January 10th, 1943
The air was bitingly cold as the young lieutenant trudged on through the snow towards the regiment headquarters. He was alone, unusually; Karataev and Alekseev had been called on patrol duty, and the new regiment commander requested him to come alone. He didn't quarrel with it. Instead, he found it as an opportunity. Perhaps this commander might provide him more opportunity for advancement, whereas his company leader always held him in suspicion for his self-interested ambitions.
He was still seething in anger and frustration from his failure to stop the American boy from crossing the border and taking the Koslov girl with him. He searched throughout his mind, scheming for a way to get back at him and settle their rivalry at last. The only way he could see it was travelling across the oceans to find him, but such a project was daunting, and implausible at this point. There was still an enemy to fight. There was still a siege to end. There was still a war to be won. And until Germany was defeated, he would have to put his rivalry to one side. And still, it was a prospect he was unsatisfied with.
Snow crunched beneath his boots as he reached the regiment headquarters, a two story grey office building with a caved in roof. Even high ranking officers could not afford much better accommodations. It was a sign of the times to him. The innocent and carefree days of childhood had long since faded away, leaving only the stone cold reality of a cruel, unforgiving world. It was this reality he accepted wholeheartedly, as he felt that he would only retard himself from further advancement by looking away. In fact, he gladly embraced this, seeing it as the new normal for the years that were to come. He approached the entrance of the building and was surprised to find his company commander, a Ukrainian man named Pavlenko.
"Comrade Lieutenant Chertov!" Pavlenko greeted with a saccharine smile. "You made it!"
"Comrade Captain," Chertov returned, sharply saluting his superior. "I hope I am not late.""Not at all. The Lieutenant Colonel is expecting you. You will find him on the first floor in the reception room."
"Thank you, sir."
Chertov quickly slipped past Pavlenko and entered the building to be greeted by two warrant officers in full winter dress: dark brown coats and matching trousers, black felt boots and fur hats. They both greeted him with a look of expectancy.
"The Lieutenant Colonel is in here, comrade Lieutenant."
The both opened up a set of double doors that led him right into the reception room, where he found the man he was expected to meet.
He was young, looking to be in his mid-twenties, with shoulder-length black hair tied back in a short ponytail. His sharp blue eyes were glassy, obviously from spending many a day and night looking over maps, planning attack and defense. Across the wooden table he stood before were schematics of various landmarks throughout the city, ones of strategic importance no doubt. He wore a dark khaki uniform with blue riding pants tucked into tall black boots, covered over by his brown cloak. The dimly lit room hid his face, but Chertov could swear he had seen it somewhere before, like a ghost from the past.
The officer looked up and greeted Chertov with a cold smile.
"Ah, Junior Lieutenant Ilya Chertov! Finally we meet."
Chertov saluted him, just as he did with Pavlenko.
"It is good to meet you too, comrade Lieutenant Colonel," he said unaffectedly. "You wished to see me?"
"Yes, indeed, comrade Lieutenant. Please, sit down."
Chertov did as he was told and pulled up a chair, while the lieutenant colonel found a bottle of liquor on a sideboard and some small shot glasses.
"Would you care for some vodka, comrade Lieutenant?"
"Not while I am on duty, sir."
"Good lad," his superior laughed, as if expecting such an answer. "I like that sense of professionalism! Captain Pavlenko always spoke highly of you in that regard…"
He returned to the table, and faced him with a look in his eyes as strong as steel.
"…as well as your adeptness in battle. He told me you cleared out all three German machine gun bunkers in the assault on Mamaev Kurgan only yesterday."
Chertov cleared his throat.
"I might have done so, sir, if the captain says, but to be honest, the whole assault is a blur to me. I hardly remember anything about it at all."
"That's something I hear often from soldiers after days of fierce combat. Many a man do I know who barely escaped death with only fragments of memories of their experiences…"
Chertov titled his head in confusion at his superior's musing.
The lieutenant colonel chuckled, as if the laughter would will his words away.
"Don't mind it, comrade Lieutenant. Rambling is one of my persistent habits."
"I hardly mind it, sir. Only I am still left wondering why you called me here."
"Ah, yes, that," the officer said, snapping his fingers in revelation. "Tell me, comrade, what is your opinion of this war?"
"This war, sir?"
"No, the last war. Yes, this war, man!"
