"Who is it?" Rifka called over to the door. She sat up with a groan and started putting her clothing back into place. She ran her fingers through her hair to straighten it.
"It's Walter, my lady. Sir Integra sent me to bring you to the head office. One of the search teams may have found the compound you were held at in Russia."
Rifka was a blur as she sprang from the bed and ran to the door. She hauled it open, staring up at Walter with fiery eyes. He was a bit taken back and gently averted his eyes from her under-dressed frame. She didn't seem to notice. "Are they sure?"
"They described the serpent on the main doors, same as where we found you here in England."
Rifka left the doorway and marched to her wardrobe, pulling out clothes with quick, precise movements. She glanced at Walter once, her eyes piercing, then she crossed her wrists, grabbing the hem of her camisole and stripping it off whether he was still watching or not. She heard his cough and figured he had looked away again. Her hands darted into her closet twice, and she began getting dressed. "Tell those men… if they go in there, they need to be careful!"
Walter hazarded a glance at her. He watched as she pulled a dark red turtleneck down over her head, and he couldn't stop himself from staring at the whipping scars marring the flesh of her back. He also didn't fail to notice that they did little to hide the smooth, toned muscles beneath her skin. "Why is that, my lady?"
"Because… I don't know what got left behind." She tugged on a pair of sturdy boots over flexible black pants, and slung a belt around her waist. When she turned back to Walter, the expression on her face was that of a woman ready to go to war. "I don't know if there are more like me."
"Are we mobilizing now, then?" Alucard asked from the bed. He was still lounging across it, watching Rifka from behind his yellow sunglasses, and the smug smile on his lips made it plain that he had not averted his eyes. Walter was surprised to see him there, and although Rifka was not, her face had taken on an exquisitely blank mask, leaving Walter to wonder what exactly he had interrupted.
"Yes," said Walter, recovering quickly. Rifka strode toward him, and he turned to lead the way. "If you don't mind me asking, lady Rifka, I thought you said you were the only one that survived his experiments."
Rifka shook her head, her lips twisting with bitterness. "Not the only one, no. I was just the first. Bentomir was delighted with his success, until I started showing signs of independence; that is. Then he was simply amused. When independence became defiance… He became very irritated with me. And then came the collar, and then Marcus, and then you lot. I never knew if he tried again – it's not as though I gave him any reason to tell me."
"She's such a naughty girl…" Alucard purred from the shadows. Rifka glanced to the side and clicked her tongue.
"Rest assured that I will pass along the caution." Walter told her. She nodded.
"I hope you mean that," she told him. Her dark eyes were serious and her gaze intense, "ask the Vampire what he thinks would happen if Integra's soldiers broke the door down and rushed inside all at once, only to find the place full of creatures like me that were left in their cages to starve to death. Ask him if he thinks I would have sat there and died quietly. Ask him if he thinks I'd still be sane."
Walter opened his mouth in query, looking over at the monster. Alucard began to chuckle deeply, leaning his head back as his trademark Cheshire Grin stretched across his mouth. Walter looked back down at Rifka.
The woman clenched her jaw. "He's taken… an interest." She growled through her teeth.
Walter sighed. "That actually explains a lot. Come on now, everyone's waiting for you."
When they walked into Integra's office, the woman was standing tensely at a large video screen. The picture was of a troop of Hellsing soldiers standing ready outside a low, round building. A huge battering ram sat on the ground between them, lined up at the center of the double doors. Spanning across the doors was the symbol of a coiled snake.
Integra glanced over her shoulder as Walter entered, her glasses flashing as she looked to Rifka beside him. "Ah. Finally, you're here. The jet is ready to take you to the site as soon as you board."
Rifka stared at her. "You're… sending me… there?" She asked in disbelief.
Integra frowned. "Of course I am. I thought it logical – if it does in fact turn out that there are monsters in that building, my men will require someone that can guide them and help them fight them off. Alucard told me what your claws can do to a real Vampire, and I have seen what you can do to humans. That is why I cannot send my men in alone."
Rifka still stared, but she nodded slowly. "I cannot argue your logic."
Integra nodded also. "Good. Prepare what you need and board the plane as quickly as possible."
"I require nothing," Rifka turned and immediately began to leave, using her keen sense of hearing to home in on the direction of the jet, "I'm already carrying all of my weapons…" Her lips quirked in a mischievous grin and she glanced over her shoulder.
Walter bowed as he watched her leave, but Alucard began to cackle appreciatively. "And here I thought you didn't have a sense of humor, Enchantress! You still find ways to surprise me – that's refreshing. I think we're going to have a lot of fun today."
Rifka sighed, feeling the Vampire's presence following her through the halls. She stepped through a wide doorway and felt the evening sun slide over her skin. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, basking in it in silence for a moment.
"What's going through your mind, right now?" Alucard whispered in her ear.
"I've always loved the sunlight. I'm rushing off into battle – of my own choosing, for the first time ever. I want to make sure I remember what the sun feels like."
"How does it feel?"
"Like the embrace of a parent… or a lover."
Alucard grinned. "I can help you remember the embrace of a lover…" His arms slid around her waist from behind.
She chuckled and brushed him off, resuming her stride toward the plane. "Business before pleasure, Vampire…"
"And now you tease me! Look how far you have come, Enchantress!"
"I adapt; plain and simple." Rifka glanced at the guards flanking the ramp before climbing up into the cabin. "And I think I liked the other nickname better…"
"Bentomir really had no idea who you were when he kidnapped you, did he?"
Rifka shivered at Alucard's shift in tone. She slid into a seat and buckled herself in, trying to ignore the flush rising on her cheeks. She hated that his compliments could make her respond so quickly. "Obviously not…"
"I hope his notes were thorough," Alucard sat close, his voice low as he murmured into her ear, "I'm insanely curious now. I want to know all about the human that transformed into this marvelous creature."
A quick intake of breath was his only warning before Rifka suddenly whipped toward him and grabbed him by two handfuls of his thick, black hair. She kissed him with a feral passion, growling at him from deep in her chest. He clutched her out of surprise, and stared up at her when she released him. He couldn't help but love the way her flushed skin darkened the color of her eyes and intensified her piercing gaze.
"Stop distracting me!" She snarled, shoving him away. "This encounter will not end well for any of us if I can't focus!"
He watched her, bemused at first, but then he began to smile again. "Are you nervous, Catwoman?"
"I'm extremely nervous, thank you very much. I hate surprises."
She looked up as the overhead speaker crackled to life. The captain introduced himself, and altered them that they were taking off, destination set for Russia, ETA less than half an hour. Rifka's mouth fell open. "That quick? How fast is this thing?!"
Alucard chuckled at her. "That's one of the perks of a private jet, Catwoman. To answer your other question… You might want to tighten your seatbelt."
She rolled her eyes at him, but paused when he seemed serious. She grabbed the strap of her belt and pulled it tighter around her waist. As the jet began to pick up speed, she pressed herself into the seat cushion and closed her eyes, gripping her armrests tightly.
"Don't tell me you've never flown before…"
She opened her eyes with a slight frown. "I feel that I've flown many times, it's certainly not foreign to me… but I've never flown like this."
"Then you're in for a treat. I'm sure the flight will go easier if you relax." He paused, grinning slowly. "Much the same as other things…"
Rifka sighed again, flexing her hands. She rolled her neck and leaned back in her seat again. "Please, Alucard, don't distract me… I really need to focus. I must be sure my powers are under control."
"As you wish, Catwoman."