drunk, and you still didn’t want sex, so, because you didn’t want sex, you decided to go with the guy that saw a drunk, barely legal and probably lost looking kid, and you accepted a drink from him, and then decided to go to his place without telling anyone where you were?”

Five thought it over. “If I’d known you were going to lecture, I would have called Diego,” he mumbled.

“No!” Klaus snapped, grabbing him and barely stopping himself from slamming him into the phone booth hard enough to bruise. Five looked at him with large, startled eyes, but he still looked mostly like Klaus was just inconveniencing him with silly worries. “Five, do you realize how lucky you are this didn’t go horribly, horribly wrong? This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done, and you once blew yourself up twice in the span of a week.” 

“It’s not like I couldn’t leave whenever I wanted,” Five mumbled.

“Except you already didn’t want to be there and you stayed there anyway to… to what? Prove a point to yourself? And what if he’d drugged your drink? Huh? What the fuck is wrong with you?” Klaus shouted, shaking Five.

Five’s brow furrowed. “Not like you haven’t done dumber,” he snapped.

“No, you know what?” Klaus yelled. “I’m honestly not sure I have done dumber! Even at the height of my shitfaced idiocy I had Ben watching my drinks, and I never had sex I wasn’t at least slightly interested in, not even for…” He stopped, taking a deep breath. This was maybe not the time to let Five realize just what Klaus had gotten up to for drugs.

“I didn’t have sex either,” Five muttered.

“Only because you panicked!” Klaus said. “I mean at what point were you planning to decide it wasn’t for you? Huh?”

“I don’t know!” Five protested, sniffling slightly. “I just wanted to see if… I wanted to know why I’m the only one who just doesn’t… Not even a little. I wanted to know if I was just… If it was because I’d never tried, or if I’m just too traumatized, or…”

“Traumatized by what?” Klaus said, brain derailing a little. Granted, he hadn’t thought the Handler was that bad, but…

“I mean in general, you weirdo,” Five snapped. “Like… Like I can’t get close to people.”

Klaus let out a sigh of relief. “Jesus, Five. Just… Jesus.”

“You’re so weird about me being raped,” Five muttered.

Klaus breath caught in his throat. “Uh, yeah, I am! Of course I am! What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“You’re not as weird with anyone else,” Five grumbled. “Vanya’s a girl, and shorter than me, you don’t quiz her about her sex life.” 

“If Vanya ever called me drunk from the club telling me she’d nearly gone home with a guy who she needed to be shitfaced to even consider, I’d yell at her too, you idiot,” Klaus gritted out. “But Vanya doesn’t do that, because Vanya’s not… not…”

“Too broken to understand sex?” Five mumbled.

Klaus looked at the sky for reasons he didn’t understand. After all, god probably wasn’t going to help him here. He sat down next to Five. “You’re not broken,” Klaus said. “Definitely not when it comes to this. It’s totally normal to just not be into sex.”

“You’re the one who said you were concerned,” Five protested.

“Yeah, because at the time all I knew is that you were coming off several decades of isolation and the only relationship you could cite was with a mannequin!” Klaus said. “Since then I’ve seen you react to everything sex related, and it is just clearly not your scene. And I have dropped it accordingly.”

“But everyone else gets it,” Five said. “I mean I don’t think Luther really cares about it, but…” 

“And you don’t,” Klaus said. “The solution isn’t to force it! And especially not in a way that’s so goddamn dangerous.” He shook his head, alarmed irritation flaring up again. “And yeah, I worry about someone taking advantage of you, because I’ve seen a lot of creeps who love to take advantage. And I… mean, I’ve never been in a situation where I really didn’t want to be having the sex I was having, but I have been in situations where it was more lucrative to pretend I was.”

Five’s head snapped up to give him an alarmed look.

“Yeah,” Klaus said. “Yeah, exactly! Of course I worry about you! This is literally the only thing I’ve seen you entirely fucking flumoxxed by, of course it scares me to think you’d end up being hurt by it! Jesus!”

