Shay Sheridan - Reality
The light sparkled, inviting her, and she felt the breath leave her body as she drew towards the portal. Something caught at her arm.
She turned, blinking back to awareness. Mike had his hand around her slender wrist, and though he was not holding her forcefully, his grip secured her, kept her from crossing through the shimmering doorway.
"Where--where are you going?" He was trying to keep his tone light, but couldn't entirely hide his alarm.
She put her hand over his and Mike released her wrist without protest. She clasped his hand between both of hers, holding it tightly. "It's the portal. The one I came through. The door back to the Nine Kingdoms. It's open, Mike. It's open."
"I see it is." He glanced at the light. "Virginia. You can't think of going through."
"Yes. I can. I have to."
"No!" The word came out with some vehemence, and he forced a calmer tone. "All right. All right, then. If you really feel you have to go, then... I'll come with you."
"No, you..." It was incredibly hard to say what she wanted to say, to explain. "I have to go alone, Mike. You... have a place, responsibilities, now, people who need you--"
"--The hell with them. I need you."
"Please, Mike, this is so hard--"
"Good!" He stepped back a few feet and squared himself. His face was working, his hands clenching. "Hard? I want this to be so hard you can't think of going. I don't want you to go. I don't know why you say you have to! Please, Virginia, I want you to stay. I want to marry you!"
"I know." She couldn't look him in the eye. "I know you do."
"Then don't go."
"Why? Tell me why, then! What is it that is forcing you to go? Now we can be together. We finally don't have to worry about Regina, Hunter, William--"
"Wolf." She looked up, willing him to understand. "It's Wolf, Mike. I have to find him. Wherever he is, even if I have to search forever."
And there it was, he was, between them.
Mike stared back at her intently, his forehead deeply creased, his eyes searching hers. "Virginia," he said hoarsely, "you are my mate."
She paused, framing her words. "But you aren't mine, Mike. He is."
Mike's face crumpled. "I thought," he began, his voice husky with emotion, "I thought maybe you could, you would..." He stopped himself and shook his head. "I knew. I knew when I said I loved you and you didn't answer."
She reached for his face, stroking his cheek. He didn't lean into it, as Wolf would have done; but pressed her hand more tightly to his face, then kissed her palm. "I do love you, Mike," she said. And I would never want to hurt you, came the familiar thought, borne on a wave of memory. "You're handsome, wonderful, decent--"
"Thrifty, trustworthy..." He was trying to smile, losing the battle.
"All those things," Virginia said. "And so, so much more." She pushed the hair off his forehead and he closed his eyes for a moment. "You're Prince Charming, Mike, how could I not love you?" Her voice was soft and kind. "But it's not the same way it is with... him."
"I don't understand why."
"I don't either, not really. It shouldn't be this way, but it is."
"Virginia." He swallowed hard. "I'm in love with you. Be with me. I don't feel complete without you. I need you--"
She smiled at him, feeling great tenderness, ignoring the tears running down her cheeks. "I can't do that," she whispered. "I know you love me. But I can't be that part of you that you haven't found yet. I'm like you, Mike, so much like you. I don't know myself, really, but I'm finding out. Wolf is helping me. He knows who he is, who he wants to be. This is your world, Mike. This is where you have to keep looking, until you know exactly who you are." She went on, the unstoppable tears continuing to streak down her face, her voice catching," I know there will be someone for you, I know it. Someone to help guide you on your search. I still have to search for part of me. Do you understand? I need Wolf. He's my..."
"Life. Wolf is my life." She stopped speaking because she couldn't any longer; there were no more words to say, anyway.
Mike took her hand and kissed her palm once more, then framed her face with his hands. His eyes were glistening as he studied her. Then he leaned in and pressed his lips softly to hers. His mouth curved into a crooked smile. "I wish I were your Wolf. " His eyes held hers a moment. "Find him. Goodbye." And then he turned away, his parting gift to not let her see him fall apart.
She watched him walk down the slope, the chill November air catching his jacket; his bearing, his shape, were all the same as Wolf's. But not the same. Not exactly. A hand was squeezing Virginia's heart so tightly she thought it would burst. She turned away before she couldn't and stepped through the portal. Her body lurched forward, and there was a rush of light, a trail of quicksilver as the mirrors slid past.
