Disclaimer: Hellsing belongs to Kouta Hirano and none of the fairytales told within are of my creation either.
Author's Notes: Edited by J. Luc Pitard. This will have mature sexual imagery and nudity but it's not described to justify a higher rating. My entry to the fairytale contest in fiction haven and another 30 romances ficlet. There will be spoilers about how Alucard truly feels about his existence and own emotional state (chapter 72: Heart of Dreams). Possible AU warning (for future releases).
There was a light on in the basement, the floor was clean and bright and the air warm and welcoming.
She did not like it. It was abnormal.
Surely, this was no mystery to Integral Hellsing; she had been the one who had ordered Walter in the past to place a proper illumination system along with the necessary air handling so the lower parts of her Mansion would not become a frozen prison. Yet it was strange to have the basement more comfortable than the chambers upstairs, victims of the explosions and devastation the war left on passing.
This was supposed to be a shadow realm in her mind that she never visited since the fateful day she had released Cerberus against her foes. It was his kingdom of darkness and bleakness, cold and veiled from mortal eyes. One she had blindly descended over a decade ago, trembling and frightened yet stayed to make it her home. Unknowingly, Integral had conquered it with human devices and artificial light. She changed it at her leisure into one that appealed to her.
His fortress crumbled each time she uttered a word.
Integral reached his room at the end of the labyrinth of hallways that joined into one single entrance. All paths led to him. All excuses about losing her track, postponing the deed he begged in his silence, were fruitless. Dead end. Facing Alucard was unavoidable.
The door was open just like day. He had been expecting her.
She tried to appear relaxed, standing tall and proud at the threshold of his former dungeon and current sleeping quarters - he had insisted he'd stay, even if she had better rooms at his disposal. "Add a couple of chairs and a table," Walter had told her. Good old Butler, she missed him dearly, his personal touch to call it home. Alucard had lived twenty years inside the dungeon; she supposed that it felt familiar enough to remain. Integral's façade of valiant knight cracked when she noticed the lid of his coffin lifting.
Indeed, he had been waiting, a fake sleeping beauty; a corpse waiting to stir at contact with blood. His blood, her blood. Her presence.
Pulling herself together, Integral forced herself two steps forward. Her heart pounded loudly, her breath was ragged and the hand that wielded her rapier started to tremble. Any attempts to still it were in vain. The Major would have mocked her if he could see her now. If he was not dead and rotting.
Midway was as far she dared to go before the sword slipped from her grasp, falling to her feet. The metallic clatter of the weapon on the stone ground echoed in the unnerving silence of the cell. The knight's bravado had faltered before the slumbering dragon.
Twin glowing eyes opened. They were red and tired, they told her so many things though he did not speak a word, only observed her approaching without weapons. She drew a chair close to his casket, sitting next him. Their gazes locked for endless minutes in which only stillness reigned. Her tension diminished, musing about her next move carefully.
"I wanted to tell you a story, one of the ones I read long ago and thought I'd forgotten," said Integral, switching her straight position to lounge on the chair. "It's not about knights nor about dragons nor the ladies the gentlemen served."
"A bedtime story before I close my eyes, Integra?"
She ignored the sorrow that stirred within her and continued, "It's a story about a dutiful daughter, a fearful and loving father and a cursed beast." Alucard smiled at her synopsis and she started the tale.
"Once upon a time, there was a rich merchant with three daughters and three sons. The women were beautiful but vain and shallow except the youngest, Little Beauty who helped her brothers to work when her father lost his money."
"Ah a dutiful, hardworking daughter to eclipse the males," he interrupted lazily with unconcealed amusement. She scowled as he chuckled, then he motioned for her to renew the fable.
