Stowe, Vermont
August 1957

Several hours later, Maria knocked on the office door, wherein her husband was busily attempting to catch up on a backlog of paperwork related to his private contract work that he did for the U.S. Navy. She sidled in when he bid her enter, closing the door behind her.

"I don't mean to interrupt," she said, sitting down on the divan near the fireplace. She leaned over the back of it to look at her husband and said, "I've spoken with Brigitta just now, and she has agreed to contact the specialist that Robert's family are friends with."

"Good," he said, glancing up briefly from the sheaf of papers he was currently reading and correcting. "The sooner the better."

"She wants me to come up for the weekend," Maria said.

Biting her lip, she hesitated, and Georg noticed that she actually was fidgeting, something he hadn't seen her doing in a very long time. Nowadays, she tended to be too tired to expend this sort of energy on nonessential movement.

Raising a questioning eyebrow, he tilted his head slightly and removed his glasses. "Yes, Maria?"

"I know we still have so much to work through," she said, "and we have many more discussions to have. This morning was awful and this afternoon was… challenging. But I—can we please… can we just skip all that for a while and you be kissing me right now?"

It was with this confession that Georg finally noticed something different, something crucial. When he actually looked at his wife and saw her sitting there before him, he realized that she was not dressed in the clothing she had left the house in. In fact, she wasn't wearing day clothes at all. She was wrapped in a dressing gown, and it wasn't one of her plain, cotton utilitarian ones. Oh, no.

It was a periwinkle blue silk dressing gown that he'd given to her long ago, on their first wedding anniversary in America. It had been especially dear, then, an extravagant expense, and nearly impossible to find because of the war, but he had been determined, and he had managed it. Though Maria was not particularly prone to materialism, she had loved it, for it reminded her of a similar gift he had given her in Paris which she no longer had because of the need to pack and leave home quickly.

Thus the garment quickly became an innocent token which indicated from her a desire to be ravished, and apparently she had dug it out from whatever pile of practical, easily-cleaned and -bleached garments it had spent years buried under.

"Oh, God," he breathed, staring at her. "You—your robe…"

A slow, wicked, dark smile spread over Maria's bare, freckled face. "Took you a bit, this time," she teased. "I hate to think what challenges you'll face if I simply… lay back."

All at once, Georg's brain began to catch up to the series of events that should have indicated from the first moment that Maria had more than just weekend plans on her mind. He suddenly remembered hearing the scraping and clicking of something, which must have been a key. A clink as she set it down on a side table and approached the divan. The rustle of the silk fabric, the fact that she held one arm around herself because the sash was not tied. The playful way she seemed to drape herself over the back of the divan, and then nervously prattle, seeking his attention.

When he stood up, he knocked his chair backward into the wall, which made Maria gasp and then giggle.

"Darling," she smirked, "you'll put a hole in the wall!"

"Blast the wall," he growled, and in just a few strides he had crossed over to her, and took her face in his hands, kissing her fiercely as he sat down beside her, hovered over her, pushed away the dressing gown to find her naked body beneath.

She grabbed onto his collar, meeting his kisses with fierce ones of her own. Every inch of his skin that she could find, she pressed her lips to, and when she had the chance, she began to undo the buttons of his shirt. His belt, old and worn, well-broken in, was easy work, and she yanked it out of the belt loops in one long motion, gasping as the twisting of her torso caused her some discomfort.

The belt clattered to the floor in the same moment, and at her gasp, Georg pulled back sharply. "Maria—" he said, but she shook her head and put a finger to his worried lips, silently rejecting the worry.

"It will pass," she promised. "I feel so good. My body is still learning how to be upright without help, and we rode the horse today. We hiked. It is not serious. If it becomes serious, I will tell you and I will stop you."

Breathing hard, he studied her serious face and understood that he would have to make a choice to trust her judgment. He could trust her and this could continue, or he could refuse and this would end. If it ended, he did not want to know where things would fall. He had already rejected her once, today, and there was a pressing sense of urgency in the tight knot in his chest that he could not get away with it a second time and be counted blameless.

"Alright," he nodded, "I trust you."

So, they both breathed, and then began again, Maria immediately placing her hands to the fly of his pants, he placing a hand against the firm flesh of her breast. In moments, she had freed him from the confines of his trousers, and his boxers with them, and his open shirt hung over her, shielding her, as he leaned down and licked his tongue against the skin of her torso, suddenly remembering just how much he had missed this. Last night he had played between her legs, but now, he wanted to play with her body, and he wanted to see what she had in her, too.

