Age of Edward Contest

Submitted by: Shasta53

Title: Love Behind the Lines

WWII Edward

Love Behind the Lines

"No. Absolutely not," he said imperiously, as if it would change my mind.

"Edward, please," my mother begged. "Don't do this. I can't lose my only son."

I straightened my back and stood as tall as my lanky frame would allow. "I have to, Mother. It's my duty to fight for my country."

"No, son, it's your duty to do as your mother and I say," my father insisted. "There are enough young men in this country to go fight someone else's war. What does it matter to us what those Germans do?"

"If we don't stand up to them, who will stop them? The French have already fallen!" I stated. "Besides, I've already joined. I leave next week."

My mother cradled her head in her hands and wept, while my father strode from the room angrily.

I replayed the day I told my parents I had enlisted over and over again in my mind. Our strained relationship did not improve much during my last week at home, and I missed them terribly. Every week, I wrote home to my mother, telling her all about the countries she would never see and omitting the horrors I saw.

My unit had moved into France in July of 1944 and slowly made our way across the country. In each town, we would see frightened women and children peeking out at us from behind the curtains, but we never knew which one of those faces would be the one to report on us to the Vichy. Thankfully, actual combat had been sparse, but each time my gun cut someone down, part of me died. I knew that I wouldn't return home the same carefree boy that left, because that child died the instant he had to kill someone else to survive. I wasn't sure if my mother would even recognize the man I was becoming.

"Masen!"

I dropped the letter I was writing and immediately stood at attention. "Yes, sir."

"Colonel Marcus wants to see you in the command tent. Report immediately, Private."

"Yes, sir." I left my belongings where they lay and hurried over to the tent Colonel Marcus was using as his headquarters in the field.

"Private Masen reporting, sir," the lieutenant on guard announced as I marched up.

"Ah, Masen, at ease. Please come in. Tea?" Colonel Marcus offered.

"Thank you, sir," I accepted, even though I hated tea. My mother had taught me better manners than to decline an offer from my commanding officer.

"Sergeant Wilson will be joining us momentarily, but since we haven't much time, I'm going to get right down to business. We need to send some scouts ahead, and Sergeant Wilson has requested that you accompany him on this mission. You will leave at oh-one-hundred hours and will leave information for us at specified points. All information gained through this will help our unit advance. Are you willing to accept this mission?" Colonel Marcus asked.

"Yes, sir. I would be honored," I responded instantly.

"Good. Sergeant Wilson," he called to the other man that had just stepped through the flap, "Private Masen is willing to accompany you. Give him all the details and prepare to leave in the morning."

"Yes, sir. Masen, come with me," Sergeant Wilson ordered. And just like that, I was no longer one member of many in a platoon of soldiers, but one of two ordered to find the holes in the enemy's defense.

Sergeant James Wilson turned out to be a great companion and a superior tracker. Starting early that next morning, we picked our way through the French countryside, clad in peasant style clothing. Neither one of us actually spoke French that well, but we managed enough to stay fed and find bits of information on the Vichy's activities, as well as those of the German forces that were becoming more evident. Established informants in each town along the way took our letters and provided us with guidance on which way to head next.

James did like to enjoy his time in each town, though, and he had quite the way with women. There was always someone that caught his attention, and while I was worried that it would attract unwanted attention to us, I couldn't begrudge him the bit of fun in the middle of hell. One particular redhead, Victoria, even travelled with us for a while. The barns we generally slept in were warm and dry, but while she was there, I chose to sleep outside. I never wanted to intrude on or witness those moments, and she wasn't shy about her pleasure.

James and I had entered into de facto German territory when we crossed into Lorraine, and our contact spots became fewer and farther between. The risk here was so great that few people were willing to openly rebel, and helping American soldiers was clearly an act of treason to the Reich. Victoria refused to accompany us into German territory—she lived in fear of the rumors of death camps. The separation made James unhappy and even surlier than he had been.

We were camped out in a field near Nancy in the Lorraine region, barely hiding our heads beneath the tall wheat grass. My boots were wearing thin, and my rags no longer kept me warm in the chilly nights, but we were alive, and I was considering that to be a testament to the Lord's grace. I had never been particularly religious, but my prayers became more fervent the longer we were in the field.

The cocking of a gun nearby woke me from my fitful slumber; I instantly drew my weapon and crouched in the grass. James had crawled several feet away and was scouting for the source of the noise. I raised my head slightly and was rewarded with the muzzle of a rifle in my face. Behind the rifle stood the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

Wind whipped through her long, chestnut colored hair and blew it in a wild tangle around her face, making her look like an avenging angel. I raised my hands in supplication, knowing that resisting at this point was futile. James was the only hope I had.

She hissed something at me that sounded like German, but I just shook my head to indicate my confusion. Instead of shooting me instantly, she huffed and lowered the rifle slightly. Now it pointed directly at my heart.

