Series: Axis Powers Hetalia
Characters: Arthur (England), Alfred (USA), major historical figures (and the occasional unnamed citizens and mentions of other nations)
Pairing: Eventual Arthur/Alfred
Rating: PG-13 overall (for language, violence, and war)
Warning: This is a WWII fic and deals with a lot of historical detail, most specifically the Blitz and the US build-up to entering the war. So general warnings for that. Note also that the opinions of characters are not necessarily those of the author's.
Summary: Before the victory of the allies, before the United States of America joined the war, before Lend-Lease, before everything — there were just two nations, two men, who just refused to meet halfway until it was forced upon them.
Summary for this chapter: As Churchill drops all pretense and pleas for US involvement in the war, Alfred comes to a few realizations about his feelings and his actions.
Time stamp: May of 1941.
01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
“Your face is thinner than it was before,” the ambassador said one day. It was the first day of May, a gentle morning. After the devastating bombings of the month before, Winant had bent hard into his work, striving to provide some relief for the British people and constantly working with the two capitals to try to get something done. But things were slow going. The United States did not feel Winant’s urgency and, as was normal for him, the president took weeks to respond to cables and letters. Winant looked as if he were reaching a breaking point, often looking disheveled or unhappy, slumped over his work and fisting his hands into his hair.
The last few weeks since the meeting with Bristol had been nothing short of hectic. Alfred helped the ambassador as much as he could, and the work just kept flowing in. Alternately, Alfred had tried to cable and write to the president himself, since the ambassador thought that perhaps it would mean he would respond quicker if it were the nation writing. But correspondence with the president was stilted, even when it was Alfred making the efforts.
Alfred was busy. Everyone was busy. Alfred had seen England only a few times, in passing, between the hectic shift between Winant, Churchill, Harriman, the parliament, and everyone else—flashes in the dark, just a brief nod, a stilted conversation about the weather or the chaos of human life. Alfred refused to tell himself whether he missed England or not.
At Winant’s words, Alfred touched a hand to his face, pillowing his fingers against his cheek.
“Am I?” he asked, mystified.
The ambassador nodded, and looked apologetic—as if he were responsible for Alfred’s hunger, when undoubtedly he was just as hungry. “I know you cannot eat as much as you would back home, but…”
“It’s fine,” Alfred said. “It doesn’t affect the country at all. Economy’s just fine. It’s just my human body reacting.”
The ambassador’s frown deepened, but Alfred grinned, waving his hand dismissively.
“It’s fine, Ambassador,” he repeated.
It was Winant who seemed the most shocking. Now that Alfred paused to study his face, the ambassador looked years older than his true age. He was gaunt and hollow-eyed, standing as if it were a great effort. And yet, despite it all, he did not give up. Alfred felt a flood of affection bubble up inside him, thinking on his ambassador. He was a good man. He was someone Alfred was proud to know, he realized not for the first time.
What started out as the beginning of a beautiful spring was quickly descending into the worst time of the war for England. Alfred could see the change daily in the people, and the governmental officials, Winant included, had begun to notice as much. More and more ships were sinking and the rationing of food was becoming more and more draconian. The last few weeks had not been kind. While the first sunny day of the year had ended with bombs at sundown, the spring continued to spiral further and further into disarray.
But Alfred couldn’t tell if he was losing weight as well—but it was likely. He hadn’t looked at himself in a mirror for a long time, and he’d been here in England long enough that anything could look natural to him, as if he had always been that thin. But as he thought back to the short times he’d seen England the last few weeks, he remembered the hollowness to his cheeks, the heavy bags under his eyes, the quiet way he held himself—dignified, despite the sling for his broken arm. That, in addition to the bombings, couldn’t be doing any help for England’s morale—
He thought back to the look in his eyes while they were in Bristol. That look still haunted him, and Alfred quickly shook his head.
He stood up, wandering around the room. He could tell the ambassador was watching him, but Alfred didn’t really mind. He drew comfort from knowing that Winant was looking after him—one of his own people in a sea of foreigners in a foreign land. It was isolating—Alfred longed for his own people, for his own soil. Longed, once again, to understand just why he was brought here and, above all else, why he didn’t leave on his own.
“I guess everyone’s been hungry lately,” Alfred said, softly, frowning to himself when he turned his back on the ambassador. He looked out the widow, at the square still destroyed by last month’s bombings.
“Yes,” the ambassador agreed.
Alfred nodded. “It’s… affecting the people.”
“Of course,” Winant agreed, again.
Alfred sighed out through his teeth, turning away from the window to face the ambassador, resting his hands against the sill and leaning back, regarding him. Their eyes locked, and for a long moment neither spoke—Winant was waiting for Alfred to speak.
Alfred licked his lips, trying to collect his words—and desperately wanted a cigarette—
“Is there nothing that can be done?” Alfred asked, and felt his heart stutter in his chest as he finally spoke the words. “For them? For anyone? Their morale—I can see it. I mean, no one can withstand this much for so long.”
“The novelty is gone,” the ambassador said, “The novelty of withstanding. The lack of food most certainly has something to do with it.”
“Yes,” Alfred said, and hated how miserable he sounded.
“They are strong people but they are not resilient,” Winant said, crossing the room to lean against the wall beside Alfred, hand on his shoulder. He squeezed it, meant to be comforting. Alfred’s heart was still hammering. “You are very concerned, Alfred?”
Alfred nodded, jerkily, before he could quite stop himself or second guess. “Only the heartless wouldn’t be.”
He ducked his head.
But out of the corner of his eye he could see the touch of a sad smile on Winant’s lips. “It seems you have grown a little since your time here.”
“I guess,” Alfred muttered.
“It seems that you do not ‘hate’ England as much as you’d believed, before.” Winant paused after that, letting the words sink in before he continued. Alfred did not rise to interrupt him, as was often his habit whenever he wanted to avoid the ambassador’s words—he often took advantage of Winant’s slower way of speaking. But he stayed silent now. And so the ambassador continued, “Or, perhaps, it’s that you do not ‘hate’ Sir Kirkland as much as you’d believed?”
Alfred stiffened up, and did not speak.
The ambassador did not press him, merely squeezed his shoulder and then let go. He straightened, smiling down at him, and, surprisingly, lifting a hand to pat Alfred on the head—a small little gesture, barely there, awkward and yet endearing. Alfred lifted his head to look at the ambassador in surprise, but the ambassador only smiled and moved back towards his desk.
