See, the thing is Vanya is a lonely person by nature.
Or so one would think if they were on the outside looking in. She's quiet, reserved, and not too up to date with her social skills. She retreats in on herself if given the slightest amount of attention and positively wilts if someone so much as looks at her wrong. She doesn't date, doesn't have friends and has no family functions to speak of. (That last one still stings.)
Ben can admit that he is in the unique position of both being pretty much as far outside as you can be to still glimpse a light in the window and, at the same time, closer than anyone else has ever gotten to Vanya. And to think, all it took to get to know his own sister was dying.
Vanya is lonely because their father nurtured her this way and she's never quite managed to wiggle out from underneath his thumb.
And Ben? Well, death has taught him a thing or two about loneliness.
Ben finds Klaus upstairs in their father's study. He's rifling through the desk, muttering to himself.
"Hey." Ben refuses to acknowledge how much he enjoys making Klaus jump.
"Benny!" Klaus spreads his arms wide and Ben looks at him. He's pale and skinny. His eyes are red rimmed and watery, he's jittery and Ben can tell he's coming crashing down from a pretty big high.
"Long time no see," Klaus continues, grinning. He looks manic. "How's the afterlife treating you, my dear brother?"
"I checked on you yesterday," Ben reminds him, feeling an exasperated smile tug at the corners of his mouth. "When the news about Dad came out, remember?"
"Uh- not really?"
"You were in an ambulance."
His brother laughs, scruffs the back of his neck, and goes back to the desk drawers. "Ah, yeah, that was a good time."
Ben watches, feeling his nonexistent stomach sink, and tells Klaus, "You should come visit Vanya more often."
"Yeah right," Klaus mutters, so lowly he's almost covered by the shuffling of trinkets. "Dear little sister and I don't have a lot in common these days."
Ben looks at his brother, wasting away under fear and isolation and drugs and says, "You'd be surprised."
Diego tells his sister she shouldn't be there. Vanya withers under the weight of his contempt but Ben puffs with indignation. Sure, he wasn't too happy with her when the book came out, but he'll be the first to admit that some of that needed to be said.
"Not cool, bro," Ben scowls, but of course no one hears him. Being a ghost sucks.
"Seriously, you're going to do this? Today?" Allison's attempt at defense is a little lackluster for Ben's tastes, but he can fess up to being a bit bias towards his little sister. He wonders if any of them truly understand how alone she is, but he already knows the answer. They haven't been really concerned about Vanya's well-being since after he died. And before- well, before he hadn't spared her a passing thought.
If he couldn't make up for it in life then he might as well do it in death though, so Ben stands up from his seat on a side table and ambles over to provide backup over her right shoulder. He hopes his glare is sharp enough his brother feels it from the afterlife.
"Maybe he's right," Vanya tells Allison, and Ben absolutely can't stand the defeat in her voice. It's there all too often. "I should go."
Ben pumps his fist in the air when she's convinced to stay, but it still feels like a hollow victory until Luther puts on the record. Ben whirls around his sister, grinning at her stupid dance moves, and wishes he could pick her up, spin her around, make her laugh for the first time in- God, has it been years since he's heard her laugh? Has he heard her laugh? For now, he'll have to settle with her small smile and dorky dancing.
"I wish you could be happy," he tells her, feeling like his chest is too tight even without the need to breathe.
Vanya doesn't answer, and eventually, she stops dancing.
Five comes back and he calls Vanya ordinary. Ben grits his teeth and wants to throw one of those stupid marshmallow sandwiches in his face.
Then Five says "The world is ending in eight days and I have no idea how to stop it," and Ben has better things to think about.
" Him? " Ben asks, incredulous. "No seriously, him? "
His sister doesn't hear him, of course, but no one has heard him for years now. Ben's used to talking to himself at this point. He guesses he could leave, go to Klaus and have a real conversation, but-
He hasn't seen his sister happy in so long. When he'd first showed up, when she'd come to his funeral, she'd been pale and small and- diminished, in some unknowable and too real way, a way he hadn't been able to see in life. And Klaus- Klaus wasn't ready for his dead brother to follow him around. Even after all these years, he's still twitchy about it.
