Klaus Hargreeves dropped into his life in a moment of terror, exhaustion and chaos. It didn’t make sense, what with the filthy towel and the inexplicable flash of blue light, but then he supposed nothing made sense anymore, and right now Dave had to grab his gun and get out there quick as possible. So that’s what he did, and he didn’t think much more about it.
Later, it was easy to pick out the new recruit on the stuffy, overcrowded bus. He crouched next to the seat and struck up a conversation, easy as ever. He’d been raised to have good manners, of course, but Dave had never thought of it as any sort of obligation to be nice. He loved to bring out smiles, to make people feel at ease, and to maybe get a laugh here or there just for the sake of it.
‘You’re a people pleaser, aren’t you just?’ his nan tutted when he was a boy, as she tended to his grazed knees. Hands picking out the gravel with the lightest touch, dabbing it clean with a cloth turned soft from years of washing and wringing. ‘But you need to learn that not everyone wants to be your friend, sweetheart. Not all the time. Can’t let those other boys push you around like this, alright?’
‘But I want to be their friend,’ he sniffed, dismayed.
She cupped his cheek, fingertips cool and firm. ‘I know you do, my dear. It’s their loss, now, isn’t it?’
He couldn’t be friends with everyone, but no one could fault him for lack of trying. Soon enough he shed no more tears over the people who didn’t like him. There were so many more who did that he found it didn’t really matter. Even if most of them only saw him as a laugh, or a sympathetic ear. Must have a trustworthy face, he reckoned, because he could fill books upon books with the secrets mere acquaintances spilled to him. He supposed he was a good listener when it came down to it. And the fact was that if he let people talk then they wouldn’t start asking questions he wasn’t prepared to answer.
He did get them, every now and again. From some of his closest friends too, when they would chuck a casual arm over his shoulder, and wonder loudly why a guy like him hadn’t found a girl of his own to settle down with yet. How can any of you say you know me? he thought to himself late at night, sometimes. Not very often. He always laughed, shaking his head, hoping that the tension wasn’t visible in his shoulders.
‘Oh, I just haven’t found one yet,’ he’d reply, begging silently that this was enough of an excuse. ‘You know I’m waiting for the right one.’ They’d tease him then for being such a good chaste boy, and he’d blush, but only because of the unbidden memories of his stolen nights in the big city with men he didn’t really know, didn’t really care for. His friends thought he was simply too innocent. And then he got older, twenties almost drifting to a close, and he had newer friends too who didn’t really pry. He was just Dave, doing his own thing. A good laugh.
He didn’t want to go to war. Of course he didn’t. He’d never liked fighting, even though he’d grown up tall and strong - more so than the boys who used to pick on him. But he was drafted and so he went. No sense complaining. If he had to go, then he’d give it his best; he’d never liked to run from his problems. What did he have to lose, really?
He grit his teeth and ignored the writhing terror in his gut, and when he could, he smiled and joked. It was worth it when it helped lessen the fear paling their faces and lurking in their eyes. They were all scared.
So it was that crouching on that bus after one and a half months of gunfire and jungle and sweat, with dirt caked on his boots and in the crooks of his ears, he recognised the fresh terror in the newcomer. There was no chance he wasn’t saying hello.
The soldier was pale and skinny, all dark curls and dark shadows. Haunted, he thought. Dave guessed he’d already been in the fray; he knew what witnessing death did to a person’s eyes. If that’s what this poor man looked like already, he wondered how long he’d last. Stronger men had let that haunted look consume their every waking moment.
But then as Dave chatted to him, the new recruit’s wariness seemed to wash away and he grinned back easily.
‘Budge up, then,’ Dave said, giving him a little push so that he’d shuffle along the seat. The man obliged happily. Klaus, he was called. Klaus with the haunted eyes. Klaus with a smile so bright and sunny, a smile which broke straight out of the blue, a smile which Dave could never have been ready for.
When he thought back on it later, he supposed that smile was where it really began. Sitting next to Klaus he felt a hunger for the kind of affection he’d tried to convince himself he didn’t need. This sudden desire melded with his usual impulse to make people happy, magnifying both intensely, and for a few breathless, apocalyptic moments Dave had no idea what to do with himself. But then he did know. Once the first shock faded, he had a terrifying realisation: he would do whatever it took to keep Klaus smiling like that. The knowledge of this settled into his very bones.
He cursed himself for being so foolish. They were at war, after all - how could he ever keep this man, seemingly frail as a bird, from being broken by battle?
The feeble attempt at reasoning failed him, and splashing murky water on his face later that night did nothing to bring him to his senses either. So he just sighed and resigned himself to this strangely cruel hand of fate.
And the village Dreadful cried
As the rope began to rise
For the smile stayed on the face
Of the Wild Eyed Boy . . .
Thanks for reading!! I appreciate comments so much, so if you want to please feel free to leave them! It will probably make me cry and then write more instead of crying while looking at gifs of the disco scene. Also I have no clue how much more of this there will be, or how frequently I'll update, but I promise I'll finish it :-)
And a fair word of warning/apology for the rest of this - I don't know much about the Vietnam war except for what I learnt and promptly forgot in history class quite a few years ago. Though I'm re-familiarising myself with it, I can't promise to be super accurate. Also I apologise if I get the US lingo wrong, I know what I do from American media etc but ya never know what you're gonna miss.
(P.S: lyrics and title are from David Bowie's song "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud." I was listening to heaps of Bowie while watching UA, and this song came out in 1969, so it was pretty inevitable it'd weasel its way in.)
((Okay I'll stop now this is almost as long as the chapter itself YIKES))
Things always look different in the harsh light of morning. So they say.
Dave had many surprises awaiting him in the next few months and, although he didn’t know that then, almost all of them concerned Klaus. One day, he would laugh at himself when he thought back to that sweaty afternoon on the bus. Frail Klaus, he’d thought. Scared, unprepared, in need of protection. A soldier to look out for, perhaps, and definitely one who was going to struggle to adjust.
But Klaus surprised him. Again and again. He started to wonder if it was something he would simply have to get used to, because every time he thought he’d finally figured out exactly who Klaus was, another spanner would be thrown in the works and he’d have to reassess all over again.
That first morning after the bus was the first real surprise. The first real confusion.
By now, most of their unit had either met or heard of the strange new recruit who appeared during the last few days of the patrol. Maybe they’d noticed him struggling with his gun the other day. Or maybe they’d grabbed his arm when he set off in the wrong direction. Dave heard one guy complaining that he’d had to share his rations with Klaus, because for some god forsaken reason he didn’t have any of his own, didn’t even have a pack or boots that fit him right or anything. So yes, Klaus was unprepared to say the least. Dave had been right about that.
He didn’t like that some of the guys were calling him inept, or muttering not quite right in undertones. Add to that the fact that no one really knew who he was, not at all, and suddenly everyone was gossiping like a bunch of old ladies. Rumours started to fly that he might be a commie spy quick enough.
‘Sounds like a Russian name to me, too,’ young Keith said, looking quite smug before Pete hissed, ‘It’s German you idiot.’
‘It’s still weird. Still suspicious,’ he grumbled defensively.
‘If he’s a spy then he’s a damn awful one,’ Dave said, sliding onto the bench with his bowl of hot, steaming mush. It was early morning and he was grouchy. Even the sun couldn’t be bothered breaking through dense, rain-heavy clouds. ‘I mean, he doesn’t even know how to fire a gun. I can’t pretend I know what commie spy school is like, but if Klaus is the best they’ve got, then they must be getting desperate.’
The guys all laughed at that and soon enough dropped the topic, thank god, having really exhausted it as far as possible. Yes, Klaus stuck out like a sore thumb. But unless it was meant to be some kind of hiding in plain sight method, Dave thought the rumour was just plain stupid.
Dave was halfway through his breakfast when the man himself came out of the barracks, rubbing his face and squinting against the light. He was looking around the rudimentary base, taking in the morning bustle and looking lost as anything. Dave was on his feet before he knew it, not wanting to shout across the clearing and embarrass him.
‘Hey. Food’s this way,’ he said once he was near enough, and Klaus, who hadn’t seen him coming, smiled weakly at the familiar face. With a jerk of his head, Dave led him over.
‘It’s slightly better than the C-rations,’ he explained as they waited in line.
Klaus screwed up his face at the memory of the cold tinned meals they’d had the last few days. ‘Doesn’t look it.’
Dave laughed. ‘Well, it’s warm at least.’
Klaus didn’t say anything after that. He looked a bit peaky, to be honest, and was standing with his arms wrapped around himself, slouching as they moved up the line. He really did seem out of place.
‘You’ll get your bearings soon enough,’ Dave told him.
‘Yeah, about that,’ Klaus grimaced. ‘I was kinda out of it when we drove in. I don’t really remember . . . where we are.’
Dave looked at him quizzically. ‘Basecamp. The A Shau Valley.’
‘Okay. Okay,’ Klaus nodded, not a flash of recognition to be seen. ‘Um. Where is that?’
‘It’s not too far from Hue,’ he replied. Poor guy. He still looked confused. ‘Didn’t they tell you where you were being stationed? It’s central country. Pretty far away from the south and Saigon and all that, if that’s what you were expecting.’
Klaus’s eyes widened. ‘Vietnam?’
‘Well, yeah,’ Dave frowned, watching the other man carefully.
Klaus was clearly having a moment and he hadn’t realised the server was holding his bowl out to him, so Dave took it with a friendly nod and then guided him over to the table. Klaus sat down on autopilot, miles away, and Dave shared a look with Keith and Pete. Klaus blinked, then, noticing the other two for the first time.
‘Is that today’s paper?’ he demanded of Pete, who was idly turning the pages, not really reading it.
‘Last week’s,’ Pete replied hesitantly. He was pretty shy and didn’t like being put on the spot. ‘It’s the Army Reporter, it’s not Stripes or anything.’
‘Oh, who cares,’ Klaus said. He leaned across the table and plucked it straight from Pete’s hands, turning to the front in a flurry of pages. Smoothing it down, he then held it up with a frown, scanning the page hurriedly. Went still a moment later.
‘Ah, shit,’ he muttered. ‘Okay. Sure.’
‘What is it?’ Dave asked.
‘Nothing,’ Klaus replied, folding the newspaper in half and dropping it in the centre of the table. ‘Everything’s fine. Just great.’
Pete grabbed his paper back with a pointed look, but Klaus didn’t catch it because now he was staring glumly at his bowl, scooping up a spoonful of the gluggy mixture and letting it drip back in, painfully slow.
Dave shared another look with the guys, and Keith mouthed ‘Spy?’ at him. He grinned when Dave rolled his eyes.
They ended up chatting between the three of them for a while, enjoying the rare slow morning, while Klaus played with his food in miserable silence.
Eventually, Dave leaned forward on his elbows and asked, ‘You sure you’re alright, Klaus?’
‘Yeah, you don’t look so hot,’ Pete added.
Klaus gave up the pretence of eating, metal spoon clattering loudly as he dropped it. ‘Still look better than you,’ he joked, feebly.
Keith snorted and Pete glared at the two of them.
‘Are you homesick or something?’ Dave asked. ‘Or is it nerves?’
Klaus tensed up. ‘I’m fine. Just . . . don’t mind me.’
‘Alright.’ Dave held his hands up and leaned back again. ‘But you need to eat. It’s awful but you’ll regret it later if you turn your nose up at it now.’
But to be quite honest it didn’t look like Klaus could eat even if he’d been faced with something more appetising. The discomfort Dave had noticed earlier had worsened. He was sickly pale under the layer of dirt, and his skin had a sweaty sheen. Trembling a bit. He looked like rubbish. Nerves could do that to you, sometimes, Dave had seen it happen to some of the guys who lost it before a fight, guns trembling in cast iron, knuckle-white grips.
‘Woah, I get it,’ Keith said all of a sudden. He sounded genuinely surprised. ‘You’ve got the shakes.’
Klaus looked up at him sharply.
‘You have, haven’t you?’ Keith started laughing, incredulous.
‘What do you care?’ Klaus replied, and that answered that question.
Keith laughed harder. ‘Jesus! Trying to get yourself dismissed asap or something?’
‘You started on that shit quick,’ Pete said, and he was sneering a bit. Clearly didn’t stand for having his newspaper snatched. ‘You’ve only been out here a few days, right? That has to be a new record.’
‘Unless,’ Keith leaned in, enjoying this too much, ‘you came out here like that. Damn, that’d explain a whole lot.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Dave snapped, fed up with Keith’s tactlessness, because while he’d been laughing and hypothesising Klaus had gone even paler, this horrible look of resignation on his face, like he’d been dreading the inevitable and it was finally here.
But then Klaus scowled at him. ‘It means that I’m a useless fucking junkie with no business playing at soldiers anymore.’
‘That’s not -’ Dave started, but Klaus cut him off with a big sigh.
‘Oh, please. Don’t even try.’ He slumped over the table and leaned his head in his hands. ‘I need some fucking drugs.’
They sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment.
‘You’re a freaky idiot, you know that,’ Keith told him, standing up. ‘Stupidest thing I’ve heard of in a long time, coming out here like this already. I don’t even want to know how you did it. But it’s been ten minutes and I’m already sick of your miserable ass, so . . . well . . . go and talk to Adams. Tall guy, reddish hair. He’s over there.’ He pointed, then left without another word.
Pete offered Dave an apologetic half smile, ignoring Klaus completely, and then he followed with his newspaper tucked securely under one arm.
Klaus was staring at Adams and started to slide off the bench too, so Dave spoke up fast.
‘Is that actually why you’re so confused about everything?’
Klaus looked at him blankly.
‘About where we are and all,’ he continued.
‘Oh, right, yeah.’ He flashed a grin, a bit strained. ‘Drugs, man. They sure mess with you,’ and then he wiggled his hands around his head, going slack-jawed and rolling his eyes around.
Dave felt like Klaus was lying. ‘Right,’ he said, anyway. ‘Look. I don’t care what you do with your spare time, and I get that you’re feeling rough. But . . . you were pretty rude, you know.’
‘Yep,’ he replied.
Dave sighed. What had he gotten himself into? ‘Pete’s a nice guy.’ And I’m just trying to help, too. ‘We all have to spend a lot of time together. Just . . . You don’t want to make it any harder for yourself than it already is.’
‘Dave, to be quite honest, I don’t give a single fuck. It’s not like I’m planning on being here much longer.’
He prickled at that. ‘Yeah, well, none of us know if we’re gonna see tomorrow. Not out here. Still doesn’t hurt to be kind.’
‘We can’t all be saints,’ Klaus scoffed, looking at him like he was an alien.
‘I’m not - ’ Dave frowned. ‘That’s not what I’m saying. Oh, I don’t know. Just . . . go talk to Adams, or something.’
Klaus left, over to Adams, and Dave felt weird.
He cleared the table, cleared his throat. Couldn’t really clear his mind.
And her face was white with fear in case her actions were observed
So she closed her eyes to keep her conscience blind
This pains me. But Klaus is Klaus and he still has a lot of growing to do. And Dave is so good but a saint he is not.
Song lyrics are from "God Knows I'm Good", still Bowie. I initially planned on only using lyrics from Wild Eyed Boy but I'm absolutely going to run out that way. But that's okay because there's sooo many other good words for me to steal.
Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who has commented! You make my day!
When he next saw Klaus, he no longer looked like he was going to keel over. Dave supposed that was good.
Their unit was marching through the valley, heading to the hills. Klaus had a full kit of his own now, and when he caught glimpse of Dave he bounded over to him, brushing the longer grass aside, helmet wobbling.
‘Heya there, soldier,’ he called.
‘Hi,’ Dave replied. ‘You’re looking better.’
'Better? I feel spectacular!' He grinned, bright and wide.
Oh, Dave thought, involuntarily licking his lips. That again. Even after he was a little prick to you and everyone else?
‘I should’ve paid more attention to my history lessons,’ Klaus continued, not noticing anything amiss, ‘because I had no idea about the sort of shit you can get out here, and how much. It’s like super strong too. The weed is mental. Hasn’t hit me like that in years , Dave, years. ’
Dave shook his head, amused despite himself.
‘Hang on. Where’d you get those?’ Klaus asked, pointing at Dave’s face. ‘They’re cool.’
Klaus darted forward and stole Dave’s sunglasses from right off his nose.
He tried to grab them back, but Klaus ducked his arm.
‘Oh, pshh, don’t worry, I’m just borrowing them, you’ll get them back.’ He shoved them on, then laughed. ‘Actually, you probably won’t. I don’t usually give things back when I borrow them.’
‘They don’t even suit you,’ Dave lied. Because he couldn’t admit otherwise. Out of habit, and on principle.
‘Ha! Nice try!’ Klaus crowed, and he stuck his tongue out at Dave. ‘I’m not falling for your tricks. Besides, I have impeccable taste, or style, or flair, whatever you wanna call it, which you would know if I wasn’t stuck in all this awful khaki.’ He paused. ‘Impeccable taste in theory . Like, if I wasn’t hindered by having to borrow things all the time, you know.’
‘You weren’t even wearing anything when I first saw you.’ Dave didn’t know why he said that. He didn’t even mean anything by it. He didn’t. Just pointing out the obvious.
‘Well, that was your lucky day then, wasn’t it?’ Klaus winked, shamelessly, and then he somehow just . . . kept on talking. ‘So anyway, as I was saying, I already know these glasses look good no matter what you might try to say. They’re hardly my most outrageous look to date. Once had the night of my life in a leopard print leotard, which was a total winner. And god, that pink feather boa. I miss that feathery monstrosity. Oh and I have to tell you about this one time -’
He talked like he came from another planet. And he talked and talked and talked. Which was lucky, because Dave didn’t know what he’d say except for uh-huh and mm, seeing as that was all that was coming out of his mouth. How Klaus managed it while also keeping pace with the march, only slightly out of breath, Dave had no idea.
This was a completely different person to the man he’d eaten breakfast with yesterday. Much closer to the Klaus he’d sat with on the bus, but even then he hadn’t been charged with such intense, manic energy. It was disorienting as hell. He’d spent most of yesterday having an argument - far too heated for one taking place in his own head - about whether Klaus was worth his time after all. No one had asked him to look out for the scrawny weirdo, and no one would know if he changed his mind either. There were some tasks that were too hard to handle. He couldn’t have known that Klaus would act like he did all out of the blue, or that he’d come with his own bursting supply of issues beyond anything Dave was able to manage. But maybe that meant it was even more important for Dave to step up. Or not.
He’d been hovering closer and closer to that last sentiment until Klaus waltzed over and charmed the sunglasses off his nose. And now he was right back at the start, back on the bus, all in. Considerably more confused but feeling something fierce. Maybe a bit tongue-tied too, except for when he had something embarrassing to say. Jesus. There was still a chance he could save his own skin if he could manage to find the middle ground. It would be so much better than flip-flopping all over every minute. Wouldn’t it? Surely there was a way to simply be around Klaus without getting whiplash. Like his other friends, where it was easy. He had so many good, neutral friends. That was Dave’s speciality. Neither here nor there. Pleasant. Simple.
He needed to deal with his problems head on, he knew that, but right now he had no idea what way was up or down or anything. For the time being he kept marching blindly forward, listening to Klaus chatter. Still wearing Dave’s sunglasses, the cocky thief.
‘Christ, how far are we gonna walk?’ Klaus complained later, once the tropical midday heat had properly cranked up, making everyone break out in a deep, sticky sweat. They were stopped for a break now, right on the verge of the jungle where the air was humid and close and heavy.
‘This isn’t too bad,’ Keith replied. He’d joined them a half hour back or so, curious to see how Klaus was now. ‘You’re just soft.’
Keith shrugged. ‘It’s just the truth. Don’t mean anything personal by it.’
They dropped their packs by a spindly tree, settling into the dirt. Dave set about opening his cans.
‘How long have you two been here, then?’ Klaus asked.
‘Four months, me,’ Keith answered. ‘And near on two for you, right, Dave?’
‘Mhmm,’ Dave agreed.
‘So we’re not real old boots or anything,’ he continued. ‘But you learn fast, change fast out here.’
Dave grabbed his cigarettes out of his pocket and lit up. He didn’t like thinking about time too much. How long he’d been here, how long he had to go. It was easier to let the days blur together unobstructed. Maybe closer to he’d start to think about it again, about calendars and clocks and what it would be like getting home, all of that, but until then he was here and he had today.
‘Can I have one?’ Klaus asked, pointing at the cigarette. Eyes went a little wicked. ‘Borrow one, I mean.’
Dave frowned. ‘Don’t you have your own?’
‘They’re gone already.’
Keith laughed, a low, pleasant sound. ‘Of course they are.’
‘Borrowing, you say?’ Dave said as he offered one over, because Klaus was pouting at him all pitiful. ‘Should I hold you to that?’
Klaus took it happily. ‘If you want to drive yourself crazy, sure, go ahead.’
‘Okay. You owe me one cigarette,’ Dave said. ‘Next rations.’
‘Oh, but I need all those ones. I’ll get so irritable otherwise.’
‘Haven’t you got all that pot now?’ Keith asked. ‘You could pay him back with that.’
‘Or he could not,’ Dave said.
‘Ah, that’s right, Dave’s too straight-laced for weed,’ Keith joked, jabbing him in the side. ‘I’ll give you some of my smokes, Klaus, for some of your special ones.’
‘But I need all that too,’ Klaus whined. ‘How else will I keep myself sane?’
Keith laughed. ‘Fair point. Keep ‘em, please.’
Too soon they were ordered to get up and moving again. Dave missed the long scratchy grass of the valley compared to what they were trekking through here, dense undergrowth and waterlogged earth that quickly turned to mud under the feet of the men in front of them. Klaus slipped in his boots, of course, falling flat on his ass to hoots of laughter from all around. Wasn’t long before he flailed again and Dave managed to catch him by the back of his jacket just in time, nearly going over himself too. Eventually they had to fall into single file and the conversation dropped off. You wanted to be quiet in the jungle anyway. Never knew who was hiding in the thick of it.
The third time Klaus lost his balance was different. The path had widened out a bit and Klaus turned, pausing for Dave to catch up and walk by his side. He looked calm and kind of sweet, despite the mud smeared all over one half of his face.
They didn’t talk. It was too quiet, apart from the sound of their own heavy breathing and the restless forest sounds, all rustles, chirps and the occasional squawk of something Dave thought was a parakeet. Klaus kept glancing at him though, like he was checking to see if he was still there. Look out of the corner of your eyes like the rest of us, Dave thought. That’s how I’m watching you.
The next time he stole a glance at Dave, Klaus jumped out of his skin, toppling backwards in fright.
‘Argh! Jesus, fuck!’ he cried, and he was staring wide-eyed right over Dave’s shoulder.
Dave swung around in a panic, raising his gun up, while a guy behind them lost his cool completely and began to shoot at the trees. He scanned the edge of the path wildly, couldn’t see anything. In all the sudden noise and chaos whatever Klaus had seen might’ve gotten away, or might still be hiding there, surely with a bullet or two in them by now. His heart hammered in his chest. Eventually, the lieutenant’s shouted orders to step down, calm down, reached his ears. Someone managed to get the frightened soldier to stop shooting, and then it was quiet.
He remembered Klaus then, and turned around. The man was sitting in the mud, pale as a ghost, breathing heavily. Dave reached out and pulled him up as Lieutenant Campbell stormed towards them.
‘Explain yourself,’ he demanded, looking between Klaus and Dave.
Klaus looked genuinely upset. ‘I just had a fright. I thought I saw something. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shout out.’
‘What do you mean, saw “something”? Charlie?’
‘I . . I don’t know. I don’t think so.’
‘Phillips, Lloyd - search the bushes!’ the lieutenant ordered, and the two men split off from the path. ‘What’s your name, private?’
‘Klaus. Klaus Hargreeves.’
‘Alright, Hargreeves. You’re gonna give me a straight answer. Did you or did you not see a VC?’
‘No. I - I didn’t. There was nothing there.’
‘So what happened?’
‘I just freaked myself out.’
Lieutenant Campbell glared at him for a few more seconds, while Klaus started to fidget uncomfortably. The two soldiers pushed their way back out of the bushes.
‘All clear!’ one of them shouted.
Campbell kept a suspicious eye on Klaus. ‘If I find out you’re messing around, there’ll be hell to pay, you hear me?’ He turned to Dave and said, ‘Make sure he gets his shit together. We don’t have time for this.’ Then he marched back up the line.
‘Typical FNG,’ someone muttered as the unit started to move again. Dave didn’t see who.
Klaus was looking pretty shaken up but he was standing tall.
‘You okay?’ Dave asked.
Klaus nodded. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Good to hear,’ he said sincerely, slinging the strap of his gun back over his shoulder. ‘I guess we’d better keep going. You just try and keep your head.’
For good measure, he reached out and gave the top of Klaus’s helmet a swift couple of knocks. That was friendly middle-ground, right?
Later, as the afternoon began to wane, Klaus whispered to him. ‘Do you reckon everyone thinks I did that just to mess with people? Like a bad joke?’
Dave pondered for a moment. ‘I don’t know what everyone else thinks, so I can’t say. But Campbell’s left you alone for now, so I suppose he doesn’t actually think that. If that’s what you’re worried about.’ He wondered if Klaus knew about the rumours about him that had been flying around.
Klaus frowned at him. ‘And what do you think?’
I think that people might be suspicious of you again after this. Acting weird in the jungle. It’s fuel to the fire.
‘I think that everyone out here’s been jumpy before, especially when they’re new in country. It’s okay. It happens.’
‘Mm. I suppose.’ He played with the strap of his gun. ‘I should have expected it, I don’t know why I was so shocked. I can’t help but feel like I’m just - I’m not suited for this, not like my . . . Oh, I dunno. I’m the worst person to have ended up here.’
‘You’ll find your feet,’ Dave told him, then lowered his voice. ‘And I know it’s complicated, but I was thinking about how what you took can make people paranoid. If maybe that’s what caused it today. Or made it worse.’
‘No, it’d worn off by then,’ Klaus said dismissively. ‘That’s not the problem.’
‘Well, what is?’
Klaus shrugged. He looked all small and hopeless, like he had the other morning. ‘Just wonderful old me.’
Ah. He couldn’t let Klaus say things like that about himself. Even if he got snapped at again.
‘Oh, that’s all?’ he replied cheerily. Never mind the middle ground; Dave was jumping off the deep end. ‘Well then. Like I said, you’ll find your feet. It’ll be fucking hard, I’m telling you now, but you’ll do it. And in the meantime, fuck what the other guys think. They’ll be taking it all back once you’ve had your moment, when you prove us all wrong, okay?’
The good news was that Klaus didn’t snap at him, but his lack of reaction was almost more distressing. His expression had gone all stony, like he’d been frozen, and his eyes were cast downwards without a flicker of emotion. He wasn’t sullen. If anything, he looked confused.
They were marching forward all the while, but if Dave had learnt anything from his time in Vietnam it was that he could be moving all day, constantly active, and yet feel more trapped in his own mind than if he’d been locked, paralysed, in a room. There were moments where he never had a chance to catch his breath, when lives and the land were transforming before his very eyes, but the new scars cropping up on his skin made no room for new thoughts. Change came eventually, but only at the last minute and all at once, nearly too fast to notice. Before then, before the flood gates opened, he was unmalleable and unmoving. Stagnant.
Klaus looked just as stuck right now, even as he continued to put one foot in front of the other. He started chewing on his lip, turning to face Dave like before, while Dave looked back out of the corner of his eye.
And he didn’t snap, and he didn’t laugh. He said it plain and simple, like it was meant to be common sense:
‘If you knew what I was like you wouldn’t say those sorts of things about me.’
‘Give me a chance to make that decision for myself,’ Dave demanded without pause. No room for argument.
And with that Klaus’s icy stillness shattered. First his mouth dropped open slightly, before he caught it and closed it with a clack of the teeth. Jaw clenched up. He frowned deeply and something burned in his eyes, almost furious.
‘Fine,’ he said bitterly, quieter than Dave was expecting and laden with frustration. ‘I’m right, though. And when you figure that out, don’t say I didn’t tell you.’
All love, though reaching up my loneliness evolves
By the blindness that surrounds him
Song lyrics are from "Soul Love".
FNG means “fucking new guy” in military slang. They had so many acronyms, it’s crazy.
Thank you for reading!
Warning - some characters in this chapter act and speak homophobically. Gross to write, and I’m sorry it has to be here but it comes with the context. Please feel free to avoid or skim those parts, or rant in the comments with me because I am an angry bi full of rage at how awful people can be.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
‘Twelve,’ Dave said as he sat down next to Klaus. He was busy opening his rations next to the fire, but stopped for a moment to squint up at Dave in confusion.
‘Huh? What’s that?’
‘It’s how many you owe me now.’
‘How many what?’
Klaus blinked. Then he laughed incredulously. ‘You’re actually counting?’
‘Hah. You’re weird.’
‘I’ve just got a good memory. And you’ve got your rations opened.’ He pointed at the box nestled in Klaus’s lap.
Klaus glanced down at them briefly, then waved a hand at Dave. ‘Oh, next time, I promise.’
Dave tutted. ‘Racking up debt, Hargreeves. That’s never a good idea.’
‘I’ve never been good with money, I somehow always end up spending it all at once.’ Klaus smirked and looked into the fire. ‘Anyway, I’m used to paying in other ways.’
Just like that Dave’s smile slipped and he felt awkward, because he thought he knew what Klaus meant by that. Had no idea what to say about it though. Opening his rations suddenly became a highly important task.
Klaus gave a big heave of a sigh, and said all dramatic, ‘Alright. You win. Here you go, soldier.’ He lobbed his cigarette packet over to Dave. ‘Yay for you.’
‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone sound more sincere,’ said a sarcastic voice. Pete dropped his pack next to Dave, and then Keith followed suit on his other side.
‘You got any to pay me back with too?’ Keith asked. ‘Or will I have to fight Dave for them?’
‘Oh, fight him, definitely.’ Klaus held up his hands with those odd tattoos, showing they were empty. ‘I’ve got nothing now. I mean, except for . . . you know.’ He winked, and then started rummaging in his pockets.
‘Are you ever not high?’ Pete asked in disbelief.
Klaus found what he was looking for and then looked up, all alert like a rabbit, eyes bright and mischievous in the firelight. ‘Not if I can help it.’
‘Yeah, we know,’ Keith said. ‘But Klaus? Maybe don’t smoke any of that shit tonight.’
Keith faltered, and looked to Dave for help.
‘We reckon the lieutenant’s got his eye on you,’ he explained. ‘After what happened.’
Klaus brushed it off. ‘Pshh, I don’t care what he thinks, he’s a total bore. Reminds me of dear old Number One. Almost as massive, too, hah!’ He laughed to himself at a joke no one else understood. ‘Besides, he’s never done anything before.’
‘Yeah, but this is the fourth time you’ve done something dumb on patrol,’ Pete said coolly, pushing his glasses up his nose like he did whenever he was serious. ‘You’ve surely heard the rumours. Not even you could be that oblivious.’
‘Pete,’ Dave warned. ‘Don’t.’
‘Yeah, I’ve heard them,’ Klaus said. He looked at Pete with amusement, almost pitying. ‘It’s bullshit. I wish I was a spy, that’d be a whole lot easier to explain.’
Before anyone got a chance to ask what the hell he meant by that, Klaus stood up, still speaking in his carefree, light and lilting tone - the one which almost hid what he was really feeling, but not quite. ‘I’ll just have to be more discreet. Anyone care to join me? I’m happy to share, I’m in a sharing kind of mood tonight.’
None of them got up. Pete and Keith were looking at him warily.
‘Fine, fine, suit yourselves, gentlemen.’ He wandered away, waving his hand at them as he went like he was swatting a fly, idly.
‘He shouldn’t wander off,’ Keith muttered. ‘That’s the worst thing he could do.’
Pete clicked his tongue. ‘Well if he gets caught, he deserves it.’
‘Oh for god’s sake, Pete. He’s been nothing but civil to you since that first day,’ Dave said.
‘Sure. Doesn’t mean I have to like him. He’s not normal.’
‘I kinda like that,’ Keith said. ‘He’s fun. Wacky.’
Pete rolled his eyes. ‘I don’t mean that.’
Pete was normally one of the quietest guys in the unit. Bookish and soft-spoken, he was planning on going to college when he got back home, getting a degree in history. Dave had thought him shy initially, but really Pete just didn’t care much for idle conversation. If he did have something to say, he spoke his mind. Dave had admired him because of it, though these days more often than not he found it annoying; he didn’t have to be so cruel to Klaus.
When Pete spoke as they sat around the spitting fire, Dave tensed up because suddenly he knew exactly what Pete was thinking - and therefore he also knew what he was going to say next. He knew with all the confidence of a shiver running down his spine.
‘I mean, he’s clearly . . . you know. One of them. Everything about him screams it. Obnoxiously so. I don’t know why he has to be so obvious about it, unless he’s asking to be discharged.’
Dave clenched his fist, felt heat rising up his neck where he’d been icy with fear a moment before. Keith was staring at the ground awkwardly. Pete looked mostly untroubled, earnest, with only the faintest glimmer of disgust crinkling up his nose. Dave wanted to hit him. He never wanted to hit people.
‘Surely you two have noticed? You’d have to be blind not to.’
Keith sighed. ‘Of course I’d fucking noticed. Easier not to think about it, though. Not to talk about it,’ he finished pointedly.
Pete laughed short and sharp. ‘Alright, ignore it if you want. If that’s easiest. But are you so sure he’s not going to sneak up on you in the night?’
‘Shut the fuck up,’ Dave spat. ‘Right now.’
‘Oh, sorry,’ he retorted. ‘I’d forgotten he was your little pet project. Brave Dave protecting the nancy boy.’
Dave lunged forward, Pete flinching in front of him from a fist that never made impact. Keith had grabbed a hold of his arm, was pulling him back.
‘Woah, woah, Dave,’ Keith said hurriedly, hanging off him with nearly his full weight. ‘Stop, come on, sit back down.’
He struggled against him for a moment, knowing he was stronger than the kid, stronger than both of them, but already his blind fury was fading and he deflated. He sat back down stiffly.
‘Alright, okay. Easy there, boys.’ Keith sounded relieved.
Pete was flushed, realising he’d crossed a line - and surely embarrassed that Keith stepping in was the only thing that had just saved his skin - but he didn’t look ashamed. God, Dave really, really wished he’d punched his smug little face.
He heard Keith mutter to Pete, ‘That was way outta line, man,’ but he stopped listening, because he didn’t want to hear any of it.
He’d known about Klaus. Of course he had. Maybe it hadn’t been totally obvious on those first couple of days, when Klaus had been more sullen and skittish than anything else, but he’d had his suspicions, and it wasn’t long at all before he realised there was no way to explain it away as simply his own wishful thinking. Once Klaus had started to settle in, found a way to fuel those habits of his, the sullenness lifted and the kind of person he was became overwhelmingly, startling clear.
He was unusual in so many ways. For one, Klaus said strange things all the time. Weird phrases that didn’t make sense, or things that Dave had only ever thought but never ever dared to utter aloud. But he didn’t even need to say anything outrageous to get those dirty looks from the other guys. It was apparent just by looking at him, the way he held himself, the way he spoke.
It terrified Dave.
Pete wasn’t the first to try and start something. But no one else had managed to bite right where it hurt as precisely as he had. Typical Pete. There was no mistaking what he was talking about, whereas with the ever present glares Klaus got from some of the others, it was harder to tell whether they were due to him being a queer, or if it was because everyone was annoyed and mistrustful after he’d been useless, weird Hargreeves on patrol again.
Dave had heard a few snarky insults, seen Klaus react to them with a roll of his eyes which was never going to help the situation, the reckless fool. Nothing worse than that, not yet. And that was mostly due to Dave. When Klaus’s back was turned or when he’d moved away, Dave pulled rank. The others liked him and respected him, and he stared back with a steady warning when Klaus got those glares. You try anything, it said plain as day, and you’ll have me to answer to.
He sighed to himself. Pete must’ve noticed. That was fine, Dave didn’t mind. He wanted everyone to know that he was watching out for Klaus. His “pet project.” Christ. It was better that they assume he was just being a good pal rather than anything else, though he was certain no one would notice anything different about him, he hid it too well. No one he cared about had ever noticed apart from his nan, but she’d always known. Maybe his brother too. Yeah, Micky probably knew. Too damn ashamed to bring it up, though, and Dave didn’t blame him.
He was broken out of his thoughts by a ruckus from the other side of camp, near the tents.
Lieutenant Campbell was gripping Klaus by the arms and dragging him back into the firelight. He thrust Klaus forward, hard enough that he stumbled, arms wide.
All eyes were on them, conversations dropping off quick. Neither spoke, clearly having already exchanged a few heated words out of earshot from everyone else: Campbell was red faced and Klaus looked pissed off. He regained his balance, glanced briefly at Dave, then went to sit at a fire with Adams and his pals.
Dave kept his eye on Klaus as the uneasy silence was slowly broken up by chatter. He was talking to Adams, muttering in his ear, looking more and more frustrated as Adams shook his head, shrugging.
‘What do you reckon, then? Finally confirmed a spy?’ Pete asked.
‘Ugh, just leave it alone, man,’ Keith said. ‘And no, that can’t be right. You think Campbell would just go plonk his ass back down by the fire if he was? No chance.’ Then he grinned gleefully, white teeth gleaming in the dark, not even fighting to hide the smile because he’d finally had his chance to point out the obvious like Pete was always doing to him.
Dave felt proud of him. Keith wasn’t thick or anything, he was just young, and he’d never had the kind of education that Pete had, all the best schools and everything. Neither had Dave for that matter. Keith was world-wise though, and that meant a lot out here. If he’d been older, Dave wondered if he’d even have the time of day for someone like Pete.
The next day was rough. Everyone was out of sorts, more so than usual, and it was raining buckets, goddamned monsoon season, and then it was raining bullets and shells as well, so there was no more time for any of that introspective shit. Only mud in his mouth and ringing ears and choppers whirring, blasting the trees low to the ground like it was a hurricane.
When it was over, he was fine, he was fine, bone-deep exhausted, but fine. Bullet had only nicked him on the shoulder so he was lucky.
He found Klaus outside the medic tent in the pouring rain, biting his nails to the quick.
‘You okay?’ he asked even though Klaus was breathing and not bleeding right in front of him.
‘No,’ Klaus said. ‘Everything’s just shit.’ He sounded so utterly miserable that alarm bells started to go off in Dave’s mind, as if it wasn’t already noisy enough in there.
‘Campbell took everything . Prick. I need that stuff, I really need it.’
‘Your drugs? That’s it?’ he groaned. ‘Damn it, Klaus, there’s a time and a place.’
Klaus pouted. ‘Yeah, and I need them in this time and place to even think about coping.’
‘Right,’ he said blandly. ‘So that’s what happened last night? He caught you?’
Dave sighed. ‘We told you that would happen.’
‘Yeah, yeah, I know, silly Klaus.’ He stopped chewing on his nail and started to fidget with the hair at the nape of his neck, then froze, going all pale. ‘Oh shit. Pete.’
‘Yeah? What’s he done now?’ Dave said, even when a moment later he went cold, because - no. No.
‘He got hit,’ Klaus said, wide eyed. ‘God dammit, how did I not mention that already? I don’t know why that wasn’t the first thing I told you. I’m sorry. Fuck.’
Dave had stopped breathing. Klaus noticed.
‘He’s not - oh god, no, Dave, he’s not dead. He’ll live, they’ve said he’ll be fine.’
‘What happened?’ he asked weakly.
‘Shrapnel. His leg. If he’d been any closer . . .’
‘You saw it?’
Klaus nodded, chewing on his lip.
Dave ducked into the medic tent. He needed to get his shoulder looked at. He wanted to see that Pete was okay with his own eyes.
It was busy in there, but not as hectic as it would have been earlier. While a medic tended to his wound, quick and nimble, Dave craned his neck. Pete was off to the side on a stretcher, unconscious but alive, leg all bandaged up and not even that much blood staining the white fabric. It wasn’t that bad. He’d recover here, wouldn’t even need to be evacuated.
Thank god, he thought. Thank god thank god thank god. Because it wasn’t fair, not fair at all. If Pete had died and the last thing Dave had done was try to put a fist in his face . . . He’d never apologise for it, but no matter how angry he’d been it was never worth it, he resolved, it was never fucking worth it.
The medic caught him looking. ‘He was lucky, you know. If it hadn’t been for that skinny guy, I forget his name, the odd one, he’d be dead.’
‘What?’ he sputtered, gobsmacked. ‘Klaus?’
‘Yeah, him, that’s right. The guys are calling it a miracle, and by the sounds of it, it was. Came flying out of nowhere, saved this poor fella from a booby trap no one else even noticed. Crazy huh?’
Dave must have agreed, he couldn't remember. The medic fastened his bandage and patted his arm, all done.
He walked out of the tent in a daze, looking around for Klaus. But he was gone, vanished into the dusk and the sheets of pouring rain.
