Summary: There is A: "lost", and then there is B: "cornered by territorial Speed Stingers". So, of course, feral-dragon-boy Hiccup and his Toothless are C: "both". [And other adventures along the way, in four parts.]
Continuity: "Thursday's Children" is part of my "Hiccup raised in the Sanctuary Nest by dragons" AU. If you haven't read Nightfall, the first and central story, "Thursday's Children" can stand alone but contains some spoilers. If you have read some or all of the other stories, this is set between "Runt of the Litter" and "Fragile Things".
Author's Note: Le'letha, where the hell have you been? The Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I'm going back after this. Sorry. But "Nightfall" etc. remains my heart and home.
Wednesday's child is full of woe.
Thursday's child has far to go.
Part One: Of the Air
You like? Claw Scars asks, a nudge and a whistle part curious and part approval, breathing concern into the matted reddish-brown fur straggling past the dragon-child's narrow shoulders and brushing against the too-prominent bones of his face.
Hiccup understands the heavyset dragon's signals without thought or hesitation, for the language dragons speak among themselves is the only language he knows. He has spoken it since he was very small, and there are no humans in his world to whom he would speak the scattered sounds of a human tongue he does not truly remember.
Like yes like this good good curious interest yes gratitude you-good like good, Hiccup purrs and chatters back, dropping his jaw and flashing his tongue in a dragon's smile. He lifts his face to Claw Scars' affectionate lick, heedless of the jagged fangs exactly a breath from his skin, and chirrups the sound of a well-fed hatchling.
At his back, Toothless snorts a very quiet sound of laughter part mocking and part pleased, all love-you even as the black dragon, the other half of their shared self, whuffs silly for his Hiccup-self only to hear. It is a sound too small to be heard by big dragons like Claw Scars as he prances away pleased and proud, the crumpled gouges of old battle wounds flashing white in the sun from shoulders spread in delight at the praise of the littlest dragon in the hidden nest.
Hush, Hiccup breathes back at him, dropping back into the shelter of the black dragon's chest and throat. Nestled against the warmth of Toothless' fires and the beat of his heart, he mimics Toothless' sounds back to him in an endless teasing echo as he paws over Claw Scars' gift.
Their stuttered, doubled yowp-yowp-yowp of gentle mockery is lost under the snores and scuffles and chirps of the tangle of dragons huddled together all around them. Golden scales lie against green, sprawled over by sea-blue, twined with dappled browns, shoving lazily against broken stripes of flamelike reds and rusts, in which Toothless' jet-black is all but lost. And even those sounds are nothing beneath the constant racket of the sanctuary nest, far northern refuge watched over by the unquestioned, unchallenged king of their world.
The hidden nest is a place of dragons, unseen – until seven years ago – by human eyes. But the first woman to ever gaze upon the mist-wreathed green oasis and the sheltering network of caves, hidden from the outside world by bristling ice and deep waters…that woman died over two years ago.
Her son – her sons – remain.
Hiccup does not remember his mother. He still dreams of her, sometimes, and wakes crying out in his dragon's voice, lost and confused, unable to remember why. Always the presence of Toothless close beside him and the familiar sounds and scents of his dragon-family all around have been enough for him to push the nightmares away, safely buried and forgotten again.
Raised among dragons as one of them, Hiccup does not think of himself as the only human in a nest of dragons. He is a dragon, small as he is. When his wings grow – as they will – he will be bigger. He speaks in chatters and whimpers and shrieks, in the movements of his body and the gestures of his paws, in low cries and liquid trills and the direction of his gaze. When he fights – and he does fight; all little dragons fight in play and in hunger and in childish outrage at even more childish offenses – he fights as dragons do, with fangs and claws, blunt as his may be.
But his keenly creative mind has not been broken by his wild upbringing, and the feral boy fights with thoughts, as well. He is quick and light and fearless, for many of his playmates have been cuffed by bigger dragons for playing too rough as he leaps away howling indignation and spitting scorn. He trusts without question that even dragons big enough to crush him without noticing will never, would never, truly do him harm.
He does not understand the meaning in the shape of his shadow or the skill of the hands he thinks of as paws. He thinks of humans, when he thinks of them at all, only as the enemy, the hunters and trappers that prey on his flock.
He is a dragon, for what else could he be? Toothless is a dragon, and the black dragon and the little boy, who have been together and inseparable for almost all their lives, believe in their deepest hearts and their truest souls that they are a single self and the same.
The black dragon has only the barest memory of a life without the feral child who has always been by his side. Toothless' nightmares are less of their mother's death than of loneliness, of difference, of seeking blindly without knowing even what he was seeking, of being too small and too lost to understand.
Toothless knows deep in his bones and the spread of his wings that he was born to fly high and quick and far, to wander and to roam. He cannot know that his hatching alone, left like a cuckoo in a place where there were no others like him, is the lot of every dragon like him, that humans name Night Fury.
