Lifeline: 6. Chapter Six




They walked them along a branch of the Ho Chi Minh trail for 2 days. At first, Leo was glad just to get out into the sunlight, to know when it was day and night, and, at the back of his mind, he did think that maybe there would be at least some possibility of escape. He was also pleased to see other Americans – there were three young soldiers being marched with him, all of them, he noted, in as bad a physical condition as he was, so he guessed that the physical torture he’d endured was pretty commonplace. His initial euphoria about being outside was soon dashed though; all the prisoners had their arms bound tightly behind their backs, which made marching difficult, and his sore shoulder, combined with the pain and discomfort in his entire body from the repeated beatings, made every single step agonizing. There was no energy to expend on thinking about how to escape – it took all his focus to just keep putting one foot on front of the other, and there was no question of asking for a rest or for the pace to be slowed – Morelli’s murder had shown him he exactly what he could expect if he did that.


Mr. Magoo rode ahead of them in a jeep, while a handful of VC soldiers escorted their tiny huddle of pitiful prisoners.


“Any idea where they’re taking us?” Leo whispered to his nearest companion, a marine who couldn’t have been more than 19 years old. The marine shook his head, his eyes dull with pain and hopelessness. His breathing was coming in fast gasps and Leo thought, from the way he was holding himself, that he probably had a least a couple of broken ribs. There was nothing he could do for the man though – he’d tried to interfere with Morelli and there was a corpse rotting in a cell a few miles away as testament to what a bad idea that had been. Leo felt another wave of cold fury sweep through him at the memory of how Morelli had been killed. He thought of the Lieutenant’s mother, and wondered what the hell he’d tell her about her son’s death, if he ever got out of this nightmare alive. No mother wanted to hear that her son had died afraid, sick and tortured, thousands of miles from his home, and that his body had been left behind, unburied, an irrelevance to those who had taken his life so casually.


“What’s your name?” Leo asked the marine beside him, because it was crucial to get the names of those taken so they couldn’t be ‘disappeared’ later, but before the kid could reply, one of the VC yelled at them to stop talking, and a second later Leo felt the butt of the man’s gun on his jaw, knocking him to the ground. He lay there, blearily, for a second, the world swimming around him, and then the repeated kicks the VC solider was landing on his body encouraged him to struggle to his feet again. The jeep ahead of them stopped, and Leo sensed Mr. Magoo’s eyes on him, gazing at him with a vicious, searching coldness. He shivered, despite the heat, and, putting his head down, started walking again. He didn’t want to draw Mr. Magoo’s attention to him, or give him any opportunity to dispense the same kind of jungle justice to him that he’d bestowed on Morelli.


They walked for several long, interminable hours. Leo was so tired and he hurt so much that he lost track of the time. He even carried on walking when one of his fellow prisoners ahead of him keeled over and fell by the side of the road. It took him several seconds to realize what had happened, and only the repeated shouts of the VC’s finally brought him, and the rest of the small convoy, to a halt.


Leo turned around and gazed, hazily, at the man who had fallen. He was young – they were all so young – younger than him by about 5 years at least. He felt like an old man among these kids who should by rights have been at school. There was much shouting, and the fallen soldier was kicked viciously, but he didn’t move and it was quite clear to Leo that the kid was unconscious and all the kicks in the world weren’t going to change that. Finally Mr. Magoo got out of his jeep, walked back to where they were clustered, and shouted something at his guards. He crouched down beside the soldier and pulled back his eyelids, then stood up, and rapped out an order. The VC soldier pointed his rifle at the soldier’s head and pumped several bullets into him, and there was nothing Leo could do but stand by and watch. He gazed at Mr. Magoo with cold hatred as the man walked past him to return to his jeep. The interrogator seemed to sense Leo’s eyes upon him because he paused, and glanced back. His gaze met Leo’s and the two of them stared at each other for a long time. Leo knew that if he had a gun in his hands he’d kill the man there and then, but as it was, there was nothing he could do but stare him out. They stared at each other for a long time, each weighing up the measure of the other, and then Mr. Magoo gave another of those chilling smiles, and returned to his jeep.


