Death Wish (Stealing Candy from Children)
She sighed as she took a bite out of the cake.
"Too dry," she mused, chewing thoughtfully, "it as Walter used to say, I need to stir the flour less vigorously. Then again, I have never been much of a cook."
The memory of Walter trying in vain to teach her how to bake a decent sponge roll was almost too painful to bear. Although it had been years since her faithful butler had passed on, Integra never forgot him, or the men who had served her in her time as head of the Organization. She remembered each and every of their faces, especially that of those who fell in battle.
"Grand-mama," cried a little voice, pulling her out of her thoughts.
Integra looked down, smiling at the little girl tugging at her apron. The look on the child's face was one of excitement – it was almost as if she had found a treasure and was dying to show it to Integra.
"Yes Rachael, what can I do for you?"
The little girl ran to the kitchen door and gestured for her grandmother to follow.
"Come with me grandmamma, there's something I want to show you."
Integra raised her eyebrows and shrugged in mock resignation. Rachael was a splitting image of herself in her younger days. The physical resemblance was uncanny but that was where the similarities ended. The child's impatient and childish nature both amused and worried Integra. It would not do any Hellsing good to be less than guarded at all times, especially when one considered the deviousness of their resident pet. Nodding her thanks to the servants who had already taken it upon themselves to clean up the kitchen, she began climbing the stairs after the excited child.
"Hurry up, there's something in your room I want to show you," said Rachael as she quickly ran up the flight of stairs.
"You're not supposed to be in my room without my permission," chided Integra affectionately. "And slow down child, I'm not as young as you are."
The child stopped and turned. The expression on her face was one of guilt mixed with mischief. "I'm sorry grandmamma, but my puppy ran in and I just had to ..." she trailed off.
"And just how did your puppy manage to open my bedroom door?" asked Integra, increasing her pace to match her grand daughter's. She was aware that she was much too indulgent where Rachael was concerned. However, and for the most inexplicable reasons, the child had such effect on her.
"Uh," stammered the child. "You see, he was chasing Alucard and I think Alucard opened the door first."
Integra groaned quickly before breaking into a coughing fit. Rachael ran anxiously and quickly to her side.
"I'm sorry grandmamma. Are you alright?" she asked as she held the older Hellsing's arm; the tone in her voice was extremely worried. "Did I make you run too much?"
"Don't worry," replied Integra, crinkling her nose as she willed her breathing to slow down. "I'm alright. A cup of water and I'll be fine. I'm seventy but I'm not that useless. It's just that I am going to have to have some words with that stupid hellhound of ours."
Relieved that her grandmother was not hurt by her thoughtlessness, Rachael led her slowly into the bedroom. Pouring a glass of water from the pitcher on her grandmother's dresser, the little girl held it out to Integra, who was now sitting on the bed and surveying her grandchild's "find".
"Oh, you found an old photo album," said Integra as she flipped the yellowed pages almost reverently. It was all she could do to maintain a sense of dignity in front of the child – she had almost yelped in joy that it had been found.
"I found it behind your wardrobe. It was wedged between it and the wall," spoke the child in excitement as she pointed to various photos. "Grandmamma, tell me, who are these people?"
Integra smiled. "So, that's where this silly thing went," she thought to herself. Walter had left the album to her at his deathbed but it had been misplaced about ten years back. Integra had almost been frantic with worry. Despite her efforts, she had to be content with the fact, that as a sort of consolation, Seras had scanned most of the photos and had kept electronic records of the same. The album was more than just photos to her. It contained memories that she never wanted to forget, in particular, the memory of the man who took them with such care. As such, it was good to finally have the album back in her hands.
"This is Walter," she answered affectionately, pointing to the photo of Walter whisking some eggs in a bowl. "Your auntie Seras took this. Walter was a very good cook. He was a very old family friend," she said before correcting herself. "No, he was more like family really."
"So this is Walter. I've heard so much about him. Grandmamma, wasn't Walter very special to you?"
"Yes. I loved him very much."
