Disclaimer: Hellsing belongs to Kouta Hirano, A Visit from St Nicholas to Clement C. Moore.
Author's Notes: Happy Holidays. This story is dedicated and edited by Puck 3/4, Lavinia Lavender and StrangeSingaporean. This my entry to the December challenge in fictionhaven and the contest of hellsing drops. Feedback is appreciated.
A Lump of Coal
"He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his sack."
Dear Father Christmas,
I have been a good girl this year. I have barely cried since my father died, I was polite with almost all of my elders and I have studied hard and accomplished myself to protect the country. I was barely naughty; I only murdered my uncle and I ordered the deaths of his five allies. May I request to have my conscience back, please? To sleep in my bed without feeling the weight of the world and my sins over my shoulders? Regards, Sir Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing.
I have been a good girl this year. I have barely cried since my father died, I was polite with almost all of my elders and I have studied hard and accomplished myself to protect the country. I was barely naughty; I only murdered my uncle and I ordered the deaths of his five allies. May I request to have my conscience back, please? To sleep in my bed without feeling the weight of the world and my sins over my shoulders?
Sir Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing.
Integral paused in her writing and looked up. She dropped the pen immediately upon discovering her servant looming over her. He did not bother to hide the fact that he had been reading what she had written. The young girl blushed and covered the letter with her arms. She glared at his innocuous smile.
"You entered without my permission!" she accused, hoping that Alucard would not address the letter. She already felt foolish for taking Walter's advice in writing the bloody thing. She did not believe in Father Christmas and his jolly glory in any case.
"The sitting room isn't your personal chamber, my Master," Alucard reminded her with a crooked smile. "I'm allowed to roam freely here."
"Well, now you aren't!" Integral snapped, feeling the heat rising to her ears. Not when I am doing something so shameful. Worse than asking about the subject, the vampire was dismissing it! She did not know what he thought about it. "Knock before entering any place I am in," she sniffed indignantly, attempting to look adult and mature and failing miserably.
"And if you were in peril?"
"Well… then…" Integral trailed off before sighing in defeat. "Forget it." She gathered her pen and clean sheets to a side before placing the letter into the envelope. The vampire followed her actions with his gaze; his look was not judgemental, just curious. "What are you doing here anyway?" she asked, sealing the envelope with her saliva.
"It's cold," Alucard said, walking towards one of the couches near the ignited fireplace. "I like to be near the fire," he added, sitting down.
Like a reptile, Integral thought, finding his habits fascinating. She had read theories about a handful of Midians enjoying the flames instead of dreading them. The girl could not blame Alucard, the room was warm and inviting. She approached him to examine the vampire; glad he had opted to not wear those sunglasses he had grown so fond of using in last month. Otherwise her observations would be more difficult.
Alucard's eyes were closed; his face was relaxed and glistening. Integral could not help but notice that when he dropped his guard, his features shifted, becoming older, wearier. It was like he forgot the world and those close to him.
"Father Christmas is a strange creature don't you think?"
Integral was taken aback with the sudden statement. "It's just a legend, Alucard." She gingerly brushed the envelope she was holding with her index finger. A therapeutic myth for me.
"There is this omnipresent, omniscient, powerful and eternal old man," Alucard listed, cracking an eye open. "In my times, someone like him would be considered a monster."
"It's just a silly belief to please children," Integral argued, shrugging.
"And wouldn't you expect to get a lump of coal this year, Master?" Alucard chuckled before letting go a throaty laugh. Integral shot him a blazing glare. "You have been a very, very naughty girl."
"That's none of your business, servant!"
"Do you want me to give Walter the letter? He can take it to the post office," the vampire offered, solicitous after his mockeries. Integral regained her calm; she was so unaccustomed to being laughed at, to be talked to in general unless it was for a lesson. Alucard was puzzling in how diverse of emotions he stirred. Months had passed while in his presence and she still was riled by his antics.