Now the damned have no time to make amends
No purse of token fortune stands in our way
The silent guns of love
Will blast the sky
Song lyrics: Cygnet Committee, which is nearly ten minutes long and INCREDIBLE. Though I have unashamedly taken these words out of their context, they mean something very different in the song. (As if I know what they even mean here... P O E T R Y huh it's all in the interpretation >:) )
Thank you everyone for reading and giving kudos and commenting, like . . . what the heck you're all so lovely.
(Pete makes me so mad and I MADE him. Keith is sweet and precious and nineteen. Dave is repressed and ANGRY and Klaus is ridiculous chaos and I can't wait for them to both get their shit together and love each other)
Dave thought Klaus was rather good looking most of the time, but when he eventually found him his first thought was that, right now, he looked like a drowned rat.
Klaus was crouching in the mud under a low canvas sheet, trying and failing to dodge a traitorous river of stray drops. They were running back along the inner layer and falling right into his face. He was bareheaded, his hair all plastered to his skull, and that was only because he was using his helmet as an umbrella for his food. To be quite frank, it was not working well at all. The food didn’t look much better watered down.
He looked up at the sound of Dave’s footsteps sloshing through the puddles.
‘Heya soldier,’ he said, grimacing, ‘and, uh, welcome to my crib.’
Dave raised an eyebrow. ‘Cozy.’
‘Decor needs a bit of work, but if you can look past that . . .’ Klaus waved a hand, welcoming him under.
Dave lifted up a bit of the canvas and crouched next to him, rain dripping off his nose. He supposed he looked like a drowned rat too.
‘I heard what happened,’ he said softly. ‘That you saved Pete. All the boys are talking about it.’
Klaus sighed. ‘Yeah. Is he okay?’
‘He’ll be up again in no time.’
‘Cool. I’m glad to hear it.’
‘What happened?’ Dave asked, because it was something that had been nagging him. Everyone he’d spoken to about it was a bit confused, couldn’t really figure it out.
Klaus shrugged. ‘He was about to set off the trap. I just pulled him back out of the way. Something knocked into it and set it off anyway, I don’t know what, a branch or a stone or something. But we were far enough away by that point that we weren’t blown to smithereens.’
‘And you didn’t get hit?’
‘Nope. Pete landed on top of me. He makes a pretty good shield.’ Klaus grimaced again. ‘Sorry. That’s probably bad taste.’
Dave ignored the apology. ‘But how did you know?’
‘Know what?’ Klaus asked. At the same time his mouth set into a firm line; he knew exactly what Dave meant.
‘About the trap?’ he persisted. ‘None of the other guys knew it was there at all until it blew.’
He shrugged. ‘Just had a funny feeling.’
‘You’ve never had a funny feeling before.’
‘Yeah, well, that’s why they call it that, oddly enough. Otherwise it’d just be a plain old normal feeling.’
‘So you just . . . sensed something was off?’
‘And then managed to save Pete on a whim?’
‘Yes! Christ, Dave, it’s almost like you don’t believe I’m capable!’ He was all mock outrage again, hiding behind humour, trying to detract. Dave was getting pretty familiar with all his usual tricks.
‘It’s not that. You don’t have to go and get all defensive, ‘cause I actually think you’re perfectly capable. I’m just trying to figure out what happened, alright?’ He shifted slightly, not wanting his legs to cramp up. ‘And you have to admit it is a bit unusual, you saving the day and all. There’s a reason the guys are calling it a fucking miracle.’
Klaus scratched at his cheek nervously. ‘They are?’
‘Some of them, yeah.’
‘I suppose it is,’ he sighed. ‘You know, honestly, Dave, I don’t know what I can say to you that’ll help you make sense of it.’
‘Just the truth. No matter what, I’ll listen.’
He meant it, but Klaus wasn’t feeling so generous. Dave saw the shutters go up.
‘I told you already. I just had a weird feeling. It’s probably because I was sober. I dunno.’
‘Alright,’ Dave replied. He wasn’t going to push any more than he already had, not when Klaus was this touchy. His eyes flickered downwards. ‘Your dinner’s overflowing, by the way.’
Klaus looked down in alarm. The hand holding up his helmet had drifted as they chatted, entirely forgotten, and his meal was now very much a rainy soup.
‘Aw, shit,’ he swore, then tried to pour some of the water out. ‘That’s disgusting.’
‘Mix it all up, down it in one?’ Dave suggested, grinning.
Klaus shook his head in horror and pretended to retch, which made Dave crack up. Then before he even realised it was happening, Klaus swirled his finger around in the meaty mixture and raised the can to his lips, screwing up his face against the inevitable sliminess. He finished it to the very last drop.
‘Urgh,’ Dave groaned in sympathy. ‘I didn’t think you’d do it.’
‘How could I refuse something so good?’ the madman replied, holding the can upside down to prove its emptiness and smacking his lips. ‘Delicious! A five star meal from a five star establishment. I’m like that - that man, oh you know, the ratatouille man, with the taste sensation overload. Boom!’ He pretended to be blown away by an invisible, miniature explosion, then laughed to himself.
Dave just smiled at him, bemused as usual and not really minding. He didn’t get a lot of Klaus’s references, but he got the gist most of the time. That was what mattered.
If that had been the first rough day in a while, the next few weeks were no better. They were in tricky territory. It hadn’t been like this for ages, not since Klaus joined them at least. Dave forgot what it was like to rest. He smelt napalm on the air, like gasoline in his nose. He saw blood pour out of his friends as they were carried away, limp, gone, and he had to move on, like that didn’t wreck him, like he didn’t want to just curl up on the ground and give up, let it all end right there. He might have, if it wasn’t for Klaus.
It killed something inside a person, experiencing this for the first time. The scale of it. The horror. Klaus wasn’t smiling, no one was, but on top of that he was sick with the lack of drugs. There’d been no chance for him to restock, not for any of the guys. Dave had thought he’d understood what it was like on that one morning, seemingly a lifetime ago, but he’d had no idea. The withdrawal wrecked him. And there was no time to help him, no place, no way. He’d offer his arm if he was around, but Klaus always refused to lean on him, pig-headed idiot, saying he’d make it on his own two feet if it killed him. Something like determination in his eye.
And it was weird because amidst all this chaos and his own personal suffering, Klaus was a better soldier than he’d ever been before. Saving Pete wasn’t the only miracle he managed; somehow, against everybody’s expectations, he proved himself again and again.
It was like he’d gotten sharp. In the middle of a firefight he’d spot traps that no one else had noticed, just like that first time. Or he’d catch wind of an ambush before anyone else had even heard a whisper. Where in every other regard it seemed as though he’d made it all the way to Vietnam without a day of training, in those moments it was like he’d trained for this kind of thing for years. No one knew how he did it. It was eerie. It was a godsend.
He continued to insist that he just had a funny feeling every now and again. The unit eventually accepted this. How could they not, when Klaus’s intuition made the difference between life and death for the third time that week? Any explanation was good enough for them. And really, at the end of the day it was just one more freaky thing about Hargreeves to add to the list.
So they all started to listen to him when he shouted out warnings. They started to look to him before stepping off the beaten track. They finally started to treat him as their brother in arms. Who’d have thought it, those few weeks before? Inept Klaus, spy Klaus, queer Klaus - the entire unit’s nuisance, finally filling out his boots. Dave was proud of him. He started to wonder whether it was so odd after all. Figured spookier things had happened in that sweltering green jungle than Klaus sobering up and getting perceptive. It was hard to tell, though. Reality was always bent a bit strange there.
As the days passed by in a blur, Dave saw Klaus excelling and he saw him suffering. The two seemed to come hand in hand. Maybe that was why he was like that - so reckless.
It was the newest surprise, Klaus’s recklessness. Watching that idiot’s back shot his blood pressure through the roof. Like a cat with nine lives to spare, he had more than his fair share of near fatal moments. It was manic. That was the only way Dave could describe it, the way he went with that wild glint in his eye: utterly manic. It was brilliant to behold when it fuelled the uncanny battle instinct that had come out of nowhere. At other times, though, it seemed like Klaus wanted the bullets to strike close to his skin.
Dave worried about it in those brief moments of pause, closing his eyes despite the gunfire, never really sleeping. He’d never met someone so callous about their own safety. He didn’t understand it. But that was Klaus. He’d traded out one kind of rush for another.
Eventually the world lulled again. Enough to breathe for a moment.
Klaus wasn’t taking it well.
‘You should get some sleep,’ he told him one night outside the tents - which were pathetic, makeshift things, made with one sheet of canvas, open to the elements at both ends and propped up with frayed rope and whatever sticks had fallen nearby.
Klaus was sitting on the ground, leaning against his pack and staring at nothing. He shook his head, not even blinking. ‘No, no, I’m good.’
‘Come on. There’s still some room under this one,’ Dave said heavily, like the words themselves were half asleep. ‘You look more exhausted than I feel. Trust me, that’s saying something.’
‘Alright. If you say so.’ Too tired to argue otherwise, he trudged away.
Just before he ducked into the tent, Dave glanced back over his shoulder. Klaus had put his hands over his ears, and his eyes were all scrunched up. He was mumbling to himself, words indiscernible even from this short distance, but it looked like the same thing over and over again. Go away, go away, go away. He was so quiet in his terror.
Dave walked back to him. Sat beside him without making a sound. Stayed there all night.
He managed to sleep, but the morning revealed that Klaus hadn’t, not a wink.
The guy was dead on his feet all day, a shadow of his usual self. They were only walking, there was no fighting, and by night time Klaus was refusing to sleep again.
‘I don’t need to,’ he protested.
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Keith said, joining Dave’s efforts to convince him. They both had more energy for it today. ‘You’re about to collapse, you nutter.’
Dave crouched down to speak softly in his ear. ‘It’s okay if you’re afraid. Of nightmares, I mean, if that’s what it is. We can help you.’
‘We can,’ he insisted. ‘We’ll talk it over. No one will judge you.’
Klaus met his eye; he looked mournful. ‘They will. They already think I’m crazy.’
‘That’s ‘cause you are, man,’ Keith said, ruffling Klaus’s hair. ‘And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
A hint of a smile ghosted Klaus’s lips. ‘You don’t know the half of it.’
Finally he agreed, with all the reluctance of a cat on a leash.
That night Dave awoke to the sound of Klaus crying out, tormented deep in his dreams. He slid out from his own blanket and shook him, avoiding his bare skin, trying to get him to wake. He did so with a gasp, sitting up straight with tears in his eyes. His hands clawed at Dave’s bare chest until he realised who he was, then he withdrew upon himself, drawing his knees up and hugging them close. A barricade between them.
‘I told you. I told you,’ he breathed as a tear slipped down his cheek. He wiped at it clumsily.
Dave would have gathered him up in his arms if hadn’t been hyper-aware of the rustles of the others squished in the tent, rolling over with restless huffs.
‘I’m sorry,’ Dave whispered. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘No,’ Klaus replied. ‘I could do with a cigarette though.’
Dave smiled. ‘Gotcha.’
They went out into the night, away from the soldiers keeping watch and their beady eyes, and away from the cluster of tents so not to disturb anyone further. Not that it would’ve mattered much. They hardly spoke. It wasn’t tense, though, no; the silence between them was peaceful.
‘Still keeping count?’ Klaus asked quietly, blowing smoke upwards.
Dave looked at him. Properly, too, not out of the corner of his eye. He noticed the way his hair curled around his ears, the way he stared up at the point where the treeline met the sky - like he couldn’t bear to let his gaze rest closer to the ground - and the way his lips parted around the cigarette.
‘This one’s off the books,’ he said.
That got him a smile. And that’s what it was all for, wasn’t it? Because even when nothing else on the earth made sense - not Klaus, not Dave’s own illicit feelings, and definitely not the fucking war - somehow, miraculously, that smile did.
But something tells me that you hide
When all the world is warm and tired
You cry a little in the dark
Well so do I
I'm not quite sure what you're supposed to say
But I can see it's not okay
Song lyrics: "Letter to Hermione."
Guys . . . a few weeks ago I had no idea who Robert Sheehan was. I didn't even care who he was when I started writing this. I just liked Klaus as a character. But JESUS CHRIST SAVE ME NOW. There's only so many interview compilations you can watch without starting to worry for your sanity!! Help!!!!!! Me!!!!!!
Yikes. Anyway. Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter.
Content warning for internalised homophobia.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Klaus started sleeping again the same week they passed through a town. Finally had his chance to refresh his supplies.
It had just been pot when he got it from Adams, Dave knew that much. But Klaus had a lot of stuff now. He did anything, had no qualms about what got him where he felt he needed to be, took whatever he could find. That meant the dangerous shit, too. Dave wasn’t surprised, not really, because he knew well enough these days that Klaus preferred to be out of his mind rather than in it. It was one of the first things he’d learnt about the mad, beautiful man.
Besides, it wasn’t so abnormal. Countless soldiers turned to speed to keep themselves awake on the long night watches, were sometimes even encouraged to, and others relied on pot and opiates to forget for a while, although that was kept more hush-hush. None of it was hard to come by, not really. And he’d seen the way Klaus suffered; it had been beyond awful just to witness, both of them helpless in their own way in the dark of the night. So ultimately Dave understood why he went back to it. He understood. He wasn’t disappointed. Not really.
He found that he had to look away when he saw him slinking off to sit with the smackheads. Instead he’d go and find Pete, who spent most of his time sitting down these days, and Keith, who was bound to be nearby, and he’d play cards with them. Every now and again Klaus would tumble in and join them, slow and dopey, eyes all unfocused. He got really tactile when he was like that, to Pete’s displeasure. Long limbs everywhere, as he rested his legs in their laps or leaned over them, plucking their cards out of their hands with a cackle. Sometimes he would doze on their shoulders - it was usually Keith who had to deal with that - or he would grasp their fingers as he was making a particularly impassioned point, like he could get them to understand if only he pressed hard enough.
He was all too comfortable in their discomfort. Maybe he didn’t notice. Either way, the three of them put up with it, each in their own way. Pete scowled a lot but he never said anything like before. Not a peep against Klaus since he’d saved him. Keith was bemused but mostly unconcerned. It’s all friendly, he’d said, shrugging at Dave. Doesn’t bother me as long as it stays that way. And himself . . . well. He didn’t quite share Keith’s sentiments. He found himself craving Klaus’s touch, wishing it wasn’t just friendly. Then he caught himself, reminded himself that friendly was all that it was, all it could ever be, and anyway, to make it all worse Klaus didn’t even touch him as much as he touched the other guys. If he did, it was fleeting, and only if he was off his face. Otherwise, Klaus didn’t touch him. Not really.
But he brushed that aside.
He’d tried to talk to Klaus about it. What Pete had said. Offered a few suggestions as to what Klaus could do to avoid that in the future. It was kind of funny in retrospect, but mostly mortifying.
First of all, Klaus had rolled his eyes. He’d laughed , for god’s sake.
‘Of course he's a raging homophobe. Way to be predictable, Pete,’ he said, chuckling as he shoveled dirt over his shoulder.
They were digging ditches into the hillside around the camp, reinforcing them with hefty sandbags. It was gruelling work in the heat but a great time to talk privately, with most of the unit down in the valley beneath them.
‘A what?’ Dave asked. He thrust his shovel into the ground with more force than necessary. ‘Klaus. You need to take this seriously.’
‘Oh, Dave. Sweetheart. I don't care what he thinks, now that he’s out of death row and all that. Fuck him! He was born in like, the forties!’
‘And you weren't?’ he replied, exasperated. Of all the times to make no sense. Then he realised what Klaus had called him and he panicked.
‘I don’t think so,’ Klaus said pensively. ‘I was a baby, though, I don’t really remember all that birth stuff. Dates are just another mystery of the universe, don’t you think?’
‘I don’t . . . I dunno.’
Dave was too busy to ponder philosophical questions right now. He was trying furiously to distract himself from the fact that Klaus had said something so fond. Sweetheart. What did he mean by that? No, he couldnt think about it, or he’d blush - and with his luck it would be bright beetroot red, a beacon to all the people who hadn’t figured out the sorts of things he thought on a daily basis. Which was everyone.
Nervous all of a sudden, he glanced around to make sure there was nobody nearby, even though he’d already checked a minute ago. The hill was deserted. He stomped his spade into the ground so that it stood up by itself, grumbling:
‘You make no sense.’
Klaus smirked. ‘Thanks, I do try. Anyway, don't worry about me, I’ve got a thick skin with this kind of stuff. I honestly don't care about what Pete thinks. It’s nobody’s business what I get up to between the sheets, etcetera, etcetera, you know.’ He’d lost his playful tone and now just sounded bored. ‘And it's also literally the least interesting thing about me. Chuck me that post, will you?’
‘I still don’t get it. How are you not even a bit concerned?’ he asked as he passed it over.
‘I have bigger fish to fry. The Vietnam War, for one. That’s taking up a teensy bit of my attention at the moment, funnily enough.’
‘I get that we’re fighting a war,’ he retorted, his jaw clenching up, ‘but you won’t be here much longer if you keep acting the way that you do. Getting sent away because of that would ruin your life back stateside. Surely you realise that. It’s not “nobody’s business,” even if you want it to be. It’s illegal, Klaus. Immoral.’
The words spilled from him out of years of habit, hurting, but he believed them. Why else would it hurt so much to admit if it were not true?
‘Jesus, Dave. Are you kidding?’ Klaus demanded, forgetting the post he’d been wrangling into the ground and staring right at him. ‘Do you actually believe that?’
Luckily, Klaus started to clamber up out of the scar they’d dug into the hillside, muttering half to Dave and half to himself as he went. It was almost like his thoughts were just tumbling out semi-formed - and oh boy did Dave know how that felt.
‘Christ, I knew it was bad, of course I did . . . I didn’t realise even you would’ve, I mean, I thought you . . . ah, never mind. It’s the fucking sixties . . . Shit.’
He ignored Dave’s outstretched hand, and got to his feet. Brushed his hair off his forehead then settled his hands on his hips, looking Dave up and down. Sizing him up.
‘Right. Um, okay. I’ll give you the spiel. Here’s the thing - I’m not gonna start pretending I’m someone I’m not, this is just how I am. I can’t turn it off like a tap. Like, come on! Sure I’m a little flamboyant -’
‘A little?’ Dave butted in, only because he was so nervous and off kilter. And also maybe because it was the most ridiculous understatement of the century and he couldn’t help it.
‘Stille! Hush, you!’ Klaus said, pointing a finger at Dave like he was a disobedient kid. ‘Okay, maybe I’m a teensy bit more flamboyant than that, but I still haven’t done anything totally outrageous or whatever you’d call it. Not since I got here. I’ve been tame as shit! I’m practically a nun.’
Dave blinked at him. ‘Klaus, what do you - what’s outrageous to you, if not . . ?’ He gestured in Klaus’s general direction.
The madman started laughing again, though it turned into a groan of exasperation. ‘Oh my god, Dave!’ He paused, running a hand through his hair. ‘So even if I don’t do anything, nothing at all, it doesn’t matter because I’m still too obviously gay or whatever, right? That’s what we’re talking about here?’
‘I guess,’ he said uncertainly. He didn’t realise there was a difference.
Klaus started pacing around him, radiating frantic energy.
‘I’m not even -’ he started, before shaking his head. ‘I’m not even technically gay.’
‘Not the way you think anyway.’ One hand flew over his mouth, hiding a grin. How could he be so amused by this? ‘God, if dear old Pete and the rest knew that, their puny little minds would explode! Seriously, though, I’m pan. I’m pan and I can see in your face that you don’t even know what that is, but I don’t care. I don’t care! I’ve been with women, men, all sorts of people, and trust me, Dah-vay Maria, it’s all same-old, same-old when it comes down to it. All lust, all natural, all fine. No biggie. So don’t give me any of that “immoral” shit.’ He paused for breath, then burst out saying, ‘Oh, Pete should see me in a skirt! And if only I had my eyeliner. He’d go catatonic.’
‘Skirt?’ Dave breathed, a bit hoarsely, because that was the first thought he could properly grab.
Klaus gave him a sly look. ‘You know it, baby. Give me a good taboo and I’ll smash it to pieces for you anytime.’
Dave swallowed. His tongue felt all fat and heavy. What right did Klaus have to say something like that?
He hadn’t meant to fixate on the skirt like that. Cross-dressers weren’t news to him, he’d heard of them before, and to be honest he was more taken aback by the whole men-women-anybody thing. But there was no way to sate his curiosity about it without asking, and Dave knew he didn’t have the guts to continue this conversation. He was well and truly out of his depth.
He must’ve looked like a startled animal or something, because Klaus took pity on him, losing the cocky glint in his eye. He picked up Dave’s abandoned shovel and passed it back to him.
‘Look. I’m not going to do anything different. But thanks for giving a shit, Dave. Appreciate it.’ His expression went soft for the briefest of moments, then flickered back to normal. ‘Now, stop blustering and gawping, and get digging, soldier! You think I can do all this by myself? I need your muscles!’
That conversation had taken place a few days ago and he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Even now, when he was supposed to be concentrating on the card game, he kept reliving it over and over. It didn’t help that Klaus was right there in front of him too, barefoot and crosslegged, an arm slung around Keith’s neck as he whispered in his ear.
‘You should play that one,’ he insisted, tapping a card.
‘Get outta here, Klaus,’ Keith complained, pushing him away, which just made him cackle. ‘You trying to make me lose or something?’
‘How could I when I don’t even know the rules?’
‘Through pure evil intent, that’s how.’
‘Stop stalling and play,’ Pete said. He clutched his own cards to his chest protectively as Klaus shimmied over to his side. ‘Nope, you’re not seeing anything, Hargreeves.’
‘Oh, you’re all so mean!’ he cried, before flopping down in the middle of them all, arms and legs splayed like a starfish gone wrong. The cards went flying, met by a collective groan.
‘Are you serious?’ Pete muttered.
‘Aw, fuck it. I had a rubbish hand anyway,’ Keith said. He chucked his cards away and launched himself at Klaus. ‘This is what you get, man!’
Pete rolled his eyes and pulled out one of his tatty books. Dave watched the other two wrestle and shout and laugh, rolling all over the ground.
They made it seem so easy.
He felt a pang in his chest, bitter and afraid and hopeful. He tried to tell himself not to decipher it, then tried to ignore the fact that he didn’t need to; he already knew what it meant.
The truth was that Klaus terrified Dave. It was a truth he’d known for a while now. It was why he couldn’t stop the echoes of their conversation reverbrating through his entire being, shaking him up, messing with his sense of direction. He was terrified of Klaus getting hurt. He was terrified of someone finding out about himself, like he could catch visible queerness from Klaus like the flu. And above all else, he was terrified of what Klaus meant for him and his own truths. His own lies. There was no space to ignore those, not when Klaus was around.
Like the fact that deep down in the part of him without voice, he knew that Klaus’s brazenness thrilled him as much as it terrified him.
To think he had considered it best if Klaus learnt to hide like himself, when really he craved more than anything to be as open, as carefree as that skinny, strange man. To think that he had the right to judge and worry when Klaus was surely aware of all the risks already, had undoubtedly faced worse than Dave already, and yet still was brave enough to play-fight with Keith like any other guy. Brave enough to just be the way that he was. Unashamed and unapologetic. No wonder Dave was so mortified by that conversation, and no wonder he couldn’t let it go. It was the moment he’d realised that Klaus really wasn’t oblivious. That he knew how he was behaving, knew the danger, and he kept on just the same anyway. If Dave was being honest, it was one of the bravest things he had ever witnessed.
He watched Klaus as he tumbled around, trying to figure out how he did it. And then he found himself wishing that Klaus would teach him by more than just example. Too intrigued by the glint in his eyes, the slow grins, the slender limbs, that bit of skin that showed between his clothes when he stretched. The way he talked with his whole body, such an easy language to read, slumping here, jumping excitedly there, hands always reaching, touching, clapping.
So tactile and yet he never touched Dave.
You’re queer, or something like it, he thought to himself, and so am I, but I’m too afraid to say it, so I need you to do something. You have to be able to tell. Tell me I haven’t hidden it so well.
Klaus had to do it because he was braver than Dave could ever be. The truth of this hit him like a punch to the jaw, but he didn’t move an inch as he watched from the sidelines.
I care for no one else but you
I tear my soul to cease the pain
I think maybe you feel the same
What can we do?
I'm not quite sure what we're supposed to do
Song lyrics: "Letter to Hermione" again :)
“Stille” means quiet in German.
Dave's mind is b u s y. But we can let him off for that, he’s going through some hefty Gay Realisations, he was always gonna get a bit flustered.
And as always, thank you for reading! I hope you're all having a lovely day or night wherever you are in the world!
(P.S. To everyone who recommended Misfits to me . . . thank u i love it . . . )
Dave managed to hold himself together over the next few weeks. After all that he’d been through out here already, his own crisis of affection was hardly going to be the straw that broke the donkey’s back. So he carried on, teetering precariously between ignoring his feelings - always an ingenious tactic - and being pummeled by them. They struck him out of nowhere, he soon discovered, and with wonderful variety. Whatever wacky emotion he could name, he’d probably felt it at some point towards Klaus.
He felt a lot of it all at once on the day Klaus got sick at base. Really sick.
He’d seemed right as rain until he said he needed to sit down, looking slightly off, and then he’d just slumped over.
‘You fucking idiot, you complete fucking idiot,’ Keith said over and over again as he shook him, trying to get him to wake up. His eyelids were half open, only the whites visible. His mouth was slack.
Dave knelt in the muck next to them, shouting Klaus’s name, begging him to wake up.
Keith was frantic. ‘We need to get a medic. I’ve seen this before, he’s taken too much.’
‘But the lieutenant can’t . . .’ he started, then shook the sentence off halfway through. There was no time to worry about the consequences.
He jumped to his feet, heart in his mouth. They were right in the middle of camp. By that point they’d caused enough of a commotion that people nearby were abandoning their tasks and drifting over to see what had happened.
Dave scanned their faces, frozen, while Keith yelled at him to hurry, and then suddenly Campbell was on the scene. He’d never been so thankful for the lieutenant’s ability to sniff out disorder.
Campbell, to his credit, took one look at the situation and sent immediately for a medic. It was odd, hearing that shout in camp, in a moment otherwise calm and quiet. The hairs stood up on his arm.
He knew he was shaking and staring when they carried Klaus away. He didn’t care. Klaus was so pale that his skin had a blue tinge to it, and his head was rolling back. It wasn’t right. Death wasn’t meant to be like that here; he knew how to deal with fire and blood and noise, not this cold, silent nightmare.
Keith had to nudge him to bring him back to earth. ‘Come on, man, there’s nothing we can do now. The medics will be able to manage something.’ He sounded as shaken as Dave felt.
Dave knew the medics weren’t trained for everything. They weren’t magic. They were simply making do with what they had, learning from yesterday’s mistakes just as much as the rest of them.
Miraculously, Klaus lived. Seemed like he pulled out new miracles every other day like loose pennies from his pocket. He tried not to think about how the supply would run out sometime soon.
The medics hadn’t let anyone in to see him for hours, even once they knew he was going to be okay. Dave was worn thin with worry by the time he was allowed to wait by his bedside. Now that he knew Klaus was alive he was angry too, but it wasn’t like that red-hot temper that burst out of him once in a blue moon, short-lived and fiery. This was a whole other thing, something new. It simmered within him in rhythm with his heartbeat, low and steady. It was an anger that whispered how dare you and don’t you know how much you scared me and Dave knew that if anything was going to burst from his lips it wouldn’t be fury; it would be those terrified accusations, spoken quietly, revealing just how much he cared.
Klaus was pretending to sleep, he was sure of it. He was unnaturally still apart from the slow up-and-down of his chest. It was pretty inevitable that they all learnt a lot about each other’s sleeping habits when sharing a tent every single night of the week, and Dave knew that Klaus normally slept fitfully. He sat there for a few minutes longer, listening to the muffled sounds of the camp until he got bored of waiting.
‘I know you’re awake. Can you hurry up and open your eyes?’
Klaus immediately did what he was told, looking sheepish. He blinked at Dave, then croaked, ‘Hey, soldier.’
‘Hey,’ Dave replied, folding his arms defensively. ‘How are you feeling?’
He quietly cleared his throat. ‘Oh, fine, fine, you know.’
Dave sighed. Klaus was so small, lying flat and withdrawn like this.
‘I suppose you’ve heard it all from Campbell already.’
He shook his head. ‘Hasn’t been in yet. But it’s fine, there’s nothing new you could say.’
‘Right. This isn’t the first time this has happened, then?’
Klaus’s expression, sombre and ashamed, answered that question plainly enough.
‘Shit, Klaus,’ he muttered, crossing his arms even tighter, his fingertips pressing into his skin. Like that could stop him falling apart. ‘What the hell were you thinking?’
‘I didn’t do it on purpose,’ he retorted.
‘I don’t care. You can’t be keeling over without warning like that. It was - I was fucking terrified. I thought . . . I didn’t know what to do.’
He wasn’t shouting, he couldn’t have shouted. But his hands shook. He uncrossed his arms and clutched his palms together between his knees, hoping that would hide it.
Klaus was looking right at him and, god, there were tears in his eyes.
‘Argh, no, don’t,’ he said weakly. ‘Don’t cry.’
‘Oh,’ Klaus said, wiping at his face. ‘Bound to happen sooner or later. I’ll cry at anything. Would’ve been a good party trick if I didn’t already have that other one.’
‘Don’t try to distract me. It won’t work. I’m still angry with you even though you’re crying. Even though you’re joking about crying.’
Klaus laughed feebly. When Dave didn’t say anything more, he sat up so that they were level with each other. He seemed less vulnerable that way, less of an invalid.
‘So what do you want me to say?’ His chin tilted defiantly.
‘I can’t just put the words in your mouth. Not if you don’t mean it,’ Dave replied. ‘That’s not how this works.’
‘Yes it is. It’s how it always works. Everyone knows I’m only going to disappoint them again, and they’d rather just get the awkward bit over and done with. So I say what people want to hear until they’re happy and then we all go on our merry own way. That’s how it goes.’
‘That’s bullshit. I’m not doing that.’
Klaus pouted. ‘Fine. Suit yourself.’
Dave went silent. He could wait. It was easy enough to ignore Klaus’s growing restlessness. He watched the corner of the tent billow back and forth in the breeze. Saw a many-legged insect creep across an abandoned bag. Started reassembling his gun in his mind, trying to remember the exact size and shape of the different pieces.
Eventually, Klaus heaved a great big sigh. ‘God, you’re such a stubborn bastard.’
‘Fuck you too.’ He tried to pour all his anger and fear and hurt into those three words.
Glancing back at Klaus, he found that his friend was glaring at him. If glares could burn this one would have set fire to the tent. Luckily, blazes that wild can only go on so long, and eventually Klaus looked down, shrugging.
‘I don’t know what to say. I never do.’
Klaus chewed on his lip. ‘I don’t know. I guess it’s true that I don’t mean to go so far. To overdose, you know. Of course I don’t. I just stop thinking about what might happen. Can’t be bothered weighing the risk. Or the risk becomes worth it. I don’t know. I don’t know.’ He snorted scornfully. ‘I suppose it’s okay that it doesn’t make sense. It was never gonna be a stellar example of logic.’
He paused, drawing his knees up to his chest, holding them close. ‘To be honest, Dave, all I really think about is how high I’ll be. They had to restart my heart, you know? But I was so high that it was worth it. And that’s all there is to it. Even now. Even fucking now.’ His voice broke.
‘Klaus,’ Dave said heavily. He still felt that roiling anger, though it wasn’t directed at his friend anymore. It radiated out of him, right at the rest of the world, at whatever had made Klaus like this, at whoever had given up on him before, at himself, at the drugs.
‘I’m sorry,’ Klaus whispered.
Dave had been after some kind of apology this whole time. It left a bad taste in his mouth now.
‘I’ll try to be better,’ he continued. ‘That’s what I always tell the others, but I mean it this time.’
He nodded, then lay back down. Dave wanted to reach out and hold his hand. To hell with the consequences. He’d never been further from caring.
Instead he said, ‘I know how hard it is. I just want you to be more careful, alright?’
‘Alright,’ Klaus replied, and that was that.
Klaus did try. It was a scattered attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. He didn’t go sober, although he tried to use less and made a point of telling Dave when he wasn’t taking anything. In return Dave started checking in with him too, something he’d never done before - he’d always believed it wasn’t his place to interfere. Klaus seemed to appreciate it most of the time. They both made an effort to keep it a casual topic, with none of the confronting emotional weight from that first conversation. It was too hard to keep that up.
Dave didn’t expect perfection and Klaus wasn’t trying for it. Still, he worried that one day Klaus would forget his promise and end up in danger again. In the meantime, they both strove to act like they had before, with whatever kind of normalcy was possible when at war.
He didn't know it yet, but that conversation had set events in motion that would soon make it very, very difficult to ignore his feelings any longer.
I bless you madly,
Sadly as I tie my shoes
I love you badly,
Just in time, at times, I guess
Because of you I need to rest
Because it's you
That sets the test
‘Why the umbrella?’ he asked in a quiet moment one evening, a few days before their unit was set to take leave in the city.
He’d been curious about Klaus’s tattoos since he met him. Unlike those on his palms, he’d never offered up the tale of this one of his own accord.
Klaus glanced at his arm with distaste clear on his face. ‘Oh. That. It’s nothing much. My dear old dad made me get it. Same for all the rest of my siblings.’
Dave raised his eyebrows involuntarily. ‘Your dad made you get it? That’s, uh. Unusual.’
Klaus grinned, but there wasn’t any humour to it. ‘Trust me, it wasn’t at all unusual for him. He did a lot worse. But let’s not get into all that, it’s bo-o-oring.’ He dragged out the word, letting his head loll of to the side. He never talked about his family if he could help it. ‘Tell me more about your nan. She sounds like such a dearie.’
Dave obliged, speaking soft and feeling nostalgic as he recalled his childhood with her. Klaus listened intently, something that was only possible when he actually wanted to. That was flattering. At one point, though, his expression flickered, eyes darting to the shadows just beside where they sat with a flash of alarm that vanished a second later.
Still, Dave panicked. ‘Do you see something?’ he said, feeling for his gun as he twisted around, squinting into the dark and seeing nothing.
Klaus reached out, as though to touch his arm, but he didn’t quite close the gap. ‘It’s alright. There’s no one there, I’m just jumpy. You know me.’
He nodded, looking paler than usual, but gave a sad smile and asked tentatively, ‘So when did she - when did you lose her?’
He blinked. ‘I don’t remember saying I had. How . . ?’
‘I just guessed. Sorry.’
‘No, it’s okay. Um, it was five years back. Stroke.’ He busied himself setting his gun back on the ground, with more care than truly necessary.
While his gaze was averted, Klaus reached out again and this time he touched him. He squeezed Dave’s hand. It made him jump with shock before freezing up entirely, his mind whirring, the loudest thought of all telling him to check that no one could see.
Klaus must’ve felt him tense up because he let go too soon, and a wave of bitterness washed over Dave. Grab it back, don’t be a goddamn coward, he thought. Only he didn’t, because Klaus was distracted again, stealing surreptitious glances at the shadows, frowning.
‘You sure there’s nothing there?’ he asked, thinking of those odd moments on patrol.
Klaus didn’t even look away from the jungle this time. ‘Yeah, it’s fine. I’m just . . . thinking.’ He sounded a million miles away.
Suddenly it clicked. ‘I thought you hadn’t taken anything today.’
He had believed Klaus when he said so. Yet now he was single-mindedly seeing things that weren’t there.
Klaus turned back to him, and Dave half expected him to come over all sheepish. Even though an eye roll was more likely. But no, he was looking back at him with a mystifying expression. He couldn’t quite get a read on it.
‘It’s okay if you have,’ he continued carefully, feeling like he had to remind him. ‘Remember you can tell me.’
Klaus laughed, quiet and sweet, his eyes glittering. Ran his hands through his hair, smearing a bit of mud on his cheek accidentally. And it was fondness, he realised all of a sudden. Klaus was looking at him fondly.
‘Oh, Dave,’ he whispered. ‘I wasn’t lying to you. I’m clean today, I swear it. Here, feel.’
And then he held out his hand for the third time. Dave took it. Of course he did. He felt the slight tremors and knew that he was telling the truth.
‘It’s not so bad yet,’ Klaus said. He shuddered slightly, as if trying to clear away the ghost of what was to come, before he looked back at the shadows. Dave was still holding his hand and didn’t want to let go.
That frown came back and Klaus bit his lip. ‘I don’t know if I can,’ he said suddenly.
‘Can what?’ Dave asked. ‘Stay sober?’
‘Well, that too. Probably not.’
‘You can,’ he insisted. ‘I’ll help you.’
Klaus tore his gaze away from the shadows and again, there was the glittering look, no smile this time, just wide eyes and the moonlight that caught in them.
‘Oh. You really mean that, don’t you?’ He sounded genuinely surprised.
Dave didn’t know how to react to such an arresting gaze. Didn’t know how to reply to something that made him so ridiculously upset, more than was sensible, because he was just being damn supportive and Klaus's surprise meant that he still didn’t expect that from him. Perhaps not from anyone, he thought, and that crushed him, so he tried to think of something, anything else, until Klaus squeezed his hand again and he decided that was a good distraction. The palm that said Hello pressed on top of his.
‘Look, I’ll just say it,’ Klaus said, eyes flickering back to the shadows. ‘It’s okay, everyone already thinks I’m a bit bonkers.’
‘What?’ Dave asked, confused, but then Klaus's thumb was stroking the back of his hand soothingly.
‘She . . .’ Klaus began, suddenly all apprehensive. He swallowed, then continued. ‘She loves you, alright? Your nan. And she misses you so much.’
Dave pulled his hand away in an instant, inhaling sharply. Klaus flinched.
‘What the hell are you saying that for?’ He leaned away as much as he could without getting up.
Klaus looked devastated. And still, for some maddening reason, that strange, strange man looked back at the shadows.
‘I tried,’ he whispered, barely a breath on the wind.
Dave could have shaken him, if he’d been at all a violent man. But he wasn’t. And he wanted answers. ‘What the fuck are you on about?’
Klaus looked back to him. Almost beseechingly. ‘I’m sorry. I know I’m not making any sense, though I suppose that’s hardly new. I really just . . . I don’t know how to explain. Not without coming across as spectacularly loony.’
‘Alright. Please don’t freak out, okay, because it’s weird. Like really weird. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. I . . . well . . .’ He took a deep breath. ‘I suppose you could say I kind of have this thing where I -’
Suddenly Klaus sat up pin straight, whatever he was struggling to spit out already forgotten.
‘Ohh . . .’ he breathed. ‘She’s good!’ He laughed once, short and sharp like a bark. ‘Okay, okay. Right. I can do that. Well, then. Never mind.’ He clapped his hands together as if that wrapped up the conversation nice and neatly, bow on top and everything. Dave was feeling like he’d lost the damn box.
Klaus wandered off pretty fast after that, picking up on Dave’s mood. He sat there by himself for a while longer. No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t figure out what Klaus had been struggling to tell him. He was confused and angry, but mostly concerned that Klaus had lost it. It wasn’t the first time that Dave had wondered if his friend was maybe a little mad. This, though. This seemed like proof that he really, definitely was. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do.
On top of it all, it also hurt that this whole palaver had happened while they’d been holding hands. Of all the times. Dave supposed that was just his luck.
Over the next couple of days he kept away from him when he could, even once his anger faded. It was petty and he knew it, though if Klaus noticed he didn’t seem at all put out. All the while, Dave kept wondering. Sure, he knew that he had freaky luck and nightmares and a drug habit that definitely messed with his mind, but speaking to thin air like it could talk back? Pretending he knew what his dead nan thought? That was something new. Something worrying. It was poor taste, even for Klaus.
Eventually, he decided he’d approach him about it, as best he could. Maybe when they were on their leave. In the meantime he kept watching from the corner of his eye, and he couldn’t help but notice that Klaus really did spend an awful lot of time staring at the shadows.
There was never anything there.
And the day will end for some
As the night begins for one
Staring through the message in his eyes
Song lyrics: "Cygnet Committee" and “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud.” You get double because I'm indecisive and this chapter is very much in two halves.
Fun fact: Originally, the end of this chapter was meant to be chapter 3. Where did all the other chapters come from? Who knows. I’ve been in some kind of writing fever dream. Those of you who are suffering because they’re not together yet and it’s CHAPTER 7, I’m so sorry, I did not intend for this! But I also have no regrets.
And fear not, because they are away to Saigon next chapter my dears! Making no promises about the nightclub though >:-)
Thanks for reading and leaving kudos and commenting, honestly my heart grows like the grinch every time <3 <3 <3
Klaus vanished as soon as they arrived in Saigon, throwing Dave’s plans for confrontation right out the window. He tried not to think too much about it. He was bone tired and sore, and couldn’t summon up the energy to go gallivanting around the streets. They had five days here; there was time to explore later. So instead he luxuriated in doing absolutely nothing, lazing about in the hotel and the nearby bars.
He started to worry once the sun had set and Klaus still hadn’t returned.
