He should have kept his fucking mouth shut. Wylie stood the moment the door to the Academy slammed shut.

Dorian’s spell caught him off guard, and his dragon readily submitted to the beautiful sorcerer. It hadn’t lasted. The spell wasn’t potent enough to keep him down if he chose otherwise. Dorian looked so upset he thought it better just to stay. Wylie didn’t fully understand what Dorian was going through but he could see it was hurting him.

His eyes closed, he waited. The dragon within finally relented now Dorian was gone. His scales slid back into his body and disappeared smoothly. The dragon was thinking and made a crooning full of worry. Dorian responded to them; he was interested and that was a reason to be happy. But he also rejected them with eyes full of such sorrow. The dragon wanted to find him and soothe him, heal Dorian in a way it couldn’t. The creature was starting to realize the problem of its ever-sharp scales where it couldn’t even touch the one he chose as mate, and didn’t know how to fix it.

It was his first time dealing with the dragon when it was being, well, so different from him. While Wylie tried to convince himself to leave Dorian alone before he made him miserable, the dragon demanded they figure out just why their scales wouldn’t behave. Because they could. He had never scratched himself unless on purpose. He should be able to do the same for his mate.

The thing was, Wylie wasn’t even sure he wanted a mate. Yeah, he was attracted to Dorian, and there was definitely a part of him that wanted to know everything about him beyond just how sexy he was. Just, Wylie wasn’t great with relationships. After years shipped from foster home to foster home, he never bothered to lay down roots. When Beck showed an interest—practically jumped him when he’d saw Wylie beating up some punk who was giving him shit—he sort of fell into it. It wasn’t his conscious decision to make B his boyfriend. If Beck hadn’t pursued him, Wylie wasn’t sure he’d have bothered.

People complicated things. The proof of this was in Diego and Adam; that job would have gone smoothly if Diego hadn’t freaked and Adam was more reliable. If he went on his own, maybe selected a less impressive and well-secured house, there would be fewer possible fuck-ups to account for. Maybe that was a terrible way to look at people. He spent a lifetime wondering when the next bought of drama was going to come and how it was going to ruin his life. If not for the drama bullshit of one punk foster kid who took a knife to him over an MP3 player, Wylie wouldn’t have even been in that shit detention center in the center of Roth’s gang territory.

He wasn’t sure what sort of drama a guy like Dorian might bring into his life. After seeing the shit his roommate Vincent stirred up, it could be a lot. Dorian hadn’t said anything to suggest he uses dragons for parts—very sane compared to Vincent—but who was to say just how honest that was? Wylie knew plenty of people who seemed perfectly normal until they did something to stab him in the back. That his dragon was obsessed just made it more likely he’d fall into something he wasn’t prepared for. He didn’t know a lot about magic. Theodore thought Dorian was the most dangerous person there, and that probably meant something.

Still, Dorian responded to him. He was playing it cool, but Wylie was damn sure he was into him. It was impossible to hide those fucking sparks, not to mention his hard on. Drama or not, he actually had a shot at Dorian Black and that was definitely worth considering. Just… What the fuck would he do with a mate?

His mind ran in circles over Dorian and his own stupid ass dragon. Wylie finished his cigarette and turned to the door. He stopped short when a wall of muscle stepped in front of him and blocked his path. Wylie looked up and sighed internally as he met Leo Princer’s golden glare head on.

“Excuse me.”

Leo didn’t move. He stood straighter, his shoulders and arms flexed until he looked near mountain size. Wylie wasn’t sure what Leo was thinking, but he might be about to find out how hard a lion shifter punched.

This was the perfect reminder of how he hated drama. Wylie considered backing off and finding a different way into the building. He quickly dismissed the thought when Leo’s nostrils flared and his heavy brow creased until his expression was twisted in a ferocious snarl. He was a fucking alpha lion; backing down would only get him more bullshit from an aggressive type like him.

Resigned, Wylie squared his jaw, tilted his head up and stood taller. “Either say what you’re here to say, or get the fuck out of my way.”

Leo growled low in his chest. His expression grew grimmer. “Dorian Black is mine.”

For fuck—Wylie’s dragon was out and growling before he could even comprehend. “Damn it. Fuck!” He defied the dragon’s demand to stay and fight and Wylie took two large steps away from the snarling shifter. He looked anywhere but at Leo while he fought to get the dragon under control.

All he seemed to do lately was fight the damn scaled beast. The moment he realized he housed a dragon, his life became a battle to stop it from being so weird over blood, mating and now territory.

Unable to stop his growl, Wylie settled in a low crouch on the ground and didn’t lunge across the small distance at Leo.

“Are you listening to me, Doe?” Leo demanded. He took a hulking step forward and stopped inches away to tower over him. “Dorian is mine. Mine! Stay the fuck away from him.”

