Calm and steady would be the best way to explain the day; calm and steady and split only with the drifting of an aimless, rare breeze brisking its way beneath the canopy’s strong tops. Reuben closed his eyes and leaned into the sensation, feeling the subtle shifting of his rusty brown hair as the wind played through his curls, echoing like a distant song as it rattled in the massive shells of his ears only to disappear as he twitched them, shaking himself out of the moment with a quiet hum. Peaceful was a unusual word for him to use, but he would have no choice but to label this day as just that—peaceful and serene—and if he weren’t wrapped up in the sensation of it he would be grateful. As it was he merely took advantage and basked in the ambience and the surprising impartial nature of the people around him. Their disinterest was a rarity in of itself, after all. Reuben was accustomed to the negativity of his peers. Well, perhaps negativity wasn’t the correct word. Amongst themselves they were generally happy people—downright pleasant even—with the charming smiles of a peaceful community and the bubbling cheer of a utopian lifestyle, but it had been years since he had been accepted as part of the community. Stifling a yawn as he closed an eye against the unusual spots of sunlight streaming from the tree tops, the young man stretched back against the deck of one of four impressively huge “town squares” that made up the sides of their tree-house community. The squares were essentially giant open platforms that spanned the distance between four gargantuan trees that made up their main community, and were free space for anyone to wander, walk, or nap on. On festival days they were filled to the brim with people, stuffed to the gills, but on a day like today there were only a splattering of people walking to and fro between the trees. Some carried goods from the markets—fruits gathered from groves or from gathering expeditions, vegetables from the gardens swaying from the West Tree’s limbs, unusual meats from the weekly hunt, fabrics or toys from one of the various little shops and stores—some were running back and forth on errands from the trade masters, some headed home or to lessons…and a few here and there were laid out just as he was, enjoying the weather and the sporadic sunlight with quiet chattering and slightly-less-quiet snores. They were all too happy to practically pile on each other for their napping, but while the distance between the majority of the lazers was close—if only so that the walkway for people actually doing something was wider—there was a huge distance between Reuben and anyone else which was….well it was completely normal and let’s face it, if there was anything he was going to complain about, it wasn’t that. Instead he just took it as more reason to spread out in another back-cracking stretch, giving a sigh of approval as he pushed himself back up, rubbing his hands together happily. The slick oil that usually permeated his skin only in small amounts thickened at the motion and he opened his eyes to glance at it, blinking the photosensitivity from his eyes before he licked his lips and glanced around for his companion. Practically summoned, Snuff dropped himself from the tree branch he had been napping on above Reuben, his long tail keeping him anchored to the tree before he touched the ground and he slid down completely. Reuben grinned unabashedly at the unusual serpent, making cheerful grabby fingers at him which, to his endless amusement, were mimicked by the first of the centipede-like “legs” that spread from the sides of the snake’s body. Reu chuckled and reached over, dragging the ridiculously heavy serpent closer before smearing the oil that had gathered onto his palms along the snake’s spine. The legs weren’t legs at all, he mused as he pulled a rag out of a pocket, his hands already dry to the touch, and began the laborious task of buffing the snake’s smooth hide. It was easiest to call them legs—and while most people were very reluctant to approach this particular breed of snake, it was a common word for the appendages—because they bent and moved like a centipede’s feet, but in reality they were like the fingers of a bat’s wing, allowing the flying snakes to glide with such a level of success that they could scale trees rather than just sail downwards. For Snuff, however, they would never serve a purpose beyond marking him as an incredibly toxic member of the serpent community. Reuben took care as he worked the oil into the remnants of the membrane between the snake’s legs, making sure to use extra oil on the sensitive scar tissue on the edges. The injury had long since healed—nearly ten years had ensured that—but the already sensitive membranes would likely remain hypersensitive for the remnants of the snake’s life, which, if the lifespan of most reptiles around here was an indicator, would be a long time. If he was lucky they would toughen up as he got bigger, and considering how much less fragile they were after this many years, that seemed likely. The man smiled, bat-like ears twitching in pleasure, and gave Snuff a great big shove that only just rolled the heavy-ass snake’s first three feet of length onto his back, giving Reu access to his shiny white belly. Snuff wiggled his legs in amused retaliation as the man got back to work, and worked his mouth in the snake equivalent of a laugh, flashing the broken fangs in his mouth. Broken fangs, broken legs, broken membrane, broken snake. Reuben smiled fondly at the animal and his scars, marking the heavy burn marks along his face and sides, and became a bit more diligent in his buffing. Snuff was nearly thirty feet long now—a huge hunk of a snake who would never have gotten this big in the wild with working wings and working venom—but while it was a far cry from the sub-adult that Reuben had saved from being burnt alive, he couldn’t help but feel that old pang of terror and anger. The boys who had set Snuff alight were men now, healthy members of society who were even praised for their act of violence against what—admittedly—was considered a dangerous threat to society, and here he and Snuff were at the bottom of the food chain, hated and despised for being born a snake and for refusing to let a helpless animal without even teeth die respectively. Someone walked by then, a mother with child, and Reuben flashed them a cheerful smile, an expression that faltered into a frown when the woman cursed and yanked her child closer, going out of her way to skirt as far to the other side of the walkway as she could as though he had bared his teeth and cackled about feeding the brat to the snake. Snuff wouldn’t even eat something that small. That’s what he got though. He saved a fucking flaming snake and surprise surprise, his mutation had flared into being fireproof—which, hello, and kinda made sense— and boom bang the whole town hated him. Okay so they actually hated him for keeping an admittedly dangerous animal—that couldn’t feed itself now, he defended—and that the other side effect from the fireproof came his tendency of…well….making things flammable…but semantics. It wasn’t like he’d actually set anything purposely on fire once he discovered that little side effect. Unfortunately that was just how it worked in a town like this. Fire was pretty much the most hated thing aside from….nope, fire was pretty much the most dangerous thing there was when you lived in a tree, and being accidentally capable of making fire go a little haywire and crazy was a pretty good reason to be hated. He supposed he could understand their fear…he just wished they had spent the last ten years listening to the “uh, natural fireproofing and burn healing” part of his mutation rather than just the “fire burn” part.