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Hugs for Benjamin

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    In the sterile white room under a pile of blankets, tubes coming out of arms, hair curly and greasy, eyeliner smudged back to his ear, breathing mask faintly fogging every so often as his pigeon chest weakly heaved, Klaus- Diego thought- only looked slightly more corpselike than normal.

    Truthfully, Diego didn’t even know why he was here. Maybe it was because he was he only one around- with Luther on the moon, Allison in Hollywood, and Vanya having visited earlier (indicated by the cheerfully tacky aluminum balloon shaped like a cartoon bee tied to the nightstand- it had been a year since she’s published her book and he still didn’t trust himself to be in a room with her without stabbing her.) Maybe it was the way Eudora had touched his thigh after he’d gotten off the phone with the hospital; the look in her eyes as she said, “Go,” in a very soft voice.

    Maybe it was because he cared.

    He shoved that thought down as soon as it occured.

It was at that time when Klaus managed to peel his eyes open and loll his head to one side, grinning up at Diego. He looked at his brother’s eyes critically. They were slightly teary, whites tinged red and pupils blown almost wider than the pale green irises, but at least they were open. A slight improvement.

“Hiiiiiiii! Glad you could make it,” Klaus slurred like he wasn’t getting his stomach pumped. “Could you give me my slippies?”

“Your what?” Diego blinked.

“H’spital slippers. Foot of the bed. They always have ‘em.” He wiggled his toes for emphasis. “They’re uuuugg-LY, but my tootsies are cold. Plus I’m gonna be commin’ down in a bit and those bastards are kinda loud and I CANNOT handle any screaming rn.”

He was tempted to ignore him or tell him to get them himself, but instead he rolled his eyes and circled to where a pair of cheap, scrub green slippers were waiting.

Meanwhile Klaus grabbed the ribbon of the balloon and tugged it down to eye level, cackling to himself. “‘Bee Well.’ Hilarious. I never knew you were funny!”

“Fuck off,” Diego growled as he stuck the slippers onto Klaus’s bare feet. “You can thank Vanya for that.”

“Ahhhh, Van. Didn’t even wait for me to wake up? Rude! I wanted to talk to her about her book.” He flicked the bee on it’s wide, smiling face and let it bob back to midair. “Honestly I’m not even mad. Well, maybe I am, but I dunno- I’m high, remember? But it was bold. Ballsy. I’d’ve KILLED to see the look on Dad’s face when it hit the stores. I read it in rehab- last time? Nah, it was a few times before that. But I did- MAJOR B.D.E, ifyaknowwhatimsayin’. Who would’ve thunk that in a household with five boys Lil’ Miss Normal would have the biggest shl-“

“For Christ’s sake, Klaus!”

The man in question flinched as Diego’s fist made contact with the drywall, thankfully backed by a support beam. An inch to the left and he’d have to explain to the hospital why there was a three-inch wide hole in their wall. Not a fun experience. Lots of paperwork.

Klaus sunk back onto his pillow and started rubbing at his temple with one long finger. “I JUST said no screaming, por favor .”

“I will scream all the hell I want- what the hell were you doing, Klaus?”

“Ugh, so broody! It wasn’t that big of a deal. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“800 milligrams of barbiturates in your system, dumbass,” Diego spat, waving the form he’d swiped from the nurse for emphasis. “Most people die from a THIRD of that!”

“Please.” Klaus arched his back against the mattress and rolled his neck, stretching like a lazy cat. “You think I don’t get 800 mgs in over a month? Just getting a little advance, that’s all.”

“YOU WERE LEGALLY DEAD FOR FIVE MINUTES.”

Diego stood there, raw and breathing hard. He hadn’t meant to do that. Klaus didn’t answer. Just closed his eyes and sighed dramatically, a faint smile playing at his lips.

His hands itched. He needed a knife.

With a frustrated groan he paced to the window and settled for picking at the peeling sealant. Behind him Klaus started humming the Happy Birthday Song. The view outside wasn’t great; it was just the parking lot dyed deep blue in the night occasionally interrupted by the dirty orange-yellow of the street lamps. First floor, he noticed idly, which was kinda weird. Druggies in detox were usually on the third floor. Or in jail.

