"Would you like some more tea, dear?"
"Oh, yes please."
Arthur rose from his armchair, collected your cup, and shuffled tiredly to the kitchen. You placed the sock you were darning in your lap and turned your gaze up to watch him.
Arthur Kirkland was not a large man. His most defining features were his messy blond hair, his bright green eyes, and his preposterously thick eyebrows. Beyond that he was unremarkable, except
there was a quiet strength about him. A certainty of self and purpose that seemed timeless. That was probably why you had fallen in love with him. Or perhaps it was the roguish side he had that usually only made its appearance in the bedroom.
You were newlyweds- well, no. You weren't anymore. You'd married almost a year and a half ago now, in the summer of 1939. Back when there'd been hope. Or at least optimism. But, as long as you were with Arthur you were certain you could weather any storm. You'd already lost one house to the Blitz. But with Arthur here your tiny, two-room apartment still felt like home.
The kettle's whistle brought you out of your reverie. With a faint smile on your face, you watched Arthur pour the hot water into the teacups and set the leaves in to steep. As he removed them there was an abrupt crackle of static from the radio, which had previously been playing music, followed by a voice. "This has been the BBC on this night, December 29, 1940. Good night and God bless."
"It's quiet again tonight," Arthur said, handing you your cup before walking over to the radio and turning it off.
"Yes," you replied, holding your cup with both hands and allowing the steaming tea to warm your fingers.
With a sigh Arthur leaned against the radio and took a deep drink of his tea. He caught your eye as he lowered the cup from his lips, his gaze tender. You felt your cheeks warm as you smiled in response. Even after all this time he could still make your heart race.
The peaceful moment was broken by the wail of the air raid sirens, quickly followed by the crash of breaking china. Cursing under his breath Arthur ran to the window and looked out. You'd been startled as well, managing to stick yourself with your needle as you'd jumped.
"Damn it all," Arthur growled, tearing away from the window and into the bedroom. "Quickly, get your coat name-!" he called.
You did as you were bid, hurrying to the closet and pulling both your and Arthur's coat out. He returned, his shoes now on and yours in hand. You helped him into his coat as you slipped on your shoes and once you were both fully dressed for the chilly London weather Arthur took your hand and pulled you out of the apartment.
The streets were crowded, thronged with other people hurrying to take shelter in the nearby Underground station. Though you were jostled this way and shoved that way Arthur never let go of your hand, pushing determinately forward through the crowd. It was eerily quiet. There was no crying and screaming as there had been a few months ago. Everyone was used to this kind of terror now.
But that didn't stop the chill from running down your spine at the buzz of airplane engines overhead. You weren't the only nervous one. People turned their gazes skyward as though hoping to catch a glimpse of the planes in the dark sky through the thick cloud cover. There was a sudden explosion of machine gunfire and people cheered. It meant the RAF was up there too, fighting to defend the city.
And then the first bomb fell.
The crowd in the streets became increasingly panicky. Every time a bomb collided with the Earth there was a dull boom and the ground trembled beneath your feet, threatening to knock you down. The near constant barrage shook centuries of dust from the old building walls, along with the occasional avalanche of roof shingles that fell in a clattering heap. In the distance you could hear the claxons of the fire brigade trucks concentrated around the glowing pinpoints on the horizon where fires had started.
You and Arthur arrived at the entrance to the Underground. He pulled you to the side, allowing other people to stream down into the tunnels and safety. "Stay here," he told you quietly, putting his hands on either side of your face. "You'll be safe."
"What about you?" you asked, your voice even quieter than his. Your lower lip trembled and tears filled the corners of your eyes as worry knotted your stomach. When the war had first begun you'd been happy that Arthur was a minor bureaucrat in the War Office as it meant that he hadn't been sent to fight on the continent. But now, with the Blitz, it meant that if he wasn't already on duty that he always ran off to help at work whenever another raid started.
Arthur sighed slightly. "I'll be fine," he replied. But the look in his eyes was apologetic. He hated to make you worry and you both knew it. And there was fear there as well. Fear that he wouldn't make it back and that you would be left all alone like so many others. That was what scared you the most.
You glanced at the horizon. It was clear that this was no ordinary raid. Though it was nighttime the sky was bright as the city burned. There were so many fires. And so many bombs, their thunderous booms seemingly endless as the planes droned overhead. The ground shook suddenly and there was a tremendous explosion as a bomb landed much closer than the others had so far. As fire blazed into the sky in the distance people around you screamed and began to push faster into the Underground.
You turned back to Arthur. You whispered, "I love you," before pressing your lips to his in a desperate kiss.
He kissed you back just as fiercely before reluctantly pulling away. "I love you too," he said, giving your hand a final squeeze. You could tell by the look in his eyes as he turned away that he didn't want to leave anymore than you wanted him to go. "But I have to go. I promise I'll be back."
