~= V =~
Integral’s doors never squeaked. They never groaned like the door to Seras’ room, nor did they creak like the door to the kitchen or boom ominously like the one to Fergusson’s office. They hushed, as if they were whispering to their hinges to make no sound, and that disturbed Seras more than anything she could have deluded herself into imagining down in the estates underground corridors.
In new houses doors were expected to squeak – if only a little – but in old houses it was a mandate. That Sir Integrals gave nary a sound made the large expanse of her barren office seem even more formidable.
Behind her impregnable fortress of a desk Sir Integral sat like a stalagmite of ice; tall, straight, and with glorious posture which made Seras straighten her own back and shoulders self-consciously. Integral was completely isolated on her side of the desk, and Seras abandoned on the other. There was no chair for her to sit in. Integral knew how to unsettle people. It was something that Seras found quite enviable about the woman.
“Seras,” Integral greeted, putting down a pen and turning her full attention to the fledgling. “How has your evening been?”
“Quite well, thank you,” Seras replied. “You wanted to see me, Sir?”
“I did.” Integral pushed her glasses up further upon her nose. “How are your holiday plans progressing?”
“I hope that you have had adequate time to prepare,” she continued on after pausing to allow Seras to stutter some more.
“Well, not really…” Seras murmured, and Integrals eyes gave her an unreadable stare for a moment before she broke away to glance down at a sheaf of papers on her desk.
“I had thought that would be the case,” she said. “Seras.”
Seras felt her back snap even straighter at Integral’s authoritative tone, meeting the stormy grey eyes of the woman across the meters and the broad expanse of the desk that separated them.
“Hellsing acquired a large property north of the Aegean Sea quite a while ago. It’s isolated, and completely self-sufficient. We have been training new recruits there for five years now without incident. Now, I understand that you might want to take a step away from this organisation for your vacation, but I simply cannot allow that step to be unsupervised. You understand?”
Seras nodded. Unfortunately, she did. Vampire / Hellsing = Hellsing Vampire, or Dead Vampire depending on the variables. Hellsing Vampire – Hellsing = Vampire, and that was something that was too dangerous to go unchallenged by Integral’s, and hell, even Seras’ own standards.
“Y-yes, Sir,” she said, and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in her chest that let her know that, despite her reservations, she had really been getting into the idea of taking a break away.
Integral’s head dipped forwards in a barely perceptible nod. “So Seras, you have two options.” The phosphorus overhead light reflected off of Integral’s lenses as the leader of the Hellsing Organisation tilted her head slightly to the side. “One being that you take your vacation at the alternative Hellsing property where all your necessities will be taken care of and where you will be left entirely to your own devices – providing you obey the usual stipulations regarding behaviour befitting an officer of Hellsing. Or,” and Seras felt that weight drop even lower and grow leaden at Integral’s pause. “You can take your vacation anywhere you want provided that you take two officers and six men with you.”
“You are an unbound vampire, Seras, and though I would like to think that I could trust you implicitly, there are far too many variables to guarantee that sort of trust. Do you understand?”
“W-well, y-yes, Sir! But--”
“Seras, please listen.”
Seras halted her stuttering attempts to formulate a coherent sentence and tried to control her chaotic thoughts. She focussed her eyes on Integral’s mouth and eyes, and concentrated on keeping her hands from coming up and waving around in indignant frustration.
Integral’s eyes were steady, a steely grey in that light, but with a hint of the softness of magnesium, which Seras had not expected to see.
“Understand,” the older woman said, her tone unchanged but her face more relaxed. “These stipulations are as much for your safety as for the safety of others. You are an important member of this organisation, and to unnecessarily risk your destruction is not an act I will readily condone, whether that destruction be through the Iscariots or an act of necessity on the part of Hellsing itself.”
Seras nodded. No feeding on the locals - got it she thought, but outwardly said only “Yes, Sir.”
“I need you to be aware of your value, Seras.”
“Do you need time to make your decision?”
Seras paused, thought about it, and then said “No, Sir.”
Integral leaned back in her chair. “And?” A silver pen in her fingers glinted as she flicked it.
“The Hellsing property sounds perfect, Sir.”
