DEMON ARMS

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CHAPTER 7

Theodore’s private quarters looked straight out of a modern bachelor’s magazine; leather couch and armchairs, sleek furniture, large open space and stone floor. He nodded Wylie to a chair and slammed a drink down in front of him. It was whiskey and Wylie stared in confusion.

“It’ll barely touch you. Dragons metabolize alcohol in minutes,” Theodore explained.

“Then why?”

“Because it tastes good and will calm you down.”

Was he trying to get him drunk? Wylie dismissed the thought and sipped the drink. It did taste good in a burning, rich kind of way. “Is this when you tell me I’m going to start craving human flesh?”

Theodore sat, sprawled out on the couch, long leather boots crossed at the ankle. “Tell me what happened, every detail. I’ll have a proper answer for you after.”

It wasn’t reassuring. Wylie recounted it as best as he could. The beast had never done that before and it was hard to explain, hard to comprehend. Theodore seemed to know the right questions, though, and was all over him the second he mentioned that the dragon was up before the collar was off Dorian.

“You’re certain?”

“Yeah. It was hissing at him.”

“Not growling?”

Wylie shook his head.

“So you saw him and the dragon sat up and started hissing so much you started hissing as well?” Wylie nodded. “And then the collar came off and you went dragon? You couldn’t see anything else but his power?” He nodded again. “And something about this interaction made you think the dragon wants to eat him?”

“Err… his power.” Wylie paused. “Well, maybe a bit more than that. He was very… yummy.” He licked his teeth; his fangs itched from the memory.

Theodore fixed him with a stern look. “I’m assuming you’re intentionally leaving out the fact that you’re hard for the guy, right? If you just said that in the first place, it would have made a lot more sense.”

Wylie scowled and hunched down in his chair. “You’re telling me this is because I think he’s hot? I think a lot of people are hot. My dragon has never given a fuck before.”

“Your dragon has never met Dorian Black,” Theodore said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. It wasn’t.

“Are you saying he’s like catnip to dragons?”

“Nothing like that. I’m saying your dragon has a thing for him. Mine doesn’t have a thing for him, so I can only assume it’s just you.”

“Oh.” Wylie mused on that for a while and finished off his drink. “Is my dragon going to want to eat him?” Theodore huffed like he was the biggest idiot out there. “Hey, I didn’t even know I was a dragon until a day ago. Cut me some slack.”

Violet eyes burned into him and the instructor huffed again. Yup, apparently he was an idiot. “Dragons don’t eat their mates. They obsess over them, protect them, and screw them. That energy you couldn’t stop focusing on was Dorian’s personal signature. Your dragon was memorizing it. He wanted to taste his power the same way you would want to kiss him. You’re actually lucky you and your dragon agree on the same person. A lot of times the inner beast never finds a suitable mate.”

There was a trill inside Wylie at Theodore’s strange words, like his dragon was purring. The whole thing was getting fucking weird. “When you say mate…?”

“Lover. Maybe more, but it’s Black and he’s cold as ice, so probably not even that.” Theodore shrugged unconcernedly. “Actually, I’m pretty sure he hates you. He lost his shit and started sparking because of your freak out, and he can’t stand losing control. Not sure you even have a shot.”

Theodore was a really difficult guy to hold a conversation with. He would tell him shit and then just shit on him. “How do I keep my dragon from… um… trying to kiss his energy?” Wylie scowled at just how weird he sounded.

“Avoid him. Sit your ass down with your dragon and explain that it’s hissing up the wrong tree. Hope it grows bored. Masturbate a lot.”

Wylie scratched the back of his head and glanced sideways at Theodore. “Is this, like, personal experience here?”

Another huff. “My brother had a thing for one of the cursed. It was a bad, messed up girl and she was only going to drag him into her shit.”

“Oh.” Not sure what to say, Wylie tapped his fingers lightly on the glass. “Did he…?”

“No. Dragons are stubborn as fuck. He died. Fought it as long as he could then got caught up in her drama. A rival pack of werewolves took out the entire group of them one moon.”

