A weekend and a day passed with Wylie both frustrated and relieved to have the shifters isolated from the sorcerers during the time. Dressed for the day, he was scheming a way to talk to Dorian while avoiding Leo—possibly bum a few cigarettes off him while he was at it—when he was waylaid by Theodore outside his dorm room.

“What?” He couldn’t remember doing anything wrong but was still suspicious. He couldn’t help it after a lifetime dodging authority. Even though Theodore proved to be damn cool, he was still an authority figure.

“You’ve been invited to breakfast. Stop scowling.” Theodore hid a smirk and pulled a confused Wylie down an array of halls to a room he would later learn was McPherson’s office. Tall windows let dazzling light in and sleek, modern furniture enhanced the tastefully decorated space. Wylie immediately felt out of place.

“Kid, you managed not to get shot.” Collin McPherson was very much alive and in one piece. Wylie stared, dumbstruck to find him sitting at a table to the side of the room.

He hadn’t expected to be so relieved to see the old dude looking well and not crawling on the floor bleeding out. “Hey.” He stood uncertainly, unable to think of anything to say now they were face to face.

Theodore rolled his eyes. He grabbed Wylie by the shoulder and marched him across the room. “Sit. Eat. Talk. One day young people will be trained in social situations. Until then, I would prefer to endure your flustering on a full stomach.”

“Thank you for agreeing to have breakfast with us, Theo.” Collin grinned when Theodore sat with a huff next to Wylie. There was a large spread of food on the table, much of it meat, and Theodore had little qualms in filling his plate. “I wanted to see the two of you side by side. It’s not every day we have two dragons at the Academy.”

“We hardly look alike,” Theodore pointed out. Wylie silently agreed and hesitantly took some food for himself. Collin looked very different from his memory of the man. Now that he was no longer deathly pale and face not twisted in pain, he had a larger than life presence. His clear blue eyes were sharp and took in everything.

“How do you like the Academy?” Collin asked.

Wylie felt beyond awkward. He pushed his food around on his plate. “It’s, uh, different.”

“There’s no other place in the world like it.” Collin met Theodore’s gaze. “It’s a cross between a safe haven and a training ground for troubled paranormals. We were very lucky to get you here considering the only other alternative.”

Wylie nodded dully. His stomach gave a painful clench. “Thanks for that. You, uh, I know you didn’t have to do that… So, thank you.”

Collin nodded as he took in Wylie’s hunched form and somber expression. “Thank you for coming back and saving my life. It was a brave thing to do in any situation.”

Wylie wasn’t sure if it was brave or just stupid, but he was glad he’d done it. “I’m also really sorry I robbed you,” he muttered, unable to meet Collin’s eye. “I don’t… It’s not something I plan on doing again, just in case you’re wondering.” McPherson had invited him into this very expensive looking school slash institution and Wylie didn’t want him worried he’d rob the place in the middle of the night.

“I wasn’t,” Collin said simply. He had a drink of his coffee. “I created the Academy so that young men like yourself could have a safe place where they wouldn’t be judged by their past. What happened at my home was the first time I’ve seen some mistakes quite so up close, but it doesn’t change my stance on things. Every person in this building has done something they’re not proud of. It could be they put themselves or others in danger, or forced their loved ones to watch and worry while they struggled to find control which was beyond them. That you chose to face your mistake and the consequences created from breaking into my house was mature on your part. And again, it saved my life.”

Wylie bit his lip and shrugged awkwardly. He didn’t want to be praised; it just made him feel like an asshole for all he fucked-up. “So you own this place?”

“He built it from the ground up,” Theodore explained. “Collin is the sole financial backer of both Academies. He hires the instructors, interviews the potential patients, and makes sure we’re equipped with everything an out-of-control paranormal could possibly need. Along with that, he keeps the law enforcement off our backs. Paranormals have a tough enough time out in the world as it is. Collin makes sure to help keep things fair.”

Collin coughed gruffly but gave a small nod. “Yes, that would be about the extent of it.”

He sounded like a fucking saint and Wylie felt even worse about the events that led to them meeting. “You’re a paranormal, too?”

Theodore snorted. His violet eyes sparkled in amusement as his golden skin gave off a soft glow. Collin frowned at him before answering. “I’m just a human. Nothing particularly special about me except my ability to invest in the right technology companies at the right time.”

“He’s as null as they get.” Theodore’s grin revealed sharp fangs. “Collin still manages to be incredibly helpful. For years he’s headlined the cause for paranormals. No one is more relentless in pursuing change.”

