To Jill, Ben was a mystery. His hands were perpetually freezing. As a matter of fact, all of him was. Might have something to do with being dead for so long. He had the potential to be a total asshole, especially to his siblings, but he tried so hard. Some days he stayed huddled in bed, curled in a fetal position, endlessly frustrated with something and in incredible amounts of pain. Sometimes he ran into walls and people, forgetting he couldn’t walk through them anymore. One time, she had found him huddled on the ground after stubbing his toe, but he was laughing because “I felt it, Jill! I actually felt it!”
Ben also chased physical affection but drew back whenever she came anywhere near his lower torso. Hands, shoulders, chest, legs, everything was allowed except abdomen.
She also knew that he was a superhero, quite unwillingly, as a teenager. His whole family was, save his mother, father, and monkey butler. (That one took a while to wrap her head around.) She knew that his father was a piece of shit. She knew it had killed him. She figured the aversion might have something to do with that.
Jill had asked his brothers and sisters about it. Luther said he didn’t want to tell if Ben hadn’t said anything yet. Diego, Allison, Five, and Vanya had all said something similar. Then she asked the proph- Klaus.
“Wow, he hasn’t told you yet?” He had asked. When she shook her head, he said simply, “Ask him his superpower.”
So that night, when the wind was blowing and snow had started to fall, and she laid on his arm. They had gathered snacks and blankets and turned on movie one in their chronological Audrey Hepburn movie binge. Secret People started and finished, then Monte Carlo Baby, then Roman Holiday. Halfway through Sabrina, Jill decided to ask.
Their fingers were intertwined, and his cheek was pressed into the curls on the top of her head. She raised the remote and paused the movie.
“Ben?” He tiredly hummed his acknowledgement.
“You were a superhero.”
“You never said what your powers were.”
He immediately tensed up. It felt like all of the muscles in his body had been frozen. He stayed like that for about a minute, and she was worried she’d broken him somehow. She placed her hand on his shoulder, rubbing gently. He seemed to loosen up. She kept massaging the skin there until across a strange sunken area that she’d never realized was there before. She searched his eyes for permission before unbuttoning the first few buttons of his blue pyjama shirt and pulling it aside.
On the front of his shoulder, an inch away from his collarbone, there was sunken, faded scar tissue. He surprised her when he started talking.
“I got shot there… when I was 15.” He murmured. “It was a Museum robbery, it was supposed to hit Allison’s temple.”
Her eyes involuntarily widened, but her thumb didn’t stop stroking his skin. She shifted so that she was on his lap and moved her hand down, slowly in case he wanted to stop her. He didn’t. Her fingers found a raised area on the right side of his chest.
“Diego accidentally hit me with his knives during training.” He sounded a bit wistful. “He felt so bad. We were twelve I think.”
She unbuttoned a little bit more and found multiple slice marks on his ribs. He told a story about Zombie Robots and the Eiffel Tower and Icecream. She rested her forehead in the crook of his neck with a smile.
Ben finished his story, and she had just started to move her fingers farther down his torso when his hand gently caught her wrist.
“I never answered your question.” He said.
“No it’s-“ he let out a sigh.
“Have you read Lovecraft?”
She nodded. Of course, she had.
“Okay, do you know what my Superhero name was?”
That was a no. If she wasn’t curious before, she was now.
“ The Horror . That was my name.” Jill’s eyebrows drew together in concern. Wasn’t he only 13 when he started? Who in their right mind names a child, The Horror ?
He inhaled slowly before starting again. “I have an eldritch tentacle monster in my stomach. It’s always been there since I was born. It’s hungry all the time, and it hurts ” He shivered. “Dad made me use them to kill. Insects, small mammals, then… humans. Criminals. He said it was justified, that they were bad, that they deserved it.” His voice cracked.
Jill… didn’t know what to feel. Ben and his family were weird, no doubt about it, but murderers? Was it murder if you’re forced? And her boyfriend had a tentacle monster in his stomach. How did he digest food? She felt angry, but not at him. Reginald Hargreeves was a certifiable asshole, FUCK HIM!
Ben let go of her wrist. “I just thought you should know. I’m sorry I never said anything before, I was worried that you’d be scared of me…”
She cut him off with a fierce hug. His hands hovered over her back for a moment before gripping her shirt tight in his fists. She pulled back and started kissing the side of his head. Neck, jaw, hinge, cheekbone. She felt him get ready to say something. She pulled back all of the ways.
“You’re dad sucks.”
He nodded with a slight smile. “He does.”
She trailed her hand back down his chest, stopping where he’d stopped her before. She met his eyes,
He nodded hesitantly. She unbuttoned the rest of his shirt and paused. There was a long slit from the bottom of his sternum to the bottom of his stomach, right above the waist of his pants. Inside was just void. Pulsing, black void. She ran a finger over it and Ben shivered. She archived that reaction somewhere in the back of her mind for later and pressed a kiss right at the top. Something wiggly and cold pushed its way out and moved up to caress her cheek. She drew back in shock.
“Hey! No, go back.” Ben commanded. The tentacle somehow seemed to start sulking, but it wriggled its way back in. She let out a giggle. He seemed so embarrassed.
Jill swung her legs over his lap properly and settled against his shoulder with her arms around his back and neck.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind. Besides, I think I could find a few uses for them,” she said, voice low. His entire face went bright red and he started to splutter. She started laughing. “I’m kidding sweetie. Unless you’re down for it of course.”
She kissed him chastely, then grabbed the remote. “Now, I believe that Humphrey Bogart was trying to woo Audrey Hepburn.”
She turned the movie back on, but as it progressed, she kept her eyes glued to Ben instead. She watched his face contort into smiles and frowns and laughter, and she was so glad that mystery novels were her favourite.