Once again, Jezebel couldn't seem to concentrate, but this time, her fidgeting made Mrs. Carringer smile. The girl was trying to concentrate. She really was, but every few minutes, her eyes would drift over to stare longingly at the door. The tutor thought about just letting her go, but she couldn't do that two days in a row without interrupting the lesson plan. Besides, no amount of impatience would speed up time.
"Jezebel!" The girl jumped and looked up at Mrs. Carringer, guilt written across her features. "I know you're looking forward to seeing Ethan today, but the outing is not for another fifteen minutes. I need you to concentrate, or I will have to cancel the next outing to get you caught up on the lesson plan."
That got the girl's attention.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Carringer." She glanced over the notes she had taken and waited for the tutor to continue. With her attention riveted where it belonged, they got a surprising amount done in the remaining time. If Jezebel continued to put this much concentration into the lessons, she wouldn't have to worry about catching up, later.
"Very good," said Mrs. Carringer, closing the book she had been lecturing from. "You can put your things away and go wake Alucard."
Jezebel stuffed her books and papers into her storage cubby and Mrs. Carringer chuckled as she raced into the hallway. She only hoped nothing had been damaged in the mad rush to get out the door.
The girl fairly flew down the hall and the stairs to the basement room. She yanked the door to Alucard's room open, not thinking about the fact that a door she had struggled to open six months ago gave her no trouble, now. Several months of steady food and exercise had put a layer of flesh on her bones that she'd never had before.
Rushing across the room, she tapped on the coffin's lid. When she didn't get an immediate response, she moved to actual knocking. Grinning, she tapped out a rhythm on the wooden lid until it suddenly slid to the side and a white-gloved hand seized her wrist in a bruising grip.
"'Morning, Alu! It's time to get up. Today, I get to see Ethan again, just like you promised."
The sleepy vampire blinked, the fierce red glow in his eyes dying down to a softer light. He yawned, showcasing an impressive set of fangs and needle-sharp dentistry. Jezebel giggled.
"I have to change. See you upstairs?"
Alucard licked his lips and sat up, eyeing the ice chest across the room that held his blood packets. Taking that for the affirmative she knew it was, Jezebel raced back out of the room and upstairs to change into her play clothes.
Dressed and brimming with impatience, the girl paced in the front foyer until a yawning, black-haired girl child joined her, still sipping on a blood packet. It wouldn't do for her to break into a blood-crazed rampage at the playground, even if the Hellsing seal would keep her from actually killing anyone.
They made it to the playground fifteen minutes before noon, rather early for the Hellsings. Jezebel burst out of the car, almost before Mrs. Carringer managed to get it into park. She raced across the trimmed grass, looking for a certain head of unruly brown hair. She spotted Eric and Tabitha with the group of other kids they had started playing with on occasion. No Ethan. She whirled to look at the old swings and jungle gym where Ethan had first approached her and Alucard, disguised as Voica. Empty.
Deflating, she turned to see the vampire making her way across the playground, hat and shades hiding her expression.
"Voica!" Jezebel winced as Eric's voice rang out. He hurried across the playground as she gave her vampire a wounded, reproachful look.
"He'll be here," Alucard said, just before Eric arrived, bursting with the excitement of his first puppy crush. The vampire sighed and gave the boy a less than enthusiastic look. Eric, oblivious to it, started babbling about a soccer game his father had taken him to the previous weekend.
Tabitha caught up to her brother and, rolling her eyes, shoved him on the shoulder, knocking him off balance.
"No one cares, Eric. Go stick your head in a hole before you bore us all to death!"
"Hey! Just because you don't care doesn't mean they don't. Voica loves to hear about my weekends, don't you, Voica?" The vampire gave him an arch look which washed over him like water off a duck's back. "You just need to learn to appreciate the finer points of the game, Tabitha. Like when Schuster had the ball and…"
Jezebel tuned the boy out. He'd been trying to impress 'Voica' with his knowledge of soccer since he had joined the homeschool team three weeks ago. Disappointed, she scanned the playground again, not sure what she was looking for. Tabitha, at least, would have mentioned if Ethan was there and just off somewhere hiding. She missed their friend too.
But…wait. A car had just pulled into the parking lot. The back door opened and a pair of white sneakers stepped out onto the concrete. The door closed and a wide smile exploded across Jezebel's face.
She took off across the grass, barely noticing the surprised and excited voices behind her. Ethan spotted her and grinned, waving as he hopped the curb. She ploughed into him, almost knocking him off his feet as she wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. He laughed and hugged her back.
"I missed you!" She couldn't seem to stop smiling.
"I missed you too." They stepped back and his joyful expression matched her own.
