A/N: Well, at least it hasn't been a year? I meant to get this done in the summer. And then by Christmas. And, well… late Merry Christmas and a Happy not-quite-New Year?
Some fanart! I can't believe people are sticking with me, much less drawing fabulous things for this story (and others). Thank you!
For BYIT, AgustinaKazuyo did a couple versions of what she wishes happened in the Surat chapter.
And for The Once and Future Taiyoukai, Ioneleia did illustrations for two chapters (I think I forgot to mention these for my last update).
[FFN literally will not let me post any version of the links, even with spaces throughout. So irritating. Please find me on deviantArt under the name "ReplicantAngel" and look in my favorites section for these truly beautiful pieces.]
Additional thanks to Ijin for being my ever-patient beta.
Beside You in Time
1940: Berlin, Germany
They met in a busy cafe, full of soldiers in drab olive green uniforms and caps set at jaunty angles. Kagome winced as several of the men turned to look at her as she walked across the room to the table. The finely cut navy suit, the stylish hat, the nylons – where in the hell had she gotten those? – and the brilliant red hair. She should have worn a neon sign saying, "Look at me!" Kagome wondered, not for the first time, if it had been wise to ask for help from her.
But when Gisela sat down, Kagome could see the lines in her face and the grim set of her lips. She ordered coffee and then lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply and not saying a word until the waiter returned. He removed the tab from her ration book and swept away. The coffee smelled of the chicory made to use it – real coffee hadn't been available for months.
They looked at one another, and Kagome debated for a moment about what language to speak. German would blend into the cacophony but could be most easily understood by eavesdroppers. Russian or Italian perhaps?
"Did you find the apartment alright?" Gisela asked in German, settling the matter for her.
"Yes, thank you."
"Did it suit your needs?"
It didn't have enough exits. It barely had furniture. But Kagome had asked for a lot and on a pauper's budget. It was the right location at least, and no nosy neighbors. "It's perfect, thank you."
"There wasn't a lot of choice. I'll get you some linens, unless you don't need them?"
"I do, but you shouldn't come to the apartment."
"If you didn't want to be seen with me, you picked a bad spot for this meeting."
"It's not that we're hiding." Kagome lowered her voice, trying not to look too much like someone committing treason. "When I find him, they'll know it was me. They may even know you helped me. And it's hard enough making sure I'm not followed back there. Both of us shouldn't be going there, or they'll know where to look afterwards."
Gisela flicked her cigarette, spreading ash on the tablecloth. "Fine, but I think you're wrong. They haven't come for me, and I've been here for weeks. If the Order is really here, and if they really have him, wouldn't they want me too? I'm of high value to them."
"The fact that they haven't tried worries me even more. Neither of us exactly fade into a crowd around here. I don't know what they're waiting for. Maybe they want to know what we're up to," she said. "Or maybe they're too busy waging a global war to worry about us. That's the best case scenario."
"I don't think you should depend on your hopes."
She almost laughed. "Trust me. I don't."
Gisela stabbed the ashtray with her cigarette. "Do you really think he's here?"
"Yes, it's the only option."
It was her only option, she meant. She'd failed so many times over the last twelve years, and she had little money or hope left. She felt rubbed raw, as if she'd been caught in the waves and scraped against the rough sand for all this time. Always moving, never going anywhere.
"How do you know?" the countess asked. "He told me once that you had to be in close proximity to one another every once in awhile to avoid it becoming painful."
She was digging – she had to wonder if Sesshoumaru had told her the truth all those years. Once upon a time, Kagome might have enjoyed delaying her answer, just to see the countess squirm. "It's more like a constant gnawing in your stomach that doesn't go away."
"So has it gone away?"
Kagome shifted in her seat. "I haven't felt anything since he was taken. No pull. No gnawing. Nothing." Except the wound where her heart had been scooped from her chest.
The countess frowned. "Then, how do you know?"
"It's a long story," she said. "Let's just say that when I heard the Order was interested in an incendiary but charismatic politician named Adolf Hitler, I took notice. When antiquities with ceremonial and magical properties began disappearing, I traced them here."
"Sesshoumaru isn't an antiquity."
"No, but many of the Fuhrer's highest ranked commanders are very interested in magic and the occult. It's a massive project. It wasn't hard to find someone that had been inside." She kept her eyes fixed on Gisela's face, trying to keep her uncertainty off of her own.
"So the Order is supporting the Party? Are they one and the same?"
"I'm not sure. The Order was there early with large checks and a lot of political influence. From what I've seen, most of their money and resources, human and otherwise, have gone into this. But they're in shadow, and I have no idea how much of the Party is actually the Order. Hard to tell since we never had firm numbers. Honestly, I don't even know if the Fuhrer knows the identity of his backers."
"How could he not know?" the countess asked, arching her eyebrow. "I would think most of his command staff would know as well. Nothing can function so flawlessly in secret."
Kagome shook her head. "The Order has always seemed to enjoy being the puppeteer, not the puppet on the stage. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the whispers going into his ears were from someone in the Order. Who knows? A shape-shifter even."
"Do you feel one nearby?"
