Hello! This is a gift fic for Smarty Cat. It's a piece I wanted to get out of my head and into the open and there isn't a person I would rather give it to. Enjoy, Smarty! (And everyone else!)
Rated T for innuendo.
Disclaimer: I do not own Hellsing. All of its characters are property of the respective owners and no profit is being made from this work.
Note: A traditional rosary has ten groups of ten beads. Each group of ten beads is called a decade.
By Gundam Girl
Her hands were cold. Integra didn't know if it was because she had been in the damp bowels of the Hellsing Manor, or because she had just watched her uncle Richard die – or something else.
Alucard had wrapped her arm with his own mysteriously-gloved hands when she had been unable to do it herself. Normally Walter took care of her cuts and scrapes but he was gone and a bullet would was far more serious. The vampire's act of kindness had surprised her.
And the shock. Integra hadn't yet adjusted to the truth that the reason she was wounded in the first place was from her uncle's attempt on her life.
Integra stayed in the dungeon with Alucard until late into the evening, her curiosity for him great. They spoke little, but Alucard had cleaned every drop of blood of hers with his tongue, admiring the sweetness of it. When she was too tired to walk up the stairs, Alucard took her to her room. Oddly enough, he didn't need to be told where that place was.
"Sleep, my master." His voice coiled around her life an icy fog. As he bent to set her small form down upon her bed, something fell from the inside of his jacket. It dangled, easily seen between the fall of his snow-pale hair. She was just alert enough to see it was a rosary, as bright a shade of red as he own blood.
He paused when he saw her looking at it. Releasing her, he tucked the necklace back into his jacket, his movements almost stiff.
"Sleep," he urged again.
Then he was gone.
It was Halloween. It was a time when the Hellsing organization should have been especially alert for renegade vampire pranksters, but the hourly reports Integra received from Farguson informed her that there was little to no threat present in London tonight. The worst was a TP-attempt on Buckingham Palace, but the stoic guards had taken care of that without so much as an eye-twitch.
Walter had brought her dinner to the office – her office, she reminded herself. Integra sighed, merely staring at the full cup of cold tea near her wrist. After over a year now, she couldn't bring herself to think of this room anyone's but her father's. Besides that, the desk she sat at, though ornate and glossy, was too large for a girl of twelve.
"You were too hard when there is nothing to work on, Master." Alucard spoke from a shadowy corner by the flaming fireplace.
Integra jumped, thankful she hadn't been trying to drink the tea when she did. She had yet to be accustomed to Alucard's abrupt arrivals and departures. Throwing her gaze upon him and trying to appear anything but surprised, she nodded firmly. "I must, Alucard."
The tall vampire only smiled at her, the expression as knowing as ever with its hints of wildness. "As is expected of my master."
Integra watched as his head turned to the window, and it was then she noticed. "You're wearing a rosary," she murmured with slight puzzlement in her voice. She realized she had forgotten about the curious object and had not seen Alucard bear it since the night of their meeting. It now glowed like a string of rubies in the firelight.
His sobered, just the slightest bit, but Integra was not practiced enough in guessing his expressions to notice. Saying nothing, he walked to the window closest to her while seeming to take no steps at all. When he at last turned back to her, his grin was wide. "Perhaps when I feed tonight," he told her, mischief in his eyes, "it will be on a girl your age, guised as an angel."
He laughed as he disappeared, and the sound echoed in the room. Integra's eyes were wide.
Alucard was drinking from a crystal goblet when Integra found him in the dungeons. It was June and unbearably warm upstairs even at night, but in the dungeons it was perfectly cool and crisp, comfortable for her to work.
"I don't suspect it's wine you're having." It was a preteen's casual comment. With Walter not there to observe her, she cast aside her usual primness and flopped into a chair at the table he sat at, slapping the paper she had onto its surface.
Alucard's eye was dark upon her. "And if it isn't?"
"I know it isn't," she retorted, and that was that.
Alucard drank in silence for a moment as she wrote. "What is it you are composing." He asked it like a statement rather than a question.
"A report on myself for the Queen." Integra's face was quite serious as she focused on her task, an expression that made her seem rather comical from behind her large, magnifying glasses. "If I submit it tomorrow, it should reach her within four years."
"How very fast a pace," Alucard chortled. He drank deeply, his pulseless throat flashing as he gulped. He stared at a place on the ceiling as he tipped his head back.
Integra's eyes wandered. She saw a rare detail; the lid of Alucard's coffin was up, and from a loose nail in the crimson velvet lining hung the scarlet rosary. The silver cross on the end glinted in the dim light of the dungeon, shooting a thin beam of reflected light straight across Integra's neck.
"How long have you been serving the Hellsings?" She heard herself asking the question, but it scarcely sounded like it came from her.
Alucard looked at her and their eyes met; but only for a moment. He turned his gaze to his goblet. "Longer than any generation your great grandfather might have known."
Integra eyed the rosary again. "Have you always been Catholic?"
Alucard didn't have to follow her gaze to know what she was looking at. Turning, he blinked at the coffin and the lid shut with a thud that resonated through the deep stone tunnels. His voice, when it came, was terse, and Integra thought he had never been so serious with her before. "I have never been Catholic," he told her. There was a pause. "It is nearly dawn. You should rest."
Integra didn't need to be told twice. Gathering her things, she bowed her head, and this time she did the leaving.
