Vlad can’t remember where he learned of soulmates. It feels like he’s always known, like it’s intrinsic knowledge. He knows that can’t be the case - he had to have learned about it somewhere, but he doesn’t let himself dwell on it since the when isn’t as important as the what.
And what soulmates are, in essence, are colour. Vlad doesn’t know what colour is except as a concept, but the way people speak of it make him covetous. There's always awe in their voice, even when describing something as mundane as the colour of the sky or the grass. One day he’ll be betrothed, and then he’ll finally be able to see the world the way it’s meant to be seen: beautiful, vibrant, colourful.
Right now, at the age of ten, he sees things in something called ‘gray’, which isn’t a colour, according to Radu.
“Then what is it?” he had asked, but Radu just shrugged and told him to ‘ask an adult’.
The only adults available to him are the Ottoman's. He doesn’t like them – he isn’t a traitor like his brother – so he’s hesitant to approach them with his question, but he’s ten, dreadfully curious, and he can’t help asking about it when a court member grouses about finding his soulmate so much later in life than everyone else.
The man smiles at his question. It isn’t a kind smile.
“No, it’s not a colour,” the man confirms. “Not really.”
“Then what is it?” he asks.
“Isn’t it obvious?” The man’s hand drops to his hair, nails scraping his scalp as he smooths it back, out of his face. Vlad flinches at the contact. “It’s a punishment from God.”
Blood is black. A slick black almost indistinguishable from oil, and the importance of finding his soulmate loses urgency as he spills it across his lands from the bellies of his enemies. He’s barely a young man, but already he has responsibilities and ambitions; he has enemies and threats; he has armies and fortifications and land to oversee. Wallachia monopolises all his time, and he’s content for his land, his people, and God to take what they need from him.
He’s twenty-eight when Pope Pius II requests his help on a crusade. His black, sticky streams of blood become oceans and the scent of copper and decay drifts for miles on the air. That’s something he has always been able to rely on: smell. In the absence of colour, he finds smell lights up the world just as thoroughly. He craves that heavy, metal scent of victory; it invigorates him in a way nothing else can. There will be colour in his world one day, when he deserves it, when God descends and spreads colour throughout his wretched flock, but the smell satisfies for the time being.
Eventually he commits himself to two wives for the purpose of preserving his bloodline. They don’t make him see colour, not even a hint, but he’s grown beyond his childish belief that love is a necessary component of a relationship. He likes them, in his own way, but he still hasn’t time for them, nor his children. They grow up absent a father, and one of them, absent their biological mother. He leaves them in his fortifications while he performs God’s will, because nothing supersedes the importance of his crusade.
His life is a series of battles and he relishes every one.
Black isn’t such a disagreeable sight.
Sometimes he wonders if everyone’s blood is the same shade or red. Perhaps some are darker, a difference in shade he’s unable to distinguish in the monochrome. Perhaps the shade is determined by one’s age or race. He’s determined by now that finding his soul mate is of little importance; he’s had two wives, multiple lovers, and none of them have prompted colour, but his thoughts do drift to it at times. It’s only natural when it’s such a common feature in the lives of those who surround him.
It’s silly, really, that he finds his thoughts drifting once again to what shade of red he might be looking at when he’s pressed to his knees in preparation for his execution. His gaze is fixed on a fresh puddle. It looks black to him, but he feels it – knows it – must be bright, vibrant red. A red he will never get to see.
He takes a deep breath and smells that familiar copper, feels it intermingling with the heat and the acrid scent of his homeland burning.
People had fabricated stories about him, over the years. Often they had featured him gorging on flesh and blood, like some sort of depraved monster. He hadn’t discouraged these stories. He had wanted his enemies to think of him as something beyond human, something insurmountable, powerful, and for a long time, he had been exactly that. The Ottoman’s had fled at the sight of him. Until they didn’t.
But he had never tasted blood, nor flesh. To do so would have been an affront to God. It would have corrupted his soul.
He hears the axe cutting the air.
He stretches his tongue.
