Wylie’s feet just hit the tile of the Academy floor, when he jolted to discover they weren’t alone. Theodore and Michael stood in the arrival chamber as if they’d been waiting. The two looked pissed.

“Shit.” He adjusted Dante in his arms while he tried to come up with what to say. Was he going to end up in Daiker over this? Five dead at the pier. Fuck, probably. Fuck.

Dorian stepped up beside him and fixed the two instructors with a bored look. “Wylie, could you take the kid to your room and get him cleaned and in a change of clothes? We’ll meet you in Master Howld’s office.”

Wylie blinked and looked to Theodore questioningly. His teeth grit, Theodore nodded his consent. “We’ll talk once you arrive. Bring the kid.”

The three left and Wylie stared after them in confusion. Dante shifted in his arms and he glanced down to meet his sleepy green eyes.

“Um… I really don’t have anything your size.”

There was no way Wylie was letting the small kid go until he was clean of the days of filth and dusty crate clinging to him. Dante grumbled the entire time he was scrubbed down while determinedly trying to fall back asleep. Why Dorian couldn’t have just cast a cleaning spell was beyond him, but Wylie suspected it was so he could talk to Michael and Theodore alone. What they were talking about Wylie was dying to know.

He was right; he owned nothing that would fit Dante. Staring in frustration at his bureau after throwing a clean shirt on, Wylie eventually turned, and fixed his sights on the sleeping fox shifter he shared a room with. Fox was half a head shorter than him. He wasn’t as small as the diminutive Dante, but a lot closer than he was. He tiptoed to his dresser and pulled out the first warm sweatshirt he found. He tossed it and a pair of clean boxers at Dante, who was watching curiously from the bathroom doorway. Fox wouldn’t mind. Probably.

Wylie grinned at just how ridiculous Dante looked in the sweatshirt that reached down to his knees. He held his hand out and Dante quickly took it.

He led him down to Theodore’s office; the dragon shifter preferred the lower levels of the Academy. Dante peered into open doors curiously and only swayed a little as he fought off sleep. The building was quiet but the peace didn’t last when they pushed into Theodore’s room.

“I don’t need a fucking collar,” Dorian said tightly to Michael, who continued to hold a null-collar up in front of him. “You’re supposed to be monitoring me. Can’t you tell? My magic is fine!”

Michael stepped back at Dorian’s tone and raised his hands defensively. But of course, no sparks followed. Dorian just glared. Michael exchanged a look with Theodore and then took a seat on a black-leather chair.

“Sit,” Theodore ordered Wylie when he insisted on hovering in the doorway. “I want an explanation for whatever the hell has happened tonight.”

Wylie sat on the couch next to Dorian. Their eyes caught when he looked at him sideways. They hadn’t discussed if they were going to hide anything about what happened. It seemed pointless given Theodore’s ability to force the truth out of anyone. Dante tried to climb into Wylie’s lap. He failed twice before Wylie picked him up. Theodore and Michael both watched the small boy with twin looks of concern on their faces.

“It’s my fault,” Wylie finally said. “All of it. Dorian followed me but he couldn’t have known what he was getting himself into.”

“And what exactly would that be?” Michael pressed. His anger was more than evident as he turned his glare to Dorian. “We could feel your energy across the state! Do you even understand the risk you caused to yourself and to so many others—to the Academy—by leaving without a collar? If even one person died from your power outburst, we could be looking at a judge deciding the Academy isn’t equipped to help you guys anymore.”

Dorian glared back and only sat up straighter. “They were going to kill Wylie. What the hell did you want me to do? Let them?”

Michael growled and snapped his mouth shut. He folded his arms over his broad chest. His handsome features were currently red with anger.

Theodore leaned against his desk, and spoke when Michael seemed at a loss for words. “Are any of you hurt?”

“No,” Dorian snapped, only to reconsider and look at Wylie and Dante. “Wylie was shot a couple times but he healed himself. The kid needs help. He was locked in a crate for who knows how long. He’s a long way from home and I’m sure his parents are worried.”

Wylie leaned down when Dante whispered against his shoulder. He looked up and met Theodore’s gaze. “Dante doesn’t have parents. He was living with some relatives in Italy when his uncle took him away and told him to get in a car with some foreigners. He didn’t want to. He tried to run away but a man got a nullifier wrapped around him. They locked him up in a cage for a long time, then they put him in the crate. He’s not sure for how long.”

Michael was already reaching for his cell phone. He was well aware of what needed to be done next. “What’s his last name?”

“Salvador.” Wylie leaned down again. Dante’s voice was soft and full of sleep. “He lives with his uncle and two aunts but he’s not sure if they’re actually related to him.”

“Do you know how long ago this happened, Dante?” Michael asked while flipping through his contacts. “What’s the last date you can remember when you were home?”

