Raider was holed up in his room eating a lunch he really couldn’t get down. Classes started back up that day but there was no way he could be tricked into participating. His world was rocked, flipped upside down, and no one was getting him to do anything until things settled. Or at least until Fox was woken from his magic induced coma, anyways. No place was safe; not inside the Academy, not outside. Especially not outside. Raider had no place he belonged, no one who cared about him, and the one being he did spend the majority of his days with was determined to sabotage him at every level, the damn furry raccoon.
That he was trying to eat was hard enough. And really, the only reason he was trying was because now he knew Michael cooked. The instructor was extremely busy as he looked to find just who attacked them so this was about as close to the calming man Raider was going to get to at the moment. He was miserable, bored, and lonely but at least the roasted potatoes tasted good.
Raider’s eyes flickered to the door as he heard someone pass. His gaze stayed and narrowed when whoever it was actually stopped on the other side. Dr. Rob had been by once to see if he was doing okay. He wanted him to talk, but Raider wasn’t dumb enough to get sucked into therapy. In a day Dr. Rob would have him repeating shit like a robot about how great the Academy was and how predators were awesome and shouldn’t shifters totally give up their lives for sorcery. Or something; Raider wasn’t sure what Dr. Rob’s deal was but it was probably extra evil with his sweet smile and soft, brown eyes.
Was he even a real doctor?
There was a knock, and Raider jumped, his eyes wide, plastic fork stuck between his lips. Glaring at the door now, he carefully pulled the utensil from his mouth before speaking from his spot cross-legged on the bed. “What?”
“Uh, hey. Can we talk?”
Raider frowned the moment he recognized Forest’s voice. What the fuck did he want to talk to him about? Was he going to give him shit about Vincent? Or maybe he was looking for something shiny he was missing. Raider internally groaned and searched his memory to see if his inner animal was again trying to keep him away from any spot in his room. He was pretty sure when his raccoon got stressed and freaked out, it stole even more. Considering he tended to kind of blackout during those times, it was hard to keep track of it all.
He stood reluctantly and crossed the room. “What?” he asked as he unlocked and opened the door one handed, his plate of food in the other.
“Hey.” Forest leaned against the door frame, his gaze anywhere but on him. His clothing was rumpled and his short dark hair mussed like he hadn’t bothered to brush it that day. Raider’s gaze slipped down before he could stop himself, taking in Forest’s shoulders, biceps and tight hips. He reeked of sex, and his odd yellow eyes were dark, moody as they glanced his way a moment. “About what happened… Do you think you can handle going over that with me?”
Raider shrugged, suddenly finding his food very interesting. “You want to yell at me too for getting caught by a dragon catcher?”
Forest shook his head. “Nah, I just want to get as much info as possible.” He glanced behind out at the sparsely populated lounge and ducked his head closer to Raider. “It’s not your fault, man. Those fuckers steal shifters for a living. You can’t blame yourself for getting caught.” His gaze locked with Raider’s for a moment. “If they want to catch you, they’re going to catch you, right?”
Raider licked his lips nervously. Forest’s cat was at the surface, hungry and wanting something. His mind slipped back to that moment in the hallway when Leo and Forest were all over him before Michael broke it up. He’d done so good to block it out, fear and shame warring every time he remembered. With Forest’s scent washing over him now, it was easy to get lost in all the things he liked about it.
“The thing is, I was thinking how dumb we’re all kind of being right now,” Forest continued. “Like, suicidally dumb. We’re just waiting for them to come find us. They know we have a dragon. They might have even been able to scent Wylie and Master Theo. Those freaks are going to be looking for us hardcore. Wouldn’t it be way smarter if we found them first?”
Raider blinked in confusion as he tried to pull himself back to the moment and not the dark, sweaty place Forest’s sex scent was taking him. “Found them?”
Forest looked over his shoulder again with a wary look, then tilted his head at Raider’s room. “Can we talk?”
“Um…” Forest’s eyes looked particularly dangerous, full of heat and a dark storm of emotion just beneath the surface. Raider wasn’t sure just how smart it was to be alone with him at the moment. Not when Forest smelled like that. Not when his body was tingling at old memories.
