A/N: Well, this is it! The final chapter of "The Velvet Dark." Thank you ALL who have read this, particularly those of you have left such kind and encouraging reviews. I'm glad that so many IAW fans stumbled across this. I'm happy to have brought some resolution for the characters, but I only wish it had been Stephen Mallatratt who had been able to give us all that resolution. I've tried to carry on in the same spirit with affection for the vivid characters he helped create. Thanks so much for hanging in there for the past three months, especially to penfold for everything and funkygibbon for spell-checking, Britpicking, and plot-bouncing. Here we go! Enjoy.
Felicity darted in and out of the crowd at Waterloo Station, her eyes flitting down to her watch for the fifth time in the last minute. She'd waited for him for five years, and somehow the last few days had been the longest and most difficult of all. She had moved around in a haze since the call came, emotions crashing like cymbals inside of her. She had loved him and mourned him, both with an intensity of which she had not thought herself capable, but the future seemed fraught with difficulties. No one had been able to tell her the extent of his injuries. And what if he were perfectly healthy? What then? Had his feelings towards her changed in the intervening years?
She had only Ronnie Clarke's words to cling to.
"He's alive." Ronnie had said those words during the fateful telephone call days earlier as if he himself could scarcely believe it. There was a moment, a split second of sheer joy, a flood of relief that coursed through her body as the words hit her. He was alive.
Then the room seemed to spin around her, and she could feel the blood rush from her head. If he hadn't contacted her since the end of the war, something had to be terribly wrong, and her thoughts reeled in fear. Her knees buckled. She leaned forward and placed a hand against the telephone table for balance. From the corner of her eye, she could see Margaret looking at her with concern. It was a moment before she could find her tongue, but even then she could only make a small, broken noise as the tears of disbelief sprang to her eyes.
"Fliss? Are you there? I know it's a shock…"
"I'm here," she finally managed to say, and then drew in a long breath before she could speak again. "How…where is he?"
"In hospital. Germany." There was an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line, and she could sense him struggling for words. "But I really don't know what state he's in."
She could feel a heave of fear at the centre of her. "What's happened? Is he all right?"
"I'm afraid he's had a rather difficult go of it. I don't know much, but…" There was another pause. "He's been in a Soviet prison camp, Felicity."
"Oh, God…" She lifted her free hand to her mouth. She'd heard the terrible stories of things that had happened in the camps. Starvation, torture, disease. In her mind, Heinrich had died a quick death in battle on the Eastern front, and that belief had been a comfort to her in her grief. Now, she feared the worst, and the awful wounds had been opened again. "I want to see him…how do I…can I go to him?"
"You won't have to," Ronnie said, his voice suddenly reassuring again. "We're bringing him here. He's coming to London."
And now the long days of waiting had come to an end. The traffic had been awful, and her cab had inched its way to the station. Minutes ticked by, and her eyes dropped anxiously to her wrist every thirty seconds. Finally, the cab pulled up in front of the station, and she hurried up the stairs. She could hear the tinny voice over the address system announcing the arrival of his train as she reached the track.
Her heart began to race as the train slowed and chugged into the station with a screech of brakes and whistles. The doors opened and passengers hurried past, oblivious to her private turmoil. Bankers, students, and soldiers streamed by, waving to waiting friends, embracing lovers. The platform was empty except for a conductor. Some porters rolled a luggage cart past and eyed her indifferently.
She hurried down the platform, peering into the windows for some sign of him. Something had happened. He wasn't there. She felt the panic begin to rise.
Then she saw movement from the corner of her eye. She turned towards it, and a lone figure stepped from the train. A man in a dark civilian suit, tall, long-legged. The smoke and steam of the train swirled around him and then parted.
She narrowed her eyes. Her heart stopped, she drew in a breath. No, it couldn't be him. This man was thinner, older. Then he raised his head and pushed the hat back from his face. There was a weary smile on his face, and there were lines there that hadn't been there before. But it was him. Heinrich.
She flew down the platform, a cry caught in her throat. It was him. He was alive. He moved towards her, a few halting steps and opened his arms. She flew into them and wrapped her arms around him with a sob.
"Ssssh. It's all right," he said, his voice a soft caress, but the sound of it after so long only brought more tears.
"I thought you were dead."