She shuddered as he licked her, from navel to collarbone, again and again, his tongue swirling around the skin of her breasts, nipping gently at her nipples as he passed them by, biting gently into her shoulder before he lifted his head and sank lower, all to begin again.

How long he did this, he did not know, but Georg continued this task until the unmistakable musk of Maria's arousal was not just faint, but the overwhelming sensory stimulant every time he began his trek across her skin anew. Fingers slipped between her legs to cup her crux and dip into her, coming away slick with proof of his ministrations, dampening the dark thatch of curls there.

He moaned against her chest in pleasure, still prone to marvel at what he could do to her body, and then rose up to whisper in her ear, telling her what he had found, and asking if he might put his mouth there, again, to kiss her and pleasure her and suck that mysterious, small thing that was fully woman, and for pleasure only.

"Please," she breathed, "please do."

And thus he helped Maria move so that one leg was bent and propped against the back of the divan, the other hanging off the edge, her body comfortably wedged into the corner, her head thrown back in rapture, so completely taken with this exercise in pleasure that she paid little heed to the details other than to follow instructions.

He then knelt onto the floor beside her and paused to take in this sight. In lieu of his help, her own hand had come to her crux, and she was lost in the continuation of pleasure, patiently waiting but also not idle. Her body was flushed, her breathing was fast, but deep—something he had promised her was worth the effort, once. It pleased him, to see what she remembered, still, and what she had learned to take for her own. He so liked confidence in the women he bedded. How lucky he felt to call her his.

And then, without so much as a word, he leaned in and placed his mouth on her sex, and he kissed her slowly, languidly, and let it be the greeting after a long, unplanned farewell. The night before, he had aimed to bring her to the precipice of pleasure for them both, hoping to help her body remember what it was they could be, together, before he joined himself with her inside.

Now, however, he wanted to help himself remember, in the light of day, the absolute delight that was his wife's body. Upon it he found the passage of time, the coming and going of their children, and now, evidence that there was a sickness that lurked beneath the surface. But at last, it was not worry that he carried, the worry of forgetting the sickness, for the mark upon her abdomen was there to remind him of the price, and for the first time, he let himself feel the relief that swept in, washing over the fear in a wave.

He had always been so afraid of forgetting, but now, he could remember.

The breasts which had nursed their four children were still pertly wideset, but not quite so high as when she was young. Her figure, always lean, had remained so, though he suspected that he would discover in the coming months what had diminished without his noticing. And though not as thin as she had been in the worst of times, he could count her ribs beneath her skin, and he hoped that in time she would fill out again. The starkest difference was that her hips jutted out defiantly in a way that he hadn't seen up close, and if he had, he hadn't needed to worry about it as an element of their intimacy. She'd weighed more at Christmas, he remembered. Not much more, but enough to make a difference.

He kissed her new scar tenderly as her hands played with his hair and marveled at the fact that this broken body of hers was able to do so much. And then, word by word, between sighs and kisses and moans as he licked and sucked at her crux, he told her just that.

"Your body still lights on fire," he murmured. "It arouses and it comes to life, my love." Holding her legs apart, for her muscles began to tense, and her body began to tilt into him, he continued, "It carries you through the day, and it can still play. I saw you fidget before I saw the rest." He paused long enough to suck her hot, engorged flesh, the hard nub of her clitoris the thing around which he guided his tongue.

And then, so gentle it was a whisper, he breathed on that fascinating mystery and she cried out, and said, "Whatever it is that takes so much from you, in spite of that this body of yours made a child. It made five, in fact, and made sure four are with us still. Played against a stacked deck."

He pressed a finger to one side of her sex, dragging it down, then stroked the other side. She was whimpering now. Georg leaned down to kiss her again, and then once more, and then again for good measure. "This body sees you through every night, then into each new day. It is remarkable."

Maria's pelvis jerked upward as he pushed three fingers inside her and massaged the ridges just beyond her pubic bone, pleased at how swollen it had become. He thought he felt something catch deep inside her, and on the outside, he heard that she choked back a sob, overcome with emotion.

He continued the massage, hooking his fingers behind the bone and focused on feeling how her muscles contracted around him, wanting to know all that he could.