“I just wanted to try it,” Five said. “You keep telling me to try things before I give up on them.”

“That’s for hummus, not sex,” Klaus said, sighing and putting his arm around Five. “Okay, look, I know this is weird with us being twins and all, but could you just give me a free pass to talk about this stuff openly for a bit?”

Five shrugged. “Sure. I don’t care.”

“Okay. Do you masturbate?”

Five made a face. “I mean… yeah. Sometimes. I get hard-ons, and they’re annoying, and orgasms are okay I guess.”

“Okay you guess,” Klaus echoed, trying not to laugh.

“Yeah,” Five said. “They feel nice, sort of, but they’re overwhelming and kind of gross and not worth the effort.”

“Right,” Klaus said. “Five, there’s nothing magical that happens during sex to make those better, it’s just… you can split the effort and also there’s a second sweaty body to deal with.”

“That sounds awful,” Five muttered.

“Yes, exactly,” Klaus said. “Because if you don’t feel attraction towards people and you don’t  particularly care for orgasms, there’s literally no other benefit to sex.”

“Intimacy,” Five muttered.

“You do just fine with intimacy with us,” Klaus said. “In fact, it’s probably good for us that you rope us into oodles of platonic intimacy.”

“I guess you have a point,” Five said under his breath.

“So look,” Klaus said. “If you really want to explore this fully and be absolutely sure you’re just not into sex, you start with… you know. Mixing it up in your alone time.”

Five grimaced at him.

“Jesus, Five, if you’re even grossed out by that, why did you think you were going to have a good time hooking up with some asshole at a bar?” Klaus groaned. “Look. There’s plenty of flexibility in how you jack off, okay? And I’m… I’m not going to elaborate on that, but I will bet that I can find some. Uh. Pamphlets. Or books.”

“I think that’s something I have to do for myself without the help of my biological brother,” Five said. “Or really any brother. Or sister.”

“Yeah, probably,” Klaus said. “Anyway. I’m just… What I’m saying is first you explore this with yourself, and if you get the feeling that maybe it’d be easier or more interesting with another person, then you go and find someone who you wouldn’t mind being that extra person. And you’re probably not going to find them at a bar while looking young and drunk and nervous.”

“I don’t look nervous,” Five protested.

“You look super nervous,” Klaus said. “Look, Dave volunteers at a bunch of LGBTQ organizations, he’ll get you some reading material about asexuality, okay? I’d already have gotten it for you if I realized it was bothering you.”

Five sniffled. “I just don’t like not understanding things,” he said. “Especially if all of you do.”

“I know,” Klaus said. “But it happens, alright? That’s just how people are.”

Five huffed at him, rubbing at his eyes. “God, I can’t hold my drink anymore. I’m two thirds lightweight.”

“Good,” Klaus said. “You shouldn’t be drinking anyway.”

“Fuck off.”

“You want to go back to my place or Dave’s? I bet he’ll make you a bunch of lemonade to try to curb the hangover you’ll have tomorrow morning.”

Five glowered at him. “I like Dave’s lemonade,” he said, as though it was a curse Klaus had put on him. “I guess we can go to Dave’s.”

“Okay,” Klaus said, hauling him to his feet and walking him to where Dave had parked the car and was sitting waiting for them.

“Please don’t tell anyone about this,” Five whispered.

“Are you kidding me? Diego has three kids, I can’t give him a heart-attack,” Klaus said. He pulled Five in playfully. “I’m glad you called me, though.”

“Me too,” Five said. “Even if you did yell at me.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t beat your ass like I wanted to,” Klaus said. “Idiot.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Chapter Text

“If she gets hungry, there’s a bottle in the fridge, and if she’s cold her blanket is--”

“Diego,” Klaus said, rolling his eyes. “She’s gonna be with Mom most of the time anyway. And you’ve already shown me all the stuff.”

Diego squinted at him. Klaus wondered how much sleep he’d been getting lately. Probably very little. “I’ll call in an hour, so--”

“You will not,” Eudora said. “Klaus, just give her a little bit of human cuddling over the course of the night, but otherwise Grace will handle it.”

