Hold Your Breath and Count to Ten @astriferoussprite
Keeping All My Secrets Safe Tonight I don't know how I did it, but... This might be the longest chapter I've ever written for a chaptered work... I mean, it's only around 8k, but still, things sure are happening in this one! Chapter title taken from "Nobody Does it Better" by Carly Simon, sung for The Spy Who Loved Me.

Though he was advised to keep any personal belongings at home, Adil still found himself bringing one solitary trinket with him: an old and weathered wine opener, the polished handle all scuffed from decades’ worth of use, the screw having long since lost its luster. He had gotten it from the old head barman at the Halcyon, who had previously been a sommelier at a Michelin three-star restaurant in France before retiring to the hotel. He was a bitter sort, all French haughtiness and wariness; mercifully, though, his initial distrust of Adil was not due to his background, but his youth.

“You are a child,” he had sneered after looking him over on his first night. “Un enfant. What do you know of drink?”

Adil had been eighteen, but even then, he knew that was the wrong answer. Instead, he replied with a quiet, “I’ve drunk before.”

The barman—Hugo, he believed he was called—just scoffed. “Yes, you’ve had cheap ale and sour whiskey at those grotty pubs you’ve been at, but nothing fine.” Adil bit his tongue hard, trying to fight back his annoyance at how correct he was. “How can you serve something when you don’t even know its taste?”

“I try my best.”

Hugo clicked his tongue and shook his head, before beckoning to the back doors behind the bar. “Come.”

Adil bowed his head and followed, fully expecting to be reprimanded in private. What he hadn’t anticipated was for him to lead them to the wine cellar and pick a bottle off the rack. Back at the bar, he showed him how to open the bottle, pour it without spilling everywhere, and taste the drink correctly. Even now, he can remember the name, clear as day: Montrachet, Domaine Belland Roger, 1930. It had smelt of fruit, honey, and, oddly enough, cinnamon.

“That’s the oak aging,” said Hugo. “Common with Chardonnay. It gives it more body and flavor.” He took another sip. “Dry and powerful. Pairs well with lobster.”

“Because they’re both stronger than expected, Sir?”

Hugo surveyed him for a moment, before nodding. “You learn fast, Joshi.”

The old barman had continued to train him in that fashion—a sample here, a cocktail there—always nodding in approval when Adil caught the correct flavors and aromas. About three months in, he even smiled at him after a particularly rough shift that Adil had weathered with no grumbling or breaking down; it had sent the gossip mill into a frenzy, as no one had seen him so much as grin, let alone at scrawny teen-aged barmen. And, despite his initial expectations, the two became fast friends over the years. When the time came for him to retire, there was no doubt among anyone on who would succeed him.

“Congratulations.” The bottle sharply hissed as Hugo uncorked it. “Looks like that manager has some sense in him after all.”

The counter at the closed bar was shiny enough to perfectly reflect the bottle as he began to slowly pour their drinks, pausing to let the bubbles foam up. “Should we really be wasting good champagne on just the two of us?”

Hugo snorted. “I’m retired and you’re the head barman.” His eyes sparkled as he slowly nudged the first coupe of champagne towards him. “What is he going to do, reprimand us?” Adil laughed softly. “Now come on. Here’s to your bright future and success.”

Their glasses clinked cheerfully together before Adil took a small sip of the refreshing libation, savoring the bright and fruity notes.

“So,” he said between sips, “do you have any plans for your twilight years?”

“Absolutely not,” said Hugo. “I’ve worked hard enough as it is.” He paused, taking a long swig of his wine. “And the world has moved on. It doesn’t need me anymore.”

“Hugo, no, you’re—you’re still a master!”

“An old master. That doesn’t mean much today.” Another swig. “Adil, alcohol used to be so simple. You give the guest what they want, serve wine with the meal and spirits before, but now, there are rules. New methods. Cocktails.” He was halfway down his glass; Adil had still barely touched his. “You’ve always been so good with the cocktails, you know that?”

“I’m just following recipes.”

Hugo shook his head. “No, Adil.” He peered at him over his glass with his watery blue eyes. “You’re doing more than that. You’re watching customers, reading their minds; somehow you always know the right mixture to make them happy.” He smiled mournfully. “I’m the one just following the rules. You’ve always been one step ahead.”

With that, he drained his glass and reached for the bottle. His hands shook tremendously as he grappled with it, trying to steady it, and Adil’s heart clenched at seeing just how weathered his teacher had grown in the past four years.

“Please, let me,” he said, gently reaching out to take the bottle from him and refill his glass. When the white foam dissipated, he could see his face partially reflected in the liquid, and he was momentarily stunned to see a confident young man staring back at him; he had never noticed it at the time, but he was far past the scrawny Adil who could barely open a bottle of wine by himself.

“Oh, bless you,” said Hugo, reaching to take the glass again, then furrowed his brow, set it down, and began to rifle through his pockets.

“There we are,” he whispered, pulling out his corkscrew. It was a familiar sight, having been used by Hugo many a time to open a bottle of wine or lent in haste to Adil. It was a unique model with its polished handle and metal lever, so different from the plain corkscrews the rest of the waiters used; Hugo had boasted it was crafted especially for fine sommeliers like himself.

