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Merry MM Reading- And No, That Wasn’t A Holiday FU 🎄

Hey, babes

You ever have someone say ‘Merry Christmas’ to you like they’re really saying ‘fuck you for not being Catholic’? Or is it Christian… Protestant? Baptist? …Muslim? (Have I offended everyone yet?) Who are the super angry ones who think Christmas only belongs to them? It’s a vibe I’ve been picking up this festive holiday season. Huzzah, Christmas. XD

The edited version of Apprentice Saga is officially live. Oh, and guess who’s officially on Google Play?! *wink* That was a pretty cool surprise this week.

Exhausted. That is the word. @[email protected] Um… Hellcat didn’t happen this week. Not shocked, unfortunately. Just too much going on. Sorry if I’m super late getting back to comments and emails. I think I need the next few days as a vaca (aka, working my ass off in social and holiday settings instead of writing) and I’ll be bright eyed and bushy tailed after… maybe? Ugh. Oh, and I’m plotting something for after Sorcerer Slayer. Like a choose your own adventure story but it’s like a scavenger hunt to find all the sexy story options and I want to hide sexy drawings in there too. I’m not explaining it well, but I’m super excited about the idea. Seriously, I’m beat today and I just woke up.

Okay, it’s kinda tough figuring out how to be agnostic when raised Catholic. I mean, for one, holding onto all the guilt (ba-dum-bump! XD) The holidays are a special level of wtf. My end of year goals were to spend this week not broke, not exhausted, and not pissed off at everything (usually this feeling has a lot to do with the first two issues.) Then I ended up in a mall I was well aware was moldy, got sick—am still sick and recovering as the fever keeps coming back—and yeah, basically did it to myself.

That feeling of social obligation comes on really strong this time of year and it drove me into a damn mall. Mall—the worst four letter word ever. Buy, or create meaningful things to show you give a fuck about the people you love while having wars over the ‘right’ way to wish someone a nice next couple of days. Ah, Christmas, you do know your roots are pagan, rights? Some people—those really smooth, got it together people—stretch this problem out. They buy over the year so it doesn’t feel like a chore. They manage that social obligation for an entire year because it’s that strong you gotta reach that goal whether it’s now or later… I might be cynical of the people who manage this shit well. I’m a notorious procrastinator who kicks and screams to the bitter end. Don’t get me wrong, I love having fun this time of year and spending it with good people. It just feels like a minefield of avoiding all the other bs that comes along with it.

You know what was awesome about the Grinch? By taking all those presents away, he was able to give the little Whoville critters a gift to see you don’t have to be trapped in materialistic systems to be happy. My fuck, I need a Grinch. Come on, mold, you’re green and grumpy. Save me from myself—this is half a joke. XD Only because I was a fucking beast when sick on mold. Like, I made it an excuse to work 3 times as hard as everyone else because, you know, sick and dying. Logic has no place in my brain. (Umm… but read my books cuz I’m totally coherent. I know, my sales pitch is the best. XD)

 

The Raven Prince

Anywho, how about some fun, LGBT goodies to read? Jean-Paul Whitehall has his first book out of YA short stories where all the proceeds go to an LGBT charity. If you pick this gem up and like what you read, would you mind putting in a review? Jean’s just building his list and he could use all the help he can get—and it’s a damn fine book! I’ve only read the first story so far (Our Lady of The Axe), but I couldn’t put it down while eating breakfast.

You can snag it on Ninestar and on Amazon!

A hoarding holiday of goodies

The Elves of Christmas – $0.99

Two months before Christmas at the North Pole, Santa’s workshop bustles with activity. Santa is coming early with only half a day’s warning to inspect the elves’ progress!

Pepper, who designs and makes special one-of-a-kind dolls, is ordered by his boss Jingle to take time out of toy-making to wash three stories of windows and decorate every room in preparation for Santa. He assigns Ice to assist. But for Pepper, it’s a bit of a problem. Ice is a surly elf, even disrespectful toward Santa, while Pepper reveres Santa to the point of hero-worship.An unlikely pairing, they must work together in order to finish before Santa’s arrival.

But can two elves with conflicting value systems even get along?

Amidst secrets, resentments, toasted cheese sandwiches, snowman building, a blizzard, and Santa’s nerve-wracking visit, Pepper and Ice discover a mutual attraction. If they can overcome wrongful assumptions and failed expectations, love might just take its natural course and lead them to a Merry Christmas.

 

The Raven Prince And Other Stories

Amazon and Ninestar

The Raven Prince

Sixteen-year-old Mike hopes he can blend in at his new school. Except he’s short, slender, goth-looking with the shiny black hair, black eyes and thick lashes, wears an elegant suit and tie, and drives a Mercedes convertible. He’s also gay, a raven shifter in a human school and eventually he has to be the Raven Prince.

Standing up to the bullies who rule the school—Preacher’s Son, Banker’s Son, Sheriff’s Son, Principal’s Daughter—isn’t blending in. When the Four can’t get to Mike, they go after him through his best friend, Johnny, the devoutly straight wrestling star who doesn’t care about the gay thing.

If Johnny is hurt, will it take the Raven Prince to get justice? Raven justice?

 

An Ex, A Dog, and Winter Wonderlands

What could be worse than a breakup right before Christmas? An old flame who broke you barging back into your life…

Vlad has his life together. Great job, great home set in a typical winter wonderland mountain resort, a loving dog, and amazing friends. On top of that, he loves Christmas. All’s jolly until the universe conspires to ruin it for him: breaking up with his flaky boyfriend days before the holidays, his former best friend who broke Vlad’s heart returning home, and enough snow to ruin all of Vlad’s plans.

Vlad knows why Geo came home to Romania: to visit his family for Christmas. He wasn’t supposed to meet Vlad at the airport, or spend a few days at Vlad’s place while his parents are snowed in elsewhere. To protect himself, Vlad does his best to avoid any real connection, but old habits die hard and they find themselves entangled once more.

The last time Geo left him, Vlad almost failed to put the pieces back together. However close they get this time, it won’t change the fact Geo has to return to his life in another country. Is a little holiday romance worth the heartbreak Vlad knows he’ll have to face?

An Ex, a Dog, and Winter Wonderlands is a perfect read for those who love Christmas romances and second chances.

 

A Broken Sword

The last thing Dursus remembered was Brutus’ sword biting into his leg…until he awakened in a strange room and certainly not in Ancient Rome.

Mike Dinsmore, a veterinarian, hears a scream and discovers a strange man bleeding profusely in his study. He binds the wound, applies all of his medical knowledge, and nurses the unconscious man back to life. When the man recognizes the broken gladius in Mike’s possession, he realizes that like his friends, a gladiator has come through time for him.

But Dursus is missing a leg and needs to learn to walk, and to live again. Can he do so with Mike by his side?

 

 

 

In Case of Emergency: Gay Christmas Romance

Former stepbrothers find Christmas romance under the tree.

After years alone, Daniel Diaz is finally ready to shake up his orderly, solitary life. He’s about to leave for a cozy Christmas getaway with his new man when he gets the call from the ER that his former stepbrother has been admitted with a concussion and a broken hand—and Cole put him down as his emergency contact. Why the hell would he do that? Daniel barely knows the guy. After all, their parents’ marriage lasted less than a year and it was a decade ago!