But one day he found a hatchling unlike himself – small and helpless and soft, smelling of sweetness and far away and difference – and yet like, their sameness singing between them stronger than hunger or cold or falling, and the nameless hatchling had settled by the human baby's side and lapped honey from a proffered, sticky hand, and known that he was home.
Now yelps of mockery shade into affection, and the dragon-pair follow each other's rhythm unconsciously, until they are merely nestled together, safe and content amidst their family and a quite harmless trick, thrumming love-you you mine us good you me we us yes us yes love-you back and forth.
Good, Toothless grunts, one ear-flap flicking, and rests his jaw on Hiccup's back as his dragon-boy picks apart the tangled clump of leather cord. He shutters his eyes briefly pleasure at the sound of steady breathing, free of the rattles and coughs that had frightened them both deeply.
Good good good, Hiccup echoes back to him, looping the trailing end around one of Moss on Paws' spines to keep it out of the way. Moments before, it had all been a knot, woven together like a bird's nest, but then clever paws had nipped the tip of its tail from its hiding place with a shuddering soft cry of delight. Now it uncoils interestingly, not all at once but in surprising and all-different pieces, and lovely.
The black dragon hums indulgent approval mixed with mild confusion even as his tail flicks not-important, brushing away the unmaking of the string. He has the sun warm above and the comfort of his flock all around him, the distant weight of the king's presence bathing the water meadows and mist-draped spires with calm enough to keep so many dragons playing rather than fighting and their cries amusement instead of argument, and he can lie here very happily with his dragon-boy in his paws and be content.
There is little enough that dragons can do when Hiccup, like all small children, falls ill. After all, Hiccup is always falling into or off things. He has fallen more times than he can remember from Toothless' back and from cliff edges. He has fallen into drifted-together leaf piles, and into the torn-open chest of a white bear that Victorious had been so proud of, carrying her kill back to the nest to boast over for all to see.
He does not fear falling. All little dragons fall. One day he too will fly on his own wings.
But not long ago, he had fallen into the heart of a half-melted iceberg, the ice giving way even beneath his small weight.
Toothless had pulled him from the near-frozen pool in the half-flooded small chasm, claws scrabbling against the fracturing ice and wings beating frantically against its shimmering, deceptively beautiful confines. He had whimpered and cried fear fear cold danger danger Hiccup-mine-beloved Hiccup-heart-of-mine no no mine-mine-mine here me here me alarm cold no no fear even as purrs of reassurance and comfort choked and died on his tongue.
But the iceberg had set its teeth into Hiccup's chest, and the feral boy had retreated into restless, delirious sleep, fleeing from the coughs and choking that racked his body.
He has little memory of the dreams he paced through, only of one darkness bleeding into another as he awoke, however briefly, to water dripped onto his panting tongue and dragon scales wrapped close around him, fire-warm breaths that smelled of family stirring his overlong, bedraggled fur.
And if Hiccup is better now than his cousins think he is, if he had deliberately cringed back from the wind breathing down into the valley from the ice high above, whimpering and gasping and turning away as if in pain, when it was all in play –
Well, then Claw Scars would not have brought them a toy to catch their eyes and lure Hiccup back to his small strength, as if the toy were a tail to be chased after and caught.
And it is a good toy. Hiccup purrs contentment as he unravels the cord, taking apart the bird's nest of it with the clever paws he values so greatly, unashamed at their small deception. Toothless had helped, whining and mewling over his dragon-boy as Hiccup climbed so carefully out of the warm dark caves with many eyes turned towards him in concern, even as laughter sparked in the hidden depths of their own eyes, glancing from beneath lowered gazes at each other.
He wraps another loop of it around the tip of Steps Away's tail when it twitches close enough for Toothless to snap at, and twines it through Stealstone's long claws, resting loose and open across Toothless' shoulder.
A long piece of it comes away like the insides of prey spilling suddenly from a torn-open belly, and Hiccup clicks with pleasure as he hangs it from Glares at Gulls' nearest horn, adding a twist to keep it in place and a knot his paws know how to tie. One of his soft-claws scrapes against the cord and breaks, and Hiccup bites the broken piece off and spits it away thoughtlessly; dragons chew on their claws, so their adopted and much-beloved child does too.
Tail waving curiosity love-you wondering this? this? you this what this? and the very first tremors of subconscious anticipation, Toothless holds the remaining cord lightly in his jaws when Hiccup passes it to him without looking, knowing his dragon-self will be there.
The feral boy makes no answer, caught by the physical act of taking the tangle apart, and having no answer to give; it is simply wrong as it is.
