A/N: remember, way back when, in chapter 3, Alucard explained Romanian currency? And a ban was like, a penny/ pence? Yeah…that comes up later. Thought I'd refresh your memory just in case…to avoid confusion. Also a leu is like a pound, plural being lei.
Another quick note: this chapter hot off the presses! Meaning the usual warnings of mistakes and general shoddiness. Only took me two weeks to update!
Chapter 9: …Chapter Nine
Alucard's boots made no sound on the stone pathway, making Integra feel strongly pressured to make her footsteps as silent as possible. Unfortunately, concentrating on this made her forget to watch for obstacles in her way, and she skidded through a puddle of questionable liquid and almost fell.
"Watch your step," Alucard cautioned belatedly, bracing her with one hand on her upper arm. "It's slippery here."
"It's also a tad bit hard for me to see," Integra pointed out.
"Ah, how easily I forget," he said by way of apology. "Here..."
Integra sensed more than saw him come up behind her, then felt his fingers land on her shoulders and lightly rest on them.
They continued on their way in this fashion, his fingers guiding her around puddles and perilous edges of the passageways with gently applied pressure from his hands, or, in extreme cases, by effortlessly lifting her up and over obstacles in their path.
Integra didn't like it one bit, but given its necessity, she didn't feel it was worth fussing over. "Ugh," she grunted distastefully after a moment's pause, detecting more sewer-worthy odors wafting their way, "this smell is awful."
"Look on the bright side," Alucard suggested in a languid murmur. "This architecture is quite lovely—the curved, limestone arches on either side, the water-stained stone walls…you must admit, it evokes quite a sepulchral charm."
"Bright side," Integra repeated dubiously. "Miss your basement lair at the Manor?" she guessed, her mind drifting longingly to her own rooms that she had abandoned for this venture.
"Yes," Alucard wistfully replied. "It does bring to mind my more permanent residence in your basement. Fortunately, it is not as…odiferous there."
Integra nodded her agreement and peered at the map. The gloom made reading it impossible, so she handed it over to Alucard. "Where to?" She asked him.
"Left here," he replied, "and then nine paces around this bend…" he trailed off to guide them forward, eventually coming to a stop in front of a set of iron rungs. "Here we are…" he murmured, tilting his head up to gaze at what Integra assumed must be the manhole cover.
"See you up top," he said, opting to float up out of the manhole rather than use something as mudane as the rungs on the side of the tunnel wall.
With a sigh, Integra began ascending through these more normal means, noting that at least Alucard had taken care of removing the manhole cover on his way out.
By the time she reached the outside world, her vampire was standing off to the side with his arms slightly outstretched and his eyes closed.
"What are you doing?" she asked warily, seeing an expression of ecstasy on his face not unlike when he fed.
"This atmosphere," he began murmuring, his eyes still closed. "This...night air. One could positively drink it in." Integra watched with interest as his mouth slightly parted and he appeared to attempt just that. Her intrigue turned to disbelief when the shadows around them seemed to stretch towards him, apparently longing for his contact as much as he yearned for theirs.
Or perhaps the sudden gathering of darkness around his form was a trick of the light, or dark—or the mind—but unfortunately, Integra hardly had time to contemplate it before Alucard shook out of his otherworldly demeanor and gave her a lazy smile. "Shall we begin our investigation, master?" he asked, the slivers of darkness he'd gathered slipping away regretfully, and the blackened night returning to its normal shade of clear, dark blue illuminated by the near-full moon.
Integra was uncomfortably reminded of the fact that Alucard was—and could only really ever be categorized as—'something else altogether', and that she'd spent the last few seconds watching her servant drink in the adoration of shadows she had not previously considered sentient. "Yes, that's on the agenda," she confirmed, matching his smile somewhat wryly.
"Oh, and look: people," he murmured, turning the focus of Integra's thoughts away from him.
She followed his gaze to the ramshackle collection of buildings in front of them, where a few people were listlessly loitering about. The most concentrated group was in front of a rundown, red brick building that happened to lack windows.
"I'm surprised they're not all hiding in their homes," Integra remarked. "Haven't they any idea of what's going on?"
Alucard shook his head. "Au contraire—you've mistaken these people for normal, upstanding citizens, when they are, in fact, the very targets of our nemesis—the bottom tier of society, forsaken by their government, drenched in hopelessness, and so very, very willing to resort to drugs to indulge in that extremely human characteristic called 'denial'." He raised one hand to gesture in the direction of the distant, better kempt houses and buildings. "Your average Romanian is well aware—and quite accepting, might I add—of the supernatural," he explained with some pride. "They are prepared to weather any storm, and this one approaching them is no different—in their view."
