A Long Walk Home Ch. 20byJazCullen©
What a ride this story has been. I think it's been my favourite one so far because I've loved the characters so much as they came to life for me.
I've been in awe at all the wonderful comments from everyone. They've kept me going especially when I faltered around about chapter 15 of this tale and wondered if I'd ever be able to finish it. I can't tell you how much your words have kept me writing. I couldn't let you all down :-)
So I hope you all enjoy this final chapter. I can't thank you enough for reading, voting and commenting.
To the Guild - you've been the best friends ever. To my Tweeps - thanks so much for the hours of fun, the loaning of the smut fairies (LOL) and the friendship you have given to me.
mikothebaby - you have been an utter treasure to me and I can never adequately thank you enough for all your hard work. Don't relax too much though because I will be back to clog up your inbox with more tales in the future :-)
Rayne was still stunned at the news she was pregnant as she left Rafe's library, Gard closely following behind her. She could feel his emotions through their bond and had to fight down a laugh. One moment he was ecstatic and the next he was full of trepidation. Confused didn't come close enough to describing his emotions.
She was aware of Lacey in the sitting room with her sons and couldn't stop herself from peering in to look at them. She felt her own trepidation set in as she watched the ease her Alpha handled first one child and then the other as she cooed to them. Lacey made it look so effortless and she couldn't help wondering if she'd be half as good a mother.
"You'll be perfect," Gard soothed, his arms wrapping around her from behind, his hand resting tenderly against her stomach.
"Have you taken up mind reading now?" Rayne laughed softly leaning against the thick wall of his chest.
Lacey looked up and smiled at the sound of their voices. She took in Gard's hold and her smile grew wider. "It's easier than it looks, Rayne," she called out, immediately coming to the correct conclusion as to why her pack members looked so shell-shocked.
"Right up until the moment the boys were born Lacey was convinced she'd be a terrible mother," Rafe chuckled coming up beside them. "She measured herself by Jen's standards and found herself lacking." His tone made it plain how ridiculous he'd found that idea at the time.
They headed into the sitting room together with Caleb and Annie bringing up the rear. Rafe crossed to his mate, sinking down to the floor beside her and reaching out to gather Ben in his arms for a quick cuddle before he lay him down gently and gave Aaron the same doting hug.
Rayne eased down onto one of the large sofas with Gard, with Caleb artfully guiding his mate away from the other sofa and towards one the many armchairs in the room. He picked the one closest to the babies.
"A King should have his throne," he laughed lightly at Rhianna's raised eyebrow.
"So should a Queen," she quipped back as he sat down and pulled her onto his lap.
"You have one, sweet Annie. You're sitting on it."
"Men!" Rhianna rolled her eyes in mock exasperation even as she settled comfortably against Caleb's chest, contentment on her face as she gazed down at her nephews. She realised this was the first time she'd been in a proper family environment with her brothers and their mates. The feeling of completeness that came over her was wonderful.
"I wonder if we'll have a son or daughter," Gard mused, fascinated by the little boys wriggling on the soft blankets on the rug. He didn't really mind what they would have. He just wanted their child to be healthy and happy.
"Do you wish to know?" Rhianna asked with a mysterious smile on her face as their eyes met.
Gard blinked slowly, surprise crossing his. "You know the baby's sex already?" It couldn't be possible. They were only just pregnant; the child was barely days old!
Rayne could feel Gard's excitement even though she was just as astounded that Annie knew what they were having so early. She met her mate's eyes and raised an eyebrow. She really didn't mind knowing the baby's sex if he wanted to.
Rhianna didn't answer his question but her smile did become wider.
"Put him out of his misery, Annie," Rayne laughed softly. "I'll never hear the end of it if you don't. I'd really like to know if we're having a boy or a girl."
"Well, if you're both sure," Rhianna grinned. "You're having a son."
Pride welled up inside Gard's chest, a strong, deep feeling of utter joy that his son was growing inside his mate. He had never dreamed he would find the one woman who would make his long days of lonely existence come to an end. Now he not only had his exquisite wildcat but she was also giving him a son to cherish. He had hoped for a little girl, one exactly like her mother but he figured they could work on that for their next child.
