When the name Hall L. popped up on his phone he was surprised and he almost didn't answer it. Hall had lived with them at one point in time seeking help with his changes and control but from a young age he had known how to fight and because of his background he wasn't interested in staying in one place for too long. He was a drifter and a con artist of sorts. Lately he had been employed as a mercenary, working for Rhys Smith and others off and on, and keeping under the pack radar for the most part. They had a bit of a leash on him but not as much as they would have liked.
"Not a good time, Hall," Reese growled about to hang up but Hall's voice stopped him cold. He looked at Kim who rolled her eyes and gestured for him to smash the phone. She had never had much patience for the man who had liked her a little too much for either of their liking. Instead he held up a hand and listened.
"So, I assume you don't want you son back?" his voice was slow like molasses, a deep south drawl much like Clay, and it was almost as if he sounded bored. "I'll gladly take him then. He's a bright kid and he'll fetch a good price. I know some people." He could picture Hall's wide secretive smile. The feeling of wanting to punch the man, like many times before, resurfaced.
"Where is he?" Reese growled tightening his hand on the phone. He felt the phone case crack under his grip and he relaxed. He'd broken phones before, about six now; it would be an annoyance now to lose another one in the middle of this chaos.
"You know where he is. The question is how do you get him out?" Hall asked confirming their suspicions. Reese was sure the bastard was smiling. Much like Karl he would do anything to make a profit and get himself ahead, a selfish bastard to the end. At least Karl drew the line at child selling and dealing in the black market. The problem was Hall was a slick bastard and he would convince Ira he was the good guy only to betray him in the end. He had to get to his son.
"I swear to God if you hurt him," Reese warned but Hall cleared his throat interrupting him. Reese ground his toes into the carpet underfoot angrily and had to take another deep breath to save the phone. Kim had sidled up close to him with her eyes closed listening hard.
"I am the only one here protecting him Reese so I would suggest you shut the fuck up and listen." Reese said nothing pulling in air and remembering as much that as he hated this guy he was the only one who knew where his son was and what was happening to him. Hall quickly explained Josef's plan for Ira. Reese wasn't surprised. He had surmised as much.
"We'll make a deal for the boy when you get here. Better make it soon though. I have my hand in many different pots." With that Hall hung up. Reese looked at the phone annoyed that Hall seemed to be dictating the transaction but he did have the biggest bargaining chip. His son.
"We have one semi ally then. Hall will take care of him for a few days before he gets annoyed and tries to make a deal elsewhere," Kim said certainly. Know thy enemy was a popular pack motto. Reese nodded and sat down moving the phone from hand to hand as he thought. Hall was not someone he wanted influencing his son. The man was abrasive, disrespectful and often in it solely for himself. If he could use Ira he would and that is what scared him most. If it was in his best interest to sell Ira, keep him hidden or find another way to make a profit or curry a favor he would. Ira wasn't safe with him for long.
"How long will that be in his best interest?" Noah asked echoing Reese's thoughts. He came into the room rubbing his wet hair with a towel and then setting it on the back of a chair. Noah's jeans hugged his hips and muscles rippled and he brushed a hand through his hair and reached for a white t-shirt.
"I don't trust he will do what he says he will. We will do as we planned," Elena said. His eyes travelled the room to where she was currently closing the door to the adjoining room. As much as they wanted to storm the Cabal they couldn't. This would take planning and finesse. Elena trusted Hall even less than Reese and he was gratified that she was siding with him. What she had seen of Hall hadn't impressed her any more than the rest of them.
"The real question is why he called and told us in the first place," Kim mused. She sat down on the bed heavily and set a hand on her neck where she often felt the stress of her daily life. Reese sat beside her pulling her close and setting an arm around her to massage the spot carefully. She melted against him.
"Power, he likes the power plain and simple. It's one big reason he didn't survive pack life, that and fact that he wouldn't tell us about his secondary powers," Elena informed. She'd settled on top of the dresser cross-legged beside a big plasma screen TV. She was looking at them intently.
"It wasn't in his best interest," Noah said sitting down beside Kim and looking at Elena who nodded.
"Is Sean ready?" Reese asked trying to hide his impatience. The Sorcerer had agreed to help them infiltrate the Cabal and deal with his uncle while they found Ira. As a distraction it was risky. It depended on how close Josef was keeping Ira or how tightly he had him locked up. They had blueprints, which they had all gone over and mesmerized as much as possible depending on where they would be in the building.