"No. I'm alive." He held her at arms' length and brushed the back of his hand down her cheek. He was terribly thin, with hollowed cheeks, and his silvery-blue eyes were dark and haunted. But his was him. He smiled at her, and then their lips met again in a long, slow kiss. His arms slid around her again, and they stood in an embrace for a moment.
"I love you," she whispered. She waited for a response, but there was none. Then she was aware that his arms had loosened around her, he was slipping away, down to the ground of the platform.
"Heinrich?" she called out in alarm and tried in vain to support his weight. She was aware that Ronnie Clarke had stepped out of the train at some point and was standing discreetly some distance away. He crossed to her, and they knelt beside him on the platform. The Baron's eyes had fluttered shut and sweat beads had popped onto his forehead. "Oh, God, what's happened?"
Ronnie frowned and signaled to two porters. The men helped him to his feet as Ronnie shook his head. "He needs a stretcher. Or a wheelchair at the very least, but he refused. Didn't want you to see him like that."
They crossed through the concourse of the terminal, and heads turned towards the sight of the Baron being helped to the waiting cab in front of the station. The porters eased him inside and Ronnie and Felicity slid in beside him.
He moaned in pain on the ride back to Kensington, hovering somewhere in the space just beyond consciousness. They rode on, Felicity in frightened silence. Ronnie paid the driver and helped her get Heinrich upstairs into the guest room, where she undressed him like a child and eased him into bed.
Ronnie was in the sitting room when she came downstairs. She entered in silence, arms across her chest, trying to compose herself before speaking. "What happened to him? Tell me the truth. I'm not some feeble woman that needs to be shielded."
There was a moment before he went on. "He was wounded on the Eastern front – shot in the abdomen and captured by the Communists. They butchered him in surgery. Barely treated him and did nothing when infection set in. His arm was broken and never set. The war has been over for a year, and still most of the Germans held in Soviet camps have not been repatriated. It's hell on earth, Felicity. Somehow he managed to escape. Crawled his way back to Germany, and I'm not exaggerating by much. We found him in an American hospital near death."
They were silent for a moment as the horror of his words seeped in.
"What will happen to him now?" she asked in a ragged voice.
"When he's stronger, he'll come work for us. We think…" he paused, pressed his lips together for a moment and then went on. "We think he might be of some use to us."
"I don't understand."
"Yesterday's allies are today's enemies, Fliss," he said ominously. "And the other way round. It's not the Germans we need to worry about anymore."
She staggered to a chair and collapsed into it, still trying to comprehend the horror of what he had been through.
"I can't tell you how many times over he should have died," Ronnie went on. "The American doctors didn't give him much hope at first. But his will to live was too strong."
He crossed towards the door and put a comforting hand on her shoulder before leaving. "Take care of him, Fliss."
"I will," she said in the firmest voice she could muster. "Of course I will."
He slipped in and out of consciousness for the next hours. She sat by his bed, fearful that his fever would overtake him. The doctor was summoned, and he told her there was nothing more that could be done for him. They could only wait.
She didn't leave him as the night became day again. She was exhausted and drained and finally Margaret came in with some tea for her. "Why don't you try and get some sleep, Mrs. Dorr?" she said gently. "You're worn out. I can sit with him, if you'd like."
She took the cup and nodded a thanks. "No, it's all right, Margaret. I want to be here in case he wakes."
Margaret gave her a sympathetic smile and left them there. They drifted into night with little change in his condition. The doctor came round again the next day and only shook his head gravely. "We'll know more by morning."
The room was dark; the only light was from the moonlight streaming in from the window. She cried silent tears, prayed, bargained, everything she could think of for this man she loved until sleep finally overtook her.
She was awakened by the bright sound of bird song, and she blinked herself into awareness. She cursed herself for falling asleep and sat upright in her chair, drawing in her breath and turning to him.
He was awake, smiling at her, and she leaned down tearfully, taking his hand in hers. His eyes were clearer and the colour had returned to his cheeks. The danger had passed.
"Good morning," she said with a teary smile. "I've missed you."
He soon drifted back into sleep, but he was past the worst. He was going to be all right. Physically, at least. But there were questions that needed to be asked, and the answers might be painful.
She came into his room with a tray the next morning, and he picked without interest at his food.
"You need to eat," she said, trying not to sound like a nag, but he was weak and painfully thin.
"I'm not hungry. Am I meant to live on toast and porridge?"
