Not anymore dead than I was before. Can't, can not, get into the future mind-set, so couldn't work on Early Days, at least right now. But I wanted to write tonight, and this idea has been biting at me. So, anyway-
::EDIT:: I HATED the way the chapters were running so I'm re-posting. Sorry. Hopefully I have the new HR working. Why won't FFN let me use asterisks as my brakes anymore?
Anyway, I know the title has been over used. But it's a great title… and the real title of the real sequel we will probably never get to see (though I would buy the book if they would put it out).So I used it. I lack imagination.
Again, no promises- I'm making this up as I go.
:: For the reviews I know will disappear when I reload this thing. Thanks guys. ::
Hi Brit. Long time, no see… er, you know what I mean. I hope to be able to get back to Andromeda soon. I miss Harper. Heh. And I feel your pain. Hope real life lightens up for you real soon.
Dr. Huff-Puff: Thanks for the review! And yeah, the former chapter two was supposed to echo the red riding hood tale. How the House of Red becomes involved will get…well, not clear precisely, but less murky once the Spring Festival comes to pass. Thanks again for the review! Hope you enjoy. :)
As always, any feedback - good, bad or indifferent - is welcome.
Disclaimer: I don't own. I'm making no money. (Though if I had money, I would be paying to have the sequel filmed, as TPTB should have done.)
Now this is the Law of the Jungle – as old and
as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
The Second Jungle book:
The Law of the Jungle, st. I
(Monday 5:17 am, Tenth kingdom)
His name was Wolf, and he was dreaming of the forest.
In these dreams he was the wolf; strong, fearless, fearsome and…hungry. Eternally empty, his stomach a pit, a hole, and endless maw that could never be filled, never be silenced, never be satisfied…
A twig snapped. His ears pricked. A sniffle sounded. His nose twitched. His eyes penetrated the entwined branches to see…
A girl. Lost. Alone. Sniveling in the woods.
And the wolf needed. The wolf wanted. The wolf had to have…now….
And he was on top of the girl. And she was screaming. And he could smell her everywhere, sweaty and wet and sticky with tears, feel her twisting under him, see the tears and blood on her dirty face - see the way her chest heaved, hear the way her breath pulled and snagged in her delicate throat as she tossed her head back to shriek, and the wolf's jaws darted forward, toward her arched and offered neck, ready to take the pale flesh into his teeth and taste her, fill himself with her—
-- Wolf jerked awake, gasping. Bad dream, he thought, shaking. Bad, bad, evil dream. Not me. Evil dream. Evil wolf. Not me.
Except that it had felt like him. And he hadn't felt bad or evil. He had felt…
He had felt… good…
Wolf shuddered. Next to him in the bed, his mate shifted in her sleep. He guilty stroked her hair, murmuring apologies for disturbing her and soothing her back into sleep. She had not slept well of late, haunted by images of her mother and father and of the killing. She needed her rest—even if his was finished for the night.
Rising carefully, he slid from the bed they shared and padded from the room without waking her. Their hotel suite was dim and silent. His internal clock told him it was pre-dawn, but not by much. The sun would be up within the hour; his love, about an hour after that. He walked over the fine, thick carpet – passed the sofa and chairs that Virginia had warned him were incredibly expensive –without turning on any lights and pulled open the drapes that covered the big glass windows in the main room.
He stood in the window, starring down almost 35 stories to the shadowy woods on the other side of the street. The woods lay quiet and dark and soothing… so close, and so very far away. It's a good time to hunt, the wolf whispered in his blood. He blocked it out. His nose twitched as he unconsciously tried to breathe in the scent of green and growing and spring…and he winced when all he could smell was dust and humans and faintly metallic air that Virginia had said meant 'air-conditioning'.
Didn't matter. That wasn't a real forest anyway. It was 'the park', and had little of the wild dark of a true wood about it. Still, he stood at the window long enough to watch the sun rise over the trees and the little paths fill up with early morning runners. He wondered idly what they were running for…or from.
Sighing at the pang in his chest, he dropped the curtains on the dawn and padded into the suite's kitchen, intent on making breakfast before his love rose to face the day. She really needed to eat more. She worried him.
