Lifeline: 3. Chapter Three




A couple of hours after Leo’s arrival, the door finally opened and a small group of VC entered the room, led by a man wearing an NVA uniform. He also wore a pair of round, iron rimmed glasses with almost comically thick lenses, making him look more like a bureaucrat than a soldier.


“Your names please,” he said in almost perfect English, glancing at his prisoners.


“I’m Captain McGarry and this is Lieutenant Morelli.” Leo got to his feet, ignoring the sharp stabbing pain in his back. This man looked as if he was in charge – maybe he could be reasoned with. “Lieutenant Morelli has a broken leg – he’s in urgent need of medical attention…” he began but he didn’t get any further as the bespectacled man barked an order and one of the guards accompanying him stepped forward and hit Leo hard across the jaw. Leo went flying backwards, and landed on the hard floor with a resounding thud.


“You will not speak except to answer the questions I ask you,” the man said in clipped tones. There was a kind of cold, controlled fury about him. Leo put his hand up to his jaw, and tried to massage the ache out of it.


“He’s got a broken leg,” he said quietly. “He needs a doctor.” That comment earned him a kick in the ribs, and then the bespectacled man stood over him, studying Leo from behind the thick lenses covering his eyes, assessing him coldly.


“You should listen. When I say something I mean it. You’ll have your chance to talk to me later during your interrogation,” he said with a chilling smile. “For now – I think Lieutenant Morelli might have something he wishes to say to us.”


He motioned to the guards accompanying him, and they grabbed Morelli and dragged him roughly out of the room. The Lieutenant was trying to be brave but he gave a yelp of pure agony as his injured leg was jostled. Leo watched him go in silent despair; he had a pretty good idea what they would do to Morelli, and it sure as hell didn’t involve having a doctor take look at his leg. There was nothing he could do about it, but his stomach crawled in sympathy for the young man, and in fear of what might happen to him next. His body ached all over, from the new blows and the ones he’d already received, and there was nothing to do but curl up against the wall again. He remembered Jed’s letter and pulled it out, needing something besides what Morelli was likely going through to focus on right now.


Politically, I’m really uneasy with the Nixon administration. After those secret bombings in Cambodia I wonder what other stuff he might be hiding – or what he might be capable of doing. I won’t deny that I’m in favour of his policy of withdrawing us from Vietnam, if only for the entirely selfish reason that I’d get you back again.


“I’m with you there, Jed,” he murmured, wondering whether, if they did withdraw from this war, it would be too late for him.


Last night, lying there in the dark with Lizzie on my chest, I kept myself awake by thinking of you. I wondered if it was possible that you could hear me, wherever you are. I know – it was probably day time in ‘Nam and you were out fighting but I felt very close to you. I think about you a lot because of where you are and what you’re doing. I wish you were here with us, back home and safe. We hear such terrible stories, and sometimes I lie awake at night worrying about the fact that you’re out there, so far away from your home and the people who love you. Abbey just leaned over and agreed with me there, so it’s not just me being incurably sentimental, old friend.


Leo gave a little snort. Jed *was* incurably sentimental, and even more so in his letters than in person. He wasn’t pleased that Jed was having sleepless nights over him, but a little part of his heart did glow at the fact that he was so obviously missed – and would be so clearly welcomed on his return. If he returned.


I’ve been thinking about that vacation we spent touring around in your old beater of a car. I’ve led a sheltered life and that Summer you showed me an America I didn’t even know existed. It was great meeting your mom and sisters too – speaking of which, your mom sent us a trunk-load of clothes for Lizzie – which, frankly, was a godsend.


“Good old mom,” Leo murmured out loud. He could imagine her seizing on any piece of good news, even one as tenuous as the birth of his god-daughter. She loved helping people out and he could imagine her delight on being able to send clothes for little Lizzie Bartlet. He smiled as he remembered the vacation Jed was talking about. How he wished, more than anything, that he could turn the clock back to that vacation, before Jed had married and he’d left to fight in this war. He could still remember beer soaked kisses with Jed as they’d camped out in a field in the middle of nowhere, and the feel of Jed’s thick, dark hair under his hand as he made love to him. The thought was a good one, but so entirely at odds with his current desperate predicament that it brought him up short. He wrapped his arms around his knees in the cold, dank cell, and just sat there, staring into space.