Chertov contemplated the question a moment. He never truly thought much about the reasons why he was fighting, outside of a duty to save his country from certain oppression by the forces of fascism. The colonel, however, evidently wanted something much deeper and personal than the stock reason for fighting that every ordinary soldier gives when asked that question.
"In my opinion, comrade Lieutenant Colonel, this war began as treachery against us by a nation that, in retrospect, could never be trusted. If I had the power to go back and change the past, I would have much rather had us and the Germans at each other's throats than to have a treaty between us that in the end would only be broken. This war is merely a matter of us misplacing our trust in a madman who only sought to dupe and dominate us. And it is for that reason, sir, that I will fight the enemy that stands before us with my life, for as long as I have air in my lungs."
The colonel smiled, appearing satisfied with his answer. A small shade of light was cast on him and revealed his hollow face, cheekbones evident in his visage.
"You are very perceptive, comrade Lieutenant. Perhaps, then, you might be able to agree with me on my view of this Great Patriotic War1."
He slowly circled the table, heading in Chertov's direction as he spun off his reflections on this, the most defining event of their young lives. Clearly, this officer had great and large ambitions, almost to the point of possessing delusions of grandeur.
"This war is unlike any humanity has ever seen. It has proven to be more destructive, more costly, and larger than anything we could have imagined. But at the same time, this war will also define us. Whatever the outcome may be, the victors of this conflict will not only be responsible for the defeat of fascism, but will also have the power to change this world forever. And I am sure you will agree with me, comrade Lieutenant, that nothing must stop us from taking control of that destiny."
By now, the lieutenant colonel was towering over Chertov, and he would be lying if he said he didn't feel a bit intimidated. Nonetheless he sat up perfectly, listening to the colonel's high aspirations for his nation.
"You certainly think big, sir," Chertov remarked plainly, as if this kind of speech was normal. "And I cannot disagree with your opinion, as I certainly think this war is important as well."
"You know, I like you, comrade Lieutenant," the lieutenant colonel said with a smile. "And it is because of your skill and ability that I have selected you for a special mission."
Chertov raised an eyebrow.
"What kind of special mission?"
"Unfortunately, I cannot release the details to you at this time," the officer said, spinning on his heel and walking back to his side of the table.
Chertov stood up as the short ponytail of black hair flowed behind him. He was not about to stand for his superior holding out on him. Why on earth was he called out specifically if he was not even going to be given the reason why? It was too frustrating, too aggravating for him!
"Forgive me, comrade Lieutenant Colonel, but you are the one who wished to see me and speak with me. If the purpose of our meeting is for you to assign me a special mission, don't I at least have a right to know what the mission entails? How can I hope to serve you if you do not give me any hint of what it is you are planning?!"
The lieutenant colonel stopped, his cloaked back facing him. He paused, as if the young lieutenant said too much and now a decommission was in order. Chertov gulped hard, fearing that he had just shot his entire career out the window with one badly timed flare-up. Now he feared the worst
"…and Captain Pavlenko also told me about your temper…" the lieutenant colonel cautioned. "Understand: I am giving you an opportunity, comrade Lieutenant. It would be unwise for you to so carelessly waste it."
"Apologies, sir. But may I at least know what I have to do for this mission?"
The officer faced him and leaned over the table. His face was lit up, and Chertov finally saw exactly who this lieutenant colonel was. He knew he recognized the face somewhere before, but just didn't recall. With the narrowing of his ice blue eyes and the twisting of his mouth into a grin, Chertov immediately remembered this man from his past. A man he never expected to see.
"I'll let you even your score with Peter Daniels, Ilya Pavlovich. Does that satisfy your curiosity?"
"It does, Igor Petrovich," Chertov replied, a smile slipping across his face. "I am surprised you still remember the American after all these years."
"I remember many things, Ilya Pavlovich, especially you and your rivalry with him. I promise if you stick with me, you will have your revenge."
The colonel outstretched his hand.
Chertov's smile only widened, and he reached out his hand to him, finding a new ally. This time, it was an ally who knew and understood him, his qualms, and his deepest feelings of enmity for the American boy that was always his ire. In an instant, he felt his prospects for revenge soar with a shaking of the hand. The deal was done, and a new dangerous alliance had been formed.
"Tak tochna, sir3."
Mill Valley, California, USA
The air was quiet and deathly still with a slight foggy haze hanging over the small valley town. Their ship had arrived late at night, and so all the windows of the town were dark. No one knew they were arriving from such a long and arduous journey. All the townspeople were dreaming sweet dreams without care as the dual headlights of the taxi arrived at the little bungalow on the rise, the humble abode where he made his home.
