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Will You Love Me Like You Loved Me?

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Death was supposed to be simplistic.

 

He didn’t believe there was any sort of afterlife; it wasn’t like the Catholics and Christians who believed in a heaven or Pearly Gates. There was just passing on. Dave had accepted that as the truth as he laid there in the muddied and bloodied fields of Vietnam. It wasn’t how he’d imagined dying but it was the way war worked. Men died and added to the tallies in newspapers.

 There was so much he was leaving behind but Dave Katz wasn’t special in any regard. He wasn’t extraordinary or an outlier. He was just another soldier whose name would be carved into memorials and mourned by just another American family.

 So when he didn’t die, he began to question everything.

 The flash of blue light had been so familiar and he welcomed it as a sign. Perhaps this had all been fated to happen and previewed to him only ten months before. Maybe Klaus Hargreeves had been his angel of death after all. His eyes closed and his senses close to fading forever, he accepted the blue light as the gateway to an eternal rest.

 But death wasn’t ready for him quite yet. A sort of Deus-ex-Machina had its plans for him.

 Deft fingers pried into his chest and caused more searing pain that sprung him from the darkness and into pale, stale light. He’d wanted nothing more than to scream but Dave didn’t have the heart to. If this was a sort of eternal punishment, he would have to accept it. Did he believe in the wrong thing? Had he truly been so evil in life and this was his repayment? He prayed for this torment to end. To make matters worse, he could barely see. The dancing lights and shadows blinded the soldier and heightened his senses. There was no telling how long the pain would last. An eternity? Mere moments? Maybe he did deserve this for the pain he’d inflicted on others throughout his time in war. Maybe Dave Katz wasn’t the good man he’d thought he was.

 Dave wasn’t a doctor but he was positive that the depth of his wound ensured his death. Coolness seeped into his marrow and he felt the tendons of his organs and muscles pulling back together. That was more agonizing than the slender fingers invading his body.

 How long had the torture lasted? When his vision came back to him, Dave didn’t know. He only knew the sterile light that pierced his corneas.

 Words were mumbled into his ear and they were words he couldn’t quite make out. Something hard was shoved against his chest and caused the burning to return. Another embrace of blue light and Dave was whisked away in a vortex to the unknown.

 

--

There was a sort of anticlimactic nature to their whole ordeal.

 They’d ended the apocalypse. Actually, Klaus had. His dear old man had been right; he had only begun to understand the extent of his abilities. And apparently that meant being able to stop goddamn pieces of the moon from crashing into the earth itself. He did have a little help from Ben but the newspapers said it was all him.

 Praise was something he wasn’t used to receiving anymore but it had its perks.

 Their home was destroyed and they had nowhere else to go. But the city had raised enough money to rebuild in an effort to show their gratitude. In all honesty, Klaus didn’t want to go back to the hell he’d grown up in. Too many bad memories.

 Vanya wasn’t awake yet and there was no telling when she would be. There was still debate on what to do with her and it seemed to be useless to argue with Luther. His mind was made up. If only the situation was that black-and-white anymore.

 Five had gone off again; something about righting a wrong. That had been two days ago. But the rest of the family had gathered together in an apartment on the Upper West Side. They had the thanks of the city and an entire penthouse to themselves while they figured out what to do next. Vanya’s hospital care was paid for as well and Allison had taken to looking after her. ‘My sister, my responsibility’ she’d written on her notepad. Luther rarely went to visit her. But the rest of them did. And Diego was around, thankfully. He was probably the only person Klaus could stand at the moment.

 He should have felt happier that things were turning up. He’d been sober for nearly two weeks which was a new record for him. Life was, for the first time in a long time, getting back on track.

 But life was still an unfair bitch.

 Grief and mourning didn’t end and Klaus was finding that out the hard way. The worst part was that he still couldn’t make contact with Dave. His withdrawals had given him hallucinations that led him to think that he’d finally done it. But Ben always confirmed that it hadn’t happened. And it broke his spirit.

 Two weeks sober and it was all for nothing.

 Klaus feared it was because Dave was angry at him. He’d left him there alone, after all. And no one deserved to die alone. To tell the truth, Klaus hadn’t been able to stay a moment longer once Dave had closed his eyes. He’d felt so sick, so bereaved and he’d needed to get out of there. He’d needed to go back to the Academy.

 He wanted to apologize, to see Dave one last time. Closure was something he didn’t get and Klaus was starting to believe he’d never get it. His dealers weren’t letting up and they seemed like a tempting offer in the midst of all this misery. If he wasn’t able to speak to the person he loved most, then what was the point in trying to stay sober? Klaus Hargreeves would never see Dave Katz again. It was a statement that killed him on the inside but he had to accept it. Sometimes death was finite in that way.

 He didn’t have many friends; any, actually. The only “friends” he had been junkies or dealers and he’d been isolating himself from them for weeks. Diego could only understand so much. Diego was also mourning his own loss and trying to get back on his feet. They still had Hazel and Cha-Cha to look out for as well and Diego seemed intent on keeping his siblings safe. Klaus did, too, but all the attention they were getting was overwhelming. He preferred to keep to himself in his “room”. It wasn’t really his room.

 It was funny that he never felt like anything was actually his. The only time he had was when he had been in Vietnam. His cot, his gun, his uniform, his platoon. All of it had felt like it belonged to him and it had disappeared that bloody, bloody night.

 He’d been stone cold sober for two weeks when his brain started fixating on alcohol. It wouldn’t be that bad. One sip of wine and that was it. On an empty stomach, too, to get a decent buzz going. And then that was it. He could count that as being drunk and nothing else. It didn’t even count in the long-run.

 His fingers twitched eagerly as he had a stare-down with a decanter of wine. An imaginary ticking of the clock began to count in his ears as he debated with himself. And with Ben, too.

 “You’re going to throw it away? Just like that?”

“Oh, shut up, Ben.”

 A pillow hit him squarely in the face. Klaus was beginning to regret ever delving deeper into his powers. “I can shut you up easily. Wanna watch?” He mock-moved for the decanter then sat back, holding up the pillow as a shield as Ben moved. He tossed it back to his brother and barely acknowledged the catch.

 “No, I don’t want to watch.” For as meek as Ben had been when they were younger, he’d grown a goddamn backbone ever since he’d died. Maybe that was his growth-spurt. “I don’t want to watch my brother throw away everything he’d worked for the past two weeks.” “Oh, and for what? Tell me, Ben, what’s it gotten me?” Klaus held up ‘Goodbye’. How appropriate. “We saved the goddamn world. Vanya’s not genocidal anymore. Yay. But what did that get me? Dave doesn’t want to see me. I did it for nothing.”

 His hands moved over his face, staining black on his cheekbones as he swiped them through his hair. The ticking was getting louder by the moment. Klaus’s eyes squeezed shut as he reached into the recesses of his memory and concentration. Maybe he could pull him out. Reach through the veil and pull Dave out by force. He searched and searched, side-swiping through different shades and bypassing their screams for him. Dave. Dave. Dave. Dave.

Silence.

 

“—Fuck it.”

 Launching himself to his feet, Klaus’s fingers fumbled to take the crystal topper off and he set it on the wooden table. “Klaus, stop—” But Ben’s words were falling on deaf ears. Klaus stared at the liquid as he gave pause. “Have you seen him? Tell me, Ben, that you’ve seen him and I’ll stop. I’ll become abstinent for life. Hell, I’ll become a goddamn monk if you tell me you’ve seen him too.”

 Nothing but the ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. It was becoming unbearable.

 “I didn’t think so.”

 A familiar whooshing sound accompanied a sharp crackle. Glass in the apartment broke and the decanter shattered in Klaus’s hand. Immediately he dropped to the floor and covered his face with his palms facing outward. His training kicked in and he pulled the nearest piece of furniture in front of him to create a barrier. Something to shield himself from shrapnel or flying bits of glass. He could hear furniture overturn as well. Soon, a loud crackle and thump reached his ears then disappeared just as quickly. From the room down the long corridor, there was running. Luther and Diego. Klaus had almost forgotten they were there.

 Diego’s knives were out immediately and both brothers went to Klaus’s aid, Luther helping Klaus stand. The three squinted as the bright blue faded into normalcy.

 Klaus thought he had died just then. He had to be dead. How else would Dave Katz be standing there in their goddamn living room?

 Dave’s chest was still bloodied but it was mainly concealed by tight bandages. His skin was paler than Klaus had ever seen despite the tanned skin. He looked like he’d been drained by a vampire. Dark circles impressed themselves under his eyes. He looked like he’d fall over entirely if he hadn’t gone straight to his knees first.

 In any normal case of an intruder, Klaus would have pushed his brothers in front of him and gone away elsewhere. He wasn’t a fighter; more like a source of moral support.  But this wasn’t a normal case. Hell, when had their life ever been normal?

 --

Warm, lithe arms wrapped around him as he fell to his knees. Dave’s bloodied grip on the suitcase loosened and the object slid beside him as he leaned his weight against the person holding him. He might have felt like hell and not know where he was but he knew Klaus’s embrace when he felt it. It was probably the only thing keeping him conscious and feeling safe at the moment.

 His head leaned against the other man’s shoulder and he loosely grasped his arm to steady himself. Dave could acknowledge Klaus’s hand moving through his hair and over his face, positioning his head so they were looking at one another. Ah, yes, there they were. Those eyes he loved so much were staring back at him. In this whirlpool of terror, it was the only thing that brought him comfort. Dave barely had the energy to speak but he had enough to smile. Klaus’s expression was one of shock and utter confusion. It seemed as if the man would crumble into a million pieces if either spoke. That was okay for Dave because what could either really say in this situation?

 Klaus, for his own part, thought he would collapse if he addressed Dave. How did he know this wasn’t another hallucination, after all? This could all be in his head. He must be fucking insane.

 “Klaus, who is that?”

 Luther’s words confirmed everything. They could see him. Dave was really here. Klaus knew what it had felt like to conjure Ben and make him solid. This wasn’t the case. So it wasn’t his own doing. Dave was alive and in his arms. He immediately was full of dread and fear.

 Dave’s chest was still bloody but it was bandaged. Klaus’s mind flashed back to the trenches. Dave had been so close to death. There was fucking shards of a bomb imbedded in his chest. Any other soldier should have died. Why hadn’t Dave?

 Klaus’s arms tightened around the man and he almost cradled him in his embrace. Everything in his body was screaming at him to do something, to say something but nothing could agree on what to do. Should he cry? Should he say something cheesy like, “I never thought I’d see you again”? It was almost too cliché.

 He just held onto the other man who, he then realized, was extremely weak. Time travel took a lot out of you and from the looks of the suitcase that seemed to be what happened. But how did Dave get a hold of a time-traveling suitcase when Klaus had used his own to return back to the present?

 Luther and Diego seemed eager to have that answered for them as well but Klaus wasn’t going to give them that pleasure. He only pulled from the embrace to take Dave’s face in his hands. Dave’s face was ashen but he was still smiling. Goddamn him. Even in these moments, Dave Katz seemed to find something to smile at.

 “Klaus.”

Then came his name. It never sounded sweeter than it had before. And it broke his heart. Klaus couldn’t resist pressing his lips to Dave’s clammy forehead. He felt tugging on his neck and looked down to see the other man’s fingers on the chain that laid around his neck. Dave’s dog tags. Klaus didn’t realize it until now but he was crying. No noise, of course, but the wetness down his face was undeniable

 Then the immediacy of the situation returned to him. Dave was bloody, sweaty. Hell, he seemed close to passing out. Klaus urgently asked, “Water? Something? Fuck, get him something!” Diego reacted faster than Luther did and went to retrieve a bottle of water and a towel. He passed it to Klaus and got on a knee to look at Dave. “Is that--?”

 

 “Yeah,” came Klaus’s choked reply.  “It’s Dave.”

Chapter Text

Dave’s senses were running wild. His head felt as if it was close to exploding and his body was tingling. Only Klaus’s face ground him in this new reality. His eyes darted to the stranger who was also kneeling beside them and then focused on Klaus.

