We'll Always Have St. Claire
By Maquis Leader
Author’s note: A Killing Game AU inspired by this picture for the Picnic Prose Contest. A big thank you to mes amis at SDO for helping with the French translations, especially to Verdun and her explanation of verbs, so that no one says “I love fish feet” or anything equally strange.
St. Claire hadn’t changed a bit. Well, except for the lack of machine guns, tanks, Nazis, and frightened people. St. Claire hadn’t changed a bit.
Here and there were tell tale signs, a patched bullet hole or a curb that was broken and crumbled from where a tank had rumbled over it, but for the most part, St. Claire had hidden her war scars well. Even the building that the Nazis had used for their headquarters had been repaired, despite the heavy damage from the bomb they had set off there.
Jack turned at the voice. “Yes?”
“I thought I recognized you!” The Frenchman grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously. “I’m Neelix!”
“I’m sorry, I can’t quite place you.” The little man had a mop of orange hair sticking out from under his beret that somehow looked vaguely familiar, but his face didn’t ring any bells.
“Understandable! Understandable! It’s been three years! But maybe this will jog your memory?” The man pointed to a bicycle leaning against one wall of the train depot. A bottle of wine and several loaves of bread filled the little wire basket attached to the front of it.
“You’re the messenger!” Jack broke into a broad smile. “With the codes under the labels on the bottles!”
“That’s me!” Neelix laughed. “It’s good to see you again, Captain Miller. And under much better circumstances.”
“It’s just Jack, I’m not in the Army anymore.”
“Well, Jack, what brings you back to St. Claire?”
“One of my men, Bobby Davis, married a girl here – Brigitte – and he invited me to come visit.” Jack looked past the man. “I thought I might stop by the Coeur de Lion, if it’s – still there?”
Jack’s heart froze for a moment. Had the bar been destroyed in the war? Was Katrine –
“Of course it’s still there!” Neelix chuckled. “Though the clientele has improved since the last time you were here.”
“Good, that’s good.” He laughed in relief. “I’ll have to go there after I see Bobby. Do you know where he and Brigitte are living now?”
“Why, they live over the bar now.” The little man told him. “So you can visit two old friends at once!”
“That’ll be wonderful.” He looked down the street again, anxious to go.
“I must go, mon ami.” Neelix grabbed the American and kissed him on both cheeks. “Good to see you! Welcome back to St. Claire!”
Jack waited until the man had gotten on his bicycle and peddled down the street to wipe at his cheeks. He’d been kissed more times during his stint in France than he had his entire life. And while he hadn’t minded the mademoiselles kissing him, he’d never gotten used to the men kissing him.
Picking up his bag, he walked down the street toward the Coeur de Lion. And Katrine.
The walk was relatively short, only a mile or so, compared to the hundreds of miles he’d marched across Europe, but he was soon tired and limping. During the final push to Berlin, he’d been badly wounded. A Kraut had popped up from behind a blown out tank and used him for target practice.
He’d been lucky as hell to survive. The machine gun had stitched a path across his body, shattering his leg, breaking ribs, and coming so close to his spinal cord that his backbone had been chipped. Luckily the bullets hadn’t hit anything vital. He’d had a punctured lung and a near miss of his heart, but he was alive.
Bobby had taken a bullet in the shoulder before he was able to toss a grenade into the Kraut’s hidey hole. Stubborn kid had refused to retreat to a safe spot and leave him lying in the street. Popped the Major a good one in the mouth and ran screaming like a maniac right at the startled German soldier.
He’d known it was bad even before they hauled him out by jeep to the 75th Armored Medical Battalion, which was attached to the 5th. Blood had bubbled out of his mouth every time he took a breath, and there was that horrible sucking sound he’d heard too many times before one of his men died. Bobby had stayed with him during the long painful ride as the jeep jolted down the rutted road, the baby blues wide and scared despite the casual talk of going back to see the girls after the war.
His spinal cord had swelled and for a time he was paralyzed from the waist down. It had been a mercy of sorts, because he couldn’t feel the pain from his shattered leg as they moved him from the field hospital to a hospital ship and finally sent him back to the States.
Resting against a storefront, Jack rubbed his knee, massaging the tired muscles. Stateside he’d gotten a hero’s welcome and so many surgeries on his leg he’d lost count. His knee, hip, and thigh were covered with scars, and he’d jokingly called himself Frankenstein.
It had been almost a year before he took his first shaky steps. Months more before he could walk without a cane. When he had finally been able to go home, his mother had fainted when she saw how thin and pale he was. She and his sister had done their best to fatten him up and get him walking again, pampering and praising him for each wobbly step. Through it all, he’d had one single goal. To return to St. Claire. And Katrine.