"Here we are, kid, 1225 Bay Street," said the gruff cabby.
The ash-blonde boy promptly paid his fare to the cabby and nudged the sleeping brown-haired girl next to him.
"Tanya, we're here. We're home."
She moaned and stirred, rubbing her eyes slowly in an attempt to regain some semblance of alertness after travelling tirelessly for many a week risking life and all. She turned a weary but strong grey eye to him and nodded.
"Let's go home, Peter."
Peter thanked the cabby for taking them this far and both exited the taxi taking with them their baggage as they headed up the hill to the front door of his home. Tanya was taken rather aback at how small and unfitting it seemed for a boy like Peter. She was certain his home would be much bigger, maybe a bit luxurious. She wanted to ask him why, but she saw in his eyes that all he sought for was to finally set foot in home again where he could not be questioned or troubled by such pressing matters as attack and defense and escape.
The door was opened, two pairs of feet stepped in, and the journey was concluded with a quiet shutting of the door.
He set his bag down on the kitchen bar and allowed her to walk around the house for a moment, getting acquainted with her new home. In the meantime he took in everything that had transpired in a mere month as he unpacked his briefcase. His exploits seemed better placed in an adventure novel than in real life, and yet it was all too real. He had traveled through fire and ice to find her. He witnessed and partook in unspeakable horror to bring her back. He fought against friend and foe to protect her. It had all paid off, and she was safe and sound with him. All else that followed would be rewards from God for risking life and limb to save a fellow human being. What would come next though?
Her adjusting to a new life, certainly.
Him showing her the ways of his small town.
At that thought, he no longer heard the pacing about of dainty feet on the carpeted floor and went off in search of his friend. Not surprisingly, he found her in the bedroom, lying sprawled out in utter exhaustion from the weeks of travelling and being on the run from the Soviet authorities. She was turned on her side away from him, but Peter's heavy footsteps had her turned over. With much effort in her tired limbs, she sat up in the bed, greeting him with a weary smile. It was as if the only way she could convey in her gratitude and indebtedness to him was with that simple expression.
"You must be extremely tired after everything," he said, taking a seat beside her.
"Yes," she said after a brief pause.
Her senses were lagging and disorientation increasing with each passing moment. Being in a country where the time difference was equal to more than half a day, it came as no surprise to him, as he was quite on the verge of falling dead on the spot with her. However he felt a need to make a promise to her before she inevitably slipped off to a world of happier places one only dreams about.
"Tanya?" he started.
"Hmm?" she mumbled.
"I promise from now on that you won't have to feel any more pain like what you felt before. I'll keep you safe from all the horror. Never again will you—"
His heartfelt vows were cut short by her gentle sigh and he turned to find she had drifted off to sleep leaning on his shoulder. He smiled, seeing her tranquil and peaceful countenance all the more illuminated by her semiconscious soporific state. Looking at her while sleeping was looking into the face of an angel. And that was exactly what she was through all of this. An angel who had been misplaced in a cruel and inhuman mortal world. The innocent who was always fated to be trodden upon by the conniving and callous. She was his angel, and he would be her protector, the sole mortal defender of what was humane and right in an age that had forgotten such words. He whispered quiet words that communicated as much as he laid her down on his bed.
"Sweet dreams, my friend. All will be well."
The night seemed to pass quickly as he collapsed onto his sofa to sleep, leaving her to the bed. He was willing to give it up for her. Speaking of the new member of his household, she was still fast asleep by the time he got up which was around two in the afternoon. He was certain that it felt like later to him, but he brushed it off as the remnants of jet lag. In the meantime, he had to nip down to the pharmacy and see that all was well with the employees and to the local market to pick up some much needed food rations; the icebox was close to being bare upon his return.
He left her a note should she wake up before he returned, though given her nature he severely doubted such a possibility.
I've gone out to get rations and take care of a few things in town. There is some food left in the icebox that should be easy to prepare. I will be back in an hour or so. Please make yourself at home; this is your home as well as mine from now on, after all.
With that he quickly took to the shower and grabbed a fresh set of clothes out of the closet (all with Tanya undisturbed, dead asleep as she was), and started out the door when he noticed something on the coat rack that sat in the short hallway to the door. A trench coat, one he had never seen before.