It took a long time for Dante to answer. He breathed quietly against Wylie’s shoulder. “The seventh.”

“That’s nearly a month,” Wylie whispered. He unconsciously held Dante tighter.

“Well, it’s something to go on.” Michael got up and headed for the door. He glanced back with the phone up to his ear. “Make sure he gets to Dr. Rob if I’m not back in time.”

“Wait,” Dorian called. Michael stopped and held his hand over the receiver. “The kid took out five guys at the pier. Dead. One spell.”

“Fuck.” Michael nodded sharply and slammed the door as he left.

“Probably should have started with that,” Theodore observed blandly. He gave Dorian an assessing look. “Is there a particular reason you’re able to sit here with your magic in perfect control after I’m certain every magic user in the state felt your power flare?”

Dorian shrugged. He bit his lower lip and glanced hesitantly at Wylie. “I’m not sure, actually. Something happened and… well, I don’t know what. I don’t even know why it worked and…”

“My dragon ate his energy,” Wylie broke in. He met Theodore’s gaze challengingly. “Not all of it, just the extra power to keep him from being taken over.”

His expression blank, Theodore was silent for a long minute. “How, exactly, did your dragon do that?”

“By mating with him.” Wylie ignored his exasperated growl. Theodore threw himself back into his chair.

“Of all the foolish, selfish, inconsiderate—”

“I don’t care what you think,” Wylie growled with eyes narrowed. “He’s my mate. I knew it the second I met him. And apparently my dragon can help him with his power.”

“For how long?” Theodore gritted out. “Do you think magic runs out when you use it? His power will just grow back to the same dangerous levels. Given Dorian’s strength, it will be only hours from now. What are you going to do, mate him every time he’s out of control?”

“So what if he does?” Dorian snapped. He glared at the both of them. Theodore and Wylie seemed very comfortable talking about mating him like this wasn’t the first time. It was annoying as fuck to not be included in such a conversation when he was the one being mated.

Wylie shrugged and pursed his lips. He wasn’t willing to state such a claim to fixing Dorian’s energy until he had a chance to discuss it with him first. “Maybe.”

Theodore sighed in exasperation and waved his hand. “I want to hear about what happened tonight from the beginning.”

Wylie shifted Dante when the kid slumped sideways. He was fast asleep, with his head now heavy on his shoulder. He wasn’t sure how much to tell Theodore. He trusted him. Not because he had to but because he’d grown to respect him. But Dorian was there and Wylie felt awkward about many of the things he didn’t know about him yet.

There was no point hiding anything if he was serious about mating Dorian. He was. To see Dorian follow after him blazing with power, so emotional when he thought he had died…

Wylie had never felt more serious about anything in his entire life.

His decision made, he raised his head. Theodore’s violet eyes bored into him. “I got an email from Adam.”

“That Adam?”

“Yeah, the one I was with when I robbed McPherson’s house a month back. The kid that got us through the gate. Turns out he can use magic.”

Wylie was exhausted by the time Theodore determined Dorian and his account of the events were complete. Tiredness hit him quickly. His body was pulling him towards sleep in a way he’d never felt before. He still had to get to the hospital and Dr. Rob. Dante was a thin drooling lump in his arms, who breathed evenly against Wylie’s neck while he walked through the empty halls of the Academy.

It was strange; he hadn’t held someone like this since he was a kid. Sarah used to cuddle, with sticky fingers and soft blond hair every night when they all watched TV together. It was so long ago. He spent his years after the Andersons hating touch. He was afraid to be hurt, and afraid to hurt others. Something changed in him recently and holding Dante felt comfortable, not awkward.

There was something familiar about Dante he couldn’t help but respond to. Maybe it was the absolute need in him. Dante was lost and alone. His own uncle had sold him. It didn’t matter that Dante had killed those men, amazing as it was to have so much power at such a young age. He was still just a kid in a terrible situation and Wylie was going to do everything to help him out.

Dr. Rob was up and waiting for them. His easy smile dimmed when he took in Dante’s frail form and shallow breathing. “Leave him on the bed, Wylie. How are you feeling? Theo told me you were shot.”

Wylie carefully arranged the small boy on the bed and straightened. “I’m fine, really, just really tired. I think my dragon form is fixed, actually.”

“You had a full transformation? Is that how you healed?” Dr. Rob bent over the sleeping Dante. His hands hovered above him while he read his energy.

“Yeah. I thought I was dead,” Wylie admitted, but his yawn muffled the seriousness of his words.

“Well, you’re probably going to sleep like the dead.” Dr. Rob glanced over his shoulder to look at Wylie. “Healing wounds like that can take a lot out of a body, as can your first full transformation.” Turning back, he carefully pulled back the collar of Dante’s shirt and found red splotches on his pale skin. “This looks like it was made with a nullifier.”