He didn’t know how much time passed but next thing he knew there was a rattling sound outside, and then the door opened and Morelli was thrown back into the room, moaning incoherently with pain. Leo got up and felt sick when he saw that the handkerchief wrapped around the wound on Morelli’s leg was soaked with new blood.


“You fucking bastards,” he hissed. “You can see the kind of pain he’s in – don’t you have any humanity?”


“Ah, humanity. You Americans seem to think you have a monopoly on that commodity,” the bespectacled interrogator snapped. “You might like to ask the women in our villages who you have raped, and the men you have tortured and killed, what Americans understand by humanity,” he snarled. Leo gazed at him in wordless dismay and the man shook his head. “Tell your Lieutenant to think about what we asked him. We’ll be back for him in a couple of hours.” And with that he turned and left the room, taking his entourage of guards with him.


There was nothing Leo could do for Morelli except try and make him more comfortable. The kid was half delirious anyway, and his forehead was slick with sweat. Leo sat back against the wall, and cradled Morelli’s head on his lap, which was the only available pillow in the place.


“Franco – listen to me,” he said urgently. “Tell them something next time – make something up – they won’t know if it’s true or not – but tell them something.”


Morelli shook his head, his eyes shining too brightly.


“That’s an order, Lieutenant,” Leo said briskly. “It isn’t just me saying it – it’s our orders, remember?” Morelli moved his head and gazed at Leo blankly, and Leo doubted the young man remembered anything very much of his training right now. “The new code of conduct, Lieutenant,” he said briskly, “instructs us that our first duty is to stay alive, so long as doing so does not directly harm US troops. So I’m ordering you to stay alive, Lieutenant.”


Morelli gave a ghostly little grin. “I don’t remember that from the movies, Captain,” he whispered. Leo shook his head.


“I’ve got news for you, Lieutenant, we aren’t in the goddamn movies,” he replied. “Okay…let me give you a little history lesson…” He leaned back, smiling wryly to himself as he thought how much he sounded like Jed. He wondered if this was the kind of thing Jed would do in these circumstances and decided it was, and that encouraged him. “Back in Korea…” he began, keeping his hand pressed to Morelli’s neck to ensure that he could still feel a pulse, “when a soldier was captured, he was instructed to only give his name, rank and serial number. You still with me, Franco?”


“Hmmm?” Morelli gazed at him blearily and then nodded. “Yeah,” he muttered.


“The men were brave – they did their damndest to obey, went through all kinds of torture…but inevitably some of them cracked – and when that happened, they cracked badly.” He squinted down at Morelli, whose breathing was becoming a little calmer. “So, they amended the rules. Lieutenant, you don’t have to hold out forever – the expectation is that a prisoner will hold out as long as possible, and that’s made easier if you give out small bits of information, so long as it doesn’t directly compromise the health and safety of American forces. You hearing me, Morelli? This is what they’re telling us to do. It’s an order.”


Morelli managed a faded grin. “Yessir,” he said softly.


“What did they ask you?” Leo pressed gently.


“Stuff about the squadron…where we were flying from…whether we had any new weapons they didn’t know about. They kept whaling on my leg…” He shuddered, and the sweat poured slickly off his face. “Christ it hurt. Mr. Magoo kept on and on, asking me the same fucking stuff over and over again, but mostly I was screaming too much to reply. ”


“Mr. Magoo?” Leo frowned.


“Guy with the glasses…” Morelli gestured to his face. “Such cold fucking eyes…didn’t even blink when I screamed.”


“Mr. Magoo.” Leo chuckled. “Suits the bastard.”


They were quiet for a long time. Morelli slipped in and out of consciousness and Leo watched over him, but all too soon he heard clanging in the corridor, the door was opened, and the newly christened Mr. Magoo entered. Leo disengaged himself from Morelli and stood up.


“If you torture him again you’ll kill him,” he said. “Take me this time.”


Mr. Magoo surveyed him, those cold eyes of his unblinking behind his glasses. He studied Leo intently, as if Leo interested him in some way and then broke into that chilling smile, and inclined his head.


“With pleasure, Captain McGarry.”




Tuesday Night


They must have dozed off because next thing Jed knew, Leo was snuggled up behind him, his hands gently wandering over Jed’s body, and Jed could feel a familiar hardness pressing against his ass.


“Hey, you’re awake,” Leo murmured. “Ready for dessert?”


“I thought we just *had* dessert,” Jed replied, glancing at his friend over his shoulder.


