Lifeline: 8. Chapter Eight


Friday Night


“He raped you?” Jed said softly, and Leo winced, visibly, at the word – a word he pointedly hadn’t used during his stumbling, disjointed description of what Mr. Magoo had done to him. Then, for the first time since this part of their conversation began, he raised his head and looked Jed in the eye.


“Yes,” he replied and Jed wondered whether maybe Leo was accepting the reality of that word and what it meant for the first time since the rape had happened, 30 years previously.


They both waited, and they both knew what they were waiting for, and then it came – a wave of blinding emotion coursed through Jed, and he suddenly found his feet again, strode angrily over to the wall and slammed his fist against it, cursing under his breath the whole time. Leo sat on the couch, watching, and when Jed finally finished hissing expletives he got up with a sigh.


“And he wonders why I didn’t want to tell him,” he commented. “Jed, it was a long time ago and it didn’t scar me for life. Yes, occasionally I get flashbacks, but then occasionally I get flashbacks to when I had measles as a kid.” Leo shrugged. “It didn’t change anything or affect anything – it sure as hell didn’t affect anything between you and me when I got home.”


“Damnit, Leo – this guy is a monster – a sadist, a murderer, a rapist…and you want me to hold meetings with him in my office? Are you insane? Do you think I’m superhuman? That I can just ignore everything you’ve said and offer this man tea and shake his hand as if I don’t know what he’s capable of?”


“Yeah. I think that’s exactly what you’re gonna do,” Leo replied firmly. “Because that’s your job, Jed.”


“No, Leo, that is in no way my goddamn job!” Jed roared. “Christ, you can’t stand there and tell me it is. You can’t drop this kind of bombshell and then, effectively, tell me to ignore it!”


“Why is it worse finding out that he raped me than it was finding out he murdered Morelli, or tied my arms above my head and beat me until I lost consciousness?” Leo demanded.


“Because it is – for me, on a personal level. Not objectively, not rationally, but for me…as your lover,” Jed said in low, rapid tones. “I’d feel the same if it was Abbey…you know that. I don’t…I don’t have any experience that can make sense of what you’ve told me, Leo. I just…maybe it’s a guy thing…you understand that…if it had been me – if someone had done this to me, Leo?”


“I’d have taken a gun and hunted the guy down.” Leo said quietly. “I do understand how it makes you feel, Jed. It’s just that I have to be the one to stop you doing anything stupid.”


“I want to do something stupid, god damn it!” Jed exploded. “I want to, Leo! He shows up here and you…you fall apart before my eyes…”


“Hmm, I’d quibble with ‘falling apart’. I think I was more kind of gracefully giving in to it,” Leo interrupted grumpily. “I think the whole thing has been very restrained in the circumstances. If it wasn’t for the nightmares, I’m sure I’d have been able to hold it together without anyone finding out.”


“I’m glad you didn’t! I’m glad I damn well know!” Jed yelled at him. “After thirty fucking years I’m glad you finally told me about something so huge…so big…something that affected *us*, Leo.”


“It didn’t affect us. It only affected me!” Leo protested.


Jed raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying that what affects you doesn’t affect me, Leo?” He asked, in a quiet, deadly tone. “Because if you are then your view of what our relationship is and has been for the past 40 years is a completely different one from mine.”


Leo gazed at him helplessly for a moment, and then his shoulders slumped despairingly. “No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that,” he sighed. “I just knew you’d be angry about it, Jed. You always get angry about this kind of personal stuff.”


“I do not! When did I ever get angry?” Jed asked. Leo rolled his eyes.


“When I told you Jenny and I were getting divorced. The whole thing with your father. Countless other times.” He shrugged.


Jed gazed at him for a moment, sensing somehow that they were straying from the point, and that Leo was trying to steer him away from the reality of the situation and into more familiar waters, where they could banter and pretend nothing had happened here this evening.


“Leo, you’re not going to side track me,” he said gently. “I think you didn’t tell me because somehow you think you’re going to taint me with your problems – or worse, you think I won’t want to know.”


“That’s not true!” Leo protested.


“Maybe not the second part, but I think the first part is,” Jed said. “Let’s leave the MS aside, because the main reason I didn’t tell you about that was because you were in rehab at the time and I didn’t want that news to set back your recovery, and, like you said, the longer the silence, the harder it is to breach. I think you didn’t tell me because you had it in your head that I had this perfect life, that I’d moved on, and you didn’t want to bring me down by telling me something so horrific, so sad. It’s almost like you think I’m one more person for you to take care of, like you took care of your mom and your sisters from such a young age, as if I won’t have a use for you if you aren’t there for me to lean on.”