Elena nodded to this and told them they were heading out, courtesy of Sean's private jet, just as they were living comfortably now courtesy of Sean's private quarters within the cabal, soon. Reese had no idea what had happened to Derek and Chloe and he didn't care. He meant what he said. He would never harm Chloe or the baby but he same didn't go for Derek. He could easily track the mutt and deliver the punishment later. He was looking forward to it, so was Kim. For Ira he would punish the world and for his babies growing inside his mate as well.
"I wish we could let Ira know he'll be ok soon," Kim sighed. She still felt terrible about driving him away though they rationed that he was already going to run anyway, what Kim did just made him leave sooner.
"Hall might turn him against us," Noah said doubtfully.
"Yeah, shit for brains won't do a damn thing," Reese muttered. Kim rubbed his back lightly.
"To be fair it might be better if he doesn't." Noah said darkly getting up and grabbing things to shove in a small duffle bag. Reese nodded and lay back on the bed closing his eyes and picturing Ira's small face, jewel bright eyes. He was such a little guy. Way too young to be in such danger and it felt like he wasn't doing enough.
Kim lay down beside him and set a hand on his fast beating heart. He laid a hand over hers and reached down to set a hand on her fast growing stomach. "I started feeling him yesterday. It's not much but some gurgling. Jeremy said it was the baby, sorry babies," she smiled. This was a recent but not surprising development. Reese nodded. He desperately wanted to keep Kim out of the action for the safety of the babies but she would refuse. He would keep her safe along with Noah and Nick who would be part of their deployment team. He had convinced her to wear a bullet proof vest over her chest and stomach which was a compromise that satisfied them both. Then Elena decided it was a good idea for all of them to wear one. They were werewolves not stupid. A bullet could easily kill them.
"They'll be perfect just like their big brother," Reese said lowly. Kim nodded. No one said the thought that hung in the air. Would the babies even have a big brother? Was Hall lying about Ira's wellbeing or was the by already dead? Brutally slaughtered like the mongrel the cabals supposed him to be?
His eyes and head were moving back and forth like he was watching an elite ping pong match. This match though, had the added bonus of bloodshed and weapons in the form of words said nicely but meant to burn your opponent. There had been a lot of phone calls, conference calls and even Skype conference meetings in the last few days. Ira had been there for them all because he was the star of them all. Currently Benicio Cortez's face and shoulders appeared on the screen and he was scrutinizing Ira. They were pretending to play fair but nothing about this was fair at all. Ira simpered under the man's gaze when Josef was not watching. His distraction for not looking terrified or he would break down and lose it. Very undignified and he was nothing if not dignified.
The other cabal's had quickly; Ira was sure because Josef wanted them to, got wind of his employment with the Nast cabal. This was a power play and Ira was a pawn. He saw this for what it was but all he could do was grin and bear it or grimace and bear it that was. He answered questions, he looked pretty and he did as he was told. Benicio Cortez seemed like a no nonsense kind of guy but he also seemed better than the others. Ira could not forget he was ruthless though and the man would use him like everyone else would. No one cared if he was a child, no one at all.
"Can you expect the pack to retaliate?" Benicio asked.
"No, the boy came to us of his own free will asking for a job. If the pack cares so much about their Children they should keep a better eye on them. Ira Williams has come to us. We did not kidnap him or extort him. He will tell you himself that this is where he wants to be." All the attention turned to Ira. He fidgeted but stopped when Josef gave him a look and stood up straighter. He had gotten lessons, demands from the man, that he act civilized which meant he stand up straight, he sit and stand still and he pay attention to everything around them. He had to act like he belonged there and start learning how to protect Josef. He had to see everything and everyone as a threat. Ira already did. He saw Josef as the biggest threat of all.
"Child, is this true?" Benicio asked. Ira's glance slanted to Josef's and then back to the screen. He nodded sharply.
"Yes, sir," he said answering in exactly the way Josef told him to. The others hadn't cared if he wanted to be there. By the end of the call most of them had barely controlled anger at the position the Nast's now had over everyone else. They may not be the biggest cabal but they had maneuvered into being the most powerful by acquiring Ira and by planning to get more. That was the key. Ira alone was not powerful enough but if they got more and built a veritable army that all started with Ira they would be invincible. The others knew that too, it was why Ira suspected Josef kept him so close. He was too valuable to lose.
