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The Nesting Instinct

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I made a mistake.

It's not the first time Len has thought that, and he doubts it will be the last. He thinks it almost every night, when he's alone and he hasn't worked himself to exhaustion, filling his brain with blueprints and timing and security systems until he can't think any more.

I shouldn't have left.

He wasn’t even supposed to be in Central City today: too crowded, too much press. There aren't even any good scores around; everyone's too focused on the stupid science thing going down at STAR Labs tonight. He's supposed to be in Hub, casing out a handful of jewelry stores with a few serious security flaws that he'd be happy to demonstrate to them and to the police. But he'd been skimming the products and he'd seen a ruby and agate necklace, soft and delicate and glowing softly, the sort of thing he wouldn't have been able to resist hanging around Mick's neck at the end of a heist and laughing at how incongruous it was.

And then next thing he knew he was on the road to Central, to their favorite safehouse, long since emptied as a precaution, and here he is: in his city, in their house, with his regrets.

He misses Mick so much it hurt. But he is cold, he is rational; he knows exactly how bad of an idea to go back to Mick now, after everything. It’s the ancient lizard brain that lives in the back of his head that hisses that something is missing, something that once belonged, that this can still be fixed -

Thus far the man had won, but on nights like this it's closer than he'd like.

He clutches at an old dented silver lighter of Mick's, likely tin, carved with Mick's initials one day long past because Len couldn't resist lifting something shiny for the thousandth time and Mick had wanted to make a point, holding it so hard in his hand that his knuckles go white.

I should go and find him, the lizard brain hisses. I can track him, I can find him.

He probably won't even want me back, the man's brain answers. Not after I left him in flames.

It doesn't matter - I can find him, I can convince him, he should be here. I shouldn't have left him. It was a mistake.

Len flicks the lighter on in an unconscious echo of Mick. Flicks it shut a moment later when he realizes what he's done.

He should go after those rubies back in Hub. He should be anywhere but here, moping. It makes him think stupid thoughts.

There's a sound from the outside, a dull roar like one of Mick’s explosions, and Len - nerves already tightly wound to the point of agony - leaps to his feet and strides to the door, lighter still clutched in his fist, and flings it open.

There's a mushroom cloud over STAR Labs, bright yellow and orange, and it's rushing at him like a storm front over the water and Len has only long enough to bare his teeth and snarl in impotent rage at the attack on his city -

Everything goes black.

------------------------------------------------------

It opens its eyes.

It is - not lost, it wouldn't say lost. It's at home, in its rightfully won and defended territory. It's just a little...confused, is all.

It sits and looks around. Everything is a mess, knocked around as it subject to a very strong gust of wind or perhaps a rampaging maniac. It’s all dross, anyway: chairs and tables and books and such. No hearth, barely anything burnable, too much metal. Nothing shiny there at all. Why is it here? And since when did it fall asleep with the door open, when anyone could walk in and take advantage of it?

It must be losing it.

It stands up, and something glints on the ground where it fell, reflecting the light on its many dents.

Shiny.

It crouches and scoops up the shiny thing. It’s square-ish, about the size of a crabapple. It's of human make, though, clear enough.

The shiny is not particularly impressive, as shiny stuff goes, but it is strangely reluctant to discard the item. There is some sense of ownership: it is not a Belonging, it knows that immediately; that would be clear and obvious. But it is adjacent, perhaps.

It turns it over. There are markings on the back, symbol-tagging, an ownership mark -

It is abruptly staggered back with a rush of feeling. Happiness, anger, sadness, joy, pain, loneliness, all at once.

This is a Belonging, it understands, but it is simultaneously lesser and greater than that. It is not one of its Belongings, part of the all-important hoard, but it is part of another's hoard, which it has been permitted to keep. It is a mate-gift.

It has a mate!

...who does not appear to be present. Hmm. That's a problem.

Something is clearly wrong. There is too much noise to really settle down and think about it - wait, its territory is in a city?! A human city?

It sniffs the air. Yes, it seems that it is, but why?!

Misplaced territory, no mate, no food, no place to unfurl its wings...definitely wrong.

It sits down to think. It needs to think. It needs to be cold, rational -

Len gasps as if his head is breaking through the water into the air, caught in a torrent.

It straightened - no, damnit, he - he straightened, grabbing his chest. Something is wrong, and it's the fact that he's lost his goddamn mind, thinking about things like hoards and wings and -

Where are its claws? Where are its wings? Where is its hoard?

Stop fucking panicking, Len snarls at himself. I don't goddamn panic. I don't care what it is, I don't care if I have suddenly developed schizophrenia, I haven't panicked since I was a kid and I'm. Not. Going. To. Start. Now!

Len bellows the last word aloud, a glut of flame streaming forth from his mouth with an echoing roar, scorching the wall in front of him.

Len's hands - Len's human, human hands - slap up over his mouth.

Okay, he thinks, very levelly. Maybe it's time to panic.

Then he starts giggling hysterically until he gives himself hiccups.

Some twenty minutes later, he finally manages to sober himself, primarily by kicking the wall until his foot hurts. He doesn't dare drink any water; he doesn't really know what effect that might have on his throat at the moment.

So there’s really only a few options here: first, his sudden-onset schizophrenia includes both dissociative identity, temporary amnesia, and very realistic visual hallucinations. The scorch mark stubbornly remains on the wall, though, and he can feel it, smell it, even taste the ashes. It seems…unlikely, but in fairness, he’s been alone or with temp crew that he doesn’t know well for a while now; if there have been escalating symptoms, he very well could have missed them.

Second – and he can’t believe he’s thinking this – he might, maybe, have just breathed fire. As is its birthright, of course.

Len shakes his head violently. The constant, bizarre intrusive thoughts aren’t helping. He’s not an it. Is he?