But tonight, he had no more bottles to open; instead, he extended his weathered hand to Adil, presenting the old tool like something sacred.

“Here, take it.”

“I…” Adil shook his head, hardly believing what the old man was suggesting. “I can’t—it’s yours, I can’t—”

“You can,” he said, a bit more firmly, hand unmoving. “It’s yours now.”

Eyes wide, Adil extended a single trembling hand towards the corkscrew. As he delicately held onto it, their fingers brushed momentarily; he was stunned at just how delicate Hugo had gotten, all wrinkled skin and mottled spots, just barely visible on a tanned Mediterranean hue nearly as dark as he was. “It’s an honor,” he managed to choke out.

Once again, Hugo shook his head. “No honor,” he said. “Just what you deserve.” Adil nodded, trying to hide the growing lump in his throat with another sip of champagne. “These English, they will try to make you humble, but you cannot allow that. You must know your worth, because you are an extraordinary man, no matter what they say.”

“Yes, Sir.”

He laughed to himself, staring mournfully into his glass. “Remember the first wine you ever tasted?” he said. “Back when you were just a child?”

Adil snorted. “I was eighteen, but I remember.”

“Bah, you were young enough,” he said. “Chardonnay, was it not?”

“Yes, 1930 Montrachet.” The champagne was going down much easier. “It tasted like fruit and baking spices.”

“You said it was stronger than expected.”

Adil paused. “I did,” he whispered.

“Be the Chardonnay, Adil,” said Hugo, his voice wavering ever so slightly. “Be strong when they don’t expect it. Tough as oak, but gentle as honey.”

He closed his eyes, let the words sink in. “Yes, Sir,” he whispered.

That had been their last conversation. Hugo quietly retired to the countryside; two months later was the funeral, and Adil had surprised his widow by showing up with his own last respects to pay to the old master. His advice had been one that was sometimes hard to heed, and even now, Adil finds himself struggling to find his tenacity—but he’ll never forget his steely gaze, his weathered hands, his fine-tuned appreciation for wine.

So, against SOE recommendations, Adil still slipped the weathered corkscrew into his pack before he left; he’d need to be unexpectedly strong more than anything in the coming months.


“I’m impressed,” says Millie at the end of their first week, leaning back in the old worn armchair that came with the apartment. “Most new recruits would have cracked by now. Not bad.”

“Please, it’s only been a week.” Adil reaches into the pantry and pulls out the bottle of wine he’d purchased earlier. “It’s far too early to pass judgement.”

“In my experience, it’s just the right time to judge,” she fires back. “You’re attentive, you remember important details, and you’re naturally charismatic, unlike half the people I’ve worked with.”

“I’m not perfect.”

“Never said you were. Just that you’re not half-bad.” She crosses her arms. “Was still stupid of you to just blurt out our real names like that to Elias, for a start.”

“He gave us his name first.”

“He’s American. What’s your excuse?”

Adil rolls his eyes, even as he can feel his cheeks warm up. “I’ll remember that for next time,” he says, digging through his pocket for his corkscrew.

Millie waves her hand. “Don’t lose sleep over it,” she says. “Anyway, what’s our nightcap?”

“Savoyan Chardonnay,” he says, flipping open the corkscrew’s tiny blade and cutting through the foil in three fluid motions. “Domaine Bouvet. Cost an arm and a leg for something so subpar. Probably the entire worth of Dubois’ watch.”

“And you gave me Hell for pocketing it,” she says. “And what’s with the nightcap, Monsieur gin-tonic-pas-de-gin?”

“Because, my dear Violette—” Adil grunts as he wedges the corkscrew into the cork and turns, “I need a drink.”

As he levers the cork out, Millie gets up to look over his shoulder. “That’s the most pretentious corkscrew I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s a wine key,” he says. The cork comes out with a soft pop. “Built for sommeliers. Much easier than trying to force out the cork.”

“What, were you a sommelier in peacetime?”

“Well, I—”

“Don’t answer that question, you dolt.”

Adil rolls his eyes. “Right,” he says, pouring the first glass; the last of the late summer sun catches in the steady stream, illuminating it in a waterfall of glittering gold. “But you’re not Elias. I know you. I trust you.”

“Not if we’re compromised,” she says, snatching up her glass. Adil pours the next one, taking care not to spill on the stack of papers on the table. “There’s a lot the Germans can do with Adil Joshi the British sommelier.” She takes a curious sip.

“Well? What’s the verdict?

“Tastes like wine.” She sits back down, crossing her legs; her cocktail dress from earlier tonight has long been exchanged for a pair of sensible trousers, and she’s clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to be a bit less constrained. “What, am I supposed to get anything else out of it?”

“Well, Elizabeth should,” he says, sitting back down at the wobbly kitchen table and idly swirling his glass. “Rich people are always particular with their wine.” So far out of its optimal growing region, all the Chardonnay can offer are hints of golden apple and light minerality. “Well, they’re always particular with everything.”

“And does Suraj have a verdict?”

