In Which I Go On Trial
Sure enough, Adam convened us that night, all of us. It blew my mind how many lycans there were in the Nashville pack — fifty people or around that number, I guessed, and that was only the people who showed up. I heard multiple names of people who couldn’t make it. And all fifty-odd were about to hear my dirty little secrets.
Adam was sitting near the top of the stairs. Lana and his other wards, his inner circle, stood at the top, holding the railing. A bench had been dragged before the stairs, and I sat in the center of it. Fred was on one side of me, Levi on the other, and the rest of the pack squeezed in on both side. Vic had brought Riley along, adding another person. They were holding hands so tightly both were white-knuckled.
Lana waved her arms, calling for silence. “Simmer down, everybody, simmer down! SIMMER DOWN! Thank you.”
Adam looked up, not standing. “Good evening.” He was so sedated, so sober, a far cry from what he’d been the last time I saw him address the same group. “I’m sure there have been some rumors going around about what happened between me and Jac Ravenheart. Some may even be saying that Jac Ravenheart is not who she says she is, that Ravenheart isn’t her name.” He ran a hand through his hair, meeting my eyes. “Those rumors are true.”
Lana cut off the whispers, and gestured to me. “Would you like to tell these good people the truth?” she asked.
I stood, my knees knocking more than I’d like to admit. “Yes. Yes, I would.” I walked a few steps up the stairs. Faces, more faces than I could count, gazed up at me, and I saw every possible emotion on them. I had to look down. “Jac Ravenheart was a lie. My name is Hailee Jackson, a name you may recognize. I was the one responsible for the leaks last month. Simply put, I am the reason the humans know of us.”
A few loud jeers answered that. I nodded. “I know, I know, some people aren’t happy with me. Both for being who I am, and for lying about it. But I want you to know I never meant for anyone to get hurt. I wanted Adam’s help.”
More jeers. “Really, Adam? You’re going to let a challenger up there to explain herself?”
“She oughta be lying in the gutter!”
“Easy,” Dark said, silencing the crowd.
“I didn’t challenge Adam,” I said. “You can choose to believe me or not. What happens to me is in your hands now.”
Lana took center stage. “We will settle this democratically, but the current consensus is that unless Jackson’s argument persuades enough of us, she and those she brought with her will be kicked off our territory.”
“The Code calls for worse than exile!” someone standing near the front shouted.
“We will also let the group decide that,” she said, sounding slightly uncomfortable.
People shouted, some calling for my freedom and some for my punishment. Two or three more called for my death.
“Alright, alright, enough. Enough!” Adam quieted the crowd. “Listen. If anyone should have to answer for what happened, it isn’t Hailee.” Finally, he stood. “It’s me.”
I expected a loud response to that, but the crowd was nearly silent. Shocked, I supposed, and curious. Lana stared at him; it seemed she didn’t know anything about what had been happening. “I deserve to be on trial for my actions as much as her, and in fact I think I deserve worse.”
“What are you saying, Adam?” Lana asked.
His hands were shaking. “I, I,” he stammered, then gulped. “I am a traitor,” he said. “I knew who Hailee was, and I sold her out.”
“Sold her out,” Lana repeated. “To who?”
“To...to the hunters,” he said, forcing the words out of his mouth.
Then the room really exploded. The jeers and shouts directed at me were nothing compared to this. People were outraged, and I didn’t blame them. Lana didn’t stop them. She didn’t speak herself, but only because her hands were clasped over her mouth in shock. I could see in her eyes, in her entire expression, that she didn’t want to believe it. I wouldn’t have, either; I understood on some level, a different level. Sires and their wards were family.
Adam raised his voice to speak above the din. “I had my reasons. I can’t excuse what I did, but I can explain it. I betrayed you all. I failed you as a leader, and as a man. I went against the Code, and against our basic values of loyalty and honor. I am ashamed, and if you want me to step down, I am ready to do so now.”
“You had best better be!” It was one of the men on the balcony who said this. “You aren’t fit to lead us!”
Adam turned to the man. “Bryce,” he said, “I am sorry. I hope you understand that. I’m apologizing especially to you, my six. I’ve betrayed my children, and I’ll never be able to undo that. But I did it to help you, too.”
“How?” Bryce spit.