He had already begun to complain about the bland diet the doctor had prescribed, but his system couldn't yet handle anything richer. She ignored him and went on after a beat. "Oskar…how is he?"
"He is well." The mention of his son brought a small smile. "When I didn't return from the war, he assumed I was dead and started using the title. He's been living on the estate since the war ended."
She took a deep breath before speaking. "And your wife?"
His face darkened for a moment. "She died in 1942. She was never a strong woman. Manfred's death, Oskar's accident…it was more than she could bear."
"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. He gave a thin smile and nodded. The war had claimed yet another victim, and she had felt a certain kinship with this woman who had worried and mourned for sons.
"And what of our Mr. Brotherson?" His smile widened as he spoke of Philip.
"Mr. Brotherson has abandoned all hopes of a walling career, you'll be happy to know. He works in the City. Engaged to a lovely girl. I expect I'll be a grandmother soon," she said with an arched eyebrow. "Some days I look it, too."
"Never." He reached out for her hand. There was a beat. "And the Senator?"
"He's marrying the Bailiff's widowed daughter. The divorce should be final soon." She expected a reaction, a look of triumph, but there was nothing, only a look of sympathy and understanding. "He could have sued me. God knows I've given him reason. But in the end, he went to some sordid little hotel with a woman he'd never laid eyes on, where they were 'surprised' by a detective hired by the solicitor. All very civilised," she said wryly.
There was a noise from the corridor, and Charlotte's curious little face pressed against the crack in the door. She had been pop-eyed with excitement for days after hearing her soldier daddy had returned home after all. The magical worlds of children aren't bound by such rules, and in the imagination of a little girl not quite five, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. She poked her head in the door as Felicity and Heinrich sat there. It had pained Felicity to keep her away from her father in those first few days, but he was stronger now. It was time.
She signaled her in, and she crawled up onto the bed next to the Baron. She put her small hands on either side of his rough face. "Hullo, Daddy," she said soberly, matter-of-factly. "I knew you'd come back." He reached up and put his hands on top of hers, and she tilted her chin up curiously. "Why are you crying? Why is he crying, Mummy?"
Felicity smoothed her daughter's unruly gold curls and sniffed back her own tears. "Because he's very, very happy to see you, darling."
Charlotte wrinkled her nose, but then let out a giggle. "But that's silly! You don't cry when you're happy, you laugh when you're happy!"
And so they smiled through tears, and Charlotte let out a sunny, satisfied peal of laughter, her arms wrapped tight around her father's neck. They sat that way for a long moment, a circle of three.
He was an awful patient in the weeks that followed, refusing the bland diet and trying to get out of bed when he shouldn't. "I'm not a damned invalid!" he would bark at her when she tried to force more dry toast and broth. He was irritable and restless, but she took it as a good sign. He was recovering.
And that is when the nightmares started. He was still confined to bed when Ronnie Clarke appeared one afternoon with a briefcase gripped in one hand. Felicity led him to the guest room where she was promptly dismissed and the door closed behind them. Heinrich was always moody and distressed after these visits, short-tempered with her and Margaret. Then at night she would hear him crying out in pain, followed by a stream of feverish, disjointed German. She would watch him from the chair by the bed, holding his hand and mopping his damp forehead until he eased again. The next day he would be quiet and withdrawn.
There were small triumphs, though. His mood improved when he was allowed to get out of bed. His appetite returned, and he took second and third helpings of everything, much to Margaret's delight. He had been thin, desperately ill, when he had arrived, and his clothes had hung off him like a scarecrow, but his long frame had begun to fill out.
He was eager to make up for the time he had lost with his daughter, and most afternoons, this powerful man who had once been the commandant of St. Gregory could be found sitting patiently at the little table and chairs in Charlotte's room while she entertained him with invisible cups of tea and biscuits.
It was late one afternoon when she had returned from the shops. It was Margaret's day off, and she climbed the stairs to his room to find it empty, the bed made. There was a moment of panic, and she searched the rooms for signs of him and Charlotte.
She found them in the garden. He was sitting there in a chair, dappled by the late afternoon sun, Charlotte curled up asleep on his lap wearing a tutu and her fairy wings. He looked down at her sleeping face with wonder in his eyes and he held onto her as if he were holding something fragile. One hand stroked her curls.