So for now Ben is stuck where he's always been: dogging his little sister's tiny footsteps- and questioning her life choices.
"Oh, come on," Ben groans from where he is perched on the arm of the sofa, nauseated by the puppy dog eyes Vanya is in the process of falling for. "You can do so much better, Vanya, it's not even funny."
It's not even that the guy- is it Leo?- is that bad looking; he's not, he's just so...boring. Ben hasn't been able to fully pay attention to him for more than five seconds without wanting to fall asleep. He's only been here for an hour and it feels longer than Ben's whole death has been. And let Ben be the first to say that those years he followed Vanya and Klaus around during puberty? Talk about an eternity.
It's only when the guy- Larry? Leroy? He's getting close- mentions his father that Ben tunes in. "I guess I'm learning to play to get close to him," Leonel laughs, self-conscious. "What about your father?"
Ben can tell from the way her shoulders stiffen that Vanya is remembering the disaster of a funeral. He scowls at Leon and hops up to stand in front of her, regardless of the fact that neither of them can see him. He hopes the guy walks right through him before he leaves- Vanya's done it on accident enough over the years that Ben knows his cold spot smarts like a bitch.
But his sister is a pro at brushing awful subjects away, has been since they were kids, and so he doesn't have to find a way to come back to life just to kick this guy's ass. Yet, at least. He still isn't comfortable with the way he drools after her.
Leonidas offers to take Vanya out to dinner some time, and Ben is disgusted with how long it takes her to turn him down.
"No, really, Vanya." Ben mutters later, incorporeal arm thrown around her shoulders as she cuddles under a blanket with a book. They're working their way through Dante's Inferno this week, and as a being with foreknowledge of the afterlife, Ben isn't finding it too appealing. Why Vanya feels the need to read things that are an obvious attempt to emulate their father after all these years is beyond him. "That guy? Ugh. Even Klaus has better taste."
"Hey, why the long face?"
Ben never expects an answer these days, but he likes to keep a running commentary going just for the sake of his own sanity. He thinks if he couldn't hear his own voice he'd have lost his mind long ago, convinced he was just a figment of someone else's imagination. When his thoughts get dark like this he usually goes to see Klaus but there's always a fifty-fifty chance his brother will be too high to notice. Those- those are the really bad days, when Ben wishes he could just disappear. Not exist anymore, in any way.
Vanya is slow on her way out of the bathroom, trudging as if there's an invisible snow bank around her knees. Compared to the pretty Asian lady Ben vaguely recognizes from the orchestra who strutted out earlier, Vanya seems washed-out and overtired. It's probably not far off from the truth.
Of course Vanya can't tell Ben what's wrong, doesn't even know that it's an option, but he can damn well try anyway. These years of switching between her and Klaus have made it painfully obvious that while Klaus has drugs and Vanya has music, they both just- don't have anything else. There's no one in his siblings' lives. They're both so alone and seem so determined that it has to be that way. It makes something cold where Ben's heart used to be clench.
"Did she say something to you?" Ben asks, slouching after his sister. Her shoulders are hunched inward like they get when she's just resigned herself to accepting an insult as fact. Sir Reginald floats to the forefront of Ben's mind and it makes him bare his teeth. "You gotta stop letting everyone walk all over you, Van."
He could have been there with her, offered unsolicited moral support, but in the end Ben's sense of propriety is deeply ingrained and not even in death can he excuse invading the lady's restroom.
Out on the street, Vanya pauses, debating something, and then sets off in the exact opposite direction of her apartment. Ben cocks his head curiously and has to jog to catch up. It's a long walk to Bricktown.
Violin Guy is too happy to see his sister. Ben bristles at the smile on his face, the way his hand lingers as he ushers her through the door.
But why should he worry? It's just a man, and he was just saddened by the fact Vanya doesn't have anyone but ghosts, real and metaphorical, to keep her company.
Ben still grumbles when she receives a carved violinist. He can admit that it's a sweet gesture, but-
"This guy knew you for, like, a day, Van," Ben protests at the sweet light in her eyes. She is turning over the carving in dainty fingers. "You talked for an hour . That is not enough interaction for such a creepy gift."
In the end, Allison seems to agree with his assessment, acting taken aback and thrown off by Vanya's clear preference of company. Ben can almost hear her thoughts; That guy? Him?