Adil takes a sip, swilling it around for a moment before swallowing. “A bit too acidic for him,” he says. “He’d much rather have a nice off-dry Chenin Blanc. He’s fussy.” In truth, it’s a very pleasant wine, but it’s not his favorite; the lack of oak aging makes it feel rather light and flat on his tongue. “And what of Elizabeth?”

She thinks for a moment, taking another sip. “Far too sour,” she says. “She needs it to be sweet.”

Adil smiles faintly. “Now you’re getting into character,” he says.

As the sun sets, the two continue to laze the evening away, Millie with her tattered paperback and Adil with his stationery, scrawling away with the nicest pen he’s ever had the fortune of using, all deep mahogany and brass detailing. While the logistics of keeping in touch with everyone back home is almost certainly going to be a nightmare when he doesn’t even have a proper mailing address, he’s still a man of his word; besides, it’ll be rather nice to hear back from those closest to him about how life back on the home front is going. The logistics can be worked out later.

He neatly composes a sweet and witty letter for Sonny; scrawls away a long-winded message to his parents back in Birmingham, wondering how his father would feel if he knew Adil was using his name as an alias; however, when he gets to the last, he’s unsure of where to start.

He promised Toby he’d write every week; he also doesn’t have too much to say when his work is strictly confidential. Moreover, he can’t even wax romantic when there’s a good chance the mail could be intercepted, and the last thing he needs is to be shunted straight to a work camp on charges of espionage and homosexuality.

“Christ, how many damn letters do you need to write?”

Adil jumps, nearly knocking over his wine as Millie suddenly materializes behind his shoulder. “Er, just the three,” he says, straightening his wine glass. “My family, my friend, and…”

He trails off, staring at the impersonal black ink drying on the stationery—the words of a colleague, and nothing more. Hope Bletchley is treating you well. Send Joe my regards.

“Your lover, huh?” He can’t say anything, but clearly the way his face heats up and he stares more intensely at the letter in front of him is proof enough for her. “Right, what’s her name?”

He can’t say anything.

Millie sighs. “Fine. What’s his name?”

His heart jolts as his head snaps up. “Millie—”

She shrugs. “Well, it’s one of the two, isn’t it?” She clearly notices the way he tenses, because she just smiles—a rare sight—and pats his hand. “Oh, come off it, Joshi. I won’t tell. ‘Sides, it’s not like I’ve ever had my eye out for a gentleman, either…”

His eyes widen. “You’re—”

“—more similar to you than you’d think, aye,” she says, downing another sip of wine; unlike Elizabeth, Millie doesn’t seem to mind the dryness or acidity of Chardonnay.

“Huh,” he says, then, realizing the absurdity of the situation, laughs a little, Millie joining him with a snort of her own. “Who would have thought?”

“Well, it sure makes this whole affair thing a whole lot more tolerable.” Another sip. “So, a man, then?”

“Yes.” Adil ducks his head with a small grin, his heart beginning to flutter the way it always does whenever he’s with someone safe. It’s alright. He can talk about them. “His name—”

Millie smacks his shoulder.

“Hey!”

“What did I just tell you, Joshi?”

“I’m sorry, I just—”

“There’s a lot the Germans can do with Adil Joshi the British sommelier’s homosexual lover, you know.”

“Alright!” He turns his attention back to his letter. “I still have to finish this, anyway.” He sighs, grabbing his pen again and tapping the end of it against the desk. “Problem is, I don’t know what else to say.”

“Rubbish,” says Millie. “You’re in love, it shouldn’t be that hard.”

He sighs. “Well, I don’t know how to say it,” he clarifies. “Not if we’re compromised, like you keep talking about…”

Millie stares at him with an unamused expression. “You’re a spy,” she says. “You can find ways to hide your communication.”

“What, like code?”

“Or invisible ink.”

He shakes his head. “That’s special-issue. I can’t waste equipment on my boyfriend.”

Millie just smirks, taking another long and slow sip of wine.

“Never said the official issue, love.”

As she turns to walk away, Adil takes another good look at his glass, still full of wine. White wine. Clear wine. Clear wine, still full of invisible organic compounds.

It clicks.

He smiles, turning back to his letter and finishing the dry version. Send Joe my regards. Surely with all the Americans swarming the country, he should be positively aflame with stories… wish I could hear them one day. Sincerely, Adil.

With that, he lightly shakes the paper, making sure the ink is dry before he sets about his next steps. Turning to his pen, he carefully extracts the cartridge, making sure not to get ink everywhere, wipes down the nib, and dips it into his glass. It’ll be harder to write when he can’t see the words forming on the page, but he’ll manage, if only for the gratification of being able to properly romance his lover from miles away.

My dear,

Isn’t this such a wonderful trick? I learned it from my comrades; apparently, white wine makes for a great invisible ink. And although any correspondence with you is sweet, I wanted to be able to properly articulate my feelings for you with every letter that I write to you.

All that to say: I miss you, Toby. I miss you more than I could ever hope to put into words. France may be an adventure, but it’s hardly worth anything without you here with me. Would that I have kissed you but once more before I left, knowing it would be the last time in a long while that I could linger in your arms, unbothered by the world around us…

He flushes a bit as he writes the next bit.