They had been discouraged from roaming around with too many fellow soldiers with warnings that it attracted negative attention, but it was also plain common sense to stick in small groups when they ventured out. Especially on the first few days, when they were all still disoriented and unfamiliar with the city. All the others who had gone out were back by now. Klaus was out there on his own.
Dave was up in his room, preparing to go and search the gutters and back alleys for an unconscious soldier when the man himself tumbled into the room, not even knocking. His cheeks were flushed and his curls all crazy, sticking out in all directions. He was still in his uniform too, clearly not having stopped to wash or change, and strangest of all, he was clutching a parcel made from banana leaves to his chest like it was precious treasure.
‘Yes! It’s you!’ he exclaimed, all out of breath. ‘Finally!’
Dave stared at him, apprehension overpowering his relief.
‘You have no idea how many hot and steamy couples I’ve just interrupted,’ Klaus said as he closed the door. ‘I never thought I’d say it, but there’s only so many times you can walk in on people fucking before starting to feel a bit scarred.’
‘Heard of knocking?’ he asked pointedly.
‘Pshh, that’s no fun. Though I reckon half the unit hates me now. Why’d you have to go and get a room on the fourth floor?’
He shrugged, taking off the boot he’d been lacing up. Klaus noticed.
‘Were you going somewhere?’
‘No.’ He paused, then relented. It was too much effort to keep Klaus at an arm’s length. ‘Not anymore. Thought you’d done a runner on us.’
Klaus raised his eyebrows. ‘And you were gonna come look for me? Aw, Dave. I’m honoured.’
He should’ve known he’d give in this fast; it was impossible at the best of times, let alone when Klaus waltzed in here as ridiculous and lovable as ever, like everything between them was normal. Maybe he was just too high to remember that Dave hadn’t spoken to him since that night. Or maybe he really didn’t see what he’d done wrong. Dave hoped it was the former.
He checked his eyes, hoping to be subtle, and they seemed clear. Odd. Klaus gave him a wry, sideways look - straight through those thick, dark lashes, dear god - that said plain as day that he knew exactly what Dave was thinking.
Embarrassed, he pointed at the neat little package Klaus was carrying. ‘What’ve you got there?’
Klaus grinned, immediately distracted. ‘This little thing? It’s a surprise. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to get my hands on it.’ He placed it down on the table with a flourish. ‘Ta daaah!’
‘What is it?’
‘Open it and see! It’s for you.’
‘Why not? Go on, open it!’
Klaus was buzzing with excitement. He started to tap out a drum-roll on the table.
Dave came over and stood next to Klaus, brushing up against him with his elbow. As he crooked his finger under the edge of the leaf, Klaus stopped drumming and lifted his hands to his lips, steepled like he was praying. He was nervous, Dave realised.
He unfolded the parcel, revealing the mystery inside. It was a miniature pie, a simple looking thing with no frilly bits, merely folded in half like a crescent moon. A couple of pastry leaves decorated the top. It was still warm.
‘Happy birthday,’ Klaus said softly. ‘For a while back, I know, but better late than never.’
‘Oh,’ he said.
‘It’s apple. I heard you like that.’
Dave went cold at those words. His nan had always made him apple pie on his birthday. It was his favourite, so simple and sweet and good. He used to help her, peeling the apples, rolling the pastry. Every year. And there was no way on earth that Klaus could have known this, because he’d never breathed a word about it to him or any of the other guys.
His voice cracked as he spoke. ‘I - I don’t understand. How did you . . ?’
‘I didn’t really do anything. I’m just the errand boy.’
Dave sat down heavily. ‘What? That makes no sense. This,’ he gestured at the pie, ‘makes no sense.’
‘Your nan used to make them for you,’ Klaus said hesitantly. ‘She told me.’
‘Every year,’ he agreed, before frowning. ‘She what?’
Klaus sat down next to him. ‘I’m not messing with you. She did tell me. It was her idea, she thought it’d be the nicest way to get through to you, I guess. Better than whatever garbled explanation I was gonna come up with at the time anyway.’
He shook his head. This couldn’t be happening. Not again. ‘Klaus, she’s - she’s gone.’
‘I know. I know,’ he repeated soothingly. ‘I can talk to ghosts.’
Dave laughed uncomfortably, despite how torn up and devastated he felt, because it was absurd, it was nonsense, it was completely impossible. He stopped pretty quickly when he caught a glimpse of how serious Klaus looked. A chill ran down his spine. He wasn’t joking. He really wasn’t.
‘She’s here, now. Just over there,’ he said as he pointed to the corner of the room, by the door. ‘She was there that night at the camp too. That’s why I said those things. She wanted to talk to you, so desperately, but she couldn’t, and I was too afraid to explain. I still am, but you’re more important than that.’
Dave breathed out shakily. ‘I don’t . . . So, you’re - what? A psychic?’
‘Something like that. I’ve been able to see them ever since I was a kid.’
He’d never believed in shit like this, not as an adult, but with each passing moment Klaus’s revelation seemed less and less outlandish. Perhaps he was too eager to latch on to any explanation that proved that Klaus wasn’t plain crazy. There was something about the way he said it, though, like it was mundane, with none of his usual dramatics. A certain heaviness in his voice. And then there was the fact that he couldn’t have known about his nan and the pies and his birthday. No one here knew those things about him.
He realised he didn’t really have to think much more about it. Call it intuition or whatever, he just knew: Klaus was telling the truth.
‘I know it’s a lot to take in -’ Klaus started, but he waved him off.
‘It’s okay. I believe you.’
‘You do?’ He sounded so uncertain that Dave’s heart broke a little bit for him.
‘Of course,’ he replied, his voice all rough.
They were silent for a while until something clicked into place.
‘Wait, hang on. Do you mean that if she’s here, actually here right now, I could talk to her? And she could hear me?’
Klaus nodded. ‘Yup, she can hear you. She can talk back too if I translate. And lucky for you, I’m perfectly happy to oblige a little conversation. Call it a late birthday treat.’ He smirked. ‘That was kind of the point, you know.’
Dave blushed. Klaus was kind enough to look away, unusual for someone who loved the opportunity to tease as much as he did - but then Dave realised that he was nodding at the corner where, supposedly, the ghost of his nan stood.
‘Oh yeah, yeah, of course,’ Klaus replied to thin air. ‘Uh, Dave, she says you need to have some of her pie before she’s going to talk to you, or else it’ll get cold. So eat up. Though I’m not sure how it’ll taste. I don’t think they’d ever made an apple pie before. I should’ve gone to the French part of town but by the time I thought of that it was too late, I’d already spent most of the day running around like a headless chicken looking for the damn apples. And your nan had such specific instructions, but I don’t know any Vietnamese and the baker wasn’t too hot at English either. Which is fair enough for them, you know, down with imperialism and all that, but there may have been a bit of miscommunication. So, uh, good luck.’
Well, they hadn’t mistaken their salt for sugar. Dave smiled with the first bite because even though it wasn’t exactly like his nan’s, it was still, miraculously, apple pie in wartime. After weeks of tinned mush, this was heaven-sent. Literally, he supposed.
‘She wants to sit next to you on the couch,’ Klaus told him, later. ‘Do you mind?’
‘No, not at all. I mean, I can’t see her.’
‘No, you can’t. But she can see you, and I can see you both, and it would be quite the pretty little picture.’ Klaus took him by the shoulders and pressed him into the chair. ‘Okay! She’s right here.’ His hands moved and instead hovered in the space next to Dave, right at the height of his nan’s shoulders. He’d forgotten how small she was.
Klaus smiled suddenly. ‘She’s got her hand on your knee. Oh, aren’t you two just lovely.’ He leaned over to Dave, whispering, ‘I think she might just be the sweetest ghost I’ve ever met.’
His nan must have said something, because Klaus snorted and said, ‘Catherine! I’m your telephone connection, you can’t come for me like that.’
Dave laughed. Yeah, that sounded like his nan. More sharp than sweet, but kindhearted all the same.
And so, with Klaus as translator, Dave spoke to his nan one last time. It was more than he could have ever hoped for, those few precious hours, reminiscing and thanking her so, so much for raising him, for everything she did for him. All the things he’d never said while he still could. He didn’t even mind how much Klaus was hearing and seeing. None of that mattered when he could hear his nan’s phrases shining through Klaus’s voice.
Soon, exhaustion turned his eyelids heavy, and he struggled to stifle a yawn.
‘Bed, she says,’ Klaus relayed from where he sat cross-legged on the floor.
‘It is pretty late,’ Dave agreed. Slightly awkward all of a sudden, as if some sort of spell had been broken, he asked, ‘Would it be possible to do this again, Klaus?’
The other man bit his lip, then looked to Nan. ‘What do you think?’ he asked softly.
Dave waited nervously as a silent conversation took place. Klaus’s expression was steady, but he noticed the slight tightening of his mouth. His heart sunk.
Klaus hesitated. ‘She - she says it’s time now. For her to move on. I kind of conjured her up accidentally when you were talking about her, and since then she’s just been waiting to talk to you one last time. To say goodbye, you know.’
Dave nodded wordlessly, barely managing to say, ‘I see.’ He started to choke up. ‘Thank you, Nan. I love you. So much.’
He couldn’t say any more. Couldn’t say goodbye. He just kept his eyes on the spot next to him, wishing so deeply that somehow in this last moment, she would appear, all garden brown and bright eyed. Wearing that flowery old apron, maybe with those reading glasses that she hated perched on the end of her nose, and a cheap old magazine held open on her lap. Just once. Let him see her one more time.
‘She says she loves you too,’ Klaus said. Then, quieter, ‘She’s fading now.’
Dave kept on staring at the cushion where she’d been. His eyes burned and his cheeks were wet.
After a while, he asked, ‘Is she gone?’
Klaus nodded, moving to sit next to Dave, swiftly pulling him into his arms. He broke down then, sobbing on Klaus’s shoulder like a child.
He must have fallen asleep there. When he woke later, disoriented and groggy, Klaus had moved away. Across the room, he was leaning over a table, telltale shake to his hands. Dave felt a wave of dismay rush over him.
‘Klaus,’ he murmured, still half asleep. ‘You’ve been doing so well.’
Klaus stilled, but he went ahead with it anyway, inhaling too fast for Dave to intervene. Only turned around once he’d tidied the things away, taking his time with it.
He must’ve looked disappointed, because Klaus grimaced as he came back to sit on the couch. He didn’t look well with that pale sheen of sweat on his skin, though the trembling was starting to subside. It’ll only happen again, he wanted to say. This’ll have you fixed for now, but you can’t keep living like this, you stupid, mad, ridiculous man.
Dave hated himself for watching it happen. Knowing he did the hard stuff was one thing. Watching him do it, though - that was difficult. If he was at all a worthwhile friend he would’ve intervened.
‘I didn’t mean to end up this way,’ Klaus said sullenly.
It made Dave stare in surprise. Klaus slumped under his gaze, turning his head away like he couldn’t bear to be seen.
‘I know no one ever does,’ he continued. ‘I’m not trying to make excuses. I just want you to know that every time I give in, I’m as upset with myself as you look.’
‘It’s okay, it’s not the end of the world. There’s always next time,’ Dave said gently.
‘I know, I know. But it’s not like I have a . . .’ Klaus stopped himself with a sigh. ‘Never mind.’
‘No, say what you’re thinking. I want you to.’
He chewed his lip for a moment or two, then mumbled, ‘I s’pose I can tell you now. It keeps the ghosts away. I only see them when I’m sober.’
Klaus chuckled and closed his eyes. ‘Not the healthiest coping mechanism, I know. But it works like a charm. Except for Ben, though I don’t really mind seeing him. Haven’t for a while.’ His words dragged out into a sigh as he relaxed into the cushions, head tilted up to the ceiling, a dreamy look on his face.
Dave didn’t know what to say, thoughts reeling. He’d been so preoccupied with his nan he hadn’t stopped to think about other ghosts. About what that must be like.
‘Who’s Ben?’ he managed to ask.
‘My brother,’ Klaus sighed. ‘One of them, anyway. He died when we were young.’
Klaus leaned his head on Dave’s shoulder. Soft breaths warm against his neck.
‘Are you afraid of them? The other ghosts?’ he asked quietly.
He felt Klaus hold his breath, then the weight lifted off his shoulder and they looked right at each other.
‘Do you think I’d do this to myself if I wasn’t?’ he said, startlingly coherent. ‘Of course I am. I’m fucking terrified.’ His eyes went dim, like he was far, far away, but not with the dreaminess of an opiate high.
A rush of disparate memories ran through Dave’s head. Klaus, cowering outside the tents, muttering under his breath. Klaus, spooked in the jungle. His manic highs and lows. His uncanny luck on patrols. His morbid sense of humour, for god’s sake. All those memories, all those unseen ghosts.
It was that moment when he finally understood the darkness in Klaus’s eyes. When they’d first met, Dave had thought the battlefield horror he saw in them was fresh. But Klaus hadn’t gotten it in those early days in Vietnam - he’d brought it with him, had been living with his ghosts longer than any of them, had been haunted since he was a fucking kid. Dave couldn’t even begin to comprehend what that was like. He felt sick to his stomach.
Beside him, Klaus rubbed his hands over his face, then slapped his cheeks, opening his eyes wide. ‘I’m gonna head back to my own room. Need to sleep. See you later, soldier.’
He was halfway out the door when Dave remembered his manners. ‘Wait!’
Klaus peered back in, hanging off the door frame, all loose limbs and half-closed eyes. ‘Hm?’
‘Thank you,’ he said, simply. ‘What you did for me and my nan . . . It means a lot. More than I can say.’
Klaus ducked his head and didn’t say anything. But Dave caught the shy smile. That was enough for him.
It took him a long time to get back to sleep.
He had his answer, now, as to why Klaus stared at thin air like it could stare back, and he hated it.
He needed to be sober, he’d said, to talk to ghosts, and Klaus had been sober or close to it since the day he’d met his nan last week. If Dave was correct, he’d stayed that way just to see her. Just so he could organise this little surprise. For Dave.
His thoughts whirled around and around. Klaus was afraid and yet he’d done it for Dave anyway, for no other reason than he could, because - why? He’d wanted to? Why had he wanted to do that for him? What did Dave have to offer back? Only fumbled advice and a useless sense of protectiveness. He barely knew how to help his friend when he was hurting. Even now with all the information he’d been missing before, he still couldn’t come up with something half decent because every time he considered why Klaus had succeeded going sober for a bit, he thought for me for me for me, and maybe maybe maybe he thinks about me too, and goddamn if that didn’t make him the most selfish man on earth.
‘Shit,’ Dave swore to himself, tossing and turning on the lumpy mattress. ‘Fuck, fucking shit, fuck.’
He didn’t understand Klaus Hargreeves and he wanted to so badly, and wanted to touch him so badly, and he’d cried himself to sleep on his fucking shoulder, and they’d held hands in the jungle, and Klaus had done something so selfless and kind and thoughtful and Dave hadn’t even thanked him straight away. He’d made Klaus think he was disappointed in him, when really he was in awe, he was in total awe. Goddamn apple pie in Vietnam.
By the time he fell asleep, he knew what he had to do.
Oh it’s the madness in his eyes
As he breaks the night to cry
It’s really me
And really me
It’s so hard for us to really be
Lyrics: “The Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud”
I figured when writing this that Dave’s nan spent the whole day with Klaus, following him all over the city. Only now did I realise that this means that dear old Catherine also likely saw half the hotel in compromising situations. Ha. Also she and Klaus are both snarky legends and they adore each other but they’d never admit it.
Both my boys bared parts of their souls to each other this chapter and I love them for it. Hopefully this eases the frustration so many of you were feeling from last time!
Thanks for reading! Next chapter . . . it’s time to disco, my dears :^)
Dave slept late. Once he made it out of bed, he asked a worker for Klaus’s room number - like any sane person would do, Klaus - and got it easily enough. He climbed the stairs, trying to calm his breathing.
After knocking for a while with no response, he let himself in. The room was abandoned. Just like the day before, Klaus had vanished before Dave could catch him. At least he knew he had made it back last night; it was a total mess, the bed sheets all tangled and awry, clothes draped over half the furniture, blinds still shut. He felt a bit strange creeping in like this, like he was catching a glimpse of something altogether too intimate. He could almost trace Klaus’s midnight footsteps, seeing how he must have fallen into the room, out of his clothes, into his bed. It only made his absence more jarring.
He thought about waiting around and quickly decided against it. It was already late in the morning, he’d still not gone out to explore, and really, after so many days spent dithering about the whole situation, a few more hours wouldn’t hurt. What he was planning to say to Klaus could wait a little longer.
He ended up ambling around with a couple of others from their unit, two newbies called Dennis and Toby. They were a bit full of themselves and liked to egg each other on, but mostly alright. Entertaining at the very least.
Saigon was bustling, to the point of being overwhelming. On the busiest streets here - the other two were drawn straight to them like moths to a flame - the noise was absolute chaos, the gutters smelt like rot, and Dave nearly got hit by one of those damn cyclos more than once. They got dirty stares from some of the locals as they passed by; he came over all shy, feeling too tall and conspicuous.
Toby had heard talk of a black market street, so they headed that way. The other two went beserk buying overpriced cigarettes and whisky, stocking up, and as Dave looked around he became certain that Klaus had been here already. It was his kind of locale. A woman selling suspicious packages kept trying to catch his eye, while another girl batted her eyelashes at him from where she leaned against the wall. He smiled back politely, then decided to buy some new socks and a few cartons of smokes too. Could’ve gotten them elsewhere for a good deal less, but Dennis had laughed at him and told him that was no fun.
They spent the afternoon drifting between different bars, and once night fell they ended up back in the nightclub close to the hotel. Toby and Dennis were blitzed by then, though he wasn’t much better, and the three of them were being entertained by some of the local girls who were honestly very friendly, very nice; the one hanging off his arm was pretty too, he supposed, so he let her pull him onto the dancefloor and he lost himself in the rhythm. Not that he was any good at dancing. He just felt warm and mellow. He bumped into someone and spun around to apologise, laughing a bit at how his feet felt like they were on the wrong way around. When he realised it was Klaus his stomach flipped.
Klaus was pretending to shake his fists at him, but he quickly stopped when he saw who it was, hands left hanging in mid-air like he’d forgotten how to move. Not that Dave could say anything different about himself. He stood there slack-jawed, just staring at him, because Klaus looked absolutely devastating in mismatched stripes that should never have worked together, and then there was that tight top as well, not quite long enough. Of course it wasn’t long enough; he clearly intended to drive Dave crazy. He could never have been prepared for how hard it was to think straight when Klaus was standing there like that, his lips parted slightly, staring right back at Dave with a look that was too intense, too wanting, too much. He might have been kinda drunk, but he wasn’t stupid. He recognised desire when he saw it.
They were standing like statues in the middle of the dance floor and neither of them had said anything yet. Klaus was the first to break.
He smiled at Dave, said something that looked like, ‘Fancy seeing you here,’ but he could hardly hear it over the music and the rush in his ears.
‘I tried to find you today,’ he replied, a lovesick fool, unable to stop himself from saying it. ‘I went into your room looking.’
Klaus’s smile transformed into an impish grin, his eyes sparkling with delight.
Thankfully Klaus wasn’t a mind reader because his thoughts betrayed him then, latching on to the vision of the bedroom this morning. It was all he could think of, he was connecting the dots too, jumping between Klaus here and Klaus there and definitely a bed and maybe hopefully Dave as well.
Klaus moved in closer, dancing again, slower and more restrained this time. Ah, yes, blending in. That was a good idea. He started to move again too, his original dance partner forgotten.
They held each other’s gaze all the while. Klaus was looking at him like he was drinking him up, and Dave started to worry that maybe he was a mind reader. He talked to ghosts after all, he couldn’t rule it out.
‘If you’re a psychic does that mean you can hear my thoughts?’ he asked, leaning closer and closer.
‘What?’ Klaus asked. ‘Speak up!’
‘If you’re -’ he repeated, but now that he’d thought about it for more than ten seconds, he realised it probably wasn’t his smartest idea. He shook his head, laughing at himself. ‘Never mind.’
Klaus didn’t know what he was thinking. Not that it mattered - that look they’d shared spoke louder than anything.
The song started to fade out and Klaus pointed over Dave’s shoulder. ‘Keith’s beckoning us,’ he said, grinning. ‘Come on!’
He darted away and Dave followed, not wanting to be far away from him.
Keith bought them all shots. The three of them chatted easily, comparing their experiences in the city. Turned out that Klaus had been knocking about Saigon with him all day, which made Dave unreasonably jealous - at least until Klaus, all wicked and delightful, linked their arms together for a shot. Dave felt his breath on his face as he laughed.
He was too tongue-tied to say anything now, even if they’d been alone.
He’d planned it all out, knew everything he wanted to say. At least he had half an hour ago. Something about an apology for distancing the two of them, for misunderstanding, for thinking the worst. Something about never being disappointed in him, and how he’d better not dare to think that again. And that was only the easy stuff.
After all that, he was going to confess. It was important. Even though Klaus must have seen by now how much Dave wanted him, he needed to confess exactly how much, exactly how long. Klaus needed to know the full extent of Dave’s torment. And maybe, maybe, if he got the words right - the full extent of his dreams. Ever unspoken, barely even acknowledged before now. Those secret wishes of his that made him feel all hot and fluttery and ridiculous, blushing in his own bedroom. All sorts of dreams.
He wasn’t as scared as he’d been this morning. It helped a great deal that Klaus was clearly flirting with him. Earlier he had gone cold thinking about all those times they’d touched recently, wondering if they were merely intended to be friendly, nothing else. But now he knew Klaus wanted him too. Perhaps not as long, perhaps not as much, but there was definitely something there.
So really, there was no reason not to confess anymore.
As the night wore on, Dave felt like he was going slowly crazy, like a cruel puppet-master was twisting their strings, tantalising them, making them crash together before jumping apart once more:
Klaus smoking in the corner. Dave going to join him. Keith following Dave.
Klaus, sitting at the bar. Dave sitting beside him, not knowing what to do with his hands. Catching a glimpse of a smile, before they’re being whisked away by girls wanting to dance, too polite to turn them down.
Klaus watching him hungrily. His stare piercing Dave, even from all the way across a room full of smoke and couples and spots of light spinning off the disco ball.
It was a bit much.
At the moment they were dancing together again, less gormless this time, and god Klaus danced weird: no proper moves at all, never following the rules, just doing what he wanted. Dave wanted to reach out and touch him. Dance with him properly. He could have if he was reckless, but he was always hyperaware of the busybodies watching his back. Too many eyes. However, not yet touching this far into the evening was a catastrophe any way he looked at it, so he gritted his teeth and decided he could be brave in his own way. He’d had it with waiting.
‘Do you want to get some air?’ he asked, tilting his head at the archway out the back. ‘I want to talk to you about last night.’
Klaus’s smile dropped ever so slightly, his expression indecipherable. ‘Oh. Yeah, sure. Okay,’ he said, nodding.
They wandered off down the corridor, leaving the noise and the crowd behind. Ducked into an alcove curtained off with strings of beads.
Klaus leaned up against the wall, clutching his drink. Dave mirrored him. He hadn’t done anything like this in a long time, was a bit unsure of how to go about it.
‘You dance funny,’ he found himself saying, his tongue loosened by whisky and grabbing hold of the first thing it could. Great start.
‘Oh, thanks,’ Klaus said dryly, but he was smiling a bit.
‘It’s true. You were all over the place, like a -’ he searched for the perfect description ‘- a funky octopus or something.’
‘Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you try it,’ he protested. ‘Trust me, it’s really cool. And I would know - I’ve been such an enormous trendsetter recently, you have no idea. Maybe it’ll catch on. At least I hope it does, ‘cause I don’t know any of the moves you lot do.’
‘Not even the twist? I thought everyone knew how to do that.’
Klaus blinked at him, then grinned and looked at his feet. ‘Well, shit. I thought I was doing the twist.’
‘Only if you squint real hard,’ he said, laughing.
‘Rude. Anyway, you weren’t much better yourself, mister two left feet.’
‘Yeah, I know. It’s a curse. And I can’t seem to make it look charming like you do.’
Klaus gave him an odd look, as confusing as before. ‘Charming, huh?’
‘Mhmm.’ His heart was beating really fast.
‘Okay. Right. Just to be super-duper clear, are you flirting with me?’
‘Maybe,’ he replied.
Klaus took a sip. Dave copied him, for his nerves.
The question came out of nowhere. He stared at Klaus, puzzled.
‘What do you mean why? Why’d you think?’
‘I’m just a bit confused, is all.’
‘Confused?’ he asked, laughing nervously. ‘But you’ve been flirting with me all night too. At least I thought you were. I’m not drunk enough to have imagined it, am I?’
Klaus nudged him with his elbow, still looking down. ‘No, you’re right, I was.’
‘Then what’s the problem?’
‘You said you wanted to talk about yesterday.’
‘I do - ’
He looked pensive as he cut Dave off. ‘But you’re still flirting.’
Klaus sipped at his drink again. ‘I guess I just don’t understand. Normally no one wants anything to do with me once they know what I’m like. You know. With everything.’
‘What?’ Dave gaped at him. ‘No, I - I’m still here, aren’t I?’
Klaus was still staring at the floor. ‘Until you’ve said what you want to say. Borrowed time, all that jazz,’ he mumbled.
Dave stared, unable to believe his own ears. He didn’t know how this had happened. He’d gotten the script wrong, had started at the wrong end and messed it all up, and now Klaus seemed to think he was here to do the very opposite of what he intended.
‘No, Klaus,’ he breathed, and he did the only thing he could that would convey what he felt, seeing as words were failing them. He reached up to brush his fingers against Klaus’s cheek, feather-light. Soft skin on his cheekbones, scratchy further down in the stubble.
Klaus leaned into his palm, swaying towards him, his eyes closed.
‘I wanted to talk to you because I wanted to apologise,’ Dave said. ‘I felt bad.’
Klaus lifted his head back up, though he didn’t move away. Dave’s hand hovered.
‘Why on earth would you need to apologise? Dave, you’re perfect, you’re so good to me all the time. I don’t know what I’ve done to make you think I deserve it.’
‘I’m not perfect -’ he started.
Klaus snorted. ‘Disagree.’
‘Shh,’ he said, cradling his cheek again. ‘I’m not perfect, and you don’t have to do anything to deserve a bit of kindness, for god’s sake. I want to be here. I care about you.’
Klaus looked distressed. ‘Don’t say that,’ he whispered. ‘Oh my god. I was prepared for the other thing, I’m not prepared for that.’
‘You think I was prepared for it?’ he countered. ‘I’ve been a mess since I met you.’
Klaus gazed at him for a long moment, eyes wild and dark and endlessly deep. Then he stepped forward, brushing Dave’s arm with the hand that said Hello.
‘Oh, Dave,’ he sighed, barely making a sound. ‘Me too.’
Dave kissed him then. They were so close together by that point that all it took was a tilt of the chin, a gentle guiding hand. It was soft and hesitant, slow and sweet. Klaus tasted of cigarettes and whisky. Dave supposed he did too.
Klaus was speechless when they broke apart.
‘That good, huh?’ Dave joked. He couldn’t stop himself from grinning like a total goof. He’d done it. He’d actually done it.
Klaus laughed softly, shaking his head. ‘No, it’s not - I mean, fuck, it was, it was good, so good, but that’s not why I’m, I mean, it’s - argh!’ He ran a hand through his hair, delightfully flustered. ‘I’m trying to say that I don’t think I’ve ever waited so long for something in my entire life.’
Dave knew this man. He took what he wanted when he wanted it, to hell with the consequences.
‘So why didn’t you say something sooner, you ass?’ he said, teasing him, so happy to be teasing him.
‘I don’t even know.’ Klaus laughed again. It was a beautiful thing. ‘I was scared.’
‘ You were scared? You’re meant to be the brave one.’
‘Oh for god’s sake, get out of here,’ Klaus said, before wrapping his arms around Dave’s neck, kissing him fiercely.
He swayed a little because Klaus was leaning into him with all his weight, which shouldn’t have been as much of a problem as it was, Klaus being so slight. Dave was a bit light-headed though, intoxicated by him, too preoccupied with kissing back.
He wanted to kiss Klaus silly. He wanted to stay in that alcove forever, holding him. He felt feverish, thinking that it shouldn’t be possible for one person to feel this much, while his eyes fluttered shut and his hands rested on Klaus's waist, fingers brushing against the bare skin that had tantalised him all night long, forbidden and secret and soft.
Klaus kissed him with such urgency and fire. His hands were all tangled in Dave’s hair, then brushing down his neck, then caressing his face, then sweeping through his hair again, constantly moving, touching, touching, touching like Dave had wished for so many weeks ago.
He heard footsteps in the corridor and jumped, moving away as he twisted to look out to make sure no one could see them. Klaus made a small sympathetic noise and touched his arm.
‘Hey, hey, it’s okay,’ he said, gently manouvering Dave back around. ‘They didn’t see anything.’
‘Someone else might.’
‘We’re pretty nicely hidden away back here. They’d have to be really looking in to see us, and that’d make them an awful pervert - because what else are these alcoves for?’
‘I suppose,’ he said as he looked to the side nervously.
Klaus tilted his head, considering him. ‘Would it help if I wore a dress?’
It was so absurd he laughed. ‘How would that help?’
‘I might look more womanly from a distance.’
‘You’ve got facial hair.’
Klaus scoffed, then pulled him back in, their faces so close they were almost touching. He kissed Dave ever so softly, punctuating his sentence with them. ‘How - very - observant - of you.’
‘I mean, you could shave it off,’ Dave said, once Klaus had moved to his neck.
Klaus laughed, breath warm against his skin. ‘Nope. Not happening. I’ll look like a baby. I guess I’ll simply have to face a wall all the time. But that’s fine, I’ve decided I like pushing you up against them,’ he paused, and did exactly that. ‘You’re so skittish. This way I can keep you right where I want you.’
Dave wrapped his arms around Klaus’s waist and pulled him in, so that they were joined at the hips. Klaus grinned devilishly, so close up that he was all Dave could see.
‘That’s more like it,’ Klaus murmured.
‘You’re still too tall. Conspicuous.’
‘Pity. You’ll just have to break out the platform heels. Then you’ll tower over me. So masculine.’
‘That sounds like a lot of effort.'
‘Oh, probably. Luckily I know a better way.’
‘Yeah. We don’t bother with any of that miserable heteronormativity and kiss each other anyway, just as we are. If someone sees us, they see us. They’re gonna hate us for it either way, so no sense in making it harder for ourselves in the meantime, right?’
‘I guess,’ he agreed, reluctantly. Where did Klaus pull all those words from?
‘Good.’ Klaus rolled his hips against Dave’s.
There went Dave’s ability to think. ‘Good,’ he murmured back.
Klaus rolled his hips again, half-lidded eyes looking right into Dave’s. This time, he couldn’t help moving to meet him, his breath stuttering. Dear god. He felt weak at the knees.
‘Though . . .’ Klaus began. ‘I suppose it’s not worth tempting fate in an alcove like this when we have two perfectly good hotel rooms that also happen to be exceedingly close by.’
He breathed out shakily, smiling. ‘Doesn’t sound half bad.’
Klaus beamed at him, kissed him on the tip of his nose, then stood back. He was all golden and pink and pretty in this light.
‘Come on then, soldier. Let’s get outta here.’
He held out his hand and Dave took it. It was easier than anything to let Klaus pull him out through the bead curtain, back out into the real world. He felt like he’d follow this man to the ends of the earth and back if only to hold him one more time.
Just turn on with me, and you're not alone
Let's turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful
Gimme your hands, 'cause you're wonderful
Oh, gimme your hands
Song lyrics: Rock n Roll Suicide
About time, lads. Here’s to drunk dialogue and losing inhibitions.
This chapter has sex in it. Chapters from here on out might do too, probably. Readers who do not wish to read, ye be warned. Readers who do, plz enjoy (I hope it’s okay haaa I have no clue what I’m doing this is the first time I’ve written sex hahahaa)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They left the nightclub without interruption and ran out into the night, walking as close together as they dared. He shivered every time his arm touched Klaus’s even though the air was muggy and warm.
'So, Dave. I’ve been here nearly two whole months.’
‘Only two? Feels longer.’
‘Only?’ Klaus tutted at him. ‘Two months is like forever, you big weirdo. Anyway, that’s beside the point. I wanna know why you’ve been holding out on me. Pray tell.’
Dave blushed. ‘Oh, uh . . .’
‘I know I’ve kinda been doing the same,’ Klaus continued. ‘In my defence, I had my own suspicions about you but I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t tell if you were seriously repressed or straight up a 1960s straight man, kinda uncomfortable with all my gay shit but too nice to make a big fuss. Figured it was the first one, but also didn’t wanna get my hopes up, you know.’
They walked for a few more steps in silence while Dave thought.
‘I suppose I didn’t really know how to go about it out here,’ he said eventually in a low voice. ‘But I was queer before I met you. If that’s what you’re asking.’
Klaus bumped into him again, brushing his fingers across the back of Dave’s hand, lingering for a moment.
‘Yeah,’ he replied softly. ‘That’s what I wanted to know.’
‘Are you surprised?’
‘Nah. Not really. You’re pretty good at hiding it, though.’
‘I know,’ Dave said solemnly. Then he cringed. ‘Oh god. That’s why I tried to give you tips and nearly died of embarrassment when you made it clear you didn’t want them.’
Klaus frowned at him, then his face lit up in realisation. ‘Holy shit. That’s what you were doing?!’ He jumped on the spot, pointing at Dave with infectious exuberance. ‘You sweet, sweet bastard! You absolute maniac! Ha!’
Dave ducked his head, grinning. ‘Please, I’ve suffered enough over it.’
‘But that made me doubt my reading on you more than anything else! And it was the total opposite!’
‘Yeah. A bit.’
‘Oh my god,’ Klaus breathed. ‘I mean, I’m still not gonna do any of it, but like - I understand now.’
‘Good. Because I changed my mind, I regret saying all of that shit. I don’t want you to hide like me. If anything, I wish I . . .’ he trailed off, still unable to say it out loud. ‘You know. You’re so open.’
Klaus put his arm through Dave’s, like he was a lady, like they were merely strolling through the park. They were nearly back at the hotel, it was dark and there weren’t any people nearby, but still - he tensed up. Klaus sighed, letting go again.
‘Try not to compare yourself to me, hey? I’m not nearly as gutsy as you think, I’ve just had years out of the closet.’
Dave snorted. ‘What’s a closet got to do with anything?’
‘You know. Coming out.’ He went wide eyed. ‘Is that not a thing yet?’
‘I dunno. I’m not really up to date with all the codewords and phrases anymore. Let’s just say it’s been a while.’
‘Well, that’s okay,’ Klaus laughed. ‘It’s been ages for me too.’
Dave almost choked. ‘Sure,’ he said dryly. ‘Says the man who thinks two months is forever.’
‘Not for me, it isn’t,’ he retorted. ‘I think we have a very different sense of time.’
They reached the hotel and stood on the doorstep, bathed in the yellow light that spilled through the glass.
‘Aw, Dave. It must have been millennia .’ Klaus’s voice turned sultry. ‘I’ll just have to give you the time of your life to make up for it.’
Dave hushed him as he held the door open, blushing bright pink. Klaus winked at him as he walked by. He suddenly felt too hot.
They took the stairs two at a time.
‘My room’s closer,’ Klaus whispered.
He laughed. ‘That’s right. I forgot you were snooping.’
‘I wasn’t! I just popped my head in for a moment.’
The door was still unlocked and this time Klaus held it open for him, swooping down with a bow. ‘Après vous, mademoiselle.’
‘You ass,’ he replied, rolling his eyes.
‘Now, now, don’t be rude,’ Klaus said. ‘Gotta treat a boy right.’
He held his breath as Klaus closed the door. The lock clicked, oh beautiful sound of salvation, and Dave moved up behind him. He was hypnotised by the curls of hair, the nape of his neck, the cotton stripes - eyes hazily and hungrily taking it all in, unable to focus, unable to choose. Klaus went still. Dave ran his hands over his arms, leaning around his shoulder and kissing at the soft spot where his neck met his jaw.
Klaus hummed, tilting his head so Dave could reach better. He didn’t stay still for long before swivelling in Dave’s arms, a hand slinking up his chest, searching for the top-most button of his shirt - which wasn’t too high up, to be fair - and then he undid them all, deftly, hurriedly. A well practiced touch.
Dave kissed him again, shrugging his shirt off when he could, letting Klaus push him over to the bed. They fell into it together.
He didn’t really remember losing his other items of clothing, but he definitely remembered Klaus shedding his: he was sitting in between Dave’s legs at that point, torso streched out long and slender as he pulled his t-shirt over his head, and when he got it off his hair was all fluffy. Dave wanted to touch it. Then Klaus looked at him and licked his lips - perhaps not even realising he had done so, too preoccupied with looking - and Dave couldn’t help it. He groaned in wonderful, perfect frustration. He groaned even more when Klaus ducked down, his mouth hot on him, and he had to press his fist against his own mouth to silence himself.
Klaus came up for air an infinity later and even though Dave was entirely wrecked, he managed to tug him up to lie on his chest, kissing him deeply. Your mouth on me and now on my mouth. I’ll kiss you all night for that. I’ll kiss you all night for anything. I’ll kiss you all night for no reason at all. He reached down between them. Klaus moved against him, he bit at Dave’s lip. Dave kissed him harder, a bruising kiss, before scooping him up, rolling them over, burying himself in his neck. His hand moved faster. Klaus writhed under his touch.
He didn’t know how long it had been when Klaus moaned into his mouth, ‘I want you to fuck me.’
‘Yeah?’ he asked, playing along even though he suddenly felt very self-conscious.
‘Mmm,’ Klaus moaned again.
He made that little noise sound so dirty that Dave couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing.
Klaus smiled against his lips. ‘What?’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t know why . . .’ He rolled off him, shaking with fits of giggles. ‘It’s just so much.’
‘Oh my god, you doofus.’ Klaus’s eyes were bright in the dark room. He propped himself up, looking half-amused, half-confused. ‘That was nothing.’
He kept laughing. ‘Well, I told you it’d been a while. I’m outta practice. Oh, man.’
Dave took a few deep breaths, staring at the ceiling, trying to keep the laughter down. Why oh why did he have to be like this?
Klaus flopped down beside him. ‘You’re too cute, Dave. Like, what the heck.’
‘Cute? You’re saying filthy things to me and now you call me cute?’
‘Ya. Versatility, baby.’ He nuzzled his cheek. ‘So come on then. Fuck me.’
‘Ugh, are you gonna make me beg? ‘Cause I will, I have no shame.’
He pretended to consider it, languidly shifting onto his side. Hand inching up Klaus’s thigh ever so slowly. Klaus went still, soft breaths, open mouth, eyes closed. Let Dave move his legs apart.
Dave didn’t have too much experience but he knew what he was doing. Klaus knew even more. He tried to get Dave to forgo the few things he did know, tried to get him to treat him rough, flushed cheeks and properly begging by then, but Dave didn’t want that, not this first time, not when he’d waited so long, not when he wanted it to last. It wasn’t like Klaus didn’t like it gentle either; he sighed and cried out and clung all the same. Maybe he merely gave into it, unable to get his way, letting Dave hold him close, letting him touch him all over, reverently, lovingly. Or maybe he really did want it and was afraid of how much he did, maybe that was the problem, maybe that was why he’d tried to make it happen differently. Because it was scary. Dave had never been with a person in quite this way before, so full of caring, knowing he’d wake up to his face in the morning and not have to leave. I understand, Klaus, I understand, I’m terrified too, but I wanna be here and I wanna be vulnerable with you. Every beat of his heart this silent mantra beat within him too.
They moved together in the heat, bodies sticking together with sweat, all wrapped and tangled and real.
When he came he cried Klaus’s name. It was radiant on his lips.
When Klaus came, he didn’t make a sound.
They lay side by side for a while, catching their breath. Dave watched Klaus; he was lying there as if asleep, a hand draped over his face. He reached out, brushed a stray curl off his forehead.
‘You alright?’ he asked.
‘Yeah,’ Klaus mumbled. ‘Sorry. I’m not normally like this. Need to pull myself together.’
‘It’s okay, take your time.’
Klaus opened his eyes and turned to face him, and with a jolt he realised they were full of tears.
‘What’s wrong?’ he whispered, fingers hovering.
‘Nothing,’ he replied. His voice shook. ‘Nothing’s wrong. I’m just overreacting.’
He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. ‘Oh. Was it bad?’
Klaus made a strangled noise. ‘No, Dave! Don’t even . . .’ He stood up and went over to the window, staring through the slats of the blinds, rubbing his eyes. Sniffing, loudly.
Dave lay back, confused. This had never, ever happened to him before.
‘It wasn’t bad,’ Klaus said, still looking out. ‘I don’t know what it was.’
He tried not to sound panicked. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I dunno,’ he shrugged. ‘I felt weird. You were being so gentle with me.’
