Title: "The Velvet Dark"
Fandom: Island at War
Pairing: Baron/Felicity het
Feedback: Praise only.
Notes: This story came out of my frustration with not getting a second series of IAW. This will be several chapters, and the rating will probably change eventually. Hint hint. Thanks to all those at TRA who have already read and reviewed. You made my day.
She found it hard in the days that followed to remember whether it was the 24rd or the 25th, the 1st or the 3rd. She would even have to stop and think for a moment whether it was a Monday or a Tuesday. It hardly mattered, anyway. One day bled into the next, filled with purposeless meanderings at Sous la Chaine, pottering in the greenhouse or sitting alone in the semi-dark. She tried not to think of Philip and James or how they must be suffering. At least they were safe.
She avoided the Baron. There had been something unspoken between them in the weeks after he arrived on St. Gregory. They had met at the George Hotel his first day on the island. The bailiff's wife had been nattering on about something, and the Baron had clicked his heels and bowed in that 19th century way he had. Then he had held her gaze with his impossibly sharp blue-grey eyes for slightly longer than was necessary, and she felt as if an electric current had passed through her.
Now she had put words to what had been danced around but had always remained unspoken. She had offered herself to him. It was to save Philip, she kept reminding herself, and yes, that was true. But the thought of it would never have sprung so easily to her mind if a part of her hadn't at least entertained it before.
So, she avoided him, rather than meet that gaze and hear the low murmur of his voice and be reminded of what she had been willing to do.
She suspected he was avoiding her, too. They would pass each other on the steps into the house. He would nod politely and they would exchange courtesies, but he always had Flach or Muller with him, and there was no time to talk. The business of war went on for him. She would see him discussing plans and maps with his officers, always with that hard look of purpose on his face.
He really was a monster, or at the very least a machine without emotion or humanity. That was what she would tell herself. It made it easier.
But of course, Felicity knew better. He bore his tragedy with stoicism around his men and the islanders, but she had seen a glimpse of it. She had seen the tears pool in those eyes when he spoke of his dead son there on the porch. She avoided sitting in the garden, but she would see him there from her bedroom window late at night. Alone, drowning in his private grief. In those moments, he was all too human. And it terrified her.
She tried to fill the time as best she could. She went into town just to be in company, to hear English voices. But there were no invitations to meet at the Marigold Tea Rooms or cycle along the coast with friends. It occurred to her sadly one afternoon as she walked through the main square of town that in her twenty years here, she had never really made any friends, not close ones. Urban Mahy, perhaps. And he was dead.
There was one afternoon after James and Philip had left, she heard Mrs. DuVal call out to her on the street. She stopped, reluctantly, as the woman caught up with her and panted for breath.
"How are you getting on, Felicity? Just you and that awful Baron all alone at Sous la Chaine?" She emphasised her words. Her meaning was clear.
"You mean just me, that awful Baron, and twenty or thirty landsers stomping around all hours of the day and night? I haven't had a solitary thought in weeks." It was a lie, of course, but she wouldn't give the old gossip the satisfaction of imagining anything inappropriate with the Baron. Even if Felicity, herself, had imagined it.
The old woman rolled her eyes heavenward and clicked her tongue. "So much the worse! You must quite fear for yourself, Felicity, dear! All those men without female companionship and you! The sole, unprotected woman! It's quite barbaric!"
Felicity gave her a tight smile. "I think I'm quite capable of defending my honour, Mrs. DuVal."
She mounted her bicycle, but the older woman placed a bony hand on her wrist. "Are you? You must take care, Felicity. There has been talk."
"Oh? What sort of talk?" Felicity responded with disdain.
"About you. And the Baron. Up at the house. Together. Alone."
She opened her mouth, sure some barb would follow and Mrs. DuVal would be put in her rightful place, but nothing came. She hurriedly pedaled off towards home, gripping the handles to keep her hands from shaking.
That was the last time she went into town unless it was absolutely necessary. More often than not, she was finding she could do without the trip.
It was a week or so later that she came in from an early morning stroll through the barren orchard. The days had suddenly grown cold, but she welcomed it. It was good to feel some physical sensation other than fear and loneliness.
She came up into the house and became aware of what sounded like heavy furniture being dragged across the floor. She frowned and tilted her head, and then realised, yes, that's exactly what it was. She hurried up the stairs and followed the noise into the wing of the house she had shared with James. They were moving furniture, and it was in the master bedroom.
"What are you doing?" she demanded. Several slack-jawed landsers looked back at her for a moment and then went on dismantling the bed. One of them muttered something in German. There were snickers and glances in her direction. "This is my bedroom! You have no right!"
