Finn weighed next to nothing. On the roof, a naked Alt opened his ceiling window and swung himself inside, lowering his body down with one arm, holding Finn with the other. They dropped onto the bed just as the first violent spasm shook Finn’s body. Alt left the window open – Finn would benefit from the fresh air. Alt was under no illusion how the night would go. Even if Finn accepted the change smoothly – which he seemed to be doing – his body was going from human to dragon. It was not going to be easy, accommodating such a powerful beast, letting it settle under human skin. From just the short flight from the valley to the house, Finn became feverish, sweating and breathing hard, frowning in his sleep. Sometimes they woke up, sometimes they got through it in their sleep – that’s what Alt’s mom had told him. Alt didn’t know which one would be better. He worried so much about his tiny bond he barely managed to force himself to settle Finn onto the bed and put some underwear on. He was going to find a t-shirt and pants, too, but just then Finn gave a violent whimper and jerked on the bed.
Alt abandoned all willingness to get dressed, throwing the underwear on and going to Finn. His breath was coming out in fast whimpers and he was clutching at the bed. Alt slid his hands under Finn’s shirt, trying not to marvel at the softness of his lightly freckled skin in a situation like this, and pulled the bloodied tunic, already drenched with sweat, off him. He did the same with his pants. There was no point of keeping them on if they were just going to get sticky and uncomfortable. Once in just his underwear, Finn whimpered again in his unconsciousness and rolled onto his side, subconsciously curling into a ball. Alt put his arms across his back and under his knees and picked him back up, ‘’shhh, I’m going to take care of you,’’ he assured softly as Finn whimpered yet again.
Finn nudged his door open with his foot and walked out into the corridor, down to the attic stairs and up them. He pushed open the doors with his shoulder – he’d left them open before purposely for this. He kicked them closed with his foot once he was inside his attic garden and carried Finn to the centre of the garden, where he’d prepared a spot between two trees, growing up and then sideways, their branches curled below the ceiling. Alt sank down into the grass – one of the first things he’d planted – growing lush and green, and set Finn down onto it. Just for tonight, he’d turned off the LED lamps that he kept on 24/7 for the exotic plants. Finn needed peace and quiet and the garden would provide just that. Dragons were ancient creatures, with a deep connection to nature. Alt hoped being surrounded by greenery would ease Finn’s change.
Until about midnight, Finn was simply in a state of extreme fever. He had a bad case of the chills but Alt knew better than to cover him up, because the fire would come soon. He was shivering badly, too. He frowned and jerked in his sleep, giving out pained moans and whimpers, sometimes even choked screams or sobs. Alt had brought up a small bowl of cold water and a cloth, which he used to diligently wipe Finn’s forehead and neck for the hours in which he suffered through the fever.
A little after midnight, the first signs of the change really began. The body, after an extensive fight against something it portrayed as a virus, had given up. Had Finn not accepted the change, the body would have been stronger and the fight against the change much more painful and drawn out. As it stood, after midnight the fever broke and the change took root.
Alt knew because of the fire.
All dragons could generate it from their bodies thanks to their genes, which were now mutating under the power of Alt’s bite. It started in his throat, a subtle golden glow as if Finn had swallowed a firefly. It pulsed, dimmed and brightened, with his breathing. Finn stopped whimpering. He frowned in his sleep as if he was having a particularly strange conversation with his body. A series of smaller pulsing lights appeared under the surface of Finn’s skin by his knuckles. His navel light up with the fire growing under his skin as the one at his throat faded. The fire was probing at him, settling, figuring out the outline of Finn’s body. A point of light appeared faintly behind his ear, snaked along his thigh, pulsed at his ankle. It was beautiful to watch. Alt was mesmerised.
Until the fire finally took hold.
Finn cried out, so loud and painful that Alt let out a helpless growl that shook the house. Even though he knew what was going on, his dragon was desperately trying to find out why his bond was hurt and why couldn’t he do anything to help him. Alt watched as the fire started up just left of the centre of Finn’s chest, where his heart was, the glow stronger than before. He watched Finn’s mostly naked body as the fire shot through it, illuminating every single vein, nerve and bone. It was like watching an x-ray picture at the doctor’s, if the x-ray was illuminated by liquid fire. For a moment, Alt could see the outline of Finn’s ribs, his lungs and bones. Finn thrashed, screaming in his unconsciousness. Alt grabbed his glowing wrists and held him down so he wouldn’t hurt himself.
