Author's Note: After two long years, it's finally finished! I can hardly believe it. I thought about waiting an extra week and posting this on the anniversary of the day I posted the first chapter – but the idea of finally being able to put this story in the "Completed" pile was just too irresistible to pass up. Anyway, why make people wait if it's ready now?
Oh – and I actually did do research this time, so the first section at least should be historically accurate. I did not, however, do a final run-through of the chapter for lack of time and energy, so hopefully I haven't made any horrible mistakes of a literary nature. If you see any, feel free to point them out…
Missing In Action
On June 6, 1944, the first wave of Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy, and began the push inward toward Berlin. With the Soviets mounting a similar offensive from the East, the Nazi forces found themselves being squeezed ever more tightly, their lines weakening and the borders of their control slowly shrinking inward.
Over the course of several months, the Allies continued to advance. On August 19th the Parisian Resistance mounted an uprising, and by the 25th DeGaulle was leading a victory parade through the once again free streets of the French capital. One by one, towns and concentration camps across Europe were relieved of Nazi control, the survivors released at last to try to pick up the remnants of their shattered lives, or to start new ones in place of the old.
Soon, even the German forces were beginning to see that the situation was hopeless. Many soldiers surrendered to the Allies on the Western front, some of them fleeing from the East in hopes that the Americans would be more merciful than the Soviets (who had been known to shoot their own men for retreating as easily as they would shoot the enemy). Meanwhile, Hitler retreated underground to a bunker located directly beneath the Chancellery building, along with his staff and his mistress, Eva Braun. When the situation continued to grow even more desperate, the Soviets creeping ever closer to Berlin, Hitler gave his officers leave to go. Only Eva and a select few of his supporters remained.
On April 28th, Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler were married. At 3:30 pm on April 30th, they both committed suicide – he with a gun to his right temple, and she by swallowing poison. Seven days later German forces surrendered unconditionally to the Allies, and on May 8th people tossed their hats in victory in Times Square, where a nameless sailor swept a nameless nurse into an impromptu kiss, and a camera clicked, immortalizing the moment for generations to follow.
By the time all of this was taking place, Inuyasha and Kagome were safe in London. Having decidedly done his duty for the war effort, Inuyasha was relieved from active service and allowed to recuperate from his injuries in the comfort of the apartment which the two of them now shared.
Miroku and Sango, on the other hand, did not get off as easily. They and the other occupants of the Resistance bunker soon found life becoming far more difficult than it had previously been. With the escalation in fighting and the gradual movement of the front back eastward, toward them, it became difficult to get supplies. Those stores that had been left in the bunker before its abandonment would only last so long, and there were certain necessities that had not been provided for at all. In addition, they soon began taking in refugees from nearby towns who were fleeing the fighting, so not only rations but space itself was at a premium. With so many people living on meager supplies in such close quarters in the heat of summer, disease ran rampant.
Mercifully, there were no fatalities among the residents, although Koharu was bedridden for nearly a month with a bad flu, delirious with fever. During this time, Sango noticed that Hojo spent a great deal of time by her bedside caring for her.
As France was liberated and the Germans were beaten back under the onslaught of the Allies, gradually the fighting passed them by, like a storm front finally receding to reveal a weary sun. That sun shone down upon a countryside ravaged not only by the occupation itself, but again by the destruction that ensued from the retreat. For awhile they all remained at the bunker, though the hardship was lessened somewhat by the fact that it was now safe to venture out into the world again. When the word at last reached them that Germany had surrendered and peace had been declared, they all celebrated joyously together one last time before dispersing, setting off in their own separate ways to begin the work of rebuilding the world that the war had destroyed.
The day that peace was declared, Inuyasha asked Kagome to marry him. They had virtually no money, what with the small salary he earned working behind a desk at London Allied Headquarters – a place he had never expected to find himself, though he turned out not to mind it much – and her waitressing wages from a small bar called "Hung Drawn & Quartered," which was near the Tower. Some might think it was "dishonorable" of him to propose without first seeing to it that he could make a decent living, but then again Inuyasha was no ordinary guy – and Kagome was no ordinary girl. Besides, Kagome had her suspicions that part of the reason he'd proposed so soon was because he thought an engagement ring might discourage all those soldiers down at the pub from hitting on her.