“Oh.” Wylie turned to Collin curiously, his embarrassment forgotten. “Why are you doing so much to help paranormals, then? I mean, not that I’m complaining or anything.”

“I had a sister with a strong magical ability,” Collin disclosed. “She was the first sorceress born in my family and my parents knew little about how to train her. They assumed she’d figure it out on her own. Unfortunately, Melissa was very powerful for her age and had very little control. She had an accident at her high school. She and twelve of her classmates died when the building collapsed.”

His eyes wide, Wylie placed his fork down. “So you…?”

“No, it wasn’t quite as direct as that.” Collin’s expression turned grim. “My parents blamed themselves and their ignorance of Melissa’s condition. They started pushing for more public knowledge of paranormals in the hopes nothing like that could happen again. It twisted once the media got ahold of it and suddenly new regulations were placed on paranormals. Before we could understand what was happening, they were collecting birth records and created the Registry.”

“Collin’s family had strong political ties,” Theodore said. “They didn’t realize there were people out there so terrified of paranormals they were looking for any excuse to get us all tagged, labeled and thrown in Daiker. Collin’s been trying to repair what he can after the fact, but as I’m sure you’ve learned, once a law is in place it’s a lot harder to remove.”

“It’s been a lifetime of work and still it’s case by case to make sure paranormals don’t end up in prison or shot on sight.” Collin sighed before he took another sip of his coffee. “Theodore and Michael have, of course, been a great help. I’ve been blessed to have more than a few patients continue to support paranormals after they leave the Academy. If one positive thing has come of this, the paranormal community has learned to talk to each other. There are still tensions, but they set most aside to deal with the injustice they’re facing.”

Silent, Wylie straightened as he thought. McPherson chose to try and repair a mistake he wasn’t the cause of. In doing so he saved Wylie from Daiker. It wasn’t Collin’s fault people exploited his family’s tragedy to discriminate against paranormals but he took responsibility for it anyway.

“You guys ever, I dunno, take in really young paranormals?” Wylie asked quietly. He couldn’t help but wonder how things might have been if he lived in a place like the Academy instead of bounced through countless foster homes.

Collin exhaled heavily and shook his head. “There are regulations placed on us. Orphaned paranormals have to be old enough to be their own guardians. In your case, you were legally in a system where you were admitted into the Academy. We cannot, unfortunately, take in children who have no one caring for them. The State would have to agree to place them in our custody, but, to be honest, the government does not look kindly on my institutions.”

“Paranoid bigots,” Theodore growled. “They think we’re raising a militia or something equally absurd. Government sources have repeatedly attempted to hack us. They’ve targeted our patient’s private information and addresses. That fence surrounding the compound is not to keep you guys in, kid.”

“Which reminds me. If you do happen to see a stranger in the Academy or scaling the fence, you should find one of the masters immediately, Wylie. Do not engage them,” Collin said gravely. “The others know this but you really weren’t given a proper introduction. Anyone daring enough to break in here will be extremely desperate or equally dangerous.”

Wylie blinked at the grim faces turned his way and nodded to emphasize he understood. “Does that happen a lot?”

“No. And we’re usually right on top of it. We have the best security system around…” Collin trailed off and deliberately placed his mug on the table. “It’s a mirror of my own house’s security.”

“Oh.” Crap. Wylie flushed as he met his assessing gaze.

“The thing is, not only do we use advanced technology, but also sorcery to guard the gates. I still haven’t figured out how you broke down the wards at my estate. By all rights, you shouldn’t have been able to.”

“I don’t know. Honest,” Wylie said earnestly. “No one said anything about magic. Adam broke into the security system. That’s all. He’s like a tech genius or something.”

“You wouldn’t happen to know Adam’s last name, would you?” Theodore pressed when he fell silent.

“No. No last names. Can’t even be sure it was really his first name. Adam was a weird kid to take with,” Wylie explained haltingly. “He was scared of everything. It took him forever to get the system down, and he damn near freaked when it turned bad. If he knew magic, wouldn’t he be less afraid?”

After a silent exchange with Collin, Theodore got up and pulled out a cell phone. It was probably useless information—really, he didn’t really know the kid’s name. Still, Wylie felt a mix of frustration for not knowing more and pure guilt for snitching the little he had. Theodore left the room and Wylie continued to fidget under Collin’s studious gaze.

“It’s okay to eat, you know. It’s not poisoned.”

Wylie scoffed at the terrible joke that hit too close to some of his more paranoid fears. He looked up. “I’m really sorry.”

