"Alucard? What are you doing?" Integra poked her head into the room. "What on earth's wrong with you?"
THWACK. Alucard ran into the wall – for the eighth consecutive time. THUMP. The ninth. He was completely engrossed in his idiotic task. His face screwed up in concentration every time he hurled himself at the wall, and changed to an expression of increasing annoyance every time he bounced back, over and over again.
"Oh, God… he's doing it again." Integra strode into the room and took Alucard's arm firmly. "Hey! Alucard! What have I said about running into the walls? You're going to break something."
Alucard turned, distracted, just as he connected with the wall. As a result, he lost his balance and fell, dealing his elbow a nasty blow against the floor. He stared at the wound for a moment and glared up at Integra, looking indignant. "I fell down!" he pointed out.
"Yes, Alucard, I see that. May I ask why exactly you were running into the wall? Have you been at the red wine again?"
"No…" Alucard looked confused. He frowned at his elbow. "I wanted to walk through the wall. And… it was being bad." He sniffled. "Stupid wall!" Suddenly angry, he punched it. "Oooow!" Now he was nursing his sore knuckles as well as his elbow, tears of pain filling his eyes. "Stupid – stupid – stupid – wall… OOOOOW!" For every "stupid" he hit the offending wall again, not seeming to realize when his fist went right through it until the pain registered a moment later. "Oooow! Integra, the stupid wall gave me a boo-boo." He held up the injury for her inspection.
Integra gave him her finest mind-numbing glare. Alucard had been acting very… oddly lately. Some weeks ago a stray silver bullet had gotten him in the head and he hadn't been the same since. He'd forgotten how to phase through walls, for one thing. And he would sometimes go into strange ecstatic bouncing fits - most unlike him. The only thing that prevented the head of the renowned Hellsing Organization seeking medical help was the fact that much of the time he would look and act perfectly normally. It was the times he acted like a two-year-old that rather unnerved her. Rather odd, considering he was centuries old.
"Integra – aren't you going to kiss it?" She was brought back to the present by the sight of Alucard's bruised hand in her face.
Her normal reply might have been something along the lines of, "I would not kiss your hand for the death of every Iscariot member, past, present, and future." But for fear of inciting one of his screaming fits, she subdued herself as much as she reasonably could. "Er… no. I really don't think it needs kissing." She watched his reaction apprehensively. If he started wailing like he sometimes did… but no, he looked morose, not hysterical. Thank God.
Seemingly recovered, Alucard stood up. "I'm okay now, Integra. I'm hungry. I'll go get something to eat."
"All right. Walter's off today, but the fridge is full. Help yourself." With a cheerful grin, Alucard toddled off toward the kitchen, and Integra went to take a nap. Alucard-maintenance was even more exhausting nowadays than it had been before – and that was saying something.
Alucard opened the refrigerator and peered at the vials of blood set in neat rows. He selected one, uncorked it, and gulped it down.
"Blargh!" he gagged at the bitter, salty taste. The vial slipped from his hand and shattered on the tiles. It was disgusting! Had it gone bad somehow? He poked at his stomach, wondering if it was possible to regenerate from a stomachache.
Perhaps there was something else in the fridge that could make him feel better. He opened the door again.
Blood… blood… yet more blood… bread? Yuck. Peas? Got speared on his fangs. Apples? Hm. They were fun to carve faces into and good with peanut butter (his mind gave a happy little swirl at the thought of peanut butter), but not much in the way of food content. What could a blood-sick vampire have for a snack?
He saw it.
Oh sweet, red goodness.
He snatched the pink bottle and upended it straight into his mouth, savoring the gooey-sweet taste. This was so much better than blood! So sublime, so beautiful! The entire twelve-ounce bottle was gone in minutes. It made him… happy!
"Ugh…" Integra rolled over, blinking blearily. "Ow…" She squeezed her eyes shut against the dim light for a moment and opened them – onto Alucard's maniacally grinning face, not six inches in front of her. "Bwah! Alucard, what are you doing?" she sat up quickly, pulling the covers over her front. "What's wrong?"
"Wrong? I'm HAPPY! It's a beautifulbeautifulbeautiful day! See?" Alucard flung the curtains open in one swift motion, bringing a flood of sunlight into the room. The odd thing was, it didn't seem to bother him in the least.
