Integra set her cigar between her fingers and watched, the smoke obscuring her face and the sun reflecting off her glasses, as her peers stumbled through small talk. She was eighteen and much too old for this.
It was in functions like these that England proved itself nauseatingly old-fashioned. Those in the upper echelons of society were encouraged to mingle with their peers from an early age so that sparks may fly, connections may forge, money may flow—all that shite. Integra, who had no interest in such connections, and would rather put up the little éclairs they served as target practice, suffered through this annually with the mien of the unapproachable Hellsing director.
She thought, offhand, she should have brought Alucard. That would have certainly made this less boring. And she had, in the past. He would stand at her side, grinning, wearing those shades of his, and he would lean into her ear and whisper how the son of Sir something-or-other was practically pissing his pants trying to muster the courage to offer her a canapé.
"They'll learn their place," he had said.
But around the time she was sixteen, Walter had taken her aside and told her gently that perhaps she should refrain from taking Alucard to these functions.
"It would reflect on you…questionably, if he is continued to be seen in your presence."
Her first reaction had been, a bit dimwittedly she had to admit, "How so?" Alucard was hers, and she took him to these places as she would take her gun—he would even appreciate the comparison. But Walter had looked mildly pained, and elaborated:
"It would not reflect favorably on you, a young woman your age, to be around a…man of his appearance."
She had taken a step back and deliberated.
Alucard was Alucard—the way she had found him in his cell, a corpse of a man. And Alucard was a man—or so she called him, because though he was a monster, he was still male: all tall and wiry, with that velvet voice, and hands that dwarfed hers. Yet she had never been aware of those aspects of him quite so keenly. She registered him more by his pressure, which always clashed with yet quickly capitulated to her own; his chill, which always brushed against her heat like a current; and then his eyes, which always remained red and fixated on her.
With that train of thought, her throat had felt parched.
She told Walter she would not take him.
Thinking of him now irritated her, and her throat was parched—again. She smothered her cigar into an ashtray and hailed a server for a glass of wine, and stood, intending to clear her head outside.
She bumped into someone.
It was a brief thing, hardly a collision, and she had excellent balance. Integra was able to keep most of the liquid in her glass. But some of it still slopped, and stained her glove pink.
"Oh, I am sorry," said a female voice.
Alucard, almost went up her throat.
The eyes looking apologetic were brown, however, not red. The girl had black hair and pale skin, but there was a blush to her cheeks. She also bit her lip, with what she could see was a blunt incisor.
Behind her, Sir Shelby Penwood's face bobbed into view. "There you are!"
"I am very sorry," the girl said to Integra, gesturing to the pink-tinted glove.
Sir Penwood stepped forward. "Jolly good, I was meaning to seek you out. Integral, may I introduce Miss Alicia Aynsley, Sir Gerald Aynsley's niece?"
"You are Sir Integral Hellsing?" Miss Alicia Aynsley clapped her hands. "I have heard so much!"
"I'm sure you have," Integra said dryly.
"Oh, I did not mean—" The color already on the girl's cheeks blossomed further across. "My uncle spoke of you, and so has Sir Penwood here."
Sir Gerald Aynsley was neutral to her at best, but if he and Penwood were her sources there was no need for Integra to antagonize the girl. "I see. Sir Aynsley's niece. I must admit I haven't heard of you."
Penwood coughed, as he usually did when Integra was being blunt, but Alicia Aynsley did not seem to mind. "Yes, I've only been back in London for a short while. Much of my parents' businesses take them overseas, and I have been accompanying them."
"Miss Aynsley is very well traveled," Penwood chimed in.
"Are you?" Integra asked, to be polite.
"Oh, yes! I have been abroad for several years. France, and Russia, and Japan, and quite recently, South Korea—" which was sufficiently far away to pique Integra's interest.
She glanced at the clock. A few hours to go before the codgers would not begrudge her leave. Well, she could have had worse company.
"Miss Aynsley has been expressing interest in meeting you, Integral, when she heard there was a knight her age. It will be beneficial for both of you to get to know each other."