Something heavy ran into her, knocking her backwards, and then she was rolling over and over on grass, soft grass, until, breathless, she came to a stop with something warm and heavy pinning her to the ground.
"Am I dead?"
Her eyes flew open. Mike's voice.
He was lying across her at the bottom of a hill. A hill in Central Park. The hill she'd just climbed, beneath the copse of trees that sheltered the portal. Overhead a few stars pierced the glow of New York lights to twinkle between the trees. Night, it's night? she wondered to herself.
"Am I dead?" Wolf panted. He rolled off her and lay in the grass, feeling his chest, looking at his hand, then, finally at her face, as if he hadn't noticed until that moment that she was there. "Virginia...?" He said it tentatively. Then he said it again, disbelievingly, with an intake of breath. Then he said it a third time, and his voice was filled with relief. And then he shouted
And then she was crying. She wept and held him, afraid to close her eyes, afraid he would vanish. "I lost you and--"
"--I was searching for you and--"
"--You didn't come through the mirror and I was afraid you--"
"--There was this rhyme and a quest and Snow White but you weren't--"
And then there was no more talking for a time.
Virginia stood up and offered her hand to her mate, who got up slowly, looking once more at his chest as if he was going to find something wrong with it. From her perspective, she didn't see anything wrong. He was wearing a red vest and knee britches under a velvet coat decorated with gold braid, some sort of costume that was both absurd and perfectly right on him. She realized she'd seen him in it before, in Wendell's palace, when the evil queen... when her mother... when she'd had to...
She looked down to smooth her clothing and was surprised to find she was not wearing her trench coat and black wool dress but the skirt and blue sweater she'd worn during her long trek in the Nine Kingdoms. A wonder. Strange. As strange as the fact that the trees were full of leaves and the air was warm. It wasn't autumn anymore, it was summer. Again. A warm summer night.
He followed her gaze to her clothes. "Wow! Guess I fixed things..." He looked down and plucked at his velvet coat. "Or... maybe not. Huh. I was just wearing this. Confusing, I must say."
He wasn't making much sense, and that fact filled Virginia with joy. She embraced Wolf again, laughing to herself as he scratched absently at his temple and muttered something about fragments and shards and beginnings. How she'd missed that eccentricity! Well, he was eccentric, and intense, and needy and obsessive and imperfect. And she loved him for that; her heart wrenched with how much she loved his imperfections, his joy in being with her, his wolfishness. His strength. It was just as she'd told Mike. He truly needed her, and she him.
Mike. She suddenly felt tears well up, as she looked at Wolf and saw Mike standing before her, asking her to stay. Were the tears were for happiness, or loss, or both? She couldn't tell. She was deliriously happy and devastatingly sad, all at once.
Wolf seemed not to notice. He wrapped her in his arms, then let his hand stray to her belly. Suddenly Virginia was seized with a great sadness. How could she tell him there was no cub, that something had changed and the baby they had created had ceased to exist? Her mouth started to form the impossible words. But Wolf was listening, his eyes closed, and suddenly he smiled, and left his hand on her stomach, warm and sure, his eyes twinkling at her. "I was afraid maybe I hurt the baby when I fell on you. But he's all right. The cub's all right, my love."
Her eyes opened in surprise, a cry coming from her, and she threw her arms around him again, "Oh Wolf, Wolf, I'm so glad..." And, she thought, her hand absently moving to her stomach, it really was true, something had changed in her, dimming, if not quite banishing, the doubts. "I want to have this baby, our baby," Virginia said, rather vehemently.
"Well, that's good," Wolf said, grinning wolfishly at her. "I was a little worried, I confess."
"You were? I... didn't know."
"You didn't say anything before, my succulent darling, and I was afraid you were angry. I knew there was something wrong."
I knew when I said I loved you and you didn't answer, Mike had said.
Why should I try to hide my emotions, Virginia wondered, when a wolf can so easily see through me? She sighed. She felt relieved, unburdening herself of doubts. Her change of mind surprised her. The sacrifices, the changes in her body and in her life, her fears about being a mother, her anger at Wolf for what he, what they had done so recklessly, seemed to fade against the brighter light of the cub's existence. When had that happened? When I realized how much I truly loved him, and had to find him to be complete.