“Crap. Sorry.” Wylie knew stories about werewolves back in the day going crazy on the full moon, but this was the first time someone he knew confirmed it.

Theodore shrugged. “It was a long time ago. And all the more reason you need to come to some sort of understanding with your dragon. You can’t ignore it, kid. That beast is half of you. You might hate it, fear it, resent it, but if it dies, you’re dead too. You can’t survive without it. Your dragon being happy and healthy will improve your quality of life faster than anything else.”

“It scares the fuck out of me,” Wylie admitted quietly.

Theodore glanced his way again and pointed the toe of his boot towards the bottle of whiskey on the table in offering. “I know. I used to get jealous of the pack shifters. Wolves, cats, even met a few rodents. All a big happy family of furry animals who have a part inside that just wants to keep others safe and be safe in return. Dragons aren’t like that. Magical and not even mammals; they’re almost alien. Intelligent, but so damn frightening.

“Your dragon just met a guy it wants to hump and the first thing it does is hiss like a monster and bare its fangs. Like that’s not going to scare the fuck out of your love interest? Course, your dragon thinks it’s giving a very obvious mating call and can’t understand why the guy doesn’t respond. Stupid beasts.”

Yeah, really fucking stupid. Wylie poured another drink and took larger sips. He wondered if he would’ve had a shot at Dorian Black if not for his fucked-up dragon. Beck got off on seeing his arms, but Beck was a rare breed of messed up. Dorian didn’t seem afraid of him, but he sure as fuck didn’t seem interested either.

“Why do you think he burst into flames?”

“Honestly?” Theodore rocked his boot back and forth as he thought. “The kid has a bad power balance issue; he’s more magic than human. That means he’s spending every waking moment keeping himself in check. You start hissing at him, go brutal arms and mention you can’t stop wanting his energy… It probably freaked him out and his control slipped.”

Wylie stared down at the amber liquid remaining in his glass. “What happens if he loses it?”

“You felt his power. People die. Lots of people. Michael is magically tied to him twenty-four seven so that if Dorian slips even an iota, he’ll know and be there to collar him. He’s one of our most promising, most deadly students we’ve ever had.”

He looked up and met Theodore’s gaze. “That why you suddenly showed up out of the blue? They tie you to me?”

“I deal with shifters. Bear does too, but he lives off campus and we can’t depend on him.” Theodore glanced away disinterestedly. “If I feel one of my shifters start slipping, I deal with it.”

Wylie knew he was full of shit. It had to be a dragon thing where he watched his ass and refused to admit it. “I think you’re wrong about Dorian. He didn’t smell like fear and my dragon senses were on full alert. He wasn’t afraid of me.”

“You think it really matters?” Theodore sat up, composed and stern again. “Don’t feed your dragon on this. Dorian’s ice for a reason. Magic and emotion go hand in hand. You push him, try to woo him or some ridiculous notion like that, and you put every single person in this institution at risk of his power unleashing. Your dragon made a bad choice, Wylie. An impossible choice. You can’t have him and you better get used to it now.”

Fuck his life. Wylie exhaled heavily and sat back in his chair. “I need a cigarette.”

Theodore wasn’t done making him feel like shit. Maybe the dragon needed to hear it; he sure as fuck didn’t want to. “You’re going to be here five years, kid. Dorian’s probably going to be here forever. Focus on getting a proper transformation. Focus on finding a way to share your body and your life with your dragon. Think about what the hell you’re going to do when you finally get to leave here for good and join the real world again. Learn magic and make friends. Never, ever touch Dorian Black.”

Yeah, fuck his life. This coming from the guy who apparently used to be a patient there but never moved on. “Your dragon ever fall for someone?” Wylie asked quietly.

“No,” Theodore said with a sigh. “Thank fucking God.”

Yeah, he was totally fucked.

Dorian’s conversation with Michael wasn’t going any better. Actually, it wasn’t happening at all.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not and until you explain it, the collar stays on.”

With a glare, Dorian folded his arms over his chest. “You seriously think I don’t know how to get out of one of these things? Do you really think I’d let myself be collared unless I knew I could get out if I needed to?”