Either Penwood had a business meeting coming up with Miss Aynsley's parents or he was valiantly taking on the mantle of an old family friend. Regardless, Integra had made up her mind. She flicked her glass. "Shall we? I was meaning to get fresh air."
Alicia Aynsley appeared delighted, which did bemuse Integra somewhat—people were never eager for her company. "Certainly! But please, let me fetch my parasol, I am sensitive to the sun."
She was very human.
Integra found herself subconsciously reinforcing this throughout their walk.
Alicia Aynsley told her about her travels, the countries she visited, the food ("The raclette that I had in Geneva, you must try"), the clothes ("The Korean traditional dress hanbok, it is gorgeous"), the customs ("Did you know, in Japan kneeling is the standard formal way of sitting?") and Integra was surprised how easy it was to listen. It was rare for her, female companionship. The only woman in the manor she could listen to was her childhood nanny, and she was due to retire in a few months.
She supposed this was how normal people lived and talked. They went and saw and ate and did not have to accommodate a vampire who became surly in the sun or a butler who had wires hidden in his gloves. Almost almost it made her wistful, and for a moment she wondered if her life would be deprived of this kind of normalcy forever—but she shook herself out of it. She had her duty, her duty was her normalcy, and nothing could substitute it.
Miss Alicia Aynsley had a white parasol over her head, and from under it she blushed again.
"Excuse me, I have rambled so much. How tiring you must find me!"
"I am," Integra picked her words carefully, "enjoying myself."
"Are you? I am so relieved." Alicia swallowed. "Truth be told, I've been worrying. You are so much…more than I imagined."
Integra slowed her steps, blinking, at the last word.
"Imagine? I—yes." Alicia moved closer. She seemed determined. "You must understand. Whenever I saw my uncle, he had stories of a girl my age who became a knight." (Integra thought, Sir Aynsley was a gossip? Who knew?) "It sounded, oh—so romantic!"
There was nothing romantic about her knighthood, just like there was nothing romantic about escaping from a deranged uncle by crawling in vents and running into a cell and finding a corpse inside. Yet, Integra did understand. She had been that romantic who wished she would find a knight in shining armor, never mind it was her family basement. And the knight she had found had been clad in leather instead of steel, and had tainted even that with the blood of her enemies.
She scowled. Why was she thinking about Alucard?
"I'm sorry, did I offend you?"
"No," Integra said. She was annoyed with herself, the naive girl she had been. "The sun was in my eyes."
"How remiss of me!" Alicia hurriedly put the parasol over both their heads. "I should have done this sooner."
In the shade, hidden from the sun, Integra felt something like this had happened before. An anniversary, a black umbrella, and Alucard under its shade, watching her as she stood over the grave of her father.
For fuck's sake. She needed to stop.
"If I may return to my earlier sentiment," Alicia said, "I don't mean to pry—and I don't mean to be so forward—but surely an individual such as you will have…a significant other?"
Integra did stop in her tracks this time.
She had been suspecting she was missing something for a while now, but—was she missing something? She had not sensed any threats. Wait—significant other?
Alicia had a look that was part nervous, part put-upon, and part knowing.
"Are you not aware?"
"What are you getting at?" Integra demanded.
Miss Alicia Aynsley stepped closer, and it was her body heat, the blush on her cheeks, the blunt incisor biting her lip, that told Integra she was human.
She tilted back her parasol and nodded to the glass surface of the greenhouse next to them.
It was glazed and polished. Their reflections could be seen in detail. Integra saw herself. She was wearing a dress shirt and slacks, just formal enough for the function. Her jacket was hanging from her shoulders carelessly. Her hair was light and her skin was dark, and her eyes were blue and unyielding behind her glasses. As usual.
Yet the way her companion was watching her forced Integra to discern, and she noticed: that her hair was ignited golden in the sun—that her own cheeks were dusted pink due to good humor—that her lips were glossed red by the wine.
She supposed, for this instance, she could call herself beautiful.
"Do I what?"
"Have a significant other?"