"The same way I love daddy?"
"Yes, I suppose it is about the same."
Rachael smiled mischievously as she leaned lightly on Integra's shoulder. "Say grandmamma, do you love me?"
"What a silly question child," replied Integra, affectionately running her fingers through the little girl's hair.
Rachael giggled even as she made a childish face. "I know grandmamma loves me. Was Walter old?"
"Well, he was older than me."
"As old as Alucard?"
"No, child," smiled Integra. "Very few people are as old as Alucard. But Walter knew him for many years."
"You've known Alucard for many years too," said Rachael solemnly.
"Yes, I suppose. Most of my life in fact."
"I like Alucard. He always agrees to play."
Integra turned her face away from the child's, careful not to let her see her expression of concern. Alucard was showing much interest in Rachael - too much interest for Integra's comfort. It was by now, decided that Rachael's brother, Jonathan would takeover the Organization after his father Daniel. Alucard made no protest to this latest news but his already meager loyalty to Daniel seemed to have waned further.
Alucard was attentive to Rachael since her birth and Integra had initially dismissed his apparent affection as a result of his perverse interest of sorts – surely he would have been wondering if he would soon have another female master again. However, the vampire's recent and brazen preference for Rachael's company was disturbing. Alucard was already grudging of Daniel's running of the Organization although he had, after a few teething problems, given Integra's son the minimal respect required to keep things in running order. He had mostly ignored the elder son and this only made the difference in his attitude towards the little girl, which to say the least, was extraordinary, more glaring. Behaving totally against what would be expected of his character, the vampire had taken it upon himself to play with Rachael and her pet puppy if Rachael so required. It was both terrifying and heart-warming to watch the way the two took to each other. From the time she learned to crawl from room to room in the manor, Rachael took to the vampire like children did to cuddly animals - except Alucard was a fanged monster and not a harmless teddy bear.
"Oh, wait, is this auntie Seras," asked Rachael curiously as she flipped the page. The child appeared most surprised as she pointed to a picture of Seras and the Wild Geese. "She is almost the same now as she was then."
Integra nodded. "Yes it is. Now do you believe me when I say that vampires don't age?"
The child nodded vigorously in reply. "Wow, and I thought you were kidding me when you said that auntie Seras was almost as old as you."
Integra grimaced. "Yes. As you can see, I've grown old and she is still very young and pretty."
Rachael studied the elderly lady in front of her intently before answering, "I think grandmamma is beautiful too."
Integra chuckled as she fingered a few loose strands of her now silvery hair. She still wore it extremely long except that it was mostly held up in a bun these days.
"So you now find old women beautiful, child?"
"Not really. Not all, but grandmamma is beautiful," replied the child earnestly.
Integra looked up causally at the mirror at the foot of her bed, staring at the face that stared back. She had aged considerably but considering all things, she had aged well. Her skin was no longer as taunt and smooth as when she was young but save for a few wrinkles, she could still the proud face of the woman that had fought the Millennium off the shores of England.
"Grandmamma," spoke the child excitedly. "This must be uncle Alucard. He's still the same too."
Integra had to stare for a moment at the face Rachael was pointing to. The vampire was staring sullenly from behind a cluster of drunken Wild Geese. "So it is. That is strange, he hates having his picture taken."
Alucard's peculiarities, amongst many others, was a stubborn refusal to agree to his photographs being taken. Walter had been an avid photographer and he had taken quite a few shots of Seras and the Wild Geese at the first and last Christmas the mercenaries had while in her service. Integra bit her lip thoughtfully as she fingered the photographs carefully. Seras and Pip appeared to be a little intoxicated in most of the photos and were making happy and silly faces at the camera. Although she could not recall whether it had been because of the season's festivities or the punch she had foolishly imbibed that evening, even Integra had agreed to a group shot of sorts. Alucard however, resisted all attempts Walter made to have him join the revelry. Well, perhaps not as successfully as they had thought then.
