Written for Yuletide 2007. Many thanks to Lynnmonster and Beth H. for beta assistance.
Sometimes Wolf runs.
Sometimes Wendell hides.
King Wendell Winston Walter White has found the crown to be very heavy indeed. Ill-fitting. Decidedly uncomfortable.
He detests all the decisions he's required to make, all the responsibilities, all the duties and ceremonies. He resents how everyone clamors for his time, his attention, his opinion, his signature, his glove size, his menu choices, his flipping chamber pot! It's all too much, too bloody much. He's sick to death of it all.
It didn't take long for the shine on his crown to tarnish. A short three days after his coronation, the young king's morning dawned full of promise...a promise which faded quickly when a delegation of ministers cornered him as he exited the Royal Privy. "What shall we do with the Trolls, Your Majesty? How shall we employ Lord Antony, Your Majesty? Where would you like the dog kept, Your Majesty? How shall we approach the Dwarf Kingdom's ambassadors, Your Majesty? What do you want for tea, Your Majesty? What do you think? What do you want? What - what - what?" Wendell stood there, naked but for a towel, completely at a loss, while his ministers waited for brilliance to drop from his lips like so many pearls.
Brilliance was not forthcoming. The ministers waited. Wendell tried to think of answers. Nothing. Wendell's mind remained empty. The ministers shifted, eyed each other nervously. Still not a thought came to him. Wait, Wendell thought suddenly, perhaps Virginia will know what to do, perhaps Wolf-
Ah, but they were gone. He was alone.
And so from the beginning he's taken to running away from his ministers, hiding in his chambers, or in the wine cellar or the palace gardens, anywhere he can find, to avoid the responsibilities put on him in this unexpectedly demanding kingdom. But his courtiers are a persistent lot, and the castle has only so many rooms. They find him in the end; they always find him. And so it begins anew with every damned day, those demands, those decisions, those enormous responsibilities.
Fortunately Wendell has a secret, one he's only recently learned. Apparently magic has a tendency to linger; months have passed since they defeated the Queen, but a link remains between him and that damned golden retriever whose body he occupied for so long. Quite by accident - literally: he tripped over Prince's leash -Wendell has discovered he can still change bodies with the dog with a single touch, and return to his own form at will.
It's frightfully useful.
Now when Wendell feels the need to escape he merely gives everyone the slip, goes to the royal kennels, lets Prince out and changes places with him. And then he is free to bound away into the Royal Gardens, or to the shady seclusion of the Disenchanted Forest, leaving the Dog-Prince to happily romp about in his place and make decisions that can be no worse than his own.
To his amazement, Wendell has found he quite likes being a dog now, though he hated it once upon a time, when he and his companions had to make their arduous journey. True, the ground still smells mostly of excrement and feet, but there is also the heady, mulchy smell of loam, the sounds of birds and wind in the leaves, the taste of clear water lapped up from a brook. Most of all Wendell loves the freedom of being four-footed again; it lets him indulge the wild part of his nature he never knew he had. It's a nearly perfect solution.
If only he weren't so lonely.
The arrival of Lady Virginia and her consort causes a great stir, because the king, retrieved from the kennels - where, in his ministers' opinion, he spends far too much time - is in an awkward mood, terribly unfocused and demonstrating a tendency to drop to his hands and knees and sniff everyone's shoes. It's highly embarrassing to the ministers, who are expecting Queen Cinderella and her entourage momentarily. They fall all over themselves making apologies and quickly usher the king out of doors, where he urinates on a shrub. Lady Virginia doesn't seem to notice, as she's tired and needs to retire to her room.
As for Wolf, he scarcely gives any of them a second glance before rushing after his mate. Wendell's behavior, good or bad, is of little concern to Wolf, though he's caught a whiff from Wendell that is decidedly non-human. Perhaps he'd be more curious if he weren't concerned about Virginia and relieved to be in familiar territory, away from the noise and smell and virtual confinement of the Tenth Kingdom. He's eager to get out of these musty rooms and breathe some free Nine Kingdoms' air.
The ministers escort them to their rooms, bow obsequiously and back out of the room. Wolf feels the familiar stirrings of contempt; how short a time ago it was that men like these would've put him to death without turning a hair! And to now see them bow and scrape before him-! Huff-puff. Sheer hypocrisy.
Virginia lies on the bed, tired despite the brief duration of their transit; after all, she had to hike halfway into the park to reach the mirror portal, no easy feat for a woman with a seven-month cub inside her. Wolf knows he should remain with her, but the uneasy feeling of being trapped still lingers, even here where he should feel free.
He should stay with her. He should. He should stay and coddle her, comfort her, be there for he when she wakes up, fluff her pillow, make her tea, ensure she and their cub are protected. That's what a good wolf would do.
