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.
Raider felt decidedly self conscious with his ears out. He was used to blending in. Back home he looked about as tough as any predator type out there even if a real shifter could scent he was only a raccoon. Since getting the flu, blending in just wasn’t fucking allowed. He didn’t catch their names but Raider saw two boys he was pretty sure were sorcerers outright staring at his tail. When they noticed he was looking, they quickly turned away, but not before he heard a distinct chuckle. No, being fluffy was not a way to go unnoticed at the Academy.
At least his first class was void of sorcerers. Not necessarily of magic users, but that was something else he was trying to wrap his head around. Fox could do magic. Raider knew shifters were magic; there was no way to turn from a human into an animal without having magic in your damn body. Just, for some reason, it was really easy to ignore how being part magic probably meant you could do it too.
When he was growing up, it was really important to distinguish between the two. Sorcerers were assholes who once used the magic ingrained corpses of shifters for spells. It wasn’t something you wanted to get confused. No shifter would ever do something like that to their own. Maybe that was why it was so easy to dismiss how Raider’s own father revealed a level of magical ability even though Lucas fiercely spoke out against sorcerers his entire life. If his dad taught him one thing, sorcerers were to be trusted even less than predators.
Raider’s first class turned out to be with the instructor called Bear. Aptly named seeing as he was a bear shifter. On the walk down to the gym, Fox explained any time a new shifter joined the Academy, the next day was always a shifter focused class to help him adapt. Great in theory. Great for predators or anyone not him. Raider was stuck in a room with Wylie, the dragon shifter, who was glaring at him like he thought he was going to run off with his little brother, Dante. There was also Forest and Leo, who were still throwing him heated stares. While Forest at least had the decency to look guilty when their eyes met, Leo was shameless. He kept checking him out with a knowing grin that was really starting to get on his nerves. It was awkward and Bear was not blind to it.
The need to run was growing again. He was trapped in a strange gym that smelled of predators and stale blood.
“Raider, whenever we have a new shifter join the pack, we like to go around and describe what it is we’re here to work on.” All eyes were drawn to Bear, the large, barrel-chested man. He was dressed in loose shorts and a bright yellow florescent t-shirt even though the temperature was much colder in the gym than the rest of the Academy. “It helps us know how we can help you. And sometimes it can feel nice to see our problems aren’t so unique.”
Raider glared warily at the group of misfit shifters and wondered if there was an escape route. The gym was attached to the Academy and led out to the back of the yard. Windows spanned both long walls and let in the morning light. The gym was twice the size of the lounge, but instead of couches and tables, half the space was empty. The other half, well, Raider wasn’t sure what all the strange equipment was for. He recognized some things like the power rack, weight bench and free style weights. As for the other structures made of wood, rope, netting, and steel, well, if he were in his raccoon form, it might look a bit like a jungle gym just for the furry guy. Either that or something to torture him with.
He wasn’t bold enough to actually go near any of the equipment, not when it reeked from the sweat of flesh eaters. He wished he was though because then it would mean he wasn’t sitting in the large circle made up of predators on the side of the gym void of furniture. Even with all the natural light and large exits, Raider felt trapped. If he tried to make a run for either door, he knew he would be hunted down in an instant.
“Raider?” Bear prodded when he refused to speak.
Raider’s eyes fixed on the tall man, his dark eyes reflecting only suspicion. There was no way in fuck any of the predators had the same problem as him. Actually, he was pretty sure they would laugh their asses off the moment they heard his problem. Fuck that. Seriously, fuck all of this.
He hunched forward in his cross legged position on the floor and refused to speak. Instead he stared determinedly at his hands where he was spinning one of his silver rings. It was habit at this point, a way to deal with the damn near constant anxiety buzzing through him. His hands would never be still as long as he was in this place.
Undeterred, Bear turned to the other patients. “Did anyone want to go first?” His gaze lingered on Justin, who raised his hand. Raider glanced to where he was sitting and couldn’t help but notice just how tired he seemed after the full moon. Justin flashed him a small smile and Raider quickly went back to staring at his twisting fingers. His mind spun again on just what kind of insult the werewolf meant by calling him submissive.
Justin combed fingers through his light brown hair while muffling a yawn. He wasn’t the only tired looking one out of the group but there was a wilting to his features, like whatever happened the night before lingered on a level deep within. “I’m Justin Young, in case you forgot my name already.” His normally soft voice was rough and lower than yesterday. “I have a few goals that I’m working on lately, but the biggest one—and I’m always going to have this goal—is to never curse anyone like I was cursed.”
Meeting his tired eyes, Raider spoke without thinking. “How were you cursed?”
“Oh… um.” Justin blinked rapidly in surprise and shifted in his seat on the floor. “Well, I don’t really…”
Leo growled in warning. Raider started from the sound, then froze when the large lion shifter leaned forward. “He doesn’t have to answer that if he doesn’t want to.”
Raider nodded mutely and tried to swallow down his unease. “S-Sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“It’s fine,” Justin spoke up, a weak smile on his lips. “I just don’t like to talk about it much. It wasn’t a fun experience and let’s leave it at that.”
“Right.” Raider bit his bottom lip and dared a glance toward Leo, who was glowering back. Fuck. “I shouldn’t have… Uh, sorry,” he finished awkwardly. Werewolves were changed by other werewolves on the full moon and they weren’t intentional about it. Usually they were trying to kill a person and the survivor—if they survived—was cursed after. Seeing as Justin looked younger than him, he might have been small when he was bitten. It was probably terrifying.
