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.”
“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.
‘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.
“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,” 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.
“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.’
‘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.”
“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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Ah...ducking the paper balls of protest...we've come to the end of this one.
It was good. Really good, thank you for inspiring me to create so much.