Author notes: This is a direct sequel to my The Funeral, which is pretty short and shouldn't be too troublesome to read. But, it's not completely necessary. Anyway, otherwise, it's been in the works for ages as I angsted about details and references to the mostly-unwritten Out of the Dungeon (first chapter up, anyway). There was definitely some difficult emotion to cover...again; it took a couple drafts before it seemed right.
Reposted for revised writing.
While You Were Gone
Unattended, the fire burned low under the mantle, hardly illuminating even the stone set before it. The study grew colder and dimmer by the minute as the overcast sky through the windows darkened toward the early winter night.
The door flung open, washing an instant of life over the flames, and Integra entered. She still had a black scarf wrapped around her throat, though her cloak and hat were gone. Walter and the maid, Emmy, closely followed her.
"I brought your luggage inside, sir, is there anything else –?"
"A tea tray, please, Emmy," Walter said, and she hurried back out.
Walter paused, noticing the embers of the fire, and stopped to stir them with the poker. The dying fire flamed into life, casting an orange-red glow on the desk behind it and the bookshelves that lined the opposite wall.
Integra pulled off her gloves as she walked across the room to the desk. This was a room in which she and Walter had talked countless times through her life, and automatically she turned and lifted herself quickly to sit on the edge of the desk, as she did every time so she could meet him at more of an equal height. Crossing her ankles tightly, she folded her bare hands in her lap, wrapping them about one another in an effort to bring back heat.
She remarked idly, though it was hardly more than a whisper, "I didn't know if you were ever coming back."
Walter flinched. "Miss Integra, I can never apologize enough – nor could I ever offer an adequate excuse for why I was kept away while –"
"Oh, I didn't think it was any reluctance on your part. It just seemed like the sort of thing that would fit now, with everything else…." She rubbed her palms slowly against her knees, her gaze fixed on the rug on the other side of where Walter stood.
A quick deferential knock sounded on the door, and Walter went at once to open it and take the tea tray from Emmy. "That will be all, thank you, Emmy, and please mind we are not disturbed."
He brought the tray to the end of the table, and Integra glanced at him just in time for him to offer her a teacup. She held it in her fingers several moments before taking a sip. Then she looked up at him to ask with horrible false brightness, "Well, how was South America? I'm sure it was better than here."
He could not keep from wincing, and she said at once, setting the cup down beside her and returning her attention and hands to her lap, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. But…I am very relieved you are back."
"If you can believe me, ma'am," Walter said, softly but with intense emotion and earnestness, "returning to England has been my only wish, for which I would have sold anything material in my hands, for the past week."
Integra gave a small shudder, and though she felt unable to look at him, she whispered, "I believe you."
A few seconds of silence passed, in which they both attempted to regain their composure and control through the tea, and Walter spoke again. "Miss – Sir Integra, where is your uncle? I expected to see him outside with you…."
Integra's eyebrows shot up; unexpectedly, she began to swing her feet forward and backward – a habit recalling her much younger years. She kept her eyes fixed forward. "Well. Before I answer that, I have to ask you a question." She took a breath. "Do you know…a vampire by the name of Alucard?" Finally, she looked at him, eyebrows still raised inquiringly. "He says he knows you."
Whatever composure Walter had gained from the tea was lost in the time it took for him to register what she had said. He gaped at her. "Excuse me, did you say Alucard –"
"Yes," she said, very deliberately: "A-lu-card." Then she added, apparently to the otherwise empty room, "No, I'm not calling you, stay away."
Perhaps this addition was what fully persuaded him. Staggered, he put a hand out for the edge of the desk. "How –"
"Well, you see," she began in an oddly thoughtful voice, swinging her feet once more, "Alucard ate him." She could barely get the words out, a giggle already rising in her throat – the sentence and fact were really so tremendously funny. But she put her hand to her mouth at once to block it, gripped with the certainty that if she did start laughing now she would never ever be able to stop, she would fall apart on the spot. She pressed her hand to her mouth, focusing on breathing steadily, not laughing, and her feet continued swinging forcefully, out and in with the exact same speed and sharp reversals in the other direction.