Integra opened her mouth to say no, when Alicia Aynsley put up the parasol and ensconced them in the shade once more, and again she almost said—
Who would smirk at her from a similar face of white and black and
"Not sure?" Alicia asked.
Sensing, instinctively, something was about to happen that she had no choice but to admit was out of her depth, Integra managed out, "Walter—my butler—he'll be looking for me."
"Yes, I shall have to go too," Alicia conceded, and the spell was broken. She looked unhappy. So was Integra. "This has been altogether lovely. Do you think we could stay in touch—as pen pals, at least?"
Integra wished she could answer yes, but her world did not stop for a girl who wanted to send letters to a friend. "I can't promise."
"Can't promise, she says," Alicia noted. "Then, may I ask for something now?"
Her fingers touched Integra's elbow. The glass of wine she had been holding all this time threatened to spill and soak the rest of her glove in red.
Ah. This had been what she was missing.
"May I," Alicia breathed, "kiss you?"
A heartbeat, and Integra found herself nodding. And before she knew it, she was being kissed.
Her lips were soft. They brushed against hers delicately, and she could feel the slight indent where she had bit down. The pressure felt familiar, somehow, so acute as if to break. But it also felt off. Integra half-closed her eyes and returned the pressure, to figure out the cause of discrepancy. Alicia sighed and a warm waft of air escaped.
—she had been searching for coldness.
She stepped back. She had not spilled one drop of the wine.
Yet her heart went haphazard at her revelation, pulsing in her chest, challenging the iron walls she thought she had it encased.
"Your heart is taken, Sir Hellsing."
It hit a ledge in its series of beats. "No, I—"
"Whoever they are, they are lucky. It's rare, you know, especially for a girl with my…inclinations, to find someone so…enchanting as you." Alicia's eyes were wide and bright, but her words came out calmly. "I hope they deserve you. I hope they know what they have. It would be a pity, if they ended up being careless."
What was Alucard to her?
She asked this on her way back in the Rolls-Royce, an arm against the window, watching the London skyline blur into sunset.
Her stained fingers rested on her lips. To an outsider, she would have appeared to be in thought, which she was—but she was also chasing after the ghost of the kiss.
Alicia Aynsley had been enchanting on her own. The kiss had been chaste but sweet. So why was it that she had been unable to banish Alucard from her mind the entire time?
Alucard was hers. It was inherent, first and foremost. Then came the nature of his being, a monster, her monster—and then he was her servant, which was the baseline they operated upon. Other nouns had come and gone according to requirement. He had been her savior. Her protector. He had been her tutor, in Romanian and a few choice subjects. He was her dog, when he was in the mood to debase himself. He was her weapon. Her burden. Her constant shadow.
Strange, how they all fell short of containing what her heart had pulsated with.
He had once been her knight. Yet she had relieved him of that. She had become her own knight, there was no need for fairy tales. And when she had told him so, in jest, using the words she had spoken when she sat down beside his corpse in the cell—"It seems I no longer have to wish for a knight in shining armor"—he had grinned, as she had known he would.
"Yes, my Master."
Nothing had been out of place. He had been eager for her to be formally presented her mantle.
His eyes had been delicate.
"My lady, you seem distracted. Are you all right?" Walter asked, observing her reflection with concern from the driver's seat.
Integra watched the sun weave in and out of sight, scarlet-black-scarlet-black, colors of the vampire she had left at home. They crossed a bridge, and the zoetrope of white struts coalesced in her mind into a parasol. Under it was a face framed in black hair. The pale mouth curved, the parasol lifting to reveal scarlet eyes.
She wrenched her hand from her lips and dug her nails into her palm.
Twenty minutes later the Rolls-Royce slid into the manor drive. She did not wait for Walter to open her door and got out herself, entering, still in thought, the austerity of her home.
Her skin prickled with the sensation of shadows twisting and converging into the shape of a man. Integra abruptly realized she did not want to see him right now, but it was too late. Alucard inclined his head.
"Welcome back, my Master."
Her throat felt parched.
"Evening," she said.
Behind her, the manor doors swung shut. The current sent her jacket and her hair aflutter.
She saw the smile fade from his face.
