Night Terrors

Le'letha

Summary: [canon-divergent from movies; companion piece to "Nightfall"] Hiccup is a single human child in a nest of dragons, raised as one of their own. The nest is his home and the flock his family…

A/U Scenario: Valka was holding Hiccup when Cloudjumper took her, and Hiccup has lived his whole life in the Sanctuary nest. But Valka was killed shortly before this story, leaving behind a son more dragon than human. (For the full story, and for how it happened when a completely feral Hiccup and his companion Toothless encountered the Vikings of Berk, see my Nightfall.)

ON WITH THE SHOW!

The nest is never truly silent. It is full of dragons. Dragons do not all sleep and wake and eat and play and fly and fight all at the same time. Dragons do as they will until there is a needful thing that must be done or if the Alpha of the flock commands them.

It is night, and there are many dragons sleeping in their many nests, but the dragon who is Cloudjumper which means Leaps-Over-Clouds is listening to the sounds that the nest makes because the nest is alive; it is the flock that lives here all together in the sanctuary of the great king.

In the distance through the paths through stone he can hear the cries of hatchlings who have caught a fish in one of the caves with water in them, deep below. He knows them – they are good hatchlings, they will be old enough to hear the voice of the great king soon, and their mother and their mother's-mate and many other flock-mates have taught them to hunt and chase and fly and be cautious of dragons who are not of their flock and humans who are always dangerous and should be avoided.

Above there are rocks with good hiding places and ledges and crags to hang by and leap to, and all across them, echoing through the cavern, there is the teasing of a dragon-she who is ready to fly-to-mate. She is playing with the he who is her mate by pretending to invite others to fly with her soon, but her playmates are wary and reluctant to play her game. Her mate is a fierce fighter and he loves this she. He is protecting her from any who would challenge him, snarling and growling and matching her teasing flirting with snaps and hisses and flames that nip at noses that turn her way.

She smells good, but not so good that Cloudjumper will leave his comfortable perch to chase after her. She has a mate, and she will take no other; her flirting is only playing.

Cloudjumper misses the she who was his, the she who was different, but who was one of them, who belonged with them. He had flown to catch her and he had caught her, so she was his. That is how dragons do things.

This is a hurting thought, deep inside where there should be joy and warmth and purring contentedness. Cloudjumper does not wish to think it. He listens instead to the calls of many dragons flying home to land after playing in the cold snow wind, and he listens to the cold snow wind and the sea that breathes against the stones of the nest. His flock-mates cry to each other and to their friends who have stayed in their warm nests that there is snow snow here snow now look snow many snow cold shiver cold delight snow.

Cloudjumper listens, but does not join in, curling himself into a tighter coil of tail and wings and claws and dismissing their news. There is snow, but this is not of interest – there is seawater, there is stone, there is sky, and these are not of interest, just the same.

Beneath it all, there is a small noise, only a whimper, almost silent like breathing when the body is hurt but the dragon must not cry out in pain because there are enemies hunting, but Cloudjumper hears it as if it were a great and angry roar. He knows the hatchling's voice as if he had flown with his beloved who was Valka and had been there protecting them when the hatchling was born, the little one who was Hiccup and baby which means hatchling in the noises that humans make, but there is no one to make those noises anymore.

The great many-winged dragon uncoils again and raises his head to look for where the hatchling is nested tonight, thrumming concern worry anxious worry curious reassurance worry as he searches.

The hatchling is Cloudjumper's to protect, but all the dragons of the nest would do the same. The little one is one of them. This is a true thing.

And dragons protect their hatchlings. That is the why of a nest.

It does not matter that this hatchling was not born here, or that his shape is not the shape of a dragon, or that his mother had been from a nest of humans. She had belonged to the nest too. (Cloudjumper misses her like ice inside.)

It is not the little one's fault that he is different on the outside.

The nest smells strongly of dragons, a home-scent and family-scent, but Cloudjumper can pick out the hatchling's scent-trail the same way he can hear the little one's voice under all the other noises.