He’d written her letter after letter – never telling her how badly he was hurt, of course – but she had never replied. They hadn’t come back ‘return to sender’ either, and so he had kept writing. Kept writing and held out the hope that she’d be glad to see him.
Pushing off the wall, he continued down the street, nodding and smiling to people as they greeted him.
“Capitaine Miller, bonjour!”
“Grande victoire, Capitaine!”
How could they remember him after almost three years? Then again, how many Army grunts had waltzed into town and blown up a Kraut HQ in the dead of night? At least nobody tried to kiss him.
The bar looked the same. A snarling white lion guarded the door and gold lettering welcomed him in. Stepping inside, he blinked in the dim light.
“Jack?” Bobby set a glass down on the bar. “Jack, is that you?”
“In the flesh.” He set his bag down as the younger man walked over to him and wrapped him in a bear hug. “You kiss me and I’ll put your lights out.”
“Relax, Chief.” Bobby stepped back and grinned. “I haven’t gone totally native.”
“Good. Between you and me, I’ve had enough of men grabbing me and kissing my cheeks. Back home, they’d get the crap kicked out of them.” Jack slapped Bobby on the back. “Damn, it’s good to see you.”
“You too. You look a hell of a lot better than you did the last time I saw you.”
“Yeah. And thanks.”
“Hey, you know – “ Both men shifted uncomfortably. “Anybody’d have done it.”
“Where’s Brigitte? And your boy?” Jack changed the subject. “Bet he’s growing like a weed.”
“Come on upstairs.” Bobby picked up Jack’s bag. “Brigitte will be crazy to see you.”
Brigitte had been crazy, holding on to him, crying and laughing. Somehow she’d decided he was the one responsible for getting her and Bobby back together. He’d almost said she should thank the Germans when their little boy came into the room.
“There he is! My big boy!” Bobby picked the boy up. “Lyonel, say hello to your Uncle Jack.”
Lyonel buried his face in his father’s neck, risking a peek out after a few moments at the stranger in his house.
With his baby blue eyes and blond hair, the boy could easily be Bobby’s son. And Bobby obviously adored him. “Hi there. Did your daddy tell you how he saved my life during the war?”
“He didn’t?” Jack pretended great shock. “He’s a hero, he saved me when I was wounded and carried me to a doctor.”
“Vraiment?” Lyonel looked up at his father.
“Well…” Bobby flushed. “He was my captain – what else could I do?”
They had dinner, Bobby and Jack telling stories about some of the good times they’d had, including the time they were billeted in a whorehouse in Belgium. Brigitte’s eyes narrowed as Jack laughed over how he’d practically had to post a guard at Bobby’s door to keep the working girls from sneaking in.
“It’s not like I wanted them to come in!” Bobby protested.
“I’ll bet.” She got up and lifted Lyonel up from his chair. “Bedtime for you, buster. Say goodnight to Daddy and Uncle Jack.”
Jack smiled as he watched Brigitte carry the little boy out of the room. “He looks like you, Bobby.”
“Yeah.” The younger man leaned back in his chair. “But it’s not going to be enough.”
“Surely they’re not going to hold it against him that his father was a German soldier?”
“I don’t know.” Bobby ran a hand through his hair. “Everyone seems to have forgiven Brigitte for what happened, but there’s a lot of anti-German feeling around here.”
“Can’t say as I blame ‘em.” Jack took a sip of his coffee. All night he’d been trying to work up the nerve to ask one question. “Bobby, where’s Katrine?”
“I don’t know. Nobody does.”
“She disappeared four or five months after we left.” Bobby told him. “Left Brigitte a letter and the deed to the bar.”
“And nobody knows where she went? What happened to her?” Jack’s skin crawled at the thought of what could have happened to a woman alone in a war zone. “What about the Maquis?”
“No word. Brigitte thinks maybe she went back to the States.”
Jack shook his head. “Just my luck, huh, kid? I come here looking for her and she probably hightailed it back to the States.”
Many nights he and Jack had sat and talked about Brigitte and Katrine and how much they wanted the war to end so they could get the hell back to St. Claire. “Sorry, Chief.”
“It’s all right, Bobby.” He smiled sadly. “I guess some things just aren’t meant to be.”
Jack spent the night in Katrine’s old room. Lying on the cool cotton sheets, he remembered the last time he was in St. Claire. He and Katrine had gone through the underground tunnels the Maquis had dug so they could plant a bomb to bring down the Nazi headquarters.
