- Part Three
Two days after her arrival, her uncle insisted Integral accompany him and his son to pay a visit to Hindustan Machine Tools administrative centre. She accepted, none too enthusiastic about the prospect. The knight was still tired after the long flight, but the absence of dreams and hallucinations in forty-eight hours rejuvenated her haggard mental state.
They left early in the morning, the three of them alone. Integral left a disgruntled Alucard in the care of Dakini and the governess asked her to look after the other child.
Through the entire tour, it was clear to see Dakkar's disinterest on his promising, future role and his father's concern to that indifference. Enduring such atmosphere while sight gazing the contents of a five-floor building had been almost unbearable to her. She occupied herself in pretending to find the installations and signals fascinating while father and son conversed.
"This, my son, is your legacy," Kumar attempted to explain with pride, gesturing to mathematical graphics far too complex for a child of Dakkar's age to understand. "With your leadership, this enterprise will become one of the international leaders in the supply of engineering goods and services of world class excellence."
Integral twisted her lips, impatiently hoping the tour would end. The building was nice but the air-conditioning was far too high and the change of climate already left her sore.
"Will Dakini like me to do that?" Dakkar asked, eyes wide in confusion at the financial tables and press releases his father was showing to them.
"Your father would like, is not enough?"
Integral glanced at the boy; he had cast his eyes down and forced a quiet, obedient nod. Alucard was quite correct with the assumption of her cousin's strong attachment to his governess. She could relate how he felt, as a little girl; Integral had grown closer to Walter than most.
"Mr. Sahib," Integral interrupted the failed family bonding, rising. "It's nearly lunch time."
"Already? Sorry to keep you for so long," he apologized with a tensed smile. "Pandara must be waiting for you at home. Could you take Dakkar with you, Integra? I need to remain for a board meeting."
"Certainly," Integral agreed. She had looked after Alucard for ten years; a simple boy could not be that hard. "Are you ready?"
"Yes!" Dakkar explained, his eyes gleamed. The child was eager to leave. Kumar apparently noticed and sighed in resignation, pressing a button from his white communicator.
"A limousine must be waiting for you on the exit. Namaste, Integra, son."
"Namaste, father," Dakkar returned the farewell with courtesy.
Integral nodded and took the child's hand to lead him out the building. She sensed the boy stealing curious glances to her during their way out but said nothing. She only sought to exit and light a cigar. The sun was bright and unmerciful, the limousine waited for them in the shadows. Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed up in a smile when she spotted Alucard, leaning outside the vehicle with a broad grin and his gaze concealed by his outrageous orange shades. He opened the door as they approached and bowed.
"Killer sun, my Master. You should hurry before I melt."
Integral ushered Dakkar first inside the car and she followed, buckling his belt then hers. Alucard clapped so the driver started the engine and slid into the car as well, sitting facing the knight on the opposite seat.
"I told you to stay," Integral reminded him.
"The nanny gave me permission to pick you up. I convinced her that I'm of age to take care of myself."
"By convince you mean terrorize or bother her until she sent you away?"
Alucard shrugged, placing an innocuous expression.
"Did Dakini miss me?" Dakkar asked, excitedly, staring at the vampire.
"She didn't have time," answered Alucard with a mysterious expression. Integral frowned and kicked his leg lightly. "It's the truth."
"I'm certain she did," said Integral, putting some niceties in the conversation as she fished a cigar from her pocket. Making the boy cry would certainly not be in her best interests. "Your mother as well."
"Mother is accustomed to not seeing me."
"Do you resent her for that, cousin? She must be occupied as is your father." Integral did not mean to intrude, however this was her family, distant and new, but she could not deny the blood that tied them together. "That is why you have attached yourself to your aunt?"
"No," Dakkar replied, shaking his head. "Dakini likes me the best. She couldn't have children, my uncle was always angry with her. She held me each time they visited us."
"Were your parents at odds with your uncle?" Integral knew what it was like to have an unpleasant uncle after all. Perhaps it was for the better that he had passed away before Dakkar matured.
"No, why would they? He was your uncle too, ma'am. My father's younger brother."
"Hoh. Double marriage?" Alucard intervened mirthful, catching Integral's gaze. "Seizing family power through political bonds."