"Don't bother," Integral answered with a disdainful smile. "I shall use a more traditional method to do it." She tossed the letter on the fireplace, watching it burn, consumed by the flames until it disintegrated.
"That's a cheap method," Alucard said, leaning on to see the process before lounging back his seat. "You are a strange one, Integra."
"I know." Too young to help to run a country and master you and too old for writing letters to Father Christmas. "But you aren't exactly the paragon of normalcy." Alucard inclined his head, smirking at her direction before she turned around and retreated to find another more useful task before the holidays.
"His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow."
"Disappearances on Christmas Eve?" Integral asked, incredulous after reading the report Walter had handed her yesterday. There was a list of hundreds of children who vanished without a trace from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England on the same night during the last century. The bodies were missing and in their place were found a lump of coal. "Why have I never heard about it?"
"The Twelve Conventions has a tight control over the press and silenced the cases," Walter commented beside her. Integral removed her glasses and rubbed her temples, unable to explain the phenomena. Some freak with a Father Christmas fixation? "From the length of the disappearances phenomena, it is believed to be of supernatural origin."
"Hmm. Any clue to give us a possibility for this year's target?" Integral questioned, scanning over the profiles of the most recent victims. She was at lost with the procedures for a mission so big; her stomach started to twist in anxiety. The doubts about her credibility as leader assaulted her all of a sudden.
"None, Sir," Walter denied, shaking his head. He must have noted her natural nervousness, because he added in a soothing voice. "Don't worry, Integra, your father couldn't figure out the mystery either. Neither did your grandfather, from what Arthur told me."
She put the folders down and grabbed a pen in order to tap it on the desk with a restless rhythm. "But I don't want to repeat family mistakes, Walter. I don't care for their strengths or flaws, I am my own person," she huffed. "What about witnesses? From what I read the parents or tutors didn't hear or note anything strange."
"They didn't but-" Walter hesitated to complete the phrase.
"But?" she insisted, "There were witnesses." Integral was making a firm statement, putting the pen down and placing her glasses on her nose.
Walter nodded, leaning to open one of the children's file. "Here. A small mention about Gregory Smith's younger sister. She claimed to see a strange man in their home that day. Here, in this paragraph, she described him." He pointed out the area with his finger and Integral read aloud.
"I wasn't afraid, mister. He called me by my petname, Susie, gave me a package with a doll inside and pressed his fingers to his lips to tell me to be quiet. He was wearing a funny green outfit and had a long, white beard! Mummy told me that Father Christmas would come that night and she was right! He was fat but kind looking. He told me everything would be okay without Greg to-" Integral stopped as the testimony was cut off by the girl's father. She looked at Walter who encouraged her to continue reading. "Papa doesn't like me to tell the truth, he thinks I'm lying about Greg."
"Susan Smith reported to her school teacher of being molested by her twelve-year-old brother," Walter informed Integral, filling the gaps of her ignorance. "The claims were never corroborated, I'm afraid."
"If this wasn't a theme that repeated itself for a century," Integral sighed, her head started to hurt. She was embarrassed to give her opinion in this matter. She was thirteen years old and her detective experience was limited to the newspapers, mystery novels and TV shows. "I would expect that Scotland Yard put the families into observation for possible covering of the crimes."
"You mustn't strain yourself, Sir." Walter poured her some tea despite despite how she had barely drunk the one he had given her before. "Sir Islands only wanted you to be aware of the cases, not pressuring you to solve them."
Integral took the pen once more, opening the next file. A girl from Wales, Samantha Plum, ten years old. "These are children missing, Walter. I cannot ignore that while something is taking a child from each country for God-knows-why every year. Four lives!" She chewed the end of her pen, frustrated.
