Wylie sat in holding with a handful of drunks, one guy so drugged out of his mind he thought he could fly, and an assortment of punks who were picked up for vandalism throughout the night.

“I will fucking wreck you!” Butch, who didn’t think his name was ironic at all, was starting to threaten to beat the shit out of him with a little more conviction than previously stated. His little punk friends snickered meanly.

Wylie wasn’t sure what the guards would do to him if he sprouted bulking black scaled arms, beat the fuck out of Butch, and then tore the bars apart like paper to escape, but he imagined bullets would be involved. He kept his claws in, and smiled sassily at the ugly fuck that thought he could take him.

Besides the old guy’s blood drying into his jeans, Wylie didn’t have anything on him to link him to the shooting. The house was all locked up with the gun and Diego’s cell phone safe inside. Still, the cops hadn’t offered him a phone call to an attorney yet. Not that he knew any attorneys. He sure as hell wasn’t talking to the cops.

The door down the hall buzzed and opened the same way it had nearly every ten minutes. He didn’t give it much attention. Nothing more interesting than a bitching punk had been dragged in since he arrived there. Except this time, Wylie suddenly found himself inexplicably on his feet as a weird energy in the air moved with the footsteps coming down the hall. Drunk #3 raised his head but no one else seemed to think anything of it. Wylie couldn’t relax. The hair stood up on the back of his neck and goosebumps shivered over his arms from the strange, crackling sensation in the air.

Two people came into view; the hard-eyed cop he’d seen walk past a dozen times and someone… Wylie’s breath caught.

He was beautiful. Tall with straight, waist-length red hair flowing loose. His skin was golden and stunning. He had strange eyes. They were a pale violet that shone from handsome, aristocratic features. He appeared to be in his thirties and was dressed in a suit. His floor length jacket with silver detailed cuffs added a feel of mystery, but the guy’s magic did enough for that alone. He was a sorcerer. For some fucking reason, the police were leading a sorcerer to the holding cell, and he wasn’t wearing handcuffs.

Wylie didn’t turn to look behind him when he felt everyone in the cell abruptly stand at the sorcerer’s appearance. There was a whistle and then another. Wylie raised his eyebrows. As fucked-up as some of these guys were, they were, to the best of his knowledge, all completely straight. But they were drooling now; even Butch was making eyes out of his ugly mug at the beautiful redhead.

“The one you looking for here?” The cop asked tightly. His gaze kept straying to the sorcerer like he didn’t want to be looking at him but couldn’t seem to stop himself. It seemed to be a problem all around.

“I do believe he is.”

Wylie’s head turned back at the rich, melodic sound. Definitely a sorcerer… but maybe a shifter too. The man’s eyes were fucking weird, and Wylie knew from every time he looked in a mirror, his eyes were fucking weird too. It was a shifter thing.

“Mr. Doe, I would appreciate a word with you.”

Right. That would be him. He wasn’t shocked at this point, just really confused. Wylie moved to the door when the cop told him to, and held his arms out for the handcuffs. He hadn’t been allowed to call an attorney so unless Beck had spoken to Roth about helping him out, he doubted Red was his lawyer.

He was led to a small room without any windows and pushed down into a chair in front of a rickety wooden table. The sorcerer sat across from him. He folded his jacket and hair into the seat and managed to look somehow proper even with the dim lighting and dingy walls. Wylie waited as the cop removed his handcuffs and then stepped outside the room. The door clicked shut.

Violet eyes bored into him and that strange energy rose up like a suffocating blanket in the air. Wylie remained silent. He wasn’t sure what the fuck the guy wanted but was certain he’d find out soon enough.

“Tell me what happened last night,” the sorcerer commanded, his voice a low purr. Wylie’s mouth opened before he knew it when the strange energy compelled him to speak. He immediately snapped his jaw shut and glared. They stared at each other for long minutes. Wylie felt the energy pulse like waves trying to beat him into submission. He fought it with everything he had. He clenched his hands into fists until his talons were out and slicing his palm for focus.

