"The Perfect Gift"
"It doesn't matter how hard you stare out that window, my Master. Your force of will won't make it snow tonight".
Sir Integra Wingates Hellsing ignored the vampire's comments and almost in defiance of them, narrowed her eyes as she looked out one of the bay windows that lined two of the four walls of the Hellsing mansion great room. Surveying the darkened grounds, the Hellsing leader thought back over her year and a half tenure since being officially named to run the organization. Though Integra knew that snow production was probably beyond the realm of her capabilities, even on this magical night, Christmas Eve, the Hellsing leader had learned that much she had thought impossible two years ago, could be accomplished through sheer determination and a discipline to match.
"You know," the vampire, known as Alucard, continued in a deceptively conversational tone, "I could help you realize your wish of snow if only you would only let me tap into my powers." Hellsing's most feared weapon in the battle against evil, reclined in the comfortable sofa opposite the roaring fireplace. He had been intently regarding the massive, freshly cut tree that had been installed in the great room and decorated earlier that week but, now, pulled his gaze away from the brightly lit Christmas tree, to study his master's shadowy form at the window. "Now for snow," Alucard continued, seeming to consider the problem as seriously as a battlefield opponent, "I only need you to allow me to access power restriction level 3. Yes, I do think that would do it."
Integra glanced over at her servant who favored her with a toothy smile but chose to say nothing in reply to his comments. She hated when he spoke like this to her and she was getting better and better at ignoring him. However, it was still difficult not to spontaneously reply to him.
"That's part of your problem, my Master, " Alucard said, looking back toward the exquisitely decorated tree , "you still allow fear to cloud your judgment." When the silence persisted, the vampire continued as if unaffected, "When you finally learn to unshackle the remnants of your fear, you'll be able to rise above your humanity and then, only then, will you have the ability to take anything….everything you desire."
The vampire's seductive words hung heavy in the pregnant silence that followed. Integra realized that she needed to choose her next words carefully. She turned away from the window, facing toward the seated vampire. Alucard favored her with another glance, his dark eyes, hot, penetrating. He always seemed to have the advantage over her, Integra sighed. She was always aware of that fact and never appreciated it. Instead of engaging the vampire in another of his favorite pastimes, a verbal sparring match, she tried a more direct approach.
"Stop it, Alucard. Just stop it." The Hellsing leader added in a voice more tired than angry, " And furthermore, I do not wish to be lectured to about emotions by someone who has none." Integra glanced over toward Alucard but the vampire gave no outward indication that he had even heard her comment.
The Hellsing leader went over to the large, tufted sofa and sat down, next to the vampire. "Look, Alucard, I'm sorry for being so snappish. It's just that it's such an odd feeling tonight. What with the mansion being so empty and all. I mean, it seems like everyone else is out enjoying themselves, having fun with their family tonight. And then, there's me. Well, us," Integra quickly corrected herself when Alucard gave her a questioning look.
"So, go out," the vampire said without looking at his master, "I'm not the one holding you back."
"No," Integra sighed, "you're not the problem. It's just the nature of my position. I mean, I love it and all. Just sometimes, like tonight, it's just so bloody isolating. Sometimes I don't even feel like I have anything in common with the rest of the human race. But then," Integra said to the vampire, "I guess you wouldn't even begin to know what that feels like." The Hellsing leader leaned back into the cushioned couch pillows and let out an audible sigh. Both servant and master sat in companionable silence for a space of several minutes, the crackling of the fireplace interjecting every now and then into the stillness settling over the mansion.
"I have a gift for you, my Master," Alucard said, his voice soft and low. It broke through the silence though and made Integra start.
From seemingly out of nowhere, Alucard produced a small, expertly wrapped package, complete with tastefully festive paper and tied with a single red ribbon and an equally red bow.
With an almost reverence, Alucard handed his master the gift. The knots were fairly difficult to unravel but Integra had always been good at puzzles so, in no time, the present was unwrapped and the box was opened.
Integra reached into the box and took out her gift. Alucard had commissioned a 24K gold filigree cross pendant with a flawless diamond at the center. Watching the firelight reflecting off the stone, the Hellsing leader realized that this was a one of a kind piece. "Made especially for you by Harry Winston," Alucard said, giving voice to Integra's suspicions. "For you to wear on special occasions," the vampire added proudly.
The Hellsing leader gingerly returned the cross pendant to its original box. "What is wrong, my Master?" Alucard asked, "If the gift is too small, I also could have a bracelet and a necklace commissioned to match it. "
"That's not it," Integra assured him, "Oh, the cross is indeed beautiful. It's breathtaking in its workmanship and the gift was probably was as expensive to purchase as it looks. However," she sighed, "it's also hard, cold and unfeeling. As unfeeling as you are," Integra explained, in another voice, now tinged with anger.
"I'm sorry, my Master, " Alucard looked to her and though still seated, almost bowed, "my apologies. I really did think it was the perfect gift for you."
"Never mind, Alucard. I was just a little…disappointed. I really don't know what I was expecting," Integra admitted, "I just should have realized that vampires could not understand the true meaning of giving gifts. Yes, it's probably one of those things that require something you don't have." When the vampire looked at her but did not reply, the Hellsing leader added as clarification, "A beating heart. Humanity. Those things that you simply do not…cannot…possess." The vampire glanced quickly away but said nothing.
"Actually, I also have a gift for you, Alucard, " Integra said.
"And what could I possibly be lacking?" the vampire returned, an unnamable emotion coloring his words.
"Here, unwrap it."
The Hellsing leader went over to the large tree and brought back the largest wrapped gift under it. Integra watched, fascinated, as Alucard let his nails grow out before unceremoniously ripping into the package, creating a large gash down the front of it. The paper parted to reveal an old, antique portrait.
