Summary: A flight, a search, far too much ice, small dragons, and the Skrill… Or, a "Nightfall" threeshot for everyone who wondered what would happen when dragon-feral Hiccup and his Toothless crossed paths with Dagur the Deranged.
Continuity: A "Nightfall" AU story in three parts, set after the sequel "Stormfall". As such, contains spoilers for "Stormfall".
one day I will write a "Nightfall" side story with a title that doesn't begin with F. Next time, I promise…
Flashfreeze, Part One: The Island
The cliff is very high, and the wind from the sea, carrying the scents of saltwater and the world beyond, is strong. It tears through the gorge in gusts, dipping and teasing and flirting, roaring fierce as thunder like a challenge and then falling almost still. When it breathes out again, it is a great gust that strikes against the end of the long gully far away in the heart of the island, and splashes up out of it like a wave, far above the sea.
Hiccup is undisturbed by heights. He has lived most of his life in the sky, on the edges of cliffs, and on the ledges and outcroppings and overhanging stones of the vast network of caves he considers his home. He scampers back and forth across the peak of the cliff over the sea, not careless of the sharp rocks falling away beneath him into the churning sea below, and not heedless; he is well aware of the danger, but he is unconcerned.
His attention is on the erratic winds and their promise of flight, and the lingering threat of yet another crash.
The wind from the ocean screams a challenge to him where he waits on the edge of the stones, head raised to catch the scent of it and wings half-spread, ready to leap. The smallest of steps and the ground falls away, and then there will be flying.
His wings trail behind him as he moves, making ssh ssh ssh sounds as the thin leather scrapes against rough stone, and if anything of his situation disturbs him, it is that his wings are not as strong as those of his constant companion Toothless. They are a thing he made when he could no longer wait for them to grow on their own to match the dragons that are his family, when the siren call of the open sky was stronger than his belief that he is no different from that family.
This is a good place for pretend-like gliding wings, though, and Hiccup sits back on his heels, listening and watching for the movements of the thin grasses and stubborn shrubs that cling hopefully to the jagged stones. It is a good game, to chase the wind and pounce just right to make it carry him.
At his back the high-cliffs island rolls away, the wide open windswept plains broken by the deep crevasses that tear through it, sheltering the loud birds that lived here first and scream often in indignation at the dragons that have come here to live. From the sky as he and Toothless first flew over they imagined that the island had cracked and fallen apart like a thick-shelled egg that had fractured instead of bursting, or that a dragon even bigger than their king had raised a paw and torn deep scars through the island. Water gushes from the crevasses like blood, the waves racing into their confines balked at last and limping back to the freedom of the open sea again.
That was before, though. Hiccup and Toothless do not laugh anymore at the thought of dragons big enough to challenge their king.
Those scars cannot be seen.
But in the sky the wind races alongside the waves, chasing them up the broken-open crevasses quick and hunting, and it is a very good game to fly with it.
Beside him as he waits for the best wind to pounce on and catch and ride with, Toothless-best-beloved-self lifts his head and his ear-flaps perk forward. His wings spread just a bit instinctively, and Hiccup grins in the way of dragons, eager to leap. Toothless trembles with excitement, ready to pounce, but hesitates, thrumming waiting eager not-yet wait-to-pounce because that is how this game is played. It is a race, of a sort, and a dare, of a kind, and these things Toothless loves as fiercely as does his companion.
With the dragon he loves as his own heart at his side, the safety of knowing that there are others of their flock nearby, and a dare and a challenge and flying to play at, tension singing through his spine and humming through all his limbs as he waits, Hiccup is as happy as he has ever been.
He is a very long way from the man he might have been, in another life. Instead he is the dragon he was raised as, the dragon he has chosen to be, utterly wild. Perhaps he is a little more. He is unusual, for a dragon. He is only half of a self – he and Toothless believe themselves a single being in two bodies, inseparable. He can do things that other dragons cannot; that is fair and the way of things, many of his cousins can do things that he cannot; not all dragons do things the same. He has clever paws and fur instead of the tail he still covets.
But he is a dragon, and certainly no less.
Wild thing that he is, he would not crouch and sidle away in shame beneath the eyes of anyone, dragon or pfikingr-human enemy or sometime human ally.
