It was late afternoon on Wednesday when they trudged in. The rain had stopped, but there was still a heavy mist that hung over the city. Steve would have thought it was the weather that had everyone so down. If circumstances were different. He’d be grateful if that were the case.
There were only four that day. It didn't surprise him, his midweek groups were never successful. Besides, who wanted to join a support group run by one of the guys who’d managed to get half the world’s population killed? That there weren’t cranks turning up and threatening to kill him was a miracle, or at least Steve thought so.
There was Audra, the white middle-aged brunette school teacher. Jules, the pale punk with the blue hair. Jason, the Hispanic guy who always wore a bow tie. Something about them being cool, Steve was pretty sure it was a pop culture reference. And Pete, the black man who wore baggy clothes and spoke like a Harvard professor.
He checked his watch, realized they were ten minutes past the start time, and cleared his throat. “It’s safe to say this is everyone. Shall we get started?” Steve asked. There were nods and murmurs, but no one went first. Steve squared his shoulders and started talking.
“It’s been four years since the… Decimation,” he started. He’d almost said ‘since the Snap’. That was what he called it, not the world. “And this morning I woke up for the first time like everything was normal.”
“No flashbacks?” Audra asked, and Steve shook his head.
“Nope. No nightmares, either,” Steve said.
“If only that were me,” Pete muttered.
“How did it feel?” Jason asked.
Steve was quiet, formulating his thoughts. He then said, “The truth? It felt great at first. Then I thought about Bucky and… It didn’t feel so good anymore.” He smiled. “But that’s what this is about. Moving on.”
Jules sighed wistfully but didn’t comment. They were chewing on their thumbnail, looking out the window. Steve didn’t pressure them to talk; sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. It looked like this would be another meeting where they didn’t.
Steve looked at Audra and asked, “Have you made any progress?”
She nodded. “Yes. I talked to Principal Daniels yesterday.”
“What did he say?”
Audra smiled. “You’re now looking at the new head of faculty relations.”
“Wonderful news,” Pete said, grinning at Audra, who smiled back.
“Congratulations,” said Jason, and Jules clapped a bit.
“Thank you. I mean, I’ve been doing the work for so long now… I didn’t want to ask at first because we’d lost so many staff. But now I think is the best time to step up. I’ve proved I can handle it and I’ve been doing the work of three people. I feel that deserves recognition,” Audra concluded.
“Of course. You’re invaluable at that institution,” Pete agreed, and Audra beamed at him.
Steve wanted to tell Pete to ask Audra out already, but he didn’t want to pressure them. It could be purely a platonic thing. Or not, he didn’t know. And as much as he tried to get to know the people in these groups, he didn’t always know what was going on in their heads.
Sometimes Steve wondered how the hell Sam had managed this. It had been because of Sam that Steve had started the groups. Every day, he would sit for hours and listen to people talk or talk to them about moving on. He’d gotten licensed as a counselor and everything, all so he could help. To try to clean up some of the mess he and the others had made.
One by one, Audra, Jason, and Pete talked. The entire time, Jules was distracted and fidgeting. Towards the end of the meeting, their phone buzzed, making them jump. Steve frowned.
“Hey, no cell rule,” Steve said.
“It’s important,” they snapped, taking their phone out of their pocket. They looked at the screen and smiled, saying, “I’ve got it.”
“Got what?” Jason asked, peering over their shoulder.
“I got an appointment with him!” They said, excited.
“Whom?” Audra and Pete asked in unison.
Jules was grinning as they said, “Okay I didn’t want to tell you guys, because I wasn’t sure. But I found someone who can talk to Devon.”
Everyone froze, and it was so still you could have heard a pin drop. Pete and Audra exchanged glances, and Jason sighed.
“It’s a scam,” Jason said.
“No, it’s not! He’s legit! I’ve seen him! He totally summoned my friend’s mom!” Jules insisted.