“Really, it’s okay.” Justin sat up straight and forced his smile brighter. “So, being a werewolf, I don’t change into a wolf much. But about as much as you shifters turn into animals and get to live that life, the wolf inside of me wants to take me over and, well, act like a wolf. Except I still look just like me and, um, sometimes I’m a total asshole.” He paused and sighed. “So, if I say shit, I’m really sorry. You really won’t see it coming. I don’t see it coming. It’s like bad mood swings and… yeah.” He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “I’m working on it.”
Forest, whose eyes were slightly dazed from what looked like a growing fever, leaned sideways and draped his arm over Justin’s shoulder. He smiled encouragingly. “He’s doing a great job. Justin’s slips have gone from an average of ten minutes of crazy wolf down to five. That’s huge. Being able to stop and find control when you’re inner animal takes over can be really hard.”
Leo grunted in agreement. His golden eyes narrowed as he stared at the ground.
“Thank you, Justin.” Bear sent him a broad smile. “Who would like to go next? Wylie, you were new just a couple of months back. Would you like to share what your goals are while you’ve been here?”
“Sure.” Wylie leaned back on his arms and looked Raider’s way. His ice blue eyes pierced into him like a blade. There was too much in his gaze for Raider to feel comfortable with Wylie Doe. It wasn’t the dragon, it wasn’t the anger over his brother; no there was something familiar and it immediately set him on high alert.
“When I first came here, my biggest goal was… Well, I thought,” Wylie stressed with a sheepish smile, “Was to find a way to fix my transformation. But now I know my real goal is to let my dragon out the way it needs to be let out. I’m sharing my body with an entity who has needs and wants different from me, and if I don’t respect that, everything goes kind of crazy. So my goals lately are to figure out what my dragon needs.”
“Is is Dorian?” Fox’s eyes glittered with his special brand of wickedness. “I’m going to say he needs Dorian.”
Wylie grinned unashamedly and shrugged his shoulders. “Uh, let’s just say my dragon would like to figure out how to use its magic properly. And sometimes he’s very insistent on chasing after this one awesome, sparking guy.”
Raider didn’t get the joke. He was too busy flinching at the word sparking. It sounded too much like sparkling, the problem which landed him there in the first place.
“Well, there is something to be said for constant exercise,” Bear said wryly and a chuckle rippled through the group. “Fox, your progress has been equally impressive. Did you want to share the new goals you’ve started just this month? Or maybe you could go over the ones you’ve just reached.”
Raider’s head swiveled up from his study of his hands and his sought out his short friend. He was desperate to know just what the fuck trapped Fox in the Academy for a whole year.
Fox’s easy smile slipped away when he found him looking at him. “Sure. I’ll go after Raider.” His orange eyes glinted challenging.
Raider glared and looked away. Fuck him. There was no way he was telling anyone his problems.
Bear’s expression reflected surprise as he looked from Fox to Raider in silence for a beat. “Alright. As you all know, no one is obligated to share anything they don’t feel comfortable sharing. This group is a no judgment zone. Raider, would you like to go next?”
“I’m good,” Raider muttered. He twisted one of his rings roughly, and refused to meet Bear’s inquiring stare.
His lips set in a grim line and Bear again turned to Fox. Fox was still glaring at Raider and looked far from remorseful. “Raider, I just want you to understand this is a safe place,” Bear reminded carefully. “You’re among your pack. Even though we’re all new to you, we have a strict code to keep each other’s secrets. No one would dare share your information outside of this room.”
“Not unless they want to go through me,” Leo said with a growl. “Stop being a wuss and spill, already. You can’t get help if you don’t tell us what’s wrong.”
Bear nodded. “That’s very true, Leo, but it’s up to Raider to decide if he wants our help. We’re not here to pressure anyone. We have this group three times a week. Sometimes more when the weather is bad and everyone is stir crazy. If Raider, or anyone, doesn’t want to share today, we’ll be here if he changes his mind.”
Raider’s defiance grew, and he gritted his teeth and hunched forward more. He wasn’t going to be staying that fucking long. All he needed to do was get over the fence and as far away from the Academy as possible. It wasn’t like anyone actually gave a fuck. He was sitting in a circle full of shifters but he was still alone. Even Fox, his best friend of forever, lied to him for over a fucking year. Fox was just another predator among his predator friends. Not just that, but predators who thought it was okay to use magic. Shifters who were just a spell away from being as terrible as sorcerers.
“Leo, would you like to go next?” Bear asked to divert attention from Raider, who was growing tenser as the seconds ticked by.
Leo grunted and sat up straight. “Actually, yeah. I know how important it is to talk about this stuff no matter how much it sucks.”
The dig was clear and Raider glared his way. Only to quickly look down at his hands when he found Leo staring right back. There wasn’t necessarily malice in his expression but the challenge was distinct. The idea of fighting Leo frightened him to the core.
“So it’s that crappy time of year where my body goes all out of whack,” Leo grumbled flatly, clearly not a hundred percent comfortable with the topic of conversation. “It’s been real shitty. My lion’s really, well, loud.” A low growl rumbled through the large shifter when he turned his head toward Wylie, who raised a pale eyebrow in return. “Horny,” Leo snapped bluntly. “Really fucking horny. Doe, could you stop boning your boyfriend in the dorms all the fucking time? You’re making life fucking difficult.”
“Is that a serious request?” Wylie’s bewilderment didn’t last long. “You know that’s not going happen. Even if I wanted to—which there is no way in fuck I want to, just so we’re clear—Dorian would have a lot to say about it. This is not a one man show.”
Leo huffed loudly and his golden eyes narrowed to slits. “Can’t you kill the sound or some shit? Do something about the scent. The smell is fucking insane.”
