Lifeline: 1. Chapter One



Monday Afternoon


“Sir, do you have a few moments? I really need to brief you on your meeting with the Vietnamese ambassador which is in…” Leo glanced at his watch. “Two minutes,” he sighed.


“Two minutes? And you choose *now* to brief me?” Jed looked up irritably from his work and fixed his Chief of Staff with a glare. It had already been a busy day and meeting after meeting seemed to have jack-knifed into each other. He had been looking forward to at least a couple of minutes breathing space before his next appointment but clearly that was not to be – which wasn’t Leo’s fault as Jed knew very well. “Okay.” Jed waved his hand wearily. “Bring it on, Leo.”


Leo stepped up to Jed’s desk and sat down in the chair beside it. “I’ll keep this short – we’re seeing Ambassador Trahn Duc Thuan about the increase in heroin being smuggled into the US from Vietnam.”


“You’d think, seeing as they’re able to quantify that the flow is increasing, meaning they can presumably track how much is going from there to here,” Jed waved his arms around expansively, “that they might actually be able to stop it happening. I mean, what do they do? Send in some guy with a clipboard to check on the shipments and then just wave them on through customs?”


Leo gazed at him impassively, used to his friend’s minor explosions as his way of blowing off steam. “The problem is that the drugs are being smuggled in in containers carrying shipments to legitimate US companies,” he said when Jed paused for breath. “But the Vietnamese *are* talking tough on this – they genuinely want to crack down on it and they’re asking for our help.”


“Well that sounds very laudable – especially since we’ll benefit too.” Jed nodded, calming down in the face of Leo’s usual implacable calm.


“Yeah. Well, the catch will probably be the kind of help they want – and in exchange for what.” Leo gave a little grimace. “But I think we have room to negotiate with them on that.”


“Okay.” Jed nodded. “Ambassador Trahn Duc Thuan…what do we know about this guy?”


“Not much – he’s a recent appointee. I think you gave him his investiture a couple of months ago – at least that’s what it says on the file – I don’t think I was here that day.” Leo flicked through his papers.


“Leo, I see hordes of ambassadors.” Jed waved his hand in the air again. “They wheel ’em in and I have my photo taken with them but I don’t remember more than a couple of them. You can’t expect me to have some idea how to deal with this guy on such a sensitive issue when I’ve barely met him and I’ve received a briefing that’s been all of 30 seconds long!” Leo continued to give him that same steady gaze and Jed sighed. “I’m sorry, Leo – I didn’t mean to bite your head off but it’s been a long day.”


“Feeling the pressure a bit today, huh?” Leo gave him a smile that Jed was sure he reserved solely for him – it went straight to his heart via his groin and he melted in response, as he always did. He and Leo had been playing this little scenario for years; he’d get upset and vocal about something and Leo would absorb his bad mood, and throw him a smile or make some comment that would calm him down. It was a kind of shorthand they had, and he knew he’d be lost without it. “Don’t worry about it,” Leo told him firmly. “We’ll see what Thuan wants, and then figure out where to go from there.”


“Okay.” Jed gave a wry grin, wondering what he’d do without his friend. One thing was for sure – the door to the Oval Office would get slammed a hell of a lot more often without Leo around to make sure everything ran smoothly. Jed seriously doubted that he could actually be an effective President without Leo by his side.


“Sir…” Charlie poked his head around the door. “The Vietnamese ambassador is here.”


“Show him in,” Jed said with a sigh.


Trahn Duc Thuan was taller than many of his compatriots – he had half a head on Leo, and a fraction more on Jed. His expression was affable enough as he shook Jed’s hand, but the President sensed that the man in front of him was smart, and not afraid to stand up for his own agenda – which made him all the more aware of how inadequately briefed he was for this meeting. He did his best to hide that though, easily slipping into his usual Presidential mode of breezing bonhomie. The Ambassador shook Leo’s hand and Jed offered the man a drink, which he refused. Jed sat down and looked expectantly at Leo, waiting for him to start the meeting, but his Chief of Staff, unusually for him, seemed preoccupied. He was still standing, gazing at his own hands, apparently lost in thought. Jed felt another wave of annoyance, his already bad mood worsening.


“Leo?” He prompted. Leo seemed to come to, and his gaze travelled slowly from his hands over to where Jed and the Ambassador were seated, ready to conduct the meeting, but he made no move to join them. “Leo!” Jed bellowed, none too subtly.