“No.” Leo shook his head.


“Yes. You do it all the time. You take care of me, Leo. You’re still doing it. Every day in the West Wing you do it. These past few days have been chaos down there because you weren’t taking care of things, Leo, and god knows I missed that, but you don’t have to do it at the expense of yourself. We can all cope if we have to, me included. You’re allowed to be weak occasionally, Leo, and sometimes you just have to trust that I’ll catch you if you fall, because I will.”


“I…” Leo shook his head, unable to speak, and his eyes were suspiciously misty.


Jed didn’t say another word. He just went over to his friend and put his arms around him. Leo felt thin and even fragile in his embrace, and Jed felt guilty for continuing this conversation when Leo was so obviously close to the edge. They stood there for a long time, and all Jed could think was how he might have never known this life. “I could have lost you,” he whispered. “Thirty years ago, I could have lost you, and led a completely different life. It might have been a simpler one…” he felt Leo give a wry chuckle against his shoulder, “but it wouldn’t have been such a good one,” he murmured. He squeezed Leo firmly, needing to feel his lover’s solid flesh. Leo had been such an enormous part of his life – his friend, lover and confidant since he was 17 years old, that it tore him apart to think of how close he had come to losing him. Finally, they drew back, and Jed looked into Leo’s grey, haggard face.


“We can talk about this more over the next few days. There’s nothing we can’t solve, Leo. We’ll figure it out – but right now I think you need to get some rest.”


“I do feel pretty beat,” Leo admitted. Jed gave him a little smile and then went to the bed and pulled back the sheets. “You’re not going to fuss over me as a result of all this are you?” Leo asked suspiciously.


“I don’t see why not. You always fuss over me when I’m down,” Jed replied.


“That’s because secretly you really like it and secretly, I really don’t,” Leo pointed out grumpily, sitting on the side of the bed. “Jed, I’m no different from how I’ve been for 30 years. There’s no need to treat me any differently…”


“Leo, you *are* different because a few days ago your life was turned upside down and it’s really fine for that to make you miss your stride for at least a minute or two,” Jed told him firmly. “I know you like to just carry on and pretend nothing is amiss when you’re hurting but this is too big for that. You must see that. And anyway, even if you aren’t any different as a result of what happened this evening, I *am*, and you just have to live with that. And besides, I don’t think it’s that you don’t like being fussed over – I think it’s that you won’t let yourself like it. And now – you should just accept it because it’s going to happen anyway.” He put both his hands gently on either side of Leo’s head and bestowed a single long, heartfelt kiss on his friend’s sandy hair. “Get some rest,” he said softly when at last he released his friend. Leo gave him a wan, faded smile, removed his bathrobe and slid into the bed, and Jed pulled the sheets over him.


Jed went to the bathroom, closed the door quietly behind him, locked it, and then silently placed his hands on the wall and rested his head on his hands. His legs were shaking and he felt physically sick but this was no time for him to fall apart because Leo needed him right now, however much he might be trying to tough this whole thing out.


Jed pushed himself away from the wall and ran a basin full of cool water. He splashed it on his face, and then looked up at himself in the mirror. For just a second, he thought he caught a flashing glimpse of a handsome pilot in his Air Force uniform over his shoulder, and then it was gone, to be replaced by a scene from his imagination. He could see Leo being forced down over a table, hurt and humiliated, and he fought the tide of nausea again. He didn’t have time for this right now. Instead he cleaned his teeth, got undressed, pulled on his pyjamas, and then shouldered himself into his bathrobe. Leo was on his side, his eyes closed, when Jed returned to the bedroom. He slid in beside his friend and then pulled Leo over, so that his head was resting on Jed’s chest.


“There was something I forgot to say,” he murmured. “When I was being angry and behaving like a jackass back there. I forgot to say I’m sorry – I’m sorry something so terrible happened to you, and, more than that…I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help, that you had to go through all that alone. I’m completely broken in two about that.”


“You were thousands of miles away,” Leo reminded him softly. “There was nothing you could have done.”


“I know – but I’m sorry anyway,” Jed told him. He kissed Leo’s head again, and his friend turned his face to greet him with a proper kiss, on the lips. They slid down the bed a little and rested there, Leo ensconced in Jed’s arms.