"What are doing out here?" she asked slowly and brokenly. English clearly wasn't her primary language, but she spoke it well.

"I am merely travelling through, ma'am. The countryside is beautiful this time of year, and I am anxious to see it all." I don't know what possessed me to utter the words that would identify me to one of our contacts. There wasn't one for miles around. I supposed that it worked as well as any other explanation for my presence in the field.

"American?" she questioned, lowering the rifle even further.

It was dangerous to admit that here as there was no reason for us to be in the area, other than as a conquering force. "Just a traveler, mademoiselle," I replied politely. She still had me on the cold, hard ground, and there didn't seem to be a great avenue for escape. I could overpower her—she was just a slip of a girl—but I couldn't guarantee that her cries wouldn't bring others.

"Come," she ordered. "It is cold, and I help."

I made sure that I signaled to James where she couldn't see, and then followed her through the overgrown tangle. Ever so slightly, her slender hips swayed in front of me. My eyes traced the curves of her body, and my own reacted to her presence in a way that did not befit a gentleman. Momentarily, I wondered if being a gentleman mattered in wartime, but I quickly thought of my mother and how disappointed she would be in me if I abandoned the lessons she'd worked so hard to teach me. I also didn't want to be classified with so many other soldiers that saw the women in occupied territory as playthings.

The house she led me to was more of a quaint country cottage surrounded by wildflowers. She opened the door and motioned for me to enter with a quick glance around. Her eyes were searching and hard as she gazed around the landscape, but when she turned back to me, her expression softened. Once the door was closed, she propped the gun against the wall and moved over to the stove. I took a moment to analyze my situation.

There was only one large room. Her bed was against the far wall, with a small dresser to hold her clothes. A small, scrubbed wood table stood next to me, with four not-quite-matching wooden chairs around it. Stacks of papers littered the top, but I hesitated to be nosy with her so close by. The back wall was taken up by a metal tub sink and a stove. I was surprised by the more modern convenience, but I let it pass.

"Tea?" the woman asked, holding out a cup to me.

My stomach rumbled, and my mouth watered at the thought of sustenance. James and I had been having difficulty finding food lately. "Please," I choked out.

"And bread, I think?" she laughed gently, presenting me with a basket of rolls.

"Thank you." I nodded gratefully and bit into the bread eagerly.

She glided over to the table and stacked her papers carefully, shielding them from my eyes. "Sit," she ordered, and I complied, still painfully aware that she had the upper hand in this situation.

"Name, American?" she asked with a small smile and an open expression. I considered myself to be good at reading people, and I found no deceit in her eyes.

I swallowed and took a gulp of the steaming tea in my mug before answering. "Edward. And yours?"

"Isabelle. You are far from home, Edward," she noted with a sly smile. "Dangerous here."

"Isabelle is a beautiful name," I replied, avoiding the reasons I was here.

She smiled sweetly. "You have information, then?" she asked.

"Information?" I was instantly on my guard.

She gave me another smile. "Papa give me codes before they took him. You give me one, yes?"

"They?" I asked carefully.

She wrinkled her nose distastefully. "Le Boche. SS man."

"Why did they take him?"

"Say . . . ah, how you speak trahison?" she asked.

"Treason?"

"Oui! They say he is traitor for helping La Resistance." She muttered something under her breath that sounded like a swear in French, and I chuckled.

"And they left you here? They didn't think you were involved?" I asked curiously. My experience with the Germans was that they suspected everyone and everything.

"No." She shook her head vigorously, and a wide grin spread across her face. "La femme is weak. And I hide," she admitted with a laugh, pointing to the wooden floorboards.

I laughed with her, and my heart swelled in my chest. I was particularly drawn to this strange woman, despite my trepidation of the situation. She wasn't one of the debutantes my mother would have chosen for me, but she had an inner fire that sparked something within me.

Her next statement caused me to pause, and my breath caught.

"Monsieur Boulanger taken, too, so I doing all I can," she said sadly. Boulanger was the contact we were supposed to meet one town over.

"What do you know?" I asked fearfully.

"Americans not far away. You should rejoin your army. La Boche fighting harder here now and trying to kill La Resistance. It's not working," she answered.

I pulled out some of the information I had and showed her on the map where we had spied German soldiers. She noted the ones she did not know about on her own map and gave me the locations of several more pockets of Resistance fighters. As I scoured her map with the latest information on the location of our troops, Isabelle heated some ham and presented me with cheese and more bread.

"Eat," she ordered and turned back to the kitchen. I hadn't seen her consume anything all day, so I grabbed her wrist and pulled her back to my chair.

"Eat with me," I said softly. I pinched off a piece of the warm baguette and held it to her lips. Her lips opened, and I popped the small morsel inside. She moaned softly, and I knew that I had been correct in my assumption that she was giving me her meal.

