Lifeline: 7. Chapter Seven




They arrived at another camp just before nightfall the following day. This place was clearly a holding camp – it was ramshackle, makeshift, and much more run down than the previous place had been. The Americans were all shepherded into individual cells, and Leo felt a pang of regret at being separated from the others. Not that it mattered, but even Morelli’s delirious presence had been a focus, something to keep him from becoming too preoccupied by his own pain and suffering. He was thrown into a cell that was smaller and dirtier than the one at the previous camp, but he was beyond caring about his comfort by that point. He had a raging thirst, and fantasized about someone pouring cool, clear water over him. He could imagine craning his head and allowing the sparkling droplets to land on his tongue, slaking the dryness in his mouth, and trickle down his throat, cooling and restoring him. Leo lay where they had thrown him, huddled up with pain and exhaustion, trying hard not to think about Mr Magoo’s threat to take him apart piece by piece until he got the confession he was looking for. He wasn’t sure he would be able to hold out indefinitely, but equally, he didn’t know what kind of person he’d be if he didn’t. He couldn’t imagine being anything other than what he was, and he wondered if even the most extreme pain would be able to drive away his lucidity of mind and clearness of thought, making him a blank slate upon which Mr. Magoo would be able to write any propaganda he chose. Leo found no answers, and suspected that only in the heat of torture would he find the truth about his own soul. In the meantime, there was nothing to be done but lie here, and distract himself by thinking of Jed’s letter. If he concentrated hard, he could see Jed, his hair flopping into his eyes, bathing his newborn daughter. Leo was pretty sure that Jed would be a hands-on kind of father. He couldn’t imagine Abbey allowing her husband to get away with not changing diapers, even if he’d wanted to. Leo smiled softly, and his outstretched fingers flicked aimlessly as he hummed, tunelessly, to himself, in that dark, inhospitable cell, a long way from home.


They came for him just before dawn, kicked him until he stood up, and then dragged him along to a room much like the one in the last camp; perhaps the implements of torture in this room had been more hastily thrown together, but in essence it was the same. Mr. Magoo was seated in a chair at the far end, like a corrupt, vicious king, surveying his hapless subjects from the lofty heights of his throne. Leo fell on the floor in front of him, and waited.


“Captain…it’s going to be a long, hard journey to Laos,” Mr. Magoo told him. “Maybe by the time we get you there, you’ll be ready to co-operate.”


Leo opened his mouth to reply, but his throat was so dry he couldn’t form any words.


“Ah – are you thirsty, Captain?” Mr. Magoo asked, with what sounded like a smug smile in his voice. Leo glanced up, unable to keep the desperation out of his eyes. He wanted a drink so much that it hurt. “I see you are. Well, we can do something about that, Captain. We have water here…plenty of it.” Mr. Magoo gave another one of those hard, cold smiles, and gestured with his head. Leo’s arms were grasped, and he was dragged bodily over to a tin bath in the corner of the room. He didn’t even have time to think, because next thing he knew he was plunged headfirst into the cold water. He was so glad to be able to quench his thirst that at first he scarcely cared that they were holding his head under the water. Then panic set in, and he struggled against his captors. It took three men to hold him down, something he noted with some satisfaction in a strange, detached part of his brain. It was as if a part of him wasn’t experiencing the pain and degradation of what was happening to him, as if some part of him was just watching it all, uncaring and emotionless. Then he heard the blood pound in his ears and he was back in his body and gasping for breath as they pulled his head out again.


“Do you have anything to say to me, Captain?” Mr. Magoo asked.


“Yeah.” Leo nodded. “I’ve heard death by drowning is one of the nicer ways to go – so by all means be my fucking guest, and hold me under there for as long as you like.”


Mr. Magoo shook his head, his cold eyes gleaming. “I have no intention of killing you, Captain,” he said.


“No. I’m sure you know your trade very well, evil though it is,” Leo spat. Mr. Magoo’s eyes narrowed dangerously; he nodded again, and Leo’s head was thrust back into the water again.


