A Thousand Years of Hope - 15. Chapter 15
Dante checked the approval forms he held again, smiling at the sight of his faculty dean’s signature and the stamp of approval. He was very grateful his boss liked him. There was also Thomas to thank for his firm support. Otherwise, it would have taken weeks to get his sabbatical approved.
“Thank you for your support,” Dante said, folding the forms neatly as they walked. “I didn’t think Dean Travis would agree so easily.”
“Dean Travis values your contribution to our research branch,” Thomas said. They were walking along the corridor leading to Dante’s office. Thomas glanced at Dante. “You’re the most dedicated professor he has. Your willingness to dedicate tireless hours to the various excavations has left you working nonstop. Not to mention your willingness to work with other professors on tailoring lectures around topics of interest. I don’t remember you taking time off. Unless it was taking a few days to visit with your family at the Aretias Island. You are overdue for time away from this place.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Dante said, thinking of Tani who was waiting for him in his office. They had teleported to Dante’s apartment, and then Tani had insisted on walking with him into the university. Dante had loved strolling along the many paths and walkways at the university with Tani at his side. It had turned his usual route to his office into a pleasant adventure.
“What will you do first?” Thomas asked.
“Don’t know yet,” Dante said, with another smile. “I’ll go with the flow.”
“Hm,” Thomas said, studying Dante for a moment, and then grinned. “You have spent most of your life lost in this place. We all worried your parents will never see you in a relationship. Are you happy together?”
“Who says I have to be in a relationship to take time off?” Dante asked, with a soft scowl for Thomas.
“Just a guess,” Thomas said with a short shrug. They reached a junction. One path heading to Dante’s office, the other to the History Building. Thomas stopped. “For the first time since I’ve known you, you brought someone to your office. I’m surprised it is the extraordinary gentleman who gave us a tour of his hidden fortress. I imagine you’re the only reason we got the opportunity. He must like you a lot.”
Dante could not help smiling at the mention of Tani.
“You like him too,” Thomas said, tilting his head to the side as he studied Dante.
“I do,” Dante said.
“Good for you,” Thomas said with an approving nod. “It’s good to have more than work in life. I hope your sabbatical is full of enlightening adventures. You deserve it, Dante.”
“Thank you, Thomas,” Dante said, taking Thomas right hand when he held it out.
“I have notes to look over before my next class,” Thomas said, shaking Dante’s hand, then letting go. “I hope you discover another fortress and share it with us.”
“I always do,” Dante said, as he let go of Thomas’s hand and watched the older man walk away.
Dante headed to his office with an excited sigh. He opened the door and stopped. His gaze riveted on Tani who stood by the picture board Justina liked to pin up.
For a moment, all he could remember were the dreams about Tani that filled his nights. Tani’s face remained the same, but his red brown hair came in various lengths through each period. Sometimes it was long down his back, others short around his shoulders, braided, and flowing, each style changing Tani’s look, but his face remained the same.
Dante felt like he dreamed up a new video of Tani each time he slept.
The past aside, his most favorite remained the Tani he met during his waking hours.
While Dante had gone to talk to the Dean, Tani was left here in his office. It was nice to return and find Tani exploring his workspace, reading papers on his desk, and now grinning at pictures taken at digs. Dante entered the office and closed the door, drawing Tani’s gaze.
“I like this one,” Tani said, holding up a picture of Dante wearing a dusty hat, as he helped excavate ships in a metropolitan dig that started a few years ago. Dante was grinning wide, holding out his hands at the frame of a ship found in the ground.
“You look happy.”
“I was,” Dante said, crossing the room to where Tani stood leaning on his desk. He stole a kiss and sighed when Tani returned it with a small smile.
“Can I keep the picture?” Tani asked, touching Dante’s smile in the picture.
“If you want,” Dante said, wrapping his right arm around Tani’s shoulders. He pulled him closer and whispered in his ear. “You can also keep me and you won’t have to look at the picture.”