Michael just stared at him impassively. This was not the first time they’d had this conversation but it was the first time Dorian had gone up in flames while in the Academy. Michael knew to take it seriously no matter how much Dorian tried to brush it off. “I have an institution full of brilliant but unstable young men who depend on me for their protection. If you don’t tell me how I can help you, I am not only letting you down but each and every one of them if you have an incident. Please help me out here.”

“Fuck.” He growled in exasperation. Dorian paced halfway down the hall, only to whirl back. His face still showed far too much irritation to warrant his collar being removed. “He was covered in blood.”

“It was dry. You’re not passing this off as bloodlust.”

“Damn it, just back off!” Dorian snarled. “It was a one-time thing. I’ll figure it out and I’ll adapt like I always do. Stop acting like I’m going to take out the whole damn complex.”

That he was nearly yelling spoke volumes and Michael only grew quieter and more impassive with every agitated twitch Dorian failed to hide. “Would Dr. Rob be someone you’d prefer to talk to about this? I will get whoever you need if you don’t feel comfortable enough with me—”

“Stop.” Dorian walked up to Michael while he hugged his arms to his body. “This isn’t about needing to talk to someone. This is about you understanding I’m more than capable of figuring out my own shit without the entire Academy butting their heads into my business. You going to be calling McPherson in just so I can have a nice fatherly chat with him, too? Come on, Michael.”

Michael eyed him and finally answered. “You’re sweating.”

“People sweat all the fucking time!” Dorian roughly raked his fingers through his hair.

“Yes, but you do not, as we are very much both aware, given how I and the other master sorcerers have instructed you in hours of meditation. You are having a strong emotional reaction. So strong, it is manifesting physically. You had a much milder one just last night, and that was dangerous enough. You can talk to me now or someone else later, but the collar will not be removed until I’m certain you’re not a risk to yourself and others.”

His eyes narrowed, Dorian turned abruptly and paced down the hall again in halting steps. Once he turned and made his way back to Michael, his face had regained some of its familiar coolness. “Everyone else is allowed to fucking sweat. Everyone else is allowed to get angry and yell and cry and be fucking human, you know. I’m not even twenty—I’m allowed to be emotional.”

Michael raised his eyebrows, and matched Dorian’s bitter tone with more annoying calm. “As long as you’re wearing a null-collar, yes. You can be as much of an irrational teenager as you like. Is that what you’re hoping for right now? To indulge a temper tantrum?”

“Maybe.” He glared again. Dorian whirled away and paced another round down the empty corridor. When he reached Michael again, he stopped and huffed at the floor. “It’s not a fucking tantrum. A tantrum suggests an irrational reaction.”

“Oh, so you’re being rational?” Michael sounded more curious than anything else. “You’ve yet to explain just how rational a reaction you’re having.”

“Just because I burst into flames doesn’t mean my reaction is irrational,” Dorian muttered. “If Leo was stung by a bee and suddenly turned into a lion and started mauling people, you wouldn’t say he was throwing a ‘tantrum.’ You’d say he was having a perfectly reasonable reaction because he’s a shifter. Well, I’m fucked-up magically and I’m having a perfectly reasonable reaction to emotional stimuli. You shouldn’t be so condescending just because my reactions scare the fuck out of you.”

He honed in on his choice of words and Michael repeated, “Emotional stimuli?”

Dorian scowled. He turned and paced away. “You know why I’m here, Michael. You know what happened to me. What I did.”

“I do.” Michael watched Dorian run fingers over the wall as if he had claws. Normally the move would have left burns on the surface, sometimes gouges, but with his magic collared it had no impact. “Are you suggesting you know Wylie Doe from before your time in this institution?”

“What? Hell no.” Dorian snorted humorlessly. “The guy is clearly some sort of street thug. Definitely not the type to hang at my parent’s country house.”

“Then I’m having a lot of trouble following. I asked if you were reacting to his dragon—Heaven knows, dragons can be intimidating and Wylie has very little control over that part of himself besides pure repression. You said you weren’t, that you weren’t afraid.”

