A/N: Been a long while since I updated and my apologies, but school, work, family and friends come before fanfic writing. Do not fear though, the story is still very much alive. I haven't given up hope on it yet.

Mad props go out to my beta readers; the amazing DancesWithCorpses, who took the time to proof this chapter, The Middle Warner Sibling, who's always willing to read for content, while the wonderful BlushBunnyC3 indulges herself in holy matrimony.

Many thanks to my readers and especially my reviewers for taking the time to write their comments. Good or bad, all my reviews are appreciated.


Chapter 7: Vivid Images

He hated being sick. He hated the constant sniffling. He hated the sore throat. He hated not being tired but made to stay inside anyway.

Wakko sighed and slumped against the carriage cushion, glancing out the window. It was bright and sunny, light spilling into the darkened coach interior through the window. He could hear his siblings laughing and running around alongside the carriage and enjoying the perfect weather.

It was so unfair that he had to stay inside. That he couldn't run around too. Yakko's orders. True, he didn't blame his older brother for making him sit and stay. He knew he'd just start a coughing fit if he did and he'd regret it during the night, but that didn't stop him from wanting to join them outside.

He also didn't blame his siblings for leaving the carriage either. It was beautiful outside and he doubted they would want to catch his cold anyway. But still… he wished he at least had someone to talk to.

Wakko sighed and flopped down to lay across the seat, feeling sorry for himself and his lost play time. Stupid cold. Stupid boring carriage. He would surely die of having nothing to do.

That was when his eyes fell on Yakko's bag, tucked slightly under the seat. He stared at the leather flap. Maybe he wouldn't be so bored after all.

The middle sibling sat up and leaned a bit to the side, looking out the window. Yakko and Dot were a few yards ahead of the second coach, playing tag. Apparently they had also conned a few of the guards into playing with them. Or more than likely, annoyed them into submission.

Satisfied that they were thoroughly distracted, Wakko reached for Yakko's pack. He pulled it closer and rifled around inside for the red journal. The guilt of going through his brother's belongings was in the back of his mind, but his empathy towards his own current pathetic state, sick and alone, made him dig deeper in the sack. If his siblings didn't want him reading further into the journal without them, they would have stayed inside the carriage and basked in his misery.

Conceited, yes. But his boredom didn't care.

He smiled when his gloved hand came in contact with the smooth surface of the journal, but his ears perked when it also brushed against another leather fold beside it.

Wakko cocked his head to the side as he pulled out the separate collection of papers, their appearance just as old and worn as their mother's journal. These papers weren't held together in a neat book though; instead they were all separate pieces of parchment tied together by twine. The stack was as thick, or possibly a little thicker, than the journal.

The whole arrangement intrigued the middle sibling, gingerly picking at the knot holding the folded papers together. He carefully riffled through them, unfolding a few and finding dates written in the corners and script sweeping down the entire lengths of the pages.

Letters.

Wakko's eyes lit up as he scanned the content of the letters. The handwriting was much different than their mother's neat and flowing text. This manuscript was much more angled and hard edged. Reading a few lines into the text, the Warner quickly discovered they were the words of his father.

Wakko slowly lowered the letters to his lap as he stared off into some unknown plain of existence that he was often known for visiting. The middle Warner rarely thought as deeply as his other siblings, never seeing the need to over analyze things, but suddenly he found himself trying his hardest to dive into the very depths of his mind. Or more specifically… his memory.

Ever since the three of them started reading their mother's journal, Wakko found himself trying to remember their parents. He was frustrated that the only images he could dig up though were the ones of the portraits hanging in the castle. It upset him that the only memories of his parents were locked away from him, guarded by painted faces on a canvas.

He had voiced this concern to his siblings and they too felt his pain. Dot would constantly ask why they weren't able to remember them, and Yakko would respond that they were just too young at the time. Age takes its toll on a memory and infancy was the first to be forgotten.

Wakko often wondered if Yakko remembered more than he let on, but after approaching the oldest with the question, the answer was clear.

Yakko was just as upset that he couldn't remember either.

He described the feeling as "having a song stuck in your head, but you can't remember the lyrics, just the melody. You known them, you know they're there. But they're stuck, right on the tip of your tongue, like you could spill them out at any moment, but they just... won't… come."