Suddenly the weight in the air dispersed and the sorcerer sat back with an annoyed purse to his lips. “Mr. Doe, my name is Theodore Howld. I’ve been sent by Collin McPherson to ensure you are treated fairly in the proceedings about to take place.”

He couldn’t have just started with that? Wylie raised his head and relaxed slightly. “He’s alive?”

“Yes. Apparently because of you.” For some reason, he didn’t seem happy about that fact. Wylie had a feeling it had to do with who saved the old guy, not so much that he was alive.

“So, what, you’re a lawyer?” Wylie tucked his claws away.

“No.” Theodore didn’t offer any information as to what his actual occupation was. He crooked his finger. “Let me see your hand.”

Wylie glared warily and slowly placed his right hand on the table and let it rest facing upwards. Blood was wet in his palm from where his claws had scratched. Theodore stared at his hand like it was covered in filth.

“Could I see one not so bloody?” Theodore said testily and moved further away in his seat.

With a shrug, Wylie raised his left hand and held it out to show it was also bloody. He ran his tongue over his palm and licked away the crimson in slow laps. He smirked to see the sorcerer squirm. With his flesh healed, he placed his hand back on the table and licked his other palm clean.

“Well, that at least confirms that.” Theodore carefully took in his wound-free palm before his eyes flashed angrily and fixed back on Wylie’s face. “What were you doing in Mr. McPherson’s house last night?”

“Robbing him,” Wylie answered bluntly.

Theodore didn’t look shocked at the revelation, but the curl to his lips suggested he’d like to punch Wylie through the wall. “Why?”

“He’s rich.” He emphasized the word to point out just how dumb the question was. “He was also supposed to be on some tropical island and not at home.”

Theodore dismissed his opinion on where Mr. McPherson was supposed to be. “How did you get through the gate? The security system was completely shut off.”

“Sorry, not my expertise.” Wylie shrugged. “I’m just the muscle.”

“So there were others with you?”

Wylie rolled his eyes and snapped his mouth shut with an audible click. Crap. Maybe the old guy completely forgot about Diego—fuck, maybe he barely even remembered he was there either. It was a damn nasty head wound.

“Listen attentively, Mr. Doe, because I would prefer to not have to prove my words.” Theodore leaned closer and his violet eyes burned. “What you felt is only a very small percentage of my ability. I could make you a puppet to my whims, where you speak the truth at my preferred pace instead of this obnoxious game you seem to think you are winning. Tell the truth or I’ll force you to. My way will not be pleasant.”

Wylie glared. He was certain he hated the beautiful bastard with his arrogant attitude and all. “I’m not incriminating anyone just because you want to play magic with me. I’m the one in jail, no one else. That’s how it’s going to stay no matter how much you threaten me.”

“Oh, are these associates of yours somehow important?” Voice silky, Theodore straightened in his chair. “I’ve been flipping through the cell phone you left behind and, I must say, I cannot agree with the quality of people you have chosen to surround yourself with.”

His nostrils flared and eyes narrowed. Wylie took a deep breath. Who the fuck would be on Diego’s phone? Would the gangster have been retarded enough to put Roth on there? Had Beck somehow managed to make it into the list of people worth calling? Did he just fuck over his boyfriend by not using the old guy’s fucking house phone?

“It’s not my phone,” he said after a long moment.

Theodore grinned as if he had won some big fucking victory and at this point, Wylie honestly didn’t know if he had. “Oh, I’m aware. Foster children in a detention house are not allowed to own cell phones. The owner of the phone, a Mr. Gould, has an outstanding bill. His last address is states away, likely coinciding with the day his credit cards were stolen. You seem to be very good at stealing, Mr. Doe.”

Impotent rage swirled in his stomach in realization to what he was trying to do. Wylie huffed. “Whatever. It’s still not my phone.”

“Then whose is it?” Theodore’s voice vibrated with anticipation.

Wylie was feeling vindictive and snapped, “Your crack whore momma’s, dickhead.”

It was very much the wrong answer. A terrible wind of power whipped up. Wylie found himself chest flat on the table, face squished to the wood as an invisible force held him down. If not for his inability to breathe, it would have been a damn cool trick.

