“who never had to howl” Genre: Drama, Fantasy Rating: PG Time Frame: 1x12 missing scene, Speculation Characters: Ruby | Red Riding Hood, Sir Gaston, Grumpy, Summary: He had never hunted a day in his life, that much she was certain of. But, here he was, with his soft hands and determined eyes, trying to find his way into the Dark One's lands . . . Gaston hunts. Red gives him a path. Notes: For the October Theme Challenge, 'In a Restaurant'. I wanted to give myself the extra challenge of writing for characters I have never written before, in a scene that is more of a 'what-if' than anything else. It's just a oneshot for now, but it has given me ideas, so it may be picked up again in the future. Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words. [hr][/hr] “who never had to howl” by Mira_Jade She could smell the desperation on him when he entered the tavern. It followed him like a cloak, a cloudy scent that was add odds with the burst of crisp autumn air that accompanied him from the open door. It had been enough to make her look up, her hands curling, her nostrils flaring as she inhaled. Desperation was never a pleasant scent, it was swampish, like yellow smoke and just as acidic, making her eyes burn. Exhaling, clearing her senses, she looked past her work to the man who had just entered. And she stood, curious now as anything else, when she did not see an old farmer just returned from the market or any of the miners who worked and lived in this town. He was not even a wanderer, passing through, or one of the woodsman who were always peppering the countryside. Instead he was a young man, broad and strong, who did not hide his head under a hood as most traveling men smelling of desperation would, hiding their faces as if they were chased. Instead, he held his head high and stood with his shoulders straight. Desperate and noble, she had thought, perplexed, seeing the black lace at his wrists, the gleam of thick blue velvet on his doublet. His sword hilt was polished and the sound of gold coins as he walked was clear to more than just her lupine ears. He was asking for a soul more hardened to his to take what he had not been offering, and more than a few eyes watched him walk to the front of the tavern with speculative eyes, all thieves weighing their odds. He had soft hands when he placed them on the polished wood of the bar, soft hands that had never hunted a day in their life . . . But still he looked about the tavern with eyes shaped to search. And so Red looked him over and looked away, leaving him be to Morri, who was tending to the tavern while she gathered her things to go. It was close to her Wolfstime, and she had only days until the full moon, and even with the protection of her cloak it was better to be away from the village and in the deep of the woods when that came. This town was a new beginning, a fresh start, and while enough knew the whispers of her Lycanthropy, no one knew for sure, and she wanted to keep it that way – Granny was too old to stay on the run with her, and Red was selfish enough to admit that she liked the solidity of one point of call, one place to always return to – home. She could pass the full moon in solitude, and then make it to Snow's part of the forest and deliver to the dispossessed princess enough supplies to see her through to the next month. She would make good time, she calculated mentally, not wanting to leave Granny short handed for too long. She tapped her fingers against her basket, biting her lip and looking around her for anything she could have forgotten, when the sounds of conversation from the bar just reached her. “I seek the aid of a hunter, a tracker,” the newly arrived man was speaking to the table closest to him - where dwarfs from the mines had came in to take their supper. He addressed to the surliest looking one in a burst of courage that Red would not have thought to expect from him, obviously thinking that that one would have the answers he needed. “Really?” came the grumpy reply. “This ain't no ballroom, princess. Perhaps it would be best for you to just go back the way you came.” The dwarf's words were rudely spoken, but truly meant. Men like the one at the bar never lasted long on the road. “I do not seek a dance,” the man said coldly, all aristocratic bearing and haughtiness brought to weigh on the dwarf. But there was a flicker to his eyes. Doubt, Red could smell, muddled next to the yellow scent of desperation . . . and determination. The scent was not new, it had only been veiled before. He squared his jaw, and she smelled the sharp flare of iron, steel forged and strong. Curiously, she watched, her basket in her hands and her hood a red pool around her neck. “Whadya huntin' for then? A glass slipper?” the dwarf continued to taunt. “Or a sleeping beauty?” A flicker passed the man's face, and the dwarf snorted. “A girl it is, then? Tough draw for you – but count yourself blessed. Now, do yourself a favor and leave that dragon's lair alone.” “It is to a dragon's lair I seek to go,” the newcomer said stubbornly, his voice curling darkly. “I seek passage to the Dark One's castle, to get back someone that was stolen from me. For that I require a guide. A hunter, as it were.” Silence fell in the tavern then. All were listening. Few breathed, as if expecting the Spinner to appear then and there, stepping out of shadow and nightmare when there was daylight beyond them, bright and clear even though it was dying in the day . . . “Ain't no one here who can find that trail,” and now the dwarf spoke with deadly seriousness, his