 It was as if his body seemed to know who was holding onto him. Dave allowed his full weight to lean against Klaus but he still held onto his arm. “I’ve got you,” said Klaus’s voice. He was trying to stay calm but Dave knew so much better. Klaus began hoisting him to his feet with Diego as a backup. “Let’s get him somewhere.” “Is he hurt?”

 Dave felt a hand on his chest and reacted to the pain. The word “No” slipped from his mouth as he tried to get his bearings. Klaus brought Dave to the black leather chair and sat him down. Dave watched as Klaus sank to his knees and simply stared at him. He didn’t blame the blank expression. Dave didn’t exactly know how to move forward either.

 But, thankfully, Diego did. He uncapped the water and handed it to Klaus who gave it to Dave. It was as if he’d discovered water for the first time. Greedily, he drank it down and clutched it like a baby does a bottle. The emptied water was replaced with another. When he had finished the second bottle, Dave’s head rested against the cool leather. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was concerned at how dirty the furniture was getting. It was stupid to be so worried about it when there were other, more concerning, things going on.

 “How did he get a suitcase?” Came a gruff, urgent voice. Dave’s eyes were closed but he could tell that it wasn’t the one who was giving him water. He understood the concern; he’d react the same way if a stranger had burst out of nowhere.

 “Hell if I know. I came back with mine.” That was Klaus’s voice. It wasn’t insulting but, instead, full of shock and awe. A cool hand covered one of Dave’s bloodied ones. He wanted to return the gesture but he tensed. He didn’t exactly know these people who were with Klaus. One seemed friendly but Dave knew how people reacted to these displays of affection. “It’s just me,” Klaus’s voice assured him. “Dave, look at me. Hey.”

 Their eyes met and Dave should have relaxed. There was a way these reunions were supposed to go and they were all according to movies. The lovers reunited and embraced each other. Then they lived happily ever after. But Dave knew full well that was for a man and a woman. Two men didn’t get that. They got insulted, spit on, beaten to a bloody pulp. His expression was wary and he glanced from the larger man to the smaller one in black. Well, smaller in comparison.

 “They’re okay, Dave. They’re fine with—It’s fine.” That seemed to be a word Klaus was latching onto. It was a safety net. Dave trusted Klaus but he didn’t trust where he was. It was a force of habit, he supposed. Klaus turned his head to his brothers and then brought his hand to Dave’s face, a gesture that resulted in Dave’s body freezing up. “They’re my brothers,” he explained. “I told them. About you.”

 He didn’t know how to take that. Klaus had told him of his brothers before but Dave didn’t personally know them. This would take time for him to adjust.

 “Can you guys go?” Klaus turned to Diego and Luther and the two slowly exited from the room with Diego muttering an explanation as they walked away. Luther had seemed reluctant to leave but he gave Klaus the benefit of the doubt. He had, after all, proven himself to be reliable. He supposed he could trust him on this. Besides, he was always there for backup.

 Dave’s head was spinning as Klaus sat up on his knees and placed his hands on either side of his face. It was now that he allowed himself to relax and even start to succumb to the emotions welling in his chest. His head leaned forward and met Klaus’s. His hands, too, covered the other soldier’s and they stayed like that for an extended period of silence. Sometimes it was good to not speak. Silence had been something they’d sorely lacked in Vietnam.

 Klaus, for his part, was remembering the feeling of Dave’s skin against his own. He was dirty, of course, but no longer was he on death’s door. He was breathing. If Klaus listened hard enough he could even hear Dave’s heart beating steadily. Well as steady as it could for having just traveled through time and nearly dying.

He couldn’t resist pushing his mouth against the corner of Dave’s mouth. He didn’t know where the urge to kiss him came from but Dave didn’t pull away. In fact, Dave only responded by closing the gap between their mouths. There was no passionate reunion nor swelling of music. Because they weren’t in a movie or a TV show. There was no passionate make-out that would result in the reunited lovers fumbling together in bed. Because Dave’s mouth tasted like metal and death and it brought Klaus immediately back to the trenches where Dave had been choking on his own blood.

 I’m sorry I left you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

 His body burned as if he’d been drenched in napalm. He thought losing Dave had been the greatest pain of all. Perhaps having him back in his arms was even worse. And then it was like a silent dam had broken in his eyes.  When they both looked at each other, Dave had a heartbroken expression that he desperately tried to hide with a smile. That was Dave. That was his thing. He always tried to make things better. He was so good in that way.

“I’m so sorry.” There came the choked words. Klaus could barely contain himself. His head bowed and he clutched onto Dave’s hands between his own in submission. “Dave, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m— “

Dave’s squeezing of his hands cut off the apology. “Stop,” came his soft voice. Klaus picked up his head to those beautiful eyes and he brought those red-stained hands to his lips. It was in that moment that he decided he couldn’t look at the blood a moment longer. His skin had begun to crawl and guilt drenched his entire being. It reminded him of Lady Macbeth except this blood was real. He brought Dave to his feet as he murmured something about cleaning him up.

 

 --

 

Dave didn’t remember the last time he’d had time to properly bathe. He also didn’t recall a tub as large as this one. It was freestanding and porcelain. As Klaus filled the water and Dave stripped off his own clothes, they both seemed to come to the conclusion that this clean tub would be stained with grime. In all curiosity, Dave wondered if they’d even get this second skin off of him. It seemed to have come off Klaus which was a miracle in and of itself.

Klaus tried not to react to seeing Dave standing bare in front of him. It wasn’t the ideal situation to see his naked body by any means. He was still muscular like he had been but whatever happened had taken the spiritual strength from his body. The stained bandage looked like a massive red-light though Klaus knew he’d have to take it off. He stopped the water from running as it filled to the brim and he stepped to Dave. Dave still hadn’t looked at himself in the mirror, he realized as his fingers went to the bandage. The body flinched as an automatic response and Klaus assured, “I need to see if it has to be changed.”

He wished he hadn’t uncovered it. Not because it was ugly. On the contrary, it looked like it was stitched up well. But the angry scar that would certainly remain caused the ache in his heart to delve deeper. Klaus’s head immediately bowed with guilt but he recovered rather quickly to help Dave in the tub. Dave’s body shuddered at the warmth but immediately relaxed. His eyes closed on impulse and he leaned it forward.

 There was something intimate about bathing your partner but something even more intimate about caring for said partner. Klaus had taken a pale cloth and brought it up and down Dave’s back as he removed the dirt that clung to him. He had to be rough in some spots as he traversed the familiar patterns of Dave’s back. The same freckles and scars remained. His bicep still contained a fading pink scar where a bullet had grazed him and sent him to the medical tent for a day and a night. Mere inches from that, on his upper arm, was the matching skull tattoo that had been imprinted on his own arm. It was well healed now and still vibrantly shining on Dave’s skin. A twinge of pride and pain pierced his chest at the memory and he gently attended to cleaning it.

 Klaus’s clothed hand went to the back of Dave’s neck and dragged down. Water droplets spilled down his tanned skin, making clean tracks in their wakes. The lukewarm nature of the bath drove Dave into a calm headspace. He focused on Klaus’s hands against his body and the cloth relieving him of the grime and the horror. Eventually, Klaus moved to his front and brought the cloth to his neck. At the hesitant pause, Dave opened his eyes to see what was the matter. The water surrounding his body had turned black with highlights of red. “Not exactly up to a health code, is it?” Joked Klaus, though he was aware of how flat it fell. He scrubbed at Dave’s neck and started to bring the washcloth to his chest when he froze, uncertain of how to treat the wound. Dave’s eyes followed and it was the first time he had seen the damage to his body.

 The area surrounding it was angry and inflamed. Something—someone—had sewn up the gaping hole the shrapnel had left. Whoever they were they’d used a good method. The stitches were clean and precise. It was only the inside that the soldier felt the most pain. He met Klaus’s eyes and was disappointed to lose the gaze as the other man carefully wiped away the dried blood. Dave’s head tipped back as he attempted not to verbally react. Nothing more to push Klaus away. There was space between them already and it was only growing wider with each passing moment of silence.

 On his end, Klaus was feeling guilt for having left Dave in this state. This guilt was causing him to pull away which was the last thing either man needed at the moment. Klaus started to drain the water and then let the taps run to replace the dirtied water with clean. He abandoned the stained cloth and replaced it with his hand as he moved the water over Dave’s body. Dave tried to assist in cleaning himself but the pained pulling on his chest only enabled him to do so much.

 “Easy, soldier,” said Klaus affectionately. Normally Dave would have smiled and said something similar in return. But those days seemed like lifetimes ago. The corners of his mouth stayed neutral.

As the old water spiraled down the drain, Klaus plugged up the tub to fill with new water. Dave’s eyes shut once more and he let his head fall to his chest as Klaus continued to clean him. He’d never taken care of someone in this manner before. Not that he had cared to; there was no one in his life who deserved more care than Dave. He traveled over the tense muscles in the soldier’s legs and froze as they shook, casting a nervous look at the other’s face before continuing to remove the grime from his body.

 Time passed carelessly and Dave was finally clean. Draining the tub and helping Dave out, they both watched as the sediment laid at the base. Klaus helped Dave put a towel around his waist to give himself a bit of modesty. Not that seeing his boyfriend naked was a sight previously unseen. But Dave deserved that respect right now.

Now that Dave was clean, Klaus was seeing the remains of war on his loved one’s face. Dark circles impressed themselves under his reddened eyes. Though he and Dave were the same in age, Dave’s face was worn and exhausted as if he had lived a hundred lives. Klaus's own fingers touched the bruise-like marks under the other man's eyes then his cheekbones. He wondered when the last time Dave had properly eaten was. Then he recalled when it was. Only hours before the whistles had blown and the bombs started exploding. But had he truly lost this much of himself? Had Klaus been blinded by his emotions the entire time? 

There came the guilt that gnawed at him like a starving dog.

 To pull themselves out of the moment, Klaus brought Dave through the opposite door that connected to his own room. He was lucky that it was so close; the less chance for an awkward run-in with Luther and Diego, the better. At least until Dave rested. They all had a million questions, none of which would be answered if Dave wasn’t rested or in the right state of mind. Then again, he didn’t think Dave would regain his rightful state of mind for a while. Klaus, himself, was struggling immensely. He knew what war did to people. Both of them had seen it turn the best men into complete husks of their former selves. Klaus would feel himself slip and succumb only to pull himself out by Ben’s urging or his own willpower.  That willpower came and went every hour, every minute of every day. There was no telling when he would slip next.

 He was shaken from his thoughts by the loss of Dave’s hand on his arm. Dave had spotted the queen-sized bed and laid on it, managing to coordinate himself under the sheets. It would surely be damp but Klaus didn’t care. At least it was a sign that Dave was really there. He observed Dave as he lost himself under the comforter and sheets. His towel was abandoned on the floor beside the bed.

This was where Klaus came to a crossroads; to stay with Dave or to give him space? Two choices with equally fearful outcomes. Either way, either choice, could make or break what would happen between them. But Klaus was never good at making decisions. He was good, however, at following his instinct.

 He padded over and eased himself beside Dave. Dave’s back was facing him but that didn’t matter at all. Klaus tentatively touched his partner’s shoulder in assurance. No response. But no rejection. That was a good sign. He tried another impulse that involved sliding his arm around Dave’s waist. Nothing. No response, no rejection. This silence paralyzed him. Immediately he began to imagine apologies and promises to never touch Dave again as long as he didn’t leave.

 But one of Dave’s hands covered Klaus’s. In fact, it gripped it as if it were the only thing anchoring him to this strange time.

 The séance couldn’t see but Dave’s eyes were staring blankly at the dark-blue wall. A million thoughts raced through his brain and they all revolved around three things; his family, the war, Klaus. He had one of those things. Well, two. The presence of the other man brought him comfort for just a moment. At least he wasn’t alone. That would, perhaps, be the worst thing in the world to happen again.