Ira looked around the room assessing entrances and exits. He had had a productive morning with Hall; the man Josef said was from security and was an incredibly talented half demon. Hall winked at him when he said this and Ira had to supress a smile. He did wonder how Hall could have proved he was a half demon when he was a werewolf. Was it possible to be both? Under the watchful eye of Josef, doing work at his desk, Ira learned about how to case a room in seconds and know all exit and entry points, weaknesses and strengths. He learned how to do this with people too but it was easier to do it with a room. People were hard to read.
Now he wanted to hone these skills. Even if he wouldn't be here long he wanted to be better at them because he liked doing this. He liked being a guard so maybe he would go into business with Rhys Smith when he was older. He could be a mercenary if he ever escaped Josef. For now he would absorb the lessons he learned here and apply them to real life.
"Ira," Benicio suddenly asked breaking him from his thoughts. Ira looked over at Josef and then at the man's face on the screen. "What about your father? Your family?" Ira stiffened as Josef cleared his throat, said it didn't matter and they would get the conversation back on track.
"How much do you want for the child? My corporation is willing to pay any amount," Benicio said and gave Ira an uninterpretable look ignoring Josef who suddenly ordered him to get out into the hallway.
Ira jumped at the order and walked fast out of the room casting glances at the man as he went. A guard opened the door for him and he scurried out feeling like a frightened mouse. Maybe he wasn't the main guard for Josef right now but he was starting to get into a keener mindset. He felt like he should be there. He slid down the wall outside the room and thought about this. If he got too comfortable here he may not want to leave but he did want to go. He needed to get out of here but on the other hand…Ira growled and shook his head trying to dispel the thoughts. He couldn't stay here. Hall promised he was going to get him out so he would. His father might not want him but maybe Hall would. He could always ask, at least until his mum was better. If not Hall already said he had some nice people interested in him, people who would treat him right, a real family. Isn't that what he gave up though? He banished this though, to complicated right then.
Ira waited drumming his fingers on the cool marble floor and watching people walk by briskly, everyone seemed to have a task or a place to go and everyone ignored him, or tried. He saw them glance his way when they thought he wasn't looking and he knew that look in their eyes. He locked gazes with them when they were brave enough and they usually broke the gaze first. They were all scared of him, a ten year old kid, which only inflated his ego more. He was a werewolf and they weren't. He was more powerful, or would be soon, and they knew that too.
He felt more powerful, more useful than he ever had in Oz, and then he had with the pack. With them he was invisible or ignored, in Australia more so than with the pack but still. He had never felt the full weight of his supernatural gift like this and it had never felt so good.
It felt like hours that he waited and watched. His stomach growled and he bit his lip to keep from whining, an instinct that was increasingly pushing it's was to the surface, and waited some more. He wanted to rip off the itchy shirt and the shoes that pinched but knew that was a bad idea. Josef was all about image and Ira was now part of that image. He had to look good too.
When the door finally opened again and voices poured out Ira stood up so quickly he felt dizzy. Josef didn't even look at him so he quickly followed trailing along behind. He was speaking to a few of them men intently and Ira didn't dare interrupt. Josef walked down a hallway and towards his office where Hall waited outside the door. He winked at Ira quickly but turned back to being serious in seconds. Ira kept his smile inside. Josef ignored Hall too and they all followed him into his office.
Josef walked to the window and looked over the scenery with his hands behind his back. The two men stopped a few feet from him waiting too. A lot of people waited for Josef. Finally he turned and gave an instruction to the men who nodded and left immediately.
"Sir, you wanted to see me," Hall said as soon as they left and Josef turned back to the window again. He said nothing. Ira settled himself on the floor beside the coffee table where Josef liked him to stay; he didn't like him on the furniture. Ira bit his lip and glanced at Hall who shook his head and held up a hand. "Don't worry," he mouthed. Ira nodded.
"I need you to start training the boy. He needs to know everything. He needs to be ready as soon as possible. When he is ready to change I want him ready to fight and kill." Ira shuttered. He'd seen too many people die in the Oz pack and he vowed he would never end a life. He never would either.
"He won't be changing for another six years at least, we have plenty of time."