Steve wanted to groan, but kept himself in check for Jules’ sake. It was something that had happened immediately after the Snap. Fake psychics coming out of the woodwork claiming they could talk with your loved ones, for a fee of course. It had died off after a couple months (and several arrests) but every now and again they would crop up again.
He got up and moved so he was sitting next to Jules. He offered his hand to them, and they took it. “Listen to me, Jules,” he said. “I know that you want this guy to be legitimate. I know how much you miss Devon, I do. Because I miss Bucky just as much. But Devon is dead. Just like Bucky is dead.”
“And Grace,” said Jason.
“And my Vienna,” Pete added.
“So’s Eugenie,” Audra concluded.
“But… He’s real,” Jules said. Tears welled in their eyes, and Steve pulled them into a hug.
“You’ve got to move on,” Steve told them. “Do you think Devon would want you to live in the past for the rest of your life?”
“Probably,” Jules muttered against his shoulder, feeling the tears soak into his shirt. He rubbed their back and held them until they stopped crying. The others were crying too, and Steve got up.
“C’mon, group hug. We haven’t had one in a while,” he said.
They crowded together and hugged. Everyone murmuring words of encouragement. They were generally offering to be there for each other. When they finally separated, Jules was rubbing their face with the back of their hand.
“I’m sorry,” they said. “I don’t know what got into me.”
“It’s all right,” he assured them. He then asked, “Where’s this guy live?”
“Oh dear,” Pete muttered.
“You’re not gonna… Hurt him, are you?” Jules asked.
“I just want to talk to him,” Steve assured them. “See if I can make him understand why what he’s doing is so hurtful to others.”
Jules checked their phone and said, “I’ll text it.”
“Thank you.” Everyone took that as their cue to leave, and Steve said, “Hey, good work today, all of you.”
“See you next week,” Audra said. Pete waved. Jason and Jules were already gone. Steve’s phone buzzed, and as promised, Jules had sent the address to him. The message said, ‘His name is Klaus. Please don’t hurt him.’ Steve locked up and headed out. He was on a mission, and he almost changed into his uniform for it. Almost.
He took the subway and then walked four blocks, until he found himself in front of a derelict brownstone. According to Jules, the brownstone was separated into apartments. And this Klaus guy hid out in one of them. The building was an eyesore, and Steve’s hands balled into fists as he climbed the steps and let himself in.
It was pissing him off. How dare this asshole take advantage of people like this?! He didn’t know how much he would have taken Jules for, but he was sure it would have been a lot. The others always charged insane amounts. The ones Steve had heard about went to jail after they couldn’t prove they had these powers. Steve was going to make sure this Klaus guy joined them.
Steve took the stairs to the fourth floor, unsurprised to see it was in worse shape than the outside. He found the right apartment number and knocked hard on the door. He could hear a radio going inside, which struck Steve as odd. Did people even listen to the radio anymore? He assumed it was him and the other geriatrics. There was no answer, so Steve knocked again, which caused the door opened a crack.
Steve could see black eyes looking out at him.
“Who are you?” The man asked.
“Steve Rogers, I’m here to see Klaus,” Steve said.
The man’s eyes widened and he said, “Aren’t you Captain America?”
“That’s right,” he said, opening the door, revealing an Asian man with slicked-back hair wearing all black.
He sighed with relief as he said, “Thank God you’re here. I don’t think I can wake him up.”
“Excuse me?” Steve asked, surprised.
“Klaus. I’ve been trying to wake him for hours. If he couldn’t die I’d think he was dead,” he said. “Oh, I’m Ben by the way.”
“Hi Ben,” he said, as Ben gestured for him to come inside. Steve followed Ben in, closing the door behind him.
The apartment was worse than the hallway. The wallpaper was peeling off the walls, there was trash everywhere. Steve was pretty sure he saw a cockamouse dart under the couch. Ben didn’t seem to notice as he dragged him through the living room, past the kitchen, and into a tiny bedroom. The radio was going in there, and Steve reached over to turn it off.
