He never should have told Dorian that. He’d never told anyone what happened and Wylie couldn’t understand just what the hell possessed him to spill his guts like some fucking idiot. Fuck!

He was a freak, an absolutely terrible person. The Andersons had known and that was why they gave him away. Sure, he felt sad when he’d been thrown into the foster care system, but he never bothered to be angry at his old adoptive parents. He understood. He was a horrible, demonic creature and his arms proved it every time he shifted. Naming him a dragon didn’t mean he was any different from when he first tried to kill.

Evil. The hateful feelings he felt whenever he thought back to that horrible incident… He was the worst of the worst.

It was almost as if he had to become something more horrible than the man who hurt his sister for him to be able to cross the line to kill him.

At least Dorian wouldn’t have to worry about sparking around him now. He wouldn’t ruin the sorcerer’s life anytime soon. There was no way he would want him after knowing what he had done. What he was.

Wylie may have failed, but that want to kill defined his dragon from that moment on. Before the Academy, it was all the creature knew. The quest for death, for blood spilled and flesh torn, all in quiet dark dreams sleeping inside him. Dorian may have brought new feelings out in the beast but it didn’t absolve it from the one which was there all along.

Hate. You don’t kill with love; you kill with hate. That was all Wylie knew and he could understand why his parents would not want someone like him after that.

“Dude, are you okay?”

Wylie looked up and blinked in confusion. Fox was standing in front of him along with the rest of the shifters. The lawn was golden and dry from the cold weather and spread out in all directions. Bear had taken them out to shift into their beast forms and race. Wylie couldn’t remember walking with the group to get there. “Huh?”

“Did you check in with Dr. Rob?” Worry crept into Fox’s orange eyes. “You were right there when that magic exploded. I know dragons are supposed to be able to heal super-fast, man, but I’d feel like shit if you ended up fucked-up after all this. You were like, so amazing and—”

Wylie held his hand up and attempted to smile reassuringly. “I’m fine, Fox, really. Just spaced out for a second.” He couldn’t handle hearing just how fucking wonderful he was at the moment. Shielding Dorian was instinctual. Not that he was upset he had. Wylie was glad he was there for Dorian no matter how many times the sorcerer might say he didn’t need his help.

He ducked his head and pretended to pay attention to Bear. He did his damnedest to ignore Fox when he once again went over the incident of last class, now telling Leo, the only shifter who hadn’t been present at the time because of his poor magical ability. All Wylie wanted to do was hide himself away somewhere. Preferably where it was dark and no one would ever be able to find him. He had read that some dragons liked to burrow underground for the winter to hibernate. It sounded like a damn fine idea.

God, what was he thinking? He didn’t fucking know Dorian. He didn’t know anything besides the fact he wanted to know everything he could about him. Dorian had incinerated his boyfriend. No wonder he was fucked-up about being around him and sparking after such a terrible accident. Shit, and wasn’t he just a total idiot to tell Dorian to be selfish?

Dumb. He was so fucking dumb sometimes. He just kept opening his mouth around the gorgeous guy and said the worst possible shit ever. He was the selfish one. He was crushing, his dragon was insane about Dorian, and he was just being a total fool.

And now Dorian knew how horrible he really was.

Wylie sighed. He buried his face in his hands and then ran fingers through his short hair. Well, that was it. There was no way Dorian would look twice at him now. No matter how much he liked him. He could throw himself in front of a train and Dorian Black wouldn’t think twice about him.

It was for the best. What the hell could he offer a guy like Dorian besides his retarded mouth and stupid acts of heroism? He had shit for an education and was probably never going to do anything with his life. He’d been moments away from Daiker prison and, knowing him, in five years after he left the Academy behind, he’d just fuck something up and end up in Daiker anyway.

He was a fuck-up. Always had been and always would be. He wanted to be different, wanted to be something more than what that one incident did to him, but it was a losing battle. He tried to join a gang to get enough money for college. What kind of fucking idiot did that?


“What the fuck did I tell you, Doe!” Leo suddenly hollered. Wylie only had a second to turn before a huge, hard body slammed into him. It knocked him across the grass and to the ground.

His head hit the frozen ground hard. Red and white flashed behind his eyelids for a timeless eternity while everything spun in nauseating jerks. A roar split the air. Fur and heat suffocated him with unbearable weight. Deadly teeth sank into the juncture where his shoulder met his neck, clamped shut, and then pulled to tear.

Wylie’s eyes snapped open. He grabbed the lion’s muzzle with both hands. His talons sliced into Leo’s face as he tried to pry the shifter’s jaws away from his neck without his throat following.