"A son," he breathed quietly, his voice thick with emotion. "We could call him Tobias. I've always liked that name."
Rayne turned to look at him, her expression one of disagreement. "Tobias? You want to name my son Tobias? I don't think so, vampire." She was lightly stroking her stomach, smiling even as she put her foot down. Her son was inside her, a perfect little boy who would be just like his father, only he'd have much better taste in names!
"What's wrong with Tobias?" Gard growled as the others laughed at his disgruntled expression. "It's a perfectly good name for a boy. I don't hear you coming out with anything."
"I'm just coming to terms with the fact you knocked me up so quickly," she bit back struggling to contain her laughter as his expression changed to one of complete outrage. Her mate actually spluttered as he tried to formulate words and she did burst out laughing then.
"If you can't come to an agreement on naming the child, I have the perfect solution for you," Rhianna suddenly said. Her voice was quiet yet they both turned to look at her. There was something in the tone that was quite hypnotic as if she was combination of both Annie and Anakatrine in that moment.
Rayne was immensely curious as to what her new sister considered the perfect name for her son. "What would you suggest, Annie?"
Gard went so still at her side that for a moment Rayne was convinced that he'd stopped breathing. Their mate bond was completely silent as he stared at his sister with a stunned expression on his face. A trickle of unease went down her spine for a moment as the siblings looked so intently at each other.
"Is there some special significance to Kothari?" she finally breathed out when Gard remained silent.
Rhianna's gaze moved from her brother and met hers. She smiled a beatific smile. "I've always thought that sometimes tradition can be a wonderful thing," she sighed softly. "Sometimes it's just perfect to name a son after his father."
Rayne frowned, taking her words in, turning slowly to look up at Gard who had a sheen of moisture in his eyes as he sat so quietly beside her. Rhianna's words finally penetrated her mind and understanding rocked through her.
"Your name is Kothari?" The words tumbled out on a stunned breath. She had never considered her mate had any other name. He was...he was just Gard. Wasn't he?"
Gard's gaze finally dropped to hers and a hint of amusement crossed his face as he looked down at her. "Gard the Guardian?" he said drolly. He was still stunned at hearing his birth name spoken once again after so many millennia of it never passing anyone's lips. He should have known Anakatrine would never forget it as everyone else had. He was just unprepared for how emotional it had made him feel hearing it once more.
"Kothari is my birth name. It's just been so long since I've heard it that I was a bit surprised hearing it after all these centuries." His shock easing, he smiled down at his mate. "I was so puffed up with my own self importance of being the Guardian that I announced it continually when Anakatrine was being her most wilful."
Rhianna rolled her eyes and laughed. "You'd better believe it. If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. He was always pontificating about how he was 'The Guardian'. He took such pride in his status that I started shortening it to Gard just to annoy him. Of course, when the Queen of Vampires began addressing someone in a certain manner, her loyal subjects followed suit. The nickname stuck and despite what he says, he preened every time he heard it."
Her brother shot her a glare but his lips where tugging in a smile softening his expression. "It was my badge of honour," he conceded.
Rayne was still shocked but she couldn't stop smiling too. "Kothari," she whispered her hand against her stomach, her voice filled with awe. "The perfect name." Her eyes met Gard's as she sought his approval.
His love for her shone so brightly, his hand moving to rest against hers as he leaned down to kiss her gently. "The perfect name," he agreed. And it was. He was looking forward to his son carrying his name, to this new life with his feisty little wildcat.
"I wonder what Dayton and Freya will call their children," Rhianna sighed with a little smirk on her face as she looked at Rafe. "I have a feeling their children will fall on the feminine side."
Her brother grabbed a nearby cushion and threw it at her. "That's it! Out now!" he bellowed his face going red. "Take your stupid oracle ways out of my house. Cursing me with miniature versions of that vampire is the meanest thing you've ever done, Rhianna Armand!" Just the thought of more Freyas was enough to turn his hair silver, hell the little demons would probably come out with silver streaks to match their father.
The group collapsed into laughter, even the babies gurgling happily at the peeling sounds surrounding them and the indisputable warmth and love that radiated in the room.
