-Warning: Graphic Descriptions-
As Tessa stepped out of Milo’s hospital room, she was approached by a concerned-looking Leah. “Is everything okay,” Leah asked, glancing between Tessa and the closed door behind her. Tessa raised a brow, noticing the way Leah was shifting anxiously on her feet. “It will be. My brother has been through a lot, but he will be okay,” Tessa assured her with the same encouraging smile she showed Milo. With a nod, Leah took her post outside of his room. Tessa walked the halls of the hospital with her head held high, but on the inside, she could feel her walls starting to crumble. Once Milo went into a coma, Tessa had kept it together, locking her emotions away while she interrogated the witch, but from the way Dainin was watching her, Tessa knew she wasn’t fooling him.
Everything had happened so quickly she didn’t even have time to celebrate the fact that her brother was still alive. The severity of his condition overshadowed the joy with shock as Tessa watched the doctor reset his bones. The x-rays were showing mangled breaks, which the doctor explained never fully had time to heal before suffering trauma again. It was enough to make her sick. Then, when the nurses bathed him for the first time, the little hair he had left washed down the drain, leaving a shivering emaciated heap with scabs freckling his skin. The gravity of his condition broke her. It took everything she and her wolf had not to cry out in sorrow at the sight, but they needed to remain strong for him.
Even though he was in a coma, Tessa made it her mission to visit Milo every morning. Each time she opened the door, she hoped to find him awake and eager to greet her, but the longer he stayed in a coma, the more her concern grew. When her mind link filled with the urgent voices of the hospital staff, informing her he was awake and fighting, she felt slightly relieved, but the memory of his wolf wheezing on the mattress haunted her. Even after she calmed him down and had him submit to her in his room, Tessa could see all the scars that hadn’t completely healed from the torture that monster put him through, but she felt hope at the sight of him healing quicker than they expected. His prognosis was looking good.
Tessa swore as she slammed the side of her fist into the wall of the abandoned lobby. If Ingrid’s spell hadn’t killed every Rogue under her control, they would have suffered a crueler fate by her hand. Death was too kind and quick for all of them, especially that beast. Rage had started to become a familiar emotion to her, along with guilt because while she had been living a wonderful life, Milo was rotting alone in a cell and being used as a personal punching bag. “He’s safe and awake now,” her wolf reasoned. “We need to move on and focus on getting all of him back,” she said, pulling Tessa’s thoughts out of the dark pit of anger. She knew her wolf didn’t want to dwell on a past that neither of them could change. “We can’t keep stressing ourselves out either. Think of the baby,” her wolf reminded her as if she could forget. The ugliness of the world only made her and Dainin feel more protective of their pup.
Suddenly feeling claustrophobic, Tessa pushed through the hospital doors and shifted into her wolf. She ran for the tree line of the forest, yearning for a distraction to let off some steam. Tessa relinquished full control of her wolf and blocked out the world around her. In the silence, she found serenity and kept her mind blank until she felt her wolf’s pace beginning to slow down. Tessa didn’t know how long or how far they ran, but when she focused, she found herself in front of Alpha’s estate. “Why did you bring us here,” Tessa asked, feeling her heart in her throat. “Because we need to be here,” her wolf responded before shifting back, leaving Tessa standing at the base of the steps.
A breath shuddered past her lips as she took in the French colonial she used to call home. Anxiety began coursing through her body when her eyes fell on the porch swing. It was swaying gently in the breeze, without a care in the world, mimicking the way her mother used to rock back and forth. She would always keep a watchful eye as Tessa and Milo played with their father. Tessa’s eyes began to sting with tears as a memory surfaced. She could barely make out echoing screams of joy and laughter as her younger self and an even younger brother raced up the stairs to their mother’s protective embrace. “Mom!” they both cried for no particular reason other than to get their father in trouble. “Alexander, you always take things too far,” her mother’s strong voice scolded him, making the two children giggle. The young Tessa glanced at her father to find his hands raised in mock surrender. “They asked for it,” he’d defend, feigning offense, but moved closer to wrap his strong arms around his family.
