Lirim Chapter 9
  

Finn awoke on the 30th of April earlier than usual, with a sense of dread. He couldn’t go back to sleep. Alt was long gone, his side of the bed made up as always. Feeling like his stomach had dropped all the way to his feet, Finn crawled out of bed, washed up and got dressed. If he could, he’d stay all day in bed, but he didn’t want to leave the others by themselves. They were a team now. Dressed in one of his striped tops and his usual cargo pants, he went downstairs to the kitchen. He gasped as he opened the doors. It looked as if Seon and her two helpers had multiplied. The kitchen was bustling with staff, all dark haired and dark eyed, thin as twigs and very quick. They entered and exited, helped each other out while barely saying a word... 

‘’Ant-beasts,’’ Seon said happily, popping up next to Finn by the kitchen doors, ‘’they’re the best caterers to employ for large events. I wish I had this much staff on a daily basis,’’ she added with a sigh. 

‘’Wait...large events?’’ 

Seon raised an eyebrow, ‘’yer getting changed by the most important man in the beast society. All the leading and ruling families will be here for the banquet tomorrow, wein. Which reminds me,’’ she ushered Finn out of the kitchen, ‘’yer eating in the lounge, with the masters’ families.’’ 

‘’Huh!?’’ 

‘’The others are already there, shoo,’’ Seon waved him vaguely down the corridor. 

For a second, Finn contemplated just slipping back into his bedroom. But just then a pleasant, female voice said from behind him, ‘’Finlay!’’ 

Finn turned and frowned. A beautiful, Hispanic looking woman stood in the corridor behind him. She was tall and sleek as a willow, wearing an elaborate, fancy silver gown that belonged in a gala. Her dark, curly hair was pulled back in a high ponytail adorned with a real rose. She had a fraction of the same aura of power Alt carried, which made Finn flinch away, ‘’um...who are you?’’ 

‘’Ah, right,’’ the woman waved her perfectly manicured hand in the air and walked up to Finn, ‘’forgive me, I forget you don’t actually know who we are,’’ she extended her hand out, surprising Finn. The woman chuckled, ‘’you’re supposed to bow your head to me and all, but I find all that slightly pretentious, especially within family. I’m Santana.’’ 

Finn shook the woman’s hand, scared of how she’d react if he declined. Her grip was strong, ‘’Finn,’’ the woman continued to smile at him, not releasing his hand, so Finn cleared his throat awkwardly, ‘’um...are you Alt’s sister?’’ 

‘’Sister! Oh, God no,’’ the woman chuckled again, finally releasing Finn’s hand, ‘’I’m his mom, dear.’’ 

Finn stared, ‘’his...his m-mom!?’’

Santana shook her head, ‘’I’m flattered,’’ she gave an amused sigh, ‘’ah, you poor thing. Did they try to indoctrinate you? What am I saying, of course they did,’’ Santana pointed to herself, ‘’I was in your position, nearly three decades ago. It was much more strict back then, of course. The beast community is as good at introducing change as the Catholic Church is!’’

Finn blinked, trying to wrap his head around Santana’s babbling, ‘’you were...human?’’ 

Santana nodded, ‘’Lene was the freshly baked boss of the Mexican cartel back then. She practically threatened me into a relationship, after she bonded with me. But it all turned out good in the end,’’ she gave Finn a gentle smile, ‘’though I know how hard this is at the beginning. And this,’’ she waved a hand vaguely, ‘’is one of the hard bits. But it’s true what they say – it gets better after.’’ 

‘’Um...sorry, I’m still mowing over the Mexican cartel...’’ Finn looked at Santana uncertainly, and the words slipped out by themselves, ‘’you’re...not what I imagined Alt’s mother to be like.’’ 

‘’You’ll find that us made beasts are much less accepting of the old fashioned ways, no matter what the high rankers tell you about their perfect, rigid society. But wait till you meet my wife,’’ Santana chuckled and looped her arm through Finn’s, pulling him towards the stairs, ‘’she’s probably exactly what you expected.’’

Finn was led down the corridor by Alt’s mom and they entered the lounge. It had been transformed. Most of the furniture had been pushed to the side and the dining table was set out buffet style with baby sandwiches, cheese-olive sticks and pastries. The lounge was packed with beasts in casual but smart wear, making Santana stick out. Finn’s pulse sped up with sudden nervousness but before he could find any of his friends, Santana said, ‘’ah, there’s Lene!’’ and led Finn over to...well, exactly what Finn would have thought Alt’s mom would look like. She was a bit taller than Santana but incredibly curvy, with short, dark hair and muscular arms exposed by her tank top. She exuded power, ‘’baby, look, its little Finn Thierault.’’ 

