Here it is, folks: the last chapter. I've enjoyed writing this story, and I hope you've enjoyed reading it. Thank you again for sticking with it and for leaving reviews! Until next time.
Their time together was coming to a close, and in the morning each would be bound for homes across the country, separate once again. The hall was filled with people savoring the time, stretching out the moments for one more story, one more hug. The connection that had once been their lifeline was being restored, and maybe when they left they'd not be as separate as they had been.
Colonel Potter rose from his seat, and the camp quieted before him, ever affectionate and respectful of their old C.O. The older man nodded in appreciation and gruffly cleared his throat. "It's been some weekend with all of you. I don't know how I managed without your antics for a year," he said with a grin and a significant look at a few of his listeners. "In many ways, it's like we never left one another, but in many ways we're meeting each other in a much better world."
He lifted his glass from the table, and the entire room followed suit. "To those gathered here who made a home out of a place just next door to hell."
Everyone looked around the large room decked out like their old camp, to the people who had kept them sane and made them feel loved. The group around "The Swamp" table moved closer together, soaking in the proximity and the camaraderie that went with it. Without words, their eyes communicated thanks to the people who had saved them.
"To all those who never made it home."
Many an eye in the room turned to Henry Blake's smiling portrait.
In a voice thick with emotion, Sherman Potter made one last toast. Hands clasped onto neighbors' or in silent prayer. Tears threatened or rolled down cheeks. Glasses were raised in solidarity and friendship, the sort only achieved through pain. Yet each of them knew powerfully that, whether here or in the days apart that would follow, they were not alone. Together they joined in a final, grateful toast.