"Just remember, Sir," Walter stated, squeezing her shoulder. "You are as old as some of the victims. If you fail-"
"I won't," Integral declared, narrowing her eyes. She could not. Walter departed with a bow to take care of the preparations for Christmas dinner and the decorations of the Mansion. Integral, meanwhile, continued analysing the reports, skipping her lessons that day to focus on that matter, the highest in the order of her priorities. After comparing the cases, Integral came to the unsettling conclusion that the children who disappeared were not exactly shinning beacons of innocence and that the only witnesses who claimed to spot a "plump man with jolly eyes and white beard, dressed in green fur" were young themselves.
They have been naughty ones, ah? Alucard whispered inside her mind. Startled, Integral slammed her hands on the desk.
"Alucard!" she shouted, irritated by the intrusion.
Specific dates strengthen the supernatural, my Master, he told her in secrecy. Integral forgot her temper after that statement. Walter wants you downstairs, it's about the lights. None are working correctly. She sighed and closed her eyes, wondering if her job would be always this stressing.
The worst has yet to come though, Integral pondered quite miserably as she made her way downstairs to see Walter regarding the lights trouble. I have yet to find a present for Alucard.
"The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly."
On the twenty-fourth of December, Integral assisted the service in Westminster Abbey before returning home. Her staff were preparing the last touches to decorate the Mansion in the Christmas spirit. The pillars and roof were covered with multicoloured lights. She entered and Walter helped her to take off her coat, gloves and hat. Integral swept away the snow on her long skirt and allowed the warmth of her house to defrost her limbs.
"The tree is prepared," Walter confirmed her to her relief. She rubbed her hands together before closing the door. "The dinner is almost over. It will be on time when Sir Islands and the other knights arrive. Do you require anything to eat in the meantime? There are still mince pies from the tea."
"No, thank you. I'll wait until the dinner," Integral shook her head and went to settle beside the fire of the sitting room. She glanced at the chimney and noted the stockings hanging. Her maids had insisted on placing them there to make the building more traditional and comfy.
Night fell and the knights arrived one hour after. It was traditional that they dine together the first Christmas in the house of the just-ascended member of the Round Table. Integral greeted them and escorted them to the dinning room. She took one of the head of the tables and Islands took the other.
In that moment, amidst the serious conversations and concealed complaints about her lack of qualification, Integral started to miss her father dearly. Arthur may have not been the most affectionate parent or the most responsible but, unlike the other old men, he made her laugh during Christmas. He toyed with the crackers and fought with her to pull the wishbone. Now the conversation was dull and not even the twinkling lights cheered up the atmosphere.
"Would you want sauce with your turkey, Sir?" Walter asked her. Integral looked up, giving a half-hearted nod.
"Cranberry sauce, please."
The meal went without surprise. They finished the roast turkey and vegetables followed by plum pudding. Penwood nearly choked himself on one of the silver coins that were traditionally hidden inside. Walter aided to avoid suffocation and handed him a glass of water.
Gratefully, the formality ended soon. They left early, around ten o'clock, to spend the rest of the eve with their families. Integral gave them the wrapped presents Walter had bought for her and bid them farewell from the threshold of the Mansion.
"It went well. They seemed to have spent a jolly good time during the dinner," commented Walter, who was standing beside her, "If we aren't taking in consideration Penwood's near-death."
Integral spun around and grinned. "Glutton. General Penwood will learn to chew before swallowing now." The night air was chilly; Integral sneezed as she looked at the pale moon above.
"You should go inside, Sir, you'll catch a cold otherwise." Integral nodded, agreeing and entered her house. She was suddenly tired, her eyelids were heavy and she did not wish to remain awake anymore. It was so boring, nothing to do. She missed her father's wrecking attempts to sing Carols at this hour. "Are you well? You look pale, Integra."
"I am tired, I suppose."
"That's odd, you usually have more stamina during Christmas."