“It really is,” Forest spoke up. He tousled his dark hair from his face. “It’s fucking hell listening to you two, never mind smelling it. Shit, I need to get laid.”
Wylie tilted his head and his gaze slipped between the two feline shifters. “I think you two might be the answer to your problem.”
Forest groaned in protest even as Leo snarled, “It doesn’t work that way, dragon boy. Just have some fucking consideration until this heat passes!”
Wylie rolled his eyes. He stretched his legs out in front of him, his torn jeans revealing flashes of his pale flesh beneath. Raider could sense the tension in him but Wylie kept from retorting. Instead, he took a breath in before finally answering. “I’ll mention it to Ri. Just don’t assume anything will happen from it. He’s pretty damn happy the way things are, and so am I.”
It was Fox’s turn to huff, seeing as he was the one always in need of place to sleep with Wylie hooking up in their room so much. Raider watched the silent exchange between the two and wondered if Fox had said anything to Wylie. Give the surprised look on the dragon shifter’s face, it was probably a no.
Raider kept his mouth shut. Sure, the scent of sex was very overwhelming all around, but so far, the consequences were positive for him. He secretly hoped Fox would find himself in his room and in his bed most every night. Not that he was staying… Was he?
An idea flitted into Raider’s mind. It was so brilliant, so dangerous, he couldn’t fully trust it.
Could he convince Fox to run away with him? That would be the ultimate answer. He could get the fuck away from the crazy ass shifters and have his best friend with him. Even if he couldn’t protect himself in this strange part of the country, Fox would be able to. When they were younger, Fox always protected him. Fox would make running away safe. Fun, even. It could just be the two of them.
“Bear, can we start, already?” Forest’s voice was full of agitation. “I really need to, like, work off this energy.”
“In a moment.” Bear looked around the room and his eyes fell on Raider again. “I think it’s important, seeing as Raider is the first of his type to be in our pack, to explain what we do for exercise and play when we let our inner animals out.”
“I’m not shifting,” Raider said before Bear even finished. “As long as I’m in this Academy, it’s not happening.”
Once again, all eyes were on him. This time, when Raider dared to peek up, he was met with an array of closed expression. All but Leo, who looked plain pissed off. Whatever. Fuck them. There was no way he was going to transform and be a fucking meal to a goddamn pack of flesh eating predators.
“Guys, how about you all get started?” Bear suggested before the silence could stretch on too long. “Justin, Wylie, and I can go over all the things we do for exercise when we’re not in a full shift. Raider.” He crouched down as the others jumped up and shifted into their animal forms. “Would you mind staying late after class is over? I think it would be a good idea if you understood just a little more about what this shifter pack is all about.”
Raider shrugged noncommittally. He knew by the tone of Bear’s voice, it wasn’t an actual request. “I don’t need to exercise. I work out all the time.” The scent of predators was hitting him hard and his raccoon started to tremble inside. It demanded he run from the room as fast as possible before something ate him. It was all Raider could do not to tremble on the outside too.
“Of course.” Bear stood and his eyes fell to where Justin was looking at Raider with a pitying expression on his face. “Still, we’re all going to be here for a couple of hours. You can help me keep score for the guys. We play some fun games in this class.”
Raider’s face twisted in disbelief. He dared a glance to where Bear was towering above his seated form. To the side he found Wylie watching him, his ice blue eyes studying in a way that left him uncomfortable. Raider didn’t want to be seen. He stood just to feel less small and weak compared to the others.
Behind him he could feel them moving. His senses were on high alert to every noise, movement, and sound of the giant, deadly predators. He was in a room with that black maned lion. There was no glass, no space, no nothing between him and the lion he spied on the Academy grounds yesterday. Leo would be taller in the same room. His teeth would be as large as his hand… arms, if he was furry…
Raider’s heart pounded in his chest. His breath came out in quick bursts like he just ran a mile. Bear’s gaze sharpened at the change, and he looked about to say something. Wylie beat him to it. With determined steps, Wylie walked over and moved in front of Raider until he was standing inches from his face.
Raider scowled and met the dragon shifter’s unnaturally pale eyes, waiting for the taunt, the laugh at his fear. But Wylie just stood there and looked impossibly calm, impossibly steady. Raider glanced away nervously but found his attention pulled back. He couldn’t figure out just why the fuck he was standing there staring at him.
Wylie was on of the shifters who smelled like magic. Raider wasn’t sure if it was because the dragon Wylie housed held magic or because he was screwing a sorcerer with more than enough power to spare. The scent was distracting, as was the scent of sex coming off of him Raider recognized from just about every damn room of the Academy he’d been in so far. Wylie was just as tall as him, with a similar muscular build. But Raider was well aware if the dragon shifter actually did try to fight him, Wylie would be able to snap his bones in half like toothpicks.
Which again raised the question, why the fuck was he staring at him?
If Raider noticed he wasn’t terrified of the animals behind him, it was only because Wylie Doe was annoying as fuck and totally in his face for no reason.
“Bear, can we walk around the grounds?” Wylie finally spoke. His eyes never left Raider’s suspicion filled orbs. “I think Justin is to tired for our normal games today.”
“Oh, can we?” Justin’s face lit up as he turned to Bear. “I’d love some fresh air.”
“Sure. Let me just inform the others.” Bear paused to look at the way Raider was glaring at Wylie. “I’ll meet you three outside.”
Wylie took a step back, then another. He turned like nothing was different, like he wasn’t a total fucking weirdo. Raider scowled even while relief filled him to finally be free from that unnerving stare. Asshole. What a fucking asshole. And now he had to go outside in the cold without a jacket, or sweatshirt, or anything just because Wylie wanted to go for a walk? Fucking bullshit.