"I know, right?" Ben asks her. "That's what I've been saying."
"You know what, she shouldn't get a vote," Diego says, turning his back to the rest of them. Ben, sitting on the back of the couch just behind Vanya, can almost feel The Horror ripple underneath what used to be his skin. He's had just about enough of their family picking on his little sister.
Because Vanya- she's so small . Physically, yes, every one of them towers over her, even short, solid Diego; but even mentally, emotionally, she takes up as little space as possible. Ever since he's been dead Ben has followed her, known her, see the parts of Vanya she doesn't show to anyone else. He'd felt like a voyeur, living vicariously through his sister without her knowledge, but now he knows he's the only one she has. Ben was the one to see her throw up because of the pills night after night when Father upped her dosage in their teenage years, and go through that eating disorder three years back that she still hasn't fully recovered from. (It makes him sick with guilt and worry and more than a few times he's gone to Klaus just to ask him to get fucking groceries so she won't pass out in the shower again.) He's seen each and every panic attack and sobbing fit, seen how hollow she is. He knows the greyscale of her life and he can't help .
And then Vanya comes back to the one place there is supposed to be family around to help her, who are supposed to see what Ben sees- that sorrow, that pain and anger and defeat in her eyes- and who are supposed to do something about it . And instead they throw it back in her face. And for what? A fucking book that told the truth they didn't want to hear?
Ben seethes .
"Tell him he can go to hell."
Klaus snorts, receiving a glare from Allison; but Vanya is already talking.
"I was going to agree with you!" Diego jerks around in surprise, and although Ben is not on her side in the argument, he'll give points to his sister just for the look on his face. He and Luther both, they were so Goddamn self-righteous sometimes; it was most of the reason why they fought constantly.
"And you know what, I'm on Diego's side, because fuck you, Luther." Klaus is loud and vibrant and Ben often wonders if his afterlife would be more- not fun, but entertaining at least, if he chose to check in with his brother more. He splits his time with them pretty evenly, but Klaus is still skittish about the whole dead brother thing and sometimes he's so high he can't even see Ben anyway. "And if Ben were here he'd agree with me too!"
"No I wouldn't," Ben tells him. But he doesn't mind that Vanya's team wins this round.
There are people in his home trying to hurt his family. Ben has never hated death more.
"Don't you fucking touch my sister!" He throws a punch, but it goes straight through the guy's stupid oversized bear mask, and Vanya falls to the floor. Ben can barely see blood trickling down her forehead in the dim light.
The man looms over her, and Ben tries to push him back, hoping and praying and demanding that this time, just this time, please God let him move something-
But it's Luther, in the end, who yells, "Hey, asshole." Bear-man is suitably distracted after that. Ben almost misses the behemoth his brother has become as he kneels next to Vanya, looking her over.
"Christ, you should get that looked at," he tells her, but she stands against his better judgement, and he's simply so relieved she's alive he doesn't complain again.
Pretty much everyone is downstairs now, Luther and Allison and Diego and Vanya-
Oh no. Where's Klaus?
Ben tears upstairs, hoping against hope that he can just appear before his brother like he's used to. But he doesn't, because all that's left of Klaus is a wet towel Ben knows he uses for his hair and a walkman, still playing the greatest hits from their childhood.
"Shit," Ben says to no one but himself, and feels like crying.
"Finally!" Ben exclaims as a key turns in the lock and the door to Vanya's apartment swings open on creaking hinges. He had come back downstairs last night to find that she'd already left- Diego and Allison had been sitting in a particularly tense, guilty silence and Ben can only grit his teeth against the vitriol his sister had probably endured- and she'd not come back to her apartment last night.
He's twitchy with worry; if he were still alive his stomach would probably be in knots. The thought of her out there had sent him into a rage, he's not proud to say- although a couple of her lampshades did shake a little when he punched the wall so he's kind of excited about that. Still, Ben knows he can trust his sister to take care of herself- or at least, he's got no other choice. Ben's just waiting until he knows the orchestra meets- he'll go to The Icarus and see her there. She's got to be there. If he loses both her and Klaus in one night- well. She's home now.