He liked the kitchen. True, its brightness, its coolness and sharpness, were nothing like the kitchens he had grown up with in the kingdoms…but here kitchens were places of magic and miracles.
He toggled the switch on the wall as he came in, triggering the fake candles in the ceiling. Bright metal and clean white walls glittered before him. He smiled and opened the refrigerator. It wasn't big, according to Virginia, but there was room for them to store a few things in the unit. Some fruit. Things to drink. Leftovers from restaurants they went to. Eggs. Bacon.
He pulled out the last two items and set them on the counter. He turned the switch that made the stove burners ignite… fire from a switch. It still made him a little uneasy. But he was adapting. He was learning what things were good and what were bad, here. And he was figuring out the magic here, too. Oh, Virginia said there was no magic in the Tenth kingdom…but she had once thought there were no Wolves here, either, yet here he was. So he figured she was wrong about the 'no magic' thing. Besides, if there was no magic here, then someone would have to explain microwave ovens better then just 'they cook by light'. He knew magic when he saw it, thank you.
He fried the bacon, the whole pound. Cut a tomato into thin slices and put them on plates with a half an orange. He set the small table in the nook just off the sitting room, stole a couple of bacon strips, and had just started the eggs when he heard Virginia coming out of the bedroom.
"Morning," she muttered, walking blindly past him on her way to the bathroom. He smiled. His love was so cute first thing in the morning, all dappled and drowsy.
He pricked his ears and listened as she thumped around in the bathroom for awhile (bathrooms were another thing to which he was happily adapting). He timed the eggs to be done as she came back out, yawning. Stretching. Showing teeth. He watched appreciatively.
Eventually she opened her eyes and caught him looking. She smiled a little. "What big eyes you have, Mr. Wolf."
He grinned and growled and then said, "Food," and went to fetch the breakfast plates.
(Monday 10:42 am, 2nd kingdom)
Spring had come early to the second kingdom. And nowhere did this show its glory more than the path running through the woods. After a deep, quiet winter full of snow and starlight, the mild weather was very welcome. Though it was still early, there had been a run of several unseasonably warm days, and the trees had taken full advantage of the warmth. Branches spread over the path, near bursting with white blossoms as wild cherry and apple and pear woke to the sun. Quince bushes flowered pink and pretty, like frothy lace. Hawthorn was shyer, but tiny green buds graced even its thin, sharp limbs. Wild grape ran purple and green through the underbrush, and blue violets and white maiden's blush grew scattered in the lush green of the new grass.
Yester-eve it had turned chill and blustery, a brief storm had come through dragging cooler air behind it. Now the raindrops clung like jewels to the flowers and the water in the air trapped their perfume, so that the whole of the walk was sweet and fresh. The mid-morning sun glittered through the branches. The woods glowed, marvelous and magical and new…the eternal promise of spring.
And a voice as new and fresh as the flowers rang out in the trees:
And she shall bring the birds in spring,
And dance among the flowers.
A girl skipped down the path, her voice achingly pure in the chill air. She was maybe as old as eight, and paid no attention to how hard she was swinging her basket as she sang to the woods.
In summers heat, her kisses sweet,
They fall from leafy bowers.
She was completely lost in the beauty of the spring, happily caught in its spell. She skipped to her song, and the basket jerked and bounced with her. Her heavy red coat hitched on her shoulders, the hood bouncing on her back.
She cuts the grain and harvests corn
The kiss of fall surrounds her.
The days grow old and winter cold,
She draws her cloak around her.
A twig snapped.
The girl stopped suddenly. She stood, quiet and still, head cocked as if listening, a wary edge to her posture… like a rabbit about to bolt. Her nostrils flared. Somewhere in the woods a flock of birds spooked and flew.
She waited, waiting long seconds for another sound, another sign of danger… but seconds passed without anything odd and slowly she eased. She knew the woods could be dangerous, but she was sure of the path, and of the bright sunlight. And really, what could happen on a day as perfect as this?