“I’ll see Stanley,” Leo said after a few minutes of silence.


“I wasn’t going to insist,” Jed replied.


“Sure you were.” Leo gave a little grin.


“Well, not tonight anyway – I was going to insist tomorrow,” Jed replied, returning the grin.


“The man really will think that everyone in the entire administration is unstable and neurotic,” Leo warned.


“Who cares?” Jed shrugged.


“I expect he’ll want you to join in for a session or two as well,” Leo commented.


“I’ll be happy to attend, if it’ll help,” Jed replied, truthfully enough.


“You’ll hate it,” Leo pointed out.


“Yeah, but I’ll be happy to help if I can,” Jed said with a shrug.


“It’s going to be messy,” Leo sighed.


“Yeah, but the worst is kind of over isn’t it?” Jed murmured softly. “Now I know – I’m sure there are plenty of details you left out, knowing you, but telling me had to be the hardest part.”


Leo nodded. “Yes. I guess so,” he said. Jed felt a surge of protectiveness and he wrapped Leo up in his arms, and hugged him close. Leo came willingly, and Jed was reminded of how his friend had clung to him like a drowning man a few nights ago. He squeezed Leo reassuringly, and kissed his friend’s head again. This was good. They could stay here like this all night if necessary, talking on and off, the way they often did, just dozing and talking. He thought Leo needed that right now and he was more than happy to oblige. There was silence for a long time, and then Leo shifted.


“You know I’m gonna want to…” he began.


“Yeah. I know,” Jed interrupted, sighing dramatically. “I was just, you know, delaying the moment.”


“Only, without playing on what happened, that was kind of one of the things that I thought about while I was a prisoner. A lot.”


“You’re warped, you know that?” Jed grumbled, but he shifted down the bed amiably enough, and allowed Leo to reverse their positions so that he was now lying with his head on Leo’s chest. A few seconds later he felt Leo’s fingers combing their way through his hair. He would have complained some more but he really liked having his hair stroked, as Leo well knew, despite all Jed’s protests to the contrary.


“It feels strange – someone knowing. I never told anyone about that last part, Jed. The torture was obvious enough when I was in the hospital but I didn’t tell them the other part. So, you see it wasn’t just you – I never told a living soul what else he did to me until tonight.” Leo’s voice was taut with emotion. Jed put his hand over Leo’s free hand, and began caressing it gently with his fingers.


“Not Jenny?” He asked softly. He felt a tremor go through Leo’s body.


“No. Not Jenny. Definitely not Jenny. I don’t know how she’d have reacted. Our lives were pretty strange as it was, and she did well accommodating my feelings for you in our marriage but I think that might have made her wonder a little too much about the guy she’d married. I didn’t want her knowing anyway, Jed. I wanted to keep her and you as – this is hard to explain and I know you feel betrayed and angry that I didn’t tell you – but I wanted to keep some part of my life where he wasn’t…can you understand that? Some part of my life where he wasn’t known, where he had no place. He had to be in the past, or I…” Leo paused and shook his head. “I thought he was in the past until a few days ago and that was the way I liked it. His reappearance forced me to confront some of what happened…and the flashbacks haven’t been pretty.”


“That’s understandable. Leo – I really do understand,” Jed said, glancing up. “Yes, you’re right, I’m angry – I’m incandescent with furious rage to the point of boiling over – but not with you.”


Leo frowned and Jed shook his head.


“Leo, I’m angry with him – and that emotion feels so explosive that I don’t know where to go with it – it’s okay, I’m not going to insist on a replay of our earlier argument about what we do about him – I just want you to know that I’m not angry with you. Christ, how could I be after what you went through? Leo, I love you, and I’m upset beyond belief that you went through such a horrific experience. I’m just glad you’re here with me now.”


Leo didn’t say anything but his fingers were relentless as they quested almost desperately through Jed’s hair.


“Do you think he recognised you?” Jed asked softly.


“Thuan?” Leo’s entire body stiffened and then relaxed again. “No. I don’t think so. I doubt I’ve featured in his nightmares these past 30 years the way he’s had a starring role in mine. I also doubt I was the only one he tortured – so no. I don’t think what he did to me was all that unusual or important to him so I don’t suppose I’ve remained etched in his memory.”


There was another long silence, and then Jed remembered something.