Alfred watched him go. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “Whether I hate him or not—I don’t know. I—”
He paused, shivering a little. He suddenly felt too cold.
The ambassador nodded. “That, there, is a profound answer on its own.”
“Huh?” Alfred asked—he couldn’t begin to understand how his indecision, the only consistent thing that seemed to win out in his mind as of late, could be profound.
“Because,” Winant said, slowly, shifting through the papers on his desk and not looking up at Alfred, “You cannot say ‘I hate him,’ either.”
Alfred didn’t breathe for a moment.
He slumped away from the window so he could sit down on the couch, hanging his head. He clenched his hands together, thoughts lost as he scrambled to assemble some kind of coherent sentence. Winant, as always, was patience.
“… I,” Alfred said, after a long pause, “I don’t. I don’t hate him.”
It felt as if a burden had lifted, felt as if he finally understood something—and yet, at the same time, it seemed so achingly obvious now that he finally admitted it. It’d been there, waiting, all this time—and now he finally understood.
Alfred’s brows furrowed, unsure what to make of this new development—did his people’s opinions of England change? He knew that couldn’t be the case—he knew the tear in his own people over this. At least, he did as of two months ago—he couldn’t be sure what it was like back home now.
“I know you don’t,” Winant said, interrupting Alfred’s thoughts.
Alfred looked up at the ambassador, and found him smiling at him. Alfred stared back at him, eyes widened—feeling strangely empty, strangely translucent, under the ambassador’s gaze.
But he felt as if he finally understood at least that one little thing.
Two days later, Alfred returned from getting some food—draconian rationing now, he thought, thinking of the single ounce of cheese they had for the week, safely tucked back in Winant’s apartment—to find the entire embassy in a bustle. He stood, blinking in surprise, as aides whistled by him.
Alfred followed them, looking for Winant. He found him, slumped over his desk, writing furiously.
“Ambassador?” Alfred asked, dodging around an aide as she whirled her way out of the room. He approached him. “What is it?”
“It’s the Prime Minister,” Winant said, looking up to nod his head to Alfred—an acknowledgement—and looking back down at what he was writing. “He’s—well, he’s… cabled the president again. We’re hoping we’ll receive some kind of word of his reply, or the president will contact us personally.”
“What’d Churchill say?” Alfred asked, approaching the desk.
Winant shifted, picking up a sheet of paper and holding it up, reading: “Mr. President, I am sure you will not misunderstand me if I speak to you exactly what is on my mind. The one decisive counterweight I can see… would be if the US were immediately to range herself with us as a belligerent power.”
Winant lowered the sheet of paper, setting it down, quite gently, upon his desk. He looked at Alfred.
“Will the president respond soon?” Alfred asked, feeling his heart rate pick up.
“I would hope so,” Winant said, brows furrowing. “The Prime Minister hasn’t… begged since last June. He’s dropped all pretense now. What he needs are not ships or aid—he needs an ally.”
Alfred almost shuddered, his entire body tensing up like a bow, and lowered his eyes, looking at the papers strewn across his desk.
“The President has been slow in replying in general,” Alfred said, cautiously.
“He has,” Winant agreed. “Let’s hope that, this time, he’ll feel that sense of urgency that we’ve been trying to show him all this time.”
Alfred nodded, numbly.
He dismissed himself, heading away from the embassy and towards the apartment where he stayed when not working the late nights with Winant. He sank onto the couch, staring down at the floor. The room seemed dusty—the dust had found its way in despite Alfred’s best attempts to tape up the windows where the glass had broken in the month before. The room was chilly.
But he was lost in his thoughts. He thought back to Roosevelt—wondering if he would heed Churchill’s plea. But, Alfred feared as the most likely, the message could just get lost in the inertia of Washington—a message in a bottle lost at sea.
“Or sunk by Gneisenau and Scharnhorst,” Alfred muttered, out loud and bitter.
Alfred slumped down a little, resting his chin against his hands curled together, elbows on his knees. He stared at nothing, thoughts whirling a mile a minute. The entire thing was a race against time. If the president intended to join the war, now would be the time, now would be the last chance before it’d just become too late, and the support would arrive too late to bolster up a gradually failing cause.
And as he thought that, Alfred realized he was entertaining the thought of war, as if it were an actuality.
He shook his head.
“He won’t want to be told what to do,” Alfred muttered, thinking back on his boss.
Alfred ignored the thundering beat of his own heart, alone in the room with nothing but his thoughts.
The president took a week to respond.
Alfred wasn’t aware of the full contents, but as he watched an aide to Number Ten speak shrilly to Winant, he knew that it wasn’t good. Alfred watched, peeking around the corner of the doorframe so he wouldn’t be seen. He did not want to get into a debate with one of Churchill’s men.
“Why is he continuing with this passivity and reluctance? What we need—what his people need, too—is bolder action!”
“I understand your concern,” Winant said, voice tight as he shuffled through some papers. “But I’m afraid I can’t pretend to fully understand the president’s reasoning. I will do what I can from across the Atlantic to convince him of the dire situation.”
Their conversation continued back and forth, as Alfred strung together that, as usual, the president did not share the same urgency as the prime minister. He’d been right, then, in the end—the president did not respond the way the prime minister had wanted. Alfred had dreaded as much, known that it would be the case.
A few minutes later, the prime minister’s aide left the embassy and Alfred snuck his way into Winant’s office. Winant looked up when Alfred entered, gave him a small smile and a sturdy nod, before ducking his head back down towards his papers, scribbling things down when necessary and sticking them into folders.
“The president responded?” Alfred asked without preamble.
Winant nodded. “He did.”
“And he won’t go to war?” Alfred asked, not sure how he felt about the possible answer—the possible answer he already knew.
The ambassador shook his head. “He assured the prime minister that ‘American help would come soon,’ just as he always promises.”
There was a weariness to Winant’s voice, a quiet desperation. Alfred shifted his eyes, looking out the window, thinking of all the British people who were falling apart but still fighting despite it all. He thought of England, but derailed his thoughts before he could think much further on the other man.
He swallowed thickly, suddenly finding it hard to breathe. He felt as if his mouth was stuffed with wool, and he stood dumbstruck for a few moments in front of Winant, unable to collect his words. He wondered, idly, if this was what Winant felt sometimes, whenever he tried to speak.
“Does England know?” Alfred asked.
Winant frowned. “I do not know. He’s reportedly been at his home all day, cleaning it up as best he can. He insisted, despite the prime minister wishing to keep him under close watch. With his arm the way it is and his wounds…”
Winant trailed off, shaking his head slowly, looking concerned. Alfred could understand why.
