Shay Sheridan - Reality
"Just get in the back." There was impatience in Hunter's voice, and the hard nose of his gun poked a little more sharply into Mike's side.
Mike looked at the chauffeur, who stood holding the door to the limo. "Must say, Robert, I'm a little surprised."
"Sorry, Mike." Robert couldn't even look him in the eye as he closed the car door behind them. There was no need for Mike to verbalize his disappointment; the chauffeur had had his trust, seemed a friend. Well, the day had been full of revelations, all of them pretty distressing so far.
The huge car purred into life and Robert drove swiftly down 49th Street into Times Square, and then turned south on Broadway. Mike looked out the smoked glass, observing would-be theatergoers lined up at the TKTS booth, hot dog vendors, tourists swarming into Virgin Records and photographing the Coca-Cola sign. It was a typical late fall Sunday in New York City. Everything exactly the same as always. Nothing had changed. Nothing except him.
Strange, he thought, how being abducted at gunpoint failed to send him into a panic. He felt oddly calm, lethargic, almost, as if there were nothing left that could harm him. Surely not Hunter with his gun. His silver gun. I wonder, are there silver bullets inside? Or will a regular bullet stop a werewolf? Werewolf. Wolf. There, the words were out, though in fact they hadn't left his brain since Virginia put them there.
The thought, the word, wolf, did make his heart race a little. Even so, the strange lassitude remained, and he struggled to focus, to gather himself for the confrontation that was bound to come at the end of this journey. He had some curiosity about why he was being taken to see William. But mostly he worried about what had happened with Virginia, there at the end. Why had she suddenly become so upset? Why had she run out that way? And all that business about wolves and Red Riding Hood and
No. When he thought about it, the enormity of what she'd said to him became too much to bear. He needed her with him, to help him make sense of it all. He depended on her. Please, let her not be gone. Forever.
Because I can't live without her.
He shut his eyes against the thought. When he opened them, he became aware the sun was now shining through the rear window, chasing the car as it headed east. He looked out the window as the car passed the gray granite of the Morgan Library. "I thought we were going to see my grandfather."
"He lives on Sutton Place. We're too far downtown."
"Not the apartment. The house."
"On the island?" Hunter nodded. Curious, Mike thought. The house was supposed to be closed up for repairs. "When did he go out there?"
Hunter shrugged. Clearly the giving of information was not part of his instructions.
Mike sank back in the corner and studied the other man. Hunter had always been...odd, existing on the fringes of daily activity at the firm. What he did there was actually a bit of a mystery. He was a Thurson, after all, Regina's uncle, in fact, but not one of the stars, like she was. Like he, Mike, was. Funny, he'd never really thought about Hunter's place at Thurson/Wolf before; he was just a strange, peripheral presence, handling things for William. Quietly. Invisibly. "Special projects." Like abductions? What else does he do --has he done --for my grandfather? Mike considered him with new interest. Hunter hadn't put the gun away, though Mike clearly had no intention of trying to leap from a moving car. Instead he held the weapon almost lovingly, caressingly, in his large, blunt-fingered hand. He loves it; it's his power.
The car plunged into the Midtown Tunnel and the darkness closed in around them. An apt metaphor for my life, Mike thought.
He tried not to think about what to expect. Whatever was going to happen would happen. The thought made him frown; wasn't that the way he'd gone through life, drifting, anchored only by his work and his grandfather? The work remained what it was. But his grandfather...?
It did no good to dwell on it. An answer, some answer, was coming, he was sure of it.
Tony stared at the vision of loveliness holding her coat over her arm outside the apartment door. She was quite tall; he was 6'3" and only had to look down a few inches to see her huge blue eyes. Blue eyes that were looking at him very appraisingly. He felt awkward, ungainly and badly dressed in front of this, this goddess in the deeply plunging ruby-red blouse and high-cut skirt. He let his eyes wander down her long legs to the shiny black boots. My God, Tony thought, didn't I wish for this on my last birthday?
"Mr. Tony Lewis?"
"Why, yes, yes, uh, hello, hi." He came back to himself and smiled at her. Winningly, he hoped. "May I--" His voice cracked and he tried again, in his most suave tone, "May I help you?"
