Leonan was just another guy you knew in high school.  In latter adolescence, when most people grew into themselves, Leo just seemed to grow out and keep growing.  That was neither here nor there, though; it never mattered to you.  But, that’s also probably why you both grew so close. 

You weren’t one to baulk at someone being a little different; you’ve never seen the point in not taking every chance offered. 

He was merely a very good friend, if slightly clingy.  Granted, he was always there next to you in class, and beside you on the bus, and lending you an endless supply of number 2 pencils.  If there was something you wanted, even on a whim, he never failed to deliver.  You’d never thought much of it.  That was just your friendship—unconditional, easy.

That is, until he joined the service.

Suddenly, he was leaving for boot camp when only the day before he’d pulled you aside for privacy to confess his undying love.  You hadn’t been sure how to react when he revealed the depth of his feelings.  Both of you had so much life ahead of you, how could you possibly believe him?  Instead, you panicked and said nothing, and then he had left before you could form any kind of honest reply. 

Foregoing any and all thought, following yet another of your ex nihilo vagaries, you climbed up the balcony and snuck into the hotel where they housed the new recruits to isolate them before entering the weeks-long training.  Leo seemed extremely pleased when your head popped up from over the side of the wrought iron railing, his beaming grin showcasing slightly crooked teeth, and his roommate covered for you both when you stole your Baby Bear’s innocence away.

You did your best to ruin him—leave him limping, covered in bruises and rug burn from the scratchy bath mat.  Made sure he’d have an eternal reminder of your past friendship.  But, really, it was also the perfect excuse to not miss out on fucking the inordinate Leonan Intara, a man saving himself for marriage.  

Pfft, that certainly didn’t last long.  Good thing you took the risk, always pays off.

It was enrapturing to believe his superiors would think your sweet Baby Bear looked like he'd already been to war before he ever began drills, before he’d be forced to compromise his ethics in service to his country.  Before he stopped giving everything away to you for free.  Leo, the soft boy that loved his mama and saved spiders from being squashed, it was unthinkable to you…

You never answered his daily letters, you left them unopened to collect in a pile until someone threw them out like litter.  

Weeks went by, you missed a call and you didn’t have voicemail set up.  It was an unknown number, so you blocked it. 

Months rolled by, more sporadic spam calls.  The untouched envelopes got thinner. 

Years passed…   

You think you've forgotten about him, and you probably did until you enter the cozy, non-descript dive bar outside of town.

A face familiar, but glower foreign, greets you.  

The more time spent in the midst of his looming presence is daunting.  The atmosphere is like a weight falling heavy over you, lead filling your gut, and your eyes are inexplicably drawn to the floorboards for the first time in your life.

When you do finally garner the courage to look up and meet his eyes, he’s working.  Pouring drinks, his expression stoic with lips thinned in a frown and jaw clenching.  

Just how much he’s changed is your first coherent thought.  What follows is an unexpected quagmire of doubt.

Shit, maybe you should have read one of his letters, or sent one in return.  Maybe a random phone call should have been answered.  He was too young to know what he had said, what it meant.  And certainly, you couldn’t be faulted for doing the best you could to set him straight at the time, especially before he left.  Because you’d definitely made it clear that y’all didn’t have a relationship, right?

And, you’re sure he doesn’t actually remember you of all people.

Drowning in the internal chaos of your mind, one thing is very clear: he is distinctly and obviously displeased to see an incoming customer whether or not he recognizes you

On autopilot, you wrack your brain to try and pinpoint the source of his apparent temper.

Leo had always been a shade on the side of bygone chivalry, which could be downright antiquated if not outright conservative.  You catalogue your current attire and assume he’s put out by any young woman, still unmarried, wearing daisy dukes and a halter top.  Inherent misogyny isn’t uncommon in these parts, and it wouldn’t be the first time the moniker “loose” was used to describe you.

Labels and assumptions aside, you always take it in stride.  You’ll not be shamed by backwater prejudice.  Not even from Leo, or his seemingly invincible doppelganger.

Galvanized with a sense of self-righteous indignation, you square your shoulders and strut to the bar.  Your voice is commanding when you order a drink.  No one is going to judge you based on what you look like, your actions should speak for—

Abruptly unsure of yourself while under his indomitable gaze, you laugh uncomfortably.  He never speaks.  

Smoothing a hand over your hair, you hastily tack on a “please” as you repeat your drink order in a softer tone.

Still staring like he’s waiting for something, you decide to hold up a crisp bill folded between two fingers.

He leans forward, towering over the bar, and you.  His right hand reaches up, yet you can’t tear your eyes from his.  An overly large palm closes over the entirety of your hand, his thumb and forefinger sliding up your extended fingers to dislodge the bill wilting in your trembling grasp.

When you come back to yourself, he’s now facing away, and you’re unsure how long you’ve been perched like that: lost in a trance brought on by his fathomless gaze.

Unanswerable questions cloud your thoughts, so you clear your throat before standing up straighter and glossing your sweaty palms over bare thighs.  Unnerved, you shift your weight from foot to foot.  

As slow as your mind is in processing the last few seconds, everything outside you is moving so fast!  He’s in front of you again, deftly mixing your order.  Clattering ice inside steel ricochets loudly between your ears and you can’t bring yourself to look at him again, so you peer down at his hands.

His hand.  

“Fuck,” you accidentally cuss aloud, only now realizing he must have been discharged after the injury.

His movements pause for only a split second, but you’re beyond embarrassed.  Seriously, you just didn’t expect not to know if he’d been hurt, and you don’t know exactly why you’ve made that erroneous assumption, but the reality is shocking.  Hoping to gauge just how badly you must’ve offended him, you look up at him through your lashes.  His brows are drawn together in a deep furrow, lips pursed, but he says nothing.

“I-I…” trying again after a demure cough into your fist, you warily hazard, “it’s good to see you.”  

A stilted nod, some indiscernible grumble audible from his chest, and you try to remember if he’s said a single fucking word to you yet.

Your eyes dart between his left arm, the prosthesis, and the quiver of his chin.  “How are you?”

His deep sigh has you looking away, taking in the mostly empty bar and the beat up jukebox by the door.

A resounding thump returns your attention to the mahogany, his prosthesis still attached to his left arm is plopped pointedly on the wooden counter.  Your eyes trail up the plastic and metal to leather buckles and a rolled-up sleeve, over his thick bicep to his massive chest and those shirt buttons done up too high for casual.

Finally, to his eyes.  Eyes tight and glassy, almost imploring.

“M’fine,” he says with finality when he pushes a glass in your direction.

The message is clear.  That’s all you’ll get from Leonan Intara.  That’s what it feels like, at least.

Gulping down the drink quickly before you turn on your heel and leave without looking back, he doesn’t stop you.  Not that you ever truly believed he would, even if you kinda did.  Perish the notion.