The march continued. Leo’s arms hurt so much that he wondered if, like the young soldier, he’d pass out too, and get deliverance from this nightmare in the same way, courtesy of several bullets to the brain. At one point he was so tired, and in so much pain, that he even fantasized about it; there were worse ways of dying after all – and at least the soldier hadn’t been aware of his own death. It would be so easy just to fall over, to give in, and accept the sweet deliverance of oblivion. He had hidden Jed’s letter in his boot, and it rustled slightly with every step, reminding him of how Jed would feel if he didn’t come back alive, and, as always, he knew he could never go easily to his death, no matter what happened to him out here. All the same, he was at the limit of his physical endurance. The marine beside him was in just as bad a condition, maybe worse, and his rasping breathing was a constant noise, a counterpoint to the sweat that trickled down Leo’s face, half blinding him as he was unable to wipe it out of his eyes, and the terrible aching pain in his shoulders, and jaw.


His footsteps were becoming so leaden that it was hard to stay upright, and, suddenly, he lost his footing and rolled into the bushes. He was so dazed that it took him a few seconds to realize what had happened, and by then pandemonium had broken out; one of his captors shouted at the convoy to stop, and the point of a gun was thrust into his chest. He couldn’t get up easily with his arms tied behind him, and, as he scrabbled to right himself, he was suddenly aware of a shadow blocking out the sun. He looked up into Mr. Magoo’s magnified eyes, reflected through the thick-lenses of the glasses he wore.


“Did you want to die, Captain?” Mr. Magoo asked, crouching down beside him. “Is that it? Did you see what happened to your compatriot and wish to join him?”


Leo said nothing, just gazed, mutely, at the gun pointed at his chest.


“Well, I’m sorry, Captain, but I have other plans for you.” Mr. Magoo smiled that cold, hard smile again, and his eyes glittered behind his glasses. He reached out suddenly, took a fistful of Leo’s hair in his hand, pulled Leo forward, and spoke straight into his ear. “First I’m going to break you apart, piece by piece, and then we’re going to get the maximum amount of use out of your confession. You’ll be famous, Captain. We’ll parade you everywhere – on TV, in the papers. Everyone back home will know your name – and that you’re a traitor.” His lips were so close to Leo’s ear that Leo could feel his warm breath tickling his skin, and it raised goosebumps on his flesh. “Nothing to say, Captain? You don’t even have a laugh for me?” Mr. Magoo asked. “Where has your sense of humour gone?”


Leo jerked back his head, away from the man’s grasp, and managed a wry, twisted smile.


“You got me beat,” he admitted. “There’s no way my sense of humour’s as good as yours.” Mr Magoo frowned, looking puzzled. “A confession?” Leo raised an eyebrow. “Now that’s good – that’s funny. You won’t get a fucking confession from me, you murdering son of a bitch – I’ll die first,” he spat. “And I’ll do it just to spite you. You are so full of shit. I’m not some big fucking prize – I’m not rich, and I don’t come from an important family – I’m nothing special so who the hell cares about a confession from me? Nobody except you for some fucking twisted reason of your own. So, you’re taking me to Laos, or someplace where they have bigger, shinier meat hooks to help you torture a fucking confession out of me so that you can parade me for propaganda? If you think that’s gonna happen you must have a damn good sense of humour, pal.”


Mr. Magoo’s eyes flashed behind his glasses, and he rocked back on his heels and gazed at Leo thoughtfully.


“It’s my experience that people are less brave when I have them at my mercy in my interrogation room. I look forward to our next meeting, Captain, when we’ll put these arrogant words of yours to the test.”


He gave Leo one last, hard stare, and then got up and returned to his jeep without a backward glance. Leo was prodded by a rifle butt and got slowly to his feet, and then resumed his place in the convoy. He wanted to think about anything other than the threat of what lay ahead of him, so he tried instead to remember Jed’s letter by heart. He wished he could fish it out of his boot, and read the familiar, elegant scrawl. He could hear his friend’s voice through the words, as if Jed was speaking them to him; they were all he had of home on him right now, and he longed to be back there, lying in Jed’s arms, talking long into the night the way they always did whenever they were alone together.


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.


