“Do you think it’s strange?” Eric asked, late in the night as he lay in Jack’s arms, still sweating, but breathing even and soft.
“I been here a while now, near a month, I think,” Eric said, twisting so he could look into Jack’s eyes. He brought his hand up, brushing through Jack’s hair, delighting in the way the motion made Jack go soft at the mouth. “I wrote to my parents, and not hide nor hair of ‘em, even by telegram. Just…strange, innit?”
Jack let out a puff of air. “Maybe your letter not there yet. Is…not so easy, just after war, you know? Take some time. I wouldn’t worry. Not yet.”
Eric let his eyes close as Jack leant forward, pressing his lips soft and insistent to the cut of Jack’s jaw. They’d been like this now for a week, together at every opportunity. Eric could hardly believe it some moments—that the terrified boy from Georgia had this. And he wasn’t sure what it meant, or where it would end, but it was something.
At the present time, his nerves were flaring. Jack’s parents were due to arrive by morning, and though he assured Eric they were not only prepared for what they’d see between Jack and Eric, but they supported it, it was difficult to accept. However more progressive France was than Georgia—and Eric hadn’t really seen much evidence of that just yet—what they were doing was still wrong in the eyes of so many.
But he trusted Jack. How could he not? Jack had stood by him in all the terrifying moments he’d suffered. From dragging Eric out of the rain and giving him a job, to staying up with him late at night as he scribbled nonsensical words and numbers and names. He hadn’t looked askance at Eric since that first day when Eric effortlessly translated German, even when sometimes during his baking he’d switch into the language without realising it until Jack pointed it out.
Eric’s own head terrified him, the secrets that were still locked away. But they’d be finding out some of them, soon enough. Jack had kept careful, detailed notes of everything Eric said and dreamt, and they still had the coordinates plotted out on Jack’s map where they would find…something. Something big, Eric was certain. Something that would change everything, but he couldn’t remember.
When he tried, he saw darkness, and felt a fierce ache in his head, and echoes of throbbing pain in the scars on his arm. But there was never any clarity. When it became too much, and he curled up in Jack’s arms, listening to Jack whisper quiet, soothing French, it felt like the world wasn’t trying to crush him.
But he wasn’t entirely soothed. He wanted to keep this forever, and he didn’t think that was possible.
All the same, dawn was looming, and whatever was to come next, Eric had to be prepared for it.
Eric woke to the feeling of eyes on him, and rolled to his side to see Jack there, smiling sweetly, sleepily. His heart lurched in his chest, desperate in a way, to cling tight and never let this go. He couldn’t stop himself as his hand lifted, the backs of his knuckles brushing along the cut of Jack’s jaw.
“Sweetpea,” Jack repeated, the smallest frown creasing between his eyebrows. “This is…like a pea that is sweet?”
Eric giggled, pushing his face into Jack’s shoulder. “Yeah. We got a lot of those in Georgia, you know? Honey, sweetpea, darlin’, baby.”
Jack tipped Eric’s head back, pinching his chin between his fingers, and kissed him, a slow delicate thing. “Je comprends,” he murmured. “Nous avons phrases romantique aussi.”
Eric’s eyebrows rose as he attempted to translate what Jack was saying. “Romantic…sayings?”
Jack nodded. “Oui. Comme… hmm,” he tapped his chin in mock thought, a little smirk playing at his lips. He brought his hand down, brushing along Eric’s cheek gently, his thumb running over Eric’s bottom lip, making him lose his breath. When he spoke, he brought his face down so close, Eric could feel Jack’s lips brushing against his own. “Je veux passer toute ma vie avec toi.”
“I…” was all Eric managed.
“Ou… Où as-tu été toute ma vie?” He smiled, kissing up Eric’s jaw until Eric pushed him away lightly.
“You got my head goin’ round and round, Jack Zimmermann. I can’t tell down from up. What are you sayin’ to me right now?”
