Authors: Mell Eight
Tags: #Gay romance, Paranormal, Supernatural Consultant
"Mama said to stay hiding until she comes and gets us," another admonished in reply.
"But I'm hungry!" the first replied, his whine grating and high pitched. After wincing through that noise, Dane knew that even had Mercury and Dane remained on the blanket with an edible picnic they would have noticed the kits eventually.
Dane peeked under the bush behind them. All three kits were in dragon form, their oversized and currently flightless wings tucked close to their backs so they could fit underneath the bush. Two of them were staring at Mercury and the picnic basket avidly. The third was looking at Dane with dawning fear in his widening eyes.
"Hello," Dane said amicably, hoping this would go well. Except he was dealing with dragon kits, and there was no way this would go well.
The two kits that hadn't noticed Dane yet screeched in surprise and accidentally lit the bush on fire. The one who had seen Dane jumped to his feet and dashed into the clearing to get away. He forgot about Mercury, though, and was caught a brief moment later.
Dane doused the bush with a touch of magic and used his larger size to herd the other two kits after their brother.
Mercury rumbled at them, his human throat making the soothing dragon noise without trouble. "We've been looking for you," he explained gently. "Come have some lunch."
"You're not the bad guys?" the second kit Dane had heard speak asked sharply. He tried to be as menacing as Dane knew Nickel could be, but he lacked the serial-killer aura Nickel had learned during his time trapped and experimented on in a lab before killing the scientists in order to escape. Dane reached out and smoothed the scales on his head.
"We're not the bad guys. Your father told us where to find you," Dane explained, stretching the truth just slightly. Their father had asked for Dane's help finding them, but he hadn't known where his mate had fled.
"We have a lot of food that I'm sure you'll love," Mercury said as he gently steered the kit he was still holding on to towards the blanket. "It was made by a fire dragon kit just like you in the hopes that we would have something for you when we did find you."
"Once you've eaten, we'll take you to your dad," Dane added with a smile. "Do you know how far away you left your mom behind?"
One of the kits was sniffing the potato salad and another was clawing off the plastic wrap around the sandwiches.
"Human form, please," Mercury instructed firmly. "This is food you eat with hands, not claws."
The kits grumbled, but one by one they shifted forms. They were naked and unconcerned about that fact, of course. Wild kits often didn't know anything about clothing or the social mores that dictated what people wore. The fact that Chrome reliably wore clothing, as ripped and dirty as it was, was the result of a lot of hard work on Daisy and Mercury's part. Dane didn't say anything, but made a mental note to wash the picnic blanket before it ended up back in the hall closet.
It only took a few minutes for all of the food Lumie had made to vanish. The kits ate voraciously, as if they hadn't had a proper meal in days. Dane honestly doubted they had any clue what they were actually putting in their mouths—potato salad and cheesecake didn't occur naturally in the wild—but they enjoyed it all the same. Lumie was apparently an excellent cook, as long as he was feeding fellow fire dragons.
Had their mother been anywhere nearby, she would have come rumbling out of the forest to protect her kits from strangers. Either her kits had wandered off a long way while she was fighting the enemy, or she had been captured and the enemy hadn't had the resources to keep her subdued and track down the kits at the same time. The enemy would be back in these woods soon enough to search for the kits, and Dane would be waiting. He suppressed an evil grin and shared a sidelong look with Mercury, whose eyebrows were drawn. He looked tense as he watched the kits and the forest surrounding the clearing. Mercury was on the same page as Dane.
They needed to get the kits out of this forest and safe with their dad as soon as possible, but they also had to do it without alarming them. The kits would fight back if they were rushed or made to feel wary. Lumie's trick with the food had helped a lot and now all Mercury and Dane had to do was to get the kits to trust them enough to transport them somewhere.
Before Dane could come up with a plan, one of the kits yawned. He was immediately echoed by both of his siblings.
"We've been running all morning," the first kit to yawn explained tiredly. "We're gonna take a nap now."