Not so for Integra. When she saw the mercenaries' laughing faces in the yard on the other side of the window, she let out a bloodcurdling shriek and dove behind the bed, covering herself with the blankets as much as possible. "Alucard, you dirty word even dirtier word, I'll filthy word your vulgar word if you don't unmentionable word close the word you could get arrested for curtains right BLEEEEP now! Half the censored neighborhood could be watching!"
Alucard cocked his head, confused. It was an odd picture, to be sure – the wide shadowy hat and obligatory red trench coat accompanied by a bemused expression rather than the infuriating smirk she knew so well. It made Integra even angrier than she had previously been, especially when he said, "Why's that so bad? I'm sure they're enjoying the view."
"AAAAAAAARGH!" She leapt up, hugging the covers to her furiously, and shut the curtains with one swift motion. Alucard wilted. "Get out! Now! I won't have you invading my privacy any more than you already do! Now OUT!" With a sigh, the nosferatu slouched out, giving her a sullen look from the doorway. The second he was gone she slammed and locked the door behind him.
Safe in the confines of her room, she dressed in her usual green suit and brushed out her long, blond hair. Privacy was one of the few things left that she could force her staff to allow her – if it was violated she became violent. An Alucard-free bedroom was one thing she insisted upon.
Ten minutes later, she emerged groomed and refreshed, or as refreshed as it was possible to be in her line of work. The hall was free of insane vampires and other nuisances for once, and she set off to her office to begin the day's paperwork.
She was only halfway down the hall when Seras came dashing up to her, the Hallconnen cannon dragging behind her, a silver bayonet through her left leg. "Sir Integra," she panted, "I was – downstairs – I was getting – something for the kitchen – Anderson is in – in the basement!"
"The basement? How in God's name did he get into the basement?"
The look Seras gave her told her that this was very much beside the point.
"Right… well… where's Alucard?"
At that moment, the vampire emerged from the wall directly behind her, his customary smirk in place. For some reason, this was very reassuring. "I'll go down there," he said, and his voice was as resonant and mocking as always. "It's been a while since I beat the life out of a few Catholic maniacs."
These words were so wonderful after days of idiocy it made Integra want to cry with happiness. "Yes, Alucard, go kill Anderson. And Seras… kindly get that bayonet out of your leg, you're dripping all over the floor."
Ignoring the squeaks of pain emanating from Seras, she watched as Alucard strolled down the hall. He sank into the floor with every step until only his hat protruded, then nothing. He even remembered to leave a peal of disembodied laughter behind, just like he used to. Integra allowed herself to feel optimistic. Perhaps this would go well.
Alucard made it all the way to the basement stairs before his demeanor cracked. Just as he set his foot on the top step, his smirk faded to vacant happiness. His stride became more of a prance. And the thought came into his head that it would be very fun to run down the spiraling stairs as fast as he could. He proceeded to do so.
Six steps down he lost his balance.
Anderson first heard a steady THUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUDTHUD THUD. Then he heard a steady "OW-OW-OW-OW-OW-OW-OW-OW!" Then he saw Alucard, hopelessly entangled in his red trench coat, rolling down the stairs, landing in a different painful position on each one. With a final THUD, he landed on the cold basement floor.
The priest muttered a prayer for strength and raised a bayonet, though he didn't cast it yet. This was obviously some sort of trick. What were the stupid Protestants pulling? He watched the red shape on the floor for some sign of movement.
"Hee hee… that was fun…" Alucard said and sat up.
A pair of sunglasses and a wide red hat bounced down the stairs and landed beside him. He picked them up and put them on. The sunglasses were missing a lens and the hat was crumpled, but he didn't seem to mind. He glanced up. The eye visible behind the missing lens blinked in surprise.
"Oh! Anderson!" He hastily scrambled to his feet. Anderson reflected that the words "Alucard" and "scramble" had never crossed his mind in the same sentence before. "I have to fight you 'cause Integra said so."
Here was what he had been waiting for. He grinned maniacally and raised his bayonets. "Then, in thae name o' God the most holy, prepare tae die, vampi'e!"
"Yay!" Alucard sang. He began jumping up and down happily. "Pie! Can it be rhubarb pie?"
"Or, or we can play airplanes!" Taken with this new idea, Alucard spread his arms out and ran around in circles, making propeller noises.
