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Draconic Instinct

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There comes a time in every dragon’s life when he feels the urge to find a mate. Breed. Raise an egg. Propagate the species.

Mick has spent a significant amount of his life patently refusing to do just that.

“But Mick–” Stein, another firedrake, said.

“No.”

“Have you considered–” Kendra said from her feathered nest, where Ray was happily curled up, snoring little gouts of flame.

“Nope.”

“I think you’ll find you like –” Ronnie (former ally, now traitor ever since he’d shacked up with Caitlin) began.

“Not a chance.”

“C’mon, Rory –” Jax whined.

“A, you’re too young to be thinking about mating, and also, B, no.”

“I was thinking –” Barry started.

“Seriously?” Mick asked the terminally unlucky-in-love lightning-variant firedrake. “You?”

“I can have thoughts about romance!”

“Uh, huh. Successful ones?”

“Yes, successful ones!”

“Go flirt with your sister again, why don’t you?”

Barry scowled at him and crackled off a few bits of lightning as he went off in a huff.

Times like this, Mick hated being a firedrake. Don’t get him wrong, he loved fire, whether in his mammoth draconic form or his more vulnerable human shape (which he’d still never gotten quite right – at least most humans mistook the scales on his shoulders for burns and he’d had a lot of fun playing with that impression). He loved lolling around in the hot springs, volcano-diving, the way his brothers and sisters each played with flames in their own unique way – Stein and Ronnie’s explosive blasts, Iris and Ray’s precise jets of targeted flame, Barry and Wally’s crackling electricity, whatever Jax and Jessie would develop once they matured a bit more, all of them.

No, it was the goddamn migratory patterns that drove him nuts.

Every winter he says to himself, “No, Mick, you don’t want to go home this year, they’ll just drive you crazy with all the nagging again.” Every spring, he makes the decision that this year, he’ll just skip it; he can always see them around some other time, after all. It’s not that he doesn’t love his firedrake kindred, it’s just that they always get super annoying around breeding season.

And then, without fail, a month before midsummer, he’d wake up, grab whatever loot he had on him, and head home to show it off. Fucking dragon instincts.

“Really, Mick,” Stein said, sidling up to him as if being sneaky is actually going to help. “I’m not sure what your issue with mating is.” His voice drifted off suggestively.

Mick’s eyes narrowed. “What you trying to say?” he said, voice threatening. Old man’d better not be implying what Mick thinks he might be implying.

“Oh, nothing, nothing. I’m just saying, surely there must be someone compatible for you out there! Firedrake society has really come quite a long way in the last few centuries; there’s hardly any discrimination against picking a mate that isn’t a firedrake the way there was for Clarissa and I, for instance. Look at Ronnie: his Caitlin is entirely human, a human doctor even, and no one’s said so much as a word!”

Mick looked at Stein incredulously. “People still try to singe Kendra’s feathers,” he pointed out.

“Well, yes, but that’s really because everyone’s just afraid that she’ll go back to her first mate. You know how griffins are – that notorious loyalty is all well and good when it’s directed at you, but no one wants to see Ray’s heart get broken.”

Mick rolled his eyes. “You mean no one wants to see Ray’s heart get broken before Kendra can lay a few eggs,” he corrected.

Stein coughed delicately. “I’m not saying it wouldn’t help her status amongst the Kindred if she were to get in a family way sooner rather than later…”

Mick rolled his eyes again.

“But Mick, you’re a very impressive firedrake in your own right and very desirable as a mate to any of the young ladies in our area; both Misses Lance and Miss West have all expressed an interest, and that’s assuming you want to stick with another drake. Central City isn’t all that far and there are hundreds of attractive young ladies there as well. Surely there must be some charming girl who’s caught your eye…?”

Mick snorted. Not a chance.

“Or perhaps you’re looking for a charming young man instead..?” Stein asked. Mick gave him a Look. “I’m just saying,” he added hastily. “No one would mind, of course. Look at young Hartley; he brought in that long-haired scientist-person from the City and of course we welcomed him with open arms. You know we don’t hold with any such silly prejudices against sexual preference the way some humans do.”

“Of course not,” Mick growled. “Because both genders can bear firedrake eggs!”

