Author Notes: I have to admit this was inspired by the very first episode of Gray's Anatomy I ever saw - yes, the first of the big Meredith arc. It was really well done and it got me thinking... This was definitely a difficult piece (I started it over a year ago - but hey, only one year as opposed to two or three, so I'm doing better), but I think I've done it justice. And I managed to make it not a crossover! But enjoy.
Calculations of Worth
Night had fallen several hours ago. Walter didn't know how long Integra had been sitting in her study, her head in her hand as she stared down at the mistakes and failures of the past week, but he was quite sure it had been long enough. He had known worse times for the organization, but they were neither in Integra's memory, nor had she felt the weight of them solely on her.
Earlier that week there had been a raid for which they had been forced to move quickly and without complete information as the undead were rumored to be moving toward London. The soldiers were ambushed not far from the site, just as they had begun to unload and set up, and then there were a number more of tricks so that by the time the night was over, five soldiers and two civilians were dead.
The Round Table refused to accept any part in it because they were all rat bastards who still hadn't gotten over her defying them in her use of Alucard – never mind it was Alucard who prevented at least twice the number of deaths and saved it from turning into a complete rout – all the undead had been silenced that night, after all.
But not even Sirs Connolly or Leighton, whose jobs it were respectively to keep tabs on such prominent locations and to make sure Hellsing was informed, would apologize or even answer her calls.
That night's fatalities also passed the number which had been figured in December for the whole year – and it was only half over now.
One of the first steps to adjust for this was Integra's attempt to contact the SAS to transfer more men. The commander there told her bluntly that he could not and would not hand over anyone, especially any particularly skilled, until she proved she was competent to handle them for good use and not waste their lives pointlessly as she was learning how to command. The next person she had attempted to talk to had asked her if she weren't thirteen, and she had gritted her teeth very hard before replying no, that was two and a half years ago, she was sixteen now. Both men had called her "miss" consistently and Integra couldn't even go out and shoot up paper targets afterward because she didn't feel able to face her men. From what Walter could tell, she had taken instead to biting her lips raw.
But that was one of very few outward signs of how she was feeling. From the night of the disastrous raid, not once did she rant or complain about anything that had happened or the other knights' and the SAS's behavior, but instead she stopped speaking almost altogether, except when it was necessary to discuss the issue or ask a question. Her appetite had dropped alarmingly as well, as it always did when there were fatalities among the soldiers, but as the effects of the disastrous mission were still so strongly felt, even tonight she had hardly taken more than two mouthfuls before leaving the table. After the second call with the SAS, Walter had carefully mentioned bringing lunch up to her – as a fact and not a suggestion. Integra had only shaken her head curtly. For the first time in the ordeal, he lost his patience and told her that starving herself wouldn't bring them more men, and she had fired back that it wasn't a choice; if she ate anything now she would be sick. It was an issue about which Walter felt oddly helpless; there were very few times when he could not persuade Integra to do what she needed to do.
Not, of course, that after one failure he would completely step aside. For all she fought him at times, Integra did rely on him to keep everything – including herself – under control.
"Sir Integra, there's nothing more that can be done tonight, and you need your rest. I suggest you take a bath and retire."
"Fine," she said, dropping her hand and standing up with an abruptness that took him aback. Before he could recover to ask her if she wanted anything before bed, she had left the study without looking at him.
Walter was unsettled. As much as he had wished she would follow his advice concerning herself this week, the sudden reversal, together with her increasingly silent and uncharacteristic behavior, more alarmed than reassured him now. He moved slowly to the desk, arranging the papers she had left in hopes of forming some advice to reassure her tomorrow.
"Complicated, isn't she?"
Walter looked up sharply at Alucard's entrance through a bookshelf.
"She's under a lot of stress," he answered levelly, returning to rearranging the papers. "And the SAS certainly isn't easing anything." A note of anger crept into his voice.
"She's learned well not to let her emotions show," Alucard said. "Though they may come through in other ways."
It didn't surprise Walter that Alucard had watched the dinner and latest scene, but his presence and conversation now made him wonder: was Alucard worried about Integra as well?
Stopping in what he was doing, Walter asked bluntly, "Do you know how she's coping?"
