Crime and Punishment
“The whole question here is: am I a monster, or a victim myself?”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
As the sole resident of the cells below the mountain headquarters of the Council, I was utterly and completely isolated.
The keepers had little reason to be here; I was kept chained to a wall in a small cell with a pad on the floor for a bed and a bucket for a toilet. The interrogation sessions had been the highlight of my time here, but they had all the answers they needed now. I had no reason to hold back; no honor to save, no friends to protect, no life to bargain for. I gave them everything I did and everything I knew, and then they brought me back here to wait my execution.
“Our mate is still with us,” my wolf told me. She didn’t want to talk to me about anything else, she was utterly and completely Team Larry.
“Better if he never met us,” I replied.
“Better if you had listened to me and never made the deal with that shedevil,” she told me. “Your brother might have died but you would still have a life. Now, even your brother has denied you.” The interrogators had shown me a video they made when Pascha was interrogated. He had no knowledge of my deal, just like I had told them. He said that if he could go back and trade his life for the choices I had made, he would do it in a heartbeat. I was no sister to him, not after all I did.
“PLEASE, KILL ME,” I said to the dark cavern, but no one replied. I could see cameras, I knew they were watching, but none would relieve me of my life. They would not be denied their spectacle. The trial would be held in two weeks, after which my well-deserved suffering would end.
I closed my eyes and lost myself in my memories, replaying my time with Larry for the eight hundred and eighty-seventh time since I arrive here.
“Thank you for allowing us to meet with you all,” I said as we sat down following Chairman Francois at the large conference table in the room next to the Alpha’s office. I held John’s hand in mine above the leather-clad armrest as I sat tall and proud in the room. To our right were Patrick and Mischa; next to them at the head of the table, the current Alphas of the Moscow Pack, Javier and Abrianna. Continuing on the far side, Council Members Hans and Prudence, Armando and Yara, Salvatore and Maria, and Jurgen and Ingrid. At the opposite head of the table was Chairman Francois and Roberta. To our left was Alpha Viktor, Luna Marina and Alpha Stan. It was an intimidating bunch, but my wolf and my mate gave me the confidence to sit as equals to them. “A few weeks ago, you asked me my intentions as to John and I taking the Alpha position. This trip has affected me deeply, and it has changed my decision. I am stepping forward to claim my birthright as the Alpha of the Moscow Pack with my mate John.”
There were smiles and claps all around at this. “I knew we wouldn’t lose you to the Colonies,” Salvatore said with a grin. “We were all hoping you would find your destiny in our Council.”
“Having said that, we are not ready to immediately step in,” John said. “For both of us, we only know a little of the culture and the language. It will take months of structured training for us to become fluent and effective in the Pack. In addition, I’d like to marry this woman and go on a honeymoon,” he said as he squeezed my hand and the table laughed.
“How long do you need,” Javier asked.
“Six months to a year before we can operate without assistance,” I said. “I would like to formally request that Councilman Javier and Luna Abrianna stay on until spring, at which time the position could be formally handed over. I would also ask that they consider staying in an advisory capacity until they are confident their experience is no longer needed. This Pack is going through incredible changes, and replacing their knowledge and experience with our own right now will not do any of us good.”
I looked at them and my eyes practically begged them to stay. “I have learned a lot these past few months, but there is so much I don’t know. Luna Abrianna, I need your help. I can’t let my Pack down when they need me.”
The two looked at each other, mentally communicating, then Javier smiled. “We would be honored to stay as you have proposed, Jessie. We’re actually enjoying the action of a Pack again after all these years.”
“And I would be happy to work with you as I have been working with Mischa,” Abrianna added.
“Wait, what about Patrick and Mischa?” Armando looked at them. “Are they to be given the St. Petersburg Pack?”
“I think that would be a mistake,” Javier said. “Both grew up in Packs, but you’ve seen the reports. St. Petersburg is in chaos, even Council Member Thomas will struggle holding it together and forming it into something new.”
“And we don’t know how their loyalties will fall,” Jurgen said. “Some may blame the loss of their Alpha, Luna and Betas on Jessie and her friends.”
“And for that reason, I cannot allow my daughter to go up there,” Alpha Viktor said.
“Nor do we want to take that Pack at this time,” Patrick said. “I’ve been here for months, learning the people and the job with Alpha Javier. Mischa has also started to form bonds here, and she still has to graduate school and wants to go to college and study to be a Doctor. I have talked with her parents and with the future Alphas. We want to stay here, in Moscow, and have accepted the position as Betas here.”