dark eyes cold. “The Spinner isn't found unless he wants to be found. That is, unless you have the guts to summon him, boy. Then, by all means, have the common courtesy to do that someplace else - he isn't known to let his supplicants live when he finds a task ill to his liking.” The man's eyes narrowed, matching the dwarf. “I have already walked the route of summoning. It is one I care little to travel again.” The dwarf snorted. “And now you seek to set things right when the deal didn't quite go your way?” “It is none of your concern my reasons for my seeking the Dark One out,” the man replied, and the scent of steel in the air flared brightly. “It matters not what business I have to conduct, I merely need one who can hunt. The paths to the Dark Isle are shrouded in mist, and I cannot find them without aide.” He was not afraid, his strong words said. But still his hands were soft. Still he was a stag in a world of things with claws who knew how to rip and tear asunder. She bit her lip as memory stabbed her like a spear. For a moment she remembered Peter's eyes in the night, the innocence and trust he held in the goodness of the world before the moon crested full in the night sky . . . She inhaled, and, “I am a hunter,” she spoke without thinking, stepping out from behind the bar and into the torchlight. Eyes slipped to her. Those who knew of her and who she was looked away just as quickly. The dwarf regarded her for a moment before scowling and turning back to his ale. Red glared at his bent head for a moment before turning to the man who was staring at her with wide eyes – taking in her scarlet cloak and the matching stains woven into her hair. His eyes were on her own, not looking away, when she asked next, “Who is it that you hunt? I may be able to help.” She tapped her gloved fingers against her basket, feeling something wild in her bones at the prospect of a chase. He looked dubiously at her, obviously in doubt, and she felt her hackles rise when he finally asked, “A mere maiden, a hunter?” His tone was dubious. She could see the humor in his eyes. “A mere dandy, a hunter?” she returned, cross. “Why do you not track your prey on your own, Huntsman, and cease wasting our time with your tales?” She bent down to pick up her basket, cross with the desperate man and his determination when a soft hand reached out to stay her as she passed. “No, please, that was rude of me,” the man said, tripping over his own tongue as if the apology was foreign to him. “I have seen many strange things in my quest so far, and I should not look a gift in the face. You are a hunter then?” She smiled unkindly, her teeth sharp and white. “The best.” “Like a wolf, lad,” the dwarf beyond them cackled darkly. “Don't doubt that.” The man nodded his head then, the dwarf's opinion sealing his decision. “Then you are also a godsend,” he beamed at her, all ease and friendliness as hope settled on his face. “I am Sir Gaston of the Frontlands, and I humbly seek your aide.” He bowed to her, courtly and graceful where he had been all fidgeting hands before – addressing her as if they were on a ballroom floor rather than the scuffed oak of a mining town's tavern. And his words rang in her mind. The Frontlands. At the revelation, Red blinked in surprise. “A little far from home, aren't you?” she queried. That kingdom was the land farthest south in their world, nestled between the Trident sea and the Iron mountains that made up the eastern border of King George's lands. The tips of his ears flushed pink at her question. “The furthest I have ever been,” he gave quickly, looking down at his boots before looking up again, slipping into pride more easily than uncertainty. “For a woman?” Red filled in the tale as Grumpy had accused earlier, and the man nodded his affirmative. “Do you have anything of hers?” she asked next. “I can find the path, but only if I have a scent to follow.” He looked at her oddly, but did not question her where that had already once led him astray. “This,” he said before turning from her in order to fish in the oilskin pouch at his belt. He did not keep a careful eye on her, instead he bared his throat, and the hunting thing inside of her awakened in curiosity, like a dragon scenting the air past its cave. She breathed in slowly, feeling the eyes inside of herself close once again, a beast tamed. Finally, he held out a handkerchief, soft and white, no embroidery on it but for a small trim of lace around the edges. “It was hers,” the flush on his ears deepened, but he still looked her in the eye – even gold as they were tinted by the approaching moon. “A sweetheart?” she teased, drawing the handkerchief to her nose and smelling. Roses and ink filled her senses. Bravery, too. And a lower, more base scent that just smelled like the color of gold to her, unable as she was to put it into words. “She was my fiancée,” Gaston corrected, rather stiffly. “Fiancée?” Red challenged, raising a brow. She could not smell a lie on him, but she could smell an untruth. The flush fell to rest on his cheeks, making them red even in the half light. “We were childhood friends . . . our union was for practicality's sake during the war as much as anything else. But she is dear to me, and I will not have her languish in the beast's hold any longer.” The Frontlands, Red thought again with a shiver, on the border of the Ogrelands, where the third war had taken many . . . but not all, a ceasefire on that front having mysteriously fallen into place in the last moon's time. Before that, all had seemed doomed, with Avonlee