Lifeline: 4. Chapter Four


Wednesday Early Morning


Jed was woken by a low, guttural sound. He sat up and glanced around, disoriented.


“Abbey?” He murmured, and then realized he was in one of the guest bedrooms, and his companion was not his wife but his oldest and closest friend. Leo who had moved away from him at some point in the night, and was now curled up on his side, making strange sounds in the back of his throat.


“Leo?” He said gently, switching on the lamp. He leaned over to peer at his friend who started thrashing around wildly. “Leo,” he said again, and then he ducked quickly as Leo flung an arm around as if he was being attacked. This wasn’t the first time Leo had had nightmares; Jed was prone to insomnia, and he’d often sat up reading during various nights over the years and heard Leo quivering or crying out in his sleep. Usually he’d stroke Leo’s hair gently and his friend would calm down – Jed never mentioned it in the morning because he was pretty sure that Leo didn’t even know it had happened. Just occasionally the nightmares had been enough to wake Leo, but those occasions had been pretty rare. This was obviously a full blown night terror, and Jed was worried that Leo might start screaming – in which case it was very likely that his security detail would burst in and find them sharing a bed, something he most definitely did *not* want to happen. Leo made a choking, heart-rending sound in the back of his throat, as if he was being throttled, and Jed was now seriously concerned. Whatever kind of nightmare this was, it was a bad one. He reached out, gently, to caress Leo’s hair, hoping this would soothe his friend back to a more peaceful sleep, only to find his wrist grabbed and then snapped back and squeezed with ferocious force.


“Shit! Leo, it’s me!” He hissed urgently. Leo’s eyes flashed open but Jed couldn’t see *Leo* in them. His friend was clearly still in the grip of the nightmare, and his eyes were desperate, almost crazy.


“Keep your fucking hands off me,” Leo hissed. “Or I’ll break your fucking wrist.” He illustrated his point by twisting Jed’s wrist painfully over his head, his whole body weight pressing down on Jed’s body. “You’re not going to fucking hurt me again, you bastard,” he snarled.


“Leo,” Jed said, trying to think clearly which was hard when his wrist felt like it was caught in a vice. “You need to wake up now. It’s okay. It’s me – Jed. You’re okay. Just breathe and take a look around you.”


He kept talking, softly, gently, calmingly, not making any moves that might inflame the situation further, and then slowly, gradually, he saw reality seep back into Leo’s eyes as his friend finally woke up and realized where he was.


“Jed?” Leo said uncertainly, and he sounded so confused that Jed’s heart went out to him.


“Yes. It’s okay. It’s me,” Jed told him gently. “You’re okay. You’re safe. Nobody’s trying to hurt you.”


“No…I…shit!” Leo released his vicious hold on Jed’s wrist and rolled off him, and Jed gave a sigh of relief and quickly grabbed the injured arm, bringing it close to his chest and nestling it there. “Fuck!” Leo snapped, and then, without warning, he disentangled himself from both Jed and the sheets that he had become twisted in, half-jumped, half-fell off the bed, and disappeared into the en suite bathroom, leaving Jed sitting on the bed, still nursing his injured wrist. Jed wasn’t sure what he should do next so he sat there, wondering what the hell had just happened. A few seconds later he heard the unmistakable sound of vomiting coming from the bathroom, and he got up and tried to open the door, only to find that it was locked.


“Leo…are you okay?” He asked, knocking.


“I’m fine,” came back the inevitable reply. Jed heard the sound of the shower running and then a few minutes later a damp but clean Leo came to the door and unlocked it. He looked terrible – his face was pale, and his eyes had a haunted look in them. “I should be asking you that question,” he said softly, standing in front of Jed, his eyes downcast and ashamed. “Did I hurt you?” He made no move to touch Jed but his gaze raked over him, coming to rest on the wrist that Jed was still clutching.


“No…just scared the hell out of me,” Jed replied, meaning it.


“You – scared?” Leo gave a faded smile. “You’re never scared of anything. Besides, you have men with guns standing just down the hall.”


“You think I’d let them come in here and shoot you?” Jed asked softly.


“Maybe you should. I’m sorry for…I’m sorry.” He looked devastated, and brushed awkwardly past Jed and into the other room, where he reached for the clothes that he’d discarded in such a hurry the previous night, and began getting dressed.


“Wait a minute – where the hell are you going?” Jed asked, grabbing his bath robe and slipping it on.


“It’s nearly 5. Might as well call it a night and get to the office,” Leo shrugged, finding his shirt and shouldering himself into it.


