Fear seized my stomach like a cramp. I didn’t care what I said to him now; it was myself I was worried about. For if Leper was psycho it was the army which had done it to him, and I and all of us were on the brink of the army.

This quotation comes from Chapter 10, when Gene goes to Vermont to visit Leper, who has deserted the army after suffering hallucinations. In Leper’s home, Gene listens to him recount the story of his training camp madness, and grows distraught—not, we quickly realize, for Leper’s sake, but for his own. For Gene, Leper’s transformation from gentle nature-lover into verified “psycho” shatters the illusion, foisted on him by Finny, that they can stave off adulthood forever. Gene earlier joins with his classmates in celebrating imagined heroics performed by Leper; they try to cover up their own insecurities about military service by naïvely pretending that their meek classmate is succeeding mightily as a soldier. Now, however, seeing that army life has, in fact, made Leper a “psycho,” Gene can regard the war only with great fear. In the minds of Gene and the rest of the boys, Leper’s madness transforms the war from a distant threat into an immediate reality.