The thing is that I refuse to believe that the Hawthornes trying to save everyone is a bad thing. I know that the situation with the mermaid was maybe wrong, but I was there, and I desperately didn’t want them to kill her either.
Fuck these people.
Cosima got us up early this morning and dragged us out to grab something to eat before getting back to what I’m very generously calling the court room.
“I’ve briefed all our witnesses,” Cosima said as we waited for our drinks. “Hopefully they all actually show up.”
“They’ll be here,” Beverly replied calmly.
“The problem,” Cosima said, impatiently, “is that this case isn’t about Neal or Julian or Merl Allen. This case is about fear. These people are afraid, they’re looking for someone to call a monster. They want to slay a dragon and go to bed feeling better.”
“So what do we do?” Beverly asked.
And then the barista called, “I’ve got a white chocolate marshmallow frappuccino with extra caramel!” and COSIMA went to get her drink hahahahahahahaha
Like I’m sorry but Cosima has straight black coffee vibes nothing could have prepared me for a white chocolate marshmallow frappuccino with extra caramel.
Cosima took a long drink from her sugary, sugary drink, brow furrowed, gazing into the middle distance. Then, slowly, she said, “We give something else to be afraid of.”
We arrived at the bar just before 9 and I was totally distracted by dread and rage, so at first I didn’t realize why Beverly stopped in her tracks on the way into the building. I almost ran into her.
But when I did dodge around to get a view, I was totally bewildered to find that there was literally not a single seat left empty. People were standing along the walls, and sitting on the tables in the back. When they saw us, a quarter of the room called greetings, like we were there to have a drink with them.
Everyone came. The Walthers, Knock, Daryl and Rook, Mercy and Zinia, Beau, Paul, and April, several Scelerat witches, loads of people I didn’t know. Louie was there, and he brought a couple kids I recognized with him. Lana wasn’t there, but Beverly explicitly told her not to come, what with how she barged in last week.
It was the first time I’ve seen so many old hunters next to all Ace’s people, and the contrast was comical. They were loud, boisterous, chatty. As I watched, a hunter I didn’t recognize dodged around what was supposed to be Neal’s guard to sit on the table and chat with him. Lodge Kelliher literally raised his voice to ask the judge if they were serving beer from the tap.
“This is the group of people Ace is trying to make his followers fear?” Cosima said.
“Yup,” Beverly replied, surveying them all with an expression of exasperated affection.
In contrast, Ace’s people looked more and more uncertain.
It’s funny, I think until that exact moment, I’d sort of forgotten that Ace’s people fell into 2 distinct categories: old school hunters who were bitter for one reason or another about how hunters run things, and brand new hunters, who were flocking to Ace’s leadership because they genuinely hadn’t been offered anything better.
I could see those new people now, watching this strange, eclectic group curiously. Not to be too like… high school lunch room or anything, but I was proud to go sit with them, especially when Bass beamed at me and gestured me over to sit beside him.
Which was a relief, because Rook hadn’t looked around at me yet and I really, really didn’t want him to.
“Order!” shouted the judge. He was clearly a bit bewildered by the change of tone. “Order, come on, lets collect ourselves. I believe we have witnesses to speak to?”
And boy did we.
Cosima pretty much just lined them up to tell fun stories — and I’ve been around hunters long enough by now to know that their greatest love is to retell fun versions of old hunt stories, in which they replace the skin melting terror of actually having been there, with hi-jinx and hilarity.
I can’t write down all of the character testimonies, there were too many. But I will tell you this: Cosima was using those testimonies to paint a picture.
When she called Mercy to the stand, it was exclusively to tell the story of Neal grounding that really horrible haunting that nearly killed him a few months ago.
Jasper told the story of the corn wolves, and how Neal didn’t hesitate to shoot one dead when it came for him, but also that the other two were living happy lives out at the emporium.
Beau would have talked for hours about Neal and the many creatures he’d rescued and added to his collection. Cosima had to gently remove him from the front of the room because he kept saying, “Oh just one more thing, I haven’t told them about the (insert fantastically dangerous magical creature here)”
When Beverly took the stand, Cosima asked her questions exclusively about Julian. Specifically about Emily Glinwood. Remember her? The woman with the parasite who was making her kill people?
“How did Julian know Emily Glinwood?” Cosima asked.
“They were old friends,” Beverly said. “They were close because they both struggled with something inside them that made them potentially dangerous.”
“What can you tell us about Emily Glinwood’s death?”
Beverly cleared her throat. “She was a brilliant doctor. Saved a lot of lives, contributed a lot of research. She had a parasite that made her totally brilliant, but also slowly turned her into a something other than herself. When she realized she was becoming dangerous, she called Julian to uphold an old promise.”
“What promise was that?” Cosima asked.
“He swore he’d be the one to kill her. Rather than become something other than herself.”
“And did he?”
“Was that hard for him do you think?”
“Of course,” Beverly said. “No one wants to end a friend’s life. But Julian understood the fear of losing yourself, and the fear of hurting people you love. He wanted there to be another way, but there wasn’t. He saved her the best he could.”