But the sound is not repeated, and the doings of the nest are not disturbed.


The dragon-child wakes because he is alone.

He wakes, and it is cold, and he is lost. When he reaches for warmth and purring that should be there it is not, and his paws that are different from those of his nest-mates touch only the softness he is curled up on. The softs were stinky once, he remembers when he is awake, but they smell good like family-flock-kin-dragons-us now. Frightened, he buries his nose in the scent of the softs in the nest and breathes in the home-scent of us.

There are shapes behind his eyes in the darkness inside but they do not make sense; there is a cry in his throat like threatening fire or bad not-food but he must not let it escape. He does not know what they are, the shapes. He does not know what he is, in the space between waking and thought.

Missing, there is something missing, and he is falling, the good solid stone of the nest slipping away beneath dark waters that will drown him.

The dragon-child does not cry out. He is, almost completely, a wild animal – he remembers no other existence, not while he is awake – and it is a dangerous thing, to be small and alone and frightened and making a noise.

He is six years old; he does not remember this, he cannot count. His name is Hiccup; he does remember this, because there are noises in it that his dragon-family can make and call him by when he is doing something dangerous-but-interesting or when he is hiding.

He is human, and this he does not know at all. He believes himself to be a dragon, because dragons are all that he remembers – when he is awake.

Frightened, he reacts to a threat he cannot see and does not know, scrambling to a defensive crouch out of the small cowering huddle he had retreated into, hunching his shoulders and wishing for wings to ruffle – there will be wings, he knows, but not yet – snarling a child's threat.

Almost immediately, he forgets to growl, raising one paw and looking at it curiously. As soon as he does, he realizes his mistake, made in drowsiness and disorientation – the soft things are warm, and his paw is not.

That is what is missing! Toothless is not with him.

The dragon-child whimpers softly, calling and gesturing in the manner of dragons, crying out lonely sad sad sad lonely small me small lonely you? you? where? want want want sad me sad to his absent companion.

Other dragons, bigger dragons who are family and kin and familiar, chirp and purr at him, but Toothless does not respond, and Hiccup squawks irritation flavored with loneliness, petulance fading as soon as it appears. He knows the dragon who is his most-beloved friend has been here; now that he is more awake and the darkness inside and the sense of missing that pulls at him like dangerous fast cold water have gone away he remembers that Toothless was here when they went to sleep.

They share the nest as they share all things; what belongs to one belongs to the other. This nest is theirs. It smells of them, young dragon and dragon-child, and they have shaped it to fit them.

A dragon's nest is not woven, like a bird's nest; it is not built. A dragon's nest can be anything, as long as it can be claimed: a hollow in the rock, a corner where the wind does not blow, a depression in the earth. Inasmuch as a dragon's nest is built, it is so in what the nesting dragon takes out of it or brings to it – grass and moss to rest on, cool stones, leaves to burn to make warm ashes, scraps of fur from prey, shed scales. Debris, perhaps, but the clutter of a life.

So Toothless must be nearby if the nest is still warm. There is no threat. If there was a threat the nest would know, and the sounds of the nest are peaceful.

Still, it is with reluctance that the dragonish little boy settles back down, restlessly and unhappily.

Hiccup is afraid to go back to sleep, reluctant to return as he would be to a place where he had been threatened before, where enemies or strangers lurk and snarl. It is not safe. He is a small dragon, and he is safer when he is with others of his own kind, the flock that is his family. The flock will protect him, as long as he does not sleep alone.

So he shakes the dream away as he would shake water from fur after swimming or fishing, fidgeting in anxiety and unease before his small movements grow strong enough that he cannot stay still, cannot stay in the half-empty nest. He paws at his tangled mane before scrambling from his resting place and wandering away through the nest, a new safe place already in mind.

