Author's notes: This is a post-Millenium manga piece. As such, this has the potential to be full of spoilers through volume seven, as well as potentially AU. I've gone ahead and assumed Enrico Maxwell as dead, since Hirano put the mark of death on him at the same time as certain other characters. So while in the manga, he's not dead yet, he's probably not getting any better. Conversely, I've chosen to not interpret the events of Wizardry yet (i.e., Walter's status), so I'm going to assume that he's the same old loyal retainer. Rare of me to put my notes here, I know, but I thought it was only fair to warn you of these things.


Chapter 1 - A Savage Place

A savage place, as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover

- "Kubla Khan," Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Religion is not the opiate of the masses, Integra Hellsing thought, as an anonymous elbow poked into her gut for the fifteenth time that day. Public transportation is.

She stood on a gritty platform at King's Cross station, surrounded by crowds of commuters, travelers, families, children (those particular unholy demons that she was bound to protect). In the bustling crowd, it was easy to forget how the canopied dome of the train shed had been split like an egg, only months before; and how brick, ash and timbers had rained down like a particularly gruesome mockery of the English weather. The world might end, but the trains would run on time again--and here they did.

And there was her servant, too, seeming engrossed in reading the timetables for the trains to York. He had traded his usual pseudo-Victorian affectation for clothing that suited the winter weather more--an ankle-length black wool felt coat, a red wool scarf, and a pair of sunglasses perched on his aquiline nose. It was a disguise more suited to protecting him from inquisitive eyes than from the elements.

With nothing better to amuse her for--she looked at her watch--the ten minutes until the train arrived, Integra joined Alucard in perusing the timetables. He looked down briefly at her arrival, acknowledging her presence. "This is unconscionable," she muttered.

"Yes, the prices have increased significantly since my last time on the train." In 1902, he added, that haunting voice in her head. She noticed him risk a touch of smile. "So much for 'sound as the pound.' "

"I more meant the fact that my Rolls has become intimately acquainted with a wall. And my heli with the bottom of the Thames."

He looked down at her again, appraising her with that same half smirk. "I suppose this is a little plebe for a Romanian prince and a knight of the realm, isn't it?"

"Plebeian" was a word that Integra was dimly aware started with a "p" and ended with an "n." Outside of that, her acquaintance with the term and its circumstances was minimal. "There's nothing plebe about living in a funeral parlor."

Ah, yes, their new accomodations--the mansion may have survived destruction, but it still was rendered temporarily uninhabitable. The contractors estimated it would be only a few weeks of work. True to form, three months later, it was still poxmarked with scaffolding and utterly unlivable.

"I think it rather suits us," Alucard replied. He and Seras had set out their coffins in the embalming room in the basement. Aside from the morbid accoutrements in that room, the rest of the house had the air of the mansion she had left behind, complete with the dark wood paneling and the crosses over every doorway.

"Rather. Perhaps I should let you sleep in the freezer, then." Without preamble, she went on, "They don't allow smoking in here, do they?"

"No."

Integra carried on with little attention to his reply. "I suppose everything will be all right while I'm gone to the conference. The world can't end twice in one year, can it?" She had left Seras in charge of defending their.... funeral parlor, and Walter in charge of finding a vehicle suitably sturdy and elegant to replace the Rolls-Royce, now that the war with Millenium had put the company temporarily out of business. But as usual her mind was still with her work, back home--insurance claims, most of it, although she had been dismayed to discover that most insurance firms were not eager to issue returns of property value due to "acts of vampires."

"In your profession?" Alucard cocked an eyebrow. "I wouldn't be so sure."

Integra simply shook her head, exhaling a cloud of steam into the cold air. After a pause, she looked over to the timetable that Alucard held, and eyed the tiny Times New Roman text that pointed out her destination. "Whitby. Another Synod." She said it with a touch of resignation.

"Whitby," Alucard echoed, with a touch more relish than she had given the word. "Do you suppose they meant something by it?"

"Oh, certainly. These are Catholics. They leave nothing to chance." She had to admit she didn't know what they meant by holding it in such an inauspicious place--and inviting them, to boot. But there was time enough for that. She smiled a bit, looking up at her servant. "It's been a very long time since you've been there."

With a whirring of air, the train before them opened its doors, finally admitting that it was ready to admit passengers. Extending a gallant hand forward, Alucard led the way, finally answering Integra's question. "Yes," he said, daring to show more teeth than he had previously, "although I remember the cuisine with some fondness."