Maria thought she would lose her mind from the intensity and the pressure and the complete impossibility of the pleasure that was building from deep inside her. Every muscle tightened, and she couldn't help herself when her body tried to jerk up and away, and her legs clamped themselves around Georg's shoulders as his fingers pressed into her insides and she thought she might scream, scream in broad daylight, for how much she could not take this.

"I.. can't…" she choked out, but just as she did so, something inside her gave way, and every fiber in her that was tight and tense broke into numbing release, wave upon wave of pleasure washing over her, and with a deep, shuddering breath, she went limp around him.

When, with heavily lidded eyes, Maria finally was able to lift her head and stare down at her husband, who had by then propped his head up with one hand and was lazily stroking her sex with the other, her arousal glistening in streaks down that arm, she tried to speak.

"What…what did you do?"

He grinned at her, and said, "I proved my point, I think. Your body did this, you see?" and he held up his arm. "Very impressive, Baroness."

"I… I…" she stuttered, and then burst into tears.

Climbing to his feet, Georg sat down opposite Maria and gathered her into his arms, cradling her as though she was a baby. "My dearest love," he murmured, "you're still here, aren't you? No matter what the doctors find out, you are still here. And I can still make love to you, and your body can respond in kind."

The intensity, the color, and gravity of the emotions coursing through Maria were impossible to place, impossible to name. So she did not try, and instead let the tears fall freely, mingling into the hair of her husband's chest. He smelled of her, and it brought her such comfort, to smell what he was mingled with herself. She had forgotten this, how deeply ingrained into her memory it was, and the feeling it evoked in her as though it was the first time, every time.

"Georg," she said when she could speak again. "I want you to find the daybook. Burn it."

"Are you sure, love?" Georg asked. "I do not disagree on principle, but it holds a wealth of important information, information we may need."

"I cannot bear the thought of its existence, what it represents," Maria said by way of explanation. "It has no place, here."

"If you're sure," he said.

"I am," she nodded. Then, she reached for his chin, cupping it in her hand, and whispered, "Your turn."

She kissed him, languidly and intentionally as he kissed her, and then slid to her knees onto the floor next to him, trading places. She grasped his penis in her hands and massaged it, applying even pressure until it grew hard again, jumping at her touch for how sensitive it was. She then lowered her mouth onto him and sucked, pulling back the skin gently so as to rub his tip with her tongue. She did this until he moaned loudly above her, then began to lick him, just as he had done her, but instead she began at his navel and ended just shy of the head of his penis. When his pelvis began to buck, she brought her mouth back around him, sucking and teasing and then trailing kisses down the length of his member, gently nipping with her teeth.

Her hands next wrapped around his balls and she massaged these gently, too, smirking at the choked sounds of pleasure that came from her husband's throat. She found that sensitive little spot just below them and rubbed with firm, unrelenting pressure, so that he cried out. Maria had made this discovery years ago, pleased to see that it was nearly as potent for him as the clitoris was for her, and had never forgotten it.

She then rubbed firm, determined hands up the insides of his thighs, then rose up onto her feet, surprising him. Her knees rested on either side as she straddled his lap, then slid up and down the length of his sex, transferring the slick wetness of her arousal to his skin, highly aware of where she wished to begin and end this contact.

His arms were thrown back, grasping the back of the divan, and so, Georg was unprepared for what he was sure she would not possibly do—not yet. She grasped him in one hand, then bent slightly over him, only to sink down onto him fully, joining them in one shocking, altogether otherworldly motion. Her muscles, by now much out of practice, she flexed around him experimentally, and was satisfied by his grunt. "I'll have to work back up to where I was," she whispered into his ear, "but that should be easy, don't you think?"

Georg was quite sure that the actual sound that came out of his mouth was a pained whimper.

Maria rose slowly up, then down, and up and down again, moving with careful deliberateness, concentrating on Georg's face as she did so. She had to notice her own body's responses, she knew, so that this did not go too far out of hand too fast, but she had forgotten what it was to see the face of rapture, for she hadn't seen it last night, shrouded in darkness, and that had been for her, anyway. This was for him, and he wore it now, and now that she saw his speechless face, she realized how she had missed it.

Eventually, once she established her rhythm, and decided how she would flex her muscles around his member, he would open his eyes again and hold his gaze with her. He would try to keep time, and rock his body in time with hers, thrusting gently as she rose and fell. This much, she remembered. He had a knack for this. He understood timing the way he understood the sea. It came naturally to him, knowing when to give and when to take. It had, after all, been his idea to try cunnilingus set to music, so long ago.