But, still, the time for songs was over. She needed to pay attention to her surroundings if she was to find enough food for her and her grandmother. She had been hunting since dawn and had barely enough to break the fast. So she set out again, but no longer singing, and had gone no more then a few steps when a man, a stranger to her, stepped out from behind a large oak tree.
"Hello, little girl."
"H-hello. Sir," The title was an after thought. A politeness trained into her from the time she was old enough to babble (Be a good girl. Be a nice girl). The man was dressed finely enough to warrant it, though. Blue velvet over black leggings. A red silk sash cut over his shoulder and across his torso. It was knotted at his waist and long enough that the loose ends fluttered in the breeze. He leaned casually against the tree, a very slight smile playing around his mouth. He smelled of horses and leather and steel…and something darker, musty and cold.
"What do you have in the basket, little one?" His tone was polite, even charming…except for the bitter mockery lying under it, like a dark echo.
The girl stepped back, even though she was several feet from the stranger. "Nothing, sir. Some food for my grandmother." Be a good girl. Be a nice girl. Don't be so rough, girl!
"Ah," he smiled disarmingly, stepping down from his perch on the tree roots and walking toward her. "And what kind of food do you bring your dear Grandmother, hum?" He reached out and snatched at her basket, tipping it and dumping dead rabbits onto the grass. Their little necks had been broken. They were freshly killed. He prodded them with the toe of his boot as she clung to her basket, breathing hard.
He looked up from the kill, staring at her through blond bangs. "Such a dutiful grand-daughter. Your family must be…proud to have a girl such as yourself," he sounded doubtful.
"I wouldn't know about that, sir. They have me as I am."
"True," his smile deepened. "They have you as you are. They suffer you because they…love you? Do they love you, child? Can a little beast such as you understand the concept of love?" His head was cocked curiously; his eyes and tone light and friendly.
"They…they love me, yes," she stuttered, confused by the tone and words. Be a good girl. Be a nice girl. He had gray eyes. Almost colorless. She felt as if those eyes could absorb all they looked upon, they were that hollow.
He stepped forward; she skipped back slightly, instinctively, hugging her basket to her chest. He smiled again.
"That is a fine basket, little girl. Such a wonderfully intricate weave. Did you make such a fine thing?"
She stumbled back again as he walked toward her, deep eyes locked onto hers.
"No? Well, no. Of course not. You're far too ... bestial to have created that little piece of elegance. Was it your mother, perhaps?"
"Your Grandmother," it was a sneer, contempt freely shown for the first time. "I admit myself curious to meet that oft spoken of person. What kind of old woman, what kind of creature, could spawn a line that could allow you? Perhaps I should pay her a call sometime, hum?"
The girl cringed from his words, fear and anger meeting and mingling in her blood. Her instincts, long suppressed by countless relatives (Be a good girl. Be a nice girl. Don't be so rough, girl) flashed along her nerves. The world brightened, sharpened. It was bad to feel this way. Wrong. Evil, even. She knew. She had been told. She hated feeling this way…and she loved it. Her lips pulled away from her teeth in an instinctive snarl; her eyes flashed yellow/green. She backed away from the (predator/hunter/killer) man as he grinned at her, stalking her. Taunting her.
She could clearly scent the dark musk on the man now. And she knew it now for what it was.
The Man smelled of Death.
"Come here, little wolf," he said, "I've a treat in store for you."
She turned to run-
-but too late.
(Wednesday 3:30 pm tenth kingdom)
It had been a good winter, Wolf reflected. That first night Wolf had been a little worried… they had spent it wandering the tenth kingdom with nowhere to sleep, as Virginia made plans and spoke of things that made little sense to him.
But the next morning she had taken them to a large square building, filled with stuffy, middle-aged men -- who Wolf figured had been caught by some sort of anti-happiness curse, because they were all frowning at everything. Virginia had spoken to the men for a bit, and then she handed the men the bag of gold and jewels that Wendell had pressed on her before they left his kingdom. The stuffy men had instantly become less stuffy and much friendlier -- and one had even smiled so Wolf had supposed he must have been wrong about the whole curse thing. The men gave Virginia a small book and a plastic card and told them that if they needed anything all they had to do was ask…but Virginia had stomped on his toe when he opened his mouth, so he thought the men might have been lying about that.
