Her first thought upon awakening was that hell was significantly softer than she had been expecting.
Following which, it occurred to her to wonder why hell would contain flowers, linoleum floors, lumpy pillows, and a machine that went ping. Or, for that matter, what sort of hellish torture could possibly be devised from a bunch of tubes sticking out of her arm.
At which point, Heinkel Wolfe sighed, sat up, and reluctantly considered the likely possibility that she was not in hell, but was, in fact, lying in a hospital bed missing an arm and a leg and half of her face. After a brief moment of reflection, she decided that she probably would have preferred the alternative, all things being equal. At least in hell you knew what was what. Hospitals, on the other hand, managed to be an awfully unpleasant contradiction of sorts, brimming over with thoroughly unpleasant ways to 'help' you.
That was how she saw it, anyway. She'd never actually been to the hospital much, at least not since her rookie years. She was good at that sort of thing. Of course, a burning wasteland full of monsters and a razor wire nutcase never really helped your odds much, no matter how good you were.
She grit her teeth, or at least what was left of them. Could that have been a drop of wry humor? From her? God, she really must have snapped.
. . . No, she thought, after another moment's reflection. No, that was probably just the morphine. Beside her, the machine that went ping went ping, again.
She sat up farther, and tried to assess the situation. She was wearing a hospital gown, which made her feel utterly ridiculous and more than a little vulnerable, though as clothing it was fairly negligible compared to the miles of bandages that seemed to be covering most of her body. Her stumps, especially, felt as though they'd been swathed in layers of gauze three inches thick, at least. It hurt just to move, but she'd never let something like that stop her before. She probed the inside of her cheeks with her tongue, and felt stitches holding the jagged flesh together. She stretched her mouth experimentally, and winced at the sudden spike of pain.
The room itself was a stereotypical hospital-white. Air conditioner on too high. A vase of flowers, several days old, sitting on the bedside table, which was flanked, to her mild confusion, with what appeared to be several Get Well Soon cards. She was about to try and pick one up to examine it, when she heard a noise and her head snapped up in startled shock.
Heinkel glared across the room. Somehow – it was the drugs, had to be – she'd completely failed to notice the room's other occupant. Sloppy, she thought, suddenly panicked. Stupid. Especially considering just who it was in the room with her, slouching in a plastic chair against the opposite wall. A girl – a woman – skinny, blonde, with messy, angular hair that swept out in chaotic shocks away from the back of her neck. She was wearing headphones, and her eyes were closed, head bowed. She didn't seem to have noticed that Heinkel was even awake.
Seras Victoria. The Draculina.
Heinkel's eyes narrowed. It didn't matter how awful and vivid the war had been . . . for some reason nothing was ever going to stand out in her mind quite like the sight of a mad, bloodstained girl rocketing down from the blackened skies to hand her and the other agents their collective arses on a platter. That sort of thing just kind of stuck with you. Her hand went to her hip instinctively, but of course there was nothing there. Heinkel grunted. Not having her guns made her feel even more naked and vulnerable than the stupid hospital gown did.
She shrank against the wall, unsure of what to do, consumed, just for a second, with a burning and inexplicable desire to hide beneath the covers. What could she do, after all, in this situation? She was injured and unarmed, and trapped in a room with Hellsing's pet vampire, a ruthless monster, an abomination before God who was . . .
. . . Wearing a pink turtleneck. With a Hello Kitty brooch. And was . . . humming?
"Hmmm hmm-hm-hmmmm . . . "
Heinkel hesitated for a moment, and then opened her mouth. It hurt just to move her lips and her spit tasted like blood and her words were barely above a rasp, but she forced herself to speak anyway.
"What are you doing here?"
The vampire didn't look up. "Hmm hm-hmm, shiiii-hine down on meee . . . "
Heinkel shouted. It made her throat burn. "I said, what are you doing here?"
Seras started, and looked up, seeming to notice Heinkel for the first time. She snatched the headphones off and looked apologetically across at the other woman. "Sorry! Sorry!" she exclaimed, flustered. "I'm sorry, I didn't notice you were awake." She pointed to the headphones in explanation. "I was listening to Mr. Big, see."
