Victor's plan of a non-stop push to the French border took more of a toll on the small group of fugitives than any of them had anticipated. On their third night, when Victor finally declared that they could rest for a night, it took every fiber of Peter's being not to hug him. One glance at Thomas and Evey told Peter that they were just as relieved as he was.
They soon found a cave in which they could rest. It was damp and cold and uncomfortable in lots of other ways, but given how tired the three of them were, no one complained. Peter, Evey, and Thomas slept while Victor kept watch.
The next morning, Peter was shaken awake by an enthusiastic Victor. "What is it?" Peter asked groggily.
"I was wrong," Victor said, beaming like a child on Christmas morning.
"What do you mean?" Peter heard Thomas grumble from a few feet away.
"I was wrong about how long it would take us to get to France. We crossed the border yesterday. We've been in France for a day and a half."
"How do you know?" Evey asked. She also sounded tired, but she now sounded interested.
"I went out to forage for food and I ran into a hunter. He was so surprised that he cried out—in French. I quickly explained that I was a traveler who had lost my way and asked how far the German border was. He told me that it was a day's walk from here." He paused as the others allowed the news to sink in. "We've made it," he said looking from Peter to the others. "We're free."
The news had a mixed effect on Peter. Knowing that he had beaten the odds and escaped from the Nazis filled him with a renewed hope and lifted the ever present fear of being recaptured, but as he thought about what his making it to France truly meant, that he would likely have to live the rest of his life never knowing the fate of his family, an overwhelming sadness filled him.
"Are you okay?" Victor asked Peter.
Peter nodded and forced a smile. "Just letting it sink in, I guess." Victor nodded and clapped Peter on the shoulder.
"So what now?" Thomas asked.
"Now," Victor said as he stood, "we make for Paris. The journey from here on in will be a little easier, but from what the man told me, the Nazis are likely to hit the Allied lines soon. I'd like to be in Paris before that if it is at all possible."
"Well, let's go," Evey said. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm looking forward to sleeping in a bed again."
With that, the four of them set out toward Paris. The journey passed very quickly from what Peter could remember. They stopped in many towns and met up with several people who were familiar with Victor and his work against the Nazis. These stops also allowed Peter, Thomas, and Evey to practice their French.
Not all of the news they heard was good, however. A little over a week after they entered France, the news reached them that the Allied line had been broken. The British army had retreated back across the channel, and the French forces had surrendered. There was now nothing standing between Paris and the Nazi army. After this, Victor became very quiet and short-tempered. He pushed Peter, Evey, and Thomas a little harder each day, but they didn't complain, mostly because they wanted to reach Paris as quickly as Victor did, now that it was only a matter of time before it fell to the Nazis.
It was another week before they reached Paris. That night was one that Peter would never forget. It started innocently enough, with the four of them through the woods. The closer they got to Paris, the longer Victor had pushed them each day, and the more he had encouraged travelling through the woods, both to save time and to limit the risk of being seen by anyone they would rather avoid. The sun had set two hours earlier, but they had a full moon to travel by. They were further motivated by the fact that they could see the lights of Paris just a few miles away.
Suddenly they heard voices up ahead. They quietly began to sneak forward and soon came to the edge of a clearing. Sitting in the middle of the clearing was a small group of German soldiers, roughly four or five, sitting around a small campfire.
"These guys are part of the forward guard," Thomas whispered. "The rest of the German army is probably a day out. They'll be in Paris by sun down tomorrow."
Victor swore under his breath. "To come this far, only to be blocked at the last steps," he said, his voice breaking slightly.
"Can't we sneak around them?" Peter asked.
"Probably," Thomas said. "We should head back a little ways and then try to sneak around. You know, give them a wide berth. And be careful where you step. We don't need them coming after us. And we'll have to be extra careful. There's likely more of these guys out here."
The others nodded (at least Peter assumed that they did) and they started back. They hadn't gone five steps however before the snap of a twig echoed through the forest.
Peter froze. For a minute, he hoped against hope that the Nazis hadn't heard them, but a series of murmuring voices behind him told him otherwise. In a panic, he looked to his right at Thomas who met his gaze with a look of equal panic. He turned to his left and met Victor's gaze as leaves began to rustle, telling him that the soldiers had entered the forest.
He quickly sidestepped to hide behind a tree. He saw Victor, Evey, and Thomas do the same. He began to pray that the soldiers would turn back to their fire, but the shadow of a machine gun poking around the tree told him otherwise. He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer for his mother, Willi, Thomas, and Evey.
A scuffle to his left stirred him from his thoughts. Turning he saw the outlines of Thomas and another soldier struggling in the moonlight. The machine gun next to his head disappeared, and Peter knew what he had to do. He jumped out from behind the tree and punched the soldier in the back of the head.
"Victor, Evey, run!" he called as he hit the soldier again, knocking him to the ground. A flurry of rustling leaves told him they were moving. A half instant later a burst of machine gun fire erupted through the forest. After delivering a kick to the downed soldier's head, knocking him out, Peter ran toward the third soldier.
He hit the soldier with such force that the two of them fell to the ground. Peter quickly recovered and wrestled the guard's machine gun from him, then proceeded to punch him in the side of the head. The guard slumped over, unconscious.
Peter stood and turned around and found himself face-to-face with a fourth soldier. This one already had his machine gun pointed at him, and was too far away of Peter to make any sort of effort at defending himself. Not knowing what else to do, he raised his hands.
Suddenly a shot rang out. The guard stumbled and fell over. Standing behind him was Thomas, holding a smoking pistol. "You're welcome," the blonde said with a smirk as he walked over to Peter. "Now let's get out of here before they—"He was cut off as a burst of machine gun fire ripped into his body. He stumbled forward and fell into Peter's arms. Over his friend's shoulder, Peter saw that the man Thomas had shot hadn't been killed. As he raised his gun for another burst, Peter took the pistol from Thomas and, letting his friend fall, emptied the remainder of the bullets into the soldier's body.
Sure that the soldier was dead now, Peter threw the gun aside and turned to his friend. "Thomas," he whispered as he rolled him over. A cough told Peter that Thomas was still alive, but only just. "Thomas, stay with me," he begged, though somewhere in his mind he knew it was futile.
Thomas smiled. "I was actually looking forward to Paris," he said, weakly.
"Don't talk like that," Peter begged his friend as he held him.
"It had to be this way, Peter," Thomas said. "I've done too much wrong to make any of it right. I sold out my father. I tried to kill you. I did kill Arvid."
"No you didn't," Peter said, fighting back tears. "Arvid committed suicide."
"But I drove him to it. And don't try to deny it either. We both know why he did it."
Peter didn't say anything for a minute. Then he spoke up. "You did make some of it right. You helped Evey and Victor escape. You saved my life just now. That's got to count for something, right?"
"Maybe," Thomas said, though his voice was clearly distant. "Maybe it was just enough." His eyes locked into Peter's and he grinned. Then he began to sing: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing."
Peter grinned a little too. "Swing heil, Thomas," he said as his friend's eyes closed for the last time.
Peter held Thomas' body for a minute longer before standing and hurrying after Victor and Evey.