"The merchant left for a business journey in attempt to gain his wealth. His daughters asked for jewels and lavish gowns, except the youngest who only wanted a rose. He failed in the enterprise and found himself trapped in a forest during a snowstorm. There was an abandoned castle in the woods where he could dine and spend the night in warmth. In the morning, when he was leaving, the merchant wandered on the garden, finding a perfect rose for Beauty, he plucked it. Suddenly a hideous Beast appeared, accusing him of thievery and sentencing him to death. The merchant begged for his life and explained why he took the rose; he was insistent enough to convince the creature to let him go with a condition. One of his daughters would take his place, if they refused, he would die."
Integral stopped, stunned when she felt Alucard's hand enveloping her own. They were cold and dead but she found them more comforting than living, sweating ones.
"The Beast gave the merchant a chest filled with gold to send him home. With his new fortune, the older sisters could marry well. However the happiness was short-lived, upon giving Beauty the rose, the merchant could not help but told her the story behind it. His sons offered to slay the Beast but he refused them, knowing they would be killed. Beauty insisted she would take his place and she returned with him to the haunted castle where the merchant reluctantly left her."
He was moving closer. She let him. His shadows covered the light bulb, dimming the illumination. His red eyes were more radiant, closer, and intense. She entwined their hands together.
"Beauty's life in the castle was pleasant, all her wishes were granted by magic. After her supper, the Beast visited her, he was kind and gentle, and she found herself looking forward his presence more and more. Yet, each time he asked her to be his wife, she refused him, although she agreed that she would never leave the palace. One day, she beheld her father's grief in a magic mirror, missing her presence dearly. She asked to be able to visit him and the Beast assented only if she were to return on seven days lest he died-"
Integral gasped, her concentration lost when Alucard's cold lips kissed her jaw. His caresses were like snowflakes, gentle and frozen. His hands released her and loosened her cravat as the vampire breathed within her ear, "Continue."
"She arrived home the next morning, her father was overjoyed but her sisters became jealous of Beauty's happiness in the Beast's material comfort. They convinced her to stay longer and thus, on the tenth night," Integral cut her storytelling, yelping before smacking Alucard's head. He had nipped her far too roughly. It would leave a bruise. Still glaring at his mocking visage, she said: "On the tenth night, Beauty dreamed about Beast dying of a broken heart and realised she was desperately in love with him. She wished herself back and was immediately transported but it was too late. Sobbing, she admitted she would have gladly married him. At that, the Beast transformed into a living prince, Beauty's father joined them and her sisters were turned into statues for their faults-"
"And they lived happily ever after," Alucard muttered, his head resting on the joint of her neck and shoulders. "Their contentment was founded on goodness."
"Yes." It was ludicrous she could keep a straight face after her tale. She, just like he, was far too weary to bother with her steel façade in their privacy. The war destroyed many walls and not all of them were solid.
"I suppose you're tired, Countess to do what you come to do now." Integral assented, closing her eyes tightly as Alucard embraced her torso and pulled her frame against his cold chest. This is how the basement should be, dead, cold and dark. "Stay with me tonight, tomorrow night you could finish your duty."
He carried her inside his coffin where they slept together, fully clothed. Alucard basking at her warmth and she shivering at his frost. The shadows cradled them in silence.
The following day, Integral returned to her task. Sword in hand, she had Seras accompany her to assist in case Integral decided to escape. She needed to learn to resist that temptation.
"Sir, are you sure?" Police Girl asked, watching her, concern and pity in her eyes. It was amusing that a vampire pitied a human being when it was supposed to be the other way around.
Sometimes she imagined she was the vampire and Seras the human, but then, Integral reminded herself that the girl had suffered and was miserable. It was worse for Seras since she couldn't understand why.
"It's his wish, Seras."
"I don't understand Master. I care for him a lot but I don't get him." Seras' normally upbeat voice trembled, a broken note in a symphony of a daughter of the night. Obviously, the childe did not want to lose her progenitor. No one wanted to really, even if they'd grown tired of their distant parents.
"I know. But I do, sadly." Integral wished she did not; she longed to maintain her self-imposed denial over his nature and his yearning for release. She stopped when she was about to cross the open doorway. "That will be all, Seras. Return upstairs and assure we won't be disturbed."