"No," Josef said turning to them. "I'm accelerating the process. It's a little something my labs have been working on to jump start the genes of supernaturals at an earlier age. He will start changing in as little as a few months with constant treatment. He must be ready." Ira went wide eyed and felt panic swell in his stomach. Hall took a breath. He seemed a bit panicked too.
"That…he can't be ready mentally or physically in a few months to change or for a fight; it will rip him apart, sir." Ira felt the waves of panic flowing and crashing down on him. He was very scared at the idea. Hopefully Hall could fix this.
"The experiment will accelerate his grown both physically and mentally, Hall. I know what I am doing. It will be painful but by this time next year he will look like a sixteen year old and act like an adult. I've already begun the process. It's inside his blood stream and working through him. Thank you for making him eat by the way." Josef grinned like a wolf and Ira froze. He stood feeling uncomfortable and like he couldn't breathe. Josef had dosed his food with some kind of drug to accelerate his growth and his powers. Immediately unwanted tears sprang to his eyes but Hall moved closer and reached down grabbing his hand to hide his face from Josef.
"Of course, sir, I'll take him now," Hall said and pulled him up and across the carpet to the hallway, whispering furiously.
"Stop acting like a child, Ira. I'll fix this but you need to grow up and understand." That stung. Ira instantly tried to pull his hand from the man's but Hall yanked even harder bringing him into a room down the hall just as Josef's door opened and he walked out cell phone to his ear, grunting. Hall put a finger to his lips and locked the door quietly. Letting Ira go he walked to a storage box, it seemed to be a storage closet just down from Josef's office for easy access.
Hall reached up and grabbed a mental box like structure on the wall yanking it. As soon as he did Ira heard wind whistling and muttered voices. "Josef holds important meetings in here sometimes. It's a perfect place to listen," Hall grinned and sat on the box now regarding Ira who was still upset with him. The man sighed clearly not used to dealing with kids. Annoyance sparked in his eyes that Ira would have to watch out for.
Ira rubbed at his eyes banishing the instant tears. The weakness. "I am not a child, Hall. I do understand but I don't have to like it." Hall regarded him for a moment before nodding and getting up. He moved forward and set both hands on his upper arms and gave him the most serious look Ira had seen from him yet.
"We have some time so let's talk. I know you're not a kid which is why I need to tell you something. I think you're grown up enough to hear it," he stopped for a moment and took a deep breath before continuing. He looked pained and suddenly Ira knew. He just knew. He looked away as Hall told him the bad news. "I called your dad, Ira. He…thinks the best place for you is here for now. He said something about a new baby I think. The point is we can't depend on your dad or the pack." Ira nodded taking a deep breath and widening his eyes to get rid of the new flood of painful tears.
"I…knew that already," Ira whispered inhaling sharply when his voice cracked a bit. He knew the relationship his father and he had wasn't good and after Kim hit him he figured his dad would give up. That is why they hadn't come. That is why he was alone now. His father didn't want a child of rape; he wanted children with a person he loved. Ira really was nothing. A small part of him had hoped that maybe his dad would care, see him and want him but it was so small Hall's words instantly put out the flames of faith until they were blackened embers.
"Listen, I'm going to help you, Ira. Just because they don't believe in you doesn't mean I don't. I have a plan. Remember I told you some nice people wanted a little boy, a supernatural little boy. You'll love them Ira. They are good people. Would you like that?" Ira looked up and thought for a moment. Where else was he to go? He nodded after a second unsure but whatever awaited him had to be better than the alternative.
Hall smiled and reached up wiping the space under his eyes with his large thumb. "We just need to wait a few more days, ok? Josef is going to an important meeting and you can't come along so we'll have a window." Ira nodded thinking quickly as Hall spoke. Just a few more days and he would be free of this place. What kind of place was he going to though?
The plane ride had been short but he barely paid attention with all the orders being given and the plans discussed. Every part was planned in such detail and every plan had a backup plan with a backup backup plan just in case. Now he was looking at the enormous and too bright building that contained his child. He was so close he swore he could smell him, hear him and feel him. He just wanted the boy back never to let him out of his sight again. If that meant living in a cave, it meant they would be moving.
