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You need to stop hiding like a coward from the people that love you.

That’s what Five had said to him, finger pointed at Ben’s chest, a fierce, protective little scowl on his face and heat behind his eyes.

You need to stop hiding like a coward.

Yeah, probably he does.

“Klaus?”

“Yeah buddy?”

“Do you think you could make me corporeal again this afternoon? There’s something I need to-- there’s someone I need to see.”

Klaus glances over from his bed, lowering his book-- one of Ben’s recommended books on the impact of childhood trauma, which he still has trouble believing Klaus is actually reading-- and fixes him with a sympathetic stare.

“Diego, huh?”

Ben nods. Gulps. Tries to quell the panic rising in his chest.

“Yeah, Diego.”

 

– -

 

This time, they don’t make the mistake of having Ben make some kind of individual entrance, appearing out of nowhere to strike up a conversation that inevitably starts with, oh hey, I’m corporeal. Still dead, but you can touch me, isn’t that cool? After the mix-up with Five, Ben had realized that maybe they need to shift their game plan a little bit. Give people more warning.

And if it gives Ben a little bit more time to prepare, too, well that doesn’t hurt.

So Klaus calls ahead. Answers “what’s up” with “Do you want to see Ben?” and is met with a resounding, passionately stuttered “As fast as fucking possible, Klaus, I swear to god.”

It makes Ben feel a little warm.

They arrange to meet at Diego’s place. They could’ve asked him back to the academy, but by some sort of silent agreement he and Klaus decided that it was best to give him the option to be in his own home for this conversation. Not that Klaus knows, strictly, what Ben plans to talk about with their brother, but Ben’s certain that Klaus has it figured out, or at the very least suspects it, in that eerily intuitive way that he always does.

It demonstrates his developing maturity that he doesn’t ask Ben not to.

By the time they get to the gym, it’s near dusk, setting sun cutting a bright line across the horizon, and Ben is literally quaking.

“Ben, buddy, relax, okay? He’s gonna be thrilled to see you.”

“Yeah,” Ben agrees quietly, because they both know that’s not really the point.

Diego meets them in the front entrance. Or rather, he meets Klaus, and Ben watches the way that his face falls as soon as he realizes that Klaus has arrived alone.

Klaus sees it too. “Relax, Diego, he’s here. But there was no point draining myself just to make him visible for the car ride over.”

Diego nods, but he still looks disappointed. He’s not wearing his usual vigilante get-up, and it’s almost surprising how soft he looks, in a red long sleeve and faded black sweats. Even in this environment, with it’s dim lighting and wall-to-wall concrete mottled with every manner of blood and sweat stains, Diego looks like Diego.

“Come on in,” he offers. It comes out awkwardly, for the way that he’s flicking his gaze between Klaus and the empty air on either side of him. Ben slides over a little so that he’s actually in one of those spots that Diego is side-eyeing and Klaus ducks his head low to hide how his lips turn up.

It might be the first time that Diego has invited Klaus into his home. It might be the first time that he’s intentionally invited anyone into his home. He’s clearly uncomfortable, fluttering around aimlessly even as he tries to put on the air of someone who can’t be bothered.

That’s Diego for you, though. It’s actually comforting that it hasn’t changed, not since they were teenagers.

“Can I-- uh, get you something? To drink or?”

Klaus shrugs. “Got any juice?”

Diego raises an eyebrow at him as he moves some sort of stool over toward his counter. “Like the kids’ drink?”

“Juice is universal,” Klaus replies automatically. Diego snorts.

“No juice. Only beer, coffee, and water.”

“Can’t have beer,” Klaus says, a little sheepishly. “Or else this--” he gestures to indicate between where Ben’s standing and where Diego is bent over his fridge-- “goes kaput. So, water, I guess.”

Ben smiles and crosses his arms. “Thank god,” he teases. “For a while there I thought you’d literally turn into dust and cocaine.”

“Oh can it,” Klaus hisses, and Diego turns around.

“He’s right,” Diego says. “You need to drink more water.”

Klaus’s eyebrows jump to his hairline. “You can hear him?”

“Nope,” Diego says, smirking as he throws a water bottle at Klaus with slightly more force than necessary. Klaus fumbles to catch it. “I just know how much of a dumb ass you are and I’m guessing that he does too.”

Despite the insult, Klaus grins. Ben does too. It’s nice for both of them, to be acknowledged.

“Ben wants to know why you moved out,” Klaus rushes out quietly. Ben shoots him a look, since he distinctly did not ask that.

“We’ve talked about using me as your scape-”

Klaus waves him off. “So why did you?”

Diego closes the fridge, leaning against it and cracking open his own can of cheap beer, regarding Klaus carefully. “You know that I couldn’t be there anymore.”

“But you’re not even living here anymore!” Klaus indicates the boxes that are piled up around the apartment, and have been for the past few weeks. “You don’t even have another apartment yet, so you could come back in the meantime.”

