Shay Sheridan - Reality
This must be a dream, I have to be asleep, This can't really be happening! Wake up, Virginia!
But of course she couldn't wake up, she wasn't asleep, she was really in Mike's room, the light from the full moon streaming in across his bed. This was real, this was happening.
Mike Wolf was a wolf, a real one.
She wanted to run, but even more she wanted to shake him awake, to shout at him I thought you were
What, real? Human? Her dream come true?
Well, wasn't he? Hadn't she thought the words "Prince Charming?" Hadn't he been her real fantasy, the man, the Wolf, of her imagination, but dressed up, tricked out, rough edges smoothed, domesticated, perfected?
Be careful what you wish for, Virginia.
She must be insane to be thinking like this.
It couldn't be true.
It had to be true.
She stared at the moon. Her belief in her fairy tale journey had receded so far away that she hadn't seen the obvious clues. Bringing him Kleenex and orange juice, indeed it was almost laughable.
Now she'd seen the truth, seen the scar, seen him react to the full moon with moodiness, strangeness, pain, fever --even his ravenous hunger all too evident from the many dirty dishes that littered the place. Oh, yes, he'd disguised the facts very cleverly, "the flu," was it? "Medicine" without a doctor --"they work," he'd said about the pills --he must have taken them dozens of times, every full moon, whatever they were, to suppress the signs.
Did his grandfather know? Of course, he'd have to know
Oh my God. "There are tons of people out sick," the temp had said. More of them? All of them? William one too, as his son must have been. And that receptionist? What about Mike's secretary? Or the blond man, or the silver-haired woman?
All of those people...all those tall, handsome people... all of them wolves?
She felt hysterical laughter growing, gnawing at her insides, threatening to burst forth as if she were a madwoman, and she put her hand, both hands, over her mouth while she regained control of herself. No, no, there is a logical explanation, there must be, human wolves cannot exist, I made them up, this is my imagination, I just want it to be true
No I don't! I want everything to be normal!
Of course she did. And, and she could be seeing things that were not true. Yes, yes, calm down, that's it, the scar is from some other kind of surgery, maybe an accident. He could have injured himself any number of ways as a small child. The moon? Coincidence. He was getting sick, he had a fight with his grandfather, that's why he was moody and cranky. The fever explained itself, a stomach flu, and he had rotten eating habits, or he had people over and hates to clean, and of course the flu is going around and could decimate the staff of a large company...everything can be explained.
Or is the explanation the lie?
She felt the window behind her and slid down against the wall, legs suddenly numb, weak, unable to move, unable to accept it. Yet unable to deny it.
She looked at him. He was asleep, but not peacefully, shifting restlessly and muttering from time to time. What was going on in his head? A dream? Or was it instinct, an animal reacting to the pull of the moon? What would happen if he waked?
If it all were true, if his life itself were the lie, if he'd taken such pains to cover up what he really was, why, why had he let her come in?
And hardest of all to answer, Do I want it to be true?
Do I want ALL of it to be true?
In his dream, Wolf's mother came to him, and stroked his forehead. "Were they bad to you today, at school?" she asked, sympathetically. He nodded, knowing if he spoke he would likely start to cry and he didn't want to, not even in front of the only person who wouldn't shame him for it. "Ssshh, I'm here, it's all right," and she began to sing a little song to him, a song of her people, not a wolfish song, words and tune mysterious, alien even, yet beautiful.
And he felt very loved, but also very sad, though he didn't know why, and he turned aside so she wouldn't see his tears, but when he looked back she was gone, and he was terrified, and he ran looking for her, and for his father, and there they were in the distance and he called out for them but the call became a moan and he fell down in the rain, holding his stomach at the pain of seeing them burning there on the pyre while Dorcas and Sally and Ewan and Bert and all the rest of them danced gleefully about the fire, Sally leading her sheep, which bleated accusingly at him.
He turned away, unable to watch, and Brins pulled him upright and punched him in the jaw. "That'll teach him a lesson!" and Root echoed "Yeah, cousin!" and hit him with a beanstalk hard enough to drive him to his knees. He looked in wonder at the blood pooling around him, it was seeping under the door of his cell and when he looked out the tiny window he saw Bedros pinned to the door with a silver arrow and the queen was clucking disapprovingly to Snow White, "What does he think he is?" and he was back at the beginning again, again, again, he'd never get out, never be free, never find her, he was cursed, cursed, cursed, cursed
"Cursed," he mumbled, and came awake.
