Walter watched them nervously. "Ma'am, shouldn't I call in one of our physicians for this?"
Young Intgera, no more than thirteen, knelt down before Alucard, who was seated in the library arm chair. The vampire watched her actions closely, his face for once unable to conceal his distress. His tired, red eyes seemed to say, 'Help me.'
"I may be young, but there's no greater vampire expert than I," Integra said coldly. "A doctor will just be in the way." She reached down and touched Alucard's mutilated boot.
Alucard grunted once, softly.
Ignoring his pain, Integra gingerly wedged his boot off. Once she had worked it over his heel, a cascade of blood poured out of the boot like a waterfall. Vampire blood was foul smelling-the stench of septic death-but she had long grown to tolerate it. She finished slipping the boot off and revealed Alucard's mangled foot, or rather a mangled stump with the remnants of a foot. She was aghast. "You've been walking on this for three days?"
Alucard smirked and began to reply, but the pain was overwhelming so that he choked on his own wicked retort. Instead, he threw back his head and clenched his teeth, his claws digging into the chair, strips of wood curling behind his nails. After a moment, he shook off the pain and lay panting in the armchair, sweating and miserable.
Integra frowned. She had never seen Alucard in prolonged pain.
Walter said in stunned disbelief, "The Vatican efforts with anti-vampire technology are actually producing results. I've never seen Alucard sustain such a wound."
Integra held his limb gently, wary of putting it down. "Alucard, answer me truthfully: is this injury regenerating at all?"
He was quiet a moment, just breathing. Finally; "No." His face, naturally white to begin with, was turning grey-green as his life blood slowly drained. His skin was clammy, his lips blue. He looked like he was decomposing.
Integra lifted Alucard's foot and pulled a foot rest under his calf and balanced it there, leaving the exposed stump lifted. "Hellsing's occult knowledge has an answer for every Iscariot trick. We'll amputate the infected flesh and wrap the healthy tissue in plasma, then flush your veins with the purest, most youthful virgin blood we can obtain to prevent the spread of disease. Then you'll rest. That should encourage regrowth."
Through his twisted, painful expression, Alucard gave her a grateful, crooked smile. "Ah….ah, yes. Yes. Thank you, master."
Walter seemed relieved to have an excuse to leave. "I'll make the arrangements right away."
Integra watched curiously as Walter hurried away. He was acting eccentric, as if he were nervous she would discover something. She turned her attention back to the vampire. "Tell me; what's got Walter so wound up?"
Alucard smiled weakly. "Just old sentiment."
Integra rolled her eyes. "I've never known Walter to be sentimental."
"Nor you," Alucard replied. "But you almost lost your temper when Walter suggested anyone should put their hands on me other than you." His smile widened, revealing rows of gleaming fangs. "My predatory nature compels me to adopt the most attractive body to lure victims, and it works." Alucard sighed, closing his eyes. "It once was Walter's preference to have me all to himself…"
Integra patted Alucard's damp face with her hankie.
Alucards eyes opened again instantly and focused on his master. He relaxed. "Thank you."
"You should listen to yourself deliriously babbling on," Integra said affectionately. "My foolish pet."
"I do feel like I'm talking too much," Alucard confessed, closing his eyes again. Within few minutes, Integra could tell he was sleeping.
Moments later, Walter returned. "Our sources at the Ministry of Health said it will take some time to procure any large quantity of guaranteed virgin blood. They'll need children candidates, and hundreds of them, to get the amount we need. Since I did not want to reveal Alucard's status and expose our weakness, I couldn't give them a compelling reason why they should even accommodate our peculiar request. I believe the response will be…lethargic."
Integra was unfazed. "Then assemble all the members of the Hellsing Organization and ask them what their families can contribute to our cause. Tell them that I was the first virgin to donate."
Walter grimaced. "Not all the members of the Hellsing Organization are….as fond of Alucard as you are. They may see such a request, handed down from the Director, as an order and an intrusion."
"Alcuard's treatment cannot be delayed," Integra said firmly. "If anyone needs convincing, just remind them every time Alucard is on point and takes a bullet, that's one less family attending a funeral. He is their protector as well as mine." Integra looked back at her slumbering pet. "I'll go down to the lab and have my blood drawn immediately. In the mean time, continue your efforts to obtain virgin blood." With that, she left the room, leaving Walter alone with the semi-conscious vampire.
