"The discipline committee had a preliminary meeting this morning. They're all advocating for expulsion."
"No." Frankie's mind reeled. She hadn't intended this, hadn't meant to ruin him.
"Anyone else, they probably wouldn't expel," Matthew went on. "They'd just threaten, but not really do it. Alpha they can seriously get rid of, so they want to make him an example. He's expendable in their eyes."
"He's got no money. I mean, his mother doesn't. If it were anyone else, the discipline committee would just make threats. Then the family would just make an enormous donation--and the kid would be reinstated with a clean record."
"Not if it were me," said Frankie. "My dad doesn't have that kind of money."
Matthew shrugged. "Well, most people here do. And your dad's an active alum; he knows people. But not Alpha. His mother never even went to college."
"Didn't she take him on an expensive yoga retreat? Isn't that like an expensive spa vacation?"
"She's a crazy lady. She's spending through the money she gets from renting out their apartment like there's no tomorrow. She's got no savings, no way of making a living. And Alpha got in early-action to Harvard."
"The letter came last week. But if he gets expelled, he'll lose his place."
Frankie's gut clenched. It wasn't supposed to go this way. This could ruin his life.
"When will they make a final decision?" She cleared her throat, trying and failing to clear the lump that was suddenly choking her.
Matthew's eyes narrowed, looking her over with concern. "Are you feeling okay? You sounded a little weird right there."
Frankie nodded quickly, not trusting herself to speak again. Swallowing, she ran her hand through her hair and tried to get her voice back under control. "Yeah, my arm just ached a little. Answer the question?"
Matthew reached out and straightened her bangs, which had been thrown into disarray by her movement. "The final hearing started about five minutes ago, but it doesn't matter now. The only thing that can sway them would be hard evidence pointing to someone else, and there's none."
Frankie's breath caught in her chest, her mind racing. It was only about a quarter mile to the Headmaster's office, but she could barely move her arm without it feeling like she stuck it into a fire. To make matters worse, she was in an infirmary gown; she'd have to pull on all her clothes with only one arm. But she would have to go for it. She couldn't let Alpha take the fall for this.
She sat up and immediately regretted it. She shook her head, trying to clear to wash of darkness over her vision. She couldn't let him down. With her good arm, she tossed the blankets back and swung herself around so her legs were dangling over the edge of the bed. Matthew started toward her.
"Frankie! What are you doing? You have to stay in bed; the nurse said you've taken some strong meds and you shouldn't even be up for another few days!"
Frankie waved him off. "Doesn't matter," she grated. "This is all my fault; I can't let Alpha take the blame. It would destroy his chances at Harvard and probably at college in general."
Matthew laid a placating hand on her shoulder, gently guiding her back down. "Frankie, you're not making any sense. How would this be your fault?"
She shrugged his hand off and pushed herself to her feet. Immediately, her arm was lanced with a fiery bolt of pain; it crackled as it spread up her neck and across her chest. She swayed, knees threatening to buckle, and scrabbled for the table at her side with her good hand, trying to hold herself up. Matthew took a quick step forward, grabbing her around the waist and steadying her shaky frame. "Frankie, get back in bed!"
"No," she quavered. "I'm the one who planned the pranks; it was all me. Alpha just followed my orders."
With a quick intake of breath, Matthew released her as if she had stung him. "What?"
Frankie wobbled, trying to regain her equilibrium from Matthew's sudden absence. "I really can't explain it right now; I have to get to Richmond's office. Like you said, my dad knows people. Maybe I can take the blame off Alpha and still have a chance at staying."
Matthew glared at her, stepping back out of reach. "What the hell were you thinking? Why would you do something like that?"
"You know what? Don't answer. But you can be sure we're done. If you could keep something like this from me, there's no telling what else you've lied about. But whatever you do, you better get the fuck over there and mop up your mess."
With that, Matthew turned and stormed through the door, slamming it shut behind him.
Frankie could feel hot tears threatening to spill over and squeezed her eyes shut, breath stuttering as she tried to regain control of herself.
None of this was going right!
Stubbornly, she forced down the urge to cry. She may have lost Matthew, but Alpha still needed her, and she'd be damned if she would let him down too.
Frankie let go of the table and stumbled over to the chair in the corner of the room, where her clothes had been folded and stacked. Wincing, she fumbled at the back of the hospital gown for a minute before successfully untying, tugging it carefully over her arms and dropping it to the floor. She grabbed her jeans and began to tug them on, hissing as her arm flared with another wash of pain.