Seras Victoria looked at her then in the direction where her Master was resting. Integral could see her turmoil and provoking sympathy within herself. She was also suffering; they could share their sorrows together.
"I won't repeat myself."
Police Girl looked down and nodded, "Sir." She spun around slowly before she started to run away from her, from them. Integral could not blame her. She envied Seras' freedom to escape the sight.
Upon entering, Integral shut the door, locking it and advanced; Seras' footsteps still lingered in her ears. The image of the vampire girl running through the stairs, holding her tears weaved inside the Hellsing's mind. Nausea hit the knight's system when she focused on her resting servant. She put the sword down, praying Alucard forgave her indecision.
"Tell me another story, Master," requested the vampire, cracking a single eye open. His hand waved towards the chair next to his coffin. "Another with a beautiful daughter and a cursed beast."
"I beg your pardon, servant?"
"Won't you even grant me this small wish?"
His innocuous question struck her. Quietly, Integral put the sabre down and hung her jacket on the chair before sitting down.
"Alright. There are variants of the story, a Russian tale. The girl is nameless this time and she has asked her father for a scarlet flower unlike her pretentious elder sister." As he stalked closer and caressed her face and hands, Integral told him the fable, similar to the one she had described yesterday with very few changes. "The monster's arms were crooked, his hands were the claws of a wild beast, his legs were those of a horse, he had two large humps like those of a camel in front and behind, and he was covered with hair from head to foot. Boar fangs protruded from his mouth, his nose was hooked like the beak of the golden eagle, and his eyes were those of an owl. That was the frightening sight of the Beast. Regardless of his features, he was a gentleman to his female guest and treated her with great respect; the castle was luxurious and appealing to the lady. Only when her father fell sick, did the Beauty ask to leave for a week. He recovered as soon she returned but her jealous sister impeded her quick return by setting the clocks back, fooling her to believe she would be on time."
Integral's voice wavered when Alucard tore apart one of her shirt buttons with his fangs. He grinned, holding the button between his sharp teeth. She ignored his obnoxious action and renewed the storytelling, keeping a watchful eye on him, hoping he would not destroy the rest of her shirt.
"When the Beauty discovered the dead Beast, she exclaimed aloud: 'Arise my dearest friend. I love you as I would my betrothed!' That was enough to bring him to life once more and transformed him into a handsome prince of great wealth. He had been kidnapped by a sorceress as a young boy who turned him into a beast as revenge against his father."
"And they lived happily ever after," concluded Alucard, "Except the wicked sister."
"Correct," Integral agreed dryly, reaching to caress his face. "I am tired. I will stay tonight as well."
"I'm cold, Master. Colder than yesterday."
He stood and offered his hand to her, despite his body temperature. His gaze ignited with passion. Integral took his hand and strode with him into his coffin. They slept peacefully together, naked and curled, flesh-to-flesh, cold against warmth.
Their clothes were outside; tucked on the chair including the button Alucard had taken from her shirt.
The third day, Integral returned prepared to Alucard's chambers. She had selected a collection of folktales to read him whilst she was checking her private mail regarding the rebuilding of London. Bearing a determined expression, her sword sheathed on her belt and a cigar on her lips, the knight ventured in through the open door, slamming it shut.
Alucard no longer pretended to sleep; he was sprawled in his coffin with his boots perched high on her chair. His face lit in taunting amusement when she moved the seat and swept his feet off them before sitting next to him.
"Welcome, Shahrazad. Are you going to enthral me with one of your stories tonight? A Frog King? A Pig Duke?"
"A Bear Prince." Integral smirked at him when she heard the title bestowed to her, "Shahrazad? Shouldn't I be Shahryar?"
"You're both, my Master, considering the circumstances."
"I didn't know you liked the Book of One Thousand and One Nights."
