Summary: Slight AU/sequel wherein Julian knows everything and is finally healthy and the trio, plus Kol, decide to visit Florida during Spring Break. Naturally, everything goes wrong.
It was meant to be a fun trip—the four of them, five hours down the coast to Florida for what was supposed to be an unforgettable week of (mostly illegal) drunken revelry and a damn good time at a cabin Kol’s family owned and was willing to lend them. After everything, they felt that they deserved a chance to unwind a little and what better way than to get away from the source of most of their problems?
Between school and everything else, it had been difficult to get away, but they were all in agreement: they needed it. So without further ado, they piled into Teddy’s convertible (and of course he had a refurbished classic convertible he’d stashed away in his family’s garage because he felt like a total douchebag driving it around on his own, but they all agreed there was no better way to travel along the coast than in a convertible, even if they couldn’t fit half as much luggage as they could have if they’d taken Grey’s SUV and anyway, who needed luggage when the cabin would likely have everything they needed?) and headed off early in the morning.
There was just one rule, and that was they weren’t allowed to talk about, reference indirectly, or even think about everything they’d gone through up to that point. It was too soon, too much, too hard for any of them to really process, and so they wouldn’t. This week was all about the forgetting, the letting go, and that was what they intended to do.
“Ahh…the breeze feels good,” Grey murmured from her place in the passenger seat, the wind buffeting her hair. She looked more at peace than she had in months.
“Are you kidding? I’m freezing,” Julian said, snuggling closer to Teddy’s side in the backseat. His hair had started to grow back already, the look more masculine than he’d had previously. As a rule, Julian’s appearance changed with him and he felt he had turned a page and it was time to close the chapter on his boyhood and enter the adult world. The edgy, almost feminine hairdo he’d had before he shaved it was an important part of who he had been; this new look was who he was going to be in the future.
Teddy smiled, tightening his arms around his boyfriend’s shoulders. He was happy with how much more substantial he felt in his arms—less like a corpse and more like a flesh-and-blood human being—and there was a brighter look in his eyes that was absolutely becoming. All they needed now was to add some color to his pale cheeks and maybe they could forget about the months of illness he’d endured—what better place to do that than the sunny Atlantic coast?
In the driver’s seat, Kol was tapping his fingers on the steering wheel in time to the music on the stereo despite the fact that none of them could really hear the song, drowned out as it was by the sound of wind in their ears and the rumbling motor of the convertible. Before long, they were all singing a different song; Julian suspected that Kol and Teddy were making up lyrics while he and Grey tried to actually sing the real ones, neither sure they were even remotely on the right track. Somehow, it didn’t matter.
The temperature climbed, waves of heat rising on the pavement, but the breeze off the ocean brushed the brunt of it away from the four of them, sweeping drops of sweat off their brows before they even had time to consider they were there. The group had already decided to take the longer backroads route, not wanting to rush the trip or spoil their views with stark grey buildings and fast food chains. It admittedly made stopping for gas and food more difficult, but there were small ma and pop diners and gas stations along the way and they took advantage whenever they needed to. The scenery flipped by, transforming from beautiful scenic ocean views to lanes of dark trees, Spanish moss dripping off their branches like dark spider webs, and then back to the ocean, the hot sun glinting off its glistening surface like a crystal mirror.
Unfortunately, Teddy’s pale skin was much less tolerant of the sun.
“Dude, you’re turning red,” Kol declared shortly after they crossed state lines, more amused than concerned for the blonde’s complexion.
“Teddy never could be out in the sun without getting burnt,” Grey said, tossing a grin over her shoulder. “Remember how bad your sunburn was last time? I bet we could have fried an egg on your forehead.”
“I remember,” Teddy said, deadpan. “And you definitely tried that experiment.”
Julian gave a helpless little laugh. “I’d almost forgotten that! I swear I saw smoke rising off the egg. If you’d have given it a couple more minutes, we could have had some delicious breakfast.”
