A/N: I guess you all thought I was dead. Well, I wasn't. Just tired and burned out. Here's what you need to know about what happened: Grad school almost killed me. There were a couple moments where I almost was suicidal from all the work facing me. It's nothing you should be worried about; I never tried anything, but it was more passing moments of despair. School ended about a month ago for me, and in that time I've been writing, editing and getting a pet. Normally, I wouldn't be posting this at all if it weren't complete (and it is far from complete), but it feels wrong for me to hold out on everyone when I already have so much written and ready to share. I have to say, I've missed getting reviews and hearing what people think about what I produce. I've taken a year's sabbatical from grad school, which gives me plenty of time to write and post; I thought, why not now? So, with all that said, read on and enjoy.
In the last great invasion of the last Great War, a boy and a girl will fight to protect each other...
American Now Departed: Fight for the One You Love
February 10th, 1943
Karataev kept humming a soft, strange tune while Alekseev looked around him, searching and listening for anything, as if an attack by some lost German remnant would come at any moment. His apprehensions were unfounded, since the siege had been over for eight days. The Germans were defeated and now headed westward to consolidate their defense. Even though the battle had been won and the city secured, it still felt like a warzone. Was it the immense devastation? The ruined buildings that looked more like jagged rocks than places of work and home? Or was it the cold and unfeeling stare of their superior at one bombed out apartment?
Their officer, a young man of 17 with earth brown hair and hungry, decadent chocolate brown eyes walked briskly ahead of the pack of soldiers, eyeing at a grey residential flat, three stories tall if not more. The roof had caved in from incessant shelling, the windows were broken, and one side of the wall had a gaping hole, exposing an abandoned living space with only overturned aged chairs and tables, rotting like corpses on a battlefield. The officer did not feel the wind nor smell the frost in the air. His eyes only stood fixed on that flat as they came closer, step by step, with a contorted glare of anger on his face.
As they approached the flat, both soldiers noticed the front door was hanging on its hinge as if by a thread. Before they could get a word out to their superior, the young officer kicked in the door, and screamed at the top of his lungs,
"KOSLOV! WHERE ARE YOU, YOU LITTLE RAT?!"
Alekseev, being the meeker and more timid one, shuddered at the thundering screech of his officer, while Karataev merely shook his head and sighed in despair. The kid was a vengeful brat, of that there was no question. They had to find a way out of this unit. They had to find a new commander to follow, someone more worthy of respect than this runt.
At that moment a young boy, no more than 15, emerged from one of the rooms in the flat on the bottom floor. He had matted reddish brown hair and caring grey eyes sitting behind thin glasses, touched on the rims by frost. The boy was dressed warmly, wrapped in a grey overcoat and black insulated trousers tucked into grey boots. His chafed hands were thinly shielded by black, fingerless, knitted gloves. He seemed like an unassuming bystander, caught up in the young officer's lust for revenge.
The officer's brown eyes turned on him in a strong, hard glare and he briskly walked over to the boy. Without another word of warning to either the boy or his men, the officer struck him across the face with a curled gloved fist. Just as the boy groaned in pain, dragged him over to what remained of a kitchen top, and pinned him there for questioning.
"Chertov," the boy breathed, trying to adjust his crooked glasses, "what are you doing—"
"Cut the bullshit, Mikhail!" Chertov screeched back. "You know damn well why I am here! Where's your brother, Vasili?!"
"Vasili? W-why do you need to—"
Chertov punched Mikhail again in the face, agitated by the lack of answers. In frustration, he turned to his men and delegated orders.
"Sergeant Silin, you and your men will search for documents on the Stalingrad partisans. Karataev, Alekseev, help me make this little shit talk."
While Silin and his squad searched the flat, both men hesitated for a moment to obey Chertov's orders. What purpose did it serve to torment and torture this bespectacled young boy, who looked as bewildered and confused as either of them. Chertov glared at their apprehension.
"Karataev, Alekseev, did you not hear me?"
"Yes, sir," Alekseev said fearfully. "We did."
"Then why don't you obey?"
"We don't see a reason why—"
"I do not give reasons, Private Alekseev; I give orders! Now come help me, dammit!"
