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little white lies

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The first time that Five lies, really consciously lies, he’s four-year-old and looking at broken glass on the ground with his shoulders hunched up around his ears. As though that does anything to help the volume of the fury being unleashed.

He’s lined up, right between Four and Six, as Reginald Hargreeves demands to know who broke the expensive crystal bowl that honestly Five had never really cared about except perhaps to admire how it caught the light.

Five didn’t break it. He was on the other side of the house at the time, curled up in a cupboard to hide from One who was mad because Five stole all the good crayons. It wasn’t him.

But he senses more than sees the way that Four and Six tremble, bracketing him on each side. He can feel the way Six is tensing up, clearly debating the merits of stepping forward when Reginald starts on about how if no one steps forward, they’ll all be punished.

And Six, Five thinks, is the nicest of them. The kindest and the softest. Certainly the quietest, even though Seven sometimes gives him a run for his money since she got sick. Four, on the other hand, was fragile and cried easily. Already, Five could hear the start of sniffling to his right.

So it’s really a simple decision when Five squares his shoulders, lifts his head up high, and says - “I did it.”

Immediately the entire line of children break out in whispers, and Four and Six try to grab at his arms, but Five shakes them off and shakes his head at them both. Five lifts his chin and declares, “I was jumping. It was ugly anyway.”

This is the first time that Five really lies, that he looks into his father’s face and lies without hesitation.

Later, when Four and Six crowd around him and poke stubby fingers against his forming bruises, he lies again. “Doesn’t hurt.” He purposefully does not wince, smiling in a way that is probably more of a grimace than anything else. Six gives him a doubtful look, but allows the matter to rest.

This is the first time that Five lies, but it is not the last.

 

---

 

After that incident, it’s like a dam has broken. Lies spill from his tongue as easily as the truth.

“I’m not tired,” He tells his father, even though exhaustion drips from his bones and his stomach feels all twisty and hurt the way it always does when he pushes himself too far. But Three has a private session after him, and she always looks pale and fragile after her sessions in a way that makes Five’s stomach twist anyway.

The longer he can keep going, the shorter her session will be.

“I don’t want to play.” Five brushes Two off, lifting his book higher and pasting the haughtiest look he can onto his face. His fingers are clenching the book so tightly they turn white, because otherwise they’ll shake with fatigue. He can’t actually feel one of his legs in a way that sometimes happens when he’s too tired to pull himself all the way back together after a jump. He’ll fix it later, when he won’t mess himself up even more.

He pretends not to see the hurt on Two’s face twist into anger as he turns to leave, muttering that he didn’t want to play with Five anyway.

“I already have a name.” Five tells Grace, even though a number is not a name at all. But, Five thinks, he can perhaps make it one. He’ll have to, if his plan succeeds. “I don’t want a new name. Name Seven instead, otherwise she’s going to whine for ages that she was left out again or whatever.”

Five never got a name, but he picked up his number and brushed it off and decided that it would have to do. Seeing Vanya’s radiant smile is worth the hollow feeling in his chest.

Besides, Reginald just uses their numbers anyway.

It keeps going. Five takes the blame for small things, and then lies to his siblings by declaring that he wants the extra training. He rolls his eyes and tells Grace he isn’t hungry when Reginald takes away his dinner, and then sneaks out to scrounge up food anyway. He tells Vanya that his notebook is for time travel equations when it’s really filled with calculations on how much money would be needed to comfortably run away with seven children.

Honestly, Five isn’t sure he’s spoken to Reginald without lying for years by the time he hits thirteen.

(After all, Five still calls him Dad.)

 

---

 

Five lies to everyone, but he promises that he won’t lie to himself.

He tells the others that he’s stronger than then, better than them. He flaunts his skills and shoves his successes in their faces. He shines brightly, like a supernova of blue light and bruised skin.

He does not tell the others of the nights he curls up in his room, shaking so violently he fears that he might just break apart with no way of putting himself back together again.

Five doesn’t talk about his powers with his father. Doesn’t describe the itch under his skin. Doesn’t explain the split second of time where he shatters himself and pieces himself back together in a human shape somewhere different than where he began. It’s not like opening a door and stepping through, it is not a simple power.

