At first, Mikleo thought it was just his imagination. A trick of the eyes. His old age finally starting to catch up with him – as his eyes went, so soon would Zaveid’s hair, and then Edna would look like the raisined old lady she’d been on the inside for the past millennia or more. But before long, it became impossible to ignore or explain away.
His mark, the mark Sorey had given him on that incredible night, was fading away.
Mikleo couldn’t hear anything except the pounding of the blood in their veins, felt nothing outside the points where their skin touched.
His body burned with his heat; insatiable and bottomless hunger that was only beaten back by the pounding of Sorey’s thick cock inside him, the warmth of his release, and the ecstasy of his knot in the afterglow. Sorey’s scent addled his brain, making any sort of rational thought difficult. Books and a warm sunny day on Elysia’s hillsides – it was a scent that evoked an ache of nostalgia and longing, just as it spiked his hunger. Mikleo wriggled his hips experimentally; feeling the knot press and shift, and hearing Sorey’s low purr in his ear at the motion. It deepened into a growl as Mikleo pushed back against him more insistently, arching his back with the motion.
Sorey stroked the bruises on Mikleo’s hips with deliberate gentleness, trying to maintain some level of control over his instincts. With the tiny bit of sense left to Mikleo’s brain before the noise of his heat took over, Mikleo managed to be amused by Sorey’s attempt at restraint. Sorey certainly didn’t care too much about restraint around twenty minutes ago, when his fingers were digging those bruises into him, when his breath was panting into Mikleo’s ears.
“Sorey,” Mikleo said hoarsely. “Sorey.”
Sorey laced his fingers with Mikleo’s, and squeezed his hand. Mikleo squeezed back in turn. The answer he was looking for.
Soon, Sorey would be gone – gone for a decade, a century, a millennia or more. He was going to a place where Mikleo couldn’t follow – no matter how many times Mikleo had sworn to him that he’d always be by his side, in the end, he couldn’t keep his promise, and Sorey would have to face this alone. What Mikleo could do for him, however – what they could do for each other – was to share this night, and give each other their everything. Hopefully it would give Sorey sweet dreams, for however long it took.
The mark of the Shepherd glowed at the nape of Mikleo’s neck, matched by the mark of Amenoch on Sorey’s.
It had been Mikleo’s first, and last, heat. The moment he began to properly present as an omega, the Elysian seraphim were quick to show him how to mix and dose himself with heat suppressant elixirs. Mikleo understood the necessity on an intellectual level, back then, but it was only after that heat that he truly appreciated the blessed relief the elixirs gave him. He couldn’t imagine having to go through that every month. However, Mikleo had wanted to share just one true heat with Sorey before – before he had to go; wanted to make their pair-ship official in the marking sense. And so Mikleo went off his suppressant elixir for just a few weeks, and so they stopped at a quiet little inn for a few days, and so the rest of the group occupied themselves in town while…well. While Sorey and Mikleo made things “official” together.
It was more than Mikleo ever could have imagined. It was intense, a little bit frightening, and more than a little humiliating; to be reduced to nothing but a yowling, needy beast for three days. But with Sorey’s scent and strong arms, Mikleo knew he could bear it.
Sorey’s scent and presence as an alpha was overwhelming enough, sometimes. Going through an honest-to-gods heat every month would have been utterly unbearable while they were on their journey across Glenwood.
It would have been all the more unbearable when he found himself separated from Sorey for so many long, long years.
The mark on the back of his neck was a memento of that evening; proof of their pair-ship. Mikleo was ashamed to admit that he could barely recall just what Sorey’s lips had felt like when they pressed against his skin, but he remembered what came next: Sorey murmuring a vow and Mikleo’s true name before his fangs sank in and sent electric pleasure and unthinkable bliss coursing through Mikleo’s veins; making Mikleo exhaust his voice with his cries of ecstasy. Mikleo remembered returning the favor, remembered how Sorey giggled at the tingle of the mark as it formed, his skin glowing alight…remembered pressing one last lingering kiss to it as they stood in front of Artorius’ Throne, ready to face down god himself.
The mark on Mikleo’s neck had stayed with him for centuries, as clear as it was the day it was made; though dull without Sorey to speak his name against it and make it blaze bright. It was all that kept Mikleo going, sometimes; when the frustration of diplomacy between humans and seraphim grew too much, when the loneliness and nostalgia grew too keen. It was as keen a protection against malevolence as Sorey’s own heart had been.
And then, one day it wasn’t just fading. One fateful morning, it was gone – missing from the mirror in Mikleo’s hand. As if it had never been there at all.
He didn’t know who to turn to. Lailah’s oath prevented her from speaking of Maotelus. Even if she could sense Sorey’s life-force, tied as he was to Maotelus, she wouldn’t be able to tell him. Even if she could offer any advice on the meaning of a disappearing mark, Mikleo wasn’t sure if he’d want to hear it. He couldn’t bear Edna’s pity, or Zaveid’s terrible understanding about losing those he loved. Rose was gone, long gone, and had taken her frank advice with her. All Mikleo had to comfort him was the awful whispering of his own anxiety.
Mikleo needed to get out – to stop focusing on the mark (or lack thereof), and do something to clear his head. A visit to some newly-unearthed ruins seemed just what the doctor ordered, and Mikleo set off, determined to explore ‘til he dropped.
He of course did not intend to drop in the literal sense, though he did. He also did not intend to be saved by Sorey, but he was.
The Shepherd’s mark on Mikleo’s neck had been a sign of Sorey’s human presence. Sorey stood in front of him now as a seraph; a seraph with a glorious human heart, but a seraph, eternal and everlasting. (More specifically, Sorey was not standing in front of him, but rather he was collapsed on the stone floor of the temple with him, holding Mikleo tight in his arms while Mikleo shook and sobbed. Mikleo thought this a minor point in the grand scheme of things.) Sorey gently brushed his hair out of the way to peek at it, and Mikleo flushed in embarrassment. He felt Sorey lean in, and – oh, he remembered the feeling of those lips now, and that burn of wonderful pain, at Sorey’s teeth and the formation of the new mark. Mikleo wove his fingers into Sorey’s hair, stroked at those familiar feathered earrings on Sorey’s floppy ears, and let his eyes slip shut. He couldn’t wait to see what the new mark looked like when they went home.
He bared his own teeth, and leaned in to re-mark his alpha properly. Sorey groaned as Mikleo whispered that name of his against his skin; the name he’d given Sorey when they were so young, and Sorey had insisted.
“Ywuaruw Sulay,” he murmured reverently. “Or maybe it should be Kmuufvhuay Sulay, considering.”
Sorey’s fingers poked his sides at that, and they dissolved into laughter before helplessly succumbing to more kisses.
“So pretty,” Sorey murmured, stroking his fingers through the waves. “It’s so beautiful long. I always thought you should grow it out.”
“Then what’s your excuse for chopping my hair off that time?” Mikleo managed to croak out through a throat made hoarse from crying.
Sorey pouted, and Mikleo’s heart felt like it was about to burst.
“You’re still mad about that?” Sorey said.
“You still have to make it up to me,” Mikleo replied. He ran his fingers through Sorey’s newly-long hair, considering. “I’ll have to show you how to braid this. I bet you’ll be catching it on everything from now on.”
Sorey laughed. “I have plenty of time to learn, don’t I?”
All the time in the world.
Sorey had found that his new extended lifespan came with a number of perks. He had the numbers on it.
You could read an entire library, top to bottom, in around twenty years or so – depending on the size, and whether the librarians allowed you to set up a sleeping bag. You could do a walking tour of all Eastern Glenwood in around five, though it probably would have been less without the added complication of you and your husband being the unwitting figureheads of no less than ten local and three major religions.
(Sorey at first found it surprising and flattering, and it only made sense that someone would want to worship someone like Mikleo, but it’d gotten old real quick. Sorey had places to go, things to see, and standing around blessing things wasn’t his idea of a good time.)
You could master six new languages, you could become a celebrated poet, you could come back fifty years later and find your work being studied by university students in Classics courses. You could get a joint professorship with your husband, share a cozy little corner office with a window, and celebrate your centennial anniversary of being awake by running off hand-in-hand with him from your party at Katz Korner to go stargaze at that same garden in Lastonbell.
In 150 years, you could do a whole lot of stuff.
But right now, all Sorey wanted to do was get back to their home in Elysia, get something sweet in his stomach, get something sweet in his arms, and rest up for a while. They’d been on the lecture circuit for a while now, and had just finally finished up with their last session; they were making the last push up the Elysian mountainside, and would probably make the summit by evening. Sorey looked at the man hiking by his side, and gave him an encouraging sort of smile.
“Almost there, right?” Sorey said. “Then you can push me into a bath so you don’t have to smell me anymore.”
“Hm,” Mikleo said, noncommittally. One ear craned itself in Sorey’s direction, the other twitched.
In any other circumstances, Sorey would just write off the lack of response as tiredness, or crankiness; for Mikleo was indeed a rather cranky person sometimes. But even at his most exhausted, his most crabby, Mikleo would jump at the chance to banter with Sorey – or at least jump at the chance to call him smelly. Mikleo had been...strange, lately. He still had all his old hobbies, of course, and still was affectionate with Sorey; however, his stiff body language and silent demeanor was a stark change from the norm. But whenever they passed through a town, whenever they saw schoolchildren milling about at libraries, whenever they saw bundled babies in strollers on their walks through parks...Mikleo’s face softened, and he always seemed to relax into Sorey’s side; as if pleading to be drawn in and held close.
