AN: I guess I just wondered how Chris went from the guy who had to be dragged into the helicopter kicking and screaming to being legitimately in love with Ellen, and I figured that before that could happen he would have had to convince himself that Kim was honestly dead. And then this little thing emerged.
The first time she met him, it was only weeks after he returned from Vietnam. He was a wreck (all the soldiers were). She had the night shift at Ty's, a dinky little twenty-four hour cafe with crappy coffee and soggy pancakes. It was the only place in town open at all hours of the night, though, and she made decent tips as the only waitress who worked the graveyard shift.
She approached him that first night to take his order. It was one-thirty, and the only other customers were a pack of rowdy high school students who had just left a school dance. She was mostly busy with the teenagers, but she eyed him as she brought him his coffee. She could tell he was a soldier immediately - they all had that look in their eyes, that look that said they had seen horrors. He sat alone with his head in his hands, coffee untouched, for hours. And then he left, leaving her a good sized tip. He hadn't said more than two words to her all night.
He came back the next night. And the next, and the next. For weeks, she let him sit there in silence and stew in his own thoughts. Unable to sleep, she was sure, because of nightmares. Why else would he be spending every night here alone?
Finally, one day, she worked up the courage to start a conversation with him.
"So are you a soldier?" she asked casually when she brought him his coffee. He looked rough, dark circles under his eyes, cheeks hollow, face white. Something had been tormenting him.
He glanced at her and swallowed, then said, "I was, yes." She nodded, unsurprised.
"Is that why you spend every night here?" she asked, bolder than she normally would have been. But he obviously needed help. Even if she angered him, surely it would be worth it?
"You have trouble sleeping?" she asked. He froze for a moment. She just looked him in the eye, and he looked back, not answering. She could see horrors in his eyes.
"Going to sleep isn't the problem," he finally said. "It's what happens once I'm asleep."
"Nightmares?" she asked.
"Memories." She felt a chill down her spine.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked, collecting herself.
"Definitely not," he said. "I can't even… it's done now. We won't ever… it's over." He ran his fingers through his hair, effectively hiding his face from her. She watched him, sure that this was intentional.
"Have you ever talked about it with anyone?" she asked quietly. He shook his head. "It might help. Besides, I'm nobody, I don't even know your name. I'm not going to judge you."
He looked up at her and nodded slowly.
"I saw a lot of horrible things," he said, meeting her eyes. "I did a lot of horrible things. I killed people, watched villages burn." He waited a moment to see how she'd react, but she didn't flinch.
"But… the worst thing, the thing that keeps me up at night… I never even got to say goodbye."
"Say goodbye to who?" she asked after he paused for a moment.
"Sorry, I… I'm not making sense. I just, I was going to take her with me and I left her at home to pack, but then they closed the gates and they stopped letting any of the Vietnamese in, and they wouldn't let me leave to go find her and she didn't answer the phone and she - "
Slowly, as he rambled, becoming more and more hysterical with every word, she began to realize what he was talking about.
"You had a lover," she said quietly. "You had to leave her there." He stopped talking and nodded.
"Wife. We had a ceremony in Saigon, we were going to make it legal here in the States as soon as we got back. I just… I made a mistake. I should never have left her home to pack, I should've kept her glued to my side. I didn't even get to say goodbye."
She reached across the table and held his hand as his breathing became ragged. She could not even imagine being in his position. He began to gasp and then sob and rock, covering his eyes with the hand she wasn't not holding.
"I'm never going to see her again, am I?" he gasped. "She thinks I just left her, she doesn't know that I tried to get back to her - "
"I'm sure she knows you wouldn't have just left her," she said quietly. "She knows that, she knows you love her. Anyone can see that."
"She's probably dead, isn't she?"
"You don't know that. I'm sure she's doing everything she can to get to you. You have to believe that."
"No, she's dead, she must be. She must be dead."
"You can't think like that. If you love her, you have to trust her to take care of herself, even when it's hard. Even when the odds are against her."
"If I loved her I would have brought her with me on the fucking helicopter!" he suddenly shouted, standing up. She flinched, and though she recovered quickly, he saw her and it was too late.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"It's fine," she said, standing up too.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." She realized he wasn't talking to her anymore. He was talking to the woman he left in Saigon, who couldn't hear his words and, no matter what words of comfort she offered him, was probably dead. Heart breaking, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and he buried his face in her neck. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
"She knows, honey. She knows."
"I'm sorry, Kim, I'm sorry."
"Any old fool can see how much you love her. Trust me, she knows."
His chorus of apologies faltered and he pulled away from her, obviously embarrassed.
"Sorry," he said brusquely. This was not the heartbroken apology to his wife, but an apology to her for embarrassing himself, or maybe for taking up her time.
"Don't apologize," she said sternly. "You needed that and you know it."
"Maybe. And thank you. But… I'm sorry." She nodded and they looked at each other for a moment. He dropped a few dollars on the table and turned to leave.
"Thank you," he said again, standing in the doorway. And then he was gone. She realized she didn't even get his name.
He didn't come back the next night.
AN: Thanks for reading! I actually have an epilogue for this all written and ready to go. I might decided to post it, but I kind of like where this one ends. If anyone would like me to post it, though, let me know!