Isabelle did not move from my lap, and we took turns feeding each other. Each bite heated my blood and body, as did Isabelle's small form leaning against me. By the time she took the last bite, my finger was wet from her mouth, and I was vibrating with need. The sun had fallen in the sky, and I wondered idly just how much longer I had with her.

"Edward, you should take Papa's clothes," she told me as she disentangled herself from my lap. "The washing soap is out back."

I laughed, and my face heated when I realized that I probably smelled horrible from our many days in the open. I took the clothes that she offered me and slipped out the door. I divested myself of the rags I was wearing and rinsed in the chilly water. As she directed, the soap hung on a post near the water pump, and I cleaned quickly.

"Well, you certainly smell better." James' whisper came from the side of the house, clearly out of view of the windows.

"Thanks. You don't," I retorted good-naturedly.

"Do you need a rescue?" he asked. Since I wasn't normally the one taken with a pretty girl or taken at gun point, I understood his question. My chest clenched at the thought of leaving Isabelle.

"No, but we will need to leave in the morning. The army isn't far away, and it doesn't look like we can go much farther on foot. Already the Nazis are taking all of our contacts. Boulanger is gone," I reported.

"Shit!" he swore. "All right, we'll head back to the line before day break. Do you think you can get a pinpoint on where we are going?"

I nodded lightly and pulled on the borrowed clothing. Isabelle's father was bigger than I, but my belt kept his pants cinched at my waist. I bundled my clothes and left them by the front door; they did smell pretty foul.

Isabelle was drinking another mug of tea when I walked back in. She had changed into a lighter dress, and her hair hung loose over her shoulders in waves. My breath caught in my throat, and I knew I was lost to this woman.

She gestured to a place on the map. "Your army should be here tomorrow."

"Yes." I nodded and stalked toward her slowly. "I'll leave in the morning."

"You'll stay?" she asked, and her voice was deeper beneath the whisper.

"If you'll have me," I whispered back, reaching for her hand.

Her hand trembled as she placed it in mine, but she stepped into my embrace. She nodded against my chest and tilted her face up to mine. Unable to resist any longer, I lowered my face and pressed my lips against hers. Isabelle whimpered and grasped my shirt tighter in her small fists.

"What you do to me?" she asked, her eyes wide and searching as they looked into my own.

"It's what you've done to me," I whispered back and kissed her again. I knew that I was leaving in the morning and that I shouldn't take what wasn't mine, but God, I wanted her.

"Show me," she challenged, and again, I was lost.

I felt her small hands fumbling with the buttons on her father's shirt as she stripped it off of me. Her small hands were warm as they brushed over the skin on my chest and abdomen. I undid the hooks on her dress, and it pooled at her feet. I took a step backwards toward her bed, and she followed me, her naked chest glinting slightly in the moonlight pouring in through the curtains.

"So beautiful," I murmured.

Instinct took over, and I captured her nipple in my mouth. Isabelle let out a little gasp and tugged on my hair. Her other hand fumbled with my belt buckle. I pulled away slightly and searched her face for any sign of indecision. I had never been in this position before, and I doubted that she had, either.

"Isabelle, are you sure?" I asked.

She nodded and took off the bloomers she was wearing. My mouth fell open as I took in the vision before me. Isabelle was breathtaking, and I wasted no time in telling her so. She lay down on the bed and patted the space next to her.

"And take those off," she said, gesturing to my pants. Her eyes danced with mischief.

"Yes, ma'am." I loosened my belt, and they fell with a clang onto the wooden floor.

Isabelle gasped as I stood naked in front of her. Carefully, I crawled into her bed and lay down next to her. I pulled the covers over us and ran my hands over her silky skin. Her nipples hardened under my fingers, and I caressed them gently. Isabelle tugged my head toward her and placed soft kisses all over my face.

I trailed one hand down her flat stomach and tentatively touched that private place at the apex of her thighs. She whimpered into my mouth, and her hips bucked forward. Emboldened by her actions, I stroked the soft skin and felt her arousal coat my fingertips. I found her entrance and inserted one finger. Her sex was so tight that I felt her contract around my finger, and she cried out in pleasure.

I continued to stroke her while her breathing calmed, and she smiled at me lovingly. "Please love me, Edward," she asked softly. I couldn't deny her, and I found that I didn't want to.

With care, I pressed her on to her back and settled my hips between her legs. Even though I had no first-hand knowledge of this, being with Isabelle like this was as easy as breathing and as natural.

"Please tell me if I hurt you," I begged as I pressed into her. She gave a small gasp, and I stilled. It took all my strength to stay as I was; she was so warm and tight around my manhood.

