Author's Note: Well, you can thank snarkymuch for the idea for this chapter and KateSamantha for giving me the push to actually write it. Just pretend, for this story, that Vanya's (justified) meltdown happened when the Umbrella Academy people were, like, 25 and that they stopped the apocalypse by communicating and not keeping their sister locked in a cell in their basement. That way I can write this without continuity issues complicating things :P Read, review, and enjoy!
Sam hopped off the bike as soon as it came to a stop. He took a few steps to get his balance before he glanced behind him and angled his head towards the building in a silent question. He didn't really know why he bothered anymore. Steve never came into the building, no matter how many times Sam asked.
This time, Steve stared up at the building, staring intently at the 'Veterans of Foreign Wars' sign hanging proudly above the door. He waited for a long, long moment before he gave Sam a terse smile and started the motorcycle back up again. Sam smiled back, tipping a sloppy salute at Steve as the man drove away. One of these days. One of these days, Sam was going to finally convince Steve to go in there and make some friends who knew what he was going through.
Well, it was probably better that Steve hadn't come this time, Sam mused. He would have had to abandon him at the bar since he was here to meet with someone this time. Sam grinned and waved when he saw Michael nursing a water in a back corner of the bar. Michael waved back before flagging a waitress down.
Sam and the waitress made it to the table at the same time. She smiled sweetly at Sam and asked, "What'll you be having?" Sam almost asked for a beer, but he remembered Michael warning him that the vet Sam was here to talk to had a problem with alcohol and stuff so he asked for a water. The waitress nodded and headed off, coming back moments later with a pitcher and a glass.
When the waitress left, Sam leaned forward on one elbow, "How are you doing, Michael?"
"Just fine," the man answered gruffly, "Worried about the kid, though. He's not doing so great."
"Tell me a little more about him," Sam requested. All he knew was that Michael knew of a kid who recently returned from overseas and was taking the return hard. He hadn't gone into much more detail, knowing that would be enough to get Sam to come help.
Michael sighed, "I honestly think you'll understand best if you meet him. Not sure there's really a way to explain the kid properly. Just – just give him a chance, okay? I know he's not – normal or, or what anyone would expect. But he needs help as much as any other vet."
"Okay," Sam said carefully, "You know I'll give everyone a chance. You went to some of my meetings. You know I don't judge."
"I know," Michael sighed, "I really don't know how to explain why I'm nervous without you meeting him." He opened his mouth to say something else but was interrupted by the chime of the bell on the front door. His head swung up and his lips fell into a soft smile that Sam had never seen before. Michael lifted a hand and flagged down the new arrival and the waitress in one go.
Sam didn't even get a chance to turn around before someone was flouncing into the chair and saying, "Well hello there, Lily! You're looking stunning as always. Could I have a lemonade pretty please? Ooh! A pink one if you can!"
"Of course, Klaus," the waitress – apparently Lily – said, heading off towards the back.
Sam wasn't paying attention to her, though. No, his eyes were caught on the thin figure next to him. It was Klaus. Klaus Hargreeves, the Séance. Sam hadn't seen as much of the kid as he'd wanted to in the last eight years. There had only been a few run-ins on the streets, two times where Klaus had drunkenly stumbled to Sam's apartment, and one memorable occasion where someone found Sam's number on Klaus and had called Sam for one of Klaus's overdoses. It had been almost two years since the last time Sam had seen the kid, though. He looked different. It wasn't necessarily worse, but, well, it was hard to get worse with Klaus. There was only the thinnest layer of eyeliner completely circling his eyes, but they highlighted the bags hanging underneath them. At least there wasn't the tell-tale bloodshot look indicating that Klaus was high again.
He was paler than ever before with a gauntness that made Sam feel ill to think of. But there was a layer of muscles that hadn't been there before. Klaus had always been wiry, but this was a lot more than just wiry. Klaus was wearing cream-colored boots laced all the way to his knees over army green leggings. There was a pale pink tank top layered over the leggings and a battered army jacket with the sleeves ripped off over that. Sam jolted when he saw the dog tags, though. Somehow, despite knowing that he was here to talk to a vet having a rough time, he hadn't made the connection between Klaus and the veteran he was here for. How… how did this happen? Sam's brows drew together in confusion when he noticed the tattoo on Klaus's shoulder. It was the same one that Michael wore with pride. What was going on?
