by Oro

i. oh, what a world this life would be.

He navigates through the skies, a flash of khaki and a familiar glove before his eyes as his hands skillfully move over the control panel. In front of thick glass are clouds and a dozen F-105 Thunderchiefs that look exactly like his, dark figures staining the otherwise perfect blue sky. Sweat trickles, salty on his lips, mixing with the bitterness on his tongue; he can practically smell the adrenaline.

He still finds it amazing that his every move counts, the way one button can release massive amounts of explosives. This metallic bird moves with his fingers, his body, as if they were both of the same material, and there's only air between his seat and the sweltering hot Thai jungle.

For a moment, there's a placid silence in his ears as he guides his girl towards the target, sunlight hitting her wings.

A voice in his ears indicates time, and he'll never be more ready than he should be now. He hopes -- he hopes he'll never have to be -- he doesn't have that desire for vengeance that burns in so many others.

He dives lower.

There's not a second of doubt in his mind as he presses the button, and it's a different kind of ecstasy as the grey clouds of smoke push back in a million shades he didn't even know existed. It's the biggest rush, a one shaded Technicolor, a thunder in his ears and a rattle beneath his feet.

(It's the reason he called her Abigail; deadly and feminine, like someone he used to know.)

He feels alive; justified, somehow.


ii. forget all your Technicolor dreams.

An envelope from London with his name on it has been hastily tucked into his jacket pocket. He remembers this as he walks off the plane, his feet getting used to the feeling of warm, solid asphalt beneath them.

Everyone knows Jed pulled a fast one to get out of service, he thinks resentfully for a moment, and feels like a character in All My Sons. But it's okay, because he used the service to get the hell away from Jed and his Abbey; he is hundreds of miles away, and he still hates the combination of those two names.

Someone once told him something about the military, that it makes a man stronger, more mature, or some bullshit like that. He didn't believe it then and he doesn't believe it now.

Leo pulls the envelope out of his pocket and stops, for the first time since he got it, to look at it properly. It's too thick and too fancy to be anything but what he knew was coming for a long time now.

Abbey isn't the kind of girl to let a guy like Jed escape her sharp, carefully manicured nails. Leo knows now it was a lost battle to begin with -- he never stood a chance. He doesn't wear red nail polish very well, and. He was never what Jed wanted to begin with.

And now they sent him this wedding invitation, and—

Ryan's hand is suddenly on his back, interrupting his thoughts, and he's forced to smile.

"Hey, McGarry, I hear you kicked some Thai ass."

"I… yeah, sure." Carefully tuck envelope back into jacket pocket.

"You coming with us tonight?"

"I have better things to fuck than one of those."

"Like what, your momma's warm apple pie?"

"That hurts, Ryan. You know I've been saving myself for your mom."

Ryan looks appropriately hurt. "Eight o'clock?"

"Eh, sure."

One corner of the envelope pokes his ribs lightly through the khaki fabric of his jacket as he follows Ryan and some other guys to the mess hall. It's been a long day, and all this talk of apple pies is making him hungry.


iii. forget modern nature.

Leo picks the one named Jade: heavy makeup, like bruises on both her eyes with streaming black eyeliner tears, long black hair and long, red nails that scratched the backs of every other guy in the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing.

He's not different from the rest of them, after all.

They're up against a wall in some alley, and he roughly pushes himself inside her. Five dollars for a blowjob, ten dollars for a fuck: his hands on her neck, her shoulders, her waist, her thighs, always somehow avoiding her breasts, his lips not once touching hers.

It's not where he wants to be. It's not who -- it's not what he wants to do.

His breaths hit the back of her sweaty neck, and it's just one of those things you do for your country.

(And if you say "Jade" really fast, you can close your eyes and pretend that it's him.)

He mutters all the words his mother always told him not to say into the black, foreign hair.

The guys are laughing over beers on the other corner of the wall, and Chris Johnson's loud guffaw brings him back to reality; release is not as sweet as he'd hoped it would be, but it's still something.


iv. this is how it's meant to be.

The shooting starts approximately around midnight.

Leo is the only one fast asleep by then, but the sirens go off and he is quickly woken up, thrown into this nightmare he wants no part of. His feet, clad only in thick socks his mother had sent him the previous week, quickly hit the floor the moment he realizes what's going on.

He'll never forget the sirens: they're sweet in his tired ears and for a moment, he wants to drown in the monotone and the screams, the sounds of bullets flying all over the place, rupturing chests of soldiers braver than he is.

Brave enough to have firearms in their hands while he's hugging his jacket, lying on the ground.

He tries to tell himself something about getting used to this, but it's not something you can just get used to. It's not the first time and it won't be the last time, but somehow he wishes he were out there instead of here. Somehow he wishes he would have the courage, the ability to die for his country.

His fingers dig into the sand as he tries to make out individual cries for help, but they all blend in one another. He remains this way for God knows how long, until the screaming melts down into an eerie silence.

He gets up, his muscles stiff, and begins to walk -- anywhere his friends might be.

On his way he prays, as he steps on bodies, barely daring to look at their faces. His socks are soon muddy and cold and soaked with blood, but he keeps walking until he sees Ryan's familiar face, twisted with pain, and it doesn't seem very real all of a sudden.

He kneels down and begins mouth to mouth. There's copper in his mouth, his nose, there's blood on his hands. Ryan's blood -- he works mechanically, his hands skillfully putting pressure on his friends' chest, breathing into his mouth in vain.

There's a certain disgust in him when he gives up, touches the (now cold) body. It's no longer a person now, in his mind -- it's just a body. Still, he didn't think it would be quite so cold.

He doesn't want make the connection between someone who just lost to him in cards the other day to this faceless corpse, but he still wraps his jacket around its shoulders.

Someone calls out his name and he gets up, leaving the body behind.

A thick envelope, still unopened, falls out of the jacket pocket. Nobody cares.


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