It started with the book.

She was never really sure what drew her to it in the first place. Its appearance was unremarkable, a plain cover the green of forests, chrysalises, and tangles of thorns with blue block lettering spelling its title. The title, however, sounded exotic and mysterious, tongue tapping her teeth thrice as she spoke it aloud, and it flowed like water over her tongue and into the silence. Lo. Lee. Ta. Lolita. Intrigued, Integra had picked it up off the table and settled on the library's sofa, legs curling underneath her skirt.

Her uncle Richard was the one to find her, snatching the book out of her hand and reprimanding her harshly, saying it was dirty and not for the eyes of little girls. Walter, who heard the commotion from the hallway, arrived in time to comfort her as Richard stormed off to her father's office to inform him of what had transpired, reassuring her that her uncle loved her and was doing what he thought was right.

She did not know how long they argued, but when Arthur came and talked to her before bedtime, he looked tired and his voice was weary. He politely told her that Lolita was about a rather controversial subject and while she might not understand it right now, it could influence her the wrong way in the future, reminding her that if she had any questions concerning those matters she merely had to ask as he smoothed back her pale blonde fringe with a gentle hand. Saying that he only wanted the best for his favorite and only daughter, he tucked her in and kissed her forehead, closing the door behind him.

A week later, Integra slipped the book out of the top right hand drawer of his desk when no one was looking and hid it in the bottom drawer of her nightstand. She felt a pang of guilt for disobeying her father, but ignored it, reasoning that she was old enough to distinguish the difference between fact and fiction. It soon became a well-read favorite, the dreamy prose never failing to sweep her troubles away. She fantasized about going to America and traversing the country with Walter and her father more than once; though the mansion was her home and she had gone to London on occasion, she rarely ventured out. Living through the elegant words of the narrator helped to quell her languishing wanderlust; she even dreamed once of he and her in a Parisian café discussing British poetry over a cup of café au lait.

Then, the incident occurred and the words were no longer, as Humbert put it, 'safely solipsized'. For Integra, the haze cleared and everything was thrown into a sharp, unrelenting focus. She buried her uncle who had attempted to murder her in cold blood a week after her father had been interred there and took on an organization whose function she had not known for the better part of twelve years.

There was also the arrival of Alucard, the domesticated vampire who had saved her life in the basement, which was an inconceivable paradox considering how her schooling had hammered into her how terrifyingly sadistic they were. His continued deference only baffled her more and the fact that the notorious nymphet had fallen hard into the arms of a cultured, sophisticated predator at that age only heightened her senses. Glancing at the nightstand shamefully before bed on one of those rare nights that she actually slept, Integra soon stopped wearing skirts, favoring crisp, clean suits that covered her insecurities and started smoking cigars, just as her father had. Walter made it blatantly clear that he thoroughly and heatedly disapproved of the latter habit, but did not attempt to prevent the tendency.

However, underneath the layers of carefully taught lessons and extensive conditioning, Integra was beginning to discover herself. Inclined to catch up on the world after being down and out for twenty years and inquisitive by nature, Alucard would often engage her in conversation on a wide range of topics. They discussed the subjects intensely into the night and sometimes, Integra would ask for a day to gather her thoughts to begin again the next night. Unlike her voiceless, spoken for counterpart, she was encouraged to have her own opinions, differing from the views of her past and those accepted by others and she found her lengthily, tempestuous arguments with the vampire absolutely invigorating. The emerging sense of self and the metamorphosis of her personality were at the best of times disconcerting, and when she did decide to indulge herself, she thought of absolutely nothing at all.

At fifteen, her compunctions were well hidden and confidence had replaced the earlier, apprehensive ingénue. When she spoke, her soldiers listened and obeyed without question, and if they doubted, they kept it to themselves. Her quick mastery of the necessary procedural paperwork and aptitude for assessing situations that were complete messes and determining solutions that kept their existence private and removed the necessary targets as rapidly as possible had earned her some respect from her peers on the Round Table; even Sir Islands, nearly ridiculous to please, commended her endeavors. As her already daunting workload slowly increased, she managed, but found it easier said than done to match its pace. Nevertheless, despite the immense pressure which shut out most earthly distractions, large and small, she sensed a change in the dynamic of a particular relationship, namely the one between herself and the domesticated nosferatu who nightly served her, queen, and country.

Integra had known in a textbook sense that Alucard had been quite the lady killer in his time and that the sight of him was enough to make men's knuckles go white and women look thoughtful; her father had been most firm on the subject of how seductive vampires could be. Conversely, his previous treatment of her was completely devoid of sexual overtures, discussing the matter calmly and candidly as nothing more than a natural human interaction when their tête-à-têtes had turned in that direction and changing the subject. Those were the early days when they had tiptoed around each other, but their bond was intimate in nature and after three years, she could not have imagined her life without Alucard.