Alucard examined the cuff of his gloves, a supposedly careless gesture which made Walter suspect a negative answer. "Miss Hellsing has been very closed off this past week. So much so from me that I imagine she is from herself as well."
Brow knit, Walter resumed shifting through the documents.
Alucard continued, in a would-be blithe tone, "I find it so amusing how humans choose to deal with problems – as though not acknowledging demons will make them less real, and feelings that need to explode can be locked inside."
"Integra only desires to be calm and in control, not subjected to her feelings," Walter reminded him. "But it always upsets her when there are deaths among the soldiers or civilians."
"I would have thought by now she would be accustomed to death," Alucard said. "It's a necessary part of her organization and she's been around it her entire –"
Alucard broke off, a rare enough occurrence so that Walter looked up sharply at him. Alucard had an arrested look, as though something outside of the room had caught his attention; then something else flashed across his face, so fast Walter could hardly recognize, let alone believe it – but before he could speak, Alucard had whirled and dashed back through the wall.
For a moment Walter stared, frozen – but he knew there were precious few things that would make Alucard look and move like that, and given the gravity and signs of the past few days…. Walter didn't hesitate any longer, but dropped the papers and started for Integra's quarters at a run.
Upon reaching her bathroom, Integra turned on the bathtub faucet and stripped down methodically. It was just another task at hand to focus on, like everything else had been this week.
It wasn't until she had sunk into the water of her massive tub that she wondered why she had followed Walter's directions so exactly. She rarely even took baths anymore; they were a lazy waste of time when showers were quicker and more efficient. Maybe she had just wanted a reason to get away from those numbers staring her in the face, those numbers she couldn't handle. Her hands tightened their grip on the rim of the tub.
She had avoided all this week sitting and dwelling on all that had happened. It had simply been reception and reaction; this is what happened, and this is what she should do next. When that failed, this was the next course of action. That had been every minute of her day, and when she went to bed she focused on her breathing exercises, clearing her mind. It was something she had learned to be very good at over the last year.
She wasn't really thinking about it now, either; but obviously she couldn't put herself to sleep now, and in the silence and lack of a task at hand – it was only the facts, the facts spoken to her which had reverberated in her head, but she had locked away for another time, and which came out again now.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, we were attacked early, there was many more than we thought" – and the grief in his voice – "Jennings, Hallward, Roberts, and Mundy are down, and there are others missing, I've alerted the captains to watch for ghouls in our uniform –"
"– if you hadn't rushed so blindly into the situation, Integra –"
"– we expect you to write to those civilians' families to explain –"
"– the organization hasn't lost so many men in a single year in over a decade –"
"– under no circumstances will I allow anyone from the SAS to be moved to Hellsing until you have shown me you hold some value on the lives of the men under you –"
"– you've already overspent, and given recent events we feel we really can't authorize additional funds until the organization is more stable –"
"– perhaps you should consider finding someone to oversee and direct operations while you're still underage –"
With closed eyes, Integra slid lower and lower into the water. Her fingers were quite loose on the edge now; then they too, one at a time, dropped off effortlessly.
The next thing she knew, someone roughly jerked her out of the water. Integra came up coughing and spluttering, her head reeling and so dizzy she clutched the sides of the tub. As soon as she had gotten enough breath and taken in Alucard's face inches from hers, she snapped, "What?"
Alucard did not look amused. He had not eased up at all on the painfully tight grip he had on her shoulder.
"How dare you," he said in a low voice. In another situation, Integra would have noticed how she had never heard him sound so angry. "I never thought I would have to protect you from yourself."
It was not very difficult to sputter. "How dare you – what are you implying?"
He actually shook her a little. "Don't pretend to me that you were only playing, that you didn't mean to stay underwater forever –"
"I was not trying to drown myself!" she shouted.
Outside the door, Walter recoiled in shock, and then closed his eyes as grief overwhelmed him.
Integra made an entirely unsuccessful attempt to pull out of Alucard's grip. "Let go of me!"
These words spurred Walter back into action. Never considering that Integra could be with Alucard unless she was covered to some fundamental degree, he moved to the door and only rapped on it once as he called, "Sir Integra," and opened it.
