Red, red

An exercise in synonyms. A 'what-if' digression from the Hellsing timeline in volume 8. The image of Van Helsing, in a red coat very similar to Alucard's, can be found in the second OVA.

Disclaimer: Hellsing belongs to Hirano Kouta.

No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine

Macbeth, 2.2.62-3.

It was just one bullet.

He saw her standing, there, off to the corner and out of harm's way. It was the flare of her coat that had diverted his attention. The white wool flapped stiffly in the wind, stained by the crackle of firelight and mottled at the hem with the blood of ghouls.

The sky was filled with ash and splinters and blazing motes that relentlessly consumed themselves before burning away to nothing. In the half-light, lances glowed, reflecting fire and carnage, and skeletal horses bore skeletal men into the fray, trailing the reek of iron and dead flesh in their wakes. The wreck of the Demeter had run aground on the bank of the Thames, and the passage of his army, wrenched from their final rest, had left both the river and its surrounding roads running red. More of a methodical slaughter than a battle, they inexorably ground the enemy down by the sheer dint of their numbers.

Blood painted the streets and saturated the air with its thick, metallic flavour. The smell alone threatened to drive him into a frenzy.

He could smell the blood on her, too. It was old blood, some of it belonging to others, and some of it hers as well, indelibly staining her clothing and flaking where it had dried at her temples. She stood slightly apart from the furore with impeccable sang-froid, her hair and white coat gleaming. She seemed irradiated by some inner light, a pale pillar of flame with an inferno banked within her heart. Backlighted against the forest of staked bodies and a world set aflame, she was slightly dirtied—and divine, he thought, with her pale, burning eyes and archangel fervour.

He devoured the sight of her. It was an unnecessary indulgence, he knew. Through the leash the yoked his mind to hers, he sensed, more keenly than vision could register, the tight thrum of her heart, the grief and rage that surged through her zealot's breast for her decimated city, and the quickening sensation of her triumph and grim exultation. Unnecessary, and an indulgence besides, but she had provoked so many of the like in him that one more hardly seemed to matter.

He had dreamed of days like this, drenched in red and teetering on the brink of apocalypse. And here, standing before him: Hellsing, Master, Integra, who waited at the end of the world and had called him to her side. Beneath her iron-clad composure, her blood was racing, spiked with her despair and savage satisfaction. It was a heady combination.

He longed to rip that fine, pale flesh and gorge himself like a leech on her, to drain her and own her. How he had dreamed. Bleed for me—he would bleed for her, had bled for her, and how he craved to bleed her, to desecrate the walls of her temple, to drown her in blood. How ardently he had played Lucifer to her Eve, waiting and calling in turn, holding power before her like a lure, gleaming and red.

She never once faltered.

He felt his appreciation sour. She was steadfast, faithful, implacable, her will absolute; a veritable Iron Maiden, wed to duty and bound to her Protestant God. His teeth flashed in a moment of black humour. So such devotion ought to have warranted nothing short of a Second Coming.

But it wasn't God who had answered her summons tonight.

Watch me, Master. Watch as I save your precious city.

London was burning, and so was her cigar. It was caught determinedly between her teeth, wedged into the corner of her mouth. This had always been her way. He'd lost track of the countless cigars that had passed through those lips, their rich, smoky odour permeating her hair, her clothes, her lungs. Thick, grey smoke, twisting away into fading light, the ember smouldering, eating away at the stick until there was nothing left to burn.

This had always been her way, to stare death in the eye and laugh him down—some times more literally than others. He had to admit that he sought that arrogance and encouraged it with his sly taunts, relishing her ferocious courage. She delighted in throwing her senseless, glorious mortality in his face, for against everything that had laid claim to her—God, Queen, and country, and he himself with his own brand of intimate, choking servitude—she had salvaged that sole element, the fragile spark of her agency, to call her own. And how brilliantly she burned.

This was her way, damn her Hellsing pride. So she had been standing out in the open, in that bright coat, instead of ducking for cover somewhere safe.

Bright white coat, adorned bright, bright red by the scarlet rosette that suddenly bloomed across the lapel, eager as a flower opening to sunlight, and shocking as a rip of lightning dissecting his vision.

It was only one bullet. It was a wedge of metal packed into a cartridge with gunpowder, just like the ones in his beloved Casull and Jackal, designed to puncture through barriers of resistance. It was one bullet among the millions that had been fired that red, red day. Oh, the bullets he had seen, hurtling with single-minded focus in both directions, past him, over him and through him.

They had tickled. They were teeth, gnawing uselessly away at his physical form, delivered with desperation from the guns of that pathetic artificial trash. They were no vampires at all.

He was, and he would show them how teeth were to be used.