“Leo…you can’t just run out on me without telling me what’s going on here!” Jed remonstrated.


“I had a nightmare,” Leo said, glancing around the dimly lit room, looking for other discarded garments. “You know I have nightmares occasionally. I’ve had them before. I’ll have them again. It’s no big deal,” he told Jed in a warning tone of voice.


“You’ve never attacked me in your sleep before, and you’ve never vomited after a nightmare either,” Jed pointed out. “Or at least only once,” he added softly and meaningfully, remembering their 1970 anniversary. “So I think that *is* a big deal. What was the nightmare about, Leo? You never have told me what your nightmares are about – I always just assumed…” He hesitated, and then decided to plough on regardless. “I assumed they’re about Vietnam,” he said softly. Leo didn’t even blink. He located his socks, sat down on the side of the bed, and began pulling them on, ignoring his friend completely. “Leo – I want an answer,” Jed told him in a firm voice. Leo glanced up at him blankly.


“What? Oh. Yeah…I don’t remember, Jed,” he replied with a shrug. “I never remember ’em when I wake up.”


“I don’t believe you,” Jed said in a hard tone, gazing at Leo with narrowed eyes. “What was going through your mind when you had me pinned there in an arm lock for god’s sake? Who did you think you were talking to when you threatened to break my wrist? And when you said you wouldn’t let them hurt you again? What was that about? Who hurt you, Leo? And when?”


“I just told you – I don’t remember.” Leo found his pants and pulled them towards him with jerky, shaky movements of his hand. Something fell out of the pocket, and Jed picked it up.


“What’s this?” He asked, recognizing it as the scrap of paper that Leo had been reading so intently earlier. It was yellowed with age, creased to the point of falling apart, and covered in stains.


“It’s nothing. Give it to me.” Leo held out his hand. Jed frowned, and glanced more closely at the grimy piece of paper.


“This is my handwriting,” he said, confused.


“It’s an old letter you sent me,” Leo told him. “I found it when I was clearing out some of my stuff.” He gave a nonchalant shrug. “Thought I’d re-read it.”


“January 6th, 1970.” Jed glanced at Leo. “Boy, that *is* old. What a blast from the past. Can I read it?”


“No,” Leo said, too fast.


“Why the hell not? I wrote the damn thing.” Jed sat down on the side of the bed and unfolded the letter gingerly.


“Because I’m asking you not to,” Leo said, his tone almost strangled.


“Maybe I can remember what it says…” Jed murmured with a little grin.


“I doubt it – you wrote me letters every week at that time so there’s no reason why you’d remember this particular one,” Leo snapped. “There’s nothing special about it.


“Oh I don’t know. It strikes me there must be *something* special about it – if this is the one you kept after all these years,” Jed murmured, gazing at Leo thoughtfully.


“I kept them all – this is just the one I found when I was clearing out, like I said,” Leo replied, holding out his hand again for the letter.


“Perhaps I could hang onto it for a few days. Show it to Abbey,” Jed suggested.


“No!” Leo said, in an almost angry tone of voice.


“Why not?” Jed pushed. This was the chink in Leo’s armour that he’d been hoping to find; he was sure this letter held some kind of clue as to what was going on with Leo right now, although he had no idea what it meant or why Leo was behaving so strangely about it.


“Because I need it,” Leo said, and then he clearly realized how ridiculous that sounded and he took a deep breath, stood up, and started pulling on his pants. “Fine, keep it if you want,” he said. “I was just looking forward to re-reading it. That’s all.”


“This was the letter I sent telling you about Liz’s birth, isn’t it?” Jed said, trying to make out the faded lettering in the dimly lit room, without his glasses.


“Yes,” Leo said in a tight kind of voice.


“Looks like it got kinda dirty,” Jed said, pointing out the long, dark streaks that were splashed liberally over the creased paper, almost obscuring the writing.


“That isn’t dirt,” Leo growled. “It’s blood.”






Leo woke to hear someone moaning. He was lying on the floor of his cell, and it took him several minutes to figure out that the person moaning was himself. He clamped his jaw down hard to stop the noise. His arms felt as if they had been torn out of the sockets, and his entire body ached from the beatings.


“Captain,” a hoarse voice said. “You alive?”


“Yeah…I’m alive,” he croaked back. “Fucking, fucking, son of a bitch…” He tried to slowly uncurl his body but everything hurt too much, and he gave a low hiss of pain as he moved.


