The first time Integra lets Seras Victoria braid her hair, it is the night the war ends. She emerges from her second shower clean in body but feeling filthy nonetheless, and her hair is splayed fresh and damp across her back.
She has bandaged her eye with a clean cravat and hydrogen peroxide. The sting of it is almost comparable to the sting of loss that she feels. The sudden blind spot on her left is starting to give her a headache, but Integra knows it is the least of her worries. To top it off she feels queasy at the smell of dead flesh and burnt bones that will hang over England for months to come, but most of the windows and doors have been blown in so she cannot shut them.
Seras visits her quarters, a tentative stance behind firm eyes, looking a little lost. It is understandable. A solid-looking shadow of an arm and hand protrude from her left shoulder now that there is no one left to fight. She informs Integra that she has removed all of the bodies from the mansion, and asks her if she needs anything. Integra stares at the moon outside, a grayish pink boil behind all the smoke, and answers, “Comb my hair, Seras.”
Seras’s boots leave red prints on the carpet as she walks in. Although Integra’s private chambers are mostly intact, it is near impossible to step anywhere unbloodied. Integra is sitting on the edge of her bed, holding out a soft-toothed brush. Seras removes her glove, takes the brush, and combs slowly, working through the snags. The act of brushing is not anything important on its own, and it seems a trifle ludicrous in comparison to all that has happened, but there is something necessary about it. Intimate, almost.
“Not too rough, Sir?” Seras asks.
“Fine, Seras,” Integra answers. “Mind the bandage. And when taking an order you will address me as Master.” She does not say it unkindly.
Seras’s expression is somber, though Integra cannot see. “Yes, Master.”
Once the hair is combed, Seras runs it through her fingers. It is thick and straight, easily divisible into three parts. She knows that Integra prefers to wear it down, yet she cannot help but...
Integra feels the gentle pull at her skull and her hair being swept away from her face. She realizes what Seras is doing and closes her eye.
“They put people on spears and danced with them in the streets of London as the bridges burned,” she says after a minute, not entirely sure why she does so. “I’ll have to meet with Islands and Walsh tomorrow. They are all that remain of the Round Table.”
“Would you like me with you?” Seras asks.
Integra opens her eye. “Of course,” she replies. “And Seras. I want you to retrieve Alucard’s seal. Keep it intact and put it in his coffin, will you?”
“O-of course, Master.” There is silence for a minute, apart from the crackle of distant fires and the breathing of one pair of lungs.
“ ‘When all his feathers be from him gone, He standeth still here as a stone,’ ” Integra recites suddenly. Her gaze is fixed on a splash of dried blood in the hall outside and she sighs.
Seras frowns, still braiding. “Sir?”
“The Ripley Scroll,” Integra says. “Once this mess is taken care of I would advise you to look into the alchemical arts, Seras. They might do you some good.”
Seras finishes with the ends of Integra’s hair, and, finding nothing to tie it with, places the braid over Integra’s right shoulder. Some of it begins to unwind. Integra inspects it for a moment before gently tossing it behind her.
“Not bad,” she says as she tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “Where did you learn to braid?”
For the first time that night, Seras smiles.
“I didn’t, Sir,” she says.
The Airship Affair stands as the most incorrectly-reported terrorist incident in British history. Most agree that it was an organized raid by fanatics, they attacked from the skies, and a lot of people died. Then, thanks to the British government, things get blurry.
In all actuality, telling the press that genetically modified vampire Nazis leftover from the Third Reich returned to wipe out Count Dracula is bound to create some consternation, not to mention Iscariot’s failed Protestant genocide. The Royal Order of the Protestant Knights, the Prime Minister, and the Queen deal with the media reports directly, though they know that the survivors will talk eventually. Whether they will be believed is another story entirely.
The incident lasted only fourteen hours in total. It was an internecine, feculent massacre, and one incapable of being called a pyrrhic victory because no one is really sure who won. Fortunately, the enemy was defeated without England resorting to a nuclear alternative. Not so fortunately, there are almost four million deaths in the UK alone, and the morticians are kept busy around the clock. What’s left of the Epping Forest is used for coffins.
Aside from the therapy fees and the thousands of pounds of hush money, one thing that remains successfully covered up is the second death toll. Integra calculates this one personally, and is as thorough as circumstances will allow.
