Author: Perpetual Motion
Fandom: West Wing
Rating: PG-13 (Language)
Spoilers: ITSOTG, No'e'l
Summary: Discussions of holes, how they change, and worries that waiting wasn't the answer.
Archive Instructions: Go ahead if you want it.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. Aaron hurts them enough. I just build stories around it.
Author's Notes: As always, oodles of love to Julian Lee for her proofreading skills and ability to keep me distracted from actual reality.
Author Notes (cont.): There are a couple of abbreviations that are probably unfamiliar to most everyone. FNG stands for Fuckin' New Guy, and FIGMO is Fuck it. Got my orders. FIGMO was when a guy got shipped home.
Parallels By Perpetual Motion
The clock on my desk had bright green numbers that announced the time as 1:26 in the morning. I turned it so I couldn't see the numbers and made myself look back down at the papers on my desk. I wasn't in a hurry to get home.
"What was it like?"
I looked up from my work and saw Josh standing in my office doorway. "What was what like?"
He walked over to the table by the couch and tapped his finger against a picture. It was a snapshot of my first platoon in Vietnam. "That."
He shrugged; it looked like a lot of work, and I wondered how well he'd been sleeping. "I just want to know, I guess."
Part of me was tempted to tell him that was bullshit. No one ever just wanted to know about 'Nam. The tightness I could see in his stance stopped me. I stood up from my desk and walked over to stand beside him. "It was humid, and everything tried to suck you in--mud, whores, drugs." I shuddered as the mention of the whole experience started drudging up memories I had shoved into my subconscious. Guys bleeding out in the jungle, getting knifed for no reason in bars, the FNGs who didn't listen and got themselves blown to shit for their effort. "It was a psychological hellhole. Everything fucked with you."
"How'd you deal?" Josh glanced at me then looked at the picture again. He risked picking it up, and I saw his hands shake as he did so.
"We played a lot of cards. We wrote home. We tried to pray." I could taste the cynicism on my tongue. It tasted like mud from 'Nam. "Some guys even succeeded."
I shook my head. "Had a hard time believing in the merciful God I was supposed to love when I watched a guy who didn't want to be there get his face blown off saving a guy who did." Eric's face flashed in my mind. I saw him smiling during cards, telling jokes at the bar. I saw what he looked like when he took fire for James. I remembered James barely flinching at the gore, the sacrifice. He was a good little solider. The fucker.
"Some people say you shouldn't put human emotions with God's thinking."
"Those people haven't been in a war. They don't understand." I heard the bitterness in my voice, but I didn’t try to hide it. "God's a lie, Josh. No benevolent being who cares for his creation would send them out to kill each other."
Josh stared hard at me for a few seconds. We had never really discussed where either of us stood on religion. He was reassessing what he knew about me and filing away the new information. Finally, he nodded. He was going to accept it, but I knew we'd discuss it later. "What else happened?"
Something clicked in my mind--the hour, Josh's sudden curiosity, everything he'd been through since May, Christmas. "Guys lost it. Freaked out. Post-Traumatic Stress happened to a lot of us."
"Did it happen to you?" His fingers tightened on the picture, his eyes begged me to connect with him.
I nodded. "Yeah." The memories started hitting me harder. The whores on the corners, shouting the few English words they knew. The look on a guy's face after he shot his first VC. The same slack-muscled expression of any guy who finally got FIGMO. "Spent a few weeks locked in a room after I got back." My voice choked as I said it. I'd never even told Jenny that.
"What triggered you?"
"The people marching against the war. The shouting about baby-killers and the immorality of the whole thing twisted into shouts for help I never heard because the explosions were too loud." I looked away from Josh's eyes and realized my hands were shaking. I heard the clack of the picture frame being set back on the table, and then Josh's hands were holding mine.
"You've been in the same hole. My hole. The PTSD."
I nodded as Josh moved just barely closer. "Almost the exact same one. Mine was just a little muggier."
"How'd you get out?"