Heinkel glared at the vampire with fresh suspicion. "Mr. Big? What's that? Some kind of . . . of code name for Sir Integral?
There was a long, stale pause.
Seras gave Heinkel a blank look. "Um. No." She tilted her head. "It's what's on my Walkman. Look, I don't think you should be sitting up like that, you're hurt bad and you were out for a really long time."
"Almost two months. Seven . . . no." Seras counted off on her fingers. "Eight weeks, today. Nobody thought you were gonna make it, but I guess they were wrong, huh?" She gave a friendly, encouraging grin. It was unnervingly pointy.
Heinkel's expression remained sour. "I don't see why I should trust anything you've got to say. You've obviously been sent to spy on me. Or worse."
The vampire snorted. "If I'd been sent here to kill you, I certainly wouldn't have waited this long to do it. And besides," she said, her voice suddenly hard, "I don't kill humans. Ever. No matter what anyone tells me to do." She glared at Heinkel seriously, but the Catholic simply returned her look with an incredulous sneer. She didn't have even a single reason to trust the girl. For all she knew, the hospital room was fake, they were really in some ridiculously deep sub-level of the Hellsing manor, and the vampire had just been sent to play mind-games with her.
For all she knew.
Heinkel sat up further. "Alright. So maybe you're not going to kill me. How do I know you're not supposed to be spying on me?"
Seras looked guilty, suddenly. "Ah, well, there's the thing, actually. I kind of am."
"I thought so. I knew I couldn't trust you, you damn monster." Heinkel tried to cross her arms indignantly, but found the action to be somewhat awkward considering that all she had left to cross was arm, singular. Seras, who had weathered the insult placidly, watched Heinkel's unbalanced defiance with a sympathetic expression.
"Oh, hey," she said, looking at Heinkel's bandaged stump. "I've absolutely been there." To demonstrate her point, she plucked the glove off of her left hand and rolled up the sleeve of her turtleneck. Underneath, her skin was completely black – it wasn't even real skin, Heinkel realized, but just more of that undulating, corporeal shadow, molded into a dummy arm. Seras waggled her fingers. They left little wispy contrails in the air behind them.
"It won't grow back for real, no matter how much blood I drink," Seras said. "I don't think I'll ever be able to get my actual hand back. And it was a bitch figuring out how to make my wing stay like this all the time, let me tell you."
"It's better than nothing," Heinkel growled.
"Ah, well." Seras shrugged, and rolled her sleeve back down. "You'll manage, I think. One way or another." She offered another smile, more cryptic this time. It was still sympathetic, but in a way that was just a little bit different than before. Heinkel narrowed her eyes. Was that pity?
She tried to force the conversation back to its original route. "You're avoiding the point, vampire. You've been spying on me."
Seras fidgeted, uncomfortably. "Well, now, lets not start jumping to conclusions. I was sent to spy on you, yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean I've been following my instructions precisely to the letter, you know?" She raised her eyebrows, nervously, with an expectant look. Heinkel didn't quite follow. She got the distinct feeling, though, that she had been meant to understand something she wasn't quite grasping. The girl sitting in front of her, Heinkel realized, could mow down entire regiments of monsters without thinking about it, and yet was spectacularly poor at explaining her own thoughts.
It was a funny sort of problem, Heinkel thought. It was . . . well, it was human.
She shook her head, trying to push the nagging thought away.
"What do you mean?"
"Well . . . " Seras shifted in her seat, staring off into space as she tried to explain. "My orders were to keep an eye on you. Hellsing thinks the Vatican has plans to make you the new trump card, something like that, so they wanted to know what I could find out about that."
Heinkel leaned back. "But you haven't found anything out yet."
"What are you talking about? Of course I have." Seras looked indignant. "Iscariot wants to make you their new regenerator. I heard them talking about it out in the hall a week ago." She glanced down at her fingernails, looking bored. "I mean, who wasn't expecting that? I don't see why they even bothered to send me at all. Common sense would have made a cheaper spy."