He stood there, his eyes locked on hers—then slowly, following her every line and crease, they moved down to the stain on her glove; and then back up, to her lips.
His eyes found hers again.
They were dark.
"Did you…enjoy yourself?"
She met him steadily.
She moved to his side. The air was static. She continued past. "Do not disturb me," she said, to Walter who was just coming in, to Alucard, and she walked up the flight of stairs to her bedroom.
She was not feeling guilty.
After bathing, dressing, sitting on her bed, staring at a stack of documents on her night table and futilely willing them to combust, Integra rested her head on her fingertips.
Why was she feeling guilty? She owed Alucard nothing. There was nothing he could say against her decision to kiss a girl or a boy for that matter. She did not have to feel—
Yet she did.
Alucard was her servant, for God's sake, she owned him. That was all there was to it, she would never let it become anything else—
—but underneath her voice whispered, you've never kissed him before, I wonder what he tastes like.
Of course, Integra was well aware how dangerous Alucard could be.
His appearance was crafted to lure prey. His beauty was a facade. He knew how to use his tongue to form words that would make her shiver. He was her weapon, but he was also the cumulation of everything the weapon was supposed to destroy.
Alucard, whom she watched. He was so full of himself watching her that he hardly seemed to notice, but those times when she gave herself little paper cuts which she refused to let him heal, when he fixated on her bare fingers and the drying blood, a waste of a perfectly good snack; she would slip on her gloves and allow herself a smile.
And why would not there be pleasure at knowing Alucard, who was once king, would shamelessly debase himself for a single drop of her blood?
She could, if she wanted.
She always had.
Hellsings were good at denial. Abraham, who had been in denial about the possibility of a female heir down the line. Arthur, who had been in denial about the executive ability of his brother's nepoticidal tendencies. Integral, who was in denial about her feelings.
It was their own brand of madness.
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here.'
Integra laughed in the quiet of her bedroom. Would she deny herself?
Her fingers fell from her face and they moved downward, over her neck, her clavicle—she had dressed in a chemise and shorts after the bath and thrown on a clean dress shirt. She ventured under the silk, brushing the swell of her breasts.
She imagined cold fingers.
Integra dropped her hand, catching her breath, and grabbed the stack of documents.
Their edges were not sharp enough to cut her.
It was several hours later when she set her pen down and pushed the documents aside. Her vampire had scoffed at her for bringing work even into bed, but what else would she do to occupy the silence before sleep?
Her throat was parched. Integra buttoned up her shirt over the chemise as she made to leave her room for a cup of tea. Walter had knocked, but she had not answered, and he would have left the tray in the kitchens. It was late enough that the personnel would have retired, and she knew the halls would be dark.
In the night, the manor had a particular brand of oppression. Many had died here and many more would, herself included, if she had her way. Integra curled her lips at her own morbidity. She reached the stairs and her slippered feet took the first step.
"Did you enjoy yourself, Sir Hellsing?" said a cold voice right into her ear.
She whipped her head around. Nothing. Just an expanse of darkness.
The stairs did look blacker than usual.
Integra continued down the stairs. When she reached the middle, something tangible brushed against her exposed ankle. She stopped, fighting a sigh.
"Alucard," she said.
"Did you enjoy the little kiss? To think, all those times I disposed of those worthless maggots from your sight and it turns out I had been targeting the wrong sex."
The gall of him. "Oh, what are these words I am hearing?" Integra murmured, deceptively calm. "Are they my servant's, undermining his master's choice?"
There was quiet. And then, reluctant laughter.
"No, my Master."
His voice was different. Still his, yet with an undertone of something else.
"I simply don't want you to assume you lack options."
Integra crossed her arms on the balustrade and peered down into the darkness where the voice was coming from. It appeared her vampire had manipulated the area for his demonstration. Typical. "What options do I have left, if you will drive out all of them?"
A pale blur whisked in the depths. "Your humble servant merely wishes to weed out those unworthy."
"Humble?" She snorted. "How is this humble, Alucard? Unworthy? I had no idea my suitors had to earn your seal of approval prior to my kiss."
