Vincent sat alone in the lounge with a plate in front of him and the windows dark. The lounge normally full of rambunctious young men was blessfully silent this late at night. He was trying to eat but couldn’t. Every time he so much as tasted the food, his stomach would twist. His body felt stiff since his freak out in the hall. No, not freak out. Breakdown. He was breaking down.
Therapy with Dr. Rob didn’t leave him feeling better. He didn’t want to hear what was happening to him was normal. It did nothing to stop the feeling he was moments from drowning in a nightmare there was no escape from. There was apparently no way to stop it besides trying to focus on the here and now. The visions were getting stronger and Vincent’s grasp with reality warped. He was half afraid he’d focus on the wrong thing and be trapped in the past forever.
He wasn’t sure how much more he could take. Sleep was impossible. The dark was a thin barrier where Master Metzger could slip through. Each night was a battle to stay awake and survive, or sleep and replenish. Whatever was happening to him, he knew he was losing. Reality felt fractured all around him, and just one wrong step would have him lost forever. All he could see was his birthday looming before him, and with it the possibility of this finally stopping. Or not. Maybe it would be the last straw to snap him into insanity.
Maybe just death. Death would be quiet, wouldn’t it? Vincent stared dully at the table and the fork in his hand. Would death be quiet with so many dead to haunt him?
He didn’t want to die. He really didn’t. Maybe it was his last vestige of self preservation. The same which allowed him to be taken to the Academy in the first place. Something changed in him and he hadn’t noticed until recently. Something made his mind whir when there weren’t any classes or work to distract him. He wanted to feel.
Becoming aware he wasn’t feeling things pointed out a wall he couldn’t overcome. He needed to, desperately. He couldn’t continue like this. This numbness was killing him just as quickly as the damn hallucinations. Fuck, he was having hallucinations. He needed to figure this out. The only problem was, the one person who made him feel things was someone he feared he might destroy.
No one should have to be around a person like him. He wasn’t safe. Vincent asked Dr. Rob for a null-collar but was refused with no good explanation. Dr. Rob didn’t think he needed it. He did. Vincent couldn’t trust himself not to hurt someone. Just, it was too hard to admit it to Dr. Rob. Now he was left terrified of the next time he slipped.
How long had Fox been there this afternoon? With his arms around him like he couldn’t have slashed him to bloody pieces in a few syllables. Was he trying to scent him? Did the stupid shifter not understand he was a fucking death machine?
Rafael. Annoying, frustrating, loud, obnoxious Fox. Just what the fuck did he see in him? Seriously. Fox was so bright and happy all the time. Fox was the fucking sun most days while he, well, he was a shadowy mist at the best of times. It made Vincent tired just thinking about Fox, but he couldn’t stop thinking about him. Why did the idiot have to tell him he liked him? Why did he have to put such a ridiculous notion in his head he could be someone worth liking? Someone worth noticing?
Vincent raised his head and peered over his shoulder. His gaze fell on Christopher. With his blue tinted skin, light blue hair and piercing red eyes, it was easy to recognize the demon even when the incubus dressed in jeans like the rest of the patients. Vincent got in late because of his session with Dr. Rob. He wasn’t expecting to see the incubus and had no idea why Christopher would want to address him.
Christopher’s head tilted as he observed him silently for unnerving seconds. “I sensed your need.”
Need? Vincent turned back to his plate without a word. He might have dreamed of Christopher during one of his terrifying moments of sleep. It wasn’t the most unusual of things since the incubus fed off of them while they slept. Still, he assumed he wouldn’t be of much interest to Christopher. It’s not like he had a sex drive to feed from.
Now he knew he was there, Vincent could feel Christopher’s presence come up behind him. He met demons when he was apprenticing for Master Metzger. All of them were chained by other sorcerers even though Metzger never tried to tie one. Too dangerous. Demons could catch and murder a shifter faster and more efficiently than the most skilled of sorcerers, but it always came at a price. Tying a demonic soul to your own and forcing your will on it could wear a magic user down. If the demon ever became free… well. It was an obvious death for the fool who imprisoned it in the first place.
Christopher was a free demon but Vincent couldn’t say if he was always one. He knew Christopher was safe enough. He was an incubus with self control. One who chose to feed off of paranormals who wouldn’t be harmed the way the normal humans would. He wasn’t a killer. Christopher roomed with William, an elf halfling, and Will was far from dead or even drained. Demons possessed powers most paranormal humans didn’t. The same way Vincent could recognize the creatures, so too he wondered if a being like Christopher could see him for what he was. Empty death.
Fabric brushed against his hair. Vincent held still as Christopher stepped closer. He looked to the side and watched the incubus lean on the table next to him.
“I still sense it. Your hunger.”
Vincent’s gaze drifted to the tabletop and the fine woodgrain pattern. He wasn’t looking for sex or whatever dark desire the incubus consumed from his hungry prey. It was strange enough Christopher would approach him outside of a dream.
“I’m not…” The words caught in his throat when Christopher’s fingers brushed lightly to the back of his hand.
Nothing. He felt nothing.
Christopher’s red eyes fixed on his face as he carefully placed his fingers more firmly to Vincent’s flesh. “You want to know what it’s like.” His head tilted and he leaned closer. “You told me. You keep asking.”
“I want to feel.” Vincent turned his hand and frowned when the touch barely registered. “Why can’t I feel you?” An incubus’s touch was supposed to be one of the most intense experiences ever. It could bring pleasure or pain depending on the intent. For some reason it felt numb to him.
Christopher observed him in silence for a long moment, then straightened. “I would like to try something. It will make you feel warm, almost like you’re melting inside. It is a technique to subdue prey. It will calm you.”
Vincent’s brows furrowed as he tried to process what he said. “You want to hunt me?”
Christopher smirked, an eyebrow raised. “Nothing so distasteful. If your body is calm, you will be more receptive to sensation.”
“I am calm.” He was exhausted and bone weary. Vincent wasn’t sure how much calmer he could get without falling asleep. Something he was worried about the answer to. When he slept, reality blurred away.
Christopher placed a firm hand to his shoulder. “You are anything but calm. You’re so tense your muscles feel like they’re going to snap.” He squeezed. Vincent looked blandly to where he was touching as he tried to process the sensation. “It must be uncomfortable.”
“It’s not,” Vincent said hollowly. “I can’t even feel it.”
“Maybe that’s why.” Christopher gave another squeeze to the muscle that led from his shoulder to his neck. “It is too uncomfortable to be in such a tense body. You would be in pain all the time if you could feel it.”
Vincent wanted to argue. He wanted to deny he even knew pain anymore after so much numbness. Christopher’s eyes glinted with a demonic glow and the hand touching his shoulder radiated heat. “Oh.”
His eyes fell shut. Vincent was suddenly aware of his body as each muscle unfurled from tight bands. A heat pervaded through him so deep, it felt like he was melting into his seat. His exhale turned into a sigh and the table met his cheek when he slumped forward. Christopher slid his dinner aside to keep him from getting food in his hair. The soft scraping of the plate vibrated through the wooden surface. He felt the brush of movement against his hair, the way the strands tickled his face. In the dark behind his eyelids, they were the most intense sensations Vincent could have ever imagined.
“This is what you should practice feeling. Relaxed.” Christopher took his hand away. The sound of him touching the table vibrated through his ear.