He prowls around sleeping dragons and fighting nest-mates and resting friends who turn to follow him as he passes and who chirp greetings and questions and reassurance back and forth, mixing his presence into the doings of the nest. The dragon-boy is as unfazed by the darkness as he is by the ungentle stone beneath his paws as he moves, which he does half-crouched, clambering across the irregular ledges and hollows and formations of the cave, keeping his balance and his grip on the stone with ease and familiarity. The glow of moon and stars reflected from outside and into the eyes of his dragon-kin lights his way, and his eyes are accustomed to making do whenever he does not know the path already. This is his home; there are no monsters in the darkness.

The only monsters in his world are human, and they live in strange places, in the open and the light.

When he slips as he descends a slope he does not go far before jaws filled with sharp fangs reach out of the darkness and snatch him from his perch, catching him up bodily and moving the feral boy to safer and more level ground.

Hiccup rolls onto his back and reaches up, pawing at the muzzle above him, chirruping amusement and greetings and crooning you here good you me me pleased. Changing Colors would not let him fall into her nest – he is welcome there, he knows, but there are eggs, and eggs are protected most carefully of all.

She huffs amusement of her own, a flicker of irritated red fading from her scales as the dragon-boy pets her nose, purring. It is a rattling thrumming noise deep in his chest that he learned to make at a very young age, mimicking the sounds he heard most often.

Scrambling back to all his paws, he moves a few steps towards the nest that Changing Colors guards and then backs away again, restless movements full of agitation and worry, before sitting back on his heels and begging please please want me please here here me small good good, asking permission.

She thrums at him, but does not allow him any closer, tracking his movements and reluctant to let the fidgeting dragon-child near the eggs; their shells are strong but eggs are vulnerable, and her instincts drive her to protect them from even the smallest and least likely threat. It is not that she does not trust him – even her mate is not allowed near the eggs sometimes – but a nesting mother is always right, and may do as she pleases.

Changing Colors dips her head and pushes Hiccup over with a soft nudge as he paces back and forth and thrums anxiety and unease. The dragon lowers her jaw onto the little boy, pinning him to the stone and keeping him still.

She is so much stronger than he is that this gesture could crush him easily, smash him into the rock and shatter bone and tear flesh. It is a possibility Hiccup cannot even consider, and it does not occur to him. To be hidden beneath dragon-scales, huddled into the soft space beneath her jaw, which more than engulfs him, is reassuring and evokes safety rather than even an echo of fear.

Her purring calms him, running through his body like waves, and the dragon-boy closes his eyes and hums back, matching his breaths to hers and feeling tension run away down his spine; knots in his shoulders from muscles that are trying desperately to spread wings that are not there relax and fade away.

When she releases him, turning one golden-green eye to keep him in her view, he rubs his cheek against hers and scampers off again, searching.

Hiccup returns once he has found what he was looking for. He descends the slope towards her nest more carefully, using all his paws and gripping the burnt stick he left nearby in his jaws instead, and does not fall.

He settles on the stone, made smooth by the touch of so many dragon-scales, and puts the charcoal to it, making lines and shadows, rough shapes and wild scribbles.

Hiccup does not remember learning to draw, but he knows he enjoys doing so. His clever paws are unique in the nest but they are fascinating to his flock-mates because of the things they can do. With them he can make things into new-and-different things, or draw shapes across the stone of the nest in chalk and charcoal, or take apart traps set by humans. He possesses a dexterity few of his dragon-cousins do, and can hold things carefully and move them precisely. He can tie knots and use many of the tools that are still here in the nest, although he does not question where those tools come from or why they are here – his dragon-kin raid human nests sometimes, and take interesting things, and he thinks the tools are interesting.

But he loves to draw as much as any human child. He makes pictures of his flock-mates in chalk on dry stone, paints with water tinted with the colorful scales of fish, or with blood from larger prey; he sketches lines through snow, and etches deep gouges into the moss and lichen that coats damp caverns and the space of the great king that is open to the sky. Something about the action of it calms him and helps him to think more clearly of new things and possible things.

Now he draws the dream he does not clearly remember, smearing dark charcoal across the stone and smudging it to make a black fog of confusion and fear. Tiring of that and distracting himself from it, he draws instead the feeling of flight, light swift lines all moving together, spirals and swoops and sharp snaps of movement.