With few exceptions, the second death toll is almost identical to the official one, as it’s for the ghouls.
The difference between having Alucard as a servant and having Seras as one is perhaps greater than the difference between night and day, but it does not fully hit Integra until Seras requests type B packets. Integra gets most of her blood from the Ipswich Blood Bank, as her father had done, and when Seras comes to her one afternoon a month later Integra does not know quite what to say.
“It’s, well…Captain Bernadette,” Seras explains. She does not need to, as Integra knows that Seras has not had any human or vampire blood since the Affair. Nonetheless, it makes Integra pause at her papers (blueprints for repairs of the Hellsing demesne) and stub out her Winterman in the ashtray.
Seras had died two months shy of her twentieth birthday. Three years younger than Integra but nearly ten in spirit at the start, war had turned her from a broken weapon—an ingénue with a Harkonnen—to a titan of the earth.
Though Integra’s father had understood the nature of them well, he had never regarded vampires as actual people. As such, Integra had never given Alucard the chance to be a person until it had been too late. With Seras, she thinks she can finally do so. She can have not only a servant but a friend. God knows she sorely needs one.
Integra regards Seras for a moment longer before closing her eye and straightening her cravat.
“Very well, Seras,” she says.
Germany, quite frankly, is embarrassed.
London ends up receiving financial support from thirty-six different countries around the world. France and Switzerland send volunteers over to help clean the Thames. Russia has stand-ins fill in for the National Defense Agency. Even Brazil comes to their aid, despite the damage they suffered at the hands of the undead. Integra donates a third of her family’s fortune to rebuilding London’s monuments: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Imperial Museum.
The biggest aid, however, comes from Germany herself. In addition, the leader of Germany makes a public statement saying that he has never been so ashamed of his country’s history and that he intends to take full responsibility for the actions of his people. A man after Integra’s own heart.
Integra knows that, to some extent, she caused this. Alucard’s existence was a prodromal for war, and her family is responsible for Alucard’s existence. She is responsible for Alucard’s existence. It keeps her awake most nights, and sometimes she cries a little, but she is strong enough that she does not resort to drink like her father once did.
Sometimes she thinks that if not for Seras, she would have.
The Queen invites her to tea one morning in June. Integra puts on one of the two skirts that she owns and brings along a box of imported Darjeeling tea. They sit in the late-blooming garden under an umbrella faintly stained with ash and talk about repairs and money and things admittedly British.
The lines on the Queen’s face have deepened, and the bones of her knuckles protrude like old doorknobs on her hands. Integra thinks she looks as strong as ever.
The Queen asks if Alucard will return. It sounds like a business inquiry to most, but Integra can recognize the question for what it is: sentiment. She chooses her words carefully.
“Certainly,” she says. “But it may be a while.”
There is a war memorial in late September, and Integra is asked to speak on behalf of the fallen citizens. It is raining, as it often does at these kinds of things, and the service lasts for three and a half hours. Later she will catch bronchitis, but her speech becomes known as The Grave among Londoners and is regarded as one of the most powerful addresses since Churchill’s We Shall Fight on the Beaches.
The Grave was not for soldiers who had fought bravely in battle. It was for Londoners who had been massacred in the most violating ways possible. Integra speaks and remembers counting over forty infant corpses, some thrown into the gutters like newspaper after a storm.
People are weeping by the end, and Hugh Islands actually puts an arm around Integra’s shoulders. Integra looks away, thinking of the empty coffins that lie beneath her and the hungry worms who have a century of feasting to look forward to.
Her eye socket itches.
The first five years are the hardest. The stress of tackling collateral damage, emotional damage, and the sheer amount of documentation takes its toll in subtle, yet troublesome ways. Integra develops headaches, and her November colds start to linger for weeks after.
She offers Heinkel Wolfe full coverage for any plastic or cosmetic surgery she decides to get. Heinkel scoffs at her largess, and she tells Integra quite colorfully that she can pay for her extended vacation to Sardinia instead.
And Heinkel’s not the only one who is bitter. Parties within the Vatican send Integra hate-mail well into the millennium. Integra gives the letters to the recycling committee, and eventually she has Seras fly out to Rome to negotiate with Section XIII. Afterwards, there is not even a peep from Iscariot for a very long time.