There would be questions, anxieties, of course. She felt as if she might be ready to face them, to ask the hard questions and share her more difficult feelings with Wolf. There would not, could not be any barriers between them, not any more. I trust him. I believe in him. I believe he will always be there.
She looked at her clothes again, at the summery landscape, felt the sultriness of the air. Had she come back to the beginning? The beginning of her life with Wolf? Her mind went to Mike. Had all of that time they spent together been real? Or had that been a dream?
"Or is this the dream?" she wondered aloud.
"Um, I don't think so, Virginia. Would you like me to pinch you?"
"No, no, that won't be necessary. If this is a dream, I'm content to stay asleep."
Perhaps it was Destiny, after all. She'd needed to meet him, the Wolf of her world, the one who conformed to the rules by the sacrifice of his nature, in order for her heart to know what it wanted. And what it wanted was Wolf, a strange being, to be sure, an imperfect match for her world, but the perfect match for her.
She gazed up in wonder at him. He was looking over her head, then tilted his face down to smile at her in a way she recognized. He had something he wanted to tell her and could barely contain it. "What? What is it, Wolf?"
He took her hand and kissed it. She had a flash of Mike doing that and her heart wrenched in her chest. But Wolf was leading her up the hill, back towards the mirror portal, and he was smiling that enigmatic smile and she looked at him quizzically. There was someone standing up there at the top of the hill, looking around, looking lost, a woman smaller than she remembered, with a smooth face and a long dress, a woman looking a little confused, but kind, who gazed at her at her and smiled. And then the woman opened her arms and Virginia went into them, tears flowing down her cheeks, both their cheeks, while the woman stroked Virginia's hair and whispered, "You are my little girl, aren't you?"
"Yes," Virginia whispered, and fell into her mother's embrace.
"Forgive me," Christine said.
"I love you, Mama." Virginia looked over her mother's shoulder at Wolf, who was standing close, smiling a crooked smile, his face filled with wonder at their reunion, his eyes wet as well, and Virginia knew, somehow, some impossible way, he'd done this for her.
Light flashed behind them and a tall man materialized out of nowhere, nearly falling over them, bellowing. "'Grandpa?!' Dammit, Wolf, what did you mean by..."
There was sudden silence, and the woman in her arms turned to the very tall man, her eyes shining at him, and his mouth fell open but no words emerged from either as they stared at each other.
And Virginia was lost in happiness and happy ever after.
Later, much later, in the night, Wolf and Virginia sat curled up on the couch. They were alone, in a manner of speaking, at least in the living room. Christine slept in the bedroom, watched over by Tony. She would still need help, care to find herself again. She needed to be with her family, most of all, the husband who had never stopped loving her, her daughter who had lost her and now found her. "As long as she's not in some place like that nursing home," Virginia murmured to herself. It would take time. Tony would wait, gladly. So could she.
"Did you say something, Virginia?"
Their reunion had been bittersweet, after all. It was late, nearly morning now, but neither Wolf nor Virginia felt like sleeping. There had been so much to talk about. And much of it was painful. Virginia had started, telling Wolf about meeting the wonderful person who had so reminded her of her mate. She hadn't revealed all the details, but had admitted the intimate relationship. It hadn't been easy. There had been tears. Wolf had been hurt to think she hadn't believed in him enough. Hadn't believed that he was real. She understood. She felt tremendous guilt; after all, Wolf had never ceased believing in her.
And then it had been his turn. For once he hadn't tried to hide the truth or package it in pretty ribbons. He'd told her of meeting the noble but wild and willful Gigi, of how his annoyance with her had been replaced by acceptance, then friendship, and then disastrous obsession. It was hard for him to look Virginia in the eye when he spoke of Gigi. Despite his own hurt over the man who'd temporarily stolen Virginia's heart, in the end he very nearly fell to his knees asking her for forgiveness for his own actions.
And now they sat on the couch, Virginia curled up under Wolf's arm, but both knew the pain would remain a little longer between them.