She frowned. "I thought so, but it's faint."
"If one is close, you need to move quickly. It's likely Sesshoumaru is incapacitated, and you are not able to face one alone. My presence would probably only forestall your death for a short time. And I should not need to say that I refuse to die for you."
"No, you really don't."
"Still, if a shape-shifter is close, that means the Order has chosen its priority." Gisela leaned back and lit another cigarette. "Money is power, now more than ever. If they've really put so much money into this war, Germany's defeat could mean defeat for the Order as well."
"Now you're depending on your hopes."
"Hush. I am German still, and I would never hope for any destruction or defeat for my homeland." She glanced at the other diners and let her shoulders sag. The new cigarette began to burn on its own, dropping ash on her skirt. "And yet, we're on our last legs as a species. We've run into the shadows with our tails between our legs. And while I am German, I am a demon first. So the 'never' dies, and I hope for a quick end instead."
Kagome looked down at her hands. Only three weeks ago, Japan had signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. "I understand what you mean."
Gisela nodded. "Yes, for once, I think we understand each other completely. How strange it is." She swathed herself in smoke once more and stubbed the end into the ashtray. "We should go."
They stood and walked to the door together as they pulled on their gloves. Gisela put out her hand, but Kagome stepped back. "I can't touch you."
Her shaped eyebrow arched. "I'm sure there's a reason for that which shouldn't leave me offended. And yet…"
"There is. The gloves might protect you, but..."
The countess cut her off. "Fine. There's a reason. Now, how soon do you plan to move?"
"It'll be another few days, at least."
"Look for the linens in two days, then. The other items are there now." She flipped a card out of her purse and onto the spindly entry table with a graceful turn of the wrist.
Kagome laid a hand over the card and slipped it into her glove. "Thank you. I couldn't have done this…"
"Of course not," Gisela interrupted. "And you know how I would normally feel about helping you in any way, but I'm doing what is necessary for all of us. He is my child's father."
"How is Adele?"
"Safe. Away from all of this. I'm going to join her as soon as you give me word that you've been successful. Or not."
"And if I'm not?"
Gisela shrugged. "He is my child's father," she said again. "If your more subtle approach doesn't work, I will employ other methods."
"It'd be suicide. You shouldn't be any more willing to die for a failed attempt to save him than for helping me."
She leaned in close, and Kagome could smell the piney aroma of her underneath the stale scent of smoke. "You should have some hope, human."
Kagome let a small sigh escape her. "Right. I'll get a message to you when I've found him. Then you can get out of the city."
She straightened. "Good. We won't have to see each other again then. Although, if you are right, they will know who helped you and come after me. If they do, I will know you've been successful, and I will leave."
"I always am." She took another step towards the door before turning again. "Watch your back too. And more importantly, watch his. More closely this time." Without another glance, Gisela slipped outside and disappeared into the crowded street.
Kagome waited for a few moments before peeking at the slip of paper tucked into her glove. The address was familiar, and she set off through the crowd. The Spree River was close, and she walked along the south bank until she could cross it and head north. Armored vehicles and jeeps filled with soldiers passed every moment, and she kept her head down.
It took some time to find the correct building on the Charite Mitte campus. The medical school had been decimated by recent bombings by the Royal Air Force, and she climbed up more than one pile of rubble only to realize she picked the wrong one.
Finally, she came to a hollow shell of two walls and a bit of roof dipping dangerously low over the ground. White dust smeared her skirt as she clambered over the stone, searching for the package. The sun began to set, sending an orange glow over the campus and warming her one last time before nightfall.
Just as she was about to curse Gisela, a black stone caught the light. Smooth with polished edges, it had not fallen under the weight of a bomb. Kagome tumbled down the side of the rubble, almost losing a shoe in the process. But her instinct had rewarded her – a large, brown package sat neatly in a trough beneath the jet stone.
Resisting the urge to clutch the package to her chest, she dusted herself off and began to walk back south to the shabby apartment on the other side of the river. Halfway there, she couldn't resist any longer. She tore back the corner of the brown paper and smiled at the sight of the Rising Sun of the Imperial Japanese Army.
The Reichsadler stared down at her from the flag as she walked into the courtyard off of Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse. Its talons gripped the swastika, but its outstretched wings and the ripple of the fabric gave her the impression it was ready to abandon it in a moment to dig those talons into her flesh instead. She forced her eyes away as she walked beneath it.
The complex of offices had grown massive, starting with the old palace and hotel and quickly assimilating neighboring buildings along the street after that. Red, black and white draped every facade, overwhelming any passerby with towering swastikas and eagles at every turn.
She tugged at her sleeves but did not slow her steps as she walked up the steps. A pair of guards stopped her at the door. "State your business."
"A gift for Chief Heydrich from the Ambassador Kurusu and an invitation to dinner at the embassy," she said, turning her body to display the wooden box under her arm.
One guard snatched the box away from her, snapping off the ribbon that held the invitation and removing the top. The other guard frowned at her. "I didn't know there were girl Japs here."