“Why?” Vincent pried his heavy eyelids open and turned his head so he could find him. Christopher’s eyes glowed in the dim light. Something primal warned in the back of his mind. Predator. The demon fed off of life force and with one touch made him so weak, he could barely move.
“Why should you feel relaxed?” A wan smile flickered across Christopher’s lips. Vincent’s gaze slipped down to where the incubus’s hand inched toward him. “You want to feel, right? When you’re relaxed, you can feel all of this.” With a calculating expression, Christopher pressed his palm to the bare skin of Vincent’s hand.
Vincent gaped silently when pleasure rose through his body like a wildfire. His back arched and he rocked up in his seat, his head thrown back, eyes shut, breath lost. It was less a feeling and more a deluge. He drowned with no end in sight as heat spiraled up and crashed down in overwhelming waves.
Christopher’s eyes didn’t divert from Vincent’s expression of agonizing ecstasy as he held his hand tight. His eyes glowed brighter and the red illuminated his still features. “You should find the things that calm you and make you feel good. You could always take a draught, but I’m sure you understand how dangerous that can be.” His gaze flickered down to Vincent’s gasping lips when he released a moan. “Addictive.”
“No more.” Vincent whimpered breathlessly as he pried his hand free. He gasped for air once the connection was broken, his eyes squeezed shut and limbs shaking with tremors. “It… It’s too much to feel.”
“All the more reason to practice.” Christopher leaned over and ducked close, his breath hot on his ear. “Thank you for your energy, Vincent. You’re delicious.”
Vincent shuddered and fought the urge to push into the touch he could feel vibrating, waiting to connect with his skin. “I don’t… I don’t let…”
Christopher smirked. “I know. You were curious. Still, a gift is a gift and you are desirable in many ways.” His lips brushed close for a moment before Christopher pulled away. Vincent blearily heard him leave beneath the heaving of his chest and the roaring of his blood.
His body shook with the intensity of it all. Incubus. Christopher was an incubus. They were designed to cause this reaction in humans. But it was a reaction a human body could have and Vincent never knew he was capable until this moment.
His overwhelming response started to fade and he could again notice the room he was in and the ground beneath his feet. Christopher’s words reached him. Draught. If he really wanted to relax, there were potions he could take but they were never without risk. Consuming magic was the most dangerous way to interact with the power, and was highly addictive. Long term draught use could lead to brain damage no amount of healing could fix.
For the first time, Vincent could see the appeal if it allowed him to feel like this.
Desirable in many ways. He wasn’t. He never thought of himself in such a way. Christopher fed off of sexual energy so his standards were probably specific to that alone. Still, there was an appeal. To be desired. Worthy. Someone.
His hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Vincent hunched forward and buried his face in his arms with a groan. He felt crazy, alive, and he wasn’t sure if it was truly better than the numbness of before.
Raider wasn’t sure how the hell it happened, but he was lost. In his fear to not be found by any stray killer shifter or sorcerer, he ended up losing all sense of landmarks. He was still messed up, confused, and the time away did little to bring clarity to the feelings of before.
He wanted to kiss Forest. More than kiss. He wanted to strip and grind up against him until the crazy heat pounding inside stopped. He didn’t even know Forest. He didn’t even like Forest like that. Forest was a leopard shifter and scared the life out of him.
Raider swallowed hard. He would have kissed him if Forest so much as leaned over. He never had a sex scent do that to him before.
Actually, he never faced so many sex scents before. There was the occasional scent here and there but it was usually watered down in a breeze or lost in a crowd. The few times it was a shifter scent, the one in question quickly dismissed himself and it wasn’t really worth remembering.
The more he thought of it, the more Raider realized how inexperience he was when it came to this problem. It was kind of weird considering all the shifters in his life. Cat shifters weren’t the only ones to experience a type of heat. Most shifters’ heat just didn’t reach the same high intensity or frequency as the feline types. He never dealt with sex scents like these.
There was no escaping whatever the fuck the dragon shifter did to his not so quiet sorcerer mate. Doe had no interest in being subtle. No, his dragon’s kink increased depending on how many people were aware he was claiming his mate at the time. In theory, the idea of having someone fuck their boyfriend in front of him sounded messed up. In practice… well. It might be really hot.
Raider covered his face with his hands, his fingertips dark from his raccoon pattern. He didn’t like Wylie. Or Dorian. Or Forest. Fuck, what the hell was happening to him?
He groaned and stopped in front of another unfamiliar door. At least he was on the same floor. He didn’t end up in the basement with the dragon teacher. There would be no saving him if his raccoon started to fixate on hidden treasure on top of this new weirdness.
Why was his raccoon so weird? Why couldn’t it just be normal and quiet and not mess up his entire fucking life? If it was normal, Fox wouldn’t hate him over everything. If it would calm down for five seconds, maybe he could figure out how to make friends in the pack so no one would try to eat him. But it couldn’t. The stupid beast was too scared to do anything but freak out and run.
The door handle was locked and Raider sighed in defeat. There was no place to hide. He desperately needed to find the lounge and his room but he wasn’t sure he could do it without running into the shifters or sorcerers he was doing everything to avoid.
Again, he thought about running. Every time he tried with Fox, his friend found reasons to pull away even more. He couldn’t figure out how he was fucking it up. Fox wasn’t the type to hold a grudge. He was fucking up something and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stay in this horrible Academy.
Raider thought he recognized the next hallway. There was something about the arrangement of paintings on the otherwise white walls that looked familiar. The Academy wasn’t cold and corporate even though it was easy to get lost in. The art was all different everywhere he went. Not that he had the ability to appreciate any of it. Not with the strange scents and warnings of magic all over the place. His steps slowed and he dared to stop and look at a painting of a young lady dressed in green. A chill breezed through the air right before he heard a door click down the hall.
Raider wrapped his arms around him to fend off the sudden cold. He really needed to get a jacket or something. He looked down the hall and stilled when he saw Leo standing in the doorway, highlighted by the setting sun outside. Leo didn’t seem to care about the cold, his muscles hard against his thin, long sleeve shirt. His hair was longer, a dark mess with his half shift. His lion ears did little to keep him from looking intimidating as he stepped in and let the door shut behind him. Raider’s eyes slipped down involuntarily and focused on how thick the muscles of Leo’s thighs were in his jeans.
The scent of cigarette smoke filtered in. Raider glanced back up and swallowed hard when he met Leo’s stare. He held his breath. Leo’s grin was dangerous as he took slow, measured steps to where Raider was standing. Soon all Raider could smell and see was the lion shifter. Leo’s gold eyes were full of heat as he came up and blatantly looked him over.
Raider wasn’t sure why he couldn’t move. His heart was slamming in his chest but his feet were being dumb and refused to run. Leo ignored all levels of personal space, his eyes burning as he stepped forward and backed Raider against the wall.
“Hey,” Leo rumbled, his eyes fixed on his downturned face.
“H-Hi,” Raider managed to get out. His cheeks flushed as he looked anywhere but at Leo. It was impossible to ignore him. He was inches away, his scent surrounding him, a wall of muscle and roaring heat. Raider’s blood pounded in his ears. He closed his eyes as he felt his dick swell and body tense. He wasn’t that attracted to Leo, he was pretty sure, but he was getting hard no matter how much he shook.