There was a strange silence underwater. Leo became disoriented by the lack of oxygen, followed by the pain in his lungs as he gasped for air when they let him up again, and then the quickfire questions which he found increasingly hard to follow as the torture continued, leaving him more and more confused. Mr. Magoo’s voice took on an eerie, dissonant quality and he had long since stopped concentrating on what he was being asked. He didn’t think it mattered what answers he gave anyway – Mr. Magoo was enjoying himself so much that Leo doubted he’d stop even if Leo offered to make a full confession and give a full and detailed report on every single plane in the American Air Force and their battle plans.


At some point he thought he might stop breathing altogether, and just allow the water to flood his lungs and drown him. He was so tired that he couldn’t think straight any more. Just when he’d made up his mind to do that, it stopped, and he was dumped on the floor. Someone stripped back his flight suit, leaving him half naked, and he lay there, shivering, as the frequent dunkings in freezing water, combined with his injuries and poor physical condition, sent him into state of shock. He saw a pair of black boots stop in front of him, and then Mr. Magoo picked up something that had fallen onto the floor when they had stripped back his flight suit.


“Who is this?” Mr. Magoo asked, holding up the photograph of Jed and Elizabeth.


“Just a friend and his daughter.” Leo shrugged.


“You will never see them again,” Mr. Magoo predicted confidently.


“Yeah. Okay.” Leo shrugged, feigning indifference.


Mr. Magoo reached into his own pocket, and took out a cigarette lighter. He crouched down so that he was level with Leo, held up the photograph, and then, slowly and deliberately, set fire to the corner. It went up in flames, crumpling in front of him, and Leo knew it was absurd but it was if he had been kicked repeatedly in the stomach. He told himself it was just a photograph, but it made no difference; the loss of the picture hurt.


“What is more,” Mr. Magoo continued, “They won’t wish to see you, Captain. By the time I’m finished with you, they’ll view you as a traitor, and they won’t care whether you’re dead or alive.”


Leo closed his eyes to shut out the view of that burning picture. He tried to imagine Jed, hearing that Leo had broken down, confessed, and told the enemy all he knew. Would his friend turn away from him and never want to see him again? Would he hell! Mr. Magoo didn’t know the first thing about Jed, or just how deep Leo’s friendship with him went. Leo had a moment of sudden revelatory clarity. He had been struggling throughout this nightmare, and a good few many months before, with his own sense of having been left behind, while Jed moved forward in his life, but, while clinging to Jed’s letter in order to get through this horrific experience, Leo suddenly found everything slotting easily into place. He suddenly knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that his relationship with Jed was beyond one or the other of them being left behind, or forgotten, or forsaken – what they had and what they were was beyond such outside measurements or judgments, and finding that restored his drive, and his determination to live rather than to succumb. What his torturer was suggesting was so absurd – the idea that Jed would no longer want to know him, or care whether he lived or died – that Leo laughed again, spit foaming his lips as he did so, and Mr. Magoo’s mouth hardened into a tight line. He stood up, glaring angrily, and Leo’s laugh died on his lips. He started to shiver even more violently.


“You’re cold,” Mr. Magoo commented. “We can take care of that.”


“The way you took care of me being thirsty?” Leo asked, in a croaky voice. Mr. Magoo gave a grim little nod, and Leo gave a hoarse bellow of pain as his arms were fastened to a meathook above his head, wrenching his dislocated shoulder, and then he felt a familiar thud and a sharp pain as his old friend, the fanbelt, was whipped hard against his cold, wet flesh. He couldn’t ignore the pain, although he tried, because it was so pervasive and all consuming, but even as he hung there, his body rapidly turning even more colourful shades of black, purple and blue as they beat him, he offered up a prayer of thanks to whoever might be listening that he had thought to hide Jed’s letter in his boot. He could cope with losing the photograph, but the letter was his lifeline; it had become his focus, and was the only thing that was keeping him sane. He honestly wasn’t sure what would happen to him if he lost it. Whenever he lost faith, and hope, it was always there, a constant source of comfort and reassurance. Through it, he could hear Jed’s voice across the miles that separated them, so that sometimes, in his pain filled delirium, he could even believe that Jed was actually here, talking to him, holding him up through this nightmare, and keeping him strong, always and forever by his side.




