Shay Sheridan - Reality
I've been lucky. Until this week I've never had to go to a funeral before.
She reached over and took Mike's hand. If she felt any warmth at all, it was because he was standing next to her and not dead, as she had feared in the frenzy of the events nearly a week earlier. No, he was very much alive, his arm in a sling, a little paler than normal, perhaps, and largely silent, but that might have been due to the reason they were in the park.
He'd insisted on coming here today, though both Virginia and his doctor had objected. While in the hospital, he'd missed the big church funeral for his grandfather, and absolutely, stubbornly insisted on being here today. In the end, the others had delayed the gathering until Mike could be there with them.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, studying him.
"Just the same as I did five minutes ago when you asked me. Fine."
"Really. I mentioned you are a pain, right?" he said, but he smiled.
"Just as long as you know."
They continued to walk up a little hill, where others from Thurson/Wolf were standing in informal clusters. It was a very different feeling, here, outside, from the packed church where religious and civic leaders had praised and eulogized William Wolf. Virginia had been surprised by how far his influence had been felt; when the mayor got up to speak, she had realized just how prominent William had been.
But now, now she only saw people from his firm. Employees, close friends all of them members of William's -- she still had trouble thinking it -- his pack.
Looking around, she realized the only outsiders at the gathering were herself, and, standing a little away from the others, her father and Lisette. The two of them stood to the side, Mike's mother tiny and delicate next to Tony's bulk, keeping space between themselves and the others. The wolves, Virginia reminded herself. Wolves, people, Mike, Virginia. Virginia, Wolf...
I have to forget him.
Next to her Mike followed her gaze. "He's great with her."
"My mother. Your dad. She seems so much better."
"She should never have been in that place. I should have--"
"Don't do that."
"How do I know what they did to her? How do I know--"
"Mike. Stop. Please. There's no way, there was no way of knowing what did or didn't happen there. Be glad you have her. Be glad she survived."
"I am. I am." He turned to look at her. "Both of you."
"Me? You're the one who gave us a scare."
He lifted her hand and kissed it. "You're cold."
"Put your arm around me, then, you big bad wolf."
I have to forget him. There is no going back.
Mike brushed his lips playfully against the top of her head, but when he spoke he was somber. "I still can't believe what Regina did."
Virginia paused before speaking. "You're... thinking about Cathy."
He looked for a moment like he was going to protest, but then nodded. "It's unbelievable." He shook his head.
Virginia shivered. She'd been at the hospital when the police came to tell them they'd found Cathy's laptop -- in Regina's apartment, along with a frightening collection of personal objects that clearly proved Regina's obsession with Mike. Though the exact details of what had happened to Mike's previous girlfriend were still unknown, the conclusion was all too obvious: Regina had eliminated her earlier rival, just as she'd tried to do with Virginia. "They'll catch up to Regina eventually," Virginia said confidently. At least she hoped she sounded confident.
"Everyone, please." Sylvia Gray was beckoning them up the hill and people were beginning to form a circle. The choice of location was not lost on Virginia. The two dozen or so participants were grouped around a particular stand of trees that she knew well, for she had come there herself many times, staring at nothingness, waiting in vain for the mirror portal to open.
There is no going back.
"Well, we're all here, I think. Let's begin, shall we?" Sylvia was impeccably dressed, as always, but Virginia was a little surprised to see the older woman wearing a bright green dress and matching coat. Looking around, Virginia realized that everyone, except herself, her father, Lisette and Mike, were clad in equally festive colors. Not what she would have considered normal clothing to wear to a memorial service where ashes were to be scattered.
But from Sylvia's first words, this promised to be anything but normal.
"Packmates, friends, I speak as is my right at William's companion, not his mate in our old meaning of the word, but one who cared for him, and who was cared for in return."
Virginia could feel Mike start next to her. "Did you know?" she whispered.
"No," Mike whispered back. "He was a lucky man. After Grandmother he deserved a little fun."
Sylvia held out a wooden box that Virginia supposed contained William's ashes. "William, son of Benjamin," she began:
"Into the fire we send your body
Into the earth we spread your strength
Into the water we pour your courage
Into the air we release your spirit."
"Taylor." Sylvia handed the box to a man with dark skin and pale eyes.
"Through fire your weaknesses are taken from us." He passed the box to a woman.
"In the earth your strength is gathered for us." She in turn handed it on.
"Through water your courage is shared with us." The young man looked visibly upset and his voice quavered. He passed the box on.
"In the air your spirit lives, always with us." The last man gave the box back to Sylvia.
"Thank you." She took a breath and looked around the circle, her face grave. She started to speak, and this time all of them recited with her:
"We listen to the wind and hear his call.