He once told Vanya in quiet words and a smile that made her flinch because there was blood between his teeth, that he was invincible. That he would bend, but would never break. That it was an insult to think that Reginald could break him.

Five lies to her, but he doesn’t lie to himself. Besides, he knows the truth. True strength isn’t in not breaking - it is what you do in the aftermath. It’s in gathering up the pieces of yourself and gluing them together with whatever you have at hand. Love, loyalty, determination, all of these work. But hate and spite and fury work just fine as well. It’s in shattering and then finding it within yourself to take a deep breath, to stand up, and to keep going.

Five breaks and puts himself back together every time he uses his powers. He breaks without his powers in the privacy of his room, weeps bitter fury into his pillow, hot tears drip like lava down his cheeks and blue sparks sputter and die against his skin.

And then he takes deep breaths, wipes the water from his cheeks, and stands up. He thinks to himself, one day, I’ll be free.

Five never lies to himself.

 

---

 

Five keeps his promise for thirteen years. Five does not lie to himself.

He lies to Reginald though, when he stabs his knife in the dinner tables and says, “I want to time travel.”

It’s not a want, not exactly. It’s a buzz under his skin, pressure growing by the day. Like a pressure cooker with too much pressure. He doesn’t know why he knows that the way to let some of it out is time travel, but there are lots of things about his own power that Five just knows. The knowledge is carved into his bones, etched along his ribs and engraved against his spine. He does now know how he knows, he just knows.

Five’s sense of self-preservation was a small trembling thing that sat in his stomach and had bitten its tongue every day since he was four-years-old and taking the blame for something that wasn’t his fault. But now it whispered.

The thing about pressure is that eventually something has to give.

So he storms out, and runs down the street, and his powers ache and throb, and so he makes a choice. He reaches out and takes the lid off the pot, and he lets the pressure out.

And then he’s somewhere - no, he’s some-when different. And the persistent stabbing pain subsides just a little, and the relief is unimaginable. He hadn’t realized how much pain he’d been in until it quieted down, like a frog in a pot of water brought to boil only noticing when taken out.

So he jumps again, and again. Each time the pressure falls, the pain lessens, and then all of a sudden it’s gone. He only has a split second to feel the relief before he notices his surroundings. Ash and fire and rubble and ruin.

He thinks, for a moment, that he accidentally spatially jumped. That he’s somewhere else. He tells himself that this isn’t his street.

(He lies to himself for the very first time.)

But lying doesn’t make the truth vanish, and he turns and runs and - there’s the gate to the academy. There is the gate, but there is nothing behind it.

He tries to reach out for the pressure again, to get back and forget this nightmare. But it’s gone. It’s all used up, like a bottle rocket out of fuel. Energy sputters against his hands and he can’t go back.

He yells, he cries out. He calls for Vanya, for Ben, even for Reginald, but no one answers.

He tells himself that they just can’t hear him, that he’ll find them.

(That’s the second lie he tells himself. Ironically enough, the three people he calls for and also the three that he never finds bodies for, not in all his years of wandering the apocalypse.)

 

---

 

The things about lies, are that if you tell them too often they become who you are.

Five lied to everyone, wore a different face with each person. He was supposed to be arrogant, strong, irritating. He didn’t care about his siblings and was always trying to get ahead.

To Reginald, he was nothing special, except perhaps especially infuriating. He pushed and broke rules for the sake of it, always arrogant. He wouldn’t stay down, no matter what Reginald tried.

(Reginald writes him off as no great loss, because what else do you do with a dog that doesn’t come when called? Five is disobedient, and that is something Reginald cannot forgive.)

Five stood taller around his siblings, played off their insecurities and got them to do what he needed. When they wavered about letting him take the blame for something, he injected arrogance into his voice and into his stance, poison words dripping from his lip until they wanted to see him punished.

When he wanted Ben to calm down, he would toss a book at him tell him he was the most tolerable of a bad lot. He let his shoulders tense up and his words grow short until Ben thought that Five needed to calm down as well and would soften.

When he wanted Vanya to be less sad, he would flop onto her bed and tell her made up stories about their training sessions, each more bizarre than the last, until she was giggling and telling him that she didn’t really believe that Diego painted Luther green and set his hair on fire. He would nod when she asked him to read with her, keeping the exhaustion from his face even as the words on the pages blurred into one amorphous blob.

