"Sir Integra," Walter began, pushing open the door to her office, and stopped. The room was empty, lights off, laptop closed. He glanced at his watch. Half-past ten in the morning.

Concern hurried his footsteps up to her room, where he tapped lightly at the door and then opened it. Perhaps she was ill? {Very ill - she doesn't stay in bed unless you threaten to tie her down.}

She seemed to be asleep, still in her clothes, curled up and clutching a pillow. "Integra?" he asked softly, not wanting to wake her.

He found himself on the receiving end of an unfocused sleepy gaze. There were dark circles under her eyes and she looked like she'd been crying. "Walter?"

"Are you well?" is what he meant to say. What actually came out of his mouth was, "What's the matter, pet?"

She looked stricken. "Nothing."

He raised both eyebrows. "Nothing?"

"Nothing. Alucard. It doesn't matter."

The rage was not unexpected but rather overwhelming. "What's he done to you?" His fingers itched. If Alucard had made his mistress cry, Walter was quite willing to demonstrate that the vampire wasn't as immortal as he thought he was.

"Nothing!" she repeated, more firmly. "It was my own bloody fault. What time is it?"

"Integra. If he's hurt you...."

"Only my dignity, Walter, which has taken no few bumps over the years. I'm fine. Really."

"Then why were you crying?" he asked, as gently as he could manage.

He watched her struggling with the temptation to deny it. "Foolish girlhood dreams," she said instead. She looked about sixteen, in that moment. "It's not important."

"It's important to me."

She sighed. "It probably is, at that. But it shouldn't be important to me."

"But it is."

"Is it raining?" she asked, looking toward the window. "It's cold in here."

He considered resisting the less-than-subtle attempt to draw his attention away from her, but gave in. She had a right to her privacy, after all. "It is, at last. It appears that the heat wave is over."

"Good," she sighed, loosening her hair. "Things can get back to normal, then." And she refused to say any more.

-- FIN --

And that's it for "Heat Wave." I hope everyone enjoyed it... and nobody resents the suddenly serious turn the piece took at the end. (It is impossible, I believe, for me to write fluffy Hellsing for more than four chapters.) This has been one of those delightful pieces that seem to write themselves... it decided where it wanted to go and dragged me along with it. I've worked on this thing, at various times, tired, stressed, frustrated, worried sick, half-drunk, and grieving. It's given me a wonderful outlet and a break from the AxI epic I'm fighting with. Thanks so very much for all the positive feedback - I was absolutely overwhelmed by the level and sheer amount of encouragement. Special thanks to: my beta readers, for encouraging me to experiment, and share it with the rest of the world; to Angie, whose feedback inspired chapter two (this is ALL YOUR FAULT, mwa ha ha ha); and to Telute, who inspired chapter five. This is the first time I've posted an in-progress work, and I only did it because it was supposed to be a one-shot! Thank you guys for making sure it wasn't. And thanks for listening to my rambling. :)