"Reese," Elena nodded gesturing to the building. He watched the front door from their stakeout position. Sean had just walked inside flanked by a few guards; Karl and Noah were posing as Sorcerers on Sean's team. He could have gone in the back door but that would make him seem weak and afraid. No, Sean would confront his uncle face to face and walk in the front door as if he had a right to be there. He did. Soon enough the whole organization would be his again if their plan went right.
Elena made a gesture with her hand and Reese nodded and then nodded to his team including Kim, Morgan and Aaron. Aaron pocketed the cell phone he was programming, all disposable in case plans didn't go right. None of them carried I.D. or any other identifying items. They would know they were wolves but not who they were giving Paige time to wipe all their identities from the face of the earth and giving Jeremy, Jaime, the twins and Hope time to move the children and burn the houses and all the evidence therein. Extreme but when dealing with the cabal who would retaliate if their plans went awry, this was the standard plan when the pack went up against opponents they were not sure they could defeat. The cabals had the numbers which moved against them but the pack had the element of surprise.
Jeremy would take the rest of the pack to the Russians where they would be given new identities and a new life. They would be told about their parents and what happened when they were grown. The twins were a powerful force and the Russians would be glad to have them. The children would have no greater protectors.
Reese waved for them to move forward. All the teams contained one or two other supernatural members. They got the vampire and on Elena's team, consisting of Clay and Nick they had Savannah, Lucas and Adam, a witch, a sorcerer and a half demon. Their powers were evenly divided between them all. Sean would provide the distraction while they found Ira and wreaked some havoc.
Reese moved forward quietly walking down the alleyway and keeping his eyes and ears open. His suit brushed against the dirty ally wall and Kim clicked her tongue and wiped a hand over the material. He nodded to her absently and continued down the back way climbing over fences and moving towards the back of the cabal building completely silent. They were all dressed in suits or pant suits to blend in. Inside Reese and Morgan would change. That element had been debated for some time but they might need the extra fire power and with some in wolf form and some in human form they had a better chance at success.
No one spoke as they made their way through the cabal dumpster isle. Reese waved them to hide as they got closer and after a few seconds he looked out at the fence surrounding the back of the property. A bored guard was looking at his nails and sighing. Reese waved Morgan and Kim forward. They waited a few seconds for the guard to give a cursory glance towards the darkened alleyway before looking at his nails again.
Morgan and Kim were like ghosts and until the walkie-talkie on Reese's side crackled they would have had the advantage of killing the guard without him knowing what happened. When Elena's voice came over the speaker the guard looked up startled to see two people in front of him. Before he could utter a sound Morgan threw a punch distracting him so Kim could get him into a choke hold. "Open the gate or we take your hand and do it for you," she threatened. The guard immediately went wide eyed and did as he was told seconds before she snapped his neck.
She waved for the others to join him as Noah picked up the guard and dragged him to the door putting his hand on the scanner. It beeped and asked for a code. Reese picked up the walkie-talkie from his side and changed the channel. "Paige, we need the back door code," he said. A second of silence precluded his words before she spoke. They were inside moments later.
Josef's voice floated through the vent strong and confident. Hall explained that he often hid in here to listen to conversations. "One piece of advice, Ira, information is the most important things you can have. Get it anyway you can. If you have to eavesdrop, eavesdrop," Hall said. Ira nodded believing it. He had been reading 1984 and he saw right away how important information could be. If information was controlled the person who controlled it had all the power. The more information he had on Josef the more he could control his circumstances.
Josef was speaking to all the important members of the other cabals now. Meeting Ira had been the tip of the iceberg but now they wanted to know more and for more Josef didn't want Ira in the room. Ira could hold his emotions if need be but what Josef had to say must be too important to risk his reaction. That is what he deduced while listening to Josef's preamble. The next part surprised him, angered him and confused him but he wasn't sure which was more powerful.
Josef told them about Ira coming to him of his own free will again but then he diverged from the real story. "The pack is dangerous as we all know but they are even more so than any of us thought. How unsafe, how unhealthy, how horrific does a situation have to be for a child to run away from his guardians and seek out safer people? The pack was not only abusing him, starving him and injuring him in irreparable ways but they were hiding him from his mother, a mother who only had the best intentions in seeking out the boy's father to provide for him. A father who took the opportunity, in the pack way, to steal him from her and cast her out onto the street penniless and in danger without a care," he said dramatically. Ira could picture his Cheshire cat grin or maybe it was closer to a hyena.