The vampire chuckled.
Walter turned impatiently. "What?"
"You see her confidence? Her firm authority? I am bewitched," Alucard said gently, his eyes still closed, his face still pained. "Whatever doubts I had of our child master are gone. Now all that preoccupies me is how I can please her."
Walter turned to Alucard. "She'll see you someday for the monster that you are. She won't be so moved by your suffering, then."
"Are you upset about something?" Alucard asked innocently. "Has seeing me injured stirred your heart?"
"She's only fond of you because she's becoming a woman and she's lonely." Walter approached Alucard and placed his finger on the vampire's cheek, dragging it and tucking a stray hair behind the vampire's ear.
"That's my master, and your master, that you're talking about," Alucard warned with a devilish smile. "I could tear you in half for besmirching her honor-talking about her as if she were just any female."
"Funny…" Walter said, reaching down and tracing his finger across Alucard's open wound.
In response, Alucard growled in pain in his body seized.
"…you've never been preoccupied with honor before. I can just think back on all the vile, cruel and very dishonorable things you've done and conclude you have no idea what honor is." Walter finished.
Alucard laughed through his pain. "Betraying my friendship to seal me in the sublevels doesn't put you in a position to lecture me about honor."
Walter tugged off his white gloves and stuffed them in his breast pocket. "I feel no guilt for helping to seal you away. I was duty bound, just as you were. The difference is, I never strayed."
Alucard shrugged. "I should have known all Abraham's and Arthur's talk of obedience leading to redemption and God's forgiveness was bullshit." The vampire smiled again. "I really believed them. I must have been very desperate for acceptance. I never shirked my duties. Never delayed an order. Never disobeyed. Never. I did all I was asked and more. When Arthur demanded androgyny, even commanded me to switch genders, I didn't resist or even question it." He chuckled. "I thought the pain and humiliation were part of God's test."
"That was barely a sacrifice." Walter dug his finger tip into Alucard's wound. "You're a whore and you always have been."
Alucard grimaced at the pain. "If it makes you feel better, I did not have to be receptive to your advances. I wasn't duty bound. I just liked you."
"My advances?" Walter echoed in disbelief.
Alucard sighed. "I hope you remember those nights as fondly as I do."
"I can barely recall it," Walter said, "That's how meaningless it was to me."
"Could be the Alzheimer's," Alucard said, resting his head back. "I can fill in the gaps for you, if you like."
"As you wish," sighed the vampire. "Integra has never touched me. Did you know that? I have tried to win her affections, but she will not touch me. So I will not allow you to smear her honor. She is truly pure."
Walter was aghast, his face twisted in disgust. "She is a child, you monster."
"Not a child." Alucard blinked the sweat from his eyes. "Sometimes I think she's God. Not a goddess, not a muse or a deity or even a serendipitous inspiration. But God." His head rolled to the side. "Taken a human form to walk the earth and judge me. Perhaps Abraham and Arthur were not lying after all. I have won the undivided attention of the Lord Himself. I cannot fail now."
"I assure you, she is just a mortal woman and one day, you will see it. She will eventually find a human companion who pleases her and she'll marry him, bring him into this house and fornicate like animals and procreate. You can watch from the shadows and feel sorry for yourself, just as you did with Arthur. You can plot your sad, flawed revenge and fail once more, only to end up back in the dungeon, where you can be spared having to witness the fleeting, beautiful happiness of mortals."
Alucard lifted his head. "I was inclined to forgive you, Angel of Death, for betraying me. But I won't let you mock my master in such a derogatory way."
"Alucard," Walter said with a warning tone, "That girl cares for you more than she should. It's not my place to judge her affections, however, if you ever make her regret them I'll make you regret it."
Alucard returned the tone, resting his head back dwon. "Consider yourself dually warned as well, butler."
"Remove your boot," Integra commanded from her chair. "I want to see your progress."
"What was that?" Integra demanded.
