Shadowland

Le'letha

Continuity: As long as you know the basics (Hiccup grew up in the Sanctuary Nest with Toothless; he thinks he's a dragon; this is not negotiable), this story can stand alone. Set post-"Stormfall", and sometime after the threeshot "Flashfreeze".


A dragon's paw slams into Hiccup's side, catching him unawares and sending him tumbling. Pain cracks through him as the onetime feral child – still entirely wild, now grown – tries to scramble away, and Toothless' scream of rage is buried beneath furious, thoughtless screeches and roars.

Claws tear into the earth as dragons lunge and strike at each other. Clumps of mud and tangles of grasses fly, and he struggles to find his paws again and a safe retreat.

Not for the first time Hiccup howls inside that he is so small.

His presence beneath their feet is forgotten as his dragon-cousins lash out, and he must watch where they do not. A flailing wing swats him as he recoils, and he stumbles into the path of heavy-armored Rock All Over, who has rocks in his head and rocks in his tail, who will not think and will not move except to charge blindly and not stop.

Hissing a warning, the littlest dragon of the flock rises briefly to his full height and flashes the clawed gloves he favors at the eyes of Rock All Over. The dark green dragon hesitates, blinking surprise, and before Restless nips at his flank and makes him roar, Hiccup dives beneath the shelter of half-spread wings. For a heartbeat he is protected as he tenses to leap again.

It is a stupid fight, and Hiccup yowls at it, the tail of the cry whimpering. He hurts. His fires inside seep through him like water soaking through sand.

A matching scream wails frustration and fear. Even through the quarreling of all the flock, Toothless knows his voice.

Toothless' cries answer shame, that when Hiccup had ventured away Toothless had stayed on the sun-basking stone for the warmth beneath his outspread wings. The dragon-pair had guarded their friends who are traveling all together, sweeping wide. They had chased clouds that faded away before them, and plunged tumbling, chattering laughter.

But as they flew, Restless and Leap-Run had growled at each other, because Restless did not want him to fly in her wake and track her scent. And still he scented for her when she was racing her clutch-sibling Refuge and not watching for Leap-Run. She should have swatted at him and he should have turned away. But far from home Leap-Run had fidgeted even more than she. He challenged when others did not want to fight and instead gave way uncaring.

And so Leap-Run thought himself very bold.

When they stopped for a time on this island among many, because there was a scent of freshwater here, Leap-Run had pursued her still. Refuge and Restless, perched purring together, had snarled together, and their arguing had drawn many eyes.

Arguing is good to watch.

But it is not good to be caught amidst, and Hiccup scuttles away from long claws that scythe past him. The reflexes of a lifetime among dragons keep him moving, dodging Follow-Me's lashing tail and Big Talker's weight as she slams her shoulder into Refuge, and as soon as there is breath in him again he cries out, at once denying and reassuring, here no-fear safe annoyed not-hurt beloved-mine no-fear!

It is not the fault of his Toothless-self that his Hiccup-self cannot keep from putting his clever paws, that are clever most of all at finding trouble, into things he should not.

Toothless had huffed silly no not-important you silly here stay yes mine-dearest happy-with-you when Hiccup looked up from grooming them both to watch Restless and Refuge argue with Leap-Run. His paws had fallen still, and his shoulders had gone tight with concern.

Careful-worry, Hiccup had replied, turning his eyes to the sky and opening his jaws to taste the air. Beneath the scents of familiar flock-kin dragons and new damp fields the wind had whispered cold, and there were small drifts of snow here before they were trodden apart by dragon paws.

The summer is dying, and dragons cannot travel far without the sun, but their home-nest is hungry already, and some must scatter to find better hunting. Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss who are wanderers lead others outward now, remembering places they have explored where dragons can live.

This fragment of the flock will hide from the winter in new caves, and they do not have time to quarrel.

So the little dragon who thinks of himself as (click)-phuh had scrambled from the perching stone where tt-th-ss remained. He padded to their sides to chirp and pet at them, imagining Leap-Run turned away and distracted into chasing-games, and Restless hiding beneath her clutch-sibling's wing and grumbling into his side.

Now Restless rears above him and screams, clawing at the air and staggering as she swats at a higher-still nose, and before her paws slam to the earth again Hiccup tumbles backwards blindly.

Giants war around him – if a single step betrays him, another blow will break him and leave him shattered, unable even to curl around the pain, when even the softest touch from a gentle nose hurts like claws.

The quarrel is like a fire-blast that misses its mark and catches dry grasses, and then the flames devour all. Small grudges and frustrations and resentments, ground against each other like crunching stones, blaze to life, and there is only fighting, all reasons trodden underfoot.

Hiccup leaps aside before he is trodden on too, growling and lashing out with a clenched paw. It is a small strike against a heavy foreleg, but Roll Over turns his eyes down and startles, his spikes drooping remorse. Sorry, he says with his body, you-here surprised sorry careful-maybe.

Roll Over has known him longer than Hiccup can remember. He has known always that the scrawny feral boy who spoke and thought and acted like a dragon – who believed himself a dragon, who knew no other life, who is a dragon in every way that matters and in every eye that Hiccup cares about – should be treated no differently, but perhaps swatted at more gently and stepped around more carefully.

No, Hiccup protests, but his dragon-cousins do not hear his cries, and they do not see his attempts to tug at the edges of fluttering wings.

When they landed here it was an open field where no enemies could ambush them. Even the stones big enough to perch on were low and flat like islands surrounded by an ocean of shallow grass. There was mist in the air as they flew here, but it fell far behind them. So dragons spread out their wings and the sun licked droplets from their scales as they drowsed.

Now mud splatters and stones fly as claws strike. Reeds flame like falling stars as small fires set them alight, and the pools of deep clear water roil with heavy footsteps and the echoes of roaring. The deafening bellow of Reluctant is pierced by the rattling howls of Bites Leaves and the sharp shriek of Trill.

But even as Hiccup listens for the dragons around him he listens most of all for Toothless' cries of fear-anger and searching all mixed together, calling Hiccup-beloved Hiccup-mine where where where hurt? hurt? no-hurt no-hurt no-hurt desperate urgent-important fear where where looking where? And Toothless demands in whistles answer!

The wild boy learned to speak from the dragonet he came to think of as half-himself, more than he ever did from his much-loved but never quite understood human mother. So their voices sound much the same. Like an echo, Hiccup calls back here here no-hurt dearest-one come-here need-you nervous nervous need-you!

In a fleeting space between bodies he sees sunlight glance from Toothless' scales as the black dragon lunges, leaping into the fight not to strike but to find his best-beloved rider and partner, dearest friend and twin-self and heart's-love. He howls back-away and stop-that and no no no fear no stupid you stupid! as he struggles to push their flock-mates aside.