Kagome took a deep breath, plastered on a smile, and concentrated on the faint but comforting tug in her stomach. Just get in. Just move forward. He was here. "There aren't many of my countrymen that can speak German fluently. They take what they can get. I'm just a secretary though, and today, a delivery woman."
The guards looked at one another, and the one with the box tilted it to show the other the bottle of sake nestled inside. The second guard lifted out the bottle, poked at the packing underneath, and then put it back. "Second floor," he said.
"Thank you," she replied, gathering the disheveled box back into her hands.
The grand foyer swarmed with officers, secretaries, and errand boys, most of whom turned their heads to look at the newcomer. Kagome took off her cap and smoothed her hair, keeping her eyes above the searching looks. In the far corner, two guards flanked a plain door.
She had to look confident. As if she knew where she was going. Like coming into the headquarters of the Reich Main Security Office, where the most evil of men did their hideous work, was just another day.
She took three steps towards the staircase and then froze in terror, nearly stumbling into the back of a lieutenant in the process. But no one noticed, as they had all paused too. The eyes snapped away from her and to the top of the staircase, where two men and a woman had appeared.
People began moving again as the trio descended the stair, but the focus remained on them. Rather, the focus remained on the two men, the superior officers of every man in the lobby and most German forces as well. Chief Heydrich was the taller of the two, youthful, and rather handsome for a cold-blooded butcher with his aquiline nose and high cheekbones. His superior, Chief Himmler, had a weak chin and rounded cheeks under rounder spectacles, but his eyes sparked with intelligence. Both men had frequent appearances in the papers, lauded as faithful and close advisors of the Fuhrer himself. They were two of the most powerful men in Germany, and they would soon use that power to launch their plans for the Final Solution of the Jewish Question and annihilate millions of men, women and children.
But they didn't terrify her. It was the woman, walking one step behind Heydrich and smiling at something Himmler said. No one else knew her. Her conventionally pretty looks, amplified by rose red lipstick and a penciled brow did not stand out. She appeared on no front pages, and she wore no uniform emblazoned with her loyalties. She wore a new face too, but it had been decades since that crazed meeting in the alleys of London.
Kagome kept her head down as she edged along the wall. The shape-shifter's eyes scanned the room as she came down the steps, but she couldn't feel the presence of a fellow immortal. Kagome realized that the shape-shifter's aura barely registered in her own senses, buffeting against her skin like the surface of a lake against a boat hull, instead of the crashing ocean waves she should have felt.
The shape-shifter must have developed her ability to conceal her aura, just as Kagome had done and was doing. She hadn't perfected it yet, or Kagome would never have known she shared the building with the psychotic female. She hoped that her own barrier held more seamlessly.
Had it been the shape-shifter's aura she'd felt at the door? Kagome realized she had allowed her desperation to rebuild the hope that had long ago crumbled within her. Now it left her so quickly that she felt its absence more than ever.
For a moment, she wondered if she should turn and leave. But no, she decided. Hope died, but necessity survived, and she needed to continue. Sesshoumaru could still be here.
She took stock of her surroundings. The building had once been a palace, built by a baron and bought by prince. Armies of servants had once appeared and vanished by the whim of their employers, with the help of back stairs and hidden doors.
Summoning the purposeful stride of her domestic days, she clipped down to the end of the hall and into a corner where a small staircase had been tucked away in a previous century. She climbed to the third floor and emerged to a far emptier corridor. Windows lined one wall, and she could feel the October chill permeating the single-paned glass, even in her wool uniform. A door opened on the other end of the hall and four men in smart uniforms with blood red on their sleeves exited, chatting as they went in the other direction.
A palace had the largest rooms on the ground floor, perfect for large rooms of typewriters, telegraphs, and telephones. The second floor would have the finest bedrooms and galleries, which would have been cleared out for the offices of Himmler, Heydrich and their closest subordinates. And the third floor would house the servants, which had changed little since the days of kings and princes. She checked her watch and then walked to the door the men had come out of, pushing it open.
The small bedroom had been cleared out in favor of four wooden desks pushed together into the center of the room. Files stacked up on each desk, and she flipped open the top one. A photograph with scalloped edges and a glossy finish sat on top. The subject was not looking at the camera – he appeared unaware he was being photographed at all. The file detailed his activities in and around Berlin, before and during the war. He was a suspected Communist and pacifist. At the bottom, in red, had been stamped the declaration that he was an enemy of the state. The next file was the same, as was the next. A larger stack stood nearby, tied with twine. Someone had simply written 'Jews' on the top cover.
She turned away and faced the fireplace – a necessary luxury as the winter closed its fist around the heart of Germany. Setting the box down on the desk, she pulled the bottle from its depths with care. The sea glass concealed the yellowed liquid inside from easy identification. Why should anyone think it was anything but sake?
Kagome set the bottle down next to the open flame and pushed it back as far as she could without catching her sleeve on fire. Then she darted to the door and down the hall, back to the servants' staircase.
She clambered down the steps, two at a time, and had just reached the ground floor again when a thunderous crack ripped through the palace. People cried out, diving for cover as windows cracked and plaster fell from the ceiling.