Diego shakes his head. “I couldn’t. Besides, I do have a new place now. It’s pretty nice. Cheap. I found it yesterday.”

Uh oh.

“Oh?” Klaus twirls his way onto the stool, leaning forward toward Diego to rest his chin in his hands on the counter. “Do tell? Where is this new humble abode?”

Diego takes a sip of his beer. “5th street. Near Greenwood.”

“So less than 15 minutes from the Academy,” Ben intervenes, because Klaus won’t bother doing the math. “That’s close.”

But it doesn’t matter. Klaus’s expression has already gone a little glassy and brittle around the edges, in a way that’s probably only obvious to Ben. He leans his chin further in his hands and regards Diego through his eyelashes, blinking at him as if waiting for him to elaborate, which of course Diego doesn’t.

Klaus will never admit it-- at least not to anyone alive-- but Ben knows that he’s hurt by how infrequently he sees Diego. Especially after everything that went down the week before the not-apocalypse. Klaus had thought that they were bonding. It was a fair assumption, and one that is surely true, even if neither of his bonehead brothers will actually talk about it, or do anything about it, or acknowledge it in any manner whatsoever. Of course not.

Why do things the easy way?

If you ask Ben, they’re both idiots who need each other. Just like the rest of their family.

Which reminds him. “Can you make me solid now?”

(He might be a bit of a hypocrite. He wants to take the question back and run from this. He wants just opt right out of having this conversation. Ben is a teeny tiny bit of bonehead, himself).

Klaus looks at him like he’d almost forgotten he was in the room; Ben doesn’t take it personally anymore. “Oh, sure.”

Diego glances up from his drink. “Are you-- bringing Ben now? Or, I mean, making him--” he gestures down at his body with the drink. “Do you two need to be alone or something?”

Klaus titters. “This isn’t seven minutes in heaven, Diego. Just gimme a sec. Ready?” The last part is addressed at Ben.

He nods. “Let’s go.” He’s as ready as he’ll ever be.

They’re getting quicker and quicker at the whole “corporeal” thing. The transition feels smoother the more often they do it; less like Ben is being yanked down through freezing water by his ankles. Some quick breaths, a glow of blue, and in a second, he feels his feet touch down and breath fill his chest.

“Hi, Diego.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I guess I’ll scram out of here,” Klaus says, scratching at the back of his neck as he looks between Diego’s stunned expression and Ben shifting from foot to foot. “You two have some catching up to do. Lots of ghosty gossip, and the like.” He laughs, but he’s nervous, and Ben takes a second to put a hand on his shoulder, ignoring how he still flinches just a little. It’s not because of him.

“You’re welcome to stay,” Diego says, not taking his eyes off of Ben. “He’s your brother too.”

If anything, that only makes Klaus more twitchy. “No, no, it’s okay. I couldn’t possibly. I’ll just uh, have some quiet me time with this water, yeah? I’ll catch you after in the parking lot?”

Ben pries his own eyes away from Diego. “Will you be okay there?”

Klaus, for all that he’s nervous and eager to leave, meets his gaze. “I’ll be fine. It’s a gym, right? No druggies around here, these freaks and their ‘body is a temple’ motto. No offense Diego. Besides, you’ll know if I’m not behaving, right? You’ll--” he claps his fists together and radiates them outward “-- poof.”

Ben scrutinizes him for another second-- Klaus has been better, so much better, but Ben also knows how this goes-- and then nods. “Okay. Thanks, bro.”

He can’t deny that a part of him wants to beg Klaus to stay, if only for selfish reasons, but ultimately that wouldn’t be the right decision. He has to do this alone.

He has to do this.

Klaus winks. “Have fun you two.”

“Bye bro,” Diego chimes. He’s still gaping at Ben, hands hovering around his waist like he thinks he’ll find a knife there.

Klaus smiles at being acknowledged, and wiggles his fingers as he flounces his way out through the door, a bundle of movement and energy.

Then Ben is alone with Diego.

Taking a breath that he doesn’t technically need, Ben musters his nerve, and then he sits.

 

---

 

Diego isn’t a wuss.

He’s not. He would never have been able to be one, even if he’d wanted to be. Good old Reggie had destroyed any semblance of weakness that he could eek out of his children, and the police academy, for the year that he was there, wasn’t much better. Diego is numb or nearly numb to fighting, to blood, to conflict. He’s not a wuss.

But when Klaus calls him and answers his greeting with “Do you want to see Ben?” Diego suddenly feels like he has to rethink that knowledge.

His stomach swoops, his chest pounds, and he barely stutters out a reply before slamming the phone back in it’s receiver and almost losing the three eggs that he swallowed at breakfast.

Ben.

His brother. His dead brother. His dead brother, who has apparently been haunting Klaus for seventeen whole goddamn years, as good as alive, watching everything, and Diego didn’t know.

Didn’t believe.