He can feel Changing Colors watching him, hear her fascination in the small noises she makes in her throat and in her breathing, caught by the magic of his creation. For her, he draws a dragon nest with many eggs in it, and a big dragon-mother wrapped around it all.

You! he signals to her happily, proud of the idea and her interest. He tries to add more details as she looks at the drawing with equal parts curiosity and puzzlement, although the burned part of the stick is almost worn away and he succeeds only in smudging it further.

Hiccup looks intently at the stick, focusing. It is a simple problem – the burn is all gone, so it must be burned again. He resolves to burn it himself.

Dragons have fires inside, he knows, and that fire is both the flame that can be breathed out and something more, a heart-fire that is life itself, that is spirit and soul. Dragons die when their fires go out.

That the king breathes ice instead does not bother him, because ice can be so cold that it burns, and cold air burns when he breathes it in the depths of winter, and cold water stings like fire. So it is a different fire, a cold fire, but still a fire.

He is a dragon, he knows deep inside – the feral boy has never questioned this – and he is alive, so he must have fire inside too.

There must be a trick to it, he thinks, a trick of concentrating hard enough or imagining it just right. Hiccup considers, intrigued by the puzzle and enjoying working through it.

He does not know that this great strength of his – the ability to imagine things he has not seen and to think of things that do not exist; to make connections and comparisons and to draw conclusions from them; to innovate and to reason – is the talent that has the potential to make a fragile child the equal of any dragon, however large and fierce.

The little boy closes his eyes and thinks about fire, trying to feel fire inside.

Anger is heat inside. He thinks of arguments and fights with his flock-mates, but those are small things, forgotten as soon as they are over, and they no longer make him angry.

He remembers flying with his cousins to another place, and wandering away to explore and to play a hiding game with his beloved-companion Toothless. But it had not been Toothless who had found him in his good hiding place – the wind had shifted and the wild boy had smelled an unfamiliar fur-musk-stink that his instincts knew to be danger! and seen bright eyes that were not dragon eyes watching him, hunting him. He had fled, terrified and yowling, to the safety of the flock, never knowing what predator was stalking him, but amidst the fear he had been angry.

He thinks of the scars on the scales of some of his flock-mates, not from claws and fangs but from the biting metal fangs of traps set by humans, traps that catch dragons and kill them or hold them prisoner. He knows how to let dragons free from many traps, but many more are too big or too dangerous or too confusing for him to puzzle out. He remembers a time when he was helpless, unable to help a dragon-cousin escape from the trap, frustrated and furious and despairing as the captured dragon bled and died hurting and afraid. Traps are hidden dangers and evil. The beast on the island had been only one predator, but there are many humans, and it seems to the little boy that all of them try to kill dragons.

That is anger, a fire inside that claws at his chest and catches in his throat, but when he looks at the stick and blows hard at it there is no fire and the stick does not burn.

Love is warmth inside. Love is Changing Colors watching over him and her eggs; love is the eyes of his flock-mates all around him, their cries and calls; love is flight on the backs or in the paws of his kin. Love is every dragon who cares for him, who welcomes him to their side, who plays with a dragon-child as small as the smallest hatchling, playing fiercely and wholeheartedly but pulling blows before they can do harm; love is belonging with them, learning from them, and knowing them to be family.

Love is the protection of the great king, the Alpha of the flock, whose voice he cannot yet hear clearly. He can feel the king's presence and is reassured by it in the back of his mind, but distantly. It is like the moon that lights his way, or like being in calm ocean water when he can feel the movement; it is not something he can affect or control, and its existence has nothing to do with him although it welcomes him into its embrace.

Love is easy to think of. Love is the black dragon who is as close to Hiccup, as much a part of him, as his own paws. Only together are they a complete self; without Toothless, Hiccup would be only half of a soul. Toothless is beloved to him, simple and pure and clear, unquestioned and unquestionable, like sunlight and air, like the warm waters in some of the caves of the nest below.