After that Virginia had brought them to a huge building with the unusual name of "The Plaza". She had checked them into the suite using the piece of plastic the stuffy men had given her. "This isn't for long, you know," she had said as the bellhop left and he had sniffed around the rooms for the first time. "I don't plan on living off of Wendell. But you'll need time to adjust and I need … time." He had looked up at her, caught the hurt and exhaustion in her blue, blue eyes. "And, well, it's not a bad thing, right?" she asked, "To want a nice vacation? I've been working since I was like, eleven, and you've… you've never really just had time either, right? So it's not so wrong to just want a break! Is it?"
Wolf, who had no idea what she was talking about but recognized her need to be reassured, was instantly attentive. "No, beloved. No. Not a bad thing. And believe me, I know bad. You just need to rest. Resting is good," he kissed the top of her head. "Everything will look better in the morning."
And so they had wintered in the grand hotel, venturing out when she thought of something new to share with him, or when he got too restless. She began to deal with her memories, and he held her as she wept like the lost little girl she had been. Other times they went out for ice-cream and sweets and played in the snow in the park, and he smiled as she laughed like the little girl she should have had the chance to have been. And they went home cold and happy to the den in the hotel, and were safe and warm and together and with each other in mind and body….
And whatever Wendell had given her must have been worth a lot of money because they'd had enough to just be with each other the whole winter long and not worry about anything… and it had been a sweet, sweet time, their happily ever-after….
And now, as they strolled through the park, he couldn't help but think of how well the smell of the early spring buds on the trees complemented her scent…which now had an undertone of new growth as well. She was just beginning to show now. A very slight bulge she hid with loose tops and jackets. Smiling he reached over and stroked her midriff and she smiled back a little and pulled his hand gently away, trapping it in her own.
"So… what did you think?" she asked, throwing him nervous little sideways glances as she clung to his hand.
She had taken him to see a play today. 'Into the Woods', it was called. She had told him it was about fairy-tales – about the Nine Kingdoms, really. And it had been… and a little too accurate, in some ways.
Into the woods…to kill the wolf!
He suppressed a shudder.
"It was good," he said finally, watching his feet. "The history was a little off, because, well, Cinderella's prince never left her, for one thing. And Queen Repunzel is still alive…"
"Repunzel is alive?"
"Oh yes. She's stuck snoozing with pretty much everybody else in the fifth kingdom."
He nodded, "Yes. The entire fifth kingdom was trapped by the curse put on Rapunzel's daughter, Beauty."
She blinked at him, "You're talking about Sleeping Beauty."
He nodded, still watching his feet.
"You're telling me that Sleeping Beauty is in the Nine kingdoms, still asleep."
"Well, why hasn't some charming prince woken her up yet?"
He shrugged. "Many have tried. The younger sons of royal houses, mostly. Nobody's made it yet."
"That's just…" she laughed a little. "I was gonna say unbelievable, but having been there, I believe it."
He nodded again. They walked in silence for awhile. He kept hearing the play in his head–
she kills people!
and how many wolves have you killed?
it's just a wolf, it's not the same thing.
tell that to a wolf's mother.
-- and she was watching him. He could feel it. It made him want to shiver and cringe at the same time.
"What's wrong, Wolf?" she said, suddenly, looking at him with concern.
"Wrong?" …but not to tempt the wolf…
She rounded on him, stopping. "Wrong! You've never been this quiet, this still. Now tell me what's going on!"
"Nothing," he said, shying from her a little. "Just…bad dreams this morning. It's nothing." He pulled free of her hands. "Hey! I smell meat. Do we have enough for hot dogs? Please?" He smiled in his most charming manor and batted his lashes at her.
She laughed and shook her head. "I don't know where you put it."
He was drawing her down the walk now, "Huff-puff, but a wolf's gotta eat! And so do you. C'mon."
Still smiling she followed him to the cart, paid for the food, and allowed him to lead her deeper into the park.
