Title: Long Time Gone
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: None
Summary: Will has been long since been removed from the world of giant robots from outer space. This is about to change.
Author's note: This is, technically, a prequel to another fic that has yet to be completed. However, since it can stand alone and Sam is not being cooperative in the other as-of-yet-completed fic, I'm letting this one out into the wild. Enjoy.

Out of all of the bars in the world, he had to walk into mine, Will thought a little sourly, scrubbing harder at the bar top, studiously ignoring the the figure in the entrance of the bar. Mike glanced at him curiously but Will just shook his head. He watched discreetly as the young man paused inside the door, all scuffed sneakers, ripped jeans, and dirty sweatshirt – weary, worn, and thin. The man looked around cautiously before heading to the back of the room.

He was a little older, a little taller, a little broader but it was him – Sam Witicky. Wikity? Witwicky? Something like that and not really important. No, what was important was Sam shuffling past, slumped and head down, heading towards the end of the bar and taking a seat that the small table just beyond it. Mike glanced over to Will before wandering over to take his order. Will looked outside for bright yellow paint and didn't find it.

Huh. He'd have thought, out of all of them, that Sam would still be in contact with the Autobots. He was pretty much the beginning for them, he should have been there until the end. For himself, he was trying to forget that it had ever even happened. With another glance around the bar, Will made sure that tall of the customers were taken care of before going back to clean up in preparation for the dinner rush.

The Autobots had marked the beginning of the end for him and Sarah. And the end of Sarah had ironically become the end of his military career. While he told his therapist he didn't blame anyone for what had happened to his family or his life, he was really glad that he was not around the robots anymore. He didn't want to know what the resulting fall out would be should one of them "mysteriously" explode.

With his involvement with the attack on his base in sandbox and the attack on Mission City, it was decided that Captain Lennox and his unit should be reassigned to them. He still wasn't sure of the reasoning behind that, but it was meant to be a gift and he took it as one. It gave him time to be around his daughter to watch her grow up and see some firsts and it gave him time to reconnect with his wife. It also gave him time to be around normal people - people not involved in the war. Giant alien robots not withstanding.

As they settled into their life as a family, it seemed Sarah had forgotten that he was essentially owned by the Army. They had had a routing that included him going to work and coming home every day, with his unit only occasionally being called out that kept him away for nights on end, and them being a family and him being there... So when, three years later, Will came home and told her that it was time to pack up the house, he got his order and they were headed to Fort Dix, she had thrown a fit. It shouldn't have blindsided him as much as it did, it really shouldn't. While he had never forgotten that he was military and that meant it was a transient life because it was in his face and everyday at work, Sarah had been at home making friends, making play dates, making concrete plans for what really was a nebulous future. Her future didn't include moving away.

Their fights had been intense and ugly. Sarah all but demanded that he quit his job, that they continue to build their life here, while he had tried to explain to her that a person just couldn't up and quit the military. That when you signed up you were committing yourself to the job one hundred percent. And even if he could get out of his commission, what would he do? He enjoyed being an officer. He took great pride in being able to help his country and his men. Will couldn't imagine doing anything else.

He had tried hard to remember that Sarah was new to being a military wife, while he had had a couple o f years to get used to the lifestyle. They had only been married six months when he was deployed to the Middle East and it hadn't included moving their home elsewhere. They hadn't had to move in the aftermath of Mission City either which meant that Sarah had over four years to get used to life in suburbia instead of on a military base.

In the end, she had agreed to go with him, but it hadn't lasted. When it was time for him to go to Japan, she decided that she'd had enough and moved back into her parent's house. Six months after that he was back in Qatar and eight months after that he had been served his divorce papers. The other officers in his grade had taken him out and gotten him so drunk that he couldn't see straight for days. He'd realized aloud that instead of becoming a "Weekend Warrior" like his soon-to-be-ex-wife had insisted over a year ago, he was now relegated to the role of "Weekend Father." To which Captain Martinez had slurred in reply, "Fuck, dude, you're going to be father, brother, uncle, and red-headed step child to the kids in your command for the next year – I'm sorry about your wife and kid, but these guys need you here and now. Don't ever forget that. Or fuck it up."

And he hadn't. Since he couldn't be the kind of father he wanted for Annabelle, Will had to be the best commander he could for the rest of his kids. Eventually he managed to get over his divorce, for values of "get over" to mean "forget about until it stopped hurting," and focused entirely on his job and his men. He was on his way to being happy again. Which meant, of course, something had to fuck it up. One minute he's ordering his men to be careful securing the area—there's guerrilla's out there for fuck's sake and do you wanna go home in a body bag?-and the next he's on the ground screaming, fire licking up his legs, and choking on smoke. One Molotov cocktail later and he's on his way to Germany, getting a Purple Hear and an honorable medical discharge.