Among the bared teeth and spit-flecked jaws and narrowed eyes surrounding him, Hiccup thinks only of escape, dodging misaimed strikes and blind snaps, shrinking away from roars that ring through him, keeping low. Rarely comfortable standing only on his back paws, he moves crouched and ready to spring as he hunts for the bright flash of dark scales, glimpsed in pieces and moments.

Toothless shoulders aside Follow-Me and his jaws close with a snap around Hiccup's body, and before she can turn on him, he leaps into the air, straight up and at once away.

Even as the first shock of flight tears through him, Hiccup reaches for the leather cords wrapped around Toothless' chest, twining his paws into them and clinging tight. When they were smaller, Toothless could carry him around in his jaws like an egg-wet hatchling. But now Toothless struggles to gain height and then hover, wavering at the weight in his jaws.

Still, it is with perfect confidence that Hiccup signals ready in silent movements, twisting to be prepared to almost fall. He knows that Toothless' fangs are hidden away and that his dragon-self will not harm him, that if his paws slip then Toothless will catch him.

When Toothless lets him go his body knowsit is falling, but fallinghas never made Hiccup wail and freeze in terror. He takes his own weight on the netlike flying-with harness, and as Toothless hovers as steadily as he can, he swarms towards the familiar safety of the bigger dragon's shoulders.

He learned to climb so not as a game to play, but to not be helpless should he fall from Toothless' shoulders in the course of some wild maneuver or daring flight.

His Toothless-heart grumbles warnings of careful at sharp claws so near his jaw and eyes and tender nose, and at the paws bracing themselves against his throat and his pulse. Hiccup croons back sorry sympathy sympathy love-you sorry trying sorry even as fire burns through his bruised side with every movement, racing hungrily from shoulder to flank.

Wait, Toothless signals, the edges of his movements saying that he is clever clever me clever anticipation happy-enjoyment fun-maybe curious, and warns falling-falling-falling, a hunting cry that means –

Falling! Hiccup cries back to him, and Toothless folds his wings.

For a glorious instant, they fall, and Hiccup flies, weightless and free and fearless. The sky rushes through him thrumming joy and his pulse races through his skull with heavy pawsteps that become a racing roar. Before his eyes Toothless' scales sharpen as if every much-smoothed edge were a bright blade, and the way to move is as clear as sunlight.

And it is easy, like that, to climbas if he had wings spread out to hover, and Toothless brings them out of the tumble with a snap! of wings, stopping them short.

Silly! Toothless scolds, snorting as he flicks one ear-flap to slap at Hiccup's face. Stay-away! he repeats.

Hiccup crouches astride his shoulders and chirps laughter, and his paws pat at Toothless' skull, touching affection gratitude happy-you-here brave you love love love together yes good good

The black dragon glides to the low rock and shakes himself, pretending aggrieved to be called away for something so small as rescuing Hiccup again. The dragon-feral yawns indifference – don't-care don't-need not-interested – until Toothless rolls his eyes and sprawls loose and careless to the stone.

Toothless stares off at nothing only until Hiccup slides gingerly from his shoulders, favoring one side and grunting at the discomfort from the bruise spreading like a cloud beneath his scale-skins.

One of Toothless' sprawling paws reaches out and tugs at him to pull him close, and Hiccup goes willingly. He settles beneath Toothless' raised jaw, twisting so that the warmth of the black dragon's throat rests against his battered ribs, and sighs at the welcome weight.

In yips and purrs and clicks, gestures and touch, movements and breath, the language Hiccup understands best of all, he says content safe happy happy Toothless-mine love-you you me we us together good good love-you happy happy.

Mouth Full of Teeth stalks over to them showing irritation at the clamoring of their flock-mates, and settles in the grass. Pushing Toothless aside, he rests his jaw on the stone and sighs content, the flicking of his tail showing his reluctance to move further.

Hiccup yowls a muffled rebuke and whistles flying us flying yes go us flying us urgent-important!

The big dragon does not think they are going anywhere for now; his eyes turn away disbelief and ignoring. He settles himself more firmly to the ground and his wings spread and fold in a shrug.

Grumbling resentment and frustration but signaling resignation, Hiccup curls closer to Toothless' chest. He wants to go now, wants to fly further and quickly and race the sun for all the light it will give them. He imagined only that they would stop here to drink and to stretch and then be away again.

He is not the only dragon sulking, as Toothless noses and licks at him, marking the dragon-feral mine mine mine with small grunts of satisfaction.

Their flock-mates tire of fighting and flee favoring bruised paws or scorched scales. They hide themselves behind rocks that are too small to hide them and withered trees they would not have noticed otherwise had they stepped on them.

From all sides there is grumbling and muttering of upset resentful mad-at-you mad-at-self stupid you stupid fight stupid ready-to-fight angry can't-be-bothered thatflares and fades like single flames, from no one and for no one.

No one has won the fight, and there is no one to prance and preen and be very smug, and instead everyone sulks as if they have lost. Leap-Run sidles away with his wings low, curling up on the edge of the field far from Restless. Others retreat into dozing. Big Talker dabbles a paw in one of the ponds nonchalantly, splashing as if she will find a fish there if there are fish sounds for it to follow.

Hiccup decides to be content to stay for now. When he and Toothless wander far from home, they do so on whims and chance-caught winds. They stop when they wish, and they go when they are ready. And he knows that even when dragons fly home between their homes, like the ones that travel sometimes through the edge of his flock's territory, they do not set their noses to a star and chase it unblinking.

Toothless scolds worried you worried silly beloved-mine no-worry reassurance good us together, and he quorks the sound for stop-that! that he uses when Hiccup is thinking too much and blunting his claws against stone.

The little dragon bumps his head against the bone of Toothless' jaw deliberately. But he calms, and he thrums instead peaceful until the sound leads them both into a shallow sleep.


Much of the day has been whiled away with drowsing when a sharp excited squeal wakes them all. Trailing Tail races through the grass with her silver-blue-grey muzzle low to the ground, tracking something small and quick. Her snarl says missed! even as she leaps again.

Many tiny movements cut through the grass trailing squeaks and chatters. Small furry creatures dart away to hide, and fighting and sleep are forgotten as dragons chase after them – there is hunting here!

Poised at Toothless' side, Hiccup stares in sharp movements, focused and reptilian, twitching with excitement, as alive and tense with interest as he had been sprawled out and relaxed.