...Sorey didn’t want to project his own feelings and hopes onto Mikleo, but it kind of seemed like Mikleo might want something like that. Mikleo and Sorey were peas in a pod; two halves of a whole. Nothing was secret, nothing was taboo; they could talk about anything. Even with that being said, Sorey wasn’t really sure of the best way to bring something like this up gracefully. He supposed he could just ask. Hey, Mikleo, do you want to have a litter of puppies with me? ...and then Mikleo would be sure to get embarrassed and mad at him, and storm off, and then not want to talk about it for weeks after—
Sorey found himself walking along the trail alone. He looked over his shoulder, concerned.
Mikleo stared straight back at him, posture stiff, tail fluffed out, and eyes piercing. Even with that fierce gaze, there was a certain hesitation, a nervousness that made Sorey stop in his tracks.
“Mikleo?” he repeated. “Is there something—”
“Do you want to have a baby?” Mikleo blurted out.
Mikleo blinked once, twice, as if still trying to process what had just come out of his mouth. Slowly, his cheeks blossomed into a cherry red. Sorey took a moment to take it all in before he erupted into helpless, delighted laughter. He bounded over to Mikleo, tail wagging like mad, and bundled him in tight to his chest; holding him there even as Mikleo pinched his sides.
Finally, Sorey allowed Mikleo his freedom, and he smiled down at him goofily. Ears flat to his head, Mikleo scowled up at him, still red as a tomato and clearly not getting better any time soon.
“Mikleo,” Sorey said, unable to continue further without kissing his lips, his cheeks, nuzzling his fluffy ears. “Mikleo, yes, yes, of course.”
The stiffness that Mikleo had been carrying himself with lately seemed to go out of him all at once, and as Sorey drew back, he saw that beautiful smile that he was so used to.
He was an adventurer, an archaeologist, a library fiend, a published poet (no matter how much Mikleo teased him about that part). He was a husband, and soon, he’d be a father too.
Yes, this new life of his definitely had its perks.
“Hey. How are you feeling?”
Mikleo chuckled lightly as he felt Sorey nosing up behind his ears. “I’m fine, Sorey. I’m not going to go into a heat right after I stop taking my elixir.”
“I know, I know,” Sorey said. His arms slithered around Mikleo’s waist to hold him close, to sway them both back and forth as he hummed idly. “But if you feel sick or something, or need me to run out and pick up something from the store, or…”
“That’s probably not going to be happening immediately either,” Mikleo warned. His hand came to rest atop Sorey’s, where it sat on his hip. “It could take a few tries, a few heats. I’ve been on elixir for a while, so it needs time to work its way out of my system.”
Sorey nuzzled against Mikleo’s neck, and he could feel Sorey’s smile there, against his skin. His nape prickled at the proximity.
“I won’t shirk my sacred duty,” Sorey declared, dramatically. “I swear it upon my life, upon my honor. Upon the Celestial Record, if you don’t think I have any of that.”
Mikleo tried and failed not to smile, and flicked at the feathered earring tickling him.
“I know that you won’t have any trouble with helping. But I just don’t want you to be disappointed if it…if it takes a few months. Even a few years, maybe.”
Sorey stopped trying to deliberately tickle him with his earrings, then, and circled around Mikleo’s front to look him more properly in the eyes.
“No matter how long it takes,” Sorey promised. “If it’s something you want, I’ll support you forever.”
Mikleo smiled, and leaned in to rest his chin under Sorey’s; rubbing his head there lightly; idly scenting him as he felt Sorey’s chest begin to rumble with a deep purr at the feeling. Of course Sorey would help, of course he would support him. That wasn’t really up for question. Mikleo just hoped his own body would cooperate and make this as straightforward as possible.
As straightforward as possible, and hopefully sparing at least some of his dignity.
…which was a laughable idea, in context. Although that night in Lastonbell was so long ago, Mikleo keenly remembered how he felt. Mikleo’s mind was never kind enough to let him easily forget embarrassing things he’d done, and his behavior and desperation and some of the things that came out of his mouth that night easily ranked among the more embarrassing moments of his long lifetime. (Probably even more embarrassing than the time he accidentally called Lailah “mom” during a press conference.)
And this heat, one that was close to a thousand years in the making…
He saw that Sorey was watching him through lidded eyes. After tending to Mikleo for...quite a few rounds, Sorey had needed to rest for an hour or two to recover his energy. The mind was willing – very willing – but the flesh was weak, and sore, and there were concerns about chafing. Mikleo’s body unfortunately was not kind enough to let him doze beside Sorey for more than a few minutes before the scent of Sorey and his simple proximity began to stoke the fire in his blood again. So, he did what any omega in a pinch would do: he grabbed a knot toy and started attending to himself in the meantime.
In less dire circumstances, Mikleo probably would have had the self-control to not masturbate in bed next to his sleeping husband; or at least would have felt a little bit abashed at being caught at it. But right now, the moment he registered Sorey as awake, all he could manage was a strangled noise.
“Shh,” Sorey murmured.
He wrapped his (big strong warm oh) arms around Mikleo, bringing him in close. Mikleo felt Sorey gently slide the toy out of him, and replaced it with his fingers. They slid inside so deep; eased by the slickness that leaked from him and soaked his thighs. Sorey purred.
“So wet, Mikleo. I’m sorry I kept you waiting.”
Mikleo’s eyes slammed shut, and a full-body shudder tore through him. He rode Sorey’s fingers fast and hard, desperate and needy, and hanging on the idle assurances Sorey was whispering in his ear. His voice was so low that it seemed to melt into Mikleo’s bones.
It didn’t happen that heat, or the next, or the next. Mikleo tried not to be disappointed, but Sorey’s hopeful little look after each heat was so hard to see. He wondered if a thousand years of mostly-daily elixirs meant that they’d have another thousand years of trying until his body got caught up with the current plan. Mikleo didn’t know if he could last that long – these monthly heats were already seriously cramping his lifestyle, and also cramping his legs and back.
So, with their track record as it was, Mikleo didn’t really have high hopes for this heat. Well, high hopes for the whole “getting pregnant” thing. Mikleo had come to appreciate certain aspects of heats, like how much of an effect they had on Sorey.
The moment Mikleo felt a heat coming on – when his scent glands began to ache, when he couldn’t help glaring and growling at anyone who happened to be trying to take Sorey’s attention from him and him alone – Sorey’s own body seemed to respond so readily, so eagerly, every time. He was putty in Mikleo’s hands...well, if putty could fuck like that, anyway.
Sorey growled and continued to fuck Mikleo; hard and relentless, just how Mikleo always wanted it during this time of the month. Mikleo’s eyes rolled back, and he let his head fall back onto the pillows. His hair was a loose and tangled mess, from Sorey’s hands tugging and pawing at it. His legs were hoisted onto Sorey’s broad shoulders, his knees were squished up against his own chest. His thighs burned at the stretch, and he could barely get enough air in his lungs to whimper out pleas of yes and more.
Sorey whuffed out a heavy breath, and his thrusts grew more deliberate – as if he was trying to bury himself as deep as he possibly could. Mikleo keened in encouragement, and his fingers scrabbled all over Sorey, trying to pull him in. He was close, he could feel it; he wanted to cum but cumming felt so empty and lonely without Sorey knotting in him, if Mikleo couldn’t have Sorey’s knot and feel his hot cum in him right now he was going to lose his mind –
Sorey cried out something that could have been Mikleo’s name. His body stiffened, his grip tightened on the sheets that bracketed Mikleo’s head. His knot swelled inside Mikleo, tugging at his walls as Sorey continued to weakly grind his hips. Mikleo squeezed down on it, and that delicious pressure and warmth inside of him sent him shuddering over the edge of his release.
The next thing that Mikleo was conscious of was Sorey gently, carefully shifting them so they could be knotted a little bit more comfortably. Sorey settled down on his back with a satisfied huff, and coiled a strand of Mikleo’s hair around his fingers before pressing his lips to it.
“Sap,” Mikleo accused before settling his cheek against Sorey’s collarbone.
“You married this sap,” Sorey noted. “How are you feeling? I uh. Kind of went a little hard there.”
Mikleo lips curled into a smile at the memory. “Perfectly fine,” he said, and he kissed at Sorey’s chest to punctuate. “I’m glad to see you’re so devoted to the cause.”
The minutes ticked by, and they lay knotted there in each other’s arms, drifting in and out of sleep. Mikleo woke from his doze at the feeling of Sorey slipping out of him. He whimpered at the loss, and clung to Sorey as he turned them over once more to lay Mikleo on his back. Mikleo stretched out long and lean before spreading his legs wide in encouragement, and Sorey took the invitation as an opportunity to lean down and nuzzle his face against Mikleo’s hardening cock.
“Sorey.” Mikleo tilted his hips up insistently, and tried to yank Sorey back up by his hair in desperation. “Put it back in, put it back in…”
“In a minute,” Sorey said. His fingers rubbed at Mikleo before he slid one, two fingers in; their slide easy with the help of Mikleo’s slickness and Sorey’s cum. Sorey closed his eyes, and leaned in to press his mouth there.
Mikleo’s whole body arched off the bed, and Sorey’s sure grip on his hipbone and his mouth on him were the only things anchoring him. Sorey made a savoring noise, and began to lick there; slow swipes of his tongue before swirling it inside. His free hand squeezed at Mikleo’s inner thigh, stroking at the marks his mouth left there earlier.