“Unfortunately, having egg on one’s face does not bring about a particular desire for breakfast,” Teddy said, grinning dangerously at them. “Unless that breakfast involves putting the two of you in an oven for once.”
“Hey, it’s not our fault we’re blessed with more tropical complexions,” Julian said, smug.
“I feel your pain, Teddy-boy,” Kol said. He took his eyes briefly off the road to reach across Grey’s lap and open the glovebox. He rummaged around, eyes flitting up to make sure the car was in the right lane and not likely to move out of it and into oncoming traffic any time soon, before his hand closed on a small black bottle. “I burn like you wouldn’t believe, then it fades into freckles. So. Many. Freckles. I look like a damn Weasley during the summer.”
No sooner had he taken hold of the bottle than Grey cried out a sharp warning. “Kol! Watch out!”
He dropped the bottle as he rushed to correct the steering wheel and ending up almost entirely in the other lane, not sure what Grey saw but knowing that he didn’t want to hit it whatever it was. The glovebox fell open the rest of the way and papers exploded out of it, several of them flying up into the sky, snatched by the wind and sent fluttering down the street behind them; several others hit Teddy, Grey, and Julian in the face as they tried futilely to hold onto them and prevent further littering and/or dangerous debris. The wheels screeched unceremoniously as Kol turned and slammed the brakes following the sharp swerve, the car sliding into an almost sideways position as it finally ground to a halt.
“What was it!?” Kol demanded, chest heaving as he looked around, expecting to see a truck or a tree or something—anything—to explain Grey’s warning.
“I…it was a turtle,” Grey said, hand clutching the car door like a claw. Her hazel eyes were wide and concerned, though he couldn’t tell if it was for them or the turtle.
Julian pushed a piece of paper off his face and twisted in his seat to look behind them. Sure enough, there was a rather large turtle making its slow way across the road, inch by inch.
“You made me stop the car and nearly kill all of us…for a turtle?” Kol said.
Grey looked affronted. “You of all people…” she began.
“Why, because I turn into animals? News flash, just because I can turn into an animal doesn’t mean I value one animal’s life over the life of four actual living people!” Kol ran a shaking hand through his hair. “Jesus…”
Teddy was looking around the car, gathering up the papers. His face was screwed into a look of worry that was growing more and more pronounced with every second, inching closer to panic with every breath.
“What’s wrong?” Julian asked. “I mean, besides the obvious.”
“My registration…” he began. “It was in that box. If it flew out and we get pulled over, we’re going to be in a world of trouble.”
“Shit,” Julian cursed, getting down and pulling more papers out from beneath the seats. Grey was climbing out of the car.
“What are you doing?” Kol hissed.
“I’m going to get that turtle off the road,” Grey said, “Since clearly, I’m the only one who cares about him.”
“Forget the stupid turtle, Grey—we need to…” Kol argued, but just then there was a loud popping noise from the hood of the car and the next second a plume of smoke hissed out of it. “Um…I’m not an expert, necessarily, but even I know that’s not a good sign…”
As if to prove the words, there was another popping noise, much louder this time which caused all four of them to jump, and a small fire erupted in place of the smoke.
From there, it was a flurry of curses and hurried movement as all four of them stumbled out of the car and into the grass, all huddling together as if they expected an explosion.
It never came. After a tense, awkward moment, they peeked up and saw the fire had already burned itself out, but the car was still smoking.
“I don’t think it’s going to start back up,” Julian stated unnecessarily.
“You think?” Kol said wryly.
“Goddammit!” Teddy erupted. “I knew I shouldn’t have let you drive my car. Do you know how long it took my dad and I to restore that thing!?”
“Hey, I was trying to help you out with some sunscreen! And anyway, I had it under control. If Grey hadn’t shrieked like that…”
“I wasn’t about to let you hurt that turtle!” Grey argued, and then all three of them were talking over each other, each arguing about something different with the other two.