Jack chuckled again, brushing his palm flat, down Eric’s bared chest, his fingers playing at the fine hair near Eric’s navel. “Je veux passer…” He punctuated the half sentence with a kiss. “I want to spend,” he dragged his lips to Eric’s neck. “…tout ma vie…” He stopped, sucking just a little at the sensitive spot under Eric’s ear, making Eric gasp, arching into his touch. “All my life…” He nosed up into Eric’s hair and murmured, “…avec toi.”
“With me?” Eric guessed, and Jack pulled back, his mouth still turning gently up with a grin, but his eyes serious.
“Oui, Eric.” His fingers brushed along freckles, like Eric was a canvas and the emotions pouring from Jack’s fingers were bright, bold colours making Eric turn from dull white, to a cascade of want and need and contentment. “I know is not…perfect. So many things to learn when we leave today but…nothing is change, okay? Nothing. I’m…” He hesitated, then leant forward and buried his face in Eric’s neck. “Je t’aime.”
“That’s a new one,” Eric whispered, digging his fingers into Jack’s hair, blunt nails dragging along his scalp. He didn’t ask for a translation for that one, was afraid to hear it in his own tongue because if he did…it would be real, and if it was real, it would be impossible to walk away from. And Eric wasn’t certain it wouldn’t come crashing down the moment they found that little tree in Caen.
Instead of letting himself head down that road, he pulled back and latched his mouth to Jack’s. He let his eyes close as Jack’s hands wandered, wide, massive palms drinking him in, lower and lower until he was stroking Eric in a fast, almost furious rhythm. Eric groaned, a sob lodged in his throat as his own fingers scrambled to get round Jack, to feel the hard weight of him against his palm. Jack was cut, unlike Eric, and it was strange to feel him thick, smooth and a little drier than Eric was. But it was fitting, and everything about Jack—every curve of him, every sharp edge, every soft stretch of skin, was beautiful.
Eric loved him too. He did, and the feeling had claws, digging into his chest, refusing to let go. It was so much and it wasn’t enough, and Eric thought he might burst with it.
Then, as Jack drew him over the edge, he let out a sharp cry as he came, feeling himself spurt across Jack’s knuckles, burying his gasp in Jack’s neck. Jack wasn’t far behind, and Eric’s hand didn’t falter until he heard Jack’s cursing, the muffled cry, the way his hips hitched and thrust hard against Eric’s belly.
They bathed quickly, in water warmed in a basin, scrubbing quickly with flannels and soap. Jack’s parents would be arriving any moment, and then the road lay before them. Eric felt a sense of loss as they headed down to open the bakery doors and wait, like it was a goodbye, even without the finality of an official farewell.
But try as he might, Eric couldn’t fight time. And somewhere in his head, the dark part of him he’d locked inside a box was starting to chip away at the lock, ready to come out.
Jack’s parents were everything and nothing like Eric expected. Bob was the spit of Jack in nearly every way except his eyes. Jack shared the fierce, sharp blues with his mother, who was short, blonde, and sharp as a tack as she eyed Eric, then dragged him into a hug.
They were so unlike his parents, but all the same they caused a pang of home-sickness in Eric, a longing for when days were simpler, and days when his parents didn’t suspect there was something off about him, something… queer. And there was a pang of jealousy, the way Bob and Alicia pat his cheek, and shared fond, almost happy looks whenever Jack would brush Eric’s waist, or kiss his temple in passing. Eric would never have that at home—even if his parents had loved him enough to accept it about him, they would never have loved him enough to tolerate it like this.
It hurt, but it was a comfort to sit with them as he and Jack packed for the road. And there was no judgement when Eric confessed everything he’d been going through, after Jack assured him that Eric could trust them both.
“I think you’re very brave,” Alicia said, whose English was damn near fluent between the three of them. “I know you must be scared, but try not to be. Jack will take care of you, and whatever it is you find out there, it was meant to be found.”