 Despite the buzzing in his brain Dave was exhausted enough to fall into an empty sleep. It was easy to tell when Dave was asleep because his body seemed to release all of the tension it had been holding. His body was so limp Klaus couldn’t help but fear the worst. But no, Dave wasn't dead. He couldn't be. To ground himself in reality he found himself driving the fingers of his free hand through the other man’s hair. The selfless soothing, in fact, served Klaus well because it calmed his own racing pulse. For the first time in the past hour, he became aware that Ben was probably witnessing all of this. But when Klaus looked he couldn’t find his brother. The gesture of privacy was much appreciated. It gave Klaus room to think on his own and to come up with a way going forward. At least, for the time being.

 There were a multitude of things that needed to be addressed; chiefly how Dave came there in the first place. Secondly, how had he not died? Thirdly, what did they do now? Klaus knew Dave almost as well as he knew himself and he knew there were certain people on his mind. Also traveling fifty years to the present would be a complete shock to his system. This was a new time with new ideals. The technology had vastly changed and so did the people Dave would be surrounding himself with. If Klaus was any indication, then Dave had quite the awakening to look forward to.

 His eyes traveled over his partner’s clear skin. Dave hadn’t been this clean since their last leave. That had been nearly three weeks prior to that fateful battle. Since he’d impulsively inked his abdomen and Dave had said he wouldn’t let him live it down. He remembered how he’d told Dave the translation later that night and feared the other laughing at him or walking out the motel door. But the real reaction was the best he could ever ask for.

That all seemed like decades ago. Klaus's soul felt as if it had aged a thousand years. 

 

--

He didn't have the heart to leave Dave alone. He'd made that mistake once and he wasn't about to make it again. 

So Klaus laid there as the man in his arms slept. He rested for hours but Klaus didn't mind. He drifted off into a light sleep and woke frequently to remind himself that Dave was truly there. His body must have been exhausted from everything it had been forced through. His mind fixated on that night, on the sounds that had faded into murmurs when he had called Dave's name and turned him over onto the ground. Of the blood, the smell of death and metal and gunpowder that drenched them where they kneeled. It was a nightmare; all of it. 

It was funny how one’s brain tricks themselves into reliving an event. It was as if he could smell the gunpowder and the burning bits of flesh. He could hear the screams of the dead who had fallen and gotten back up to come at him. Klaus had recalled shooting toward them only to watch the bullets pass through and into the solid forms of their comrades on the opposing line.

He wrenched himself out of the downward spiral of thoughts and slid from Dave’s grasp. The instinct to run was driving him mad. Klaus’s palms pushed through his hair and he forced himself to take deep breaths. The breathing, according to Allison, would help make the images go away. Though Klaus was starting to highly doubt that. They always came back.

It was all he could do to keep from running. Breathing was something he could focus on for the moment. He'd give it just a moment. And, in fact, it took away the momentary urge to open a bottle of Diego's shitty beer and let the contents drain into his stomach.

A soft knock on the door drew Klaus out of his thoughts and he immediately checked to see if the sound had woken Dave. But the other man was, obviously, exhausted and hadn’t even reacted. Dave used to be a light sleeper, from what Klaus remembered. He must be weak.

Quietly he slipped from the bed and opened the door. It wasn’t technically leaving, after all, if he was going to stay in the room.

Diego’s face was a more than welcome sight. So were the small pile of clothes placed sheepishly in his hands. “I’ve got no idea if he’ll fit but here,” said the man, handing them to Klaus who gave a nod of genuine thanks. Diego’s brown eyes moved over to where Dave was resting and he asked, “So that’s him, huh?”

“Yeah. That’s him.” Klaus briefly turned his head to look at the other and he gave an affectionate yet saddened smile. “How’re you holding up?” Diego asked, carefully as he knew he was treading on uneasy ground. Klaus’s hand scratched at the back of his neck and he mulled over what exactly to say. In all truth, he was conflicted and worried. Mainly worried.

“Guess we just need time to tell,” came his off-handed retort. “Thanks. I’ll, uh, talk to you guys later. Just need some time, you know?”

 Diego’s head nod was brief and he seemed to turn before he readdressed Klaus. “I know you don’t want to think about this right now, but we need to figure out how he got hold of a briefcase. And how he got here.” He made sure to keep his voice low as to not draw attention to their conversation. “Family meeting, eventually. But I’ll let you know, brother.” Their eyes met and a nod was exchanged. Their bond had strengthened over the past few weeks and Klaus was forever grateful for this. For Diego.

He closed the door and moved to set the clothes on the dresser as Dave started to twitch. Klaus’s automatic reaction was to freeze but it was Dave. Why was he so skittish around Dave?

--

Dave, as it turned out, fit nearly perfectly into Diego’s clothes. Luther’s would certainly be too big on him. And Klaus had to say, Dave pulled off a black fitted shirt and jeans much better than Diego ever would. He looked like a spy; but a sexy American spy instead of James Bond.

Klaus watched from the bed as his partner dressed and seemed to gaze at himself in the mirror for an extended period. He wished that he could read minds instead of see the dead. It would certainly be a hell of a lot more helpful in situations like this. Usually Dave was an open-book. Their bond allowed them to communicate freely and openly. But Klaus could feel the obvious switch in energy. It was akin to being left outside in a blizzard.  And he didn't like it.

So he carefully came up behind Dave and placed hands on his shoulders as he peeked over his shoulder with an encouraging smile. "Very handsome. Do you have a boyfriend?"

A joke like that would cause Dave to flush ever-so slightly and make some sort of comment back. But that had been before. Now Dave barely laughed aloud. At least he smiled. That Klaus could take. "I'll have to thank your brother. Couldn't wear my uniform anymore," came Dave's calm reply. The calm before the storm. Klaus was all too used to this tone. When Dave's words were measured in this manner, it meant he was bothered and had a lot on his mind. Again, understandable. 

Dave slowly turned to face Klaus and his eyes scoured the other's presence. His fingers continued to press into his body as if he feared he wasn't solid. Klaus mirrored the hold. "Dave, do you want to talk about...it?" He purposefully left the topic vague. About the war, about being here in the future, about how he got there in the first place. They had to arrive at these topics at some point. 

"I don't. But I probably should. They'll probably want to know. Ah--I'm guessing they're Diego and...Luther?"

"Oh, yeah, you got that. Yeah, them." The confrontation. Klaus wasn't looking forward to that one bit. "Do you remember anything? Anything at all?"

--

Dave's eyes became lost in thought as he recounted the events aloud. Luther didn't seem to take the story well later as they all sat in the living room. Allison was back from visiting Vanya and had perched herself on the arm of the sofa beside Luther, her arms gently folded across her chest. A large gold necklace attempted to hide the white bandage that covered her throat. 

"So you died and went into the light? And something--or someone--put you back together again and sent you here?" Luther sounded partially convinced. "And you didn't see anything?"

Dave's tongue swiped over his lips before he repeated, "No. Just light. And whiteness. And something digging inside of me." His upper torso tensed which caused Klaus to place his hand on Dave's knee. But the soldier tensed in response and shifted so Klaus's hand left his body. Another stab in the heart. Dave continued, "I don't remember what they said. But it was a man. That I know for sure." "Anyone you recognized?" That was Diego's question. "No. No one."

"Well that's helpful," grumbled Luther. "Hey, go easy on him. He nearly died, you know? Or did you sleep through that part, big guy?" Klaus defended, leaning forward on his knees. Allison held out a hand to both Klaus and Luther, giving the latter a sharp look. "Allison, he's here for a reason and he doesn't know? Come on, you don't think that's suspicious?" "He's also right here, Luther," Klaus shot back. "He's not deaf."

"He's a soldier, Klaus. Soldiers have information." "So you think he's part of some international or inter-dimensional conspiracy, is that it?" Diego's question cut through the tension between Klaus and Luther. The siblings stared at Diego as he rose to look down on Luther. "You really think that he's been lying to us from the moment he got here and he's going to kill us? You're paranoid. You have been for weeks since everything that happened with Vanya, since Five jumped again. Why don't you leave the sane thinking to the rest of us and work on fixing your attitude toward the whole of us."

"Give me one reason for me to not want more information out of this guy," Luther bargained, "and I'll stop." "Because he doesn't know, Luther!" Klaus was incredulous and threw up his arms in utter frustration. "Not everyone is lying to you! We're not all Dad or Pogo or even Mom!" "Leave them out of this," came Luther's grave request.

This enraged Klaus. "I don't have to listen to you. When you make decisions, everything falls to shit and the world nearly fucking ends. Or you almost choke me out or get me killed!"

Allison stood abruptly at the declaration and directed an appalled stare to Luther. Klaus continued, "Why don't you just go pin your little conspiracies on your board and leave the rest of us alone. Because that's a lot better than you trying to lead and ruining everything that you touch, you gigantic shit--!"

"Enough," Dave said, firmly and loudly.

That got the attention of the entire room, including Luther. Klaus recognized that tone; it was the one Dave used to regain order in their unit and to unite under a singular voice. He always had been the most calm in every situation. The soldier flexed then cracked his knuckles before speaking again. "If I remember anything in the next hours or days, I'll tell you. But I genuinely don't know why I'm here."

He cast a sideways glance to Klaus. "I should be dead. But I'm not. And I want to know why as much as you all do why I'm not." There was so much that had been changed. And while he was grateful, he wanted to understand why him. And what had that done to everyone in his life. Dave slowly stood and gave the present company a nod. "If you'll excuse me." He gave Klaus another nod and exited the room, going back to Klaus's bedroom.

Klaus was quick to rise and follow him down the hallway. He caught Dave's arm and muttered, "Hey, what's going on? You feeling okay?"

"Klaus, I'm not okay." There was no point in beating around the bush or ignoring the obvious tension. "I'm far from it."

Dave hadn't intended his tone to sound harsh one bit but he saw how it affected Klaus. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say it like that." A calming inhale settled his nerves as he fully faced his partner. "--Klaus, I don't know how or if I can help you all. I don't--" His clean hands went up to his hair and Dave continued, "I don't understand." 

The strained and small quality of his voice alarmed Klaus. Dave was vulnerable, yes, but not like this. It genuinely scared him. Immediately he put his arms around Dave's body and kept a steady eye to see how he would react. Thankfully, he leaned into the comforting embrace for longer than expected. But Dave immediately retracted as soon as they both relaxed into the embrace. His eyes held determination yet also fear. "I need to find out what happened. What happened to everyone, to the guys. To my family." His throat seemed to close as he paused to swallow in between words. The determination was hard to ignore. This was of extreme importance. To deny this closure to Dave would be an utter betrayal of everything they had built. Klaus thought of his own attempts at closure and what that almost brought him to do. In the silence that followed, he pondered the next course of action to take. He was at a crossroads that would the direction their second chance would take.

"--I'll get you shoes and a jacket. I'll help you find them," Klaus eventually said. "After all, they're my family too."

Dave's eyes seemed to regain the lost light at the words. No other words were exchanged; just a silent thanks and Dave's swift exit to the bedroom. 

Klaus stood watching after Dave. Losing him once had been hard enough. But now despite the fact that he was living and breathing not one hundred feet away, Klaus felt like the Dave Katz he knew was slipping through his fingers.

And once they got to the bottom of everything, to the truth of why and how Dave had come here, maybe he would lose him forever.

 

Chapter Text

They started with step one.

Food.

Dave hadn’t eaten anything proper in weeks. Hell, neither of them had before they’d gotten to the frontlines. And all the soldier had wanted was a burger; a good, all-American burger. Klaus was glad to know that Dave liked his cooked well. If he’d liked it less than that, they’d have problems. It wasn’t sexy to see beef juices spilling down your significant other’s chin. At least, not for Klaus.

But he felt better once he saw Dave eating. It was slow at first but his hunger overtook him and Dave quickly consumed the meal in front of him. Klaus had been slower in eating but it felt like the best meal he’d eaten in a long time. It also helped that Diego had lent him some money—a big step in their relationship. Thankfully, Diego also knew when to give them time. He had joined them for lunch since he was their ride and was quietly content to let the two interact, only butting in when necessary. Klaus liked that about his brother; he knew when to give him space. The trust between them had allowed for that much.