Integral changed subjects to the weather and the meal they would have today. She had not known about this arrangement. Kumar had forgotten to mention details of how his brother had died. She would be careful from now on, there could be other secrets he guarded.
Dakini had been expecting their arrival at the foyer; Dakkar rushed to meet the governess as soon they walked into the entrance hall. She gave a Namaskar and then tenderly caressed the boy's head.
"My Mistress is waiting for you in the dinning room, Lady Hellsing, Count. Follow me," she indicated, guiding Dakkar softly with her arm while she led them and paused, opening the doors. Integral entered first, followed by Alucard and her reluctant cousin, his governess stayed behind.
That day's menu consisted in less traditional cuisine. Integral smiled politely at the dishes with fish and chips. Probably an attempt to make her feel welcome and English. She sat down, next to Alucard on the table.
"I hope you enjoy this, Integra," Pandara pointed out, looking proud of her choice of meal.
"I wouldn't have minded traditional cuisine," answered Integral, deciding to not mention she was not fond of fish and chips, no matter how English they were. She accepted a bowl of rice instead. "I'll eat that in fact."
"Oh, I'm sorry if it wasn't to your liking," Pandara's bright smile waned. "I should have asked," she added with a bow of her head. "Please, don't take me as a rude host, Integra."
"None at all. Alucard can eat it. He eats everything," assured Integral, looking at her servant with a sly expression. Remains to the dog. He chuckled darkly and said:
"I'd rather take my meals raw."
Pandara's disappointment shifted into her candid attitude. "Kumar and I wanted to thank you being able to seize the chance to take Dakkar to his office. My husband has always wanted to but our son was… impossible." The child paused and sipped water. He had been eating non-stop without paying heed to them until now. "It's a pity how ungrateful of his good fortune is. Not only does he bear a strong name but also was born among riches, most of the proud descendants of Tipu Sahib are deprived of both. Most wander homeless on the streets of Calcutta."
Integral spared a glance at the quiet child then turned to Pandara. "Dakkar. In memory of Captain Nemo?"
"Nemo is no one. Unlike Prince Dakkar. It's in his blood and yours, Integra. He should be proud of such legacy."
Integral returned to her meal, wary to touch a sensitive nerve unless it was beneficial for her and England. Captain Nemo, like Dracula and Abraham van Helsing, existed beyond fiction but his crimes against the British Empire had been concealed as tragic accidents and his myth diverted into fantasy.
"Oh, dear me. Have I misspoken?" her aunt asked, apologetic after a prolonged silence. She appeared affable yet Integral could smell the real intentions of her passionate statement. "I'll leave political matters to Kumar. Integra, Count, I extend you the invitation to join us in our visit to Lal Bagh." She reached to touch her son's head. Dakkar stiffened as she caressed him. "Dakkar already knows my working place at least. Maybe someday he could visit England and make Dakini's English teachings worthwhile."
Integral cleared her throat, sparing the boy further embarrassment. "Are you employed in Lal Bagh, Miss Pandara?"
"Not profit, charity work for the community. I studied botany just as my sister, specialized in traditional species. I supervise the addition of new sections and the renewal of old areas in the Glass House."
"That's admirable," Integral complimented, and then stood from her chair after finishing her dessert. "I am certain the sight is lovely at this time of the year. I am looking forward that. Tomorrow. For now, I will retire to my quarters to refresh myself. Excuse me. Alucard."
The vampire rose in a fluid motion, taking a bow. "I will attend with my Master as long we won't be… honored with garlands in public." To Pandara's puzzled look at Alucard, Integral inclined her head and dragged him out to avoid any diplomatic aggravation. They strode together on the hallways and entered to her chambers.
"You're terrible. I should muzzle you, Alucard."
Integral sat behind the desk and connected her laptop to check her inbox as her servant materialized one of his blood packages and started to drink it, watching her work through the spam and inane court messages.
"Are we missing anything back home?"
"Press conferences, social gatherings," Integral numbered, deleting the useless notes. "The joys of reconstruction. We are in a peaceful season, Alucard. A good one for vacations." She regarded her servant with mild interest after her brand new routine was complete. He had sprawled himself on the tidied bed without her permission; his sunglasses rested on the night stand beside the empty blood package. She turned around and inspected his face. His eyelids were closed and his lips twitched. Is he asleep?