Now! Toothless signals with a yelp as a hissing blast of sea wind howls into the gully beneath their paws, and Hiccup throws himself into the air without hesitation.
At once the gust catches his outspread wings, snatching at them. The dragon-feral twists in the air, turning and shifting to match the wind so that they soar together. His wings billow out with the breath of the wind and he spins, the walls of the gully tearing past as the open ocean falls away in his wake.
Hiccup whistles delight even as the sound is whipped away.
A shadow falls across him for only a moment as Toothless darts past, soaring over him easily. Toothless' wings are spread to glide too, matching his beloved-companion, but there is enough of the echo of his movements in his body that Hiccup knows that Toothless is cheating, beating his wings when he was not looking.
Indignation you you you mock-outrage-only-playing flying us flying good flying yes! he yelps, the minor irritation – he is not at all surprised – fading beneath the rush of flight.
Toothless chuckles back at him, glancing over his shoulder and up and waving his tail just a bit, and Hiccup eyes the tempting target speculatively. He could fold his wings and dive and catch at the broad tail-fins, and then they would both tumble and fall and splash in the shallow, roiling channel below.
He knows this for certain. He remembers it from before.
But a cross-wind as the gusts race and bounce and leap from the confining cliff walls knocks him off balance, and Hiccup flails in the air, struggling to stabilize himself and forgetting play. He reacts on instincts developed from a lifetime in the air, and from his familiarity with the flight of dragons, moving the way his cousins would, the way Toothless would, because Toothless' spike-fins keep him steady…
The touch of the air across his spine is unfamiliar and new-and-different, but Hiccup fights it, veering and struggling to gain altitude, to ride the wind all the way to the end of the gully. If he can reach the gusts that splash upwards, recoiling back from the stone, and land neatly again, then he will trust the new spike-fins he has been working on. They do not balance him as well as the one he made for himself before, but he is determined to make them work.
Even now, struggling as he is, he flies better than he did. Soon he will be steady in the air again, and he is happy enough to flail and fall until then.
His shadow against the stone as he darts past does not have one single fin on its back like a shark anymore. Now he has many smaller spines like the ones that run down Toothless' back.
The only thing Hiccup really likes about his scale-skins being a made thing is that he can change them when he decides to. He would purr much more over them if his scales would grow there, and not have to be made, if he could look more like his dragon-cousins just because and not because he has made himself so.
His shadow against the stone, flying alongside him and darting over jagged cliffs and perching dragons and much-aggrieved birds, is his best signal of what he looks like, and it is more to his liking, now.
Ahead of him, Toothless leans into the wind and lets it push him further, and Hiccup follows instinctively, trusting the black dragon to sense the best way for them to fly. The shadow against the stone is a fleeting thing, nothing next to Toothless who is with him always, inseparable and constant and necessary. Toothless is more his shadow than any patch of darkness could ever be.
But the wind ambushes him, striking as soon as he relaxes into the whispering caress of the wind across his sides. A new blast of sea air howls into the crevasse, faster and faster, overtaking the dragon-man and slamming into him like a striking paw, treacherous and unprovoked. It catches the tips of his wings and throws him off-balance, sending his back paws up and forcing him into an out-of-control tumble.
Momentarily helpless before the force of the wind, Hiccup twists without thinking, flailing and fighting the urge to close his eyes as the stones of the canyon snap too close, too close! To strike the rock at full speed will hurt, will tear his wings to shreds and claw deeply through his scale-skins to the soft skin beneath, and the memories of bright bruises and painful cuts and wrenched limbs are sharp.
A strangled yelp escapes him as the whole world spins, blurring into rock sky water rock rock rock sky rock rock all shot through with the panicked flailing of crashing and the cringing anticipation of hurt –
Sharp teeth snap around one of his back paws, stopping him a breath away from stone.
Upside-down, Hiccup blinks at the stone in fleeting bafflement, part of him still caught in that deadly tailspin, until a green-grey head lowers itself into his sight, eyes glittering.
