Zach held Gray as the child squealed in excitement, incapable of truly voicing his sheer joy at being on the barge between mainland and the island of dinosaurs. Wearing both backpacks for the four week stay with their mysterious and possibly mythological Aunt Claire, the tall teen held his brother’s hindquarters as the sixty pound juvenile predator slipped around his neck, heavy feet planted on his shoulder and head above everyone but the tallest tourist. He couldn’t keep a small smile from plying over his lips, the excitement enough to make his as yet unidentifiable self crow and snarl with happiness that his packmate and water cub was so joyful. It didn’t happen often anymore and every time his non-shifter parents tried to isolate the smaller boy from Zach... well, that hadn’t ended well for a woman descended from reptile and a man from water-based mammalian shifters. While their mother could be cold and sharp, the teen was all possessive heat and uncompromising surety. While their father was aggressive authority and short temper, Gray was all gentle play and cuddly love.
It shouldn’t work, but Gray had come late enough that Zach hadn’t felt his place in the Pack threatened and had even adopted his younger sibling into his inner circle. The cold of their mother hurt Gray where Zach could care less since she was not his authority. Had not been since he was younger than his sibling. The fury of their father cowed Gray and only pushed Zach to snap back, more dangerous and vicious. Gray was Zach’s by definition of the Shifter Law, and his parents having screaming tantrums at each other and his brother was the last straw. So, he had suggested that the two go visit their only non-shifter Aunt in the middle of the ocean with the kind of calm that only heralded the coming of a storm. The couple hadn’t wanted to, had wanted to sink tooth and claw into the vulnerable neck of his brother and roar about who was keeping who all the while slowly suffocating the life and joy from the child and... well, he had been neither kind nor gentle with the two supposed adults in his life. He had a form, he could feel it like his skin was too tight and his body too small, and had yet to find the beast he resonated with enough to activate the change, but he was shifter active and more than willing to fight for authority in the house.
The two had backed down quickly once the claws had slipped through his control and gouged a set of slashes across the table.
The high happy squeal of Gray just now as the crowd surged forward more than broke his thoughts, Zach quick to walk from the ferry as soon as he could. Gray was in no position to properly censor his behavior and, while expected of a juvenile cub, it did little to stop the worry that someone would steal the fairly rare shifter right from under his elder brother’s watch.
It had almost happened before.
But only the once.
Still, looking for a woman in a love affair with white and fake red hair should have been easy. That Zach did not see her was telling in a very unpleasant way. That there was a woman the exact opposite of his aunt from her black business slacks and suit jacket to her meticulously kept head of braids that nearly touched her waist with a massive plaque - an honest to shifter plaque - well, he knew that this month of time away was going to be very fraught with misunderstanding. But, on the flip side, his cub would be happy.
Scratching the spot of pale hair that covered Gray’s throat only to wrap around his muzzle and up his brow in a blaze against his chocolate brown fur, the teen stepped up with a frighteningly challenging grin, more teeth than necessary making the tall woman visibly uncomfortable. She was a shifter, too, omnivorous and peculiar on this island where it’s eat or be eaten. Sure, there were herbivores milling in herds but the real feel was blood-teeth-victory. No wonder the itinerary was a cautionary tale to the less meat friendly shifters. This would be like a lamb standing willingly in the den of a starved lion.
Rubbing his thumb and index finger over the darker spots before and around Gray’s deep brown eyes, the teen pressed his hand over the juvenile’s eyes, the small head pressing into his palm as the joy slowly evaporated. In a minute, the child would probably revert as disappointment curled into his little heart, fragile despite Zach’s best efforts. He sincerely didn’t like that idea. Gray deserved to be happy. He deserved more and better than Zach could give him, but he was the only one that didn’t pick any side but his baby brother’s. Mammal, reptile, it didn’t matter half so much as Gray the child did. “I guess the mythological Aunt Claire couldn’t be bothered,” the teen bit out softly, throat thrumming a soft safe-protected-comfort sound that instantly calmed Gray. “Just get us to where we are going to stay. I’ll take it from there.”