Virginia was asleep in the crook of his arm, her head on his chest.
A dream, it had been a dream. Virginia was here, he'd found her. The whole thing had been a
"Aah." He'd tried to move, to shift a little, because even though his mate was just a little thing, her weight on top of him was making it hard to breathe. But when he moved, every muscle in his body seemed to cry out at once. He unclasped his arms from around her and lay back, feeling a cold sweat break out on his forehead. He felt disoriented, nauseated, as he waited for the pain to subside. Something bad had happened to him, though he didn't know what.
The noise he made had disturbed her and she woke up, blinking and yawning. She stretched and clutched the pillow, then, as her pillow flinched, realized what --who --she was using as a pillow, and that the "pillow" was awake. She pushed herself away, her face scarlet.
"Vir --" he tried to sit up, to give her a hug, to reassure her he was all right, even though he felt far from all right, but it was too painful and his vision was spinning so he lay back down again. Her anxious face swam into view above him.
"How --how are you feeling?"
"Not too good. Virginia --"
"No, I'm not Virginia, remember?"
Not ? What --? Who Oh, no, not
"Yes. That's right." She smiled a tentative smile at him.
"Oh." There was disappointment in his voice, and she looked away. "Where am I?"
She dared to move a little closer. "In a barn. In Little Lamb Village. The Peeps do you remember?"
He closed his eyes one eye, really, the other one wasn't behaving properly. He remembered. All of it, except for how he got to the barn. And one thing he remembered clearly. "You left," he said crossly.
She blushed again, her eyes not meeting his. "I...I was afraid," she said simply.
He'd been prepared to rant at her, once he got his strength back, but her admission caught him off guard. He said nothing for a few minutes. "I need to get up."
"No, no, you should rest --"
"No, REALLY. I need to get up." He rolled over to his side and attempted to push himself upright. Gigi scrambled over to help him stand.
"If there's something you need, I could get it for you, or do it for you --"
He staggered to his feet and leaned on the beam for a minute until the room stopped spinning. He wasn't sure if he preferred the new eager-to-help Gigi or the old rude one. "Thanks, but you don't have the equipment to do it for me." That mystified her for a moment, until the coin dropped and she blushed again. Not before time, Wolf thought, feeling his way to the door, or his bladder was going to end the discussion right there.
A short relieving time later he groped his way back in and sank down by the trough. Cripes, he looked a mess! He splashed his face and gasped as the water stung the raw places. The bandage came off, crusted with blood, but the cut wasn't bleeding anymore so he didn't rebind it. His eye was the worst, all colors and puffy, but though it was bloodshot he could see out of it fairly well.
"Well, now you got the water all bloody, what if I wanted a drink?" Evidently old rude Gigi wasn't completely gone after all.
"Too bad," Wolf said. Washing his face was about as much as he could handle right now, and he collapsed back down to sit against the beam, holding his stomach. He felt thoroughly pulped but didn't think anything was broken. Broken bones were a very specific sensation he hoped never to experience again, thank you very much. He looked around, recognizing the place now; it was the same barn he, Tony and Virginia had stayed in the last go-round. The beam he was leaning against was the one he'd had Virginia tie him to
No good thinking about that dark time. "Is there anything to eat?"
"I'll get something," Gigi looked like she'd rather be doing anything other than staying in the barn with him. He didn't say anything and she went out.
He must have dozed off for a few minutes, because a new voice roused him with the word "breakfast." The voice belonged to the farm wife who owned the barn, and she was carrying some bread and butter and cheese on a wooden tray, and was followed by Gigi, who bore a pitcher of milk. Wolf began to salivate.
"Here, let me put this down and heavens! What happened to you?" She very nearly dropped the tray, which would have really been a shame, stared at Wolf and clucked compassionately at him. "Was there an accident?"
"Peeps." He picked up a piece of cheese and stuck it in the corner of his mouth that didn't hurt. At least his teeth were all where he remembered.
The woman frowned and shook her head. "Those Peeps. Think they own the town. Well, they practically do, really. Not that I should be gossiping about them, I'm sure most of them are perfectly nice, but those boys well, I shouldn't be surprised if some day someone shoots them dead in the street like wild animals! Can't play games with people without expecting them to be angry with you!"
Wolf would have pointed out that what they'd done to him was hardly a game, but his mouth was too full to say so. He looked over at Gigi, who was picking at the bread and butter rather listlessly. He swallowed his mouthful. "What's wrong with you this morning?"