Leo wished he could tell Jed right now that he’d happily listen to him day and night for weeks on end if he could just see him and be with him again. He thought, wearily, about that June 17th anniversary. If he didn’t escape, if he was still here on June 17th, or worse…he didn’t like to think of Jed sitting alone in some hotel room somewhere, wondering if he’d show, hoping, despite everything, that he’d somehow get there…because right now, after Mr Magoo’s threatening conversation, he doubted that would ever happen; and even if somehow he managed to get free, and could make that anniversary, Leo found himself wondering whether he’d even go. Jed was going to make a success of his life – anyone could see that – and Leo didn’t want to drag him down. Jed had Abbey, and a baby, and a life of respectability. His friendship with Leo put them both on the outside, and for what? For the sake of sex or love or whatever connection it was that they both found so hard to sever? Leo was certain of one thing – Jed could gain nothing from his relationship with Leo and lose everything. So maybe it was for the best if he died out here, if he didn’t show up to that June 17th anniversary, and Jed had a chance to get on with his life without him.




Friday Evening


A knock at the door of his private study in the Residence brought Jed immediately to his feet, and he was halfway to the door by the time Ron Butterfield had opened it, and stepped inside.


“Did you find him?” Jed asked anxiously, closing the door behind his secret service chief.


Ron shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir. We tried his hotel room, his ex-wife’s house, his daughter’s apartment – he wasn’t at any of them. We even checked out his favourite restaurants.”


Jed sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. He had called Jordan, and all of Leo’s closest friends, but none of them had seen him either. It was close to midnight, and there had been no sign of Leo and no communication from him since he’d left the meeting earlier that afternoon. Jed had tried his cellphone and pager, leaving messages on both, but there had been no reply.


“Sir…” Ron hesitated. “Is there something that leads you to believe that Mr. McGarry’s in any particular danger?” He asked carefully. “I mean…he’s only been gone a few hours, and…maybe he just wanted some time alone? You said that he left of his own free will – there’s no concern that he’s been abducted is there?”


“No…god no.” Jed shook his head. Ron had gone through all this before, when he’d first sent him out looking for Leo, and Jed got the distinct impression that Ron thought Leo was big enough to take care of himself and come back in his own time. He was also concerned that Ron might think they’d had some kind of a quarrel, and Jed was misusing his Presidential authority by ordering the secret service to go looking for him if that was the case. He didn’t know if Ron *was* actually thinking that, because it was impossible to know what Ron Butterfield was thinking at any given point in the day, but Jed was uncomfortable about the fact that Ron knew about his relationship with Leo, and he was projecting that discomfort onto his security chief. “It’s just…” Jed hesitated. “You know Leo, Ron. He doesn’t do unpredictable things; he sure as hell doesn’t run off in the middle of a meeting and not return. The man’s as reliable as the day is long. Besides…he’d never leave without telling us where he was going.” Without telling *me*, he thought to himself. “Leo’s been behaving very strangely these past few days and I’m really concerned, Ron.”


“I’ve noticed that Mr. McGarry seems to have been very stressed,” Ron said quietly. Jed glanced at him sharply, then sighed, and shook his head.


“Yeah, I should have known you’d have noticed, Ron. Nothing passes you by,” he said, in what he hoped didn’t sound too much like a tone of complaint. Damn, but he wished Abbey was here right now. She’d know what to do – she might even be able to guess where Leo had gone. Jed admired her for all the work she did, and allowing her to have her own agenda as First Lady had been one of the conditions of him running for the presidency in the first place, but she sure as hell did seem to go out of town a lot. He knew that she thought he had Leo, and didn’t need her as much as when they’d been living in New Hampshire and Leo had been miles away in Washington DC, but he loved her too; he loved and needed them both, damnit, and neither of them was here right now.


“Sir, do you have any reason to suspect that this was more than work stress?” Ron probed gently. “Mr. McGarry hasn’t been receiving any mail that he was concerned about has he? I’m thinking of death threats maybe?”


“Oh come on, Ron, you know Leo – he’d have told us if he’d had a death threat,” Jed said, although he couldn’t help worrying about the possibility all the same. Leo did have a tendency not to want to concern him about anything – he could imagine Leo taking that philosophy too far and neglecting to mention a death threat – but he was fairly sure Leo would have told Ron, even if he’d tried to keep it from Jed.


“Was anything troubling him in his…” Ron hesitated, “personal life?” he finished tactfully. Jed bit down a wave of embarrassed anger – he hated being questioned about his private life, and it was even worse when that questioning entailed talking about his relationship with Leo. They’d always been so private, so discreet, and it upset him to think that others might judge their relationship without fully understanding it. There was no question of Ron doing that, but Jed felt uncomfortable all the same. Still, he had no choice but to put those feelings aside if he wanted to find Leo.