The woman opened her mouth. He didn’t drop his eyes and she seemed to shiver where she stood, breathing silently picking up as some hindbrain instinct kicked in. She swallowed, nodding. “Of course, Mr. Mitchell.” Then she looked down and away, conceding the victory to him with a small frown. “Right this way.”
Gray, having watched his holt leader dominate the other shifter, chattered and clambered all over his brother, webbed hands smacking a little too hard against human cheeks with too long nails lightly abrading the skin. He looked deep into his eyes, dark happy brown peering into orange ringed blue-green-yellow hazel that was anything but human. Zach allowed it, the teen smiling as he held his brother like a stole over his neck. “You little weasel,” he teased warmly, running one hand down the long spine. “I’m not carrying you all over the island. Either you change back at the hotel or we stay in for the night and start out human tomorrow.”
The mustelid whined, flopping like a wet towel over his brother’s shoulders. Zach chuckled, tickling the child under the chin in consolation. He knew Gray enjoyed being an Otter despite no one knowing just what type exactly he was, the child triggering when the different Otter exhibits met. It was unusual since, usually, a shifter had the be near one kind. Gray hadn’t triggered when by the Giant Otters or the Sea Otters alone and that made him terrifyingly visible on the shifter radar. The only reason Gray hadn’t gone mental after his first shift was because Zach had gathered the small handful up and cradled the boy inside his shirt with the ferocity of his inner self. Neither parent had been present, off to have a spat in private and the water cub had imprinted on his brother as primary care giver. Which, ah, had been true for some time. The authorities had a laundry list of questions that Zach had handled since the aquarium-zoo-park was actually set up for shifters to find their shift. Even the fish shifters had a place to try and connect to their inner selves without, you know, dying because water type and needing it.
(There was one memorable shifter who ended up being a Man O’ War jellyfish who accidentally killed his cousin some ways removed because you couldn’t control body parts immediately after shift. That took time and practice and the poor guy had neither. His cousin had, apparently, tasted delicious as a fish and he had been very sorry about the whole thing.)
Of course, after the findings in China, there was a big expectation that Gray would be the 100lb/45.36kg plus, ancient extinct Siamogale Giant Otter. Fur didn’t preserve well, so there was speculation due to his coloration that he might be a prime example for sourcing. Zack had had to sit down and cuddle Gray after fending off one particular scientist, fingers bloody and knuckles bruised. He had gotten off with a slap on the wrist while the scientist had been incarcerated for several infringes up to and including attempted violation of a minor and attempted abduction of a minor. After a three month stint in ICU and rehab, that is.
Zach had not taken the near kidnapping well. At all.
Breathing as memories swirled around him, the teen hefted their backpacks a little higher on his shoulders, his brother slithering around his shoulders and even poking his whiskered face into Zach’s sweaty shirt only to recoil and screech like he was being attacked. The elder thumped the child on the nose. “Quit that, brat.”
Gray did with a huff before slipping down his brother’s body like it was a slide, claws clacking in the cobbled walkway. A more visually pleasing aesthetic than cement but much more difficult to walk on soundlessly when one had claws. That didn’t mean Gray was slow or clumsy, though, since the child slid and rolled and slipped like an eel over the stones and around Zach’s shoes. The teen allowed it, more than used to his brother going nuts. Then, the moment the hotel was in view, there was a twelve year old boy instead of a juvenile Otter. Brown flip flops, checked brown-gray-tan board shorts, and a brown polo a size too large looked adorable on a cherubic face with big brown eyes and angelic brown curls that swirled over chubby cheeks and around a long, thin neck. Gray was not what people expected and Zach wished his parents had gone with his name choice instead of a color that their son would never live up to until he was literally gray with age. Sure, the name was more feminine, but it defined Gray, now more than it would have at birth: Grace. Hell, Gray could even be a nickname!
But Zach could never know his own mind, never mind that he had been making decisions for himself since he was three.
Parents like his were stupid. Not just sometimes, either.
