“Are you still angry with me?” Kiyo asked, his gaze on the machines on a stand beside the lounge chair Milan was using.
Milan stared at the IV line going into the back of his left hand, his heavy black sweater pulled back to make sure it didn’t interfere, and let out a soft sigh.
“I don’t know why I couldn’t have done this tomorrow.I really wanted to go to the party with Mamma.It would have been nice to meet everyone before I went to school.Don’t you think it’s unfair?”
“You have school tomorrow and your health comes first,” Kiyo insisted, satisfied with the numbers he was reading.He perched on a stool and took Milan’s free hand.“I know you hate shots every other day.So, I’ve worked to make this process easier for you.If we complete this therapy today, we won’t need to do it again for four weeks.”
Milan dropped his gaze to where his father held his hand.
“Papa, are you happier here?” Milan asked.
“I’m more productive here,” Kiyo said, after a moment of silence.He reached out to raise Milan’s face to him.Milan met brown eyes similar to his.“Are you not happy?”
“It’s cold all the time.I can’t go out like in Turin.I don’t know if I’ll like any of the people here.Can’t we go back home?” Milan asked.
He could only complain to Kiyo, seeing as he knew Ilaria and Ayu were also adjusting to a new life here.They were trying their best to make him comfortable.
“Cucciolo, this is our new home,” Kiyo said, stroking Milan’s cheek.“I signed a contract to stay here for three years.”
Milan broke off upset, though he didn’t understand why.Then it clicked in a wave.He felt lonely here.The task of facing new people seemed too big, too exhausting.He missed Turin’s old world charm, and warmth.The neighbors who knew him by name, and dropped by to see him on days he had to stay in like today.
“I might find a cure for you here,” Kiyo said, his excitement tangible.
“I’m not curable,” Milan scoffed, shaking his head.“I have a chronic condition, Papa.One I need to manage for life.You know the science of it better than me.There is no cure.”
Kiyo squeezed Milan's fingers and let go, folding his arms against his chest.
“You’re upset, Milan.You were excited to go today, and I came in with this, I know.You want to take it out on me, that’s fine.I can take all your anger, but don’t ever lose hope on me.”
Milan closed his eyes, the headache that came with these infusions already starting.
“How do you feel?” Kiyo asked, getting up to press his palm on Milan’s forehead.
“The usual,” Milan said, wanting to curl into a ball on the comfortable lounge chair.“How much longer?”
“Thirty minutes,” Kiyo said.“The pain meds I gave you before we started should help with the headache.I’ll slow the drips down though, and turn on the humidifier.”
Kiyo looked around the room with a frown.
“Damn it, I left the humidifier in my lab after configuring it.I’ll go get it.Will you be okay alone?I can send Marie to stay with you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Milan murmured, shifting on the lounge chair to stare out the wide windows to the gazebo.
“Okay, I’ll be right back.” Kiyo kissed Milan’s forehead, pushing back strands of damp hair from Milan’s forehead with a gentle caress.“Don’t go anywhere.”
Milan chuckled watching his father hurry out.His gaze returned to the infusion pump and the IV line going into the back of his left hand.The time counter read thirty-six minutes remaining, he let out a sigh.
“Siri, turn on TV,” he said, smiling when the screen on the opposite wall came on.“Let’s watch Black Butler on Crunchyroll.”
Milan was lost in Sebastian and Ciel when Marie came hurrying into the lounge holding a pie dish.She looked flustered, which was rare, Milan sat up with a frown.
“You have a visitor.”
“Yep,” Marie held up the pie pan.“I would give you this, but your father would have my head.I’ll force your visitor to wear a mask as he comes in.He says he won’t leave and must see you with his own eyes.”
“How strange,” Milan said.
“He says he saw your pretty face at the grocery store yesterday,” Marie chuckled.“It must be amore a prima vista.” Love at first sight.
“Marie!” Milan gaped at her as she hurried away laughing.
Milan sat on the lounge chair waiting.
A minute later, Rory Morgan appeared at the lounge door, the white mask on his face looking out of place.He looked…vibrant with energy.
“Hi,” Rory said, lifting his hand in greeting, not moving from the entrance.
Milan pulled his sweater down to cover the IV line going into his hand.
“Hi,” Milan said, staring.
Rory looked good in a white t-shirt and jeans, his hair dark wild on his head.He wore no sweater, as though the cold weather did not bother him.