Finally, after attempting to follow all the escalating conversations and watching as the offending turtle made its way safely onto the opposite side of the street, Julian was done listening. “Enough!” he snapped, and his voice—normally musical and quiet—cut through them all like glass, silencing their argument.
“None of this is actually helping,” he continued. “Why don’t we just call a tow truck and get them to tow this thing to the nearest shop? We can all chip in for a replacement rental and get this godforsaken road trip back on the road. The sooner we’re relaxing, the better. Deal?”
They all mumbled their assent and then pulled their cellphones out of their pockets. There was a tense moment as they all flicked through their contacts for a suitable company, but no call was made. Instead, they began shuffling uncertainly, each holding their phones this way and that. Finally, Teddy said, “No service.”
“Me either,” Grey said, then cursed softly. “Stupid dead zone.”
“Are you kidding me?” Julian asked, dark eyes glancing up from his own phone and dancing furiously. “All of us?”
“Yep,” Kol said. “Of course there’d be no service. We’re in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. How much you wanna bet the nearest town isn’t for miles?”
“No, I refuse,” Julian said. “This is supposed to be a fun trip.”
“Look around,” Teddy said, motioning at their surroundings with an expansive arm gesture. “No fun for miles. Believe it or not, we’re stuck out here. We can either start walking, or hope someone happens by with a cellphone that actually works.”
They all exchanged a look, each reading in the others a look of dread and absolutely no desire to walk or move any further or faster than they absolutely had to on foot. But counting on the kindness of strangers proved a very difficult task. The four friends sat sullenly on the side of the road as the sun continued to beat down on them, the sound of cicadas thickening as the golden disc began its long journey westward.
They gathered what papers they could, transforming them into makeshift fans so they could at least attempt to cool themselves off, but soon enough they were all desperate for a respite.
“This is hopeless,” Julian declared. “Nobody in their right minds goes this way. We’re going to die out here and our families won’t even know until months from now when some other idiot stumbles upon our dead bodies.”
“Jules, don’t say that,” Grey said. “We can’t just…not like that. No way. We should move—I know, I don’t want to walk any more than you guys do, but if nobody is coming here, it’s up to us. If we follow the road, we have to end up somewhere eventually, right?”
“Yeah, somewhere,” Kol agreed, looking darkly up at the failing light. “No telling where that somewhere will be, or if they can actually help us.”
“They might even try to kill us,” Teddy supplied unhelpfully, earning a sharp punch from Grey.
“Die here, die there. What’s the difference? Let’s just get walking—I can’t believe this is what happens the first real vacation I take in years,” Julian said.
But as it turned out, the road was not so clear in the dark. It was overgrown in several parts, sometimes turning into a pure dirt road before asphalt reemerged and they got back on track.
At least, until they hit the wrong piece of dirt and found themselves surrounded by dark, imposing trees with no break in sight. Julian swatted viciously at a piece of moss which dripped down to his collar, flapping his hand at it much longer than necessary to ensure it was not going to get him and then dancing away, grabbing hold of Teddy’s arm.
“I hate this,” Julian declared.
“None of us is enjoying this,” Grey said. “I feel like every bug in this godforsaken place is feasting on my flesh.”
“I wonder,” Kol mused aloud. “What happens when a bug drinks the blood of a vampire or a werewolf? Do they become like, mosquitowolves or undead bugs?”
“That’s a terrifying thought,” Teddy said, eyeing the moss with much more suspicion than before.
“They probably die,” Julian guessed. “Or maybe they just…metabolize it. These bugs are great carriers of disease, but I think they’re basically immune to them. It’s probably a lot like that. I think the more frightening idea is that they could carry the werewolf or vampirism disease, mutated by their own bug anatomies, to unsuspecting innocents.”
“And the award for most scientific and awful explanation goes to…” Teddy began, but just then, Grey halted ahead of them.