And just like that the panic dissipated. He felt oddly hollow without it, mostly because he was refusing to let all his other emotions get out of check. Couldn’t stop his thoughts though, making a bloody racket, making his heart thud, thinking, That’s what this is about? Gentleness? How can it have disarmed you so much? Weren’t you expecting it to be like that? You said I gotta treat a boy right, Klaus - was that only a joke to you?
He didn’t say any of those things. He got up and went to him, frowning, and asked, ‘Why’s that so strange?’
‘Because it is. Why couldn’t you just -’
He stopped him before he could finish that sentence. ‘I didn’t want to hurt you.’
‘But I told you, it’s fine, I can take it. I’m used to all kinds of shit.’
Dave had to fill the hollowness so he took him into his arms, hating to hear him say that. Klaus buried his face in his shoulder.
‘And yet you can’t take me being gentle?’ he asked softly.
There was a tense pause where he started to fret that he’d said the wrong thing, been too straight-forward, until Klaus laughed tearfully. ‘Shut up.’
‘Nah,’ he replied.
They stood there for a while, swaying back and forth.
‘I get it, you know,’ he said carefully. ‘There’s nothing to hide behind when it’s like that. It’s scary.’
‘You think so?’ Klaus peered at him. Dave kissed him on the forehead.
‘Yeah. Fucking terrifying. And that’s okay.’
Klaus closed his eyes. Dave listened to the shouts of laughter from the street below as a group of soldiers arrived back. The slight breeze from the window was almost cool on his bare skin.
‘Sorry for crying,’ Klaus mumbled. ‘I didn’t ruin it, did I?’
‘I told you I cry easily.’
‘That’s fine. Crying’s fine.’
He sniffed again, ever graceful. ‘Why’re you so nice? You’re like an angel, you know that?’
Dave hushed him.
Klaus kept on talking, tracing his fingers up and down Dave’s back. ‘And it was really good, by the way. I bet you just say you’re out of practice, you sly dog.’
‘No, that was true,’ he said, smiling into Klaus’s hair. ‘You were pretty good yourself.’
Klaus chuckled. ‘Old news, dearie.’
‘Oh yeah? Cocky,’ Dave said. There was the Klaus he knew. He squeezed him tight. ‘Come on. Let’s have a shower.’
They showered together and then they did some very dirty things in the shower and then they lay together, sheets stripped back, skin damp. Dave might have gone to sleep if it weren’t for Klaus’s creeping hand; all of a sudden he found that he wasn’t tired at all, and he simply had to run his own hands over his lover, memorising him with his fingertips. His own lover.
After that, they were exhausted. They cleaned themselves up with the sheet, not bothering to even try getting out of bed.
Still it seemed Klaus wasn’t ready to sleep. He lay on top of Dave, a dead weight, his arms and legs flopped out on either side.
‘Promise to tie me up next time?’ he asked lazily.
He drew circles on his back, eyes closed. ‘Making no such promises.’
‘Lord save me,’ he sighed.
He opened an eye, frowned at him. ‘Klaus.’
‘Sorry. It’s kinda true, though. Only because you’re here with me and by many a standard I am a bit of a slut.’
‘Don’t call yourself that.’
‘Why not? I’m not ashamed. I should tell you what I’m like, though. There’s been a lot of people. Probs should have told you beforehand. I try to be open about this stuff.’
He nudged him off so they could face each other. ‘I don’t care how many people you’ve slept with, you know that?’
‘Yeah but I’m apparently laying it all out on the table anyway. You don’t have to worry, I’m clean and everything. Seeing as we didn’t use condoms.’ He frowned. ‘I presumed you were A-okay too. Are you?’
‘I had a shower . . .’
Klaus laughed. ‘Oh, Jesus. I mean with STIs?’
Dave blinked at him.
‘STDs?’ he tried.
‘What does that mean?’
‘Fuck, it really is the dark ages. Ah . . . it means sexually transmitted diseases. You know? You got one?’
Dave flushed when he realised what he was talking about. ‘Oh. You mean VDs. No. I don’t.’
‘Cool,’ he smiled easily. ‘Look at us, being responsible! Ben’d be proud. Sure, it’s a bit late, but nevermind that now.’
‘There’s always medicine for those, you know. The medics’ll give you penicillin.’
‘Yeah. God, I love those medics,’ Klaus said, before frowning at Dave. ‘Wait, no. What am I saying? Dave, you’re a gay man going into the 70s, you can’t rely on medicine, no way. AIDS!’ He stared at him like he was supposed to know what that meant.
Dave grinned sleepily. ‘Oh yeah? D’you see the future as well as ghosts?’
‘Promise me, alright?’ Klaus demanded, ignoring his question. ‘Always use protection, be careful.’
‘Okay,’ he agreed to placate him, not really understanding the fuss and too close to dozing to work it out.
Klaus gave him a stern look. ‘Good. Moving on from that, the other thing you need to know is that I - well, I . . .’ He rolled to look at the ceiling, biting his lip, looking like he was trying to figure out the best way to phrase it. ‘To put it bluntly, I have done . . . sex acts of various kinds. For money. And other things.’
He took Klaus’s hand. ‘I knew that.’
Klaus said a lot of things when he was high. Not always outright, but he had mentioned enough over the weeks that Dave had surmised as much.
‘Oh,’ Klaus replied. He was the one blushing now. ‘I don’t remember telling you.’
‘I figured it out over time.’
‘Right. Huh . . . Any thoughts on that one, then?’
‘Mostly that it doesn’t change how I feel about you.’
Dave smiled. ‘I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of things, Klaus. I don’t wanna lie and pretend that’s the only one I had. It’s the one that counts, though.’
Klaus pulled Dave’s hand to his lips, kissing it softly. ‘Feel free to ask whatever. I won’t be offended.’
‘Sure. Maybe when I’m more awake.’
‘Okay. Any time, mein bärchen,’ he murmured.
Dave looked at him questioningly. ‘That German?’
‘What’s it mean?’
Something rose in his chest, all tight and warm and bubbly. ‘That’s . . . that’s pretty sweet,’ he said, biting his tongue to stop himself from saying anything more embarrassing.
‘You’re pretty sweet,’ Klaus replied. He snuck in under Dave’s arm and kissed him on the lips.
They didn’t say anything more and soon enough they were still, drifting off in each other’s arms.
Love is careless in its choosing
Sweeping over cross a baby
Love descends on those defenseless
Idiot love will spark the fusion
Song lyrics: Soul Love (Some idiot love for these two idiots)
Apologies for the longer wait for this one! I flew home to my parent’s for my birthday so didn’t get much writing done :)
Bärchen is apparently used as a German pet name quite often for gay couples! :’) I don’t know if it has the same connotations as bear in english gay slang but I didn’t intend to use it in that way haha.
Also a few notes on Klaus: I’m assuming he has a very turbulent relationship with sex, and like his many other issues doesn’t always deal with it in the healthiest of ways. I’ll be exploring this more in later chapters, hopefully striking a balance for his character as someone who has used it as a form of self harm, but also someone who craves to be touched and loved. (I also like to think he’s quite aware of all the dark things in his life that he makes light of.)
I also don’t at all intend for his particular experience with sex work to be extended to all sex workers. For my depiction of him it is something that was very much tied to his homelessness and drug abuse. I don’t know if it’ll come up much more, but thought I’d just leave this note here to explain my angle. (If you have anything you think I should change about this - or about anything else which could be hurtful - please let me know. I’m no expert, and always want to learn.)
I’m breaking my Terribly Rigid Structure again and putting two sets of lyrics in here, just because I can, so don’t stop reading if you get halfway through and think it’s already done! (To that one person who did this last time, if you’re still reading - I’m here for you ;) <3)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Pale morning light filtered through the slats, enough for Dave to study the sleeping face of his lover. Klaus was tucked into him, curls of hair dark against the pillow. For someone so brash and bold he was awfully delicate up close.
He’d woken Dave a few times in the night with his restlessness. Even when he was asleep he was fretful, fidgeting constantly, muttering in that uneasy dream language of half-truths and nonsense. Some clarity here and there. He heard him whisper no, no, no, not again, don’t make me go back there.
Now, though, he was almost serene. Dave had been lying there for a long time when he reached out and stroked his thumb across his cheekbone, gentle as he could. Then he traced the curve of his lips; he couldn’t help himself. It must have tickled because Klaus stirred, a lazy hand coming up to rub at his mouth, and a few moments later he slowly opened his eyes.
‘Hey you,’ he said, voice scratchy.
‘Hey,’ Dave smiled.
He shifted slightly and winced. ‘Ugh. That’s a headache and a half.’
‘Don’t I know it. Worth it though.’
Klaus made a happy, sleepy noise, burrowing closer to Dave. ‘Yeah.’
He nudged him. ‘You going back to sleep?’
‘Mmmm. It’s so early. Why are you even awake?’
‘Cause you kept wriggling, you worm.’
He lifted his head, blinking big, pitiful eyes at him. ‘You’re calling me a worm? That’s so mean.’
Dave laughed at him, gathered him up. ‘You were pretty wriggly.’
‘Oh wow, I suddenly can’t hear you, I must be asleep already.’
‘No chance for me to sleep, then -’
He shifted closer so he could say it right in his ear. ‘ - you worm .’
Klaus grabbed a pillow and hit him with it.
Headache or not, Dave was more than willing to tackle him for that. It was going pretty well until Klaus somehow managed to wrap his legs around Dave’s waist; he collapsed on top of him, Klaus’s breath escaping under the sudden weight in a rush of laughter. Then it was going even better, because they were nose to nose - the perfect opportunity for one, two, three kisses, light and joyful. And a fourth, longer, deeper.
They were embraced in a sweaty tangle of limbs when Klaus suddenly bolted upright.
‘Christ!’ he exclaimed. He skittered across the bed, away from Dave, away from the headboard, right to the end where the sheets were all bunched up. ‘Shit.’
‘Are you okay?’ Dave asked, sitting up himself.
Klaus was staring at his pillow like it was about to explode. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
His heart skipped a beat. ‘I don’t know - did I do something wrong?’
Klaus rubbed his face, turned to him. ‘No, no, it’s not you. Jesus. There’s a ghost. On the fucking bed.’ He shook his hand at thin air indignantly. ‘Is nothing sacred?’
Dave looked from the pillow to Klaus. He looked grumpy, near on angry. ‘Oh. Did it just appear?’
‘I don’t know,’ he scowled. ‘I’d only turned over then. He might’ve been there all night.’ Then he sighed, shoulders dropping and expression softening. ‘Tôi xin lỗi. Tôi không thể nói tiếng việt nhiều.’ A pause. ‘Oh, you speak English too? Wonderful.’
‘You can speak Vietnamese ?!’ Dave gawped.
‘Not really,’ Klaus said absently, intent on scanning the invisible man up and down. His expression hardened again; he shut his eyes, covered his ears. ‘Ugh. I don’t have to put up with this.’
He got up and went over to his bag. Dave panicked once he realised what Klaus meant.
He shot a bitter glare over his shoulder. ‘What?’
‘I - Please don’t. Not today.’
‘There is a ghost watching us have sex,’ he said like Dave was an idiot. ‘He’s right there! And he’s missing half his face! I think that’ll be more of a mood killer than a bit of smack.’
Dave felt sick at the idea, and even worse knowing that what he felt was surely nothing compared to what Klaus was feeling. His naive vision of the day crumbled in front of him. ‘But you’ll be out of it,’ he said.
‘I’m always out of it. That’s me, Dave.’
‘I don’t want - we’ve only got a few days here, for god’s sake.’
Klaus huffed and started chewing on a fingernail.
‘Look, just come and sit back down,’ Dave pleaded. ‘Think about it.’
He sat down, pretended to think. ‘There we go. Oh, would you look at that? I’ve thought about it and hmm . . . yep. Still wanna get high.’
‘Klaus,’ Dave said, feeling anguished. ‘Please.’
‘No!’ he snapped. ‘It’s the fucking Vietnam war, Dave, and maybe if it wasn’t I’d give sobriety a try again, but I can’t. I can’t do both. I can’t deal with withdrawal and the ghosts and all the other shit out here. It’s too much.’ He glared at the corner of the bed. ‘And I’d like it very much if you could please stop wailing!’
He clenched his teeth. ‘I’m not wailing.’
‘I don’t mean you!’ Klaus exclaimed. He deflated then, resting his head on Dave’s shoulder. ‘Sorry. I meant the ghost.’
‘The ghost is wailing?’ he asked.
‘Yup. Surprise, surprise.’ Klaus got up again, massaging his temples. Dave thought he looked deeply sad. ‘I’m sorry,’ he apologised again, whether to him or the ghost, he didnt know. Maybe to the both of them. ‘I need to do this. Don’t take it personally.’
He went to his bag.
‘Does it have to be heroin?’ Dave asked.
Klaus glanced at him.
‘It can be something else, right?’
‘Yeah. I guess. Technically.’
It seemed obvious to him. ‘So just don’t do the heroin.’
Klaus sighed. ‘You can say that easily enough, but I want it and it’s right there.’
‘Then get rid of it.’
‘Yeah, no,’ he laughed uncomfortably.
Dave didn’t know what to do from there. He wasn’t going to force Klaus. He seemed to be going through an internal battle of his own, though, because he still hadn’t moved, stuck in his crouch, one hand playing with the flap of a pocket. His expression was pained.
Then, out of the blue he asked, ‘Would you - would you get rid of it for me?’
Dave blinked in surprise. ‘Really?’
‘Don’t question me or I’ll change my mind.’
‘Right. I could do that. Yeah.’
All the fight drained out of Klaus. He backed away quickly, yanking a bed sheet from the bed and draping it over himself like a cocoon. ‘Ugh,’ he groaned, sitting back down heavily.
‘It’ll be okay,’ Dave said tentatively.
‘No it won’t.’
Dave put his underpants back on, feeling a bit exposed, and then went over to Klaus’s bag which was lying on its side in the corner.
‘Where are they?’ he asked.
‘There’s some in the front pocket of the pack. And a little bit in both of the shirt pockets. The canteen might have some in it too, I think I put some in there.’ He paused. ‘No, I know I put some in there.’
‘Okay. Is that all?’
Dave was shaking out the canteen when Klaus spoke up again.
‘Argh,’ he groaned, sounding very anguished. ‘And in the bottom pocket of my pants. The left leg. That’s the last of it, I swear.’
‘God, Klaus,’ he said, pulling out another small packet.
He gathered them all up in his fist to flush away.
Last he checked, Klaus was still cross legged on the bed, watching him like a hawk. His back was turned to the door, so he didn’t see him come in, but he heard him rush across the room.
‘No, no, no, wait, I changed my mind! Dave! Don’t, wait, give them back!’
He was too late, his hand was already empty. Klaus dove to the ground, sinking to his knees in front of the toilet, about to fish the packets out, so Dave pulled him backwards. He couldn’t have flushed it in time.
Klaus twisted against his grip, falling into a frenzy, caught somewhere between fighting him off and getting away from him. Dave did the only thing he could do: he held on tight. He’d almost dragged him back to his feet, was planning on pulling him into a great big hug or something similar, anything that would stop Klaus’s fists flying at him, when sharp fingernails scraped against the bare skin of his abdomen. He cried out and let go, mostly from the shock of it.
Klaus immediately froze. ‘I hurt you.’
‘It’s just a scratch,’ he told him, but Klaus was already stepping back, staring at his hands like he couldn’t believe what he’d just done.
‘I hurt you,’ he repeated. ‘I didn’t mean to do that. Fuck.’
His side stung a little. It really wasn’t that bad.
‘Jesus Christ. What’s wrong with me?’ he asked desperately.
‘It’s okay -’ Dave started to say, but he was interrupted.
‘No, it’s not.’ There were tears in his eyes. ‘Don’t say that it is. Don’t try and make me feel better. I asked you to do that and you did and I fucking hurt you for it.’
‘Klaus, I’m fine,’ he insisted.
Klaus had backed away into the corner of the tiny bathroom, where he was pressed up against the wall, arms wrapped around himself. Still naked, still all ruffled from sleep and rudely-interrupted sex, but all of the soft, sweet pliability Dave had kissed into him was gone now, replaced by a horrible look of self-loathing and shame.
‘Hey,’ Dave said, and he walked forward ever so slowly. ‘I won’t say it’s okay if you don’t want me to, but you’ve gotta come here, alright? Let me hold you.’
He held out his arms and waited for Klaus to move forward. He did, eventually, taking hesitant steps until Dave was close enough to pull him in. He hugged him tight to his chest, just like he had last night.
‘Why are you the one comforting me?’ Klaus asked, all muffled against him.
‘What’d’you mean, comforting? I just like hugs.’
‘You big weirdo,’ he said, chuckling tearfully. Then he wrapped his arms around Dave. ‘I kinda like hugs too, I guess.’
‘Good.’ Dave loosened his hold and lifted up Klaus’s chin. Looked into those teary green eyes and kissed him soft on the mouth.
Lucky he’d gotten so much practice dealing with whiplash in those early days with Klaus. These moods were up and down and all over the place like nothing he’d ever known before. He still felt out of his depth and disoriented, and there was a part of him that wondered how much patience he had in him. It wasn’t running out yet, not by a long shot, but he didn’t know for sure. No one had ever tested him like Klaus did.
He wanted so badly to make him all better, to steal all those problems and nightmares away, flush them down the toilet with the drugs. He knew instictively, however, that maybe that wasn’t going to be possible. Klaus was troubled, perhaps more than anyone Dave had ever met before, and that didn’t get undone in a day. Maybe not ever. Still, if holding him made a difference in the here and now, then he was gonna open up his damn arms, wasn’t he? Small steps were best, trust in some shape or size would come in time, and a petty scratch on the way there wasn’t the end of the world.
Still holding him tight, he flushed the toilet with a spare hand and then walked them out.
They sat together in bed, quiet, and Klaus lit a joint. He offered it out to Dave after a while, then when it wasn’t taken from his fingers seemed to notice what he was doing and took it away.
‘Sorry. Force of habit.’
Dave imagined all the other lovers he must have had, all those he had shared highs with in this same position they were now. He wondered if they placed an easy arm over his shoulder too, as they sat together. What else did they have in common? Had Dave topped the record for accidentally making Klaus Hargreeves cry? Had they cared about him like he did?
They were stupid questions, and he chastised himself for thinking them.
But then, maybe . . . Maybe he’d understand more if he knew what it was like. It wasn’t as though he’d never been curious. And they were on leave.
‘Go on then. Give it here,’ he said.
Klaus looked at him quizzically. ‘You want to try it?’
‘Yeah. Might as well, if you’re offering.’
‘Sure.’ He held it out again, right up to Dave’s lips this time so that he was almost kissing his fingertips. Dave inhaled. They watched each other closely.
‘I’m not gonna try anything else,’ he explained.
‘God no. I wouldn’t let you.’
Yet what does that say about what you think of yourself?
Klaus suddenly smiled mischievously. He took another hit then leaned over and kissed Dave, blowing the smoke into his mouth.
Dave laughed and kissed him back. Whiplash indeed.
We know Major Tom's a junkie
Strung out in heaven's high
Hitting an all-time low
Time and again I tell myself
I'll stay clean tonight
Dave quite liked being high, he decided. He was feeling very mellow. At the minute, Klaus was in the shower again, and Dave was lying like a starfish on the bed, half dressed, watching the way the light played on the ceiling and smiling idly as he listened to Klaus sing off-key. It was a bit muffled, but he didn’t care that he couldn’t recognise the lyrics. He sounded happy. Dave felt happy. He felt like he never wanted to leave this room. He was pretty hungry though, and now that he thought about it that was why he was supposed to be getting dressed. He’d much rather lie there for a moment longer. The light on the ceiling was awfully pretty, after all. Like water rippling. Maybe he should have a shower too. Maybe Klaus’d let him join.
He was startled out of his reverie by a sharp knock on the door. He went to open it.
‘Hargree-’ Keith started, before cutting himself off, looking at Dave in surprise. ‘Oh, hey man. I thought this was Klaus’s room?’
Well shit. Dave nodded at him gormlessly, then had a great idea. ‘We swapped.’
The idea didn’t go much further than that. Maybe it wasn’t so great after all. He grappled for something, anything. ‘Oh. We thought - Klaus thought - he thought it’d be funny. Like now.’ Except neither of them was laughing. ‘Or not. Um. You know what he’s like.’
Keith looked sceptical but he nodded. ‘I guess that makes sense. Typical Hargreeves, eh?’
Dave nodded back, happy to share an inside joke with Keith. He knew what Klaus was like. He knew what Klaus was like more than Keith knew what Klaus was like. Ha. That was a tongue twister if he ever knew one.
‘So I could find him in your old room? Fourth floor, right?’
Dave kept nodding. His head felt like it was on a spring. ‘Yeah. Definitely.’
‘Cool.’ Keith narrowed his eyes. ‘Are you stoned?’
‘Yeah,’ Dave said enthusiastically, and then he started laughing. He laughed even more when Keith smirked at him.
‘Damn,’ he said, clapping Dave on the shoulder. ‘Never thought I’d see the day.’
There was a crash from the bathroom. Keith leaned past the threshold curiously, and Dave peered at the bathroom door too, wondering what on earth he was doing in there. Thank god Klaus had stopped singing, because his voice would be a dead giveaway, but even so, he really needed to shut up right now. What was he even knocking into? There wasn’t much in there. Mysteries upon mysteries with that one. Maybe he was falling out of the shower? Clumsy oaf. His clumsy oaf. He smiled at the thought.
Anyhow, he realised then that Keith could see into the room, which included a full view of the bed in disarray, and all of Klaus’s gear scattered across every available surface, including the floor. That was okay, though - Dave didn’t mind gaining a reputation as untidy. He’d claim that, take one for the team. Klaus’s own clothes were in the bathroom with him, and the rest were uniform green, discernable from each other. Safe.
Then he realised that Keith was also looking him up and down, with a massive shit-eating grin.
‘Katz!’ he crowed. ‘Looks like someone got lucky!’
Well. He sure had. He told Keith as much, then regretted it and panicked silently.
But Keith only cheered and punched him in the shoulder. ‘Nice! Shit, man, you’re really letting go on this break, aren’t ya?’
‘I guess I am,’ he said.
‘About time!’ Keith seemed very enthusiastic. ‘Anyway, if you see Klaus before I do, tell him we’re waiting for him. Me and Pete. He did promise to come along last night.’
‘Rightio.’ As he spoke the bathroom door clattered open. He rushed forward into his own doorway, blocking it so that Keith couldn’t see anything, trying to make it look casual with an arm on the doorframe. Quickly decided that looked even more suspicious, so in what was surely a seamless transition, he resorted to scratching the back of his neck.
Keith just grinned, shaking his head. ‘I’ll uh . . . I’ll leave you to your lady-love, then. Though, you should come out with us too!’ He leaned in, whispering conspiratorially, ‘I’m sure she’ll still be here when you get back.’
He nodded. Perhaps a touch too frantically.
‘Then again, if you’d rather stay, I won’t be judging, man.’ Another tormenting grin, then he waved cheerily. ‘See you.’
Dave shut the door in his face and leaned up against it, exhaling deeply. Thank fuck.
Klaus was peeking out of the bathroom, frozen in place. ‘Did you tell him?’ he tried to whisper. Not at all quiet. ‘Did he see me?’
He would have looked very serious and concerned if it weren’t for the towel wrapped around his head. It really didn’t help. Dave shook his head and tried to fight the smile making the corners of his mouth twitch, but it was a losing battle. Before he knew it he was snorting with laughter.
Klaus laughed too before darting out, grabbing Dave’s hands and twirling him around. ‘I can’t believe you answered the door,’ he scoffed.
‘I didn’t even think!’
‘Yeah, I can see that.’
‘But it doesn’t matter!’ Dave insisted. ‘He doesn’t know! He didn’t notice!’
Klaus beamed, bright as the sun. ‘He didn’t.’
He twirled Klaus this time, twirled him right into an embrace and kissed him. The towel fell off his head. Dave tripped on it and Klaus caught him, and then they were both laughing more, and Dave felt like lifting Klaus up in his arms and spinning him around and around and around, until the whole world spun into colours only hinting at reality, until all he could see was Klaus spinning with him, until they were both dizzy. He didn’t, but that’s how giddy he felt inside.
‘Wants us to meet him, by the way,’ he said once he remembered. ‘Do you think they’ll notice us then?’
‘Nah,’ Klaus said with a dismissive wave. ‘People can be so oblivious when they want to be.’
Dave nodded again, wisely. He sure liked nodding right now. ‘That is true,’ he admitted. Then he chuckled again, elbowing Klaus, saying, ‘Even you.’
‘It’s true,’ he said, and Klaus looked so offended that Dave laughed harder. ‘Ugh, god,’ he said eventually, wiping his eyes, ‘I’m a wreck. How am I gonna keep a straight face when we go outside?’
There was a brief moment when Klaus blinked at him, big-eyed and earnest, innocent as anything. Dave almost managed to ground himself. He took a huge, deep, calming breath -
‘Did you - did you say a straight face?’
And that was all it took. Dave was gone. Klaus cackled in the chaos.
‘So why’d you wanna swap rooms with Katz?’ Keith asked Klaus as they strode down the street.
Klaus, to his credit, barely stumbled. ‘Huh? Oh. His view is fantastic.’
‘Is it?’ Pete asked. ‘I’m on the fourth too, it’s not much at all.’
‘That, my dear, is because you don’t know what to look for.’
While Pete was grumbling in response, Keith turned on Dave.
‘And you, mister. Full of surprises, aren’t ya? How was your night of unrestrained passion? She a looker?’
‘Uh, yeah. I thought so.’ He’d been trying not to look at Klaus that much, but he couldn’t help it then. It was just a quick glance; Keith didn’t even notice it. ‘Yes.’
‘Can you believe that, you two?’ Keith said, slinging an arm around both Pete and Klaus, who were still busy winding each other up.
‘Believe what?’ Pete asked, trying to wriggle free.
‘Dave and his gal. He’s a new man! Two days in Saigon and he’s already breaking all those chastity vows.’
Klaus gasped, dramatic as ever. ‘Our sweet Dave? Surely not.’
‘Shut it, you,’ Dave scolded, fondly. ‘I don’t know where you all get your ideas of me from.’
‘I’m telling ya, the ladies’ll be queueing for this one,’ Keith said. ‘And that’s not all either. Was it you who gave him the pot, Hargreeves?’
‘Me, sir? Corrupt this saintly heart?’
‘I bet it was,’ Pete muttered.
‘Yeah, of course you do,’ Klaus retorted. ‘Where’s your faith?’
‘He did,’ Dave said.
Pete smirked, while Klaus wailed, ‘ Daaaaave! Our biggest, bestest secret!’
‘Such a bad influence, man,’ Keith tutted.
Dave just laughed at the lot of them.
They found themselves some spicy food and strong whisky and all in all had a very pleasant afternoon lounging around in the sun mocking each other. And it was good. It was good feeling normal. They all managed it in moments every now and again out in the jungle, but most of the time there was an annoying little whisper in the back of his mind that reminded him that they were all that close to snapping, to losing it, to losing everything. No matter how hard they pretended otherwise. This, though - this was the most normal he’d felt in a long time, happy and buzzed and safe in the secrets he kept close to his chest. Feeling like he’d found a place for himself when he was being teased and teasing right back. Realising that he could catch Klaus’s eye and know exactly what that look meant. Promises for later. Reminders for now. You know I’m still thinking about you every spare second I’ve got. Later, later, soon, love.
At one point, Klaus jumped to attention in his chair and said, ‘Guys. I just had the best idea I’ve ever had. We should go get tattoos.’
Keith’s expression lit up. ‘Holy shit, yes!’
‘Really?’ Pete said, cynical as ever.
‘Uh, yeah,’ Klaus said, sculling his drink, ‘in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the military.’
‘It’s what we’re supposed to do,’ Keith added.
‘Yeah, a bit like pics or it didn’t happen but, you know - tats or it didn’t happen.’
‘What do you mean, pics or it didn’t happen?’ Pete asked, and everyone ignored him.
‘I’d been thinking about getting something like that,’ Dave said, which was true. He’d spent long enough studying Klaus’s odd ones over the weeks to wonder about what he’d get himself.
‘Yeah, me too,’ Keith said. ‘You’re getting one as well, Pete, no questions about it.’ He elbowed Pete in the side.
‘I’m not -’ he started, while the elbow got pointer and more persistent. ‘Oh, get off me, Christ, you’re annoying. Fine, I’ll get one. Sure.’ He sounded snide but Dave thought he caught a hidden smile.
Klaus clapped his hands gleefully, while Keith hauled Dave out of his seat with a cheery, ‘Come on, let’s get moving, fellas!’
They got matching tattoos as the sun sank in the sky, and it was Dave’s turn in the chair when it set completely, daylight to dusk to night. He watched their reflections grow brighter in the window as it went, watched Pete jitter nervously, watched the other two hold their arms side by side, both of them as ridiculous as each other, comparing and matching and laughing.
Watching them, Dave found he didn’t mind the pain. He leaned into it. It wasn’t the goddamn war he was commemorating, it was this. Those three idiots and him in the light of the dying day. He wanted these memories, wanted them on his skin, not willing to ever, ever forget a single moment.
Like later, when Klaus leaned into him as they walked back behind Keith and Pete. Klaus pressed a finger against his own tattoo, wincing slightly, and said, ‘Nice to have a shared tattoo that doesn’t brand me as trademarked property.’
Dave remembered that.
Like even later, when Klaus breathed hard under him, and sighed Dave’s name.
Dave remembered that.
Like much, much later, when they were falling asleep, and Klaus murmured, ‘I’d get a tattoo for you. Just for you.’ Perhaps not even aware he was saying it aloud, he was so close to drifting off.
Dave remembered that.
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Song lyrics: Ashes to Ashes / Space Oddity
I’m really regretting naming Keith - Keith - because surely our dear Klaus already had dibs on the 5-letter K name! It’s a bit much with two. Especially when they say Katz as well - too many Ks my dudes. Basically I have no foresight. To be fair, though, Dave didn’t have a last name when I started this.
When Klaus speaks Vietnamese, he’s saying ‘sorry I don’t know much Vietnamese’ - at least, he is according to google translate. I like to think he’s memorised this kind of sentence (and a lot of taunts/swear words/etc) in a lot of languages, almost definitely just to spite old Reginald.
Also I can’t find a pic where I can properly see Dave’s arms so I’m running with it and deciding that, yes, he has a matching tattoo. And I legitimately CRIED when I found out that the tattoo on Klaus’s chest says “Klaus loves David” in Thai. AAAH. Anyway, until next time!
This chapter is darker, and explores Klaus’s history. Warnings for canon-typical child abuse, a lil bit of sexual content of the fun kind, and, referenced in dialogue only, some of Klaus’s more harmful sexual experiences in the past. Please only read if you want to, look after yourselves! <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The war marched on and so did they. Saigon had been like another world, a brief lull in the chaos. Despite how quickly they passed, those few days had changed things entirely for Dave, leaving him with something he’d never had before: someone to call his own.
When they were being flown back out, blades of the choppers whirring louder than he could think, he’d sat beside Klaus like he had many times before and they’d nodded at each other, a nod which said, I’m ready if you are. Let’s do this. I can do this with you beside me. It wasn’t clear if they meant the fighting or their secret relationship. Both, perhaps.
Together they flew back to the realm of knee deep mud and jungle rot, a land of perpetual exhaustion, where their pouring sweat was not quite enough to wash away the blood still sticky on their hands. His skin peeled afresh from sunburn, his ears rang with orders and explosions, and his heart broke and broke and broke again with the shit he had to do. He found himself refusing to think about it. He couldn’t bear to think anymore, not if he wanted to keep breathing. Glory, boys, they screamed; go find it in the undergrowth, blinded by the heavy blackness, shooting at an unseen face; go find it in those blazing villages, fire hot and bright enough to see the faces then, to see their bulging eyes and burning hair. He wanted to scream fuck your glory . There was none of it here.
One morning he was scrubbing at his hands, submerging them in a shallow, murky river, scrubbing them furiously until they were raw. It wasn’t doing anything. The blood wouldn’t stop dripping from his fingertips.
‘I can’t get it off,’ he cried. ‘I can’t get it off.’
Then Klaus was there. He took Dave’s hands in his, held them still. ‘Hey. Hey. They’re clean. It’s okay. You can stop. I’m here.’
Dave blinked and blinked again, and saw that he was right.
Klaus still had his night terrors more than any of the rest of them. If he woke Dave, which was most of the time, Dave would kneel beside him, and if no one could see he would stroke his forehead, hold his hand, whisper to him that he was there, and nudge him awake if those first touches didn’t do the trick. If people were around and alert, he went straight for shaking him out of the nightmare. Then they’d go outside, walking around within the camp boundaries or sitting in a quiet corner, smoking Dave’s cigarettes and sometimes, sometimes, daring to lean a head on the other’s shoulder.
Klaus talked to him more, now. Not just those lighthearted and careless things he had said so often before, those devastating snatches of his life before ‘Nam. Instead, he offered Dave more serious, quiet explanations. It dredged things up, he could tell, things that Klaus hated to think about without humour to dilute them. And it took a while to get to that point. In fact, it took an argument, their first proper one.
They were both to blame, Dave feeling bitter and cranky from lack of sleep, and Klaus equally as exhausted but also high as a kite, mumbling something about being locked up as a child.
‘Are you gonna tell me about that properly or do I have to ask?’ he demanded, squinting at him, the sun in his eyes.
Klaus blinked at him blearily. ‘It was just a little joke, babe.’
‘Didn’t sound like something to joke about.’
‘Someone’s grumpy. I thought it was funny.’
Dave grimaced. ‘Klaus. Come on.’
‘I don’t have to tell you anything,’ he said, jutting out his chin.
They weren’t even alone. It was careless, bickering like the lovers they were in plain sight, but he guessed in their current state they were both past caring.
‘Everything okay over here?’ came Keith’s voice from behind him.
‘Yes.’ Dave didn’t bother looking at him, kept stomping on ahead.
‘Everything’s fine and dandy,’ he glowered.
Keith continued talking, tact nowhere to be seen. ‘Well. This is tense.’
‘Tell me about it,’ Klaus said.
‘All I want is to talk to you and get proper answers for once,’ Dave retorted.
‘And I wanna enjoy this buzz, but we don’t all get what we want, huh?’
That got him right in the gut. He shook his head wordlessly, then stormed off up the line to march with someone else - Dennis, Pete, anyone.
Later that afternoon, he sat by a river and smoked. He waited there until their break was up. Klaus never came and found him.
Camp was set by nightfall and he was smoking again, by himself again, cross-legged in the dark. Not as naive this time. Merely passing time until he could pass out.
‘Dave?’ came a whisper from beside a supply tent. So he’d sought him out after all.
Dave glanced at him then glanced away. Klaus was lurking half hidden by the canvas, afraid to come forward. Waiting for permission. He sighed, then beckoned him over with a jerk of his head, leaning his chin in his hands heavily.
Klaus was quiet as he sat down next to him. ‘You’re mad at me, aren’t you?’
Dave closed his eyes. God. This man. ‘No.’
‘Okay. I can work with that,’ he said, sounding hopeful. ‘I can make it up to you. I can -’
‘I just want you to talk to me,’ Dave said, cutting straight to the chase. Private moments were hard to come by and not worth wasting. ‘That’s all. I’m tired of figuring things out from the scraps. I mean, I don’t even know if what you said was true. I wanna believe you, but I can’t tell anymore. You say so many strange things.’
Klaus chewed on his lip. ‘I know. But I wasn’t lying. Not about that.’
‘So what - you were really locked in a graveyard as a kid?’
‘Who the fuck -’ he started, but Klaus spared him the question.
‘What? Shit, why ?’
He shrugged. ‘Because I was scared of the ghosts and he wanted me to get over it.’
Dave stared at him in horror.
‘Didn’t work very well,’ Klaus added. A faraway expression washed over him. ‘Kinda the opposite, actually. But what’s childhood without a little trauma anyway?’
‘Don’t. Please don’t joke.’
Klaus sighed. ‘Fine. I’ll try. I just . . . I don’t want you to pity me.’
His hands had started to shake. ‘Can I be angry, then?’
‘I don’t know what good it’ll do.’
‘It’ll do me good. Then I can tell you how much I hate the man who did that to you.’
Klaus looked into his eyes searchingly.
‘Because I do,’ he continued.
Klaus went far away again, silent and still. After a few moments, he bumped Dave’s knee with his own. ‘Welcome to the club, then.’
‘I . . . fuck. I hope it’s a big one.’
‘Oh, you can count all of my siblings. Bar one, probably.’
‘He lock them up too?’
‘Nah. They all had their own specially calculated punishments.’
Dave scowled. ‘That’s sick. Someone like that shouldn’t have kids.’
‘Tell me about it,’ Klaus said, laughing without any amusement. ‘They say money can’t buy happiness, but it sure made it easy for him to buy as many babies as he wanted and bribe social services to stay away.’
He struggled with that for a moment. ‘What do you. . . what do you mean, buy?’
‘Oh,’ Klaus frowned. ‘I forget what I have and haven’t told you. We were all adopted. Pretty little babies for dad to play with. All my siblings are like me, you see, except Vanya. He wanted us for our powers. To raise his own little army. All that fun stuff.’
‘I hate him,’ Dave reaffirmed with a bite in his voice.
‘Yeah, well, this is only scratching the surface.’ He nudged Dave’s knee again, both of them craving each other’s touch and taking what they could. ‘It’s like Pandora’s box of joys and wonders.’
Hatred was an unfamiliar sensation to Dave, so it was hard to wrap his head around the furious intensity of the hate he felt towards Klaus’s father. He knew Klaus; he knew how sweet and gentle and loving he could be, how much he felt , and the thought of someone hurting him - hurting any of those poor children with total disregard for their wellbeing - made Dave see red. Hell, he’d be seething even if he didn’t know that Klaus was all those soft things, if all that he knew about Klaus was his visible demons, his struggles, his selfishness and his flaws. No one deserved a childhood like that.
‘It’s awful. It’s . . . Christ, Klaus, I don’t know what to say. I just . . . I can’t imagine.’ He wondered what it must be like to keep all that shit inside, only ever talking about it in offhand remarks, burying the pain and truth of it. Klaus had to know that he could talk to him. He had to know. So he told him. ‘You know I’ll always listen, right? If you wanna talk about it.’
Klaus looked around their private corner of camp, and then he shyly took Dave’s hand. ‘Yeah, I know. And I guess I do want to tell you things. Like back in Saigon. It was nice talking to you about all that.’ He hesitated. Dave squeezed his hand. ‘But a lot of it . . . it’s not nice to think about, to be honest. Like, he didn’t even call us by our names. Just numbers. I’m Number Four, by the way.’ He waggled the fingers of his hello hand in a feeble wave.
‘Numbers?’ Dave echoed, hoarsely.
Klaus nodded. ‘We didn’t actually have real names until mom came along and got to know us all. I was five or six, I think, when she named us.’ He smiled faintly. ‘We were so excited. Every opportunity we got, we’d be saying them: Oh, Allison, can you lend me that, Allison; oops, sorry, Ben-Benny-Benjamin, didn’t mean to walk into you, Ben; fight, Luther, fight, Diego, fight; what was that, Vanya, speak up, Vanya. We hardly slipped up at all after a week or two. He never even tried.’
Dave held Klaus’s hand tighter. That didn’t seem like enough. He wished he could hold him.
‘And you know what?’ he continued. ‘I remember standing in front of the mirror, saying Klaus over and over again. Klaus Hargreeves. Klaus-Klaus-Klaus until it didn’t even seem like a word anymore. It was my own name, just mine. And Mom - she told me I was from Germany, that I was born there, and that’s why she’d chosen my name to be what it is. I didn’t even know I’d come from anywhere! It blew my mind!’
Klaus kept talking. After so long keeping all this hidden, it was like a wall had suddenly come down. The talk continued onto other nights, other conversations, when he spoke about the different abilities his siblings had, their turbulent relationships, what it was like seeing them as adults after so many years apart. He told Dave about how he’d learnt how to snap a neck with his bare hands before he’d fully mastered mutliplication. He talked about their silent meals, the constant obedience his father demanded when they were tiny, no playing until Saturdays and even then only for half an hour, and how maybe that was why he was such a reckless blabbermouth now, all those words and ideas and energy cooped up with nowhere to go. How when he got a bit older he started to go off the rails, how his father watched, how he never intervened. After one bad night, he confessed how in many of his nightmares he wasn’t just reliving the battles of the day. Oftentimes he was trapped back in that mausoleum. Or seeing his brother die a brutal, preventable death.
Every day that passed he felt that he knew Klaus a little bit more. Properly knew him. All those new things were hard to hear, and he definitely lost precious sleep over it, but he’d never, ever go back to not knowing. After all, he was in it for the long haul, wasn’t he? For as long as the universe permitted.
That had been another big conversation.