But! “Zach, Zach! Ohmigosh, ZACH! I can’t believe we’re heeeeerrrre!” Squealed the child that was his, damn anyone who said otherwise. “I mean, Aunt Claire didn’t come meet us, but whatever! You’re here and you’re my holt leader and you brought me here!”
Yeah. This little boy just a year shy of presenting his gender was worth everything, including the fights for his well being. The mythical aunt and an island of creatures that made him want to rip a few throats out, too.
“These are your keycards,” murmured the woman, the name badge ZARA glinting now that he was paying attention to more than just his brother and the probability of danger. “Your aunt requests a meal this evening at seven. At the steakhouse across the path.”
And there probably wouldn’t be more than shrimp there. Gray needed crab, fish, and oysters. Often sea urchins and other more dangerous food groups. Frowning, the teen looked at Zara as he plucked up their keycard envelope. “Tell Aunt Claire that while the gesture is nice, Grace is unable to eat red meat.”
The woman blinked before plucking up her phone and walking away. That was fine with Zach. Grabbing his brother, the teen gently tugged him to the elevator. He heard their temporary welcoming committee ask “are you sure your nephews haven’t shifted” just as the doors closed, boxing the younger into a corner as they rose, the doors only opening once for a couple who were going to the roof for the star viewing party. More power to them, really, he just wanted to settle himself and Gray before catching the last Mosasaur feeding. Changing from jeans and hoodie to shorts and shirt, the teen grabbed his brother’s hand before the smaller boy could bound out the door like an otter into water.
Keycards in hand, the two ended up meeting Zara again in the lobby presenting two bright blue bands that buckled around the wrist to the boys. “These are for the rides and eateries. You never have to wait in line and will be seated at the restaurant of choice. Your aunt said to pick a place and she would be by.”
Zach nodded and made no effort to tell the woman he didn’t have Claire’s information. She would find them or not. “Come on, Grace,” he near cooed in a low voice to his brother, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “Mosasaur then something to eat.”
The boy cheered and they went to see the mother of all whales eat sharks like pez candies.
The sushi restaurant had been authentic, thank goodness, and the staff accommodating to a baby otter’s eating habits. Zach had asked for something with red meat, stating that he was on the opposite end of the meat pool. There had been steak in a box that looked like it had belonged to the eatery his aunt had requested. Whatever, Gray was first. The staff had been kind enough about it too.
They would definitely return tomorrow.
But for now, he tucked his sleeping brother into his double bed, crawling on top of the covers as he placed himself in such a way as to block the smaller body with his own. He forwent any covering to keep from being tangled, glad that Gray was a little furnace with the A/C running. A little too much, but Gray needed it... so, that was how it went. Tomorrow, he would convince the water cub to let him open the window and sleep without covers. It would suit them both just fine, he bet. Get Gray used to the humidity and heat easier to keep him from getting heat sick.
Closing his eyes, he felt something inside relax for the first time. He’d never slept better.
Zach ran after the child who was nearly vibrating as he twisted like a stream around and through the crowds, the teen baring teeth as he charged through, scattering tourists. He was an apex predator despite not having found his shift yet. The herds and small family packs shifted as far away from him and his “hunt” as possible.
It didn’t matter that he was Omega, he was anything but docile and delicate. And his cub was being ridiculous and dangerous to himself, so yes. Crowds parting. The masses in general knew better.
“I’m going to duct tape him to my hip,” he hissed, feeling his pupils flex and thin, teeth almost sharp in his mouth. “And when I do, he will have to wait on me before doing anything.”
“Com’on, Zach!” crowed the boy just before he careened into a man, tall, thick with muscle, and wearing the park uniform. “Sorry!” his water cub yelped, hanging on to the heavy bicep of his personal brick wall. Cue adorable sunny Otter smile. “I didn’t watch where I was going.”
The man grinned softly at the cub, running an over familiar hand through the curls. “No worries, kid. Where’s your parents?”
Gray didn’t hesitate and jumped into Zach’s arms when the teen caught up, slightly winded but otherwise fine and capable of catching the boy. He grinned as he perched on slightly feminine hips, arms going around strong shoulders. “I don’t have any, so I have Zach! Oh! Hey! Zach! Zach! He smells like you!”