The thing is, even though option 1 is clearly more sensible, he’s honestly more inclined to think it’s number two. He’s not sure why – incipient mental illness, quite possibly – but damnit, he’s done a lot of research into mental illness over the years, thanks to Mick, and this just seems weird. Admittedly, not weirder than developing a sudden tendency to breathe fire, but the television, when he flips it on for a moment, seems to confirm that no one knows what the side effects of being hit with the dark matter of a particle accelerator overload would be so – well – it’s at least theoretically possible that that’s what’s responsible for everything.

Okay.

He can deal with this.

…you know, maybe denial is the right path here. He could just put it aside, focus on other things. That job in Hub still needs doing, after all, and he wants those rubies more than ever, with an internal itch that’s almost maddening. Besides, he’s potentially been poisoned by dark matter radiation. Before worrying about his mental stability, he should sleep a little. Eat a sheep or two. Move on to –

Wait.

Sheep?

Len takes a deep breath and goes to sit on the couch. Then, very carefully, holding on tight to the thought that he is Leonard Snart, jewelry thief and pickpocket, robber of ATMs, he permits himself to think about sheep.

He’s abruptly flooded with a cascade of images of sheep. Yummy, yummy sheep, which are just the perfect size to be snapped up into one’s jaws. The humans sometimes leave them as offerings or tribute, which is pleasant; sometimes they offer goats, which are also acceptable, albeit somewhat more bony and difficult to swallow (they kick). It is important to learn to distinguish between a shepherd’s dress and that of a knight attempting to disguise himself as a shepherd in an effort to get close to the hoard –

“Knights?” Len says aloud, interrupting his own thoughts and ignoring his suddenly growling stomach (and his sudden curiosity as to if the Italian joint down the road delivers lamb chops). “Knights? I really have lost it.”

But curiously, the images that accompany the thought of knights isn’t the armor-clad heroes of his childhood television, but grim, often middle-aged men, in chain and leather, filthy with riding and with complex heraldry symbols, their cheeks marked with acne scars or pox blisters. They ride horses like they know what they’re doing. They have servants and squires whom they beat, and tavern wenches whom they rape, and they hunt dragons with a mad passion for glory until there are fewer and fewer and fewer, each thought coming to an end and fewer continuing –

“Genetic memory,” Len says, and he didn’t know he knew the concept before he said it. If he knew the concept before he said it. He leans over and grabs his laptop, pulling it close and looking up the term. It mostly comes up with a lot of psych mumbo-jumbo, nothing actually applicable to it, maybe some sci-fi stuff, but it still feels…right.

He shouldn’t think about it too hard. He’s already on the edge of a mental breakdown as-is, and he doesn’t know how well he can hold off the intrusive thoughts. It’s not that important; he should worry more about radiation or resting or even that heist…

Damning his insatiable curiosity, Len closes his eyes and opens his mind.

There are too many memories to wade through easily, but he focuses on the end – the knights that came, first with swords and maces, and then with long-bows of iron, and finally with cannon. The way the memories don’t so much cut off as become less overwhelming. Fewer and fewer and fewer, until the last pair – a mated pair, shot down as they gathered food for a breeding flight – until they, too, were gone.

It is somewhat saddened by this fact, but not too much – fewer Others means less competition. Less territory fights, claw against claw; while it is very useful to fight an Other to impress a mate, particularly before a breeding flight, it is not concerned about the lack. There are always other things it can fight to show off its prowess.

However, with the lack of easily available fights, a proper nest is far more important. A place for a joint hoard, that most sacred of bonds between a couple - somewhere safe and protected and comfortable, somewhere large enough for two kindred to lie intertwined. A nice cave, perhaps, or - since it appears to have claimed a human city of all places - a castle...but no, there aren't any castles. This is a modern city. A modern, proper human city.

As far as it can determine, the last of its kind died in what humans would call the medieval era, insofar as they ever existed at all. The world has moved on and forgotten that which they once called 'dragons'.

Its mate is likely human as well, therefore, and will be impressed by human things. Its nest must be tailored accordingly.

Then, once it has a nest it can be unashamed of, it can go about the business of finding his missing mate and coaxing it back.

Coaxing Mick back.

Len smiles, and that smile has teeth. The human brain and the lizard brain at last agree on something.

Yes.

First stop, those rubies in Hub.

------------------------------------------------------------

Len's still not sure what happened with the whole dragon memory thing - an abrupt disconnect from reality is still a leading option - but at the very least it's a very specific sort of hallucination, and it never breaks for even a minute, so he’s actually starting to get used to it. The instincts are a little strange, but not noticeably more than the bad habits he picked up growing up in downtown Central.

He starts by obtaining jewelry. He maybe goes a little nuts with it after he lays eyes on those rubies again. Mick will love them, that's for sure, but more importantly, they're so shiny. He loves shiny things, valuable things, things of rock and things of human make, and he will drape them over his mate and laugh with the sheer pleasure of possessing.

Len has never had a problem with impulsiveness before.

Well, okay. Much of a problem.

Strangely enough, it actually works better than he might have thought: he walks in to case the place, and then next thing he knows, the cameras have been melted, he's got a duffel bag out from behind the counter and he's just shoveling them in like he's a starving man with a family to feed brought in front of a buffet.

Then he walks out, hops on the bus, and does the same thing at the next three places he'd been debating between hitting.

When he finally calms down enough to realize what he’s doing, his bag is stuffed to the brim and weighs a ton, but he feels much better. Less unstable, unmoored. The police, judging from the radio he flicks on after, have no idea that it was him. They're examining the melted cameras and trying to figure out what arsonists are in the area. He's not even on the list of suspects, despite having been spotted in the city, because it is, direct quote, "not his style".

He ends up curling around the duffel bag when he goes to sleep, lighter in its pride of place in his pocket. It's stupid, but he can’t seem to sleep without it; even his paranoia has never been so bad, he’s just bone-deep terrified, for reasons he can’t explain, that someone will come in and take his stuff.