You down you silly laughter laughter laughter you affection silly good laughter gotcha! Push-half says as she lowers her head on her long neck. She nudges her horn-nose against him, bristling fangs gaping in amusement. A wisp of green poison-breath leaks from her jaws, and Hiccup sneezes at her in reply. He does not need to look up to feel Pull-half laughing too – muffled as it is, her rumble shudders through his captured paw, and her sparks tickle.
Push-and-Pull chatter amusement to each other as Hiccup untangles his forepaws from the spread of his wings. Freed, he reaches out to touch Push-half's horn in thanks.
Down? he asks meekly, twitching his captive paw against the fangs that hold it.
Pull-half only chuckles louder. She lowers him towards a small ledge, but pulls him back before he can reach it, shaking him about like a play-thing.
Hiccup sighs, resigned, grumbling annoyance. Crashing is a thing that happens, but it is not something he particularly likes. He is very happy to be caught. But this is not a game he wants to play.
Down! he insists, a bit of a whine creeping into his dragonish voice. It is hard to be big and confident and important and speak so that dragons will listen when he is upside-down. Down me down yes yes you down me yes now! he gestures and vocalizes.
Push-half turns her head almost all the way around so that she is upside-down too and they can stare at each other, eyes meeting. Why? she asks, teasing.
Hiccup raises his chin, baring his throat challengingly and glaring, and gestures down!
The sound of familiar wings breaks in, and Hiccup twists in Pull-half's jaws to reach out to Toothless as the black dragon comes to a hovering halt in midair. Toothless darts in close enough to touch, nudging at the outstretched paw with his nose, but his wings are too broad and they slap at the stone. Toothless tries to pull away and hover further out, but the winds still shove at him and instead he darts back and forth, circling. Mine! he protests. Mine mine mine give he mine yes yes certain-sure mine Hiccup-beloved!
Push-half twists right-way-up again and raises her head as if she were a snake and not half of a two-heads cousin, swaying from side to side in the still-howling winds as she stares down Toothless. Us catch, she says, snapping her teeth. Pull-half mutters agreement, still holding Hiccup by that back paw, and bobs her head to shake him again.
No! Toothless objects, and they snarl at each other. There is no real fire in the argument, Hiccup can tell. Knowing dragons as he does, he can distinguish a play-fight for the fun of it from a real quarrel without fail. Push-and-Pull know perfectly well that Hiccup and Toothless belong together. Every dragon in their flock knows this, and so do many others beyond them, strangers met in their wandering, bristled at and chirped to and prowled around until they have decided whether they will be enemies or friends or simply turn their shoulders to each other and pretend they do not exist. Even some humans know this.
Hiccup does not particularly mind being upside-down. Flying upside-down is very much fun. But as Toothless dives closer to land on the ledge Push-and-Pull are perched on, pushing and shoving and snapping at them in play, he hisses a bit to be quarreled over like a toy - still.
He has always been the smallest dragon in their nest. There are many different colors and shapes and sizes of dragons there, far away back home, but even the littlest hatchlings grow quickly and are bigger than him again. So for most of his life the dragon-boy who vaguely remembered that his name sounded a bit like the noise Hiccup had been picked up in dragons' jaws and stolen and snatched and flown and run with and hidden in a great game of keep-away, the pet of all the nest.
He is not that hatchling anymore – he and Toothless travel further than anyone, and they break traps that bite and tear dragons, and they face down humans, and when enemies threaten their nest they fight. They led the others here at the command of their Alpha, their king. They were the ones who found this place as a good nest for dragons, and they are the ones watching over the new nest as the broken-away flock settles in and learns their new home.
Hiccup feels the responsibility keenly. Not long ago he believed that he had endangered his family and his home with his recklessness; that he had led a most terrible and terrifying enemy to their hidden refuge, and that all that happened then – the destruction, the deaths, the fear, the trespass and the violation of it – was his fault.
Instead he and his Toothless-half are forgiven, or not wrong to begin with, and leaders of dragons, now. Now all that they have learned in their wanderings is turned to finding new places for dragons to live and hunt and claim for their own, and when winter freezes the sun from the sky and chases it away to hide and doze until spring, then they will stand before the king of ice and be proud that they have done all he commanded them to do.