The two soldiers exchanged a brief glance, and immediately came over to their officer. It was not out of compliance, but out of fear. Chertov was always prone to fits of rage and even violence. To cross him now after they had come this far would run the risk of their lives. Still, in the back of the head of both men, they searched for a way out.
Karataev and Alekseev held young Mikhail by his arms and dragged him off the kitchen counter, while Chertov circled around and slammed his foot onto his calf, forcing the poor boy down. However, Mikhail seemed to be well aware of why they were here, and fully cognizant of the silent plight of Chertov's subordinates.
"How does it feel, Chertov," Mikhail breathed, "to have men working for you out of fear rather than loyalty?"
Chertov didn't respond, but only grabbed Mikhail by his hair, pulling his head back to hiss sinister words in his ear.
"Spare me your lectures, Koslov. I have the power here, not you."
"What's that power worth when you use it for things like this?"
The officer produced his revolver and gently placed it against his temple.
"I'd say it's worth quite a bit when you can hold a gun to someone's head."
Mikhail laughed quietly as his calm eyes gazed at Chertov's glaring ones, throwing a dart onto the board of his soul and scoring a perfect bull's-eye.
"I know what this is about, Ilya. It's about Peter, isn't it? Him and Tanya."
"And what if it is?"
"Then you truly are a pathetic, sad little man."
Chertov released his grip from Mikhail's hair and gave him another smack across the head. The boy was left writhing under the grip of the two soldiers as the young firebrand circled around to his front. At that moment, Sergeant Silin came by with a stack of white papers.
"We found their hideout, sir. They're at this address."
"No wonder no one could find them," said another soldier.
Mikhail stifled a gasp at that revelation as Chertov grinned at the address, committing it to memory. He had an edge now, one he intended to exploit to the fullest. But before he went to exact revenge and extract information, he had one final statement to make to Mikhail. Mikhail, the youngest son of the Koslovs, barely older than Tanya herself. Mikhail, one of the American's most trusted friends and staunchest defenders.
"What's the matter?" Mikhail asked, somewhat tauntingly. "Aren't you going to kill me?"
"Not yet," Chertov corrected. "I need to ask you one thing. What on this green earth did you ever see in Peter Daniels? Why would you defend someone who has ruined your life? He's not your family."
"And why should I tell a psychopath like you anything?"
Chertov glared and shot his revolver at the ground, kicking up dust and leaving a smoking black hole in the floorboards. The shot was enough to cause Karataev and Alekseev to jump in response, almost releasing the boy from their grasp.
"Because the next time I shoot, I won't miss."
The Koslov brother did not have to think long over a response. The answer seemed clear and obvious, one that Chertov had averted his eyes from for all these years. Chertov was visibly frustrated by that answer.
"Peter is a person worthy to call a friend," Mikhail said calmly, his eyes gazing at Chertov behind his glasses. "He has never ruined my life. If anything, he's given me hope that there are still good people in this world of war and corruption. Don't think you'll get the same treatment he does if you ever get rid of him. It'll only make you a monster."
He paused, and looked to each of the soldiers holding him in their grip. The trepidation and apprehension of participating in this act was evident on their faces. Their eyes betrayed their search for a means of escape, and the trembling lips silently spoke volumes of mistrust for their superior. They were not willing participants, but were only dragged here on the orders of a madman in the making.
"Think honestly about what you're doing. I know you've been an overly ambitious and selfish person looking to get what he wants, but you are still a human. You are still our neighbor and classmate. Are you willing to throw away your humanity to become a monster, Chertov?"
Chertov's brow furrowed and his gloved finger pulled back the hammer of his revolver, seething in talk he thought was patronizing.
"This world is a dark, cruel place, Mikhail. It'll take an enormous sacrifice of blood and treasure to fix all the ills found here. Many will die to eradicate the cancer of fascism. If I have to become a monster to set this world right, so be it. Your Yankee friend would see it differently. It is that weakness that will cost him…and you all…dearly."
Without another word, Chertov aimed the revolver straight between Mikhail's eyes. Sensing this was the end, the boy didn't squirm or try to escape, but only blinked.
"You won't win, Chertov. You will regret this day."
"Trust me, Mikhail," he sneered, "I regret most of them already."