He wakes up nose down in the jewels, the imprint of a string of sapphires on his cheek and a nice, warm, settling sensation inside of him, like everything’s gone right in a heist. Satisfaction, that’s the word. Satisfaction.

It’ll be better when he gets all of the jewels somewhere safe where he can spill them out and rest upon them directly, without having the stupid duffle in the way.

Safe. Somewhere safe.

Len groans and thumps his head down onto the pile of jewels. “I have a goddamn safe, that’s where all my stuff is,” he says aloud, remembering his many scattered hidden stashes. “No wonder it was missing. Goddamn genetic memory. Not everyone keeps their stuff in a goddamn cave anymore.”

The genetic memory is less-than-useful in any number of ways, really. The sort of things dragons thought were useful memories in the dark ages were entirely unhelpful when it comes to collecting a hoard in the present day – and yes, Len can admit that’s what he’s doing. He’s making a hoard. A nest.

This may be the world’s weirdest break from reality, that’s all he’s saying, but damn if it doesn’t feel good to give in to all those instincts.

Len yawns happily, reaching up with his claws to scratch at his cheek a little, as he rolls out of bed to start getting ready for the day. He’ll have to pick a site for the nest, of course, and then collect enough stuff from his stashes to really deck it out so that he’ll be comfortable enough to sleep there –

Len pauses.

He looks down at his fingers.

His claws, actually. His left hand is still human-shaped, but it’s larger than usual, longer, the knuckles fading from pink flesh into delicate grey scales, the nail replaced by a long, slender silver claw. His right hand is unaffected.

Okay, then. There’s only one thing to do about this.

Len marches out the door and down the street to the local coffeeshop, which is unsurprisingly empty for this hour of the morning in this neighborhood. The late shift is hours ago, and the morning rush isn’t for an hour or two yet.

“Good morning; may I take your order?” the woman behind the counter says, rubbing her eyes a little.

“Actually, I just got a question for you,” Len drawls, putting on his most charming smile. The woman looks somewhat stupefied by it, like he’d hit her with a sledgehammer or something, but she nods. “What do you think of this?” He holds out his left hand, which remains clawed.

She peers at it. “It’s very…um…realistic?” she tries.

Good, she can see it.

“Yes, it’s a trial run for a show we’re putting on,” he lies smoothly. “I wanted to get a second opinion.”

The woman brightens, now that she’s been assured that it’s for a benign purpose. “Oh, it’s excellent,” she enthuses. “The scales around the claw are really great – I love how small and detailed you got them – and the claw looks so sharp, really deadly – I don’t know how much that’ll show up on stage, of course…”

“Not to worry,” Len says soothingly. “I’m just glad you like it.”

“I like it,” the woman confirms, her eyes going a little glassy again. Seriously? Len’s self-confidence is just fine, thanks, but he’s not that attractive. It’s almost a little –

Hmm.

“I’d love to order a scone,” Len says, staring straight into her eyes. “But I’m afraid I left my wallet at home.”

“Oh, please, have one,” the woman says, snatching one without breaking his gaze. “On the house.”

“Much obliged,” Len says, and leaves, munching on his scone.

The genetic memory, when prodded, cheerfully offers up that humans did that sometimes in response to a compelling gaze. The lizard brain still exists in most humans, after all, and dragons are the greatest of all lizards.

What about dinosaurs? Len wonders, then snickers when his subconscious promptly shoots back, We don’t talk about the goddamn dinosaurs.

Good to know he’s starting to adapt. Sarcasm is the first sign of acceptance.

…he needs more jewels. And somewhere secure to store them.

It’s time to go back to Central.

--------------------------------------------------

Len ends up finding the perfect place almost by accident; he's been sleeping on a steadily growing pile of jewels in the old safehouse he’d started in, out of lack of better options, and he's taken to stalking around at night in a fevered state, unsatisfied as long as his growing horde is so poorly defended.

One of the street girls thinks he's sick and offers to take him somewhere he can sweat it out; he follows her out of lack of other options. The old clinic she leads him to is across from the old armory, a warehouse-sized building made of red brick and grey stone, four stories high, squat and secure.

"Does anyone use that building?" he asks the woman who runs the clinic, a tired-looking middle-aged Native woman with a non-nonsense manner and a clipboard.

"That old place? No, not since they tried refurbishing it into a conference hall a few years back, before they realized that no one wants to hold a conference in downtown Central," she says. "The city won't tear it down, because it's technically a historic site, but no private buyer will touch it because the use limitations mean that you can't subdivide it; you can have rooms around the edges, but the middle has to stay a big giant room, like you’re walking through Grand Central in New York. And since it’s historic, you can’t just bribe the board to change it."

"How much?"

"I don't know, I'm not the one selling it," she snaps.

"How much to keep an eye on it till I have a talk with the city?" Len says patiently. "I don't want a Family snapping it up before I get my claws into it."

Luckily, she thinks he's being metaphorical.

"I don't have time to watch a building for Family business," she says.

"Hire someone," Len says, and pulls a diamond necklace out of his pocket. It's pretty enough, gold webbing and pearl inlays around a sizeable set of rocks; he had been playing with it in his pocket as he walked around, enjoying the way it slid through his fingers, but it wasn't a Belonging by any means. It meant nothing to Len.

It meant a lot to the woman in front of him, whose eyes have gone wide. He can see her eyes flit around the room as she obviously calculates how much medicine she could buy, how many more beds she could fill, if she fenced a piece like that.

"You Family?" she says warily.

"Just an interested party," Len says. "Hire the hookers down the street to watch the place; it'll keep them out of trouble for a night or two, and the Families seem to all think they're deaf, dumb and blind anyway, so no one’ll notice."

"What'll you do with the old place?" the woman asks, stubborn and suspicious; Len likes her already. "Am I gonna have to move my clinic?"

"Not at all," Len says, and smiles with teeth. "We can be neighbors."

