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Shay Sheridan - Reality

Chapter 26 - Alpha

The car sped along the winding road, gouging the shoulder as Mike took a curve too fast. Virginia clutched at the dashboard and lurched against the door. The huge car continued to hurtle recklessly through the corridor of trees. She wanted to say something, to urge him to slow down, but one glance at Mike's face convinced her to let it be. She struggled to put on the seatbelt.

His exuberant mood following the rescue had vanished, replaced by grimness. He was on a mission, a quest, with single-minded determination.

"Mike."

He glanced at her briefly. "Are you all right?"

"That's what I want to know about you. What's happened?"

The concern in her voice brought a wan smile to his lips. "You mean before or after I was kidnapped?"

She let out her breath. "What was there an epidemic? Not by Regina --"

"My grandfather. Brought me out to the house by force. Got Hunter to do it."

"Hunter?"

"I don't think you've met him."

"I don't think I want to."

"No, you don't." He stared out at the dusky road and snapped on the headlights. "Virginia, I found out some very bad things, things about my father, what they did to him --and some truths about me. Some of THAT you already know, though how, I have no idea." He glanced at her. "If I thought I'd lost my mind before --" He turned back to the road. "William told me. All about my family. We're all --what you said. But more, he said we came from originally I can't even tell you what he said, it's so unreal!"

"He told you you came through a mirror, from a place called the Nine Kingdoms."

The car swerved, but somehow he kept control. "How... how do you, how could you..."

She smiled and put a hand on his arm. "Because I've been there."

"Virginia "

"I got there by accident. It seems like a dream even now, but it exists. It's a place where our fairytales come from. Sort of like a European country, castles, mountains. But there's magic, too, and the people who live there, some aren't even people at all, there are trolls --"

"Trolls," he repeated. "And wolves."

"Yes."

Mike seemed to consider his words carefully. "Wolf. That's where he was from, isn't it?"

"Yes." She paused, letting the pang strike her that always came at the thought of him. "That's where he came from." That's where he is.

"You know," he said in measured tones, "the horrible thing is, what we're talking about isn't even the worst of it. It's the lying, the crimes that have been committed. The people that I thought I knew. I mean, look at William. Hell, look at Regina. How could she have tried --"

Virginia shivered. "She's crazy. She's obsessed with you."

He shook his head. "It's like everything real has been turned upside down."

"Tell me about it."

"Everything except you, Virginia."

She smiled but said nothing.

"We're here." Mike turned the long black car into the driveway. In the dying light of evening the house was a forbidding monolith against the sky. Lights had been turned on along the length of the driveway and around the circumference of the large front yard.. There were a few people outside in the false light, some evidently heading for their cars, but as the limo approached they all stopped and watched. Mike pulled the limo into a space by the wall and turned off the engine. "Maybe you should stay in the car."

"Like hell I will."

"Virginia," he reached over and grabbed her hand. "I don't know what might happen. They're wolves, for God's sake. Real ones."

"I've handled a wolf before," she said.

"And very pleasant it was, too. But you know what I mean." Impulsively he leaned in and kissed her. "I love you." His eyes held hers. "I don't want to worry about you."

"You're always worried about me."

"Well, you get into a lot of trouble."

"Look who's talking." Virginia squeezed his hand. "Go. I'll be fine."

She watched as he got out of the car and crunched across the driveway to the portico, where he stopped to speak with someone. The other man stepped back, revealing his face in the overhead light. Robert. The two seemed to be arguing --at least Mike's posture was aggressive and she could hear a belligerent tone in his voice, though she couldn't hear the words clearly.

She couldn't stand it. She got out.

~*~*~

'I don't know," Robert was saying. "She just drove out of here about ten minutes ago. Really tearing up the road."

"Forget it. I'll deal with Regina later. Why didn't you tell me about them?"

"Take it easy, Mike--"

"I'd don't want to take it easy!"

Robert gestured and shifted his eyes away. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? My brother is an idiot and my sister is a law unto herself. We don't get along. I had no idea they were working there--"

"Really? And how long have they been doing Regina's dirty work?"