Integral smiled, shrugging. "It seems this holiday turned out to be stressfull to me." Besides being completely useless. She had not figured out the mystery of the missing children. "Your present is…"
"I know, beneath the tree beside the blood you extracted for Alucard," Walter finished in a kind voice. "Wait here, Sir, I will give you yours before you retire to bed."
Integral waited for Walter at the foot of the staircase. Her weariness increased with each passing minute.
"Tired, my Master?" Alucard asked, almost breathing on her ear. Integral gave a little startled jump before glaring behind her.
"You shouldn't surprise me that way, Alucard!" He smirked at her reaction and she frowned further.
"I was hoping you would stay awake until midnight so I could give you my present."
"You can give it to me now," Integral huffed, disliking his playful expression. She was wary, sometimes, of his attitude towards her - concerned because she secretly liked it.
"At midnight." Alucard shook his head. "I'm going to wake you. It's special." Integral watched him fade with his diabolical sneer plastered on his face. When he was gone, she was more aware of the room. Despite her mind getting foggy, her ears caught the grandfather clock's hands moving incessantly until they pointed to eleven o'clock.
One hour before Christmas.
Integral swallowed sharply and pinched her nose, shutting her eyes to fight the overwhelming dizziness.
"Sir Integra?" Walter's voice was a blessing, taking her away from the lethargic state she had fallen into. She looked up. "Your present. Merry Christmas," he told her, offering a package wrapped in red and white paper.
"Thank you." Integral took the package to unwrap, undoing the beautiful silver ribbon first and then almost ripping apart the paper. There was a box inside; she opened it and found a new brand gun, and a green cracker. "Walter, this…"
"It's a Beretta Model 93R. Your father purchased that to give you that as a Christmas gift before he passed away," Walter said, gesturing to a little yellow card. She took it and read it aloud.
Forgive me if I couldn't be strong enough to deliver your gift myself. Winter is rough for an old man to make it, not all are as strong as Walter-" Integral smiled sorrowfully before continuing. "I gave him a cracker for our past and the weapon for your future.
Your father always,
Integral closed the box and embraced Walter in an effusive act of emotion. She could feel the tears that menaced to stream out her eyes but stored them away. It was a merry occasion, birth and life, not to think of the dead. Walter drew her closer and kept her safe until she released him.
"Th-thank you." Her voice was cracked.
Walter smiled dotingly with a shake of his head before pulling a smaller box from his vest pocket and placing it on her opened palm. "Silver bullets," he said, "That is my gift to you. Merry Christmas, Integra."
"He was chubby and plump,--a right jolly old elf--
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself."
Her slumber had been brief and convulsed. Integral had dreamed of the past, months ago, when she killed her uncle. She felt her own heart beating against her ears, the adrenaline coursing inside her veins as she fired the bullet that would end his life.
The light left his eyes, blood streaked Richard's forehead and his body collapsed lifeless on the ground. She had never felt so good, so powerful. Her grip on the gun trembled with the sense of victory. She wanted more death.
She was frightened with her own cravings.
The Mansion had become strangely silent while she slept. The lights outside flickered to fade, a gust of frozen wind crept into her quarters to stir her senses. Integral awoke suddenly, noticing she was sweating and that her heart raced inside her chest. She took her glasses and turned on the light.
Five minutes until Midnight.
She had been so tired less than an hour ago. Why did she feel so restless now?
Stretching her arms, Integral stood from her bed, tucking down her cotton, blue nightgown and wrapping herself in a coat. The wind became more violent all of a sudden; there was a blizzard outside her window. She approached to watch the storm. It was difficult to distinguish anything among the white swirls or hear beyond the windy sibilant.
There was something… Someone moving outside, on the snow. Her eyes narrowed and she left her room. An intruder, perhaps?
"Walter!" Integral shouted, walking through the corridor to the staircase. There was no answer. None at all. "Walter?" she insisted, hesitant and rushed down to find him. He seemed paralysed in the motion of helping the maids to carry the trays toward the kitchen. They were also frozen in place; none moved an inch nor seemed to be able tohear to her calls.