“Do you want, like, five minutes to jerk off or something?” Forest’s lips twitched in a smirk.
Raider scowled as his face flushed red. “You’re not that hot, asshole,” he muttered defensively even as his body lit up.
Forest’s grin grew and he deliberately looked Raider over from head to toe. “You are, for real. But I’m seriously only here to figure out how to catch those fuckers. That’s it. I promise I’m not going to jump you the second I’m through the door.”
Raider inhaled deeply and tried to ignore the dizzy heat such an idea sent through him. Fucked up. He was seriously fucked up. He wasn’t interest in Forest in a romantic way, and he was pretty sure Forest would laugh his ass off if anyone suggested he liked Raider similarly. It was just scent, raw attraction. Really strong attraction that was suddenly far more interesting to focus on than the other things Forest was talking about.
Raider had no interest in running into those slavers again. At the same time, he didn’t want to make it easy for them to find the Academy either seeing as he had no other place to go. It was really just self preservation that made him open the door wide and step aside so Forest could come in. Definitely nothing to do with the heat pooling in his stomach every time he found Forest’s eyes lingered on him a little too long.
“I already told the masters everything I know.” Raider moved over to his bureau and placed his plate down. “If they don’t find them, I don’t know who really can.”
“Who says the masters are even looking for them?” Forest wandered across the room, his gaze fixed on Raider’s half-made bed. “I asked Bear, and he said they were talking to the cops. The fucking cops, like the police even give a fuck shifters are being stolen.”
Raider bit his lower lip nervously. He was pretty sure if the police cared about shifters being stolen, it was only because they were in on it and getting a cut. Sorcerers basically ruled every government that existed. If not blatantly, than from the shadows where the law refused to touch them. “You think we can do better?”
“I think we need to try.” Forest sighed and turned with his hand tangled in his messy hair. He looked tired and a little wild eyed. “There are two of us lying in the hospital and no one knows if they’re going to make it. I really don’t want to sit around waiting to be picked off one by one. Those guys are going to be looking for us and I don’t see anything that’s really going to stop them from getting in here once they do.”
Raider’s stomach clenched nervously. “What about all the magic and stuff? The wards? The Academy is protected against werewolves and stuff.”
“Yeah, and our resident werewolf is in a fucking coma,” Forest snapped back, only to sigh when he saw Raider’s expression. He glanced away and took a calming breath, his hands waving energetically. “Sorry, I’m not here to freak you the fuck out. I’m already freaked. It’s been two days and I know the masters aren’t going to do shit. They’re going to follow the rules, those slavers are going to have a chance to heal, and then they’re going to come back and murder everyone. And the ones they don’t murder, like you and me, they’re going to…”
“Stop,” Raider interrupted, his voice hoarse as his mind filled in the blanks with the worst possible scenarios. “I get it.”
“Sorry. I just… sorry.” Forest shoved his hands into his jeans pockets, his shoulders slouched. “I don’t even understand how you’re calm about this. I thought you’d be in here freaking out.”
Raider wasn’t fully sure why his raccoon hadn’t been freaking out about this particular line of thoughts. It was clearly stuff the creature would be quick to jump to. For some reason he just naturally trusted Michael was going to fix it all. After seeing power like Theodore and Vincent’s, it was hard to think anyone could break into the Academy and get to them. Raider was realizing Forest thought it though, and he’d been living there much longer. He knew way more about how things worked at the Academy than he did. “You really think they can get in here? Even with the masters?”
“It’s not something I want to fucking wait to find out about. That was a fucking demon; whoever owns him knows the kind of score he can get in this one place. I don’t feel good about it.” Forest gave him a curious look. “No offense, you’re just, you know, always worried. I kind of thought you’d want some company.”
“You were worried about me?” Raider glanced up from his study of his bare feet, his gaze full of surprise.
Forest shrugged, an awkward grin flashing on his face. “I’m not an alpha type; I don’t buy into that shit of anyone needing another to make life bearable. But your scent is for real, man. I knew you were a sub when I didn’t even know what a sub really was or if they actually existed. You’re hardwired a certain way, and because of it, I figured you might be extra nervous right now and, you know, I wanted to make sure you’re not.”