Dave’s hand deftly wiped the white napkin across his lips and he set it on his plate, leaning back to look from Klaus to Diego then back to Klaus. It could have felt like an interrogation but he felt Diego’s easy energy. He wasn’t under any pressure here as he had been with Luther staring him down like a lion to a gazelle.

He was grateful for the food. It tasted richer in his mouth and more satisfying as it hit his stomach. He appreciated it more now than he had before; the taste and texture of real food. He even appreciated the business of the restaurant and the beeping of the cars they had passed on the way.

Seeing these new appliances, however, was bewildering.  

These tablets—which, apparently, were phones—absolutely boggled his mind. Televisions that had six-foot screens. Automated devices. Dave could hardly comprehend it all. It was like something he’d read in a comic book as a child. But to the world operating around him, it was all too normal.

He was snapped from his thoughts by a thrown napkin on his plate and his blue eyes lifted to see Klaus’s darker ones peering at him with curiosity and care. “You had enough?” Dave nodded in response, grateful that Klaus was still considerate. He dried his fingers on another napkin and placed that on his plate as well.

“Good. So..” Klaus’s voice seemed hesitant as he let the thought trail off. There was a lot to attack first, in a manner of speaking. Diego seemed aware of this as well since he continued where his brother left off. “There’s got to be people you want to find out about. Your war buddies, your family. Anyone else.”

Dave appreciated how casual Diego made the task ahead seem. If only it was that underwhelming in his own brain. “My family, first. They should still be in North Carolina.” He couldn’t imagine them moving anywhere else. Rachel might be a little different, however. She had been engaged to a businessman and perhaps they had moved. Dave knew in his heart, however, the likelihood of his parents being alive was slim to none. He’d started preparing himself for the fact that they were most likely already passed.

“Where do we start from there? The phone book?”

He felt embarrassment from the looks Diego and Klaus exchanged with one another; Diego more-so than Klaus. “We can just find that online. Maybe she has a Facebook,” Klaus suggested as if Dave had any idea what those words meant at all. Dave looked at Klaus for clarification and it took some time before he gave an even more confusing answer. Something about a computing device and being able to be friends with people around the world. The concept boggled his brain and he was grateful for Klaus's reply. "I'll show you later. Let's try the phone book, thing. There's got to be one online."

“There’s step one," Diego continued. "Look up your address then call your sister.”

Dave’s head nodded in agreement and thought onto the next task. “Klaus, do you know if any of the guys are still around?”

There was an awkward silence that followed. Dave’s brows knit in confusion at the hesitation while Diego gave his brother a sideways glance. Klaus, in typical fashion, sat back and danced around the topic with, “I’ve…dabbled in finding them.”

Dabbled? What the hell does that mean?”

“Dipped my toe into the vast pool that is the brotherhood. Getting the band back together, and all that.”

Klaus’s awkward laugh unsettled Dave and he stared at the other man until he went to minding his fingernails. “—I may have punched a few of them in the face.”

“—May have?”

Diego let out a sound as he drank from his coffee. “Definitely did. Broke a few noses. I might have had something to do with it, but I was an unwilling participant in saving this asshole’s life.” He elbowed Klaus, to which the séance patted his arm in response.

Leaning forward on his elbows, Dave tried to come to terms with their statements. “You punched veterans in the face?” His father would kill him if he'd heard of such a thing.

“In my defense,” Klaus abruptly interrupted, “they were going to punch me. Beat the shit out of me. And I wasn’t lying; I am a vet.” He opened his arms grandly. “And so are you. So we deserve to be in that bar. We fought in the shit so it applies! ‘Veterans of Foreign Wars’. Vietnam is as foreign as it fucking gets.”

“Klaus, that was fifty years ago,” Dave pointed out as he confirmed the math in his head. Klaus’s tattooed hands flew up in self-defense. “I know! But there was a lot going on and—and all that! So I punched a few of them in the face! It happens! We drink to forget and we laugh. Probably laughing about it right now.”

A hand covered Dave’s face and pinched the bridge of his nose as he settled. “Did you recognize any of them? Any of them familiar to you from the 173rd?” Dave questioned patiently.

Klaus’s expression twitched. “The guy I punched—remember?” He directed the question to Diego who nodded. “That was Sanders.”

Sanders?”

Not that Dave was surprised. Ronald Sanders had been a tough son-of-a-bitch. He took no shit from anyone, new recruit or veteran soldier. There was no way he wouldn’t survive the war. He was the best of them despite being an asshole. He’d threatened to punch Klaus more times. Dave couldn’t imagine the thought process to seeing Klaus the same age now as he had been back in the war. Hell, Dave himself didn’t believe it when Klaus had told him all those months ago. He still couldn’t believe it now and yet here he was.

“Yup. You wouldn’t believe what he looks like now, Dave. You’d laugh your ass off.” Klaus was grinning but the smile didn’t entirely reach his eyes. His hands were dancing around his unused silverware and on his napkin. “We should go to the VFW and give him a scare. A real scare, huh?” “Klaus, you’ll get your head bashed. Like you deserve,” came Diego’s casual yet warning tone.

Klaus’s eyes rolled and he pushed his plate away as he ignored his brother. “What do you say, Dave? Give ol’ Sanders a scare?”

The idea was tempting. Not to scare Ronnie but to see him. To see who had made it. The skin over his knuckles tightened as his fingers curled in and out of his palms in concentration. He desperately wanted to know what happened to the others. There had been so few of the original platoon left; they couldn’t all be gone. And maybe Sanders would be the start.

Diego had the correct idea of coming up with aliases. They very well couldn’t burst inside and claim to be their true identities; they’d get the cops called on them. Dave, especially, had to be careful with his explanation. After all, David Katz was officially killed in action.

He took the identity of his sister’s son, named after his uncle as a posthumous gesture of familiar love. Klaus was the bastard son of Klaus and some woman he’d screwed around with. It took nearly all his energy not to laugh as Klaus decided over his name, waxing poetic about specificity and believability of names.

“Duncan!”

“You’d name your son Duncan? Who are you, Shakespeare? Or you want to get your kid beat up in school?”

That had been Diego’s reply as the two brothers went back and forth. Dave and Klaus had exchanged amused looks from where they sat in the backseat. “What do you think, Ben?” Klaus asked, leaning over to the empty passenger’s seat. Dave noticed Diego’s eyes flicker over to the empty seat beside him and then refocus on the road. Yes, there was something about a dead brother; that much Dave remembered. And Klaus could see him, communicate with him, but their other siblings couldn’t. He wasn’t sure how much of it he bought until he judged Diego’s calm reaction.

Klaus, in the meanwhile, had rolled his eyes as a look of dislike crossed his features. “That’s fucking depressing.” “What’d he suggest?” Asked Diego.

Reggie.”

Peals of laughter came from the driver’s seat. Dave didn’t entirely understand the connection but he was amused at Diego’s laughter. “Rob,” he suggested suddenly. "You just seem like you could pass for a Rob."

Klaus turned his attention back to Dave at the reply and reacted with approval. “Rob. I like it. Not Robert, oh no. Too formal and pretentious for me. No I might have been born a rich boy but I’m not some British twat. God forbid.” His shoulders shimmied as if shaking off the very idea. “But I like it. Rob. Cool.” His hand tapped Dave’s knee and squeezed it affectionately. Unlike before Dave didn’t shrug it off. He seemed more keen to the gesture in the privacy of the moment.

Klaus’s thumb caressed Dave’s knee as they watched the city-scape pass by. He could tell Dave was tense. His knee was held tightly and it was as if he was balancing on the ball of his foot. The séance pressed his thumb into Dave’s knee to knead the tension from the spot. It grabbed the soldier’s attention once more. “Hey,” came Klaus’s voice, a softer baritenor than his boisterous tone before. Dave was grateful for it. His rough hand covered Klaus’s in thanks. Blue eyes met green as if they weren’t in a car nor were they in the midst of an incredibly trying time.

Dave wished he could speak about everything he was feeling in the moment; the good and the bad. The words he knew that would break Klaus’s heart and words he knew would put the pieces back together. But this wasn’t the time for heartache.

“We’re here.”

--

The apartment had been quiet ever since they’d moved in. The only thing louder than silence had been the tension between the entire family. Of course they were on better terms than they had been in decades. But the disagreements between them all had brewed this storm.

Printed papers lay strewn across the dining table. These were accompanied with highlighters and crumpled bits of paper as well. Luther’s hands scoured the words and images on the pages then jumped to a notebook where he made his own notations.

Some things were not making sense. The suitcase Dave had brought with him could have only come from the Commission. There were only three people he knew of who had access to that and he hadn’t seen any of them for weeks.

A hand briefly touched his shoulder and that drew his attention away from his work. It was after lunch now and he hadn’t realized how hungry he was until he smelled the food on his plate. Pasta, bread, chicken. It almost smelled like how Mom had made it but with another twist.

Allison’s face was twisted in forced pleasantry. It wasn’t that she didn’t care about Luther; that was impossible. But the differing opinions they held had created a vast canyon to divide them. They would never agree on Vanya but that didn’t dismiss how they felt about one another in any regard. She scrawled on her pad of paper and held it in front of Luther.

“You haven’t eaten all day.”

“Don’t think you have, either,” came Luther’s reply. But he took the fork and started at his food to make Allison happy; a task he’d been struggling at lately.

Allison took the comment with a tip of the head, acknowledging the truth of the matter. She scribbled swiftly on the pad. “I was with Vanya today.”

“—How is she?”

Allison’s reply was long but it explained her condition. Vanya wasn’t awake yet. Her brain activity was still positive and she was still breathing. But there was no telling if or when she would wake up from this seemingly vegetative state.

Good. That was Luther’s immediate thought. He feared Vanya; he feared her waking up and remembering everything that had happened. She was probably the biggest threat they had to face now that the world had been saved.

Allison could clearly see this on Luther’s face and it was evident that she was displeased by it. She wrung her wrists as she paced toward the windows that overlooked the various apartment buildings around their own. Surrounded by towers of concrete and metal, Allison didn’t remember feeling so trapped before. This must have been how Vanya felt in the manor; trapped by stone walls and the problems that consumed their family.

“—I’m not giving up on her like you have,” Allison wrote on her notepad. Her eyes dropped to the plate and then to Luther’s collection of papers. Upon seeing key words, she wrote on a new page, “Dave isn’t a threat, either. He doesn’t know what happened.”

“That’s what’s bothering me,” Luther said after a bite of pasta and bread. His fingers rubbed against a napkin to clean the sauce before he gestured at his notes and the papers. “Five has been gone for two weeks. And, what, this guy comes out of nowhere with a briefcase? Claims he doesn’t know who handed it to him or saved him? This guy should have been dead.” Luther passed Allison an article he’d printed from the Internet.

A manicured hand picked up the paper as she took a closer look. It was an obituary listing Dave’s death;

David Robert Katz. Born February 6th1938. Died January 6th1969. Missing in action.

Her eyes rested on the phrase.

“I found eyewitness reports that saw him get hit. Remember that bandage he had on his chest? Should have killed him easily. But someone got him out of there and fixed him up, like he said.” Luther stacked the papers aside and focused on his notes once again. “But if someone pulled him out of there and gave him a suitcase, it had to be from that group that was hunting Five. Either Hazel and Cha-Cha or someone else. But why would they care about some soldier? He means nothing.”

Luther watched Allison’s features twist as she considered his words and what possibly laid beneath them. He just wanted her to think about it. Their family had been, and was in danger of, being torn apart once again. He wasn’t going to let a stranger do that to them

Papers began to fly across the room and it caused the two to whip their heads toward the source. Glass décor shattered and a medium-sized body hit the floor. Luther startled to his feet and instinctively put a hand in front of Allison to shield her. In response, her hand covered his wrist as if she would pull him back to shield him.

The familiar, smaller figure lifted himself to his feet. His eyes were haunted and flecks of red stained his cheek. His hands were also drenched in dried maroon. His shirt was several sizes too big for his body and so were his trousers. It was as if he were a little boy playing dress up. Then again, Five had donned said attire three weeks ago when he had reappeared in almost an exact fashion.