They were married in the summer of 1945 in a small ceremony before a Justice of the Peace, at which Sesshoumaru and his wife Kagura stood as their witnesses. They honeymooned in Scotland, at a little country bed and breakfast run by a retired engineer who liked to build model airplanes in his spare time, and his wife, who liked to bake rich chocolate pies in hers.
On August 6th, 1945, the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan; on the 9th they followed it with a similar attack on Nagasaki. At last, on September 2nd of 1945, the Japanese government signed the agreement of unconditional surrender, and World War II officially came to a close. That November, the Nuremburg war criminal trials began, and the world slowly found its center of balance once more.
Then one March evening in the spring of 1946, Kagome was sorting through the clutter that filled their tiny kitchen, and she came across the day's mail. There was a letter from her mother, who was now living in the States with her brother, wondering when Kagome might be able to come for a visit; and a couple of bills which they wouldn't be able to pay for at least another week or two; and finally, another letter – this one from Sango.
Kagome tore it open eagerly, sitting down at the kitchen table and leaning into better light. She hadn't seen or heard from Sango in nearly two years – not since the day of the battle at Ville du Pont. There had, of course, been no practical way of sending mail back and forth from the bunker, and Kagome hadn't had any idea where they had gone from there – or, she had tried very hard not to think, if they had even survived the rest of the war. Now, at the very least, she had proof that Sango was alive.
My Dear Sister, the letter began, bringing a smile to Kagome's lips.
You're a hard woman to locate, you know that? I've been trying to get your address for months now, but the army kept sending me from one desk-jockey to another. Anyway, I gather from the information that I finally received that you are Mrs. Inuyasha Montague now? Congratulations! Miroku and I wish you both a world of happiness (though, knowing you two, it's likely to be a bit more interesting than that…).
I don't know how to even begin to pour two years' worth of news into one tiny letter. Two years – has it really been that long? So much has happened, and yet somehow it still seems like yesterday that we were pooling our allowances to stock up on chocolate covered cherries from La Chocolatrie. Miroku and I are back in Asile now, living in a small house near the edge of town – it's not much, but it's comfortable, and it suits us. We run a bakery up on Rue de Ruisseau, near where Hojo's family used to live when we were growing up.
Anyway, I suppose the real reason I'm writing now is to tell you that Miroku and I are engaged to be married. The wedding is being held next month, on the 6th of April – and we would be so happy if you and Inuyasha could be there.
Kagome's eyes were filled with tears by the time she'd finished the letter – in fact, she looked so distraught that when Inuyasha appeared at the front door, he immediately crossed to her in concern.
"Kagome, what's wrong?" he asked quickly, his tone clearly fretful.
"No, no – it's nothing," she assured him, smiling to show that she was telling the truth. "It's just – I got a letter from Sango."
"Sango? Are they alright?" he replied, now sounding eager.
"Yes – Inuyasha, they're getting married back in Asile next month and…do you think there's any way we could be there for the wedding?"
His face fell slightly at the hopefulness in her voice, and she knew what he must be thinking: They were barely making enough to get by. How on earth could they manage a trip to France, especially with the state of commercial travel being in such disrepair from the war?
"I don't know, Kagome…" he began uncertainly, but she interrupted him.
"I know it would be difficult – but isn't there some way? We haven't seen them in so long…" Kagome pleaded.
Inuyasha met her gaze for a moment and heaved a small sigh of determination. "Well…I think I might know a way…"
And that was how, one month later, Kagome found herself riding in the copilot's seat of a two-man British war plane, left over from the war. It hadn't been easy for Inuyasha to get ahold of it, but he'd managed to pull a few strings and use his connections to their fullest advantage – meaning that he'd swallowed his pride and asked Sesshoumaru to do him a favor. Kagome had soothed his obvious disgruntlement at having to do so in the best way she knew how.