Klaus hadn’t exactly been clear or explicit when he’d tried to tell them all about Ben, but still. Diego would be lying if he said that there weren’t clues that he’d ignored. What about the times that Diego would find Klaus on the side of the road and take him home for the night, and he’d be muttering to Ben, or speaking for him? The times when Klaus would forget himself entirely in the haze of whatever he was on and just mention Ben’s presence outright-- a whispered confession in the night, an almost apology, meant to be forgotten in the morning? Yeah, there were clues.

It was the elephant in the room that the whole family pretended not to see. Because it was too fucking hard. Because if it wasn’t real, and they got their hopes up--

But now Ben is here. In his living room. Sitting on his stool, leaning on his counter, with breath in his lungs and the overhead light illuminating his features as if he actually had a physical body.

And what the ever living fuck does Diego do with that?

So. He’s not a wimp. But he-- he might be, just a little.

“Do you want something to drink?” Diego finally asks. He twists the now-empty beer can around in his hand for something to do that isn’t gaping at his dead but not quite dead brother. “Can you drink? Eat?”

He has no clue in hell how any of this works. His skin is heating up.

Ben-- Ben, who’s dead-- smiles gently. “Can’t,” he says. He gestures to himself. “We don’t really know why, but I can’t consume anything.”

Diego nods. “Right. Uh.”

There’s a long silence then, as Ben looks at his hands and Diego looks at his. He’s not sure what to say. He’s not sure if he could get the words out right even if he had them, and there’s no way that he’s embarrassing himself in front of Ben already.

But then something occurs to him. Something that they can talk about, and something that probably needs saying, anyways, if Diego is going to live up to his promise to try to be better for his siblings.

He clears his throat.

“Klaus knows that he’s welcome any time at my new apartment, right?” he asks. Shit, he already feels ridiculous. “Both of you are. But... Klaus gets that, right? He knows that he’s welcome?”

He’s almost started thinking that was in fact a stupid question, and that maybe he should take it back or change the subject, but Ben’s expression softens. He takes a moment to answer, though, forming his words carefully.

“No, I don’t that think that he does,” Ben says slowly, hands cradled together as if he were holding a mug between them. His thumbs are rubbing together reflexively. “Klaus is...”

“A dumb ass?”

Ben’s lips quirk up, but he shakes his head. “Sensitive. Skittish. He might be the type of person to invite himself in somewhere, but that doesn’t mean that… that he thinks that he’s wanted, once he gets there.”

“Yeah.” Diego understands that. He’s seen it before, in how Klaus gets bitter at being left out or derided; a sharp kind of bitter, that shows itself in the edges. Hurt. Diego knows about that, too.

“Maybe you should tell him,” Ben adds softly, as if to himself.

Diego nods. He doesn’t miss the way that Ben looks slightly startled, as if he hasn’t quite gotten used to people hearing him when he speaks. Or maybe he’s just surprised that Diego is listening to him. “You’re probably right. Hey, uh, do your regular senses work in that body? Smell, temperature...?”

Ben’s eyebrows furrow together. “Yeah, why?”

“You like coffee?”

The reaction is instantaneous; Ben’s smile lights up his face, a wobbly grin that has heat rushing through Diego’s veins again. It’s so much like when they were kids that something seems to shift; it’s like Diego can recognize him again, properly, not as a stranger but as someone-- as a brother-- who maybe never left.

His heart is doing something funny in his chest and he-- he’s not good at this. At processing. Feeling.

Fuck, they could all use some solid hours of therapy, huh?

He should’ve brought his knives. He’d wanted to seem approachable, because it’s been years since Ben’s been with him and Ben had always been the most sensitive one among them, had never liked the violence-- though, Diego realizes with a heavy jolt, that ship has probably sailed. Who knows what Ben has been watching, or thinking, all of these years. Had he read Vanya’s book?

What must Ben think of them?

Diego takes the chance to turn his back as he sets up the coffee maker, finding a nearby outlet to plug it into. Hopefully he can remember enough to make a decent cup, whether or not his brother will actually be drinking it.

“Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?” Diego asks.

There’s a pause, and regretfully, Diego turns back around. Ben looks across his face like he’s searching for something, and Diego looks away.

Wimp. He’s a wimp.

“For supporting us.” Ben shrugs, too nonchalantly. “For being there for Klaus. At least sometimes.”

“No,” Diego replies instantly. He shakes his head, because that’s wrong, and Ben can’t thank him for that. “No, no, I wasn’t there enough. I didn’t--” I didn’t believe him. I didn’t ask about you. I didn’t try. Not even once.

“I know,” Ben agrees. His neutrality is almost startling. Then again, he is dead. “You made mistakes. But so has Klaus. I don’t blame you for not asking after me. Though I won’t turn down apologies, to me or to Klaus.”

Diego blinks, taken aback. The brother that he remembers was rarely this direct, hasn’t had this kind of small, self-confident smirk in longer than he can remember, though he’s seen it before. “I--”

“You don’t actually have to,” Ben adds.

“I am sorry,” Diego gets out. It sounds a bit choked. Apologies are not his strong suit, either.

