He had thought carefully about how to start the conversation he needed to have with Elena because he knew he had only one chance to both convince her and make it up to Noah in a small way. “We need Noah.” Maybe it wasn’t the best start.
Reese and Nick stopped speaking and Antonio looked over from his conversation with Elena and Karl. Clay was just getting to the table with another plate full of food. He sat and started eating turning to Elena to speak when he noticed all eyes were on Layn. “What did you fuck up now?” he growled with his mouth half full of food.
“Why do we need Noah?” the Alpha asked sounding a bit past annoyed.
“Because Joseph won’t take any bait like he’ll take Noah. He won’t take me now and we wouldn’t have to put him in any situation where he will get hurt.”
“He will get hurt if he comes here,” Nick growled protectively.
“Noah and I are the same age but you don’t seem to be concerned about me getting hurt. We’re not stupid just because we’re eighteen. Yeah, we are young but we’re smart and resourceful. We need Noah for the good of the pack because without him we can’t catch the boogey man.”
“We can get him without Noah,” Elena insisted. Layn took a drink of coffee before he answered thinking carefully before he spoke. This was much too delicate. He glanced at the wooden table top, the moss green walls and the sign for a ‘two for one’ breakfast deal hoping he would find the words in intangible objects.
“No, we can’t. You forget how obsessed he is with Noah. The only thing that will draw him out is Noah. The only way we can go home…you can go back home is to go drastic. Trust my knowledge of him and we can get this over with.”
“I don’t like using him like this,” Reese put in playing with a spoon in his mug. Nick nodded. In Elena’s pack everyone was allowed to have a say as long as they knew the final decision was up to the Alpha and that there were times when she didn’t want or need their input.
“Fight fire with fire. He used me and he uses everyone he comes in contact with. The only way to get him is to turn the trick around on him,” Layn averred taking another bite of French toast to finish off his plate. He eyed the breakfast buffet but didn’t dare leave the conversation at such a critical moment.
“He’ll see it coming. Unfortunately he’s not stupid,” Tonio sighed crossing his arms over his blue polo shirt and looking at Elena.
“I’m all for sniffing out his trail and taking more pictures. You did get me that gas power chain saw darling.” Layn shivered at this while the others laughed or chuckled. Reese was the only one who looked a bit put off but said nothing.
“He does deserve it,” Layn said quietly catching Reese’s eye. Reese nodded but his gaze said he didn’t want to see it. Layn didn’t want to either but he would like to get a few punches in before the blood shed started. He took a pen from his pocket and took his napkin to doodle away his anxiety while the pack thought.
“So we use Noah and you scurry off safely somewhere?” Elena asked and Layn shook his head still looking at his drawing. It was the restaurant interior as boring as that was.
“No, I’ll be wherever you want me to be. I’m here until this is done. You can trust that.” He looked up and met her eyes and only looked away when he would have been challenging her.
He waited a few minutes before looking up again studiously working on his drawing. He had finished the doorway and the front counter and was starting on the hostess. Elena watched him for a time before taking a bite of her toast. Layn looked from her to Antonio and Clay and the others impatient setting down the pen. “I’ll think it over and make a decision.” With that everyone went back to talking and eating but Layn knew he hadn’t done well enough.
“Please, I can lay out all the reasons you need to listen to me….” The anxiety was back full force threatening to eat his stomach if he didn’t make a move. It was a very dangerous game of chess.
“Layn!” Nick hissed. He coloured and gripped his white hotel issued coffee mug tighter wishing he hadn’t set the pen aside. Creativity always helped.
“Ok, Layn lay it out for me. If you were the Alpha how would you do this?”
He looked up surprised and around at the others. He had their full attention. He swallowed uncomfortable and thought about everything he had planned and intended to tell her but his mind was blank. He swallowed and brought the shaky mug to his lips to take a drink before reordering his mind. “Ok, we know that he is ruthless, he’s not afraid of death or of anything happening to him. That makes him reckless but the fact that he used to be a pack member makes him dangerous and cautious. He knows how the pack operates and he knows how to avoid or outwit the pack…us. The most treacherous enemies are the ones who know who to avoid and how to work with or against them.”