With that he turned his back to you and plunged into the crowd, pushing his way towards a side street that would allow him move faster. You watched the place where he had disappeared long after he was gone until the crush of the crowd became too much and you were swept into the Underground.
Arthur Kirkland raised a hand to rub his tired eyes in the hopes that it would help them refocus. It didn't. He was helping to coordinate the firefighting effort by receiving reports and writing out orders to be radioed to different units. With a heavy sigh Arthur picked up his pen again and began to write. It'd been hours already, with no end in sight.
As he scribbled Arthur thought about his wife. He hated having to leave her in the Underground tunnels by herself. The raids always frightened her- though not necessarily for her own safety- and he was always worried that the tunnel she was hiding in would get a direct hit and would collapse.
His mind drifted to the last kiss they'd shared. They always kissed each other goodbye when he had to run off to help like this, but it had been particularly heated tonight. name- was extra worried. And, with the spread of the fires, for a good reason too.
"Sir!" Arthur swiveled in his chair to see a boy not much older than sixteen panting in his doorway. "I've got more messages, sir," the boy said, holding out a bundle of papers covered in hastily written scrawl.
"Thank you," Arthur said, taking the papers and handing the boy some from his desk. "These are ready to go. Quickly now, please."
"Yes sir!" The boy scampered off.
Arthur shook himself as he turned back to his desk. He didn't have time to lose himself in daydreams right now. If he wanted there to be a city for name- to return to once the raid was over he needed to work even faster.
But Arthur had only just finished reading the first message when he was interrupted by a knock on the doorframe of his office. "Hey, Kirkland."
Arthur swiveled around to throw a glare over his shoulder. "What do you want Jones?"
Blue eyes sparkled in faint amusement behind thin, wire-framed glasses, as Alfred Jones replied, "Don't get your knickers in a twist, Kirkland. I just wanted to see what you were up to."
"Working. Like you should be," Arthur growled.
Alfred barked that obnoxious laugh that so grated on Arthur's nerves. "Sounds like you need to take a break!"
"Damn it! What the bloody hell is wrong with you? The city is burning around our ears and all you want to do is loaf about?!"
Arthur's shout sobered Alfred before a steely glint appeared in his eye. "Seriously Kirkland. I think you need to take a break."
"For the last time Jones I do not Hey! What're you doing?!" Arthur struggled valiantly, but Alfred's grip on his wrist was too strong and he was forcibly dragged out into the hallway. "God damn it Jones!" Arthur snarled once Alfred released him.
"Go on," Alfred continued, as though he hadn't just bodily pulled Arthur from his office. "Go up to the roof and get some fresh air."
For a moment all Arthur could do was gape. Alfred continued to smile at him with that easy, sunny air he managed to maintain no matter what the circumstances. If it had been anyone else Arthur probably would have cussed them out before slamming his office door in their face. But Alfred, as insufferable as he was, was someone that Arthur considered a friend. And while the man was often frivolous there was very little he did pointlessly.
"Fine," Arthur finally replied, his tone hard and irritated, before turning and stalking away.
Alfred let out a sigh as the other man disappeared around the corner at the far end of the corridor. "If only he wasn't so stubborn," he murmured before turning in the opposite direction and jogging back to his own office.
The roar of the airplanes overhead multiplied tenfold as Arthur opened the door and stepped out onto the War Office's roof. He involuntarily ducked as machinegun fire echoed above him, sounding far closer than it probably was. Chastising himself for his foolishness Arthur rose from his crouch and walked towards the edge of the roof.
His breath caught in his throat once he saw what lay before him. Internally Arthur cursed Alfred. Come outside and get fresh air? Was that stupid bastard actually serious?!
The entire city was ablaze it seemed. The night air was filled with a threatening orange glow, the ruined husks of buildings rising between the infernos where the fire brigades still fought. The air was choked with dust and smoke, blotting out the stars and moon. A breeze whipped by and tousled Arthur's hair, bringing the smell of destruction with it.
Arthur couldn't believe his eyes. And he couldn't imagine that there would be anything left of London after this. Not after this hellish inferno. Not even the shrill whistling of a bomb falling and its muted explosion could shake Arthur from his horror-induced reverie.
And then the breeze picked up again. It whipped through a nearby column of smoke, pushing it this way and that way before briefly blowing it away altogether. Arthur's eyes widened as a familiar dome came into sight, lit by the fires beneath it.
Arthur gasped and dashed to the railing at the edge of the roof, catching himself just in time before he pitched over it. The wind died again and the column of smoke rose once more, but he'd seen it all the same. St Paul's Cathedral was still standing.
