Nothing Like a Dame
Summary: An American soldier in occupied France learns that while the men wear the uniforms, it’s the women who never stop fighting.
Characters: Paris, Torres, 'Bobby', 'Brigitte'
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for #fictober2018 Day 17 prompt: “I’ll tell you, but you’re not gonna like it.” Episode addition to The Killing Game.
She refuses his offer of a helping hand, brushing it aside to wrench open the trapdoor.
“We keep the guns down here, in the wine cellar.” Brigitte’s voice is flat as she carefully descends the ladder sideways to avoid knocking her pregnant belly. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah.” Bobby follows her down, brushing the splinters off his hands as he reaches the hard-packed dirt floor. It’s cold down here and it smells dry and somehow ancient, like the chalk mine back home. It’s dark, too; the only light streams faintly through the trapdoor, motes dancing in the beam.
He can hear Brigitte muttering and patting herself, and realises what she’s looking for.
“Here.” Bobby flicks on his zippo. In the flare of golden light he catches her expression before she has time to mask it, and thinks that she looks unutterably sad.
She turns away, scooping up an oil lamp, and he touches his lighter to the wick.
“No problem,” he says, feeling more awkward now even than the moment he asked her who’d fathered her unborn baby.
She moves over to the barrels stacked against the far wall of the cellar, graceful even with her protruding belly, and starts tugging at one of them, grunting with effort. Bobby leaps to her side, grateful that this, at least, is something he can do to help.
He manoeuvres the barrel to the floor, almost overbalancing as the wine inside it sloshes lustily. By the time he’s righted it, Brigitte is already leaning into the vacant space, unlocking a concealed wooden crate with a key she fishes from her pocket.
“Give me a hand here,” she orders.
Bobby helps her lift the lid and whistles low as he squints inside. There must be six dozen pistols in here and half as many rifles, even a handful of Karabiner bolt-action shotguns he suspects are left over from the last Great War. “The captain’s gonna flip his wig over this.”
“I’m so happy for you boys.”
The acid in her tone is unmistakable, and Bobby has just about had enough.
“Hey,” he snaps. “You know we’re on your side, right? We’re here to save you from the Krauts.”
“Oh, of course,” she says hotly, yanking open the canvas satchel she’d been carrying and starting to transfer the smaller weapons into it, one by one. “The American heroes, swooping in and acting like we should all be so grateful you’re going to win our war for us. You have no idea what we’ve been through since the Germans occupied Sainte-Claire!”
“So why didn’t you leave?” he demands, beginning to fill his own bag with rifles and boxes of bullets. “I’d have married you in a heartbeat, Brigitte. You’d have been safe.”
“Sure. And then you’d have gone off to war and got yourself killed, and what would have happened to me? I’d be a widow in a strange country. No friends, no family, everyone I ever knew and loved dead.”
He can’t help feeling stung. “Doesn’t look like your life turned out so great, anyway.”
“Screw you, Bobby,” she answers, but the heat has drained from her voice. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“So tell me,” he pleads. “Tell me why you chose to stay here and let some Nazi pig knock you up over being with me.”
“All right.” Brigitte finishes filling her satchel and fastens it, placing it carefully on the dirt floor. “I’ll tell you, but you’re not gonna like it.”
Bobby takes her by the elbow and guides her to sit on the overturned wine barrel. “Try me.”
Apparently reading sincerity in his eyes, Brigitte nods once, then looks down at her clasped hands, collecting her thoughts.
“We were so naive at first,” she begins, “the townspeople, I mean. We couldn’t imagine the Germans bothering with a tiny city like Sainte-Claire. Even when the first troops started trickling through – visiting the Coeur de Lion, confiscating the best produce, stopping people on the street and demanding to see their papers – even then, we thought it would pass. That they’d move on and leave us alone.”
“You didn’t realise the strategic importance of Sainte-Claire’s position.”
