"Robert?" The voice was so soft it was more a thought than a sound.

His eyelids fluttered, dark lashes against pale skin, but settled back into stillness after a few moments.

"Robert?" The voice came a bit louder this time, pulling lightly at his consciousness like a fine thread.

He stretched his legs and arched his back, groaning luxuriously, but pulled the covers closer beneath his chin and slid stubbornly back into his dreams.

"Robert. Darling. Please."

Fuzzy awareness finally came to him. He blinked away sleep, rolled over, and automatically reached out to pull her closer to him.

His hand gently found her dark hair, cool and soft on the pillow. He tangled his fingers into its smooth strands, then turned his head toward her. He could feel warmth against his face as she breathed, in and out, still caught in the slow cadences of sleep.

She was sleeping. But she had said his name, had drawled it really, stretching out the two syllables into many more in her syrupy voice. At least he had thought she'd said his name. Maybe I've been dreaming, he thought. Maybe I just wanted to hear her voice again so badly, after all these years, that I imagined it.

All these years? he thought. But she's right here. So close and so warm. He tilted his head to just the right angle, the angle they'd worked out that kept their noses from bumping, and brushed his lips against hers.

He felt her mouth awaken beneath his, felt her tug gently on his lower lip, then run her tongue lightly along his teeth. Not too hard, not too fast, he warned himself, although every inch of him screamed out for her. She did this to him, had done so since the first time they met when she had been the new girl his freshman year in high school. Almost five years ago that seemed like forever and yet like no time at all had passed.

Annie?

"Yes, Robert."

I love you, Annie.

"I love you too, Robert. But I have to go for now." She kissed him on the cheek, slid out of bed, and lit the lamp on the table. It cast a gentle, steady glow on the rough walls of his room.

Go? Where do you have to go, right now? In the middle of the night?

"You went. Now it's my turn."

Don't go, Annie. Please.

She turned toward him. "I have to, Robert. I just needed to see you again."

Annie?

He reached out, mouth suddenly cold and dry, but his hands found nothing but coarse blankets. His chest felt empty, as if all the air had been slammed out of him.

Annie?

He jumped out of bed, heart racing, bare feet thumping against the wooden floor. The bedding fell in shambles off the side of the bunk.

She was leaving, slipping through the door that led from his office and private sleeping place. Fading away from him. Again?

"Annie!" he yelled. His voice echoed off the hard planes of the room and settled slowly back to rest.

"Goodbye, Robert," she whispered. And she was gone.

"Goodbye?" he said. "Goodbye?" He ran to the door she had gone through and put his hand on the latch to open it, then thought, This is crazy. Just crazy. He stood there a moment, then went back to his bunk, sat down, and ran his hands over the still-warm depression in the mattress where he had just lain. Or where they had just lain together. He wasn't sure which.

A soft knock came at his office door. "Is anything wrong, Colonel?" said a sleepy voice, muffled through the heavy wood.

Colonel Robert Hogan sighed. "Nothing's wrong, Carter. Go back to bed." His heart still racing, he began to untangle the blankets that now lay spilled off the bed onto the floor.

"I thought I saw a lady coming out of there, Colonel. Boy, I must be crackers, huh, sir?"

Hogan stood up so fast he almost hit his head on the upper bunk, but he controlled his voice long enough to say, "You must be, Carter. Must be that lack of sleep."

"Oh. Yes, sir. Well, goodnight." Footsteps pattered away from the office, then Hogan heard a creak as Carter swung himself into his bunk.

"Goodnight," said Hogan. He sat on his office chair, wrapped a blanket around himself, and wished he could keep the lamp lit until morning came without drawing the attention of the guard. Because he knew he couldn't, he reached over, his hands trembling, and extinguished it gently.


A few days later, Kinchloe sidled up to Hogan, who was leaning against the side of the barracks watching some trucks roll into camp.

"Colonel, I got just off the radio with London," Kinchloe said quietly.

Hogan looked around, then nodded his head toward the barracks door. "Let's head inside," he said.

Kinchloe inclined his head slowly, walked to the door, and pushed it open for Hogan, who entered and sat down at the wooden table in the center of the room. Kinchloe sat beside him, and some of the other men gathered around.

"What have we got?" asked Hogan.

"One of our planes was shot down last night. Only one survivor. We're gonna go get him, bring him through here, and get him back home," said Kinchloe.

Hogan nodded. "Sounds pretty routine." He pushed his chair back. "LeBeau, Carter, you'll go out tonight and pick him up. He can stay in the tunnel until London can send a plane for him."

LeBeau nodded, his arms crossed. "Oui, Colonel."

Hogan stood. "Well, gentlemen, let's set out the welcome mat for tonight." The other men scattered around the room to make preparations for the night's mission.

-continued-