Love is being curled up in their own nest, safe and at ease, with all the world out there to explore and play with, and all the world in here to welcome them home.

That is love, and it is a fire inside but a different fire, that purrs and warms and holds the little boy securely, but again the stick does not burn.

He gives up for now; perhaps his throat is not ready to breathe fire the same way his wings are not ready to grow. When he holds the stick up to Changing Colors and whistles please? and mimics the sound of flames she blows the smallest of fires at it.

There must be a trick to it.

The little boy snuffs out the brief flame and resumes drawing with the new charcoal, making the picture of Changing Colors and her nest better until she whistles surprise and realization, recognizing herself in the lines on the stone, and purrs. Her scales become a deep rich green of pleasure and stay that way.

When he approaches the nest again she does not stop him, allowing the dragon-boy to settle himself amongst the eggs, stepping carefully and wrapping himself around as many as he can reach.

Hiccup presses his body against an egg almost as big as he is, thrumming to it, reaching out to the little dragon inside. Hatchlings learn the voices of their flock in the egg so that they can know their mother and their mother's mate and their flock-mates. The baby has not yet come out of the egg, but it is part of the flock, and Hiccup speaks to the egg as he would any other of his kin.

Hello hello hello, he thrums a greeting-sound overlaid and intertwined with welcome happy welcome safe you good good welcome you hello, a complex and many-layered song.

The dragon-boy is limited in what he can say to the egg; there are sounds that cannot be heard through eggshell or stone, and much of his language is based in body language, in expression or gesture. There are things that cannot be said if they cannot be seen, and some of it, for ideas that go beyond emotion, is learned outside the egg.

But he can say the things that matter most.

Us, the dragon-boy hums. Us family kin family flock together good good good family us.

And he purrs an endless and absolute joy.

For with one ear pressed to the shell of the egg, listening, he hears the heartbeat of the hatchling inside, quick and steady. When the baby shifts, swimming in the little ocean inside, he can hear the movement. And it thrums back at him, a vibrating sound that requires no breath.

Singing to the eggs calms him in a way that the activity of drawing does not, washing away his nightmares of loss and loneliness. He cannot fear a past he does not remember or possibilities that have not become true, not with the future singing back to him.

Hiccup stays in the nest of Changing Colors for a time, under the eyes of the dragon-mother, greeting all the eggs in turn. But he does not stay; he is tired and ready to sleep again but there is no space in the nest for Changing Colors and the eggs and both halves of himself. He misses Toothless.

Changing Colors picks him up in her jaws carefully and puts him down at the top of the slope, whistling affection that he mimics and whistles back. Instead of returning to the soft furs of their nest, the dragon-child sets off again, looking for Cloudjumper.

He knows that he has – that they have, for he and Toothless are a whole – a connection to Cloudjumper, but he cannot place what it is. Since it does not seem important, he does not worry about it. It is enough for him to know that Cloudjumper cares for them deeply; the great many-winged dragon is protective of the black dragon and his dragon-boy.

It occurs to Hiccup as he searches that protectiveness might be a fire inside as well, because it is almost anger and it is almost love, and is both together. Perhaps that is the trick.

The moon has set, so it is darker now, making Cloudjumper difficult to find. The little boy calls out his guardian's name, hoping that Cloudjumper will hear him. The sound is a half-chirped version of one of the few human words he still uses; it simply would never occur to him to speak human words to dragons when he is perfectly fluent in the language that dragons speak themselves.

A dragon he thinks of as Roars At Moon reaches out and cuffs him lightly, pushing him towards a cluster of rocks that make many good perches; her mate who is Ice Breaker and is curled up all around her trills a sleepy greeting.

Roars At Moon is correct; Cloudjumper is dozing on a high rock, all his wings folded against the ground. His heavy head turns all the way around as Hiccup climbs to the perch on the rock, and his eyes open immediately, so he was not very asleep. There is a suggestion of sadness in his body, visible even in the deepening darkness, but it disappears as soon as Hiccup wonders why his guardian would be sad.

