Integra stood silently and let the woman fuss. It took an effort of will not to squirm or fidget under her careful, last minute ministrations. Finally she was finished, and stepped back.
'My Lady, you look spectacular," she gushed. Integra bit back a harsh reply and looked to Walter, who intervened and shooed the small woman from the room, thanking her for her efforts. When the door clicked closed behind her, Integra indulged in a sigh, and, for the fourth time that day, stated her fondest wish.
"I wish this were over and done with." She swept to the desk and picked up a cigar. "And all this frippery is a waste. Surely a small, civil service would have sufficed."
Walter bore the oft-repeated rant with grace. "The Queen is fully aware of your feelings on the matter. I believe this is a case of a little revenge for the other suitors you've… declined."
"Chased off, you mean." Lighting the cigar and inhaling deeply, Integra smiled at the memories. "I understand her Majesty's insistence on an heir, but there are other ways to go about it. I needn't marry at all." Walter nodded, familiar with that part of the rant as well.
"I must see that the cars are ready." He paused, one hand on the doorknob, then turned and smiled. "You do look lovely, Sir Integra." He left the room swiftly as a blush rose in Integra's cheeks, knowing she wouldn't accept the compliment.
Integra let out another sigh and a cloud of smoke as the old retainers' footsteps faded. The last few weeks had been, quite literally, chaos. She silently thanked God again for Walter and Seras Victoria. Walter had taken on the administrative details of the state wedding; guest lists, seating plans, and the like, whilst Seras had handled the dress. Another smile quirked Integra's lips as she remembered the look on Seras' face when she had asked for the police girl's aid. Seras looked like she'd died again and gone to heaven.
"You mean, I get to design it, and everything?" Seras' eyes were huge in her pale face.
"Yes, I don't have the time to do it." Integra frowned. "The Queen's own dressmaker will be visiting shortly. It's an honour, but one I'd prefer to forgo. I suppose it's Her Majesty's way to make sure I don't show up in a suit."
"You can't do that!" Seras flinched a little as Integra's frown turned on her. "I mean, it's a white wedding. In a church. And everything. Didn't you ever plan your wedding when you were a little girl?"
"No." Integra's voice was dry. "I had… other things on my mind."
"I did." Seras grew dreamy eyed. "Down to the flowers and the cummerbunds." She gave a happy little sigh. "Don't worry, Sir Integra, I'll take care of it." From the expression on Seras' face, Integra didn't know whether to laugh, or be afraid.
Her help had meant that Integra had been completely peripheral to the entire process. The dress had only had to be fitted twice, Integra enduring the process with bad humour, but that was all. She knew it was white, and there were pearls involved, but that was about it. She'd steadfastly refused to look in a mirror whilst wearing the layers. She didn't want to start laughing at herself; it would set a bad precedent.
Seras would be included in the bridal party, even though Integra's soon to be mother-in-law had thrown a temper tantrum. The old harridan took offence at everything to do with the woman her son was to wed, and tried to draw a firm line at vampires in the church. Integra had come within a hairs breath of shooting her more than once.
The old woman sipped her tea elegantly and managed to sneer without facial expression as Integra lit a cigar. She managed to sneer at everything in Integra's ancestral home since she'd stepped into it less than an hour before. This was the first, and God willing, the last time Integra would have to play host to her, so she would be polite. She would be polite if it killed her.
"You certainly have a… large home, Lady Hellsing."
Integra watched the woman struggle for small talk. "It's Sir Hellsing. And thank you." I think, she added internally.
"Sir Hellsing?" The woman frowned, the first expression Integra had seen on her well-bred face. "Very well. Now, about this wedding. Her Majesty has informed me of the… occupation of The Hellsing Organisation. I trust none of your more… unusual… employees will be attending?"
"I'm not sure I follow your meaning, Lady Nonce." She did, of course, but she wanted to make the old woman say it.
"The… vampires. And the mercenaries." Lady Nonce gave an aristocratic sniff. "Such attendees would lower the tone of the ceremony."
"I see." Integra set down her teacup and leaned forward. "Seras Victoria is a valued member of this organization, and will be a member of the bridal party. Do I make myself clear?"
"The Queen will not approve. The attending priest certainly will not approve," Lady Nonce spluttered.
"The Queen does not care. And I can find another priest. I will go through the entire clergy one by one if I must."
The old woman slammed her cup back onto its saucer and shot to her feet. "How dare you speak to me in such a tone!" Integra leaned back in her chair and smiled grimly.
"Understand this. I do this under sufferance. There is precious little I ask for in this whole… debacle, and that is one of them. I really don't particularly care about your opinion." Lady Nonce must have realised that she was gaping like a commoner, as she snapped her mouth shut.
"Well, then I don't believe that there is anything more to say." She turned and sailed from the room, her shoulders stiff and her head thrown back.
Alucard glided through the wall to Integra's left. "That could have gone better," he said with a grin on his face. Integra said nothing, counting the seconds. The front door slammed, reverberating through the mansion.
"I agree," she sighed. "At least I won't have to put up with her after the wedding."