He's been sitting on the windowsill since around two in the morning and with the street below absent of any activity, it has been a boring few hours. "I thought you'd never- what the fuck?"
There is a man standing in the doorway. He looks around for a second before taking a cautious step over the threshold. He's holding a bouquet in his free hand and Vanya's keys are dangling from the lock. Ben recognizes that tiny globe keyring as the one Vanya had bought in a maudlin attempt to celebrate Ben's birthday last year. He'd been touched she remembered how much he wanted to see the world.
"You're not Vanya," Ben tells him blankly. "Who the fuck are you?"
The man is familiar, now that Ben has the presence of mind to really look at him. He's stocky and brunet and- average, really. Just a guy.
"Violin Guy," Ben mutters to himself. What is he doing here?
Violin Guy is breaking into Ben's sister's apartment.
"You can't be here," Ben says loudly, like that's going to do anything. A ghost can dream, though.
Liam ignores the ghost shouting in his face and continues to invade Ben's sister's privacy.
"Get out!" Ben's voice is way too high- he can't remember a time before this week he's shouted so much. "Get the fuck out!"
Lucas does not get out. Ben follows him through the apartment, boiling with anger, and The Horror hisses in his chest. The side table in Vanya's hallway rattles but other than that Ben's display of temper does absolutely zilch.
This man is rifling through his sister's things. He's invading her home. He's in her damn bedroom . Ben tries to snatch up the bouquet when Lester settles it on her bedspread, a small smile on his lips- God, fuck, Ben wants to rip him apart - and throw it back at him. All he succeeds in doing is shaking the covers a little. A few petals curl at the edges from the cold of his incorporeal hands.
Ben has never enjoyed killing, but right now he's willing to give it a fair shot.
And then Langdon gets to the kitchen. Ben's confused at first- what would he want here?
Lawrence is methodical and practical in his approach to going through Vanya's cupboards. He's not slow, but he takes his time and examines every inch of her private space. He even opens the dishwasher.
And then he finds Vanya's backup meds.
"What are you doing with those? Put them back. What are you doing?"
Lewis pockets the pills, humming to himself. He strides back to Vanya's bedroom, straightens the sheets, and nestles the roses more pleasingly against the blankets. He keeps one hand in his pocket, curled around the prescription Vanya has had since before any of them could remember.
"You Goddamn psychopath, give those back!" Ben is tired of throwing punches that don't land. "Get away from my sister!"
That's when Allison throws Lincoln to the ground and demands to know what he's doing there. Righteous fire licks at Ben's dead heart.
"He's stealing her meds!" Ben tells her. He's throwing his hands in the air, waving, desperate to just this once make himself seen and heard. "He's got them in his pocket, he's trying to poison her or some shit, Allison, you've gotta help Vanya!"
But Violin Guy is a pretty smooth talker, and Allison- as suspicious as she is- lets him go. Ben could honestly cry.
"No, no, no, what are you doing?" He shouts at Allison as she leaves, keys in hand. For a second, she pauses on the landing of the stairs and he thinks he's connected. But she just shakes her head and continues on. "He's hiding something, he's a thief, you can't let him near Vanya- Allison!"
And just like the last four billion times he's tried to communicate, no one listens to Ben.
"Well if you feel better without the pills then why take them," Leonard prods, all loose limbs and unassuming affection. Ben could puke.
"Don't listen to him." Ben is standing right between the two, gazing down at his sister's smiling face. He'd hoped the cold of his spirit would force them away from each other, create a distance, do something to drive a literal wedge between Vanya and this guy who obviously wants something terrible from Ben's little sister . But Vanya is not deterred from reaching out and taking the man's hand.
"He wants something you wouldn't be willing to give, Van!" Never mind that Ben has had his own doubts about those meds for years now. "He's crazy. There's something not right about him, for the love of God, please listen to me!"
He's already looked for Klaus and come up empty. The helplessness gnaws at him, makes his fingers shake, his image flitting in and out in front of his own eyes. His sister is falling into a trap he can only see parts of and he has no way of saving her.
Some superhero he turned out to be.
Something amazing happens at Vanya's audition and she gets first chair. For a moment, whatever changed inside her, that palpable thing that floated through her music, is enough to loosen the knot in Ben's chest. She is beautiful, up there all alone.
