She sure doesn't eat much, thought Addison, regarding the general's interpreter with a critical eye.
He thought he'd put up a good dinner, although his original plan to make fried chicken had been frustrated. The two birds Schultz had brought from the mess kitchen were way too tough for that, even setting aside his doubts about what species of fowl they actually were. Instead, he'd racked his memory in search of the recipe for his grandmother's famous chicken stew; all he could remember was that, for a lifelong teetotaller, Grannie put an awful lot of red wine in it. So he'd raided the Kommandant's wine collection, and found a bottle shoved right to the back. It was real old, but it didn't seem to have gone off or anything. Probably Klink had forgotten it was there. Anyway, he'd never miss it.
As far as the other ingredients were concerned, he went by guesswork; but he was pretty darned pleased with how it turned out, and he felt vaguely insulted when she merely picked at it. He didn't say anything, of course. In fact, between his customary taciturnity and her innate diffidence, scarcely a word had passed between them during the whole time he'd been there. But it could have been worse. If Addison hadn't had the forethought to send a generous helping over to the VIP hut, Klink might well have invited himself to dinner. Any amount of embarrassed silence was preferable.
Nevertheless, the temporary cook was glad to retreat to the kitchen, put the coffee percolator on, and start washing the dishes. He was keeping his thoughts to himself, at least in part due to loyalty to a friend; but he was stumped as to what Louis ever saw in that dame.
Not so much as a flicker of disapproval showed when he brought the coffee into the sitting room, a few minutes later. He placed it on the little occasional table beside her. "Can I get you anything else, ma'am?"
"No. Thank you."
He turned to go back to the kitchen, then stopped. The stove which stood above the tunnel entrance had started to move, swivelling out of the way to allow ingress. Addison glanced at the interpreter. "That'll be Colonel Hogan," he said, in case she needed reassurance. But she didn't look nervous; the sudden flush of deep pink which coloured her face spoke of another emotion entirely, and the visitor who had called it forth wasn't Hogan.
"What are you doing here, LeBeau?" asked Addison, staring at the little Frenchman.
"Colonel Hogan sent me," said LeBeau. "I have a message for..." His voice, lacking the drive of full awareness, fell away to nothing. His eyes had found Anne-Marie, and for now there was nothing which could take his attention away from her.
Addison waited for a few seconds, gazing from LeBeau to Anne and back again. "Uh...I think I left something on the stove," he murmured at last. Then, as neither of them showed any sign of having heard, he cleared his throat, and edged towards the door. "Yep, I'll just...I'd better go and...uh...do something...somewhere else."
He slipped away into the kitchen, wondering how he'd managed, without knowing it, to sign on for the job of third wheel. It was just as well there was still some leftover wine. He had a feeling he'd be stuck out here for quite a while.
Louis didn't even notice he'd gone. His gaze remained fixed on Anne, his Anne, who he had loved so much, and who had given him such grief in return. For the first time, however, he found himself contemplating that grief without the hard shell of anger and contempt which had formed around it. It hurt all the more for it, as much as when the wound had been new.
An eternity passed before he managed to connect to his voice, and even then it didn't feel as if it belonged to him. "Le colonel has a plan to get the code. He says...he will...ah, chérie, non, mais non."
He took her in his arms, and drew her to the couch, and by the time she regained the composure which had so suddenly deserted her, any lingering resentment in his heart had been dissolved and washed away. For a while he just held her, soothing her distress with gentle caresses and incoherent murmurings. But presently she sat up, and stammered out a husky apology.
Louis hushed her at once. "I'm the one who should be sorry. What I said to you was unforgivable."
"No, never, Louis. Anyone would have thought...Did Colonel Hogan tell you?"
"Oui. But I should not have needed to be told. I should have known." He brushed a lock of hair back from her forehead, with a slight frown as he noticed the fine lines around her eyes. She looked older than she should; some of the fine strands still clinging to his fingers had faded since the last time he'd been close enough to touch them. "I didn't understand, but I could have tried to."
She didn't answer him, but her fingers closed tightly on the edge of his jacket, and he held her even closer, as if by doing so the terrible gulf of mistaken belief which had separated them for so long would turn out to be no more than a trick of memory.