"It took a long time. The hole changed when I wasn't looking. It stopped being muggy. Started smelling like booze and tasting like pills on my tongue." My memories changed suddenly, from Vietnam to half-remembered nights of being drunk and stoned. Some faceless bartender lining up shotglasses. Whiskey sloshing on my hand, soaking my cuff because I was so gone I couldn't hold the glass steady. Pills rattling on plastic as I fought to get the bottle open. One rainy night spent in an emergency room a week after I turned twenty-six, my stomach being pumped.
"Did you do drugs before?"
The memories snapped like a rubber band, and I was back to the present reality. Josh's voice was steady, but right by the bottomless cavern of being scared. "There was no reason before."
Josh released one of my hands so he could run one of his over his hair. I noticed the bags under his eyes. I wondered if he saw them in the mirror anymore. I had stopped seeing mine. He was looking at me. "How'd you stop them?" "Them?"
"The noises. The noises changing into other noises." His voice dropped to a nervous, jerky whisper. "I-I can't stop them."
"They've never stopped. The drugs dampened them to tolerance, but they've never stopped." I watched Josh's face change. Saw the disappointment and desperation in the lines around his mouth. I used to kiss those lines at night, tell him his lips were going to freeze like that, make him look like a frog. He always laughed at that; said once I could kiss him back to prince-dom. I had called him a sap for that. He had smiled and kissed me. I missed making him laugh. I missed his mouth. I hadn't touched him since Christmas. Since he spent a day locked in a room with a psychiatrist. Since I had had to see him crack before I realized he was broken.
"How do you deal with them?"
"They get softer. You notice them less. Sometimes they get quiet for awhile."
"But they come back."
"Yeah, they do." I released the hand I was still holding and clasped his elbow. The first touch I'd allowed myself since walking him to the door Christmas Eve and passing him to Donna. I had wanted to give him time to find himself within the trauma, had told him so, and he'd nodded and agreed. I had waited for him to come to me, waited for a moment like this where he came into my office and waited for me to see through his odd curiosity and be ready to hold him again. I was very ready to hold him again.
Josh looked at my hand, at me, and then stepped forwards and wrapped himself around me. The hug was rough, hard, fingers dug into my back, but I barely noticed it in the feeling of Josh against me. "Leo." His voice was sharp, tears on the edge of it. "I keep having dreams. Bad dreams. Everyone gets shot. Everyone dies, but I'm still there. I keep hearing sirens and music and sirens, but no one ever shows up to take care of all of you. No one ever shows up to take care of you."
I heard the change in his voice on the second 'you.' "Josh, I'm okay." I rubbed his back, hugged him close, let my fingers dig into his back, wondered how many nights he had woken up and not been able to get back to sleep, wondered if I had hurt him more by not going to him first. I made myself stop wondering so I could reassure him. "I'm alive. I'm okay. I didn't even get hit."
"I need you, Leo."
I stopped moving for a moment when I heard those words. No one had ever said that aloud to me. Not even, Jenny, and I knew she had loved me as much and as long as she could. "Josh-"
"I do, Leo. I need you." He brought his head up to look me in the eyes. "I need you."
I couldn't speak. I was stunned. Josh was not supposed to say something like that to me because I had no response. I leaned in and kissed him. I made it soft, just brushing his lips for a few seconds. When I ended the kiss, his eyes were calmer. My heart was pumping hard. "I need you, too, Josh."
He lost all the tension in his back. "I'm scared, Leo."
"I know. It's a bad place you've been." I swallowed hard, guilt tasting only slightly cleaner than the cynicism from before. "I'm sorry I didn't see it." "I hid it. Thought it was just stress screwing with me in a different way." He looked into my eyes, his eyes both begging me to hold him and insisting he didn't blame me for not noticing. "I didn't mean to go nuts." "No one does." I hugged him again, ran my hands down his back, settled them around his waist. "We'll get you better."
"Yeah." He leaned his head on my shoulder and nuzzled my neck with his nose. I returned the favor. Into his neck, I whispered, "Yeah."
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