It only took thirty seconds of chaos for the guards to begin streaming up the stairs, their rifles at the ready. The civilians continued to rush about, babbling about the British and bombings. The bravest went to the windows, straining to see the planes in the cloudless skies above them.
Kagome walked towards the door she had seen guarded when she'd first come in – the guards had gone upstairs with the rest of them, but she was certain to meet more on the other side.
The door led to more stairs, but these spiraled into the cellar. Screams that had nothing to do with the explosion echoed up to her ears, and a chill that had little to do with the winter crept into her bones. She descended the stone steps and found a pair of soldiers at the bottom, complete with bayoneted rifles.
"Who are you?"
Kagome gave them a wide-eyed stare before pointing up the stairs. "A bomb went off! Didn't you hear it? The British are bombing us!"
The second man picked up his rifle. "We stay at our posts, as commanded. Leave, or you will be treated as a spy."
"The building will collapse on us up there!" she cried, stepping closer.
"That's your problem. We do our duty."
Kagome dropped her hands and gave him a flat look. "Commendable, but idiotic."
Confusion had barely creased his brow when she delivered a swift kick to his groin. He pitched forward, and she grabbed the barrel of the rifle, redirecting it and its bayonet into the throat of the second guard with a smooth motion. The second guard gurgled and fell as she twisted the blade out of him, spinning it around and bringing the sharp edge down to the top of the first guard's spine. Blood splattered across her wool uniform.
She wrenched the bayonet free again and walked through the door. The corridor split, but was far from empty. A shout rose from her left, and she ducked behind the door as bullets tore into the wood. A splinter the size of a grown man's thumb lodged in her bicep. She swore and pulled it out as running footsteps approached.
She kicked the door back, smacking the shoulder of one guard. The second, larger one leveled his rifle at her, but close quarters did not favor his choice, and she swung her own up as she rushed into him. He lost his breath as she slammed into his chest, just as searing pain arced across her shoulder blades and a bullet hit the stone next to her.
Kagome delivered a vicious elbow to the face of the man beneath her and then sprung up, driving the bayonet of her rifle into the gut of the man who had just shot her. She turned and delivered the first shot of her own into the face of the larger one.
"Damn." She'd made so much noise. She heard doors open at the other end of the corridor.
Lunging for the door up to the ground floor, she closed it and smashed the knob with the butt of her rifle. That would stop them for about two seconds. It was time to find Sesshoumaru. Now.
More footsteps behind her. She turned, bracing the gun against her shoulder as she did and firing as soon as she saw the crisp uniform. He fell as his partner returned fire, and Kagome tumbled back with a fresh bullet wound in her thigh. But he paused, thinking he had felled his prey. He was rewarded with his own entry wound to the center of his forehead.
She dragged herself to her feet. The bullet burned where it sat in her flesh. If she were very unlucky, it had shattered bone, but she seemed to be able to put some weight on the leg.
She left a blood trail as she stumbled down the corridor, her right thigh not responding in time with the left. A few faces peeked out at her from the rooms she passed, although she had no time to differentiate between Nazi and prisoner. They didn't come out when she leveled the rifle at them at least. Her blood was not the first to stain these floors, and it would not be the last. Once upon a time, she would have fought to free every imprisoned man and to punish every tormentor, but it was an embarrassment of riches in this place.
An over-sized steel door stood nearby, the only new element in the eighteenth-century cellar. Kagome leaned on her rifle, pulled a ring of keys and an extra magazine from one of the dead men next to her, and took a breath before lurching towards them. She left a bloody palm print on the metal as she shuffled through the keys, but she managed to open it on the second attempt.
She pulled herself through the doorway, hoping that she didn't really hear more shouting at the other end of the cellar.
Throwing the lock, she turned to see a laboratory had crashed into an occultist's fantasy. Artifacts decorated every surface not already covered by chemicals, microscopes and beakers. She limped between the tables covered in swords from every culture from Scotland to Japan, blocks of sandstone with cuneiform, and immense jewels with dazzling inner lights. Books brittle with age and covered in dust lined the walls. One box was full of gigantic teeth that could only come from a dragon. And on another table stood jars of organs swimming in formaldehyde.
In the corner, covered by sutras and spells, stood an iron coffin on one end. She ran her hands over it. Most of the items in the room were junk or had very little power, but someone had exerted all of their effort on this. It was the only thing in the room that could hold Sesshoumaru's form.
She clawed at the sutras just someone began to bang on the door to the laboratory. "Open up!"
"Yeah right," Kagome muttered. The banging grew louder as a shoulder hit the metal. Soon they'd find an extra key. She tore off another layer of sutras and opened the coffin.
Sesshoumaru opened one eye, the gold clouded with blood. Puncture marks littered his skin, which had turned sallow and waxy. His hair had been hacked off at the nape of his neck, just above the iron brace circling his throat. A sutra had burned the slope of his left shoulder where it had been sealed over the lock. He was bare-chested, and his breaths came shallow and quick.
She reached up and pulled off the sutra, feeling the power of it spark against her fingertips. Her hands shook, she saw. Rage was welling up within her, but she pushed it away to be used at a later time. Not too much later, she hoped. "Sesshoumaru, do you know me?"