He had long since grown accustomed to pain. Pain meant nothing to a body that could not be destroyed, and so he revelled in the red scream of exposed nerves and the conflagration of his senses. He had no use for the self-preservation mechanisms of the living and the mortal. Each hot, solid slug that tore through him or imbedded itself in his flesh would make him cackle with irrepressible glee, defying pain, denying what could not claim him (it had already claimed him). He understood bullets and their cold precision, manufactured for aerodynamism and maximum… bite. He understood their cold logic and the white heat of their execution, red, red hot like his own giddy, tearing hunger, hot like the spill of blood.

She was just one woman amongst the thousands that now lay trampled underfoot, heaps of dead meat to be treated accordingly, as obstacles or barricades or dinner. She was just one woman with blonde hair and glasses that gleamed with the reflected fireglow (but her eyes were blue, blue as ozone in the sundered sky).

She was coming undone.

The cigar fell from a mouth suddenly slack with surprise, dropping on the hot ground where it lay to slowly smoke itself out. He found himself kneeling over her. She was disconcerted, he could tell—he had always been able to tell—but she rallied admirably, for the director of Hellsing had never been anything but eminently, ruthlessly practical; she knew that she had gambled, and that she had lost.

"Weak cards, servant." It took him a moment to register the familiar statement, then another as he wondered with some irritation how his conversation with Seras had leaked back to her.

Weak cards, indeed. How do you like your mortality now, Master?

But the quirk of her lips was faintly sardonic, and he suspected that she liked it very much, current circumstances notwithstanding. Her words were a lash with a sting on its end as well as a sudden, delighted realisation that she had, in some inscrutable way, won.

"You cheated," he snapped at her, distracted by the red lavishly staining the pale panels of her coat. The thick, rusty colour was spreading as though from a phantom brush.

He swayed closer. Her clothes were damp beneath the light touch of his fingers. He could smell all of her, the tantalising flood through her jugular exposed in this abrupt outpouring, and it felt almost obscene, how much of that coveted blood was pumping out of her, only to be greedily absorbed by her coat. She coughed, and her lips were suddenly ruddier than he had ever seen them. The smirk that she levelled at him scourged his sight.

He was suddenly furious; she was his. All of this belonged to him, her; her blood; her death. Looking up wildly, he scanned the battlefield for her killer, but there was only the undifferentiated struggle around him, ghouls and vampires and humans and shades of a by-gone age, grappling and screaming, dying.

A scene from a moment long past presented itself to him: a desolate landscape, dominated by crosses and blighted with smoke. His castle lay blasted in the distance and the sky was deep and cold. The field was empty save for himself and a man, in a red coat, with blue eyes and wild, pale hair.

It lingered before his eyes, a ghostly afterimage that juxtaposed itself against the present. This time, however, it was the Hellsing who lay before him, spitting blood with a hole through her chest. He was the man in the red coat, and it was completely different this time around. Hellsing lay before him and London was falling into ruins before his feet. The landscape, no longer empty, swarmed with his army, his minions, mine!, a scene of strife and turmoil that proclaimed his supremacy. He had a new province; he would set this territory ablaze and he would claim it.

Everything was within his grasp at last. It was all completely different. And it was a fine irony, a cruel, infinitely satisfying joke, sublime in its execution, but he discovered that he had no stomach for it, not in this particular moment.

You pathetic No-life King.

In a fit of pique, he grabbed her by the collar and dragged her upright, ignoring the choked invective that she hurled at him from between blood-streaked lips, her teeth clenched tight with pain. He ignored the slow burn from the silver cross on her necktie that penetrated the thin material of his gloves.

She would join him today. She must, because the alternative defied expression. He would make his offer and she was...

Just one woman. One stupid woman, still utterly self-possessed despite the fact that she was haemorrhaging hard enough to ruin her finely tailored coat beyond repair; a woman whose iron will silenced him, incontrovertibly, before he could even make his customary overture, never quite made under the same circumstances as these.

"You will deny me even now?" he demanded.

Especially now. She mouthed the words, lacking the breath the expel them. Her eyelids were so pale, he could see the blue veins in them.

He bared his teeth at her, threatening what he could not do. The restrictions clamped down on him, cramping his movements as he made an abortive lunge for her neck.

Integra smiled.

He withdrew, his grip on her ascot tightening as he resisted the urge to shake her. "You forget, Master. You have no hier, and Hellsing is done! My servitude ends with you."

A cloudy flicker of distress appeared in her eyes: comprehension. He waved his free hand at the scene of slaughter that lay beyond them. She struggled against him. She was weakening. He could hear her heart straining, and the smell of her blood was tinged with pain.

"I will raze this place to the ground and make it mine. Yes!" he threatened at the slight shake of her head.

She was silent. The look that she directed at him was laced with resolve and fear, hatred and resignation and despair. He glared back at her, willing her to capitulate, bearing upon her with all the force of his mind. He would have her; and yet, as the silence prolonged itself, and the smell of iron permeated everything, he was struck by the realisation that, finally, unequivocally, she had thwarted him to the last. She had never yielded to him, and she would not now. Her firmness enraged him; her resilience confounded him. Her humanity, with which she burned so brightly, which immolated her in turn—he stared into the depths of her fortitude and saw, with a clarity so sharp it made him tremble, that she would never relinquish it.