When he is making things, Hiccup is a creature of instinct and experiment and invention. Among dragons at ease, he and his Toothless-self are storytellers, showing the stories of their adventures to their family. They are guardians like their Cloudjumper-guardian as they watch over and play with hatchlings while the mother rests or flies away to hunt.

When he is taking apart a trap that was set ready to bite, he is every bit an engineer exploring a new device, exclaiming over each piece and drawing his observations in soil or snow to remember for later. When his flock-kin are injured, he is a healer with clever paws. When those around him snarl at each other, or at him and Toothless for something they might have done, he remains a peacemaker; the dragon he is now is as sweet a soul as the man he could have been.

But when he hunts, he is a predator.

He eats as his dragon-cousins do, survives on whatever he can catch and devour, and when a golden-brown creature no bigger than one of his paws leaps to the edge of the stone and freezes, he does not hesitate to strike.

The prey-beast dies quickly, cleanly, silently. Curious, Hiccup rolls back to an easy seat from his tumbling landing in the grass and sniffs at the creature. He licks its blood from his claws without shame, noticing only that the taste is of red meat and not fish or fat. From many shivering, wrenching times that leave him too weak to hunt, he knows this is not a prey-beast he can eat.

Still, it is soft, and he nuzzles his cheek against its fur with a soft cooof soft good like soft happy before padding back to Toothless to share.

They are very small prey-beasts, but the dragons hunt them for the joy of pouncing, scattering all over in pursuit. The creatures scurry from nowhere and race through grass and across stone as quick as a fish through water. When Toothless chases one into a pond it paddles determinedly across as the black dragon watches, curious to see it swim. Hiccup corners one between stones as it flees, and it puffs its fur out and shrieks at him, snapping its blunt teeth.

Hiccup is hungry now, especially with his flock-mates licking their jaws at the treat of a new taste, but he knows he cannot eat it. So he steps back, pawstep by pawstep, until it dashes away.

Wild creature that he is, he enjoys the chase. He is as quick a fisher as any of his cousins. He likes to spring from high places in ambush and leap up to swipe at ledges he cannot quite reach. When he runs at his full speed, upright and racing but ready always to drop to all his paws again, he can keep pace for a few heartbeats with one of the great northern deer that his kin hunt, although he would not strike at one on his own.

He will carry stunned and half-dead prey home for hatchlings to paw at: a fish that cannot escape because it cannot swim through stone is a good toy for the new hunters of the flock to learn from. He was taught just the same, when his human mother was not watching.

But he does not kill to be cruel, only to eat.

Still, it does not bother him that Toothless snaps it up before it can get far. Toothless must eat, too.

The two of them hunt as a team, aware of each other always. They react to each other's signals as if each could hear the other's thoughts, so that when Toothless pounces he knows that Hiccup has seen him – they keep each other in the sides of their eyes so that they are never truly apart. Before the black dragon's paws can crash to the ground, Hiccup has darted aside to flank their prey and leave it nowhere to run.

Watching for small scampering creatures, dragon and dragon-feral keep their eyes to the ground, and when the shadows of trees fall over them it matters only that there are fallen leaves beneath their paws now to dig through for burrows.

The sounds of their hunting flock-mates fade as they scatter, the prey-beasts learning that the field is dangerous for them and fleeing back to their hiding-places with dragons close on their short tails.

And soon enough the trees give way to stones. Then the two-who-are-one tread carefully, side by side, prowling in play more than hunting in earnest.

Moving together, the sleek black dragon, graceful and precise, and the wild dragon-man, in his ragged garments of battered leather and stained cloth and dragon scales, they still look like shadows of each other. Hiccup moves like the dragon he knows he is, not the man he might have been. It was a thing he did not know, for a long time, and that he does not think about now unless he must.

They are aware of the wind when it rises, and they circle and prowl so that it does not carry the scents of dragon and prey-blood and hunting to their prey.

But the prey-beasts do not fly. They hide in the ground. And so the dragon-pair does not look up, or rear to their hind legs to watch far away, until Toothless coils around a broken-away rock and finds that the small valley they have padded through has opened again.

The shadows of the long evening have spread their wings, and the fog crawls on its belly among them, creeping and dragging its tail as it hides away the sun like a thief, turning the low sunlight sickly and wan. Scattered, spindly trees fade into fog, half-hidden and vanishing, their shadows all that remain of them. The ground hides itself like a secret.

The mist they set their tails to in the bright day has followed them, and it settles itself around them, muffling even Toothless' whistle of surprise that trails off uncertain.

No dragon-cry answers, and no echo replies. The fog swallows it like a stone swatted into the ocean.

There is only fog, and they are alone.

Hiccup flinches back against Toothless' forepaws, fighting the instinct to scuttle beneath his dragon-half's body and hide there. His wings are bound tight against his sides already, and he has no tail to pull close against his belly, but he howls anxiety at the fog, crying out no no no don't-like look Toothless-beloved look frightened!

He does not likefog. The mist that drifts in mornings and fades does not frighten him, clouds to be flown into and hidden among do not frighten him – but deep fog, thick fog, fog like this, now means wrongness and fear.

The grey-white billows that swallow the land could hide anything in them, even great jaws to rend and devour, cruel eyes to catch and hold, and they would not see it until they were torn and broken.

Toothless recoils into a protective crouch, wrapping his tail around his Hiccup-half to guard him. He stares fiercely at the fog as alert and wary crackle through his body, but his head turns to lean into Hiccup's paws for the reassurance there.

This? Toothless whistles, this? Stay-away don't-like c'mon c'mon c'mon away away us go yes don't-like. He pushes at Hiccup to turn him aside from the smothering fog, urging him back into the narrow valley, back towards places where there will be others to stand with them and snort at them for being frightened of fog.

Caught between fears and memories, Hiccup wavers unsure, shifting as if ready to leap to Toothless' back and then pulling back.

Part of him knows that the most hateful fogs that hid the sickbadwrongthing, the eater of dragons that was also an Alphaof dragons, are gone now. The fogs blew away beneath the beating of many dragon wings and the breath of their king of ice.

Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss went and looked, to see for sure, but these fogs are like it.

Those fogs blew away here!

Can it be the fog from before, with a sickbadwrongthing at its heart?

But they are far and far and far away from that place. That fog stood unmoving. This fog moves slow and languorous, lazy and tired, pouring around the withered trees and hiding the pools of brackish water. From the slow breeze, Hiccup picks out rich mud and green scum, rotted leaves and dead plants, trapped water warmed by the sun and left to sit idle, all carrying with it the damp cool of the fog.

And in it, other scents that his nose is too small to track, that he does not know…

Hiccup-mine? asks Toothless, tail trembling. Puzzled, he follows the dragon-feral's gaze. You looking why looking you why?