“God, I despise mouthy teenagers.” Theodore placed his elbows on the table and rested his chin on his folded hands. “Mr. Doe, an eyewitness saw a van pull into my employer’s driveway around midnight last night. Four people got out. When the van left, only three individuals were in it. One of them was bleeding heavily. You were seen returning to the house. You carried an injured man, my employer, through the front door and the two of you waited for the police to arrive. Does any of this sound familiar to you?”

Wylie gritted his teeth and struggled to breathe around the weight threatening to crush his lungs.

“I’m going to take that as a yes,” Theodore said with a bored drawl. He grabbed Wylie by the back of the head and pulled him up by his blond locks dyed blue. “Why did you return to the house alone? Please be succinct with your answer.”

With a snarl, Wylie bit out heatedly, “I didn’t want him to die!”

Theodore did not look impressed. “Is that a common theme with criminals? Do you steal from people but draw the line at killing?”

“I’m not a criminal.” Wylie struggled in the hold. Whatever the hell Red was, he wasn’t letting go.

“You were robbing a house with a gun in hand. I hardly believe—”

“It wasn’t my gun! Now let me the fuck go!”

“No.” Theodore’s grip on his hair pulled tighter and Wylie gasped. The man was ridiculously strong, steel muscle hidden beneath his seemingly limber form. “Whose gun is it?”

Violet eyes bored into his. Wylie felt crackling energy again push into his brain. His mouth opened against his will and words tumbled out.

Each question led to another and the whole fucking story came free while Wylie watched from outside himself. What was worse was when he continued. Theodore pulled his personal information from him, things he didn’t share with anyone. Things like how much he hated his fucking demon arms, how he never healed anyone until the old man told him he could and how he discovered bloodlust was really fucking embarrassing. How he worried; metal just so easy to tear apart, never mind flesh, and it made it really difficult to even be around people. But Beck was different, the only one who didn’t freak out at his arms. And what did it matter if the bitch at the detention center locked him out after curfew? He was getting out soon. He just needed the cash from working with the gang and he’d be able to get into some sort of community college or trade school and have a life of his own. That was all he wanted, his own fucking life, but seeing the old dude bleeding out changed everything.

Theodore’s eyes lost their otherworldly glow. He sat back and released the grip he had on Wylie’s hair. Wylie slumped onto the wooden table with a groan. “I want the name of your social worker.”

“Fuck off,” Wylie muttered, only to gasp when the invisible weight immediately pressed on his chest. “Fucking—Winchester. Diane Winchester, you piece of shit!” He took in a huge gulp of air when the pressure disappeared again.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Theodore scrutinized him silently, stood and crossed the room. He looked unfazed, his hair perfect and gait smooth. Wylie looked away when he knocked briskly on the door.

The same officer answered. He grunted as he came in and grabbed Wylie’s arms and cuffed them behind his back. Wylie glared stonily straight ahead and tried not to think of all the things he told the sorcerer. He’d never felt so helpless before. It was absolutely violating to have his will stolen with one simple spell. He was left feeling small, raw and vulnerable; feelings he spent years trying to not have.

He was pushed out the door and back to the room with the holding cell. Butch gave him a vicious smirk but Wylie was walked past him and led further down the hall to another cell. This one had slats of metal instead of bars. Forced inside the empty cage, everything clicked into place when a switched was flipped and energy crackled up the walls and ceiling. Magic now fortified the once seemingly surmountable steel.

Wylie’s handcuffs weren’t removed. He was left standing alone in the small cell, his nose full of burning ozone and foreign magic. The cuffs felt different, thicker like maybe they were designed for a shifter and not just some teenage fuck up. Fuck. They might not have known it before, but they knew it now; they knew he was a shifter.

Wylie sat and made sure he didn’t sway too far to the left or right. His feet felt numb when they reached too close to the edge of the cage. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, but maybe it would involve a lawyer now. Or maybe not. They knew he was a shifter, which put him in a huge gray area when it came to the law because of the many extra things shifters could do that normal people couldn’t. Apparently a leg up on the genetic tree meant you had to compromise your rights to exist.

