Chapter Thirteen

Nightfall, Part Thirteen

Chasing her away has not sent away her shadow in his mind – it chews on him like a predator holding his spine in its jaws – and shadows in the mind cannot be screamed away.

Hiccup tries anyway, shutting his eyes to hunt it better after he hides from it like he and his Toothless-self were hiding from the sickbadwrongthing in the fallen rocks before she came and attacked him. If it does not know where they are, perhaps it will not find them and try to take his heart away from him again. They had been lying in wait for the sickbadwrongthing to try to take Toothless again and it had not come, it had sent her instead and she had ambushed them.

He can try to pretend that he did not understand the things she shouted at them, even though she has been teaching him all those sounds just so she can do this to him, he realizes, betrayed, because even if he had sort of understood the noises they had made no sense. He knows what he is. He is a dragon. Of course he is a dragon, ­dragon us we flying us together us nest us together dragon, he whimpers.

With his eyes closed he cannot see his clever paws that he has been so proud of all his life, clenched before him on Toothless’ shoulders and wrapped around the flying-with with his desire to take off and away from here, reflected all through his body and the desperate thrum in the deepest parts of his voice that are as involuntary as breathing, begging ­go we go flying flee run scared hide go we scared. And Toothless responds, half of them sensing the desires and fears of the other half as one being, and Hiccup does not even open his eyes as the black dragon takes off running with his companion still on his back; even terrified and shattered he belongs on Toothless’ shoulders as they race across the shoreline and scramble up the rocks that lead them to their cave, which is not safe from the sickbadwrongthing but where she cannot follow them.

But her shadow does. Her shadow has torn and flayed the clever paws that make him valuable and precious to his nest and his family even though he doesn’t fly as well as they do and his teeth are not as sharp and he cannot breathe fire. None of that matters, because he is a dragon with clever paws that he has used to protect them and care for them and free them from traps and make patterns for them to look at and heal wounds and now she has taken those from him and made them wrong, she has made them human.

He refuses to look at them. Still with his eyes closed, he shoves them into his claws and hides them from himself. Only then does he dare to open his eyes, shaking as if it were the depths of winter and he has fallen in the water trying to fish.

They are good claws. He is not human. He is a dragon.

Except he knows what his paws look like underneath the worn leather of the claws and he saw that they were the same shape as hers, that his clever paws are not the only ones. For a moment he wonders if she is confused, if she is a dragon with clever paws like his and she does not know it, that she is the one who is wrong.

But he can see her clearly the way he cannot see himself except for Toothless who is himself; she is one of the pfikingr that he has feared all his life. She uses pfikingr words so quickly that he can barely pronounce them; she does not talk like a dragon. She is an enemy of dragons, a hunter and killer of his kind. She had confronted him with dragon blood in her fur and the stink of battle-hate-fear on her. She answers to a pfikingr Alpha, she lives with many of them, she wears metal. She is not a dragon.

But their paws are the same.

Human. He cannot bear the idea of it. Pfikingr do not even come from eggs like good dragons like them, what sort of impossible terrible creature doesn’t come from an egg?

He does not want to be human; he knows nothing good of pfikingr except that they can be stolen from and he does not know if there are humans who are not pfikingr, and even when she had fed him she had done so as she said with her body that she was hunting him and could not be trusted. Humans shout at him and try to hurt them, and these humans shot them out of the sky and made them remember sad bad angry-making things and now one has hurt him again.

No no liar no liar no no no liar no! he wails repeatedly, the sound mixing with his gasps for breath.

She must have been lying. Hiccup understands lying, dragons can lie with their bodies and their voices and their actions, and they can scream danger where there is none or pretend no food when they have made a kill that they do not want to share. Except when the lie is clearly in playfulness and teasing, liars are hateful because they endanger the flock. Surely she had been lying and trying to hurt him because she has no claws and he had painted her face with blood.

But he is an expert reader of body language and she talks so loud. She would not know how to hide that she was lying; her body and her voice and her eyes had said true true true honest sure confident real along with ­angry upset tired hurting angry fight.

