A/N: This story picks up immediately from my previous oneshot 'All Things Must Pass', which was a continuance of sorts to 'God Save the King'. It would be helpful to read GSK and then ATMP (in that order) first if you haven't already. The time period portrayed here is a real historical event, known as "The Great London Smog" or "The Big Smoke". From 5-9 December 1952 London was enveloped in a dense, polluted fog as the result of an atmospheric inversion in conjunction with freezing temperatures. It is estimated that up to 12,000 people eventually died due to the effects of breathing the heavily polluted air. Those with compromised immune systems and chronic respiratory disease were especially susceptible to the harsh and poisonous air. Wikipedia has an excellent overview if you'd like to know more. The book "Killer Smog, The World's Worst Air Pollution Disaster" by William Wise provides a more comprehensive account.
Chapter 1 - Decisions
"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." – Winston Churchill, 29 October 1941.
Jo sighed softly and looked up at Mavis. "He's finally asleep!" she whispered.
Mavis leaned over, concern on her face. "I don't like the sound of 'is breathin' Jo." Peter's breath rasped in short, harsh gasps.
"I don't either Mave. We'll have to watch him closely for the rest of the night." She gently felt his forehead. "Still feverish." She slipped a thermometer into his mouth; he didn't stir. She took it out after a few minutes and shook her head sadly. "Oh no Mave! He has a 102° temperature!" She went back into the kitchen for more cold water and handed the bowl to Mavis. "Mave would you mind keeping the cloth on his forehead refreshed? I've got to go down the hall and use the telephone."
Mavis looked up with a stricken expression. "Not the 'ospital?"
Jo nodded tightly. She reached down and gently smoothed Peter's hair back off his forehead before leaning down to kiss him. "I'm afraid so Mave. I'm really worried for him." She called out as she slipped out the door, "I'll be right back!"
Mavis gently bathed her brother's face with the cold water, then folded the cloth back over his forehead and eyes. She sat back with a sigh. "We sure could use that lil' moggy right about now, couldn't we Peter?"
As if in answer, Peter groaned and moved his head slightly. Mavis removed the cloth and refreshed it. She gently grasped his shoulder and leaned down to whisper in his ear. "Shhh. Don't wake up just yet. Keep restin'. Yer sweet wife is tryin' to get 'elp for you." He groaned again and stilled.
A few minutes later, Jo came back into the flat, tears streaming down her face. Mavis jumped up, alarmed. "What is it Jo? What's wrong?"
"The Emergency Bed Service can't help us. The hospital is completely overwhelmed. They all are. They've stopped sending ambulances because the drivers can't see in this fog. There's no public transport as well! Oh Mavis! What are we going to do? On top of all that, they want me to come in to work! How can I leave my husband when he's so ill? How?" She sank to the floor in front of the couch and dropped her face into her hands.
Mavis knelt down next to her. "'ow about a cab?"
"They're not running either. They can't see, the fog's just too thick. It's simply too dangerous." She raised her head and wiped the tears from her cheeks as she tried to compose herself. "We're just going to have to take care of him the best we can for now Mave. Dear God, please don't let us lose him this time." Her mind drifted back to when she had first met Peter in the military hospital where she worked at that time. It was close to the end of the war and he had been airlifted directly from Germany for treatment of a severe case of double lobar pneumonia. He had very nearly died then and when he finally recovered, his lungs were greatly weakened. She always wondered how a lowly RAF corporal rated a direct transfer from a prisoner of war camp back to London. She shook her head. Now wasn't the time to daydream. Get a grip on yourself Jo! You're a nurse after all. Peter needs you now more than ever! "Please stay beside him Mave. I have to see what else we have in the medicine cabinet." She got to her feet.
Mavis nodded and sat on the couch at her brother's feet. "I'll stay as long as ya need me to Jo."
Jo wrapped her sister-in-law in a heartfelt hug. "Thanks so much Mave. You don't know what it means to have you here. I'm sure Peter feels the same."
Mavis hugged her back. "Anytime Jo. You've been so good for 'im. I've never seen 'im 'appier. 'e loves you more than anythin'. I know that for a fact."
Jo smiled at her, the tears threatening to come back at Mavis' words. "He's my sweetheart. Truly."
After Jo left the room, Mavis got up and stoked the fire, then sat back on the sofa. She gave a start when Peter shifted slightly and moaned. She got up and knelt on the floor beside him. "Peter?"