St. Paul’s Cathedral and the French Protestant Church in Soho are some of the first places to be rebuilt after the conflagration, in addition to the Round Table. Integra works hard to assemble a new Order of Protestant Knights: kin and relatives of the deceased, sitting alongside the others, whom she hand-picks personally. In all honesty, Integra is comforted knowing that the membership is now contingent upon her judgment alone.
The religious structures are restored with surprising swiftness. Soon after, a law is issued stating that all firearms are to be equipped with silver sulfide bullets, blessed by the churches. Within seven years, lead becomes obsolete.
While she has many skills elsewhere, Seras finds herself at a loss when it comes to paperwork and diplomacy. She starts to look into the history of the Hellsing Organization and its role in the British government—mostly to help Integra, and partially to impress her. She even re-reads Dracula to refresh her memory.
Seras finds the book adds a whole different meaning to “The Shi.”
“That’s why I believe in original ideas, Seras,” Integra tells her at one point. They are in her new study (which looks exactly like the old study), and Seras is helping her alphabetize government records. It’s raining outside.
“When you try to copy something, all you get is a travesty.” Integra’s expression turns bitter. “And a tragedy.”
The J-M cabinet closes with a squeak and Seras moves on to the N-R one. “I wonder if Mina is crying,” she says.
“Were you raised as a Catholic, Seras?” Integra asks.
Seras nods. “Non-practicing. My mum hated going to church.”
“Figures. Today is Easter Sunday, by the way.”
“Though I don’t suppose it matters to you now,” Integra says, giving a quiet laugh. “Move along with those files.”
Seras continues sorting as the rain thins to a weak drizzle. She finds something oddly tranquil in the act, and for a while the only sound in the study is that of rustling papers.
Integra allows Seras a bit of her own blood every year as both payment and as a renewal of their contract. It is not a family seal, as it had been with Alucard, but a bond of loyalty and sisterhood. Being an only child and the only woman in a high government position earlier in her life, Integra quite likes having something like a younger sister around. Likewise; Seras enjoys having someone around who she both respects immensely and also likes to tease.
She takes on Walter’s job, finding solace in the more domestic aspects of life that her childhood had neglected to teach her. At first it is a disaster, much to Integra’s chagrin, but eventually Seras learns to control her strength and she becomes more graceful regarding the finer points of high-class butlery.
Occasionally, you might hear a “ce qui la baise,” or even a “vous êtes un peu de merde!” come out of her mouth when she breaks a plate or burns an egg, but Seras hardly knows she’s doing it. Sometimes she will hum tunes she never learned, often in Belgian or in Swiss, and sometimes she will laugh for no reason at all.
She drinks the blood of two in those five years; namely, the dying third commander of the Wild Geese, and the Pope. The Pope’s blood helps them uncover the Vatican’s incipient plans for a tenth crusade, while the mercenary (that soft, chubby blonde) is mostly to keep Bernadette company. Unlike Alucard, Seras is more selective about who she lets inside of her. She allows only Pip his consciousness. With the other familiars she merely takes what she wants and leaves them to sleep.
“Integra turned thirty yesterday,” Seras says as she polishes her scope-less AW sniper rifle. Most of the weapons are stored in the basement level of the manor. Integra had even installed glass display cases for some of the smaller firearms during the reconstruction.
“And we look the same as ever,” Pip chuckles from somewhere inside of her. “Our hearts are frozen in time, Seras.” He never calls her mignonette.
Seras gives the rifle a final swipe, sets it down, and moves on to the Arwen 37. “I can’t help but feel that there’s some beauty that comes with age,” she says.
“Yes, that is what he thought.”
Seras smiles. “Isn’t it?” She does not need a mirror; she sees herself through Bernadette, and she knows that she will never have the kind of beauty that Integra will acquire as time passes.
“ ‘And all so the stone to quicken the dead, ‘ ” she recites softly.
Once Seras masters the housework and cleaning, she begins her studies. There is not much else to do on those dank English nights. She also becomes fluent in French, German, and basic alchemy. The latter is for Master’s sake.
Sometimes, when she’s taking a break from her research, she sits on the roof, legs dangling over the stone shingles, and lets the moonlight turn her hair crystal white. “Do you think I have wings too, like Hermes?” she asks Bernadette.
He tips his hat, but does not answer. Just as well; Seras knows the answer anyway.
“Sir, it looks like we’re under attack.”
“Hm. It appears so.”