“That helps,” Stein allowed.

Yeah, Mick is done with this shit. “I’m leaving,” he said, unfurling his wings. “Now you’ve done it; you’ve pestered me so much I don’t want to be here anymore.”

“So I’ll see you at the feast tomorrow?” Stein said knowingly.

Mick hesitated. He did love the feasts – by the end of the summertime, entire herds will have been slaughtered to sate their endless appetites, cattle and goats and sheep by the score, some served raw and others barbequed over gigantic fire pits – and so he ended up grumbling in asset as he took off and headed out. Even as he does, he feels those stupid dragon instincts yelling that he’s going the wrong way, the meeting spot is back that way, how will you ever find a mate and have lots of eggs if you don’t go to the meeting spot, but since he doesn’t actually want a mate, he manages to ignore them for now.

Stupid instincts.

He ends up flying most of the way over to Central, stopping in the cave he’s reserved for himself during these trying summer months. It had the advantage of being too close to the City for any breeding dragon to really appreciate and therefore to come by too often – apparently most of them didn’t find smog to be romantic – and of being nice and isolated so Mick could sleep off a nice meal in peace without any humans finding him.

He didn’t need a mate. Sure, he’s not saying he wouldn’t like a nice egg to cuddle and a little hatchling to spoil rotten, to have a reason to fight the others for choice bits of beast to feed to them at the feasts. That’d be nice.

But he wasn’t sharing his goddamn cave or his hoard with some asshole with an instinct-driven baby craze who’ll disappear after the leaves on the trees start dropping off. Mick might be a fine figure of a dragon, he’s not shy about admitting it, he’s gotten plenty of offers both in dragon and human form, but that doesn’t mean that those drakes who’ve “expressed an interest” think he’ll be a good father. They want to mate and breed and take their – his – egg away before he does something wrong, and that thought’s just unbearable.

No one’s forgotten what happened with his parents, how he burned so hot and so tirelessly even in the egg that his human mother caught flame and his draconic father, who loved her with the depth of post-breeding madness, followed her to his grave. No, they admired him for his abnormally strong heat and pitied him for it at the same time, and that was just intolerable in a mate. If he was going to mate, he was hooking up long-term, not just for a breeding season, and he wasn’t going to let anyone even think of taking an egg of his away.

And humans? That was even worse. None of them understood Mick’s love for the flame; they feared it, they tried to control it, they rejected it and with it him. His passion for fire was outsized even for firedrakes, which most of them now considered to be a myth. They used to get sacrifices from the humans to appease their dreadful appetites and their meeting spots used to be places of terror and of legend; now they had a protected nature reserve, a reputation as a bunch of weirdos that liked to go on secretive cult-like retreats in the middle of nowhere, and a couple of standing orders with the local animal husbandry ranches and butcher shops to get their food delivered for an appropriate payment.

Ugh.

Okay, yes, Mick was brooding on his wrongs all alone in his cave. It's breeding season. That’s what single male dragons did in the summer.

“Hey!”

Huh, that sounded like a human voice. Wonder how it managed to echo so far up here; Mick’s cave wasn’t that close to the hiking trails (the humans had seen Mick’s fires and thought there might be some belching fire pits up here, which in fact there were, and that usually scared them off) and the cliffs surrounding him were treacherous to those without wings.

“Hey, you!”

That wasn’t an echo.

Mick lifted his large, scaly head and squinted. Yep, that was a human clambering up the very nearly sheer cliff face that led to his cave. He was being very cautious about it, too; he didn’t have any rock-climbing gear, just a ratty old backpack stuffed full with what looked like a blanket, bits of it peeking out the top, but he carefully considered each move before scrabbling up like a little monkey.

He didn’t seem to have a camera or anything, but it’s not like anyone would believe the photos were real even if he did.

The guy – early twenties, if Mick had to guess; humans and dragons didn’t really age the same way so he couldn’t be sure – sees that he’s caught Mick’s eye and waves at him.

Huh. He’s actually calling out to Mick, of all people, and he doesn’t seem afraid like a sane person.