"Oh my gawd! Did Jezebel just hug Ethan?!" Jezebel whirled to face Tabitha's accusation, although, what could she say? She had. Never mind that she never hugged any of her other friends. Eric grinned behind his sister with a sly look in his eyes, momentarily distracted from 'Voica'.
"Jezzie and Ethan, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N- OW!" Jezebel bared her teeth as she slugged him in the shoulder. He reached up to clutch the top of his arm, eyes wide.
"Serves you right," Tabitha said with a sniff. "Just because you're obsessed with Voica doesn't mean everyone else has lost their minds. Although, I have to say, Jezzie. I've never seen you hug anyone."
Jezebel shrugged, feeling a small blush of embarrassment at the public display of affection, but she had missed Ethan. She had spent the last four weeks wondering if she would ever get to see her best friend again. She couldn't exactly explain to Eric and Tabitha why she'd had perfectly good reason to think she'd lost him forever, so she would have to let them think she had a crush on him. So be it.
"He's my best friend and I haven't seen him in weeks, unlike your boring old face." She directed that last part at Eric. Tabitha laughed and just like that, the tension broke and drained away. Eric spluttered, trying to find a comeback. Instead, he scowled at the parking lot.
"Hey, Ethan. Your mom's leaving."
"Yeah. I know." Ethan turned and waved at the retreating vehicle. "She got a part time job. I'm staying at Jezebel's in the afternoons for a while."
"Really?" Tabitha frowned. To her knowledge, none of Jezebel's friends had ever been to her house. What made Ethan so special? "Where have you been for the last few weeks, anyway?"
"Family stuff." The tone of his voice warned them not to pry any further. Eric opened his mouth to do just that and Tabitha, taking the hint, grabbed the front of his shirt and started hauling him toward the jungle gym.
"I hear a soccer ball calling your name, Eric," she said in a loud voice, drowning out the questions he was trying to ask. That left Jezebel, Ethan and Voica standing in a tight knot separate from the other children. Ethan looked at Voica and scowled. He hadn't thought about it, before, but taking martial arts and then visiting with Jezebel before the abduction and for most of a day afterward, he had spent a considerable amount of time at Hellsing and never seen the dark haired girl child. They had all assumed Voica lived with Jezebel since they always came to outings together. And wasn't Voica related to… Ethan's eyes narrowed at the girl.
A wild…fanged…grin spread across the small vampire's face. She reached up and patted Ethan on the top of his head…toward the uninjured side.
"Very good, boy. Very good indeed."
That was not the voice of the girl child he'd played with, but a deeper one that he knew quite well. Ethan grinned, basking in the praise and beaming with pride at his accurate guess. Jezebel grinned at the both of them.
"Yep. Definitely keeping you."
After two hours of hard play and a light lunch, they returned to Hellsing with Jezebel wedged between her best friend and her vampire. She sighed happily, the hollow feeling that had lurked in her gut for the last month finally gone.
They pulled up in the front drive. Ethan piled out of the car first, followed by Jezebel. The far passenger door opened and a six foot six, red-clad vampire rose to his full height. Mrs. Carringer shuddered at the blatant display of power. It had most definitely been three children in the back seat as she drove them home.
"Ethan, Jezebel has more lessons," Alucard said. "You'll come with me for the afternoon. We'll assess where your aptitudes lay."
Jezebel gave the vampire a mournful look but she didn't argue. She'd been warned she would still have to complete her lessons for the day. Ethan's eyes widened but he didn't hesitate to follow as Alucard led the way across the lawn toward a part of the Hellsing estate that he'd never seen.
A line of tall evergreens blocked the view from the road and the front drive. The way the path wended around a particularly thick knot of vegetation made Ethan think the evergreens had probably been put there with a mind to hiding what was on the other side.
They strolled around the end of a stone wall and came out in an open area that had to have been twice the size of the rest of the estate. Low buildings stood off to the left, one of them easily the size of the community center where he'd taken swimming lessons when he was younger. To the right, several cleared areas, marked off by lines of bushes and lit by overhead lights waited for whatever their intended purpose was. Several yards in front of them stood a sort of jungle gym…with barbed wire and not a slide in sight.
A hundred questions popped into Ethan's head as he looked around. In the far distance, he spotted what looked like a parking lot with a…was that a helicopter?
"Wow," he breathed, hazel eyes about to pop out of his head.
"Don't worry. You'll become familiar with everything out here, eventually. Probably more than you'd like." The vampire grinned down at the awed look on the boy's face. "First, we test if you have any aptitude for marksmanship." Alucard led the way toward the largest of the buildings. Ethan scrambled to keep up with him.
Inside, they passed down several corridors until they reached a heavy metal door. The vampire pulled it open and shooed the boy inside.