“Yes, I know,” Klaus said. 

Diego hovered between being indignant on behalf of Grace and protective of Gracie. “She can’t tell the difference.”

“She can. She needs a bit of time with someone warmer,” Eudora said.

“Fine, but she likes Mom.”

Eudora sighed and put her arm around Diego to drag him away. “Yes, she likes your Mom.”

Allison rolled her eyes. “Don’t teach Claire any curse words. And don’t burn the house down.”

“We’ll do our best,” Klaus said.

She rolled her eyes and followed Diego.

Klaus closed the door and locked it. Whether or not Diego would try to climb back in any windows remained to be seen, but at least this way he’d have more time to think about what he was doing.

“Okay,” Klaus said, clapping his hands together. “The adults are gone, the house is ours.”

“Can’t believe you made me stay,” Five muttered, while Claire held up her small hand for a high five. Klaus indulged her happily. “I could have snuck in.”

“Okay, first of all, you look like a child. Second of all, you have the body of a child. Third of all, you have to be sober with me! We’re twins!” He clambered onto the sofa, squishing Five under him.

Five grumbled and shoved at him until he could breathe. “What the hell does that have to do with anything, dickhead?”

“It means we have the same additive genes, you alcoholic bastard,” Klaus replied. He looked at Claire. “Claire, you know which of these words to not say in front of your mom, right?”

“Of course,” Claire said, very sagely for a six year old.

“Good girl.” Klaus gave her a thumbs up. “What’s our feature presentation?”

 “Muppet Treasure Island,” Claire said.

“I’ve never seen that one sober,” Klaus said. He stepped over Five’s head to grab the bowls of popcorn he’d prepared. “This one has syrup in it,” he said, handing the bowl to Claire. “And this one is boring.” He handed that one to Five.

Five made a face. “Some things don’t need syrup.” He took a handful of popcorn and lowered it off the couch to offer it to Mr. Pennycrumb.

“What does sober mean?” Claire asked, gingerly taking a piece of syrupy popcorn so that it touched the least amount of her skin.

“It means,” Klaus said, sighing, “that I used to have a real bad relationship with my brain, on account of all the ghosts I see, so I ate and drank stuff that was very bad for my brain, so that it would stop working and seeing dead people. And then I stopped, and now my brain works a-okay again, and that is what sober is.”

“Don’t know if your brain has ever been a-okay,” Five said.

“Well, it functions, is the point,” Klaus said.

Claire nodded, thoroughly convinced.

“Anyway, your Uncle Five did that too only maybe a little bit less,” Klaus said. “So now we’re both stuck here while your Mom and Aunt and Uncles partake in small, responsible amounts of brain-killing things, because your Uncle Diego needs a bit of a break from how he’s constantly stressed about your cousin.”

“That makes sense,” Claire said.

“Smart girl,” Klaus said, sliding down to the floor so Five could sprawl out on the couch in peace. “Okay, movie time.”

Five picked up Mr. Pennycrumb and deposited him on his chest. Mr. Pennycrumb, as a result, made a loud noise that Klaus swore sounded like someone trying to talk, if that person had chain smoked a pack of cigarettes and then swallowed another whole. “Sir,” Klaus told him, “I’m going to need you to be quiet during the movie.”

Mr. Pennycrumb griped at him, but settled when Five scratched his head. “He’s just getting comfortable,” Five said.

“Please be a dignified gentleman, Mr. Pennycrumb,” Klaus said severely.

Mr. Pennycrumb protested the request loudly, then attempted to curl up on Five’s chest, only to fall into the space between Five and the back of the couch and flail for purchase.

Klaus sighed. “I think your dog is a bit of useless sausage,” he said.

“Yeah, a little,” Five said. “Go ahead and start it, he’ll be fine.”

**

“You always get so sleepy when Mom reads or we watch movies,” Claire remarked.

“I’m awake, Allison,” Five mumbled.

Claire jabbed at his cheek. “Claire.”

Five opened his eyes and swallowed hard. “Sorry. Claire. I’m awake.”