When Will got back stateside he had gone just a little bit crazy at the VA hospital. It had started with the decision by the doctors to amputate his left leg below the knee and ended with an old college buddy showing up to remind him of their deal should he ever leave the Army. He didn't remember much between those two moments, and by all accounts it was probably best that he didn't, but he did remember that Sarah never once came to pay him a visit. Will apologized to every single nurse and doctor that came to take care of him from that day on until the day he left the hospital, whether he had spewed his crazy over them or not.

The rest is, as they they, history. It took awhile and a lot of therapy (physical and not), but eventually he'd become a partner in Dave's insane micro-brewery scheme he cooked up in college and Will helped to fund all those years ago and a bartender/general manager at one of their restaurant's. Yeah, he was still single and still a weekend father, but he was once again on the path to contentment. Will got lucky – luckier than some guys who come out of the war far more damaged when they went in. Will wondered what kind of curve ball the universe was throwing his way again with Sam showing up in his bar.

Soon the dinner rush was win full swing and he didn't have time to worry about how Sam's reappearance in his life was going to change it.

"He's still here," Mike hissed at him several hours later, glaring back to where Sam was sitting. Will glanced over to the boy who was sitting slumped at the table, one (cheap) beer and one (very cheap) entree sitting half finished on the table. "I know this is a bar, but my God, if you're going to sit there you've got to pay for it."

Will shot him a bemused look. "It's not like we have a line waiting to be seated in the restaurant, much less the bar." It was crowded, but not overly so, and everyone who came in was usually seated within five minutes or less. They were doing decently well in sales and the servers were receiving a fair amount in tips. It wouldn't compare to the rush over the weekend, but it was a fine showing for a Tuesday night. The loss of one table in the bar wasn't enough to set anyone back, not eve Mike. "He's not bothering anyone, right? Just let him be."

"He's bother me. I gave him his check an hour ago, but he hasn't even looked at it." Mike fairly howled with the righteous indignation of a server scorned. "I want him gone – I need to turn over that table."

"Hot date this weekend, Mikey?"

"Shove it, Lennox," he snapped, turning to glare at Sam some ore. "For the love of Christ, throw him out."

"Sorry, Mikey, no can do." He replied cheekily. At Mike's scandalized splutters, Will sighed wanting nothing more than to roll his eyes. "Look, if you're worried about lost wages, I'll let you have a higher percentage of the bar tips tonight."

"You'd better – wait, who is he and why are you helping him? He's not one of your 'boys,' is he?" He asked suspiciously. Will finally gave in to the urge to roll his eyes. Mike always said that as if they were his prostitutes or something.

"Yes, Mike, as a matter of fact he is. I haven't seen him in awhile, and if he's here alone something is really wrong in the world. Now lay off and leave him alone," Will growled, putting every ounce of "I can still kill you with my pinkie finger" he could could into his voice. Mike immediately backed off, holding his hand up in mock surrender.

"Yes, Major," he said snidely. Will narrowed his eyes.

"Remember that you work here by the grace of me, Mike. No one else, me. Now get back to work." Mike fled to the other side of the room, muttering under his breath. Will sighed and rolled his neck, hearing it crack. He made sure that all of his people were taken care of before snagging a waitress.

"Steph, can you please go get two orders of the chicken Cajun pasta and a couple of waters?"

"Sure, which table?"

"That one." He jerked his thumb back over his shoulder, pointing at Sam. She glanced over before nodding quickly.

"No problem. On the house?"

"Nah, I'll pay for it. In fact, why don't you bring it to the bar? I'll take it over."

"Sure thing, boss."


It was time to figure out what the universe had in store for him.

It wasn't until he was setting down the two steaming plates of flaming hot pasta that Will actually got a good look at the kid. He was beginning to realize why Mike wanted him out of the bar and why he thought he was a whore. Not only did Sam have the wary, beaten look of a prostitute desperately trying to make ends meet, he was in dire need of a shower or ten. His clothes could use a wash, too. And he could use a haircut. And a decent meal. Or fifty. And and and...the list went on.

"Hey, buddy, I don't--"

"Sam." Will cut him off, setting down the water next to their plates. Sam's eyes jerked from the food up to Will's face, amazed and a little bewildered. And...fearful? He wasn't quite sure what to make of the kid being here in this state yet, but he was beginning to think that maybe he shouldn't have butted in. "It's on me, so don't worry about it. Eat up okay? You look like you need it."

