Chapter 25 - Denouement

Peter's convalescence proved to be a bit longer than he would've liked, but it was not nearly as protracted as the recovery period from his first bout of pneumonia had been. Doctor McFarland approved his conditional release from Millbank three weeks after he first regained consciousness. Jo had a constant fight with herself not to fuss over him too much and he tried not to become annoyed when she failed, as he knew her motivation was her deep love for him. He found that the best medicine for his long-term recovery lay in being home with her and the boys and carrying on with normal life, such as it was.

General Hogan had eventually contacted him upon finalization of the arrangements for his commission, which happily coincided with the completion of his initial recovery. From that point onward, events swirled quickly and progressively to their eagerly awaited conclusion.

He glanced about, wondering if he should ask Jo to pinch him as hard as she possibly could, and then decided against it as he knew she'd probably take great delight in doing so. Yet he still had no small amount of difficulty believing they were actually here, now living on base at RAF Greenham Common. A small group had gathered in his new office for a ceremony marking his commission and the commencement of his duties as USAFE SAC Air Attaché. He tried to keep his emotions clamped down as his friends and family proudly watched General Hogan present his rank insignia.

They all burst into spontaneous applause and he briefly ducked his head. Jo's gentle squeeze to his arm reminded him to keep his head high. He looked around and nodded graciously at the warm regards everyone gave him. Air Vice Marshal Roberts smiled broadly from where he stood next to Mavis. Further down the line, he saw Louis LeBeau wiping away tears of joy as Danielle handed him a handkerchief. Jo's mum and dad were there as well, trying to keep Robbie and Andrew as quiet as possible.

Jo had stepped away to let him bask in the group's full attention and he could've sworn he saw Mavis surreptitiously pass something to her behind her back. It was a vague, blurry movement caught at the very edge of his peripheral vision so he wasn't sure if he actually saw it or not. He turned his attention back to the General, who was now reading congratulatory cables sent by his mates in America, as well as one from Katrin and her family.

There was a reception afterwards, just a little affair with assorted hors d'oeuvres and champagne, courtesy of the RAF and one Louis LeBeau. The evening wound down a bit early, as his guests had trains to catch and he himself was growing a bit fatigued.

Mavis and Jo approached to each take one of his arms within theirs. "What's goin' on Jo?" he asked as they escorted him back to his office.

"You'll see, brother," answered Mavis.

Once there, he spotted the package on his desk. It was rather plain, wrapped in brown paper and tied with a black cord. He read the attached card, "To Flight Lieutenant Peter Newkirk, with our deepest love, Jo and Mave."

He ripped it open to find a mahogany shadow box frame. He gasped when he saw what it contained, and looked up to see Jo and Mavis trying to hold back tears through their smiles. He brought it closer to more carefully examine its contents. It was lined within by red velvet, into which nestled two items. The first item to catch his eye was a photograph of a handsome young man dressed in battle gear which looked to be of the type worn during the Great War. The second item was unmistakable, as he knew exactly what it was. He felt his chest constrict with emotion as he recognized his father's Victoria Cross.

His hands began shaking and he carefully lowered the box back onto his new desk so as not to drop it. "My God Mave! Where did you find this snap of 'im? I don't ever remember seein' it."

"It was in mum's 'ope chest. It 'ad been in the back of the cupboard for so long I forgot I 'ad it. Jo and I found it when we spent an entire day lookin' through mum's things."

Hope chest indeed! thought Peter bitterly. The only tangible thing his Mum and Da's marriage had started out with was hope. Sadly, even that small blessing was blasted to nonexistence by the first war when his Da returned from the Somme to become an abusive, alcoholic layabout. That was the only father he and Mavis had ever known.

Mavis noticed her brother's darkening expression and put a gentle hand on his arm. "Peter, don't go there right now. This is a 'appy occasion, don't ruin it for yerself."

Peter took a deep breath, looked at Mavis and swept her into his arms to hug her tightly. "Yer right Mave. Right as rain as usual." He had to put the brakes on his thoughts and remember how he had come to terms with his father's failings in the first place. The snap and VC stood for the man he had been before the war destroyed him. Remember that man Peter, even though you didn't know 'im, he told himself. Mum wouldn't 'ave married 'im if she didn't see somethin' good in 'im!

He released Mavis but kept one arm around her waist and held her close to his side. He reached his other arm out and wrapped it around Jo to pull her to his other side. He sighed contentedly as he reveled in the loving attention of the two most important women in his life.

Much later that night, Jo silently extricated herself from her husband's arms and rose to go check on the boys. She was still getting used to the spaciousness of their detached quarters and thought she might not be able to hear the boys should they need her. She returned a few minutes later to pause in the bedroom doorway to gaze affectionately at Peter; he had turned over onto his side in his sleep. She eased back into the bed and lay facing him. She reached over and very gently caressed his cheek, hoping he hadn't overexerted himself. Not that she had any regrets on that score, it was just that he sometimes had a slight wheeze to his breathing, especially when he became winded.

He shifted a bit at her touch and a small smile graced his face. "Mmmmmmm...'ello darlin'. Ready for another go?" He took her hand and lightly brushed her fingertips with his lips before he opened his eyes to see her reaction to his proposal.

Jo shook her head and nestled back into his strong arms with a sigh. "Oh yes, I definitely am. You, unfortunately though, need to rest. Remember what the doctors said?"

"Oh sod the bleedin' doctors..." He leaned in to kiss her passionately. Since she made no move to further encourage him, he rolled onto his back and put on his best little boy pout. "Awwww darlin' say it ain'" his eyes rolled closed even as he spoke.

Jo snuggled closer to him and chuckled to herself, "Uh huh, that's what I thought." She brushed her fingertips softly against his temple as she closed her eyes. "Don't worry darling. We have the rest of our lives before us."

A/N - And so we have finally come to the end (or is it a beginning?). I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing. I must cite a few references for any of you who may be interested. I already cited the book "Killer Smog, The World's Worst Air Pollution Disaster" by William Wise for my source on the Big Smoke. Another useful source of inspiration was "Austerity Britain 1945-1951" by David Kynaston. It's a weighty, scholarly tome but invaluable in its evocation of post-war Britain. I also found "Armageddon - The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945" by Max Hastings useful for its depiction of the chaos that was Germany in the waning days of the ETO. And let's not forget "FUBAR - Soldier Slang of World War II" by Gordon Rottman, always a useful source.

As we say in Texas, "Y'all come back now, y'hear?"