Elena nodded to this and with her full attention he found the courage to keep going even if some of the others looked annoyed. “Therefore we need to use this knowledge against him. We use his obsession, Noah, against him. He doesn’t think you will use Noah but we should surprise him. We throw him off his guard. He probably thinks you’ll send me away too but we don’t. Instead of sending Clay after him like he suspects we send Nick or someone else and Clay can lie in waiting. We just need to confuse him and complicate the situation. Then we have him.” Layn snapped his fingers as if it was that easy.
Reese snorted but no one else said a word for a good twenty seconds. Layn assumed he had screwed up royally. He mentally sighed and took his pen again to continue his drawing. “He has a point.” Antonio moved forward and looked at Layn critically assessing him until Layn started the drawing the hostess again to get away from his stare.
“He does,” Elena finally agreed and then sat forward. Layn looked up surprised and met her eyes to see if she was joking. She wasn’t surprisingly. “Layn, I am going to consider what you said but you need to be in the plan fully. No back tracking and no running away. You do exactly what I say, when I say, got it?” she asked and Layn nodded.
“I can do that. Believe it or not I am good at taking orders.” It took a second but the pack members burst out laughing at this and Layn grinned. Elena smirked but he could see she was dead serious. Meaning he was dead if he disobeyed, again. How many more chances did he have anyway? In the negatives at this point probably.
“On to the next order of business,” Nick suddenly said. “Are we going home for Christmas?” he asked and Elena and Clay both answered “yes”.
“We’ll lose the trail,” Layn protested dropping his pen in surprise which went sideways and made a line through the drawing. Layn covered it with his mug.
“No, he’s not going anywhere. We’re leaving for a few days and then coming back. We all need a little grounding anyway and I am not leaving the kid’s without us on Christmas,” Elena said determined.
“You’ll come back with us for Christmas day and then we’ll join the pack on Boxing Day,” Nick informed with a nod.
“No, I can stay here. I don’t do Christmas so I can keep on Joseph’s trail. He doesn’t celebrate either so he’ll be hard at work. That way I can keep on top of him.” Reese shook his head at this and took another bite of hash browns.
“A) We’re not leaving you alone here. Joseph will find out and you’ll be dead when we see you next, if we even find your body and B) this is non-negotiable.”
Layn opened his mouth to argue but Reese and Nick both gave him a ‘quit while your ahead look’. They were right. He got his way so he should just stop pushing. The Alpha would not stand for much of it anyway. It was only a few days and Layn could work on Noah while the festivities went on. It still sounded odd to him. Gather around a dead tree and open present or take things out of sock and then eat until you explode. Well, he got the whole eating thing but everything else was out of his realm.
The ride back was much more silent. He had grabbed a few favorite old books from his room and decided to read but ostensibly he was planning. Getting Noah back to his side would require very careful steps and he’d already worked out a series of ideas and things he could use. In the end if Noah would not listen he had an ultimate plan that would work. First he just had to corner him before the others did.
He waited until they were back at the Sorrentino’s after picking Noah up from Stonehaven. They stayed for a few hours and then took off. Layn ignored Noah and Noah gave him the same courtesy. When they got back to the estate there was too much to do for the holiday to actually have to speak to one another. Layn spent the time absentmindedly helping out and ignoring most of the traditions and silly customs. He remembered celebrating Christmas as a young child and liking it but he hadn’t in years and he didn’t particularly care about it. There were more important things to do such as finding Joseph and right then, convincing Noah.
Layn cornered Noah the next day, after Christmas breakfast and presents, before Nick could have a chance to get to him. He pushed him into an empty storage room closing the door. The other werewolf turned on him and growled clenching his fists. Layn held up his hands in a peace gesture. “We need to talk and you need to just listen to me for a few moments,” Layn hissed.
Noah looked exasperated. He tried to pass him but Layn pushed him back. Noah scowled and launched himself at Layn who back fisted Noah sending him to the floor. Layn crouched over him as Noah looked up defiant and beyond pissed. “That’s for beating the crap out of me earlier. Now are you going to listen or are we going to fight this out?” He hoped Noah would listen because his fighting skills were only equal to Noah’s and he may not win.
Noah sat up and gestured for him to go on uncertainty sparking in his eyes. “I’ve told Elena that you need to be on the mission to find Joseph.” Noah’s eyes went wide and Layn rushed on before he could speak. “He’s obsessed with you so it makes sense that the only way we will catch him is for us to have you. Nick is going to speak to you about it so be open-minded and convince him we can work together, just for this.”