All three kits curled up amid the remains of the picnic lunch and dropped off to sleep without a care in the world. It was no wonder the enemy had been able to gather as many kits as they had, given how trusting and innocent they were.
Mercury and Dane waited a few minutes to let the kits fall fully to sleep. They quietly repacked the picnic basket so none of the local wildlife got accidentally poisoned. Once Dane was certain the kits were dead to the world, Mercury put one hand on Dane's shoulder and Dane bent over so he could touch all three kits at the same time. His magic pulled them all away.
They reappeared in the middle of a burgeoning village. The kits were lying in the middle of a wide dirt road. Six two-story houses stood on each side of the road. The houses were almost identical in design: each had different-colored siding and shutters and they had porches of different sizes, but the basic blueprint was the same. Two more houses were in various stages of construction further down the street. A young man with bright red hair was sitting awkwardly in a chair in front of the house that was little more than foundation and framing.
Mercury and Dane both straightened up. Yelling for attention and waking the kits would be a bad idea, so Mercury headed over to the sitting man. A breeze rustled the leaves overhead and one of the kits rolled over so he could snuggle close with his siblings. Of course he also managed to plant his elbow into his brother's face with the unerring accuracy of siblings across the world.
With a squawk of outrage, the kit woke up. Dane cringed, used to his own kits' eruptions when something bad happened, but the kit got in a good look around him before he started screeching and flaring fire. He let out a different sort of squawk, this one full of fear and confusion, until he caught sight of the man who had been sitting alone.
"Daddy?" the kit asked softly. The man stood awkwardly when he caught sight of the kits, one of his legs encased in a thick cast to help the severely broken bone heal correctly, but he grinned and held out one of his hands. "Daddy!" the kit shrieked, waking his siblings as he dashed down the road. The other two kits echoed their brother, screaming and running at their father, who had to collapse into his chair to hold them all.
There was a lot of babbling and some loud crying. Pretty soon, Mercury and Dane weren't the only ones standing in the middle of the dirt road. Three-dozen dragons and kits lived in the tiny town and it felt like more than half of them came outside to investigate the noise. An air dragon that inexplicably called herself Martha, even though that wasn't her real name, walked over to Mercury and Dane.
"The construction crew just left for their lunch break," she said softly. "The house will be ready to go before winter sets in. It's nice to see it will be a full house. Some of us were getting worried you wouldn't find the rest of the family. I'm happy to add all three kits to the school roster." Martha was the unofficial mayor and the official schoolteacher of the town. She had been one of Dane's first finds when she and two kits she had rescued from the wild had come to him directly for aid.
Dane had just put the word out that his consulting firm was particularly interested in helping dragons in need. She hadn't been fleeing from the enemy, but she was a fully trained elementary school teacher with a Masters of Education and two particularly articulate kits. No one would hire her because they didn't trust a dragon with the rest of the kids in the school. She wanted somewhere she could teach and be happy and Dane suggested they build a town exclusively for dragons in need.
It wasn't anything like how dragons lived in the wild. Kits had both parents with them for a while after they hatched, but within five or six years the father would need to return to his old territory to keep from fighting with his mate just as the mother would be forced to send her kits away when they grew large enough to fly. Something about living in the town in a house where everyone was able to carve out their own space and keep it separate from the rest of the dragons living there allowed real family units to form and stay together. That permanence meant that kits could go to school like regular children and adults who loved each other enough to have kits could stay with each other happily.
By the time the town was done raising the first generation of kits, they would have highly educated and socially aware young adults to send out to the world and maybe begin disproving the widely held view that dragons were only wild creatures.
There would have been much more of an outcry had the enemy been experimenting with pack magic, for example, and stealing young cubs from werewolf mothers for their experiments. Werewolves worked and lived openly and happily in nearly every community, unlike dragons.
Martha ran a hand through her white hair, cropped short so it stuck up in spikes. "Any word on the mother dragon?"
"I'm going back to look for her. She sent her kits on ahead, so I'm going to backtrack down their trail and see if I can locate her," Dane answered.