She was staring out the window. Integra had never been a child who wished for a mother. Hers had passed away giving birth to her, and her father had never mentioned her beyond that Integra was a mirrored likeness. But tonight while she sat at the bay window in her bedroom, watching the stars and the moon, she had never wanted her mother there more.
She had matured today. That was what Walter had called it – maturing. How embarrassing it had been for her to go to Walter! The aging Angel of Death had sputtered with utter disbelief, as if he couldn't believe that the girl of thirteen, in her newly-needed brassiere and private school uniform, might finally be growing up.
He had been unable to do anything but give her some money, and she had gone out on her bicycle to the pharmacy closest to the manor. As far as Integra knew, Walter was in his quarters cradling his head in one hand and a glass of port in the other.
Integra's hands tightened on the skirt of her uniform as she pressed her legs together. She felt uncomfortable and unclean. She felt… A rare pressure built inside of her, and her vision wavered with the moisture that threatened to spill out. Her shoulders slumped forward.
"Tears on such a night? That is unlike you, my Master."
Integra was too inward at the moment to properly respond to Alucard's abrupt arrival, but she took off her glasses and cleaned them with the hem of her blouse, seeking an excuse to keep her head down. "It is lovely tonight, Alucard," she replied, her voice hardened to make up for her current weakness.
For several long moments, neither said nor did anything. At last, the vampire spoke. "Hundreds of years ago, most civilizations would have honored you this day with feasts and dancing."
Integra found it unsettling that he knew what had happened to her today. "Why?" she asked, mystified by the notion.
"Because the Rite of Blood is a celebration. It is a passage into womanhood, and now, your blood can be shared with another's to make a whole new being." She heard him chuckle. "But I have never seen the Hellsings commend such events."
Integra colored and faced him. To her surprise, her supernatural servant stood no more than a few feet away. His long white hair shimmered in the moonlight filtering through the large pane of glass, but his black clothes made the rest of him nearly indistinguishable in the dark. One thing she did see clearly, however.
His arm was extended toward her and in his hand, the rosart she had last seen in the dungeons was coiled into his white-gloved palm. "Touch," he urged her, his voice deep in the dark. "Touch this, and it will soothe you."
His voice was either hypnotic or she was still eager for comfort, but no matter which was so, Integra reached out and pressed her fingers to the cool beads. They felt like silk beneath her flesh, smooth and soft. She wanted to hold the rosary, almost fiercely so, but Alucard drew the necklace away from her and the impulse was gone.
Alucard smiled secretively. "And so you are calm, my Master." The rosary was returned to beneath his jacket.
"Thank you," she found herself saying.
He only laughed. "Your blood still smells so sweet… And now, with just a hint of spice." With that, he lifted his hand past her and opened the window. In the breeze, a curtain blew in front of him, separating master and monster, and he was gone from her once more.
She was trading in her uniform skirt for a pair of navy slacks. Pulling her long pale hair up over the black silk blouse she wore, she threaded her fingers through it, and he fell around her shoulders and down her back. The gloves she wore were new. Her glasses had been refitted a week ago.
Integra looked in the mirror of her dresser and stared at herself. She was beginning to change from the young girl who had lost her father into the young woman who would, from this day, officially take her father's place. The only thing that remained the same was her plain, gold cross necklace. It seemed to work as a medium between the small Integra and the big Integra.
Integra turned away from the mirror. She was kidding herself. She was still small; she was only fourteen. The question was, could she fool the Knights of the Round Table into thinking she was bigger than that?
Walter had been preparing her. She had finished home schooling a week ago and was technically graduated from high school. She didn't miss the social contact of peers and contemporaries, for she had never cared much for them in the first place. Integra had never really allowed herself any friends because she had always known that she would one day be too busy, too possessed by work, to spare any time for them.
"But friends are important. Or used to be."
Integra swiveled and glared. "I didn't give you permission to enter my mind," she snapped out at her vampire servant.
"Excuse me." Alucard bowed slightly. "My…Master." The pause before his title for her made her stare hard at him. "My Master usually dresses so differently," he explained himself, his face pleasant but his eyes thoughtful.
Integra swallowed and took in a breath. "From this day on, I shall dress for my part. Today, my part is that of one being interviewed by the Knights."
"They are fools." Alucard said it with the bitterness of one who knew, one who had witnessed generations of the Knights, men coming and going, and none of them ever having true wisdom. His tone lightened with his next words. "But you shall pass their inspection."
"Not easily," Integra muttered, more to herself than to him.
"Would you have that it was so?" A slow smile spread his lips, the tips of his fangs glaring. "If you demand it, I will enter their minds, one by one, and have their immediate approval for you. It will be a simple enough task." He looked at her, no, he looked into her, and some part of him seemed to long for her to make the command.
Integra's blue eyes were wide in the path of his bright red ones. "No! I—" She blinked, and he was looking at her normally again…if Alucard ever looked at her normally. "My father taught me to welcome challenge. I welcome this one."
Alucard's chest rose, but he no more took in air than she lacked need of it. "Ah, you may. But you don't. Why shield your mind from me, Master?" Reaching into his jacket, he took out the infamous rosary she saw only once a year. "There was a night I had you entirely in my power, if I had so desired, the night you felt the texture of this."
As always, she wondered about the mysteries of that thought-evoking object, but pushed them down. "You tease me with my own curiosity, but I know from personal study that vampires have no religion, no use for it."
"Oh?" Alucard chuckled. "Don't they?"
With an impatient huff, she began for the door. "It is time. I will be meeting the Knights on the second floor conference room. Do not disturb us."