Noah looked angry at the idea and he opened his mouth to either swear or tell Layn where to go. “Think Noah. You ignore me now and then you get to stay here and be treated like a little kid again, your choice,” Layn huffed and turned about to go.
“No, wait.” Layn turned with a raised eyebrow. He crossed his arms and waited. “I want to come. I’ll get along with you for now but after I want you gone. I don’t care what Elena or anyone else says. Just tell them you are leaving and go. Never come back.”
“That was the plan.” Layn turned and left letting his shoulders sag. It was the plan to leave but he had still hoped that Noah would see the real issue. He only kept on hating Layn. Layn could do nothing about it but accept. He would leave when this was done. Not even the whole pack could stop him. He did miss his friend though.
Layn looked up at the apartment complex. It was exactly what he remembered, a peeling white building with a security entrance that had been unsecured since Layn was a kid. He’d been able to either con people into letting him in or he would just push all the buttons at once and someone would open the door whether they were expecting a visitor or not. Now the lock wasn’t even in place and anyone could walk in. Half the people who lived on the streets around the complex seemed to take up the invitation.
He walked into the foyer and opened the sagging door. Did all mutts live in depilated places? It must be a requirement or something. One more thing that separated mutts and pack wolves. He didn’t bother buzzing the apartment or using the elevator, it had been broken for as long as he could remember. Just that particular apartment though. All the other apartment buzzers worked as far as he could tell.
Elena said they would be around and be keeping an eye on him. The small one way radio helped but he would not be able to hear them until they were here.
He walked up eight flights of stairs and opened the door at the end of the hall. Musty rotting carpet and dust smells hit his nose and the light above the apartment flickered. Ominous. Layn walked forward pushing aside his nerves and apologizing when he ran into a kid taking out the garbage just as he walked in front of the kid’s door. The TV blasted from his apartment and an argument appeared to be taking place. He got a scared look from the poor boy who scuttled off as quickly as possible.
He stopped at number 809 and knocked. He waited and knocked again before entering. The smell hit him first and he had to stop and breathe through his mouth before continuing. Apparently Eccles had taken up the habit of killing humans in his home. The pack would love that.
“Neville Eccles? It’s me Layn. Jay’s kid. I need to talk to you,” Layn called. He let the door swing shut behind him and looked around. The once white walls were stained by grey smoke and the apartment was bare of almost all furnishings. Just as it had been when he was younger. He remembered the awful plaid broken couch and the table with one chair. The ever present ash trays littered every available surface. The big TV in the corner was new though as was the door that led to the kitchen.
A man appeared silhouetted in an opposite doorway that led to the balcony the only other one besides a door leading to a bedroom in the small place. “Layn? I thought Jay killed you already?” Layn stiffened and made himself stand his ground. He was not going to be intimidated by Jay’s friends anymore.
“Yeah, I’m good at escaping death.” Eccles walked further into the room and Layn winced. He looked ten years older than last time but he had a lot more muscle. His neck alone bulged with blue veins in the dim light.
“I came to offer you a deal from Jay,” Layn said keeping his demeanour light and his hands in his pockets and not crossed defensively. Eccles threw the cigarette butt on the floor and smooched it into the carpet with his foot taking a few more steps forward and cocking his head.
“To bad Jay put out a death warrant on you.” Eccles lunged at him and Layn dove to the side hitting the closet door hard. Layn turned and dashed towards the front door cursing himself for getting so far away from it. The mutt was an excellent fighter in his prime and the guy Jay would use as an enforcer along with Cain. There was no way he was willingly fighting him. He didn’t care if it made him look like a coward.
Eccles caught him before he had gone two steps and threw him to the filthy gray carpet. He landed on his hands and knees and was just rising when his back was slammed into the floor. Layn coughed and pushed against the weight but Eccles had him pinned.
“Finally killing you will put me on the top of your daddy’s favorite people list.”
Layn squirmed his hand into his jeans pockets reaching for the Taser Elena insisted he carry now. His fingers brushed it but Eccles knee pinned it hard against his thigh. “You always were the stupidest mutt Jay employed and that’s all you were an employee.” Layn growled knowing the mutt was easy to anger. His hot temper had gotten him into many scrapes before with Joseph.