It happened back on their last night in Saigon. They’d been making the most of four walls and a mattress, no matter how lumpy. Dave wanted as much as he could get. He didn’t know what would happen to whatever it was between them when they were back.
When Dave confessed that he wanted to try something he never had before, when he said that he wanted Klaus inside him, Klaus easily agreed, brushing off his surprise just like he had with the weed. He started slow and gentle, just like Dave had been with him. And Dave ended up laughing again, not because he was uncomfortable or because he felt ridiculous, but because there they were in the heat of it, joined into one, and it felt good, so good that he didn’t know what to do other than laugh, joyous, incredulous. Klaus stroked his face and smiled as he moved. Then he angled himself in a way that made Dave see stars, and he was gasping, grabbing at Klaus’s hips, and maybe he swore, or maybe he said Klaus’s name, or maybe he was merely groaning. He didn’t know, maybe he said them all together, all at once. All he knew was that Klaus was thrusting faster and he was thinking about how he could never give this up. Thinking, no wonder this is a sin.
He must have spoken those thoughts aloud as well because Klaus ran his fingers through Dave’s hair, holding on tight, and he said, ‘Nothing about this is a sin, Dave. Nothing.’ He sounded so fiercely certain that Dave believed him in an instant.
Afterwards, Klaus had sat across his lap, his head on Dave’s shoulder, and asked, ‘Do you really, honestly believe that this is wrong?’
Dave was still basking in Klaus’s assertion that it wasn’t. Despite that, he said, ‘It doesn’t matter what I think. It’s illegal.’
‘Fuck the law. I’ve broken it enough. It’s dumb.’
Dave laughed. ‘It’s still the law.’
‘Laws can change,’ Klaus said enigmatically. ‘This shitty one too.’
‘I guess it could,’ he agreed. ‘But I really doubt it. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I may not have your skill at flouting as many laws as possible,’ he poked Klaus’s cheek, grinning, ‘but I’m clearly pretty happy breaking this one for now.’
‘So you are happy? You aren’t like, secretly beating yourself up about being gay?’
‘I’m happy when I’m with you.’
Klaus seemed to melt against him with those words. ‘Aw, Dave,’ he murmured, wrapping his arms around Dave’s neck. ‘You big softie. But that still doesn’t answer my question, though. You’d tell me if you were feeling guilty or whatever?’
Dave thought about it. He’d always accepted his queerness as a given, and knew that refusing to fully deny that side of him made him a deviant - at least in the eyes of the law and, well, most people. He also knew that he’d gone after Klaus and that he didn’t have a single regret about it. But did he still feel like there was something essentially wrong about being here like this with Klaus on his lap, in his arms, skin against skin? He thought about it, then he tilted Klaus’s face towards him and kissed him softly. He knew his own heart, and his heart believed in Klaus, and Klaus felt right.
‘There’s nothing to tell,’ he told him. ‘I’ve had some tricky feelings about it in the past. I probably still do. But I’m not beating myself up over it.’ He grinned at Klaus. ‘Your confidence is already rubbing off on me anyway, and I’m definitely not complaining about that.’
‘Excellent,’ Klaus replied, grinning right back. ‘I’ve got plenty of it to spare.’
Thinking of confidence, Dave remembered a question that had been bothering him for the last couple of days. No time like the present, he figured. ‘Hey, Klaus? Can I ask you something?’
‘Sure,’ he said breezily.
‘It’s about when you cried,’ Dave added. ‘After our first time.’
Klaus’s smiled faded slowly. ‘Oh. Right.’
‘I think I have a pretty good idea of why you were upset, and I’m not asking you to go into any of that, not if you don’t want to.’
‘Dave. . .’
He kept speaking, wanting to make it clear why he was bringing this up now. ‘It’s just … you’re so sure of yourself with everything else. I really admire that. And I know you have a lot of experience, way more than I do, so I guess I’m kinda struggling with how you’re so good with me and all this queer stuff, while that night was so difficult for you.’
‘Dave. . .’ Klaus repeated, interlacing their fingers. Thankfully, he didn’t seem upset, though he did look a bit melancholy. ‘Ugh,’ he sighed, ‘how to explain?’
‘Be as garbled as you want,’ Dave told him. ‘I don’t mind.’
Klaus bit his lip, pondering. ‘I guess I have a fucked up relationship with sex, but not with sexuality. And thank Christ for that, because I’d be an absolute basket case otherwise. Not to say that I’m not one already.’
‘What do you mean, fucked up?’
Klaus chuckled. ‘Well, Therapist Katz, I probably go about it in an unhealthy way. And I suppose you wanna know,’ he placed a hand on his chest, mockingly heartfelt, ‘how that makes me feel ? ’
Dave rolled his eyes, fighting a smile. ‘You do like it, right?’
‘What, sex?’ Klaus stared at him in surprise, then laughed again. ‘Yes. I do. A lot.’
He breathed a silent sigh of relief.
‘I like being touched in all sorts of ways,’ Klaus continued. ‘I crave it, actually. In case you couldn’t tell by the way I’m literally wrapped around you like a scarf.’ He wiggled even closer to Dave, which he hadn’t thought possible, kissing his cheek before resting his head on Dave’s shoulder again. ‘But I . . . I dunno. The way I lived, I used it to get things I wanted. Most of the time I was off my face, and it’d be wherever, with whoever, and however. And the things I like - the things I’ve gotten used to - they were cheap thrills with people I didn’t care about. Most of the time I’m too numb and high for anything to get through, but when it hurts I can really feel it, you know? Not in a way that means anything, though.’
Dave’s whim had been right, then. Klaus was not used to gentleness; he was accustomed to the polar opposite. It was not a nice thing to have confirmed.
Before he got a chance to say anything, the man in his arms heaved an enormous sigh.
‘Basically, David dear, I’m a mess,’ he announced. ‘Right now, every other day, always, yadda yadda - you get the idea. I’m the biggest mess that ever did mess. I have. So. Much. Baggage.’
‘No, listen. I’m used to spending weeks at a time trying to not feel anything at all. Not anything real. But you, Dave, you got right in there! Even before that first night. Then you fucking made love to me and you made me feel everything. Everything!’
There was a lump in his throat when he asked, ‘And that’s why you cried?’
‘And that’s why I cried,’ he echoed. ‘I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself. You . . . you broke me open and I was bare to the world.’ Klaus shifted so that he could look right at him. ‘That never happened to me before,’ he whispered.
‘I didn’t mean to make you cry,’ he said, pathetically, uselessly. His eyes burned.
Klaus fell against his chest with a strangled sound. ‘Oh my god, you sweet bastard, I know. I know.’ He wrapped his arms around Dave’s middle, holding on tight.
Dave wiped at his eyes clumsily with one hand, while the other tangled in Klaus’s curls. They sat like that for a while, letting all they’d said so far mull over in their minds.
Eventually, Klaus spoke. ‘I told you I’d been with loads of people right?’
‘Well, funny story. My longest relationship, like a real proper one - it only lasted about three weeks. And it only lasted that long because I needed a bed and his was pretty comfy.’ He sat up again, a determined look on his face. ‘These beds are shitty. And I don’t want to remind you while we’re on our exciting vacation, but we hardly even have beds back out in the jungle.’
‘What are you saying?’ he asked, a little confused.
‘I’m saying that even though this is like, what? Day three? That’s already getting pretty high up for me in terms of length. And I couldn’t care less about the beds, any beds, any of that. I don’t think I ever will.’
‘Oh.’ Dave looked at Klaus for a long moment, committing the vision of him saying these things to his memory. ‘I dunno,’ he joked, even as his heart thudded in his chest. ‘It’d be pretty goddamn awful doing what we just did on the forest floor.’
Klaus smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling up. ‘Weak. You just have to ignore the centipedes.’
‘Says the man who’s never found one in his blankets.’
‘Excuse you, this is the man who rolled over to see a mauled ghost the other morning.’
‘Worse than a centipede crawling up your . . ?’
‘Ugh,’ Klaus shuddered. ‘Okay, enough, enough. That’s vile.’
Dave laughed at him, before steering back to the topic that was making his heart beat so hard. ‘So . . . about these beds.’
Klaus looked up at him through his lashes. ‘The beds don’t matter.’
‘No.’ He was smiling, almost shyly. ‘I just wanna be with you. Properly. For longer than three days. For longer than three weeks.’
Dave glowed at those words. He felt floaty. Like he’d never stop smiling again. ‘I’d like that,’ he said softly.
‘Really?’ Klaus asked, his whole face lighting up.
‘Even though I’m a self-proclaimed mess?’
‘Even though I’m definitely gonna annoy you and confuse you and do dumb shit?’
‘And even though -’
Dave shut him up with a kiss.
So it was that Dave committed himself fully to a fellow soldier in the middle of a brutal war. It was possibly the stupidest thing he’d ever done. But of course, like all things concerning Klaus, he knew he’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, to hell with the consequences.
As they say, all’s fair in love and war. And this was both.
Oh no, love, you're not alone
You're watching yourself, but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up, but if I could only make you care
Oh no, love, you're not alone
No matter what or who you've been
No matter when or where you've seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I've had my share, I'll help you with the pain
You're not alone
Song lyrics: Rock n Roll Suicide (honestly these ones just take the cake, don't they? "No matter WHEN or where you've seen" ughhh. I've been waiting to use this one for so long)
Thank you for reading, commenting, kudos-ing, and all the rest! It means more than words can say. I honestly don't think I'll ever fully comprehend the response my lil fic is getting. Love you all to the moon and back!
Keith has been bestowed a last name: Ainsley. I hope you can all suspend disbelief enough to believe Dave has always referred to him with both names. (The K thing was getting to be a real problem.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
‘Hey, man. I’ve been meaning to ask you. Do you think there’s something a bit weird going on with Hargreeves?’
Dave raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re gonna have to be a little more specific there, pal.’
Keith had approached him in the tent while Dave was alone, reading a letter from his brother. He and Klaus were hardly apart from each other these days if they could help it, and he got the feeling Ainsley had been waiting for a while to get him on his own.
‘It’s only that you spend so much time with him,’ Keith said, crouching next to him, ‘so I figured he might have told you something.’
Dave looked at him warily. Had he caught Klaus talking to a ghost? He didn’t think Klaus had been sober in a long time though, so maybe he had let something major slip about his childhood instead. He did that sometimes. It was generally met with confused stares and awkward laughter, then forgotten by the next evening.
‘Well . . . yeah,’ he said. ‘Of course he tells me things. That tends to happen when people talk to each other.’
‘I don’t mean normal shit. I’m talking odd things. Things that don’t make any sense.’
‘Again, yeah,’ he said, folding up the letter in his lap, choosing his words carefully. It wasn’t his place to discuss any of Klaus’s secrets. ‘You’ve heard how much crazy stuff he says. This is Klaus we’re talking about right?’
Keith narrowed his eyes at him, then said, ‘I reckon you know something. You’re acting all shifty.’ Cheeky bastard.
‘No, Ainsley, I just have no idea what you’re getting at.’
‘Ugh, fine. I’ll give you an example. The other day Pete was talking about how much he misses watching the Andy Griffith Show, like he always is, and Hargreeves was all, that name sounds familiar, airy-fairy like he always is. And then when Pete described it to him, he said, oh yeah, that old one! ’
‘It’s not even that old! ’ Keith exclaimed, leaning close to Dave with an incredulous expression. ‘Then he said he thought he might have seen some of the episodes one time, as though that was something special.’
‘He might’ve, it’s been on for years. Not everyone’s a fanatic like Pete.’
‘You don’t think it’s odd?’
Dave shook his head. ‘It sounds like Klaus as he always is. You’ve just gotta roll with it. I know he makes no sense half the time, but that’s what I like about him.’
Keith tutted impatiently. ‘I like that he’s a nutter too, but this is different, I’m telling you, he’s -’
He was interrupted by none other than the man himself. ‘Oh finally! There’s my two favourite babes. I’ve been looking for you guys everywhere.’ Klaus swooped in between them, slinging an arm over each of their shoulders. ‘What’s the hot goss?’
‘It’s nothing,’ Dave said.
Klaus raised a wobbly eyebrow. ‘Bullshit. I saw you whispering.’ Judging by the way he was slurring and swaying into Dave, he was drunk on rice wine tonight. Very drunk.
‘We were talking about the Jetsons,’ Keith lied, for some reason.
‘Aw, you two. That’s so cute! You know, flying cars would be, like . . . super cool.’ He giggled at that profound idea then toppled forwards, nearly dragging them both down with him. They unhooked his arms from their necks and laid him down on his own bed.
Once he was settled, Dave looked to Keith. ‘Look, Klaus is -’ he searched for a word that could sum him up and didn’t find it. ‘We all know there’s a lot going on there. But I think it’s safe to say that at some point in his life he has watched television.’
Keith shook his head and laughed. ‘I’m telling you, man, I’m on to something. I need more proof, that’s all.’
Dave sat back on his own bed. ‘You do you, Ainsley. And sorry I’m not any help.’ He unfolded the letter from Micky again, signalling an end to this bizarre conversation, and as he read he kept one eye on the gentle rise and fall of Klaus’s chest.
Dave kissed Klaus in the dark. He kissed him in the monsoon rains. He kissed him whenever and wherever he could, behind canvas and jeeps and jungle leaves. The longer they were together without being discovered the less fearful they became, more willing to touch, perhaps, or merely unable to stop once they started.
When the world was theirs and theirs alone, he held him close and whispered wishes in his ear. He traced the lines of Klaus’s palm in the dim light of the tent, memorising him; he made him smile with stupid jokes; and if he ever had the luck to dream a dream that wasn’t heart-rending terror, then he dreamt of Klaus, graceless and wicked and perfect.
Klaus delighted in doing small things for Dave, like saving him a seat on the bus or filling his water canteen before he noticed it was empty. His gaze lingered on him longer than on anyone else. There was a secret smile too, one Klaus reserved just for him, one which made his eyes shine and Dave’s knees weak.
He kept stealing Dave’s cigarettes, never paying him back. That didn’t matter. Dave had stopped counting long ago.
Klaus loved him with a depth and a sweetness that seemed at odds with a man so skittish and troubled, but Dave wasn’t surprised by it; he had his own shyness, his own fears, and he managed to love just as strongly. They could be excused their mistakes. They were both new at it, two smitten fools leaning into love with shaky legs. Finding their feet together so that one day they might stand tall, arms interlocked, certain that nothing could knock them down at all.
‘. . . I ain’t got the time, and if my daddy thinks I’m fine . . . ’
Klaus was singing under his breath as he opened his rations. Dave didn’t recognise the song, but it had a jaunty tune.
‘. . . They tried to make me go to rehab, and I said no, no, no . . . ’ He shook a cigarette out into his hand, smiling. ‘Oh, Amy. You and I would have gotten along like a house on fire.’
‘Who’s Amy?’ Keith asked through the spoon in his mouth.
‘Amy Winehouse?’ No one showed any recognition. For a second, Klaus’s expression glazed over. It was gone a moment later, though, when he clutched his hands to his face in exaggerated horror. ‘Christ, this really is hell. They don’t know her!’
‘If she sounds anything like you, I don’t think I want to,’ Pete mused.
He pouted. ‘She had the voice of an angel, sweetie-pie, and I’m telling you now, she’s gonna be world famous.’
‘World famous just to you?’ Dave teased, picturing a ghostly singer crooning otherwise unknown songs into Klaus’s ear. He vaguely wondered why Keith had sat up straight all of a sudden.
‘Give it time,’ Klaus said, shrugging.
Keith slowly took the spoon out of his mouth. It looked like his mind was going a mile a minute. He wordlessly shook the spoon at Klaus, staring at Pete with bug-eyes. Klaus himself was oblivious, immersed in opening his tins and humming the same song.
When Pete did nothing but sigh, Keith scuttled closer to him, saying under his breath, ‘Come on man, you heard him. Proof!’
Dave ate his dinner and eavesdropped. For a whispered discussion, they were being very obvious with their fierce glares and exasperated sighs.
‘I’m not backing up your crackpot theory, Ainsley. It’s bullshit.’
Ah. So that was what this was about. He had forgotten about the weird conversation in the tent. Keith tended to have a new conspiracy theory every week, and since he had refused to explain what he was getting at this one hadn’t been at all memorable. Dave was suddenly quite interested in hearing what he had to say.
‘You’ve changed your tune. Last week you said you thought there might be something to it.’
‘I never did.’
‘Liar. I’m gonna ask him and there’s nothing you can do about it.’
‘No, you idiot. There’s no fucking way,’ Pete hissed between his teeth.
‘Shut your mouth. I’m asking him.’
‘Asking me what?’ Klaus said, taking a lazy drag from his cigarette and watching them curiously.
Keith lost all his bite and stared at him with apprehension. ‘Uh. . .’
‘For the record, I had nothing to do with this,’ Pete said. ‘Tried to talk sense into him. No hope.’
Dave watched, bemused, as Keith teetered on the edge of his question. ‘Aw, man. I’m never gonna live this down if I’m wrong. Okay. Right. I have . . . a theory.’
Klaus took a final, long drag on his cigarette before stubbing it out. ‘Pray tell,’ he said, light and airy.
If Dave wasn’t so familiar with his mannerisms, he would never have noticed the tightening of his mouth and the defensive quirk of his head. Klaus was steeling himself.
‘It’s just, you’re pretty weird, man. There was something not-quite-right about you from your first day here. And I’ve been noticing stuff ever since then. Things you say. Shit you do. And basically, after a whole lotta thought and,’ he glared at Pete, ‘useless discussions, I’ve concluded that . . .’ He trailed off, grimacing. ‘Ah, fuck it. Klaus, man, you’re from the goddamn future, aren’t you?’
Dave cracked up. He couldn’t help it. All that suspense and Ainsley’s big theory was that Klaus was a time-traveller? Man, he loved that kid. He wanted to nudge him and say, think spookier, less science fiction.
He was leaning back against his pack when he suddenly realised that no one else was laughing. He stopped, smile vanishing, because not only were they all silent but Klaus was looking right at Keith with an alien expression, caught somewhere between relief and worry.
Keith’s mouth dropped open. ‘I’m right, aren’t I?’
Klaus still didn’t say anything. He had gone pale under the dirt coating his skin, and when his gaze flickered to Dave there was something apologetic in his eyes. He doesn’t lie about the important stuff, an insufferable little voice whispered in the back of Dave’s mind. He’s not lying now. He’s not saying anything but he’s not denying it either.
‘The future?’ he choked out.
Klaus held his gaze as he nodded the smallest of nods, chewing on his bottom lip. Dave, to put it lightly, freaked.
‘Holy fuck!’ Keith crowed. ‘Yes!’
‘You’ve got to be shitting me,’ Pete said.
‘But you said,’ Dave spluttered, ‘you said you were born in the forties!’ Klaus had, hadn’t he? He was certain of it. ‘That’s still true, right?’
‘I don’t think I ever said that,’ Klaus said softly.
‘It’s not true?’
‘Then what is?!’
‘Everything,’ Klaus said urgently, leaning towards him. ‘Everything I’ve told you about myself is still true, it just didn’t happen when you thought it did. But that doesn’t change anything! I never lied to you, Dave. I left gaps. It only makes sense that you’d fill them in.’
A small part of him heard Keith mutter to Pete, ‘I sure opened a can of worms here, didn’t I? I thought he knew, ’ but he continued to gape at Klaus without a care for the other two.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ he asked.
‘I wanted to, I swear I did. I’ve been dropping hints like crazy. I thought if you figured it out for yourself it’d be easier.’
Dave slumped back against his pack, arms limp at his sides. ‘Well, clearly Ainsley got there first.’
Keith laughed awkwardly. ‘Sorry, man. To be fair, there were a lot of signs.’
‘Thanks, good to know,’ he said sarcastically. He suddenly felt very drained. The future. Klaus was from the future. He couldn’t comprehend it.
‘So where -’ Keith started, before correcting himself, ‘I mean, when are you actually from?’
Klaus licked his lips nervously. ‘2019.’
‘WHAT!’ Keith squawked. He jumped to his feet and tugged at his hair. ‘That’s - holy shit . . . That’s the real fucking future!’
Pete stared at Klaus with interest, silently mouthing twenty nineteen like it was a new language.
And Dave. Dave just sat there. Wilting under Klaus’s worried stare, because of course Klaus only had eyes for him.
Fifty years. Fifty goddamn years.
He’d accepted the ghosts willingly enough, and the strange stories of his childhood, but travelling back through time from a different century? It was a stretch too far for Dave’s mind.
He remembered how he and Klaus had laughed over their squadmates’ obliviousness about their relationship, how Klaus had said people were good at ignoring what they didn’t want to believe. What they didn’t understand. Had Dave blinded himself as well somehow, unable and unwilling to see what was right in front of him? Why? Fuck, how had he managed that?! Because now that he looked at Klaus with fresh eyes, he saw it plain as day. He saw him as he had in those early weeks, back when they were still unfamiliar to each other, when Dave had been in awe of a strange man who was brave and bold in the most unbelieveable ways, a man so colourful that he had seemed to glitter golden and bright amongst all this murky green. He’d been unlike anyone else here, unlike anyone else Dave had ever met. And Dave had fallen in love with him for it. Was he supposed to have guessed that it was because he was literally from another time? In what world would he ever assume that?
His memory rang with all those odd phrases and nonsense words. Were they echoes from another time, some kind of future-speak, and not the wonderful nonsense Klaus-speak he’d always believed it to be? He thought of all those funny ideas as well, outlandish ideas that didn’t quite gel with anyone else, ideas that seemed too good to be true. Nothing about this is a sin, Dave. Fuck the law. Laws can change. He felt sharp-edged and shaky, and bit down on his tongue to level his head. A shard of pain when he remembered sleepily laughing at Klaus, thinking that he sounded like a prophet with some of the shit he said. That’s just what he’s like! he wanted to shout. It’d been funny, it’d never been real, it didn’t need a logical explanation. Not that this was logical in any shape or form. It was impossible. It wasn’t real. And yet it was, it was, because he believed Klaus - to his own detriment.
He remembered the disorientation when Klaus showed up with nothing except a drug habit and a bad attitude. When no one knew where he came from. When he himself hadn’t known where he was. All that gossip and all those questions and none of them had figured out the truth. No wonder.
Then there was the big question: why was he here of all places and times? Shouldn’t he be dressed in gleaming white, talking to robots - not ghosts - and taking pills that were miniaturised meals - not drugs - while flying off on a starship to see the universe with someone from his own time - not Dave? Klaus wasn’t supposed to be here, filthy and terrified, stumbling through a war with the rest of them. He wasn’t supposed to exist yet at all. He was everything Dave cared about on this planet, and they hadn’t even been on the earth together for longer than five months. That thought made him turn cold.
‘You were born in a different century to me,’ he said brokenly.
‘That’s not how math works, Katz,’ Pete said, ‘unless Hargreeves is nineteen years old, which I do not believe whatsoever.’
Klaus looked between the three of them. ‘I’m twenty-nine. Or thirty. I’ve kinda lost track out here. Either way, I was born on October 1st, 1989.’
Keith whistled, long and low.
Dave, in comparison, was still stuck on repeat; maths had never been his strong suit. 'But . . . You haven’t been born yet? That’s - twenty years. Twenty . . . You haven’t even been fucking born yet.'
He knew he sounded like a broken record. But what else was he supposed to do, finding out like this that he was nearly fifty years older than his boyfriend?
Klaus was struggling to hide a smile. ‘Crazy huh? Not born yet and I’m still technically older than you.’
‘In ‘89 I’ll be nearly fifty. That’s . . . Klaus, that’s so -’ So wrong, were the words left unsaid.
‘So what? I’ll be fifty too if I stay.’
His heart faltered. ‘If?’
Klaus’s eyes went soft. ‘Something I currently plan on doing.’ He grinned at the other two. ‘Can’t get rid of me that easy, bitches.’
‘Did they send you to help us win the war?’ Keith butted in. ‘All secret agent Hargreeves, ya know?’
Klaus snorted. ‘Yeah, ‘cause they’d totally choose me out of all people. Of course not. I didn't mean to show up here. It was an accident.'
Pete frowned. ‘How do you accidentally time travel?’
‘Quite easily, to be honest. I only wanted a bit of money!’
‘They paid you to come here?’ Keith asked eagerly.
‘No, I told you, it was an accident. I was kidnapped by these freaks - don’t ask,’ he said, waving dismissively, ‘but basically I got away through an air vent, and stole their briefcase in the process. I thought it would have money in it so I opened it, but - whoop-dee-doo - turns out the briefcase is a time machine and boom,’ he clapped his hands together, ‘suddenly I’m here. Just my luck, huh?’
Oh, Klaus. Dave leaned into his hands and rubbed his face, feeling almost as though he could laugh.
‘You think you’re shocked,’ he continued, pointing at them all. ‘But how do you think I felt? I didn’t even know what had happened.’
‘So you’re just . . . here?’ Pete asked.
‘Yup,’ he said, spreading his arms wide, hands waving hello and goodbye all at once in a mockery of normal beginnings and endings.
Keith nodded in satisfaction. ‘I get it, man. You’re biding your time while you figure out how to get back, saving history in the process. Smart.’
Pete laughed. ‘Ainsley, kid, have you ever actually met Hargreeves?’
‘Aren’t you, though?’
‘I have no clue what I’m doing, Keith.’
‘But you must know some stuff,’ Pete said. ‘Do we win the war?’
Klaus suddenly looked very uncomfortable. ‘I - um - I don’t know if I should tell you. That seems like something that’d be dangerous to know. I don’t wanna say the wrong thing and mess everything up.’
‘What about other stuff?’ Keith asked. ‘Can you tell us about that?’
‘Like . . . who's the next president?! Nah, fuck that, what's next week's lottery numbers? Reckon they'll let me enter from here?’
‘Nixon’s next,’ Klaus laughed. ‘And I’ll have a think about the numbers, get back to you later.’
‘Really?’ Keith looked very excited for a moment. At least he did before Pete snorted. ‘Aw, shut up, man. Worth a try. Hey, are you going somewhere?’
Klaus was standing up, stretching. ‘Yeah, I think I need a little of the old Mary-Jane now that all this is out in the open. I’ll catch you cool kids later.’
‘But I have so many questions!’ Keith exlaimed.
‘And I’ll be around. Later.’ He tapped his head. ‘These memories aren’t going anywhere.’
‘Aw, come on! Have you been to the moon?’
‘No,’ Klaus replied over his shoulder as he walked away. ‘But my brother has. You coming, Dave?’
Dave looked at him in surprise as Keith spluttered beside him, then he got to his feet and followed.
Klaus led him into a knotty part of the jungle just off camp, where they could hide behind tangled vines and enormous, tumbling leaves. ‘You went pretty quiet back there,’ he said.
‘Guess I had a lot to think about.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to find out like that.’
‘Yeah, well . . . Nothing to be done about it now. I’m sorry for freaking out about the age thing.’
Klaus laughed. ‘There is no age thing, Dave. Do I look like an embryo to you?’
‘No . . .’ Of course he didn’t, because that was the whole damn point of time travel. It was Dave’s own grip on reality that was struggling. ‘Oh, god, I don’t know. I think I’ll need a bit of time to get used to all this. I’m finding it hard to wrap my head around.’
‘That’s fine,’ Klaus insisted. ‘Take all the time in the world. You can even ignore it if you want. We can pretend like I’m from this era and always have been. I’m pretty good at the slang by now.’
He shot him a wry look. ‘Ignore it? My boyfriend is from the future and he wants me to ignore it?’
It wasn’t the kind of thing easily forgotten. He could already tell that he was going to be struggling with confused memories and questions for days. However, there was something else which was getting stronger now that his initial shock was fading, something akin to exhiliration. Maybe he’d caught it from Keith, or maybe it was just slower to emerge. Either way, Klaus was from the future and although he wasn’t sure what that meant yet, he was certain of one thing: having a time-travelling boyfriend was seriously neat. He wasn’t going to judge himself for being a little bit thrilled at the prospect.
‘Keith had the right idea,’ he continued. ‘I'm gonna become a betting man, babe.’
Klaus visibly relaxed, and he grinned at him in a way Dave could only call adoring. ‘You are so cool.’
‘You don’t look at me and see an old geezer?’
‘For Christ’s sake, I’m older than you,’ he protested, even though Dave was already laughing and pulling him into his arms.
‘So. 2019, huh?’ It didn’t sound like a real date, but Klaus’s cheek felt real enough under his lips. ‘What’s it like?’
‘Pretty shit,’ Klaus replied, wrapping his arms around Dave, ‘though my mom’s a robot. That’s cool I guess.’
‘Nope. It’s hardly the norm though. You know how weird my family is.’
He did know. This future stuff was merely the cherry on top. ‘So your brother really lived on the moon?’
‘Yeah, and oh boy does he let you know,’ he said heavily, before brightening. ‘People get there next year, you know? If you believe that stuff. Some guy told me the moon landing was a conspiracy once and I’ve never really been sure since.’ He frowned. ‘Now I think about it, he got committed for fraud. Huh.’
Dave bit his cheek to stop from laughing, thinking that it shouldn’t be possible to be this enamoured with a person. No matter the year he was born, he was still his Klaus, same as ever.
Klaus smiled sweetly at him. ‘Anyway. Wanna kiss a millennial?’
He did, very much.
I’m not a prophet or a stone age man
Just a mortal with potential of a superman
I’m living on
I’m tethered to the logic of Homo Sapien
Can’t take my eyes from the great salvation
Of bullshit faith
Song lyrics: Quicksand
Are their inner fools showing enough? God how I love them.
Apologies for the longer wait than usual! This chapter is a monster and my longest yet - it didn’t want to be born.
Content warnings for homophobia and character death (not Dave, but I’ve also updated the overall warning. I know some of you might not want to read this and I’d prefer to let you choose for yourselves.)
Much love to you all!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Klaus asked the three of them not to tell anyone else about his peculiar method of arrival. He was afraid of what would happen if it was found out that he was not actually registered in the army - one of those tricky problems one ran across when one didn’t technically exist yet, at least not on paper.
They kept their word, as best they could. Dave agreed readily, knowing that he’d easily manage to keep his mouth shut in public. However, the many questions he sprung on Klaus in private were another thing entirely. In those moments he couldn’t seem to keep his mouth shut at all, no matter how ridiculous he sounded to his own ears. Klaus only escaped by keeping his mouth otherwise occupied.
Keeping it a secret wasn’t a problem for Pete, as talking about Klaus with other soldiers was not at all high on his agenda. Surprisingly, though, once he’d decided Klaus was definitely telling the truth, he dethroned Keith for the spot of Head Interrogator.
Pete was filled with a curiousity about the future that far surpassed Keith and Dave’s own. It was a nice change of pace, seeing as his interest made him loosen up around Klaus. He’d gotten better with time around him - that happened with proximity, after all - but now that Klaus was offering him something he craved he managed to cast aside his previous aversions. He wanted detail and depth, that big brain of his hungry for information.
‘It’s so neat,’ he said to Dave one night. A lot of it went over his head, but he liked to listen. ‘Everything that’s happening now, shit that none of us can begin to understand - that’s all old news to him.’ He lay back on his cot with his arms beneath his head, awe written clear as day on his face. ‘I doubt I’m the first to say we’re living through some damn turbulent times. All we can do is watch them unfold, play the parts we have to play, and wonder what the end result is going to be. But he knows. He knows! God, the fact that he’s alive at all is a clue that the whole world doesn’t get blown up with nukes.’
‘Damn,’ Dave said, looking at him in amazment. ‘I think that’s the most I’ve ever heard you say.’
Pete’s face convulsed oddly. It might have been a grin if he hadn’t smothered it instantaneously. ‘It’s interesting is all,’ he shrugged. ‘The things some people would do to get their hands on that kind of knowledge.’
Dave grinned. ‘Let me know if you’re gonna kidnap Klaus so I can warn him.’ He thought for a moment. ‘I’m surprised you believe him, to be honest.’
‘Do you not?’ he asked, a bit startled.
‘Oh, no, no, I do. It’s only that you’re normally pretty skeptical of everything he says and does.’
Pete shrugged again. ‘I suppose Ainsley wore me down in the weeks before the big reveal. Do you know how many times I had to listen to him theorise?’
‘I can imagine,’ he said, glad he had somehow escaped Keith’s onslaught, though it was strange that he’d missed out entirely. Now he thought about it, if Keith had elaborated a bit more he would’ve been able to ask Klaus himself. It would’ve been a lot less embarrassing. ‘Why’d you think he gave up on me so quick? He never even breathed the word “future.”’
Pete eyed him curiously. ‘You really didn’t know?’
‘Nope. Not a clue.’
‘But he said you were hiding something when he tried to bring it up.’
Dave’s stomach clenched. ‘I was confused, that’s all.’
‘Right,’ Pete said slowly.
‘Guess it doesn’t matter that much,’ he said, steering them back to safety. ‘We’re all in on it now. Say, did you hear him talk about the internaut?’
Pete’s eyes lit up. Soon he was waxing poetic about repositories of information, human connection and the printing press, for some reason, and Dave felt safe again.
‘You’d better get that damn degree,’ he told him once others started drifting into the tent, Ainsley and Klaus among them. ‘You’re on a whole other level with this shit.’
Pete smiled this time, pleased as the cat that got the cream.
Klaus sat next to Dave on his cot. ‘Got any smokes?’
Dave glanced at him, trying to make it look casual, though his heart beat fast at the coded invitation. Beat faster at the sight of him: scruffy, pretty as ever, and much too mischievous - he was well aware of the effect he had on him, the devil. ‘Maybe,’ he said.
‘Can I...?’ Klaus wheedled.
‘You mooch,’ he complained half-heartedly. He felt Pete’s gaze on him. ‘Go on, then.’
He got to his feet, and they went outside to smoke (to find a quiet corner) and chat like good pals (and touch each other with all the touches they’d been saving up since last time) until they were ready for bed (until they were flushed and content, kissing languidly, fingers entwined as they lingered in the afterglow).
Both Keith and Pete watched them intently as they returned to their beds, looking away hurriedly when Klaus raised a questioning eyebrow. He lay down to sleep and worried that maybe they had stayed out a bit too long. Certainly longer than a cigarette or two. They’d be more careful next time, he told himself. If they asked, he’d say he got sidetracked asking Klaus about robot wrestling again. He liked hearing about those robots.
Keith kept the secret too, despite his big mouth. Maybe he had a bit more tact than Dave gave him credit for, although at some points it seemed he was bursting at the seams from the effort of holding it in. He certainly revelled in being the one who had found it out. Near on worshipped Klaus too, which would have been fine, only once he’d grabbed hold of an idea he found it hard to let go.
Lately Keith had decided that Klaus was destined to have toppled into their time and that he had to figure out his purpose for being here. He was persistent, even desperate in some of his attempts. Dave didn’t really blame him; the war was getting a lot of bad press back home, and it stirred up as much hatred and disillusionment amongst the men here as it did with the protesting hippies stateside. It was easier than ever to see themselves as risking their lives pointlessly in a fight that perhaps they shouldn’t be involved in at all, and any little whisper of hope was tantalising in that kind of environment.
‘Move, man,’ Keith said, elbowing Pete further down the bench. ‘Gotta make room for our very own citizen of the future. I wanna talk to him.’
Pete sighed, and Klaus settled in between them, saying, ‘Oh, gracias, muchas gracias. I appreciate the devotion.’
Dave pushed the plate of food he’d gotten for him across the table, and Klaus smiled at him in thanks.
‘I’ve been thinking -’ Keith said.
‘Oh no,’ Pete sighed again.
‘- that you should tell everyone where you’re from.’
Dave tensed when Klaus’s expression flickered into discomfort. ‘I told you, I can’t,’ he said.
‘You should! It would be a real big help if you told the brass everything you knew about the war. I know you don’t want to, being a stowaway and all, but surely they’d understand if you helped out enough. I mean - you’d be a hero!’
‘I don’t know about that,’ he replied quietly.
‘But you must’ve gotten here for a reason, accident or not!’
‘Just leave it, Ainsley,’ Dave warned.
He didn’t. ‘This could be it! Think about all the lives you could save!’
That made something snap in Klaus. ‘I don’t know enough, okay! I didn’t exactly research Vietnam trivia before I left. I’m no use for that, no use at all.’
‘You still know more than anybody else,’ Pete pointed out.
‘Hardly. I don’t even remember the date it ends! I’m sorry to crush all your dreams but I really meant it when I said I was the worst person to have showed up here. No matter how cool you think it is, however many crazy stories I have, I’m still only . . .’ He chewed on his lip. ‘I’m still only a junkie. I don’t know anything.’
‘That’s not true,’ Dave said, with that aching sadness he felt whenever Klaus talked like he was nothing.
‘Yeah, it’s not,’ Keith added. ‘You only think you don’t know the stuff we need, but it might be something you think is unimportant that wins the war!’
Klaus looked at them sadly. ‘No, you’re not getting it. You can’t even get a good idea of the future from me, let alone the past. I’m not exactly your typical modern person, or whatever. I’m . . . you know. At the bottom of the ladder. Scum of society.’ He frowned down at his plate. ‘Like, ask me what it’s like to live on the streets or what modern drugs are like - and sure, I’ll talk about it ‘til your ears fall off. But that’s my limit.’
Keith slumped in defeat, not knowing what to say to that.
‘You know,’ Pete said slowly, ‘I read once that archaeologists really value studying trash. They reckon they can tell you a whole lot about what a society is really like. What they produced. What they didn’t value.’
Klaus frowned. ‘Is that meant to make me feel better?’
He shrugged. ‘No. Not necessarily.’
He shrugged again. ‘I’m only saying that we can still learn a lot from you. It’s damn typical that the one person who stumbles across a time machine doesn’t know anything about history and has taken it upon himself to melt his own brain, but it doesn’t mean you’re not interesting.’
Klaus looked very cold. ‘I’m not a science experiment.’
Dave remembered some of the things Klaus had said about his father, how he treated his children like lab rats until he broke them. ‘No, you’re not,’ he said firmly, ‘and you don’t have to tell the brass anything. We’re still not going to say anything either, are we boys?’ He glared at the other two pointedly.
Keith mimed zipping his lips shut, looking apologetic.
‘Fine,’ Pete grumbled.
All of them busied themselves with their food with bowed heads, fleeing the heavy awkwardness. Except Dave. He was busy watching Klaus.
He looked up and caught Dave’s eye. Thank you, he mouthed, though he didn’t have to; Dave could already see his quiet appreciation.
You okay? he asked in return.
Klaus nodded, almost smiling past his disquiet. Then he cleared his throat - pulling from that startling well of courage, the one that left Dave awestruck, the one that hinted of his endless capacity to forgive and forget no matter how vulnerable he felt - and broke the ice as only Klaus could do. ‘Have I ever told you guys about the time my babiest brother bribed me to pretend to be his dad and threaten a man for company secrets?’
Keith’s head snapped up. ‘Did you?!’
Dave laughed, loving him deeply.
After all this talk of secret keeping, one night while heading back to the tent he overheard a conversation not intended for his ears.
‘I was right last time, wasn’t I?’ Keith said, his voice carrying through the canvas as Dave reached to pull aside the flap covering the entrance.
‘But it’s Katz.’
He froze upon hearing his name.
‘You agreed with me that he was hiding something, man. If not that, then what?’
‘We’d be able to tell. We would’ve known right off the bat. Like Hargreeves.’
The hairs on his arm stood up and ever so slowly he let go of the tent flap. His feet would not move but that was best. He mustn’t make a sound. Not a breath.
Keith laughed. ‘Oh, I get it. You’re embarassed you couldn’t tell.’
‘No . . .’
‘It’s fine when it’s just Hargreeves because he’s our friend. But Katz is your buddy.’
‘That’s not it Ainsley. Fuck off. We don’t know anything for sure.’
‘Pete, a blind man would notice the way they look at each other these days.’
Dave felt sick. He’d come over all shaky. This was a nightmare - it was the only explanation.
Pete spluttered. ‘I don’t notice that shit! Anyway, Katz had a girl in Saigon. It’s not possible.’
‘Yeah, well -’ Keith’s voice cut off all of a sudden. ‘Oh. Holy . . . holy shit.’
‘Fuuuuck I’m an idiot .’
‘ What? ’
‘He was in Hargreeves’ room.’ He made a choked sound. ‘They said they swapped.’
‘You - you didn’t see the girl?’
Dave didn’t hear the rest. He backed out of there with silent steps, and then once he was clear he turned and walked as fast as he could, unsure where he was going, only that he had to get far, far away from that tent.
He ended up hiding in the narrow space between two jeeps, slumping against a tyre, leg jittering up and down with anxious energy, hands gripping the loose fabric of his pants like that could ground him.
He was a grown man. Needed to pull himself together. This was the most suspicious thing he could do, wasn’t it? Hiding in the dark, crouching on the ground like a naughty kid. Acting guilty before he’d even been accused. They knew. How could they know? It wasn’t fair, he thought they’d been doing such a good job at keeping it secret. But he’d been greedy, he’d been reckless, he’d been so, so stupid, and now they knew, and they were going to come for him, and they were going to tell everyone, and he’d be dismissed, and Micky would hate him, and he’d never see Klaus again.