But Cole has no one else to look after him and strict doctor’s orders not to be left alone. So fine, Daniel will bring him along on vacation to make sure he doesn’t starve or fall into a coma. This is supposed to be Daniel’s chance to explore romance again after locking down his feelings for too long—except it turns out his could-be boyfriend is more interested in partying and being an obnoxious jerk. Daniel sends him packing, and now he’s stuck with a virtual stranger in an isolated mountain cabin.

Cole Smith crushed hard on cranky Daniel when they were teenagers. Alone with him in a romantic winter wonderland, those feelings roar back to life. Glimpsing the caring, vulnerable man under Daniel’s frosty shell, he yearns to get closer. Christmas is a time for surprises, and Daniel and Cole discover a scorching connection that just might melt their hearts.

 

Dragon Birth – $0.99

A Night Of Passion Can Change Everything

Jason has been on the run looking for sanctuary with his past breathing down his neck.
One look at Anthony and he begins to think of the possibility for a future. They are remarkably different in so many ways.

They’re going to learn the hard way that there’s a fine line between love and hate. One night is all that it will take with far-reaching complications in the cold light of reality.

Can they make it work when Jason knows the eyes are following him everywhere?

 

 

A Dye Hard Holiday (Curl Up and Dye Mysteries, #5)

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of year for Gabe and Josh Roman-Wyatt as they celebrate their first holidays as fathers, but someone’s war on St. Nick threatens to ruin their holly jolly Christmas.

The Norman Rockwell holiday they had envisioned implodes and shenanigans ensue in true Josh and Gabe style, but that only makes the couple more determined to rejoice in the love and joy they have found in one another. A Black Friday showdown, two foul-mouthed birds, one lumbersexual, ugly Christmas sweaters aplenty, four invading grandparents, and a sexy twist on an advent calendar lead up to oh, holy nights. Catch up with your favorite characters and meet some new faces in a tale that is sure to make you feel as warm as Josh’s creamy, hot-buttered rum concoction.

A Dye Hard Holiday is a funny story about two fathers trying to hold it all together as they juggle busy careers and family life while planning the perfect holiday season. Will they be rocking around the Christmas tree or will it be a blue Christmas? The book is approximately 50,000 words long and is not intended as a standalone book. This supplements the Curl Up and Dye Mysteries series, which should be read in order. This book contains sexually explicit material and is intended for adults 18 and over.

 

Apprentice Saga: Demon Bonded Collection #2

Insanity comes in all forms…

Ky’s recovery from the overseer Demencious is short lived. His parents have lost all trust in him, and Ky again has to wonder if he’s losing his mind. That is until he starts his first art class at his new college and meets an actual sorcerer apprentice.

Liem Kane could have been a typical teenager, but there is something terribly wrong beneath his well-groomed exterior. His demon, Fido, is twisted and abused, the wolf Relic tormented daily by his young master.

In his quest to save Fido from certain death, Ky must face Liem’s master. A demon trainer of cruelty that far surpasses his young pupil, Tobias has no qualms in murdering those who disobey. Ky faces off against this monster among men. It’s kill or be killed, and Ky isn’t sure he can live with either option.

 

Natural Magic 7

SCENE 7

“You really seem to love her. Is she pretty? I think my mum was pretty, but I don’t really remember.”

“She’s really pretty, probably the prettiest mom in the whole world. She’s really nice too. She reads to me, and sings, and at least twice a month we both go out on an outing.”

“Outing?” The only outings Harry had been on were the few to the park, and once in a while he’d go somewhere with the Dursleys when his Aunt couldn’t find a babysitter.

“Yeah, we’d go for tea a lot, and sometimes clothes shopping… We always looked at the store windows even when mum said she didn’t want to buy anything. I was her protector. She didn’t like to go out alone because she has weak blood, and passes out a lot…” Draco trailed off, clenching his fists at his sides.

“She’s okay, Draco.” Harry placed a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder. “The way you talked about her, your mum must be smart enough to take care of herself.”

“But she doesn’t know anyone here. How do I know some mean muggle isn’t going to attack her without me there to help! She could be passed out in the middle of a street or—”

“Stop it, Draco, she’s fine.”

“No, she’s not. She’s sick, and worried about me, and she could even be lost too!” Draco sniffed, his eyes going wild behind the new tears threatening to spill.

Harry sighed, placing the bags on the low wall they were passing so he could grab onto the boy’s narrow shoulders.

“Hey, it’s going to be all right. If something happened to her, they’ll take her to the nearest hospital and they’ll make sure she’s okay. And, if you’re just worrying for nothing and she’s fine, then she’s probably talking with the police right now to help find you.”

Harry carefully wiped the boy’s tears away. “Either way, you’re both going to be all right, and see each other again real soon. I wouldn’t have come along if I didn’t think it was possible. I would have pointed you to the police instead, and went back to sleeping in the tree.”

Something in his little speech must have been funny because Draco’s eyes widened in surprise and he giggled tearfully. “What? What did I say?”

“No… it was a really nice thing to say, really,” Draco managed past his giggles. “I do believe you. My mum is probably fine and I’m just worried.”

Harry looked unconvinced, mostly because the weird blond had yet to stop laughing.

As if reading his mind, Draco continued. “You—You sleep in a tree!” He laughed aloud, throwing his hands up as if the humor was obvious. “I thought you were an elf because I saw you in a tree, but you’re just a muggle, and yet you sleep in a tree! It’s funny.” Beaming, Draco pulled on Harry’s arm, only giving the boy a moment to grab the lunches before skipping down the street.

“I’m a what? A muggle?”

“Yup.” Draco answered distractedly and pointed to a skyscraper in the distance. “What is that? It looks like some weird, shiny mountain but my mum said that people work in it, and it lights up at night.”

“You’re not from around here, are you?” Harry commented thoughtfully, as Draco once again asked another strange question. PB&J equaled peanut butter and jelly; what kid didn’t know that? And come on, asking what a mailbox was for, or bicycles, or asking, god help him, why didn’t Harry just lose his glasses and see better? Draco was not normal, and Harry found it absolutely fascinating.

“I told you, I’m on an outing with my mum,” Draco said matter-of-factly.

Harry just rolled his eyes. “You’re a horrible liar, just so you know.” He said it lightly, not wanting to hurt the boy’s feelings. Sometimes you had to hide things, and Draco had no reason to trust him with the truth. He wasn’t about to let the boy think he bought his act, though.

“What? I was on an outing!”Draco insisted, his cheeks turning pink.

“Right, right, but where are you from? You won’t tell me that, will ya?” Harry smiled and pulled a juice box from one of the bags, handing it to Draco.

Together they had eaten their way through one of Dudley’s lunches. That left them with another big one and Harry’s own pitiful bag. He figured it would be enough for dinner, although he hoped it wouldn’t take that long. The more time he spent with Draco, the more he got the feeling that they may be looking for a long time—like a really long time.

After letting Harry fix the straw for him, Draco sipped on the drink, using it as an excuse not to answer. The first rule with dealing with muggles was secrecy. And he knew it wasn’t just for his own safety, but for Harry’s as well.

Right now Harry still had deniability. Wizards didn’t like muggles knowing about them. A lot of Draco’s people looked down on muggles, like they weren’t good enough to talk with or even touch… as if they were diseased. It had only taken a few minutes with Harry to see how wrong that opinion was.

