Ben dreams about his mother sometimes — his real one, not Grace. The dream is always the same, and it isn’t a good one.
His brain does what it can, conjuring up images from the little television he’s been allowed to watch, but Ben doesn’t know the exact circumstances of his birth. Hargreeves never bothered to tell them, and none thought to ask. For all Ben knows, he wasn’t born in a hospital — he doesn’t even know if he was born in America or if Hargreeves brought him here. But this is how the dream starts: a faceless mother in labour, no father by her side.
“It’s a—!” the doctor starts to announce. “I-it’s... oh.”
One nurse screams, another collapses. “A boy,” the mother says with a smile in her voice as she coddles her wailing child.
She starts to count his fingers and toes, and then Ben’s other limbs, too.
“One,” a tentacle. “Two,” some sort of claw or talon. Then she starts to speak in a horrible guttural language Ben doesn’t understand, but he knows it’s what They speak.
He jolts awake and sits bolt upright. Hopes the sensation that something is squirming inside him is just a false alarm. He feels a chill across his back and shivers. Ben is drenched in sweat, his pyjama shirt sticking uncomfortably to his skin. He runs a hand through his damp hair and sits there for a moment, trying to control his breathing.
Once he’s calmed down a little, Ben knocks twice on the wall he shares with Klaus, just loud enough that Klaus will hear if he’s awake too. There’s no sense in waking him if he’s managed to fall asleep.
The reply is delayed, but it comes. Two slow knocks of Klaus’ own meaning he’s okayed Ben coming in. He has to be quiet as he sneaks out of his room. If Hargreeves finds out, they’ll all be disciplined.
Klaus doesn’t have any lights on in his room — there are lots of them, fairy lights around the bed frame and lava lamps on the chest of drawers — but Ben can see well enough by the moonlight streaming through the half-open curtains. Klaus’ room is cluttered, but not untidy. Ben suspects it’s Grace who keeps it so neat and not Klaus himself.
“Can’t sleep?” Klaus says softly.
“I had the dream again,” Ben whispers in return.
Klaus has pulled the covers back for him and Ben appreciatively climbs in beside him. The old house is freezing in the nighttime, Ben doesn’t know how Klaus can sleep in only pyjama bottoms.
Klaus reaches slightly clumsily for Ben’s cheek and swipes his thumb under his eye. The scent of pot clings faintly to his fingers. Ben hasn’t realised he’d been crying until Klaus wipes the tears away.
Ben shrugs and shifts to lay his head against Klaus’ bare shoulder. His skin is warm against Ben’s clammy temple.
”Do you ever think about your birth mother?” he asks tentatively while Klaus reaches for his hand.
”I don’t ever want to meet her, if that’s what you mean. I hate her,” Klaus says plainly.
”Why? You don’t even know her.”
”Because she gave me up to our bastard father. Maybe if she hadnt, I could’ve... I could’ve been happier.”
”Oh,” Ben says. He’s quiet for a moment, then he adds, “I don’t blame mine.”
“It’s no wonder she handed me over to him,” he says. His voice is barely above a whisper. “How could someone love a monster like me?”
”What?” Klaus says, gently pulling away so he can look at Ben. He’d raised his voice, but he continues more softly, “Ben, that’s— that’s ridiculous! I love you.”
Ben’s hand is still clasped in Klaus’ and he runs his thumb over Ben’s knuckles. Ben can hardly look at him, so he looks down at their interlinked fingers instead, at the chipped black polish on Klaus’ nails. It’s the first time Ben’s had those words said to him. Seventeen years old and no one’s ever told him he’s loved before.
Ben’s lip starts to quiver, so he bites it then offers Klaus a tight smile.
”Thanks, Klaus,” he says and it comes out blubbery. He clears his throat and mouths the words once before he says them out loud: “I love you, too.”
But hearing it was worse than if he’d never, because Ben knows the words carry a different weight with Klaus. He’d meant it in a light, familial way, and Ben... didn’t. He meant it in a way that means he would do anything for Klaus — anything, between tying his shoelaces and dying for him. He meant he’s in love with Klaus.
”What’s wrong?” Klaus asks and that’s one of the things Ben loves about him: he’s perceptive. He always knows when Ben’s not himself, when something’s eating away at him from the inside.
”It’s nothing,” Ben says. “I’m okay.”
”You’re not.” Klaus puts his free hand on Ben’s cheek and leans forward until their foreheads are against each other’s. Ben leans into the touch, places a hand on Klaus’ waist and closes his eyes, feeling Klaus’ breath ghosting rhythmically on his face. Tilts his chin, the barest, tiniest movement and his heart hammers so hard it’s all he can hear when Klaus meets him halfway.
Klaus’ lips are dry and chapped. Ben slides his tongue along Klaus’ lower lip and Klaus’ hand moves to cradle the back of his head as he lets out a breath, opening his mouth against Ben’s. Humming contentedly, Ben deepens the kiss only to pull back a moment later, unable to suppress a yawn.
Klaus giggles, high-pitched and too loud. Ben hushes him, but he’s shaking with silent laughter of his own.
He’ll need to be back in his own bed by morning, but when Klaus presses another quick kiss to his lips then lays down with his arms outstretched, Ben curls up next to him and soon falls into a blissfully dreamless sleep.