In Which I Say I Love You
I had no phone. I had nothing at all, not even my ring; I’d have to go back and retrieve it later. Sam kindly let me use hers to call Levi, and I waited on the curb for him to arrive. Through the window, I could see their shadows, sometimes hear bits and pieces of their conversation. I was tempted to listen in, but this was their conversation. It had nothing to do with me.
Levi’s truck pulled up to the curb. Fred jumped out from the side door, and ran to me, hugging me tightly.
“Oof, careful,” I groaned. “Still kinda sore here. Really, really sore, actually.”
He quickly let go of me. “Sorry. God, Hailee, how did this happen?”
“I’ll tell you everything in the car,” I promised.
I climbed into the backseat, linked arm-in-arm with him. Levi stared intently at me in the rearview mirror. “A fight?” he guessed. “A fight with Dark?”
“Yes,” I said, “it happened.” I told them the whole story. When I explained the bit about him being under Tyrone’s thumb, Levi actually slammed on the brakes and swore, loud enough the people on the sidewalk could probably hear him.
“You were right,” he said. “You were right! I cannot believe it. That bastard. I all but trusted him, too.”
“Let me finish,” I said. “Adam had his reasons, and I think they were pretty good reasons. He has a wife, you know, a human wife, and she’s pregnant with his kid. All he wants is to protect his pack and raise his heir in peace, and given the times we’re in, he was desperate.”
“You know,” Levi said grimly, after several seconds of silence, “when word of this gets to the pack, you’re going to be brought to task. Hopefully he will too, but you, definitely.”
“I know, I know, I know.” I groaned, smacking my head against the seat. “I’ll worry about that tomorrow morning. I swear, first thing tomorrow morning, but that’s a bridge we’ll have to cross later. I cannot handle another stressful thought tonight. I need to rest.”
“You do,” he agreed. “Are you — wait, let me rephrase that, just how injured are you?”
“Not very. We managed to avoid too much bloodshed, somehow, and I’ve had medical attention. I did need stitches in one place, but we got that over with.”
“Good. In that case, what you need is water and sleep. A recovery period.”
“A really long recovery period would be preferable.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t think we can give you that.”
“Well, then, I’ll take whatever I can get.”
When we were finally back at the warehouse, I was relieved to see it was quiet. Tyrone hadn’t come around, not that I expected him to. He would come eventually, though — we would have to be vigilant.
Creeping around, careful not to disturb the sleeping lycans, I slipped up to my room. Fred followed close on my heels, and when I reached the door, he turned to leave. I put a hand on his arm, stopping him. “Fredrick.” He gave me a look; I only called him Fredrick when I had something important to say to him. “I need to talk to you.”
“No better time.”
He sighed, said “Alright,” and followed me behind the flimsy door.
“This is about the kiss, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Why do you want to talk about this now?” he said, sounding vaguely frustrated.
“Because I’m going on trial as soon as tomorrow. This is the last peaceful time we’ll have together.”
“I’m sorry, Hailee. I’m sorry I kissed you. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No,” I said firmly. “Don’t say that. You absolutely should have. Fred, we’ve been dancing around this for too long. You have feelings for me, and I have feelings for you. Why don’t you just come out and tell me?”
He was blushing deeply. “Because you’re the Alpha, and I’ve been by your side since we were children. It feels…it feels too bold.”
“And it’s because you’ve been by my side since we were children that you shouldn’t be afraid,” I said. “It’s because you’ve stood by me for all these years that I can say this.” Now I was about to do something bold, possibly the boldest thing I’d ever done. “If we get out of this — all of this, the trial and whatever’s going to happen with the hunters and all of it — then I choose you, as my mate.”
“Me?” He was still blushing, and smiling now, a confusedly joyful smile. “Why me?”
“Well.” Now the blush was from pure embarrassment. “Jason.”
“Jason?” I laughed. “You thought I was into Jason?”
“It’s not hard to see,” he said, defensively. “He’s your age, and you two seem to have a connection.”
“We do have a connection, and a wonderful connection. Jason is the best friend I could ever have asked for, along with Holly of course. But I don’t love him, and I have no reason to believe he loves me.”
“If you did choose him, I’m entirely sure he’d say yes.”
“Sure he would. And we would be happy, in our own way. But not the same kind of happiness that I’d have with you. And you wouldn’t be that kind of happy with another girl, would you?”
“No,” he admitted. “I wouldn’t.”
It felt so good to say that, finally. It felt so good to hear him say it back. Looking at my best friend and realizing that I very much loved him was like seeing for the first time, in person, something that I’d been seeing in pictures my entire life: he was the same, but there were so many things I’d never noticed that I noticed now. Little things, little beautiful things. The curl of his reddish hair and the way it shone, the slight dimples at the edge of his smile, the color in his lips.
I wanted to kiss those lips. So I did.
I could feel his mouth twisting into a smile. The moment was too long in the making for the both of us, and neither of us could be happier. It was right.
The time immediately after that is blurry. I was so exhausted, I could barely think about what I was doing anyway, and my legs had turned to gelatin — a combination of the exhaustion and the emotion, I’m sure. I remember sitting on his bed. I remember we kept kissing; I kissed his lips, the tip of his nose, his hair. We talked, but I couldn’t tell you what about.
Next thing I knew, he was shaking me awake. “Hailee. Hailee. Hailee, get up. Levi’s looking for you.”
“Mmmm.” I groaned, wiping my eyes. Man oh man, my muscles ached, so much I could barely move. “Did I…fall asleep?”
“Yeah, you did,” he said. “I, uh, I might have fallen asleep too. According to Levi, it’s almost noon.”
“Noon!” I exclaimed. “Huh. At least he let me rest.”
“How are you doing?”
I took a second to assess myself. “I can barely move. The fight really took it out of me. I’m hungry, too.”
“Levi and Jason brought breakfast. Or lunch, or whatever.”
My knees locked up when I tried to stand. Yes, the fight had taken it out of me, even more than I could tell while lying down. Fred slipped his arm around my waist, letting me lean my weight on him. “Thank you.”
“You look like you need it.”
“I do,” I admitted.
“Even Alphas need help sometimes,” he said.
We walked together down the stairs, into the main warehouse area. Levi, Jason, and Thalia had gathered under the window, eating sandwiches. “Hailee!” Jason exclaimed. “You’re back!” He jumped up to hug me, and thought better of it right before actually throwing his arms around me. “You’re safe!”
“I’m alive, at any rate.” I sat down, taking a sandwich of my own. “Where is everyone?”
Jason shrugged. “About.”
“There’s a meeting going on,” Levi said, and his tone told me exactly what the meeting was about.
“Oh.” Right. I was going on trial.
“From what I hear, Adam’s calling the entire pack to convene tonight.”
I was going on trial that very night, it seemed. “Oh. Well then. I should get ready.”
“Get ready for what?” Jason looked back and forth between us. “What’s going on?”
I briefly recapped the fight with Adam Dark. “What’s happening tonight is essentially a trial, to determine who’s at fault, and what the punishment will be.”
“Punishment?” he gasped. “Wh-what punishment?”
“I don’t know. We…we might be forced to leave. Exiled. I’m sorry. If we’re exiled, it’s my fault. I am sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” Jason said fiercely. “Dark needs to be taken to task as well.”
“And he will be, at least we hope he will be.”
We ate our sandwiches in silence, waiting for the time to arrive.