Isabelle let out the breath she had been holding and nudged me to move with her feet. I shifted my hips forward until my hips met hers, and I was fully seated inside her. I let out a shaky breath and sighed, the feeling of completion too hard to suppress. Slowly, I rocked in and out of her, each pass a delicious torture, and I knew that I wouldn't last much longer.

Isabelle reached between our bodies to where we were joined and pressed on the skin that I had touched only minutes before. Within seconds, she cried out again, and the squeezing of her muscles against me pushed me over the edge into oblivion. I came with a reverent cry of her name and collapsed on to the bed beside her.

Isabelle ran her hands through my hair and pressed a gentle kiss to my lips. I flipped on to my back, and she nestled her head on my shoulder.

"Tell me about this?" she asked in her lilting voice while playing with the chains around my neck.

"These are my dog tags," I told her, showing her the inscriptions on the metal. "In case something happens to me, they will know who I am."

"Edward Anthony Masen," she read aloud. "That is your name, yes?"

I smiled and kissed her head. "Yes."

"What is this one?" she asked, fingering the small medallion I wore underneath my tags.

"That's Saint George, patron saint of soldiers. My mother gave it to me before I left." I looked at it a little sadly, remembering that I hadn't seen my family in more than five months.

"She must love you very much," Isabelle whispered, her voice thick.

"Yes. She would love you, too," I told her sincerely, kissing her with all the passion I felt. I had fallen for this woman, and I didn't know if I would ever see her again.

We made love three more times that night, and I held her close when she finally fell asleep. I watched her deep breaths and memorized all the lines of her face to get me through the rest of my life. No other woman would be able to take her place in my heart because, when I left, it was staying here with her.

A light tapping on the window alerted me to the fact that James was waiting for me, and I repositioned her head on the pillow as I slipped out of bed. As quietly as I could manage, I redressed and kissed Isabelle on the forehead. I hated to leave while she was sleeping, but I knew she needed her rest, and there was no way for me to adequately tell her how I felt. Leaving a note would only provide more evidence if the SS were to come back. Instead, I removed the medallion from my neck and fastened it around her neck.

"I love you," I whispered into her hair, and then I crept out into the early dawn.

James filled me in the recon he'd done while I was with Isabelle, as I had so often done for him. Wisely, he didn't ask me to speak. I wasn't sure I could anyway. It felt like I was ripping apart the further we got from the little cottage.

It took more than two days to reach the encampment, and we were immediately escorted to the commander's tent, where we were debriefed on all we knew. General Linden had the success of our mission communicated to Colonel Marcus, and we were issued new uniforms. There was no time to rest, as we were quickly placed with the 42nd Infantry Division and were preparing to move forward toward Germany. General Linden did arrange for James and me to be promoted. He was officially a Staff Sergeant, and I became a Corporal. I knew that my mother would be proud, so I stole a few minutes to post a letter to her, informing her of my successes and apologizing for being out of contact for so long. With all my heart, I wished I could tell her all about Isabelle, but sharing something so intensely personal was abhorrent to me.

Three days after our arrival, we moved out and marched through occupied France. Isabelle had been right; the Germans were stepping up protection, and we encountered a lot of resistance. Every day, bombs fell from war planes and gunfire broke the still air. Some days, we gained ground, and others, we were driven to find a new route. James' and my knowledge of the area from our recon became invaluable as we searched for new avenues.

It was late December, and we had finally stopped our forward march so we could honor the Christmas holiday. I leaned against the mess hall tent, watching my comrades come and go, and attempted to send a letter home. James stopped short of me and regarded me with solemn eyes. I sprang to my feet and greeted him with a salute.

"Corporal," he said in way of greeting. "Are you on patrol tonight?"

"No, sir," I answered. "This is my night off."

"Come with me, then," he requested, and I instantly felt that something was off. "At ease, soldier."

We fell into step and exited the camp stealthily.

"Do you recognize where we are?" he asked quietly as we journeyed through the black night.

"Near Nancy, I believe, sir," I answered. I had known since we got to the area; it killed me to be so close to Isabelle and not be able to go to her.

"Yeah. I'm sorry, man, but I thought you deserved to know."

He stopped at the edge of a field, and I could just make out the shape of a familiar cottage in the middle. There was something off about it, though, and I took a tentative step forward. James' hand on my arm restrained me.

"They burned it," he whispered. "She's not there. There's nothing left."

A sob escaped my throat, and I dropped to my knees. I knew what the Germans did to those they considered traitors, and I knew I would never see my beloved again. Grief poured from my eyes and ripped apart the gaping hole in my chest.

"I thought it was like that," he murmured. "I'm sorry, Edward."

I stood and sucked in a deep breath. I could still taste the smoke and charred wood in the air, and I locked it inside. "Thank you," I said stiffly, and then turned away from the ruins.