"I don't know look, I don't keep tabs on them. I'm sorry."

"And what about you, Robert?" Mike leaned in, challenging the other man, and Robert backed away a little. "Are you working for her, too?"

"I --"

"Because if I ever found out you were part of that--"

"No way!" Robert seemed aghast at the thought. "She asked me to tell her where you went. That's all."

"That's all? Christ, Robert!"

"I had to." A pathetic, slightly whiny tone had crept into Robert's voice. "I can't explain; it's, it's complicated. I had to, okay? But believe me, Mike, I wouldn't have done anything to hurt Virginia."

Mike looked into Robert's face, seeing nothing to suggest the chauffeur was lying. "All right," he said grudgingly. "But this isn't over."

He shoved past Robert, who sagged weakly against a column, looking sick.

Mike pushed the heavy door open and it banged against the foyer wall, making the glass torches dance in their holders. He stayed in the doorway. A couple of the brokers were leaning against the wall in conversation, and looked up, startled, at the noise. "Where is he?" Mike demanded.

One opened his mouth to speak but a deep rumble cut him off.

"Right here."

William stepped into the hallway, flanked by Hunter, as usual, Mike thought sourly. "Where'd you go?" William asked, a challenge in his voice.

"Maybe you should ask Robert. He likes to follow me." His voice had become hoarse. What was it about his grandfather that made him want to pace? "I've been to see my mother."

"Oh. Why don't you come inside, Michael, and we'll talk--"

"No! You come outside, William." He looked over William's shoulder. "You and Hunter."

"Mike, don't be --"

"DO IT!" With that, Mike turned and went outside, leaving the others in stunned silence. There was a pause before anyone moved, and then, surprisingly, William headed for the door. The remaining men shifted uneasily. A moment after, Hunter followed.

Outside, Mike stepped to the middle of the lighted yard. He was dimly aware of Virginia, standing in the periphery of the light, but he couldn't think of her. Not right now...

"So what is this, Mike?" Hunter snorted. "What, are you calling us out, to some sort of gunfight?"

"Be quiet, Hunter." William remained on the portico steps. "All right. What's this all about?"

"I saw my mother, William. We talked about the day my father died."

William shook his head. "What's the point of dredging it up? I told you --"

"You told me lies." His restlessness got the best of him and Mike started to pace a little, working out his words as he moved. "You said he was depressed. Lie. He was angry, furious, in fact, William. At you. You wanted to take me away from them, didn't you? To live with you.." Mike stopped and fixed William with a stare that would have blistered anyone else. "Well, you got your wish."

"Yes, he was angry, both of them were. They didn't understand what was best for you."

"I'm not done. You said my mother was incapable of dealing with him, of living with a wolf. Lie. I remember, William. She was always there for me, and for him, too. She was so strong. She kept us together, while he dealt with his demons." Mike took a step towards the stone portico, and Virginia had the uncomfortable image of a gladiator looking up at the emperor, waiting for the lions to be released.

She looked around. Gradually the others had filtered out of the house, and were standing in a loose circle in the driveway. She picked out Robert, his ugly face intent on the scene before him. Was it true? Could he in fact be a troll, or descended from one?

"And finally, William, you say my father was so incapable of dealing with his nature that he had to end his life. Lie. The worst lie of all. That night, after they left here, there was something wrong with the car--"

"That's enough, Michael. I'm sorry you can't believe the truth. Your mother isn't well, you know that. She lives in a fantasy world."

"I believe her!"

"Michael, please." William lowered his voice. "Look, if you won't believe me, believe Hunter. He was as close to Thomas as anyone ever was. He saw some of those episodes, Michael. He tried to help your father through them."

Virginia followed William's gesture to the man at his right, a massively built blonde man with pale blue eyes and a hawk-like profile. Her heart lurched and her hands began to tingle. The huntsman! "Mike," she said in a strangled whisper, That's Hunter?"

He looked at her strangely. "Yes... what is it?"