Her shirt took an agonizingly long time to as she trying and failed to put it on with as little movement as possible. She had neither the ability nor the time to pull on her sweatshirt or her shoes, so she stumbled out the door barefoot and with her bandaged arm cradled across her chest. Her head was swimming with pain and drugs, but she padded as quickly as she could to the front door and darted through it. She stumbled out onto the quad and, taking a moment to steady herself, mustered what energy she could before breaking into a run. Black was dancing at the edges of her vision and every step sent a lance down her arm, but she steadfastly ignored the pain, focusing all her energy on reaching the Headmaster's office. Alpha couldn't take the blame; he couldn't. Out of the corners of her eyes, she could see scattered students turning to stare quizzically at her, and she briefly considered what she must look like, but she didn't dwell on it for more than a moment. Nothing mattered but getting to the hearing.
Frankie had no grasp of how much time had passed when she reached the doors of the main building. Pushing inside, she ran across the lobby and approached the secretary. "How do I get to Headmaster Richmond's office?" she snapped.
The secretary stared at her with barely concealed confusion. "I'm sorry, but he's in a committee meeting."
"I know he is! I have to be there. I have important information." Frankie was distantly aware of how she must appear to the secretary. White-faced and swaying, breathless, barefoot, and bandaged. But she didn't care.
"If it's really that important, room 315."
Frankie was moving the second the secretary finished speaking. "Thank you!" she tossed over her shoulder as she sprinted for the stairs.
315...third floor, she realized. She had no idea how she would climb two flights of stairs since by now she could scarcely keep her footing, but there was no other way and the clock was ticking. Frankie stopped for a second, resting a hand against the wall and trying to catch her breath in an attempt to clear her head and dispel the fuzziness that was steadily spreading across her vision. After a few seconds, she gave up and started up the stairs.
At the third floor landing, Frankie stumbled to a halt, only vaguely aware of how she had gotten up both flights. She dazedly scanned the hallway, searching for room 315. Finding it almost immediately, she leaned against the wall with her good shoulder and began to walk toward it, locking her knees to keep her legs from giving out. As she neared the door, she could hear Alpha's normally relaxed drawl sharpen in outrage.
"I told you, I didn't plan any of the pranks! I just went along with what the emails said!"
"The emails from the account with your nickname? You expect us to believe you didn't do this?"
"Yes! I don't know who did it, but it wasn't me!"
By then, Frankie had stopped outside the door and was resting her forehead against the cool stone in a last attempt to regain control of herself before she went in.
"Since you fail to present any evidence to the contrary, we find you, Alessandro Tesorieri, guilty of planning and orchestrating these pranks. You are hereby expelled from Alabaster."
Frankie pushed herself up, regretting it a minute later when her head pulsed with pain. Ignoring it, she yanked open the door and staggered into the room.
"Stop! It wasn't him! He had nothing to do with it!"
Alpha's head snapped around when he heard Frankie's voice. "Frankie, what are you doing?"
Frankie felt her legs shudder and braced her hip on a nearby desk. "Saving your ass."
Headmaster Richmond pushed his chair back and stood up, adjusting his glasses and glaring at Frankie.
"I'm not sure what you're playing at, Ms. Landau-Banks, but this is a confidential hearing. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"No." Frankie coughed, trying to keep her voice as steady as she could. Her head was swimming and her vision was fading in and out, but she braced more weight on the table and pushed herself upright. "You've got the wrong person. Alpha didn't have anything to do with the pranks."
Alpha stared at Frankie. "What are you doing?" he hissed. "I swear to god, if Livingston made you do this--"
"I'm afraid you'll need to explain yourself further," Richmond cut in.
Frankie let go of the desk and stood straight, holding her arms tight by her sides and fighting to stay standing. "I was thealphadog. I planned the pranks. Any blame should be directed at me, not Alpha. He only did what I told him."
She was vaguely surprised to hear nothing from Alpha and glanced over to see his eyes wide and shock written across his face.
"Well." Richmond frowned. "This is a development. Can you please explain what on earth prompted you to pull those ridiculous stunts?"
Frankie's brow furrowed as she tried to clear the fog from her mind. "They...they were just small rebellions. Like the Cacophony Society." Her mouth felt like it was full of cotton and it was getting harder and harder to think straight. Blackness was threatening to overtake her vision again, and her arm burned worse than ever. As if from a distance, she felt herself stumble and regain her feet. "However you want to punish me, leave Alpha out of it. He had no part."
Swaying again, she felt her knees beginning to buckle. She crumpled to the floor, legs giving out underneath her, and she grabbed at the desk to try and stop herself. She heard quick footsteps behind her a second before someone grabbed her around the middle and effortlessly pulled her up, holding her against them. From right behind her she heard Alpha murmur, "Oh my god, Frankie. How did you even stay upright this long?"
"I couldn't let them expel you," she muttered dazedly. "They weren't your plans."