The rest is almost easy in comparison; the city housing board is happy to accept a fat wad of cash to put the place on the market, and he’s got enough laundered liquidity in his bank account that he’s able to buy the place legit for a song, especially when he’s willing to swear that he won’t make elaborate changes, staring sincerely into the eyes of the zoning commissioner, who’s more honest than most. Len rewards him by also buying the handful of buildings around the armory, including the one housing the old clinic, and promising to refurbish them on his own account.

The commissioner doesn’t believe him, of course, but Len’s not Family-affiliated, and that’s enough for the man. Len asks him for the clinic’s deed and advice on how to rework the rent to a frankly absurd low price; turns out the man knows the clinic well and his devotion is sealed and shut.

He promises to make sure Len’s ownership of the armory is ancient, settled and immovable.

The woman doctor at the clinic, who finally admits after some pestering that her name is Pre, stares at the new contract, squints at him, and says firmly, “You’re going to be trouble.”

Len beams and hires the more able-bodied of her ex-patients to help him stack sheets of metal against all the walls inside, under the condition that they be sober at least as long as it takes to get their payout. Once that’s done, he stands in front of one of the walls and focuses on that genetic memory of his and –

Breathes.

The metal melts under his flame quite well, slicking up to the wall like an extra level of defense against the outside world, and it’ll only take half of forever to finish the rest.

Whatever; he has time.

Whoever tried to set this place up as a conference center had gotten as far as setting up the extensive kitchen area in the corner for catering; it’s as large as their old safehouse by itself. Mick will love it.

In a fit of inspiration, Len decides to dig him a fire pit.

About halfway in, he realizes that’s a stupid idea, born from his hind-brain, and calls contractors to do install one instead. Says he’s thinking of opening a barbeque joint, uses words like “wood fire” and “open plan” that he’s heard Mick bounce around once or twice, and offers them a tiny diamond each as incentive.

They get it done in two weeks.

Len spends those weeks gathering up shiny things from his various safes in various cities, with an occasional visit to an unwary jewelry store. He sets up his usual heists in a fifth of the usual time, picking cities that don’t know him so well – it’s no challenge at all, boring and dull, but it’s quick and it gets him what he wants.

Their bed is going to be the shiniest.

He makes slow progress on the metal on the walls, though, much to his displeasure. His lungs just aren’t big enough to breathe much fire.

Len curls up grumbling on the bed that he’s put in the corner of the room, a pile of jewels beneath him, dreams of Mick and wakes up in the center of the room, uncurling tail and wing and yawning with massive jaws, stretching out a long limb of scale and claw.

The rest of the room is a cinch after that.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

If it wasn’t for the slick melted metal now lining all the walls of the armory, Len would have thought that the whole “giant dragon” business was an elaborate hallucination; he can’t seem to get it to work again after that, though he tries, a greedy eye aimed at the sky.

He can’t seem to get into the right mood. Maybe getting Mick back will help.

On the bright side, he's starting to be increasingly sure that it's not just him that was strangely affected by the particle accelerator explosion. No other dragons that he'd yet found, but there was a man that split into a dozen clones of himself and then back, a woman that made things explode with a touch.

Len hears many interesting rumors through his contacts in the criminal underground, or from Pre and her patients.

"You're the first one I heard of that grew a conscience," she told him over a pot of tea, clipboard tossed to the side.

"I did no such thing," he sniffs. "I'm just protecting my nest."

Possibly the thing he liked best about Pre is that she regularly overlooks statements like that.

"Yeah, well, keep an eye out," she says. "Bomb-girl got snatched up by the military, and multiple-man's gone off on some sort of crazy vendetta. And just today I heard about a man-made tornado."

"Anyone we know?"

"Clyde Mardon," she says, rolling her eyes dramatically. "Definitely headed nowhere good. Not quite a local boy like you, Snart, and certainly nowhere near as done good -" Len grins and puffs up a little, making Pre smirk. "- and mostly, he and that brother of his rob shops and small banks, stuff like that."

"I still rob ATMs," Len feels the need to point out. Can't skimp on the small stuff or you lose your touch, he always says.

Pre gives him a quelling look. "You just use 'em as a cash buffet whenever those diamonds of yours get turned down as currency."

Is it Len's fault he hit a De Beers shipping crate that turned out to be triple-stuffed and now has too many? No, it is not. His hoard glitters quite well now, but diamonds are so dull and colorless; a man (dragon) needs variety.

Besides, Mick likes red ones.

"You've gotten that look again," she observes, shaking her head. "What is it that you're thinking about, when you smile like that?"

"My partner," Len says happily. "Might take a bit of doing to find the right present to appease him, but I'm going to get him back."

"Neighborhood gossip has you as having been shacked up with Keystone City's finest arsonist," Pre says. "Keep him away from my clinic and we'll be fine."

Len nods agreeably.

“…it true that he makes a mean barbeque then hands it out for free?”

“Fourth of July,” Len says. “You’ll get an invite.”

Clyde Mardon does in fact end up nowhere good, shot down less than a day after declaring himself a god of thunder – it’s like he’s never even heard of the Greek myths – and Len turns his attention to a new heist, a giant diamond that’s going to be transported into Central for display at their museum. It’s a prize gem, large and bulky and frankly absurd to behold; Len’s not sure if it’ll be good enough to give to Mick as a courting present, but it’s worth a shot.

He gathers up a temp crew, runs it like his usual schemes; if this is to be Mick’s present, then it deserves all the careful planning and attention he normally devotes. Careful timing, liquid nitrogen – it’ll be a snap.

Two hours after the pick-up goes sideways, he saunters into Pre’s clinic and says, “Tell me what you know about the Streak.”

“There’s a blog,” Pre says.

“A blog. Really?”

“Don’t you start with me. I’m guessing it’s another one of Central City’s new particle freaks.” She eyes him. “There’s been a man poking around, saying he’s gotten some of STAR Labs’ stash with an eye to selling it; no one much cares for it, after the blow-up, but you did say you were interested…”

“I’m interested,” Len confirms. “Where’s the seller?”