“I could smell you all the way outside.” Leo leaned closer and inhaled deeply. “And now. How much you want it.”
Raider breathed out unsteadily. Leo’s fingers traced lightly down his cheek to his throat, and he did his best not to tremble. “I… uh…”
Leo’s words were soft, slow as he brushed his thumb across one of Raider’s thorned vine tattoos. “I know this scent. I could do anything to you and you’ll just beg for more, won’t you?”
Raider was unbalanced by the comment, confused how a part of him responded when it didn’t even make sense. He tried to speak but his voice definitely wasn’t working. His throat was too tight and he just couldn’t seem to put two words together as long as Leo was standing so close. It was hard to notice anything else but Leo’s scent, his presence, the heat coming off his flesh and the dark purr of his voice.
Leo’s knuckles slowly stroked down his cheek and jaw. It was electric. Raider fought a whimper and his sight dimmed for a moment. Leo’s mouth brushed his hair and the edge of his ear. The heat from his breath left him dazed.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Leo pulled Raider’s hand into his and led it to his chest. “I know what kind of shifter you are and I’d never hurt a sexy thing like you.”
Raider dared to peek up, only to quickly look away when Leo’s sharp, gold eyes caught his for a frozen moment. Leo pushed Raider’s palm against his chest and held him there. Raider stared at his hand pinned against Leo’s shirt. Beneath his fingers he could feel his heartbeat. Steady. Strong.
“You’re loyal, right, Valdez? You know your alpha.” Leo hissed as he slowly pushed Raider’s hand down the front of his body. “You want to make your alpha happy, right?”
Raider’s eyes closed and his breath came out in a rough exhale as he felt the raw strength in Leo’s rippling abs beneath the fabric of his shirt. Leo led him lower and Raider’s fingertips caught on his waistband, found the roughness of his jeans and the cool, smooth metal button of his zipper.
“You want to help me out?” Leo’s gaze slid down his heaving chest. A satisfied growl escaped him when he saw Raider’s jeans were tented. “I can protect you like you need, Valdez.”
Raider glanced up through his lashes. Leo intense glare was too much to meet for long. He wet dry lips. “What… what do you mean?”
“You’re scared.” Leo chuckled when Raider immediately denied it. “We can all smell it, Valdez. It’s okay. Some guys, they’re just not strong. They’re not fighters. Not everyone is an alpha.” He leaned down until their faces were nearly level. “It’s okay, hottie.”
Raider gasped and held himself still as Leo caged him back. The wall was cool and unyielding behind him and Leo’s muscular, heat drenched form blocked him from all sides when he raised his arms. Raider stared blankly at the floor, his lower lip caught between his teeth as Leo scented boldly up his neck.
“Fuck, you smell so hot for it.” A purr rumbled in his chest and Leo pressed forward to brush lips to Raider’s gasping mouth. “I can be your alpha. Take care of you. You won’t ever have to be afraid around me.” Leo’s lips pressed again, more solidly this time. His thumb came up to tug Raider by the chin and bring him closer. “You want that, Valdez. I can smell it on you. You want a pack and a pack leader to protect you.”
Did he want that? Raider’s head was swimming. His knees were weak and his dick throbbed for release. Did he? Hadn’t he wanted to get as far away from this dangerous lion shifter as possible? Hadn’t he wanted to jump that horrible magic fence and never see another flesh eater or magic user again?
Leo’s heavy palm found his shoulder. His fingers were strong as he moved down and rubbed Raider’s chest with sure, confident strokes. Raider’s eyes closed and the tension drained from him. He leaned his weight against the wall to keep from falling.
“That’s it, you sexy prey bitch.” Leo breathed in again, his nostrils flared as Raider submitted to his touch. “I’ll be gentle with you. Give you everything you need. Show me what you like and I’ll take care of you.” His body shifted forward. Raider breath hitched when he felt Leo’s erection, hard and long, press against his hip.
Raider had no idea what he was doing. He couldn’t figure out just why he was so hard for this or why he wasn’t telling Leo to stop. He could barely understand this strange deal Leo was offering. Protect him? Leo was the type of shifter he needed to be protected from. Right? It was hard to think with his alpha lion scent so strong in the air. Leo’s hand kept massaging the muscles of his shoulders and chest, each touch dizzying and claiming.
The door down the hall pushed open. Forest brushed snowflakes from his hair as he stepped inside, only to stop cold when he looked their way. “Leo, back the fuck off, man.”
Raider’s eyes cracked open. His head was heavy on the wall and he looked up in confusion. Leo was staring down at him, so much a predator as he drank in his dark eyes and wet lips in ownership. Raider felt a strange thrill of power to have someone like Leo look at him that way.
“Do you want me to stop?” Leo smirked when he didn’t answer. He teased fingertips over the elaborate mandala tattoo on Raider’s throat. “That’s what I thought. Your alpha knows what you want.”
“Leo, I will call the fucking masters. Leave him the fuck alone!”
Leo growled at the threat. His expression sharpened and fangs elongated when Forest stomped up and slammed his hand on the wall beside Raider. Raider knew Forest wasn’t crazy enough to actually challenge Leo. Just the flexing of the lion shifter’s muscles reinforced how large and strong he was.
“Mind your own fucking business, VanWilder,” Leo snarled warningly.
Forest’s glare increased. His claws came out and triangular ears flattened to the side of his head. “You know the line you’re crossing.”
Leo scoffed. “He likes it. Wants it. If you don’t like it, then fuck off.”
“He’s a fucking sub! You know they can’t differentiate…” Forest was cut off when Leo snarled and grabbed him by the back of the neck.
Raider watched from outside himself, unable to move. A part of him was terrified he was going to see Forest torn to pieces. But Leo didn’t take a swing at him or even bare his fangs. He shoved Forest up against Raider and pushed his face right into his armpit.
“Scent him, dumbass,” Leo growled. “Tell me he’s not fucking begging for this.”
Forest’s angry hiss transformed into a low moan. Raider shuddered at the hungry sound. Leo released Forest and when the leopard shifter looked up, his pupils were blown wide, the yellow of his eyes nearly lost in a haze of lust.
“Fuck… Holy fuck, that scent,” Forest whispered unsteadily and gripped the wall for balance.
“Scent?” Raider stared in confusion. It only got worse when Forest’s sex scent flared and hit him fully to combine with Leo’s. A wave of heat flooded him. Raider’s sight dimmed for a moment, fuzzing out the view of Forest looking him up and down with interest. He whimpered and closed his eyes when Forest ducked down and began to press a line of hungry kisses to Raider’s throat and collarbone.
Leo grinned, his teeth sharp. “Now we’re in agreement.” Another purr rumbled through his chest and he grabbed Raider by the jaw and turned his face toward him. His grip was surprisingly gentle when he leaned down and claimed him in a kiss. Raider moaned, his lips parting to the slide of Leo’s tongue. “Good… Be good for us, sexy.” Leo threaded fingers through Raider’s dark hair, massaging his scalp as he tilted his head to meet his kisses. “Show us what you like.”
Leo’s words were a buzz in the back of his mind, his focus lost in the hot, wet touch of lips moving over his skin, his mouth, hands gripping. Raider gasped when Leo’s mouth left him and Forest roughly pushed his shirt up. Cold air and then roaring heat hit him in waves as Forest pressed against him and sealed his mouth to the center of his chest.
