+++++

Author's notes: because I care so much about your reading entertainment that I'm willing to butt in to talk at you.

None of this is mine save the plot, which is so goofy I doubt Kouta Hirano wants it. It's taken an excruciatingly long time and many convolutions to present this relationship. And I have to go back and pick up one of my plot threads before I lose the chance.

But thank you for reading.

+++++

Integra delicately held the chopsticks between two fingers.

This was going to take a lot of negotiating. Frankly, she wasn't sure which idiotic male should be locked in the basement. Anderson stood at one side of the room, while Alucard remained at the other, and the tension in the room was beginning to raise the fine hairs on the back of her neck.

She took a tiny bite of rice. She pushed the bowl to the end of the desk. "Come here, Alucard."

He crossed the room. Anderson appeared to be blessing a letter opener. Integra made a mental note to get another; she didn't want letters combusting just because the person who wrote them was a little peeved with her.

She motioned to the small bowl on the tea tray. "Do you feel any unusual aversion towards that?"

"No. What is it?"

"Sticky rice." She waved her chopsticks. The wonderful thing about sticky rice, she was discovering, was that it stuck to chopsticks and made you seem much better at them than you actually were. She reached out with the chopsticks and tapped a grain of rice against Alucard's face. It stuck. Alucard looked balefully at her, removing it with two fingers.

"Chinese hopping vampires are apparently vulnerable to sticky rice," Integra explained sweetly. "I wanted to know if it was a shared weakness."

"And water," Anderson added. "They don't like it. They can't see things in it."

"I can't load a gun with sticky rice and water," Alucard complained. "Let me go test its vulnerabilities."

Anderson had been begging for her to loan him some explosives and his swords all day, Integra mused. Now Alucard. She would be lucky if she didn't drown in testosterone before her wedding day.

"I'm sending you to investigate a possible FREAK," Integra answered. Alucard narrowed his eyes. She saw the signs of anger appear on his face. Alucard so rarely needed to guard his emotions, and sometimes she could read him despite his efforts. He needed a challenge, existed for battle. If there was ever a time he would challenge her authority, it was when there was a new enemy on the horizon.

In other words, right now.

Anderson. . . Well, if she didn't feel something for him, she'd send him with Alucard to go take care of the investigation. Now that she was out of the sewers, she wasn't sure what she felt, exactly. Down there she had been claustrophobic, vital, on edge. Anderson was an ally, and the only non-corpse in the vicinity. Kissing Anderson had been a way to stabilize herself. Up here, he was a nuisance. A sincere, honest, and noble nuisance, but she'd liked her letter opener.

She made a mental note: a pleasant daydream for later pondering would be to lock both males in the basement. Ah, peace. . .

In the meantime, Alucard needed to be straightened out. "You didn't sense this vampire, didn't say anything when it was almost beneath our feet." She fished a cigar from her desk. "Such a weak presence can't be worth your time."

"This thing is very different from the creatures I usually see," Alucard said, in smooth protest. "I thought it was a subterranean creature, which you never showed an interest in."

"Alucard," Integra said, closing the distance between them, "I was fired on from a neighboring roof!" She lit her cigar. "Go. Investigate."

If she hadn't been watching for it, she would have missed the expression that touched Alucard's face. He bowed and moved away. She replayed the look, trying to decide if Anderson was in danger, or she. She didn't often see Alucard looking sad.

She opened a folded note on her desk with the end of her chopstick and sighed. Of course. She'd forgotten the psychologist she'd brought in. It was past time to throw him out. She glanced at her watch. Too late now. She'd have to do it in the morning.

*~* "Oh, hello, Sir Integra." Wendell beamed at her. Integra gave him a small, civil smile.

"How's your work going?" Integra took the seat he offered.

"Swimmingly," Wendell answered, obviously suppressing his enthusiasm. "I've just been studying lately. If I may ask, what were those explosions I heard yesterday evening?"

"Practice," Integra answered. She realized from his expression she'd spoken a shade too quickly.

"Two soldiers came to my room. One asked me to stay inside. The other one took his rifle and watched the window."

"It's their responsibility to be sure the residents of the house are safe during drills," Integra explained.

"Who was he going to shoot?" Wendell asked gently.

Integra tipped her head back slightly, buying a shade more distance. "My soldiers followed drill protocol. Please don't concern yourself with how they do their duties." The small man's face held a look of deep thoughtfulness. She wasn't sure she liked that.

"I've come to thank you for the services you've been required for, but I'm afraid we have little further use for analysis." The initial look of dismay that crossed his face almost went by her; she was distracted by thoughts of sticky rice and hopping vampires. She looked carefully at him, a little nonplussed. "I will certainly compensate you for time spent here."

He nodded. "I'll be sure to send a bill once I return to my office."

"Thank you." Integra rose. He watched her, a frown line between his eyebrows. Integra, pondering, went to find Walter. He should know that their guest was departing, and she hadn't had a good chance to speak to him.

She found him in the library, comparing the characteristics of the Chinese Hopping Vampire with the Polynesian Sand Vampire. "Hello, Walter. I've requested that Wendell pack and depart." She stretched. "I wanted to cull the amount of things we need to worry about while we're tracking down where this new vampire came from."

Walter nodded. "Good. I've had a difficult time keeping track of him."

"What do you mean? Hasn't he been in the library?"

"He appears to want to go all over the castle. I thought about assigning him a soldier."

"Well, if he hasn't been in the library," Integra scowled at the picture in the book, which showed a group of natives slaughtering a sand-colored leaping creature, "what's he been studying?"