One of them turned to her and shrugged. "There are orders, Frau Dorr," he muttered in his broken English.
"Whose orders?" They were folding her mother's bedspread with their soiled, meaty hands and fingering lamps and pictures they had no business touching. Precious things from her other life in England. One landser picked up a picture of her holding Philip when he was a baby and carelessly tossed it aside as he moved a table. She could hear the tinkle of the glass shattering. She took in a deep breath through her nose to keep from crying. "Whose orders?"
The boy only shrugged again, and she backed out of the room. She blinked back tears and stumbled across the landing and down the corridor into the other wing of the house – his wing – as she thought of it.
Muller was there, leaving the Baron's rooms with some papers. He frowned but said nothing, as if he couldn't quite believe that she had come to this side of the house.
"Mrs. Dorr! What are you doing?" He asked in surprise as she squeezed past him.
"I must talk to the Baron."
"I'm sorry, but you cannot." He placed a hand on her arm.
"Don't touch me!"
"Mrs. Dorr!" But she had pulled her narrow wrist from his grasp and was entering the Baron's room. "Mrs. Dorr, please!"
In her blind anger, she hadn't planned past this point, and she knew she had no idea what to say to him now. He was there, in the bathroom that ajoined his room. He stood at the sink, wearing his riding breeches with braces hanging down to his knees. He was wearing only a vest on top, face lathered, standing there with his razor in one hand.
She froze, and he turned his head to look at her. Their gazes met as they had that day in the George Hotel until she finally was able to look away.
"I'm sorry, sir, I couldn't…" Muller sputtered.
"Leave us, Muller."
"Leave us,"he repeated firmly. Muller nodded with a frown and retreated.
She watched as he turned his face back to the mirror and took a stroke of the razor across his cheek. "I assume you have come about the room."
"You had no right. No right," she said, still shaking with anger.
"There was a burst pipe at one of the billets in town. Several of our officers have to be temporarily relocated until the damage can be repaired. You will not be inconvenienced any more than necessary," he said dispassionately. The water made small splashing noises as he rinsed the blade in the basin.
"Your lack of respect is shameful, Baron. It's not enough you've taken our car, our house, but you have to take my bedroom as well? That was my room. Mine."
He said nothing for a moment as he methodically took a long stroke up his neck and rinsed the razor. "Forgive me, Mrs. Dorr, but it was my understanding it was not your room but your husband's room. Your room is on the other side of the corridor, is it not?"
He turned to her then and wiped the last of the lather from his face with a towel. She could feel the scarlet burn up her cheeks and her eyes dropped to the floor. He knew. It was enough that he knew James never sat with her in the garden. But he knew they no longer shared a bed.
There was no need to deny it. She suddenly felt exposed standing here, in his rooms, as he slowly walked toward her. He picked up his shirt from his bed and stood in front of her, silently fastening the buttons. She could feel his eyes on her as she struggled for words. "Some of those things in there belong to me," she managed to get out. "Pictures."
He pulled his braces across his shoulders with a sharp snap. "By all means. Remove your personal items from your husband's room. Anything else will be carefully stored. You have my word." He spoke in that way he had, his words were clipped, but his voice was soft and liquid.
She nodded and backed out of the room quickly, but she could still feel the burn on her cheeks after she stumbled downstairs and headed back into the chill air.
She spent hours in the greenhouse, not wanting to cross paths with him again that day. Finally, Delphine found her and brought her some tea and sandwiches after noon. It was the first she had eaten all day, and she devoured it.
Then it was back to the potting soil and bulbs. It was late in the afternoon. Summer was gone, and the sun was already low in the sky. There was to be some sort of dance at the George that evening, she had heard, and the house appeared to be empty as she headed back inside. The stillness was almost unbearable.
She sat in the drawing room smoking as the sun finally dipped below the horizon. James had never approved of women and cigarettes. She had always felt like a naughty schoolgirl hiding outside with her secret pack of fags. Now that he was gone, she could smoke inside, but it seemed like an empty victory.
There was only the sound of the steady ticking of the clock on the mantle. She suddenly felt restless and walled in, and the air in the room was stifling. She picked up her cardigan from the back of the desk chair and headed out into the night.
Her heart raced as she came into the garden and walked around to the side of the tree. She had only come out for some fresh, cool air, she told herself. Then why the flutter of disappointment when she found no one else there in the garden?
She leaned against the tree smoking her cigarette. The sky was clear except for the low, heavy moon. It was lovely and melancholy. She was just about to turn in for the night when she heard the sound of boots on the garden path behind her. She turned to see him standing there in the shadows, hat tucked crisply under his arm.