“Don’t get sad,” Claire said, dragging Mr. Pennycrumb into her lap as she sat down next to him.

It was hard not to. She looked so much like Allison when she let her hair down. “Sorry.”

She poked at his shoulder aggressively.

Five sighed. “Where’d Klaus go?”

“I’m babysitting,” Klaus said, returning with Gracie under one arm.

“You can’t hold a baby like that,” Five said. “Come on, we’ve told you this.”

“She likes it!” Klaus protested. “If you know so much, you hold her!” He swung Gracie around to lift her into Five’s face like they were in the Lion King.

Five shrank back into the couch. “No way,” he said. “Just hold her right!”

“Five,” Klaus said. “Are you scared of little Gracie?”

Five rolled his eyes. “No, I am not scared of the baby,” he said. “I’m not always living in some kind of weird, hidden state of terror.”

“Only most of the time,” Klaus said. “Come on, hold the baby.”

Five grimaced at him. “Fine.”

Klaus deposited Gracie in his hands, and Five winced, trying to support her head as Diego had shown him. 

“She is too small,” he declared.

Klaus burst out laughing. “You’re so weird,” he said.

Five sighed. It was unspeakably odd, after everything he’d been through in the past several decades, to be handed a baby. They’d had a few, in timeline 2, but he’d never exactly been asked to watch any of them. In timeline 1, he definitely hadn’t gotten near any babies.

Gracie squeaked at him. His nerves were probably off-putting. At least it was going better than it had with Ben, who had to keep at least a foot between him and the baby in order to keep her from crying. 

He sighed and handed Gracie to Claire. “Trade you.”

Claire rolled her eyes, but she dumped Mr. Pennycrumb into his lap and took Gracie, sitting back so Gracie could sit on her lap properly.

Gracie blew an odd raspberry at her, while Mr. Pennycrumb danced with joy at being returned to Five.

The door opened, and Diego burst in, as though the night out had been, rather than relaxing, a night of waiting to see his daughter again. He made a beeline to her, a little tipsy as he reached out for her.

“Did you have fun, Uncle Diego?” Claire asked patiently as she helped him gather little Gracie into his arms.

“Uh-huh,” Diego mumbled, entirely distracted by greeting Gracie. “Hi, Grace Ann, I wish you knew how much I loved you.”

“You guys staying over tonight?” Klaus said.

“Yes,” Allison said. “We all drank.” She handled her alcohol better than Diego did, but she looked tired. “And Diego showed the bartender all of his baby pictures.”

Klaus snorted. “Not surprising.” 

“We watched Muppet Treasure Island,” Claire said. “And then Klaus showed me how to fold a paper boat, since Five fell asleep.”

“It’s a spectacular movie,” Klaus volunteered. “Even Five laughed.”

Five glowered at him on principle.

“You did,” Klaus said. “What, you embarrassed?”

“Heads up, Luther is very clingy right now,” Allison said. “You will get a bear hug. He’s currently distracted by a cat outside, but any minute now…”

As if on cue, Luther stumbled inside, trying to adjust his coat to look like he hadn’t.

Five sighed and put Mr. Pennycrumb on the ground just in time for Luther to catch sight of him and nearly cry. “You’re so small,” Luther said, picking him up easily. “Sometimes I forget how small you are.”

“Yep,” Five said, feet dangling off the ground as he accepted his fate.

“And there’s two of you!” Luther continued, freeing one arm to grab Klaus too.

Klaus allowed it, patting him on the back. He was swaying, but their weight didn’t seem to bother him at all even so. “Hey buddy, how about we go to bed, huh? You seem like you could use a nap.”

“Me too!” Claire yelled, darting between Luther’s legs and clambering up his back like he was a jungle gym. He leaned forward to make it easier for her, letting her get onto his shoulders. “Come on, Mom, read to us!”

Allison looked up from where she’d stealthily slipped a camera from her coat pocket to take pictures of Diego kissing Gracie’s nose like he was trying to make up for lost time. “Coming, coming.”