Mikleo felt like he was going to shake apart all over the sheets. His hindbrain wanted Sorey’s cock in him now, to fuck him and knot him and put puppies in him. But oh, Sorey’s tongue was so wonderfully warm and soothing, and he was moaning into him as if he couldn’t get enough of his taste. Still, it was blessed relief when Sorey reared back, gasping for air, and looming over Mikleo with a look that made Mikleo feel like cumming then and there. Mikleo turned onto his hands and knees, and popped his ass up; Sorey eagerly took the invitation, and slid his cock back into Mikleo where it belonged.
“Mikleo,” Sorey moaned. He pulled out slowly, then plunged back in. “Love you. So much, Mikleo, I love you…”
“Love you,” Mikleo replied. Such a sap. He bet most alphas didn’t spout bad love poetry while they were screwing their omegas. Mikleo considered himself the luckiest man on earth. “Always.”
Sorey wasn’t about to argue that Mikleo didn’t have it worse, as far as heats went. But heats weren’t entirely comfortable for him as an alpha, either.
He drifted, trying to get some sleep while Mikleo dozed beside him, trying to ignore the way his body begged for more of Mikleo’s. It’d been a few months since they’d started trying, and Sorey had come to expect that he wouldn’t be able to get much sleep – or get to sleep, period – during the few heady days Mikleo spent like this. He was exhausted, he ached, his mind was a scramble; basic instinct crowding out his higher thoughts. But he was content to lay here for a while, just holding Mikleo while he rested between rounds.
Honestly, Mikleo could ask anything of him during these heats and he’d agree to it without question. He could ask Sorey to throw himself off of a cliff. …Not that Sorey wouldn’t already do that for him without pheromones involved, but still. Sorey nosed at the top of Mikleo’s head and breathed deep, trying to get some of Mikleo’s scent in his lungs to soothe the need in his bones.
Sorey knew Mikleo’s scent – vanilla and petrichor; rainfall blessing the thirsty soil after a long dry spell. It was as familiar to him as his own, and as comforting as the smell of the mountain air and the sunlight on Elysia’s grassy fields. Even while he was in heat, the same notes of scent were still there; just more raw, more intense, calling to Sorey to tend to him and worship him as an alpha should. It was a scent that was unmistakable, and hadn’t changed a bit in all the years Sorey had known him.
So the fact that it was different now was pretty interesting indeed.
Sorey tried to move slowly and gently, to avoid jostling Mikleo, but with how hard his tail was wagging, it proved difficult. He tucked his face under Mikleo’s chin and took another deep breath. Vanilla and petrichor, with undertones of a sweetness that tugged at Sorey’s heart. It made him want to hold Mikleo and never let him go. Sorey barely acknowledged the whine in his throat until Mikleo’s face screwed up in his sleep. Sorey’s ears pricked up, and he set a hand on Mikleo’s cheek to stroke his face tenderly.
“Mikleo. Mikleo, wake up.”
Mikleo put a hand on Sorey’s face in turn, but it was less to caress him and more to shove him away. Sorey made a pathetic noise at being shoved away from Mikleo – right now, his instincts were telling him that he needed to be as close to him as possible; wrapped around him to protect him, to protect Mikleo and their…their…
Mikleo was awake now, squinting at Sorey and frowning while his brain struggled to catch up. He blinked, and then seemed to take stock of himself. He pressed the back of his hand to his forehead, then touched at where his scent glands were on his neck, under his skin. Then, slowly, that hand wandered down to his stomach, to rest there. He smiled at Sorey gently.
“I…I think my heat’s over.”
Sorey couldn’t hold himself back any longer. He pounced on Mikleo, pinning him to the bed and covering every inch of his bare skin with kisses. Mikleo laughed, and swatted at Sorey playfully; without any real reprimand behind it.
“Get off of me, you sweaty, smelly jerk!” Mikleo said, sheer delight clear in his voice. “I swear, you’re such a dork.”
Sorey trailed a more deliberate line of kisses up the center of Mikleo’s chest, up his neck, across his jaw, and ending at his lips; cradling Mikleo’s cheeks between his hands as he slipped his tongue in to deepen the kiss.
“I’m your dork, though, right?” Sorey murmured, once he drew back for breath.
Mikleo smiled against his lips. Sorey could feel the motion, and see the crinkle of Mikleo’s eyes.
For his part, Sorey wanted to shout the announcement from the rooftops the moment they’d gotten their clothes back on. However, Mikleo told him he wanted to wait.
“It could be a false alarm,” Mikleo warned. “And so much can go wrong during the first few months. I don’t want to tell anyone until it’s a sure thing.”
Sorey’s nose didn’t lie – that sweet smell following Mikleo everywhere he went was unmistakable, and it had its own unmistakable effect on Sorey’s own body, his own scent. He definitely was starting to smell different as well – sort of musky, sort of like he’d been wrestling bears in the woods for a week. It was odd, but Mikleo seemed to like it – he was nuzzled up close to Sorey, idly rubbing his cheek against Sorey’s neck as they recovered together on the couch.
Their bodies’ signs were loud and clear, in Sorey’s opinion, but his excitement was curbed some by Mikleo’s latter statement. He’d been reading up on everything he could get his hands on, lately – medical journals, parenting guides, advice blogs, picture books starring talking dogs. He knew that kind of thing could just…happen, with no rhyme or reason behind it. They could do everything right, and still they could wake up one day without. All Sorey could do for Mikleo was to support him and hold him tight, and at least that, he knew, was something he was good at.
“Okay,” Sorey assured him. “I won’t say a word to anyone. Promise.”
Mikleo gave him a crooked smile, and kissed his chin. “You’re terrible at keeping secrets, so I’m sure someone will suspect. But we’ll let them wonder for a while.”
As it happened, it took about three hours before someone started to suspect something. Zaveid tagged Mikleo in some meme, and Mikleo didn’t respond, because he was in the bathroom fixing his hair and didn’t take his phone along. Instead, Sorey replied on Mikleo’s behalf; with a little “haha” and a little animated smiling sticker.
Immediately, Mikleo’s phone rang; it was Zaveid. Hesitantly, Sorey answered it.
“You got a lil’ bun in the oven, don’t you!?” Zaveid immediately blurted out over the other line.
Sorey was baffled. “…um. What?”
“C’mon, spill the beans,” Zaveid prodded. While he couldn’t have smelled the physical evidence from halfway across Glenwood (or wherever his band was touring now), he was absolutely relentless when he smelled gossip. “You can tell ol’ Zaveid anything, you know that, right? My lips are zipped tight. I won’t tell a single soul.”
Now that was just a flat-out lie, and Sorey knew it. Sorey wasn’t going to break his promise to Mikleo, especially less than a few hours after he’d made it in the first place. Sorey grit his teeth and stood firm.
“Zaveid. No.” Sorey didn’t like lying, but this was not a lie; because the statement was not a statement but was rather a sentiment that everyone who knew Zaveid was intimately familiar with. “Where did you even get that idea?”
“Sheps, sheps, sheps. There’s no reason to keep secrets. You see, when I tagged Mikleo in that post, I knew full well that he wouldn’t respond, or would give me some backtalk; that’s just his way, even though I know he really loves it. But then I get a little notification that, not only has he responded, but he’s given me a cutesy little sticker too. Obviously, it didn’t really come from our favorite little water-boy, but rather from his sleepyhead hubby. Why would said hubby have his hands on Mik-boy’s phone, though? That sweet little hubby has broken a lot of phones in his time, and while that cute clumsiness makes Mik-boy’s heart burn with the fire of protective love, it also makes it so he’d never leave his phone in the former Shepherd’s clutches. But here it is. Now, what would make Mikleo so forgetful that he’d leave his phone behind while he’s, I dunno, in the bathroom or something? Obviously, his thoughts are very firmly elsewhere. And that elsewhere is squarely on the little bundle of joy that his hubby put in his tummy!”
They hadn’t seen Zaveid in months, well before they had started discussing starting a family. They hadn’t spoken to anyone about starting to try, there was no way he could have overheard any of their conversations, and there was certainly no way he could have smelled them as they were now. An image came unbidden to Sorey’s mind, of Zaveid in a darkened room; notebooks filled with scrawled text strewn everywhere, and a collection of newspaper clippings and blurry pictures of cryptids stuck to the wall and connected with multicolored strings.
“…I don’t really know what to say to that,” Sorey managed to say eventually.
“Right!?” Zaveid said excitedly. “This sorta detective work is how I got to be the cross-genre superstar I am today. Music, acting, the competitive cooking burlesque league—”
Suddenly, Sorey found the phone being yanked away from him.
“Stop sending me memes and asking if Sorey’s knocked me up,” Mikleo said sternly. “Or else I’m going to tell Lailah who it was that leaked her secret cupcake recipe.”
There was a long pause on the other line, and Sorey finally heard Zaveid quietly stutter out an apology. Mikleo firmly told him goodbye, and ended the call. Sorey gazed up at Mikleo with sorrowful, guilty eyes.
“I didn’t tell him,” Sorey said. “B-but I didn’t know how to tell him that he was wrong, when he wasn’t really, and…”
Mikleo stepped closer to where Sorey sat, and gently drew Sorey in to rest his head on his chest. Sorey’s eyes slipped shut, unbidden, at the sound of Mikleo’s heartbeat.
“Don’t worry,” Mikleo assured him. “He does this every few months, honestly. This is just the first time he’s actually been on to something. Broken clock is right twice a day, you know?”
Sorey laughed, and rested his chin on Mikleo’s chest to look up at him more properly.
“I guess so. Do you think he’ll tell anyone…?”