"Walter, what is wrong?" she asked, standing in his path. He was not still; not completely, she noted that little by little he moved but to an almost imperceptive frequency. Integral gasped and turned away from him, walking backwards towards the grandfather clock.
Unlike the rest of the Mansion, the clock seemed to be alive. She turned around to observe it. One minute until Midnight. The pendulum swinging was hypnotic; it forced her body to stay still where she was.
Wide-eyed, Integral watched the hands meet together and the coo-coo of the object taking over the dead house. As it died out, she could hear footsteps and the jingle of bells behind her.
"Merry Christmas," a mirthful voice wished her. A voice she had never heard before, so kind regardless the fear that twisted inside her. "You have been a naughty girl. The naughtiest of England this year."
Integral turned around, almost forgetting how to breathe when she saw him. The man was tall, chubby and innocent looking. His cheeks were rosy, his hair and beard were of an immaculate white and he was covered with snowflakes from the blizzard outside. He was dressed in eccentric green fur. His blue eyes glittered. She wanted to run away.
There is this omnipresent, omniscient, powerful and eternal old man. In my times, someone like him would be considered a monster. Integral remembered Alucard's words. "Father Christmas?" she gulped, and he nodded.
"Welcome to the Endless Night, Integral Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing," he greeted, taking out an envelope. "I got your letter."
"Oh," Integral uttered in disbelief, moving to her right very slowly. She felt trapped and without weapons. His blue eyes never left her as if he were a wise predator. "Why is no oneelse moving?"
"This is the Endless Night, only children can move freely aside of me."
"You're real." Her statement was simple but still held wonder mixed with disbelief.
"I wanted to reward and prize the children at any costs. But everything had a price."
His expression grimaced, and she took advantage to move away further, towards the sitting room. She needed a weapon, she was a naughty girl and Integral was aware that the other 'naughty' children went missing every year.
Father Christmas disappeared when she shut herself in the sitting room, slamming the door tightly. She flinched as she heard the bells once more. She turned around and saw him approaching her. The sparkle and warmth had faded from his face. His cheeks were as pale as his beard, his eyes frosty as the snow melting off his body.
"The Ireland boy caused me less problems. I'm hungry, Miss Hellsing, be a good girl to Father Christmas and let him eat for all the year." He rubbed his stomach, it moved like jelly to the touch. There were faint screams coming out from there. Children's sobs.
"Back away from me, monster!" Integral shouted, covering her ears. She could not listen, she was horrified. "I'm not a child!"
"You are a little girl," he said in a condescending tone, seizing her shoulders and pulling her small frame against him with a crushing grip. She flinched and glared fearlessly. "You don't understand, bad girl, you can't possibly understand how torturous it is, living with those little elves forcing me to do this every year. Starving me, living outside time." She gritted her teeth as she maintained the judgemental look. "It will never end. That is Father Christmas' secret. And yours," he smiled mirthlessly, "Yours is that you were born to kill. The world wouldn't miss you if you died."
Integral bit down a shriek when she felt her body losing warmth, as if Father Christmas were assimilating her. Her mind was lost in the melody of the jingling bells, of the laughter of children of ages ago. On the sob of a timid old man who wanted to help them. The thrall ended soon, she snapped back to reality and saw Father Christmas' face contorted in pain, his right shoulder was bleeding.
"She's not the naughtiest child of England," a coquettish voice said. Integral was dropped to the ground and glanced at the silhouette beside the Christmas tree. It was a girl dressed in a white suit and a ridiculous fuzzy hat. She was as pale as her culprit with red eyes and full lips, and her hair was black. "Are you okay, Integra? I went to wake you for your gift and then everyone acted strange around us."
"A-Alucard?" Integral whispered in disbelief. The sensation of relief bathed her inside. Only children could be in the Endless Night. She-He did a bow before giggling and aiming the Casull on Father Christmas' direction.