Luther squeezed Five and Klaus so hard they both groaned, then started up the stairs. 

Klaus met Five’s eyes, as if to say, You have a way out.  

Five rolled his eyes, and didn’t take it.

Chapter Text

“Ben, you gotta help me,” Klaus said.

Ben gave him a cool look. “The way you say that is very suspicious to me.”

“Shut up,” Klaus hissed. “Come on, get dressed, we gotta go.”

Ben raised a brow. “Go do what?”

“Dave invited Five to bingo night,” Klaus said. “And Five agreed.”

“So?”

“So?! That’s weird. That’s super weird! I’m gonna follow them and make sure that Five doesn’t murder him or anything.” 

Ben sighed, closing his book and rolling his eyes. “He’s not going to.”

“Ugh, fine, I’ll spy alone,” Klaus said. “Asshole.”

“Don’t spy on them,” Ben said. “You want them to bond, let them.”

“Five doesn’t bond,” Klaus said. “He just… like, imprints. He’s either all in from the start or he doesn’t like people at all. I suggested coming with me to group therapy and he hissed at me.”

“I think you’re letting your anxiety override your better judgement,” Ben said. “If he agreed to do stuff with Dave, it’s probably because he knows Dave is important to you and wants to get along with him.”

Klaus narrowed his eyes.

“Appreciate the gesture and try to dogsit,” Ben said.

“I swear to fuck, someday that dog is going to come up to me and it’s gonna be dead and I’m not going to have any idea because it looks like it was stepped on,” Klaus said. “But fine. You suck, but fine.” He stomped out into the hallway. “Come on, Mr. Pennycrumb, you weird frog creature, I’m going to hold you hostage until Five returns my boyfriend.”

Ben shook his head, picking his book back up.

**

“So before we go in,” Dave said. “Do you want to tell the full story to these people, or would you like to keep it a little calmer?”

Five let out a slow breath through his nose. “What do they already know?”

“Only that I have a very young boyfriend,” Dave said.

Five crossed his arms. “What do you suggest, exactly?”

“I was thinking I’d tell them you’re his half brother and he adopted you out of a bad family situation,” Dave said.

“Do we have to tell them that?” Five muttered.

“Unless you want them to sniff it out and corner you to make sure you’re in a safe situation now,” Dave said, “yes.”

Five groaned. “It’s that obvious?”

“You’re jumpy,” Dave said. “And act much older than you appear. So yes, they’ll be suspicious, and they’re too old for subtlety.”

“They don’t trust you?” Five jabbed.

“They like to do their own thing,” Dave said.

“Fine,” Five huffed. “But I’m not inventing a real name.”

“Alright,” Dave said. “Come on.”

He put a hand on Five’s back, steering him inside. It was a polite hand and the invitation to shrug it off was obvious. Five wasn’t sure if he wanted to take it. He was already inside, anyway, and Dave was showing him a table.

Now that Dave had called attention to it, Five was all too aware of how he rolled his feet, sizing the situation up for the nearest escape route that only took short jumps, the hiding places that would allow him an angle to fight back from. It was automatic.

“Alright, let me introduce you. Geraldine, Suzy, Mary Ellen and Harley are friends from an LGBT organization I volunteered for back in the day,” he said. Harley was a man in his 80s at least, wearing a bright orange sweater, and the other three were older women whose age he couldn’t place, possibly because they all dressed as though they’d been gathering lesbian fashion trends for decades and had all agreed to wear all of them at once. “Neal, Joe and Quentin are from the VA, and Carl is just a regular old straight guy from Canada.”

They were all in their seventies, and they’d stuck with the dress code for the age too.

“Everyone needs a boring member,” Carl said.

“Everyone, this is Five,” Dave said. “He’s Klaus’ little brother. Don’t startle him, Klaus only recently found him and adopted him from a bad home and he’s only been free of it for about a year. He’s still adjusting.”

He patted Five on the back and sat down.

Five watched everyone closely as he followed, committing their names to memory. They were sizing him up, too, and he didn’t particularly care for it.