And I miss being with you. Not a day goes by when I'm not filled with longing for your body against mine, and there's nothing I want more than to lay you down on your bed and make love to you so slowly and sweetly, seeing just how good I'm making you feel… Until then, all I can do is keep you in my thoughts. Can you promise you'll spare a thought for me tonight?

Stay strong, darling. This war may keep us apart, but know that my feelings for you are unchanged. We shall reunite once again.

Yours,

Adil

There. Dated and signed, tucked into its little envelope. He has no idea if Toby will understand the trick, or even how he’ll get his letter, but that’s a problem to worry about later. For now, he can sit back and enjoy the rest of his wine, waiting to see what tomorrow will bring.


One week later, they’re back at the bar, as has been their habit.

This time, Adil neatly steps up to the bar and helps Millie into her seat before pulling one up for himself; he hardly has to wait before the young barman is rounding the corner.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” he says, hand already reaching for a pair of highball glasses. “Shall I get you two the usual?”

“Yes, please,” he says.

The man nods, grabbing a glass bottle of syrup from the shelf and getting to work.

“So,” he says as he gets to pouring, “how have you been finding France so far?”

It’s an old bartender’s trick—get the client focused on the conversation and not on their hands working their magic—but Adil appreciates it all the same. “Quite pleasant,” he says, resting a hand on Millie’s shoulder as the barman stirs. “It’s no Paris, but it’s lovely all the same.”

He gives a curt nod as he slides over Millie’s cordial. “Well,” he says, fetching the second glass, “I daresay you’ll find Vichy a lot nicer this time of year.”

“Is that so?”

“Everyone flocks to the biggest cities like Paris.” The ice cubes clink as they’re stirred. “But they never pay the smaller cities any mind, even when they have more to offer.”

“Not like Paris has much to offer these days.”

He smiles a wry smile as he hands Adil his drink. “One could say that.”

Adil grabs the glass, raises it in toast, and takes a sip. It’s the usual soda water, of course, but Adil finds that it’s not going down nearly as hard as before, and he can detect a hint of genuine sweetness—juice or syrup, perhaps. “Perfect,” he says, gently setting the glass down with a soft clink. “Thank you.”

The barman nods. “It’s my pleasure,” he says, then hazards a glance at the empty seat beside him. “Oh, Your Highness, I’m afraid your friend will not be able to join you tonight.”

Adil narrows his eyes. “My friend?”

“Mr. Dubois.” He furrows his neatly sculpted brows. “He hasn’t been in for a few days.”

“That’s a shame,” Millie mutters into her cordial.

“Indeed.” He grabs a rag and begins to polish the counter in front of him. “That said, there is a group of militiamen at that far table—over there,” he says, gesturing with his rag-free hand, “if you’re so inclined for company.”

Militiamen at a high-end bar? Now that’s something to note.

Millie idly traces the side of her glass. “And why would we want to talk with them?”

At that, the barman leans in. “Because,” he whispers, as if confiding in a childish secret, “they’ve just ordered their third round of drinks, and I suspect they shall be back for a fourth.” His wide green eyes seem to twinkle, and he nods at Adil, as if to say: I know you like them with loose lips.

Adil sits up straight. “Well,” he says, unsure of how to tread this budding dynamic, “thank you, Mister…”

This time, it’s the barman’s turn to blink with surprise. “Er, Montrachet,” he says. In his tall face, narrow nose, and slicked-back brown hair, Adil can almost see himself in the young Frenchman. “Maurice Montrachet, Your Highness.”

Adil smiles. “Well, thank you very much, Mister Montrachet.”

With that, he gently helps Millie out of her seat and walks with her towards the table where a group of thuggish-looking blokes are laughing through a cloud of smoke. Silently, he wonders if this would be the start of something beautiful.

The night passes in a predictable fashion; their new dining companions are just drunk enough to spill the beans about their nefarious activities in keeping the citizens of France in line, even without Adil needing to prod them too much, and in between their liquor-clouded vision and the haze of cigarette smoke, they never notice that the nice prince and his nice girlfriend have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves. And finally, when all is said and done and the night is drawing to a close, Adil and Millie once again find themselves in another alleyway, smoking another cigarette, wrapping another hesitant arm around each other in case they need to play the part before Elias shows up. And once again, he finds them.

“Bonsoir,” says Brendan through a mouthful of cigarette. Since the first time they met, he’s since traded in his conspicuous bomber jacket for a lighter sports jacket, bold and blue enough to distract from the way it clashes with his olive drab trousers. “You know, we have to stop meeting like this.”

“Name a better option, then,” says Millie. “I like drinks and I like jazz.”

“That I know all too well.” Smirking, he leans against the wall, pinching the cigarette from between his lips and letting it drop to the ground; he effortlessly grinds it under the heel of his shoe. “So, do you have anything interesting for me?”

Adil goes digging through his jacket pockets while Millie, once again, reaches down the front of her dress; he averts his gaze as he hands off the small stack of pocket litter collected from the past few days to Brendan.

He whistles as he accepts them. “You’re keeping the codebreakers busy tonight, huh?”

“Hey, not all of them are written in code,” he says. “We can’t exhaust them too much.”