“Why the fuck would I be afraid?” Dorian’s pacing brought him back to Michael. His brilliant hazel eyes were full of annoyance. “He’s just another shifter. They’re all like that; fucked-up and loud and completely unpredictable.”

“He’s the first dragon who’s ever hissed at you like that. The first dragon you’ve come across who doesn’t have full control. You might not have been afraid, but I was concerned for you, and I wasn’t the one being hissed at,” Michael pointed out calmly.

Dorian inhaled sharply. He gave a curt nod and avoided his gaze. “He hissed at me. Freaked out and hissed at me.”

“Yes. That would have been frightening to anyone. He’s six feet tall, covered in dry blood and when he transforms he goes into an aggressive state every time, no matter the situation. Fear would be a very reasonable reaction.”

Dorian shrugged, his eyes narrowed as he looked off in the distance. “The fucker hissed at me. Took one look at me and started hissing. Never had that happen.”

Michael nodded. “It was a very strong reaction. He seemed just as surprised by it. Also apologetic.”

“I’m not angry at him. What? Stop looking at me like that, Whiteheart. I’m angry at myself for losing control,” Dorian grumbled. “I shouldn’t have lost control. I don’t lose control. I don’t.”

“But you did. Twice.” Michael’s eyes pierced into his. Dorian didn’t turn away this time. “He’s going to be sharing space for a while. Whatever this is, you need to get it sorted.”

His jaw clenched defiantly, Dorian didn’t speak for a long moment. “Master Howld is supposed to be a dragon shifter, right? What does it mean when he hisses?”

Michael frowned as he thought it over. “I’ve never heard Theodore hiss. Had him growl before and that was only before he was about to go dragon and beat the life out of someone. Never hiss…” he trailed off, his head tilted.

“What?” Dorian knew he was holding something back.

“Well, I don’t know if it’s relevant. But I do remember now when Theo and I were first in the Academy together,” Michael started thoughtfully. “He had a brother who would visit sometimes. He used to hiss.”

“What did he hiss for?”

“Food.” Michael gave a wry smile. “Visitors day was big back then and the kitchen always had a huge spread for everyone. Every time the kid saw chocolate cake, he’d hiss. It made it very difficult to ask for a slice, but we all managed.”

His brow furrowed, Dorian shook his head in annoyance. “Yeah, that’s completely useless to me.”

“Dorian, you said it didn’t have to do with the hissing. Is that going to be a problem? Because if it is, I can have Theo help to train the hissing out of him. You just need to tell me what’s setting you off.” Michael would not be deterred no matter how many times Dorian rolled his eyes.

“It’s not the hissing… Well… Damn it, alright, part of it was definitely the hissing,” Dorian admitted. His lips twitched in a smirk. “It was very… intense. He’s very intense. His fucking eyes are like, yeah… Intense.”

Wylie hissing at him had not been scary or creepy the way Michael suggested. No, it was really wild the way the foreign noise tingled through his body like a touch. And the way Wylie looked at him… so consuming… so damn hungry as if there was nothing else in the world but him. It made him feel wild no matter how hard he tried to fight it.

His heart started pounding and wouldn’t stop. When he saw Wylie with his sleek black scales, features barbaric and animalistic as he fought the dragon inside him, Dorian hadn’t wanted the human to win. He wanted to see what the dragon would do, wanted to find out just what that piercing, burning gaze from ice-blue eyes wanted from him.

Fuck, he had it bad.

“Fucking shifters,” Dorian muttered. He turned and paced away.

He’d never met a shifter before the Academy. He didn’t know much about them beyond the fucked-up shit his grandfather told him when it came to tearing them apart for spells. And the only slightly less fucked-up shit his parents told him about them being less than human but magically superior, so they were acceptable on some levels. Once living among them, Dorian found out shifters were just people, just like everyone else, but they were also wild.

There was a rawness to them that attracted Dorian while he fought every emotion he found within and learned to cage himself to keep from losing control. He’d done his best to keep his distance from everyone, especially the shifters, even though he knew he’d be there a while—fuck, maybe forever. He wasn’t naïve. He knew his condition wasn’t curable. It required constant treatment and there were still days he wondered why he bothered, why he didn’t just give in and let the magic consume him and be done with it.