(Wednesday 4:13 pm, 4th kingdom)
The young king rolled his eyes as Anthony's voice echoed loudly down the hall. The two members of his council who were walking with him muttered darkly to each other. Anthony was not respected among the other of his advisors, and his complete lack of protocol did nothing to help improve his standing. Wendell knew there were many rumors circulating about just why he kept Anthony about; everything from being grateful for his help during the whole dog fiasco, to entertainment value- much the same reason a king would keep any fool.
What none of them understood was that he kept Anthony near not in spite of his informality—but because of it. Anthony had a way of jarring him, of waking him up. Of keeping him from thinking like the spoiled little King he had been raised to be.
Of course, his informality wasn't always a good thing.
Turning to the old, very traditional men next to him, Wendell dismissed them with thanks and stood waiting as Anthony caught him up.
"Wendell," Anthony exclaimed for the third time, causing Wendell to wonder if the man was aware that he did know what his name was.
"Yes, Anthony, what is it."
Anthony's face was red and his breath was hard. He was either incredibly vexed, or winded from the long walk down the hall.
"Wendell! Did you see what those idiots want me to wear to the festival? Did you see it?"
Definitely vexed then. Wendell rolled his eyes. "It's traditional dress for my chief advisor, Anthony."
"That's just it! It's a freaking dress!"
"It's a robe."
"It's a dress!"
"It's a royal robe."
"It's a pink dress!"
"My grandmother liked pink."
"It's even got all that- that flowncy lace all over it!"
Wendell sighed, "Well, styles were different when my grandmother was Queen…"
"I'm not wearing it."
"Anthony, it's traditional garb for the high advisor-"
"And," Tony cut the young king off, "as your high advisor, I'm telling you that this is one tradition you want to loose."
Wendell grinned. "It's a tradition that you want to loose. I'm rather enjoying it."
"Ha!" Anthony exclaimed loudly, his sharp bark bouncing off of the walls. "Ha! I knew it! I knew you were just setting me up! Well I won't do it! There's no way I'm going to embarrass myself in front of everyone in the Fourth kingdom like that… and especially not in front of Virginia."
Wendell's grin turned into a smile. "So Virginia is coming, then?"
Tony blinked. "Well, yeah. I mean, I guess. Why wouldn't she?"
Wendell closed his eyes, "You haven't asked her yet?"
"I, eh, I haven't gotten around to it yet," he waved a hand dismissively. "I'll get to it soon."
"Anthony, the festival begins in less then two days."
"Well, I've been, uh, busy."
"Ah, yes," Wendell said dryly, "and how are the Ladies Ester and Fawna?"
"Hey now," Tony glared. "Besides, who are you to talk. All I've heard about the past few weeks is this festival and all of the princesses and daughters of royal houses that attend."
"Well, you haven't heard it from me. I've little interest in this festival, and less in those … ladies, and I use the term loosely, who will soon be flocking me like carrion birds." The young king turned and started striding down the hall, forcing Anthony to walk along.
"So why are you doing it?"
Wendell shrugged. "I'm the King, Anthony. More than that, I am the only survivor of the House of White. I must find a wife and start a family as soon as possible for the stability of the Kingdom. A Spring Festival is the traditional method kings and princes use to find a mate."
"Uh-huh. You know what I think? I think you're all way too caught up in tradition."
Wendell stopped. "I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me. It's always 'traditional' this, and 'ancient' that with you people. You know what I say? Get over it! Live your own lives, take a chance. Take a risk. Try something new. And just consider the vague possibility that what worked in the good old days might not be a viable option for you!"
Wendell waited patiently through out Anthony's speech, then asked him, "Finished?"
Tony stopped a moment, looked thoughtful, and then nodded. "Uh, yeah."
Wendell nodded, "Fine. Than go and invite your daughter to the festival. Now."
Tony nodded and turned, walking back down the hallway the way he had just come up. Before he got too far away, Wendell called out, "Oh! And I'll tell the royal tailor that you will be in for your robe fitting tomorrow morning, shall I?"
Wendell chuckled as Tony cursed behind him.