“They’re a pack of boffins, they’ll like the work.” After tucking the bits and pieces into his own pockets, Brendan pulls out a thin stack of envelopes. “And, well, I think I’ve got a system worked out with your friends back home.” Adil’s heart hammers as he accepts the letters. “They send them to base, and I ship them right to you.”

“Thank you, Elias,” he says, handing over the sole letter addressed to Millie from a Lance Corporal Hart before tucking away the rest. “I don’t know where we’d be without you.”

“Neither do I,” he says, stepping back with one last salute. “But I’m sure glad we’re a team, Dorian.”


The minute they get home, Adil all but flings his shoes off and instantly drops down onto the worn loveseat, letters in hand.

“Eager, aren’t we?” says Millie, digging under the cushion of the armchair.

“Maybe I just miss my friends,” he says, eagerly tearing open the first of the three addressed to him, with the return address in Birmingham. “I haven’t seen them in ages. Besides, I’m sure you’re eager to hear what your brother has been up to.”

“Now when did I say anything about a brother?” she says, pulling out the old wireless radio set and slumping back down into the seat, fitting the headphones over her ears.

“It’s just guesswork.” Oh, how lovely it is to be able to see his mother's handwriting once more. “He shares your surname, he’s close enough to write to you, and he’s young enough to just qualify as a Lance Corporal.”

She shoots him a glare. “Watch it now, Joshi.”

“I know, I know.” He cracks a grin. “There’s a lot the Germans can do with Amelia Hart’s military brother.”

She none-too-subtly gives him a rude hand gesture as she continues to fiddle with the dials.

All too soon, she’s absorbed with passing on all the verbal information she and Adil have accrued back to Headquarters, leaving Adil alone with his letters and his wine. His mother, as usual, chatters on and on about life in the neighborhood, how his friend Toby paid a visit the other week (though Adil knows that she knows what Toby really means to him, she’s still smart enough to not put everything in writing), and how she hopes he’s staying safe out there. At that, Adil can’t help but smile; she’ll never be able to know, of course, but as long as he carries his father’s name with him as alias, he’ll always be safe.

Sonny, on the other hand, keeps his short and sweet, as expected for a busy bandleader. He seems glad to hear back from him, though not without some exaggerated false outrage at Adil’s insistence that perhaps French jazz might be superior to the English sound. As for the goings-on at the Halcyon, not much seems to be too dramatic. Lord Hamilton and Emma have finally begun to properly court each other once more, Feldman’s apparently befriended the badger in his basement, and Adil’s replacement at the bar is doing almost as good of a job as he did.

But Toby…

Adil has been saving Toby’s for last, and he’s initially a bit disappointed to see the polite yet sterile correspondence that they’ve been so used to these past few months—idle chatter about his mother nagging him to visit and his coworkers being odd, not too much out of the ordinary. Sincerely, Toby E. Hamilton.

And yet.

Adil’s eyes scan over the section chatting about his coworkers, and he catches a particular phrase worded in a rather peculiar manner. And there’s a fellow who chains his coffee mug to the radiator... of all places, the radiator! As if it were the location that made it peculiar, and not the act itself. As if it would be normal to chain one’s coffee mug to a different apparatus, but not the radiator.

Heart hammering, he goes over the next sentence. Well, I never expected I'd now know the full insanity of Oxbridge's most educated.

Well, I never expected I'd now know…

It’s not apparent at first glance, but Adil knows code when he spots it.

Giddy, he stands up, gently rests the letter on the old radiator face-down, and takes careful sips of his wine, hoping that his predictions are correct and Toby’s really caught onto the trick. And, thankfully, it seems that he has; not half a minute has gone by before brown words begin to bloom on the backside of the paper.

“You brilliant man,” he whispers as he reaches out and begins to read.

Adil, my love,

Oh, you brilliant man. White wine as ink? Truly, I could never think of something as clever as that to keep our communications clandestine.

That said, I have already said most of what needs to be said in my letter proper, so do forgive me if I am a bit sparse in this one, but just know that my sentiments for you stand likewise. I love you so much, Adil; I love you so much it aches sometimes, and I miss you so much I can hardly stand it. I can only hope that the work you’re doing, whatever it may be, outweighs this distance between us.

And God, don't even get me started about how much I miss being with you. I've been thinking about you every night since you left; I've already thought of you twice last night, since I received your damn letter. You can't do this to a man, Adil. You can't love him and leave him alone, on his knees with no god to worship…

The latter half of the letter continues likewise, and Adil can’t help but feel his face darken profusely.

He clears his throat. “Millie?”

“Yes, dear?”

He stands up, delicately resting the letter in front of him. “I’ll, er, need the room to myself for a bit, if you don’t mind…”

God, he can practically hear her smirk as he slinks away to think. “You take your time, Joshi.”


Over the next couple of months, the network settles into a bit of a routine.

Every night (excluding Sundays), “Suraj” and “Elizabeth” hit up the club. While a variety of locations couldn’t hurt, their regular spot provides them with enough clientele and informants to keep SOE well-informed, and establishing a strong presence in one location proves to be useful when people recognize them as conversational partners—and whenever Maurice is behind the bar. “Sidecar,” as Millie’s christened him in her transmissions, is a bigger help than he perhaps realizes, subtly directing them to the drunkest Nazi sympathizer of the evening and keeping up a steady flow of alcohol-free drinks to give Adil the illusion of intoxication without loosening his lips. And when the night is over, Brendan meets with them twice a week to collect the pocket litter they (mostly Millie) have accrued and serve as the mailman, keeping the two connected to their loved ones without compromising the security of their mission. SOE calls their network “Garland”; Adil calls it the chance for redemption he’s been looking for.