‘’Not so little anymore,’’ the woman raised a dark eyebrow. She spoke with a slight accent, ‘’I’m Magdalene Narvaez and I’ll let you off the hook this time, because it’s the first time we’re meeting, but until you become a beast you’re supposed to incline your head when you meet me.’’ 

The aura around her seemed to get a bit stronger. Finn stood rooted to the spot, feeling the sense of dread he woke up with intensify. Santana sighed and slipped her arm out of Finn’s, coming over to her wife, ‘’Lene, stop it. You’re going to scare the poor kid.’’

‘’He needs to learn respect,’’ Lene said gruffly, ‘’and manners and etiquette. Have they been teaching you nothing here?’’ 

Santana gave Finn a ‘I told you’ look and then glanced up and behind him, ‘’hi, honey.’’ 

Finn flinched when he felt a large, warm hand slide along his arm to rest at the base of his neck in an almost possessive gesture. Finn shrunk in on himself under the hand, glanced up at Alt, whose face was impassive – he’d never touched Finn that directly. The omega felt as if the heat from Alt’s hand was spreading across his body, ‘’what were you talking about?’’ Alt asked. 

‘’Alt, stop doing that,’’ Santana said calmly. 

‘’Stop doing what?’’ 

‘’That,’’ Santana pointed to his hand at the back of Finn’s neck, ‘’that possessive thing your mom used to do all the time.’’ 

‘’Oh,’’ Alt took his hand away as if he hadn’t realised he’d been doing it. 

‘’Well that’s to be expected,’’ Santana said easily, ‘’your mom is about to be replaced as second most important. She’s exuding her power without even knowing it.’’

‘’I don’t mind being third,’’ Lene said, though she stared her son down. Finn stared between them in distress – so the beasts were dominant even within their own families. Were they going to fight? He couldn’t take it, not now, not when he was going to become one of them in less than twelve hours. 

‘’Alt, I’m hungry,’’ he said, voice trembling slightly. 

It worked. Alt immediately broke his gaze away from his mom’s and turned to his bond, ‘’come,’’ he said, giving his mothers a nod and leading Finn away. The omega felt beasts boring holes into his back – as they passed, beasts inclined their heads to Alt, who did not react. 

As Finn had hoped, Alfie was loitering close to the table. He relaxed ever so slightly at the sight of his fellow human. Alfie was turned away from Jordan, who looked lost – apparently they were still not talking, but when Alfie spotted Finn, he grinned, ‘’finally,’’ he said, ‘’I thought none of you were ever going to show up.’’ 

‘’Been here long?’’ Finn asked, glancing at the food. Despite what he had said, he couldn’t stomach the thought of eating. Alfie’s grin looked a little shaky, too.

‘’Twenty minutes?’’ 

‘’What do you want to eat, Finn?’’ Alt asked and his bond noticed the plate he held in his hand, ready to pile it high with food for Finn. Under different circumstances, Finn might have chuckled. 

Now, he only glanced away, ‘’I’m not actually...um...’’

Alt put the plate down, ‘’what about something to drink?’’ he asked gently. The concern in his voice was easy to pick up on. Finn shook his head, ‘’how about just water? You’ll get dehydrated.’’ 

Finn shrugged and Alt went to get him the water. Finn opened his mouth to strike a conversation with Alfie when suddenly – ‘’Jordan!’’ 

Finn, Alfie and Jordan turned and the latter broke out into a grin as a small, dark skinned girl with an impressive afro appeared. She wore a t-shirt and worn shorts. Beasts all over the room gave her curious looks and she quickly inclined her head. She approached Jordan and as soon as the other beasts turned away, they clasped hands, ‘’where have you been, man? When we heard you bonded with someone, Sylvia nearly had a heart attack and Mark couldn’t speak for a straight half an hour.’’ 

‘’Yeah, sorry, it’s been...’’ Jordan shook his head, ‘’hectic.’’ 

‘’No shit, dude,’’ the girl glanced at Alfie and Finn, ‘’which one’s the one whose life is ruined now, then?’’ 