He gritted his teeth when his dragon rose up to try to get him to fight. Wylie steadily met Leo’s angry scowl. “Dorian’s the only one who gets to pick who he wants to be with. Stop letting your lion control you. My dragon might want the guy but that doesn’t mean I have any right to him. Do you even get how fucking crazy you sound right now?”

Something in Leo changed for a moment. There was a softening of features and a flash of surprise. It was gone before Wylie fully perceived it. Leo snarled and puffed up even larger. “You better smarten the fuck up. Dorian is mine because I’m willing to use everything I have to get him. He’s the only one safe around me. And he’s fucking hot. Getting you out of the way is worth it for a guy like him.”

His dragon wasn’t listening to Wylie and it was difficult to understand Leo. He made himself stand only because his muscles were tensed and ready to crash forward and tackle him. With his scales out, Leo would be shredded.

“Did you just say, like, kill me?” Wylie got out as he looked at Leo in disbelief. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, I’m fucking serious.” His glare grew and Leo huffed in disgust when Wylie straightened fully. “You’re not even willing to fight for him. You’re a fucking joke. Dorian is worth killing for.”

Leo turned and stalked away before Wylie had a chance to respond. What that response would be, he had no idea. His dragon growled and clawed inside while he stood still in shock.

Fucked-up. It was totally fucked-up.

Kill him?

The dragon wouldn’t settle, and Leo was completely to blame. Kill him. A fight would have been one thing. By claiming to want to kill him, Leo put the dragon in a state of absolute aggression. The bigger problem was he wasn’t sure if Leo was joking.

Michael said accidents happened. Actually, he said he could do whatever he wanted and hoped killing was not on the list. Had something similar been said to Leo when he first arrived?

Did he seriously have to worry about Leo trying to kill him?

It was bedtime before Wylie could get Fox alone and ask a million brimming questions, one far more important than the rest. Thankfully he didn’t run into Leo before then. The lion shifter was out in the yard while the others sat down to eat in the lounge. There was a cafeteria, the room full of long tables and plastic chairs, but it was rarely used except for when they had visitors over. Most everyone took their food to their rooms, or to the lounge where there was a microwave and sink.

Ease of access to food was new to Wylie. He was used to being watched like a hawk, just in case his appetite put his guardian into poverty. Hunger was normal, almost as much as not being trusted. The Academy instructors breezed through with friendly greetings and kept about their own nightly routine. No one stopped to glare suspiciously at Wylie for existing. It was really weird and he was still struggling with the newness of it all.

His dorm room was huge; there was no other way to describe it. It was set up for two people but he was pretty sure four could have slept in there and still had plenty of room. Posters littered two walls. Fox’s, given the odd array of noble looking animals, colorful muscle cars, and a Brazilian singer with long, dark hair dripping with water as he sang in a downpour.

On the undecorated side of the room, there was a bureau with Wylie’s clothes already folded away inside. He found his few possessions, mostly CD’s and a beaten up CD player, on top of a nightstand next to the bed he could only assume was his. He sat down. A small smile twisted his lips as he breathed in slowly. The bed actually fit his tall frame, the mattress bouncy, sheets fresh. It was a far, far cry from what he was used to.

Wylie grew up sleeping on worn-out mattresses flat on the floor packed in with a bunch of foster kids just as unwanted as him. Most of the people willing to take someone in like him did it for the money they got from the State, not because they gave a fuck about a shifter kid without parents. In some ways the detention house was better in that regard. State employees ran the building and not the demented individuals who saw abandoned children as an income source. Still, the druggies and mean fuck-ups he lived with at the detention house ruined any good in the place for him.

Fox bounded in from their adjoining bathroom. His silver hair was slicked back, wet from his shower and free from a bandana for a change. Each dorm had a separate bathroom; it was beyond anything expected and he really didn’t know what to think of it all. He was supposed to be in prison. Somehow he was in the nicest place he’d ever seen, and that included McPherson’s house, which was too cold and empty for his taste.

“Have you seen Will’s room yet?” Fox bent forward to scrub his head with a towel roughly. His hair flew up all different ends and rained water all around. “He’s got a whole fucking tree in there. He’s growing a garden, pretty sure. He can’t help it because of his power. I think one of those little maple seeds whirled in and just took root in the carpet one night.” He tilted his head when he caught Wylie’s expression and Fox paused his chatter. “Alright, man? First days can be shit.”

His first day had been insane. “Anyone ever die here?” He asked as he watched the scrawny shifter dressed in thin shorts and a tee jump onto his bed.