‘What’re you doing down there?’
He jumped out of his skin. But it was only Klaus, peering down at him through the gap. Dave let his head fall back with a thud. ‘A little warning next time?’ he croaked.
Klaus gave him a funny look, even as he squished between the vehicles to join him. ‘What, like a bell or something? Or would you prefer a letter sent in advance?’ He sat next to him, draping a hand over Dave’s clenched fist. When he didn’t reply, Klaus prodded his side and asked, ‘Hey - what’s up? I saw your mad dash across the base.’
‘They know,’ he said blandly.
‘Who knows what?’
‘Keith and Pete. They know about us.’
Klaus blinked. ‘Oh.’
His breath shuddered out of him. ‘I’m so fucking scared, Klaus. What if . . .’ He couldn’t bring it into words, the fear that he’d be found out, the fear that his whole life might come tumbling down. Instead he ground his teeth together and looked to the man next to him, searching for a scrap of his courage.
Klaus looked shattered, and for a moment Dave thought that this was it - Klaus was as scared as he was, there was no hope for the two of them, their futures ruined. Then he squeezed Dave’s hand. ‘Oh, Dave. Come here.’ Klaus wrapped an arm around him, and Dave rested his head on his shoulder. ‘It’s gonna be okay. Are they looking for us?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Did they threaten you?’
‘No, I overheard them. They didn’t see me.’
‘That’s good, then,’ Klaus said, giving him another squeeze. ‘They might not do anything at all. I mean - they know about me and I’m fine, aren’t I?’
Dave shivered. ‘Only because they knew I’d whack them if they came after you.’ He willed himself not to think too much about potential danger, knowing he wasn’t only talking about their friends anymore. He was thinking of their whole unit.
Klaus was quiet for a while. ‘Maybe when I first got here. It’s different now, though, don’t you think? Now people actually kinda like me. Some people. But everyone really likes you, Dave - that’s not just me being biased.’ He pressed a kiss to Dave’s temple.
‘I bet it won’t.’
‘Yeah, well. You’re from the future.’
‘Bringing that up, are we?’ Klaus laughed. ‘In that case . . . yes. It’s all gonna change.’
Dave lifted his head to look at him. ‘What do you mean?’
Klaus looked at him enigmatically, then grinned. ‘Gay rights, baby.’
‘Years away,’ he said, voice sounding dull even to his own ears. He’d heard a lot about that from Klaus already.
‘It all kicks off very soon, actually.’
‘Won’t change Pete’s opinion.’
‘Aw, come on you sad sack! I’m trying to cheer you up!’
Dave smiled weakly, which seemed to make Klaus look more concerned.
‘I don’t want you to be scared, Dave,’ he said softly.
‘I don’t wanna be scared either.’
‘So . . . is there anything I can do?’
He shrugged. ‘I don’t . . . I can only think that . . . it would mean stopping what we’ve got going on.’ He hurried to finish his thought when worry flickered across Klaus’s face. ‘But I can’t do that! It would mean they win. It - it would break my heart. ’
Klaus sighed in relief. ‘Christ, you scared me for a second.’
‘No, no, don’t be.’ Klaus laid his head on Dave’s shoulder this time. ‘So what else? Be more careful?’
‘What’s the point? If they know, they know. It’s already hard enough pretending all the time.’
Klaus laughed softly against him. ‘I’m just that irresistible.’
‘Meanie. Okay, so we can rule that out. How about running away to join the circus as a couple of freaks, then?’
He huffed. ‘You’re not taking this seriously.’
‘I am!’ He looked up with manic intent. ‘I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ll be a clown, of course, and you can be a lion tamer or something. One of the strong guys.’ Klaus poked his bicep lightly and despite himself, Dave smiled.
‘Lion tamer. Sure, okay,’ he said slowly. ‘Clown, though? You wouldn’t be a medium?’
‘That’s the twist. They think I’m just there for a laugh, and then when they’re least expecting it, I roll out the ghosts. Oh no, they’ll scream! Aunt Becky murdered her husband! It’ll be perfect chaos. And they’ll be so busy crying that they won’t notice when the clown medium sneaks into a caravan with the lion tamer. None of the other clowns mind. It’s a free thinking circus.’
‘Of course,’ he agreed. Then, tentatively, ‘Would it be our own little caravan?’
Klaus’s eyes lit up. ‘Yes! Painted like a rainbow, obviously.’
‘Maybe flower boxes in the windows?’
‘Definitely,’ he said, nodding esctatically. ‘And all of my clown outfits on display on the walls.’
Dave snorted. ‘I don’t know about that. I think wind chimes would be nicer.’
That got him a light smack on his arm. ‘You haven’t even seen them yet! But I suppose you might be correct - a little bit. Lucky I have you to tame my wilder impulses.’
‘It’s in the job description, right?’
Klaus grinned stupidly and leaned in to kiss him. Too hurried, as ever. Dave wondered idly when he’d let himself get this far gone. It wouldn’t be too bad setting up to live between these tyres, would it? Never seeing another soul again except for Klaus? Easy. Easier than facing the writhing fear in his gut, albeit dulled in intensity - Klaus had eased it with his strange magic. Course he had.
When he pulled away, Klaus looked somber again. ‘You deserve so much better than having to hide out of fear, Dave.’
‘So do you.’
‘I’ve never hidden. Not like this.’ He scowled. ‘It’s so messed up. No one should have to do it.’
‘Yeah, well. It is how it is. Just have to deal with it.’
Klaus chewed on his lip. ‘I . . . that’s - ugh.’ He stumbled over his words, unable to find something to say. ‘Shit, Dave. That’s depressing.’
‘Sorry,’ he apologised again. He didn’t expect Klaus to have the answer. They both struggled with the bad hands the universe had dealt them. Klaus perhaps more so than Dave.
They sat there in silence for a while longer, then stole out from between the tyres. Klaus squeezed his hand one last time before going back to the tent. Dave went later, separately, and tried to keep his expression neutral. Pete and Keith said nothing at all.
If Pete’s enthusiasm for Klaus had grown tenfold in the weeks after they learnt Klaus’s secret, after that night he went cold again. It had been nice - Dave might go so far to call it peaceful, even - without those two getting up each other’s noses every other minute. But he’d known it couldn’t last.
Both he and Klaus understood the reason for the turnaround. Thankfully, he hadn’t gone back to the same level of pettiness he’d had when Klaus was still new in ‘Nam. That would have been crazy - back then Pete had refused to sit next to Klaus, always making sure that Dave or Keith or someone else was in between, and anytime Klaus had done something too queer for comfort, he’d glared, full of suspicion and sallow disgust.
For now, it was back to business as usual - mutual snippiness and poorly disguised dislike - and like before Klaus seemed to get the brunt of it. He reassured Dave again and again that he didn’t mind, that he gave as good as he got, that at least they hadn’t said anything - and wasn’t that a good sign? As for himself, Dave found that Pete remained somewhat civil. But there was something lurking beneath his slow, careful stares.
Keith seemed to be trying to make up for Pete’s rudeness by being more exuberant than ever. Otherwise he didn’t act any differently towards them, though he was clearly trying to keep Pete in check; when watching for danger signs as carefully as Dave was it was easy to pick up on it. Klaus was proud of him, and Dave was too, a little, but he was also certain that it was Keith who had put it all together, and Keith who had decided to share his latest theory with Pete without a thought for what the other man might do. Maybe he’d realised later that it wasn’t all fun and games. Maybe that’s why he was making such an effort to act the same.
It all came to a head one rare slow day when a bunch of them from the unit were swimming in a river, removing layers of grime, trying to cool off. Except for Klaus: he was on the bank, curled up in the sun like a cat, fast asleep. He was wearing Dave’s old sunglasses that he’d stolen all those months ago.
Dave was floating in the water, daydreaming about hot summers back home: whole afternoons idled away in that creaky old rowboat with his nieces, swimming out in the lake, icy cold and endlessly blue. He hadn’t got out to Micky’s much, but when he did it was glorious. He was going to take Klaus there once they were home. He’d promised him already.
‘Watch this, Katz,’ Keith said. Dave squinted at him while he knelt to fill a helmet with water. He saluted Dave once it was brimming, grinning proudly, then snuck back up the hill. Dipped his hand in the water first, sprinking drops across Klaus’s sleeping figure, and when that garnered no reaction he upended the whole hat’s worth of water over him.
Klaus yelped, sitting up with a jolt while Keith cackled maniacally.
Klaus flipped him off with both hands. ‘You toad. ’
‘You looked so peaceful! I didn’t have a choice.’
Inevitably, the situation led to Klaus swiping at Keith’s ankles as he pranced around him, tripping him up, then they were chasing each other into the water, ducking each other under, no regard for who else got caught up in their splashing. Dave received a faceful, while Pete swam out of the danger zone.
They’d all floated downstream by the time they calmed down. Keith lay in the water like a starfish and said, ‘You know, Hargreeves, I’ve got a month and a half left in this hole, and you bet I’m giving you my address so you can come and visit when you’re out too. I wanna introduce you to my parents.’
Klaus was very enthusiastic about that.
Pete, who’d been floating along with them, made a funny noise, halfway between a snort and a cough.
‘Jealous, my precious pumpkin?’ Klaus asked. ‘I’m sure he’ll let you come visit too.’
Klaus’s nicknames for Pete had gotten a little out of hand of late. He’d started it a little while after Dave had told him how uncomfortable Pete was with queer people, and it had steadily escalated since then, especially after Dave’s meltdown in between the jeeps. Pete hated it vehemently, but he knew Klaus was doing it to tease him and thought that by refusing to acknowledge it, Klaus would soon get bored. It wasn’t working in the slightest. Dave enjoyed seeing him squirm.
‘I’m not jealous. I think he’s being stupid.’
‘Pete,’ Keith said, that now familiar warning in his voice.
Dave felt that they were drifting into dangerous territory, but Klaus didn’t let it go. ‘What do you mean, stupid? I’m a temporal miracle, of course he wants to introduce me. You should too, sweetpea. I’d be honoured.’
Pete laughed coolly. ‘I mean that he should be more careful about what he says and does around a faggot.’
‘Fucking hell, man,’ Keith swore, standing up in the water. ‘What did I tell you?!’
Klaus’s expression hardened. ‘I’d prefer it if you don’t use that word, thank you very much . ’ The words were polite, but there was a threatening undercurrent in his voice.
Dave prickled with anger, even as every part of him screamed danger, get out. Pete glanced at him, scowling, and he glared back, hoping he looked tough and mean and not as scared as he really was.
‘We know what you and Katz are getting up to,’ Pete said. ‘And now Ainsley’s next on your list, right?’
Klaus pushed the sunglasses onto his head, all the better to glare with narrowed eyes. ‘Screw you.’
‘That’s not what I think,’ Keith said hurriedly. Dave thought he looked a tad uncertain, though.
‘Good, because it’s not happening. No matter what Pete here seems to think,’ Klaus shot him a scathing look, ‘that’s not how it works.’
‘Still turned Katz queer,’ Pete said.
‘He did nothing of the sort,’ Dave snapped. The three of them stared. ‘I went after him. ’
Both Pete and Keith were taken aback. Klaus still looked furious, but his expression softened.
‘I’ve always been queer,’ he finished, quieter, suddenly aware that they were only slightly downstream from all the others.
‘But you don’t seem . . .’ Keith started.
Dave raised an eyebrow, hoping they couldn’t see how much his hands were trembling. ‘Clearly enough to get you two gossipping about us in tents.’
‘What?’ Pete asked gormlessly. ‘How’d you-’
‘We knew you’d figured it out about us,’ Klaus interjected. ‘Here I was thinking you were just gonna let it slide. But no, that would’ve been too easy.’
‘You knew?’ Keith asked.
‘I overheard you,’ Dave said. ‘None of us are as good at keeping secrets as we thought.’
Klaus laughed humourlessly. Tension radiated out from all of them. It didn’t help that they were all waist deep in water, soaked and bare.
‘I can’t believe it,’ Pete muttered, eyeing Dave. Dave’s jaw clenched and he was about to grab Klaus’s arm and walk them both back to base when he spoke up again. ‘And here I thought I knew you.’
Like lightning, Klaus flew forward and punched Pete straight in the face. He cried out and toppled backwards into the water, while Dave leapt to hold Klaus back because by the looks of it he was about to dive after Pete to continue pummelling him.
He came spluttering to the surface, blood dribbling from his nose. ‘You hit me,’ he said, holding a hand to his face.
‘Yes I fucking did, you meathead!’ Klaus yelled at him. ‘Let me go, Dave!’
‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ he said, struggling to keep a hold of him.
‘It is!’ he spat. ‘I’m trying to defend your honour!’
Keith laughed then looked guilty about it. Rather than offering Pete help, he was busy fishing Klaus’s sunglasses out of the water - they’d flown off his head with the punch.
As he wrestled Klaus’s lanky limbs, Dave found himself grinning with the absurdity of it too. He hadn’t been prepared for how much he’d enjoy the idea of Klaus punching someone for him. Also, the thwack of Klaus’s fist against Pete’s nose had been deeply, deeply satisfying.
‘There’s more where that came from, Peter,’ Klaus snarled, ‘because Dave is my boyfriend and no one’s allowed to bully him except for me. Lovingly. So you’d better change those opinions of yours quicksharp because they’re about to get real outdated.’
‘You’re mental,’ Pete said. He looked scared even though Klaus was writhing less. Dave wondered exactly what fierce look he had in his eyes to make Pete so wary.
‘That’s right. I’m unhinged. And I will make your life a living hell. So. Apologise!’
‘I - I’m sorry.’
‘Never say anything like that ever again!’
Pete hesitated, and Klaus hissed - actually hissed - at him. Pete hurried to say, ‘Alright, fine, I won’t! I swear!’
‘I will cut you. I will get my brother to throw knives at you. I will set my drug buddies on you when you sleep. I will -’
‘Klaus,’ Dave interrupted. ‘I think he gets it.’
He huffed, and Keith whistled. ‘Don’t wanna get on Hargreeves’ bad side, huh?’
Dave decided it was safe to let him go and slowly dropped his arms. Through his stress and panic, he glowed inside at the echo of Klaus publicly claiming him as his boyfriend. Glowed at the idea this skinny little man was so ready to fight for him.
Klaus waded over to Keith, holding out his hand for the sunglasses. Keith tore them off his face immediately, dropping them in Klaus’s open palm.
‘Thank you,’ he said pointedly, putting them back on. ‘Oh, and by the way, you two - in 2019 Dave and I could get married if we so fancied. Go suck on that. ’
Then he stormed back to Dave - at least, as well as he could in the water - looped his arm through Dave’s, and then yanked him back up the bank.
That evening, he and Klaus were eating dinner alone when Keith came up to their part of the table, placing his own plate down with a clatter. He didn’t say a thing as he sat down.
Dave set down his fork, glancing up at where an uncomfortable Pete was hovering. Keith thumped the table with his fist, once, and he joined them, stiffly.
No one spoke about what had happened at the river. No one spoke at all.
The next day was uneasy, as was the day after that, but soon enough they fell back into their old rhythms. If Pete had any more opinions on the matter, he didn’t voice them. If anyone else in their unit had picked up on it or overheard anything at the river, they didn’t say anything either. It wasn’t perfect, yet Dave knew not to push his luck. It would do for now.
And I’d rather play here
With all the madmen
For I’m quite content they’re all as sane as me
They were all dead men walking.
It was an understanding that grew with every day they spent in Vietnam. At first the terror had been paralysing, but the longer they were clutched in death’s sweaty, feverish, fiery grip, the harder it was to ignore.
When they woke up, they were dead. When they played cards with their pals, laughing and gambling into the night, they were dead. When they stole kisses from their loves, if they could do that, they were dead too. Any moment they could be snuffed out, all of them merely candles that dared to keep shining in the force of a gale. How better to deal with that possibility than get themselves used to the dark? They had their black humour, their ready acceptance. Didn’t mean they weren’t scared. Didn’t mean they wanted to shut their eyes and settle for imagining the sun. It was simply the truth. It was the only way to get themselves up in the morning: to look at themselves and say, I am a dead man walking, and if I am already dead then I don’t need to worry about what might happen to this body. I will do what it takes to save these brothers of mine.
If the universe really did deal out shitty hands, then Vietnam was one of the worst of them. Vietnam as a grunt, even more so.
The worst thing was that so many of their brothers fell needlessly. They were only pawns, bodies to be thrust in front of bullets, bodies to crawl into tunnels and never come out, bodies added to the tally of mistakes made by those higher-up, those who never had to face the front line, those who never had to stare into the unrecognisable face of a man - a boy - they’d called their best friend.
Maybe Pete went on about foresight and the power of knowledge, and maybe Klaus refused to meddle - but what could they really do? All of them pulled their boots on and got on with their lot in life, in all parts of their lives. Klaus struggled under the burden of a nightmarish childhood, and let it chain him to an addled adulthood. Why fight it? That was his lot, after all. Pete had all his big ideas, a mind that ached to understand the universe, and yet he was so small in other matters, so shut in, so unmalleable. That was simply who he was. Keith had never had things handed to him on a plate, and neither had Dave - not a silver spoon in sight - and they’d ended up here with these other two, these men with opportunities and histories they could only have dreamed of - one of them their very own magic man from another time, defying everything they thought they knew. They themselves went when they were drafted because that’s what they had to do. They struggled with their lack of importance. They dealt with the hate seething from people they called their friends. After all, they were nothing, nothing in the face of all that power. They had no choice.
That’s depressing , Klaus had said to him. And they’d left it there because that’s what they both truly believed. They might do what they can with what they’re given, but beyond that?
They were already dead. No choice about it.
Long ago, Dave had thought about how he felt stuck in one place, paralysed and stagnant. How despite that, he knew something could happen - perhaps only the slightest thing, or perhaps a whole series of things, one after the other until they all came crashing down like a wave - and then all of a sudden everything would be different.
Maybe they’d bite back at last, be true to themselves, months of encouragement offering them strength. Maybe they’d start talking about things they never talked about before, start letting people in close to their heart. Maybe they’d make mistakes and be forced to listen. Maybe they’d get a chance to grow up a bit, to learn they couldn’t always poke and prod and expect not to strike a nerve.
They were already dead. Yet change still snuck up on them.
They all had to be patient. They couldn’t go anywhere. They couldn’t choose their brothers.
And in the end, what other choice did they have except to love each other? To forgive each other? Especially when the ground shook beneath them and the sky fell down and one of their number fell too - already dead but not meant to die, not like that, not like it didn’t even count, not when there was still so much potential, so many dreams, all that shaky, hesitant growth cut off before it was complete. Blown out like that candle on the sill against the gale.
It was darker than pitch when it happened.
Their platoon crept forward through enemy territory in the dusk, each of them treading carefully, uneasily, not daring to make a sound. They were planning to ambush. They’d met with nothing so far, no unseen tripwires or mines, but the jungle was thick and dark around them and every looming shadow, every rustle and snap was a Viet Cong lying in wait. Sweat dripped into his eyes as the terrain turned steep and he ground his boots into the earth with each step, begging silently not to slip.
About halfway up they halted.
All Dave could hear was his breath whistling through his nose, the blood rushing in his head, much too loud. Then he caught the faint whispering as a message made its way down the lines, and he saw the blackened outline of soldiers shifting around, the odd glint here and there of a metal clasp or tag catching what was left of the light.
‘Retreat,’ breathed a soldier ahead of him, and Dave turned to pass it on. Klaus was behind him, mud coating his face and neck, darkening any exposed skin, and then he turned too, and slowly, slowly, they all began to creep back the way they had come.
His heart hammered in his chest. It was harder to stop from slipping now that he was no longer fighting gravity. The fingers that weren’t clutching his gun dragged through the muck for grip.
It was getting too dark to see as well - there was no moon tonight, and the starlight was too weak to filter through the canopy. The perfect conditions for an ambush. Deadly conditions. If he’d had a spare hand, he would have grabbed onto Klaus’s ammo belt. The soldier behind him would have taken a hold of his in turn, and they all would have crept onwards like that, blind creatures chained to each other in the blackness. Instead they went alone. Back, back to safety, carried on by grit-teeth prayers that their boots wouldn’t snap a brittle branch, the crack of which might echo like gunfire, prayers that they wouldn’t step unwittingly onto a mine, prayers that tonight wouldn’t be their last. Please, please, not tonight.
They almost made it.
A shot rang out and the night erupted into chaos. Bullets rained down on top of them. Men screamed as they were hit, men screamed as they skidded down the last of the slope, guns aloft, and men screamed RETREAT as though that were still a possibility.
Dave threw himself down the hill, tumbled down it, out of control of his own limbs. He lost sight of Klaus, could only hope that he was okay; he couldn’t see where the enemy fire was coming from, he couldn’t see anything, goddammit, there was dirt in his eyes, and he was scrambling in the mud, blinking hard to get his vision to clear.
He thought he knew what had happened. As they’d been stealing to ambush, Charlie had been doing the same. They’d met in the middle, both taken by surprise, but the VC had the upper ground.
He stayed where he was and fired into the shadows, hoping that the same darkness would hide him. The earth beneath him shook as someone up the hill threw a grenade. A palm tree caught on fire, too many dead, draping leaves all tangled together, and the flame quickly spread to another, then another, and he damned the light even as he welcomed it.
There was a strangled cry somewhere close by and his head snapped towards it, searching the shadows madly. He caught the glint of glasses, and his stomach flipped. Pete.
If he was smarter he would have stayed where he was. Instead he ran to him, trying to remember to keep low as his throat constricted in fear. Pete was on his knees, hunched over, and Dave was terrified that he’d been hit. He hoped he still had it in him to run. The choppers would be here soon, surely. If he could make it that long, that far. He’d carry him on his shoulder if he had to.
As he got closer, he realised that Pete was hunched over a body like he was trying to guard it from harm. He collapsed to his knees beside them and the rest of the world ceased to exist.
Keith was sprawled on the ground, staring up at the heavens with glassy, unblinking eyes. Dave’s insides twisted painfully. It wasn’t right, it couldn’t be; that gleeful, ever-lively face was not meant to be so still.
Another grenade exploded further up the hill and it shocked him to his senses.
‘Pete!’ he shouted, voice half lost in the clamour. ‘We need to get outta here!’
When he didn’t respond, Dave hauled him up by the shoulder. Pete fought him off, making a pained, guttural sound as he sunk down to claw at Keith’s sprawling body once more.
A bullet hit the ground beside them. ‘Come on, move!’ he yelled, heaving him up again, almost viciously. He wasn’t losing Pete too.
‘We can’t leave him!’
‘We have to! There’s nothing we can do!’
He hated himself as he dragged Pete along with him. Together, they stumbled out of the burning shadowland.
They were in a Huey, speeding back to base, speeding away from this failed ambush deep in enemy territory.
Pete stared out at the stars, scratching at his arms obsessively.
Next to him, Dave sat still. He saw nothing but those blank eyes - not seeing, never seeing again. Scarred into his memory. Only a child, too young, barely grown.
He hoped with every ounce of his soul that Klaus had made it out.
They landed. Pete tumbled out of the helicopter and Dave followed him, tried to talk to him, but Pete brushed him off. He was shaking.
‘It’s not - it didn’t . . .’ Pete muttered. He struck out at the trunk of a tree with all his strength, smashing his fist into it. ‘FUCK!’ he screamed. ‘ FUCK!’
He screamed and swore and lashed out again and again until his knuckles were bloody, until Dave was able to pull him away, until his shouts became small and broken.
It suddenly hit him just how young Pete was too. Only a couple years older than Keith.
His glasses were askew. Dave was gripping him close now, so he pushed them back into place with a light touch. When he did Pete shook his head wordlessly, looking bewildered and empty. Then he fell forward against Dave, arms wrapping around him tightly, fingernails digging into his back, clinging on for dear life.
‘I’m so fucking tired,’ he said in that same small voice.
Dave held him and wished for the millionth time that he could wake up from this nightmare.
And I open my eyes to look around
And I see a child laid slain on the ground
. . .
I’m not hearing anymore
Not hearing anymore
I am so sorry.
Song lyrics: All the Madmen; Cygnet Committee. I also wrote the ending listening to Subterraneans on repeat.
Dave’s limbs weren’t his own as he and Pete made their way to the mess hall. Inside, some of the uninjured stragglers of the fight had taken refuge alongside bandaged men and hollow-hearted men, all of them trying to put themselves back together.
Klaus wasn’t there.
He almost turned on his heels and walked out again, sick to his stomach with dread. Forcing himself to keep breathing, no matter how shallowly, he followed Pete to the table, feeling weak and shaky as he sat down.
The silence was heavy, broken only by the sound of a jittery foot tapping out a fretful dance. He studied the surface of the table. Someone had scratched their initials into the metal - long, long ago, perhaps. Or yesterday. He didn’t know.
It needed to be said. Pete was in no state to do it, so he took a deep breath, trying to remember how words worked.
‘Ainsley didn’t make it,’ he said quietly. Still too loud in the desolate hall.
‘Shit,’ someone breathed.
‘Yeah,’ Dave said. He traced the letters on the table with his finger. L.S. They weren’t deep. The product of a quick sketch in a moment of idleness, he wondered, or a hurried act of vandalism?
A murky green canteen was pushed into his line of sight, no doubt full of Adams’ special moonshine, and he took a long swig, craving the numbness it would bring. He coughed as it stung the back of his throat then passed it on to Pete.
‘And Hargreeves?’ Adams asked him, clearly noting how unusual it was these days to see one of them without the other.
Dave shrugged helplessly.
‘Last I saw he was still mucking about on two legs,’ offered Toby.
‘You saw him?’ Dave asked.
Toby nodded. ‘I was with him when we ran, but we got separated. Then I was on the next chopper out. He can’t have been far behind.’
Dave breathed a little easier, though he wouldn’t stop worrying until he saw Klaus standing in front of him.
He resumed tracing the letters on the tabletop, each sharp edge of the L leaving him tense with its bluntness, a fatal cut; each curl of the S a fear released, a dark curl sprung around his finger. Now he looked closer he could tell that the carving wasn’t new. There was grime in the cracks where the cloths that wiped down the tables could not reach.
L, S, L, S. His fingertip went round and round trying to make sense of nothing, thinking that people can make as many marks as they want but they can never guarantee immortality.
He’d known guys with those initials. Leroy Smith. Lawrence Shadbolt. Lan Su. It could be one of them or none of them, and yet the chicken scratch in the metal was crying out to claim existence on behalf of them all. We were here, all of us. Remembrance found only in the empty worship of his fingertip.
The canteen came his way again, and again, and again. He relished the burn as the drink slipped down his throat. His lips started to go numb.
They’d lost three men, he learnt. Many more faces were missing from their mournful circle, sunk into morphine dreams in the hospital. It wasn’t unusual. He was used to this. They were all used to it.
But Pete wasn’t talking. Not many were. Klaus’d know what to say, wouldn’t he? So would Ainsley, big mouth kid.
He kept tracing the initials, lost souls etched on the surface of the table.
‘I told you they’d be in here!’
Dave spun around in a flash. He’d recognise Klaus’s voice anywhere, and could have cried he was so relieved. There he was, looking like a wreck with mud still coating his face, his arm streaked with dried blood, but alive and breathing. It took all Dave’s strength not to jump up and run to him.
Klaus ambled over to the table, joining Dave’s end of the bench.
‘You’re hurt,’ Dave whispered to him, gesturing to his arm.
‘It’s nothing,’ Klaus said. ‘Not as bad as Keith.’
Dave winced. Nearly everyone at the table shifted uncomfortably - he heard one sharp intake of breath - and Pete looked up for the first time in near on half an hour.
‘Don’t,’ Pete said.
‘Don’t what?’ Klaus asked.
‘Don’t joke about it.’ His voice was shaking.
Klaus raised his eyebrows. ‘Hey, I told him to go to the medic. He’s the one who insisted against it.’ He leaned to his right, grinned at thin air. Pete gaped at him, speechless.
Ice rushed through his veins as Dave realised what was happening.
Klaus reached for the canteen, taking a deep drink from it. ‘Yes, yes, wait your turn,’ he said - replying to something no one else had heard, confirming Dave’s realisation - before taking another sip. ‘Though you should probably go easy on it with a concussion like that.’ He held the canteen out to his right. ‘See, I can be a responsible adult sometimes!’
‘Klaus, wait,’ Dave urged, silently begging him to understand, but he wasn’t quick enough. The canteen slipped carelessly out of his grip, falling straight through invisible hands that could never have caught it and hitting the floor with a dull thump, the little alcohol that was left splashing over the floor.
Everyone stared. Klaus too, his hand hovering above the canteen as it rolled back and forth. When it finally settled he stole a glance up at a man only he could see, pale with shock. Then he scrambled off the bench, breaking the silent fixation that had overcome them all, and he backed away from the table, muttering, ‘Oh, god, I can’t do this. No, no, no. . .’
‘Who the hell was he talking to?’ a man called Lester asked.
‘He spilled my moonshine!’
‘Cut it out, Hargreeves,’ Pete said.
Klaus continued to shake his head, his hands clawing at his hair.
Dave got to his feet too - and woah, he’d had more to drink than he should’ve - and now all the other soldiers were demanding answers from Klaus, but he wasn’t answering. Instead his eyes were squeezed shut, his hands were dropping down to his ears, the image of distress, and Dave knew he should bundle him up, get him some space and fresh air and quiet, but right now he was stuck, frozen in place by the shock of it, by the booze addling his thoughts.
‘We need to snap him out of it. Someone grab him!’
‘Katz, do something!’
‘Hargreeves!’ someone shouted.
Klaus whirled around, turning back to face them all, though he didn’t look a single person in the eye. His gaze narrowed in on thin air, and he wrapped his arms around himself as he shouted, ‘Because you’re dead! You’re dead! They can’t see you because you’re fucking dead!’
The room fell completely silent.
‘He’s lost it,’ Toby said.
Dave touched his arm tentatively, afraid he might bolt. He’d been right to fear it - Klaus flinched, but he didn’t run, not just yet. He met Dave’s eye. He looked exhausted.
‘What can I do?’ Dave whispered.
‘Get me a drink. Or something stronger.’ His face screwed up. ‘Yeah. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, it’s true. You are.’ There was a tremble to his lip, and he bit down hard on it.
‘Wait a minute,’ Pete said slowly. Dave shook his head at him minutely, trying to get him to stop. It didn’t work. ‘You thought you were talking to Ainsley?’
Klaus grimaced. ‘I am talking to him.’
‘Yup. Lost it,’ Toby said.
‘He died, Klaus,’ Pete said, near on imperceptibly.
‘Yeah, I know that now.’ He wrapped his arms around himself tighter, looking back at the space where Keith’s ghost must be. ‘I just can, okay. No, listen - oh my god, listen . . . Christ.’
Dave hadn’t ever seen Klaus interact with a ghost like this. He swiped at the air sometimes, muttered offhand remarks and insults, and cringed away from them, but apart from the time with his nan he’d never held a conversation in plain sight.
‘What do we do?’ Adams asked, looking at Klaus warily then shifting his gaze to Dave. ‘You got any ideas? Is he on some hallucinogenic shit?’
‘I - he’s -’ he started, unsure what to say. Was it better for him to act like this was normal, reveal to the others what he knew about Klaus’s ability? Or should he play along? He didn’t know - he’d do whatever Klaus wanted, but he didn’t know what that was.
‘I need some air,’ Klaus said, and then he turned on his heel and darted out of the mess hall.
Dave went to follow, but there was an uproar behind him.
‘Woah, woah, woah, Katz!’
‘Where do you think you’re going?’
‘Sit your ass back down!’
Lester jumped up, grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him back into his seat.
‘No . . . I’ve gotta make sure he’s okay,’ Dave said, looking back over his shoulder at the door.
‘All in good time,’ Lester said. ‘More importantly, what the fuck just happened?’
‘Scared the bejesus outta me,’ Toby said, shivering. ‘Talking to Ainsley like he was here. That shit ain’t right.’
‘He might not mean any harm by it,’ someone called Norden said. ‘They were good buddies, after all. Remember Hale? He used to chat to Wilder all the time like he wasn’t six feet under. Was his way of coping.’
‘But he didn’t know Ainsley was dead,’ Pete said quietly. ‘We were the only ones to see it, right, Katz?’
Dave nodded reluctantly.
‘And?’ Toby asked.
‘He’s never pretended to talk to Ainsley before,’ Pete said.
‘Yeah, and he’s also a drugged up motherfucker,’ Adams retorted. ‘I don’t believe anything that comes outta that mouth.’
‘You’re one to talk,’ Lester said.
‘I speak from experience. Hallucinogens make you do crazy shit.’
Dave glanced at the door again. He needed to find Klaus. While the others descended into argument, tempers pulled taut by the stress of the night, he got up for the second time. Pete looked at him pleadingly, but Dave marched out before they could drag him back.
He hunted for Klaus in all his usual hidey holes, sobering up as he went. He wasn’t in the barracks. He wasn’t sitting against the chain link fence surrounding the vehicle bay. He wasn’t hiding behind the sheets of corrugated iron that enclosed the toilets, and he wasn’t lurking on the verge of the bush. The longer he went without finding him, the more he started to worry that Klaus didn’t want to be found.
He peered inside the cracked window of a broken down jeep. Its engine had been gutted in an attack a few weeks ago, and it had been abandoned where it lay. A face loomed up at him and he jumped, swearing under his breath, but it was only his own filthy reflection staring back at him. He sighed, turning to go, when a low moan emanating from inside the jeep stopped him in his tracks.
He tore the door open.
‘Shit - Klaus?’
Klaus was curled up on the back seat. No wonder he hadn’t seen him at first: he was well camouflaged in the dark by the mud still coating him, though it was beginning to peel and crumble, and there were patches of pale skin beneath his eyes where it had washed away in streaks.
‘Daaave. It’s you!’ he said weakly.
‘It’s me,’ Dave said as he climbed in beside him. The jeep smelt damp. He shut the door, then pulled Klaus up to a sitting position. A little orange bottle of pain meds fell off his lap and rolled across the seat.
‘Ohhh,’ Klaus said, grabbing at it. ‘Come back here.’ His words were drawn out and heavy, slightly slurred. Dave wondered how many he’d taken already.
Klaus went to open the lid, and Dave closed his hands over the top. ‘I don’t think you need anymore, sweetheart.’
‘Just one or two?’
He shook his head, and slipped the bottle out of Klaus’s grip - he let go surprisingly easily. ‘I’ll look after them for you.’
‘You always look after me, Davey-baby,’ he murmured, drooping against him, sounding far away.
‘Course,’ he said gruffly. He rolled the bottle between his fingers, listening to the pills clatter against the brittle plastic, if only to have something to do with his hands. This wasn’t what he needed. Not tonight of all nights. He needed Klaus to be in his right mind, to be here with him, properly, in a state where he’d think to ask if Dave was okay. Because he wasn’t. He wasn’t okay but he couldn’t let himself be not okay, not when Klaus was so out of it.
His throat clammed up as he was overcome with the yearning that Klaus wasn’t like this. It was swiftly followed by a stab of guilt in his gut for thinking something like that, something so terribly, deeply selfish. Because while Dave wasn’t alright, neither was Klaus, clearly; Dave could tell he’d been crying, that he was upset - horrified, perhaps - and dealing with it in the only way he could, a way that just so happened to break Dave’s heart.
‘Helmet’s fault,’ Klaus muttered into Dave’s shoulder.
‘What?’ he asked, looking at him in confusion.
‘Blood all on his face. Said it was just a cut. Didn’t think - didn’t cross my mind to look under it . . . ’ He shivered.
‘Oh,’ Dave said, stomach lurching.
‘He was wandering around. Looking for us.’
‘He didn’t know he was . . .?’
Klaus sighed. ‘Nah.’
Dave nudged Klaus slightly so he could get his arm out from where it was squished between them, then wrapped it around Klaus’s bony shoulders. ‘It must get confusing, having them around after,’ he said.
‘Mm.’ His head lolled against Dave’s shoulder. ‘I like seeing some of the ghosties.’
‘Like your brother?’
‘Benny boy,’ Klaus said. ‘He haunted me, Dave. Was kinda nice, actually. Could’ve left, but he didn’t. Don’t know why.’
He threaded his fingers through Klaus’s hair, trying not snag on the bits caked together with mud. ‘Probably because he loves you, Klaus.’
He hummed again. ‘I miss him.’
‘I’m sure you do.’
‘D’you miss your brother?’
‘That’s -’ His hand patted over the seat with clumsy, heavy motions. ‘Where’s my pills?’
Dave sighed. ‘I’ve got them, remember?’
‘We should get you back to the tent,’ he said, which made Klaus groan. He was really out of it. Dave didn’t particularly fancy carrying him back, so it was probably best he got him out of the jeep sooner rather than later. ‘Also, was your arm alright?’
‘Doesn’t even hurt anymore,’ Klaus slurred.
‘No shit. Let me see.’
Klaus offered the wrong arm at first, before Dave gently took hold of the other. He squinted at it in the dim light. It wasn’t bad; he’d be fine without a trip to the medics. Dave would rather avoid explaining the excessive dose of morphine to them too.
Eventually he managed to coax Klaus out of the jeep and they made their way across base, Klaus’s arm slung over his shoulder, Dave clutching onto him tight. Although he didn’t feel like he had the strength to hold himself together, let alone Klaus as well, a small part of him was relieved to have something to distract himself with.
The tent was empty. Dave cleaned his wound for him as Klaus lay on his side, breathing softly against the bundled up blanket he used as a pillow. He rinsed the cut with a splash of alcohol from the flask he kept secreted in his pack, taking a swig of it for himself, then dabbed at it with a spare bit of cloth. Klaus didn’t wince at all. Dave doubted he could feel much of it anyway, and he was dozing by the time Dave tied a fresh bandage over it.
With that done he started to wipe the mud from Klaus’s face with light touches. He took his time. Fingertips tracing his cheekbones, thumb brushing across his jaw, until he looked as clean as it was possible to get without taking him to a basin. He leaned down and pressed a feather-light kiss to his cheek, lingering. Thinking, what am I going to do about you, my love?
Klaus’s eyes fluttered open, startling Dave slightly. He thought he’d drifted off.
‘Lie down with me?’ Klaus pleaded. ‘I don’t - I don’t wanna . . .’
‘I know,’ he said soothingly. Dave knew what he was trying to say. I don’t wanna be alone. Neither did he. Not tonight. ‘Move over and I will.’
Once Klaus had shuffled to the edge, Dave lowered himself onto the narrow cot so that they were nose to nose, hands clasped between them. He could rest there for a moment. Long enough to feel another’s reassuring warmth.
Klaus’s breathing went long and slow and Dave breathed along with it, letting it draw him into a trance where he didn’t have to think any longer.
He woke up to someone prodding his shoulder and saying, ‘Others are coming back now.’
‘Hm?’ he said, his brain taking a moment to make sense of the words. He looked up blearily at Pete, who merely shrugged before going back to his own cot.
Klaus muttered something in his sleep, reminding Dave where he was, so he rolled off the bed and crawled over to his own.
He dreamed of burning palms and dead comrades.
Dave woke before dawn, meaning he’d only had a couple hours sleep at most. He wasn’t getting any more than that, so he ducked out of the tent for his morning smoke and watched as the sunrise turned the world from black to ashy grey.
Klaus joined him just as colour started to leech into the leaves, lighting up in companionable silence. There were dark bags under his eyes, matching Dave’s own.
‘Keith told me you were there last night,’ Klaus said once the rest of the base started to rouse itself into action, quick to fracture the morning stillness. Daybreak starts were drummed into all their bodyclocks.
Dave lit another cigarette. ‘Not when it happened. After, though.’ He stared at a scab on his knuckles, willing himself not to see the unbearable, the unforgettable.
‘Yeah,’ he mumbled, his throat closing up. ‘You’ve been talking to him? To Ainsley, I mean.’
‘Last night. Before the pills hit.’ Klaus gnawed on his lip. ‘Are you . . . alright?’
Dave frowned at him.
‘Argh,’ he groaned. ‘Stupid question, I know. I just - I feel like shit. I should’ve said something yesterday. I don’t remember much, only that you had to look after me. Again.’
He exhaled smoke slowly. ‘Made for a distraction.’
‘I’m still sorry.’
Dave appreciated the apology. He shoved the cigarette between his lips and held his hand out, palm upwards. Klaus took it with a sad smile.
‘I wish I could’ve done something,’ Klaus said.
‘You couldn’t have,’ he said with a squeeze of his hand. ‘None of us could.’
‘But think of all those times he tried to get me to talk to the brass. What if I had? What if it’d changed things?’
‘You can’t think like that,’ Dave said, closing his eyes and trying to ignore the bitter taste that idea left in his mouth. Everyone mourns in their own way, he told himself. Everyone struggles to make sense of the senseless.
‘I was just wondering. It’d be nice to one day make amends before someone dies.’
