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A Pilot's Promise, Part 4

Times are growing darker for our wartime couple. How will they cope?
Minutes their passionate meeting, Ellen and James must return to real life. But what’s around the corner?

“I don’t think this uniform will ever be the same,” Ellen said dryly. The breakfast shift at the cafe seemed to have sidled up behind her like a thief in the night; now she and James were washing, dressing, preparing for the outside world.

“If it helps, these trousers probably aren't going to make it through the remainder of the war.” James held up the tattered pair, smiling.

“As long as you do,” Ellen said, hiding the sick stab of fear with a brittle smile. “As long as you do.” She pulled a packet of safety pins from her apron, currently strewn across the floor, and began to mend the rifts in the fabric with practiced hands. James was silent now; naked, he stood at the window with a cigarette. The sunrise was just beginning; a pale flush of gold stealing through the silent room, and Ellen watched James’s silhouette hungrily. There was a tension in the lines of his body that she hadn’t noticed before; she remembered how worried he had looked before they had begun. Oh god, she thought, what happened? “What are you thinking about?”

James turned to face her. There was a grim look of resolution in his eyes that frightened Ellen, but it was only there for an instant; a flash in the dark. “Nothing,” he said, “of any importance. Nothing at all.” He walked towards Ellen as she attempted to fix the tattered remains of her underskirt, and with an easy, masculine grace wrapped her up in his arms. Ellen sighed happily, losing herself in the warmth of his body. “Sit down.” He moved her over to the nearby bed; Ellen collapsed onto the crisp white sheets. “And now,” said James, voice huskier, his hand moving towards his stiffening cock, “spread your legs. I want to taste you.”

“But I’ll be late for my shift! You’ll be late reporting in!”

“I know, and I don’t care. And I suspect, Miss Heartridge, that you don’t care either.” Ellen laughed joyously. I don’t care, she thought as she spread her legs, I really don’t give a damn. The laughter became, gasps, then moans, as James began to kiss his way along her inner thighs.

“Ellen, the sausages! My God, what’s gotten into you today?”

A Flying Ace, Ellen thought. Twice. With a smile that she attempted to make seem apologetic, she took the slightly burned sausages out of the pan and arranged them on plates. The cafe was even more bustling than usual; a particularly bad spate of bombing in the East End meant that there were a lot more ward beds filled, a crowd of friends and relatives of the injured looking for a cup of tea and a sympathetic ear.

Ellen floated through it all, barely remembering to put tea in cups. In her heart she was still in the bed on Ward Six, naked and spread wide open, James’s tongue attacking her pulsing clit… my God, Ellen thought, thrills of guilty pleasure racing through her bruised body, control yourself. Dora had been looking at her with with a half-questioning, half-knowing smile for the last hour, and Ellen had the slightly dispiriting feeling that even if she told her every single explicit detail of her encounter, she wouldn't be believed. Besides, she’s never going to ask. She’s too worried that I've actually got a life.

Only one Ace was in the cafe, but then any Ace being awake at this hour was a strange enough occurrence. Even stranger that it was Geoffrey; Ellen thought as she poured a cup of tea and approached his table, shouldn't the head of the squad have something to do?  As she grew nearer she noticed Geoffrey’s trembling hands; the half-empty glass of whiskey on the table. The man’s eyes were barely focused.

“They’re all going to die.”

Ellen sank onto the chair opposite, all thought gone, terror rising in her heart. Geoffrey was talking without looking at her; it was as if he simply had to speak. Ellen felt that if she wasn't there, he’d be talking to empty air. “I can’t believe I didn't question it. The one order from up top that I should have disobeyed. I’m a fool, a bloody stupid fool… there’s no way any of us are coming back. That patch of sky is a death trap, it always has been. Throwing our best men at it won’t change its nature.”

Ellen waited. She felt as if she were suspended over a high, dark cliff. “The worst thing is, they all know it’s bloody suicide and they still agreed. They didn't even hesitate, and now it’s eight hours to go and they’re all drinking or gambling or in bed with a woman doing god-knows-what, making their peace with God. Twenty-four hours of hell on earth before we all end up in the real thing.”

Twenty-four hours?