Integra sighs, blowing out a thin jet of cigar smoke that dissipates quickly into the air. She still sneaks in the occasional Winterman, despite her doctor’s advising. “Presumably.”
Seras looks over at Integra and grins. “Aren’t you worried?”
Integra bites down on her cigar and returns the grin. “Please. They’re so green they match the lawn.”
Together, they peer out of the north wing window. For a while they watch as the men tramp their way onto Hellsing property. Neither one speaks for a moment.
“Seras,” Integra says finally. “Those hedges took six months to grow back.”
“No mercy, then?”
Integra considers. “A little.”
Seras’s eyes glow a dim vermillion. With her good hand she straightens her collar. “Yes, Master,” she says, and goes to introduce their visitors to Hellsing’s new security system. Along the way Seras cannot help but laugh to herself.
Although Integra is her master now, Seras sees so much of Master in her.
Hugh Islands dies on an August morning.
The funeral is hot and sticky, but it is well-attended. Most of the British military is present, including the queen. Seras is quiet and professional in spite of the distrustful glares she receives. She knows that Islands was an important mentor and a surrogate uncle to her master, even if he had been somewhat of a stick-in-the-mud.
There are only a handful of those who had been directly involved in the Airship Affair, and their number is dwindling. There are fewer and fewer people that Integra can relate to as time goes on. Walsh had died three years earlier. Integra does not feel lonely, but she feels wise. She continues to file documents after Islands’s funeral, determined that no one, British or the like, should ever forget what happened in the fall of 1999.
Sometimes Seras goes down into the basement chambers on those nights when the chores are done and the whistle of the wind penetrates the cracks in the concrete like a moan. She slips by the chains, opens the door, and sits by the old coffin. She never opens it.
Often she imagines him, disseminated across time and space as nothing but particles.
Sometimes Seras will talk, although she knows Alucard is not there. That is alright; she talks anyway. She talks about repairs, updates, insecurities, knowing all the while that it is silly yet unable to stop.
(I learned Theban, you would have liked the eulogy Integra gave for Islands, I never really understood Walter, Integra can’t listen to German opera anymore)
“Integra had a physics professor come by today,” she says once. “Had him explain the Schrodinger equation.” Seras laughs, the sound damp and hollow as it bounces off the stone walls. “Quite complicated, that. I thought Integra was going to run him through by the time he’d finished!”
She watches the red and black whirls form shadow patterns in her arm; occasionally she sits on the floor with her legs crossed, unmindful of her skirt since there is no one there to see her, not really.
“I looked into quantum realities myself. Even read a bit of Descartes…but they never give me any answers. You will come back, won’t you? Master?”
On some nights Seras removes her glove and runs a hand over the sleek, empty coffin. She knows it is corpse-cold, but to her it feels almost warm. It makes her smile.
“I stay up to watch the sun rise most mornings. You’re right, Master,” she says. “It is quite beautiful.”
Integra shows up to the baby shower of Penwood III with Seras, a dagger, and a carrot cake. The dagger, she claims to the Penwoods, is for when the lad turns twelve. Islands III is there, with his corduroys and his thumb in his mouth and big blue eyes that will most likely need glasses before he turns eight. With that corn-gold hair parted meticulously to the right, he looks so much like his grandfather that Integra has to look away at times.
Around his thumb, Islands asks Seras why she is not eating anything. Seras replies that she is a picky eater. Islands sniffs and says that he is picky as well, and after that he follows Seras around, asking her questions about her red eyes and her arm and her curiously pointed incisors.
Integra is notoriously bad with children. It is a point that Seras tries not to poke too much fun at, even as baby Penwood starts wailing and Islands cowers behind his mother.
The carrot cake is eventually eaten, and Integra goes home in a foul mood.
She loses her virginity at thirty-nine to the chief of Scotland Yard. He is Jewish and competent and Integra does it to satisfy more of her needs than his.
Lately, heirs have been on her mind. She thinks about successors, legacy. Her original intention had been to forever remain chaste, but the Airship Affair, among other things, changes that. The birth of Islands and Penwood had been bad enough, but it is something else that finally makes Integra do it.
Namely, she finds her first wrinkles along the corners of her mouth and eyes.
The sex is awkward yet pleasurable, but Integra decides that once is enough. Seras now complains that her blood no longer tastes the same, and Integra knows that Alucard will too, undoubtedly.