It’s a fine evening in early November when they swagger up to the bar as usual. The band is in full swing, the lights aglow, the clientele fairly healthy for a Monday night. Adil is oddly giddy as he sits down, eager to find out what secrets he’ll unlock tonight.

Maurice is still behind the bar tonight, but he’s too preoccupied with taking stock of the bottles behind him to notice Adil.

“Good evening, Mr. Montrachet.”

“Oh!” Maurice looks up, his eyes wide and oddly unfocused. “Oh, pardon me, Sir—I mean, Your Highness—” He clears his throat. “I’ll get those drinks started for you right away.”

It’s alright, Adil wants to say. Instead, all he can offer is a haughty “Thank you.”

Something’s wrong.

Maurice is doing a good job of keeping his cool, and most guests would never guess that anything’s wrong. However, Adil isn’t like most guests, and he’s been the tense bartender enough times to spot the tells. He’s smiling less, holding himself with more tension, and staying silent. For the first time in a while, Adil can see the jigger in his hand as he measures out their drinks; the magic spell has been broken.

He wants to ask, to check in, but he knows that’s unacceptable. Snooty princes do not ask after the well-being of the men serving them drinks, and good barmen prefer to leave their personal problems at the door if they cannot be spun into a conversation. If he wants to figure out what’s making him tick, he needs to figure out an alternative course of action.

“Excuse me,” he says as Maurice slides their drinks over, “is the wine here any good?”

He blinks. “Er, yeah—yes, why do you ask?”

Adil leans in. “Well, you see, it’s Elizabeth’s birthday tomorrow, and I’d like to surprise her with a nice bottle.”

“Oh, of course, Your Highness.” He opens the divider at the bar and gestures to him. “Follow me.”

Adil follows him, casting one last look behind him as the descend through the back doors into the winding hallways. While he’s unsure of the layout at this particular establishment, he knows from experience that the wine cellar at the Halcyon was always one of the most secluded spots in the hotel, perfect for a private conversation or a cheeky snog with your illicit lover.

Speaking of which, he really ought to start preparing himself for tonight’s mail. He and Toby have been spending the past few letters running through their fantasies of what they’d get up to if Adil ever got leave, and Toby’s last letter had been particularly salacious, of which the tamest bit included the phrase “right up against the wall;” if tonight’s message is anything like that…

But that’s beside the point. Not when they’re finally at the wine cellar, the rows and rows of glass bottles lining the walls standing as the only testament to their conversation.

“So.” Adil runs his hand along the bottles, feeling them rustle like windchimes. “Er, Monsieur—”

“You need to leave.”

Adil blinks; the sudden shift to English by Maurice doesn’t sit well with him. “Monsieur,” he tries again, “je ne comprends pas—”

“You need to leave,” Maurice repeats. When Adil looks over at him, his eyes are wide with terror, his hands tightly clasped in front of him. “Your Highness, you need to get out of France. You and Miss Langley. It is not safe here anymore.”

Adil’s heart skitters to a stop. “Montrachet—”

“Please,” he says, clasping his shoulders. “I have heard horrible things… the Germans are coming, and you will not be safe—”

Adil wants to shudder, to ask for more information. Instead, all he can do as Suraj is scoff. “The Germans like me,” he says. “I’ll be alright.”

“No,” says Maurice. “You think you’re safe now, Your Highness, but two British subjects in Nazi territory—” His voice is trembling. “Go. Go somewhere safe. England, Switzerland, America, anywhere but France, please.”

Nazi territory. The Germans are coming. He’s no longer safe as a foreigner.

“Please!” Sighing, Maurice releases his grip on his shoulders and crosses the cellar. Adil can hear bottles chiming against each other and the rustling of paper. “If not for you and Miss Langley…” He walks back to him and thrusts a bag full of bottles into his hands. “…then for these.”

Adil looks down at the three bottles nestled within the bag, but he hardly needs more than a glance to figure out the bounty in his hands; the black foil tightly wrapped around the caged necks is clear enough. “I can’t take this,” he says, nearly slipping character for a moment. “It’s too much—”

Maurice lays a hand over his. “You can,” he says, “and you must. Better you have champagne than the Nazis. Please, Your Highness, promise me you’ll take it.”

His voice catches in his throat. “I promise,” he whispers, then, with one last look around the cellar, leans in and adds, “I’m not really a prince.”

Maurice just nods. “I know,” he says. “You were too kind.”

With one last sorrowful look, he pats Adil’s shoulder and ushers him away.


“We have to leave.”

Brendan blinks in surprise, hand still frozen on the stack on envelopes in his hand. “I’m not sure I understand you, Dorian.”

“I mean, Violette and I must leave France,” says Adil. Maurice’s mournful words still ring clear in his ears, even hours later, and he doesn’t know what to make of himself if he doesn’t keep his promises. “Sidecar has heard rumors of an invasion, and we will no longer be safe here.”