There’s a particularly difficult gap between the guy and the opening to Mick’s cave – Mick knows, he scraped away the existing bridge on purpose – and the guy seems a bit stymied by it, especially as he doesn’t seem to want to risk a jump, but he’s gotten Mick curious now, so Mick reaches out with a claw and pushes over a tree he uses when he’s crossing that ledge in human form.

The guy nods, adjusts his backpack, and shouts, “Thanks!” before getting down on his hands and knees to make his way across the bridge over the extremely steep drop instead of trying to walk across it like an idiot who’s never heard of lowering your center of gravity. Smart.

The guy makes it to the other side and carefully edges his way down to where Mick is lying, ignoring the scorched walls, the belching fire pits near the insidiously bubbling hot springs, and makes his way straight towards Mick.

“What do you want?” Mick rumbles. He still hasn’t fully decided if he’s going to eat the guy or not; sure, it’s not really the “done” thing anymore, but instincts are instincts and it’s breeding season when tempers are high and people get protective of their caves, so no one would really object all that much. He could totally do it.

The guy’s breathing hard from his climb down (much harder than one would expect) and holds up a finger in a request for a second, which has got to be the cheekiest thing Mick’s ever seen a human do when facing a mythical dragon.

That’s also when Mick sees the confiners around the guy’s wrist and his lip curls in disgust. He’d thought those monstrosities had gone out of fashion – vile gauntlet-style bracelets wrought from cold iron which Mick can feel from here, stretching from the wrist to halfway to the elbow, filled on the inside with jagged spikes that were probably unpleasant enough for the human flesh they lay alongside without piecing the skin. They were designed to trap a dragon in his human form, the spikes catching into skin as it tried to grow to draconic proportions and resulting in a permanent maiming of the arm and claw if one were to try to risk it. They’d been popular centuries back, when dragons were better known and much feared, clamped onto prisoners’ and strangers’ arms when there was considered to be a risk and then onto the arms of just about anyone “just in case”. But dragons were a myth, now; unless this was some sort of stupid hipster craze (Mick would believe it), there was no reason for the guy to be wearing them.

One on each arm, and – Mick checked – yes, the ankles, too. He couldn’t see under the kid’s jacket, zipped up high, but he wondered if the kid was wearing the collar, too. If he was, Mick was going to rip him apart on principle. Some jokes you just don’t make no matter how many centuries have passed.

The guy straightens up. “You’re a firedrake, right?” he calls.

Mick snorts flame in obvious response. The guy stands his ground even though that burst went less than a few feet from him. Smart and brave. It’s gonna be a pity if Mick has to eat him.

“No shit,” he says, when it turns out the guy’s still waiting for a response.

“It’s nearly midsummer,” the guy continues. “Firedrake breeding season.”

Mick’s eyes narrow. “What’s it to you?” he asks. If the guy thought they were weaker during the season, he was wrong as fuck; if anything, they got more vicious. Like moose. Wait. Why was he comparing himself to a moose? Goddamn hormones.

Now the guy swallows, as if what he has to say now is more difficult than the whole “climbing into the depths of the mountains through treacherous fire pits to talk to a possibly mythical dragon who may try to eat you” business.

“I, uh, want to ask a favor,” he says.

Okay, not what Mick was expecting. “What, you want me to burn hellfire down on someone for you?”

The guy shakes his head mutely and puts down his backpack very gently, like there’s some delicate treasure inside. He unzips it and pulls out a big wadded-up blanket, which he carefully unwraps to reveal…

“How’d you get an egg?” Mick roars.

The guy’s reaction is interesting and unexpected – he immediately puts himself between Mick and the egg. “Don’t shout,” he snarls back furiously. “You’ll disturb her!”

Mick’s almost instantly calmed, as much by his utter fascination by the guy’s response as by the tender presence of the egg itself.

“Who is she?” he asks.

The guy looks shifty.

“Tell me.”

“My sister,” he says reluctantly.

Mick’s eyebrows arch and he wrenches himself into his human form in a violence of movement and subspace matter manipulation. The guy blinks, eyes clearly blinded by the manipulation of the laws of physics as humans currently understood it before his eyes; it’s not an uncommon reaction when human eyes meet literal gaps in reality, even if reality fixes itself in a fraction of a second.