The glow lasted only for a few seconds before fading off as if someone had pressed a button. Finn jerked and went still. His violet eyes fluttered open, glazed and not quite there. Alt knew the fever would return in a few moments and would likely last for hours, ‘’I feel weird...’’ Finn whispered in a hoarse, quiet voice.
‘’I know,’’ Alt murmured, ‘’it’ll pass. You’ll be fine,’’ he picked up Finn’s hand gingerly, giving it a reassuring squeeze. It felt so tiny, so frail, in his, ‘’you’re strong. You’re doing good. Just a little longer, alright?’’
Finn would have nodded but he didn’t feel like he had the strength. He closed his eyes. Alt dipped his head and pressed a gentle, reverent kiss to the back of it.
And then the fever was back, worse than before, and Alt had no choice but to watch his bond suffer through it, thrashing and whimpering until the early morning hours.
When Eric came into his room, full dressed now, Brín was conscious again. He must have been deposited on the red covers of the bed but he’d since slid into the corner of the largely empty room, pressing his back into the crimson painted walls. He was clearly trying to appear fine, but he was shaking and breathing hard, his eyes glazed. He kept wincing, as if he was being nudged with a knife. For now he was able to keep the pain back, but Eric could tell he was rejecting the change. Shifting from human to a wild cat wasn’t usually extremely painful – unless one wouldn’t let themselves change. Eric approached Brín, who pushed himself even further into the wall. Eric paused before crouching down, trying to appear as least threatening as he could, ‘’Brín,’’ he said calmly, quietly, putting his hand out as if he was calming a frightened animal, ‘’just let it happen. Relax. It will hurt less that way.’’
‘’Go away,’’ Brín whispered in a shaking voice, ‘’I hate you. I hate you, I hate you...’’
Eric flinched, retracting his hand as if he had touched a flame. Hearing Brín say that...it hurt. Eric stared down at his body in shock as it betrayed him. Why did it feel like that? Why was he... ‘’stupid instincts,’’ he hissed at himself. Though, in truth, he knew he deserved the physical pain Brín’s words caused him. He sighed and sat on the floor, though he hated doing that. He was a man, not a child, but there was no time to find a chair, ‘’Brín...’’ he said as calmly as he could. He was lost – he knew how to deal with paper work and a panel of judges at court, not his frightened bond going through a painful change in the corner of the room, ‘’I need you to accept it, okay? It will win in the end. It always does. So just let it-‘’
‘’Shut up!’’ Brín roared at him while wrapping his arms protectively around himself and pressing himself into the wall, ‘’shut up, shut up, shut up...’’ he ranted quietly, trying to find some kind of anchor from the pain that was threatening to overtake him. It was as if his own body was betraying him, every cell, every atom, out to hurt him. He couldn’t take it. He felt like he would die. He wished he would – he wished he’d died in that crash, if only so this awful pain would go away. He couldn’t muster the strength to yell at Eric past that one single roar...his words came out in tiny breathless whispers.
‘’Ah, damn it all,’’ Eric stood and walked over to one of the sleek ceramic vases that stood on the two small cupboards on either side of the bed. One held good quality sake in it, a gift from a Japanese business man he’d defended in court. He uncorked it and walked back over to Brín. He grabbed him and Brín shrieked, thrashing against his grip as Eric wrapped an arm around his chest and dragged him in between his legs, locking him in place, ‘’stop,’’ he snapped, ‘’just drink this,’’ he pressed the top of the slim vase to Brín’s mouth and forced him to drink the burning alcohol. At first Brín choked but then he drank greedily, the fever making him thirsty. The liquid ran down his chin and onto the slightly bloody white tunic, but Eric didn’t care.
Alcohol was an option for someone who was rejecting the change, but not widely used or accepted. As tradition dictated, a banquet was to be held the night after the change, to present the newly made beasts to society. They could hardly be drunk or hungover but at that point, even Eric didn’t care. He felt guilty and he hated feeling guilt. He felt it on the rare occasions when he lost a case for a client. To feel it because of someone as vulgar and rude as Brín was... if he could at least put a cap on Brín’s pain, if he could numb his senses enough that he would relax and allow the change... then maybe Brín would stop looking at him like he was a monster.