“It’s his today, y’know.”

Diego turned around. Klaus had stopped humming and was now watching him from the bed. “What?” he asked.

“Ben. It’s his birthday.” Then, in a small, high voice, “Yaaaaaaaaaay!”

Now that was a name he hadn’t heard in forever. It’d been years and none of them talked about… well, the incident. He did his best not to think about it, because all it did was make him angry at Dad and Luther. Sure, he was always mad at them, but there comes a point where it’s distracting.

“You’re so fucking stoned,” Diego couldn’t help but chuckle darkly, rolling his eyes. “We all have the same birthday, remember?”

“Obviously. And it sucked. Ben did some digging and found what day Dad scooped him up from Seoul. After everyone else went to sleep we’d hide under his bed n’ eat Oreos. It was fun.”

Not much was able to surprise Diego anymore, but that did. Not that he didn’t know about that- seventeen years of living with the same people and they were practically strangers- but the fact that it had happened at all. He couldn’t remember being close with any of his siblings as children, Five went to Vanya to rant, Luther and Allison were joined at the hip by… whatever the hell was going on between them, so it only made sense for Ben and Klaus to drift together now that he thought about it.

He wondered briefly how Ben managed to find his adoption date. Probably Pogo, but maybe Mom. Was the information that accessible? There were times when he was younger when he wondered where he came from. Mom had been careful in selecting names for them, and when he’d catch his reflection he though he looked faintly Castilian, but every time he got to thinking about that old family he get angry at them for practically selling him and then get angry at himself for thinking like that. Diego didn’t know the circumstances. He was angry at too many people who deserved it to be angry at someone he didn’t even remember.

“I just wanted to him a present. A hug. That’s all.”

Diego froze and looked more critically down at his brother. Klaus wasn’t looking at him anymore, but at some point just past him and very far away. “He’s always there, just out of reach. He looks so cold. I guess it makes sense; you can’t be warm if you don’t have a body, but he still looks cold. He looks like he hates it. I hate being cold. I’m cold right now- or am I hot? Ugh, it’s so warm. Diego, why is it so warm in here?”

“Wait,” Diego said softly, lowering himself into a chair. He suddenly felt like he’d been kicked in the head; like there wasn’t enough air in the room to breathe. “You see Ben? Often?”

Klaus whined. “It’s too hoooooot.”

“Hey,” he grabbed Klaus’s clammy hand and held it with both of his own. “Stay with me. You were saying something?”

He sniffed, nodded, then continued, “I hate it. Hate them. They scream and ask for help but I can’t. Ben just calls me stupid and laughs at my jokes. When they’re funny. They’re all funny, but he has no taste. I can’t help him either. He’s dead and alone and so cold and I can’t help him. I could have been helpful. A hug could warm him up. That’s a good birthday present for a ghost, right? A hug. I wanna hug Ben.”

He was babbling, about everything and nothing. Birthdays and books and barbiturates and Ben and bee balloons. Diego absorbed it all, mind whirring like a computer trying to convert binary code to Sanskrit. He wanted to make him stop, but the words caught like static on his tongue. Memories of talking in front of his bedroom mirror, Mom’s warm synthetic hand on his shoulder, danced in subconscious.

Finally, finally, he managed, “What if you weren’t able to come back? After you gave Ben his hug?”

At long last Klaus looked at him. Eyeliner had now found its way sliding down his face and dripping off his chin. “Would that have been so terrible, love?” He smiled up at him as the realization hit.

Oh.

Oh.

Suddenly a first floor hospital suite made a lot more sense.

“M’tired,” Klaus said suddenly. “I’ma gonna take a nap. Just’sa lil…” his eyes were already sliding closed. “S’ry it didn’ work out. We’ll try’gain next year…”

His hand went limp in Diego’s grip. The heart monitor remained steady. Diego didn’t realize he was still holding it; the hand or his breath.

He exhaled in a slow stream, re-tied the clumsy knot Vaya had made to tether the balloon, and sank back into his chair.

“Happy Birthday, Ben,” he whispered to the quiet room.

There was no answer.