She had changed as well, though her surroundings had left her vaguely aware of puberty, the only indicators being the tightness of her suits and the few days out of every month that were worse than the rest. Until a few months ago when her attendance was required for an annual ball, she had not noticed how deeply the physical changes went. Staring in shock at her reflection in the mirror, she had traced the contours of her womanly waist and hips through the skirt, almost unable to believe the sight. From an aesthetic point of view, one could agree that light blonde hair combined with pale blue eyes and darkly tanned skin contrasted pleasingly, but she never gave much thought to it. Apparently, the young men at court had; had it not been for the phone call in the middle of it informing her of a rogue vampire in Kingston that had made one too many fledglings to be taken down easily, she would have received considerably more attention than she ever wanted to attract. Court was never her world.

Her medieval studies had taught her that customarily, girls were married off at the age of fourteen or fifteen; only a few families waited. The thought had occurred to her more than once that if they lived in that time and the circumstances were different, she would have been sharing Alucard's bed by now. Integra was finding it progressively more onerous to conjure up the proper feelings of revulsion and gratitude that they lived now and repress the little shiver of pleasure that went down her spine. The thought of the sound he made when he was pleased only sought to do in her vigilant conscience, which had enough on its plate fending off the more lewd fantasies that played in her mind. The most frequently recurring one featured the two of them nude in a leather arm chair, her seated on his lap with her back to him, leaning against his chest as his gloved hands roamed and teased her sensitive flesh while she clutched the arms of the chair and tried ineffectively to contain her more violent reactions.

Some days, she chafed at the control and dreamed of drowning ad nauseam; it would be so easy to lie back for a few minutes and let him take the reins. However, it would be beyond foolish to allow it; his mind was not open to her and she was never really sure of his intentions. He also seemed to enjoy being challenged and ordered about; it was rare for him to show signs of agitation during an argument. That aspect of his personality had been made clear concerning the incident in the kitchen with the apple.

The object in question was not Eden red, but still a fairly dark shade. Hungry after a long meeting, Integra had slipped downstairs as soon as the knights left and taken it out of the refrigerator. Without thinking, she began to toss it up and catch it, receiving some pleasure from the action as her thoughts mulled over the Round Table's assessment of her organization and their feelings on the budget; the increased number of attacks and her capable performance might have made them more amenable to the idea of expanding it. It was a self-soothing, repetitive loop, the presence of the apple comfortingly tangible as it fell into her hand with a plop and her fingers curved securely around it. Brushing back her bangs with her left hand, she was contemplating the idea of new weapons when the fruit vanished.

In her musings, she had not noticed the vampire's entry, the former the one who now held the object of desire in his gloved left hand. His expression was neither the slasher smile that graced his face in battle, nor the empty, blasé guise when he spoke to outsiders, such as the Round Table or officials. Red eyes, unhindered by the black bangs that habitually framed them, smoldered as they held her gaze, his mouth remaining blank while he drank in the sight of all her glory and mimicked her earlier behavior with it.

Integra's hands went to her hips as she frowned at his theft, disregarding the hairs that were standing on end. Hyperaware of the situation, the slightest gesture seemed an age to complete while her conscience railed at her in terror. He will gobble you up; he will swallow you; he will tear your innocence to shreds, play you like a symphony, and then cast you aside once he has finished with your virginity…

She ignored it, stepping forward as her arms relaxed and placing her right foot between his legs; a bold move. Unlike most curious females, she did not cock her head to one side; she remained unwaveringly straight as her steady stare attempted to bore into the very inner being of the troublemaking vampire.

The corners of the No Life King's mouth quirked into a smirk as he held the apple to her coral lips and brushed it against them, the gloved fingertips of his right hand gently grazing the left side of her mouth and causing a congenial sensation. The discernible symbolism was not lost upon his young master.

"Fool," she breathed, the tip of her tongue deliberately flicking against the pad of his thumb. Close enough to embrace, he withdrew the apple, his left hand hovering over her hip as he bent to meet her.

"Sir Integra?" Walter's voice from the hallway broke the heavy silence.

Before she could blink, she was holding the apple in her left hand as her vampire retreated, turning to the right on his second step, and vanishing into the wall, but not before a brief purr of pleasure and a rather epicurean "My Master," over his shoulder. Breathing deeply for what seemed the first time in years, she nearly dropped the apple out of sheer relief. It had become unseasonably warm, she reassured herself firmly. The notion that it was her temperature that rose? Utterly preposterous.

Calling to reassure Walter that she would be with him in five minutes, the young Hellsing paused and waited until his footsteps died out. Cautiously, she glanced from side to side and after she was sure that there were no other occupants and she was alone in the room, raised the apple, bent her head, and bit.