Hiccup is barely aware that he is making a pained and desperate sound, vocalizing aloud through a lifetime of habit and the strength of the horror rolling through him like waves in a storm, the waves that snatch dragons who fly too low and pull them down like a pouncing lurking predator, tearing apart wings and freezing heart-fires under ice and water. It is a broken, frightened, small sound, breathless and cowering, and he has pressed himself against Toothless’ back and shoulders as close as he can get, hiding his face and hunching his shoulders. His terror is drowning his thoughts and part of him cannot think – cannot feel anything but the fear and the denial and the need to get away, to hide – and part of him cannot stop thinking and remembering. He curls his claws into his palms until they threaten to cut through and draw his own blood. He doesn’t care. Not if it’s human blood.

But he is aware of Toothless’ fear and pain reflecting his own as the bigger dragon tries to twist around to look at his own shoulders and the little dragon perched there, whimpering questions and reassurances and protectiveness. Toothless manages to get a careful fang into the skins on his back feet and pulls, urging his companion down where he can be held properly.

The dragon-boy obeys blindly, numbly, crouching down in the dust and sand inside the mouth of their cave, desperately trying to deny the nightmare in his head.

He is not human! He cannot be human! He and Toothless are halves of a whole, and Toothless is a dragon, so he must be too, because pfikingr and dragons are enemies! They belong in the nest with their family! He hears the Alpha! He can talk to his nest-mates and pfikingr do not talk! He has slept in the nests of eggs to keep them warm against the cold until their heart-fires can light and he has talked to those eggs so they will learn the voice of the flock and dragons would never let a human do that!

Humans are monsters – pfikingr kill dragons! Hiccup is terrified of the ones who kill dragons, have trapped and killed nest-mates and flock-kin and family. He has run from them and avoided them all his life and now there is one inside his head he cannot escape from, even when he flees into the nest that they have made here and wraps his paws – the ones she has taken away from him – over his head, hiding, crying out helplessly in desperation and despair.

His dragon-love tries to settle next to him, to wrap him in a warm dark wing and keep him there and safe until he quiets and is himself again, crooning love you love calm easy breathing love good calm you good together we calm safe nest calm and trying to purr deep in his chest to reassure his beloved-companion.

But Hiccup hides there only a moment before a thought occurs to him and he scrambles back to the mouth of the cave and out into the light, claws scratching the stone with his haste. She is wrong! He can see that she is wrong!

There are raining clouds far off and coming but there is sun now and he can see his shadow cast on the rock of the ledge. It is the shape of a dragon, and he pants with relief, seeing the familiar silhouette of a small and different dragon, but still a dragon, because there are many, many kinds of dragons and they are all different. He spreads out a wing to catch the sun and make a shadow that will hunt her shadow down and dive on it from the sky to tear it apart. In the sunlight where he crouches there is a dragon on the stone.

But his mind betrays him and he remembers making the wings that he didn’t have, watching his nest-mates and then making the fin to stabilize him when the wings alone were not enough, and that he had taken the scales that Toothless shed and put them onto the skins so that they would be the same. His claws come off, and beneath them there are ­human paws; beneath the scales there is skin like hers but with spots sometimes.

Panic overwhelming him, he turns back to the part of his life and himself that is always there and has followed him and will follow him no matter how far he runs away. Toothless is his heart; Toothless will be his eyes. They will see the truth and the dragon who is his other half will tell him what he is so that he never has to question himself again because of her lies!

Look you beloved look me look begging frightened small scared me fear look what? curious frightened, Hiccup pleads to his dragon-half, putting his claws to his mouth and biting into the leather to pull them off one by one. They fall discarded to the stone at his side. Then he raises those treacherous paws to the black dragon’s nose, crouching against the ground submissively and kneeling before Toothless as though he were the great king who is their Alpha and holding their lives – their life – in his jaws. He stares into green eyes and will not see the faint reflection there, so does not.

Mine! Toothless says, nudging both paws aside with his nose and nuzzling the face behind them, trying to encourage his dragon-boy to breathe slower and calm down by example and his proximity. Mine mine love you us mine good mine!

Hiccup clicks his name – the singular name for this half of him, not the both combined – and croaks the sound they make for human questioningly. Then he repeats his name and cries their flock-sound desperately, trying to insist drakkkn! To his shock it ends on a begging questioning note that in a human would be ­please?

When Toothless hesitates too long it is not the reflection Hiccup sees – it is the sorrow in his dragon-love’s eyes.