Alfred shifted his eyes out the window again, mind elsewhere.
After a long pause he said, “Hey.”
“Yes, Alfred?” the ambassador asked.
Alfred didn’t turn to look at Winant, but his brows furrowed. “You always ask me if I hate England and whether I believe that England will fall…”
Winant didn’t say anything, waiting.
Alfred swallowed again, thick and unsure. He cleared his throat a few times, feeling his cheeks heat up as the silence stretched on. Then he managed to ask, “What about you? How do you feel?”
Winant was quiet for a long moment and then said, quietly, “I love this country.”
Alfred’s face flushed and something shuddered down his spine.
The ambassador continued, “And I believe it will stand up and fight until the very end—and I believe it will win. But, I also believe that it desperately needs help so it can avoid the fate of the rest of Europe.”
It was agony.
That was what he was feeling, Alfred realized, dimly. Agony. A conflict—a shuddering shift and tug and pull of his thoughts. He couldn’t know for sure what was going on back home, as the news was few and far between, but he could imagine that, the tugging in his gut was a similar tugging in his people. He inhaled briefly and slumped against the couch in his apartment, looking out the window towards the embassy with a grim frown.
He told himself he shouldn’t care—a common mantra—but in reality, the president’s non-response baffled him. Completely.
And what was worse was the reality that something had shifted in the two months he’d been severed from his own people and his own home. He used to be in-tune to his boss’ thoughts, in-tune with his people and their thoughts and their own splits in thinking about the war across the Atlantic. But now he was the one across the Atlantic, and he couldn’t know what anyone back home thought anymore—
It was isolating, and the churning in his gut was not helping his thoughts and feelings on the matter. Winant and the president had brought him over here for the reason of understanding the situation, and, Alfred suspected—
Swaying public opinion.
Alfred’s eyes opened briefly before he shut them again, slumping and groaning. Both Winant and the president wished to see if this could sway public opinion, as the country itself. But if that was what the president wanted—why did he not simply seize the declaration of war himself?
“Congress must be dragging its feet, still,” Alfred said, dimly, draping an arm over his eyes and sighing. He shifted, making himself comfortable on the couch. “Or the people truly don’t want war.”
But he couldn’t be sure. So many of his people despised the British, and so many wanted to help—all aid short of war. But, overall, Alfred could remember the apathy, the belief that all this destruction and war was a fuzzy, distant concern—not immediate.
Alfred’s lips tugged down into a frown as he thought on the nights of bombings he’d witnessed. The thought of his own people going through that terrified him.
“The situation is obviously critical,” Alfred murmured. “So what am I supposed to do? What do my people feel? How am I supposed to represent their feelings if I don’t even know it myself?”
He shifted onto his side, sighing out. He was supposed to represent his people—but how could he know? Were the thoughts he felt now his people’s thoughts? Could he assume that this tug and pull, this uncertainty, was reflected in his own people?
“This,” Alfred whispered to the floor, his eyelids heavy and his breath coming out in soft exhalations, “is exactly why I never wanted to come out of isolation.”
Alfred was not sure how long he slept, but knew only that the blare of sirens awoke him.
He shot upright, eyes wide, to find the world darkened and, outside, the sirens shrilling, a banshee’s cry. And when Alfred listened further, he understood the sound in the distance—the familiar, the horribly familiar, hum of engines and the slam of bombs dropping to the ground.
Before he could really think about it, he was on his feet, throwing on his jacket and his shoes, and storming out of the apartment, tumbling his way down the stairs and out onto the street. The sky was a burning red as firestorms swept through the city to the south. Alfred ran—he ran until his lungs constricted, tumbling through the streets, running as quickly as he could before the bombs reached where he was.
But he couldn’t outrun the German bombers. They flew overhead, and firestorms swept the city. He heard the scream of bombs above him, and for a few dangerous moments he thought that one was heading directly for the streets and buildings he was near—but no, the bombs exploded around him, showering debris, sweeping buildings into smoke and fire, and crinkling the concrete like paper.
All around him he could see the people hurrying to underground shelters, and normally he would stop to assist—but he couldn’t stop. He had to keep going—he’d promised. He’d promised to find him, the next time the bombs fell. He would keep that promise.
He was out of breath by the time he made it to that familiar home—out of breath, wheezing, and sweating a little. But he did not stop. He crashed into the house, without knocking, in time to see England teeter off his feet and smash—broken arm first—into the wall, slumping against it, breathing hard and sweating as well. He did not cry out—he stayed silent the entire time.
“England!” he shouted, running to him.
He looked up, eyes widening as he recognized Alfred barreling towards him. He flinched, and Alfred could see the wounds opening on his arms, and his skin shuddering and splintering as if he were burning—the firestorms. Alfred could see them burning outside England’s broken windows.
“Idiot,” England said through grit teeth, “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”
“I promised, didn’t I?” Alfred asked, reaching out his hands and holding onto him, lightly, mindful of the way he shuddered in his hold every time he heard a bomb fall. “I’m here now. You aren’t alone.”
England’s eyes flickered and he gave Alfred a look, looked as if he would say something, but instead his knees buckled and he stumbled just a little in his quest to rid himself of Alfred’s touch.
“Fool,” he said, voice venomous, and tight with pain. “What do you think you’re doing, running around like a complete—absolutely foolish… what do you—”
He cut off as a particularly bad shudder shot through him and he sank down to one knee. He slapped Alfred’s hand away, however, when Alfred slumped to help him up. Using the wall as support, he got to his feet on his own, glaring up at Alfred with more fire than Alfred thought he should have, given the situation.
“Running around in a raid, are you out of your mind? For fuck’s sake,” England cursed, slumping against the wall in an act of nonchalance that betrayed the pain in the corners of his eyes, in the clenching of his jaw, in the slope of his shoulders. It was different, to see him after the bombings—to witness the bombs falling rippling across his skin and his eyes… was something completely different.
“I promised,” Alfred said, eyebrows slanting together. “I don’t break promises.”
“Get to a shelter, boy. Get underground,” he said, softer this time, eyes closed. “Don’t do such foolish things in a time of war.”
He waved his hand, a dismissal. But Alfred did not move. England sighed, opening his eyes and looking at Alfred with a practiced neutral expression, even if Alfred could still see the pain curling in his eyes, twisting and stabbing deep in his gut. Everything about him betrayed his desire to cry out—but he did not. He remained strong. He stared straight into Alfred’s eyes. Alfred could see a burn creeping up England’s neck, scalding his skin until it puckered.