His cracked lips opened, and he let out a noise that was almost an affirmative. His claws curled from where they had been shackled.
"I can't touch you. Not yet. Just like Moscow. Do you understand?" He gave a short nod, and she pulled the other sutras from the iron braces around his limbs.
Kagome jumped back as he crumpled to the floor. He closed his eyes and let out what she could only identify as a groan of pain.
A scraping noise came from the other side of the door. "Not to pressure you, but I don't think we have a lot of time to linger," she said, grabbing the rifle again.
They'd breach the entry in a moment. Six or eight soldiers would come in, weapons drawn. She would be fine. She would kill them. But she had no idea what a stray bullet would do to Sesshoumaru in his weakened state, especially if the shape-shifter was the one that had already put him through so much pain.
He exhaled another whine like a kicked dog, and she felt the distinct tug in the pit of her stomach from the other side of the door. Silence had descended upon the hallway outside along with the shape-shifter. Kagome could imagine the whispers of assessment taking place – how many artifacts would they lose in a gunfight? What if they threw in a grenade? The shape-shifter would know of their inevitable failure, but Kagome guessed she wouldn't shy away from using the men as cannon fodder while making her and Sesshoumaru bleed and weaken even more.
"We need to find the exit."
Sesshoumaru tipped over onto his back, giving her a roll of his eyes as he did so. He pressed one hand over the bridge of his nose.
Her heart lightened. "Even mute, you're going to be a smartass? Good." Kagome stepped around him. "Look, there was a plan. There is a plan. I just hoped that there'd be more time to figure it out. Instead, we literally have a shape-shifter on our doorstep. Give me a second."
He let out a puff of breath that she chose to interpret as inquisitive.
"There should be a tunnel," she murmured, running her hands over the back wall. "They've been digging underground all over Berlin. Air raid bunkers, mostly, but escape routes too. And one leads here. Or at least, that's what the blueprints say."
Sesshoumaru huffed, and she looked over her shoulder to see him watching the door.
She grabbed the rifle and put her shoulder to the nearest lab table, tipping it over so its stainless steel top faced the door. The contents of the table spilled across the floor, rattling and smashing just as the laboratory door wrenched open.
Two lines of soldiers streamed inside. The first, third and fourth man on the left took bullets in the chest, as well as the second and fourth on the right. The other five spread across the length of the room, unloading their magazines. Smoke and the bite of gunpowder filled the room.
The table held, but it had rippled under the pressure and would soon break. She ducked down and ran across to the next table, letting out a cry as a bullet found her calf. She tipped the next table over and crouched behind it, flinching at the thud of bullets against the stainless steel top. Pulling on the weapon magazine, she tossed it and slammed in the next – the last – one home. Five bullets more for five more soldiers. But they'd get reinforcements. And if she hadn't been imagining things, they'd been holding different weapons. She'd heard whispers about Germany being close to developing a thirty-round magazine weapon. Why did they have to be the test subjects?
She looked around. Swords would be great if she didn't mind catching another dozen pieces of lead. The artifacts were a mystery and therefore useless.
A metal cabinet stood five feet away. A skull and crossbones decorated the front. She stood, fired three of her five shots, and dove for the cabinet as the soldiers took cover.
She had no time to study the glass containers inside. She grabbed one and lobbed it towards the door, where it shattered with a depressing lack of reaction other than a brief distraction. She fired her last two shots and tossed another three beakers. Yellow smoke plumed from one of them, eliciting some German expletives.
She turned back to the cabinet and spotted a pressurized cannister at the bottom. Several gas masks sat beside it. Kagome grabbed it all and flattened herself the ground as another volley of bullets came towards her. One lodged itself in her shoulder, and she felt her arm go numb for a second before pain blossomed.
"Shit!" She pulled on one mask and crawled towards Sesshoumaru. They must have seen her drop her spent rifle. Footsteps marched closer to them.
Sesshoumaru had, by some miracle, not been shot, but he was barely conscious. His eyes rolled in sickness and not in exasperation as she pressed the mask over his face, careful not to make skin to skin contact. "Wake up! Put it on properly. Please, Sesshoumaru."
His hands shook as he lifted them to the straps.
"Surrender yourselves!" shouted one of the soldiers. He was only a few feet away.
Kagome looked at Sesshoumaru, waiting until he'd pulled the last strap tight across the back of his head. Putting both hands around the top of the cannister, she began to twist.
"Bomb!" another soldier shouted, just as she flung the open cannister across the room. Sickly green liquid poured out over the floor, hitting the shattered glass and chemicals spilled in the gunfire.
It exploded in white flame. The soldiers yelled as light flashed and metal flung itself in all directions. The smell of chlorine filled the air, as if an invisible swimming pool had flooded into the room. The men began to gasp, falling to their knees and clutching their throats. One grabbed for Kagome's gas mask, yanking chunks of her hair. She kicked him in the stomach, and he fell back into the spill and screamed louder. His skin began to cook, bubbling and splitting apart in seconds. The others' flesh burned more slowly, but they fell as they scrambled towards the door. One dropped next to her, choking in silence.
"Kill her! Kill her, you idiots!"