Rory reached up and adjusted the mask over his nose and mouth.
“How are you?” Rory asked, his blue gaze intense.
Milan blinked, fighting the urge to scream.This was not how he would have wanted to meet Rory Morgan again.
“I’m fine.My family is paranoid about keeping the house sterile,” Milan said.“I’m sorry you have to wear that.It’s because Marie doesn’t know you.”
To be truthful, Milan didn’t know Rory either, other than meeting him in a grocery store, and Rory finding sparkling wine bottles for him.
“Uh, please come in.” Milan waved his free hand to the chair next to the one he was using.“I’m sorry I can’t get up to greet you.”
Rory nodded and walked into the room, his steps deliberately slow as he closed the distance between them.When Rory sat down, Milan took in a deep breath hoping to ease his racing heart.
Milan adjusted his sweater over the IV line again.His right hand in a fist, as he settled back on the lounge chair.He cleared his throat, reaching for the remote on the table to lower the volume on the television.
“H-how come you’re here?” Milan asked, meeting Rory’s gaze.
“I missed you at the party in town,” Rory said.“You promised to be there.”
“I couldn’t make it.”
“So, I came to find you.”
Milan stared at Rory, amused.He had never met anyone so pushy in his life.
“My parents don’t like strangers in the house.” Milan felt compelled to point out.“Papa is out for a few minutes, when he comes back, he might drag you out by the ear.”
“Are you trying to scare me away?”
“Is it working?”
Milan smiled, oddly happy.His smile slipping when Rory moved, leaning over him to take his left hand.He frowned when Rory squeezed his hand gently, before folding the sweater’s sleeve back, exposing the white tape holding the needle in place.
“You don’t have to hide this from me,” Rory said, his touch gentle as he smoothed the sweater’s sleeve after folding it.“It’s to keep you healthy, right?”
Milan looked up from where Rory held his hand, to find startling blue eyes studying him.
“I could be contagious,” Milan said, then.
“I don’t get sick easily,” Rory answered.“Besides, I know you’re not contagious.Your family would be sick too.”
“You have an answer for everything.”
“I try to be on my toes,” Rory said.He settled back in his chair, his gaze never leaving Milan.“If I asked why you’re sick, would you tell me?”
Milan bit his lip, the question common enough.He had answered it almost all his life.
“If I asked you to pretend I was not sick, would you?” Milan asked, instead of giving the usual CVID explanation his mother had helped him memorize.
“If that’s what you want,” Rory said with a nod, settling back in his chair, and turning his gaze to the television.“What are you watching?”
“Anime.Do you watch?”
“I don’t watch television.I do know loads of my cousins have kids who love watching a show called Boruto.Though, I couldn’t tell you what it's about.”
Milan imagined a guy like Rory spent a lot of time outside. He imagined Rory hiking, playing football, or swimming.Milan smoothed his fingers over his folded sleeve, touching the tape on his skin.He, on the other hand, could never play sports.So, he watched Ayu play, and cheered for him during his soccer matches.
“What are you thinking?” Rory asked, drawing his attention back to the present.
“Oh, nothing important.You seem like an outdoors kind of guy.”
“I can stay in too,” Rory said.“Watch anime with you if you want it.”
“That’s sweet of you,” Milan chuckled.“But you don’t have to.”
Milan checked the time left on the infusion pump, and was surprised to find five minutes had passed.
“So, did you pop the fizzy wine bottles at midnight?” Rory asked.
“Si,” Milan said, smiling hard.“Papa and my big brother, Ayu, ran around the backyard spraying it on the ground, ushering in 2018.They got Mamma, and she was all wet, screaming like a banshee because it got in her hair.”
“What about you?” Rory asked.“Did they get you?”
“A little,” Milan said, remembering Ayu pouring a glass of the sparkling wine and handing it to him for a sip.“They were careful not to spill on me.”
Rory fell silent and Milan looked up to find Rory studying him.
Rory shook his head and looked around the lounge instead.
“Your house is nice, great view of the forest from here,” Rory noted.
“I love it best,” Milan said, pointing at the windows showing off the gazebo.“The other day, Ayu took me out to the gazebo and we were just hanging out.Then I saw a white wolf coming from the trees.”
“Were you afraid?” Rory asked.
“I was terrified,” Milan said, thinking of that moment, staring at the large white wolf standing at the forest’s edge.His heart racing a mile a minute, thinking himself prey for a stronger, wilder animal.