“There’s something I have to give you,” he said, disengaging himself from Leo’s arms and getting out of the bed. He went to the bathroom, retrieved the letter from his suit pocket, and then returned to the bedroom. “Here. I should never have taken it,” he said softly, getting into the bed again. He handed Leo the letter and his friend took it slowly, his hands shaking slightly as they folded around the thin, faded, blood-stained sheet of paper.


“Thank you,” Leo said, and his voice didn’t sound too steady. He caressed the piece of paper for a moment, and then shook his head wryly. “Although…I don’t need it any more.” Jed gazed at him, not really understanding. “I really don’t need it any more,” Leo murmured but Jed noted that, despite his words, Leo tucked the letter carefully into his pyjama pocket anyway.


They talked and caressed each other long into the night, until, finally, Leo fell asleep but Jed remained awake. He wanted some time to himself, time to think over what he had learned this evening. He didn’t want to pressure Leo, but at some point they had to make a decision about what to do about Thuan. Jed knew he could order Josh to deal with the guy, and hope never to bump into him at any official function but this sounded to him like one of those political compromises he had to make all too often in his working life and he was damned if it was one he could tolerate on a personal level. On the other hand, he had as little enthusiasm as Leo did for bringing a case against the Ambassador. Leo was right; the chances of success were slim after all these years, and his stomach contracted with uneasiness at the thought of Leo telling the world what had been done to him so brutally all those years ago.


Jed lay awake for another couple of hours, and then he disengaged himself from Leo and got up. He stood for a moment, looking down on Leo lying fast asleep on the bed. Even asleep, Leo looked haunted and pale, and Jed felt a surge of fierce, protective love for his friend. Leo was so self sufficient and capable that sometimes it was possible to forget that he needed Jed just as much as Jed needed him. Jed occasionally wondered if Leo even knew that he loved him as much as he did. Leo’s love was so steady and even, and he showed it in so many small ways; in his constant presence, and calming, soothing advice; in the way he took a dozen hits for Jed every day of his political life without flinching; in his sensual, tender love making. Jed knew that he expressed his love for Leo in more extravagant, explosive gestures, and he wasn’t sure if Leo knew just how much his love was reciprocated. Standing here, watching over this man he’d loved since he was 17 years old, Jed felt an icy resolve settle into the pit of his stomach. He couldn’t bear the thought of Leo being tortured and raped, but he accepted that it had happened. What he could never accept was that the perpetrator should be allowed to walk away, without being made to pay for his crimes.


Jed bent and dropped a kiss on Leo’s sleeping head, and then turned and silently left the room. He made his way along the corridor to his private study, and sat down at his desk. He hadn’t been lying to Leo about his anger – he believed in righteous anger, believed in fighting evil wherever it was possible. Maybe Leo could squash this back down, and resume the polished diplomatic face of the seasoned political operative, but Jed was a different kind of personality; he wore his heart on his sleeve, and he knew that he could not do what Leo was suggesting. There had to be another option, and if there was, Jed intended to find it. Nobody hurt Leo and lived to end up as an Ambassador to his administration, with all the kudos and perks and comfortable living that entailed. Nobody. He knew people were sometimes deceived by his folksy, charming exterior, but Jed could be every bit as ruthless as Leo when necessary – maybe even more so. The question was – what should he do? His starting place seemed clear; while Jed believed that Leo was sure that Ambassador Thuan was Mr. Magoo, he needed to be certain in his own mind.


Jed reached for the phone, and quietly placed a call to the FBI.




One Week Later


Leo donned his usual working uniform of suit and tie. He might only be going to have breakfast with Jed at the Residence, but he felt more comfortable in these clothes – especially as he intended to drop by the office later to do as much work as Jed would let him get away with. He had to admit that he was feeling better. Jed had insisted that he take a week or two off work, and see Stanley, and although the therapy sessions had been a struggle at times, Leo felt happier in his own mind than he had since he had first come face to face with Ambassador Thuan. Stanley actually seemed quite pleased to be dealing with a complex trauma case – Leo chuckled, remembering how Josh had told him that Stanley thought his case was too simple, and recalled Stanley’s faint protests that Jed’s sleeping problem was probably not trauma-related at all. Leo’s case, on the other hand, was meat and drink to Stanley, and Leo’s estimation of the psychiatrist’s skills had risen dramatically as the other man had probed his way through his psyche.