As a Count, he falls in love. Or at least, he develops a fixation on people, none of which turn out to be his soulmate – though at this point of his life, he hasn’t the faintest interest in soulmates anymore. One without a soul can’t possibly have a soulmate, now can they? And he’s content with what he does have, who he can pursue. He’s not missing out on anything, because limiting oneself to a single person seems such a burden now that he has three beautiful wives. He can’t imagine himself settling for less.
He won’t even settle for three. He has his eyes on a fourth and may even seek a fifth to give some life – so to speak – to the empty halls of his England sanctuary, and eventually his castle home. They must all possess an uncommon beauty, of course, in both personality and appearance; there is no greater pleasure than creating kin of the very antithesis of what he is. Seeking simple, submissive women would be easier, and would likely result in less of that sticky antagonism his wives like to inflict on him, but he can’t deny his tastes. He indulges, for there is nothing else left for him.
It’s this desire to expand his brood that ultimately leads to his downfall. Another painful, humiliating defeat ends with him on his knees, deprived all the wealth and land he had accumulated in his years as a Count. The stake through his chest is like gasping awake from a nightmare, and the look in Van Hellsing’s eye promises this to only be the start.
Death is too kind for the likes of him. He can’t even deny it.
He fast becomes familiar with the sight of the Hellsing Estate basement floors. They have several rooms built for him: one for rest, one to make him quake, one for productivity. He learns many lessons in those rooms; how to kneel, how to please, how to evade angering his hosts. They’re hard, long lessons that chip steadily at his pride, but eventually his concerns are narrowed down to simple hunger and servitude. A vicious cycle – feeding to please, pleasing to feed, again and again until his days as a prince and a Count seem someone else’s life.
Years later, calling Abraham van Hellsing ‘master’ still feels like hooks in his mouth. But it comes easier each time he does.
The first time he sets his eyes on Ser Hellsing, he anticipates a burst of colour: she’s a delightful girl, as brave and strong as her great grandfather. A fit head of the household, a fit master, and her blood is a sweet contrast to that of the other Hellsing present, who stinks like an abattoir.
He hasn’t thought of soulmates in years, but she makes him remember for that brief moment, before the reminder of an absence of a soul claws through his steadily reconstructing synapses and to the forefront of his mind. He kneels before her and smiles wide, his white hair curtaining his pale, gaunt face. She doesn’t so much as flinch at the proximity.
His smile broadens even further when she turns the barrel of her gun on her uncle and applies pressure to the trigger.
“What’s your name?”
“Alucard. That’s what your family called me.”
There’s a beautiful finality in the great crack of the bullet.
Serving Integra proves more pleasant than serving the previous Hellsing’s. The lack of fear and antagonistic history makes a great difference to his quality of life. He’s provided more freedom. Permitted to perform jobs on his own, rather than with someone to oversee him, and even allowed to wander beyond the estate if he so pleases. She’s young and giving him more leeway than she perhaps should, but he’s not about to try to dissuade her. He relishes every concession she makes.
She allows him to select a chair upon realising he’s spent years seating himself atop his coffin and only gives him a moderately exasperated look when a throne is delivered to his basement dwelling. Later, a table is added to hold his meals. It’s a modest setup, but it’s more than he’s owned in a century, so he doesn’t feel the need to embellish, and he’s content to spend the bulk of his free time sitting on his throne and drinking from blood bags. He’s rather easily pleased, these days.
Time always went fast under his previous masters. There was too much monotony for the days not to pass within a blink of an eye, and that was a small mercy considering the misery of boredom. He had learned to hibernate in some odd, preternatural way, so to avoid losing his mind to the drag of time, but he hasn’t done that a day since Integra took the mantle. He wants to be present for every hour of her chapter of life, however short it might be. She certainly makes every hour worth experiencing and the addition of Seras Victoria only strengthens this sentiment.
This is enough, he thinks. This is all he needs.
At least, it was all he thought he needed, until he was sent into Ireland to eradicate some errant vampires. A fairly standard job up until his fledgling was impaled by – bayonets? And consecrated bayonets at that. Not something someone would normally wield. He assesses her condition to ensure she isn’t in any mortal danger (because it would be quite unfortunate for her to die on their second mission) before casting his gaze down the dimly-hit hallway, toward the creak of approaching footsteps.