Jordan gave her a look, ‘’Nana, come on-‘’ 

‘’Nope. I love you to bits, man, but this...bonding thing, that’s messed up. We don’t roll like that. I know you were born into an orthodox family, but seriously...’’ she sighed and shook her head, ‘’come on then, introduce me.’’ 

‘’This is Nana Hollowman, a member of the branch family for the Zhangs, the leading family of bird-beasts. We went to university together in America.’’ Jordan said. 

‘’I’m a hawk-beast. Nothing special,’’ Nana extended her hand to Alfie, ‘’it’s a pleasure.’’ 

‘’Nana, no handshakes,’’ Jordan nudged her, ‘’seriously, the older generation is here. They’ll make a fuss.’’ 

Nana sighed and dropped her hand, ‘’oh blood hell, I forgot why I don’t visit often. Either way, who’re you?’’ she asked Alfie, who gave her a reproachful glance. 

‘’That’s uh...Alfie. He’s my bond. He’s not speaking to me right now,’’ Jordan’s voice got quieter with each word. 

‘’Good man,’’ Nana nodded at Alfie. 

‘’Seriously, Nana?’’ 

‘’Yeah, seriously,’’ Nana glanced at Jordan, ‘’you have no idea how pissed our lot in Chicago is at you, dude. The only reason why I’m not lecturing you is because Zeke promised to do it double for me,’’ she turned to Finn, ‘’so if that is our dear unfortunate, then who is this?’’

‘’I’m Finn,’’ the omega introduced himself. 

‘’Alt’s bond,’’ Jordan supplied. 

Nana’s winced, ‘’ay. Sorry, dude.’’ 

Finn gave a nervous laugh, ‘’don’t say it like it’s a death sentence.’’ 

‘’Well, I don’t know him personally but he seems pretty scary, doesn’t he?’’ her voice went a little high pitched as she glanced over Finn’s shoulder, ‘’oh, here he comes; shit, did he heard me?’’ 

A moment later Alt was at Finn’s shoulder, slipping a glass of water into his hand. Nana bowed her head and kept it like that until Alt said, ‘’Nana, right?’’ 

Nana nodded, ‘’nice to see you, sir,’’ she said and turned, scuffling off into the crowd. 

Finn glanced up at Alt. Was he really that scary? Sure, he was tall and clearly well muscled, plus there was that whole powerful beast vibe and just the thought of being bitten by him mad Finn’s head spin but...well, he was easy to read and soft spoken and he liked flowers. 

Ah, Finn thought, he keeps all of that a secret

*~*~*

‘’Seriously?’’ Eric said, looking Brín over. He had been waiting for him outside the lounge, deeming it proper to walk in together, ‘’you’re wearing that?’’ he nodded his chin towards Brín’s worn, red chequered jacket. 

‘’Sorry, looking at your face I didn’t realise we were supposed to care about appearance,’’ Brín said bluntly. As always, Eric had dark circles under his eyes and his blond hair was gathered back haphazardly into a knot at the back of his head. Brín didn’t look much better – he was pale and gauze was still taped to the wound on his temple, but he promised himself he wouldn’t appear scared at all today. Not when he didn’t know if Tommy and Alfie could take what would happen in the evening. 

Eric ignored the insult, ‘’take the jacket off. You look like you’re hom-‘’ he caught himself. 

‘’Oh, what’s this?’’ Brín put his hand in his pocket and rummaged around, before pulling out his hand with his middle finger up, ‘’well would you look at what I had in my pocket!’’ 

Eric caught his wrist and shoved it down, ‘’enough. Behave.’’ 

‘’Same to you,’’ Brín gave his bond a sweet smile. 

‘’Arguing so early in the morning?’’ came Chase’s voice. They turned to see Tommy and Chase approaching, the latter yawning, ‘’you’re going to beat me and Toothpick over here.’’ 

Brín glanced at Tommy, trying to catch his eye, but the boy kept his head down. He didn’t look so good, either. Eric didn’t reply to his brother. He turned towards the doors of the lounge and entered. 

And walked right into his parents. 

‘’Eric!’’ his mother said in her annoying, forever-awed voice that she only used with him. The blond woman extended her arms to her son, covered with more veins and wrinkles than usual, ‘’my darling! My sweet son!’’ 

‘’Hello, mother,’’ Eric said emotionlessly, allowing her to embrace him. His father, looking as background-character-ish as always, gave his son a nod. 