“Then you come home,” Bob said. “Jack tell us try your pies. American pies, yes? We want to try.”
Eric couldn’t help a laugh, or his blush as he covered his face with his hand. “Lord have mercy…of course I’ll bake y’all a pie. Soon as we get back, I’ll bake you a dozen.”
Bob looked thoroughly pleased by this. “You teach me. Teach me these recipes, we sell them here. Make villages love American sweet.”
Eric rolled his eyes, and didn’t protest when Jack, who’d clearly had enough of his father, took his hand and dragged him to the kerb where the car was waiting. It only took a moment to load everything into the back, and then they were seated, pulling away from the little bakery, and the only time Eric had felt safe in what felt like years.
The road was bumpy, and though traffic was minimal, it was a slow journey. He couldn’t hate it—the countryside was green and wide and gorgeous with huge fields, orchards of trees spanning across miles, and small farms and villages in the distance.
The pair of them were quiet for a while, as Eric watched the land roll by, and he startled when Jack suddenly reached over, and switched on the radio. Eric had heard a little bit—Jack liked to play songs in the mornings when he was prepping, but it was always faint. The scratchy, soft jazz began to play out of the tinny speakers, and then a voice which Eric recognised from his travels on the road.
“… Voilà le portrait sans retouche. De l'homme auquel j'appartiens…”
Eric smiled, and Jack smiled back, and they listened for a while. The song was sweet, and Eric understood a few words here and there. When he looked over at Jack again, Jack was grinning at him, then he winked as he opened his mouth and began to croon along, reaching out with one hand to touch Eric on the cheek.
“… C'est lui pour moi, moi pour lui dans la vie. Il me l'a dit, l'a juré pour la vie…ah…”
Eric couldn’t help his startled laugh. “Why Jack Zimmermann, you’ve got a voice on you.”
Jack’s brow furrowed. “Voice on me. Is…compliment?”
Eric giggled, grabbing Jack’s hand to press a kiss to the centre of his palm. “Yes, Jack. A compliment. It means your voice is wonderful. Why didn’t you sing for me before?”
Jack shrugged, murmuring along with the song until it ended. “Is…not best talent, my singing. But…feels good sometimes. Make me happy. Like you make me happy.”
Eric’s entire body flushed, and he glanced away for a moment to gather himself. “You…you make me happy too, Jack. So happy. And I’m so scared. I don’t know what we’re gonna find out here, and it could be so bad. I could be…aww hell, Jack. I could be a war criminal or something terrible. I could’a done some real bad stuff. What if I’m one of those…what if I’m one of those spies or…”
“Eric,” Jack said firmly, making Eric’s babbling stop. “Maybe you do bad things…but we all do, in the war. It isn’t meaning you can’t also be good. You are good, Eric. Whatever was before, it was…in the past. Not you now. It won’t change things.”
Eric licked his lips, then closed his eyes and breathed out. “Promise?”
“Yes,” Jack said firmly.
Eric chanced a look over, comforted by the almost severe sincerity in Jack’s face. “Merci beaucoup,” he said, and Jack laughed, leaning over to kiss him once before speeding up again, and taking the road by storm.
They stopped in Caen for lunch, the city still war-torn, but bustling with new business, and a renewed sense of life. There were some soldiers still milling about, most of them French, but a few in British uniforms. Eric was certain he hadn’t worked with them, and nothing looked familiar, so they were quick to eat their fill at the café before quickly moving on.
Jack stopped by the side of the road to check the map, and saw they were only a few minutes away from the coordinates. Eric felt a chill in his bones, a strange sense of foreboding, but also relief. Whatever was to come, it would be over soon, and he could move on to…whatever the future held for him.
He could only hope it included Jack, but he didn’t want to get too ahead of himself. Losing Jack would crush him, and he wanted to soften the blow as much as he could.