The bayonets were getting heavy, crossed as they were before his face, so he lowered his arms. He was getting severely pissed at this point. "Have ye gone retarded or somethin'?" he snapped. "Ah came doon here tae fight ye!"
"I'm not retarded! Airplanes can't be retarded!" Still making his propeller noises, Alucard began jumping up and down again, shouting, "Turbulence! Turbulence!"
"Ach, stupid vampi'e…" Anderson muttered angrily. "Ah won't fight ye when ye're acting like one o' mah children…" Then an idea came to him. It worked with the orphanage kids – might it not work with a regressing vampire?
"Alucard," he said in his best "negotiating with a little kid" voice. "Let's play ae game."
"Yay! I like games!" the vampire declared, leaving off his airplane-ness to stare at the priest expectantly.
"Guid. It's called Hide-and-Go-Seek. Ah'll close mah eyes an' count tae ten, and ye'll go hide. Then, I'll come an' find ye. Sound guid?"
"I love Hide-and-Go-seek!" And without further ado, Alucard sprinted back up the stairs, calling over his shoulder, "No peeking!"
The second Alucard was out of sight, Anderson disappeared in a flurry of Bible pages. The last thing that could be heard as he vanished were several snorts of barely concealed laughter.
Halfway up the stairs, Alucard forgot what he had ascended them for to begin with. This fact, however, did not trouble him in the least. He merely continued up, trusting that it would come to him eventually. He emerged from the stairwell rather dizzy from all the circling, yet somehow managed to find his way back to the hall.
Seras was gone, apparently off cleaning herself up to judge by the trail of blood leading to the bathroom. Integra was pacing. The second she heard Alucard's footsteps she whirled to face him.
"Is he gone?" she asked. Then she realized that he had his "regressive" look on again and had not a single bloodstain on his clothes. Her stomach plummeted – had he forgotten what he had been assigned to do and left an insane Catholic priest hanging about in the basement waiting to be attacked? Or worse yet, was said insane Catholic priest in the house? Panic overran her, but she waited for Alucard's answer before allowing herself to succumb to nervous breakdown.
Alucard grinned at her. "Is who gone?" He thought for a moment. "Oh! Yes, the man in the basement is gone." He didn't actually remember the man in the basement leaving, but the fact that he wasn't there at that moment was good enough for Alucard.
Integra paced her way to the bathroom door and banged on it. "Seras!"
A muffled voice replied, "Yes, Sir?"
"When you're done in there, kindly check the basement and make sure that Anderson is gone."
Seras' voice was extremely hesitant. "Well… I'd love to, but you see, it'll take me hours to get this bloody ring out of the bathtub… literally…"
"Leave the bathtub till later. Alucard says he's gone, but somehow I don't believe him."
There was silence. Then the door opened and a fully regenerated Seras stepped out. The floor and walls of the bathroom were stained a dull brown in places, and the shower curtain was ruined beyond repair. Seras hastily closed the door and edged around Integra.
"Well!" she said with a certain lack of genuine enthusiasm. "I'm off to find Anderson, then." She lifted the Hallconnen from where it had been leaning against the wall and headed down to the basement.
After her footsteps had receded, there was silence. Alucard was bouncing on the balls of his feet and humming contentedly.
If there was one thing that Integra couldn't stand, it was humming. "If you can't sing, don't do it," she snapped. "What are you humming, anyway?"
"My favorite song!" Alucard threw his head back and began bellowing, "Vrei sa pleci dar, numa numa iei! Numa numa iei! Numa numa numa iei! Chipul tau si, dragostea din tei! Mea min tesc, drea ochii tei!"
Integra suddenly found that her right eye was twitching uncontrollably. Her hand was sliding toward the pistol concealed beneath her jacket… she was biting her cigar so hard, it broke in two and fell to the carpet, where it ignited the hall floor… and she did not care. No, as long as she got a few good shots to Alucard's head, she did not care about the consequences. She raised the gun, a satisfied smirk on her face.
Seras emerged from the stairwell and quickly took in what was going on. Her jaw dropped and she flung the Hallconnen down. "Sir Integra!" she cried. "What are you doing?"
"Shut up, Seras," Integra growled through clenched teeth. She didn't seem to notice the small fire steadily growing between her feet. "I have been waiting to do this for a long time… and don't you try to stop me!"