That night, James instructed my bunk mates to leave me alone, and I used the time to lock away my heart. In many ways, I died that night, along with any hope that we would somehow be reunited.

Snow fell, and we marched on, capturing Germans and invigorating La Resistance when we passed. Behind us, they continued the battle, and I considered it a small tribute to those that were lost in the fight for freedom. With a hardened heart, I watched my fellow soldiers die on the battlefield. My hatred of the Nazis grew for the destruction they caused, and with each report, I hated Hitler more. The death camps that Victoria had so feared turned out to be a reality. Millions of Jews had been rounded up and killed, just for their faith. Word reached us that on the Eastern front, the Soviets were liberating every camp they came across. I disturbed me more than a little to know that there was more than one and that Hitler had convinced thousands of people to execute his orders.

We captured Strasbourg and invaded Germany on our way to Munich. Days and weeks passed by in a blur of blood and death, but still, we marched and fought. In late April, a group of reporters approached us and told of an unknown death camp nearby. General Linden ordered them to lead us to the gates, and he followed them closely, with our troops on his heels. The stench of death permeated the air and I warred with myself as I saw the guards in their towers. These could be the same animals that had murdered Isabelle and her father, along with countless other souls that were unfortunate enough to be the wrong religion or in the wrong place.

I watched in silence as the one in charge of the camp surrendered, and we were allowed inside. Gunshots rang out and confusion reigned. I had no idea if they were firing at us or if we were retaliating and fighting for those with no control over their fate. A train with thousands of bodies was found still on the tracks, and rumor had it that some of the guards that had tried to escape joined their prisoners in death.

We were warned about lice and the typhoid epidemic running through the camp, so we tried to keep our distance from the inmates. They enacted their own justice on their informers and German soldiers, and most of us were too angry or too scared to intervene. The rage that built through the ranks was pervasive, and had I not felt like I had already died, I might have joined in the mass killing of the perpetrators. My grief had worn me down and made me numb. Mostly, I just wanted to help these poor people living in hell. I wanted to make myself the sort of man that would be worthy to join Isabelle in the afterlife.

There were more than thirty thousand people in the Dachau concentration camp when we entered, and hundreds died every day from malnutrition, typhoid, and a myriad of other illnesses. I worked with the medical corp to treat all of those afflicted, and there were too many. Every day, we distributed food to the grateful masses and saved as many as we could.

The war ended while we were tending to Hitler's victims. Hitler reportedly committed suicide, and Berlin fell to the Allied advance. The news from every quarter uplifted our spirits, but I prayed to be released from my personal pain. And while no relief came to me, I took pride in being able to alleviate it in others. I decided that once I returned home, I would go back to medical school like my father had wanted before the war. It would be a small penance and might make me worthy to join Isabelle in death.

A small and elderly German woman was insistently trying to get someone to help her. The nurse to whom she was talking told her to come into the clinic we had stocked, but the woman was inconsolable. The nurse knew no German, and clearly, the woman didn't speak English. I had picked up enough to know that she wanted us to follow her.

I stepped out of the exam area and intervened. "Was ist falsch?" "What is wrong?"

"Die kostbaren Mädchen! Sie braucht Hilfe!" the woman insisted. "The precious girl. She needs help!"

"Where?" I asked, urgency causing me to lapse into English.

"So!" She pointed toward the women's barracks and tugged on my arm.

I held up my hand to still her and turned to the nurse who was clearly confused. "Rose, there's a woman in the barracks that needs help. Can you get Jasper and come with me?" I asked.

She nodded and disappeared into the back.

Major Jasper Whitlock was one of the best medics we had, and I trusted him implicitly. He seemed to care about these people as much as I did. We had spent countless hours talking and sharing our stories while working on the ill and wounded. He told me about his sweetheart back home in Texas and how Maria had been dead-set against his enlistment. Jasper had only been gone three months when he got a "Dear John" letter from home. I told him about Isabelle and how her house had been burned. His sympathy was genuine, and he tried every day to lessen my grief. Other than James, Jasper was the only true friend I had gained from this horror show.

They returned with supplies, and I motioned for the older woman to lead the way.

"Who are we treating, Corporal?" Jasper asked as we skirted the filth we hadn't yet been able to eradicate.

"I'm not sure. She called her 'the precious girl' and seemed really worried," I answered with a shrug. It didn't much matter to me who we were helping. There were too many that needed it.

He nodded. "I've heard of her. We haven't really been into the barracks, what with all the patients in the clinic, but several of the women have told me that she cares for the sick there."

Shouts rang out as we got close, and I struggled to make sense of them all.

"Der Arzt kommt!" "The doctor is coming!"

"Engel, aufwachen." "Angel, wake up."

"Hilfe is hier!" "She is here!"