Wakko didn't follow what his brother was saying completely. He rarely understood Yakko's ramblings. But in a sense he kind of got the idea.

…at least Yakko had a melody though. He didn't even have that.

Only the painted portraits.

Wakko shook himself from his thoughts, accepting for the moment that the only image of his father he could muster was bathed in acrylics. He returned his attention to the letters in his hand.

Dear Father,

Most likely the fourth installment of letters that will not make it to you. And though my satchel is filled with notes regarding the going ons in my life I had once wanted to share with you, still something keeps me from sending them. Why I even write them, I know not, but write them I do, if for no other reason than to jot my thoughts down, somehow making them more real than they are in my mind.

As we approach our third week of travel to the lordship of TicTockia, I continue to offer my company to the distressed queen. But what was once just unease that traveling with a hormonal teenage girl would prove to me nightmarish, I now find myself truly concerned with her.

Her Highness has her worries about the duke, and though I try my best to calm her, I cannot deny that her fears are justified towards the man. Everyone knows his background, his reputation. It bothers me to think such a fine example of a queen, who has all the potential to run a monarch as successful as the former king, God rest his soul, is getting mixed up in tainted matters. To think such innocence will be lost to the vile nature of that duke.

I cannot imagine being in her position, yet I find myself caring more than I probably should. I already worry I have over-stepped my boundaries concerning my relationship with her. But try as I may to put the proper distance between us, some unknown force always seems to be able to close the gap.

XXX

William tucked the parchment back into his saddle bag, glancing over his shoulder to see if anyone had been looking. Sure enough someone was; the blonde haired knight unloading the carriage a few yards away was smirking him, shaking his head in mock disapproval. William rolled his eyes and approached him, helping him take down the supplies.

"Love letters to your father, William?"

"Hush Daniel," the captain snapped, but chided himself mentally, not having meant to sound as harsh as he had. The human was a good friend of his, both having been a part of the royal guard since his arrival at the Warnerstock kingdom. They had grown up in Anvilania together, both trained under his father, but William had taken his role as a knight in a slightly more serious tone. Which was no wonder why he had made Captain. "My letters contain valuable notary regarding-"

"Bullshit," Daniel chuckled and lightly jabbed his friend's arm. "Come off it, you won't send this one either."

While Daniel was laid back, taking life with a grain of salt, William was a well known 'fret'. The two made a perfect contrasting pair. William sighed and hoisted a small leather chest up onto his shoulder. "Not like it really matters either way," he shrugged.

After his transfer to the Warnerstock kingdom as their newly appointed captain, William had wanted nothing more than to prove his worth to his father. He wrote him often, exchanging detailed letters, but after awhile his father's letters became increasingly short, and few and far between. Then they had just stopped coming all together.

Confused and rather disappointed in himself, assuming he was not worth his father's time, William stopped trying. But as much as he wanted to move away from the need to please, he could not stop writing.

Daniel softened at his friend's melancholy expression, no stranger to the Captain's issues. He was slightly amused with how William thought of himself as a well of mystery. But Daniel was more familiar with the best friend that wore his heart on his sleeve. William was no well, rather a puddle… a very shallow, quickly evaporating, puddle.

"Forget it Will, be through with him. Be through with all of it." Daniel waved him off. He would give his friend hell normally, joking and laughing things off in his nature, but he also didn't like seeing William upset over the matter.

William shook his head. "It's not that easy…"

Daniel rolled his eyes. "Is it an ego stroking you're looking for? I'm good at those, you know… I specialize in asspats."

William smirked at him. "The fact that you're proud or that title concerns me."

Daniel cleared his throat, waving his arm out in front of him. "Oh Warnerstock has never seen such a Captain! Our fearless leader that is William Warner! A capable, devoted, experienced-"

"See the 'ass' part is starting to shine through…"

"-over dramatic, emotional, egocentric-"

"Shut up Daniel!"

"-handsome, single bachelor that enjoys long walks in the courtyard by moonlight!" Daniel laughed loudly as he dodged a swing of William's fist. "Is that how you impress the ladies, good sir?" Pitching his voice slightly, Daniel continued his pestering. "Oh William! Your tomato of a nose is such a turn on! Anything else you can do with that tail?"

