A week later I received word that a debrief was scheduled for next Saturday, to be held at yet another abandoned house. At the debrief, they asked me and the man with the red mittens to explain what had happened, and though I had half been expecting it, no one blamed me directly for things getting out of hand – just as Gideon had predicted.
After the first explosion, when I had pulled Levi out of the line and nine others had made a break for it, all hell had broken loose. An officer and three soldiers had followed the runaways out of the square, while the rest of the prisoners wanted to take a leaf out of their comrades' book and tried to escape as well. A startled German officer who had elected not to investigate the explosion had given his men the order to shoot the fleeing prisoners. When the first shots rang out, the gathered crowd panicked. Some ran for cover, others just dropped to the ground along with the prisoners.
The shooting stopped again soon after that, but quite a number of the prisoners had been killed or wounded. The unfortunate ones that hadn't been able to disappear into an alley, no longer thought of escape, and resigned themselves to their fate. When the first group had been secured into the train wagons – the remaining officer took no chances – the soldiers were dispatched to search the crowd and the streets for any runaway Jews. Several were found, and brutally beaten before they too were tossed into a wagon.
The meeting then proceeded to make an inventory of operatives present. Three of them were not there; one of them had been killed on the square by a stray bullet, the remaining two had been found on the street in the company of a fugitive and were now held in the notorious Oranjehotel prison in Scheveningen. My worst fear was then confirmed: Athena had been the one to be killed during the operation.
The rest of the meeting passed by me in a blur; I suddenly realized I hadn't even known her real name, and couldn't even go to pay my respects to her family. The secrecy and suspicion surrounding our friendship suddenly struck me. I didn't even know whether Athena had a family. There was no doubt that this news was a harsh blow, and gave an even more sour taste to this assignment than it already had.
After the meeting I was very reluctant to go home. My mother was still sore about my latest night spent away from home without permission, and there would probably be hell to pay for my absence today. But somehow I felt very detached from this mundane problem; Athena's death had put everything in a much wider perspective for me. I simply couldn't bring myself to worry about my mother, and certainly didn't feel up to dealing with her just now. I stood aimlessly in the street for a minute, trying to will my feet to move when I realized there was only one place I wanted to go at that moment.
The journey to Corelli-street passed without my being aware of it, and before I knew it I found myself ringing the Boissevains' doorbell. I realised too late that it might be Adriana opening the door, and that I didn't exactly feel capable of indulging her right now. Luckily, it was Janka who admitted me into the house.
He opened his mouth to greet me, but abruptly closed it again when he saw my face. He only nodded, and opened the door wider in invitation. As I went past him, he murmured, "Gi is in his room."
I nodded slowly once, feeling a sort of detached gratitude to the perceptive young man in front of me. Without a backward glance, I climbed the stairs and veered down the hallway to Gideon's room. I presumed Janka would inform his mother of my state of mind, and would see to it that we would not be disturbed.
Some ingrained politeness then came to the forefront, and I reflexively knocked on the door and waited for admission. Instead of a voice calling out, the door I had been staring at so fixedly swung open and unfocused my gaze. I lifted my eyes then, and saw the most welcome sight I had in a very long time. Gideon looked surprised to see me at first, but like his brother, one glance at my face was enough for him to pull me wordlessly inside, and into his embrace.
I dimly remembered a time when our roles had been reversed, and hoped my embrace then had felt even marginally as soothing as his did now. His left arm held me closely to him, while his right hand was tracing patterns on my back with a feathery light touch. I sighed deeply once; taking in the scent that was uniquely his and that soothed my racing thoughts even more than his touch did.
After a time that to my perception seemed both very long and very short, Gideon detached himself from me a little and coaxed me to sit next to him on the bed.
"Tell me what happened." He said in a soft voice. If he had phrased it as a question, I would have been tempted to refuse. But as it was not, I took a deep breath before relating to him the happenings at the meeting and my subsequent turmoil at Athena's death. His right hand stayed on my back all the while, continuing its winding patterns.
After I finished, we remained in silence for a while; the only sound the ticking of the clock and the rustle of Gideon's hand across my clothing.
At length, his hand stilled and he spoke.
"I'm sorry that she's gone. But that's one of the risks of our profession, and it seems to me that you're more upset that you know too little about her to even be able to properly grieve for her."
I tensed unconsciously, but remained silent to see where he was going with this.
"It may sound horrible, but in essence that means she did her job well, and maybe that's what you should remember about her: her dedication." His arms tightened marginally, as if in anticipation of a protest. But at that moment I felt to numb to even consider one.
"I'm afraid the only advice I can give you is this: take a leaf out of her book. Don't get attached to any other people you work with."
He sighed, and somehow I knew he was grimacing. "It's bad enough that my family and yours know each other so well. It would have been safer for all of us if we didn't."
At that, he paused again for a moment, before setting me back from him so he could make eye contact with me.
"Aleyd," He began, with a thoughtful furrow to his brows and an intense gaze, "It's best if you put your sadness about Athena – and the other unfortunates who are sure to share her fate – in a place deep inside you, and forget about it. At least until the world is safe enough again for such things. To do our job as best we can, we need to go as unnoticed as possible, to be forgotten as soon as we leave."
He cast me a rueful smile and ran a hand through his hair, setting it on end. I was still listening attentively; anything to distract me from the mess of complicated emotions inside.
"When we joined the Resistance, we became players in a dangerous game; a game that can't see the light of day. But we can't stop now; we have to see it through till the end. And until that time we can't be in the sunlight, either, nor may we be caught out in the dead of night. The twilight is our playground. The silent, almost imperceptible transition between light and dark, that allows us to strike hard and swift and to disappear again even faster."
Gideon's eyes took on a distant gleam, and I felt somehow that he wasn't speaking directly to me anymore.
"The twilight gives us the opportunity to hit our enemy where it truly hurts, thus allowing us to bring our country back from the dark of war, into the twilight of dawn, and hopefully into the sunrise of peace again before long."
At this point it was clear that he had completely forgotten about me, and the gleam in his blue eyes had strengthened to something bordering on fanatical. I studied him further as he finally lapsed into stillness, and couldn't silence the niggling fear that the darkest hour of his metaphorical night might be yet to come.
A/N: So, this is all I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2008, and therefore this is where the first part of the story ends. I intend to write the second (and hopefully final) part during this year's edition, but since I write without planning first, it might require a third part - if I'm wordy enough.
Be sure to let me know what you think so far!