“Watch it,” Leo said with a displeased grumble. He shoved Forest’s shoulder out of the way and claimed Raider’s lips again, his tongue stroking into his mouth. Forest was undeterred. His kissed a wandering path with wet slides of his tongue over Raider’s toned chest. He found his nipple beneath the tattoo of roses and thorns and teased the beaded nub with hot licks.
Leo’s large hand gripped Raider’s neck and moved down the front of his throat. It was possessive yet yielding as he soothed with each touch and consumed every soft cry Raider released. Raider felt half devoured. Leo’s tongue explored every plane of his mouth. His teeth nipped at his lips, sinking in and opening him up. He was lost in the scent, the heat, the pulse of the two hard bodies touching, tasting and pulling at him until he was nothing more than the wild sensations and desperate throb of need.
“Clothes, Valdez. You’re wearing too much.” Leo’s hand pushed up under Raider’s shirt when it tried to fall back down.
“Way too much,” Forest agreed hazily. He gripped the t shirt and tugged. The material shredded around his claws and Leo helped pull the remains off of Raider’s torso. Forest’s gaze lit on his face and lingered on Raider’s kiss swollen lips. He looked down, taking in his bare, caramel toned chest covered in a black ink swirl of roses and thorned vines. His hand pressed to Raider’s six-pack abs and fingers spread wide to slide up to his chest.
Raider’s gaze followed, drifting down his bare torso to Forest’s compact, toned frame tight with restrained need. He couldn’t help but wonder what he looked like under his shirt, what his bare flesh would feel like against his.
“Kiss him,” Leo said in Raider’s ear. The quiet order sent a fresh wave of desire through him. He didn’t want to think about why it got him so hard, why he knew he was going to obey. Raider’s breath came out in fast pants as he tentatively leaned forward and reached for Forest’s dark lips. Forest surged forward, pushed him hard against the wall and kissed him fiercely.
Raider exhaled heavily through his nose, his mouth yielding to Forest’s demanding kiss. His lips moved over Raider’s flesh hungrily, wetting his lips, then his chin and throat. Raider yelped softly when teeth sank into his neck for a moment. The pain went straight to his cock. His jeans were unbearably tight, and only grew more so when Leo’s hand gripped down his side and sought first his hip and then his ass. He squeezed the firm flesh and pulled Raider closer so he could claim his mouth again.
“W-What?” Raider mumbled as a terrible chill his hit bare flesh and grew colder. His lashes fluttered open and he immediately squeezed his eyes shut as impossibly bright light assaulted his senses.
“Fucker. Motherfucker!” Leo pulled away with an outraged snarl. The noise he was making could only be described as murderous.
Raider fought to see what he could through his fingers but the light was too intense. Forest was cursing softly but didn’t sound like he was about to kill them all like Leo was. Which could only mean the alpha was under attack. If Leo fell, he would surely be killed next.
“My office. The three of you. Now.”
It took Raider a moment to recognize Michael with anger distorting his voice. Raider abruptly stopped struggling and his face heated up. He didn’t want to face the master sorcerer like this. Not after he just caught him…
“Oh fuck.” Raider covered his face with his hands and fell back against the wall. Reality started to sink in as the heat faded from the air. “Oh my fuck.”
“Whiteheart!” Leo’s roar shook the wall. Raider gasped and snapped his eyes open to find torrents of icy water dripping from Leo’s furious form.
“Damn it, Leo, keep it the fuck together,” Forest muttered. He was in a similar drenched state while crouched on the floor. “Remember where you are.”
Leo was too enraged. His features twisted as his halfshift tried to turn full lion with the loss of his control. “He’s mine to claim. Mine!”
Michael didn’t say a word as Leo’s voice echoed down the hall. Raider couldn’t help but look, wondering if the sorcerer was frightened. He found Michael standing twenty feet away, his eye blazing power as he calmly stared Leo down.
“You have no right!”
“Shit.” Forest’s wet sneakers slipped across the floor as he tried to get away when Michael took one silent, deliberate step toward the three of them. Leo’s roars were more distorted and lion-like by the second but Raider knew it wasn’t him Forest was running from. No, it was Michael. The air around him was unearthly still, as if time decided to stop in show of the sorcerer’s ability.
Michael tilted his head down, his eyes full of challenge. “Leonard, must I remind you of just what you are allowed to own in this Academy?” Leo’s ears folded back at the sound of his voice. Power filled Michael’s every being. The air around them began to change and grow hotter as his magic snapped in aggression.
“You can’t interfere in my claim. It’s my right!” Leo whirled as he shouted.
Raider froze as Leo’s bulking form and razor sharp teeth consumed his vision. This was when he died, he realized fleetingly. He lost his fucking mind, got involved in some alpha bullshit, and his raccoon was absolutely right in being terrified because Leo was going to kill him.
Raider tensed, his eyes squeezed shut in preparation for the killing blow. Only to yelp when Leo’s large palm suddenly cupped his flagging erection through his jeans and held tight.
“You’re mine, Valdez. You know you’re mine.” Leo inhaled heavily and scented down Raider’s form. He deliberately used his mass to block anyone from getting to Raider.
Raider held impossibly still even as he felt his body respond. His cock hardened and muscles loosened as his raccoon tried to take over and give in to Leo. His mind was racing just as fast as his heart. He didn’t know if it was because Leo seemed more beast than man at the moment, or maybe because he was dripping wet and far from comfortable, but Raider wasn’t feeling anything like he had a minute ago. There was no drugged haze from the intense scent surrounding him. He was alert, aware, and certain Leo was seconds from getting his ass beat if he didn’t move.
Raider kept his eyes trained on the floor and tried to keep his breath even. For some reason, the idea of Michael fighting Leo was absolutely exhilarating.
“Leo, stop letting your lion’s dick take over your fucking mind!” Forest shouted from a safe distance away.
Leo looked his way with a snarl, only to turn fully and release Raider when Michael appeared behind him. The sorcerer didn’t say anything or lift his hands in attack. He didn’t have to. Normally easy going and smiling, Michael looked larger and more muscular than before. He was beyond intimidating as he towered over Leo, their eyes locked in a death match. No words were required for an alpha shifter to understand. Leo might be brawn and fighter spirit but he was no equal to the raw power Michael raised up just by standing there.
Raider saw it in Leo’s body language before he backed down. His tail gave an angry twitch and Leo’s shoulders flexed an instant before he snarled and stepped away.
“Fuck!” Leo screamed as he punched the wall. His roar echoed down the hall full of rage and defeat. Raider barely heard it, caught when he found himself suddenly face to face with Michael.
Michael was barely recognizable. There was an animalistic fierceness to his features which hadn’t been there previously. His power was magnetic as it snapped unseen around him in a hot fire. “Office. Now.” His blue eyes blazed as Michael started down the hall. He stopped feet away to make sure he was followed.
Raider didn’t know he was holding his breath until Michael turned away. Air rushed back into his lungs with a gasp. Shame and want hit him in equal proportions as the world again crashed down into startling focus.
What was wrong with him? Why was he like this?