Nora Fredriksen pulled away from her son and wrinkled her dainty nose at Brín, ‘’is this your bond, honey? Oh, but he’s so old.’’ 

Brín gave her a fake smile, ‘’I can see where Eric gets his charm from.’’ 

Nora gave him a distasteful look, ‘’don’t you know you should show respects to those higher ranking than you, dear?’’ 

‘’Enough, mother,’’ Eric said, before Brín could reply, ‘’he’ll be ranking the same as me after tonight anyway.’’ 

Eric’s father cleared his throat politely, ‘’Chase, how are you? How are your studies? Is this your bond?’’ he gestured to Tommy, who still hadn’t looked up.  

‘’How am I supposed to answer three different questions at once, father?’’ Chase said in a voice so cold it surprised even Tommy, who glanced up for the first time, wearily. There was pure loathing in that voice. 

Before Eric’s and Chase’s father could say anything, his wife wrinkled her nose again, as if Chase smelled foul or something, ‘’come, dear. We should greet the Narvaez family,’’ she pulled her husband away from his sons. 

A heavy, awkward silence descended on the Fredriksen brothers and their bonds, ‘’what was that about?’’ Brín asked finally. If he didn’t have anything to occupy his mind with, he’d just go back to thinking up morbid scenarios of what could happen tonight. They ranged from having his throat ripped out by beast-Eric to getting full-out munched by a dozen beasts. 

Chase gave him a sarcastic smile, ‘’Nora Fredriksen hates me. Didn’t you notice?’’ 

‘’Why was she here? Wouldn’t your mother be with your father?’’ Brín frowned. After all, Chase was the youngest. 

Chase snorted, though his tense body language told Brín he didn’t find the situation funny in the least, ‘’Nora is his bond. My father is a weak man. The one time he did something to defy his wife was when he got together with my mother. It couldn’t have been pleasant, what with him being bonded and all. I was the unfortunate by-product of that night, though he of course went running right back to Nora,’’ Chase said with bite, then frowned, as if he realised he’d said too much, ‘’I’m going to get food,’’ he grumbled, slipping away. 

Tommy made no move to follow him. 

*~*~*

As the sun set lower and lower over the valley, the mood in the boudoir grew darker and darker. After the breakfast, the four humans had been ushered into the boudoir by Vicky and they’d stayed there for most of the day, taking their lunch on the chaises, though they could barely stomach more than a couple of bites. Now, a mere half an hour away from phase 1 starting, the point was really sinking in – they’d all failed to get away. They were powerless in stopping whatever happened tonight. Vicky, who had helped them dress in matching black pants and satin, white shirts, exposing the necks and shoulder slopes, was pacing in front of the dark windows. Finally she stopped and turned to the humans. She was in wide-legged trousers and a satin, striped blouse, her pale blonde hair tumbling down her back, unbound, but her face was sour, ruining the pretty outfit, ‘’alright, let’s go through this again,’’ she said, ‘’there will be a lot of people watching you but try not think about that too much. The boys will come on in beast forms. You’ll kneel, they’ll bite you and you’ll be taken up to your rooms. They’ll join you once they shift back and get dressed. As long as you stay still and try not to fight it, it all should be fine,’’ she didn’t seem convinced. 

‘’Brín, you’re going first. Then Tommy, then Alfie, Finn is last,’’ she took a deep breath as if to steel her own nerves and glanced at the dainty watch around her wrist, ‘’it’s about time to start going downstairs. Come on.’’ 

‘’I...’’ Alfie’s voice shook. Tommy, Finn and Brín looked at him, shocked, as the boy’s blue eyes suddenly filled with tears that fell down his face, ‘’I don’t want to...I don’t...please,’’ he stood from his chaise suddenly, ‘’Vicky, tell them I’m not doing it,’’ he began shaking his head, backing away when Vicky took a step towards him. Tears dripped off his chin. His back hit the wall of the boudoir and he looked around at the boys helplessly, ‘’please...please, I can’t...’’ a terrified sob slipped out of his mouth and he slid down the wall, wrapping his arms around his head as if he could block out Vicky’s voice. 

‘’Come on, Alfie, it’ll be over before you know it...’’ 

‘’No,’’ Alfie whimpered, shaking his head. Another sob racked his body, ‘’no, no, no, no...’’ 

Vicky gave the boys a helpless look, ‘’the bodyguards will drag him there if they have to,’’ she whispered.