Convenient, as it lets Mick march straight up to the guy to start looking him over closer. “Why you abandoning her?” he demands suspiciously. Humans had so many definitions for sister, but maybe…

The guy bristles, not flinching at the appearance of a strange man who towered over him (Mick may have misjudged the average height of a human again) and the disappearance. “I’m not abandoning her,” he says and his tone his sharp enough to cut glass. “But she needs to be somewhere safe and…” Here he falters, looks down. “And I don’t know how to raise a dragon egg right, but someone should. Someone needs to keep her safe and raise her up right.”

Now that Mick’s near, he can hear the egg thrumming happily; dragons in the egg are telepathic and sensitive to their surroundings, knowing what’s going on without necessarily having the capacity for reason necessary to understand it quite yet. As Mick knows only too well, it’s only years later that you become aware of what it was that happened to you while you were in the egg, and if you’re not treated right, that process leaves scars. This egg, though? This egg is happy. This egg is loved and loves fiercely in return.

Mick crouches down and holds a tentative hand a few inches over the egg. The guy twitches involuntarily, like he wants to rip Mick’s hand off just for going so near. His fingers keep clenching into fists whenever the guy’s not paying attention, then smoothing out by force of will when he notices.

Mick focuses on the egg. “Hello, there, sweetheart,” he says, keeping his voice low and steady like you’re supposed to around eggs.

The unborn hatchling coos happily at him. As long as her brother likes him, he must be okay, and of course her brother wouldn’t let anyone near her he didn’t like except for Him…

Mick’s eyes narrow. There’s a blemish on the egg’s thoughts – not related to the guy next to her, which is basically a happy jumble of baby-thoughts, composed of meaningless bursts of sound and texture, the caress of a hand, the comfort of a warm body and soft blanket, meaningless words spoken with a tone of deep affection; the imaginings of a creature that has yet to open its eyes but has so many other senses at her beck and call.

Yeah, Mick’s not gonna eat the guy. Don’t worry, baby.

But that blemish…

Mick very carefully reaches out and, without touching the egg, peels off a bit more of the blanket. There’s a small crack, just a hairline, nothing serious, on the outer part of the shell.

The guy makes a soft choking sound when he sees it.

Sounds like guilt, but Mick knows already from the egg that this guy didn’t do it. Didn’t stop it, maybe. No, couldn’t stop it – he can feel the lingering echoes of the egg’s distress, the reflected echoes of another person’s pain, rising up to the here and now because the guy’s spilling out guilt-grief-loss like a freaking faucet. Eggs don’t really know how to worry about other people, that’s too complicated an emotion at their level, but this egg’s most of the way there already.

“Who did it?” Mick asks, wondering if homicide was an option.

The guy shakes his head. “It’s not important.”

“He cracked an egg,” Mick says slowly. “And it’s not important?”

The guy glares at him. “No, it ain’t important, because you’re going to take her and you’re going to keep her safe here where he can’t – where no one can find her. Okay?”

“Uh, huh,” Mick drawls, mentally sending out teasingly little tendrils of thoughts towards the egg, mostly ‘your big brother’s a dork’ which got giggles of laughter in return. “And this guy, he won’t notice you ducking out here to come visit her, will you?”

Silence.

The egg burbles a little in distress and Mick turns to see that the guy’s face has gone pale and waxy. His face is frozen but his hands are shaking like crazy and Mick doesn’t need the telepathic assist from the egg to figure out that he’s about two breaths away from a panic attack – assuming, that is, that he’ll start breathing again at some point.

“Hey–” Mick realizes he doesn’t know the guy’s name, and it’s not like ‘warm cuddles and bedtime stories’ is a name, thank you egg, your input is appreciated but not especially helpful. Sounds like the guy’s a champion level cuddler, though. “Hey, you,” he says lamely.

“You’re right,” the guy says, eyes still fixed on nothing, hand still shaking.

Mick’s starting to get a little alarmed. “Right about what?”

“He’ll follow her here if I come to visit,” the guy says, and his voice has gone totally dead and emotionless, like the heart got ripped out of him and Mick somehow missed it happening. The egg sends Mick the feeling of questioning; she’s not distressed anymore, which means the guy’s either learned out to block his feelings from her or he’s too much in a state of shock to process them himself.