--

They changed trains at York, boarding a mostly-empty train that would take them to Whitby and other seaside locations. As they pulled out of the station, rain began to fall--the weather seemed more suited for snow, but that hardly deterred the drops from falling.

Integra had chosen one of the semi-private six-person cabinets, which by virtue of the train being abandoned, they had all to themselves. Alucard's first action was to pull down the shades on the windows, closing out what little light wanly filtered through to the interior of the car. He kept the sunglasses on, nonetheless. Mercifully, he had no complaints about being forced to travel during the day.

Truth be told, Integra had at first considered Walter to be her guest in this trip to Whitby. Certainly he could behave himself in public, had no compunctions about traveling during the day, and wouldn't cause a national emergency if his peculiar bedding arrangements didn't arrive as expected.

In the end, she was forced to consider his health--sub-par since the attack on the Mansion--above all else, and conclude that he was better suited to administrivia than he was to the task of being a bodyguard in a strange town.

Not that Whitby was altogether strange to her. She quirked a smile, leaning back against the bench seats. "Last time I was in Whitby I must have been nine. It was summer, and I remember the trains being packed. I kept telling my father I wanted to go swimming. I didn't understand how cold it would be! I remember he bought me a little figurine in jet--of a monkey. I think I must have lost it."

Alucard said nothing. He had copied her pose, and looked like he was trying nothing more than to get some rest.

Appealing to his megalomania, she turned the topic to more relevant rememberances. "I remember we walked up to St. Mary's Cathedral on those 199 steps. You remember those steps, don't you?" she said, slyly. "Or did the Irishman make that up, too?"

Finally he responded, with a smile of his own. "Hardly. I made the papers, in that one, didn't I?"

"You did. Though 'black dog' hardly does you any justice."

"It was the easiest explanation, I imagine."

"Yes, 'tenebrous Cerberus' is a bit tawdry, isn't it?" she admitted, nodding. She reached into a pocket, and pulled out those familiar cigarillos and a lighter. "Do you miss those days? When you were free to obey nothing but wanton bloodlust, and all that?" She lifted the stick to her lips.

"Would it make you happy if I said yes?"

"Probably." She touched the tip of the cigarillo to the lighter, and it erupted in blessed, blessed flame, with the sweet, comforting smell of tobacco smoke. Mentally, she calculated that it had been exactly four hours since she had last had one.

"Then, no. Don't miss a minute of it. The Victorian underwear was frightfully chafing, and I kept having to play nice with that idiot Harker. He was rather like one of those real estate agents that keeps showing you suburban American-style ranch houses when you've specifically said you want a Tudor style open-timbered house with a formal garden."

"I assume by "ranch" you mean 'Carfax Abbey' and by 'Tudor-style open-timbered house with formal garden' you mean 'succulent Victorian virgins'. Unless I miss your analogy entirely."

Before either could continue their remiscences, the door slid open. A uniformed conductor, with a unruly goatee that quite belied his official status, poked his head in. "Tickets?"

Integra did what she always did in such situations--flashed her diplomatic credentials, adding a cloying glance for good measure.

The conductor nodded. "Very good, Sir Hellsing--and the gentleman traveling with you is?"

"A servant," she said, with a distinct note of pleasure. "J.H. Brenner."

The man nodded, jotting down a note on a piece of paper. "The name sounds familiar."

"Have you ever been to Brazil?" Alucard remarked darkly.

The conductor eyed him strangely, but seemed to prefer to bring his attention back to Integra, who was still smiling that sweet smile at him. "Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to put out the cigarette. The laws prohibit smoking on trains."

"At all times?" she inquired. She was sure it was only an advanced sort of desperation that made her want to snap at him that it was a cigarillo, not a cigarette. After all, perhaps the rule was one of those time-conditional rules, like only using the loo when the train was moving.

"At all times." The conductor's smile seemed to sour a little. He turned back to Alucard. "You don't smoke, do you, Sir?"

"Not unless set on fire," was Alucard's cheeky reply. He stood up. "If you don't mind, I have some baggage I'd like to check on." He pushed past the conductor abruptly.

Integra thought that she heard the conductor mutter something as he left about the diplomatic corps not being very bloody diplomatic. She ground out the cigarillo angrily on the seat of the train. Country be damned--it was full of infantilizing cowards who wanted to protect everyone else from the stale ashes of a leaf, these days.

Unable to self-medicate, she did the next best thing: she dozed.