“I’m not leaving,” Alfred said, decisively. “I’m not leaving you.”
A touch of a wry smile quirked the corners of England’s mouth. But it was gone soon enough and his expression darkened. “Fool. I don’t want you here. Be gone.”
“Too bad,” Alfred said. “I already made my decision. You won’t change my mind.”
England looked like he was about to say more, but outside the bombs were screaming and exploding, the sirens were wailing, and buildings were collapsing. Outside, everything was falling apart, everything was falling—
So England collapsed. Falling to his knees as he shuddered, crying out quietly despite himself. His face flushed, with shame, Alfred realized—shame of falling in front of Alfred like this, unable to stay standing even in these moments. Alfred fell to his knees, too, reaching out his hands and touching England’s shoulders, holding him as tightly as he dared.
“I’m not leaving,” Alfred reminded. “It’s okay. It’s okay, it’s going to be okay, England.”
England didn’t respond, just continued shuddering. His head was bowed, hair hiding his face, and he curled into himself. Alfred watched burns dance across his skin, phantom fires licking at every corner of his body. England dug his teeth into his lower lip, muffling the cries of pain that he undoubtedly would scream, had he been alone. Alfred wanted to tighten his hold, but feared hurting him. A shaking hand reached out and grasped onto Alfred’s arm—his hand was warm, burning, and his hold was tight. His nails dug into Alfred’s jacket. His teeth grit together, his brows slanted. He muffled his cries.
Alfred slumped, shifting his hands to hold England’s cheeks, forcing his face up so that their eyes met. He held onto England’s face, held him tight and stared straight at him.
“You can get through this,” he shouted. “Just look at me. Don’t look away from me. Don’t think about it, okay? It’s going to be okay—I’m not going to leave you.”
Something snapped in England’s eyes, and he stared at Alfred with a shocked expression. He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but then his breath hitched and he let out a soft cry of pain as his body shifted, shuddering.
“You can get through this,” Alfred repeated. “Aren’t you the British Empire? Aren’t you—Can’t you do whatever the fuck you please and still survive? You can survive, old man. Your low morale be damned—I know you can get through this. You’re too stubborn and bull-headed to let it all end this easily.”
The man in his hands shuddered, his breath a hiss of pain as he tensed up. His body rippled. The world was ringing around him—sirens, bombs, shrapnel, screams. There was nothing more. Everything was falling, everything was being destroyed—but everything was holding on.
“Fuck everyone who tells you that you can’t survive. Because you know it isn’t true. If you think deep down, you know that you’ll win this. You know that you won’t fall. You have to believe that—you believe that!”
The other man looked as if he were trying to speak, looked as if he wanted to say something desperately, but the sweat was collecting on his forehead, his eyes were widened in pain, and he could find no words to speak to Alfred. So Alfred held onto him, so Alfred tethered him to the ground, tried to distract him from the pain ripping through his body, burns and blood dancing down his arms.
“My clothes shall stain,” he finally managed, weakly, looking down at the rolled up sleeves of his button-down.
But Alfred forced him to look at him again. “Fuck your clothes, you can get new ones.”
His eyes narrowed. His voice was tight, clipped, as he spoke around the pain. “They’re rationing clothing now. I cannot simply ‘get new ones’ whenever I damned well please.”
“Then I’ll give you some of mine, so shut up.”
“Fuck you,” he snapped.
Something ignited in Alfred’s chest. “Yeah, get angry at me, that’s what you need. Tell me all the shit I’ve done wrong, won’t you?”
“Tell me how I’ve fucked up,” Alfred said. “Do it. Focus on that.”
Maybe if he did that, he’d be able to get his mind off the pain—and it wasn’t as if Alfred didn’t deserve it. Alfred feared all the things he would say, though, feared all the criticisms. Feared the anger. Feared the dismissal. Feared the backing into a corner.
The other nation stared at him, critical, shoulders shuddering. But then he licked his lips, staring straight into Alfred’s eyes, and said, with no preamble, “You never iron your clothes before seeing the Prime Minister.”
“That’s seriously all you have to say?” Alfred asked after a short beat.
“It’s incredibly rude,” he countered. And he even looked like he might laugh—
But the sirens were screaming their banshee shrills, and the bombs were overhead. The house’s foundation shuddered under the force of the bombs falling around them, and Alfred saw him let out a weak little cry and slumped, forehead pushing up against Alfred’s shoulder. Alfred tried to raise him, but he would not budge. He tensed up, curled into himself, and the blood was bleeding through his white shirt, staining it, ruining it. But it was already ruined—it was already ruined, it had to be. There were the holes England always meticulously stitched up again, with a white thread when the shirt itself was more of a cream color. There were patches, there were stains, and the collar had long since lost its starch. And now there was blood—so much blood.
“Hey!” Alfred cried out, but there was no response from the other man.
Alfred wanted to shake him, wanted to pull him—but his wounds, his wounds—
“Hey!” Alfred cried out again, trying to raise him. But instead, one weak hand lifted and gripped at Alfred’s shoulder, with a surprisingly powerful grip.
He wanted to protect him—he wanted to help him. He wanted to do what he could to help him. He couldn’t do anything about the bombs, couldn’t do anything about the pain—Alfred felt absolutely powerless. But that wouldn’t mean he wouldn’t just step back and let it happen, that didn’t mean he could pretend to be stone-hearted. No, not protect. He would scoff at the mere suggestion of protection. It wasn’t protection this nation needed.
He wanted to help him—
“Come on, come on,” Alfred said—did not beg—and curled his arms around his waist, pulling him slowly, so very slowly, to his feet. He slumped against him, and Alfred held on tight—mindful of his wounds. “Where should I take you?”
He breathed out, slowly, trying to collect himself. And then he straightened, looking up at Alfred with a furrowed brow. Then he nodded towards the bathroom, its door ajar at the end of the hall.
“I won’t get any blood across these,” he said, sliding his foot over a rug. “They’re antiques.”
Alfred almost wanted to laugh, but resisted, and led him towards the bathroom.
Once inside the room, there was an eerie silence as Alfred uncurled himself from him, and the other man sank down, slowly, onto the floor. He stared down glumly at his shirt, ruined with blood, and thumbed at a button for a long moment before shaking his head, and slumping.
He looked as if he were sleeping.
