When Jacques Dernier first met Sergeant James Barnes, he was reminded sharply not so much of Antoine but of the many young men he had loved and lost during La Grande Guerre. Delirious from exhaustion, starvation, the potential gravity of failure, and perhaps his own impending death from hypothermia, Jacques’ first (semi)coherent words on being hauled out of the mud and ice by two young American soldiers were not vive la France! nor Alhamdulillah! but mon dieu, quelles beaux yeux bleus!
“Well, that answers that question,” said le Sergent américain. “Free French, huh. What’s he sayin’?”
…Ah. It would appear he had spoken aloud. But Jacques Dernier would be neither ashamed nor afraid.
“He—“ le Soldat américain squinted at him, uncertain. “He says you have beautiful eyes.”
«Beaux yeux bleus», Jacques corrected. «Bleus».
“Beautiful blue eyes,” le Soldat emphasized, rolling his own. “My mistake.”
Le Sergent let out a laugh. “You okay, pal? You hit your head pretty hard or what?”
Jacques answered with a clever double sens, which le Soldat staunchly refused to translate.
“Okay, Jonesey-boy. You stay with Cyrano defuckin’Bergerac here. Tell him I got a girl back home in Brooklyn.”
«Mais nous sommes en France»! Jacques called after him.
“We’re in Austria, shit-for-brains,” le Sergent returned. “You gotta be more careful, pal," the man he would come to know as Barnes would later pull him aside. “The US Army don’t take too kindly to fellas being queer.”
«The US Army also forbids desegregated units, and yet», Jacques nodded to Jones.
“Alright, smartass. Don’t get cute with me. But you be careful, you hear?” Barnes’ brow creased with worry. “I know what half these fellas would do if they found out, and I don’t know what the other half might do but I sure as hell know it’d be worse.”
Jacques was not ignorant. «It cannot be any worse than what they did to my son».
When Jacques Dernier went off to war, he’d been barely more than a child. He’d kissed his mother, his sisters, his lover. And over the years he would lose his mother, his sisters, his lover--many young lovers--to the gas and the trenches, the sickness and starvation, the shell shock and suicide. But when the war indeed had ended and the dust had settled, he’d returned to Marseille, returned to his schooling, and in the name of Allah, As-Salām, ar-Raḥmān, had sworn off all violence forever.
When Jacques Dernier returned to war, he’d been a father. When Allemange invaded, he did nothing. When Paris fell again in his lifetime, he did nothing. When la zone libre became la zone sud and German soldiers marched in Marseille he had too much to lose: a wife, their children, a career, a home, and so he did nothing. When le STO deported his friends and neighbors still he did nothing. But when Antoine had been arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately murdered at the hands of les pétainistes he’d vowed vengeance in the name of Allah, al-Muqaddim, al-Muntaqim, on the Schutzstaffel and l’État Français alike.
«Your children deserve a living father».
«Our children deserve a world with no war, and a world where a man is free to love whom he wishes». Nour wept, but she did not argue. And so for perhaps the last time Jacques Dernier kissed his wife, their lovers (and their wives and their husbands), and his children as he had once kissed his mother, his sisters, and his lover. He left Marseille in the dead of night to live among les Maquis, sabotaging railways and tunnels.
In the last few fleeting moments Jacques spent with Sergeant James Barnes, the man had been terrified. But damned if he didn’t follow Rogers anyway, damned if he didn’t insist on boarding that train. And damned—Jacques would hear from Rogers’ own stricken voice—if in the end he hadn’t picked up that shield himself and defended his lover until the very last.
By May 29th, 1970, Jacques Dernier was a widower, a father, a grandfather, and a soon to be great-grandfather. He would become a godfather as well.
“We thought about Steven,” Maria admitted. “Or Jim—James. But we wondered, well, I wanted to call him Anthony, if it’s alright with you.”
«Ce serait un honneur et un plaisir». And if there were tears on his weathered face, well, it was the smoke from his pipe, irritating his eyes.
“Hullo, Jacques.” Jacques Dernier would know that voice anywhere. And if Allah were to send an angel, he could think of none better than this.
«Marguerite, tu pleures pour moi»?
She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. “Well, you old bastard, you’re bloody dying.”
«C'est pour ça que tu pleures ? » he reproached her. «I survived the great war, our war. I’ve lived longer than most». Longer than poor Barnes and Rogers, he did not voice. «Dis-moi, es-tu heureuse»?
“Last I checked there was a wall in Berlin, we at war in the Falklands, the bloody Balkans in turmoil, our own weapons in Pakistan and Afghanistan turned against us, there’s still Castro in Cuba and Pinochet down in Chile, and let’s not forget Palestine or North Korea,” she snorted. “The world’s in bloody shambles. I’m alive, at least, but I shan’t think happiness has ought to do with it.”
«Non», Jacques amended. «Mais es-tu heureuse avec lui»?
“As I can be, I suppose…in another world, another life, Steve may have lived, perhaps,” she smiled tearfully. “But I wouldn’t trade it for all that I have—what I have had,” she amended.
“And Gabriel. But it isn’t just the romance, you know. I’m grateful for many things: Edwin, Anna, little Anthony…what family I’ve found in them. The friendships I have with Rose, Daniel, Violet. Things I would not have had were the war to have gone any other way.”
«Ça valait le coup»? he wondered.
“We won the war,” Carter insisted. “We saved the world. Millions, billions, of lives, even…I have to tell myself that yes, yes, it was indeed worth it.”
«Resteras-tu avec moi jusqu'à la fin»? he asked. Jacques Dernier was not afraid of death, he would meet his Antoine soon enough, yet it seemed so selfish to let her go.
“Until the very end,” she kissed his cheek, clasping his cold hands in her two warm ones. “Was it all worth it, then, for you?”
«Oui, nous avons gagné la guerre», Jacques sighed, «mais ça coûte les yeux de la tête».