If he wasn’t fucked before, he definitely was now.

The next guard that came for Wylie was like him, a shifter. He smelled like dog, but was probably wolf. It’s not like he knew any shifters; he chose to avoid his own once he realized most saw him as some weird alpha competition. The cop had rippling muscles under his uniform, and deranged yellow eyes that glared at him like Wylie had murdered and raped a family, in that order.

Wylie kept his head down. He was disoriented by the missing buzz of the walls. He wasn’t really interested in challenging the shifter cop with eye contact.

The guard didn’t tell him where they were going, and he didn’t bother to ask. He’d figure it out soon enough. Two of the drunks were gone along with Butch and his little punk friends. A random scattering of people replaced the others in holding. Wylie was relieved to see Beck wasn’t among them. He didn’t have much time to think as he was pushed through a door, down another hall, and then another. Daylight assailed his senses so suddenly, he hissed and tried to crouch in on himself.

“What are you, light sensitive?” The guard huffed when Wylie nodded and turned his body away from the large windows that opened the side wall to a view of the city. The guard stepped over to a desk, and returned with a pair of sunglasses he slipped on his face. Wylie did his best not to flinch; the scent of shifter was almost as alarming as the blinding sunlight.

“Come on, kid.” His voice gruff, the guard renewed his grip on Wylie’s arm and pushed him towards a new door. It was some sort of conference room, except it wasn’t full of police. Inside stood the redheaded sorcerer from earlier and Wylie’s case worker from social services.

“Mrs. Winchester?” Wylie stared at her dumbly and allowed himself to be pushed towards a chair. Petite with long, curly black hair, Diane smiled weakly at him like he was arriving for an execution.

Shit, was he ever going to get a lawyer? Television was a fucking lie.

“Cuffs on or off?” The cop looked to Theodore like he was in charge. Apparently he was because with a nod, the cuffs were off. Diane shoved a blueberry muffin in Wylie’s hand along with a cup of coffee. Both of which he nearly dropped. His hands prickled uncomfortably as blood rushed back into them.

“Sorry,” he muttered. Wylie quickly placed everything on the table before he made a mess. He was shaking, he realized with a start, and beyond embarrassed by the fact. He threw himself into the chair and hoped it would stop soon.

The shifter officer left to stand outside the door. Wylie felt a little better when the guy’s weird scent was no longer in the room.

“Wylie, I’m here to explain what’s going to happen next.” Diane’s big brown eyes were watery with concern. It wasn’t reassuring.

Wylie’s hands were feeling steady enough to try the coffee. He took cautious sips while Diane explained all the terrible things going to happen if he ended up in prison. There wasn’t a juvenile center for shifters; the population was too small to warrant it. He would be sent to the place up north called Daiker Prison with the fully grown, testosterone brimming, psycho monsters who had lost their shit and never found it again.

Fucked. He was totally fucked.

“So… no trial?” Wylie lifted his gaze from the table long enough to see her eyes do their pity watering thing. Mrs. Winchester was a nice enough chick and all, but he really didn’t want to be cried at.

“Not yet.” Diane released a long breath. “You’re at a crossroads right now. What happens in the next couple of hours decides the next five years of your life.”

Wylie swallowed hard. Five years. Could he survive five years with a bunch of fucked-up shifters? He was only six feet and, although fit, there was no way he could compete with the full grown, muscle-bound monsters the aggressive shifters became. Fuck, he wasn’t even strong enough for a full transformation. The guys up in Daiker would not have that problem.

“Alright,” Wylie said after a moment. His fingers mindlessly tore at the plastic flap on the lid of his cup. “That guy’s still alive, right? The owner of the house… he’s still okay?”

“Yes, it looks like he’ll make a full recovery.” Diane tried to read Wylie’s face, but his head was ducked and the sunglasses obscured his expression.

Wylie gave a nod. He felt some sort of satisfaction that if he was going to end up in jail for five years, at least he succeeded in what he set out to do. The old guy was alive. “Alright. So, I go back to the cage now?”