They were both silent, tension between the pair of them as Jack turned the car off the road, and into a field. There were a few trees, and an abandoned farm not far off. It looked familiar to Eric, like a long-dormant memory from childhood trying to resurface. He couldn’t conjure up anything specific, but he felt the ghost of soft earth under his nails, and the hot sun burning his cheeks.
“Ah,” Jack said, “Regarde. C'est là. Your tree,” he clarified.
And sure as the sun rose in the east, there it was. The tree from Eric’s nightmares, looming in the distance, green and full, with the small wooden sign nailed to the trunk. Jack stopped the car a ways back from it, and he didn’t move as Eric climbed from the seat, his feet sinking into the soft earth.
Jack wasn’t far behind, but Eric was lost in his thoughts, the darkness having clawed its way out. And although he didn’t have a firm, cohesive grasp on what was going on in his head, he knew that he had to reach the tree, and get down on his knees, and he had to dig.
His fingernails filled with earth, tearing at them, and he was vaguely aware of Jack digging with him, in total silence, without any questions. The hole grew and grew, and Eric was sweating from the streams of sunlight escaping through the branches and falling over him, and finally—finally—his hands reached something solid.
A small, wooden box. He heaved it out of the ground, and ripped at the opening, and stared inside.
Nestled at the bottom, filthy and water-logged from rain, was a small notebook. Eric knew instinctively what it was…names, dates, addresses, rankings. His fingers trembled as he reached to open it, but before he could, there was a sound which made him go cold, and freeze.
The sound of a gun-hammer cocking.
“Hang on right there, neither of you move.” The voice was American, deep, commanding. “You two are gonna stand up, turn around, and keep your hands at your sides.”
Eric obeyed on instinct, though his brain was screaming, run, and also, protect Jack! But he did as he was told, though he shuffled slightly in front of Jack to take the brunt of whatever might come their way. His eyes moved quickly to their assailants, and he was intimidated and mildly surprised.
Two men, wearing civvies, the taller one with pale white skin, blonde hair, and glasses. The other, an inch shorter, had broad shoulders, dark brown skin, and a firm set line to his mouth. They both held guns, their posture clear that they knew how to use them.
“We’re going to take a little walk,” said the one in glasses. “That little farm right there, we’re going to head inside, and have a nice chat. And if my buddy and I here are happy with what we hear, everything’s gonna be alright. If not…”
Eric didn’t need him to finish the sentence. Though his memories hadn’t fully returned, he knew what the end of that phrase was, and he felt fear—not for himself, but for Jack. Jack hadn’t done anything but be kind and take him in, and love him a little. Eric had done nothing to warrant Jack putting himself in danger.
He nearly opened his mouth to beg for them to let Jack go, but he knew that would only set them on edge, and put them both further in danger. So he fell silent, not protesting when the other one reached out and grabbed the box, gun still trained on them both, and then they led the way to the farmhouse.
Inside smelt of damp, the air thick and stale. It was dark, the boarded windows giving way to little flecks of light, which illuminated the heavy dust on what little furniture remained.
The only stable place to sit was a scrubbed wooden table, with two chairs which were set for him and Jack, and the other two stood in front of them, arms crossed, but their hands still poised on their pistols.
“Alright, I’d like this to go real easy,” said the one with glasses. “My name’s Adam, and this is my partner Justin. Now, we know you’re calling yourself Eric Bittle, but we have a few…questions about that.”
Eric’s eyes went wide. “I…how d’you know who I am?”
“We don’t,” Justin said, lifting a brow. “Which is why we’ve been watching you. Why we intercepted this.” From his pocket, he pulled out a letter which Eric immediately recognised as the one he’d sent off to his parents.
For a moment, anger took over, and he started to rise, but when he saw their grips on their guns to tight, he eased back down. “That…was personal.”
“Oh, we know. We read it,” Adam said. “See, the thing is, we had a contact called Eric Bittle. Damn good soldier, damn good spy. But he went MIA sixteen months ago with some really important information regarding some high-ranking officials. He was presumed dead. Was posthumously awarded a medal of honour for valour, and he has a tombstone erect in the Madison Cemetery which his mother visits regularly.”