Heinkel froze, shocked and just the slightest bit terrified by the news that Seras had delivered so nonchalantly. A moment ago, she'd been bemoaning the loss of her limbs, but now that she was practically guaranteed to be regaining them she wasn't sure what to think. Was that the sort of existence she was willing to resign herself to? It wasn't as though she had much choice in the matter, though, if the order had come from on high.
"If that's the only reason you came, then why are you still here?"
"Ah. Well." Seras looked down and ran a hand through her hair, looking increasingly nervous. "Look, I . . . see, what it is, when I showed up, and that was a few weeks ago, you were completely out. You looked like a wreck, even worse than now. It . . . I mean, you were all alone, and all wrecked up, and, well . . . "
Heinkel frowned. "And what?"
"And nobody had even come to visit you!" Seras blurted out. She was leaning forward now, pensively, shoulders hunched. She turned her eyes back towards Heinkel. "I mean, I know it probably sounds stupid when I say it, but it just seemed wrong to me. And they weren't giving me any new orders, so I figured until they did I'd sort of, I don't know. Keep you company?"
There was a long, silent pause. Seras glanced down again, looking sheepish. ". . . Bloody hell," she said, quietly, after a while. "That does soundstupid when I say it out loud."
Heinkel leaned back, slowly, entirely unsure of what to say. The frown had vanished, completely, and now she simply stared at the other woman, utterly confused as to what her reaction was supposed to be.
"You've . . . you've just been sitting here, for weeks?"
Seras looked back up. "Of course I haven't just been sitting here. That would've been silly. I talked a lot. And then I ran out of things to say for a while, so I went and found this." She reached into her bag, and emerged with a mildly singed novel, which she held up proudly. "I found it back at the British Library. What's left of the British Library, anyway. This is the first one I could find that still had all of its pages."
Heinkel leaned forward, peering at the worn book. The Fox and the Hound, by Daniel P. Mannix. Her brow furrowed in further confusion. "You've been reading to me?"
"Well, sure." Seras' expression was one of complete innocence. "What's wrong with that?"
"Look it's just that . . . " Heinkel hesitated, not entirely sure of how to explain things, or even what it was she was trying to explain in the first place. Before she could think of something to say, though, Seras' head snapped up, and she started out of her chair in surprise. Heinkel followed her gaze.
Three men in cassocks and dark glasses stood at the door, imposingly. Backup, Heinkel thought. With bloody perfect timing as well. Her frown returned, deeper this time.
It only took a second for each of the newly arrived Iscariots to produce a weapon and level it at Seras. She looked at them, uncertain, then swore quietly to herself and leveled a halfhearted accusing finger at Heinkel.
"Um, and that's, that's just a warning! You, um." Seras hesitated. " . . . You Catholic," she finished, lamely, with hardly any force behind the words. "Next time I won't go easy on you, right? You'd, um, you'd better watch out!"
She took a few halting steps backward, glanced up at the agents in the door again, and then vanished clumsily through the wall and out of sight. A few wispy bits of shadow marked the spot where she had left, and then those faded out as well.
The room was quiet for a long time. Heinkel met the confused stares of her fellows, and did her best to look as innocent as possible. It took an extra bit of effort to keep her eyes off the floor when a hand poked up through it to retrieve the bag it had left behind, but she was almost positive that nobody else noticed.
Heinkel did her best to pay attention to what the other agents were saying – nothing important, mostly hollow congratulations on pulling through – but the entire time, her mind was elsewhere, trying to decipher just what had happened earlier. Finally after a brief update on the state of things since the war (which mostly amounted to a very, very long list of the dead), the others left, and Heinkel was left alone in her quiet, unpleasantly bright hospital room with the air conditioning on too high and the machine that went ping.
She sat still for a while, and then, when she was quite sure that nobody else was coming, she carefully reached out and read one of the cards on the table next to her bed. And then another, and then another.
They were all from Seras. Heinkel tried her best to feel surprised, but didn't manage it quite as well as she would have liked.