Tani chuckled, but he put away the picture in his pocket.
“Did you finish with your sabbatical application?” Tani asked.
“It’s approved. I’m all yours for a year, and more, if you want.”
Tani glanced at him then, and the strange shadow that filled Tani’s eyes at the mention of time lingered.
“What is it? Why this look?” Dante asked, hoping Tani would tell him what made him look so wary.
Tani’s gaze slid away from him and he shrugged Dante’s arm away from his shoulders.
“I’m still getting used to it,” Tani said, his voice soft. “This, you with me, so willing and…hopeful.”
Dante let the sad words sink into him.
“I’m here,” Dante said after a moment. “I’m here, Tani.”
“Mm,” Tani nodded and pushed off the desk. “Your office is as I imagined. Full of adventure and stories of the past. Your students are lucky to have you as their professor.”
“Not for a while from today,” Dante said, straightening up. He picked up the book bag he used to carry his books and papers. “Let’s leave before Thomas discovers something he would like help with and I’ll end up doing research for him instead of having fun with you.”
Tani grinned and took Dante’s hand.
They left Dante’s office and returned to Dante’s apartment.
“You are spoiling me,” Dante said, when Tani let go of him and they were standing in his living room. He placed the book bag he held on the coffee table. “I’ll forget how to drive around after this.”
“I like spoiling you,” Tani said, starting a slow exploration of his living room. “If you finish what you’re doing here, I’ll spoil you with lunch in an exotic beautiful place.”
“Sounds intriguing. Let me check the fridge and then I’m all yours,” Dante said.
“Okay,” Tani said.
Dante grabbed a crate from one of the cupboards and filled it with two packs of milk, a pack of eggs, an assortment of cheeses and meat. Thankfully, he had not bought vegetables, too busy with Artri House. He would take the crate to his next-door neighbor. She was a cheerful mother of two and always gave him delicious homemade portions of Greek baklava. He was sure she would use the crate of groceries.
Grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge, he closed the fridge satisfied nothing would go bad, and took a healthy sip of water. Dante moved a few steps so that he could see into the living room through the kitchen door. He paused when he saw Tani standing by a small desk in the corner. The desk had pictures of April and Zachary, and two framed drawings the kids sent him.
Tani picked up the pictures and studied them.
Dante finished his water and placed the bottle into the recycling bin. Picking up the crate of groceries, he left the kitchen and entered the living room.
“I’ll hand this over to my neighbor, and then my time is all yours,” Dante said, when Tani glanced at him.
“Do they visit you here?” Tani asked, returning the picture frames to the table.
“No,” Dante said. “I’ve been the one to visit the children for a while. We thought it was best for them to have a steady home life. I’m hoping they will agree to visit when they turn eighteen. They can visit Artri House and play in the vineyard.”
Tani studied him for a moment, and then nodded.
“I’m sure they will love it,” Tani said, moving to sit on the couch. “Go, give away the crate. I’ll be here.”
Dante grinned and hurried out to the corridor.
Zoe’s door was the only other apartment on his floor. She lived opposite him and her door was always slightly open. Her children were always in a constant in and out. He knocked and a moment of excitement rose when Zoe saw him at her door. Dante handed her the crate, and had to talk fast to escape her serious offer for tea.
“I have someone waiting for me,” Dante said, when Zoe held on to his right wrist ready to pull him in. “I promise to stop by when I’m home next. We can have tea and you can tell me about the kids.”
“I will hold you to it,” Zoe said. “By the way, a few days ago, someone knocked on your door looking for you. He asked me if we had seen you and I told him you must be away because of work. He hurried away before I could ask his name. Could he be from your workplace?”
Dante frowned. Anyone looking for him for work would go through his office. Anyone with his work address would have his number. How strange that he had not received any calls.
“I’m sure,” Dante said to Zoe.