Whimpering scared, Hiccup nevertheless whistles sickbadwrongthing! very small and quiet. It is a thing not to be cried aloud.

Dragons have no concept of ghosts, but most of them know better than to wave their wings and paw at the air and call for trouble.

Dragons there, Hiccup growls and gestures at the fog, that dragons trap maybe danger trap maybe threat maybe-possible there dragons!

There were dragons in the heart of the fogs before, caught and trapped and held tightly, and traps are to be broken always so that their kin-cousins can fly free.

He rears almost to his full height, claws curled ready to strike, and cries out you? you? calling calling you curious? danger here danger fear-worry threat?

The sounds die in the fog, and the slow breezes tumble it into tangles. For a moment, the dragon-pair see the distant hills in the heart of the island, and the darker forests that spread out from them. Waving, grasping branches rustle as if they are shuffling through the fog.

And a half-familiar dragon's voice cries back to him danger here danger fear-worry threat!

Hiccup startles and Toothless flares his wings, baring his teeth and snarling as his little partner springs to the black dragon's shoulders. At once, Hiccup is ready to ride, and Toothless spins about to set his tail to the fog and dive aside, to sneak up on the trap to fight it.

He manages only a single leap before he stops, paws scrabbling for purchase among the small rocks. Toothless' back paws skid out from under him and do not stop; his hindquarters bump to the ground even as he tries to twist away from the flutter of movement that erupts from the air just before his nose.

The fog engulfs them, and something within it hisses, blasting hot breath that reeks of poison and pain into Toothless' wide eyes and flared nostrils, and into the face of his rider.

Roiling and churning, a snarl and the snapping sound of fangs burst from the air.

Scrambling back to his paws, Toothless backs away, searching for their enemy. He draws in a breath to roar in answer, but at a nudge and a glance and a yelp from Hiccup, instead he sings out a looking-song of his own.

No echoes answer him, and Toothless tips his head, saying puzzlement no-threat? no-threat? no there no?

But there was something there, Hiccup knows, growling uncertainty cautious ready-to-strike unhappy upset as Toothless grumbles don't-like don't-like very-much-so wary don't-want back to him. It moved!

Something unseen cuts through the fog, trailing wisps as it lunges at them, biting.

The fog has teeth to devour them!

Fear triumphs, and Toothless turns and runs, away from the mist-jaws and deeper into the fog.


All around them is fog, closing in, oppressive and confining, threatening and blinding, isolating and silencing. Slow currents in the air coil it up like the pawful of strings forever matting themselves into an impossible tangle in one of Hiccup's pockets that he is always trying to pick apart again.

When Toothless pads past one of the shallow ponds, ear-flaps low and steps cautious, shoulders pulled in tight, the small movements of fog and footsteps ripple across the surface like a breath, breaking their single shadow into many pieces.

Hiccup growls at it, but the sound trails off into a whimper and he crouches closer to Toothless' shoulders. Trying to watch everything, he swipes at the fog and hisses when it melts beneath his claws.

Flying want flying yes us go up up up flying want flying now us flying, Toothless clicks, tension running through his body in a constant tremble. He glances upwards, hunting for the open sky. But all the world is fog, and at once he drops his jaw again so the teeth in the fog cannot bite his exposed throat.

Flinching away one moment and bristling at the thin branches of leafless trees the next, Toothless says intimidated, startling at the sighing wind and moving in small leaps and sidling prowls.

He wants very much to fly away from here, but he does not want to spread his wings; the mist-jaws will bite at them!

Others flock-kin others here worry where where worry others, Hiccup yelps quietly back to him.

If they were wandering on their own they would take off and fly up up up and away from here until the mist has faded. But there was a familiar voice in the fog, calling back to them! They cannot leave their cousins lost here, with hungry jaws hiding.

Toothless sings looking sounds at the thick fog so that the spindly trees do not swat at him, but still he steps lightly, and soon he paws at his nose and shakes his head to make his ear-flaps flop around, quorking disgust – he does not know where they are.

Biting at his gloves, Hiccup pulls one off and holds it in his teeth. With the other crooked to strike still, he reaches out to Toothless, scratching reassurances and affection.

The fiercely-clawed gloves are like his own paws, but touch is as important to Hiccup as sight and as vital as clear water. He and Toothless thrive on close contact and the innocent comfort of bare skin on soft scales.

When he stretches to scratch beneath Toothless' jaw, the black dragon licks at his paw, tugging on it and mouthing at it, and Hiccup yips teasingly at him.

They are near-blinded by the roiling fog and surrounded by enemies they cannot find to blaze and bite and roar at. But as long as they are together, they can be less afraid and more irked to be chased like prey.

Reclaiming his paw, Hiccup sits up again and calls out to the dragon he had heard in the fog, whistling baffled greetings and cautious warnings.

It does not answer.

Flying! Toothless insists, snorting as he glances back at his shoulders to see Hiccup still trying to peer through the fog and call for dragons that are not there. He spreads his wings out with a sharp snap, growling determined in a way that says he will not be argued with or frightened by not-there things, the broad-finned tip of his tail batting aside the fog. Up up up up, he gestures with his nose, and his wings beat back as if to hover before tensing them for that first great leap that sends him and his rider high into the air.

Eagerness and relief race through his body, and Hiccup thrums with it, bracing himself for flight as Toothless leaps –

– and something not seen pounces at them, bowling them over and crushing them to the ground.

Hiccup tucks himself as close as he can to Toothless' shoulders instinctively as the black dragon crashes. Even as he falls, Toothless fights to keep his weight off Hiccup's smaller frame, and they splash to a clumsy landing on the edge of a shallow pool, winded but unhurt.

Furious, their cries of rage harmonizing into a single, oscillating sound, Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss roar outrage, challenging their attacker to stand and fight, defiant of their shuddering shock and fear. Toothless bares his fangs and braces ready to fend off another blow, and Hiccup claws at the air and shrieks counterpoint to his dragon-partner's rumbling growl. They watch all over in small movements, glancing around and signaling to each other not-there and not-there and not-there.

Even when Toothless sings looking all over, it is nowhere, their enemy!

A hiss from out of the fog rattles like laughter, and is answered.

There! Hiccup signals, flicking out a trembling paw.

Battle-fire blazes like the sun at the ripple in the fog, burning brighter and more colorful than anything, but spins away and strikes nothing.

Growling, Toothless leaps for a shapeless eddy, greys and shadows and the suggestion of movement caught for a moment in a faint glimpse. A bit of sun strikes sparks from a scatter of droplets, part crash-splash and part mist-dew, and Toothless' claws slice past and miss as something flickers away.