“At the same time, it felt thrilling seeing such a wild animal so close.There was something majestic about it.You’re from around here.Tell me, is there a pack of wolves living in the forest?Or could it have been a lone wolf passing by?”
“There have been a few sightings,” Rory answered, his gaze sliding away from Milan as he spoke.“Lone wolves are rare in this parts.If you ever meet one, run for safety.”
“Doesn’t that trigger the wolf’s need to chase prey?”
“It does, but if you run into a populated area, the wolf is less likely to follow you.”
“That’s useful to know,” Milan noted.“Are you a Portento native?”
“So, you were born here?”
“My whole family is from here,” Rory said.
“That’s kind of cool.You have deep roots.”
“What about you?” Rory asked.“Where are you from?”
Milan always thought this question a trial.He was Japanese and Italian by blood.Yet, Japan was not his true home, neither was Italy.His parents rarely visited their childhood homes, preferring the whirlwind of travel they often lived.So, he couldn’t lay claim to either country.Meeting Rory’s curious gaze, he smiled.
“We just moved from Turin, Italy.We stayed there three years, but before that, there was Brussels, before that Prague, before that, Vienna.I was born in Bern.We’ve lived in so many cities.I can only say I’m from a lot of places.”
“I think that’s kind of cool,” Rory said.
“Yeah, you’ve gotten to see different cultures, meet different people, and learn different languages.”
Milan smiled. “Interesting way to look at it.”
“I think it makes you unique, Milan.”
“Unique in a nice way, or in a weird new kid way?”
“In a very attractive way,” Rory answered, making Milan blush.
Rory reached for a small towel on the side table between their chairs.He stood up and came to perch on the edge of Milan’s chair.Pressing the towel on Milan’s forehead, he wiped off sweat, the cloth cool against Milan’s skin.
Milan bit his bottom lip, holding still, conscious of Rory sitting so close to him.His heart raced as Rory worked on wiping off sweat from his forehead.Fingers tight in fists, Milan closed his eyes afraid his heart was going to jump out of his chest.
“Are you feeling alright?” Rory asked after a minute.
Milan looked up to find Rory studying him.
“Just fine,” Milan managed, forcing his fingers to uncurl, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.He didn’t understand why his heart kept speeding up when he got close to Rory Morgan.
Rory folded the cloth and placed it on the table, though he did not move from Milan’s chair.
“How long does this take?” Rory asked, pointing to the IV line.
Milan glanced at the machine.“I have twenty -five minutes left.”
“Then, I’ll be ready to go to school tomorrow.Do you go to Ashland High?”
“Yes.I’m in my senior year,” Rory said.“You?”
“Eleventh grade.I’m glad I’ll at least know one person now.First day of school is hardest when you don’t know anyone.Before, I would have my big brother, Ayu, but he’s going to college now.”
“You can hang out with me at school,” Rory said.
“That would be nice.Just to warn you, I have to wear that mask you’re wearing at school, and gloves.I’ll look like the new freak of the school, and will not add cool points to you.”
“Anyone who thinks you’re a freak will be at a loss,” Rory said, taking Milan’s right hand and turning it over to study Milan’s palm.“Your hands are really soft, except for the callus on your middle finger.Why is it there?”
Warmth seeped into Milan’s skin where Rory held his hand, it felt as though he was getting an infusion of heat from Rory’s very warm hands.The feel of it sent thrills through Milan, it took him a moment to answer Rory.
“I draw a lot,” Milan answered, when Rory lifted a brow in question.“Before I got a drawing tablet with a stylus, it was all on paper, and I was using pencils.I tend to grip them pretty hard, so the callus formed.Papa bought the tablet to stop the it.”
“Does it hurt?” Rory asked, rubbing his thumb over the fading bump on Milan’s finger.
“Not anymore,” Milan said, trying to pull his hand out from Rory’s maddening touch.He didn’t succeed.Rory tightened his hold, keeping his right hand prisoner.
“You still haven’t told me why you came today,” Milan prompted, watching Rory study his palm as though he had a quiz later.
“I told you, Milan,” Rory looked up then, meeting Milan’s gaze.“I really came to see you.”
Rory's eyes shone with amusement, sending Milan’s heart into another wild riot.
“Why not?” he asked, and Milan didn’t really have an answer to that, as he had wished for someone to visit him minutes before Rory walked in.