“Hey…”

The guy blinks, shakes himself out of it, shoves his hands into his pockets like that’ll hide how his fingers are rattling. “Sorry,” he says curtly. “You’re right. I…I won’t come back. You’ll take care of her, though, right?”

That was not what Mick was going for here. It was a jab, an insult, something meaningless; the guy’s clearly bonded with the egg, the egg thinks of him as brother as much as he clearly thinks of her as sister. You can’t abandon an egg that you’ve bonded with. A dragon would tear off their wings first. Hell, that’s what Mick’s watching, right here, a dragon tearing off their wings, ripping out their heart and soul, muscle by tendon.

Actually –

No. Surely Mick would’ve noticed. The guy smells human, of clothing and detergent and smog and the cold iron he’s wearing. And yet…

“A question before you go,” he says, trying for casual. “When you say she’s your sister, you mean full sister? Half?”

“What does it matter?” the guy asks, clearly confused.

“Humor me.”

The guy shrugs. “Full, I think,” he says. “I mean, I don’t know, Mom wasn’t exactly sober much and I guess it could’ve been someone else that split before I remember, but yeah, I think we have the same mom. No one’s ever said different, anyway.”

Mick hummed a little and tucked the blanket – much loved and more than a little raggedy, made of superfine cotton, almost certainly a beloved hand-me-down – back around the egg, still careful not to touch her. Eggs were delicate; unborn hatchlings were at their most vulnerable. The egg seemed to approve of him in a general sort of way, an undimmed optimism about the world that he suspected as being due to the guy standing off to the side looking at the egg with a visceral expression of longing on his face. “One more question,” he says, carefully not looking directly at the guy. “How long you’ve been wearing those wristbands?”

The guy blinks and looks down at them in surprise. “What, these? I don’t know. Off and on since I was ten or twelve, I guess?”

“Off and on?”

“Yeah, Dad used to use them as punishment, but nowadays he just –” the guy’s mouth snaps shut, abruptly suspicious of the line of questioning.

“Your dad, huh? He the one that cracked the egg?”

The guy shrugs. “He gets angry sometimes, s’all,” he allows. “S’not a big deal. I don’t – he didn’t mean to. I was supposed to do something for him and I forgot ‘cause I was playing with Lise; he threw a couple of things and one of them scratched her. It was an accident.”

“When did he start making you wear the bracelets full time?”

“I don’t know,” the guy says, frowning. “Why does it –”

“About when the egg was laid?”

“Yeah, I guess,” the guy says, utterly bemused. “I never liked ‘em as a kid, thought they were scary – they pinch something awful most of the time, even though they don’t actually tear up the skin. As I got older I started screwing up more and more, so I figured that’s why he just left ‘em on. Easier than putting them off and on repeatedly.”

Mick’s going to find this person and kill him, kill it, whether or not he’s these kids’ sire. He’s gonna eat him.

He turns and levels a long look at the guy. “That crack’s old,” he says, feeling the truth of it from the egg. “At least a few months, maybe more. Why’d you wait till now to bring her here?”

“The season –”

“It doesn’t have to be breeding season for a dragon to care for an egg. You had an impetus; I wanna know what it is.”

“And then you’ll take her?” the guy says hopefully, like he actually thinks Mick might still turn her away now.

“Sure,” he says. He doesn’t mention that he’s starting to think he might not want to let the guy leave, either.

The guy bites his lip – he’s got pretty lips, actually, now that Mick’s got time to stare at him without being distracted with questions of trespass or the egg – but finally says, “He was getting new ones.”

Mick can almost feel his heart freeze in his chest and for a firedrake, that’s saying something.

“New ones?”

The guy waves his wrist meaningfully. “Cold iron’s not good for dragons, right?” he says. “I heard about it somewhere, and Lise doesn’t like the ones I wear. I try to wrap ‘em up in cloth before I touch Lise – I, uh, named her Lisa, I don’t know if that’s a proper dragon name or not – but I saw Dad making arrangements for a new set for when she comes out of the egg. I don’t think he knows how much she doesn’t like it, but I couldn’t bear to think –”

“Oh, he knows,” Mick growls, hacking a cough of flame because the fire in his gut’s gotten too hot to keep it inside.