William growled and dropped the trunk, lunging at his laughing friend. Daniel jumped back out of reach. "Temper, temper, Will! You keep that up and I doubt the queen will be so quick to share the saddle with you again."

William faltered in his mock attack. His reaction only made Daniel grin. "And the truth shows itself…"

William glared at him as he picked the chest back up. "She just… gets cramped in the wagon."

Daniel nodded, waving his hand. "Right, right… cramped. Riding a giant, strong, well bred animal has nothing to do with it." Daniel quickly dodged another fist aimed at him, laughing as he did so. "I meant your horse!"

William muttered to himself, lip curled up slightly to show off his canines. His left ear twitched. "She's going through a lot. She's just-"

"Scared shitless. Who wouldn't be?" Daniel shrugged, setting the sack down in front of the Inn steps. "I didn't say I blamed her."

William raised an eyebrow at him as he set the chest down next to the sack. "Blame her for what?"

Daniel grinned. "Well gosh Will, you're no king, but anyone's gotta be more appealing than Salazar."

William balked. "What do you--- hey!"

Daniel laughed, shoving William's arm. "Aww you're like her knight in shining armor!"

William growled in frustration. "We JUST talk!"

"-for now."

"Will you-" William made another grab at his friend's neck, but stopped quickly. Standing upright, he and Daniel stood respectively as Marcus and the queen approached them. Marcus nodded at the two knights as he passed.

William caught the young monarch's eye though, feeling himself flush slightly under his fur when she smiled fondly at him, shoulders perked up in a giddy motion. He bowed his head when she waved over her shoulder at him, but couldn't look away as she and her advisor disappeared into the Inn.

Daniel shook him from his stare. He glanced back at his friend, trying and failing to hide his embarrassment.

Pitching his voice again, Daniel threw his arms around William. "Oh Captain, my captain!"

William roughly shoved him off as the two headed back to finish unloading the carriage. Daniel continued to snicker until William's fist finally connected with his shoulder, making the blonde silence his torments and rub his new bruise.

-

William ran a gloved hand through his ears as he stepped down the stair case of the Inn. After a few long days of travel with no rest, the only thing he wanted to do was settle down with a pint. But as he approached the bar, his knights already gathered around and conversing with one another, he heard his name being called from the sitting area near the fire. He looked over to Marcus, who adjusted his bifocals to read the book he had resting in his lap. He gestured the Captain over and William obeyed. "Yes sir?" William asked, bowing as he did so.

"Adela went out back…" Marcus said nonchalantly and William wondered how he could be so calm. He glanced at the windows at the front of the Inn. It had been pouring rain for well over an hour.

"Sir, it's-"

"I know," Marcus nodded, turning a page in his book.

William raised a confused eyebrow, but understood the man's unspoken request. He nodded and bowed to the man again before heading to the Inn's back exit. His drink would have to wait apparently.

Passing the service quarters, kitchen, and bath house, William saw the Dutch style door at the end of the hall. The top half of the door was open, rain drops splashing against the sill. Stepping up to look out, William watched as the completely drenched queen stood out in the rain. No… not standing…

…spinning.

She was out in the middle of the spice garden, amongst the Rose Mary and Wolf's Bane, arms outstretched as far as they would go. Spinning. She hummed loudly over the weather, her voice nearly drowned out from the water dripping down off the roof and into the rain barrels.

William leaned against the door frame, just watching her and shaking his head in amusement. She was insane. She had to be. Who in their right mind would go out into a storm and… spin!

And yet… he found himself entranced as he watched her. The bottom of her gown was ruined, splattered mud dotting the cloth. Her usually wavy black hair had straightened out from the weight of the water. And despite it all she looked utterly content to just dance to her own melody as the sky dumped ungodly amounts of water down on her.

Such a strange girl this new queen was. More than once he had raised an eyebrow to her during their conversations. Just the way she thought and talked about things. Her sarcastic responses towards anything she found to be less than up to her standards, which in themselves were odd. The queen was intelligent, he wouldn't deny that, but just so… eccentric.