He paused. "In general, though, I find that humans are often remarkably unwilling to accept supernatural and horrific circumstances confronting them. An aspect of human nature that is probably strongly contributing to the spread of the drug. The drug's effects are so far outside the scope of people's understanding of reality that they are too afraid to stop its spread."
"Foolish, and fatal," Integra muttered irritably, alarmed to discover that after exclusively spending the last few days with a vampire, being around innocent, oblivious humans was uncomfortably abrasive.
"Now you know how I feel all the time," Alucard murmured, who apparently had no qualms about eavesdropping on her thoughts.
Integra thinned her lips in disapproval anyway. "Is that the center up ahead then?" she inquired, nodding in the direction of the brick building.
"Yes," Alucard replied, "and those people in front are drug addicts, all in various stages of vampire conversion. Drug-ulas, perhaps."
Integra closed her eyes wearily. "Five hundred years of personally experiencing cultural evolution—the renaissance, philosophy, the arts—and that's the best quip you can come up with? Please, spare me your poor excuse for wit."
"Eye of the beholder," Alucard shrugged, unfazed.
As they drew closer to the building, Integra's sense of unease increased. A single streetlight served to illuminate the area, leaving her heavily dependent on her sense of hearing, touch, and on Alucard. "What a party," she said grimly in a low voice, taking in the pinched, miserable faces of the desperate drug addicts they were approaching.
"Yes, truly a fête worse than death," Alucard remarked.
Integra couldn't help a small smile. "Better," she conceded grudgingly. She looked back at the brick building, which showed no signs of life. Nor did the people milling about in front, which she supposed was rather telling. "They're not open for business yet," she surmised.
"So it would seem," Alucard agreed. "What shall we do in the meantime?"
Integra frowned thoughtfully. "It can't be long before something happens," she said optimistically. "We'll just wait about, I suppose." She moved into the shadow of the building directly facing the center across the street and sat down on the sidewalk.
"Oh how abysmal," Alucard complained in a low voice, moving to sit next to her. "Couldn't we go…talk to those people…or something?"
"What are we, reporters?" Integra scoffed. "Tonight our guidelines are objectivity and observation, Alucard."
"Alastair," He corrected sulkily. "I thought we were getting a sample of the drug. What are we going to do, observe the drug into our possession?"
"I'm sure it's not outside the realm of possibility for you," Integra countered mildly. "But we are not to make a move unless something more concrete happens," she continued firmly. "Should the center…open, or otherwise become active, we'll pose as drug addicts and obtain the drug that way."
"Alright," Alucard sighed.
Out of the corner of her eye, Integra noticed he was going quite blurry around the edges. "Do try to contain your self," she advised, despite feeling her own spike of impatience.
"I just really want…to kill something," he justified.
"No killing," she reminded him.
He sighed again. "Guess it'll have to be time, then…" he murmured.
At that moment, the door of the center opened and a figure stepped out of the shadows, making those loitering about the building—and Alucard—brighten. "Things are looking up," he reported, even as the figure disappeared back inside.
"No killing," Integra figured she'd better repeat. "Keep in mind that we're here to get a sample of the drug, not to fulfill your dark murderous impulses."
"Right," he agreed reluctantly. "Which of us will pose as the drug addict?"
"I'll go," Integra volunteered, and, not trusting him to behave, added, "You stay here."
Alucard eyed her stubbornly. "I'm not going to let you go off without me," he said.
"I'll be fine alone," Integra said in a placating tone of voice.
"You'll be even better with me," he insisted. "Do you really expect me to believe that you'll be able to accomplish anything without command of the language your opponents will be speaking?"
"I…" she began, words dying in her throat as she recognized the truth of his statement. "…Didn't think of that," she admitted through gritted teeth.
"Clearly," Alucard agreed smugly. "Don't worry, I'll handle the socializing," he assured her with a menacing grin. "Pull up your hood or something—can't have the locals calling deportation officers because they spot your uniquely blonde hair."
They watched as the door of the decrepit apartment opened again, precipitating the swarming of dozens of drug addicts eager for a fix. They surged towards the figure, desperately clawing at one another to get closer to the front, oblivious to the blood they were shedding of their fellows in their efforts. Some of the more pale and animalistic of the addicts, rather than being oblivious, looked as though they reveled in the violence.
