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Pausing to watch a little girl play contentedly among the debris, Vin dug his fingers in his pockets and stared for a moment at the incongruity of such innocence among the bleak horror of war. People had lived here, worked here, loved here and now there was nothing but a few scattered remnants of vanished lives among the fallen masonry and he wondered how many bombs had fallen here and how many innocent people, just trying to make a living, had suffered and died.

“Vin?” The voice, quiet -- understanding even -- penetrated his thoughts and he looked up momentarily stricken.

“Do you think…? I mean…is this what we really do? Is this what we leave behind?” He felt a hand on his right shoulder: Chris, then one on his left: Ezra. “Don’t even take one step down that road,” warned the soft Southern voice, “I’m telling you, Vin, you can’t afford the price of the trip.”

“Ezra’s right. This was a bad idea. Let’s go.” Tanner looked back at the scene of utter desolation. “Do you reckon we’ve hit civilian targets, Chris?” “I’d like to think not,” countered Larabee sombrely, “but there’s always that chance.” “Doesn’t that bother you?” Tanner sounded troubled. Uncertainty in his Texan drawl. Larabee took a step away from the bombardier and bowed his head. “Yes, it bothers me, but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I’m expected to do either. I fly the plane, you drop the bombs and between the fighters and the flak we try to stay in one piece. That’s the job we’ve been given to do. This may sound a might selfish, Vin, but every time I set that crate back down on home soil, I give thanks that I’m still alive -- hell, that you’re still alive, or Ezra, or any of the crew -- and at that moment I don’t really give a flying fuck who was on the receiving end of the pay load!”

The Texan felt the Southerner squeeze his shoulder again in a gesture that managed to convey both sympathy and reassurance, and looked into overly-bright green eyes and an almost apologetic expression that spoke of Standish’s implicit agreement with the blond pilot.

Tanner rubbed his eyes, suddenly tired, knowing the pricking behind his eyelids was more than the irritation of dust. “Shit. SHIT!”

Vin forced sluggish, heavy-lidded eyes open. Had he been asleep? He was chilled to the bone but down his right side was pleasantly warm and he found that a small circle of

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