“He promised me amnesty. For all of us. Total forgiveness for our pasts, and he promised me the Nashville wolfpack would be left alone for good.”
“Who promised you that?”
Chaos erupted again. Lana composed herself, and called for quiet again. “And what did he want you to do in return, Adam?”
He looked to me.
I stood, looking back to the audience. “Tyrone wanted him to kill me.”
“So,” Lana said, “he attacked you?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes,” Adam said. “I did.”
To my surprise, now there were no jeers and no cries. The room, instead, went deathly silent. You could hear every single cough, shuffle, and quiet groan from all fifty-odd gathered.
Adam spoke again. “I didn’t only do it for you, you know. I did it for my other family, my human family.” He fiddled with his collar, more nervous than I’d seen him yet — which was saying something. “I have a wife, as you know,” he said. “A human wife. I wanted to protect my child. All my children,” he finished, looking back at Lana and Bryce.
It looked like Lana was about to cry. But she squared her shoulders and her jaw, resolute as always. “I will take the floor now,” she said. Adam nodded and sat down. “As his second, if Mr Dark cannot lead us, for any reason, I must take his place. Such is the Code.”
“Such is the Code,” a few voices echoed.
She continued, “And, as per the Code, or my knowledge of it at least, Hailee Jackson is free to go. She infiltrated our ranks with a lie, yes, but she’s done nothing to harm anyone. I’ll vouch that she’s done nothing wrong.”
Adam nodded. “I’ll vouch for that too.”
“We will hear her request at a later date, but she won’t be punished. Ms Jackson, you’re free to leave the meeting if you wish.”
“Very well. And as for Mr Dark....” Lana paused for several long seconds. “I could be outvoted, and probably will, but I say keep him in position for a time.”
Cue several shouts of “WHAT?”
“Listen. Listen. Adam Dark has made mistakes, yes, and some pretty extreme mistakes, but think about what else he’s done. He’s been the most capable leader we’ve ever had over these past few years. We need a leader like that now. As per Code, yes, he has to step down, but nothing says it has to be immediate. Until the problem of the Defenders is dealt with, I say we let him lead us again. Let’s begin with those against?”
Bryce was the first to raise his hand, but he was the only of Adam’s wards to do so. Hands shot up all over the room, a few curled into fists.
“And those for?”
Lana raised her own hand. Four others on the balcony joined her. So did six on the bench. Hands went up all around the room. Lana shook her head. “It’s close. I’ll need to do a count. Again, those against?”
Those against raised their hand again, and I thought I saw fewer hands — though, that may have been just optimism on my part. Lana counted them in silence.
Surely it was just optimism. Surely there weren’t really more hands raised in favor this time.
“Alright. All hands down.”
All hands went down.
“This is not perfectly accurate,” she said. Her words were slow, labored...hopeful? “If anybody wants to challenge my decision, we can go to a more sophisticated vote, but as is, more votes are for than against.”
The ones for cheered; the ones against shouted; and a few on both sides stayed silent and shrugged their shoulders. Adam put his head in his hands, breathing a long, deep sigh of relief.
“Is anyone going to challenge this decision?” Lana said, raising her voice over the din but this time not trying to silence it.
No one challenged the decision, I think more out of convenience than anything. It would be too much of a hassle to vote any other way — we were running out of time, and we couldn’t afford to waste a minute.
Lana stepped down, touching Adam’s shoulder. “Mr Dark, it looks like you’re back at the podium, for now.”
“Thank you, Lana,” he said. “Thank you very much.” He stood, opening his hands, and brought a professional tone back into his voice. “Thank you to all of you, in fact. Even those who voted against, in fact. Thank all of you for keeping me in check. I have been very humbled by this meeting.”
“I have, too,” I said. “Thank you for that.”
Lana waved a hand. “The meeting is over.”
I ran down the stairs, straight into the arms of my friends. I embraced them all in turn, ending with Fred. He kissed me on the cheek. “That was intense,” he said lightly.
“That was intense,” I agreed, keeping my tone equally light. “Even I was getting worried for a minute.” “But it looks like everything worked out.”
“Everything always does.”
“Thankfully, it does, at least for now.”
“For now is good enough for me.”