Caleb tossed the offending cushion back, catching Rafe square in the face with just a little too much force to be completely playful but not enough to be hurtful. He'd caught it before it had hit his mate and though he knew there was no malice in it throwing anything at his woman was just unacceptable.
Rafe grunted and shot him a very rude gesture with his middle finger even though he was chuckling loudly and Lacey slapped his arm in reproof.
"The boys are present!" she huffed trying not to descend into a fit of giggles as the Alpha of the Armand-Hanlon pack started getting abused from all angles, his mate included.
"You're supposed to be on my side," he said slightly peevishly even as he pulled her forward for a long kiss.
"I quite like the idea of lots of little Freyas running about," she shot back, dissolving into laughter when his expression told her in no uncertain terms that she was going to pay for her lack of loyalty later.
Smiling, Caleb rose and set Rhianna gently to the floor keeping her firmly ensconced on his left side so his body blocked her from any further flying cushions. "That would be a suitable punishment for abusing my mate," he said smugly, his smile broadening when said mate slapped him lightly on the chest.
"Idiot," Rhianna laughed under her breath, squirming from his arms so she could hug Rafe and Lacey tightly, whispering her apology into her brother's ear.
He cradled her carefully against him, his hands gentle on her as they usually were. "I'll forgive you that bombshell because you're just too damned hard to resist. And because your vampire has no concept of how to have a proper pillow fight," he laughed rubbing his cheek.
"Caleb!" Rhianna groaned shooting him an exasperated look before rolling her eyes and sinking down beside the babies to give them hugs and kisses.
Her vampire gave Rafe a sheepish smile before his gaze turned back to Rhianna, watching her with the little ones, fascinated by the sheer love that seemed to ooze from her every pore. He felt a stirring in the air, a crackle of energy which would be unnoticed by the Weres.
He felt Gard's eyes on him and turned briefly to look at his brother-in-law. "She has bonded such with all the children," he told him privately. "We both have. Just lightly enough that we will always be able to find them no matter where they are."
The sensation of magic slowly eased as the petite redhead kissed both boys on the forehead and returned back to her mate's side.
"I will do so too," Gard told them both on the communal path they could use to speak to each other. "They are my pack now, mine to protect." His gaze focused on Rhianna turning his thoughts private for her alone.
"You said my time as The Guardian had ended, sister mine. It has only evolved into something different. I will keep our family safe."
"I know, my brother. You have always guarded my heart just as you said I have guarded yours. I can't tell you how happy I am that you have now found your own joy in the world, that you will now know a love so true that nothing can ever come between you."
Rhianna moved to hug first Gard and then Rayne, shooting a quick stab of magic to the life growing inside her sister-in-law to make her bond with her nephew even before he was born into the world. She saw Rayne's eyes widen and sensed Gard's slow smile as he realised what she'd just done and also sensed Rayne's reaction to the energy used.
"Interesting," she mused to her brother. "You should investigate that, Gard. Your mate can feel even the subtlest of magics being used. I shudder to think what else our beautiful little hybrids will surprise us with as they grow."
Caleb retrieved his mate, aware there had been private communication with her brother but not concerned about it. He was slowly coming to adapt to the fact that he had to share his woman; that he had to let her fly free so she would always come home to him.
"Let's go home, sweet one," he whispered in her ear as she melted against him and gave him one of her many smiles that turned his heart inside out and made him forget all about breathing.
They said their goodbyes and headed outside, Rhianna pausing on the steps to look around the compound slowly. Caleb stopped at her side, following her gaze.
Two little brown and golden cubs were tearing around outside's Cedar's home, their parents watching carefully with slightly bemused expressions on their faces. Cedar looked up at Alexei and his arms came around her, a reassuring smile on his face as he held her close. He said something low under his breath and his mate giggled before they turned back to watch their daughters romp in the dirt in wolf form.
Lily and Kallum suddenly burst from their house, their annoyed father following them outside trying to keep a scowl on his face even as his lips twitched with amusement.
"Oh my!" Loretta said with a startled squeak as she came to stand beside Andrei. Her children seemed to shift of the run, one moment human children, the next two little black wolves, Kallum being slightly larger than Lily despite being the younger.