The corner of Integral’s lips curled as she leaned forwards again. “Excellent,” she said. “I’ll inform Walter. He will make the arrangements. You will leave tomorrow night. Dismissed.”
Seras saluted smartly and left. The door whispered behind her as it closed and Seras barely restrained a shiver at the quiet sound.
What the hell had just happened in there? That was manipulation if she had ever seen it. Integral really wanted her at that other Hellsing property, though the woman’s reasoning for it was about as clear as mud. Seras really couldn’t fault the perks of the property – she would be isolated, but would have quasi-familiar company should she need it. She wouldn’t have to worry about where her food would be coming from, or her accommodation, or her safety, either, though that last one was only ever a serious concern when seven foot tall priests were hanging around with giant letter openers. Integral had offered her a vacation spot that she would be crazy to refuse, and she had done it without any of the finesse Seras would have expected from her.
‘You need to be aware of your value, Seras,’ she mouthed as she descended the grand staircase. Integral had made it sound like she was irreplaceable. Seras liked to think that such a romantic notion was true, but every soldier was replaceable, even the undead ones, and being a police officer who had died and been replaced only made that more clear to her.
And, new question; how was Master going to feel about this? It was highly likely he already knew about her sudden vacation leave, and the whys, and probably the hows too, as barely a thing passed through the halls of the manor without his ears or eyes noticing. Did he know about the where? Maybe. Did he care? Probably not as much as she would like. Would he be annoyed? Now that she had no idea about. She frustrated him often, she could tell. Her master was not very expressive, but his aura could give away any number of clues to his mood, and even more often than not, when she was around him she felt mostly as though he was disappointed in her. Maybe he would think of this vacation of hers as a vacation for himself, as well. A break from child-minding his troublesome fledgling.
She did not mean to be troublesome, it was just that some things were difficult to let go of – especially if they were habits nineteen years old, and were things that made her essentially her. It had been so long since her master had been human that he no doubt had very little recollection of what it had actually felt like to be one. Sure, he had a fantastic memory as he had demonstrated on numerous occasions, but recollection over time became flat and unemotional like a police report, and though there were things that said that at this time they were happy, or at this time they were scared, the actual feelings of joy or terror could not be relived. Not through memory alone. Could anyone really blame her for clinging stubbornly to what she had left?
The first floor of the mansion was unusually busy, Seras noted, as she passed from the main entrance hall into a bustling wing filled with Wild Geese. In their midst she could make out Walter, who must have gone to the west wing directly after seeing her to Sir Integral’s office. The elderly Hellsing retainer was currently engaged in conversation with the head of the Wild Geese, wiggling his gloved fingers slightly as he gestured delicately with his hands while he talked. Captain Pip Bernadette nodded as he listened, his fingers alternately tapping the clip of the weapon slung over his shoulder or playing with the long gold braid looped around his neck like a loose garrotte. They looked as though they were enjoying their conversation. She felt it better not to interrupt them.
She passed through the hall as best as she could, dodging past Geese who were lugging about crates of things, calling obscenely to each other primarily in French and in a combination of other languages, or just gesticulating with both military hand signals and common hand slang. She had no idea what they were doing. Integral hadn’t said anything and neither had Walter. Maybe they were gearing up to run some inside field exercises.
“Excuse me,” she said as she had to wriggle through between the backs or two Geese.
If they were running exercises why hadn’t they included her? She was one of the troops, too, and involved just as much. She would be there if the mansion was being attacked, so why wasn’t she there in the training? All of a sudden from the rear of her mind Fergusson’s words came back to kick her sharply. ‘With your presence around we cannot train these men properly.’
Seras stopped in the centre of the hall. One of the Geese, she forgot his name, had to abruptly sidestep to avoid running into her back. He swore as he passed her, but she ignored it completely, having been just struck in the face, metaphorically speaking, with her current problem.
It was strange how some epiphanies happened. Seras never thought that she would be standing in the centre of a stone corridor, watching mercenaries prep for some scenario exercises when the revelation that would change the rest of her existence cleaved through her mind like one of Father Anderson’s blades. It stung, the realisation, with the pins of guilt and the needles of sudden repine, and it drove straight down into her gut where it lodged, stuck thick and firm somewhere in the vicinity of her navel.