Collin pushed a serving spoon his way. “I’m not. You would have been stuck in that detention house for another few years and straight into Daiker for something not even remotely justifiable. I feel perfectly fine. Besides some blood loss, I had to clean a very gory mess, and replace my side door. It could have been a lot worse.”

Wylie didn’t sense any ill will or deceit from Collin. He slowly relaxed. McPherson was the odd kind of person who would rather help someone than obsess over being wronged.

“This place is weird,” Wylie finally declared around a bite of ham. “Nice, but weird.”

“Sounds like a proper home to me.”

Collin’s words washed over him and Wylie relaxed even more. Temporary. Five years was still a temporary situation. But he was looking at the best five years of his life since discovering his demon arms.

“You’re not raising an army here, right?” he dared to ask.

Collin raised his eyebrows in response before he replied gruffly, “Theodore’s been here for years. I still can’t get him to stop using his allure around me. If I’m running an army, I’m doing a terrible job of it.”

It reminded him normal people couldn’t fight Theodore’s allure. Wylie grinned. Theodore had no qualms about being an ass even to his own boss.

Collin caught his eye and smirked behind his coffee cup when Theodore returned to finish his breakfast. The three of them enjoyed the rest of the morning in easy conversation.

Wylie’s first session with Theodore to learn magic was later that week. Master Howld taught both sorcerers and shifters how to use Body Magic. It was power which came from within and didn’t require instruments or spell work, just focus and will. Not all shifters were capable of doing magic. Many were restricted to the magic that went into their transformation. Wylie was going to find out if he was one of the few shifters who could cast a spell.

Body Magic was taught out of a room down in the basement. It was Wylie’s first time under the Academy. The air was cooler and the light artificial. The classroom looked like a damn prison, with walls and floors tiled in dark stone. He later learned the tile was special, imbued with an ability to keep magic from escaping the room and wreaking havoc through the building. Apparently Body Magic was more an art than a science, and it was very easy to have accidents.

Wylie realized a potential problem when he stepped into Theodore’s classroom. His class was shared with the sorcerers, Dorian Black included. Dorian was sitting in the back by the entrance reading a book.

Wylie had done his best to give Dorian as much space as possible. Not so much for Dorian or because he was afraid of Leo. He really didn’t know what the fuck he wanted from the beautiful sorcerer beyond the dragon’s incessant demand to claim him. Wylie could readily admit an attraction to Dorian, even an interest in him. But the damn butterflies in his stomach on seeing him did not determine a boyfriend, no matter how many times he caught Dorian’s begrudgingly interested gaze the last week.

“Just so you know, Forest and I are pretty shit at this stuff,” Fox said in Wylie’s ear. He was blind to where he was staring as they moved into the room. “I’m alright if I can keep my focus—which means I’m toast, man. Forest only has a little magic in him and he gets flustered super fast.” Fox slapped the leopard shifter on the back. Forest didn’t look upset in the slightest.

“Most shifters can only do a little magic,” Forest explained. “Although, seeing as you’re a dragon, who the hell knows.”

Wylie pulled his stare from Dorian’s ducked head and looked to the front of the class. He faltered when he found Theodore gazing at him coolly. He had a feeling the instructor was going to be more than a little controlling about his contact with Dorian in his class. It was proved when Theodore called Wylie to the front of the room so he could ‘observe better.’ Probably for the best. He didn’t want to end up going dragon in the middle of class just because Dorian was there looking hot.

“Quiet down,” Theodore called. In moments everyone fell silent and took their seats under his glare. Theodore was not a guy to mess with. “As you all know, we have a new addition to the shifter pack. Wylie, depending on your ability, this may be your only time actually in this class. I want to start by figuring out if you have an affinity to magic. Vincent.” Theodore turned and called the sorcerer up to the front. “Kindly assist.”

With a dazzling smile, Vincent stood and combed his long hair from his face. He missed Dorian’s glare. His gaze was fixed on Wylie as he stepped to the front of the class. “Catalyst?”

“Yes. I’ll contain,” Theodore agreed. He moved in front of his desk and leaned. “Wylie, stand next to me. Hands at your side in case your dragon makes a move.”

Approaching the two hesitantly, Wylie stopped in front of Theodore. “So… what do I have to do?”

“Just turn, stand there, and don’t touch anything.” Theodore nodded at Vincent. He raised his hands and held them over Wylie’s head. “Proceed.”

His eyes widened in alarm. Wylie bit his lip and watched as Vincent raised his arms. As his pale hands hovered above his heart, Wylie felt a shiver of dread. His mouth went dry as power welled up from the young man in front of him. The only magic he experienced first-hand had knocked him flat in the jail. Vincent constantly argued with Fox, and Wylie had little trust in the volatile sorcerer.

