by Ueda Keisuke (植妥慶助)
illustrated by jpegasus


The warm air of the jungle is still thick with the storm that’s just passed when Vasuki uncoils from the hollow of the tree where he spent the last night. Today is the third day of his quest, the last day before he must return to his people, armed — hopefully — with a vision, with some knowledge of what his purpose in the nest will be. The first day, he did almost nothing, his scales still tender from the shed that marked the time for his adulthood rites. The second day, he gave in to temptation and killed a young wild pig down by the river, then spent the entire afternoon basking on a flat rock, with the sun warming the meal in his belly. Today, he must stay alert, must find some sign that he can carry back with him to his tribe.

Vasuki sets out through the jungle, heading up the river along the traces of a game trail, his spear ready in his hand in case of trouble. The path is well-worn, a favorite of the little wild pigs like the one Vasuki hunted yesterday, and if he follows it far enough, past the great twisted tree that marks the turn toward the monkey people’s village, past the dark hollow where children say that the ghost of the tiger king can be found at night, it will come to the great rocks, where the river falls from the mountain. Perhaps from there, high up enough that he can see over the trees, he might find some clue that will lead him to a worthy vision.

Climbing is tricky work, for Vasuki’s people; the gods have blessed the naga with many gifts, but strong claws for climbing are not among them. Still, Vasuki slings his spear across his back and finds his way up through the crevices in the rock, bracing himself with his tail and pulling himself up with his arms. The farther he climbs, the more certain he becomes: this is where he will find what he’s searching for.

The war cry of a garuda sends a thrill down his spine, makes him freeze up for a moment in panic, curling back behind a bush protectively as he scans the sky. His family line runs dark, and the same shimmering black scales that look so proud before the tribal fires make him an easy target against sand-colored rock.

But the garuda isn’t looking at him — instead, the eagle boy is focused on someone else, diving toward a spot near the edge of a cliff, his wings spread as he stoops, his great talons raking at his target.

Someone curses back at the garuda, and Vasuki doesn’t recognize the voice but the words are enough. The garuda are sworn enemies to the naga, and the enemy of his enemy —

He hefts his spear, rising from his coil and slithering toward the source of the voice as the garuda dives again. Brush crashes, and someone falls backward, hands up to protect his face from the talons of the garuda. Vasuki tries to get out of the way, but he can’t move fast enough, and the other falls against him even as he throws his spear — and then they’re falling, Vasuki’s tail coiling around the stranger as they tumble from the edge of the cliff and the garuda shrieks in rage or pain.

Branches lash at them as they fall, and Vasuki hides his face in the hollow of the stranger’s shoulder, his eyes squeezed shut. The other boy’s scent, rich and strange, fills Vasuki’s nose — and then the breath is forced out of him in a sharp huff as he lands on his back on the forest floor. Somewhere far above, the garuda makes another outraged sound — he won’t dare follow them down into the brush, where his wings would get caught and he couldn’t strike so easily with his talons. They’re alone down here, free of that particular danger, at least. The other boy’s weight is warm on top of him, and Vasuki’s tail is still curled around the stranger’s…around the stranger’s legs, he realizes, and goes very still.

Vasuki opens his eyes cautiously. The other boy is tense above him, sharp-featured with bright-shining black eyes, and faint stripes in his fur. There’s a hammered bone knife clenched tight in one of the boy’s fine hands, far too close to Vasuki’s throat for comfort. Vasuki’s mouth goes dry. He could bite, he thinks, if he could move fast enough, but if the naga are the stronger tribe, then the tavi are faster by far, and he’d probably have his throat cut before his teeth could find flesh.

“May I have the name of the one who saved me?” the tavi asks. His voice is fierce, low, as rich as his scent.

Vasuki parts his lips, flicks his tongue out briefly to taste the air. “Vasuki,” he says. “Of the White Lotus Nest.” He meets the tavi’s strange black eyes. “Are you going to kill me?”

The tavi frowns, drawing back slightly. “That would hardly be honorable,” he says, “when you drove off the one who attacked me.” He looks down at Vasuki for a moment longer, before he says stiffly, “I am Kama, of the River Fork Den.”

Kama of the River Fork Den is beautiful, his hair straight and dark, tied back save for warrior’s braids that fall from his temples. His expression is alert and wary, and his limbs are lithe and strong, muscles shadowed under the fine texture of short fur. Vasuki doesn’t move, feeling the heat of Kama’s body against his belly, against the smooth underside of his tail.

“I am honored to meet you,” Vasuki says, doing his best to stay calm. He can’t remember ever hearing of a meeting between the naga and the tavi that didn’t leave one or the other dead. But — he tastes the air again, and Kama watches his mouth — it doesn’t feel like they’re preparing to battle. There’s hunger in Kama’s scent, in his posture, but it’s not bloodlust. Not quite.

“My people warn their kits against the forked tongues of the naga,” Kama says, his voice hoarse with something other than threat. He still hasn’t looked up again, his black eyes intent on Vasuki’s mouth. “Is it true that you’re poisonous?”

It’s musk that he’s scenting, Vasuki realizes, dark and warm, clinging to Kama’s fur. Something stirs, low in his belly. “Only if we bite,” he whispers.

Kama makes a low sound in his throat, almost like a purr, and shifts his weight, leaning closer. “And are you going to bite me?”

Vasuki takes a deep breath. “No.”

It feels like the entire jungle holds its breath as Kama presses his lips to Vasuki’s — there’s no sound, a hush over the trees and a pause in the calls of birds. Then time starts again, between one heartbeat and the next, and Kama’s lips are warm and soft, parting in invitation. Vasuki can’t resist the chance to taste, to slip his tongue into Kama’s mouth and explore. The tavi’s teeth are small and even, sharp like Vasuki’s own, and his tongue is blunt. He tastes like warmth and the sweetness of the kill, and his tongue duels with Vasuki’s hungrily.