On the bed lay a pale, skinny man with curly brown hair and a goatee that reminded Steve of Tony’s. He was clad only in a pair of lace-up leather pants, and in his sleep, he appeared to be clutching a set of dog tags. He was… Beautiful wasn’t the right word, because there was something off about him. Otherworldly, that was the word.
“I’m not strong enough when he’s like this, I can’t lift him,” said Ben. “Can you get him in the tub for me?”
“What’s wrong with him?” Steve asked.
“Drugs,” he replied.
That made sense. If this guy was high as a kite he probably thought he could talk to the dead. Steve’s rage was now overwhelmed by pity. He knelt down and gingerly picked up Klaus, being careful with his head as it lolled to the side. Ben gestured to the bathroom, which was as dirty as the rest of the place, with the exception of the tub. Steve thought it was odd that the tub was the only part of the apartment that was clean.
He placed Klaus against the porcelain, then Ben said, “Turn the water on,” which Steve did. When the rush of cold water hit him, Klaus’s eyes opened and he screamed.
“Fuck!” he said, sitting upright.
“Hi, welcome back,” said Ben.
His eyes were a startling shade of green, that reminded Steve of jade. Klaus looked at Ben, and then at him and said, “Who the hell is this?”
“It’s Captain America,” Ben told him. “He’s here to see you.”
“Yeah well you’re gonna have to come back later,” Klaus said, sinking back into the tub. “I don’t have my face on yet and I’m not up for performing.”
“I’m here to talk to you about Jules Cartwright,” Steve said.
Klaus turned his head, peering up at Steve as though he didn’t understand what he’d said. “Who?”
“The punk with the dead wife,” Ben replied. “You have an appointment with them this afternoon.”
“Not anymore you don’t,” Steve said.
“Uh… Why?” Klaus asked.
Steve crossed his arms over his chest, glaring down at Klaus. “Because you’re done. No more seances, no more channeling the dead, nothing like that.”
Klaus continued to stare, sitting up again. Then he did something unexpected. He laughed. He laughed so hard that Steve thought he might choke on it. Ben was trying to hide a smile too.
“Oh, that’s… That’s so, so precious. Why didn’t I think of that? Just stop seeing dead people! It’s so simple!” Klaus said.
“Yeah you wish you could stop seeing me,” Ben said to him.
“I do, actually, because you’re a huge pain in my ass,” Klaus replied. “Speaking of, how are you even still here? I thought I banished you.”
“You did, it wore off when you lapsed into your mini coma.”
Steve frowned at them and said, “I’m not joking.”
“No, you’re not, which is sad for you. I get it though, I get it.” Klaus reached up and turned the water off, but didn’t try to get out of the tub.
“He thinks you’re a fraud,” Ben pointed out.
“I am,” Klaus said. “But not about that. I can do exactly what I said, Captain.”
“It’s impossible,” Steve said. “No one can channel the dead.”
Ben waved at Steve and said, “Then what am I doing here?”
“You’re not--” Steve started to say but Ben nodded.
“I am,” said Ben, who suddenly reached out, his hand going through Steve’s arm. It sent a shiver through him, as though he’d walked into a freezer. Ben pulled his hand back and the feeling stopped.
Klaus was smirking as he got out of the tub, dripping wet, dog tags stark against his pale skin. “I’m not a fraud, Cap. Just using my curse to my advantage.”
“It’s not a curse,” said Ben and Klaus rolled his eyes.
“Yeah because it’s not hell at all seeing all those fucking…” He trailed off, waving a bit and rolling his eyes. “Nevermind. Look the point is if I have to put up with this I should at least make some money off it.”
“You were doing so well,” Ben said. It was like Steve wasn’t even in the room.
“No I wasn’t,” Klaus muttered. He walked back into the bedroom and flopped back on the bed, still wet and curling up around a pillow.
Ben looked at Steve and said, “Help me,” he muttered.
“I don’t get it,” Steve said, following after Klaus. “If he’s dead, how can I see him?”