As if reading his thoughts, Wylie stopped short. Raider scrambled back to keep from knocking into him. Wylie unzipped his dark hoodie, pulled the material from his shoulders and held it loosely in his hand. “Here, you look like you’re freezing your ass off.”
Raider stared suspiciously at the sweatshirt and then the hand holding it. “I’m fine,” he grunted. Whatever Doe’s game was, he wasn’t fucking falling for it.
Wylie licked his teeth in thought, then shook his head. He turned and walked toward the exit while shrugging back into the sweatshirt. Justin matched his step, his head raised to look up at Wylie as he talked excitedly. Raider considered staying where it was warm, but the sound of something large—van sized large—hitting something wooden slammed behind him. The noise echoed in the gym, followed by a tearing sound and something splintering. Raider’s entire body stiffened in alarm. He refused to look behind him at the carnage occurring, and forced his feet forward. He willed himself not to run even though it was all he could think of. He wanted to run, keep running, get over the fucking fence, and never look back.
It was a little after ten when they were found. Fox expected Dr. Rob, seeing as he was only a room away, but it ended up being Michael. The blond demi-god of a sorcerer raised an eyebrow when he pushed the door open to find the two in the healer’s office. Fox ignored the questioning look, not really in the mood to address any of the crushing disappointment he felt that night.
He followed behind Michael while Vincent walked side by side with the instructor, if not a bit sleepily. Vincent was rumpled from his impromptu nap and Fox hated the part of him that couldn’t stop staring, couldn’t stop wanting.
Michael dropped the two of them off in the lounge. Although the Academy was locked down to make sure if Justin got loose in his werewolf form, he didn’t infect them all with the magical virus, the dorm rooms and the shared lounge they connected to were open to let the occupants move from room to room if they wanted. The lounge itself was still warded from the rest of the Academy, as were all the external windows. Still, it could have passed for any other night if not for the fact most everyone was still awake and roaming.
It was the first day of another new patient and no one ever slept. Raider ending up visiting the hospital his first night was probably going to be the talk of the evening.
Vincent didn’t even give him a glance before he disappeared into his dorm room. Fox tried not to feel hurt but everything fucking hurt at this point. He approached his own room tiredly, and growled before he even reached the shut door. On the other side, he could hear the sounds of his roommate Wylie once again fucking the energy out of his boyfriend.
Normally it wouldn’t have bothered him. The two were going at it like crazy the last month and Fox thought he’d grown used to it. Except now he didn’t have a room to sleep in and all he wanted to do was curl up into a ball and feel miserable in peace. Miserable and horny apparently.
Fox pushed himself away from the door and licked his still tingling lips. He kissed Vince. Sure, he totally didn’t reacted, but still, he kissed him. He should have gone for it and stolen another before he run. It would have been worth it. Being so close to his Vince, smelling his skin, hearing the way he breathed against his lips…
It was worth it.
Fox turned towards Will and Christopher’s room. With the lounge empty, it was the logical place to find his friends. Dante was already curled up on Will’s bed, his small arm wrapped around the elf’s waist as he slept. Christopher had a heavy look to his red eyes as he rested against his headboard and conversation swirled around him. Fox knew that look, fairly certain the incubus was absorbing energy while his oblivious prey looked on.
Even this place, so welcoming to everyone, was void of sorcerers. There was a tree growing in the middle of the room from Will’s halfling power which ran amok one night. Everyone loved to see it and yet, he was pretty sure he never saw a sorcerer in there. Will and Christopher were welcoming to everyone, but the sorcerers just kept to themselves. Even Dorian, who was dating a shifter, seemed completely apathetic to the idea of hanging out with his boyfriend’s pack.
How could Vincent even try to make friends when it was just assumed sorcerers kept to themselves? It wasn’t like they had actively kept the sorcerers away but when he tried to imagine Vincent or Antonio or Jake coming in to visit, Fox couldn’t see it as anything but awkward.
Forest and Raider were perched on Chris’s bed and talking about werewolves when Fox stepped through the open door. Raider jumped up on seeing him, his dark eyes still a little dazed from his lingering fever. The cute raccoon ears, markings, and fluffy tail made Raider more adorable after Fox’s difficult evening.
“Hey, I thought you might be werewolf food.”
“Ha, not likely.” Fox forced a weak grin. He wasn’t blind to the fact that on seeing him, Raider’s scent completely changed. His friend’s eyes lingered too long on his form and burned with a heated interest only an idiot would miss. And maybe he was a total idiot. Vincent was so completely indifferent, it was like he didn’t even exist. He might as well have been kissing air. Just what the fuck did he waste these last months on?
“I was trying to explain that there was no way Justin could’ve hurt you,” Forest broke in, his own gaze full of a question he wasn’t willing to speak in front of the others. Fox was grateful for it; he was done thinking about Vincent Frost. He was a fucking idiot for having liked him so long and he was fucking done chasing after someone who couldn’t return any feelings for him.
Fox stepped slowly into the room and took the seat Will offered. He was careful not to wake Dante. “Even if we weren’t in lock down, werewolves are shit at climbing,” Fox explained. He peered up through his bangs to find Raider staring down at him and none too subtly checking him out. Because that was what someone did when they liked you. They didn’t bitch at you all the time, didn’t talk down to you and threaten to hex you just because you talked a lot. No, they liked when you talked.