This time, his eyes were more haunted than before. He wasn’t exactly shaking but there seemed to be something that unsettled him to his very core. Allison and Luther both moved toward their brother who reacted with a sharp turn of the head.

“Where’s Dave Katz?”

It had been some time since they’d seen Five look this panicked. “With Klaus and Diego,” Luther replied with carefully judged words. The answer only made Five more on edge.

“We need to find him. Now.”

 

Chapter Text

Bullets whizzed past his head as he inched closer to the backlines. Well, the frontlines where countless men were risking their lives for what? For a war that meant nothing and wasted lives. Not that Five cared about them in the slightest. He had other pressing matters on his mind and he couldn’t let friendly fire get in the way of that. In the chaos of the moment, it was easy for him to sneak through or even to spatial-jump. If it had been calmer, he would have been spotted in under a minute. But this day was perfect for his plan. He’d remembered it quite well.

He’d jumped to the perfect spot; just as he’d remembered. He’d feel the gunshot for just a minute and then nothing. It wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle or that he hadn’t handled already. One life saved that hadn’t deserved to end in the first place.

There was one miscalculation; his own belief that he could outsmart himself.

Of course he’d already been there in the opportune location. It was surreal, watching yourself work. It was as if he was dreaming or having an out of body experience. But this was entirely real. And Five watched as his self from another timeline, an older timeline, stood to the back of the makeshift trench. If one could properly call it a trench. Nothing that compared with World War One but an admirable, albeit rushed, attempt by the Americans. Their sandbag defenses were nothing. They couldn’t protect them; and they certainly wouldn’t protect Dave Katz from an explosive from behind. It could be blamed on a misfiring gun or a ruddy grenade.

The grenade pin was pulled as he watched as he’d threw the grenade toward where Dave was located. How had it not come to mind that Klaus was there? Perhaps it had been the decades of service and how the faces had melded together time after time and kill after kill.

He’d always liked to watch what happened to his targets. Five was ready for this and he readied his gun. His eyes lowered to the suitcase by his side and he aimed the pistol, making a clear shot to the forearm. A sharp, short cry of pain and the suitcase toppled to the side. In that moment, their eyes met and guns aimed toward one another’s head. There was a clear standoff. Neither of them could win in this case. They were each other. A shot would only ensure the elimination of the other. But maybe another shot in the arm would get the message across.

But as he’d fired the gun for the second time, his older self disappeared just as quickly through a time jump. The briefcase lay abandoned and he quickly picked it up, lifting his head to see where the bullet went. That bullet imbedded itself in Dave Katz’s back. Right as the grenade collided midair with machine gunfire.

He wouldn’t typically feel this sort of remorse. But the combination of the explosion midair and gunshot and the reason he had arrived in that timeline triggered him into moving forward. That and Klaus’s futile cries for a medic. The spatial jumps flickered and only got him inches instead of feet forward. By the time he’d jumped, Klaus was gone. Dave Katz’s body was going limp and the color was draining from his face. Five mustered his strength, with his arm around the soldier’s body, and he jumped.

He didn’t know where exactly they were in regards to time. All he knew was he was in a medical suite. Good. This was a time he was thankful for quick thinking and concentration. Instantly, his fingers worked the medical tools to open the chest enough to get the shrapnel out. Next was the bullet. It had nicked Dave’s lung which was probably the reason he was choking on blood.

Five knew it had been hours since he’d started working on Dave but it hadn’t felt that long. His hands and sleeves were covered in blood but Dave was stable enough. He was alive enough to get to 2019 and to find the others. He shoved the briefcase into his wounded chest and leaned into the soldier’s ear to tell him about where he was going and who he would see.  

The correct coordinates and flash of light ensured that Dave had gone through to the appropriate time. His wrong had been righted.

For the moment

--

Three mugs of coffee down. Two hands clean. One question.

“Where’s Dave Katz?”

Allison and Luther exchanged looks at the repeated question. In all honesty, they didn’t know where the three were going. There had been some brief discussion about getting Dave something to eat and that was it. But if the three knew their brothers, they knew they would be going downtown to the Battery Diner. They’d gone there as frequently as they could if and when they were ever tired of Grady’s Doughnuts.

Five took this news and stood to go down the hallway. Allison put a hand on her brother’s shoulder as Luther spoke. “Who is going after him? And why the hell would they? Where were you?”

“If you were smarter, you’d have put all the pieces together by now,” retorted Five, “and you’d let me go so I could figure out some way to fix this mess I made.”

“What mess, Five? What did you do?”

Two sets of eyes were on Five as they waited for a response. The tension wasn’t overwhelming but it was annoying. Five rolled up his sleeves and went to sit back down, hands clasping together briefly before they began to animate. “When I used to work for the Temps Commission, I got an assignment. It was strange. I didn’t understand my orders but they were orders so I jumped anyway. Did the job and came back. It was like nothing.”

His eyes lifted to see if his siblings were still with him. Good. Not as stupid as they came across sometimes. “My orders were to kill a soldier. I didn’t get much more information than that. Just the name and the order to eliminate him. I did it. I didn’t care.”

Now he focused on Luther and Allison to see if they understood just who he was speaking about. It took nearly a minute but the shock on both their faces confirmed their understanding. “You killed Dave? Klaus’s Dave?” Luther asked, speaking for both himself as well as Allison. Allison’s aggressive body language led Five into continuing, “I didn’t know who he was until three days ago when Klaus was going on and on about getting sober for him. Then I got it. He didn’t tell me when he came back the first time but I guess I always knew where he’d been. The dog tags and the shitty vest should have told me straight out but…I was a little preoccupied.”

His gaze went to the emptied coffee mug and he wished he’d spiked it. He’d developed a thick-skin decades ago; he shouldn’t be feeling this sort of remorse for killing one person. But this person had meant more to Five than he’d originally realized.

Allison’s hand banging on the table dragged Five from his thoughts. A manicured finger pointed to his person and then to the table. She’d written something on her pad of paper. You were the one who saved him? How?

“You know how everyone likes to think they’re medical experts after watching those God-awful medical dramas on television?” His disdain was clear. “I spent yearsreading up on medicine in whatever book I could find during the apocalypse. When I wasn’t trying to get back here,” he clarified for his siblings’ sakes. “I got some practice on the field. But I’ve never repaired a lung before. That took…” He whistled and picked up the mug out of instinct, disappointed at the lack of coffee. Five held it out to Luther, shaking it in his hand. Luther’s eyes rolled as he grasped it and went to get his brother a fourth mug full of coffee.

Allison was leaning forward with her elbows on the tops of her thighs. She mouthed, “Why?”

Five barely acknowledged the question. “—I’m not going to tell Klaus yet. We’re not in the clear.” When Luther returned he took the mug back and drank half of the contents right away. “What do you mean ‘not in the clear’?”

Pausing, Five settled the warm mug in his hands and tapped on the ceramic. “Isn’t it obvious? I screwed up the damn timeline. He wasn’t supposed to live. Dave Katz is officially dead but not really. Not when I saved his life and used a suitcase to bring him here.” And shot past-him in the arm but that was beside the point.

“The point is,” Five said, “the Commission, or whatever is left of it, is probably going to want Dave dead. And we need to prevent that from happening. So where is he?”

--

Dave was rarely nervous. Even after nearly two and a half years in Vietnam, he had a hard time letting his nerves get the better of him. It was unclear, now, why his hands were shaking as he entered the Veterans of Foreign Wars bar with Klaus and Diego flanking him. He was a thirty-year old man, for Christ’s sake; why was he shaking like a child whose father held the belt?

Klaus similarly seemed on edge as his eyes swiped over the bar patrons and then on Dave to see his reaction. Before they were troubled, he made the decision to bring the other man over to the board dedicated to Vietnam. Briefly touching Dave’s arm, Klaus cued him to follow and carried himself over to the board.

His eyes settled on the pictures and it was as if he was transported back to when they were taken. It was as if he could hear the whirring of the helicopters, the sputtering of the trucks, and the shouting of orders. When he had initially come to this bar, Klaus had wished he’d asked for a copy of the picture. So many of the men in it were dead; either having died on the battlefield or in the years following the war. Klaus should know; he could see their ghosts.

Dave’s footsteps brought him out of his thoughts and he looked at him from the corner of his eye. The other’s reaction was more internal. Klaus couldn’t think about what was going through Dave’s head. In a way, however, he could see the reaction in his eyes and body.

Dave’s eyes had widened slightly as he examined the board. The pictures, the faces. It was as if he were reliving the memories as each reminder came to him. It made him feel sick and yet giddy the whole time as he recalled moments with each man. Some of them, he knew, had died, while others were God knows where.

It made a pit form in his stomach and twist the organ. Dave felt ill. Something felt very wrong looking at these pictures and knowing that he was alive while these other men were dead. And saved by traveling through time, nonetheless. It seemed entirely unnatural. All of it. He was unnatural for being here.

The hand on his shoulder snapped him out of his internal spiral. Dave immediately gripped onto Klaus’s arm as they stared at the board and relived their past. There didn’t need to be words between them at this moment. Dave’s eyes closed and his hand tightened on Klaus while the other man stayed there to support him. They would talk about it later; about the pain and guilt they both were feeling.

Another interruption took them out of the moment.

“I thought we told you to get out of here.”

Both men turned at the same time to face Ronald Sanders. Dave was visibly surprised to see how he’d turned out; an obvious beer belly and grayed hair on his head and face. He was certainly not young anymore nor the well-built soldier he had been. He was holding a beer bottle; a typical sight from leave. But this wasn’t leave anymore. This wasn’t the war anymore.

“Get the hell out of here, kid. And take your goddamn friend with you,” growled Ron, gesturing with the bottle. Dave’s hand moved Klaus back as he stepped in front of him. His brain immediately racked for an explanation. Their plan from before; their fake names. Dave worked to make his voice sound calm as he asked, “That’s no way to treat your comrades’ relatives is it, soldier?”

Ron’s body immediately tensed and he went through a multitude of emotions. Dave could sympathize to an extent. He was feeling the same thing looking at Ron right now.

“—That’s too fucking far. Get the fuck out of here before you get what’s coming to you.”

“Rob and I,” Dave said, trying not to trip over Klaus’ improvised name, “have every right to visit the place that honors our father and uncle’s memories.” He stood firm and defiant. It felt familiar to giving orders. And this was something Ron was clearly disliking.

Klaus was watching Dave in silent approval. If he didn’t know Dave better, he would have thought he had everything under control. But he knew the storm within him that was raging. Certainly seeing a former Army buddy after all this time wasn’t making it better. But Dave was always cool under every sort of pressure; no matter what was going on.

“And who the hell are you, then?” Ron questioned. “Dave Katz.”

The silence was absolutely painful to experience on every side. Klaus took a step forward and continued, “Not actually Dave Katz. His—“

“My uncle,” Dave finished, his eyes still trained on Ron as if he were an insubordinate. “And I have every right to spend time here to learn about him. My mother showed me letters. He wrote about you. But he didn’t mention you were such a goddamn, disrespectful son of a bitch to the families of them men you served with. So if you don’t mind leaving my friend and I alone, that’d be a great service to the memory of your fellow soldiers.”

The bar was quiet except for the music in the background. Ron was stunned into absolute silence. Thatwas a feat in and of itself. Klaus was amazed Dave had managed to do that. But he stopped for a moment as he saw a note of recognition in the older man’s eyes and he stepped forward. Klaus immediately stepped to Dave’s side and met Ron’s eyes for the briefest of moments.

“—Who are you to Dave Katz?” Ron asked Dave in the smallest voice he’d ever heard. Dave hesitated before he said, “His nephew.” “Rachel had a kid that looks just like him,” Ron muttered. That statement seemed to make Dave tense with curiosity but he stood his ground. Then Ron looked at Klaus. “—You’re the guy who saved the world, ain’t you?” Klaus’ head nodded once. “Part of that Umbrella Academy thing. So, yer name is Rob?”

“Unfortunately.” A side glance from Dave. He'd get scolded later, he was sure.