Eric would not let Brín stop drinking till he drank most of the bottles and slumped against the beast, ‘’let me get you on the bed,’’ Eric said.
Brín swatted at him, movements heavy. He was still feverish, eyes still glazed, and he still winced every couple of seconds, but at least he wasn’t screaming or crying, ‘’no...fuck off...’’ he gasped and groaned, curling into a ball on the floor. He was panting.
Eric decided to just let him sweat it out. He grabbed the red covers off his bed and approached Brín, who immediately kicked out at him, albeit weakly due to the alcohol and the now-mild pain, ‘’stop,’’ Eric ordered, kneeling, ‘’I’ll just put a blanket over you. So just hold still for a second...’’
Brín glared at him with glaze, distrusting eyes but didn’t kick out again as Eric tossed the blanket over his curled form on the floor and dumped himself on the bed. He sighed; feeling like every part of his body had been battered with a hammer. He lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling, not even dreaming of sleep as Brín whimpered and tossed on the floor.
Alfie was thrashing on the bed and Jordan was slowly losing him mind. With each passing minute, watching his bond in pain, Jordan regretted biting him. Not because he didn’t want him as much as he did that day when he saw him taking out the trash but because the knowledge that he was the one hurting him was maddening. Alfie was conscious but barely, his eyes glazed over. He didn’t seem to be contacting. He was writhing on the bed, crying out and sobbing. Jordan wanted to run to Seon and ask her how to stop Alfie’s pain, wanted to dig out all the alcohol reserves in the house, to do anything but he didn’t want to leave Alfie, not when every few seconds he was too close to falling off the bed or hurting himself in a different way.
A little past midnight, when it got the worst, Jordan curled around Alfie, pinning him to the bed so he wouldn’t fall off. He smoothed his hands over his sweaty, curly hair, back and arms, ‘’I’m sorry, I’ll do better, I’m so sorry Alfie...’’ he kept whispering, ‘’you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be fine...’’ he had no idea if Alfie was rejecting the change. He was pretty close to bursting into tears himself from the sheer helplessness of the situation and the painful knowledge that he’d fucked up royally on every step of the journey.
Alfie was sobbing as he writhed under Jordan’s iron grip, probably completely unconsciously. Then, suddenly, he cried out and wrapped his arms around himself, digging his nails into his arms, ‘’no, no, no,’’ Jordan grabbed his hand and pried it away from him, ‘’don’t hurt yourself...’’ Alfie made a choked noise at the back of his throat and repeated the gesture, ‘’shit,’’ Jordan grabbed his hand again and loomed over Alfie. He pinned his own arm to the mattress and put Alfie’s hand on top. Alfie immediately latched onto his forearm, his fingers digging into Jordan’s skin, breaking the surface. A moment later blood trickled down Jordan’s arm. Jordan didn’t react. He knew he was feeling only a small fraction of Alfie’s pain. He just lay back down behind his bond, pressing his chest against his back in a small attempt to comfort him with physical contact.
At least anchoring himself to Jordan’s arm seemed to calm Alfie a little. He stopped tossing and turning, though he still sobbed quietly and shivered. Jordan propped himself up a little and sank his free hand into Alfie’s curls, stroking them gently. He winced when every once in a while Alfie’s body tensed and his fingers dug into Jordan’s forearm as a spasm of pain went through the human’s body, but made no move to remove his arm in case Alfie hurt himself. An hour before dawn Alfie’s body finally relaxed. Jordan continued to stroke his hair and when he checked twenty minutes later, Alfie was asleep. His facial features were relaxed and he was breathing evenly through his mouth. It looked as if the change had taken place.
As gently as he could, Jordan retracted his arm and rolled Alfie onto his back. The boy was out like a rock after a night of painful shifting, emotionally and physically spent, but Jordan was still careful when he peeled Alfie’s sweaty blouse off him and then his trousers. He didn’t have a cloth at hand so Jordan wet one of his t-shirts and wiped down Alfie’s sweat-sticky body as best as he could without waking the boy out. Then he dug out one of his own jumpers and tugged it onto Alfie. Waking up to the scent of his bond would maybe piss him off, but it would soothe his fragile senses and calm him just a little. Finally, Jordan tucked the blanket Alfie had kicked off during his thrashing around his bond. He hesitated before pressing a lingering kiss to his damp forehead.