Ira stared wide eyed at Hall who was listening intently and nodding. Hall had planted himself on the storage crate right below the grate and Ira was sitting against the wall across from him stuffed between two boxes with his legs pulled up to his chest. His clothes were already dusty from the ill-used room and he could smell unpleasant must. Josef would be upset when he saw the state Ira was in.
He bit the inside of his cheek hard to keep from saying anything. He tasted iron in his mouth. None of that was true. Did it even matter though? "Ira came to me seeking help and shelter from a pack that we cannot let stand anymore. Not only was Ira in danger but there are other children in their care, children who are too young and weak to defend themselves. These children would benefit from having the advantages a cabal would give them. We have to strike out against them and strike hard. Eradicate the pack and get rid of this threat once and for all."
"The pack is capable of many more terrible things than I believe any of us know. We have the proof in Ira that they destroy innocent children and turn them into devious killing machines but they also harbour criminals and condone their illegal activity. We have let this go on for too long and they must be destroyed," Josef ordered in a voice like he was preaching to a crowd.
"Where is the proof?" one man's voice asked and Ira thought it might be Benicio Cortez.
"I thought you might ask that," Josef said. There was silent and then murmuring suddenly. Ira squirmed wanting to charge into the room and figure out what was going on but Josef spoke soon enough.
"This is the juvenile record of one Noah Sorrentino, nee Albright Stillwell. He has multiple infractions under his belt from a young age including breaking and entering, vandalism, excessive force, carrying an illegal weapon, drug use, arson and robbery and the list goes on. The pack not only condoned his actions but kidnapped him as a teenager and spirited him from Alaska giving him a false name to protect him. Later he became a police officer so he could do the exact same things legally."
"I ask you, how is this right? Luckily this is not all the proof we have. Through our association with Malcolm Danvers we know of dozens of people the pack had put to death, without just cause, and where a fair amount of their bodies are buried. The pack does whatever it wants and it needs to be stopped. Let's not also forget the charges against Ira William's father levelled by the Australian pack; rape, betrayal, treason and allegedly killing his own parents. Still the pack protects him. Werewolf children can be raised with the cabal and benefit the cabal more than the terrorist activities the pack would have them carry out," Josef said and a noise rang out like flesh hitting wood. Josef hitting the desk with his fist.
Ira gasped and quickly covered his mouth with a hand when Hall gave him a 'shut up' look. "None of that is true," Ira hissed a second later. Hall sighed and stood up grabbing the cover and replacing it quietly before he spoke. He looked annoyed again and Ira quickly stood so he had a better advantage to get out of his way if he pissed the man off.
"Think about what they are doing, Ira. Stop seeing just the details and look deeper," Hall sighed. He closed his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face. Ira sensed that Hall was quickly growing tired of having a child charge. That eliminated the option of staying with him. He was already seeing Hall was quick to anger and selfish. Ira would have to figure out another way.
He did think about Hall's words though. Why was Josef doing this? Why would he lie and tell everyone the pack was bordering on terrorism? After a minute he looked at Hall again who was staring at the far wall waiting. "They'll get everyone to attack the pack and once they do that they'll take all the kids, like me," he ventured cautiously. Hall considered this and then smirked.
"I knew there were some brains in there," Hall muttered. Ira coloured and bit his tongue to keep from answering. With the mood Hall was in it would not be smart. He hated the dumb brute stereotype though.
"What are we doing about…," Ira started to ask as he stood but Hall held up a hand. Voice floated out from the hallway, Josef's strong voice snapping his fingers and telling everyone to be silent right outside the door. They must have left the room without Hall knowing. Ira held his breath the doorknob rattled and someone muttered something before the lock on the door blew and it flew open. His voice had alerted Josef to their presence.
A guard was at the door and when he saw them he got a malicious grin on his face. He stepped aside for Josef who filled the doorway and looked first at Ira and then Hall with a raised eyebrow. "Boy, here now!" Josef snarled. Ira darted forward and Josef took his arm when he was close enough and pushed him into one of the guards. He spun around when he got his bearings and saw Josef disappear into the room with two guards and the door shut. Ira swallowed as he heard a man scream and took a step back running into the guard behind him. When he saw red seeping out from under the doorway he closed his eyes tightly and covered his ears.