‘Klaus,’ Dave said. He didn’t snap, not quite. ‘Do you know anything that would’ve made a difference? Or are you only wishing you did?’
Klaus blinked at him, taken aback. ‘I dunno. I thought, maybe - oh, never mind. Look, do you have my pills? I can’t find them anywhere.’
Dave nodded, already feeling bad for speaking out like that. He was so exhausted.
‘Can I have them back now?’
‘Sure,’ he said, a little reluctantly. ‘The last ones wear off already?’
He gave his hand another squeeze, then let go and stood up, his knees cracking. ‘I’ll just go get them.’
When he came back, Pete was in his spot talking to Klaus. Or, rather, Pete was talking at Klaus in a low, hurried voice that didn’t quite reach Dave’s ears.
As he neared them, Pete stopped talking, nodded a greeting at Dave, gave Klaus a funny look, and then left.
‘What was that about?’ he asked, chucking Klaus the little bottle.
‘Oh, you know. He had a bone to pick about last night.’ He slipped the meds into his pocket without taking any and got to his feet.
‘If he’s giving you any shit -’
Klaus shook his head. ‘Don’t worry, he’s fine, you’re fine. He just wanted a proper explanation. Understandably.’ They started to walk over to the mess hall, standing stark and grey in the morning light. ‘I was expecting it after the scene I caused in there anyway. Do you suppose the whole platoon will know by lunchtime?’ He sounded strained.
Dave grimaced. ‘I think you’d be hard pressed to stop people finding out.’
‘Yippee,’ he replied, entirely deadpan.
Whatever conclusion Pete had come to, he hadn’t arrived at it alone. Dave had left too soon to know who thought what, but he’d seen the early denial and confusion, as well as some of the tentative questions as the sharper minds put two and two together. He could imagine the sorts of ridiculous ideas that would have been thrown around, the intensity of conviction as those with more of an emotional stake skipped between hope and hurt. Pete had clearly reached boiling point faster than anyone else, seeking out Klaus’s confirmation on his own. He was their friend, too - it made sense that he’d ask. And although their estimation of everyone knowing by lunchtime was a bit too keen, that breakfast in the mess hall was dotted with long questioning stares and sour scowls from soldiers who’d been there last night. Dave caught people whispering and pointing - never as sly as they thought they were - and Klaus, who normally flourished under attention, seemed to wilt under it all. Dave tried to distract him as best he could.
By evening Klaus had given him the slip.
Thinking that he should’ve gotten Klaus to promise that he’d be more careful with his drugs when he gave them back, Dave started up the same circuit he’d done last night. When Klaus was in a dark mood like this, any wasted moment could be dangerous. But although he searched and searched and searched, he couldn’t find him.
And maybe that was because Klaus wasn’t actually missing.
He was in the tent, stone cold sober - or at least, he’d only just taken something.
‘There you are!’ he called out when Dave ducked through the entrance. ‘What mischief have you been up to?’
‘Me? I’ve been looking for you . I thought . . .’
‘You thought I was dead in a ditch?’ he said, making Dave wince. ‘Fair enough, I guess. But I’m not. I’ve only been talking to Pete.’
‘Oh. Right.’ He frowned. ‘Did he have more questions?’
Dave frowned. ‘Sort of?’
‘It was just a chat,’ he replied. ‘Did you want to go on a walk?’
Dave got the sense that Klaus was being purposefully evasive. Why had he run off like that for something so innocuous?
‘Not particularly. I’ve already been all around . . .’
Klaus’s face fell, but he didn’t complain. That only made Dave more suspicious, though he had no idea what he was meant to be suspecting.
‘Something’s up,’ he said carefully.
‘What? Klaus, no. Come on. You can talk to me. You know you can.’
He sighed. ‘I know.’
‘The other guys haven’t been getting to you, have they?’
‘No, it’s not that.’
‘I just . . . I promised Pete I’d help him talk to Keith.’
‘Oh.’ Dave blinked. ‘Damn. So . . . so that’s what-’
‘That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s what he was asking this morning.’
‘Are you okay?’
‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ he said, sounding a little frustrated. ‘It’s only Keith.’
‘Still, I know you don’t like doing that.’ He considered him. ‘You know, I’m -’
‘D’you want to talk to him too?’ he interrupted, voice heavy with dread.
Dave wasn’t expecting that. ‘No. Not if you don’t want that. No offense to Keith, if he’s here.’
‘Good, ‘cause I’ve already taken something. He’s still here at the moment, though.’ Klaus pointed at the space next to him.
Dave was suddenly hit by a rush of admiration for his boyfriend. Klaus dealt with all the looks people gave him, all the accusations of insanity, all the inevitable shivers down the spine that came with the morbid territory. He dealt with the dead every sober moment of his life and hated it, yet still found it within him to use his powers for their friends, no matter how reluctantly.
‘I gotta say, I’m proud of you, Klaus,’ he said.
Klaus squirmed. ‘No, don’t . . .’
He shushed him. ‘It was really good of you to do that for Pete. He’s taken it badly, and, well, I know from experience how much it helps, what you can do.’
‘Oh,’ he said, going pink. Then he snorted. ‘Okay, Keith wants me to tell you that I didn’t do it for Pete. It was all for him.’ He blew a kiss to the ghost next to him.
‘I’m still proud,’ Dave told him. Klaus went a deeper pink. ‘Also, hi Ainsley. Hope you’re doing . . . okay.’ He cringed.
Klaus laughed again, shaking his head. ‘He’s pulling very obscene hand gestures at you. And fair enough too - he’s dead, Dave, he’s hardly okay. Oh, now he’s being rude to me too. Wow, death’s made you mean, Keith.’
‘I think maybe we deserve it,’ he said, finding himself smiling for the first time in too long.
‘Shh,’ Klaus said, putting his finger to Dave’s lips. ‘Don’t let him hear you say that.’
Things started to go to shit over the next couple of days.
Klaus had seemed fine after using his powers as a favour to Pete. Pete himself had appreciated it greatly and Dave was glad he’d found a way to cope a little better with the loss. But the stares and whispers from the other soldiers inevitably wormed their way into more than that, into confrontations and demands, especially once they noticed that neither Dave nor Pete were tiptoeing around Klaus like he’d lost it.
And it started innocently enough. People had questions, and Klaus seemed happy to answer them. Dave wasn’t around for them all, but he got used to the routine answers. Even got them himself from a few guys who seemed to think he was more trustworthy than Klaus. Yes, the rumour is true, he can talk to ghosts. No, we’re not bullshitting. Yeah, he talked to one for Pete. No, he didn’t charge him for it, it’s not a scam.
Toby was the first to ask Klaus if he could see other ghosts, not just Ainsley. He was the first to ask - and pretty politely, mind you - whether Klaus knew if his friend Dennis was still kicking about camp in ghost form. And when Klaus told him yes, Toby asked - like anyone would - whether Klaus would mind aiding him in a little conversation. It’d been so long, see, and he missed him so much.
Dave expected Klaus to say no, maybe with an wearied sigh. But he didn’t. He agreed, and took Toby off to sit away from the campfire where the others couldn’t overhear him, and they spoke for almost an hour, getting curious looks all the while.
When Dave asked him why he’d done it, Klaus had said, ‘Why not? It’s my power, isn’t it? I’m being nice.’
Only there was an odd look in his eyes, and he was holding himself all small, and his smile didn’t quite look real.
Next, it was Adams. For someone who had been entirely convinced that Klaus was making everything up, that he was just off his face, he changed his mind pretty rapidly once he’d heard a testimony from Pete and Toby. He showed up with promises of a good deal the next time Klaus’s pockets came up empty and a lengthy list of people he wanted to hear from - he’d been here for a long time, after all - and so Klaus abandoned his meal halfway through and went off with him.
Dave waited as long as he could, guarding Klaus’s plate until the guys on serving duty were tapping their fingers on the counter tops, staring him down, and so he cleared it away.
He was waiting up with drooping eyelids when Klaus came back. Klaus went straight to his bag, swallowed a couple of pills dry and then lit a joint, holding it to his lips with shaking fingers. When Dave tried to talk to him, he muttered, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.’
More and more soldiers started to approach him in the evenings, beyond those who had been in the mess hall on the night Keith had died. Everyone had someone they’d lost, and not many could resist the lure of a miracle, not with the kinds of stories that were flying around base. Dave heard a couple of unfamiliar soldiers from a different unit refer to Klaus as “that ghost fella.” One man crossed himself when he and Klaus walked by him on patrol (and that wasn’t so bad, because it made Klaus laugh so hard he cried, and Dave hadn’t seen him laugh properly in days). Klaus learnt how to accurately time his brief periods of sobriety, and Dave learnt exactly how many restless souls there were, lost and drifting through the camp.
If Klaus had seemed somewhat willing with the first few guys who went to him, his reluctance started to shoot through the roof not long after. He started getting snappy and petulant, and Dave knew he was getting tired of it all, but he still refused to turn people away, still refused to talk to Dave about why he was doing this to himself.
If he did try to ask, Klaus brushed him off. He’d beg not to talk about it because he’d rather talk about something else, and didn’t Dave agree that they should make the most of their stolen moments together talking about and doing things that they actually enjoyed? There was no arguing with him about it, so Dave let himself be distracted, silencing his worries but never forgetting them.
‘Do you think Hargreeves seems a bit strained?’ Pete asked him one day, as they watched Klaus talk to a freckle-faced kid.
‘That’s one way of putting it,’ Dave replied plainly. ‘God, it must be getting bad if you’re noticing it too.’
‘You’re worried about him?’
He nodded. ‘He needs to stop. He’s got enough on his plate without it - we all do.’
‘Some of the guys are going to struggle hearing that,’ Pete mused.
‘Well, they can fuck right off.’
Pete looked at him pityingly. ‘I don’t know if it’ll be that easy, Katz. We’ve all had our taste of it now. Just think of all the other shit he could do, too. He’s lucky the superiors haven’t come investigating already - they don’t much care about our lowly superstitions, but this is a whole other thing.’
‘But he hates it. It’s wrecking him.’ He watched as Klaus hugged his arms close to his body, making himself small as he talked to the soldier, almost like he was trying to disappear into thin air. It made something within Dave ache - a real, physical ache. He got to his feet, floundering. ‘I can’t watch this. I . . . I’ll see you later.’
He was right to be worried. About a month after Keith had died, there’d been another firefight where they’d lost good men, and now Klaus was flinching at spectres and trembling with withdrawal after talking to the third grieving soldier of the evening. When the fourth came up to him, Klaus shook his head, shrinking in on himself, and Dave could tell he was trying to be placating and apologetic but the other soldier’s expression hardened and he got up in Klaus’s face, demanding to know why he was being turned away, that he’d waited his turn and how dare Klaus pick and choose like that, didn’t he know how much he was hurting? He deserved to talk to his buddy again, they’d met in training, but Klaus was a heartless little bitch, wasn’t he? Not that he cared at all because Klaus was only a hack anyway, a useless hack, and if he kept trying to walk away from him, he’d smash his face in, he’d slip a grenade into his pack when he wasn’t looking, he’d . . .
Dave gave the guy a shining black eye while Klaus fled. And when he found him behind the vehicle bay, he found a wreck of a man. Klaus’s illusion of togetherness lay shattered and crumbling at Dave’s feet.
‘I can’t,’ Klaus cried, curled up in the dust. ‘I can’t do it anymore.’
Dave knelt next to him, touching him softly. ‘You don’t have to. No one’s forcing you.’
Klaus pressed his palms against his eyes, rubbing away the tears that betrayed how much he was hurting, while Dave took him into his arms, stroking his face and kissing the top of his head and letting him cling to him, letting him sob into his shoulder - near silent sobs, the sort that told of someone who was used to crying and not being heard - and he whispered all the while that it was okay, it was okay.
‘There’s so much death, Dave. It’s everywhere and I can’t handle it anymore! I can’t!’ His voice cracked. ‘They have no idea. No one has any idea what it’s like.’
‘None of us know, you’re right,’ Dave agreed.
‘I just wanna get out of here,’ he sobbed.
Dave held him tight. ‘I’m taking you home with me as soon as my tour’s done, you know that. It’s not long now, baby.’
‘It’s too long. It’s too long.’ He buried his face in his hands. ‘I’m so sick of this shitty war. So sick of the damn ghosts. I just wanted to make it better, a little bit better. But everything’s shit.’
‘I know, I know.’ It felt like he’d been hollowed out. ‘Klaus, it’s killing me seeing you like this. I’m not . . . I’m not worth what this place is doing to you.’
Klaus sniffed, looking up at him. ‘What?’
‘You’re not technically enlisted, you could desert.’
There was a flash of shock. ‘No,’ he said, shaking his head furiously, ‘I’m not leaving you.’
‘Don’t be stupid. If there’s a way you could get out, you should take it. I can’t, but you can.’
Klaus hit his arm. ‘Shut up, David. Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare. You think I’m here just for a laugh? Christ, I’d have gone back to my own time months ago if that was the case. You’re literally the only reason I’m here at all, why would I leave you?’
Dave stared at him.
‘Don’t look so shocked.’
‘For me? ’ he hissed. ‘Klaus, you - you . . . Klaus! We’re fighting a war!’
‘Yes, I realise that.’
‘You could die!’
‘So could you!’
He scoffed in dismay. ‘You can’t be serious.’
‘Why’d you think I was sticking around?’
‘I thought you were stuck here! You’ve still got the time machine?’
‘Yeah - but I don’t know how it works. Honestly.’
He started to see red. ‘Just try it, for god’s sake! Get yourself safe, get yourself away from all this mess with the ghosts.’
‘Fucking hell . Why not?’ he demanded.
Klaus made a strangled sound. ‘Why not?! Why do you think? I love you, you idiot, and I’m not leaving you. Not ever!’
‘Argh!’ he groaned, because they’d never said it out loud before, and it was melting every drop of his common sense. And how was he supposed to argue with that without becoming the world’s worst person? ‘Dammit, Klaus. I love you too.’
They stared at each other for a long second, Dave breathing heavily. Then, to make this even more odd, Klaus started crying again. Although it was less a burst and more a welling-over as he stared at Dave, eyes bright and shimmering with fresh tears, a shaky, shy smile on his lips. ‘You do?’ he asked in a soft voice.
Dave looked at him incredulously. ‘Of course I do. And you call me the idiot.’
Klaus laughed tearily, then he pulled Dave’s face down to his. He tasted salty and Dave probably got his snot on his face, but he didn’t care, not when Klaus’s hands were wound into his hair.
‘Promise me you won’t talk to any more ghosts for the others unless you actually want to,’ he said a while later.
‘Promise,’ Klaus said, winding their little fingers together. ‘Your turn. Swear you won’t try to make me leave without you?’
Dave pursed his lips, then nodded. ‘Though I’m still a little mad that you’ve had a way out of here the entire time, and I’m not gonna be letting go of that too easily.’
He rolled his eyes. ‘I told you, I don’t know how it works! I have no idea where it’ll take me next, or if it’ll take two people or whatever. So let’s just forget about that.’ He waved a hand idly, declaring that topic dead. ‘Thanks for like, distracting me from my little breakdown.’
Dave elbowed him. ‘Will you ever tell me why you were doing it all in the first place?’
‘Fine,’ he sighed. ‘Only because you’re pretty, though.’ He fiddled with Dave’s hand, feeling the callouses on his palm. ‘I thought . . . maybe it was the reason I was here.’
‘Oh my god,’ Dave said. ‘You let Keith get to your head.’
‘Is it such a crazy idea? I mean, it’s not like I was thinking straight - he’d just died and I was feeling all guilty, and then Pete was so appreciative, and you were proud, so I figured, why not give it a whirl?’ He held up his hands in a mockery of glee. ‘And it was the worst decision of my life! Yay!’ Then he slumped. ‘I hated it, but once I started I didn’t know how to stop.’
Dave looked at him fondly. ‘You don’t really do things by halves, do you?’
‘I guess not,’ he said with a wry smile. ‘You are talking to the person who had to find his way to a warzone in the sixties just to fall in love for the first time.’
Dave grinned at him. ‘You’re so ridiculous. I told you not to blame yourself ages ago.’
‘I wasn’t -’
‘Yeah, you were. You were trying to fix something that you didn’t break.’
‘People die, Klaus.’
‘Uh, I know. Have you forgotten who you’re speaking to?’
Dave ploughed ahead. ‘I’m speaking to a man who spent his entire childhood being told he was born for a purpose -’
‘Dave,’ Klaus complained.
‘- and you thought you’d found it here, even though you hated it. I mean, it makes sense. Where better for a medium to help poor souls than the military? And you did help! You’ve been a miracle for half the camp!’
‘But you know, you don’t have to justify why you’re here. You don’t have to force yourself to do this shit just because you think you have to. And you can stop whenever you like. It won’t undo the good you’ve already done. You don’t have to choose between fixing everyone and fixing no one. Everyone dies, you’d never get a damn break.’
Klaus stared at him. ‘Stop talking.’
‘But I’m right.’
‘I know. And I don’t like it.’ Klaus gave him a look which might have felled a weaker man. ‘I knew there was a reason I wasn’t telling you. Where the hell did that come from?’
‘I’ve been thinking about it a lot,’ he said simply.
Klaus threw his head back in exasperation. ‘You’re a maniac, you know that? And too smart for your own good.’
Dave grinned at him again.
‘Cocky bastard,’ Klaus muttered. Dave thought he looked a little amused.
‘You love me anyway.’
After that, it didn’t take long before Klaus’s arms snaked around his neck and his lips pressed against Dave’s jaw.
Dave let Klaus kiss him, and he let him stay in Vietnam with him, even though he knew it made him greedy and selfish and many more terrible things. If he’d been a better man, perhaps he would have pushed harder, insisted that he run, that he go to safety. A better man wouldn’t have given in so easily.
See, he wanted Klaus to be safe, but he also never wanted to spend a moment away from him. It was so easy to accept his excuse that he didn’t know how to work the time machine, and it was easy to look threatening when the other soldiers got riled up by his refusal to use his power anymore, and it was easy enough to let him self-medicate for the ghosts in the meantime (always with the certainty that when they were home, it would change, it would be different). It was easy because he’d do anything for him, and he’d do anything to keep him close, even if it was illogical. Logic had never stood a chance when it came to matters dealing with that man.
For now it didn’t matter that his heart kept winning out over his head - after all, they were both okay, weren’t they? And they were going home together soon; by then none of this worry and heartache would matter at all. It’d be merely a hazy memory, something to remind them how lucky they were to have fallen into each other’s lives despite the tangled mess of time, to have fallen in love in the middle of a war, to have made it out together despite everything.
And maybe that was the purpose of it all, he thought to himself. Maybe Klaus was here for him. It made more sense than ghosts, more sense than no reason at all. It made sense, especially now that their future together was so close he could almost touch it.
A better man - a wiser man - would have known not to tempt fate by daring to dream.
We had a friend, a talking man
Who spoke of many powers that he had
Not the best of men, but ours
We used him
We let him use his powers
We let him fill our needs
Now we are strong
Lyrics: Cygnet Committee.
Oh my goddd this chapter was a mission. I feel like I forgot how to write. I hope it was enjoyable?? Made sense?? I literally cannot tell anymore.
Anyway, last chapter was sad, this chapter was sad, this whole fic is sad - so I've decided to leave a fun story in the comments for you guys. (I'd leave it here, but I think it's too long.) It concerns Robert Sheehan and how I lost my mind the other week.
So much love to everyone who comments and gives kudos! You fuel my writing habits.
It took a while for the other soldiers to get the message that Klaus was no longer standing in as the platoon's very own medium. Luckily, that kind of frustration can't be sustained for too long. Angry outbursts turned into insults, the insults turned into peevish gripes, and the gripes turned into inoffensive mutterings, until eventually an uneasy peace was brokered.
They had other things to think about anyway. The fighting was intensifying. They were moved nearer to the mountain, deeper and deeper into the jungle, deadly close to the enemy. As the territory was won and lost over and over again, their platoon found itself fighting on newly established front lines.
There were some moments of respite. They got one gift out of nowhere: three nights of leave in Hue.
He and Klaus shared a cheap hotel room together, and this time no one knocked on their door or asked them where they were. No one could accuse them of wasting their time alone. They left only to find food and to stretch their legs when the room started feeling too small and stale, as those kinds of hotel rooms are wont to do.
The first night, they sipped from a bottle of whisky as the sun set, the sheets tangled around their legs, Klaus making him laugh with obscene stories from his youth and Dave describing all the places he was going to take him back home.
He was going to take him to the lake. That had been decided long ago, but he liked to talk it up every now and again. He’d row Klaus out in the old dinghy with the peeling red paint, maybe with a bottle of wine and a guitar - Klaus assured him he could play the start of a famous future hit called Wonderwall, a song so good it was nearly holy, although he laughed so much at that idea that Dave decided he was messing with him - and they’d stay out there all day, mellowed by the golden sunshine, skinny dipping and rubbing suntan lotion onto each other’s backs. Klaus told him the whole thing sounded like something out of a cheesy movie but he’d let Dave row him about anyway, if only to ogle his muscles. Dave neglected to tell him about the sandflies.
He’d let go of the lease on his city apartment when he’d been drafted, so they were going to stay with his brother for a while until they found a new place to live. Klaus lay on his stomach, feet up in the air, listening with a fond smile as Dave told him about his two nieces and how excited they’d be to meet him, how they’d demand his participation in their dress up games and try to tie ribbons in his hair. That idea made Klaus bounce his way up the bed with what was surely equal excitement, radiating glee.
Though later when he was lying against Dave’s chest, drawing circles and writing nonsense on his skin, he quietly confessed that he was a bit nervous about it. He’d never really had the chance to be around any kids with the kind of life he’d been living before Vietnam, he said. His own childhood was so messed up that he might mess them up just through proximity, and he was hardly a good role model, and surely their parents wouldn’t want him around. Dave held his face still with both his hands, looking directly into those light green eyes so full of feeling. He told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t believe any of that one single bit. That, sure, Klaus could worry, but Dave knew he was going to be grand, they’d all love him because how could they not, and even if he made some mistakes it wasn’t the end of the world, right?
They talked about where they’d like to live once they’d found their feet again. Klaus had only ever lived in the city and didn’t know what it would be like elsewhere, and Dave had lived there too and didn’t mind it, but he knew he wanted to go somewhere he might find a bit of peace. Klaus was worried about temptation - he kept talking about how he was going to try sobering up again, getting off the hard stuff once he was away from the war like he’d promised Dave all those months ago - and Dave wanted to be closer to his family, because there was nothing like risking his life every day for a year to make him realise what was truly important.
They’d moved on from half-joking descriptions of circus caravans to imagining a real home. Dave wanted a garden and a cat. Klaus wanted walls he could paint crazy colours and cover with fairy lights. Dave said he could dream a bit bigger than that, and Klaus reminded him that he’d never ever had a place with four walls to call his own at all, not since he was a teenager, and he didn’t really know what people did with total control over a space. He supposed he wanted it to be kind of small, not like the place he’d grown up in. He supposed he might like pretty rugs and cosy armchairs and a big window he could throw open dramatically and smoke out of when it was storming, so the neighbours could spy on him and think about how cool he looked.
Dave said he wanted a hook by the door to hang his coat because it always made a place feel like home. Klaus teased him for being too practical, and Dave admitted that after they’d started talking he’d realised he didn’t care all too much what sort of house it was as long as it was theirs.
Hearing that, Klaus smiled one of those bright, sunny smiles Dave loved so much, the sort of smile that had him falling head over heels again and again and again.
On the second day, Klaus went wandering and came back with a cheeky grin, and he danced around Dave while he tried to figure out what it was he was acting all strange and delighted about. Finally, Klaus lifted up his shirt, revealing a fresh tattoo.
‘What is it?’ Dave asked, crouching down to peer at it, his nose barely an inch away from Klaus’s stomach.
‘It’s a temple,’ Klaus said airily. ‘Look at you, on your knees in front of me. Are you trying to seduce me, Monsieur Katz?’
Dave winked up at him, then turned back to the tattoo. ‘But there’s words. Thai, right?’
‘Yup. Wanna know what it says?’
‘Sure, humour me.’
‘It says Klaus loves David.’
Dave choked. ‘What?’
‘You heard me,’ Klaus said, running a hand over Dave’s cheek then pulling him up by his arm. Dave just about fell against him, he’d gone so lightheaded. ‘Do you like it?’
‘Other people might be able to read that, you know,’ he said weakly.
‘Please, it’s in Thai. And it’s not like it’s on my arm or anything. I’d have to be shirtless for them to even see it in the first place.’
‘Klaus, baby, I love you . . . but apart from today, when was the last time you wore a shirt and actually buttoned it up?’
Klaus opened his mouth then closed it again, eventually settling for a pout.
Dave laughed. ‘Hey, don’t sulk. I’m just worrying. You know me.’
‘But do you like it?’
‘Do I like it? You got a damn tattoo for me, Klaus. That’s -’ He closed his eyes and thought for a moment about the way it made him feel, all warm and fluttery and a little bit possessive. ‘I love it.’ He stepped forward, pushing Klaus up against the wall.
Klaus let his head fall back, a lazy grin spreading across his face. ‘Thank Christ for that. Would’ve been a bit awkward otherwise.’
‘Nope, you knew I’d love it.’ Dave ducked his head to kiss his neck. ‘I mean, why wouldn’t I? My name’s on you now.’
Klaus pulled Dave against him, so close that he could hear the small intake of breath as he brushed against the tender part of his stomach. ‘It’s kinda hot, right?’
Dave hummed in agreement. ‘Means that I’m yours and you’re mine.’
‘Yeah, I like the sound of that,’ Klaus murmured. He tilted Dave’s chin up, drawing him into a languid kiss.
On the third day, there was a rainstorm outside. Dave opened the window and listened to it pour, holding his hand out to cup the drops as they fell thick and fast. Klaus was still fast asleep, limbs splayed across the mattress where they’d been wrapped around Dave a moment ago. He could still feel his warmth on his skin.
It felt odd that something so good and loving could exist in a place like this.
He wanted the rain to wash the horrors of the war from him, all the grime, all the terrible things he’d seen and done. He wanted to stick his head out the window and open his mouth and drink and drink and drink until it cleaned him inside and out, until only the goodness was left.
If Klaus was awake, he’d tell Dave he was being silly. He’d lead him back to bed and poke him in his side until he laughed. He’d remind him that he loved him no matter what.
He pulled his hand back inside, shaking the water onto the floor. The scent of lemongrass trailed in on the breeze, and in the distance a temple bell tolled softly. Behind him, Klaus stirred, making a sleepy sound of complaint as his hand patted the sheets, searching for Dave.
He shut the window and thought that this place might have been beautiful if it hadn’t been torn apart by war.
Then he thought that maybe it was beautiful all the same.
He got hit two and a half weeks before he was due to finish his tour.
He felt the impact of it, his whole body jerking like someone had pushed him backwards. It was puzzling at first. He didn’t realise what had happened, only that there was a strange sensation in his chest: tightness, an unusual pressure. And then moments later he felt the pain, like raging fire blistering his insides, so intense that his arms gave out. He was already low to the ground; he didn’t have far to fall. I’ve been shot, he thought vaguely.
He went to say something to Klaus who was beside him, just out of Dave’s line of vision, but when he tried to breathe in he started to choke.
Klaus was saying something. Dave couldn’t really make it out over the sound of gunfire, nor over the rush in his ears. Klaus, help me. I can’t breathe.
Firm hands turned him over and he stared up into the eyes of the man he loved.
‘No, no, no, no, no! Medic! I need a medic!’ Klaus shouted, in a frenzy, pressing his hands to the spot where Dave’s life was bleeding out of him.
He couldn’t breathe, the pain was blinding, and he was so, so afraid.
Everything went a little strange after that. He lost track. Klaus cradled him as black spots popped across his vision. It made it hard to see, but Klaus was right there, patches and shadows of a person, and he looked scared too.
It’s okay. It’s okay, Klaus. It doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I think I’ll be alright. His lips moved soundlessly as he tried desperately to speak, to tell him this much.
Klaus’s face was close to his, more words spilling from his lips, words that had no meaning to Dave. He thought he heard his name. He realised, distantly, that Klaus was crying.
Smile, he thought. Don’t cry. I want - once more . . . please . . . Klaus . . .
The black spots grew, the jungle closed in, and everything faded away until it was only Klaus.
Then he was gone.
Time ceased. There was no air. No light. No dark, either. His thoughts looped eternally until they faded. He didn’t breathe. He didn’t feel.
He existed in absence.
And yet there was something.
It was like a hook was embedded into his skin - not that he still had a form to be pierced. It stuck there, without pain, without force, and it was only because of it that he did not drift into total oblivion. It wasn’t grounding, per se. It was merely something to hold on to.
There was a tug on the hook.
He blinked. A man at his feet was clutching a lifeless body, rocking it in his arms and sobbing, saying words that were nonsense to his ears. Strange. He scanned around. They were in the middle of a battle by the looks of it. Everything was oddly muffled. He shook his head, as if trying to clear his ears of water and suddenly there was a cacophony of sounds: men were shouting and screaming in the dark as their guns blasted and cracked; there were explosions further off too. A bullet whizzed past him and out of instinct he jolted, ducked - what was he doing, standing up in the middle of a battlefield? Did he want to be cannon fodder?
In his crouch he was closer to the stranger - almost standing right on top of him - but the man only had eyes for the one in his arms. He realised he was saying the same thing over and over. DaveDaveDave. He looked at the man’s face and frowned. He seemed sad. Oddly familiar. So was that sound, that word. That name, he realised.
He blinked, harder this time. It was his name. Dave. David Katz. That was him. Was this sad man asking him for help? He went to touch his shoulder to get his attention, to ask him if he was okay, but another hand got there first and he jumped back with fright.
‘Hargreeves . . . Hargreeves! He’s gone, there’s noth- Fuck! Jesus, Klaus, get down!’
That name . . .
‘You’ve gotta get your shit together or you’ll get hit too! Come on, move move move!’
He knew that name . . .
He drifted again.
He came to in a clearing. There were choppers flying overhead, skimming right on top of him. He flinched and flattened himself along the ground, his hands over his head. Couldn’t they see him?
The clearing was scorched, more of a burning pit than a jungle. Any trees still standing were blackened embers. He got to his feet and stood tall in the centre, puzzled as to how he had survived what looked like a napalm blaze. But he wasn’t complaining. He should have been burnt to a crisp, lying knocked out like that. Didn’t know how he had gotten there in the first place.
He stumbled out of the smoky clearing, looking out for Klaus, for Pete, for anyone.
He was back at the firebase. Couldn’t remember walking back; he must have hit his head really hard.
It was hectic there right now, full of returning soldiers carrying the wounded over their shoulders in fireman lifts, or on stretchers if they were lucky, while fresh fighters ran out to the choppers with their guns raised to the sky.
It was strange how busy it was. The injured far outnumbered the whole and some of them were brutally hurt, worse than he’d ever seen on living men. They were lucky to still be breathing, he thought, let alone standing. They milled around aimlessly. Medics must be overrun.
He scanned the crowds and his heart leapt in his chest when he saw Klaus collapsed against a wall, staring out into space. He looked like shit. Didn’t seem to be injured like most. Thank god.
Dave dodged through the mayhem, smiling at him, but Klaus didn’t acknowledge him even as he walked right up into his line of vision. Instead he held his hands in front of him, hands which were covered in blood, hands which trembled like skeleton-leaves about to be torn from the branch.
‘Klaus,’ he said, concerned. ‘What’s wrong?’
Klaus didn’t answer him. He didn’t even look.
‘Look at me, love,’ he said, crouching down in front of him and deeply worried now. ‘It’s okay, I’m here.’ He reached out to touch his shoulder, to bring him back from whatever nightmare he was stuck in.
His fingers slipped through.
He tried again, and again they slipped through, like Klaus was a mirage.
And so he tried once more, both hands this time, trying to grab Klaus’s own shaking hands, but he couldn’t - he couldn’t - he couldn’t touch him.
Klaus looked up again, staring blankly through him.
‘Klaus, I’m right here!’ he cried. ‘Klaus!’
‘It took me a while to realise too.’
Dave spun around and his jaw dropped open when he saw Keith standing tall and healthy and alive, like he’d fallen straight out of Dave’s memory. Only at a second glance maybe he wasn’t so healthy: there was a dark dribble of blood down his face from a nasty head wound, the very same wound that had taken his life.
‘Keith?’ he choked out.
‘Hey, man. I’d say it’s nice to talk to you again, but it’s kinda shitty circumstances.’
‘But you’re dead. How can I . . .’ He trailed off, glancing at Klaus who was still sitting in horrible silence. Eyes vacant. Unable to see him. Dave’s heart broke as he finally understood what was happening. ‘I’m dead?’
Keith grimaced, eyeing Dave’s chest. ‘Yeah. And I’m sorry to see it too. You always were the best of them.’
Dave swayed in shock. He looked over Keith’s shoulders, scanning the camp once more, wondering how he hadn’t noticed sooner. He must have been too busy searching for Klaus to realise it. Now, though, he saw all those aimless figures for what they were.
Many of them weren’t in focus. It was like he was trying to peer at them through a shimmering film, transparent, almost oily. Some drifted in and out of clarity as though they were being buffeted by a breath of air, as though they were hesitant about where they were supposed to be and couldn’t quite maintain their presence. He had to really focus on looking at them. Others were better defined, vividly coloured like Keith - although perhaps that was because he was close by and wanted to be seen. Or perhaps it was because it hadn’t been too long since he died.
The dead wandered around with missing limbs and gory wounds, the unluckiest ones hideously malformed, barely recognisable as people. Some of them were moaning and wailing, some of them were muttering, some of them were entirely silent, mouths hanging loose and gaunt, standing motionless in the middle of everything. Some were Vietnamese, probably VCs who’d died nearby. There were civilians too: a skinny child cradling her shattered arm, hair hanging in her eyes, hiding behind the skirts of a woman who did nothing but quietly sob; a young man, skin burnt and blistered, cursing anyone living who walked near him in sharp Vietnamese. But most were American soldiers. Dave recognised more than a few of the faces as soldiers he’d once known, long since passed.
Apart from Keith, none of them seemed to notice him at all. He was merely one more ghost swept up in the flood. He wondered if he was cursed to roam these battlefields for eternity, killed before his time, trapped by the echoes of plans and dreams that would never come to fruition. He wondered how long it would take before he started flickering out into the ether, before his mind decayed, leaving only a thin shell of a memory, because at the moment he didn’t feel dead. His thoughts and his feelings were his own - he could still smell and see and hear, though existing without touch was strange. It was airless. He couldn’t feel things but he knew how they were supposed to feel - the way his boots should press upon the earth, the way his chest should ache, the way the night’s humidity should make sweat prick on his brow. If he thought hard, he could feel all of it. But it was only phantom touch. It was only in his mind. He would never impact the world again.
He really was dead.
Klaus exhaled a shaky breath behind him, and he twisted back around. ‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered brokenly, even though he couldn’t hear it. ‘Klaus, baby, I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t want to leave you.’
Keith moved closer. ‘If he sobers up you’ll be able to talk to him again.’
Klaus hadn’t been sober since that awful time after Ainsley’s own death, when he’d been crushed by the unit’s demands.
‘He hates being sober,’ he murmured, his hand trying and failing to brush Klaus’s cheek. ‘He hates seeing ghosts.’
‘But it’s you,’ Keith said plainly.
Another figure approached. It was Pete, short of breath and limping, his bad leg bleeding again. ‘Hargreeves,’ he said.
Klaus blinked up at him in a daze. Pete pulled him to his feet, keeping a firm, steady hand on his shoulder. He looked Klaus up and down.
Klaus shook his head.
‘No, no . . .’ he mumbled. ‘Not yet.’
Pete dropped his hand. ‘I’m sorry. About Dave.’ He shuffled in discomfort. ‘I know how much he meant to you.’
Klaus stared at Pete like he couldn’t quite remember who he was. Then his blankness crumbled, his mouth twisted in pain, and his eyes closed.
‘It’s not fair,’ he said, voice cracking. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
Dave’s eyes burned. Every part of him screamed out with desparation; he needed to hold Klaus close, but he couldn’t, he couldn’t ever again.
Pete looked at his feet. Then he scrounged in his pocket, held out his hand. ‘I went back. Got these for you.’ From his fist dangled Dave’s dogtags. ‘It’s against protocol, but I figured you need them more.’
Klaus took them with a shaky hand and slung them around his neck. Dave stood right next to him, his hand over Klaus’s where it clutched the metal tag, hovering just where his physical hand would have rested.
‘Thanks,’ Klaus said. He glanced over at the barracks. ‘I’m just gonna . . . I’ll be right back.’
Pete let him go, and Klaus stumbled off to the tent they’d both woken up in this morning. He and Keith followed in silence.
Inside, Klaus pulled his pack out, opened it up and started throwing things from it in a frenzy. Dave began to fret, thinking he was hunting for drugs even though he wouldn’t need more for hours, and he was suddenly afraid of what Klaus might do.
When Klaus pulled out the black briefcase Dave understood immediately.
‘Is he . . . ?’ Keith said.
He couldn't answer. His jaw clenched up and he nodded jerkily, hoping that would be enough for Keith.
Klaus was fleeing. He was doing what he’d refused to do while Dave was still alive, and while he knew that this way Klaus would be safe, sped away from the war for good, he ached at the idea of losing him. I’m still here, he thought desperately. Klaus, I'm right here. He would have screamed it aloud if he wasn't silenced by his own dread.
The cot creaked as Klaus sat on it, the briefcase on his lap, bloodied hands coming up to rest tenderly upon the clasps.
Dave fell to his knees in front of him. Klaus couldn't leave. He couldn't. He was meant to be with Dave - they'd promised each other, they'd made plans. The ache he felt morphed into a bone-deep, crushing hurt, building into a wave, growing stronger with each moment.
Klaus looked around the tent, sparing a glance for every nook and cranny, every shadow. Dave had eyes only for him. He stared and stared, committing him to memory as he reached out again, as he tried to touch him, tried to take his hands, tried to get him to stop because if he waited he'd see Dave again, if only he waited he'd be able to hear Dave begging for him to see that he was there, he was right there -
‘I’m sorry,’ Klaus said, those beautiful eyes shimmering with tears. ‘I love you.’
The latch clicked and Klaus disappeared in a flash of blue light - a light that Dave had dreamed of for months, etched into his subconscious. He left behind a tent in disarray, a discarded pack, and the faint smell of cigarettes.
The wave broke. It was anguish. It was aching loneliness like he’d never felt before. It was too much, too much, too much . . .
Dave couldn’t bear it. He had no reason to stay here, not without Klaus.
He let go.
Before you slip into unconsciousness
I’d like to have another kiss,
Another flashing chance at bliss
Another kiss, another kiss
The days are bright and filled with pain,
Enclose me in your gentle rain,
The time you ran was too insane,
We’ll meet again, we’ll meet again
Lyrics: The Crystal Ship - The Doors.
I'm sorry. All I have to say is that this isn't the end. I hope I haven't broken too many hearts. Sending love out into the universe for you all anyway.
He returned to the place that was neither here nor there. The place inbetween. Limbo.
He had been drawn back in a state of profound distress, and for an indeterminate length of time he drowned in that feeling, knowing nothing else. The cause of his misery was unfathomable. He could not remember it. He did not want to remember it. Anything that could produce such misery was best forgotten; it was easier to simply give in to it. And so the misery became his keeper. It kept him stuck, unable to move beyond. It kept him restless. It refused to let him be at peace.
He might have been lost in the torment for eternity if it weren’t for that mysterious force, the one that had called him forth to haunt the battlefield. It sustained the faintest link to the living realm, a connection that was mostly hidden from him as he cycled round and round within his own suffering.
Or rather, it was hidden until he felt the tug.
He tried to ignore it at first, but it hurt. He didn’t like it. It hurt as his piecemeal memories re-emerged, as they slowly fused back together. It hurt as he regained an unsteady sort of clarity. It hurt as he grasped who he was again. The pull grew stronger and he resisted it. He remembered enough now to know that he didn’t want to go back, not if he would be left roaming the world without him, and that was the thought that hurt the most. But it was insatiable, dragging him back despite all his efforts.
He opened his eyes and saw his littlest niece, Miriam, sitting at the table with her lunch. She was nibbling at a sandwich with tiny milkteeth bites when he appeared, and her eyes widened in surprise. He waited for her to look away, thinking she must have noticed something out the window behind him. Instead she smiled at him shyly, dropping her food onto the plate.
She clambered down from her chair, skipped over to her mother and grabbed at her skirt. ‘I’m all done, Mommy. Can I go play with Uncle Dave now?’
‘Uncle Dave? Did you hear me and Daddy talking?’ Rachel asked, patting her head distractedly. ‘He’s not home yet, libling. Hold on to that excitement for a few more weeks.’
Miriam turned back to where he was standing. This time she frowned, eyes darting past him, peering at thin air.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Okay. I’ll play with him then.’