She felt Alpha adjust his arms, lifting her so she was cradled against his chest, and he slowly stood. His other arm slipped behind her legs, and with one easy movement, he lifted her up into a careful hold, leaving her bandaged arm free and adjusting so her head rested against his shoulder.
"If I may, Headmaster, I'd appreciate if I could be dismissed to take Frankie back to the infirmary." Frankie felt his voice rumble under her ear and relaxed further into his hold. Her vision started dim and she blinked rapidly to clear it.
"Of course, Mr. Tesorieri. This meeting will be reconvened at a later date. All charges against you are on hold until we can get the full story."
"Thank you." With that, Alpha turned and walked out of the office, taking care not to jostle Frankie against anything.
As they started to walk down the hall, Alpha chuckled. "Jesus, Frankie. Livingston doesn't know what he's got."
"Probably not," she mumbled. "Especially since he doesn't have it anymore."
Alpha's breath hitched. "He broke up with you?"
Frankie tensed and turned her face into his shoulder. "I don't want to talk about it," she whispered, her voice muffled by his body.
He sighed and shifted her position as he approached the stairs. "That's fine. How are you feeling?"
Frankie glanced up at him and frowned. "Everything's grey and blurry. I just want to sleep." It was getting hard to think again, and her head felt like it had been hit with a brick.
Alpha studied her face, blue eyes crinkling with concern. "That's fine. Just sleep. I've got you."
Frankie laid her head back down on his shoulder, lulled by his smooth steps and the sound of his heartbeat under her ear. Just before she slipped under, she hear him whisper, "You really are remarkable, Frankie Landau-Banks."
"I know," she slurred.
She felt rather than heard his laugh, a deep chuckle that reverberated in his chest and shook her gently.
Darkness slowly slipped over her, and she thought she felt a soft kiss dropped on the top of her head, though it may have been a dream.
Light. White light.
Frankie slowly cracked her eyes open, squinting in the brightly lit room. She blinked a few times, letting her eyes adjust, and slowly sat up.
"Good morning, your highness." The voice came from her right, sounding vaguely relieved and extremely amused.
Turning, she saw tanned skin, bright blue eyes, and a smirk so wide it was a marvel his face didn't split in half. Alpha.
"What happened?" Frankie strained to remember, but could recall nothing past Alpha telling her to sleep and the hazy dream of a kiss.
Alpha rubbed his chin in mock affront, eyes twinkling with mischief. "You don't remember the time you spent in my lovely company? I'm hurt."
Frankie's mouth twitched and she swallowed her smile, leveling a stare at him. "Alpha."
He chuckled. "Fine, fine. After you so rudely fell asleep in my arms, I brought you to the infirmary and the nurse took you off my hands. Literally. She managed to wake you up enough to take some pain meds, but you dropped right back off and you've been asleep for the last day and a half."
Frankie shot up into a full sitting position, and immediately whimpered when her head and arm throbbed simultaneously.
Alpha leaned forward and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, lowering her back down. "Easy there, tiger. The nurse said you'd need at least two days to be back on your feet. Something about overexertion?" He grinned at her, smugness plastered all over his face.
She weakly slapped at him. "Unappreciative bastard."
He caught her hand, but instead of dropping it and shooting back a sarcastic comment, he gently lowered her hand to the bed and sat back. Startled, Frankie turned to look at him. His face was uncharacteristically soft and his eyes were fixed on her intently. Frankie swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. The look in his eyes caught on something in her chest and she licked her lips nervously. His eyes briefly tracked the movement and flicked back up again, blue eyes glowing. He leaned forward slightly just as the door banged open and Matthew came storming in. Frankie glanced to the doorway, and when she looked back, Alpha's smirking mask was back on. Glancing back at her once, he smoothly rose to meet Matthew.
"I heard you barged into the meeting and collapsed after claiming that you organized the whole thing." Matthew glared at her, his voice flat and cold, but Frankie heard a current of worry and frustration running underneath.
"Yeah Matthew, your girlfriend swooped in like an avenging angel and saved me from the fierce geriatric clutches of the committee," Alpha drawled, clapping Matthew on the back and winking at Frankie, who narrowed her eyes.
"Alpha, we broke up," Matthew said tiredly. "We decided that one of us can't be running a crime syndicate behind the other's back and cut it off."
"Oh yeah, I forgot," Alpha smirked. "You got scared by a girl and ran off with your tail between your legs."
"Shut the fuck up, Alpha," Matthew snapped. "I only came to check on Frankie."
"I'm fine, Matthew." Frankie saw Matthew's expression soften infinitesimally, then Alpha cut in.
"Well, I'd love to stay for the touching reunion, but I rather liked my breakfast and don't want to lose it. I thank thee, lady, and bid thee good day." Alpha bowed and tossed a final twisted smile over his shoulder before he left, slamming the door behind him. Frankie watched him go, forehead creased in confusion.
