"Do you think I'm disgusting?"
Klaus paused, starting blankly at the pages of his worn out Wonder Woman comic before his mind registered that Ben had spoken. He looked up, letting the faded, glossy booklet fall into his lap. Ben was at the opposite end of Klaus' bed, legs crossed, posture uncharacteristically slouched, back pressed to the wall. Their left arm was draped across their lap, and their right elbow propped on it. They had their fist to their mouth as if they were covering a cough, their face blank as they stared at the door across the room. Abruptly, Klaus' pot-fogged brain realized that he was staring.
"Repeat that please?" He asked, throat dry from the vicodin he'd taken earlier.
"Do you think I'm disgusting?" Ben asked again, lifting their hand away from their mouth only a fraction, putting it back as soon as they'd finished speaking. They rested their nose on his knuckle, and Klaus heard them sigh heavily. They were still starting at the door. Weird.
"Well duh," Klaus replied. "You eat like a small child, don't do your laundry ever, and you wear the same underwear for days on end. That's pretty damn disgusting, even for someone like me that has few standards."
"That's not what I mean," his sibling replied, and Klaus finally caught the hollow tone in Ben's deep voice.
"... Oh, Ben, no," the Seance murmured, sitting up straight. "Shit. Fuck, no man. I don't think you're disgusting."
Ben no longer had their long hair to hide their face, instead having treated themself to a short, masculine haircut for their recent 20th birthday (Klaus had gotten himself a manicure at the same time). This meant that now, they couldn't bow their head and hide their eyes from Klaus, which the medium saw to hold the same empty look that their voice had.
"Hey, Ben, talk to me. What the hell made you think that?"
Ben remained silent, eyes fixated. Klaus studied their profile, looking for any signs that they were just thinking or something. They had a strong jaw, highlighted by their haircut, balanced off with the soft curves of their small button nose. He wanted to reach out and put a hand on them, but thought better of it. Ben wasn't fond of touching or being touched.
Their nostrils flared as they let out a heavy exhale, Adams apple bobbing as they swallowed.
"Everything," they muttered, voice neutral. "Everything makes me think that. I mean, look at me Klaus. I'm repulsive."
"Whoa dude, no you're not," he cut in, brows drawn together.
"Please. Let me talk," Ben said quietly. When they were sufficiently sure that Klaus was going to remain silent, they carried on. "I know I'm conventionally attractive. I have a pretty face, a desirable body. But that's not what I'm talking about."
They were mute for a few moments. "Listen to me talk. It sounds like there's half a dozen people speaking in time with me. It's distracting. Unsettling. It's wrong. Voices aren't supposed to do this."
Klaus' brows drew back together. It was something so normal to him that it was unnatural to realize it shouldn't be that way. He'd always enjoyed the softer just as deep tones that had accompanied Ben's speaking voice. The voices flowed so well together, and it sounded lovely. He caught Ben glance at him through the corner of their eye before snapping their gaze back to the door.
Ben shook their head, expression shifting for a split second. Klaus caught the pain in their features, and he shifted forward onto his knees. Cautiously, he pressed a hand to Ben's arm, his warm skin making contact with flesh that was always chilled to 'room temperature'.
"And my skin, god, my skin," they mumbled, seeming to lean into the touch. "You feel how cold it is? That's not natural either. Skin should only feel like this when rigor mortis is setting in."
Klaus bit his tongue, holding back any dead joke that wanted to make its way out. It wasn't the time. Ben was bordering on what was probably a mental breakdown, and he needed to not be a dick.
"Have you ever noticed the weird things my skin does? Like when it looks like things are crawling around?"
Just as the words came out of their mouth, a line of... Something ran up their arm, ticking Klaus' palm as it disappeared under Ben's shirt. Ben cringed, but Klaus lightly stroked their arm, ignoring the way their skin had begun to bubble and ripple. Klaus ran his other hand lightly against the disturbed skin in an attempt to soothe them.