Her vision shortened while widening, a confusing paradox of inverted tunnel vision. Everything directly within her line of sight became murky, while her peripheral vision sharpened, the Wild Geese around her becoming awash with colours and definition alien to her memory.
These men would die, she realised, struck motionless with their mortality. More likely sooner than later unless they were trained properly. They were flesh, bones, blood and beating heart, pumped full of imminent fatality; walking with hourglass nooses about their necks. Precious because of their temporary nature, beautiful because they changed; they were in a continual state of flux and suddenly their value was of much greater worth to Seras than it had been before.
“Dear God,” she said. “What have I been doing?”
“S’cuse me, Miss?” a Goose said to her left. She turned her head to meet his vibrant blue eyes, almost electric with the high burn of life that thrummed within them like the engine of a cruising V8. He was confused, the expression obvious on his features. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything more, only look at him, really look, and try to commit his face to memory, because all too soon it would be gone and that fire that burned behind his eyes would be snuffed out like the flame from an unnecessary candle.
It was her duty to protect these men. She was stronger, faster, harder to destroy and an easier target for enemies to aim for. She was supposed to be keeping these men alive. And she…
The Goose took a half step back as Seras felt her eyes begin to prickle with tears. She had failed so miserably at that job when the Valentine brothers had stormed the manor and killed all but three of the human residents; Fergusson, Integral, and Walter. Her master had been fighting another supposedly category A vampire, and it was her responsibility to care for the troops. Instead… instead she let them down. She hadn’t been feeding properly, hadn’t been training properly; she had been weak and incapable. It was her fault that so many had been lost.
She was focussed too much on trying to retain her humanity that she was a pitiful vampire. It was causing casualties. Her refusal to accept what she was, was getting people killed; some friends, some comrades, some total, innocent strangers.
Fergusson was right – her presence as it was now, was helping no one. She was not human. Once she had been one but not for many months now. There was no point in trying to hold onto something she didn’t have anymore. It was right that she be made to take some time away from the troops and the missions, to focus on herself. She needed to be away from everything that could make her self-conscious, somewhere she could start over, where she could stop fighting against the differences and work at becoming comfortable with her new body and its instincts. Finally start doing what she should have done months ago when snuggled into the strong cradle of her master’s arms.
“Seras?” a concerned voice said at her elbow. She turned her face from the blatantly confused Goose to her other shoulder and there met the worried green eyes of Walter.
Seras became aware that her tears had spilled over by the sticky wetness she could feel on her cheeks. She noticed that some of the other mercenaries had stopped what they were doing and were watching her silently, and for the first time in months she didn’t feel uneasy about the eyes on her.
“Oh, Walter,” she said, her voice throbbing with the mix of emotions her revelation had churned up. “I’m so sorry!”
The green eyes became confused as the gloved hands offered a handkerchief politely. “Whatever for?” he asked.
Seras took the cotton square gratefully, smiling through her tears as she shrugged at him. “Oh, try everything,” she said. “I didn’t realise how dangerous my stubbornness was. I’ll fix it, I swear to you, Walter. I’ll come back better, I promise.” He probably didn’t understand what she was talking about, but the words had come out on their own, spurred by her guilt and the energy of her new convictions.
She took a step back and turned away from the retainer before she started to cry properly. “I promise,” she said again, more quietly, a promise to herself more than to any who could hear her.
She had accepted this life. Now it was time that she did something with it.
Walter watched her back as she went, her shoulders held in a way he hadn’t seen for well over two months. He felt a small flush of warmth pass through him at her determination. She was a formidable little thing. He recognised a lot of her master in her, and a lot of himself as well. It was no wonder that Alucard had found her so interesting. If he himself had been perhaps twenty years younger…
and shook his head a little at his whimsy, watching as those narrow but strong
shoulders turned to head down to the basements. Her determination was
admirable; her desire to change palpable and that voice which had throbbed with
conviction had stirred things in him he hadn’t felt since the days of the
holocaust and girlycard.
“I do believe you will, Seras,” he murmured to himself in response to that last quiet little whisper of hers. “And such a sight you will be.”