It was better if she was not troubled by news of a stranger lurking in their shared corridor. Her children lived here.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll meet him through my office. If he shows up again, call me. I will talk to him.”
“Okay,” Zoe smiled, and patted the crate. “Thank you for the groceries. Be sure to come for tea. I’ll feed you a good hearty meal.”
“I look forward to it,” Dante said and waved goodbye.
Dante hurried back to his apartment. A moment of panic struck him when he did not see Tani on the couch where he left him. He closed the door fast and hurried into the living room. He stopped when he saw Tani sitting on the floor by his books and his stash of vinyl records.
Tani held up a universal standard encyclopedia printed in the nineteen thirties.
“This is really old,” Tani said. “Why do you have it?”
Dante chuckled and moved to sit on the floor next to Tani. He took the book from Tani, and opened it.
“They are a series of encyclopedias that explain words and places. This one starts with an explanation of the word Idaho and ends with the word jewel. The first page has a three-page description of Idaho in the nineteen thirties. The last page has a description of the Jewel Cave Monument. Between these two words, is this insane word collection, as if someone was trying to compile all the knowledge one could have between the words Idaho and Jewel. I wonder how they decided what to choose.”
Tani studied him as he flipped through the book.
“Look at this, an entire five pages explaining Indonesia,” Dante said, pointing it out for Tani to see. “They must have gotten someone who had just visited Indonesia to write an entire essay.”
“They must have,” Tani said, leaning in to kiss Dante’s right cheek. “They did well, so that I can sit here watching you be amazed about their lengthy essays in the encyclopedia about a jewel mountain.”
“We don’t make such books anymore,” Dante said, closing the book. “At least, the effort is not as Herculean as it was those days.”
“True,” Tani said with a nod. "It was difficult to travel then."
“Not for you though,” Dante said, placing the encyclopedia on the bookshelf. He shifted closer to Tani. “Moving from one place to another with a thought. Tell me, what is the most exciting place you have seen?”
“Places are not as memorable as experiences,” Tani said.
“Well said,” Dante said, agreeing with a nod. “So, I should ask which experiences are most memorable to you. Can you remember them all?”
“I do,” Tani said, his voice wistful. “Sometimes, I wish I could recreate them, but it’s impossible to get it right twice.”
“What kind of experiences do you want to recreate?” Dante asked, wanting to know, studying Tani’s thoughtful expression.
Tani bit his bottom lip, and then shrugged.
“Are you done with your neighbor?” Tani asked.
“Mm,” Dante nodded.
“Then,” Tani said, getting up. He held out his right hand to Dante with a small smile. His amber eyes filled with a mix of challenge and excitement. He was incredible to look at.
“Why don’t I show you these places?” Tani asked.
Dante scrambled to his feet sure he would follow Tani even if they were just going to walk around in a supermarket. He took Tani’s hand and stepped closer, only to shiver when Tani transported them out of his apartment.
Dante blinked when he was standing at their destination.
Tani wrapped an arm around him, to keep him steady on a rough path surrounded by tall trees. They stood in the middle of a rain forest. It had recently rained, and Dante’s white sneakers were not fit for the terrain.
“Oh no, it’s muddy,” Tani said, holding to Dante as though to lift him up from the mess.
“I don’t mind. I live on a vineyard, remember?” Dante wrapped his arm around Tani’s waist as he looked around. “Where are we?”
“A hidden sanctuary,” Tani said, bringing his right hand to cover Dante’s mouth as he looked around, his gaze searching. “Shh…”
Dante smiled at the gentle hand over his mouth, unsure why he needed to hush. He looked into Tani’s eyes when those amber eyes finally looked at him. Tani grinned, and Dante wanted to lean in and kiss him. Before he could, Tani shifted, moving his hand away from Dante’s lips to point into the trees.