“He was having nightmares,” Jed said, flushing slightly because he was sure Ron would know how he knew that.


“And was that unusual or different from normal? Was it triggered by something?” Ron asked.


“He’s had nightmares for as long as I’ve known him,” Jed murmured. “He saw his father’s body after he committed suicide…then, after Nam…” He shrugged. “They got much worse,” he said tightly, hating that he was having to talk about something so personal, feeling that he was betraying Leo’s confidence in some way. “But he’d never talk to me or anyone else about them. These last few years they’ve been pretty rare though – in fact I can’t remember any until recently.”


“Any idea why they came back? Or what they might have been about?” Ron asked. Jed turned and paced over towards the fireplace.


“He was screaming about being hurt. He thought someone was hurting him,” he recalled. “It was the day after we saw the Vietnamese ambassador…he was pretty sick that day…he said it was food poisoning…and then there was the letter.”


“What letter?” Ron frowned.


“An old letter I sent to him when he was in Vietnam.” Jed went over to his desk, and pulled the letter out from among the papers there. “There are blood stains on it…he said they belonged to this kid he tried to rescue when he was shot down…and then I found him in his office, just gazing at the flag that was…oh shit.” Jed looked up sharply. “Get the car, Ron. I think I know where he is.” He strode to the door, opened it, and half walked, half ran down the hallway, Ron following hard on his heels.


It was raining as they got into the car; Jed waved aside the offer of an umbrella, and sat back in his seat, hoping, grimly, that he was right, but worried, if he was, about what this said about Leo’s current state of mind.


It was the journey of only a few minutes for the presidential car and escort to glide along the rain slicked National Mall. It was late, and the rain was so torrential that few people were out; the water was coming down so hard that it bounced off the street.


“Sir, you stay here, I’ll…” Ron began as the car drew up by the Lincoln memorial, but Jed took no notice of him. He got out of the car and ran along a grassy bank, then paused, as the familiar black granite stone of the Vietnam wall loomed into view.


There was nobody there.


Jed looked around the dark, rain-streaked landscape, sure that he wasn’t wrong, feeling in his bones that Leo was nearby – and his gaze alighted on a lone figure sitting on a bench, seemingly oblivious to the torrential downpour soaking him. Jed exhaled a relieved sigh, and jogged over to the bench. He got there, panting hard, and looked down on Leo’s rain soaked face; his friend’s hair was plastered to his head, reminding Jed of another storm several years previously, when he’d rescued his friend from a motel parking lot, and they’d argued about Leo’s drinking.


“You shouldn’t run – you’re not very fit,” Leo commented, as Jed sat down beside him, gasping for breath.


“I’m fit! And *you* should answer your damn phone, especially when it’s the President of the United States calling you,” Jed grumbled, relieved beyond belief that Leo sounded halfway normal. “Must be the only person on the entire planet who refuses to take a call from me,” he muttered.


“I needed some time to think a few things through,” Leo said musingly, as if to himself. “I’m still pretty surprised about that. Mostly I think the problem has been that I underestimated how big this is. Should have realized that and not tried to carry on as usual…although, I think there’s something to be said for carrying on as usual – most of the time anyhow. It’s always worked for me before.”


“You’re gonna tell me what the hell all this is about, aren’t you,” Jed said. “I mean, before we both drown out here, or the press get wind of this and descend on us.”


“Hmm. Well, I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t…”


“Leo!” Jed protested. “It wasn’t a request. I was *telling* you that you’re gonna talk to me about this, not damn well asking you!”


“Make the man Commander in Chief of the biggest armed force in the world and he gets so bossy,” Leo commented.


“I’ve always been bossy,” Jed replied, but he knew that the banter was just a veneer, to hide how serious this was. Leo looked liked a drowned rat, sitting on the bench soaked to the skin, the water flowing down his face in little rivulets, his shoulders hunched against the rain. “Have you been here all this time?” Jed asked.


“I think maybe I have,” Leo replied. “Although I’m not sure I remember too well.”


“And will you come home now?” Jed asked gently. “With me? I’ll draw you a bath and we can have some food, and talk.”


“The talking part won’t be easy,” Leo warned.