The shadows rippled.
She could not believe how childish he was being. "Enough. Show yourself if you insist on committing to this farce."
"If that is what my Master wants," the voice said gleefully.
A girl came forth. She was wearing white. It was barely a shade different than her flesh, which was snowy and biting even from the distance. Her hair was cut from the shadows, framing her face in sharp edges. Her gaze gleamed scarlet under the fringe, and Integra thought, Almost as if he knew.
It was the same face she had imagined earlier in the day.
The girl leered at her with eyes that were bordering on unnaturally large. "I should give the Angel of Death a heart attack with this, I reckon."
Ah, so this was the form he had taken during the war. Integra had heard him allude to it before.
She did not say anything, however, and the girl tilted her head coquettishly. He—she—seemed more lethal in this form. "Am I not beautiful, Integra?"
Integra continued to stare at her. "Come closer."
The girl approached the side of the stairs right underneath Integra, where at her height her line of sight was level with her feet. She licked her lips, her scarlet eyes trailing up the toned legs, when they snapped to attention. Integra leaned over the balustrade and stretched a hand down to her face. A finger traced its slope, not quite touching the snowy skin, and Integra watched the pupils dilate. How cold her vampire was.
"Yes, you are very beautiful," she said quietly. "Well done. Now that I have satisfied your vanity, return to your true face."
"True face?" the girl giggled. "Why would I have such a thing? The shape of a body means nothing to me. I am whatever you desire."
Integra chuckled without humor. "Whatever I desire?"
"If what you desire is female companionship, I will give it to you." Her eyes were very red.
And delicate, Integra had always thought.
"You do put on a convincing display," she replied. "But what's in it for you? Why all this?" She knew why.
"A lady does not let just anyone win her favor. The lady must enact a series of ordeals for her knights to overcome. Isn't that how it worked in those tales you used to adore as a child?" The girl curled her lips. "Those little pests at those parties have a long way to go before they are fit to even lick your boots."
"You know exactly what this sounds like, don't you?" Integra whispered.
She feigned innocence. "What does this sound like?"
"Sounds like…" Integra used two of her fingers to draw a line along the cheek, still not touching the skin. "You are saying…" She held her fingers near that deadly mouth which twisted and trembled at her daring. "That I should not settle for anyone who is not…" She let it trail off.
The girl dared to move closer, so that Integra's fingertips that had hovered a centimeter above the skin were now at one-tenth of it. The shadows had loomed up. They swarmed over the balustrade, waves of lost souls clamoring for her justification.
"Should not my Master deserve great beauty, if her tastes lie in the fairer sex?"
"Then answer me this, Servant," Integra said. "Why should I settle for a monstrous beauty?"
The shadows dropped.
Integra withdrew her hand. She was, of course, ever the vampire hunter.
"I confess myself surprised. I thought you would be amused more than anything, that your frigid master finally let herself be kissed, by a girl, no less." She went down the rest of the stairs, ignoring how heavy her steps were. "One wonders how you would have reacted if I had chosen to take it further."
"Yes, one does wonder. Or perhaps I have no need to. You are Arthur's daughter, after all, he did prefer this face over the others."
A rough laugh escaped her, and she turned sharply on her heel once she was on the floor.
"I forbid you to move," Integra said, pushing power into her words.
The waifish facade stood rooted in place, only the eyes gaining in intensity as Integra crossed the distance between them. She halted a foot apart. Then she leaned forward, slowly, angling her face as if she was about to kiss—and stopped. Her breath fanned the carnivorous mouth with warmth.
"Alucard," she said. "Why are you jealous? I was never yours."
She had not ordered him to be silent, so he echoed in her mind, Are you not? Are you not my Master?
"I am. And as I am your master, you have no say in who I kiss or who I might invite to my bed." She gave him time to stew over this. "Besides, I think you are forgetting I was knighted two years ago. I am no longer a mere lady, and you have ceased to be my knight."
He could not move, but he desperately wanted to. She could feel his shadows screaming for it.
"That being said, as my own knight, I shall choose my own ordeals." Integra sighed, and kissed him.