The shape-shifter materialized through the haze. Her smoothed hair had tumbled down, and a fleck of spit had settled on her lower lip. Her eyes blazed red and wide.
Her clothing corroded at the edges as she came into the room, but her skin remained unblemished, and she didn't beg for air. "I should have slit your throat the last time I saw you," she said, clicking her tongue.
Kagome stood. "But you didn't." Her voice echoed inside the mask.
"I told you that I wanted my pound of flesh." She licked her lips. "It just took a bit of time to get it."
"Well, I'm taking him back now. You've had your fun." She glanced around the room, now riddled with bullets. "And I don't imagine you want to destroy any of your other toys just to get one back."
"You think I care about Himmler's trash and trinkets?" She tossed her head, throwing the loose tresses behind her shoulder. "There is only one toy I want. You wouldn't believe what a help he's been."
Kagome heard stone grinding behind her and began to edge towards the steel door. "Yeah? Tell me."
The shape-shifter grinned, her teeth flashing. "If you think your prattling is giving Sesshoumaru a chance to escape through that tunnel he just found, you're more of a fool than I thought. Don't you think I have men on the other end? If he even makes it. He can't stand, and once I kill you, he won't have a prayer."
She swallowed. "Well, then let's stop prattling. Come here and kill me."
"There? No." She pulled the hem of her skirt up and pulled a silver revolver from a thigh holster. "I don't know how you've managed to conceal your presence from me for so long, but I know that touching you would be a mistake." She leveled the pistol at Kagome's heart.
"Killing me won't bring your children back."
A snarl tore free of the shape-shifter's throat. "And bringing them up won't make me collapse into emotion. You will still die."
"That's fine," Kagome said. She glanced towards the tunnel entrance, sealed and camouflaged once again behind Sesshoumaru. For the first time since she'd walked under the Reichsadler, she felt her heart calm. He was safe behind two feet of rock.
"You still think he has a chance," the demon said. "Ridiculous."
"Both of your children died in a moment that they could have killed one of us instead. A split second, and we lived instead of them. Believe me, there's always a chance, because we're willing to sacrifice ourselves for the other."
Her eyes blazed. "You think I wasn't willing? You're comparing your filthy, animal attraction to what I feel for my children?"
"I think that you have no idea what your mate created in us. Nothing that someone without a heart could understand," she said.
"You're wounded badly, and you have no weapons. I will kill you, and then I will kill him so much more slowly than you can even imagine. It will take him years to die."
Kagome took a step closer to her. "You're so wrong. About everything," she said. "One thing in particular though. I don't need to touch you at all."
She released the barrier that held her power within her skin, and it exploded from her in a flood of pink light. She'd never held it back so long, building up every ounce of her purification abilities to simmer beneath her flesh, and now it burned. It crackled through the air as it continued to pour forth.
Practice had made a perfect death. Light flowed from her, directed towards the shape-shifter alone, wrapping around her and strangling her demonic aura. It would have been easier to just touch her, fry her into a cinder, but Kagome almost cried with the sensation of her years of loneliness and frustration escape her and suffocate the shape-shifter instead. She could hear her screaming, the warped sound of someone yelling for help under water.
When it faded, Kagome fell against a nearby lab table and rested there for a minute before straightening up. Her leg dragged as she walked over to the shape-shifter. She was still alive, to Kagome's surprise, although she would never survive. She had no one to nurse her as Kagome had done for Sesshoumaru after he'd been shot. Or as she would do again, starting today.
She bent down, ignoring the scream of her wounds. "I know I took a lot from you, and maybe I would have given you a heartfelt apology for that, once upon a time. Maybe as recent as twelve years ago," she said as the shape-shifter sucked in tiny gasps of air and rolled wide eyes at her. "But you took him from me, and now all I can think is, 'Three down. One to go.'"
Plucking the revolver from the shape-shifter's limp hand, Kagome delivered a clean, final shot between the eyes.
With a sigh, she dragged herself to the wall and pressed her hands against the stone, pushing until it gave and the tunnel opened its mouth to her. She shut it behind her and tipped the mask off of both their heads.
He opened his eyes from where he lay on the wet floor. She reached for him, falling to her knees to gather him to her chest. His breath warmed the skin at the base of her throat. "We have to go."
He pressed his nose against her collarbone, and she felt the smallest of nods. She pulled away from him and felt the chill rush back into her bones. "Come on," she said, tugging his arm over her shoulders and standing.
His weight tore through every one of her wounds, and she took a moment to catch her breath, shifting off of the leg still housing a bullet. She'd have to perform surgery on herself later. Assuming they escaped the tunnel first.
The way was short, but the going was glacial. Sesshoumaru rested almost entirely upon her, and soon she was slick with sweat. It ran down her neck and arms, stinging where it dripped into exposed bullet holes. But no one thundered up behind them, and she counted every step as inches towards freedom.
The tunnel rose to a steel door, latched from the inside. She threw the lock off and kicked at the handle, unwilling to set Sesshoumaru down for a moment. He let out a small cry as the door burst outward and the sunlight of a setting sun flooded into their eyes.