Reaching out, Hiccup catches the edges of his wings and slips them over his paws again. When Push-half moves so that she can see him, he flares his wings and shrieks as two-heads cousin/s do when they are frightened, mimicking the rattling of their wings and claws and fangs.
Push-and-Pull startle together, and Pull-half lets him go at last.
Hiccup tumbles to a ledge ungracefully, his scales scuffed with dust, but unhurt.
Gurgling with laughter of his own, Toothless pounces over Push-and-Pull and takes to the air again, half-leaping and half-flying to rejoin his other self. A stone collapses beneath him as he tries to jump from it, sending him scrabbling and clawing at the cliff face.
Without hesitation, Hiccup pounces at him, tangling his clever paws into the flying-with harness wrapped around Toothless' chest and shoulders, careful of his claws. At his touch Toothless pushes away from the cliff, and although the fierce winds tearing down the channel lash at their sides, they are soon flying again, bound together and safe.
Push-and-Pull chatter laughter-laughter at them in unison, and Hiccup chirrs gratitude back as Toothless beats his wings and takes them up and out of the canyon and into the open air above the island.
Free of the closed-in rock walls, Toothless veers into the wind and soars, gliding easily, and Hiccup nudges a paw against his ribs as the black dragon rolls one eye back at him in a grin. Sprawling out to rest his chin on the back of Toothless' head, Hiccup huffs resignation, dismissing the failed flight as not important.
Below them dragons climb and perch and race and dig into the shattered island, glints of color sparking like fire against the grey-brown weathered stone and the hissing grass that ripples like waves and the strong stubborn plants that grow twisted from cracks in the stone and seem dead but live. Flying home from the sea, Ambush darts past them, returning from good hunting and chirping hello hello you happy hello yes hunting good hunting not-hungry proud happy me hello!
Patrolling is perfectly natural behavior for dragons, as they hunt and play with their flock-mates and watch for humans who hunt them, and dangers from falling stone or great waves or fires too fierce to play in, and stranger-intruders who are not of the flock and must be driven away so they cannot steal food or safe places. So it is instinct rather than thought that sets their course on an easy circuit of the island, watchful and careful.
Hiccup and Toothless are willing wanderers, but most dragons have a home where they stay and know well. All of the dragons here had a home, not long ago. They could go back, retracing the long flight, but they have chosen to come to a new place now where there is more to eat, and more space to fly and perch, and where dragons can chirp to each other softly and not have to roar over the very great voice of all the overflowing nest.
Not everyone is comfortable here yet, Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss know as they fly close to a tangle of dragons curled up in the bright sun. Even that warmth cannot ease the restlessness of Bitter and Scatters Stones as they rise from their resting to pace and rise to their hind legs and look out over the ocean. Their bodies mutter new place new place under every movement and gesture. Their tails snap sharply, and their paws shift against the ground, and when a dragon's cry echoes across the island – where? where? you where mine hatchling mine where distress mine hatchling anxious edge-of-fear, Look At Me shrieks, her voice echoing out of one of the gullies – they startle as if they were small hatchlings run far from their mother and their home-nest. When they settle they do so uneasily, wings left spread and open, ready to leap and fly and be far away.
The smallest of movements is enough to draw Toothless' attention to him, and Hiccup grins in answer to the bigger dragon's what? expression. He glances over to where Bitter is trying to look at everything at once, head up and eyes staring, and the little dragon walks his paws across Toothless' shoulders slow and careful and sneaking, crouching as if ready to pounce even as he rides.
Toothless snorts no! at him, but his tongue flashes in a dragon's grin at the thought of sneaking up on and startling Bitter, who has never been willing to play with them.
So they fly on.
There were no dragons here when the dragon-pair first came here, on their way home to their hidden nest in the far north. Winter was not yet snapping at their tail, and the sun was still burning high and bright and tempting.
Empty islands, Hiccup and Toothless have learned, are more worrying than islands with dragons on them. There was an island with many good places to land and to fish from and grass to roll in, but when they landed there were many poison-flowers hidden among the grass and they could not stay there. There was an island with a bright clear stream that had worst-of-all poison-not-safe eels in it. And there are many, many islands where dragons cannot go because there are humans there already and pfikingr are hard to chase away when they have made nests for themselves.