It appeared to be a locker room…but such small lockers. Alucard retrieved what appeared to be a set of wireless headphones form a peg on the wall and tossed them to Ethan. He caught them as the vampire crossed the room to a cabinet. Pulling it open, he revealed a small collection of…guns. Below them, shelves held stacks and stacks of boxes. The boy's eyes grew wide.
"Do I get to…"
Alucard turned and quirked a smile at him.
"For today, yes."
He retrieved a pistol with a narrow barrel and a box of bullets from the cabinet. Pocketing the box, he led the way to another door on the other side of the room. Ethan hurried to catch up with him.
They came out into a sort of corridor with what appeared to be stalls or booths along the left-hand side. Passing one, Ethan saw that the stalls opened into a cavernous room with a concrete floor and walls. Paper targets lined the distant far end of the long room. He'd seen something like it in a movie once.
Alucard nodded as he stopped in front of one of the stalls. Pulling the box of bullets out, he set it on a small shelf inside the stall and turned to the boy.
Ethan took a deep breath and stepped up to the vampire, a grin stretching across his face. Although they had a gun in their home, his parents had never taught him anything about it aside from the fact that he was NOT to touch it, under any circumstance. Ever.
"That one looks different from my dad's."
"This is a Ruger Mark III 22. It's a target pistol and shouldn't hurt your wrist too much. We're just testing your aim."
The vampire pressed a button on the gun, popping the clip out. Opening the box, he loaded ten bullets into the metal case and slid it back home.
"Stand here." Alucard indicated a spot just behind the shooting line and Ethan hurried to take his place. The vampire chambered a round and took up a position behind the boy.
"This is the safety. It is currently on. You will take it off just before you fire, like this." Alucard demonstrated, flipping the safety off and then on again. "You will hold it like this, with both hands." He leaned over Ethan, holding the gun in front of the boy's face in a two-handed grip, one arm on either side of his head. "Do you understand?"
"I…I think so."
Alucard handed him the gun, watching the boy closely as he worked to approximate the vampire's grip. He made a couple of small adjustments to the position of the boy's hands and then showed Ethan how to extend the gun and sight along the barrel.
"You will line this bracket up with the front sight, here. When you have them aligned so they look like one piece, you are on target."
Ethan shifted a little, moving the gun until it seemed like the sights lined up…except they kept wavering and he had to continually make minute adjustments to get them back into place. Alucard watched him struggle, a frown beginning to grace his brow. The vampire reached out and placed his hands over Ethan's. The sights firmed up. The vampire released him and the sights wavered again. Scowling at those shaky hands, Alucard retrieved the headphones and put them over Ethan's ears.
"Pull the trigger." The command was muted by the ear protection, but the boy heard it. He narrowed his eyes and pulled back on the trigger, bracing for the recoil that he'd heard about but never experienced. The headphones muffled the loud 'crack' of the firing gun and his palm tingled from the kick, but he couldn't really say it hurt.
"Again," Alucard said, narrowing his eyes at the black and white target. Ethan went through all ten rounds and never could seem to get the sights lined up right. The vampire took the gun from him and strode down the firing hall to retrieve the paper target. The boy pulled the ear protectors off as Alucard returned. He hadn't hit anything near the inner four rings.
"I'm sorry, sir."
Alucard didn't answer, examining the paper. He rolled it up and gave Ethan a considering look. The boy's shoulders slumped, convinced he had just proven himself incapable of learning what Alucard had intended to teach him.
"Hold your hands up."
Ethan did as he was told, closing his fingers into fists. Did the vampire intend to fight him?
"Open your hands." Alucard watched the boy's fingers uncurl. A fine tremble started up in those small hands. "Are you nervous?"
Ethan looked at his trembling hands and frowned.
"I don't know. Maybe?"
"Do your hands normally shake?"
"Yeah. My handwriting gets shaky sometimes too."
Alucard nodded, his look softening from a fierce scowl into something more thoughtful. Ethan sighed and glared at his traitorous hands. He bared his teeth as a surge of anger and determination washed through him.
"I'll do whatever it takes," he said in a growl. "I'll practice every day!"
The vampire smiled down at the boy and ruffled his hair.
"You do not have to shoot to kill vampires. We will move on."
Ethan did his best to squelch his disappointment as they left the gun range. The scene of Alucard rescuing them in the semi-trailer, guns roaring, ran through his head. He certainly couldn't dissolve into shadows or a hoard of bats, like the vampire. How else was he supposed to fight? He couldn't begin to imagine.
A/N: Poor Ethan. Can't hit the broad side of a barn. *evil grin* I couldn't make him too perfect, could I? Actually, my husband's hands shake like that. It's funny watching him play Magic the Gathering because his hands will shake as he's putting cards down and his opponent will think he's really nervous when in fact, he's fine. Makes for a great psych out. *wink*