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you're the reason why I'm closed

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You need to stop hiding like a coward from the people that love you.

That’s what Five had said to him, finger pointed at Ben’s chest, a fierce, protective little scowl on his face and heat behind his eyes.

You need to stop hiding like a coward.

Yeah, probably he does.

“Klaus?”

“Yeah buddy?”

“Do you think you could make me corporeal again this afternoon? There’s something I need to-- there’s someone I need to see.”

Klaus glances over from his bed, lowering his book-- one of Ben’s recommended books on the impact of childhood trauma, which he still has trouble believing Klaus is actually reading-- and fixes him with a sympathetic stare.

“Diego, huh?”

Ben nods. Gulps. Tries to quell the panic rising in his chest.

“Yeah, Diego.”

 

– -

 

This time, they don’t make the mistake of having Ben make some kind of individual entrance, appearing out of nowhere to strike up a conversation that inevitably starts with, oh hey, I’m corporeal. Still dead, but you can touch me, isn’t that cool? After the mix-up with Five, Ben had realized that maybe they need to shift their game plan a little bit. Give people more warning.

And if it gives Ben a little bit more time to prepare, too, well that doesn’t hurt.

So Klaus calls ahead. Answers “what’s up” with “Do you want to see Ben?” and is met with a resounding, passionately stuttered “As fast as fucking possible, Klaus, I swear to god.”

It makes Ben feel a little warm.

They arrange to meet at Diego’s place. They could’ve asked him back to the academy, but by some sort of silent agreement he and Klaus decided that it was best to give him the option to be in his own home for this conversation. Not that Klaus knows, strictly, what Ben plans to talk about with their brother, but Ben’s certain that Klaus has it figured out, or at the very least suspects it, in that eerily intuitive way that he always does.

It demonstrates his developing maturity that he doesn’t ask Ben not to.

By the time they get to the gym, it’s near dusk, setting sun cutting a bright line across the horizon, and Ben is literally quaking.

“Ben, buddy, relax, okay? He’s gonna be thrilled to see you.”

“Yeah,” Ben agrees quietly, because they both know that’s not really the point.

Diego meets them in the front entrance. Or rather, he meets Klaus, and Ben watches the way that his face falls as soon as he realizes that Klaus has arrived alone.

Klaus sees it too. “Relax, Diego, he’s here. But there was no point draining myself just to make him visible for the car ride over.”

Diego nods, but he still looks disappointed. He’s not wearing his usual vigilante get-up, and it’s almost surprising how soft he looks, in a red long sleeve and faded black sweats. Even in this environment, with it’s dim lighting and wall-to-wall concrete mottled with every manner of blood and sweat stains, Diego looks like Diego.

“Come on in,” he offers. It comes out awkwardly, for the way that he’s flicking his gaze between Klaus and the empty air on either side of him. Ben slides over a little so that he’s actually in one of those spots that Diego is side-eyeing and Klaus ducks his head low to hide how his lips turn up.

It might be the first time that Diego has invited Klaus into his home. It might be the first time that he’s intentionally invited anyone into his home. He’s clearly uncomfortable, fluttering around aimlessly even as he tries to put on the air of someone who can’t be bothered.

That’s Diego for you, though. It’s actually comforting that it hasn’t changed, not since they were teenagers.

“Can I-- uh, get you something? To drink or?”

Klaus shrugs. “Got any juice?”

Diego raises an eyebrow at him as he moves some sort of stool over toward his counter. “Like the kids’ drink?”

“Juice is universal,” Klaus replies automatically. Diego snorts.

“No juice. Only beer, coffee, and water.”

“Can’t have beer,” Klaus says, a little sheepishly. “Or else this--” he gestures to indicate between where Ben’s standing and where Diego is bent over his fridge-- “goes kaput. So, water, I guess.”

Ben smiles and crosses his arms. “Thank god,” he teases. “For a while there I thought you’d literally turn into dust and cocaine.”

“Oh can it,” Klaus hisses, and Diego turns around.

“He’s right,” Diego says. “You need to drink more water.”

Klaus’s eyebrows jump to his hairline. “You can hear him?”

“Nope,” Diego says, smirking as he throws a water bottle at Klaus with slightly more force than necessary. Klaus fumbles to catch it. “I just know how much of a dumb ass you are and I’m guessing that he does too.”

Despite the insult, Klaus grins. Ben does too. It’s nice for both of them, to be acknowledged.

“Ben wants to know why you moved out,” Klaus rushes out quietly. Ben shoots him a look, since he distinctly did not ask that.