"I'll pass that information on as soon as things quiet down," Martha agreed.
Dane smiled at her and nodded before turning to Mercury, who was looking at his watch and frowning.
"My lunch hour's almost over," he sighed regretfully. "I'll have just enough time to grab a sandwich from the cafeteria and get back to my desk."
"I'm sorry Lumie's picnic didn't go well," Dane said with a laugh.
Mercury shook his head. "I think it went exactly how Lumie thought it would. I wish he would just tell us why he did things instead of doing them and us only finding out why once the results become obvious."
"Lumie change?" Dane asked, with a laugh. "Not a chance."
Mercury laughed in agreement. "I'll see you tonight?"
"Of course," Dane replied immediately. "Can you get through the wards around the town?" He had ensured that a place where a lot of dragons were congregating was well protected, but sometimes those protections messed up transportation spells.
"I think I've got the hang of it." Mercury leaned forward to press his lips briefly to Dane's, and then Dane felt the swirl of his magic before he vanished from sight.
Dane followed, his magic taking him back to the clearing where he would hopefully find the kits' trail and their mother alive at its end. Hopefully.
Mercury had just barely finished unwrapping his sandwich and popping open the bag of chips that came with it when Valerie came storming up to his desk.
"Where the hell have you been?" she snarled.
Mercury wasn't going to miss out on his lunch just because she was in a tizzy. He was allowed to take an hour for his lunch on occasion if he wanted, no matter what Valerie might say. He took a big bite of his sandwich and shoved a handful of chips in afterwards, then stared at her expectantly.
Valerie spluttered for a long moment while he chewed, crunching loudly. He couldn't quite make himself chew with his mouth open, but the impulse was there.
"We have a case?" she asked slowly and very sarcastically. "Work? You ever heard of those? We don't get lunch hours when there's so much still to do!"
Mercury took another large bite of his sandwich.
Valerie puffed up with air, her face red and her lips pressed tightly together. "I've laid everything out in the conference room when you're done, Your Highness," she snarled before spinning sharply on one heel and marching off.
"Oh, man. That was beautiful." Cheng popped up to hang over the shared side of their cubicle again and he was grinning widely. "Seriously, I've never seen her that mad and I was her partner for an entire week! You two are a match made in heaven."
"I have Dane," Mercury said after he swallowed. "I don't need any more matches."
Cheng laughed and waved his hand as if he needed to clear the air. "Not a love match, a work match. You don't take any of her shit or grovel whenever she gets all authoritative. That's exactly what she needs. Listen, I know I hate her guts, but she's a hard worker. You and her figure out how to actually work together with a lot less snarling, you could be good."
Mercury took another bite of food and was gratified to see that his new tactic worked on Cheng too. He didn't wait for Mercury to swallow again before returning to his own cubicle. If only that trick would work on his kits, but he doubted it would deter them.
He finished his sandwich before heading to where Valerie was waiting impatiently. She was leaning aggressively over the conference table, her hands planted in front of her while she stared at the documents that covered half the surface. Her scowl hadn't faded in the least, but Mercury refused to let her scare him.
"So, it was definitely a trap," Mercury said as he entered the room. Valerie immediately turned her glare on him.
"Set for you specifically?" she finally asked when her glare didn't immediately make him wilt. She needed to meet 'Ron in a snit. No one glared and grumped like 'Ron. Maybe that was why he was so impervious to her attitude. In fact…
"You want to come to my house for dinner tonight?" he asked with a smile. "The rest of my kits would love to meet you."
Her scowl vanished, replaced with an open-mouthed look of incredulous shock. "You want me to what? Why?"
Mercury shrugged. "I think my kits would like you and I know they'll want to meet you when I tell them about my day during dinner." And Valerie might learn that her angry and antagonistic ways wouldn't have any effect on him for a very good reason. Working with a partner who was surly all the time would get very old very quickly. "So, six o'clock? I'll come to your place to pick you up?"