He found he liked that about her.

He shook himself out of those thoughts. He should not, and would not be having thoughts like that about her. But still, as he watched her twirl about in the warm spring rain, he couldn't help himself.

She was beautiful; he wouldn't even try to refuse himself that notion. But he wondered if it was just because she was of the same breed as he. Did he only see beauty in her because it had been so long since he had seen another like him? Warnerstock was densely populated with humans, only a few anthronians here and there. It wasn't as if they were discriminated against, he could only count the times on one hand that he had dealt with that kind of behavior in his entire life time. No, it was more so the anthronian race that felt they needed to stick to their own clans.

And it wasn't like he hadn't been attracted to human girls before. There had been a few he was more than happy to take a second glance at.

But because of her breeding or not… he couldn't help but admire the queen, and he supposed he wouldn't deny himself of that one guilty pleasure.

He hated the thought of what she might become once married to the duke. He had met the duke a few times when King Maximus had done business with the neighboring lordship. Not too much older than himself, Lord Salazar was pushy, abrasive, and all around unpleasant to be around. He doubted anyone had ever taught the man manners or at least tact. It was as if the entire world was just a speck compared to him. William wrinkled his nose and whiskers at the thought of the man.

He'd ruin her.

He was brought out of his thoughts of the inevitable doom of his kingdom and their queen by a sharp yell over the rain.

"Hey!"

William looked up to see her looking at him, her twirling stopped but a breathless grin still smeared across her dripping face fur. William opened the bottom section of the door, but refused to step out.

"Hey yourself! Your Highness, you're soaked!"

"What did I say about calling me that?" she folded her arms.

William rolled his eyes. "Have you no sense to come in out of the rain?"

"I like the rain!" She twirled once as if to prove her point. "Call me Adela!"

"You're mad, come inside!" William raised his voice to be heard over a clap of thunder. Adela stuck her tongue out at him. "Your majesty!"

"Adela!" She shouted back, returning to her spinning. "I'm not the queen out here!"

"Yes you are! You're the queen wherever you go!"

"I don't want to be, not right now," She shrugged, picking a piece of dripping wet Wolf's Bane and holding it to her red nose.

William sighed; his ears folding back slightly as he watched her face melt from content to troubled. He hadn't meant to pull her from her happy place. "Adela, c'mon…"

Adela lifted her head immediately, her wide smile returning at the sound of him saying her name. He mentally kicked himself for falling into her trap. "Come on inside!"

"No, you come outside!" She laughed.

William folded his own arms defiantly. "I'm not going out there."

Adela shrugged, a sly smirk adorning her features. "Fine, suit yourself," she said, turning to skip out towards the tree line just beyond the garden.

William started slightly, watching her head into the lush forest. "Wait! Adela!" Groaning at the thought of getting wet, never having liked the feeling of drenched fur; William hesitated just slightly before darting off into the rain after her.

Cringing at the feeling of the rain water slipping through his fur and down the back of his neck into his tunic, William squinted to try and make out the queen through the dark tree line. His heart beat increased. Great… she had to be black and wearing dark green. Figures.

Slowing down to a stop to scan the area William cursed under his breath. No sight of her. How was he going to tell the royal advisor that he had lost their monarch? How would he even explain that? "She was dancing in the rain and ran away!" Goodness, that sure sounded logical and sane.

He jumped when he felt a tap on his shoulder, whirling around to see a very amused and giggling Adela. He glowered at her, his hands on his hips. She mocked his pose with a serious pout, but couldn't hold it very long before bursting into hysterics. He rolled his eyes.

"You called me Adela," she grinned with a haughty pose.

"Are you always this annoying?" He asked, arms folded.

She smirked and leaned up to him on her tip toes, her nose almost touching his. "Only to the people I like."

William felt a lump form in his throat, but kept his eyes narrowed at her. "Lucky me."

She was toying with him, he was sure of it. But a part of him was drinking it up as fast as she could pour it on. He felt himself tense as she dramatically threw her arms around his shoulders, leaning against him. He instinctively placed his hands on her waist to keep her upright.