“Considering your father was Klaus Hargreeves,” Ron retorted, taking a swig of his beer. Klaus barely flinched at that comment. Ron had never liked him that much; he’d only tolerated him. And that he could take.

Klaus and Dave stood watching Ron finish his bottle of beer. “Fine. You can stay. But don’t mess with anything,” grumbled the old soldier as he moved away slowly, almost limping. Dave turned to Klaus as they were left alone and eyes moved away from them.

Dave's eyes were a little haunted. He seemed shell-shocked. "Dave," Klaus muttered, "you okay?"

"--I just need a minute. Outside." 

Klaus immediately brought Dave outside, looking at Diego briefly and waving a hand to let him know they'd be right back. 

--

Dave felt as if his lungs finally opened when they were outside. He put his hands behind his head as he measured his breathing and he leaned against the wall. "Shit," he repeated as he tried to focus into the present.

Klaus put his hand on Dave's shoulder but was immediately rejected. "Klaus, I can't do that right now," said the slightly taller soldier. Klaus's hand went up, showing off the 'Goodbye' tattooed on his palm. 

"Dave I'm just trying to make sure you're okay, dammit!" "I'm clearly not, Klaus! You try talking to the man who was fifty years younger just yesterday," snapped Dave, his hands sharply flying down to his sides. This wasn't entirely anger but neither of them realized it. All there was between them was misunderstanding and miscommunication.

"Then tell me what the hell is going on with you." Klaus stepped closer and offered his hands. Dave watched the other man move toward him and stayed frozen where he stood. He let Klaus touch his arms and even draw closer in a sort of loose embrace.

"I don't know what's going on." His hand came up to cover his face. The feeling in his chest was combusting. It hurt. His head hurt and his body hurt but none of it was physical. It was a feeling Dave couldn't put words to and he didn't know how Klaus would react if he did. 

He leaned against the other man and his arms eventually moved around his body to hold him in the embrace. Klaus's mouth muttered his name but it was if Dave could barely register that. His brain was swamped with thoughts that threatened to drown him. The faces in the picture had brought him back to some terrible memories. Some of those faces had been shot away or blown to pieces. Others had ended their own tortured existence. Others he hardly had a clue where they were now.

And yet here he was.

Here he was in a strange time and strange place. Dave was alive when he should be dead just like his comrades who had suffered the same injuries he had. There was a family that had assumed he was dead; lost in action and with no body to be buried. But here he was; alive. Alive and feeling guilty about it, even in the embrace of the man he loved.

The sound of his name brought him back to the present. Klaus’hands were on his face and his name was being said yet again.

Klaus. Klaus Hargreeves was always there for him, beside him. Time, it seemed, wouldn't keep them apart. And it was for good reason. And Dave was ever grateful despite what he was feeling.

The feeling of Klaus's forehead against his own was comforting and familiar. It only was natural when their mouths met. And it was like breathing again.

--

The car ride was more relaxed than before. There were still a lot of things left unsaid. But they'd gone back inside, had a drink, looked at the pictures and recounted memories. And that had seemed to help Dave. Klaus had noticed how the tension seemed to melt off him. It was almost like he was the same Dave he'd met back in 1968.

Klaus was trying his best to avoid Ben's knowing smile at him in the front seat. But it was hard to when he was in his peripheral vision. Ben was happy for him. He could sense that much. And he knew Diego knew as well.

Dave's hand was in Klaus's and they were gazing at each other. He hadn't been that happy in a long time. Neither of them had. 

"Feeling good, Katz?" Came Diego's voice from the driver's seat. "Yeah. Was good to see some buddies again." And Klaus knew from the tone that Dave was telling the truth. Being brave, Klaus slipped his arm around his boyfriend's shoulder and he ruffled his hair.

"Good to get you back," Klaus muttered, feeling gentle for the first time in quite a while. 

A flash interrupted Dave's next words and broke the two men apart. A smaller figure was squished between them. And right before they said their words--

The sound of crunching metal.

The sparks as the car shredded into the sidewalk and against a pole.

The sound of car alarms and dripping of gasoline to the ground.

The five bodies in the car remained unmoving, silent. Blood from a cut on his forehead.

And as his eyes opened, he saw guns heading toward them. And the sounds of guns cocking. 

Guns ready to kill them.

To kill Dave Katz.

 

Chapter Text

The pain was familiar. The blood on his face and the feeling of singed flesh was also a fresh memory that brought him back to consciousness. His name was being called; that much he was currently aware of. And something was being tugged as well. Dave’s brain connected the feeling to his arm as he became aware he was being dragged from somewhere.

Ringing in his ears accompanied the pain across his body. But the sound of his name and other questions cut through the ringing. Diego. It was Diego saying his name and supporting him upright. Dave squinted through black flames and burning in his eyes to focus on the other man. Then another thought.

“Klaus.”

Both men turned their head back to the car with Dave instinctively reaching toward it. Strong arms pulled him backward at another puff of smoke and the ignition of a small fire. Dave was all too aware of what that could mean so he didn’t struggle when Diego led him as far from the car as possible. One of the other man’s arms released its hold on him but Dave wasn’t paying attention to that.

Klaus. Klaus. Where had Klaus gone?

There had been someone else, too, who had come in. Someone so utterly familiar to Dave that it had made his body chill at the sight.

Dave didn’t know when he’d started to yell for Klaus but he did feel the scratching in his throat. That was evidence enough that he was screaming.

It was then that Dave was aware of their surroundings. And of the other car that was damaged and mere feet from them. The door opened and out came a line of about fifteen men with guns. Big guns. They lined up before the two men and Dave was suddenly aware of the firing squad execution that was about to occur.

“You don’t happen to carry a gun, do you?” He asked as he and Diego stood side-by-side facing the men in black. “Hell no,” Diego said, his hands moving to his holsters and hiding places. “Guns are too unreliable. I only trust these—“

Fluidly, he pushed Dave behind him as he threw his knives. And just as Dave thought the hail of bullets would go through them there were the most terrifying sounds he could ever hear. A demonic roaring accompanied it and he could hardly believe his eyes as a group of the men were lifted in the air by tentacles and crashed together. The sound of their bones crunching was sickening and the sight of blood dripping from squeezed bodies was another thing entirely. It made him want to vomit.

Dave had seen his fair share of mutilated corpses for one lifetime. He didn’t think he’d see more so soon. Nor had he wanted to see the sight that was before him. A person with tentacles jutting out of his stomach. He seemed to be in an immense amount of pain and was yelling as the squirming appendages conducted their bloody business.

Diego, who was standing still in front of him, clutched two knives in his hands. He’d struck about four of the squeezed corpses that had been dropped to the ground before them. Both men stared in complete awe and there was no other movement until Dave’s instincts took over. He retrieved one of the large guns that had fallen and aimed it at the solidified tentacles. Though Diego immediately tried to hold him back, Dave was adamant at keeping his stance and fought against it.

His eyes leveled with the person from whom the monstrous appendages came from. He seemed so young; almost too young. Dave squinted with the precision of a gunman and kept the barrel locked on him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Again, Diego tried to pull him back. “We don’t know what the fuck this thing is,” came Dave’s response. “That thingis my brother.” Diego’s voice was almost venomous but certainly protective. His grip was threatening, now. Dave’s hold barely wavered but he did look closer. “Watch.”

Behind Ben, bloodied but still standing, was Klaus. Klaus’s hands were outstretched and he seemed to be extending a lot of effort. And as quickly as the last body dropped from the air, the man with the tentacles vanished into a blue haze. Ten feet away and surrounded by bodies and flames, Klaus dropped his hands.

--

Five had gotten him out before he’d passed out completely. He was fast like that. And strong. Klaus had marveled at it for a moment before they’d jumped feet away from the opposing truck. It had been a stereotypical black truck that held bad guys. There was no originality anymore, apparently.

Bringing Ben to a solid form was natural for Klaus now. It was taking much of his energy but the two had worked in tandem to rid themselves of the threats facing their family. Again. Not like they would ever properly go away.

Normally he would have made a joke about Dave being sexy when he was holding a gun. But it didn’t seem like the right time nor the right place. They were all bleeding and in shock. It was an all-too familiar sight that Klaus hadn’t wanted to relive.

The four alivemen sat on the curb as if they were children left waiting for a bus. Klaus barely had enough energy to keep Ben solid so he settled for being the only one to currently see him. Dave had ripped the sleeve of his shirt and tied it around his head to stop any further bleeding. That was kind considering his head was also bleeding and he had terrific burns on his side and leg. Diego had probably broken a couple of ribs and had a slight concussion. Five, too, had broken ribs that he had made work of with a makeshift bandage. But physical injuries were the least of their troubles.

It was almost comical when Allison and Luther came to pick them up. Well, when the limo had come to pick them up. Another courtesy of the city. Klaus didn’t feel bad for bleeding over the fine leather. That’s what they got when they sent a limo to do an ambulance’s job. But none of the siblings liked to make that big a deal. They could handle it themselves when they arrived back at the apartment.

Dave and Klaus had taken the couch and they were starting to feel like they’d done something wrong when Luther stood up.

“There’s someone trying to kill him.”

“Who him?”

“Knock it off, Klaus. Dave,” Luther said, exhausted already. “Five said it himself.” The group turned their heads to look at Five who was, in classic Five fashion, one coffee down with another pot brewing. He looked at them all over the rim of his mug and drummed his fingers on it as he spoke. “Yep. And presumably the rest of us who try to keep him alive.”

“Who is they? And why do they want him dead? What’s he done?” Klaus questioned. “I’d assume the Temps Commission,” Five said into his mug. “There’s a lot about the timeline that was can be easily corrupted. I told you that the Commission is charged with keeping the timelines intact. Titanic always needs to sink. Granny always needs to get hit by the car so her grandchild can grow up to be the next Ted Bundy.” His finger pointed to Dave. “Dave Katz needs to die so Klaus can come back to 2019.”

Silence filtered through the room. It had never seemed so loud before.

“You two were never supposed to meet in the first place. Klaus was never supposed to interfere with the Commission and stay in Vietnam for good. That’s why they sent me to kill you and to bring him back. Purify the timeline.”

Now shock. And anger.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Klaus’s hands raised and he leaned forward, standing as he began to stammer and find his words. Five always found the denial phase quite hilarious. It was funny to see Klaus stammer and justify what he had just heard. But there was that new part of him, that softer side, that was embarrassed and upset to see his brother in such a state.

“They told youto kill him? You—“

Five could barely meet Klaus’s eyes, opting instead for the coffee pot. He paid attention to the stream pouring into his mug as he continued, “I didn’t know, back then, who he was. Or why. I never questioned my orders. I just did my job and left.” Now he had no choice but to look at Klaus. Klaus was silently fuming. Dave had the worst expression a person could have; total blankness. Not knowing what his reaction would be was perhaps the most frightening thing Five had ever seen from another human.

“You did…your job. And left.”

Fingers and hands moved as if they could make tactile sense of what those words meant. Then they went up and through Klaus’s hair, scratching at it incessantly as he paced back and forth. All eyes were on Klaus as he moved and no one noticed Dave as he got to his feet. Not until he spoke.

“Why did you save me, then? If you came back to change what you had done, I want to know why.” His voice was strangely calm for the circumstances. He’d lost everything quite literally. From where Diego was sitting, he was shocked that Five wasn’t beaten to a bloody pulp or that there wasn’t more screaming.  Then again, Dave didn’t seem like a purposefully violent person.

Yet Five felt shame as his eyes met Dave’s. He didn’t notice before how young Dave was. He was a kid compared to how Five felt on the inside. He was just some kid who hadn’t done anything wrong. And Five had just followed orders.

“Was it just because of Klaus?” There was that measured and controlled voice again. Too rational for Five’s current sanity. “If it hadn’t been, you wouldn’t have changed a thing. Wouldn’t you?”

The silence was devastating. “—No. I wouldn’t have. If it wasn’t for Klaus.”

---

That seemed to satisfy something in Dave. He turned with the precision of a soldier and left the room.