We pushed through the crowd of emaciated men and women and were led to a bunk deep in the barracks. A tiny woman shivered and shook on a bed. Like the others in the camp, her hair was shorn, and it was clear that she needed more food than she had been provided. The bedding on which she lay was the cleanest in the ward, and I knew that she was important to the other residents. Several women attended her and tried to get her to drink, but she kept pushing the cup away.

Jasper pushed to the front and shook his head. "It's typhus," he muttered to me.

I nodded and retrieved the canteen of clean water I always carried with me. "Here—it's clean," I urged.

He tilted it to her lips, and she roughly pushed it away.

"Drink! Es ist sauber," I called, exasperated. She needed clean water, or she would never survive.

"Nein! In Französisch," the old woman admonished. "No! In French"

I groaned. I had no idea how to say it in French, so I resorted to English, in hopes that she would understand me. It worked. She grabbed the canteen and poured the water into her mouth. Jasper chuckled and motioned for me to get a stretcher team. If she stayed here, she wouldn't live through the week.

Jasper estimated that she was at the end of her first week, but her advanced dehydration and malnutrition was causing it to move faster than it should have. No one seemed to know her name, so we just called her Precious.

Rose had taken a special interest in Precious' care, and she spent as much time with her as she could. She even got one some of the inmates to help her bathe Precious shortly after we brought her back to the clinic. Some clean shifts were found in the officer's quarters, and the fresh clothing seemed to help as much as the fresh water. Her fever was coming down slowly, and the diarrhea was finally abating.

It was late one evening in mid-May when I finally made it over to the clinic. I had been assigned patrol duty for the day, and all I really wanted to do was retreat to our camp and collapse for the rest of the night. I thought I should check in, though, as the medical staff was down. Several members had been shipped off to the front the previous day.

"I'm so glad you're here," Rose said tiredly. "There's a big guy over in the corner with a festering wound from about two months ago that needs attention, and someone needs to check on Precious."

"Okay," I agreed, and then yawned. "What do I need to do for the big guy, and why aren't you doing it?" I knew I sounded crabby, but I just didn't care. I had been told this morning that I wasn't going home until at least August.

She made a face at me. "He thinks he's cute, and he keeps propositioning me. I've had enough of it today. Just . . . bathe the wound, put some ointment on it, and re-cover it. That's all we can do. He was the idiot that let it go too long."

I snorted and dropped my gear in the staff area. All the tools I needed were here, so I gathered them and went in the direction Rose pointed me.

"Oh, Corporal?" Rose called. "Precious has a necklace on that needs to be sanitized, but she won't let us take it off. See what you can do about that."

I groaned internally. I had done my best to help Precious without getting directly involved with her. It was just too painful for me to think about another French woman that was gone forever.

The guy in the corner turned out to be Private First Class Emmett McCarty. He was a good ol' boy from Tennessee, and his good nature relaxed me immediately.

"So, what did you do?" I asked as I uncovered the gash in his leg. The edges were dark, and I worried that gangrene would set in soon.

"Eh, some Kraut tried to stab me with his bayonet," he told me dismissively. "I didn't think it was that bad—I mean, I've had worse in hunting accidents at home. We were too busy killing the bastards to worry about it, so I didn't. Now, I'm stuck here until it gets better. Say, what happened to the blonde lady?"

I laughed. "She got tired of you 'propositioning' her and thought I might fare better against your charms."

He frowned and shrugged self-consciously. "I was just trying to make her smile. She's so pretty when she does. Can you tell her that I'm sorry?"

"I'll let her know. And hey, you might wear her down some day." I finished trimming off the dead skin and re-bandaged his leg. "Oh, Private McCarty, thanks for cheering me up, too." He smiled and clapped my shoulder with his beefy hand.

My legs felt like lead as I walked over to the women's section. There were a few people here recovering and one woman resting with a young child. Precious was turned to the wall as usual, and I cleared my throat when I got close.

"Ma'am?"

Precious started and shook on her cot. I had no idea what else I was going to say, so I decided to just get my mission out there.

"Ma'am, the necklace you are wearing, it might be carrying your infection, too, and we need to clean it. Can I see it?" I asked again.

"No," she rasped.

"Please ma'am, we don't want you to get sick again. I'll bring it back to you, I promise," I pled.

She stilled for a second and shook her head again.

I pulled up a chair, knowing that Rose needed me to do this. "Can you tell me about it?"

Precious stilled again, and her hand tightened around it. "My love give me it before La Boche killed him."

Something in her voice stirred within me, and I had to blink back tears. "It is special, then."

"Yes, it's all I have," she whispered. "You do not know what this hurts like."

"I do. My beloved was killed, too, and I have nothing but my memories," I told her. She was only the second person I had ever really talked to about Isabelle, and the irony wasn't lost on me that I had avoided her because she stirred Isabelle's memory. "Will you tell me about him?"