“Who said we can’t have second helpings?” Leo lowered his face to Jed’s shoulder and nipped a series of little kisses along his skin.


“Okay…but slowly this time,” Jed chided him.


“Ah, I knew it – you can’t keep up, old man,” Leo teased, his hands wandering over Jed’s body, arousing him.


“No, I’m just a little sore after last time,” Jed replied. Leo’s hands stopped their wandering.


“I’m sorry. We don’t have to if you don’t want…” Leo began.


“I’m fine to go again – I can keep up with *you* any time, old friend,” Jed told him tartly, “but I’m just saying go slow, that’s all.”


“Okay.” Leo’s warm, wet mouth claimed the back of his neck again, sending shivers down his spine, and a few seconds later he felt his friend’s coolly lubed finger slip inside him. He sighed and opened up, enjoying the unexpected second wind they were having. Jed always found Leo’s enthusiasm for sex arousing, and Leo seemed tireless tonight, possessed of a strange kind of nervous energy and a desire, it would seem, to be as close to Jed as he possibly could. Jed gave a little gasp of pleasure as Leo’s cock took the place of his fingers and he rocked gently, slowly, all the way in, making Jed feel filled, and stimulating his nerve endings all over again.


“Good?” Leo whispered, bestowing a kiss on Jed’s shoulder.


“Mmmm,” Jed sighed. He glanced back over his shoulder and found that the mask Leo had worn earlier was gone, to be replaced by an honesty of expression that took Jed by surprise. Leo was making love to him as if he thought Jed was a feast that might be snatched away, as if he wanted to be joined with Jed forever, to be as close to him as it was humanly possible to be. Jed turned his head back, startled by what he had just seen written so clearly on Leo’s face. He surrendered himself to the sensation of his friend making love to him with exquisite tenderness, savouring every slow, measured thrust, every gentle caress of Leo’s questing fingers on his skin, every loving kiss bestowed on the back of his neck and, after they both came, Leo didn’t withdraw but stayed there, his arms wrapped tightly around Jed’s body again.


“I love you, Jed,” Leo murmured as they lay there hazily, enjoying the moment, worn out and sated, tingling with contentment. Jed placed his hands on Leo’s, where they were wrapped around his waist, frowning as he did so. He had no objection to being told he was loved but again, it wasn’t a very Leo thing to do. Not that his friend had never said those words to him because he had, but they knew they loved each other and had done for a very long time, and it wasn’t something they said all that often, except in passing, or as a joke.


“I love you too, Leo,” Jed replied, because the moment seemed to require some response from him. “You do know that though, right?”


Leo snorted and Jed felt his lips brush his shoulder again. “Yeah. Just checking. It’s been awhile…and you were the one who said something about not taking each other for granted.”


“I had no idea you listen to what I say,” Jed replied. “I’m amazed.”


Leo squeezed him reprovingly. “I listen to everything you say – that’s why my brain is crammed full of so much clutter, and why I know far too many biblical quotes off by heart,” he grumbled.


Jed gave a little grin; this was more familiar territory. Maybe he’d been wrong after all. Maybe everything was fine, and Leo had just been feeling extra-frisky tonight. Relaxing, he closed his eyes and fell fast asleep, with Leo still buried deep inside him, and Leo’s arms wrapped around him, holding him tight and keeping him close.






They took him down a corridor, covered in peeling paint, and threw him into a room. Leo baulked in the doorway; this place was a torture chamber, no doubt about it. There was a steel bath in one corner of the room, filled with water, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t there for bathing purposes. Meat hooks hung from the ceiling, and there were old medieval type irons and manacles around the room. At one end of the room was a table, covered in a cloth, and Mr. Magoo went and sat behind it. Leo was pushed forward and made to sit on a small, concrete block, low on the floor, and he found himself looking up into the eyes of his interrogator, half hidden as they were behind the thick lenses of his glasses. A big man came into the room and stood behind him, and the door clanged ominously shut. Leo swallowed hard; whatever his training and however cocky he’d been as a pilot, safe within the cockpit of his plane, here, now, he felt as if he had been stripped to his bare bones – and somehow he had the feeling that he was soon going to find out more about what kind of man Leo McGarry was than he had ever wanted to know.


“Captain McGarry, I hope you will co-operate with me.” Mr Magoo treated him to another of those chilling smiles. “We’re a civilized people, Captain, so if you tell us what we want to know, I can promise you that you won’t be hurt.”