The shot from the revolver killed the stillness of the flat, and left a perfect hole in Mikhail's forehead. As the blood flowed, the boy's eyes rolled back and he gave one final sigh, as if in resignation that the young firebrand who murdered him could not be swayed by words. The body suddenly became more heavy for the two soldiers, who released him and let him fall to the floor. Alekseev was shaking, fearing the lieutenant would shoot him or Karataev next. Chertov, in the meantime, started making for the front door, as if nothing had happened. How could their superior, barely older than Mikhail himself, be so callous and unfeeling?
"Our work is done here," Chertov said, as if nothing had happened. "We must proceed to the tavern. Fall in, comrades."
Alekseev wanted to protest and refuse, but only followed his commander out of dread. Was he a man or a monster in disguise? He turned to Karataev, the only person he could call a friend in this unit as they silently shared their grievances, their fears, and their enmity for their hate-filled commander.
They needed a transfer.
June 26th, 1943
Vladivostok Harbor, USSR
He was finished.
Ilya Pavlovich Chertov and both of his guards knew that in a few days, he'd be tried and convicted for what he had done. He had failed on all counts to destroy forever the American Russian, and rid himself of a thorn in his side. The clanking of shackles on his wrists seemed to taunt him with each step he took. The words of mockery and failure reverberated, producing more pain than any battle wound.
You are as good as dead.
You have contributed nothing.
You will die alone and forgotten.
You are finished.
There was not a single thing he could do now, and his fate was all but sealed. As the guards took him inside an empty warehouse, he could only imagine what awaited him. Perhaps the trial would be dispensed with and he'd be shot right there on the spot. What struck him odd was how no one seemed to be around. Not a soldier nor a civilian in sight. Why? Perhaps they were on the far edge of the city, where no one would look to find a washed up officer, contemplating the last few moments of his life. At that moment, someone came into the warehouse, bearing a familiar face.
It was a young man, possibly in his late twenties, with black hair wrapped in a short ponytail behind him and ice blue eyes cutting through the shadows of the warehouse. He wore an olive green military uniform with dark blue riding pants and, judging from the shoulder boards, was a lieutenant colonel. A green rain cape was draped over his shoulders and blew behind him like leaves in the autumn wind. A small ray of light cast down through the windows shed the veil of shadows from his face, and revealed the officer to Chertov.
It was him.
The same officer who gave him his orders in Stalingrad. The same man who gave him a blank check to kill Daniels, and provided him with the tools and personnel to aid him. Now he would preside over his death. Chertov could only glare at the officer, suspecting that he would watch as his life was snuffed out in a vacuum of nothingness. He suddenly felt a blazing cold chill down his spine. He was face to face with the very same man who assigned him the job to hunt down Peter Daniels. Not only that, it looked like he wasn't very pleased to see him in chains, being held captive by two adult guards. Beads of sweat slowly cam rolling down his brow, his dark brown eyes staring at the lieutenant colonel.
"You removed him without being seen?" the officer asked, his sharp blue eyes darting between his escort guards.
"Yes, comrade Lieutenant Colonel," said one. "It took the both of us to restrain him. He just wouldn't stay still."
The lieutenant colonel smirked and chuckled knowingly.
"He always was an excitable chap, even when we were young."
Before the guards could even ask him what he meant, the officer produced something from behind his back and under his rain cape. It shone in the summer air with a vengeful and ominous luster as Chertov heard a hammer cock. He was carrying a pistol. This was it, he thought. He would die here, alone and forgotten, without a single worthy accomplishment to his name.
Chertov wasn't sure of what to do. What else was there to do? He failed and now he will suffer for it. If only he had one more chance. If only he had one more opportunity to prove himself worthy of continuing on. It didn't matter anymore, he thought. It was time to face fatal punishment. He closed his eyes shut tight, ready for the utter blackness that awaited him.
Suddenly two shots rang out from the pistol in quick succession, but surprisingly, Chertov felt nothing. No searing pain. No slow hemorrhaging of blood. No fading into the abyss. He continued to breathe and think. The lieutenant colonel surely wasn't that terrible of a shot was he? In the few seconds it took for him to contemplate this, he heard a loud heavy thud on his left, followed quickly by another on his right. No, it couldn't be…unless…
The young officer opened his eyes and found on either side of him the bodies of his escorts, slowly bleeding out onto the hard concrete floors of the warehouse. They wore surprised looks on their faces, frozen in the shock of death coming so quickly. Chertov shuddered at the sight of them. Even after spending time on the battlefield, the sight of dead bodies could still give him a chill. Then he slowly turned his head up, looking at the lieutenant colonel. His pistol was smoking from the muzzle, and the air tasted of cordite and blood as he had a knowing smile plastered on his lips.