"He was good man. And so handsome." She made a noise that could have been a laugh, but it was so long in disuse, I couldn't tell. "If only we met some other time, I could have met his mother. She would have liked me, he said."

I chuckled. "I'm sure she would have."

"Talk about your girl?" she asked.

I paused, unsure if I could without breaking, but it was easier to talk when Precious just faced the wall. It was sort of like talking to myself.

"She was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Giving, caring, and brave." I stopped as my throat clogged with tears.

A tense silence formed in our corner of the building while I tried to relock the box in my heart. I couldn't let her out again. The pain wasn't getting any better—if anything, each time, it was worse.

"Here," she said in that hoarse voice. "I know you take care of it. Just . . . bring it back, please."

"I will," I promised. "Thank you."

Precious dropped the chain in my hand, and I closed my fist around it immediately. It reminded me of the necklace I had given to Isabelle, and I felt slightly sick to my stomach at the comparison.

"Rose," I called out in search of her.

"She's already gone," Jasper told me. "She'd been here for fifteen hours, so I sent her home. What do you need?"

I sagged. Jasper could not take this burden from me; he had too many of his own. "Rose asked me to get Precious' chain so it could be disinfected. What am I supposed to do with it?"

"She gave it to you?" he asked incredulously. "She wouldn't even let me see it!"

"What can I say? I'm just so dazzling," I dead-panned.

He laughed lightly. "Yeah, that's what it was. Your sparkling personality. I have some surgical tools I need to clean, so why don't you work with me?"

I agreed and followed him into the staff area. There, a sink full of scalpels, saws, and scissors shone under the single bulb. I grimaced, and stood next to him as he filled the sink full of soapy water.

"Here, just rub this all over the necklace and chain, and then rinse it. That's the best we can do."

I set the necklace to the side and lathered up my hands. Then, I ran my hands over the charm and around the chain. Over and over again, I repeated this, until all of the caked on dirt was cleared away. I had no idea how long Precious had been here, but I knew that this necklace had gotten her through the torment. Curiosity overpowered me, and I held it up to the light.

And promptly dropped it.

"Edward? What is it?" Jasper asked when I fell to the floor to retrieve the medallion.

"Saint George," I choked out, scrambling to pick it back up.

"The Patron Saint of Soldiers," he commented off-handedly. "Makes sense if someone gave it to her."

I flipped the little medallion over and saw carved into the back the EAM my mother had the jeweler etch for me. My heart stuttered, and I blinked.

"Edward?" Jasper called to me. When I didn't respond, he crouched down next to me. "Are you okay? Does it remind you of the necklace you gave Isabelle?"

Hearing her name jolted me back to reality. "It is the necklace I gave Isabelle."

He shrugged. "I think a lot of mothers bought their sons Saint George before they left home."

"No, Jasper," I cried. "It's the same one. Look!" I showed him my initials, and he sank onto the floor and sat next to me.

For several moments, he was speechless. "Could it be?"

"The Germans executed traitors, Jasper. How can it be?" I asked.

He just stared at the charm with wide eyes and shook his head. "I don't know."

We continued to sit there, both lost in our own thoughts, until we heard the front door open. Noise from the camp outside filtered in and then was abruptly cut off as it slammed closed. Jasper jumped to his feet and rinsed his hands off.

"Come on. Those can wait. We need to go see her."

"I—I don't know if I can," I sputtered.

"You can," he stated confidently. "Now get up."

I stood on shaky legs and followed him to the door. Someone was standing in the front room and distracted Jasper's attention momentarily, allowing me another minute of respite to gather my thoughts.

"Come on, Corporal," Jasper called, the irritation in his voice clear. "Once we are done here, I have to go check on a few officers that drank too much of the homemade liquor left in the officer's quarters."

Precious was still on her side facing the wall, and I paused, taking in the sharp curves of her body. It was such a contrast to what I knew that I had a hard time reconciling the two. Of course, months in a concentration camp with no food and a bout of typhoid would ravage even the plumpest of people, and Isabelle had been small to begin with.

"Isabelle," I breathed, not daring to hope that she would respond.

Her entire body jerked, and she sat up quickly, whipping her head to stare at me. Her eyes were wide and disbelieving. She shook her head rapidly and scrambled backward on the bed. Her back hit the wall, and she froze.

"Isabelle," I whispered again, this time reaching my hand out for her.

She didn't move, but I heard her hushed question as though she had shouted it.

"How?"

"I followed the path you gave me and made it to the 7th army. I've been with them ever since," I said, still not understanding.

"But La Boche . . ."

"They took you, and they burned your house," I cried and took a step forward.

"La Boche brought me here. For information, but I did not tell," she defended. "They say you were shot."

I shook my head. "No, Isabelle. I'm here."

In a flash, she was moving across the room and into my arms. I crushed her small body to mine and held on. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard Jasper slip out of the room, but nothing mattered but the woman in my arms.