He stood for a moment in the corner of the busy little kitchen, listening to the chop-chop-chop of Rachel’s knife on the cutting board. Then he closed his eyes and let himself fade back into the nowhere-place.
The sadness was diluted this time.
He still suffered. He still lost himself in it. But now it was streaked with something other .
It was as though the hook had solidified a bit more. If he could see, then he might say it was like a door had been left ajar in the dark of the evening, light gleaming through a sliver of a crack. If he could hear, he might say it sounded like voices, muffled and whispering. If he could smell, he might say it smelt like something overwhelmingly familiar, yet something he couldn’t quite name. Maybe a simmering winter soup he’d eaten as a child. Maybe toothpaste. Maybe a downpour of rain on a hot day. Perhaps all of those things and none of those things; they always dissipated before he could gather enough of himself to figure it out.
It was a strange existence.
It was the sort of thing that only became real upon waking up.
A tug on the hook.
It was late afternoon and he was in his brother’s kitchen once more. Micky was sitting at the table, an opened letter discarded by his elbow. He was sobbing; enormous, heartwrenching sobs. Micky had been nine years old the last time Dave saw him cry.
‘Hey, darling, could you -’ Rachel ducked through the door, then fell silent when she saw her husband. She noticed the letter. ‘Oh. Oh, Michael. No. He’s not . . . ?’
‘He’s not coming home,’ he cried.
Rachel went to Micky and wrapped her arms around him tightly, rocking him against her.
Dave wandered down the hall into the bedroom his nieces shared. There they were playing noisily, dancing little dolls across the rug, bickering over the laws of their game. He sat on a bed, sat there for a long while, watching them with their rosy cheeks and ragamuffin curls.
Eventually Micky and Rachel came in, quiet and slow and red-eyed.
‘Hey, girls,’ Rachel said in a soft, strained voice, and the two children immediately stilled with the uncanny intuition kids get when they know their parents are upset. ‘There’s something we have to tell you.’
Dave left. He didn’t want to hear it.
He sat in their garden and watched the birds dart in and out of trees, silhouettes across the twilight sky. Eventually darkness fell and he lost his grip on the world once more, drifting into an indeterminable night of his own.
He got better at it each time he found himself dragged back. His memories flooded back faster and it was easier to figure out where he was and who exactly had called him forth.
He learnt not to fight it. He didn’t have a choice about being brought back by those who loved him, although it seemed to be entirely his decision as to when he faded away again.
Sometimes if they were particularly mournful and he left too soon, he’d find himself back moments later: the world collapsing into a pinprick then bursting back in full technicolour.
Other times he didn’t particularly want the world to rush away and so he stayed. It was nice to watch as life bustled on around him, oblivious to his presence. Something must have called to him in those busy moments, when Micky and Rachel were hurrying around after the kids or occupied in their work, so he figured he was in their thoughts even though they didn’t seem to pause. It was nice to catch them in the quieter moments too. He knew for sure they were thinking of him when they lingered near a photograph from a few summers ago or reread an old letter, thumbing the worn creases in the paper with its spots of Vietnamese dirt.
If he found himself back in Vietnam he fled as soon as he could. Once he caught a glimpse of Keith, conjured up alongside him, but he was gone again before either could react. He regretted it when he next awoke - it would have been comforting to talk to him, would have eased some of his loneliness. But he never wanted to walk those battlefields again. Not if he could help it.
Otherwise, he grew fond of returning. It was often peaceful, and he had a lot of time to think. To process.
He thought about Klaus almost always. Seeing him vanish from the tent had gutted Dave, had sent him into that horrible spiral, but amidst the chaos he must have always known that somewhere, somehow, there was a chance of finding him. Why else hadn’t he moved on? That fragile connection could only do so much. Truth be told, he remained because he knew he would get his chance one day. He wasn’t done with the world.
A tug, again.
He was in a bar. There was a rowdy bunch of men around a table, drinking and reminiscing, and as the world came into focus he realised he recognised many of the faces, although it was disorienting seeing them all out of their fatigues.
There was Toby, cocky and macho like always. Lester - he’d made it out too. That was Adams in a wheelchair, looking worse for wear but alive.
And Pete. There he was with all four limbs, a new pair of tortoiseshell glasses on his nose, and a moustache that he really, really needed to rethink. Dave had to tear his eyes away from it while firmly telling himself that everyone coped in different ways.
He scanned the room. He wasn’t the only ghost standing amongst them. Keith was near the bar, and scattered around the room were others who had lost their lives - all of them drawn to the enchanting, irresistable sound of voices speaking their names, telling their stories, and making their memories real again.
Keith waved at him and Dave grinned back, gliding over to him with silent footsteps.
‘Fancy seeing you here,’ Keith said, trying to clap him on the back. It felt like a breath of wind. ‘You gonna stick around for a while this time?’
‘Could do,’ he said. Words felt unfamiliar in his mouth.
‘Good man! How’ve you been?’
Dave raised an eyebrow.
‘Oh, come on,’ Keith said. ‘Yeah, we’re as dead as doornails, I get it. But don’t tell me you’ve just been floating in oblivion all this time. D’you get brought back by your family too?’
He nodded. ‘Sometimes.’
‘See! We’ve got stuff to catch up on! I was at my own funeral. It was a bit morbid.’
‘I didn’t stay for mine.’
‘Yeah, that was a good call. Fucking miserable, the whole thing. My poor momma . . .’ He cleared his throat. ‘Klaus turn up yet?’
Dave opened his mouth but no words came out. He looked at the floor.
‘Aw, Katz,’ Keith said, hesitant. ‘Hey, he’s gotta end up back here sometime, right? You’ll see him again.’
‘I know,’ he said, mostly trying to convince himself. ‘I know.’
Keith gave him a little half-smile, then tried to pick up a discarded drink. ‘Damn,’ he muttered when his hand phased through. ‘Wish I was a poltergeist. Have you seen Pete yet?’
‘Yeah. Lucky bastard, all in one piece. I’m glad one of us made it out.’
‘Sure, of course,’ Keith said, leaning close and looking devious. ‘But more importantly, did you see the ‘stache?’
The reminder of its existence hit him like a bag of bricks. ‘Ah! Yes. Unfortunately.’ He glanced back over at the table where Pete and the others were sitting. ‘Poor Pete. I don’t want to look at it, but I can’t see anything else,’ he said sadly.
‘God, neither. He didn’t have it last time. I need to know what possessed him, ‘cause it sure as hell wasn’t me.’
‘He’s struggling, that’s all.’
‘He needs our ghostly wisdom.’ Keith craned his neck to see the dreaded slug of hair. ‘Maybe if we whisper into his ear all night that it’s a godawful decision, he’ll dream about shaving it off?’
‘I think we’ll have to shout.’
‘Fuck. You’re right.’
Keith continued coaxing him to talk, chattering away about funny things he’d seen and conversations he’d eavesdropped on, asking him what he thought about limbo, whether he felt the same urge to step through into the beyond. Dave felt like he was stretching a muscle he’d forgotten how to use. It was a good stretch. He even found himself laughing when Keith put his mouth to Pete’s ear and shouted, ‘SHAVE IT OFF YOU MORON,’ at the top of his lungs.
After that Keith quietened down, leaning up against the table with the vets and beckoning Dave to join him. He was lulled into a trance as he listened to all the tales they spun, words of bravery and loss and love. There was laughter that filled him up, there were weighty silences that made his throat tighten, and there were jokes about all the stupid things they’d done, all mixed in with jokes about the guys who still lived and breathed, like there wasn’t something insurmountable separating them.
He wondered what they’d all think if they knew they were there, listening intently. He thought of the moment Keith’s expression of mirth transformed into something sombre as his teasing shouts went unheard. Quickly hidden, but there nonetheless. He thought of the kick in the gut he felt when he went to add something to the story being told and remembered there was no point.
It wasn’t nice, not being seen. But simply being there - that was something.
The living world was a very crowded place for the dead. Dave understood why Klaus had wanted to block it all out.
He spent a lot of time at the veteran’s bar where restless spirits were plentiful; hardly a young soldier died with no regrets and all their affairs in order. Add to the mix a bunch of veterans, all gathered together in one space where they were sure to reminisce, and they made a neat job of hauling ghosts back from the middling realm.
If he ever ventured out onto the streets, he was faced with the reality of the wandering ghosts: those who were unable or unwilling to stop haunting the places they died. They walked around aimlessly, moaning and raving at strangers or drifting in mournful silence, all waiting for some kind of absolution. Some tagged along after people - their killers or their lovers? Often it was too hard to tell.
Dave was glad to have Keith hanging around with him. They both knew why they kept coming back.
1989, and he’d be born.
2019, and he’d remember them.
Time was funny as a ghost anyway. It passed erratically. They were stones skimming the surface of a great lake, dipping in and out; time went by and he only noticed it in the unfamiliar technology, the drastic changes in fashion, and the age lines deepening on the skin of his friends and family.
Adams joined them early on. He’d struggled coming home.
Toby got married and moved to Canada.
Pete got married too, and then suddenly he had that degree he’d always dreamed of and a good job, and he had three kids and lived in a pretty little house in the suburbs. He must have been fonder of them than he’d ever let on because Dave and Keith ended up spending a lot of time in that house too. He kept a picture of them on his desk - the four of them grinning stupidly from base camp in black and white - and Dave looked at it almost every time he was summoned. There they were, himself and Klaus in miniature. It was proof that once upon a time they really had stood alongside each other, grimy and sweaty and strong and young and so, so alive.
One day he was drawn into Pete’s living room by that insistent tug, only to find him watching television with his wife, Natalie. Pete was gripping the arm of the couch like he feared it would fly out from beneath him.
Dave was confused but he wasn’t complaining, and he sat down on the free seat beside Pete to watch it too.
‘ . . . gifted with abilities far beyond the ordinary. I have adopted six such children. I give you the inaugural class of the the Umbrella Academy. ’
With those final words Dave came over all shaky. The camera panned away from the face of the old man - that was the father, he realised, an intense hatred washing over him as he remembered Klaus’s imitations of a plummy accent, as he remembered what Reginald Hargreeves had done to Klaus and his siblings - and then it zoomed in on the six school age children all lined up in a row behind him. One child was covered in blood. And one . . .
‘Holy shit,’ Pete muttered. ‘That’s him. In the middle. That’s the one I told you about!’ He turned to his wife with awe written all over his face, a finger pointing at the screen. ‘Hargreeves. He talks to the dead.’
‘And you served with him?’ she asked drily. ‘He’s just a kid.’
‘He was a time traveller.’ Pete leaned closer, drinking up the image on the screen.
Dave slipped off the couch and knelt directly in front of the TV, lifting a finger to touch it. A blip of static ran through the picture. There! There he was! He was small and young and wearing a mask but Dave would recognise Klaus anywhere, especially if he knew what he was looking for, and right now he was leaning against one of his brothers, loose-limbed and tactile as ever, grinning and spindly and Klaus.
‘You can’t be serious,’ Natalie said.
‘I am,’ Pete retorted. ‘His name’s Klaus Hargreeves. They’ll call him the Seance. I can write it all down for you, everything he told us, and then when the rest of the world finds out you’ll know I’m not lying.’ He didn’t take his eyes of the screen for one moment. ‘Little devil. Look at him!’
Much too soon, the news show moved on. Dave paced the room, bursting with restless energy. He wanted to keep looking. He wanted to reach through the screen and take off the mask. If only he could hear him speak!
He escaped into Pete’s study to look at the photograph once more. His entire body was trembling - the photo would help calm him - but then he saw it and he heard echoes of Klaus’s stories in his head and tried to match them to the child he’d just seen, only he couldn’t, and that made him want to punch something, only he couldn’t do that either, and above all else he wanted his Klaus to be here right now. He missed him so much that he felt like he was dying all over again.
He didn’t know what to do with such a storm of contradicting emotions. It had been so long since he’d felt that kind of ecstasy, the absolute thrill of seeing him again, but it had been a while since he’d felt this kind of heartbreak too, knowing that he was just out of reach, knowing that he couldn’t sweep in, scoop him up and keep him safe. Dave was here in Pete’s house of all places, stuck and silent and alone, unable to do anything except hide his face in his hands and try not to fall apart.
He caught quite a lot of news about the Umbrella Academy and Number Four. Pete was the definition of super-fan, although not the typical age of one. He collected the comics, cut out newspaper articles and even bought a little figurine of Klaus, setting it on his desk next to the photograph.
Through Pete, Dave watched in bits and pieces as Klaus grew up, sprouting from that wily, funny kid to the flamboyant, ridiculous mess of a man that he knew best.
He watched interviews over Pete’s shoulder, with Keith leaning over too and giving a running commentary, judging Klaus’s taste in clothing whenever he wasn’t wearing that stiff uniform. The three of them laughed at his flippant attitude and zany answers. Klaus couldn’t care less what those people thought of him and seemed to make it his mission to confuse and disturb. He said some awful, inappropriate things that would leave the poor interviewers blinking in the dust, unsure whether they should speak up or run away, until one of his siblings could no longer stifle their laughter and Klaus would break too, cracking a grin, looking much too pleased with himself. Keith loved him more than ever in those moments, if the way he cackled was anything to go by, and so did Dave.
The media clutched at scandal like Klaus clutched at poor decisions, so his descent into drug abuse was well documented, even with Sir Reginald’s hush money. Pete valiantly kept up with everything that happened and it tore Dave’s heart to shreds to watch. It started with twitchiness in interviews not long after Five’s disappearance. Then there was an awful one a few years later where Klaus was so out of it he had to be escorted away. He, Keith and Pete watched everything unfold with bated breath, all three of them weighed down by foresight, knowing that what they were seeing wasn’t the worst, not yet.
It wasn’t until the death of his brother Ben that Klaus truly went off the rails. After that, the Academy went quiet. All they had were blurry photographs and block-print titles on trashy magazines:
HE’S LOOKING ROUGH!
* Is Klaus in over his head?
* Barfights, bottles and black eyes - furious bystander tells all
* PLUS our pick for Allison’s wedding dress!
THE SEANCE SPOTTED IN REHAB! THIRD TIME LUCKY?
CHILD SUPERHERO IMPRISONED FOR CLASS A POSSESSION
Dave hated that Pete bought them. He hated the magazines even more.
Eventually, even those fizzled out. His sister Vanya published a book which led to a brief resurgence of popularity and countless articles asking Where are they now? But soon enough long silence met long silence, and Klaus fell off the map.
He and Keith talked about going to find him. They could if they really tried. In the end, Dave decided it would hurt too much to see Klaus and have him look back without recognition, only seeing another damned ghost clamouring for his attention, another reason to get high.
He’d waited nearly fifty years. He could wait some more.
The tug brought him forth to a new place, somewhere he’d never been before.
It wasn’t the veterans’ bar, nor Pete’s house, nor Micky’s. It was grander and more ostentatious than any home he’d ever set foot in. And it was a home, he was sure of it. He could tell from the messy detritus lying about that homes normally collected: empty mugs; a jumper thrown over a chair; a book abandoned on the ornate coffee-table, its spine wedged open with a television remote. He wondered what year it was, whether it had been very long since he last came back.
There didn’t seem to be anybody nearby. Who in this place had been remembering him? He didn’t know anyone with this kind of money, except for . . .
A shiver ran down his spine. He spun on the spot, trying to see everything at once, to see where he was hiding. That didn’t work very well - it was a massive room - so he began to dash around madly, searching every corner with rapid precision, checking behind the furniture and peering out the windows. The room was definitely empty. So where was he? Where was he?
Dave ran out into the corridor, listening for voices. For anything. All was quiet.
‘Hello?’ he called out. ‘Anyone?’
Then, a whisper. It was calling to him. The sound was so faint that his ears would not have caught it if he were alive.
He followed it down the stairs, through an archway and along an endless hallway before giving up on those nonsensical habits, and from there he marched straight through the walls, using the voice as his guide. He would have been hopelessly lost in here without it.
The voice got louder and louder until it was coming from the next room, just out of sight, and with a burning urgency he pressed forward through the final wall, coming out into a dimly lit kitchen. He stopped and stared. There were seven people sitting around a table: six vaguely familiar faces, and one that Dave knew better than anything else in the world.
There he was, almost exactly as Dave remembered him: dark shadows under his eyes, though the smudges of eyeliner were new; unruly curls; even the sleeveless khaki jacket that he’d worn for months was the same, though it had been washed and was now thrown over a violently colourful top. Dave’s dogtags were around his neck. His hands were wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee as he spoke.
‘- haven’t told you all before now because it’s been so crazy.’
‘But how didn’t we notice?’ said the massive brother. Number One. Luther. It had to be.
‘Not everyone’s as oblivious as you,’ said the boy. Five, the vanishing act. ‘I’ve known the whole time.’
‘And you didn’t think to tell any of us?’ asked the woman sitting next to Klaus. Dave had seen her face in those magazines enough to recognise her as Allison.
Five shrugged. ‘Wasn’t mine to tell. Also I was a teensy bit preoccupied with preventing the end of the world, in case you’ve already forgotten.’
‘Oh yeah, that old thing,’ Klaus mumbled.
Allison shot an icy glare at Five. ‘I don’t think any of us are forgetting about that for a long, long time. But now that it’s sorted, we’re trying to work on our communication , remember?’ Then she sighed, turning back to Klaus. ‘I’m sorry we weren’t . . . better. We’re all sorry, right?’
A murmur of agreement went around the table.
‘Thanks,’ Klaus said. ‘Also, I can’t believe you weirdos just accepted that I’d gone all army chic overnight.’
‘Really? You could come in dressed as the pope and they probably wouldn’t bat an eye,’ said the hooded man sitting at the head of the table. Klaus laughed weakly.
‘How long were you there?’ the other woman asked quietly. Vanya.
‘Ten months,’ he replied.
‘I still can’t believe you fought in that shit,’ said the man on Klaus’s other side. ‘Is it where you met the one you lost?’
Klaus’s mouth opened and closed, his hand jumping to the dogtags.
‘ What? ’ Allison exclaimed.
‘You knew too?’ Luther asked, frowning in confusion.
Allison tried to grab at his dogtags to read them, but Klaus tore them out of her grasp.
‘You don’t have to - Christ, stop, Allison! I’ll tell you!’ He glared at her until she backed down, then he took a deep breath, still fiddling with the metal chain. ‘It’s his tag. His name was Dave. He was a soldier in my unit -’
At the mention of his name, Dave startled. He'd been entirely caught up in listening and looking - it was all he really did these days.
‘ - and I loved him more than anything,’ Klaus continued. He smiled a sad smile. ‘I mean, who wouldn’t?’
‘Oh, Klaus,’ Vanya said softly.
Dave stepped forward from the shadow he was lurking in, jerkily, like he’d forgotten how to walk. He needed to go to him, to sit next to him even if Klaus couldn’t see that he was there.
‘He must’ve been a very special person to put up with all your weird ass shit,’ Diego said.
Klaus closed his eyes, laughing a little. ‘He was. He was kind, and strong, and vulnerable. And beautiful. So, so beautiful.’ He sighed and stared into his coffee cup as though he could scry for answers in its dark shallows.
‘Uh, Klaus -’ said the brother sitting at the head of the table. He was frowning at Dave. ‘You should see this.’
Klaus looked at him questioningly, but none of the others did. Ben - it had to be Ben - pointed at Dave and Klaus snapped around, lightning fast.
Klaus’s mouth dropped open. ‘Dave,’ he breathed. ‘Holy shit. Dave.’
Dave beamed at him as tears brimmed in his eyes. ‘Klaus,’ he said. It was all he could manage, but it contained all the feeling in the world.
‘You’re here,’ Klaus said, staring like he couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘Oh my god. You’re here. ’ He rammed his chair back, knocking his cup over in his eagerness, and then he was up and running to Dave, barefoot and long-legged and right in front of him. Dave could count his eyelashes. ‘What took you so long?!’
He found himself laughing, tearily. ‘What took me so long? I came the long way round.’
Klaus was quickly becoming as much a mess as Dave, overcome with joy - crying with it, grinning with it, near on shaking with it. ‘I’ve been trying to summon you for weeks.’
‘And I’m here. I’m here now.’ He reached out, his hand hovering by Klaus’s cheek, as close to touching as he could get. ‘God, Klaus. I missed you so much. I can’t believe you can see me.’
Klaus rubbed tears from his cheek with a soft laugh, his hand passing through Dave’s. ‘Of course I can see you, you beautiful idiot.’
‘You got sober,’ he said.
‘I did. It fucking sucks, but I did. I needed to find you again.’
‘Oh, Klaus,’ he said again, smiling around the sound of it. It was so good to say his name aloud. ‘You found me, sweetheart. And I was waiting. I knew - I hoped. . .’ He trailed off and tried to touch him again, unable to find words that conveyed the magnitude of his feelings. Old habits resurfacing like fifty years hadn’t passed since he touched him last.
‘Shit, wait,’ Klaus said all of a sudden. ‘Look what I can do now.’ He screwed up his face and held his hands out in front of him in fists, almost in the same way he had that fateful night in the Saigon disco.
A moment later, Klaus’s hands glowed an electric, otherworldly blue. He opened his eyes and threw himself at Dave - and Dave caught him. Instinctively. Impossibly.
‘What?!’ he exclaimed in a rush of breath as Klaus’s arms wound around his neck, touching him like no living thing should be able to. ‘Klaus, how -’
‘Shh,’ he hushed, then kissed Dave full on the mouth. And no matter his confusion, he couldn’t resist that.
He barely noticed as Klaus’s family made themselves scarce, no doubt giving them their privacy. There’d be time for introductions later.
For now he had Klaus in his arms, where he could feel his heartbeat and his warmth and the metal tag wedged between their chests, and he could taste the coffee he’d been sipping, and he could feel his laughter as they fell against the kitchen bench, and the soft skin on his palms as he cupped Dave’s face. His eyes shone, full of light and so, so green.
Dave kissed him again and again with amazed laughter, with whispers of love and apologies and promises. They enclosed each other in a deep embrace, swaying together, holding on tight.
He never wanted to let go.
I searched for form and land
For years and years I roamed
I gazed a gazely stare
At all the millions here
We must have died alone
A long long time ago
I laughed and shook his hand
And made my way back home
Song lyrics: After a short interval we’re back to Bowie, with an out-of-order “The Man Who Sold the World.”
I am a tired soul so please *insert Apocalypse Averted plotline of your choosing here* and let’s revel in fanfic, friends. Dave doesn’t care about plotholes, he cares about Klaus.
Coming up, one epilogue. Until then - much love!
He was unreasonably nervous as Klaus rapped his knuckles on the door.
Klaus looked nervous too. He’d been chatting without pause all morning, barely noticing the strangers on the bus with their hesitant concern and their scowls. Only once they’d turned onto the clean-swept path had the endearing stream of nonsense trailed off.
‘Thanks for doing this,’ Dave said, again.
Klaus scoffed. ‘For the last time - I want to, numbskull. You know that.’
‘I suppose I did promise to introduce you.’
‘Fifty years ago too! Top marks for procrastination, Dave.’
He grinned at Klaus and then the door opened.
Klaus stood to attention - Dave wondered if he realised he was doing it - and blinked wordlessly for a few seconds before he remembered himself. ‘Uh - hi! Are you Michael Katz?’
Micky looked the same as he had the last time Dave saw him, which must have been a few years ago. A bit more wrinkled and weary, but otherwise the same.
‘Yes? Can I help you?’ Micky peered at Klaus in suspicion.
He’d always been a practical, understated man, whereas Klaus was quite the opposite - visibly so. This morning, Dave had begged Klaus not to wear his so-called best outfit, which was so painful on the eyes that he’d feared Micky would immediately slam the door in their faces. Klaus had poked his tongue out at Dave and switched the clown shirt for his skimpiest crop top out of spite. (Dave didn’t mind that one himself, not at all, but it still risked sending his brother into cardiac arrest.)
‘Yeah, you can! Or rather, I want to help you.’
‘With what? I don’t want to sign up to anything.’ He looked Klaus over once more. ‘I don’t have any money to give right now either.’
‘I don’t want any of your money,’ Klaus insisted. ‘No signatures either. I just want a moment of your time.’
‘Who is it, Dad?’ called a voice from within. Quick footsteps followed and then Miriam joined them, leaning over her father’s shoulder. ‘Everything okay?’
‘You should probably introduce yourself,’ Dave said.
‘Right, of course. Yeah, everything’s fine. My name’s Klaus Hargreeves. Basically, I’m here -’
Miriam lit up. ‘Hey, I know that name! Hargreeves, like the Umbrella Academy Hargreeves?’
‘Uh, yeah,’ Klaus said. ‘Exactly.’ He held up his arm, showing the umbrella tattoo.
‘What’s that?’ Micky asked.
‘Oh you know, Dad. Those kiddie superheroes.’ She smiled at Klaus. ‘My kids were always going on about it. Are you the knife one?’
‘The Seance, actually.’
She nodded. ‘Right. Wow. And you were here to-?’
Klaus bit his lip and looked at Dave. ‘It’s - well, it’s in the name really. There’s someone here to talk to you.’
Micky frowned. ‘Who?’
‘My brother?’ Micky stepped back in shock. ‘But he . . . he died years ago. In Vietnam.’
‘I know,’ Klaus said. ‘I was there.’
He gaped at Klaus. ‘It happened in ‘69, kid. There’s no way you could have been there.’
‘Except I was. It’s a long story, but it essentially comes down to accidental time travel.’ He spun to the side to show them his army tattoo. ‘See! It’s the same as Dave’s.’
‘He didn’t have a tattoo like that,’ he said obstinately.
Dave groaned, muttering, ‘Micky, for the love of all that is good, please stop.’
Klaus shushed him, trying not to laugh. ‘We got them together. And I can show you, he’s right here. Only I’d prefer not to manifest him on the doorstep. Nosy neighbours, all that.’
Micky still looked dubious. ‘I don’t know what you want-’ he started, but Miriam interrupted him.
‘Dad, I think he’s telling the truth. He is one of the Umbrella people after all.’
‘I’ve never heard of them!’
‘Of course you haven’t, you old poke,’ Miriam said, grinning slyly at Klaus. ‘He runs screaming from anything vaguely pop culture.’ With a reassuring pat on Micky’s shoulder, she said, ‘Look, his whole schtick is seeing ghosts, so I’d believe him if he says that Uncle Dave is here with us right now.’
Klaus bowed his head at her graciously.
Micky hesitated, then opened the door fully. ‘Alright then. Come on in.’
The four of them sat in the tidy living room. They were joined by Rachel, who looked at Klaus with as much suspicion as her husband, but she kept her mouth shut tight as Micky explained to her what was happening.
‘So how does it work?’ Miriam asked. ‘Will he speak using your voice or something?’
‘You’ll see,’ Klaus said, already concentrating on channelling his powers with scrunched up fists. ‘I just have to . . .’
Dave felt the now-familiar sensation of regained physicality. Barely a moment later, Micky jolted back in his chair and Rachel’s hand sprang to cover her mouth.
‘Oh my god,’ Miriam whispered under her breath.
‘No,’ Micky said, voice catching. ‘It can’t be . . . Dave ?’
He smiled. ‘Hey, Micky. Rachel, Miriam - it’s good to see you all. Properly.’
‘I’d forgotten . . .’ his brother said, shaking his head as if denying his own senses. ‘Oh, Dave. You were so young.’
He knew how it must look. Fifty years had aged them and yet here he was, preserved as he had been at the moment of his death, perhaps more battleworn and dirty than they remembered but otherwise the same as he was when they had parted.
‘I really am the baby brother now, right?’ he joked, because tears were already gathering in the corners of Micky’s eyes.
Micky laughed, sniffing hugely and still shaking his head.
‘You can touch him,’ Klaus said, concentrating hard. His fists glowed bright blue. Dave also cast eerie, otherworldly light across the room.
He got to his feet and Micky mirrored him, and then in a few steps they were hugging. His brother felt smaller, more frail than he used to, but his grip was still strong as he grabbed Dave’s arms, holding him still for inspection.
Dave laughed a little, going bashful under the close attention. Micky searched and searched and Dave thought he could see old memories reawakening as his brother counted freckles that he’d forgotten about, as the forgetfulness of time and the flatness of photos were amended by proximity.
He kissed Rachel on the cheek and then Miriam, who playfully swatted at him and gave him an enormous hug.
‘I always remembered you, you know,’ she said.
‘Even though you were so small?’
‘Of course! You were a load of fun. All rough and tumble.’ She grinned, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. ‘Oh man, Lucy would love to see you too.’
‘We can come back,’ Klaus said, shaking slightly with the exertion, although he seemed to have it under control.
‘You don’t mind?’ Rachel asked. ‘We wouldn’t want to put you out.’
‘Not at all. I’d do anything for Dave.’
Micky’s gaze darted between Klaus and himself. He knew that his brother was a smart man and able to figure this out, but Dave wasn’t ashamed anymore. And he wasn’t going to let this most important aspect of his life and his afterlife be left to speculation. He was going to tell his brother outright like he should have years ago.
Steeling himself, he looked Micky right in the eye. ‘Klaus and I fell in love in Vietnam,’ he said simply. He felt his physicality flicker before it surged back stronger than before. ‘I know we never talked about it before, but I figured you always knew. About me. Still, there’s no time like the present - I’ve had a lot of time to think about all the stuff I didn’t say. All that worrying seems a bit pointless when you’re dead.’
‘I did,’ Micky said quietly. ‘I did know.’
Dave nodded. ‘Right. I just wanted to make sure.’
There was a heavy silence. Micky needed to say something else - it was up to him, now - but he dropped his head under Dave’s gaze and stared at the patterned rug on the floor, his posture awkward. He’d been taller than Dave once. Now he seemed very small. Unsure.
‘You know, I wouldn’t do this for any old ghost,’ Klaus said. ‘It’s a fun perk of being my boyfriend.’
Miriam turned to him. ‘So you’re actually dating him? Even now? That’s . . . uh-’
‘Sexy?’ Klaus said. ‘Thrilling? Spooky?’
‘I was going to say unusual.’
He laughed. ‘Name me one thing that isn’t! Everything in this situation is unusual.’
‘True! Very true!’ she agreed exuberantly, making up for the others’ silence.
Klaus walked over to Dave and threw an arm around his shoulders. ‘Dave was going to bring me home to meet you all, back in the sixties. It was pretty serious. I can’t believe he never mentioned me in his letters.’
‘Oh, I’m sure I did,’ Dave said.
‘By name? Or did you call me your “special friend” in them?’ he asked with an exaggerated wink.
‘Actually, now you mention it,’ Micky said, ‘I think that rings a bell.’
Klaus’s eyebrows shot up. ‘No way. Special friend? ’
‘No, no,’ Micky replied. ‘Your name. But it was a long time ago, I can’t be sure.’
‘It doesn’t matter anyway,’ Dave said.
‘But how do you date a ghost?’ Miriam asked Klaus, ignoring him and her father.
Klaus glanced at Dave. ‘Well, I guess it’s not too different from being with anyone else when I manifest him.’
‘Won’t it be hard, though? As you age and he doesn’t?’
Dave’s arm circled around Klaus’s waist. ‘We’re working it out,’ he said.
‘Yeah, we are,’ Klaus agreed. ‘My brother, Ben - he’s a ghost too. And he looks like he’s aging. I think it’s got something to do with proximity to me - my powers change things. Or maybe it’s because he’s always here.’ He shrugged. ‘Ghosts are weird. We’re rolling with it. Anyway, enough of this - I can’t keep him corporeal all day. Dave is my ghost boyfriend, yes, and we’re very happy and in love and all that harmonious crap, but he’s come to see you . So talk!’ Klaus pushed him forward gently.
Dave looked at his family: Micky in his cardigan and perfectly ironed shirt, who was back to staring at Dave like he never wanted to stop, a look on his face that was slightly apologetic and mostly hopeful; Rachel with her tired, kind eyes - she was quiet but so sure in her movements; Miriam’s wide grin and her jangling bracelets and her busy, bubbling energy; and then Klaus, right by his side, as wonderful as ever.
They could work this out too. All of them. They might stumble and trip on the way, but they were willing. He wanted so much to talk to them properly, to hear all the stories he’d missed, to tell his own stories they’d never heard. He wanted to convince Micky to pull out old photo albums so Klaus could tease him about his baby face. He wanted to watch as they got to know the man he’d fallen in love with. He wanted to argue with Micky over something pointless, and Rachel to slap his hand away when he went to steal a crispy roast vegetable from the tray, and he wanted to dance barefoot with his nieces on the lawn - no doubt they’d complain that they weren’t kids anymore, that their bones were older than his, but he was sure he could get them to do a few twirls in the sunset.
He wanted to bask in their company, tangles and gripes and all.
‘How about we go out to the garden?’ he suggested. ‘It’d be nice to sit in the sun while we chat, don’t you think?’
Another door knock, another nervous wait outside.
It was Pete’s this time. Back again. God knows Dave had spent enough time here already, although he’d never had to use the front door before. For this visit, Klaus had summoned Keith as well. He kept phasing in and out through the wall.
‘Natalie’s coming now!’ Keith said, sticking his head through the wood, before jumping back onto the steps. ‘I can’t believe we’re finally gonna be introduced. About damn time.’
Pete’s wife answered the door a moment later. As soon as she set eyes on Klaus, she gasped and then hollered over her shoulder, ‘Pete! Pete! Get over here now! PETE!’
Klaus flinched away from the sound at first, then raised his eyebrows in amusement when Natalie eagerly held her hand out to him.
‘I’d recognise you anywhere,’ she said, shaking his hand furiously. ‘I’m Pete’s wife, Natalie. You’re Klaus, aren’t you? You have no idea what I’ve had to put up with over the years because of you. My god, I can’t believe it! The Seance! At my door!’ She was still shaking Klaus’s hand as she turned to shout over her shoulder once again. ‘ PETE!’
‘Coming, coming,’ Pete said as he moved into view, pushing his glasses up his nose. He came to a complete standstill when he saw Klaus. ‘Hoooooly shit,’ he breathed. ‘Hargreeves!’
Klaus beamed at him. ‘Look at you, you old codger!’
‘You look just the same,’ he said in awe, before shaking himself. ‘I mean, of course you do. You’ve only just . . . Have you just made it back?’
‘Two months ago.’
Pete looked him up and down like Micky had done with Dave, with the kind of affection that comes from years of care. But then that made sense. Pete had known Klaus since the sixties, and he’d seen him grow up too, albeit from a distance.
‘That’s not long at all. It must still be so fresh.’ He lowered his voice. ‘How - how are you coping? About Dave?’
‘Oh, he’s a huge nuisance,’ Klaus said flippantly. Dave tried to bat him on the back of his head, which made Klaus laugh and swipe at him back.
Pete frowned. ‘What?’ Then he blinked. ‘ Oh! He’s here? You can see him?’
‘Yeah, I cleaned up my act.’
‘Well, that’s good to hear, isn’t it?’ Natalie said cheerily. ‘Some of those articles about you were awfully sad. Anyone for some cake?’
Pete led them into his house, Klaus and his entourage of ghosts following close on his heels.
‘So what’s this I hear about you having a figurine of me?’ Klaus asked as they settled around the dining table.
Pete froze. ‘How . . . how do you know about that?’
‘Dave told me.’
‘How did he know that?’
Klaus manifested him. ‘Yeah, go on Dave. How’d you know that again?’
‘Jesus Christ,’ Pete swore. ‘Holy shit. Katz?’
‘How’s it going?’ Dave asked.
Keith immediately started to complain. ‘Hey, that’s not fair Hargreeves, do me too.’
‘Oh, fine. You ghosts are so demanding.’ Klaus’s brow furrowed a little deeper, and Keith turned blue and ethereal.
Now Pete looked like he was going to explode. ‘Ainsley?!’ He was shaking like a leaf.
‘Yup. Can’t get rid of me that easily, man,’ Keith said, grinning.
‘You’re gonna give me a heart attack,’ he muttered faintly
Keith waved dismissively. ‘Nah, you’re fine. You can’t go dying before you’ve introduced me to dear Natalie.’
‘Oh my god,’ Pete said. ‘What the hell is happening?’
‘Isn’t it obvious? We’re haunting you, dumbass. Also, seeing as I’ve got a voice and all, I’d love it if you could remember to leave the TV on after you’ve been thinking about me. Think of it as my last request.’
‘The TV . . . I - okay.’ He turned to Klaus for help. ‘Explain?’
‘He wasn’t lying. These two have apparently been haunting you on and off for the last fifty years,’ Klaus said, altogether too gleefully.
Pete paled. ‘You’re serious?’
‘Yeah,’ Dave said. ‘Sorry.’
‘It’s not like we could help it,’ Keith added. ‘You kept crying over that picture of us. Very touching of course.’
‘I wasn’t crying . . .’
‘You told a lot of nice stories about us too,’ Dave said.
Klaus leaned across the table, grinning wickedly. ‘And they told me about all the magazines you bought - you’re basically my long-distance guardian angel. I never knew you cared!’
‘Well, shit,’ Pete said, gaping at them. ‘This is ridiculous.’ He got up and paced to the window, looking out for a moment before he walked back again, standing with his arms crossed. A smile started to creep across this face, and then he was smiling wider than Dave had ever seen him smile before. ‘You absolute idiots . . . Get over here!’ He held his arms out wide.
With that, the three of them descended on good old Pete, clapping him on the back, enveloping him entirely.
When Natalie came back in with three slices of cake on floral plates, Dave caught her smiling at them: a young man, an old man and two ghostly soldiers piled on top of each other, laughing and complaining and trying not to get elbowed in the face.
Truth be told, they were all emotional wrecks. It must have made quite the sight.
He and Klaus and his brother Ben climbed the hill, settling down near the gnarly roots of an old oak tree.
It was a warm afternoon, or so Klaus told him, and once he was corporeal Dave leant back and closed his eyes, letting the dappled sunlight dance across his face.
Ben left them alone, going to lie out on the grass with a picnic blanket and a hefty bag of books that Klaus had packed for him. This part of the park was quiet, far enough away from anyone else that no one would come to investigate two blue people and a man with glowing fists. Not that they cared about being noticed anyway.
The occasional ghost or two might show up. Klaus was getting better at banishing them, slowly but surely. It tired him out and it didn’t always work, especially not if he started to panic, but then he said that with Dave there it was easier to concentrate. He and Ben could always ask the more sensible ones to leave Klaus alone as well, please and thank you.
The air smelt sweet and fresh, and the bark of the tree was rough against his palm as he stretched his fingers wide, running them down through the grooves.
Klaus took his other hand, bringing it to his lips. ‘This what you had in mind?’ he asked softly.
‘Yeah,’ Dave said. ‘It’s perfect. I feel . . .’
He didn’t know how to put into words what it was like to feel alive again. It wasn’t quite the same as what he remembered from before; there were still things missing, like a heartbeat, like hunger, like his own bodily warmth. But he’d gotten so used to the emptiness of the afterlife that even the slightest feeling was overwhelming, different or not. Every single thing - from the ant running over his ankle to the way Klaus brushed his knuckles with kisses - was so much more than he’d ever expected, and he’d take it all without complaint. It was a gift from the universe, yet another miracle brought about by the man he loved.
‘. . . I feel so warm,’ he said eventually.
He opened his eyes and smiled at Klaus. He looked content and sleepy. There were three dandelions tucked behind his ear; he’d been picking the bright bursts of yellow as they walked over. It gave him something to do with his hands. There was a chain of them poking out of his pocket.
Klaus saw him looking and wriggled one of the prized ones free, sliding it onto Dave’s ear with a gentle touch. ‘There you go,’ he said. ‘Matchy-matchy.’
Dave couldn’t help but caress his cheek, tilting his head upwards to kiss him.
As they almost always did when he was corporeal, they ended up entwined together: hands clasped, sitting in each other’s laps, dozing on each other’s shoulders, peppering each other with kisses, touching as much as they could to make up for lost time.
This time, Klaus was draped across him, running a hand up and down Dave’s arm. They breathed in and out with each other. Dave studied all the different shades of brown brought out by the sun on Klaus’s hair.
‘You know, sometimes I think I’ve fallen into a dream,’ Klaus said. He lifted his head, looking up at Dave earnestly. ‘A good one.’
‘I know what you mean,’ he replied. ‘But I don’t think I could dream up something that feels so real. Trust me, I’ve tried.’
Klaus hummed in agreement. ‘Mine feel real, but never like this.’
They were quiet for a while. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves overhead.
‘So what d’you reckon, then? Safe to say it’s actually happening?’
Klaus held his gaze for a long moment, then laid his head back on Dave’s shoulder. ‘God, it must be.’
You kiss me
With your kiss my life begins
You’re spring to me, all things to me
Don’t you know, you’re life itself
Like the leaf clings to the tree,
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind, and wild is the wind
Wild is the wind
Song lyrics: Wild is the Wind
We've reached the end. I can't believe it.
Thank you SO much to everyone who has read and kudos'd and commented and all the rest. I still am in awe at all your kind words and I am not exaggerating when I say it means the world to me. I never expected this kind of response and I love you all <3 <3 <3