As long as there are wolves to listen he will howl.
Now let him run free under the full moon forever."
"Mike." Sylvia handed him William's ashes. He gripped the wooden box tightly in his right hand, feeling, suddenly, a loss that just a few short days before would have been unthinkable. He missed his grandfather. He met Sylvia's tawny eyes, which were a little red but as kind as they always were when she looked at him. "It's your right," she said softly, "and your responsibility." She reached up and kissed him on the cheek.
His responsibility. Mike looked at the people gathered before him, people he had known all his life. But other than Virginia, who stood quietly beside him, and Tony and Lisette on the fringes of the circle, these people, these familiar faces, were something more. Wolves. A pack of wolves, gathered in sorrow to mourn their loss. And they were all, as one, looking to him.
Looking to their leader.
When had that happened? Perhaps in that first confrontation with William; perhaps at his challenge to Hunter, or at his grandfather's death. He didn't know for certain, but he knew it to be true, in the way they looked at him. In the way he felt about himself.
He cleared his throat. "Thank you for being here," he said, "for helping me, all of you. It means a lot."
"Of course, Mike," someone murmured, and he felt hands softly touch him as he passed among them, moving to the space between the trees. He looked once more to Sylvia; she nodded. Mike opened the box and slowly poured the ashes in a small circle around the space where they were gathered. There was nothing to look at, nothing to indicate why this spot had been chosen. But they all knew.
Virginia knew. She looked at the emptiness where the mirror portal should be, watched Mike as he moved around it, spreading the ashes, returning William to his homeland... or at least as close to it as he would ever get. She closed her eyes. The emptiness of the space and the look on Mike's face, combined, were difficult to bear.
"Good bye, William. Grandfather," Mike said. He closed the box and moved back to Virginia's side.
The others seemed to know the ceremony was concluded. One by one they passed by Mike, creating a sort of receiving line. Some smiled, some touched him on the shoulder, some just nodded. One or two even seemed to bow a little as they passed. And several acknowledged Virginia as well. Then they turned, some alone, some in pairs and groups, and left them on the side of the little hill.
Virginia looked over Mike's shoulder. Tony was talking with Lisette but happened to catch Virginia's eye and raised a querying eyebrow. She smiled at her father and nodded very slightly. Tony smiled back, then turned to Lisette. The tiny woman looked up at him, took his arm and the two of them walked slowly away.
"Well," Mike said.
"That was interesting."
"Mmm-hmm. Are you--"
"I swear, Virginia, if you ask me if I'm okay one more time..." His wild look made her laugh.
"Okay, okay. I won't." She glanced back up at the little copse where the ceremony had been. "So... is that what's always done? Is this what a wolf's funeral is usually like?"
He shook his head. "I don't know. I've never been a part of it before." His mouth turned down a little. "Another thing he kept from me, I guess." Virginia gave him a little squeeze. He returned a half-smile, and the hint of a sparkle lit up his eyes. "Personally, I always thought we were Unitarian."
She punched him softly in his good arm.
"What would you like to do? Sylvia has invited everyone to her apartment..."
He took a deep breath and released it. "Do you mind if we stay here for a little bit?"
"Not at all. I'd like to. Want to walk a little?"
"Let's just sit for a while. There's a bench at the bottom of the hill."
Virginia linked her arm in Mike's and turned her back on the hill and the secret it kept. The sun was higher now, and warmer on her face, and the smell of mulch and dead leaves and crisp air filled her nose. The leaves crunched underfoot, singing a sad autumnal song, and Virginia was filled with a melancholy that could only partly be attributed to the season.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, feeling each other's closeness. On this beautiful morning, the park seemed to be theirs alone, their own personal fairytale land, with the spires of Manhattan jutting high above the verdant scallop of the trees.
In the distance they heard the cry of wolves. A pack, perhaps, mourning their alpha. Virginia stirred at the sound; mournful though it was, there was a beauty about it, a beauty that brought tears to her eyes.
At length Mike shifted. "I was thinking."
"About the New York subway system."
She cocked her head at him. "Interesting segue, Mike."
"And about how glad I am that it exists." She opened her mouth to say something silly, but thought better of it. "About how glad I am you decided to take the subway at rush hour on the Thursday before Columbus Day. And how glad I am that my knee is screwed up and I had an appointment with Dr. Jerome Farber on that day and couldn't find a cab afterwards and had to take the number six train from 77th Street."
Virginia said nothing.