"Le-Lennox?" Sam stuttered, amazement coloring his tone. Then, suddenly, he body went rigid and he swung his head around, searching. He started to stand, grabbing for his backpack and saying frantically, "I-I have to go. It was nice seeing you, but--"

"Sam. Sam!" Will leaped up and grabbed his arm, tugging him back into the seat. "It's okay, it's okay. Just me. There's nobody else here but me, okay?" Sam resisted for a moment before allowing him to guide him back to the chair. At the last statement he glanced around, raising an eyebrow at Will.

"No one else, huh," he said, eyes twinkling slightly at him, pointed ignoring the other patrons. Will rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"You know what I meant."

"Yeah, yeah." Sam mumbled, staring at the past for a moment before picking up the fork. He looked up at Will and asked, "Is it spicy?"



And with that they both tucked into the meal with gust. They didn't say anything else until they were almost finished with the meal. Will motioned Mike over for more water, which he provided grudgingly and with nasty looks at Sam. Sam, for his part, shot nasty looks back.

"He doesn't seem to like me." Sam finally muttered after he left. Will shrugged helplessly.

"He thinks you're a hooker."

Sam glared down at his plate, stabbing at a stray piece of chicken viciously. "He's not wrong."

Will tried, and failed, to look surprised. All he could think about were things like Hep B and HIV, things like gonorrhea and syphilis, things like bad tricks and Sam dying in the gutter, about how it seemed that Sam had not one helping him, and about how he seemed to so desperately need the help to get back on his feet. And how Will was going to be the one to provide that help, whether Sam wanted him to or not. Whether Will wanted to or not. The Army had taught him many thing about being a soldier and a human being and one of those things was the inability to look away when someone needed help. He sighed, leaned back in his chair, and rubbed his hands over his face before replying.

"Well...he also things you're my hooker."

Sam choked on the chicken he swallowed just as Will said that. He gasped something Will didn't catch and coughed for a minute before collapsing with laughter while Will looked on quizzically.

"Sucky sucky ten dollah?" He gasped again in the mimicry of a half-remembered voice, attempting to share the joke. Will shook his head, not understanding. "You didn't watch much South Park, did you?"

"Not that much, apparently."

"Yeah, it's kinda old school nowadays, anyway," Sam said, shrugging. He picked at his first entree a bit more and after a moment said, So he thinks I'm your hooker, huh? Odd. Why does he even care?"

"I honestly have no idea."

"Maybe he's jealous."

"Bite your tongue." Will said, horrified. Sam laughed again and this time Will joined him. He watched as Sam started to fidget with his plate and eventually made the motions to get up and go.

"Well, thank you for the meal, uh..." He trailed off.

"Call me Will." Will replied, amused.

"Ah, yeah, that was is. All I could remember was "Lennox" and "Captain."" He shrugged a little helplessly, his hand making vague patterns in the air. "Anyway, I think I should get going."

"Where are you headed?" Will asked mildly.

"I have a place," he replied a little defensively.

"Uh huh. Would that be in the park near the old oak tree or under the twelfth street bridge?" Sam glared at him but didn't deny it. "Look, Sam, I don't know what happened between you and the other and I don't really care. You need help and that I care about. Call me crazy, but I have this thing against letting people who need help walk away without offering any, even if it's just to make sure you don't have any communicable diseases."

"Communicable diseases?" Sam repeated faintly.

"Yeah. Did you use a condom every time? Even for the small things? Hand jobs, blow jobs? Have you been screened recently?" Will fired off, watching as Sam seemed to wilt and start to look ill. He mouthed the word "screened" and didn't look anywhere near Will. After a few moments of watching Sam fidget some more, Will sighed and pulled out his keys. He dangled them in front of Sam's nose, who widened his eyes, before looking at Will questioningly. Will pulled his hand back and worked his apartment key off the key ring.

"Sam." He said as the key finally came loose. He held it up to Sam like a lifeline. "Can I trust you to take this key, go upstairs, take a few dozen showers, wash your clothes and things, and go to sleep with without you stealing my daughter's pictures?"

"...your daughter's picture?" Sam asked wrinkling his nose. "Isn't she like, three?"

"They're they only things I have of value. And she's five." Will studied Sam a little bit more. "Sam, please. Take this as an opportunity to be clean and worry free for at least one night before you run again from whatever it is you're running from."

Sam took a deep shuddering breath before tugging the key out of Will's grip. "Why are you doing this anyway?"

"Because you're running up against the instincts of a crippled Army field commander and the frustrated feelings of a divorced father." Will gave him a small, sad smile and clapped Sam on the shoulder, standing up. "Go on upstairs—go out the front door, hang a left, turn down the alley, entrance is back there. 34A."