“Hang on just a bit,” says Brendan, crossing his arms. “You were barely safe now, with all the collaborators. So what if the scenery changes?”

“Are you kidding me?” says Millie, narrowing her eyes. “Can you really not tell the difference between a neutral collaborator and an occupied country?”

He rubs the back of his head. “Well, I know, but the mission—”

“The mission won’t matter if we’re all dead.”

That seems to get to Brendan; he pauses, mouth agape as he looks them over.

“It’ll be a tight fit in the plane.”

“Enough damn excuses—”

“No, you listen to me. Listen!” he barks; for a moment, the easygoing façade slips, and the soldier in him really shines through. “It’s a tight fit, so you better travel as light as you can. Get rid of any shit you don’t need. Try not to travel with more than fifteen pounds…” His eyes flicker over to the bag in Adil’s hand. “What’s that?”

“Dom Perignon.”

“Fucking Hell, Dorian,” he says, rubbing his temples. “Why on earth—”

“Sidecar.” His grip tightens on the bag. “He made me promise we’d keep it out of German hands.”

Brendan gestures to it. “Well, hand it over, then,” he says. “I’ll get it somewhere safe.”

“And what about us?” he asks, reluctantly handing over the champagne.

“You’ll need time to prepare.” The bottles get exchanged for letters. “Give me a day to rest and I’ll be back, Wednesday morning at the latest. Okay?”

“Okay.” Adil’s gingers tighten around the envelopes. “Okay.”


The next twenty-four hours pass in a blur.

The minute Adil and Millie get home, they’re breaking everything down. Millie packs their things in between radioing HQ, informing them that Garland is evacuating. Adil, meanwhile, cleans up the clutter and destroys all evidence of their existence. He throws out stationery, rips up false identification papers, burns up invisible ink and letters. He just barely manages to skim through tonight’s mail before tossing it into the fireplace, watching the sweet words crumble into ash.

The next evening, Maurice is gone with no explanation. Adil had hoped to say goodbye to the young barman, but it seems as though the invasion got to him first. To make matters worse, the round of Montrachet he orders as a toast to his fallen comrade has gone bad with cork taint: a fitting grim end to their mission.

“Is this wine supposed to smell like an old basement?” asks Millie, swirling around her glass with a disconcerted look.

“It’s not,” says Adil, idly tracing his finger along the condensation. “The cork has spoiled it.”

“Wonderful.” She stands up and leans in close. “Say, where’s the wine cellar?”

“Take a left at the service doors and keep going straight ahead, you can’t miss it,” he says. “Hang on, what—”

She kisses his cheek. “You close out our tab,” she says, grabbing the jacket off his shoulders and wrapping it around herself. “I’ll meet you outside.”

Outside, there’s no Elias greeting them; however, Millie’s standing outside, tightly crossing her arms. The coat does a good job of hiding any abnormalities, but…

“What on earth have you got there?” he asks the second they step through the threshold.

“That Dom Perignon shit,” she says. “There were still three bottles left on the shelves when I got there, and if Sidecar doesn’t want the Nazis to have any…” She grunts, leaning over the counter just as the bottles clatter onto the table from under her coat.

“Hang on, you stole champagne from the club?”

“I’m just doing my bit, Joshi.”

He sighs. “Elias won’t be pleased.”

“That’s his problem,” she says. “I’ll pack them up; go get some rest…”

He really does try to fall asleep one last time in their borrowed bed, but the bedsheets feel hot and damp around his skin, even in the autumn chill, and his heart is thundering away too hard in his chest to give him any rest. In the intermittent moments when sleep does manage to overtake him, they’re punctuated by nightmares: fire against his skin, a blizzard of knives, someone pinning him against the wall out of love or rage—or is it both?

When the alarm goes off, he finally manages to wake up; however, the moment he tries to crane his neck to check the time, he finds that it’s gone completely limp and refuses to budge. He can hardly wiggle his fingers; it’s as if his whole body is one large and useless dead leg, with only his eyes free to look around at the stifling darkness around him.

Someone laughs behind him; a chill goes up his spine.

“I’ve got you now,” he whispers, “Adil Joshi—”

“Joshi!”

Adil gasps, finally freeing himself from his paralysis as Millie roughly shakes him awake. “What?” he gasps, resting a free hand over his heart and clenching his fingers as though he’ll never have the chance to move them again.

She purses her lips. “Elias called,” she says; from behind her, Adil can finally make out the time as a quarter past three. “It’s time to go.”


The grasshopper is a tight fit for the three of them; with just one seat in the back, Adil and Millie are pressed up against each other, half-sitting in each other’s laps and awkwardly balancing their stripped-down packs in their laps as Brendan flies on.

“Can’t this thing go any faster?” yells Millie about four hours into the flight.

“I’m going as fast as I can!” he yells back over the din of the propeller. “We’re at capacity, you know, it’s hard to fly under these conditions!”

Adil’s grip on his pack tightens as the craft lurches downward; the trees are coming into clear detail, all lit up by the glow of the sunrise. They haven’t even crossed the channel yet.