But there are no humans here, only a single ship far away that did not come close enough to be chased and flamed at. There are no biting leeches. There are no other dragons to yowl and snarl and bite.
Still, flying is a goodness always and a joy. Hiccup lifts his face to the wind and closes his eyes to it, letting it lick at his tangled mane like a dragon-cousin in the darkness of their home caves. Beneath his paws, Toothless hums joy back to him, and their voices harmonize into a content chirring you me we us happy together love us sky us safe good yes love-you happy us together flying sky good easy…
For a time they play in the air among the high cliffs and the deep gullies and the broad flat bluffs where the wind tears through. They listen to the cries of the many flock-mates that have followed them here. Glider flies alongside them and Hiccup watches his broad wings with envy. Lurks in Pit raises his head from the nest he has dug deeper and deeper into a crack, but will not let them sneak past him to see what he has made. Toothless sings looking over the stocky dragon-cousin's shoulder and Lurks in Pit snarls and chases them away before he can hear the shape of the cave.
In the gullies, many birds scream raucous and angry at their shadow as it brushes against the cliffs. There is good hunting here. Dragons will happily eat birds' eggs when they can get them, and the nests tucked into every crevice – and their aggrieved defenders – are easy prey.
Where? mine where mine angry mine hatchling? Look At Me is still demanding, and the birds shriek back at her. There are many new hiding places in the broken-open island, and all hatchlings think that hiding is a good game, so Hiccup and Toothless fly on unconcerned. Her cries remind them only of many such hiding-games when they were littler and slightly less silly.
A smaller sound has become familiar since they brought their flock-mates to the broken-open island, and Toothless lands on the headland signaling resigned and annoyed and snorting silly!
Hiccup purrs to him and pets him calm again, slipping from his beloved dragon-companion's shoulders and sidling cautiously towards the clump of brambles that spill over the edge of the cliff and snarl around the boulders and small hillocks and dips in the earth. The brambles shake violently, and squeak.
Worry? the dragon-man whistles questioningly. He moves easily from his back paws to all of them and back again, stepping lightly around the edges of the bramble patch.
The brambles go still except where the wind rustles them, and the little dragon trapped within whines sorry hurting sorry angry scared hurting angry!
Toothless sits down with a thump and snorts disdain, which only makes the fledgling angrier.
Out out out out out! she yelps. Angry! Fight!
Hiccup ducks away as she draws in a deep breath, and a plume of fire erupts, singeing the thorn bushes in front of her nose. But the rest of the patch holds her too tightly, and when she struggles to get free, her young scales are soft. She falls still again with a yelp.
A moment goes by. Toothless looks away pointedly, admiring the clouds, all his signals saying not interested. Hiccup grins up at him from where he has come to rest, leaning against the black dragon's front paws, and chirrups easy calm easy safe no-fear to the half-grown dragon.
C'mon, he adds to Toothless, reaching up to scratch at his other half's jaw with his soft-claws, his lethal claws tucked back into their place on his belt. Please?
Finally Toothless relents, ducking his head to nudge at his partner, pushing Hiccup aside, then lifting it again to flame at the brambles. His blasting fire tears through them, charring clinging thorns and allowing the trapped fledgling to pull herself free.
At once she turns around, twisting herself back on her tail, and blazes angrily at the nearby thorns. She stomps the burnt pieces underfoot and shrieks her indignation.
Hiccup chirps gratitude to Toothless for her, but rolls his eyes anyway. The thorns will grow back, hiding the many small holes again. It is not the first time one of the younger dragons has chased a wary rabbit into the tangle of brambles and gotten stuck. He understands the temptation. The rabbits are fast and just the right size to chase, and they are soft to touch when they are caught and shaken or bitten through. But the hatchlings are learning to hunt still and leap with their claws when they should strike with their fires.
Hurt! Thorn wails, quickly tiring of punishing the briars. She limps over to the dragon-pair and cringes to the earth, pawing at her nose and biting at her claws. Hurt me sad sad little pity-me sad hurt pity-me!
Silly! Toothless huffs at her again. She abandons her pretense of helplessness to glare up at him, flashing eyes and showing the barest line of teeth, and pours all her wailing on Hiccup instead.
