“Is… is this how I look like?”
Klaus barely even looked up from the scarf he was knitting to acknowledge his brother.
It had been almost a month since they stopped the apocalypse, and though they still had a lot to learn about Klaus’ powers, they were finally at a point where he could keep Ben manifested for long periods of time without feeling like he was going to pass out. Usually, they spent these moments with the others—it wasn’t as if they could hang out with Ben whenever they wanted—but they both needed the occasional time-out. Usually, that meant hanging out in Klaus’ room so Ben could catch up with all the books he’d missed the last decade.
It wasn’t as quiet as it sounded. More often than not, Ben would ramble about the books he finished, but Klaus didn’t mind. He liked the background noise, and Ben was really passionate about his fairytales, so it worked out.
Until that evening, when Ben’s rambling came to a halt.
“Don’t you think it’s a little too late to be having self-esteem issues?” Klaus asked, his eyes pinned on the thread. “You know, being dead and all that jazz.” He needed to slip the thread through the loop without it slipping from the needle… again. Ben could talk without Klaus’ full attention.
Except he didn’t respond.
With a sigh, Klaus let the scarf fall on his lap to glance at Ben; he was staring at his reflection in the mirror at the corner of the room—Allison was in the middle of renovating her room, and Klaus had called dibs on her mirror—not saying a single word. It wasn’t unusual for Ben to fall into a sulk, but that didn’t make it any less tedious.
“Oh, come on,” Klaus said. “Tell me what happened next in the book, did they find the treasure?” But Ben still wouldn’t budge. “Look, if you need a wardrobe change, we can do that okay? Get yourself a dark-shaded gown, something that will go with your—” Klaus gestured at Ben “—edgy aesthetic.”
“Ugh, Ben, snap out of it, won’t you? You know I hate it when you get like this, I can never tell what—”
“That’s not what I looked like when I died.”
Klaus huffed. “Of course it’s not,” he said. “Hell, I don’t think you looked like anything when you died, with the whole ‘being ripped apart by tentacle monsters’ deal and all. Young-you should be grateful I was able to conjure you as a teen and not—”
As a teen.
Ben had aged, and Klaus hadn’t even noticed.
Well, he had noticed. They did spend the last thirteen years annoying each other, after all, and Klaus had every last inch of Ben’s face memorized by now. No, it wasn’t that he hadn’t noticed. He just hadn’t… thought about it.
Ben seemed to be in a similar situation because he was looking at himself in the mirror as if he was a stranger. Ghosts didn’t have reflections; it was because of Klaus he was able to see his, for the first time since he died.
“I know the thought of staying a dancing queen forever sounds appealing,” Klaus said—he still couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Ben had only been seventeen when he died, “but people age, Benny.”
“Not ghosts,” Ben said, and Klaus noticed the way his hand trembled as he slipped it inside his pocket.
“How can you be sure?”
There was no answer, but Klaus already knew it. The ghosts that haunted him, some of which Ben had also seen, never changed their appearance. Ghosts didn’t age, plain and simple. And yet, there he was, almost thirty years old.
“I, uh…” Klaus sat up on his bed so he could look at Ben a bit better as he spoke, the scarf and the thread and the needles long forgotten. “I knew I had changed, but this…”
“Is it that impossible to believe?” Klaus asked. “I mean, we already knew you were different than other ghosts, right?”
Ben shrugged, his back still turned on Klaus. His eyes hadn’t left his reflection, not even for a single second.
Klaus supposed he could play good sibling for once. He hopped off the bed, walking up behind Ben and placing his hands on his shoulders, looking at him through the mirror.
“It’s almost as if I’m getting you ready for prom.”
His brother shook his head in disapproval, but Klaus could see the hint of a smile forming on his face. “I’m not wearing a gown, Klaus.”
“Not even a skirt?” Klaus asked, and Ben shook his head again. “Come on, it doesn’t have to be a mini—oh, I know! A hoodie dress! You would look amazing in a hoodie dress.”
“Shut up,” Ben mumbled, now fully smiling. Klaus giggled, wrapping his arms around Ben’s waist and letting his chin rest on Ben’s shoulder—he’d done his duty.
They stayed quiet for a while, and Klaus actually closed his eyes as he continued spooning Ben from behind. Ben had never been too comfortable with being hugged, in case his powers went out of control. He’d never actually said it out loud, but Klaus knew.
“How do I, um,” Ben started, causing Klaus to blink an eye open. “Do I look okay?”
Klaus had to bite his lip in order not to grin. “Horrific.”
“Kidding!” Klaus quickly corrected himself. He could practically feel Ben’s bitterness. “You look dashing.”
He didn’t take his eyes off Ben as he checked himself out one last time, his chest puffing up in the process. Ben pressed his lips together, nodding in satisfaction. “Okay.”
He knew it was supposed to be a sweet moment of self-discovery, but Klaus only let the silence sit for exactly one minute. “Great!” he said. “Now let’s go thrifting, we’re getting you a hoodie dress!”
“Is no an option?” Ben asked.
“I think you know the answer already, Benito,” Klaus said as he let go of him to change into something else. Maybe he’d go for a skirt, to set an example for Ben…
And speaking of Ben, if Klaus caught him taking another moment in front of the mirror, he didn’t say anything. After all, he’d need plenty of practice for all the outfits Klaus had planned for him. They could figure out why Ben had aged later—there were still plenty of things they didn’t know about Klaus’ powers anyway.
“I think I’m ready.”
But that could wait. Ben had a hoodie dress to buy.