The Network grew from chaos.

A jumbled galaxy of… not even thoughts, not at first. Flickers. Urges. Hunger, fear, fury. A good mate. The cracking of an eggshell. The rigidity of an eggshell. Carved out hollowness.

Colors, too.

Humans, Loki thinks, can see 16.8 million colors. The tiny mantis shrimp that Aegir was so fond of could see six times as many.

Dragons are not contained by such a pitiful limitation as sight.

But Loki likes this body, enjoys the limitations of this form, so he stands from a crouch next to the bristling Fury. He eyes the fingerprints on the unconscious boy's throat, knows they will bruise (his hand twitches upwards as his Adam's apple bobs), and scowls despite himself.

Loki is under no delusions of morality. That is more the domain of the man who calls himself his father. He does not pretend to be a good man; rarely a man at all, in fact. But he looks down at the hiccup cradled in wings born of a storm and feels… not righteous. Not moral.

But angry.

He turns sharply on his heel and strides toward the barrier. It dissolves across him like the mist of a waterfall, and suddenly he is facing in sharp definition men who would call themselves warriors. The Vikings. The haze is strong upon them, but Loki doesn't break stride as he heads in the direction of the man who would call himself Shakafki's father.

Or not, now, as the case might be.

He listens:

The soot on your tongue, little man-

He sees:

The food for the winter vanishing into the distance on wings and in claws, his people's houses destroyed, footprints in grey ashes illuminated by a dusty dawn.

He feels:

The distant figures of children on the cliffs overlooking the docks, counting the disembarking figures, looking for that one familiar shape. Stockpiles, gone, shelters, gone, and they just keep coming back. A people teetering on the edge of obliteration, because a state of perpetual war is not a state in which people can thrive - or survive, really, not for long. A rage that is not entirely his own-

But Loki is nothing if not adept at sorcery, and the Network is not his domain but this plane is, so he cracks the red hold on the Vikings and pulls it free. It pulses like a still-beating heart, howls at being thwarted, but the magic crackles between his fingers like his brother's lightning and builds a solid shield.

The False Connection slams at a door now firmly shut. The Queen rages. Loki ignores her and turns to the blinking chief.

"Stoick the Vast."

There's something dawning in the other man's eyes as movement grows around them, but Loki is out of time and out of patience. He needs to know.

"Stoick the Vast, why did you try and kill the boy?"

The Network grew from chaos.

Sometimes it goes back to it.

There is no Toothless, at the moment, no Doublebite, no Boulderskin or Stormfly. There are no words flashing across the glittering connections, no thoughtful pauses and no spurts of laughter.

There is rage and there is worry, and in the eye of the hurricane a hatchling rests, cradled in the fierce and watchful embrace of the Network.

Shakafki dead dying pale face bruised throat blood vessels burst hungry hungry Queen food Queen starve for Queen starves for us-

Bruised throat blood vessels burst kill tender muscle bends sharp teeth fury make fire built weapons fly weapons kill-

Blood vessels burst kill swinging torches scales echo flesh breaks kill bone breaks kill fire flesh-


Kill him-

Shakafki dead dying-

Featherstone dead dy-

Featherstone dead-


His hatchling smells like tinder and dragonflame.

Toothless snuffles at his hair. He lies on his side, Emberskin's wing thrown over him, a thin and opaque shield against the chaos that reigns outside. Featherstone is clasped securely between his paws and he thinks to himself too little too late.

His hatchling smells like fear.

Toothless does not think he will ever forget the look on his boy's face as he slammed into the barrier, choking through lungs that wouldn't obey, pounding helplessly, hopelessly against the last cruelly translucent obstacle. He will never forget how the desperate, deadly fear morphed before his eyes into a horrible resignation before his hatchling turned away, back pressed against the wall, hoping for a last-minute miracle, and stared down his approaching death.

He will never forget how his hatchling didn't close his eyes.

His hatchling smells like courage that runs deeper than the Berkian blood in his veins. His hatchling smells like ozone and lightning and storms. His hatchling smells like a Night Fury. His hatchling is his now, truly, for his sire will never lay a hand on him again. A hand that strikes a child can never again be extended sincerely.