“Mr. Doe, I would like to make something clear to you before Mrs. Winchester continues,” Theodore turned from where he’d been looking out the window. “My employer, Mr. McPherson, is not now, or will be in the future, pressing charges for your actions in breaking and entering his house. He has been emphatically rigorous in his attempts to get the State to not press charges. But as you are going to find out, this being your first time in police custody, there are automatic procedures which are followed when dealing with shifters.”

A strange tension in his stomach uncurled when Wylie heard the old guy wasn’t angry enough to press charges. The other shit—his life again fucked because he was a monster—he tried to block out like he’d been doing since he was eight.

Theodore was looking at him expectantly. “Okay,” Wylie finally answered. What was there to say? He was fucked. He knew it the second he saw Diego with his gun out and looking like some crazed animal about to do something really fucking stupid. It was done and now he had to face the fucking music.

Diane placed her hand on Wylie’s. “The State is very clear on where they stand with shifters under their care. Remember when we discussed why you were treated so harshly for the simple bloody nose you gave Thomas? Three years in that detention house didn’t really equate, but the state has a no tolerance policy. They don’t care that you’re young or that you saved a man’s life. I don’t want you to think you shouldn’t have done what you did, Wylie. I am so proud of you for doing everything you could to save Mr. McPherson. Just sometimes… sometimes you don’t get a reward for it. Sometimes it’s just a punishment.”

Wylie glanced away. He really wished she would stop crying at him.

“Diane, if you cannot continue, I will,” Theodore said gruffly. “We still need his answer before we can proceed.”

“You’re right, of course.” Diane wiped her cheeks. “Mr. McPherson has offered an alternative to Daiker, Wylie. His associate is at the governor’s right this minute trying to negotiate a compromise.” A folder was pushed across the table and Diane looked at him hopefully. “It’s a good deal. I’ve read it front to back. Under different circumstances, it could have been a safe haven for someone like you.”

Wylie’s tongue slid over the edges of his teeth. He flipped the plain manila folder open and was greeted with a pamphlet and nothing else. “The Academy?” He read the top and looked at the colorful image of a large building surrounded by trees. He carefully skimmed through, greeted with text and more images of dorms and classrooms. “I don’t understand… Is this some sort of school for shifters?”

“Not exactly.” Theodore stepped over to stand next to Diane. “It’s an institution to help out-of-control paranormals gain mastery over their abilities, to prevent them from harming themselves and others. You would be among magic users, halflings, as well as other shifters. There is equipment to contain you if you become out of control, as well as experienced individuals who can help guide you to use your powers responsibly. There is even a reintegration program to prepare you to return to life among ‘normal’ society once your five years are complete. The Academy contains everything a shifter on the brink might need to regain his control.”

Wylie blinked and gnawed on his lower lip. He looked up to fix his gaze on Theodore. “I’m not out of control. I am very good at keeping control. No matter how many times I knew I could seriously hurt someone, I didn’t. Ever.”

Theodore nodded in understanding. For a shifter, it was about as important as it got to know he had something which kept him from being taken over by the beast inside. “You can only do a partial transformation. Has anyone ever explained to you what that might mean?”

“Right, like I talked to anyone about that. Just because I can smell a shifter doesn’t mean I’m going to let them know they can take me because I can’t transform right,” Wylie said tightly.

Theodore ignored his defensive tone. “When did you first transform? What happened that revealed your power?”

Wylie involuntarily winced. He bit agitatedly at the side of his thumb and turned away. “Uh… I was a kid. Eight,” he muttered. He shrank away when Diane reached for him.

“And?” Theodore pressed. “What happened?”

He huffed and glared at Theodore. “I don’t… It was a long time ago and I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Someone hurt you?”

“No,” he snapped and his glare grew. “My sister. Someone hurt my sister.”

“You defended her in a time of crisis when you were young,” Theodore said carefully.

“It scared her,” Wylie answered reluctantly. “Scared everyone. They got rid of me after that.” Adopting an orphaned baby was fine enough, but when Wylie and his family discovered he was also a shifter, it was too much for the Andersons. So much so they even changed his surname back to ‘Doe,’ as if it would be enough to erase the eight years they called him their son. He lost the only family he ever knew when everyone found out he was a shifter.