"Him. He's... evil."

"What?" Mike's eyes widened, but he turned away from her.

"That's right, Mike, I saw him," Hunter was saying. "Your father seemed really upset that afternoon. More than usual. I tried to talk to him, but--"

"--Hunter..." Mike squared himself. "You were here?"

"Of course he was." William interjected impatiently. "Hunter was my driver then. We were all here together, your parents, Judith, Hunter. We were having a perfectly reasonable discussion until your--"

"--The last thing, William, the last thing my father said in the car, was 'I didn't really think he'd do it.' I didn't really think he'd do it. There was something terribly wrong with the car, something that was done to it. That's what he meant. That's what he said. She's never forgotten those words. No matter what else she's forgotten, no matter what else is wrong with her, my mother remembers the last moments before her husband died!" The edge of his voice was a knife slicing through the silence. "What do you think he meant by that, William?" His eyes left his grandfather and fixed on Hunter. "Did he tell you do it, Hunter, huh? Did you cut the brake line or screw up the transmission? What technique did you use? What did he offer you?"

Hunter paused, then smiled, though to Virginia's eyes he seemed a little uncertain. "This is crap, Mike, I never did anything. I liked Tom. If anything happened, it was his fault." Hunter jerked his head toward William, then stepped down onto the driveway, distancing himself from the white-haired man.

"No." William raised his head, looking at Hunter for a moment, then let his gaze fall on Mike again. "Thomas said that?"

Mike nodded. Something was happening to his grandfather's face. The craggy leather was changing, churning with barely controlled emotion. "I did not want your father dead. I loved him. I despaired for him, but I loved him, even as he was. I would have died instead of him, if only I could have." William sighed, a sound of profound sadness. "Believe me, Michael. Please."

Mike looked at the old man, searching for any sign of duplicity. He could find none. At length he spoke. "I do. I believe you." The old man closed his eyes and reached out a hand to steady himself on the stone pillar that held up the portico roof.

"But someone damaged the car."

Everyone turned to the new voice as Virginia stepped into the circle. She hadn't meant to speak, but the words had popped out of her mouth anyway. Mike reached out for her and she took his hand. William looked at her and smiled with resignation. "Miss Lewis." He inclined his head.

"Mr. Wolf." She nodded back, just as politely. Inside her stomach roiled and twisted.

"She's right." Mike said, seeking out at Hunter again. "Someone did it."

Hunter snarled at him. "This is ridiculous. I'm leaving."

Robert appeared from nowhere, blocking Hunter's path.

"No you're not." There was an unspoken command in Mike's voice. Virginia watched mutely as a few of the others moved, tightening the circle that now contained Hunter, Mike and herself.

Hunter stopped, looked at them and turned back to William with a short laugh. "This is bullshit, William, you know it!"

"Is it?" William's eyes were glowing with a strange light, and if Mike had never seen such a thing before, Virginia had. She caught her breath.

"Did you do it, Hunter? You were alone with that car the whole time we were inside. It would have been so easy for you to do it, wouldn't it? You're clever. You know about mechanical things. You could have. It must have been you who killed them." In the harsh overhead light William's face was an unreadable mask, his voice alone betraying his emotions. "What I don't understand is why, Hunter. You grew up with my son. You say you were his friend. Why would you do it?"

Hunter said nothing.

"You killed my son. I'll see that you pay for what you did--"

"I don't think so, William," Hunter said, a strange smile playing on his mouth.

Virginia grabbed Mike by the wrist.

The little silver gun was in Hunter's hand.

"Put that away, Hunter!" William's voice boomed from the portico.

"I don't think so," Hunter said again, his voice steady, now, even a little exultant. "Maybe you don't realize what I did for you, what I did for the company.' He gestured around the circle with the gun. "For all of you."

"For you, you mean!" Mike snapped.

"Come on, Mike. Face reality. Your father was weak, everyone knew it. And you're just like him, all fucked up. You don't have what it takes to run this company, to be the leader. You don't have the balls."