Raider forced his shaking legs to move when Forest stepped up to where Michael was waiting. He didn’t want to be stuck alone in the hallway with Leo. Fuck, Michael had seen him… Raider couldn’t put words to what he did with Leo and Forest. His gaze strayed towards Michael’s shoes, so unable was he to face him.
He was disgusted, right? Or was he challenging Leo because…?
No, that was fucking crazy. Michael was just doing what needed to be done to get a sex crazed alpha to back the fuck down. The guy was a human using magic to act like a shifter to manipulate the situation.
Raider took a steadying breath. That was how shifters were killed by sorcerers. They were tricked, hunted, and their own strength used against them. He knew that. He fucking knew.
Sorcerer. Whiteheart was a sorcerer and far more dangerous than the most aggressive alpha at the Academy.
Fox’s leg wouldn’t stop jumping. Ever since he saw Vince look like a fucking zombie yet seemed moments from bursting into tears, he couldn’t settle down. Except when Vincent smelled like he was seconds from tears, he looked like he was going to break all the muscles in his body all at once instead. Fuck… Fuck.
He was trying to stay away from Vincent, just he needed to allow his fox whatever the fuck it needed to keep from losing its mind. This was new territory for him. Sure, he had plenty of crushes growing up, and yeah, fine, he was a bit of a fucking bleeding heart for anything wounded and needing a shoulder to cry on. It didn’t help Vincent was fucking hot when he was moments from shattering into a million pieces.
Damn it, his fox was all fucked up. Seriously, he shouldn’t be thinking weird shit like that. It was weird shit.
Fox’s leg continued to bounce. He felt Forest’s eyes slip his way, his eyebrow raised in concern.
Raider was holed up in the room he shared with Forest. He outright refused to take any class involving magic, and fuck, that just made him want to learn magic even more. He was so sick of this shit. He hadn’t even realized how much he was fighting until Raider started spewing all his paranoid, discriminatory bullshit. Forest was definitely bearing the brunt of it; Raider actually went so far as to ask Forest to bring him his meals. Forest, naturally, told him he was going to starve before he brought crumbs into his room.
Forest wasn’t doing well. Fox wasn’t sure just what the hell Raider was doing to him, but his submissive sex scent was not meshing well with the feline heat thing. Forest started asking to hang in Chris and Will’s room if only to get away from it. Considering how Wylie and Dorian were still going at it all the time, the tree room was getting a bit crowded.
Fox sighed. Maybe that was the only reason he was jumping out of his skin right now. The place reeked of sex and tensions were tight. Being cooped up during winter was always one lingering glance away from being a fuck fest for a shifter, and he was really trying to blame his mood on that.
Except Vincent hadn’t returned from his impromptu trip to see Dr. Rob, and Fox couldn’t get the vision of his haunted silver eyes out of his mind.
The same pull he felt when Raider knocked into Vincent was hitting him again, hard. Each minute felt like a fucking eternity, and his nerves were fraying more and more. Vince walked out of there like a robot, like he was half dead and the more Fox remembered it, the more he wondered just how Vince looked at death. Some people, it was pretty damn clear they wanted to be alive. They were in their lives, talking to people, doing their hobbies, bitching about their jobs. What the fuck did Vince do beside everything laid out in front of him by the Academy masters? He barely talked to anyone. He barely had a damn spark in his eyes except when he was annoying the fuck out of him…
His leg gave a final bounce and Fox jumped up from his seat. Master Theodore stopped mid sentence and gave him his best warning glare. Theodore was extra testy since all the shifters came down with the flu. He wasn’t even going near Wylie, who was basically a walking razor blade with his horns and scales out.
“Bathroom,” Fox said simply and whirled before anything could be said to stop him. He caught Wylie’s eye as he was leaving, his gaze full of a fair bit of suspicion as to why he was running off. Fox shrugged and caught the movement of Dorian as he leaned in to twine fingers with his boyfriend. Jealousy stabbed at his heart and Fox looked away. He closed the door a little too loudly behind him, turned toward Dr. Rob’s and started walking at a fast clip.
Fine, he was being fucking dumb. Vince didn’t need his help. And fuck, if he did, he sure as fuck wouldn’t ask for it. But that was Vince, wasn’t it? That was all the sorcerers. They were so damn aloof, they didn’t know how to ask for something simple like help, like it would make them weak. He didn’t understand, not fully. All he knew was if he didn’t see Vincent, his inner fox was going to lose its shit.
It was a problem. This whole thing was turning into a problem. Fighting his rational mind was bad enough. Fighting his fox? That fucker lived to be irrational. It lived to dart, to hunt, to run around like a crazy child and play no matter if a car was running him over at the time.
Fox’s fingers twitched and he resisted the urge to shove them in his pockets, or comb them through his hair, or just punch at the nearest thing he could find. Once he caught Vincent’s scent, the urge to act out grew.
Why did Vincent always smell like he was on the verge of freaking out?
“Damn it.” He found Vincent standing in the middle of the hallway right before the stairwell which led to the upper level of the Academy. Vincent was staring stonily at his shoes, unblinking. His eyes were rimmed in red and tears streaked his cheeks. “Fucking damn it.” Fox breathed out slowly.
He couldn’t handle this. He had his stupid ears out and his tail and he knew it was going to upset Vince. But really, could it be worse? So what if Vince flipped the fuck out on him? So fucking what. He was done pretending he couldn’t see his pain.
“Vince?” Fox crossed the distance slowly, eyes glued to his tear-streaked face. Vincent’s eyes were unseeing and there was an unsettling stillness to his body. As he stepped in front of him, Fox could scent his fear, his confusion, and the distinctness of his tears. “Vince, are you okay?” Vincent still didn’t acknowledge him, even thought he was using the nickname he hated.
His fingers twitched. Fox grabbed him by the biceps and pulled him closer. Vincent was stiff in his arms, a trembling doll who didn’t look his way. Fox wrapped him tighter and exhaled slowly. He tucked his head in the crook of Vincent’s neck and listened to his pulse.
Let Vince slug him. Whatever. He needed a fucking hug.
Vincent was cold to the touch, his skin cool beneath the fabric of his long-sleeve shirt. Fox carefully ran his palms up and down his arms while hoping it might wake him out of it. He stilled when he heard Vincent whisper something. Fox tilted his head to watch his lips move, the words softly spoken and in German.
He wished he was as smart as Vince. Sure, he learned a few of his favorite swears but he wasn’t able to pick up the entire language the way Vincent learned English and Spanish. He had no idea what Vincent was saying and no way to reach him. Even here, in his arms, Vincent was too far away.
Not sure what to do, Fox tucked his head until his cheek was against Vincent’s and whispered right back to him. “Where are you right now, Vince? You’re cold and you’re crying.”
He wasn’t expecting an answer. Vincent’s whispering stopped and the silence stretched again. Fox lifted his head, wondering if he was going to have to carry Vincent to Dr. Rob’s, when Vincent suddenly spoke again.
“I… I don’t cry.”
Fox smiled wryly. Of course he didn’t. He wasn’t about to argue with a nearly comatose Vincent about the fact he was totally crying. “You’re standing in the middle of the hall. Did you get lost?”
Silent, Vincent’s shoulders slumped. It was like something broke inside and gave into the weight of the world a little bit. Fox wrapped his arms tighter and tried to warm him, to remind him what it felt like to be alive and aware. If it made him a total loser he was happy for the excuse to touch Vincent, he didn’t fucking care.
