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We Are Never, Ever Alone

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Five knew that most everything that happened in the Hargreeves household was bullshit.

 

Five was no expert in human interactions, but when all of your children held varying levels of terror at your presence, that was generally not a Good Thing. Or at least, not a socially acceptable thing. 

 

But while it was all bullshit, it was also all they had. It was a cage, but it was the only life they knew. Life was just about as shitty outside of their cage as it was in it, when it came down to it. And while they may not have gotten bedtime kisses or were told they were loved, they were taught how to defend themselves in any possible situation and honed their abilities. Plus, Five happened to have it on good authority that the gooey affection came with the heavy price of behind closed doors abuse. At least that wasn't a shameful secret in their household. Their treatment was something they could at least count on.

 

When you knew your enemy, you could also use that enemy to your advantage. Five had been taking that advantage every day since he had figured out exactly how Hargreeves worked.

 

Their twelfth birthday was closing fast, the only day Sir Reginald acknowledged was any different than any other day. Which is to say that instead of a designated day on the calendar, it had the added distinction of also being referred to as their birthday.

 

Their mom did do her best to try and make it special, to make it normal, like any other child's birthday. But they weren't normal kids. They didn't even have normal names. This hadn't been an odd fact until Ben, a gap toothed and inquisitive child, wondered to their mother why the books they read never included numerical names like their own.

 

That was the way the world worked; your normal was everyone's normal until it wasn't. 

 

This had caused contention among the children, though it was only discussed behind closed doors and in furtive whispers. Luther, then known as Number One, argued that the names were easy to remember and designated their rank to which Diego, then Number Two, rebutted that that was too permanent of a scale of power and they should all have the chance to prove themselves through skill and not just default numerical designations.

 

The argument lasted for years, often held over one another when one of them surpassed Reginald's standards.

 

On their tenth birthday, their mother gifted them with a name of their very own. This name was not, of course, to be used in front of Reginald or in the midst of battle. But Grace had put time and effort into each name, honoring the region of their birth and their personalities.

 

When Five's turn came, his mother had given him a choice and he had chosen the name Five. Yes, it was a name Reginald had given him, but it also suited him. He had made himself into something Reginald had no hold over, so the name had belonged to only him for quite a while.

 

So when Reginald lined them up and told them he would provide them with something for their birthday, Five was appropriately wary. He couldn't deny, however, that he was excited for the challenge of finding something his father would let him have and that he could put to his own use.

 

He waited his turn in line, a cocky expression planted firmly on his face. When it was his turn, Reginald's lip curled in disdain just the tiniest bit. "Number Five?"

 

"Advanced Quantum Mechanics and the Theory of Time Travel, 4th edition." He made extra sure to emphasize "time travel" just to twist the knife.

 

Reginald's eyes turned flinty, but otherwise his expression did not change. "Very well," he agreed, voice silky and hard. "Number Six!"

 

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Five sat curled in one of the old armchairs in their library. It was slightly moth eaten and dusty, a bit strange that their mother had missed it in her compulsive cleaning regimen. But it wasn't entirely unexpected if Reginald had been modifying her programming erratically. 

 

The creaks and groans of the house settling occasionally interrupted the silence as Five turned a page of his tome. Reginald, or perhaps their mother, had kept all of Five's childhood belongings. The textbook he had requested all those years ago was still in the same condition, pages worn soft from constant thumbings through. Five lightly traced one of the many diagrams, the barest hint of a nostalgic smile touched his lips. If only Dolores could see him now.

 

"Oh, Fivey!" a sing-song voice rang through the halls. Five groaned, shifting lower in his chair. He had picked this particular spot for several reasons, the biggest one being that it was hidden from casual perusal of the room.

 

"Five!" Was that… Ben's voice? Five interest peaked a little, but not enough to come out of his hiding spot.

 

"Where are you, my little blood-thirsty assassin?" Klaus called again, much closer.

 

Five had to resist the urge to duck to the floor. Surely they wouldn't-

 

"There you are!" Klaus pranced into the library, making a beeline towards Five.

 

Five groaned, eyes fixed on a paragraph he had already read several times.

 

"I've been looking everywhere for you!" Klaus scolded. "I told you that Mrs. Whethersbee said he was in the library, Ben."

 

"And I told you," Ben shot back, coming up behind Klaus. "That it's impossible to understand a word she says! She's missing her jaw !"

 

"But not her voicebox," Klaus snapped. "Ben, don't be ableist." He flapped a hand in Ben's direction, eyes focused on Five. 

 

"Congratulations, you've found me. Now you can unfind me." Five flipped a page.