Eric’s throat went tight, and he glanced at Jack whose narrowed eyes were trained on both men. Eric cleared his throat. “I don’t…know what to tell you.”
“You can start by singing our National Anthem.”
Eric blinked. “I’m…sorry?”
“You heard me,” Adam said. “Don’t gotta be good, just gotta be right.”
Eric’s eyes flickered back and forth, but something about this sounded…familiar. He cleared his throat, and launched into the rendition of the Star Spangled Banner he’d learnt since he was a kid. When he got to the final line, his voice trailed off, and he stared at them.
“Second verse?” Justin demanded.
Eric’s face went hot with fear. “I…second verse? I don’t…lord they never taught…” he stammered. “I…please don’t kill us,” he whispered. “I swear I am Eric Bittle.”
The pair looked at each other, then their posture went relaxed, and they took the two empty chairs, sitting in a way so casual, they might just be four friends out for a few pints. “Thank god,” Justin breathed.
Eric felt his breath leave in him a rush, and he shook his head. “What in the red hell was that?”
“The war might be over, but there are spies everywhere, still posing as some of our men,” Justin said.
“And me singin’?” Eric demanded, glancing at Jack who was still on edge, his hands at his sides which were shaking. He ached to reach over and take one, but he knew better than that.
“Only spies know the whole song,” Adam clarified. “It’s so simple it almost hurts, but it’s a trick we learnt really early on. Spies know everything. Too much of everything.”
Something in Eric twinged, and his mind switched to German for a quick second. He cleared his throat, and shook his head. “So you two…know who I am.”
“You were our contact,” Justin said, and gave the box a pat. “You’d been over enemy lines for almost six months. Then we got word something happened—you got found out, and went missing. None of our other guys could find you. You’d been given coordinates, which we’d been keeping an eye on, but I think we must have just missed you. When the camps were all liberated, we combed the nearby towns, but it wasn’t until your name popped up, red-flagged, that we got a lock on you.”
Eric dragged a hand over his face. “So you’re sayin’…”
“You’re a spy. You’re a Captain Eric Bittle of the United States Army. You spoke flawless German, and the look of you blended in. Your mission was to recover names of German spies in our military, and you’d been doing a damn good job until…we’re not really sure what happened.”
Eric swallowed thickly. The nightmares, the memories, the German. It all started to make sense. His hand flew to his scarred arm, and something hit him, like it was pressing against the inside of his skull. Pain…searing pain, and him begging, and swearing he didn’t know anything.
He didn’t realise he was tilted over, near passing out until he felt Jack’s arms come round him, holding him tight against his broad chest. “They…I don’t know much. I was injured,” Eric murmured.” He rubbed at his head, and felt something he hadn’t noticed before. A scar. “I think I…spoke English, and someone knew. Everything’s real spotty,” he confessed, but things were coming back now. The rain, the bombs going off, the escape. Crawling through a sea of swampy mud, with the notebook tucked in the front of his shirt, his clothes in tatters, his arm barely usable, but he’d gotten out.
“I ran,” Eric whispered, clinging to Jack. “I ran and I kept running, but I was so far. I remembered the numbers, where to bury the box, but then everything went…quiet. Dark.”
Justin and Adam exchanged a look. “We were charged with waiting here for you. Where they had you—where they had everyone else, they couldn’t find that camp for so long. But when they got the rest of our men, you weren’t with them.”
Eric let out a shaking breath. “There was a bomb. Blew a hole in the wall where they were keeping me. I…got the book. Crawled out.” He squeezed his eyes shut tight against everything he didn’t want to remember, all the reasons he hadn’t wanted to come here today. “I was inches from death, I think, before that old lady found me. Was in and out for weeks. When I came to, I didn’t remember much. Lost years,” he admitted.