“They all deal with it differently, of course,” Geoffrey continued, taking another gulp of whiskey. “Arthur’s been drinking more than I have. William cries, he thinks we don’t hear him. I don’t know what the new one does, the almost-Kraut, but no doubt he’s got some way of cleaning his mind.”

Some way of clearing his mind. He knew. He knew, and he didn't tell me. Ellen could feel herself icing over, growing hard, bullet-hard. It was the only way to keep the pain contained; a terrifying pain, a scream in the dark. She concentrated ferociously. There’s iron in your soul, Ellen. Use it.

“Wait. What are you doing here, girlie?” Geoffrey was looking at her directly now, finally realising that someone was listening.

“Just cleaning your table, sir,” Ellen replied, smooth as a glacier. “I’ll get you a top-up.” She walked back into the kitchen, slowly and gracefully. Dora was washing up crockery, singing to herself; she barely had time to catch Ellen as she fell to the floor.

“What’s wrong, darling? What’s wrong?” Ellen wasn't even sobbing; she lay dead-white, tears streaming from her eyes in a slow, constant line. Dora moved Ellen’s head to her lap, and began to stroke her hair. “It gets to all of us differently,” she said quietly, with infinite pity. “With me it only comes at night, when I’m all alone. When I know that… that he’s out there, fighting. My Tim. The terror rises, and I have to bite my hand to keep from screaming.” Ellen curled into Dora’s lap, burying her face in the girl’s apron. Her shoulders began to shake. “You have to harden your heart, darling. Make it so strong and hard that the horror can’t get in, however much it tries.”

They stayed like that for what seemed like hours; the other cafe girls scurrying around them like frightened mice. Dora never shifted, never grew tired; her hand stroking Ellen’s hair ceaselessly. “Harden your heart, Ellen. Harden your heart.”

She’d had to go home, in the end. Dora had wanted to go with her; had even offered to pay for a taxi. But Ellen wouldn't hear of it. She’d walked home in a daze, her face scrubbed free of tears, her eyes resolutely dry. She had just about managed to shut her door and lock it before the fight drained out of her; crawling into bed, drawing the blankets around her with a supreme effort of will, she had fallen asleep almost immediately.

Three hours had passed in blissful unconsciousness. Now Ellen lay dry-eyed and immobile, shivering even though she still had her jacket on. Her alarm clock showed two in the afternoon. How many hours now? Four, three? How long until he vanishes?

A sudden knock at the door; urgent, loud. Dora? Then James’s unmistakable tones, “Ellen? Ellen! Are you alright? For God’s sake, open the door!” His voice was like a dagger; Ellen had planned to be so cold, so unrelenting, but the sound of James’s obvious concern brought tears to her eyes. Stupid , she thought, stupid. Keep silent. Whatever you do, keep silent.

“How did you find me?” Damn. Wonderful start, Ellen.

“Thank God,” she heard James say. “Thank God you’re alright.” Ellen heard him lean against the door. “I went to the cafe; you weren't there. I was going to make discreet inquiries, but before I could start your friend - Dora, is it? She must have seen the expression on my face, because she told me right off the bat that you were ill. She even gave me your address. I know that discretion is your watchword, but I suspect that girl may have put two and two together. She should be working with the code-breakers at Bletchley Park.”

“You knew.” Ellen tried to keep the hurt, the terror out of her voice, but it shone through like fire. There was a short, tense silence. “And don’t you dare ask me what I’m talking about, don’t you dare pretend. You came to tell me that you’re off on some bloody suicide mission, even though you knew hours before. We… we were together,” she struggled to continue, tears falling freely, “we were intimate, and you didn't tell me. Because you wanted a way of releasing tension before the big last hurrah. You used me.”

She heard James exhale. “What good would it have done, Ellen? How would telling you have changed anything?”

“You bastard!” Ellen sat bolt-upright in bed, trembling with fury. She threw the blankets to one side. “How dare you presume to decide what I should know, what I shouldn't ? You’re going out there to die, and you think all I deserve is a quick update and peck on the cheek before you fly?”

“I’m not going to die.”


“You heard me. I’m not going to die. I will come back to you.” Ellen heard him draw a ragged breath. “I promise.”