The Council members looked at each other in shock, they were effectively saying no to a position within a Pack. “You are Alpha level, and your mate is a bloodline Alpha, yet you are taking a Beta position?”
Mischa nodded. “We have every confidence that the Moscow Pack will return to prominence, and when it grows too large to comfortably govern, Patrick and I will split off and form a Pack in the Eastern suburbs of Moscow up to the Kstovo borders. The specifics have already been agreed to by all parties, with time and Pack size triggers along with guarantees of financial resources.” He passed around copies of the agreement for them to review.
“It is a win for all of us,” I said. “We get people we know and trust, who already know about running the Moscow Pack to stay on and work with us. When the Pack splits, they get the Pack they deserve, and we get a stable ally on our border. The expansion won’t take long, and in a few years these two will be ready for the job.”
Chairman Francois leaned back, considering the paper in his hand. “I have to say I’m impressed. Too many times, young Alphas are thrust into a job they aren’t prepared for. This type of mentorship could be a model for the future.”
“I agree,” Roberta said. “I like this plan, and I’m impressed they’ve thought through what they need to be ready to be a good Alpha pair.” The discussion continued, but the comments were all positive. Once Alpha Javier agreed to stay on, the rest of their decisions were easy.
Until one. “What do we do about the St. Petersburg Pack,” Salvatore said. “Thomas can’t stay there forever, and that Pack is in shambles.”
“If I may,” I said and they all turned to me. “There are two problems with that Pack. The first is financial; Yevgheny gutted their Pack finances is his drive to kill me. I’ve already said I would return the properties and the money to them once responsible leadership was in place. The people are the other problem. It’s the opposite of what happened here; the Moscow Pack lost the gangsters to the north, and now their families are struggling. There are too many families and too few providers,” I said as they nodded. “Shrink the pack, significantly. Urge Packs to accept transfers from the Pack, taking some of the financial and support burden away. Raise up whatever Betas you can and structure the Pack around that. Once they are strong enough to be self-governing, then find an Alpha who can take over.”
“That could take years,” Javier said.
“We can’t abandon them, and we don’t need a war starting over territory and past slights either,” Salvatore said. “The surrounding Packs will see the need to help out now to avoid problems later. Council involvement will be enough to deter border issues until it is back on its feet.”
“And we could use some of the money set aside for the Pack to pay for resettlement and support,” I added. “Just make it so those that want to leave can do so, and those wanting to stay under normal Pack rules can make it happen. I don’t want the St. Petersburg Pack to be my enemy, the ones I wanted out of the way are gone.” The conversation continued for a few minutes before Chairman Francois stopped it and all but the Council were asked to step outside.
“Nervous?” I shook my head but leaned into Alpha Stan as he wrapped his arms around the two of us.
“Thank you for this,” Alpha Viktor said. “Her mother is so excited about Mischa not just becoming Luna eventually, but getting to pursue her dreams.”
“It’s best for all of us, I think,” I said as I stepped back and molded myself to John’s side. “Not a bad plan for being dreamed up at two in the morning in your hot tub,” I said with a grin.
“Finally, something happened in that hot tub we can talk about,” he said with a laugh.
“DAAAAAD, we don’t want to know!”
“Why, I’m pretty sure you were con…” He stopped as she slapped her hand over his mouth.
“Never… speak… of … that… again.”
I was laughing my ass of at the exchange when we heard the door open. The members filed out, and Chairman Francois shook our hands. “Your proposal was unanimously approved. Congratulations.” The four of us were congratulated by all, but time was short. We had to head down to the funeral, and after that a Pack Run was planned to honor the lost. The grounds for these events were three hours away, and we would leave immediately after dinner.
I was a weepy mess by the end of the ceremony as the fires reached high into the sky, carrying their souls to the moon above.
Tomorrow would be a new day, and we would have our new positions announced.
I had spent two weeks since arriving at the Kstovo Pack trying to get my head around the idea of who my mate was and why. Alpha Viktor had shown me copies of her confession; her trial today was just a formality, she was guilty and everyone knew it. The flight to Germany for the trial was a blur, as was the drive into the Bavarian countryside. What do you say to your mate before she dies? The question rattled around my head as we walked into the Justice Hall of the European Council Headquarters.