“Sir?” Leo looked blank, almost confused. Jed frowned and gestured with his head in the ambassador’s direction.


“Uh, yes…Ambassador Thuan, you’re here to, uh…discuss your narcotics problem…I think,” Leo said, sounding as if he wasn’t entirely sure why any of them were here. He finally came over and sat down on the couch, facing the Ambassador. Jed shot him a glare as he sat down, to let him know that he hadn’t appreciated being left hanging but Leo didn’t even seem to be aware that Jed was in the room. His gaze was fixed on the Ambassador, and he was studying the man intently. Ah well, better late than never, Jed thought, glad he had finally got Leo’s attention turned to the meeting.


“Our problem in this area is your problem too, I think,” Thuan pointed out, his eyes narrowing. “The heroin smuggled out of Vietnam ends up being sold to your children after all.” Thuan gave a cold, hard kind of smile. “We face certain challenges in building a 21st century economy in a business culture rife with corruption. The will is there – but I’m sure you understand that that is often not enough,” he said smoothly.


Jed gazed at him thoughtfully. He’d been right; this guy clearly knew what he was talking about and what he wanted from this meeting – which was more than Jed felt he could say right now.


“It would benefit both our countries if we could address this issue together,” the Ambassador finished with another of those cool, charmless smiles.


“Agreed,” Jed said, glancing at Leo, but his Chief of Staff didn’t say a word. Usually Leo guided meetings such as this in his own discreet, subtle, inimitable way, especially when he knew that Jed hadn’t been properly briefed, but right now Jed felt as if he was on his own. “”What did you have in mind?” Jed continued.


“Excuse me, sir,” Leo murmured. Jed looked at him, expecting him to cut into the discussion with some comment or other, but instead, much to his surprise, Leo got to his feet, and with a muttered, “Excuse me, Ambassador,” in Thuan’s direction, he left the room without another word. Jed gazed after him, absolutely dumbstruck. First he’d been shunted into this meeting without having the facts and figures at his fingertips, and now Leo was just abandoning him? Jed glanced back at the Ambassador and gestured to him to continue. He could at least find out what the man wanted. He didn’t have to commit himself to agreeing to anything on this initial meeting – and later…later he’d give his Chief of Staff a damn good piece of his mind.


Jed continued with the meeting for the next ten minutes, asking questions which he knew made it clear how inadequate his briefing had been, but without Leo he didn’t have anyone to steer him away from the obvious pitfalls. He kept expecting his Chief of Staff to reappear at any second but when that didn’t happen, Jed brought the meeting to a premature end and promised the Ambassador that he’d get back to him and schedule another meeting to discuss the matter further and in more depth in a couple of days.


As soon as the Ambassador was out of the door, Jed strode into Leo’s office, a thunderous expression on his face. He had a ton of questions he wanted answered and he wanted them answered *now*. He felt even more enraged when he found Leo sitting at his desk, gazing at some documents as if nothing had happened.


“Leo!” He snapped, hurling himself into the room like a minor hurricane, propelled forward by the force of his own indignation.


Leo jumped, as if had been miles away, and looked up, a dazed expression on his face.


“What the hell was that about?” Jed demanded, coming into the room. “I wasn’t even briefed, god damn it, Leo. I felt like a complete idiot! Where the hell did you go? What the hell did…?” He stopped in mid-tirade, his expression, manner and mood changing abruptly as he realized something was very wrong. “Leo, are you okay?” he asked; Leo was as white as a sheet, his hands were shaking, and he looked almost dazed.


“Yes…I’m fine,” Leo replied, pulling himself visibly together, but Jed wasn’t convinced for a second. “I’m sorry, sir. It was inexcusable of me to leave the meeting like that.”


“What the hell happened?” Jed frowned, plunking himself down on Leo’s couch.


“He’s sick,” a voice piped up from the doorway.


“Margaret!” Leo snapped, a hint of annoyance in his voice.


“He just threw up in the bathroom. He shouldn’t be here at all,” Margaret said in a reproving tone. “He should go home.”


“Margaret has her spies everywhere,” Leo growled. “Even, it would appear, the bathroom; she had Josh follow me in there.”


“Well I think she’s right. If you’re sick then you *should* go home so you can throw up in peace and quiet in your own place,” Jed told him firmly.


“There’s no need. I’m fine now. It must have been something I ate. I feel a lot better,” Leo protested.