"So..." Matthew walked over and stood next to the bed, trying and failing to look casual.
"I suppose you want me to explain?" Frankie sighed.
"That'd be nice, yeah." Matthew sat down in the chair Alpha had just vacated.
Frankie shrugged. "I just wanted respect from you guys, and I always thought it would be fun to do pranks like this. I didn't have some grand scheme to take over the Bassets, if that's what you're thinking."
Matthew leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. "I just wanted to know why you would get involved in something you have no business being involved in. It was for fun and respect?"
"I guess." Frankie toyed with the edge of the blanket, not meeting Matthew's eyes.
Matthew was silent. After a few seconds, Frankie glanced up at him, but his head was turned away, contemplating the blank white wall. His jaw was tight and his face looked like it was carved from marble. Frankie quickly focused back on the blanket as Matthew began to turn his head toward her again.
"That is the most childish thing I've ever heard," Matthew said softly. His voice was cold, his words designed to wound, and when she briefly met his eyes, they were like chips of ice.
"You manipulated a group older than you know for kicks, and nearly got one of us expelled. The administration now knows more about the Bassets than we do, and we'll probably never be able to return to full strength." Matthew leaned forward. "I never--"
"Matthew," Frankie cut in. "Matthew please, you have to understand, you--"
"No. You played with something that is my responsibility and ruined everything." Not saying anything more, Matthew stood up and left the room, moving deliberately and not looking back.
"Matthew! Wait!" Frankie sat up again, fighting the dull buzz of pain to reach out to him as he walked away.
But he didn't respond. A second later, the door closed with a final click.
Frankie collapsed back on the bed, finally allowing the sobs to escape her chest. She rolled over and pressed her face into the pillow, where she let the tears flow.
She didn't hear the soft sounds of the door being eased open and gently closed, and wasn't aware anyone had entered the room until the bed dipped and she felt a warm hand on her back.
"You know," murmured Alpha, "I think he was just afraid of you. You couldn't be ruled like he wanted you to be."
"Really?" Frankie sniffed and turned back over to face him, wiping her eyes.
Alpha grabbed the tissue box off the bedside table and offered it to her. "Sure. Matthew wants a good quiet girl that'll do what he tells her to and won't question it. I think that's boring, personally, but everyone has their own taste, I guess." His mouth curled up in a small smile. "I usually try to find someone who will do me proud as the she-wolf, but they're pretty rare. I've only had about two that were actually up to snuff."
Frankie returned the smile with a grin of her own as she reached out and took a few tissues. "Really? Only two?"
Alpha chuckled. "Yep. The first one was in my sophomore year. Her name was Alexa, and she was sharp as a razor. Nothing could get past that girl. She helped me arrange some of the greatest pranks I've ever done. Those were what caught the Bassets' attention before I left for New York."
Frankie smirked at him. "And the other?
Alpha leaned back, placing one hand on the other side of her legs and settling his weight back on it. "I met her in New York. Her name was Elena and she was one of the smartest people I've ever met. She improved on every plan I came up with and she was the second most devious girl I know. We were the terror of our school." He stared out the window, a fond smile on his face.
Frankie sat up and poked him. "Who's the most devious? And how did she evade the high-and-mighty Alpha?"
Alpha turned back to Frankie, and the grin slowly dropped off her face at the look in his eyes. They were burning a fiery blue and he was watching her intently.
"She didn't evade." Alpha's voice was a deep rumble Frankie could feel reverberate in her chest.
"So what happened?" Frankie was suddenly breathless.
"I sat back, watched her direct the most powerful to do her bidding, and hoped." Alpha's voice had dropped to a whisper and Frankie had to lean in to hear what he was saying.
"Where does she rank on this list of she-wolves?" Frankie's heart was racing in anticipation, of what, she wasn't sure.
Alpha leaned forward until he was only a few inches from Frankie, his eyes flicking around her face, dropping to her mouth and back up. "I'd say she's an alpha in her own right."
Frankie swallowed. "She sounds like quite the character."
Alpha's mouth curved in a soft smile. "Oh, she is."
In an instant, he closed the gap, his lips meeting Frankie's in a soft kiss. He pulled back a second later, his expression gentle in a way Frankie had never seen.
Her mind whirled for a few seconds before settling down. She looked up and met his gaze, giving him a small smile.
Grinning, he pulled her into his arms. She relaxed into him and rested her chin on his shoulder, melting into the embrace.
After short time, she turned her head slightly, moving her mouth to his ear.
"You know," Frankie mused, "I've heard that in most packs, the alpha female is the leader."
She could feel his answering laugh bubble up from deep in his chest, shaking both of them.
She smirked. "Just a thought."