“If he does, then he’ll have to deal with Lailah speaking with him about the cupcake incident,” Mikleo said darkly. “I know he’s smart enough to understand that, so we should be fine.”
That…sounded pretty scary, so Sorey hoped for Zaveid’s own sake that he could stay mum on the topic.
Honestly, Sorey wanted them to be the ones who got to announce it, when the time came. He wanted to see the happiness on his loved ones’ faces, wanted to see everyone dote on Mikleo and pamper him like he deserved. But, they had a few months before that proper announcement could be made – in the meantime, he’d happily dote and pamper Mikleo in their stead.
Sorey heard the rumble of lightning outside and the whisper of rain on the roof, and hummed at the soothing noise before he rolled over to spoon up behind Mikleo. The motion, however, was thwarted, as Mikleo was missing. Sorey felt around the spot next to him for a few moments, then sighed.
He put on a shirt, and toddled out of the house blearily, grabbing an umbrella before he stepped out the door. He looked around through the rain. Lightning and storms were his element; rightfully, he should have felt at home. Many seraphim, even these days, preferred to sleep out in nature instead of confined to a structure. However – and perhaps it was his human upbringing speaking – he much preferred sleeping in a house, in a warm, dry bed. Mikleo had been raised alongside him, and had developed the same habits. However, those habits seemed to have gone out the window with the pups now in the mix.
He spotted Mikleo dangling his feet in the tiny pond near their home, his face tilted up to the night sky to feel the rain. Sorey smiled fondly, watching the scene for a moment before walking over to join him.
“They getting demanding again?” Sorey asked. He held the umbrella over Mikleo’s soaked head, as if it would do any good now.
Mikleo opened his eyes, glanced briefly at Sorey, then looked away, almost embarrassed. “…a little. Did I wake you, getting out of bed?”
“No, you know how heavy a sleeper I am,” Sorey said. He winced at the sharp look Mikleo shot at him, and settled down next to Mikleo to hug him in apology. “Sorry. You didn’t wake me, I promise.”
He’d been back in the waking world and with Mikleo again for long enough that he used to be able to make jokes like that, but recently Mikleo had been a little sensitive thanks to the storm of hormones in his blood. Sorey was never really sure when an action would be met with laughter, anger, or tears – or a mixture of all three. In any event, Sorey would fix him up something special for breakfast in a few hours to make up for it. Mikleo’s cravings, thankfully, did not tend to run much toward food – Elysia was a remote mountain village, after all, and Sorey couldn’t really make the midnight convenience store runs he might’ve been able to in a city. Instead, they seemed to be more element-based; as if he was chasing down as much energy as possible to fuel him.
Now that Mikleo was a month or so along, they had let a few of the other Elysians in on the good news – specifically Medea and Natalie, who were both experienced healers, with enough midwife experience to be a big help. It was a relief – not only were there no convenience stores, but the nearest hospital was a two-day hike away. They had leapt at the chance to help, and with their artes, had monitored Mikleo for the past few weeks. It was Natalie’s water artes that confirmed Mikleo’s own suspicions that they would be expecting not just one, but two little ones; which had just sent Sorey’s mind racing and his heart soaring. He wouldn’t have to pick just one entry off his prospective baby name list, after all!
Two pups meant that Mikleo needed all the more energy, though. He was drawing three times the amount of energy from the earthpulse than was usual, and it took a certain level of strain on his already-aching body. Sorey kept close to him, snuggled up to him to share his own energy; did everything he could to ease Mikleo’s burden. Still, Mikleo wasn’t quite operating at a hundred percent – he couldn’t quite use his artes with the same level of finesse, he slept later and later into the mornings, and took longer and longer catnaps in the afternoon. It was…lonely, sometimes, for Sorey. The hypocrisy in that feeling shamed him.
Thunder rumbled above, and Mikleo squeezed Sorey’s hand in his own.
“Do you think Gramps knows?” whispered Mikleo. “Wherever he is.”
Sorey squeezed Mikleo’s hand back. “I’m sure he does. Who do you think keeps sending these nighttime storms for you? It’s not me – I don’t have the energy to keep it up for days on end.”
Mikleo’s lips twitched, and he sidled Sorey a Look. “…I don’t know about that. My stomach is proof enough that you can.”
Mikleo’s tummy was just a little bump, barely visible under his clothes. It was just too cute, and Sorey couldn’t help but touch whenever he could. He did so now, and Mikleo rested his own hand atop Sorey’s for a moment before he guided Sorey’s arm to wrap around him.
Mikleo was quiet for a while, leaning against Sorey as they both listened to the storm and twined their legs together underneath the pool’s water. Sorey almost thought that he’d fallen asleep, and was debating how to best carry him back inside without waking him. However, just before he was about to put his plan into action, he heard Mikleo’s voice; soft and apologetic.
“I ate all the ice cream before I went outside.”
Sorey had seen the empty containers as he walked out of the house; strewn across the kitchen like a murder scene. He made a soothing noise and rubbed his knuckles up and down Mikleo’s spine.
“It’s okay. I’ll ask Shiron to fly me down the mountain tomorrow to pick up some more from town. Green tea with white chocolate swirls, right?”
Mikleo would normally have balked at the idea of store-bought ice cream, but needs must – no energy for artes meant no artes to make frozen treats.
“And some dried bonito flakes?” Mikleo added, with hope in his eyes. “And maybe a few boxes of cinnamon cereal, and some fruity cereal to mix in.”
Mikleo paused, then looked away, and coughed. Even in his delicate state, he liked to at least try to keep his dignity intact.
“…if you have the time, of course.”
“Of course,” Sorey assured him, tucking him in close to his side. He adjusted the umbrella above them, and rested his chin on Mikleo’s head. “Anything for the three of you.”
To an outside viewer, the structure inside Mikleo and Sorey’s bedroom resembled a blanket fort; which was an ignorant and uneducated assessment that probably would have thrown Mikleo into another Mood if he wasn’t so perfectly distracted by his latest addition to their nest.
(Which was not a fort. Forts were built under tables, and thus had preexisting structure that a nest did not. It was an important linguistic and architectural distinction.)
Mikleo buried his face in the little pile of Sorey’s shirts that he’d borrowed from the hamper. Their scent put Mikleo’s mind into a blissful haze; making him feel like Sorey was right here with him, arms wrapped around him from behind, his warm hands rubbing at his stomach to soothe how nauseous he’d been feeling lately. Sorey had only been away for a few hours, doing the outdoor chores that Mikleo was no longer able to help with, but it felt like he’d been gone for days. Mikleo was heartsick, and so badly wanted to call out to Sorey like a yowling animal – telling him that weeding the garden and hauling firewood could wait, that their nest was missing something him-shaped and very important indeed.
Plus Mikleo could really use a massage. His back had been utterly killing him lately.
In the midst of his reverie, Mikleo felt something odd, as if his insides were knocking on him. At first, he attributed it to another round of nausea – miserably, he scooted to the side of the nest to where a clean trash can sat at the ready for him. If Sorey was here, he would escort him to the bathroom, and hold back his hair, and rub his back, and…
Mikleo was so caught up in his wistful memories of puking into a toilet that he didn’t quite notice that he wasn’t puking right now. The knocking continued, haphazard. He tried to take stock of himself – he supposed he wasn’t really feeling very nauseous at all. Sore, perhaps, but…
He delicately held his hand to one side of his stomach; waiting, feeling around.
He jumped at the sudden movement against his palm, and couldn’t help his shocked, delighted laugh.
“Sorey!” he shouted. Their bedroom window was open – Mikleo had been ogling Sorey as he puttered around the garden earlier, and he hoped he was still in earshot. “Sorey! Come inside, quick!”
Mikleo heard a commotion from outside, and then their front door banging open, and footsteps thundering towards him. Sorey rushed into the bedroom, breathless, his eyes wild.
“What’s wrong?” he managed to wheeze out between breaths.
Mikleo hadn’t stopped laughing since he felt that first kick, and he beckoned Sorey close.
“Your children are kicking me. Come feel.”
Sorey blinked, and then a wide smile broke across his face. He crept closer, hesitantly at first, and reached out his hand to hover over Mikleo’s stomach. He smelled like sweat and sunlight – notes that added to his own personal scent so perfectly. Mikleo took his hand and guided it to the right spot.
“…I don’t feel anything.” Sorey sounded so disappointed.
He’d already made him rush in here at lightning speed – Mikleo wouldn’t have him missing out on this. Mikleo frowned at his stomach, and gave it a pat.
“You two. Do you think you can only get away with kicking me while your papa isn’t around?”
Apparently, that was the provocation needed. Mikleo felt another kick at that; this one much stronger than the others. He gasped and nearly doubled over. Sorey’s eyes went huge.
“Was that – was that them?” he stuttered out.
“Yes,” Mikleo said, through gritted teeth. “It was them. Only your children could be this rowdy.”
It really did hurt – it felt like they had just spinkicked his kidneys. But Sorey’s eyes were absolutely sparkling as he held his hands to Mikleo’s stomach, feeling around gently, just waiting for the next sign that his puppies were in there.
“You two,” Sorey said to Mikleo’s stomach. “Settle down, okay? Daddy needs to rest so you can get the energy you need to grow.”
The twins’ impromptu dance recital was not hampered in the least at this scolding. Sorey leaned in and gave Mikleo’s stomach a kiss through his clothes, and then leaned up to kiss Mikleo more properly.
“Stay inside with me,” Mikleo whispered to him as he drew back. “Please? The chores can wait.”
Sorey gave him a mischievous little grin.