His blond hair had been ruffled by the breeze, and he looked happier than she'd seen him since he had returned. His eyes were clear and bright, and he had lost the dark hollows in his cheeks. He was almost himself again, she thought, and she stood watching them for a moment with tears in her eyes before he looked up at her with a smile. "I've just been treated to a most wonderful and unique version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Unfortunately, the star fell asleep at the interval."
Felicity smiled and crossed over to them. Charlotte stirred, and Heinrich kissed her fingertips. "I never thought I'd have another child, let alone a daughter," he said.
"It suits you." There was a long beat while they watched her sleep. "Let's put her to bed. Can you manage?"
"She's my child. I can manage." He slid his hands under her knees and lifted her up. He winced and paused for a moment. The arm that had been broken in the camps had never healed properly, and it still caused him pain, but he gritted his teeth and cradled his daughter in his arms as he carried her upstairs to her bedroom. Felicity peeled the wings from Charlotte's shoulders while Heinrich held her up, and she murmured sleepily as her father laid her in bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. They watched her for a moment in the doorway. Heinrich slipped an arm around Felicity's waist and dropped a kiss onto the top of her head.
She shivered as his lips lingered there. She was happier than she thought she could be, but she would have to be content with these occasional and fleeting moments of physical intimacy. He had still been weak when he returned, and lovemaking had been out of the question. He was stronger now, and she could sense that the physical need of it was as intense in him as it was in her.
Still, there was something holding him back. Each night, they would part with a kiss that had grown more urgent these past few weeks. She would slip her hands around his neck to draw him in, but she was pushed back with firm hands on her shoulders and a mumbled good night as he headed to the guest room. She ached for him, for the feel of his arms around her, the solid, strong feel of his body against hers, but he was pulling away from her again, and she looked up at him with a sad smile. "I think I'll take a bath before we eat. I won't be long."
He nodded in response, and she turned down the darkened corridor towards her room. The bath had become her retreat, and she cried in frustration as she sat immersed in the soothing water.
Afterwards, she stood in front of the mirror, brushing her hair, her dressing gown hanging loosely from her shoulders. With a sigh, she slipped it off and reached for the dress she'd been wearing earlier.
She saw him then, standing in the doorway behind her, watching her reflection in the mirror. Startled, she gasped, but then she turned slowly towards him, her eyes on his without shame, and he watched her, his face a blend of desire and pain.
There was a weariness about him that she had never known on the island, but he was as handsome, as desirable as he had ever been, standing there in his white shirt, sleeves unbuttoned and rolled to the elbows. He was strong again, and she could see the hard sinews of his forearms.
She wanted him, and she stood silently beckoning him inside.
He lifted his hand and pushed the door fully open and then took a step in to her, his eyes questioning. She crossed to him, her arms open, and wrapped them around his neck, pulling him in to meet her inviting mouth. He kissed her, his lips soft and tentative against hers, and she let out an encouraging moan. He bent in closer, kissing her with more urgency, and she let her hands move up, tangling in his hair.
She could feel his breathing quicken, every nerve stood on edge as his hands slid across her damp skin and cupped her soft, naked breasts. "Yes," she moaned softly. "I love you. Please. Yes."
She slid her leg between his, and she could feel him respond against her. She wanted this, she was lost in it, feeling herself drift when she was jolted out of it with a pair of hands pushing her away and the kiss breaking its connection.
He stood in front of her, breathing heavily, his eyes cast down. "I'm…sorry."
"What's wrong?" She felt vulnerable, standing there naked, rejected by her lover. She turned her eyes away, not able to look at him. "Don't you find me attractive anymore?"
She could sense his frustration, hands jammed in his pockets to keep from touching her. "My God, how could you think that?" he groaned, his voice thick and low, aching with desire.
"Then what? What is it?" she asked tenderly and reached her hand out for him. He moved away and spoke with great difficulty.
"I cannot be who you need me to be, Felicity."
"And who is it you think I need you to be?" She reached out again and placed a hand against his face. His eyes were still cast down, but this time he didn't move away. "Please tell me."
"Look at me," he said, as if this was all the evidence she needed.
"I am looking at you."
"Don't you understand? I am not the man I was on the island. I can never be that man again." The painful words erupted from his chest, and he looked away in shame. "My body…it's weak…useless."