“We’ve talked about using me as your scape-”

Klaus waves him off. “So why did you?”

Diego closes the fridge, leaning against it and cracking open his own can of cheap beer, regarding Klaus carefully. “You know that I couldn’t be there anymore.”

“But you’re not even living here anymore!” Klaus indicates the boxes that are piled up around the apartment, and have been for the past few weeks. “You don’t even have another apartment yet, so you could come back in the meantime.”

Diego shakes his head. “I couldn’t. Besides, I do have a new place now. It’s pretty nice. Cheap. I found it yesterday.”

Uh oh.

“Oh?” Klaus twirls his way onto the stool, leaning forward toward Diego to rest his chin in his hands on the counter. “Do tell? Where is this new humble abode?”

Diego takes a sip of his beer. “5th street. Near Greenwood.”

“So less than 15 minutes from the Academy,” Ben intervenes, because Klaus won’t bother doing the math. “That’s close.”

But it doesn’t matter. Klaus’s expression has already gone a little glassy and brittle around the edges, in a way that’s probably only obvious to Ben. He leans his chin further in his hands and regards Diego through his eyelashes, blinking at him as if waiting for him to elaborate, which of course Diego doesn’t.

Klaus will never admit it-- at least not to anyone alive-- but Ben knows that he’s hurt by how infrequently he sees Diego. Especially after everything that went down the week before the not-apocalypse. Klaus had thought that they were bonding. It was a fair assumption, and one that is surely true, even if neither of his bonehead brothers will actually talk about it, or do anything about it, or acknowledge it in any manner whatsoever. Of course not.

Why do things the easy way?

If you ask Ben, they’re both idiots who need each other. Just like the rest of their family.

Which reminds him. “Can you make me solid now?”

(He might be a bit of a hypocrite. He wants to take the question back and run from this. He wants just opt right out of having this conversation. Ben is a teeny tiny bit of bonehead, himself).

Klaus looks at him like he’d almost forgotten he was in the room; Ben doesn’t take it personally anymore. “Oh, sure.”

Diego glances up from his drink. “Are you-- bringing Ben now? Or, I mean, making him--” he gestures down at his body with the drink. “Do you two need to be alone or something?”

Klaus titters. “This isn’t seven minutes in heaven, Diego. Just gimme a sec. Ready?” The last part is addressed at Ben.

He nods. “Let’s go.” He’s as ready as he’ll ever be.

They’re getting quicker and quicker at the whole “corporeal” thing. The transition feels smoother the more often they do it; less like Ben is being yanked down through freezing water by his ankles. Some quick breaths, a glow of blue, and in a second, he feels his feet touch down and breath fill his chest.

“Hi, Diego.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I guess I’ll scram out of here,” Klaus says, scratching at the back of his neck as he looks between Diego’s stunned expression and Ben shifting from foot to foot. “You two have some catching up to do. Lots of ghosty gossip, and the like.” He laughs, but he’s nervous, and Ben takes a second to put a hand on his shoulder, ignoring how he still flinches just a little. It’s not because of him.

“You’re welcome to stay,” Diego says, not taking his eyes off of Ben. “He’s your brother too.”

If anything, that only makes Klaus more twitchy. “No, no, it’s okay. I couldn’t possibly. I’ll just uh, have some quiet me time with this water, yeah? I’ll catch you after in the parking lot?”

Ben pries his own eyes away from Diego. “Will you be okay there?”

Klaus, for all that he’s nervous and eager to leave, meets his gaze. “I’ll be fine. It’s a gym, right? No druggies around here, these freaks and their ‘body is a temple’ motto. No offense Diego. Besides, you’ll know if I’m not behaving, right? You’ll--” he claps his fists together and radiates them outward “-- poof.”

Ben scrutinizes him for another second-- Klaus has been better, so much better, but Ben also knows how this goes-- and then nods. “Okay. Thanks, bro.”

He can’t deny that a part of him wants to beg Klaus to stay, if only for selfish reasons, but ultimately that wouldn’t be the right decision. He has to do this alone.

He has to do this.

Klaus winks. “Have fun you two.”

“Bye bro,” Diego chimes. He’s still gaping at Ben, hands hovering around his waist like he thinks he’ll find a knife there.

Klaus smiles at being acknowledged, and wiggles his fingers as he flounces his way out through the door, a bundle of movement and energy.

Then Ben is alone with Diego.

Taking a breath that he doesn’t technically need, Ben musters his nerve, and then he sits.

 

---

 

Diego isn’t a wuss.