The flesh rolled under his touch, the tentabeast seeming pleased at the contact. Klaus continued to lightly rub the skin, until Ben lightly shook that hand off, though they let the other remain. A few bubbles rolled up their arm, the moment rippling under the fabric of their shirt, running down their spine before disappearing.
"It's vile. It looks like I have creatures running around in my veins. And like it's doing now. The way it's rolling around and bubbling up. That's not supposed to happen. It rolls around like waves, and it bubbles up like it's going to burst. It feels awful and looks even worse."
Ben's voice had started to tighten and strain, pressing their fist hard against their lips when they weren't speaking. Their skin had begun to move even more, and they struggled to keep their breath steady.
"It feels disgusting. It itches and, and, it's, Jesus, Klaus, it's gruesome! No one wants to touch me! No one can stand touching me! I accidentally brushed against Dad in the hallway and he almost puked! Diego and I touched hands trying to get something off of the counter and he jerked back like he'd been tazered! I am utterly disgusting, Klaus!"
Klaus leaned forward, wrapping his arms around Ben and letting them cling to him, bursting into tears and sobbing into the front of his shirt. Ben's fingers tightened into Klaus' shirt, hiccupping and pulling their brother closer.
"I'm no-nothing more than th-the-the Horror!" Ben choked out. Their skin ebbed and rolled, and Klaus could have sworn he heard an unearthly growl emit from Ben's stomach, where he was sure tentacles were beginning to slither out.
The last time Ben had gotten like that, it had been bad. Ben had dissolved into a sobbing mess, and everyone had panicked at what their body was doing, which had only made things worse. The harder they had cried, the worse it had become. Their tentacles lashed out at anyone who tried to get close, which was left no way of close comfort. Their skin had bubbled up and stayed like that, and to everyone's horror, actual fucking eyes had begun to appear on them. Allison had to go and be a dick and shriek "What the fuck!", which had upset Ben further and caused spiked cartilage to begin poking under their flesh. It has taken nearly an hour for Klaus to calm them down, and then Ben had stayed away from everyone for a week.
"Listen to me," Klaus said lowly to them, rubbing their back, the feeling of raised skin under his hands raising concern. They were getting to the point of spiky shit again.
"Ben. Are you listening to me?" He waited until he felt Ben nod to go on. "You are a beautiful, wonderful human being. Your voice? It's fucking beautiful. I love sitting here and listening to you talk, man. Your voice is so soothing. Other than being my very bestest friend on this shitheap earth, why do you think I like to talk to you so much? You have a way with words, and a cool voice to go with it."
He paused, collecting his thoughts. Ben's crying had already begun to quiet, which he hoped was a good thing. "And, and your skin? Shit Ben, your skin is wonderful. It's mesmerizing when it starts doing the bubbly thing, like, I actually want nothing more than to touch it when that starts happening because it just looks amazing. You're an art nerd, yeah? It makes you look like a trippy Picasso painting."
Ben let out a huff of breath, and it took Klaus a second to realize it was amusement. Klaus continued to lightly rub their back, noting the way their skin had begun to calm itself. "For real, Benjamin. Your skin is wonderful. It's not disgusting. Like, you're a fucking Van Gogh painting or something. Like, like, uh... Starry Night. Rolls and ripples and all kinds of beauty."
"... You pronounced 'Van Gogh' wrong," Ben murmured, pulling their face up to reveal a watery smile. Klaus returned it, reaching a hand to wipe the mess of tears and snot from Ben's face.
"Alright, man?" Klaus asked, wiping his hand on his jeans, using the clean one to cup Ben's face and look them directly in the eyes. "You're not disgusting, okay? Just because you don't meet other people's shitty standards doesn't mean you're gross. It means they're all gross and belong in a dumpster."
Ben laughed pulled him into a hug, relishing in the comforts of touch. "You're the best, Klaus," they murmured, chin resting on their brother's warm shoulder.
"Naaaaah," Klaus drew out, slowly and rhythmically patting Ben's back. "That's you. Now, I dunno about you, but I got my allowance today, and I think some ice cream is very much in order."
"Grow up," Ben said warmly, tightening their arms around their best friend.