He tried to open his eyes, only succeeding halfway. His shaking voice was hoarse. "M-Mave? What're ya doin' 'ere?"
"Dontcha remember brother? I've been 'ere for a few days now. Yer very sick." She felt his forehead, finding it still too warm for her liking. "Try to go back to sleep Peter. You need yer rest."
He closed his eyes, becoming restless. "Where's...where's...Louie? Andrew? Gov? Joe where...are...ya mate? Richard? Answer me…mates…please…" His voice came out as a tortured whisper, as if each word caused excruciating pain. His breath hitched and he began coughing. Mavis winced at the harsh, wet sound he made. She held his shoulders as he sat up, his chest heaving as he tried to get his breath back.
Jo ran back into the room, her arms full. "What's happened?"
"'e woke up for a bit and then began coughin'. Couldn't catch 'is breath afterwards."
"So…c-cold….so…cold…" Peter began violently shaking with chills. Jo dropped the supplies she carried into the armchair and grabbed another blanket. She and Mavis wrapped it around him. He continued shaking and mumbling. "Get 'im away from…me…'elp me mates. So…cold…take me…inside…please…mates…no…more…can't take…anymore…"
"What's 'e goin' on about?" Mavis briskly rubbed her brother's shoulders and arms, trying to warm him up.
Jo shook her head. "I have no idea."
"Louie! 'elp me lil' mate! Please! Louie..." Peter cried. He collapsed in another bout of coughing. Mavis and Jo supported his head and upper body as he hacked and wheezed, struggling to breathe. "Louie….please….'elp me…" To their horror, Peter began weeping. "I...can't...take...any...more..."
Jo drew his head to her shoulder and held him close. "Oh Peter darling. What is wrong? Please calm down! Please darling." She looked over at Mavis and saw that her eyes brimmed with unshed tears just like her own. Mavis shook her head sadly.
Jo leaned her head down until she was face to face with her husband. She tried to get his attention. "Peter! Peter, please look at me dear. We're here darling. You're at home. Please calm down." She caressed his cheek and waited for him to calm down. He gradually quieted and opened his eyes halfway.
"Who...who are you...?" he wheezed.
Mavis looked stricken as Jo shook her head. "It's the fever Mave. He's delirious. He was calling for his mates from the stalag." She gently lifted his chin to look him in the eyes and spoke as calmly as she could to him. "Peter, listen to me. I'm Josephine. I'm your wife."
Peter shivered again and blinked repeatedly. He seemed to come back to himself. "Jo? Is it really you? What're you doin' 'ere? Where're…where're me nippers?"
"Darling we sent the boys to stay with my mum and dad, remember?"
"No..." he mumbled. His eyes glazed over and he slumped against Jo's breast. Mavis moved to help Jo lay him back down.
"Jo, what're we gonna do?" Mavis was beginning to panic.
"He was calling for Louis. It can only be Louis LeBeau. I wonder...Mave, I'll be right back." She ran to the bedroom and returned a few minutes later, clutching a slip of paper. "Remember Mave, when Peter and I married we didn't have much in the way of funds?" Jo smiled inwardly. Not that much has changed since then! "We spent our honeymoon in Paris at Louis' invitation. It was his wedding gift to us. I'll always remember the grand time we had! As we were taking our leave, Louis slipped me this piece of paper with his address and phone number. He told me that if we ever needed anything, to contact him." She laughed quietly. "He told me not to tell Peter, as he would be too stubborn to ask for help, even if he really needed it."
"He knows me brother well, don't 'e?" Mave was glad to finally have something to laugh at.
Jo glanced down at her unconscious husband. "Mave, I'm sorry to ask so much of you. Would you please watch over him while I'm gone?"
"That's what I'm 'ere for Jo. Don't you worry about 'im. Where are ya goin'?"
"I'm going to try to send a cable to Louis, if I can make my way to the telegraph office." She fetched her coat and hat, then leaned down to kiss Peter on the forehead. She grimaced at the heat radiating from him. "Please keep his shoulders elevated and try to keep his face bathed with the cold water."
Mavis nodded. "Be careful Jo! Don't you go gettin' 'it by a car or somethin'."
"That's not my intention, believe me Mave. I'll be back soon God willing!"
Mavis saw Jo to the door and turned back to her brother as he lay unconscious on the sofa. "Oh Peter luv. Somethin's gotta 'appen. You need 'elp bad."