"Nothing." She got up and moved away.
Their hostess finished chattering and left the barn, but Wolf didn't see her go because something she'd said had pricked a memory and he was trying to identify what it was... shoot them dead in the street, that's what she'd said, and OH, CRIPES! He looked left and right and tried to turn around but it was too painful to do so. "The bow! Where's the bow?"
"Bow?" Gigi walked into his line of sight.
"Crossbow! The huntsman's crossbow--"
"How should I know? Where did you leave it?"
"Gigi! I had it when I went into the alley! Was it there?"
She frowned. "I don't know. It was dark. I was helping you --"
"You have to go find it!" He was yelling now, and it hurt to do that, but he couldn't leave it lying around. Something awful and magical like that needed to be kept away from people. Especially people like the Peeps.
She folded her arms. "I'm not going back there. It's just a stupid bow. Forget it."
"Then I'll go." He grunted as he started to rise, and Gigi looked down at him with a mixture of pity and irritation.
"All right, all right," she said with a heavy sigh. 'I'll look. But if the Peeps find me it'll be all your fault!" With a toss of her skirts she was gone.
"Yeah, all MY fault," he muttered. "Always the wolf's fault." Wolf finished his breakfast. He felt much better for having eaten, though he doubted he'd get very far on foot today. Which was indeed a shame, as he wanted to put this awful place behind him once and for all. This whole sojourn in Little Lamb Village felt about as useless as a bowl of beanstalk stew at a wolves' banquet. Unless Snow White secretly hated him and had devised this whole trek as punishment, which he was beginning to suspect.
Gigi returned empty-handed.
Well, that was it, then. The deadly magic bow was in the hands of someone who really shouldn't have it. He should have buried it, after all. But what could he do now? Maybe they'd just melt it down for the silver, if the fates were favorable. He doubted it, though. Now there REALLY was a good reason to get out of town.
Almost on cue the barn door opened with a bang, which sent painful reverberations through Wolf's head, and a young bumpkin entered with a cheerful "Ready to go?"
Wolf looked up at Gigi, who was wearing a smug expression. "I've hired Fidelity's son to drive us to the next town," she said.
"Really?" Well THAT was being a clever girl, he had to admit.
"Best to keep moving, I thought."
Wolf couldn't help but agree.
The strapping fellow, John, helped Wolf climb in the back, where he settled himself on new hay. The wagon had a stale smell of pigs but at least no little piglets were coming along for the ride. Best not to be choosy when you're getting a free ride, Wolf reminded himself. John pocketed another of Gigi's gold coins and Wolf reflected, not for the first time in his life, that there were advantages to traveling with rich girls.
Gigi climbed up next to the lad, just as Fidelity came out to wave farewell. She'd packed them all a lunch, which was unexpected and kind. Wolf suddenly had a thought and beckoned the woman over. Her open face was guileless and smiling. Wolf wondered if she and her son had been part of the burning-at-the-stake party, but he doubted it and dismissed the thought. The Peeps were responsible, and he could make them pay, yes indeedy he could!
"Listen," he said, a conspiratorial gleam in his eye, "since you've been so nice, there's something you should know. The Peeps have dammed up the magic well and are using the water themselves. That's why everything they grow or raise is so incredible."
Fidelity and John stared at him, amazed. "What? Why, they'd never -" "If you don't believe me, take some people and check in their barn under the floor." He smiled at their astonishment, and winked at Fidelity with his good eye. She giggled like a schoolgirl.
That ought to do the trick.
The road was rutted and muddy, the horse plodding and slow, and the trip tedious. Wolf gave up trying to find a comfortable position and became resigned to the bumps and lurchings of the pig wagon. He managed to nap when he could, to lie still when he couldn't, though John had to stop the wagon several times to let Wolf out, to sit down on ground that wasn't moving, and once to be sick rather vividly by the side of the road.
He didn't notice the terrain or the direction they were headed. But he did notice that Gigi was always nearby, helping him in and out of the wagon, offering water, not shying away from his misery. That in itself was worthy of note, if nothing else was.
He awoke from a brief, unsatisfactory nap to find her sitting in the back of the wagon with him, studying him intently. When his eyes met hers she looked away. It came to him that her uncharacteristic silence and helpfulness stemmed from guilt. Whatever she might say, however dismissive she was, inside she obviously felt responsible for what had happened to him. Well, okay, good. Let her feel that way!