“Want some?” Draco handed the juice to the brunette, making sure Harry saw him not wipe the straw off when he got it back and took another sip. He didn’t think Harry had any diseases, and he didn’t think he was stupid or inferior. Actually, the boy was really smart… He’d probably know how to keep a secret, too.

“I don’t usually sleep in a tree, you know. I live in a house with my Aunt and her family,” Harry mumbled, feeling it was important Draco know he at least had a home and wasn’t as poor as his clothes made him look.

Draco nodded. “You were hiding from your cousin, right?”

“Yeah.” Harry glanced over at him. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No, I’m the first heir in my line. Father wants mother to have another child, just in case, but she’s really delicate. It makes me glad I was born a boy, because my mum would have to keep having children until she bears a male heir.” Draco was oblivious to the confusion on his new friend’s face.

“Oh… well, if your mother wasn’t delicate? Would you want to have a brother or sister? I always wanted one—a real one, not like Dudley or the berks he hangs out with. I think I’d feel less alone, having someone around who understands me.”

“I don’t know. My parents, they really understand me.” Grabbing onto Harry’s hand, Draco gave it a small squeeze and smiled. “What’s to understand about you?”

The question surprised Harry, or maybe it was the simple kind gesture he wasn’t used to having directed at him. “What?”

“You know, what makes you you? Why do you feel so different from the rest of the people around you?” From what Draco had observed, Harry was a totally different species from all the muggles he had seen that day. He wanted to know why.

“Oh, umm… well, let me think.” It was a strange thing to figure out. Harry knew, there was no question there, but he wasn’t quite sure why, or what he knew.

“They’re hiding something from me, my Aunt and Uncle,” Harry blurted suddenly. “About my parents and about me. They know who I am and they hate me for it.” He turned gleaming eyes to the blond. “It’s hard to explain…”

Draco frowned, holding Harry’s hand tighter. “I don’t think anyone can really explain hate. Why do you think they feel that way about you?”

Harry shrugged, looking down at his shoes. “Weird things happen to me. It really freaks my Uncle out. He yells and knocks me around like it’s my fault. My Aunt will start shrieking, her lips and knuckles going all white like a ghost is about to jump her.”

“What happens?”

Harry met the worried gaze hesitantly. He was afraid to lose his new friend so soon. Eventually something weird would happen and Draco would freak out and never want to talk to him again. It always happened. Draco was pretty cool, but Harry was sure he’d still think he was weird or worse, lying about the stuff that happens to him.

“Weird things happen to me sometimes,” Draco offered quietly, hoping to stop the boy from chewing on his lip in anxiety.

Harry glanced glowing green eyes his way, hope sparking. “…Really?”

“Sure.” Draco flashed a small smile. “Like for starters…” Draco held up their clasped hands. “I can feel stuff, umm energy… a special type of energy. I can feel it in you.”

“Yeah?” Surprised, Harry reached up so he held Draco’s hand in both of his, crushing their lunches in the process. “What’s it feel like?”

“Uh, well l-like magic, of course,” Draco stuttered, the wild tingle coming from Harry’s hands going all the way down to his toes.

Harry watched the boy blush, his mind whirling. Draco had said the M-word, and he had said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Uncle Vernon had told him time and again, until he was purple in the face, that magic didn’t exist and anyone who said otherwise was a filthy waste of life. He had said it so many times, and always so angrily, that it had made Harry sure that he was lying about it. It made him wonder if magic was actually real.

“What… what does magic feel like?”

Draco shook his head dumbly, clasping his other hand over the two holding his. “It feels like you.”

Mother had told Draco about the rare muggles that grew up to have powers like his own kind. Eventually they would be accepted into Hogwarts, a school whose founders were indiscriminate with who was allowed to attend. They would become a part of the wizarding society… Harry would become part—

“You’re a wizard!” Draco cheered, lunging at the brunette and tackling him into a bear hug.

“W-what?! Ooof—watch it…!” Knocked over, his elbow stung from where it had hit the ground, Draco’s weight pinning him down. Rearranging his glasses, Harry gave the beaming blond an annoyed glare. “Are you off your rocker?”

Draco laughed, too happy with the prospect of Harry living in his world to notice his discomfort. “You know what a secret is, right?”

Harry rolled his eyes at the question. “Yeeeah. Why? Is that why you can’t tell me where you’re from?” He blinked innocent eyes at the blond.

“Well yeah, it’s a big secret, you see… But, if you can promise not to tell anyone, a real promise, a blood oath, then I could tell you. You’re going to find out when you’re older anyways. If you know, it will make it easier for you to help me find my home so, umm… yeah. What do you say?”

Harry wriggled distractedly; Draco’s weight was sending tendrils of warmth through him and he wondered if that was what magic felt like. Harry wanted to know the secret, there was no question about that. For some reason, he wanted to know everything about Draco, more so than he could remember ever wanting to know anything. “What’s a blood oath?”

“We both cut ourselves and mix the blood together while saying ‘I swear on my life I’ll never tell.’ It doesn’t have to be a lot of blood…”

Actually, since Harry was a muggleborn the oath might not even count. It wasn’t real magic, but things concerning blood alone could be more powerful than some spells. “We’ll have to find something sharp. That is, if you want to?” Draco tilted his head questioningly, smiling bemusedly as he caught the soft calming scent the boy gave off.

“Did you just sniff my hair?” Harry asked, a giggle bubbling in the pit of his stomach.

Draco blushed, realizing that was exactly what he had just done. “No! I j-just… oh, stop laughing!” He sat up, sitting on Harry’s legs so the laughing boy wouldn’t jiggle him.

“This is going to be so brilliant, Harry. When we find my mom she’ll be so happy to meet you. She might even charm up her famous fairy-honey squares just for you.”

“Fairy-honey squares?”

“Yeah, yeah, they’re really good! Even better than that candy bar we had. Come on.” Draco got up and grabbed Harry’s hands, pulling him to his feet. “We need to find something sharp.”

Shifter Safe Haven S6

SCENE SIX

“You clawed my fucking boots. My favorite boots!”

“Whatever. You have like fifty of them.”

“I have one favorite pair. One! I know you did it on purpose, Dane. This is because your crybaby brother had another hissy and you just have to stick your nose in everything. Stop fucking with my stuff!”

A slam vibrated loudly through the wall and cut off the arguing voices. Zander’s eyes flew open and he gasped. He jolted upright with yellow eyes wide in fear as he looked around the unfamiliar room. It was bright. Really bright. Sunlight streamed in through softly curtained windows and illuminated the bedroom in light and warmth. Another bed sat on the other side of the room covered in a bright pink and purple bedspread. The wall was littered with posters of rock stars with crazily dyed hair and tight, black clothes.

Zander’s gaze drifted down and the world took on a surreal edge. He was covered in a blue bedspread, but more alarming were the clothes he was in. He couldn’t remember the last time he wore clothes.

The room tipped drunkenly the longer Zander stared unseeing at the plain bedspread. For a lost moment he was in his own bedroom with the sounds of his mother making breakfast clinking in the air. The light was dimmer and slanted from the other direction where the windows used to be. Zander squeezed his eyes shut but it only made everything worse. Reality slipped away completely and was replaced with a dizzying echo of life long gone and never to return.

