“I can't do this Leonard.”
Richard straightened the sheaf of papers splayed across his coffee table, shoving them back into a folio. “I'll deny it; there are other candidates, take one of them.”
“There isn't any reason to deny it, Richard.” Situated on the opposite end of the couch, his partner for the last eight years reached across, gingerly removing the documents and leafing through. “It says enough in here; I'm physically a match, psychological analysis shows me fit enough for the project, and HaShem knows I meet the age criteria. My number came up, it's my job. It's your job, Richard, to sign this.”
An arm dangled mid-air as Richard rose, ignoring the offered folio, and moved to his small bar cabinet. The palpable silence was broken only by the odd clinks and gurgles of cocktail preparation, and Leonard's eyes fruitlessly searched his back, hoping and desperate for a connection. A few moments more brought forth a sigh, and a thunk from the documents hitting the table. “Richard…”
“Did I ever tell you about Jordan Wyatt? Second Lieutenant, under my command during my active tour of 'Nam?” With his slight limp, Richard returned to the couch, and regarded the man he'd call “husband” if he were allowed with a deep drink; how his eyes were so brilliant and alert, how undeniably handsome he still was despite his seventy-six years.
“Yes; he was the one who was shot.”
Richard loved the smooth alto that answered; the voice was the first thing Richard had known of Leonard, as it echoed across a staff table, and he had been charmed from the first. A glaze moved across his vision as he had another drink, but it was memory, not alcohol, that stole away Leonard's face in favor of horrors of old.
“He was no further than you Leonard; he'd just made a joke about the mess. 'Aren't you responsible for the chefs, sir? Maybe you should requisition a cookbook on the next supply shipment.' …I don't remember how I was responding. He was gone then.” Reds and greens colored his mind, as the visceral eruption of bullet from his friend's chest burned into prominence, unearthed for the first time in years; and with the memory came the pain, as a single tear rolled down his cheek.
“I never told you, that he was lover; my first, and only, until you.” He finished his drink then, and returned to the bar as he spoke on. “You know how it was back then; we weren't allowed to be…well, what we are. I can only guess what would have happened if my superiors had found out; probably a court martial, and a beating…but we were in love. True, honest love, and I felt free, even in the midst of that jungle.”
He had poured the whisky straight this time, carting the opened bottle as he paced the room; and it was Leonard's turn to cry, the hurt from his partner echoing his own struggles. “I'm sorry Richard. You never-”
“Don't be sorry; it was a long time ago.” Richard interrupted, pausing to drink his entire glass, and sat it on the counter, content with just the bottle. He turned to face Leonard, tears streaming down his face.
“I had what passed as therapy after they took the bullet from my leg, but it was still a long time before I got over Jordan. I was responsible for him; I was his CO. It was my fault he died, that they got the drop on us that day. I should've been more alert, damn it!”
Leonard rose, moving quickly to embrace Richard, pulling the liquor from his lips. Neither spoke as they held each other, each taking comfort from the touch of the other.
It was Richard who finally broke away, gazing longingly into the face of his companion. “It took me a long time, too, to finally find someone who understood. I love you, Lenny.”
“I love you too, Richie. And I do understand; I'm so, so sorry.”
Wiping cheek and nose with a handkerchief, Richard moved to the door, his face a stoic mask as he swung it open. “Get out, Leonard.”
Gasping, Leonard began to cry once more. “Richard, please. I want to be here for you, for as long as I can. Don't end it this way.”
“No, Leonard. When you walk out this door, a million things can happen to you. A car accident, pneumonia, a rampaging psychopath…I can not control what is out there. I will mourn with your sister, and your nieces and nephew; it will be a wonderful service, Leonard, you deserve no less. And I will always love you.”
Blinking through his tears, Leonard gave Richard a small kiss, before walking through the door. “I understand, honey. Good night; call me tomorrow. I love you.”
Richard closed the door without responding, biting back a sob as he leaned his forehead against the wood. He then cleared his throat, buttoned up his shirt, and straightened his purple tie. He took his jacket from the rack, and, gathering the folio, moved into his office.
Donning his jacket, Richard sat, and turned to the final page of the document. A deep breath calmed the tremors in his hand, and he wrote the mandatory final paragraph.
After thorough evaluation, Dr. Leonard Gellerman meets or exceeds all mandated criteria for participation in Project XN-SHEPHERD, and I hereby grant approval for his recruitment and usage therein.
Ethics Committee Adjunct, Armed Site-47