(But this is Ben. No one can deny him anything, Diego least of all).

Ben nods like that’s it and it’s settled. “Okay.”

Okay? “That’s it?” Diego clenches his fists on his side of the counter, because he’s not supposed to start fights over stupid stuff anymore, like why he’s being forgiven so easily.

“Just make sure to remember Klaus, okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I-I will.” Shit, that was almost a stutter. He needs to end this conversation.

Instead he breathes. Looks for details to calm himself down. Ben is wearing all black-- black pants, black shirt, black hoodie. It almost doesn’t look right on him somehow. Not that Diego knows him or his preferences anymore, but he used to be a kid that was made for colour. Made for brightness.

Maybe he doesn’t get to change his clothes much, wherever he is.

The coffee machine finishes sputtering and Diego grabs the pot without looking. He needs a mug. He rummages in his cupboards until he finds the biggest one that he owns, a gold-rimmed robin’s egg blue mug with a sturdy handle that holds heat well. That should do it.

It’s dark outside by now, and he has to wonder how Klaus is doing. He can defend himself, sure, just like the rest of them-- better, in fact, in some ways, because he did serve in the army after all, and isn’t that just another thing Diego should have brought up sooner?-- but still, Diego worries. This isn’t the nicest area of town; just another reason why he’s moving out of here. Safety is something else they all need more of.

He hands the brimming cup to Ben, who takes it greedily with a small grateful smile and sticks his face right into it, inhaling deeply. The steam flicks up and around his face and Ben blows on it, seemingly just because he can.

Diego has forgotten everything. All of the words that have rattled around in his head for years and years and years, playing like a soundtrack whenever he got too idle, or caught a glimpse of a teenager who looked a little like Ben, or heard someone use the word death. Everything that he ever thought that he would say to Ben, if he could ever see him again. As a kid, he’d been naive enough to think that he might, one day.

Diego had never believed in a god. But he’d gotten pretty good at pretending to, for a while.

“I need to thank you for saving my life.”

Ben looks up from his coffee, neutral expression breaking just slightly as he raises his eyebrows. “Why would you thank me for that?”

Diego scratches at his abdomen. “You didn’t have to, is all.”

Ben shrugs again, and when he cocks his head to stare at Diego consideringly, there’s a hint of a smile. “You’d do the same for me,” he says.

Diego takes a second to toss his empty can in the recycling bin around the corner, taking a small measure of comfort in the feeling of it leave his fingers, in watching it curve, and knowing that it’ll hit its mark with perfect precision.

“I would,” Diego agrees, as evenly as he can. The clatter of the can in the recycling bin saves him from adding anything else.

Like maybe, but I didn’t, or I’ll never get the chance to try.

“I need to tell you something,” Ben says suddenly.

“What’s up?”

“I... uhm.” Ben takes a breath. His hands are shaking. Diego’s worried now. His thoughts immediately fly to the worst: someone’s in trouble, something’s going on. Hell, maybe the world is ending again. It wouldn’t be that surprising.

All he knows for sure is that Ben looks scared shitless.

“What is it?”

“I was there.” It comes out on an exhale but the words are still clear. “I was in the room, when Patch died. I-- I watched her get shot.”

Chapter Text

Thud. Thud. Thud thud thud.

Klaus has probably given himself a nasty concussion by now. Still no one has come. If Ben still had a sense of smell, he'd probably be overwhelmed by the stench of piss, smoke, and mildew. This motel room hasn't been cleaned properly in years, he's sure, despite the maid that was vacuuming halfheartedly earlier. Hazel and Cha-Cha are still in the bathroom arguing. It's right where Klaus wanted them to be, though it looks like it might not pay off in the end.

There are probably forty-odd ghosts still hanging around the room, too. Some are popping in and out, some sitting, or at least pretending to, while their blood leaks and hands claw and it's a small mercy that Ben can't smell them, either.

Thud. Thud.

Thud, thud. Thud thud thud.

Then the door opens.

“Are you Diego's brother?” she asks, and Klaus hums an affirmative. He gestures with his head behind him, toward the bathroom. She nods in understanding, cuts the tape off of his mouth and wrists, and stands to fight.

Klaus ducks as gunfire explodes into the air. Or the cop shoves him, maybe; it’s blocked by the ghost of one of Hazel’s victims and Ben can’t see very much. Either way, Klaus ends up on the ground, and Hazel is pretending to surrender, and Ben still can’t see but he knows that Cha-Cha must be somewhere, and this is going to end very, very badly.

The cop-- a beautiful young women with kind, stern eyes and the stance of someone who’s used to quite literally throwing their body between innocent people and danger-- is shouting something at Hazel. Ben wants to shout something too.

This cop is in danger. No one has warned her yet that there’s another assassin in the motel. Klaus needs to-- where is Klaus? A frenzied scan of the room finds him pushing his way into a vent in the wall.