Even standing upright to toss aside another loop of cord – it falls across Bonecracker's many spines and is forgotten for the appeal of a new tangle – Hiccup barely looks like a human child. Beneath his matted shock of uncut auburn hair, his face is human, but the expressions that cross it are those of a dragon, imposed over features he has never seen and would not recognize as his own. There is something strange, too, about the light in his eyes and the way he holds his head, inhumanly alert to scents and the flow of the wind. He wears a tattered, mismatched patchwork of stolen fur and leather and shed, scavenged dragon-scales, sewn together with skills that have become instinctive, and that he cannot afford to lose.
He falls back to a more stable crouch almost immediately, keeping his front paws low, ready to reach and grab, or to accept the much-reduced ball of leather from Toothless. When he climbs to a new perch on Tricky's shoulder, she does not stir.
Nose Nose Nose, sprawled half over her, sniffs with sleepy interest at the smell of fish still lingering in Hiccup's fur. Small Friend who was little when they were big, playing happily at mother, had pranced up to them with importance wriggling in her hindquarters while Hiccup was still heavy all over and hiding, and coughed up fish scraps all over him as if he were her hatchling. She had pawed at him and nudged and commanded eat! until Toothless had rolled his eyes and stood very tall over her with his fangs showing their edges, and she had flounced away complaining ungrateful very loudly.
The dragon-boy whines a regretful no-food back at Nose Nose Nose and loops the cord around one of the spikes bristling from the much bigger dragon's jaw so it will stay out of his way.
Sun, Toothless hums, briefly losing interest in Hiccup's tangle-game, happy happy good sun yes good. His eyes close even as he turns his face up towards the parting clouds.
Hiccup reaches over and scratches between Toothless' eyes obligingly, and his dragon-self thrums joy.
Turning back to the new toy, Hiccup thrums joy of his own. He loves things that can be made into other things, or that can make shapes, or that can be played with and made different. String is something he understands, as a tool or as a toy or as a danger, for he understands nets, as well.
Nets are a wrongness. Nets are a trap. Nets catch and bind and hold dragon-cousins, and then humans come.
Still, it is only as he ties the last end of the string around Snatch-and-Grab's second tail-tip, whistling good string yes this string good happy like, gesturing lots and smiling his dragon's smile, that he looks back along his wandering, scrambling path across the backs and flanks and shoulders of the dragons dozing in the meadow.
Hiccup is still very young, after all.
The little boy sits back on his heels, and a piping whimper of worry alarm bad bad bad worry – something like uh oh – slips from his throat even as he tries to swallow it back.
For the nest is rarely peaceful for long, and his small warning cry is lost beneath the grinding of rocks falling from a higher ledge, kicked down by an identical pair of squabbling, brawling bronze dragons.
You and Other You crash straight into the middle of the napping dragons, wings fouled by each other's teeth, startling the entire flock awake and into flight.
Many of them do not get far, brought up short and colliding with their flock-mates, stumbling in the air as thin cord snaps abruptly or tugs them off-balance. They crash back down again to the mossy stones, stumbling over each other and howling in surprise or sudden pain or quick-flaring rage. Heavy paws slam down and lash out, strong tails snap and strike to hurt, and fangs tear into the edges of wings as dragons scream surprise and outrage and confusion, each determined to out-howl the others. Fire blazes across rust-red scales as Ready Hunter's spark sets all his long limbs ablaze.
But with the moment's warning of Hiccup's cry – they always hear each other – Toothless leaps through the chaos on instinct, seeking his dragon-boy like a stone seeking the ground. Reflexes that will, one day, make him matchless in flight and in battle send him diving through the tiny gaps between fighting, crashing dragons, veering away from claws that scythe down a heartbeat from his shoulder and nearly tumbling over his own tail as he evades a blast of smoky flame.
None of it matters, all of it is only the wind unseen around him. Toothless' world has narrowed to the dragon-child leaping to one of the newly fallen stones, hindquarters coiling beneath him as he prepares to flee to higher ground and the measly shelter of a ledge, even as a heavy back paw skids across it and rises, even as the stone wobbles ready to fall at the blow about to descend, ready to crush small dragons without hard scales to protect them –
Quick as thought, quick as panic, Toothless flies as only he can, scorching through a breath of air too small for him, and even as he twists off-course, knocked askew, he crushes the fear-instinct to bare his teeth, to snarl and threaten and tear, with the deeper, soul-true instinct of mine! and stretches out his neck and jaw as far as it will go to snatch Hiccup from the air mid-leap.
They crash to the ground together, Toothless tucking his head into the protective shelter of his body and wings and Hiccup limp in his jaws like any carried small creature, their world for a moment only darkness and flight and each other's scents, and dragons' roars beyond.
Stupid! Toothless growls halfheartedly when they have picked themselves up again, having tumbled a safe distance away. He folds his wings in tight along his back, hiding the tremors that rustle their trailing edge, and smacks his jaw lightly against Hiccup's skull, but his growled scolding emerges instead as a whine of fear.