It was long and brown, with the collar turned up. There was a cloth belt around the waist of the coat and a single row of buttons. There was a note latched on it with a safety pin. He pulled it off and immediately recognized his brother's awkward handwriting, smiling and laughing to himself.
To my brave little brother,
A new coat for you to wear when your heart needs warming. About time you had one of your own, since mine is about worn out and probably riddled with bullet holes now. Ha ha.
Merry belated Christmas,
He laughed and thought it nice to actually not borrow his brother's coat for a change, and took the coat of the rack. It fitted him perfectly, and suited him very well, giving him a dapper and dignified look. He smiled contently, feeling comfortable in this new garment no longer having to be content with borrowing his brother's worn out one. Satisfied with his gift, he exited his house and quietly trotted in the direction of downtown.
Even though he was home, he still felt lost and discontent as was evident by his posture. He kept his face hidden from all by turning up his collar. He did not wish to be singled out for praise and fanfare merely a day upon his return; he was more content to adjust in silence and not receive the pomp and bluster of a hero's welcome; such a rejoice was not merited in his mind.
The streets were silent as were the houses that stood against the stormy grey sky. Smoke silently rose from the chimneys that topped the houses adding to the already foggy atmosphere, hanging over the town like a blanket. For a moment he was back in Stalingrad, the houses standing ruins, the smoke from towering infernos, and the cloudy sky birthing snow to the mother earth. And yet there was not a sound, not a gunshot, not even the distant cry of a wounded man. There was only the breaking and damning silence that served to torment him.
Why? Why was it when he had just escaped Hell that it seemed to follow him back? He had accomplished everything he set out to achieve. He completed his objectives. He brought her back safe and sound. It was all over now, he thought. So why? Why is it that even the sight of his own home town served to bring him grief and woe?
His musings were cut short by a lowly beggar asking for change on the sidewalk.
"Pardon me, young man, but do you have any money for a man down on his luck?"
Not turning to him, he fished his wallet out of his trench coat pocket and scavenged some excess change he needed to get rid of and offered it, cupped in his hand.
"This is all I have," he said, somehow feeling the need to get away. "I'm sorry I can't give more."
"That's good enough for me, my boy. God's blessings on you."
"And to you, old man."
He stuffed the wallet back into his pocket and rolled on.
Before he knew it he had entered the downtown district, which was very quiet on this gloomy day. Small silent stores displayed their mute wares to the few uninterested passersby. There weren't even any old men playing chess outside the coffee house in the square. If he did not know any better he would have supposed the entire town was deserted except for lone travelers on empty sidewalks. He looked to the left and spotted the pharmacy where he worked. For all intents and purposes, he did not have to go to work today. As far as the rest of the world knew, he had not come back yet, and he intended to have it that way before the new school semester inevitably began. He was not in the mood to be confronted by anyone today.
He pushed the door open, which rang the bell perched on top. None said a word and neither did he as he pushed on through the aisles searching for his nondescript things of necessity. He occasionally would spot a familiar face in the store as he searched the shelves, but went on unnoticed much to his silent rejoice. This was not the day he wished to be welcomed back. As far as the store was concerned, he was simply a ghost: quiet, invisible, and fleeting as all spirits were. That is at least until he came to the cashier.
"That's 5 dollars, 46 cents, sir."
He silently reached for the money and handed it to the cashier, hoping that he would stay unrecognized until he got back to his home as he outstretched his hand for the change.
"Here's your change, mister. Have a nice day."
He exited as quickly as he came and immediately saw the person he did not want to see.
It was a girl of 16 years with cornflower blonde hair, eyes of lapis lazuli and blood red lips. She had a mature figure for a teenager, her graceful womanly curves evident through her heavy clothing. She wore a royal blue dress with a hooded cyan cloak strung over her shoulders to shield her from the cold. Her long slender legs were protected by leggings and stylish black boots to walk through the damp streets. On her delicate hands were white flannel gloves.
He cursed to himself, thinking that God must be against him on this day. As much of a friend she was, he was not in any mood to talk to anyone today; he only sought home where he could not be questioned and could be allowed to readjust as he saw fit. I suppose it can't be helped, he thought, and tried to slip past her without her taking any notice.
But his plans were to no avail.
"Peter Daniels!" she said in great surprise to see her friend she thought for certain lost.
"…Jane Hart…" he returned, secretly wishing for a way out and back home.
"When did you get home? I was so worried that you would not make it back."
"My ship arrived very late last night, so I was in no position to greet you or anyone else."