The cold gun is amazing and Len loves it passionately. Not only is it the perfect weapon against a speedster – and he knows it was a man, not a phenomenon – but its qualities are even better than advertised. It means, he hopes, that the heat gun will be a similar hit.

He even designates the cold gun as a Belonging, giving it pride of place in his growing hoard. Not this one in specific – Len has far too much experience with guns to trust in the longevity of a single one – but in the idea of it, the model, the concept. Leonard Snart, cold gun; the two will go together now, into the future. He spends hours that night pouring over the mechanics of it, opening it up and lovingly digging around its insides, learning every aspect of it.

One of his ancestor-dragons had a fondness for clocks and watches, having been a clock-maker in his human life, and Len is able to draw on his steady hands and meticulous inspection, honed by years of working in comparatively barbaric conditions, to supplement his own eye for blueprints and electronics.

Then he goes out and freezes a train, which is just frankly awesome. He’s positively giddy with glee, playing cat and mouse with the speedster and finally pinning him down, cold gun aimed at his head. Such a pity to lose such a valuable opponent, he thinks, staring down at the red-clad young man with a faint smirk.

Particularly before going courting, his genetic memory adds. Claw against claw is the best way to show your strength and virility.

He’d almost decided to spare the hero already when his friends show up with an industrial strength vacuum cleaner draped with LED lights which they try to pass off as a cold gun prototype. Len is slightly dumbfounded – he’s a thief, he breaks into buildings on the regular, often dressed as a janitor; do they really think he’s never seen a vacuum before? – but hey, it’s as good an excuse as any other.

He has the diamond, and no crew to split it with; he has his cold gun, a brand new title, and an enemy to fight. It’s time to stop dragging his feet and go throw the dice. Mick might accept him back, Mick might not; there’s only one way to find out.

“Snart, if you’re going to dawdle around and mope about having no balls, I don’t want you doing it here,” Pre says, bandaging a little girl’s foot from where she stepped on something sharp in the street. “You’re depressing the patients.”

The little girl, who had been petting Len’s shoulder sympathetically and cooing over the diamond (which is, as mentioned, frankly absurd), makes a sound of protest. Her mother, who has been hovering anxiously the whole time, wringing her hands, checks yet again to see if Len will protest, which he won’t.

“I’ve sent him a message to meet me in the Keystone motel right outside city limits this evening,” Len says sulkily, crossing his arms and slouching in his seat. “I’m just waiting for the time. And I’m not moping!”

The little girl giggles and even the mother cracks a grin.

“Okay, maybe a little bit of moping,” he concedes, earning another giggle. “But you’d mope too if your mate was angry at you – though you’re too young for a mate,” he tells the little girl. “Try again in twenty years.”

“I got a boyfriend in my kindergarten class,” she confides in him. “But I’m thinking of swapping him for a Godzilla action figure.”

“Definitely go with the giant monster,” Len says, nodding sagely. “We’re definitely superior to boys. Look at the sort of trouble my boy is giving me.”

“Try apologizing,” the mother recommends, hiding a smile behind her hand.

“I didn’t do anything wrong!”

All three women, Pre, the mother, and the daughter, look at him pityingly.

“Ah. Understood.”

“Now get,” Pre says. “Or you’ll be late. And you don’t want to be late.”

Len got.

(The police will never look for the Kahndaq dynasty diamond in little Clarissa Jedding’s bedroom, and she promises to give it back when he returns.)

---------------------

Mick is there.

Mick is there.

Len can smell him from down the street, the smell of smoke and nutmeg and the slightest curl of sandalwood, a scent he didn’t even know he knew but is suddenly intimately familiar with.

Len is going to fuck this up so bad, he just knows it. And then he'll be alone and mateless and pathetic, without any hope, and then what will he do? He might have to resort to kidnapping and even his dragon-brain agrees that that’s just tacky.

Len grits his teeth and goes for it anyway. He wouldn’t want to be late.

Mick's waiting in a cheap table by the bed, lighting a match from the booklet he picked up at check-in. He's big and beautiful and just as Len's memory had painted him; jacket covering the arms Len knows are now thoroughly covered in scars.

Len doesn't let him speak, just launches into his prepared speech. "I know it's been a while since we pulled that job. I know it didn’t go so well for you, and I know I said we were finished," he starts. “But things have changed. I need someone like you –” I need you. “– You still like playing with fire? You’re gonna love this.” He lays the heat gun on the table in front of Mick, an offering. He had some parts of the speech planned out to talk about his need for a new type of crew, of Mick’s ability to handle extremes, but he drops it entirely. He doesn’t want Mick for his crew. He wants Mick for him. “Are you in, Mick? Or are you out?”

Mick lights another match, running it over the gun as Len waits with bated breath.

"Yeah, buddy," Mick says, voice gruff and fond. "I'm in."

Len swallows sharply as Mick looks up at him and they lock eyes, him and his wayward mate. He knows better to assume he's back in Mick's good graces entirely: this is a test period, to see if they still have that old magic between them.

"Now how about you show me what this baby can do?" Mick says.

Len smiles. That, at least, he can do.

Len takes Mick out back and lets him play with the heat gun, which is as fine a courting gift as he can imagine, thank you very much. Next, he'll take him back to the nest and provide food, of course - bloody steaks, dripping red, a hunk of mutton, juicy ribs...he bought them from the grocery store, whatever his instincts might suggest about nearby farmland. He's not a savage, after all.

Also, this way Mick would probably agree to prepare the meat for him.

Len watches his mate set things on fire and laugh gleefully through heavily lidded eyes, inhaling the sweet scent of delight and mate and ash. He can't wait to see what Mick makes of Len's fire.

Eventually even Mick tires and comes back to Len's side. "That was good," he says. He's sweating, gleaming a little in the low light, the edges of burn scars curling around the edges of his shirt and jacket. "I heard about Central, you know; you and the Streak."

