The 5th Wheel

Steady clangs rang across the property of the miraculously intact house, echoing from the windowsill where 5 worked diligently. He took a deep breath, lifting a stone above his head, before slamming it into the nail with the exhale, driving the nail into the wooden frame of his latest project.

This was his rare project with only his own intentions in mind, searching for a bit of familiarity in their new home by building a new watch tower through the existing opening of a window the second floor up. He already had a sturdy wooden frame and a floor of wire panes that he had gathered from a few of the windows. He had not understood their purpose in the windows, it seemed like the glass should have been a good enough barrier. Regardless, it suited his project well, replacing a large amount of what would have been the valuable wood to make up the surface. As he began work on the simple barrier surrounding the perimeter that was made up of nails he had driven in only part way, he was nearly finished, but far from satisfied.

He had known it would be different from before, there was no helping that. But then again, he could hardly take a constant reminder of what had been lost. He still had nightmares of that day, the day he had nearly died in the claws of the beast. 5 found himself now trailing his fingers over the scar in his side, before forcing himself to wrench them away and think of something else.

5 didn't know how 9 and the others did it. They were always so calm, happy even. 5 wished he were happy. He was sometimes, but not the way the others were. He always seemed to feel different, like the odd one out. When the others would happily go outside to explore, 5 would cringe at the very idea. He used to upon being invited to join, agree to accompany them, but as his sight met the outdoors he'd stop. He wouldn't, couldn't move, vision blurred with fear. He'd quickly turn away, throwing over his shoulder an excuse of why he couldn't come and a promise to come next time, never fulfilled. Eventually they stopped asking.

He would try to make it up to them, new projects finished for them to come home to. He had recently made a way to reach the high shelves of a bookshelf in the main room that the twins had been eyeing longingly. When they came home to it they had been ecstatic, and many days were spent with the entire group together, reading and talking. He still had his typical nervous troubles with conversing, but he was happy to be in their presence. Unfortunately even this had been short lived, as soon 9 and 7 began their trips outside with 3 and 4 again. They brought him more supplies, which he appreciated, but really in the end what he wanted was them. He needed people.

Before, he had 2. He had been not only his best friend, but he had considered him to be like a father to him. 9 had been his friend, for a time. 9 had been the next choice, the strong fellow of similarly aged mind to 5 himself, and he felt safer in his presence. But it seemed ever since the end of the machines 9 was more like his older brother. He loved him as one naturally did for a family member, but truly only tolerated his presence. 9 did have 7 after all, so it was hardly plausible for 5 to come out on the good end of the deal.

Really, it was that way with all of them. The others would be conversing (or just playing around in the twins case) together when he would butt in with a quick comment, to which they'd glance to him and flash a short grin (he was sure it wasn't sincere) before reclaiming the reins, leaving him behind.

He was the tolerated one, the fifth wheel that only served to slow them down. He tried his hardest, but in the end he buried himself in his work so as not to show that it hurt him.

Before they crossed the bridge 6 had given him strange looks since the day he had escaped the claws of the beast, he remembered. It was strange, 6 had always been friendly towards him, or more often too buried in his own world to notice him to any extent. The day 6 had died 5 felt a strange wrenching, empty feeling, more than just the pain and fear of loss. It felt…wrong, somehow. Like a dream when he saw his friends alive, though he knew they shouldn't be.

5 was jolted from his thoughts when he heard footsteps, causing him to yelp and turn abruptly.

"Whoa there 5! We're back."

5 smiled in relief, relaxing. "9! How was your outing?"

9 smiled in return, setting down a pack of supplies and beginning to rifle through it, giving various supplies to 5 who looked over it happily. "Wow, I guess it was good!"

"It would have been better with you." 9 said softly, sitting beside 5 to help him shuffle through the supplies.

5 sighed, smile fading slightly. "Yeah, well…"

9 smiled again as he stood, leaving 5 with his pick of the loot. "Next time, right?"

5 didn't turn. "Yeah…next time." His smile was gone. 9 didn't notice.