Cloudjumper purrs slightly at his approach – Cloudjumper does not talk as much as many of the flock, and he uses fewer sounds, but there is most meaning in the movements of his body. His eyes say he is pleased to see the dragon-boy even if his voice does not. He lowers his head to rest his flat nose against the feral child, breathing in his scent. Something about it comforts him, and Hiccup is pleased by this even if he does not understand, turning his face to brush a cheek against the dragon's scales.

When he yawns, his guardian makes a soft noise of amusement tinged with affection and raises a wing slightly as an invitation.

The feral boy hums happily before it turns into another uncontrollable yawn, hiding himself beneath the wing and pawing at the ground to find the most comfortable place to lie down and sleep. His paws find a fold of the wing that is large enough to hide in, and he wraps himself in it.

The hiding place gives him an idea, and he whistles the signal for up, adding a questioning tone that makes it a request.

Cloudjumper huffs, half-indignant but tolerant, and lifts the wing with the dragon-child still cradled in it, curled under his chest and body as he would fold a front leg. He must rise to his back paws to do so, but he turns the movement into a luxurious stretch that flares out all his wings but one.

Hiccup releases his hold on the claw and the bone and laughs in the way of dragons, a mixture of chirrups and lilts and a bubbling trill, delighted to be hanging in midair supported by nothing but a dragon's wing.

He would be happy to stay there as long as Cloudjumper will let him, but soon there is a cry from below and a paw reached up to claim him, so perfectly familiar that the little boy is instantly dizzy with joy.

You you you you mine where you here mine you you me together missing-you lonely worry turns into happy happy you you you here mine good mine good yes yes good you as Cloudjumper lowers the wing again; Hiccup tumbles out of its embrace as quickly as he can and Toothless drops back to all his paws.

They are everything to each other.

The black dragon leaps at the little boy with delight, knocking him to the ground and pinning him there to be purred on and licked and covered with dragon-scent, jaws open in a dragon's smile. Unharmed – Toothless has not yet reached his full growth, and Hiccup lives among dragons who consider roughhousing a good game; he knows how to fall – and equally delighted, the dragon boy purrs until he shakes with it, petting his dragon-companion with clever paws.

It is too dark and there is not enough space to dance properly, but both dragon and dragon-boy wiggle all over with joy at being together again after even a brief separation; Toothless' tail lashes fiercely and he moves as if he intends to leap, bringing his front paws off the ground, but does not pounce, and Hiccup mimics him, having learned the same gestures and behavior even if he does not have a tail to wave or wings to spread in triumph; they vocalize to each other in near-matching voices, the dragon-child's only a shade higher than that of the black dragon.

Hiccup collapses at his dragon-companion's side and leans against him so that they are purring together, and this steadies them; the surge of excitement fades into exhaustion in the manner of all children.

Only when they have quieted does Cloudjumper allow the dragon-pair to hide themselves under his broad wing, nestling against his flanks and entwined with each other in the darkness and the warmth.

The dragon-boy drifts off to sleep secure in the awareness of the flock that he is a beloved part of, the affection of the dragons who are his flock-mates, and the mighty power of the great king on the edge of his awareness. Sheltered in the presence of his immediate family, and listening to the breathing of the dragon who is his best-beloved and half himself and the dragon who is their guardian, he sleeps with a steady purr of his own in his throat.

What does he dream of now?

Not of being human. Not of the mother he no longer remembers. She blew away when they burned her, for dragons burn their dead; the wind took her away to fly forever.

He does not dream of fears he does not understand, or of monsters who set traps and have no heart-fire inside.

Instead he dreams of breathing fire, which is sometimes anger and sometimes love, and is sometimes protectiveness that is both, and of having wings of his own.

Hiccup dreams of flying alongside his Toothless-beloved , agile and wild and free, with the flock all around them, with the voice of the great king running through his bones like the tides or like the thrumming in the earth made by beasts all running together.

He is the child of the flock, and his dreams are glorious and powerful and wonderful.


thanks for readingLe'letha