"I'm so sorry, Wolf. I said once I never wanted to hurt you. And now I have."
"I did the same to you."
"What do you think happened to her?" Virginia said softly, trying to change the subject a little. Unfortunately it was hard for her to picture Gigi without feeling a teeny wave of jealousy.
"And what happened to that tame wolf of yours?"
"You're my tame wolf." She poked him in a rib. "Where are they, I wonder?"
Wolf thought for a moment, biting his lip. "Maybe they aren't... anywhere."
"Really? You think we made them up?"
"No, no, it's just... here we are, where we meant to end up. If we came back to the end, I mean the beginning, I mean, arrived at the place we left... cripes, this is confusing!"
"Tell me about it," Virginia sighed.
"Oh, all right," Wolf said, taking her literally. "Maybe, when I broke the mirrors, things went back to normal everywhere. Maybe I un-existed them."
"That makes me sad."
"Me too." Wolf's looked at the floor. "Gigi deserves a chance to be happy."
There was that prickle of jealousy again. Virginia ignored it, or tried to. "Do you really think so, though? I mean, you came back in the clothes you were wearing there... wherever 'there' was. I came back as if nothing had changed. Something is off somewhere."
"Good thing, because I was pretty much dead back there."
"Good thing," Virginia agreed, stroking Wolf's chest.
"That feels good. Don't stop."
"I don't know what to think, my creamy sweetheart. I mean, Snow White hinted that Wendell back there was gonna be a pain in the ass for some time to come. Some things just might not have been fixable. Maybe the magic was too strong. It's possible there are still left over fragments of, er..."
"Yeah. Dimensions, realities, something like that. I don't really want to believe it, though."
"No? Why? You didn't know there was a Tenth Kingdom until you went through the mirror."
"Yeah, but what if every time we went through it we went to a DIFFERENT kingdom? One that has bumble bees the size of giants, or poisonous bacon, or, or hundreds of Wendells trying to kill all the wolves... Cripes, Virginia, that would be so confusing, not to mention really, really unfair to a couple of heroes like us. No, I prefer to believe it was all magic. Temporary magic."
"All done with mirrors, you mean?"
"Huff-puff, Virginia... that was a terrible joke."
He kissed her on the top of her head. "Virginia, I broke the mirrors, but I didn't really want to fix anything. It was really just to find you. But if everything was really the same, like it was before, you wouldn't have your mum in the other room."
"I know, and that's worth everything." She ran her hand along his stubbly jaw. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." He squeezed her shoulder.
"If everything ended up the same, would we remember everything we went through?"
"I don't know. This kind of thinking hurts my brain. Sorry."
"I'm sorry, too, Wolf. Sorry I hurt you."
"Me too. And I won't talk about Gigi again. I won't even mention her name."
"I'm sorry I didn't believe in you for a while there."
Wolf pulled her close, smelling her hair, his heart a little sad, but the sadness was outweighed by the joy it held. "I guess I have to be happy you chose me."
"Oh, Wolf. There was no choice. I think, for a while, I loved Mike, but when I found out you--"
"'Mike...'" Wolf turned the name over in his mouth a few times. "Mike, mikemikemike... Funny name. Kind of short and, you know, dull."
"Don't be jealous. 'Wolf' is a little odd too, you know."
"To you. I'm used to it by now."
"Besides, 'Mike' is only a nickname. We like to shorten names sometimes. His name was really Michael."
"I know what a nickname is, just never heard..." Wolf stopped short. Something bolted through his brain, as sharp as the huntsman's arrow when it pierced his flesh. He took a deep breath. "'Michael... Mike.'" He said it differently this time, and Virginia sat up a little.
"What is it, Wolf?"
He had pulled away from her and was staring at her, his eyes a little too white around the irises.
Her heart began to pound. "I'm sorry, what did I say?"
"You... loved Michael... that was his name?" He had a strange scratchy sound in his voice.
"Yes, but Wolf, when I realized you weren't a dream – oh, Wolf, I don't want to be empty, I don't want to spend my life in dreams and regret like Lisette, I want to be with you--"
"--Lisette?" Wolf was panting now, staring at her, eyes wild. What was wrong with him? She didn't know, and it frightened her.