Kagome raised a hand to shade her eyes and saw a young soldier pointing a rifle at her. "I'm unarmed." She was. Somewhere, she'd dropped the shape-shifter's revolver. She didn't remember.
"Anyone coming out of this door is to be taken prisoner," the man said. Boy, really. His face still bore the scars of recent teenaged acne. "Now let me see your hands!"
"I'd have to drop him, and he's so sick. He's dying. You can see we're not in any condition to fight you," she said. She glanced down the length of the empty alley. They were only four blocks from the apartment Gisela had procured. "Where are the other guards?"
He frowned, and the muzzle of the gun lowered an inch. He hadn't been told who they were, she saw. He wasn't even a member of the SS or Gestapo. Still, she couldn't afford the attention gunfire would garner. "Inside. Looking for you, I'd bet."
Likely planning an assault on the laboratory. They'd know the shape-shifter had failed by now, despite her bravado – was this truly the only defense she'd left out here? "Probably," she said.
"I'll get promoted for taking you two in, then," he said, lifting the rifle again. "Come on."
"Or you could let us go and be rich." The boy blinked at her, and she gave him a small smile. He wasn't a true believer – in SS territory, she could not have been more fortunate. It was such a small cost.
She raised her free hand, palm outward, and then pulled on the chain circling her neck, hiding under her collar. Slipping it over her head, she held it aloft, letting the large ruby ring on the gold rope gleam in the sunlight. "Let us go, and it's yours."
His pupils dilated as they flicked between her wedding ring and her face. "Why shouldn't I take it and give you to them anyway?"
"A ring of this size? They know I have it. They'll take it from you. You'll have to keep it hidden for the rest of the war, but you'll be rich after. Think about it. Think about how much a ruby this size is worth. The chain alone is enough to make it worth your while."
For a long moment, she thought he would reconsider, but then, he darted forward. His fingers closed around the ring Bastien had given her almost a century and a half earlier and tugged it away in an instant. "Go."
"Thank you," she murmured, turning and pulling Sesshoumaru down the length of the alley as the soldier examined his spoils.
They kept to the alleys, stumbling and walking in fits and starts as they zigzagged between buildings. The bleeding had stopped, but the sweat hadn't. Kagome hoped the SS didn't bring the dogs to track them – she had heard enough stories about those hunts and their inevitable ends. But the bomb and the dead bodies seemed to have drawn in every soldier in a ten block radius, and the few civilians that saw them had learned to hold their tongues.
"We can't stay here for more than a night though," Kagome said, when they finally mounted the stairs to the apartment. She shuffled over to the bed, and Sesshoumaru rolled off of her and onto the coverlet.
He grabbed her wrist as she began to move away, and she squeezed his hand. "Don't worry," she added. "I'll stay up and make sure they don't come during the night."
She tucked the one pillow under his head and sat on the edge of the bed as she dipped a cup into the ewer on the bedside table. Lifting it to his lips, she brushed a hand over his brow. It was split and caked in old blood. "We'll get you cleaned up. By morning, you won't even remember that place."
Sesshoumaru touched her thigh, tracing a finger around the hole in her pant leg which was sodden in her blood. "Yeah, I'll clean myself up too. You first though."
He watched her, silent and slack against the bed, as she sponged off the blood and inspected the bruises and punctures decorating his body. And although she wanted to, she couldn't meet his eyes as the blanket turned pink with blood-tinged water. She worked up from his feet, listening for his breath and hoping he would fall asleep. His exhaustion lined every plane of his body.
She reached his jawline, wiping off a streak of crimson with a light touch of her rag, when she felt his fingers press against the bottom of her chin and force her head up. She looked at him and his still blood-filled eyes.
"Kagome." He swept his thumb across the apple of her cheek, and she realized it was wet with tears.
She rubbed the heel of her palm across her face. "Sorry. It's been a wild day," she said, giving him a ghost of a smile. She reached for the gauze and started winding it around his wounded arms. "You should sleep."
His hand fell over hers, and she paused. His skin was creased, and his eyes were sunken. He looked old, every one of his years and more showed on his face.
It took up all her strength to smile at him again, when she wanted to sob and beg for his forgiveness. But what would be the point? She could cry, unload every moment of failure of the past twelve years upon him. Every moment that she fell short of saving him from the obvious torture he endured. She could apologize, over and over in between waves of tears, for her failure to listen to him in Chicago, for her few minutes' hesitation that led to all of his suffering.
And he would tell her, in halting whispering breaths that she was not to blame. That she had searched for him without rest, and she had indeed saved him. That twelve years was nothing in their eternal lives. And she would stop crying, tell him that she knew he was right, while holding onto the misery of her failure for far longer than its scars remained on his skin. He would know she was lying too, but he would not say anything, because it wasn't his way.
So what was the point? She wrapped up his wounds and brushed his shorn hair back from his hollowed face. "Rest," she said. "You'll feel better in the morning. I'll keep watch."
He reached for her, his fingers trailing down the side of her neck and into her hair. "Kagome," he said again, his voice hovering between a whisper and a croak.
