As passion’s tempest left them drained, Andrew rested his back against Stephen’s body. Soft kisses were adorned to his neck as hands wrapped around him, fingers stroking gently the hair on his chest.
“How? How are you here with me?”
“A month after you were called up for military service, I realized my life held no meaning without you,” Stephen responded, his chin nestled on Andrew’s shoulder. “So, I volunteered to fight, devising a plan to find you. I purposefully failed marksmanship during training, prompting my commanding officer to refer to me as the Germans greatest weapon against England.” Andrew’s hearty laughter interrupted Stephen’s tale. “Hush,” he warned. “Do you want me to answer your question?”
“Please,” Andrew urged, stroking Stephen’s arm tenderly.
“I was assigned clerical responsibilities where I learned to forge signatures. I also had access to files on all soldiers serving. When I found your file, I arranged my transfer here so I could be with you.”
“You may have arranged your own death sentence.”
“One I accept willingly if it means one more hour with you.”
“I never wanted to leave you.”
“I read your letter to me so many times,” Andrew confessed. “I can recite it word for word. I think of it each night before falling asleep.”
“As do I.”
Andrew burst into tears, overwhelmed by a torrent of emotions too confusing to separate. The man he loved, his sole reason for living, was here with him. As happy as he should be, this also frightened him, wondering how he could go on should Stephen die in battle next to him. How could he keep him safe amidst such a nightmare?
“Why are you crying?”
“Why are you here?”
“I came to save you,” Stephen repeated, pressing Andrew tighter against him.
“I fear I am not a man worth saving,” Andrew admitted. “In England, I held a quiet, restrained disposition. Here, I have killed countless men, unleashing a madness inside me I never knew existed. In battle, when firing my weapon, I become unrecognizable to myself. The others are correct. I am a mindless killing machine. How could anyone forgive me for what I have done?”
“Seeking forgiveness is unnecessary. The uniform you don is merely a façade. The man underneath, the man I love, still exists to my heart. I remember the first moment I saw you. You were resting under a tree, reading Howard’s End. When you looked up from your book and flashed those magnificent, deep blue eyes of yours to me, I knew then I would never find a more gentle soul. I was left spellbound. Despite what this war has made you become, you remain the man I love, the one I will always love. You have not been forsaken for some heinous monster. What you have done is what has been needed to survive this madness. The only question worth answering is, will you find the strength to forgive yourself?”
“I wish I knew the answer to that.”