“Are you mad?” says Millie again.

“Refueling!” The seat shakes beneath him as they dip further down, leaving Adil’s stomach behind in the wake. “She’s only built for 300 miles!”

“Then get a better plane!”

“A better plane is too big! This mission would be over, doll!”

“Call me ‘doll’ one more time—”

“Would you stop that!?” says Adil, slamming his hand down on Millie’s ankle where it’s crossed over his lap.

Millie scoffs, but she doesn’t say another word as Brendan switches on the radio and begins chattering in French to whoever’s down below. For a second, through his airsick haze, Adil can spot the soldier-spy within the young American, all calm and collected in flawless French. This is the man who’s been smuggling out Nazi code and letters for them in his little green plane; this is the man who’s prioritized covertness above efficiency, risking crashing over the Somme in exchange for a little bit of camouflage. This is their courier, their Elias.

At the safehouse, the three of them are treated to fuel, a light breakfast, and the chance to stretch their legs. Brendan ducks into the woods for a quick smoke, while Adil swiftly relinquishes two of the champagne bottles. “They’re from a club in Vichy,” he states, taking another bite of buttery bread. “The barman feared the Germans would take them once they invaded.” He grimly raises the last bottle in toast before tucking it back into his pack. “Cheers, comrades.

They stopped north enough to only be a little over two hours away from their destination once they’re back in the air, but those seem to stretch out even longer than their trek across France. His skin grows clammy as they begin to cross the channel, and he has to fight back against himself, try not to be sick all over Brendan’s plane.

“A beauty, isn’t she?”

Adil’s head turns from the window to the back of Brendan’s head. “Pardon?”

“The channel,” he says, just loud enough to be heard over the noise of the engine. “Shoot, I’ve never seen a body of water as big as her.” Adil nods, unsure of where he’s going with this. “Closest I got was the river.”

“River?”

“The Naches.” The plane veers sharply to the right, and Adil tightly grips the side of the craft. “A tributary of a tributary. Part of the big Columbia River that separates Washington and Oregon.” He can almost hear the smile in his voice. “I grew up in a little town named after it, you know. We used the water to… irrigate the orchard. We mostly grew apples.” He chuckles. “Best apples in the world come from Washington. I still remember being out during the harvest with my father and getting a bite of the first pick of the season…” He sighs. “I miss it sometimes. I love what I’m doing here, but I miss home.”

“Then why did you become a pilot?” asks Millie.

“Because I wanted to do the right thing. My country was at war, and I wanted to get back at them and fight against tyranny.” Another turn, this time to the left. “There won’t be any harvest to come home to if the Axis destroys it all. So… I won’t let them win. I’ll do everything I can to help you guys out.”

The plan shakes with rough air.

“You seem so sure about that,” she says.

“Because I am,” he replies. “Violette, Dorian, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I won’t let you guys die. Your country needs you. My country needs you. So long as I’ve got this grasshopper, I promise I’m gonna get you home in one piece.”

As the verdant fields of the English countryside come into view, the clamminess only seems to increase with each bump of turbulence.

Brendan flicks on the radio. “Biggin Hill Tower, Taylorcraft Grasshopper Reaper is currently—” Adil’s stomach dangerously swoops, and he barely has time to speak before he’s clenching his teeth, desperately shaking Brendan’s shoulder. “Ah, shit. Stand by, stand by.”

Without a second to waste, he flings the little windowpane open, and Adil sticks his head out and vomits up his meager breakfast.

“Oh, buddy,” says Brendan, resting a hand on his back as he continues to sputter at the sour taste in his mouth. “Easy now, easy.” Tears sting his eyes as he fights off the incoming spasms. “Could have used that over the channel. Hit a few U-Boats for me.”

Adil chuckles between his coughs.

“You gonna be okay if I go back to talking?”

“Sure,” he rasps. He’s fairly sure the nausea is over; at the very least, it won’t bother him for too much longer.

Brendan flips the switch back on. “Sorry. Biggin Hill Tower, Taylorcraft Grasshopper Reaper is at 50 miles southeast, requesting clearance to land.”

Adil slowly pulls himself up back into a sitting position, away from the rustle of the wind and the din of the engine.

“Reaper, this is Biggin Hill Tower,” says a crackly female voice. “Continue straight in on runway oh-three, cleared to land.”

“Cleared to land, continuing straight in on runway oh-three, Reaper.”

With each meter that the grasshopper descends, Adil’s heart kicks up into a faster pace, beating frantically to the tune of home, home, home. He doesn’t know if he’s excited or terrified to be back on English soil. He doesn’t know if there’s even a difference at this point.

If he’s back home, it means he lived to tell the tale. But if he’s back home and the spectre of fascism still haunts Europe, it means he’s failed. He was sent to stop them, and he couldn’t even do that.

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath as the tarmac rumbles beneath them, as they come home.

Look, I'm not saying you should have seen this coming, I'm just saying that for anyone's who's done their homework on the history of France during World War 2, you'd see this coming... Don't worry, this won't be the last of Dorian! Also, quick translation note: the French in the wine cellar just translates to "I don't understand." Anyways, up next: it's time to regroup, rethink the mission, and reconnect with some old friends...
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