"Come for the naughty girl, old man," Alucard taunted, licking his fangs. "I have destroyed your sleigh and fed your reindeer to my hounds." Father Christmas seemed to grow bigger, menacing. "Cover your eyes, my Master."
Integral complied, surprised by her lack of curiosity about what would happen between them. She pressed herself against the door and listened to Alucard's insults followed by Father Christmas' screams. Bones crushing, flesh tearing, bullets firing, blood dripping. She licked her lips inwardly, imagining the slaughter in her head.
The Mansion soon turned noisy again. She heard Walter conversing with the maids and the Christmas tune from the light of the tree. Integral uncovered her eyes and saw golden bells on the ground, not a trace of a corpse or blood around.
"He's gone," Alucard assured her, offering a hand. She took it, still shaken by the shocking revelation.
"Is he dead?"
"He was already dead," Alucard informed her with a distant voice. "He wasn't a vampire, not exactly, my Master. Whatever he was, the fat freak was weak, parlour tricks aside; he only was able to pick fights with children for a reason. Their souls rest in peace."
"Father Christmas was supposed to be…" Integral started to mutter, not quite knowing what she wanted to say. Kind? Generous? Just? "He wasn't supposed to be a monster." She opened the door of the sitting room, allowing Alucard to escort her out of it.
"Most monsters, Integra, aren't evil. They just gave up their humanity for what they thought was better to fulfil their mission and then got trapped in the consequences of their choices."
Integral stared at his face. His expression was unreadable. She wondered about which monster Alucard was truly speaking about. "It's Christmas. Did you open my gift?" she asked, changing subjects. The trauma of the night would not easily be forgotten –her servant just killed Father Christmas, for God's sake! - However, she could ignore that until tomorrow. She was good at pretending and lying to herself. That and the mini-femme Alucard was distracting enough. He looked so bloody endearing with those girlish bangs.
Alucard chuckled, his tongue prodded a tiny fang. It was unnerving to picture the vampire with long lashes."I went ahead and drank it before midnight. It was delicious, I can't wait to see what you'll give me on Boxing Day."
"Cheat," Integral accused, hiding her smile. He was guiding her to the exit door. "Now where is my present?" she demanded bossily and then, without warning Alucard drew himself close to her, pressing their bodies together and their lips. She did not fight the kiss, returning the feathery brush with chaste passion before the contact was broken. "There is no mistletoe above us," she indicated, looking up. "I hope that wasn't my gift or you can forget about Boxing Day."
"I know, I just felt like I deserved that after I killed Father Christmas," Alucard stated hauntingly with a gleam inside his red eyes. He tossed her a golden box with a red ribbon over it. She gasped and caught it on the air "Here," he indicated, prancing out the mansion, she followed him with her sight and then walked outside.
The blizzard had ended, the temperature had shifted to a tolerable coolness and snowflakes still fell from the cloudy sky. Integral opened her gift and frowned to discover what it was. What the bloody hell? "A lump of coal!" she exclaimed, throwing icy daggers at Alucard's direction.
"You have been a naughty girl this year, Integra," Alucard mocked, clucking his tongue with childish mirth. She fumed in anger and threw the coal towards him, jolting him on the nose as the wind blew away his white hat.
"Take your coal and shove it!"
She half-turned to return inside when she felt snow hit her left cheek. She touched it in disbelief, coughing out the snow. The vampire had thrown a snowball at her! Integral strode towards him, kneeling to form her own. He stood still, spreading his arms; faking to be a submissive target yet his innocent, younger face did not fool her again.
Integral Hellsing stayed awake and out her bed, trying to outsmart Alucard in the snow. In the middle of her focus, she started to laugh. A laughter that used to be hers when she was younger, carefree and honest. It returned to the young woman just for that day, dazzling and overwhelming, and never again. That had been Alucard's parting offering to her fading childhood.