“Guys…stop,” Grey said, holding her hand out.
Silence fell over them as they all paused, ears straining to hear whatever it was that had made Grey uncomfortable. After a moment had passed without a sound, Kol hazarded to speak. “What is it?” he whispered.
“I thought I heard something…” Grey said. “But…I guess not. It’s all quiet now.”
They listened some more; she was right. It was quiet. Maybe even a little too quiet.
“Maybe we should just turn around,” Julian suggested, swallowing an uncertain lump in his throat. The ground beneath their feet had become suspiciously damp, he’d noticed. He tried to ignore it, telling himself it was probably just wet grass or dew dripping from the sky onto the land and creating mud. But he was nearly soaked to his ankles now and he was relatively certain they were headed into a swamp.
That was when he heard it, too. A snap, or maybe a crunch. Either way, he felt his extremities run cold. He tightened his grip on Teddy’s arm.
“We should investigate,” Teddy said, trying to sound tough, but he made no effort to move. “Do you think…gators maybe?”
Another snap, this one much closer. They all moved together into a loose circle instinctively, hands searching each other out in the darkness until they were all linked up with one another in some way. “Kol, do something!” Julian hissed.
“Me? Why me?” Kol hissed back. “Why don’t you make her do something? She’s the one with all the claws!”
“You can turn into something!” Teddy said, nudging Kol forward a bit.
“Turn into what!?” Kol said.
“Something dangerous,” Julian supplied. “Like…I dunno, a grizzly bear or something.”
“A grizzly bear? Really? You think I can just…poof…turn into one of the most fearsome predators of the world?” Kol sneered.
“Well…yeah?” Julian said, not sounding so certain.
But they were out of time, because just then there was a shout of “Yee-hoo!” and something exploded out of the brush to their left. The four of them shrieked and tried to move as one, but they were all headed in different directions while still stuck together by their hands and they didn’t make it far, flopping instead into the water with a great splash.
An alligator, sleek and deadly, exploded out of the marshy grasses, followed by two others. All four of them screamed, finally letting go of each other and trying to crawl away. Julian and Teddy just wanted to get the hell out of there, as far and as fast as they could; neither of them could do anything on command to defend themselves. Grey had turned into a wolf and was snapping at one of the gators, but it was obvious she was out of her element and the gator was very much in his.
As for Kol…he made a strangled yelp and then, where he had been previously, there was a small pink lizard-fish looking thing.
Julian froze in shock and stared at it, time seeming to slow down for a minute as he asked the only question he could think to in that moment. “What the hell is that thing supposed to be?”
Then there was a frenzy of battle, big splashes and yelps and weird hisses. Teddy grabbed Julian and pulled him further down the way. He didn’t get very far, though, because their escape route was blocked suddenly by another alligator.
Teddy didn’t even think; he pushed Julian into the mud and covered him with his body, as if he could stop the gator from snapping them both in half in a single bite—which, while adorable, was incredibly stupid to Julian—by placing his body over his boyfriend’s.
But the bite never came.
The splashing seemed to fade and lull, the only sound becoming Julian’s breathing, which sounded wet as he tried to keep his head above the small amount of water with Teddy’s rather imposing weight on top of him. Muddy water slipped into his mouth despite his efforts, and Julian found himself wondering what Teddy would do, if it turned out he’d accidentally drowned him in an attempt to protect him; he imagined that would be kind of embarrassing for the both of them.
Then, finally, Teddy—obviously as confused as Julian—pushed off of him, allowing the younger man to sit back up and survey the situation.
The gators were still there, but rather than trying to eat them, they were watching the group in a curiously silent way. Grey’s sides were heaving with exhaustion though her stance was still tense and clearly on guard, hackles still raised to show her impressive array of teeth, and Kol was still a lizard, head tilted in confusion.