Brín stood, making up his mind. They couldn’t stop the beasts biting them, but he’d do everything he could to make sure Alfie wasn’t afraid. He knelt down by him and took his arms gently, pulling them away from Alfie’s head. Alfie looked up at Brín with eyes shining with tears, ‘’shhh,’’ Brín said gently, slipping his hands against Alfie’s cheeks and brushing his tears away with his thumbs, ‘’its okay, Alfie. It’s okay. It really can’t be that bad, yeah? It’s already happened to us once, you know it’s not that bad...I’m going first, you’ll see, it’ll be completely fine.’’ 

‘’It won’t...’’ Alfie whispered in a choked voice. 

‘’It will. It will, really,’’ Brín whispered heatedly, ‘’tell you what, if it’s really bad, I’ll let you know, and then you don’t have to do it. I won’t let Jordan bite you if it’s awful, ‘kay?’’ he was blatantly lying. He couldn’t stop Jordan from biting Alfie; Jordan was smitten with him. Brín couldn’t even stop Eric from biting him and they hated each other. But Alfie desperately grasped onto any little way out of the panic pressing in around him. 

He pressed his hands to Brín’s, ‘’promise?’’ he whispered. 

‘’Promise,’’ Brín gave him a comforting smile and kissed his temple quickly. 

‘’Right,’’ Vicky said, ‘’we need to get him cleaned up...’’ 

*~*~*

Brín had no idea why, but the ceremony was being held outside, in the valley before Lirim. More chairs than Brín could count were laid out in neat rows, with four at the front empty. The four bodyguards stood in the plains before the chairs, for protection or for making sure the humans didn’t run away, Brín had no idea. Vicky led Finn, Tommy and Alfie over to the empty chairs, motioning for Brín to stand in front of the chairs. Brín hesitated but remembered that he had to make it all look easy, for Alfie’s sake. He walked up to where the guards stood, quite a way away from the guests. Almost...a safe distance away. The guests’ faces were impassive and in the darkness, illuminated only by a couple outdoor lanterns, Brín tried to imagine they weren’t there. 

‘’Please kneel, master Brín,’’ Napoleon said quietly from behind Brín. 

The human didn’t look at him. He took a discreet, deep breath, cast Alfie a reassuring smile that he then extended to Finn and Tommy, and slid onto his knees in the grass. He tried not to think about how all of this was like some massive spectacle for the beasts. There was a faint, deep growl from the murky darkness in front of Brín that did nothing to calm his nerves, and in the faint light of the lanterns set around the guests, Brín saw Eric emerge. Or, rather, a snow leopard emerged. Brín had to admit that in this form, Eric was rather majestic, his fur pale and soft looking, greenish gold eyes attentive. Brín tried not to look at the canines of the beast, looking instead into the darkness of the valley. 

‘’Tilt your head, master Brín,’’ Napoleon requested calmly. 

More than anything, Brín wanted to disobey him, but he forced his head to tilt, exposing his neck. He rubbed his finger against the harsh metal wire of the ring he wore on the ring finger of the opposite hand, trying to calm himself. He thought of Cam. She would have told him to be strong. Make it look easy, make it look easy, make it look easy, he chanted in his head, he won’t rip your throat out, he won’t-

Brín gasped at the sudden searing pain as the snow leopard pounced and sank his teeth into Brín’s shoulder where it met his neck. He bit down on his lip hard enough to drawn blood in order to stop the surprised, pain scream that clawed at his throat. Alfie was watching and he had to make it look easy, even if this time around it hurt much more than being bit in the leg. He felt blood trickle down his neck and stain the collar of his white tunic. Eric withdrew but the pain continued, intensifying. Brín closed his eyes, his breath coming out laboured. He winced as the pain continued to grow. He had been prepared for this – for his body fighting Eric’s bite. He hated Eric with every nerve of his body and now every nerve was rebelling against the change attacking his system. Brín opened his eyes, trying to give Alfie a reassuring look but his vision went fuzzy. He was panting now. His muscles felt weak. 

In the next instance he was toppling forward, all power going out of his limbs. Before he hit the ground, his body sank into something soft and warm. Eric gave a low, almost calming growl as he caught his bond with his body, his extremely fluffy, speckled tail flicking. 

Brín felt Napoleon’s strong arms hook under his arms before he lost consciousness. 

*~*~*

‘’Tommy. Tommy, it’s your turn...’’ 