"No witnesses," he explained.
Chertov was completely speechless. He thought for certain that the lieutenant colonel was after his head! If he was aiming for the guards...did this mean he was given another chance? Was his life being spared? So many emotions were overwhelming him. If this meant what he thought it meant, he had to make it up to the lieutenant colonel.
He came over to the Chertov and salvaged a key off one of the guards' dead bodies, before unlocking his bonds with it.
"I would have preferred you came back under better circumstances, Lieutenant," he said with a hint of disappointment, "but the situation has changed. Priorities have changed."
Chertov looked down at his grimy dirty hands in astonishment as the next words of his superior reverberated in his head like an echo.
"Were it not for me, you'd be on your way to a camp in Siberia right now. Call this a favor."
Automatically, Chertov stood at attention, saluting to his superior and savior.
"Thank you, sir! My sincerest apologies. It was never my intention to show up in such a pitiful state. And, what do you mean by the change of priorities?"
"The Germans are preparing an offensive in the west. We are bound west straight away to stop them."
The lieutenant colonel turned to the bodies and picked up one, directing Chertov to the other. This crime had to be buried, along with the failed ones committed over the seas. It was akin to taking out the trash, but Chertov would much rather sort out dead bodies than be placed alongside them.
"This offensive will be their largest yet. If we can hold them back, the tide of the war will turn in our favor."
Chertov picked up the corpse of his former captor and dragged him away, following his superior. The smell of fresh blood was still prevalent as it stubbornly plagued Chertov's nostrils. He suppressed an urge to vomit long enough to bring the corpse to where it needed to go.
"Sir, what are the Germans after in the west?"
"A large salient, comrade Lieutenant Chertov. There is a bulge in the front lines around the city of Kursk. The offensive is intended to pinch out that salient, and they will use any and all means to do so. We've reported a massive buildup of new German armor near the area, and it can only be intended to punch through a heavily defended line."
The two officers dumped the bodies in a ditch where no one would find them. Then, with a swish of his cape, the lieutenant colonel ushered the young man to follow him. The direction was west and north, towards the train station where a myriad of newly recruited soldiers were marching towards.
"Every available soldier is being transferred to that area, and you are expected to go as well."
Chertov saw the soldiers. He counted more than twenty of them. This turn of events was unexpected but it exposed an opportunity nonetheless. They appeared to be young soldiers, in their mid twenties to early thirties. Chertov glanced back at his superior, understanding what was being said.
"You want me to infiltrate their base and attack on the inside…"
In response, the lieutenant colonel shot a glare, dispelling any dreams of glory he had conjured up.
"Don't presume, comrade Lieutenant. You are to return to your post and return to your command, as am I. Instructions will follow once we are in Kursk."
The young man's eyes grew wide to the size of saucers. This was the chance to unleash weeks of pent-up anger from his loss against his enemy, the one enemy who outsmarted defeated him in humiliation. To hear the orders of return felt demoralizing, even depressing. As much as Chertov wanted to protest, he kept his mouth shut. He had to keep his silence, or else he might be the third person to have a bullet between the eyes.
"Understood, sir," Chertov said, dejection lingering within his voice.
"Speaking of your command, where are the agents who went with you? 340 and the others?"
Chertov lowered his head down as he followed his superior.
"Dead or captured. I was the only one to be transferred."
The lieutenant colonel furrowed his brow further as they walked up the clapboard steps to the station. Clearly, to say the mission was a failure was an understatement. It was an unmitigated disaster. What had gone so wrong that every last one of the girls was either captured or killed?
"340 and 271 are held prisoner. 578 and 12 are dead. I'm not sure what happened to 909. She could still be alive, for all I know."
"Pity," he said, hiding his disappointment. "They all showed great promise. 340, especially. This will complicate our future plans for Daniels."
"About Daniels," Chertov interrupted, "How will we be able to deal with him in the future?"
"Never you mind. Daniels will get his in time, but for now, defeating the Germans takes priority. We still have a war to win, comrade Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir," Chertov replied, sullenly.