And just like that, the gators transformed. Where they had been, there was now a circle of…rednecks? They were dressed in overalls, straw hats on their heads and eyes leering out from beneath them. “What have we here?” one of them asked in a deep drawl, and Julian dimly could place his voice as the same one which had gave a triumphant cry prior to the attack. “Cousin Kol, that you?”
Kol the Axolotl transformed then back into a human. “You have got to be shitting me…” he gasped.
“Wee-yoo! Hot damn! What the hell are y’all doing out this way? We thought you was comin’ in an automobile.”
“We were!” Kol said. “Our car broke down, though, and we had to start walking. I had no idea we were this close. But…I thought you guys would be gone for the week?”
“The property’s a few miles thattaway. But we don’t never go too far,” said another of the gator-guys, “We was gonna get some huntin’ done, set up camp a few miles down yonder. Decided to set it a little early when we saw and heard all the splashin’ around over here. Figured it was worth investigatin’.”
As he finished speaking, Grey slipped back into human form. She had thought to bring her bathing suit, so she felt no more exposed than she would at the beach, though she was painfully aware of how little like a beach this nasty swamp water really was; she tried not to think of how many leeches were likely stuck to her calves already. The gator-guys had the decency to look away, nevertheless.
Teddy seemed dazed as he sat on his haunches, heaving a sigh of not-quite-relief. “Can someone please fill me in?” Teddy asked, “And Kol, why the hell were you an axolotl? How is that even remotely helpful?”
Kol puffed out his chest. “Axolotls are majestic creatures,” he defended, though it was obvious he had never intended to become an axolotl—not in front of his friends, at least.
“I bet you’d stop the car happily for one of them…” Grey mumbled, though it seemed ridiculous to bring that up again.
“I actually would, myself,” Julian agreed, surprising everyone and earning more than a few raised eyebrows. “What? They’re endangered!”
“Uh-huh,” Teddy said. “Anyways…what’s the deal?”
“Erm…this is my family,” Kol said. “The ones I told you about. They own the cabin we’re staying at.”
“Pleased to make y’all’s acquaintances,” said the one that had spoken first. “I’m Clyde, that there’s Owen. The scrawny one behind ya is Kit—she’s not to be underestimated, that’un. You watch your wallets now, y’hear?”
“Oh, um, thanks,” Teddy said, immediately checking to make sure his wallet was secure; it was, but Teddy noticed the quirking of the kid’s lips and knew he was far from safe until they were well on their way in the opposite direction.
“So, since ya’ll are soakin’ wet and miles yet from the cabin, why don’t ya join us at camp? We caught a few fishes earlier and they’re mighty tasty when grilled up right. It might be a bit of a tight squeeze, but we even got an extra tent y’all can use ‘til mornin’.”
Julian almost protested. But then his stomach gave a mighty grumble, deciding for the whole group really, and they agreed to follow the gator-guys to camp.
“So,” Grey began, “You guys are druids too? Able to transform into animals and control plants and stuff?”
“Sure are,” Clyde said. “Though none of us can do more’n a gator—we ain’t special like Cousin Kol; boy can transform on a dime. Mighty confusin’, you turnin’ into that weird pink lizard, though.”
Kol straightened up with as much dignity as he could muster. “That was my plan. Confuse the enemy, give Grey a chance to bite your faces off. You really should work on how you welcome people, though.”
Owen grinned, showing off his missing teeth. “We ain’t too fond of trespassers ‘round these parts,” he said. “Our land is ours, y’hear? We gotta protect what’s ours.”
As the camp came into view, the four friends exchanged a look; this was not what any of them had in mind when they set out for their road trip. But being here, being together, seeing the warm fire and hearing the friendly voices of Kol’s cousins, Grey rather thought this wasn’t bad as far as road trips went. Sometimes, she decided, adventures and new discoveries were worth more than a picture perfect spring break.
And the fact that Kol could turn into an axolotl? That was a new discovery Grey and the boys wouldn’t let him forget any time soon.