"You like it when I'm weird, don't you?" She asked with a wry grin. "You think I'm funny…"

"I think you're weird," her countered. She smirked as if she enjoyed that answer.

"My father called me weird. I prefer unique. Do you think I'm unique, William?"

He nodded absentmindedly, barely having heard her. His eyes examined the way the rain plastered strands of her ebony hair against her stark white face. His mind screamed for him to stop staring, but he wouldn't listen.

Adela tilted her head slightly, her eye lids half closed as she watched him watch her. Her grin disappeared, a more dream like look replacing it.

William's eyes didn't leave hers as he spoke. "It's raining," he stated the obvious.

"I know," she responded.

"You shouldn't be out in the rain. It's not very proper."

"I know."

He knew she knew. He knew she could care less about acting proper. If she did she wouldn't be… holding him like this. He knew this was also probably the last time she'd ever get to play out in the rain again. Maybe even the last time she'd sing out loud and just… spin.

Why would he want to stop her from doing that?

He realized his nose was touching hers now and warning bells were going off in his mind. Why was it so hard to let go of her? It wasn't even really her doing this, or so he figured. She was about to be married off to a monster. Daniel had been right; anyone was more appealing than Salazar. She was just taking out her final moments of freedom on him. He was being used.

But he also really didn't care.

"You're easy to talk to," she said, droplets of rain splashing against her cheeks. "… Why do you listen to me so much if you think I'm annoying?"

"You're not annoying when we talk," he whispered loud enough for her to hear clearly. "You're annoying when you're stubborn." His grin told her he wasn't serious though. Without even thinking, more words spilled from him. "I like… listening to you."

She looked at him quizzically for a moment before her sly smirk returned, eyelids still half closed as she studied him for a few moments longer.

"Kiss me…"

The statement was so blunt, so sudden, he wasn't sure if he had heard her correctly. If she had really said it or his mind had projected her saying it. He simply stared back at her.

Her grin intensified, her voice soft as she repeated herself. "Kiss m-"

He cut her off, his lips against hers, swallowing the rest of her sentence. It was so brief, so impulsive; it barely registered between both of them.

He hadn't even realized he had done as she had asked until he was pulling away from her. He looked into her wide eyes, her mouth still agape as she stared back up at him. What he had done hit him so rapidly he stumbled back from her.

He blinked a few times, bringing himself out of his haze as he ran his hand through his ears. He looked back over at Adela, who was blinking herself back into reality as well. He tried to speak, to stammer out some kind of apology. But before he could she turned and walked back through the puddles towards the Inn.

He watched her disappear back through the open door. His ears drooped and he stood there, the rain drops feeling like bullets against his body.

What had he just done?

XXX

Wakko looked up from the letters as he heard his siblings running towards the carriage, laughing and taunting one another. He quickly refolded the note he had been reading, stuffing them back into Yakko's bag, but being careful not to bend any of the fragile parchment slips.

Dot opened the carriage door first, a wide smile on her face as she climbed up inside. Wakko could detect the wheeze in her breathing she normally had after running or climbing stairs. She'd had that for awhile now. Ever since she had gotten sick.

He sat up as Yakko came in behind her, also out of breath, but still smiling. He plopped down next to his brother, sitting for a moment to recover before bringing his hand up instinctively to Wakko's forehead. "How ya feelin' bro?"

Wakko shrugged, but responded with a cough. "Alright, I guess."

"You're getting better then?" Dot sprawled out on the seat across from them, her head resting on her hands and a concerned look aimed at her brother. She knew exactly how unfun being sick was.

"Hope so," Yakko said, still feeling Wakko's forehead and neck. "Medicine's probably kicking in," he yawned, tired from their outdoor play.

The three lurched just slightly as the wagon started moving again. Wakko leaned against his older brother as Yakko put his arm around his shoulders. Dot was already starting to doze on the seat across from them, also worn out from their play time.

Wakko's eyes fell towards his brother's pack again. He closed his eyes and nestled against a now napping Yakko's shoulder, coughing into his gloved fist a bit. The words of his father were still running through his head. Finally, images that were bright and vivid, brought to life through the power of his handwriting. Something he could cling to. Something he could identify with when staring up at the painted faces of their parents.