Alucard's nostrils flared at the blatant, unrepentant bloodlust presented in front of him. He could relate to the mindless glee that these near-vampires were exhibiting, but he kept that sort of barbaric, base instinct under layers of control and sophistication. These creatures, these paper dolls…they had no idea what they were getting into…and he had no doubt that he could obliterate them in an instant if he so desired.
But his master didn't, so he held back. "What now?" he asked softly, watching as the crowd of addicts thinned, exposing the figure framed in the doorway. In their hand was a tray filled with syringes.
"Convenient," Integra whispered. "For them, and us. Such an odd choice for a drug form though, as opposed to pills, or powder…"
"We can ponder that later," Alucard cut in impatiently. "Your orders, Master?" he asked.
"Go forward and get a syringe," Integra said. "You look enough like a vampire to go without notice."
"I wonder why I look so much like a vampire," he mused sardonically, leafing through a wad of lei as he left his master behind and began strolling towards the figure.
The crowd receded before him, oddly enough, and he reached the drug distributor with relative ease. He wondered if they subconsciously sensed his true nature, or, more worryingly, if they somehow knew who he was and, for some ominous reason, were letting him get the drug.
Whatever the cause, the figure in front of him wordlessly handed him a syringe full of clear liquid in exchange for the lei he held out.
Apparently this was the end of the transaction, for the figure immediately turned to the next person clamoring for the drug.
As he walked away, he passed a miserable looking pair sitting against the side of the building, empty syringes at their sides. One of them pitched forward and vomited as he passed.
He stopped and turned back to look at them curiously. "Why do you take the drug if it makes you sick?" he asked the dejected man closest to him.
"Ah, well," Dejected began replying listlessly, halfheartedly gesturing in a vague manner towards the syringes next to him, "I just…can't think of anything else besides these anymore. They are life to me."
"Ya," Even More Dejected agreed from beside him with a slow nod. "They are life."
"But why persist in using them if they are so…consuming?" Alucard pressed.
Even More Dejected sighed. "It grabs hold of you…it squeezes you from inside out, you can't breathe, you can't think…it chokes away everything and leaves you…"
"…Empty," Dejected finished for him in a blissful sigh. "The sickness is fleeting…the reward is everlasting."
"What are they saying?" Integra inquired from behind him in a low voice.
"Nothing particularly important," Alucard answered quietly. "I can't stand being around these paper dolls…can we leave?"
"Paper dolls," Integra repeated. "Apt, I suppose. You got the drug?"
"Of course," he replied, casting another glance around the street at the drawn and pale faces of those injecting their doom into their veins.
"Everyone looks so drained," his master murmured as she followed his gaze. "If only we could shut it d—"
"I wouldn't suggest it," Alucard interjected firmly, placing a hand on Integra's shoulder and guiding her away from the building. "You could plot to sabotage all the drug factories you want, but they'd still suffer and eventually die from drug withdrawal," he told her grimly.
Integra glared at him, but didn't fight against his guiding hand. "Then what can we possibly do?" she fumed as they walked. "How can we fix this?"
"Sometimes there is no perfect solution," Alucard said gently, helping her down into the manhole.
"I know that," she hissed, reaching the bottom and glaring up at Alucard while he dragged the cover back over the opening.
"And you have to do the best you can, and work with what you've got," he continued wisely, hopping down to stand next to her.
"And what have I got?" his master demanded.
Alucard eyed her calmly. "You know your advantages, Master," he said patiently, his manner more soothing than infuriating to Integra despite the intensity of her frustration.
She turned away slightly, not up to looking at his smug expression head on, and opted to walk more briskly back towards their bolt-hole.
Now that they more or less knew the way, the walk back was shorter, and with Alucard guiding Integra, they reached the door to their room without any mishaps. "Remind me to bring the flashlight next time," Integra sighed, unlocking the door and stepping inside.
Alucard followed, taking out the drug-filled syringe from his pocket and placing it on the desk. "Let's rest a minute," he suggested, eyeing Integra's drawn features with a slight frown.
"Fine," Integra sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bottom bunk and leaning against the headboard.
Alucard joined her at the other end of the bed so that he faced her. "All in all, an uneventful night," he remarked.
"Yes," Integra murmured absently, her mind going back to Alucard's earlier words about the advantages she had.
She drew up her knees, resting her chin on the palm of her hand, and frowned in thought.
What was it she had? What were her advantages?
Well, there was Alucard, of course. She had Alucard.
And even after all these years, she was still somewhat in awe of the fact that she had stumbled upon him, a vampire who had rescued her, protected her, poked fun at her, and then proceeded to instate himself as a constant in her life for what must now be over twelve years. It was exhausting to think that she had suffered his enigmatic aura of being a monster and close friend for over a decade.