“How old are you, kid?” Neal asked as they set up boards.

Dave offered one to Five, but Five shook his head. He didn’t want to be distracted in an unfamiliar situation, and it was just as interesting to watch everyone else’s boards and try to calculate the probability of any of them winning.

Five gritted his teeth. “Fourteen,” he muttered. To be fair, this was one situation where he really was, without question, the youngest person at the table. Still, he didn’t like admitting to being a child without being able to add the necessary footnotes.

“Fourteen,” Geraldine said. “How old’s your brother, then?”

Five hesitated. He didn’t actually want to cause Dave trouble, and he didn’t like being questioned so quickly in an unfamiliar situation.

“Don’t look so spooked,” Suzy said. “We have real simple rules here. We’re a bunch of nosy geriatrics, and we’ll ask about anything, but there’s no punishment if you don’t want to answer.”

Five met Dave’s eyes, and Dave nodded as though to say, Go on, then.

“Thirty-one,” Five said.

“David,” Mary Ellen hissed. “You pervert!”

Dave held up his hands. “He was very stubborn! And as I said before, we’re both adults and we discuss things very openly.”

There was some dark muttering all around the table, and Five smiled despite himself.

“Five’s an odd name,” Suzy added. “Any story behind it?”

Five froze. He’d never been asked about it before.

“No pressure,” Dave reminded him quietly.

Five glared at him, all the more annoyed by the fact that though he didn’t need protection from a group of people who could barely get up without hurting their knees, it was a relief to have it. He watched quietly as Dave placed a token on his free space.

“Um,” he managed, which was not quite as dignified as he’d hoped to present himself, “it was from my Dad. It’s a lot story, but it’s sort of… For him it was about not getting attached to someone he was going to put through a lot of shit, I think, but I chose to keep it.” He scratched at the table. “Because then it’s mine.”

The gentle murmur of approval he got shouldn’t have shaken him as much as it did, but he found himself slipping his hands between his knees to keep them from quivering where anyone could see.

“That takes a lot of strength,” Geradline said.

He laughed weakly. “Most people tell me I should at least try to think of a normal name. Even if it’s just a backup.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Geraldine said. “You’re the only one who needs to have an opinion on your name. You find something powerful about keeping whatever you got from your parents, good.”

Five nodded helplessly. “Thanks.” He wanted to crawl under the table. It was one thing to be vulnerable in front of his family, another entirely to be vulnerable around strangers. He wanted to be Mr. Five, master assassin again, but he felt exactly like the scared, abused kid they were assuming him to be.

“We can leave early if you need to,” Dave whispered.

Five shook his head. That was worse.

“We’ll ease up,” Joe said. “Sorry about Geraldine. She gets right in there.”

“He’s a tough kid, he can handle it,” Geraldine said. “Right, kid? You’ve got a look in your eyes, like you’ve seen some shit.”

Five snorted. “You have no idea,” he said.

“No reason to be hard on him,” Carl said. “You get out much, Five?”

Five shook his head.

“Well, it takes some practice,” Carl said. “You’ll get used to it, if you want to.”

Five smiled ruefully. “I basically talk to my family and my therapist. That’s all.” He paused. “And my dog.”

“What kind of dog?” Suzy asked.

“A pug,” Five said. “We found him in the trash.”

“What’s his name?”

Five heaved a sigh. “Mr. Pennycrumb.”

“Good name,” Quentin said, nodding very seriously.

“My brother thinks it’s childish,” Five said.

“Your brother likes to tease,” Dave said. “Because he’s thrilled by you having chances every so often to make up for the childhood you were robbed of and that’s the only way he knows how to express it.”

Five definitely wanted to hide under the table, but he settled for glowering at Dave instead.

“My cat’s name is Mr. Floofles,” Mary Ellen said, searching for a picture. “He’s a very stately gentleman.” 

Five took the photo and contemplated the hairless Mr. Floofles for a moment before replying, “He looks like a goblin.”

“Oh, he really does,” she replied.

Five smiled. Maybe this wasn’t as scary as he’d thought.