They had spent an evening out together, and then went to a concert. It had led to them discussing favourite composers and pieces, and Maria, taken with both the discussion and the concert, had placed a record on their Victrola when they arrived back home. One thing led to another, and soon they were naked on the floor, Georg following along to the music with his tongue against Maria's flesh, as if he were the conductor.

She couldn't remember anymore, where they had been. She didn't know where the children were. She could only remember that it had happened, and that it happened still. Sometimes, even in these last few years without their intimacy, she had dreamed of this and woke up wet. But then she would open her eyes to reality smacking her in the face, and her heart would break, and she would try to sleep again, instead of waking her husband, as she had been so apt to do in all the time before her living hell.

But how, she wondered, as she rose and fell over him, now, had she gotten through so long without this? Being with him, being close to him, having him inside her—it blew her to pieces and then knit her together again. And then, if they went again, or the next morning, or the next night, it would knit her together some more, keeping her sane and keeping her aware of every moment.

He kneaded her breasts, now, as he thrust into her, and his eyes were open. She looked down into them and clenched her muscles, glad to see the twitch in his face. She kissed him, then, full on the mouth, and their tongues met and that thing deep inside her lurched again, that thing that had disintegrated her, that thing that pulled her to him, and she cried out as she felt the wave break through her again, her body tightening and releasing around Georg without her oversight.

When Maria's body began to slacken, Georg gripped her arms tightly and thrust with a groan, and she felt the warmth of his release fill her, and she thought she might cry. How long had it been since he had done this and she had not been afraid of it? How long had it been that she had been convincing herself that she could live without it? Since she had given birth to Matty? She didn't know.

"Georg, I can't—" she breathed as he went soft inside her and she leaned against him. "I can't… live without this. You and me."

Wrapping his arms around his wife, dazed, Georg nodded and enjoyed the aftereffects of their quivering bodies, still joined, unable to say anything just now. He had formulated grand plans to have his way with her when she was through, but now she had spent him, and he couldn't think of a better way for it to have gone. She had done it. She hadn't pulled away, pushed him away, or suggest that she finish him another way. And now she was above him, unmoving, with his seed and his sex inside her, leaning into it, so utterly unafraid.

When eventually she climbed off of him, and then sat in his lap, she said, "Sorry, love, but I haven't any underthings and the divan could stain." There was a mischievous cheekiness in her tone, and when he looked around at her face, he saw it there too, glinting puckishly in her eyes.

Could he speak, he wondered? He shook his head. "Doesn't matter," he grunted. "Need to shower."

"Well, yes, but we must nevertheless escape undetected into our bedroom," Maria said seriously. "I don't know if I could walk, you might have to carry me."

"You—can't walk—" Georg sputtered, trying to protest.

"I suppose you could lend me your trousers," Maria teased, "but that might look a bit odd with my dressing gown."

Shaking his head, Georg nudged her off of him and looked down at the shirt that somehow still clung to him, beginning to button it, then pulled on his pants and tucked it in. The belt, he decided, was worth the chance of an odd glance, and he simply picked it up and folded it in his hands. His boxers, he tossed to his wife, who pouted at him before pulling them over her legs and drawing the string tighter to fit her waist, then pulled the periwinkle dressing gown back on.

"Oh, dear," she sighed, looking down the back of it as she circled around. "You'll have to walk behind me, it's damp from your… exhibition."

At this, he smirked with pride, and nodded in acquiescence. "Owning up to my part, I can do."

"Incorrigible," Maria muttered, sweeping by him, still smelling strongly to Georg of the musk of sex.

Brow furrowing, he followed her out of his office as she unlocked it, then down the hallway and to their bedroom door. There they met a confused Eleanore at the stairs which stood across from it, whose eyes went wide and face seemed to blanche at the sight of her parents' disheveled appearances. But she said nothing, and Maria simply said a cheerful, "Hello, darling!" before disappearing behind their bedroom door.

Georg followed behind moments later to find Maria naked on their bed and smirking at him with such a disproportionately mirthful expression. "I'd forgotten what fun it could be to startle one of them," she laughed upon seeing Georg's perplexed face. "And," she said, shrugging down at her naked self, "these sheets need washed, anyway!"