She leaned into his touch, her eyes sliding closed for a moment. She'd almost forgotten how warm he was, how his skin sparked against hers. "I missed you," she said. And before she could stop herself, she added, "I'm sorry I couldn't find you sooner, Sesshoumaru. I'm so sorry."
A soft rumbling noise came from his throat. "You saved me."
A sob escaped her. "After twelve years of you being in a iron box, tortured every day."
"You have seeped into my bones. Every day, I heard you telling me that you would come. That I had promises yet to fulfill and that you could not permit me to die." His hand dropped back down to the coverlet, and he turned flush with the effort of speaking. "She tried to take a life that was not mine to give."
Kagome pressed the cool rag to his sweat-drenched forehead, while tears slid down her nose and splashed on his skin. "Don't say that."
"I do not lie, and I will say what I wish. I have been silent for too long, and though you hold my life, you do not own my tongue." His eyes began to flutter.
She gave a watery smile. "I can't imagine anyone owning anything of you."
"It was not anticipated," he said, his eyes closing and his voice fading. "But it is not altogether unpleasant to take after Father..."
His breathing evened out, and he was asleep. Kagome leaned down and pressed her lips against his cheek. He felt so strange and yet familiar all at once. She wanted to curl up beside him and breathe him in until she remembered it all again. But she couldn't, because they were not safe yet.
But she felt safe, she realized. Warmth was creeping back into her bones, and she was not even daunted at the thought of digging bullets out of her own flesh and standing watch for those that might track them down. Soon, Sesshoumaru would be standing beside her, strong and whole once more. And they would protect each other. Even her guilt ebbed as the hollow place in her chest filled and her heart began to beat for the first time in twelve years.
"I don't know how this is going to end," she said. "But I have hope again that it won't really be an end at all."
She stood and gathered the medical kit before limping over to the window. Taking up her place to keep watch, she looked back to see gold eyes open and watching her. Kagome smiled. "Don't worry. I'm here."
A/N: I probably could have written a novel on what Kagome did in Nazi Germany. It was difficult to pare it down and not let her go down several rabbit trails! Which is funny, because WW2 was never one of the wars that I really obsessed over, so it was a surprise I wanted to do so much with it. But a lot of it was extraneous, so this is the result. I hope you enjoyed and that it was somewhat worth the wait!
Historical notes (just going to hit the highlights pertinent to this chapter, since WW2 is so heavily covered in most history classes):
The Reichsadler was the home base of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and its subset, the Gestapo. Heinrich Himmler was the Chief of German Police and the Minister of the Interior, which basically gave him control over all police and security in and out of Germany. One branch of the SS ran the concentration camps. Himmler was one of the primary forces driving the Holocaust, and he was utterly devoted to the Nazi cause. He was also an avid believer in the occult (this is one of the reasons Hitler is associated with occultism in media like Indiana Jones and Hellboy, but it was really Himmler that was obsessed). Because of this and the fact that the Reichsadler was used to torture, interrogate, and kill (mostly political) prisoners, it made it the ideal holding place for Sesshoumaru.
As the war progressed, Hitler gave more and more responsibility to Himmler. Although he had no experience as a military strategist, Hitler appointed Himmler as commander-in-chief of an entire army. Even with (competent and experienced) support, Himmler utterly failed. He and Hitler were on the outs just as Hitler began losing several members of his inner circle. Himmler ultimately showed himself to be a coward – he swore loyalty to Hitler but then contacted the Allies, trying to start negotiations. When Hitler found out and expelled him from the Nazi Party, Himmler tried to ingratiate himself with Hitler's successor, Grand Admiral Donitz, who promptly told him to take a hike. When trying to go into hiding, Himmler was caught by the Allies and committed suicide by poisoning.
Himmler's second-in-command was Reinhard Heydrich, who was the more direct supervisor of the Gestapo and the Reich Security Office. Heydrich was someone that could make your blood turn cold – even Hitler called him "the man with the iron heart". He was the chairman of the committee that formalized the plans for the Final Solution, and he engineered Kristallnacht. Heydrich is generally considered to be one of the most terrifying and evil people in the Nazi government – the vilest of the most vile group of men in history. Even without knowing about the Holocaust (but knowing about several other massacres he ordered because reasons), the Czechoslovakian government decided Heydrich had to die. The assassins kind of made a hash of it – the gun jammed, and the bomb didn't immediately kill him. Heydrich actually stopped and chased the men, managing to shoot one before collapsing from his wounds. He died in a hospital later in the week. Unfortunately, many innocent people were killed in retribution for the assassination.
The chemical Kagome uses to blow up the top floor of the Reichsadler is real – nitrogen trichloride is extremely unstable and sensitive to heat, light and even bumps. Not exactly C4, but dangerous.
The chemical Kagome accidentally finds in the Reichsadler's basement is also real – chlorine trifluoride is one of the most reactive compounds known to man. It reacts to most inorganic and organic substances, including an explosive reaction to water (and because humans are mostly water, it sets flesh on fire too). It has to be stored in specific ways. It's so dangerous that the Nazis tried to weaponize it for years before realizing that it was more trouble than it was worth, and they would end up killing both sides if they used it.