But what was it Dr. Horovitz told them when they went for counseling? Over-protection is rejection.
Wolf isn't sure he understands, but he knows it's not a good thing.
He slips out quietly and makes his escape.
Sometimes Virginia lies.
The moment the door closes behind Wolf Virginia opens her eyes. Though she feels like a terrible person for feigning exhaustion, she can't stem the relief that wells up now that Wolf's gone. Something awful has happened to their happily ever after - she hasn't been all that happy, and it's clear neither has Wolf. Perhaps here in these familiar surroundings he'll find comfort. Perhaps she will, too.
She'd like to help him, really. She wants to...sort of...but lately she can only muster feelings of annoyance toward him. As for their unborn child, well, she loves it, of course she does - doesn't she? She would be a terrible person if she didn't love her own child.
Really terrible. The worst kind of person.
Wolf has turned out to be far more difficult than she would've imagined, terribly undependable, sometimes smothering in his attentions and sometimes so distant she can hardly feel his presence. Sometimes when he calls her his "mate" and flashes puppy-dog eyes she just wants to scream.
It's not all Wolf's fault. Virginia loves Wolf, certainly, but now that the excitement of the journey and the foiling of plots is over and regular life has begun, she can't help wishing he were more, well, more. More what? Swashbuckling? More commanding? More sexy and dangerous? More of a fantasy? In truth, that's what she thought he was like. She hadn't realized how deeply neuroses had carved themselves into Wolf's psyche.
Or maybe it's the other extreme. Maybe what she really wants is a regular guy, who'd love her and go to the gym and talk baseball with his buddies and have a job to go to so he wasn't underfoot all day driving her to distraction with his little mannerisms and twitches and scratches and standing too close all the time and bothering her until she wants to shove him away and-
Maybe if he were just a guy, like every other ordinary guy in New York, it would be better.
Except Wolf's anything but ordinary, and she knew that from the start. She knew what she was getting, along with the howling and the raw meat and the bushy tail. She got a guy who's not quite human. She chose him, and she has no right to complain.
Virginia's ashamed. After all, she wanted an off-kilter kind of guy; that's why she fell for Wolf in the first place. He was unpredictable, mysterious. The ultimate bad boy.
Problem is, Virginia reflects with a sigh, her bad boy has lost his mystery, and what's underneath is a needy, difficult eccentric.
It's hard to tell what's wrong with Wolf - well, more wrong than usual - and she's tired of trying to figure it out. Lately Virginia's been thinking maybe she and Wolf shouldn't get married after all. Maybe after the baby's born she'll just-
Virginia sinks back against the pillows and covers her eyes. Useless. She can't break Wolf's heart, even at the risk of her own. Maybe in time he'll return to the Wolf she fell in love with. Maybe she'll learn to cope. Maybe she'll get her fantasy back. Maybe.
Until then, she'll smile and lie.
Sometimes Wendell can't stand it any more.
What a dreadful, dreadful party! Tonight he's managed to slip out of Cinderella's birthday party because the thought of entertaining his guests has become utterly intolerable; fortunately he's done it so skillfully he's sure no one's the wiser. Unfortunately, the Dog Prince has tracked him here, jogging along behind despite Wendell repeatedly snapping at his feet. How annoying! This creature gives new meaning to the word "dogged."
Wendell wonders if he (or his double) will be missed. He doubts it; two thousand people are expected at the party, and Cinderella will make sure she's the center of attention for hours. Meanwhile Wendell has the forest to himself...except for the doggy presence in human form tagging along.
"Look," Wendell barks. "Stay. Stay. I mean it!"
The Dog Prince looks at him with woeful eyes, and Wendell feels a wave of compassion. Poor thing. He's probably lonely, too. Still, it's irritating being shadowed this way. "GO. HOME!"
The Dog Prince whines once, then turns away.
Wonderful. Now he can finally enjoy himself.
But Wendell has barely padded a few yards away when he catches the scent of another being. All at once his sharpened senses go on alert. This scent is frightening. In fact, it smells like a-
To Wendell's surprise, he turns to see an enormous black wolf loping through the woods. Oh dear! What to do? A golden retriever is no match for a wolf.
Just as Wendell prepares to turn and run for home he hears an alarmed yelp. The wolf has run smack into the Dog Prince, who's been wandering aimlessly nearby. There's growling and whimpering confusion as Prince backs away, terrified. Oh no! What if the wolf attacks Wendell's human body? What will he do then? Wendell can hear the feral intent in the predator's low growl, and see it in the tongue lolling out of its frighteningly fanged maw. But there's something else, too, something in the beast's scent that Wendell's dog nose can detect. It's a kind of musky undertone, and it makes Wendell's heart race.