The sound is heavy, unburdened by fear or hesitation. Whoever is approaching them promises to be a worthwhile opponent. The first he would have had tonight. Anticipation blooms in him and his mouth grows into a serrated grin.
A man steps out of the shadows into the moonlight – and Alucard blinks once, twice, because the man is a brilliant splash of colour in the dark hallway. He can faintly see a tree behind him, through the window, and he knows those are green. That means the priest’s eyes are green, his mind absently supplies. He stares at the man, wide eyed, drinking him in, and he wants to do that in a more literal sense as well, sink his teeth into him and drain him and keep him for himself.
How did he ever subsist in such a dull world? It’s incomprehensible to him now, surrounded by colour as he is.
The man is just as silent, just as awed, returning his stare. But his isn’t covetous like Alucard’s.
Alucard is so captivated that he registers too slow to avoid the bayonets that go slamming into him. His feet stutter on the floorboards and he starts to fall, but his guns are out before the priest can land another attack. He sends him slamming hard into the wall with some well-aimed bullets. Deliberately non-fatal; he doesn’t want to kill his soulmate. Not in this manner, in any case. When his head cracks hard into the plaster, Alucard knows consciousness will have been ripped from him, and this is confirmed when the priest slumps to the ground in a heap.
Alucard stares appreciatively at the red that streams from his shoulder and leg before he turns his attention to his fledgling.
“Vatican Section XIII, the secret service Iscariot.” He looks at Seras as though seeing her for the first time. She’s a lovely sight. Truly lovely. And all going well, he’ll have two lovely fledglings before the nights end. “He’s a brave man, powerful, but a fool, taking a vampire head on.”
“Master,” Seras whimpers.
“Don’t move. Those blades have been blessed; even we need to worry about those.” He extends a hand for her. “I’ll remove them.”
Any reply he had is swallowed up by a gasp as twin blades are thrust into his back, emerging from his shoulder and chest in a messy spray of blood. He stutters forward as the blades are yanked back, catching himself on the ground and turning his gun on the priest with the intent to inflict incapacitating injury, because he knows he doesn’t need to worry, now: the priest is clearly made of stronger stuff than he initially assumed. There’s blood on him, sticky and delightfully red, but no bullet holes to be seen. He’s healed.
Even as he’s sending the priest flying across the room with a spray of bullets, he can’t help admiring the shock of yellow that is his hair, the olive of his skin, the startlingly bright green of his eyes.
He closes the ocean of space between them within the spilt of a second, moving into his next attack, letting the bayonets pierce him and rip and tear.
“A regenerator,” he says, smiling even as blood bubbles up over his bottom lip, driven into his mouth by the bayonet piercing what passes for his lungs. When he laughs, he splatters the priest with red, and he loves it, wants to cover him in it, rake it over him. Every part of him. “What an ideal soulmate.”
“You don’t have a soul, vampire,” the man replies, baring his teeth, and Alucard likes him even more.
“Your God seems to disagree with that assessment. I saw the look in your eyes, I know you see what I see, priest!”
He twists the bayonets savagely. Something in Alucard bursts, and it wipes the smile from his face for just a spilt of a second. But it’s a good pain. He moves into it, drawing the priest closer, catching him about the shoulders so he can’t escape. His nails dig in deep enough to caress bare, slippery bone.
“How old are you, regenerator?” he whispers. “How long were you deprived of colour before you met me?”
Any effort made by the priest to free himself proves ineffectual. All that twisting and pulling just draws Alucard deeper, enables him to get a better foothold. Alucard might even dig right down to his marrow, if he has to.
“Could you live without it, now that you’ve tasted it? Could you deny yourself one of God’s greatest gifts?”
The priest suddenly turns them, sending him slamming into a wall, pinned down by the bayonets. He isn’t deterred.
“The mate he has determined for you-?”