He turns to chase it, snapping at the damp and blinding air. A billow of fog retreats before him, matching him step for step, stopping when he does, tumbling back on itself when he lunges, luring him in. Hissing laughter trickles from the mist-shadows like the tireless ocean throwing itself against sharp stones.

Without warning, a trailing wisp cracks toward his nose like a lashing tail. Only because Hiccup is watching for him, and tenses with alarm at the mist that moves too quickly, does Toothless know to leap aside. The edge of it catches the hard scales of his chest instead of his soft nose, but still he yowls at the sting.

Part of Hiccup wants to freeze and whimper – there are jaws in the fog! And as the light fades, as Toothless fights, as Hiccup tracks the sounds of their enemies' movements, he can hear other sounds, shrieks that mean pain and cries that mean fear, far away but familiar voices.

Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss have led their friends to a very bad place, and they have failed the trust their cousins offered them, and that their Alpha has placed in them! They are the explorers and the hunters of new places, relying only on each other and responsible only for each other, and they should not have stopped in a place they did not know with others looking to them!

But he fights the fear as guilt tears at him, snarling at the nightmares in his skull as much as the shadows clawing and biting at Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss.

Jaws in the fog can be bitten back.

Things that cannot be seen can be defied.

Nightmares can be woken from.

And they can be fought when they crawl out into what is!

His claws lash out as he scampers across Toothless' back, balanced even when his dragon-heart spins and leaps. He slashes at shadows and shrieks defiance and insults at the hissing laughter. He signals warnings to Toothless as they see for each other as much as they can.

His body fights like a dragon. But he is small.

He knows that if he is to survive in his wild world, he must think, panicked and afraid and surrounded as he is. It is his creativity and his resourcefulness as much as the protection of his dragon-family and the love of his Toothless-self that have kept him alive.

He must remember all he has seen and learn from that.

Toothless-heart! he cries out, chattering the sounds and layering them with devotion. And he makes a sound that splashes, and paddles at the air like Big Talker playing in the pond.

Toothless croaks bafflement, but he darts away from the nothing-at-all hidden in the enveloping fog, searching. Almost at once, his forepaws sink into marsh water up to his chest.

Hiccup praises him good good good love-you, purring, and with a spread paw on his shoulder signals stay and patient, urging him trust.

Frightened-angry trembles down Toothless' spine, but he croons always-always-always very quietly.

He must wait only a moment for one of the hidden voices to find them again, creeping closer and hissing laughter at the silly dragon wading in the murky pond.

There! Hiccup marks it. In a single sharp movement, he scoops up a pawful of water and hurls it at the sound.

A dragon's muzzle, outlined by the splash only faintly, but there, snaps back in surprise, and it shakes its head. Water flies from the tips of horns and glints from rough scales, and blinks from half-lidded eyes, and flicks from long tendrils like trailing vines, and Toothless yowls triumph edged with pride and shot through with anger and leaps.

Brackish water splashes everywhere, and the hiding dragon – the hiding-hunting dragon! Hiccup remembers, and yowps, very disgruntled to be running from hiding-hunting cousins again; they are not at all as terrible as his fears – cannot shake and paw all of the water from its scales in time to disappear again. Even when it changes all its colors to be like fog, still the water clings to it and shows where it is.

Toothless pounces at its flailing wing, and the hiding-hunting cousin folds it in tight. At once Toothless snaps out his own wings so that the leap becomes a flight, low to the ground and close enough to crash.

But Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss play fly-close games very well, and they want to crash this time!

Now it is the hiding-hunting cousin who tumbles to the ground and into more water, the true red flooding its scales now that it has been seen. It leaves wet tracks as it scrambles to escape, but Toothless harries it in lunges and snaps so the color-changer cannot spread its wings to take off.

The sound of heavy wingbeats cuts through the air, and Hiccup feels sharp claws coil around his body.

And the second hiding-hunting dragon snatches Hiccup away and into the air like a fish caught from shallow water or a prey-beast from a stone.

Terror blazes through him, strange and wild, and the dragon-feral writhes against the claws trapping him. He thrashes and kicks at nothing at all, but a nothing that folds its claws around him, scratching at his scales and threatening to tear deeper; a nothing that cannot be seen but that breathes heat and a burning reek at him; a nothing that rumbles with a muted snarl as it holds him tight against its chest.

The ground falls away, and Hiccup wails to see Toothless disappear, left behind in the fog. The black dragon's answering roar dares the fog to mute it as Toothless screams wrath endless and immeasurable, leaping blindly at the movements in the air and gone.

All his life Hiccup has wanted to be able to fly on his own, to spring from the ground and soar upwards on his own wings – although to fly with Toothless is the best thing. The hobbling glide he can manage far in the sky is a much-cracked and tasteless bone while his flock-mates feast.

If he could, then this would be what it would look like as he leapt, he knows. But even as the muscles in his back pull tight as if to spread strong wings, it is wrong, wrong!

So he fights. His claws gouge at the paws wrapped around him, and they twitch away, but the hiding-hunting cousin instead grips him more tightly, muting Hiccup's shriek of rage into a breathless yelp.

Defiantly, he tries to bite, knowing that his small fangs cannot tear through dragon-scales. But although he leaves no mark, he finds that he can see the hiding-hunting cousin when he looks close and careful.

The dragon is there. It has only changed its colors very cleverly.

It is as if the hiding-hunting dragon is made of the world, as if a piece of the world has come to life.

When he peers up at where its head must be, it cranes its muzzle down to look him over. Bright yellow-gold eyes open fully, like eyes all alone floating in the fog that are easy to see once they are spotted.

So Hiccup finds those eyes and stares back, baring his teeth and snarling. Down! he insists, gesturing. Down down down me now you back-off go-away go-away me down!

From below he recognizes Toothless' howl of searching, and Hiccup's heart keens with his beloved-companion's cry of you you you where you where mine-mine-mine beloved-mine where need need need you where?

When the sounds become a snarl of enemy-here go-away me fight ready fierce me fierce danger-warning threat me fight! broken by the high keen sounds of looking and a blaze of battle-fire, Hiccup knows that Toothless is still fighting against the other hiding-hunting cousin. He imagines Toothless chasing the one they tricked, and singing at the sky to find the one that snatched his Hiccup.

In the sky, his captor growls and shakes him, scolding no you hush you small bite me bite see teeth see? and folds her jaw down to her chest to bare her fangs with no real interest or malice.

Hiccup spits defiance, and screeches Toothless-beloved here me here here!