She had been in the basement of their new funeral parlor accomodations, and had walked up the stairs, but now she was in the great hall of the former Mansion. Compelled by force, she kept walking. She opened the doors of the manor to reveal a great forest of trees--not the parkside oaks or stately evergreens, but tropical plants; trees with red flowers and redder berries. A path was carved through the trees, however, and she followed it out of the trees and onto flat, swampy land--a moor? Perhaps.

There was a grand manor house there--how very Emily Bronte, her subconscious couldn't help but add--and as soon as she thought to walk towards it she was there, standing on the threshold and the door was opening and standing at the door to greet her was a man with his head half-cocked to the side. He had a smile on his face, but he also had hair the color of the void and unholy eyes and as he held out his hand to her she felt as if she had been struck-

She awoke with a start. The train had stopped; the compartment was dark. "What demon is this?" she whispered into the darkness. It was only moments later that she realized that she had spoken outloud.

Alucard frowned. His eyes glowed red in the dark. "Come. We're there." He lifted the window shade and stared out. "And it looks like we're awaited."

--

It was strange that, upon seeing Heinkel Wolfe--in her 'habit' of trenchcoat and dark glasses--on the platform, Integra felt somewhat more at ease.

Integra suspected it was the way she had talked. Maxwell, damn his soul, had the smooth intonation of a man who belonged to no country. He sounded--like a Jesuit, actually. Like a Vatican dog, faithful to no man alive. And Anderson, well, he had simply the voice of a fanatic, interesting only to himself.

Heinkel nodded her head in a cordial, if not effusive greeting. "We have been waiting." There was that accent again. Ve. Vaiting. It had so many memories attached to it, most of them involving a gun to her head. Somehow, those left Integra feeling less dirty than her encounters with Maxwell.

The train had been late--the goateed conductor blamed the weather--but Integra did not feel like making excuses. She cut right to the point. "Why have you asked us here? Surely you don't want Protestants at your Synod-"

"The choice is not mine," Heinkel snapped. "But you are here to help in deciding the fate of Enrico Maxwell."

Integra was boggled. "Fate? The man is dead."

Alucard intervened. "I think what she means is that his place in the Catholic pantheon isn't exactly assured after his behavior leading to his death."

Heinkel spat. "Pantheon is a word for heathens. There is a movement, however--led by some of the few surviving members of the order of knights he commanded in battle--to beatify him."

Integra raised her eyebrows. The path to sainthood did not seem one for which Enrico Maxwell, megalomaniac and betrayer of the Vatican in time of war, seemed destined. "I expect they'd be the last to want to beatify him."

Heinkel pursed her lips. "Far be from me to speak evil of dead men," she said, but went on, "but after what he did to them, perhaps they're just seeking to allay some cognitive dissonance. I mean, if they believe that they were sent to their deaths for nothing by a prince of the Church, then that would lead them down a far more difficult path. To believe they are heroes working for a hero comforts them. Nevertheless, it's a lie." Her face hardened. "But we're wasting time. Come, there's a limo waiting."

Not far off a sleek black vehicle with the Vatican insignia was waiting. "Are we going to St. Hilda's Abbey?" Integra asked. "Following in the grand tradition of 664?"

Heinkel frowned. "No. Most of that belongs to the Crown now," she made a sniff of disdain, "and is off limits to us. But I think you'll find the accomodations adequate, nonetheless." She looked meaningfully at Alucard. "Even you. I hear the guesthouse has an abundantly large wine cellar, and they are having a rat problem."

The driver--a young man in unadorned ecclesiastical black--slipped out of the front seat of the limo and opened the doors for them before Alucard could make any reply. Heinkel slid into the back, and Integra followed, handing her wheeled suitcase off to the black-clad driver. She beckoned to Alucard to follow, but he had his eye on the train still, where his own particular baggage was still being unloaded. Ah.

"My luggage is a little too.... cumbersome for your vehicle." He smiled, showing his full complement of canines. "I'll follow later."

Heinkel raised an eyebrow, looking suspicious. "Oh? And how will you do that? I haven't told you where we're going."

"Oh, I imagine I'll just follow the smell of your blood. Virgin blood." He closed the door abruptly, ending any further discussion of the matter. Within a moment, he was out of sight, bounding up on the platform in search of his peculiar baggage, his black coat flailing and blending into shadow behind him.

It was dark in the back of the limo, now that the door had been closed, but Integra thought she could see the nun reaching under her trenchcoat for the pistol she kept in a shoulder holster there. She was torn between feeling pleased that her servant, her monster had gotten the better--even if just in verbal sparring--of an old enemy, and feeling some sort of sympathy. God knows how many times she herself had been on the business end of Alucard's pithy sense of humor.