The view from this altitude was magnificent; it was like nothing Kagome had ever seen before in her life. The only other time she had flown in an airplane had been on the trip back to London after the battle of Ville du Pont. But with fretting over Inuyasha's injuries, helping the medics to keep all of the wounded in stable condition with her own limited medical skills, and the fact that the section of the plane that they were in had no windows, she had not been able to appreciate the experience that time. Now, for the first time, she could see what it was that enchanted her husband so about these bulky contraptions. Here, with the clouds spread out beneath her like a gentle yet infinite lagoon, and the rays of the just-set sun casting the sky in hues of pink and blue and gold, she felt a sot of peace that she had not known for a very long time.
"You kept your promise," she murmured.
He glanced over at her with a puzzled frown. "Hm?"
"I'll take you someday," he said softly, lifting his free hand and lacing his fingers with hers. "You and I, we'll go flying one day together. It's like nothing else in the world – you'll see."
"I'd like that," she whispered…
"You promised to take me flying – and now you are," she explained, glancing back at him with a smile. She saw understanding dawn on his face, and he gave a small, bemused laugh.
"Yeah, you're right – I guess I did."
Miroku and Sango were waiting for them when they landed, and Sango threw herself happily into Kagome's arms the moment she stepped out of the aircraft. The two of them laughed and cried as their respective husband and fiancé exchanged a brief handshake and greeting and looked on.
"We were so worried about you both," Kagome said. "All this time, and we had no way to contact you – and we knew you had no way of knowing how to contact us either."
"I know," Sango chimed in. "We felt the same way – not knowing if you'd even made it back until I was able to locate you."
Miroku nudged Inuyasha and said discreetly, "Why don't you and I head back to the house and let these two catch up."
"Ah – yeah sure," Inuyasha agreed, leaning over to give his wife a brief kiss goodbye. "We'll meet you back there, alright?"
"Mm hm," Kagome nodded, and the two pairs went their separate ways.
Kagome and Sango passed through a short stretch of woods to the road that led into town, which they then followed, chatting all the while. They reminisced about old times – times before the war, and some during – and about life since the war as well. Kagome told Sango all about the wedding and the honeymoon, and about what it was like to live in London, and Sango told Kagome all about the clean-up efforts in Asile, and how the bakery was doing, and about what had changed. Asile had been hit pretty hard in the latter days of the war – a battle had taken place over on the eastern edge of the town, and much of it had been damaged or destroyed. As they walked, Kagome could see the evidence of destruction here and there, growing more and more frequent as they moved east along the cobble-stoned streets.
"Oh," Sango stopped herself in the middle of an anecdote about the young couple that lived next door to them now, "Did I tell you about Hojo?"
"No," Kagome said, intrigued, turning to the other woman. "What happened to him?"
"I told you how he was when Koharu was sick back at the bunker, right? Well, after the surrender, when we all split up, he and Koharu ran off together and eloped!"
The ebony-haired woman raised both eyebrows at that. "My Hojo ran off with Miroku's not-so-secret admirer? The man who wouldn't risk biting into a chocolate lest it turn out to be the wrong flavor? The one who nearly had a coronary the first time he saw me in slacks? That Hojo?"
"That's the one."
"Well…that's a bit of a switch," Kagome murmured, amused.
"Being dumped by you seems to have agreed with him – even if he didn't agree with it, at first."
Kagome's amusement turned to mild concern, tinged with guilt, and after a moment she asked, "How was he, after I left? I mean, he was pretty upset when I first broke it off with him, and I never really had much of a chance to see him after that. Did he…was he alright?"
Sango smiled somewhat wanly. "He took it pretty hard for awhile, especially once he found out you weren't even coming back to the bunker. I think a part of him still hoped you'd change your mind – or at least that he'd get a chance to say a proper goodbye. But he came to terms with it eventually. I think he realized, finally, that three years is a long time to wait for someone who, to the best of your knowledge, can't possibly come back"
A comfortable silence fell between them for a moment, only the sounds of the occasional car and the women's heels on the paving stones breaking the cool, evening air. Kagome glanced up from the road, and felt her heart clench in surprise as she recognized the building they were passing. Even now, without the crisp, forbidding Nazi guards flanking the entrance, the villa that the resident Colonel had once occupied still radiated a latent sense of foreboding.
