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lilansui

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lilansui last won the day on October 13 2013

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  1. lilansui

    Chapter 1

    A Day in the Life of... Spring had brought a fresh outlook at Jade Entertainment. Suk Dan, C.E.O. and one of the main shareholders of the growing company entered his new office, a spring in his step. The company had flourished in the past few years. Now managing a string of over twenty actors, fifteen musicians and producing content. Jade Entertainment was growing, it was his job to keep that growth silent and committed, for the sake of his beloved partner and the Rebellion band. Dan patted his ancient desk, tracing the carved wood for a minute, before his gaze redirected to the windows showing off their new location. Jade Entertainment now owned its own lot in Cheongdam. The company had moved into the fifteen-floor building he spent a year designing. A hectic year, Dan thought with a smile. His thoughts on the other project he had kept a secret from his partner, Kim Jaehan. He couldn’t wait to reveal that project too. A knock came on his door, and he turned to see his longtime friend, lawyer and adviser walk in to the office. Mr. Chang was holding a folder and smiling at him, as he looked around the impressive office. “You surprise me, old friend,” Mr. Chang said in greeting. “Did you let Jae help you decorate?” Dan chuckled and shook his head, hands in his pocket. He turned to his left, taking in the comfortable couches in the corner, complete with coffee table, and work space. Set away from his own desk, giving Dan enough room to have people come in and out of his office, and even have meetings on the conference table a few feet away without disturbing the comfortable sitting area. “He likes to hang out in my office, so I made sure he would be comfortable,” Dan said, a small smile on his lips at the thought of Jae. “Is he coming around today?” Mr. Chang asked, tapping on the folder he held. Dan shook his head, glancing at the time on his watch, an anniversary gift from Jae. It was four o’clock, almost time to leave the office. “No, he’s busy with the café. I’m meeting him for dinner later.” “Oh good,” Mr. Chang said, moving to take a seat at the meeting table a few feet away from Dan. He opened the folder and pushed it to Dan who came to see what Mr. Chang had brought him. “Your CSR team brought this project to our attention. It is a fashion show competition meant to give an opportunity to aspiring talents. The company involved tagged Jade Entertainment because of your very independent growth. The CSR team was not sure you should take it on. I think you should. I told them I’d talk to you about it.” “Why do you think we should do it?” Dan asked. “You’re constantly trying to work CSR into your budget,” Mr. Chang said. “Sponsoring the competition gives you a platform to leverage some of your newer faces: actors and actresses can model the competition fashion designs. You can feature music for the newcomers. Plan a grand concert with Rebellion. It’s a win-win game for the company and the organization seeking your support.” Dan loved his best friend’s matter-of-fact sense of business. Without Mr. Chang, Jade Entertainment would not be so prosperous. “Where do I sign?” Dan asked, knowing Mr. Chang would not be here without having done the necessary research and preparation. Mr. Chang smiled and turned the page to the right page for his signature. Dan took the pen Mr. Chang offered and signed his name, and then Mr. Chang did the same. Dan stretched his arms above his head, letting out a soft sigh. He had spent hours on more complex troubles with distribution today. He dropped his arms and checked the time on his watch again. “I should get going,” Dan said. “Going to pick Jae from the café?” Mr. Chang asked, getting up. “Yes, I wanted to see progress on the building he’s been working on. I heard it was finally complete and running. I wanted to celebrate with him,” Dan said. “Congratulations to you both,” Mr. Chang said, knowing the amount of effort Dan had expended to make sure Jae got the best for his Seoul project. “Jae is lucky to have you.” “On the contrary,” Dan said, moving to take his coat from the armchair where he had left it earlier. He wore it fast. “The luck is mine to have him, Mr. Chang. I’ll leave the legal in that sponsorship to you. Make sure we don’t lose anything. I’m still a businessman here.” “Yes,” Mr. Chang took up his folder and followed Dan to the door, and out into the hallway leading to the elevator. Mr. Chang pressed the elevator button and as they waited, he gave Dan a short glance. “In a week, I’ll have news on our Japan project.” Dan studied him for a minute, hope blooming. It was a year since their meeting with N-Sang Entertainment. That meeting had led to the end of their Rand Agency case, but there was more to the problem. Jade Entertainment needed someone with strong connections and a workable Japanese network. Mr. Chang’s project involved finding this precious partner in Tokyo; the search was long and hard. It had already taken them a whole year. Dan had almost lost hope. “Really?” he asked Mr. Chang now, entering the elevator when the doors opened. He pressed the basement button, as he turned to face Mr. Chang. “Are you sure?” “Quite,” Mr. Chang said. “I’ve reached out to one of our college friends. He was reluctant at first, but my firm has convinced him. I’m to meet him on Friday.” “That’s two days from now,” Dan noted. “Make sure to vet him thoroughly.” He never took chances with Jaehan or the band’s interests. Mr. Chang knew that. “We are,” Mr. Chang nodded. “Which is why I told you I’ll have news in a week.” The elevators opened in the basement and Dan smiled at Mr. Chang. “That is promising news,” Dan said. “I look forward to the results.” Mr. Chang walked him to the black car waiting a few feet away from the elevator. Dan thanked Mr. Chang when he opened the back passenger door for him. “Greet your wife for me, Mr. Chang.” Dan said, as he settled in the backseat. “We should have dinner at our place soon.” “I will tell her, and I look forward to dinner with you and Jae,” Mr. Chang said. “Have a great evening.” “You too, Mr. Chang,” Dan said. Mr. Chang closed the door and stepped away. Dan settled back as his driver took off heading to Garosu-gil and Kim’s café. A year ago, Dan had stood in a loud gym surrounded by Rebellion’s fans, and yelled out his love for Kim Jaehan. It was interesting now to think of that love and how it morphed and aged like fine wine with time. Every minute they stayed together, living, staying apart, they grew. Dan could not remember a life without Kim Jaehan, nor did he want to remember. Rebellion was Jae’s baby, his most important thing, after his immediate family. Dan often teased Jae that Rebellion was their child. Knowing this, and the love they both carried for the band, Dan understood what Japan meant for Jae. The possibility of Japan would send Jae and his bandmates over the moon. Preparing an album for the Japanese market would mean a lot of time in Tokyo for Rebellion. A new aspect added to Dan and Jae’s personal relationship. Rebellion tours were murder on him. Dan hated sleeping in their bed alone. Dan didn’t want to imagine living so far apart from each other for months. Yet, he knew that he would make it happen if Jae wanted it. A soft sigh escaped his lips and he reached for his phone when it buzzed a message. Checking the screen, he frowned when he saw a message form Ken, Jae’s bodyguard. “Head to the ArchSea straight,” Ken wrote. “I’ll bring Jae over, 2 many fans @KCafé.” Dan chuckled, and opened his Instagram account. He was not surprised to find Jae had posted a photo of himself in a meeting with Kim’s Cafe staff. His message was enough to drive his entire fan base to go searching for him. Ken would have his work cut out for him. “Wang,” Dan called his driver. “Let’s head to the ArchSea direct.” “Yes, Sir.” “Thank you.” **** “Keep up with social media,” Jae said, holding a mug with his name on the surface. “These are lovely. Let’s collect everyone who’s posted purchase on social. Feature them on our feed.” “What about having events here?” Phillip, Kim Café’s social marketer, asked. “We can create them for the weekends, Saturday afternoon or Sunday.” “I’ll leave it up to you,” Jae agreed, placing the mug on the coffee table between them. He loved listening to Kim’s Café staff discuss strategies. Their progress in Seoul had Kim’s Café on the map and the Garosu-gil store was now head office, as it was making more than Jae’s beloved Gong branch. It was thanks to the new building, Jae decided. He had worked hard to create a neighboring businesses synergy. A bookstore next door coupled as a music store. Jae made sure the cafe ran deals with the bookstore to pull customers to the café. Kim’s café took up the ground floor and the first floor of his building, his business manager’s advice. Ground floors pulled in more customers. Jae had rented space to a hair salon on the third floor and a street fashion boutique owned by upcoming designer, Lihan, on the fourth floor. He was in good company. Jae had kept the second floor as a VIP lounge/business office for use by his bandmates, Dan, or any of their friends who needed the space. “Can you make an appearance at one of the weekend events?” Phillip asked, cutting into his thoughts. “It would make these events super special, of course. We understand that you wouldn’t make it each time.” “I’ll have to check my schedule with Harry,” Jae said, getting his phone. Harry controlled all band appearances. Jae liked to consult with him first before he did anything outside of Jade Entertainment, or Harry made him consult. “Of course,” Phillip wrote notes in his pad. Jae sent Harry a message then accessed his personal Instagram account. He waved the Café’s manager, Suyi, the Sale’s Rep., Kwan and Phillip over to his armchair. “Let’s take a selfie,” Jae said, holding out his phone with his left hand. Phillip leaned over the armchair getting close over Jae. Suyi crouched beside Jae, while Kwan perched on the arm. Jae held his smile, conscious of everyone crowding in on him. “One, two, three,” Jae counted, then took the snap and let out a relieved breath when it came out good and they didn’t have to take another. His team returned to their seats and Jae concentrated on getting his breathing back to normal. Jae wrote a message to go with the photo. ‘Touching base with @KimsCafe amazing staff who make it happen. #TeamKC #Bestteam #powermeet #kimscafe #theplacetobe #coffeehouse Jae posted the photo, placed his phone on the table, and took the sales report from Suyi, the manager. “We’re in the black, though there are two products on our menu not doing well…” Suyi continued. Jae was engrossed in sales numbers when his longtime bodyguard and friend entered the lounge. Jae noted the frown on Ken’s forehead in an instant. “What?” Jae asked, closing the folder he held and placing it on the table. “The picture you posted sparked interest,” Ken said. “The café is packed. We need to leave before it gets worse.” Jae glanced at his phone. “Well, that should boost sales tonight and tomorrow,” Jae said with a smile. “Dan was to come over.” “He’s heading to the restaurant, that will be easier for you,” Ken said. “Okay,” Jae stood, and stretched his arms above his head. The tension on his shoulders eased, and he rubbed his right shoulder absently and turned to Suyi and Kwan. “Talk to the chef about the rolls and the cinnamon cookies. The recipes must need tweaking. Ask him if he needs help with it,” Jae said, taking his red jacket from the armchair. He wore it fast and picked up his phone. “Email Tae Jang the sales reports. Highlight the problem areas. Phillip, I’ll get back to you on appearances for the events. Rebellion is closing up the last of the Messy album concerts. I might have downtime before we hit the studio again. We’ll see where we stand.” “I’ll send you a reminder,” Phillip said, “latest Friday afternoon.” “Great,” Jae nodded and handed Ken his phone. He checked his pockets, making sure he had nothing in them. He got his wallet from his back jeans pocket and handed it to Ken too. Once he was sure he had nothing in his pockets, he turned to Ken. “I’m ready,” he said. “See you, boss,” Suyi, Phillip and Kwan chorused. Jae waved at them and headed out of the lounge on the second floor of the café. They went down the corridor undisturbed, going down the stairs they got to the first floor. The tables there were packed, the patrons concentrating on their coffee. Those who looked up and saw him took pictures on their phones, but none attempted to rush him. He loved such encounters most, subdued and supportive. Ken wrapped an arm around his waist as they made it to the ground floor. Screams filled the room, fans rushing him in a frenzy. Jae trusted Ken to get him outside and into his car. The key was to remain calm. Jae took pens and signed paper, napkins, hats, t-shirts, paper cups, mugs. Ken moved him on a steady course to the exit door. Outside, they ran into the more relentless fans. These ones requested no autographs. No, they took photos and videos with powerful cameras. They took pictures in his face. They wouldn’t move, even when Ken’s two assistants asked nicely. Jae sighed when the two security assistants resulted to moving them bodily. Jae allowed Ken to lead him straight to his van, and let out a relieved sigh when he made it into the back of his black van without incident. Ken helped him inside and one of the guards from the café held the door lock until Ken could board the front passenger seat. Jae watched fans press against the car, heart pounding when they pressed on the guard holding the lock. Once, a fan managed to open the door and climbed in to the car with him. Jae sighed as Ken settled up front and the driver started moving the car forward. Ken turned to face him, handing him his phone and wallet back. “Tip that guard at the café,” Jae said, looking back to see the guard swallowed by his excited fans. “I did,” Ken promised him. Jae nodded and removed his jacket. He sat back as the driver took on the task of driving out of the parking lot without injuring anyone. “You should have warned me,” Ken said from the front, when they joined the main street. “It was inspired,” Jae explained. “The café needs attention.” “Still,” Ken insisted. “Warn me next time.” Jae smiled then because Ken would keep up the statement until he promised to do as asked. Meeting Ken’s gaze in the rearview mirror, Jae promised. “I will warn you next time,” Jae said, just as his phone rang. It was Harry Yoon, Rebellion’s manager. Ken appeased for the moment Jae answered Harry’s call. “Why don’t you ever warn anyone when you’re about to make trouble explode?” “We handled it,” Jae said, smiling at a stone-faced Ken. “I have Ken with me and his team.” “Is that the point?” Harry demanded. “The website is flooded with questions about your next appearance at Kim’s Café. What should we say?” “Talk to Phillip, he handles the café’s social.” “Jae.” “Harry.” “Kim Jaehan,” Harry said, once again exasperation in his voice. “Let me know next time.” “It’s my business.” “Yes. Rebellion is too,” Harry said. “You need an assistant I can yell at for these things.” Jae bit his bottom lip at the mention of assistants. He couldn’t help thinking about his past assistant, the man who kidnapped him for a little over twenty-four hours. Jae remembered every minute of his hands tied to that awful bed in a basement. “I’m sorry,” Harry said on the other end. “I shouldn’t have brought it up.” “It’s fine, Harry. I’m over it,” Jae said. I’m fine. Jae reminded his speeding heart. “If you really thing I need one, can’t you find someone in house?” “I’ll talk to Dan about it,” Harry promised. “I’ll talk to your Phillip too. Go to dinner, Jae. We’ll handle your flood of love from the world.” “Are you sure?” Jae teased. “Quite,” Harry said in a gentle tone. Jae frowned at the sound of it. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that note in Harry’s voice. It intrigued him but he didn’t have the courage to investigate further. “Goodnight, Harry,” Jae murmured. “Goodnight, Jae,” Harry said. Jae ended the call and sat staring at his phone. His thoughts lingered on Harry until a message came on his phone. ‘BBQ chicken or Steak?’ ‘I wanna say steak.’ Jae thought about the photo shoot he had in the morning with a fashion magazine and sighed. ‘But make it chicken.’ ‘Interview?’ ‘Photoshoot.’ ‘No alcohol then.’ ‘Sigh.’ Jae sent a funny gif to Dan. ‘Hurry, I’m starving.’ Jae smiled and looked up to find Ken watching him. “We’re five minutes out,” Ken said. Jae thanked him and spent those five minutes texting Dan about his day. Getting into the super private ArchSea restaurant took a few minutes. The restaurant had strict security measures. Something Jae appreciated compared to his café in Garosu-gil. No crowd would manage entry here. Ken left him at the entrance. The host led Jae to a private dining room upstairs where he found Dan already seated at the table. Jae closed the door behind him and walked straight into Dan’s arms when Dan stood. Jae wrapped his arms around him and hugged him tight, burying his face into Dan’s chest. He closed his eyes when Dan sunk gentle fingers into his hair. “My poor baby,” Dan murmured, stroking fingers through Jae’s hair. “Hard day?” “Mm…the longest,” Jae complained, feeling the weight of it lifting already. “I didn’t get to see you even once.” Dan rocked him from side to side. “Here I am now,” Dan murmured. Jae breathed Dan in and almost mourned the fact that they weren’t home. Then his stomach growled and they both chuckled. “Let’s get you food first,” Dan said, pulling out a chair for him. Jae kissed Dan’s cheek and sat down, reaching for the glass of water already on the table. He drank deep, noting Dan’s smile, then he placed his glass on the table and wiped his mouth, feeling refreshed. **** Dan watched Jae pop a grape into his mouth, shifting in his seat so that Jae faced him. “I’ve been listening to music from Turkey.” “Turkish music?” Dan asked, lifting a brow in question. Jae had the ability to surprise him in a moment. “Yes,” Jae said, eating another grape. “I get this energy from it, like it’s full of mystery and old, old secrets. That energy is injected straight through to my bones. I can’t get enough of it.” “And?” Dan asked, fascinated. He leaned his elbows on the table, listening to Jae. “I don’t know. Something is growing in me. Something I can’t define but I want to explore, like having sex for the first time.” “Really?” Dan took a grape from Jae’s pile and popped it into his mouth, loving the tangy burst of taste in his mouth. “What was that like for you?” “Awkward,” Jae confessed, wrinkling his nose. “Messy. I bumped into furniture, he bit my lip and then we did it on the carpet, and I got rug burn.” “Rug burn is a good sign, right?” Dan asked on a chuckle. “No.” Jae shook his head. “It was weird, and too fast. When it was over, I wondered what was so special about the whole thing.” “Baby, your first lover sucked.” “Not his fault,” Jae shrugged. “I was curious, but didn’t care a bit about him. I sucked for him too.” “So, how does listening to Turkish music remind you of that weird experience?” Dan asked, brushing soft strands of hair away from Jae’s left eye. “Well, since it was so bland that first time, I felt like I was in a quest to discover if sex could be more.” “Did you find that more?” “You know the answer to that, Dan.” “Do I?” Dan asked, taking in the grape Jae brought to his lip. “Better than me,” Jae said, his voice low, turning sexy. Dan ate the grape Jae pushed into his mouth and took his hand. “Why are you really listening to Turkish music?” Dan prompted, touching the callus on Jae’s thumb from playing guitar. “I’m searching for inspiration,” Jae smiled. “What I’ve heard excites me. I love the movement of their music, the strings, and the lilt of the language. Would it be weird for you if we travelled to Istanbul?” “Not at all,” Dan squeezed Jae’s fingers. “We can spend a week there. We can find a place to stay, and immerse ourselves in Turkish culture.” Dan leaned closer and whispered into Jae’s ear. “Find out if we can make our sex life more.” Jae leaned into him too with a soft laugh. Picking up his glass of red wine, he took a healthy sip. “Going home right now will definitely make it more, Dan,” Jae said, his sexy voice making Dan push back his chair and get up. “Let’s go,” Dan said, taking Jae’s glass and placing it on the table. He grabbed Jae’s hand and pulled him up. “What about the bill?” Jae asked, taking his phone and Dan’s before they forgot both here. “Taken care of,” Dan said, leading him out of the restaurant. Ken drove Dan’s car this time, with Dan’s driver taking on Jae’s van. They drove in opposite directions, the van heading to the new Jade Entertainment offices. Ken headed to Jae’s house in the suburbs of Pyeonchang-dong. Dan had found the house for Jae years ago, when Rebellion returned from their self-imposed exile abroad. Those days Jae had spent most of his time focused on making the band a success in his home country. He had no time for anything else, not his family, not even Dan’s obvious infatuation at the time. Dan smiled now thinking about it. Those days, he had not imagined they would end up together like this, holding each other in love. Dan wrapped an around Jae’s shoulders and pulled him closer so that Jae rested his head on his chest. He smiled when Jae simply sighed and got comfortable, closing his eyes in rest for the ride. When they got home, Jae had fallen asleep on Dan. Ken turned off the car, and was about to get out when Dan asked, “Anything unusual today?” “Other than the fan invasion at Kim’s Café, nothing,” Ken said, meeting his gaze in the rearview mirror. “He’s kept a low profile of late. No trouble, Sir.” “That’s news,” Dan said, his gaze thoughtful. “Has he met Jung or Andre for lunch?” “No. They are meeting during their combined schedules,” Ken shrugged, “for about a month now.” “And his sister, So Jin?” “He is calling her often, but she’s been too busy to meet,” Ken said. Dan nodded and opened his door. “Thanks for taking care of him when I’m not there, Ken.” “It’s my job,” Ken said, also opening his door. “Sir, if I might offer an opinion.” “Sure,” Dan said, holding Jae’s head steady, as he got out of the car. “I know the last assistant he had was a disaster,” Ken said. “Still, Jae needs help keeping up. It’s hard to keep track of everything he needs to do. I’m helping out, but that takes time out of what I need to do for him.” “Do you have a suggestion?” Dan asked, reaching into the car, and picking up Jae. He took great pride in the fact that he could carry Jae into their home. Ken closed the car door and hurried after him to open the front door. “There is a lady working at Jade Entertainment’s mailroom,” Ken said. “She’s a team leader there, and has worked as long as I’ve held my job with Jae.” “You mean Angela,” Dan said, drawing the name from months of reading through his staff lists. He was particularly interested in team leaders at Jade Entertainment. They were responsible for keeping projects moving and on schedule, so he made an effort to know them. Angela was a great worker, but she never tried to rise higher, and seemed content with managing the mailroom. “She could use a boost in income,” Ken said, as they went up the stairs to the master bedroom. “She’s qualified. I checked the requirements posted for the job last time. She’s not had experience working in close contact with someone like Jae, but she manages a team of ten, so that should compensate for that.” “Ken.” Dan smiled when Ken opened the master bedroom door and Dan entered, heading to their large bed. He laid Jae on the left side of the bed, and straightened up, removing his jacket. “Before you ask, yes, I know her personally,” Ken said, keeping his voice low when Jae shifted on the bed curling to his side. “She is taking care of her sister who has a little girl. If you want, I’ll send you her background information, and all the checks I’ve done since.” Dan studied Ken for a minute, and then nodded. “Fine, have her meet me in my office first thing in the morning,” Dan said. “You understand what she has to go through? There’s Junghee, Andre and Harry now. After the last incident, none of them will be kind.” “I understand,” Ken said with a wide smile, heading out of the master bedroom. “I promise to explain it all to Angie.” “Good night, Ken,” Dan said, amused when Ken took the time to close the master bedroom doors. Chuckling under his breath, he turned to Jae who was now clutching a pillow on the bed. “Are you going to say anything?” Dan asked, removing his tie, and unbuttoning his shirt. He’d known Jae woke up the moment he placed him on the bed. “You handled it so well,” Jae said. “I’ve never heard Ken talk that much, plus, he kept calling you sir. He sounded very determined. I didn’t want to ruin it by being awake.” “You know Angela?” Dan asked. “Not well enough,” Jae said, shifting to his left to watch Dan strip out of his trousers. “I’ve seen her in passing.” “And?” Dan asked, perching on the side of the bed, meeting Jae’s gaze. Jae sighed and lay back on the bed, pressing his fists into his eyes. “Everyone thinks I need someone helping me,” Jae said. “I know I do, but—” “It’s hard to trust,” Dan guessed, because it was difficult for him to think of anyone new that close to Jae again. “Assistants get in,” Jae said with a sigh. “She’ll have access to this place, to my life, just like that bastard.” “She’s not that bastard,” Dan pointed out, though it pained him to say it. “I know.” Jae dropped his hands to his side. “What should I do?” Dan reached out to brush the back of his hand over Jae’s left cheek. “One step at a time, Chagiya,” Dan murmured. “We’ll meet her and see what she has to say. If you don’t feel comfortable with her, then we forget it.” Jae studied him for a moment, and then nodded. “Okay,” Jae said. “Okay.” Dan smiled. “Let’s go take a shower. You can tell me more about your inspiring Turkish music.” Jae chuckled and allowed Dan to pull him up and out of their bed. In minutes, they were too busy making out in the shower to talk. Instead, they communicated in the age-old language of love. Dan gasped with pleasure as he sank deep into Jae, pressing him hard against the wall as they both drowned in pleasure. It was heaven. *** Across town, an exhausted Andre rang the doorbell at an apartment complex. He held a pack of beer with his left hand. When the door opened, he braced his free hand on the doorjamb, staring at the woman standing in the doorway. Her hair damp from a shower, she smiled at him with welcome. “Noona, I’m tired and hungry,” Andre said, returning her smile. So Jin smiled and pulled him into her apartment. When the door closed, Andre pulled her into his arms and kissed her like a man starved. In that moment, all he could think was how important she was becoming to him. Nothing else mattered, especially when she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. ***
  2. Jae and Dan are going steady, their love stronger than ever even as they face new challenges in their shared life. Rebellion has found a steady footing in Seoul, but is now faced with the prospect of expanding into the Japanese market. Andre has a secret that might break his relationship with Jae and ruin Rebellion. Junghee falls in love with a newcomer. And Harry is no longer able to hide what he feels for Jae.
  3. I've always loved dialogue most in a story, I know that's weird to say, but when I'm reading, I get excited when two characters I really love are having a conversation. Great article!
  4. Happy Birthday!!! :wizard::wizard: I hope it is full of good luck and that your year brings you lots of blessings!!!