No one has beheaded him since the Ottoman’s, so it’s a strange thing, feeling one of those blades draw across his throat and sever his head from his neck. His hands fall slack, sliding out of the priests shoulders – shoulders that quake with each breath the priest pulls in. It’s hard to tell if the underlining tremor in them is from trepidation or anger, but it doesn’t matter because Alucard would be satisfied with either.
He can still see and interact with the world. He won’t be out of commission long. But he has little faith the Police Girl will be able to persist until he’s able to piece himself back together, and this belief is strengthened when the little idiot refuses his blood. The priest being an adept fighter is proving both a boon and an inconvenience. It’s such a wonderful thing to have encountered a worthy opponent, and one that is his soulmate, at that, but if he doesn’t reform in time to save his fledgling, Integra isn’t likely to ever let him have another one.
-And speak of the devil, because his dear master arrives on the scene while he’s still fluttering around as a bat. He can’t help but pause, to look at her, and, oh, she is somehow muted and vibrant at the same time, reminiscent of his lovely, departed Lucy. What a lovely gift the priest has bestowed upon him, the sight of himself and his two girls. All lovely blonds – he always had found them particularly visually appealing.
Integra addresses him as Alexander Anderson. Anderson – a fitting name.
Anderson has underestimated him. It’s always a thrill when they do. It’s satisfying to shatter their poor estimation of his abilities with a show of strength, and Anderson’s is thoroughly shattered by the demonstration of his own regenerative capabilities. But the man doesn’t flee fearfully like so many before him, like a dog with its tail between its legs: he’s grinning as he whips out his bible and slams a palm upon it, promising their deaths for the next encounter. It’s intoxicating, how certain he is, how driven; why, Alucard hasn’t heard such fury and conviction in a death threat since Abraham.
He is going to enjoy this man immensely. In so many ways.
“I look forward to it, priest!” Alucard calls, laughing.
The scripture that flutters about Anderson glow a brilliant gold and it stings at Alucard’s retinas, to look into that holy light, but that doesn’t deter him from maintaining eye contact with Anderson until the man is obscured.
“Father Alexander Anderson, of Iscariot, is your soulmate,” says Integra. An observation, not a question.
“Astute as always.” Alucard smiles with a slither of teeth. “What gave it away?” he asks, crossing his knees as they hurtle through Ireland, toward an airport and Hellsing’s private helicopter.
“The way you look at me.” There’s a hint of disapproval in her voice. “And the way you look at him.”
“Well, there’s a lot to look at with both you, isn’t there,” he says, his mouth curving even further.
Integra’s lips purse. “You won’t be able to have him, you know.”
“Are you going to deny me my soulmate?”
“No,” says Integra firmly. “But he’ll deny you. He’s a priest and a member of Iscariot; how do you hope to persuade him?”
Alucard laughs softly. “With my usual methods, of course.” His current usual methods, anyway; he’d long since abandoned his tendency to warp his partners’ minds until suitable for his purposes. He prefers to tease, rather than deprive them of their autonomy. The queen can certainly attest to that – and attest to how very charismatic he can be in his efforts, though Alucard expects the priest won’t agree.
“Maxwell won’t be pleased if you desecrate his priest,” says Integra, sighing. But she isn’t demanding that he keep his mitts off Anderson, so that’s promising.
“I doubt the priest will be terribly pleased either,” says Alucard. “Priests are always touchy about defrocking, and this one seems particularly-“ He slowly drags his tongue across his teeth. “Virtuous.”
It’s obvious what that’s an euphemism for.
“Not unlike yourself,” he adds, clearly delighted. It’s been a long time since he’s had a virgin, and to have his soulmate be one seems particularly fortuitous.
Integra colours faintly, scoffing and casting her eyes aside. “Nonetheless, try not to encroach on the treaty terms when we next encounter Iscariot.”
“After they so rudely encroach on them themselves?”
“Yes, even then,” says Integra. “We’re setting an example.”
“That we’re easily walked over.“
“Well…” There’s something Integra’s eye as she gazes at Alucard. “The word was ‘try’. Father Anderson did kill two of my men, so ‘try’ is all I will ask of you.”
A boisterous laugh bubbles up to Alucard’s lips. “As you wish, my master!”