“Well you look terrible,” Jed told him frankly, his anger totally forgotten in the face of his worry about his friend’s health.


“Yes. You do,” Margaret added pointedly from her vantage point by the door. “You almost knocked me over sprinting from the Oval Office to the bathroom. I was just worried – that’s why I sent Josh after you.” Leo shot Margaret what Jed could only describe as a vicious glare and she backed away from the doorway and disappeared into her own office.


“I’m really fine,” Leo said to Jed.


“Sure – that’s why your face is the same colour as your shirt,” Jed told him in the same reproving tone that Margaret had just used. Leo glanced down at his white shirt, as if he couldn’t remember what colour it was, and then glanced back at Jed again, that slightly dazed expression returning to his face. “Go, Leo. I’ve told the ambassador that we’ll get back to him on this. I’m sure Debbie can squeeze him into my schedule somewhere in the next few days.”


“Right.” Leo looked at Jed blankly, and then his face went a sickly green colour.


“Oh god…you’re going to throw up again, aren’t you?” Jed got up, grabbed Leo’s wastepaper basket, and thrust it under Leo’s face just in time as Leo retched into it. Jed rubbed soothing circles on his friend’s back, murmuring meaningless words of comfort as Leo heaved his guts out into the basket. He finished, finally, and rested there, breathing heavily, clutching the basket in his hands.


“So, you’re going to go home now, right?” Jed queried when Leo finally sat up again.


“Yeah. I guess.” Leo nodded weakly.


“Good.” Jed’s hand came to rest, briefly, on Leo’s hair, and he stroked gently. “Get some rest, Leo – and don’t come back to work until you’re feeling better. I’ll call you later. Margaret!” Leo’s secretary appeared in the doorway at the speed of light, leading Jed to believe that she had in fact been standing just outside it the entire time. “Call a car for Leo – he’s not driving in this condition,” Jed told her. She nodded quickly and hurried off, shooting a concerned glance at Leo as she went.


Jed walked over to Leo’s coat stand and retrieved his friend’s coat. “Can you stand?” He asked, returning to where Leo was sitting, still hunched over the basket, his forehead covered in fine beads of sweat.


“Sure,” Leo said – over optimistically as it turned out. As soon as he got to his feet he began to sway; Jed threw the coat on the desk and grabbed his friend, holding him up firmly until Leo got his bearings, then bundled him into his coat and buttoned it up for him as if he were a small child. It was a measure of how ill Leo had to be feeling that he didn’t protest and knock his hands away, Jed thought to himself. Instead Leo leaned on his friend and accepted his help, his face almost deathly white in colour. Jed was seriously worried now, but Leo assured him it was just food poisoning and in the end there was nothing Jed could do except escort Leo to the door of the building and hover uselessly as Leo climbed inside the waiting car. Leo gave him a wan smile as he settled in his seat, and Jed watched the car go, an anxious frown creasing his forehead. Leo was rarely sick – the man had the constitution of an ox, and even several years of alcohol and substance abuse hadn’t damaged the iron lining of his stomach. Jed could only remember a few occasions over the years when Leo had thrown up, and they had all been related to alcohol.


Jed watched until the car was out of sight, and then turned and wandered back into the building again, still frowning. Sure, it probably *was* just food poisoning and yet…he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with his friend – something felt very wrong indeed.




February 1970


January 6, 1970


Dear Leo,


She’s here! Your god-daughter weighed in at 7lbs 4ozs on the morning of December 30th. I still can’t believe she’s real – although god knows she’s making enough noise! (No comments about her taking after her father already, thanks Leo. Hah, I can hear you *thinking* it so don’t deny it.) She’s got five perfect fingers on each little hand and 5 perfect toes on each tiny foot. You wouldn’t believe how small she is. Last night our heating broke and I was worried she’d be cold – it’s freezing over here right now – so I brought her into our bed and cuddled her on my chest all night. I was afraid to sleep in case I rolled over on top of her, so I just lay on my back and watched her sleep. We’ve decided to call her Elizabeth though Abbey has already shortened it to Lizzie. I can’t wait for you to see her. I’m enclosing a photo of me holding her so you can see how perfect she is. Abbey says to say ‘hi’ – she’s glad that you weren’t around to see her at her full pregnancy weight – I thought she looked great but she says she felt like an inflatable boat – complete with passenger.