Eccles hissed furiously and smashed Layn in the back of the head making him black out for a moment. When he came back he felt something tightening over his throat. He smelled leather. Slowly the mutt tightened it.
Layn made another grab for the Taser relieved that Eccles had moved just enough for him to wiggle it out. The belt tightened around his throat excrementally and Layn gasped losing the ability to breath. Eccles laughed and tightened it more. Layn pulled the Taser out and fumbled with the button trying desperately to keep his head.
His lungs started to burn as the belt was tightened more. He gripped the Taser and shoved it back into the mutt’s leg full power. Eccles howled and loosened his grip and fell to the side a bit. Layn rolled out from under him and grabbed his neck pushing at the leather but it was stuck tight. His still healing broken hand gave a throb of protest as he worked his hands around the leather trying to find a catch but there was nothing. His head spun as Eccles came forward Taser in hand and shoved it in Layn’s stomach hard.
Layn tried to scream but he had no air and no way to get some. “I like this.” Eccles grinned and brought it to Layn’s face pushing hard into his cheek. Layn fell sideways with pain seeing spots but the mutt grabbed him.
Eccles said something which Layn couldn’t process as his vision started to go black. The door flew open and more voices filled the room. Layn fell when Eccles let him go and he reached up for the thing around his neck again unsuccessfully trying to pull at it.
Suddenly he was yanked up. He saw Karl in front of him and saw the man’s hand change from human to wolf. Layn tried to back away afraid but someone grabbed him from behind holding him in place. Karl growled something and slashed at his throat. Layn closed his eyes feeling Karl do it again. The pressure on his neck released and he sucked in air feeling his lungs burn just as much as they had when he couldn’t find air. He fell to one knee gasping.
Karl gave Layn a second to breath before hauling him up again. His cheek and stomach were pulsing with pain as he was pushed to his feet and out the door. He looked back to see Clay hit Eccles making him go unconscious. They would take him to a safe location to question him. Even a community housing project apartment building would not abide by terrorized screams after a few hours.
No one spoke until they got to the vehicles. Layn felt his throat. His skin was tender. He would be bruised, nothing to a werewolf who could heal three times as fast as a human. Next he brought his hand to his cheek pulling away and seeing blood. When he got back to the hotel he looked in the mirror and saw the wounds were like two vampire bites on his cheek and the skin of his stomach.
“Layn, are you ok?” He turned to see Nick and Noah standing there and he nodded. The others, besides Antonio who was in the bathroom next door, had gone to the mutt interrogation but Layn didn’t want anything to do with it. Confronting Eccles had been his idea. He was a mutt who was known to Jay but didn’t always travel in the same circle. He would know things and if he didn’t then he deserved to die anyway.
“M’ok,” he rasped setting a hand on his throat. He didn’t feel ok. He was in pain and he was a bit terrified. Near death does that to you before it makes you feel invincible that you survived.
They left him alone as he requested and he sat on the floor of the room with his back against the bed and his legs pulled up. Joseph had ordered his death. He figured that but someone trying to kill him brought the realization home.
He felt a pang when he thought about the man. No, they never had a father/son happy go lucky relationship but Jay did take him to a few ball games and he let him join in on poker games once a week since he was ten. He let Layn, Reuben back then, stay out late and drink and smoke early in life though, he never had a taste for it. The man did guide and teach him in some things like changing and sometimes, maybe a few time a year, he treated him to stuff like amusement parks and theatre movies when he missed his real son. Sometimes it was good and he missed the good. He missed pretending that during the good time Jay was a loving and caring dad. Those were the best times honestly.
Anger surged through him at this utter betrayal. He had been shafted. He stood and grabbed the mattress ignoring his hand and throwing it with all his strength against the wall. Next the lamp shattered into the window which cracked and the TV got a good kick sending it flying over. Layn grabbed the other mattress to flip it when he was grabbed and pushed down into the bed, pinned.
“Breathe,” Antonio ordered in a light but firm voice. Layn struggled against him angry that he was being prevented from letting his rage get out but he was no match for the bigger wolf. Finally he took a deep breath and calmed down relaxing. Still Antonio didn’t let him go for a full minute.
When he did finally let him up he hauled him into a sitting position on the bed and sat beside him silent. Nick was in the doorway looking concerned and Noah was behind him annoyed. “I know it hurts kid,” Tonio said and Layn growled and clenched his good fist.