    1. asamvav111

      asamvav111

      Thank you Suililan. You too have a wonderful year ahead. I am sorry for this super late reply, but I check GA every blue moon now. Take care. God bless. 

  5. lilansui

    Chapter 33

    Matt and Jett, I will admit to not giving them the spotlight they needed, and will consider a snippet on them, but in all sense, they always appeared according to Rory's view or Milan's perspective. Their coming together would not have shown up, unless Rory saw it, so Matt mentioning that he is choosing to give Jet time, instead of mating with Jet as their nature demands, based on Rory's reaction to Milan, I thought that would be enough of a guideline to showcase his choice. I suppose ***if*** I was to jump into Portento for another ride, which would have to start elsewhere and end up in the town, I'd focus a bit more on mates, and how they work, and what finding your mate in Portento is like. You're right. I might not have made it as clear as this: Matt, who is eighteen, would have known Jet is his mate when he turned eighteen. As for Jet, who is the same age as Milan (seventeen) he would have known when he was eighteen too. However, since Matt already knows Jet is his mate, he would choose to claim him or get to know him, or wait until Jet knew too. ***Thanks for giving me stuff to think about and brood about, and work out, Geoffrey. Hehehe. **hug** **hug** The feels were overflowing here. Hmm...want the job? Celeb mention status...here we go, Sui exclusive on The Morgan Lore passport source. "....the guardians relied on Geemeedee's stellar skills. He provided documentation fit to pass through human customs. No one knew Geemeedee's past, or why he was so good at his job. No one questioned it, because he always came through. So, on the day of their flight, Rory received his passports at the airport, through the primary guardian. Rory glanced at the picture on his passport and winced. 'Should have taken a new one,' he told Milan, as they joined the boarding line. Milan peaked at the picture and laughed. 'You look cute, definitely like a Gerard Smith.' 'Stop teasing me!' Hahahaha... Well, my most favorite thing about this story is all your conversation and speculation and thoughts, and commentary...I loved it all, loved joining it, and I hope my TML muse will come back from vacationing in the pacific islands too and we can write some more.
  6. lilansui

    Chapter 32

    Curiouser, and curiouser....hahaha..now that it's over, I wonder too, just kidding. She's a tad frightening to let near rebelling teenagers.
  7. lilansui

    Chapter 31

    Lols!!! I love it.
  8. And, it's 'Fin' for The Morgan Lore.  

    1. GanymedeRex

      GanymedeRex

      Thank you for an absolutely wonderful story.   Each chapter release made my day.

  9. lilansui

    Chapter 33

    Chapter 33 Two Hearts and a Lifetime Sitting in Rory’s car after the town meeting, Milan took in a breath and then another, his gaze on the closed doors of the town hall. He looked at Rory who sat leaning over the steering wheel looking out into the evening. It was taking more than a minute to process the last two hours. “I wasn’t expecting all of that,” Milan confessed into the silence. “I mean, everyone sort of hugging me and talking at once, and all those hugs. I feel like I’ve been squeezed into a pancake.” Rory burst into a short laugh. “And Iris, playing us up like some sort of celebrities. What ceremony is she’s talking about? I don’t do well with crowds, Rory.” “You did fine in there. Everyone already loves you, Milan.” “And your brother,” Milan continued, because there was no other way to call Chris. He knew Rory’s feelings towards Chris. Chris was Rory’s brother in all the ways that mattered. Milan couldn’t forget it. Chris wrapping strong arms around Milan’s thighs and lifting him up after Iris’s announcement, then running around the hall like a mad man. Milan had clutched Chris’s shoulders, bunching his t-shirt tight in case Chris dropped him. “He really likes you,” Rory said, pleased. Milan rubbed his cheeks. “At least it’s over now,” Milan said. “Yes. No more Rick.” Rory agreed. “The Swamp Lands are now one with us. Elle and Johan will help the transition. The council will handle Cade and Dolon, and all loose ends. Dad will let me know what happens, what they decide.” “What about Biosense?” “We’ll have to see what the council decides. They’re probably having a meeting right now,” Rory said, leaning over to kiss Milan’s cheek. “I’m proud of you. You handled Sanctuary’s requests well.” “What is she? Does she always listen to us? ” Milan asked, curious about the feminine voice that had invaded his thoughts in the town hall. Sanctuary’s presence felt unreal and thrilling at the same time. He was thrilled that she was part of him in a mysterious mystic way. She was definitely part of Rory, added to his strength as a thick pillar steadied a massive dome. It felt unreal to have something so powerful know his thoughts. “She’s Sanctuary,” Rory said, his voice matter of fact. “She is the town’s very pulse. I think of her as the Goddess’s messenger. She lets us know when something is going wrong in the town.” “Or when something is going well,” Milan said, intrigued even more by Sanctuary. She gave him the same vibes Iris and Grandma Asta gave him. “Yes, that too,” Rory said. “Thank you for standing with me, Milan.” Milan reached over to brush dark hair out of Rory’s eyes. Rory gave him the courage to stand at the town hall. Rory gave him courage, period. He felt as though he could take on the world and all challenges as long as Rory stayed with him. Milan’s phone buzzed and he checked the message from Ayu with a smile. ‘How did you know to send her?’ “Rowen’s found Ayu,” Milan said, showing Rory the text. “I thought it was interesting when she asked if she could pick him up. Now I know why.” Rory smiled. “Ayu’s in for a ride with that one.” “It will be interesting to watch,” Milan agreed. “I’m glad Ayu has found someone to call his here.” Rory sat back and started the car. “If you’re up to it, I want to take you somewhere.” “Where?” Milan asked, wearing his seat belt. A small part of him wished they would go back to the hot spring at the caves. He loved that place. “You’ll see,” Rory promised, pulling out onto the road, and driving away from the town hall. *** Rory drove to High Point, the highest part of Portento. High Point was a wild meadow tended by Hunter’s people and those like Iris, with old trees, tall grass and wild herbs. Its expanse ended on a high cliff that overlooked the town. Rory watched Milan’s wolf run around trees, through tall grass and wild herbs in circles. Milan was in high spirits this evening, his beautiful fur shining in the moonlight. When he came close to Rory, Milan pounced on him playfully, and then ran off. Rory ran after him, not holding back his powerful stride. He jumped on Milan, bringing him down. They rolled on the ground, and then played hard. Milan was happy. He laughed when he managed to get away from Rory and ran. He so loved to run. Rory loved watching him be so carefree and let Milan play undisturbed. High Point was Rory’s second favorite spot in Portento. He was glad that Milan was enjoying it. When Milan got tired of running around and taking in the scents of the surrounding trees, Rory took him to the smooth rocks at the edge of the high cliff. Milan’s gasp at the sight below was worth it. The streetlights looked like an avalanche of stars washing over the town, twinkling between a lush coverage of green. ‘It’s so beautiful,’ Milan told him, rubbing against Rory’s side. ‘How did you find this place?’ Rory settled on the ground, content when Milan curled close to him. ‘My mom used to bring me here. I’ve never brought anyone else before. It always felt like our place.’ ‘Oh, Rory,’ Milan pressed against him. ‘I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows this place exists. I just don’t like coming here with anyone else.’ Milan nipped Rory’s ear, then licked it. ‘Noted.’ ‘What’s noted?’ ‘That I’m not anyone else,’ Milan said, amused. Rory turned to look at Milan, his golden eyes filled with love. He curled around Milan, his bigger wolf providing warmth for Milan’s much smaller one. “All my secret places are yours, Milan,’ Rory told him, meaning it, content to watch the night dawn with Milan beside him. He didn’t know a better paradise than this one *** “Ciao, Rory,” Ilaria said in greeting early Sunday morning. She had called Milan’s Skype and gotten Rory, as Milan still slept. “You look well.” “You too, Mamma,” Rory said, adjusting the laptop on the desk, as he sat down in his chair, pushing hair out of his eyes. He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Sorry, I just woke up.” “That’s alright, Rory,” Ilaria smiled. “It’s good I got you, anyway. Your father called me last evening. He asked my husband to take on a heavy challenge. I’m to help, but I’m not sure we are up to it.” “What did he ask?” Rory asked, curious, sleep disappearing at the prospect of bringing back Milan’s parents to Portento for good. “He asks we take over Biosense leadership,” Ilaria said. “It will mean a lot more work, for me, for Kiyo. It would mean less time with Ayu and Milan.” “They have us,” Rory said. “They have my family if you need it.” Ilaria studied him for a minute, and then nodded. “You really would do anything to keep Milan happy, wouldn’t you?” “Si,” Rory said, copying Milan’s replies to Ilaria. “Anything.” Ilaria chuckled and nodded again. “I see that. I suppose that is the one thing we have in common, Rory. When I get back, will you let me discover more about your kind?” Rory stared at her, biting his lip. “In a mother in-law kind of way,” Ilaria said, pressing palms to her cheeks as she said it. “Oddio, I have to keep checking that I’m not insane every time I think of that word.” “What word?” Rory asked. “Mother in-law,” Ilaria said, her voice trembling as she spoke it. “Connor is very adamant that you two are together for good. I have now gained a son in-law, while my own son is only seventeen. It’s surreal.” “Think of it as getting double the advantage,” Rory teased her. 'Dad, thanks for pulling the Takedas back,' he sent Connor. 'We really do need them,' Connor said, then disappeared. “Don’t adopt any children until you’re both thirty,” Ilaria warned, making Rory laugh and Milan sit up on the bed. “It will turn me into Nonna too soon.” “You’ll be a cute Nonna,” Rory assured her, knowing if he got children, they would be born via surrogate. He and Milan would need to discuss that in a few years. “The prettiest one in town." “Mamma?” Milan mumbled as he got out of bed, wrapping the sheet around his shoulders as he got out of bed. Rory rolled his chair back and allowed Milan to perch on his lap. “You called so early.” “Is it?” Ilaria asked, looking at the time on her phone. “It’s one o’clock in the afternoon.” “Six a.m. for us,” Milan said, resting his head on Rory’s chest. “I could sleep some more.” “Always sleepy,” Ilaria teased. “Ayu get home okay?” “Yes,” Milan said. “He’s staying here with us.” “That’s good to hear,” Ilaria said. “Your Papa wanted to talk to you. Are you up for it?” “Yes.” Milan sat up then, perking up. “Is he better?” “Much,” Kiyo said, appearing on screen, when Ilaria shifted her laptop to her husband. “Look at you so healthy, Milan. Rory, I wanted to thank you. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am for what you’ve done for my son.” Rory squeezed Milan’s waist, and smiled at Kiyo. “I did it for both of us,” Rory said. “It wasn’t easy for me to see him in pain either.” “When I come back, maybe we can talk more?” Kiyo asked. “There is so much to learn, I will need your help.” “I’ll be happy to help, Sir,” Rory said, glad Kiyo wasn’t scowling at him. “Papa,” Kiyo corrected. “What?” “Call me, Papa,” Kiyo said. “Same as my boys, you’re one of them now, or am I wrong?” Milan grinned and Rory shook his head. “No, sir—, I mean, Papa. You’re not wrong.” “Good,” Kiyo said, with a nod, closing that topic simply. “Milan, don’t give Rory trouble. Pay attention to your studies. I heard from Ilaria and Ayu that you want to be an architect. You’ll need to keep up with your math and physics.” “Yes, Papa,” Milan said, nodding his head, insanely pleased that his father was well enough to ride him on his grades. “Now that you’re better, expect more pushing from me,” Kiyo promised him. Milan chuckled and leaned back into Rory’s arms. “When are you coming back?” Milan asked, and Rory took in both Kiyo and Ilaria’s expressions. They seemed happy. Happier than when he first met them both. “We’ll let you know, Cucciolo,” Ilaria said. “When your Papa is without any pain and has taken time off. We’ll come back by spring time.” Time enough for Ilaria to adjust to the idea of Milan not needing all her time, and that her husband was taking over the wild beast that was Biosense. “Okay.” Milan nodded, not begrudging them the time away. They didn’t end the call right away, instead talking to Ilaria and Kiyo about Turin and their lives there. Milan’s parents made Rory curious about Turin and Italy. He wanted to see the place Milan was comfortable calling home. He made a note to ask Connor of the possibility of a trip to Italy. After the call with Milan’s parents, Rory and Milan went downstairs for breakfast. Matt and Topher were awake, and they already had a visitor. “Hey Jet,” Milan said in greeting, going to hug Jet. “You’re here early on a Sunday.” “I never left last night after a bunch of us came back here,” Jet said, rubbing Milan’s t-shirt. “Cool t-shirt by the way.” Milan glanced down at the white Linkin Park t-shirt he was wearing. “Thanks, I have a grey one like it I can give you,” Milan said. “Awesome,” Jet grinned. “My mom made peanut butter cookies. I hid them in the pantry when I came over and found you weren’t around. Want them for breakfast?” “You’re the best,” Milan said, following Jet to the pantry where he had kept the cookies. Rory sat at the kitchen table and met Matt’s amused gaze. “You and Jet?” Rory asked, needing to know Matt wasn’t messing around with Jet without reason. Jet was a good kid. Rory worried for him. “It’s private,” Matt stated, clearly not about to share more. “And?” Rory insisted, holding Matt’s stubborn gaze. “And,” Matt’s gaze softened when he heard Jet laugh with Milan. “I’m taking it slow, getting to know him. Same as you did with Milan. He’s yet to hit his eighteen birthday, Rory.” “Right,” Rory smiled. “That’s some restraint, Matt.” “Got it from you,” Matt said. Rory sighed, empathizing with Matt’s efforts and sat back in his seat. “Well, I’m happy for you,” Rory said. “I hope you two connect soon.” “I don’t get you two. Matt, you should just give in. Take him over and get to know each after. You're both wolves, after all,” Topher said, drinking down a green concoction of vegetables from a large blender bottle. He was the health nut of the family. “I’m not you, Vadisi,” Matt replied. “Besides, I like discovering things about Jet. Like taking my time for when we’re truly together. Rory would understand.” “I hope that’s not for breakfast,” Rory pointed at Topher’s bottle, deciding on a change of subject. Matt rarely changed his mind. “You should try it,” Topher insisted, holding out the bottle to Rory. “It’s good stuff, gives you energy, keeps you clean.” “And gives you the runs,” Matt provided, with a laugh. “That was one time,” Topher said, “plus who knows what else you had eaten that day.” “Keep trying,” Matt said, shaking his head, clearly not about to drink the blended vegetable mix. He got up and went to wash his hands. “I’ll make eggs and bacon for us, Rory. Milan?” Milan appeared at the pantry door, holding a bowl of peanut butter cookies. “How do you like your eggs?” Matt asked him. “Are you going to cook them?” Milan moved to lean on the counter as Matt wiped his hands and found a frying pan. “I’m a great cook,” Matt boasted. “Eggs, bacon or sausage and hash browns.” “Then, I like scrambled eggs,” Milan said then. Jet went to wash his hands at the sink. “I’ll help you,” Jet said, when Matt looked at him. Milan smiled and moved to sit at the table next to Rory. For the next ten minutes, Matt worked on scrambling eggs and frying bacon and sausages, with Jet working on the hash browns. Milan got up, washed a bowl of apples and returned to the table to cut them into slices. He passed the slices around the table as they waited for breakfast. Rory was glad to hear Topher and Matt talk to Milan about school, about his now official best friend Jack, about the pack house and if Milan wanted a proper tour, not the one Maryanne gave him, which was rated PG. When Milan laughed, Rory smiled glad to see him relaxed with Matt and Topher. He needed Milan comfortable enough to rely on Matt and Topher if Milan ever needed anything. Jet placed plates of food for Rory, then Topher. He was placing Milan’s plate before him when Jade came into the kitchen, from the main house, carrying an apple pie. “Morning! Before you ask, Mom made the pie,” Jade said, placing the large pie in the middle of the table. “She told me to bring it in cause she thinks you guys will starve to death otherwise.” She squealed when she saw Milan and leaned over Jet to kiss Milan’s cheek. “I saw you Friday night at the restaurant. You danced with Rory that was awesome to watch by the way. But then, you guys left so fast I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself. I’m Jade Vadisi, Topher’s little sister. We’re in the same grade even though I never get to see you. Maryanne said you were hanging out with her Friday, and I wanted to join in. But, I was caught up with practice—” Jet stuffed an apple slice into Jade’s mouth and she pinched his left bicep. “Breathe,” Matt said. “Ignore her, please,” Topher said, winking at Milan. “She’ll talk you into craziness.” “Jade’s band was awesome. What name do you use?” Milan asked, making Rory, Topher and Matt groan. “What?” “You’re a fan?” Jade almost screamed, pushing Jet away from Milan. She pulled a chair close to Milan and crouched on it, her green dress riding up over her tights. “Oh, this is so awesome. Our band’s called The Werefolks. I’ve been trying to convince these guys that our act is good enough to break out of the town, but they won’t believe me.” “It doesn’t make sense for you to leave Portento to play,” Topher grumbled out. “You’re making enough money at the restaurant.” “We’re not in it for the money,” Jade insisted. “We write our own stuff too. We’re having a concert festival for the spring equinox near end of March. Milan, you’ll come, right? It’s going to be so much fun. Everyone will be there. After this, Topher will see our band is good enough to go on the road.” “I’d love to go,” Milan said, excited. “Rory, we’re going, right?” “If it’s what you want,” Rory answered, knowing he was signing up for the three days of concert madness that was spring equinox festival. “Like I would give them a chance not to show up,” Jade scoffed, accepting a plate of eggs and sausage from Matt. “I heard you do art, Milan. Will you make art for our band posters? It would be really awesome if we featured it this concert.” Rory met Topher’s gaze as his mate launched into talking about t-shirts and posters for Jade’s band. The two connecting like the oldest of friends, it was beautiful to watch. ‘Your sister is great,’ Rory told Topher. ‘She pulled Milan in without making him feel like a new comer.’ ‘Jade’s special gift,’ Topher smiled. ‘I’m afraid we might have to let her try a tour out there.’ ‘That’s been coming, Toph,’ Rory said, knowing that Topher worried for Jade’s safety outside the town’s boundaries. ‘She’s good enough, and you know it. We’ll just have to figure it out for her.’ ‘Rory’s right. We’ll deal with it when it’s time,’ Matt soothed, urging Jet to sit next to Topher and placing a plate of food before him. Jet blushed when Matt ruffled his hair and sat down next to him. Rory was sure Matt didn’t have to wait there. Jet looked gone for Matt. Rory sat back watching his family have breakfast, setting tradition for their future Sunday mornings. Chris and Maryanne joined them soon after, with Maryanne sitting on Topher’s lap, while Chris squeezed in between Milan and Jade joining their concert conversation. They ate too much and talked. It was the best Sunday breakfast Rory could remember. *** Rory drove Milan to school on Monday morning. It was nice showing up together, this way none of them had to wait for the other. Milan’s reception was different too. More students greeted him ‘good morning’ than he could count. “It’s weird,” Milan insisted at lunch when Rory sent off a group of girls who wanted to find out if Milan was available for a Wednesday party. “I felt like I lived in an island with you and Jack a week ago. Now, everyone is talking to me.” “You’re one of us now,” Rory said. “It’s not weird at all.” Milan breathed in and took Rory’s hand, squeezing it. “Will it always be like this?” Milan asked, when he looked up and found more than a dozen gazes on him and Rory. “No,” Rory said, grinning. “It will wear off soon. They’re a little excited about the future right now.” Milan laughed then and shook his head. “You’re enjoying this too much.” “Kind of,” Rory said, getting up when the warning bell rang. “I’ll take you to your Italian class.” “Will you learn it?” Milan asked, when they reached Milan’s class and Rory held him back from entering. “I’ll learn sexy words so that I can use them on you. Tell me one right now.” “Sono pazzo a di te,” Milan said, then smiled wide. “I have to go now.” “What did you just tell me?” Rory asked, holding on to his hand. “Discover it,” Milan leaned up and kissed him. “Go to your class, Rory.” “You can’t talk to me in Italian like that, and then tell me to leave you,” Rory complained, pulling Milan into his arms and kissing him again. Possessive, needy, he wondered if they could leave already. “Alpha, you might have authority over me outside this school, but in here, you’re under mine,” Milan’s Italian teacher said from behind him. “Let my student go. It’s time for class.” Rory groaned and allowed Milan to push him away. He hid a laugh when Milan blushed and ran into class. Rory turned and faced Mrs. Antonio. “I’m leaving now.” “I see that,” Mrs. Antonio said, as she entered her class. She held the door and moved to close it. “Ah, Rory, ‘I’m crazy about you’ is what he said. I do offer tutoring in my free time, in case you’re interested.” Rory tried to catch a glimpse of Milan, and then blushed as Mrs. Antonio gave him a knowing look and closed the door on his face. ‘I'm crazy for you too,’ Rory sent to Milan, his heart skipping when Milan flooded their bond with warmth. Later, after school, Rory found himself sitting in an armchair in the living room watching Jack. Milan was in the kitchen doing his homework, as he played catch up on his classes. He had gotten Jack’s homework too, which was how Jack ended up at their place. “Nisin insists on seeing Milan before his change,” Jack said, pacing the length of the living room. His hands in fists, he was eager to get back to his mate. “I thought you’d let me drive Milan over. Grandma Asta has been clear in her explanation, but Nisin is nervous.” “When is the change?” Rory asked. “Tomorrow or tonight if we can get transport into the Swamp Lands,” Jack said. “Have you talked to my uncle?” “It’s not so easy,” Jack said, blowing out a nervous breath. “I’ll call him for you,” Rory said. “As for Milan—" “Please don’t say no,” Jack begged. “I wasn’t,” Rory said, with a small smile. “Milan will make the choice, Jack.” Jack stared at him, and then nodded. “Right. You’re right.” “Sit down for a second, will you?” Rory insisted when Jack stood watching him. ‘Baby, will you come with me to visit Nisin?’ Rory asked Milan. ‘Uh…,’ Milan’s brain was occupied with Calculus homework. ‘Yeah sure, I’m finished with the worksheets I got. I need to stop by my house too.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I left a carrying case full of stuff for my drawing tablet there. I need it for Jade’s project. It will only take a minute.’ ‘Cool, let’s go then,’ Rory got up and looked to Jack. “I’ll drive Milan. We have somewhere to go after.” Jack nodded, thanked him and hurried out to his car, eager to get back to Nisin. *** Jack’s house was a few minutes away from the main town. A cozy ranch-style house built for comfort, very modern on the inside. Jack opened the door for them, and led Milan to a bedroom on the right of the house. He opened the door and Milan saw Nisin resting in bed, under blankets. He looked healthier than the last time they met. His meds corrected, he was less pale. “Ciao,” Milan said, moving to perch on the edge of the bed. Jack hovered behind him. “Jack, it’s Milan,” Nisin said as he sat up, getting comfortable. Jack ignored his chiding and moved around Milan to arrange Nisin’s pillows and pull the covers around him. “I’m fine, Jack. I promise.” Jack pressed a soft kiss on Nisin’s forehead, pulled him into a tight hug, then let go with difficulty. “I’ll be in the living room with Rory,” Jack said, looking at Milan. “Tell me if anything happens, or he needs anything at all. Okay?” “I promise,” Milan said. “Okay,” Jack stared down at Nisin, then when he didn’t move Nisin gave an annoyed huff and waved him out. “Right, I’m leaving.” “He’s just worried,” Milan said, when the door closed behind Jack. “You should have seen Rory before. I had it worse. How are you feeling?” “Worst question to ask someone sick in bed,” Nisin countered, then smiled when Milan chuckled. “You’re right. I hated it too,” Milan agreed. “So, let’s forget I asked. You wanted to see me?” Nisin reached out to take Milan’s left hand, and Milan shifted closer to him, getting comfortable on the bed. “I heard about what my dad did to your family,” Nisin said, staring at their clasped hands. “I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t obvious. When my dad sent me to yours, he dropped some hints. I couldn’t tell your dad about it though because he had promised to let me meet you.” “You wanted to meet me?” Milan asked, surprised. “Yeah,” Nisin smiled, looking up to meet his gaze. “I’d never met anyone like me. Well, let’s just say I didn’t get to meet many kids my age. The way your dad talked about you, the things he did for you, I was jealous and wanted to meet you.” “Oh, Nisin.” “It’s okay, your dad was really nice to me,” Nisin said. “He made me feel a bit of the care he gave you. It wasn’t the same, never the same, but it was something.” Nisin squeezed Milan’s hand, dropping his gaze to their joined hands. “I felt bad that I couldn’t tell your dad about mine.” Nisin shook his head. “You see, my family is not as close as yours. It never will be, but Cade is still my dad.” “I understand,” Milan said then, thinking he knew what Nisin was trying to do. “I’m sorry I knew nothing of you.” “My dad made Kiyo keep my presence in his lab a secret,” Nisin said. “Kiyo wanted to protect me, so he kept it quiet.” Milan nodded, already knowing his father’s intentions. “They told me my dad will leave Portento,” Nisin said after a minute. “He won’t remember working for Biosense, but he’ll remember me.” “Does that make you sad?” Milan asked, wondering what he would feel if Kiyo were to forget having worked so hard to heal him. In a way, the hours Kiyo spent in his lab were a way to know how much he loved Milan. Then again, Cade's hours in Biosense were to line his pockets with money. “Not really,” Nisin gave him a short smile. “He never really paid attention to me, like Kiyo did with you. I’m hopeful, actually.” “Hopeful?” Milan asked. “That this change will give me my dad back,” Nisin said, his tone shy. “Is that stupid of me?” “Never,” Milan shook his head. “Not at all, Nisin.” “I’m glad to hear it from you,” Nisin said. “Will you ask them to treat him well for me? He might not be the best man, but he’s my dad, Milan. Please?” “Sure,” Milan promised, knowing he would ask Connor for this. He felt responsible for Nisin, somehow. “You just worry about getting through your change. Don’t think about anything else.” “About that,” Nisin said, blushing like crazy. “What-what’s it like?” Milan thought about the night Rory changed him. His free hand moving up to touch the spot on his neck where Rory had bitten him. The shock of it, the pain that followed and Rory’s frustration at not being able to help him. Waking up to Rory’s blue eyes and knowing what he was to him. That night was clear in his head, so clear; he thought it a rebirth, something he wanted to keep deep inside, cherishing it for a lifetime, because it had given him a new start, a new life. A different adventure. “Resurrectio,” Milan told Nisin. “Neither good nor bad, easy or hard, just rebirth. I can’t measure….or describe the experience for you. It will be unique, to you, for Jack too. When it’s done, I’ll be your brother, Nisin. La tua famiglia. Your family. Cause only us two will understand what we’ve survived. Do you agree?” “I agree,” Nisin said, with a single decisive nod. Milan pulled Nisin into a tight hug. “Don’t worry about your Papa. I’ll see to it.” Nisin tightened his arms around him, and they stayed like that for a little while. *** After their visit with Nisin, Milan watched Rory drive to the Takeda house. “When is Nisin turning into one of us?” Milan asked. “Tonight,” Rory said. “Matt will take him in and make sure Elle and Johan assist.” “Should I ask Iris?” Milan asked, reaching for the amulet he now wore all the time. It fascinated him when the leather string around his neck remained on even in his wolf form. “No,” Rory shook his head. “Contrary to your experience, Iris is quite frightening to most in this town. Only one with power to match hers or a stronger will can stay with her longer than a few minutes. You saw how she silenced the town with Rick.” “So people like you and your Dad?” “Yes. Dad has Alpha blood. I’m Alpha, with Sanctuary backing me.” “What about me?” Milan asked, as Rory turned into the Takeda driveway. “You’re my mate, and Sanctuary recognizes you as Moon to this pack. Your will is extraordinary too. Your faced so much pain for so long,” Rory stopped the car and faced him. “Iris is like a walk in the park for you.” “I’m stronger than I feel then,” Milan joked. “Yes, actually. You really are strong, Milan.” Rory reached out and touched his ear. “And all mine.” Milan took Rory’s hand and rubbed his thumb over Rory’s knuckles. “Fair enough, I won’t call Iris to Nisin, but Grandma Asta should be there for him at least.” “She’ll be there, in her own way,” Rory said. He looked at the house that was now dark except for the third floor. “Ayu is here.” “I’ll go see him, and grab my stuff,” Milan said, kissing Rory’s jaw. “When I come back, you’ll let me drive us home.” “Whoa,” Rory lifted his hands ready to protest. “I’m not asking to drive your precious sports car, just thus pickup truck. I wanna drive, Rory. You promised to let me practice,” Milan insisted, glaring at Rory when he looked unwilling. “Fine,” Rory said, with a frown, sitting back in the driver’s side, turning on the radio. “Hurry back.” Milan opened his door, vowing to smooth that frown when he came back. He ran into the house, not pausing to remove his shoes. It was surreal going up the stairs in a full run, and not feeling out of breath. In his bedroom upstairs, he paused at the entrance when he saw the stripped bed. Old sheets covered his dresser and his desk. Rory had brought all his books to the pack house. Their wing had a library that now had all of Milan's books, with more to come. Milan knew then that he would never return to the Takeda house to stay, and it felt right. The pack house was now his home. A sense of nostalgia filled him as he walked up to the large photograph of the Milan Cathedral. He couldn’t have known, that day he stood here with Rory making a silly joke, where their journey together would bring him. He trailed gentle fingers over the picture frame and smiled. Changing direction, he went to the closet and found the carrier bag filled with the tablet accessories he needed. Holding it in his left hand, he went out into the room and paused when he saw the connecting door open. Going through it to the bathroom, and to Ayu’s door, he opened it and stopped when he saw Ayu and Rowen on the bed making out. Rowen hid her face into Ayu’s shoulder when she noticed him. “Way to intrude, Milan,” Ayu said in greeting. “I’m just—,” Milan grinned and caught the pillow Rowen threw at him. “Aren’t you happy you still had your clothes on?” “Shut up,” Rowen shook her head, moving to sit next to Ayu. Milan’s grin widened and he moved to stand at the foot of Ayu’s bed. “So?” Milan looked to Rowen. “What are your intentions with my brother?” “We’re so not doing this,” Ayu stated, throwing a pillow at Milan too. “What? You did it to Rory when he showed up.” “That was different,” Ayu insisted. “No, it wasn’t.” “Uh, it was,” Ayu said. “Come on, you know it wasn’t.” “Both of you stop,” Rowen said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe you two.” “You’re kissing my big brother,” Milan said, folding his hands against his chest. “You get to deal with me.” Ayu burst into a laugh and shook his head, resting back on the headboard. “What?” Milan demanded. “You’re cute when you act all taller and stuff,” Rowen said. “What’s cute is you two voicing each other’s thoughts, like a married couple.” “Look who’s talking,” Rowen scoffed, and threw the pillow closest to her at him. Milan laughed then because he was elated to see his brother entangled in a girl. The hope that he wouldn’t be the only one in his family sinking roots in Portento filled him. It felt good to belong to this town as a family. “I’m gonna go,” Milan said, pointing to the door. “Will you two be here then?” “Maybe,” Ayu said, taking Rowen’s hand and winking at Milan. “Okay,” Milan grinned again. “Welcome home, Ayu.” “It’s good to be home, baby brother,” Ayu said, and threw the last of the pillows on his bed at Milan. “Now, get out of here. We’re busy.” Milan laughed and closed the bathroom door behind him. He left his bedroom in high spirits. His memories of this house were only two months long, but they were the happiest memories he knew. He hoped his parents would return to stay. ‘Cucciolo, how much longer?’ Rory asked. ‘Coming,’ Milan said, going down the stairs to the living room and the front door. Milan opened the front door and turned to look back at the living room. Yes, he wanted to see his family happy here too. Outside, he stopped when he saw Rory leaning on his white pickup, watching him. “Took you long enough,” Rory teased. “I got sidetracked,” Milan said, looking up to the third floor. Rory followed his gaze and smiled after a minute. “Ohh,” Rory said. “Big bro and Rowen have found a perfect hideaway.” “Only until our parents come back,” Milan said, coming down the steps to where Rory leaned on the driver’s side door. He accepted Rory’s quick kiss and moved back, holding his hands out for the keys. “Are you sure about this?” Rory asked, dropping them into his palm, then opening the door for Milan. Milan climbed behind the wheel and dropped his bag on the console between their seats. He stuck the key into the ignition and turned the engine on. “Very sure,” Milan said, wearing his seat belt. He smiled at Rory. “It’s cool to see your wolf running next to the car and keeping up, but I’ll go nuts if you’re in the passenger seat. All that raw sexy power at my mercy.” Rory growled and cupped his face, taking his lips in a hard kiss. When he pulled away, Milan took a minute to remember what he was doing. Rory closed his door and went around to the passenger side. Rory climbed in, wore his seat belt and sat back. “Take me home, baby,” Rory said, and Milan gripped the steering wheel, thrilled. He stepped on the gas pedal and groaned when the truck revved hard for a full minute. Removing his foot from the gas pedal, he looked at Rory with a sheepish grin, before he reached for the gear handle to shift to drive. Rory didn’t look amused at all. “Aren’t you happy we’re not driving a stick shift,” Milan soothed. Rory jerked when Milan stepped on the gas pedal and made his turn too hard, sending the truck into Ilaria’s trimmed evergreen bushes. “I’m not sure I’m happy at all right now,” Rory said, as Milan managed to turn in the right direction, heading to the gates. “Oh, don’t worry, my Italian grandmother taught me how to drive,” Milan grinned at him as he headed out of the driveway. “She taught me to drive how I feel.” “How do you feel right now?” Rory gripped the handle above his window when Milan increased speed. “Wild, Rory, just wild… “Milan!” *** Epilogue Days after the Spring Equinox Festival, at the start of April, an old ceremony started. In the ancestral caves of Portento, lighted with magic, and streams of flowers falling from the high ceilings, made of magic too, a circle formed. Each man, woman and child of wolf blood, bound to the pack, and sworn to the town of Portento. Hand to shoulder, forming a vast and complex web, the werewolves of Portento gathered to usher a new Alpha and his mate. In the middle of the circle, at its tightest part stood three, who had led to the best of their ability. Connor, Kutler and Lechter: each one with scars, each one with wins and disappointments. Standing by them were their mates, with the exception of Connor. Iris of the earth stood in Johanna’s stead. They faced Rory, Topher and Matt. Beside them, standing with nervous energy were Milan, Maryanne and Jet. Grandma Asta moved to the middle of their loose circle and urged Rory and Connor to step forward. Milan watched with unbridled excitement as Connor held Rory’s right hand at the elbow, with Rory locking their arms in a warrior’s handshake. Light the color of gold dust danced down Connor’s arm wrapping around their clasped hands for a moment, before it changed to red dust and climbed up Rory’s arm, shimmering into him. Connor let go of Rory’s arm, and took the knife Grandma Asta handed him. With practiced ease, he made a cut on his palm and dripped blood to the ground between them, followed by Kutler and Lechter. Rory then took the knife and did the same, followed by Topher and then Matt. “May I remain strong to guard this town,” Rory spoke, as he dripped blood over Connor’s, “as my ancestors before me.” “May I remain strong to support and provide for this town,” Topher spoke, as he dripped blood over Kutler’s blood, “as my ancestors before me.” “May I remain strong to learn and guide for this town,” Matt spoke, as he dripped blood over Lechter’s blood, “as my ancestors before me.” A wave of light burst from the ground, rising up above their heads, and hovered, waiting… Rory turned to Milan, holding out his right hand. Milan breathed down his anxiety and took Rory’s hand allowing himself to be pulled beside Rory. Grandma Asta stepped up to him, holding the dagger. Milan winced as she took his right hand and made a cut on his palm, the pain stinging. She held out the knife to Topher who did the same for Maryanne, and then to Matt who did it for Jet. When they were done, Grandma Asta had them hold hands with their mates. “Repeat after me,” Grandma Asta said. “Heart of my heart...” Milan met Rory’s blue gaze, his hand clutched in Rory's right, their blood turning into one, heart racing as he said the words Grandma Asta spoke. “Heart of my heart, soul of my soul, blood of my blood,” Milan said, meaning every word. “I stand with you, for you and by you, now and forevermore.” It took him a minute to realize that Rory spoke the same words with him, love shining in his eyes. ‘I thought this was a ceremony to make you Alpha?’ Milan asked, Rory as everyone faded away. ‘It is,’ Rory smiled. ‘Sounds like an Outlander wedding to me,’ Milan mused, looking down at his neat blue shirt and dark slacks. This was not what he would have wanted to wear at his wedding. He had standards. Rory laughed aloud, drawing Grandma Asta’s censoring gaze. Milan wrinkled his nose at him, and shook his head. ‘I haven’t forgotten you want a wedding,’ Rory promised, leaning to kiss his nose. ‘You’re only becoming this town’s Moon, Milan. Look up and see the Goddess’s answer to your pledge. I promise to give you that wedding when you're ready, Milan.’ As though hearing Rory’s words, Milan looked up in time to see the brilliant light waiting there shoot down and engulf him, filling him with joy and a profound sense of belonging that quickly spread out into the people in attendance, and beyond to the rest of the town, leaving no soul untouched. Tears filled Milan’s eyes at the feel of it, and he turned to Rory in awe. “It feels like home.” “And it always will,” Rory promised, kissing him then, sealing it. After the ceremony, there was a party at the pack house. Milan mingled, talking to everyone who approached him. It was getting easier to deal with people. It wasn’t his thing, but Rory thrived on this. Milan saw Rory and Matt busy helping with roasting meat at a large bonfire, laughing with Chris and others Milan recognized from their regular visits to the pack house. His new life gave him so much, so many people. He smiled when Rowen took his hand and dragged him to sit with Jack and Nisin at one of the packed tables. He ate and drank, and wondered if he could escape with Rory to the house. When he looked around and saw Rory talking to Iris, he gave up on that idea. Milan consoled himself with the fact that he and Rory would be flying out in the morning, heading to Italy for their spring break week. They would have plenty of moments there. When he could, Milan escaped the noisy party and found a quiet spot to hide in the backyard. He was sitting on a bench swing under a huge tree when Connor Morgan joined him, sitting next to him. “Hiding?” Connor asked. Milan smiled and nodded. “I’m a little overwhelmed today.” “I figured,” Connor said, sending the bench swing into motion. “You and I haven’t gotten enough time to talk since you moved in. Might as well sit here with you, it will keep people from looking for you.” Milan nodded, staring at his clasped hands. He liked Rory’s father, wondered often how to get close to him. Rory already had such a great relationship with Milan’s parents. Suddenly, Milan remembered a story Grandma Asta had told him. “Uhm…,” Milan started. “Grandma Asta told me about the fishing scream.” Connor looked at him, his expression hard, and Milan gulped, biting his lip. “And the girl who liked to tease you, chasing you around with a snail,” Milan continued, his tone hopeful. Connor stared at him for a minute, and then broke out into a loud laugh, covering his face. “Asta really doesn’t save me any face. Why would she tell you about that?” Milan grinned then. “She said it would make it easier to get to know you.” “Was she right?” Connor asked. “Maybe,” Milan said. “Who was that girl? She must have liked you a lot.” “She did,” Connor said, with a nod, his voice heavy with nostalgia. “She was Johanna Morgan, Rory’s Mom, and she would have loved to meet you, Milan. She would have taken one look at you and tried to find out if she can tickle you until you pee yourself from laughter.” “Really?” Milan grinned, when Connor shifted to look at him. “Really,” Connor said. “She liked dancing, and children. I called her the pied piper…she was really so good with them. You would have liked her too.” “Will you tell me about her?” Milan asked, eager to discover more about Rory. “Why, yes,” Connor said, happy to tell. “Where shall we start?” “How about that screaming saga,” Milan suggested, making him laugh again. *** Milan, Italy Rory walked the vast, snowy creative world that was the Milan Cathedral rooftop. So, many details to take in with a simple glance, one needed to look, look again and take a photograph just in case a detail went unnoticed. The beauty of it all was in the dedication, he decided. How humans would give so much time to the creation of such a huge building. He could understand how his mate would find the cathedral so fascinating. Gargoyles, carvings on marble, amid spires and statues, he could see the awe in this. Yet, even here, faced with the astounding, the only creature he found inspiring stood studying a gargoyle sculpture above him. Milan took a photo of the gargoyle, and then turned to look at him, smiling with accomplishment. Rory hurried to his side, and wrapped an arm around his shoulders as they went to the edge to stare down at the piazza below. The large square was filled with people, tourists, locals, their conversations filling the bright morning. Milan wrapped an arm around Rory’s waist. “It’s perfect,” Milan murmured. “What?” “Us, here, during spring break. I can’t think of anything more perfect,” Milan said, turning into him. “Neither can I,” Rory said, holding Milan. He looked up when he caught movement on one of the spires. His sharp eyes picked out the shape of a man, warrior class, Rory gauged. He was camouflaged with magic to keep the anxious human gazes from seeing. The shape turned to Rory as though sensing his gaze. The man appeared, for a split second, nodding at Rory in acknowledgement before he was hidden again. Guardians, Rory thought, noting a dozen more around them, each one sworn to protect him and his mate. Yes, this was perfect, Rory decided, for the first time believing that he could get Milan everything he wanted. They would see the world together, he decided. Milan would be the architect he wished, and maybe end up building a new addition to the pack house he so loved drawing, in time. They had it now, Rory thought, lots and lots of time, a lifetime together. Rory pressed a kiss on top of Milan’s head. “I love you, Milan.” “I love you too, Rory Morgan.” *** Fin
  10. lilansui