Tommy heard Vicky’s voice as if through water, watching an unconscious Brín get carried back toward Lirim by Napoleon. Next to him, Alfie was shaking in his chair. Tommy was rooted in his chair. He couldn’t move. Couldn’t even dream of moving. 

Behind the guests, Seon stood in the darkness, making sure everything went as planned. She made an impatient gesture at the bodyguards as a golden, green eyed leopard emerged from the darkness, baring his fangs at the lack of his bond in front of him. Miss Medrano and Bob made their way quickly to where Tommy sat and unceremoniously grabbed him. Tommy snapped out of his stupor and dug his heels into the grass, staring at Chase in beast form with wide, hazel eyes. Miss Medrano and Bob tugged Tommy towards his bond, his heels making groves in the soft earth as he was dragged forward, ‘’n-no, wait, hold up-‘’ 

He was all but tossed onto the ground. Apparently his beast status didn’t come into action until he was bitten. Tommy immediately scrambled away from Chase, his circular glasses nearly falling off. The beast made an impatient growl and pounced. Tommy reacted, lightning fast. He kicked Chase away. Alfie and Finn watched, wide eyed and shocked. Behind them, Nora Fredriksen gave a mirthless snort, ‘’pathetic. He can’t even control his own bond.’’ 

A pissed off Chase growled at Tommy again as the human scrambled up onto his feet. Behind him, the bodyguards shifted, ready to catch him in case he decided to bolt. But Tommy never got the chance because in the next instance Chase lunged again, knocking him onto his back in the grass, ‘’Chase, no!’’ Tommy yelled but it was too late. He gave a choked cry when Chase savagely bit into his shoulder and then went quiet, gritting his teeth. His eyes burned but he refused to cry. He would not be humiliated himself further in front of all those beasts. Chase pulled away, the front of his muzzle stained red and scuffled off into the dark. The place where he bit burned, the feeling spreading, as if Chase had injected acid into his veins. 

Tommy felt sick and woozy. His vision blurred and then went dark as he collapsed into the grass and passed out. 

*~*~*

Alfie made as if to get up, to help Tommy when he saw him collapse into the grass, but Vicky grabbed his shoulder and forced him to stay in his seat with surprising strength. Alfie watched with wide eyes as Miss Medrano picked Tommy up like a sack of potatoes and dragged him off. Vicky’s hand on Alfie’s shoulder softened, ‘’please, Alfie, just go there and get it over with,’’ she whispered, giving him shoulder a light squeeze. 

Alfie glanced at Finn. The boy had seemed rather calm but after seeing Chase get bit, he met Alfie’s gaze with terrified violet eyes. Alfie swallowed, hard. Brín had done his best to calm him, now he had to calm Finn. He got up on legs trembling like leaves in a harsh wind and made his way to where Bob and Irena waited at an incredibly slow pace. He was finding it hard to breathe. Once he reached the spot, he couldn’t kneel, couldn’t move, couldn’t even remember to inhale and exhale. Bob grabbed him and forced him down on his knees just as Jordan in bear form emerged from the darkness. He gave Bob a rough growl when he saw him manhandling his bond but the sound only made Alfie flinch, a tiny, terrified noise escaping his mouth. 

The massive black bear approached Alfie slowly and Alfie started shaking his head despite what Vicky told him, ‘’Jordan...’’ he felt his eyes sting again and he couldn’t stop the terrified tears that trickled down his face, ‘’Jordan, please, I don’t want this...’’ Alfie whispered as the beast stopped in front of him. This close he could see the sharp teeth Jordan in bear form possessed. Teeth that would sink into his flesh. God, what would his parents say if he ever dared to show up at home looking like that...? ‘’Jordan please, please, I’ll start talking to you, I promise, just please...don’t do this, I...you’re scaring me, please...’’ Jordan angled his head and opened his jaws. A sob fell from Alfie’s lips and Jordan hesitated, but then Bob was behind Alfie, grabbing his arms when he raised them to protect his neck and pining them to his sides. Alfie sobbed, not caring what the beasts watching thought, struggling against Bob’s iron grip. 

A wrecked sob shook his body as Jordan’s teeth sank into his neck. Bob let go of his arms and retreated. Alfie kept sobbing, tears wetting his cheeks. 