It was, ostensibly, as chaste as the day's, yet this time she felt the pressure so acutely that she did break. She touched him at last, her fingers landing on his white skin, hitching on his cheekbones, and his chill rose to meet her and then succumbed to her heat. Her lips brushed firmly against his, once, twice before parting, her tongue darting out for a taste.
He tasted of blood.
She had not expected anything less.
The girl's mask was daintier and softer than the one she was used to. Integra dug her nails into the flesh, desiring, for a wild moment, to tear it off. Or to see it painted so prettily with the blood of her enemies. She knew he could glimpse her desire; his eyes, the only part of him he could not change or keep still, burned her.
Her ordeal as a knight was to not let him burn her. But could she not allow it, just this once?
Ah, but what could he do? This was his penance.
"What will you do now? You don't even know," she accused.
Alucard had gone silent on his own. Only his eyes, red and carnal and delicate, pleaded with her.
"What will you do, if I told you that earlier I didn't go further with the kiss, because it felt wrong? Because I thought it should be cold?"
She made sure to press down on her command when she felt him lash out from afar, like the distant tremors of an earthquake. Integra breathed. Her heart was proving cumbersome today. She wondered if she could not simply carve it out. "Alucard. Well done. You have infiltrated my thoughts without needing to be present and won precedence. But what does that matter?"
Integra withdrew and regarded him clinically. The edges of the facade were blurring. She gave him twenty seconds.
"All your taunts and you never consider the consequence," she hissed.
She left him there and went up, storming into her room, shutting the door.
She heard it, the crawling, the heaving of souls that comprised him at her heels. They battered at the threshold, at her tacit refusal to allow him entry. Integra, they keened. Integra. Integra.
She lit a cigar and let the smoke spiral into the air. Her heart was not calming. She threw herself into the seat of her vanity. Fuck. She was blushing. And she had thought herself immune to his antics by now. A glint caught her eye, and she grabbed her cravat which she had left in front of the mirror, with the silver cross attached. Integra squeezed the cross until her knuckles whitened and the tips carved indents on her palm.
She stayed like that until half the cigar had turned into ash. Silence had descended, weighing down so much she was expecting the ceiling to cave.
"Enter," she said sharply.
The doors creaked open, and an entity of black and red embers crawled in.
"Do you repent, Servant?"
"Master," rasped the man somewhere in the mass of shadows.
Integra released her cravat but held its ends. She unpinned the silver cross. She met him at the foot of her bed, her face blank.
He knelt, becoming more solid, and Integra made her decision. She removed her glasses and set them aside.
She tautened the cravat in both hands. "You will decide which face to wear."
His shoulders were tense. He seemed wary of her revoke. Integra lifted the fabric to her eyes and tied a knot at the back of her head.
"I hope you do know what to do," she warned. "If not, you'll only have yourself to blame."
She heard him moan.
Dimly lit as her room had already been, the makeshift blindfold plunged her into an abyss. Yet she had never been afraid of the dark. She had hid for hours in the vents, and she had sat next to a corpse in a cell under a lamp just as dead. And she had never been afraid of Alucard.
He was hers, after all.
The touch started at her feet. She had to steel herself not to jump. There was a chuckle at her ear, yet it was subdued, and his hands trembled. They slid one foot out of its slipper, stroking the sole. And, slowly, he kissed it.
She had been standing. Again, she had excellent balance, but she was blind now, and the kiss made her waver. He caught her, his arms winding around her waist, and sat her on her bed.
Integra grabbed his arms. "Wait."
Alucard stilled obediently. He was so tall, even on his knees; his hair tickled her chin. She dragged her hands along his arms, finding them in leather—ah, was he in that form? The prospect had her insides clench. She loosened them from her, ignoring his displeased growl, and tugged one of his hands up. Her fingers fit into the slots between his, and peeled his glove off.
He pushed his head into her breast. "Integra."
His bare hand was a rare sight—not that she could see it presently, but she could feel the cold smoothness, how long his digits were and how they tapered. The hand that had destroyed nations lay limp in her grasp. She pressed it to her lips.