After a little while, she lifted her head from his shoulder, and tried to wipe away the tear-stains from her cheeks. "I must look terrible," she whispered.
"Never anything but beautiful," replied Louis. In fact he thought she looked poorly; not exactly ill, but too thin, and too washed out. Instinctively, his thoughts turned to the kind of nurture he was most accustomed to giving. "Have you eaten?"
"A little. Your friend brought me something. And he made coffee, but it must be nearly cold now."
Louis tasted it, and grimaced. "Typical. Americans – they can't cook, and they can't make coffee. Excuse me, chérie."
He hastened into the kitchen, where Addison, reclining in a chair with his feet on the table, was deeply engrossed in an old and well-worn novel he'd borrowed from Klink's bookshelves. "Everything okay, LeBeau?" he asked.
"Apart from your coffee, which is execrable. Is that the 1900 Bordeaux?" said LeBeau, as his eyes fell on the bottle standing next to Addison's glass.
"Yeah, I thought it'd do for the chicken, even if it was too old for drinking. But it ain't so bad."
"You used Klink's bottle of Chateau Verlaine to cook with? The wine he's been saving for the end of the war?" LeBeau stared at him, flabbergasted.
"Uh, yeah. Was that wrong?" said Addison.
"Where is it?" His culinary instinct suddenly in the ascendant, LeBeau turned towards the heavy iron casserole still standing on the hob, its contents simmering. Under Addison's deeply apprehensive gaze, he found a spoon, lifted the lid and sampled. His eyes closed, and a soft sigh emanated from his lips.
"Formidable," he murmured. "I forgive you for the coffee."
"She didn't seem to think much of it," remarked Addison.
LeBeau smiled a little, remembering how hard he'd had to work, so long ago, to tempt her appetite. "I will take her a glass of wine. And one for myself."
He returned to the sitting room. Anne had obviously been watching for his return, and his heart gave a slightly louder beat as he met the wistful melancholy in her eyes.
"Here is something much better than bad coffee," he said, in an overly cheerful voice.
She accepted the glass, and took a sip; it seemed to hearten her. "What is the colonel's plan, Louis?" she asked.
"I only know the outline." Louis sat down beside her, and without thinking put his hand on hers. "It starts with the Gestapo."
"The Gestapo? But, Louis..."
"I know. Don't worry. This one's a friend of mine. You'll like him, once you get to know him."
She didn't look convinced. "That will never happen. Once I leave here..."
"Actually, that's another thing," said Louis quickly. "We have to prepare for what happens after you leave. So perhaps you would like to freshen up. You don't want to have your eyes so red and puffy for your photograph."
"Of course, that would not...but, no, Louis, a photograph? Why?"
"For your identity papers." Louis shifted a little, so he was facing her directly, and took both her hands in his. "By tomorrow, we should be able to translate Wolfert's report on Project Termite, and radio the details to our people in London. Once they act on it, Wolfert will be in a lot of trouble, and you won't be safe."
"I know," she said gravely. A tiny crease had formed between her eyebrows. "I have thought about what to do, when that day came, and I planned..." Her voice trailed off, and she bit her lower lip. "I have a gun," she murmured, after a pause. "If it should be necessary..."
"No. Don't even think that." Louis tightened his grip, until his own fingers hurt. "Before you leave, we'll give you whatever you will need to escape. That's what we do. We help people to escape from Germany. Never even think about that again, chérie. I couldn't bear it."
After a moment, she gently freed one of her hands, and hesitantly touched his cheek with her fingertips. "Sometimes I have tried to imagine what might have been, if...if things had been different. I never thought I would see you again, but it made me happy for a few minutes, just to pretend. I know it can never be real, mon ami. Too much has changed since then. I gave up all hope of that a long time ago. I have no family, no friends, nothing to go back to, when this is over."
"You have friends," said Louis fiercely. "And you have me. Even if it is not the same as we once hoped, you will always have me."
She lowered her gaze, and he had to lean closer, until his forehead almost touched hers, to hear her reply: "You almost make me believe it, Louis. Tell me what I must do, and I will try."