A moment later it wasn’t the bear that sat in front of him, but Jordan, stark naked. The beasts gathered on the chairs gasped in shock at a beast breaking the traditional ceremony but Jordan didn’t care. He gathered the sobbing Alfie against him, wrapping him in his arms tightly as if he could hide him from the prying eyes of the shocked beasts, ‘’I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Alfie,’’ he whispered heatedly against his ear, stroking his hair, ‘’you did so good, baby. You did so well. It’s all over now, okay? You can go rest now. I’m sorry I hurt you, Alfie. I’m sorry but I’ll never do that again, I promise. You did so good, my love, you can relax now. Just close your eyes,’’ he kissed Alfie’s temple as the weakened human collapsed against him, his hand resting on his shoulder for purchase. 

‘’Feel...weird...’’ Alfie managed, ‘’hot...’’ he winced, ‘’it...hurts...’’ he made as if to touch the bite wound. 

‘’I know,’’ Jordan said helplessly, pressing his hand against the wound when Alfie’s dropped limply in his lap. There was no way of stopping the pain, no painkillers. At least it looked as if Alfie’s body was accepting the change. 

One of the ant-beast servants hurried forward and offered Jordan a robe, folded in a neat square. He unwillingly unwrapped one arm from around Alfie and took the robe, clumsily slipping it over his naked body. When he was done, he hooked one arm under Alfie’s knees, put the other one around his shoulders and picked him up. The young man was half conscious, breathing hard, burning up. The change was already starting and Jordan wanted him to at least have the comfort of a bed. He ignored shocked, appalled looks from the other beasts as he carried Alfie towards Lirim. 

*~*~*

As his friends were picked off one by one, Finn felt more and more terrified. Now as Alfie was carried away, Finn wondered if he could run and make it out. Of course, it was stupid speculation. There were so many beasts here he would be caught in three seconds flat but...he had been wondering what Alt was and suddenly he didn’t want to know, not after Santana exuded so much power even as a changed human. What would the bite do to Finn? What if he didn’t survive the shift? Was that possible? It certainly didn’t look easy. All three of his friends were unconscious by the time they were carried off and looked feverish. But now Bob and Irena were staring at him. He could feel Vicky’s eyes boring into him, and the eyes of everyone gathered behind him on chairs. 

<code>Come on; be dignified, he told himself, you are a man. So man the fuck up. He stood, willing his legs not to shake as he walked to where the remaining two bodyguards stood. Irena gestured to the grass as he approached and he gracefully slid to his knees, his silvery blond hair catching the moonlight. Irena gave him a smile, ‘’uważaj, diabeł jest tutaj’’ she whispered to him, chuckling softly. </code>

As if on cue, a sound like a massive paper fan flapping through the air filled the night sky. Finn had been looking out into the darkness in front of him where Chase, Eric and Jordan had come from but when the sound echoed around the valley, Finn looked up. And he realised why Alt had chosen such a remote, open place to settle in. His eyes widened as the grass flowed from sudden air flapped at it. Every single person in the clearing save for Finn bowed their heads as a massive, hulking shape, half as big as Lirim itself, landed with a resounding thud before Finn. 

And Finn screamed. 

Of course. 

A fucking dragon

Finn stared in terror at the massive mound of black, glistening scales that made up the majority of Alt’s beast-form. His wings, huge and webbed like a bats, that had carried him through the sky, folded neatly at his sides. Finn wasn’t on his knees anymore. He had scrambled back like Alfie, but now he sat on the grass, too terrified to move. If Alt tried to bite him...oh God, he’d take his head right off. Finn’s hand flew to where Alt had bitten him before, to the row of razor sharp points. His breath was coming out in uneven, terror-filled pants. The guests and the guards behind him did not raise their heads as the dragon studied his bond. 

And then Alt took a step forward; the ground shook under his weight. 

The sound of Alt’s rage-filled roar that he had let out when Finn had ran away rung out in Finn’s ears. Oh, gods...he was going to die. A low rumble sounded from the depths of the dragon’s massive, scaled chest and Finn yelped in fear, curling in on himself. He wrapped his arms around his head, trying not to think about what stood in front of him. 

Alt watched his bond cower in fear, so tiny compared to him. It felt good to finally take on his other form. He’d refrained from doing so till now, worried Finn would see him and get frightened – like now. Alt sighed and the sound came out as a huff through his nostrils. He spread his wings and curled them forward. They were large enough to hide both his massive head and Finn from view of the guests. 