Footsteps rapidly approached him and they fell in step together. As they entered the bedroom, Klaus leaned against the door and stared at his partner as they both tried to process the news.

“Dave, I didn’t—“

 “I know you didn’t know. You’re not that kind of a person.” Dave was leaning the lower-half of his body against the bed while his arms were crossed against his chest. He ignored all instinct to look away from Klaus and disconnect again. “He would have left me dead if it hadn’t been for you. And that’s something I’m not sure how to feel about.”

“No, yeah, me too. I mean, it’s nice but weird. Very…not Five. The kindness of it,” Klaus rambled, scratching the back of his head as he came to sit beside his partner. “I think what he’s getting at is that he screwed up.” Immediately he held his hand to Dave’s chest and defended himself. “Not that saving your life was a mistake! But if I understand anything about this time travel bullshit, it’s that he did something he shouldn’t have. And now these guys he used to work with are going to try and correct it.”

“By killing me. And anyone who protects me,” Dave concluded. The men sat in silence as the realization settled over them. “Fuck.” Dave winced as he brought his hand up through his hair, the gesture pulling at the burned skin on his right side.

“This has to be the plot of a terrible movie sequel,” Klaus muttered, laying his body back against the bed. Dave turned his head over his shoulder to watch his partner rubbing his hands over his face in disbelief. His thoughts turned to what he was even doing here. His being alive had brought more trouble than good, it seemed. He’d screwed something up in the fabric of time. Whatever that meant in the long run.

And that was the thing; Dave didn’t know how this would affect the future. How would it have affected Klaus, his family? Hell, how would his being alive affect the world?

Maybe—

“Dave.”

That snapped him out of his thoughts. That and Klaus’s hand on his face. He was sitting up now and utterly engaged. Dave was instantly aware of the concern on Klaus’s face. That gravity, that seriousness; he’d seen it many times before.

“Don’t. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t.”

His lips parted. “Klaus, it’s a fact we have to think about. Maybe it’s more trouble than it’s worth if I’m here.” “It’s not trou—you’re not trouble! You don’t think people would be trying to kill us anyway? I stopped the goddamn apocalypse, for Christ’s sake.” He waved his hand as if to say ‘Later’. “You’re not trouble to me. To us. And I’m not going to let any son of a bitch kill you to purify some goddamn timeline where you’re dead. Because that’s not a timeline I want to be in.”

Dave closed his eyes for a moment and allowed Klaus to put his arms around him. He reciprocated and pressed his fingers into the other’s back to anchor himself down. No, he wouldn’t surrender himself to those creeps with guns. Even if that would kill the selfless soldier in him. He didn’t want any of Klaus’s family to get hurt or killed because of him.

But they’d find out a way. There had to be a way through all of this where they all were alive.

When the two men broke apart, Dave made the decision that they both needed a drink. They changed their clothes, their bandages, then set out, ignoring protests as they went toward the door. That is, until Five spoke up.

“If they find you, they’ll stop at nothing to kill you.”

Dave had nothing to say to that statement. If it happened, so be it. God willed it. But he and Klaus had held out against the Vietcong too many times for him to hold any more doubt in them.

They could face death one more time.

--

Being at the VFW still felt strange but Dave embraced it with a bit more abandon. Ron wasn’t there but those who had been at the confrontation hours before barely paid them any mind. Well, after staring at their obvious physical wounds they began to mind their respective businesses.

Whiskey went smooth down his throat and settled the general anxiety that was going through his body. It was dark outside, now, and Dave had felt as if he’d been in this time for a year. It felt as if he was being pulled in two different directions yet both led back to Klaus Hargreeves. He ached to be back in the familiar hell of Vietnam but in a hell that offered the comfort of his friends and memory of his family. This time offered Klaus but also a new and frightening uncertainty.

He shook the thought off with another shot of whiskey and focused on the warmth of his own face and the stupid smile on Klaus’s. Dave was more than positive he was smiling as well. It was as if a great weight had been put off his shoulders.

“Remember when we were back in Saigon,” Dave started, running his thumb over the rim of his shot glass, “and Lorenz got shitfaced off cheap rum?”

Klaus dragged a tattooed hand over his face as he recalled the memory and joined Dave in shared laughter. “He was puking his guts out right over the bar. And I—“ “You pushed him and he chucked it all over Officer Wallace’s boots,” Dave finished, bringing the glass to his lips as Klaus snorted and pressed his head to the wooden counter.

The mood was more jovial than it had ever been before. It felt entirely right. Maybe getting tipsy was exactly what they had needed. Trouble would always be there but they could let their guards down for a moment at the very least.

The bartender didn’t seem to have the heart to cut them off as they recounted their war stories. Dave wasn’t sure his reaction to these two obviously young men talking rambunctiously about being to Saigon and to other bases. But he was too drunk to care.

When they stumbled toward the wall of pictures again, Dave could feel himself sobering just enough to pay his respects. His eyes landed on the platoon photo and he gave a nod to the images of the men they had fought with. He clasped his hand on Klaus’s shoulder as he, too, joined him in paying his silent respects.

“You think about finding them?” “Sometimes. But it’s just….” Klaus was shaking his head as he let the thought trail off. It was a complicated situation. Dave understood it. It was too complicated for their fellow brothers in arms to understand. Hell, he barely understood it himself.

Klaus’s hand clasped on his back and they held each other close in that manner as they reminisced on all the factors that had brought them and their brotherhood together. They would always share the scars of war but they would also share the memories of the men they had befriended and fought with.

It was late evening by the time they’d made their way out. They’d taken a taxi to get to the bar so there wasn’t any other way back to the apartment. But Klaus didn’t seem eager to return to his family so soon.

Another taxi hailed but this time it took them to the piers.

Klaus was all too familiar with the piers. But the reason he had brought Dave there wasn’t to get high or to mindlessly hook up. Being mostly sober, he wanted to have a pure moment with the man he loved. He hoped that wasn’t asking too much of the universe.

Dave was tipsy but he handled himself well. He’d even made sure Klaus didn’t get completely shitfaced. Dave Katz was truly a national treasure, Klaus decided as they walked from the cab to the piers that looked to the city lights.

Dave’s hands were shoved in his pockets as the chill of the nighttime air permeated his jacket. Klaus mirrored him as they both walked toward the edge of the pier. Black-lined eyes gazed at Dave’s bare ones..

“Are you okay?”

That caught Dave’s attention and he met Klaus’s face. With a shrug he replied, “I will be.” “But right now,” Klaus asked cautiously, “are you okay here? I know it’s all shit. I’m shit—“ Dave’s hand on his head interrupted him. As the other man moved his hand through his hair, Klaus was reminded of the night they’d kissed for the first time. It was similar to this; both of them tipsy and alone. But it was more serious. There was more gravity around their being together than simply being alone in a shitty bar.

“You’re not shit,” Dave replied in his gentle tone. “I don’t know how I feel about being here. It’s goddamn confusing and complicated as hell. But being right hereis a different story.” Rough fingers dragged over the side of Klaus’s face and across to his cheek.

Any pretense of humor dropped from Klaus’s face as he gave himself over to vulnerability. He leaned against the metal railing and his hand moved to Dave’s waist. They were utterly alone; something that settled the respective storms within them both.

Dave’s body leaned close and Klaus met him halfway. Arms encircled each other’s body and mouths met. Dave’s arms felt secure around his leaner body. Klaus had almost forgotten what it was like to be this close to another person, what it was like to kiss someone he genuinely cared about. Hell, to kiss someone he loved.

He swore that he whispered Dave’s name at some point as their lips parted. And when he realized that they were gazing at one another, he felt that smitten smile cross his lips. It was such high school bullshit but Klaus was willing to go all in for it.

The noises in both their heads disappeared as they deepened the kiss and clung to each other. When Dave made the motions to end the kiss, they both were holding onto one another’s jackets and faces. Both men were flushed and smitten with eyes glazed over.

Klaus leaned into Dave’s ear and muttered words he hadn’t said for what seemed to be a lifetime. He was more than relieved to hear those words repeated back to him.

I love you.”

 

Chapter Text

“Fall in line!!”

The jungle canopy. The roaring of helicopters overhead. The A Shau Valley. He could smell the smoke from burning fires. Burning villages. Then there was the scent of burning meat. Human flesh. It made him want to vomit his insides. He could hear weak moans coming from the ground. Some of it was unintelligible while the other was too intelligible. Please in another language to be helped, pleas in English and Vietnamese for mother. Mother, mother. Mommy. Those hurt the worst. Those threatened to pierce through his icy resolve.

He’d been there for two years. Two years and three months to be exact. He should be used to it by now.

[Shit’s crazy, I know. You’ll adjust.]

But he didn’t know if he could adjust to the sight of bodies blown apart. It still shocked him how no matter the shade of skin or the heritage, they were all the same on the inside. They were all slabs of flesh waiting to be blown to bits. If you were lucky, you were recognizable. If not, they’d try to find your tags and send those back to your family in an empty casket with Old Glory draped across.

“Fall in line!”

There was even more crying. Kids. He recognized the childish register all too quickly. Kids and their mothers. He couldn’t adjust to the haunted look in their eyes, nor the torn clothing that barely provided them a sense of dignity. But there was no dignity to be had after what they had been through. The smug smiles on the faces of his brothers-in-arms—God he hated that he had to call them that—told him everything. So had the screams and the laughs. The fires said enough, too. Not all of it had been the result of battle; there were some real sickos here. Every war had their psychotics.

They were in line; the commander sized them all up. They couldn’t afford to show their weaknesses, their objections to what they had done if there were any at all. They had to be a single unit, a single brain that worked together. All for one and one for all.

[But the Three Musketeers certainly didn’t approve of this. They couldn’t, could they?]

All he wanted was to get back to camp. He didn’t want this test of trust and integrity. He wanted to pull out a cigarette and get his radio. He wanted to do something to wipe away the memory of what had happened that afternoon.

The words were garbled to his ears but he knew all too well what was happening. The commander’s reddened face filled his vision. It was his turn to be chewed out. But this was more than being chewed out. This was punishment.

He was on the ground, his face in the dirt. Fuck, he could almost taste the blood that was soaking into the earth. There was another person down beside him. He turned his head to face them.

“Dave..”

The wide, expressive eyes and the unregulated facial hair. Shit, how had Klaus managed to get the commanding officers to let him wear that dated moustache and beard? It was unquestionable that the soldier beside him was Klaus. Now he was being hoisted to his knees. Now there was a gun to his head.

He couldn’t understand the next words being said. But there was a gunshot and Klaus’s body fell face-first to the ground beside him.

He felt himself trying to move but he was pinned to where he laid. Everything in his body seemed to explode out of his chest; grief, anger, fury, pain. But that wasn’t all. A face got down beside him; Klaus’s brother. The younger one with darker hair and eyes that betrayed the physical youth. Five.

When Five moved, there was Rachel. Sweet Rachel who had been sixteen when he left to go overseas. She must have been eighteen now, almost nineteen. But it didn’t matter how old she was. She was crying, shaking out of fear. She shouldn’t be there.

A shot to the brain. She was down on the ground beside him as well. Since when had they taken Klaus’s body away? Where was Klaus? Now Rachel was gone, too. Where was she? Where had they taken--?

“Dave..”

His mother. For God’s sake, his mother was there. They had a gun to her head too. How long would this go on? How many more people would Five kill?

“You should have stayed dead,” came Five’s voice, harsh and distorted in his ear. The barrel of another gun pressed against his head. It was trembling. He stayed looking at his mother, trying to keep himself calm so she wouldn’t break. It would be okay. It would be okay. It would—

_-_-_-_

“Dave! Dave!”

Dave could still feel the metal pressed to his head, smell the gun residue and the blood all around him. He was on the floor, yes, but this wasn’t the jungle floor. It was too clean, too sterile, too domesticated. It was nighttime, too, not afternoon. This wasn’t Vietnam.

The second he felt hands try to touch him, Dave automatically pushed them away and moved to get out of a vulnerable position. His back hit a wall while his hands kept moving to defend himself.

“For fuck’s sake, stop it! Dave, stop! Dave!”

