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Pragma for the Heart

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“I don’t see why I have to be here,” Yuuri whines.

Mari tsks. “The new Nagaraja is coming through our village.”

“Still don’t see why,” Yuuri mumbles but lets his sister fuss about him, putting the cool silver bangles over his still sensitive skin. “Just finished my heat, too…”

“And that’s exactly why, little brother,” Mari huffs.

And my molt.” he tacks on, with extra whine that’s not all faked.

A molt, he’s had before, and while uncomfortable, is simply part of growing. A bit of a soak, sand, and rubbing gets the old, brittle scales off; it’s instinct. But a heat, as he’s found out, has a totally different set of instincts that apparently outrank molting instincts. In addition to not really remembering the last few days, he woke up to his molting scales half-glued to him from the viscous stick that came out of him. Being itchy was an understatement.

“…” Mari truly pauses then, her mouth doing that weird thing where she’s trying her best not to say what she really wants to, because it’s mean and Mother always knows when she does.

The moment passes when Mari simply smiles and ruffles his hair. Now he’s confused, because normally Mari tells him anyways, but now she’s just not and continuing getting him ready. A weird, heavy sense of unease knots in his chest and he opens his mouth to ask her what’s wrong—

“Ready yet, you two?” Hiroko chimes as she sticks her head into his room.

“Yeah,” Mari says, and then under her breath finishes, “as ready as we’ll ever be.”

Her tone makes Yuuri tilt his head in confusion, but he’s given no time to ponder it before she’s shooing him out the house behind their parents. After his eyes adjust to the bright light, the unease starts up in his chest again. Everyone seems to be looking at him, his newly dark scales that shimmer with iridescence when he moves, the few patches of light scales that spot near his hip that match a few on his shoulder. He slides closer to his sister as they move their way to the main square, silently wishing that his scales had stayed their matte, unobtrusive juvenile color.

Banners in all manner of bright colors are fluttering in the slight ocean breeze in the square. Chimes sound out from the bells hanging at the bottom of some, barely audible over the excited chatter of the townsfolk, from the gentle ocean breeze. His tongue flickers out on instinct.

A pause.

Yuuri flicks his tongue out again, because he’s never smelled—ah! There!—a smooth, cool scent that makes his tongue tingle. He’s infinitely glad they seem to be going towards the source of the smell. Fidgeting some more as they make their way forward in the line, because the Nagaraja is just ahead, and the scent that Yuuri can taste only increases in potency, and he has no idea what to make of it.

By the time his family is actually in front of their new king, Yuuri’s worn red marks around the scales of his wrists from his nerves. He carefully keeps his eyes averted and bites the inside of his lip in order to keep his tongue inside his mouth.

“Well, this is unexpected.”

There’s a small chuckle and Yuuri furrows his brow at the surprise? warmth? of the tone used. Even though he told himself he wouldn’t, he lifts his gaze towards the towering white and silver coil in front of him. Taking in the faint gold-colored diamonds that shimmer as the light hits them, his gaze moves upwards until he’s meeting the gaze of the Nagaraja himself. Not even the bright glittering gem embedded in his forehead tempts his gaze. It’s like he’s just stuck and he can’t breathe.

The world narrows down to just the two of them, to that deep, sapphire gaze holding his own. He’s pretty sure he’s not breathing. A hand shoots out to grab him—take him from his mate! Mate!

He rankles immediately: hissing and spitting, he’s pretty sure his fangs dropped, but it all stops as soon as his mate shifts and coils around him. There are words pouring from those pale lips that look so incredibly soft but they’re completely irrelevant. The dulcet tones are as soothing as his smell is. The arms adorned by gold and jewel-toned tattoos are as comforting as they first appeared to be—strong and supportive.

Absently, he traces the scales on the wrist in front of his chest as he shifts his tail in closer to himself. A larger tail also moves to curl around him and he hums his satisfaction. He feels his mate’s laughter as he gently brushes the hair back from his face.

Safe.

He’s safe.

Warm.

Mate.

There’s more talking, but he’s stopped listening a lone time ago, simply content to bask in his mate’s arms, his scent, his presence. It’s inevitable that he winds up falling asleep with the heat of the afternoon sun on him.