“It doesn’t…” he seethed. He was lying but nothing could justify his actions at this moment. He looked up in time to see Noah turn and walk back into the other room shaking his head.
“When you want to admit we’re here for you,” Nick said looking at his father, exchanging silent communication again.
“I don’t need anyone and least of all the pack,” Layn sighed and stood. He ignored the looks Nick was giving him and he didn’t bother looking at Antonio. He left the room quickly going into the one he shared with Noah and shutting the door. Behind him head Nick grumbling about damage bills.
“Out!” Layn growled wincing when he strained his voice. Noah was sitting on the bed and playing with his phone. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with anyone right then especially someone who hated him.
“No.” Noah smiled and continued to press buttons. Layn was tempted to throw the phone against the wall and break it too but one childish temper tantrum was probably enough for one night.
Layn exhaled and fell onto the bed utterly exhausted. He was so tired of all of this. The only thought that kept him going was the thought of leaving eventually. Layn covered his eyes with his arm wanting darkness. “I would have thought Joseph issuing a death warrant on you would have made you happy. He doesn’t want you anymore so you’re free…,” Noah said casually without the usual hate. Layn lifted the arm from his eyes and glanced over at him annoyed.
“He was the only…father I ever knew and he abandoned both of us,” Layn snarled. It hurt a lot but what was more terrifying to him was the fact that this man mistreated him and he still wanted to please him in some way. How twisted was that?
“He’s not my dad. Dennis did a better job of it then Joseph ever could and now Nick does. Nick is a better dad than anyone but Dennis. Joseph will never be my dad,” Noah said quietly.
“Well, it’s nice to see you have options.”
“Whatever,” Noah said before getting up and leaving letting the door slam shut. Layn covered his eyes again relieved. Did that make Noah and Layn actual brothers of a sort because of this tenuous connection? They did fight like brothers but they didn’t act like pack brothers. Maybe they never would.
He had planned to stay awake until the pack got back so he could question them about the interrogation. Originally he had wanted to be there but his injuries sidelined him. Elena had wanted him to stay behind anyway so he was sure she was only happy when she got her way, which of course if he thought about her being Alpha was most of the time.
Voices woke him up in the middle of a dreamless night and he sat up almost wide awake and surprised he had fallen asleep. Light shone out from the sides of the door to the next room and a few times a shadow passed through the light. Layn slowly got up from the bed and started towards the door smelling Noah. He considered not waking him but he still owed him as annoying as that was.
He walked to the bed and set a hand on Noah’s mouth shaking him. It took a minute but Noah roused and looked wide eyed at Layn for a moment before pushing his hand off and glaring. Layn put a finger to his lips and gestured to the doorway and the voices before turning to go and listen. Noah followed a few moments later and they both sat by the door listening to the quiet conversation. Noah looked a bit uneasy about this but Layn thought it was perfectly fine. He’d never regretted learning a piece of information by eavesdropping. It had even saved his life a time or two when he’d known in advance when to get the hell out of Joseph’s house before the man snapped.
“Eccles clearly had no idea where Joseph was,” Clay growled and something made a crashing sound. The enforcers temper was as bad as Layn’s but no one seemed to be bothering him about damage bills.
“The only reason he did what he did to Layn was to get back in the man’s good graces?” Jeremy asked in an echoed voice. He must have been patched in through the phone since the last time Layn checked he was at home with the twins.
“Eccles said that Joseph changed the plan dramatically since Layn left and since he was kicked out. He doubted Layn could have been very much help to us but he knew Layn was the only thing Joseph would accept to either join the mutt’s pack or get a pardon. Dead or alive.”
“And Noah?” Tonio asked without much hope in his voice. A blanket rustled.
“Noah he wanted brought back alive. If anyone hurt him there would be hell to pay,” Elena explained in an exasperated tone. Layn wondered if she was sick and tired of all of this or of Layn and Noah.
“Shit!” Layn growled and looked at Noah who waved him to silence. He studied Noah’s eyes for a moment registering the shock but he could deal with that later. He wanted Noah alive? Why? Why not him?
“…about Noah?” Nick asked when he turned his attention back to the conversation. Layn gave the other werewolf a quizzical look but Noah waved him off again.