“I never thought I’d hear you encouraging me to skip out on chores,” Sorey said. “How can I refuse?”
He tried to climb to his feet, but was stopped by Mikleo’s hands on his wrists; pulling Sorey’s hands in to cup his cheeks. Sorey’s thumbs smoothed over his cheekbones.
“Mikleo,” he laughed. “I’ll shower and be right back, okay?”
“I like you a little smelly right now,” Mikleo mumbled. His cheeks burned a little at the confession, and he buried his face in Sorey’s palm to hide them. “Only right now, though. Don’t think you can make a habit of it when the twins come along.”
“I’ll enjoy it while it lasts,” Sorey said. He crawled onto the bed and into their nest – collecting one of the many books he’d stashed in it. Kindly, he made no comment on the pile of shirts Mikleo had collected. “I’ll read to you guys. Maybe that will settle them down some.”
“I’ve never known you to get less excited when reading something, but I’ll try anything right now,” Mikleo said. He settled into the crook of Sorey’s arm, trying to arrange himself and his stomach comfortably among the pillows. “And I suppose I wouldn’t mind your smelly company.”
The sound of Sorey’s voice, his scent and warmth, the strength in his body beside Mikleo – all of it was so soothing. Much more soothing than a pile of used clothes. Mikleo felt his eyes begin to drift shut. Sorey must have thought he was asleep, then, and paused in reading aloud. He felt Sorey’s hand on his stomach again, and then heard his voice once more; singing a quiet lullaby. The pups’ kicking settled down, as if they too could not resist the pull of sleep, and the irresistible balm of Sorey’s presence.
Mikleo squeezed Sorey’s hand once before dozing off.
Once the announcement had been made, they were happy to see that their friends and family were excited for them. They were overjoyed to see that their pups would be welcomed into the world with love and support.
…Maybe a little too much love and support.
“So, I had another lightbulb about the squirts’ nursery design—”
Zaveid had his tablet shoved in front of Mikleo’s face; its screen showing the Pinterest board he’d created. Rather, one of the many boards he’d created. Mikleo’s head was swimming with leftover nausea from the morning’s bathroom session, and being presented with a whirl of a thousand colors and a computer screen a half inch from his nose was not helping.
“—I call this one ‘Rhapsody in Cerulean’,” Zaveid said proudly.
“Not to be confused with ‘Rhapsody in Blue’?” Mikleo commented. “Or ‘Rhapsody in Indigo’?”
Both were past projects that Zaveid had shown to him within the last ten minutes. Zaveid scoffed and rolled his eyes.
“Obviously. Mikleo, m’boy, this is why you got me on your side for your interior designing needs. So, ‘Rhapsody in Cerulean’ is my latest work; art deco meets steampunk meets Saturday morning cartoon. Picture it: a mermaid falls in love with a Formula One racecar driver who she saves from a terrible wreck at sea—”
“Why was he racing at sea?” Mikleo asked, like he actually expected Zaveid to explain.
Sorey had a faraway look on his face; at the thought of a race at sea, no doubt. Mikleo pinched him hard to bring him back to reality, and gave him a hard look.
“And to go with it, I’ve put together some complementary wardrobes for the first few years,” Zaveid said, tapping on the screen to bring up his next presentation. “The scale motif blends seamlessly with the tire track pattern, and the bonnets look like flames to showcase how the burning oil slick on the waves symbolizes the rebirth and spiritual awakening of the mermaid AND the racecar driver. It just...it just brings tears to my eyes...”
Zaveid took a moment to compose himself, then loudly blew his nose.
“Very nice,” Mikleo said politely, knowing that arguing would do nothing but make Zaveid sulky, and knowing on top of that that Zaveid would have a new and entirely different masterpiece to show them in around five minutes.
Sorey was eyeing the pictures of the racecar crib that Zaveid had dug up. Mikleo supposed that wouldn’t be too bad of a nursery option to consider, as long as he didn’t catch Sorey trying to cram himself into it. He didn’t feel like having to grease up Sorey like a stuck pig while he was nine months along.
Zaveid’s interior design and baby fashion advice aside, the baby shower was going very smoothly. It was a small and intimate little gathering; with only their closest acquaintances in attendance – including, happily, the recently-reborn Rose and Alisha. The rest of the world would just have to wait a few years before they told them the happy news.
They had received most of the things that they had added to the registry, and a mountain of sweet little personal gifts – warm blankets and caps knitted by the Elysians to keep out the chill mountain air, savings bonds and stock in the Sparrow Conglomerate (celebrating 850 years in business, and forced to welcome its original founder back to her CEO position thanks to a very bizarre and clairvoyant contract clause Rose had thought to include way back when), a collection of sproutlings and canning supplies from Alisha (who was still a little rough around the edges with her newfound earth artes, and had to grapple with lingering hay fever that was quite at odds with her new seraph life), a stack of ancient books straight from the deepest reaches of the Pendrago library (“gifted” by Maotelus, who commented on the matter: “what are the priests going to do, tell me I can’t take them?”, and then told Sorey to throw pierogis at him from a distance so he could try and catch them in his mouth), and, most helpfully, an electronic baby doll gifted by Edna for Sorey and Mikleo to “practice” with.
The baby doll had its vocal box modified to sound like a donkey bleating, and it demonstrated this modification constantly, no matter what was or wasn’t done to it. It was currently sitting in the cradle that someone anonymous had gifted to them – which was utterly splendid. Really, it was a marvel of woodworking design; woven so tightly with branches that it looked perfectly smooth to the touch. It was as sturdy as if it was made from mountain stone, but it was light enough to be moved even by an exhausted new parent. It was woven with intricate artes so it could be expanded for a growing bundle of joy, or adapted to suit any room design. Strangely, there was no name attached to this gift, only a simple card that stated “congrats” in a familiar weaving script. It was almost as though this cradle was gifted to them by an earth seraph who was allergic to being nice, and had to balance out thoughtful gifts like this with donkey-bleating baby dolls.
Mikleo felt Edna staring at him over her tea, but whenever he glanced her way, she averted her gaze, and pretended her interest lay in the platter of sweets in front of her. More specifically, she was clearly staring at his stomach, which – at six and a half months along – was looking pretty plump. It would have made Mikleo feel pretty self-conscious and on-guard (considering Edna was, after all, Edna) if not for Edna’s sorry-looking state. She’d already pounded down four pieces of the cake Lailah had made for the occasion as an attempt to mask her staring, and was clearly beginning to feel the effects. Such was the strain of covert espionage.
“You feeling alright?” Sorey asked worriedly. “You don’t look so good.”
Edna’s ears weakly craned back to flatten against her head, and her tail thrashed once behind her.
“…a lady doesn’t have to entertain comments on her appearance from the rabble,” Edna managed to get out. She then loudly burped, scowled, and tried to burrow her way back into the armchair to hide her embarrassed blush. “I-I’m just feeling a little faint from how stinky you two are. It’s like walking in front of a candle store in the mall.”
While it was entertaining to see Edna in such a ruffled state, Mikleo would rather not have to roll her out the door whenever she wasn’t able to fit any more cake or pastries inside her digestive tract. Nor was he really jumping at the opportunity to clean up puke – he and Sorey were sure to have plenty of that in their immediate future when the pups were born.
“You don’t have to be here if it’s making you uncomfortable,” Mikleo finally said. “You can sleep off the cake in the guest room and we’ll have someone escort you home whenever you’re—”
“I’m fine,” Edna said, too sharply. She was still cherry red, and her eyes flicked back down to Mikleo’s stomach. “It’s just…weird seeing Meebo all fat and stuff. Meeblimp.”
“I know, right?” Rose cut in. She had come over to help herself to more cake before Edna forcibly and unwillingly consumed the rest. “I’m so used to that teeny waist in that leather corset of his that the pudge is a shock to the system. It’s like he’s gonna pop if you poke him!”
Mikleo rose an eyebrow. Rose’s eyes darted this way, then that, and she shoveled the cake into her mouth whole while mumbling something that Mikleo didn’t quite catch. Another explosive chain of sneezes came from where the party had moved outside, and Rose embraced the opportunity to escape.
“Honey! Baby! I’m comin’!” Rose yelled, spraying cake crumbs as she beat a hasty retreat to where Alisha was having another allergy attack. She had the tendency to spray pollen when she sneezed, which created a rather terrible feedback loop that was difficult to break.
Reinvigorated by the sight of someone else’s embarrassment and suffering, Edna had managed to pry herself out of the back of the armchair. Sorey poured her a glass of water, and handed it over with an encouraging smile.
“Do you want to touch his stomach?” Sorey asked. “If Mikleo’s okay with it, and if you’re comfortable. It might help you. Mikleo?”
“It’s fine,” said Mikleo, who had already had so many hands touching his tummy today that one more would be hardly a bother. “But you’re leaving the umbrella in the chair.”
Edna huffed. “You really think I’d smack around a pregnant omega, even if he’s being a brat? Honestly. I’m taking back Esmeralda.”
The baby-donkey doll hee-hawed from the cradle. Mikleo extended a hand, and waited patiently for Edna to be done with her snit. Slowly, Edna’s ears crept forward until they were no longer flat against her head.
“…fine. I’ll touch Meebo’s big belly if it’ll shut the two of you up about it,” she grumbled, and scooted forward in the chair until she was within patting distance.
True to her word, Edna was quite delicate; her hand on his stomach as light as a butterfly touching down on a daisy petal.
“…it’s like a weird balloon,” Edna said, clearly surprised, and with no little interest.
Suddenly, one of the pups decided to rearrange themselves, and Edna jumped back with a yelp.