Fuck, he hated his life. Fox reached in his back pocket, took out his bandanna, and tied it back onto his head to cover up his weird, gray hair. Shadow fox. If he only knew what he was hiding all this time, he might have shaved his head instead. Raider came over to tell him some joke about what he thought when he first saw Leo outside. Fox’s smile was a shadow of its normal brightness but he nodded dully and pretended to give a fuck. It was easier than thinking how stupid he was.
Vincent didn’t say no because he was fucked in the head and couldn’t feel shit. He said they couldn’t date because Fox was a shifter. He didn’t want to be the person he used to be when around shifters or some nonsense like that. Fox could never not be a shifter and he didn’t want to not be one. He liked who he was. Fuck, he wasn’t perfect but he liked who he was. He just couldn’t understand why Vince couldn’t like him. He spent so much fucking time trying to convince himself and his friends Vincent was worth a chance only to be shut down over being a shifter.
“Dude, are you okay?” Raider’s hand was cool as it pressed to Fox’s forehead.
Fox blinked up at him, taking in the cute pointed ears topping Raider’s head and the black surrounding his eyes like a dark mask. He wasn’t into Raider, he really only saw him as a friend, but now he wondered if that was just another foolish thing on his part. He wasted his emotions on a guy who was never going to return them, and when it came to someone who clearly cared for him, he closed his heart off.
“I think you might have caught my flu.” Raider peered down into Fox’s guarded face. “I’ve never known you to be so quiet, man. You must be sick.”
Ha. If lovesick was a thing, Fox was sure he was that.
With eyes squeezed shut, Vincent silently counted to ten. There was no escape. He tried to gain a few scant moments of peace to figure out what was wrong in his head. The lounge was always so busy and with Dorian inviting his boyfriend over to their shared dorm all the time, Vincent really needed a place alone to think. Dr. Rob said he could stay as long as he needed. Yet somehow, here was Fox, again, determined to steal even this quiet moment away.
Vincent opened his eyes and fixed the short shifter with what he hoped was an icy look. He didn’t have it in him to be angry. He was tired. Exhausted, really. There was an odd look to Fox he wasn’t expecting either. Fox looked determined and for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out just why that look was directed at him. Then again, maybe Fox was expecting Dr. Rob to answer?
“What?” Vincent asked when Fox continued to stare at him with that strange light in his orange eyes. “Dr. Rob’s not here and he said no one has a session after me.” There was no way he was giving up the first quiet spot he found at the Academy.
“Are you okay?” Fox stepped forward and Vincent blinked at him in confusion.
“Are you okay?” Fox repeated patiently. “Did Raider hurt you when he knocked into you? You seemed really freaked out.”
Vincent looked at him suspiciously. Was he really supposed to believe Fox was there just to see how he was? “I’m fine,” he finally answered. Maybe that would be the end of it.
Fox swayed from one foot to the other, only to take another step forward. Vincent held his ground even though Fox was now inches away and looked like he wanted to say something deathly important. “Vince, for real. Are you okay? If you need to be alone, I can leave. I want to talk to you, but I don’t want to upset you.”
Vincent had no idea how to respond. It definitely looked like Fox. Well, except his normal yellow bandanna wasn’t on his head. Still, he sure as hell wasn’t acting like Fox. He was pretty sure Fox’s life goal was to annoy the fuck out of him until one of them ended up dead.
His curiosity was caught. Vincent glanced out the door but the hallway was empty. Whatever this was, there was no pack of shifters waiting to laugh about it later. Still wary, Vincent pushed the door open wider and stepped aside so Fox could enter. “What do you care if I’m upset?”
Fox grinned weakly and something dark flashed in his eyes. “You think I can’t care about things? You freaked out, man. Really bad. No one should have to feel that way. I wanted to check up on you but…”
“Don’t ever come near me when I’m like that,” Vincent interrupted sharply. “I’m not safe to be around. I could have really hurt someone.” He didn’t want to think about just how easy it would have been. But it would have. If he kept falling into these fucked up moments, he could end up really hurting someone. Even killing.
The realization filled him with a sense of dread. Vincent crossed back to his previous seat, perched down on the couch and tried to blank his mind.
Fox followed after and edged his way to where he was sitting. He shoved his hands in his pockets while looking down at Vincent’s bowed head of silky blue-black hair. “Dude, what happened back there? You looked so scared.”
His gaze fixed on the floor, Vincent shrugged noncommittally. “Nothing happened… Well. Not recently, anyways.” He glanced briefly up, confused to find Fox actually focused on him. Fox’s expression demanded details and for some reason, Vincent felt compelled to speak. “Dr. Rob says it has to do with repressed memories or something. Nothing actually happened so you shouldn’t waste your time worrying about me.”
“What? Wondering if you’re okay is not a waste,” Fox retorted with a fluster.
His brows furrowed in confusion, Vincent watched as Fox swallowed when their eyes met. Just what the hell did the damn idiot want from him? Why he was there, asking him about shit he didn’t want to talk about and looking like, well, like he gave a fuck?
“Seriously, Raphael, what are you doing here?” Vincent asked curtly. “If you’re worried I’m going to hurt your friend, I’m not. I’m not angry at him. I was just triggered.”
“I didn’t think… well, I…” Fox scuffed his sneaker on the carpet with a sigh. “I wanted to check up on you, for one.”
Yeah, Vincent figured that out and he was still pretty sure it was bullshit. “And two?” He asked bluntly, hoping if Fox got to the point he’d leave already.
Of course, Fox wasn’t willing to answer in a straight forward way. That would have been easy. No, he just sighed and started pacing. Pacing that quickly got on Vincent’s nerves. “Zorro, why the…?”
“How much do you hate me, Vince?” Fox asked abruptly. He turned from his spot by Dr. Rob’s collection of miniature potted plants by the window.