Toothless holds his hatchling closer as he begins to stir, and his heart aches when the sobs begin.

Hiccup did not kill the Night Fury.

Hiccup cut the Night Fury loose.

Hiccup is his son, heir to the dragon-killing tribe of Berk, and- and-

Hiccup did not kill the Night Fury.

Hiccup cut the Night Fury loose.

His throat hurts. Blisters. Burns. He reaches up to rub at it but his hand freezes midway.


He's so cold, why is he so cold? He must be cold. He can't breathe. He curls closer towards Toothless. His hands spasm- once, twice, three times- scraping themselves bloody on Toothless's scales. He's shaking so hard, his teeth are chattering, he's shaking right out of his skin.


Hatchling, please.

Hiccup closes his eyes and pulls up the latest tail schematics. He traces over the design on the inside of his eyelids, calculating tensile strength and examining the tension in the extended canvas tail. He files away two recalibrations to the pedal's rigging and one possible method of fireproofing the tail itself before opening his eyes again. His hands still.

His name is Hiccup. His name is Featherstone.

Stoick the Vast tried to kill him. Tried to strangle him.

(His throat hurts.)

He fled to the dragons. Toothless is here. Protecting him. They are all protecting him.


His breath shudders out of him in an enormous, unsteady exhale. He gulps in air. Holds it. And out again.


The Network is quiet, now, gently lapping against his mind like coastal waves. He can feel the tension thrumming underneath, but for now he is grateful for the quiet.


And out.

A gentle puff of relief. Toothless's voice is blunted by grief.

Please don't cry, hatchling.

Oh. Had he been?

Hiccup reaches up to his cheek and his hand comes away wet.

Toothless, are you okay?

He hears the sputter in his mind as Toothless's paws tighten around him, and his shoulders slump with relief.

Am I- am I okay? Am I okay? Hatchling, you-

Toothless cuts himself off, and the grief descends again like a fog.

Hiccup wrestles a hand free and pats Toothless on his leg.

Don't be sad, Toothless. I'm not.

And after a moment, he realizes he means it.

Stoick the Vast was the father of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, but Hiccup had never really been his son. Stoick's son was someone else, something else- with more muscles, definitely. More ease with an axe. More brick and less beanpole. Stoick's son was the potential, and Hiccup was left out in the cold.

Toothless carefully rearranges himself so Hiccup is propped up against his side, his tail draped across the young human's lap. His wings fold back cautiously and Emberskin follows Toothless's lead, but the barrier remains invisible to him.

He is surrounded by dragons.

Boulderskin croons at him when he reaches out with a steady hand and pats his nose. Doublebite peers over the Gronckle's sturdy presence, their body planted firmly behind Toothless. Stormfly and Emberskin curl in front of the pair like sentries. Hawkbite wriggles under Toothless's tail to settle on Hiccup's lap, ignoring the glower that gains him from the Night Fury. Hiccup can just see the back of Firework's head, attentively examining whatever is happening on the other side of the barrier.

But for now, he cannot bring himself to care.

He is warmer than he has ever been in his life, he thinks, and he knows he is safer than he has ever been before as well.

So for now, he leans back against Toothless and closes his eyes.

They know where they stand, now. There will be no more hiding.

"Stoick the Vast, why did you try and kill the boy?"

Stoick the Vast does not know the answer to that question.

Stoick the Vast stares at the man in front of him, the wall of the cavern rising into eternity at his back, and says nothing.

Stoick the Vast did not think that a god could be shorter than him.

The trickster god is a skinny being, and Stoick dwarfs him. Shoulder-length dark hair frames a narrow face. The god wears a simple green tunic and looks, for all intents and purposes, to not be a god at all.

He would look human, in fact, were it not for his eyes. His eyes hold none of the warmth and courage that Stoick knows from the eyes of his villagers. They hold chaos, and a futile fury born of static immortality.

He is suddenly aware of how close the bottled storm is standing to him.

"Why?" asks Loki.

Stoick swallows. He is a Viking. He is not afraid. But this is not a god known for mercy.

"He is my son," Stoick says. His voice is so hoarse as to be almost inaudible. He licks his lips and tries again. "He is my son, and he let that dragon go."