"Oh, I see," she responded quietly. "Did your travels go well?"
"As well as traveling to a battlefield can be expected to go," he said, hinting at some darker events that he would rather forget.
"Yes I suppose that would be true," she responded with a sincere smile. "Did you accomplish what you wanted while you were away?"
"Yes, thank God," he said, still somewhat unbelieving on just what had transpired in the month of separation between them. "By some grace of God, I managed to find her. I found her in the midst of smoke and fire and rubble. I found her."
"That's good, Peter. It is not often that you find a person unlike yourself who is willing to sacrifice everything for a friend."
"I simply did what I was always taught to do, Jane. To never give up on a friend no matter the circumstances. I'm just still amazed I managed to find her alive. Even I doubted at times that she was still with us."
"Were you able to find her a place to stay and call home after you had found her?"
He sighed, fearing the reaction from her if he told her the truth of what he needed to do for her to keep her safe.
"Yes, Peter?" she responded with the curiosity in her eyes and voice now evidently showing. "Where is she at, now?"
"With me, for the time being," he replied, with great reluctance in his voice to tell her the truth.
There was a slight pause and suddenly her whole body tightened with that news. It was one thing to go out and assist a girl he knew from long ago, but to bring her home? To live under his roof? Jane looked down at her boots, visibly displeased with this news.
"I see…" she said with an ounce of mistrust. "I wasn't expecting that."
"There's no other place for her to go in this country, Jane. What would you have me do?"
"Nothing," she said, shrugging her shoulders dispassionately. "In any case, you have to provide her with shelter until her home is fit to return to, do you not?"
"With how Stalingrad is now," he said with grave heralding in his voice, "I suspect that will be a long time in coming."
"In any case, Peter, what you did was a very brave thing. One that should be rewarded."
"Strange you mention rewards," he laughed wistfully, seemingly brooding over something she could not discern. "I was decorated a couple times while I was in Stalingrad…"
"Oh, I see," she said as she smiled cheerfully and her heart filled with joy. "It seems you have been rewarded for your good deeds already."
He laughed, knowing that Jane could not comprehend what the price of those "rewards" had been for him…and for her.
"I just wish that it didn't come with so heavy a burden to bear."
"Why a burden, Peter? I feel no reward should have to be filled with a feeling like that. It would make the whole thing…well…worthless to me."
"Let me tell you a story, then," he said with a grave tone of seriousness as if the tale was one of tragedy. "While I was in Stalingrad, I had to fight alongside the Red Army. Once during the battle one soldier was wounded by the Germans. I had to pull him back to safety under enemy fire, and they rewarded me with a medal. But the so-called glory does not stop there…"
He shook his head as if he had greatly wronged someone who was the closest person to his heart. He breathed heavily, as if trying to release all the guilt he had pent up inside him. But guilt is not something that flies by like a feather in the wind.
"After my stint in the Red Army, I was given a title by the Soviet commander…I was given the title 'Hero of the Soviet Union.'"
He laughed at the cruel irony of his tainted laurels.
"They call me a hero for killing in cold blood! They call me, a murderer, a sinner, a hero!"
"But you did what you had to for the right reasons, Peter!" Jane responded with a tone of seriousness in her voice. "How can doing something that saves the lives of other countless innocent people be such a burden?"
He looked at her, with bright tears standing in his eyes, feeling ashamed to look his innocent friend, untouched by the horrors of war, in the face.
"Noble reason or not, I still committed a sin, Jane. Do you know how that feels? Do you know what it feels like to go against God's teachings to protect what's important to you? It's worst feeling in the world!"
He covered one piercing green eye with his hand in grief and leaned another on the wall of an alley, ashamed to face her.
"Well I see it differently, Peter," she responded sternly. "In my eyes you do the right thing to save and protect the ones you care about or you let them die. As far as I care to see it, you chose the first option."
He turned, one bright but melancholy green eye looking over his shoulder to her, her blue eyes taking their own sharpness and her face solidifying in determination. He trembled as a small beam of light emerged through the clouded sky to illuminate his face, even the battle scars that bore as evidence to the sacrifices he had to make to protect what he held dear.
"Face it, Peter. You know what I have just told you is true."
He smiled, albeit a wistful and longing smile that seemed to communicate yearning for better days when one did not have to think of sin and burden and contemptible means to noble ends. He knew she was right, but it still did not take away the shame he felt. He turned his body to her and leaned against the wall, sliding down with a great sigh until he hit the cold pavement, looking to her as a leper would look to a holy man to cure him of his illness.