Zander squinted his eyes open and edged sideways. He slid down the side of the bed until he was on the hardwood floor and the mattress was flush against his back like a shield. He took five steadying breaths and then allowed his brain to try and figure out where he was. He couldn’t smell anything familiar, not a thing. He wasn’t in the cage. He wasn’t even locked in a room.

Zander’s mind drifted and he pulled at shadowy threads of memory. There was a man, a sorcerer. A wolf shifter. A door. He stepped through a door that led outside into a world he didn’t know anymore.

He was outside. He was outside the Rothtons’.

His breath came out in frightened gasps as Zander grasped his bent knees and dug fingernails into the flesh beneath the new pajamas. He needed the world to make sense and pain worked better than his frantic thoughts. Zander’s hands shook from their painful grip and his knuckles turned white from the strain. Eventually, the fear began to abate.

The floor was hard beneath his butt and bare feet, and warm from the sunlight streaming in the windows. Zander closed his eyes as his muscles slowly unfurled and unclenched. He ran trembling fingers through his hair and his eyebrows furrowed when he noticed how sleek and clean the locks felt. He paused and turned his hand to catch the hot rays of light dappled around him.

Sunlight. When was the last time he saw the sun? The Rothtons always kept the blinds shut even though Zander was never allowed out of the cage until night.

“Damn it, Dane, I’m going to fucking kill you!”

“Ha! Maybe if you weren’t wearing those stupid heels all the time, idiot!”

Zander started at the renewed yelling and peered between his fingers where the door was ajar on the other side of the bed. He couldn’t see it fully from his place on the floor, which he was perfectly fine with. It meant whoever was out there wouldn’t see him either. Zander took another nervous look around the room while he chewed on two of his fingers, oblivious when they became soaked with saliva.

He was in a bedroom, a really normal looking bedroom. It was big enough to fit two beds with lots of room in between. There was a closet on the furthest wall and the slider door was open to reveal it was stuffed with clothes. A bureau was on the perpendicular wall with a large mirror in the middle of the towering piece of furniture. Although one side of the bureau was clear, it looked like it was done hastily because there were bottles of things knocked over and a pool of what he could only guess was dry glitter nail polish.

Zander’s gaze was drawn to the other bed where a pile of mostly black leather boots could be seen in the gap between floor and box spring. He bent down and pressed his face to the smooth floor so he could get a better look underneath the bed. There were a lot of shoes. He didn’t think he mom ever had so many shoes.

From his new position, Zander let his eyes wander as he listened intently to the bickering voices. They were right outside the door, and they were only getting louder as footsteps creaked heavily on an unseen stairway.

“Breakfast,” a voice of utter patience called. Zander blinked and turned his head as he tried to place the confusingly familiar sound.

“I’m not hungry. Edward, Dane ruined my boots! The ones with the great heel!”

Someone sighed. Zander peered at the crack of the door where he could see a pair of nicely fitted slacks and the socked feet of Edward. “Bring them downstairs and Clive will repair them when he has a moment. Dane, if you could kindly collect your brothers for breakfast, we might actually be able to leave on time for once.”

“Wait, aren’t you going to punish him? You’re not seriously going to let him get away with…?”

“Mika, did you see Dane claw your boots?”

Mika huffed loudly. “I know he did it. He didn’t even deny it! Edward, come on, I know he…”

“You know the rules. Unless there’s proof, I can’t interfere. There are three cats of the same size who run around here, all of who have been known to claws things.”

“Then punish all of them,” Mika snapped vindictively. “I wouldn’t be surprised if his brothers helped.”

“Breakfast,” Edward repeated, this time as an order. “Dane, let me make it clear we have a new guest and going into anyone’s room—proven or not—is not acceptable without the occupants’ permission.”

“I didn’t… Oh.”

Zander held his breath and tensed when the dark form blocking the door moved. The door creaked as it swung open. Zander quickly squeezed his eyes shut and tried to disappear. It was dumb—he knew it was fucking dumb. It was just a bunch of disturbingly normal people on the other side of that door. Logic couldn’t stop Zander’s heart from racing or the sick wave of sweat that broke over his skin when he heard a sharp intake of breath that revealed he was discovered.

“Is he…?”

“Downstairs, the both of you. Now.”

Zander counted the footsteps, hyper-aware when the two previously bickering boys didn’t actually go all the way down the stairs. He wanted to hiss in frustration but didn’t dare. He was glad he kept quiet; Edward’s half familiar scent washed into the room when he pushed the door open completely.

“Zander, I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Edward Varg; we met briefly the other day. You’re in the house of Clive Drowan. You met Clive too; he helped you walk. He’s the sorcerer with the purple tinted glasses who found you. Clive runs a place for shifters in trouble. That’s where you are. You’re in the Haven, Zander. No one is going to hurt you here.”

Zander didn’t dare speak, didn’t dare open his eyes. His heart raced uncontrollably while his entire body shook. He wasn’t sure what was wrong with him but it felt like he was either going to shake apart or pass out. He just wanted to be left alone. The Haven meant nothing to him; it didn’t tell him where he was or who these people were, or most important, what they wanted from him.

The Rothtons always wanted sex when they visited. Once they were done and locked him up again, Zander was able to be alone and no one wanted anything from him then. He wanted to be alone now and not have anyone want anything from him. Fear was a weight on his chest, shoulders and stomach. It was something bigger than him and he couldn’t overcome it, just be crushed beneath.

Edward shifted from one foot to the other and Zander braced himself. Still, the man didn’t cross the threshold of the doorway. “Zander, I’m going downstairs now. It’s time for breakfast and we all eat together. We’re like a big family here. You’re more than welcome to join us when you’re feeling better. You don’t have to say a word. You don’t have to do a thing, okay?”

Edward paused, clearly waiting for some sort of response. The silence filled in with the sound of Zander’s pulse pounding in his head from his frozen spot on the floor. Even if he could think of something proper to say, there was no way his throat would let the words out.

“I’m going to leave the door open a crack,” Edward eventually said. “You can shut it if that’s what you need to feel safe right now. We’ll be downstairs if you need anything.”

Zander swallowed the saliva in his mouth but made no other move. Dark colors flashed behind his eyes from how tight he was holding them closed. Edward did indeed shut the door, and Zander jolted when the door hit the molding but didn’t latch. Edward’s footsteps padded to the stairs and three sets of feet slowly creaked down the steps. In less than ten heartbeats, all the sound faded from upstairs.

In the silence that followed, Zander lost a few tears. It was so dumb; nothing he felt at the moment made any fucking sense to the situation. He was scared, lost and didn’t know how to handle any of it. It was too bright in the room. It smelled all wrong, even if it smelled way better than his disgusting cage. Still, the same way he grew used to knowing he was safe when the worst was over, he missed his cage because he knew no one would touch him as long as he was inside.

Zander scrambled across the floor before he even realized he was moving. With a trembling hand, he pushed the door until it latched shut. He sighed in relief and slumped forward so his head rested heavily on the door.

Safe. Safe for now.

He turned and fell back on the door, his chest heaving for breath as he tried to calm his racing heart. At the same time he kept his ears alert for any sign of someone upstairs. It was after he thought he was okay, after he could breath and not feel like he was going to vomit, that he saw his hand and tears blurred his vision. He was so thin. His fingers looked like tree branches, his arm barely any better. He was impossibly pale and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking no matter he tried to steady them on his legs.