Justin’s eyes went sad, and he leant across the table. “Well you’re here now, and I know a lot of people who are going to be really damn happy you’re back.”
Eric licked his lips, then glanced up at Jack. “I…have to go back, don’t I?”
“You’re dead,” Adam said. “Your parents, your friends, your family—they all think you’re dead. And you have to be debriefed, and you’re owed a few ceremonies, Bittle.”
Eric swallowed thickly, knowing he should be happy, knowing this should be a relief because he was something, he was important and he’d done good work, and he’d survived. But all he could think about was that small bedroom, and that quiet bakery, and the arms who didn’t want to let him go.
“Do I have to stay gone?” he asked, his voice small. He didn’t care then, if they knew, and to his surprise he watched Justin and Adam glance at each other and share a secret smile.
“Nah, Bittle,” Adam said. “It might take some time but…you don’t gotta stay gone.”
Eric couldn’t hide his shock when they arrived at the hotel, and he and Jack were immediately ushered to a private room without argument. They had an adjoining door to Adam and Justin’s room, and Eric could hear them making phone calls to their superiors about their find.
Not having had much time to process everything, the moment the door shut, Eric collapsed to the edge of the bed, his face falling into his hands as his body released all the tension in heavy, aching sobs. Jack came near, hesitant at first, but then he got his arms wrapped round Eric and held tight as he shook apart.
He whispered things in French Eric couldn’t decipher, but they sounded sweet and comforting, and Eric had the fleeting thought that maybe Adam was right—maybe he didn’t have to say gone, and maybe…just maybe…a year from now Eric would be back here and Jack would be whispering in French, and he’d understand every word.
“I’m sorry,” Eric said after some time. Jack had manoeuvred them back against the pillows, the bed slightly larger than Jack’s at the flat, and the mattress and bedding softer.
Jack hummed his acknowledgement of Eric’s apology, and tightened his grip. “Why you saying sorry?”
“For falling apart,” Eric said with a bitter laugh. “For not being some country boy who’d lost his parents on the road. For being a dang spy, for having all…all this, locked up in my head.” He swiped his hand down his face, then pulled back to look at Jack properly. “I still can’t remember half of it.”
Jack cupped his cheeks gently, brushing thumbs under his eyes to mop up the stray tears. “You want to talk more? Want to sleep? Make love?”
Eric flushed hotly, but he wasn’t sure his body would co-operate with the last one. “I’m scared. Of what I might remember. The bits I have now were…they were so bad. It was terrifying.”
Jack’s face fell, and he gathered Eric to him again, brushing fingers into his hair, a little desperate and a little rough. “I…don’t want to think of you hurt, Eric. And I know what…I know what they do there, in those camps, in those…places. I can’t…imagine it.”
Eric let out a hollow laugh. “With any luck, I won’t remember it all. But…I did my best, to stay strong, to not give anything up. I think I did. I can’t…I can’t remember it, but I think I kept my word.”
“If you didn’t,” Jack said, pressing a kiss to Eric’s temple, “no one blame you for it. Is so much…too much to ask of anyone.” He sounded almost angry, and felt it, in the way he held Eric to him. “You deserve better.”
Eric breathed, let his eyes close, and let himself just feel for a little while.
Justin came by later that evening with dinner and news. “We’re heading to Paris in the morning, to meet with our Captain, then we’ll be getting you home. First DC, then back to Georgia. Your parents were informed, and they’ll be waiting for you in DC.”
Eric felt his throat go tight, and he clung a little harder to Jack’s hand, not caring if Justin could see. “I…didn’t realise it would be so soon.”
“Sorry,” Justin said. His gaze flickered to Jack, and instead of looking judgmental, he just looked sorry. “I’d like to tell you it’ll be really quick, but we both know that’s not true. Not with the way these damn politicians work. Six months at best, but it’s not a lifetime, eh?”
