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For Aurora

Chapter Text

At Camp X, they bring men to a cliff, force them to jump off, into the water. The men climb back up, soaking, heavy, exhausted, with nothing more than a rope to help them. They reach the top, and there is a sense of accomplishment. They stand, drained, but proud, at the top of the cliff. In this moment, their commander smiles, then, pushes them back off. In the field you will be in a constant state of exhaustion. Do it again.

Aurora did this too.

At Camp X, they send men on a mission, a trial run, to find a mole. They are told to treat the mission as if it were real, not to hesitate, not to stray from the plan. They reach the room that their intel specifies, the mole inside, orders are to kill, no questions asked. They open the door, and their best friend is sitting at the table, looking up at them. They shoot. The mole could be anyone, even your most trusted friend.

Aurora did this too.

At Camp X, they have their men drink with German socialites, drink and socialize and blend in, and learn not to crack. They will drink their men under a table, and even with no control over themselves, they must hold their tongues. They will be interrogated, questioned, tortured, and learn not to crack. You can never break. You must die before you break.

Aurora did this too.

At Camp X, they send men into the woods. Kill with your gun. Kill with your knife. Kill with your bare hands. Kill from behind, when the enemy’s back is turned. Kill when the enemy is looking you right in the eyes, begging for mercy. You must always be prepared.

Aurora did this too.

At Camp X, they hand their men a cyanide pill. Odds of survival are 50/50 in the field.

They handed Aurora the cyanide pill, too.

At Camp X, they send their men off with a look in their eyes. We’ve prepared you the best way we know how, but we don’t expect we will see you again.

Camp X had given her the best preparation, but she hadn’t been prepared for this.

Like climbing up a cliff after she had already been thrown off twice, she woke up every morning and said to herself you are Helene Bauer, today you are Helene Bauer.

And the strength it took to walk to the office in the morning, sit at her desk, pick up her spoon and stir her tea, then look up, smile at her Nazi coworkers and offer a cheerful Guten Morgen -- it surpassed every minute of her training combined.

Chapter Text

She walks through the setting sun, the dimming streets, then the night, to Heidi’s apartment, files documenting their day’s work in her arms.

Their day’s work. She feels sick. To her it feels that the files are unspeakably heavy, and hot. Burning. As if the paper itself will suddenly burst into flames, leaving her fingers forever marked and her hands unable to escape the atrocities that they had held. She doesn’t know how it is that she keeps moving, one foot in front of the other, keeps breathing. She doesn’t know anymore, how she continues.

Aurora, in the night, it seems fitting.

She remembers her mother driving her north, to see the lights in the sky. The long and bumpy car ride, the silence that had settled between them as young Aurora watched the towering shadows of trees fly by as they traveled down the unlit road. She remembers how her mother had helped her onto the roof of the car, and how they had sat there, alone, not another human in sight, as the lights spread across the sky. And then, in her ear, she remembers her mother whispering, just like you.

Just like her.

They had seemed so wondrous to her then, but now, looking back, she could only think that for all of the brightness in the sky, it had still been dark and cold and lonely. And the lights so far away.

She keeps walking, she keeps playing her part, she smiles when she must, she agrees when she must, she measures the color of a child’s eyes, because she must.

She keeps walking through the night, only in the shadows allowing herself a moment, just a moment, to herself. Aurora. She is crumbling under the weight of maintaining her brilliance in secret.

She wonders, who will make the trek for her? Who will venture into the long night, into the cold, to see her shining?

She wonders, how will anyone know to come find her, and even if they did, would there be anything left of her to find?

After all, hadn’t there been many travelers who hoped to find the miraculous lights, and faced instead a dark black sky? The locals would sigh. They were there a week ago. You’ve missed them.

She imagines someone gesturing to her. Aurora used to be there. You’ve missed her.

She reaches Heidi’s door. Pauses. Collects herself.

She knocks.

Who is it?

Collects herself, collects herself, collects herself again. A deep breath. It’s Helene!

The light in Aurora fades and fades, and Helene is already smiling by the time Heidi has opened the door.