He was a vampire who had tried to maintain a painfully exact emotional and physical distance from her ever since their first meeting. Somewhere along the way, he must have failed, especially now that they were lost in a foreign—well, foreign to her, anyway—land, filled with menace, where such circumstances had forced a deep and close companionship.
When had she started feeling bereft without him at her side? When had she stopped being so acutely aware of their master-servant inequality? When had she started appreciating him for being more than a highly efficient killing machine?
…What had gone wrong?
"A ban for your thoughts," Alucard murmured. "I'm especially curious, seeing as you've been staring at me for quite a while now."
Integra coughed slightly and fought to maintain her composure. "I wondering if I've…erred in my treatment of you as your master."
Alucard raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" he inquired, flipping her another ban. "Do continue."
"And if you resent me treating you so much like a human," she phrased carefully, trying to determine his reaction. She tossed back one of the ban. "For your thoughts," she prompted.
Alucard sat back and interwove his fingers. "Very few people have treated me in a humane manner over the course of my long and appalling life," he told her. "You are...refreshing."
Integra's eyes narrowed. Refreshing. She was refreshing. That wasn't an answer. She flipped the second ban back at him. "Feel free to elaborate," she invited coolly.
He grinned. "You are, without a doubt, the best human with whom I have ever kept company," he said bluntly.
Integra stilled, his words still ringing pleasantly in her ears. It wasn't until a coin hit her forehead that she realized he was waiting for a response. She picked up the ban from where it had fallen into her lap and held it in her palm. "You are the one monster I will never want to kill," she replied, holding his gaze to convey the validity of that declaration. It was the closest she could get to a promise.
Another ban flew at her, but she deftly caught it in her hand before it could assault her forehead again. "And?" Alucard prompted, eyes glinting with approval at her reflexes.
Integra hesitated slightly. "You are—" she stopped.
"I trust you completely," She admitted.
"Oh?" Alucard challenged, moving dauntingly close and putting both hands on her shoulders. Integra let the ban slip through her fingers in an effort to brace herself against the bed, but wasn't prepared to be so forcefully shoved down. Within seconds, her back was completely flat against the mattress and Alucard was on top of her.
Aware that this was a test of her declaration of trust, she merely regarded him coolly, letting his mouth drift close to her neck. It was only when Integra felt teeth fasten loosely around her neck that she even bothered to reach for her gun, and she only pointed it against Alucard's torso when the teeth began to press firmly enough to leave indentations in her skin.
She felt Alucard chuckle against her neck and then an absence of teeth when he pulled away. "Liar," he accused. Integra bristled at the idea that he might be challenging her statement. "You told me you 'couldn't even lift the Magnum, much less fire it'," he continued lazily, "Yet there it is, ready to be emptied into my—" he paused, considering, "—liver. I think."
Integra holstered the heavy weapon after Alucard rolled off of her. "One monster I don't want to kill," she repeated firmly. "I'm too fond of you."
Another ban hit her on the cheek. Integra frowned; beginning to get slightly irritated at these unwelcome coin attacks.
"That concession was worth another," he explained with a shrug and an amused smile.
Integra gave him a faint smile in return and sat up. "Are you hungry?" she inquired suddenly.
Alucard raised an eyebrow. "Are you offering?" he asked in surprise. "But no," he continued without waiting for an answer. "I am fine for now."
It was Integra's turn to be surprised. "A vampire who isn't hungry? I find it hard to conceive of such a mythical creature," she remarked.
He huffed and gave her an imploring look. "It may come as a shock to you, but I am as concerned for your welfare as you are for mine."
"It isn't shocking," Integra assured him.
"Well then," Alucard said, "I will let you know when I need sustenance."
They both turned to look at the syringe lying innocently on the desk. "And what about this?" Integra asked.
"Ah yes," Alucard murmured, "Whatever are we going to do with you?"
"In lieu of a chemistry lab, which unfortunately is not at our disposal," Integra said, "Can't you, er, somehow analyze it? Productively?"
"I'm sure it's not outside of the realm of possibility for me," Alucard purred mockingly, moving off the bed and walking over to the desk. "Come, little syringe," he cooed, picking up the dose of Exhilaration. "Tell me all your secrets. I'm sure you have a lot to say."
Just a few hundred miles away, Nikolai Lukyanenko shifted in his seat behind his desk and avidly watched as his worst fears were confirmed and recorded on the security cameras in his Institute's building.
