#Chapter 25 The Elder Council
Bastien huffs out a weary laugh, pausing in front of me to stroke my cheek. “Alphas don’t have the luxury of personal feelings, little wolf. The pack has to come first one hundred percent of the time.” His handsome features seemed to have aged years over the last week. “There’s no excuse for letting enemies through our defenses.”
“That is an unreasonable standard.” I insist, “One to which they would never hold themselves.”
“You’re right.“ Bastien agrees. “They wouldn’t, but they aren’t Alpha.” I latch onto his hand when he tries to pull away, convincing him to sink onto the sofa beside me. “These are the consequences of so much power. There’s no end to the responsibility, and no room for error.”
“How is anyone supposed to live up to that?” I demand, “How are you supposed to have a life if you can never take your eye off the pack?”
“It’s not about living up to it, or fulfilling my own wants.” Bastien reminds me, “I have the strength to lead, so I will – because I love this pack. That’s all there is to it.”
Now that Bastien has relaxed next to me, my own energy overflows in anxious flutterings. “That’s the other thing I don’t understand.” I gripe, “Does the council honestly think there is anyone in the pack more capable than you? Stronger than you?” i wriggle half-heartedly as Bastien tugs my body on top of his, propping my elbows on his chest and resting my chin in the cradle of my hands. “What’s the point of trying you when no one else is fit to be Alpha.”
“That’s exactly why we have them.” Bastien sighs, petting me absentmindedly. “To give challengers the opportunity to step forward and make a claim for leadership. If no one does, it goes on the record as a public censure.”
“So that future challengers can drag it back up years later to smear your good name.” I complain, my musings taking a decidedly vindictive turn. “I’d like to dig up every mistake the council members ever made when they were young and rub them in their wrinkled faces.”
To my surprise, Bastien laughs, the vibrations shaking my body fiercely. “Goodness, I had no idea you were such a vengeful little thing.” He teases. “Where have you been hiding all this ferocity, baby?”
I shrug. “I haven’t had a reason to channel it before.”
“Well I’m honored you tapped into it for my sake.” Bastien grins, pulling me up for a kiss.
In moments like this I can almost forget everything that’s happened between us. All the pain and rejection, the pain and loss. I can almost forget he doesn’t want me. I can almost pretend we have a future.
pretending with every fiber of my being that this moment, and all this affection, will never end.
My mother’s haunted face stares at me through the crowd, her eyes red-rimmed and once-golden skin pallid. Of anyone, the hearing has been hardest on her. Yet, as twisted as it probably sounds, I think my struggles have been good for her. The inquisition has helped keep her in the present and supporting me has given her some purpose in all this uncertainty.
I don’t know if I should be guilty for wanting to keep her here without her mate or not, but I know I’m not ready to lose her too. Perhaps it’s selfish, expecting her to find a reason to carry on without her mate. After all, I’m not sure I would want to live in a world where Selene no longer existed.
The grief assails me at the strangest of times. Sometimes it feels as if nothing which has happened over the last week is real, others the truth of my circumstances feel so overwhelming I can’t even draw breath.
Now, as I stare down the elder council, weathering hours of questions about my fitness to rule the pack, I want nothing more than to turn back the clock and beg my father for advice.
“Forgive us Bastien, but you’ve been Alpha for less than a week and we’ve already borne an attack on Nova territory.” The same pack elder has been droning on for the better part of an hour, litigating every last moment of the Gemini intrusion during my father’s funeral. “It’s true you neutralized the threat, but the fact remains the threat should never have gotten through our defenses in the first place. Why should the people of Elysium maintain faith in you as a leader, when this is what your brief tenure has granted us?”
“Esteemed council members,” i begin, making no attempt to withhold the innate Alpha authority of my tone. “I cannot deny that
the appearance of the Gemini contingent at the Alpha’s memorial was unexpected and extremely unfortunate.”
I circle on the spot, directly my words now at the assembled pack. “They should never have made it past our borders and I take full responsibility for that lapse. However,” I continue, “despite my best efforts, I am just a man. I cannot see the future, and I am not immune to grief.”
“And like all men, I make mistakes.” I concede, returning my attention to the council. “I take the security oversight extremely seriously and plan on doing everything in my power to prevent such failures in the future. But there can be no denying we are under threat. The Alpha was murdered in his own office, in his own home.” My mother flinches with every word, and I’m eternally grateful Selene is there to wrap her in a hug.
“This is not just a threat to my family, it is a threat to the entire pack.” I growl. “Whoever did this came onto our territory and saw fit to inflict violence at the highest levels.” Heads nod in my periphery, giving me hope that my words are landing with the people if not the council.
“I want what is best for the Novas; I always have and always will. So if there is anyone out there who believes they can do a better job defending us, then I welcome your challenge.” I extend my arms, circling on the spot as I survey the assembled audience. “If any among you think you have what it takes to lead, speak now. Make me earn my place, or prove yourself more worthy.”
Behind me, the council murmurs amongst themselves, too quietly for me to decipher their words. Finally, the head councilor raises his voice above the din. “Well, are there any challengers?”