"Lisette. She was Mike's mother... oh Wolf, I'm so sorry for what I've done to you--"
"No," he said, "no, no, no, that's not it, my love, my own, my mate!" He flung his arms around her, pulling her tightly to his chest. She felt his heart beating, soaring, she felt his kisses on her face, in her hair, and, strangely, she heard his voice breaking, filled with emotion, felt his cheek wet against hers.
"Wolf," she said, afraid but enthralled. "What--"
"You never betrayed me." And then he pulled back, to look at her, his face lit up with love and wonder. "I remember now. I forgot, I had to forget, so I wouldn't go crazy. But I remember now. Lisette," he said, "Lisette was my mother's name."
"Oh my God, Wolf."
"And," he said, crying and laughing, remembering what he had forgotten for so long, to spare himself the bitter memories of his past -- you have a name, you remember your name -- "And she named me Michael."
Tumbling head over heels in a breathless somersault--
Prickling under hands. Grass.
Wind in hair.
Gigi was cold. She took a deep breath, sat up, reached blindly for Wolf and opened her eyes. And gasped. The world around her was filled with color: red, orange, yellow and brown leaves against a vivid blue sky. Autumn trees. Most remarkably, fringing the green sward on which she sat, were the tallest, most beautiful buildings she'd ever seen. Sunlight glistened off glass windows hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet in the air, illuminating copper roofs and carved stone towers as far as she could see. She stared, hypnotized by the beauty of it all, ignoring the chill in the air. Nothing in the Nine Kingdoms remotely compared to this!
"Oh, Wolf!" she sighed, "the Tenth Kingdom is beautiful!"
There was no reply. She looked about. Where was he? He'd said he was coming right behind her... what about Wendell? The arrow! A chill passed through her. What if something had happened to Wolf? What if he... No! No, Gigi, don't think about that, you're resourceful, you may be on your own here. Think of what to do next--
There was a sound nearby. Gigi looked down from the tall magical buildings and saw a man sitting on a bench at the bottom of the slope, face in his hands, dark hair spilling through his fingers, his posture unmistakably one of deep distress. She jumped up, ignoring the grass stains on her white gown, concerned about what might be wrong, unaware in that moment that her newly-minted compassion had driven thoughts of herself from her mind. She placed a tentative hand on his shoulder. The man looked up, embarrassed, wiping his eyes with his fingers. "Goodness!" she said, relieved. "Wolf!"
He gave a sharp intake of breath, startled as well, but his face broke into a smile. "Virginia? You decided to stay?" He stumbled to his feet.
"I..." Gigi didn't know what to say. She looked him up and down. Something was odd. What was he wearing? He seemed different, somehow. "Wolf?"
He blinked at her, and let his eyes take in her clothing. "Virginia?" There was hesitation in his voice now, and his smile faded a bit.
She bit her lip. This wasn't right. He wasn't...
He let out a long breath. "It's Mike... Wolf. Do you...emember...?"
"Mike..." He looked exactly like Wolf, but not as unkempt. Not as ragged. His clothes were neat, his hair trimmed, and there was something about his face, that same wonderful face, tired and tear-stained as it was, that made her heart crumple, made her forget everything else. He was rubbing his shoulder absently as if it hurt, and on the bench was a triangle of fabric and straps that could only be a sling. "What happened? Did you hurt yourself? Did Wendell shoot you?"
"No, I..." She'd always been a practical girl. It wasn't wise to question Destiny when it threw a curve at you. Face it, Gigi. He is not Wolf. Not your Wolf, anyway. She raised her chin a bit and drew herself up to her full height, half a head shorter than he. "Yes. Lady Virginia of the Western Mountains. How do you do?" She curtseyed, nicely, but wobbled a little as she stood up on the slope of the hill.
He took her elbow to steady her. "'Lady'..."
"Well. I prefer Gigi."
He looked at her clothes. She had an air about her, even in the silly dress-up tiara, an ease, a sense of command. And he knew for certain --"We haven't met before."
"No. I don't think...and yet..." She let the sentence drift. Suddenly she smiled, that same, perfect smile he recognized. It made him smile too, it made his broken heart leap up, just a little, with hope.