"Then answer me one question, Jane."
"What is it?" she said, her eyes cold as ice.
"Why do I still feel guilt? Throughout the battle, I continued to tell myself that it was all for a good cause. I kept telling myself that I was doing all of this for Tanya's sake. That I was helping to end this battle decisively and bring peace back. But now, even after everything is over, I still feel guilty about taking the lives of so many. I still feel shame to look anyone in the face
for doing what I did. Why is it, Jane? Why do I feel pain when I know I shouldn't? Why do I continue to feel guilt when I know that I did the right thing? Why is it, Jane?"
"I wish I knew that answer to that, Peter. The only reason I can think of is because even though they were doing evil things that maybe even they had families to return to."
He closed his eyes and breathed, seeing the truth in her words. He knew the whole time he was taking the life of another human with each pulling of the trigger. Every German he struck down was one family shattered. Every German maimed was one life destroyed. And through it all, even if they were the accursed enemy the entire Free World sought to defeat, they were in the end human.
"That's the cruel reality of it all, isn't it, Jane? What can I do then to shake this all off? How can I start over again after what I have seen?"
"What can a person do when he has seen such tragedy, Peter? Does he accept his fate and move on, or does he let it haunt him forever? That is for you to decide. I cannot make that choice for you."
He nodded and rose to his feet, seeing her point. This was a hurdle he must pass over. This was a battle in himself that he must fight and win alone. No one else could influence him; he was in this fight all by himself, just as he had been in Stalingrad, fighting for her all by himself.
"I see. Then I shall not burden you further."
"You have not nor will ever be a burden to me," she responded softly in the most caring and sincere voice. "There will always be times where you will have to rely on your friends for support. And for that I will always be here."
She drew closer to him, and with a caring gentle touch took his hand in hers, clasping it as if entreating him to follow her into some great promised land where there was no fighting, no sorrow, and no pain.
"You have my sincere thanks," he said smiling. "You're a true friend Jane."
"I pray for you, Peter. As a friend, classmate, and cherished companion. Whatever happens, I'm always a word or call away."
"Do you swear that?"
"I do. From the bottom of my heart."
He breathed deeply and heavily before embracing her, feeling for once that he was not alone in the fight. If ever he felt wavering or his spirits flagging, there was always a friend behind him to support him. And that would carry him throughout this trial and the ones to come. He whispered quiet words of thanks, words he knew she didn't understand but felt no other way to say.
"Spasibo, dorogaya Jane4."
Peter slowly broke from Jane's caring embrace and saw in her deep blue eyes a person he could count on and turn to. She would not waver in her devotion to him for a second. But he had to make sure that her promise would be kept. Even if this war should go on, if he should be called abroad again to save someone, would she still be behind him? If he became a warlock, would she be a witch?
"One thing I must ask of you, Jane."
"And what would that be, Peter?" she asked, in her most soft and caring tone that she could muster.
"If I must go out again to save another, if this war demands more sinning from me, will you still follow me? If I become a monster, will you be one too?"
"Yes, Peter," she said, nodding in her response. "Where you go I will always follow."
"That's comforting to know. Thank you for listening to me, Jane. It helps more than I can say in words."
"For you I will probably do anything, Peter," she said with a gentle smile across the softened features of her face. "Just don't go around telling that to everyone. They may just get the wrong idea."
"I wouldn't dream of it," he laughed.
He turned to head to the market to pick up the food he had been meaning to buy, as she went to go her own way when he stopped himself and turned to her one last time.
"Yes?" she responded looking softly into his eyes.
"Don't tell anyone you saw me today. I really just need to readjust after everything, and it will be easier for me to do it without people constantly seeking me out."
"Of course, Peter. Your secret is safe with me."
"Thank you. Now I must get going."
With that, the two friends bid each other farewell until another day would come when they would see each other, and with Peter's spirits brightened. He looked up and saw the dark clouds had given way to the rays of sun shining light upon the world. He beamed, feeling that God must truly be smiling on him after his heartfelt admonition to his closest friend.
It was as Jane said. He had nothing to be guilty of. He had done his duty. And even if it made him a sinner, she and everyone else close to him would still support and stand behind him. That made the burden he felt lighter than a feather.
1 Great Patriotic War: The colloquial term used in the Soviet Union to refer to World War II.
3 Perfectly clear, sir.
4 Thank you, dear Jane.