“Because he’s like my… Control,” Klaus said, voice slightly muffled by the pillow. "Mediums in the old days used to have one ghost who worked exclusively for them. Help them contact the other dead people. He's also the Jiminy Cricket to my Pinocchio."
“I’ve been haunting him for years,” Ben explained. “Klaus can make me visible without thinking about it, like background radiation.”
“It’s getting him to go the fuck away that’s the trick,” Klaus mumbled.
Ben turned to Steve and said, “Please, you’ve got to help him.”
Klaus growled. “Shut up, Ben.”
“He’s better than this,” said Ben.
“I said shut up Ben!” Klaus shouted, sitting up.
“He was with Dave, he can be again. Just get him out of here.”
There was a soft, blue glow coming from somewhere, and Steve looked to see it was Klaus. It was around his hands, and he held one up, fingers extending. “Get out!” Klaus yelled. Steve turned in time to see Ben sigh sadly, then vanish.
Klaus was breathing hard, and he said to Steve, “You can get the fuck out too! Leave me alone! And take that sad sack one-armed fuck with you!”
Steve looked at Klaus and said, “What?”
“Get out!” Klaus yelled.
Steve was thrown out of the bedroom, the door slamming as he hit the ground in the living room. Steve got to his feet and rushed to the door, trying to open it. It was no good, he might as well have been beating against a vibranium door. He could hear movement inside, but the door wouldn’t open.
He didn’t know what to do. This guy was enhanced, no denying it. What he was, Steve had no idea. He wasn’t prepared for that, and he couldn’t get in there without destroying the place. He chose to leave, until he could get more information and form a game plan.
As he took the train home, what Klaus had said stuck with him. It almost sounded like he was talking about Bucky.
He was still thinking about it over a week later. He’d jump at random times, thinking that he heard someone else in his apartment. He was alone though, every time he checked the place. And it continued to gnaw at him. Was Steve haunted by Bucky? It didn’t seem likely. They’d had the kind of bond where if that were true, he should be able to feel it.
There was also the ghost pleading with him, to help Klaus.
Which was how the following week, Steve went back to the brownstone. He didn’t have a plan or any idea what he was going to do. But here he was, hoping Captain America could put the fear of God into this skinny little twerp.
Steve knocked on the door and surprised when it creaked open. He paused when he saw a smear of blood on the door jam. He threw the door open and said, “Klaus? Ben?”
“Back here!” Ben called.
He dashed to the bedroom, and saw Klaus on the floor. He was bloody, someone had beaten him senseless. Steve knelt by him and felt his pulse. Still alive then.
“The last customer,” Ben said. “Didn’t like what his brother said through Klaus and decided to shoot the messenger. Or beat the messenger, anyway.”
“And he stiffed me five hundred bucks,” Klaus groaned. His eyes cracked open, and he said, “Hey, I know you.”
“We’ve got to get you to a hospital,” Steve said and Klaus shook his head
“Nah, I’ve had worse. I’m fine,” Klaus said. He pushed at Steve, but he was too weak to make him budge.
“Come on,” Ben said. “I know you don’t like them but you should get checked out at least.”
“Seriously, I’m fine,” Klaus insisted. “I’m the picture of… Something. What was it? Picture of... Health! I'm the picture of health. I'm in textbooks and everything.”
Steve snorted and picked Klaus up, saying, “Come on, let’s get you out of here.” He then activated his comm piece and said, “Romanoff, are you receiving me?”
“Loud and clear,” she replied.
Klaus glared at Ben and said, “He’s talking to himself and you really think he’s gonna help?”
“Don’t be an asshole,” Ben muttered.
“I need a ride,” Steve said. “I’m in a brownstone in the Bronx, got an injured man here and I need to know where to take him. He’s refusing hospital treatment.”
He could hear clicking on the other end, and then she said, “We’re closest, you can bring him here.”
“That’s over an hour,” Steve reminded her.