"I hope so. May I come in?"
"Oh, oh, sure, of course, come in." He stepped back to let her in and she walked past him into the living room. She took in the shabby furniture, dingy wallpaper and down-at-the-heel look of the man in front of her. Whatever her thoughts, she kept them to herself.
"Mr. Lewis, I have to talk to you about something... personal. Something very, very delicate. It's difficult to talk about, but I know I can trust you."
"Oh." This sounded important." Tony ran a hand through his disordered hair. "Won't you sit down, Miss --er?"
"Rauthursdottir. Regina Rauthursdottir." She smiled at him ruefully as he sat down across from her. His half-finished beer was on the table between them, and he moved it closer to him, as if that would make everything a little neater. "I know my name is a mouthful." The way she said "mouthful," her brightly stained lips forming the words, her tongue flicking out to moisten them after, gave Tony a little thrill down his spine, and he shifted slightly in his seat. "So why don't you just call me Regina?"
"All right, Regina." He smiled at her. She smiled back. "I'll call you 'Regina,' then... Regina." He giggled a little, despite himself, and imagined what her hair would look like if he unpinned it. He had to will his hand to remain where it was on the chair arm.
"--Oh, Tony, please."
"Tony. You have a daughter, Virginia, I believe."
"Yes." What did Virginia have to do with this enchanting creature?
"Is she expected soon?"
He frowned. What had Virginia said, when she ran out? She'd been upset when she came back, and she'd paced around the apartment for a few minutes before dashing off again. "No, I don't think so. She said something about going to the park." The frown became more pronounced. "I wish she wouldn't do that, going there alone. Do you know that this year alone the number of muggings--"
"--Tony, Tony." She paused, waiting to claim his attention again.
"I'm sorry. Kind of got onto my soap box."
"That's all right." She smiled at him winningly. "You're a concerned father. That's sweet. And that's why I'm, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, Tony, but I'm afraid Virginia's involved in a very bad situation. A romantic entanglement with--" She paused dramatically and fished for a handkerchief.
"I knew it!" Tony jumped up. "It's that Mike, isn't it? I knew when she wouldn't introduce me! What is he, a criminal, inside trader? Drugs? What?"
"My husband." The lacy handkerchief dabbed at one lovely eye and she stifled a sob.
"Oh!" That wasn't what he'd expected. "Oh," he repeated, "I'm so... That's terrible. Oh, dear. Regina, Virginia, she, I'm sure--"
"I'm sure she didn't know," Regina said faintly, sniffing into the handkerchief. "She seems very nice."
"Oh, she is, she is, she'd never. I am so sorry."
"Thank you." Regina sniffed again, louder, and looked up at him. His heart did flip-flops at her tragic expression. Boy, if he got his hands on the guy... "I wonder, Tony, might I have a glass of water?"
"Oh, of course, of course. Certainly. Just sit there, I'll be right back." She gave him a wan but grateful smile and he dashed out of the room.
As Tony disappeared into the kitchen, Regina's expression hardened. She looked at the bottle of beer and reached for her handbag, then reconsidered. No. Too difficult. This wasn't the place.
"Here you are."
She took the water with thanks, but only drank a sip. "I wonder... no, no, I can't ask you to do that." Her voice conveyed noble self-sacrifice.
Tony sat down next to her. "What? What is it? You can ask me anything." He reached over and patted her hand and she squeezed it in return.
"I wonder if I could ask you a very big favor."
"Anything, of course."
"If you could just come with me, down to my car, I have some... things that I found in Michael's dresser. Things that --well, they might be your daughter's. This is so very upsetting." She squeezed his hand again and he reached over to put an arm around her shoulder. "Would you mind coming downstairs with me and taking a look at them? I didn't want to carry them in here, and if they are Virginia's, well, you can take them. I just can't bear to let them stay in our home any more. And I don't want to run into her up here, if you don't mind--"
"--Of course, I understand, Regina. I'll come with you." He stood up and helped her on with her coat.
"Thank you. The car's right downstairs."
He held the door open. "How can you stay with a guy like that?"
She looked at him and sighed. "I can't help it. Michael and I... It's our destiny to be together."