He let out an inhuman noise, and then she was shoved onto her back with him looming over her.
"Whichever face I wish? Will you want this even if I am but a desiccated body you found in your basement?" The hand she had kissed, which now pinned hers above her head, shriveled, and she heard the scurry of the creatures he heralded. The other, still gloved, thrust beneath her shirt and scratched at her silk chemise.
"Perhaps not," she conceded, "but you are vain, and you need your masquerade more than I do."
Alucard laughed, and it sounded brittle. "You are truly my Master." He quieted, and descended to latch onto her neck.
Integra had a vague idea of how she looked, blindfolded and vulnerable under her vampire, the monster she was duty-bound to exterminate—but she was human, and humans always had exceptions, and she made one such when rows of deadly teeth grazed against her throat. Her head fell to the side. Then his teeth snagged on the collar of her shirt and tore, the buttons pelting the floor.
"Messy," she scolded, and he laughed again, more himself than before.
He was on his knees above her and not close enough. She wanted the current of his need and want to drown hers so that she may wake up in the morning quenched. Integra knocked her legs into his and forced him to collapse. The weight, though, was lighter than she anticipated. He spoke and his voice was coy. "Has no one taught you patience, Integra?"
His female form. Integra retaliated by yanking her hand out of captivity and seizing locks of his hair, kissing him harshly this time, pushing her tongue into that dainty yet deadly mouth. The power that the form possessed was not dainty at all and his claws ripped into the flimsy remainder of her modesty.
Integra, my Master, do you know how much blood I have shed upon my mock throne after you returned with another's scent on your lips, that which I could taste only in my most depraved dreams? You were never mine, but I would tear apart those who would dare claim you, you are mine alone, my Master—his nonsensical words susurrated in her mind as his hands, contrary to their prior violence, held her bared body reverently.
Perhaps the blindfold had been a hasty idea. She was feeling too much. She gasped into his mouth, bucking her hips into his when his naked fingers swept between her legs. But somehow it was not enough. She wanted to feel his body in its entirety. And when inevitably she cut herself on his teeth, her only thought was, I should see his lips painted red.
His tongue scoured her mouth for the cut and she remembered it lapping up the blood she had spilled from her bullet wound. Her fate had been sealed that day. Integra knew this. She had always known this.
Alucard drew back and she heard him snicker. "My Master, you are blushing."
"Shut up!" She jabbed an elbow into his ribcage and was startled to strike skin. What, had he just banished his clothes?
Her old tension rose at the implication of him bare and unfettered before her, and she sat up. He came up with her, and she felt in the darkness his shoulders, his arms—his body had changed yet again. The one she was now touching was hard and rough. She frowned; it did not seem like his usual. Her hands traversed his chest and its coarse hair.
She stilled, and then she pushed him down onto the sheets. He went willingly, eagle-spread beneath her. Her hands traveled over scars, and she heard him moan her name in a voice deeper and accented.
Integra untied the cravat.
The red fabric drifted to the floor. Integra waited until her vision adjusted, and though her eyesight was poor, she could make out the lines under his red, red eyes.
"Who are you?"
His voice echoed in her head. You tell me.
"The king? The voivode?"
I am none of those things.
"You were once before."
And what good did that do?
"What should I call you, then?"
Whatever you desire.
She hit his chest in frustration. He laughed, craning his neck and spoke in her ear. "My Master, only you can bestow me a title."
"Is that how it's going to be? New titles, in the knight and the lady's stead?"
"Even monsters need words to define themselves with, do they not?" he said softly.
Integra looked at him with clear blue eyes, her fair hair shrouding his scars and tangling in his eager black locks. "I am but a knight. I cannot bestow titles."
"Ah, but you are my Master, and that supersedes all."
"A title that is not of a king, a title that is not new. A tall order…" She smirked. "Count."
And what he was once deprived of, came back to him, little by little. His coffin. His title. His justification.
"Count, enough talk, or I shall think that is all your mouth is good for."
"If that is what my Countess desires," he said, and swallowing her remark, he pulled her into his arms.