And that's not all. To his astonishment, he starts to become aroused.
What in the world-!?
It's almost like he's in heat, or they're both in heat or-
Normally Wendell would be disgusted by this, but in his dog form all he can do is respond to the pheromones wafting his way. Instinct takes hold, and propels him forward. "Get away from him!"
The wolf stops and turns his glittering yellow eyes towards Wendell. In the periphery of his vision Wendell sees the Dog Prince running away.
Oh, bloody hell.
But Wendell doesn't have time to regret his first and possibly final act of heroism. Its original target gone, the wolf jumps at him, and Wendell only has time to think I guess the dog gets to keep the throne before the heavier body hits him. But to his surprise the gaping mouth with the very sharp fangs does not tear out his throat. Instead, it closes firmly - but not painfully - on the scruff of his neck. The larger animal grips him tightly in his jaws, spinning them slightly, his paws scrabbling for purchase on the leafy ground. And then Wendell hasn't time to think at all, because the wolf is mounting him, and musk overwhelms him, and Wendell's human brain is no match for the flood of sexual sensation rushing through him as he thrusts back against the powerful body of the wolf.
Sometimes Wolf awakens in strange places.
Wolf opens an eye. The sun is overhead, There's grass between his fingers and the sound of leaves crunching as he stretches. He breathes in the woody air. Huh. Where is this, exactly?
Well, it doesn't matter. He feels good, better than he has in ages.
There's the sound of breathing beside him. Ah, Virginia. He doesn't remember how they happened to be here, but they must've gone for a romp in the woods, just like the first time he claimed her for his own. He feels sated, relaxed. Oh yeah. Must've been great sex. Smiling lazily, he turns over.
He comes eye to eye with a dog.
"Whaaaaaaaaa-?" Wolf is up on his feet instantly, wide-eyed with shock as the dog stretches. "A dog? A DOG?" Comprehension dawns. "Did I just...with a dog?" Wolf rolls his eyes and scratches at a temple. "How embarrassing! How mortifying! A dog-"
"Do shut up, Wolf," the dog says, yawning. "Don't be such a bloody snob about it."
Wolf stares. "Wendell?"
"How many talking dogs do you know?"
"Hullo," interjects a sunny voice. The Dog Prince kneels down next to them, grinning vapidly. "I'm King Wendell, rrrufff!"
"Give it a-" snarls the dog. It does something with its paw and Wendell's knee, and an entirely different expression comes into the King's eyes.
"-rest. Ah, that's better,"
Wolf stares. The dog gets up, shakes itself and plops down nearby to lick its balls. It has a smug expression and Wendell and Wolf both look away.
"So that was you, Wendy?"
"Ah," says Wolf.
"Right," says Wendell.
There's an awkward silence.
"Look," Wolf mutters. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to- I mean, I've been a little stressed out lately, and Virginia doesn't-"
"Forget it." Wolf looks up sharply to find Wendell smiling slyly. "Besides, you looked like you needed a good roll in the hay."
"Well, I, uh..." Wolf's glance shifts away. "I guess maybe I did. So, uh...sorry. And...thanks?"
"I could have you executed, you know." Wendell sounds terribly stern and Wolf's heart sinks. "Despoiling the Monarch. Capital offense."
"Wendy - I mean, King Wendell - I -" What's this? Wendell is laughing at him? Wolf snorts indignantly. Typical royalty.
Wendell clears his throat and - could it be he's blushing? "To be honest, Wolf, I quite enjoyed it. Frankly, it was the most interesting thing that's happened to me since you left."
Wolf blinks at him. "Really?"
"Oh, yes. Really." Wendell leans closer. "In fact, Wolf, I wouldn't mind..."
Sometimes they can't believe their luck.
Wendell's got friends who understand him and help him make decisions. He has a new godson to coddle, and glittering parties with thousands of people to attend, and an occasional bout of frenzied sex under the full moon. It's an unusual arrangement, perhaps, but it suits him well enough.
Virginia's got her mysterious bad boy back, in a Wolf who doesn't always tell her where he's going, and who doesn't smother her anymore by being underfoot. He's found other interests, and if she's curious about where he and Wendell go she's wise enough not to ask. She's too busy being a mother to really care. Surprisingly she finds that Wolf's lovemaking has gotten even more intense, while his personality has mellowed. Whatever's going on, it's made her happier.
And Wolf has the open fields and the forest and magic instead of cages and metal and grey stone. He has wild nights under the moon and quiet days at court. He has his mate and his cub. And he has Wendell, too, because a wolf needs a pack.
Oh yes, life is good in the Nine Kingdoms, now that everyone's finally got their happy ending.