“I thought they might not bring you back,” Morelli said. Leo finally managed to raise his head enough to glance at the other man. Shit, but the kid looked terrible – his face was ashen, and his lips almost blue in hue. Leo wished he could crawl over to the wall to be with him, but he couldn’t get his body to respond to even the simplest of commands, so he just lay there. “I thought one time they *did* bring you back,” Morelli said. “Wasn’t sure. Not sure if you’re really here now.”


“I am,” Leo told him. He rested his head back down on the cool floor and closed his eyes, longing for the peaceful oblivion of unconsciousness. It didn’t come.


“I was thinking about my mom,” Morelli whispered. “I’d tell her what happened to me here, Captain. I couldn’t not tell her…She’d take one fucking look at me and see it…see it in my eyes…and I’m not fucking strong enough to hide it from her. I’d let her fuss over me, just if I could get to see her again…I’d let her bring me bowls of pasta and kiss my hair. She shouldn’t know this happened to me, Captain, but I know I’d tell her.”


Leo sighed. “Yeah,” he whispered.


“Would you tell your mom?” Morelli asked.


Leo thought about it for a long time, just for something to think about other than how much he hurt. “I dunno. I don’t think so,” he said eventually. “She hasn’t had such a great life. I wouldn’t want her to know about this. She’s always relied on me…they all have. I don’t want them to think of me like this.”


“You’re stronger than me, Captain,” Morelli whispered. “And your friend? The one with the baby? Would you tell him?”


Leo closed his eyes and thought of Jed’s bright blue eyes and thick dark hair. He thought of how good Jed’s kisses tasted, and how his skin felt under his caressing fingers. God, he loved Jed’s tanned skin, and the way his muscles moved beneath it when they were making love. They were friends, closer than friends had any right to be, and yet they both had secrets. They’d talked into the night, had shared with each other parts of themselves that they had shared with nobody else, and yet he knew they still kept some parts of themselves hidden, for whatever reason. He remembered how he had found out that Jed’s father was beating him, how Jed had wanted to hide it from him, how he was still profoundly uncomfortable with Leo knowing about it to the point where they could barely talk about it without arguing. Leo imagined telling Jed about this, about what had happened to him here, and recoiled instantly from the mental image. This would wound Jed almost more than himself; his friend would want to help but would feel helpless, and that would make him frustrated and angry. He could imagine the look of sheer pain that he would see in Jed’s blue eyes and knew it was a sight he never wanted to witness, or be the cause of. What possible good would it do for Jed to know what had happened to him here, what was very likely going to continue happening for a long time? And there was something else, a little voice that told him Jed wouldn’t want to be burdened with his friend’s pain at a time in his life when he was so happy. Jed had found Abbey, they’d had a baby…and Leo wasn’t sure what place there was for him in his friend’s life any more. The last thing he wanted to do was to make Jed feel sorry for him, or as if he had any responsibility for Leo. He didn’t want to be a burden on his friend; he never wanted that.


“No,” he muttered at last. “I’ll never tell him about this.” With enormous effort he moved his arms, struggling through the waves of pain that assaulted him as he did so, and finally managed to stretch out the abused muscles enough to reach into his pocket and pull out Jed’s letter.


Leo, there are other things I wish I could say, as always, but you know that. When I see you again (June 17th???) I’ll lock you in a room and say it all – I think you know the kind of stuff I mean and you’re probably pretty damn grateful that you’re miles away so you don’t have to endure the full, unedited, Jed Bartlet spiel. Just to let you know that right at this moment in time I’m remembering what we said and did one particular summer night in Michigan. I hope that’s as…uh, inspiring a memory for you as it is for me.


Damn – I just re-read this letter and it’s almost illegible. I hope you can read it – my hair got so long that I keep pushing it out of my eyes – Abbey usually cuts it but she’s got other things on her mind right now so it’ll have to wait.


I can’t think of any more news. I’ve probably said enough anyway – I can see you rolling your eyes and wondering when I’m going to stop…but hell, just ’cause you aren’t here in person doesn’t mean you should escape.


Write soon – d’you hear? I want to know what’s going on with you. I miss you.


All my love,




Leo held the letter tightly in his fist and closed his eyes. He thought of Jed, sitting at the rickety old kitchen table in the tiny apartment he shared with Abbey, writing this letter, his overgrown hair flopping into his eyes. Leo felt a wave of longing so strong it almost convulsed him and he unfurled the letter from his hand and rested his face against it, as if by being close to this symbol of Jed he could somehow will himself into his lover’s arms. He fell asleep, the letter pressed against his cheek, and when he woke up he had to peel it away from his sweaty skin. It was already starting to look tattered after what he’d been through these past few days, so he folded it carefully and then tucked it into his boot with hands that felt and moved like rubber, where he thought maybe it would safer. He already knew most of it by heart, but that wasn’t the point. It was the action of reading that familiar, sloping hand writing that somehow soothed him, and made this nightmare he was living even halfway bearable.


