Day Two: 9:53 PM: Sage and Durban: Malleable Memory
He digs through his closet, tossing shirts and pants aside, looking for one article of clothing in particular.
A silver jacket, beautiful, durable leather, a gift from his little sister. It's impervious to the cold, to the wind, to the rain. It feels like home and love and Jamie. Jamie who never judged, who though she was Nancy's blood loved him just as much as if he were her blood too.
His head hurts like he's smacked it into a cabinet and followed that up with a deep dive into an empty pool head first.
He can't remember what he was looking for now.
"Arrgh!" Ben kicked the thing nearest to him, a beautifully tailored vest, watching it sail right into a wide eyed Henry standing in his doorway and staring in shock at the hurricane of destruction. "Oh crap, Henry, I'm so sorry!"
Henry, bruised, battered, in that underground bunker that Monroe dragged him to every evening, back when the Coalition was an up and coming force and not a disintegrating gang. Henry who looked at him with fear in his eyes, as if he were going to haul off and hit him at any moment. Henry who reminded him of so many other painfully unlucky children who'd died right before his eyes in those god forsaken labs.
Children that Nancy had quietly told him had never left.
Henry working on the technology that put them a step ahead of law enforcement, designing cell phones and laptops and cameras so fast and clever that it was clear that he was a tiny technopath in the making if he ever made it to his teenage years at the pace Adrianna and Monroe pushed him. Henry who no one ever had a kind word for, who was kicked and punched and shoved until Ben stood between Shadow and Henry, daring the man to just try it one more time, I dare you, you complete and utter excuse for a human being.
Henry clinging to him as he threatened Monroe within an inch of her life, told her in no uncertain terms that he was leaving and taking Henry with him. Monroe who shrugged as if she was giving away a particularly ugly handbag instead of her younger brother, who said nothing when he went about it through the proper channels, just laughed at her parent's fury. Monroe who could read minds and hearts and never once had a shred of empathy for another living thing.
Monroe who knew what he'd been through and used it to twist the knife in deeper. Who taunted him about the ones they couldn't save, who knew on an absurdly detailed level every broken, damaged, part of him and found him wanting in every way. Who mocked Everett when he left with Ben, claiming that partners stuck together. Monroe who never saw Henry as more than a means to an end.
He yelped in pain, the detonating fire in his head worse than before, collapsing to his knees under the weight of it. The world was dimming at the edges and he tried to breathe through it face connecting roughly with the cloth strewn floor. The pain was oddly familiar, as if he had a tolerance for it he'd never known.
His own Grandfather delighting in his newly acquired experiment, as if Ben wasn't anything but the hundred dollars his parents had signed him over for.
The first time his Grandfather stabbed him, curiously waiting to see how long it took his supercharged metabolism to heal. The knife was cold and god it had burned so badly. But not as bad as the next one, heated to the approximate temperature of the sun.
Nancy, terror stricken, as the walls closed around them, his broken legs rendering his super speed absolutely useless, as her adopted father tested for the gifts he'd killed her parents over. Abercrombie had known even then that others were her greatest weakness and thrown Ben in as motivation. True sink or swim. She'd made them intangible, her powers manifesting as she held him and cried, life forever altered. His heart had hurt for her, for the inevitable now that she had a use.
"Benjamin? Can you hear me? God, are you okay?" His blurry eyes tried to sort out Henry from the bright light of his room and the rapid pounding between his eyes. "I'm calling 911!"
"Wait," he groaned, trying to sit up as the world spun. "Wait, Henry, I'm fine. I just have a really, really monster of a migraine." His shoulder wasn't feeling too great either.
Akhenaten catching him across the back with his stupid khopesh as Nancy wiped the floor with him with the gladius she'd retrieved from a tied up Flavius Arcturius. He'd apologized approximately fifteen times and stitched it up for him once Julius was once again in control. But that was nothing to the lecture Gabe had given Jules about reckless sword waving. Maybe he was just salty that all three of them had been after the Coronet of Queen Cortanella and came up with bupkis thanks to a particularly spooky heroine.
Huh. So that's where his shoulder injury had actual come from.
Ben moaned in pain as the dam broke and a dozen memories hit him at once.
He is 14, cold, hungry, living off the garbage that society rejected but god was he ever happy. He and Jamie and Nancy were free and no one could ever take that from them.
He is 6 and the young girl thrown into the cell next to him is covered in blood. He hopes it's not her own and offers her half the pear he's been tossed for dinner. It's nowhere near close to the calories he needs and at least he can help someone else. She accepts and he's stunned by her smile. They're so rare here.
He is 22 and Lady Death comes for him with a soft smile, and he wants to rage that he isn't ready yet, he has so much to do, but when has that ever stopped Her.
He is 9 and Nancy is crying because her hair has turned the color of death, snow white from roots to tips in the front. A permanent mark for a power driven by the permanence of eternity.