He followed her, shaking his head a little. Destiny. Hah. The guy was a jerk and a liar. He was going to have to tell Virginia as soon as he saw her. It wouldn't be pretty, but she had to know.
The car was a large maroon Jaguar sedan, and Tony whistled in appreciation. "That's a beauty!" He looked at her. 'You do like red, don't you?"
"It suits me, don't you agree?" she asked, an enigmatic smile on her lips. Her red-tipped fingers played over small key chain. "Here, let me open the door for you." She pressed a button and the door lock popped. "The things are in the back. Under the seat. If you lean over--"
Tony knelt on the car seat and rummaged around. "I don't feel anything."
"A little further over to the right." Regina looked around. A nanny passed, dragging a reluctant pre-schooler; across the street in front of the museum a noisy tour group gathered. They were far enough away. The tree-lined street in front of Tony's building was quiet, except for the ambient noise of traffic from Fifth Avenue.
"I still don't--" Tony's voice was muffled. His long body stretched across the back seat. Regina moved in to kneel behind him. Her hand reached inside her purse. "Here, Tony. Let me help you."
Virginia stood on the hillside, staring into the copse of trees.
Staring at nothing.
She'd been so sure, so sure this time that the portal would be there, be visible. Surely now that I know I came through the mirror, that it's real, it will appear to me! She was aware there was no logic to her thought, but nothing was making sense anymore except the one thing she knew in her heart. Wolf exists. But there was nothing, nothing but trees and grass and the occasional person passing by, scarcely giving a second look to the young woman staring into the shade with a perplexed look on her face.
She wandered a little further afield, though she knew the spot, was positive this was where the door had been. She'd come here before, after her accident, many times. In the days following her awakening at the hospital she'd haunted the park, hoping against hope that the blurry passageway to another place would magically appear. But it hadn't, and after a while it had become part of her dream, not of her reality.
As sure as she was, now, that she had been to the Nine Kingdoms, that she had in fact lived the adventures she'd begun to think were fantasy, that was how sure she was that she would find the portal, locate the doorway that had brought her here and would take her back. To Wolf.
But there was nothing. Nothing at all.
And if it had been there...? What, really, was she planning to do?
She felt terribly confused and conflicted. And she was desperately sad and not just a little guilty for running out on Mike without an explanation. Without telling him the whole truth about herself, about Wolf. She'd left him there, vulnerable, nearly destroyed by what she'd told him. The desperation in his voice as she ran out the door haunted her.
But she was haunted by other memories, too, memories of Wolf and their time together. For the thousandth time she cursed herself for not holding fast to the belief that he existed. He was her mate. Her soul mate. How could she have doubted he was real? Didn't she love him?
But...didn't she love Mike, too?
Her head throbbed with unanswered questions, and her heart ached when she thought of what would happen. One thing was all too clear; whatever happened, whatever she did, she was going to inflict tremendous pain on someone. Someone was bound to suffer.
Perhaps all of them.
For now there was nothing she could do, nor think to do. She turned away from the trees and headed back towards Fifth Avenue. At the park entrance at 79th Street, as she stood waiting for the light to change, her New Yorker radar tingled suddenly with the sensation that someone was standing behind her. Too close behind her. She started to turn, and a voice spoke in her ear. "Virginia. How nice to see you again."
She spun around to see Regina only a step behind her. "Regina! You scared me to --What are you doing here?" Damn it! Her heart was pounding more than it should be, but the memory of standing before the portrait in Regina's office made it impossible for her to consider Regina merely a conniving bitch. Now that she knew her lineage, Regina's history --well, she had no time any more for her snotty behavior and imperious attitude, even if she was some sort of watered-down royalty! Her shock turned to anger. "What the hell do you want, Regina?"
"Such language. You really are a common little thing, aren't you?" Regina pushed a blonde curl off her forehead. "Just want give you an invitation, and here you are, being rude to me. Wouldn't want you to miss the party, so I thought I'd come collect you."
"I'm not going anywhere with you. Whatever kind of party you're throwing, Regina, I'm not interested." Virginia turned her back on the other woman.
"Oh, dear. I was afraid you'd feel that way. Pity. Your father's the guest of honor."