This wasn’t human. He wasn’t human anymore, just twisted, and left over, and barely even here.

Zander wrapped his too thin arms around him and clawed at his shirtsleeves as he fought back sobs. He shouldn’t have left. He never should have left his cage. He didn’t know where he was or if these people were trustworthy. There was too much—too much to see, hear, smell, and get lost in and it was all in this one room. There were more rooms outside the door, and even more outside this building. He’d have to go out. He’d have to be unsafe outside without walls or bars or anything to protect him.

What would the Rothtons do once they found out he was gone? Trouble. They’d punish him. Hurt him.

Zander pawed at his face and whimpered when he found his skin wet with tears he didn’t know he was crying. He needed to go back before they realized he left. They couldn’t know. Jasmine and Clark kept him alive; they kept him safe. As long as he was in the cage in the dark room, the world was simple. Terrible and lonely, but at least it was simple.

Zander didn’t know how to survive without the Rothtons. He wasn’t sure he was supposed to continue living without them. He was no one, nothing; the told him all the time. They told him they were the only reason he existed.

They were going to be angry he left. Maybe, they’d be so angry they wouldn’t take him back. Zander hissed and clawed at his too clean hair. Then what? How was he going to keep going if they didn’t take him back?

Zander screamed into his cupped hands. The strangled noise died faster than his ability to breathe. He hid in the dark, palm pressed over his eyes until he saw colors.

He needed to go back. He needed to go back home.

Intangible 20

Chapter Nineteen

“You’re overreacting,” Remus warned. His voice held warmth even as he grabbed his lover by the waist and tackled him to the ground.

Sirius snarled in reply and considered transforming back into Padfoot to make things difficult on Remus. He relented on the idea and merely flipped Remus instead. “I’m going after him, sooner the better. Now either support me or get lost!” Remus was definitely a better wrestler than Sirius, even with his shorter reach. Sirius’s face went red from the effort of fighting the werewolf’s strong grip.

Ron quietly stepped out of the way when Remus grunted and fell back from Sirius’s shove and nearly toppled into the door he was trying to keep Sirius from escaping through.

Sirius was not only a manly crier, but also possessed a terrible temper. He was particularly protective of Draco since Harry asked for his help in caring for him. At his furious insistence, Blaise and Pansy took him to Draco’s room. Sirius promptly transformed into a large, black dog to scent for Draco’s presence which led to the castle exit. Remus had appeared then and tackled Sirius before he could run out the castle into the forest to chase after Draco and Hermione.

“If you would listen to a bloody word… Siri, the numbers are too great!” Remus got Sirius into a brutal headlock, and held him as still as he could. Sirius insisted on thrashing his legs in an attempt to kick him but couldn’t break free. “Twenty. There are possibly more in the woods unseen. They’re enraged by human scent. We need a plan, not a damn sacrifice!”

“The only sacrifice will be those bloody dragons!”

Ron waited patiently as he peered out through the dark windows in the direction Draco and Hermione had left over half an hour ago. If he thought it odd two grown men were fighting like first years, he gave no sign. His own brothers were the same—all of them—and likely weren’t going to change no matter how many years passed.

“You’ll put them both in danger. You need to calm down and take the time to plan.” Remus was always extra persuasive when inflicting pain.

Sirius gritted his teeth, not ready to give up yet. Harry was injured but alive. The only other living soul Sirius swore to protect was now off with a bunch of bloodthirsty dragons who, from what Harry suggested, would enjoy Draco in many carnal ways. Sirius’s guilt for allowing himself to be distracted by Harry’s condition only fueled his determination. Draco need him now.

“I know you’re worried, Siri,” Remus murmured in his ear. He relaxed his hold but didn’t releasing his steel grip. “We’re going to find him. We’ll clean a room out just for Draco.”

“Remi…”

“Harry can sleep right across. We can all go camping like you wanted by the lake. You just have to give us some time to plan.”

Sirius huffed in annoyance. He glanced sideways in the headlock and met Remus’s questioning gaze. “How much time?”

“How much ya got?” Remus smiled his ‘I know I’ve won’ smile. Sirius sighed and relented.

Ron watched cautiously as the two men stood and dusted off. He was careful to make sure he didn’t catch them doing anything too gooey; something he never worried about with his brothers, thankfully. “So, as I was saying, the spell Hermione crafted seemed to work. The creatures don’t like humans in general, but without the scent to trigger them, hopefully they won’t break out into killing rages.”

“Aye. Right, that.” Sirius combed his hair back into order while his eyes blazed. “Clearly they’re on a higher level of intelligence. Enough to manipulate Draco out the door through blackmail and possibly other ways. He was still wearing the ring, right?”

“Yeah. Harry mentioned Mr. McVicar was working on a spell to keep it attached, but I don’t know if he ever succeeded. His barrier sure seemed to work.” Except Draco willing walked outside it when he heard Harry was in danger.

Remus sighed and turned toward the Great Hall. “There is no guarantee by the time we find him Draco will still have the ring in his possession. We must plan for the possibility.”

Ron nodded as he followed to keep up with the men’s long strides. “Hermione understands the importance of the ring. As long as she’s there, I’m sure it will remain on Draco.” They fell silent, no one willing to voice how much danger she was in.

Blaise and Pansy were already in the Great Hall along with McGonagall, Severus and a number of the medical team who helped heal Harry. They were catching a late dinner after the difficult evening events.

Harry was stabilized and medics still worked on him in the hospital wing under Madame Pomfrey’s critical eye. Right now it looked like he would keep his arms, legs and possibly tail. The wings and antlers were still a toss up. Since they were less important for his immediate survival, no one was too concerned about it.

Ron felt strangely lonely as he sat across from Blaise and Pansy. Hermione wasn’t there and Harry, well, Harry hadn’t been there for a very long time. Hermione was Ron’s rock, his inspiration to stay strong if only to help her through the same difficulty he was going through. Without her everything felt empty.

“Has anyone heard about McVicar?” Sirius asked when he sat down and grabbed a plate of food. He was worried but not to the point he couldn’t eat. He saw it as a good sign he believed Harry would live. “He’s spoken to one of those creatures face to face, so I heard.”

“He will recover. Poppy is keeping him under observation.” Severus sipped his tea. His hand still revealed a small tremor. He was sore, but nothing worth going to bed over.

“Did the Vesper attack him?” Ron only heard snatches of what happened during Harry’s spell.

“Not that he can remember. McVicar felt an interference in the spell, as if a power were trying to prevent him from continuing. The moment he completed his part, the pressure relented. He passed out from the sudden change.” Severus studied the swirling dark liquid in his cup as his thoughts strayed. “He was lucky; they both were. Zabini saw the creatures surround the room. The dragons had plenty of opportunity to attack. By the time it would take to fight through the protective wards in place for the spell, the beasts could have killed Potter and McVicar with ease. They honored Malfoy’s agreement. It’s something we need to consider when dealing with these Vesper.”

They refused to make a deal when it came to Hermione. Ron suppressed a shiver of fear.