There was no need for either. Heinkel finally came to her senses; realized the only harm she would be doing would be the window glass. "Remo, we can get going," she said flatly to the driver. She followed this by sliding closed the privacy glass between the driver's compartment and theirs.

"Let me get to the point: this is a small affair, bringing in only a few representatives from each Section. I'm going to be representing Section XIII--I can't imagine why, but they said I was the only one they trusted." She said "trusted" with a note of distate. Integra smiled, having a clue why that might be. Heinkel was the only Iscariot member she had met with any sort of tangible grip on reality. "You have been asked here to give testimony on Maxwell's behavior during the Millenium attack on London." More darkly, Heinkel added, "I think you know well that the man was not in his right mind. He was drunk on his own power. We are all outcasts, in Iscariot, but he thought to gain his favor back through sacrificing other faithful at the altar of war. His god.... was not my God." There was a sadness in her voice. "Nor do I think it was yours. I hope you will do what you can to see that this man is remembered as a devil, not as a saint."

Integra was quiet for a time, considering how Heinkel's esteem for the man had fallen. There was a time the nun would have followed him blindly to her own death, but that time had passed. In that, at least, she was pleased--she might have a disdain for Catholics and their methods, but she was glad to see that, in this, they had not fallen victim to hypocrisy. "We do follow the same creed in many ways, Ms. Wolfe," Integra said, carefully. "We may believe that there are some... exceptions to 'Thou shalt not kill,' but we do believe in, and obey, its spirit. I am ready to condemn any man that did not follow his own oaths."

Somewhere in the dark, Heinkel smiled briefly. "Then I am pleased to have you as my temporary ally--once again."

Integra only inclined her head in a gesture of service. She had her own thoughts about their "temporary allegiances" of the past, but she chose to keep them silent.

"But that's not the only reason we've brought you here," Heinkel continued abruptly. "We're also planning on having a briefing on some potential... mutual enemies." She stared out the window at the lights of the town whizzing by. "Tonight and tomorrow morning will be the Synod conferences. I trust you can entertain yourself until tomorrow afternoon? At that time I'll ask you to come in and testify on Maxwell's behavior during the war. After that, I'll be doing a briefing for you and some other guests of our Synod. Other Knights, most of them. But I suspect this will be of special interest to you." Heinkel lapsed into momentary silence. Finally she said, a touch darkly, "I didn't expect you to bring your pet."

"I didn't expect to bring him either," Integra replied, innocently enough. "But as usual, he insinuated himself. Especially once he knew the destination."

"Oh? Did he want a seaside vacation?"

Integra was surprised that Heinkel didn't know the reference. "Hardly. It's where he came ashore, some hundred years ago."

Heinkel's mouth formed a little "o" of surprise. "I had forgotten." Vor-gott-en. It sounded like an epithet. "You shouldn't have brought him. This is a holy place."

Integra grinned. "Holy, and yet enchanted. It's got quite a history, this little hamlet."

Heinkel did not respond. Finally, she added, "You could have forbidden him."

"I could have," Integra replied slowly, allowing herself a pause to think. She didn't mention what had, in the end, kept her from doing so--Walter's infirmity, and a lurking fear that Seras would do as Seras had done so often, and develop a fit of ethics at a critical moment. Seras was a smart girl, a sweet girl, but a girl still, and a girl not altogether accustomed, even now, to life in the shadows. "But a little slack on the leash now and again has its advantages."

"If he misbehaves, I'll put a silver bullet down his filty, worm-eaten gullet," Heinkel said, simply. It was not a threat--it was just Heinkel.

"I'm sure the feeling is entirely mutual, Ms. Wolfe."

They sat in darkness, their faces occasionally illuminated, ghost-like, by a passing street lamp. They could not have gone more than five kilometers before the vehicle turned into a narrow lane and stopped, gravel sounding a gritty friction against the wheels. The same driver in black opened the door to let them out.

The rain had only intensified in the time it had taken them to drive from the station. Integra could feel it, gritty and stinging cold against her face. Sleet. She looked around. Ahead, a path led up a slight incline, through a garden sharp with rose briars, to a sizable guesthouse with a jaunty red tile roof, which bore the sign "Harrigan Guesthouse." Beneath it, in smaller letters, it read, "Since 1803." Integra could hear, from beyond the stretch of the inn, the sound of breakers pounding against a cliff wall.