At once a dark shape tears through the fog, flying towards the sound, and his captor folds her wings and dives away from the searching sounds.

And Toothless does not see them! Toothless does not see him!

Hiccup is hidden behind wings that look like fog, and Toothless cannot find him. Even in the glimpse he gets, the dragon-feral can see the panic coiling through Toothless' body, and bright scars of loss and separation and soul-deep horror begin to crack open across his heart.

They are to each other in every way a needful thing.

Elsewhere Hiccup thinks he can hear the voices of his flock, distant and difficult to make out, but he knows the sounds of distress that are clearest of all.

Are there many, many hiding-hunting cousins here, slinking out from hiding and changing all their colors to creep up on the travelers, to spit poison and bite? Is there a very great flock, so that every stone and gully and pool hides a dragon guarding its territory and striking without warning?

Are they angry because Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss led their flock here, to drink their water and rest on their perches and snap up their prey?

They did not know!

Movement close by is not Toothless – Hiccup mewls disappointed – but the other hiding-hunting cousin, creeping close to its flock-mate. A faint wash of color fades through their scales as they hover together, outlining them against the fog.

That? it – he – asks, blinking at Hiccup.

His captor shrugs. Small, she clicks dismissively. She stares out into the fog, listening for Toothless' frantic cries, and bristles danger careful careful, the tendrils of her jaws waving.

This that look this small that, she muses. Me I catch clever-me that careful threat-there c'mon – Her flock-mate follows her sounds as she darts away. – don't-like go-away!

I give, she concludes, pretending to hold her captive out; that-there don't-like stranger-intruder that go.

No-threat! Hiccup interrupts in a yowl, pulling his claws away to demonstrate even though he wants to claw her very much. She is keeping him away from Toothless, and that cannot be borne.

She turns an eye to him in surprise. Hush, she snorts at him, an adult to a hatchling.

Hiccup hisses anger, roars no and the sound that means the king's flock. He has been mistaken before for Toothless' hatchling, and it is not entirely wrong or bothersome for strangers to think him and his other self close-kin.

But he minds very much to be talked down to as only a silly dragonet, to have his tail trodden on so that he cannot pester big dragons, and be otherwise ignored!

And it is not at all fine to be used so, to threaten Toothless and force him to obey!

If this is the territory of the hiding-hunting cousins, then they will go!

But they do not listen when he whimpers and pleads with them – their eyes are turned to Toothless, flying alone and frantic in the fog, chasing the faintest wisps of the hiding-hunting cousins away from the marsh and over a thicker forest. The mist-shrouded treetops shudder and rattle their remaining leaves at his roars and howls and protests and wails. Every sound, every shadow half-seen but still hidden from, bites into Hiccup like ice, and he struggles desperately to get free, calling out always Toothless-heart follow here-I-am listen hear-me Toothless-dearest here here here!

Stop-that enough no no no hush, his captor snaps, lowering her muzzle to him again.

He snarls at her, and she looks him over. Hiccup can see in her eyes when she realizes that he is not a hatchling, only small.

He sees in her movements when she decides that he can be threatened for real.

She bares her fangs, and bright-burning poison-spittle drips from them, surging from her throat ready to burn. The stink of it wafts into his eyes, stinging and burning them, and slicks pain down the back of his throat.

The captive little dragon recoils instinctively, blinking and gasping and frightened of the touch of it more than her fangs, coated with it like blood.

But Hiccup is a clever little dragon most of all.

Hiccup has no real desire to hurt her, or her flock-mate flying close and shielding her with his fog-colored wings. He and his flock are intruders here, and in the wrong. It is not an unfamiliar feeling, for he and Toothless are wanderers. They encounter many strange dragons who sometimes snarl at them and drive them away, and sometimes nose at them cautiously and accept them as traveling strangers. But the dragon-pair rarely dig their claws into the earth and insist on staying when they are not wanted.

But the hiding-hunting cousins here crept around in shadows and fog and chased Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss like prey, and elsewhere their friends are hurting and hunted, and these ones are keeping him away from Toothless which is most wrong of all, and now his captor is snarling at him only for trying to escape and go back to his dragon-heart so they can leave this place to its flock.

So instead of whimpering and submitting, Hiccup flicks his claws out, not to tear at her jaws but only to coat them into the bright poison, darting them in and out quick and careful.

In an instant, even as his dead and borrowed claws hiss and burn away beneath it, he sinks them into the point beneath her own claws where scales give way just a little bit to softness.

Shrieking in pain and surprise, his captor jerks her paw away, and Hiccup falls.

There is no time and not enough sky to glide on his makeshift wings, but Hiccup has been falling from cliff edges and dragons' backs and tree branches and tall stones and misjudged leaps all his life. He twists instinctively, sensing more than seeing the trees that swipe at him in passing. The first branch he catches for tears itself free from his grip, ripping away the last bubbling remnants of a claw, and others whip sharply against him. But he manages to slow his crashing, snapping, rattling fall, until the ground stops him without mercy.

Landing hurts. He takes the last of it on his shoulders as his paws slip out from beneath him where dead leaves rot to wispy bones. Broken twigs and branches, scattered leaves and slow bugs and all the debris of the autumn forest, rain down around him, and he spits out the taste of green-once rotting-now things he does not know and does not at all care for.

He spits disgust also at the stench of bright poison still in his throat, retching and coughing, licking at his own jaws.

It is very tempting to lie still and whimper, but instead Hiccup drags himself to all his paws, aching and panting, trying to find his breath again as he noses at this new place.

Faint tendrils, more mist than thick fog, coil through the trees, but he can see among the shadows of the trees well enough, with the light still fading from the sky. He is used to the dark. Nothing pounces at him, so he sits back on his heels and cries out Toothless-heart!

The hiding-hunting cousins will hear him too, but he believes that Toothless will find him first.

Toothless loves him most of all, wants to find him, needs to find him, and the hiding-hunting cousins will be warier now.

So he slinks low and cautious through the fallen leaves and fading underbrush of the forest floor, keeping out of sight of an easy glance, but he whistles and howls need and mine and wherewherewhere? and beloved-mine calling calling calling here me here me here find-me!

In his battered-dark leather and black scales, shuffling his paws through the dead leaves to scrub away the last traces of bright poison – those claws are burned away to blunt stumps; he will have to replace them all – he thinks himself very well hidden indeed. If the hiding-hunting cousins dive at him, he will know them from the way their movements make the trees shake or the fallen leaves rustle.

Here me here me here! a voice like his cries out.

Hiccup leaps and startles, whipping around and backing away. Toothless? he clicks inquisitively, but his instincts know better, and already he is cowering low.