Alucard shrugged, replying with an air of nostalgia. "Some were good tales. Mehmed used to tell them to Radu and me after our practices."
Integral extended her hand; he grasped it and stood, going close to her. She dropped the cigar, crushing it with her foot and as the smoke lingered on the air, the knight commenced the fable for the evening.
"Once a merchant wanted to go to the market, his daughters asked him to bring them a treat. The oldest one asked for precious stones, the middle child for a sky-blue dress and the youngest and most precious for a single grape. Don't laugh, Alucard, merchants apparently tend to have three daughters." She chuckled and cleared her throat; not letting his mocking semblance distract her, and then continued. "He found plenty of jewels and dresses in the market but couldn't find a grape which saddened him greatly. Distracted, he stumbled upon a little dwarf who inquired why he was so miserable. The merchant told him the reason and the dwarf directed him to a meadow with a great vineyard guarded by a white bear."
"Merchants also tended to be stupid for their business. Risking their lives for pointless gifts."
"Ssh," Integral silenced him, holding his head on her lap with mild irritation, twisting strands of his hair with her restless fingers. He grinned mischievously and lowered his lashes. "As the dwarf said, the bear growled at him and asked what he wanted. The merchant requested a single grape for his younger daughter and the animal only agreed to give him one only if he promised to deliver to him the first thing that greeted the man upon his arrival lest he would eat him as punishment. The merchant thinking it a good deal, accepted those terms."
"Let me guess, the first thing that greeted the merchant was his youngest daughter?" Alucard asked.
"The plots are getting predictable, Integra."
"Hush and let me finish, Count. As you assumed, the first one to greet him, and probably missed him the most, was the youngest daughter. She could scarcely contain her joy when she spotted him and the grape. A year passed and the white bear trotted up to meet the merchant, demanding his prize. The man attempted to fool him, claiming the first things that welcomed him were his dog or an apple. Defeated, after the bear's threats grew more, he gave up his dearest child to him."
"The merchants certainly don't love their daughters enough to die for them." She swatted him this time, annoyed by his comments, pretending to be aggravated by his childish critiques.
"Fairy tales aren't high literature, Alucard. They are proper fables for the likes of you," she belittled him while smiling. He frowned in response, and the tale resumed its course.
"The bear took the girl to a distant castle where he told her that from now own she would be his wife and have everything her heart desired. She did not mind his presence and time flew without her notice. Two things always puzzled her, the bear did not allow lights at night time and he was cold to her touch." Integral made a pause, reckoning Alucard would utter something he considered witty but not this time thus she continued.
"After a year passed unnoticed by the girl, the Bear and she visited her father. The merchant attempted to give her matches covertly to discover her husband's secret at night but the animal discovered them and threatened to eat him. A year after, the merchant tried for second time, he succeeded and gave his daughter the matches. The girl was excited to arrive to the castle and lit one once the bear slept next to her bed. To her amazement, when she illuminated the bear, next to her was a handsome young man, not the white animal. The cold was the golden crown on his head. He awoke and smiled, explaining that he was an enchanted prince and the ruler of this land. Because she became his wife, she broke the curse. They were married properly afterwards."
Integral finished and looked down Alucard, raising her eyebrows in wonder. "You can speak now. You were eager earlier."
"No evil older sisters? I'm disappointed. There are no happy endings for some without horrible deeds to the ones against joyful outcomes."
"Shocking? Probably they figured out a father who handed them to monsters in exchange for his life was not worth being jealous of."
He laughed at her cynical words. His ring was less cruel than usual, containing honest mirth within. Extending his right hand, Alucard stroke the hilt of her sabre in poorly hidden longing.
"Are you tired tonight as well?"
"No. I'm not tired at all."
She grabbed his red cravat and pulled his head up for a kiss. His lips were frosty but fiery in their passion. They did not contain themselves after eleven years of unquenched thirst for contact. Despite his deadly coldness, she imagined the room turning darker and warmer as the lights went out.