Leonard- stupid name- is the first person she tells.
Ben can't stand to see the rest and leaves, wishing he could slam the door behind him.
Where the hell is Klaus?
Klaus is back and somewhat sober. Ben doesn't have the time to congratulate him.
"Klaus, thank God!" He's desperate, panicky and shaking. The rest of his family sans Five are gathered around the bar, plotting some asinine thing to do with the apocalypse. It doesn't matter.
Klaus looks up and then passed him to- Vanya.
Allison tells her it's a family meeting. Vanya tells them in no uncertain terms to fuck off. Ben again regrets that he doesn't have time to appreciate any of this beyond the fact that a man who stole from and lied to and then fucked his sister under false pretenses is inside their home, that he has a hand on her elbow.
"Get the fuck off of her, you bastard," he snarls, and the face journey Klaus goes through is something to behold. But out of the appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle a situation Klaus proves which he prefers.
"Him?" Klaus asks, tone incredulous. "Vanya's dating a guy who looks like that? I knew her self-esteem isn't the best but God, she might actually be depressed."
"He's not who he says he is," Ben snaps, torn between following his sister and getting Klaus to listen to him. His brother raises his eyebrows and flings his arms out in question. Before he can spew some overdramatic bull Ben continues, "I think he's stalking her. He broke into her apartment."
Klaus goes deadly still. Their siblings are watching him wearily, but Ben can't hear a word they say. Not when someone's finally listening. " What? "
Klaus has never sounded so dangerous.
"She gave him her keys to return but he came in- stole her pills- I tried, I tried to stop him Klaus- Allison caught him and told Vanya but she didn't believe her- I think Vanya has powers."
" What? "
"What's going on?" Luther asks. "Klaus? We need you to focus, okay, this is the end of the world we're talking about-"
"Vanya has powers," Ben rushes out frantically. How far away could she and Leonard be by now? How fast could he catch up? "I think he knows, wants to control her or, or- I don't know how, maybe he read her book and put something together-"
"Or another book," Klaus mutters, paling even more under his dark eyeliner. "Like, say, Dad's journal. Where he kept all our lives on record."
"What are you talking about Klaus?" Allison asks, looking at him from the entrance, where she has been deliberating following Vanya. Ben wishes she would. Why is everyone moving so slowly ?
"Are you high again," is Diego's input.
"Everybody shut up, Vanya's in trouble," Klaus says.
Allison goes rigid and then spits "I knew it!" Then she frowns. "How did you know it?"
"They're getting away, Klaus, we have to go! He's- some of the things he says, the way he's closed her off from us, he's manipulating her! He- they-" Ben cuts himself off, unwilling to go into details, but Klaus seems to get it because his face darkens beyond what Ben thought possible. The Horror purrs in recognition.
"Ben says so," Klaus holds up his hands to stop their scoffing. "You do what you want about the end of the world, guys, but my sister is in danger. I don't think her boyfriend is who he says he is."
"There are more important-"
Allison cuts Luther off with, "I couldn't find anything on him. At all. Klaus is right, we've got to help her."
"I'm going," Klaus agrees with a nod to Ben. "I'll call you to find out about fighting the apocalypse later."
The streetlamps outside are bent at impossible angles. It's pouring rain. Klaus looks at Ben with wide eyes.
"Dad hid a lot from us," Ben reminds him, hurrying towards Bricktown.
"If she's this strong now, and she's only now starting out-"
"Imagine how scared she's going to be," Ben finishes for him. Klaus sprints to catch up.
Leonard's house is empty. The door is unlocked.
"Fuck," Ben mutters, feeling like his world is crashing down around his ears. He's been with his sister since he died. Now she's gone and he has no way of knowing where she is or if she's okay.
"He must have taken her someplace," Klaus supplies, rifling through the kitchen drawers. He moves into the living room, snagging pictures off the mantle. "Somewhere he'd feel safe, probably quiet, where we wouldn't be able to get to them fast-"
He's still breathing hard from how far they'd run to get here, but Ben thinks if Klaus stops speaking he might scream just to fill the silence. He longs for the sounds of Vanya's violin.