(Wednesday 5:08 pm, 2nd kingdom)
"Cut it down," the Captain's voice fell flatly. No one moved, as if by standing perfectly still they could deny the reality of the grizzly sight in front of them. Then the cold, wet wind picked up again and the branch creaked as its sickening decoration swayed, dancing horribly. Coddry Jeisean swallowed bile and tried to ignore the smell. "I said, cut it down!"
His horse snorted, shifting uneasily, either because of the reek of rotting flesh, or because of his shout. Or both, most likely. He stroked the heavy neck and watched as a guardsman was boosted up the tree. Dangling from the boughs was a child; or what was left of one. Her smock torn and dirtied; her face black and shinny and swollen. Her arms were brown from the dried blood covering them, and they and her little legs jerked and pulled like a badly worked puppet as the guardsman crawled awkwardly out onto the branch. The man gracelessly cut the cord holding the pathetic little body in the air. The body fell the few feet to the ground and hit with a stiff thud. Coddry jerked. He wasn't the only one.
He watched as two of his men approached the body and shifted it onto a blanket, which was reverently folded over the child's face and limbs. The terrible bundle was then settled on a liter…ready to be borne back to the village, where a family waited for news of their missing girl.
And dark news this would be; their girl taken into the forest and beaten, violated and hung. Her ears carved from her head. The same news that he had brought families too often this spring. Four children dead in as many weeks. Seven adults as well. One entire family massacred one night. All the victims tortured. All murdered.
And all suspected by neighbors of being wolves.
As his lieutenant delivered to him the now familiar calling card of a deep red velvet sash - removed from the girl's throat where it had been used to hang her- Coddry knew he would have to take steps. Wolf or not, this child had not deserved to die. Not like this.
It was time to notify the Lady.
Tony hated mirror travel. The nausea inducing speed, the intense disorientation, the heart-stopping twists. All in all, he would have to say it sucked.
But, as the mirror spit him out in Central Park – as he got his first whiff of smog, car-exhaust and wet pavement, he couldn't help but smile. "I'm home," he whispered, and wandered into the park, wondering just where he was to find his daughter.
"Right about here," Wolf said, smiling wistfully as he squeezed Virginia's hand.
"Right about here, what?" They had finished their impromptu picnic and were just wending through the park, enjoying the fresh warmth that the early spring offered.
He glanced at her, seeming embarrassed. "This is where I first smelled you. Just a whiff of your scent. Just a tease, a promise. Right here."
"Here?" She looked around at the rather empty section of the park, at the long, lonely path. "I was nowhere near here the night I found Prince."
He shrugged. "The air carries people and places and things. You didn't need to be here for me to know that you were here."
She frowned at him.
He sighed. She would never trust easily. "Watch."
He tilted his head and breathed deep, pulling the air deep inside himself – welcoming the stories it brought. He sorted through the scents he didn't need – the cats and rats and squirrels. The dogs and cars and people, both the unwashed and the perfumed. He was just about to report all of this to his love when he caught a faint, but ever familiar tang. He jerked, and his eyes opened with a bright yellow flash. He grinned wickedly and grabbed Virginia's hand. "C'mon," he said, jogging into the trees and dragging her after, ignoring her protests.
He shushed her, saying, "Be very quiet. We're hunting."
She gave him that look he had come to know so well – a mix of amusement and exasperation, but she quieted.
He moved steadily, but silently, toward his prey, guided by his nose and ears and a deeper sense- an instinct that said, go here, and here, and stop, and go…. His beloved trailed behind, not slowing him, but still making too much noise. She amused him the way a cub would have amused him. He had much to teach her still.
He had no particular worries about her noise, though. The prey was known to him, and a thick skulled, sense-dead creature it was. Still, it could be tricky…. His eyes began to glow softly, a barely noticeable glimmer in the dappled light of the trees, as he pulled his mate down into the brush beside him.
Tony cursed as he turned around in a full circle. He had no idea where he was. You would think, he thought, that after trekking through the disenchanted forest, and climbing a mountain and wading through a swamp… you would think I could find my way through Central Park.
He cursed again. Loudly.