The shifters resonated with him while he watched them struggle with their own inner beasts. His inner beast was more foreign and bizarre, without shape or known thought or reason as it tried to consume him from the inside. He understood, he did. If he allowed that wildness to grow inside him, sometimes he was certain he would be beyond crazy, beyond reason. Just power.

In some ways, he would rather fight an animal than magic. He watched shifters come in and learn ways to befriend their inner beast. They found a peace, a balance he could only ever dream of. And damn, some of those beasts, like that wild black dragon, were really, really sexy. Dorian hadn’t had sex in years and for the last day and a half it felt like the accumulation was finally catching up with him. He was horny. Ridiculously horny.

It was just really fucking difficult to explain that to Master Whiteheart. To anyone, really. Slowing his steps, he turned back to Michael. He stopped in front of the man and shoved his hands into his pockets. “What do you need from me? I’m telling you now, I don’t need the collar. I wouldn’t lie about it.”

“I didn’t say you were lying.” Michael carefully read Dorian’s expression. “But I don’t fully believe you’re in a state to be able to make the decision on your own. Especially when you’re unable to verbalize what put you in this state in the first place.”

Dorian fought and failed to prevent another eye roll. He was raised by very conservative parents who refused to talk about anything. Feelings were things people experienced inside and did not discuss unless drunk and surrounded by loved ones they not so secretly hated. He sometimes discussed things with his little sister, but that was before he came to the Academy. Dorian barely spoke to his family any more. It was just easier in a lot of ways. He definitely didn’t talk about his feelings to the other patients.

“I told you when he hissed at me I reacted. It was intense.”

“It’s more than that.” Michael folded his arms.

“Of course it’s more than that,” Dorian snapped, “But that’s all I’m telling you. Now take the stupid collar off me already. I have to study.”

He sometimes wondered why Michael didn’t try that charisma allure the sorcerer was known for in drawing answers out of people, but Dorian suspected it was a trust thing. Michael dealt with unstable, powerful and otherwise intelligent young men every day. If he started trying to manipulate them, he’d never get them to trust him. The thing was, he did trust Michael, probably more than he trusted anyone else in his life. It didn’t mean he wanted to tell him about how fucked-up he felt over Wylie Doe anytime soon.

Something in Dorian’s posture and expression must have been convincing. Michael unlocked the null-collar from around his neck. They stood there for a good five minutes in silence just to make sure Dorian didn’t start sparking again.

“I want to see you in the reflection room in half an hour.” Michael’s tone left no room for argument. “Things have been crazy lately, and you need some quiet.”

Dorian nodded in agreement. His fingers glowed as he knit his charred clothing back together with magic. “Fine. Just don’t come freaking if I’m late. I promised to help Will study, hence needing the collar off.” Dorian gave Michael a cheeky salute before he turned. His eyes were flat and devoid of emotion now the collar was off and he was again fighting down his magic.

Michael watched him go. He clicked the null-collar to his belt, fairly certain he’d need it much sooner than desired. Dorian hadn’t fought the reality of his situation for as long as Michael could remember. He was so grateful just to have some sort of life after being stuck in a null-collar for so long. Something about the new shifter was setting him off. Hopefully they’d be able to get it straightened out. Michael was not willing to watch his prize patient self-destruct after Dorian worked so hard to finally find a balance.

Wylie’s first class was more a therapy session for shifters than anything else. After their talk, Theodore dumped him there. First though, he passed him some clothes from what Diane sent over so Wylie could change out of the bloodied ones he’d been wearing so long. The session was held in a huge and decidedly strange room. It was almost like an indoor gym. A small quarter of the space had a place to sit on the floor and talk, and the rest was dedicated to… something. Wylie wasn’t sure what. He didn’t recognize much of the equipment, but it was either for exercise or torture. He smelled enough sweat and old blood in the room to consider both.