"Virginia." He kissed her hand again and got up and began to pace somewhat nervously. "I've been thinking about this, a lot, in between finding out I am not exactly who I always thought I was, and thinking I was going crazy and discovering who killed my father and rescuing you from troll-people and getting shot and things like that--"
Virginia smiled, but her heart was pounding.
"And I want to, I need to ask you, Virginia--"
"I love you, Virginia. I've told you that, I know. And I --" He stopped moving and gazed at her intently. "Please marry me."
She'd suspected, known it was coming, but her heart was fluttering in her throat and it took her a moment before she could open her mouth to answer him. She glanced away, for a moment, gathering her thoughts. "Mike--"
There was a muffled thump and Mike gave a soft cry.
Virginia jumped, startled, and looked up. Mike lay on the grass, moving slightly, but obviously dazed.
Regina was standing over him.
"No!" Virginia started to get up, but Regina was faster. She vaulted across the grass and slammed Virginia back against the bench.
"You can't. You mustn't go to him, Virginia. He's not yours. He never was."
"Regina, don't, please don't hurt him."
"It's none of your concern."
Regina knelt on Virginia's legs, effectively pinning her to the bench. The woman's full weight held her there, and to emphasize her power, Regina held a wooden stick, like a nightstick, or a chair leg, pressed to her throat. Virginia grabbed at the stick but couldn't push it off. The pressure made breathing difficult. She gasped, struggling for air.
The blonde woman's face was inches away, and she was completely disheveled, as if she'd lived in her clothes for days. It was possible she had been living in them for the last week; the police had kept surveillance on Regina's apartment and the woman had never reappeared. More than that, she looked totally unhinged. Her hair stuck out from her head in clumps, her eyes were wild and darkly circled, yet she seemed to have applied fresh lipstick -- though not quite on the contours of her mouth. Her red dress had a huge tear down one sleeve and it fluttered in the breeze, but even without a coat, Regina did not look cold. It seemed to Virginia as if her assailant had passed far beyond sanity.
Regina smiled slyly. "Did you think I wouldn't come back for Mike?"
"Beg me, that's right, you conniver, you thief! Did you think I would let him be with YOU?" Her voice rose into a shriek, assaulting Virginia's ears. "Bitch!"
Anger welled up inside Virginia. "I'm not the bitch here, Regina."
Regina responded by pressing harder into her throat. "He can't have you if you're dead, you know. Not if you're dead. Not when you're dead."
"Even if you kill me, he's not ever going to want you, Regina," Virginia panted. "You are sick. You're screwed up. You need to be put away." She struggled, but it was no use.
"He'll learn. Or he'll be dead, too. Either way, you're dead. Either way... she'll be gone, then we'll be together..." She started to keen, to talk to herself in a singsong tone that chilled Virginia's blood.
Mike was still on the ground, but he was watching them as he shook off the blow, and from the look on his face had begun to comprehend what was happening.
"Like Cathy," Virginia said, trying to remain calm, trying to play for time. "You got rid of her, too."
Regina giggled, nearly cackling. "Dear Dr. Cathy. At Fresh Kills."
"The landfill?" The horror of the idea made Virginia twitch despite the pressure on her throat.
"They can't find you there. Hides them all. Hides them all," Regina sang to herself. "Hide and seek. Hide and seek. Want to play hide and seek?"
Ten feet away Mike looked around dizzily, straining to see anyone, anyone at all who could help. People were strolling far in the distance, but not close enough to be of assistance. He looked back at Regina. Her back was to him, and he could tell from Virginia's labored breathing that she was close to unconsciousness. He had to save her, had to do it now.
Suddenly the dull ache in the back of his head, the nausea from the blow, began to fade away... no, he realized, they had disappeared completely. He heard a high-pitched sound, but when he looked around, he realized it was inside his head. Something was happening to him, something that made him cold and hot at the same time, that made the hair prickle on his head and arms, that made the air suddenly smell of things he'd never known. His teeth -- his teeth were hurting, and suddenly he could see colors and individual blades of grass with breathtaking clarity. And his shoulder no longer ached -- no, he felt better, and stronger than he remembered ever feeling before--
And angrier. Fury/excitement/bloodlust/
He stopped thinking. Something terrifying and intoxicating and frightening and thrilling was taking him over, something as familiar as his nightmares... but this time he didn't fight against it. He let it happen.
Regina was ten feet away, hovering over Virginia, killing Virginia, and impossibly he leapt upon her from a crouching position, his eyes glowing golden, the very air suffused with the color of topaz, upon Regina in her red RED RED BLOOD RED BLOOD! He wanted to kill her, rip out her throat, taste her blood, and she was screaming, as his weight knocked her to the grass. Then he was on her, his teeth seeking her throat--
--but hands, several pairs of hands, were pulling at him, pulling him away, and Virginia's voice was in his ear STOP STOP Please, MIKE, STOP! and he had to stop, panting, tumbling backwards onto the grass as Virginia held him, saying his name over and over, her scent in his nostrils, as the power faded, his breath returning to normal, his eyesight clearing, his teeth retracting.