Fox barked a laugh, snagged a magazine from under his pillow and unfolded it. Wylie learned he couldn’t focus for shit; Fox was more coherent when he did more than one thing at a time. “We have no ghosts, no terrible murders and just because Bear is as big as one when human, it doesn’t mean he’s buried anyone in the backyard. Don’t fall for all that rumor shit.”

Wylie sighed in exasperation. “I’m not talking about rumors. Has anyone gone totally berserk and killed another patient?”

“Dude.” Fox licked his teeth thoughtfully and eventually shook his head. “I’ve been here ‘bout a year now and no one has killed no one. The masters stop any crazy shit before it gets out of hand. Like, if crazy ass Vince tried to spell me dead, Theodore would toast him. He doesn’t want to have to listen to my mama bitch about how her baby boy got incinerated at their place.”

He absorbed the information and ducked his head while Fox continued to talk and flip through his magazine. Maybe the instructors only cared if they had really important parents. Was Michael trying to set him up? He hadn’t considered it before but now he couldn’t let the idea go. If he fought Leo, they’d probably send him straight to Daiker…

“Dude, come on!”

“What?” Wylie started when he found Fox in front of him in mid-laugh.

“Come on,” Fox repeated. He grabbed Wylie by the arm and heaved him up. He was strong even though he was toothpick thin. “You should meet Will. He rooms with Chris. They’re both, like, half shifters. I don’t know how to explain it, just that they’re not human and they’re not sorcerers. Oh, and if you happen to see Chris in your dreams trying to get with you, don’t freak out about it. He’s an incubus or some shit. He does it to everyone. I’m not even sure if it’s sexual for him or just dinner.”

Wylie stared slack-jawed and let himself be pulled from the room and into the lounge. Forest was sitting on a couch watching a video game on the large television screen. The moment he spotted Fox and Wylie, he leaped up and slid across the lounge in sleek movements. His skin was almost completely black with his leopard pattern. “You guys going hunting?”

Fox took the question in stride while Wylie silently hoped they weren’t going to be killing anything. “Nah, just showing Wylie Will’s tree. I think Leo’s out there if you’re restless.”

Forest sniffed unhappily. With a sharp shake to his head, he fell into step beside them. “Rather hang with you guys. Wylie, I don’t know what it is exactly, but I like your dragon. He’s cool shit.”

“Umm, thanks?” Wylie wasn’t sure just what the compliment was but Fox was quick to agree.

“It’s your presence, man. Very calming, very protective—hah, you’re kinda like Big Bear!”

Forest knocked into Fox’s shoulder and laughed in agreement. “That’s totally it! He’s like a pretty boy dragon version of Bear. You just know nothing bad is going to happen as long as he’s around.”

Wylie scratched the back of his head. He avoided Forest when the leopard shifter tumbled sideways from Fox’s returning hip check. Pretty boy? He was tall, had demon arms, and could scare the fuck out of grown men; he wasn’t fucking pretty.

Will and Chris’s room was five doors down. Wylie peeked through each open door as he passed. He didn’t catch sight of Dorian but he had a feeling his room was on the opposite side of the shifters, probably to stay as far from the noise as possible. It seemed a lot of the shifters were nocturnal. Even though they did most of their class stuff during the day, at night they were wild and wide awake.

“Whoa.” Wylie stopped short in the doorway Fox stepped through. There was an actual tree growing in the middle of the room. Okay, not right in the center, but damn near close. Branches wrapped vine-like around the bureau and bed nearest the window. The bed was currently occupied, and Fox jumped next to the stranger almost the same height as the short shifter.

“Wylie, this would be our resident forest sprite, Will.”

Will snorted good-naturedly and rolled luminous sky-blue eyes. He gently shoved Fox away so he could stand and shake Wylie’s hand. “I’m an elf, actually. Halfling.” Will was slender, darkly tanned with shiny bouncy brown hair that curved down to his chin. His smile was brilliant. Will was pure magic in a way Wylie hadn’t seen before.

“Halfling?” Wylie’s attention was drawn to Will’s feet. Was he floating? He walked like he was floating. It was really weird.

“Yup. Half human, half elf. While you shifters get to change from two different forms, I just glamour my elf parts away.” Will turned his head and swept his hair back. Long, sharp ears flickered into view for a moment before he spelled them to appear normal. “So you’re the dragon. Cool. I thought you’d be taller.”

Not sure what to say to that, Wylie let his gaze move to the tree in the room. He slipped closer and touched the bark. It was real. There was seriously a tree in the damn room, along with vines and flowers all over the place by the window. “I like your, um, garden.”

Will beamed as if he grew the tree on purpose instead of lost control of his magic while sleeping. “Thanks. I was worried the masters would make me get rid of it, but Theodore said as long as I don’t ruin the walls I can keep it. He even helped me guide the roots out the window.”