Wylie peered down at him and exhaled heavily when he saw just how raw Dante’s skin was. “I found him wrapped in a chain made of that stuff. He was in it for as long as it takes for a boat to get from Italy to here, plus however long he was on the wharf.” His expression was grim. “Is he going to be okay?”

“It’s hard to say,” Dr. Rob answered honestly. “He’s young and young people tend to bounce back faster. But he’s been through a lot. He’s very thin and that just doesn’t happen in a few weeks. Theodore told me he’s been killing with his magic?”

“Yeah. He took out five guys with one hit.” It seemed unbelievable that anyone had captured Dante now that Wylie understood how powerful he was.

“It sounds like an emotional disturbance. Magic responds to its wielder. Dante didn’t choose to incapacitate or push away; he was so afraid that all he could do was kill.” Dr. Rob walked over to the glass cabinet and pulled a null-collar free. He returned to Dante’s bedside. “It’ll take some time to see if he can learn to keep from killing, but he might end up in a null-collar for the rest of his life. It depends on if he can distinguish between everyday stress, and life and death circumstances, and act accordingly.”

Wylie hadn’t realized just how sophisticated the null-collars were. He had no fear that the collar would burn Dante’s flesh like the pure metal had as he watched Dr. Rob click one around his narrow throat. He was grateful. He knew Dante was going to be scared enough when he woke up without his magic again. At least he wouldn’t be in pain.

If Wylie learned anything the last month, he knew the Academy would do right by Dante. He had faith in Dr. Rob and the master sorcerers and shifters, and he was certain the small boy would learn to trust them as well.

A sudden yawn interrupted his thoughts. Wylie’s body again demanded he sleep and soon. Dr. Rob looked at him sympathetically. “Better hurry off before you pass out on your feet.”

“Right.” Wylie turned to go, but stopped before he reached the door. “Call me if he needs me. I don’t care how tired I am.”

Dr. Rob smiled to himself and just nodded. There was no way Wylie would be up at all the next few days. He’d learn soon enough.

Wylie shuffled down the quiet halls. When he got to the lounge he found Dorian curled up in his favorite chair. Damn, he was beautiful.

He crouched down when he got to Dorian, and whispered in his ear, “Come on, gorgeous. You need to get to bed.”

“Was waiting for you,” Dorian mumbled. His arms slipped around Wylie’s neck and he leaned against him. “Wanna be with you.”

Wylie’s eyes closed at the words and his breath came out in a sigh of relief. He’d been brutally honest about his connections with Roth and the gang. He even worked in how Diego, the same guy who threatened Beck, was also the one to shoot McPherson. Wylie revealed everything about the terrible incident yet Dorian wasn’t running from him. His chest felt tight just thinking about it.

Wylie knew he was tired when he lifted Dorian and nearly fell sideways. There was no way he was going to make it to his dorm room and bed. He picked the nearest couch, and pulled his groggy mate down on top of him. Dorian was quick to wrap his arms around him. He settled half on Wylie, half in the nook of his arm. It was another thing Wylie wasn’t used to but felt oddly comfortable with as Dorian nuzzled against his side.

Beck always wanted him to be the cuddling type but Wylie could never feel comfortable. He told himself he was just afraid to wake up and find his scales sprouted and Beck bleeding, but the truth was he just couldn’t stay still long enough. He never truly felt comfortable except when alone. He was always waiting for the moment to sour with Beck. For some reason that feeling was gone when it came to Dorian.

Dorian mumbled something and his head tilted up toward him. Wylie bent down and kissed his sleepy pout gently. He sighed when Dorian pressed back.

He combed clumsy fingers through Dorian’s hair while his tired mind clicked things together. It didn’t matter how hard things got, how complicated it might get with Dorian’s parents or their different pasts. None of it mattered. He was going to pursue him properly. No more holding back.

He had been. Wylie thought it was because he didn’t know what he really wanted but his dragon was quick to point out that lie. He knew he wanted Dorian the second he saw him. Denying it was just telling of how much he denied all the many things in life he wanted. He pretended he didn’t want family and friends and a place to call home. To lose those things was to hurt all over again. It was easier to never dare want and chase after his dreams than risk feeling that pain.

He’d been afraid to break his heart. It wasn’t an irrational concern; it would be so easy for Dorian to break him. Dorian understood him. He saw him when so many others only saw his fucked-up demon arms. It would be so easy for Dorian to hurt him because Wylie didn’t know how to shield himself from the beautiful, brilliant, damn amazing sorcerer. Dorian could destroy him and he didn’t care one bit.

He loved Dorian Black and he wasn’t going to shy away from it anymore. Even if it hurt. Even if he failed. For once he was going to hold onto the things he wanted and not let them slip passively through his fingers.

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