The man smiled but didn’t comment on the smell, probably catching on that Gray wasn’t entirely human. The teen smiled back, a little more teeth than necessary. Green-blue-yellow eyes slitted into vertical lines, eyes going gold for a flash before returning to human, teeth edging to knives before the man suddenly relaxed, pupils blowing wide. Gray giggled, snuggling into Zach before the elation of the day got to him and suddenly there was an Otter cub in his arms, squirming all over and around his neck, chattering to the man who suddenly threw back his head and laughed. Warmth startled Zach, settling in his bones as everything in him relaxed into compliance.
This was no threat. Not even an ally. Just... something more. So much more.
“Sorry about Grace,” the teen murmured demurely. Every little thing about the day seemed brighter, the weight on his shoulders less, and he leaned in towards the man with reptile eyes and teeth like razor blades. “He’s been wanting to come since the park reopened. I just now had the way to make it happen.”
The man gestured to the smaller brother, hand out as if to touch. If he did that, the scent markers of his brother would be all over the man. Did he want that? Would he allow the liberty? Gray didn’t much care, pressing his head into the hand to the sound of Zach’s sigh of resignation. Gray had all but claimed the man as a holt member. Who was he to argue?
The man laughed again, nostrils flaring a bit before he seemed to settle back. Apparently Gray was the Reptile Tamer no matter if he was related or not. Chuffing in amusement, the teen rubbed fur and feet, tickling the boy until he was twisting to the ground feet first, boots smacking the ground instead of webbed paws. Giggling like the little troublemaker he was, the boy bounced between the two, rubbing against Zach before latching on to the man’s arm again.
“How come you smell like Zach? I’ve smelled reptiles of all kinds and no one smells like Zach at all! I mean, the spicy Mediterranean scent is normal for a lot of reptiles, but Zach and you are like deep dirt scents with a lot of red meat and weird jungle-y smells and stuff!”
Zach, in a moment of self preservation, grabbed his brother by his mouth and pulled him back to his side, using his other hand to cover his eyes and hopefully calm the boy down without having to thrum. The man bit his lip in amusement, eyes sparkling as he valiantly did not laugh. The teen glowered at him, pursing his lips as the boy between them caught his breath and stopped wiggling. He was still bouncing side to side, but Zach knew when the battle was lost. The boy was an Otter. There was little to actually keep him still.
That was why seeing him drooping and quiet and still in the house of their parents was so hard. Not again. Not after this. “Grace, I am going to let you go. Please keep it under a six.”
The boy nearly vibrated in place but complied, glittering eyes turning up to Zach with adoration. The teen flushed, happiness curling under his skin. This was his water cub, all sweetness and sunlight. Nuzzling into the softest of hair, he glanced at the older man, breath catching a little at the look on his face. It was soft and hungry and dangerous to think about because he wasn’t himself but he wanted. He wanted badly. What he wanted he wasn’t sure, but he wanted it.
“So...” the word is drawn out. “What were you going to see in such a hurry?”
Zach put a hand on Gray’s head, the boy taking a deep breath before glancing at his older brother. At a nod, the child smiled wide and cherubic. “We were gonna see the raptor museum, catch the videos, then eat, and then maybe see Rexy for the afternoon feeding!”
All in one breath too. Zach felt a bit proud. The boy’s lung capacity was getting better and better all the time.
The man grinned sharply, amusement turning deeper, heavier. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret.” He leaned in, taller than Zack by several inches. “I have something better. Owen Grady, Raptor Alpha.”
Gray went all big eyed and soft. Zach couldn’t stop himself from taking a breath in sharply but not a gasp. Not entirely. The two leaned in, Zach more than Gray. “Really?”
That breathy voice was not his, the teen decided. The pupils of Owen Grady said otherwise, flaring wide and deep with underlying meaning. “Yeah,” he growled lowly, the sound inviting instead of threatening. “Private showing, even.”