The guy quirks a quick grin which he tries to hide.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing – just, that must be a useful trick for making s’mores.”

“Yeah, it is,” Mick says, a bit puzzled by the non-sequitur. “You like it?”

“It’s very hot,” the guy says innocently. Too innocently. He’s sniggering up a storm inside his head at his own infantile wit, isn’t he. Probably thinking up some more godawful– “I can’t wait to see s’more.”

Mick gapes at the guy, who starts actually sniggering. Seriously? Seriously? “That was terrible,” he says, and he really, really means it, but he’s finding himself starting to grin in disbelief. Seriously. The guy walks into a dragon’s lair during breeding season and goes not just with a pun, but a pun that bad. That takes serious balls.

The egg is singing with delight, an almost audible hum of happiness. Mick feels the little click in his mind, the egg reaching out and wrapping a little baby claw of thought around his mind, establishing ownership and acceptance. Even blood-parents need to prove themselves to an egg and his kindred has described the process as one that requires time and trust and affection, but apparently all the egg – all Lisa – wanted was for someone to make her brother laugh.

He’s never been allowed close enough, long enough, to bond with a hatchling, much less an egg. It’s staggering how much it matters.

He turns and beams at the guy, who automatically smiles back. It’s a good look on him. “What’s your name?” Mick asks, because if he’s going to keep the guy (and of course he is, Lisa wants him, and what Lisa wants, Lisa’s damn well gonna get) he may as well know his name.

“Leonard Snart,” the guy says. “Len for short, if you like.”

Mick nods genially. “I’m Mick,” he offers.

Len nods. “You’ll take good care of her?” he repeats for probably the fourth time since this started, not that Mick can blame him.

“Sure will,” Mick says. “I’ve never had an egg before, but how hard can it be?”

Len looks deeply alarmed.

“By which I mean I have a gigantic family of obnoxiously nosy dragonkin waiting to give me advice,” Mick clarifies.

Len actually says “Thank God” which, given that he was begging Mick to take Lisa just a few minutes back, is really quite rude.

“I’m gonna take her inside,” Mick says. “Put her somewhere comfortable. Want to see?”

Of course Len agrees. Mick would think he’s being dumb, but – Lisa. His Lisa, now. Mick can barely stand the thought of letting her out of his sight and he’s just met her. Mick puts Lisa in the softest, most tender part of his nest, draping chains of gold over her with Len’s approval and input – “No, not the silver one – she likes gold better. I’ve only been able to get her wristwatches so far, but she definitely has a preference…” – and making sure Len’s old blanket is carefully tucking her in. He’ll curl up with her later, add some proper draconic body warmth to the equation. Perfect nest for an egg.

Speaking of which, Len is trying to leave because he’s clearly an idiot. The cold iron must be eating into his brain. Mick shifts back into his draconic form and wraps his tail around the man’s midsection. Len yelps in surprise.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Mick says. “Lisa wants you to stay.”

“I can’t stay,” Len objects. “My Dad – ”

“I’m gonna eat him.”

Len barks a surprised laugh. “You’re not going to eat him,” he says, amused.

“Wanna bet? Besides, you can’t leave. How’s Lisa supposed to fall asleep if you don’t put her to bed?”

It’s not quite a shot in the dark, what with Lisa’s happy burbling about story time, but it hits its mark. Len looks like he’s being torn apart at the idea of leaving her here, but at the same time feeling like he has to go to keep her safe.

Let’s see if Mick can make that calculus a bit easier.

“Your old man have keys to these?” Mick says, leaning over to nudge them with his snout. They don’t burn, exactly; cold iron just feels icky. Luckily there isn’t much of it in cities, not since the blessed and wonderful invention of steel.

“I think he lost ‘em – why do you care so much? I thought dragons didn’t like cold iron.”

Mick smiles, his wide snout filled with teeth. Oddly enough it has the same effect as earlier, causing Len to smile back automatically.

He shifts back into his human form and while Len is still staggered, human senses numbed by the shifts in reality, he strikes at the iron with flame and claw.