They had sat and waited for dawn. They talked and laughed, and somehow they had moved closer until they could touch and then kiss. Eventually they had ended up making love – Jack stopped and laughed softly in the dark. Stop painting pretty pictures, Jack.
It had been quick and urgent, both of them worrying about getting caught with their pants down, literally, by the Krauts. He’d laid his jacket down for Katrine and helped her pull her pants off before he’d opened his own pants, mounted her, and fucked her there in the dirt. That’s more like it, Jack. Not so pretty but damn it was good. She had bitten his shoulder, left a mark that lasted for days, in her effort to keep from crying out when she came. His own grunts of pleasure had been muffled in the auburn hair.
After they had planted the explosives right before the morning change of guards, they had retreated to a safe distance to watch as the building went up with most of the Nazi officers inside. The ammo dump and motor pool had gone off in quick succession from explosives planted by other teams.
The Krauts that survived had beat a hasty retreat as the 5th Armored Infantry poured into the valley. The citizens of St. Claire had treated his men as though they were Patton, Ike, and Monty all rolled into one.
That night, while the townspeople danced and drank downstairs in the bar and spilled out into the streets to celebrate their liberation, he and Katrine had gone upstairs to her small apartment.
They had spent the night making love, and this time Jack knew the pretty pictures were real. Katrine had been tender and loving, and quite uninhibited. Kissing and touching his body and even taking him into her mouth. When she had lain back on the bed and held her arms out to him, it hadn’t been cheap or dirty, and he had worshipped her pale, creamy body as he never had with another woman.
It had been one of the best nights of his life – if not the best – and leaving her the next day had been the hardest thing he’d ever done.
“I’ll write to you.”
Katrine shook her head. “You worry about the war, not me.”
“I’ll be back.” He caressed her cheek.
“Be safe.” She stepped into his arms and raised her lips to his.
Tangling a hand in the auburn hair, he let his other hand slide down to the small of her back to mold her body to his. He kissed her desperately, passionately, trying to show her how he felt. Katrine returned the kiss just as passionately, her tongue mating and sliding along his until they were forced to break apart for air.
His men were whooping and hollering, some whistling and stamping their feet. The townspeople were cheering as well, their French hearts loving the romance of the brave Maquis and the American GI.
“Go, Jack.” The corner of her mouth crooked up. “Go kick Hitler in the ass for me.”
He had watched her until his jeep turned a corner and even then, he’d stared back until they were crossing the bridge over a small river and leaving St. Claire behind.
Bobby had been driving, grim and silent beside him. He had stayed with Brigitte and though she was too heavy with child to have sex, they had held each other through the night. In the early morning, he had taken her to the small church close to the bar and married her with Katrine and Jack as their witnesses. No matter what might have happened after the 5th left St. Claire, Brigitte was now a married woman and her child no longer a fatherless bastard.
Jack rolled over and gathered the pillow close, hoping for the smallest trace of Katrine’s perfume. Closing his eyes, he drifted to sleep to dream of her.
After three days in St. Claire, Jack had to leave. It was too painful to stay any longer. He kept expecting Katrine to walk into the bar, and when he rolled over at night, he instinctively reached for her. Groping in the dark until he remembered he was alone.
Bobby and Brigitte understood. They’d been separated not once but twice before they were able to have a life together. They’d walked with him to the train station, and she had given him a care package of food for the long trip to Paris. Bobby hugged him quickly, then slapped him on the back, leaving their manly pride intact.
Paris had changed since he’d last been there only days after the liberation, and after leaving his bags in the small hotel room he’d taken, Jack walked through the city, amazed at how different it seemed.
The machine guns and war posters were gone, and fighter planes no longer flew over the city guarding against attack. The bullet holes were patched and broken windows repaired. Here and there were gaping holes where buildings had once stood, but for the most part, Paris was as beautiful as she must have been before the war.
His train didn’t leave until morning, and Jack found himself with nothing to do to kill the time. His leg and back hurt from the train ride and walking, and he soon decided to stop for dinner before walking back to his room.
A sign caught his attention. Le Cochon Distingué. There was a smiling pig wearing a fancy suit and a monocle. He studied it for a moment; his French was a bit rusty. Then he laughed. “The Distinguished Pig?”
The café was warm and homey, and rich with the smell of good food. He sat down at a small table and ordered dinner. The waitress smiled as she left a basket of fresh rolls along with a bottle of the house wine.