It was glorious.
In story after story, Cosima painted a picture of a dangerous world, and the people who protect it. It left out a great deal of how it feels to live in that world — the terror, the uncertainty, the endless driving — but it was true. I know because for some of those stories, I was there.
The prosecution was helpless against them. Heller simply didn’t know enough about how the hunting world works to ask any questions to make Neal look bad.
“Would you call Neal a violent person?” he asked Mercy and she gave him a deeply withering look.
“He is a hunter,” she said. “He’s violent when he has to be. But no truly violent person can clear the dead from a space. That takes intuition, and sensitivity.”
Silas Walther was one of the last people Cosima brought to the stand.
I wasn’t sure how it was going to go — in my head I’d always aligned the Walthers more with the Allens than with the Hawthornes.
“How do you know Neal and Julian Hawthorne?” Cosima asked when Silas was settled on the bar stool at the front of the room.
“I was a sort of mentor to them when they were first learning the ropes. Brought them on their first hunts.”
“Were they good students?” Cosima asked.
Silas cracked a smile. “No,” he said. “Damn near impossible to teach. Thought they had all the answers. Never followed directions. We tried to teach those boys to just put these things down and move on to the next thing, but that was never good enough for them.”
Silas sighed and rolled his eyes. “They think they’re Jane Goodall,” he said and our half of the room laughed.
“Is Neal a good hunter?” Cosima asked.
“Best in the business,” Silas said without a moment of hesitation. “Doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together, but when he gets his teeth in a hunt he doesn’t let it go until it’s solved.”
“What about Julian?”
Silas sighed. “Julian’s — was — the brains of the operation. Totally clear minded. Good kid through and through.”
Never have I ever imagined that I would feel warm and fuzzy feelings towards Silas Walther.
Also — note that present-tense-to-past-tense correction when Silas was talking about Julian. Everyone was briefed on the whole, Ace’s people think Julian’s dead situation last night over the phone.
“Did you know about Julian’s ability to shapeshift?”
Silas shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “He had it under control. Never came up.”
“So why do you think Merl and Rudy Allen decided to kill him for it?” Cosima asked, and Silas looked distinctly uncomfortable.
“I’ve known Merl and Rudy a long time,” he said. “I count them friends of mine. I was truly sorry to hear Merl was gone.”
He took a pause before going on. “I always sympathize with hunters who kill cryptids indiscriminately. Partially because it’s just not practical to let them all live — every creature we keep alive has to be cared for, fed, housed. We just don’t have the resources. But partially because we see a lot of shit out there. Scary, violent shit. I can’t fault people for taking a hard line against these things.”
He took another long pause.
“What I makes me sour is that Merl and Rudy Allen have known those boys since they were kids. They didn’t like ‘em much, and I can’t blame them for that. They had two entirely opposing views of the world. And I can’t promise that if I’d seen Julian change, I’d be totally comfortable with that. But having known those boys most of their lives, I think I’d have paused to ask for an explanation. Not just rounded up a crew and hunted him like any other monster. In this community we owe each other more than that.”
I’m not even going to comment because I have not forgotten that Silas put Cara through a rift. But still. The room was totally with him.
Cosima said, “No further questions,” and the prosecution had nothing particularly interesting to add. Silas clapped Neal’s shoulder on the way back to sit down.
Neal was the last person to take the stand.
Now, I thought we’d sorta agreed that bringing Neal up there was maybe not in our best interest, but after Silas’ testimony Neal and Cosima put their heads together and next thing I knew Cosima was calling him her final witness.
“Neal, I’m not going to ask you to recount the events of that day,” she said when he was settled in front of everyone. “We all have a pretty good idea of what happened. Merl killed Julian. You killed Merl. Correct?”
“Yeah,” Neal said.
“The prosecution posits that because Julian was a monster, you killed Merl for no reason, but I think that today we’ve heard that Julian was much more than just a monster. Which means that when you killed Merl, that was justice being served. Do you agree with that?”
Neal sighed. “No,” he said. “I don’t think that kind of justice is productive. I wish I hadn’t pulled the trigger like that.”
I’m not convinced that’s true hahahaha but it was the right thing to say.
Cosima went on: “The biggest claims against you right now are that you’re 1. dangerous, violent, and out of control, and that you’ll kill again and 2. that you’re incapable of making the hard decisions necessary to keep the world safe, which is your job as a hunter. Do you think either of those claims are true?”
“No,” Neal said.
“Neal,” Cosima said, and her voice was so gentle. “Who is Nolan?”
Our side of the room froze.
“Nolan ah,” he cleared his throat and fidgeted, fluffing his hair. “Nolan was our older brother.”
“Was?” Cosima asked.
“Yeah, he um, he died… three years ago.” And then, “three years, two months, four days ago.”
“And how did he die?”
“He was bitten by a rot snake,” Neal said.
“What does a rot snake do?” Cosima asked. “What makes them so dangerous?”