“Sometimes when a shifter first transforms in a crisis, especially at an early age, their abilities are impaired,” Theodore explained. “They repeat the same half shift. Their bodies relive that moment and what they were hoping to accomplish. Do you remember what you tried to do to defend your sister?”

Wylie did. He bit on his thumb harder as the vision flashed in his mind’s eye. “Kill.” He was unwilling to describe who or why.

If Theodore was surprised, he didn’t show it. “So now you have killer hands that can tear through reinforced steel like it’s nothing. With the proper training, we can show you how to transform and not be a walking razor blade. There are plenty of animals in the wild, but they only choose to harm when they are hunting, defending, or protecting. You can have that option as well.”

Wylie stared at him, not sure if he understood. Everything to do with his demon arms was death. It was always that way. He couldn’t even imagine being able to transform and not have scales which would flay someone if they merely brushed against him.

“The thing is, Wylie, they’re not going to just let you go to the Academy like a normal kid would,” Diane broke in. She exchanged glances with Theodore when Wylie curled up and seemed no longer present. “They want to treat it like a sentence in a juvenile facility. Five years. The same as what you would get if you went to prison.”

“If they’ll let me at all,” Wylie whispered.

Diane nodded and her narrow shoulders slumped. “They haven’t booked you yet, which is a good sign. The police were holding you, waiting to see if Mr. McPherson was going to press charges. You gave the arresting officer your real name, though, and it was flagged as paranormal. I don’t think any of these guys really want to put you in prison, Wylie. They’ve been dragging their feet all day trying to keep you off the record, but the law is the law, no matter how biased it is. If Mr. McPherson can give the governor an option that still fits in that law, I think they’re going to take it just to avoid sending a teenager to Daiker.”

His fingers twitched on the table and tapped an erratic beat. Wylie smiled weakly. “Shit, I must really be a fuck up, huh? First teenager sent to Daiker Prison. How the fuck do all those other kid shifters do it?”

Diane gave him a pained look and folded her hands on the table. “I’m not…”

“They’ve got parents, kid,” Theodore said bluntly. “Shifter fathers with enough ability to control their kids. Sometimes uncles, brothers, grandfathers. Shifter families work as a team to keep the younger ones contained. The adults who realize their kids are struggling contact the Academy for extra help. They don’t let their children get into trouble because they know what the State will do to them.”

“Oh.” Wylie sighed and slouched in his chair. It only raised the question of just why the hell his parents abandoned him as a baby. If shifters were so fucking family oriented their kids never got into trouble, his parents had to have known they were setting him up for some huge fall from the very beginning. The shifter gene was in the male chromosome. His parents would have known just by having a baby boy there was a possibility of him being a shifter.

“Wylie, will you accept the terms needed to get you set up in the Academy?” Diane tapped the folder on the table to catch his attention. “This will be a deal done outside the reach of this station. As long as we can keep you from being put in the system, the process for booking a shifter won’t move forward. A note will be added to your name with the paranormal registry. You’ll be placed in the Academy like you would any detention house, forced to abide by their rules. If they don’t think you’re cooperating or you get caught doing something illegal, you’ll be brought back here and the police will have to continue with the process required by the paranormal registry. After five years, the note will be removed and you’ll be free to live your life.”

Wylie snorted humorlessly. “Sure, as much of a life as a paranormal can get.”

“Wylie.” Diane sighed heavily.

“It’s fine, whatever. I’ll do whatever they want,” Wylie muttered. “If it keeps me away from the fucking psycho howlers in Daiker, what the hell else matters, right?”

Diane pulled her phone out at his answer, stood, and moved to the window after patting him on the shoulder. Wylie hunched further down in his seat. He wished he didn’t feel so cold all of a sudden and the coffee didn’t make his stomach churn. He could feel Theodore staring at him, which was just annoying, on top of everything else.

“You sleep at all, kid?” Theodore folded his arms over his chest and leaned his hip on the table.