He’s not. He would never have been able to be one, even if he’d wanted to be. Good old Reggie had destroyed any semblance of weakness that he could eek out of his children, and the police academy, for the year that he was there, wasn’t much better. Diego is numb or nearly numb to fighting, to blood, to conflict. He’s not a wuss.

But when Klaus calls him and answers his greeting with “Do you want to see Ben?” Diego suddenly feels like he has to rethink that knowledge.

His stomach swoops, his chest pounds, and he barely stutters out a reply before slamming the phone back in it’s receiver and almost losing the three eggs that he swallowed at breakfast.

Ben.

His brother. His dead brother. His dead brother, who has apparently been haunting Klaus for seventeen whole goddamn years, as good as alive, watching everything, and Diego didn’t know.

Didn’t believe.

Klaus hadn’t exactly been clear or explicit when he’d tried to tell them all about Ben, but still. Diego would be lying if he said that there weren’t clues that he’d ignored. What about the times that Diego would find Klaus on the side of the road and take him home for the night, and he’d be muttering to Ben, or speaking for him? The times when Klaus would forget himself entirely in the haze of whatever he was on and just mention Ben’s presence outright-- a whispered confession in the night, an almost apology, meant to be forgotten in the morning? Yeah, there were clues.

It was the elephant in the room that the whole family pretended not to see. Because it was too fucking hard. Because if it wasn’t real, and they got their hopes up--

But now Ben is here. In his living room. Sitting on his stool, leaning on his counter, with breath in his lungs and the overhead light illuminating his features as if he actually had a physical body.

And what the ever living fuck does Diego do with that?

So. He’s not a wimp. But he-- he might be, just a little.

“Do you want something to drink?” Diego finally asks. He twists the now-empty beer can around in his hand for something to do that isn’t gaping at his dead but not quite dead brother. “Can you drink? Eat?”

He has no clue in hell how any of this works. His skin is heating up.

Ben-- Ben, who’s dead-- smiles gently. “Can’t,” he says. He gestures to himself. “We don’t really know why, but I can’t consume anything.”

Diego nods. “Right. Uh.”

There’s a long silence then, as Ben looks at his hands and Diego looks at his. He’s not sure what to say. He’s not sure if he could get the words out right even if he had them, and there’s no way that he’s embarrassing himself in front of Ben already.

But then something occurs to him. Something that they can talk about, and something that probably needs saying, anyways, if Diego is going to live up to his promise to try to be better for his siblings.

He clears his throat.

“Klaus knows that he’s welcome any time at my new apartment, right?” he asks. Shit, he already feels ridiculous. “Both of you are. But... Klaus gets that, right? He knows that he’s welcome?”

He’s almost started thinking that was in fact a stupid question, and that maybe he should take it back or change the subject, but Ben’s expression softens. He takes a moment to answer, though, forming his words carefully.

“No, I don’t that think that he does,” Ben says slowly, hands cradled together as if he were holding a mug between them. His thumbs are rubbing together reflexively. “Klaus is...”

“A dumb ass?”

Ben’s lips quirk up, but he shakes his head. “Sensitive. Skittish. He might be the type of person to invite himself in somewhere, but that doesn’t mean that… that he thinks that he’s wanted, once he gets there.”

“Yeah.” Diego understands that. He’s seen it before, in how Klaus gets bitter at being left out or derided; a sharp kind of bitter, that shows itself in the edges. Hurt. Diego knows about that, too.

“Maybe you should tell him,” Ben adds softly, as if to himself.

Diego nods. He doesn’t miss the way that Ben looks slightly startled, as if he hasn’t quite gotten used to people hearing him when he speaks. Or maybe he’s just surprised that Diego is listening to him. “You’re probably right. Hey, uh, do your regular senses work in that body? Smell, temperature...?”

Ben’s eyebrows furrow together. “Yeah, why?”

“You like coffee?”

The reaction is instantaneous; Ben’s smile lights up his face, a wobbly grin that has heat rushing through Diego’s veins again. It’s so much like when they were kids that something seems to shift; it’s like Diego can recognize him again, properly, not as a stranger but as someone-- as a brother-- who maybe never left.

His heart is doing something funny in his chest and he-- he’s not good at this. At processing. Feeling.

Fuck, they could all use some solid hours of therapy, huh?

He should’ve brought his knives. He’d wanted to seem approachable, because it’s been years since Ben’s been with him and Ben had always been the most sensitive one among them, had never liked the violence-- though, Diego realizes with a heavy jolt, that ship has probably sailed. Who knows what Ben has been watching, or thinking, all of these years. Had he read Vanya’s book?

