"You're in an unusually good mood, Master," Alucard remarked. Integra came into the kitchen with a bounce in her step and the beginnings of a smile on her face.

"Do you know what today is?"

"Thursday?" he asked.

Her smile faltered. "No, I mean, the date." She got out a glass, and began looking in the fridge.

He thought a moment. "What, is it Michaelmas or something?"

"No!" The beginnings of a scowl marred her face. She shut the freezer door sharply, putting a pint of ice cream on the countertop. "It's the last day of my childhood. I'm officially an adult tomorrow!"

"Silly girl, your childhood ended ages ago."

"Try telling that to the Round Table. They never take me seriously. They think I'm a…a pet. A little china doll to toy with or patronize. They ignore me unless I amuse them. But not any more! Now I'm a full-grown legal adult, and I have all the clout that they do." She spoke with some confidence.

"How did you pull off such an amazing feat?"

"Simple." She dropped several scoops of ice cream into the glass. "Tomorrow is my eighteenth birthday. The law says that I'm an adult. I don't need anyone to act as proxy for me anymore."

He leaned back and put a hand to his chin. "Hmmm. Eighteen. So what sorts of adult things can an eighteen year old do that a seventeen year old cannot?"

"I have control over my own accounts, so the money that my father left in trust for me is now mine directly. And if I were to be tried for a crime, it would be as an adult, not a child. There are other things, but the important part is just that I can sign my own name to official documents now without needing Walter's signature." Obviously, Walter signed everything that she told him to, but it was the principle of the matter. Who really took seriously a signature that had to be backed up by a guardian, anyway?

"Other things? What other things?" he said quietly. She should have been paying attention to the glint in his eye, but she missed it because she was pouring soda into the glass.

"Oh, minor things. I'm old enough for military service. I can already drive a car. But it's just the idea of reaching the age of majority that matters." She put the soda and ice cream back where she found them.

"Would you be old enough to be married now?" he asked more directly.

She paused, looking up from the drawer she just rummaged through. The straws had to be here somewhere. "I suppose so. Though if I'd had my father's permission, I could have been married younger. Now it's up to me."

"Interesting. So, who pays the dowry if your father is deceased?"

Her fists clenched. "There are no dowries in this country."

"Oh? Have you gone back to the bride-price then? Few young men would be able to afford you."

"No!" She ignored the dubious compliment. "Getting married isn't about being bought and sold. It's about deciding who you want to spend your life with."

"I see. And how do you determine that?"

She tilted her head to the side and looked at him. "Why so curious?" By now, she knew he was up to something, and that did not bode well. She put the straw in her drink and took a seat across from him. She could watch him more carefully that way. He made no attempt to sit up straighter and left his long legs stretched out in front of him. He watched her back over the tops of his sunglasses.

"I just want to see how things have changed. It used to be up to the woman's family to protect her honor until she was wed. At least in Christian countries; the heathens went about things a bit differently."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "What are you getting at?"

"Just trying to understand my role. If you are no longer a child, then perhaps I have certain responsibilities, in your father's absence."

"Absolutely not!" she proclaimed indignantly. "I will decide whom I wish to date without any help from you, thank you very much."

"But who will tell you if they are unworthy?" he persisted. "Young women are too often poor judges of character. I should know; I seduced enough of them."

She scowled into her drink. "That's child's play for you. You can hardly compare your vampiric voodoo to most gentlemen's attempts at charm." She paused, looking up at him. "And I am not most women."

"Most assuredly not," he murmured.

"Don't even attempt flattery on me," she warned.

For a moment, he looked surprised, but then grinned. It was amazing how his smile could be all teeth without looking wolfish to her. Maybe she was just used to him.

"I think you can trust my judgment," she continued.

"Oh ho, so there are young men you are interested in, then?"

"No, for your information, there are not. Now, would you kindly refrain from commenting on my love life? I assure you, I will ask for your opinion if I want it, but otherwise, you can keep it to yourself."

He humored her, and kept quiet while she worked on her drink. He supposed it was a rite of passage for her, officially leaving her childhood behind with the ice cream soda.

"I have enough trouble finding dates without you scaring them away, Alucard," she finally said. "I'm sure Walter will warn me if any of them are bad news."

"You are a beautiful young woman who is confident and knows exactly what she wants. Why would you have trouble finding dates?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because I spend most of my time running a vampire-slaying operation and little of it going to parties and hanging out with other young people? In case you haven't noticed, most of the people I interact with are my father's age. I'm hardly going to acquiesce to their attempts to set me up with their grand-nephews if I want them to take me seriously, now am I?

"I wouldn't scare your suitors off too badly…."

"Yes, you would. You'd terrify them, and then they'd never speak to me again. I don't need that sort of 'help.'"

"But Master, you wouldn't really be able to respect someone who was terrified of me, would you?"

She paused to consider that. "No, I suppose not," she said quietly after awhile. "That is a bit of a problem, isn't it?"

"So then I am allowed to test them?" he asked eagerly.

"No! If I were serious about someone, he'd have to get to know you, first. If you try, you can scare anyone out of his wits. That's not a fair test. But if you still scare him after he gets to know you, just by existing…well, a man like that would probably be afraid of me." She smirked, but her face soon fell. "I'm never going to find anyone, am I?"

"You are still very young. Finding someone to spend your life with is not an easy task. I've been married multiple times, and I never found that."

"Alucard, you're hundreds of years old. Of course things are different for you. You knew my father and grandfather and great-grandfather. I mean…time just doesn't work the same for you as for humans. I don't have that kind of time, but I don't want to give up before I even start looking."

"I'm sure you'll find someone," he said quietly, with an odd smile on his face.

She wasn't sure what he meant by that, but he seemed sincere. "Well, goodnight then. Tomorrow I'll be an adult." She left the empty glass by the sink, and went upstairs to bed. Alucard continued to smile long after she had gone.

Author's Note:

This takes place in 1994. I have no idea when Integra's birthday is, but Michaelmas falls on Sept. 29th. It is the feast of St. Michael the Archangel (who cast Satan out of heaven).