“Right. Well, we soon learned. A few weeks after Paris fell, the Nazis began to arrive in numbers. At first we resisted them. Shopkeepers refused to serve them and people shouted at them in the streets. They ignored it at first, but then one day a thirteen-year-old boy threw a bottle in the street, and it hit one of the soldiers. The next thing we knew, the Nazis had rounded up every boy between the ages of eleven and fifteen. They shot them in the village square in broad daylight.”
Bobby’s shoulders jerk a little, and Brigitte’s eyes cut to him at the movement.
“One of them was Katrine’s son,” she says. “She’d already lost Marc, her husband, in the Saar Offensive, and when Theo was killed she just … shut down. Or so I thought, until one night I discovered Katrine scribbling intently as she listened to a weather broadcast from England on the radio.”
“She was already in the Resistance.”
Brigitte nods. “She’s probably been involved since the war began. She wanted to shut me out, but I insisted on being recruited. Katrine taught me codebreaking and Remy taught me how to shoot straight, but nobody had to teach me how to ruin my reputation.”
Bobby reaches tentatively for her hand.
“As I told you,” she continues, “from the moment his regiment arrived, the Kapitan took a liking to me. He came into the Coeur that first night and he couldn’t take his eyes off me. So I flirted with him, poured him drinks, sat on his knee and let him get fresh.”
She dips her head.
“You want to know the worst thing? Part of me enjoyed it, Bobby. Nobody who walks into that bar, especially the Germans, has eyes for anyone but Mademoiselle de Neuf. I’m nothing compared to her, and yet there was the Kapitan, looking at me.”
“Are you talking about that blonde?” Bobby demands. “She can’t hold a candle to you. You’re beautiful, Brigitte.”
She smiles. “You always made me feel that way. And maybe I missed that feeling, Bobby, I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I let him take me to bed.” The smile is gone now. “Maybe I deserve the things they say about me.”
“What do they say?”
“They call me a collaborateur horizontale,” she says without inflection. “They spit at me in the streets and call me a Nazi whore. I wish I could tell them –” she breaks off, then turns to him angrily. “You think I wouldn’t rather pick up a gun and shoot some Nazis? You think I like fighting this war on my back, simpering at that arrogant murderer and pretending I’m enjoying it?”
“But you’re doing it for them. For Sainte-Claire.”
“Yes, I am,” she says. “And Sainte-Claire is never going to thank me for it.”
“So what happened to them?”
B'Elanna is hanging on his every word, and Tom smiles to himself; this isn’t the first time his love of twentieth-century history has come in handy, but it might be the first time it’s snagged him the undivided attention of a beautiful woman.
“Well, Sainte-Claire isn’t a real place,” he’s forced to admit. “That program the Hirogen found in the database was obviously fictional, but it was probably based pretty heavily on actual events.”
“What happened in the actual events, then?” B'Elanna sips her citrus juice, too engrossed even to grimace at the bitter taste.
Tom hesitates. “I’ll tell you, but you’re not gonna like it.”
She nods, waiting.
“Hundreds of thousands of Franco-German babies were born during the Occupation,” Tom says. “After the war, these women who had risked their lives and their bodies for the Resistance, or simply for survival, were treated shamefully by the remaining townspeople. They were called collaborators. Their heads were shaved, they were stripped and paraded through the streets; some of them were killed.”
Shock is slowly replaced by anger in B'Elanna’s eyes. “But that’s so unfair!”
Tom can’t disagree.
“Why would the French do that?” B'Elanna asks. “Those women had no choice!”
“It wasn’t just the French,” Tom tells her reluctantly. “Name any war in Earth’s history and I can just about guarantee you there were women on the losing side suffering rape and mistreatment, while fighting for their country the only way they knew how. And I’m pretty sure their countries never thanked them for it.”
B'Elanna ducks her head; he can tell she’s struggling for control. “Typical,” she says finally, bitter as the papalla juice. “The men get to pick up a weapon and die in a blaze of glory, or return as conquering heroes. The women just have to keep on fighting.”
“I’m sorry,” says Tom, although he isn’t exactly sure what he’s apologising for.
“So am I,” B'Elanna says quietly.