 

"Don't be like that!" Klaus exclaimed, pouty. "Don't you want to know why we were looking for you?"

 

Five stayed silent.

 

"Aren't you just the teensiest bit curious?" Klaus waggled his eyebrows. Ben stifled a laugh.

 

"Clearly, I am not." He turned another page.

 

"Well, mon frere," Klaus regarded Five solemnly. "I need help."

 

Five snorted. "They do say the first step is to admit it."

 

"Not like that!" Klaus brushed the comment aside physically with his 'Hello' hand. "Well, maybe. But that is not the goal of this current bout of hide-and-seek."

 

"I was never playing hide-and-seek with you, Klaus," Five ground out.

 

"Because he always cheats," Ben nodded in agreement.

 

"I can't help it if the ghosties scream out your locations, now can I?" Klaus grinned.

 

Five pinched the bridge of his nose, hard. "What do I have to bribe you with so that you will leave me alone?"

 

"Oh!" Klaus held up a finger. "Come help me in the kitchen!"

 

Five leveled a look at Klaus. He had both arms out, both 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' beckoning Five to join him. He looked to Ben.

 

"It is kind of important," Ben implored.

 

He held eye contact with Ben a moment longer before carefully marking his page and closing the book. He hadn't really been in the middle of reading it, but Klaus didn't need to know that.

 

"Fine. You have three minutes."

 

"At least give me five! It's going to take at least three to get to the kitchen!" Klaus groused.

 

"Three." 

 

Klaus gave a large, put-upon sigh. "Fine. Let's go. And no popping ahead! It's rude not to walk with your family."

 

Five narrowed his eyes as he got up to follow Klaus. None of his siblings ever tried to stop him from spatial jumping before. At least, not once they learned the futility of it. But he decided to play along. Klaus had always been a major source of his entertainment as a child- not that he would ever admit that - and if Klaus had lit the house on fire or something equally as destructive, he could easily blink out and leave Klaus to his own devices.

 

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Five tuned Klaus' jabbering out almost instantly. Instead, he elected to steal looks at Ben. Their brother was keeping pace with Klaus just ahead of him, hands in the front pocket of his hoodie, face uncovered and open. He was obviously at least half listening to Klaus because every now and then he would give a reaction, body rimmed in an ethereal blue.

 

Five had only seen Ben a handful of times since he had come back. Once had been in the theater of the timeline that never was and the other times usually happened randomly and without warning throughout the house. One time, Five was alone in the kitchen until suddenly he wasn't. Ben had popped up cross-legged on the table, watching Five.

 

"Jesus!" Five had jumped back against the refrigerator, clutching his chest. 

 

"Oh, you can see me?" Ben asked idly. 

 

Five just stared at Ben incredulously.

 

"Right," Ben had nodded. "I guess he's trying to summon Dave."

 

Since that day, Five made extra sure he was more adequately prepared for his dead brother to possibly pop up.

 

It was… nice to see his brother. Other than Vanya, Ben had been the sibling he was closest to before he got stuck in the apocalypse.

 

As they rounded the last corner before they reached the kitchen, Ben turned to Five and winked.

 

What the…

 

"SURPRISE!!!" The hallways around their group exploded into sound and color. The world narrowed.

 

Five found himself kneeling protectively next to his brother, Klaus' body splayed haphazardly on the floor. But instead of a threat, Five stared up at the rest of his siblings, covered in an array of party decorations, frozen and staring at him in various shades of confusion and alarm. He must have moved before he consciously meant to, shoving Klaus behind him.

 

"Jesus you little gremlin!" Klaus was saying, rubbing his head. "You didn't have to tackle me!"

 

Mortification, hot and rancid, washed over him. His head spun. He had to leave-

 

Before he had a chance to even let that thought form, small but strong arms enveloped him. The bright scent of gardenias tickling his nose. Vanya held his stiff body to hers stroking his back lightly. His mind struggled to keep up. So much had happened in such a short amount of time. His mind stuttered on itself over and over, logic and reason just out of his grasp. 

 

When his mind finally untangled itself, he found he was in the hallway nearest the kitchen, Vanya's arms encircling him, loose enough for him not to feel trapped. She was humming idly, a soft and rhythmic stroking along one of his shoulder blades grounding him. Most importantly, they were alone.

 

Five pushed back from Vanya, not unkindly. She let him go, scooting herself a short distance away from him, always being careful to make every intention known. Five gritted his teeth.

 

"Thank you," he said, so quietly he could barely hear it himself.