Integral had rarely beheld Alucard resting. In those rare occasions he did allow himself to forget her presence and fell asleep, he awoke almost immediately, as if he reminded himself she was there. Walter had told her once that, albeit he was tired during daylight, the vampire had slumbered for twenty years and thus he felt less inclined to rest currently. Despite her late butler's words, Integral had not believed it. Alucard slept but never nearby her. The only exception had been when Alexander Anderson knocked him unconscious, but she was too far to watch him closely.
Don't you trust me? I won't stake you while you rest, Alucard.
Cautiously, Integral approached her servant, avoiding the merest of noises against the floor. She knelt on the opposite of the bed without taking her eyes from Alucard's sleeping face as if was the most alluring sight she had ever beheld. He was motionless and pale, but he did not appear dead. His lips curled up into an innocent smile, one lacking the usual mischief. Alucard was like a child trapped in an adult body then. It made Integral smile as well and filled her with a strange yearning to crawl closer. Suddenly, his semblance grimace and he awoke abruptly, eyes wide in a truly frightened expression.
Her unexpected closeness startled Alucard who moved away from her, standing off the bed. His sudden mistrust stung Integral inside. It was an irritation, hurt she found no explanation whatsoever.
"Integra… What are you doing here?"
Her concern became annoyance. Crossing her arms, she replied hauntingly:
"This is my room, servant. You fell asleep on my bed while I was working."
Alucard stared at her, allowing that to sink in. It seemed he was slow after a quick nap. He grinned at her, all his former gloominess vanished as he hopped back to the bed, nestling his head on the cushions.
"I must be tired. It was a long trip. I stayed up while you slept. I don't trust your relatives."
"Do tell…" Integral trailed off, miffed about how easily he swayed the subject at his leisure. He playfully stalked closer over his elbows but she promptly ignored him. It flustered how confusing Alucard was. One second distant, the other eager for contact.
"Blood relations. They are always troublesome."
"You have first hand experience on them, haven't you, Voivode?"
They exchanged a silent understanding glance before Alucard drew a pillow over her hip. He leaned his head there, looking up Integral, hiding his yawn.
"They have an obsession with Tipu Sultan. They include him in everything."
"Since when you are an expert on the subject of my ancestor?" Integral questioned, locking her gaze with his. It was embarrassing for her to admit but, she had not been terribly invested to dwell into her exotic side of the family. One infamous bloodline had been enough for the knight to deal with.
"Enough to be aware he finished the commissioned Lal Bagh your dear aunt works for." Integral furrowed her eyebrows in astonishment. "I read about him while you slept on the plane." He smirked smugly and half closed his eyes. He surely did not expect her to pet him?
"You might be right. He ruled Mysore at the time," mused Integral, recalling any detail she knew of her legendary ancestor. "Mysore, just like the governess' surname. My aunt's as well."
"They are collecting power related to Tipu Sahid. A family fixation."
"And my mother slips from their hands as a bargain chip." Her younger uncle's death was still a mystery. She would find out the circumstances of how he perished. "What do you think they will attempt? Marry me with their dimwitted child?"
"Probably. For now they appear to keep niceties to please your good sides. Showing off one of Tipu's accomplishments to buy your good graces and interests on their cause."
Integral nodded, closing her eyes and reclining against the headboard. "I hope we are wrong and this is all paranoia. I wanted to hold my wistful thinking of having no treacherous family relations alive any longer."
"You don't need them, my Master. I share your blood and I'm faithful. As is Police Girl."
"How can I trust you if you don't," stated Integral spitefully. She was growing tired of his self-imposed distance and wrong timing when it came to their relationship. No matter what efforts she had made, Alucard had always destroyed them. Her eyes opened and narrowed. He was testing her patience once more, attempting to engage her in a struggle of wills through their gazes. But she was tired of childish games of power as minimal as they were. "Stop that."
Alucard complied and looked at the ceiling next. "What do you want to know that you don't yet?"
"Are you angry at me because I haven't killed you yet? I haven't put you out of your misery?" He did not reply to that. Integral supposed he did resent her selfish nature, but after losing Walter by her own deed, she was not in an emotional state to kill Alucard as well. "Very well… Why are you so resistant to sleep in my presence? I won't hurt you, I never harmed you on purpose."