She had, at some point, adjusted to commanding him. "Ease yourself, Master. You've nothing to worry about."
Integra shut the door behind her, blocking from her head the thought that sometimes…sometimes, she worried about herself when she was around Alucard.
A last, provoking statement crept into her mind, and the voice was that of the vampire's. "If you are going to change your appearance, my Master, than I believe it is time I did the same."
It was a beautiful fall evening. Leaves fell in curtains of browns and reds and golds around the Hellsing manor. The stars littered the sky above the trees that bore these leaves, and from where he stood, he could surely see Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. She could, anyway.
She wondered if vampires ever took the time to appreciate nature. Or if, having lost their souls, they had forgotten all the wonders of the earth beyond darkness to hide them, dirt to shelter them, and blood to keep them nourished.
Integra nearly sighed. Not that she was any better. The last time she had just stood and watched stars, really watched them, was years ago now. Even the night Alucard had let her hand pass over his precious rosary beads, she hadn't really seen the night sky so much as use it as something to look at.
At any rate, when she joined Alucard on the balcony that evening, she glanced up and saw her favorite constellations. A brief smile touched her lips. "My father used to tell me about the mother and her cub. How they were hunted, how both died, but the protectiveness of the mother made them both live eternally in the night sky."
Alucard didn't look down at her but kept his eyes where hers were. "Perhaps he was right."
"He said it to soothe himself. He hardly ever spoke of my mother, but when he did, it was rarely for my benefit." Integra brushed her hands down the legs of her pants and studied him. Part of her wasn't used to his change of costume yet. He had gone from being cloaked constantly in black to the exact opposite, choosing to wear a vibrant trench-coat of bright scarlet – the color of the blood he needed to survive. On his eyes he wore amber-colored lenses. His hair was not as long as it once had been, and some sort of phenomenon that Integra guessed wasn't dye had turned it from white to black. Such a minute detail, however, she hadn't bothered to question and didn't expect Alucard to offer information on. On top of such hair he wore a wide-brimmed hat to match his coat. The only thing that remained the same in his wardrobe, like her necklace, was the pair of white gloves that kept him bound to the Hellsing family.
"Why do you smell like that?"
At his voice, Integra shifted her eyes to him from behind her glasses and found that he was looking at her now. His expression was serious but hers was as well. "Alucard…you look quite healthy." Indeed, though he remained as pale as the stars above them, there was a little more color to his sharply-angled face than Integra was used to seeing.
"I have just sampled human blood," Alucard told her, but continued brusquely on. "You haven't said. Why do you smell like that?"
Integra could not quickly overcome the almost completely new look the vampire held from perhaps no more than a quart of some young person's blood, tasted probably a half-hour earlier. She had a sudden wish to remove his glasses and see without hindering the shade what feeling, if any, lurked in the monster's eyes. Yet her hands stayed at her sides. Instead, she replied to his question. "I'm trying out a perfume sent from a Norway ambassador for my birthday last week. I'm supposing he is trying to gain the Hellsing organization's favor for some future merger of business. Why? Do you think it's too strong?"
"For a human, it isn't. But for me…" Alucard's expression seemed puzzled, then irritated. He got like this sometimes, outside of his usual casually amused view of the world. "Why on earth do women insist on cloaking their own personal scent? Do they think it foul to be so personalized? That they might be recognized before they are even seen?" He held for a moment, and then his lips pulled back, revealing his perfectly white teeth, the canines sharp. "Do you know, Master?"
"No." She crossed her hands over the rail of the balcony. It was one of Integra's more relaxed poses and not very relaxing at that. She had stopped being anything less than tense since being accepted as Sir Integra Hellsing. "I don't claim to know much about women, Alucard. As you know, I've been around a majority of men for all of my life."
"That doesn't make you any less female underneath," he told her. Something in his voice changed, it went deeper, slower. He turned away from the stars and faced her. "Do you forget that sometimes, Master?"
"I forget nothing," she snapped.
No, she couldn't afford to. She had the perfect mind for calculations, the perfect brain from running a top organization like the one named for her family. Her emotions however, if she one day chose to explore them, would be a beautiful mess. Such was the cruel fate of one so young with so much riding on her shoulders. Integra didn't know anything of this. But Alucard did.
"Then I daresay you remember this?" He brought out the rosary. Integra had known an instant and a half sooner that he would. He always chose the strangest of evenings for showing it to her. There was never any pattern, no practicality or predictability to it. It simply came.
"I'm losing interest in that, Alucard." It was lie and both of them knew it, just as both of them let it rise and fade in the cool air. "I have seen it five times now since the night we met, and its one secret of why you have it in the first place is not so mystical anymore."
"And if I told you? What would you do?"
"Who says I will do anything?" Her eyes narrowed at him as his playful tone. "Is it a trick, Alucard? Are you trying to distract me from something?"
"I haven't the freedom to trick you, my Master." He held up one gloved hand so that the star on the back could be clearly seen by her eyes. "These prevent me from such actions. But I am reminding you. This, despite its spiritual purposes, is merely a necklace. And a necklace knows not Catholic nor Protestant, not Moor nor Jew. It simply knows women. Women were what necklaces were made for, to be worn by women."
"If that is all, then why do you have it?" Integra turned to go inside, but was stopped by his next words.
"Indeed, why? For it should be around a neck…a beautiful neck…" She turned and met him gaze for gaze, and Alucard turned his head up to the stars and laughed. "Of a woman!"