Blaise, who was pushing his food around on his plate, spoke up. “It was only because Draco asked. The shifter Matten controlled all the others. He… I think he had a control over Draco, too. It was strange. Matten nearly did everything Draco asked. He would get this look on his face, almost like he was enthralled by him. But every time Draco got upset or started yelling, Matten would move his lips a certain way and Draco would turn weak and complacent.”

“It sounds like how Harry was with him,” Ron pointed out. “We were so worried Harry was going to, um, get a bit too rough with Malfoy,” he said with an awkward cough. “All Draco had to do was ask the ‘right way,’ as they both put it, and Harry was putty in his hands. Hell, and Harry is the only one who could make Malfoy do anything half the time. He couldn’t even talk to him but Malfoy listened.”

“It does sound like the species has some sort of basis in manipulation,” Remus mused. “I’ve heard of techniques being used on prey, especially allure, but never interspecies like this.”

“Knowing Hermione, she’ll have a book written on the subject by the time she gets back,” Pansy joked weakly as she ignored her food.

They all turned when Dumbledore walked in through the Great Hall doors. He looked as exhausted as the rest of them felt.

“He’s well, but things are still unclear as to what will be left of him,” Dumbledore raised his hand before anyone could think to ask questions. “I would like the students to come to my office so we can go over the events which transpired while we were engaged saving Mr. Potter. Remus and Sirius, you are of course welcome to stay the evening. I’m grateful to see you have not ended up in the forest just yet and hope you will help in our efforts. Minerva, if you would join me for a moment?”

Ron’s head of house got up stiffly to speak with Dumbledore about notifying Hermione’s parents of her absence. Blaise and Pansy finished their pumpkin juice before getting up as well and joining Ron on the other side of the table to wait.

“Do we tell him what Potter said? About Draco being his mate?” Pansy’s eyes darted to where Dumbledore was talking.

“Depends if Draco’s mother comes knocking again,” Blaise said. “If she finds out, she’ll kill Potter before he gets a chance to heal. I doubt a school full of teachers will stop that level of hate. She’d rather give Draco to the Vesper than to Potter.”

“Is it important?” Ron asked quietly. “Honestly? Pretty sure McVicar knows they’re having sex. What the hell does being a mate have to add to anything?” Harry had mentioned it once in the infirmary the other day while they were pulling information about Draco’s breakdown. Harry seemed almost reluctant to reveal the mating information and Ron didn’t know if it was something he was comfortable sharing.

Pansy bit her lip, and stepped closer to speak under her breath. “Didn’t it ever strike you as odd? I mean, it’s almost obsessive; that’s why we were all worried, after all. What do you think Potter is going to do once he finds out Draco is gone? Not just gone, but gone with the Vesper? It was all he talked about before the return spell.”

Ron took a deep breath and tried to think of his friend objectively. Harry had been mad last year in a lovestruck, testosterone riddled, but still sweet intentioned way. Anything concerning Malfoy pulled reactions from Harry so bizarre from his normal behavior. Even compared to normal human behavior. Hermione was the one to suspect Harry might have a beast, if only to explain his weird demeanor, but Ron shrugged it off. Voldemort was increasing his attacks, and Ron assumed Harry was just worrying for the guy he’d fallen for.

Given what the four friends had pulled out of Harry and Draco about the last couple weeks, maybe Pansy did have reason to worry. What exactly would Harry do once he woke up and realized Draco was off with the Vesper? Harry had transformed to defeat Voldemort all those many months ago, and he won. The power it took to defeat a monster like Voldemort was again in Harry’s grasp.

Harry’s human personality and body were preserved, held back by the odd time lapse of being thrown into the other realm. He was nearly human while invisible, while now he was fully transformed. Once awake, crazy powerful, and no longer human, Harry would wonder where his mate was. If Draco wasn’t there when Harry finally woke, there was no way to know what might happen.

“That could be dodgy,” Blaise muttered as he came to the same conclusion as Ron and Pansy.

Hermione mentioned the way her books were destroyed when Harry threw around raw magic in a fit. Ron now wondered about the stone bricks used to keep the castle together. It would all be the same to someone as powerful as Harry, especially if he was afraid for his mate.

The Vesper made no complaints when Draco and Hermione lit their path with twin lumos. They didn’t follow any walking trails in the beginning. They moved through heavy underbrush until they reached to an old stream bed. Dried up and filled with small stones and soft silt, they followed the winding pathway for what felt like an hour. After such, they crawled up the bank and twisted and whirled through a network of trails and paths deep in the forest. Once they were surrounded by trees, Draco refused to let Hermione stray even though she was far from terrified. After the Vesper killed the first of the silent creatures foolish enough to not get out of the invisible pack’s way, Hermione was more willing to take Draco’s arm and walk with him in the sheltered location.

The shifters brought Draco water, which he shared with Hermione. The temperature dropped during the night, and she huddled in her cloak until Hermione found the good sense to use a warming spell. Draco didn’t need one. The three shifters and ten dragons who surrounded him at all times gave off huge amounts of heat. He actually felt too warm; the constant exercise and press of bodies left him to flushed and fiery.

“Are you feeling okay?” Hermione whispered when Draco stumbled again and nearly dropped his wand. Far off to the right were sudden screams as an animal fell victim to the Vesper. The noise was just as suddenly muffled and silenced, and the air grew heavy in the stillness. “Malfoy, you’re shaking.” Hermione pulled her eyes from the darkness to glance up at him beside her. Draco was sweating, his eyes dark in the dim light as a strange smile twisted his lips.

“I’m fine,” Draco murmured. His eyes lost focus only to sharpen again when he nearly tripped. The ground was clearer here but roots and decay still littered the ground in places to steal his footing.

“You’re not.” Hermione slipped the glasses resting on her forehead down to her nose. She took them off because of how disconcerting it was to watch herself walk through the Vesper. They didn’t move out of the way for her and Draco insisted she stay close and away from the sounds of the dying. She watched and bit her tongue when Draco nearly took a header. The shifter Matten quickly caught him before he fell off the path.

At first she thought the shifters were taking advantage of the situation; their hands moved over Draco’s glowing beast form in lingered caresses every time he stumbled. Perhaps it would’ve been easier to believe. Hermione could see clearly how the shifters withdrew, their fingers brushing ever so lightly on Draco’s shoulders and back in farewell. Without their touch, soon enough Draco’s glow pulsed again. Moments after he became dizzy and the shifters flowed close to catch him.

“Malfoy, are they doing something to you?”

His head tilted and eyes downcast, it took Draco a moment to respond. “Doing?”

“To make you fall. You keep getting dizzy.” He stumbled again before Hermione finished her sentence. This time Matten grabbed Draco boldly around the waist. His strong arms kept him upright as the shifter moved right through Hermione.

“They’re just humming a little,” Draco admitted. He stopped trying to walk. Matten’s purr thrummed in his ear as he held him still.

You are tired, lovely halfling. Has the walk been too much?

Draco’s body didn’t feel tired, but his head did. His eyes kept insisting they close. He knew he should be wide awake, alert to the dangerous forest around him. He should be protecting Hermione, and make sure she was safe among the sea of invisible Vesper. He should be seeking out landmarks in case they took his wand and he needed to walk back instead of apparate. Draco noticed Hermione discretely mark their path as they wandered through the dark. He wanted to do the same, but exhaustion descended on him and he couldn’t seem to fight it.

Draco, you are not answering. Do not tell me you have fallen asleep?