The door of the inn abruptly, and out hurried a woman--middle-aged, wearing a yellow rain slicker, with straggly grey hair lashing wetly about her face--followed by a boy of about twelve, in similar attire, but more neatly groomed. "The proprietors?" Integra asked. She found she had to raise her voice to speak above the howl of the wind.

Heinkel nodded a yes. "Joan Harrigan, and her son Charlie."

The woman, aided by the driver in black, found her way to the back of the limo, and started unloading suitcases. Integra recognized her own, but the others were unknown--she assumed they belonged to Heinkel and Remo, the driver. "I have a companion who I expect will be arriving late," Integra said to the proprietor. When that elicited no response--the sturdy woman made not even a nod, but simply continued loading suitcases into her son's waiting arms--Integra repeated herself, more loudly. "Excuse me! My companion-"

"Don't waste your breath," Heinkel said, bending close to Integra. "They are deaf. Both of them. Congenital defect. The father was hearing, but they've fallen on hard times since he passed away."

"Deaf?" Integra was surprised. It seemed a.... difficult disability for someone in the service industry. Knowing who she was dealing with--Iscariot, and the Vatican--it also seemed a touch... suspicious.

Heinkel frowned at her. "Do you begrudge a hard-working Irish Catholic family a bit of income from our business?" When that elicited no reply, she continued, "Oh, certainly, it has its.... conveniences."

Yes, rather. Don't let your faithful flock know that you're considering sanctifying a man who valued his own ambition more than any God. Wisely, Integra kept this thought to herself. "Well, what is the best way to communicate-"

But Heinkel was one step ahead of her. She had tapped Mrs. Harrigan on the shoulder, and had commenced a conversation through gestures alone. The woman nodded, eyed Integra, nodded again, and turned back to her work.

Integra fought back a smile. It was such a human thing, seeing Heinkel do that. "You know sign language?"

"Well, I did learn something in my mission days in Managua," Heinkel replied, as if it were an obvious conclusion. "Of course, I had to..." she searched for the right word, "abridge your request somewhat. I don't think I ever learned how to say 'vampire' in any of the sign languages I learned." A smile to match her own came over Heinkel's face.

The rain and wind suddenly intensified, cutting off further speech. As if taking the weather as a cue to enter, Alucard appeared at the end of the driveway, a human-sized bundle wrapped in white propped on his shoulder. He and his package were soaked through with rain. As if that weren't enough to put the fear of God in anyone, his feet made no sound on the gravel driveway, and his coat, in this darkness, was such that one couldn't tell where it ended and shadow began. For all Integra knew, it could have been shadow alone--she had long suspected that he had done away with the inconvenience of dressing himself in clothes in favor of dressing himself in shadow.

"I found you," he said, simply enough, his eyes fixed on Integra.

Mrs. Harrigan took one look at him, slammed the trunk of the limo closed, and pulled her son after her up the driveway. She made some gestures to Heinkel as a way of excusing herself, and disappeared behind the door of the guesthouse.

Integra shrugged and turned back to her servant. "Welcome to Whitby."

Hmmm, he said, a tickling in her brain. I see the hospitality hasn't changed much in one hundred years.

--

At 9:32 the next morning, Integra found herself sitting astride Alucard's coffin, tapping impatiently on the lid with the tip of an unlit cigar. "You do remember our agreement, right? You told me you would visit the town with me if the day was overcast. I am pleased to inform you that the National Weather Service tells us we can expect nothing but clouds and more sleet, with a 20 chance of snow before midnight. Is that overcast enough for you?"

Their room was a typical guesthouse room--a bed, four walls which you could reach out and touch without leaving said bed, and a bathroom down the hall. The night previous, upon seeing the space, Integra had been ready to demand another room for her servant, but she changed her mind upon remembering that she would have to seek Heinkel to be her interpreter, and she hardly wanted to discuss the dynamics of her and Alucard's sleeping arrangements with the nun.

So instead she made do--which meant that every time she tried to head for the toilet in the middle of the night, her feet came right down on the lid of Alucard's coffin. It was an unconvenient arrangement, to say the least. He seemed to ignore it, but then, he slept quite soundly--well, like the dead, to abuse the metaphor. It unnerved Integra more than a little, though it was a toss-up whether that, or the thought of meeting up with sleep-walking bishops in the hallway, was more bothersome.

And where will we be going downtown? he responded, finally. If it was possible for his mental communication to sound a little sluggish, it did.