“A pilot’s promise,” Ellen said, “and we all know how much that counts for. You promised me your heart, your heart!” She couldn't stop the tears from falling now. “And now you've signed up to kill yourself and don’t tell me until the last minute? You don’t tell me until you've had your way with me? I don’t have your honesty, let alone your heart!”

James was silent for a long time. Ellen tried to stop the tears, and eventually gave up; curling her arms around herself, resting her head against her knees, she let them come. For a terrible instant, she thought that he had simply walked away. Finally, she heard him breathe again. “I wanted to forget. I was out of my mind with terror, and I wanted to run away from it in the arms of the woman I love.” Ellen bit her lip, crying harder. “I should have realised that you, Ellen, are not my escape. You are not my fantasy. You are my reality; you are in my bones, you have my heart, as I said. And I should share all of myself with you. Even the parts I run away from.”

“I wish I could tell you not to go,” Ellen sobbed, her face pressed against her knees as she curled up tighter. “I wish I could.”

“But I know you won’t. Because we shouldn't have to die twice-over. Better to die as oneself than live as another… but as I said, I’m not going to die. Not when I have you to come back to.” Ellen heard him struggling to control his voice; she realised with a shock that he was about to cry. “Please forgive me, Ellen.”

“I have to forgive you,” Ellen said, attempting to bring her sobs under control, “there’s not enough bloody time to hold a grudge.” She laughed a desperate laugh, thick with pain.

“Please let me in.”

“I look a mess.

“Don’t make me break the door down.” Ellen rose from the bed, trying to fix her disordered hair with one hand while the other fumbled with the key in the lock. On seeing James, pale and biting his lip, his eyes suspiciously shining, her face crumpled into tears again. Then she was in his arms; James was kissing away each tear, and Ellen felt tears run down her cheeks that were not her own. “I’m sorry,” he was saying again and again, his eyes closed now, his face tight against Ellen’s cheek.

“There’s no time,” Ellen said, taking one of James’s hands and holding it to her lips. “There’s no time to be angry. I've already wasted hours… all we have is now.”

James gently kissed Ellen’s temple. “I already told you; I’m not going to die.”

“Even so,” Ellen said, tensing her jaw as she forced the tears to stop, “even so. You’ll be gone all night, I’ll be sleeping alone. It seems foolish to spend time apart before we have to.” She kissed James; a soft, quivering kiss that made him grip her even tighter.

“After tonight,” he said, “you’ll never sleep alone again if you don’t wish it.” He bent his head to Ellen’s collarbone, kissing along it. Ellen leaned back into his chest.

“Come to bed with me.”

“Are you sure?”

“The only way to beat time is to be in charge of it.” Ellen’s voice was measured, almost dreamlike. I suppose, she thought, that there’s a place beyond fear too. Maybe this way I’ll reach it. “Come with me.” Half-dragging him to the bed, she began taking off her clothes. She felt James’s hand on the small of her back.

“You say you’re in charge,” he said, “but you’re hurrying.” He pulled her into a hug, slowly, tenderly pulling away Ellen’s jacket, unbuttoning her pale blue nurse’s gown. Ellen forced herself to go more gently. Act as if you have the rest of your lives together.

Before long they were naked; their clothes placed neatly on the chair instead of strewn across the floor. Ellen stood in James’s arms, showering his neck and shoulders with soft, gentle kisses as James traced his fingers along the curves of Ellen’s breasts with infinite tenderness. “I bruised you,” he said, running his hands over her, “before.”

Ellen ran her tongue over a particularly vivid love-bite on James’s shoulder. “I bruised you too,” she said, smiling. “I marked my territory.” She moved her hands to James’s back; ran her fingernails along the lines she’d scratched there. “See?” James pulled her into a deep, open-mouthed kiss, the delicate movements of his hands growing stronger. Ellen pressed her body to his, wrapping one thigh around him, loving the feel of his cock growing hard against her. She felt a different hunger from before; less desperate, more poignant. Darker, in a way. As if I’m fighting Death as well as time. She began to grind against James, wrapping her arms around him until she felt no difference between her skin and his. “Lay down with me.”

The bed was still warm from Ellen’s body. With blankets wrapped over and around them both, Ellen felt like she was in a cocoon; a barrier against the coming dark. James’s face above her made her feel a sudden rush of joy; a mad joy, happiness that had no place existing in the midst of such pain. But it was now, and he was here; despite the terrible blackness on either side of this moment, here there was light. I feel like this is sacred, somehow.