Dante’s gaze followed his finger, looking between two trees to a lush green walkway carved between the tall trees. Dante stilled when a moment later a herd of elephants came into the scene. They were huge, majestic, and utterly wild. They walked the forest in a large herd, a mix of sizes, mothers and babies, huge ones with enormous tusks and medium-sized ones, leaving their mark on the muddy ground they passed.
Dane glanced at Tani and blushed when he found Tani watching him. He leaned in closer so that could ask.
“Will they mind us here?”
“No,” Tani shook his head, returning his gaze to the wild elephants. “They don’t care about us, if we don’t mind them. This is their home, their territory. This huge forest is their freedom. They have had no interaction with humans.”
“They are beautiful,” Dante said, watching a little elephant doing its best to keep up with its mom. Quite a few of the elephants had young ones. The herd was thriving. Dante wished he could get closer to touch one.
“Why don’t you interact with them?” Dante asked, whispering into Tani’s ear.
Tani shifted so that he was leaning on Dante’s front. Dante wrapped an arm around Tani’s waist.
“We are standing in the deepest part of the Sumatra jungle. This herd has survived here for centuries,” Tani said. “Wild elephants can take care of themselves just fine as long as they have resources. As long as their habitat stays intact, they don’t need to meet humans. Believe that the herd used to be larger than it is now. Unfortunately, time has changed and some of their kind have fallen into domestication. Once elephants are domesticated, they rely on humans, and can no longer return to the wild. Our sanctuary has tried to keep this particular herd intact and safe. It is not always easy.”
Dante rested his chin on Tani’s shoulder and whispered into his right ear. “Tani is passionate about wildlife.”
“It’s no different from people fighting for their rights to live as they wish,” Tani said.
“Well said,” Dante said, kissing Tani’s temple, holding him tight. “Thank you for this spectacular view.”
Tani chuckled and shook his head, his hair tickling Dante’s cheek.
“I’m glad you love it,” Tani said.
Dante watched the last of the elephant herd cross the path beyond the two trees where they stood.
“What else lives here?” Dante asked, looking up at the tall trees around them.
The forest floor was thick with wild bushes, the tree branches heavy with vines. A branch moved, shaking the leaves wildly and a stroke of anxiety swept down Dante's spine. They were in a wild jungle. A wild jungle with elephants and…slithering animals.
“Orangutans,” Tani answered his question. “Want to see them?”
“Can I think about it?” Dante asked, nervous at the thought of snakes slithering along the heavy tree branches and the thick bushes around them.
“Worried about snakes?” Tani asked, shifting in Dante’s arms so that he could look at Dante’s face.
“How did you know?” Dante asked, meeting Tani’s amused gaze.
“There are many snakes in this jungle,” Tani said, his gaze solemn as he held Dante’s gaze.
“Hm,” Dante said at the confirmation of his hidden fears.
Damn it. This was supposed to be their first date. There was no way he was going to show his fear of snakes when Tani looked so happy in this wild place. Not when he was hoping to look strong enough to manage a clearly extraordinary date in a jungle.
Dante took in a deep breath, tightening his hold on Tani as he looked around. Hoping to all the powers that be that none of the snakes would venture close. The thought of one falling on them had him extremely nervous.
“Baby, thank you for showing me elephants. It was extremely awesome. Can we go back home or somewhere less wild?” Dante asked.
Tani chuckled and Dante met his gaze, suspicious of Tani’s amused gaze.
“It’s fascinating,” Tani said. “How consistent your fear of snakes remains.”
Tani brushed his lips on Dante’s left cheek.
“Okay, I’ll stop teasing you.”
Dante’s stomach growled.
“Mm,” Dante said, stealing a glance at his watch. “You’ve kept us moving around all morning. It’s almost one o’clock.”
“Then I’ll get you fed,” Tani said, wrapping his arms around Dante’s shoulders, moving even closer so there was no space between them.
Dante’s heart skidded.
Tani’s face was so close he could feel Tani’s breath on his skin. Dante ran his hands over Tani’s back and closed his eyes, letting out a shaky sigh.