Alfred kneeled down beside him.
He opened his eyes as Alfred did so, and looked at him. “Don’t look so devastated, lad.”
Alfred frowned, raising a hand to touch at his cheek, unsure what his face must look like in that moment. His frown deepened further. He sighed—breathing in and breathing out.
“What can I do to help you?” Alfred asked, voice surprisingly soft. Something swelled in his chest.
“… Ah,” the other said, eyes falling shut. He breathed out a little, body slumping further. He lolled his head to the side. “To help me—? Go to a shelter immediately.”
“No,” Alfred said, without missing a beat. “I’m staying here.”
Furrowing brows, a quirked frown. “I do not wish for you to see me like this, boy.”
“I don’t care—It doesn’t change how I fe—” He swallowed, abruptly cutting himself off. “I’m not here to laugh at you. I’m here because I…”
He trailed off, hesitating for half a moment—and then deciding he didn’t care what he had to say about it:
“Because I don’t want you to be alone.”
Without missing a beat, the response was: “I have grown used to being alone in these situations.”
“I don’t care,” Alfred said again. “Just because you’re used to it doesn’t mean it’s right.”
“Very well.” A long sigh. “Insufferable fool.”
“Whatever,” he said, and settled down so they were sitting side by side. “It won’t last too long, anyway, right? You’re feeling okay?”
“I feel like I’m being ripped in two,” he said, stately and stoic as ever.
“Oh,” Alfred said, softly. “Your wounds—should I—?”
“It’ll be best to wait until the all clear signal for that,” he said, prim.
“Oh,” Alfred said, softer still.
He felt the shifting beside him and Alfred turned to look as the other man leaned in a little, eyeing him. He lifted his unbroken arm, hand splaying into Alfred’s hair, and pushing it away. He stared into Alfred’s eyes, critical, searching for something. His eyes watched him, sketched out the lines of his face, and Alfred felt completely unnerved, completely unguarded, under such an intense scrutiny.
“What is it…?”
But he received no answer, because in that moment he listened to the whistling of a bomb close by and the crash and rumble as it hit its target, not even a mile away. More followed. The planes hummed overhead and Alfred watched it all play out on the other’s face, watched the way his face tensed up, closed off, and then ignited in pain.
He fell to the ground, shouting out.
Alfred was there after him. “Arthur—”
The words strangled in his throat, and he didn’t stop to think about it because he was on the ground now, too, trying to find the best way to capture his attention, trying to find the best way to hold onto Arthur without hurting him, and he couldn’t stop—
His cheek pressed against the cold floor—on his side, staring at Arthur, trying to capture his attention. He reached out a hand, touched his flinching cheek and did not flinch himself. Tried to catch his eyes.
“Look at me!” he cried out, and Arthur steadily lifted his gaze, staring at him with wide, terrified eyes. His body shifted and curled, shuddered and tensed. “Don’t look away from me,” he said, and lifted his hands to grab at Arthur’s cheeks again, holding his face steady. Raising him up. “You can make it through this, okay? I believe in you, lots of people believing in you. You’re too stubborn of an old man to die out like a pathetic little candle, aren’t you?”
“Fuck. You,” Arthur hissed out through clenched teeth, his face splitting in his pain, eyebrows furrowed, eyes clouded over with dulled pain. A single stream of blood dripped down from where a wound had split open in his temple, a shallow cut, but it was there. He blinked wildly at Alfred, seeming to lose track of him for a moment—but his gaze held steady.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Alfred replied, and couldn’t help but grin. “You know I’m right. Are you going to prove all those nay-sayers right? Are you just going to roll over and admit defeat? That’s not the country I know. And I would know, wouldn’t I?”
“Fuck you,” was his reply, jaw tight.
“That’s right, that’s what you gotta tell them,” Alfred agreed, and his grin widened. He curled his fingers into Arthur’s hair, holding him steady as he held his face upright, even as everything around them shattered and exploded around them, shrapnel and debris raining from the sky through the smoke and the pure hums of planes. “You can win this,” he told him, and knew that as he spoke, he was speaking the truth, he was believing in Arthur, and that was what he could do, that was all he could do while his administration dragged its feet, while his people stuck their ostrich-heads in the sand. “You can win, Arthur. You will win. And I know you’re sick of hearing that, so let me tell you in detail how you’ll win.”
Arthur didn’t reply, because he was shuddering, eyes clenched tight and jaw clenched in pain. His hand reached up and grabbed at Alfred’s shoulder, holding on tight, nails threatening skin even through the layers of shirt and jacket.
“I should know, right? That you’re a stubborn piece of shit that won’t stop until your legs are cut out from under you or you win. So one of these days you’re just going to waltz into France, grab Germany by the balls, and twist. And you’ll probably say something glib and be very dashing or whatever word you want to choose, and France will swoon appropriately. That sound about right?”
He wondered if Arthur would have laugh, if he could. He was too busy clenching his jaw and holding onto Alfred tightly, but his eyes did flicker up again and catch Alfred’s eyes.
Alfred didn’t dare look away. He held that gaze.
“You’re strong, Arthur,” Alfred said, quietly, so quietly that it was only their closeness to one another that allowed for his words to be heard over the scream of bombs outside. “You’re strong and you can bear this, when anyone else could easily roll over and cry. But look at you, being a stubborn old man until the very end. You face all this shit alone, and you still hold on. And, yeah, it’s only natural you’d grow weary of it, start to grow tired. But even so, you don’t give up.”
Arthur shook his head a little, and tightened his hold on Alfred. His eyes were wide—stubborn, but fearful. They flickered, just slightly.
“Don’t look away from me,” Alfred reminded, and Arthur’s eyes snapped back to Alfred’s. Alfred’s grin lessened, but a smile remained. After a moment, he sobered, and said, with all the weight he could manage, said: “You’re the bravest person I know. No question.”
And it was in nights like these that Alfred could admit, if only to himself, that he wasn’t sure if he would be brave enough to bare bombings like this every night—not when he saw the way Arthur shrank away in pain, face twisted and clenched. He knew he was strong, he knew he was brave—but the thought of withstanding this, alone, was too scary for him. Alfred wasn’t yet ready to think of such things—and perhaps it was that fear, deep inside his people, that kept him in his neutrality.
A bomb screamed—too close—and Alfred heard the windows in the other room shattered, heard a wall collapse. Arthur jumped, eyes wide, and Alfred, too, felt his heart speed up even faster than the rapid-fire pace it’d set itself at.