Klaus didn't even turn to see Sam until his lemonade had been provided. It was almost comedic the way he took a sip of the lemonade just to choke it back out the second he saw Sam. Klaus coughed out a surprised, "Sam?"
"Hey Klaus," Sam smiled as best as he could through the confusion. The last time he'd seen Klaus, there hadn't been any sort of indication that the kid wanted to go into the military. How had he ended up there? And what was with the tattoo? Sam had thought that it was just for the members of Michael's platoon back in Vietnam. Maybe they gave the tattoo to young soldiers who they felt deserved it?
Michael raised an eyebrow at the two of them, "You guys have met?"
"Oh, sure, sure," Klaus said, waving a hand magnanimously, gestures wide and open, "Sam saved my life once! He's so nice, isn't he? But you didn't tell me we were meeting anyone! Did you try to trick me, Mikey?"
Michael rolled his eyes, "Of course I did, brat. You wouldn't have come otherwise." Klaus grinned up at him, unrepentant. Sam frowned slightly when he saw that Klaus's hands were shaking, the ice rattling in his glass.
Sam gave Klaus an unsure smile, "How are you doing, man? I haven't seen you in two years. How's Ben doing?"
"Ben's doing great," Klaus sighed happily, "Did you know I can make him visible now? Oh, not for long and I'm still working on the consistency of making him visible and corporeal, but I can do it! The fam got all emotional when they saw him for the first time. Saps."
Sam snuck Michael a discrete look. Normally, Klaus didn't like talking about his powers in front of other people. It just made both of them uncomfortable. But apparently Michael already knew about it and was comfortable enough with it that Klaus felt fine mentioning it in his presence. When Michael glanced placidly over at Sam, he sent him a look of thanks. Michael nodded in response. Sam turned back to Klaus, "I notice you didn't answer my first question."
Klaus threw his hands in the air (every time he stretched out any of his long limbs, Sam felt a little bit like he was watching a snake stretch to its full length), almost sending his drink flying, "I'm sober!"
Sam blinked in shock, "Seriously?"
"Yep!" Klaus cheered, "Went cold turkey which, 0/10 do not recommend. But I did it! I was mostly sober – weed and normally cigarettes don't count, right? – for, like, ten months and then I took, well, a lot of pills actually. But! Then I realized that I wanted to be sober! So, I got sober and cleared out all of my stashes!"
"I'm really proud of you, man," Sam said sincerely, squeezing Klaus's nearest forearm to show how proud he really was (Klaus, recovering from an overdose and still coming down from a bad high, had confessed to him once that there was nothing he loved more than human contact, that having an uncaring father, a robot mother, disinterested siblings, and ghosts that couldn't touch him made it so almost no one just casually touched him and he ached at the loss). Klaus's smile became a little less forced, a little more real, at Sam's words. It was a constant back and forth for Sam. Klaus was almost always smiling. The challenge was trying to make it a genuine smile. Sam patted his arm again before pulling away, "What inspired you to get clean?"
The smile twitched on Klaus's face and he looked over at Michael as if for advice. Michael dragged Klaus over to him by the neck, putting their foreheads together and saying fiercely, "You need to talk to him, Stretch. You need to talk to someone who isn't one of your idiotic siblings or an old vet who can't be there all the time. Alright?"
"Alright, Mikey," Klaus said as he extracted himself from Michael. He glanced at Sam shyly, "It's kind of a long story."
"I've got nowhere to be," Sam said easily, leaning back in his chair to prove his point.
Klaus glanced between Michael and Sam a few more times before he hesitantly started talking. He gained traction quickly, words spiraling into long winded rants and big, wide gestures. Sam had to really work to keep up with the words. Especially since they were so unbelievable.
Sam was pretty sure that Klaus wasn't telling the story in order, or at least in completeness, since the story started with Klaus in Vietnam. Sam got stuck on that for a long moment because what but then he registered that Klaus was rambling on and on about some cute guy named Dave who was apparently beautiful and kind and sweet and perfect and the absolute best ever. Sam smiled slightly as Klaus continued to gush about the guy. He was glad that Klaus had found someone real even if he had to go back to 1968 (again, what) to do it. His smile slipped as Klaus started talking about the war itself, how people were dropping like flies. He breezed over the ghosts he must have seen, and he breezed over the things he must have done but Sam let it slide. This was just the first meeting. There'd be time to unpack the rest later, after Sam had gotten the full story.