Neal glanced at Rook and swallowed. “They have a very venomous bite, which causes people to uh —” He glanced up towards the ceiling. “It causes their victims to begin to decompose. But because rot snakes prefer live meals, the venom doesn’t kill them. So essentially, if you’ve been bitten by a rot snake, your flesh begins to rot in front of your eyes. It can take nearly a week to fully kill you, but you will feel the whole thing.”
“Is there a cure?”
Cosima let the pause stretch out for gravity before finally asking, “So what did you do?”
Neal was picking at his frayed sleeve, and finally looked up to meet her eyes. “I stabbed him in the heart with a hunting knife.”
“So would you say you’re a stranger to making hard decisions?”
“Then why didn’t you kill Julian when it became clear that he could be a threat?”
“Because —” and here he had to pause because his voice cracked. “Because I knew he wasn’t a threat. I trusted him.”
“That night in the woods, when he changed,” Cosima said.. “How is it possible that no one got hurt?”
Neal sighed. I could see that he knew what she wanted him to say, but it was annoying him that he had to say it. “I distracted him so that everyone could get away.”
“I threw rocks at his big head until he decided to chase me instead of any of those other suckers.”
“Because I promised I’d never let him hurt anyone.”
Cosima paused to let that sink in.
“So you’re saying that the person who they want us to believe was a rabid beast held his composure for fifteen years, even under threat of death, and the only time he ever lost control, you ensured that he hurt no one?”
Neal sighed and fell back into his seat. “Correct.”
There was a murmuring through the audience. We all thought Cosima was done, but she wasn’t, not quite.
“Neal, what happened to the rot snake?”
“The snake that killed your brother Nolan?”
“As far as I know it’s at the emporium,” Neal said, clearly uncertain as to why she was asking.
“You didn’t kill it?”
“No,” Neal said. “We’d managed to subdue it, and weren’t in any more danger.” And then, when Cosima waited for him to say something more, he added, “It’s just an animal, like any other. It didn’t know better. They’re not monsters, they’re just hungry.”
“So why did you kill Merl Allen?”
You could have heard a mouses footsteps. Finally, Neal said, “He knew better.” And then, less certainly, “or, he should have.”
“No further questions,” Cosima said.
I shared a smile with Beverly at that point. I swear I thought it was over, and we’d won. I thought we were all in the clear. I thought there was nothing the prosecution could do.
I thought the worst they could do was bring up how the Hawthorne’s parents died, but I knew Cosima and Neal had gone over to how to handle those questions. I thought we were home free.
I was wrong.
Heller took his time pulling out a little manila file folder and crossing the room to Neal.
“Will you describe to the jury what’s happening in this picture?” he said.
Neal opened the folder uncertainly, then said, “It’s a still from security footage. I’m getting gas.”
“And who’s in the car?”
“Shiloh and Julian,” Neal replied and I felt the beginnings of alarm curdling my stomach.
“You can see them both in the image?”
“And there’s a date on the bottom of the image, correct?” Heller said.
Neal closed his eyes and I felt my body get all cold with panic.
“Yeah,” Neal said.
“What day was that photo taken?” Heller asked.
Neal took a deep breath. “Last week.”
Heller smiled triumphantly. “Mr. Hawthorne, is Julian alive?”
The whole Ace side of the room gasped. Several people exclaimed aloud.
Neal only looked at me. He mouthed go.
But how could I leave? I couldn’t get up in front of everyone and just walk away. I was frozen in my seat, and Neal had to answer the question.
“Yeah, he’s alive,” Neal admitted.
“No further questions,” Heller said and he let the room erupt in chaos.
Beverly gestured frantically at Cooper to get me out of there (though from what I could tell no one had given me a second thought) but it was Rook that actually grabbed my hand and pulled me across the room and out the door.
Which I of course hated.
“Wait,” I said, trying to push past him to get back to Neal, but Rook physically blocked my way.
“Neal wanted you out of there,” he said, and when I looked up at him to fight, I saw his face and I realized the entire ocean of shit that exists between us, and how much of that shit is entirely my fault. Which is to say, all of it. All of it is my fault.
“They’ll be okay,” Rook promised and then it was quiet, and in that spare moment of quiet I remembered that I really like this boy that I’ve been brutally ghosting for like months, I like him, and I want to touch him, and all this whole other, unexpected kind of panic came out of nowhere and round-housed me right in the temple lmfao.
The dam was for sure going to break any moment. “Rook —”
“Let me go grab someone,” he interrupted, and ducked back into the bar, effectively shredding my terrible heart. That’s not fair. I shredded my own heart lmfao this is 100% my own fault.
He returned moments later with Cooper and Cosima, and they pretty much hustled us both towards the car.
“They have to know that Julian being alive now makes them murdering him no less true,” Cosima said as we pulled out of the parking lot.
But it’s different now and we all know it.
Tomorrow we have to make final statements, and then the jury will vote. This was not the revelation we were hoping to end on.
“We should have just told everyone from the start,” Cosima just said. She’s leaning over her paper work, and she’s looking a more tattered than usual. “If I’d known —”
But it’s too late now. Now we just have tomorrow.