I got a seat in the front row behind the defendant’s table and waited with Alpha Viktor and Luna Marina. The hall soon filled, almost all people hostile to her and wanting to see her punished. Her brother sat in the front row as well, but instead of being here for her, he was sitting behind the Prosecutor’s table. I shot him a glare, she had given up everything for him and now he couldn’t even support her in her time of trouble. I was soon joined in the row by John and Jessie, now officially Betas in the Moscow Pack. I was happy for them, they would be fine Alphas in a few months. The hall filled to overflowing and the bailiff called for everyone to stand.
The Council members filed in, taking their places at the elevated table at the front with Chair Francois at the center. They were all present this time, and they would both decide on her guilt and her punishment. They sat, but we remained standing as Elizaveta was brought in.
My heart leaped at the sight of her, and my wolf growled at her appearance. She wasn’t the beautiful young woman I had marked and mated; she had lost weight, she hadn’t slept, and she looked utterly hopeless. Her eyes found mine, her wolf surging forward to greet mine but the silver bindings kept her back. She shuffled forward in her overalls, her feet shackled by a chain and her hands shackled to a chain about her waist. As she was walked to the table, her eyes stayed on me. “I’m here for you,” I said quietly, “I will always be with you.”
“I love you,” she said as she was turned to face the panel.
“The trial of Elizaveta Klimova is now in session,” the bailiff said. “Be seated.”
Chair Francois looked directly at the defendant’s table, fixing his eyes on my mate and then to her lawyer as they stood. Charles Thompson, Jessie’s lawyer from the St. Croix Pack, had volunteered to help her since none of the European Packs wanted to be seen helping her. “My understanding is that the defendant has a plea?”
“We do, Mr. Chairman.”
“Very well. Miss Klimova, you have been charged with seven counts of accessory to murder, four counts of accessory to assault, and four hundred and eighty-seven counts of attempted murder, along with eight counts of attempted murder of a visiting Alpha and two counts of attempted murder of a Council member on official business. How do you plead?”
“Guilty, sir.” Her voice trembled and I could see her shaking as she stood in front of everyone.
“The plea is accepted. Defense may be seated. Prior to sentencing, we will hear victim statements from those who wish to be heard.” The next two hours was spent listening to family and friends talk about the damage she had done, the lives that had been ended, the people who had been endangered. She sat at the table throughout, unable to look in their eyes as they condemned her. Finally, it was time for me. “All those who would wish to speak in favor of the convicted may now be heard.”
Three people spoke. Alpha Viktor read into the record the letter he and his family had signed, then John spoke about what happened when they caught up to Elizaveta that night. He ended by saying he and Jessie were asking for mercy upon her. Finally, it was my turn. “Mr. Chairman, members of the Council, I beg you today to show mercy on behalf of my mate. The events she was caught up in were not because she was an evil person, nor were they for her own gain. She did everything to save her brother, and incurred a debt she could never repay.”
I looked into her eyes, filled with tears and love, as I continued. “Beta Polina saved her brother and put her hooks into my Elizaveta in return. Once she passed the first information to her, she was guilty of treason and Polina had leverage over her. She was scared and could not go to anyone. In the end, she hated herself for what she had done. Her confession and warning saved hundreds of lives. I know she must be punished, but she is my mate and I beg of you to find a way to spare her life.”
I was excused and walked back into the audience, my eyes on her until the Chair called for silence. “The Council will go to chambers to determine the punishment.”
“All RISE!” I stood to my feet as they filed out.
The Enforcers guarding Elizaveta stood her up, and one looked to me. “You can hug her once, and talk to her until they return,” one said with sadness in his eyes. I leaned across the rail, taking her into my arms as she broke down, carefully avoiding contact with the silver with my bare skin.
“I wish you had killed me when we met,” she sobbed into my shoulder.
“I wish we had more time, love, but I will never regret the time we had.” I had to let her go, and we talked quietly as the people around us turned or moved aside to give us some privacy. It seemed like only minutes before the Council returned, but it had been almost twenty minutes. The Enforcers pulled her back to the table as we all stood.
Elizaveta remained standing as the grim-faced Council members took their seats. Chair Francois looked her in the eyes. “Elizaveta Klimova, for your crimes you have been sentenced to be whipped to death with silver, said sentence to be carried out immediately. This trial is closed.”
He banged the gavel, and I watched as Elizaveta’s legs gave out, a wail of pain being let out as she was dragged off by the Enforcers to her death.