The phone rings just as Klaus picks up an old photograph of a young Leonard with an old woman. Without pausing, Klaus snatches up the receiver but says nothing. After a moment his shoulders relax just slightly. "You found this number at Vanya's, okay- Allison, slow down, who's Harold Jenkins?"
A pause. That strange, deadly gravity is back in Klaus's voice. "I see."
Something important happened to his brother- he was never able to sound that way before he disappeared. Even being sober wouldn't cause this.
"There's a photo here, him as a kid in front of a cabin in the woods," Klaus speaks into the phone and his eyes meet Ben's. Ben's head spins with the grave, terrified expression on his brother's face.
Klaus hangs up after just another minute and tells him succinctly, "Leonard Peabody is Harold Jenkins. Harold Jenkins starts the apocalypse."
"And he has our sister."
"With all her new and improved abilities to control weather and bend lampposts."
"And maybe-" The Horror writhes inside Ben.
"Yeah." Klaus nods. "We gotta go, Allison told me a possible address. I didn't tell the others-"
"They'll never understand what it means to be so afraid of yourself," Ben stops his unneeded explanation. "They've never had to be afraid of their own powers before."
Vanya is scared and so alone when they find her.
The house should be idyllic- a quiet reprieve from the city, surrounded by birdsong and sweet, natural scents. There are flower boxes by the front windows where Klaus haphazardly parks the car Ben didn't know he knew how to hotwire.
Ben can hear his sister sobbing inside. He's too familiar with the noise.
He pushes right through the walls to get to her, leaving his brother to find another way in. Inside, wind howls through the rooms. A lamp flies straight through Ben's chest and shatters upon impact with the wall. Books and baubles are floating in midair.
None of that matters though, because his sister is screaming.
"Vanya, Vanya, Vanya," Ben chants, moving as if to put his hands on her shoulders. "Van, please calm down, it's okay, I've got you-"
The sound of a body slamming through the back door makes her jump, cutting off her wailing. The surprise of seeing Klaus bust through the sturdy wooden door is enough to make most of the decorations drop to the floor. Glass shatters, and then there's dead silence.
A bird chirps from the windowsill.
"The door was locked from the outside," Klaus explains breathlessly. There's something strange and tense in his face. "Did he lock you in here?"
The Horror snarls and Ben feels his own anger sing in answer. Vanya opens and closes her mouth, tear tracks still gleaming on her cheeks.
"Klaus!" Ben warns. "Now's the fucking time."
"Sorry," their brother apologizes. He takes a step forward and his face crumples as Vanya backs away. "Sorry, wrong question. Let's try again: are you alright?"
"I-I-" Their sister stutters before a great heaving sob wracks her frame. "You- you saw-"
"Yeah, I did." Klaus's voice is so soft, softer than anything Ben's ever heard, and The Horror is twisting in his chest, burning to reach out and fix this, anything to stop his little sister from crying. "It's- it's amazing, Vanya. I'm- are you okay?"
Ben goggles at him. "What are you doing, Kalus? We have to get out of here!"
"Okay-" Vanya stops herself, sounding shrill and unsure. She wipes at her face. "I- yes, of course. I'm finally more than ordinary. But-"
She stops and Klaus only speaks when it's obvious she's not going to continue. She looks around like she's trying to find someone and Ben's heart sinks. How long has she been alone? And where's-
"You were always more than ordinary." Ben has to say it, even if she can't hear because he's been by her side for years and there's nowhere else he'd rather be. He's only been away from her less than a day and he feels like he's losing his mind. Klaus repeats after him, but Vanya scoffs, turning away.
"Leonard left you here, didn't he?" Klaus asks. He doesn't move any closer and he's got his hands out, palms up to make sure she sees them.
"He- he-" She doesn't want to face it. "Yes. But I'm sure he had a reason-"
"Did he play the victim?" Ben shoots at her. Klaus darts his eyes to him but refocuses quickly and repeats the question. "He fed her sob stories about his father being abusive, he's probably escalated to make sure she feels bad for him, to stay with him."
"Was Leonard from a broken home," Klaus rephrases. Vanya, still shrinking away, still too tense around her own family, looks stricken. "Did something happen to him recently, to make you feel bad for him, maybe ignore warning signs you would have otherwise seen?"