Tearing off a piece of the still warm bread, Jack chewed thoughtfully. Had Katrine decided to go back to the States? Or had she been killed in the war? So many people had simply disappeared, especially the resistance fighters. Too many had been shot and their bodies left where they fell.
Damn it, Jack! Don’t think that way! Images of her being beaten, raped, and murdered had haunted his dreams since he’d left St. Claire three years ago. He took a sip of the mellow red wine to wash down the lump of terror in his throat. Katrine’s a survivor! You, on the other hand, are a complete fool! Coming all this way for a woman you spent one night with!
The waitress interrupted his self abuse, setting a bowl of soup on the table and placing a large spoon beside it. “Voulez-vous autre chose, monsieur?”
“No, thank – ah – non, merci.”
“Si vous avez besoin de toute autre chose…” She gave him a flirtatious smile. “N’importe quoi…”
She was pretty enough, blond hair and blue eyes and nicely shaped. But she wasn’t the ‘anything’ he wanted. “Non, merci.” He smiled at her.
With a shrug that clearly said ‘your loss’ in any language, she walked away and left him to his soup and musings.
The soup was thick and creamy, and Jack spent a few minutes enjoying the rich taste, dipping the freshly baked bread into it and chasing it down with sips of wine. When his belly began to get full, his thoughts went back to the path they had been wearing into his mind for days. What was he going to do now?
He’d wasted his money coming back to Europe. Money he could have used to go into business or buy a house. He still had the money to get home; hell, he’d made sure he had enough for two tickets home, first class no less. He set the spoon down, no longer hungry.
Wiping his mouth with his napkin, he tossed it on the table. A quick check of his watch showed he had hours before he could go to bed and be able to feel like he wasn’t hiding. He sighed. Not that a night of tossing and turning was anything to look forward to.
He sat back in his chair and looked around the café at the other patrons. A group of men sat at one table discussing the new law that allowed women to vote and how it was going to bring the Republic down around their ears. At another table, three older ladies were chatting, obviously out for a sociable dinner. By the window, a young couple sat with their fingers intertwined, staring into each other’s eyes, smiling and whispering.
Jack jerked his gaze away, searching for something else to look at before his heart could see and begin to ache again. He settled on the little girl sitting on a stool at the counter.
She had her dolls lined up and was carefully pouring imaginary tea into the cups before them. Long dark hair fell down her back, and a strand fell over her face. She was serious, a frown creasing her forehead as she told one doll to eat all of her cake. Or her coat. His French was rusty as hell.
Fresh longing tore at his heart at the sight. Her dark hair and eyes reminded him of the kids back home. His sister’s daughters had loved to help him when he was still struggling to walk. Scolding him for walking too far and too fast, and climbing up on his lap for stories every night. Closing his eyes, he could feel their silky black hair sliding through his fingers as he braided it, feel their soft skin as they kissed him goodnight.
Go home, Jack. Get you a nice girl and have kids of your own. He told himself firmly, resolving to stop dreaming of a certain fiery redhead with pale white skin. Find someone real to love.
Fishing his wallet out of his pocket, he dropped enough francs on the table to cover dinner and the tip. He would go find some French lace for his mother, perfume for his sister, and some trinkets for his nieces and nephews. And tomorrow he would go home and never think of Katrine again. Ever. Even if it killed him.
“Come on, poppet. Time for bed.”
Jack froze. That voice haunted his dreams at night. Soft and husky like good whiskey. He looked up and his heart stopped.
“Non.” The little girl shook her head.
“Oui.” Katrine put her hands on her hips.
“Stubborn.” She lifted the little girl up and settled her on her hip. “Now where could you have gotten that trait, I wonder?”
She turned, and her eyes widened. For a moment she simply stared at him, her knees weak and her heart pounding. Then she put the girl down and handed the dolls to her. “Go on upstairs. Tell Lilly I’ll be right up.”
After the child had gone up the stairway behind the bar, Katrine walked over to Jack’s table. “Mind if I sit down?”
“Please.” He held a chair out for her before sitting down at the table with her.
“How have you been? How’s your leg?”
“Good.” She looked down at the table. “The potato soup? Did you like it?”
“It was good.”
“I’ll tell Henry.”
The meaningless conversation gave Jack time to gather his wits and get his heart working properly again. “Katrine, why did you leave St. Claire?”
“A change of scenery.” She shrugged.
“Why didn’t you write – return any of my letters?”
“I was never much of a writer.” The pattern on the tablecloth held her attention, and she traced it with a red fingernail. “I liked reading your letters.”
