|02:03 am - A Period of Rejoicing|
This is based on characters in Mary Renault's The Charioteer. The characters belong to her and I make no profit from them. G Rated.
It was over. Paper floated through the air, tossed from high windows. People jostled Laurie as he stood on the edge of Trafalgar Square and looked over a sea of heads. A warm sun shone in the clear May sky. Big Ben tolled.
No one feared V-2 rockets shattering the peace. The Luftwaffe would never again appear in London's sky. Blackouts were gone. But tears ran down his cheeks. He wiped them away with the heel of his hand. It was over but at what a cost.
Where in North Africa was Sandy buried? Had Bim even had a grave? Where off in the South Pacific was Alec? And Andrew...
Where was Ralph today?
The speakers overhead squawked. Silence settled over the multitude at the sound of Churchill's voice.
The German war is therefore at an end.
We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued. The injury she has inflicted on Great Britain, the United States, and other countries, and her detestable cruelties, call for justice and retribution. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad. Advance, Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!
"We want the King! We want the King!" the crowd screamed.
Dear God, please. Let Ralph be safe somewhere in the Atlantic. To lose Ralph, too, would be more than Laurie could bear. The crowd cheered and cheered again. A girl in a green spring frock grabbed him, her face pink with laughter. She kissed his cheek then spun around, dancing for joy.
A sailor slapped his shoulder. "Why so glum? It's over, mate!"
Laurie formed his mouth into a smile. "Hard to take in is all." But of course, it wasn't over. Not yet. It had been a month since he'd heard from Ralph. Much too long. Something had to be wrong. His stomach was a knot. He turned and wound his way through the crowd, jostled and bumped at every step. The streets teemed. A bobby wended his way through the press, smiling and nodding at two boys hanging from a lamppost. Some of the floating paper caught in Laurie's hair. A gray-haired man doing a jig at the top of steps to an office building gave him a victory sign. Laurie nodded and kept going. It was a long walk home, but like everyone else in London, he'd had to come out to see peace in Europe declared.
He tried to cheer up. This should be one of the happiest days of his life. The war was over. He'd pour himself a stiff gin and put on some Mozart when he got home. He'd ring around and see if someone would come help him celebrate. Being glum wasn't going to help, but his stomach refused to unknot. At last, Laurie climbed the gray steps to the house and unlocked the door. The landlady met him in the entry hall with a "Hello, Lovey," as she brushed by. Cherries bobbed from the straw hat crammed over her curls. "Did you hear Mr. Churchill? Wonderful day it is."
"Indeed, it is, Mrs. Lawson." He smiled, nodded and went up the stairs, leaning a bit on his cane. Even this far from Trafalgar, cheers and singing drifted in from the street, but he needed that drink.
When he stepped through the door and shut it behind him, seeing Ralph on the sofa felt like witnessing a miracle. Their eyes met and Ralph's narrowed in a smile. Ralph was on his feet. He pulled Laurie's body against his and kissed him. When his tongue touched the inside of Laurie's mouth, it was as if Laurie had awakened from a long nightmare.
Laurie reached up to touch the bandage on Ralph's forehead. His eyes were drawn and sunken. "I knew something had happened."
"That doesn't matter now."
Then they didn't talk, but when Ralph swayed in his arms, Laurie released him. He looked closely into Ralph's face. "You're dead on your feet." He nudged Ralph toward the sofa and they sat down. "What happened? And I don't want to hear it's a secret."
Ralph just shook his head, smiling. "Damn, it's good to be home."
"Are you all right?" Laurie ran a hand up Ralph's side and felt the shape of a bandage under his uniform. "Tell me."
"What happened." Ralph's voice turned hard and tightly controlled. "I seem to have a talent for losing ships." He drew his brows together. "Our escort group was in the mouth of Berents Sea near Murmansk. I'd picked up no U-boat signals for hours. Nothing. When the torpedo hit, it blew up the magazine and took the front of the ship with it. Commander Fulton and half the crew never had a chance."
There wasn't anything Laurie could say, so he leaned into Ralph's body, holding him close.
After a moment, Ralph gave a small sigh. "But I'm here now."
Laurie tilted his head back to look into Ralph's face. "Why didn't you let me know you were hurt?"
Ralph kissed him and then kissed him again. "Why worry you for nothing? It wasn't that much."
Laurie narrowed his eyes at him. He wouldn't be fobbed off.
"I was bleeding a bit, so they took out my spleen. It's nothing I can't live without."
Laurie sat straight up. "Removed it? But Ralph, that has to be very serious."
"It's not so bad, my dear. They do say I'll need a few months to recover, so for a while I'm on furlough, and the doctor didn't seem to think they'd let me go to sea again." He gave a grim little laugh. "Considering my propensity for having ships sunk from under me that may not be such a bad thing."
Laurie sighed. He had long since realized that whatever happened, Ralph was sure to blame himself. There was no good in arguing the point. Anyway, now Laurie could take care of him, and God knew he needed it. Best not to tell him though. Laurie smiled. "I walked too far today so I'm not up for much. Will you mind if we stay in tonight? I have a few tins in the kitchen; we'll manage even though it won't be anything grand."
Ralph pulled Laurie close, settling his arm around him. "No. I don't mind staying in. Not at all."