A breeze blew through the fall air, making her vision evaporate into a mist, leaving Tessa standing alone in front of the large mahogany doors. She hadn’t realized she climbed the steps until her hand met the cold hardware of the doorknob. “We need to do this,” her wolf encourage gently, and with a sigh, Tessa opened the door and stepped in. With her eyes tightly shut, Tessa kept her back turned away from the home as her forehead rested on the cool door. Ragged breaths escaped her as her chest rose rapidly from her anxiousness. Finally mustering up the courage, Tessa turned around with her back pressed firmly against the door and eyes wide as she took in the room.
Her eyes cautiously scanned over the foyer, taking in the empty walls where her family’s photos once hung. Now, they were hidden in the basement, collecting dust. After their deaths, Tessa didn’t want the constant reminder of everything she lost to be staring her in the face, and eventually, even the rooms with their lingering scents became too much for her to handle. However, today it felt so different. It was eerily quiet inside the once lively home. Although guests would occasionally reside here, there was a wing that was off-limits and hadn’t been touched since Tessa moved out, but deep down, Tessa knew that was where she needed to go.
Keeping her wide eyes glued to the creaking wooden floor, Tessa eventually made it to the base of the staircase in the back of the house. Her heart was racing, and as much as she tried to control her breathing, it was impossible. Her gaze slowly moved up the stairs, which seemed to go on forever, but she composed herself, and as her hand glided over the smooth railing, she soon reached the third floor. Her parent’s bedroom door was directly in her line of sight, but that wasn’t why she was there, and she was not ready to face the ghosts behind it yet.
Turning down the hall, Tessa walked to a door covered in superhero and dinosaur stickers. Her fingertips gently grazed over the peeling paper, precisely placed at the height of a young twelve-year-old boy. Tears threatened to spill down her reddened cheeks, but Tessa tried to hold them back as she reached above the molding for the key. They always kept hidden after her parents learned a young male wolf, even at the age of twelve, was prone to a temper tantrum or two. Taking it in her hand, Tessa held the small piece of metal to her heart as a quiet sob escaped her. Her strength was dwindling with every second she remained in this house. Without wasting another minute, she pushed the key inside and turned it until a click sounded from inside.
The door slowly opened to reveal a dark room. Every curtain had been drawn in honor of the once, thought to be, dead little boy. With tears falling from her eyes, Tessa slowly walked to the large window and, with shaking hands, drew the curtains to let the sun in. There were so many emotions racing through her being. Sadness filled her heart as she looked around the room. Not a toy was out of place, leaving the floor clear of any evidence a child had played. Then there was guilt because she chose to lock their memory away behind the doors to spare herself from feeling grief and loneliness, but there was also relief, and that resonated stronger than all the others.
Tessa sat on Milo’s small bed and clutched his pillow tightly in her arms while pressing her face to the fabric to muffle her cries. “My brother is alive! He’s alive, and he’s okay,” she cried as her wolf released a howl. Tessa’s shoulders shook violently, and eventually, she fell to her side, still holding onto Milo’s pillow for dear life. She wasn’t sure how long she had been crying, but by the time she was finished, the sun was beginning to set. Stretching from her fetal position, Tessa wiped away the lingering tears from her eyes as she rose from the mattress. With one final squeeze, she set the pillow back in its place, smoothing out the wrinkles from her shed tears.
Closing the door softly, Tessa placed the key back in its hiding place. “Time to visit Ingrid,” she thought to her wolf, who hummed in agreement. As she descended the stairs, Tessa noticed her body felt lighter and her mind clearer. She no longer felt plagued by the weight of guilt because her wolf was right. Milo was going to be okay, and he was safe here with her once more. “We’ll be a family again,” Tessa happily thought, caressing her growing bump. When she opened the front door, Tessa froze in place at the man before her.
“You found me,” Tessa said quietly, her eyes wide with shock. “I’ll always find you,” Dainin said, standing from the swing with a smirk and open arms. Warmth spread throughout Tessa’s body as she ran into his embrace. Her arms wound tightly around his waist, with her head resting against his chest. “Do you promise,” she asked with hope. “Of course, love,” he replied with a chuckle. “I’d do anything for you. Are you okay,” he asked, brushing his thumb beneath her swollen eyes. Tessa’s heart leaped in her chest from the love and concern she found staring back at her, and she couldn’t help but press her lips to his. She was better than okay.