As much as he hated the idea, there was no other choice. He had to regain some of his strength and restore his damaged pride if he was to return to the hunt for the American. He made a mental vow to himself as he and his superior boarded the train, shuffling past many a soldier, probably bound for the same area as he. He gritted his yellow teeth and solemnly swore.
You may have won this battle, Daniels, but the war isn't over yet. This will end in blood, one way or the other. I will come back for you…and I will get even!
So he swore as he and his superior boarded the train bound for the west, and as the locomotive blew its whistle and slowly nudged forward, Chertov could only think of what would await him, his officer, and all others under his command once he had returned to that place. That place where he sought to gain recognition and favor over the American before he ever stepped foot in Stalingrad again. That place where he hoped to make a name for himself. That dreaded place, where there was still an enemy to fight, and a war to win.
July 1st, 1943
Mill Valley, California, USA
It was hard for Peter to return to normalcy after Chertov's harrowing game of cat and mouse. How did one go on after what he had experienced? How could one simply return to normal life after being on the run and the target of assassination? It wasn't easy for him but somehow he managed it, bit by bit. Whether it was manning the cash register at his local pharmacy, having a drink with Vasili, or simply spending a day with Tanya, he tried his best to adjust. Tanya, to her credit, coaxed him out of the house every moment she could if only for his own sanity.
Not only that, Tanya had to also reassure him that he didn't have to fear attacks at night anymore. He earned more sleep since then. No matter what happened to Peter, love always saved his life. It was love that made him stronger and more open to things he'd never heard or seen before. Love encouraged him to reject temptation and illusion. Love brought humanity back to him, despite the bleakness of grim events around the world.
On a sweltering day, after Peter's work shift was over, Tanya met him outside the pharmacy and encouraged him to go into town with her. He didn't argue, and let her lead the way. As he did, he took in just how much of her had changed in the months since he brought her back with him from Stalingrad.
Her dark wavy hair had grown longer, to the small of her back, stretching like the earth of the wide Eurasian steppes. Tanya's shoulders had grown broader and her waist more narrow and slim, which was made all the more apparent by her wardrobe: a lightweight white summer dress with short puffy sleeves, belted with a light blue sash tied in a bow to the back. On her feet she wore white ballet flats that clopped with each step she took, sending her skirt swishing from side to side like on a rocky boat. She wore no leggings, which made no sense in the sweltering heat of summer, and he saw the sun reflect off her strong calves and porcelain-like skin.
Tanya stopped admiring the scenery long enough to notice Peter staring at her. She blushed lightly, eyes fixated on her handsome beau.
"Peter, you shouldn't stare at a lady so intently, you know," Tanya teased Peter, with a seductive like smile.
Peter rubbed the back of his head nervously, embarrassed. It wasn't seemly, but it just felt like a long time since he had enjoyed being with Tanya.
"Sorry. I can't help it if you're beautiful."
Tanya giggled at Peter's reaction. She was expecting him to be that way. He was easy to tease and joke around with, just as he was when they first met five summers ago.
"It's quite alright."
She proceed to wrap a hand around his arm, enjoying the closeness. It felt safe, like being wrapped in a flannel blanket on a cold winter's night.
"I really missed this," she said softly, her voice wispy. "Us being together. Nothing can interrupt this moment."
"Speak for yourself," he replied. "Times like these have been illusive for us."
While Peter and Tanya were heading to a café at the center of town, something happened. And it was a startle. Hidden behind an alleyway was a small black-haired boy, about six years old. With a wide, toothy grin, he cautiously crept towards the unsuspecting Russian girl. Then, he broke into a run and pushed her in the direction a large puddle of rainwater. Tanya shrieked in terror when she felt a strong force push her and began to fall, looking in fear at the big puddle. Of all the things to wear today, she was wearing a white dress! Everything underneath will be transparent! Tanya couldn't stop herself from falling, and she thought her embarrassing fate was inevitable.
Peter dove forward in an attempt to shield her from the splash as if he was saving a comrade from a live grenade. Even if he was soaked through and uncomfortable for the rest of the day, it wouldn't make a difference. He'd have Tanya's gratitude, and save her some dignity. As he landed on his back and was splashed with water, Peter noted he'd have to find that boy and teach him a lesson in maturity. Meanwhile, the boy laughed in triumph at his crude prank as he boasted,
"I can see forever from here!"