Vasuki can feel his horns swelling, low in his belly, aching to be thrust out, to be buried in something yielding and soft. That can’t be right — Kama is another male and a tavi besides — but his body doesn’t seem to care, his coils flexing around Kama’s thighs, pulling them closer together.

Kama answers with a low growl of hunger, challenge, rocking his hips like he doesn’t care either. There’s a sleek, smooth hardness pressing against Vasuki’s belly now, just above his vent, where before he felt only fur.

“Well?” Kama asks, eyes bright, the scent of his musk stronger now. “What are you hiding yours for?”

Vasuki laughs breathlessly. “You want them?” he asks, flexing his coils back, pushing until his horns slide from their sheath and swell, filling to hardness.

Kama sits back, staring at them with wide eyes. “Khaa,” he says appreciatively, “is there anything about the naga that’s normal?” He reaches down to touch them, careful fingers exploring the sensitive crease where the two of them meet at the base.

“The men of my tribe,” Vasuki says, his coils shivering at the touch, “say the gods gave us extra here to make up for not giving us legs.”

Now it’s Kama’s turn to laugh, his hand closing around one shaft and stroking slowly. “Twice the pleasure that the other tribes feel? Sounds like a fair trade to me.” He shifts, leaning down like he wants a closer look, and for a moment Vasuki’s coils tighten with nervousness — Kama’s teeth are sharp, and there’s a reason his people keep their horns hidden.

But Kama doesn’t bite, just stretches out his little pink tongue and laps at the crown of the one he’s not stroking. Vasuki’s tail curls, and he makes a shocked little noise at the sensation. His own people rarely pleasure each other this way — it’s too difficult to take both shafts and still manage to keep sharp teeth away from sensitive flesh. Kama doesn’t seem to be worried about that, though, stroking the first and licking the second, purring proudly at Vasuki’s moans.

illustrated by jpegasus

“Here, this way,” Vasuki pleads, hands sliding over the smooth muscle of Kama’s back, pulling him up so his hips rest on the moss beside Vasuki’s head. The sweet dark warmth of Kama’s musk is almost overwhelming, this close; Vasuki flicks out his tongue to taste the downy fur of Kama’s lower belly, and the bared crown of his shaft. He could take the whole thing in his mouth, he thinks, easily, the same way that Kama is sucking on one of his now.

When he parts his lips and takes Kama’s shaft between them, for a moment the tang of fear overwhelms the tavi’s scent — they’re both vulnerable now, both offering up their most tender parts to the other. But Vasuki has no intention of biting, when this feels so good, Kama’s shaft smooth and hot in his mouth, the head teasing just past the tight ring of his throat. The first time he swallows, his throat constricting around hard flesh, Kama moans, and pleasure shivers across Vasuki’s scales.

A moment later Vasuki is moaning, too, as Kama trades off, wrapping his hand around the shaft he’s already slicked with spit and taking the other in his mouth. The movement is so easy, so slippery and warm — Vasuki’s tail curls, and his arms flex, pulling Kama closer. Pleasure ripples down the length of his spine, pooling low in his belly, molten hot and seething. He rolls his hips, pushing into all that wet warmth, and for a second Kama’s teeth do graze his skin as the tavi chokes. Kama’s claws rake at his scales and he moans in answer, kneading at the muscles of Kama’s thighs, his throat working around the length of Kama’s shaft.

Kama shudders, his body tensing against Vasuki’s, rocking his hips in short, stuttering strokes — and then he stiffens, keening hungrily as he thrusts into Vasuki’s mouth and comes. Vasuki barely tastes it before he’s swallowing it down, hot and bitter — and Kama’s throat opens for him, letting him thrust deep, Kama’s hand working slick and fast on his other shaft. It’s so unlike anything he’s experienced with his own people, the two kinds of pleasure at once — the slickness of Kama’s mouth and the roughness of his hand, both so intense, so maddeningly good — Vasuki lets Kama’s shaft slip from his mouth so he can give voice to his moans, and looks down to watch Kama stroke and suck his horns — and then his climax overcomes him, making him writhe, making him spill into Kama’s mouth and across Kama’s face.

The aftermath leaves Vasuki loose-coiled and warm, his breathing slowing gradually as he watches Kama sit up and lick his lips. He can’t help but smile at the tavi’s fastidiousness as Kama wipes at his face with the back of his hand, then licks his hand clean. There should be tension between them, wariness — but when Kama looks up at him and smiles slyly, Vasuki can’t help grinning back, and then they’re both giggling.

“You know,” Kama says, “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all the lore our elders have to tell, and I’ve never heard of naga and tavi having a fight like this.”

“No,” Vasuki agrees, “me, neither.” He slides closer, curling his tail over Kama’s ankle and reaching out to stroke the downy fur of Kama’s belly. “But…I wouldn’t mind if it happened again.”

Kama kisses him, tongue lapping gently at his lip. “I…wouldn’t mind, either.” He smiles, quick and fierce. “Perhaps next time, we could actually plan our attack on the garuda, and bring it down.”

Vasuki smiles back. “If we worked together? I don’t doubt we could.”

And maybe, just possibly, if the two of them can get along then there might be hope for their tribes, as well. Perhaps one warm afternoon, one boy with sleek fur and bright eyes, isn’t enough to set that change in motion — but perhaps, Vasuki thinks, he’s gotten the sign he was looking for after all.

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