Eric felt cold fear hit him. Six months wasn’t a lifetime, but this past month felt like one, and what if Jack moved on? What if Jack met someone who was there, and available, and wanted him. Jack was too good, too wonderful to be alone for long, and Eric was terrified.
But he also knew he didn’t have a choice.
“I’ll leave you two for now, and we’ll wake you in the morning. I’m…sorry again,” Justin said, then backed away and closed the door.
Eric was too stressed to eat, but he managed a few bites of the bread, and some of the tea before he curled into Jack’s side. “I don’t want to go,” he admitted.
“Je sais,” Jack whispered. “I want you to stay, always. But…you come back. Come back to me.”
“Jack,” Eric said, insistent, pushing up on his elbows to meet his gaze. “I’ll come back. I swear to you, I don’t care what I have to do, okay? I’ll come back.”
Jack cupped his face with both hands, drawing him in for a long, slow kiss. It turned hot and heavy, and it ended with Eric on his back, Jack’s mouth round him drawing out his orgasm with long, sucking pulls. Eric kept a hand clapped over his mouth to muffle his moans, but it was damn near impossible as Jack worked him with his tongue, sucking him into his throat, swallowing round him until he was coming, coming, coming.
Eric returned the favour with shaking hands, nimble fingers pulling Jack’s orgasm out of him, spurting along his knuckles. They cleaned up as best they could, then curled up together in the bed, Jack nosing through Eric’s hair, pressing soft kisses where Eric now knew held a mass of scar tissue just behind his ear.
They were quiet, and then suddenly they heard…noises. Groans, a bed thumping, and Eric quickly turned his face into Jack’s chest muttering, “Lord,” as Jack laughed.
“We know now, yes? Why they okay with us in this room?”
Eric’s cheeks were pink as he pulled back and grinned. “Guess so. Lucky us.”
“Mm,” Jack murmured, and kissed Eric sweetly on both corners of his mouth. “Is me, the lucky one. To find you.” He pushed Eric’s palm against his own heart, and held it there, the beating beneath his fingers insistent, and rapid. “When you come back, we will be happy.”
Eric nodded, then let himself fall into Jack’s arms, the promise like a warm blanket, which eased him into sleep.
The goodbye the next morning was the hardest Eric had ever gone through, and it was by some miracle he wasn’t sobbing on the pavement as Jack put his things in the back of his car and prepared to leave. Their private goodbye was in the room earlier, Jack pressing Eric against the door, whispering soft vows in French to be waiting for him, to never let him go, to love him til the end of time.
“Je suis amoureux avec toi. J'ai besoin de toi.”
Eric held those words close to his heart as he climbed into the car with Justin and Adam, and prepared to resume his life as Captain Eric Bittle, spy for the United States Army.
Justin hadn’t been wrong. The next six months were a whirlwind of meetings, debriefings, medal ceremonies, and sobbing parents who didn’t want to let Eric out of their sights. Eric gave up as much information as he could, most of which was contained in the recovered notebook, and was enough evidence to lead to seven arrests of high-ranking officials who turned out to be German spies.
Eric saw doctor after doctor, to ensure there was no permanent damage. His memory, they said, could return, but perhaps never fully. Eric was alright with it, knowing some horrors were better lost to the void. He was given medication to help him sleep, and physical therapy for his arm which was still weak, and likely would remain so from the damage done in the camp.
But he was free, his was discharged, and given licence to do as he pleased.
It was, in the end, his parents who stood in the way of his return.
He’d written Jack a few times, and had gotten short letters in return—each of them in French which prompted him to seek out a few books to translate. But every time he brought up his return, his mother would cry and wail, and his father would rain guilt down on him.
“We thought you were dead, son. Do you really want to put her through that so you can go gallivanting across Europe again? Ain’t you seen enough of the French countryside?”
Eric wanted to tell them, the truth bursting to come out, but he was afraid. It would be a sure-fire way to get them to force him out, if they knew his inclinations, but he didn’t want that. He didn’t want things to be ruined between them.