Vincent let out a sigh of frustration. “Try asking again when using my actual name and it might be a lot less, Zorro.” He stressed the stupid nickname he made up for Fox in retaliation. Of course, his wit was wasted. Fox just grinned like it was all some big joke. Today it felt extra annoying.
“Why do you get so worked up over such a little thing?” Fox asked, curiosity plain in his voice. “It’s just a nickname.”
Vincent tensed while doing everything in his power not to think of the last person who called him by that particular name. “What the hell do you want? Just get to it and leave already.”
Fox’s grin slipped away and his shoulders hunched. “For real? I’m not sure.” He looked away and roughly combed fingers through his hair while he thought. Vincent watched the move silently, a part of him wondering if Fox’s hair would feel normal, or stiff like that of an actual fox. It had a quality to it that made him think of would be a combination of both.
“I wanted to talk to you,” Fox muttered, still fishing for what to say. “I wanted to figure out if… Hell, I don’t know. If we could get along, I guess. We fight a lot, you know.”
Vincent pursed his lips at the more than obvious observation. “I’m aware.”
Fox turned his way at the sarcastic tone, his gaze narrowed. “Yeah, well maybe I don’t want to fight with you anymore.”
Vincent started. He fought the sudden, overwhelming urge to throw something. Instead he clenched his hands into fists, rested them on his thighs and turned his head determinedly in any direction not facing the annoying shifter. “Fine.”
What the fuck was Fox’s deal, seriously? He was just going to come in there, ask how he was, and say he didn’t want to fight anymore? What the fuck? It wasn’t like he wanted to fight with Fox all the time. Fox was just always in the way and being an ass. But if they weren’t fighting…
“Vince? Hey, are you okay?”
Vincent jolted. Fox had knelt in front of him while he was lost in thought. He met his strange eyes and his anger fizzed out. “If you don’t want to fight, why do you keep calling me that?”
“Eh, I forget, I guess. And I think it suits you a bit,” Fox offered after a moment. “Vincent is so stuffy and formal. Why are you so sad all of a sudden?”
Vincent scowled. “I’m not.”
“The moment I said I didn’t want to fight anymore, you got really sad. You know I can smell emotions, right? Most shifters can.”
“I…” Vincent bit his lip and looked away from his compassion filled gaze. He wasn’t used to that particular look directed at him and it made him extremely uncomfortable in his own skin. “I’m not sad. It would be stupid to be sad about such a thing. You’re just being annoying again.”
Even as Vincent spoke, he thought maybe he was a little sad under his anger. Fox was the only one who talked to him. If they weren’t fighting all the time, then it meant Fox wasn’t talking to him. There was no way he could speak and not be annoying as fuck, so really, Fox would just have to stop talking. It was the only thing that made sense. Fox would never not be annoying.
“Uhh… You okay, Vince?” Fox prodded when Vincent zoned out once again. Vincent took a steadying breath as the damn nickname again fell from his lips.
It was impossible for Fox to not be annoying.
Ready to voice this particular thought to the idiot who was kneeling far too close in his personal space, Vincent snapped his mouth shut when a wave of magic swept over the Academy. He stood up with a jerk and Fox stumbled back so he wouldn’t be stepped on. Vincent barely noticed, too busy staring at the door where before his eyes the security wards triggered and rainbow light flashed for a moment over the gap where the door was ajar.
“Fuck, it’s not even eight,” Vincent swore softly.
Fox stood up straight and turned. His hand ruffled up his short, silver locks nervously when he saw the wards were up. “Yeah, I guess Justin had a tough day.”
Vincent crossed the room and touched his hand to the seemingly accessible doorway. Magic pushed back. It was an impenetrable boundary unseen even though it was felt. It was one of the highest level spells to keep them protected from the cursed werewolves and was installed by Michael. There would be no getting through. His frown grew and Vincent glared sideways at Fox who hadn’t moved from his spot by the couch. “Why aren’t you upset? We have to spend all fucking night in here now.”
Fox looked away sheepishly and shrugged unconcernedly. Vincent’s suspicions grew.
“Not necessarily,” Fox said softly. “I think Dr. Rob is in the hospital. When he walks by and sees us, he can, you know, take the wards down and escort us back to our rooms. I’ve been stuck out of room for lock down before.” He dared a glance at Vincent. “It’s kinda cool to not be out here alone, actually.”
Vincent bit back an annoyed retort and didn’t answer. Fox was again being annoying as fuck. Pretending he wasn’t just as upset seemed a low blow considering just how much shit Vincent was always dealing with when it came to the shifter. Being alone was definitely preferred.
“Err… you want to talk about something?” Fox sat down with a plop in Dr. Rob’s chair, his knees spread as he kicked his sneakered feet nervously.
Vincent fixed his gaze on one of the paintings on the wall he was pretty sure was the ocean and let the colors blur before his eyes. He wasn’t good at talking about things. Especially things that weren’t actually things, which small talk seemed to be comprised of. “With you?”
“Ouch,” Fox muttered, only to paste on a smile when Vincent glanced his way. “Yeah, with me. We can talk about how you hate me, if you want. Or maybe why you freaked out today.” Fox’s grin turned sassy and his eyes sparkled mischief. “Hey, I could pretend to be your doctor, Vince.”
“Vincent,” he reminded with a huff. Zorro would make a terrible doctor of any kind. You had to listen first. You had to not blow people up all the fucking time. He glared at the painting and wondered what it would feel like to disappear into an ocean. Maybe then he could find some peace. Although, Fox could probably fund an entire practice of doctors with all the accidents he caused…
“I could teach you how to not suck so much at magic,” Vincent offered offhandedly even though he knew Fox would never agree.