Leo pulled a comb through his hair and then studied his reflection for a second; he was starting to look better. He even felt vaguely embarrassed about the whole thing; Leo wasn’t one to wallow in his own emotions – he preferred to channel his energy into his work, and taking care of the people he cared about – but on this occasion, even he had to admit that this was too big for him to handle on his own. Still, now he was over the initial shock, he wanted to do nothing more than bury it all back down again and get on with his life. It had taken Stanley’s gentle persuasion, together with Jed’s much more forceful words on the subject, to get him to agree that, on this occasion, that wasn’t an option.


Leo had insisted that he wasn’t going to stay at the Residence throughout the whole process. He needed the peace and quiet of his hotel room to occasionally retreat into. Jed had been reluctant to agree to this at first but Stanley had finally managed to convince him that Leo’s wishes should be paramount, and they had agreed that Leo would join Jed every morning for breakfast – which was pretty much their normal routine anyway. Leo also dropped in on Jed in the Oval Office frequently as well; he didn’t like admitting it to himself, much less Stanley, and definitely not Jed, but the truth was that he needed to see Jed frequently, even if just for a few minutes. While he had been a prisoner, it was his thoughts and memories of Jed that had kept him going, and seeing Thuan had, according to Stanley at least, taken him back to that time – a time when Jed had been out of reach, only now he was close by and Leo could take all the reassurance from his presence that he needed. Leo thought that kind of made sense but it annoyed him anyway as it felt pretty ridiculous after all this time. He had a great fear of being a burden, especially to Jed, but Stanley had told him there was nothing wrong with asking for help occasionally, and the truth was that Jed seemed pleased to help, even when he was busy. Leo was slowly coming to see that his habit of taking responsibility for everyone had sometimes kept them at arm’s length, and made them feel they couldn’t give him anything in return.


Leo glanced at the nightstand, where Jed’s letter lay. He had hated having to admit this to Stanley as well, and hadn’t yet told Jed – although he suspected his lover might have guessed something about its importance – but he still felt he needed to carry the letter around with him. Maybe sometime soon he’d just wake up and forget to take it with him, but he wasn’t there yet and Stanley seemed to think it was fine that he took it with him for now, although Leo suspected that Stanley would also think it was fine if he declared that he wanted to abseil off the Washington monument – the psychiatrist seemed to be a great believer in doing whatever made you feel better which wasn’t an attitude of mind that Leo wholeheartedly endorsed. With a sigh, Leo picked up the letter and placed it in his jacket pocket. He’d keep it with him for another day. Maybe tomorrow he wouldn’t need it.


Leo left his hotel room, pausing to pick up the newly delivered newspaper on his way out. He glanced at it as he made his way down the hallway towards the elevator, and then stopped, his attention caught by one particular article. He stood, in the middle of the hallway, reading, his forehead creased into a deep frown, and then, eschewing the elevator, made his way down the stairs as fast as he could.


Jed was already seated at the dining table when Leo strode into the room half an hour later, slamming the door angrily behind him.


“What the hell have you done?” He hissed, throwing the newspaper down in front of the President. Jed glanced at it, and then glanced back at Leo.


“What makes you think I had anything to do with this?” He asked.


“Jed, don’t play games with me!” Leo snapped. Jed paused for a moment, and dabbed his mouth with his napkin.


“Not so long ago…” he began, sitting back in his chair, “you came to me and convinced me that I had to order the assassination of the Qumari minister of defence, Abdul Shareef.”


“What the hell has that got to do with this?” Leo hissed.


“Shareef had committed crimes which we knew he couldn’t be brought to justice for.” Jed shrugged.


“This is different! We had a mechanism for seeking justice for Thuan!” Leo snapped. “I just chose not to take it.”


“I know – and that’s why I chose not to hand out to Thuan the same justice we gave to Shareef. Relax, Leo – I didn’t order Thuan’s assassination.”


“As good as!” Leo snapped. “Do you know what the penalty is for drug trafficking in Vietnam, Jed? He’ll be executed the minute he’s back on home soil. Are you seriously telling me that you didn’t get someone to set him up for this? It’s not as if you couldn’t – but we…we don’t *do* things like this. The minute we do, we’re no better than the people we’re supposed to be fighting against!”