Leo, I’m on a little cloud of happiness right now, as you can probably tell, but I’m worried about you. I haven’t seen you since last June and I dunno if there’s a problem with the post but I don’t hear from you very often. It’s been weeks since I last got a letter from you. Mainly I just hope you’re okay. I know your mom would let me know if anything had happened, but I worry, Leo, as you well know, so for god’s sake put me out of my misery and drop me a goddamn line!


“Hey, what are you reading?”


Leo glanced up to see Franco Morelli, a tall, dark-haired, good looking pilot looming over him.


“Get out of my light will you, Morelli,” he groused amiably. “You’re too fucking tall. Are they sending us freakin’ giants or something these days?”


“Yeah, when they realized you short assed guys don’t fight so good they sent us tall guys on over here to bail you fuckers out,” Morelli grinned at him.


“Oh yeah?” Leo raised an amused eyebrow. He liked Morelli – the kid was only a few years younger than him but he made Leo feel old and god knows he was only 25. He liked the younger man’s relaxed, laid back attitude though; hell, he envied it. He wasn’t laid back; Jed often teased him that he’d been born old, and the plain truth was that he felt older than a lot of the men out here. He’d been used to taking responsibility from a young age – he figured he became a man the day his father blew his brains out with a shotgun, leaving Leo to take care of his mom and sisters, and that innate sense of responsibility had only gotten more pronounced during his time in the Air Force. Most of the new guys they sent out here were cocky and full of themselves, and Morelli was no exception, but he wasn’t very good at hiding how shit scared he was sometimes too – hell, they were all shit scared sometimes – and Leo had taken him under his wing. He liked the fact that Morelli bantered with him in a way that reminded him a little of Jed. Some of the new guys were too over-awed by his reputation to answer him back but Morelli gave as good as he got. Leo knew his reputation preceded him; he was one of the old hands, and he had a formidable record as a fighter pilot. Mainly though, Leo knew he was legendary among the new pilots for still being alive. It was a harsh truth that the most dangerous time was the first few months – if you made it through that then you got enough fighting experience to improve your chances of getting out of the war alive. If you didn’t…well, Leo knew the statistics, and he’d seen more green young officers die than he cared to think about. He sincerely hoped Morelli wouldn’t be one of them; the young man had only been out here a couple of weeks but Leo liked him.


“Your girlfriend write you, Captain?” Morelli peered over his shoulder but Leo folded the letter and showed the young Lieutenant the photo Jed had sent instead. “Who’s this? Your brother?” Morelli asked, looking at the picture of Jed cradling the tiny baby in his arms. Leo shook his head, grinning.


“Nah. My best friend. His wife had a baby a few weeks ago – I just got the letter yesterday.” Leo put the folded letter back in its envelope, resolving to finish reading it later, after the mission.


“A boy or a girl?” Morelli asked, smiling goofily as he looked at the photo.


“Little girl. They called her Elizabeth – I’m her godfather,” Leo said proudly, glancing at the photo again.


“She’s gorgeous. Your friend is a lucky man,” Morelli told him sincerely.


“Yeah. She is gorgeous isn’t she? It isn’t surprising – her mom and her dad are both pretty good looking.” Leo took back the photo and gazed at it again, unable to tear his eyes away. Jed looked so happy – his dark hair was flopping into his eyes, and he had this ridiculously ecstatic expression on his face as he tenderly held his first born child. “Yeah,” Leo repeated again, savouring the picture. He had needed this right now, needed to be reminded of normal, everyday life, and how good it could be. It gave him something to strive for, something to look forward to. One day, he’d wear that same expression on his face – he was sure of it. One day he’d have a kid or two of his own and experience all the emotions Jed must be feeling right now. God, how he had needed to get this letter; the mail had been screwed up since Christmas, and anyway, he knew he hadn’t been a very good correspondent of late. He could hardly expect Jed to write him if he rarely replied, and yet Jed did, every week, without fail, more often sometimes if he had the time or some piece of news he particularly wanted to share with his friend. Leo wished he knew how to reply to these letters – he treasured each and every single one of them and devoured them immediately when they arrived but his moods had become dark these past few months as this war had made him soul sick and weary to the core. Maybe it was partly his own fault; he’d completed his 100 missions but had chosen to stay on for another 100, not because he relished the battle, or even because he believed in what they were doing out here, but because he knew how valuable his experience was. He’d struggled with himself over it, but in the end he’d viewed it as his duty – he had the experience to survive where a green young pilot wouldn’t, and he could impart all he’d learned to the younger pilots in an attempt to help them stay alive.