She could not tear her sight away from the happy expressions of Seras and Pip. Had they known how differently they would have looked barely a month later?
"And this would be you," squealed Rachael excitedly, pointing to Integra who was squashed somewhat between the young vampire, the captain and half a dozen other people. To Integra's embarrassment, she was smiling in a rather dazed manner at the camera. "Grandmamma, you were so pretty then," she cried.
Integra smiled in spite of herself. "You little flatterer."
"But it is true. You're beautiful still but you look just like me here."
"Don't you mean to say you look like me?"
Rachael grinned. "Alucard was right when he said you were pretty."
Integra stared in surprise. "He said that?"
"Oh, I'm not supposed to tell you. Oh dear, don't let him know you know," said Rachael. Despite her innocent tone, her smile was too reminiscent of an all too familiar smirk.
Winking, Integra held one slightly wrinkled finger to her grand daughter. The girl giggled as she sealed the bargain with her own.
They looked at each other and chuckled. Integra felt herself bursting with pride as she surveyed the child, her pleasure only spoiled by the realization that Alucard too, took unnatural interest in her. Integra of all people knew of the problems that came with Alucard's "affection". Would Jonathan's appointment be enough to spare Rachael the agony Integra had endured with for most of her life?
Rachael smiled, blissfully ignorant of Integra's internal turmoil, as she gazed affectionately at her beloved grandmother. "Grandmamma, would you like to be young again?"
Integra sighed as they closed the album carefully. "That would be nice but it is impossible. Now run along, I need to get my afternoon nap and your governess will be looking for you."
Rachael nodded reluctantly but left obediently. Placing the album carefully on the table beside her bed, Integra laid down slowly on the sheets.
"If I could, I would make you young again," said Rachael determinedly.
Barely disguising her surprise at the steeliness of the child's statement, Integra smiled. "Don't be silly child, all people must grow old," she replied as the child closed the door carefully behind her.
Alone, her thoughts returned to the album. It and the photos contained within brought back many treasured memories, some of which made her sad – more so in her later years. The loss of the Wild Geese and in particular, Pip, at the hands of the Millennium was extremely tragic. Seras appeared to have suffered the most of it. She never quite recovered from Pip's demise and her sunny disposition was never quite the same again. Although she had never raised the topic with the young vampire, Integra knew of the affection the Captain and she had for each other.
"Oh dear," she thought sleepily as she rubbed her fast closing eyelids. A great weariness was creeping upon her. "I must be getting older than I thought." She tried to stay awake a little longer but soon found herself drifting off into an uneasy slumber.
The sky was dark when she woke again. She felt a light rumble in her stomach as she studied the hands on her alarm clock.
Seven thirty. Part of her knew she really should get dressed and join her family for dinner. Part of her however, wanted to stay in bed where it was warm.
She hated winter, increasingly so over the last few years. In addition to the colder temperatures, to which her body no longer took well to, the nights were longer. This meant that the vampires had more time to wreck havoc on her beloved country during this time of the year than any other.
'Not that there were that many vampires left in England anymore', an amused voice said in her head.
She nodded to no one in particular. It was something she had to give her vampire credit for. Alucard's presence had been distressing to many of his kind and the demise of a good percentage for which he had been responsible for, further reduced their numbers.
The ones that were left seemed to have reached a truce with the Organization of sorts. As long as they were kept amply fed with medical blood, there was no reason for them to risk her displeasure.
She watched intently as the snow fell outside her window, blanketing the ground. The chill that suddenly descended in her room was however, recognizably not due to the said weather conditions.
"Alucard," she mouthed silently even as the all too familiar figure began materializing before her.
"Master," he greeted, bowing with a rather too wide flourish. "I see you are enjoying the evening."
"What are you doing here? You have been in my room too often of late, don't you think?"
Alucard said nothing but grinned. It was most disconcerting to see a mouth of fangs in the dark, thought Integra but she said nothing. Even after all these years, the silent competition between them was running. The vampire would do anything and everything he could, to unnerve her. She on the other hand, would do anything and everything to disappoint him.