But it didn't help to stay indignant, or to refuse to speak to her. The truth was, he didn't dislike having her around, when she wasn't causing trouble for him. He liked her when she wanted to help. There was something endearing in her pugnaciousness, and he admired her cleverness, too. In that she was like Virginia, smart and sensible, most of the time. But oddly, in some ways she was more like HE was like how she got herself into trouble by not thinking before she spoke. He recognized her tendency towards selfishness, and had to admit THAT was like him, too. No wonder they grated on each other's nerves. And, with all the ways she resembled Virginia, it was hardly surprising he also was attracted to her. Not that he wanted to dwell on that.
He decided to break the ice. "Gigi?"
"Where is it that you're going?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you're obviously running away from home. Do you know where to, exactly?"
She frowned, and looked at him as if she expected him to spring a trap. "Why?"
That seemed to startle her a bit, but after a moment she spoke. "Well...I don't know, really. Just...away."
"What's this about you marrying Wendell?"
She made a face. "Oh, THAT."
"Yes, THAT. Is that true?"
"As far as my father's concerned it is. I don't really know what Wendell wants. I mean I've only ever met him twice, the first time when I was only about eight years old." She laughed mirthlessly. "You should see the gleam in my father's eye when he talks about it."
"So...so how come you ran away?"
She shrugged. "I didn't like the idea of being sold off in marriage. The last time I saw Wendell was about a month ago, when he and his entourage stopped to pay a visit to the Western lands, and my dad was bowing and scraping and behaving like an idiot in front of all the courtiers. Wendell just looked bored. He didn't even look my way." Her face clouded. "My father's not thinking of me at all, just of all the gold he can get." She suddenly looked like she was going to cry.
Wolf tried to reconcile his image of Tony Lewis with what he was hearing about Gigi's father, but aside from the salivating over gold, it was a difficult stretch. Tony might be greedy and self-involved, but Wolf couldn't imagine his future father-in-law behaving that way with Virginia. "I know Wendell's got a lot of faults--" yeah, like right now he's a golden retriever! --"but he's rich, and he's really not too bad, for royalty. Um, no offense."
"I'm not offended," Gigi said. "After all, my father purchased his title."
Wolf snorted. "Hah. Typical."
"I'm not ready for marriage," said Gigi, a faraway look in her eye. " I always wanted adventure. I want to experience life before I throw it all away." Wolf felt his bruises and thought perhaps he was experiencing enough life for both of them. "I guess I wouldn't mind getting married eventually," Gigi continued, "if I met the right person. Someone exciting, someone a little more worldly than Wendell. He would have to be a prince though, of course."
"Of course," murmured Wolf.
"I mean, not that there's anything WRONG with Wendell, I'd just like someone not as, well --"
Gigi looked scandalized, but suddenly giggled. "He IS dull, isn't he?"
"Thick as a brick, I'd say." Wolf smiled, then said honestly, "He wouldn't know what to do with you."
She cocked her head at him. The gesture was startlingly familiar. She was SO like Virginia! "What do you mean?"
"Well, I mean, you're a pretty corky girl, Gigi, all smart and feisty and --" He stopped.
He'd been about to say "and beautiful and succulent and smelling like ambrosia," but he caught himself and just finished with "--and everything." Better not travel THAT route.
She was looking at him oddly. "Thank you. That's very nice of you to say."
There was a lengthy pause.
"It's not your fault, you know," Wolf said at last. "That I got beat up."
"Yes, but I --"
He shook his head. "No."
The relief on her face was so apparent that Wolf laughed a little, which of course made his ribs hurt.
"Thank you again," Gigi said.
"You're welcome again."
"Oh, look!" she said, pointing. Wolf turned his head and saw a sign by the side of the road as they plodded past:
Kissing Town, 15 miles.
In his dream, Mike's mother came to him, sitting by his bed, stroking his forehead, and ruffling his hair in a way that embarrassed him. He felt safe with her there, he always had, even on those nights his father would withdraw into an upstairs room and lock the door, and Mike would hear scary sounds, sounds of furniture being flung, growls and shouts, and worst of all a plaintive howling that set his teeth on edge. He loved his father, loved his strong and charismatic presence, but those awful nights, regular as clockwork, unnerved and terrified him, bringing on feverish nightmares about a beast that was devouring his father, that would come for him, that would eat him up too.