From the bed, Integra pulled a few pamphlets for tourist attractions that she had picked up in the common room of the guesthouse. "Ah, well. We're in the bed of history here. There's St. Hilda's Abbey, formerly the location of the 664 Catholic Synod to decide when Easter would be held--also the site of some other historic events that I'm sure I would remember if I'd paid better attention to my history lessons. There's the Captain Cook Museum.... the Victorian Jet Works.... ah, and yes, I thought you'd enjoy this one--'The Dracula Experience.' 'See the nightmare of Bram Stoker's Dracula come to life... in wax!' Oh, dear. I fear that if that wax figurine is meant to be you, they have got the facial hair all wrong."

Integra recoiled as the lid to the coffin beneath her was suddenly thrown off. With an elbow to the edge, Alucard pushed himself up to a half-crouch. "You're not seriously thinking of bringing me to an attraction called 'The Dracula Experience,' are you?"

"I don't know," she said, perusing the pamphlet. "You must admit it has a certain sort of campy appeal."

He grabbed the pamphlet out of her hand, nearly crushing it. He looked at the front, and then the back, squinting at an image. "Is that.... supposed to be Mina?"

Integra took the pamphlet back, squinting at it in turn. "Hard to say. Either way, I do think that fur coat is terribly anachronistic."

--

30 minutes later, sick curiousity had won out.

The exhibit was empty, save for a bored teenaged girl with purple hair, who had taken their money and promptly disappeared to the gift shop in the back. They were left alone with the tinny sound effects and the wax figures.

Most of the exhibit could be seen without leaving the storefront, including the wax figurine in the fur coat--who, according to the plaque, was indeed supposed to be Mina Harker. Up close, it looked rather like she had been attacked by a particularly vicious swarm of weasels. That, perhaps, was the most threatening thing about the exhibit--that, and the fact the "Dracula rising from his coffin" animatronic looked about to shatter through the floor.

Despite his initial reluctance to come, Alucard seemed fascinated with the whole affair. He was busying himself reading the faded wall plaques that described the story of his Victorian exploits, as liberally interpreted by a certain Irishman.

"I have been so long master that I would be master still--or at least that none other should be master of me," he murmured, reading aloud what was in front of him. "Did I really say that?"

Integra shrugged. "It certainly sounds like something you would say."

"I apparently possessed an uncannily accurate foresight back then." He paused, looked towards the back, where a streaky window separated the exhibit from a closet-sized gift shop. "This place has a gift shop,?"

"For all your Lucy Westenra plush toy needs, I suppose." Integra quipped.

The gift shop did not, sadly, hold any such item, although it did have wax fangs, every possible edition of Dracula, bat plush toys with felt wings, and numerous advertisements for a local cafe's "Gothic Poetry Night."

Integra held up a stuffed bat toy. "I think Seras might fancy one of these. Why don't you bring one back for her?"

Alucard's only response--over a rack of books--was a withering glance. "Why don't you?" he said, adding mentally, Master.

"I think I shall."

The purple-haired girl rang them up. "On holiday?" she asked.

"Business," Integra replied.

Always business, Alucard added.

Oh, don't talk to me about 'all business,' Mr. Won't Buy a Souvenir for His Childe.

Childe, not child. What's she going to say when you hand it to her? "Oh, thank you, Sir. Your gratitude for my services is simply astounding!" Funny, how Alucard managed to transmit a startlingly accurate portrayal of Seras' voice.

You're the one who's always on about how immature she is.

Oh, so is this supposed to be a replacement for that damn Frenchman, then?

She whirled around on him, gave him a dirty look. I hope you don't talk like that around her. You might lose your head. Irreparably, this time.

Is that you threatening me, or her threatening me via you?

The clerk went blindly on with her chatter, ignorant of the battle that was being waged on a far different level. "Did you know that if you spend twenty quid you get a free copy of Dracula? Sure you don't want to add something to your order?"

Because if it's the former, I just might get excited about the prospect.

Integra counted out the money brusquely, handing it to the clerk. "That's quite all right. I have the original manuscript."

--

Integra was only too happy to leave, even if it did mean facing that brisk sea air again. Wind in her face, she looked up the hill to the church and the abbey beyond. "Let's make a visit to the church, shall we?"

"I suppose running up those steps in dog form again is out of the question?"

"Not even for old time's sake."

It was strange, being in this town with him, watching him bound up those 199 steps ahead of her. She had been uncertain what to expect--a youthful glee? Solemn nostalgia? He seemed to waver from one extreme to another.

Pausing for breath on step 58, she reminded herself, He was a monster. IS a monster. And this is where he killed.