Friday Night


Jed listened, his hands clenching pointlessly into fists over and over again, as Leo slowly, haltingly, told his story. This wasn’t the Leo he’d known for so many years. It wasn’t his urbane, permanently unfazed Chief of Staff speaking. This Leo paused frequently, searching for the right words to express his memories. Jed suspected that Leo had been right; neither of them liked showing weakness to the other, and, more than that, neither of them liked the idea of bringing the other down with their own problems. Leo had spent the past several years protecting Jed in so many ways; his natural instinct was always to protect those he loved, and now he was doing something that Jed knew to be against that instinct. So Jed just listened. He didn’t interrupt, and made no move to help Leo when he struggled to find the right way of telling his story. Instead he just sat, nodding occasionally for encouragement, and let Leo tell it his way. A part of his mind was falling into freefall as he tried to assimilate all this new knowledge, while another part of him, the intellectual side of his personality, evaluated Leo’s story, and tried hard not to think about the reality of what those two weeks must have been like for his friend. Leo came to a faltering finish in what felt to Jed as if was the middle of the story, and not the end, as if he had just run out of words. Silence fell between them, a silence that stretched on for ten, fifteen minutes, and then, finally, when he was sure that Leo had run out of steam, Jed spoke.


“How long were you at the second camp?” He asked softly, wondering if he could tease the rest of this harrowing story out of his friend.


“Just that one night. The next day they moved us on again – and the day after that the trail was bombed – there was pandemonium and half the VC escorting us and both the other prisoners were killed…so I took my chance and ran.” Leo shrugged.


“With your arms tied behind your back?”


“Yeah.” Leo nodded. “I kept waiting to hear the shots to ring out, to feel a bullet in my back…but it didn’t happen. I made it into the jungle and kept walking from there. Managed to cut my arms free, and by an enormous stroke of luck came across a marine patrol a few days later. They called in a rescue chopper…and that’s how I got out of there.”


“How long were you in the hospital?”


“Not long. A couple of weeks.”


“You never said. You never wrote. You never…”


“No,” Leo said shortly. “They wanted to use my escape as some kind of PR stunt but I refused. I just got better, got my ass out of there, and then went on one hell of a bender. In fact, I don’t think I was sober again for the rest of my tour of duty.” He shrugged.


“I knew something had happened. You were just so different when I saw you in June that year.” Jed shook his head. “The way you talked and walked, the way you looked, the way you avoided looking me in the eye – the way you made love.”


“I slept with any man or woman who showed the slightest interest between my rescue and that June 17th anniversary,” Leo told him brutally. “I’d wake up some mornings and wonder who the hell these people were, but before then, for just a few minutes before I opened my eyes, I could imagine that warm body next to me was yours. It was worth it just for those moments.”


Jed shook his head, speechless for perhaps the first time in his life. He knew Leo loved him, and that their relationship was uniquely special, but Leo so rarely talked about his feelings that sometimes they shocked him. He hated the thought of Leo, fresh from his ordeal, trapped with his memories, unable to reach out to Jed, to talk to him about what happened to him, to write or call him. Even if he couldn’t have alleviated much of Leo’s suffering, Jed wished he could have had the chance to try.