    Chapter 32

    Sanctuary Returns ‘The children,’ Rory prompted sanctuary as he waited for Johan and Elle outside the town hall. ‘How many were they?’ ‘Five souls,’ Sanctuary answered. ‘Too young, their families searched, but their bodies are buried in the deepest part of the swamp.’ ‘Why did none of the warriors take Rick down?’ Rory wondered. ‘He is sly, and patient. He struck when they least expected it. He left no trace of himself.’ Rory sighed, and started a slow pace along the step the steps. ‘This is a mess. I don’t even know where to start.’ ‘Your father will know. Let him finish this for you,’ Sanctuary mused. ‘You might be Alpha, but he is still more experienced.’ Rory nodded, and felt relief when he saw Johan and Elle walking up the steps. Behind them five of the warriors from the Swamp Lands, and ten men and women ranging in age followed them. When they reached him, Elle smiled in greeting while Johan held out a hand his right hand to Rory. Rory grasped it at the elbow, in the old way, a warrior’s greeting. “We’re ready for the gathering, Alpha Rory.” Johan nodded to his people behind him. “If our requests are met, then we shall vow allegiance to you, as Alpha, and join the fold.” “Then let’s get it over with,” Rory said, leading the way into the town hall. “How is your mate?” Johan asked. “Is he adjusting to his new life?” Rory couldn’t help his smile at the thought of Milan. “Quite well,” Rory said. “He’s moved into the pack house. We’re taking it day by day.” “His wolf has great potential,” Elle said. “The pain you both endured is not easily borne. Born of a trial by fire, he is much stronger than you could imagine.” “I suppose it’s an adventure we’ll have to see through,” Rory said. Rory opened the double doors of the town hall, and wasn’t surprised when all eyes in the room turned to look at them. Around three hundred people had made it to the meeting. The high table ahead was set up for the council. There were eight now, without Rick. Chairs in the first few rows of the right column were left vacant for the guests from the Swamp Lands. Rory noted Milan sat at the front of this row with Rowen and Maryanne on each side. Connor was already leading a discussion on Rick’s crimes. Rick was chained to the ground on a single chair in front of the high table. His mouth taped with a black seal made with Sage’s magic. There was a blue ring of power circling Rick’s chair too, it kept him contained. Rory led his group to the empty chairs, urging them to sit. He thanked Rowen who got up and moved down a chair, allowing him to sit next to Milan. “Why do we need to discuss this farther?” Hunter asked, the shifter glaring at Rick. “Either send him to the dungeons, or end his sorry life. There can be no pardon for the murders he is already guilty of. Delaying his sentence is an insult to the victims and their families.” “No one wants to pardon him,” Iris pointed out. Her gaze shifted to the rest of the town. “The people suggesting the dungeons are playing a dangerous game. Keeping him in the dungeons gives him time to plan. Time to cause trouble again, we really cannot allow that. As far as I’m concerned, Rick’s fate is sealed. So, why don’t we discuss the real reason why this town meeting was called?” “What can be more important than the murder of the Pack’s Moon by one of the Council?” a burly man in the crowd demanded. “Rick lied, and brought false evidence. He could be working with humans outside the borders for all we know. That’s important.” More added to that comment, insisting that Rick’s life should end by the Alpha’s hand. Others insisted on the dungeons, so that he may repent his wrong doings. Chris was particularly vocal about Rick meeting his end. “I demand justice for my parents and aunt,” Chris said, standing. He was at the front of the left row, his hands in fists when he looked at Rick. “There is no need to delay this. Please!” Connor slammed his right hand on the high table, forcing the room into silence. “The council acknowledges all your concerns,” Connor said. “Rick’s crimes are unpardonable. I don’t disagree. However, I have been waiting for our guests to arrive and now that they have, I would like to introduce them to you, Johan and Elle McRieve.” Johan and Elle stood. Elle looked beautiful in her red wool dress, and Johan every part the warrior in his leather trousers and a soft white shirt. Their faces enough to let anyone know they fought hard for all they had. Johan wasn’t much of a talker, so Elle spoke for both of them. “We’re here at Alpha Rory’s request. Our settlement has long lived in the wild swamps of this town. Please forgive any disrespect we may cause during this gathering.” “What settlement?” Lisbeth Jones, the town’s mayor, asked. her eyes narrowed as she looked at Elle and Johan. “I don’t recognize you.” “You wouldn’t,” Connor said, lifting his hand to stop Elle from responding. “They have not mingled with us for years. The Swamp Lands are their home; it’s the deepest part of Portento.” Murmurs filled the room, and Rory reached for Milan’s hand, squeezing tight. Milan responded by covering their clasped hands with his free one. He rubbed Rory’s knuckles, as though giving him strength. Rory glanced at Milan sensing a restless in Milan. “How can that be possible?” Linda asked, her eyes wide. Connor had kept the existence of Elle and Johan close knit, only telling Kutler and Lechter. “It is possible,” Elle said. “Very possible when your way of life is threatened and all you want is to seek sanctuary.” “Portento is already sanctuary,” Lisbeth pointed out. “What could possibly threaten your lives within our borders?” “Love,” Elle said, her words hard, where there should have been softness. “I am an ancestor of a child born from the mating of a human and a wolf. For decades now, we have harbored all such pairings in the Swamp Lands. A real fear grows that the council will kick us out of Portento should they discover such pairings. We are here now to see if our stories can be heard and cherished in the same way yours are.” “How many live in the Swamp Lands?” Lisbeth asked. “A few hundred or so,” Elle said, gripping Johan’s hand when the council members started to protest. “The last wolf/human pairing happened decades ago,” Linda said, shaking her head. “They left town.” “No, they did not,” Rory said, getting up, his gaze narrowed on Lechter, needing to have this out with him. “After the council voted, the pair found sanctuary in the Swamp Lands. Elle’s parents saved them. Every pairing that attempted to settle among us, and was rejected, ended up in the Swamp Lands. The Council has failed Sanctuary.” Lechter stood then, anger in his eyes. “That’s a serious charge coming from a Morgan.” “It must be spoken,” Rory said, glad that Milan kept holding his hand. “I feared you would do the same to me and my mate.” “You’re different,” Lechter said, shaking his head. “You’re—" “What?” Rory asked. “The Alpha? So? You have disliked humans for ages. You’ve pushed for them to get kicked out. You campaigned for Milan’s family to get kicked out. I saw it happen. You even had Chris convinced, my own blood.” “That’s before I knew who he was to you,” Lechter admitted. “I—" “You would not have changed your mind,” Rory cut in, quite sure when he met Lechter’s gaze. It was easy to see, to almost feel, the anger that had grown inside Lechter. His love, his mate, murdered by humans, in turn, he decided no human would touch the place she called home. The place she loved him and their son, Matt. Rory shifted his gaze to Matt who stood guarding the man who might have killed his mother. ‘I’m sorry I must do this, Matt. I told you I would.’ ‘Get it over with,’ Matt replied. Rory nodded and returned his attention to Lechter. “Your opinion matters in the council, in this town. Your blind hatred forced all these people to live in seclusion in the Swamp Lands. My mate and I would have joined their settlement had Rick not escalated his plans.” “That’s absurd,” Lechter said. Milan stood then, making them a pair. “It’s not actually. My mate was human. Everyone in this room knows that,” Rory said then, making the town behind him gasp in surprise. “He had his change days ago. You were there. If it weren’t for Elle and Johan, I might not have known how to go about it. So, I might thank you too for pushing me to discover the past.” “Rory,” Lechter murmured. Rory shook his head and Lechter fell silent, his gaze on Milan, then Elle and Johan. After a minute of silence, Lechter sat down and Connor took over the meeting again. “Elle,” Connor said. “I want to thank your people for helping my son and his mate through his change. I also want to extend an invitation to you to join the Council.” “Only if you allow our people to punish the man you call Rick,” Elle insisted. “Why?” “He has taken five of our young ones,” Elle said, pain in her voice. “Sunk them in the swamp and left us to cry tears of blood. He created fear for all of us. We could not cross the swamp into your lands to seek help. Every time we tried, he sunk another.” ‘What is she talking about?’ Milan asked, turning to Rory as they sat. ‘I’ll show him,’ Sanctuary murmured, surprising Rory. She was swift about it too, giving Milan the same images Rory had gotten when he fought Rick. The reaction was immediate. Tears filled Milan’s eyes and he bent over, making Rory pull him into his arms. “I am well aware of this crime,” Connor said, looking at Rory and Milan, worried. Rory ignored Connor's concerned look and focused on Milan. Milan clutched Rory’s t-shirt, eyes closed. ‘You didn’t have to give him everything,’ Rory chastised Sanctuary, pulling Milan into his arms. ‘He’s freaking—’ ‘I know what I’m doing. You’re the one who doesn’t know your role here. Feel it, Alpha,’ Sanctuary cut him off. ‘What he does for the town is different than you. You’re strength, he’s the compassion, you need him to end this meeting in peace.’ ‘We couldn’t have done this earlier?’ Rory complained, aware that Milan’s freak out was not going unnoticed. He remembered the disgust that filled him when he knew what Rick had done. ‘Why would you give him this memory?’ Rory closed his eyes, and reached in for Milan, as Johan decided to speak up, when Elle couldn’t anymore. “Calling it a crime is an understatement. Rick has caused unimaginable pain,” Johan said, his voice gruff. “One of those children was our daughter. She was only six years old. She was playing on the edge of the swamp when she disappeared. We found her a week later at the bottom of the swamp. We didn’t know what he was, only that if no one made an attempt to cross the swamp, that year we would be free of the pain of losing a child.” “His punishment falls to us,” Elle insisted, deep anger brewing when she looked at Rick. “Give us that, and we’ll do whatever else you need, even if it means we leave.” ‘Milan.’ Rory bit back a moan as Elle’s pain filled them both, affecting Milan more than it did Rory. Rory was harder, built to withstand brute force, and the ugliest of matters. Milan, his Milan, Rory wanted to fold him into his arms and protect him from everything. But, Milan was not having it. Milan clutched Rory’s shirt tight, then slowly sat up, his eyes closed. ‘Yes, you can take it,’ Sanctuary said to Milan, pride in her voice. ‘Diffuse it.” ‘How?’ Milan asked, feeling like he might never feel happy again in his life. He clung to Rory, holding his hand tight. Without Rory, he might have drowned with the weight of it. ‘Her pain is deep,’ Milan examining it for a moment, ‘but, it’s not as raw as it was with us.’ “Will you leave him alive?” Chris asked. “No.” Johan growled out, his hands in fists, his anger fueling Elle’s pain. The memory of their daughter filled them both and it was all they could think about now. “I have no objection then,” Chris said, as though sensing their pain. Rory gave a silent gasp, as Milan seemed to draw Elle and Johan’s pain into himself, pulling it away even from Rory. Then he flooded their bond with hope. Hope for a happier future, because he couldn’t erase the memory of their daughter, neither could Sanctuary. Milan knew about hope. Was filled with it, and now that he had escaped his own pain, he was full of possibilities. Sanctuary took that hope and directed it to Elle and Johan, pushing it into the thread of pain. Rory opened his eyes and looked to Elle and Johan. Johan’s fists eased, and Elle took in a deep breath, as though a weight lifted off her shoulders. ‘You did well,’ Sanctuary praised Milan when he let out a soft sigh. ‘It will get easier with time.’ ‘Don’t show him anymore horrible memories,’ Rory warned her. As tension left Milan and he relaxed, the pain disappeared. Sanctuary held her silence, though she was still present in the backdrop. Rory now understood how Connor might have been crippled without his mate. Milan was his second half. The most important part of this town, Rory decided, looking at Milan with a new light. Nothing could happen to him. Connor stood up and walked around the high table to face Elle and Johan. “Then, the matter of Rick is left to you,” Connor said. “Please note that we too have scars. I hope you choose his punishment well.” “We shall. Before we continue, I would like to bring in a gift of our goodwill,” Elle said, her voice soft, shy where she had not been before. “Do you accept it?” “Yes, of course we do,” Connor nodded. Elle looked toward the closed doors of the hall. A minute later, the door opened and in walked a woman with long brown hair, a red scarf around her neck, and a slight limp as she walked. She looked familiar. Rory almost couldn’t place her until he heard the soft cry from Matt. Matt abandoned his post by Rick and ran to meet her before she reached the front. Pulling her into a tight hug and lifting her clear of the ground, vibrating with emotion. Rory looked to Lechter who stood frozen at the high table. There were no words to describe the clear shock on his face. “Rosemary Lechter has been under our care for eight years. Her recovery has been slow; she was near death when we found her, sunk deep in the swamp. We thought her dead. We gave her a home, and she has lived among us, teaching the children how to read. We called her Sena as she could not remember her name for a long time,” Elle explained. “It wasn’t until Iris came to visit when Milan had his change that Sena regained her memories. She refused to return until we had this meeting.” “But her mate’s bond?” Connor asked, looking to Lechter, who still looked shocked. “Sena almost died,” Elle said. “All her bonds near severed by the pain and the brutal nature of her attack. This matter cannot be explained by one as young as me. You must find Grandma Asta for that.” Lechter came around the high table and fell to his knees before Elle. “Thank you! I am in your debt,” Lechter said to Elle. “Please, get up,” Elle reached for Lechter and pulled him up. “You owe us nothing.” “Nevertheless, I shall try to repay the kindness you have shown my family,” Lechter said, tears in his eyes. Elle patted his shoulder, and stepped aside to allow him to walk to Rosemary and Matt. Lechter wrapped them both in his arms, a harsh sob escaping him. Rory felt happy for Matt, but envied him too. He would do anything to see his mother again. To have Johanna meet Milan and hug him as she used to, full of sunshine and laughter. Looking across the aisle, he met Chris’s gaze and read the same longing there. ‘She’d be proud of you,’ Chris told him with a nod. ‘Your mate is handsome.’ Rory smiled and squeezed Milan’s hand. ‘I can’t wait for you to find yours, Bro.’ Chris stared at him for a minute, then grinned. Elle stepped up to the high table, looking directly at Iris. “The souls living in the Swamp Lands seek justice for the lives lost. Daughter of the earth,” Elle said, begging Iris. “Please send the man named Rick to the underworld with the vines of Hel.” “Elle McRieve,” Iris said. “Your request is heard, but I cannot give you your answer without the consent of two others. You must seek their aid.” “Who must I talk to?” Elle asked. Iris smiled at her then directed her gaze to Rory and Milan. “Your true Alpha and his mate, Milan,” Iris said. Elle wasn’t the only one who looked at them. The entire room turned their attention to Milan and Rory. Milan groaned at the attention. ‘This is kinda high profile, Rory.’ ‘You’re high profile, baby.’ Rory teased. ‘Iris is so having fun with this. How are we involved in a sentencing? Rick sounds like scum to me. She should just give Elle what she asks for.’ ‘We can’t avoid it, baby,’ Rory told Milan. ‘We’re going to need to stand up and go to Elle. Can you do it?’ Rory felt anxiety race through Milan and panic rising. For a minute, Rory thought Milan might not manage it but then Milan got up first. His courage racing wild, it was sexy. Rory followed him and listened to Milan take in a steadying breath. Rory took Milan’s hand and led him to Elle, stopping right behind her. He took Milan’s hand and placed it on Elle’s left shoulder, while he touched her right. “Daughter of the earth, we second Elle McRieve’s request,” Rory said, answering on behalf of Milan, as well. “Little Alpha,” Iris said, getting up from her seat. She came around to where Milan stood her gaze full of affection. “I felt your compassion flooding the room. You might not know it, but you’ll be a wonderful influence on all of us. I grant your request. Rick’s ill fate shall not continue. I’m sorry your families have suffered him.” Rory let go of Elle and pulled Milan to his side. Iris approached Rick. The chains Sage used to hold him disappeared and the seal on Rick’s mouth tore open. Rick let out a relieved gasp and shouted, pointing a finger at Rosemary. “You bitch, I killed you. I finished you!” “You tried,” Rosemary’s voice came in a whisper, the damage to her throat clear as she pulled off her scarf. There were deep gouges on her neck. Matt looked away from her when he saw them, grief tensing his shoulders. Rick had taken her voice. “You didn’t succeed. I saw you kill my friends, and when I tried to save them, you stuck me with wolf’s bane and dragged me to the murky swamp waters. You did your best to kill me, but Sanctuary saved me.” Rick stared at her with hatred. “Still, I took years from you and Hillam, at least. He turned into a raging beast without you. There was satisfaction in watching his pain. I’ll take that much.” “Iris,” Connor urged as the town hall erupted into angry shouts at Rick’s words. Milan clung to Rory’s arm when dark green vines broke through the floor, quickly winding around Rick from his legs, up his thighs, then his torso to head. Thick and round they wrapped tight, tighter, then Iris murmured words and the vines dragged Rick down into the floor. In seconds, Principal Rick disappeared, and the floor restored to normal, as though he never existed. The room went silent, as though everyone was afraid to break the spell. The only thing moving was Iris as she waved a hand over the space Rick had sat. Milan imagined she was warding off bad spirits. ‘Iris is frightening,’ Milan noted. ‘Not many people can handle her presence,’ Rory said, agreeing. ‘She’s too powerful.’ ‘Should we sit?’ Milan asked. ‘It’s not over yet,’ Rory said, nodding to his father who now stood facing the town. “These last few weeks have opened my eyes to many issues,” Connor said. “Troubles under the surface of the town: murder, human prejudice, and corruption. I feel ashamed to have not known these things were happening in Portento. Too many have suffered under Rick’s greed. Others because of my own blindness, I can’t believe an entire settlement of souls went unnoticed. On behalf of myself, the Beta and the Third, I apologize to all of you who call Portento home.” Connor bowed his head, and Kutler and Lechter both lowered their heads to the town’s people. When Connor straightened up, he continued. “I would like to propose new changes in the town’s council and a new look at our policies on humans. I want you all to vote on the acceptance of the souls living in the Swamp Lands. We all understand what a mate means to our people. No one should face judgement because of the goddess’s choice. However, everyone in this town needs to be on the same page on this.” Silence filled the town hall at that remark. Rory felt Sanctuary talking to Milan, though he didn’t hear their conversation. Peace flooded him soon through their bond and Rory guessed Sanctuary was having Milan fill the room with more…hope. Rory hid his smile when Mildred Cohagen stood up in middle of the right row. “I would like to say something,” Mildred said, sounding nervous but determined. Her husband sat beside her holding their baby and their daughters sat beside their father. “Sure, Mildred, go ahead,” Connor said. “Well, we’ve all sat here and listened to a list of crimes committed by a man we thought we knew. All of which were designed to break Portento apart. It’s now too clear that Rick was a selfish and evil man. I don’t think it is fair to vote on the future of people who are deserving of living in this town. None of us needed a vote to live here.” “Why not vote when there might be humans among these Swamp Lands people,” a man in the left row said, standing up. “How can we be sure they are good people?” “Rick was a wolf, one of us. Look at what he did.” Mildred pointed out. “Those in the Swamp Lands have provided nothing but kindness to the Third’s mate and Alpha Rory’s mate. They did this despite their losses at Rick’s hands. They are blessings to the town. I think we shouldn’t vote on this. We should offer full acceptance. Anyone else agree?” For a moment, no one spoke, and Rory feared this would turn into a political battle. Then Mildred’s husband stood, followed by their twins. Jack stood, sparking the rise of all his friends. The three hundred or so people in the town hall all stood one by one, until there was no one sitting. Even the man who had shown doubt now stood, albeit still wary of the idea. Mildred came out on to the aisle. She walked to the front and hugged Elle. “My name is Mildred Cohagen,” she said. “If you ever need help, all you need do is ask.” Elle’s eyes filled with tears as she returned Mildred’s hug. “I am Elle McRieve. I thank you for your acceptance.” More people came up to greet Elle. Soon Mildred led Elle back to her seat. More introduced themselves to the others from the Swamp Lands, and the question of whether to accept them into the fold was answered without a vote. Rory and Milan started to go sit, but Iris stopped them. “Well, now that we have that sorted,” Iris said, her voice enough to silence the room. “As one of the council, I would like to remind everyone of the events last week. As you all know, Rory fought his first duel at Biosense a week ago. He defeated Rick’s challenge to take on the role of alpha. He is now Alpha of the Pack. Beside him is his mate, Milan Takeda. After all the sadness, do you agree that it is time to celebrate? Our town shall have a strong future despite the troubles. Am I right or what?” A round of applause roared in the town hall and amid agreements and whistles. “Then, the council shall convene to plan the ceremony,” Iris said, coming to stand beside Milan and pulling him into a hug. She liked Milan, Rory realized, very much. *** The Council relocated to the Mayor’s office. Lisbeth was eager to discover more about Elle and Johan, Hunter cut straight to the point. “With Rick gone, we are left with quite a few loose ends,” Hunter said, moving to sit on of the armchairs in Lisbeth’s huge office. Iris perched on the arm of his chair, nodding her head in agreement. “The high school for sure needs a new head,” Linda said, sitting next to Hunter. “The vice-principal can fill in, but you know that position must be held by a council member.” “Hunter,” Kutler said, standing next to Connor. “What do you think?” “I don’t have the patience to deal with teenagers,” Hunter shook his head. “Iris?” “No,” Linda, Lisbeth and Lechter all said at once, shaking their heads. Iris laughed. “I can do it,” Iris said. “I like young minds. So full of potential, they are. Why do you all look so frightened?” “If you want work, I’ll give it to you,” Connor said. “Kutler needs help negotiating terms with the Swamp Lands on the logging. He’d love your input there.” “I’m likely to side with the Swamp Lands,” Iris told him. “Kutler?” Connor prompted. “I would love your help,” Kutler said to Iris, with a strained smile. “Fine, I’m sure that will be entertaining anyway,” Iris said. “Who will you make Principal then?” “Elle,” Connor asked, looking to her. “You’re the only one without a current post. Sage runs her hotel. Linda is at the grocery store. Lisbeth is here. That leaves you.” “You would trust me with your children?” Elle asked, a bit awed by this invitation. “You have a nurturing nature,” Linda said, in agreement. “They’ll also learn from you.” Elle smiled, and nodded, looking to Johan in excitement. “Then, I’ll accept,” Elle said. “Great,” Connor sat down on a bench set by the window and turned to Lisbeth. “Biosense. We’re in a disadvantage with them so close, Lisbeth. Cade Ogawa was too close, even with Rick’s help.” “Cade Ogawa is a complication,” Linda said, staring at her nails. “His son is my son’s mate. We cannot bring him harm. Nisin is one of us now.” “Complication is right,” Lisbeth said with a shudder. “Biosense is huge, Connor. They will get curious if a branch goes silent with no explanation.” “What about the Takedas,” Iris suggested. “Both are doctors who spent their lives doing research one or another. Can’t we enlist their help with Biosense?” Connor sighed. “Ilaria flew out of here like a bat out of hell. They might have to stay and takeover Biosense. How do we convince her to come back?” “Simple,” Iris smiled. “Her son. She would do it to protect Milan.” Linda nodded. “That’s an idea. Still doesn’t give us a solution about Cade and Nisin.” “His fate would be death,” Lechter said, making Linda sit up, her gaze narrowed at him. “Relax, I’m not asking for that. Cade is too ambitious. You don’t get to his position with a passive attitude. We can’t kill him. We can’t have him staying in Portento as Biosense head. So, why don’t we strip him of his memories?” Linda thought about it for a moment, and then turned to Sage. “Can you remove all his Biosense memories?” “That will get complicated if we have someone else taking over Biosense,” Sage said, pacing the length of Lisbeth’s desk. “If the Takedas agree, don’t you think they’ll want to know everything Cade was working on?” “Use your magic to catalogue all that information,” Iris suggested. “It will give us insight into how Biosense works, and insulate the Takedas from the mothership.” “What do we do with Cade when I’m done?” “Hand him to the guardians,” Connor said. “They’ll make sure no one can reach him. Nisin may visit him as he wishes. The Welfare Office can handle that, can’t they?” “I’ll handle it directly,” Linda said. “Nisin will be my son in-law. I’ll make sure it’s done right.” “Connor, you’ll talk to the Takedas?” Sage asked. “Yes,” Connor nodded. “Finally, Dolon and Lloyd,” Hunter said with a sigh. “Dolon’s condition can be reversed. The hospital is already on it, he didn’t get too much of that poison Rick wanted. His parents are worried though. Their son attacked an Alpha’s mate.” “Rory will reach out to them after Dolon gets better,” Connor decided. “Besides, I’m hoping this has taught Dolon a lesson. He should stop pushing Rory and Chris’s buttons now.” “They burned Lloyd’s body yesterday,” Lechter said. “He didn’t make it.” “I’m curious about why Rick didn’t have the same stench as Lloyd and even Dolon from that poison,” Hunter said. “I could barely stand in the hallway when he was at the end of the room.” “Rick was corrupted from the start,” Connor said. “I would have smelled that corruption, but he took measures to hide it.” “How?” Linda asked. “This,” Sage held up a bunch of dried wolf’s bane. “It will blind any wolf’s senses, even an Alpha. He must have used it long enough. I doubt anyone knew his real scent.” “Should we ban wolf’s bane from the town?” Linda asked. “What’s the point?” Kutler asked. “If someone is determined to get it, they’ll find it.” “How do we know if there are no more Rick’s hiding among us?” Lisbeth wondered. “The golden pair,” Iris said with a smile. “You mean Rory and Milan,” Connor said, narrowing his gaze at her. “Yes,” Iris said, looking tickled. “I felt it today in the hall. Milan took Elle’s pain and turning the room away from anger and disagreements. Sanctuary is alive again, playing her part. Those two will keep Portento clean.” “They’re still too young,” Kutler said. “So much to learn.” “I’m willing to nurture,” Elle said, looking as excited as Iris. “Me too,” Iris said. “Are you sure I can’t teach at the high school?” “What would you teach?” Hunter asked, placing a hand on Iris’s knee. “History,” Iris said, taking Hunter’s hand and placing it on his lap. “I have a long memory.” “You’ll frighten the children,” Hunter teased. “Children need frightening so that they don’t repeat history,” Iris said, her voice making even Connor shiver. “Iris, that’s a no on frightening children. Work with Kutler.” Lisbeth stood up. “I’m glad to see the end of this trouble. It’s sad about Rick. Iris was right about a celebration. Rory is eighteen. It’s the right time to start learning how the council works. Plus, he’s graduating from high school this year.” “Then spring is the perfect time for celebration,” Sage said, making magical flower petals rain down in the room. “The trees will have woken, the flowers blooming, the ice melted.” “Rory wants to take Milan on a trip to Italy,” Iris said. “I heard them talking about it in whisper from the trees. We can help them plan for it.” Connor rubbed his eyes and stood up too. “That would include engaging the services of the guardians.” “Anything for them,” Iris insisted. “Think of Milan as my son from now on, Connor Morgan. I’m your in-law.” Connor chuckled at that and when Iris got up, he raised his arms in surrender. “Yep, totally, I understand. Let’s end this meeting. I have things to do,” Connor said, heading for the door. “Sage, let me know what happens with Cade. I’ll call the Takedas tonight.” ***
  11. lilansui