"What happened to Kouga?" The words were out of her mouth before she realized she'd said them.
"He disappeared," Sango replied, looking up at the mansion as well. "People who were still around here at the time say that once the war turned and it became clear that the end was coming, he and his staff and his collection of artwork all disappeared overnight. That was just a few days before the fighting reached here."
Kagome frowned at that. "But that doesn't make sense. Kouga was always complaining that he and his men were never sent into battle. Why would he have left just before the battle reached Asile?"
"Well," Sango offered, "from what I know of him, and from what I've heard around town, he liked to fight – but he didn't like to lose. Dying for the Cause was probably far less appealing than living for his own benefit."
"Mm," the other woman agreed. "Now that does sound like him. Where do you suppose he went?" she asked as they continued on their way.
"Rumor has it he was headed for South America – and he wasn't the only one. A lot of Nazi higher-ups did the same thing, apparently, hoping to just fade into the background and live out lives of luxury in obscurity."
They walked on for a little while longer before their feet finally carried them to their unspoken destination. There, just around a bend in the street, stood what remained of Le Café de L'Asile.
Though it still stood, the entire building exuded a sense of desolation and abandonment. The outside had clearly been damaged by stray fire and debris in the attack, and the front door had been torn off its hinges, giving them a window into the barren interior. Kagome could feel Sango watching her for her reaction, but she only continued to stare blankly at what had once been her home.
With a detached sort of contemplation, she moved forward and stepped into the main room of the café. The tables and chairs were all gone – the place had clearly been looted, leaving only spare scraps of paper and wood and broken glass and a thick layer of dust and grime covering everything. The paint on the walls was chipped, the walls themselves cracked and stained. All in all, the place was like a ghost – like an empty shell of what had once been.
She remembered hitting her head on the edge of the counter once when she was younger, and her mother scooping her up and plopping her down on top of it to bandage the cut with soothing fingers.
There had been a table just here, where she now stood – she had sat here with Inuyasha once, two years ago.
"I'll help you," he said, and her eyes met his, slightly surprised.
"I'll help you find your friend, this Miroku," he repeated, his eyes not leaving hers.
She replied, "Thank you. That's very generous, but as I said, we don't even know where to begin."
He shrugged lightly, a hint of that arrogant smirk of his quirking the corners of his lips. "Well then, we'll just have to do a bit of digging, won't we?"
In spite of the dire circumstances and her earlier depression, Kagome found her mood lightening a bit in response to his characteristic cockiness. She smiled appreciatively, this time with more life, more depth to the expression. She barely realized that she had yet to take her gaze from his face. For a moment the pair sat in silence, until both became aware that their eyes were locked and the silence became uncomfortable, laden with unspoken emotions.
Seeking escape, both hanyou and woman stood to leave, as a result finding themselves face to face, scant inches from each other. Kagome's breath hitched as she stared first into the man's eyes, then dropped her gaze to his lips. How did he manage to do this to her? With just a look, just being near him, she was blushing like a schoolgirl. The thought of kissing him put butterflies in her stomach when she thought they had long since exiled themselves. Innocence was one thing she had not had for a long time, yet near him, she might as well have been a virgin.
All at once Kagome turned away, remembering at that thought a certain handsome ebony-haired Nazi who was expecting her presence tonight. The butterflies evaporated, replaced with a gnawing sensation -- dread perhaps? Or was it more like guilt?
"I have to go," she muttered quietly, gathering her coat and purse and sweeping out the door. She didn't look back at him once.
Over there, in the stairwell leading to the second floor was the place that she had often haunted as a girl. In the evenings after she had been put to bed, she would sneak out of her room and creep halfway down the stairs to where, hidden in the shadows, she could watch her mother serving dinner and drinks to her loyal patrons. She could still hear the sound of a woman's voice in the background crooning out "It Had to be You" over the tinkling of the piano and the nondescript din of chatter and laughter.