Will watched as Sam stood up and slunk out the door. Mike was glowering darkly at him as he passed. He stormed back over to where Will stood, bill in hand, and attempted to take it from him. Will just smirked and snatched it back, calling to Steph to take it. She glanced a little fearfully at Mike, who looked like he was going to kill something, but Will grabbed him by the shoulder and growled, "If you say one more word, you're fired, your uncle be damned. Understood?"

Mike could only nod and they managed to finish out the evening without any further incidents.

Though Will had hoped Sam would be asleep by the time he managed to close the restaurant, he wasn't expecting to find the boy in his bed. Fully dressed and dead to the world thank God, but he figured that Sam would be on the couch. Grumbling to himself about whelps turning crips out of their beds at ass o'clock in the morning, he snagged a pair of sweats and went in search of a couple of blanket. His couch wasn't the greatest, but it was better than the floor. Within ten minutes of lying down, he was asleep.

Will was standing in a clearing of a dense forest, looking at the light filtering through the trees and listening to the sounds of the woods. It was neither too hot nor too cool no matter if the breeze was blowing or not. He found himself standing at parade rest and waiting for the presence in the trees to reveal itself. He knew it was out there, though how he could tell he wasn't sure. There was no extra noise, no flashes of something moving just out of reach. All he had to go on was a feeling and he had learned the hard way (by way of losing a leg) not to ignore those instincts. His nerves were jangling and he had to focus on his breathing so as not to freak out out loud. It was the same feeling he had right before he went on a mission. Will almost missed it.

"Will you keep your promise?" A voice suddenly asked. It was vaguely familiar to Will, but it was indistinct, genderless, faceless. It didn't seem to come from anywhere in particular, but from all around him. The woodland noises he had been listening to suddenly quieted in the wake of the voice. Will chanced a quick look around, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. His gaze finally settled on his feet, his combat boots gleaming in the faint light. "William, answer me."

Will flinched, only his mother had gotten away with calling him "William" in that tone of voice. "Promise?" He asked, head still down. "What promise would that be?"

"The one you made as a child, William. Will you keep that promise?"

"No adult can be expected to keep a promise of their childhood." Will finally answered confusedly. He didn't remember promising anything when he was a child. He suddenly got the vague impression of irritation and bemusement rippling through the air around him, thought he voice didn't make a sound.

"But you will, William, you will. I will see to it." The voice replied in deadly earnest. Will tried to say something but somehow he knew the voice was already gone.

When Will woke the next day the sun was already high in the sky and he could smell brewed coffee. He lay on the couch for a moment, contemplating the dream he had last night, and listening for sounds that would tell him if Sam was still in the apartment or not. The apartment was strangely quiet and all he could hear were the sounds of traffic outside. He groaned and sat up, carefully shifting his stump into a more comfortable position. He froze and looked around—something was missing. He glanced around but nothing obvious jumped out at him.

He hauled himself up on his crutches, his left leg throbbing with phantom pain. Will caught his reflection in the window and started when he realized that Sam had swiped his dog tags. The sense that something was missing suddenly crystallized. He hadn't taken those off sine the day he received them. He felt naked without their comforting weight on around his neck and resting on his chest.

"Wonder what else the punk took," he grumbled to himself, trying not to think about how Sam had managed it without waking him up. Will spotted his wallet on the counter, not where he had left it last night. Going over to it, he found a note under it.


Sorry I couldn't stay longer – they were catching up and I didn't want to get you in trouble.

I took the cash in your wallet. Figured you wouldn't begrudge me that since I left your daughter's pictures alone. You really shouldn't keep that much in your wallet, it's just begging to be stolen.

Took your dog tags too – people leave you alone when they think you're a crazy war vet.

I promise to get screened soon.

Thanks for everything,

Will snorted and tossed the note back down on the counter then smiled. He didn't think Sam would stay long and had stopped at the ATM on the corner before heading up to the apartment. He hadn't figured on Sam stealing his dog tags though. Oh, well, they were easily enough replaced. And he could have them flagged in case the boy ended up in the hospital or something. Will sighed and hobbled over to the coffee maker and poured himself a cup before turning a looking out the window. He hoped Sam would come back when he was in trouble.

There was nothing worse then trying to make it through this world alone. With that in mind, Will hobbled over to his computer. He could spare twenty a week to be put in a separate bank account. And if...when Sam came back, he'd slip the card and pin number into his backpack. He took a sip of coffee, studied his most recent picture of Annabelle, and smiled. Hell, he could spare forty a week and set up a separate account for her.

In the back of his mind, he could hear the voice from his dream whisper thank you.