“I’ll stay up all night with you, okay?” Alfred said, not really a question—he’d already decided. He stared down at Arthur with all the determination he could muster, showing him—hoping to show him that, no matter what, he would not abandon Arthur.
Arthur nodded just a little, and something flickered in his eyes. His mouth opened, just slightly, and the grip on his shoulder was tight. His body was shaking, from the force of the bombs and the burns, but his eyes still held Alfred’s steadily.
His breathing was shallow, his face was tensed, but he did not look away from Alfred for the rest of the night—and Alfred didn’t dare look away from him in turn.
In the morning, Arthur was not better. He was burned, he was bleeding, and continued to bleed through the bandages Alfred tried desperately to tie around his wounds, tight enough to help but not too tight to cause pain.
The air was thick with smoke and the streets outside Arthur’s windows were littered with debris and shrapnel. It was thick with burnt everything, flakes of ash and charcoal falling lightly like snow over the expanse of destroyed city streets.
“How do you feel?” Alfred asked, at the window.
Somewhere behind him, Arthur sighed, tired and quiet. “There are still fires.”
Alfred turned around to face him, frowning. “What?”
Arthur was standing, at least, but he was slumped against the wall, holding onto himself, seemingly ready to curl away and shrivel up at any moment. His shirt was stained, his body shaking—and thin. Starving. His eyes were sunken, haunted, and heavy with bags. His face was gaunt—but he held Alfred’s gaze and did not waver.
“Hundreds. Probably thousands. The fires haven’t gone out,” Arthur said, quietly.
“Are you burning?” Alfred asked, moving across the room towards him.
But Arthur shook his head. “The worst has passed.” He looked down at his arms, staring at the burns curling over his skin like they were their own flames. “I’ve grown used to it.”
“That doesn’t—” Alfred shook his head, cutting himself off abruptly and walking to stand beside Arthur. Arthur sighed, resting against the wall and shaking his own head in turn.
He really had never changed, something in the back of Alfred’s mind told him—he was the same as always. Just as he always remembered him—strong, stubborn, and, yet—struggling. Alfred swallowed. Arthur tilted his head up to look at Alfred, face neutral and studying him with some kind of critical gaze, frowning. Alfred was about to speak, but, suddenly, Arthur lifted his hand and slapped Alfred upside the head.
“Don’t you ever come here again,” Arthur snapped, and recoiled a little when hitting Alfred caused him pain. He cradled his hand against his chest, but it somehow didn’t look vulnerable, not when he was staring at Alfred with such intensity. “Running through bombs and fires—you are a complete fool and if I ever see you on my doorstep again in the dead of night again I will kick you out into the street and you can deal with yourself for the night.”
“If you kick me out I’ll just help the people who need it,” Alfred said, “Like last time.”
Arthur stiffened up, and seemed to puff up at the same time—torn between words. He could see it in Arthur’s eyes. But it passed, and Arthur just growled out a quiet, “Complete fool,” to himself and let the matter drop. He stepped around Alfred and, slowly, with just the slightest limp, started moving towards the back of his home—towards his bedroom. Alfred followed him.
But Arthur stopped and gave him a glare. “I’m fetching myself a new shirt. I am more than capable of doing that on my own. I must go see the damage done to my people and I won’t present myself looking like a right slob.”
“Geez, geez, okay,” Alfred said, holding up his hands in a sign of surrender, taking a step back. “Holler if ya need help, though.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Arthur muttered, face flushed, as he slipped away.
Alfred rolled his eyes and wandered towards a chair, sitting down. “Only he would consider himself a slob of all things when he’s covered in blood.” He looked down at his hands, and sighed. “He really doesn’t change.”
Their walk around the city was silent. Arthur said absolutely nothing as they moved through the streets, viewing the destroyed homes, the streets steepled with debris and splintered concrete. The air was thick with smoke, and the air smelled of charred buildings and uncontrollable firestorms. The ash fell like snow. Arthur had to stop walking a few times so as to lean against the wall, his breathing heavy a few times, but, otherwise, stately. He shrugged away Alfred’s offers of help that Alfred tentatively offered, not wishing to look as if he were too concerned for him. Strong and stubborn until the very end, Arthur betrayed nothing on his face as he went. Just like the night before, he was as calm as he could manage, hardly making a sound.
Arthur walked upright the entire way through the streets, wearing his only jacket, stitched and threaded with such care. His shirt beneath was stained, but not the one of the night before, and he kept it well hidden underneath the buttons.
The damage was catastrophic. Almost every house they passed, Arthur’s included, was damaged in some way—some worst than others. Some were completely leveled. The newly homeless moved around the streets, with a different look than when the bombs had first returned—Alfred remembered that night, when they’d been stately and proud, thumbing their nose at Germany and carrying on—but now, they moved slowly, faces downcast as they collected the pieces of their destroyed homes, collected the pieces of realization that they were homeless.
Arthur did not speak as they passed Queen’s Hall, now lying in complete ruins. He did not speak as he watched fires burn through the British Museum, destroying galleries and millions of books. He did not speak as he saw the damage done on St. James’ Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Parliament. The entire time, he did not speak, as he moved. He kept his head bowed, weaving his way through debris and ruins, shoulders stiff.
The smoke still hung thick over London, but there was a wind—blowing through the streets, through the ruins, through the remains of the bombings. The ash danced in little waves over their feet. The wind ruffled Arthur’s hair, and, undoubtedly, spread the fires across London. It smelled of burning—if burning itself could have a smell.
Suddenly, Arthur stopped walking altogether, looking off. Alfred waited patiently and then, suddenly, with more energy and movement than Alfred had expected, Arthur was walking briskly across the streets towards the charred remains of a building—and Alfred recognized it instantly. Completely gutted by fire, the small hall of the House of Commons was nothing more than a mound of debris, gaping open to the sky.
He almost hurried to pull Arthur away, but he knew Arthur could not be stopped. He walked into the debris, moved among the rubble. Alfred followed after him, cursing quietly under his breath when he nearly tripped and sprained his ankle for his troubles.
Arthur stood, silently, among the rubble.
And then he turned his head and looked at Alfred. “It’s happened.”
“What?” Alfred asked, and feared for the answer. It’d been the first time Arthur had spoken since leaving his house that morning.
Arthur’s voice was tight, and his expression—a forced neutrality, a painful neutrality—wavered. It shifted, as if it would fall away crack by crack. Alfred could see the cracks, could see the whimper of movement in his eyebrows, the quiver along his jaw.