Virginia had one foot in the street and froze. She turned around, stepping back up onto the curb so Regina wouldn't tower over her quite so much. "What are you talking about? What do you know about my dad?"
"He's very charming, Tony. Well, at least he thinks he is. We had a lovely conversation, the two of us. He's not feeling all that well, now, though."
A ripple of panic passed through her. "Where is he? What's wrong with him?"
"Not very much. Yet. Perhaps you'd like to see for yourself?" She stepped forward, the pleasant expression on her pretty face turning ruthless and cold. "Because, my dear Virginia, if you don't come, I guarantee you he'll be feeling much worse very, very soon."
Any icy hand clenched around Virginia's heart. "Where is he?" The words came out in a whisper. She was terrified of what Regina might have done. Why? What could she possibly want? Was this, could this all be about Mike? It seemed incredible, but... The arrogance of the woman was almost palpable. "Take me to where he is!"
"Of course." Regina smiled. "See? I knew you'd come to my party after all."
She led Virginia to 81st Street, and for a moment Virginia was sure they were going into the apartment, but Regina paused in front of a dark red car. "He's in the back."
She tried to see through the darkened window, and could make out Tony's shape on the seat. "What did you do to him?"
Regina shrugged. "Nothing much. He's just taking a little nap. Get in the front. We're going to take a ride."
In a daze, Virginia walked around the car to the passenger side. Regina got in behind the wheel and unlocked the other door. Virginia crawled in, immediately reaching over the back seat to check on her father. Tony seemed to be breathing but was very deeply asleep or unconscious, not responding when she shook him or called his name.
Regina started the car. "Sit down and buckle your seat belt, Virginia. I'd hate anything to happen to you." A sound, somewhere between a snarl and a giggle, escaped her lips. She's insane, Virginia thought suddenly. And I'm even crazier to get in her car.
She turned towards the blonde. "I don't care how pissed you are that Mike is seeing me. You're sick, Regina! You're crazy to do something like this! I'm not going anywhere with you until you tell me what you did to my father."
"Don't be so dramatic. You talk like I boiled your bunny or something." She made the little giggle-snarl sound again, and her eyes looked frighteningly opaque. This time the hair stood up on Virginia's neck, and for the first time she truly felt afraid of Regina. "Relax. I didn't hurt your big, strong daddy. Why would I? There's always room for another janitor in the world. I just knocked him out a little. With this." There was suddenly something in her hand, a little dusting of some sort of powdery substance.
Virginia's eyes narrowed. "What is that?"
"Oh, a little something to make people shut up and do what I want. It's a handy little drug. I got it from Burleigh."
Virginia caught her breath, her eyes fixed on the little pile of pink something in Regina's palm. "Wh-who?"
"William's chauffeur. Robert Burleigh."
Another piece of reality folded and shifted in Virginia's mind. "Burly?" she whispered.
"That's right." Without warning, Regina blew the handful of powder into Virginia's face, and she collapsed sideways against the door with a surprised gasp. Regina wiped her hand on the lace handkerchief and looked over at the unconscious figure beside her. "What does he call it? Oh, yes --'troll dust.' Charming name, isn't it?" She looked at the still figure next to her. "Don't bother to answer, Virginia. It was a rhetorical question." She made the strange high-pitched giggle again, then shifted the car into gear and pulled out of the space.
The sun had leeched out of the sky during the trip, and as the limo pulled into the driveway Mike could see gray clouds obscuring the horizon where the sky and the Long Island Sound met. The car completed its circle and the water disappeared behind the mass of the gray stone house.
Robert opened the door and Mike got out. The scaffolding was still in place around the central tower and the huge house still had an unused look about it. But there were a number of cars parked in front and he could see a few more at the side near the garage. He walked up under the portico, Hunter two steps behind him.
Inside, the great hall was lit by electric lights modeled after torches. The effect was quaint, a modern homage to medieval life, but the ludicrous nature of the imitation for once failed to lift his spirits. The building had been an unusual place to spend his adolescence, a kind of funhouse filled with odd objects and peculiar decor, but it had never really felt like a home. Right now it felt like a dungeon.
William was waiting in the library. And he was not alone.