Not sure what to expect, Wylie barely noticed when the spell started. He was too busy fighting his dragon back from its want to defend. One moment he was struggling to keep from transforming his arms and the next a bright light flared powerfully. Wylie scowled. He ducked and used his arms to cover the sunglasses on his face to block the light.

“Well, that answers that, I think,” Theodore drawled. The light faded and Wylie could look up safely even though dark dots obscured his vision. “Alright, Vincent?”

Vincent nodded. He was holding his hand over his eyes and kept blinking. “He’s strong. Wasn’t expecting that.”

“Yes, well, dragons do tend to camouflage. Wylie, take a seat up front for now. I’m going to have the others work on their planned projects, then instruct you on how to tap into your magic.”

“Oh… So I have magic?” Wylie looked to the side so that Theodore’s face was more than just a blur from the gray spot in the middle of his vision.

“Yes. I suspect your dragon has been sitting on it along with a lot of other abilities.” Theodore guided him to the nearest seat. “Seeing as it made itself known just recently, you may be in for a few surprises.”

Wylie lowered himself into the desk chair and refrained from responding. His surprises ranged from bloodlust to mating. He didn’t want any more. “Is it important I learn this stuff or can I kind of go on never knowing magic?” He finally asked under his breath while pushing his sunglasses up so he could rub his eyes.

Theodore grinned humorlessly. He shook his head sharply and bent down to speak in Wylie’s ear. “Let me give you a list of common magical traits in dragon shifters. We’ll start with allure; for dragons always sexual, extremely powerful and usually innate. Combustion when angered; in other words, yelling fire. Night vision. Spitting acid. Crooning others into a state of unconsciousness. Charring…”

Theodore sounded like he was going to go on forever. Wylie raised his hand in defeat. “These are things I’m trying to learn?”

“No, these are things you could start doing as you grow and you need to train to be able to stop. For instance, your reliance on sunglasses. You’re already suffering from night vision issues,” Theodore answered flatly. “Bad enough you’ve got every head turned your way. Hopefully, your allure will not be as strong as my family’s.”

Wylie started. He glanced behind him and found that, sure enough, he was being stared at by the others in the class. “That’s just because I’m new,” he whispered with a glare directed at Theodore.

“Sure it is.” Theodore returned a mean smirk. “Keep your ass still and let me get them set up. Something tells me teaching you magic will not be as simple as I’d like.”

Theodore stepped away and Wylie sighed darkly. He’d read about dragons that weekend from a book Bear recommended. There was a lot to digest and he still wasn’t sure what was myth and what he should actually anticipate. Given Theodore’s list, more than he hoped. Spitting acid—fuck, what a pain.

Theodore returned and grabbed a chair from beside Wylie and pulled it to the front. He sat and fixed him with a sober look. “The first thing you need to understand is you’re going to be very resistant to magic when in your shifted form. Not just magic thrown at you, but your own magic. Dragon scales have a natural insulation to magic. It keeps your magic in and magic attacking you out. This means if you find yourself in a situation where you have some psycho sorcerer looking to kill you with magic, you want to be in your shifted form. And if you’re in a situation where you need to use magic, you want to be as soft and fleshy as you can get. Clear?”

Wylie really hoped neither situation was ever going to occur. “Yeah. Human to cast, dragon to shield.”

“The other thing…” Theodore frowned and glanced over Wylie’s shoulder before he turned back to him. “Because you’re a dragon who has magic, you’re already twice as likely to be sought out by a dark art user. I don’t say this to frighten you, but to be frank. Your name is in a government paranormal database with the word dragon next to it where anyone can filter through and find it. You want to know how to defend yourself, kid. I know magic can seem like a fuck ton of problems and well, hell, it can be. But you’re going to want every advantage you can get because people will try to fuck with you no matter how much you keep your head down.

“You’re a dragon and this is the burden that comes with it. It’s why we’re nearly extinct. It’s why it’s no shocker to find you parentless and in the custody of the State. Your parents were probably hunted. Dragons are usually taken out families at a time, not individuals.”

Wylie never questioned if his parents were alive. He assumed he was abandoned because no one wanted to raise some terrible kid with demon arms. Had his parents been hunted down and killed by sorcerers? Had they tried to save him by giving him away?

The thought was a fire to his senses and he sat up straighter. He was alert to everything Theodore said. “What do I have to do?”