And not far from there was the very spot where she had first met Inuyasha, as he lay, bleeding to death on the floor behind the counter.
She mounted the steps carefully, feeling her way in the dim light, and rounded the corner to her old bedroom. It too had of course been deprived of its contents – but Kagome chose not to see the emptiness. Instead she saw the old desk where she had always done her homework; the full-length mirror before which she had modeled her rose-pink prom dress while she waited for Hojo to arrive; the bed upon which she had sobbed for days when she had received news of his death.
When she had had her fill of remembering, Kagome returned to the downstairs and rejoined Sango.
"We talked about cleaning it up and trying to get the café up and running again," Sango said, glancing around at the empty space, "but somehow it just didn't seem right. It would have been like trying to bring someone back from the dead."
"No, you're right," Kagome agreed, releasing a sigh. "The space is still usable – but it's someone else's turn to make a life here. And no doubt someday someone will." She turned to exit the building once more, but Sango stopped her.
"Wait – I have something that belongs to you. I took it with me when we fled town – I thought you might like to have it back." And there in her hand she held Kagome's old diary.
The other woman drew in a breath, taking the book gently in her hands and looking up at her friend. She couldn't speak – but she knew she didn't have to.
It was a beautiful ceremony, held in a lovely little stone chapel that dated all the way back to the Middle Ages. Kagome stood as Sango's maid of honor, and Inuyasha as Miroku's best man, and all the members of the little town of Asile were in attendance.
After the ceremony the guests filed out onto the lawn and mingled in the afternoon sunlight, the birds singing a cheerful duet against the rustle of a nearby stream. There was cake and coffee and hors d'oeurves, and happy chatter and words of congratulations filled the air.
Kagome and Inuyasha stood hand in hand near the edge of the crowd, watching the happy couple greeting their guests and accepting their well-wishings.
"Are you alright, Kagome?" Inuyasha asked, after a while, "You seem sort of quiet."
She released a sigh and shook her head. "I'm fine – just thinking."
"About this place," Kagome replied, lifting a hand to indicate the people of the town, "About how much has changed. And about how happy everyone is, in spite of what's been lost in these past years."
Inuyasha wrinkled his brow, not sure exactly what she was getting at. "And?"
"And…" his wife repeated, meeting his gaze, "it means we're going to be okay. It means that Asile will survive, France will survive, and the human race will go on. It means that there is still happiness in the world even after so much destruction."
"You didn't know that already?" he questioned with a grin, lifting their clasped hands and nodding toward her wedding ring.
She smiled. "Well…but now I'm really sure."
He wrapped his arms around her and placed a gentle, loving kiss to her lips, and then the two of them moved forward together into the crowd.
A/N: Well, what can I say that hasn't already been said? It's had its ups and downs, but overall I'm glad it's finished. This, as I may have mentioned previously, is only the most recent incarnation of a vague idea that has been with me for years – that idea being some sort of action/romance set in the midst of World War II. The first incarnation was an 18-page story I wrote for English class in middle school, and the others were all either variations of that story itself, or new angles on the idea that I started briefly but never finished. This is the first version of this story to ever actually be novel-length when finished – and if I know myself, it's likely that this will not be the last incarnation of this idea that I will write. Perhaps someday, with a bit of inspiration (and a lot of research), I'll turn the basic premise into an actual novel.
Perhaps. We'll see…
Oh, and for anyone who might be interested, the date of Sango and Miroku's wedding (April 6th) just happens to be my birthday (--grin--). And the bar that Kagome works at – the "Hung Drawn & Quartered" – is actually a real place. It's near the Tower of London – I passed by it when I was there on vacation with my family a few years ago, and the name (which, in case you are unaware, refers to a popular and extremely gruesome method of torture/execution from the Middle Ages) stuck in my head. It probably didn't exist in 1945, but that's what artistic license is for… (--grin--)