**

“What do you suppose is taking them so long, you wheezy little bastard?” Klaus asked, holding Mr. Pennycrumb up in the air as he paced. Mr. Pennycrumbs useless legs paddled through the air as though trying to make sense of how he was moving without being on the ground. Klaus grimaced at him. He truly made an awful noise when he tried to breathe.

“What are you doing with my dog?” Five asked.

“Keeping him for hostage negotiations,” Klaus blurted.

Five gave him a bewildered look and held his arms out for Mr. Pennycrumb.

“Where’s Dave?” Klaus asked suspiciously.

“Still in the car, probably,” Five said. “You know it takes him a while to park.”

Klaus contemplated that. “Well, okay, fine,” he said.

“Give me my dog,” Five sighed.

Klaus handed Mr. Pennycrumb over while Mr. Pennycrumb wheezed happily, wriggling more than Klaus would have thought possible with his limited sausage body.

Five yawned and gave the dog a small kiss on the head before both of them vanished.

Klaus hurried out the door and found Dave’s car, getting in the passenger seat through the back door.

“I was going to go inside,” Dave said.

“Was he any trouble?” Klaus asked.

“Of course not,” Dave said. “Though I’m pretty sure he took a break to cry on the roof when he said he was going to the bathroom.”

“What?” Klaus asked, sitting on his hands in an attempt to soothe the jitters he was getting from a night of wondering if two of his favorite people would ever like each other at all. “Why was he crying?”

“He’s overwhelmed, Klaus, it’s the first time he’s been away from home with new people in… Well, in this timeline.”

Klaus nodded, taking deep breaths.

“Klaus,” Dave said gently. “You don’t have to worry so much just because your extremely wired brother isn’t my best friend right out of the gate.”

“I know!” Klaus whined. “But I just…”

Dave reached over to pull him in for a kiss. “Klaus. You’re overthinking it.”

“God, I know, I know,” Klaus sighed. “God, I want a smoke.”

Dave snorted. “Really, Klaus, it’s alright. Your brother was very well behaved. And remember, last time he needed a friend outside the family, he came to me.”

“Yes he did,” Klaus muttered. “God, okay, okay, I’m okay.”

Dave smiled. “Alright, just take some deep breaths. You two get keyed up in the same way, you know that?”

“Really?” Klaus said.

“Yeah,” Dave replied. “I think you both have more brains, heart and personality than you know how to keep up with.”

Klaus laughed. “Yeah, that sounds about right.” He cranked down the window and took a deep breath until his nerves settled. “Did he get along with the old ladies?”

“Oh, of course,” Dave said. “I think it appealed to both his younger and older side.”

Klaus grinned. “Thanks for taking him out.”

Dave returned the grin with a soft smile. “Of course. It was nice, spending time with him. Even if he did tattle on me.”

“Oh?” Klaus asked.

“Let’s just say I didn’t get specific about your age,” Dave said. “And he was only too happy to do so.”

Klaus giggled. “Serves you right, grandpa.”

“Oh, so this is my fault now?” Dave asked.

Klaus winked at him, carefully moving so he could straddle Dave’s lap and push the seat back to make room. “Well…”

With a small pop, Five was in the back seat. “Klaus, will you run a bath for me?”

Klaus groaned. “Kind of in the middle of something, Five?”

“Right, well, as fun as contortionist sex in an old Buick sounds, I’m tired and no one else does it right,” Five said. 

“Yeah, no, wasn’t going to have sex in the driveway of our family house…” Klaus muttered.

“Great, so you can run me a bath,” Five said. “Oh, and Dave can stay for dinner, Mom’s already planning on it.”

He vanished.

Dave snorted. “Dinner sounds nice.”

“I often dream of murder,” Klaus muttered into his neck.

“Go on, be a good brother,” Dave said. “We’ll pick this back up after dinner.”

“Oh,” Klaus said, lowering his voice. “Well, okay then.”

He opened the door and stumbled out, grinning to himself as he ran upstairs to help Five with the bath.