Sitting in the tub, Integra quickly crossed her arms over her chest as she turned to look at him. Startled, Walter drew back a step as he instinctively raised a hand to cover his eyes. But even as he did, the image of Alucard leaning over her tub, so close to her, lingered in his mind – and it was only when he came into the room that she covered herself?
Aloud, he said automatically, "Excuse me, Sir Integra –"
"What –" she began, sounding incensed and a little of something else – a hint of shakiness, if she had continued? But she had abruptly stopped, and after a moment he heard a curt, "Get up."
Walter lowered his hand to see Alucard rising – facing Integra – then reach to pull a towel off the nearby rod. There was the sound of water splashing as she stood up herself, and a moment later stepped out of the tub around him, wrapped in the towel. Without looking at Walter, she stalked out of the bathroom.
Alucard had turned to watch her go. There was not a jot of appreciation or smugness in his face; he looked as dark and menacing as Walter had ever seen him. Walter did not have to ask what had nearly happened.
He paused a moment to make sure he was in control of himself, then spoke. "Alucard, would you allow me to speak to Integra alone for a moment?"
Alucard glared at him, making it clear he would not be any farther away than Walter, if not as visible. Walter didn't care to argue further about it.
Integra had gone to her closet to dress, judging by the thuds coming from behind the closed door. Walter stopped outside it, again trying to master himself and find the words needed. "Sir Integra –"
He was immediately interrupted by a loud slam of something hitting the wall on the inside of the closet; a less well-trained man would have jumped. Integra's explosively angry voice accompanied it: "Dare you insinuate that – that I would – when you know fully well how offensive the very idea is to me –"
His response sharpened a little in turn. "Then please, sir, tell me what else it was that nearly happened just now."
There was a furious knock against the wall on the other side of the door. "I was holding my breath underwater. Let me emphasize, holding my breath. You know I practice that, have since I was a child –you and my father encouraged it." This last quite accusative statement was accompanied by another furious slam on the wall.
Walter had to grit his teeth and take a moment to ensure he was in control before answering, "Alucard would not have put on such a dramatic show if that was all -"
Vehemently now he snapped, "I am aware of the nature of the connection between you; he would not have been so alarmed unless your life were actually in danger -"
One more bang on the wall, as she cried, her voice actually trembling to a degree, "How many times do I have to say it, I was holding my breath -"
Alucard's voice echoed around them. "You were about to breathe in."
"No one asked you!" Integra shouted. There was silence in which the only sound was Integra's hard breathing; then she continued, clearly making a valiant effort for control as her voice was lowered to almost a whisper, barely audible through the door: "I would not have – finished it, or continued. I wouldn't have. You have to know that." Another pause, and she added desperately, "It wasn't even intentional. I wasn't thinking about it..." Quieter than ever, with a strangely hopeless and weary note that ran contrary to the words: "I don't run away from problems."
Silence for a few seconds; Walter inquired, "Are you decent?"
There was just a second before she answered, almost grudgingly, "Yes."
He pushed the door open to find her leaning back against the wall, having only pulled on a robe and her arms crossed before her chest. She met his eyes, though her chin was slightly lowered, and there was a defiant look in her expression.
Softly, with infinite gentleness – and it was probably this very tone rather than his words which made Integra immediately look away – Walter said, "I do believe that you had no intention of carrying it out, or even of doing it to begin with. I find it rather worse, then, that it was so entirely subconscious...Sir Integra, look at me."
Unwillingly, she turned her head back to him, and he was chilled by how very sad she looked.
Still gently, he reached out to put his hand to her cheek; she flinched, but did not pull completely away.
Looking at her directly, Walter said, "Your life's worth is not dependent on the state of the organization. You yourself matter very much apart from it – particularly to me."
Integra's chest was starting to rise and fall sharply, and she blinked faster as she whispered shakily, "God, Walter, stop it."
More firmly now he took her head between both his hands, forcing her to keep looking at him. "You are not simply a physical embodiment of the organization which goes as it does. If something were to happen to you, Integra – it would hurt me very much. Please try to remember that."
Integra broke down, lifting her hands to her face even as Walter pulled her to him, and she leaned her head on his chest as she cried.