He couldn’t let her know how much he wanted to sleep during his half and hour of free time, to shut himself away and not have to lie to anyone for just a bit of time. He loved her, and he did want to spend time with her, and that had to be enough.

The things about lies like that though, the lies that seep into your being until everything you are is an act in the elaborate play you call a life, is that the true difficulty lies with when your audience is gone.

Five stands in the rubble of the apocalypse, and he doesn’t know who he is in the silence.

(He has no one to protect, no one to love, no one to carve loyalty into his bones for. Five is a reflection, but there is no one to reflect against.)

And so he finds Dolores.

The third lie that Five tells himself is a big one. He tells himself that Dolores is real, that she talks back to him and smiles at him and tells him when he’s being an idiot. He tells himself that her skin is warm with life when he curls around her with his face tucked against her neck trying to keep ash out of his face.

It doesn’t stop there.

Lies are a slippery slope, after all. So when he wakes up and thinks today is going to be the day he thinks nothing of it.

This lie becomes one often repeated.

 

---

 

It’s almost a relief, when the Handler appears and offers him a job. There are people again. The first thing he says to them is a lie.

“I’ll work for you,” Five says evenly, already knowing he will do no such thing. The Handler smiles at the apocalypse like a proud mother, more pride in her eyes than there ever was in Reginald’s. I’ll work for you, Five says, when what he really means is, I’ll undo you.

When the Handler makes a curious noise about the books he clutches in his hand, Five smiles and offers it out easily, backside facing up. He taps a finger against the cover, against the face on the back with pale skin and dark hair. “It’s a memento.” Five tells the Handler, “I don’t have anything else left of her.”

This, too, is a lie. Five had nothing in the apocalypse, but he always had his memories. He had his loyalty. He had his mission. Five has a fondness for violin music, a love of peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches, and the memory of a girl with sad brown eyes who snorted when she laughed.

The Handler croons and pats his cheek and Five does not flinch, the way he did not flinch when Four and Six had prodded at his bruises all those years ago.

The Handler does not open the book, she does not see the treachery written across the pages in numbers and formulas. She does not notice Five pressing his hand against his stomach and wincing when she turns away.

The pressure is growing, and this time he will be ready.

 

---

 

Today is going to be the day, Five thinks to himself as he inspects his rifle with experienced hands.

This time, it is not a lie.

 

---

 

The first time around is a nightmare, and there isn’t enough pressure built up inside of him but Five doesn’t care and so he digs and he carves out a piece of himself and offers it on a platter to whatever Gods still exist and has nothing but half a prayer and -

It works. Somehow, someway, it works. There is a gaping hole inside of him that he pretends doesn’t hurt (and if the pressure had been an ache, this is more akin to the blinding fury of a shrapnel wound that had yet to heal - but he knew how to walk through the pain, he had had a lot of practice).

This is their last chance. There will be no convenient undo button. Five had scraped himself empty and raw. Klaus asks him if he’s okay, with worry in his eyes.

Five lies.

 

---

 

When everything is over, when the apocalypse is stopped and people have died and lived and died again, Five sits on the couch next to his brother.

His body is too small for his soul.

(“The equations were off,” Five lies to his siblings in the first minutes of his being back. Five is a master of taking himself apart and putting himself together again. He’d been going back. He’d wanted to turn back the clock, to go back to the moment he left and pick up and pretend that nothing had happened.

After so many years of practice, Five is very good at lying to himself.

But he’d only had enough pressure built up to hop here, right before the apocalypse. But he’d wanted to go back to then, and he’d wanted to match because a fifty-eight-year-old stranger wasn’t their brother. He’d wanted so badly to be a brother again.

He was thirteen-years-old the last time he’d been a brother, before he’d started lying to himself. Is it such a stretch that when he picked himself apart and put himself back together he just - he’d wanted to match.

He should have known he never gets what he wishes for.)

“What’s up beansprout?” Klaus’s hands flutter with a nervous energy that Five isn’t sure he’s ever seen his brother without.

Five tilts his head to look over. Klaus looks exactly the same as the corpse that Five had found, all those years ago. The image is seared into the back of his eyelids after all, and he has seen the bodies every time he closed his eyes for forty odd years. The facial hair is a stark contrast to the smooth baby face he remembers.