“Then you better hurry,” she replied, and rang off.
Steve sighed and said, “Looks like you’re coming home with me,” Steve told him.
“Oh goody,” Klaus grumbled.
Steve carried him out and down to the street. He’d brought Natasha’s car, and as he bundled Klaus into the back he said, “Don’t bleed too much on the seats, the car’s not mine.”
Klaus said something, but Steve couldn’t hear him. Ben got in the passenger’s seat and they were off.
About thirty minutes into the drive, Steve asked, “How did he even get like this?”
“It’s kind of a long story,” Ben told him.
“We’ve got time,” Steve pointed out.
Ben looked back at Klaus, then started talking. “We’re from another world. See, my brothers and sisters and I were raised to be superheroes. Our Dad adopted us in the hopes he could train us to use our powers to save the world.”
“Sounds like a professor I know,” Steve said.
Ben sighed. “Professor X, right? Yeah, we’ve heard of him. Except our Dad was kind of… Evil.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “Evil?”
“Not like cartoonish comic book evil. More like he had a goal and didn’t want anything to get in the way of it. Especially not our happiness or well being,” Ben explained. “So in the process of training us he kind of… Broke us.”
“What did he do?”
“He kept talking about all of us reaching our true potential. So he’d do things he thought would help with that. Like Klaus… He can see the dead. He’s always been able to see them and that scares the hell out of him. Especially when we were kids,” Ben was scowling as he said it. “So Dad thought, why not lock him in a mausoleum overnight where there are plenty of dead people? That will help him get over it.”
“Jesus,” Steve said softly and Ben nodded.
“Yeah. One of our sisters? She has the kind of power that makes supervillains shit themselves,” Ben explained. “Vanya. It wasn’t… It wasn’t her fault, it was all of us. We ignored her, excluded her. We pretty much treated her like she was a pest if we acknowledged her at all. Hargreeves started it, but we went along with it. As far as we knew, she didn’t have any powers. It turned out they’d been suppressed her entire life because Hargreeves was afraid of her.”
“What kind of powers?” Steve asked.
“It’s hard to explain. Basically… She turns sound into power. She can funnel that power into anything but for the most part it’s telekinesis,” Ben told him. “And because of years of abuse? Oh and thanks to the actions of others, she ended up bringing about the apocalypse. The world was coming to an end so our brother had an idea. Go back in time, and fix her.”
Steve blinked and turned his head to glance at Ben before turning his eyes back on the road. “Time travel?”
“Yeah, that’s Five’s power. Time travel and spatial jumps. He’d never tried to transport more than himself before though, so it’s no surprise it went a little wonky.”
“We all ended up in the wrong world, wrong timeline, and in our 13-year-old bodies. Or at least Klaus and the others did, I was already dead so...” Ben trailed off.
“No body for you.”
“Nope. My ectoplasmic form did revert to my 13-year-old self, weirdly enough. Anyway, we arrived here, a bunch of 30-year-olds in preteen bodies in a world vastly different than our own. And, we decided to try to make it work.”
“God would you shut up?” Klaus groaned.
“So you are awake.”
“I am now because of your yammering,” said Klaus.
“This coming from the person who talks more than anyone,” Ben replied.
Klaus rolled his eyes and said, “I do not.”
“Yes you do. You almost never stop talking,” said Ben.
“Maybe it’s the goatee,” Steve said, and Ben and Klaus looked at him with confusion.
“...I don’t get it,” Ben said.
“Friend of mine, he’s hyperverbal too. Sports the same kind of facial hair so maybe it’s the goatee,” he explained. At their blank looks, he added, “Tony Stark? Heard of him?”
Ben laughed. “Yeah Klaus wishes he were as cool as Iron Man.”
“I may not be as cool or as smart,” Klaus said, “but I’m much prettier.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” said Ben.
Privately, Steve agreed. He had a smaller build than Tony. But Klaus had beautiful eyes and plush lips. The exaggerated features that made him look vulnerable. Steve kept that opinion to himself.
