Twenty-Three

The gathering of werewolves was more lively than Grey remembered it ever being before. Everyone was whispering, voices overriding each other as they tried to figure out what was going on. News of Shepherd’s return had no doubt spread amongst the packs, but none of the others really knew what all had happened.

She nervously played with the hem of her shirt, wondering if her father would make her and Teddy come to the front of the summit and tell them what was going on. She noticed that Barrett was not there—he must still be taking care of Shepherd despite the unlikelihood of his making it. Grey’s mother was in her usual place, but there was a tightness to her lips that Grey knew meant she was in a foul mood. Her father looked pleased enough, though, smiling benevolently as he looked out over the congregated wolves. Grey wondered what that meant for her.

Presently, he held up his hands and a hush fell over the assembly. Curiosity was more powerful than the need for gossip, and everyone was ready to find out what happened and what was next.

“As you all know, our brother Shepherd was found by my daughter this morning,” he said, and there was a smattering of polite applause from the audience. “However, none of this would be possible if not for Shepherd’s own pack, led by the young Theodore Scott.” More polite applause. Grey knew Teddy felt self-conscious, because she felt just as self-conscious. It felt wrong, this applause for something that might not matter in a few hours. Even more wrong for the fact that neither of them had really wanted to save Shepherd in the first place.

“Yes, excellent work by all of them,” her father said. “But unfortunately, it may not have been enough. Even now, Shepherd is fighting for his life. We don’t know who took him yet, only that he was poisoned by them and left to die. Still, wolves do not stop because one of their own has fallen; we move ever forward, looking to the survival of our pack as a whole. As such, I think it is important that we decide what to do about the potential opening in our Council.”

Everyone began whispering again, many excited and thinking now might be their chance for promotion and power. Grey hated this most of all; she may not have wanted to save Shepherd, but it did seem a bit callous to be plotting his replacement while he was dying. Didn’t anyone care? But of course, she knew they didn’t. Not really. Their alliance was loose, everyone just behaving to remain on the Council’s good side because to do anything less could mean becoming an omega, a wolf without a pack. There was no greater dishonor, and omegas always died, unprotected by the alliance between the other races.

Grey reasoned that this must be why her mother looked so annoyed. Her daughter had been so close to securing an alliance with one of the stronger packs, and now that was looking to be impossible. Her carefully selected son-in-law was no longer her ticket to a higher standing. Grey had no doubt she’d find a replacement soon enough; the woman didn’t understand Grey’s feelings on the matter at all. What good was power when you were unhappy?

“Usually, we would replace the opening with a young alpha coming into his or her own,” her father continued. “But at present, we have only one eligible Lycan: my daughter, Grey.”

Grey’s eyes widened and she looked hurriedly to her father. Murmurs of discontent fluttered through the assembled packs, and her eyes caught Teddy’s in the darkness. He seemed just as surprised as her, but he was smiling.

“We recognize that it is almost unheard of for an unmated female to join the ranks of Council. We also recognize that her being my daughter may appear as favoritism. But the fact of the matter is, our oldest boy is merely eleven and she is the eldest of the females and I choose wisdom over all other qualifications. My daughter proved her worth and wisdom when she helped Teddy find Shepherd; she showed great forethought to secure safe accommodations for him immediately after as well, even knowing that she would have to marry him if he pulled through and having no desire to do so. Because of this, we feel she has earned the great honor of being a member of the Council.”

Grey glanced at her mother then. Why wasn’t she happy about all this? There could be no greater honor than having a daughter on the Council, and yet she still looked as if she’d swallowed a lemon. Was it because it hadn’t been her own machinations that jumpstarted Grey’s rise to power? That seemed a bit out of character for her mother who, while certainly a control freak, was never one to place her own needs or desires over that of anyone else.

“But she is not the only one we wish to honor here,” he continued, seeming to enjoy the shocked silence of his audience. There was a broad range of emotions that Grey could see and smell in the assembled werewolves, but shock was certainly the main one. Most were pleased for her, she saw, though some were bitter that their own families were not being given power. Especially the family of the oldest boy, who thought he was a shoe in by merit of his gender no matter his age. She was brought back to her father’s voice as he continued. “Theodore, please step forward.”

Teddy took an uncertain step forward. No doubt he worried that he was about to be given a marriage of his own and didn’t know how to feel about that. The next oldest female besides Grey was seventeen years old, and of course, Teddy wasn’t really interested in female companionship in the first place. She wondered what his family would do about the marriage. Would they honor the werewolf traditions, or would they insist on waiting until the girl was eighteen or even older? Would they insist on not recognizing the marriage as valid and support their son in finding a partner that he truly loved? Unlike Grey, Teddy had a choice in what he did. But to turn down a marriage like this would almost certainly offend most of the other werewolves and Teddy would find life to be difficult if he chose to go against it—plus the female’s family would be dishonored and would have a right to hunt and potentially kill Teddy for the slight to their family. It was a tough situation.