“What the fuck?” Vincent turned and saw Will run down the hall past the lounge only to be outrun by Theodore. The red-headed instructor took flight, summoning a forceful wind to whisk him to the exit.

Dorian glanced up from the book he’d been failing to read since calming down after his talk with Wylie. He watched with mild interest when Vincent walked toward the windows. His shiny, long hair shimmered as he tilted his head. Moments later, Vincent bolted out the door and down the hall to the exit.


Dorian got up and left his book on his chair. He didn’t bother to peer out the window. If Vincent was running, it was something interesting. He rarely did anything that might mess up his hair unless it was important.

Or really crazy, Dorian amended once he was outside and Leo’s roars could be heard. “Holy fuck,” he whispered. He stopped short when he saw the circle of patients. Between their legs was flashes of the two shifters fighting while the others gave them a wide berth. There was blood everywhere. Whose, Dorian couldn’t tell, just that Wylie and Leo’s lion form were covered.

It was probably Wylie’s. His pale skin and scaled arms were completely dwarfed by the huge, black-maned lion as they grappled on the ground.

Theodore had reached the group and Bear was holding the other shifters back. Dorian crept up behind where Vincent and Will were standing. His eyes were fixed on the tangle of fur and limbs as he tried to figure out if Wylie was okay. Vines rose up the instant another roar rang out. Will’s power shielded them when Leo went flying through the air.

At first, Dorian thought Theodore spelled Leo away. Then he caught sight of Wylie through the crisscross of branches. Wylie surged after Leo’s fallen form and growled angrily. Blood poured from his neck and down the front of his shirt.

“I told you it’s his choice!” Wylie’s eyes blazed white. His hands were gripped in fists to keep his claws from slashing as he followed after Leo and slugged the lion on his bleeding face. Dorian bit his lip when Wylie leaned over, grabbed the lion by its mane, and lifted him up as if he weighed nothing instead of the damn near ton of pure muscle.

“Wylie, think about what you’re doing,” Theodore said tightly. He hadn’t interfered, even though his presence was a wall of protection for those standing behind him.

“I’m not doing shit,” Wylie growled. He lifted Leo higher. “The stupid fuck just jumped me and tried to rip my throat out!”

Dorian could see Leo was unconscious, the lion limp in Wylie’s clawed hands.

“Then why are you holding him?” Theodore’s fingers twitched as if he were moments away from spelling Wylie flat on the ground.

“So you can put one of those stupid collars on the kid without losing your fingers,” Wylie said with a ferocious snarl. His features were twisted in animalistic rage. Theodore made no move to approach and Dorian really couldn’t blame him. It was his first time seeing Wylie full out pissed off and in dragon mode. It was intimidating as fuck. Not to mention super-hot.

When Theodore coolly raised his eyebrow and stood taller, Wylie abruptly dropped Leo. The lion hit the ground heavily. “Fine, put a fucking collar on me. I don’t care. Just as long as that stupid fuck is collared too so he doesn’t pull this shit again. I wasn’t even talking to him! He just jumped me. Ask anyone.”

“I’m not here to discern who started it. I’m here to make sure no one is killed,” Theodore said as calmly as possible. “Now stop waving your arms and turn so I don’t have to subdue you.”

Wylie glared at Theodore for a long moment. With a huff, he turned his back to the instructor and kept his arms tight against his body to set Theodore at ease. “He started it. I was just defending myself.”

“I am well aware.” Theodore clipped the null-collar around his bleeding neck, and Wylie’s scales retracted instantly. “If I thought for a moment you were out here in a rage attacking shifters, my dragon would have been out and handling things very differently. Now stay still and let me deal with Leo.”

Wylie kept his head ducked. His now human hand came up to gingerly touch the torn flesh of his shoulder and the heavy metal collar pressing into his wound. Dorian barely noticed what Theodore was doing to collar Leo. He edged closer so that he was in front of Wylie. Wylie’s face was streaked with dirt and blood. The flush of anger to his skin was just starting to fade as he hissed in pain.

“Arrogant, hotheaded dickhead,” Wylie muttered. He winced when his fingers touched his torn flesh too hard.

Dorian didn’t know what he wanted to say to him and wasn’t able to figure it out. Bear held his arms up. “Alright, I want everyone in the lounge. Except you, Fox. You’re dripping red and bloodlusting. Master Howld’s got this, so let’s go.”

Wylie looked up at Bear’s yell. Dorian started when he met his gaze. Fuck, he was in total trouble. He could feel the magic surge through him from just that simple, hungry look. Dorian licked his lips and let himself be ushered with the rest towards the Academy. Theodore was left to bring Wylie, Fox, and Leo to the hospital and Dr. Rob.