Ben needs to do something, to warn her, to yell at Klaus to warn her, and why isn’t he warning her? Ben has to fix this, but then--

But then she’s dead.

The gunshot splits the air in two. It splits Ben’s world in two-- before, and after. That’s how it always goes, right? There’s Before It Happened, and then there’s After. (After doesn’t have much to look forward to, unfortunately).

It’s not the first gunshot that he’s ever heard, not by any stretch, and not the first death that he’s witnessed. Hell, he’s killed people himself. But… something about this feels so wrong. This woman was saving them. She was innocent.

She was. She was, because she isn’t anymore, because she’s dead.

Klaus leaves through the vent, and Ben stays. Alone and not alone, because of the ghosts still sharing the space with him. Some of them are gasping, now, most don’t seem to care. One young woman is crying.

They won’t be here much longer. Ben isn’t sure how much longer that he can stick around either, before he’s forced to disappear or get pulled along with Klaus. But he feels the need to stay.

Hazel and Cha-Cha are talking; they’re worried about something Klaus took with him, it seems like. Then they leave too. It’s loud in the room, what with all of the dead milling around, but somehow, the silence is still deafening.

The cop doesn’t appear.

He’s not sure how long he sits there, hands in his lap and staring at the spot where she was standing before she fell. It feels like an eternity. But then Diego is there-- why is Diego there?-- and he’s panicking, and crying, and cupping the woman’s face and oh, he knew her.

Oh.

Oh, poor Diego.

Ben can’t be sure if he would have left at that moment-- he likes to think that he would have, to give Diego his privacy-- but it doesn’t matter in the end, because right as Diego leans over her, head down to cry, Ben disappears into blackness.

 

----

 

“I was there,” Ben says. His heart is in his throat. “I was in the room, when Patch died. I-- I watched her get shot.”

It’s funny: Ben has spent thirteen years telling Klaus-- in real life or his own imaginary dialogue-- all of the things that Klaus has been missing out on, all of the opportunities that Ben would have taken if he were alive. All of the things that he would say, the moments that he would refuse to miss, the times that he would be brave.

And now, finding himself with a body that moves and touches and is seen, he finds himself reduced to more of a ghost than he was before.

So, maybe it’s not all that funny, actually.

“You-- what?”

Ben curls into himself reflexively, lifting his feet up on the side of the counter in an attempt to pull his legs closer to his chest. He tries to keep his voice and expression level. “How much do you know about what happened?” he asks.

Too much, Ben thinks. But maybe also not enough.

Diego blinks at him. His fists are clenched behind the counter, judging by the tightness in his arms and the way that his veins are pulsing and visible through his skin. “What are you trying to tell me right now? That you-- you were there?” His voice is low and bordering on dangerous. Ben knows with absolutely certainty that his brother would never harm him, but it still sets him on edge.

“I was there,” he confirms.

“With-- for fuck’s sake,” Diego hisses. He grips the counter. Grasps at his waist for weapons that aren’t there. Chokes down whatever he was about to say next.

“I’m sorry,” Ben says. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought this up. I thought that you might want to know.”

“Know what? What is there to know? Eudora is dead, Ben.”

Ben stares at his coffee, watching the smoke tendrils drift idly toward the ceiling, and then looks up at Diego. “I know.”

He can’t go a day without being reminded. The memory of her death follows him. It trails him like his own ghost; a personal haunting. The image of her face as she fell-- and the echo of the gunshot that killed her-- hasn’t left his mind since that night.

He’s still waiting for her to show up.

Diego looks like he’s trying to vibrate his way out of his skin, and hold perfectly still, both with the same intensity. His body is taught, frozen and shaky, as he stares at the floor.

This is the greatest of ironies: in all of the years that Ben has spent lamenting his invisibility, he never once thought about how terrible it can be to be heard.

This was an enormously selfish thing for him to have done. Diego doesn't need this.

“W-why?” Diego finally whispers.

There are so many things he could be asking with that one word, but Ben can take a guess at what he wants. “She was protecting Klaus. She died doing what was important to her.”

“She-- she should have-- I was-”

This sometimes happens when Diego tries not to stutter. Ben waits him out. But instead of continuing, he falters and stops, pinching his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He takes a few deep breaths like that.

“Start from the beginning,” he demands.

“Are you sure?” Ben asks. Knowing Diego, he wants to hear it more out of a sense of dutiful obligation, or some twisted version of self-punishment, that an actual desire for closure. Still, it’s his choice.

Diego’s face as he leaned over the woman is seared into his mind, too. Whatever his brother wants. Ben will do it. Anything that he wants to know.

Well, almost anything. Klaus was-- Klaus doesn’t come out of this story looking great, he knows that. He thinks that Diego would understand, but it’s not his choice to gamble on. Beyond that, he’s not going to explain Klaus’s trauma, his flashbacks, the mausoleum he still visits in his mind. It wouldn’t be fair.

Anything else, though. Ben will relive it another hundred times if it gives Diego some comfort.