“You could have saved me a trip.” Anger at her casual attitude ripped through him, and Jack stood up. “You could have told me what a fool I am.” Katrine said nothing, and he turned to walk away. Out of the café and away from the pieces of his heart that were scattered over the bright tablecloth.
“Men say things – “ She said softly. “Especially during war.”
He stopped but didn’t turn back. “You weren’t some war dolly to me, Katrine.”
“I know – but I didn’t know that it meant – “ His body was taut and she wished she could see his face, know what he was thinking. “If it meant enough for you to come back.”
Truly angry now, he turned and limped back to the table. “Even after you read my letters?” He had never come out and said how he felt, what man did, but he’d given her more than enough for her to know how he felt about her. “After I said I was coming back?”
“Well…” A crooked smile lifted the corner of her red lips. “A lady can hope… but…”
“And so can a man.”
“It’s been three years, Jack.”
He softened, seeing the trembling lips and the shine of tears in her eyes. “I was wounded – I thought – I didn’t want you to worry – “
“Come upstairs.” Standing, Katrine held her hand out to him. “Come upstairs and we’ll talk.”
Her fingers quivered in his as she led him upstairs to her apartment. Inside, the little girl was sitting on the floor, playing with her dolls while an older lady brushed out the long black hair.
“Lilly, vous pouvez y aller.” Katrine told her in her delicately accented French. “Vous pouvez partir.”
The other woman nodded and put the brush aside. She gave the girl a kiss on the cheek before she gathered her purse and coat. Smiling at Katrine and Jack, she left, closing the door softly behind her.
Katrine lifted the little girl up from the floor. “Jacqueline, this is your papa.”
A ton of bricks couldn’t have knocked him more senseless than the word ‘papa’. Jack stared at the little girl, at her dusky skin and big dark eyes. No wonder she reminded him of his sister’s daughters. “This – why – “
“I didn’t know if you would ever come back.” She kissed her daughter’s cheek. “And I didn’t want to trap you with a child.” Or hurt her if you didn’t want her.
“This is why you left St. Claire, isn’t it?”
“In Paris, I’m a widow. Respected and pitied.” Her face hardened. “In St. Claire, I would have been the whore who ran the tavern and her bastard.”
“They miss you there – speak of you fondly.”
“Of course they do.” Katrine handed Jacqueline to him. “But the war’s over and attitudes change.”
It was true, there was no use denying it, it was just the way things were. Even Bobby knew that there were those who would someday look at his son and hold his birth against him. Instead, he focused on the beautiful child in his arms. His daughter. My daughter!
Jacqueline was studying him, touching his face with curious fingers. She had never seen anyone who wasn’t white skinned. Except for Henry, and he didn’t count. “Tu es bien coloré?”
Jack frowned. “I – what?”
“She said you were… colored… right.” Katrine stroked her daughter’s golden cheek. “When she asked why she’s not white like her friends, I told her God had baked her a little longer so she’s the perfect color.”
“Ah, I see.” He smiled at Jacqueline. She smiled back, dimples flashing in her plump cheeks. “Tu es bien colorée, aussi.”
“Do you want Papa to stay?” Katrine asked, looking into Jack’s eyes.
“Oui, Maman.” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. “Reste – stay!”
“I’ll never leave you.” He hugged her tightly. “Never – jamais. Je t’aime, ma petite.”
Tears welled up in her eyes, and Katrine brushed them away. Seeing Jack with their daughter made her realize how foolish she had been to let her pride and fear keep them apart. “Jack – “
He held his hand out to her and when she took it, pulled her to his side. “Does Maman want me to stay?”
“Yes.” She stretched up to kiss him. “Hell, yes.”
“How are you going to explain my sudden return from the dead?” He slid an arm around her waist and laid his cheek against her hair.
“Weren’t you wounded? Did you not get sent home? Didn’t you just arrive back here as soon as you could?” When he chuckled into her hair, Katrine held up a hand. “Well then, looks like reports of your death were greatly exaggerated.”
“Think they’ll buy it?”
“Are you kidding?” She leaned back to look at him. “They’re French!”
“No doubt they’ll think it’s romantic.” He smiled down at her. “Especially when we renew our vows.”
There was such love in the black velvet eyes that Katrine could only nod. All the nights she’d dreamed of Jack, she’d almost convinced herself that it was just the mission, just the war that bound them together and nothing more.
Reaching up, she tangled a hand in his raven hair and pulled him down for a kiss. She held him close, pouring all her feelings, her loneliness into the kiss.
Jacqueline began giggling and covered her face as her Maman and handsome new Papa kissed.
Combat Chronicles A combat chronicle of the 5th Armored Division.