Nothing in the world moves faster than Central City gossip, and that includes the Streak. Some moron on the train probably live-tweeted it on their phone.

"I'm going to build him up and defeat him," Len says proudly. "It'll be fun."

Mick rolls his eyes. "You and your fun. You know what I think is fun?"

"Fire."

"...well, yes," Mick concedes. "But you know what else is fun? Cash."

Len shrugs. Cash has seemed less important recently.

"Yeah, yeah, adrenaline’s the only currency for you," Mick says. "We sticking around here tonight?"

"Definitely not," Len says, wrinkling his noise fastidiously. Why would his mate want to stay here when Len has prepared him a fabulous nest? "You got a car?"

"This piece of shit motel is in the far outskirts of Central, Len," Mick says. "Of course I have a car. How'd you get here? Bus?" Mick pauses and examines Len's face. Len doesn't think he's giving anything away, but a minute later Mick groans. "You took the fucking bus. Of course you did. Right after blitzing a train. Only you, Lenny."

Len preens. That is correct. There should be only him.

"That wasn't a compliment," Mick says warningly, but Len knows better. It totally was.

"Let's go home," Len says, leading the way to Mick's car. "You'll like it."

"New safehouse or one of the old ones? I haven't been in Central for a while," Mick says, climbing in the driver's seat. "Hey, how'd you know which one was mine? I only had this one for a week."

"Smelled you on it."

Mick rolls his eyes. "I'm not that predictable!"

"And it's not a safehouse, exactly," Len says, ignoring Mick's quibbling. "But you'll like it. Do you remember the old armory?"

"Sure," Mick says. "Big old place, built like a fort."

"Very defensible," Len says happily.

Mick snorts. "Yeah, against a siege. Anything you wanna tell me about our upcoming plans?"

"I have no specific plans for a siege," Len drawls, lounging back in the passenger seat after buckling his seatbelt. Then he frowns. "Unless you want one, of course, in which case it can be arranged."

"Don't be absurd," Mick says, smiling a little.

Len wasn't actually joking - Mick wants a siege, Mick gets a siege - but it made Mick smile, which is the important part.

His instincts are screaming mate, mate, mate in raucous delight; he can't wait to see what Mick thinks of the nest.

"Hey, Lenny," Mick says, seatbelt buckled and eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead. "You got a cold gun or something now, right?"

"Cold gun, yes," Len replies. "It's from STAR Labs; it works like a dream. I'll show you."

"You do that. Captain Cold, huh?"

"Can't wait to see what they call you, hot stuff."

Mick cracks up. "Yeah, yeah," he says, wiping his eyes with one hand. "Not what I was thinking about. More - if you don't mind me asking, what were you doing, week of December eighth, last year? Pulling something, I'm guessing?"

Len thinks about it. "Did a heist in Hub Friday the twelfth," he offers, not sure what Mick's getting at.

Mick nods, satisfied.

As they drive up closer to the nest, Len is pleased to see people in the area - no one noticeable, a hooker here, a homeless guy there - look up and scrutinize their car only to look away with a nod once they see Len is there.

Good, good. He'd like to see knights sneak up on his nest.

"This place is huge," Mick says, pulling in to park. "I'm used to sticking it out in the corner of a warehouse, but this is pretty massive."

"They finished the kitchen, you know. Big enough to cater an army," Len says, and watches Mick's expression glow with badly hidden pleasure.

"You're just fishing for me to make dinner," Mick says gruffly, clearly amused. "I'm sure you haven't eaten a vegetable since -" Mick cut off abruptly at the mention of their separation. Of the fire that Mick abandoned Len in favor of, for which Len abandoned Mick in return. Nearly two years, now.

"Vegetables are the red stuff you put on hot dogs, right?" Len asks with deliberate lightness. He doesn't want to talk about that. He made a terrible mistake; he will not do it again. Mick's first view of their nest should be filled with joy.

"You rotten little bastard," Mick says admiringly, the warmth back in his tone. "I ought to let you get scurvy."

"I can get scurvy, Mick, I ate an orange once when I was ten."

"That is so incredibly not how it works and you know it," Mick says, grinning. "Just for that, Lenny, you're getting salad for a week straight."

"Creamed spinach?" Len says hopefully. No restaurant ever makes it quite like Mick, creamy and rich and filled with subtle flavors and perfect texture.

"Yeah, yeah," Mick laughs. Len is delighted that the awkwardness seems to have passed. "You and your spinach - you just like it 'cause I always make it with steak."

"Positive association's a thing," Len argues as he leads the way in. “Saw it in a newspaper.”

"Sure, sure," Mick says, following. "I'm just saying that Popeye's got some competition, the way you eat - holy shit."

"You like it?" Len says, turning to study Mick's expression, which was currently stuck in gaping dumbfounded mode. "I made it good for us."

"Jewels," Mick gurgles.

"I got only the shiniest for our bed," Len says, proudly regarding his nest. He'd stacked mattresses together in a corner of the nest and poured his gains over them: rubies, agates, fire opals, garnets, beryl, topaz, yellow diamonds for Mick, blue topaz, pearls, sapphires, lapis lazuli, aquamarine for him, and of course plenty of gold and silver everywhere. They fell off the bed into piles on the ground; he'd had to make sure there was still room for blankets and the mountain of soft pillows Mick preferred, while still making sure there was enough treasure for him to comfortably rest.

The treasure-bed was next to the workspace he'd created, tables and shelves for Mick's projects, tools of various sorts, a few couches for Len to lounge in, and of course there was the vast space beyond that which he'd marked off for when he finally achieved full dragon form once more. He'd drawn long scrapes on the ground to simulate proper claw-marks, the sign of a dragon's presence.

No skulls or anything, but that's because that was just unsanitary no matter what his dragon side said.

"You didn't fence any of it?" Mick asks, eyes still fixed on the bed.

"Nah," Len says airily. "I've just been paying people in pieces of it, really. It's not all new, you know; some of it's from old stashes."