Plus-- well, Ben wants to be a family again. He wants Diego to be his brother again, properly, and they can’t do that until this is done.

“I want to know everything that you saw.”

“Okay. Uh. Sure.” Ben takes a deep breath. “Why don’t you sit?”

Diego sits.

 

---

 

Diego listens.

He sits, and he listens, and he tries to make sense of it all.

He listens as Ben tells him that Eudora died a hero. He doesn't use that word, exactly, but it's clear in the way that he talks about her, reverent and solemn. He describes how she pushed Klaus out of the way, how she was willing to let Hazel surrender, how she handled the whole situation with a blazing, brave determination. He describes her almost like an angel, come to rescue them. Diego is inclined to agree. He knew that she was a hero, of course, but hearing it is-- it’s nice, in the end. He thinks that she’d like that, that someone as gentle and perceptive as Ben is recognizing her for what she is.

Not much else about what he's saying makes sense. Ben’s descriptions are fuzzy and fragmented, as if he can’t remember the order of events, and he keeps repeating that he couldn’t see things in the room that should have been in his eye line. In a way, it makes the whole retelling deal easier, because it’s not as vivid. But it still sucks.

All of this sucks.

The worst part is, he can’t even really be angry about it anymore.

No, that’s not true. The worst part is that Eudora is dead, and she deserved better than that.

But the anger had helped. That burning hot rage that had practically consumed him for the first few days had carried him through-- he’d needed that, to survive her loss-- but once it had burnt out… Now he’s just resigned. Has been, for the past few weeks as he’s tried to make some sense of a life that doesn’t have her or the end of the world in it. Just the end of a part of his world.

When Ben had brought her name up-- that anger had sparked all over again, like some kind of conditioned response. (Allison had once quipped that Diego's blood was half lighter fluid, for how he sparked so quickly. Apparently Eudora is a match alive or dead).

But the anger is gone again as quickly as it came, with nowhere to go, no one to be angry with, and now there’s just a headache pulsing behind his eyes and an itch in his palms.

Loss isn’t something that you can ever really get used to, but if you could, Diego would be pretty darn used to it by now.

Hell, look who he's talking to.

“Wait, hold up--” Diego interrupts, and Ben cuts himself off immediately. Something isn’t adding up. “Why didn’t Klaus tell her that Cha-Cha was also there?”

Ben stares down at the mug in his hands. The coffee is surely cold by now. “Klaus was… escaping.”

“Escaping?”

“Through a vent, in the wall.”

“He didn’t stay to help?”

Ben looks at him again, actually at him, and there’s something like grim determination on his face. “It’s complicated,” he says, and Diego believes him. But he still wants answers.

“Try me.”

Ben makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat, like a whine. “Look, Diego, I want to tell you everything, it’s just that-- it’s his side of the story, not mine. He was with Hazel and Cha-Cha for a long time before Patch came. There was a lot happening, and so many--”

“He was detoxing,” Diego deduces. He nods.

But Ben shakes his head furiously. “It’s not just that. Detoxing is hard for him. Stuff comes up. It’s--”

He’s got the face of someone who’s chosen their hill to die on, reluctantly and with some serious guilt. Diego just tilts his head down and massages at his temple.

“Don’t worry,” he says evenly.

He’s not angry with Klaus.

He almost wishes that he could be, just to light that fire again and feel like anything other than this, but he's not.

Ben's eyes widen as he falls silent. There’s the same look in them that’s probably in Diego’s own. They've always been on the same page when it comes to Klaus. It's not surprising that Ben is still trying to protect their brother, and with the kind of shit that he sometimes gets from their other siblings, it's also not all that surprising that he thinks that he has to defend Klaus from Diego, too. But he doesn't have to.

Klaus is family.

After a moment, Ben lets out some breath. “Thank you. I’m also sorry. I wish I could've saved her.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If I’d known that I could have been corporeal… " He rubs the back of his neck. "Or if I’d shouted at Klaus? I don’t think he could even see what was happening. If I’d told him to warn her...”

“Wait, wait,” Diego interrupts, holding up a hand. He's not interested in Ben's guilt, frankly, or his hypothesizing about things that can and will never happen-- Eudora is dead and no amount of talking will bring her back-- and this is becoming a pattern. “What do you mean that he couldn’t see? You keep saying that. Why not?”

Ben frowns at him for a second, and then his eyes widen again in recognition. “Oh, right. Because of the ghosts,” he says. He gestures out around the room, which Diego is not going to think about. “There were dozens of them. Job hazard when you’re an assassin, I guess.”

“Dozens--?”

Ben shrugs. “There aren’t usually that many. But yeah, they got in the way. I forgot that you don’t think about that.”

“Klaus sees dozens of ghosts? Dozens?” How could that possibly be true? That would make life essentially unlivable; a waking nightmare. Wouldn't it?