It was a little thing, one faltering heart, staunch against the bullet piercing muscle and the outflowing of blood. One moment he had felt it shivering between them, dark with her anguish and unholy elation; in the next, all stilled.

He gazed at the inert form before him. In the heat haze that distorted the air around them, he thought that he could almost see the dark lapels of her jacket moving, rising and falling to the rhythms of an animating breath. He could smell her hot blood, baking hotter in the firestorm that was consuming London. Like a crack in his head, he could feel a rupturing as the seal, forged with her blood and finding no object (for it was she that it protected), buckled and splintered. The restraints on his power scattered like dust, leaving nothing of her behind. The sigils inscribed on his gloves flared red and died out, and he knew that the corresponding marks on the backs of his hands had similarly vanished.

He was laughing before he became aware of it, the sound twisting through him and bubbling from his mouth. They began as small, sinister chuckles, quickly escalating into an outright roar that carried over the dying city.

Hellsing had endowed an immortal with abilities beyond even his maddest imaginings and then thought to bind him with chains of blood and generation. But blood rusted, and generation had come to its end.

At his feet—finally, at last, something giggled in hideous triumph—she was red, bright red, and the smell of her drenched the air. It was intoxicating, it flayed him and tore at him, for he had always been such a slave to her blood in her life that it was no wonder that nothing had changed upon death. The thought so infuriated him that he bent and bit and tore and ate, gorging himself on her blood, immersed in her the way he had never dared to be, and who would stop him now? (Nobody, no one, because the Hellsings were done. There was no one else.) He searched for her in between her bones and her viscera, crooning, come out, sweet Master, my pretty Master, reaching with all his immense power, all of his power, his at last, fingers like claws combing through tendons and hair, seeking, seeking—and still she eluded him.

He would find her and drag her back. He would take her, bind her. Her blood pooled heavily in his belly, and it was so rich, oh yes, and her form lay exposed and prostrated like a supplicant before him, and she had vanished, like dew before sunrise.

An old, dead voice whispered to him, You have nothing.

He wanted to snarl, because it was wrong, because the Hellsings were gone, and his incredible powers were finally, entirely his to control. Spurred to new heights by his fury, his undead army redoubled its efforts. They cleaved a path of shattered standards and burning wreckage through the city—all of them his, eternally bound and claimed utterly, ravening automatons and blood-hungry shades, hounded by his lust for fire and destruction. Janizaries, Wallachians, Nazis, Catholics, pagans, vampires, humans, all—fallen to the devil and reanimated, bent to his will.

She, though, had never been anybody's but her own.

He laughed again, dyed in red up to his elbows, laughing so hard that blood streaked from his eyes to disappear in the pool at his feet.

Nothing is left.

Seras approached him from the left and she was shivering, he could tell, unstoppable, spastic twitches of the flesh as she stared upon him and his handiwork with something approaching madness in her eyes. There was a difference about her, and dimly, he sensed that she had become a being separate from him. She had come into her own, but the old police girl remained in the tear-filled, burning look that she cast at him, damning, almost hateful.

He had never quite seen a look like that from her.

He, however, was past remorse, and past grief, and all he could do at this point was tremble, convulsed with what might have been mirth (or perhaps it was something unspeakable), because he wanted to tell her that nothing was sacred, and that nothing was forever, least of all these helpless, decaying mortals, subject to time and to rust.

Somewhere along the way, he had allowed himself to forget.

Something gleamed in between the graceful arches of white ribs, nestled like a diamond upon plush red velvet amidst the gore. With fingers that barely shook, he reached in and plucked it out. It was a bullet, a metal fang, and it shone as brightly as his teeth, revealed suddenly in a sharp, feral grin. It felt as though his skull would implode with the formless prickling that crawled and boiled over him. He threw his arms wide, allowing eyes to blink open across his skin, and let his shape unravel. Hellhounds sprang from within the void of his body and screamed in murderous joy, and he bayed with them, roaring at a sky tinged vermillion and black. He unfurled his power, extending shadowy arms to encompass the entirety of the city.

They called him by many names—Samiel, the Devil, Lucifer, the Serpent. Ourobouros, world without end, the all-devouring snake. And so he would continue to devour. London would be her pyre, and he would fuel it with the bodies of the fallen. It would be a fitting tribute... no doubt she would disagree. He would plunge the world into a glory of destruction; he would bathe it in the blood of its inhabitants. He would show them how teeth were to be used. No Jerusalem, this, but a pilgrimage through the gates of Hell and into the inferno, to incinerate them in white fire. Perhaps he would be allowed to rest there, and drink from the Lethe.

It shall be as you ordered, my Master. Nobody is leaving London.

The sounds of war, far ahead of him, were his only answer.