"I suppose I should thank you somewhat since Rachael found the album. However, I am also displeased with you. I simply cannot understand why you couldn't have alerted me as to its whereabouts earlier."
"Simple," he replied. "You never asked."
Integra glared angrily. "Well then, nor did I ask for you to be here. Leave."
The vampire said nothing but approached her bed. He walked over slowly and carefully as if studying something that intrigued him greatly.
"Rachael is right. You've aged."
Integra frowned even as she berated herself for her vanity.
"Yes but is it a big problem?"
He said nothing but looked as if ready to burst out laughing.
Utterly defeated, she answered her own question half sourly, "I suppose it is but then I'm human and it's to be expected."
"You don't have to be."
Integra sighed. "Look, I do believe I've made it exceedingly clear to you. I cannot deny the idea of youth and immortality is most tempting but for the avoidance of doubt, I do not plan to nor ever will agree to serve you. We Hellsings are the masters here and it will never be the other way around."
"And you son is now the master. In a way ..."
"In a way," questioned Integra. She smarted at his hints of dissatisfaction with her son. "You get your sorry self in line. He is your master and don't you give me any reason to suspect otherwise."
"Old as I am, you can be prepared to be in a dungeon for another few decades," she threatened with as much solemnity as she could muster.
"And wait until my princess charming awakes me again?"
"And wait until the next princess charming hacks your sorry corpse into pieces," she mumbled resentfully.
Alucard smirked. They both knew too well his importance to the family to take Integra's threats seriously. He continued sardonically. "Yes but it is as you have always said, I serve as I please. Your choice of a successor and his son are too weak and you know it. Even though you have officially handed over the reins of the family to him for the last twenty years, he comes back crying to you for help at the smallest excuse. I need not remind you that you, not Daniel, are the reason the truce between my kind and your Organization exist."
"That is a small issue," she replied stubbornly.
"Surely you cannot expect your descendants to govern me purely by being of your bloodline."
Integra glared angrily. She would never admit it publicly but Alucard was right about his observations on Daniel. "You are bound to serve my family."
"And I have served you well."
"And you will do the same for my descendants."
"As I said, I serve you and those I deem worthy of my service."
"And Daniel and Jonathan are not?"
"It would seem that the females in your family outshine the males at every turn. Some more than others of course ..."
"So you broke into my sanctuary of peace and quiet tonight just to tell me you would rather prefer if Daniel had made Rachael his heir instead?"
Alucard sneered. "She has her weakness but nothing I cannot remedy. If not for anything, at least she physically reminds me of someone. She will grow up to be a most delectable female," replied the vampire.
Integra looked up suspiciously at him. Did she detect a tone of malice and something else in his voice?
She growled in realization of Alucard's hints. "You leave my grand daughter alone."
Alucard chuckled. "The fire in you is still as delicious as ever. Truly they don't call you the virgin of steel for nothing. It is a pity you are allowing your mortality to ruin you. She is almost like you but this is the only thing little Rachael didn't inherit."
"Our lives are ours and ours alone. It is of no concern to you."
"Your disgusting cigars couldn't get you but your age will. Tell me, do you enjoy being in this decaying shell? Don't you yearn for those days when you could run with the wind?"
Integra said nothing but stared half forlornly.
"I could give all that to you and more."
"I have not seen a more stubborn being. The blood in you flows strong but for how long will you retain your fine flavor?"
Integra barely resisted the urge to throw something at the grinning vampire in front of her. Not only would it just be a waste of effort - it would not hurt him but instead amuse him, the only thing handy was the album and it was much too precious to risk.
"I will not stand to be talked of as if a fine wine to be savored and the state of my body is hardly a concern for you," she replied flushing furiously. "Now leave! I have had enough of your insolence."
Alucard shook a finger playfully. "I have my orders and I must fulfill them."
"I gave you no orders to enter my room," she yelled, eyeing her door warily.