Sometimes instead of going upstairs, his father would disappear entirely for a day or two, returning wan and tired. Mike liked those days better; he would imagine his father was on important business for the government, maybe a secret spy mission.
Lisette still stroked his face, crooning a little lullaby to him, with words in a foreign tongue, but the meaning was clear: she loved him. But he felt very sad, though he didn't know why. He saw himself turn away from her, tears starting in his eyes, and his grandfather's face loomed over him, with its eternal expression of disapproval, his mouth twisting Michael, you must stop this self-indulgent behavior. Control yourself! You are better than they were, Michael, your father knew what was expected but he let his emotions ruin his life. And his mother again, singing to him but the song was dark now and not at all soothing and her face was obscured by the full moon and he heard sobbing and now he was comforting her, stroking her cheek, Grandfather shouting at him What I'm telling you is the truth, Michael, this is your heritage too, its in your blood --and he thought he must be mad, his grandfather insane, but he could feel it, could feel the pull, the need, the terror, and now it was HE who was locked in a room, not an attic but a room with soft walls in a private place, a place his grandfather had arranged for and You see? This is what happens! Mike saw a man, a young man, no, not a man, sobbing in a corner, wailing no, howling, howling mad, the beast devouring him please not me HUNGER MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOP until he lay exhausted in the soft room. And Grandfather, his voice no longer berating but soothing, persuading, you see, you see it is not a lie, Michael, it's real, all of it, now do you understand?
He shifted in his sleep. He felt hot, so hot. Listen to me, you don't have to succumb to it, there are ways, Michael, ways to control it. This will make it better, easier, never mind what it is, it will take you through, it will protect you, make you seem what you are not. No one will know. But the price! The dullness, the flattened senses for a day afterwards, a day to be reminded again and again that he was different, that he bore a shameful secret.
In flashes like lightning he saw crowds of people, the clubs, the parties where he'd tried to drown the differences, to obscure the secret in a haze of whatever he could snort or smoke or drink, not the little brown pills but other things, whatever he was offered, whatever was there to try, then be dragged home nightly by men in his grandfather's employ, watching him, they were always watching him. People mustn't know. It's for your protection but it was all about control Grandfather controlling him, the moon controlling him, the pills controlling him, the demand to control himself. No no no, he wouldn't be controlled, he would lose himself, he would choose to lose himself in excess, but all the booze and drugs and women in the world weren't enough, there was always the moon, always Grandfather, always himself ready to inflict his own torture
. And then, eventually, eventually, inevitably, compliance, acceptance that nothing could come of his rebellion, nothing would be changed, and a realization he didn't want to die, that maybe there was sense to following the plan, to being protected. And finally, surrender, to a future planned for him before his birth. A semblance of normality, a level of comfort, though something within could never be filled by any talk of history and heredity and expectations and secrets and destiny.
Business as usual.
Mike smiled and rumbled deep in his throat. His dream changed, the nightmare dissipating, Virginia's lovely face where the moon sat in the sky. Her face grew a body, a lovely silky body pressed against his, her scent in his nostrils. He remembered the feel of burying his face between her breasts, drawing himself alongside her, inside her, the need for her obscuring everything else, yet for once at peace with himself. The one, he'd said, if in fact there is destiny.
Yet, yet, yet always present, always hovering, the doubt, the darkness, a shadow, sometimes with the shape of his grandfather, sometimes of the beast, sometimes of himself, his shadow falling on her as she sat by him stroking his forehead with her soft, cool hand, and it was terrifying her, he would drive her away, screaming, or it would devour her NO! NEVER, I WOULD NEVER but knowing he could. He could. He might. I would
His heart pounding, he awoke gasping for breath where am I what did I do Virginia! no I didn't; it's only the moon. A dream. A dream. Another dream. Not reality. He sighed with relief and ran a hand over his face, still panting a little. Just a dream, a bad one. The dreams would be gone tomorrow, for another month, then
He rolled onto his side, to find the pills, to drug him back into unconsciousness for another few hours until the moon set. Until he was sure. And stopped, staring.
She was sitting there.
Under the window, the moonlight silhouetting her shape, but a reflection lit up her eyes, and they were looking at him, holding his own.
"Virginia --" He didn't know what to do, what if he
"I know what you are."
Her voice stabbed through the darkness and his breath caught in his throat.
She was coming towards him, her hand reaching out, and is this part of the dream, or is it real?
Her cool fingers combed the hair out of his wild eyes.
"I know what you are," she said, more softly, "And I am not afraid."