Knowing he only had a few minutes, he reached for the handgun he kept in his drawer and ensured that it was loaded, and then placed it in his lap.
The door to his office opened seconds later and a tall, fairly young man dressed in a black suit silently entered, clearly not expecting anyone else to be there.
"Grigore," Lukyanenko greeted neutrally from his seat behind his desk, face aglow in the blue-tinge light of many security camera monitors. "Your devotion to your duty is commendable, to be here so late. It is past midnight, is it not? Everyone else has left."
The man—Grigore—froze at the sound of Lukyanenko's voice. "I…didn't think you would still be here, sir," he said cautiously. "I hope I have not disturbed your work."
"Don't worry," Lukyanenko assured him. "I was already disturbed," he muttered to himself. "What brings you to the main office?" he asked more audibly.
"Oh—I was just double-checking some facts on this Romania business," Grigore answered smoothly.
"Ah, that is a good idea," Lukyanenko nodded. "I'm finding many aspects of this case are worth double-checking."
Grigore frowned. "Sir?" he asked curiously drawing closer to Lukyanenko's desk.
"For instance," Lukyanenko continued obligingly, "you might have wanted to double-check what the security measures are for this building…and what time they come into effect."
Grigore stared at him blankly. "Sir—is there something wrong…? Are you feeling all right sir?" he asked earnestly.
Lukyanenko shifted his chair to fully face Grigore, his face impassive as he aimed a gun at Grigore's heart and watched his target pale and back away. "A quick lesson in security," Lukyanenko began crisply. "Do not try to flee; I've got the whole place in lockdown. I'll simply hunt you down and kill you."
Grigore's eyes darted back and forth nervously, and he bit his lip. "Sir—" he tried to reason plaintively.
"Listen,' Lukyanenko cut in sharply. "One of the fundamental security measures in this building is motion sensors. They turn on at eleven every night. Ergo, I was immediately notified when you entered the building. This wouldn't be suspicious, as you are perfectly entitled to come here—you're one of my employees, after all—however, I noticed a peculiar anomaly as you walked closer to my office." He waved his free hand in the general direction of the security cameras and sighed. "Another basic security form is the heat sensors we have placed at regular intervals in the hallway." He paused with a well-practiced confused frown on his face. "You see, the motion sensors caught you…but the heat sensors did not."
"I happen to find this interesting, primarily because you normally must be dead—or undead—to achieve this manner of discrepancy. Either that, or, of course, the heat sensors are faulty. Which do you think it is, Grigore?"
Grigore looked sick. "I…" he began, faltering. "I don't—"
Lukyanenko sighed. "What did they do, bribe you with money? Ply you with promises of eternal life and glory?"
"Eternal life," Grigore replied stiffly. "They mailed the drug to me, I sent them information."
Lukyanenko's eyes narrowed. "You intercepted my correspondence with Sir Hellsing?"
"Y-yes," Grigore admitted.
"And you worked for them. Does this mean you have useful information about them?" Lukyanenko asked sharply.
"None at all," Grigore answered dully. "I was to join them in Romania on the twentieth of December…"
"How interesting," his interrogator murmured, keeping his gun trained on Grigore. "You've worked for me for—how long?"
"Six years, five months, two weeks and four days," Grigore said mechanically.
"Mm. And you've been quite candid with me," Lukyanenko mused. "You didn't really seriously bother trying to lie to me—I could probably find a way to make you useful as a double-spy—"
"Sir, I'd do anything—" Grigore interrupted desperately.
"But Grigore," Lukyanenko cut him off in a lightly chastising tone, "how could you overlook something as elementary as heat sensors?"
He pulled the trigger and watched as his traitorous employee crumbled into dust. "I don't need such shortsighted idiots in my employ," he told the empty air with finality.
God, just how many ellipses did I USE in this chapter?? More than my fair share, more than my fair share.
But yeah…Lukyanenko is badass?
Annnd errr I hope I redeemed myself slightly for the awfulness of chapter 8. That will be rewritten, uh, soon. Many thanks to Lavinia Lavender for concrit and characterization advice and stuff. And thanks really to all of you for your reviews! They are lovely, you are lovely, oh, everything is just so lovely. Seriously though--there will be serious chapter 8 reconstruction, as soon as I figure it all out.
Also, this chapter is unbetaed, which is a terrible habit to fall into. Posting unpolished chapters and expecting that I will edit them later, that is. How unprofessional of me.
Anyway, in spite of all that, I hope you enjoyed it.