A/N: This story continues events at the end of 'Never Give In' and later expands to involve the OCs introduced in my previous story 'A Mother's Love.' I have taken a bit of artistic license with the first two paragraphs, as the catchphrases quoted were not widely popularized until a few years after I cite them, although this particular program had been on the air for two years by 1953. Extra points if you know what the Newkirk boys' favorite radio program was.
Chapter 1 – In the Valley of Shadow
"If you are going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill
Robbie and Andrew shrieked with laughter as their father, RAF Flight Lieutenant Peter Newkirk, expertly mimicked the characters from their favorite radio program. "You rotten swine, you! You've deaded me!" "Owwwwwwwww!" "I'll see that you get Needle Nardle Noo with Scrimson Scanson for that!" "We'll all be murdered in our beds!" "You silly twisted boy!"
Six and a half year old Robbie convulsed on the sofa, laughing so hard he could barely speak. He finally was able to gasp out, "Da...Da...sing the Ying Tong Song!"
"Let me catch me breath for a moment Robbie," sighed Peter as he reached over to tousle Andrew's hair. Two months shy of his second birthday, Andrew was too young to understand the humor but he giggled at the spectacularly wild hilarity of his brother and father.
"Jo?" Peter called to his wife. She had remained in the kitchen to prepare them a bit of dessert after he had cleared and washed up the dinner dishes. As he had just completed his Initial Officer Training, he had been granted a few days' leave; he had enthusiastically assumed mess duty each evening now that Jo was beginning to feel the various discomforts that were part and parcel of being seven months along in expecting their third child. He called again, "Jo darlin', you're missin' all the fun!"
He was answered by an anguished cry, followed by the startlingly frightening crash of dishes hitting the floor. Peter jumped to his feet and rushed to the kitchen. "Jo! Jo, what's wrong?"
Jo was crouched on her knees, clutching her belly, a pool of pink-tinged water puddled on the floor beneath her. She stared at Peter, her eyes wide with fear. She cried, "It's too early! Oh God, Peter...it's too early!
He automatically went into emergency mode, forcibly shunting his surging emotions off to the side for now. He gently lifted Jo to a seat at the dining table then went back to the lounge to reassure the boys and herd them to their room, calmly telling them that their mum needed to go to the base hospital. He asked Robbie to keep his brother Andrew occupied whilst their mother tried to regain her composure, then rushed to pack an overnight bag for her. He ran back to check on Jo before he called the base medical officer to let him know what had happened and inform him that they would soon be on the way. He then called his in-laws and asked them to come to the base as soon as possible. He simply told them he was taking Jo to the hospital but gave no details as he didn't want to alarm them at this point. Jo's mum immediately realized the seriousness of the situation by the oddly unemotional inflection in Peter's voice.
"Don't worry Peter! We will leave right now!"
"Thank you mum. I've got to get Jo to 'ospital now. Please meet me there." He rang off and went to get the boys and Jo out to the car.
Peter drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other one tightly clasping Jo's. He constantly glanced over at her, marveling at her ability to speak calmly and reassuringly to both he and the boys. Despite her distress, she forced herself to assume a mantle of normality for all their sakes' during the short drive to the base hospital. She even took the time to give Robbie, Andrew and Andrew's favorite teddy a kiss and hug before Peter eased her out of the car and into a wheelchair. After he wheeled her inside to reception, she drew both of the boys close and whispered to them, "Don't worry my darlings! They will take good care of me here. Please help your Da, he'll need you close by whilst I'm with the doctors."
Robbie nodded, green eyes wide in his pale face. "Yes mum."
Peter leaned down to kiss her tenderly as he placed his hand gently on her distended belly. He stared at her helplessly and desperately searched for something to say. "Jo darlin', I...I..." his voice broke and he couldn't continue. He had been chuffed to bits when Jo had told him she was expecting again. How could this be happening? There had been no complications with either of the boys.
Jo gently caressed his face and nodded. "I know darling. I know."
Peter straightened to stand beside the boys and he watched sadly as Jo was whisked away to the emergency treatment area. As she disappeared behind the doors, he sighed heavily and crouched down to lift a drowsy Andrew into his arms. He took Robbie's hand and slowly made his way to the waiting area. Now alone with the boys, he suddenly found himself nearly hyperventilating with anxiety, and he had to stop for a moment to furiously beat his panic back down. Never in his life had he felt such an irrational, gut-clenching fear; even during the war he had never faced such an all-encompassing, overwhelming dread. The only other occasion he remembered feeling this helpless was when he and Mavis watched over their mum as she passed.
Robbie silently watched his father struggling to calm himself, his own fear growing. As they sat down in the waiting area, he asked, "Da, what's wrong with mum?"
Peter closed his eyes briefly and then turned to his oldest son. "We're not sure yet Robbie. We think the baby's comin' already."
"Really?" Robbie thought a baby's birth was supposed to be a happy occasion. "Then why are you so sad?"
"It's...it's a little too early son." He wrapped his arm around Robbie and pulled him to his side. "We 'ave to wait and see what 'appens."
"Yes Da." Still uncertain as to what to think, Robbie leaned into Peter's comforting embrace and idly watched Andrew fall asleep. He turned his head so he could hear his father's heartbeat and soon joined his brother in slumber.