“I didn’t think for a moment that it would,” Jed said softly. “Leo? Yes?” He stood up, and held out a hand to his friend. Leo gazed at it for a moment, and then put his hand in Jed’s and allowed his friend to help him to his feet, and escort him back to the waiting car.


They didn’t speak on the journey back to the Residence. Leo simply stared out of the window, and Jed gazed watchfully at his friend. He hurried Leo inside once they arrived, escorted him up to the guest bedroom they’d shared the other night, shut the door pointedly on Ron and his secret service escort, and pushed the dripping wet Leo into a chair. Jed then strode into the bathroom and began running a bath for his friend, grabbed a couple of towels on his way out, and returned to the bedroom.


“Here.” He slung a towel at Leo. “Get undressed,” he ordered peremptorily. Leo opened his mouth as if to protest at the order, but then closed it again when he saw the expression on Jed’s face, and mutely began to do as ordered. Jed stood by with the other towel, and the moment Leo was naked, he wrapped it around his friend’s shoulders, pulled him close, and kissed him firmly on the lips. Leo blinked, clearly surprised.


“I thought you were mad at me,” he muttered when Jed drew back.


“I am. Livid,” Jed replied, starting to rub the towel over his friend’s cold, wet body.


“There’s no point drying me if I’m going to have a bath,” Leo pointed out sensibly.


“I’m drying you out of a misplaced need to take care of you right now,” Jed replied. “And seeing as how that’s impossible in any practical sense because you won’t talk to me, or give me any idea what’s wrong or how I can help you, I’m reduced to sublimating my caring instinct into drying you instead.”


“Hmm, you’ve been spending far too much time with Stanley,” Leo commented.


“And maybe you should see him too?” Jed said softly. “Shall I call him?”


“No.” Leo shook his head. “It’s okay.” He raised a hand as Jed started to protest. “I will see him if you think I should, but not now. First…I need to tell you some stuff. Stuff I never told you before.”


“Vietnam?” Jed asked.




“Morelli didn’t die when his plane went down, did he?” Jed asked.


“No.” Leo shook his head. “Jed – I’m sorry. I didn’t ever want to tell you any of this, but…” He paused, and his fingers snaked down Jed’s arm and fastened gently around his bruised wrist. “I’m sorry I hurt you,” he murmured. “I had no idea I’d done that until CJ pointed it out earlier. That’s what made me realize I need to do something because…I really don’t seem to be coping very well right now.”


“We’d noticed,” Jed said, in a heartfelt tone. “But this is nothing.” He gestured to his bruised wrist, where Leo’s finger marks were clearly visible, painted purple and blue on his skin. “You didn’t do it on purpose for god’s sake!”


“And you have a habit of covering for the people who give you bruises,” Leo reminded him.


“This is nothing like…” Jed began.


“You told CJ that lie about the shower door like a seasoned pro!” Leo snapped. “You shouldn’t have to lie to cover up for *me*! It shames me.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, and I need you to know that I’m sorry – and you deserve an explanation although I don’t think you’ll thank me for it – and I’m even sorrier about that. I really am, Jed. I’m sorry for what I’m going to tell you, and for not telling you before.” He grimaced, and Jed felt a shiver of foreboding creep up his spine.


“Go take a bath,” he whispered, tracing his hand gently down the side of Leo’s face. “I’ll phone for some food and I’ll be waiting out here. Take your time, Leo…and Leo…” He called his friend back as Leo started to walk in the direction of the bathroom. “Whatever you have to say, it won’t change anything,” he promised. “It doesn’t matter – it was a long time ago.” He wasn’t sure if he was right in his suspicions about how Morelli had died, but he thought he might be close to the truth. If Leo had put his wounded friend out of his misery in the heat of the battlefield then Jed sure as hell wasn’t going to judge him for it.


“No, Jed. It kind of does matter,” Leo replied. “I thought it didn’t too – because you’re right, it was a long time ago, and I’d put it all behind me until a few days ago…but I’ve had a choice to make, and now I’ve made it – I just need to figure out how to live with it.”


And so saying, he disappeared into the bathroom. Jed gazed after him, totally perplexed. This was sounding more worrying by the second, and he couldn’t even begin to guess what was going on. He called for some food, took off his own wet clothes, dried himself, and then got dressed in pyjamas and a bathrobe. The food arrived and Jed put a couple of plates on the coffee table. Leo emerged a few minutes later, similarly attired in the pyjamas and bathrobe that he kept at the Residence, looking warmer but no less haunted and haggard than he had earlier. He sat down on the chair facing Jed with a sigh.