They were quiet for a long time. Leo sat, huddled in his bathrobe on the couch opposite him, gazing fixedly at his hands as if he was still unable to meet Jed’s eyes. Jed just gazed at Leo, wondering what the hell they said or did next after a revelation of this magnitude. He wondered what Leo wanted him to do; he wanted so much to make things better, but worried about making them worse instead, and then he stopped worrying and decided to just follow his instincts. He got up, stepped across the room, sat down on the couch beside Leo, and put his arms around his friend. Leo came, surprisingly unresisting. Jed kissed his friend’s hair, and held him tight, because it might have happened 30 years ago but it had still *happened*, and Leo was still hurting, even if he wouldn’t admit it. Jed held his lover fiercely, protectively, wanting to give him all the comfort, love and reassurance that he would have bestowed on that Leo of thirty years ago, if only he’d known. If only he’d known how close he’d come to losing Leo. If only he’d known how far away from him Leo’s experiences had really taken him…if only he’d known then there was nothing, Jed realized, that he could have done for Leo. Leo had dealt with it in the only way he knew how, the way their generation *did* deal with things, and maybe it wasn’t such a bad way after all. He’d pushed it down, got on with his life, and had been successful and happy for a good many years until…


“Leo,” Jed whispered softly.


“Yeah. You gonna let me go now? My arm’s hurting,” Leo commented.


“No,” Jed said, although he eased up on the tight hug a fraction. “I’m not going to let you go, Leo. I have a feeling that I’m never going to let you go again,” Jed told him sternly.


“Well that’s gonna make your next press conference interesting, if nothing else,” Leo observed.


“Leo, you’re not done are you?” Jed asked gently.


“No.” Leo glanced up sharply and looked straight into Jed’s eyes, and Jed braced himself for worse to come.


“Why has this come up now?” Jed asked, and Leo exhaled a little sigh, as if that wasn’t necessarily what he had been expecting Jed to say. Then he took a deep breath, and drew back a little – as far as Jed’s embrace would allow him to go – squaring his shoulders. “Leo?” Jed pressed. “I mean, you’ve had nightmares for as long as I’ve known you, but after all this time, after 30 years, suddenly you’re screaming in your sleep, and throwing up regularly. What’s going on?”


“Something I could never have expected.” Leo gave a wry smile. “Something I could never have prepared myself for. If I’d just had some warning, maybe I could have got found a better way of dealing with it, but it was a bolt out of the blue, and my physical response took me completely by surprise. I felt like a total schmuck throwing up into the trash in my office.”


“Leo, tell me,” Jed prompted. “What happened to bring it all back to you so vividly?”


“I saw him again. Met him. Shook his hand. He was standing there…in your office…after all these years. Real, human, alive and *there* after being just a face and voice in my nightmares for so many years. I didn’t know what to do…I couldn’t tell you because you didn’t even know…and there was nowhere to go with all these feelings that came up and blasted me off my feet.” Leo shook his head but Jed was fixed to the spot, paralyzed with shock.


“Leo, what are you saying?” He hissed. “Ambassador Thuan…?”


“Yeah.” Leo shrugged. “Ambassador Thuan…Tran Duc Thuan…it feels strange having a name for him after all these years. I don’t think he’ll ever be anything but Mr. Magoo in my head though.”


“Leo, it was thirty years ago!” Jed remonstrated. “You can’t possibly be sure after all this time…”


“Oh, I’m sure,” Leo interrupted him in a hard, low tone. “I’m completely sure, Jed. You get to know a man when he’s torturing the living hell out of you – and you forget, I’ve seen him in my nightmares for years so I can recall every single thing about him. It’s him. It’s definitely him.” He nodded firmly.


“Thuan doesn’t even wear glasses,” Jed pointed out. “That was your defining feature of…”


“Ever heard of contact lenses? Or laser surgery?” Leo flashed back, interrupting him. “Jed, you don’t understand…it was instantaneous. I *knew* in a way that went beyond just recognizing the shape of his face, or the expression in his eyes, or his height, or whatever. I just…knew.” Leo said fiercely. Jed gazed at his friend for a long time, taking in the haunted, angry light in Leo’s eyes and slowly, reluctantly, tried to accept what Leo was telling him.


“If that’s the truth…if the Ambassador…” he began slowly.


“Yeah. I’ve been through all this, Jed. I’m one step ahead of you,” Leo told him.


“Then we have to decide what to do,” Jed continued.


“Nothing,” Leo said flatly. Jed released his hold on Leo for the first time, and drew back in surprise.