Jordan sat down on the couch and watched Alfie sleep. When the sun began rising and it was clear Alfie would continue sleeping peacefully, the beast slipped from the room. He wasn’t an idiot. He knew Alfie wouldn’t want to see him when he woke up.
Chase couldn’t bring himself to touch Tommy.
He felt as if someone had repeatedly punched him in the gut. Despite brushing his teeth twice, he could still taste Tommy’s coppery blood at the back of his throat. It tasted like fear. Why had he bitted Tommy like that? He had to work on his anger. Okay, Tommy had kicked him but he’d had every right to do that. Pouncing right back and biting him like that... Chase, who was pacing his room, felt like swearing at himself for acting like that. Chase hated being so impulsive. After a couple more minutes of pacing, Chase paused and glanced at the bed. It was dark but he could see Tommy where Miss Medrano had laid him down on the bed. He lay very still but Chase could hear his erratic breathing. He was waiting for Tommy to jerk or cry out or whimper – do something that Chase could use as an excuse to go to his bond. But without a catalyst, he couldn’t bring himself to approach the bed. Couldn’t bear to look what he had done in the face.
Finally, a little whimper fell from Tommy’s lips. Quiet, high pitched...much more vulnerable than Chase thought Tommy capable of being. Come on, Chase, the beast told himself, man up. Chase walked over slowly, and stepped up onto the platform that held his bed. Tommy whimpered again and his head tossed to the side and then to the other. Chase reached him and flinched at the sight of the wound and his bloody blouse. Miss Medrano had put gauze on the wound but the blouse was still on Tommy and Chase didn’t dare to take it off. Instead, he slid his fingers over the edges of Tommy’s round glasses and pulled them off. As he folded them slowly, Tommy tossed his head to the side again. He was frowning deeply, his breath fast. Chase hopped off the platform holding his bed and walked over to the white couch. He set the glasses on the glass table before it.
With a deep breath, he turned back to his bond. He’d done this. He’d have to take responsibility. Chase returned to the bed and sat on the edge, peering at Tommy. A few beads of sweat glistened on his forehead but he didn’t seem in pain. It was more like...he was having a nightmare. A bad nightmare, but just a nightmare nonetheless. Chase was surprised at how gently his bond was taking the change, but then he thought about how badly scared he must have been. Chase hadn’t seen him, but Tommy must have had to been seriously determined not to reject the shift and go through a painful change if he managed to get himself into such a level of...acceptance. Chase was under no illusion that he’d get hell for biting Tommy from the boy once he woke up. And the fact that Tommy’s fear had forced his mind to go into shut down before the change was no consolation either.
‘’I messed up...’’ Chase whispered, at no one in particular, watching Tommy frown in his sleep. He wondered what he was dreaming about. Probably about Chase viciously pouncing on him and sinking his fangs into his neck...
For an hour or so, Chase just sat there, watching Tommy shift in his sleep. He observed his face, took in the slim arch of his nose, his thin, expressive eyebrows, his lips, parted as he panted lightly, his tan skin, pale and clammy from the change, and his slightly sticking out ears. He wasn’t bad looking, really. Without really thinking about it, Chase reached out. His fingers hesitated over Tommy’s forehead. That touch...that would be the first intimate touch either of them initiated and Tommy wouldn’t even know. Did Chase want it? He could keep their relationship as it was, in perpetual hatred and avoidance. He could never touch Tommy. They could just be alone for the rest of their lives.
Somehow, in that moment, Chase didn’t want that.
His fingers descended onto Tommy’s clammy forehead and he brushed back black strands of hair in an almost gentle caress. Chase wasn’t very good at soft touches so he thought he did okay for his first time. And, more importantly, he didn’t hate touching Tommy like that. He brushed more hair away and then sank his hand into the dark locks. It wasn’t unpleasant. Not as soft as a girl’s would have been, but nice to touch nonetheless. Chase brushed his hand through Tommy’s hair. Then again, and again. He fell into a slow, soothing rhythm, observing Tommy’s eyes shifting under his lids, monitoring his breathing. The touch didn’t seem to do much, but at least Chase didn’t feel so powerless. Something deep inside him wouldn’t let him take his hand away from his bond, so he just stroked Tommy’s hair as he slept.
Throughout the night, Tommy didn’t get any better, but he also didn’t get any worse, which was a small blessing.