“For a moment.” Wylie shrugged. “Too many people at first, then the walls were all buzzy like I was going to be electrocuted.”

“Nullifiers. They keep magic from passing through. Not quite an electrocution, but it can burn the skin on contact, especially shifter flesh.” He fell silent again and Wylie was glad he didn’t have to pretend to listen. Diane came back eventually, her cranberry stained lips twisted in a small frown.

“He’s still in negotiations with the governor,” she said quietly to Theodore as she sat back in her chair. “His exact words were ‘obstinate bigot.’ I don’t know how this is going to turn out.”

“Believe me, if anyone can do this, it’s Michael,” Theodore said resolutely. “He’ll wear him down.”

She nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “Wylie, I’m going to have you stay here with me for as long as possible, okay? I have my whole day cleared. Whatever happens, I’ll be right here with you.”

Wylie bit his lip and nodded. He didn’t have the heart to thank her, not when she kept looking teary. But he didn’t pull away when she insisted on patting his arm, and that seemed to be enough for her.

He let his eyes close under his sunglasses and wondered what things would be like if he was raised with shifters for parents. After the Andersons, everything went to shit. If they were shifters…

It didn’t matter. Just water under the bridge now. A lifetime of what ifs still added up to nothing.

Michael Whiteheart turned out to be the closest thing to a lawyer Wylie was going to get or possibly even need. He read through the legalese with ease, and even explained it all to Wylie in a way he could understand. Michael had spent his day with the governor convincing a compromise, and personally delivered the contract that promised to keep Wylie out of Daiker. With his golden blond hair, shining blue eyes, and a tanned, towering form which could only be described as Herculean, Wylie first thought Michael was a model. Instead, he was a sorcerer like Theodore but without the strange eyes common with shifters.

When Michael first arrived, he and Theodore snapped at each other like kid brothers. In front of other people, the Greek god was definitely a prince charming. His bright white teeth flashed and the man rumbled laughs that the police kept joining.

Everyone was in love with him. Bro love, not the pure lust Theodore inspired in absolute strangers. As a shifter, Wylie seemed to be immune to it but the cops weren’t and they were falling all over themselves. It was interesting to watch, and he wondered if it was a sorcerer thing or an Academy thing. Both men were instructors at the Academy. Theodore taught Body Magic, and Michael was the Human Reintegration Specialist. He was the guy to get patients back to the real world once they got their powers under control. It was probably a good thing he was so smooth with the politicians.

Wylie would spend the next five years of his life at the Academy as long as he followed the rules and didn’t engage in illegal activity, which included reaching out to his old friends from the gang. It took a lot of negotiating, but Michael convinced the governor’s office that a year of monthly check-ins was more than enough to gauge his progress.

All Wylie would have to do was keep his head down and stay out of trouble and he’d be fine. He wouldn’t be entered into the criminal system, wouldn’t be labeled as an out-of-control shifter for the rest of his life, and wouldn’t have to go to Daiker. It was a miracle and he still couldn’t fully grasp it.

“I’m going to see you first chance you’re allowed visitors,” Diane promised with another hug. “For now, I’ll collect your things from the detention house and have them sent over to the Academy for you. Was there anyone there you wanted to say goodbye to?”

Beck’s face flashed in his mind’s eye and Wylie winced. He’d be fine; Beck had parents and he wasn’t in jail. He could finish up school and figure his shit out. Besides him, there was no one Wylie really talked to, no one he gave a crap about. And Beck, well, Beck clung too much. He was a good guy but just really fucking naïve and always looked to Wylie to fix his superficial problems. Wylie had enough problems with his own life, few of them small.

“Nah, I’m good.” A part of Wylie resented how he could tally up anyone important in his life and end up at zero.

He held still when the heavy shifter handcuffs were clapped onto his wrists. The State insisted he be transported in one of their own vehicles like he was going to jump ship the second he left the station. Wylie didn’t make a fuss. He’d won and he could deal with the embarrassment of being led around looking like a criminal.

Fuck, he did some bad shit. He probably deserved worse.

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