Hiccup takes the blow and rolls with it, baring his stomach and throat as he cringes apology. It is hardly the first time Toothless has rescued him, and it certainly will not be the last, and they both know it. Sorry sorry sorry, he whimpers, sitting up with his shoulders hunched and head down. But even as his body shows regret, his voice roves off into amazed whistles of fly you good wonder amazement good fly fast fast!
Shaking himself all over, Toothless noses at his chest and shoulder and his dragon-boy all the same; they are part of each other, he cannot groom himself calm without including Hiccup as well, and he crouches to the lichens and stone and gathers his other self into his front paws. Both their frightened heartbeats race under his tongue, and Toothless licks at their hearts as he would soothe squalling hatchlings until both steady and slow.
Hiccup presses his nose against Toothless' shoulder and sighs, eyes closing.
A chorus of growls drown out their small shared sounds, and both heartbeats take off flying again as the dragon-pair looks up to find their flock-mates standing over them. Bits of broken cord dangle from horns and spikes and claws, and while dragons do not readily bruise, the marks of claw-strikes and blows against stones show clearly, scraped across multicolored scales.
Some trouble any fledglings in the nest can get into.
Other trouble is unique to Hiccup and Toothless, and Hiccup knows his guilt is clear in his eyes as he glances from Stealstone to Bonecracker to Nose Nose Nose and back to Steps Away, whose snarl promises that he will be running to wail to Bossy the moment the dragon-pair turn their back.
It is hard to pretend – to lie – in a language where every movement and breath and expression is a message, and Hiccup does not even try. He knows very well that he is the only dragon in the nest who can tie and untie knots. Mostly this is a goodness, a thing he can do to tie closed wounds and release traps, but it does leave him rather obviously the only possible culprit here.
Sorry, he says to them all, making himself small and helpless and harmless, letting his paws tremble and his breath catch as if icewater had still washed into him and doused his fires inside to only steam and ashes, begging pity-me and forgive? sorry sorry me-us no mad you no mad me-us small…?
Days and days of flying later, and Hiccup can still hear his flock-mates' screeches of indignation echoing behind them as he and Toothless fled for the skies beyond the nest.
Most dragons can understand each other, but each flock has signals that only they know, to share and to know that they are a flock together, and to know when a trespasser has slunk into their midst pretending very carefully to be one of them to steal or destroy. Hunting partners create shared signals, and mated pairs, and friends who play all together, and nest-mates hatched together. The black dragon and his feral boy speak a language entirely their own of soul-deep affections and adorations for the two of them alone; they understand each other, and need no one else to understand them.
But the flock of the sanctuary nest has a very particular screech perhaps best translated as Brats! Get lost! and Hiccup and Toothless are well-familiar with it.
And so, they have.
There is a vast and fascinating world beyond the ice walls of the nest, and much far flying to do, and stars to chase, and the sun to catch one day – they will, it will be good to play with – and games to play, and new things to eat, and trouble to get into and out of, and traps to break, and other dragons to meet and play with, and they do not need to be somewhere they are not wanted.
They are very young to travel alone by human standards, but dragons do not think that way. Where they fly and how far is not a matter of may; it is a matter of can. If they could fly up to the sun and chew on it, then no dragon of the nest would stir from a nap to stop them, although the dragon-pair might find themselves followed, if the sun was good to eat.
Perhaps Cloudjumper will search for them, but they know their protector will not be surprised to find them gone.
Toothless can fly far and away with Hiccup on his shoulders, the wild boy holding tight as he senses the wind change through the tiniest movements beneath his dragon-partner's scales or sprawling loose and fearless as they glide.
And so, they do.
Below their wings, the ocean rolls, endless, dark and unknowable, but broken by small islands to rest on and ice floes to hiss at, and by low-hovering cloud banks to soar above, chasing the colors that slip across a surface that is not there; it is a wonder.
Below, there are the smaller ripples of fish near the surface. There are the birds that share their sky and scatter squawking and shrieking at Toothless' shadow or his scent. Hiccup chatters with laughter and shrieks back at them in imitation, spurring them on to greater outrage. There are the heads and backs of seals that are small enough for half-grown dragons to hunt but too quick and clever to be caught so in their own home. Sometimes there are whales that sing like water-cousins, so they are not hunted in case they might be dragons really.
Against the cold of the bitter north, they have set the warmth of Toothless' heart-fires and the craft of Hiccup's second skins, the exertion of wings used well and the love that burns between them. They are content together, and they know no other home or life save the hidden nest.
They were made to wander and to explore, and they have so much further to go…
To be continued.
Note: Happy birthday, 10Blue10! Thanks for pushing me to finish this – sorry it took so long!