Once they were hidden from view, Alt lay his head down on the ground in an attempt to look less imposing. His fire lit up his throat, casting a light into the cocoon he created around them. Very slowly, Finn raised his head. His eyes widened at the light bobbing under the surface of the thick, scaled skin, ‘’don’t tell me you can spit fire...’’ he whispered, voice trembling.  Alt huffed affirmative through his nostrils. He watched Finn and Finn watched him. 

The human man took in the scales, intricate and overlapping. Up close he saw that some were black but others were dark grey and some were even close to being navy. Alt’s eyes were snake like but the same dark brown of his human eyes. He was...magnificent. Magnificent and fearsome. Hysterical laugh almost spilled from Finn’s mouth at the wild thought of, ah, this dragon likes flowers. He felt like if he didn’t do anything he’d crumble from the shock of being bonded to a fucking mythical creature. This was not real. This was not real. In a state of near hysterical shock, Finn reached out a trembling hand and laid it on Alt’s muzzle. 

Real. 

He was real. 

The tough scales under Finn’s palm, the heat emanating from the beast...it was all real. A gasp escaped Finn’s lips. 

Alt let out a low rumble, pleased with his bond’s gesture. He raised his head slowly and Finn snatched his hand back, looking at the beast with fear and distrust. Alt wanted to wholly wipe that expression of his face but unfortunately what he had to do would only make Finn more scared. In a desperate attempt to show that he was still Alt behind the massive fortress of scales and fire, the beast nudged his head against Finn’s chest. It was so large his throat lay in Finn’s lap as he tucked the top of his head under Finn’s chin. Finn gasped again – an adorable sound, Alt decided, under different circumstances. He made no move to touch Alt again and his heart, thundering against Alt’s scales, thundered on but at least he seemed to be starting to breathe properly again. 

Until Alt raised his head and exposed a double row of needle sharp teeth. 

Finn scrambled back with a frightened noise, until his back hit the thick, membranous skin of Alt’s wings, ‘’Alt, you’re gonna kill me with those...’’ he whispered, voice shaking. 

Alt shook his head as best as he could in this form and lowered his head to the level of Finn’s shoulder. Finn’s whole body tensed up like a guitar string but Alt tilted his head, closing the edge of his top jaw lightly around Finn’s shoulder so only a few teeth grazed the tunic. Finn’s breathing wasn’t coming out properly but he managed to say, ‘’y-you’re only going to bite me with a couple?’’ 

Alt blinked slowly as if to say ‘yes’. 

Finn took a deep, shaky breath, ‘’there’s...no way out of this, right?’’ he whispered. 

Alt’s eyes, almost sad, gave him the answer. Finn realised he would just have to get through it. Brín, Tommy and Alfie were all in Lirim already, in the midst of their change. They had lost their chance for freedom, for now. There was nothing Finn could do. There were so many beasts out there...

Suddenly, he wanted to just go. Even if it was back inside Lirim, into Alt’s bedroom...he wanted to be away from those staring beasts. 

Slowly, he tilted his head, exposing his neck and shoulder, and squeezed his eyes shut, ‘’do it,’’ he whispered, ‘’just get it over with.’’ 

His breath came out erratically as his body tensed, waiting for the impact. 

The searing pain hit Finn like a brick and he cried out. It was like being impaled with half a dozen needles, except the needles were as thick as daggers. As soon as Alt withdrew his fangs, Finn toppled backwards. A wave of fresh air hit his sweaty face as Alt pulled back his wings. He stared up at the starry night sky. His shoulder was going numb and he barely felt the pain as a sudden heat started in his arm and spread over his body. His breath wouldn’t calm down. His vision was going hazy... 

Alt watched Finn lying on the soft grass, waiting. Once Finn’s eyes fluttered shut and he passed out, he opened his jaws to their full length and as gently as he could closed them around Finn, careful of his razor sharp teeth. If he’d done it when Finn was still awake, his little human would probably have a heart attack. Now, ignoring the staring guests, he beat his wings, once, picking off the air, and flew towards Lirim. He was on the roof by his ceiling window in a few hard strokes. He shifted back into human form, which was never comfortable considering the size he grew to. He caught Finn, standing stark naked on the roof, and opened the ceiling window from the outside, made especially so he could get in and out after his flights. 

They had gotten through the ceremony, somehow, but the hard part was ahead of them. 

Because the night was young and boys had begun their change into beasts.