The dragon-boy’s world collapses around him, and he lowers his human paws to the ground and lets his fur hang into his eyes, unable to look at the grief in those eyes he knows so well, because Toothless will not lie to him – but has been lying to him – but will not lie to him now.

This secret has been kept from him all his life and he cannot reconcile it with everything he knows and everything he is or ever has been. He is a dragon!

But he is not.

Hiccup wails, wordlessly and meaninglessly, betrayal and loss and confusion tearing through him. And – worst of all – he is alone. If he is human then he is not a dragon and he cannot be half of the pair that is Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss and he is nothing and no one!

Somewhere on the outside of the darkness burying him, crushing him, he can hear Toothless howling his own grief, trying to apologize, curling himself around his other half and insisting ­love love love you mine us love together love mine you mine you mine love we together us you flock us family you love!

The dragon-boy can hear it, and it hurts; all he has left of his life and the part of his life who matters to him most of all is suffering and it is his fault because he is wrong, he is a monster, he is not what he thought he was. Hiccup screams, not caring who hears that he is furious and heartbroken and distraught, vocalizing his despair in dragon shrieks and cries, like he’s breaking inside.

And then something does, and he weeps hysterically, convulsively, gasping in shock and pain and bewilderment at the feeling and taste of the tears. There is ocean in him that he did not know about and he is drowning in it! He has not wept since he was very small – dragons do not cry. He doesn’t remember how to do so, he doesn’t even remember that he could do so, but his body is doing it without asking him. The tears confuse and utterly terrify him – they are a small thing but they are a small thing in a sea of big things that are eating him alive.

Panicked, he cries until he cannot breathe properly like when they have flown too high chasing the moon on crazy-feeling nights when the moon is too bright and almost close enough to catch if they could just go fast enough and high enough – and now they will never catch it! – paws shaking and head spinning and the edges of his world disappearing in grey until the dragon-boy is sick and retching like he is trying to throw up bad not-food. But it is not food that is choking him; it is an idea. It is a fact that he cannot hide from and cannot escape because the fact is himself.

His entire life is ending.

If he is human then it doesn’t just mean he isn’t what he’s always known he is: it means he no longer belongs.

Humans, Vikings, are dangerous, evil; they are monsters, they are killers of dragons. He is a monster.

But for almost all of his life he has also been a good dragon, a good flock-member; he loves his nest-mates and will do anything to protect them. Even if he cannot be one of the flock because of what he is then he will still protect them.

He must leave them.

He must get as far away from his family as he can before the monster he must be – if he’s human – comes out and hurts the ones he loves.

Sometimes the old or wounded dying ones of his family fly out alone to outrun the ice-cold death that flies after them, or to fly after it and attack it, or to lead it away from the flock so the death will not take any more of the ones they love.

Hiccup will go. He will not bring this thing that he is back to his family, he will lead the death away and when it takes him it will not matter because he will not hurt his family. He will die alone but he will be the only one to die.

There is a worse thing lurking in that knowledge and he cannot face it but it will pounce on him soon. He can feel it behind his mind like dragon-cousins hunting them for trespassing on their island, like a hiding-hunting-cousin who has changed all his colors to look like the rocks or a tree or the ground, but is slinking towards them to strike. He cannot see it, but he knows it is there, and he knows it will hurt when it catches him, but he does not know how to outrun it or hide from it because he does not know where it is.

The dragon-boy cannot stop crying even though he cannot breathe. The pain is new, the grief is stronger. He has only the faintest memories of his mother’s death long ago when he was small, and he certainly does not remember the agony and loneliness of it – he remembers that he was hurting and lonely, that all the nest was hurting and lonely because the flock had loved his mother, but he does not remember the feeling of the pain. Since then he has dealt with it after a fashion, even if that way was to burn it to ashes and let them fly away and forget and grow up and be a dragon with his family, salving his hurts and stitching closed the torn-open pieces of himself with their love for him.

This is new and raw.

Hiccup is intelligent and imaginative and this is so much more than just old pain reawakened like before. This is too immediate and too unthinkable. His mind will not stop working even though his body is trying to, driving him in panic to retch and gasp and flood with ocean, and he can imagine in vivid detail and agonizing pain the rest of his life, however brief, alone.