Isabelle recovered from typhoid and resumed her role of caring for the inmates of Dachau. Now, though, she didn't sleep in the barracks with them. She stayed with Rose. Little by little, her color returned, and she put back on some of the weight that she lost. I saw her every day and did my best to woo the woman I loved. I knew that I didn't have much to offer, but I hoped that she would consent to being my wife.

May flowed into June, and June turned into July. I received word that I would be sent home at the beginning of August, when the newest round of recruits was set to arrive, and I knew that I had run out of time. So, on a Saturday afternoon when we were strolling through the officer's area of Dachau, I dropped to one knee.

"Isabelle, you are the only woman my heart beats for, and I was lost without you. Would you do me the great honor of becoming my wife and allowing me to love you forever?"

The seconds ticked by, and my heart jumped into my throat. I had never considered what I would do if she said no. What if she wanted to go back to France? Could I stay there with her, with no prospects to support us?

Isabelle shocked me back to the present by giggling. It was a sound that I had never heard, and I vowed to make sure that I heard it every day, if she would let me.

"Where did you go, Edward? I said yes, and you stare into space!" she laughed.

"You said yes?" I asked stupidly.

"Yes! Yes, of course. When do I meet your mother now?" She giggled again.

I captured her lips in a kiss and tried to express all of my passion and longing for her. She met me, and I felt her love for me radiating off of her. "Thank you," I whispered against her lips. It was for so many things, and I could only hope she understood.

The following Saturday, the chaplinwaited with me in a meadow outside the gates. Jasper stood next to me. James and a few other people I knew sat in chairs that we had brought just for this occasion. Rose trailed down the make-shift aisle and waited while Emmett escorted Isabelle to me. He had finally recovered and convinced Rose that he wasn't so terrible. Isabelle had heard his attempts from across the room and worked with him until she gave in.

The ceremony was short, by any standard, but we vowed to love each other until death parted us, and were pronounced man and wife. It was all I needed. She was finally, truly mine in every way.

Kindly, the chaplin had arranged for us to have some private rooms, at least for the night, in the main complex, and after a short meal, I dragged Isabelle away.

She wasn't in the mood to wait any more than I was, and nearly attacked me as soon as we shut the door. Her lips kissed every inch of my face, while her hands wandered over my uniform.

"How do I get you out of this thing?" she finally asked, backing up and placing her hands on her hips.

"Hmm," I murmured as I unhooked each of my buttons. I stalked toward her, and she giggled at my expression. I laid my jacket on a chair and shrugged out of my shirt, as well. I wasn't sure where it landed, but I really didn't care.

"Did that answer your question?" I asked her.

She nodded, suddenly shy as I unhooked the simple white dress the ladies in the barracks had sewed for her. Just like the garment she had worn on our first night together, her wedding dress pooled at her feet. This time, though, I swooped her off her feet and threw her on the bed.

Isabelle giggled again, which made me laugh at the carefree sound. It did cut off abruptly when I leaned over and kissed her, though. Our passions quickly turned from fun-loving to amorous, and I lost my pants as quickly as I had lost my shirt.

Isabelle's undergarments were simple, but I took my time with them, worshipping the skin underneath them as well. Her breasts still pebbled like I remembered, but they were smaller now. I could see more of her ribs than before, so I took care to kiss each one on my way down. But the area between her thighs was just as glorious as I remembered, so I caressed it gently, showing her with my hands what words would never be enough to express.

Her hips bucked wildly against my fingers, but I continued my ministrations until her cries echoed off the walls and her muscles contracted around me. I crawled back up her body and kissed her with everything I had, until she wrapped her tiny hand around my penis and started stroking it. I wanted to continue kissing her, to thank her for what she was doing, but I couldn't find the will. I fell onto my back and let her continue, until I was sure that I couldn't take any more. Then, I covered her small frame with my body and sank into her warm depths. Just like the first time, it was bliss. Isabelle seemed to agree, judging by her coos and sighs as I pumped in and out of her. Her fingernails scratched up and down my back, when at last, they dug when she was overcome and convulsing around me. With one more thrust, I let go and spilled into my wife.

"I love you, Isabelle Masen," I said sincerely.

"And I love you, Edward Masen," she whispered, her voice tight.

I rolled off to her side and cupped her cheek with my hand. "What is it, angel? Did I hurt you?"

"No!" she practically shouted. "I just—I never thought I would feel you this way again. I didn't know you were out there, loving me, too."

"I was, and I always will," I promised her.

I wasn't naïve; I knew that we would have some hard times ahead of us, but I had to believe that our love could survive anything, since it already had.

Thank you to Jenny Cullen for betaing this for me and for giving me such great advice. I hope you enjoyed my first foray into the world of contests!