He was starting to comprehend just how much money went into the Academy, from their well-stocked hospital to the way there was probably hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in the gym. He didn’t know if it was all funded by McPherson or if some rich parents donated money as well, but to end up in such an obviously expensive place was getting on Wylie’s nerves. That none of the other guys seemed to notice just how lucky they were might have been part of the problem.

Wylie hadn’t expected to be separated from the sorcerer kids, most of whom he hadn’t even met yet. At the moment he was relieved to know he wouldn’t be facing Dorian Black at every turn. Although, Dorian didn’t seem the type to retaliate for a simple hissing and charring of clothing. Wylie’s dragon was the real issue. The creature was completely fixated on the beautiful sorcerer even though Dorian wasn’t there. Not knowing a damn thing about him didn’t deter the dragon at all.

“Since we have a new addition, I thought everyone could introduce themselves and share a bit about what your goals are,” Bear started. Bear’s real name was actually Derek Orso, but no one called him that. He was a full out shifter, who had very little magic outside of his ability to turn into a huge grizzly bear at will. It was a power he felt the need to prove to Wylie five minutes after his arrival.

Being face to face with an actual furry mountain of a bear when moments ago there was a much less furry, muscular human had been intense for Wylie. He’d never interacted with shifters before, and hadn’t come across actual wildlife in general besides the flocks of pigeons and the many rats in the city. The bear scared the fuck out of him. Bear’s cheerful smile when he transformed back wasn’t appreciated either. Wylie was pretty certain the shifter could smell the fear on him.

Fox started the circle. His tattooed leg bounced on the floor as he raised his hand for the chance to speak first. “Right, so I’m Rafael Alvarez but everyone calls me Fox because, well, I turn into a fox. But a big one, not those little cute things you might mistake for a cat. I’m actually like kind of wolf size and all silver, and yeah, fuck, you’ll see eventually,” he said with a fanged smirk. His orange eyes flashed playfully. He’d heard Wylie was his new roommate and was determined to be as welcoming as possible. “As for goals… Shit, well, I have a lot of them. Let’s see, my biggest one would be not to run into traffic chasing small animals,” he said with a self-deprecating bark.

No one laughed. Wylie looked around and realized this was an actual goal for Fox and maybe for some of the others. Okay. Well, he could at least say he mastered that particular problem.

“Oh, so another one would be to focus better—that’s kind of hand in hand with that other one.” Fox fiddled with the bright yellow bandana he wore around his forehead. “Take my meds every day. Uh… don’t explode things when doing magic. It’s really easy to be distracted by all the smells and sounds of this place and mess up a spell.”

“Not that easy,” Forest teased while he elbowed the scrawny shifter.

“Hey, it’s a skill. Anyways… I think that’s it… nope, wait, a big one!” Fox yelped and held his hand up before Bear could speak. “No more sniffing people. It pisses off the sorcerers.”

“At least you’re not pissing on them,” Forest chimed. Wylie looked around again to see no one laughed at that one either. Okay. This might end up being weirder than he first thought.

“Thank you, Fox,” Bear said. He raised his eyebrow at Forest who looked ready to tackle Justin for the chance to go next. “Forest, I can see you’re ready.”

Forest nodded excitedly. Wylie watched as his pale skin, already peppered with dark spots, grew darker. A leopard pattern became more defined on his flesh. “Hi, so I’m Forest VanWilder, of the Manhattan VanWilders—” Leo sneered. Forest flipped him off and didn’t miss a beat. “I’m a leopard shifter, hence my spots. My biggest goal is to not kill anything by accident. Even those obnoxious squirrels. Oh, and I guess learn magic, but I suck at it so, yeah.”

“Just look out for Forest at night,” Fox said. His friend shot him a wicked grin. “He likes to practice his sneaking skills by scaring the fuck out of people. He’s actually a black leopard so you won’t see him coming.”

Forest just shrugged. He didn’t look apologetic. “That’s really it about me. I’ve been here about half a year now, and have only slipped… three times?” he asked Bear, who nodded in agreement. “So yeah. I love climbing trees… And that’s it.”

“Thank you, Forest.” Bear looked at Leo, who just curled his lip and shook his head. “I believe Justin would like to go next,” he said smoothly and turned to the quiet werewolf. “Justin?”