As Zach knew there was nothing on Raptors on his itinerary from his aunt or even on the site, they must be research only. He wondered if he could petition that to be changed. Later. Because right now he was near quivering in want of the big Alpha, Gray clinging to his side with a happy grin and no fear of the predator the man could become because his big brother would rend the world for him.
It just made ridiculously attractive that he let a boy he didn’t know climb on him. Tended to the child warmly and gently despite the beast under his skin. That the man looked at Zach with hungry eagerness was just icing on a very delicious cake. He hadn’t had that kind of look directed at him before. Disgustingly possessive, yes. Furiously “bow to me” Alpha, of course. But this...
A shiver went down his spine.
Just as Zach pulled himself closer, eyes on the flaring gold-hazel of Owen Grady, Raptor Alpha, he felt something shift. It could have been the air, the people around them, or even the tension pulling between them, but it did change. Owen closed his eyes, tipping his head forward in a frustrated angle, body going from lax to alert. Zach stepped closer, Grace easily sliding between them, arms around his big brother’s waist as he tucked himself into the chest of his holt leader. Owen seemed to stand over them, casting them in his shadow and his protection. It was... soothing and distracting.
(Zach was definitely not thinking of Owen as a mate prospect, he was not.)
Oh. Oh... OH no. Zach knew that voice even if he had only heard it over the phone since he had been seven. That was Claire. The mythical aunt had been found. Or, well, found them. Like a Big Foot or Yeti.
And, unfortunately, that sickly sweet musk scent was the same from his childhood. It still made him want to gag. Grace buried his face in his chest, breathing slowly with his nose mashed in the folds of Zach’s shirt. Poor water cub. The teen didn’t push the Otter child away, even wrapping his arm around his shoulders to pull him closer. Claire was an unknown, he didn’t know what she might do - she employed filth like Wu without hesitation, what else might she do? Owen, despite being a just known quality, was the kind of person he could relate to.
And he was so undeniably patient with a wildly hyper otter cub that it made Zach think unsavory things.
(He pointedly did not think about it.)
“Ah, Claire! What can I do for the Dragon Lady?” the man quipped, hand on his hip as he stepped in front of the boys. The red head barely glanced at them, sneering just the barest bit. “Aw, is this about my personal opinions?”
“As a matter of fact,” she hissed with a polite Business Smile, “it is. Mr Masrani actually wants to speak to you about something delicate.” Her eyes cut to the two boys behind the taller, broader man. “If you could... excuse yourself from the island guests?”
Which would basically mean for them to “get lost” as politely as the woman could stand to be. Zach smiled sharply, unknowingly just like Owen was right in front of him. The woman barely had time to be made uncomfortable before Zach pressed Grace to the back of Owen, stepping out smoothly, deadly grace in every gesture. It was just like their mother, the teen figured. Only she didn’t acknowledge the leathery hide and venom laced teeth like their mother. “Oh, don’t be so rude, Aunt Claire,” he murmured with too many teeth showing. “It’s like you don’t even recognize your own nephews.”
Owen stiffened for a moment at his back before calming down entirely, pressing his chest to the brunette’s back for a shocking second. Then he was striding to the main building, Grace against Zach’s back instead and a faint crinkle coming from his hand. Claire was staring at the teen, eyes wide.
“Oh, did I surprise you, Dragon Lady?” he asked calmly enough, voice a sharp bite. The woman seemed to snap out of it, shaking herself before narrowing her eyes.
“Zachary,” she murmured smoothly, making as if to move closer. The teen held up how hand.
“Close enough, Aunt. I don’t want that disgusting perfume you wear near us.”
She visibly balked at that, face flashing with ire. “It’s not that bad.” She forced a smile. “But anyway, how are you enjoying your time here at Jurassic World?”
Zach rolled his eyes. There could not be that many carnivores that liked the smell of rotting flesh that desperately. “Well, it was pretty great with Owen helping us out.”
Her nose flared, eyes tightening at the corners even as her smile stayed. “Oh, don’t be going off with him, Zachary. He’s not that great an influence on kids.”