    Chapter 31

    Amore Consumato Vibrating with excitement, Milan stood in the bathroom brushing his hair. He swept fingers through the soft mass when he was done and wondered if he shouldn’t get a cut. It had grown longer. A gift from the change, he thought. Dropping the brush into its holder on the bathroom counter, he pinched his cheeks and smiled at the red flush there. He was no longer pale and sickish. He took that as a serious accomplishment. Milan left the bathroom and was in the closet getting dressed when he heard the Skype ringtone. Pulling on his white One Ok Rock t-shirt, he rushed to the bed and his laptop to answer the call. He smiled wide when he saw Ilaria’s face fill the screen. “Buona sera, Cucciolito,” Ilaria greeted. “Come va?” “It’s going well,” Milan said, happy to see her. “How is Papa?” “Better. Much better,” Ilaria said. “Ayu is with him now. He is saying goodbye as he prepares for his flight back to you.” “Ah,” Milan settled on the bed, adjusting his t-shirt. “You look happier, not as worried.” Ilaria nodded, her dark hair moving around her like silk water. Her face looked bright; her eyes rested, no more shadows, even though it was one o’clock at night in Turin. “Mi spiace, Milan,” Ilaria said. “I’m sorry.” “For what?” “Acting like a crazy woman the last few days,” Ilaria said. “I—” She broke off for a minute as though thinking hard, and then continued. “It wasn’t easy seeing your Papa so ill. It’s the first time for all of us to see him like that. He has been a rock for me…and to see him down…I-I just wanted to get my family away from there. I know I was unreasonable, but—” “I understand,” Milan cut in, hating the contrite look on his mother’s face. He understood her perfectly. One might not think it, but Kiyo was Ilaria’s pillar. The reason she stayed strong for him, for Ayu. Without him…well, the breakdown at the hospital was a clue as to what would happen next. “It was a lot to happen to all of us,” Milan continued. “A lot to take in, I’m still processing it too.” This was the best he could give her. He had hated disliking her for wanting to pull him away from Rory. Ilaria had given him a gift with the extraordinary efforts she put forth to take care of him. She was such a mother, that he sometimes forgot she was human. She made mistakes. She always forgave his. Now, it was his turn. “Ti amo, Milan,” Ilaria said, as though reading his thoughts. “You must never forget that. No matter what shape you take, who you love, what you love, what you want to do, why, when, all of it. You remain mine, il mio bambino. I will love you a lifetime and more. You understand?” Milan smiled. “I love you too, Mamma.” Ilaria let out a relieved sigh and tried for a smile. “Let’s not be on opposite ends ever again. It hurts too much.” “Yes, Mamma, for me too.” Tears slid down Ilaria’s cheeks and Milan wished he could hug her through the screen. “Oh, Mamma, don’t start crying,” Milan begged when she sniffled. Ilaria reached for a tissue from a box next to her, and wiped her eyes. “You’re turning into a crybaby,” Milan teased her when she blew her nose. “Don’t make fun of your Mamma,” Ilaria said, pressing the tissue to the corner of her eye. “Is Rory’s family treating you okay? Have you checked the bag I gave you? I left money there to spend in a wallet. Tell me if it runs out. I will talk to Rory’s dad about groceries and all other needs.” “Rory’s family is very good to me,” Milan said, knowing it was useless to talk her out of calling Connor Morgan. “How is school?” “I’ll start again on Monday,” Milan said. “It felt like the best thing to do. A friend is bringing me work from my classes. I’ve made up most of it.” “Va bene. I trust your judgment on that,” Ilaria said, and then she launched into telling him all the gossip from their neighbors in Turin. She talked for thirty minutes straight, until he had to stop her, as he needed to finish preparing for his date with Rory. “Where is Rory?” Ilaria asked. “We’re going on a date,” Milan said, with a wide grin. “He wants to pick me up, so he went to prepare in his old room.” “Oh, you’re wearing the t-shirt?” Ilaria asked, frowning at him. “Cucciolo, stand so that I see what you’re wearing.” “He said it was casual,” Milan said, getting off the bed, turning the laptop so his mother could see his black jeans and white t-shirt. “This is good enough.” “What are you wearing on top?” “The blazer you had that tailor in Florence make me,” Milan said. “Si, si, that will work,” Ilaria snapped her fingers. “Dress shoes?” “No way, my converse shoes will work.” Ilaria smiled. “Then, I want pictures. Make sure you send them to me.” Milan agreed, promising to get Rory’s picture too. “I have to go now,” Milan said, when he looked at the time. “Rory is almost here.” Ilaria was reluctant to let him go. “Your brother is leaving on the four a.m. flight. I’ll drive him to the airport. You and Rory can pick him up when he lands. Yes?” “Okay, text me his flight details,” Milan said. “Oh, I wanted to talk to Papa too.” “You can talk to Papa tomorrow when I call again. You tell me when you’re not busy. It doesn’t matter how late, I’ll answer.” “I will let you know, Mamma,” Milan blew her kisses. “I have to go now. Kiss Papa for me.” “Okay, okay.” Milan grinned because Ilaria kept looking at him. He reached out and ended the call afraid she might talk to him all night, if allowed. Happy to have cleared the air with her, Milan went to get the dark blazer she bought him, and wore it over his t-shirt. Adjusting the belt on his jeans, he wore socks and jammed his feet into his converse shoes. He was adjusting the laces when Maryanne came into the bedroom. “Oh, Milan,” she said, her voice in a singsong. “Your date is downstairs. He is breaking hearts looking insanely sexy. You’re lucky he’s your mate. Otherwise, all the chicks in the back offices will swarm him. I have Topher and even I’m tempted to have a bite of him.” “Maryanne,” Milan chided. “What?” Maryanne went to the windows that showed off the front yard and pulled back the curtains. “Look at that guy.” Milan hurried to stand beside her, leaning on the wall when he saw Rory standing by his red mustang, looking sexy as sin. Who knew black would look so good on him? Rory wore a black jacket over a black tee and black fitting jeans and his feet in sexy black boots. As though sensing Milan’s gaze on him, he pushed off the car, and looked up to the window, meeting Milan’s gaze. Milan took in air unable to believe Rory was his for good. It still felt like a dream, and he was going to wake up and find himself stuck in a bed hyped up on damn good meds. Maryanne patted his shoulder proving his idea wrong. The surprise of this being reality had his heart beating on a rampage again. Maryanne turned him away from the window. “Go on,” she said, pushing him to the door. “He’s been waiting for you forever, Little Alpha.” Milan left their bedroom and ran down the stairs, opening the front door with his heart pounding in his chest. He gasped when he found Rory waiting at the doorstep. He flung himself into Rory’s arms as though they hadn’t spent the afternoon together. Rory kissed him, holding him close. “Hey, you,” Milan breathed, when they broke their kiss. “You look delicious, smell even better,” Rory said, squeezing him tighter. “You look real good too,” Milan said, reaching up to caress Rory’s clean-shaven jaw. Rory took Milan’s hand and led him to the car, opening the passenger side for Milan. He waited until Milan settled to close the door, and then jogged around to the driver’s side. Once inside, Rory started the engine and they headed out. “Where are we going?” “To have fun,” Rory promised. “There’s more to this place than cold you know.” “So, you won’t tell me what we’re doing tonight?” “Nope.” Rory flashed him a grin. “Okay,” Milan said. “Did you have a nice talk with Mamma?” Rory asked. Milan glanced at Rory, not surprised his mate would know about his call with Ilaria. Rory felt more than he did in their shared bond. Milan knew he wasn’t reaching in as much, knew if he wanted, he could discover all there was about Rory through their bond. Yet, he was holding back, unable to delve into Rory’s personal space. Rory knew it too. It hurt Rory that Milan dared not venture deeper. Milan felt that much. Still, he kept his distance. He didn’t know what he was waiting for. Permission or a—, he couldn’t describe it. “Yes,” Milan answered Rory about Ilaria. “She looked happier. She’s had time to think, said she was sorry for trying to make me move back to Italy. You know, I thought I would be sad having her so far away, but it feels nice somehow. I think we needed time apart. Does that make me a bad child?” “No, it doesn’t,” Rory said. “If you want we can visit them before they come back during spring break. You can show me that cathedral you said you’re named after.” Milan laughed. “I was named after the city, not the cathedral.” “Yeah, the cathedral has your name too.” “A lot of buildings end up having my name. There are even cookies with my name. I don’t know whether I should complain that I came first, or they should complain that I took their name.” Rory chuckled. “It doesn’t matter because you’re the only Milan to me.” “That one’s too sweet,” Milan said, shifting in his seat to study Rory. “How long have we known each other?” “A lifetime,” Rory stated with a straight face. Milan laughed again. “Doesn’t it feel that way?” “It does,” Milan agreed. “When I read books and the characters end up together too fast, I always think the writer is being unrealistic. No one gets together that fast. I thought it was a fantasy since all I ever got were people staying away from me.” Milan’s gaze dropped to where Rory held his hand. “Now—” “Now?” “We’re the cliché, and I don’t care,” Milan said. “Actually, we’re not,” Rory said. “Maryanne and Topher are the cliché. Nisin and Jack are the norm. We’re not.” “Why not? We’ve known each other for two months, barely and we’re attached for life.” “My people mate within hours of meeting each other,” Rory stated. “What?” Milan sat straight in his seat. “No way that’s Nisin and Jack. Nisin is complicated. Jack wouldn’t have it easy with him.” Rory grinned. “Fortunately, Jack is more straightforward than me. And, he didn’t have to deal with meddling parents. He and Nisin are a couple. Jack insisted on telling him everything the first night they met. When Jack heard your change was complete, he took Nisin to the Swamp Lands. They talked it over with Grandma Asta. Nisin’s conversion is set for some time next week. Johan and Elle wouldn’t let Jack do anything until the people in the swamp lands join the town.” “So, where is Nisin now?” “Jack took him to his house. It’s been days since anyone saw Nisin. Jack is being very protective of him.” “Aren’t you worried about Nisin?” Milan asked, concerned. “Shouldn’t you send people to check on him? We should drive to Jack’s place.” “Milan. Don’t meddle in private matters. Nisin is Jack’s mate. I disliked your father very much when he tried to stop me from seeing you. I argued with your mother when she tried to take you away. Let’s not play that role with Jack. He is the best person for Nisin right now.” “But—,” Milan broke off and stared at Rory, and then he sighed and leaned against the door. “You’re right. I just feel bad that I haven’t stopped to think about Nisin since that day Rick attacked. I mean my father just disappeared on him. He must be going through so much. I—and his Papa is also in trouble.” “He has Jack. Believe me. He’s in the best hands possible. Jack won’t let anything happen to him. Do you trust me?” “Yes.” “Then believe me when I saw Nisin is fine.” Rory slowed down the car. Milan looked out to see where they were. Rory turned into a short drive that led into a parking lot full of cars. An attendant helped them find a parking spot close to the entrance. Rory turned off the car, and sat looking at the lighted gardens ahead. “Where are we?” “The Rose Restaurant,” Rory said. “It’s run by Rowen’s mom. Topher’s sister has a band. They usually play here on Fridays. She gave me tickets yesterday. “It’s a pretty place.” Milan undid his seatbelt and started to open his door. “Wait,” Rory said, opening his door and getting out. Milan watched Rory hurry around the front and come around to his side. Rory opened Milan’s door and Milan came out with a smile. He waited as Rory locked the car, and then they headed into the restaurant together. Their table was in a corner by the windows, set for two, private and with a great view of the stage. Milan removed his jacket and placed it on the back of his chair. He adjusted the amulet on his neck as he sat down and smiled at Rory who watched him. “What?” “I’ve dreamt of this moment so long,” Rory said, his smile infectious. “I can’t believe you’re out with me. I’m just enjoying it.” “You’re Alpha of an entire town. I’m the one who is supposed to say that,” Milan said, looking to the stage, where the band played a perfect rendition of Icecream by Sarah McLachlan. Ilaria liked her music; as a result, Milan now knew all McLachlan music. The singer had a great voice, soulful, as she perched on a stool, beautiful in peach. “The band’s great.” “Jade will like you then,” Rory said. “She thinks Topher and I don’t care.” “I doubt that,” Milan said, picking up the menu, and reading it. He couldn’t remember the last time he sat in a restaurant to order food. He was too young when he first got sick. After that, there was no eating out anymore. He glanced at Rory over his menu. This milestone was also thanks to Rory. “What’s good here?” Milan asked. “The short ribs,” Rory said, pushing his menu to the side. Milan did the same and rested his elbows on the table, meeting Rory’s amused gaze. “Order for me,” Milan said. “I’ll eat what you have. Why aren’t we cliché? You only gave me Jack and Nisin’s example. They don’t count. Nisin is sick. Jack probably wants to fix him.” Rory moved the salt holder aside and took Milan’s right hand, straightening Milan’s fingers so that he could trace Milan’s palm. “Fair enough,” Rory agreed. “Maryanne and Topher found each other at a party when they both turned eighteen. You’ve seen them in our kitchen.” “I left the room yesterday,” Milan mused, remembering Topher and Maryanne making out against the kitchen counter. “Yeah, it’s gotten better. They couldn’t keep off each other when they first met. Most wolves mate within hours of meeting their fated partners.” “So, we’re different because you waited?” Milan guessed. “More than waited,” Rory said, shifting his gaze to Milan’s palm. “I had to have Grandma Asta give me a bracelet to control the need to claim you. Your mother would have put me down otherwise.” Milan gave a short chuckle at that. “Was it that hard?” Rory’s hold on his hand tightened, his tracing finger pausing to rub on a line on Milan’s palm. “I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone touching you, even your brother.” Rory shook his head. “Worst case scenario, I would have turned into a mad man and kidnapped you. It would have been a shock to you. Strange thing is I didn’t know what the hell I would do with you once I got you. I had never seen a wolf/human pair before. Grandma Asta saved us both from that ending.” “So, we’re that special huh,” Milan mused. “Quite.” “We’re not usual,” Milan said. “Far from it,” Rory said. “You’re a gift from the goddess to me.” Milan nodded in acceptance. His life was not conventional; of course, the love of his life would not be someone ordinary. Wasn’t it his good luck too to find Rory at seventeen? There were many who never found the right person at all. Milan decided to take it as is. “I met someone at the welfare office today. Her name is Annie. She didn’t think I was good enough to be the Alpha’s mate. Thought I didn’t understand anything about the town. Maryanne thinks there will be more who think like Annie.” Rory made a face. “What they think doesn’t matter. Nothing can change who you are to me, or who you are to this town.” Milan smiled at Rory’s answer. Storing away the solid support, he moved on from Annie. “Why Portento?” Milan asked. “Why are their wolves here? Why this place?” Rory played with Milan’s fingers as he talked about Portento’s history. Milan listened as Rory talked about the founding trio. The alpha who begged for sanctuary for his family and how the goddess answered by creating a barrier around Portento, ensuring their safety. How she made them promise to offer sanctuary to all who needed it, as she had offered. “We’ve kept at it for centuries, generation to generation. We don’t always get it right, but we’ve done well.” “You were right about your roots running deep,” Milan said. Rory let go of his hand when their drinks came. Milan sipped his passion juice, his gaze straying to the band. The lead singer had disappeared. The band now played instrumental music and he didn’t recognize the tune. “I’ve never belonged to a place before. My family and I, we’ve always been on the move. You know that.” “If you had to stay, would you miss the travel?” Rory asked, drawing Milan’s gaze. Milan thought about that for a moment. The fear he felt when his mother asked him to leave for Turin. It was new, and unexpected. That fear tied to Rory, more than Portento. He didn’t want to be away from Rory. “I like being anchored.” “Do you mean that?” Rory asked, holding his gaze. “I do,” Milan said. “Milan, living in Portento with me doesn’t mean you can’t travel if you want. This is not a prison but sanctuary. If you ever feel that you want to travel, all you have to do is say it. Can you promise me that?” Milan smiled and nodded. “I promise.” Sipping his juice, a thought filled his head. “By the way, are there wolves living beyond the town’s borders? Are there humans who know about us?” “Our kind works hard to keep our existence secret from humans. Of course, there are settlements of wolves across the country and others abroad, but I don’t know any like Portento. Our town is the exception, a haven with a majority share, unlike out there where humans have precedence. Portento tries to keep minimal contact with everyone to keep our location hidden.” “Only those in desperate need can find Portento. Rowen says her mom knows a lot more of the settlements around the world. Rumor is that her mom fell in with a bad group who hunt our kind, and needed to find a place to keep Rowen safe. Her extensive research brought her to Portento’s borders.” “Bad groups, with people like Cade Ogawa?” Milan asked. “They want to research on werewolves?” “Worse,” Rory said. “Extremist who think we’re a blight on the world. They kill our kind without asking questions. The group is ran by humans, one of the reason why everyone in this town is wary of them. They hunt us down like beasts.” Milan shivered at the thought of being hunted down like an animal. “Do you have gatekeepers?” Milan asked. “You know, like a videogame. You can’t enter sanctuary without meeting the gatekeeper.” “Yes, we have several gatekeepers. We call them guardians,” Rory nodded. “They keep watch for trouble. Or, stand guard when important assets of Portento leave for any reason.” “So, Portento is the Atlantis for your kind,” Milan said. “You only get in if you are worthy.” “Our kind,” Rory corrected. “I guess you could say that.” “How did Biosense get so close?” Milan asked, his frown deepening. “I mean—there must have been an uproar when we moved into the main town.” Rory fell silent when their waiter brought their plates of food. Their waiter was polite and efficient, placing their plates and ensuring they had everything they needed. He hurried away soon after, leaving them alone. “The Mayor brought Biosense,” Rory said. “Portento is like any other town. We need money to maintain many things. So, she found Biosense to provide a new hospital, while we gave up a small part of the forest where Biosense has set up. I can’t really say more on it, as I don’t know the details. We’ll find out tomorrow. As for you, and your family, your presence was different. It tipped a scale.” Rory watched Milan take his first bite of food made outside home. “Is it good?” “Delicious,” Milan said, feeling like he might eat Rory’s share too. The short ribs were mouth-watering. They melted in his mouth as soon as he took a bite, his appetite surging like a beast. “Mm, we should eat here every day.” Rory grinned his approval and started on his food. “Were you upset about your mate being human?” Milan asked, curious. “Were you…disappointed?” “No.” Rory ignored his food to look at him. “Not even for a moment. I was just glad to have found my mate. I turned into a stalker to be honest. I lived on that tree behind the Takeda house for a few days, watching you.” “What?” Milan’s eyes wide at this revelation. “It was snowing out.” “I didn’t care. I just wanted to keep seeing you.” Milan gaped. “Come to think of it,” Milan narrowed his gaze. “Did you ever work at the grocery store?” Rory grinned. “Nope, but it was the only way I could meet you without freaking you out.” Milan sat back in his seat watching Rory pick up his fork and dig into his food. Any doubts in Milan’s heart disappeared with that confession. He didn’t know how he had gotten so lucky, but he would take it. All of it, the town, Rory, his being a wolf, it was all a blessing, he decided. Milan continued eating, their topic changing to Rory’s favorite music, especially when the band covered his song. Rory had a thing for the Bad Wolves. He’d heard their music in Rory’s car more than once. They laughed a lot, ate a lot, lost in their own world. When dessert came, Milan took a piece of vanilla cheesecake with his fork and he held it out for Rory. “Taste this.” Rory stood, taking his chair and brought it closer to Milan. Milan smiled when Rory sat and leaned closer to take in the bite of cheesecake. They were inches apart now, Milan shifted so that there was no space between them. His left shoulder brushing Rory’s right. He ate a bite of cheesecake too, looking up to Rory. Rory held his gaze. “It’s good, isn’t it?” Milan asked Rory, loving the taste of the cheesecake. He had so many things to taste. “I haven’t tried cheesecake before. I love it. I might get addicted to it.” Milan fed Rory a second bite and grinned when Rory leaned in to kiss him, sharing the taste of vanilla cheesecake. “You’d better be addicted to me first,” Rory teased, ending their kiss. ‘By the way, you’re hiding from me,’ Rory told him. ‘I’m sitting right next to you.’ Milan countered, taking another bite of cheesecake and holding it out to Rory. ‘I’m even letting you eat my cheesecake.’ ‘You know what I mean,’ Rory took the fork from him, and pulled the plate closer to his side. He took a huge bite of the cheesecake, and smiled at Milan. ‘Rory, you thief.’ Rory chuckled and fed Milan the next bite, making sure to make a mess of it. He leaned in and licked Milan’s chin and the corner of his lips, making Milan chuckle. ‘Cheesecake or Milan,’ Rory mused, pushing the empty plate aside. ‘I definitely prefer Milan.’ Milan rubbed Rory’s clean-shaven chin, charmed. The music changed, turning lively. There was a dance floor near the band. Milan watched as people moved to dance. “Let’s dance,” Milan suggested, getting up. He held out his hand to Rory. “Come on.” “Don’t want to talk anymore?” Rory asked, removing his jacket. He placed it on the back of his chair, allowing Milan to lead him to the dance floor. “Dancing is a way of talking too,” Milan said, when they reached the dance floor. Holding Rory’s hand, he swayed to the music. When Rory crowded behind him, and moved with him, he grinned because he wasn’t an expert at dancing, but it felt good to move to the beat with Rory. Rory touched him: his waist, his hips, up his arms, pressing little kisses on his neck setting him afire. The dancers around them turned into a blur, the music the only thing that filtered through. Beat after beat, he moved with Rory, until Milan turned to face Rory. A soft breath escaped when Rory pulled him in tight, their faces inches apart. Milan forgot the world. Rory’s blue eyes the only thing that mattered here and now. Milan rose up on his tiptoes, and closed the small distance between them, kissing Rory in the middle of a dance floor. Lost in the heat of the kiss, in Rory’s arms wrapping around him. He drew back when whistles and claps broke through. Heat suffused his cheeks as he realized they had an audience. Rory grinned, happy, and kept holding Milan when he tried to step back. Milan groaned and pressed his face into Rory’s chest. ‘You weren’t so shy a minute ago,’ Rory teased when they moved away from the dance floor, heading back to their table. ‘I don’t know what came over me,’ Milan sighed, rubbing his hot cheeks. ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ “I’m glad you did,” Rory said, sitting down in his chair. Milan excused himself to go to the bathroom. His face felt overheated and he needed to use the toilet. Milan finished peeing and moved to wash his hands at the sink. Staring at his face in the mirror, he bent over and splashed cold water on his face. When he looked in the mirror again, it was to see his brown eyes turned gold. He felt buzzed and hot, extra hot. Dancing with Rory did that to him. Having Rory’s hands on him set him on ablaze. Leaning over to splash more water on his face, Milan turned off the tap and straightened up. “It’s not the first time he’s touched you,” Milan said to the unfamiliar gold eyes he was starting to love. ‘There was the cave. You liked it.’ His cheeks burned thinking of that day at the cave. At the time, he had been so worried that his newfound connection with Rory was in danger. Then Rory brought him to the edge, and those thoughts disappeared. The ecstasy in that moment, Milan bit his bottom lip, remembering it to detail. He was hard, just thinking of it. He wanted more, and didn’t know how to ask for it. Milan wondered whether it was the same for everyone. Having Rory close made him want to rip all of Rory’s clothes off and explore to his heart’s content. That need so deep, he felt crazy with it. ‘If you come out here, we can get out of this restaurant and I’ll let you do that,’ Rory’s sexy voice filled his head, fueling the consuming need to fling himself into Rory’s arms. ‘Milan.’ The door to the bathroom opened and Milan sucked in needed air, hating the intrusion. He hurried out of the bathroom to avoid the very interested newcomer’s gaze. Back at their table, Rory stood watching him. Blue eyes shimmered with gold and Milan’s steps slowed at the answering fire in his blood. This night was no longer about a simple date. He saw it now. Rory took Milan’s jacket, and met him, taking Milan’s hand. Milan closed his fingers around a hot palm, feeling as though he clung to a live wire. Rory led him out of the restaurant and to their car in silence. Rory unlocked the doors, and opened the passenger door for Milan. When Milan started to go around him, Rory had other ideas. Pressing Milan against the car, dropping Milan’s jacket on his seat, he took Milan’s lips, kissing him hard, a beast starved. Milan clung to Rory, reaching up to wrap his arms around Rory’s shoulders. Rory used it as leverage lifting Milan, taking more, drowning Milan in their shared desire. *** Their true first time turned into an education. There was no elegance in their coming together, instead a mish-mash of sensation, a learning. Nips and caresses on soft skin, tickles, and squeezes, stubbed toes, torn zippers on jeans, and a band t-shirt with a ripped sleeve. They fell on their bed, pushing all the covers to the floor. Milan slid his palms over Rory’s hard stomach, tracing contoured muscles, trailing soft hair down, lower, to treasure. Rory’s hiss of pleasure when Milan took his length in his palms. Strong and powerful, holding Rory’s thick length was awkward at fast, but then it got familiar, obsessive especially when Rory went mad with pleasure. Milan could not forget the feel of Rory’s fingers gripping his hair when Milan decided to taste Rory. His shout of surprise when Milan sucked him and the tremble of Rory’s body when he came. Hours later, both of them slicked in sweat, Rory slid inside him, feeling too large, too much, Milan’s fingers dug into Rory’s arms. Pain bloomed amid the pleasure, Rory held him still when he would have moved. Milan closed his eyes, and fell into the depths of Rory’s love. Their bond snapped in place, a full vibrant color that shot through Milan’s very being, with no barrier left. Rory’s pleasure flooded him, pushing the pain aside, Milan gasped and met Rory’s gaze as Rory surged into him. Once, twice, countless times, heat building, burning. Milan accepted Rory’s open kiss, coming apart at the seams the deeper Rory took him. They turned into one, and when Milan couldn’t take anymore, he exploded with a cry, spilling between them. Rory kept going, hungry for Milan, taking what he had wanted for so long. Milan met his every touch, his every kiss, with his own, until they were both immersed in each other, thoroughly and completely. *** Morning came, bringing with it the sun through the windows with no curtains. Rory turned his head away, to find Milan tucked into his side, face buried into his shoulder. His soft breath brushed against Rory’s skin. Milan had flung a possessive arm over Rory’s chest, his thigh riding high on Rory’s right leg. The sheet Rory had found at around four in the morning tangled around them. Rory smiled, brushing his fingers through Milan’s hair so that he could see his mate’s face. Reaching for his phone on his side of the bed, Rory snapped a picture of them, and saved it as his wallpaper. Milan’s phone already had a picture of them at the green house holding their strawberry plant. Returning his phone to the bedside table, Rory was content to watch Milan sleep. He knew the exact moment that Milan woke up. Brown eyes with a mix of gold seeking him out, Milan’s arm tightening on him when he saw him. “Morning.” Milan blushed, a marvel after all they had done to each other last night. He buried his face into Rory’s shoulder. “Morning,” Milan said, his voice sexy low, it sent thrills through Rory. “You stayed today.” “No snow,” Rory said. “Plus, it’s a Saturday and the sun is out. It will be a warm day.” “I love sunny days,” Milan said, eyes closed, not moving from his comfortable position. Rory shifted, wanting to hold Milan. He pulled him into his arms, adjusting the sheet around them so that he could move his thigh between Milan’s, wanting more skin contact. Milan rubbed his legs against his, and yawned. “I wanna sleep some more,” Milan murmured. Red marks clear on his neck down to his shoulder, and the bite mark Rory gave him when turning him. It had not faded, remaining to show everyone that Milan was claimed. Rory traced the fading red marks, making Milan lean into him. “Sleep, Baby.” They spent the morning in bed. Milan slept, Rory read the One Piece manga Milan was reading, careful to keep Milan’s place marked with a bookmark. At ten o’clock, Milan woke up. Wide awake he sat up, kissed Rory with wild abandon, then rushed to the bathroom. Rory sat up with a laugh, marking his own place in Milan’s book. He placed it on the table on Milan’s side of the bed. Arranging their pillows, Rory paused when he found Milan’s leather drawing book hidden under the pillows again. Milan flushed the toilet in the bathroom, and Rory heard him open the shower stall door. Rory took Milan’s diary, curious about what Milan was drawing now. A pencil marked the last drawing Milan made, and it was a fantasy drawing of the pack house. Milan had given it a life of its own, turning it mystical and wondrous, with vines growing around it. “Do you like it?” Rory looked up to find Milan watching him from the bathroom door “It’s beautiful,” Rory said. “All your drawings are.” “You’ve been sneaking a look,” Milan stated, his tone matter of fact. Rory knew Milan would have discovered it through their bond. There were no secrets between them now. “To read your thoughts,” Rory said, closing the diary and returning it to its hiding place. “You put what you’re thinking about most in this one.” Milan studied him for a moment, and Rory waited for a scolding for the snooping. “Wanna take a shower with me?” Milan asked, and then entered the bathroom without waiting for an answer. Rory got out of bed fast, running after Milan. He wished they could laze around in bed all day, but they needed to get ready for the town meeting. He couldn’t wait to finish the troubles with Rick, so that he and Milan could have more time. That’s all he wanted, more and more time. ****
  12. lilansui