“He totally kicked his ass,” Forest told Will quietly. He glanced in Bear’s direction before continuing. “There’s no way Leo isn’t going to be whipped after this. All Wylie had to do was touch him. He didn’t even go for the eyes or anything. Actually, if you had been there in the beginning, you would have heard the noise. Pretty sure Wylie broke the bones in Leo’s face when he pulled him off his neck.”

Will, a half-elf and not one for violence, flinched at the mental image. His tanned face went pale. “It’s a wonder he didn’t kill him.”

“Yeah,” Forest agreed. “Cuz it would have been fucking nothing for Wylie to do it. Fox jumped on Leo to get the asshole to back off—Wylie was human when Leo jumped him—and Leo tossed Fox away like nothing.”

Will gave him a look and Forest smiled sheepishly back. “Hey, don’t count Fox out. He’s small but he’s scrappy. I sure as fuck wasn’t going to get my ass beat by Leo. What I’m saying is, I didn’t realize just how strong dragons were. I bet Wylie could have destroyed Leo if he wanted to. Easy.”

“Guess he didn’t want to,” Will said after a moment. Dorian barely heard as his blood roared in his ears.

If at eighteen Wylie could take on a muscle bound, oversized shifter lion with ease, then at eight he logically could have just as easily killed one human creep. Wylie hadn’t said the man fought him and won. No, Wylie stopped because his sister begged him to. He’d been in control of his dragon from the very beginning in a situation where most shifters would have been lost to their beasts. Yet Wylie thought he was as bad as the ferocious monsters locked up in Daiker.

“Why were they fighting?” Dorian asked Forest once they reached the Academy doors.

Forest shrugged. “It’s Leo; he was probably going all territorial. Wylie’s the first alpha to come in here since he arrived.”

Dorian frowned at that. “Wylie’s not an alpha.”

“Yeah, he is.” Forest gave him a sardonic grin. “You clearly haven’t been reading about dragons like the rest of us.” The guys at the Academy did their own research when a new type of shifter or paranormal came through. It helped them understand the new patient so they could be more welcoming. It also helped them know what not to do so they didn’t end up in pain or worse.

“When he says alpha, he means Wylie’s a leader type, not the testosterone man-idiot type,” Will explained. “A proper alpha. That he can make decisions like not kill Leo while fighting for his life proves it. If someone had attacked Leo like that…” He didn’t need to continue. Leo would have gone nuts and killed. No question.

Dorian digested this new bit of information. He stopped Forest before he could disappear into the building. “So is Wylie like your new pack leader?”

Forest thought about it a moment. “I don’t really buy into the whole pack thing. But I was also a minute away from jumping on Leo’s back just like Fox. I probably would have but I was keeping Justin from doing something stupid, the damn crazy wolf. So I’m gonna say yes. Sure as fuck not telling Wylie though,” he added with a fanged smirk. “Talk about lame… Are you okay, Dorian? You look kind of flushed.”

Dorian caught himself and gave a quick nod. He let Forest step into the building while he hung back. He actually wasn’t feeling okay at all. Actually, he was pretty sure he needed to get to the hospital.

Wylie hadn’t expected to be back so soon in Dr. Rob’s care. He didn’t mind too much. He was glad to be away from everyone else and not on display. Everything felt crazy and he just wanted to be alone.

It was strange being in the null-collar. His dragon was silent for the first time in ten years. With the magic that supported the creature flatlined, the dragon was curled up in a cocoon of fuzz. It was asleep and Wylie could feel things for the first time. He now saw where he ended and the dragon began.

It was unsettling. The dragon was a large presence inside of him he always had to be aware of to make sure it wasn’t influencing him. With it silent, Wylie could see just how little the creature’s personality infected his own. He was the same without the dragon as he was with. There was no one to blame but himself.

He didn’t even look different. His eyes were the same strange white-blue, teeth a little too sharp, body still strong and toned. Once Dr. Rob healed him and Theodore repaired his clothes, Wylie couldn’t even be sure he’d almost been mauled to death by a lion.

No, not almost. He nearly killed Leo. Wylie didn’t have to wonder how things would have gone if Leo hadn’t finally stopped coming at him. The understanding of how simple it would be for him to kill never got easier, even when faced with a shifter.