Mary and Angus arrived several hours later to find Peter slumped on the sofa of the waiting lounge, head bowed low, his empty, haunted gaze fixed on the floor. The boys lay half nestled in his arms and half sprawled across his lap, asleep. They paused a moment and then quietly approached. Since Peter acted as if he didn't see them standing there right before him, Angus stepped forward to lay a gentle hand on top of his head. Peter shuddered slightly and slowly raised his head to reveal a mask of raw pain. He stared at the two of them glassy-eyed and unseeing before he whispered, "Don't wake me boys…please." Angus looked at his wife, who shook her head sadly. He crouched down and took his son-in-law's face in his hands, forcing him to focus. He spoke softly in simple short sentences.
"Peter lad? Look at me. It's Angus, son. Speak tae me."
Peter stared at his father-in-law, then frowned and blinked rapidly as if awakening from a trance. "Angus?" he gasped. "Is it you?"
"Aye lad." He released Peter's face and gestured to his wife. "Mary's here as well."
"Aye, aye, she is." Angus reached out to grasp Peter's shoulder. "Please lad, tell us, what has happened tae our Josephine?"
Peter lowered his head for a moment, then raised anguished, tear-filled eyes to his in-laws. He closed them tightly, causing the tears to spill over down his cheeks. He finally found the ability to speak and choked out a hoarse whisper. "We…that is…Jo…oh God!" his voice broke and Angus gently squeezed his shoulder.
"C'mon lad, yer doin' fine."
"Jo…" his voice hitched and he dropped his head down again. He choked back a sob and finally gasped out, "Jo…lost the…baby….still-stillborn."
Mary slapped her hands across her mouth to smother the scream that clawed its way up from deep within her. She leaned heavily upon Angus and he released his grip on Peter to catch his wife as she collapsed into his arms.
As Jo was to be kept sedated for quite some time and the doctor wanted her to rest undisturbed, Peter decided to drive the boys and their grandparents back to his quarters. He had fallen back into automatic pilot, intending to get them comfortably settled in before he returned to the hospital to spend the rest of the night beside Jo. Now that the boys were tucked in their beds and his in-laws ensconced in the guest room, he was finally satisfied that everyone was taken care of. As he made his way across the lounge to leave for the hospital, he caught sight of Andrew's teddy bear lying on the floor where it had apparently fallen when he carried his sleeping son inside. When he bent over to pick it up, his knees suddenly and unexpectedly buckled and he collapsed onto the floor to sit stunned and silent. As he tightly clutched the stuffed bear to his chest his eyes glazed with tears and he unconsciously began rocking ever so slightly. Mary had observed him from the hallway and she now approached to gently grasp his shoulder.
"Dear Peter, please don't grieve so. God needed your precious little angel..."
"No mum! Don't say that! What kind of God would do that?" he shouted. She recoiled from him a bit and he softened his words upon catching sight of the naked pain on her face. "I'm sorry mum, I know you mean well but, but if that were true 'e should 'ave plenty of angels up there in 'eaven right about now after all the little ones what died in the war. 'e don't need to poach anymore from down 'ere! Especially not mine!" He lowered his head and mumbled to himself. "No, especially not mine. 'eaven should be about full by now, don't ya think?"
Mary dropped her head and nodded sadly. "I'm sorry Peter, I didn't mean to upset you further. I only meant..."
Peter turned away and his shoulders heaved as he tried to stem the relentlessly swelling tide of agony roiling up from within. Angus came near and put his arm around his wife to steer her out of the room. "C'mon lass, gae and tend tae the boys, all right? Gae on noo..."
She left and Angus shook his head as he watched her shuffle slowly down the hallway. He turned to rejoin Peter. "Like ye said lad, she meant well."
Peter didn't reply, seeking to keep his steadily encroaching despair at bay, as Angus continued, "Son, ye need tae know that the same happened with Mary an' me."
Shocked, Peter raised his head and tried to focus his tear-filled eyes on his father-in-law. "You...you...mean...?"
Angus nodded sadly. "Aye, our first. T'would've been Jo's older brother had he lived. Mary took it hard, real hard." He looked up towards the ceiling and sighed heavily. "That's why she likes tae think of the wee bairn as an angel. She canna accept it any other way."
Peter felt the hollow pain in the pit of his stomach erupt anew. He closed his eyes with a wince. "Oh Cor! I'm...I'm so sorry Angus. Jo never told me. Does...does she even know?"
"Nae, since it were before she was born we ne'er told her. I'd like tae keep it that way, but if Mary chooses tae speak of it tae help comfort the dear girl that's her choice."
Peter nodded dumbly. Finally approaching the limit of his endurance, he dropped his face into his hands. Angus came near and wrapped his arm about his son-in-law's shoulder. "I'm heartily sorry for ye and my Josephine, Peter my lad. I'd nae wish this pain on my worst enemy. I can only tell ye that I know how ye feel, lad, I do indeed, and that I'm so verra, verra sorry."
"My little girl...oh God...my little girl," Peter moaned. He could no longer hold it in and he began sobbing uncontrollably. Angus wrapped his arms around his son-in-law in a futile effort to comfort him.
"Gae on lad, gae on. There's nae shame in yer grief. Ye have just lost a part of yerself, son. There's nae shame. It was nae one's fault. The little lamb just...just wasn't strong enough, that's all."
Peter turned to lean into Angus' chest and he wept unashamedly as his heart broke for his beloved Jo and their little lost daughter.