    Chapter 29

    Thanks for reading, I will, I think I have two or three chapters left now ^_^. Italy is on it's way. Milan will make a short visit at some time, to be revealed. ^_^. Thank you so much for reading this story of mine. It's been an unexpected journey for me too.
  13. lilansui

    Chapter 30

    Chapter 30 Sinking fingers into dirt Rory woke up to a warm weight on his stomach. Rubbing his eyes, he lifted his head and smiled when he saw Milan’s head resting on his stomach. Milan sprawled on the rest of their huge bed, his feet tangled in the sheets. His mate traveled in his sleep. Rory dropped his head back on his comfortable pillow and sunk fingers into soft dark curly hair. He dreamed of this paradise so many nights of this paradise, that he kept touching Milan to know it was real. Milan was now with him, in his bed, his house…his life. Two days and his spirit felt near settled, he couldn’t imagine what two weeks would be like. After that there would be two months, then two years, decades. His blood surged with joy at the prospect of all those nights spent with Milan by his side. Rory took in a deep breath, holding in the scent of mandarin oranges. He breathed out slow and turned his head to look at the time on the bedside table. It was about six o’clock. His clock beeped and he reached for it fast before the alarm went off. He turned off the alarm, and sat up with care, holding on to Milan, so that he wouldn’t wake up yet. He cradled Milan’s head, lifting him up with care and moving him to their shared pillows. Milan shifted then, moving into his arms with a soft sigh. Rory bit back a chuckle and wrapped his arms around Milan, holding him tight. Milan kept sleeping. The wide windows in their bedroom showed off the early morning. Snow fell beyond the windows, turning their world into a winter wonderland. Today would be cold, Rory thought, adjusting the duvet over Milan’s shoulders. Two weeks ago, he would have worried about Milan going out in the cold. Now, he was glad that worry ended. His new concern involved Milan finding his place in the pack house. Rory worried Milan would find life here too different, compared to the Takeda house. Two days in and Milan had not voiced discomfort. Yet, Rory was aware of the tightly coiled knot growing each day Milan woke up. Rory kissed Milan’s forehead. He wondered when Milan would talk about it. *** Milan woke with the sun in his eyes. He let a soft sigh escape and reached for Rory. He turned when his hand touched cool sheets. Sitting up, he stared at the empty space next to him. Rory woke up early. The two days since he moved into Rory’s house, Milan always woke alone. It shouldn’t matter. After all, he had woken up alone all his life. Yet, it felt weird to go to bed with someone and then wake up alone. Folding his legs, he pushed hair out of his face and glanced at the clock on Rory’s side. He frowned when he saw the time. Nine in the morning. He was lucky he was taking time off from school this week. It was already Friday. He talked it over with Rory and decided it was better to start school on Monday. Jack brought him the school work he needed to catch up. A soft knock came on the bedroom door and the door opened before he could invite his visitor. “Hi Milan,” Maryanne greeted him, entering the bedroom. She looked pretty in a long black polka dot skirt and cute frilly top. Her brown hair piled on her head with pins. She waved at him, her smile infectious. “I hope I didn’t wake you,” Maryanne said, coming to sit on the side of the bed. “Rory would have my head.” Milan shook his head with a smile. He liked Maryanne. She was older than him by a year, and went to the same school as Ayu. She was also Topher’s mate. Milan blushed every time he saw them making out in the kitchen. Which was often. “I don’t have classes today,” Maryanne said, reaching for his left hand. “I thought we can hang out. We haven’t gotten a chance to know each other.” Milan squeezed her hand tight, grateful for her. She included him when he felt a tad intimidated by the tight-knit web in the pack house. He was trying his best to get along with everyone, but it wasn’t easy. He missed his family. Missed the solid acceptance of their love. Here, he was the outsider. Rory would pinch him if he heard him say that, but Milan couldn’t help feeling it. “What do you say?” Maryanne prompted, tagging on his hand, when he didn’t reply in time. “I’d love to hang out with you,” Milan said, smiling at her. ‘Morning, Cucciolo,’ Rory spoke to him through their private connection. It still felt so intimate to do so. Milan wondered how much of Rory felt from him. ‘Morning.’ Milan replied. ‘You didn’t wake me,’ Milan chided. ‘I told you to whenever you’re about to leave.’ ‘Didn’t have the heart to wake you. I’ll be home in the next fifteen minutes.’ ‘Okay.’ Milan pushed the covers away. “Rory had to help plow the streets early,” Maryanne said, studying him. “Topher went out with him. They got a call from Alpha Connor.” “Does it happen often?” Milan asked, intrigued by this new side of Rory. He hadn’t known the number of responsibilities Rory had until now. “When the snowfall is too heavy,” Maryanne said. “The Sheriff’s office runs a service, but when everyone is called out, Rory, Matt and Topher help out where they can.” Milan nodded. He now knew that Topher and Matt were Rory’s best friends, as well as the pack’s Beta and Third. Titles he discovered were important in the grand scale of things. There was still so much to learn. Milan got out of bed, adjusting his t-shirt, and the waistband of his pajama bottoms. “Let me shower real quick, then we can have breakfast,” Milan told Maryanne. “Sounds good. I’ll wait,” Maryanne said, sprawling on the huge bed, her skirt fanning out around her. “You look pretty today,” Milan said as he entered the bathroom. Maryanne grinned wide. *** Rory entered the house through the garage completed a week ago thanks to Jack Bennet. He paused to remove his boots, and stepped into a short corridor outside the kitchen on socked feet. He paused at the door into the kitchen when he heard Milan laugh. “Wait, wait, you’re adding too much,” Milan said. “Let me, gosh, no matter how awesome the machine, the batter will overflow if you put in that much. I did it once and the batter ended up on the counter. Marie made me clean it for hours.” Maryanne laughed, and Rory peeked in to the kitchen to see Milan standing next to Maryanne by the cooking range. The waffle maker on while Milan poured in batter. He closed the top and stood to wait for their waffles to cook. When it was ready, Maryanne opened the lid, her excitement hard to ignore. When the waffle turned out well done, she gave a happy shout and hugged Milan. “I haven’t ever made edible waffles. This is awesome, Milan. I love you. You’re not allowed to ever leave this house,” Maryanne gushed, smacking a kiss on Milan’s cheek. She let go of him as he placed the waffle on a plate and started to make the next one. “Let me try.” Rory watched them for a second more, then wanting to join in the fun, entered the kitchen. Milan looked up the second he entered the kitchen. His ready smile enough to turn Rory into a soppy fool. He walked up to Milan and wound an arm around him, pulling him into a hungry kiss. Milan leaned into him, allowing the kiss. When Rory broke it, he started to move away but Rory wouldn’t let him go. Instead, he kept holding Milan around his waist. “Rory,” Milan started. “What are you making?” Rory asked, resting his chin on Milan’s shoulder. “Maryanne can’t cook to save her life, you know. We’ve had to get breakfast from the main kitchen.” “That’s so rude,” Maryanne scowled at him. “I can boil water, with the kettle, and make coffee, with the espresso machine. How much more cooking does a girl need?” Milan chuckled prompting Maryanne to open the waffle maker before she burnt the new batch of waffles. Rory kept holding Milan, even when he took over the waffle-making from Maryanne. It felt good to stand in their kitchen, making a late breakfast, with no looming news over their heads. Rory’s stomach growled and Milan chuckled. “Hungry?” Milan asked. “Starving,” Rory murmured, pressing a kiss on Milan’s left ear, making him shiver. “You can have a waffle,” Milan suggested as he placed a new batch on the plate next to Maryanne. “It’s better when we’re all eating at the same time,” Rory said, glancing at Maryanne without moving his head from Milan’s shoulder. “How come you didn’t go to school today?” “It’s Friday,” Maryanne said. “Don’t have any classes. Milan promised to hang out with me. I usually help out the welfare office today. I thought we could hang together.” Rory sighed, wishing he could spend the rest of the day with Milan. Too bad he couldn’t, he had a meeting with Elle and Johan. They had finally agreed to come into the main town. They didn’t want to meet at the pack house, so he was to meet them in an open space right outside the swamp. “Rory,” Milan cut into his thoughts. “Mm.” “I want to wash the bowl,” Milan said, holding the bowl he used to mix batter and a spatula. Maryanne was busy cutting the waffles and placing them on a large platter. She moved away to find maple syrup and honey. Rory buried his nose into Milan’s neck and breathed him in. Mint and avocado from his shower. It pleased him to know that Milan used his hair shampoo. ‘I like you smelling like my shampoo.’ Rory pressed a kiss on his neck and Milan leaned into him. ‘I’m still annoyed with you for leaving me this morning. Move.’ ‘I wanted you to sleep longer.’ ‘I told you to tell me when you leave,’ Milan insisted, going to the sink. Rory followed him, wrapping his arms around Milan’s waist as Milan turned on water and started to wash the bowl. ‘I’ll wake you next time,’ Rory promised. ‘You said that yesterday,’ Milan pointed out. Rory rested his head on Milan’s shoulder again and let out a sigh. ‘Milan,’ he groaned. ‘I really have no power when I look at your sleeping face. It’s really hard for me to wake you.’ ‘Don’t be cute with me.’ ‘I’m being serious,’ Rory said. Milan chuckled as he placed the bowl in the draining rack. He flicked water at Rory’s face, and Rory tightened his hold on Milan in retaliation, turning him around to kiss him. A quick, hasty kiss as Maryanne entered the kitchen and gave them a short whistle. “Time to eat, guys,” Maryanne said. Milan kissed Rory’s cheek and pushed Rory to sit at the island table. “I’ll get you orange juice,” Milan said as Rory sat, and went to the fridge to get the bottle. “Looks like we need to do shopping. There’s barely any food in here.” Rory turned to Maryanne. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Linda about stocking this part of the house.” “I’m heading to the welfare office today, with Milan,” Maryanne said as she sat. She got a waffle and immediately drenched it with maple syrup. “I’ll do up the forms to set up the secondary house.” “Thanks,” Rory smiled at her as he got five waffles and placed them on his plate. Milan placed a glass of orange juice for him, then Maryanne, and finally sat down beside Rory. Breakfast was everything Rory could have hoped. He felt happy watching Milan and Maryanne get along, joking about cooking, and teasing Rory when he ate too fast. Rory made sure Milan drank his orange juice. He wondered if the method Maria used for fresh juice was written in the book she gave him. Just because Milan was now healed didn’t mean he should stop eating healthy. He was a freshly turned wolf. He needed plenty of rest, and eat well. “Iris mentioned a town meeting?” Milan cut into his thoughts. “She said to ask you about it. What’s the meeting for?” Rory picked up his glass of orange juice and drank deep. His meeting with Johan and Elle had a lot to do with the town meeting. The wolves in the Swamp Lands had a lot to negotiate before they decided to join the council. Maryanne and Milan would be required to attend the meeting in an official capacity. It would be good for them to know what the meeting was about. “Milan,” Rory shifted in his seat so that he could look at Milan. “Since you moved into this town, there has been a lot going on in the pack house.” “A lot how?” Milan asked. Rory glanced at Maryanne and she gave him a short nod, urging him to continue. It was time Milan knew the truth anyway. He now had to help Rory lead the pack. “The Portento Pack has laws,” Rory said, taking Milan’s hand. “One of those laws deals with humans living or moving into Portento. To protect who we are, what we are, humans are often moved out of the town, as fast and as quickly as possible. For a long time, decades before me, before my father, all wolves in Portento have followed this law. Sometimes, it caused more trouble than it should have. It has led to long-standing prejudice against humans. And, a fracture in the town’s people.” “That’s why no one wanted to socialize with us,” Milan said, in surprise. “Mamma told me that apart from Linda at the grocery store, no one wanted to get close to her at work. She always felt like an outsider.” “Not her fault,” Rory said, shaking his head. “She didn’t seem to mind going to work and getting home to Marie and you guys. Linda was a good friend to her. I didn’t think she needed more.” Milan stared at their clasped hands. “No wonder she wanted to leave.” “Milan.” “It’s okay,” Milan said, squeezing his hand. “Continue. What’s changed?” “Everything,” Rory said, with a small smile. “When I discovered you were my mate, I decided to find a way to change the law of not letting humans stay in this town. On that journey, I discovered Johan and Elle who live in the Swamp Lands. Their people have embraced human mates, and build a strong community. Then, our coming together, you and me, fulfilled an old prophecy by the goddess called The Morgan Lore.” “What’s the prophecy?” Milan asked. “Portento is considered sanctuary to all in need. Most times, those in need have been of our kind. Enchanted souls who face unimaginable pain from the humans beyond our borders. They seek refuge within our borders. However, there are humans too who seek sanctuary. The goddess calls them her chosen children. You and Nisin are the first I’ve met. Those in the Swamp Lands are another example. Elle’s ancestors came from one such as you.” “So, the town meeting?” “Yes, the town meeting is going to serve as a way to amend that law, to include you, your family and all those in the Swamp Lands.” Milan took in a deep breath, holding Rory’s hand with both his hands. “Is this what you’ve been dealing with alone?” Rory smiled and leaned over to kiss Milan’s forehead. “I told you I would deal with anything for you.” “So, what else are you discussing at the town meeting?” Maryanne asked, piling their plates into a small stack. “Well, there is the matter of Rick,” Rory said. “He violated all the laws possible in this town. His vengeful heart almost destroyed you, your father, and Cade Ogawa.” “Cade Ogawa is Papa’s best friend,” Milan said, his tone full of regret. “I never met him, but Papa speaks highly of him. He’s the big boss at Biosense.” “Yes. A big boss who tricked your father into creating poison using Rick’s blood. He knew about Lloyd turning himself into that horrible wolf,” Maryanne shuddered. “Who knows what would have happened if he succeeded.” “He’s Nisin’s Papa,” Milan said, with a frown. Rory brought Milan’s hand to his lips. “Which is why his fate shall be decided at the town meeting. Rick approached him first. It’s impossible to know we exist without one of us revealing it. Rick would have deliberately met Cade and revealed himself. Cade would not have pulled in his best friend without the proof of wolves from Rick.” “It’s all wrong,” Maryanne shook her head. She met Milan’s worried gaze and shrugged. “I know Cade is a friend to your father, but what he did, after knowing, allowing the creation of that poison is wrong. He is not a good person.” Milan bit his lip and shook his head. “I don’t know what’s okay. I just…Nisin doesn’t deserve to lose his Papa.” “Well, it will all get decided tomorrow,” Rory said, pulling Milan on to his lap. He held him tight. “The town meeting is happening tomorrow afternoon. Everyone is required to attend.” “Even me?” Milan asked, resting his head on Rory’s chest. “Especially you,” Rory said, caressing his cheek. “You’ll keep me from killing Rick. Otherwise, I’ll just give in to my anger that he stabbed you and kill him.” Maryanne chuckled and got up to take their dirty plates to the sink. As she washed, Rory held Milan for a few more minutes. “Okay. I’ll come with you. What are you doing today?” Milan asked. “Meeting Johan and Elle,” Rory said. “It might take a while, as they want to give me the list of things the Swamp Lands want negotiated. Then I’ll come back home and hang with you.” “I’ll be with Maryanne,” Milan said, meeting Rory’s blue gaze, reaching up to rub Rory’s stubble, then tracing his lips with his thumb. “Wherever she’ll take me.” “I’ll find you,” Rory said. “I miss you already.” Milan held him then, and pressed a chaste kiss on Rory’s left ear. “Hurry back then.” *** Discovering the offices behind the huge house he called home, Milan moved from one door to the next, amazed by the organization. It was like working in a real company or something like that. His parents lived a migrant life, so he had never gotten the opportunity to see them in real offices, only labs and hospitals. This was so different. “The Welfare Office takes care of any issues people might have in Portento.” “Like what?” Milan asked. “Well,” Maryanne rested her left arm around his shoulders. She was taller than him and at a comfortable height to do so. “Our town is just like every other town out there. We take care of the elderly, and any children who came to us needing sanctuary.” Maryanne stopped them at the counter in the welfare office. She picked up a clipboard and found her name. “Like today, we’re on the roaster to drop supplies off to a Ms. Maggie Steel. She just gave birth three weeks ago. She lives alone, but one of the ladies from this office is staying with her.” “Oh cool,” Milan took the clipboard from her. “It’s almost like social work.” “Yeah,” Maryanne smiled. “Much easier than security which is where Topher, Matt and Rory end up most of the time.” “What happens in the security office?” Milan asked, taking the pen Maryanne gave him to sign his name on the clipboard next to Maryanne's. “Dealing with rowdy teenagers, spells gone wrong with the warlock kids, sometimes adult warlocks who are more scary. Fires, breaks in the barriers around Portento,” Maryanne shuddered. “People are into weird stuff in this town.” Milan followed Maryanne behind the counter into an open hall. It was already busy with hundreds of cartons awaiting delivery. One of the ladies handing out the cartons saw Milan and Maryanne and hurried to them. “Hi Annie!” Maryanne greeted her. “Maryanne,” Annie said, her gaze on Milan. Her brown hair in a tight ponytail. She studied Milan with a curious gaze. One that left him wanting to step behind Maryanne. Milan didn’t like Annie’s study of him. “Is this him?” “This is Milan Takeda Morgan,” Maryanne introduced him. Her addition of Rory’s name to his had Milan’s gaze widening. ‘Since when am I a Morgan?’ Milan asked Rory. ‘Maryanne is introducing me with your last name.’ ‘The moment you let me change you,’ Rory said, his answer smug. ‘Does that mean we’re married?’ Milan asked in surprise. Why hadn’t he thought of it that way? Being Rory’s mate was for life, he knew that. Still— ‘You pulled me into your house with my eyes closed. I can’t believe you. I so want a real wedding, Rory Morgan, a real proposal before that, you punk!’ Rory chuckled again, his laughter flooding their bond. ‘I love you being a Morgan, Milan.’ Milan rolled his eyes and shook his head, returning his attention to Maryanne and Annie. They both looked at him with interest. He had clearly missed a comment or question. He ignored it and jumped right in. “Well, where are the supply boxes. I’ll carry them, Maryanne. I hope you’re the one driving. I haven’t gotten a chance to practice since I landed here. I might send us into a ditch if I drive.” “I’ll drive,” Maryanne said, with a short laugh. Annie frowned, turning away with a blush as she led them to three huge boxes filled with groceries and baby supplies. Milan took up the first box, loving the ease with which he picked up the box. He had so much strength now, he loved it. Heading out of the room, he went outside the back door to the car Maryanne pointed out was theirs to use. Maryanne followed him with the second box, and when he went to get the last box, he found Annie waiting for him. Milan smiled at her, then started to move around her to get the box, only for her to block his way. “Why would he choose you?” Annie asked him. “There is nothing special about you. You were once a human. Why?” Milan stepped back and met her gaze, not surprised when he saw anger in her eyes. She wasn’t friendly. Milan decided to play stupid. “What are you talking about?” “You don’t even know anything about Portento, or our people. How will he make it with you?” “Oh, you mean Rory?” Milan asked, staring at her with wide eyes. “He’s strong and smart, you know. He can handle anything.” She scowled at him and he grinned. “You’re so serious,” Milan said. “Stop thinking so hard, and let me by. I need to get that box.” “I’m having a serious discussion with you.” “You’re not,” Milan said, meeting her gaze. “Step aside.” A hand shot over his right hand, slender fingers wrapped around Annie’s neck and Milan turned to see Maryanne glaring at Annie. “He said step aside,” Maryanne said, her tone chilly. “Who are you to stand in his way?” Milan reached out and took Maryanne’s hand, pulling it away from Annie’s neck. Annie stumbled back, drawing the gazes of everyone in the hall. Milan steadied her and moved her to the side. “Annie, was it?” Milan asked. When she nodded, he patted her cheek. “I won’t answer your questions because I don’t think you have the right to an answer. Not when you asked them the way you did. However, whatever I need to learn to help Rory, I’ll learn it. Don’t worry too much. I’m a quick study.” Giving her a short nod, he picked up the last box. “Maryanne, let’s go.” Maryanne gave Annie a warning glance, then led the way out of the hall. She didn’t talk until they were on the road heading to Maggie Steel’s house. “You’re going to get a bunch of them acting like Annie,” Maryanne said, shifting gears, her jaw set. “They think they have the right to have mated with the Alpha. It pisses me off when they act that way. Clearly, the goddess has made her decision, who are they to question it. They forget, Rory’s your choice too.” Milan leaned over to kiss Maryanne’s cheek. “Thank you for being angry on my behalf.” “I’ll beat them to the ground for you,” Maryanne said. “You don’t even have to ask.” Milan chuckled, folding his arms against his chest. Maryanne looked at him with a skeptical glance, a brow raised. “What?” “It’s the first time,” Milan said. “First time for what?” “First time to be someone’s envy,” Milan laughed. “It’s not a pretty thing, but I can’t say that I’m not tickled about this.” “Gosh, you’re cute,” Maryanne said, reaching for the radio dial. She tuned to a local station playing rock music, and settled in for the drive. Milan enjoyed spending time with Maryanne. Maggie Steel’s house was close to Jet’s farm. After their delivery, Milan wrote Jet a message asking him if he was around. Just their luck, Jet was home from school too, so they drove up to the large farmhouse. Milan hugged Jet hard when they saw each other. He couldn’t help a chuckle when Jet blushed from Maryanne kissing his cheek. “I’m helping my grandma plant strawberries in the green house. Want to help?” Jet asked. “Sure,” Milan said, eager to get dirty. It would be his first time planting anything. His mother never allowed him near dirt. “You’ll have to promise to do my manicure later,” Maryanne said, waving her red nails at them. “Ask Rowan to do it,” Milan teased her. “No way, that little warlock will turn them black,” Maryanne protested, as they headed to the green house. In minutes, Milan’s fingers were sunk deep in optimized soil. He lifted them out, enjoying the texture of the soil running over his skin. Grinning like a crazy man, he sunk his fingers deep again, excited by the feel of touching dirt. *** Rory found Milan at Jet’s farm. His mate was busy potting strawberries, a smudge of dirt on his cheek as he planted a fragile strawberry seedling into a pot. He looked happy. Excited to be working with Jet and his grandmother, while Maryanne stood a few feet away. She had a plate of strawberries beside her, which she popped into her mouth and chewed with relish. She winked at him when she saw him walk in. Rory brought his finger to his lips stopping her from alerting Milan to his presence. He came up behind Milan, wrapping his arms around Milan tight, getting a kick out of Milan jumping up in surprise. Rory kissed his cheek, moving his mouth along Milan’s jaw to his neck, leaving a trail of kisses. “Stop that,” Milan said, his tone amused as he steadied the pot he held. “If you make me break the roots, you’re going to help me plant the next one.” “Should we take some home?” Rory asked. “Can we?” Milan asked, looking at him, pleading. “I don’t know if they can survive the cold outside the green house,” Rory frowned. “We can put them on the kitchen table.” “Just two pots then,” Milan said. “Then in the summer, we’ll try to plant our own. I’ve never planted anything in my life.” “Then we’ll plant a summer garden,” Rory said, rocking him from side to side. “How are Elle and Johan?” Milan asked. “They're well. They wanted to see you today. Said it was sad I didn’t bring you along,” Rory said, thinking of Elle’s disappointed gaze. She had a real soft spot for Milan. “Well, I can see them tomorrow if they show up for the town meeting.” “They will,” Rory said, he had gotten their promise. Milan finished with the strawberry he was planting and lifted the pot, proud of his work. “It looks good. We should take this one,” Rory said. “We’ll take care of it together.” “Like a pet?” “Yeah, sure. A strawberry plant pet,” Rory said, with a chuckle. “I can get behind that,” Milan said with a satisfied nod. “Want to go on a date with me?” Rory asked. Milan placed his strawberry pot on the worktable and turned in Rory’s arms to look at him. His brown eyes wide with excitement. “Are you being serious right now?” Milan asked, lifting his dirty fingers up so that he wouldn’t touch Rory’s nice blue sweater. “Quite,” Rory nodded. “We never got to go out on a date. I want to take you out, Milan.” Milan smiled, staring at Rory. When he didn’t speak, Rory peered at him, wondering if he had stunned him with the request. A chuckle broke when Milan got up on his toes, cupped his jaw with his muddy hands and kissed him. It was the sweetest kiss he ever received from Milan, Rory thought as he wrapped his arms around Milan and lifted him against him. “I’ll take that as a yes,” Rory said, when they broke their kiss for a second. “Yes,” Milan said, smiling hard. Rory fell a bit more in love with Milan in that second. He couldn’t imagine a moment in his life without Milan Takeda. It just wouldn't be worth living. ***
  14. lilansui