“W-what was that? Did I do something!?”
The opportunity to tease Edna was tempting, but she seemed so shocked and panicked that Mikleo just didn’t have the heart for it.
“They’re just waking up a little,” Mikleo assured her. “They like to kick me after they nap.”
Edna visibly relaxed, and she clearly couldn’t help the smile on her face.
“They like kicking Meebo too, huh?” Edna said. “They’ve got lots in common with their Aunt Edna already.”
A scream and a wave of heat burst from outside, and the three of them whirled to see what the ruckus was; Sorey dragging Mikleo close, and the floor beneath Mikleo rumbling as if it was ready to spring up around him. Rose had elected to fix Alisha’s pollen problem with her own inborn seraphic talents, and – being a fire seraph with a few wind-based tricks up her sleeve – these talents tended toward the explosively destructive. Rose had ignited the pollen around Alisha; frying it, preventing further allergic attacks, and creating a burst bomb that rained ash everywhere around them. Luckily the baby gifts were not in the immediate area. The circle of charred grass would probably grow back. Maybe they could dig a kiddie pool for the pups if it didn’t.
“…” Rose twirled a lock of white-red hair around her finger. “…we’re gonna file that treatment under a ‘maybe’ for the future, then?”
Alisha sniffled miserably, and blew her red nose on her hankie. Her white-blond hair was black with ash. “Thabk you Rose. I wobn’t forget my mebicine next timbe.”
Mikleo shook his head, and allowed Sorey to help him back into his chair.
“Rose is…learning fast,” Sorey commented, as much an optimist as ever. “I don’t know many fire seraphim that’ve tried to use their artes for medicine.”
“Let’s stick to more traditional pediatrics,” Mikleo said. “Rose can try selling that treatment once she’s worked out the kinks.”
Their pups would grow up with love and support, but perhaps they’d skip out on the experimental medical treatments for a few years at least.
Mikleo didn’t go into this with an unrealistic outlook. For all the rose-colored portrayals of pregnant omegas he’d seen over the years, he knew that – instead of nine months of a glowing complexion and cutesy cravings – it would be unpleasant, painful, pretty darn gross…and those cutesy cravings were pretty nauseating once Mikleo was done plowing through them. Honestly, he was glad it was almost over, and soon they’d have their pups. He wasn’t interested in doing this again any time soon.
He felt Sorey’s lips brush his neck, and let his eyes slip shut.
“How are you feeling?”
“…better,” Mikleo admitted. He felt like a blimp, and his back had been utterly killing him lately. Frequent massages from Sorey were all that kept him sane. “Better now.”
They were lying in bed together, with Mikleo on his side, and Sorey spooning him from behind. Sorey hummed in agreement, and trailed his kisses further down. His lips touched Mikleo’s nape, brushed down Mikleo’s spine; climbing down it knob by knob until he reached the small of his back. He let out a deep exhale, letting his warm breath tickle Mikleo’s skin. Mikleo’s toes curled at the feeling.
…Honestly, Sorey was ridiculous. To still want to do that with him now, when he was swollen up like a balloon. He was surely exhausted too, from handling all the housework on top of getting the nursery room ready, and tending to Mikleo whenever he whined for him. Ridiculous, and…just too good to him.
He ached in more ways than one.
“Sorey,” Mikleo murmured as Sorey’s mouth trailed even lower. “I can’t – I’m too…I won’t be able to do much, you know…”
Sorey hummed mildly, and slid a hand around to prop Mikleo’s leg up.
“That’s fine,” Sorey promised him. “Just relax. I wanna keep making you feel good.”
Mikleo opened his mouth to protest – surely he could do something; even if most positions were off the table, his mouth and hands still worked fine – but the touch of Sorey’s tongue on his entrance robbed all words from him. He whimpered, unable to keep his hips from bucking back, seeking more of that stimulation.
“There.” Sorey’s voice was so gentle, and his fingers were likewise; although relentless as they slid into him. “Just tell me if you want to stop. This is all for you right now, Mikleo. I’ve read it can help.”
“What kind of things have you been reading?” Mikleo wondered aloud. “And help with what?”
Sorey made a considering noise. “Well, help with discomfort, help with aches…help with a lot of things.”
Mikleo’s whole body shivered. He let his head fall onto his forearms. Sorey’s fingers inside him felt incredible as always; with how wet he was, Sorey could surely tell how much he wanted it. Sorey’s big hand kept his leg hiked up in the air; he could feel Sorey idly groping his thigh, could feel his mouth sucking hickies onto his thigh and asscheek. Mikleo’s cheeks burned at the idea of having to explain those marks to the midwife during his checkup. She had arrived two days ago; having come up the mountain to stay with them until the birth happened.
“Sorey,” begged Mikleo. “N-no more marks, not right now…”
Sorey whined at that, but still, Mikleo felt the pressure of his mouth ease on his skin. He slowly, carefully rearranged himself; climbing over Mikleo so they were facing each other. Sorey pressed a kiss to Mikleo’s jaw before he slid down Mikleo’s body, hitched up his thigh once more, and licked a stripe up Mikleo’s cock.
Sorey wrapped his lips around Mikleo’s cock, and engulfed him whole; letting the head bump the back of his throat and swallowing thickly around it. His fingers slid back into Mikleo easily, and he pumped them into Mikleo gently as his mouth worked. Mikleo’s head lolled onto the pillows; his fingers clutched at anything they could reach – the sheets, Sorey’s hair, his own hair (when his belly proved to be too in the way). He was so close already, it was almost embarrassing.
“Please, please, I’m – Sorey!”
He squeezed hard on Sorey’s thrusting fingers, and Sorey’s lips and tongue didn’t let up for a moment as his orgasm hit. Sorey drank him down greedily, and pulled back with a wet pop when he was completely drained and spent. Mikleo felt his fingers brush his cheek, and he opened his eyes to smile at him sleepily.
A sudden urgency crashed into Mikleo’s mind, and he clutched at his stomach; eyes wide. All the color drained from Sorey’s face, and he leaned in, panicked; one hand on Mikleo’s forehead.
“Mikleo? W-what’s wrong?”
“Go get Doctor Nightingale,” Mikleo said through gritted teeth. “I think it’s time.”
So much for having time to make up an excuse for the hickies on his ass.
They had wanted their friends to be there, to help welcome their pups into the world. But there was so little time to spread the word, and Sorey had much more pressing concerns – namely, his husband in labor.
He couldn’t bear to let their hopes down like this.
When it comes to spreading hot gossip at lightning speed, who does one cry out to for aid?
Zaveid’s phone rang, with Sorey’s name as the incoming caller.
“Hey there, Sheps,” Zaveid greeted. “Sup?”
“Mikleo’s in labor,” Sorey blurted out, breathless. “I can’t spare any time to hunt people down and get them up here. Zaveid, please, we need your help.”
Zaveid rose to his feet, and squared his shoulders. A heroic breeze ruffled the cape he was wearing for no good reason.
“Leave it to me,” Zaveid said. “On the honor of my true name, I won’t let you down.”
“There. Doing great, Mikleo,” assured the midwife, Doctor Nightingale. “Perfectly on schedule. It’ll still be a few hours. Once you’re a little farther along, we’ll move you to the tub, just as you and Sorey discussed with me.”
She helped Mikleo into a more comfortable position, with Sorey’s assistance. It had been a few hours since the initial rush, and Mikleo was steadily progressing. Still, Sorey couldn’t help but fret. The hours were so slow, and were all the slower since he could barely focus on anything to pass the time. He never thought there’d be a time where he’d willingly ignore their bookshelf. And what’s more…their friends still hadn’t arrived. They’d told the Elysians the moment it’d started, of course, and they were all poised and at the ready for anything needed of them. It was wonderful to have the family that raised them all those years ago around for the occasion.
But still, it would have been so wonderful to have their friends here, too…
There was a loud crash from the field just outside Elysia, and a few seconds later, the walls rattled with the force of the impact. Mikleo was in the middle of waddling to their nest with Sorey hovering at his side, and he paused to stare out the open window at the plume of smoke that was beginning to emerge from the crash site.
They heard a chorus of shouting voices, and then, a group of weary travelers coming through Elysia’s gates – it was their friends, a little worse for the wear.
“Don’t ever let Zaveid show you that bullshit he calls ‘Tornadostepping’,” Rose said firmly, as she limped inside, with Alisha supporting her like a wounded soldier.
Edna stormed in after her, furiously trying to fix her inside-out umbrella. Lailah followed, frantically mumbling to herself about a brush while she tried to fix her wild hair before it gained sentience and destroyed them all.
“It’s just – got some kinks!” Zaveid shouted back.
He was so dizzy he could barely walk in a straight line, and had lost his cape. Sorey took him by the arm and guided him inside. Kinks or no, Zaveid was true to his word, and Sorey would always be grateful.
By the time everyone was settled into the guest house next to theirs, it was time for Mikleo to move to the tub – while they wanted their friends and family present, they didn’t really want them present-present. It would just be…awkward.
The water was warm and relaxing; he was surrounded on all sides with his own element. It soothed the pain and pressure shooting through Mikleo’s body, and settled his mind. He shut his eyes and focused on his breathing, and waited for the midwife’s signal. He had the midwife’s and his own healing artes on his side, and Sorey’s sure, firm presence behind him in the tub, but he had been warned that he was still likely to feel some discomfort – and that warning was proving to be justified.
“Good, Mikleo, good! Perfect. Keep pushing, just like that.”