 

Vanya hummed. "I tried to tell them that jumping out and surprising you wasn't the best idea, but you know our siblings…" Vanya trailed off with a fond quirk of her mouth.

 

"Surprising me for what?" Five asked, confusion clouding his thoughts once more.

 

A frown passed Vanya's face so quickly, Five wasn't sure if it was ever there. "Our birthday."

 

Five's brow furrowed. "Oh?" He hadn't exactly been paying attention to the calendar. The Apocalypse had been so pressing for so long that he had found himself treading water when he was on solid land. He had never given much thought as to what happened after. If he was honest with himself, he wasn't entirely sure he entirely believed there would be an after. 

 

He had spent decades living in the world after it had ended. Sure, Dolores tried to encourage him to celebrate his birthday with her, but his heart eventually grew so hard against the ever looming wall of grief that he couldn't even find it in himself to celebrate anything when his siblings weren't there for him to share it with. It wasn't the same, celebrating a day that never truly belonged just to him without the ever present clamoring for attention from his brothers and sisters.

 

Then the passing of time ceased to matter as he jumped through time and space, single mindedly trying to find a way back. Calendars and dates didn't matter when you existed apart from them.

 

It didn't matter that six months had passed since the avoidance of the apocalypse. You didn't just unlearn habits that spanned decades in a mere handful of weeks.

 

Vanya was watching him patiently, a look of understanding on her face. It was impossible for her to understand him, to understand any of this, but she had always managed to understand him. Just a little. He wasn't sure that the Five that she knew existed anymore, but that didn't stop him from appreciating her effort.

 

"We all missed you, you know," Vanya said quietly, worrying at a loose thread on her sleeve. But she was looking into his face. 

 

"Clearly," Five snorted, motioning to the stairs where his self defaced portrait still hung in the living room.

 

"It wasn't the same, our birthday," Vanya continued, undeterred by Five's flippant response. "And they- we - just wanted to do something special now that we have you back."

 

Five shifted, the thought of being surrounded by his siblings, too much to handle on a normal day, trying to include him in their celebrations with as much tact as a bull in a china shop made him cringe.

 

Vanya nodded, just once. "They'll understand, if it's too much for you." She stood, brushing her knees off. "But it would mean a lot to them, and to me, if you came in. Just for a bit." She gave him a small smile and she was gone.

 

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The festivities were in full swing by the time Five slunk into the room. He had given himself a time requirement of precisely five minutes. Five minutes in honor of his name and in honor of Vanya. He owed her at least that much.

 

It didn't stop him from wincing at how loud everything was, sounds and decorations. Someone had hung a banner that proclaimed "Happy 5 Birthday" in garish green letters surrounded by hideous pink streamers. Five was willing to bet that was courtesy of Klaus. Large glitter umbrellas covered every surface. Balloons were lashed to every available surface, the colors mismatched. Some of them said "Happy Birthday" but a good majority of them said "It's a Boy!" with bright blue baby carriages or "Over the Hill!" complete with cartoon reading glasses.

 

Five pinched the bridge of his nose.

 

Before he could escape, Klaus spotted him.

 

"It's the birthday boy!" he exclaimed as he pranced over and attempted to give Five a big hug. Five blinked away next to Ben. Klaus scowled.

 

"Oh, good!" Allison smiled, her curls pulled into a high bun on the top of her head. "The cake is almost done setting. Diego!" she swatted at Diego attempting to get a fingertip full of icing. "You touch that and you lose a finger, got it?"

 

"Yes, mother," Diego rolled his eyes, winking at Five. He was wearing a mustard yellow sweater and maroon pants. Klaus must have dressed him.

 

Ben smiled at him, giving his shoulder a squeeze. It was a surreal experience, cold and soft at once. "I'm glad you made it."

 

"Whose idea was it to send Klaus to get me?" Five groused, a smile playing on his lips.

 

"Diego's," Ben grinned evilly. "He figured Klaus was annoying enough that you would eventually give in."

 

"I could have killed him," Five growled, without any heat.

 

"Oh, that was a definite possibility," Ben nodded. "But he was also the only one stupid enough to go. Besides, the little girl God doesn't like him very much. It probably wouldn't have stuck." He shrugged. "Probably."

 

"You do know there are some very disturbing statements you just casually threw out there."

 

"I know." Ben gave him a small smile. "But since when does our family not have anything disturbing about them?"

 

Five quirked his eyebrows and shrugged in acknowledgement. 

 

Luther loomed across the room, looking more uncomfortable and out of place than Five felt.

 

"Grab your seats!" Allison called, arms cradling a cake that took up half the table. 