Sam's smile disappeared completely when Klaus folded into himself and admitted to watching Dave die, to holding Dave's cooling body, to breaking in that moment. Sam's heart stuttered in his chest at the words. He didn't know what he was expecting. Klaus looked like a wreck, so it was clear that things with Dave didn't work out. Sam had just been so caught up in the way Klaus waxed lyrical about the man that he hadn't even considered the ramifications.
After a moment, Klaus's words petered off to nothing. Sam could see that Klaus was back in that moment, holding his dead lover in his arms. It wasn't a flashback, but it wasn't good, either. They both startled when Michael sat back down at the table. Sam hadn't even seen him get up. Michael slid a picture across the table to Sam, "That's Dave next to Klaus. The two were attached at the hip. Their relationship was the unit's worst kept secret. We all knew they were together but at the time you couldn't really talk about it." His eyes were daring Sam to protest, to bring up his confusion.
Sam wouldn't do that, though. He might be completely lost on how on earth Klaus had ended up in Vietnam for what sounded like 10 months, but he believed Klaus completely, even without the picture. The things Klaus talked about were too real, too emotional for Sam to think they were anything but true. The look in Klaus's eyes cemented it. Those were the eyes of someone who had just made it back from war. Klaus didn't give a timeline, but Sam would bet that Klaus hadn't been back for more than a month. There was no way to fake that look. Besides, the only lie Klaus had ever told Sam was that he was fine.
Still, Sam glanced at the picture. His heart melted at the bright grin on Klaus's face, at the arm wrapped around Dave. Despite how few times Sam had seen Klaus, he'd seen a lot of sides to the kid. He'd never seen the kid look that honestly happy. The love was radiating between the two. Sam touched the picture with the tips of his fingers. Klaus was staring at him with something worried and delicate in his eyes. Sam smiled reassuringly at him, "You look happy. Really happy."
"I was," Klaus breathed out, touching the edge of the picture with his own fingers, "Not just because of Dave, either. The whole group. They were family."
"How many are left?" Sam asked quietly.
"Four, including Klaus," Michael answered just as quietly, "We're based here. Charlie's out in Seattle. Kenny's down in Florida. Lucky bugger."
Klaus laughed softly, eyes still glued to the picture of Dave's face, "I like it here better. I like the cold."
Carefully, Sam put a hand over Klaus's, "I'm proud of you, buddy. I'm proud of you for getting sober, for having a good reason, for holding up as well as you have. Is Dave the reason you're staying sober even now?"
"Yeah," Klaus breathed. He blinked away a few tears, "Yeah, but probably not in the way you're thinking. I'm – I'm not staying sober because he would have wanted to. I mean, of course he would have wanted to. He's perfect like that. But, um, I – I want to see him again. I need to see him again. I haven't been able to summon him yet but I'm going to. And I need to be sober to do that. I have to see him."
"Don't get obsessed," Michael warned, lips turning down.
"I know, I know!" Klaus grumbled, "Ben keeps telling me that, too. It's fine, though. I'm fine."
"Oh boy," Sam teased, "No one who's really fine says that they're fine." Klaus stuck his tongue out at him. Sam smiled gently at him, "C'mon man. You know me. This is what I do for a living. Well, I did it for a living. It's part-time now. But I'm still good at it. I'm real good at it. Talk to me, kid. I'll tell you the same thing I've been telling you since you were 17: if you let me, I will help you. I promise you that." Michael stared at Klaus as well, adding the weight of his trust and determination to Sam's words. This wouldn't be like the first time Sam and Klaus met. Or the second or the third or the sixth. This time, Sam wasn't going to let Klaus walk away alone. Never again.
For a long moment, the three of them sat in silence, sipping their drinks and giving Klaus the chance to consider. Sam needed Klaus to say yes to this. He needed Klaus to finally accept his help.
Klaus snuck one last look up at Sam through his eyelashes. Sam stayed patiently still through Klaus's observation.
Then, finally, finally, Klaus smiled at Sam and said, "Okay. I'll let you help me."
Author's Note: One more chapter and then I'm really done, haha. Thanks for reading!