Vincent’s gaze turned his way but Fox was certain he didn’t really see him. He raised his hand and thumbed over the nearest streak of wet on his pale cheek. “I thought you were going to see Dr. Rob.”
Vincent’s jaw clenched. “Doctors aren’t allowed. No doctors.” His voice was halting, dry.
Fox pulled him sideways until Vincent’s shoulder was tight to his chest and he could see the way his eyelashes trembled with unfallen tears. “I think doctors are pretty important, Vince. Sometimes we all need a little help.”
“Can’t.” Vincent’s hair fell forward, a shield against the light of the hallway. “Help gets them killed. Telling gets people killed.”
Fox’s breath hitched. He forced himself to stay calm but his mind was racing with too many questions. “Have you seen people die?” He ducked his head and met Vincent’s empty stare, desperate to read whatever the hell was going on in his head when Vincent failed to answer. Fox wasn’t even sure he heard him.
Was it wrong, even now, with eyes rimmed red and face impassive, all he could think of was kissing him?
“No.” Vincent suddenly breathed out, his gaze focused on something far away. “Not then.”
Fox couldn’t be sure he was talking to him or to someone in his mind. “Not then?”
“People died but I didn’t see it. Not until…”
“Until? What happened?” He pushed Vincent up by his shoulders to get a clearer look as he tried to understand. “What did you see? Was it that guy you tried to save?”
Vincent’s brows twitched in thought. “Calvin.”
“Was that his name?”
“Calvin died. I couldn’t save him.”
Fox sighed heavily. His eyes raked over Vincent’s face and he realized just how out of it he was. It was fruitless to ask him questions. He needed to see Dr. Rob. Whatever this was was way beyond his ability. “I know, Vince. I’m sorry I brought it up.” He steered Vincent towards the stairwell and gently urged him forward.
Vincent’s legs refused to budge. “I killed him.”
Dread twisted in his stomach. Fox turned and again tried to read his face. “Who? Calvin?”
Vincent shook his head, the slightest of movements. “The one who killed Calvin.”
Fox didn’t realized how tight he was until his muscles unclenched with Vincent’s answer. Tension drained from his entire body in a wave. “Good,” he said gruffly and with conviction. Better to kill in defense. Better to protect. He knew plenty of shifters who wished there was such a justification for their murderous mistakes.
Fox wasn’t sure what the hell happened to Vincent before he came to the Academy but it had a hold on him. It haunted him even though he was safe. He again clasped his arms around the silent sorcerer. If he could only pull him out of the place he was stuck in, he would.
“I should have done it earlier,” Vincent said dully, his head ducked against Fox’s neck. “I waited too long and… so many… so many hurt.”
His chest twisted painfully tight as he felt fresh tears drip onto his skin. “It’s okay. You can’t change the past. You can only keep going after.” He pushed a strand of Vincent’s dark hair away and stared into his ethereal, red rimmed eyes. “Are you trying, Vince? Are you trying to live?”
Vincent’s brows furrowed again as confusion crossed his features. “I don’t… I…” He blinked and his head rose up as he looked around the hallway. Fox felt the change in him; a heat swept through Vincent, his muscles flexed and relaxed as he slowly came back to reality.
It was time to let go. Time to pretend Vincent was untouchable and perfect and just another sorcerer who didn’t feel.
Fox held him closer. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
Vincent’s voice was frail as he looked down at where Fox was wrapped around him. “Yeah, but why? Why am I…? Where are we?”
Fox couldn’t answer. Was Vincent really so lost? Had he always been this lost? Fox didn’t know but he was done ignoring it. He was done watching him hurt.
Vincent wasn’t sure he was going to make it through class. It was one of the very few he shared with the shifters. Usually that was annoying enough. Today it was a cruel, personal version of hell. The shifters all had the flu and were in half shift.
Master Theodore kept looking his way but refused to approach. The dragon shifter instructor was doing everything in his power to stay away from the infected. They were all either furry, scaly, and tailed at this point. All but Justin. Werewolves were notorious for never getting sick. While a shifter’s immune system was the best, the cursed werewolves were just a little bit better.
Master Metzger refused to deal in werewolves. Well, officially. A few came through, always right after the moon and always drugged out of their skulls. They never stayed long. Too dangerous. A werewolf could imprint a scent for revenge and remember it years later. Master Metzger planned on being one of the long living sorcerers.
Vincent had a habit, one he wasn’t certain was entirely healthy. When he was surrounded by others and on the verge of a freak out, he would slide his hand to the nape of his neck and dig fingernails into flesh. It wasn’t a lot of pain, although some days he really wished it was. It was usually enough to ground him, to give him something to focus on besides the overwhelming crazy.
There was a light clatter and Vincent’s gaze flickered to the seat next to him as Fox picked up the pen he dropped. Even though he wasn’t talking to him, Fox again chose to sit near him. He was doing it a lot and Vincent couldn’t help but think it was an excuse to smell him. He never had someone show an interest in him before but he knew a lot about shifter. They needed to scent their love interest all the time so they could feel calm, wanted. Some shifters were known for getting their scent on the person they liked to show they were off limits. Something Fox had yet to try.
Master Theodore’s voice droned in the background. Usually, it didn’t. Usually Body Magic was really interesting. Today he was just waiting for it to be over so he could leave. His nails bit sharper into his neck and he wondered fleetingly if he could make himself bleed. He wanted to bleed. He wanted something to hurt so much he would finally stop thinking. He could do a spell. He knew spells for pain. Spells for bleeding. Spells to kill.
Vincent gritted his teeth and focused on Fox.
Rafael’s trademark bandanna was in the back pocket of his jeans now triangular fox ears topped his head. His hair was different as well. It was still the same undercut style with the sides and neck shaved close to the scalp and the top long and currently brushed back off his face. But the coloring—before silver-gray—was showing signs of his camouflage ability. There were fine shifts of light and shadow as the strands reacted to the colors around him. Fox’s moonshadow ability was bleeding into his half shift and when Vincent peered really close, he could see the way magic coated each hair. Fox’s eyebrows were darker, a near black, and made his orange eyes half hidden beneath thick lashes look even more strange and intense.
Fox was staring at his desk, brows drawn down and mouth set in a grim line. A look he’d been wearing a lot ever since his raccoon friend showed up. It only got worse once Raider refused to go to any of the classes. Vincent heard a rumor he was hiding away in his dormroom and refused to come out except for meals. Not that he cared. Raider unbalanced him. The shifter walked into the Academy hating him and all it did was remind Vincent of the many reasons shifters should hate him.
Fox’s lashes fluttered. Vincent wasn’t fast enough and orange eyes darted his way, drawn by the weight of his stare. Vincent watched as his expression lightened and a smile twitched on Fox’s lips when their eyes met. It was short lived. Fox’s gaze slipped from his face and lingered to where Vincent’s hand was hidden beneath his shoulder length hair. When he looked up, Fox’s expression was full of concern.
Vincent made himself stare forward, unseeing of the classroom or Master Theodore. He needed to be careful around Fox. He didn’t want to hurt him. Shifters were so sensitive; they could smell just about any emotion. Some emotions could hurt. Whatever was wrong with him once hurt shifters…
For a moment, he remembered exactly how he knew that.