"He's your son," Loki says thoughtfully. "He's your son, and you tried to kill him."

"I didn't-"

The trickster straightens. "Would you consider yourself a good father, Stoick?"

"I tried my best," Stoick says. In the corner of his eye he sees Gobber look down.

"What's his favorite colour, Stoick?"


"What's his favorite food?"

"I don't-"

"What did you hope he would become?"

"A proper Viking, of course!"

"Why did he stay your son, this failure?"

The words spring from Stoick's tongue without his consent:

"He's all I have left of Valka."

The dark eyes pin him down and strip him of his bluster. He is laid bare under the scalpel. His mouth is dry, and he can feel sweat beading along his face. Stoick knows, with an instinct honed from a life of battle, that the final strike is coming, but he can do nothing.

"You know what I find odd, Stoick the Vast?"

He can only wait. The whole world seems to wait.

"What you did was not your own. You were under the thrall of some powerful magic. Not mine, but strong enough. Strong enough to convince you to harm a child. To try and kill him. I thought, at first, that it was the magic. But it wasn't, was it? Not all of it.

"I thought a father who had raised his hand unwillingly to his child would feel remorse. He would throw himself at the feet of his son to beg for forgiveness. He would lay down his arms and spend the rest of his life trying to undo the damage he'd unwittingly caused. But you did no such thing. You didn't realize that you were pushed into trying to kill. Trying to kill your son.

"Do I think you would have tried to choke the life from him without the foreign influence, even knowing that the boy released a dragon? No. You are nothing if not an honorable man. But it was only that honor that would have kept you in check, because you would not hit an enemy who could not fight back. And that is why it was so easy to assume that you had tried to kill him- just you and your rage, no? Because your son was someone else. Your son was the potential of this two-legged larvae. Your son was Valka's son. You did not think you were trying to kill your son. You were trying to kill an enemy."

Loki takes a step back, and the breath whooshes from Stoick's lungs.

"Ooh, the Norns are going to be annoyed with me, aren't they?" he sing-songs, the presence of the shell-shocked Vikings seemingly no longer a concern. "They had plans for you lot. That didn't factor in. But-"

He taps a foot on the ground. With a rumble, the earth cracks, and two pillars of stone erupt from the ground. They only grow to a little over Stoick's height, though, and the chief stares at them until the god magicks a hammock strung between them and falls into it.

"-they'd forgotten what I'm the god of."

Loki grins up at him, and the void is dark and endless.

"Now," says Loki of Asgard, the Trickster, Laufeyson, Odinson, Slayer of Baldr and Father of Death.

"Shall we continue?"

A/N. Final word count: 2190, not including this note. A few things:

1. My most sincere thanks to everyone who continues to review, favorite, and follow despite my unholy update schedule. Especially to Michi Haddock O'Brian, whose reviews on every chapter despite my apparent disappearance off the face of the earth served as a reminder that people are actually still looking forward to this. You guys are what keeps me going - and to Echoflight21, you're right, I did take the .01%, and I'm very sorry. To CrystalQueen187 and others who wanted the same, I'm so sorry that this chapter has no movie, but I didn't feel that I could jump back into it without cultivating a new status quo after the drama of the last chapter. As I write up more I promise to keep your requests in mind!

Also, many thanks to the reviewers who pointed out the error in Chapter 1 about the Fates vs. the Norns. I appear to have lost the original file for the first chapter, so I can't go back and reupload it, but I tried to issue a minor correction here and will continue to refer to them as the Norns throughout the rest of this fic.

2. Thank you all as well for your well-wishes; I'm scheduled to get my service dog this May!

3. In terms of the chapter itself, though, I had a lot of trouble with this one. I would really appreciate constructive criticism, especially regarding characterization. I'm not going to mention anything about an update schedule because I feel like I just keep jinxing myself, but… fingers crossed, yeah? Again, to everyone, thank you so much for your reviews. You are all so sweet and I wish I could respond to every guest without doubling the word-count; if anyone has any ideas on how I can do so, please let me know!

From the bottom of my heart, I love you all, and hope to pop up again soon.