They arrived at the compound, and Steve buzzed them in. When he pulled up to the front, he saw that Klaus was able to sit up. Steve got out and opened the door, asking, “Can you walk?”
“Probably,” Klaus muttered. He took Steve’s hand and leaned against him once he was out of the car. Steve was glad to see that Klaus hadn’t bled on the upholstery. Ben was standing on the steps, looking up at the compound.
“Avengers HQ,” he said.
“Whoop-de-friggin’-do,” said Klaus.
“Come on,” said Steve.
They went inside, Steve taking Klaus immediately to the infirmary. Dr. Banner wasn’t around, but thankfully, the AI systems were still running. Steve gently lay Klaus in one of the beds, and said, “FRIDAY, could you do a scan of him, please?”
“Yes Captain,” she replied, and Klaus jumped.
“Did anyone else hear the ceiling talk?” He asked, and Ben rolled his eyes.
“It’s a computer,” Ben said.
“Right, right,” Klaus mumbled.
“Scan complete,” said FRIDAY. “Unknown subject has several bruises, abrasions, and lacerations but no internal injuries.”
“Is he gonna be okay?” Ben asked.
“Should be fine,” FRIDAY told him. “Diagnostics good, vitals are erratic, however.”
“I thought I felt that awful ‘coming down’ feeling,” Klaus said. He tried to get up, saying, “It’s been fun, but we should get going.”
“Stay,” Steve said, placing a hand on his chest and pushing him back against the bed.
“No really, I don’t want to put you out, and I can--”
The three of them looked over to see Natasha standing in the doorway. Her hair was loose, she was barefoot, she was wearing sweatpants, a tank top, and a very surprised look.
“Auntie Nat?” He was smiling, though there was a hint of nerves in that smile.
“What happened to you?” She asked, coming into the room.
“Auntie Nat?” Steve questioned, and she shot him a look.
“Nothing, just, minor disagreement with some guy,” Klaus said.
“He told him his brother had always hated him,” Ben said. “Then to add insult to injury that his brother had banged his boyfriend.”
Natasha looked up at Ben and said, “And you’re here. I presume that means your powers are working again,” she looked back down at Klaus.
“No stopping them it looks like,” Klaus replied.
Now Steve was really confused, but Natasha was stroking Klaus’s hair. She gave him a calculating look, then said, “You’re staying here.”
“That wasn’t a request. You’re staying, and you’re detoxing. Now,” Natasha said. “Come on.”
She walked out of the room, Steve following after her. Klaus managed to drag himself out of bed as he said, “No, don’t! I’m fine, I promise! I just need a little peace and quiet. I don’t--” Natasha closed the door to the room and secured it so that Klaus was locked inside.
Klaus pounded on the door, yelling something, though what, neither of them could hear. He then turned to Ben, saying something to him. Ben talked back, then walked through the door and out of the room.
“He asked me to tell you that you’re a cold bitch and he’s never liked you,” Ben said, with the air of someone who was being put upon.
Natasha smirked at him and said, “I know.”
“I’m gonna stay with him,” Ben said.
“You don’t have to do that,” Natasha said, but Ben shook his head.
“Someone’s got to be there when he starts going back. He can’t be alone during that time, you know that,” he told her.
She sighed and asked, “So he hasn’t gotten any better?”
“No,” Ben said mournfully.
“What are you even doing here? I thought you’d all gone,” Natasha said.
They looked up as Klaus pounded on the door, still yelling. “I’ll fill you in later.” And Ben walked back into the room.
That left Steve and Natasha standing in the hallway, and he said, “You know them?”
“And their brothers and sisters,” Natasha said. “If they’re still here that means the others might be too.”
This was all too much for Steve. He grabbed Natasha by the arm and said, “Explain. Now.”
“Short version? Clint and Laura raised them,” Natasha said, and Steve just stared.
“That doesn’t sound right.”