Hurt! she cries, butting her head against his chest and almost knocking him over as she tries to climb onto him as she would a much bigger dragon.
Laughing in chirps and purrs and his open-mouthed dragon's grin, the dragon-man pushes her away and clambers back to a comfortable sitting, settling back on his heels and catching her muzzle in his clever paws. He scratches under her jaw absently as he looks her over, and Thorn falls still, purring counterpoint broken with whimpers of hurt hurt me small hurt pity-me.
Toothless curls up at his back and settles a paw at his side in a possessive embrace as Hiccup works, nipping the hidden ends of broken-off thorns from the soft flesh of her nose and jaw and the inside of her mouth from biting at the catching brambles. Hiccup knows now that his clever paws are different because they are human paws, but the knowledge that once stepped close to destroying him at a blow has scarred over some with time and the constant acceptance of his dragon-family.
Those he loves, those who love him, do not care that his paws are human paws. They care only that they are clever paws that can heal dragons when they are wounded, or steal shining pieces from biting traps so that their jaws fall open, or open cages, or scratch noses, or draw shapes, or carry small things gently, or pet dragons, so Hiccup cares only for those things too.
Still! he commands sternly, tapping her sore nose when Thorn yelps and tries to pull away. No-fuss! She freezes obediently as he pulls a sharp-thorn for sewing with from one of his holding-things pockets and fishes for the end of a thorn with it. The thorns under her claws are not buried as deeply as those in her jaws, and come free easily.
Thorn is not their hatchling. She is stocky and green and gold and when she is big she will have soft tendrils beneath her jaw, and she does not look like either of them. But that does not matter. She is flock. She is family. And a hatchling is everyone's baby.
Neither Hiccup nor Toothless consciously reason that they survived only because a dragon flock cares for all its hatchlings. They remember only distantly their own mother, who was Hiccup's mother, and then was Toothless' mother too because they are a single self and the same. But even when they did not have a mother of their own anymore, they had been cared for and loved.
Hiccup has all the family he needs, and he is happy. He has Toothless at his back, nosing at his new spine-fins as he works and humming this curious yes good like yes laughing good this you yes like. He knows that Toothless would love him no matter what he looks like – they are halves of a whole, they are part of each other – and that is a very great comfort. But it is good that Toothless likes his new fins, and a purr rumbles from him as Toothless' nose pets up and down his spine in soft nudges and warm breath. He has Thorn crowding against him, yelping softly as his soft-claws pinch or his sharp-claw blade presses against her scales to lure a thorn from its burrow in her flesh and watching in horrified fascination as the smallest droplet of blood smears against the bright blade.
Thorn is as big as he is, and soon she will be bigger, and her fangs near his throat are longer and sharper than his, and she can breathe fire while he still cannot yet, but Hiccup does not hesitate to snap at her. No! he snarls, catching her jaw and turning her to look at the remains of the thorns. He growls a warning that means danger and stay-away! and a shriek that means no-chase, the cry of a dragon veering away from a hunt.
She chatters want want want, eyes flicking to the half-buried holes where darting rabbits disappear.
Hiccup sighs, and jabs her nose with the last dug-out thorn.
Thorn shrieks shock, leaping into the air like a startled seagull. She lands curled up tight and defensive, staring at him in betrayal.
Stay-away! he growls.
She hunches her shoulders and growls back, her still-small fins like a fish's tail ruffling indignantly.
Toothless rests his head on Hiccup's shoulder and snarls louder, snapping out his teeth, and she crouches surrender.
She sidles away still growling even as she does, lifting her head and pretending that she has only now heard Look At Me shrieking still. Calling, she suggests with her movements. Me listen listen calling that go yes me go see? see? good good me. Thorn glances over at them to see if they believe her.
Hiccup does not believe her at all, but his half-snarl is not for her. Look At Me makes noise always and waves her wings and hits many things with her tail and leaps into places where there is no space for her, but it is not good that she should still be crying out.
And there are not so many hiding places on this island that her hatchling could hide from all the flock living here now.
Uneasily, he rises to his full height to listen for Look At Me, tracking her voice and looking out across the much-shattered island plain.