falling and Sir Maurice pleading for help to the far corners of the kingdoms. Red hadn't paid much attention to the news at the time – preoccupied with her own problems as she was, but many a traveler had come through since then, and she knew how to listen. Many were moving back to the Frontlands to rebuild the tiny kingdom, as if drawn by magic's hand, and - She inhaled sharply through her nose. “The Lady of the Frontlands, you go in search of her?” “It is all I can do,” Gaston said as to the challenge in her eyes. His hands were soft, and his throat was lined with lace, but he stared the wolf with her hackles raised and pushed back. She wondered if he knew that he bared his teeth when he spoke, answering the unspoken threat in the air. Red took a moment, and reevaluated her opinion of him. And he continued. “She . . . she gave all for us, when we had nothing else to give. And now, our lands are starting to recover, and she is not there to see it. It is not right . . . it is not the ending that should have been to her. A life of servitude to that monster . . .” again his teeth were bared. His hands clenched, making a fist. He had passion, and belief, that much was certain. And still she found herself hesitating. She was so close to her Wolfstime, and her journey to Snow could not be delayed. But he still looked at her with eyes shaped in determination. His words caught at her - beast, more monster than man, and Red felt her skin crawl as she thought about the things in the world that were darker than her. “Will you help me?” he finally asked. “I can pay you – our kingdom is rebuilding, but we can give you anything you ask – we will find a way to match your number.” She shook her head. “My needs in life are simple, I have no need of your gold.” “Then a price, name it,” still he said, and she sighed, thinking of weights and payments, and Peter with straw in his hair and a lopsided grin on his face and so, so simple. She breathed in deep, and thought of red, so much red . . . One good deed was not enough to wipe away so much hurt, but she could try . . . Red bit her lip, and looked down at the handkerchief in her hands. Her teeth were sharp, so close was she to the turn of the moon, and she could feel its pull under her skin. Her senses itched in that moment. She could track the girl easily, if she wanted. The scent was strong, and already could she see a trail of golden light before her, calling the wolf to the hunt . . . The wolf inside of her howled, and in its cry she heard follow. Follow, follow, follow . . . “I can lead you to the Dark One's castle,” she finally said. “But I cannot go in with you.” She could not, not with her Wolfstime so close. She would lay waste to all within, not seeing the difference between friend and foe with the red haze before her eyes . . . He looked relieved, the expression soft and earnest on his face, and for a moment, Red pitied the man. “I can ask no more than that,” he breathed. “I thank you, truly.” She waved her hand, smoothing down her scarlet cloak and picking up her basket, full and ready. “Don't mention it,” she said, her lips sliding, a red stain against white. “We'll make a hunter out of you yet by the time I am done with you. The bards will sing songs of your greatness.” He snorted. “Antlers by the dozen to hang on the walls?” “In all of your decorating,” she teased, flipping her hood up over her head. He watched her, his eyes following the dark shadow of her hair as she pushed it behind her ears, the fall of the fabric as it created a hollow before her throat. The scent of steel flared once again, the scent warm this time; molten, even. “Now, here we go,” she said, and she lifted the handkerchief to her nose, looking for a path with the scent. She let the beast inside of her rise to the surface. She could feel the itch of fur on her too smooth skin. Her throat felt tight, as if it wished to scream and howl its hunt to the air. Instead, she merely fisted her hand about the delicate fabric, feeling her fingers ache as if they were claws. And a flare of golden light came into being behind her eyes – giving her a trail to follow, leading high in the mountains to the Dark Isle beyond. She could smell the black waters there lapping against the shore, could taste coldness and snow and straw and magic . . . And that same scent, roses and ink and gold, his Lady . . . The land was warded, already that her senses told her, patrolled by creatures even more magical than her. It would be no easy journey - already the scent of fear surrounding the land was a sour thing to her senses, all rust and copper and desperation - a smear of pain and black scents, making her recoil. The wolf in her growled, uneasy. Fighting past the outer band of scents, she slowly picked the remaining strands apart. Finally, she found the scent of roses and ink, but with the girl's scent there was no fear, oddly enough . . . just the rain bright scent of fascination, the clean ivory scent of curiosity and fondness. Curious, she thought, as she let herself wonder just what trial Gaston would have to face for himself in the Spinner's palace. But, that was another tale to be told, for another time. That journey was not her own to take. “Let's go, Huntsman,” she finally called as she weaved through the tables to the door, and the fresh air beyond. Already, the nickname was endearing on her tongue. “I have a trail to follow.” She set out into the pre-evening light, a flare of red to match the twilight beyond, and Gaston followed, a sure shadow to her footsteps. And the hunt began.