"You bore me," she told him, walking away.
His voice followed her into the house, through the rooms, above the stories. "When I was young, I hunted bears."
Integra clutched her Protestant cross necklace of gold and later fell asleep that way.
Sometimes Walter would just look at her as if he didn't know her. He had looked at her that way today, his wrinkled eyes hard and seemingly disapproving, but Integra was never shamed because she knew what he disliked. The old man never seemed able to appreciate the fact that she was no longer small and weak and dependent of him every moment.
She admitted that she needed the loyal Angel of Death at her side. Where would Sir Integra Windgates Hellsing be without her trusty butler and protector? She would have died long ago at the hands of her Uncle Richard if he hadn't been around to frighten the coward as long as he could. Then she had found Alucard, a new protector, a new servant, but she had never once felt the desire to cast Walter away. Perhaps that was Walter was truly afraid of; replacement. But if six years could pass since Alucard entrance into Integra's life, then it was time the old man realized he had nothing to fear.
Integra sighed to herself. She was in her office again, for probably the hundredth time in two days. She had gone between office and restroom but that was all. Her meals were being brought to her. She had not known rest in two long nights now. This would be a third. Alucard would be here to laugh at her any moment.
What was so wrong with being sixteen anyway? No one had exactly told her such was so, but she felt it. She felt like she was just above girlishness, but just below womanhood. It was a disadvantage place for a female to be when attempting to run a large organization like Hellsing.
Maybe that's why she'd started smoking. Well, that and the same Norwegian ambassador had sent her a case of expensive cigars and her pride had incensed her to try one. She'd become addicted within a day. And then she'd realized how much she didn't want to have a merger of any kind with Norway and forbade the ambassador from contacting her again. Sometimes it just took brutal honesty. And nicotine.
Their was a disturbing rise in the number of Ghouls as of late. Integra supposed there had been far higher numbers in the past, but for the current time, fifty Ghouls destroyed a night was high even for Hellsing's scales. Fargason had been act work on a much later clock-in time this week. She would have to look into upping the man's pay. And perhaps into his retirement in near future years. He was getting old.
Alucard was there. She didn't hear him and he made no sound vocally, but she knew. She felt it. "Back so soon? Was there less work tonight then?"
"I left them to finish on their own. You shouldn't be here by yourself." Alucard's tone was light but the truth in his words sounded harsh to her ears.
"People believe that in my current state, Hellsing could easily be overwhelmed. Don't they?" Integra grabbed her teacup with almost angry force and practically threw the hot liquid down her throat. "Now that my acceptance onto the Round Table is not quite so new, they think I am a simple target. They will see."
"Now is not the time for you to try to prove yourself," said Alucard. "My master, perhaps I can…"
"No. I've told you many times, Alucard, I'll not have you invading minds. None of my family to run this organization has done so yet." Her voice was steady; she meant every word.
"None of your family to run this organization has yet been a woman."
Integra always found it distracting when he referred to her as 'a woman,' and it was never coercive to business. "If you have nothing to do, then I give you permission to retire for the night. Have a break."
The vampire chuckled. "With you so tense?"
"Shall I translate my invitation into an order?" Integra had never said so aloud, but she often tried to make it as though her servant got to use more free will in her company. A small part of her, the part that was still ten years old and mystified by him, wondered what he would be like if not restrained by her family's containing gloves.
"How unnecessary. Here." Before she could even raise her eyes to him, he was before her, and his red rosary dangled in front of her face. "The first time you touched this, it calmed you. For the second, it will make you pleased. Dare you touch it again?"
"What need do I have for pleasure at this moment?" Integra attempted to ignore him and return to her work, but she couldn't take her eyes from that Catholic item.
"You rarely let anything please you, even when it should, Master. The days of your smile are far away. Touch this and you will smile again."
It was tempting, half of her was forced to admit. Debating, she pulled her long hair off of her shoulders and down her back. She missed the flicker in Alucard's eyes at the unexpected bearing of throat. Integra breathed deeply. Leaning forward on the desk (which she now fit into perfectly), she removed the glove from her right hand. Lifting it upward, she touched her fingertips to the silkily-textured beads.
And it came back – that feeling of ferocity to keep the necklace with her, to feel it, to feel anything it might provide for her. And more than that; this time, Alucard didn't take it away and the coolness of it quickly ebbed, to be replaced by a smooth, slow burning that began in pleasant warmth but quickly worked into a feverish heat. She felt…sensitized, as if every pore was open. If was like being touched, being touched in places that no one had ever touched her. And the pressure…amazing pressure that built and built and soared until, not knowing what else to do, she tried to release it in a cry that filled the room, but that did nothing, nothing—
Until Alucard jerked the beads away and she was left, half leaning against the desk, hair all around her, on the papers she'd been working on, down her back, over the chair. And Alucard… She looked up, trying frantically to regain composure of herself. Alucard was staring at her as if he hadn't seen her in years but wasn't completely surprised by her.
When her breathing was normal again, she dared to ask: "What was that?"
The vampire smiled in his way, secretively. "That was the feelings of a woman."
The night came when Integra wouldn't argue with Alucard about what she was. For now, garbed in a formal dress of satin, shimmering silver in color, she was without a doubt a woman. On her feet were elevating sequined heels, a far cry from her usual plain boots.