Most human children are eventually told not to run about on all fours. Hiccup never was. Growing up in a network of caves and a realm of cliffs and crevasses, among dragons, he has never been fully comfortable standing upright. It is a good trick to be able to carry things in his paws and still be able to move, and he is more than capable of a full-speed sprinting run, but he prefers to keep his balance low. He stands upright much like a bear does – able to do so, even for a while, but ready always to drop to all his paws again.
The ever-present wind snaps at his overlong auburn mane as he looks out over the island; a slightly built young man of twenty-one, the lines of his face thrown into sharp relief by too many hungry winters, an alert and intelligent light in his green eyes. His try-and-see assemblage of dragon scales and leather and fur is broken by occasional stolen bits of metal and whittled bone. It protects him from the harsh northern weather and the fierce wilds and gives him the look of the dragon he believes himself, but it also hides the scars of his feral existence, etched into his body and across his skin.
But only the most casual glance would mistake him for the human he was born as, and the illusion – seen but not true – shatters as soon as he moves, sinuous and abrupt by turns, as reptilian as his borrowed scales. The light in his eyes is dragon-fire, and the expressions that transform his face are trained to the manner of dragons; more than a year after learning his first deliberate words of a human tongue since childhood, his voice is still unmistakably that of a dragon.
Falling easily back to all his paws, which puts his head level with Toothless' as the black dragon lies sphinxlike and watchful, Hiccup clicks don't-like and curious and wondering and anxious, the sounds tumbling over each other and merging with the movements of his body that Toothless recognizes as Hiccup setting himself to track down and prowl around something that is not as it should be, something that itches like sand under scales. His signals say mine mine mine in the way that means ours.
They go together. They always have.
Thorn sees nothing of this, sidling away back towards the crevasse that tears deepest into the island. It does not end in a sharp updraft, but instead a sheltered place between the ocean below and the wind-torn plains above.
It is not quite a cave, or a lake and many meadows protected by ice, but it is where many of the new flock have dug out and trodden down and burnt their nests, and it is from there that Look At Me is crying out, notes of fear bleeding from her calls.
Toothless pads back towards the nesting place, snorting at Thorn when she glances back at him following. All her body goes tight with embarrassment and she moves faster, scuttling away. Perched on the black dragon's shoulders again, where he is most comfortable, Hiccup houghs with laughter, a small noise barely louder than the wind.
The hidden grotto has many overhangs and ledges and jagged pieces that are good for sheltering under and climbing on, twisted by the wind and the mysterious ways of stone. Thorn flutters from one to the next awkwardly, claws slipping. Toothless who is bigger leaps easily from the open plain to the new nesting places their flock-cousins have made here, leaving the tearing wind to shriek its triumph up above. Its cries fade, and the tangled-together noises of many dragons rise.
Distress! Look At Me wails loudest of all, coiling and lunging and flashing her fangs at the others who shrink away from her and do not challenge or protest, even when fire catches across her scales, crackling and flaring. Neighbor stands steady and does not retreat, but he looks away and hunches his shoulders, refusing to move and unwilling to fight. Beneath an outcropping of rock, Mute spreads a wing over her own hatchlings. The bright scar across her throat where humans caught at her with sharp things ripples as she breathes in air and her throat swells, but her defensive snarl is only a whisper.
Look At Me steps away from her, still. Mute's hatchlings are smaller and must not be threatened, even if their muffled squeaks are more curious than frightened. Mute carried them here as eggs in her belly, all the flock swarming around her and nudging at her and bringing her fish and even carrying her on their backs when she might be tired, and her mate clicked and bristled and guarded her very fiercely so that she snapped at him, but even then he would not go far from her. The eggs were laid here, and burst open to be hatchlings here, and they are so small that those few she allows close still lick at them as if they might have the rich thick ocean inside eggs on their scales.
Mute's mate who is Loud for both of them races to her side and growls, a roar rumbling through him, and Look At Me turns her tail to them and darts back to the hollow that is her nest, rooting through it as if her hatchling will be hidden among the ashes.
The rattling of Thorn's clumsy descent catches her attention, and Look At Me lifts her head and snatches the fledgling from the stone in a single sharp movement. Thorn writhes in her jaws fearlessly, protesting as Look At Me tastes her.