“Jed, there’s nothing we can do,” Leo told him. “Nothing. Zero. Zilch. That’s the decision I was talking about. It’s the only decision I could come to.”


“Leo!” Jed got up and began pacing angrily around the room. Leo watched him, impassively. “He tortured you and he killed Lieutenant Morelli in cold blood against all the conventions of war. He’s a murderer, Leo. You can’t tell me you’re happy to just sit back and do nothing!”


“Happy? No.” Leo shook his head. “But it’s exactly what we have to do, Jed.”


“And what – are you seriously telling me that you can have meetings with this man? That you can shake his hand and…”


“No. I can’t shake his hand again. I did it once, the first time I met him in the Oval Office, while I was still in shock, and I wanted to scrub it raw afterwards. I won’t do it again.”


“But you can sit in meetings? You can talk about his country’s needs and problems, calmly, without losing it…” Jed shook his head. “You’re seriously telling me you can do that, Leo?”


“Yes I can. I have to,” Leo told him.


“Well, you sure as hell may be able to but I can’t!” Jed snapped.


“Yes you can. And you will,” Leo said in a hard tone. Jed stopped pacing and gazed at his friend in astonishment.




“You have no choice, Jed. You’re the President of the United States and he is the Vietnamese Ambassador. There is nothing you can do to change that.”


“The man should be brought to justice!” Jed yelled. “He should be tried…”


“For crimes committed during a war 30 years ago?” Leo raised an eyebrow.


“We’re still conducting war crimes trials for atrocities that took place in World War 2!” Jed flung back. “So why not? Why the hell not, Leo?”


“Because of you, Jed. And because of me too,” Leo said, and for the first time since this conversation had begun, his voice broke a little. “Because I’ll be the only witness. It’ll be my word against his – how likely, seriously, are we to get a conviction on those grounds? Like you said, it was 30 years ago – I’ll be asked how I can possibly be sure of my identification. It doesn’t matter that I *am* sure – you’ll take my word for that, but I doubt a court will be convinced. And then, do we really want your name dragged into this – because it will be, just by virtue of what I am to you.”


“I don’t give a damn about that!” Jed protested.


“Well I do,” Leo said stubbornly.


“Leo, leaving aside what he did to you, he killed Morelli!” Jed pointed out. “He should pay for that.”


“I know.” Leo’s tone was hoarse, and despairing. “Jed, I’ll have to give evidence. I’ll have to tell this story I told you here today, to a courtroom full of people, and you know how hard it was for me to sit here and tell it to my closest friend. I’ll be questioned on it, and it’ll be all over the papers. It’ll overshadow any news cycle, any political story we try to put out, any policy initiatives we work on. It’ll take over our lives…and I honestly don’t think I could bear that.”


“Leo!” Jed snapped, in an exasperated tone.


“Jed! Don’t you understand? He damn near ruined my life once, and I don’t want it to happen again!” Leo’s blue eyes were flashing like lightning.


“I don’t think it’s that,” Jed murmured softly. “I think you’re still trying to protect me.”


“Maybe I am,” Leo sighed. “Jed, I’ve done nothing else but think about Morelli since I met Thuan in your office. He’s been constantly on my mind. You see, I could forgive what Thuan did to me, but I could never, ever forgive him for snuffing out that poor kid’s life as if he was nothing.”


“Then…” Jed began.


“Jed. I’m the one who has to live with this decision, not you. I don’t think I’ll get justice for Franco Morelli. I don’t think this case will get anywhere, not when you consider who I am and who Thuan is. It’ll just take over my life, and your life, and for what?”


“For justice,” Jed said softly.


“Morelli’s been dead for thirty years. What justice is there in that?” Leo replied, placing his head in his hands and rubbing his forehead wearily. “And there’s another problem with trying Thuan for war crimes too, Jed. I committed war crimes.” Jed’s head jerked up and he gazed at Leo, shocked. “I did – not knowingly but I did. One of my bombing runs resulted in the deaths of civilians – and the same was true for plenty of other Americans too. Who’s to say that what we did was any worse than what Thuan did? Who is going to make that case to the relatives of those civilians that died as a result of my actions? Not me.” Leo shook his head.