She had hired two women to come to the manor to do her hair and makeup. They had left half an hour ago. Integra sat at her vanity and stared at herself. Her hair had been piled up onto her head by the tall hairdresser. It was held by a rented diamond clip. Pale strands strategically placed and curled framed her face.
Her face had been powdered to perfection. The makeup artist had repeatedly dabbed her cheeks with rouge and there was now a false but admittedly healthy-looking blush to her face. That woman had repeated over and over how beautifully colored her skin was. "So naturally tan!" Her glasses had been cleaned and polished.
Turning her blue eyes down, Integra pushed the cushioned stool away from the vanity and carefully rose to her feet. The diagonal slant her feet took felt awkward and she prayed she wouldn't trip or break her ankles before the evening was through.
Walter had called for a car ten minutes ago so chances were it was already waiting for her. Taking a breath to steady her hands, Integra picked up the slightly-sparkly clutch that matched her dress. She found the wrap she had ordered on her bed and carefully arranged the thin, silky material around her upper arms.
She was ready. Integra repeated that to herself over and over again. After tonight she wouldn't have to worry about the advanced by others on her supposedly-weak organization. Her hand turned the knob of the door. After tonight—
Alucard stood there, tall and dark, filling her whole doorway and making it impossible for her to pass. Her presence may have startled her if she was easily scared, but in any case, she hadn't sensed him there. "What are you doing?" she asked.
Alucard at first said nothing. His eyes, shielded by a glare in his orange glasses, inspected her from head to toe, paused at certain places like her glossed fingernails and powdered throat. "My question is the same, Master."
She was confused by the way her heart unexpectedly pounded in her breast. "I am expected at Buckingham Palace in half-an-hour. I must go." Integra stepped forward to give him the hint to move, but the red-clad vampire did not budge and their proximity tightened. "Alucard," she began.
"Why have I never seen you in such attire?" he asked, his voice slow and calculating from between the upturned collar of his coat.
Slightly annoyed, Integra had to mentally order herself not to push some curls behind her ear. "Because I have never dressed like this before."
"Really? I suppose that must be." Without warning, Alucard took off his glasses, and his eyes were bare and dark red against hers. "I doubt I would forget an image such as this."
There was something in his voice, in his eyes, that had Integra blushing for real beneath the rouge, and she suddenly felt compelled to pull the wrap closer together at the low neckline of her dress. "I have an audience with the Queen. It was made clear that I am to be dressed formally."
"For a Queen, one would. And do you go alone?" Curiosity, his most often used expression, came to the fore. "Or is Walter accompanying you?"
"I am to be escorted by Sir Lionel Young. He's the son of one of the other nights. I've never met him before, but—" Integra paused, and she raised an eyebrow at her servant, whose breathing pattern had changed. It was shorter, faster, and she could have sworn his eyes darkened. "Is there a problem?"
"No." He tone was gruff. "Are you calm?" His hand went to his jacket.
She hurriedly replied, because she could sense it, once more, what he wanted to do. "I don't need your rosary, Alucard. I am fine."
He brought it out anyway. "It may calm you again."
"I don't need it." By God, she certainly didn't. If touching those bewitching beads did anything like it had the last time, her carefully crafted appearance would be ruined. Not to mention the feelings it had stirred last time might prevent her from being well enough to go. "Put it away."
He did, because she ordered it, but Integra got the feeling he didn't want to. "You could have ordered me to take you."
"Oh, I'm sure that would have gone well." A corner of her mouth turned up. "Bringing a vampire into the home of the Queen. Though it might be an example of my work, I doubt it would be considered appropriate."
He stepped back now, and she passed by him. His voice was light once more. "I am tame."
A short rush of air came from her, the barest hint of a laugh. "You will never be tame." For a moment, it felt like when she was a child again instead of a person of seventeen, and they shared a mutual amusement as she proceeded down the hall.
But then Alucard cast it off with his next word. "Integra." Her name.
Integra froze, one leg outstretched in mid-step. He had never, never in all the time they had known each other, in the seven years since their meeting, called her anything but his Master. She didn't turn around, but waited for him to continue.
"One day, I may not be able to resist, should you show yourself like that again. Or maybe…" She could feel the vampire smiling mischievously behind her. "Maybe the time will come when I simply cannot resist. Nor you."
"What?" Surprise by that, she swiveled around, intending to face him. But, as usual, her nighttime servant had already gone.
When she saw the Queen that night, she was gracious and won Her Majesty's favor without much effort at all. But always, in the back of her mind, were Alucard's words. Integra told herself there was nothing for her to resist anyway.
The winter had set in and no matter what she did, she could never quite get warm. This had been the case for the past three years for Integra. Each night during this season, she would start a fire in the grate that graced her bedroom and it would seem to work for a little while. And then, just as she was going to sleep, the temperature would plunge, inside her if not out, and she could do nothing but grip the thick comfort and hold her knees tight to her stomach. When she fell asleep, if was only by sheer exhaustion from shivering so much.
She never told Walter. The old man would only fret and insist on building two more fireplaces and insist she wear long underwear and in the end, he would only succeed in making her feel foolish for not simply dealing with it. She deal with it is what she did this year, like the last.
If she was honest; and yes, Integra tried to be honest. If she was honest, she could had dressed more warmly for bed. And the last two years she had. But this year, the night the first snow of the year had fallen in London, Integra had found an antique nightdress that she believed belonged to her mother. In fact, she knew it was so. She had been in her father's room, the master bedroom of the manor that she had refused to move into, and while looking for old documents on an old case, she had stumbled across the garment in the late Master Hellsing's closet.