That night, their clothes were sprawled on the floor and both were too occupied in remorseless pleasure to sleep.
There were others nights they enjoyed together like that one. Evenings that Integral had started telling Alucard about the pig who helped a king, whose carriage was stuck in the mud, in exchange of his daughter. About the Serpent Beast that nearly died out of thirst if it was not for the Beauty and the one of an English Merchant who allowed a dog take his daughter as bride after he saved him from the thieves.
Integral finished the story of the Indonesian Beauty, Kapapitoe, and her Lizard husband through the hisses and pants of their desperate lovemaking.
No one interrupted them at night nor did they dare to ask questions when she went upstairs, looking exhausted and with her hair tangled. Seras' humour had considerably improved, Integral noticed. The girl's smile reached her blue eyes, either knowing or suspecting that her boss was not murdering her Master exactly. Even with blissful expectations, the knight always carried her sword during their routine. She was unsure why, to keep their game? To please Alucard? It could not continue forever, still she deluded herself to think it would. Integral had fooled herself for eleven years; a couple more would not make a difference.
"So, Nettchen's friend, the Little Broomstick, introduced herself as the sorceress that had bewitched the vain prince. She released the curse and returned her to life after her older sisters drowned her," murmured Integral, tired and sated, pillowing herself on Alucard's alabaster chest. His cold no longer fazed her, it was strange after a time she started to drop her temperature as well. Her bronze skin was glowing with the sweat of their amorous acts. She was quite exhausted. "She turned those two into columns until a man would fall in love with them for Nettchen's protection. As long the two sisters didn't die, they would remain friends and since that never happened, they lived happily ever after, Nettchen, the Little Broomstick, the Prince and her father."
"Except the haughty sisters," Alucard reminded her in a thick voice.
"Yes, the wicked don't get happy endings in black and white moralistic tales."
He toyed with the ends of her hair; she smiled and closed her eyes peacefully. Lately, she had trouble remaining awake and her hunger had increased, an appetite for less than cooked meat.
"Do I deserve a happy ending?"
Integral's eyes snapped open, considering her lover. She could not see his face in the darkness. He did not sound malicious, just joyless.
"Do I deserve an unhappy one, Alucard?"
"Your father delivered you to me, to release me but not in the way that happens in fairy tales."
She turned around, bashing her head with the lid of the coffin in the spin and pretended that she did not. The knight did not want to talk about it nor dwell on the subject further. Killing Walter and beholding London become crumbles had been enough grief for her to endure; she could not slay Alucard. He inclined on her back, wrapping his arms around her delicate frame and drew her back to him.
"There won't be magic words, no marriage that will turn me into a human being. The only end I foresee is one in which you change into a beast like me. And I won't have you endure my fate."
"Sir Varney was convinced he'd turn human if a mortal woman agreed to marry him," Integral argued, almost childishly. She was grasping the straws and she could not accept it yet.
"And how did that end up, my Countess? He threw himself into a volcano."
"Still…" Integral trailed off, seeking a better excuse to distract him, to not muse over what she dreaded so much to accept. She hated when things did not go her way, she despised her increasing helplessness as her comfortable world was destroyed. But the knight was tired, so overwhelmingly weak that she could snap in two. And hungry? It was maddening how her stomach growled, famished even when she ate normally.
"Tired? Hungry? Cold?"
Integral nodded, sighing. "Yes, to a rate that is disturbing."
"Did you know how my second wife die? My first Countess? My beloved Ilona?"
Integral's eyes furrowed. She did not, the chronicles only mentioned how Vlad IV allowed the bastard Mihnea to take the throne first, so as not to grieve his mother. "No."
"I killed her." Integral tensed inwardly, a reflex she could not control. "Not in the way you think. I returned to her and she accepted me, she loved me so much." His voice cracked and he was silent for a while. She touched his hand and held it tightly, encouraging Alucard to continue. He needed the confession, he craved for forgiveness. "What do you know about dhampires, Integra?"