Draco fluttered his eyes open, and grasped at the hand moving too familiarly over his waist. “I’m just a little tired.”

We can rest if you like. I will hold you and you can close your eyes. The pack will protect you even in the deep of the forest.

Draco smirked sleepily. “You’re not my bed.” He didn’t pull away, though, and his eyes fell shut and breathing slowed. Matten held him steady, his body warm and hard behind Draco, strong chin resting on the top of his bowed head.

In the dark, the pack was tangible to Draco. They were a strong presence that only ghosted away whenever moonlight broke through the trees. It was probably wrong to feel so safe with the night a blanket around him as he stood in the middle of the most dangerous forest he knew. They walked for hours and Draco didn’t have a clue where they were, or how to get back. A part of him knew the pack was powerful when together, a force that couldn’t be injured. This was their domain and he was safe.

“Matten, is he sick?” Hermione worriedly watched Draco fall asleep while Matten held him upright. The other two beautiful shifters brushed Draco’s hair with their fingers before they moved out toward the edges of the pack. They were called back and forth; sometimes to give direction when needed to the dragons, other times to return in just as important a ritual to touch Draco’s flesh.

I do not believe so. He was upset earlier and it can raise much power. It will tire young ones.

Hermione nodded, but was unsure whether to believe him. Draco was supposedly the first halfling the pack had found in years. Would they even know if something was wrong with him? Draco glowed with a golden light and looked nearly ethereal. Sometimes, Hermione feared, he looked angelic and dead.

“So, we’re just going to stand here until he wakes up?” She asked as she did little to keep the disbelief from her voice.

He would not like it if I carried him, Matten replied after a moment. His face lowered so he could press his cheek to the sleeping Draco’s.

“He wouldn’t like that either,” Hermione pointed out.

Matten smirked dismissively and kissed Draco’s cheek. He is one of us. He likes it.

Hermione shook her head with a huff. “He doesn’t even know you. You know him even less. If all your kind does is kill the humans you come across, how can you understand any of our customs?”

Why do you think your customs have anything to do with how we react to one another? Matten asked in counter. He is Vesper, like us. It is who he is when he is with us. Halfling yes, but Vesper still. All adore him, and he will adore all.

“That’s a huge assumption to make. He’s been terrified of your kind since the moment he knew you existed. Let’s face it; you haven’t really done much to prove you’re trustworthy.”

Matten pressed his palm to Draco’s chest with his fingers spread wide. He knows it in his heart. He cannot ignore his own, just as we cannot ignore him. No one will hurt him, human. It would be an injury to ourselves. His type strengthens us, unites us. We cherish such ability in our kind.

Hermione wasn’t convinced. She didn’t truly think the Vesper wanted to hurt Draco, but she had a strong suspicion what Draco felt were acceptable didn’t even reach the realm of what the Vesper wanted from him. The other shifters kept returning to run fingertips and palms over Draco while he slept. The dragons curled possessively at his feet, a blanketing field of scales and feathers.

“You make it sound like he’s some sort of prince,” she mused aloud. Hermione eyes fixed out into the dark forest where the rest of the Vesper glowed among the trees. They all faced out into the darkness as they watched for signs of danger.

That is too human a concept, Matten replied. His fingers glided down to Draco’s hand and the ring that glittered there. Think of a mother with many cubs. A gentle treasure who provides warmth and affection. One you wish to see and caress whenever you return home. Fierce when needed to keep the rebellious in line, but always a powerful soul who pushes the dark and chill away whenever he’s near. He would be our village fire. Our hearth.

Hermione bit her lip. Half of her wanted to laugh out loud at the idea of Malfoy being anyone’s ‘mother,’ as Matten put it. Draco’s mother was as cold hearted and distant as they came and it was unlikely he knew how to be any different. But Draco was different. He was different in a way that made Hermione worry the Vesper might have more power over him than she first thought. It wouldn’t be one shifter, or even the three present calling to Draco. It would be an entire village. It would be the family he never had but probably always dreamed of. Even as strange and bizarre as the Vesper were, that sort of promise could be attractive to anyone. Especially someone so alone and unloved for as long as Draco was.

Another shifter, the tallest of the three, approached again. Hermione noticed for the first time how his attention lingered too long on Draco’s hand. It was the one with the ring that kept him human. They could touch it and Draco was fast asleep, unable to prevent anyone from removing it. She flinched as she reached her hand right through the shifter’s arm and threaded her fingers with Draco’s, locking the ring in place.

Matten noticed from where his cheek rested on top of Draco’s head. Each breath he took ruffled his silky strands as he held him upright. Matten traced his hand down Draco’s arm. There was a ripple of movement as something shifted and changed in the shifter. When he reached where Hermione was holding Draco, Matten pressed his fingertips firmly to her knuckles.

She stiffened from the contact, tightened her grip and met Matten’s gaze challengingly. Was it a warning? A reminder the Vesper could harm her whenever they chose? She would fight him if she had to. Her magic would hurt them. She’d wake Draco, curse as many as she could, and apparate them as far away as possible if the Vesper thought to force this issue.

You are a fiery thing, like him. Matten’s eyes searched Hermione’s face. It will do you and him no good. You will see. He will come to us. He wants to. Matten released her hand without incident, and wrapped his arm around Draco’s chest.

Hermione’s flesh continued to tingle where Matten touched. They stood in the dark surrounded by the glowing, patient dragons and waited for Draco to wake.

Sorcerer Slayer S63

SCENE SIXTY-THREE

Everyone was asleep when Fox finally got up the nerve to visit Vincent. It was after midnight, and Wylie, Forest, Dorian, Dante, Chris and Will were all piled on the cots in the hospital around Justin and Leo. They were worn out from not only the battle but seeing their friends injured. Dante was asleep curled up next to him and Fox was extra careful not to wake him when he slipped from the bed.

He couldn’t help but look over Justin and Leo before he left. A part of him needed to ensure they were breathing and nothing drastic had changed while he fought sleep. Forest was shifted in his leopard form. He looked like a dark shadow around Justin’s feet as he imitated a fluffy blanket. Being cat was probably easier on Forest at the moment. Things hurt less when you were shifted. Not physical pain, but the stuff that made your heart hurt too much to bear.

Dr. Rob was alone with his dark head ducked over paperwork when Fox stepped into his office.

“Hey, Master Theodore said I might be able to visit Vince.”

Dr. Rob looked up and blinked a few times as his glasses slipped down his nose. “Are you feeling well enough to walk right now?”

Fox shrugged distractedly. “I guess so. Come on, Doc; he’s all alone in there. I just want to see him.”

Dr. Rob sat back in his chair with a thoughtful look on his features. “I understand Vincent is very important to you. I just want to stress how upsetting him right now could be detrimental. For his health, and possibly your own.”

Fox gave him a confused look. “I’m not going in there to fight with him. He’s seriously been locked in a room for the last 12 hours.”

“Yes. There is a very good reason for that.”

Fox rolled his eyes. “You have him in a null-collar.”

Dr. Rob sighed and his long fingers came up to set his glasses properly on his face. “Fox, Vincent’s elemental magic works around the collar. If he becomes upset, he is capable of doing the same spells you saw this afternoon. The only difference is the harm they will cause his body will be extreme while in a null-collar.” His gaze turned piercing. “That is not a deterrent for someone like Vincent.”