The black-haired boy quickly ran off and out of sight, leaving Peter incensed and Tanya embarrassed, considering that her dress was now flipped up, her undergarments exposed to the outside world. Not knowing what else to do, Tanya was on the verge of tears from this horrific incident.
"Thank you, Peter," Tanya whispered, guilty that he had been drenched instead of her.
Peter was silent for a moment, soaked that someone so young would be so crude. When this day was over he had to find that boy and knock some sense into him. However there would be another time for that. He helped her up gently, not minding her flipped skirt and exposed underwear as she pushed it back to its proper place. Lest he want a beating from her or a premature end to their outing, he kept quiet about what he saw.
"Think nothing of it, Tanyusha."
Tanya wiped a tear from her eye and smiled.
"So, err...I guess we need to head back home and get you changed, huh?"
"I'm fine, Tanya. Don't worry about me. It's just water after all."
"Alright, then," Tanya replied, feeling her composure regained.
When she noticed Peter's sharp eyes searching around, wondering where the prankster went to, she placed a hand gently on his shoulder.
"Please don't be too harsh on the boy, Petroshka. That's just what children do."
Even after a cruel joke like that, she could still forgive? Was Tanya a human or an angel displaced in the mortal world? Even in their childhood days, she was never subject to pranks or jokes like that. Chertov, for all his anger and immaturity, didn't attempt that with her. Neither did her brothers who could be notorious practical jokers. All those memories and factors only cemented his knowledge that Tanya really was the ideal match for him. So forgiving, understanding, and reasonable. She didn't have any of the ferocious temper of Peggy or the assertiveness of Jane. She was in the middle. Mild, neutral, and sweet tempered.
The sound of that name in his thoughts soon made him realize that, despite the storm being past and the worst of his ordeals over, not everything had been resolved. There was still one loose end from this escapade that still haunted him. The thought of that blonde British girl still persisted in his dreams, despite all efforts to forget and move on. Tanya knew what happened between them, and how Peter stopped her before she did anything serious, and passed her judgment on him. Even with it all said and done, he still had to resolve this with Jane and salvage what friendship he had left with her.
Was it even possible to save their friendship at all?
Once the couple were at the café, they took their seats at a nearby display window. Tanya could tell they had good service here since many people visit here. She watched as people chatted about at their seats. Then, she went back to glancing at Peter, wondering what was on his mind. She would have to find out later. Right now, she had refreshments to order from the café menu.
"What are you going to have?" Tanya asked Peter, "I can't decide whether I want green tea or iced tea."
"If I were you, I'd try their Russian Caravan tea. They like to make it with a bit of spice to it."
"Russian Caravan?" Tanya's eyes widen with surprise, "That's my mother's favorite tea. Alright then, I think I'll try that as well."
Peter ordered his tea (English Breakfast), and both sat and waited. The clatter of plates and the chatter of people made for a strange melody that proved relaxing for both of them. He reached into his pockets and leaned back, and felt something in one of them. Something he had received and forgot to open. Upon retrieval, it was a letter addressed to him, from an old friend across the seas and in war torn Europe. Someone he feared he'd never hear from again.
"Oh, that reminds me," Tanya asked upon seeing the letter, "Who wrote you today?"
"An old friend from France," Peter explained. "Or rather, friends."
Peter unfolded the letter, and saw its contents. He recognized the hasty scribbling of his friend from anywhere and smiled fondly before reading to Tanya. Curiosity overruling thirst, Tanya wanted to know more about these friends from France. She leaned in and listened.
25 June, 1943
Many thanks for your last letter. Jacques and I were starting to fear something had happened to you when you dropped out of contact. There can't be an attack by the Axis in your country, can there? Anyway, it is a relief to hear you are well now.
The weather has grown hot, and it makes combat even more difficult to bear. Whenever there is a battle, we have to bury the bodies quickly, else we're faced with a terrible stench. Lately, we've tried our hardest not to engage the Germans. We're planning something that might have an impact on the war. Yesterday we spoke with a British special operations officer, and briefed us on our target. We're to recover documents detailing the defenses of the Normandy coastline. Fritz likes to boast about how the Allies will never break through into France. If the plan goes well, we may have one over on him.