Jed gazed at his friend, trying to understand where Leo was coming from, and he felt a wave of pity for Leo for having to make this impossible decision. He wasn’t surprised that Leo’s first instincts were to protect him, the Presidency, and both their lives from the inevitable media intrusion that would accompany a trial of this magnitude. The thought of Leo going through all this on the stand, giving evidence, saying what had happened to him – he thought it might break someone as private as Leo in two.


“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” he murmured, sitting down beside Leo again, and placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”


“I’m sorry too.” Leo glanced steadily at his hands, refusing to meet Jed’s eye.


“Leo?” Jed squeezed his friend’s shoulder softly, alarmed by the stiffness in Leo’s demeanour. “It’s okay. I understand. Just give it some time – we’ll figure out what we have to do. I’ll get Debbie to delay Thuan – if need be Josh can see him – you need some space from all this. I still think you need to see Stanley, but for the next few days I want you to rest. We can talk about this. We can think about what to do – this has been a shock – you need some time to consider the whole issue. You might change your mind about trying to get justice for this guy, about bringing a case against him…


“Jed,” Leo interrupted him in mid-flow. “I didn’t tell you everything.”


Jed felt as if a very large, very cold fist was closing around his heart, squeezing tight. He knew Leo was about to hit him with something he really didn’t want to hear. Leo was still gazing at his hands, still avoiding Jed’s gaze, and somewhere, at the back of his mind, Jed had a premonition of what was to come, and his mind fled wildly from the thought. He might not want to hear this, and he knew that Leo *really* didn’t want to tell him, but somehow they both knew it had to happen anyway.


“Jed, something else happened to me,” Leo said softly.






“So, Captain…” Mr. Magoo’s eyes, magnified behind their thick lenses, loomed into view in front of him. “Have you changed your mind yet?”


Leo shook his head, and felt sweat fly from his face into his hair, and splatter his arms. “Nah,” he replied, with as much insouciance as he could. He might be down, but he wasn’t out yet, and he wasn’t going to let this bastard think he was even close to winning. He hurt in too many different places to count; Mr. Magoo had kept his promise to warm him up – his skin felt as if it was on fire, and every single stroke of the hard rubber on his skin made him yell with pain. There was something intrinsically evil about the fact that the rubber didn’t split his skin – there was no blood, just long, solid, purple bruises that hurt so much that Leo knew there was no way he’d be able to lie down and get comfortable when they slung him back in his cell again.


“You think that this is the worst we can do to you?” Mr. Magoo asked softly, his voice hissing in Leo’s ear. “It isn’t, Captain. There is much worse to come. You might as well give in now – because you will give in eventually.”


“Yeah.” Leo managed to summon another grin from the depths of his soul. “See, I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to me that’ll make me do what you want. I’m kind of stubborn y’see – that guy in the photograph, he’s always telling me that being stubborn’s my worst fault, and he’s right. Once I dig my heels in…” Leo shook his head regretfully. “So, I think you’re going to have to kill me…and I’m fine with that – really.” He gave another grin. Mr. Magoo’s eyes narrowed menacingly.


“Ah, do you think this is all just a game, Captain? Is that it? Do you think there is nothing I can do to you that will puncture that monumental American arrogance, Captain? If so – you’re wrong. Very wrong.” Mr. Magoo’s nostrils flared almost excitably and his eyes fixed Leo with an assessing stare. “There are things I could do, Captain, that I think might change your mind – that I think even you might not be able to smile at, or laugh about.” Leo felt a shiver travel up his spine; he was looking pure evil in the face, and he was trapped here, entirely at its mercy. Mr. Magoo seemed pleased by his reaction, and he turned and yelled something in his own language to the guards in the room. Leo watched, alarmed, as they muttered to themselves, and then left the room. The big man, the one who had been beating him with the fanbelt, was the last to go. On Mr. Magoo’s orders, he cut Leo down and Leo fell immediately to the floor, his arm muscles useless after having been tied above his head for so long. Mr. Magoo smiled at Leo, clearly pleased to have worried his captive, and then he crossed over to the door, shut it firmly behind the big man, picked up a chair, and placed it in front of the door.