I know there will be someone for you, I know it.
How can this be? How can any of this be happening? On the other hand, how could his whole improbable life have happened? How could he be who --and what --he was? Maybe it was time to stop thinking. Maybe it was time to act, like the man, like the wolf he was meant to be.
"My name is Mike Wolf," he said, and added, somewhat rakishly, "At your service."
"How do you do, sir." Wolf, of course, she thought. She looked again at the buildings. "This is a beautiful kingdom. I didn't know how lovely it was! I didn't know what to expect. We always thought it was just a legend, the Tenth Kingdom. People must live happily ever after here."
"Happily..." He'd have to think about that. "Sometimes they do." Gigi shivered and Mike shrugged off his jacket. "Here. You look cold." She accepted the jacket and snuggled into it with the same little wriggle Virginia would have made.
"Thank you. Goodness! What happened?" There was a little spot of blood on Mike's shirt where he'd ripped open a few stitches during his struggle with Regina. "Are you wounded?" Her brow wrinkled and she bit her lip. "Let me take a look. I'm quite good at bandaging, as it happens. Have loads of experience. Well, some. Oh dear, here goes another petticoat! Well, it can't be helped. Take off your shirt," she ordered.
"Stop! Please! I'm fine." She was taking his breath away. "Are YOU going to fuss over me, too?"
She flashed him a disapproving look, which only made him laugh. It felt good to laugh. "Did you fight a duel?" Gigi chirped. "For a lady's honor?" The look on her face was intense and filled with curiosity and something very like titillation, which amused him, and made him want to laugh harder, or embrace her, or both. "You must be very brave."
He felt oddly proud, maybe even heroic, which felt a little silly nonetheless. "Well... I don't know, I... suppose so."
"You're a hero."
"Well, you must be a gentleman, at least. Squire? A knight, surely."
"Sure, I'm the Prince of Wall Street, just ask my grandfath..." Memory subdued him. "But tell me about you. How did you get here? Where exactly are you from? Was there a mirror? I don't know what, or how, this all is possible, but you--"
The words were tumbling out of him, but he had to stop, suddenly, because her hand, with its small soft fingers, was on his lips.
"Ssh," said Gigi, looking up at her prince. "Let me do the talking."
Wolf stood on top of the tall building, the wind so many stories up in the sky ruffling his dark hair. Virginia was by the railing, and called to him, waving. "Look at this, Wolf," she said, pointing to something in the distance. "You'll love this!"
Wolf looked. He saw his mate, his Virginia, his world, her own hair askew, her cheeks pink, her beautiful mouth open with delight, her jacket whipping behind her like a bird's wings. Or an angel's. She seemed to be the only thing he could see, the only thing he needed to, despite the staggering panorama of the Tenth Kingdom spread all around him, beneath this building which by its very name bespoke of the new empire that was his. The spire rose a hundred and two floors, she had said, and they stood on the eighty-sixth. Incredible. "I see," he said, moving to her, his arms wrapping around her, his nose drinking in the scent of her, one hand on her stomach, the other around her waist. "I do love it."
She heard the catch in his voice and turned around. "Wolf?"
"Yes." Her face was turned up to him now, her shining eyes enormous, powerful.
"Is everything all right?"
He looked up. Above the silver pinnacle of this magical building, a flying machine --a skywriter, Virginia had called it, swept silently above them, emblazoning letters of white against the cerulean sky. Wolf struggled to read them upside down--I, then a symbol, then N - Y. He squinted and looked again at the symbol, and his focus shifted to recognize the shape of a heart. I heart N Y? He didn't understand, but perhaps for that moment it didn't matter, for the heart was his, happy and content at last. He had a momentary flash in his memory of this moment, a stunning bolt of lightning in the form of deja vu: himself, Virginia, atop the shining glass building at this impossible height, their eyes uplifted to read words inscribed upon the sky. A splinter in the witches' mirror, a splinter of his life. Only one among the infinite possibilities of his life, one might-have-been, or could-yet-be.
He said something Virginia couldn't quite catch, and she snuggled close to him, where he could shield her against the wind. "What did you say?"
"I said," Wolf whispered into her hair, "I choose this reality."
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