 

"Oh! Sit next to me, Five!" Klaus called jovially, motioning to the empty seat next to him in ernest. Ben gave Five another wink as he made his way to the seat and sat down instead.

 

"Beeeeeeen," Klaus whined. "I was saving that for Five!"

 

"But I'm dead. I should be able to sit wherever I want."

 

"But I see you all the time! I never get to see Five!"

 

"Enough!" Allison barked, arranging enough candles on the cake to burn down a house. "Five is sitting between Vanya and Ben like we planned. Remember?"

 

Five sidled up next to Vanya. "Planned?"

 

"We figured you were least likely to kill me and Ben is already dead," she shrugged, a glint of mischief in her eye.

 

Five rolled his eyes, biting back a smile of amusement.

 

Plates were passed around as Diego threw napkins in the shape of paper airplanes at people. Allison set generous cuts of cake in front of each of them, topped with a candle bearing their number. Five raised his eyes at Vanya.

 

"It was Luther's idea," she whispered. "No one had the heart to tell him no."

 

"Alright, on three, everyone make a wish and blow out their candle! One, two, three!"

 

Klaus noisily blew out his candle, accidentally extinguishing Ben's as well. He gasped.

 

"Ally, give me the lighter!" he cried. "I accidentally took Ben's wish!"

 

"Klaus, it's okay, it's not like-"

 

"Silence!" Klaus glared at Ben before making grabby hands at Allison. Allison rolled her eyes, handing Klaus the lighter. He deftly relit the candle and presented it back to Ben, who gave him a long-suffering if not fond look.

 

Vanya carefully blew her candle out, eyes closed and face solemn. When she opened her eyes, she looked startled at Five. "What is it?"

 

"Nothing," he smiled shyly, face turned back to his own monstrous piece of cake and blew out the candle.

 

"PRESENTS!" Klaus announced pulling a poorly wrapped gift from under his seat.

 

"Klaus, let Five have a chance to at least taste the cake before you bombard him," Allison sighed heavily, holding her forehead in disappointment.

 

"Oh Ally, you're such a spoilsport," Klaus pouted as he began to tuck his present away again. 

 

"No." The word was out of his mouth before he realized it. Six pairs of eyes landed on him as he shifted minutely in his seat. He held out a hand to Klaus who positively beamed at him before depositing the gift wrapped in newspaper into his hand.

 

Five took it, the paper crinkling loudly as he pretended his siblings weren't all staring at him. Tearing the paper, something soft and deep green tumbled out.

 

"Do you like it?" Klaus asked before he even had a chance to more than glance at it. "It's a scarf! I know it's getting colder and I found this incredible green yarn on sale and it was just perfekt!" Klaus kissed his fingers and held them up like an Italian chef.

 

Five stared down at the scarf. The material was very soft and warm, small gaps where Klaus had dropped some stitches littering the length of it.

 

"Well, do you like it?" Klaus asked, craning his head to see Five's expression.

 

"Yes," Five agreed. "I do."

 

"I told you, Ben! I knew he would like it! Everyone likes scarves!"

 

"Why don't we wait until after we finish cake for the rest of the presents?" Allison said to the room at large, though no one else seemed inclined to interrupt Five like Klaus had. It was nice, to a certain extent, to have at least one person that didn't treat him with kid gloves.

 

Quiet conversation buzzed around him as he rubbed the scarf between his fingers. 

 

"You know, he spent hours looking for that yarn." Ben leaned close to him, a gentle smile on his face. "He wanted to find something that wasn't too scratchy and that would help remind you that you aren't alone."

 

Five carefully kept his face blank as he continued to stroke the soft fabric. His family, his loud and obnoxious family, had come together to give him a surprise party. They had coordinated something specifically for him. His heart warmed at the thought. He had spent so long on his own, trusting no one but himself, that he had forgotten what it was like to have people do things for him simply because they cared for him. 

 

He wound the scarf around his neck, relishing the soft touch. He glanced furtively up, ready to fend off the teasing he knew he was about to face. But there was none. Diego and Luther were in a heated discussion about whose turn it was to do the dishes next while Allison picked at her cake, looking for all the world like the exasperated mother she was.

 

Klaus glanced over at Five, taking in the scarf, and smiled quietly to himself before continuing his conversation with Ben, gesticulating wildly with both of his hands.

 

Five turned to Vanya, who looked away from the theatrics of her siblings and gave him a warm smile.

 

"Happy birthday, Five," she said happily.

 

"Happy birthday, Vanya," he responded, feeling warm and safe for the first time in a very long time.