"What? Because you were shot? Because you can't lift your right arm over your head anymore?" She made a small noise of disbelief and circled her arms around his neck. "Is that all? Do you think I care about that? Do you think I want you any less?"
"How can you want me? The nightmares…" he said with a shame that sent a pang through her. "You deserve a whole man. Someone who can be strong for you."
She smiled and blinked back tears. "You just need time. You can have all the time you need. And none of us is the same. We can't be. Not after all we've been through. But I need you. I want you. Please." She pulled him in again, her mouth skimming across the whorl of his ear. "Do you still want me?"
"Yes. God, I want you." His voice was rough and yearning.
"I'm yours," she whispered again. "I'm yours."
She pulled him down towards her mouth, and this time he did not resist. The final wall of resistance had given way. "I need you, Felicity…I need you." There was a vulnerability in his voice she had never heard before.
"I'm here," she said. "I've missed you…love you…love you so much." His arms slipped around her waist as he kissed her hair, her mouth, her face, her words rambling and tumbling between his kisses.
They moved across the floor into the bedroom, and there was no hesitation now. She sat on the edge of the bed and unbuttoned his shirt. Her heart fluttered when she saw the jagged scar that twisted across his torso. He winced as she ran her fingers across it, but then she pressed her mouth gently against the scar, accepting him as he was now.
She lay back on the bed, reaching out a hand for him. There was a flicker of hesitation in his eyes, but she pulled him down to her, taking his face in her hands. "It's all right," she whispered, and his mouth dropped down to hers, moving down her throat and covering her breasts.
"You are beautiful…so beautiful." She could feel her body melting into his as his hands, his mouth moved gently across her, finding their old rhythms after the long winter. And then it was as if they had never been apart, they moved as if in a well-practiced duet again.
No, it wasn't as it had been, she realised as he covered her body with his. It was richer, fuller, more tender.
He eased himself between her legs, his eyes never leaving hers. He paused, hesitating as he entered her, but then she curled her fingers against his back, urging him ahead, and he slipped fully inside of her. She arched her back, crying out and biting her lip as he glided above her. "I love you," he said, and she replied the same, their voices tumbling, blending, building until he let out his own cry and collapsed against her, burying his face in the curve of her neck. She held him tight there for a long moment before he rolled away, and they lay there tangled in the sheets, breathless, content.
He spoke after a long moment of silence, his voice low and uncertain. "Do you think you could be happy this way, Felicity?"
She sat up and looked down at him with a frown, pulling the sheet around her. He traced a circle on her back with his fingertips. "What way?"
"With me. Here in London."
"I don't care where we go. We can stay here. Or you can change your name to Henry Gardener and we can go live in the country, if you'd rather. We can go to Germany. We can go to Timbuktu for all I care. And I don't care what people think. I'm not leaving you ever again."
"Our sons are grown men. What we do isn't their concern."
He reached up and wove his fingers through her hair, pulling her gently down to him with a kiss. "I love you, Felicity. You and Charlotte. And I won't leave you. Not ever."
In the end they sold the house in Kensington and bought a place in the country but still within reach of London. There was a small vineyard and a lazy river flowed through it, and Heinrich said it reminded him of his estate on the Rhine. Some day he would take her there when the wounds of war had healed in his country.
He would always bear the scars of what had happened to him, but he grew stronger, mentally and physically, with each passing week. There were nights when she would hold him when he would wake from nightmares, but they gradually tapered off until undisturbed sleep finally returned. When the spring came, he was himself again, only softened by time and experience.
Philip finally came to see them there, bringing with him his fiancée, a funny, clear-eyed girl called Patricia who had been a nurse during the war. The conversation was strained at first, but Patricia was there to act as a buffer, and of course there was Charlotte, twirling and dancing and charming everyone.
Later in the evening, Patricia offered to take Charlotte up to bed as the men headed out into the cool night for cigars. Felicity watched them from the kitchen window as they stood there gesturing in the near distance, making plans, she knew, for a garden wall.
The war had finally ended for them, the island finally left behind. Perhaps the world no longer cared what they did. There was peace at last.
Some nights they would sit inside. They had bought a piano, and the sounds of Chopin would drift through the house. Other nights, they would stroll through the garden, Charlotte sitting astride her father's shoulders.
But most nights, Felicity and Heinrich would sit in the moonlight alone, together, listening to the wind in the vines.