“Well, you’re only getting the short version until I know where the others are. Come on.” And Natasha went upstairs, Steve on her heels.
They went to the conference room, where Natasha was already giving orders. “FRIDAY, I need you to do a signature analysis. I’m uploading the specs now.” She went to her desk, taking out a flash drive and plugging it into the console. A hologram of the world appeared, and seven pictures popped up of children in school uniforms.
“Scanning now,” said FRIDAY.
Steve watched as the scan was performed. When it was complete, FRIDAY said, “Only two energy signatures detected. And they’re from the two down in the infirmary.”
Natasha stared for a moment, then sat in her chair. Steve thought he saw tears.
“Please don’t tell me they left him behind,” she murmured.
“Nat, what is going on?” Steve asked, and she sighed.
“I promise I’ll explain later. But if Klaus is off the wagon, that’s bad not just for him but for everyone. We need to get him detoxed first,” she said, and then she got up and left the room.
Steve stood there, alone, looking at the pictures of the other children. What the hell did he get himself into?
After a few days, Klaus seemed to be doing better. He wasn’t screaming, ranting, or raving. He stopped beating on the walls of his room trying to get out, and he was eating actual food. He was also talking almost non stop, but to who, Steve wasn’t always sure. Most of the time, it was Ben. There was someone else there, however, and Steve knew it.
Just yesterday he’d brought Klaus some breakfast. And Klaus had stopped mid-sentence and gave Steve a guilty look.
“Everything okay?” Steve asked and Klaus nodded.
“Yeah, fine, everything’s great,” Klaus said.
“...Are you sure?”
Klaus grinned. “Totally sure! Couldn’t be better. Okay, I could be much better. But instead, I’m here.”
He put the tray down and left, but stayed close to the door. He heard soft murmuring, and then Klaus said, “Could you please… Go away? Because you’re giving me a headache. Don’t give me that puppy dog look, Ben does it way better than you.”
Steve sighed and walked off.
Today, however, Klaus was having breakfast with Steve and Natasha, at her insistence. Ben had joined them as well, reading a book he’d taken from Wanda’s room. Klaus was poking at some eggs when Steve asked, “So how do you two know each other?”
“Oh, well…” Klaus started, then looked at Natasha. She gave the slightest nod, and he said, “Ben told you we jumped and ended up here. Which, is mostly factual. He left out the part where we appeared in Budapest. Oh and destroyed a couple buildings.”
“It was four buildings,” Natasha said.
“Right, right. They weren’t occupied at least?” Klaus offered with a wan smile. “So we showed up, and then the Hungarian army shows up. Which means we had to defend ourselves against like… Eight thousand troops.”
“It was barely a hundred,” Natasha corrected.
Klaus leaned his head back, fingertips against his chest as he gave Natasha an offended look. “Who’s telling the story?”
“If you’re going to tell it, you should tell it right,” she told him.
He sighed dramatically then said, “I liked you better when I was a kid.”
“Wasn’t she always threatening to drown you back then?” Ben asked.
“I know what I said,” Klaus muttered. “The army showed up. And then the terrorists showed up because it turns out one of the buildings we destroyed was theirs. We’d already taken care of the army so the terrorists used some… Ugh. Can't remember the name. Magic blinky thingie to knock us out and take us hostage.”
“You are so eloquent,” Ben teased and Klaus hissed at him.
“SHIELD got word of enhanced individuals in Budapest,” Natasha said. “I’d only recently defected from Russia, not much older than they were. And SHIELD wanted to test my loyalty. So they sent Clint and me to rescue the kids.”
“And it was amazing,” Klaus said, drawing out the second ‘a’ in amazing.
Natasha gave him a small smile. “Once they were secure, we brought them back to America. Fury wasn’t sure what to do with them. Initially, he wanted to put them in a training program and make them SHIELD agents.”
“Then Five made that… Impossible. Which is in my top ten favorite memories, I hope there’s a video somewhere,” Klaus said with a laugh.