“I don’t want us to be disturbed,” he said, returning to where Leo lay on the floor. Leo blinked up at him, wondering what the hell was going on and whether he had enough strength in his tortured, battered body to launch an attack on his torturer, now that the man was alone, and unguarded, but he knew he couldn’t even stand, let alone move fast enough to strike, so he stayed where he was, on the floor, panting to himself. Mr. Magoo crouched down in front of him, his eyes glittering darkly behind his glasses.


“You’re a mess, Captain,” he said.


“Yeah.” Leo surveyed his reflection in Mr. Magoo’s glasses, saw a thin, haunted, haggard face, bruised and cut in places, with the beginnings of a straggly beard, and barely recognized himself.


“A disgrace to your uniform,” Mr. Magoo continued.


“Yeah. Whatever you say.” Leo shrugged.


“It must be hard for you – being here, experiencing this discomfort. You’re a pilot – you haven’t had to fight in the heat in the jungle. You haven’t had to see the people you kill, or hear their screams,” his torturer hissed. “You just drop your bombs and leave. You’re a coward, Captain McGarry.”


“Okay, but I’m not the one who ties people up and beats ’em for a living,” Leo pointed out. “So I think you’re on weak ground there.” He gave another wry grin as he wearily surveyed his tormentor.


“Nothing dents that arrogance does it?” Mr. Magoo hissed dangerously. “That American pride and arrogance that sends you here to dare tell us what we should do and how we should think. How we live is none of your business, Captain. You shouldn’t be here.”


“Trust me, right now I wish I wasn’t,” Leo replied, but there was something about his torturer that was scaring him – the other man had an almost demonic look in his eyes, and Leo had the feeling that Mr. Magoo wasn’t seeing him as a man at all. Instead, he was a symbol of all that he hated, of all that he wanted to crush, subdue and have victory over.


“I will wipe that smile off your face, Captain,” Mr. Magoo promised, and then he reached out, grabbed a fistful of Leo’s hair, and dragged him bodily over to the table a few feet away. Leo tried to will his feeble muscles into some semblance of resistance but he had nothing left. He had been through too much, and although he flailed wildly with his arms, and struggled as best he could, he failed to free himself from the other man’s grasp. Leo felt himself being pushed over the table, his bruised flesh protesting as he was flung against the hard grain of the wood. “You need to understand who is in charge here, Captain, and I think I know a good way of showing you,” his captor told him. Leo suddenly had an inkling of what was about to happen to him, and he gave a shout of protest, and renewed his struggles in earnest. He fought with all his might, and almost managed to slip out of the other man’s grasp, when a hard blow to the side of his head from the butt of a gun stunned him into silence. He heard a ringing in his ears, and the world burst into a spangle of white stars and then turned black and when he came to, just a few seconds later, he could feel cold hands stripping away the rest of his flight suit. He moaned, his fingers scrabbling pointlessly around the hard edge of the table, searching desperately for something to hang on to, and then he felt his buttocks being wrenched apart. He closed his eyes, facing, finally, that this was going to happen and he couldn’t stop it. All he could do was find a way to live through it…he tried to concentrate on something, anything else but the sensations in his body as he felt a violent intrusion that wrung a scream from his lips. At least, he told himself, he wasn’t a stranger to the act itself, even if this rape was as far from his lovemaking with Jed as it was possible to be. He wondered how many other young men his torturer had done this to – men who hadn’t had the experiences with another man that he had, young kids who would have been destroyed by such an act being visited upon them. He bit down hard on his lip, trying hard to block out the sounds of the other man’s harsh, excited breathing as he thrust into him. It hurt, just as everything hurt right now, but it wasn’t going to destroy him. He wouldn’t let this destroy him. He had to think of something…anything to distract him from the grotesque act being forced on him…and his mind went to the letter in his boot. He knew it off by heart…if he concentrated, he could recite it in his mind, from beginning to end. It was something to think about…how did it start…? Dear Leo…Your god-daughter weighed in at 7lbs 4ozs on the morning of December 30th…He blinked hard, trying to focus on the letter and not what was happening to him. His god-daughter – and she was a good size too. Neither Jed nor Abbey were very tall, so he wondered whether some recessive genes would kick in and make her shoot up or whether she’d be as diminutive as her parents. Jed’s father had been a pretty tall man, now he thought about it…