“Okay, sure,” Fox piped up.
“What?” Vincent turned from the painting to stare at Fox incredulously. He had to be fucking with him. Fox was always fucking with him. All shifters were against learning magic. It was like their underlying code. They would do anything to show they were different from the sorcerers who hunted them down like animals, including refusing to use the power they were born with.
Fox tilted his head and met Vincent’s confused gaze with another fanged smirk. “Come on then, teach me magic.”
Vincent made his way over to the couch while staring at Fox warily. Somehow, this felt like a trap. Not once had he ever known a shifter to actually want to learn magic from a sorcerer. That they dared to learn Body Magic at the Academy was a big deal and he was pretty sure they only agreed to that because a dragon shifter taught the class. “Why?” He asked, suspicion clear in his voice.
Fox’s eyebrows furrowed. “Duh, because you offered.”
Weird. Really fucking weird. His gaze narrowed, Vincent slowly sat down in his previous seat on the couch. “To be clear, this is to keep you from blowing stuff up. I don’t want you using this as an excuse to blow me now.”
A grin split across Fox’s face a second before he ducked his head and barked in laughter. Vincent glared, not sure what was so funny, but pretty certain he was going to be annoyed by it.
“You sure you don’t want me to blow you, Vince?” Fox got out between loud laughs.
“Vincent!” He glared at the chuckling idiot. “So help me, Zorro, if me teaching you magic ends up with me exploding—again—I’m going to make you regret it.”
Fox shook in silent laughter. He held his hands up even as he struggled to breathe. “Sorry… I’ll be good—Ha!”
His scowl grew grimmer. Vincent huffed and sat back in his seat. When Fox’s eyes sparkled like that, it was extra annoying. Rafael was always going to be damn annoying. He should have run. The second he saw Fox in the doorway, he should have made a break for it like any sane, intelligent person would do. Vincent still wasn’t sure why he let him in but he definitely regretted the foolish decision.
Raider was reeling. Will was a elf. Fine, a half human, half elf, but still a fucking elf. Raider only ever heard of paranormals like that in stories, and Will was just… well, there. Raider didn’t really understand why Will and Chris were at the Academy. The two of them seemed perfectly fine. Christopher was a demon—incubus to be more specific—and was on the same level of strange foreignness that just didn’t really belong in the normal world.
Yeah, but he was a guy who turned into a raccoon. Raider got the irony through the dull buzz which was now a painful throb in his head. He was ready to sleep. Sleep and hope the world he woke up to wasn’t as weird as it seemed at the moment. It wasn’t even nightfall and he was ready to drop. Something Raider was trying really hard to hide while surrounded by a bunch of predatory shifters and deadly sorcerers at every turn.
Some days living with a terrified raccoon inside was exhausting.
“So, yeah, that’s the only room with a tree in it, but we still have some really cool rooms here.” Fox didn’t seem to notice Raider was tired as he pulled him from the dorm to the lounge. Justin was walking with them. It was getting closer to moon time and Justin grew more anxious each time he glanced at his watch. Raider wasn’t sure exactly what werewolves went through but given Justin’s expression, it didn’t seem pleasant. Still, it didn’t keep the werewolf from bursting out laughing at Fox’s jokes.
Raider was actually growing to like the strange new pack he found himself in. Well, most of them.
Forest and Leo were playing some sort of board-game in the lounge. Raider bit his lip when both cat shifters turned their heated gazes towards him the moment he was pulled into view. Fox growled warningly at the two of them and held Raider’s arm tighter. Forest flashed him a chagrin smile that didn’t quite dull the hunger in his eyes. Leo only huffed, not about to apologize for anything. Raider was half afraid Leo would punch him just to feel him up at this point. Leo seemed like the kind of guy who would beat the fuck out of someone he wanted to screw.
“Seriously, just give them a little space to cool off.” Fox’s voice was calm but his glare didn’t move from Leo and Forest. Raider was pretty sure there wasn’t a lake big enough to be able to contain the levels of horny the two cat shifters were saturating the air with. He opened his mouth to say as much, but was cut off when a door slammed behind them. Raider jumped and turned at the sudden noise to find a white-haired, ice-eyed young man with fangs and black claws longer than his hand snarling in one of the doorways. He stalked out of the dorm and headed straight for Raider.
“Did you fucking kiss my little brother!” Wylie snarled and pointed his claws right at Raider’s face.
A nervous rumble went through the room and the other shifters fell quiet behind them. “Wylie, man, it wasn’t…” Fox snapped his mouth shut when Wylie turned his angry glare at him.
Raider gaped, unable to speak in the face of the stranger’s rage. His silence only infuriated Wylie more. Wylie’s expression turned into a glower and he stood taller. Black scales peppered up his arms and tore through his shirt, razor sharp and deadly. Raider stared in shock. He was face to face with an actual dragon shifter and seconds from being burned to toast.
Even Fox was nervous as he edged his way between Wylie and Raider. He grinned awkwardly up at his roommate. Wylie was usually really easy going but he was just so protective of Dante sometimes. “Wy, seriously…”
Leo suddenly stood from his seat and bellowed from across the lounge. “Chill the fuck out, Doe! It’s not like it was the kid’s first kiss in the last 500 years.”
Wylie blinked and his expression went blank as Leo’s words sank in. He turned to where Dante was leaning in the doorway he came through. “D?”
Dante shrugged unconcernedly. “He was good enough.”