“And if I don’t?” Leo gave a smile of his own. He had thought about this over the past few hours, and it seemed to him that his best option was to pretend to co-operate – but make up everything he said. He had no intention of giving away real military information, and there was no point in cracking too soon – Mr. Magoo clearly wasn’t stupid and wasn’t likely to be fooled if he did that. On the other hand, his captor hadn’t performed more than a cursory search of his prisoners, or stripped them of their flight suits and boots and replaced them with striped prisoner uniforms or the infamous Vietnamese black pyjamas, so Leo wondered whether he was new to his trade, or whether this camp was too makeshift to be that organised, all of which was to his advantage. Leo had decided on a strategy – which had been easy enough sitting in his cell, but now that he was here, in this torture chamber, he was starting to wonder whether the cost of survival might be higher than he was prepared to pay.


Mr. Magoo nodded his head at the large man behind him, and Leo felt his arms grabbed, and then bound so tightly at the wrists that his hands turned instantly white as the circulation was cut off. He gave an anguished roar as he was lifted up off the ground and attached to one of the meat hooks in the ceiling. His arms felt as if they were being tugged half out of his sockets and his wounded shoulder and back exploded in pain.


“Tell us your targets, Captain. Tomorrow’s targets, and for the rest of the week,” Mr. Magoo said bluntly, those thick lensed glasses of his rendering his cold dark eyes even more sinister.


Leo gave an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry – I honestly don’t know. They don’t tell us,” he said, and before he’d even finished speaking, he saw the big man move, out of the corner of his eye, and pick up what looked like an old helicopter fan belt. He swung it hard across Leo’s body and Leo gave a bellow of pure pain as the force of the blow wrenched his bound arms even more. The sound of rubber hitting torso reverberated around the room as the beating continued, until Leo wasn’t sure how long he could hold out, or how long he should pretend to hold out in order for his ‘capitulation’ to look real. He could take the heavy blows but the pain of being tied in this position was far worse – he couldn’t even begin to rationalize it. The physical agony mushroomed in his mind, filling every single sense until it was all he was aware of. At some point, mercifully, he lost consciousness – only to be brought to a couple of seconds later by a bucketful of cold water.


“So…” Mr. Magoo sat back in his chair and smiled at him. “Those targets, Captain. Maybe you’ve remembered them?”


“Yeah…” Leo whispered. “I remember now.”


“Your arms hurt – you’d like me to order you to be cut down now,” Mr. Magoo commented.


“Yeah,” Leo croaked.


“Give me the information, and then I’ll give the order.”


Leo licked his dry lips. “Okay.” He hoped he could give them enough to satisfy them, hoped they wouldn’t realize he was lying, because he had no other strategy to fall back on. This was it – if they didn’t buy it then he didn’t have any other ideas for how to get out of this alive, or even halfway sane. He gave his ‘information’ slowly, finding it hard enough to concentrate on talking, let along the effort it required to make up convincing lies. Finally, he finished, and waited, expectantly. Mr. Magoo smiled at him, and got up.


“Thank you, Captain,” he murmured, coming so close that Leo got a good look into those cold, brown eyes. He studied Leo intently, in that unnerving way he had, until Leo wondered what the hell he was looking for.


“You’re gonna let me down?” Leo asked.


“No.” Mr. Magoo smiled.


“But I told you…I fucking told you…” Leo began, twisting in his bonds, unsure that he could stand a second more of the terrible, wrenching pain.


“It’s very interesting information, Captain. I’m going to pass it on, and check on its likely validity.”


He nodded to the big man, and then, with another cold glance in Leo’s direction, he left the room. Leo bit back his howl of despair, and threw his head back, feeling the sweat pour into his eyes as he tried to find some way of relieving the terrible pressure on his shoulder joints. It was then, in that moment, that he realized it didn’t matter what he said – this wasn’t about information, although they’d take that if they could get it, but no, this was about making him realize who was in charge and how small, helpless and completely abandoned to his fate he was out here. This was psychological warfare as much as anything else and he was nothing to them – just another American prisoner, another body to beat and torture, another man’s screams to ignore or enjoy.


He saw the big man reach for the rubber fan belt once more, and a few seconds later the beating started all over again, tearing into his body with a terrible thudding, resounding pain, and soon it wasn’t possible to bite back anything and he howled out loud, and surrendered to the dark chasm of his own agony.





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