She had been unable to ignore the way the nightdress had seemed perfect for her. In was long, straight to her ankles, and made of smooth satin that flowed freely around her legs but clung tightly to her midriff and breasts. She felt almost underdressed in it, but she preferred to think of it as old-fashioned rather than indecent. Perhaps the garment was older than she imagined and it had really belonged to an even older ancestor; perhaps the wife of Abraham Van Helsing herself.
If nothing else, she appreciated the quality of the piece, and how it made her feel comfortable if not presentable. Integra especially liked the transparent straps about two inches thick that slung just over her collarbones and down her shoulder-blades. She had once looked upon herself in the mirror and wondered if this was how her mother had looked in the nightdress.
When had she become so attached to material things? In the darkness of her room, Integra shook her head. It was not allowable for her to want anything beyond the success of the Hellsing organization and indeed, she rarely did. Soon enough, she told herself, she would store the nightdress back where she had found it, sentimentality be damned.
Half-awake, Integra stared at the ceiling above her. Her glasses were folded on the nightstand to her right, and the silver frames gleamed in the reflection of the dying fire in the room. Exhaling, she swore she saw mist rise from her mouth.
"Integra…you are cold…"
She should have known the voice and yet she didn't. Or she did and she didn't want to believe she knew it. Goosebumps rose along her bare arms and on her legs beneath the satin that covered them.
"You are so cold…"
No, actually, she felt as though warmth was seeping into her pore by pore. Her breath came shallowly. Heat rose from her stomach to her neck, and her cheeks regained color.
"When will you not be cold?"
She finally pulled in a long, deep breath, but it was ragged. Sweat beaded against her brow like a fever. Slowly, as if hunting for strength, she pulled the coverlet away from her body and found that she was damp on the back of her knees and behind her elbows. Pressing a hand to her neck, she felt it was wet.
Her eyes saw the dim glow of the fire, and she desperately wanted it to be full again, for light if not for more warmth, which she found she no longer needed. "But I'm not…" Her own voice startled her, and in her half-conscious state, she clutched the mattress as if frightened. "Cold."
"Yes, you are." With those words, the fire did spring up, and the blaze cast an almost unbearably burning all throughout the room. "I can warm you…"
Her strength gave out as though exorcised and she fell back against her large feather pillows, her head just missing a brass rung. In the moonlight, her eyes might have looked like bright blue stars. "You mustn't…Alucard!"
"Shhh…" He was there then, at her side, standing upright on the floor, but one of his gloved hands was held just above her as though he was trying to physically hold down her voice. "You are a bit loud."
It was so hot! She felt unnerved, like the time with the rosary in her office. She expected the room would swirl in a few moments. "What is happening to me?"
"Nothing is happening to you. You are doing this all on your own. And there is nothing unnatural about it." The monter's voice was as smooth at the silk she wore and seemed to flutter over her in the same way. Though her vision was blurred, Integra could see that he wore no red coat, his hat was not on his head, and his eyes were free from his bizarre glasses. And his eyes she could see perfectly, but rather than their usual crimson, they were almost black upon her; dark and deep like two murky, bottomless pools.
"I can help you, if that is what you wish." Alucard's tone was airy as the sound of her now-frantic panting reached his keen ears. He said the next with some difficulty, although Integra couldn't distinguish it. "If you wish for it, I can do all for you."
She moved; she stretched to her full length, long tan legs reaching to nearly the end of the king-sized bed. The nightdress rode up to reveal young, flawless thighs. Was it his voice? This was what she wondered in the dark shadows that the fire cast them in. But he said he wasn't causing this. So what…
"Integra." With slowness rather than hesitation, Alucard lowered his arm until his pale hand touched the mattress to her left. He was almost fully bent over her, staring into her eyes, which tensed and seemingly wanted to close. "Integra."
Something like a moan ripped from her throat. "Why do I…"
His other hand positioned on her right side, and now he had her apparently trapped beneath him although she wasn't really held there. "Integra."
The third time hearing her own name from his lips, lips that made it sound like the most perfect word known to man, proved to be too much for her. She was encompassed by an overwhelming need to feel him. It was like nothing she had ever known before, and before she could realize what she was doing, Integra had grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him down to her so they were chest for chest and then, with so much heat there that it surprised her, mouth for mouth.
But he was frigid; Integra hadn't expected that. She had expected the same soaring heat that blazed within her, the same banging pulse that ripped through her. Alucard had neither.
His lips were as cold as the snow outside and just as white, like the rest of him. And inside him was no pulse at all.
Shocked, her eyes went wide, and she released him to instead brace herself upon the mattress. For the briefest of moments, the vampire's full weight was upon her, her breasts full against him with one of his legs pressed to the bed between hers.
She thought she saw, with her imperfect sight, a look of sorrow in his eyes, which were red once more rather than black. Integra's mouth fell open – she could still taste him there. She blinked rapidly.
And then she saw that her room was once more in pitch darkness, her fire completely gone. Her sheets were askew, but she was shivering once more. The room was icy and her breath was still visible.
Breathing hard, Integra looked around her. One hand blindly searched for her coverlet, which she pulled up around her tightly as she pulled down the hem of her nightdress.
Turning on her side, she saw beside her still neatly-folded glasses what she thought was Alucard's blood-colored rosary. But when she woke fully in the morning, there was nothing there.