However the longer he was out here, fighting this war, the more he sensed a gulf opening up between himself and Jed. Their lives were taking them in such different directions. He was mired out in this hellhole while Jed was moving forward, getting married, having a kid, and taking on all the new responsibilities of parenthood. Leo worried that their different life experiences would make them strangers to each other, and they’d lose the connection that Leo valued above all others in his life.


“You ready to go, old man?” Morelli asked, cutting through his morose musings, and Leo reluctantly put the photo away in his pocket, and fastened his flight suit at the neck.


“Yeah, little boy, I’m ready,” Leo teased back, and they strode out to the waiting planes together.


It was a routine enough bombing mission. Leo still found it hard to believe that actually taking a F-105 Thunderchief out into the air and dropping bombs could ever be called routine, but as far as it went, this was it. There were plenty of things Leo had grown to dislike about his job, but climbing into the Thud wasn’t one of them. He loved the machine like he had loved the old Chevy he’d driven back during his college days. He loved being enclosed in the cockpit, feeling the hard metal and plastic of the instruments under his hands, and hearing the low thrumming of the healthily turning engine. Leo had become familiar with his plane and relied on it to save his life every time he flew. He felt at one with the machine – when the canopy closed, it was just him and the Thud, and the machine became an extension of his body. He knew every single thing it was capable of, and it responded, unerringly, to his every command. He thought that was maybe why he was still alive when so many weren’t – he had a feel for the Thud that so many young pilots never had a chance to acquire before they were shot down. He had a gift for flying this machine, and had picked it up a feel for it fast enough to survive when so many others hadn’t, and, even though he was weary of this war, and his part in fighting it, Leo could never suppress the thrill he felt whenever he climbed into the cockpit.


Leo was mission commander of the four planes in his flight and he’d appointed himself as Morelli’s wingman, the old hand keeping an eye out for the green pilot. They refuelled over northern Laos and then started their runs into North Vietnam. Leo got an adrenalin rush every time – the Thud was the fastest low-level fighter plane in the world, able to break the sound barrier in a straight line run, and however much he hated this war, he loved flying this plane. They went into Hanoi over Thud Ridge, going in low to drop their bombs, and then pulled up to regroup for the trip home. Leo checked that his flight was all safe – they were being hit hard by anti-aircraft fire and it hadn’t been an easy run. If a plane got loose from its flight then the enemy would go after that single plane and pick it off so joining back up with the group was crucial, but he only counted two other Thuds – Morelli hadn’t got back. Leo glanced around the skies anxiously for the missing Thud, and was relieved when he saw Morelli’s plane limping back to join the flight.


“You okay, Morelli?” he yelled.


“Yeah…I took a few hits…I’m okay though,” the younger man replied.


“Then let’s get moving,” Leo ordered, taking up position on the wing, trying to assess how bad the damage was to Morelli’s plane. It wasn’t good – Leo could see a hole the size of a football but the Thud was a pretty tough plane – he’d known guys come back with holes in their planes they could climb through – so he hoped for the best, but it soon became clear that the damage was serious, and Morelli couldn’t keep up either speed or altitude.


“I’m not going to get the altitude to refuel. What the fuck am I going to do, Captain?” Morelli yelled, panicking.


“Hold on,” Leo replied, as calmly as he could. He ordered the other planes to return without them, and wheeled back to keep pace with Morelli. They were in serious trouble now and Leo knew it. His own plane was undamaged, and he had enough fuel to get safely back but he wasn’t going to leave Morelli. If he stayed with the other pilot then he could protect him from attack from anti- aircraft fire, surface to air missiles and the MiGs that had been chasing them from Hanoi. If he left Morelli then he was a sitting duck – as good as dead.


“You’re buying the drinks when we get back, Morelli,” Leo said as they flew, trying to ease the tension.


“Yeah, yeah. The way you drink, Captain, I’ll need to get a fucking loan,” Morelli groused.