Wylie noticed then that, although the ceiling was overrun with leaves, the tree didn’t actually sprout through the floorboards. It arced through the window where magic kept the late autumn air back. “Doesn’t your roommate mind?”

Fox, who was across the room with Forest, gave a sharp laugh. “Chris was made to be outdoors. The both of them. All of us shifters are jealous of their awesome room.”

Wylie turned and found Justin with an MP3 player in hand sitting on the other bed. Besides Leo, all the shifters were there. They were hanging out so casually Wylie had a feeling it was something they did every night.

Red eyes peered up at him curiously from the bed behind Fox’s shoulder. He walked over to greet the final occupant but Wylie’s steps faltered when Christopher came into view. He was blue. Sort of. His pale skin was tinted an unnatural bluish gray and his long hair only a slightly brighter version of the color. Chris was about the most alien person he’d ever seen. His blood red eyes assessed Wylie as they stared at each other in silence.

“Oh, sorry.” Fox straightened from where he was leaning over to look at Justin’s MP3 player. “Wylie, this is Chris.”

“Um, hi.” He shrugged off the fact he was very much blue. Wylie crossed the space and shook Christopher’s hand, only to gasp as heat flooded him. His eyes widened from the simple touch and the predatory smile fixed on him. “What?”

Forest carefully pulled Wylie’s hand away from the incubus’s grasp. “Yeah, you probably don’t want to touch Chris much unless you feel like spending the rest of the night unbearably hard. He says he can’t help it, but I’m pretty sure it’s on purpose.”

Fox snorted. “It’s totally on purpose. Chris, come on, say something. You’re freaking him out.”

Christopher continued to sit silently. It took the incubus a moment as he tore his eyes from Wylie’s to look questioningly at the fox shifter.

“We don’t read minds, man,” Fox urged and pointed to Wylie, who was beyond confused. “Chris talks to people in their heads. Well, to people like Will, who can do that sort of thing. We can all hear him when we’re asleep, but we’re not sleeping now.”

“It’s a pleasure.” Christopher’s voice was a low purr when he finally spoke.

Wylie snapped his gaze back to the incubus. “Do you… Do you really talk to people in their dreams?”

Christopher nodded with the same dangerous smile curled on his lips. “Normal humans are limited. Fragile.” He turned to Justin, who was holding up an ear bud where music flowed out. “I don’t have to fear for the sorcerers if I feed on them. And shifters, well, they’re perfect. You’re a dragon. I like dragons. Their energy tastes exquisite.”

“Uh… Okay.” Those red eyes again burned into his and Wylie didn’t know what to say. The others didn’t seem disturbed. Justin was practically in Christopher’s lap as he shared his headphones with the incubus.

Forest caught his discomfort and smacked Wylie on the back of his shoulder. “It doesn’t hurt. Most don’t even remember their dreams. Chris would have to either starve or drain a human population dry to get enough energy to sustain himself. Here with our magic, he’s safe and well-fed.”

Wylie stepped to the side so Christopher’s unnerving stare wasn’t on him anymore. He turned to the leopard shifter. “No one minds they’re being drained in their sleep?”

“Nope. Not the way Chris does it,” Forest said with a wicked grin.

That gave Wylie pause. He followed up curiously, “Even though he’s a guy?”

“Duh, we’re shifters,” Fox chimed like it was supposed to explain everything. At Wylie’s blank look he laughed. “Fuck, I forgot you’re, like, totally clueless about your own kind. Let’s just say, you’re never going to find a totally straight shifter. Sorcerer too, for that matter. Magic basically makes mating possible with any gender. So if you’re a magical being or full of magic, your attraction adjusts to compensate for the new possibilities.”

His eyes narrowed suspiciously on Fox’s ever-smirking grin, Wylie turned to Forest for confirmation.

“Haven’t met a shifter yet that wasn’t bi, and I’m from a large family.” Forest shrugged. “Some might have a preference but when they get horny, they get over it quick enough. Chris has that making people horny thing down so no one complains when he comes around. It’s not like we have much to choose from around here. And his feeding is just the equivalent of a wet dream.”

Wylie bit his lip and glanced over at the incubus, who Justin was chatting with. Was he like the resident booty call for the Academy? The instructors must know since Chris had the power to drain normal humans dry. Or did they feed the incubus too?

Weird. Really weird.

Wylie decided he really didn’t want to know. He took a seat when offered and listened to the others laugh about things which happened recently and not so recently. They were excited to fill him in on life at the Academy. He rarely hung out with others in the group homes. Hell, people were usually so afraid of him, most wouldn’t look him in the eye. Wylie didn’t have a lot to say, but he enjoyed feeling part of the group of shifters and not fully human paranormals. It was the first time he wasn’t hyperaware of how strange he was compared to everyone else. He liked it.

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