Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing hated rumors.
Unfortunately, though, it was a part of doing business. After all, the stuffy rich men on her counsel were as chatty as housemaids, especially about things that were none of their business. They prided themselves in being "knowledgeable," even though it was a false idea someone hadn't corrected them on. Most of the time, the gossip never made it to her night table, but on this particular occasion, it had.
And naturally, it had been Alucard's fault.
Integra suffered from a lot of things the average twenty-two year old didn't have to deal with--rampant nightmares, stress headaches, brutal coughing spells from her cigarillos--and one that had been getting steadily worse had been her tense muscles and sore bones. Every time it rained, her joints creaked and cracked and popped like the fireplace in her main drawing room. She couldn't bear the thought of hiring a masseuse. She didn't want any person she didn't know touching her naked skin and she didn't want to even entertain the thought, so she suffered in silence...until one particularly bad day.
Everything had gone wrong. She had reports stacked all over her desk and she'd been woken up at dawn to get started on them, as she had a new influx of them coming every hour on the hour. Walter had been ferrying it back and forth on carts, bringing her tea in the hopes it would soothe her, but she was angry and sore and exhausted by the time it was midday.
She collapsed back in her chair, but winced as her tight shoulders and spine complained. No matter what kind of chair or cushion she used, it provided no relief. It was her.
Integra sighed and rubbed her sinuses as she felt a headache brewing along her temples.
"Master," Alucard said smoothly, having materialized out of literally nothing to her left. "Perhaps you should take a break."
"When I want your advice, I'll jam it down your damnable throat, Alucard," she snarled, mostly because he'd actually managed to spook her that time. To her surprise, he didn't make a joke or a lewd comment. He merely rested one large, gloved hand on the arm of her chair and leaned in, his blood-soaked irises wide and intently focused on her frowning visage.
"Master," he said softer still. "You are on the verge of becoming ill during a tumultuous time in the Hellsing organization. Take a break."
She narrowed her wintry eyes at him. "You don't give me orders, servant."
"No," he said, smirking. "But I can see straight through your bravado. You ache all over. At the rate you're going, Walter will have to drug you and put you on bedrest for a week. It's illogical, as taking a break and relaxing will prevent such action."
Integra dug into her cigar box and lit a cigarillo. "The tobacco helps. Go away."
The vampire sighed. "Stubborn woman."
Alucard chuckled. The sound rolled down her body and she suppressed a shiver. He enjoyed her reaction to his disturbing laughter far too much. But it was still less harmful than some of his...other fancies.
She expected him to wander off, having been rebuffed, but he didn't. She started to tell him to go away again, but she found that the simple act of standing there had already helped her relax just the slightest bit. Alucard had the reverse effect around everyone else. She used to question herself for actually feeling safer when he was in the room, considering his favorite activity was killing everything in sight.
She brushed her thoughts aside and concentrated on the paperwork while Alucard hovered nearby. After a moment, she heard a rustle of cloth. He'd moved. Closer.
Then, to her shock, his hands settled on her shoulders.
She immediately tensed, whipping her head around to demand what he was doing, until his fingers began a rolling motion over her shoulder blades.
He was...giving her a massage.
"Alucard," Integra said, gobsmacked. "What on earth are you doing?"
"The simplest solution to our current predicament," the vampire replied.
"Since when is it 'our' predicament?"
"You are tired and sore. You cannot give me orders this way, when your head is unclear because of the pain. This will prevent such pain."
She opened her mouth to tell him it wouldn't work, but...as she sat there, she felt little uncomfortable spots in her back loosening and the sharp bits of pain dissipating. Integra seethed. She hated it when he was right.
Integra sighed. "Very well, servant. You may continue until I say otherwise."
"Thank you, master," he said with the utmost sarcasm. She was one hundred percent sure he'd rolled his eyes. Impudent bastard.
She returned her gaze to the paperwork, filling out the next several pages while the vampire steadily worked at her shoulders, starting high and creeping lower one moment at a time. She realized some time later he'd literally phased through the chair in order to reach her lower back and almost laughed at the mental picture of how odd it must have looked. He flattened his huge hands over the small of her back and pressed his thumbs against her spine. How easily he could break her back and paralyze her for life. How could such destructive hands provide this much...pleasure?
Integra jumped as she heard Alucard chuckling right next to her ear. "Why, master, I'm blushing."
"Shut up," she growled. "And stay out of my head."
"I wasn't in your head," he murmured, and she could hear his smile. "Your body language has betrayed you, Sir Integra."
"Silence, servant, or I'll lock you in your coffin for a month."
He clucked his tongue and moved away. A tiny part of her cried out in protest. Her muscles felt so warm and pliant now. She wanted more, dammit. Damned talented vampire. "The lady doth protest too much."
She was about to shoot another insult his way when his hands closed around her neck.
Integra stiffened. He wouldn't dare.
Then, a second later, he gently began caressing the nape of her neck and the delicate bones leading up to the base of her skull. Integra bit her lip. A moan had almost slipped out. That would have been incredibly embarrassing.