Because he will return.
Seras has never considered she would take on disciples—at least not like this. They are not vampires or Draculs; rather, two teenage boys who failed their physical fitness examinations. Their names, respectively, are Islands and Penwood. Third generation.
She wakes up in the middle of the day to train them, cranky and all the more intimidating because she does not look like she could tear their faces off with her teeth. Integra will spar with them when they are older, but they need to be prepared. Like Seras, Integra goes in for the kill. Unlike Seras, Integra does not hold back.
So Seras starts the boys with firearms: the basic Sig-Sauers, Webley revolvers, Uzis, Walther PPKs, Berettas. Then she moves on to the bigger stuff: M16 rifles, cannons, Mk 47 grenade launchers. Islands complains all the while, crinkling his nose at the brutality of weapons and arguing pacifism. He does not believe in violence, and Seras is quick to show him that while the peaceful approach is preferred, he needs to be able to defend himself.
Penwood has the determination but lacks self-confidence. It seems to run in the family. He does however show promise with a sword; more so than Seras herself, who has a proclivity towards the impossibly large cannons.
Seras finds that when she is using double-handed weapons she tends to hold them in the shape of St. Peter’s cross, as Master once did.
Somehow, it seems more comfortable.
At forty-five Integra gets reading glasses—or glass, if you prefer. She no longer smokes, but she takes to drinking unconscionable amounts of tea. Seras finds it odd that she never sees her hands tremble from the caffeine.
And still, life goes on. Integra fills out her taxes, bickers with Iscariot, and intimidates the Round Table. She builds an arboretum two acres wide behind the mansion and plants twenty ailanthus trees around the estate. The soil is unexpectedly fertile.
On what would be Seras’s forty-seventh birthday, Integra visits her chambers at half past four in the morning. Over the decades Seras has furnished the room, throwing a rug over the stone floor, and even adding in a sofa and a reading table. Alucard’s high-backed chair sits in the corner, so dusty one can barely discern its underlying color.
Seras is accustomed to the occasional visit from Integra, but the odd hour has her rise somewhat ungracefully from her chair. Her shin bumps the edge of the reading table and she hastily reaches for a nearby weapon. “S-Sir?”
Integra gives a dry chuckle at Seras’s surprise. “Don’t tell me you have forgotten your own birthday, Seras,” she says.
Seras relaxes, running a sheepish hand through her hair, and shrugs. “I still remember,” she answers.
“Then I’d like you to have this,” Integra says as she pulls out a weathered book. “Not the most conventional of gifts, I’m sure, but I daresay you need something in this room that is older than you are.”
Seras opens the book to find that it is a diary. “Um,” she says.
“Family heirloom,” Integra supplies. “Written by a Dutch professor, a very long time ago.”
“Oh!” Seras breathes. A moment later she frowns. “What do you suggest I do with it, Sir?” she asks.
Integra raises an eyebrow. “After you’ve read it I recommend burning it,” she replies. Seras looks alarmed.
“Bloodlines are overrated,” Integra tells her. “I prefer to be no longer fettered by patronymic nobility. England is entering a new age, and to fully grasp the future we must undo the shackles of the past.”
“But never forget?” Seras asks, though it is more of a statement than a question.
Integra’s good eye crinkles. “Correct. Now,” she pauses to glance at her watch, “it is about time you retire, is it not, Seras?”
“Actually, I usually wait until the sun rises.”
“Quite right, too. Alucard used to do the very same thing,” Integra says, nodding. She turns and takes a few steps toward the door. “Then let us indulge in one last shackle of the past, for the sake of your nonexistent birthday.”
Seras cocks her head.
“It is a good sky this morning,” Integra continues as she begins to walk out the door. “The sun should have no competition with the clouds. I believe we can view it best from the east balcony.”
With a grin, Seras places Van Helsing’s diary on her desk and jogs to catch up with her master. “Feeling sentimental, Sir?” she jokes, which earns her a hard elbow in the ribs.
On that morning they watch the sun rise over England, marking the start of a new day. Seras absently rubs the pair of tiny scars on the side of her neck and smiles. Integra sips her tea and smiles as well, feeling all the feelings of power and beauty and serenity that come with something as pure as the sunlight.
She believes in Alucard, and will count as many sunrises as it takes until his return.
She knows that Hellsing will stand tall, and that things will be alright.