“Leo, it’s not what you think.” Jed shook his head. “Sit down. Please. And listen to me.” He gestured to the chair beside his own, and eventually, stiffly, Leo sat. “Leo – forgive me, but I needed to be sure,” Jed said softly. “I know you were convinced Thuan was the man who did those terrible things to you, but it was a long time ago. I wanted to believe you – I *did* believe you, but I had to be sure you were right, and that it was him.”


“You called the FBI,” Leo said slowly. Jed nodded. “And you found out that it was him,” Leo said firmly, without any shadow of a doubt.


“Yes.” Jed’s mouth was set into a thin, hard line. The strange thing about Jed, Leo thought to himself, was that you never knew just how much inner steel ran through the man. He could play the funny, forgetful, folksy uncle, so frequently, and with so much love for the role, that you sometimes forgot just how strong and smart he was – or just what lengths he’d go to in order to protect the people he loved. “I had him thoroughly investigated, Leo – checked down to his birth weight and what he likes to eat for breakfast. He was in the right place at the right time to be Mr. Magoo. He even had laser eye surgery a couple of years ago. His dark side took a while longer to uncover, but a personal request from the President gets results pretty damn quick – and we found a somewhat unsavoury personal history. At least two women have brought complaints against him for sexual assault, complaints that didn’t get to trial either because they were bought off or he was protected by his diplomatic immunity and managed to pull strings to prevent it ever coming out.”


“That’s different from drug trafficking,” Leo pointed out.


Jed reached for his briefcase, and withdrew a file, which he handed to Leo. “I had the FBI dig a little deeper. I was already disliking the sound of this guy, and I thought he might have some more bodies buried in his back yard, so to speak. Either way, I didn’t like the idea of having to do business with someone who is little more than a gangster. You can read what they found.” Jed nodded at the file. “The reason he’s so knowledgeable on the subject of Vietnam’s heroin trade is because he owns a large chunk of it – and you can be sure that any help we gave him to fight this trade would end up going straight into his own pocket, one way or another. He was playing us for fools, Leo, and if it hadn’t been for what you knew about him, we’d have gone along with it.”


Leo gazed at the file wordlessly. Everything Jed said was here, fully substantiated, and yet…just how ruthless could Jed be, if it really came to it, he wondered?


“He was deported,” Leo murmured. Jed nodded.


“Yesterday afternoon. I was going to talk to you about it when you got here. I’m sorry you had to find before I had the chance to do that. I wanted to be the one to tell you.”


“You could have falsified this report. The charges could have been trumped up.” Leo gazed at Jed and his friend met that gaze, unflinchingly.


“Yes I could have done that,” he said.


“Did you?” Leo asked, his heart pounding.


Jed shook his head. “No. I didn’t,” he replied.


“And if you had, wouldn’t you lie about it?” Leo asked softly. “To protect me?”


Jed gazed at him for a long time, and then sighed. “Leo, this did actually happen just the way I said it did. I can’t prove it, so you just have to believe me.”


“I’d like to,” Leo whispered. “I’d like to believe that son of a bitch got just what was coming to him without any help from us.”


“He did,” Jed said firmly. “Leo, someone like that doesn’t just change. After the war he climbed the greasy pole by being exactly who he is – a ruthless, violent, but extremely cunning thug. He hasn’t changed.”


“And now he’s gone.” Leo sat back in his chair and tried to figure out what his reaction was to this news. He supposed he should feel pleased, or at least satisfied, but he just felt empty.


“Yes. You’re right – they’ll execute him. He’s a big name and we’ve provided them with incontrovertible evidence. He can pull all the strings he likes, but they have no choice in the circumstances.”


“It’s just…for so many years he seemed almost unreal – just a character in my nightmares. Then he was here, larger than life…and now he’s gone again. It’s going to take a little while to adjust,” Leo murmured. He hadn’t realized until this moment how much Thuan remaining at large, still, theoretically, a risk (at least in his subconscious) had preyed on his peace of mind. And now only with knowing that Thuan was well and truly gone did he feel that weight lift. Maybe it wouldn’t take him so long to adjust as he thought. The bogeyman from his nightmares could disappear back into the past, where he belonged, and he could resume his life, knowing at least that this chapter of his past had been brought to a close. There was little satisfaction to be had from it, but there was a sense of closure, of ending, and the quiet knowledge that an evil man was no longer at liberty to harm anyone else.


“I know.” Jed said, and Leo emerged from his reverie to find Jed gazing at him sympathetically.