The look on his sister's face is answer enough. "He has a bag, maybe a box, something he brought here with books inside that he didn't let you see, that he's protective of."
His brother is too good at this and Ben wishes he'd been around more for him. But now is not the time for regrets.
Ben knows where he's going with this. "This whole leaving her alone thing is an awful lot like Dad's training."
"When Dad was training me one-on-one," Klaus looks pained. Vanya actually looks at him for the first time at the tremor in his voice. Her expression is very fragile. "He used to lock me in the mausoleum alone. For hours and hours. He'd make me practice my powers and he'd write about it in a red book. He didn't ever let us see that book, do you remember?"
"Yes," Vanya whispers. "Yes, I remember the book."
"Did you ever see Leonard with a red book, Van? Did you ever see him with a bag or a box that you weren't allowed to touch, that he'd get incredibly upset if you went near?"
"Why, why are you asking me this!" Vanya shouts. The wind picks up outside and the lights flicker. But Ben can't be scared, not when his sister is crying.
"Leonard Peabody doesn't exist," Klaus tells her, ripping the bandaid off in one go. "His real name is Harold Jenkins, he's a murderer, and he's been manipulating and lying to you. And I think he found Dad's journal after I threw it away. I think he's always known who you are, what you're capable of. And I think he's abusing you just like Dad abused me."
Vanya spins away from them as lightning flashes outside. The walls are shaking, books are floating. A trinket zooms through Ben's left shoulder and thunks into the side of Klaus's head.
"Klaus!" Ben and Vanya both cry, and the wind that picked up inside the room dies down a little when she catches sight of the blood on his forehead.
"It's fine." He says, wiping the red away with the back of his hand. "So- where's that bag, V?"
"This is taking too long," Ben mutters, pacing back and forth as Klaus and Vanya go through the bedroom with a fine toothed comb, looking for any evidence to convince his sister. "We have to go- how can she not see he's lying to her? How can she not trust her own brothers over a guy she's known for a week? "
"What would you do," Klaus snaps at him. His glare is so sharp Ben can almost feel it. "If on the day you found about about The Horror you were left alone by everyone you trust? And then people who've-"
His brother pauses, seeming at a loss. His breathing is ragged. He's looking right into Vanya's eyes. "Who've ignored and neglected you for years come to tell you the one person you think you can trust is not who they say they are."
"L-Leonard?" Vanya clarifies, still disbelieving, voice high. "What- who are you talking to- how did you get here? How did you know I- that I can-"
"The answer to all of those questions," Klaus replies, and his fists are glowing blue, what the fuck - "is simple. Ben told me."
And suddenly Ben can feel the floor beneath his shoes for the first time in a little over a decade. He gasps, stumbles, and catches himself with both hands on Vanya's shoulders. Her own come up to steady him automatically.
"Wha- Ben? " Vanya squeaks as Ben hurls himself forward and clutches her to his chest. Her hands curl into his jacket and oh God he's finally touching someone. Ben shivers, almost overwhelmed.
But his sister is in his arms and he's followed her for years and never been able to do something as simple as give her a damn hug. Ben brings up a hand and rests it in her hair and he can feel the strands between his fingers, he doesn't even care that it's getting in his mouth when he lowers his head to rest his cheek on her scalp and Vanya is crying again-
"Oh shit, don't cry, please, Van, don't okay, I love you, I'm here, I know what you're going through, please don't cry."
"Ben, Ben, how-" Her breath hitches and she chokes on her words. Ben's probably holding her too tightly. He doesn't let go but pulls back far enough to brush her hair from her face, cup her cheek.
"I'm here, Vanya," he tells her what he's wanted to say for years. "I'm always here for you. I never left you."
"No," she answers like she must, like something is forcing her not to believe, something dark lingering in her pupils. Years of isolation and neglect rear their head. "I was- I was alone, before Leonard-"
"You keep your pills in the butter dish next to the sink. Dad upped your meds when you were fourteen and you were sick every night for months but you never told anybody. Four months after you left home you fell down the stairs of your apartment building because it was on the bad side of town and your landlord never fixed the staircase so your foot went right through the floorboards. Dad made you come back to check your prescription in exchange for financial aid with the hospital bills. You forget to eat four days out of seven, but you always keep marshmallows and peanut butter in the pantry and you only ever eat that when you cry."