Justin swept his unkempt brown hair from his eyes, and graced Wylie with a shy smile. “I’m Justin Young and you already know I’m the werewolf. I like music, like, crazy obsess over it. Even though I don’t, um, transform all the time like the other shifters, I get the same weird animal urges to do things.” He sighed and studied his hands as he tapped lightly on the floor. “My goals are to not be a crazy psycho who scares the life out of people. To never, ever curse anyone like I’ve been cursed… And to try and figure out how to keep my wolf from being an asshole.”

“You’re not an asshole,” Fox assured him. Justin only rolled his eyes with a soft smirk. “Fine, your wolf is an asshole but you’re not. It’s totally not the same.”

“Right.” He peeked up through his lashes and fixed Wylie with an intent look. “Do you like Modern M? You seem like a guy that likes Modern M.”

“Um, is that a…?”

“Band. Indie. I just got this album I bet you would totally like.”

Wylie blinked for a moment and eventually nodded. “Sure, I could check it out.” Justin’s smile lit up his face and Wylie felt like he had passed his first test for some reason, especially when he caught similar smiles from Fox and Forest.

“Alright, Leo. You’re up, big guy.” Bear turned to the lion shifter, who was sitting in the circle but also seemed as far away as possible.

Leo grumbled under his breath. He glared at Wylie challengingly. “I’m Leonard Princer of the Boston Princers. I turn into a lion the size of a van, and my goal is to not kill people. And just so we’re clear, I don’t consider shifters people; they don’t smell like them, don’t act like them, and they all know what I am. They’re not on the list of things I don’t kill.”

Wylie raised his brows. He wasn’t sure why the hulked shifter was growling at him like he just pissed on his foot, but he wasn’t really comfortable with it. “Okay.”

“Would you like to elaborate on your goals, Leo?” Bear asked with the voice of unceasing patience.

“No,” Leo snapped, only to reconsider shortly after. “I don’t want to be a fucking lion.”

Bear nodded approvingly. “Leo would prefer to be a person. One of his goals is to keep the lion from taking over his personality. Anything else, Leo?”

With a growl, he added under his breath, “I’m trying not to be so controlling of everything.”

“Yes, an alpha personality when not among peers can be very difficult in a group setting. Leo is working on curbing his lion’s domineering nature.”

Wylie couldn’t help but think of Butch from the jail cell when he looked at Leo. Daiker prison was full of personality types like him; guys who just couldn’t handle their beast’s aggression in the human world and ended up losing it and killing people. If the Academy could keep someone like Leo from going full psycho and losing everything in his life, Wylie was really glad the place existed. He didn’t know a lot about his dragon yet, but he knew it had some territorial issues. This was proven when it bristled as the golden eyed shifter continued to stare at him without blinking. Hopefully the Academy would keep him from turning into some crazy slashing dragon.

“Alright, so that’s the majority of us.” Bear clapped and the sound pulled Wylie’s attention from the glaring lion shifter. “We have a few non-humans at the Academy who aren’t shifters; you’ll probably pick up on their scents. This is a shifters only class dedicated to our specific needs. Wylie, how about you tell us a little about yourself and some of the biggest problems you’ve faced so far as a shifter.”

“Oh… Okay.” All eyes were suddenly on him and Wylie scratched his head distractedly. “Uh, so my name is Wylie Doe and I guess I’m a dragon shifter. But, well, I can’t really transform all the way. Or, I guess, I’m never going to be able to because of how dragons transform.” He wet his lips nervously. He actually had no clue what the fuck a fully transformed dragon shifter even looked like.

“Show us!” Fox interrupted by stomping his feet on the floor. “Every newbie has to transform their first day just so we recognize you running around.”

“Heh, I really don’t look that different.”

Bear looked just as expectant, so Wylie shrugged and sat forward to show his arms better.

“So, you really don’t ever want to touch me when I’m like this,” Wylie cautioned as his razor sharp scales armored his limbs. “My arms can break through pretty much anything and my claws cut through metal with ease. I’ve had people brush up against me and get sliced up really bad, so it’s just better to keep your distance.”