“And what about you – where do you stand with this, Jed? Spiritually, emotionally and psychologically?” Leo asked softly. “You’ve as good as condemned Thuan to death, and I know that doesn’t sit easily with your religious values, or who you are as a person. I don’t want you to feel compromised in any of those areas because of me – that’s the last thing I want.”


“That’s something that’ll have to come up in my next confession,” Jed replied with a wry shrug. “But I didn’t make the laws in Vietnam that will send him to his death, Leo – I’m not the primary actor in Thuan’s fate. I do accept that I’m involved and that’s a grey area but…” Jed trailed off with a faded smile. “I just did what I felt was right. If I was wrong, I’ll stand by that – but it’s not your fault and you don’t need to worry about it. I can tell you that of all the difficult decisions I’ve had to make as President, this was one of the easier ones, my friend.”


Leo nodded, accepting that at face value. He didn’t like the idea of Jed being compromised in any way as a result of his problems, but he knew that Jed was involved, whether Leo liked it or not, so it was just a question of them both learning to live with what had happened.


“Leo – I’ve cleared a couple of hours in my schedule this morning. I thought we might need to talk this through. I was thinking that when we’re done we could…I dunno…play chess?” Jed suggested.


“We could.” Leo shrugged, deciding to change the subject and lighten the atmosphere, which had become seriously strained. “Or we could have sex.”


“Leo!” Jed laughed, glancing around, but they were alone in the dining room.


“Well, you keep avoiding that subject like you think it’s gonna scare me or something and it really isn’t…and besides, if we’ve both got some free time…”


Jed gave one of those goofy grins he always gave when Leo suggested sex; Leo sometimes suggested it even when he wasn’t particularly in the mood because he enjoyed Jed’s reaction so much, and he never remained not in the mood by the time Jed was stretched out naked beside him.


“Now?” Jed had an anticipatory look in his eye that went straight to Leo’s groin.


“Mmm. Well I did only just get dressed, but what the hell.” Leo grinned. He felt they both needed to address this. Sex had always been an important part of their relationship, and while he didn’t have a problem with it and never had, even after what had happened to him in Vietnam, he sensed that Jed was uncertain. He knew that this new knowledge had to have implanted some unpleasant images in Jed’s mind, and he also knew that things wouldn’t be entirely right between them until they’d made love again.


They walked up to the bedroom, side by side, their thighs brushing occasionally. Leo felt as if they were playing hooky; there was something intrinsically sinful about going to make love at this time of day when they should both be working. He wondered how odd they must look, Jed holding his briefcase, and Leo clutching the dossier Jed had given him, as if they were going to a meeting and not to a bedroom to have sex.


The minute they reached the bedroom, Leo threw the dossier onto the coffee table, locked the bedroom door, and leaned against it, gazing at Jed hungrily. Jed hesitated, clearly unsure about how they should play this and what Leo wanted from it.


“Come here,” Leo whispered, holding out his hand, and Jed came. Leo undid his friend’s tie and then unbuttoned the top button of his collar. “You’re all starched,” he commented, brushing a kiss along Jed’s collar bone. “Usually when we make love it’s at the end of the day and you’re rumpled, but now you’re all clean and crisp.” He undid a few more buttons and Jed allowed him to pull his shirt out of his pants altogether and throw it on a nearby chair.


“Leo…” Jed murmured, his eyes dark with arousal. “How would you feel if I went on top?” His hands were warm, heavy and reassuring on Leo’s hips. “I figure it’s going to happen at some point so maybe it should be now, when we’re self conscious about it anyway? But it’s your call. It’s just a suggestion. I don’t mind either way.”


Leo thought about it for a moment, and then smiled. He remembered something Stanley had said about giving up control, and not needing to be the one always taking care of everyone else. It might be nice to let Jed do the work for a change. He loved playing with Jed’s body, loved the feel of Jed’s hips under his fingertips, and the tightness of his ass milking his cock; loved the way his friend would arch his back and mewl out his orgasm while Leo thrust lazily into him, but sometimes it could be nice just to lie back and let Jed take the lead instead. Jed was right as well – those mental images would remain between them for a long time unless they made an effort to establish some kind of normality again.


“Okay,” he agreed.


“Sure?” Jed said, his hands wandering lower and coming to rest on Leo’s ass.


“Sure.” Leo nodded. “It was a long time ago, Jed. We’ve made love plenty of times since.”


“For me it was just the other night,” Jed replied, “and for you too – in that nightmare you had.”