Vanya grows progressively whiter and whiter as he speaks. Her hands are fisted in his jacket and her eyes are leaking.
"You keep a coffee grinder Mom gave you when you left home on the right side of the microwave and a box of that peppermint tea you know Diego likes but would never ask for on the left side. You have a copy of every single one of Allison's movies but you can't watch them unless it's the night you eat that stupid sandwich. You have a record under your bed you've wanted to give Luther for months. On Sundays you go out to check with the reception at every rehab clinic in your area to be sure Klaus isn't sick. You have a globe keychain that reminds you of me."
Ben holds onto his little sister as tight as he can and says, "You got first chair because your powers enhanced your music and you use sound somehow. I watched you preform; you were beautiful. I've been with you, Vanya. I'm not going to leave you now."
His sister howls and her pain makes all the lightbulbs in the room burst. She flinches like she expects him to let go, but Ben just clenches his arms around her tighter.
"I- I- can't control this- I killed two men," she mumbles into his chest, weakly pawing at his jacket like she wants to push him away. After a moment, he feels Klaus drape an arm around his shoulders, the other around Vanya's. "You should- should go."
"Nah, I don't think we will," Klaus says conversationally. His voice is hard to hear over his sister's storm. "You forget, Ben is dead and I know what it's like to have powers you can't fully control, like, ever. We're not going anywhere."
"Not without you," Ben clarifies, and his sister sobs into his shoulder.
Vanya cries herself to sleep in Ben's arms. After maneuvering her into a comfortable position on the couch, Klaus lets the glow around his hands fade and Ben can feel his form disappear. It's kind of like being doused with a bucket of ice water.
"Thanks, I didn't know I could do it." Klaus grins at him tiredly, but it drops fast. "I gotta find that book, man."
"Why?" Ben cards a hand through his hair in frustration. "I already proved to her that I've been with her all the time, she should know that I know what I'm talking about-"
"The only person who ever abused you was Dad," Klaus snaps. "And he wasn't subtle about it. This? This is gonna fuck with her head for years to come. She needs something solid- something she can look at and remind herself that she wasn't making a mistake leaving this fucking bastard in the dust."
"You want to stick around so you can kill him," Ben parses. His brother bares his teeth and for the first time, a shiver of fear races down Ben's spine.
"You're damn right I do. That fucker messed with our sister. He should be glad he's only got me around to come after him."
"Not if I get there first," Ben tells him and there's a sick sense of satisfaction in the answering grin Klaus gives him.
Leonard Peabody comes home. There's a red book in his bag.
"Take Vanya out to the car," Ben tells Klaus as Harold Jenkins brandishes a knife in his direction.
Klaus pouts at him.
"I've earned this," Ben reminds, and that's all it takes for Klaus to sigh and let the blue take over his hands again. He's getting better.
Klaus picks up their sister and hauls ass out to the car. Ben turns back to the man who manipulated his sister and plotted his family's murder and is apparently the cause of the apocalypse waiting to happen.
This time, when Ben lets The Horror rip through him, he's smiling.
This time the car ride is just as long but that's alright because Ben gets to hold his sleeping sister the whole time. Klaus can't drive for shit, which makes Ben wonder how they even managed to get here without killing themselves, but the worry and apprehension makes his memory fuzzy. He suggested staying there and waiting for someone to show up but Klaus had leveled an unimpressed look at him.
"You want the others' first introduction to my new powers, Vanya's new powers and the return of their dead brother to happen in a house painted with a man's blood?"
Now, in the backseat of a stolen car, Vanya's head rests on his chest and he suspects if he were alive his arm would be asleep from how he's holding her. He has no intention of letting go any time soon.
Ben doesn't know what's happening with the others, or if the world is still ending. He doesn't know how they're going to handle him or Klaus or Vanya.
He knows Vanya is scared and tired and has been neglected for all her life; he followed her through most of it, was complicit in the rest while he was alive. But damn him if he lets her suffer alone now. She's his sister, she's been with him as much as he's been with her.
It's high time they both learned about something other than the meaning of loneliness.