    Chapter 29

    Chapter 29 The Dream Castle in the Wild Rory led Ilaria down the hall to the waiting room at the end of the hall. He closed the door, watching Ilaria move to sit in an armchair in the corner. She looked small, wearing a pair of jeans and blouse. Her hair in a ponytail. She wore no makeup, or jewelry save for her wedding ring. She worried it now, turning it round and round on her finger as she watched Rory perch on a stool. “Thank you,” Ilaria started. She stared at her wedding ring. “One of the nurses told me that you’re the reason why Kiyo is so well taken care of here. Also, that you will send…Iris? They assure me she’s an expert who will help Kiyo. I’m really grateful, Rory.” “Kiyo should have never been in the position to be injured so badly,” Rory said. “We should have protected him from Rick’s malice. Kiyo is also Milan’s Papa. I would do everything to make sure he is healthy.” Ilaria looked at him then, her gaze unreadable. She studied him for a moment, then returned to turning her wedding ring. Once again, Rory missed his own mother. Johanna had also loved him and Connor with fierce dedication. It made him want to win Ilaria’s favor and have her look at him with that look she gave Milan when he wasn’t looking. A look full of unconditional love. “About Milan,” Ilaria started again. “He told me you want to fly back to Turin with him,” Rory said, his heart squeezing with panic at the thought of Milan leaving him. He was mated to Milan. Under wolf law, their union was unbreakable. In Portento, that was always absolute. Every soul recognized that bond. Yet, under human law, he and Milan remained un-bonded. Milan was seventeen, still under his parents’ legal care. He needed Ilaria’s cooperation to keep Milan, at least for another year. Then Rory planned on binding Milan to him in all the ways legally possible. “I beg you,” Ilaria said, looking at him, her gaze tearing him to pieces. “Please let him come with us. This place, I brought him here. I brought him here and now—” “He’s cured,” Rory reminded her. “He has a new start, Mamma, because of this town. Don’t take him away from me.” Ilaria shook her head, tears filling her eyes again. “I need you to understand me, Rory.” “Then tell me, why aren’t you happy that Milan’s no longer ill, Mamma?” “The price is too high,” Ilaria said, her voice heavy with worry. “Milan is barely lived. It’s insane to think of him with a lifetime mate. He has so much to learn, so much to experience. If he ever got well enough to go out and play, I wanted him to travel the world. I spent so much time keeping him confined, that I promised myself when he could escape that prison, I would help him live. Let him fly across the vast world. To visit places he wished, see all the things that would inspire him to draw, or-or build what he wished. Rory, I’m afraid that he can’t find all of these things here.” When she finished, it was Rory’s turn to stare at the floor. His gaze on his boots as he realized that he had not stopped to think about the future. He always wanted to be Alpha of Portento, but Milan… Milan had a dream. A dream he carried in his heart, carefully hiding it with the fear that he might never achieve it. Architects needed education, training, experience. None of which could be found in Portento. “I know you love him.” Ilaria got up from the chair and came to kneel before him, taking his hands in her much softer hold. “He loves you. There is no denying that anymore. I see it now. Grazie mille for loving my child and giving him a new life. One I could never afford him in a thousand years. Still, I beg you. This mother begs you. Please, don’t limit him. Please help me give him his dreams.” Rory felt tears slide down his cheeks. Knowing that Ilaria pleaded out of love. Still, Milan belonged in Portento. This was his sanctuary. Rory turned away from where Ilaria gripped his hands. “Turin is so far,” Rory said, knowing Milan didn’t want to leave Portento. He had felt it at the cave. A heavy reluctance that filled Milan’s heart like nothing else, it gave Rory clarity. “It is,” Ilaria agreed. “He’s already started school here,” Rory reasoned. “Can’t you let him leave for college when he finishes twelfth grade? Let him finish school here. When he graduates, I promise to support all his plans. Whatever he wants to do, where he wants to go, I’ll make it happen. No one will stand in his way.” “Twelfth grade is in a few months,” Ilaria said, reaching up to wipe his tears away with her palm. “For now though, I must take Kiyo away to recuperate and I don’t want to leave Milan alone. He’s never been without us all his life. He might be well, but he still needs his family.” “Milan can stay with me,” Rory said. “I have more than enough room for him.” “I should say,” Ilaria said, her gaze wistful. “I need him beside me, Rory. I—I need my family around me. Milan won’t leave as long as he feels you can’t handle him away. So, I’m here asking you to help me take him away from Portento for a week or two.” “What about school?” Rory asked Ilaria, feeling her need to escape the town grow. He understood her need to leave, but Milan was his now too. He was determined to keep him. “Mamma, Milan is a month into a new semester,” Rory said. “He loves it very much. You know that. Then, there is Ayu who has a full schedule for the semester at the university. Leaving now will derail their credits. If you’re worried about them staying at your house, then they won’t. They can move into mine. I have plenty of space and on my word, they will be safe.” Ilaria closed her eyes and gripped his hands tight. “Rory—” Rory got up and crouched before Ilaria, his head bowed, stopping Ilaria’s next words. “I can’t be without Milan,” Rory whispered, pressing his forehead on her shoulder, allowing emotion to bleed through. “I know how precious he is to you. Believe me, I know, because he is just as precious to me. Mamma. Please trust me with him. Let him stay in Portento. I’ll watch out for him while you take care of Papa.” “Rory.” “I beg you, let him stay,” Rory said, tears filling his eyes, soaking into Ilaria’s blouse. Every part of him willing her to let Milan stay. Hope grew when she brought her arms around him and held him as he sobbed into her shoulder. *** Milan rubbed his thumb over Kiyo’s knuckles. His father’s hand so much larger than his, so much more capable. Milan remembered Kiyo holding his hand as they walked into buildings, or crossed the road. His father’s hold always assured, dependable. Milan missed it now. “I don’t think Papa’s ever been ill enough to be laid up in bed,” Ayu noted, on the other side of Kiyo. He held Kiyo’s left hand while Milan clutched the right. “I mean, he gets stupid tired, and sleeps for two days straight. But, never this sick.” “It’s weird seeing him this way,” Milan agreed, looking at Kiyo. “Mamma is losing her mind.” “I know you don’t want to leave,” Ayu said. “I’ve been thinking, and I promise I’ll work on convincing her to let us stay. I’m over eighteen. I doubt she’ll worry so much if you’re left in my care. She did it all the time when we were in Turin and she would go on trips with Papa. This should be the same.” Milan smiled at Ayu. “What about Christina in Turin? Don’t you want to go see her?” Ayu glanced at Milan, a small smile playing on his lips. “Christina and I are just friends now. We’ve both moved on these past two months. She’s found someone.” “And you?” Milan asked, trying to see if his brother had found a place in Portento. “There might be someone I like,” Ayu said, his smile widening. “It’s still too early though. I’ll have to see where it takes us.” “Who?” Milan asked, eager to know, happy that his brother had found some form of happiness. “I won’t tell yet,” Ayu winked at him. “It’s a work in progress.” “Tell me,” Milan insisted. “Ayu, come on, tell me.” “What will you give me if I tell you?” Ayu asked. “I won’t tell anyone you have a crush on someone,” Milan teased. “Gosh, you’re so blushing. When did you start blushing, Ayu?” “I am not blushing,” Ayu protested, a tad too hard. Milan chuckled, and stopped when the door opened. They both turned to look and found themselves staring at the woman who walked into the hospital room. Long golden hair free around her shoulders and down her back, long floaty skirts, petite and pretty. She reminded Milan of a fairy tale. He blinked when she walked right to him and stood a moment studying him with avid interest. “Aw, look at you, so handsome,” she said, reaching out a slender hand to touch his cheek. Her fingers cool against his skin. “So beautiful to look at. The goddess was kind to you and your mate. A perfect match if I ever saw one. Rory is lucky indeed.” Milan blushed and heard Ayu snicker behind him. The woman grinned and kissed both Milan’s pink-tinged cheeks. “My name is Iris. Daughter of the earth, and I recognize you, you chosen child of the earth. If you ever need anything from me, all you need is ask.” Milan stared as she reached into her pocket and pulled out the amulet Rory had given him. Milan had kept it in a box on his desk at home, afraid to wear it daily in case he lost it. Now, to see Iris holding it felt surreal. How had she known he had it? She moved even closer and put the leather cord around his neck. “I snooped into your space, but I had to. Rory gave this to you, and you kept it away. . This is your mate’s wish. To protect you, to always know nothing will happen to you. I would ask that you don’t take it off again, Little Alpha.” Milan watched Iris sweep her fingers over the surface of the amulet and the metal shimmered. Symbols appeared on the edge of the amulet in a perfect circle. They reminded Milan of Nordic Runes. Iris kissed his right cheek and then his left, once again making him blush. “If you ever need me, all you need do is touch this amulet and call to me,” Iris said, releasing the amulet around his neck. “I will hear your call.” Milan touched the amulet and looked up at her in surprise. She smiled at him, then pulled him into a comforting hug. “You’re family now. And, you must be Ayu,” Iris said, over his shoulders. “Yes,” Ayu said, staring at her like he had turned stupid. Milan reached over and pinched his brother’s arm when Iris let go of him. She laughed at the gesture and shook her head when Ayu got off Kiyo’s bed with a hard blush. “Your older brother is adorable,” Iris told Milan. “Now, why don’t I take a look at your Papa? He looks in bad shape. The poison from Rick’s blood is working fast.” Milan sobered, moving back, to give Iris access to Kiyo “Can you help him?” Milan asked, worried. “He is your father. Your blood came from him. As you’ve been able to transition so beautifully, some of that must have come from him,” Iris said, pulling the covers down. “I’ll exploit that loophole to undo the damage done to him by one of us.” “One of us?” Milan asked. “Yes, the enchanted,” Iris answered him with a wink. “The extraordinary that live in Portento.” Ayu helped Iris unbutton Kiyo’s pajama shirt to reveal the bandages taped to his chest and stomach. There was blood starting to seep through. Kiyo was due a dressing change. Milan wanted to look away when Iris carefully undid the bandages to reveal the sutured wounds on Kiyo’s stomach. The skin around them was angry red, and wet. Milan wished he could look away, but his gaze stayed riveted on Iris and her study of Kiyo’s disturbing wounds. Iris frowned, but then reached into the pocket of her long skirts. She got out a small bag and poured dried herbs onto her palm. She rubbed them between her palms, her eyes closed, murmuring words that Milan did not understand. The herbs turned into white smoke seeping down on to Kiyo’s stomach from between Iris’s palms. She moved her hands over the wounds on Kiyo’s stomach. The smoke dancing over the harsh wounds, seeping in. When it faded from her palms, she got more herbs, rubbing them between her palms and making more smoke. Ayu came to stand beside Milan, wrapping an arm around Milan’s shoulders when black ooze started coming out of Kiyo’s wounds. Dark and wicked, it seeped into the bandages on each side of Kiyo’s wounds. When Iris finished murmuring, the smoke ended, the wounds on Kiyo’s stomach looked less red. Less harsh, not as ugly as they looked before. Kiyo’s breathing came easier, and he shifted, as he would when in a deep sleep. Iris studied Kiyo for a moment, before she reached for the call button and pressed it. “Your Papa will heal quite fine. The rest is for the nurses,” Iris declared with a smile. A nurse came in with a cart, and Iris moved away from Kiyo’s bed to give her space. “The worst is out of his system. His system is on the path to healing. The process will move fast, but he will need quiet time and rest.” “Thank you,” Ayu said, looking at Iris in a state of awe. Iris smiled and moved to pinch Ayu’s cheek, a gentle caress. “I’m going now,” Iris said, looking at Milan. “I will see you at the town meeting.” “What town meeting?” Milan asked, not sure what she was talking about. Iris hugged him and rubbed his back with affection. “There will be one. Ask Rory about it.” Iris left them then, her presence in the room missed as soon as she was gone. Kiyo moved on the bed on his own and Milan forgot about the town meeting. Instead, running to his father’s side, elated when he saw Kiyo’s eyes open. *** ‘Rory, where did you go?’ Milan called to Rory, testing out their connection. He wondered if it would work outside Portento. ‘Talking to Iris. She says she brought your amulet to you,’ Rory answered almost immediately. Milan frowned when he felt unease from Rory. Something had upset his mate, and Rory was hiding it. As though sensing his thoughts, Rory soothed him. ‘I’m fine, Milan.’ Milan frowned, but didn’t push Rory. Instead, he settled on the chair next to Kiyo’s bed and watched the doctor check the wounds on Kiyo’s chest. They looked less angry, but Kiyo was still in pain. Iris was right. Kiyo would need time to recover. The doctor gave a satisfied nod after he was done with his inspection. He scribbled notes on Kiyo’s chart as the nurses covered the wounds with bandages. Ilaria walked in just as the doctor started to give instructions to the nurse. “There you are,” he said. “I’m glad to see you. I wanted to tell you that your husband is fit enough for travel now. As long as all measures are taken to reduce infection, he should make it to Turin with no trouble.” “Thank you, Doctor,” Ilaria said, coming to shake the doctor’s hand. “You’ve been a real help.” “Anytime,” The doctor said, glancing at Milan and Ayu. “I’ll be back later for rounds.” “Sure,” Ilaria said, moving to Kiyo’s right side. She checked his temperature by pressing her palm on Kiyo’s forehead. When Kiyo opened his eyes, tears shimmered in her eyes and she perched on the edge of the bed, taking his hand. The doctor left with a quiet goodbye followed by the nurses. “Mio amore,” Ilaria said, leaning to kiss Kiyo’s cheek. “You scared me.” “I’m sorry,” Kiyo managed with a small smile for her. “I tried to avoid it, but that Rick was going to hurt Nisin. I had to do something.” “I know,” Ilaria brushed dark hair out of Kiyo’s eyes, and caressed his jaw. “I know. We’re going to have you rest for weeks. You need to heal and get better.” “What’s this I hear about going back Turin?” Kiyo asked, with a frown. Milan moved closer to the bed ready to lodge a complaint about his mother’s decision. Ayu right beside him. Ilaria gave him a complex glance before he could speak, and Milan watched her squeeze Kiyo’s hand. “I’m afraid if you stay here you’ll end up in your lab,” Ilaria said, her voice as cheerful as she could get it. “You have too much at your disposal and you’ll end up working when you should be resting.” “So?” Kiyo asked, studying her, his gaze gentle. “So, I’m taking you to Turin,” Ilaria said, then glanced at Milan and Ayu. “The boys can stay. They have school. We’ll be back here when your health is better.” Kiyo’s gaze shifted to Milan’s shocked face and then to Ayu. “I guess you’re surprising them with this?” Milan felt afraid to even ask why Ilaria had decided to change her stance. He kept his mouth shut, and held on to Ayu’s hand, his gaze on Ilaria. “Rory’s family has a huge house. He showed me a picture,” Ilaria said, squeezing Kiyo’s fingers. “Rory assures me there is a place for Ayu and Milan. He promises to protect them.” ‘You talked to her,’ Milan said to Rory. ‘I reasoned, and begged,’ Rory replied, sounding close. ‘She loves you so much, Milan. I’m envious. It’s not easy for her to let you stay. She’s trusting me to keep you safe.’ Milan moved around the bed to where his mother sat. He pulled her into a tight hug, and closed his eyes when she buried her face into his shoulder. This was harder for her than him. Ilaria had a hard time letting go. He was so ready to be independent, and it was hard on her. “Rory is a good boy,” Ilaria said in Italian. “He seems to love you very much, Cucciolo. Be good to him.” “Si, Mamma,” Milan answered. He let go of her and she kissed his cheeks. “Papa and I will head to Turin with Marie. I’ll let him sleep in and eat all the foods he wants until he gets better,” Ilaria said, taking Kiyo’s hand and squeezing it. “When he can walk without pain, we’ll come back. Yes?” “Sounds good,” Milan agreed, glad he didn’t have to leave Portento. He would miss his parents, but it felt worse to leave Rory right now. “Ayu?” Ilaria glanced at her oldest son. “What about you? Will you help me take Papa to Turin? You can see Christina.” Ayu smiled at her. “I’ll take you to Turin, then once you’re settled, I’ll fly back to keep Milan company.” Milan chuckled knowing Ayu was returning for the mysterious person he liked. ‘Thank you,’ Milan said to Rory. ‘Anything for you, Milan.’ *** Marie played a large role in closing up the Takeda house. Rory helped her set up a cleaning service to clean the place every week, and make sure dust did not accumulate. She packed up Ayu and Milan’s bags, and Rory handed them to Topher and Matt to take back to the pack house. Rory took Ilaria’s and Kiyo’s suitcase, as well as Marie’s, and put them in his SUV ready to go to the airport. Once that was done, Marie pulled him into a tight hug that had him swallowing hard. “Thank you,” she murmured, pressing a book into his hands. “This has Milan’s favorite dishes. If you have someone who can help, prepare them for him when he’s down. He’ll miss his parents very much. So, spoil him a bit for me.” “I will,” Rory kissed her cheek. “Take care of yourself, Marie. I’ll miss you too.” Marie smiled and patted his cheek as she hurried off to sleep ready for the early wake-up call in the morning. Rory drove to the pack house to get a change of clothes, and a quick shower. He would drive to the hospital in the morning as Milan and Ayu were camped in Kiyo’s hospital room. Wanting to spend as much time as they could with their parents. Rory gave them the space. After all, it was only one night, then he would have Milan in his life, in his house for good. *** The drive back from the airport went fast. Milan sat in the front passenger seat, his thoughts on his parents and Ayu. Watching them board their flight had been hard. Not being with them harder. He was still numb about it all. The past few days felt like a whirlwind that had yet to stop and settle. “They’ll be fine,” Rory said, squeezing Milan’s thigh as he slowed down his SUV to make a turn into another non-existent road in the forest. “It’ll be okay, Milan.” Milan let out a sigh, and placed his hand over Rory’s, squeezing it. Yes. It would all turn out okay in the end, he decided. Plus, it wasn’t as though he wouldn’t talk to his family. Ilaria would Skype him the moment they landed in Turin and settled. Maybe then he would be all thawed out and thinking more clearly. “Do all of you love living in the forest?” Milan asked, as Rory’s car drove through a dirt road leading deeper into the forest. "And , you have an aversion to real roads." Rory chuckled. “We love living in the wild, but no one wants to damage the forest's ecosystem laying out tarmac. Not when we have Iris and Grandma Asta living among us. So, we only construct the roads that are absolutely necessary.” “Like the one to the Swamp Lands?” Milan asked, having heard Rory talking about getting approval to build an easier way into the swamp. “Yeah,” Rory turned to look at him and winked. “Are you ready to see your new home?” Milan smiled, hard to stay unaffected by Rory’s excitement. Rory was practically vibrating. Milan held Rory’s hand, and shifted in his seat so that he could watch Rory drive. “Very ready,” Milan said, just as Rory drove into a stunning lush green driveway. The car slowed down, and Milan turned to see Rory’s home, a moan of appreciation escaping at the sight before him. He loved buildings, loved it when buildings melded into their environment. The pack house, as Rory called it, was a masterpiece if he had ever seen one. A castle hidden in the wild: stunning, a dance of tall glass at the front, green branches crawling up one side of the building. Heavy with history. Then the new addition to the right of the building, that spoke of youth and charm. Milan couldn't believe Rory lived here. It felt like a dream. “Welcome home,” Rory said as he parked, and smiled wide at Milan. "I've waited a long time to bring you here." ***
  15. lilansui