Tony stopped dead, instantly wary. While once he would have ignored it as a figment of his imagination, he had spent too much time in the kingdoms to discount such a sound now. At worst it could be something small, pretty and petty – something that enjoyed playing with lost travelers. At best it could be someone who could point the way out of this thicket. Either way he had nothing to loose by tracking the sound. Whatever made it obviously already knew he was here.
He headed for the sound, stumbling through the slight underbrush…until his foot caught on something hard and he went down with a breathless little "oof".
As the giggling became outright laughter, Tony looked up to see his darling daughter chuckling at him while the Wolf rolled amused eyes.
"I told you he heard you. Tripped right over you, in fact," Wolf said, reaching out to give Tony a hand up. "Hi, Tone," he added absently, shaking his head at the young woman now sitting on a tree root.
"Wolf!" Tony sputtered, allowing himself to be hauled to his feet, "What are you doing here?"
"Hunting you, actually. Smelled you a while back. Aren't you done yet?" The last was addressed to Virginia, who was slowly bringing her chuckling under control and wiping tears out of her eyes. Wolf smiled down at her. She had leaves in her hair. "You'll never be a hunter at this rate."
"Sorry, sorry," she gasped, "It was just – the look on his face…lost in Central Park!" And she smiled up at him with such love… a kind of love he hadn't seen from her in so many, many years… that he completely forgot he was angry - at her at least. "Hi, dad."
"Hi, baby." He said, absently. He turned on the Wolf. "What do you mean, 'hunting me'?"
Wolf shrugged. "Smelled you. Hunted you. Virginia needs the practice."
Tony lowered his head, glaring at the Wolf through narrowed eyes. "I don't like the idea of being hunted. And I like the idea of you teaching Virginia your wolfish ways even less!"
Wolf snorted at Tony in an unfriendly sort of way, twitching slightly. Virginia stood up, still smiling. "Don't start now, boys. Please. You've only just laid eyes on each other." She walked over and wrapped her arms around her father. "It's good to see you, daddy."
He returned the hug, plus more. "You too, sweetheart. I've missed you."
"Me too," with a sigh she pushed him away slightly. "So, what brings you to our neck of reality?"
"A royal invitation, actually," Tony said, as he tried to ignore Wolf circling them.
"Yep. Wendell is having a thing, and you are formally invited."
"And me? Am I invited too?" Wolf had circled around and come back to Virginia's side, one hand possessively on her arm.
Wendell had never actually mentioned Wolf, Tony now realized. Maybe the young king didn't want the Wolf at his shindig. But, then again, Wendell had never specifically excluded him either. Perhaps the lack on invitation was simply because Wendell had assumed (and rightly so) that Wolf would just follow Virginia wherever she happened to go, welcome or not.
Thankfully Tony didn't have to answer. Instead, Virginia smacked the hand on her arm and said, "Of course you are. You're one of the saviors of the realm, after all. Wendell wouldn't not invite you to his… his what? What exactly are we invited to?"
"It's a whole thing. A three day festival with some fancy dances, like a ball," Tony waved a hand dismissively.
But Wolf's ears pricked up. "A Spring Ball?" he asked.
"Yeah, I think that's what they called it."
Wolf grinned, an impish glow to his eyes, "Our little king is all grown-up and looking for a mate, huh?"
"How do you people know this stuff?"
"C'mon, Tony. Everybody knows this stuff."
"Not normal people."
"Normal people don't even know about the kingdoms, dad," Virginia put in, sighing slightly. She started brushing off the seat of her pants. "Do you need to get back right away?" she asked him.
"Not really, no," he said, thinking of the appointment with the royal tailor he could stand to miss. "You got something in mind?"
"Just home. Or the hotel, I mean. I'm kind of tired."
And before Anthony could even open his mouth to ask what hotel, Wolf was by her side, apologizing for having her out so long and asking if she needed anything, anything at all…?
Virginia rolled her eyes at her father at this show, and fended Wolf off with a skill obviously born of long practice.
And so a bemused Tony found himself following his daughter and her Wolf out of Central Park and into his old home town.