Whatever sense of herself had been lost in the midst of their lovemaking, clearly it had returned. Georg studied this woman before him, and when she sprawled backwards into their bed and splayed her legs, he felt that hunger ignite again, and he thought to himself, growling as he advanced toward her, stripping himself of his clothing, dropping his belt to the ground with a clatter, whatever encouragement his body needed, she could provide. In the meantime, he'd been wanting to find out if he could make her do it again, that release that had come from inside her, locked and wound so tight it was supposed to be impossible.

She squealed as he advanced toward her, laughing, and said saucily, "If you do that thing again, Georg, that you've never done before, I'll gladly let you bed me until I am completely addled. Whatever you desire, I am yours."

Her glee and her delight were contagious, and so, with a dark smile, Georg joined her on the bed and said, "Oh, I think I'll try to do you one better, Maria. I think I shall."

They never came out for dinner, and Maria supposed afterward that Eleanore must have guessed what was happening between her parents, for none of their children came to check on them. They hadn't even rattled the door, which remained unlocked.

Maria ran into Rosemary in the kitchen sometime after sunset, where she was busy eating a roll with cheese while Georg showered. Her daughter mostly busied herself with putting a kettle on, but eventually sat down with her mother at the scrubbed wood table in the kitchen to wait.

After several shy glances, Rosemary finally asked her mother, who remained purposefully oblivious while eating her evening snack, "Is everything alright, Mama?"

"Quite," Maria said, glancing up at her daughter indifferently. "Why, darling?"

"You and Papa did not fight?"

"No, sweet," Maria assured. "Quite the contrary."

"Oh," Rosemary said, her brow furrowing even as she blushed crimson. "It's just that Eleanore seemed to think… well…"

"Well, darling, spit it out, I haven't got all night," Maria said lightly, enjoying herself immensely.

Rosemary blushed a deeper red, but forever determined, she stated her question anyway: "Did you and Papa… have relations? I'm sorry, I just haven't seen you like this since Christmas," she rushed. "Some basic arithmetic would suggest from timing that it's… a fair assumption."

Maria thought her sides would split from trying not to laugh. Biting the inside of her cheeks to keep a straight face and thereby avoid discouraging her daughter from ever being willing to discuss this topic with her again in her natural life, she nodded solemnly, and replied, "That would be a logical assumption."

"And it was… good?"

Maria nodded solemnly again, not trusting herself to use words. Keeping this conversation open with her eighteen-year-old would be paramount in the coming years.

"Is it always?"

"I think it should be," Maria nodded, sobering a bit. "It can be. Though it isn't always. For lots of different reasons. What matters most, though is that you love and care for one another."

"I see." Rosemary said, determinedly holding her mother's gaze. "Thank you, Mama."

"You're welcome, love," Maria nodded. "Good night."

"Good night, Mama," she said, rising from the table. She made her way to the hallway, but then stopped and turned around, hesitating as she looked uncertainly at her mother.

"Yes, Rosemary?" Maria prompted.

"Do you think you and Papa might be quieter, tonight? I wouldn't ask, only the others start school tomorrow, and I am driving with Gillian to see Liesl tomorrow and we have to leave before sunrise. She wants me to drive, first."

"Of course, love," Maria said. "If I'm not up, drive safe and send Liesl our best."

Rosemary was wearing an expression on her face as though she did not believe any implication that her parents would be quieter, or that Maria would have slept enough by five in the morning to rise with her. Maria decided she would not contradict this, only waved her daughter off, and returned to finishing her bread roll. It was her turn to shower next, and Georg had promised her that he would join her if she would go eat something in the interim.

Thus, she complied, abuzz with anticipation.

She smiled to herself when she got up from the kitchen table to put her dishes and utensils in the sink, for it turned out that her daughter had never turned the tea kettle on, and had never even filled it.

"Clever girl," Maria muttered as she took the kettle and set it on its back burner.

When Maria finally fell to sleep that night, she did so with the fleeting thought that beyond obvious necessity, not a word had been uttered about her illness, and any aches or twinges had been easily accommodated for, and she had tried things she hadn't thought she could still do, and her husband had done things to her that he had all but given up on.

For the first time in a long time, Maria met slumber with a smile that was real, and with a warmth and content that drove away all fear. She was curled up against her husband, her bare backside pressing against his equally bare front, warm, safe, loved, and sated.