“Why are they like that?” Justin’s hand hovered far too close to his arm for Wylie’s comfort. “Most dragons aren’t so, well, spiky, right?”

Bear jumped in before Wylie could admit he had no idea. “From what I can see and what Dr. Rob has figured out, Wylie is dealing with a transformation disorder. No matter his reason for transforming at the time, his form reveals that way.” He pointed to the way Wylie’s scales were puffed out. The razor edges were turned out so anything that came close would be slashed. “For whatever reason, he transforms aggressive every time.”

“Oh.” Justin ever so careful traced over the back of Wylie’s knuckle. He jerked his hand away when his fingertip caught on the edge of a small scale. A drop of red formed, seen right before Justin sucked on the digit. “You’re like a walking death machine, huh?”

Wylie nodded curtly and pulled his scales back in before anyone else thought to touch him. “It’s a problem.”

“Shit man, why didn’t your dad just teach you to smooth out your scales or some shit?” Fox exclaimed. “That’s just, like, irresponsible to let you go through life a walking cheese grater.”

Wylie winced and sat back. “Well, the thing is I don’t really know who my parents are. There wasn’t anyone to tell me anything about this stuff. I didn’t even know I was a dragon until a few days ago… You guys are actually the first shifters I’ve ever met.”

“Shit.” Fox exchanged a look with Forest. “That’s crazy, man. So you’ve just been going around with death arms not even knowing what the hell you are? That’s really fucked-up.”

Wylie shrugged. He felt more and more uncomfortable about the whole thing. “I used to call them demon arms. You know, cuz they look all demonic and fucked-up.”

“I think a good first goal for you, Wylie, is to learn more about dragon shifters,” Bear said. “We have an extensive library at the Academy. The next time we have a class you can teach us some things about dragons we don’t know yet.”

“Alright.” Some of Wylie’s tension drained when the other shifters stopped staring at him so sympathetically.

“Can you do magic?” Justin asked curiously.

“Uh, I have no idea… My spit can heal,” he added, glad to have an answer for something. “But I get weird around blood.”

“We all get weird around blood. It’s a shifter thing,” Justin replied breezily. “Not so much with the healing, though.” He pulled his finger free from his mouth, no wound to be seen. “I can regenerate, so even though I’m human nearly all the time, I still have a lot of protection. Some of us can do magic, too.” He turned to Bear questioningly. “Since he transforms into a magical being, does that mean he’ll be able to do more magic?”

“I honestly don’t know. Master Howld seems to think so, but we’ll just have to see. But for now, I think we should get to our exercises. I heard some complaints that you were up all night and as we all know, it’s up to me to wear you guys out.” Bear was suddenly on his feet; the man was surprisingly graceful for his size and mass.

He gave a clap to his hands and the other shifters bounded up excitedly. All except Leo, who was scowling aggressively, and Wylie, who was the one being scowled at. Wylie had dealt with plenty of weird, angry guys who always seemed to want to pick a fight with him. This was the first time one of those guys was a shifter who just saw first-hand his arms would be able to slaughter him in an instant. Leo still seemed to want to pick a fight and Wylie’s dragon was alert to every move he made.

“Wylie, since you probably can’t transform for a lot of this stuff, you know, without breaking everything, you should be my partner.” Justin stepped over and smiled up at him. “This is actually kind of exciting. You’re the first shifter who doesn’t transform into a full out animal like everyone else. Now I won’t feel so left out.”

“Hey, we don’t leave you out.” Fox bounded up and transformed so seamlessly into a large silver fox, Wylie could only stare.

Fuck, they were actually animals. Forest was no longer there. A black, sleek cat larger than Fox’s form came up to bump his head against Justin’s leg. Wylie jumped when he heard a roar. He found a huge, black-maned lion glaring at him from across the room.

Fuck, they were seriously monster-sized animals.

“Crazy,” Wylie muttered. He watched as Justin threw his arms around Forest’s neck like he wasn’t hugging a giant, deadly leopard. He was going to need some time to get used to it all. Wylie hoped that was all it would take.

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