Alucard nudged her flowing ash-blonde locks across her shoulder and massaged away the tension in her neck. She could hear him breathing a little harder, a little deeper, and she didn't want to admit she was doing the same thing. Her cheeks felt flushed. Her glasses were fogging up, so she removed them and leaned her arms on the desk, letting him work his magic.
"Master," Alucard whispered, his hot breath in her ear. "Are you relaxed now?"
"Mm," she mumbled drowsily. "Yes, my count."
"Very good, my countess. I am glad to have...pleased you."
She frowned slightly at his phrasing, and then realized that the intimate gesture had elicited a certain kind of reaction from her. She'd shed her suit jacket a long while ago, leaving her in just a button-down shirt and trousers. She could feel that her nipples had tightened and stiffened beneath her bra, and the space between her inner thighs had gotten hotter, damper, under Alucard's careful touch. She hadn't even realized it until he said something.
"Should it ever come to mind," he whispered, wrapping his long arms around her shoulders and pressing his cheek to hers. "There are other, more intimate ways in which I can help you relax, my master."
Before she could respond, the doors to her office flew open and one of the advisors, Sir Remington, came barreling in yelling her name and brandishing a stack of papers in one hand. There was a maid behind him who looked as if she'd tried to stop him on the way there. Walter usually handled such things, but he'd left the grounds to run some errands.
"Sir Integra, this is unacceptable! You--" Sir Remington stopped dead and stared.
Alucard, to his very little credit, had stood the moment the doors opened, but he was still halfway phased through the chair and his hands rested protectively on Integra's shoulders. She dared to even think it looked rather...possessive.
Annoyed, Integra stood and Alucard's hands fell away. She affixed her glasses to her face and gave Sir Remington a cold, angry stare. "What is so unacceptable, Sir Remington, that you would barge into my office uninvited?"
His eyes darted between her and the vampire behind her. Clearly, he hadn't thought Alucard would be in here. She could see sweat beading on his forehead and his pupils dilating in fear. Sure, he was a big, proud hound dog when they were alone, but with Alucard nearby, he suddenly remembered his leash.
Remington licked his lips and held out the papers. "This budget is not what we agreed. We need to call a meeting tomorrow to discuss it."
She accepted the stack. "Very well. I'll call the others."
"See that you do." He straightened his suit coat and stomped off. Integra waved to the maid, stopping her before she could apologize to let her know she was forgiven. The door to her office shut once more.
Then, Alucard spoke. "I could deliver his spine to you as a Christmas present. Tied up like a bow and everything."
Integra wasn't laughing. No. It was just the cigarillo smoke tickling the back of her throat.
She thought nothing of the massage and Remington's interruption until the next day at the budget meeting. When she walked in, they all went silent, which was immediately telling. They'd been gossiping alright. None of them but Remington met her eye as she stepped into the meeting room and took her seat at the head of the table. She sighed inwardly. Maybe she should have taken Alucard up on his generously violent offer.
"Gentlemen," she said politely, though with an edge. "What seems to be the problem? If it's the budget, I assure you we don't need a full meeting for that--"
"It's not just the budget," Sir Remington interrupted, narrowing his eyes at her. She narrowed hers right back. She hated being interrupted, and especially by a man. "We have concerns."
He nodded grimly. "Concerns."
"Your relationship with the vampire."
Integra blinked, once, at a loss for words. "Come again?"
"There are concerns about your loyalty to this organization," Remington continued, stepping around the table to pace. "There are concerns that your...partnership with the vampire is putting you and our organization at risk."
Integra crossed her arms. "What kind of risk?"
"No one is incorruptible, Sir Integra. Especially with something as ancient and powerful as that monster. There have been concerns that he is manipulating you."
She scoffed. "And what brought this on?"
"What I saw in your office yesterday."
Integra took a long, deep breath. "That was none of your business. You came into my home, my office, uninvited. What I do with my free time is no concern of yours."
"It is when it involves that...that thing," Remington spat. "How could you bear to let it touch you? What else has it touched?"
Integra went very still then. "You're questioning my loyalty to this organization simply because he touched me. Me. His master."
"Are you still the master?" Remington said with the utmost disapproval. "Or has there been a change in management?"
Integra stared at him, then glanced at the men at her table. Again, none of them would meet her eye. On some level, they agreed with him.
Long, loud, and mocking.
They looked on in shock as her shoulders shook and she took her glasses off, placing them on the table. She reached for her cigar box and lit a cigarillo, then shrugged out of her suit jacket. The men tensed uncomfortably--after all, she was busty, and rarely did they ever see her in anything other than her thick, impenetrable suits. And she bloody wanted them to see.
"How brave you are," Integra said, inhaling smoke. "How impertinent. How disrespectful. Your growl is impressive, Sir Remington, but I know dogs when I see them, and I know which ones don't bite. The fact that you refuse to speak the name of the monster you're so concerned with tells me that you are a dog who doesn't bite."