The ancient vampire sighed with a smile and sat on the edge of the desk and lifted up his boot. "You've never ordered me to remove clothing before. It gave me a chill."
"Enough sauce." The girl scowled at the hulking, black beast. "I can have that foot amputated just as easily."
Alucard slipped off his boot off and presented his bare and newly re-formed foot to his master. "Your grandfather had a proclivity for beating me and stuffing Eucharists in my mouth and chaining me naked on the lawn in the sunlight. And your father invented many creative, unique methods to punish me when I displeased him. But you, my master? No fooling around. No whips, no chains, just straight to dismemberment. A girl after my own heart."
Integra ignored the vampire's comments and took his ankle in hand and ran her fingers across the arch of his foot, looking at the underside and firmly feeling the pad and heel, nodding to herself with analytical satisfaction.
Alucard's eyes smoldered. "I myself was very fond of impalement. It's an excruciating, horrific and brutal punishment, leading to a slow death." He watched her little hands with their honey flesh caressing his bare white foot. "We could try it together sometime, if you're curious."
"I wouldn't entertain ideas of punishing you at all if you didn't try so hard to offend me," Integra responded, touching each of Alucard's toes in turn.
"It doesn't have to be punishment," Alucard offered. "It could be very loving."
Integra rolled up Alucard's pant leg to see where the new flesh fused to the leg. She smoothed her hands over his ankle. "Doesn't classical impalement involve inserting a sharp staff into the…" she momentarily struggled to find a polite word, "…pelvis and shoving it all the way up through the throat?"
"To show my fidelity," Alucard explained. "And demonstrate my submission." He watched her unchanging expression.
Integra rolled his pant leg back down and removed her hands. "You may put your boot back on."
Disappointed, Alucard slipped his boot back on and began to tuck his pant legs back inside.
Integra scribbled a note at the end of the report on her desk. "I'm closing out your sick leave, so you'll return to full duty tomorrow night. It's funny, my father never made a personnel file for you, so the first thing that's going in here is this report."
Alucard chuckled. "That's because he never considered me a person."
With that, Integra looked up at her servant. "Do you?"
The vampire curiously cocked his head at the girl. "Hm?"
"Do you consider yourself a person?"
The vampire offered no answer. But the longer the silence stretched between them, the more tense Alucard's jaw became.
The girl leaned back in her chair, looking for all the world like a regal queen at her throne. "Just so that there isn't any confusion, you don't have to prove your loyalty to me. I already know I have it." She paused. "On to another topic. You understand the treaty between us and the Vatican is rife with tension, don't you?"
"Yes, I understand. But those fools will pay…"
Integra cut the vampire off. "Please do not complicate things by inventing falsehoods."
When the vampire did not defend himself, the girl continued; "The next time you are feeling…however you felt three days ago…do not mutilate yourself and blame our enemies. I was very near ready to raise an army and invade Italy."
The vampire remained silent.
"That's all. You can go."
Alucard stiffly turned to leave. After a few steps, he stopped and turned around. "How did you know?"
"I didn't know until this very moment," Integra said, adjusting her glasses. "But I have suspected since the beginning." She opened her desk drawer and gently placed Alucard's file inside. "You made me look foolish before the Round Table. I insisted on a fierce military response, only to have to back-pedal when I realized it wasn't possible for you to have had contact with any Iscariot agents on the night you claim." She shut the drawer and looked up with cold, angry eyes. "Now I regret trusting you first when I should have trusted my intuition instead."
The vampire was about to respond, but the girl went on, "I don't know how you could find self-mutilation or voluntary impalement a test of loyalty, but then see no conflict of ethics in lying to me. But if you don't get your act together, I'm going to put you back in that straight jacket I found you in. You'll be monitored twenty-four hours a day and there won't be any more unsupervised adventures off the grounds for you if I catch you lying to me again. Understand?"
The vampire stood absolutely still. "Yes, master."
He approached his master and walked around her desk to stand before her.
Integra looked up at him expectantly.
Alucard sank to the floor between her knees and rested his forehead against her thigh. He murmured soft words to his master that she could only barely hear and didn't understand. As Integra sank her hand into her servant's unruly hair, she heard a familiar string of words and understood at last his Latin invocation of Hail Mary.