The darkness pushed at his consciousness and Vincent’s breath sped up to sharp, quiet gasps in protest. His nails dug deeper into his flesh but the pain wasn’t there. It was all numb. His fingers, his neck, the small crescent marks he was trying to brand into his skin; it was all numb just like him.
He couldn’t do this. He didn’t want to be alone but if any of them knew—it would be worse. It would destroy him. It would make the past real and he couldn’t let that happen. Fuck, they all looked the same. The ears, the wasting bodies and dead eyes. He couldn’t go through it again.
It took Vincent lost moments to realize his vision was currently filled with crimson and black. Master Theodore crouched down, his face level with his, sleek red hair a bloody waterfall spilled over his desk. His violet gaze pierced into his until Vincent couldn’t help but notice.
“I’m going to call Dr. Rob. Would you like me to walk you to his room?”
Again, Vincent wasn’t sure how long the words hovered there until his brain finally processed them. He straightened in his seat slowly, lower lip caught between his teeth. His hand was a claw around his neck and he distractedly went through the motion of pulling each stressed white digit from his flesh. His muscles felt impossibly tight and he wasn’t sure his feet touched the ground when he stood.
Vincent clutched his desk and ignored Theodore’s stare, ignored the stares of the others in the room who were now strangely quiet.
Theodore knew what he did. He was the one who found him. Michael tried first but Vincent was able to dodge the golden sorcerer. Not Master Howld. Theodore hunted him down, each step, each grave. He gave him an option, one more stark than appealing. Life or death. Come with him to the Academy and live, or continue to die where he was. Dying seemed so much easier. Half way there, to choose a new path seemed nearly pointless…
Vincent jolted and his gaze snapped up to meet Theodore’s stare.
“Dr. Rob is expecting you.” Theodore’s voice was calm and void of the chaos twisting in Vincent’s mind. He carefully brushed fingers down his arm and Vincent straightened to escape the danger of human contact. Each touch burned like a living flame.
Vincent noted he was leaving his books, bag and notebook as he passed his desk. He was taking classes to teach him how to be a proper person because he was never raised as one. It didn’t get more pathetic than that.
He wasn’t fully aware when he left the classroom. His body moved stiffly and he found himself stopped at each stretch of hallway as he tried to remember where he was going, why he was walking.
Calvin was an elk shifter. Useless except every drop of his blood and inch of his skin contained a magic which allowed him to transform from a human into an animal. He was sick before he arrived at Metzger’s, and only grew worse once caged with the rest. He wasn’t special in the ways some of the others were and because of it, Metzger couldn’t find a buyer for him. He would; there was no question of that. If he wasn’t bought for the unique traits Calvin didn’t possess, then for something else. Something his master failed to share with him.
Metzger never said they were killed. He never said they were cut to pieces. So Vincent never expected his master to tell him they were fucked. He heard the shifters talking; the ones who he understood the language of, the ones who didn’t have the voice beaten out of them. They only spoke when Metzger was away and didn’t think Vincent was there listening. Shifters weren’t just stolen for spare parts. They were slaves used for hard labor, and some were stolen for sex. Like they weren’t human, like they weren’t anything at all.
Calvin arrived a week before his birthday and Vincent’s terror knew no limit. Metzger was going to test him again. He always tested him on his birthday. Terrible, monstrous spells. These would be the final tests to prove he was a master. Metzger was proud of him. He was an advanced student even so young and Metzger was quick to tell his colleagues. He would also mention his flaws; how it was a shame his pupil wasn’t powerful magically. How Vincent just didn’t have the stomach for the job even if he was bright and quick to obey. He was the ideal student who could solve any problem set before him and Metzger was going to test his limits on his birthday.
Calvin was going to be that test. Vincent wasn’t sure how, but knew it would lead to death. Metzger was just so proud of his ability to do what was asked of him, even if his weak, pathetic heart still beat inside and begged him to stop. Metzger saw it in his eyes no matter how cold, how detached he tried to become. Calvin was some nobody shifter, a prey animal. He was already caged, already sick, already broken. So thin and wracked with coughs, his large, dark eyes dulled with hopelessness.
“For the test,” Metzger said when signing off on Calvin’s delivery. Like a slab of meat.
Vincent heard the cruel joke every time Metzger raved of his problem solving skills. He was trapped. He might as well be caged with the others because he couldn’t find a way free. Not since ten and small, passed from his family to the master sorcerer. Maybe his parents gained more money than the slavers who brought Calvin to Metzger. Had his life been worth more than the shifters who passed through those cages every month?
Vincent’s feet were no longer moving. He was unaware of the tears wetting his face. He was too busy trying to figure out what horrors Master Metzger would have him commit on his birthday. There was no Academy hallway, just the cramped, windowless room that smelled of dust and stale cigar smoke he once called his bedroom. If his mind would allow it, he might have found a way to ground, to use one of the tricks Dr. Rob taught him to pull free of his memory. But that was something he learned at the Academy, a year later, and there was not reaching that place.
Fox snarled under his breath as he stormed through the hallways leading back to the gym. He knew Raider wouldn’t fucking get a word of it. This wasn’t a new problem or the first time he tried to broach the subject. He tried to get Raider to actually meet the coyotes he was terrified of. He tried to get him to talk to them. The closest was the Mandula brothers. He was pretty sure that was a success only because they were badger shifters. Neither of the brothers gave a shit about coyotes, but then, they weren’t fucking terrified of everything. No, that was Raider’s thing from the very beginning. He forgot just how damn exhausting it was to be friends with Raider most days.
Jaxon Silva. Fox spent more than a few sleepless nights wondering what the fuck was wrong with Raider when it came to that guy. The fucked up thing was Jaxon liked Raider. He practically chased Raider around the playground in some old school mating dance. It led to half of his friends laughing their asses off and the other half, Fox included, trying to figure out why Raider was treating Jaxon like he was about to maul him. Jaxon wasn’t blind to it. He might not have been the brightest guy, but it didn’t take much to realize your crush was fucking terrified of you on levels beyond normal. Jaxon grew bitter, and for real, Fox couldn’t blame him. Even if Raider didn’t like him, that didn’t mean Jaxon was some murdering psycho hell bent on killing him.
Damn it, how the fuck did he end up caught in this shit again? He left this all behind. He was supposed to be thinking about how he got off meds, how he was making progress with his inner fox’s focus, not getting sucked into Raider’s bullshit. He was supposed to be thinking about Vince and dealing with the fact the most gorgeous guy who he liked since first meeting was never going to like him back. He couldn’t even feel.
Fuck, when did his life start to suck so much?
A growl rumbled in his chest. Fox took a fast turn and started running down the empty hall. Forest was fucking right. Damn it, Forest was always right. Raider was just going to cling to him like some frightened kid and he wouldn’t care how he felt about it. Raider was determined his second day there to not even try. And fuck, he was more racist against his own kind than Vincent was against shifters.
Maybe that was why Vincent’s bullshit never seemed to be a total deal breaker. Fox grew up with a guy who believed all shifters who turned into predator types were automatically going to want to kill him. Vincent might talk shit, but most times it seemed out of frustration or plain ass ignorance. Raider… Raider fucking knew better. He let his stupid raccoon rule him instead of taking responsibility for all the fear his prey creature created in his head. Even if a shifter did hurt Raider, it didn’t mean any of them were going to. It didn’t mean all shifters were aggressive. But Raider couldn’t see that. He was just welcomed into a pack of shifters who knew what it meant to support each other and Raider couldn’t see a fucking thing.