“Why are you so nervous?” Tani asked.
“I’m half-afraid you’ll disappear if I don’t keep holding you,” Dante said.
He opened his eyes and stared into amused amber eyes.
“Actually, I’m worried I dreamed you up.”
“We’re standing in a jungle with snakes moving on the branches above us,” Tani said, making Dante gasp and look up sure he was about to see a python dangling above them. His heartbeat was so fast and loud that Tani could hear it.
“Do you still think you’re dreaming?” Tani asked.
Dante stepped closer to Tani, his gaze returning to Tani’s, and he groaned.
“You scared me on purpose,” Dante said, his tone accusing.
Tani grinned and leaned in, covering Dante’s lips with his in a sweet, demanding kiss.
Dante forgot his growling stomach, the jungle and its frightening occupants. All he could focus on was Tani’s lips on his, their kiss delicious and full of promise.
“We’re here,” Tani said a moment later, ending their kiss.
He could spend hours sipping on Dante’s lips. Their kisses were intoxicating. He breathed in Dante’s scent and rested his forehead on Dante’s shoulder. His heart trembled with the joy of slipping straight into the rhythm of want. Every time he got the chance to hold Dante, he forgot how to be careful. How to not ask for everything, and only settle for the moments they would share. It was difficult. So difficult, that he had gone ahead and brought Dante to a place he kept to himself.
“Where is here?” Dante asked, looking around their destination. “There are so many apple trees. What is this place?”
“An orchard,” Tani said, moving out of Dante’s arms, taking in the strangest of his obsessions, and he had many.
This four-acre orchard was flat and shadowed by a large hill in the north. It was on a Greek island. One of the pieces of land Tani found when he was finding his footing in the mortal realm. He had built the farmhouse in the middle of the orchard with his own hands, hoping to occupy his thoughts.
The farmhouse was not as sophisticated as the Elderwood property. No, this place was rural, and rough. It was comfortable. The rooms included a master bedroom, a kitchen that flowed into the living room, and one bathroom tucked in the corridor leading to the master bedroom. The store on the side housed farming tools and crates used for harvesting apples. A borehole at the back of the house supplied water for the orchard and the house. Electricity lines were the only sign of a connection with the outside world.
Tani’s gaze shifted to the gates in the distance. His amber eyes glowing gold for a moment. He was relieved to see his invisible shield still covered the property. It was hard to discover it unless one was ekho-blessed, or an ekho. Otherwise, mortals saw a wild forest that made them wary to enter.
“This place is beautiful,” Dante said. “Reminds me of the farmhouses I see when I visit the kids in Kirtland. Are we visiting someone here?”
“No.” Tani cleared his throat and started walking to the house behind them.
“Tani? Where are we?” Dante asked following him.
“An apple orchard in Greece,” Tani said. “I used to plant trees here and tend the place myself. Now I get help from a nosy neighbor when I’m not around.”
“Interesting to know,” Dante said, as Tani walked up to the front door.
Tani placed his hand on the doorknob and the lock clicked open without a key.
The picture window in the living room opened. The kitchen window too. A kettle filled with water started whistling on the stove. The scent of fresh laundered sheets filled the house, soon accompanied by the scent of baking potatoes.
“And who lives here?” Dante asked, once they were inside.
“No one,” Tani said, removing his jacket. He dumped it on an armchair and looked at Dante. “The house has a domestic spell to manage necessities. Cale helped me cast it when he thought I was going to go crazy and not take care of myself.”
“Why did he think that?” Dante asked, a frown creasing his forehead as he stared at Tani.
Tani looked around the comfortable living room. The comfortable couches around the living room, the fireplace in the corner, the shelves filled with books on the opposite end. He had once spent a whole three months chopping wood for the fireplace like a mad man. Shaking his head, he opted for truth. He had nothing more to lose anyway.