He growled with pain and anger when they lifted him to his feet and dragged him back to the interrogation room again a few hours later. Mr. Magoo was already seated at the table, and his eyes flashed angrily behind his glasses as Leo was thrown down in front of him.


“You lied to me, Captain McGarry,” he said, in cold, clipped tones. Leo managed to drag himself into a crouching position and gazed at his tormentor blearily. He gave a half smile, and shrugged. They were going to hurt him anyway, whether he talked or not, whether he told the truth or not, so there was nothing to be gained or lost in this room. He’d keep his knowledge to himself, and let them do their worst.


“Did I?” He said, his lips twisting in a parody of amusement. Mr. Magoo glared at him, his eyes darkening behind the thick lenses of his glasses.


“You think this is funny, Captain?” He asked.


“No. I think it’s fucking hell – that’s why I’m laughing,” Leo told him, grinning inanely, wondering if he’d lost his mind.


He gritted his teeth as they pulled his arms behind his back, triggering a dozen different points of pain in his tortured body, and then he felt his hands being tied, and he suddenly knew, with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, what they were going to do next. He thought of Jed, remembered the letter and a summer night in Michigan when they had made love 6 times – a personal best for both of them. He laughed out loud then; he was pretty sure that Jed had mentioned that occasion in order to give him a subtle jerk off fantasy, and there was zero chance of that working in his current circumstances, but all the same, there was something incongruously funny about kneeling here, his arms tied behind his back, prior to being put through the most excruciating agony, and remembering having beautiful, mind blowing sex all night long with his best friend. And it had been, literally, all night long, from sunset ’til sunrise – they’d fallen into an exhausted sleep somewhere around dawn, naked, sated, sweaty bodies entwined, as one.


He continued laughing as they pulled his arms upwards behind his back, and it was only when they wrenched them so far up that they dislocated his right shoulder that his laughter morphed inevitably into screaming. He passed out again, and again they revived him with cold water. They untied him briefly, and wrenched his dislocated shoulder back into place – not, he knew, out of any concern for his welfare, but simply so they could start the whole damn process all over again. He noticed that Mr. Magoo wasn’t even asking him any questions – he seemed more interested in enjoying Leo’s suffering. His lips were curled up slightly and there was a gleam in his eyes behind those glasses that seemed almost sexual in their enjoyment of his pain. Leo felt the darkness open up and swallow him whole. It would be so easy to surrender to it, to go so far into yourself that you never came out again, to go insane from the pain. Leo was tempted; he had been so tired fighting this war, so sickened by it and all that it entailed. He had tried to believe in the ideology behind it, had wanted to be the enthusiastic kid he had once been, who was so clear in his certainties, but that had been a long time ago, and somewhere along the line he’d discovered a cynical core to his soul that he had never realized existed before. Who, seriously, would miss him, if he surrendered to this in this hellhole? If he goaded them into killing him, or gave up and offered himself whole to the insanity that could give him a refuge from this pain? He knew his mom and sisters and Jed would all grieve for him, but they’d get over it, in time….The words of Jed’s letter came back to him, refuting that argument, refusing to give him that let out: I miss you. All my love, Jed…Those words repeated, over and over in his head, refusing to be silent. Leo gave another hopeless laugh and daylight flooded back in around him, complete with the terrible agony of what was being done to his body. He couldn’t give in. He could never give in as long as he had Jed’s letter, nestling in his boot. It wouldn’t to allow him to give in. It rested against his foot, reminding him of all he stood to lose if he didn’t get out of here alive, of the one person he’d hurt most of all if he gave up. Leo shrieked out his pain, aware, all the time, of Mr. Magoo gazing at him from those dark, calculating eyes. He locked stares with his tormentor; the man in front of him wanted him to submit and buckle under this terrible torture and Leo felt that obstinacy that Jed had so often teased him about coming to the fore. He would *not* give in. He might scream, and bleed, and cry in pain, and his body might break in two, but the one thing he would *not* do was give this bastard the satisfaction of having defeated him. It was strange, he thought, what torture told a man about his own soul. Somehow he’d found a place inside where he could be strong, but he knew how easily it could have gone the other way; if fate had contrived it that he’d been shot down without Jed’s letter in his pocket to anchor him in this sea of pain, he couldn’t honestly say whether or not he’d have found the strength to hold on.