Mike was a little startled, though he'd seen the cars outside. He'd expected his grandfather to receive him in private, tell him whatever he had to tell, make demands, lecture him, maybe even threaten him. What he found looked more like a courtroom.
William was seated in his wing chair behind the library table, flanked by two men, a senior manager named Taylor and Geoffrey Singer, the head of the marketing department. Grouped in a casual circle were others he recognized: Sylvia Gray, William's secretary, Terry Greenwood and Linear Pelt from Legal, Cleo the office manager, Veronica the receptionist, two traders, Jack Furman and Andre Lenoire. He also noticed the head of Accounting, several junior staffers and a handful of others he didn't know by name. His secretary Shira didn't seem to be present. Nor, he noticed, was Regina.
He looked around, staring at faces, at the people he thought he knew, lunched with, talked sports with, who seemed now to be waiting for something.
"Thank you, Hunter." The wait ended as William Wolf spoke. Hunter stepped out from behind Mike, and seemed almost to give a little bow towards the older man. Like William is the king, or something, Hunter slouched over to the wall and leaned there, his mission complete, though his hand remained in his pocket.
"Michael." The old man's voice belied his age, cutting through the air like a hatchet. "Sit down, Michael."
"I'd rather stand, thanks."
"Don't be silly. Taylor, get my grandson a chair." The younger man complied, bringing forward a ladder-back chair, placing it in the center of the room. "Sit down. Please," William said, gesturing.
Mike sat. He looked around. The image of a courtroom was unavoidable. "Do we go straight to the public execution, or do I get to consult a lawyer? Linnea, Terry? want to represent me?" The joke fell flat and the honey-haired lawyer shifted in her seat self-consciously. The man next to her shuffled his feet and looked helplessly at the wing chair.
"You needn't turn this into a circus." William's voice was filled with distaste. "You'll only make this worse for yourself."
"Worse. How so? I've already been kidnapped."
"No you haven't, don't be ridiculous."
"Really? I get a gun stuck in my ribs by Hunter, a mysterious summons to a house that's supposed to be boarded up, some kind of Star Chamber reception --what would you call it? An engraved invitation?" He was angry, ready to do battle, but William wasn't looking at him.
"Hunter, was a gun really necessary?"
The man in the corner shrugged slightly. "You told me to be persuasive, William."
"Still..." The old man's attention veered off his associate and returned to Mike. "In any case, Michael, I understand you had quite the little scene earlier today. And--" Singer handed him a paper "--there was that unscheduled visit to your Dr. Horovitz yesterday. I thought we discussed that a few months ago. I told you not to--"
"Let me get this straight." Mike's eyes bored through his grandfather. "You're spying on me, on everything I do? You have no right!"
William ignored his outburst. "To say I am disappointed in the way you're conducting yourself would be to understate my feelings."
"Really? In what way? I don't hear you complaining at staff meetings when you count how much money I bring in."
"That's not what I'm talking about, and you know it, but since you bring it up, your receipts are down, too. Probably because that girl is distracting you. But let's not digress."
"No, let's not, William!" Mike was out of his chair and in the corner of his eye he saw Hunter come away from the wall. "Let's talk about Virginia. You have no right to interfere in my private life--Interfere, hell! You have no right even to have an opinion about it!"
William shifted in the chair, putting his palms on the desk and leaning forward. "I certainly do have the right, I am your grandfather!"
"I'm not a teenager--"
"Then stop acting like one! That girl is undermining everything you've worked for. She's undone all the progress you've made. You haven't been yourself lately--"
Mike snorted. "And how the hell would I even know? You treat me like some sort of psycho, William, and I'm not, am I? That's the truth, isn't it?"
"Look at you: you can't even control yourself--"
"--Control myself?! What sort of a comment is that? Jesus, William, you don't have the right to dictate to me. All these years and you're still feeding me the same old bullshit!"
"No, I don't think I will! You're the one who's made this into a circus." He turned in a circle, indicating the ring of spectators, most of whom looked acutely embarrassed by the scene before them. "If this isn't a trial, what is it? What's the penalty for having my own life, for not being your lap dog? Public humiliation? Stoning? Tell me, why are they all here? And why did you bring me out here anyway? I'm willing to bet it's not for a fraternity initiation. Why is our private business on display?"