Klaus’s voice. Shit, it was Klaus. Dave instructed himself to keep his focus on the man in front of him. One of Klaus’s eyes was squinting. Had he hit in there? Klaus was holding his hands toward him, tattooed palms facing him. Dave could understand by his posture that the other man was only trying to help and not hurt him. There was nothing aggressive about what Klaus was trying to accomplish. Dave felt the tension leave his body as he came to this realization.

He assessed their surroundings. They were in Klaus’s room. They were on the floor. Somehow they’d gotten there. Dave saw that Klaus was nude except for his underwear. This was the first time in a while he had a better look at the new tattoos. The temple on his abdomen and stomach nearly blended with his tanned skin but Dave still saw it. Klaus had teased him when he’d gotten it, refusing to tell him the real meaning. But he did say it involved him and Dave secretly found that sweet. Sweet for Klaus.

He’d forgotten how lean Klaus really was. How sinewy his arms were as they were fixed in a calming position. His eyes were wide with what Dave presumed to be concern and worry. Despite Klaus’s careless nature, he truly was a caring individual.

Dave realized for the first time that he, too, was in his boxers. All of a sudden he became hyperaware of the wound on his chest. It was a furious combination of pink and red that was decorated with bruising skin. Five had done a good job of stitching him up front and back but it didn’t relieve him of the body’s natural healing process. And it would take a long time for him to properly heal. The next realization he came to was that his heart was racing and his lungs were fighting for oxygen. Dave leaned his head against the wall and forced his breathing to regulate. He moved his hand through his own hair, gripping onto the blond curls that were dampened with sweat. He’d definitely had a nightmare. That was what it was and nothing more. But he could still smell and feel everything that had happened. He swore the gun was still against the back of his head, not the off-white wall that was supporting him.

It was a good thing Klaus didn’t touch him. Dave’s nerves were on edge. It was as if he could feel everything operating in his body; his cells, his moving blood, the throbbing of his organs. It was a fire of its own devising.

“Sorry. Sorry,” came the words as he came down from his panicked breathing. Dave thought of the first time he’d witnessed combat and death. He’d gone into an absolute panic when they returned to camp. His commanding officer had come to him to help him through the panic. There was something about finding a grounding force; something to link him to reality. And as stupidly romantic as it sounded, Klaus became that grounding force for him. Dave mentally repeated physical aspects of Klaus he could see for certain. His hair, his eyes, his tattoos, his lean physique.

When Dave’s hand left his hair, he dropped it into his own lap. He was significantly more calm and more accepting to touch. In fact he was the one who took Klaus’s hand and brought it into his lap. The two of them sat there in silence for God knows how long. Dave didn’t know what time it was or how much had passed. He knew it was late at night and it was still dark outside. They’d been sleeping, yes. They’d gone out to the bar that night. It had been two days since he’d appeared in the new Hargreeves home. This nightmare had been less intense before; merely paranoia growing in the back of Dave’s brain. But now it was a full-blown terror that had ripped him from the peace of sleep.

At some point, Klaus sat beside Dave and continued to hold his hand. Neither man spoke. They didn’t always have to. Klaus liked to occasionally tease Dave that he was getting to be the strong and silent type. Dave was a thoughtful guy. He supposed he took after his father in that way. His mother always had something to say.

His mother. Dave recalled what her face had looked like in his nightmare. It sent another bolt of fear through his chest. His hand flexed at the thought of what she had looked like. Fuck. If Dave was a different man, he would have immediately gone for a bottle of something strong. If he was Klaus, he’d go for something stronger than a joint. Or at least thought about it. Klaus had been sober from drugs for weeks, so he aid. And Dave definitely saw a difference.

Dave’s head turned so he and Klaus were looking at one another. “That didn’t seem like a fun dream,” Klaus muttered. “To say the least.” He smiled when he got Dave to crack the hint of a grin and leaned his head against the other man’s. There came the silence again. “Can you remember it like I can?” Dave suddenly asked, his eyes unfixed as he lost himself in his thoughts. He swore he could smell the napalm. They’d been through a village after a napalm strike once. He didn’t think he’d ever forget the scent. He didn’t wait for Klaus to answer. “I saw her in every person we passed. I saw my dad in all the guys we gunned down, all the moms who protected their kids were like my mom. There was a girl who was strung up. Fuck, Klaus, she could have been Rachel. She could have been Rachel—“

His grasp on Klaus was growing tighter. “Maybe I didn’t get fucking used to it,” Dave said aloud. “I didn’t get used to it at all. I was better at hiding it. Shit, I thought about it like a goddamn radio show. It wasn’t real half the time. But—shit. Fuck—“

Dave rarely swore like that. Klaus knew that when Dave Katz swore so consistently, he wasn’t joking at all. He tried to readjust their hands but Dave’s was anchored to his. “I know,” Klaus tried to sympathize, his free hand on the other’s wrist. Dave seemed to somehow recognize what Klaus was doing and he eased up just a little. Not much but enough for Klaus to readjust their hands. “I hear the helicopters,” Klaus admitted. He could almost hear them right then as well as almost see them. Their lights at night and how they zoomed from the area before planes came by to drop bombs, soldiers, napalm, or some combination of them all. Klaus’s skin felt itchy so he began to scratch at his forearm.

“I saw—you. Not like I saw other people, you know? They were dead. And you weren’t. I know that now but—shit, Dave, I thought I saw you dead so many fucking times. I thought I saw my sister—Vanya—or my brothers. Or Allison.” A bitter laugh ripped from his throat as a defense against the tears and panic that threatened to overtake him. “I missed them more than I thought I would. When you asked me about them and showed me pictures of your sister. I think I hated you for a minute there. Fuckin’ gushin’ over your mom and your dad and your sister back in the South. Shit, of course you’re a southern boy. Boy wonder, aren’t you?” Klaus paused to swipe his hands over his eyes and calm himself. “Course you are. And you made me want that so goddamn badly.” A pause. “Yesterday you were talking about her, remember? About your sister. Rachel. And Allison was smiling when you were talking about her and for the first goddamn moment in my life, it felt so much like an actual family. You know, except for the fact one of my sister’s tried to kill the other. Don’t think yours would ever do that.”

That earned a confused but earnest laugh. Klaus continued on.

“I don’t know what I’m trying to fucking say anymore. It’s—shit, it’s three in the morning and I can hear it and feel it just as much as you can. And it sucks. So I get it. I absolutely fucking get it, Dave. And it sucks. And it makes me want to fuckin’ snort as much cocaine as it takes to get me to not feel it anymore. But I don’t want to wake up and you to be gone and all that—bullshit to be back. I don’t want to imagine you dead anymore or anyone else that I love. Now that you’re back and—“

“I’m back. Yeah, I’m fucking back.” Dave interrupted and looked over at Klaus once more. “But your siblings were always here. You knew they weren’t gone. I don’t have any idea what’s—is Rachel even alive? I mean, what did she think? Are my parents still around?” Dave rubbed his eyes as he leveled with his own thinking. “I think what I’m trying to say is that I need to see them. And there’s something after me. After us and your family. But before something happens, I want to go see my sister. I need to know before another car hits us and this time I don’t get out of it alive. It’s just something I need to know. Maybe once I know, I can stop seeing them dead. Because then I’ll know for sure if they are or not.”

But would that stop him seeing Klaus dead? Would that stop any of the paranoia that haunted his dreams? Something was going to happen to Klaus; much like something was going to happen to his family. His actual family. Unless something had already happened.

“When do we leave? Zero six-hundred? Zero six-thirty?”

Dave marveled at the fact that Klaus was able to snap back into the role of soldier so quickly and willingly. It was, he realized, like a mission. Not as deadly, he hoped, as the ones in the war. But Klaus took on the idea with gravity. “And where are they, huh? Please tell me it’s a quick stop on the subway? That’d be goddamn convenient.”

“Lazy shit,” Dave teased as they both stood. “As far as I remember, they’re still in North Carolina. Don’t know if Rachel ever left. Mama said she’d never leave.”

“I’ve never been there. A little too Southern Comfort for me. Never was a fan of that, either. Too—“ Klaus made a retching noise at the back of his throat as they both went to dress. Dave extended an arm to pat the other’s back and he watched Klaus change into actual clothes. When the leaner man turned around, they gazed at each other. “—You gonna tell me why you’re looking at me like you’re going to throw up your heart?” Klaus questioned as he pulled his shirt on, layering Dave’s dog tags over his chest.

“This isn’t the way I wanted you to meet my family.” Dave got the idea to pull on his jeans and a white undershirt. “And how did you want me to meet your family, David? Get me all dressed up in a suit and bring me home to Mama?”

 Klaus took on an exaggerated southern accent a la Vivien Leigh. “Oh, Mama! Mama! I’m bringing home a suitor who’s come a-courtin’! He’s a handsome fella! Loves the bottle a little too much but oh! Ooh! Aah, you’ll just love him Mama!” Klaus batted his lashes and fell backwards onto the bed clutching his heart with a laugh as Dave shoved him.

“She’ll probably be scared shitless of you. Probably want to make you a seven course meal as soon as you walk in the door,” Dave admitted as he pulled on shoes and socks. He found a navy sweatshirt and shrugged it onto his body. Allison, God bless her, had done a little shopping for him. He wasn’t too used to such casual clothes but it was sweet of her to think of him. Klaus had gotten to his feet and placed a hand against Dave’s pectoral, fiddling with a white string of the garment. “And your Dad?”

 “He’ll wonder how the army’s standards got so low to let a skinny hippie like you in,” Dave retorted slyly. “Oh, that makes me feel desirable. Thanks, Dave.” Klaus patted the spot and backed up, going to find any sort of bag to throw clothes into. He had no idea how to pack for a road trip. He didn’t even fully believe they were doing this. This was fucking insane. Especially with the goddamn Commission after them.

The things he did for love.

-_-_-_-_

The beeping of her heart monitor was steady. She wasn’t completely dependent on the breathing machine but it was there to give Vanya an extra support in the dire case that she needed it. The wing was private; blocked off for authorized staff only. Only personal vetted by the Hargreeves family were permitted to take care of Vanya. None of the public even knew where she was being cared for. Only the select few who needed to know.

The night-staff wasn’t particularly busy. They could, and should, have noticed the clicking of heels down the hallway and how there was a sharp turn toward Vanya’s room. They should have noticed over camera how the door to her room had closed and locked. But the systems conveniently blipped over that few seconds. Surveillance videos weren’t the most reliable. That was something the Temps Commission could always depend on and manipulate to suit their needs. They had endless time on their hands to do so.

Five should have known this. He should have been more aware, more attentive to the fact he would be summoned at some point or another. He felt uneasy as he walked through the halls. Time seemed to cease. The world became filtered over. The only consistent sound was the steady beeping of the heart monitor. She was alive. She was still alive. For now.

His feet carried him to her room and Five turned the handle to open the door.

There laid Vanya. She was pale and sleeping. She seemed content in her unconscious state; more than she ever had when she was conscious. His heart ached momentarily for his sister. How had they come to this moment?

Five became all too aware of a gleaming metal pressed to his sister’s throat. Of course. She was elevated by an individual wearing a blue pinstripe suit. His hair was stark white and he had a goatee that could rival Reginald Hargreeves. He wasn’t wearing the trademark monocle, however. The similarities started and ended with the white goatee. He was of average to slim build and had angular features that were made handsome by the facial hair. But despite how handsome his features were, his smile was nasty and slimy.

“Ah, Five. At last.” His baritone crooned out. His body was perfectly positioned. His gloved hand was posed at Vanya’s throat. “Lovely to see you again after all these years. I have a new mission for you.” There was no waiting for Five to reply. “Just a warning; if you do not accept, your sister’s blood will be on your hands. And the floor. And covering every inch of this room. Understand?”

Silence.

“Good. Now that we are at an understanding.”

A whoosh sounded from behind the painting near the door. With trembling hands, Five moved to push the frame aside. There was a rectangle cut into the wall. He opened the message.

Kill David Katz within fourty-eight hours or Vanya Hargreeves will die.”