"Why's it all here?"

"For the bed, obviously," Len says. "I wanted you to like it."

"Oh, I like it all right," Mick says, sounding dazed. "But - it's so much! This ain't really like you."

"Well, I needed to win you back," Len says logically, but Mick's frowning for some reason. His mate is displeased! That's not good. "What's the matter?"

"You sure you okay?"

"I'm fine. What's wrong with you? Is there something wrong with the nest?"

"The...nest?" Mick says carefully.

"Yes, the nest," Len says crossly, rolling his eyes. "This! Our nest, yours and mine."

"We usually call 'em safehouses," Mick says, staring at Len like he's grown another head. "You feeling okay, Lenny?"

"No, because my mate's being weird," Len replies, putting his hands on his hips. "What's wrong, Mick?"

Mick holds up his hands. "I'm just saying you're acting weird, okay? You didn't used to talk about nests or - or mates, nothing like that."

"Well, I wasn't a dragon before," Len says. "Some differences are to be expected."

"A dragon? You think you're a dragon?" Mick says, sounding distressed. "Len, did you hit your head or something? Drink something weird?"

"I've already discounted a schizophrenic break as a possibility," Len says patiently, relaxing. His mate isn't upset; he's just surprised. Len had had a similar reaction at first. "Relax, Mick; I've got it under control."

"You think you're a dragon!"

Len had been hoping to keep this as a further surprise, but Mick is becoming increasingly upset. He sighs and inhales deeply, pursing his lips.

"This isn't under control, Lenny!" Mick is shouting. "This is totally not under -"

Len breathes flame.

"- holy crap do that again," Mick says, anger and fear dropping away like it's never been.

Len obliges him.

"Lenny," Mick says wonderingly. "Lenny - how - you said you were in Hub doing a heist in December. How'd you get hit by the Accelerator explosion?"

"Oh, I came to Central for an evening to mope and miss you," Len says dismissively. "Believe me now?"

"Can you do any more dragon things?"

"I sometimes grow claws," Len offers. "And I once turned into a giant winged beast. Thus the need for all the space, y'know?"

"Holy crap, Lenny. You're a dragon."

"That's what I've been trying to tell you," Len says, content now that Mick was convinced.

"Holy crap, Lenny. Do the fire thing again!"

"Dinner first," Len says firmly. Mick gets cranky when he hasn't eaten. He smiles. "I made you a fire pit."

Mick kisses him.

Len is happy, and kisses him back.

---------------------------------------------

Mick's opinion, expressed after an un-Mick like amount of research, is that Len is a metahuman that developed fire-breathing for some reason nickname-inappropriate reason.

Len shows him his claws the next time they appear.

Mick stubbornly points to several examples of metahumans with physical mutations.

Len explains the draconic memory business.

Mick temporarily drops the argument in favor of following Len around with a still-uncooked package of lambchops going, "Do you want a sheepie?"

Len regrets using that example.

Mick makes Len dinner, which would be an apology if he hadn't made lamb shank accompanied with slices of fresh-made lamb sausage.

Len dumps a pile of fire opals on Mick's head.

Mick eventually stops snickering.

Len tells him about the strange compulsion powers, which he's a little concerned about for free will reasons.

Mick assures him that getting free scones is not a crime and demands a demonstration.

Len refuses.

Mick whines.

Len pointedly refuses.

Mick grumbles.

Len offers to use his breath to light the fire-pit so that Mick can make dragon-flame barbecue.

Mick is intrigued.

Len is pleased that his mate is pleased, and says so.

Mick frowns and asks, "Hey, you never did say. Per your draconic memory, what exactly is a mate?"

Len twists around on the couch he's been sprawled out on and gives Mick an incredulous look.

"Yeah, well, I guess I can figure out the basics -"

"Is this about your insecurities?" Len asks. "Because I don't mind."

"Insecurities?" Mick exclaims. "What insecurities?"

"Well, we get back together after two years apart - maybe that was a bit longer than usual, but we do have a fairly traditional getting together reunion pattern - and suddenly our relationship has devolved back to the make out and cuddle stage. Which is fine! I like that stage more than the actual fucking most of the time, you know that, so I don't mind at all, but your usual history would indicate -"

"I still like sex, Lenny," Mick groans, putting his head in his hands. "Where do you get these ideas?"

"From the fact that you haven't been having it with me," Len points out. "I figure you're either insecure about your looks for some stupid reason -"

"Certainly not after Monday," Mick says, eyes glazing over in memory of the night Len spent hours kissing and licking his scars, memorizing them all over and over again.

"- or you're insecure about the dragon thing, because you think it's still a mental thing."

"Not entirely," Mick says unconvincingly.

Len glares at him.

"The instincts just come with some behavioral alterations," Mick says defensively. "I needed some time to get to know you now, that's all." He pauses, then laughs. "That was before I realized that you did everything you do now before, you're just less shy about it."

"What are you talking about?"

"You've always been a possessive little hoarder," Mick says fondly. "With a territorial streak a mile long, a yen to best other people to prove you're the best, and a fondness for shiny things. Now you just don't hide it."

Len considers this. “That might be true,” he admits.

“You’ve also had a remarkably laissez-faire approach to the truth,” Mick says thoughtfully. “Anything your draconic memory wants to tell me about a human having sex with a dragon?”

“My memories is that the sex is pretty standard,” Len says honestly. “The endorphins from the process keep you from shifting shape, in order to avoid any accidents, if that’s your concern.”

“Do you keep the fire-breathing?” Mick asks, because of course Mick asks that.

Len consults his memory. “I think so?” he says. “I’m a dragon, a fire-breather; I don’t need to shift shape at all to get the fire. Obviously if we end up mating the dragon way, that’ll be a whole bundle of different issues.”

“Yeah, we’re definitely not doing that,” Mick says flatly.

Len frowns. “Why not?”