It was painful, it was undignified, it was messy. Mikleo felt like the world dropped out from behind him as Sorey slid around to settle between his legs and help catch their first pup. He could bear it. He had borne worse, and he would persevere.
He heard a high-pitched cry.
“Mikleo!” The joy in Sorey’s voice was clear as day. “A girl! She’s so beautiful, look at her eyes, and her little hands…”
Mikleo tried to focus his eyes on the squirming, squalling pup Sorey was cradling in his arms. The midwife finished cleaning her, and she squinted her violet eyes at him suspiciously. She continued to fuss even as Mikleo cradled her in his arms. The little fuzz of light brown hair on her head begged for a kiss. Sorey bundled them both in his arms, and gave them a careful squeeze. He couldn’t stop babbling about how wonderful she was, how amazing Mikleo was – Mikleo just wanted to shush him, wipe the tears from his husband’s eyes, and enjoy the moment.
The pressure and urgency inside him returned, and the midwife understood with one desperate look in her direction.
“Sorey, tell Mikleo to keep going. I’ll be right back once I get this little lady swaddled up.”
The second pup came along much quicker, though the pain remained about the same. Mikleo was beyond caring about his dignity, at this point – it was long gone, and there were more pressing concerns; like pushing with all his might, and straining his ears to her that second cry.
“A boy! Hi little guy, oh, hello…”
The midwife had returned while Mikleo was busy, and she immediately set to cleaning and checking over their son, just as she had their daughter. (Their son, their daughter. Mikleo marveled at the phrase.) It seemed like an age before Mikleo could hold him in his arms, but soon, there he was, blinking up at Mikleo with his papa’s beautiful green eyes. Mikleo felt as though he was floating through the heavens themselves as he gazed into them.
“They both look healthy,” said the midwife. “I’ll go and get his sister so you can have some bonding time.”
“Perfect,” murmured Mikleo, as Sorey settled back behind him. “Absolutely perfect.”
“Oh, what perfect little hands you both have…”
Lailah bent over the twins’ cradle, poking with one finger at their daughter’s balled-up fist. The twins were swaddled up tight, and sleeping soundly next to each other in their shared bed.
“I haven’t seen a more perfect little swirl in an age or more. Oh, this is a blessed day indeed…”
“If Lailah’s done poking at the squirts like a toddler in a pet store, can we break out the champagne?” asked Edna. “Waiting around with you people is thirsty work.”
“Don’t worry, Edna, Lailah’s not bothering them,” Sorey assured Edna. “They’re out cold right now. Being born is very tiring.”
Edna’s attempts at veiling her concerns were not as effective as she thought, and she side-eyed Lailah once more before she stalked off toward the champagne bottles. Mikleo laid alongside Sorey in their bed; watching everyone mill around as he recovered. Lailah, fussing over the pups’ perfect hands and teeny triangle ears; Zaveid, contorting himself to snap selfie after selfie with the pups sleeping in the background. Rose, contorting herself to give him bunny ears and photobomb each shot. Alisha, trying to cease Rose’s bullying and take some tasteful photos of her own – though not entirely succeeding.
Edna approached the bed, and handed off a glass of champagne each to Sorey and Mikleo.
“Here. I figure you two could use a drink, too. Meebo had a long day. And…congratulations. To both of you.”
“Thank you,” Sorey said warmly, and lifted his glass. “To the twins, and to Mikleo.”
Mikleo raised his glass, and gave a small smile. “To the twins, and to you, Sorey.”
“Barf,” mumbled Edna, lifting her glass. “Just drink already.”
“Ding dong. Am I interrupting anything?”
“Of course not! Hi, Mao!” Sorey greeted.
Maotelus hadn’t been able to attend the birth of the pups on short notice, and had already made several apologies for it. Honestly, they didn’t begrudge him for it; such were the responsibilities of being the Lord of Glenwood. Plus, Mikleo was kind of glad that he didn’t have to go through labor with the god of the continent idly chatting with guests in the next room over.
Maotelus had promised to visit them the moment he could; and, true to his word, here he was. Mikleo expected him to come by with a little more...grace and pomp; flying over the mountains, the sun glinting off his white scales, the very air singing in rapture around him, perhaps. Not popping out of the sacred pool in the middle of Elysia at three in the afternoon, and trudging out soaking wet. Maotelus shook himself off, sending water flying everywhere.
“Sorry again for being…a week late, at this point,” he said. “The Earthpulse Express speeds up travel, at least. How are you feeling, Mikleo?”
“Fine, considering,” Mikleo said, as he had gotten drenched by Maotelus’ spray. Luckily, Lucia and Morgan were napping inside. “Would you like to come in and see the pups?”
“Of course. Lead the way and I’ll scale down a few sizes.”
Mikleo winced at the pun. Being oath-bound to Lailah came with its unfortunate side-effects that Maotelus could not be blamed for.
As new parents, they hadn’t had much time to do housekeeping. Their guests had helped, but they had left a few days ago, not wanting to impose on their hosts, and wanting to allow them their time to bond with their new arrivals. The Elysians, as always, were eager to lend a hand, but…Mikleo wondered if he should have tried to muster up the energy to power-wash the floor and with his artes. They were hosting a god, after all…
Sorey’s energy and excitement left no room for Mikleo to fret, and his complete lack of propriety with Maotelus eased his mind. He bodily picked up the now fun-sized Maotelus, and carried him to the nursery to peek in at the twins.
“Lucia, in the giraffe onesie, and Morgan, in the teddy bear onesie. We were reading about the zoo and they wanted to dress up to get into the experience.”
Lucia and Morgan were a week old and didn’t want much other than naps, but Mikleo did not have it in him to correct Sorey. Maotelus made a pleased noise as Sorey dangled him over the cradle.
“They’re beautiful. May I bless them? Not by flame, of course.”
“I don’t see why not,” Sorey said. “Mikleo?”
A blessing from the Lord of Glenwood himself…well, that might quell some of Mikleo’s anxieties that kept him awake in the middle of the night. Mikleo nodded.
“Of course. Thank you.”
“Bring me in close to them, if you would?”
Sorey did as he was asked, and Maotelus stretched out his neck and gave the pups both a quick lick on the forehead with his tongue. Lucia sputtered at the feeling and began to fuss, while Morgan blinked open his eyes, confused and slightly damp.
“There. Properly blessed.”
Mikleo hustled over and budged Sorey out of the way to pick up and soothe Lucia. Her powers were barely more than a tickle at her age, but in her fury, she still managed to conjure up enough electricity to make Mikleo’s hair and tail fluff out with static. Sorey looked a little embarrassed at the dark look on Mikleo’s face, and set Maotelus down on the floor; away from the cradle.
“Sorry. I probably should’ve mentioned that’s the, uh…alternate form of blessing,” Sorey said. “Flames are easier to wield, especially for Shepherds, but—”
“Yes, I imagine going around licking hellions has its drawbacks,” Mikleo said. Lucia huffed, and wriggled in irritation. She clearly wasn’t really the giraffe type. “Thank you, Lord Maotelus. We appreciate your blessing.”
“Any time. Let me know if you have anything else that could use a good blessing.”
“You know,” Sorey said. “There’s this racecar bed that Zaveid gave us—”
“We will let you know if we have further need of your tongue,” Mikleo firmly interrupted. He handed Lucia to Sorey and picked up her brother to rock him back to sleep. “Thank you. Would you like some tea before you have to return to Pendrago?”
Mikleo wondered if he and Sorey had ever managed to stay in the same place as long as they had these past few years. Over the centuries, they’d always been on the move – never settling for longer than a few months before heading back out on the open road. But, they hadn’t left Elysia since they’d started trying for the twins, and then certainly hadn’t been able to leave once they were born…and even with the twins walking and talking now, it still seemed too early to take them into the big wide world.
He tasted the sauce he was cooking on the stove, and continued to stir. The scent of fragrant herbs, fresh from their little garden, hung heavy in the air.
The world was much kinder than it had ever been. Malevolence still existed – it would always exist, of course – but Maotelus’ renewed power kept it in check, and the humans had come up with clever technology to keep it from tainting the world as it once had. It was truly amazing what they had been able to achieve, with humans and seraphim living side-by-side. It was a world that Mikleo and Sorey helped build with their own two hands, a world that they’d dreamed of, and a world that Mikleo longed to return to. But even so, whenever they entertained the idea of taking Lucia and Morgan down to the world below, his heart was gripped with anxiety. It was always another year, a little while longer; until the little ones were strong enough to shrug off any stray tendrils of malevolence that might reach them.
Here they remained, in Elysia, watching Lucia and Morgan play and grow. They took them through walks in the forest, and through the Mabinogio Ruins to offer incense at the memorial for Gramps and the lives lost at Camlann. They made friends with the goats, and watched prickleboars pick their way through the berry bushes on the hillside. It wasn’t a bad life. However, Mikleo’s heart ached at the sight of Sorey’s tight, sad smile as he read through journals and letters, as he paged through the deluxe anniversary edition of the Celestial Record (their original copy was stored safely away, its ancient pages a little too delicate to keep within reach of sticky hands).
Mikleo felt a tug on his apron. He turned off the heat on the stove, and looked down to see Lucia and Morgan carrying a basket of mushrooms between them.
“Mushroom,” Lucia said. Morgan nodded in agreement.
“That’s so nice of the two of you,” Mikleo said. “Are those for dinner tonight?”
He guided them to set the heavy basket on the floor, and saw the trail of spilled mushrooms coming in from the front door. The mushrooms that grew on near the peak of the mountain weren’t poisonous, and seraphim couldn’t really get poisoned by food anyway, but Mikleo couldn’t help but inspect them with a critical eye anyway. A leftover habit from caring for Sorey when they were growing up together.