“You must be starving.” Jed gestured with his hand at the food but Leo shook his head.


“I couldn’t eat anything right now. Maybe later,” he said.


“Okay.” Jed sat back in his chair, and waited. He watched, curious, as Leo spent several minutes in silent contemplation, and then, finally, took a deep breath and started speaking.


“Jed, do you remember our June 17th 1970 anniversary?” He asked.


Jed frowned. “I’d hardly be able to forget that one,” he replied. “You showed up late, you hardly said a word, and you made love to me as if I were some stranger you’d picked up in a bar. Then you had a nightmare and were sick all over the floor.”


Leo made a face. “Yeah. It did go something like that,” he sighed.


“And then,” Jed continued, “you finally opened up to me. You told me all about your disillusion with the war and what you were doing in Vietnam…and you said you’d been shot down, but I only found out about that when I saw that shrapnel scar on your shoulder.”


“Yeah.” Leo nodded.


“And we connected that night, after you started talking,” Jed reminded him. “We talked all night and I think I was able to help you a bit – wasn’t I?”


“Jed, you have no idea how much you helped,” Leo sighed. “I wasn’t even sure I’d show up to that anniversary – it was only the thought of you, sitting there alone, worrying about me – and getting mad about me not showing up – that made me finally drag my feet along to that hotel.”


“Why, Leo?” Jed asked, leaning forward. “Why didn’t you want to come?”


“Because I knew you wouldn’t have changed, and I felt I had, so profoundly and I didn’t want to burden you with that…and because something had happened to me that I didn’t want to talk about, or to tell you about, and I was afraid I would,” Leo told him.


“And you did!” Jed said. “You did tell me and it was fine. It helped – you just said it helped. You told me about how you were feeling, how you’d lost faith and…”


“Jed, after I was shot down I was captured by the VC,” Leo interrupted him.


“What?” Jed stopped, in mid-sentence, his brain unable to process what Leo had just said. “What, Leo?”


“Jed, I was captured by the VC,” Leo repeated. “I spent two weeks in their custody.”


“No…you were shot down, you told me that…you have that shrapnel scar on your shoulder…” Jed trailed off, trying to understand what Leo was saying to him. “You were shot down, and then you got picked up by a helicopter,” he said, shaking his head. This was what Leo had told him. This was what he’d always believed, damnit! “That’s what you said!” He muttered stupidly. “There was a rescue chopper…”


“Yes, there was.” Leo nodded. “But not immediately – not for two weeks,” Leo said softly.


“I would have known…your mom would have told me!” Jed struggled to refute what he was being told.


“She didn’t want to believe it – and she didn’t want to tell you because she knew you had a new baby and she didn’t want to worry you until she had some more definite news – which was the right thing to do as it turned out because I was only missing for two weeks,” Leo told him. “I didn’t lie to you, Jed. I just didn’t tell you about those two weeks.”


“That’s a sin of omission, Leo, as you well know,” Jed replied, gazing at his friend, unable to keep the worry out of his expression. “Two weeks?” Leo nodded. “Leo, what did they do to you during those two weeks?” Jed asked quietly.


Leo shrugged. “Pretty much what you might expect,” he replied.


There was a long pause, and then Jed finally said it. “They tortured you?” He felt his hands clenching into fists as Leo gave him a quiet nod in reply. It didn’t matter how long ago it had been; this was Leo. Calm, quiet, witty, good humoured Leo. His Leo, the man he’d been in love with since he was 17 years old, and for the majority of their relationship this man he was so close to had been carrying around this big secret and had never told him. Jed couldn’t even begin to imagine what those two weeks must have been like for his friend, but a dozen horrible images came into his mind. He remembered Leo back in 1970, with his buzz cut hair, looking so fit and handsome in his pilot’s uniform, and yet…and yet…even back during that 1970 anniversary he’d sensed there was something different about Leo. He’d seen those shadows in his friend’s eyes and had *known* there was something different about him, but who could have guessed that this had happened? Jed didn’t want to think of that Leo, *this* Leo, being hurt, screaming with pain, thousands of miles away from the people who loved him. Damnit, he wished he’d been there, wished he’d known, wished he could have done anything to have stopped it happening, to have made it not so…


“What are you thinking?” Leo asked, an anxious expression on his face.