Excited yips filled the air as the Romanov children shifted for the first time, awkward and gangly for the first few moments as they adapted to four legs and then suddenly confident. They dived onto their cousins with glee, rolling in the dirt with them.
Loretta looked a little pale but Andrei appeared to take the shifting in his stride. He glanced at his mate and then turned to his brother. "Watch the kids for a couple of hours!" It wasn't a request and he didn't wait for an answer, simply picking Loretta up and vanishing into the house with her.
Further away, Nors and Ashleigh were coming out of the community centre, Liam running ahead towards the cubs. "Daddy, when will I be able to do that?" he called as he ran, laughing when Dara accidentally knocked him over. Immediately his laughter turned to shrieks of glee as the four cubs started licking him all over.
"You can ask Rayne later," Nors called back, his arm around Ashleigh as she tensed slightly; worried the cubs would be too rough with her son. "Hey Alexei, watch Liam for us for a couple of hours." Nors yelled.
A loud growl sounded in the air and a very frustrated expression crossed the blond vampire's face. "Do I look like a fuc...erm I mean a bleeding babysitter?"
Cedar laughed as Nors quickly pulled his mate away in the opposite direction before Alexei could object further. "No, love," she sighed softly. "Your fellow Ancients just trust you with the lives of their most precious little children. Instead of railing at it you should view it for what it is."
She patted his tight ass lovingly as the children couldn't see her. "And I'll make it up to you later, lover," she added with a sultry smile on her lips.
Alexei groaned and kissed her soundly; remembering inquiring little minds were around before he became too lost in her sweet taste. "Damned right you will, sweetheart."
Rhianna sighed again as she watched the interaction, other wolves bustling around the compound doing their own daily activities. Her gaze turned to Caleb who was watching her expressive face. She smiled.
"Interesting how they can shift into different colours," she remarked quietly referring to the cubs. "More unknowns about just what their many capabilities will be." She wasn't worried about it; it was intriguing more than concerning.
"I'll feel easier once Demetri has contacted this Mackenzie person and the Praetorians are in place. I am surprised you don't know of him, love. I trust Demetri but it still feels a little strange that there is someone out there who sounds so powerful and yet you've never come across him before."
Caleb shrugged and pulled her into a tight embrace. "The most important thing is we both trust Demetri. He has often left my side over the centuries, gone his own way when the wanderlust took him. I'm sure he knows many others I have never met. But rest assured, sweet one, I will know all about Mackenzie before he is allowed anywhere near our family. Pietro too."
Rhianna laughed softly, gazing up at him with total adoration on her face. "I had no doubt of that, my love. You will always protect what is mine."
"What is ours, my Annie," he corrected gently, bending his head to kiss her tenderly, savouring the sweetness that was her lips, drinking in the scent and taste of the woman that was his very heartbeat.
He heard more laughter within the compound, Jen and Aaron's voices adding to the background, their children complaining that they'd have to wait until they were teenagers before they could shift into wolf form for the first time. He broke their kiss and leaned his forehead against hers, sighing softly.
"As much as I love our family, I want you home with me so I can taste every inch of you until you beg me to stop. Come, woman. Your vampire needs you."
Soft tinkling laughter filled the air, the sweetest sound in his universe, after the low throaty moans his mate issued when he pleasured her so lovingly.
"Yes, Caleb," Rhianna said meekly, laughter dancing in her eyes at the suspicious glint in his at her easy acquiescence.
"Come on, witch! Run with me."
Hand in hand they vanished into the trees, Rhianna's soft laughter still filling the air as they took off at breakneck speed, leaving the compound safe and secure behind them.
***** Dayton could feel how tense Freya was as he tugged her downstairs towards the front door. She gave a whole new meaning to the term 'dragging your feet' and he would have smiled at her reluctance if he didn't feel the same way too.
When Rafe had called them into his study to quickly apprise them of the situation and what he wanted from them, Dayton's heart had slammed hard into his chest. He was only just starting to feel comfortable around Aaron and Cedar after so long and now he had to face the rest of his family.