"Legends. Demi-vampires, the hybrid from a male vampire and a female human who were married before they were turned. Or… spent seven years living together." They were just folk tales; the existences were never corroborated according to her father's notes. "They are just pure fiction, probably."
"Like vampires and werewolves? Like your family?"
She pinched him in annoyance. "I'm serious. If they existed, we should have come across them by now."
"The mothers and the babies don't live enough to carry them to term. They are parasites, unable to control their nature inside the womb," Alucard explained with a serious voice, his free hand brushed on her flat abdomen. "That is how Ilona died, she thought our baby would be the answer of God's forgiveness. But instead, they perished first."
He did not need to finish; it was not necessary. Integral understood why she felt so strange and hungry. So cold and weak. She was pregnant. So her world continued in the path of destruction, the path she had preferred to avoid.
He opened the lid and the artificial light crept in, revealing their nudity and their wretched expressions from the safe dark world they used to share. Their souls, not just their skins were bare to anyone's sight.
"There aren't magical words of love for me, Integra," he repeated, kissing the web of her fingers. "Just actions, one last one that only you could give. You, my greatest enemy, brought me to my knees with a look, conquered me completely. Only when I embrace death, I will turn human and so will our child."
"And if I deny you that?" She would die and so would be their spawn. She was scornful of the fetus that was killing her, for whom she would slay Alucard and then felt bad for her poisonous thoughts. She or he, whichever gender would develop, was completely innocent.
"I've given you everything, even children. One vampire fledgling to protect you and now a human heir, one that would continue your legacy. Would you deny me this small wish?" Alucard cajoled. She loathed his emotional manipulation and hated it more because it was the truth.
Numbly, she sat straddling his waist and then took the sword, sheathed and laying near the coffin. She looked down at Alucard expectant eyes, through to his ancient soul, and could not contain her tears any longer. Pregnant women were more emotional than normal, she recalled, hormones affecting their systems. It was not a devastating sorrow from her heart; she was made of steel like the edge of her weapon.
There were no magical words, no declarations of love. They did not need words to express how they felt for each others. He had done so much and with a quick thrust against his left breast, she had repaid his affections. His blood soaked her chest and dripped from her fingers. His heart awoke and beat briefly against the murderous blade until it gave up.
Alucard smiled, his teeth were blunt, his skin less pale. "You look glorious," were his first and last words as human - clear and loud before he perished. His death had been quick and mercifully painless.
They had not bothered with farewells for they knew someday they would meet at last. Nor he did not need to thank her and she did not need to say how much she had enjoyed being at his side. They were both grateful to have met eleven years ago in this cell. An entire decade of misunderstandings, tension and companionship.
She missed him already.
"Here you were born, here you died," Integral whispered, unwilling to release her sword yet, her digits firmly grasped the hilt until her knuckled became white. Her tears joined his blood in the dripping. "This was the closest we got to our happy ending?" She leaned to kiss his unresponsive lips; they were warm but cooling quickly. From Vampire to Human to corpse.
He had died smiling.
Integral did not turn at Seras' shout. She sounded so heartbreakingly sad and the knight realized that her own sorrow was enough to worry Police Girl.
"Master called me, saying you'll need me. He… bid farewell…" babbled Seras, dropping Integral's suit coat on the knight's shoulders. "I'm sorry. I thought…"
"The Beast didn't die, he asked the Beauty to kill him so he could turn into a Human Prince if only for a second."
"I don't understand, Sir."
Integral tugged her jacket close, the unnatural coldness left her, and the warm atmosphere of the basement bathed her completely. She stopped weeping and stood, closing the lid of Alucard's coffin. He would be buried in his last domain. Seras held her when she rose so would not fall.
He left her to live here among the mercenary servants of a half destroyed Manor in the company of a vampire child and a future human one. At least, Integral would not feel so lonely. She found some consolation in Seras' embrace.
"A second was worth enough to be our happy ending."