Ben squints at him. “Like I said, usually not at once. But yeah, sometimes. Uh," he falls quieter, sympathetic, "Eudora isn’t--”

"It's fine." Diego waves him off, trying to disguise the sudden sinking in his stomach. She's not here. It’s not that he’d been holding out hope, really. He hadn't. But still, hearing it aloud, in Ben's gentle voice, feels like a punch to the gut. “If she were here, I guarantee she’d be haunting my ass,” he teases, going for levity, but Ben's smile is sad, so he changes the subject. “Dozens though? I had no idea that it was like that.”

Ben’s smile turns into a tight line. “Yeah. It’s a lot for him.”

“You see them too,” Diego counters. Ben must be surrounded by them, non-stop. “God," he adds, a horrible concept creeping into the back of his mind, "can they touch you over there?”

Ben huffs. “No, we can’t touch each other. They mostly ignore me. It’s always Klaus that they want.”

Diego nods slowly. Ben is fidgeting in his seat, no longer occupied by the coffee. If there was a window in here, maybe Diego would take a minute to look out of it and think; as it stands, he just picks at a hole in his sweater.

"So what happened after you saw Cha-Cha shoot her?" he asks finally.

Ben shrugs, scuffing a toe against the counter. “I guess I kind of just.. left after that.”

He's lying. (Ben has always been a terrible liar). "When?"

“I sat for a while," Ben says, the tips of his ears turning a faint pinkish colour. Now he's picking at his own sweater sleeve. "But then I just.. disappeared. That must have been when Klaus used the briefcase.”

“Right.”

Something is up. But honestly, Diego is too tired to pursue it. It doesn't feel like his business if Ben needed to do some mourning of his own before he left.

And on the off chance that the lie is because he was there when Diego found her-- he doesn't want to know that either.

The room falls into silence again for a moment. It's heavy, near stifling-- or would be, if Diego let awkwardness mean anything to him. Ben is probably used to silences, he reflects. Used to being alone. Like they all were. Like mom was.

A fresh wave of grief hits him and he bites it back, pinching the bridge of his nose. Fuck, he wishes he had something more that he could offer Ben, but he doesn't. Not words, not touches, not even food with a stupid smiley face on it. There's nothing in this boiler room, never has been. Not for someone like Ben.

Ben's examining the hole in his sweater with intensity, and Diego clamps his teeth together before he can offer to sew it for him. He'd learned from mom, way back when, and it's a skill that has come in handy with the work he's been doing, both in and out of the gym. But Ben knows how to sew too, or used to once. Maybe he doesn't know how to anymore. Maybe you lose skills like that, when you don't have any way to use them.

Finally Diego clears his throat. "So that's it, then," he says, unable to bear this limbo any longer. If this conversation is over, it's over.

Ben’s eyes are alight with something when they meet his. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Diego answers immediately. It’s not entirely false. “I’m adapting. The way that I always do.”

“What does that mean?”

Now it's Diego's turn to shrug and avoid. He takes the chance to grab Ben's cup and place it clunkily in the microwave, setting the timer for 45 seconds. “Took me two months with you,” he says, back still to Ben.

"Two months? To what?”

“To sleep through the night. I kept seeing you when you-- it doesn’t matter. With Eudora it's different. I'm not sure why. I guess I've just been processing it differently.”

Yeah, processing. He’d run out of bandages for his hand and spackle for his wall pretty quickly, until he’d given up on both.

“You kept seeing me... wait. Did you... were you there, to watch me die?” Ben whispers. Diego clenches his jaw and crosses his arms. No way in hell he's turning back around now, not even when the microwave beeps. “I thought that only Luther and Klaus were close enough to see that. You shouldn’t have had to be there.”

There's nothing comforting he can say to that. Once again, Diego comes up empty-handed. "Shit happens all the time that shouldn’t happen.”

The world isn’t fair. Ben knows that better than anybody.

“Right,” Ben agrees, and he sounds surprisingly small and melancholy, as if he'd expected Diego to be more comforting. A wash of guilt fills Diego's stomach and leaves his hands trembling slightly as he reaches for the cup and closes the microwave door, maybe a tiny bit more forcefully than necessary.

When he turns back around, he watches Ben smile, just as small and hesitant as his words had been.

"What?"

“Nothing," Ben says, "Just. You nearly leaped up there before, when you thought the ghosts could touch me.” He grins now, reaching for the mug and twirling it in his hands as he sets it down.

"So?"

“You were angry, like you were ready to go after them. What did you think you were gonna do? They're ghosts.”

Diego ducks his head, embarrassed but happy for the change to a lighter subject. “You don't think I could kick some ghostly ass?”

Ben laughs. It's the first time Diego's heard him laugh since they were children, and it's exactly as he remembered it. “How, exactly? Anyway I can handle myself. I have the same training as you.”

Diego raises an eyebrow. “Oh, really? You don’t think you’re rusty after all this time?”

“Not a chance,” Ben says. He raises his eyebrows right back, challenging and juvenile.

“I’d take that bet.”

 

Klaus heads back when he feels his power fading.