“Uh, size constraints?” Mick says. “If you’re as big in dragon form as you say you are, there’s some logistics problems you’re not thinking about.”

“Yes, but –”

“Plus dragon-human anything ain’t hot outside of porn.”

“Wait, there’s porn?”

“Lenny. Really. There’s porn of everything.”

“True,” Len concedes. It was a stupid question. “But I wasn’t talking dragon-human, Mick; I just meant if – when – we decide to go on a breeding flight, we’ll need to think about the where and when a bit more.”

We go on a flight? As in, you and I?”

“You are my mate,” Len points out. “I’m not going on a breeding flight with anyone else.”

“Lenny,” Mick says, smirking a little. “My heat gun is awesome, no lie, but you do remember that I’m not a dragon, right?”

“Not yet, of course,” Len says, puzzled. “I’m given to understand the process takes time.”

Mick pauses for a long moment. “Lenny,” he says.

“Yes?”

“This is one of those laissez-faire truth things I keep talking about, the ones where you think you don’t need to tell people the whole truth because it ought to be obvious to anyone with a brain? Yeah. This is it. What process?

“Well, you’re my mate,” Len says, starting to develop a sinking feeling in his gut. This is just like the time he thought about the sheep: it all made perfect sense in his head, but once he started saying it out loud it starts to sound a lot less normal and ordinary and a lot more…weird and possibly non-consensual. “Dragons are a rare species, so we often take human mates. After a while, they start developing draconic traits, and a while after that – well.”

"And by more draconic traits, you mean things that lead to breeding flights," Mick says.

"Yes, exactly," Len says, keeping very still as if it will keep Mick from being upset at him. It honestly hadn't ever come up to his conscious mind what this might mean - Mick transformed, possibly radically, against his will - it was more that he'd seen the future with the two of them there, and they had been shoulder-to-shoulder, wing-to-wing. If he'd realized, he would have explained. He just hadn't realized...

Mick considers this for a long time, then shrugs. "Okay."

"Okay?! What do you mean okay?! You're signing up to - you don't even know what it means, I don't even know what it means -"

"Lenny, either you're a metahuman that's gone nuts with the change and nothing's gonna happen," Mick says fondly, "or one day I'm gonna wake up with the ability to breathe fire. This is the definition of a win-win scenario."

"...oh."

“Breeding flights are intentional, though, right?” Mick adds suspiciously. “Neither of us gonna start having kids by accident?”

“No, definitely not,” Len says firmly. “Men can’t have babies.”

“Thank fucking god,” Mick says. “What’s the purpose of a breeding flight, then?”

Len hadn’t thought of that. He coughs. “Well, it turns out dragons are a bit more flexible. In dragon form, I mean. Eggs are involved.”

“Huh,” Mick says, then smirks. “You asking me to have your babies, Lenny?”

“We are never having kids if there’s a chance they’ll get your sense of humor.”

“Says the guy who puns more than he breathes?”

“I don’t air what you say, Mick, I’ve never done that.”

“That was awful,” Mick says, chuckling. “Say, with the amount of gold you have here, have you considered inviting your sister?”

Len grins. “Actually,” he drawls. “I’ve got the perfect idea for that…”

--------------------------------------------------

“You’re both disgusting,” Lisa says over her shoulder as she drives them away from the prison van. “Dis-gust-ing.”

Len pulls away from where he’s been sucking a hickey onto Mick’s neck. “C’mon, that was fun!”

“He’s demented,” Mick says, though the placement of his hands on Len’s ass seem to indicate that he doesn’t mind so much. He always had a weird thing for seeing Len in prison gear; says it made him nostalgic. “Totally nutzo. And he lost the guns!”

“Misplaced,” Len corrects. “We’re gonna get Ramon to build us new ones, and this time we’re gonna watch the process so we know how to do it ourselves next time. Just need to figure out what his cracking point is.”

“And I get a gun,” Lisa puts in. “I want a gun.”

“Of course you get a gun,” Len says. “Everyone gets a gun. Except the Flash, because he doesn’t need one.”

“Wouldn’t fit his theme anyway,” Lisa cackles. “What safehouse you boys staying out? I’ll drive us there.”

“Not a safehouse,” Len corrects. “Nest.”

“Nest?” Lisa says, arching her eyebrows – he can see it in the rearview mirror. “You boys are settling down and you didn’t tell me?”

That’s what you get from that?” Mick asks, amused. “Like brother, like sister.”

“I’m not letting him get away this time,” Len says, virtuously ignoring Mick’s, “Wait, who left who again?!” and grinning at Lisa. “Wait till you see the nest, you’ll love it.”

Lisa’s reaction is exactly as he would have hoped for it to be.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. What the hell, Lenny? Where did you get so much gold?!”

“Heists over the years,” Len says with a cheerful shrug. “Plus a couple of jewelry shops that now know better.”

Lisa just stares at it. “I…I kinda want to jump in your bed?” she confesses, eyes not moving from the treasure-bed. “While singing, like, the Ducktales theme. Can I? Please?”

Len snickers.

“Lisa, you’d tell me if you turned into a dragon, right?” Mick says suspiciously. “You wouldn’t make me guess or figure it out from context clues, unlike some people, right?”

“If it ever did happen, sure, you’d be the first to know,” Lisa replies, finally looking away to give Mick a look. “Is that an option?”

“Everyone’s going to be a dragon,” Len says firmly. He’s not entirely certain how it works with siblings, it’s not as clear-cut as it is with mates, but he’s sure if he thinks about it hard enough he can find a way to make it work. “Just accept it now, we can hash out details later.”

He has a species to rebuild, after all.

“Are we talking metaphorically or really? ‘cause I would be a kick ass dragon.”

“Oh for fucks sake. Lenny, show her the fire thing.”

“Mickey, baby, I love you and Lenny both, but I don’t want to see my brother’s ‘fire thing’.”

“What – I – that isn’t even – where the hell – fucking Snarts!”