At last, she took her hand down and became aware of Walter's eyes on her, though she couldn't look back at him now. "He tried to kill me," she said, and was relieved to hear her voice normal again, level and appropriate for what she was saying. "Richard, that is. He wanted the organization for himself, and so he tried to kill me." She had to force each word out, but at least they were coming out. "Look." She pulled the shoulder of her dress to the side, revealing the white bandages, and didn't look up to see Walter's reaction. "He shot me in the shoulder, and would have killed me, but Alucard –" distracted him by ripping his arm off, she wanted to say, but that sounded very likely to make her want to laugh again – "stopped him. And then, I shot him myself." Those words were slow and deliberate. "And Alucard – ate him." Integra bit her lip very hard, though she no longer felt like laughing
Silence from Walter next to her, which Integra knew was understandable. Finally, though, she dared to glance at him. He leaned with one hand gripping the desk, the other raised to half-cover his face – a sight which struck her as so sad it cut her to the heart as nothing else had in the last week.
But before she could think of anything else to say to him she heard, in little more than a whisper: "When was this?"
"Three days after Father died."
More silence, and then Walter asked, his voice bearing the slightest amount of shakiness from shock, "Excuse me – but how was Alucard released, since he was locked in a cell in the dungeons?"
"We were down there," Integra said, just as flatly as her words before. "It all took place in his cell. That's where all the blood is." She paused, then added, "He – Richard had four other men with him whom Alucard killed."
"And you were in the cell too?"
"But – Alucard didn't –"
Integra swallowed, closing her eyes and remembering the white hair, blood-covered grinning mouth and mad eyes, and then as they rushed in at her, knocking her against the wall, trapped and oh the terror – "I told him who I was. He knew I was the real leader of Hellsing."
She heard Walter take a deep breath. Then, he continued gently, "Three days after – and you have been alone ever since?"
"Yes." She pinned her hands between her knees and began swinging her feet once more, faster and faster. "I took care of everything. I called the funeral services, I wrote all the announcements and invitations, I talked to that director and Reverend Pershing and Sir Islands – and I had to come up with something to tell everyone where he was, though I don't know how much longer it'll last –"
Her heels struck the back of the desk, and she held them there, squeezing her eyes shut.
Fingertips touched her hands, pulling them out and up from between her knees, and Integra's eyes snapped open to see Walter in front of her. "No, don't –" she began instinctively; she didn't want anyone touching her, she hadn't let anyone touch her other than Dr. Trevellian, when he had to change the bandages, and Alucard. She felt it was the only way she had been able to do it, and so she had stepped back and raised a hand to stop the priest from embracing her after she had talked to him about the service.
But Walter had both of her hands now between his, and she was unable to pull away. His hands were lined and calloused in many places, but warm as they pressed against the backs of her hands, and she stared at them, afraid of what might happen if she looked up to his face.
"Sir Integra," said Walter quietly, and she forced herself to look into those gray eyes that were among her earliest memories. "All you have done in the last week would have far surpassed your father's expectations of you."
Already her throat was closing up; why, why so fast now when she had listened to the service, followed her father's casket to the cemetery and watched it buried without being choked up for an instant, and why was Walter doing this to her –
Hecontinued, still pressing her hands and looking into her eyes. "If he knew, he would have been extraordinarily proud of everything you have done – as I am."
Oh God, she had to stop him now or something terrible was going to happen – "Walter, stop." Her voice was already trembling so high –
But he only shook his head slightly, never releasing her hands. "Listen to me, sir – you have done enough. It's over now, I promise you. You don't have to be alone like that again – I'm not leaving you, and you will have help from now on. It's over now, I promise."
Integra stared at him, for a moment still not daring to believe him; then she broke forward, knocking her teacup off the desk as she flung herself around his neck. She buried her face into his shoulder and sobbed, her entire body shaking.
Walter did not speak, but held her with his arms around her back, one hand pressing against the back of her head, holding her to him. His eyes were closed.
At last Integra pulled back, leaning against the desk behind her as she accepted Walter's handkerchief, unable not to feel at least a little embarrassed. "Sorry about the teacup," she whispered, her voice scratchy, looking at the dark stain on the rug.
Walter waved it aside. "It isn't of consequence, madam."
Integra cleared her throat, running a hand over her hair. "Well, I'm – going to go change, and then…" She pushed her glasses back, but kept her hand over her face. She felt utterly exhausted.
"You can rest, sir," Walter told her quietly. "You don't need to do anything else today."
She paused a moment, then nodded, dropping her hand and straightening herself up regardless.
Walter picked up the teacup as he stood up and moved to reorganize the now-cold tea, while Integra moved past the fire to the door. But she paused there with her hand on the knob, looking back; she didn't quite smile, but her face seemed to have cleared a little.
"Thank you for coming back, Walter."