"I could take her out to the range and use her for target practice if you'd like, Master." Integra startled herself by actually considering it.
Her husband-to-be was a pleasant surprise next to his mother. In truth, he'd been nothing more than the least objectionable of her suitors. He was well mannered, unassuming, nice enough to look at, fairly intelligent, and had cemented her choice when he'd offered to shake hands with Alucard at their first meeting. He had known who and what the vampire was, and the look on her undead servant's face had been priceless.
Integra frowned to herself as she lit another cigar. Alucard. There was no dignified way to put it. The vampire had been sulking, pouting like a child denied a treat, ever since the wedding date had been set. She could not understand – what would change? She married to gain an heir, nothing more. Her husband would have no power within the Hellsing Organisation; no control over Alucard, so what was his problem? His remarks had been more cutting, his temper more vicious, since she had chosen David to wed.
"And there is the matter of the bridal cars. I have presumed to hire limousines," Walter continued.
"A hearse might be more appropriate, don't you think, Master?" a snide voice remarked.
Integra resisted the urge to rub her temples as Walter blinked at the tall vampire. His voice was stiff as he continued his report, ignoring Alucard. "The church is organised, the seating plan arranged. Miss Victoria says that the final dress fitting is tomorrow, so you should be prepared for that." He checked the list he carried again. "And the Crown Prince is attending as an official representative of the Queen, so I have made accommodations in the seating for His Highness and his body guards."
"Perhaps he's coming to make sure you don't run away," Alucard commented. Not for the first time in the last few weeks, Integra considered hitting him.
"Thank you, Walter," she said instead. He bowed and exited, leaving Integra alone with Alucard. She turned in her chair to glare at the vampire.
"Your mission. We have received intelligence that a 'rave', a warehouse party in south London, is being targeted by an organised group of vampires tonight. It needs to be handled discreetly."
Alucard nodded, then passed through the wall without a parting shot. Integra sighed with relief.
As if Integra's thoughts had conjured him, his deep voice sounded from behind her. "Rethinking becoming a brood mare, Master?" he taunted.
She crushed out her cigar and turned to face him. "What is it, Alucard?" Her voice was as weary as she felt. He said nothing, simply staring at her. His gaze travelled slowly down her body, then just as slowly back up. His crimson eyes locked on hers, and she could not read the message in them. "What is it?" she demanded again, a little nervously.
"You stand there and have to ask that?" His voice was more husky than normal. Integra glanced down, frowned in puzzlement, then looked back up at him and gave a little shrug.
"I don't quite follow," she answered.
"Master, have you seen yourself?" Integra shook her head. Alucard swiftly crossed the room, clamped a hand on her forearm and pulled her over to the full-length mirror the dressmaker had left behind. She got as far as "Let go of-" before she stopped, startled by the sight in the mirror.
The woman there was enveloped in a floor-length gown of glistening white satin, with tasteful gold embroideries here and there. A gleaming train swept the floor behind her, overlaid to her waist with a delicate veil that softened her swept back hair. The bodice of the dress was simple and elegant, cut straight across, highlighting the length of her neck and her soft, creamy skin. A delicate tiara completed the ensemble to hold the veil in place atop her head, and Integra could only gape. I'm pretty, she thought, bemused.
"No, Master, you are beautiful," Alucard answered her unspoken thought. Integra blinked and met his eyes in the mirror. "And to think this is being wasted on that, that, lordling." His eyes burned into hers.
"What do you care?" Integra snapped, breaking his grip on her arm, turning to face him.
Alucard grinned. "All these years, I've been waiting. First, for you to grow up. Then for you to make the choice, to come to me of your own free will." He leaned in closer. "What would you do if I took you, here, now? Gave you eternal life?"
Integra leaned back. "Hunt you down and kill you. Then probably kill myself." What was happening? Looking into his eyes, she felt dizzy, disorientated.
"But if I did," he continued in a whisper, "you would not have to marry. You'd be free of the obligation. You wouldn't have to lie under that boy, just to conceive." It hit her in a flash.
"You're jealous," she said in a wondering voice.
"Can any man look at you now and not be?" He paused, and then smiled. "Admit it, you've considered it, as a means of gaining your freedom."
"That doesn't mean I'd go through with it." She fought to keep still as he leaned closer still.
"Come with me, Integra." His mouth was a breath away from hers. "Be free."
"Your breath smells like blood," she whispered.
"I know," he replied, and pressed his lips to hers. In that one timeless moment, Integra saw it all. Eternal life, eternal youth, power undreamt of. To be a creature of the night, to know the thrill of the hunt and the kill. And part of her wanted it, wanted it badly. When Alucard drew back, she saw that knowledge burning in his eyes. His lips parted, bringing his fangs to prominence.
It was at that moment that Walter knocked on the door, then opened it and announced the cars were ready. Integra stepped back, straightening her spine. The look in Alucard's eyes changed to regret as she moved past him towards Walter. She turned at the threshold to face him once more. "I have my duty, Alucard."
He turned his face away and addressed the mirror. "It is your choice, my Master," was all he said, as the door closed softly behind her.