Ben laughed too and said, “Fury’s face was priceless.”
“It was, I’ll remember it forever. So anyway, Mr. Secret Agent Man decided we were too much of a liability to be part of SHIELD,” Klaus said.
“But too dangerous to be released,” Natasha added.
“Yeah-huh. That’s when Uncle Clint was like, ‘hey I totally have this farm! It's where my new wife is hiding out! Maybe they can go there and just be kids even though they’re not kids,’” said Klaus. “So that’s where we went. We did the whole routine too. Chores, and… School. Like, actual school. We never went to school growing up.”
“Dad taught us,” Ben said.
Klaus snorted. “Pogo taught us you mean.”
“Okay Pogo did teach us the basics but Dad was the one in charge,” Ben replied.
“Who’s Pogo?” Steve asked.
“He’s our monkey butler,” Klaus said, and Steve raised an eyebrow.
“He’s not a monkey, he’s a chimp,” Ben corrected. “Dad made him. He’s hyper-intelligent, definitely smarter than Klaus, almost smarter than Five.”
“Everyone’s smarter than me. I’m the pretty one, not the smart one,” Klaus muttered. “And Pogo was smarter than Five he just didn’t let on that he was.”
“He was kind of like a second father to us. One that actually cared,” Ben said and Klaus rolled his eyes.
“Yeah he cared so much he still let Daddy torture and abuse us. He was just really sad about it,”
Ben glared at him and said, “Don’t talk about Pogo like that.”
“Why not? It’s the truth,” Klaus snapped. “He could have stopped it any time and he didn’t.”
“Even if that was true, which it wasn’t, you can’t blame what Dad did on Pogo!” Ben said.
“Boys,” Natasha said in a warning tone, and they both looked at her then down at the table.
“Sorry,” said Ben, and Klaus mumbled something that might have been an apology.
He then said, “So Aunt Laura and Uncle Clint let us live with them and it was actually kind of nice. Natasha would visit us sometimes, usually to hang with Diego because he was her favorite.”
“I don’t have a favorite,” Natasha said.
Klaus snorted. “Liar. You loved Diego the best. Even if I couldn’t read your mind it’s so obvious.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “You can read minds?”
“Oh yeah, that’s the other thing we were doing at the farm,” Klaus said. “We were practicing, letting our powers grow. It used to be I could only see and hear the dead. Now I can do way more than that and I hate it.”
“It’s not all bad,” Ben said quietly but Klaus shook his head.
“Says you, the person who’s only here because I can’t make myself stop,” Klaus growled.
“You’re just mad Dave--” Ben started but Klaus threw his fork at him. It went through him, but Ben still jumped.
“Be nice,” Natasha said, and Klaus sighed.
“Yeah yeah, I know…” He trailed off. He then pushed his plate away and asked, “May I be excused?”
Klaus got up and went to leave, but Steve asked, “Hey, Klaus?” And Klaus turned to look at him. “What happened to the others? Your brothers and sisters?”
He stared at Steve for a moment and then said, “Beats me,” before leaving.
Natasha and Steve exchanged glances, and she said, “That’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one.”
Ben sighed. “Yeah, but I don’t know what he’s lying about.”
“Can’t you tell us what happened?” Steve asked and Ben shook his head.
“I could if I knew,” he said. He got up as well and left the room.
Natasha sighed, rubbing her forehead. “That could have gone better.”
“What do you think happened?” Steve asked and she shrugged.
“Who knows? Their relationship has always been complicated,” Natasha said.
At that, Natasha sighed. “Someone from his past.”
Steve wasn’t stupid. Klaus got defensive each time Dave’s name was mentioned. From that, he could infer two things. One, Dave was likely someone Klaus loved very much. And two, Dave was probably dead. Steve knew that pain and felt a pang of it as he thought of Bucky. He wondered what it was Klaus needed. And if there was anything that might make him feel better.
He thought about it as he finished dinner, deciding that he’d do whatever he could to make Klaus comfortable.