“Hey Klaus,” Five starts, slow and careful. “Do you remember, when we were four, and someone broke that crystal bowl? And Dad was really angry about it?”

Klaus frowns in thought, a hand coming up to cup his face and tap against his mouth. Klaus always seems to be moving in one way or another, like his soul is too big for his skin as well.

“Maybe?” Klaus hums, “Was that he time he lined us all up to yell at us in the kitchen?”

“Yes.” Five confirms, eyes slipping closed as he breathes through his nose in deep careful breaths. Klaus doesn’t remember. Not really.

“What about it?”

And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? That day, so long ago, was a shining moment in Five’s life. The beginning of who he was as a person. He became someone who protected his siblings.

(He became a liar.)

“That was the first time I lied to Reginald.” Five says, and he doesn’t say dad. Something in his bones demands the truth for once, and the words crawl up his throat like the ghosts of the cockroaches of the apocalypse.

“Oh?” And Klaus looks a little curious, “Fuck yeah, stick it to the man - ”

“Klaus.” Five cuts him off from what would probably have ended up as a rant with a single desperate word that is only a hair's width from a plea. Klaus’s mouth clicks shut and he looks over. “Klaus, I didn’t stop lying.”

“Dad’s dead.” Klaus tells him, as though Five needs to be told. He read the newspaper, had figured out why he’d never found that particular body in the rubble.

“I didn’t just lie to him though.” Five admits, and there’s something light and fluttering under his ribcage, and he feels just a tiny bit sick. “I lied to everyone.”

Klaus considers that, tilting his head to one side before shrugging carelessly. “Yeah, okay. I mean, so did I.”

“But you lied badly. We always knew when you lied.” Five whispers, which is also the truth. Klaus was a surprisingly bad liar, it is only the fact that most of the family turned their faces away on purpose and did not care to dig deeper that let his gangliest brother get away with so much.

“Rude.” Klaus doesn’t sound mad, just amused. “But Five, dude, everyone lies. It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Klaus brushes it off like nothing, but it’s not nothing. It’s something important, something that burns at the back of Five’s throat like coal. It’s the way that Five feels paper thin and see through, because he doesn’t really know who he is.

Klaus must see something on Five’s face though, because suddenly his face is creasing in a way that screams concern. Klaus has a very expressive face. “Okay,” Klaus says gently, with more kindness than Five probably deserve, “Okay, talk to me Five. What’s eating you?”

Five stops chewing on his lip and Klaus’s lips quirk in the way that makes Five realize he probably wasn’t referring to Five’s bad habits.

There’s silence between them as Five thinks. Klaus’s leg bounces up and down, but he doesn’t try and rush Five, which is appreciated. It’s why he decided to talk to Klaus instead of the others, who have precious little patience to be found.

(He could have talked to Vanya, maybe. But her entire life was a lie, and he can still see Allison still and grey on the surgery table as her brothers offered the blood from the veins. Can still feel Vanya’s power, a phantom grasp around his chest holding him in the air with as much ease as scruffing a kitten. Vanya historically does not do well with the realization that she has been lied to.

If Five had gone to her, he would have gone with a smooth face and a quirked smile. He would have wiped the traces of fear from his face and would have tried to make her laugh even though he would really want to curl up alone and break apart.

This is a conversation that demands truth, and Five does not think he can give it to her. Not yet.)

“I don’t know who I am.” Five says finally, into the stillness. He looks up at the ceiling, tilting his head back in a gesture familiar and practiced.

(There had been few ceilings that survived the apocalypse, but there was always the sky. Vast and endless, a changing constant. When he needed to think, he turned his face upwards. It was, perhaps, one of the only unruined things at the end of the world.)

“I’m not a hero. I’m not an assassin. I stopped the apocalypse, and I came home, but I don’t know what home really means. I’m not sure if I ever knew what home means.” Five took a deep breath. In through the nose and out through the mouth. “I don’t know. I’m not really anything anymore.”

Klaus’s voice is firm when he says, “You’re my brother. That’s all you have to be.”

His words are steady, like hands laying the foundation for the rest of Five’s life.

“If you don’t know what home is, then we just have to build it.”

Five breathes in. Breathes out.

“Okay.” He says. “I trust you.”

(This is not a lie.)