“That I have all this power, god damnit, that I have all this…” Jed waved his hand around the room, “And that it’s no damn use because I can’t do anything about what happened to you…because it all happened so long ago, and you…you didn’t even tell me!” He growled at Leo, feeling irrationally angry, and having nobody to lash out at except the person sitting opposite him. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me, Leo?” He raged.


“Why didn’t you tell me you had MS?” Leo countered. Jed felt his jaw drop open, and he snapped it shut again, angrily.


“That’s different!” He yelled. “Christ, that’s different! You know it is! You were in recovery, and I didn’t…hell, I didn’t want *anyone* to know. I wouldn’t have told Abbey if she hadn’t diagnosed me herself – that’s half the problem of living with a damn doctor.”


“Why didn’t you want her to know? Why didn’t you want me to know?” Leo pressed.


“Because I didn’t want you treating me any differently! Because I didn’t…I didn’t want it to be true,” Jed sighed. Leo nodded, and shrugged. “It’s different!” Jed insisted.


“No, it isn’t. You didn’t want to upset me because I’d only just gone into rehab and you didn’t want to give me an excuse to start drinking again. I didn’t want to tell you because you’d just had a baby for god’s sake! You had a good life, Jed, and I didn’t want to drag you down with my problems…and after a point it becomes too late to mention it – oh, by the way, I was tortured a couple of years ago – when is it ever the right time to drop a bombshell like that? You know how hard that is – you could have told me about your MS at any point but you didn’t. Abbey had to in the end.”


“It’s different,” Jed repeated obstinately. “Christ, this is a major thing that happened to you, Leo. I could have helped you! I could have been there for you.”


“Yeah. Ditto,” Leo said, making a face. “Let’s just accept that we don’t like being weak with each other, Jed. Partly because we honestly don’t like hurting each other, and partly just ’cause we’re men.” He gave a wry grin. “We don’t like to admit there’s anything we can’t handle…and the truth is…the truth is that I *did* handle it, Jed. I handled it just fine.”


“By becoming an alcoholic and drug addict? Was that how you handled it, Leo? Because you didn’t drink anything like as much before Vietnam as you did after.”


“I drink because I’m an alcoholic, Jed, just like my father and my grandfather. Vietnam didn’t help but it didn’t cause anything. I was a heavy drinker before I went.” Leo shrugged. “I accept that it might have had something to do with the valium – I started taking pills because my back ached from when I bailed out, but I don’t think I needed any excuse to become an alcoholic, Jed.”


“Okay.” Jed took a deep breath, and sat back in his chair, trying to calm himself. “Okay. I guess I’m just throwing around these accusations because I don’t want to think about what happened to you out there, Leo.”


Both men gazed at each other in silence for a long time, then Jed got up, walked over to the fireplace, and rested both his hands on the wall, thinking. This wasn’t about him and any sense of betrayal he felt at Leo not having told him this before; Leo was right – the MS issue wasn’t so very different and he understood why Leo hadn’t said anything. It *hurt*, damnit, but it would have hurt anyway, and he knew he was concentrating on this hurt because the idea of thinking about what had happened to Leo during those two weeks was far more painful.


Finally, Jed turned around and faced his friend again.


“Tell me what happened,” he said softly. “As much or as little of it as you want – but stop trying to protect me, Leo.”


“Okay.” Leo nodded. “But I think I have to tell you everything if we’re going to make sense of this past week, and if I’m going to have a hope in hell of making you understand why I’ve come to the decision I have.”


“Okay.” Jed sat down in his chair again. Some instinct made him want to go over to Leo and hold him tight, to offer him the comfort he hadn’t been able to give him 30 years ago…but that was the problem. This might be news to him but Leo had lived with it for decades, and fairly successfully too. Jed had never thought of his friend and lover as being a particularly damaged individual; he had his demons, sure, but they all had those, and Leo had such bucket-loads of common sense that it was hard to imagine that there was any part of his past that he wasn’t reconciled with, or that could still cause him distress. On the other hand…Leo’s behaviour these past few days did seem to indicate that even if he’d learned to live with what had happened to him, it still had the ability to upset him on some level, and if that was something Jed could help with, then he’d try his damndest to do so.





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