Fox slammed into the gym. The door swung open under his force to crash against the wall. His eyes immediately fell on Leo, who was back in human form and doing a series of stretches from his spot on the ground. Fox zeroed in and crossed the distance swiftly.
Leo bristled when he saw him. “What?” His glare grew at Fox’s growl. “Are you out of your mind, Alvarez? Are you fucking challenging me?”
“So what if I am?” Fox took his bandanna off and threw it to the ground. “Fight me, dumbass.”
Leo looked baffled as he carefully pulled his leg back out of its extended stretch. “Fight you? One punch and I have to worry about crushing your fucking skull in—Motherfuck!” Leo grabbed Fox’s wrist when he lunged at him, then rolled away with a snarl. Fox’s claws grazed his chest, and Leo grunted as he twisted to keep him from reaching his flesh. “You’re fucking crazy!”
Fox growled louder and sank teeth into the closest thing he could find. Leo scowled and jerked as his thigh was bitten. His jeans tore with a loud rip. With a roar, he stood, grabbed Fox by the nape and his wrists, and fought every instinct he had not to throw the skinny shifter across the room.
“Are you done?” Leo eyes were angry slits as he glared at the panting Fox.
Glaring back, a snarl caught in his throat, Fox nodded as best he could in the brutal hold. Leo hesitated and Fox waited; he knew his snarl was definitely sending the wrong message and yet, Fox couldn’t stop the noise. It took him a few deep breaths before his growl finally died down.
Leo released him and Fox stumbled backward. He gained his balance once he crouched.
“Don’t,” Leo warned when Fox looked ready to come at him again. “You do not want to fuck with me right now. My lion is a fucking mess and he would love to kill something.” Leo, on the other hand, did not seem to enjoy the idea. He pushed his heavy, black hair back from his face as he turned away.
Fox wasn’t sure just what the fuck was wrong with him. He breathed heavily as he sat, the world dizzy around him. “Sorry… I don’t know why I did that.”
“You’re giving off testosterone like a motherfucker.” Leo glanced over his shoulder while he rubbed his bleeding thigh. He glared down at where Fox was sitting. “Are you reacting to the werewolf?”
“What, Justin?” Fox shook his head. “I’ve never done it before. My fox doesn’t see his wolf as a threat once the moon is done.”
Leo was hardly convinced. “You reek. Your hormones are fucked. Maybe you’re reacting to your horny ass roommate? The fucking flu? You are minutes from a mating throw, man.”
“Mating throw?” Fox groaned and buried his face into his clawed hands. “Aw, fuck. Fuck.”
Had his crush turned into something else without him realizing it? He just took a fucking swing at Leo, the walking death machine, so yeah. Fuck. He was so fucked.
“How do I stop this?” he wondered aloud, misery clear in his voice. Vince wasn’t mate material. He was way too fucked up. Even if he wasn’t fucked up, it was Vincent Frost and it just wasn’t going to fucking happen.
His palm came back bloody and Leo licked it clean. “Why? If you’ve got a mating urge, you don’t fuck with that shit. That’s all your animal. You need to respect his choices.”
Fox glared up through his fingers. “Seriously? It’s fucking Vince, man. He hates me.”
Leo snorted humorlessly. “He doesn’t hate you. He lets you annoy the fuck out of him every goddamn day. If he hated you, he would have shut you down from the very beginning.”
This wasn’t the first time Fox heard this particular argument, but it was the first time hearing it from Leo. Confused by just how certain Leo sounded, Fox straightened from his slouch. “You think?”
A drop of blood fell to the ground. Leo scowled down at his jeans soaking up the crimson fluid. “Have you actually seen Vincent do a spell? A serious one?” He glanced again over his large shoulder. Fox shook his head no. “Well, I saw him help Michael build the fire pit and raise those rocks from the earth. Vincent didn’t flinch, didn’t falter once. When he puts his mind to something, he fucking gets it.”
Leo rolled his eyes, turned back and pointed to his ruined pant leg. “Asshole, I’m telling you the kid is fucking determined. If he really wanted you to leave him alone, you wouldn’t be able to say a damn word to him.”
“Huh.” His brow furrowed as Fox nodded to himself. “Fuck, you might be right. He’s never actually hit me with a spell. And let’s face it, it’s not like it wouldn’t be easy for him.” He smiled tentatively up at Leo. “Thanks, man.”
Leo grunted. “Come at me again and I’ll break your fucking legs.”
Fox’s grin grew. He jumped up and bounded onto his feet. “You want me to spell your jeans fixed?”
“Like fuck. The last thing I need is you exploding me.” His muscles bulged as Leo stretched his arms over his head. “Besides, it’s not like I only have one pair.”
Fox gave him a discreet side glance and refused to comment. Leo was one of the few shifters who couldn’t do magic at all. Which would be fine, but Fox had a strong feeling Leo was actually afraid of magic.
Did Vince like him? Had his fox picked up on something he didn’t notice? Animal-based attraction was usually all about chemistry. Just, Vince didn’t have much to offer. He said he couldn’t feel at all. But if his fox was looking at him as mating material then maybe that was just another thing Vincent was just getting fucked up in his head.
That could be a thing, right? If Vincent was as messed up as he was starting to suspect, he might not have a clue what he liked. Vince was willing to let him kiss him. If you hated someone, you sure as fuck didn’t let them kiss you. Maybe the reason everyone thought Vince liked him was really because he did.
Holy fuck… maybe Vince liked him.
Fox’s epiphany was shadowed by an overwhelming tickle. Moments later, he folded forward as a sneeze rang out in the air.
“Fuck.” Fox refused to move. There was an itch bordering on pain centered at the top of his head and the bottom of his spine. “Aw, fuck.” He reached up and, sure enough, found he sneezed right into a half shift. His fox ears twitched beneath his fingers.
There was no way he could talk to Vincent like this. Some days, Fox could convince Vince he was more than just a shifter. But that was before Vincent flipped out when he saw Raider with his ears out. He had little faith Vince wouldn’t react the same exact way to him.
“Damn it.” Fox didn’t want to think what type of a person freaked out over just bumping into a shifter. He tried to convince himself Vince’s freak out yesterday was for anything but. Yet here he was knowing damn well if Vincent saw him like this, he would run the other way. Fuck his life.
“Stop growling.” Leo narrowed his eyes and crossed heavy biceps over his chest. “Just fuck off to wherever you were going and stop trying to challenge my fucked up lion.”
Fox glanced his way and nodded curtly. He grabbed his bandanna from the floor and dusted it off, then headed for the outside door. He wanted fresh air. He wanted fresh air and to hopefully find a way to solve this problem. He couldn’t not be a shifter and he didn’t want to chase after some guy who couldn’t live with him being one. So either Vincent was going to have to change or he was going to have to talk to his fox about their really bad mate choice.
Fox sighed to himself as he stepped out into the cold air. It would be the latter. There was no way to make Vincent change. Fuck, there was no way to even make him think it was worth changing for. Even if Vincent might like him, Fox couldn’t believe he liked all of him. He knew half wasn’t enough.