Heat flooded through Raider and he stopped his nervous spinning of his ring to stare at Forest more closely. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. You’re new, you’re having trouble fitting in, and lets face it, what happened would freak anyone out. If Leo were conscious, he’d be in a blind rage to get those fuckers before they can regroup and attack. It’s basic survival for an alpha. Kill before you can be killed.” Forest took a slow step toward him. “I hear that inner voice sometimes, and well, I guess I hear it a lot more around you. And, you know, maybe I thought it would be nice to see you again. Make sure you’re okay and, yeah…”
Raider felt flushed, his muscles tightening in anticipation the closer Forest stepped. “You, uh, you said you just wanted to talk.”
“We are just talking.” Forest tilted his head and met Raider’s eyes. “Right?”
Raider inhaled sharply as his mind quickly filled with too many ideas of what they could be doing if they weren’t talking. There had been more than a few things that happened in that hallway Raider thought about late at night. Things where when a dangerous, aggressive Leo wasn’t around seemed interesting enough to maybe explore. His mind very readily filled Michael in for that part but Raider could remember how Forest’s lips felt, the touch of his hands, slide of his tongue.
Raider closed his eyes a moment and tried to calm his suddenly strained breathing. “If you really want to, that is, uh, make sure I don’t freak out…”
Forest’s expression turned uncertain even as his gaze slid down Raider’s shoulders and chest. “I’m not an alpha. Sure, my leopard has his moments, but it’s not really our thing. I can’t really be that kind of guy for you.”
“I just…” Raider wasn’t even sure what he was saying. Everything was such a fucking mess and he really didn’t want to be alone. More than that, he didn’t want Forest to leave. “It’s my raccoon. He’s afraid of everything, thinks everyone wants to hurt him. After what happened, well, it’s really scary because now he knows there is at least one really powerful sorcerer out there who wants to hurt us. Right now I, that is, he, wants someone to make it all better. Someone to protect us,” Raider revealed hesitantly.
He couldn’t meet Forest’s eyes as the other stepped up until he was right in front of him. Forest understood enough that he was different, that he was whatever his cat knew a submissive to be, but Raider wasn’t sure if that was going to protect him from being mocked for the weakness that felt so fucking huge inside him. Just admitting what he wanted had tears stinging at his eyes and an emptiness welling in his heart that seemed impossible to fill. He wanted someone to take care of him, make everything better; someone who gave a fuck enough about him to want to do those things.
“Raider,” Forest’s voice was gentle and full of regret, “I was a total insect compared to that demon shifter. I couldn’t protect myself; I don’t think your raccoon is going to find me useful for protecting you.”
“No, that’s not…” Raider met Forest’s gaze hesitantly and was relieved to find no laughter. “No one can protect me; I get that. Leo was hurt and he’s an alpha. The other shifters barely made it out alive. The only ones strong enough to hold their own scare the fuck out of me,” he whispered roughly. “I know. I just want you to pretend. I just need someone to say they’re going to make sure I’m safe and then, and then kiss me really hard until I stop thinking I’m about to die. Can you, well, can you do that for me?”
Forest’s hand pressed up and his fingertips carefully touched to Raider’s arm. “Are you sure? You’re not confused because of my scent or anything, right?”
Raider fought a nervous laugh. “Yeah, I’m sure. I know it’s probably weird as fuck and all but I just don’t want to think anymore. I don’t want to be afraid and…” He fell silent, Forest’s lips suddenly on his. Raider held still, his breath coming out in a long sigh when Forest’s tongue slid against the seam of his lips and urged him to open.
“Like that?” Forest pulled away, taking in Raider’s wide, dark eyes.
Raider licked his tingling lips and nodded once. “Harder. I like when… oh. Fuck.” He groaned when Forest slammed him back against his bureau and the wood bit into his thighs. “Can you, uh, say you’re…?”
“I’ll protect you. No one is going to mess with you, Raider.” There was a sharpness to Forest’s gaze, something that sent a thrill through Raider to realize even if Forest might think it was a strange game, his cat didn’t. His inner leopard knew exactly what this was about and had no problem taking over. Forest’s fingers bit into the nape of his neck on his next kiss. He held him close as he drove his tongue into his mouth and drank down Raider’s moans.