Len yowls in agony as the metal heats up, but a second later the one on his right arm is on the ground and he’s blinking at it. His skin is pale where the confiner was strapped on, proving his statement that it hadn’t seen sunlight in a while. Not that Mick doubted him. There are plentiful scars all around there from where the spikes had rubbed his skin raw and tore at it, some old, some new.

Before Mick can pull the transformation trick again, Len just sticks out his left arm. “Go for it,” he says steadily.

“You sure you don’t want me to numb you up first?”

“I wanna hug Lisa before I leave, and that means these need to come off.”

Mick gets it off. The ankles, too. Len’s got tears and snot dripping down his face by the end of it, every once in a while letting out these choked-up little gasps that don’t even sound like sobs. Heated iron on human flesh is literal torture and Len’s taking it like a pro; Mick finds his desire to murder Len’s sire has managed to grow even stronger and he hadn’t thought that was possible.

When all four are off, Mick pulls back, studying Len. Something should be happening, and yet…

Oh, no.

“You got a collar, too?”

“Can you get that off, too?” Len croaks.

Mick shakes his head. “Not like that,” he says regretfully. “Those are thicker than the other type; they’re virtually impossible to remove without a blacksmith handy. That’s why they’re so effective.”

Len manages a smirk. “Not impossible,” he rasps, his voice still thick with pain. “Gimme a minute and I’ll get it off myself.”

It takes both of them, in the end; Len to pick the lock – and he’s good at it, better than Mick, and Mick’s been doing it for a century at least – and Mick to pry it off with a heated crowbar. Len gets a couple of nasty burns across his the collarbone that Mick’ll have to fix up later before they get infected, but they manage to pry it off.

When it’s off, Len starts coughing. Heaving with it, actually, clutching at his throat like he can’t breathe, or maybe like it’s the first time he’s been able to breathe properly. He drops to his knees and reality shimmers around him. Matter in subspace that’s been locked away for countless years – if Len’s actually only in his twenties, Mick will eat a boot – just dying to get out, but of course Len’s forgotten how to do the trick. Doesn’t matter. After that long trapped in human form, his body’ll do the job for him.

“What the hell?” Len says, gasping for air. “I feel heavy.”

“Hot?” Mick suggests hopefully. A firedrake concealed like that would start burning up right around now.

But Len shakes his head. “Not hot,” he croaks. “Cold.

And he unfurls, subspace bending around him, matter coalescing. A long fine white neck, pale like it hasn’t seen the sun in decades; a finer, leaner snout than Mick’s, a head crowned with deceptively delicate-looking little horns that Mick can just see goring a man; gorgeous wings that are far too waxy and tender and weak after so many years of neglect; a long strong tail lined with spikes the same translucent shade as the horns. Strong-looking, fierce, but built for speed and stealth, not for muscling through things like Mick. Shades of grey and white, light and shadow on a field of snow.

Snow?

Oh, crap.

“You’re an icewurm?” Mick says.

“Who the fuck are you calling a worm?” Len says, flopping awkwardly onto his side and wiggling his claws around like he doesn’t know what to do with them. “Also, I don’t think these wings work.”

“You just need practice; there's a trick to it. And icewurm’s a type of dragon, you moron.”

“Good to know. Does it matter?”

Mick thought about it for a second.

“Well, our respective kindreds have a hereditary rivalry and mutual hatred that is only kept from outright war by virtue of the rarity of our kind and the danger posed by humanity, a hatred going back generations in dragon time, meaning literal millennia, so…no, not really. Lucky for you, I’ve adopted your baby sister and I think you’re hot.”

“No, you’re hot,” Len says. “I’m cool.”

“…I’m going to smack you with my tail now, and you’re going to deserve it.”

Mick ends up missing the feast the next evening, but he makes it to the one two weeks later, the big one on Midsummer itself, proudly dragging along his new mate and egg in tow.

Everyone’s exactly as horrified as he would’ve expected, Len is as snarky as he’s come to expect, there are about a million and one bad jokes about fire (Mick laughs at nearly 80% of them, he’s not gonna lie), and it’s a total clusterfuck.

Whatever.

They asked Mick to find a mate; if they didn’t want it to be someone like Len, they should’ve been more specific. Not that it matters any more. Mick’s feeling pretty good about keeping this one around.