“Me too,” he agreed. “Let’s just hope it lasts.”
“Meeting adjourned” didn’t last for long. Before the sun was up, I, along with Lana and anyone else who wanted to (not that a great many did) was called to an emergency council on the subject of the Defenders. Wanting to diffuse any tension that remained among the pack, we left the warehouse to search out another meeting spot. We toyed with the idea of the Red Crescent, but figured we probably wouldn’t be welcome there for awhile. Jason suggested we stay outside, so it would be easier to move if we needed to.
The Alphas of the group approved this plan, so we ended up in one of Nashville’s many small parks, sitting on the grass with our backs to trees. “First things first,” Lana said, “I’d like to know a little more about you and yours, Hailee.” Her mouth quirked up. “That’s a lovely name, by the way. Hailee.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Lana’s pretty nice, too.”
“Thanks.” She beckoned for me to go on.
I shrugged. “What is there to tell? I’m Hailee Jackson, I’m the Alpha, I inherited the position from my father. He was killed by the Defenders when I was much younger, before I even knew about — well, any of this. Levi over here is my second.” I waved at Levi, and he raised his hand to his forehead in a hello salute. “He’s also my godfather, technically. And Thalia is my ward.”
Lana smiled at Thalia.
“I, um,” I began, my voice growing sadder, “I had another ward, once. His name was Mark. We didn’t have the best of relationships, but in the end, he was a hero. He sacrificed himself for me the day Thalia and I stole that information from the Defenders.”
“Tell us more about that,” Lana said eagerly, “we have time.”
Thalia and I took turns, and between us we told the whole story, beginning from her first hack and the first cryptic email that passed between us, all the way to Holly and associates publishing the info to the web. Adam, Lana, and the few others who attended this “council” listened with rapt attention. One of them clapped softly when I finished.
“Alright, alright,” Adam said, “now to business.”
“Business,” I said. “Where do we even start with business?”
“We need to know who we can trust, now more than ever, and not just among our own. We need human allies. Any names?”
I raised my hand like a student in class. “I have names.”
“Well, go on, spill.”
“Holly Starbuck, one of the original leakers. The other I don’t have direct contact with, but Holly does. Brenton and Nicholas Mizuno, and Francis Byrd. Logan Hewitt.” I paused. I was about to add Tracy’s name to the list, but — besides not even knowing his full name — I wasn’t at all sure we could trust Tracy.
“Possibly Logan Hewitt’s fiancé, but I doubt he’ll want to help us. He just wants to be left alone.”
“Well, we’ll leave the man alone for now and see if he comes around. Anybody else?”
A few more names were called out randomly by group members, none of which I recognized. Lana mentioned a Dawn Coley; Adam raised his eyebrows at her. “Are you seeing someone?” he asked.
Despite the dark, I thought I saw her blush. “I’m not seeing her,” she grumbled. “It’s not like that.”
“I didn’t say it was like anything, Lana, I just asked if you were seeing someone.”
“And moving on....” she said.
“Right, moving on. That’s — let’s see — nine human contacts and a possible tenth. Nine on the outside to fifty on the inside isn’t a great ratio, but we can manage. It’s a good start.”
“What do you think the Defenders are going to do, really?” asked Bryce, who had cooled off after only a few moments alone following the trial. “Do you think they’ll raid the house?”
“At this point, I think just about anything could happen,” I said. “I know Tyrone, and when he’s pissed, there’s very little he won’t do. In fact, I can’t really of anything I know he wouldn’t do, although I’m sure there’s something.”
“He did try to shoot me,” Thalia added. “So we know he isn’t beyond killing, and even killing his own fellow hunters.”
“Not only you,” I pointed out. “Mark...well, I may have forgotten to mention this, but Mark was part of the Defenders.”
“You didn’t say so directly,” Adam said, “but I gathered it.”
“Tyrone killed him when he tried to leave. He didn’t even leave, really, all he did was defend me, and Tyrone lost it.”
“He’ll do anything. He’ll kill anybody. He’s dangerous.”
“Of course he’s dangerous,” Levi said, “there’s no question of that. The only question is how do we stop him?”
We were silent for several long seconds. “He wants a war,” I finally said.
“Yes,” Adam said, nodding, “he does. And we’re going to give it to him.”