They reached the churchyard of St. Mary's. It was, not to her surprise, empty. In summer, this hilltop spot would be a pleasant respite from the heat, but in this season, the wind howled and cut at any exposed skin.

Alucard was strangely silent. There was a stone bench under a leafless tree--idly, Integra wondered if it was that stone bench--and he walked over to it, seating himself. His fingers brushed patterns over the stone as he smiled a faint smile. Finally, he spoke. "The strange thing is," he said finally, "time doesn't pass any differently for me now than it did when I was human. I expected that if I was going to live forever, I might at least be able to forget easier. But I have that feeling--you know that feeling, that human feeling--that no time has passed at all since I was last here."

Unexpectedly, Integra found herself blurting out, "Why did you do it?"

He furrowed his eyebrows. "Do what?"

Integra suspected him, for a brief moment, of being intentionally obtuse, but then she realized that that was genuine confusion in his eyes. "Kill her. Lucy, I mean."

His eyes flashed from red to black. "I only killed her the first time, and then only to live again. Why don't you ask your grandfather why he killed her; why he shoved a stake through her heart and beheaded her?"

Not the response she had been expecting--truthfully, she had been expecting something along the lines of his "I'm a monster, doing what monsters do" tripe. She frowned. "Once you killed her the first time, she was a danger to others. The second time was inevitable. Unpleasantries like that often fall to my family." She remembered then her own hand on a weapon, striking down the ghoulish remains of her own soldiers--a familiar tapestry woven throughout her whole life. She really was not so unlike Abraham, then, was she?

"Sweet, gentle girl. Great, giant stake." His tone was mocking. "I suppose it made him feel brave."

"You're never going to succeed in making me feel bad about my family's duty."

"Oh, I succeed quite extensively in that. Of that I am sure. Where you think you win is that I don't always succeed in making you demonstrate your rage."

Integra cleared her throat. "We're getting off topic."

"Oh, indeed." He tossed his hair back into the wind, put a finger to his lips in a dramatic gesture of thought. "Lucy. What do you want to know about Lucy? Why I turned her?"

"That was what I was driving at, yes. Mina... I understand that that was revenge. But I never understood why, of all the fair young women in this town, you chose her first. If it was virgin blood you were after, my goodness, this was the 1890s. It had to be everywhere. And well I know you've found ways to feed without killing, else there'd be a plague of your brood upon England by now."

He chuckled--it was a sound like the rumbling of storm clouds. He rose from the bench, turned away from her. "It's more complicated than you think--in both cases."

She wasn't going to let him off the hook so easily. She crossed her arms, taking a position that brooked no nonsense. "Your relationships with women always have been, as far as I can tell. Try me."

"They were so often in each other's company, Lucy and Mina. Like sisters, those two. Both attractive women. Both very much a product of their era--their lives a straight path towards marriage, and no vision to see much beyond that. Lucy, especially. She was desired by all the men in her circle, even after her engagement."

"And let me guess. Being the chauvinist that you are, that made you decide that she was a prize to be won?"

Again that dry chuckle. "Wrong again, Master--though, I will admit, I've always wanted to have what is most difficult to gain." He turned back to face her, a glint of a smile still in his eye. "I will grant you that you have a certain..... inexperience with the male gender. It's one of those things that makes you so very... delectable." He ignored Integra's mental trill of shame--blessedly--and went on. "But you may be aware that--especially among the teenaged specimen--there is this habit of men dating women of which they aren't particularly fond in order to get closer to those of which they are?"

"I believe I have at least an anecdotal acquaintance with the phenomenon." She was growing annoyed at this bout of nostalgia.

"You may consider it the vampiric equivalent. I dallied with blood that wasn't to my liking in the misguided hope that it would bring me closer to what I desired."

It took Integra several eyeblinks to arrive at the point he intended. "Mina? You're telling me you turned Lucy because you thought it would bring you closer to Mina?" She blinked again. "That's a bit dim, even for you."

"In a certain sense, it worked. For a time. Her friend's 'illness' did make her more vulnerable--it also sparked your grandfather's witch-hunt, which caused her dear husband to neglect her for long enough for me to make my entrance. In the end, it was a bid I lost, I'll admit. But it wasn't altogether worthless."

Integra was stunned. And here she had chalked his obsession with Mina up to a desire for revenge on Harker, her husband. "And what was it you could get from Mina that you couldn't get from Lucy?"

"Some women," he said, with a growl, "are just more worth my time. Lucy was born to be a brood mare. I couldn't have made her anything else. Mina, however," he paused, "had promise." His final note was sour, a touch sad.