“Good thing I’m not, hm?” the boy murmured with a demure dip of his head. By now the cloying scent of dead flesh masked the world around them, his stomach roiling with it. He stepped towards his aunt, patience wearing thin faster than ever. “Of course, you don’t even know how old we are do you? I bet you thought we would be children in need of adult supervision. Your assistant seemed to think so.”
Claire puffed up, eyes narrowing sharply as her smile fell from her face. “Forgive me for taking my career seriously, Zachary. I hadn’t thought it would become an issue.”
“No, you never thought we would be your issue, aunt Claire. Of course, what do you want with two more boys on your island?”
The woman visibly paused, brow furrowing. “Two?”
Zach stilled, heart suddenly a drum in his chest. He turned to look over his shoulder but... Grace was gone.
Owen found Masrani at the front doors of the science building, face pinched and eyes narrowed. Well. If there was anyone to put that kind of look there. “Wu doing it again?”
The man visibly startled at the casual way the Alpha interrupted his thoughts, sighing when he saw it was Owen. He relaxed, letting the other man into his sphere. “Ah. It would seem that this is a reoccurring issue, my friend. Wu refuses to let me know what our newest dinosaur might be.”
And, shit, Owen got that. How do you keep people safe if you aren’t aware of what to anticipate? Running a hand through his hair, the man grimaced. “Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem. I wouldn’t want to take my girls into a situation like that. Blind shooting in the dark is a better option.”
“Might not be the right kind of backup plan, Simon. Delta is having a hard time right now not going after the containment guys at the outpost and she sees several of them on a daily basis.”
The man snorted, coughing to hide his amused grin. Owen couldn’t help that he was smirking. Often the ones Delta went after were plants by Hoskins or Wu. Those were always found out and acted towards accordingly. But, honestly, that wasn’t good either. If the girls were let out to do a job, they might go after the guys associated with those two. It wouldn’t be a significant loss, exactly, but it wouldn’t be a good image for the girls.
Their policy was very Salt the Earth.
Owen was trying (and failing) to teach them diplomacy. He wasn’t concerned yet - the girls were good about not going for the real deal - but they were young still. Barely six and honestly a mess. They were precious. Simon obviously shared this sentiment and was, as far as Owen was concerned, a tentative ally. Barry was just grateful to be considered Pack in a peripheral way and not embroiled in the middle of Pack politics.
Claire was something of a neutral hostile force that wouldn’t move unless the girls did first. So... a not-ally. Not food nor predator, but an obvious issue and definitely in the Outsider category. The girls had withheld judgment so far and Owen was content that they were becoming more complex in their thinking.
(Finally. About something they all agreed on.
Ice cream should not have been such a difficult topic of discussion.)
“Aaaah,” sighed the very prominent man with too much hair gel but acceptable choice in cologne. “Just...” he tilted his head back, eyes closing as he took a deep breath. Owen had to tease back the urge to grip into the bared throat with his teeth. Simon was a Demi - a type of sex that wasn’t Alpha nor Omega, but some terrible combination of both - and well past baring age as it was.
“... keep an eye out. This feels bad.”
Owen nodded, letting out a hefty sigh of his own. This was Wu. No need to tell him twice.
“And be sure to visit the enclosure at the northern most point sometime very soon, hm?”
And if that wasn’t ominous. Owen had figured it had been a retirement area for the oldest dinosaur documented. Since that seemed to not be the case... he would follow up on that ASAP.
Simon turned, walking away with a slight slouch to his posture that shifted the moment he hit the foot paths - tired man replaced with business guru. Yeah, the man was definitely more Alpha than Omega and a firm ally. Rushing a hand through his hair, the raptor Alpha let his breath leave in an explosion of air. About face set him in the right direction of the old Jeep he had brought today. His motorcycle was in pieces, engine like a puzzle across his porch. With as early as it was, he could get home quick and finish that today if he kept the trip to the paddock short.
What was a few hours whiled away with his best girls?
As it was, he needed some time to clear his head. That little otter had scented him good if it still smelled like the kid was right with him. Cranking the old thing up, he pulled out. Hope the girls didn’t mind the intentional scenting.