He might also be a hungry, and teeny weeny bit bored. So fixing those problems doesn’t hurt. But he also doesn’t want Benny to poof into thin air in the middle of whatever Very Serious and Important conversation that he’s having with their second prickliest brother.

Walking through the gym is still kind of a trip. Diego fits in perfectly here-- grey, cold, lots of yelling and determined expressions. It smells like sweat, and maybe mold, and he already had a hunch that Diego doesn’t pick up a mop to save his life but now he probably cleans even less often than before, since he’s moving.

Which Klaus is totally, absolutely, a-oh-freaking-kay with.

Totally cool.

100%.

Outside of Diego’s door, he pauses to see if he can overhear anything. He doesn’t plan on walking into the middle of a screaming match (or worse, a crying fit) or something equally as horrifyingly squishy and knife-y, thank you very much. He’s seen enough of both angry Ben and angry Diego to last a lifetime.

But he doesn't hear anything, except maybe some light scuffling noises that really could be anything. It could actually be a fight, he supposes with some level of wry amusement, but, well, who would Klaus be if not someone who barges in on stupid shit and watches his siblings fight? As long as there's no yelling or waggling fingers. Or biting. He draws the line at biting.

Peaking in he doesn't see anything right off the bat, even with Diego's super-duper crime-detecting mirror. So he rounds the corner, figuring that it can't hurt to let himself in, and then stops when he reaches the bottom of the stairs.

They really are fighting. Shit.

Diego's got Ben in some kind of headlock, elbow wrapped around his neck and other arm squashing him into his chest. They're both panting, and Diego looks smug, if a little frazzled. Klaus creeps closer.

Diego spots him and flushes, but he tips his chin up, meeting Klaus's gaze with a proud smile that basically says oh yeah baby, I'm winning.

Yeah, right.

Ben is laughing-- actual, honest-to-little-girl-God laughing-- and it makes something in his stomach flip. He hardly ever hears Ben's laugh anymore.

So he gets even closer, hands out in mock-surrender but ready to jump into the fray as soon as anything indicates that he might need to. Besides, Diego has no idea what he’s up against. Klaus’s brotherly duty is to protect him, yeah?

Seems like it. In a split second, Ben twists, using some impressive flippy move to twirl out of Diego's arms and nearly elbows him in the nose. In another second, Diego's on the ground, looking positively stunned.

"What?" Diego groans. He blinks up at the ceiling. "How the fuck?"

Klaus laughs, shoving Ben aside before he can step on his chest or something. Not that that wouldn't be funny, but still. He reaches down to Diego and his brother clasps his hand, using Klaus's weight to leverage himself up to standing. He sways uneasily on his feet, regarding Ben with suspicion.

"How the hell did you do that?"

Ben shrugs, quietly pleased, though of course he won't show it, the smug bastard. "I told you that I can handle my own."

"Point proven."

"Look, not to break things up," Klaus pipes in, genuinely not looking forward to crashing this party, "but Ben, gas is running low." He wiggles his fingers, showing off his palms to indicate his powers. Ben nods, and surprisingly, doesn't seem disappointed.

Instead he claps Diego on the shoulder. "I'll see you again, yeah? Soon."

Diego nods. He pulls Ben in for one of those manly half-hug-half-hand-grabbing-things. "Yeah, soon. And listen, I forgive you, okay asshole?" He pulls back, looking Ben square in the eye. "You don't get to keep that guilt. It's mine. Hands off."

Ben ducks his head. He looks younger than Klaus has seen him in years. “Yeah, thanks.”

Diego pulls back, ruffling his hair, then turns a finger on Klaus. “And you,” he says. “Hands off of it too.”

Klaus’s stomach pulls together and up, up, up. He points at himself with one hand, clutching his chest with the other, like who, me? But Diego only stares at him, so he swallows the lump in his throat. “Sure,” he gets out.

Yeah, time to leave.

He claps his hands. "See you later, brother-oh-mine. Well, not you Ben, you're coming with me. I guess. Where do you go when you're not with me? Some kind of void? Anyways, I'm thinking McDonald's for lunch, maybe. I could use a breakfast sandwich. Though the pork, you know? Not great for me." He's not even sure what he's talking about anymore. He just keeps talking, because if he doesn't, he might offer to stay and help Diego pack. And if he does that, then Ben will poof out, and he and Diego will be alone, and Klaus didn't sign up for brotherly bonding time this afternoon, thank you. He's just the chauffeur.

Ben side-eyes him. He sighs long-sufferingly. "Bye, Diego."

Diego does a sloppy recreation of a salute. "See you around."

Mm. Klaus would like to echo the sentiment, but he's not sure if he agrees. Or believes, maybe, is the better word. He'd like to believe all of the 'being a better siblings' speeches that have been flying around lately, but, well, he's learned that it's better not to.

Though Ben looks happy. So, so happy. So for his sake, Klaus will try.

"Toodles," he says instead, and then he and Ben exit stage left.