The mushrooms were fat, fresh, and…marginally clean of dirt. The basket and the mushrooms were soaked with water; probably in an attempt by Morgan to wash them with his artes. Once Mikleo gave them another once-over and chopped them up, they’d go wonderfully with the pasta sauce he’d been cooking.
“Where did you find these?” Mikleo asked. “They look great. Did papa help?”
“No,” said Sorey. He was coming through the door, and was picking up the fallen mushrooms and tucking them into a makeshift sling he’d made with the hem of his shirt. “I saw them coming up the side of the hill with that big basket in tow. I haven’t seen that many Elysiacap mushrooms since Gramps was around.”
Gramps had always loved this variety of mushroom. They grew best in soil that had recently been struck by lightning, and they were a much rarer breed now than they were back then. Mikleo remembered the mushroom hunts from his childhood even now, and his heart ached at the nostalgic smell of the forest dirt and the weight of the prize in his hand. He’d tried to go on harvesting trips on his own, and even with Sorey when he awoke, but…it just wasn’t the same.
Or it hadn’t been, until now. This was a feeling Mikleo hadn’t felt in some time.
“The little man said go to the forest with a basket for the mushrooms and pick the mushrooms,” Lucia explained. “And then bring them back, and wash them before we ate them. If you don’t wash them before you eat them they taste dirty.”
Lucia’s mouth was smudged with dirt – as was the rest of her, same as her brother. A bath was in their immediate future. Mikleo tried to parse her sentence, confused.
“‘Little man’?” Mikleo asked. “Was this someone you know?”
“The little mushroom man,” Lucia explained further.
“No relation to the muffin man?” Sorey joked, and crouched down to poke the twins in their tummies.
Lucia jumped at being tickled, then huffed and pouted; thrashing her tail in irritation. Morgan’s ears twitched, and he giggled and guarded himself behind the basket.
“No. The mushroom man,” Lucia said sternly. “Papa needs to listen better.”
“He does,” Mikleo agreed, and leaned away from Sorey’s sneaky fingers trying to tickle him too. “But can you tell us who this man is that you’re talking to? Is he little like a normin? Little like Aunt Edna?”
“He’s little and old with big eyebrows. And big shoes,” Morgan quietly added. “He comes to talk to us when we sleep. But he’s not there when we wake up.”
Mikleo stared at the mushroom in his palm.
He didn’t want to believe it. It’d always seemed such an implausible hope, to ever be able to see him again, to ever be able to tell him how much they’d grown. He felt his eyes begin to prickle with tears.
“Thank you so much,” Mikleo managed. He tried his best to control his voice, and to will the tears from spilling over. “There’s just—so many. Why don’t you go around and see if the others would like to take some before we start dinner?”
The twins seemed to consider this a splendid course of action, and scurried out the door with their basket in tow; still spilling mushrooms as they went. Once he heard the door shut, Mikleo leaned in and bundled Sorey into his arms, shushing him gently. Sorey’s shoulders shook as he let out a quiet sob.
“You were right,” Mikleo whispered hoarsely. “He did know.”
The rest of the day was a blur of scrambled emotion and the familiar earthy tang of Elysiacaps. Mikleo couldn’t bear to hope for anything when he and Sorey went to sleep that night. It’d been so many years – they felt his presence in many things, but it seemed the space between life and death was simply too vast a canyon to be easily crossed. Even for someone like Gramps.
“Hmph. Finally got through. You two boys always did have such hard heads; small wonder this took so long.”
Or maybe not. Mikleo and Sorey learned their stubbornness from the best, after all.
Mikleo felt like a child again, sobbing into Gramps’ arms. He felt Sorey’s warmth and presence right next to him. They were in Gramps’ study from back when, from way back then – it wasn’t just a hazy recreation from his own memory, it looked like the real thing. Mikleo bet that he could take a book off one of the shelves, crack it open and start reading then and there; the smell of the pages real in his nose, and the words printed on them as clear as day.
“Gramps,” he sobbed, and he heard Sorey’s voice say the same thing. “I’m so sorry. We miss you so much.”
“You two have nothing to be sorry for. What a world the both of you have made together!”
Gramps guided him to sit, and took a deep breath in from his pipe. The real thing was tucked away safely in a precious box in their home, but this didn’t seem imaginary in the least – Mikleo could even smell the herbs.
“Now then. The stories I hear about what the two of you have gotten up to…I hope for your sake that your twins are a little bit easier to manage than you two were, at that age.”
Mikleo heard Sorey laugh, and he smiled in turn.
“A little bit, I suppose. They get up to their share of mischief.”
Gramps’ bushy brows raised high. “Like running away in the middle of the night to go make a pact with a woman wielding a magic sword?”
Mikleo couldn’t help but laugh at that, and he could almost see Sorey scratching at his neck in embarrassment. Gramps chuckled, and took another puff of his pipe.
“They’ve told me they’ve never been outside Elysia. I couldn’t quite believe my ears, and wondered if all these centuries have turned you into a pair of dreadfully boring homebodies.”
Mikleo lowered his eyes. “…the malevolence in the world is more controlled, now. But the world is still so big, and they’re so small. The world is still full of things, full of people that could hurt them. I want to protect them for as long as I can…”
Gramps smiled sadly.
“I understand the feeling, Mikleo. But you can’t keep them here forever. See the world alongside them, before they run off and see it all on their own, without you.”
Mikleo’s heart ached. There was so much he wanted to say, and it was getting all jumbled up in his head; getting confused by the storm of emotions inside of him. But before he could even begin, Gramps squinted at the skylight above them, and leaned to pat at Mikleo’s head. Mikleo could sense that Sorey was receiving the same treatment.
“It’s getting late. I’m sorry it took me so long to reach you again. The earthpulse is very vast indeed. But, your lights were always there, guiding me from a distance.”
Mikleo could hear Sorey frantically begging Gramps not to go, not to leave them. Gramps hushed him, and assured him:
“I’ll tell the two of you some tales about it tomorrow night. I’m sure you have some tales of your own, and will be making even more very soon.”
The walls and books began to dim, as if light was slowly draining from the room. Mikleo let out a muffled sob, and clutched at Gramps’ wrist; clamping it down as if he could stop the dark from closing in.
“Shh. You boys need your rest. I’ll be here, any time you need me. I promise.”
Even as the room faded into quiet darkness, Mikleo could still see Gramps’ smile, and feel his gentle hand on his head; as if he was the same tiny boy he’d been all those years ago.
“All packed? Let me see your bags. …Morgan, maybe we should only have one stuffed animal come with us on the trip. The rest can watch the house while we’re gone.”
Morgan briefly paused in trying to zip up his overstuffed backpack, but, after a long moment, quietly disregarded Mikleo’s advice and continued to struggle with it. They’d already promised that the twins could pack their own bags – perhaps it would be wise to let him make the decision on his own before they set out. Still, Mikleo thought it would probably be best to encourage the twins to not over-encumber themselves. Mikleo and Sorey would be carrying the essential supplies, of course – and they would only be going on a short trip down the mountain to visit Lailah in Ladylake. Mikleo smiled and ruffled Morgan’s ears.
“I’ll let you keep packing. Remember, we’ll be leaving once the clock has its hands on the eight.”
Morgan nodded, and planted his bottom on his backpack to give himself more leverage to yank on the zipper. Mikleo quietly reviewed their stock of spare bags as he walked to Sorey.
“Just about!” Sorey assured him. “We’re trying to figure out which books to bring.”
“Papa,” Lucia said in exasperation. “You want to bring too many. You’re gonna be tired and whine and you should bring the tablet.”
Sorey looked distraught at his daughter’s disregard for the traditional printed word. “But – what if it runs out of power? Or we drop it? Then we won’t have anything to read at all!”
Lucia pouted at him, her tail fluffing out adorably. “We just zap it with juice, papa! We both can!”
“How about we bring the tablet, and three books?” Mikleo suggested. “We’ll only be gone for a few days.”
Sorey and Lucia seemed to accept this as a compromise, and began to sort through Sorey’s massive suitcase; hauling out armfuls of books. The four of them could easily go through the collection in addition to whatever they had loaded on the e-reader in a few days’ time, but…well, they could limit their family reading time to the end of the day, when they were winding down from seeing the sights. A fair compromise.
The fifteen-minute warning alarm on the normin clock sang out a jaunty tune. (The device was a gift from Atakk, and Mikleo never would have plugged it in again if the twins hadn’t gotten fixated on it. They sang that tune constantly now and sometimes Mikleo fantasized about accidentally flinging the thing into the pond.) At the five-minute mark, Sorey began to get the twins into their coats and shoes while Mikleo inspected their bags fretfully. Yes, everything seemed to be in order. Books and toys and camping supplies. It would only be a few days. They would be fine.
The timer chimed again, and the twins scurried out the door in excitement, singing that damn song as they went. Sorey looked out at them fondly, then turned to look at Mikleo over his shoulder. He offered his hand. Under that thick traveling glove, Mikleo knew he could see the wedding ring he’d given him so long ago.
Mikleo smiled, and accepted Sorey’s hand.
“Ready to play babysitter to you in the lower world again. I swear, some things never change.”
Sorey grinned, and leaned in to nudge his nose against Mikleo’s cheek. His scent filled Mikleo’s senses, and Mikleo found himself weaving in place as Sorey gathered him in close. Sorey murmured against his lips,
“I suppose they really don’t.”