“Let’s start with your eyes. It’ll give you something useful to go along with the burden.” Theodore didn’t smile and Wylie had to wonder what he had gone through as a dragon shifter. “Body Magic is about focus and instinct. It’s about knowing yourself. It’s about being able to shut the world out around you and feel inward until you find your core of power. So we’ll start there. Close your eyes and slow your breathing.”

He did as instructed and tried to block the other noises from the room. The only problem was, the moment he decided he didn’t want to hear anyone else, it seemed they got louder. It became an intrusion he was focused on trying to silence. Brows furrowed, he peeked an eye open and found Theodore looking at him expectantly. “It’s too loud.”

“Better to learn with distractions than expect conditions to be perfect. When you have someone trying to kill you, you don’t get an option to shut the world up so you can concentrate. The more you do this, the more instinctive it will become.”

Wylie growled and closed his eyes again. He took a deep breath and focused inward.

Dorian couldn’t help but stare at Wylie’s back. His shoulders were extremely interesting. They were broad and muscular, and his t-shirt did little to hide them. He was supposed to be creating a small orb of power, something which could be thrown at an enemy or hidden away to restore magical reserves if low. He could make one in five seconds flat and seeing as Master Howld wasn’t paying him any attention, he felt his time was better spent checking out Wylie.

He wasn’t surprised when Wylie’s power had flared bright and blinding. He knew there was something special about the dragon shifter. Well, beyond his very sexy hisses.

He hoped the feelings would fade. He hoped if he resolved hard enough he wouldn’t want to look at Wylie. Certainly wouldn’t want to be near him, touch him, kiss him as bad as he did. He managed to avoid him but he couldn’t keep himself from looking, just as he couldn’t stop himself from wanting.

“Fuck. Stop talking shit!” Fox hissed. He struggled to keep the pulse of magic in his hands contained while he glared at Vincent who was on the other side of Dorian.

“Just said you’re fucking it up,” Vincent replied with a bored drawl. His own orb of magic floated above his desk and illuminated him in a soft glow. “You have no proper focus.”

“I’d have focus if you’d stop—shit… shit, shit, shit!”

His eyes wide, Dorian turned in time to see Fox juggle his hands. The power flowing between them flashed out erratically. Dorian’s own magic shielded him an instant before a thunderous crack shook the air.

Shouts rang out as the others ducked down. Thick smoke billowed into the small space and drywall rained from the ceiling. Dizzy and confused, Dorian waited until Theodore spelled the ceiling back into one piece before he slowly unfurled from his protective hunch.

It wasn’t the first time Fox had blown up the classroom. It was, however, the first time Dorian was right next to him when it happened. His ears still rang in memory of the explosion. He ruffled his dark locks free of fallen dust, then lifted his head hesitantly. He really hoped he wasn’t going to find pieces of the shifter all over the classroom in a gory explosion. Fox talked too much but he was a fun guy in general.

“Fuck,” Dorian gasped before he could stop himself. He was face to face with Wylie. The dragon shifter was practically on top of him, his black-scaled arms wrapped to either side of his desk in a position of defense. When the fuck did he get there?

“You okay?” Wylie hissed lowly. His eyes were a glowing white amidst the dark smoke of the room.

Dorian could see his shirt was torn from the blast. His thoughts slammed to a halt when he realized Wylie had moved fast enough to actually shield him before the explosion hit.

“I didn’t need your help,” Dorian heard himself snap. Inwardly he winced at how petulant he sounded. But fuck, no one had tried to shield him before, and Wylie was the biggest idiot ever. His magic protected him while other people died. Wylie would be better off worrying about himself and the others in the room.

He swallowed hard when Wylie continued to stare. Those intense eyes kept moving over him to assure he wasn’t hurt. Dorian began to notice just how close Wylie was hovering over him in his seat. It really didn’t help that his shirt was threatening to fall off. Strong, toned muscle melded with scales filled his senses. Through the smoke, Dorian could even pick up the scent of sweat and flesh; very much the same scent he remembered from when Wylie had almost kissed him.

“Fuck.” He closed his eyes and fought back a groan. Sparks jumped off his skin despite his best efforts.

“Sorry,” Wylie muttered and straightened. Dorian felt more than saw when Wylie stepped away and crossed back to his seat at the front. When he dared to open his eyes, Wylie was watching Master Howld numb Fox’s hands.

“Do you need a collar, Dorian?” Theodore’s tone made it clear he knew exactly why he was sparking and he didn’t approve in the slightest.

Dorian shook his head. He fixed his gaze on his desk and forced his mind to go blank. He didn’t know just how the fuck Wylie did it to him, but he needed to find a way to stop it. He had no interest living in a null-collar the rest of his life, no matter how hot Wylie was.

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