Thorn is not her hatchling, and Look At Me releases her onto the sandy, ash-smudged ground of the grotto with a low howl of disappointment.
Hiccup twists inside with her hurting, and Toothless moves without needing to ask, understanding his beloved-self's thoughts and wishes through the smallest of signals of breathing and movement and half-vocalized unconscious sound. Together they creep towards Look At Me with careful steps, staying low and inoffensive.
Reassurance, the dragon-man croons to her when she turns one golden eye to them. Sympathy curious wondering safe calm easy breathing reassurance no-fear safe good.
No, she wails, her flames all over dying out into wisps of smoke. Where where mine looking flying looking where mine hatchling mine worry worry worry scared! She rears up, spreading her wings and looking all around, and screams desperation, the piercing sound that echoes across the island, calling her only hatchling home.
A rattle of stones is stocky Big Friendly, heaving his bulk over the edge of the grotto and sliding inelegantly to a halt at the base of the cliff. He snaps up the broken-away stones and swallows them down as they come to rest against him, long tongue licking out and capturing them to be munched and devoured. Look At Me wails where? to him, and he cowers beneath her gaze. His tongue does not loll and pant with laughter and happiness to see any of his flock. All of his signals say nothing no-help don't-know.
Look At Me collapses to the earth and wails.
Hiccup climbs from Toothless' shoulders and settles at her side, scratching her eye-ridges and nosing at her, humming sympathy.
But soon others return home, Finds the Sunset and Smooth Scales and Ate An Owl all looking for their fledglings too, and no one on the island can find them anywhere however much they search very hard.
Dragons cannot count, but they can keep track of each other very well. They are happiest in a flock, and social, and friendly, and they understand missing.
You? Ate An Owl whimpers, turning his eyes down to the dragon-pair when they return from flying over the island searching. You far flying yes flying you lead good yes please looking help you far!
Toothless rumbles with pride but there is worry beneath it, so quiet and hidden that only Hiccup who is part of him can sense it. The muscles beneath his scales and Hiccup's paws tense, not to leap and fly high and far but to crouch and be small.
Here, Hiccup reminds him gently, spreading one paw open and broad against his shoulder and stroking back to rest beside his heart. They are together so they are strong and they will figure this out together.
But he understands Toothless' desire to be small beneath the eyes of so many dragon-cousins looking to them as if they were Cloudjumper-mother's-mate who knows many things or even the king who sent them here and commanded them to lead and guard. It should not be so very different from the eyes of flock-mates watching them as they tell the stories of their wandering in movements and cries and pretending, but that is only play and this is a most important thing.
Instead he spreads his shoulders and stares back, baring his teeth and snarling protect. Unconsciously, his paws slip into the dragon-claws he wears like his own flesh and curl them ready to fly and to fight.
Us, he asserts, one paw resting on Toothless' head, the other tapping over the heart in his own small chest. Us yes go certain-determined looking us fly!
Toothless gathers himself and leaps even as his beloved-companion tangles all his paws into the flying-with, the two of them coordinating like a single body. At once they are far above the island, the wind below howling its rage that they are too quick for it to catch and swat away.
Perhaps the fledglings have flown away elsewhere, even though this is a good place and home to them now with all their flock-mates here, and if so then the dragon-pair will fly far and fast and find them. Or perhaps the missing ones will come home soon laughing at the very good hiding place they have found that not even big dragons can find them in, and then all will be well again.
But they will search elsewhere. Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss are always ready to fly and be out on their own and explore new places, and they will not shudder and shift and mutter new place new place always. They are tiny and fleeting beside their Alpha – they cannot imagine themselves Alphas for real – but they can pretend, when eyes are turned to them because their true king is far away.
They do not imagine that an enemy might have taken the fledglings. In all of their flying none of their cousins have seen any strangers not of the flock or pfikingr ships sneaking up on their new home. So the dragon-pair do not snarl and fly warily, only high and circling and chasing the wind for scents and faraway sounds.
Besides, they can both remember many times when they were smaller, when flock-mates came looking for them when they had wandered away from home and put their noses into somewhere they should not have and dug trouble out of its den.
To be continued.