Remington's face pinched up with anger. "Now, see here, Integra--"
"Sir Integra," she whispered, and it sent a chill down the spine of every man present.
"I will not be brushed off. We deserve an explanation for your actions."
Integra stared at him and smiled the way she would at a small child throwing a tantrum. Her lips parted.
The vampire simply faded into view at her side, his mad eyes blazing and fixed intently on Remington. The men at the table all jerked in fear and scooted their chairs away from the end of the table on reflex.
Integra reached into her pants pocket and withdrew a ponytail holder, offering it to the vampire. "If you would be so kind?"
"Of course, master," Alucard drawled, accepting the small item. He stepped forward and gently drew her length of perfumed, beautiful hair and began carefully piling it neatly into a bun at the back of her neck, as if it were the most natural thing in the world that Vlad the Impaler was standing there grooming her.
"Thank you, Alucard," Integra said sweetly, still staring right at the shocked Remington. "Would you mind terribly?"
"Not at all, my master," Alucard said, tipping his head in a bow. Once more, he phased his upper body right through the chair and began carefully, methodically, massaging her shoulders.
"Gentlemen," Integra said, unbuttoning her collar. "What you need to understand before you leave this room is that I am Integra Fairbook Wingates Hellsing. I do as I please. Not as you please. I am the head of this organization. I alone command it. I alone make the decisions that keep your fat, posturing necks away from the sharp, cruel blades that would slit them. I do not need your approval nor your condemnation for any of my actions. I have proven my loyalty a thousand times over with the countless lives I have saved in the name of our queen. I have stained my hands so that you may keep yours clean enough to write me a check when I need it."
She inhaled the cigarillo, her voice calm and even on the surface, but it rang with fury beneath it. "Alucard is mine. If I so wished, I could lay him out on this table right now and take him right in front of you. Merrily. And I wouldn't give a damn what you'd think either way. The Count and I are in perfect agreement in all our actions, and our relationship is one of mutual understanding and benefit."
She exhaled, and her voice came out subzero. "And if you ever question me again, you will find out exactly how Alucard reaps the benefits of his position as my servant. Do you understand me, gentlemen?"
She heard them all gulp. Remington looked as if he'd swallowed broken glass and lemon juice, his gaze fixated on the vampire massaging her shoulders with all the tenderness and professionalism of a high class masseuse. Integra watched the wheels turning in his head. Finally, the daft man put the pieces together. She felt confident enough to let the world's deadliest monster massage her shoulders. What fear did she have of him and of his accusations? What reason did he have to believe that Alucard had any influence over her whatsoever if he'd been this docile?
"Yes, Sir Integra," Remington muttered, and he stumbled into his seat.
"I am glad we were able to clear this matter up for all of you," Integra said blandly, tapping ashes onto her tray. She tilted her face slightly. "Thank you, Alucard."
He bowed deeply at the waist. "My pleasure, master."
He lifted his head just barely and stared at Sir Remington hungrily. "Am I dismissed?"
"You are, my count."
"Thank you, my countess."
He winked at Remington and said in perfect deadpan, "Woof."
He vanished. Every man in the room flinched as he did.
"Now then," Integra said, perching her glasses on the edge of her nose. "The budget."
Integra nearly wept with joy as she walked towards her bed. What a long, insufferable day. She wanted nothing more than to sleep it all off.
Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.
Integra heaved a weary sigh. Damn.
"Quite a show you put on today, my master," Alucard said from behind her. "I found myself tempted to bring popcorn."
"You played your part admirably," she said, plucking her hair free of the bun and shaking out her long tresses. "Thank you."
"It is my honor to serve you."
She sent him a narrow look over her shoulder. "I bet it is."
Alucard laughed. "How lewd, master. I would never compromise such a fair maiden."
"Oh, come off it, you tosser," Integra growled, setting the ponytail holder and her glasses on the nightstand. "We both know better. I am not some pure, whimpering sod for you to seduce."
"You are far from it," he agreed. "Still, I enjoyed your message to those blundering buffoons. I still wish you'd have let me put the fear of God in them."
"God they fear," she said, facing him with a fierce smile. "You, they fear more."
He tipped his head to her. "Only because of you. I am but a weapon. You are the one who aims, Sir Integra."
"Aim for me again, Count. One more for the road?"
Alucard chuckled, his bright, wicked eyes gleaming in the moonlight. "Of course, master."
She plopped down on the edge of her bed. The mattress pitched to one side, then the other. How strange it would be to wake up with Alucard's scent on her sheets. She nearly shuddered at the thought. Then again, what did he smell like? Old blood...fine leather...white linen...a little sandalwood...
She exhaled wistfully as his hands returned to her shoulders as if they belonged there. Every knot vanished under his fingers.
She didn't remember nodding off.
She just remembered the sensation of being lifted, the soft cushion of the pillow beneath her head, and then the briefest touch of something cold and soft over her lips before her dreams carried her off.