Wylie narrowed his eyes and cricked his neck. His nostril’s flared as he fixed his gaze back on Raider and pointed a deadly claw inches from his nose. The threat was plain but Wylie felt the need to vocalize it as well. “Try it again and I’m going to fuck you up, dumb-ass. No one touches my brother.”
With a final growl, Wylie turned and stalked back to the room he came from. Dante followed after him like a lost puppy. Dorian could be seen sitting on his bed, fully dressed and reading a magazine in his lap. He rolled his eyes when Wylie stomped in. The door slammed and cut the three off from view of the lounge.
Raider slumped in relief. He covered his face with his hands as the tension drained slowly from his body. Holy fuck, he thought he was going to die. He peaked an eye open through his fingers and found Fox laughing like a loon.
“Oh my god, I thought he was going to kill you!” Fox howled. He nearly fell to the floor and grabbed onto the wall for balance.
“So did I, you jackass! Stop getting me in trouble with the fucking dragon!” Raider snarled, his voice cracking in fear. He thought finding Fox at the Academy meant he found an ally. Now he wondered just how quickly it would take for his old friend to get him killed.
It would be quick. Fox didn’t have patience for anything.
“Sorry, sorry,” Fox gasped out between bursts of laughter. He didn’t sound remotely sorry. Fox forced himself to calm. He held his stomach, which started aching from all his laughing, straightened, and eventually got his mouth to reveal only the barest of smiles at the corners of his lips. “Don’t worry, Wylie is really cool. He’s just protective of D. I bet if you prove you’re going to do right by him…”
“For fuck sake, Alvarez!” Raider yelped. “You guys are the ones that made me kiss the kid!”
The pack of shifters howled in laughter at Raider’s enraged expression. Forest wiped tears from his eyes and bent over the table to keep from falling. Raider went to shove Fox, but lost his balance when Fox slipped out of his range. Raider stumbled sideways with a gasp. He rolled and crashed into another body who was trying to enter the lounge from the main entrance.
“Shit, sorry—Fuck.” Raider slapped a hand over his mouth. It was Vincent. He was bent over from the tumble, his dark hair a silky mess and clothes rumpled. Raider’s run in with Wylie was still hot in his mind. He knew his luck had definitely run out when Vincent straightened with an overly loud, angry huff. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Raider trailed off. The moment Vincent looked at him, his eyes went wide and filled with terror.
Raider wanted to step back but his knees locked up. Something in Vincent’s silver gaze warned him that movement would get him killed. Vincent’s hand reached out jerkingly, as if beyond his control, and his fingertips grazed ever so lightly across one of Raider’s softly furred ears atop his head. Raider tried not to flinch but failed when Vincent jolted and backed away. His face was so pale, he could have been a sheet of paper.
“Vince?” Fox called in confusion. Vincent’s gaze flitted his way a moment. An instant later, Vincent was gone. He left behind a whirl of magic and fear sweat as he fled the way he came, then slammed outside into the quickly approaching dusk.
“Vince!” Fox shouted, and went to run after him. Raider grabbed him by both arms and wrestled him when Fox resisted.
“What are you doing?” Fox snapped at the thick arm around his throat. “He’s freaking out. He needs—”
“Dude, he’s freaking out because he accidentally touched me. Why the fuck do you want to be with someone like that!”
Fox stilled as if slapped. He looked over to the other shifters who had fallen silent the moment they scented Vincent’s fear. They all seemed to agree with Raider. A part of him couldn’t blame them, not after seeing how it went down. Fox pushed hard on Raider’s arm and he released him.
“You don’t understand.” Fox spoke with as much restraint as he had. He couldn’t unsee the look of horror on Vincent’s face. “Whatever freaked him out, it’s not because he hates shifters. He’s fucked, but he’s bumped into plenty of us and never freaked like that before.”
Raider wasn’t convinced, his dark eyes hard as he held tight to Fox’s wrist. “He’s a sorcerer. Why should he be different from all the others?”
Fox’s heart felt like it was twisting in his chest. “Because that’s not a fucking thing here.” Every instinct he had screamed to run to Vincent and make sure he was okay. Explaining it to Raider was only complicating it all up in his head.
“Then why haven’t any of sorcerers said hello? Why haven’t they introduced themselves? Why haven’t you bothered to introduce me to any of them?” Raider didn’t bother to keep the scorn from his voice. “Why do you treat them differently if you’re so sure they don’t care that we’re shifters?”
Fox sighed and closed his eyes. Fuck, why today? Why today of all fucking days did his old life have to crash into the Academy? Raider—stupid, naive, terrified Raider who would cling to him at every fucking turn—hadn’t changed at all. He wanted him to be his shield while he pointed out how fucking shitty the world was. Fox knew the world was shitty. He knew sorcerers were mostly vindictive assholes who would rather spit on him than see him as an equal. But he was fucking happy living in a place where he could pretend it was all different.
Raider’s grip moved from his wrist to his hand and he tugged Fox closer. “Maybe I should go to the hospital now. Right?”
Fox slowly opened his eyes and nodded dully. “Yeah, sure. I can show you where it is.”
“I can take him,” Forest spoke up. He fixed Fox with a meaningful look, but Fox shrugged it off.
“It’s fine.” Fox pulled his hand free from Raider’s suffocating grasp. He glanced to where Vincent disappeared before motioning for Raider to follow him. Raider was too afraid of shit that wasn’t worth being afraid of and he couldn’t trust Forest to not go all perv when his back was turned.
Fox stopped suddenly, his memory sparked as he noted the growing darkness outside the windows. He turned and threw Justin a quick, fangy smirk. “Good luck tonight, man.”
Justin shot him a sympathy tinged smile in return and waved as the two slipped away.