Leo had to admit that there was some truth in that. For years after it had happened, he had almost denied that it had taken place, but the events of the past couple of weeks had brought it sharply back into focus, and he could remember details that he’d managed successfully to forget these past 3 decades. Stanley said that reliving the event was common in trauma cases, but Leo didn’t view himself as anyone’s victim, and he didn’t want to be just another ‘trauma case’. Jed was right – now was the perfect time to do this.


They undressed each other slowly, taking their time, needing to re-establish some bonds, and then, naked, they sank onto the bed. They kissed for a long time, their hands wandering lazily over each other’s bodies, and then Jed dipped his head and began licking and nibbling his way down Leo’s chest towards his groin. He took his friend’s cock in his mouth and Leo stroked his lover’s hair as Jed sucked him for a few hazy minutes. They caressed each other like this for a long time, before Jed finally reached for the lubricant and condoms in the nightstand drawer.


“Ready?” he asked Leo, dropping a kiss on his lover’s lips.


“Mmmm…” Leo lay back, feeling like an old lion relaxing in the sun, as Jed carefully stretched him with his fingers. He knew Jed was going more slowly than usual, and that they both needed to be relaxed. For a moment, when he closed his eyes, he could hear rasping breathing behind him, could feel the hard grain of wood under his face, fingers digging into his hips, and an appalling pain deep inside, ripping through him, and he shuddered.


“Leo…” Jed’s face hovered anxiously into view.


“It’s fine,” Leo said, and it *was*. He kept his eyes open this time and watched as Jed slipped easily into him, and then his friend was leaning over him, his weight inside him, his blue eyes still anxious. Leo smiled up at him. This was nothing like what had happened to him. It was so completely different that there was no comparison. He relaxed, and closed his eyes again, and this time he experienced nothing except the exquisitely pleasurable sensations of being made love to by the man he adored.


They both came several tender, sensual, intensely enjoyable minutes later, and then Jed withdrew, carefully, and settled beside Leo. They lay there, lazily, arms wrapped loosely around each other for an hour or so, and then got up and took a companionable shower together.


Afterwards, Leo left Jed to dry his hair and returned to the bedroom to get dressed. As he pulled on his jacket, he patted the breast pocket where the letter was, just to check that it was still there. He thought that maybe he didn’t need it any more. He had the real thing now, after all, and that was much more satisfying. Maybe, when he got home tonight, he’d open up the safe in his closet and pull out the box where he kept his most treasured personal belongings, where this letter had remained for 30 years, kept apart from the other letters he’d had from Jed over the years, which he’d stored in their own separate file. Yes, maybe he’d do that. Maybe, also, one day soon he’d get around to telling Jed what his letter had meant to him during those lonely, nightmarish two weeks so many years ago. He didn’t know where to start with that though. This scrap of paper was more than a letter to him; it had been a lifeline during a time when he had been lonely, scared and in terrible pain. He wasn’t sure that he could ever describe to Jed just what this letter meant to him.


Leo sat down on the couch while Jed finished dressing, and started flicking through the dossier he’d placed on the coffee table.


“You feeling okay?” Jed asked, returning to the bedroom, doing up his tie as he walked. “Only, I should get to the office, but I want to be sure you’re okay with this.”


“I’m fine. I’m going to go through this thoroughly if you don’t mind.” Leo pointed to the dossier in front of him.


“I think that’s a good idea. You have some old ghosts to lay to rest,” Jed said gently. “You know where I am if you need me.” He placed a hand on Leo’s shoulder, caressing lightly. “Reading that file made me think about the reality of what it must have been like out there for you, Leo. I know you didn’t tell me several of the details, and I know why. I just…I tried to imagine what you must have gone through and I don’t think I can. It made me wonder how I would have coped in those circumstances.”


“It’s not something you can know unless you’re in that situation. I didn’t know – I kept wondering how long I could hold out until I broke. I still don’t know. If I hadn’t managed to escape when I did…” Leo shrugged.


“I’m proud of you, Leo, and I have more admiration for you than I can ever express,” Jed said softly. “How does someone get through something like that? What the hell kept you going?”


Jed’s warm body was pressed up against the breast pocket of his jacket, and Leo could feel that old letter, stained with blood, sweat and tears, nestled reassuringly against his heart.


“I don’t know,” he murmured softly as Jed dropped a kiss onto his head. “I really don’t know.”


The End



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