And that is the worse thing. That is the worst thing possible.

He must leave Toothless.

Hiccup loves his Toothless-half more than anything: more than air, more than his own life, more than flight, more than the sunlight. They are the same person, inseparable, as much so and more as halves of a two-heads-cousin/s or twins hatched from the same egg, although he has always known they did not even if they should have because Toothless is bigger than he is and egg-pairs usually look similar. If he had been asked to drown to give his dragon-half one more breath of air he would do it; he would starve if it meant Toothless could live. He knows as sure as he knows up from down and dark from light and water from air that Toothless would do the same for him.

If he is a monster, a Viking, a human, he cannot put Toothless in danger. If he will not risk his family, he cannot risk his heart.

Toothless is a dragon; he knows this, he has always known this, and this has not changed. He has noticed that she treats this half of him one way and the dragon-half of him another, and he had thought that she was afraid of Toothless because the black dragon is the bigger of the two of them and had blasted fire at her. But now it is more proof that he is not what he has always thought he was.

He must protect Toothless above all. This means the unthinkable thing of having to separate the two halves of himself, which might kill him, but then the monster inside will never escape, and he will never hurt a dragon more than he is about to do.

Being human will take everything away from him, even his own heart and half himself. Being human is the same as dying.

For them, he must lose everything. He must go.

He cannot bring himself to. Hiccup crouches beneath his dragon-love’s wing and leans against his side and trembles. Knowing he must abandon his dragon-love who is his other half hurts too much to weep over; even the ocean inside him has frozen.

Sensing the change for the worse in his beloved’s temper, Toothless raises the wing slightly and turns his head to look and decide what to do. His nostrils flare, and Hiccup cannot imagine what he can smell of his grief – his ­human nose cannot detect it. Can he smell the loneliness and the horror and the wanting-to-die?

Perhaps he can, because Toothless leaps to his feet, knocking the heartbroken dragon-boy to the ground, and places one gentle paw on his chest in a quite different way than how he had pinned her earlier. No! the black dragon roars, protesting.

Hiccup turns his face away and closes his eyes, knowing that he must lose the one he loves most because of what he is.

Toothless refuses to let him do so. No! he insists again. You you mine!

The dragon-boy wails pfikingr and shows Toothless his bare human paws without opening his eyes to avoid the newly hateful sight of them.

The black dragon growls. No! he repeats, and his tone and snarls and breath say that this is important and Hiccup had better listen to him. Pfikingr hatchling.

Obedient to that familiar tone, Hiccup looks up at him through the paws, blinking to hold back the grief that is trying to take over him again. But he listens.

Pfikingr hatchling, Toothless emphasizes. He drops his nose to his beloved’s face, pushing the raised paws aside again, and nuzzles him. Dragon you. Love you love mine love.

He snaps lightly at one of Hiccup’s paws, gently pulling it into his mouth and hanging onto it with no teeth, refusing to let go. He does not remember doing this the first time as a hatchling, but he has done it uncountable times since then. He likes the way that Hiccup tastes – not to eat, he would never ever ever try to eat him – but just in the same way he loves the way that Hiccup looks and sounds and is.

Mine, he growls through this. You mine. He stops to make sure that Hiccup has gotten the idea, and then adds, We us.

The dragon-boy under his paw trembles uncontrollably, and then tries to sit up. Toothless lets him, because anything is better than seeing him lie there and smelling ocean and want-to-die in the little dragon who is his life and his love. Bite! Hiccup commands suddenly, holding out the other paw that Toothless is not holding in his mouth and snapping his own teeth illustratively. Paws bite go paws bad you paws bite pfikingr paws bad bite begging bite bite not want paws you bite!

No, Toothless refuses – he is not going to bite off Hiccup’s paws just because the pfikingr she has upset him with them. Paws you paws good love you.

Toothless purrs around the paw that he’s holding, and releases it with an affectionate lick. He drops his nose to touch the point on Hiccup’s chest over his heart, feeling his companion’s pulse racing in fear and distress and desperation.

Dragon you, he says, and nudges. Dragon here.

And when Hiccup wraps his paws around the black dragon’s head and holds onto him tightly he smells a little less of grief and a little more of hope.