And then Arthur spoke, quietly, with that tight voice: “Of my people, more women and children have died in this war than the country’s armed forces.”
Alfred did not answer right away, eyes widening. Something stuttered to a halt in his chest. “How can you tell—”
Arthur turned his face away, and took one more look around the chamber. He was lost in his memories—looking up to where the ceiling would have been but was now just a gaping hole to the smoky sky. Pieces of ash fell into Arthur’s hair and stayed there. Arthur’s eyes swept—across the absent ceiling, over the charred remains of walls. He drank it all in, committed this new memory to rest among the old memories.
And then Arthur knelt, picking up a piece of the ruined building, a piece of rubble. He cradled it in his hands, despite the broken arm, despite the way his body heaved under the weight. He stayed there, knelt. And as Alfred stood there he realized, perhaps belatedly, that as Arthur stood up with that piece of building, his shoulders were heaving. Alfred stood in shock, unable to move, as Arthur did not try to hide his tears as he had in Bristol. Here, he stood, crying—unashamed. The tears fell down his cheeks, curling over the grit and blood still caked across his face. His face rippled and turned red, his bottom lip wobbling. He was not beautiful as he cried, face scrunching, eyes puffing up and turning red as he wept. But he did not stop, and Alfred watched as Arthur laid a quiet kiss upon the rubble, letting his lips linger, saying one last goodbye to all the people he had lost, saying one last word to all the world closing in on him.
Alfred took a step towards him and Arthur lifted his eyes, up at the sky, and then over to look at Alfred. Even in these moments, Alfred could not think of anything to say—could not think to dismiss or insult this man who, bleeding and fading, sinking fast, still held on.
Arthur bowed his head, and set the piece of the building down with such tender care—his hand lingering upon the flat expanse of stone. And then Arthur straightened, still crying, pressing a hand to his face as if his shame and decorum had finally caught up to him, as if he’d finally remembered that Alfred was there. He was still sobbing, though.
Alfred did not even realize he was moving until he stumbled over the rubble and pulling Arthur—gently—to him. He clutched onto him, and held on. He held Arthur tight, did not dare move or say anything. He just held him in his arms—and how easily he fit into his arms. Alfred ducked his head, pressing his cheek, very briefly, against the side of Arthur’s head, felt the warmth of his body, before straightening again, looking out over London.
“Fuck,” he heard Arthur whisper quietly, after a short moment, “I always cry in front of you.”
“It’s not bad,” Alfred said quickly, and then let his voice lower when Arthur cringed in his arms. “I mean… I’m not gonna hold it against you. It doesn’t make you weak, so it’s okay to cry. If you have to cry then… then cry. Because it’s sad, and it’s scary and it’s… it’s hard. It’s okay.”
He could think clearly back to the time when he thought that it’d be weak for Arthur to cry—but he couldn’t let go of him now. He held on tight and, slowly, Arthur responded, lifting his hands and clinging to Alfred’s jacket as he wept against his shoulder.
“But, don’t think I’ll do this every time or anything,” Alfred said quickly.
“Of course,” Arthur muttered against his shoulder, voice watery and wavering. He continued to cry, his shoulders continued to heave.
Alfred shifted, just slightly, pressing his cheek against him again, trying to soothe him—wanting him to be soothed and not caring that he wanted it. He held him, among the rubble, let him cry for as long as Arthur needed it. His heart thundered in his chest but he ignored it, and only held Arthur, only thought of Arthur.
“It’s okay,” he said to Arthur’s quivering shoulders.
Arthur shook his head and didn’t respond, crying quietly against Alfred. Alfred didn’t loosen his hold, staring out over the landscape, staring out over the leveled parts of London—his mind heavy with everything he knew to be true, everything he didn’t want to believe, and knowing that there was nothing he could do to stop the way his heart was stammering in his chest, no way to stop what he knew to be true—
He inhaled sharply, and tightened his hold on Arthur. Arthur responded, taking in a shuddering breath and curling his fists into Alfred’s jacket, holding tight and refusing to let go.
They stayed like that for a long while, too long for Alfred to know how much time had passed. But it was okay—he would hold him for as long as Arthur needed it. It was all he could do, now. Eventually Arthur calmed down, but he did not step away from Alfred’s hold—not for a long moment. Alfred didn’t push him away, but did not move, either. With a deep inhale, Arthur stepped away, face neutral once again. But something had changed in his eyes.
He looked away from Alfred. He exhaled, a deep, pained sigh. His expression wavered for half a moment, but then it smoothed over—and it was the Arthur he’d always known again. Calm, stately, and quietly stubborn and brilliant. Strong, shoulders strength, eyes narrowed with some kind of realization and determination.
He would not fall.
Arthur looked out over London.
“I am meant to be a beacon,” Arthur said quietly. “Every day more and more people from the continent come here, after escaping their occupied homes. They see London, despite all its destruction, as some kind of beacon of hope and freedom and I—I do not know how much longer I can hold on. For them, for my people… for anyone.” His hands shook, but he refused to cry again. His expression remained grim, stone-faced and determined. “I don’t know, anymore.”
“You won’t fall,” Alfred said. “I know you won’t.”
Arthur looked to him, frowning. “Do you?”
“Yeah,” Alfred said, not hesitating.
Arthur hummed low in his throat, and turned his attention back out towards London—as far as he could see through the smoke and ash, at least. He sighed, a long heaving of air passing between himself and his people. He looked out on the world, and the world looked back.
“I wonder,” Arthur murmured.
Alfred didn’t respond, just shifted so that he was standing beside Arthur.
Together, they walked through the rubble, out to the street again. Alfred was having a hard time breathing—he told himself it was because of the smoke in the air.
“If things had gone differently,” Arthur said, quietly, beside him as they walked. “Perhaps if one thing had changed, perhaps everything would have turned out differently. Perhaps if I’d…”
He shook his head.
“Do you have any regrets?” Alfred asked, looking at the crippled buildings all around them, at the shrapnel and debris all around them.
It’s only a matter of time before—
“Me?” Arthur asked. Then there was the touch of a wry smile, a touch of something that didn’t quite seem to fit on Arthur’s face. “No. That would be unprofessional.”
A few days later found Alfred with Winant, as Winant presented his speech to the English-Speaking Union of London. The days since Alfred had last seem Arthur were spent attending a few funerals and memorials, helping clean up the streets, and helping the people as best they could—the ones who had lost their homes, or the ones who had lost gas, electricity, and water. It all seemed hopeless, but Winant never gave up, and, perhaps because of him, Alfred never gave up, either.