But he was lonely, and missing Jack, and dreaming about him every night.
It was late February when he cracked. He was in the kitchen with his momma, making pies, thinking about rolling out dough for breads and croissants, and it hit him just how much he needed to be back, how much he needed to get on with his life.
“Momma,” he said softly.
She turned and smiled at him. “Yes, Dicky?”
“I don’t remember what caused me to join up. What gave me the courage to do somethin’ like…like spy. But I know I was searching for something, a greater purpose, a way to be happy. And I…think I found it.”
“Eric,” she breathed quietly.
“I fell in love, and I…I love you and pa so much, and I don’t want you to think I’m abandoning you, but I can’t stay here anymore. I can’t…I can’t rot away on this farm when I know someone out there wants me just as much as I want…them.” He was careful, deliberate, but he saw the understanding in her eyes, and the way her shoulders slumped.
“I just got you back,” she whispered.
“I know. And it’s not like I ain’t gonna see you again. But I’m dying here, momma. I’m dying, and I know what living feels like, and I need it. So please…can you just…please let me go?”
She tugged him into a hug, her nose buried in his hair. “My baby,” she murmured. “I just want you to be happy. Don’t tell your pa, okay? Just…just go.”
Eric nodded, swallowing thickly. It would be tricky, but he had the money, and his passport, and he was a decorated war hero. He could book passage and get there and see Jack again, and feel his warm arms around him, and feel Jack’s lips on his, and it would all…it would all be okay.
He contemplated sending a letter, but he knew he’d get there faster. It was better this way.
It was time to go.
It felt like eternity when Eric saw the curve of the road, leading into the village. The sharp tang of baking bread hit him first, like Jack’s bakery was calling him home. It was mid-morning when he finally arrived, and although Eric had grown up in Georgia, a simple country boy with not a lot of big dreams, that was never home.
This, with the thatched roofs and the narrow streets, and the rolling hills behind him…this was his everything. This was his future.
Eric quickly paid the diver he’d hired to get him there, and grabbed his bag, hitching it on his shoulder as he took what felt like endless steps to the front of the bakery. He paused at the glass, peering behind the gold paint, and his breath hitched when he set eyes on Jack.
He was at the counter, his blue eyes drawn and sad, but a friendly smile on his lips as he chatted with the older woman who came in every other day to order seven croissants—not more, not less, just seven. Eric’s entire body was thrumming with need, with anticipation, and the empty ache in his belly began to fill because it would only be moments before…
Jack saw him.
Eric froze as Jack saw him.
The old woman turned, and smiled, and then Jack was throwing open the door, and dragging Eric inside. The shop was empty suddenly, and Jack was turning the lock, and pushing Eric backward, into the back room, his hand roaming and touching him like he couldn’t believe Eric was there.
“You waited for me,” Eric murmured.
Jack laughed, the sound wet, his eyes wide and shining. “Ouais. I waited.” His thumb brushed Eric’s jawline, then under his bottom lip, down under his chin, over his adam’s apple. “You’re beautiful. Oh, chéri.”
Eric let out a wet laugh, then dropped his bag and threw himself at Jack, knowing he’d be caught, knowing he’d be lifted and pushed against the wall, and kissed.
Jack didn’t disappoint. His lips sought out every open inch of Eric’s skin, tearing at his mouth, his hands clinging like if he let go for even a second, Eric might be gone. Eric understood, as he gripped the back of Jack’s neck hard, and gave everything he had into those kisses.
“You’re here,” Jack murmured.
Eric laughed, pulling back to press his forehead against Jack’s. “I’m here,” he echoed.
“And you stay?” Jack demanded.
Eric smiled, and kissed him breathing him in. “Forever, if you’ll have me.”
Jack nodded, and pushed his face against the crook of Eric’s neck, and sighed. “Forever,” he echoed, and there was absolute truth in that word.