“Eccles seemed to think that the plan went well beyond Noah and that Joseph’s obsession is beyond the point of rationality now. Noah is in more danger than just his father taking him,” Reese sighed. Someone popped the top to a soda can and took a sip.
“The mutt said Joseph would kill him?”
“He implied it. He also implied that Layn would be killed on sight but we knew that,” Elena answered. Layn felt chilled again and swallowed.
“Then we send him home?” Nick asked hopefully but no one answered.
“What about Layn. Are we being fair to him if we send Noah home being in danger but not him?” Antonio asked. Layn stiffened at this. He would not be sent home and he could not allow Noah to be sent home either. This time Noah was the one who looked and met his eyes worried.
“We need to talk to them,” Layn hissed but Noah shook his head. His obedience was more ingrained. He would do as they said even if he didn’t like it. Layn wasn’t there yet though. He would do what was best for him and the situation. To hell with the pack and what they wanted. It was impossible they always knew what was best.
As they argued about their next move a hand suddenly fell on Layn’s shoulder and Noah jumped beside him. “Why don’t you join the conversation?” Karl growled and pushed them through the door. Layn fell onto his knees and Noah stumbled. He blinked in the light and smiled liking this new development. He had wanted to speak to them and now was his chance.
“We heard you talking and figured you wouldn’t be telling us any of this,” Layn shrugged getting up. His hurt hand throbbed but he ignored it as usual. Eventually he was going to have to start taking care of it or he’d be a disabled mutt.
“Sorry,” Noah said immediately shooting Layn a dirty look. Layn shrugged and pushed his hands into his jean’s pockets feeling the Taser still there.
“No, it’s about us and we have a right to know,” Layn said ignoring Noah hitting him roughly in the arm.
“No we don’t. The Alpha decides,” Noah insisted and Elena nodded and Nick nodded to this looking pleased.
“When it’s about us I decide.”
“Not for me,” Noah growled and walked to where Nick was standing. Nick smiled encouragingly at him and a set on his shoulder before all eyes turned to Layn again.
“You gave me your word you would follow my orders and instructions. If you are finding that difficult I will send you back to Jeremy and you will sit in the cage until this is over,” Elena warned standing. Clay looked as if he was two seconds away from using Layn to take out some frustrations on.
“Eccles is an idiot. He’s not right. Maybe the plan did change and maybe Jay has gotten desperate but he would not kill Noah. We need him here and I’m only in as much danger as I ever have been. Trust me Elena and show me I can trust you.”
Elena eyed him and he looked away so he didn’t see her come forward and take his arm pulling him into his room and shutting the door. “I don’t want to go back Elena. I need to do this.” Layn insisted when she let him go.
“You’re trying to make up what Joseph has done to you and Noah and everyone Layn but that is not your responsibility. You will be killed if I let you stay.”
“I don’t care. It’s my life to gamble with.”
“No, Layn. Being in this pack means it’s not. Your life is not yours to waste. I decide and you have to let me,” She insisted. Layn swallowed and looked at the floor clenching his good fist before he relaxed and gave in. It was either the cage or letting her have her way, at least for now.
“Please, Elena let me stay. I need to be here and so does Noah. We’ll be careful.”
“I’ll think about it but you will let me decide and accept my decision, understand?”
“You will.” She insisted before she turned and left. Layn stood there for a few moments more before heading back to his bed shivering. Maybe it was Elena’s words that made him so cold and not the temperature.
He figured he would lay awake all night thinking but he was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. He awoke to faint sunlight and rubbed his eyes sitting up until the smell of coffee hit his nose. He was up and in the other room holding the coffee pot with both hand and drinking until he heard a snort. He flushed and looked over to see Nick sitting on the bed with his laptop in the midst of typing.
Reese and Noah were on the opposite bed flicking through the Toronto Sun and bickering back and forth.
“Tired,” Layn groaned and put the pot down after a few gulps heading for the shower.
“Hey, Layn,” Nick called before he got to the bathroom, “Take a short shower. You’re in for a long day.” He grinned. Layn froze for a moment before he realized this meant he was staying.
“Noah too?” he asked glancing at the other werewolf and then at Nick again who nodded.
Layn sighed in relief and walked into the bathroom shutting the door. It seemed he could trust this Alpha after all. Maybe some people were worth trusting.