“So, Captain…do you understand who is in charge *now*?” his captor sneered behind him. It wasn’t a question that seemed to need an answer, so Leo ignored it.


What came next? He wasn’t sure…it was hard to keep concentrating on it…. I can’t wait for you to see her. I’m enclosing a photo of me holding her so you can see how perfect she is. Damn, he knew he’d missed a bit out but he couldn’t remember…it was hard to remember exactly…and he didn’t want to think about the photo because something had happened to it. He let out a choked sob as he remembered the photo going up in flames, and the sound seemed to spur his captor on. He felt a hand on his waist, fingers digging into his flesh, keeping him still, keeping him in place, and another hand on his neck, keeping his face pressed into that hard wooden surface. He tried to wrench his mind away again, but he’d lost his place in the letter…he should try to think of another bit… 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…Leo almost managed a smile, despite himself. Now that was something he could concentrate on. He liked Jed’s hair when it was longer, liked stroking his friend softly, aimlessly…liked the way Jed liked it too, even though he protested and complained for all he was worth. Jed was such a cat, he liked being stroked and petted…if Leo concentrated very hard he could feel Jed in his arms…they’d just finished making love and Jed was lying there, his head on Leo’s chest, and Leo was stroking his hair…this was a good memory. Thank god for the letter, for Jed’s words, written weeks ago, giving him something to cling onto now, when he needed it most. The actions behind him seemed to reach a frenzy and he fought against a rising tide of nausea as he smelt sweat, and the scent of raw, violent sex in the air. Mr. Magoo gave a bellow of triumphant release and then it was over. His captor released his grip on Leo’s neck and waist, and, unable to stand up, Leo fell to the ground, semen dripping down his leg. He lay there, panting, and watched as his captor adjusted his clothing. It had been an act of aggression and dominance, less about sex than power and control, but he wondered whether maybe, now it was over, his torturer didn’t feel disgusted both with himself and the man he had so ruthlessly raped.


“Is that it?” Leo drawled slowly. “Not the best I’ve had.” He gave a wry, twisted smile. “You could work on your technique, and, y’know, dinner and a nice bottle of wine first are always nice. Oh, and consent.” He grinned broadly. “Yeah. Consent is pretty important too. You might like to remember that.” He wasn’t even sure what he was saying, just that he needed to say something to save face, to negate the huge, hideous pain and humiliation of what had just been done to him. He didn’t want to think about that right now…wasn’t sure he ever wanted to think about it. Mr. Magoo looked angry, but then he usually looked angry. Leo rolled onto his front and vomited all over the floor. There was very little in his stomach to come up, but whatever there was surged out of him in an explosive spasm, and, when he was finished, he looked up to find his torturer looming over him.


“Not laughing now, are you, Captain?” Mr. Magoo observed chillingly.


Leo shook his head. “You think that’s it? You think that what you did makes me fear you, or respect you? You think that settles every single damn problem between your country and mine, your beliefs and mine? It doesn’t. It was nothing. If that’s the best you can do then I don’t need to fear you. In fact…I know you’ll never fucking break me down now – you’re never gonna get that confession out of me. Not now. Not ever.” He grinned, and his grin widened into a full throated laugh, and the next thing he knew the sole of a black boot was coming towards his head and a few seconds later, mercifully, he blacked out.







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