Integra rolled her eyes. Enigmatic, as always. "I hope you wouldn't do something so stupid ever again."

He smiled. It was a sly smile, hiding a secret Integra could only guess at. "I rather think I already have."

Once again, Integra was slow to catch on. When she finally did, she turned away, fumbling at the pocket of her tan wool coat for her cigar case. It was cool and comforting against her fingers when she found it. For now, it was enough just to hold it. Finally, a touch hoarsely, she said, "If that's the truth, then it's a terrible thing you did to Seras."

He nodded, as if admitting the truth of the statement. "I do have a rather Machiavellian attitude towards attaining my goals." A pause. "In case you've forgotten, that's something we share," he finished, with a hiss.

"Irrelevant," she said, tersely. "You've made her suffer. It wasn't to give her life beyond life, it wasn't to save her from some piece-of-shit vampire priest, it wasn't any of the things you claim--you play God to her, make her believe you as her saviour, when what the real truth is-" But she stopped. The real truth was unspeakable.

She was shaking. She had realized, then, the callous simplicity of his plan, and it scalded more than any of the unpleasant tasks she had been born to. She wanted to lash out, not for her status as Alucard's eternal prey--she had long ago grown used to that--but for Seras, and how she had apparently been the unwitting fatality of this stupid, stupid game they played. True, he had killed so many--what was one more? But he had also brought to the girl an unlife of sorrow and regret.

"You said to her what you said to me--'you don't want to die now, do you?' But you know, if she knew the circumstances, I think she might have wanted just that."

She was turned away from him, but she could almost feel him shrug. He was standing close to her now, breathing down her back--it was dangerous to have him in such proximity, but he would obey. As long as she bled for him, one way or another, he would obey. "I think you overestimate the human condition. They don't all suffer from your excess of nobility. She would have said yes. And one way or another, I think she's happy that she's not a bag of bones in a box in the ground, with nothing to her name but a commendation from the police department."

"No, instead she sleeps in a coffin and exists on human blood--when she can bring herself to drink it. A vast improvement, I'm sure."

"Hm." She could hear him walking away. His boots clicked on the flagstones--more for her benefit, she was sure, than anything else. "Perhaps I am making you jealous."

Integra gritted her teeth. "How foolish of you to think so."

"How foolish of you to imagine that I don't know what you're feeling. You've never been good at closing your mind to me--and even if you were, I can smell your blood from across this town, and how it changes at your every flicker of emotion and whim of ego." A hand on her shoulder made her jump. She hadn't heard him approach. Of course not.

She didn't even have the energy to push him away. She could see his long, pale fingernails out of the corner of her eye, sitting on her shoulder like some foul parasite. No gloves. What did that mean? It was so very cold here, and his ungloved hand was just as chill, bleeding a kind of paralyzing cold into her. Finally, she managed to say, "I just wish to know... what this means to you, this goal of yours. I don't know if it's revenge for your years of imprisonment, or because you want more of my blood than you can get by being an obedient pet. Or," she started cautiously, "because you fancy me, in your own sick way."

"In my mind," he said, his voice losing some of its sharpness, and taking on a guttural, almost libidinous tone, "the three are intertwined. I want-"

to take you to break you to dominate you to be dominated to glut myself on your blood on your passion to make you call me master to witness you as a goddess conquering death and cutting down your enemies as rotting wood before you-

"Enough!" she shouted, pulling away from his grasp, gasping. She turned around to look him in the eye, feeling she had just seen too much, too much of what it was like to be inside that mind.

Alucard, for his part, looked... placid. Calm. Not gloating, for once. And she felt a kind of peace, seeing that, in that she knew he had just revealed himself to her in a very private way. His mind--it was the mind of a killer, the mind of a monster, but also a mind keenly intelligent, calculating, desirous. It was the mind of someone who had had five hundred years to plan, to yearn-

To wait.

"The best thing is, I never get tired of waiting." He paused. "The difference between Dracula--who ran up those stairs a hundred years ago, and terrorized modest women against their will--and Alucard, who is your servant, is that I've learned the virtues of patience." He made a skewed smile, one eye visible over his glasses. "Sometimes."

"Remember that," she said coolly. "Remember that I'll be the one holding the reins for the next fifty years or so, until I die--peacefully, surrounded by grandchildren, I hope." She realized there were too many unlikely contingencies--marriage, children, not being cut down in her prime by the undead--for that to ever be a likely outcome, but it was a pleasant fantasy, nonetheless.

"I will remember."

And in the meantime, I will wait, and serve. Master.