He is 22 again? Somehow he is alive and Nancy is tackling him to the ground, hugging him and Xiao as best she can because they are back. He does not question what she did to cheat the Reaper. Does not want to know any more than he absolutely has to. He is content knowing that he has another chance at life. Another chance to be with her.
Also, she definitely needs to get over her commitment issues.
He laughs as the tears drip down his face, spooking an even more confused Henry. "Benjamin? What's going on?"
"Oh Henry," He snorts, "This is so rich. We're being played by someone but I think they've stretched themselves thin, and I just broke through," he realizes that Henry is looking at him like he's crazy. "You have no idea what I'm saying, of course." He shakes his head, stumbling to his feet. "Come on, I'll explain as best I can over hot chocolate and coffee."
Henry sighs and follows him down the stairs, watching him like a hawk. Ben wants to laugh but knows that Henry won't see the humor in the last twenty-four hours the way he does. Who loses their memory and then proceeds to try to romance their ex-fiancée all over again?
(Nevermind the fact that he still wants to marry her. That's a thought for a different crisis.)
"Do I get the coffee this time?" Henry asks, breaking the silence tentatively. Ben shrugs, pulling tins from the cabinet. He focuses on doing little things. There will be plenty of time ten minutes from now to call Nancy and Everett (and Sol and Xiao and literally everyone else) and see if they've come to their senses or if they're still under the spell of whatever had trapped the whole city. He worries that if he moves too quickly – ah the irony – that he'll attract the attention of the Thing his brain has been so slavishly listening to.
Darkness his mind subconsciously supplies.
"I don't think so, kiddo. It gives you pretty bad heartburn and you're still a growing teenager." Ben grins as Henry rolls his eyes. He's glad that even with his memory gone, Henry trusts him. "Also, totally sorry for beaning you with a vest. It was unintentional." Henry just shrugs.
"You looked like you were having a stroke. It scared me." Henry was eying him as if he was looking for further symptoms. "And now you're telling me that you've been what, hypnotized or something?" His brow furrowed. "Maybe you had a seizure and you're post ictal or something."
Ben snorted. "Where did you even learn those terms?"
Henry grabbed his hot chocolate off the counter and drank it mulishly. "Maybe I want to be a doctor?"
Ben beamed with pride. If the desire struck with Henry after he was unbrainwashed, he'd happily support him.
"Maybe you've just seen too many medical procedurals with Julius and Fatima," he teased. Henry jumped, sloshing hot chocolate down his cream colored sweater.
" How do you know about Fatima? I just met her today!" Ben was so tempted to say that he was psychic but he didn't want to be that guy. Henry was having a bad enough day as it was.
To be fair, they all were.
"Answer me this, Henry. How did we meet? Not the day I took you in. Our first meeting."
Henry opened his mouth to speak, closed it, opened it again.
"I don't know." His voice was soft, worried. "I can't remember."
Ben nodded sympathetically. "It was pretty traumatic, but you've forgotten for a different reason. So just hear me out, okay? Can you try again? Try to push past the block, but sit the hot chocolate down first. I don't want you getting a third degree burn because I'm a crappy guardian."
Henry eyed him in disbelief but did as he said, closing his eyes and breathing deeply.
"I think there was a man. He was huge, carried knives." Ben nodded encouragingly even though Henry's eyes were closed. Henry's voice was ragged, his breathing choppy and uneven as he encountered the same pain Ben had. Ben prayed it wasn't as bad as the brain splitting he'd felt but they couldn't stop now, not with so much at stake. He hoped that since he'd broken through it would be easier for another, collective rips in a fabric stretched too thin.
"His name is Shadow Saunders. Shadow isn't his real first name, but he thinks he sounds cool like that and no one really rains on his parade, you know?" Ben supplied, trying to help.
Henry's mouth twisted in pain, eyes still squeezed tight as if he was reliving every awful second. "You were wearing a really goofy looking outfit. Silver leather and opaque goggles. You stepped between me and him and," his eyes flew open. "Oh my god, Ben." Tears pooled at the corners of his eyes and he sagged, as Ben caught him. "You're right." Ben nodded, pulling Henry into a chair. "I remember. We have to tell the others. They have no idea what's going on!"
Ben sighed, grabbing his coffee and downing it before clinking his mug down on the polished counter. "We will. You call Everett and I'll call Nancy, divide and conquer." Henry rolled his eyes.
"You say that as if I don't have a system of conference calling as many people as I want at once." Ben shook his head and laughed.
"I didn't forget, Henry. I just think it might not be good to draw massive attention to ourselves. We'll start small and go large." Henry gave him a knowing look.
"Starting small includes Nancy, because of course it does?" Ben gave him a confident grin.
"She's the city's heroine. We need her." I need her.
Henry let it go. "Fine, let's just call."