Fox scowled. “I’m not going in there to fight with him. I’m not afraid of him; no one in this Academy should be afraid of Vince. He knew exactly what he was doing and the only people he hurt were the creeps who fucking deserved it.”

Dr. Rob nodded slowly and pushed himself to his feet. “I’m asking you to be aware of your effect on him. What happened today is only a trigger for Vincent, not the cause of his distress. You’re not always talking to the Vincent from the Academy, Fox.”

Fox pursed his lips, his eyes downcast. He went to scratch at his ear, only to stop himself when his fingers touched bandages. “I know. Sometimes he’s not even here at all. It doesn’t matter though. He shouldn’t be alone like this.”

Dr. Rob paused at the doorway to his office. “He’s sedated. Don’t expect too much from him right now. He’ll be confused at best.”

Fox briskly nodded as he realized he won. “I just want to see him.”

Dr. Rob gave him a look, having caught the way he winced in pain from his last movement, but didn’t say anything. He led him to Vincent’s room and spelled the door open so Fox could enter. “I’ll be back in a little while to check in. If you need anything, I’ll be in my office.”

Fox stepped in and waited for Dr. Rob to leave. His eyes searched the dimly lit room as he looked for the signs of damage already magicked away by Dr. Rob earlier in the evening. Once his gaze fell on Vincent’s sleeping form, he couldn’t look away. He slowly made his way across the room and pulled the single chair out of the corner and placed it next to the bed.

Fox sat with a groan and quickly gripped the side of his waist. The claw marks were killing him, not that he was about to let Dr. Rob know. The healer would spell him to sleep before he even had a chance to blink. He gingerly leaned forward in his seat to untuck his tail. A smile quirked his lips once he saw Vincent again and all of a sudden the pain just didn’t seem to hurt as much.

“Hey, Vince.” He reached over and gently teased a few dark strands of hair from Vincent’s sleeping face. “Hope you don’t mind me crashing. You know I can’t stay away for long.” His hand slipped down and he traced the edge of the null-collar around Vincent’s neck.

Hell, he was beautiful. Not even a bruise on him after he broke up a brawl. “I didn’t get to thank you.” Fox inhaled his scent and smirked. “Not that you wouldn’t have been pissed if I did. Or you’d be pissed cuz I didn’t. You are a difficult guy to make happy, Vince. I think I like that about you. You’re a challenge in a lot of ways. You make me be better and I like that.”

Fox hadn’t told anyone that one of the reasons he improved his focus so much the last few months was because of Vincent. He wasn’t blind to the fact Vince couldn’t handle the level of noise and movement that came out of him when he was wound up. It made things extra hard when all he wanted to do was be around the guy and get to know him. It kind of became his goal to be calm enough for Vincent to not want to wring his neck. Maybe even quiet enough for Vincent to want to spend time with him.

“I thought I was going to die today.” Fox let his fingers comb through the ends of Vincent’s silky hair on the pillow, his brows furrowed in thought. “I seriously thought I was going to die. And you know the fucked up thing? I realized I haven’t done a fucking thing with my life. I have spent a year in this place. An entire year of waiting. All I do is wait, or I guess try to distract myself from all the waiting I’m doing. What the hell am I waiting for? To be a different person? To not fuck shit up all the time? If I had just stayed with Raider instead of going into that butcher shop, none of this would have happened. No one would have been hurt. You wouldn’t have had to… Fuck.”

He sighed in exasperation and hung his head forward. “What the fuck am I doing, Vince? Who the fuck am I supposed to be by the time I leave here? I don’t know if I’m getting closer to that person, or have just lost myself completely. Raider was like a brother to me and now… Now, I’m the type of person who gets pissed off when he tries to run away, instead of offering to go with him, or help him figure out his problems.”

Fox never used to think he was selfish. Back home, he would help anyone who asked. He didn’t care they were younger; he always played with his little sisters. Raider was the most fucked up kid he knew back home, and the Mandula brothers weren’t too far behind in their own particular dysfunctional way. Fox didn’t mind. He was a bridge for messed up people. He knew he was messed up and kind of weird, but for some reason he was also really good with people. He could be that go-between others needed to not feel so alone or isolated. That was what he did; it was like his fucking purpose in life. He’d tell stupid jokes and stories to make people laugh so they’d feel good about being weird too.

Just, there were moments when he wasn’t laughing, wasn’t jumping around trying to impress someone else where he started to realize he didn’t feel so good about himself.

Maybe that was why it was so much easier to be a fox. His inner animal didn’t care if he was doing anything with his life, if he was creating value to the people around him, or helping his family, or learning an important skill. A fox was happy being a fox. Being human was far more complicated. Others depended on you. The things said or unsaid mattered. And sometimes you had to make shitty choices where it all just hurt. He had to be selfish with Raider and watch his friend be hurt so he wasn’t dragged down into his mess of a life. Some people were more than weird; they were black holes of fucking trouble.

“I wasn’t like this before I got here. I would have taken a beating for Raider. Actually, I’m pretty sure I took a few punches over that idiot.” Fox snorted bitterly. “God, the shit he got me into, and the shit I put him through. I used to think it was funny. Interesting, even. I was never bored when Raider was around. He made my life hell, though. I don’t even think I realized how difficult it was to be his friend until I left home and was on my own here. It was like this huge responsibility was taken from me, and I feel like such an asshole, but I don’t want it back. I can’t be his fucking life preserver. I don’t even know what the hell I want to do with my life yet.”

Fox fell silent and watched as Vincent’s hand uncurled from where it was resting on his chest and lifted. “Hey, you awake?” He turned his gaze back to Vincent’s face where his dark eyelashes were fluttering. “Vince?”

“Ruhe,” Vincent mumbled sleepily. His hand jerked up and Fox just managed to move to the side to keep from being smacked on the mouth. Fox quickly caught his hand as it swayed without coordination, and gently guided it back down to Vincent’s chest.

“Sorry,” Fox said much more quietly as he twined their fingers together. “You rest. You don’t need to be awake to hear me bitch about shit. Just…” He peered down, eyes caught on Vincent’s features. “I’m right here, Vince. I’m always going to be here.”

He bent down and tried not to hiss as his wounds pulled painfully. Vincent’s face was again a perfect mask of sleep as Fox pushed his hair back from his face and gently kissed his forehead. “You saved me more than once today. The thing you showed me with the magic; I don’t think I could have been so focused if not for you teaching me how to conjure.” He cupped the side of Vincent’s face and stroked his thumb down his cheek.

“I know you don’t feel the same way. I don’t even know if I need you to feel like this. It doesn’t change anything. Not really.” Half of Fox wished Vincent was awake and could hear him but at the same time the rest of him was grateful he was too drugged up to know he was there. It didn’t matter. Not really.

“I think I love you, Vince,” Fox whispered as he bent down and pressed a soft kiss to warm lips. “And I’m really sorry I didn’t come to visit you sooner.”

Fox sank down and rested his head on the pillow Vincent was sleeping on. More than a few strands of hair tickled at his face but he sighed contentedly and let his eyelids fall closed. The sounds of Vincent’s even breathing were far more comforting than the many confusing thoughts in his head. Fox did his best to focus on it and copied the calming rhythm until all the doubts, fear and guilt he was struggling with eventually abated.