“Aw, can’t you keep up with the big boys?” Leo teased, checking the skies around them all the time. They were doing fine until they ran into some anti-aircraft fire over the border between North and South Vietnam. Leo took his plane into a spin, avoiding the triple-A as it peppered the air around him. Yet again, his sharp hand/eye co-ordination and the bond he had with the machine that was protecting him saved his ass, and he emerged from a sky full of shrapnel to see clear daylight on the other side. He glanced around, just in time to see Morelli’s plane slowly disintegrating behind him. Leo turned his plane and frantically searched the skies – and was relieved when he saw a tiny figure parachuting down to the ground; Morelli had ejected in time before his plane went down…but he was going to land somewhere in the South, which, while better than ending up in the North, still put him in danger from the people who had been firing on them in the first place.


Leo called for a mid-air refuel and decided on a RESCAP mission. He called for a helicopter to go down and retrieve Morelli and set about turning his own plane into a target to draw the anti-aircraft fire away from the rescue chopper. It was a risky tactic, but Leo had done it a couple of times before; in his experience the young pilots they sent out here didn’t get to be old men of 25 like himself unless you looked out for them, and besides, he liked Morelli, so he felt this was personal. There was a spate of heavy firing from the surface and Leo’s heart sank as he saw the rescue chopper go down, in a mass of blazing fire. He barely had time to register his dilemma of what to do next when something exploded against the side of his plane and the healthily chugging engine gave a wail of distress and began plummeting towards the ground. Leo reacted instantly, knowing he only had a few seconds to get out before he went down with his Thud. He triggered the ejection mechanism and almost lost consciousness as he was flung out of the plane at great speed. Next thing he knew he was parachuting through the air, away from the burning remnants of his plane as it disintegrated beneath him.


Before he knew it, the ground was rushing up to meet him; he got tangled in some trees on the way down, leaving him with no choice but to cut his way out of his badly ripped parachute with his knife, and he fell the last ten or twelve feet onto the ground, landing awkwardly. He gasped in agony as he thudded onto the hard earth, and realized, just before he lost consciousness, that there was blood seeping from a shrapnel wound in his left shoulder that burned like hell, and he’d twisted his back during his forcible ejection from the plane.


He came to a few minutes later, groggy and disoriented. This was the first time he’d been shot down, and he felt a momentary pang for the loss of the plane that had kept him safe for so long before reality kicked in. There was a fierce battle being waged in the skies overhead, and Leo doubted they’d send another rescue chopper into that. The other Thuds up there were desperately trying to draw enemy fire to enable their grounded friends to get moving into safe territory but even so, he had a long walk ahead of him. Leo stowed the remnants of his chute and his helmet and began doing just that, trying to ignore both the pain in his shoulder and the deep, agonizing ache in his back. His heart sank as he saw the planes overhead slowly turn and make their way back to base, leaving him alone out here. He wondered where Morelli was but there was no point in looking for him – they’d both have to try and make their own way to one of the US patrols on the ground and hope they didn’t run into the VC or the North Vietnamese army on the way. He didn’t have a clue where he was, but he was essentially an optimist – he knew what he was doing, and he could think on his feet. All he needed was a big chunk of luck and he’d make it back to base safely. He thought about Jed as he trudged through the jungle, the night falling around him. When he got home, the first thing he’d do was take out that letter Jed had sent him and read it through from beginning to end, before penning a reply – it had been too long since he’d last written, and, having so closely escaped death, Leo made a resolution to be a better correspondent in future. That thought kept him going as darkness fell around him.


His survival training had taught him to move at night and stay under cover during the day and he continued for as long as he could, trying to ignore the agonizing shooting pains in his back and the burning pain in his shoulder, but finally he knew he had to stop and rest. He was in shock, both from the battle and the constant pain, and he knew he needed to get his breath back before continuing through the inhospitable terrain. He found some cover, and lay down, giving a hiss of pain as his back protested. He stared up through the trees, into the dark night sky, stunned, trying to take in the enormity of what had happened to him. He had been expecting – well, not quite a milk run, but another mark on his hat and a couple of rounds of boilermakers back at base; he hadn’t been expecting to see Morelli go down, and he sure as hell hadn’t been expecting to go down himself. His job had been the adrenaline highs of flying his plane on missions ranging from the routine to the dangerous – he’d never had to deal with this kind of physical hardship before, to say nothing of the sheer terror that the change in his circumstances induced. Leo thought of Jed, taking care of his new baby many miles away, with no idea of what had happened to his old friend and lover, and he closed his eyes, wanting desperately to be home.


He wasn’t sure how long he slept, but he woke suddenly, just before dawn, to find a gun pressed against his forehead – and realised that the luck he had been counting on had just run out.





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