"And you do, I suppose?" Mike stepped forward and Virginia put up a hand to hold him back, but he shook her off. He seemed possessed of a resolute intensity that had only now, in this confrontation, come to the fore.

Hunter raised the little gun higher. "Yeah, I do, Mike." He turned his head sharply to William. "Look how I outsmarted all of you! For twenty years! And why, William? You didn't think I was clever enough? Kept me back, doing little odd jobs for you? Driving your car...! Did you think that was all I could do?" Virginia could hear petulance in the harsh voice.

"You had your place here, Hunter."

"My 'place!' What did I have to do to prove myself, William? What couldn't you see in me? I shouldn't have to prove myself, not to you. Your father was a thief, a criminal! My grandfather was a king! A king! And my grandmother -- she was a legend. Your father stole my birthright, William. I could wait, though, wait till after your time. You know that I should've been the next. I deserved it. I should've had it, should've been next, not Tom. Not your precious, pathetic Tommy."

"Why did you have to kill him? He was no threat to you, Hunter!" Mike stepped closer. "He didn't want any part of Thurson/Wolf. No way was he going to take over."

"Oh really?" Hunter sneered. "Ask your grandfather about that, Mike. Never gave up hope, did you, William?"

The old man met his gaze. He stepped down from the portico, closer to Mike. "On his worst days, he was better than you, Hunter," he said evenly.

Hunter's face went white and Virginia saw his mouth tighten. "Well. That's about what I expected from you. So stupid, so short-sighted, old man. And now you want him to follow in your miserable footsteps?" He laughed bitterly. "Well think again, William, because I'm removing him from consideration."

"No!" William's voice quavered and cracked. " Not Michael. Not him too, Hunter!"

"I make the rules now, William!" The silver gun came up, to point directly at Mike. Virginia watched, frozen with horror, as the finger on the trigger began to tighten.

There was a sudden movement to her left, a blur of white and gray, that coincided with the crack of the gun. She heard a muffled cry, and something fell heavily to the ground at her feet. It seemed an eternity before her brain comprehended what her eyes were seeing: William, crumpled, blood pouring from his chest, white hair awry, twitching and gasping. All around them, people froze in place, mouths agape, as their leader lay in a bloody heap before them. "Not... Michael..." he gasped, and fell silent.

Hunter stared at William too. "Shit," he muttered.

Someone began to moan, a terrifying keening sound, Sylvia Gray, moving, the only person in motion, rushing to kneel by William.

"I didn't mean--" Hunter began uncertainly. And then his face hardened. "Just as well, I guess," he said, the gun rising again, seeking his target. "Time for a hostile takeover."

Sylvia uttered one plaintive sob, and Hunter's attention was caught by the sound, his eyed flicking away for a millisecond. And then Mike was moving too, rushing at him, shouting/growling/roaring in fury, and the gun cracked again, and Mike jerked and spun around, and Virginia was screaming in her head Let it just be his bad knee, he just twisted it as he ran, but she knew better, knew different from the way he moved, and now she was screaming his name aloud, running up to him as he began to fall backwards, breaking his fall, and all she was aware of was the startled look on Mike's face and blood, blood on him, blood on her hands, blood seemingly everywhere.

Things moved with deceptive slowness. She was on the ground now, holding Mike, and he was alive, struggling to get up and Hunter was moving towards them, his gun still trained on his target, and she closed her eyes, knowing what was coming, and that there was nothing, nothing anymore she could do to stop it from coming.

And then, then, a voice, from near the ground, Sylvia's voice, no longer keening, flat and emotionless and heavy, "He's dead. William is dead."

A murmuring, a rustling started, a sound that seemed to come from everywhere at once. Around her the others were moving now, too, swaying, shifting, blurring, changing, bodies altering form, becoming their deadly form, and a sound went up that froze Virginia's blood, the sound of many wolves growling deep in their throats. Before her terrified eyes twenty wolves advanced toward their prey, a pack acting as one, closing in, fangs exposed, eyes glittering, a feral roar drowning out Hunter's shrieks as they fell upon him.

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