Damen stopped abruptly and backtracked a few steps, kneeling down to get a better look at the ground where he'd spotted a flash of yellow from his periphery. There, partially hidden underneath a pile of discarded leaves, was a snake. It was curled up onto itself, and retreated farther when he came closer, tucking its head into the coils of its body. He reached his hand out gently to touch it, and it hissed at him.
It was cold to the touch, and covered in a thin layer of grime and what looked like dried blood. Damen wasn't an expert on reptiles, but he did know they were cold blooded, and he couldn't leave the poor creature alone in the cold. As gently as he could, he scooped the animal up into his hand and unraveled his scarf to wrap around it.
"It's okay, sweetheart," he murmured gently, holding the snake close to his chest. "I'm going to take care of you."
Which was ridiculous, considering he knew nothing about snakes, but it felt like the right thing to do.
Still gently cradling the snake to warm it up, he pulled out his phone and started searching to see where the nearest vet was that would see snakes.
Damen gently ran a warm wetted cloth over the snake's body, getting off as much dirt and blood as he could. It had been a long day, and he was ready to finish setting up his new terrarium and go to bed. According to Dr. Pascal the snake was a juvenile male ball python. Laurent, as Damen had decided to call the snake, was underweight, had quite a bit of stuck shed, and had several small scratch marks on him, but otherwise seemed healthy enough. With the proper care, Pascal had predicted a full recovery.
And the vet had also been incredibly helpful with helping Damen figure out what he would need to take care of Laurent. A large terrarium and everything that needed to go in it, along with a controlled heat source. Going into the pet store with a list had made it much easier to find the stuff he needed quickly and easily and get back home to sort everything out.
Damen sighed and pulled himself up off of his bed, walking over to Laurent's new terrarium and setting the snake down. He watched as Laurent quickly slithered towards the warm side of his enclosure and disappeared underneath one of his hides. Smiling to himself, Damen slid the lid on and secured it.
Those first few weeks caring for Laurent were full of trial and error. Laurent's temperament was inconsistent, switching from calm to aggressive with no discernible provocation as far as Damen could tell. Damen was bitten several times but he didn't take it personally. Laurent was adjusting to the new environment. He was just trying to protect himself.
With time and patience, they both got better at interacting with each other. Damen learned to read Laurent's body language in order to assess his mood. Laurent learned to associate Damen with warmth and safety as he got used to being handled more often and encountered no reason to mistrust this human. Soon enough Laurent stopped striking at Damen and mellowed out. Now when Damen picked him up he would curl around his wrist without hesitation and start exploring right away. His tongue was constantly flicking in and out as it should, and he would often periscope, lifting his head up higher in the air to get a better sense of his surroundings.
Laurent was a good eater. He never refused a meal, and Damen was pleased to see him gaining weight and looking much healthier. After only a few weeks Laurent had grown enough that his eyes were clouding over as he prepared to go into shed. And when he did shed it went really well, coming off all in one piece. The minor wounds that had been healing were no longer noticeable and his colors looked especially vibrant afterwards.
As Pascal had predicted, Laurent thrived under Damen's attentive care.
When Damen awoke and felt a heavy, warm weight curled by his hip, he was surprised to see Laurent in his bed. Yawning, he reached down and carefully drew Laurent onto his chest instead. "You shouldn't be here," he mumbled. "I might crush you."
Laurent shifted and began moving sluggishly, seemingly having woken up. Honestly, it was hard to tell when the snake was sleeping what with him having no eyelids. Damen gently brushed his fingers over Laurent's scales. "How'd you get out of your tank, anyways? I'm certain I clipped it shut when I put you away yesterday."
Considering himself lucky that Laurent had not been lost or injured during his escape attempt, Damen drew the snake into his arms and brought him back over to his tank. Oddly enough, the top was still securely fastened and Damen actually had to undo it to place Laurent back into his enclosure before securing it again. He examined it closely for a possible breach but found none.
The next morning he again woke with a snake curled up in his bed. And again the morning after that. Despite his best attempts to better secure Laurent’s tank, the clever snake continued to escape each night and find his way into Damen’s bed by morning time to rest and warm himself up.
And then one night Damen awoke with a distinctly human and not serpentine body snuggled up against him. In his half-asleep state he simply didn’t question it. One of Damen’s hands was tangled in long hair, unconsciously playing with the silky strands. There was a young man sleeping in his bed, body draped languidly over Damen’s chest, their legs intertwined. It was nice, Damen thought to himself, to indulge in the simple pleasure of holding someone in his arms.
It was all too easy to drift back to sleep.
Damen opened his eyes and could't help but smile at the sight that greeted him. The man in his arms was beautiful, with pale golden hair and lovely blue eyes. He looked young, probably in his early twenties. Although Damen was certain he'd never seen this face before, he instinctively knew whose it was. "Laurent."