"It's family business, Michael. We're all family, here."
"Please. A company is not a family, no matter how many touchy-feely seminars we have. I don't want to discuss my life with half the firm present. And I sure as hell have no intention of discussing it with you!"
William leaned back. "I'm afraid you have no choice."
Mike set his jaw. "I'm afraid I do. I'm leaving." He started towards the door, but two of them, Andre and Jack, blocked his way. He sized them up; both were as tall as he, and Andre in particular quite a bit more muscular. He knew he'd never get through them. Mike turned again towards his grandfather." What is going on, here, William? Tell me. Tell me!"
"There's no need to raise your voice."
"Isn't there?" Michael spun back around and slammed his hands on the desk. Several of them jumped at the sound but William didn't flinch. "Maybe it's time I did raise my voice. I can't believe what a wuss you've made of me --and I've let you do it. Maybe I need to start demanding some answers from you after all these years!" He was beyond caring about the others now, his entire focus on the white-haired man across the table.
The old man sighed, covered his mouth with a leathery hand, and rubbed his jaw a few times. His pale eyes were locked on his grandson. "All right. What is it you want, Michael?"
"I want --I want to know. Who I am. What I am. What we are. What kind of creatures are we, grandfather? Why have I been subjected to half-truths and outright lies? What was wrong with my father? Why does the moon make me crazy? Why have you been drugging me with wolfsbane?"
There was a ripple and murmur from the others, but he kept on, growing louder. "Are you surprised I know? Well, I do know. That's one of the things Virginia gave me, a gift of truth. That's more than I ever got from you. I've been in the dark all my life, haven't I? You've kept me there, and I want to know why. What's the truth? I deserve to know, I need to know or I am going to go crazy, William!"
He had worked himself up to such a state that the last words came out in an impassioned rush, furious and pained, fueled by years and years of frustration.
The silence following his outburst was nearly as deafening as his tirade had been. For a long moment, too long, Mike thought there would be no answer after all. He closed his eyes. It was all futile, pointless.
And then, from an unexpected quarter, hope.
"Tell him, William."
Mike looked towards the voice. Sylvia Gray, his grandfather's secretary, stood up and walked to the desk. Her sleekly-coiffed silver hair and perfectly tailored clothes gave her a severe demeanor, but there was a look of compassion in her face that seemed almost motherly when she gazed at Mike. Her manicured hand fell on William's shoulder. "I told you it was wrong not to let him know."
"Sylvia, please, that's for me to decide." William tried to wave her away but she wouldn't be dismissed.
"Not any more. You've made it our business. As you say, William, this is a family." Her eyes lifted to meet Mike's. "That's not a platitude, Mike. It's literally true." She let go of William's shoulder and walked around to the front of the desk. "Tell him. You have to."
There was a murmur around the room, and Mike saw a few heads nodding. Others looked concerned, a few nervous or apprehensive. At length William sighed deeply and pushed himself upright. He moved around the table to stand looking up at his grandson.
Mike was struck, as he always was, by the power emanating from his grandfather. But for once he wasn't intimidated. His heart was pounding, but with expectation. Twenty sets of eyes were fixed on the two of them.
"You want to know who you are. What you are. What we are, all of us. I hope you're ready to know."
"Whether I am or not, I have to know."
"As you wish." William held his eyes one more moment, then looked away, almost as if he were concentrating on something no one else could see. Mike blinked. His grandfather seemed to be shrinking, bending, folding over, and at first he thought William was falling and reached out to help him, but then the very shape of the man was changing, shifting, blurring, clothing falling away, and then in a heart-stopping moment the old man no longer stood there, but in his place an enormous white wolf stared back at Mike. A wolf with William's eyes.
Mike caught his breath, his head suddenly light. This is not really happening! He looked around wildly for help, for corroboration that he hadn't lost his mind, that others were seeing this, too, but others were changing as well, now, bodies bending into other shapes, two legs becoming four, muzzles growing out of noses and chins, hair growing and covering and becoming fur, silver and black and grey and brown.
Mike stopped breathing. He was standing within a circle of wolves.