Though the single woman in the portrait had passed the prime of her life, the artist had managed to capture much of the beauty that she still possessed.
"Where…where did get this?" The vampire was reduced in a single moment to almost total speechlessness.
"An auction at Christie's," Integra said with more than a hint of pride, "One of the Hellsing employees is a big collector and frequents the place often. When the auction for this picture came up, I sent Walter to bid for it."
"And you won it?" Alucard asked, incredulous, his fingers gently tracing the painted outline of the woman's face, reflecting, remembering.
"Yes, we did. Actually," the Hellsing leader added, "Mina Harker's relatives are a greedy lot. They must really need money because the opening bid was fairly low. And, since it was a Victorian painting of an unknown woman, there was some interest. But, nothing like it deserved."
"Well, you know how bad relatives can be," was Alucard's only reply.
Integra did not answer that but rather, said, simply, "Alucard, I'd like to know more about the painting."
"And just what things do you want to know about?" the vampire asked, his words, cautious, guarded.
"Well, I know about the woman in the painting, but, I'd like to know who commissioned it. And, I guess………why."
"The first answer is the easy one," Alucard said, "If you guessed that I commissioned the painting, then you are correct. As to why, well, that's a little more complicated."
"I have all night," Integra said.
"Then, know this," the vampire started, "because of our strong psychic link, Mina knew that I survived my so called 'death' at the hands of the vampire hunters. Though, because she knew that the men would return to my home to hunt me down again as before, she remained silent and tried to live a relatively normal life. However, we continued to mentally 'keep in touch' as it were. Though rest assured, I did not physically see her after my death. My physical presence in her life would have caused too many problems. And I did not want to give her that. So, I knew what was happening in Mina's life through the 'feelings' I received from her. Jonathan was a good lawyer but his business never took off and soon, the Hakers fell on hard times. One year, later in her life, I wanted to give her something meaningful showing that I still indeed felt for her, yet, did not want to physically impose myself on her."
"So you had the picture commissioned," Integra guessed.
"But, one question," the Hellsing leader asked the vampire, "you couldn't 'mentally' tell an artist to paint and deliver a portrait of a total stranger. How did you actually get to commission the work?"
"I said," Alucard explained slowly and patiently, as if talking to a child, "that I never wanted to impose on Mina and the Harkers. That does not mean that I did not travel out of my country. I did. Often. And, on one of those occasions, found an up and coming artist whose work was the talk of London at the time. Money was…is never an issue with me, so I sent him over to the Harkers. Though the artist told Mina that the picture was commissioned by an unknown benefactor, she was too intelligent not to guess. And, more importantly, she sat for the picture. It was the last one made before she died of pneumonia," the vampire's voice trailed off.
"I'm sorry," Integra said automatically and without thinking who she was talking to.
"Why?" Alucard asked, "It is as you said before. I am not human. I am simply a monster. However, this undead monster does thank you for the gift. It is something I will keep in my cellar room. Maybe I'll even hang it next to my coffin."
"You're welcome," Integra said, a smile hovering in the corner of her mouth. "I'm glad I found the perfect gift for you." And, again, for the second time that night without thinking, she leaned in toward the towering presence of the vampire, hugging him hard. Alucard's long arms came around Integra and he just simply held her in his embrace.
The grandfather clock chimed loudly in the hallway, reminding Integra of the lateness of the hour. She quickly and almost mechanically disentangled herself out of the monster's embrace.
"I'll leave you to your memories, Alucard. I have to rise early for church tomorrow. It's been a tradition that all of the employees of Hellsing arrived to attend church and then a party here afterwards. Goodnight, Alucard." Then, Integra added, after pondering for awhile, "And I guess, 'Merry Christmas.'"
"But I didn't give you your perfect gift."
"I don't think you could, Alucard," the Hellsing leader said, "giving the perfect gift not only comes from the heart but, also, in order to accomplish that, you need to know intimately, the person receiving the gift. Not only are don't you possess a heart, but also, you don't know my innermost desires well enough to give me the perfect gift. Heck, I don't even know what would be the perfect gift for me this year. Then, in another, more positive sounding voice, Integra assured the vampire, "Look, Alucard, your gift is fine. I do like the cross and will think of you when I wear it."
The Hellsing leader rose from the tufted couch and went up the stairs to her third floor bedroom to sleep. However, ever the workaholic, Integra stopped by her office, feeling the need to check her answering machine one final time before bed. She knew she would not have a peaceful rest until she knew that all of the organization's business had been taken care of. Even if it meant making one last phone call tonight, on Christmas Eve.
Stopping in her office, Integra noticed that the light of her answering machine was blinking. She had a message. The Hellsing leader let out an audible sigh, went over to the machine and pressed the 'play' button on it. A young male voice, jubilant with the season, greeted her.
"Hi, Integra. It's me, Bill. Bill Pierce. You said to call you when I made my first million. Well, guess what. I made ten. Yep, that tall, geeky kid you met at Harvard three years ago while doing your dissertation work, is now a serious businessman. And guess what? I'm in town now for a couple of days on business here in London and I'd like to meet you. I dunno, for dinner, drinks. You name it.l You know, for some reason, ever since I got to London, all I've been doing is thinking about you. It's odd. It's like I'm possessed or something. I just can't get you out of my mind. Oh, well, if you want to meet me, call me back at---"
Integra's shaky but determined fingers came down on the button, stopping the man's voice in mid-sentence. She spent a few moments, staring at the red light on the answering machine before leaving the office for her bedroom down the hall. Though Integra was in bed within the hour, the Hellsing leader found that it took herself much longer to find sleep.