"I guess God is still with us after all," Arthur murmured in wonder, though his voice was drowned out by a low flying airplane.
Despite the fact that the city was burning around him that one glimpse of the ancient church standing tall amongst the ruins lit a tiny spark of hope in Arthur's heart for the first time in a very long time.
By the time you emerged from the Underground dawn was beginning to break through the heavy clouds and the thick smoke that still hung over everything. It had easily been the longest night of your life as you'd crouched in the tunnels. Usually you tried to sleep, but tonight all you'd been able to do was huddle and pray that you would be safe and that Arthur would be safe as the sounds of the bombs hitting echoed above and shook dirt loose from the tunnel ceiling.
Stepping outside again did little to improve your optimism. You were honestly shocked by the desolation before you, as once proud London stood reduced and smoldering in the bleak morning light. A few walls stood here and there among the piles of rubble. The smoke from the fires choked the air and the sounds of sirens pierced the subdued silence.
As far as you could see London was in ruins. The sight left a hollow hole where your stomach should have been. You realized you were crying when you reached up to rub some dust out of your eyes. You felt broken. What could possibly be left after this? How would you keep going? How would your country keep going?
Then a thought occurred to you that froze your blood in your veins. What about Arthur? If a residential area like this one looked like this what had happened to the administrative block he worked in?
Panic filled and you began to look around frantically, desperate to spot his bright blond hair somewhere among the crowd of people around you. "Arthur? Where are you, Arthur?" you muttered without thinking. You began to run, pushing your way past people as the anxiety overwhelmed you.
And then you heard it- your name being called in the voice you were most desperate to hear. "Arthur!" you shouted, turning on you heel wildly as you searched for the source of his voice.
"-name-! -name-! Oh, thank God, there you are!"
You turned to see your husband pushing through the crowd, his bright green eyes brimming with tears of relief. Without a second thought you threw yourself at him, eternally thankful to be wrapped in his warm embrace once again.
"A-Arthur," you said, choking on your words through your tears of joy. "I was so worried
"I know dear. I'm sorry," he murmured, running a soothing hand up and down your back.
Once you had yourself under control again you stepped away from Arthur only to pull him down for a passionate kiss. He responded in kind, your lips and bodies melding together in your desperation to reaffirm that the other was truly alive and safe.
Finally you broke apart. Arthur took your face in both hands as he had before he'd left you in the Underground. You searched his face and found nothing but deep affection and admiration. It brought a smile to your lips for the first time since you'd heard the air raid siren the night before.
Arthur pressed a kiss to your forehead and then stepped away, taking your hand in his. "Come on, -name-. There's something wonderful I want to show you."
You blinked at him in surprise. "What? Something wonderful?" You glanced at the destruction around you. "You've got to be kidding."
Arthur shook his head, his smile actually growing wider. You stared at him incredulously. "No, I'm serious. Come on." He gave your hand a gentle tug.
You were too stunned to resist as Arthur pulled you down the street. However, after several blocks of nothing but destruction and debris you finally managed to shake your shock. You planted your feet and stopped, refusing to budge even as Arthur tried to pull you along again.
"Stop it," you told him, your despair returning and threatening to close your throat. "This isn't funny Arthur."
Arthur turned back to you, the corners of his mouth turned downwards into a worried frown. "I'm not joking name-. Please, just come with me."
"No!" you shouted, something in you snapping. "Look at what's around us! Remember what happened last night! There's nothing that you could possibly show me that will make this ok
" You broke off there as sobs wracked your frame.
please," Arthur pleaded. You swallowed the worst of your tears and looked up at him. His expression was kind and gentle and oh so patient. He wasn't the most patient man, but he was always patient with you. His eyes were begging you to trust him, just this once.
Slowly you reached out and took Arthur's hand. He'd never steered you wrong before. He'd never lied or glossed over the truth. So if Arthur said there was something wonderful, then maybe there truly was.
Arthur led you on for another few blocks before abruptly stopping in the middle of the street. "There," he said, and pointed.
You looked. It was difficult to make out- the smoke was thick here from the fires that had yet to be extinguished- but you could see it. Light was shining off the dome of St Paul's Cathedral.
Your jaw dropped. "I-it's still there," you muttered, shocked, unconsciously clinging to Arthur's hand even tighter. You couldn't believe your eyes. After everything from last night the church was still standing tall among the wreckage. It was nothing short of a miracle. Just the tiniest bud of hope blossomed in your chest.
"That's right. God's still on our side." You turned to Arthur wide-eyed. He smiled softly at you and caressed your cheek. "And if that old church can survive then so can we name-. And so can this country. I promise you that."
You felt your lips twitch upward into a smile. Around you there were sudden cheers and shouts of joy as other people spotted the Cathedral's dome. "Yes. I think you're right."