What must Ben think of them?

Diego takes the chance to turn his back as he sets up the coffee maker, finding a nearby outlet to plug it into. Hopefully he can remember enough to make a decent cup, whether or not his brother will actually be drinking it.

“Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?” Diego asks.

There’s a pause, and regretfully, Diego turns back around. Ben looks across his face like he’s searching for something, and Diego looks away.

Wimp. He’s a wimp.

“For supporting us.” Ben shrugs, too nonchalantly. “For being there for Klaus. At least sometimes.”

“No,” Diego replies instantly. He shakes his head, because that’s wrong, and Ben can’t thank him for that. “No, no, I wasn’t there enough. I didn’t--” I didn’t believe him. I didn’t ask about you. I didn’t try. Not even once.

“I know,” Ben agrees. His neutrality is almost startling. Then again, he is dead. “You made mistakes. But so has Klaus. I don’t blame you for not asking after me. Though I won’t turn down apologies, to me or to Klaus.”

Diego blinks, taken aback. The brother that he remembers was rarely this direct, hasn’t had this kind of small, self-confident smirk in longer than he can remember, though he’s seen it before. “I--”

“You don’t actually have to,” Ben adds.

“I am sorry,” Diego gets out. It sounds a bit choked. Apologies are not his strong suit, either.

(But this is Ben. No one can deny him anything, Diego least of all).

Ben nods like that’s it and it’s settled. “Okay.”

Okay? “That’s it?” Diego clenches his fists on his side of the counter, because he’s not supposed to start fights over stupid stuff anymore, like why he’s being forgiven so easily.

“Just make sure to remember Klaus, okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I-I will.” Shit, that was almost a stutter. He needs to end this conversation.

Instead he breathes. Looks for details to calm himself down. Ben is wearing all black-- black pants, black shirt, black hoodie. It almost doesn’t look right on him somehow. Not that Diego knows him or his preferences anymore, but he used to be a kid that was made for colour. Made for brightness.

Maybe he doesn’t get to change his clothes much, wherever he is.

The coffee machine finishes sputtering and Diego grabs the pot without looking. He needs a mug. He rummages in his cupboards until he finds the biggest one that he owns, a gold-rimmed robin’s egg blue mug with a sturdy handle that holds heat well. That should do it.

It’s dark outside by now, and he has to wonder how Klaus is doing. He can defend himself, sure, just like the rest of them-- better, in fact, in some ways, because he did serve in the army after all, and isn’t that just another thing Diego should have brought up sooner?-- but still, Diego worries. This isn’t the nicest area of town; just another reason why he’s moving out of here. Safety is something else they all need more of.

He hands the brimming cup to Ben, who takes it greedily with a small grateful smile and sticks his face right into it, inhaling deeply. The steam flicks up and around his face and Ben blows on it, seemingly just because he can.

Diego has forgotten everything. All of the words that have rattled around in his head for years and years and years, playing like a soundtrack whenever he got too idle, or caught a glimpse of a teenager who looked a little like Ben, or heard someone use the word death. Everything that he ever thought that he would say to Ben, if he could ever see him again. As a kid, he’d been naive enough to think that he might, one day.

Diego had never believed in a god. But he’d gotten pretty good at pretending to, for a while.

“I need to thank you for saving my life.”

Ben looks up from his coffee, neutral expression breaking just slightly as he raises his eyebrows. “Why would you thank me for that?”

Diego scratches at his abdomen. “You didn’t have to, is all.”

Ben shrugs again, and when he cocks his head to stare at Diego consideringly, there’s a hint of a smile. “You’d do the same for me,” he says.

Diego takes a second to toss his empty can in the recycling bin around the corner, taking a small measure of comfort in the feeling of it leave his fingers, in watching it curve, and knowing that it’ll hit its mark with perfect precision.

“I would,” Diego agrees, as evenly as he can. The clatter of the can in the recycling bin saves him from adding anything else.

Like maybe, but I didn’t, or I’ll never get the chance to try.

“I need to tell you something,” Ben says suddenly.

“What’s up?”

“I... uhm.” Ben takes a breath. His hands are shaking. Diego’s worried now. His thoughts immediately fly to the worst: someone’s in trouble, something’s going on. Hell, maybe the world is ending again. It wouldn’t be that surprising.

All he knows for sure is that Ben looks scared shitless.

“What is it?”

“I was there.” It comes out on an exhale but the words are still clear. “I was in the room, when Patch died. I-- I watched her get shot.”