"No one is going to come up. No one is going to hear you," replied Alucard huskily, reading her thoughts. "It's just you and I, Miss Hellsing."
Despite herself, Integra found herself shaking. "Although my son is officially your master, I am still a Hellsing and I'm to be obeyed. Get the hell away from me now!"
"Still the misandrist, Integra?"
"How dare you," she spat even as she reached for her revolver hidden in the headboard. "Get your base and audacious self out of my room now before I fill it with silver bullets."
The leer on Alucard's face unnerved her. She had always fancied it a brilliant idea to have Daniel conceived by the assistance of artificial insemination and a surrogate mother. When it was fairly obvious that none of the Queen's match-makings were going to produce any acceptable choices or candidates brave enough to survive a dinner with her, Integra had taken things into her own hands. In Integra's opinion, her solution was nothing short of a stroke of genius. Hellsing would have a heir and she would avoid the hassle of having to bear one personally. Alucard was initially furious and she had on numerous occasions, taunted him with the fact that she was not heirless. Her preserved status as virgin however, seemed to have placated the vampire. How foolish she was not to have realized that his concern was not so much with the gourmet quality of his blood supplies as with the fact she was still a maiden. Moreover, Integra had also not realized how close Alucard had gotten to her until it was too late. Pinning her struggling form below him and carelessly tossing the revolver onto the carpet below, Alucard sniggered as he surveyed her incensed expression.
"You never found any of them worth your time."
"And you sound like you would be?" she hissed, her eyes flaring with righteous indignation.
"I would and could prove you wrong."
"Get off me," Integra commanded. "I cannot believe that we are having these conversations even of now. I'm an old lady of seventy three for goodness sake."
"Goodness has always meant little to me," replied Alucard cupping one hand over her mouth. He leaned in seductively as he whispered into her ear. "And for the record, I'm almost going to be six hundred and twenty."
She struggled but it was useless. She could not have shrugged him off (even single-handedly) when she was twenty if he had tried to hold her against her will – it would not help that fifty years had almost stripped her off her physical strength.
Integra screamed in mental agony as Alucard licked her neck gently. She knew enough to recognize the signs.
"Don't," she thought angrily. "You're not going to be able to do this."
Alucard smirked. "You'll be young again. Just like your precious Rachael asked. Just like your precious grand-daughter commanded."
Integra's eyes widened in terror: so that was why he had taken such pains to get along with the child and to ensure that Rachael found the album.
"You bastard," she cursed both him and herself angrily. It suddenly made sense to her – why else would the proud Alucard have humbled himself to such an extent to please a little girl of no more than seven; why else would he have done everything against his grain to earn Rachel's confidence?
"Yes, it is a clever little game on my part is it not? Of course, there were times I was worried it all would have gone wrong and at one point it would have, had you not been proud enough to think up that clever way to satisfy the Queen's requirement to have a Hellsing heir."
Anger flashed in her eyes. She had been outwitted by her own pride. "You ..."
"All I had to do was suggest the basics of the idea. You handled the rest of it beautifully on your own. But then again, you were always meant to be mine," said Alucard smiling maliciously just before he sank his fangs into her throat.
She screamed silently even as the world threatened to be consumed by white flashes of pain.
"Oh my little Murasaki, you will thank me in a while."
Integra's mind began swirling even as she felt her pulse decelerate rapidly. She could still feel him embedded in her throat but the acute pain from his bite was subsiding swiftly in the presence of the numb from an eerie chill that was spreading to the rest of her body quickly.
Quite disturbingly and in cruel parody of an affectionate pet, Alucard began to purr in between greedily gulps of her blood.
Despite this and the fact she was losing conscious, Integra felt a strange confidence in herself. This forced sleep would be only temporary. She would wake up and then she could decide whether to kiss him or kill him.
Perhaps Alucard was right. Old age was beginning to affect her. In the past, she would have only needed to decide on the method to kill him.
Wife of Genji in the "Tales of Genji". Reference is intended to be made to the manner in which Genji had met and later married Murasaki.