She hadn't been alone with him since that day she had wrapped her arms around his broad chest and pleaded for her son's life. Not since he had gripped her wrists in his hands and asked her in his anguished voice, "How can I?" And now she had found herself alone with him for the second time that day.
"Good evening, Mrs. Dorr. Do I find you well?"
"Well enough," she said.
He nodded, took another step or two in towards her. He looked out, and she could see his eyes flit back and forth across the sky.
"I wanted to apologise," he finally said.
"Apologise? For what?"
He took another step closer. "The bedroom. I am afraid I caused you distress. That was not my intention. I should have…"
She looked up at him. He was standing as he always did, legs slightly apart, hands behind his back. It made him look commanding, powerful. "You should have asked permission first," she interrupted.
There was a brief pause. "I should have informed you first."
Ah, of course. The Baron needed no one's permission, least of all hers. She let out a short humourless laugh. "Will you be appropriating any more of our rooms, Baron? Perhaps the nursery? The kitchen? Or would you like my bedroom?"
He looked at her for a moment. His lips tightened, and she realised how her words had sounded. She could feel herself redden again, and she looked away.
"That will not be necessary, Mrs. Dorr," he said and then added evenly, "Not yet, anyway."
She narrowed her eyes at him and tried to read his face. Not yet, anyway. Was there a threat hidden in his words? An invitation? A statement of fact? But he merely looked back at her with the faintest trace of a smile.
She only sighed and drew her cardigan around her. She was too tired for this. It was at it always was: he was her gaoler, and she was the indignant, prickly prisoner. She didn't want to fall into this, not tonight, when she hadn't had so much as a polite conversation with anyone in days.
"How are you faring?" he asked her after a moment. "I know it cannot be easy for you." She turned to him, and he had a look of concern on his face. It was genuine, she knew. He wasn't taunting or trying to imply anything, like the awful Mrs. DuVal.
"I manage," she said and crossed to the bench. But she wasn't managing at all. She was isolated and desperately alone among islanders who had never really accepted her and trying to sort through a tangle of conflicting emotions that she couldn't begin to understand. Sitting here with him was almost unbearable after what has happened that day.
No. She felt nothing for him. She couldn't. There was a catch in her throat, and she pressed a hand against her lips. She wouldn't cry again. He had already seen her this way, and she would not do it again. She drew in her breath and blinked back tears.
He crossed to her and sat beside her on the bench. "You are worried about Philip," he said after a time.
Not "your son," or "Mr. Brotherson," but Philip. So intimate.
"Yes. I miss him very much." She nodded, blotting her eyes with the back of her hand, and added almost as an afterthought. "And James."
"The Senator," the Baron said, turning the name over. "Tell me, Mrs. Dorr. Why did you not evacuate when you had the chance?"
"I couldn't leave my husband," she snapped.
It was a lie, and she suspected the Baron knew it. Their marriage had been over. She loved James in her own way; he had been a pleasant companion and an occasional lover for these past few years, but he had ceased to be a husband to her long ago. It would not have been so easy to do the things she had done if he hadn't.
"You told me once that you were wounded the day that the harbour was bombed. So, you were there." There was a silence. She suddenly felt like a prisoner in the dock being questioned by the prosecution. Her heart skittered as he raised his chin knowingly. "I think you were trying to leave, Mrs. Dorr."
"That's none of your damned business," she said with a kind of half-hearted protest, and ground out her cigarette with the toe of her shoe. She should have risen and stormed into the house then and there, but she did not. She locked her eyes onto his. She could just make out his face as the moonlight streamed in through the branches.
"You're a remarkable woman, Mrs. Dorr," he said in that voice, the gentle murmur of it masking the menace that could lurk beneath. But there was no menace in his voice tonight. "I think if I were your husband I would not find it so easy to let you go."
The air around them seemed to crackle. She felt a strange pulling sensation at the centre of her, and she knew she had to leave now or she never would. She rose to her feet and crossed in front of him toward the house.
"Dine with me. Tomorrow night."
She turned to him with her arms folded across herself. "Certainly not."
"And why not? You intend to eat; I intend to eat. What is the harm of two people sitting in a room together to share a meal?"
"The answer is no, Baron." She turned to hurry up the path.
"You said once that you never could thank me enough," he called after her. She froze and turned toward him. He had stood and was crossing slowly to her. "I do not want your thanks, Mrs. Dorr. But I would be pleased if you would dine with me tomorrow night."
After a beat, she only turned and walked back into the house. There was no need to say anything. He already knew her answer.
END CHAPTER ONE