Someone nearby shrieks hurting! loud and ringing, and the little dragon yowls no!

He knows that voice!

That is Mouth Full of Teeth!

But Mouth Full of Teeth is big and his scales are bright. Hiccup would see him if he were here!

Where? the dragon-feral whimpers.

Where? his own voice replies.

Find-me! his own sounds repeat behind him.

Disgust, his own sounds spit from the leaves.

Hiccup hunches his shoulders and bares his teeth and raises his remaining claws, a rangy, wiry young man with a dragon's manner and keen eyes, the bones of his face clear beneath his matted shock of auburn hair, and even more so when he snarls. The sound and the posture belong to something much bigger than he, to the black dragon who is part of him and the dragon-flock that raised him; it defies his body and asserts unconditionally that he is what he believes he is and who he fights to stay.

In many ways he remains the sweet-natured soul he would have been, raised human, given the chance he would have snatched from the edge of a blade and offered with an outstretched hand.

But as a dragon he is a survivor in a wild and dangerous world. Any threat to his life or Toothless' life – the two are the same – is met with bared fangs and a snarl.

His own growl echoes back to him, picked up and repeated until he is surrounded by it, as fallen leaves shift and broken branches are pushed aside.

Stranger-intruder, snaps the voice of the hiding-hunting she, again and again – stranger-intruder stranger-intruder stranger-intruder here here here here disgust don't-like don't-want – until it is as if the forest itself is snarling and gathering itself to pounce on the little dragon in its midst.

Something slinks towards him, hidden in the deeper shadows, and Hiccup stares at it in challenge, warning it away with a steady growl.

And the growl becomes a roar as Toothless plummets from the sky to join his voice to the snarls of his Hiccup-self.

As fast as Toothless moves, a watching eye might have been forgiven for believing that the dragon-feral had transformed himself in an instant into a true-born dragon to meet the threatening challenge, bursting from his skin into the broad wings and lethal fangs and bright fire of an almost matchless predator.

The threatening voices scatter as the black dragon lands crouched over Hiccup, paws dug into the earth and head lowered, fire blazing from his throat and shining back from his eyes as he shows his teeth and screams mine! Toothless' tail lashes, and his head turns to menace everything all around, wings spread and mantling.

Only the rustles of fleeing bodies that become a frightened silence reply.

As the sounds of crunched leaves and hasty pawsteps fade, Toothless rears up slightly, enough to let Hiccup scamper out from beneath his chest, and sits back on his hindquarters, licking derisively at one paw.

Fierce fierce fierce you fierce happy you-dearest good here you love-you! Hiccup chirrups, twining around Toothless' foreleg and rolling, and Toothless noses at his face and belly and throat, checking safe you here safe hurt? hurt? you you you safe good good good worried frightened me frightened you mine!

But even as they coo and purr over each other, they keep cautious eyes on their surroundings.

Those, Toothless snarls, looking up, watching for hiding-hunting cousins. Don't-like! he spits emphatically, and yelps thief.

No, whistles Hiccup, not angry and defiant, but wondering. He peers curious at the shadowed forest.

Listen, he shows, gesturing there and there and there for the creatures that had surrounded him.

No? Toothless repeats, scenting at the ground. He rumbles slightly as he picks up the new scent.

Hiccup does not know what they were.

Snorting enough, Toothless flicks his tail impatient, pinning his ear-flaps back with exasperation.

And he challenges you! you you you I here us here us brave very-much-so you? you?

He huffs disbelief that the strangers will come out and face him, rolls his eyes away like there is nothing of interest to see, and then glares fierce and commanding.

No roars of defiance answer him, and no fire blazes towards Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss.

But the silence breaks beneath rustling leaves and small trodden-on twigs, and claws scuttling across tree-bark, and scales brushing against the ground.

One by one the leaf-lurking dragons emerge from hiding, sidling cautiously and ready to bolt away if Toothless moves to attack or Hiccup does more than stare with interest.

And he does stare, curious; the dragon-pair have not seen dragons like these before, but Hiccup knows them to be kin.

The leaf-lurking cousins are no bigger than small-cousins who chatter very much, but they are not bright colors all over. They are the dappled brown of mud and the sullen green-grey of damp moss and the ash-grey of old trees. Some have flashes of brighter greens and richer browns that burn towards red, or darken towards black – but none of them near the pure-true night-black of Toothless' scales, Hiccup notes, preening a bit with shared vanity.

They are dragons of earth and forests, not bright sunlight and open sky. Patterns like sunlight and shadow splash across their broad chests and strong hind legs.

Their wings are not wide and strong, but when one leaps away startled to be looked at, it leaps a very long way and its wings snap it away from the tree-trunks in its path.

Broad throats swell into heavy jaws beneath stubby horns, and when one bares its teeth to growl back Hiccup's own snarl, very few fangs show. Its jowls are too thick. But its strength is clear, and Hiccup knows their bite would be deep.

Others pick up the snarl like a flock of echoes, and other familiar sounds blend into it – retching disgust and curious what? and tangled-together pain cries and the hiding-hunting cousin's stop-that snap and Toothless' roar of mine and his challenge of you? you? you?

You? you? you? you? the leaf-lurking dragons mimic back to them.

Hiccup chirps with sudden delight at the strangeness of hearing his dragon-love's voice in another's throat, and whistles and clicks Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss! in reply.

Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss, the mimics echo perfectly, tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss, again and again.

Toothless bristles still, to be surrounded. He bares the edges of fangs and coils his tail around to protect Hiccup, watching for each of the strangers.

Stranger-intruders, one of them snarls in the voice of the hiding-hunting she. Many of them growl and crouch, and some of them belch out reeking smog that sparks, gathering into a cloud.

Drawing back, Hiccup spreads one of his wings to waft the smog away. He has lived with enough two-heads cousins to know that sparks and smog together will burst and burn.

No-threat, he yowls even as Toothless' fangs warn that they will be a threat, if they are threatened. No-fight, he signals, don't-want.

Stranger-intruders, the mimics snarl still, this here this mine you you you don't-want!

Toothless startles, and nudges at Hiccup, signaling them here yes yes small hunting small here here. He purrs belonging, for a heartbeat folding his wings and resting, pretending to be relaxed and safe. Them!

The mimics belong here, the mimics are hiding –

The hiding-hunting cousins are trespassing, too! All of them, traveling flock and sneaking color-changers, have stepped over the flock that makes their home here, hunted fun-to-chase rich-sweet prey-beasts in their territory, fought over it as if it was empty.

Whining, Toothless hides his fangs away and crouches to the ground, and Hiccup flattens his claws to the earth and drops his shoulders submissively, both of them unwilling to fight when they are so very in the wrong.