He had no idea how long the torture lasted but it felt like a lifetime. The pain all merged into one and between sessions he was thrown back into his cell to lie beside the increasingly comatose Morelli. They gave them water and a meagre amount of food, but in their windowless cell Leo lost track of the days. He had no idea whether it was day or night, or whether he was alive or dead most of the time. Every day was much like the last until the day that Mr. Magoo walked into his cell, accompanied by his usual posse of guards, and waved his hand at Leo where he lay outstretched on the floor on his back. Leo immediately scrunched his hand around Jed’s letter which had been lying loosely in his hand where he had been re-reading it for the thousandth time. He didn’t want his captor to catch a glimpse of his letter and confiscate it. He wasn’t sure he could survive without it.


“Captain McGarry – get up,” Mr. Magoo ordered.


“Hey, am I late for my next torture session?” Leo laughed. “I’m so sorry, boys. I was having such a good time that I forgot all about it.”


“Lieutenant Morelli, get up!” Mr. Magoo ordered. Leo laughed again.


“He’s got a broken leg and, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s infected, so he ain’t going anywhere,” he said. Morelli gave a hazy little groan – he hadn’t said anything coherent in a long time and there was a new stench in the cell that Leo knew meant that his leg had turned gangrenous.


“Get up – both of you!” Mr. Magoo ordered. “We’re moving you.”


“Moving…?” Leo looked up at him in surprise, his pain-fogged mind trying to make sense of this.


“Yes, Captain.” Mr. Magoo stood over him. “We’re taking you North – where we have the facilities to question you properly.” He gave an unpleasant smile. “So get up – you have a long walk ahead of you.”


Leo rolled over onto his belly, tucking Jed’s letter surreptitiously into his pocket as he did so. “Walk?” He said, becoming immediately serious as he struggled to get to his feet, every muscle in his body protesting the sudden movement. “You can’t make Morelli walk anywhere,” he pointed out. “The man has a broken leg for god’s sake! He needs medical attention not a hike through the fucking jungle.”


Morelli’s eyelids fluttered open and he looked at Mr. Magoo, and then at Leo. He gave Leo a little grin.


“Mom says hi, Captain,” he whispered.


“He’s delirious,” Leo pointed out. “You can’t move him.”


“I agree.” Mr. Magoo nodded. “He’d hold us up – so there’s only one thing to do.” He reached for his gun, pointed it at Morelli’s head, and pulled the trigger. It all happened so fast that Leo didn’t even realize what was going on until it was done, and Morelli’s brains and blood were splattered all over the wall, and himself.


“Oh shit…oh Christ…” Leo gazed in total horror at the corpse of the young lieutenant, and then turned back to Mr. Magoo. “You killed him in fucking cold blood,” he hissed. “All he needed was a fucking doctor…oh god…you fucking murderer.” He took a step forward, and the guards grabbed his arms and held him back.


“Ah, you aren’t laughing any more, Captain.” Mr. Magoo gave him a truly chilling smile. “Did I finally do something you didn’t find funny?”


Leo felt a surge of fury flood through his body and if he could, he would have thrown himself at the man there and then, and wiped that evil smile off his face. “I will kill you,” he hissed. “One day. I’ll kill you.”


Mr. Magoo’s smile broadened into a grin, and he gave a little gurgling bark of laughter.


“Ah, now *that* was funny,” he said softly, and then he reached out a hand and grasped Leo’s bruised and stubbled jaw. “You are nothing, Captain,” he hissed. “Just another arrogant American who’ll break in the end, like all the other cowardly American pigs. You won’t laugh when I break you, Captain,” he said, his voice full of loathing, his fingers digging into Leo’s jaw, and then he released Leo, turned, and left the room without a backward glance at the corpse he had left behind. Leo offered up a small, silent prayer for Lieutenant Morelli as he was forced along at gunpoint in the murderer’s wake. Leo slipped his hand into his pocket, fumbling to be sure Jed’s letter was there and hadn’t fallen out in his clumsy manoeuvrings back in the cell. He was relieved when his blood-stained fingers closed around it; he couldn’t lose the letter – not now – he needed it too much. A man had been shot right in front of him as if he were no more than a dog, and this letter, bloodstained, torn and scrunched up though it was, was the only thing he had to prove to himself that Mr. Magoo wrong when he told him that he was nothing. He was something to somebody. He just had to keep on believing that.





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