“I built this house when you left me in this world and went to a place I could not reach you,” Tani said. “I have loved you too long, too hard and at times, it has come close to breaking me. When I reach that point, I find peace in this place. The peace finding is not always a healthy process. Cale is my warden. He has done his best to protect me when…”
He trailed off, unsure he could say the truth.
“Finish it, Tani,” Dante said, taking a step closer. His gaze intent as he studied Tani. “I want to hear it. When what?”
Tani started to turn away afraid of voicing his obsessive tendencies. Through the living room picture window, he caught a glimpse of the apple trees growing there and frowned.
Dante closed the distance between them and turned him around so that he could look into Tani’s eyes.
“When what, Tani?” Dante asked, cajoling.
Tani held Dante’s gaze and answered the truth.
“Cale fought me back to reason when I felt that I should follow you to the world beyond.”
Dante took in a harsh breath, and closed his eyes, his hands gripping Tani’s upper arms tight. He pulled Tani closer and pressed a kiss on Tani’s forehead. He breathed in and let out a soft sigh.
“Tani,” Dante said. “I wish I could take in the hurt hiding inside you. I want to drag it out and fill you with happy memories of us. I wish there was a way to do that.”
Tani smiled and buried his face into Dante’s left shoulder.
“There is no way to take away the memories,” Tani murmured, and bit his bottom lip when Dante wrapped tight arms around him. “I don’t mind the weight of our past. It makes these moments I’m in your arms priceless. I would go through it again for this moment.”
Dante held him tighter, then he pulled back, and Tani gasped when Dante brushed his lips with a soft kiss. Dante brought his hands to frame Tani’s face, and their kiss then turned heated, urgent. Tani slid his hands around Dante’s waist, sliding them up his back until he was holding on as he lost himself in their blissful kiss. Tilting his head back, eyes closing in the joy of the moment, he let Dante lead their hungry kiss until they were both breathless.
Dante broke their connection and Tani opened his eyes breathing in deep, every nerve in his body primed with passion and need. He wanted more, wanted to feel Dante’s hands on his skin.
“Donmuş kalbimi ateşle dolduruyorsun,” Dante murmured as though reciting a spell. (You fill my frozen heart with fire.)
“Perhaps I’ve always known I’m yours," Dante continued. "And, my heart has remained locked away waiting for you. Now, it opens wide for you. I want to give you all that I am, Tani. Will you accept me even though I’ve come this late?”
Yes. Always, yes. Tani thought, fighting the sting of tears. Even when you leave me alone, I wait and love only you. Even when you choose another, I wait for you.
Tani did not voice these words. Wanting to keep their moment pure and free of their bitter past. Tani bit his bottom lip afraid his words of accusation would burst out.
“Tani.” Dante murmured, leaning in again to brush his lips on Tani’s, the soft touch turning into a blaze of electric energy that ran through every nerve in Tani’s body.
Tani bunched Dante’s shirt, as he bit back a soft moan, his cock throbbing in response. Then Dante kissed him again and rewarded him with a second sliver of his fire soul. Its white-hot aura burning bright as it forged a path through their kiss to the depths of the empty pool that had waited hundreds of years. It sunk into Tani’s heart, joining the first, filling him with warmth and the tears he had been fighting slid down his cheeks.
Dante used his thumb to wipe the tears away when he noticed them. Breaking their kiss to brush his lips along the tear tracks, pressing a soft kiss on Tani’s closed eyes, one by one.
“I’ll wait. You don’t have to answer me now,” Dante murmured, placing Tani’s head on his shoulder, wrapping his arms around Tani tight. “I’ll wait for you this time, Tani. I’ll wait for you to accept me.”
Tani closed his eyes and they held each other in the middle of a living room he had built to remember his beloved six centuries ago.
it's been a long time.
These two take me to explore painful places, so it took a while to get back up. In any case, here is a new chapter. (Let me know if this chapter in particular should have a trigger warning at the start.)
Gaho's song for this one: Stay Here
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