Alfred’s mind was drifting, however, to thoughts of Arthur, thoughts of England. He snapped back to attention, however, when Winant spoke of the statue of his hero, across the street from Parliament and Westminster Abbey—Abraham Lincoln. Alfred lifted his head, looking up at the ambassador.
“As an American,” Winant said, “I am proud that Lincoln was there in all that wreckage as a friend and sentinel… and a reminder that in his own great battle for freedom, he waited quietly for support for those things for which he lived and died.”
It was subtle, but it was there—the comparison between Lincoln and the British people, and it made Alfred’s heart tumble down into his gut. And after a short pause, Winant looked out over the crowd and said, “I stand firmly with the British—and it’s time my own country did so, too.”
And then his eyes found Alfred. Alfred stayed very still, surprised. But he did not look away—he did not back away—he did not run away—
“We have all tried to make ourselves believe we are not our brother’s keeper,” Winant said, expression calm but determined, “But we are not beginning to realize we need our brothers as much as our brothers need us.”
Alfred was shivering, felt far too cold, and his heart pounded in his chest.
It’s only a matter of time before—
“We have made our tasks infinitely more difficult because we failed to do yesterday what we are glad to do today,” Winant declared. “To delay longer will make the war more protracted and increase the sacrifices for victory. Let us stop asking ourselves if it is necessary to do more now. Let us ask ourselves what more we can do today, so we have less to sacrifice tomorrow.”
No, it wasn’t a matter of time. It wasn’t a matter of time before Arthur would not fall. He had to believe in him—that was all he could do right now, and that was all he could do. His country would give the aid, the food, the ships, the belligerency zone—he would give what he could.
Because Arthur would not fall. He’d push the old man to his feet every time if he had to, if it meant that Arthur would be okay.
No matter what happened, he was changed—Alfred knew it to be true. He’d changed. They’d changed him. And he couldn’t go back.
- April and May of 1941 were as close to starvation as the British ever got. The British could not stop the German U-boat attacks on merchant shipping. Rationing of food items was now draconian: individuals were limited, for example, to one ounce of cheese and a minimal amount of meat a week and eight ounces of jam and margarine a month. Some foods, like tomatoes, onions, eggs, and oranges, had disappeared almost completely from store shelves. Clothes rationing had also begun, and most consumer goods, from saucepans to matches, were almost impossible to find.
- Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were new German battle-cruisers. They created wolf packs that picked off British merchant ships like fish in a barrel. The amount of material sunk in April of 1941, nearly 700,000 tons, was more than twice the loses two months earlier. The shipping figures were so calamitous that Churchill ordered the Ministry of Information to discontinue their publication for fear of hurting public morale.
- “The novelty is gone.” Correspondent Vincent Shean said. “You won’t find any of the high-spirited, we-can-take-it stuff of the last year,” the CBS newsman said. “People… are getting a little grim. All the novelty is gone. The epic period is over. Food has something to do with it—everyone is probably a little under-nourished.”
- Public opinion in the US was torn between wanting war and not wanting war. The majority did not, though a good chunk of USAmericans realized that, eventually, they would have to fight the Germans—but they did not realize just how close or dire the situation was in Europe. Some people wanted more aid, while some people, and in particular the US military, despised the British. Anglo-phobia was still rampant in the US during this time. But, above all else, there was an overwhelming amount of apathy.
- Churchill issued his cable to Roosevelt on May 3, 1941, begging the US to enter the war. Churchill dropped all pretense in pretending that what the country needed was aid. What the country needed was a strong ally to stand with it. Churchill hoped for a quick response from Roosevelt but, instead, the president did not respond until exactly one week later. And in that response, he merely said that USAmerican help would arrive “soon”.
- Roosevelt’s seeming lack of alarm alarmed people on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite having a bitterly isolationist congress, key members of Roosevelt’s administration were alarmed by his seemingly lack of action and commanding leadership. This is not to say that the president himself was not concerned about the war—he was. He was very concerned about what was going on in Europe. He made many efforts before and after the cable, to help the British while still heeding the public opinion to stay out of the war.
- On the day that Roosevelt issued his non-response to Churchill, May 10, 1941, the bombs returned. This was, by far, the most devastating night of the Blitz. By the morning of the 11th, more than two thousand fires were raging out of control across the city, form Hammersmith in the west to Rumford in the east—some twenty miles away. The damage to London infrastructure, and landmarks, was catastrophic. Queen’s Hall, the British Museum, St. James’ Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Parliament all suffered extensive damage from the bombs.
- The House of Commons of the United Kingdom, however, was not so lucky. The scene of some of the most dramatic events of modern British history was nothing more than rubble, gutted by fire. The scene at the House of Commons between Alfred and Arthur is from an actual historical visit, a few days after the raid, in which Churchill toured the ruins of the House chamber. Churchill had a deep respect and love for the House of Commons, as he could, in effect, lay claim to the place—it was there that he had become a new member forty years before, where he had warned parliament in the 1930s of the dangers of appeasement with Germany, where he’d had his debate with Neville Chamberlain over his conduct in the war, which ultimately lead to his accession to power. And he’d delivered many speeches from this place, soaring speeches to raise morale for the British when the war first began. So it is not surprising that, as he stood in the rubble of such a place, he cried without shame.
- Every major railroad station but one was put out of action for weeks by the force of the bombings, as were most of the underground stations and lines. A third of the streets in London were impassable, and almost a million people were without gas, water, and electricity. More than two million houses were damaged or destroyed. In central London alone, only one house in ten had escaped completely unscathed.
- The death toll for this single night of bombing was 1,426. Never in London’s history had so many of its residents died in a single night. Since the Blitz began, some 43,000 British civilians had been killed by bombs, about half in London. As of the spring of 1941, far more British women and children had died in the war than had members of the country’s armed forces.
- “I am meant to be a beacon.” As one of the few “free” nations left in Europe, many refugees from German-occupied countries would go to England, and specifically London. Despite the disarray and desolation of the bombings, it was still much better off than a lot of places in Europe and, thus, provided relief and protection. Many exiled governments stayed in London: France and Belgium's.
- On May 15, 1941, Winant delivered a speech to the English-Speaking Union in London. One of his most powerful speeches, Winant blatantly created the connection between the US and the UK, citing the statue of Abraham Lincoln across the street from Parliament and Westminster Abbey.