“Because of your hard work and dedication to your alpha, the Council has decided that you are to be afforded the highest honor available to your kind: a marriage to a suitable Lycan female.”

Here it came; the kicker. Grey looked to the most suitable female: seventeen-year-old Anya Hayes. She’d been making eyes at Ulfric ever since she started coming to the Summits. She seemed nervous now, glancing at her parents and older sister, head somewhat downcast. She would honor the marriage, no doubt, but it would be about as happy as the marriage between Grey’s own parents and likely just as short-lived.

“But we’ve got yet another surprise in store: so that we don’t appear to be showing undue favoritism or giving my daughter too much power, we have decided that she should be the one to marry Teddy. I think we can all agree that this is the most logical way to keep the Council balanced; marrying her to any other Lycan male would create an alliance that might complicate our process. By doing this, I have also given up my family’s unbroken line of purity, showing that I am willing to make sacrifices to our cause,” he said.

Grey couldn’t believe her ears, and neither could the rest of the werewolves. There was a loud tumult over the decision, many balking at the idea of a firstborn Lycan marrying a beta. Anya Hayes looked relieved, and, to a lesser extent, so did her family. Most thought this was a grand joke: promote your daughter and then bump her status down a notch by marrying her to a beta? Others thought it was secretly another power move, some way to make the betas more loyal.

One thing was certain, her mother’s sour look made sense now. But Grey, she couldn’t have been happier. Teddy was her best friend, her ally in everything. It seemed far too good to be true—here she was, still being forced into a marriage, but this time, it was to someone she cared about. Someone she knew would let her do what she wanted as she would let him do what he wanted.

Grey didn’t care how it looked, she grinned at Teddy and ran for him, jumping into his arms. He laughed and held her to him. “All those times we joked…” he said. “I can’t believe it.”

“Oh my god, what are we going to tell Jules?” she laughed and Teddy put her back down.

“No idea,” he admitted, “But we’ll think of something.”

Realizing that the eyes of the audience were now upon them, Grey and Teddy stepped away from each other and stood side-by-side instead, exchanging quick side-smiles with one another.

In front of the assembly, her father smiled and subtly winked at her—as if he knew what a gift he was giving to his daughter: a chance to be herself, to be with someone she loved even if there was nothing sexual between them.

“We will have a private ceremony on the eve of the next full moon and…”

Lupe cleared her throat and the audience all turned surprised looks at her; Lycan or no, the ex-wife of a Council member was not generally allowed to interrupt the Alpha Prime. “Don’t you think it’s a bit premature, planning this before Shepherd has even been given a chance to recover?”

Soft murmuring flooded the clearing; Grey knew she had a point, but she couldn’t help but feel a surge of bitterness. “Don’t you think I have a right to choose what I want?” Grey said defiantly.

Her mother gave her a bug-eyed stare, shocked by her rebelliousness in front of the other packs. Like mother like daughter, Grey thought, and held her mother’s stare with every ounce of pride inside of her.

“You’re making a mistake,” Lupe said, then turned on her heels and left the clearing. Silence followed her abrupt exit.

Finally, her father regained his wits. “Apologies, everyone. This has all been a great deal of upset for dear Lupe. In any case, the meeting is adjourned and the decisions are upheld. Should Shepherd recover before the ceremony, we will have another emergency summit. Until then, you are all free to go.”

As the audience dispersed, everyone talking about the crazy turn of events, Grey’s father made his way over to where she stood next to Teddy. “Quite a night,” he said, smiling at them. “How is your friend—Julian is it?”

They exchanged a look. “He’s fine,” Teddy answered eventually. “Sir.”

“We’ll be family soon, son, no need to be so formal,” Grey’s father responded benevolently. “It really is quite unfortunate what’s happening with Shepherd, but at least one good thing has come out of it. You two be happy together, all right? That’s all I ask.”

“Daddy…” Grey began. “Thank you so much. I know it was a big sacrifice, giving up our pureblood status but…”

He shook his head. “None of that. I never even understood the obsession with the whole pure status. There are certain abilities that come with being born a Lycan, but the children of alphas and betas are every bit as strong and likely to be born Lycan as well. In fact, children born of love, no matter the blood status of the parents, have always been stronger. I’m amazed every day at how tough you turned out to be despite the issues between your mother and I, Grey.”

Grey leaned into her father’s hand as he touched her cheek, face shining with pride. Then, he took her hand and put it in Teddy’s. “You be good to my baby girl, Teddy. I had better go and see to Shepherd—he likely doesn’t have long.”

And with that, he left the clearing.

“So,” Teddy began.

“We’re getting married,” Grey finished. “How about that?”

 

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