Love love love love love, Toothless purrs, and to his everlasting joy Hiccup gasps in a deeper breath than any he’s taken since he fought with her and rubs his cheek against the bigger dragon’s, returning the sentiment that is the core of who they are.

A little while later his jaws are wet all over again and there is ocean on both of them at once, and Toothless hums a quiet question that vibrates through them both, dragon and dragon-man held in gentle paws.

Hiccup tries to purr – he is happy, he is loved, he is not a monster as long as he has Toothless with him to be his heart, no one with such a dragon for a heart could be a monster. He is a dragon; he can still be a dragon even if he does have human paws and even if he had been a human as a hatchling it does not matter because he is not human now. No one in the nest – his nest! his home! his family! He is not a monster and he does not endanger the flock! – ever holds hatchlings responsible for anything they do or anything they are.

He does not know why he is crying now when he is so happy. The ocean in him is strange.

But this crying hurts a little less. It feels like after his paws were caught in a dragon-trap that he was letting a flock-mate out of and the bones in them were broken. They took so long to heal, and they hurt when they did but it was good because it was healing and he could use them again.

Toothless raises his head and scents the wind. This place is not good for them anymore and he does not want to be here. Too many bad things can find them here and it is no longer a refuge. This is not their nest. Their nest is far away and they will go back there still together as one.

Go? Hiccup asks from where he is leaning against Toothless’ shoulder, still somewhat subdued but better now than he was.

Toothless does not remember ever realizing that Hiccup had been human at some point; he has always known it, but not cared or ever bothered to say anything about it, because Hiccup is Hiccup. He is his, and to Toothless, Hiccup is him. He is so very much a dragon anyway. That he happens to be in a human skin is not his fault – he is just in the wrong skin. These things happen. Toothless thinks he would not be a good Viking at all, but he is a very good dragon, so it is better that he be a dragon, because then they can be the two-who-are-one together.

It is quite simple.

The black dragon lowers his muzzle again and breathes into his beloved-companion’s fur. Yes good go flying hide us go good yes, he reassures his companion. His wing is still sore and they will not get very far but the wind is good and they can use it to get further than they could from a launch with no wind. Go no sun sneaky us flying. They will leave when it is dark so that no one will see them go.

There are other islands, and perhaps they can find one with no pfikingr and the sickbadwrongthing will have to look for them all over again. Anywhere else but here. Too many nightmares are hunting them here.

Hiccup turns his face up to the bigger dragon and purrs relief and gratitude. He does not want to stay anymore either, and summons up enough enthusiasm to leap to the flying-with on Toothless’ shoulders and be ready to fly with the knowledge that they are leaving.

Together they watch the winds change and the waves roll, waiting for the right moment to leave as the sky darkens with the sun going and the clouds coming.

Toothless rejoices in the impending flight and that they are still together and senses the same emotions reflecting back to him from his other half and is glad of it. No pfikingr will take his Hiccup-self away from him.

When the sky is right Toothless braces himself and leaps to catch the wind, spreading his wings into it like flying in the storm and letting it blow them away from this island full of dangers and nightmares. From his back he hears Hiccup sigh as clearly as he can hear the wind he angles his wings and their bodies into, beating those wings strongly to gain altitude and look for a better place to hide until the battered wing is fully healed and they can safely go home together. Tonight they will not fight the wind or play in it; for now they will only ride it carefully and later-soon they will fly acrobatically faster than anyone else and laughing together in the sky.

Later that night, in the new nest that is a sheltered overhang above a river and out of the rain that is raining now like the clouds said it would, Toothless is all but asleep when he feels Hiccup stir and sit up under his extended wing.

The dragon-man trills a realization of a memory of a realization from before excitedly. Toothless-love! he calls out.

Toothless rumbles a sleepy question and does not raise the wing to see underneath it. Hiccup crawls out from under it anyway, the better to look at the bigger dragon.

Sickbadwrongthing! Hiccup whistles, but he does not sound distressed, like it has come for him and tried to make him walk around in his sleep like it did to Toothless. He sounds interested, which is good, because his mood and bearing have steadily improved ever since they left the island full of dangerous nightmares and bad mind things. Flying always helps them to feel better again when they are sad or scared, and the freedom of knowing that they are not pursued and can escape from any hunters is like the crazy-joy of chasing the moon. But it is also a little bad, because Toothless wants to rest.