Theodore believed his story. He didn’t even have to prove anything; Theodore just believed him. Sure, Bear was right there and could confirm everything with the instructor but Theodore didn’t even asked. He just believed because Wylie told him. It felt good. Having Theodore trust him felt really good. So good, in fact, he finally asked Theodore something he’d been thinking about since his first day there; would he help him transform properly? Theodore’s yes held only the slightest of gruffness in his voice.

Leo was subdued when he woke up healed by Dr. Rob. Wylie had watched the process with rapt fascination. Mild and friendly, Dr. Rob became a different person when healing. Wylie was starting to think the doctor might be closer to something like Will and Christopher, and not fully human at all. When Dr. Rob raised his hands over Leo’s form, the healer glowed, and transformed in a way both awe-inspiring and beautiful. Once Leo’s deep wounds were mended, bones intact, left paw no longer mangled beyond recognition, Dr. Rob then turned back to normal. After he watched it, Wylie wasn’t even sure if anything really changed in Dr. Rob. One moment he was otherworldly and the next he donned his familiar calm smile and puttered around the hospital room.

“Do I have to stay?” Leo asked roughly. He was doing his damnedest to look anywhere but at Wylie. Fox was already gone with a story bubbling from his mouth as he went. He was healed and none the worse for wear. Wylie had no interest staying in the hospital with Leo, no matter how spacious the room was.

“Can you walk? How’s your head?” Dr. Rob handed Leo a vial of something blue.

“I’m fine,” Leo grunted and downed the potion in one go. “Just let me keep the collar on.”

Dr. Rob’s lips quirked. He took the empty glass container once he was done. “Oh, I was going to suggest something along those lines. I want you back here immediately if you start feeling any head pain or internal issues. It’s not something to…”

“Walk off. I know, Doc.” Leo rolled his eyes. He stood and towered a foot over the doctor. “Thanks for patching me up.”

“Yes, well, I would prefer if you stop coming in here looking like death, but these are the compromises I make.” He clapped Leo on the back and led him to the exit. Wylie watched out of the corner of his eye from his seat on the bed. Leo glanced his way once; there was something hesitant in his usually raw expression. Wylie didn’t get a chance to decipher it before the mountain of a lion shifter was out the door.

“And how’s your head?” Dr. Rob crossed the room to peer down into Wylie’s eyes. “I can heal a lot, but head trauma is a tricky thing. Do you still feel dizzy?”

“Only a little,” Wylie admitted. “But I don’t know if that’s from being collared.”

Dr. Rob nodded and straightened. “I’m afraid the collar will have to remain for the next twenty-four hours. We have a blanket rule at the Academy. Anyone involved in fighting must be collared at least for a day. Otherwise those animalistic impulses could take over in a quest for revenge.” He fixed Wylie with a pointed look from behind his glasses. “Lions don’t like to lose, especially alphas. Leo might seem okay now but his beast is going to have a lot to say about things once his collar comes off.”

Wylie sighed heavily. “Seriously? Why can’t he just back the fuck off already? I haven’t even said, like, two words to him since I got here.”

“Well, from what I saw, you were clearly the victor. Hopefully, that might put his lion in its place.” Dr. Rob flashed him a calming smile. “Just don’t let your guard down. Leo’s a tough read at times.”

It felt like everything was against him today. Wylie sighed again and rested his back against the metal headboard of the cot. “Do you care if I hang here for a while? I don’t… The last thing I want is to hear everyone talking about the fight.”

“Not a problem. I’ll be in my office if you have any head pain. You may have some tenderness on that neck wound but it shouldn’t scar.” Dr. Rob turned to go.

Wylie stopped him with a softly asked question. “You guys… You don’t just let guys kill each other here, right?”

Dr. Rob turned back and didn’t mince words. “If Theodore hadn’t been on Academy grounds, Bear would have physically restrained Leo to the best of his ability. Bear’s options are limited since he lacks magical ability. He refrains from letting his beast fight because it’s very easy for him to harm someone, but if it saves a life, he will. To be clear, Wylie, you are one of our deadliest shifters. We’re all here to make sure you don’t hurt anyone, no matter how aggressive Leo tries to get slaughtered by a dragon.”

His stomach swirled with an odd mix of relief and dread when Dr. Rob left. Wylie was glad to know the Academy instructors were prepared to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone. They understood how dangerous his dragon form was. Still, there was something terrible about it.

He didn’t want to be thought of as a deadly shifter. He wanted to be more. Like Justin; the werewolf was so dangerous during the full moon they shut the Academy down to make sure no one was hurt. But no one treated Justin like he was a horrible creature. And Justin, well, he sure didn’t act terrible. Wylie didn’t want to be the guy everyone ran from. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to be known for, but he knew it wasn’t that.

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