    Chapter 28

    28- I've Always wanted to run The ride back to town was done in silence. Rory drove, Milan sat in the passenger seat of the black SUV. Ilaria and Ayu sat in the back. The anxiety rolling off them enough to make Milan’s stomach roll. Rory made a turn and Milan glanced in the rear view mirror to see the white truck Rory used following them. Topher and Matt, Rory’s best friends. Milan had not known that and had always thought Jack and Rowen were Rory’s best friends. He had only known about Chris. Rory’s brother/cousin. Gosh, there was so much to learn about Rory. He wanted to learn it all, now, as fast as possible. His gaze moved to the rearview mirror, and his heart ached when he saw his mother holding on to Ayu’s hand. Rory reached out between them and took Milan’s hand, tangling their fingers. ‘It’s going to be okay,’ Rory assured him. ‘How can you be sure?’ Milan asked, looking at him. ‘Because we’re together.’ Milan believed him. Rory’s resolve made his heart steady when it would have gone into a tail spin. So, they drove to the hospital. When they got to the hospital the head of the hospital met them at the doors. Rory held Milan’s hand tight as they followed the man. The nurses and doctors they passed all looked at Rory, then at Milan. When Milan met their gazes, he saw smiles of encouragement. A nurse by the elevator touched his arm, sympathy in her eyes. “We’re with you every step of the way,” she said, and turned to Ilaria. “We’ll take good care of your husband, Dr. Ilaria.” They entered the elevator, Ilaria started to press the button to the second floor, but Rory stopped her, pressing the fifth floor button. He turned to Ilaria to explain. “We moved Kiyo to a private wing on the fifth floor. We’ve asked the doctors to keep him comfortable until a solution is found,” Rory said. “Marie brought you a change of clothes. There is a place for you to rest and take a shower.” Ilaria studied him for a moment, then nodded and turned to stare at the lights changing on the elevator buttons. When the doors opened, Rory stepped back so that Ilaria and Ayu could come out first. Rory urged the doctor to keep up with Ilaria and listened as Ilaria asked questions about her husband’s condition. ‘I’m sorry she’s shutting you out.’ Milan squeezed Rory’s hand before they reached Kiyo’s room. ‘I can take it.’ Rory promised, brushing his lips on Milan’s cheek. ‘Go see your dad. I need to meet some people.’ ‘Okay.’ Milan hugged Rory, squeezing him tight, then he let go and followed his family into his father’s hospital room. The private room was much nicer than Milan expected. Seeing his father in the hospital bed hooked to machines shook him. Milan remembered his father urging him to eat, then ruffling his hair as he left to go sleep that day he got stabbed. Kiyo had looked tired but happy. To see him so frail now, Milan’s eyes filled with tears. “Papa.” Milan moved to the bed, taking Kiyo’s hand, careful to hold the one without an IV going in. “Why are you here like this? Please wake up.” Ilaria came to his side and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “He’s medicated for the pain,” Ilaria said. “It will be hard to wake him right now. Let him sleep.” Milan wiped away tears from his cheeks and stared at his father’s still hand. Kiyo’s capable hands that had worked tirelessly to keep Milan healthy. This was the last thing that should have happened to Kiyo. “What’s wrong with him?” Milan asked, squeezing Kiyo’s hand, hoping to infuse his energy into Kiyo. Help him heal faster, there was so much to tell him. “The doctors worked hard to repair the deep wounds in his stomach and chest. He lost a lot of blood in the process. They said Rick’s blood has poison. It’s infected your dad and they’re hoping to help clear it out. We’re waiting,” Ilaria said, her voice sad. “Every time I see him like this, I can’t help thinking that we should have never come to Portento.” Milan could see why Ilaria would say that. He had not wanted to move either, but now he had Rory. Rory whose whole life was in Portento. They would have never met if Milan hadn’t moved here. “Mamma.” “I want us to fly back to Turin,” Ilaria said, squeezing his shoulders. “Papa can recover there without trouble and the cold. Marie already got the tickets. I want you to come with us.” Milan kissed Kiyo’s hand before he stood and turned to Ilaria. “We just got here two months ago. You made me and Ayu enroll into school. Now you want us to leave?” “I do,” Ilaria nodded. “This place has not been easy, Milan. Not for me, or your Papa, even Ayu is not happy. And you—” “What about me?” Ilaria moved away from Kiyo’s bed to the couch set against the wall. She sunk into it with a tired sigh, pushing fingers into her hair. “I think you need a break from this town,” Ilaria said. “You need time to process. Turin will give that to you.” Ayu came to stand beside Milan and wrapped an arm around Milan’s shoulders. “Mamma is just worried,” Ayu explained. “It’s not easy for her to see Papa this way. Turin is like home, Milan. Papa will be more comfortable.” Milan breathed in, then out, fighting off panic at the thought of his family leaving him. “Do you want to leave too?” Milan looked at Ayu. “Why can’t we stay? Papa can get help here. Much better help than in Turin. Please, just give this town a second chance.” “This is not a choice,” Ilaria said. “The tickets are ready. I have already contacted our friends in Turin and the hospital there is willing to admit your Papa. You are coming along.” “Mamma!” “This is my decision,” Ilaria said. “You’re seventeen, still my son and under my roof. Don’t argue with me.” “This is not fair,” Milan said, angry. “I’m not going to Turin.” “Not even for your Papa?” Ilaria asked. Milan stared at her in shock, then turned to look at Kiyo who lay unconscious. He was familiar with the loneliness, frustration and despair that came along with pain. God, he wanted the best for his father. Always, but leaving Portento felt like blasphemy. He didn’t want to leave. He couldn’t leave Rory. Milan gaped, staring at his mother, then Ayu in shock. When had he moved away from them? When did they end up on opposite sides like this? Confused, Milan ran out of Kiyo’s hospital room ignoring Ayu’s alarmed call. He punched the elevator button but when the doors didn’t open, he chose the stairs, racing down, his speed exhilarating. Heart racing, Milan burst out into the cold air behind the hospital and took in a deep breath. His skin itched, everything inside him bursting at the seams, heat rising, he reached for…he didn’t know what he reached for…but then— Cracking bones, shifting and pulling muscles, the change came so fast, he had no warning. His perspective changed, and he stared at a beautiful new world. A world of scents, and vivid color, amplified hearing and a sense of wild connection. He took a step, and the urge to run filled him. *** Rory paced the length of the waiting room in the fifth floor, thinking about Milan even as Chris sat on one of the armchairs complaining about Rick. “Why would you keep him alive? He deserves to die, Rory. End him, as it is supposed to be.” “The Swamp Lands need justice, Chris. I’m not letting that happen without a proper hearing. Dad has already agreed to organize a hearing in the town hall. My family, yours, Lechter's and those of the Swamp Lands can seek justice in that hearing.” Chris let out a frustrated sigh and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Are you afraid of doing what’s right?” “No.” Rory turned to face his cousin. “I do, however, know that Rick’s death, if needed, shall be decided by all those who have suffered in his hands. I’m Alpha of Portento. This is the town’s will.” Chris studied him for a moment, then nodded. “Fine, I’ll back the hearing, because I want to see Rick get his comeuppance,” Chris said after a minute. His gaze shifted to the floor, his head bent. “By the way, Lechter wanted to talk to you earlier. You left without giving him the time.” Rory grunted, resuming his pacing. He needed a clear head to talk to Lechter. “Rory, you mentioned that Rosemary Lechter was alive,” Matt reminded him. “Do you think she is in the Swamp Lands?” “Talk to Johan and Elle,” Rory said, shaking his head. “I only know she sought sanctuary in the Swamp Lands. They might know more.” “Then I’ll reach out to Johan,” Topher said, already reaching for his cellphone. “Tell Johan and Elle that I would like to meet with them. With Milan’s dad in hospital, it will be easier if they come to town. I’ll guarantee them safety if they’re worried,” Rory said. “I’ll let them know,” Topher said, typing into his cell phone. A knock came on the door and Rory stopped pacing when he looked up to see Connor enter the private waiting room. Grandma Asta followed behind Connor, and then Iris came in last. Rory let out a relieved sigh at the sight of her. “Blessed be,” Iris greeted when she saw him. She smiled, walking up to him and taking his left wrist where the wooden bracelet had once been. “I see the earth chose to hear your prayer. You are mated.” “Thank you for coming, Iris,” Rory thanked her, feeling a heavy weight settle on his shoulders. “Yes. I could not turn my head from your plea, or your mate.” Iris looked around the room, her gaze searching, then she stopped. “Your mate is in distress, Rory Morgan. He is not here though.” Rory could feel it too. Panic flooded him from his bond with Milan. Pain and confusion a close second. “Go to him,” Iris murmured. “I’ll visit Kiyo Takeda and see how I might help.” Rory broke into a run, heading out of the waiting room. He followed Milan’s scent to the stairs. *** ‘Milan.’ Milan stood outside, taking in the snow covered ground, the tall trees ahead. He took in a deep breath, knowing Rory stood behind him in his wolf form even before Milan saw him. Milan looked at the white wolf with new eyes, heart fluttering at Rory’s majestic wolf. ‘You’re beautiful.’ Rory stated. ‘Your wolf is beautiful, Milan.’ Rory moved closer, and Milan saw himself in Rory’s eyes. His coat of white fur with a dusting of gold on his neck and on his tail. The joy in Rory’s eyes flooding their bond, only dampened by the conversation Milan had with his mother upstairs. Rory licked Milan’s nose, then his neck. Affectionate caresses meant to calm. Meant to steady Milan’s chaotic emotions. Milan looked to the forest, ‘I want to run, Rory. I’ve always wanted to run.’ ‘Then, let’s run,’ Rory agreed. Milan did not need a second invitation, taking off into the forest at full speed. He ran hard, his new body accommodating the fast pace he set. Once in a while, Rory bigger wolf would rub against him, and soon Milan realized that Rory was leading him along the Portento boundary and making sure he didn’t go beyond. They kept running, Milan marveled that he did not get tired. He paused at times to take in the beauty of the snow-filled forests. Drowning in scents, tasting stories left by the other wild animals in the trees, listening for bird calls. When Milan finally stopped, breathing hard but not fatigued, they were outside a huge cave. Rory came up to him and rubbed himself all over Milan, before he nipped at him, making Milan chuckle. ‘I can’t believe you’re my mate,’ Rory said, such pleasure in his voice, it washed over Milan like a soothing balm. ‘You’re so beautiful!’ Milan felt warmth flood him from their bond. Heavy curiosity too. Rory was curious about the reason why Milan had ran out of the hospital, but Milan wasn’t ready to think about it. Instead, he glanced at the huge cave entrance. ‘What’s this place?’ Milan asked, walking to the cave entrance. ‘A sacred place,’ Rory said, with reverence. ‘I’ll show you around. There’s something I want to show you.’ Milan followed because old places intrigued him. He loved the scent of the cave, mint and sage so thick in the air. He followed Rory in. The cave tall, with shafts of light coming in from the entry and small holes in parts of the outer cave. The deeper they went, the darker it became. The more intricate the paths became, leading to smaller and bigger caves. Like rooms carved out of stone by nature. Milan’s eyes adjusted to the dark, he missed nothing. The caves seemed like the perfect place to explore when he had more time. Rory led him into a cave lighted with crystal lights. This cave was smaller than the rest Milan had seen. Hidden around an obscure bend. One would have to be very familiar with the network of paths to find it. The cave’s floor was smooth stone, a sizeable pond stood in the middle of the cave, with a spring running from one wall and out the other. Milan watched Rory change back into his human form, his naked body beautifully sculpted, his hair skimming his shoulders. Milan could watch his mate’s naked body for days, his hands itching to explore every inch of skin. Desire bloomed. Rory walked into the pond and sank into it, going deeper until he was in the middle of the pond, with only his shoulders visible. ‘Join me?’ Rory requested, sinking deeper into the water. When Milan made no move to shift, Rory sunk deeper into the water until he was submerged, then rose up pushing wet hair out of his eyes. Milan stared at him, tempted, if only to kiss water off Rory’s lips, but he didn’t want to leave the comfort of his wolf. His wolf, Milan the wolf, had every right to remain here in Portento. Be Rory Morgan’s mate and live happily. Milan the human had too many ties, too many loyalties. He worried that his mother might hate him for wanting to stay in Portento. For being saved when his father was now so ill. ‘Milan, come to me,’ Rory prompted, his tone cajoling. Milan sat, his tail sweeping the rocky ground, he watched Rory cup water from the pond and pour it over his chest. More temptation, so hard to resist. Rory was handsome, and so very sexy, Milan sometimes thought it was a joke they were together, mated. ‘The water is not cold,’ Rory said, smiling at him. ‘For some reason, this pond is filled by a hot spring that only runs through this cave. I use it when I’m feeling in need of rejuvenation. You’ve had a hell of a time, Milan. Come join me.’ Milan chose to watch Rory soak in the pond for thirty minutes, curled up in a ball, content with watching. Until Rory tilted his head back, resting his head on the smooth wall of the pond, eyes closed. Milan stared at the droplets tracing a line down Rory’s smooth skin, along his neck to his chest. Wanting to follow their path, Milan changed into his human form, the transition leaving his muscles sore. He walked up to the pond, pausing when he dipped his right foot into the water. It felt warm, not the hot he had expected. He took another step in, but the rocks under were too smooth, he slipped. Rory was suddenly there to wrap a strong arm around Milan’s waist, and pull Milan against him. Milan sucked in air at the feel of Rory holding him. They were skin to skin, his chest pressed into Rory’s chest. He looked up to meet amused blue eyes. “I’ve got you,” Rory murmured, reaching up with his free hand to brush dark hair out of Milan’s eyes. Rory then lifted Milan up, carrying him deeper into the pond. Milan moaned when the water wrapped around him like a hot blanket, wrapping him up in a cocoon. His sore muscles celebrated the gift of heat seeping in to his bones, his very core. ‘Feels good, right?’ Rory asked him. Milan rested his arms around Rory’s neck as Rory sat on a platform along the pond wall at the deepest part. Rory settled Milan on his lap. Milan closed his eyes with a soft moan when Rory stroked a hand down his back. He arched into the touch and pressed closer to Rory’s chest. Shaking with a discovered need. Milan breathed in Rory’s delicious scent. It felt good to be held like this. To be wanted. He could feel the weight of Rory’s desire growing in their bond. Rory wanted him, in a way Milan had never dared to imagine before. Heat growing, turning him hot and needy. He was so insanely in love with Rory, his heart felt overloaded. Rory stroked caresses down his back and Milan bit his lip holding back a moan. He lifted his head from Rory’s shoulder to look at his mate. ‘You’re driving me crazy doing that,” Milan told Rory, smiling when Rory grinned at him. Rory kissed him then. It was meant to be a quick kiss but it turned urgent and needy. Milan sunk his fingers into Rory’s hair, holding on as Rory explored his mouth, his hands moving over Milan’s back, sending fiery desire rushing through him. Driving Milan to the edge, right on the verge, his cock hard and weeping, he whimpered. Rory lifted him up, swift and strong, and Milan straddled Rory’s lap. Milan cried out when Rory’s hand moved between them and took Milan’s length in his palm. His body ached, pleasure filling his every pore, he clung to Rory’s strong shoulders, head thrown back as Rory drove him to a mad fever with his touch. Rory only stroked him once, a second time triggered Milan’s orgasm. He came hard, his body trembling in Rory’s arms, his fingers digging into Rory’s back as he released into Rory’s palm, his body bucking, toes curling with pleasure. Milan closed his eyes and felt love wash over him through their bond. Tears in his eyes at the depth of it all. Rory held him through it, dropping gentle kisses on his shoulder, up to his ear. “I love you,” Rory told him when he was much calmer, and could think. Milan pressed his forehead into the curve of Rory’s shoulder and breathed him in. Letting the worry in his heart free, he sighed. “I love you too, Rory.” “Then don’t shut me out,” Rory cajoled, stroking Milan’s back, sending little pleasurable shivers through Milan. “Tell me what upset you so much you ran away from the hospital.” Milan traced his finger over Rory’s shoulder, his fingers connecting droplets of water. His heart aching at the thought of his family gone from him. He could not remember a moment in his life where he had not been close to his family. Never apart, never far, never on opposite ends of a decision. Until now. “Mamma wants to fly back to Turin. She says Turin will be better for Papa. She thinks it was a mistake to move to Portento. For the first in my life, I don’t want to do what she says. I don’t want to leave you.” Milan felt tears fill his eyes as he held on to Rory. “How can it have been a mistake to meet you, Rory? I don’t know what to do.” “She’s just worried,” Rory soothed, rubbing Milan’s back. This time his touch felt comforting, not like earlier when Milan’s body shivered with need. “I can talk to her. We’ve found a solution for Kiyo. He should be fine by this evening.” “Mamma’s already bought the tickets,” Milan sighed. “It’s hard to change her mind once she makes a decision. She’ll insist on leaving.” “Do you want to go?” Rory asked, hugging Milan to him. “I can’t bear the thought of it,” Milan murmured. “Does that make me a bad son?” “It doesn’t, Milan. We’ll meet with Mamma and sort it out,” Rory said. “I promise.” Milan settled against Rory, feeling a bit more rational now that he had told Rory about Ilaria’s plans. If Kiyo could be helped here, then staying was the best option. Ilaria would stay for Kiyo’s sake, and Milan would never have to discover what it was like to live without his family, or without Rory. If that made him selfish, then fine, he could live with it. “I turned into a wolf today,” Milan said, the memory of running through the wild forests of Portento filling him. Rory beside him, making sure he was okay, and they wouldn’t run into trouble. It had felt so wild and free, so far from his fragile days. “Did you like it?” Rory asked. “I loved it,” Milan said with a wide pleased smile. “I’ve always wanted to run and couldn’t before. It felt liberating to go all out, and not worry my body would fail me. Can we do it often?” “As often as you want, baby,” Rory said. “You can join the pack runs too if you want. They’re fun, and everyone will be eager to meet you.” “Your Dad is kind of scary,” Milan said, thinking of Connor Morgan. “He’s bigger than you. You got your height from him.” “He’s my Dad,” Rory said, a smile in his words. “He likes you already.” “I was too shy to ask him about the screaming saga with the snail like Nonna Asta told me,” Milan mused. “I couldn’t get it out.” “It will get easier when you get to know him,” Rory promised. “Why do they call you Alpha?” Milan asked, lifting his head from Rory’s shoulder to meet cool blue eyes. “At the hospital, when we were at Elle’s house, everyone kept calling you Alpha. What does that mean?” Rory smiled, and reached up to stroke Milan’s cheek, then trace his thumb over Milan’s bottom lip. “Because,” Rory said, meeting curious golden brown eyes. “I’m now the head of the Portento Pack, my love.” “Head of the pack?” Milan’s eyes widened. “As in the boss?” “Sort of, though it’s more complicated than that,” Rory grinned. “You know what that makes you?” “The boss’s awesome boyfriend,” Milan said with a laugh. “Hmm…,” Rory kissed him. “I think it’s more complicated than that, Milan Takeda.” “How much more?” “You’re the Alpha’s mate,” Rory said, wrapping his arms around Milan, holding him closer, their lips inches apart. “Moon and love, you’re my heart, Milan. I would do anything to make you happy.” Milan kissed Rory this time, his heart full to the brim and overflowing. He had not thought he would be lucky enough to find someone to love him. Someone to look beyond his thousands of weaknesses and see him. He held Rory to him, grateful for the extraordinary chance to love and be loved back. *** They played in the pond at the cave for an hour, then Rory took Milan back to the hospital so that they could check on Kiyo. The time alone was good for both of them. Milan was relaxed again, no tension plaguing him. As for Rory, he wondered how much longer he could hold back with Milan. Watching Milan come apart in his arms left him wanting more. The number of distractions in their lives left him in frustration. Rory decided then that when Kiyo was out of hospital, and Ilaria calmed down, he was going to close himself in with Milan in his suite and not come out for a week. School and all responsibilities be damned. He hoped Milan would agree to this plan. Milan paused outside his father’s hospital room and looked at Rory, amusement clear in his eyes. “What you’re thinking about,” Milan said, making Rory blush. “I’m willing to be locked in with you for a month.” Milan then entered Kiyo’s room with a giggle, and left Rory standing in the hall with the mother of all hard-ons. “Rory,” Ilaria said behind him. Rory cursed and tried to think of the swamp’s murky waters, stinky gym socks, Lechter and his domineering attitude anything but Milan’s sexy smile. Inside Kiyo’s room, he could hear Milan’s amused chuckle at his dilemma. Rory sent his mate a threat of retaliation, as he turned to face Ilaria, glad his erection had subsided enough to be presentable. “Mamma, I’ve brought Milan back. He’s inside with Kiyo,” Rory said, meeting Ilaria’s bloodshot eyes. Her lashes clamped from recent tears. “Can I talk to you for a moment?” Ilaria asked, looking to the closed door. “Somewhere more private.” Rory glanced at the closed door too. Inside, he could hear Milan and Ayu talking about Kiyo. Their voices low as they both perched on Kiyo’s bed. ‘Baby, I’m going to talk to the doctor for a bit,’ Rory told Milan. ‘Hurry back. I miss you already.’ ****
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