Nineteen. Integra remembered being nine and thinking when she was nineteen she would finally be able to help her father with the organization. This was before her father's illness, before Richard's true intentions were revealed and before she had met Alucard. Now she was nineteen and running the organization in her father's place, and thus far she had done it well enough to avoid her position being questioned by the Knights or the Royal Council. She supposed that time would come, however.
As for Alucard, they had grown apart. It was a little unfortunate, she sometimes thought, but that was the young girl speaking inside of her. That girl did not get permission to speak often. The truth of the matter was that Integra had become possessed by the business of her work; meetings, documents, reports to the Queen, all of this had compelled her to spend none of the casual time with the vampire that they might have shared years ago.
And Alucard was not a creature to simply loiter about a closed-in office while she worked. He stopped by here and there but rarely said anything unless it was in regards to a mission he needed his approval for. He never commented toward her health or her personality anymore.
Integra wasn't sure if she and her vampire had ever been friends, but if they had, she supposed this was what it felt like when friends no longer put the time out for each other. Not that her time with Alucard had been particularly effortful. She could summon him at a moment's notice, with the power she held over him by blood, and she could banish him in the same way.
The thought made her pause in the document she was writing on. Banish Alucard? That idea was absurd. She might order his leaving, but he would remain nonetheless. He had always been arrogant in that manner.
At any rate, she had been nineteen for a week now. And it had been two weeks since she and Alucard had crossed paths. She dared to think he might have entered her mind and a small part of her was annoyed by the notion. A larger part of her feared that he might not have and had indeed lost interest in her age.
Confusion whipped through her like a savage wind. It were the moments like these that she hated being by herself, being alone. She had known that something between herself and Alucard changed last year, after a night when she had imagined she was burning when in reality she had been freezing in her sleep. Hadn't she?
What did she care for the impression of a vampire who was her slave? As she thought this, she winced slightly behind her glasses. Even after nine years, she didn't like thinking of Alucard as her slave. Although it was true that the term was more truthful than servant, it was her servant she preferred to think of him as. Sometimes, if she tried to fool herself hard enough, she imagined he was a willing servant.
But that was neither here or there. Integra had been bound to Alucard since before her conception, and he to her. Nothing either of them did would change that. And one day she would die, and her children would be bound to him as well, and thus it would go on throughout the centuries until at last, so much time passed that the name Integra would no longer have any meaning in the vampire's millions of memories.
As she finished a stack of paperwork that she slipped neatly into a desk drawer to her left, she heard herself sigh. She was tired. Walter knew it, as would Alucard if he had lately bothered to pay her the attention. It was nearly time for Integra to accept a needed vacation. She supposed she could leave Walter in charge of the filing for a couple of days to a week. She had no problem leaving the units to Farguson, who did the majority of the squad managing anyway. It was her own pride she had a difficult time leaving.
Her back straightened. If she tensed anymore, it was quite likely that her spine would snap and Alucard would be laughing at her paralyzed body. She didn't give him the chance. "To what do I owe the honor?"
"I am bored as of late." When her eyes rose to his, he went on. "We should speak, you and I."
"I agree. Have you decided you now prefer AB over O?" Years ago, the vampire would have grinned at that and Integra would have shown a rare smile. But she didn't mean it as a joke any more than he found it amusing.
"You have become absorbed in this." He waved a glove hand toward the files on her desk. "It is consuming you."
She tapped her burning cigar against the tray by her hand, and a chunk of ashes fell off. Raising the soft roll to her lips, she drew in a breath, the released it and the smoke into the air. Soon the vampire was clouded by wisps of white. "There are worse things that might take control of me." Her tone was pointed.
Alucard's mouth was straight, his eyes unreadable. "But you have no care for any of it, Master."
Then it occurred. With that one, short, undeniable and plainly-said call on her mind, Integra felt it all rush up inside of her and burst out at the top. She shot from her seat so quickly that the big leather chair rolled backwards and hit the wall behind her. "How do you know that!" She half-shouted the demand at him. "How can you claim to know me so well that you think I do not care for this? The Hellsing organization is my life. My responsibility and my birthright! My father entrusted me with it! You said yourself nine years ago that I am destined to be your master, and it is known that the master of the monster leads this Hellsing organization! So why now? Why now, Alucard, do you dare to say that I do not care!" Her gloved hands came down hard upon the desk, rattling pens and shaking papers. Her cigar had landed on the floor and cooled by her feet.
Their eyes were locked; that was the main difference aside from Integra's never-before-seen outward show of feelings. Red met blue like fire watched ice and neither could break away. Alucard's breathing was slow and controlled while Integra's came quick and loose. Both had racing blood in their veins, even though only one had a beating heart.
"I suppose," began Alucard contemplatively, "that I could be mistaken. Indeed, I must be, for I have never seen you react so strongly since the day you found me. I believe…" He paused as though considering his next choice of words. "I believe I wanted to confirm it."
"What?" The word was loud compared to his leashed tone.
Alucard watched her closely. "That you, as a woman, still hold a passion."
Nothing could have enraged her more, but her previous tirade left her with little energy to spend on this next surge of confusion. "How can you speak of passion to me, Alucard? As a vampire, there is supposed to be nothing important to you and yet each year you show me that rosary you hide on you and never tell me what its meaning is!"
At this, the vampire looked almost startled. His eyes gleamed from behind his orange-shaded glasses with something akin to puzzlement. "And this is your question for me? This is what you have bridled and hid from me, your wondering of my rosary?"