His neutral face fell on a weary one. When he slept, Alucard appeared younger, carefree for golden moments, but in that instant he was truly ancient.
"I dread to close my eyes, Countess."
"What?" Integral was not certain what answer she was expecting, but she was aback. "Because of your dreams?" she ventured, remembering his frightened semblance when he awoke earlier.
"Dream? No, my nightmares are strange but I don't fear them. Only dreamers fear dreams. What I remember is what I dread the most. My past, my mistakes and how everything I possessed and cherished slipped out of my fingers because of my choices and mad goals." He paused, sitting and taking her hands briefly, entwined their fingers. Integral did not reject his touch. "I remember I'm not your knight and servant, but a monster and I can't change that. If I have you close, I will destroy my present with the past I'm unable to escape."
His words were spoken so softly; his cold fingers made her shiver though the gloves. Integral wanted to say something but she found herself at loss of what to say, how to express it. She was not one of cooing and comforting words but blunt statements. She contemplated, seeking her voice and searching her feelings.
"I know who you are, Alucard, Dracula, No Life King, Count. And I don't care."
It was Alucard's turn to be surprised and mute. Integral prided herself in such an accomplishment, however her glee was short-lived. He released her hands, caressing the back of them with longing, wordlessly. He stood and knelt to her.
"But do you know who you are?" he questioned with a cold hiss. He left her side, approaching the door. "Are you afraid to sleep, Integra?"
Integral rose, her good mood fouled with agitation. "What are you insinuating? I'm your Master, Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing."
"Are the visions awake easier to ignore than those you have while you sleep, my Countess?" asked the vampire before going through the wall. Integral followed him; sweat bathed her face and an alien phobia started to strangulate her palpitating chest.
"Alucard! Answer me!" she demanded, opening the door and nearly bumping into Dakini who was standing with a tray of fruits. Integral recovered her composure upon facing the woman. "Good afternoon."
"I brought you something to eat before dinner later this evening, Lady Hellsing," offered the governess with her usual stoic voice. "Is your companion bothering you? I noticed he has some childish traits."
Integral forced a smile and snatched the tray herself from Dakini's hands. The governess did not protest and she appreciated the lack of saccharine politeness. "Very observant of you. I hope he wasn't troublesome this morning."
"I'm used to children, Lady Hellsing. I like them. Sometimes they do foolish things or say hurtful words to attract attention."
Integral assented. "But it hurts no less."
"All children mature at different paces. You need patience and a strict hand to deal with the rebellious ones."
"Thank you." Integral appreciated her intruding help. She never had experienced in emotional matters and had no one to turn to. Dakini nodded, sweeping some dust from her otherwise immaculate white sari.
"At your service." She had turned to retreat until Integral stopped her. "Yes, Lady Hellsing?"
"I wanted to ask you about your husband."
A terrified shadow crossed the normally neutral features of Dakini's face. She looked around, as if she feared to be heard, then whispered: "Not now. But I'll answer your questions soon. Forgive me."
Integral released her grip and let the governess go, or escape in this case. That was extremely interesting. So there was indeed something sordid involved after all. The knight would research and uncover the truth. Her blood boiled to receive justice if assassination was involved. It was a delicate, foreign issue therefore she resolved to handle it slowly to avoid mistakes.
Ignoring Alucard's chambers in front of hers, she returned to her quarters, sitting to eat the fruits Dakini had brought to her. After awhile, as she enjoyed a rather succulent peach, Integral spilled some of the grapes on the floor. The glimpse of the round silhouettes rolling between her feet paralysed her by a fraction of a second and the worst of fears stilled her breath. She did not know how or why but her mind confused the grapes with the images of bloodstained pearls or how the heavy, sweet scent of the jasmines decorating her room suddenly became the stench of rotting flesh.
Inwardly, Integral clutched at the silver cross pin on her cravat.
This chapter was edited by Megami Ryuuzaki. Also, I wanted to add I've already written most of the story (only last chapter and epilogue is left) but due to beta readers search I'm posting so long (if you have livejournal, feel free to friend me to read the pre edited version). Feedback thus far is as usual appreciated.