And as he sat there, dazed, the clarity fading but the sense of his surroundings returning, Mike saw that the other hands were Robert's and his chauffeur was kneeling by Regina, who was screaming, babbling, twitching in Robert's grasp.
"Yes... Virginia! Are you, are you--"
"I'm fine, Mike, I'm fine, you--"
"You... changed. You changed." Virginia's eyes were huge. She rubbed her throat.
"Changed... What do you mean?"
"A wolf. You were changing. Like for the full moon."
"No. I can't. I don't..." He swallowed and stood up shakily, bringing Virginia with him. "I just knew she was going to kill you."
"You were protecting me, Mike." Virginia clasped him tightly to her. "That's why it happened."
Sirens could be heard in the background, growing louder. They looked towards the sound.
"I called the police."
Robert Burleigh said the words softly, and they both turned to him. He still knelt on the ground, holding Regina, but her shrieks had faded and she mumbled to herself, twisting slightly, unable to get away from the man who held her down. "I've been tracking her. I was afraid this would happen."
"You were following her?" Mike said disbelievingly. "I thought you worked for her."
"I do," Robert said simply. Virginia regarded him carefully. It almost seemed as if the ugly face grew tender.
The sirens grew louder.
"Hide and seek," Regina crooned. "Hide and seek."
"She's insane." Virginia shivered.
Robert dropped his head. "I know. But I am sworn to protect her. Even from herself."
Police cars were pulling up onto the grass. Virginia saw an ambulance following.
"I'll go with her, Mike," Robert said. "She won't bother you again, I promise. I'll see they take care of her. I have to."
"Why?" Virginia didn't understand.
He looked up at her and spoke quietly. "I must serve her as my ancestors served them, all the Reds. It's what we do."
"Robert," Mike said, not really sure what to make of everything, "if you need anything..."
"Thanks, Mike." He smiled sadly. "Goodbye, Virginia."
Men in uniforms burst out of the cars, and suddenly there was a flurry of actions and questions and men with guns and men with medical equipment. Mike and Virginia answered dutifully, but sparingly, telling only that Regina had been stalking them, had attacked Virginia, that there was an ongoing investigation. And no, they didn't need medical help, but Regina needed a one-way trip to Bellevue.
The police seemed to sense their reticence, but collected information, wrote reports and phone numbers and secured promises for follow-up discussions, then begrudgingly allowed that Mike and Virginia didn't have to come along to the station. The medical personnel took Regina from Burleigh, though he insisted on going along with her to the hospital. As the doors closed on the ambulance and its straight-jacketed occupant, Virginia heard a shrill voice shout out, "Release me! I am the great-granddaughter of Red Riding Hood!"
"Right, lady," a cop quipped, making a face as he closed the door, "and I'm Rumpelstiltskin's uncle."
Virginia watched the cars drive away. A small group of rubberneckers had gathered, and a few stuck around, hoping for details, but when Mike and Virginia refused to accommodate them the onlookers drifted away. Eventually the little grove was quiet again.
The two stood in silence a moment.
Eventually she spoke. "I'm glad Regina's in custody."
"Yes. Maybe she'll get help."
"Mike, you're too nice. She's a murderer."
"I know. Believe me, I know." He took a deep breath. "But she's out of our lives now."
They walked a little, letting their tension dissipate. Suddenly Mike stopped. "Virginia."
"Yes?" she said, a little absently. Something in the periphery of her vision distracted her. A sparkle of sunlight, perhaps.
"You didn't answer me. We got interrupted." He gave her a smile and touched her cheek. "I'm waiting."
"Waiting?" She couldn't follow what he meant; over Mike's shoulder the sparkle drew her eye. "What?"
"I asked you to marry me."
Marry me... She heard him, understood him, but the sparkle was demanding her attention and she narrowed her gaze, but it wasn't really sunlight, couldn't be, because it was in the wrong direction. She was looking at a shimmer in the air, a shimmer of light and impossibility--
"Oh my God. Oh my God. Look!" She pointed, and Mike, confused by her manner, by her lack of answer, nevertheless followed her pointing finger to a peculiar sparkle of light, a glow between the trees, where lately the wolves had gathered to mourn their loss.
"What is that--"
There is no going back...
"The portal," Virginia whispered. "The mirror...is open!"