"You have said you are not Catholic, but that you may have need for religion and yet this makes no sense from any of mine or my ancestors' studies." Integra's expression was nearly imploring in its desperation to know the secret of the item that had tormented her for so many years. "I don't want to command you. I want you to tell me of your own accord. I think I have earned that, Alucard."
Alucard stared at her for a brief moment. He seemed to be inspecting her, perhaps even memorizing her; how the lamp on her desk cast light upon her long hair and made her irises gleam. "Fine. But you must wait one year."
"What does a vampire have need of a year? It is like the blink of an eye for you!"
"Yes. The year is not for me. It is for you." With slow, deliberate movements, Alucard produced and held up the rosary. Integra's eyes alighted on it like a starving man gazed upon food. "One year, my master. One, Integra, and then you shall know."
He left then, to go find his nightly meal, but Integra had no doubts of his promise. Vampires were mischievous and unpredictable creatures, but this was one that she trusted.
She remembered the vow Alucard made and indeed, he did not forget it either. Integra couldn't have said the exact date he had promised her, but when its match came the following year, she was ready for it.
He found her in her bedroom at midnight. She was dressed in a nightdress again; not her mother's. This was white and far more substantial than the silk. This was made of plain but soft cotton with a much higher neckline and sleeves that covered her from shoulder to wrist. She was reading in an armchair was an adjacent floor lamp on when he appeared, his form slinking into view through the floor.
"Ah." That was her word of welcome, but she showed her attention by closing the book and crossing her legs. "Alucard?"
He gave her the slightest bow, a hand over where his heart had once been, hundreds of years ago. "Master. You surely recognized this?"
"Yes." She watched the rosary dangle from between his thumb and forefinger, its gleaming beads as bright as ever. Standing, she approached him and it. The Hellsing leader realized she had never been so close to it at its full length, but the necklace would have covered the distance from her toes to her stomach if held straight like it was now.
"What do you know about rosaries?"
She acknowledged that as a fair question. "They are used by devout Catholics to pray the Hail Mary. One bead receives one verse, and between each ten there is a bead for a different prayer. The beads on the tail above the cross receive their own prayers. When completed, more than one hundred prayers are chanted."
"Did you know that rosaries are taken to confessions in the Catholic Church because Hail Mary's are often used as punishments for the sacrament of Reconciliation?" Alucard smiled. "No. Most Protestants don't know that."
"How long have you had that?" she asked. The answer she hadn't been prepared for one bit.
"Since I was a mortal man." Her surprised expression amused him, and he smiled a little deviously. "Yes, it is quite old."
"But you…" She left alone the fact that he had been a vampire for at least five and a half hundred years. "You told me you have never been Catholic."
"Indeed. And this rosary was not always mine, but it is my burden to carry. It belonged to a woman."
This was something else Integra hadn't expected. "A…a woman you knew as a mortal?" She felt once again like the child she had been who had asked so many questions.
"Yes. She was a woman to admire. She had so much passion." That word again. Integra knew now how important it was to him that women have passion. She had never really considered it before. "One of her passions was religion. She prayed a full Hail Mary on this rosary every day."
He paused, and Integra tried to prompt him. "And then?"
"And then she died. But just before her end, she entrusted this to me." Something in his glowing eyes changed. They became focused, but not on Integra. On the past of long, long ago. "She wanted me to make sure that I passed this on before my death. As go my circumstances, that issue has not been a worry of mine." Alucard's eyes seemed to return to Integra, and she felt her throat tighten.
"Alucard. Did you…" She could scarcely get the words out. "Did you love the woman who gave this to you?" She gestured toward the rosary.
He stared at her. "When I was a man…I suppose I might have. And I suppose Mina loved me."
Integra nodded without truly understanding. Then a new thought came to her. "Once, when I questioned this rosary and your need for religion, you challenged my theories. Do vampires have need to religion?"
"No." He said it without thought or hesitation that Integra was confused all over again. She had expected to learn something new about vampires that her father had been unable to teach her. "Not vampires. But I."
She stared up at him, mouth partially open in absolute lack of understanding.
Alucard only smiled. "Your God is not mine. But perhaps mine is you…Master."
Integra shook her head. He was teasing her again. At least, that was what it seemed like. But when her gaze was down, she didn't see the seriousness in the vampire's eyes. "What will you do with that rosary, Alucard?"
"Have you not yet noticed?" There was amusement in his voice.
Alucard lifted a hand and brought his gloved fingers to her neck. She felt the chill of his through the material, but her immediate attention was brought to a sudden new weight at her throat. Looking down, she saw ten beads from the crimson rosary hanging down her chest. How they got there was a mystery to her and possibly just a bit of Alucard's power used to surprise her.
"You are now twenty years old." His voice rang clearly in her mind as though he was speaking into her thoughts rather than into her ears. "I have known you a decade, Integra Hellsing. Ten years, ten beads. Another decade from now, you shall receive another decade from this rosary until at last all of it belongs to you."
Integra chuckled. "Do you think I am going to spend one hundred years with you, Alucard?" When their eyes met, her smile fell.
Alucard backed away from her, the nine remaining decades of the rosary swinging teasingly. His voice taunted her as he dematerialized in front of her. "Do you think you shall not?"
Integra stood alone in her room, but at the same time, she felt she had all the company she needed. Turning towards her mirror, through which she had seen herself grow up, she saw the red beads stand out against her tan flesh and pale nightdress. She smiled.
Was one hundred years really so long?