With a slow, intensely deep thrust, James was inside her. Ellen felt the sparks again; the twinges of pain left from the last time only accentuating the pleasure. Staring into James’s eyes, she began to move in sync with him; feeling every inch of his cock inside her. James bit his lip, a low moan escaping, and Ellen pulled him into a kiss.

For several tortured minutes Ellen managed to keep the pace slow; despite every nerve in her body tingling. Her nipples were stiff, aching more and more with every delicious brush of James’s chest against hers, her clit sending shocks of near-painfully intense pleasure every time Ellen ground against the base of James’s cock. She had to give into the desire; it was beginning to act for her, her hips were losing their rhythm, beginning to buck, her soft moans were becoming wild, harsh cries. James’s thrusts grew faster, deeper; clearly he had been restraining himself. Ellen held him punishingly tight; soon only their hips were moving, frantic and unrelenting, James’s lips against hers in an unceasing kiss.

Ellen could feel it approaching again; the blank white space. Her muscles were beginning to quiver uncontrollably, and as James hammered into her, driving almost painfully deep, her stomach began to knot as a shattering climax approached. She wanted to shout, wanted to scream I love you, wanted - but it was upon her, a shivering waterfall of pleasure that took away all thought, all reasoning. She gripped James inside her like a vice; he cried out, white fists gripping the blankets, never stopping for a moment.

Ellen was panting, crying out incomprehensibly as her orgasm washed over her; she thought it would lessen, die away, but with a heartfelt groan James gripped her thighs, pulled them upwards until Ellen’s legs were resting on his shoulders. He thrust even deeper than Ellen had thought possible, driving all of his cock into her with frenzied speed, and with a sharp sweet shock Ellen realised that she was reaching another peak, a higher point. She came again with a piercing cry, this time twinned with James’s moans as he came inside her.

There was no ‘I love you’ this time. Ellen knew that there was no need to say it. Every touch, every kiss, every look - it means, ‘I love you’. Instead they lay silent, wrapped up in one another from head to foot. They breathed in time, together. Outside the sun sank; soon it would be night.

“Do you have everything?”

“All present and correct.”

“No, you’re not.” Ellen walked over to her bedside table as James laced up his shoes. Pulling her red lipstick out of her apron pocket, she reached into a drawer and pulled out a small white handkerchief. She applied the lipstick, aware of James watching the way her lips pursed around the brush, and held the handkerchief to her newly scarlet lips. She kissed it tenderly. “Take a little of me with you.” James breathed in the scent of the handkerchief as Ellen placed it in his hand.

“It smells like you.”

“What,”, Ellen laughed, “tea and surgical spirit?”

“No. Like flowers in new earth.” He placed it in his shirt pocket, next to his heart.

“I don’t… I don’t know how to -”

“Then don’t. What did you say to me? No goodbyes. Ever.” James leaned in; they shared a light, sweet kiss, the kiss of a man and wife on a weekday morning. “See you tomorrow. At the cafe.”

“At the cafe.”

And he was gone, walking into the setting sun. Ellen closed the door, got into bed and slept, slept so soundly that she went beyond dreams, beyond nightmares. There was only the airy, otherworldly feeling of flying - or falling.

The deep sleep seemed to carry on, even when Ellen was washing and dressing the next morning. Like a sleepwalker she stumbled into her shoes, tied her apron, locked the door on the way out. People were talking in the street, but the sound didn't reach her. I’m under the sea, Ellen thought, approaching the cafe, I’m under a silent sea.

The bubble didn't break. Not even when she saw the Aces’ usual table empty. Not even when she saw the tears in Dora’s eyes, not even when she heard the word, missing.

Finally Dora’s words came swimming up to her, bringing a chattering crowd of noise and light that shot through her like a bullet. “Ellen, what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to wait.” Ellen’s voice sounded calm; chilling even. “I’m going to wait for him to come back. He promised.” Dora started to say something, but bit her lip instead. Ellen took up a tray, a dishrag, and walked out to a cluttered table. She began stacking plates, cleaning away the tea and coffee stains slowly and methodically.

I am staring into Hell, she thought, and I will not blink. He will come back.

He promised.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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