Jacques likes to keep things quiet, so don't let this get out beyond anyone you trust. We could unlock the key to winning this war once and for all, mon ami.
All the best to you,
"Charles, was it?" Tanya mused as Peter finished. "He sounds like a good friend."
"He really was," Peter reminisced. "He and everyone in that village. Can't believe it's been five years since I last saw them all. God knows what's happening with them now that the war is on..."
"I know it's been a long time since you've been to France, but..."
Peter covered one eye and lamented his situation. If only he could do something for them. If only he could help them in whatever way, the same as he did with Tanya when the time came. But what could he do now? France was still under occupation, and going there was next to impossible. Tanya could see his heart breaking.
"What was it like there? Living in France, I mean...?"
"Peaceful," he said quietly. "I lived in a small farming village with all of them, reminded me a lot of home. You'd love it; the houses all look like dollhouses, and there was a river that ran by the town. Charles and I used to swim there on hot days. It was such a lovely place..."
"Once the war is over, I...would love to go there one day." Tanya said, closing her eyes, and imagining the scenery like Peter described.
She pictured it all in her head for a few moments, wishing for a chance to be there if she survived long enough to watch the calm before the storm. The waiter came back with their ordered meals, which brought Tanya back to the realm of the culinary. She had nearly forgotten about her tea. One sip of the Russian Caravan was enough to convince her Peter was correct in his recommendation. The spice in the tea were incredibly delicious.
"Well, Peter, looks like you weren't mistaken," Tanya commented, admiring the taste as it sizzled her tongue. "This tea is well made."
Even as they sipped their tea, Peter could not get the image out of his head. Outside of Russia, France held special significance for him on his long journey through Europe with his father. He bonded with the children of that small village, all of whom must surely be adults, fighting tyranny covertly and overtly every day. If he could work his will, he'd fly across the oceans just to know what could be done for them.
"Tanya," he said solemnly as he took his tea, "I told you once before, but there are many people I left behind in Europe. Not just you and your family, but others. Petya, Natasha, Anatole in Russia…Charles, Jacques and Ray in France…there may come a day when I have to go back to them. There may come a day when I have to fight again."
"And I'll come with you," Tanya added without hesitation. "I will fight alongside with you. You fought for me. You went searching for me. I want to return the favor. I want to show my love and gratitude."
Peter looked to her in utter shock. Even after all the hell and horror she had seen and endured in Stalingrad, she was willing to plunge back into it just to follow him? To be with him, she was willing to experience the ravages of war once more?
"I don't want to put you in anymore danger than I already have," he countered.
Tanya shook her head slowly and said as she took Peter's hand in hers,
"I don't mind it. Not one bit. I say this because you've always kept me safe, Peter. And even if it means going back to war, I will gladly follow you. Even at the ends of the Earth, I will be by your side from now on. I made up my mind long ago."
With that knowledge firmly implanted, and knowing that even if he tried, she would still follow him, Peter squeezed her hand affectionately. She truly was an angel displaced in the mortal realm. Just as she saved him from insanity during Chertov's game of cat and mouse, she would fight beside him when the time came. The only question was when that day would come.
Just then, a familiar blonde girl walked pass the display window. Right where Tanya and Peter were. Even though it was brief, quick second, Tanya didn't seem to notice. Peter, on the other hand, could tell who the girl was from a mile away. It was Jane Hart.
She looked rather forlorn as she quickly shuffled past, the hems of her blue skirt following her in the summer winds. Her equally blue eyes were shifting, lost and in need of direction. The hair was frazzled and showed signs of inattentive brushing. Their small emotional spat took its toll on her as well. Peter resolved that, before the summer was over, and before whatever fate awaited him here or abroad, he had to make things right with her. Even if their friendship was broken, he needed the closure. Surely, he thought, she did too.
Author's note: As I've said, this story is not near completion, so the writing schedule may not be fixed as before. If chapters are complete, the schedule will be weekly or bi-weekly, depending on what I have going on. If something is not complete, it may take a week at least or a month at most. It all depends on my mood and my inclination towards writing. However, I'm not giving up on this. Plus, since I'm not going back to school any time soon, I doubt there will be severe problems with the schedule. Hope you all enjoy and be sure to like, favorite, review, the whole nine yards.
Until next chapter.