Sorry sorry, the dragon-feral croons, and sees the mimics turn their deep-set eyes to him in confusion. Us go us flock fly-away go sorry us sorry you here this here you fine-fine-fine no-fight sorry!

As the mimics copy his sounds with puzzlement and doubt tinging their imitations, he paws at the air and cries out where? where? ours flock ours dragon-cousins where?

They will go, and their flock with them, if Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss can only escape their hunters and find their friends again.

But then trees shake as shadows become snarling red dragons lit up by the last of the sun, and both of the hiding-hunting cousins dive at the dragon-pair, jaws open and ready to spit.

At once, Toothless scrambles to his paws and blasts flame at them, but they dodge away very quickly and the fire strikes only sky. Still, it holds them at bay for the instant it takes for Hiccup to leap to his dragon-beloved's shoulders, both of them roaring defiance.

It stuns all of them, dragon-pair and hiding-hunting cousins, when the mimics roar too.

Hiccup and Toothless are never lonely – they have each other always – but sometimes they wonder if they will find others like them if they fly far enough. It would be strange, perhaps, to see others with night-black scales, to see others move as they do, to be challenged for once in their aerobatic games of flying and diving and spinning and racing.

They could never have imagined those others might sound like this, as if all their shadows in ponds and on stones had come to life to join them – it is an assault as shocking as any fire, as deafening as a scream from a loud-voice cousin swatting them reeling from the sky.

And the hiding-hunting cousins recoil, eyes widening and heads swinging side to side, looking for the other big dragons and seeing not at all the small ones hiding beneath leaves and clinging to branches, throats swollen out and borrowed voices roaring.

Just Hiccup and Toothless alone marked them both, and the hiding-hunting cousins hesitate, fading in and out of sight. Their movements say confusion and a bit of fear, and reluctance washes across their bodies like colors.

Before the mimics can roar again, the color-changers decide that the fight is not worth fighting anymore, the hunt not worth the quarrel, and flee.

When they have gone there is a silence that echoes.

In it, Hiccup makes a very small, thoughtful sound like huh.

Huh huh huh huh huh, the mimics reply at once, and when Toothless whistles and chirrs and houghs laughing-laughing-laughing at him, they imitate that too.

Hiccup grins his dragon's grin at them all, thinking a very good trick to try.

He and Toothless have encountered hiding-hunting cousins before, and he knows that they will run and hide if they think they cannot win a fight they have started.

They are in the mimics' territory, and he does not believe for a moment that all of them are here clicking pieces of all the sounds they have heard to each other. He recognizes the voices of their scattered flock-mates, Refuge's sighs and Slinking's complaints, Trill's whistle and Rock All Over's grunts.

And Hiccup is a fair mimic himself. He is small, but he can roar and move and pretend like he is big, can hold his ground and demand the respect of the dragons that tower over him.

Listen, he whistles for attention, and all eyes turn to him.

Good good fun c'mon you-play-too, he invites Toothless with a tap of paws and a tongue-lolling grin, and throws his head back and roars.

The preening mimics take up the cry, puffing their throats out and vying with each other to roar loudest, so loud that Toothless flinches and pins his ear-flaps back in protest.

Hiccup sprawls across his head to hold them down more tightly, and Toothless rolls his eyes back at his little partner affectionately, laughing beneath his exasperation.

Together they roar all the sounds they can think of, teaching the mimic-cousins new howling, until in a moment when all of them have stopped for breath and to shake the ringing from their skulls, they hear further away across the island other voices, other hidden mimics, learning the new sounds.

Soon all the island is roaring as if dragons stood to defend every stone, in the borrowed voices of many dragon-cousins and Toothless' looking-sounds and even the squeaks of the running prey-beasts.

Toothless takes off with Hiccup purring amusement on his shoulders and circles. From the air they see wavering shapes racing away from the island too quickly to match their colors, so that one is like a patch of moss against the first stars, and another like rippling water, and another its own red all over, and another like trees streaked fleeing across the sky.


The dragon-pair make their way back to their landing field – from the air above the fog it is easy to find – in an easy flight, unthreatened. Settling there, they wait, curling up together and chirruping relief and together and you found-you you here you love-you.

The excitement and energy of battle has faded and their heartbeats have steadied into exhaustion once all their flock-mates have returned. They shuffle back one by one and variously unhappy, disgruntled or frightened or angry or whimpering at the pain of poison-spittle etching scars into their scales even when they rolled to scrape it away very quickly.

Their friends do not return alone, and now Hiccup sees mimic-cousins watching from the edges of the field, behind trees and in the long shadows of low stones.

He catches the eyes of one of them, and ducks his head and shoulders meekly – he and Toothless promised, and they have not forgotten.

Enough! Hiccup snarls as Toothless prowls into the midst of his flock-mates who have gathered to settle down and whine together. Go us go us NOW! he demands.

There are other islands close by, and they can perch and rest there, but this island belongs to the mimic-cousins.

Them, he points out the small dragons watching, them yes here certain-sure, and he cringes and shrieks the warning of trespasser – and us!

Rock All Over growls resentment. Small, he signals at the mimics, and not-important, and turns away.

Toothless hisses and leaps to stare him down, putting his nose almost against Rock All Over's.

Hiccup small! the black dragon objects.

Small cannot mean ignored; Toothless will not allow it!

Toothless bares his teeth as Rock All Over backs away, and stands confident, boasting brave us and me clever Hiccup-mine yes yes, snorting at the marks on their flock-mates' scales while their scales are unmarked.

Which is not quite true, but Hiccup is purring so with pride in his other half that he pretends he is not bruised all over and hides his melted-away claws beneath a strap of the flying-with. It does not matter – all eyes are on his Toothless-half as he scolds and judges and leads.

Enough, repeats Toothless when no one will meet his eyes, and small mimics watch amazed as small dragons command bigger ones.

Us go, he commands, and their flock-mates spread their wings and leap meekly.

They will not fly much further tonight, only to another place nearby, but this island will belong to its dragons again.

And no jaws will wait for them in the fog.


-end-

Author's Note: As I was planning this story, one of the artists I follow on DeviantART, Arkarti, posted two speedpaints that near-perfectly matched settings I was already planning on using. Please check out Arkarti's work in general; the fog-swallowed marsh is at (arkarti dot deviantart dot com slash art slash Sp33-633304926) - although somewhat foggier in this story. A glimpse of the Howlers' forest is at (arkarti dot deviantart dot com slash art slash Sp36-635945872) (and yes, I invented them for this).

thanks for reading – Le'letha