After they had found this place and made it theirs the rain had started so they did not want to go hunting in it. Instead the both of them have curled up and discussed more carefully among themselves the things that she had told them now that Hiccup can think about the worst thing she said and know it does not matter what he looks like, what matters is what he is. It was sneaky of her to hunt them with a sharp thing made of ideas rather than a sharp thing of metal but she has not cut them in half and they will heal.

They have decided that it was possible that their mama Aka had been a human – they both remember that she flew with Cloudjumper like Hiccup flies with Toothless. Toothless does seem to remember that she had moved more on her hind legs than most dragons and Hiccup thinks that she had fur on her head like he does but longer. He sort of remembers pulling on it. Maybe she had been a Viking hatchling too but had grown up to be a dragon like Hiccup is. They have agreed that they had been too young to remember properly and that they should ask Cloudjumper when they get home, but only once he has finished scolding them and then growling at them sulkily every time he sees them after that.

They had also agreed that it was a ridiculous thing to say that the Viking Alpha could be their mother’s mate, and that Cloudjumper had been their mother’s mate and that there was no doubt about that. Toothless thinks that the Viking chfff had been trying to steal them from their proper Alpha and take them away so he had said a lie to the pfikingr she to tell them, because if she does not know how to hide that she is hunting she probably does not know how to see lies either.

By now Toothless is not interested in sickbadwrongthings that he does not know what they are or where they come from or what they want with them. He growls at the sound of the idea.

Here calling dragon calling flock, says Hiccup. He tips his head to one side inquisitively. Toothless doesn’t bother to suppress the urge to groan, and sighs thunderously. He knows that look. It’s another good sign that Hiccup is himself again, but it tells the black dragon that whatever this is about, they are going to get in trouble for it from someone.

Hiccup asks with a whistle of questioning curiosity and a half-submissive crouch, Alpha here?

Now he’s got Toothless’ attention. Sickbadwrongthing Alpha here flock? Toothless asks, crooning skeptically. It is difficult for him to put the two concepts together. But he considers it, because Hiccup is clever and thinks of things that no other dragon can. No other dragon would have thought to make new wings.

He does not like what they are thinking together. An Alpha would be able to tell dragons to do something they did not want to, like raid a pfikingr nest often even when the pfikingr are prepared to fight dragons. Their nest would never be foolish enough to raid so often and so heavily. Toothless would be able to hear an Alpha more easily than Hiccup could, because while Hiccup can hear their king they have learned from each other in the past that Toothless can hear him better. And he remembers the way that the hunting blue-spikes cousin they had fought had spoken of a SHE with fear in its voice. And so had the maddened fire-skin that had found them in the cave and that Toothless had driven away.

Hiccup and Toothless have lived all their lives under the rule of an ancient and experienced Alpha who is a good king of dragons. They respect him, but they have never been afraid of him. His flock is obedient to him and loves him and he is a good king.

But there are other Alphas. Some of them try to steal passing dragons for their flocks like the Viking Alpha had tried to do, and it could be that this one has tried to steal them, because Tt-(click)-th-phuh-ss are the best of dragons together.

Toothless pins his ear-flaps back to his head and growls nervously. He does not like this idea at all. But he must admit that it is possible.

Maybe not sure maybe unhappy worried maybe, he concedes.

Immediately, Hiccup sprawls across the black dragon’s front paws, rolling onto his back and baring his throat beseechingly, twitching one back paw back and forth like an appealingly waving tail. And he smiles a dragon’s smile up at Toothless, raising one paw to pet his nose.

Toothless growls – he knows what Hiccup is asking, and it’s a bad idea.

But after today he cannot possibly refuse that smile. It’s the grin that says they are going to get in trouble and they both know it but it’s going to be worth it… And it’s one of Toothless’ absolute favorite looks on Hiccup’s face. They have had quite a lot of fun with things that they have done in the wake of that smile, and as long as they are alive and together and it makes his beloved dragon-man happy… Hiccup is dragon enough to not build a nest in things he cannot change and chew on the sides, but what he is asking would leave him no time or attention for the things the pfikingr she said to him.

So once they can fly properly again soon and before they go home…

They would hate to leave behind a mystery they have not investigated when they could fly a little further and do so. Of course they dare to go and look and find out.

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